April 17, 2013

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Early Season MLB Notes

By: Matt Bowen

We may only be a few weeks into the 2013 MLB season, but there’s plenty to talk about. With every team playing around 12 games, enough action has played out to begin to speculate on just how the season may go.

If your favorite team has stumbled out of the gates, don’t be discouraged, there are still 150 games to go.

The players and teams mentioned in this article have not struggled from the get-go. In fact, it’s just the opposite as they are red hot.

Prince Fielder has 19 RBI early in the 2013 MLB season.

The Atlanta Braves are the Hottest Team Right Now

Baseball experts were perplexed in the preseason in regards to just which team would win the National League East. The only team not considered to contend for the divisional crown is the rebuilding Miami Marlins. At this moment, the 12-1 Atlanta Braves are the early favorites. The Washington Nationals won it last season, the Philadelphia Phillies are never to be taken lightly and the New York Mets are considered a Wild Card, but the Braves are the best. This is a playoff race that won’t end until game 162.

The Braves gave their franchise a facelift in the offseason and the gamble is paying off. Among other acquisitions, both B.J. and Justin Upton now roam their outfield. Justin, the younger of the two brothers looks like an early NL MVP candidate. His eight homers currently lead the league.

The Braves look like a team in midseason form and even with injuries to the likes of Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann. A pleasant surprise has been the addition of 26-year-old Evan Gattis to the lineup. His journey to the majors is one for the ages. He only made the club out of spring training due to injuries, but he’s not going anywhere and is in Atlanta to stay.

Gattis is hitting .289 in the early going with four home runs and 10 RBI. The Braves will have a good problem on their hands when Freeman and McCann return to the lineup. Gattis is their X-factor. Every winning team has one. He’s a player to root for all season no matter who your favorite team is.

Now a Member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Carl Crawford Looks Like His Old Self Again

Carl Crawford’s time as a member of the Boston Red Sox can be easily forgettable. One large contract, a number of injuries and two years later, he’s a Los Angeles Dodger.

Crawford now looks like his former self when he played outfield for the Tampa Bay Rays. Right now he’s hitting .392 as the Dodgers lead-off hitter. He looks happy and his team is looking wise to trade for him even when injured.

Most importantly, the Dodgers have positive momentum thanks to new ownership. The club may only be .500 at the moment but its only mid-April. They have an All-Star lineup from top to bottom and Crawford will be the piece that puts them over the top in 2013.  When he’s on, he’s electric. He can win a game all by himself with his speed.

Don’t sleep on Crawford, he’s back to being the real deal.

New York Mets Pitcher Matt Harvey is the Early NL Cy Young Favorite

Some New York Mets fans may have cringed when the team traded away R.A. Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays this offseason. All Dickey did last season is win the NL Cy Young.

Well, the Mets front office looks brilliant right now because young pitcher Matt Harvey looks like he could win the coveted award this season.

The 24-year-old pitcher has won his first three starts and is making history. He became the first pitcher since 1947 to go at least seven innings with three hits or less allowed in his first three starts. The last man to do that was Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame hurler Bob Feller. That’s good company to be in.

Harvey tasted the majors late last season, throwing 59 innings and striking out 70 batters. He hasn’t disappointed thus far in 2013 and Mets fans have to be looking forward to the future with Harvey as their ace.

It won’t be too long before he’ll an undisputed star.

Prince Fielder Looks like he’s having an MVP season in Detroit

The Detroit Tigers knew what they were doing when they signed Prince Fielder to a lofty contract in the winter of 2012.  He had never hit above .300 in a season before, but last season he hit .313.

Many can argue that boost in average is because he had Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera batting in front of him, but Fielder also had former NL MVP winner Ryan Braun hitting ahead of him as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Tigers came up empty in the World Series last season and Fielder is making it clear that the team has unfinished business this season. He’s hitting .383 this season with four homers and 19 RBI so far and the Tigers offense is clicking on all cylinders.

Fielder almost looks angry at the plate. Like the baseball is his despised nemesis. Truth be told, anything short of a ring this season in Detroit and 2013 will be considered a failure.

Fielder is out to make that dream come true—he’s on a mission. Albeit early, the AL MVP is his to lose. In doing so, he’ll be the Tigers third consecutive MVP.

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