MLB 2012 Season Preview

Hello Jerks and Jerkettes. Today, we are ready to embrace the newest season of God’s sporting gift to man. That’s right, baseball is back. Apple pie, Chevrolet, and all the extras are with it, too. Hop on board the train as I offer division winners (and losers), major award winners, and playoff predictions all six months ahead of schedule and sure to be wrong.

American League East

Baseball’s juggernaut division and ESPN favorite will again feature three really good teams: the Yankees, Rays, and Red Sox. Don’t discount the Blue Jays, but they are not quite ready to compete. As for the Orioles? Enjoy the crab cake at Camden Yards.

1. New York Yankees
2. Tampa Bay Rays (wildcard)
3. Boston Red Sox
4. Toronto Blue Jays
5. Baltimore Orioles

American League Central

Conventional wisdom says its Detroit and then everyone else. As to not upset that balance, I’ll stick with conventional wisdom. Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, and Justin Verlander will spear the Tigers’ three-headed attack as they run away with this division.

1. Detroit Tigers
2. Kansas City Royals
3. Cleveland Indians
4. Minnesota Twins
5. Chicago White Sox

American League West

This division receive most of the media attention during the off-season thanks to three big transactions. Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson (the best player and best pitcher on the market) joined the Angels while the Texas Rangers replaced Wilson with Japanese import Yu Darvish. The race for division champion should be intriguing all summer long.

1. Texas Rangers
2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (wildcard)
3. Seattle Mariners
4. Oakland A’s

American League Awards

Cy Young: Felix Hernandez (Seattle). A return to dominance with a slightly improved offense behind him.

MVP: Josh Hamilton (Texas). It’s a contract year.

Yu Darvish

Rookie of the Year: Yu Darvish (Texas).

American League Playoffs

Wildcard play-in: Angels over Rays

Divisional Round: Rangers over Yankees; Tigers over Angels

League Championship Series: Rangers over Tigers (again)

National League East

A crazy thing happened this off-season. The now Miami Marlins spent money on free agents (Jose Reyes and Mark Buerhle notably). The Phillies and Braves appear strong as usual. Plus, the Nationals young core is ever-improving. The Mets, you say? Uh… Long season.

1. Philadelphia Phillies
2. Atlanta Braves (wildcard)
3. Miami Marlins
4. Washington Nationals
5. New York Mets

National League Central

Although this division is home to the defending champions, it looks much weaker from last season. The Brewers and Cardinals are worse (though still good teams), and no one else has really stepped it up. Can Dusty Baker manage the Reds back into the playoffs? I think so.

1. Cincinnati Reds
2. St. Louis Cardinals
3. Milwaukee Brewers
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
5. Chicago Cubs
6. Houston Astros

National League West

Tougher than the NL Central, the wild West usually produces a surprise contender each season. Maybe that occurs again, but regardless, this division is between the Giants and the Diamondbacks.

1. Arizona Diamondbacks
2. San Francisco Giants (wildcard)
3. Colorado Rockies
4. Los Angeles Dodgers
5. San Diego Padres

National League Awards

Cy Young: Cole Hamels (Philadelphia). He’ll prove how good he is before signing with the Dodgers in the off-season.

Tulo!

MVP: Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado). The best shortstop in the game has to win this award sometime. Better now than never.

Rookie of the Year: Bryce Harper (Washington). Yes, he’s not on the Opening Day roster, but he could easily be called up mid-season. There’s no one else really strong enough to win it right now.

National League Playoffs

Wild Card Play-in: Braves over Giants

Divisional Round: Diamondbacks over Braves; Phillies over Reds

League Championship Series: Diamondbacks over Phillies

World Series

Rangers over Diamondbacks (in 5 games).

Enjoy the next few days, America. Play ball!

Bandwagoning Baseball’s Finality

Has your favorite baseball team been eliminated from post-season play? Do you remain reluctant to dive headfirst into football 24/7? Are you willing to set aside your normal allegiance for the next month and a half and bandwagon a contender for the sake of shit-talking and a possible faux championship?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, or preferably to all three, then it’s time for you to hop on the shoulders of a more successful fanbase a la Carlos Mencia’s “comedy” routine (yes, I just Mencia’d a Mencia joke). EJSIC is here to rank the possible teams on a scale of 1 to 10; 10 being fully bandwagon-worthy, 1 meaning we’d rather root for Hitler.

Let’s start with the American League and work our way through the pennant chasers there before exploring the National League.

Note: the author of this post is anti-DH, but in the interest of fairness will attempt to reasonably grade the AL teams instead of giving all of them the 1 they so deserve.

American League

1. New York Yankees: THE EVIL EMPIRE! That should be enough for you to realize that only intolerable douches and fans of the Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Lakers, and Duke Blue Devils (sorry, repetitive) “root” for these guys. Seriously, they’ve won more Fall Classics in baseball history than any other team. They also possess the deepest wallet, the NY superiority belief, and include Cleveland native LeBron James as a fan. Do NOT bandwagon under any circumstance. Score – 1

2. Boston Red Sox: The Sox are 2.5 games behind the Yankees for the East crown, but with a comfy 6.5 games up in the Wild Card they’re virtually in. This is the same franchise that defeated an eight-decade curse with two World Series titles since 2004. And when the core of that team aged too much, they went out and splashed Yankee-esque money this off-season. While I find them more root-worthy than their arch-rivals, there’s no need to really bandwagon them for their fans have been treated to championships in all four major sports this decade. Score – 2

Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em

3. Detroit Tigers: Detroit has slowly put the AL Central away over the second half of the season. Aside from playing in a collapsing shit-hole of a city, what’s not to like? They have a chain-smoking manager who puffs during games, an ace pitcher who could seemingly throw a no-hitter each time out, and an alcoholic first baseman. Sounds like a recipe for bandwagon awesomeness to me. The only downside? They’re in the same league as the Yankees and Red Sox so a championship is unlikely to come this season. Regardless, you’ll have a good time. Score – 8

4. Texas Rangers: The defending AL Champs refueled after losing ace Cliff Lee to free agency, and yet they’re right here again. If you like offensive baseball, the Rangers are your team. They’ve crossed home 737 times this season, third best in baseball behind the Yankees and Sox. They also maintain a relatively unknown squad. Some guys (like Michael Young and Josh Hamilton) are known nationally, but many of their better players have yet to receive a lot of national pub (Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz). So if your choice is the Rangers, it would help to do some research and not unveil yourself as a bandwagoner within the first five minutes. Score – 7

5. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Really, these guys should get a one for having the worst name in baseball. Pick a damn city. I could also give them a one for the owner complaining after whiffing on free agent Carl Crawford this season despite the fact that the Angels have plenty of money themselves. You lost out to a better organization, STFU and get over it. However, the Angels assumed an underdog role this season winning ball games with great pitching. Their offensively challenged team has scored 586 runs to date, the worst of any AL challengers. They’re also 2.5 games back of the Rangers so they have some work to do. Score – 4 Continue reading

Michael Street’s Musings

I’ve been dying to write an entry here at EJSIC for a few weeks now, but learning how to file frivolous lawsuits law school is extremely time-consuming. Anyway, here are some things floating around in my subconscious.

1. MLB Instant Replay – I’ve been against instant replay for a while now. I defended the “human element” in the summer when Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga lost a perfect game thanks to umpire error (I now feel like an idiot for that). The playoffs have only shown us more problems, unfortunately. The Division Series in each league was dominated by questionable and costly umpire calls.

The LCS has not fared much better. Hell, the Yankees can basically determine when they are hit by a pitch and when they are not. It’s not going away, so it’s time for MLB to do what it does best: correct the problem after it has become a problem.

I still do not believe instant replay needs to be involved with every close play. Umpires have been making calls on bang-bang plays for nearly 150 years. There’s no need to review every single call.

How many umps does it take to screw up a call?

Instead, MLB should implement a rule stating: on every play which involves a significant scoring opportunity, instant replay is a viable option for determining the correct call.

I know what you’re thinking: “What the hell does ‘significant opportunity’ mean?” And that’s a great question. It means: a play in which a run may score (depending on the call), a run does score, or the potential to score runs is set up.

And all of those possibilities make it seem like a lot, but it would also be limited. There should never be an opportunity to replay a stolen base attempt (Buster Posey in the NLDS), a check swing or called / uncalled strike (Michael Young ALDS), or any play that is considered “routine” in the umpire’s job.

This rule leaves the ump’s with some discretion. If they need help, then they should be free to consult the technology.

If I haven’t converted you yet (which is a fair stance), I’ll be discussing this topic in a later (perhaps as long as a month from now) entry. It’s time to move on, though.

2. The NFL’s crackdown on head-hunting – It’s about time, honestly. It’s also important to point out that ESPN’s Mark Schlereth correctly called the NFL hypocritical this week on SportsCenter when he blasted the organization for promoting the violence of the game for years until now.

He’s right, but the NFL’s right, too. The NFL sold this violence for years. And now they want to stop the players from pursuing the most-violent hits. Their stance fits the very definition of a hypocrite. Yet, the NFL is 100% correct on the issue.

Get used to this image about 15 times a game now.

And the reason they’re correct is that they are being proactive, something my beloved baseball knows nothing about. It’s my opinion that a player will die on the field in an NFL game sometime in the future. The game is too violent, at times, for it to not happen.

But when that moment does occur, the NFL will be ready. They’re laying the groundwork for the arguments now. By fining and suspending players for vicious hits, they’ll be able to say one day, “Dear Congressional committee, we did everything in our power to limit the violence of the game. We fined players thousands of dollars for performing the hits we told them not to, and then suspended them without pay.”

That’s exactly what the NFL will be saying in front of a Congressional committee in X years. And, again, they’ll be correct. Then the Congress members and the NFL’s executives will all share a laugh about it at a dinner later that night. But whatever happens behind the scenes, the NFL will protect itself.

3. Marijuana soda, a liquid high – Dixie Elixirs (based in Colorado, the long last sister of the Confederacy) manufactures a soda from medical marijuana that gives the user a high while drinking. And better yet, it comes seven great flavors: lemonade, sweet tea, pink lemonade, strawberry, orange, grape, and root beer.

It doesn’t sound too appeasing to me, but if you want to try some, hit up their website.

4. The Wayne Rooney weirdness – English footballer Wayne Rooney has had a tough time as of late. He stunk it up in South Africa this past summer, he’s played horribly for Manchester United this season, his injured ankle has yet to fully heal, and the British media busted him for soliciting a prostitute (something he’s done before, but vowed to have stopped). Oh yeah, his wife’s prego with their child which factored into the media and public backlash.

How many prostitutes can 350,000 GBP a week buy?

And in the midst of all that, his club, Man U, is battling bankruptcy problems which prompted the 24 year old England star to publicly declare that he would be leaving the club at the expiration of his contract (end of 2012 season). Media members immediately speculated that he could be out of Manchester during the January transfer period with the possible destinations being cross-town rivals Manchester City, London dwellers Chelsea, or Spanish giants Real Madrid.

All of that speculation went to waste when Rooney, out of nowhere, signed a new 5 year deal with United Friday morning. So he’s good and recommitted to the club, according to club officials. With his new deal, I bet he can find a few higher end prostitutes to keep him satisfied while his wife deals with that whole pregnancy thing.

Impact of the Cliff Lee trade

Hours after I posted a weekend preview series detailing the possible trade of Cliff Lee to the Bronx Bombers, it all fell through and Lee ended up with the Texas Rangers. The Rangers had been interested all along, but were reluctant to deal prospects and an MLB-ready first baseman within the division. However, they conquered their fears and pulled the trigger Russian roulette style.

The big question in the aftermath is the following: Does Cliff Lee make the Rangers a World Series team? They would not have made the deal if they did not think so. Let’s check it out Michael Street style, aka aspiring future GM.

Cliff Lee will now be wearing the blue and red of Texas

1. The Rangers record – Texas currently owns the third best record in the American League, trailing only the Yankees and Rays (arguably the two best teams in baseball to date). Texas also leads its division by 5.5 games and the perennial West winning Angels finally seem unable to replace what they lost in the off-season. The Rangers have a chance to win the division and play deep into October.

2. The Yankees (among other teams) wanted Lee – New York owns the best record in the majors and still felt the need to send a possible future catcher plus other prospects for a half-season rental. Keeping a player away from one of your chief competitors is always a good thing.

3. Lee is not an egomaniac – Cliff Lee proved last season that he can fit into a team in the middle of the season and become “one of the guys.” He ascended from a last place team to a first place team in a similar fashion. Lee assumed the ace role of the Philly staff without causing a ruckus. He will do the same thing in Texas.

4. Lee is an ace – He’s a bona fide top of the rotation pitcher. He’s easily the best thing to grace the mound in Arlington since Nolan Ryan. He has a 2.34 ERA, 5 complete games, and averages one walk EVERY eighteen innings pitched. For comparison, the rest of the Texas staff has a combined 4 complete games. Every five days, Lee will take pressure off of the bullpen and with the Texas offense behind him, he will feel less pressure himself.

With all of that said, does the acquisition make Texas better than New York, Tampa Bay, Boston, Minnesota, Detroit, or Chicago (the primary competitors in the AL as of now)? I’m not sure. I do know that it gives them a fighting chance. Lee gives them the one thing Texas has been needing for the last few years – an ace. Texas has what it needs, can they capitalize?

MLB Round-Up 6/28 Edition

MLB Round-Up is back for the week. Let’s get it started.

Team of the Week

American League – Texas Rangers. The Rangers become a two time winner in the team of the week category. They continued their hot play over the last seven days. Too bad their ownership situation will probably keep them from acquiring a much-needed ace and making them into a true pennant contender.

National League – San Diego Padres. The National League’s best team (yes, that’s correct) continued their solid play by ending the week with a sweep of the Florida Marlins. Instead of wondering where Adrian Gonzalez would be headed in mid-July, the Padres will be buyers at the deadline.

Position Player of the Week

American League – Miguel Tejada (Baltimore). The former MVP continues to produce despite questions of his age. Tejada batted .481 for the week with 13 hits and 7 RBIs.

National League – David Wright (New York). Arizona’s Justin Upton was deserving of this award, but considering Wright had been the offensive catalyst for New York’s resurgence, he gets the nod. Wright batted .500 with 8 RBIs and 2 homers.

Pitcher of the Week

American League – Tommy Hunter (Texas). The 24 year old pitcher has provided a boost to the Texas rotation, especially last week. He started twice, registering 12 innings combined with an ERA of 2.25. Most importantly, he won both starts.

National League – Jaime Moyer (Philadelphia). The ageless lefty helped Philly start to play better baseball with his 1.80 ERA in 15 innings in the last 7 days. Moyer also recorded 15 strikeouts.

MLB Round-Up 6/21 Edition

It’s Monday (unfortunately) which means it’s time for the weekly MLB Round-Up entry (fortunately).

Team of the Week

American League – Texas Rangers. The Chicago White Sox were also deserving of this award, but the Rangers win it. Texas was undefeated last week and own an eight game winning streak, best in the majors. In the process, they increased their first place lead over the hard-charging Angels to 3.5 games.

National League – Atlanta Braves. Can you say National League’s best team? Residents of Hotlanta can. The Braves have been on a hot streak since mid-May akin to the increasing temperatures of northern Georgia. They took two out of three against the Rays at home mid-week before sweeping the hapless Royals over the weekend.

Position Player of the Week

American League – Josh Hamilton (Texas). Want to know why the Rangers have suddenly taken off? Look no further than number 32. True, Texas has played well all season, but their recent burst can be attributed to an awakened Josh Hamilton. He had a .593 average over the past seven days and slugged .815. He also scored six runs and recorded six RBIs.

National League – Matt Holliday (St. Louis). After signing a big off-season contract, Holliday has played mediocre by his own standards. He’s alive now. A .435 batting average, 1.000 slugging percentage, 8 RBIs, and 4 home runs are just some of the highlights of his past seven days.

Pitcher of the Week

American League – Carl Pavano (Minnesota). Since he left the Florida Marlins following the 2003 championship season, Pavano has been a disappointment, especially under the bright lights of New York City. This past week, Pavano pitched 16 innings (including a complete game) with a 2.25 ERA and 2 wins.

National League – Adam Wainwright (Cardinals). Wainwright has steadily become one of the best pitchers in baseball since ascending to the rotation after the Cardinals 2006 championship in which he notably played the role of closer. Wainwright pitched 15 innings, struck out 10 batters, posted a 1.80 ERA, and recorded 2 wins.

Series to Watch

As Interleague play winds down before the All-Star push, we highlight some intriguing match-ups for the rest of this week.

Atlanta Braves vs Chicago White Sox (midweek)

Detroit Tigers vs New York Mets (midweek)

Minnesota vs New York Mets (weekend)

Detroit Tigers vs Atlanta Braves (weekend)

New York Yankees vs Los Angeles Dodgers (weekend)

Boston Red Sox vs San Francisco Giants (weekend)

MLB Round-Up and Look Ahead 4/19 edition

Major League Baseball is entering the third week of the long regular season and we begin this week’s post by looking back over the first two weeks as well as looking forward to the next 7 days.

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Ubaldo Jimenez

Looking back

1. Ubaldo Jimenez threw the first no-hitter in Rockies history Saturday night against the Atlanta Braves (I called Jimenez a Cy Young candidate in the NL West preview, so I now pat myself on the back). The Dominican native is a long, lanky pitcher who throws hard. His fastball can top 100 while he consistently hits above 95. He even throws an off-speed breaking ball at 89. That’s faster than a lot of fastballs. Kudos to Jimenez on his historic night. He should be in line to pitch again Thursday against the Nationals.

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Nelson Cruz

2. Jason Heyward was named the number one prospect in all of baseball by numerous publications this off-season. He has not disappointed after two weeks either. Through twelve games his stat line is as follows: .302 avg, .423 OBP, .581 SLG, 1.004 OPS, 3 HRs, 15 RBIs, and 9 walks. His only bad stat is 16 strike outs, but what else can you expect from a 20 year old in the majors?

3. Nelson Cruz is off to a great start for the Texas Rangers. An All-Star from last season, Cruz is still gaining notoriety around the nation. He leads MLB with 7 homers and is tied for second with 15 RBIs (one behind the leader). Texas will be, once again, relying on the offense to carry the team and Cruz playing this well makes them even more dangerous.

Looking Forward

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Terry Francona needs to turn his team around

1. The NL East leading Phillies travel to Atlanta for a 3 game series beginning on Tuesday. It’s very early to talk about divisional races, but one of the reasons Atlanta’s hot second half in 2009 did not produce a playoff spot was the fact that they found themselves so far back of Philadelphia. The Braves will be pitching three of their best in Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson, and then Derek Lowe while the Phils counter with Kyle Kendrick, undetermined, and (most likely) Roy Halladay.

2. The Boston Red Sox are in the midst of a horrible start to the season. Boston is 4-9 and all ready find themselves 6 games back of the division leading Rays after 13 games. Jon Lester has yet to pitch effectively. In 16 innings pitched, he has an ERA of 8.44. The Sox host the Rangers beginning on Tuesday.

3. Two series look promising for the weekend games. In the American League, a rematch of last season’s ALCS will take place with the Bronx Bombers visiting the Angels. In the National League, St. Louis travels to the left coast to play the Giants. The four teams have all gotten off to relatively good starts, some better than others.

Baseball quote of the week: “That’s the true harbinger of spring, not crocuses or swallows returning to Capistrano, but the sound of a bat on a ball.” – Bill Veeck, 1976.

Two Questions: AL West

Today, EJSIC takes you to the West division of the American League. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have strangled the division in recent years, but it appears very open in 2010.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
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1. Who replaces departed ace John Lackey? The Angels lost Lackey because, according to his words, he wanted to play for a winning team (and that “winning team” was defeated by the Angels in the first round of the playoffs last season, ironically). The Angels signed free agent Joel Pineiro to take up some of the void, but they will also rely on returning starters Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders.

2. Can World Series MVP Hideki Matsui replace Vladimir Guerrero? Matsui is identical to Guerrero in that both players are declining defensively, but still provide a good enough bat to warrant a spot as the designated hitter. Matsui will bring a more disciplined approach to the plate, but who wants that when you can see Guerrero hit a home run that bounces ten feet shy of the plate (Sabermetrics need not answer)?

Oakland Athletics
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1. Is Ben Sheets healthy? For most of the 2000s, Sheets was one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. Arm injuries kept him out of action last season, but he’s returned this year, claiming to be fully healthy. If he is as healthy as he says, then Sheets can provide a relatively young rotation with valuable experience. Guys like Justin Duchscherer, Trevor Cahill, and Dallas Braden can learn from the veteran.

2. Do they have the offense to compete? The A’s have the pitching, at least they do on paper, to compete in a wide open division. But do they have the offense? They will not be relying on the long ball, instead GM Billy Beane has built a team based around speed and getting on base. Perhaps if the oft-injured Eric Chavez can stay healthy and provide some power in the middle of the lineup, the A’s could find themselves in the race late into the season.

Seattle Mariners
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1. Do they finally challenge the Angels for the division crown? The Mariners seemingly win the off-season every year only to find themselves behind the Angels once again. The Mariners improved tremendously from 2008 to 2009 and now they’ve added All-Star 3B Chone Figgins (former Angel), former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee, and a cantankerous, but good player in Milton Bradley.

2. Can the Mariners have the best rotation in the American League? They have two aces on staff in “King” Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee. Plus, they are looking forward to the return of Erik Bedard by mid-season. That’s three top of the rotation pitchers if they all stay healthy.

Texas Rangers
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1. Do they have enough pitching? Every season pundits across the nation ask the same question of the Rangers. And each season, they fall short. Now, they’ve traded away or waived their two veteran pitchers from last season in Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla. They did trade for Rich Harden who can be outstanding at times, but has struggled with injuries in the past. They will rely on some relative unknowns in Scott Feldman, Derek Holland, and Tommy Hunter.

2. How will the combo of Vlad Guerrero and Josh Hamilton perform? Both players are quality offensive guys when healthy. However, Guerrero has reached his mid-30s and is basically limited to being a DH. Hamilton is still a five tool talent, but he could not remain healthy for most of 2009 after his breakout season in 2008. If the Rangers want to win the division, both guys will need to deliver solid production throughout.