Will Carl Crawford bring the Red Sox another title?
Let’s see, what clichés can we invoke with the start of baseball season? The whole thing about kids’ first chance to see the fresh cut grass at the ballpark? Hot dogs, beer, and spring weather? Eternal optimism for even fans of the New York Mets? The start of baseball season means different things to different people. Some people consider it a terrible time because it means that football season is over, basketball and hockey are ending soon, and reruns will be on television for a few months. Personally, I’m excited for the start of any season (I’m an anomaly, I know this, and I even watch golf and soccer).
For me baseball season is a chance to see a new ballpark that I haven’t been to (so far I’ve been to Florida, Milwaukee, Chicago (A), Chicago (N), Anaheim, New York (A), Boston, Toronto, San Francisco, and Tampa Bay). Hopefully this season I’ll have the time to make the drive to Detroit, Cincinnati, or Minnesota. Baseball is very much a social event for me. Yes, I played as a kid, and I even spent a few summers at the spectacular Bucky Dent’s Baseball School to hone my skills. I never became a Major Leaguer like I dreamed, but I’ve always loved the game, the ambiance, and the chance to kick back with some friends and have a few beers outdoors.
The 2011 season offers more promise than seasons past when everyone expected the Yankees, the Cardinals, the Red Sox, or the Dodgers to represent their respective leagues in the World Series. Last season we had San Francisco and Texas, and I promise you nobody expected that. The parity has been increasing as of late because since 2000 only two teams have won the World Series twice (New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox…of course). Granted you’ve had some big names added to the two richest teams in baseball with Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez joining Boston, as well as Russell Martin joining New York, but some of the “little guys” have legitimate shots as well. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Toronto and Tampa Bay pushed the Red Sox and Yankees out of the playoffs this year. Jose Bautista is a beast, Kyle Drabek has promise, and we know Aaron Hill is a solid player. Tampa Bay lost some pop, but they added the aging Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez. Those two should provide some balance, while David Price is still an elite pitcher. They’ll sneak up on some people for sure.
Can Joe Mauer stay healthy enough to help the Twins?
Since I just did a quick overview of a few AL East teams, I guess I’ll make my way through the divisions noting which teams to watch out for. I think in the AL Central the Chicago White Sox are excellent. Paul Konerko is still hitting well, Adam Dunn provides extra power, and I really like shortstop Alexei Ramirez. While they don’t have one awesome pitcher, they have five solid starters who can get the job done. Their issue might be the bullpen. The Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins will have something to say about Chicago claiming the division crown, but in the end, I think the “Pale Hose” have it.
Jumping to the AL West, I think despite losing Vladimir Guerrero to Baltimore, the Texas Rangers will prove last year was no fluke. They still have good pitching, and excellent hitting. Their AL Championship run last season gives them some extra confidence, and they added Adrian Beltre. I just hope guys in the dugout remember not to touch Adrian’s head. Oakland and the Los Angeles Angels will fight for the top spot, but I think Texas is the team to beat.
In the National League East, this one could get rough. Yes, the Philadelphia Phillies have the top pitching rotation in all of baseball, hands down. However, Jayson Werth left for Washington, Chase Utley has been having injury problems all spring, and Jimmy Rollins’ skill set has been steadily declining. Why does that matter? Because when you take those guys out of the equation it means Ryan Howard loses his protection. Teams won’t be forced to pitch to him, and as a whole, the Phillies’ hitting will decline. Granted with Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, and Joe Blanton everyone thinks Philadelphia can win every game 1-0. It won’t work out that way, trust me. This is real life, not a video game. If the pitching isn’t spot on, the Atlanta Braves and Florida Marlins will be waiting to jump over Philly. Atlanta was a scrappy bunch last year, and even though Bobby Cox isn’t in the dugout anymore, his influence will be felt with Fredi Gonzalez taking over. Chipper Jones still has some hit left in him, and if you haven’t watched Jayson Heyward you’re missing out. That kid can mash! Down south in Miami, the Florida Marlins have a young group of pitchers in Josh Johnson, Annibal Sanchez, Ricky Nolasco, Chris Volstad, and Javier Vazquez. Vazquez and Johnson are the only guys anyone has heard of, but the rest of the staff is pretty darned good. Keep an eye on hitters Gaby Sanchez and Mike Stanton. If they both have good seasons, they might challenge for the Wild Card, and we know what happens when the Marlins win a Wild Card birth (think 1997 and 2003).
Mike Stanton of the Florida Marlins is someone to keep an eye on.
The NL Central will be another hotly contested division. Cincinnati is the defending champions, but the St. Louis Cardinals have always been excellent. The Milwaukee Brewers went out and acquired Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum to bolster their previously terrible pitching rotation. Add them to staff ace Yovoni Gallardo, plus the hitting of Ryan Braun, a contract year for Prince Fielder, and Corey Hart and you’ve got yourself a dangerous team. This division will be the hardest to predict because I think injuries will make the difference. Whoever can stay the healthiest wins out.
Finally in the NL West I still think the San Francisco Giants are the front runners, however Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez are spectacular talents. Once Ubaldo Jimenez comes back from injury the Rockies will be a very tough out. If San Francisco falters, I think Colorado will take the NL West. That’s a big if though. Having reviewed each division, here are my predictions:
Jose Bautista, Toronto's sledgehammer
New York Yankees
Chicago White Sox
Josh Hamilton - bona fide star!
Los Angeles Angels*
New York Mets
Ryan Braun finally has pitching to match his hitting
Los Angeles Dodgers
*- Wild Card Winners
2011 World Series - Philadelphia vs. Texas
The 2011 World Series I want to see – Milwaukee vs. Chicago White Sox
Zack Greinke heads to Milwaukee while Cliff Lee returns to Philadelphia
I’ll bet you didn’t see that one coming. Cliff Lee left $30 million of the New York Yankees money on the table, and decided to return to the Philadelphia Phillies (where he pitched for half of a season in 2009) for five years and $120 million. Even though he led the Texas Rangers to the World Series this past season, Lee said no to their offer of six years for $138 million (including deferred payments) with a $23 million option for a seventh.
“To get an opportunity to be part of this team and this pitching rotation is going to be something historic, I believe,” Lee said during his introductory press conference.
There is speculation about why Lee chose the Phillies over the Yankees and Rangers. Reports say that Lee’s wife, Kristen, didn’t like the heat or the traffic in Texas, and she was spit on by a Yankees fan during the ALCS last year because her husband was playing for the other team. I mean, it’s not like Philadelphia has nicer fans. Heck, one Phillies fan even threw up on an 11-year-old. The Yankees and Phillies are both known for having some of the nastiest fans in sports, but apparently the Lee family felt most comfortable in the City of Brotherly Love.
Apparently Cliff Lee was just happier in Philadelphia
“When you hit a certain point, enough’s (money) enough. It’s just a matter of where you’re comfortable, where you’re happy, where your family’s the most comfortable, what team gives you the best chance to win. At this point, it’s about trying to win championships. That’s really the No. 1 thing for me. I think this team gives me the best chance to do that. That’s really it,” Lee said.
I’m pretty sure Alex Rodriguez once said it was about winning championships after he suckered the Texas Rangers into signing him to a ludicrous 10-year deal worth $252 million. He then got Texas to trade him to New York, and the Rangers were still on the hook for another $67 million of his contract.
Are the Phillies becoming the Yankees of the National League? That’s debatable because the Yankees usually blatantly overpay stars to come play for them. Philadelphia has built most of its team the right way, and only shelled out a ton of cash for a few major free agents. The rest of the players, despite their very high incomes, started out as Phillies from the get go. Philadelphia merely paid them to stay with the organization, whereas the Yankees try to use everyone else as their farm clubs.
Small Market, Big Fish
After the Lee signing, the next biggest free agent pitcher available was Carl Pavano, a 34-year-old right hander with a career ERA of 4.34. Nobody needed pitching worse than the Milwaukee Brewers whose 4.65 team ERA was the second worst in the National League last season, and signing aging pitchers with average ERAs has bitten them twice in the recent past (Jeff Suppan and Randy Wolf). That makes Pavano a moot point for Milwaukee.
The Kansas City Royals were in a tough position as star pitcher, and former AL Cy Young Award winner, Zack Greinke grew increasingly disenchanted with the team. After finally asking for a trade this winter, the Royals began seeking suitors. However, their asking price was extremely high, and Royals General Manager Dayton Moore didn’t want to trade with an American League team. That left only two teams in contention: Washington and Milwaukee. However Washington broke the bank in singing former Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth as mentioned above, and Milwaukee offered SS Alcides Escobar, P Jeremy Jeffress, outfielder Lorenzo Cain, and minor league pitcher Jake Odorizzi. Kansas City threw in SS Yuniesky Betancourt, and now the Brewers look to be in contention for the playoffs for the first time since 2008 (and second time since 1982).
Zack Greinke makes the Brewers instant contenders
“The main reason I wanted to get out, I mean, preferred to get out of Kansas City is I wanted to be on a team that was trying to win this year because as a pitcher you don’t really know how long your career is going to be,” Greinke said.
The key words are “Trying to win this year.” The Brewers literally bet the farm on this one as they’ve depleted most of their future talent in an effort to make a run while they still have 1B Prince Fielder and 2B Rickie Weeks on the roster. Fielder becomes a free agent next year, and Milwaukee knows his asking price will be too high for the small market club to offer. This is the downside of being a small market club. When you have a chance to win, it’s fleeting. Either way, it’s nice to see a team that usually is just barely competitive actually throw its hat in the ring as a contender.
Adding Greinke, plus Milwaukee’s earlier trade for Toronto’s Shaun Marcum gives them a rotation that could be considered third best in the National League behind the Phillies and Giants. Greinke, Marcum, Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf, and Chris Narveson is the best rotation that the Brew Crew have had since CC Sabathia, Ben Sheets, Jeff Suppan, Dave Bush, and Manny Parra. That isn’t saying much because Bush, Suppan, and Parra were all mediocre at best. So in reality, this is the best rotation Milwaukee has had in a long time, maybe since the early 90s.
With the hitting of Fielder, Weeks, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, and Casey McGehee, the revamped rotation should have no problem with run support. It would be nice to see the Brewers and Phillies/Giants face off in the NLCS this year. The Giants ended a string of 56 years without a World Series title. The Milwaukee Brewers have never won one since their first season in 1970. Maybe this year’s championship will have more to do with beer than champagne.
The San Francisco Giants celebrate winning the 2010 World Series against the Texas Rangers
Congratulations San Francisco, the new Major League Baseball World Champions. I almost had it right! San Francisco won the series 4-1, and I was only off by a game. In fact, I’m amazed that the Giants dominated the series so easily. The great hitters on Texas‘ roster never seemed to get their timing down against the amazing pitching staff of San Francisco. In fact, the Rangers hit a measly .190 throughout the series, and after hitting .359 during the regular season, star slugger Josh Hamilton went only 2-for-20. It’s amazing to think that this group of players did something that Hall of Famer Willie Mays accomplished and star Barry Bonds never could, win the big one.
My best friend is on his honeymoon visiting Napa Valley, and he says the city is going absolutely crazy. Nothing beats the taste of your first championship, and watching the Giants’ parade on trolley cars should be a lot of fun. According to ESPN.com, “This buried a lot of bones — ’62, ’89, 2002,” Giants general manager Brian Sabean said, ticking off losing Series appearances. “This group deserved it, faithful from the beginning. We’re proud and humbled by the achievement.”
Watching the battle between Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum, I really thought Texas had a shot to extend the series. Ironically, the game winning RBI came off the bat of Edgar Renteria. Does that sound familiar? Granted, it wasn’t in the same dramatic fashion, and his two out, three run home run in the seventh inning was followed up by a shot from Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz shortly thereafter. However, it was the deciding play of Game 5. Renteria was named World Series MVP, and he became the fourth player in Major League Baseball history to be the MVP of a World Series while making the final out of another.
Brian Wilson shut down Texas in a perfect top of the ninth, turned his back to the plate, and did his X that he always does after each save. Wilson picked apart the Rangers just like he had everyone else during these playoffs, striking out Cruz, who had homered just a few innings before, for the final out. Game, set, match, and party at Alcatraz.
Edgar Renteria holds his MVP trophy, while Aubrey Huff holds the World Series trophy.
I think one of the endearing parts about these Giants are that most of the players were brought up through the team’s farm system. Young pitchers Lincecum, Bumgarner, Wilson, Cain (who didn’t give up a single earned run during the playoffs), and rookie catcher Buster Posey have never worn any other logo except for the SF they have on their caps right now. In this age when most teams are built through trades and free agency, these Giants are almost a throwback to “better times.” Naturally, better is subjective depending on whether or not you prefer teams to try to “buy” a championship.
In 1951 the then-New York Giants’ Bobby Thompson hit the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” Radio broadcaster Russ Hodges screamed repeatedly into his microphone, “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” Now it’s a different time and a different city, but that doesn’t make this any less sweet. A team that didn’t even qualify for the playoffs until the last possible day of the regular season walks over Atlanta in the NLDS, scrapes by the Phillies in the NLCS, and completely shuts down Texas in the Fall Classic. It is indeed a Giant achievement.
A lot of baseball fans will see the 2010 World Series as improbable. All I can think, is “Thank God!” Let’s be honest, did you really want to see a rematch between the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies? I won’t lie, I’m a little biased against Northeastern teams (New York, Philadelphia, Boston, etc.), but instead of glitz and glamor, this Fall Classic will have heart, character, and grit. Those qualities are what really matter to true sports lovers everywhere. I think most fans enjoy seeing the teams who spend the most money come up empty handed because, let’s face it, cheering for the New York Yankees is the equivalent of going to a casino in Las Vegas and pulling for the House to win. Who does that?
Earlier this season, Rangers manager Ron Washington admitted to having used cocaine. Add that to star outfielder Josh Hamilton having battled drugs and alcohol throughout his career and you have two feel-good comeback stories to keep an eye on. In fact, out of respect for Hamilton, his teammates celebrated their American League Championship Series win over New York by spraying each other with ginger ale as opposed to using champagne or beer. That speaks volumes to what he means to this closely knit team. It’s a squad of guys who just want to get it done, and man can they hit.
Texas Rangers OF Josh Hamilton is doused with ginger ale as he celebrates with teammates after they won their ALCS playoff series against the Yankees in Arlington
Vladimir Guerrero was once considered to be losing a step, but he’s come out slugging with a .300 batting average and 29 home runs. Granted he’s fallen off the horse during the playoffs thus far, but he’s still one of the best sluggers in the game. Pair him up with Michael Young, Hamilton, and Nelson Cruz, and the Rangers can hit with anyone in the Big Leagues. They’re going to need it because after ace Cliff Lee, Texas isn’t as stacked with pitchers as San Francisco is.
San Francisco’s band of cast-offs have been heroes throughout the playoffs. Cody Ross was brought over in a late season trade from the Florida Marlins, and he’s been pounding the ball ever since (batted .350 with 3 home runs during the NLCS). Journeyman Aubrey Huff has made his presence felt, and former 1997 World Series hero Edgar Renteria looks to provide playoff experience. The Giants aren’t the slugging bunch that the Rangers are, but these two teams each have their advantages and disadvantages. You know Barry Bonds is wishing he were still playing right now, especially considering he never “officially” retired. It’s a sweet redemption to see the Orange & Black succeed without performance enhancing drugs.
San Francisco Giants RP Brian Wilson and C Buster Posey celebrate their NLCS clinching victory over Philadelphia.
When the dust settles, there can only be one World Series Champion, and the old saying goes that pitching wins championships. I’m not one for predictions, but if I were to guess, I would say the San Francisco Giants will outpitch Texas to win 4-2. Cliff Lee will win both his starts for Texas, but after that, the Rangers have nobody else to match up with San Francisco on the mound.
Two scrappy teams, two underdogs, and twice the fun. It’s parity at its best. Since 1995 either the Yankees or Red Sox have been in the playoffs (usually both, and a lot of that has to do with the introduction of the Wild Card spot). More often than not, it seems one of them makes it to the World Series. The Phillies have been one of the NL’s best teams since 2007, and the just won the World Series last year. That means this World Series is like unwrapping a brand new gift as opposed to playing with your old toys again. If you’re not a die hard fan of either squad, just kick back, relax, and enjoy some real playoff baseball with a fresh new look. Hey, at least you don’t have to watch those darn Yankees again, right?