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.

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

August 2, 2012

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True MLB Contenders Post Trade Deadline

By: Matt Bowen

It’s now August and the MLB trade deadline has past, meaning that the playoffs will be here before we know it. There was much speculation that the trade deadline would be relatively quiet compared to years past because of the new playoff format that Major League Baseball has adopted this season. This year, two wild card teams will make the playoffs. The thought behind the relatively calm trade market was that with more contenders, there would be fewer sellers willing to give up their proven talent for those of untested prospects.

Nonetheless, the deadline didn’t disappoint as there was plenty of action to keep MLB diehards plastered to Twitter for the latest deal. Now that the ink has dried and MLB lineups will primarily remain the same until season’s end, let’s look at the true contenders heading down the stretch.

Can Jason Heyward and the Braves come back to win the NL East?

AL East: No surprise here, the Yankees will end up walking away with the AL East this season. Just for insurance, they pried Ichiro away from the Seattle Mariners. The future Hall of Famer’s best days may be behind him, but he’s still Ichiro. The Yankees also landed third baseman Casey McGehee from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

NL East: It wasn’t the buyers that made a ton of noise in the NL East, it was the sellers. Knowing that their seasons are to be forgotten, the Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies made multiple moves that shipped some fan favorites out of town. The Marlins did trade for outfielder Carlos Lee in early July, but then they traded Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante and a few others away.

The Washington Nationals currently lead the division, but they won’t win it this season. That distinction will belong to the Atlanta Braves, who are a team that sputtered at the end of last season and gave away the division and a shot at the World Series. The Nationals are set for success for the next decade behind Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, but it won’t happen this season.

AL Central: The AL Central will be a dogfight until mid-September, but will belong to the Detroit Tigers in the end. The Chicago White Sox are currently in front, but didn’t do enough at the deadline to ensure a divisional crown. Yes, relief pitcher Brett Myers is an established veteran, but their other acquisition, Francisco Liriano is a rollercoaster. Their rival, the Tigers, made one trade and sewed up two spots. Second baseman Omar Infante was needed and starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez will be a plus down the stretch. It will be a great race, but Detroit will win. The White Sox will still make the postseason will a wild-card berth.

NL Central: The Cincinnati Reds are currently the best team in baseball and the acquisition of closer Jonathan Broxton only makes them better. The Reds are 9-1 in their last 10 games and that’s without All-Star first baseman Joey Votto. The Reds do have solid competition in the Pittsburgh Pirates, but they’ll have to settle for a wild-card slot. The Pirates picked up a few utility spots to make their lineup stronger and landed starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez, who signifies that the Pirates are all in. It’s been 20 years, but it’ll be time to party postseason style in Pittsburgh come October.

AL West: This division is simply ridiculous. Both the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were penciled in to compete for the World Series before the season started and neither backed down at the deadline. The Angels made the first move when they nabbed star pitcher Zack Greinke from the Milwaukee Brewers. The Rangers counterattacked when they traded for pitcher Ryan Dempster, who is having a great season thus far and should only bolster his stats with the run support he receives from the Rangers. Texas currently leads the division by three games, but this one is a toss-up. The loser won’t be left out in the cold because they’ll be the top wild-card team heading into the playoffs.

NL West: The two top teams in the division this season, the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers both made serious moves at the deadline. The bitter rivals traded blows and the winner won’t be announced until the final days of the season. The Giants currently lead the division by the slimmest of margins and helped their own cause by getting Hunter Pence from the Phillies and Marco Scutaro from the Rockies. With these two fine ball players, the Giants are thinking about winning the World Series like they did in 2010. The Dodgers made a splash when the traded for Hanley Ramirez and Shane Victorino, who promise to produce in Dodger Blue. This race won’t be over until the fat lady sings and the loser will seek revenge from a wild-card position in the playoffs.

July 18, 2012

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Why Andrew McCutchen Will Win NL MVP

By: Matt Bowen

Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates is having a season for the ages. Because of his accomplishments on the field this year,I believe the 25-year-old center fielder will be named NL MVP at season’s end.

Andrew McCutchen has Pirates fans hoping for a playoff game at PNC Park this season.

Now in his fourth major league season, McCutchen is set to take home the game’s biggest individual prize, along with a Gold Glove to boot. He’s single-handedly made baseball in Pittsburgh relevant again.

After being absent from the playoffs for two decades, the Pirates are currently one game behind the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Central and are currently tied for the Wild Card. There’s a buzz around PNC Park that hasn’t been heard since Barry Bonds roamed the outfield and it’s because of McCutchen. He’s the franchise player that every MLB GM dreams of and he proved his devotion and belief in his franchise when he signed a six-year, $51.5 million extension earlier this season.

Gone are the days of the Pirates best player signing elsewhere. What McCutchen did speaks volumes towards his character. He gives hope to all fans of small market teams who have grown tired of watching their star players get traded for prospects or sign for big money with a big name team. In the end, what McCutchen did in Pittsburgh may change the history of baseball in terms of competitive balance.

His play on the field has been nothing short of phenomenal this season. His .372 batting average leads the NL. He’s also currently second in homers with 21, third in RBIs with 64 and third in runs scored with 62. Just in case you were wondering, he also has 14 stolen bases.

What is remarkable has been his batting average of .533 in July and .500 over his last 10 games.  In those 10 games he has 20 hits, six homers, 12 RBI and 12 runs scored. He’s true must-see TV down the stretch.  As the only player on the team that bats .300-plus, he’s proving that he doesn’t have the protection in the lineup that other players have on teams with massive payrolls.

If the Pirates do indeed make the playoffs, it will be because of McCutchen. Regardless of the outcome, he’s been the most valuable member of any team in all of baseball. Expect him to win his first NL MVP this season; don’t expect it to be his last.

June 1, 2012

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MLB Division Leaders

By: Junior

If you would have told me on Opening Day that on June 1st the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles would be leading their divisions, I would have laughed at you and likely offered you a sizable bet to the contrary. Luckily for me, nobody around me thought that possible. Yet that is exactly where the MLB standings are at right now. So I thought it would be interesting to go through each division and predict whether the current leader will still be there when it matters, in September.

American League

The Orioles have been a big surprise this season. Can they keep it up?

East: Baltimore Orioles & Tampa Bay Rays (Tied)

The Baltimore Orioles have been an amazing surprise this season, but have started to slump. After losing their last 5 games, they are now tied with the Tampa Bay Rays, a team a little more believable. But where are the powerhouses of the AL East? The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have to rebound, right? Even the Toronto Blue Jays were supposed to be contenders this season. My prediction is with the Orioles already slumping and the Rays with only a 1.5 game lead, the Yankees will make a run and claim the East.

Central: Chicago White Sox

The division claimed to be one that would be easily dominated by the Detroit Tigers is currently up for grabs. The Tigers have been disappointing as of yet, with the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians playing some inspired baseball to this point. However, the Indians jumped to a HUGE lead last season before slumping, so in my mind I think it will come down to the White Sox and Tigers. Being a Tigers fan, I have to hope that the Tigers right the ship and win the AL Central.

West: Texas Rangers

The Texas Rangers may not only be the best team in the AL West, but in all of baseball. The Rangers have been very impressive to start the season and, coming off to back-to-back World Series losses, many are saying the third time is a charm. The Los Angeles Angels brought in Albert Pujols to try and catch the Rangers this season, but so far it doesn’t seem like it will be enough. I think the Rangers will hold on to their spot atop the AL West.

National League

East: Washington Nationals

The one thing that may be more surprising than the Washington Nationals leading this division is that the Philadelphia Phillies are in dead last. Now, that is still only 3 games back, but I don’t think anyone thought of the Phillies as a bottom dweller. This is a very competitive division, with the Miami Marlins right on the heels of the Nats. If Giancarlo Stanton can keep powering the Marlins they could take the crown, but I am going with a dark horse and picking the Atlanta Braves to win the division.

Central: Cincinnati Reds

The NL Central really isn’t the division it once was, not to take any credit away from the Cincinnati Reds. The St. Louis Cardinals without Albert Pujols and Milwaukee Brewers without Prince Fielder haven’t been as good as they were last season. With the Chicago Cubs already 10 games back, fans in Chicago may already be looking forward to next season. The Pittsburgh Pirates pose the biggest threat, but until they put a full season together, I won’t be a believer. Cincinnati should be the division champions this season.

West: Los Angeles Dodgers

The Los Angeles Dodgers were terrorizing the league to start the season, but injuries are closing the gap with their competitors. They still own a 5 game lead over the San Francisco Giants, but have lost 4 in a row and need to get back on track. The Arizona Diamondbacks won the West last season, but haven’t been able to recapture the magic so far this year. San Francisco should make the Dodgers sweat, but ultimately the West belongs to Los Angeles.