October 10, 2011

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Rebuilding the Yankees

By: Anson Whaley

Only two years removed from their last World Series title, the Yankees are far from a colossal disappointment. Winning 97 regular season games and losing in the fifth game of the Divisional Series is hardly an embarrassment. Still, anytime they fall short of winning the championship, fans aren’t happy.

‘Rebuilding’ is probably far too strong a term – the Yankees need a tune up, not an overhaul. It’s pretty obvious that this team is still stacked beyond belief. The roster features a host of current or former All-Stars and it’s difficult to find too many holes. That said, there are a few things the Yankees can do to have a better shot at winning another title in 2012.

Add Another Starter

Pitching, pitching, pitching. More times than not, the playoffs are decided with great pitching. Once the postseason arrives, nearly every team has it. The Yankees aren’t without quality pitchers. For starters, there’s the ace of the staff, C.C. Sabathia. Sabathia won 19 games this season and with an ERA of 3.00, was one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. But here’s the thing: After him, the Yankees don’t have a truly dominant guy next in line. Remember the Arizona Diamondbacks with Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling? Or last year’s San Francisco Giants team featuring Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain? Or those Red Sox teams with Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling (again)? World Series contenders are always better served by having two top of the line starters.

The Yankees do have young pitcher Ivan Nova who had an amazing year, winning 16 games. But with an ERA approaching 4.00 and at only 24, he might not be a true No. 2 starter just yet for a championship caliber team. Free agency pickings are always slim when it comes to finding aces, but if the Yankees could swing a trade for one, it would go a long way to helping their chances in 2012.

Another quality starter would help the Yankees' chance at another championship.

Let The Jesus Montero Era Begin … Now

Jesus Montero is largely regarded as the best prospect in the Yankees’ system. In limited action (18 games) this season, he smashed four home runs and hit .328. Montero is ready for the big stage, and, after hitting 39 home runs in the past two seasons in AAA and being named as the #3 overall prospect in the minors in 2011 by Baseball America, it’s clear he needs to play. Whether that means the Yankees start Montero as the everyday catcher and play him as the DH, manager Joe Girardi needs to find a way to get his bat into the lineup next year.

Will he come in and immediately dominate the league? Not likely. But the sooner the team can get him at bats, the sooner he can get used to life in the majors. He has the potential to hit 25-30 home runs eventually and that’s the type of power that could make him an elite catcher in the league.

Add a Power Bat in the Outfield

With Curtis Granderson’s 41 home runs, the Yankees’ outfield isn’t completely devoid of power. But the Yankees could use a few more long balls from the remaining two positions, left field and right field. Brett Gardner is unquestionably one of the best base stealers in the entire sport, but he hit only seven home runs in a full-time position. So while New York obviously needs to find space for his speed on the base paths, his lack of power as a corner outfielder clearly hurts at least a bit. Nick Swisher manned the other corner spot opposite him, and the duo combined for a total of 30 home runs between them. That’s not terrible, but 30 home runs from two corner outfielders is below average for a contending team. The Yankees would be wise to keep both of those players, but if they could add another 30-home run outfielder to the mix, the team would be even stronger since it would allow either Swisher or Gardner to come off the bench.

Will the Yankees rebound and reach the World Series next year? No one knows for sure, but making these moves would improve their chances.

April 6, 2011

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National League Preview

By: Joe Williams

The Major League Baseball season is only a couple days old so if your team is on top of the standings, don’t buy your playoff tickets yet. And if you are rooting for a team that remains winless, don’t push the panic button. It’s still anybody’s ballgame so let’s take a look at some of the issues facing each team.

NL EAST

Atlanta Braves

Can the Braves return to the postseason? If anyone is going to take the East title from the Phillies, it’s probably the Braves. They’ve added Dan Uggla and a healthy Chipper Jones to the lineup. The starting pitching is strong. The biggest question mark is the bullpen. The retirement of Billy Wagner has left an opening at closer. If Atlanta can find the right guy to take his place they can give the Phillies a run for the division title.

Florida Marlins

Florida has plenty of young talent on its roster. There is a lot of potential on this team, but the Marlins may not have enough to beat out Philadelphia and Atlanta. Guys like Gaby Sanchez, Donnie Murphy, and Annibal Sanchez are going to need big seasons for this team to be playing in October.

New York Mets

The bad news: this team is a mess off the field. The good news: there is no way the Mets can be as bad on the field. Everything will have to go right for New York to win the division. That starts with Johan Santana and Jose Reyes getting healthy and once again being the superstars they have been in the past.

Philadelphia Phillies

Philadelphia became the favorite to win the N.L crown when Cliff Lee joined the rotation. Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels give the Phillies a four-headed monster that can shut down any lineup. The Phillies lineup is not what is used to be, but with those four starters, it won’t have to be.

Washington Nationals

The Nationals’ hopes in 2011 took a major hit with the loss of Stephen Strasburg. Adding Jason Werth will help the offense, but the Nationals look to be preparing for a run in 2012. If Strasburg comes back healthy in 2012 and top-pick Bryce Harper lives up to the hype, this team has a bright future.

NL CENTRAL

Chicago Cubs

It could be an all or nothing season for the Cubs. If they can stay healthy and get productive seasons from Soriano, Ramirez and Zambrano they could win the Central. If the Cubs struggle under new manager Mike Quade, and the dugout brawls continue, it will be a complete disaster, and the drought will live on for another year.

Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati won the Central in 2010. They have a great chance to repeat that feat in 2011. The Reds had the best offense in the National League. They have the reigning NL MVP. The roster has the fewest holes to fill, and they should be motivated after a dismal performance in the playoffs.

Houston Astros

Houston had the worst offense in the NL last season. The defense wasn’t great either. They have a quality starting rotation, but the bullpen needs work. The Astros will have a tough time surpassing last season’s win total of 76.

Milwaukee Brewers

There is a wide range of expectations for Milwaukee in 2011. They have been picked to win the Central, but they have also been at the bottom in some preseason predictions. Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum will bolster the pitching staff. The lineup is built around Prince Fielder, who could have a huge year and lead them to the playoffs. But Fielder is going to be a free agent and could leave town, so the Brewers may decide to throw in the towel and trade the Prince so they don’t lose him for nothing.

Pittsburgh Pirates

.500. That is the goal for the Pirates. They haven’t done it since 1992. That is a long time to wait for Pirate fans. Unfortunately, there is not much reason to believe they will be better than they were in 2010. And they were the worst team in baseball.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cards were supposed to win the Central in 2010. They were expected to have a bounce-back season in 2011. Then they didn’t get Albert Pujols signed. And Adam Wainwright went down for the season with an injury. It will be tough for this team to reach the playoffs without their ace and the Pujols questions hovering over them all season.

NL WEST

Arizona Diamondbacks

They finished last in the West in 2010. The offense is weak and they strike out a lot. The starting pitching is OK, but the bullpen has holes. The Diamondbacks have a lot of work to do if they are going to compete for the playoffs in the next couple years. It won’t happen in 2011.

Colorado Rockies

The Rockies will be good in 2011, especially if they play better on the road. Colorado was dominant at home last year and bad on the road. Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki are stars. The other pieces are in place to make a run at the division crown. They will give the Giants all they can handle in the West.

Los Angeles Dodgers

80 wins was a disappointment for this team in 2010. Matt Kemp and Jonathan Broxton were great in 2009 when the Dodgers made the playoffs. Not so much in 2010. If those two return to 2009 form and the ownership issues don’t get in the way, Los Angeles will be playing meaningful games in September.

San Diego Padres

San Diego should have won the West last year. They would have without the 10-game losing streak at the end of the season. They can still pitch, but the loss of Adrian Gonzalez in the middle of that lineup will hurt. They will have to find a way to score to compete in 2011.

San Francisco Giants

The Giants shocked baseball by winning the World Series in 2010. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain led the pitching staff and shut down team after team in the playoffs. The offense was not prolific, but they got the big hits when they needed to. No matter what the offense does in 2011, the starting rotation will keep the Giants in the playoff hunt all season.

March 21, 2011

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Can Giants Repeat As Champs?

By: Anson Whaley

With only about a week left in Spring Training, baseball teams are gearing up for the regular season. Managers are sweating over cuts that are being made, rookies are being assigned to the minor leagues, and General Managers are hoping free agent signings pay off in a big way. But the San Francisco Giants are the only team thinking about what it would be like to repeat as World Series Champions. The Giants have lost a few pieces but are returning most of their team’s core to make another run at the title in 2011.

The most notable departures are shortstops Juan Uribe and World Series Most Valuable Player, Edgar Renteria. Uribe signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers while Renteria is headed to the St. Louis Cardinals. Uribe is the greater loss, as he was one of the team’s greatest power threats (24 home runs in 2010) and, at 31 years old, is just now entering the prime of his career. Renteria is a five-time All-Star and Gold Glove winning shortstop and has 15 major league seasons under his belt. Last year, that experience paid off for the Giants as he batted over .400 and slugged two big home runs in the World Series.

Fortunately for the Giants, they filled the gaping hole left at shortstop with a very capable player in free agent pickup Miguel Tejada. Now 36, Tejada is likely a short-term replacement and also past his prime. But he’s still a solid player and, in 2010, hit 15 home runs and batted .269. The best news for the Giants is that Tejada has also shown he’s extremely durable, playing at least 150 games in 11 of the past 12 seasons.

But if San Francisco is to repeat, it’s not going to be Tejada that makes the difference – it will be the pitching. With all the talk about the Philadelphia Phillies’ rotation which will include Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and newly-signed Cliff Lee, the Giants have a somewhat underrated staff in comparison. The starters are led by two-time Cy Young Award winner, Tim Lincecum, and also includes former Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito, All-Star Matt Cain, young star Madison Bumgarner, and Jonathan Sanchez, who has thrown a no-hitter. The Giants also added free agent Jeff Suppan to the mix, and he could contend for a spot in the rotation in 2011.

Lincecum is the gem, however, and is one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. Even though his 2010 numbers dropped off slightly from his Cy Young years of 2008 and 2009, he still managed to win 16 games and strikeout 231 batters in only 212 innings pitched. Lincecum also thrived in his first postseason with a 4-1 record, a shutout over the Atlanta Braves, and a combined ERA of only 2.43 – a full run lower than his regular season average.

The pitching talent isn’t limited to the starting rotation, though. All-Star closer, Brian Wilson, led the league in saves with 48 and had a microscopic ERA of 1.81. Setup men Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla also combined for 12 wins and had ERAs of 2.18 and 1.95 respectively.  The Giants may have the most talented bullpen in the majors.

Offensively, the Giants’ lineup isn’t as strong as some teams, and, with the loss of Uribe, it just became a little weaker. The Giants aren’t completely devoid of power, but Aubrey Huff led the way in 2010 with only 26 home runs—the Giants may not have that one player capable of hitting 35-40 to serve as a legitimate longball threat. The player closest may be 2010 Rookie of the Year, Buster Posey, who as a first-year player hit 18 home runs in only 108 games.  He’s a catcher, though, so Posey won’t be playing a full 162-game season. But he is only 23 and should develop into an excellent power hitter for many years to come, possibly approaching 30 home runs this season if he stays healthy.

But again, it’s the pitching that will lead this team…and they’ve got plenty of it to make another World Series run in 2011.

October 27, 2010

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Giant Problem

By: Bull

 

Fathead Teammate - San Francisco Giants Logo

 

The San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers square off Wednesday in San Francisco to start the 2010 World Series. It’s expected to pull in some of the lowest television ratings in the history of the Fall Classic, but you wouldn’t know it around these parts. The Bay Area is atwitter about the Giants and whether or not their pitching can shut down a Rangers offense that includes Josh Hamilton, Vladimir Guerrero and Michael Young.  And even more chatty about how the average ticket to the series ticket is fetching $800.

When I moved to San Francisco in the year 2000,  I had every intention of following the Giants. As a Detroit Tigers fan, it made perfect sense to me. The Giants were in the National League, which would avoid any conflict of interest (except for a potential World Series match-up that would certainly be played on an icy field in hell). And the Giants had just moved into a spectacular new stadium down the street from my new job. However, that plan disappeared faster than an 85 mph fastball from Kirk Reuter to Kevin Elster .

It’s true that the stadium is beautiful, but the diehard fans had been priced out of it. Corporations and soon-to-be bankrupt dot-coms controlled the bulk of the season tickets. The couple of times I was floated tickets from the construction company I worked for, I was surrounded by “fans” who were only vaguely aware that there was a baseball game happening. It was a constant parade of people moving through the row to the concession stands for garlic fries. Or the guy on the cell phone, who, just as the pitcher goes into the wind up, pops up, turns around, and waves his arms so his friend can spot him. Where’s Harry Callaghan when you really need him? That stuff alone was enough to stop going to the new park, but mix in an aging team built around Barry Bonds and I was definitely not interested.

I never would’ve guessed it beforehand, but I found myself regularly driving over the Bay Bridge to Oakland for the exact opposite experience. The Oakland A’s were a scrappy team that seemed to genuinely enjoy playing together. Most of the games were sparsely attended (and they still are). But the people were there for a ballgame, not to be seen and definitely not to impress clients. The shared feeling inside the Oakland Coliseum was essentially “Sure, it might be a dump, but it’s our dump.” Yes, the luxury boxes added in 1996 to entice the Raiders to return from Los Angeles, had destroyed any sort of baseball ambiance that existed, but let’s be honest… it wasn’t that good to begin with. But tickets were cheap and you could basically choose your own adventure once you got inside. Hey, you wanna slide past an usher and sit in the good seats near the dugout? No problem. You feel like getting rowdy and mixing it up with the bleacher creatures? Go right ahead. Heck, if you felt like having a quiet night out with your lady, it was usually wasn’t difficult to find an empty section or two in the third deck that could function as a romantic hideaway. If only I could’ve figured out to a way to recreate John Candy’s picnic with Ally Sheedy in Only the Lonely during an A’s game, I could die happy.

Fast forward 10 years later and things have substantially changed for both franchises. The A’s closed off the Coliseum’s upper deck and have been in a holding pattern of mediocrity for the last few years. Meanwhile, the Giants have produced exciting young players like Tim Lincecum, Pablo Sandoval , and Buster Posey to help propel them to the World Series. The corporate grip on AT&T Park also seems to have loosened a bit. If only Brian Wilson weren’t so obnoxious, I might’ve considered jumping on the Giants bandwagon for the playoffs. Instead, I’ll be pulling for the Rangers and their manager Ron Washington who was an Oakland fan favorite during his time as a coach for the A’s.