June 26, 2013

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Taking a Look at Baseball’s Best Division

By: Matt Bowen

Major League Baseball has a good thing on its hands—the NL Central is going to be a three team dog fight until the end.

Currently, the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds are only separated by 3.5 games in the standings.  They are three of the best teams in baseball. The Reds find themselves third in the division with 45 wins. Only one team outside the division, the Boston Red Sox have more wins. As of June 26, the NL Central has three playoff teams.

So, which team is the best?

Will Joey Votto and the Reds win the NL Central this season?

Well, the Cardinals have one of the finest organizations in all of sports—somehow they always find a way to win. The Cards have a fantastic farm system that constantly keeps the big league club ripe with talent. They’re also a team that somehow gets the most out of every guy—they make All-Stars out of role players.

This year is no different—they currently have five guys hitting .300-plus, actually six if you count Matt Adams, who only has 86 at-bats. Catcher Yadier Molina leads the league with a .355 average. The team also has a stable of rookies contributing key innings on the pitching mound. Right now, 7-of-12 pitchers on their roster are 25 years old or younger. With all those fresh arms on the hill the Cardinals are poised to go deep into the playoffs.

That is, of course if the stay atop the division and fend off the Pirates and Reds.

The Pirates are the sweethearts of baseball—okay, maybe that’s a “soft” term for such a rugged team. They will not go down without a fracas. In reality, everybody who passionately follows the game wants this team to win. The franchise hasn’t had a winning season since 1992. They’ve toyed with a better than .500 record the past two seasons but have unraveled at the end.

Good news for the team, their pitching has held up well to this point. Also, Andrew McCutchen, their best player has yet to play his best ball. The emergence of rookie pitcher Gerrit Cole has strengthened the rotation and is the ingredient the team needs to remain over the hump. By August, this kid will be an outright star.

Is this finally the year the Bucs break out?

Not if the Reds have something to do with it. Cincinnati is built to win now. They have a top-notch rotation and a perennial MVP candidate in Joey Votto.

The Reds have every component to win now, but will need some clutch hitting along the way. It seems to be the one weakness the team has. Untimely hitting can plague teams and this year it’s cost the Reds a few games. Hey, it’s better to have those problems now rather than late August—there’s plenty of time to work out the kinks.

This isn’t to downplay the Reds; they’re a phenomenal squad and right in the thick of the race. Look for them to be buyers at the for a professional hitter out of the two-hole.

So, which team will win the NL Central this year? Let’s reconvene in early September and talk. One thing’s for sure, we’re in for a treat.

March 13, 2013

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2013 MLB Division Winners

By: Joe Williams

MLB’s 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. So let’s get on with it.

After signing multiple star players this off-season, can the Blue Jays win the AL East?

A.L. East

It’s gotta be now or never for the Blue Jays right? The Red Sox aren’t going to make a 25-win improvement over last season and the Yankees have been ravaged with injuries. The division door is wide open and Toronto has added several star players. Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buerhle, R.A. Dickey and Melky Cabrera should be able to help the Blue Jays to the top in the A.L. East.

A.L. Central

It almost feels like cheating to pick the team that won it last year. Almost. The Tigers ought to be a hungry bunch after losing in the World Series last year. They may have the best hitter and pitcher in baseball in triple-crown winner Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander. And I don’t see anyone else in the Central making a run at 90 wins.

A.L. West

In 2012, the Oakland A’s surprised everyone and stole the title from the Rangers. Now it’s the Angels that everyone thinks will take the title after they recruited one of the biggest stars in Texas, Josh Hamilton. Adding Hamilton to a lineup with Mike Trout and Albert Pujols makes the Angels scary, but I’m going with another surprise in the West and taking the Rangers.

N.L. East

Everyone in Washington is left wondering “what if” after the Nationals shut down Stephen Strasburg at the end of the season and then collapsed in the playoffs. They’ll have a chance to redeem themselves this October after taking the N.L. East crown. Atlanta will fight them to the end and the Phillies won’t go quietly, but the Nats are the best overall team right now.

N.L. Central

With all the injuries in St. Louis, this looks like the Reds’ division to lose. They won 97 games in 2012 and added a dynamic player in Shin-Soo Choo. Plus…The Astros are gone. The Cubs are the Cubs. The Pirates are still trying to find a way to finish above. 500. So I guess that leaves Milwaukee. Can the Brewers make a run at Cincinnati? It will depend on what they can get from the starting rotation.

N.L. West

This will be the most interesting race I believe. There is a young up-and-coming team in Arizona; the defending world champs in San Francisco and the new Yankees in Los Angeles. The Diamondbacks are probably another year away and the Giants appear to be out-manned by the All-Stars the Dodgers brought in to win last year. A full season with guys like Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez and the addition of Zack Greinke make L.A. the pick.

September 18, 2012

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Analyzing the MLB playoff races

By: Joe Williams

There is only about 15 games left in the grueling 162-game MLB schedule and still more than half of the teams have a realistic shot at making the postseason. Unfortunately, the team I root for is not in that group. I won’t have to worry about making playoff plans this year, but for those of you who do, let’s take a look at the playoff races and see who will be in and who will be left at home.

Josh Hamilton and the Rangers are still fending off the Oakland A's, but should win the AL West.

A.L. East
In one of the more shocking finishes in recent memory, the Baltimore Orioles are about to come from out of nowhere to overtake the Yankees and steal the East. At one point the Yankees led the division by 10 games and now they are going to host the Red Sox in the final series of the season with a playoff spot on the line. Boston doesn’t have much to play for, but knocking New York out of the playoffs would be a decent consolation prize.

Division winner: Orioles

A.L. Central

My original pick to come out of the Central was the Detroit Tigers and right now they sit three games behind the White Sox. Luckily for me and Detroit, the Tigers last 13 games are against the Twins and Royals and most of them are at home. The schedule is not as friendly for Chicago, which gives me a good shot to get that pick correct.
Division winner: Tigers

A.L. West
At the beginning of June, I declared the Oakland A’s to be out of the race. They have done their best to make me eat some crow by going 41-19 in the second half of the season. But they still trail the Texas Rangers by three games and I’m sticking to my guns.
Division winner: Rangers

A.L. Wild Card
It’s going to be a wild finish with the Yankees, Rays, White Sox, A’s and Angels battling it out for two spots. I recently watched ‘Money Ball’ so I have a ton of respect for what the A’s have done but the schedule is not on their side. They play 13 games against the Tigers, Yankees and Rangers and only three are in Oakland. That’s as tough a finish as there is. But somehow they find a way to get to 90 wins and that’s enough for at least one playoff game. The second spot will go to the Angels as their spending spree pays off down the stretch and edge out the old and broken down Yankees who are running out of gas.

Wild Card winners: A’s and Angels

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N.L. East
I don’t think anybody saw this coming from the Nationals. They are well on their way to locking up the East. It will take a collapse like Atlanta had last season to for the Braves to make a run at Washington. Even though the Nationals have put Stephen Strasburg down for the season, that’s not going to happen.
Division winner: Nationals

N.L. Central
Cincinnati has the biggest lead in baseball with the Cardinals sitting 11 games back. The Reds won’t even need another victory to win the Central, but they are playing for the top seed and home-field advantage in the National League so don’t expect them to rest too many guys just yet.
Division winner: Reds

N.L. West
This is the National League division that I’m going to get wrong. I had the Dodgers edging out the Giants in a down-to-the-wire race. San Francisco has opened up an eight game lead and should have smooth sailing to the West crown.

Division winner: Giants

N.L. Wild Card

If you are at .500, you are still in this thing. Atlanta has pulled away from the group and should easily seal the deal for the first wild card spot. This leaves the Cardinals, Dodgers, Brewers, Pirates and Phillies all with a shot at the last spot. Pittsburgh finishes the season at home with six games against teams with nothing to play for and Pirate fans deserve a playoff appearance so I’ll take another surprise and say Pittsburgh sneaks in on the back of Andrew McCutchen.

Wild Card winners: Braves and Pirates