Grand Opening: Yanks Take Home Opener 6-3

Quick, nobody tell Mark Teixeira the calendar’s turning to April tomorrow. The Bronx Bombers were back in action at Yankee Stadium and are assured of an unblemished March in this 2011 baseball season. We also found out that apparently Curtis Granderson’s strained oblique when translated from basketball to baseball equals “Jordan Flu.”

CC Sabathia was also on and had seven strike outs over six and yielded only three runs. There was also the debut of “JobSorMo” working the final three frames flawlessly out of the pen.

Cowboy Curtis Granderson was on his horse, bookending the game with a diving snag in the first and an overhead grab in the ninth. Sandwiched between those highlight worthy plays, Granderson took ex-Yanks hurler Phil Coke deep in the seventh with what amounted to the winning home run.

One of the chief reason’s it was Coke rather than Justin Verlander in the seventh is the Yanks were able to work him like a kid in a Kathy Lee sweatshop. Over 30 pitches thrown in the first inning alone enabled the Yankees to get a solid look at Verlander until he was pulled after 114 pitches through six.

Mark Teixeira had the big drive early with a three-run bomb off the Tigers ace in the third. It took 12 games for Teixeira to launch one in 2010 and the first of 2011 was a no-doubter.

It was one of those games Broadway couldn’t have scripted better. Timely and patient hitting, solid defense, pitching to the scoreboard with a hint of dominance. Only 161 more to go, but you can put a bow on Opening Day.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Capital Region Around Baseball: 2011 Edition

Your favorite Tri-City ValleyCats, Albany-Colonie Yankees, Albany-Colonie A’s, who came through here.  Your favorite locals on their way to and in the bigs who grew up here.  If you’re wondering where they’ll start in baseball in 2011, well it’s all here!

Buck Showalter- Manager: Baltimore Orioles. In 1989 Buck Showalter led the Albany-Colonie Yankees to a record of 92-48 and an Eastern League title.  Since that time, Showalter has been instrumental in building two World Series winners in New York and Arizona.  Buck has two Manager of the Year awards on his ledger and is now attempting to change the culture in Baltimore with the Orioles.  Taking over the O’s late last season, Showalter guided the squad to a mark of 34-23.  Buck has an overall record of 916-856 for a .517 winning percentage.

Dan Radison- First Base Coach: Washington Nationals.  Dan Radison skippered the Albany-Colonie Yankees in parts of three seasons from 1990-1992.  During that time Radison went 226-192 and in 1991 guided the AC Yanks to an Eastern League Championship.  Since that time Radison has had coaching stints with the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and is currently serving as the Washington Nationals first base coach.

Hensley Meulens- Hitting Coach: San Francisco Giants.  Hensley “Bam-Bam” Meulens played third base for Albany in 1988 and 1989.  During his time with the AC Yanks, Meulens belted 24 home runs.  In his entire career spread out between New York, Montreal and Arizona, Meulens hit 15 from 1989-1998.  Last year Meulens served in his current role as hitting coach for the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants.

Roberto Kelly- First Base Coach: San Francisco Giants.  Roberto Kelly played in Albany back in 1986.  During that season, Kelly hit .291.  Most folks remember Roberto as the guy the Yankees robbed the Reds for to get Paul O’Neill (and Joe DeBerry).  What a lot of people don’t remember is Kelly was a darn good player in his own right and a young bright spot for the Yanks before they took off in the early 90′s.  Kelly made two All-Star teams, was a career .290 hitter with 124 home runs, 235 steals and 1,390 hits.  Playing from 1987-2000, Kelly bounced around on seven other teams before finishing up with the Yanks.  Last year Kelly served in his current role as first base coach for the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants.

J.T. Snow- Special Assistant: San Francisco Giants.  J.T. Snow starred for the 1991 AC Yanks, batting .279 with 13 home runs and 76 RBI.  After a short stint up in New York, Snow the slick fielding first baseman really took off in California and San Francisco.  Snow won gold gloves six years in a row between the AL and NL from 1995-2000, clubbed 189 career homers and totaled 1,509 hits.  A career .327 post-season hitter, Snow hit an impressive .407 in the 2002 World Series for the Giants against the Angels.  Snow currently serves as a Special Assistant in the San Francisco organization.

Rob Thomson- Third Base Coach: New York Yankees.  Thomson coached with the 1992 AC Yanks.  He has served as the Yankees third base coach under Joe Girardi since 2008.

Brian Butterfield- Third Base Coach: Toronto Blue Jays.  Butterfield was a coach on the 1993 AC Yanks before moving up with the big club in New York during the 1994 and 1995 campaigns.  Butterfield followed Buck Showalter out to Arizona and eventually came back to the Yankees organization in 2001.  Since 2002 Butterfield has served as either a third base or bench coach with Toronto.

Brad Arnsberg- Pitching Coach: Houston Astros.  In 1985 with Albany, Arnsberg went a spectacular 14-2 with a 1.59 ERA.  Arnsberg’s major league career never came close to touching that as he finished with an overall mark of 9-6.  Arnsberg had primarily been pitching coach with the Toronto Blue Jays in the past and will now be serving in that same role on Brad Mills’ staff in Houston.

Tim Belcher- Pitching Coach: Cleveland Indians.  In ten starts with the Albany-Colonie A’s in 1984, Belcher went 3-4 with an ERA of 3.33.  Belcher did manage to carve out a pretty steady major league career, winning 146 games over 14 seasons.  As an aside, my first game at Yankee Stadium in 1996 on Old Timers Day, Belcher was the starter for the Kansas City Royals, a year in which he would tie a career high for wins with 15.  Belcher also won a World Series while pitching for the 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers, going 3-0 in the post-season that year.  Tim Belcher retired after the 2000 season with Anaheim and he now serves as the Cleveland Indians pitching coach.

Bob Geren- Manager: Oakland Athletics.  Bob Geren was a catcher for the AC Yanks during the 1986 and 1987 seasons and in 1987 he clocked eleven home runs.  Geren caught parts of four seasons in the Bronx from 1988-1991 and finished out with the Padres in 1993.  Originally drafted by San Diego, Geren was involved in a trade which sent him to the St. Louis Cardinals for the father of current Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher, Steve Swisher.  Since 2007, Geren has skippered the A’s with an overall record of 307-340.  However last season was the A’s best record (81-81) and finish (second) under Geren and there are high expectations for Oakland to be a dark horse candidate in 2011.

Mike Gallego- Third Base Coach: Oakland Athletics.  Aiding Geren is third base coach Mike Gallego.  Yankees fans may know him as the guy who not only played short but also as who was the last guy to wear number two before Derek Jeter.  Gallego played in 90 games for the Albany A’s in 1983.  Gallego was solid and versatile defensively and was a member of the 1989 World Championship team in Oakland.  In addition, Gallego was on of the guys credited with helping change the culture in New York and he batted a career high .283 in 1993.  Gallego went back to Oakland in 1995 and followed skipper Tony LaRussa to St. Louis before retiring after the 1997 campaign.  Before last year Mike Gallego had been coaching third base with the Colorado Rockies and he now does so for the Oakland A’s.

Fredi Gonzalez- Manager: Atlanta Braves.  Fredi Gonzalez spent parts of two seasons as a catcher for Albany in 1986 and 1987.  Gonzalez is regarded as top young manager’s on the rise and will succeed Bobby Cox this season.  In three plus year’s with the Florida Marlins before a spat with star short stop Hanley Ramirez, Gonzalez compiled a record of 276-279.

Randy St. Claire- Pitching Coach: Florida Marlins.  After spending parts of nine seasons in Montreal, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Atlanta and Toronto and going 12-6, St. Claire the Glens Falls native has served as pitching coach for the Montreal Expos and Washington Nationals.  This season St. Claire will serve in that role for the Florida Marlins on the staff of Edwin Gonzalez.

Andy Fox- Minor League Infield Coordinator: Boston Red Sox.  Andy Fox played for the AC Yanks during the 1993 and 1994 campaigns.  Fox was part of the 1996 World Champion New York Yankees and also played in the majors with Arizona, Florida, Montreal and Texas.

Derek Jeter- Short Stop: New York Yankees.  In 34 games during the 1994 campaign, Derek hit a robust .377 at Albany.  From that point on Jeter has been on the fast track to the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  The Captain, Mr. November, has five World Series rings, is the New York Yankees all-time leader in hits and is only 74 away from 3,000.  Jeter is a career .314 hitter, an eleven time All-Star and continues to rise in the Yankees record books.  In addition, Jeter won the 1996 Rookie of the Year award, and was MVP of the 2000 All-Star Game and World Series.

Mariano Rivera- Closer: New York Yankees.  When Mariano Rivera made nine starts for the Albany-Colonie Yankees in 1994, the line was impressive.  Rivera went 3-0 with a 2.27 ERA and even a ten-year-old  kid like yours truly could tell Mariano might have a nice major league career.  But best closer ever?  For those of you kids out there who know nothing but Mo closing for the Yanks, in 1994 the New York closer was Steve Howe.  Mariano has 559 career saves and barring injury should end up with the most in MLB history.  Most impressive of all are Mo’s post-season accolades.  In 94 games totaling 139.2 innings, Rivera has a record of 8-1 with a 0.71 ERA and 42 saves.  Rivera is also a member of the five rings club, an eleven time All-Star and winner of the 1999 World Series MVP and 2003 ALCS MVP.  Mariano Rivera is obviously Cooperstown bound.

Jorge Posada- Catcher/DH: New York Yankees.  During the 1993 season, Posada spent just seven games at Albany-Colonie and hit .280 in that span.  Since then Jorge has become an integral part of five World Championships in the Bronx.  Posada continues to climb up the Yankees record books with 261 home runs, including the first one ever at the “New House” in 2009 against Cleveland.  Jorge is also a five time All-Star and owner of five silver sluggers.  One really has to take a good hard look at Jorge Posada when it comes to Cooperstown consideration.

Hunter Pence- Right Field: Houston Astros.  By far the most successful player to star for the Tri-City ValleyCats in the major leagues.  Aside from Bernie Williams, perhaps the best hitting outfielder to have played in this area period.  Pence played 51 games in Troy in 2004, on a ValleyCats team that reached the New York Penn League Championship.  That season Pence batted .296 with eight home runs and 37 RBI.  Hunter has been a standout model of consistency ever since for the Houston Astros.  Since getting called up in 2007 and finishing third in Rookie of the Year voting in the NL, Hunter has hit 92 home runs, driven in 315 with a career high 91 last year.  A 2009 NL All-Star for Houston, Pence has hit 25 home runs each of the last three seasons.

Ben Zobrist- Right Field: Tampa Bay Rays.  Another member of that vaunted 2004 Tri-City ValleyCats club was then short stop Ben Zobrist.  During that special season Zobrist hit a robust .339 in 68 games with 87 hits, four home runs, 45 RBI and 15 stolen bases.  In 2006 Ben was dealt to Tampa for Aubrey Huff.  Since his debut for the then Devil Rays in 2006, Zobrist became the first former ValleyCats player to appear in a World Series in 2008, was an AL All-Star like his buddy and former teammate from 2004 Hunter Pence in 2009.  In that 2009 All-Star campaign, Zobrist batted .297 with a career high 27 home runs, 91 RBI, 91 runs scored and finished eighth in AL MVP voting.  While his numbers dipped a bit in 2010, the Rays “everywhere man” rebounded to hit .300 with a homer and two RBI against the Texas Rangers in the ALDS.

Matt Albers- Relief Pitcher: Boston Red Sox.  Matt Albers had quite an impressive summer pitching for the ValleyCats in 2003.  Albers went 5-4 with a 2.92 ERA and 94 K’s in 86.1 innings of work.  Matt made his debut with the Houston Astros in 2006 and was shipped to the Baltimore Orioles for Miguel Tejada after the 2007 campaign.  Albers carved out a nice niche in the O’s bullpen and went 5-3 with a 4.52 ERA in 62 contests in 2010.  That was obviously impressive enough to warrant the Boston Red Sox adding him to the mix in their pen for 2011.

Mark McLemore- Pitcher: Florida Marlins (New Orleans Zephyrs).  Mark McLemore was a member of the inaugural ValleyCats squad of 2002.  In 2007 with the Astros, McLemore was an impressive 3-0 out of the pen with a 3.86 ERA and 35 K’s in 35 IP.  McLemore was in Independent ball in 2010 and is slated to start the season at Triple-A New Orleans in the Marlins system.

Troy Patton- Pitcher: Baltimore Orioles.  Patton was a member of the 2005 ValleyCats.  In 2007 Patton got into three games with the Astros and last year saw one game with the Orioles.

Felipe Paulino- Pitcher: Colorado Rockies.  Felipe had a solid season for Tri-City in 2005, going 2-2 with a 3.82 ERA and 34 K’s in 30.2 IP.  Paulino made his debut with Houston in 2007 and in three seasons with the Astros, registered 187 K’s in 208.1 IP.  Paulino was dealt to the Rockies for Clint Barmes in the off-season.

Drew Sutton- Short Stop: Boston Red Sox Organization.  Sutton was another key player on that 2004 ValleyCats roster.  In 63 games Sutton batted .280 for Tri-City, forming the other half of their DP combo at second base.  Drew made his MLB debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 2009 and last year split time between the Reds and Cleveland Indians.  In the off-season Drew signed on with the Red Sox and will likely begin the year in Triple-A Pawtucket.

Bud Norris- Starting Pitcher: Houston Astros.  A key contributor to the ValleyCats 2006 runner up team, Bud Norris in 15 games went 2-0 with an ERA of 3.79 with 46 K’s in 38 innings.  Norris now takes a regular turn in the Astros starting rotation, slotted behind Brett Myers, J.A. Happ and Wandy Rodriguez.  Since making his MLB debut for Houston in 2009, Norris has a respectable mark of 15-13 with an ERA of 4.82.  Norris is in the process of harnessing his stuff, which has yielded 212 K’s in 209.1 IP in two seasons.

Tommy Manzella- Short Stop: Houston Astros.  Tommy Manzella was a member of the 2005 ValleyCats and played in 53 games that season at short stop.  After making his MLB debut in 2009, Manzella was more or less Houston’s regular short stop for the 2010 campaign.  While not the biggest bat, Manzella gave the Astros steady play in the field in 2010.  Tommy will likely begin the year at Triple-A.

Chris Johnson- Third Base: Houston Astros.  Another member of that vaunted 2006 Tri-City squad, Johnson has really started to blossom offensively on a Houston club that desperately needs it.  After debuting in 2009, Johnson hit a solid .308 in 94 games with the big club, while homering eleven times and knocking in 52.

Jason Castro- Catcher: Houston Astros.  Since starting out with the ValleyCats in 2008, Jason Castro has made a meteoric rise through the Astros system.  After batting .275 in 39 games with the Cats behind the plate, Castro found himself in the Houston lineup 67 games in 2010.  Unfortunately due to an injury to his right knee in Spring Training, Jason is expected to have surgery and miss the entire 2011 season.

Fernando Abad- Pitcher: Houston Astros.  Fernando pitched in a couple of games in Troy during the 2007 season.  Making his MLB debut with Houston in 2010, Abad put up som filthy numbers.  In 22 games Abad registered an ERA of 2.84 in 19 innings of work.

Brian Bogusevic- Outfielder: Houston Astros Organization.  Bogusevic played in 13 games for the ValleyCats in 2005.  Bogusevic made his Houston debut last season and is slated to begin 2011 at Triple-A.

Tim Stauffer- Starting Pitcher: San Diego Padres.  Since making his MLB debut for the San Diego Padres in 2005, Saratoga Central Catholic standout Tim Stauffer has shown some sparks of brilliance on the mound.  After fighting through the numbers game, injuries and some hard luck, Stauffer followed up a solid 2009 season with a superb 2010 output.  Over a stretch of 32 games, including seven starts, Stauffer put up a sparkling 1.85 ERA for San Diego with a record of 6-5 in 82.2 innings of work.  Stauffer obviously caught the eye of Manager Bud Black during that 90 win season of 2010, because with Mat Latos starting the year on the DL, Tim Stauffer will start Opening Day for San Diego.

Brendan Harris- Infielder: Baltimore Orioles (Norfolk Tides).  After making his MLB debut in 2004, it appeared as though Queensbury, NY native Brendan Harris had finally carved out a nice niche for himself as a useful role player at the major league level.  The best season to date for the career .260 hitter came in 2007 with the Rays where Harris set career highs for runs, hits, doubles, homers, RBI and average.  Harris had actually been a fairly regular part of the Twins lineup in Minnesota up until last year when he was sent down to Triple-A Rochester to finish out the season.  Harris tried to hook on with Baltimore this year, but with new acquisitions Mark Reynolds, J.J. Hardy, Derrek Lee and mainstay Brian Roberts, the O’s infield looks hard to crack.  Thus Harris will begin the year at Triple-A Norfolk.

Casper Wells- Outfielder: Detroit Tigers.  Some may refer to Detroit as a ghost town, but with Casper Wells on the rise that phrase may well come with a positive connotation soon enough.  Wells, the Schenectady, NY native and Schenectady High School grad made a solid enough impression in 2010 to make the 2011 Tigers squad out of camp.  In his 2010 Detroit debut, Wells batted a robust .323 in 36 contests, hit four homers and drove in 17.  The Tigers have Austin Jackson and Ryan Rayburn seemingly cemented in left and center though with an injury prone and aging Magglio Ordonez in right and Johnny Damon now in Tampa, Wells will likely battle for at-bats with Brennan Boesch.

John Lannan- Starting Pitcher: Washington Nationals.  Finally, while Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman may get the ink in D.C., the Siena College grad Lannan has been a steady influence on the Nats starting rotation.  Lannan has been durable to say the least for an awful team in Washington.  Upon making his debut in 2007, Lannan in 95 starts has logged 566.1 innings with a record of 28-38 and an ERA of 4.10.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eleven Questions For 2011: Mets Spring Training Report

Here come the Mets and here comes the 2011 season New York!  Well OK, it’s only Spring Training, but try telling that to folks buried in up to 12 inches of snow.  Football feels long gone, perhaps your basketball and hockey teams are mired in mediocrity, March Madness is winding down and just seeing some semblance of spring brings a smile to your face.

As we embark on the 2011 season there are eleven questions surrounding the 2011 version of the New York Mets.

11.) Can Izzy Still Make ‘em Dizzy?

OK so as of this writing Jason Isringhausen isn’t even guaranteed a roster spot, but he has been the feel good story of the spring for the Mets thus far.  I first saw Isringhausen pitch in Albany as a member of the Binghamton Mets in 1994 and that club also had Bill Pulsipher and Edgardo Alfonzo.  Izzy may not have the hopes of the franchise on his right arm this time, but perhaps he’ll remind Mets fans that there’s always reason to hope.

10.) Terry Collins… Seriously?

Kerry Collins the former Giants QB?  No, Terry Collins the new Manager.  I for one could not believe the Mets would hire a guy who hasn’t managed since the 20th Century.  Collins doesn’t have terrible credentials, though he does have a rap of not being a players manager and it doesn’t help that his successors in Houston (Larry Dierker) and Anaheim (Mike Scioscia) made numerous playoff appearances following his departure.  Though to be fair the 1994 Astros and 1998 Angels were in the mix for a division title.  If nothing else at least Collins won’t have to deal with being linked to recent Mets collapses.

9.) A New Stance On Bay?

Jason Bay is attempting to get back to his old hitting stance, which gave him so much success in Boston and Pittsburgh.  Mets brass would be happy just to have him in an upright stance and on the field.  With four 30 home run seasons under his belt, Bay need look no further than the third baseman standing in front of him that it is possible to regain your power-stroke, even at the new park in Flushing.

8.) Hey Carlos, We Need You!

When Carlos Beltran was being anointed the new “King of Queens” in 2005, he displaced Mike Cameron who was moved to right and eventually San Diego.  Ask Mets fans who they’d rather have in right and right now they’d probably tell you Cameron.  Beltran now looks like the man Cameron was once traded for, the Cincinnati Reds version of Ken Griffey Jr.  Beltran’s knee is still barking and with his salary the Mets hope to keep him together long enough to lure some prospective buyers.  If Beltran is healthy, at 33 he’s still young enough to give the Mets a jolt.  How long he holds up is another issue.

7.) Rey of Light or Flight?

In his contract year, it is make or break for Jose Reyes.  The Mets management will have to decide whether to sell high or make the 27-year-old Reyes the franchise along with David Wright.  Reyes might be one of the most electric/enigmatic players in the sport and while the Mets desperately need exciting players to sell to this fan base at this point, for how much?  I know folks like to make the comparison to the other short stop in New York, but Reyes is a lot more like Robinson Cano, with less pop but better wheels.

6.) Writing A Wilpon?

Personally I believe the ownership issue with the Mets would have a greater impact on the players if they were in contention in late July and weren’t able to get any help from management due to budget restraints.  It is almost a foregone conclusion that some high-priced players will be moved.  The most important factor will be what new GM Sandy Alderson does with those pieces in trying to restructure this roster going forward within the parameters he’s given.

5.) More New York Mets, Less Buffalo Bisons?

Last season the Mets faithful became perhaps more familiar with the Buffalo and Binghamton rosters than they cared to.  With a slew of injuries, there was a parade of Mike Hessman, Ruben Tejada, Jesus Feliciano and Lucas Duda.  Luckily there’ll be less of Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez, as in none.

4.) Angel In The Outfield.

Can Angel Pagan put up another solid season in center?  Pagan hit career highs in runs, hits, home runs, RBI, walks and steals.  This season may prove whether Pagan deserves to be a regular or is a nice fourth outfielder on a contender.

3.) Frankie Say Relax?

Will Francisco Rodriguez be humbled and just focus on pitching after embarrassing the organization last year?  If not this could get ugly real quick in New York.  Luckily for the Mets, K-Rod is still in the prime of his career and if not for them, could help some team like say the Chicago White Sox?

2.) Baseball Is A Thinking Man’s Game.

Nowhere is that more true than on the Mets starting rotation.  With Johan Santana down for at least half the year and maybe more, the Mets needed some smart solutions.  R.A. Dickey, an English Lit major, one of the few left in the game who knows how to fool batters with a vaunted knuckle ball.  Dickey, a feel good story will get the nod in the Mets home opener.  Then of course there’s free agent signees Chris Young out of Princeton and Chris Capuano from Duke in the mix.  New York is also hoping Mike Pelfrey maintains his ace status and Jon Niese continues to build off his decent rookie campaign.

1.) So Where Does It All End Up?

The Mets certainly have some solid pieces on paper.  It’s just a matter of getting those pieces to stay healthy and productive on the field.  Then it’s a matter of if those pieces stay or go given the issues with team finances.  I could see the Mets hanging right up through the All-Star break if everyone stays intact and they could make some headaches if Johan Santana comes back sooner than later.  But if it gets ugly early and as Red Barber used to say, “The Natives Are Getting Restless,” then there could be quite an upheaval around early June in Queens.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

MLB Predictions: 2011 Preview

In baseball one can watch this game forever and still not see it all.  Yet the 2010 season gave us quite a few moments we haven’t seen in a while if ever.  There was the San Francisco Giants, 56 years, one city, one coast removed from a title finally capturing that elusive championship banner for the city by the bay.  Their opponents the Texas Rangers played capture the flag as well, winning their first playoff series and pennant in club history.  What comes forth in 2011?  Well, we haven’t seen it… yet.

American League East:

1.) Boston Red Sox – Injuries decimated Boston in 2010 and they still managed to win 89 games in the AL East.  Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford will be welcome additions, if not for their explosive offensive production, for their durability, with each playing 160 and 154 games respectively last season.  There’s a lot more depth in the lineup and the bullpen, but a lot rides on how John Lackey, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka respond in 2011.

2.) New York Yankees – Traditionally Alex Rodriguez puts up MVP stats in odd years (2003, 2005, 2007 and his 2009 post-season numbers were off the charts) and if the Yankees are going to make the playoffs this year, his Spring Training theatrics will have to carry over to the regular season.  This lineup will have to jump out front early and hope the starters can pitch to the scoreboard and hand it off to that nasty bullpen.

3.) Toronto Blue Jays – Remember when everyone thought Toronto would amount to nothing in the post-”HallaJay” era prior to 2010?  Now with Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil to neutralize the lefty laden lineups of Boston and New York, along with a couple more guys with bat missing stuff in Brendan Morrow and Kyle Drabek, Toronto could cause some major headaches in the AL East.  Which Blue Jays hitter will have a career year this season?  Two years ago it was the “A-Team” with Aaron Hill and Adam Lind and last year it was “The WB” as in Vernon Wells and Jose Bautista.  Will the breakout player this year be rookie catcher J.P. Arencibia?

4.) Tampa Bay Rays – Carl Crawford set the tone for the Rays lineup for a decade and now Tampa will hope Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon can hold up just long enough to infuse some life into a young light hitting lineup.  I like David Price to dominate again and win his first Cy Young and James Shields should bounce back, but I can also see a lot of games with this bullpen and lineup where the Rays are up 2-1 in the sixth and all hell breaks loose.

5.) Baltimore Orioles – In any other division I might pick them to finish higher and given a clean slate with Buck Showalter, heck they just might this year.  If some of the young guys like Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters realize their potential and Vladimir Guerrero, Derek Lee and Mark Reynolds can help show these guys what it takes to win, their offense could create some major headaches.  Of course the O’s future is contingent on the development of Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton who is waiting in the wings.

American League Central:

1.) Minnesota Twins – I’ll take the Twins to win this division until they don’t.  Their rotation is consistent one through five and getting close  Joe Nathan back keeps them elite.  If Justin Morneau is healthy all year they’re probably going to run away and hide with this division.

2.) Chicago White Sox – The addition of Adam Dunn should create a lot of havoc in the AL Central.  There’s a lot you want to like about them but consistency remains a problem.  They’ll also have to improve their record within the division.  Chicago only went 5-13 against Minnesota, 8-10 against Detroit, 9-9 against Cleveland and 10-8 against Kansas City.

3.) Detroit Tigers – Detroit seems to be a club that is top-heavy and hence last season after a respectable start they faded away in the second half.  The 52-29 home record was impressive, but the 29-52 mark on the road, not so much.  I liked the additions of Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit, but after Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer in the rotation there’s a lot left to be desired.

4.) Cleveland Indians – Shin-Soo Choo is one of the more underrated players in baseball and Carlos Santana and Matt LaPorta have some potential.  Unfortunately for the Tribe, they just can’t seem to patch Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner together for a full campaign.  How long until the Fausto Carmona to the Yankees/Cardinals/Rangers watch is on?

5.) Kansas City Royals – In Kansas City they’re banking on a fertile farm system down the road.  Losing ace Zach Greinke won’t help in the short-term though.  This could be a make or break year for Alex Gordon in the Royals lineup.

American League West:

1.) Oakland Athletics – Yes the A’s appear to be everyone’s sexy pick this season, perhaps more as a sleeper but I love this pitching staff.  Their team ERA was first in the AL and they’re adding Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes to their bullpen.  They’re not loaded offensively but I do like the additions of Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham and David DeJesus.

2.) Texas Rangers – Reigning AL Champs with reigning AL MVP Josh Hamilton and additions of Adrian Beltre along with Mike Napoli should keep the hits coming in Texas.  However I’m not exactly sold on their rotation beyond the top two.  They’re going to have to do better than 39-42 on the road to take the division this year.

3.) Los Angeles Angels – It is very hard to imagine a Mike Scioscia managed club missing the playoffs for two straight seasons.  Yet almost a fifth (15) of the Angels wins last season came against the Seattle Mariners.  I like their top three starters with Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana, but their bullpen is more than shaky and the lineup leaves a lot to be desired.

4.) Seattle Mariners – In the NBA if you have a dynamic duo of stars you’re at least a playoff contender.  Unfortunately for the M’s this is baseball and beyond Ichiro and King Felix, there’s a lot of holes to be filled with the latter 23.  Has it really been ten years since the M’s won 116 games and made the playoffs with Ichiro winning MVP and ROY?  Ask the folks in the Pacific Northwest and it probably feels a lot longer.

National League East:

1.) Philadelphia Phillies - Everyone knows about the starting rotation.  Granted aside from Roy Halladay, none of their starters won more than 13 games last season.  They are a bit nicked up with Chase Utley and Brad Lidge out to start the season, but the Phillies are a solid second half team and I expect them to make the tweaks necessary to put them over the top.

2.) Atlanta Braves – I like their lineup one through nine much better then the Phillies.  Their starting staff is as steady as any outside of Philadelphia and San Francisco.  They’ll certainly be in the playoff mix again.

3.) Florida Marlins - They have some nice young pieces with Mike Stanton, Gaby Sanchez and Chris Coghlin.  If Hanley Ramirez matures to have an MVP type season the Marlins could be in play for a Wild Card.  Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco will have to take it to the next level for Florida to be a serious contender.

4.) New York Mets - Their lineup isn’t terrible on paper, it’s just a matter of getting it out on the field.  The Mets do have some interesting reclamation projects on their pitching staff but if this club gets off to a sluggish start, there could be a very early fire sale.

5.) Washington Nationals – Washington has some nice young arms coming along.  Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche should add some pop to the batting order.

National League Central:

1.) Milwaukee Brewers – I absolutely love this team, especially with the additions of Zach Greinke and Shaun Marcum.  Yovani Galliardo is a stud atop the vastly improved rotation.  Outside of catcher and center field the Brewers have double-digit home run potential at every position.  Folks question Prince Fielder’s durability but he’s only missed ten games since 2006 and I expect his numbers to shoot back up this season.  I also believe Ryan Braun will be in the conversation for NL MVP.

2.) Cincinnati Reds – Still with a solid lineup carried by NL MVP Joey Votto, the Reds have a solid foundation.  Imagine if they hadn’t traded Josh Hamilton?  Now it is a matter of keeping their young hurlers healthy, playing with hightened expectations and beating more quality teams to make the jump to the next level.  The only team to boast a winning road record in the NL Central in 2010.  The combo of Cordero and Chapman should be filthy out of the pen once again.

3.) Chicago Cubs – I like the trade for Matt Garza.  Garza won 15 games in the AL East and his numbers should only improve with moving to the NL Central.  Starlin Castro is a fun flashy player to watch at short.  There’s a lot of vets on this team capable of keeping this team in the hunt, getting that potential out of them will be the tough task though.

4.) St. Louis Cardinals – Tony LaRussa can only do so much with smoke and mirrors for so long with this club.  Even with Adam Wainwright it was going to be a tough haul, but now they’re paper-thin on pitching.  That and the Albert Pujols saga continues to drag on.

5.) Houston Astros - For Houston, Hunter Pence is the model of consistency.  Each of the last three season’s Pence has hit 25 bombs and the last two season’s Hunter has batted .282.  Unfortunately the Astros lineup doesn’t boast any other “Killer P’s” and hope that third baseman Chris Johnson can continue to step his game up.  Houston did finish up 40-33 down the stretch, with Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, J.A. Happ and Bud Norris being the staples of this club.

6.) Pittsburgh Pirates – A few years back the Pirates caught some flak for trades of Nate McLouth, Jason Bay and Xavier Nady.  But would you rather have that outfield or Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata and Garrett Jones?  Pittsburgh could have a nice offensive corps if Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker continue to progress as well.  However the pitching once again is looking abysmal.

National League West:

1.) San Francisco Giants – Pitching and defense win championships and the Giants have plenty of that.  Yes they are an older club but when one figures that Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain both had ERA’s almost a run higher in 2010 than 2009, that they’re only going to be even better this season.

2.) Los Angeles Dodgers- Perhaps the deepest staff in the division.  Andre Ethier can be an MVP candidate, but the rest of this lineup needs to live up to expectations and stay healthy.  I’d still like to see them add another bat.

3.) Colorado Rockies – The Rockies can tear the cover off the ball and that’s no surprise.  Carlos Gonzalez is not only an MVP but a Triple Crown contender as well.  Oddly enough this club got off to a superb start at 49-39 but faltered down the stretch, including dropping their final eight to close out the 2010 campaign.  Ubaldo Jimenez was absolutely electric for Colorado with a mark of 19-8 with a 2.88 ERA and 214 K’s.

4.) San Diego Padres - Looking at their overall staff, one can understand how the Padres won 90 games last year.  Mat Latos, Clayton Richard and Tim Stauffer should make San Diego competitive but losing Adrian Gonzalez on offense could be a huge blow psychologically for this club.

5.) Arizona Diamondbacks – Arizona is fairly decent up the middle and with Justin Upton in right.  Daniel Hudson finished strong coming over in a trade from the White Sox and Ian Kennedy showed some promise as well.

Playoffs:

ALDS: Red Sox over Athletics, Yankees over Twins.

NLDS: Phillies over Giants, Brewers over Braves.

ALCS: Red Sox over Yankees.

NLCS: Phillies over Brewers.

World Series: Red Sox over Phillies.

AL MVP: Alex Rodriguez.

NL MVP: Ryan Braun.

AL Cy Young: David Price.

NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay.

AL Rookie of the Year: J.P. Arencibia.

NL Rookie of the Year: Aroldis Chapman.

AL Manager of the Year: Bob Geren.

NL Manager of the Year: Ron Roenicke.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mr. 2,926

Only 74 hits shy of 3,000 is Derek Jeter.  Just 74 more base knocks and Jeter becomes the lone player to reach the milestone in a New York Yankees uniform and just the fourth Shortstop ever to complete the feat, joining Honus Wagner, Cal Ripken Jr. and Robin Yount as the others.  Though Cal and Robin also played a lot of third base and center field respectively.

I honestly don’t know which one of those facts is more stunning.  Though I would likely have to go with the Yankees factor, given how historically most Shortstops aren’t asked to do a whole lot with the bat.  Sure you could reel off players such as Ernie Banks, Ozzie Smith, Luis Aparicio, Dave Concepcion, Phil Rizzuto, Pee Wee Reese, Arky Vaughn, Barry Larkin etc.  But none of them ever eclipsed 3,000 hits.  Even among the trio Jeter came in with, Nomar Garciaparra is out of baseball and Alex Rodriguez is playing third alongside Jeter.

Yet how there are no other Yankees to have reached this number while donning pinstripes is something else altogether.  Behind Jeter there’s Lou Gehrig (2,721), Babe Ruth (2,518), Mickey Mantle (2,415), Bernie Williams (2,336), Joe DiMaggio (2,214), Don Mattingly (2,153), Yogi Berra (2,148), Bill Dickey (1,969) and Earle Combs (1,186).  All but Williams and Mattingly are in the Hall of Fame and only Ruth and Berra played elsewhere.  The next closest active Yankees to Jeter are Jorge Posada (1,583), Alex Rodriguez (1,137) and Robinson Cano (1,075) and neither has 2,000 hits in a Yankee uniform.

It is so rare that only three players who have worn a Yankees uniform have gone on to do it with another club.  Jeter’s idol Dave Winfield did it in a Minnesota Twins uniform in 1993, finishing up with 3,110.  Rickey Henderson with the San Diego Padres, totaled 3,055 for his career.  Finally Wade Boggs reached the number with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the only player to ever hit that mark with a home run and his ended up with 3,010.

Jeter, should he reach this milestone in 2011, will become the first to 3,000 hits since Craig Biggio did it with the Houston Astros in 2007 and the first to reach the mark this decade.

All in all when one looks at the history of the game, we all wish we could have watched a certain player or witnessed a once in a lifetime record and here with Derek Jeter we have it.  No he may not pass Pete Rose or join Rose and Cobb with 4,000 hits as many including myself may have thought.  And some may call it sacrilege to put Jeter on “Yankee Mount Rushmore” with the likes of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle.  Or others may call him “overrated” because he has somehow been aided by being surrounded by talented Yankees teams rather than being the focal point.

Except that the numbers are there to support Jeter and you are going to see something this season that no one, including those lucky enough to have witnessed those aforementioned players ever has.  The only player wearing a Yankee uniform and only the fourth Shortstop to churn out 3,000 hits.  The countdown is on for Derek Jeter.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eleven Questions For 2011: Red Sox Spring Training Report

Here come the Red Sox and here comes the 2011 season Boston!  Well OK, it’s only Spring Training, but try telling that to folks buried in up to 12 inches of snow.  Football feels long gone, perhaps your basketball and hockey teams are mired in mediocrity and March Madness is a few weeks off, just seeing some semblance of spring brings a smile to your face. 

As we embark on the 2011 season there are eleven questions surrounding the 2011 version of the Boston Red Sox.  Back in 1911, back even before Fenway Park, those Red Sox led by Tris Speaker, Harry Hooper, Duffy Lewis and Smokey Joe Wood finished fourth in the American League, going 78-75 under Patsy Donovan.  It’s fair to say this year’s version has much higher aspirations than that Huntington Avenue Grounds crew.  Though the 1911 Sawx did lead the league in home runs and ERA.

11.) Can They Win 100 Games?

Only three times in their history have the Boston Red Sox ever finished with over 100 wins in a season.  The first coming in the inaugural season of Fenway Park when the club won  franchise best 105 games en route to a World Series title.  The other two resulted in a Series victory in 1915 and defeat in 1946.  While some may be skeptical of a team coming off an 89 win season bouncing back to win 100 in the AL “Big” East, it has happened and quite recently.  The 2008 New York Yankees won 89 games and in 2009 went on to win 103. 

10.) How Many Runs/Steals From The Top?

 These aren’t your father’s Red Sox.  Oh sure they can still go big fly, but they will most assuredly be flying around the base paths all summer long.  For some perspective, my first Red Sox game in 1993 that team’s leading base stealers were Scott Fletcher (16) and Billy Hatcher (14) and that squad didn’t have one player with over 90 runs scored.  Heck even last year’s squad was led by Ryan Kalish with ten swipes.  Now factor in new addition Carl Crawford, who has led the league in steals and triples four times, including a league leading 13 last season.  Then add a healthy Dustin Pedroia, who prior to last year’s injury shortened campaign led the league in runs scored in 2008 and 2009 with 233 combined.  Following that there’s also Jacoby Ellsbury, who led the junior circuit in steals in 2008 and 2009 with a combined 120.  One has to figure they’re good for a combined 130 steals and 320 runs scored if healthy.  Pretty scary.

9.) From Speedy To Gonzalez

In 2010 Boston’s most productive offensive player was named Adrian.  For 2011 they’re banking on another player named Adrian to lead the charge.  So it’s out with Beltre, in with Gonzalez.  Adrian Gonzalez will certainly be a welcome sight for what was an injury riddled club last year.  During the past four campaigns, Gonzalez has played in 160 games or more and in 2006 he appeared in 156 contests.  What is scary about Gonzalez is here you have a guy who in 2009 despite walking a league high 119 times in a paper-thin lineup at a renown pitcher’s park in San Diego, still clubbed 40 home runs.  Gonzalez carried the Padres last year with 31 dingers and 101 driven in.  Now batting in Fenway Park, most likely in front of Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz, the only question is if Gonzalez can handle the pressure cooker of Beantown.

8.) Can Their Catchers Handle The Staff?

There’s a job site out there that touts itself as “long name amazing results.”  With Jarrod Saltalamacchia presumably the starting backstop, the Red Sox have themselves a catcher with a long name and suspect results taking over for V-Mart and V-Tek.  A career .248 hitter, all Salty needs to do is handle the staff and keep opposing runners honest.  Oddly enough the Red Sox and Yankees could actually help each other given the Red Sox pitching depth and the Yankees at the catcher spot.  Fat chance of that happening.

7.) How Much Does Papi Have Left?

Last year folks were writing off David Ortiz in April… April Fools.  All Big Papi did after that was lead the club in Home Runs and RBI and made his sixth All-Star Game.  Ortiz eclipsed 30 homers and 100 RBI for the first time since 2007 and still proved a force in the Red Sox lineup.  Boston would be thrilled if Big Papi could duplicate those numbers in a contract year.

6.) Going… going… Papel-gone?

With phenom fireballer Daniel Bard and his 1.93 ERA and 76 K’s in 74.2 innings waiting in the wings and ex-ChiSox closer Bobby Jenks in the mix, how many early short circuits will it take for the Sawx to swap out Jonathan Papelbon?  Despite having 37 saves, Pap’s ERA ballooned to 3.90.  Though in his last two “odd” year’s, Papelbon has pitched to an ERA of 1.85.  If one looks at the rest of his stats outside of the ERA there’s not much of a difference overall.  It wouldn’t shock me if a team like Texas took a run at him.

5.) Can The Numbers Three Through Five Starters Be Consistent?

Injuries, inconsistency and keeping Tim Wakefield gainfully employed.  That’s what one might read from looking at Josh Beckett, John Lackey And Daisuke Matsuzaka.  Lackey has only won 14 games more than once in his career and had his highest ERA since 2004 and highest total of hits allowed since 2003 last year.  Matsuzaka had a decent bounce back but was nowhere near his 2008 level.  As for Beckett, he endured his worst campaign in a Boston uniform since 2006 with a 5.78 ERA and only six victories.  Mind you with the emergence of Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz at the head of the rotation, Boston hardly needs the latter three to be dominant.  But is it too much of a stretch to ask them to average between 12-15 wins apiece?

4.) Youkilis For MVP?

Batting cleanup in this lineup, what’s the over/under of Youkilis driving in 130 runs?  Youkilis now can take comfort in playing third every day and can focus his attention to run production while opposing pitchers are focused on A-Gon and Crawford, Ellsbury and Pedroia on the bases.  Youkilis a true grinder who garnered two straight top ten MVP finishes before an injury shortened 2010 campaign, could really cash in much like Jeff Kent did with Barry Bonds in San Francisco.

3.) The Starting Shortstop is?

Marco Scutaro was third on the team in hitting at .275 and led the Red Sox in runs scored with 92.  Then there’s the young Jed Lowrie who showed signs of being able to stick as a regular while filling in for Dustin Pedroia, batting .287 with nine home runs.  Is Lowrie ready for every day action or does Scutaro hold down the fort long enough for Boston to make a deal at the deadline for say a Jose Reyes? 

2.) What Will The Boston Batting Order Look Like?

Do the Red Sox put all of their speed guys with Crawford, Ellsbury and Pedroia at the top?  Or does Ellsbury serve as a “double-leadoff” hitter in the nine-hole?  It looks as though Gonzalez and Youkilis will handle the three and four spots, with either David Ortiz or J.D. Drew in the five and six holes, with Scutaro, Salty and Ellsbury rounding out the order.  Though one could make the arguement for slotting Crawford in the three hole with Gonzalez and Youkilis at the four and five, though that would break up the left-right, left-right setup.

1.) Who Is The Wild Card For This Team?

Will Daniel Bard step into the closer role?  Does Ryan Kalish supplant J.D. Drew?  How do their new big guns in Crawford and Gonzalez adjust to the pressure cooker?  Can Clay Buchholz duplicate his dominance?  Does Jed Lowrie emerge at short?  How will they fair with a new pitching coach?  Can they stay healthy?  If so, Boston looks stacked in 2011.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Phillies Hope For Summer Of Rotation Domination

There are several juicy story lines heading into the 2011 MLB season.  Will the San Francisco Giants repeat as World Champions?  Are the Boston Red Sox with the additions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford favorites to win 100 games for the first time since 1946?  Could the Oakland Athletics and Milwaukee Brewers be this year’s versions of the San Francisco Giants and Cincinnati Reds?  And where will Albert Pujols ultimately end up if he doesn’t re-sign with the St. Louis Cardinals?

All great questions, all interesting to see how they’ll play out.  However all eyes will inevitably be focused on the Philadelphia Phillies and the summer of rotation domination.  How fitting in the 40th anniversary of the Baltimore Orioles boasting four 20 game winners, with Dave McNally winning 21 and Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson each winning 20, that this impressive quartet put together in Philadelphia of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels has a chance at equaling that impressive feat in 2011.  Oh and let’s not forget Joe Blanton who won 16 games for the Oakland Athletics in 2006.

Just how spectacular and rare would it be for the Phillies to boast four 20 game winners?  Consider this, the last and only time in baseball history this was accomplished before the O’s was when all they had was a four-man rotation, by the 1920 Chicago White Sox.  Red Faber won 23, Lefty Williams 22, Ed Cicotte and Dickey Kerr 21 respectively for the Pale Hose.  Even if the Phillies only had three 20 game winners, it would be the first time since the 1973 Oakland Athletics (Ken Holtzman, Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue) a team has done that and the first time in Phillies franchise history since 1901 when Red Donahue, Al Orth and Bill Duggleby all turned the trick.  And in 1931 when the Athletics played in Philadelphia, Lefty Grove, George Earnshaw and Rube Walberg all won over 20, with Grove winning 31.

Of course the resume for this group is quite impressive.  Between the Phillies starting five they have combined for three Cy Youngs, 13 top-five Cy Young finishes, a World Series MVP, two LCS MVP’s, 13 trips to the Mid-Summer Classic and oh yeah six 20 win seasons.  Three of the top six active pitchers in winning percentage reside on this staff, Halladay (first), Oswalt (fourth) and Lee (sixth).  Halladay, Lee, Oswalt and Hamels are also a combined 20-8 when it counts in October.

But does it guarantee a title?  Just ask the 2010 San Francisco Giants who knocked off all four last October.  In fact the aforementioned Orioles lost the World Series in 1971 to the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago White Sox were beat out by the Cleveland Indians for the AL Pennant in 1920.  Though the 1973 A’s did defeat the New York Mets in the Fall Classic.  And what of the Atlanta Braves of recent vintage?  The trio of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz won the 1995 World Series over the Cleveland Indians.  Yet their first year together, the only with two 20 game winners in 1993, they fell in the NLCS to the Philadelphia Phillies.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment