March 4, 2014

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2014 MLB Division Winners

By: Joe Williams

MLB Opening Day is just a couple weeks away which means it’s time for my yearly ritual of predicting the six division winners and ensuring that those teams don’t have the season they are hoping for. What can I say? It’s a gift. (I don’t think the Blue Jays would call it that after the 2013 season). So let’s get on with it.

A.L. East

Last season proved that anything can happen in this division. A year ago I wrote “The Red Sox aren’t going to make a 25-win improvement over 2012.” So now I say, “I told you so.” Of course they didn’t win 25 more games than 2012. They won 28 more games. Just like I suspected they would. I’d like to see them try to do that again. But I think they will have a tougher road this year. They won’t be the team of destiny anymore. The Yankees will be trying to give Derek Jeter one final postseason and the Blue Jays have to be better right? The Orioles and Rays will be very good, too. I say all five teams finish over .500 and it’s the Rays that claim the division crown.

Boston Red Sox

Can the Red Sox repeat as AL East Champs in 2014?

A.L. Central

It almost feels like cheating to pick the team that won it last year. But when the same team has won for the last three years, it just seems stupid not to pick them. Am I right? Especially when they haven’t won a title yet. The Tigers ought to be a hungry bunch. The may have the best hitter and pitcher in baseball with Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander. They won’t run away with it. But Detroit wins the Central again.

A.L. West

Once again, people seem to think the Angels are back. I don’t think so. There’s too much up in the air with Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols. I don’t see them returning to elite players. So that leaves the Rangers and the A’s to battle it out (with Seattle improving but not there yet). I’ve learned my lesson. I keep picking against Oakland and I keep getting it wrong. No more. Despite the Rangers adding Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, I’m taking the A’s to work their magic again and defend their title. If you don’t believe me, watch Moneyball and you will.

N.L. East

I’d like a mulligan. (Does it count as a mulligan if you pick the same team as last year?) It seems like Washington is due to have some stuff go its way. Just a couple more wins than last year should be enough to get the job done. Especially when the Nationals are going to be rolling out Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmerman and Fister to the mound all season. The Braves will give them a run, but its about time something went right in Washington.

N.L. Central

We know it won’t be the Cubs. The Brewers should be better than the 74-win team from last year and make it a four-team race for a while, but in the end it will come down to the three teams (Cardinals, Pirates and Reds) that all won at least 90 games last year. One of them won’t get there this year. Sadly, I think it might be the Pirates that drop off the pace. The Reds won the Central in 2010 and 2012 so obviously 2014 is going to be their year as well. I like their rotation the best and if they can get Billy Hamilton on base, their offense will be scary.

N.L. West

Question: How many division titles do you have to buy before you become hated like the Yankees? The Dodgers are determined to find this out. No team has more superstars right now. They ran away with the West last year and should win it easily again. The real question for this team is can it make a deep run in October.

August 21, 2013

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The Los Angeles Dodgers

By: Matt Bowen

Usually a title to an article would have a hook, but when speaking of the Los Angeles Dodgers one is left rather speechless. What the team is doing this year is nothing short of out of this world. It’s something even Hollywood couldn’t script better. It’s remarkable.

Can Yasiel Puig and Clayton Kershaw lead the Los Angeles Dodgers to the World Series?

The Los Angeles Dodgers were 23-32 on June 2. Now, 70 games later they are 73-52. What does that mean? Well, for nearly one-half of the entire 162 games season their record is 50-20. That’s a winning percentage of .714, which, had they played this way since Opening Day they would be on pace for 115 wins. The modern day record for wins in a season is 116 wins by the 2001 Seattle Mariners. Yes, the 2013 version of the Dodgers are playing like the best team in history since early June. Correct, we are witnessing history.

Under new ownership headed by Magic Johnson the team was supposed to turn the underachieving page this season. As of June they were considered one of the biggest busts in sports history. Using a historical reference back from their Brooklyn days, “Dem Bums” were overpaid and lousy. Their manager, Don Mattingly, also known as “Donny Baseball” was on the brink of getting his pink slip and the team was so very close to being forgotten about.

Then, a gift from the baseball Gods landed in tinsel town in the form of a young 22-year-old Cuban defector by the name of Yasiel Puig. True, his brash attitude may turn some people away, but it’s just what the Dodgers needed. They needed some swagger, and Puig has plenty. Remember, he’s only 22 on the world’s largest stage. His personality is infectious and although his teammates do not agree with his actions 100 percent of the time, he’s been the fuel to their fire. After all, don’t forget that winning too is infectious.

Puig is batting .352, and although he’s been in a small slump of late, his heroics are nothing short of super human. After being late to the stadium in which manager Mattingly fined and benched Puig for on August 20, he stepped to the plate and delivered a eighth inning home run to break a tie ballgame. This is Puig in a nutshell, seemingly careless on the outside only to deliver when it matters most.

When it comes to Rookie of the Year, Puig wins it running away. The real debate begins when asked if he should the MVP of the 2013 season. Looking at his numbers as of August 21, a .352 average in 261 at-bats with only 12 homers and 28 RBI with seven steal to boot isn’t quite convincing, but when the term “most valuable” is implied, Puig is just that. The team’s record with him on the roster stands for itself, for Puig punched his ticket to The Show on June 2.

Combined with pitcher Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers could sweep the individual awards for the season. Kershaw will win the Cy Young without a contest—his current 1.80 ERA and .85 WHIP speaks for itself. Puig will be Rookie of the Year and if the voters come to their senses they will realize that no man in the National League has been more valuable to his team.

To think the Dodgers won’t prevail to the World Series is a bit preposterous at the moment. While there is plenty of ball to be played, this season’s best story can only finish with a classic Hollywood ending. Get ready, because the Dodgers are about to hit the stratosphere.

June 18, 2013

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MLB Power Rankings

By: Joe Williams

There is another month of baseball to play before the MLB All-Star break so we should know who is good and who isn’t at this point, but I’ll bet there isn’t anyone out there who would have guessed that the best teams during the month of June would be Kansas City, Toronto, San Diego and Oakland. Meanwhile, teams like the Yankees, Rangers and Dodgers are struggling. Where will that leave those teams in today’s power rankings?

The Cardinals can celebrate being at the top of our latest MLB Power Rankings.

1. St. Louis Cardinals (44-25): As a Cubs fan, you never want to see the Cardinals at the top of the list but there’s no denying they have the best record in baseball and are +102 in run differential.

2. Atlanta Braves (41-28): The Braves hold the biggest lead of any division leaders at 6.5 games over Washington.

3. Cincinnati Reds (42-28): If the Reds were in any other division, they’d be in first place.

4. Oakland A’s (42-29): The A’s have made a huge jump from the 15 spot a month ago. That’s what an 18-7 record will do for you.

5. Boston Red Sox (42-29): Boston leads the majors in runs scored with 363.

6. Texas Rangers (38-31): Just like the end of last season, the Rangers have been caught by Oakland.

7. Detroit Tigers (38-29): Right now just Chris Davis is standing between Miguel Cabrera and a repeat triple crown.

8. Baltimore Orioles (40-30): Baltimore has quietly taken the lead in the wild card race and pulled within just 1.5 games of Boston.

9. Arizona Diamondbacks (37-32): I don’t think anyone expected the Diamondbacks to be leading the NL West at this point.

10. Pittsburgh Pirates (41-28): Forget about finishing over .500…the Pirates are on pace to finish close to .600.

11. New York Yankees (38-31): Could this be the beginning of the end for the Yankees. They’ve lost ground in the AL East and wild card races.

12. Colorado Rockies (37-33): Gonzalez and Tulowitzki have lead the Rockies into the race. The pitching will need to improve to stay in it to the end.

13. San Diego Padres (36-34): Seven straight wins will and the Padres are back in the hunt after a 2-10 to the season.

14. Tampa Bay Rays (36-33): Wil Myers has been called up. Now let’s see what he can do.

15. Kansas City Royals (34-34): The Royals have been the best team in baseball, going 12-4 in June.

16. Washington Nationals (34-35): It’s turning into a disappointing season in the capital. The Nats better get back on track soon or it will be too late.

17. Cleveland Indians (34-35): Here’s a team that has really cooled off and is just 5-10 in June.

18. San Francisco Giants (35-34): The Giants will have to do better than 14-22 on the road if they want to defend their title.

19. Toronto Blue Jays (33-36): The Jays have six wins in a row and are climbing out of a big hole.

20. Philadelphia Phillies (34-37): The Phillies are second in the majors in quality starts but don’t have much to show for it.

21. Minnesota Twins (30-36): The Twins are near the bottom in just about every pitching category. Not good.

22. LA Dodgers (29-39): Talk about a wasted season…nobody is farther away from next-to-last in their division than the Dodgers.

23. LA Angels (31-39): Here is another team that was supposed to contend and has let their fans down.

24. Milwaukee Brewers (28-40): It’s going to be a dead heat with the Cubs for last place in the NL Central.

25. Chicago Cubs (28-40): It’s going to be a dead heat with the Brewers for last place in the NL Central.

26. Seattle Mariners (31-40): King Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma are lights out pitchers right now. They aren’t getting much help though.

27. Chicago White Sox (29-38): It looks like it will be a tight race for worst team in Chicago.

28. New York Mets (25-40): The Mets are making a strong run towards the worst record in baseball with a 3-10 start in June.

29. Houston Astros (26-45): An 8-8 record so far this month is a big improvement for the AL West newcomers.

30. Miami Marlins (22-47): The Marlins are playing better, posting an 8-6 record so far this month.

June 12, 2013

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Yasiel Puig—Baseball’s Newest Phenom

By: Matt Bowen

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 10 days, you know who Yasiel Puig is.

He’s the 22-year-old right fielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers who is the latest and greatest MLB phenomenon.

Yasiel Puig has brought a lot of excitement to Dodger Stadium this season.

Right now Superman wears Yasiel Puig pajamas to bed at night.

For a team with a 28-36 record who’s been struggling since Opening Day, Puig has made the Dodgers “must-see TV.”

The Dodgers haven’t had this much positive buzz surrounding them since 2008 when Manny Ramirez turned Tinseltown into “MannyWood.”

What Puig has done in just over one week of MLB service is remarkable. He’s already a juggernaut. There’s nothing he hasn’t done on a baseball field. He’s batted in multiple spots in the lineup, gone deep four times including a grand slam and has simply taken over baseball.

He’s showcased his cannon of an arm by throwing out two would-be advancing opponents from the outfield with ease. The last time we saw an arm this good from the warning track was Ichiro in his prime.

He’s been compared to Bo Jackson! That’s not a comparison that gets tossed around lightly, that’s an athlete.

Seriously, who gets compared to Jackson as an athlete? Many athletes may possess particular traits of Jackson’s, but not the entire package.

So, is Puig the reincarnation of Jackson? Only time will tell. One thing is for sure, his meteoric rise to stardom has no ceiling right now.

Last season it was Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim that took baseball by storm, but this story is a bit different. Yes, the two players are in the same city, but there’s something majestic about the Dodgers. The colors, the history, the aura of the franchise are intoxicating and right now Major League Baseball is under the spell that Puig has cast.

The big question is how long can he keep up this torrid pace?

No, he won’t hit around .500 forever, but there’s no reason to believe that he won’t be a career .300-hitter.

In spring training he hit .517, but spring training isn’t always the best evaluator of talent. A hot start in March doesn’t always translate to success. The worry with Puig was that he wouldn’t be able to handle the arsenal of pitches MLB aces would throw at him. So far, he’s hit a thick menu of pitches.  Puig has the opposition scratching their collective head pondering on just how to get him out. He’s even been intentionally walked already.  That’s a good sign that he’s here to stay.

The Dodgers have been waiting for someone like Puig to return them to relevance for some time now. They’re a team that has been plagued by injuries this season. If they can slowly inch closer to .500 until the All-Star break in July they’ll be fine. Come the second half of the season, they’ll be considered the scariest team in baseball.

A healthy Dodgers lineup with a fire-starter like Puig leading the way is a force to be reckoned with.

Don’t let their current record fool you, the Dodgers are coming.

May 21, 2013

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MLB Power Rankings

By: Joe Williams

Now that we’ve made it a quarter of the way through the MLB season we know a few things we thought at the start of the season are right (Texas is good, Houston is not) and a few are wrong (Boston is good, the Dodgers are not). So it’s time for the first power ranking post of the season.

After losing six in a row, the Orioles have fallen close to the middle of the pack.

1. Texas Rangers (29-16): It sure looks like they picked the right time to lets Josh Hamilton leave town.

2. Atlanta Braves (26-18): One Upton brother has been their best player, while the other has been their worst.

3. Boston Red Sox (27-18): Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are a combined 12-1 so far.

4. St. Louis Cardinals (28-16): The Cards lead the majors in ERA.

5. Cincinnati Reds (27-18): The Reds are 16-6 at home, the best record in the majors.

6. Cleveland Indians (26-17): Five straight wins and 8-2 in the last 10 makes the Tribe the hottest team in baseball.

7. New York Yankees (28-16): Who would have thought they would be in first place without all of their injured stars?

8. Detroit Tigers (23-19): The Tigers have scored 20 more runs than their opponents this month but are just 8-9 to show for it.

9. Pittsburgh Pirates (26-18): Forget about finishing over .500…the Pirates are on pace to finish close to .600.

10. Arizona Diamondbacks (26-19): I don’t think anyone expected the Diamondbacks to be leading the NL West at this point.

11. Colorado Rockies (24-21): The Rockies are leading the majors in runs scored with 222.

12. Tampa Bay Rays (23-21): Reigning AL Cy Young winner David Price has be awful, but Matt Moore (8-0) is filling the void nicely.

13. San Francisco Giants (25-20): The defending champs are known for their pitching but their batting average ranks second in baseball.

14. Baltimore Orioles (23-21): Six straight losses have the Orioles five games behind the Yankees.

15. Oakland A’s (24-22): The A’s are 24th in batting average, but 9th in getting on base. Why? They lead the majors in walks with 187.

16. Washington Nationals (23-22): Anybody know what’s going on with Strasburg? He’s been offered to me in my fantasy league and I just can’t decide.

17. Kansas City Royals (20-21): After a hot April (14-10) the Royals have cooled off.

18. San Diego Padres (21-23): San Diego has recovered from a 2-10 start. Can they keep it up?

19. Philadelphia Phillies (21-24): Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay are 7-13 combined. Ouch.

20. Seattle Mariners (20-25): King Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma are lights out pitchers right now. They aren’t getting much help though.

21. Chicago Cubs (18-25): Matt Garza is finally back….and the Cubs need him to be great.

22. Chicago White Sox (20-23): Paul Konerko, Jeff Keppinger and Adam Dunn are hitting .220, .199 and .172. They’ll keep losing if that doesn’t improve.

23. Minnesota Twins (18-23): After losing eight of the last ten, the Twins are in the AL Central cellar.

24. LA Angels (17-27): Here is the first of three teams battling it out for most disappointing team of the season.

25. New York Mets (17-25): Where would this team be without Matt Harvey?

26. Milwaukee Brewers (17-26): With the Astros moved to the American League, the Brewers are in danger of being the worst team in the NL Central.

27. Toronto Blue Jays (18-26): Toronto tried to fight fire with fire by signing big name free agents but so far they are getting burned.

28. LA Dodgers (18-25): The Dodgers by far the most disappointing team in the National League and maybe in all of baseball.

29. Miami Marlins (13-32): The Marlins have scored just 122 runs and are last in the majors. They are also last in batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage.

30. Houston Astros (13-32): The Astros have allowed a whopping 266 runs this season and are last in the majors. They are also last in ERA, quality starts and WHIP.