March 14, 2013

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5 MLB Teams Destined to Have a Bounce-Back Season

By: Matt Bowen

With the 2013 MLB season set to begin in April there are five teams destined to have a bounce-back season.

For the teams mentioned in this article, the 2012 season was a major league letdown. Regardless, what’s done is done and there’s no reason to dwell on it.

With optimism flooding the mentality of every MLB team and their fan bases this time of year, there’s no time like the presence to turn the corner.

After all, only the San Francisco Giants went home happy in 2012.

Dustin Pedroia is one reason Red Sox fans should believe their team can turn it around in 2013.

For some teams, becoming a respected and prominent team this year is the ultimate goal. For these teams, it’s now time to forget about 2012 and put solid numbers in the “Win” column.

The Boston Red Sox Won’t End Up in the Cellar Again

Things have drastically changed in Boston, but fans need not worry about becoming cursed again. The team will be just fine in Bean Town. Despite finishing 69-93 last season, things are looking good.

They successfully shed about $250 million in salary with a massive nine-player deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers last August. Although a ton of talent left town, they still have the familiar faces of David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury.

Here’s where fans will fall in love with the latest edition of the Red Sox—they’re going to be gritty, which is a perfect fit in Boston.  With a nice mixture of veteran leadership and youthful exuberance, the chemistry in the clubhouse should be lively and fun.

One player to keep your eye on is a young outfielder by the name of Jackie Bradley. He’s quickly winning over his teammates and hitting around .500 this spring. Expect him to be a staple in the Red Sox lineup before season’s end.

The Pittsburgh Pirates Look to End 2013 the way the 2012 season began—Winning

It’s hard not to root for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  They haven’t made the postseason since the early 1990s and looked destined last season, but stumbled down the stretch. In fact, they haven’t had a winning season in 20 years.

Their superstar, Andrew McCutchen, is an all-world gentleman. He did something last season that hasn’t been done in Pittsburgh in decades—he signed a six-year contract to stay in the Steel City.

He believes and so should the fans. We know they know how to lose, but they’ve definitely tasted victory. Now, 2013 is the year to put it all together.

Although pitchers Garrit Cole and Jameson Taillon won’t start with the big club on Opening Day, they’ll be front-row and center by the time August rolls around.  When they arrive, the whole world will have all eyes on the Pirates.

The Kansas City Royals Will Make the Playoffs

It’s true; your eyes are not playing tricks on you. The Kansas City Royals will make the playoffs in 2013.

For years the Royals have had one of the best farm systems in all of baseball, but that potential hasn’t quite translated into wins.  This is the year that is does.

The organization traded one of their highly touted prospects named Wil Myers to the Tampa Bay Rays in the offseason for quality starting pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis.

This is a positive first toward making the playoffs. After all, how far can a team go if their pitchers can’t take them deep into ball games?

While Myers’ MLB debut is highly awaited, the Royals have an entire roster of prospects just like him. Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez are just a few names in the Royals dugout that have insane amounts of talent.

Don’t be shocked when it all comes together this season.

Don’t Write Off the Seattle Mariners as Dead Meat in the AL West

Sure, the AL West is loaded with talent thanks to the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Oakland Athletics, but the Seattle Mariners are not a team to sleep on.

The team still has one of the best pitcher’s in the game in Felix Hernandez. They also players like Jason Bay and Michael Morse. These guys will be playing with a chip on their shoulder looking to prove they still have gas in the tank.

Combine these vets with youngsters like Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley and others and the Mariners have a nice squad on their hands.

Here’s where the 2013 Mariners will be most dangerous—they will be overlooked, circled on every opponent’s calendar as an easy victory. This is where others will be wrong. Following by the example set by the veterans, the entire roster will play like today could be their last. In a sense, they’re a team of castaways sent to the Northwest to be forgotten about.

Expect that “Us Against the World” mentality to fuel the Mariners throughout the season.

This Will Be the Year Chicago Cubs Fans Start to Believe Again

Chicago Cubs fans deserve credit—every year since 1908 the team has gone without a title. Yet, every year the fans come out to Wrigley Field in droves to support their Cubbies.

This is now year two of the Theo Epstein era. Reminder, Epstein is the General Manager whose formula brought the Boston Red Sox two World Series titles in the first decade of this century. Given, the Cubs aren’t the favorite to win it all this season, but they’ll be better than their 101 losses a season ago.

How will they be better?

Superstar Starlin Castro will mature and take every second seriously. He’s been known to be lax in the past.  They also have Anthony Rizzo, who will face a make-or-break season. Don’t expect him to be considered a bust this season.  Rizzo was once one of the top prospects in baseball and is still only 23 years old.

It is rookies Javier Baez and Jorge Soler that will be the sparkplugs in the Cubs offense this year. They may take a few months to get their feet wet, but they’ll quickly become fan favorites.

“Hey Chicago whaddya say…”

Things are looking up.

April 25, 2011

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Biggest Surprises of 2011 MLB Season

By: Anson Whaley

I know, I get it – the MLB seasonis really just getting underway, and many fans aren’t even paying attention yet with the NBA and NHL playoffs dominating the sports world. But some early season surprises are still worth noting – here are a few:

The Boston Red Sox

What’s going on in Beantown? The Sox were picked by many prognosticators to not only reach the playoffs, but win the World Series. Until this recent hot stretch, though, Boston’s lineup of All Star MLB players hasn’t translated into a lot of wins. So why the early struggles? Offseason acquisition Carl Crawford is batting around .150 – about ½ the production at the plate most expected. Another player picked up, Adrian Gonzalez, has only one home run to date after hitting 31 last year. And Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis, both near .300 career hitters, are batting a little over .200. In a nutshell, too few players are contributing far too less.

The verdict: All of the aforementioned MLB players are veterans and likely just off to slow starts. I expect the current hot streak to continue; the Red Sox will turn things around and sneak into the MLB playoffs. 

AL Central

Over in the AL Central, things have been literally upside down. On the bottom of the standings, there are perennial contenders, the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins. The Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royalsare sitting on top and are doing it with offense – both MLB teams are tied for first-place in the league in scoring runs. Neither was expected to do much, but each squad has some young players stepping up, including Indians’ pitchers Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin (a combined 7-0) and the Royals’ Alex Gordon, who looks to be finally cashing in some of his enormous potential, hitting over .350.

The verdict: Neither MLB team has had much trouble scoring runs to date, but the Indians have had some of the best pitching in baseball. Because of that, Cleveland should be able to contend throughout the duration of the season, but I expect the Royals to drop off a bit at some point…especially without former ace Zach Greinke, who went to Milwaukee in the offseason.

Jose Bautista

After doing little in five seasons in Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Baltimore, and Kansas City, Bautista slugged a league-leading 54 home runs last year for the Toronto Blue Jays. While his past track record didn’t indicate he was capable of such a year, he proved everyone wrong with a highly-publicized alteration to his swing. Many have been anxious to claim that last year was a mere fluke (a la Brady Anderson circa 1996), but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Bautista is again leading the AL with seven home runs and is batting .360 – more than .100 points over his career average. Jose’s on pace for another 50+ home run season and doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.

The verdict: Pitchers are starting to catch on to the fact that Bautista is a real threat, as evidenced by his league-leading 19 walks. Because of that, his home runs should dip a bit, but I’m not betting against him for another big year.

The Mediocrity that is the NL Central

It’s early, but the NL Central is looking like it will produce a .500-ish champion. Heading into the Sunday night matchup between the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals, both were tied for the Division lead at 11-10 with the Milwaukee Brewers. The 10-11 Cubs were only a game back, while the Pirates (9-12) and Astros(8-14) weren’t far behind. With only 3.5 games separating the first- and last-place teams, this is the tightest division in all of baseball. The NL Central appears to be wide open and could be reminiscent of 1997, when the race went right down to the wire with the Astros taking the title with only 84 wins.

The verdict: Predicting a winner in this Division would be akin to predicting when Charlie Sheen will utter another iconic phrase or when Donald Trump will call out another celebrity, but I’ll go with the Reds.  I also think that by the MLB season’s end, there will be a clear separation of the top three teams (Reds, Cardinals, and Brewers) and the bottom three (Cubs, Pirates, Astros). There’s also not much pitching in the NL Central, so there will be some big numbers offensively by some of the individual MLB players in the division.

The New York Mets

When you look at the Mets’ lineup, consisting of great MLB players like Jose Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Beltran, and Jason Bay, you expect great things. But so far, this season has looked like the past two when the club finished under .500, despite the big payroll. In all fairness, though, New York has had to deal with some major injury issues. The team is missing staff ace Johan Santana, who is on the disabled list with an elbow injury and not expected to return until June or July. And the aforementioned Bay just began his season, coming off of a DL stint of his own.

The verdict: With so much talent, it’s hard to see the Mets finishing below .500 again. While they don’t have the horses to compete with the Phillies (few teams do), a second-place or even Wild Card chase isn’t out of the question if they can stay healthy and add a pitcher down the stretch.