March 29, 2013

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Welcoming the Houston Astros to the AL West

By: Matt Bowen

Opening Day is only a few days away and Major League Baseball will have a slightly new look this year for the first time since 1998, when the Milwaukee Brewers switched from the American League to the National league because of expansion teams Tampa Bay and Arizona.

The Astros will be moving from the NL Central to the AL West in 2013.

Now, for the first time in league history, each league will have 15 teams. Also, each division will have five teams. The Astros are set to join the AL West amongst the likes of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners and their in-state and now divisional rival Texas Rangers.

Baseball is so excited for the move that the MLB decided that the very first game of 2013 will be the Astros hosting the Rangers. Houston righty Bud Norris gets the Opening Day nod against Texas lefty Matt Harrison.

One man to keep your eye on during the broadcast is Rangers CEO Nolan Ryan, who spent some of his best days of his Hall of Fame career in an Astros uniform, which will look strikingly familiar.

The Astros needed a new look, so they turned back the clock and mimicked their jerseys first introduced in 1975. Sure, they’re not quite as vibrant as the multiple shades of orange, but they definitely have that vibe. Don’t be surprised when the team goes full throwback a few times this season.

After all, the Astros have a new lease on their baseball life in the AL West. Yes, they lost 107 games last season, but a new chapter in their history is about to commence. Thanks to swapping leagues and the new look, Astros fans should have a new outlook.

The organization may have a ways to go before they reach glory, but they are beginning to put the right pieces in place. New manager Bo Porter is a great start. In his recent past, Porter was the third base coach for the Washington Nationals, who made the playoffs last year with an NL-best 98 wins last season. Knowing how to win is invaluable in sports and Porter has tasted victory. Now, his No. 1 job is to change the mindset in Houston.  Porter is doing just that as he’s prepping his men to be champions. Fans can’t argue with Porter’s passion.

Another thing to look forward to as an Astros fan is young players Jose Altuve and Matt Dominguez. Altuve hit .290 in 2012 with 33 stolen bases as a second baseman. He may be small in size (5’5”), but he has a big game. Last year was his first full season in the majors and he may have run out of gas down the stretch. Expect him to be ready to go for 162 games this season.

Dominguez is a 23-year-old prospect that’s been champing at the bit to make an impact at the major league level. After being dealt to the Astros last season from the Miami Marlins, he hit five homers in just 109 at-bats and hit .284. He’ll be a welcomed star for the Astros by season’s end.

Just like the team’s motto on their webpage this season, “It’s a whole new ballgame” in Houston.

June 20, 2012

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Sizing up Baseball’s Newest Star, Mike Trout

By: Matt Bowen

Major League Baseball has a new star in Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The 20-year-old phenomenon has been thriving since being called up to the big leagues on April 28 of this season.

Bryce Harper isn't the only rookie taking the MLB by storm.

In 190 at-bats in 2012, he’s batting a remarkable .337 with six homers, 27 RBI, 40 runs scored and 19 stolen bases. His 49 hits since May 14 leads the American League.  He’s been a highly touted prospect for quite some time, but very few ever dreamt of Trout being this good so soon in his MLB career.

He got a taste in the majors last year, playing in 40 games and only batting .220 in 123 at-bats. Being only 20 years old, baseball fanatics were worried that the kid wasn’t ready, or that he wouldn’t live up to the hype of being one of the MLB’s highest rated prospects. He didn’t make the team out of spring training in 2012 and Angels’ fans expected him to be called up this season, but not by the end of April. All he did in the minors early in the season was hit .403 in 20 games. With the Angels struggling and Trout’s numbers being undeniable, the team knew it was his time to shine.

The Angels were expected to be World Series contenders in 2012 because of the offseason they had in free agency. The team signed all-world slugger Albert Pujols and ace left-handed pitcher C.J. Wilson to hefty contracts. The Angels finished 2011 with an 86-76 record and those numbers were expected to be trumped this season because of the big-name free agents they added to their already strong lineup.

Despite all the money spent and big expectations, the Angels stumbled out of the gate in 2012. At the end of the season they’ll be thanking Trout, not Pujols, for their turn around.

The Angels were 7-14 on April 28 when they called on Trout to create the spark they desperately needed, and he hasn’t disappointed. On that date, the team was nine games back in the AL West to the Texas Rangers, the team they have to beat in 2012 if they’re to be considered one of baseball’s best. The Rangers have been to the World Series two-straight years and the Angels made those big offseason moves in order to dominate the Rangers.

Because of Trout, the Angels are 36-31 and only sit four games behind the Rangers.  Although he’s only a rookie, he’ll be an All-Star and shows no sign of slowing down. Forget Rookie of the Year, Trout may be the MVP in 2012.  Sure, he’ll still have his ups-and-downs, but the good decimates the bad when it comes to his rookie season.

Do yourself a favor and try to watch this budding star as much as possible.

September 7, 2011

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Is it October yet?

By: Joe Williams

Do you know what Zach Stewart did last night? The Chicago White Sox pitcher flirted with history as he mowed down the Minnesota Twins lineup for seven perfect innings. Danny Valencia broke up the bid for a perfect game with an eighth-inning double and Stewart finished the game with a one-hitter.

With all the excitement surrounding the start of the college football and NFL seasons, and the absence of compelling pennant races in baseball, a performance like that can go under the radar. This month of September will be full of meaningless (unless you qualified for the playoffs in your MLB  fantasy baseball league) games. Can’t we just skip ahead to October and start the playoffs already?

Look at the MLB standings and you will see that the Yankees or Red Sox will win the A.L. East and the top seed and the other will be the Wild Card team. Does it really make a difference who wins the MLB division to anyone other than New York and Boston fans? Is it October yet?

 

Barring a major collapse, Detroit is going to win the A.L. Central. The way Justin Verlander has been pitching; he could win enough games by himself in September to get the Tigers to the post-season. Is it October yet?

The only spot that is really in doubt is in the A.L. West. The Rangers lead the Angels by 2.5 games. They will meet in Anaheim for the last three games of the MLB regular season. Let’s just hope a playoff berth comes down to that.

The story is pretty much the same in the N.L. The Phillies are running away with the East and the top seed, the Braves are running away with the Wild Card and Milwaukee is running away with the N.L. Central. Even the surprising Diamondbacks have built a seven-game lead over San Francisco. Is it October yet?

There has been talk of expanding the MLB playoffs and adding another Wild Card team in each league. That would at least give the last few weeks of the MLB season some intrigue. Tampa Bay would be in a battle with the A.L. West runner-up and the Giants and Cardinals would be tied for the final MLB playoff spot. That doesn’t help this year though. Is it October yet?

The MLB baseball season is too long. Playoff baseball has a tough time competing with college football and the NFL. Regular season games have no chance. The powers that be are not going to shorten the MLB season because fewer games = less money but I hope something happens to add some meaning to the end of the season whether it is expanding the playoffs or changing the format or maybe even realignment. I’m ready for the MLB playoffs to begin. Is it October yet?