February 13, 2014

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3 MLB Teams Set to Surprise in 2014

By: Matt Bowen

Close your eyes, take a deep breath and think of spring. If you’re thinking of freshly cut grass, roasted peanuts and grilled hot dogs then you’re ready for the 2014 MLB season.

Trust us, you’re not alone.

The majority of pitchers and catching on the verge of reporting to camp brings relief to a rough winter. Just the sight of players outside in the sun sporting t-shirts brings a smile to ones face. Finally, the end of the offseason is near.

It may have only been three months since the World Series ended but that is not kosher with baseball diehards. We were thirsting for more the day after the Boston Red Sox won the 2013 World Series.

With the new season taking flight let’s take some time and size up the competition by naming the top three surprise teams of the upcoming season.

Joe Mauer

Can Joe Mauer and the Twins contend for the AL Wild Card (or more) in 2014?

No. 3: Minnesota Twins

So what if the Minnesota Twins finished last season with a 66-96 record, the fan base need not hang their collective head. This team is going to be exciting in the near future. The team still has franchise cornerstone Joe Mauer. They also beefed up their pitching staff by adding the likes of veterans Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes in the offseason.

But that’s not the complete reason why you should fall in love all over again with the Twins this season. The youth in Minnesota has baseball abuzz and for good reason. The season may start off a bit slow for the Twins but things will only go north from there.

Keep in mind that the Twin Cities host the 2014 MLB All-Star Game. By that time prized prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano could be in the dugout.

Who should we gush over first? Sano it is—the 20-year-old third baseman hit 35 home runs in 123 minor league games last season at multiple levels. Here’s the kicker—he thinks he can hit between 45 and 55 long balls at the major league level. At 6’4”, 235 lbs. he certainly has the size. It’s safe to say he has plenty of confidence too.

Buxton.  Buxton. Buxton is his name, get familiar with it because soon enough you won’t be able to forget it. He’s the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball and is being compared to, gulp, Mike Trout. He’s coming, you’ve been warned.

No. 2: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Now that everybody has written them off after a miserable 2013 campaign the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are bound to surprise this time around. The AL West is the most loaded division in all of baseball with the Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners headlining this season.

Don’t be shocked when the Angels spoil the party. After all they have a star-studded lineup as well. The aforementioned Trout is the most dynamic player in the game. Fact—they also have Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton who are out to prove that they still have gas in the tank. Say what you want about these aging players but opposing pitchers still want nothing to do with them. For example, Hamilton batted .329 in his final 45 games in 2013. Watch out.

The team’s success will hinge on three young pitchers named Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs. Both Santiago and Skaggs joined the Halos via offseason trades and look to make a good first impression. All three of these young men have what it takes win games in The Show.

Quietly, the Angels are cooking up a recipe for success.

No. 1: Arizona Diamondbacks

Ask any member of the Arizona Diamondbacks what they thought about last season and they’ll consider it a failure. Technically, 81-81 is not a failure but by no means is it good enough.

The front office made key acquisitions in the offseason in order to contend for the NL West crown. Adding starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo, proven closer Addison Reed and all-around thumper Mark Trumbo spoke volumes of their intentions.

They are meant to be taken seriously now and in the future.

The team will have to topple their bitter divisional Los Angeles Dodgers in order to achieve their goals but will be up to the task. They have an MVP-caliber first baseman in Paul Goldschmidt and mimic the intensity and grittiness of manager Kirk Gibson.

Thanks to the Dodgers the D’Backs may have been written-off as contenders by many in 2014. Don’t be mistaken—this team is for real.

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.

June 6, 2013

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10 MLB Teams That Will Miss The Playoffs

By: Joe Williams

It is hard to believe, but the MLB season is already one-third of the way over. Obviously, nobody has locked up a playoff spot yet, but several teams have dug themselves into such a big hole that they won’t be able to climb out of it. Therefore, it’s time to eliminate a third of the teams. Who are the 10 teams that aren’t going anywhere in 2013?

After signing Josh Hamilton in the offseason, the Angels would be disappointed to miss the playoffs.

Miami Marlins

We knew the Marlins would be bad after another fire sale sent their top talent elsewhere, but did we know they would be this bad? They are on pace to lose 120 games and are starting to make the Astros look pretty good.

Houston Astros

Speaking of the Astros…switching leagues hasn’t seemed to help their winning percentage and they are again headed for a 100-loss campaign. On the bright side, the worst they can finish in the AL West is fifth, instead of sixth like they were in the NL Central last year.

Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers went 6-22 in May and were outscored by 50 runs. They weren’t just losing games. They were getting crushed. And now things could be getting worse with the news of a possible suspension coming for Ryan Braun.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays are currently in last in the A.L. East. They are under .500 at home. Their pitching staff is near the bottom of the league. All the big-name acquisitions have been disappointing and the division is too tough.

San Diego Padres

They have not been the same since the 2010 season when they blew the lead in the N.L. West and missed the playoffs by a game. The Padres aren’t the worst team in California, but they aren’t going to the playoffs.

Los Angeles

The “honor” of worst team in California is a tie between the Angels and Dodgers . Both teams entered the season with world championship aspirations and are playing .440 ball and well back in the playoff chase. The superstar signings haven’t paid off and it’s going to be a long summer in a city that is used to seeing meaningful games in October.

Chicago

Speaking of big cities with disappointing teams…why can’t the Cubs or White Sox get anything going? Neither team has been to the playoffs since 2008 and it’s not happening in 2013 either. But it does look like they’ll battle for best team in Chicago all season long.

New York

I might as well go all-in on the big market clubs being left home this October. I’m not going out on a limb to say that the Mets won’t be playing past game 162, but I’ll throw the Yankees in that boat too and make it 11 teams that aren’t going to be in the playoffs this year. Sure they’ve had guys stepping up for their injured stars all year and have guys coming back, but I’ll take the younger and fresher teams like Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Cleveland to hold off the Yankees in the AL East and Wild Card races.

April 3, 2013

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Who’s better: Bryce Harper or Mike Trout?

By: Matt Bowen

Finally, spring has officially sprung as the 2013 MLB season is upon us. While there’s plenty to debate about in regards to the rest of the league, the main focus will be on Bryce Harper and Mike Trout.

Bryce Harper started the season off with 2 Home Runs on Opening Day.

The two sophomore sensations are nothing short of miraculous as they helped reshape baseball forever last season. Their ridiculous display of athleticism and flare for the dramatic are simply astounding. Teams have long groomed their prized prospects until they’re deemed fit by outdated unwritten rules.

Now, thanks to Harper and Trout, many prospects will be brought up as early as 19 years old. They’ve changed the way GMs think, how fans act and how fantasy diehards draft.

One thing is for sure, the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have the center piece of their respected franchises for the next decade.

Baseball couldn’t ask for anything more from these young men in terms of proximity—what we have is a classic East vs. West battle, which ensures Major League Baseball that the entire country is engulfed in the debate.

So, who’s better?

Harper has been highly touted since he left high school early to play college ball. He was hitting homers out of major league ballparks before kids his age got their driver’s license.  The buzz surrounding his arrival at “The Show” reached a fever pitch. The Nationals couldn’t hold him back any longer as they wanted to cash in and put their best possible team on the field.

Harper didn’t disappoint as a rookie, but there’s room for improvement. Relax; before you jump out of your seat screaming, I’ll say it for you—he was only 19 last season. He hit a modest .270 last season with 22 home runs, which is nothing to scoff at from a kid who’s seen minimal big league pitching.

Things can only go up from here. Soon he’ll become comfortable filling in his big league shoes, become patient at the plate and learn the ropes of the outfield.

He started 2013 off with a bang as he hit two homers en route to a 2-0 Nationals win on Opening Day. To put his growing legacy into perspective, he received a standing ovation, at 20 years old, in the fourth inning. Whoa!

Trout is a year older than Harper but is currently viewed as the more well-rounded talent. Trout’s 49 stolen bases in 139 games in 2012 have him going No. 1 in many fantasy drafts, even ahead of Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers.  Oh, not to mention he hit .326 with 30 homers and 83 RBI.

For sake of this debate, Trout did get a cup of tea with the Angels toward the end of 2011. He hit .220 in 123 at-bats. On the other hand, Harper got 74 at-bats at AAA Syracuse before his call came last season.

Never mind his taste of the majors in 2011, Trout made the Angels immensely better and turned into an MVP candidate in 2012. He even has many thinking he’s the best player in baseball.

This is where Harper has the advantage this season—all the pressure is on Trout right now. It’s true that both players have big expectations to meet, but Trout has all eyes on him. With slightly less attention on him, Harper can easily slide safely back into the pole position amongst themselves.

So, who’s better? Who cares! They are both awesome. Watch them as much as you can. Appreciate them. They have revolutionized baseball and given us a new batch of stars to root for.

One last thing to ponder—the scary thought is that both of these boys have yet to fill out. We have to wait until they turn 25 years old before they’ll be “full grown.”

This is one debate fans will be having 50 years from now. And that is why we love this game.

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.