Articles By Athlon Sports

All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournament-2016-march-madness-bracket-cheat-sheets
Body:

Selection Sunday is over. Now the real fun begins. It's time to fill out your bracket for the NCAA Tournament and crush your co-workers and buddies in this year's pick-'em game. But who do you pick? We're here to help with our predictions. We put together these handy cheat sheets of bracket picks from our experts. Each editor has their own bracket picks, so you can choose one or use the cumulative knowledge of each to create your own unique picks. Either way, it will likely save you the office humiliation of picking MTSU to win it all.

 

(Click images to enlarge)

Mitch Light's Tournament Picks

Championship Pick: North Carolina

 

 

David Fox's Tournament Picks

Championship Pick: Michigan State

 

Braden Gall's Tournament Picks

Championship Pick: Michigan State

 

 

Teaser:
NCAA Tournament 2016: March Madness Bracket Cheat Sheets
Post date: Monday, March 14, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/how-watch-march-madness-without-cable
Body:

With the March Madness/NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament beginning on March 15, thousands of people are already searching for ways to watch their favorite basketball teams. Luckily, it’s 2016 and there are more ways than ever to watch your bracket get busted without cable. Here are some options.  

 

Options for Watching Games on CBS without Cable

The games on CBS are the easiest to watch. CBS has been kind enough (or smart enough) to offer multiple free avenues. First of all, CBS is available free over the air. That means, assuming you’re within range of a good signal, you can get the games aired on CBS for free in HD with an antenna.

 

Looking to stream? Well, you have three options at your disposal:

1. CBSSports.com: You’ll be able to catch all the games streaming on their . However, if you’re looking to stream them on your TV, you’ll need an HDMI cable or some other means to transfer the stream.

 

2. March Madness Live App: The official is getting a big push this year. You can download the app and use it to view all CBS March Madness games. And if you have cable, you can log in to view the games from other stations.

 

3. CBS All Access: The from CBS not only has a deep on-demand library, but it also provides a live stream of CBS in many markets. CBS All Access will be live streaming the March Madness games through the service. It’s available with a free trial and is $5.99 a month after that.

 

What About Games on the Other Stations?

Unfortunately, not all March Madness games will be on CBS. The other stations you’ll need to see the tournament in its entirety are TBS, TNT, and TruTV.  None of these channels are free over-the-air, so using an antenna is out of the question. And the March Madness Live app won’t let you watch these games unless you authenticate with a cable provider. So now what?

 

Well, there are two options:

1. Sling TV is a streaming service run by Dish Network that offers live streams of 20+ pay-TV channels without a cable contract. These channels include a lot of popular stations like AMC and ESPN. But for the purposes of watching March Madness, Sling TV carries TBS and TNT in its base “Best of TV” package. This is available with a free 7-day trial. After that, it’s $20 per month, but you can cancel any time.

 

But what about the TruTV games? Normally, TruTV is available on Sling TV with a special add-on package that’s an additional $5 per month. However, Sling has announced that they’ll be moving TruTV to their basic package for the month, so you can watch all those games without paying extra.

 

2. PlayStation Vue has been making headlines as of late. They’ve lowered the base price to $39.99 per month and made the service available on Amazon Fire TV and iPads (it used to only be available on PlayStations). Those looking to watch March Madness without the cable commitment will be pleased to know that not only does Vue have TNT, TBS, and TruTV, but it also offers CBS.

 

So you can watch the entire tournament without cable.

 

The catch? It’s only available in seven major markets. So if you don’t live near one of the big cities listed here, well, you’re out of luck.

 

Information provided by Chris Brantner, founder of , a site dedicated to helping people find the programming they need without the expensive cable contract, including a . Follow him on Twitter @CutCableToday.

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, March 11, 2016 - 13:20
All taxonomy terms: food, Life
Path: /life/march-madness-blt-nachos
Body:

Who doesn't love nachos? Who doesn't love a great BLT? Well, we've put them together to celebrate March Madness, combining bacon, lettuce and tomato with layers of chips and melted cheese, drizzled with ranch dressing. Trust us, it will put a smile on your face as you watch your dreams of a perfect bracket fade away.

 

BLT NachosStarting Lineup

8 oz. tortilla chips
12 oz. shredded cheese (Monterey Jack)
8 slices pre-cooked bacon, crumbled
1 pint grape tomatoes, quartered
1 romaine heart, finely shredded
1/3 cup bottled ranch dressing

 

Equipment

Rimmed baking sheet or oven-safe platter

 

Prep Rally

Preheat oven to 350 F

 

Round 1 | Build Foundation

Place half the chips on platter or baking sheet
Sprinkle with half bacon and half cheese

 

Round 2 | Another Layer

Top the first layer with leftover chips and cheese

 

Round 3 | Heat Check

Bake nachos about 5 minutes, until cheese melts

 

Round 4 | Top It Off

Scatter tomatoes, lettuce and remaining bacon over the top
Drizzle with ranch dressing

 

—Recipe by Laraine Perri

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 10, 2016 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/march-madness-numbers-economic-social-impact
Body:

The impact of the can be far reaching, from economic to social. Here are a few stats to consider when thinking about March Madness and how it influences our lives. 

 

$1.9 Billion – Hourly losses by companies due to unproductive workers during March Madness.
 
$9 Billion – Estimated amount wagered on the 2015 NCAA tournament ($7 billion illegally).
 
81% – Of HR professionals say their organizations don’t have policies addressing office pools.
 
2X – Easier to win back-to-back Mega Millions lotteries than it is to fill out a perfect bracket.
 
17.5 Million – Barrels of American beer produced each March, compared to an average of 14M in all other months.


For more, enjoy this infographic, courtesy of .

Source:
Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 10, 2016 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News, Magazines
Path: /mlb/mlb-scouts-talk-anonymously-about-al-west-teams-2016
Body:

Real live baseball is here. Spring training games are starting this week throughout camp in Florida and Arizona.

 

That means manager and GMs are evaluating their lineups and rotations, which players will fill the final spots on the 25-man roster and which players need more seasoning in the minors.

 

In the , we’ve already done some of the homework. We asked scouts throughout MLB to give us their candid thoughts on teams and players for 2016.

 

These scouting reports and more are available in this year’s Athlon Baseball Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and .

 

 

 

“They’re just getting started. They won’t regress, and in fact I think they’re going to be even better. Think about it: They’ll have Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers from the start this year, and you have to assume they’ll have a healthy George Springer the whole way, too. Those are three high-impact players right there, and let’s not forget Carlos Gomez, who came in at the trading deadline last year. So there’s good reason to think their position players will be as good or better than what we just saw. Dallas Keuchel is a top-15 starter in the majors, although you have to expect him to have a worse year, since he can’t do better than 2015. I also worry about the back end of the rotation, with Mike Fiers and Scott Feldman, but McCullers is awesome, and he’ll have a big impact with Collin McHugh on the front end. Ken Giles was a smart pick-up for the bullpen; he’s a top-20 reliever in this game, no doubt.”

 

 

“They are top-heavy, kind of a stars-and-scrubs team. But when you have Mike Trout in his prime, Albert Pujols with something left, Andrelton Simmons and Garrett Richards, you’ve got a pretty good start. After Richards, there’s not a lot to like in that rotation. Jered Weaver had his worst year last season, and you wonder when it’s all gone for him. Andrew Heaney’s interesting, but the rest of the group leaves a lot to be desired. At least they know Simmons will help them at shortstop, and he still has offensive upside. He’ll also help Yunel Escobar, a solid player whose defensive positioning was a problem in Washington. With Simmons next to him, he’ll be able to play the line a little bit more, and that plays to his strength. He doesn’t have a lot of range, but he’s very sure-handed.”

 

 

“They’re in a really weird middle ground — clearly not rebuilding, but also clearly the fifth-best team in this division. They really should try to retool and focus on assets for 2017, but they haven’t done that. Sonny Gray’s slider has come along great and he really works well down in the zone, which you don’t always see from a guy his size. But unless they hit on everyone this year, I really think they should trade him and rebuild. He’s by far their biggest asset in a trade. For now, though, they’ve added some money by bringing back Jed Lowrie and signing Ryan Madson and John Axford for the bullpen — most likely as trade pieces in July. They do have a folk hero in Billy Burns: He can’t hit a home run, but he’s got blazing speed and he puts the ball in play, he bunts and runs through walls. He’s a fun player with a limited upside, like this team.”

 

 

“Jerry Dipoto has really put his stamp on this organization. He’s made a lot of changes in the scouting department and on the international side. But he’s in a tough spot, because I don’t think he had the best canvas. With (Robinson) Cano and Felix (Hernandez), the direction of the team was already set: He has to win now. He’s definitely prioritized defense with the moves for Leonys Martin and Nori Aoki, and by bringing back Franklin Gutierrez. Adam Lind has power and a short-term commitment, so that’s a move that made sense. As good as Carson Smith was in that bullpen, Wade Miley has more value as a starter on a very good contract. I still think Taijuan Walker could be a No. 2 or 3, but I’m less excited about James Paxton. He’s had issues with his health and command, and he’s more of a back-end guy for me.”

 

 

“They’re built to win now, with Adrian Beltre being such a great player — still — and having one more year left. Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish are terrific at the front of that staff, and I don’t think people realize how good that bullpen is, with Shawn Tolleson, Sam Dyson and Jake Diekman. Everyone knows Shin-Soo Choo is overpaid, but that’s OK; his 2014 season was the aberration, and 2015 was more of who he is: 20-home run power, and he gets on base all the time. Rougned Odor is a special player. Very few position players who get to the majors at 20 don’t become above-average big leaguers. Actually, they usually become superstars or Hall of Famers. He was already average to slightly above average last year, at 21, and I expect him to be even better at 22, like Joey Gallo. Gallo shouldn’t worry about the strikeouts. He could be a high-impact guy really soon.”

Teaser:
MLB Scouts Talk Anonymously about AL West Teams for 2016
Post date: Wednesday, March 9, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News, Magazines
Path: /mlb/mlb-scouts-talk-anonymously-about-al-central-teams-2016
Body:

Real live baseball is here. Spring training games are starting this week throughout camp in Florida and Arizona.

 

That means manager and GMs are evaluating their lineups and rotations, which players will fill the final spots on the 25-man roster and which players need more seasoning in the minors.

 

In the , we’ve already done some of the homework. We asked scouts throughout MLB to give us their candid thoughts on teams and players for 2016.

 

These scouting reports and more are available in this year’s Athlon Baseball Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and .

 

 

 

“I think they’re going to struggle again. Just too many holes in that lineup. You love Jose Abreu, but why would you ever pitch to him? Brett Lawrie’s a bull in a china shop; he just can’t stay on the field. Alex Avila is a pro, but he’s had health issues and he’s been in decline. Avisail Garcia may not be the player they thought he would be in Detroit; he’s gotten heavier. You love Chris Sale and David Robertson on that staff, and keep a close eye on Carlos Rodon. I like his poise, aggressiveness and ability to throw strikes. He got much, much better as the season went along. He could really have a big year for them. John Danks’ velocity is on the decline, and his best pitch is the changeup; when it gets closer in velocity to (his fastball), it’s less effective.”

 

 

“I can’t see Cleveland knocking off Kansas City, but I also can’t see them dropping lower than third place. Everybody wonders if they’ll trade those pitchers; as a rival scout, believe me, I’d love it if they did. Our guys hate facing this team. They’ve got great velocity, and even a guy like Trevor Bauer, who doesn’t have great command, still has dominant stuff. Carlos Carrasco made a huge jump last year. And Corey Kluber got no run support, but he can still throw a no-hitter any time out. Their defense improved a lot as the year went on. Lonnie Chisenhall plays right field very well, and Francisco Lindor has very good range and instincts at shortstop. He can run and make contact, and he’ll be an impact player for a long time. Giovanny Urshela is legit in the field, but I don’t know if he’ll hit enough to be an everyday corner infielder. They have three big, reliable bats in Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana, but Brantley’s health is a big key.”

 

 

“I don’t know if they got good enough, but they got better this winter. They’re dangerous. That lineup is scary. You just don’t get any breathing room. The Victor Martinez injury hurt them last year because he’s such a good hitter. Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez are two of the best in the game, and Ian Kinsler’s a pest. Cameron Maybin got back on track with Atlanta last year; he’s gone from star to bust to a guy who looks like he can play a long time. He can hit the ball over the fence, steal a base and run a ball down for you. I liked the Jordan Zimmermann signing a lot, and their bullpen moves will make a big difference. Mark Lowe’s slider has gotten a lot better, and he’ll be good in front of Francisco Rodriguez, who just continues to evolve. He’s lost a lot of velocity, but that changeup is so great. Whatever it takes, he’s been able to adjust to it.”

 

 

“They’re a deserving champion, built with patience and a purpose. Their bullpen strikes fear into any other team, and they’ll be great again, even with Greg Holland injured and Ryan Madson off to Oakland. Wade Davis was unhittable in the postseason; everything he throws is filthy. He made a seamless jump to the closer role. Their hitters don’t strike out, and it really rattles opposing pitchers and gets them off their game plan, because they never face a lineup like this. Eric Hosmer is a solid, All-Star player — even though he’s never actually been on an All-Star team — and Lorenzo Cain is a superstar in center. Alcides Escobar is very much underrated; he jump-starts that team. They won’t miss Johnny Cueto, who was too inconsistent down the stretch, but they need Yordano Ventura to settle down. His immaturity really showed at times, and he hasn’t really become the pitcher his stuff says he should be.”

 

 

“Paul Molitor was an unbelievable fit for that club. He sees so much — pitchers tipping, matchups to exploit, ways to get an extra 90 feet — and he passes that stuff on to the players. They have a lot of choices in the rotation, not just fourth and fifth starters, so they gave themselves a chance every night. Watch out for Tyler Duffey. He throws variations of his curveball that give it different velocities, angles, shapes and sizes. Hitters don’t like him. Nobody ever wants to sit breaking ball, but if you look fastball from him and try to adjust off-speed, he eats you up. With Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, they might have the three best arms you’ll find in any outfield. And Sano is going to be a household name — he’s a bomber who takes really good at-bats. Byung Ho Park is a big wild card, but he’s got a chance to be at least an average everyday DH, with maybe 25 home runs. He reminds me of Mike Napoli.”

Teaser:
MLB Scouts Talk Anonymously about AL Central Teams for 2016
Post date: Tuesday, March 8, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Funny, College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/68-funny-march-madness-pick-em-bracket-team-names-2016
Body:

The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is almost here. Only one person will win your office bracket pick ‘em pool. But everyone can have a funny, silly, or crazy March Madness bracket team or group name. Here are 68 names that should get a laugh, from the First Four to the Final Four. Now, good luck finding that perfect bracket.

 

March Madness Bracket Names

 

Final Fourgasm

 

Cinderella Story

 

Full Metal Bracket

 

Basket Cases

 

When I Think About You I Touch Bill Self

 

Not In Kansas Anymore

 

Be My Denzel Valentine

 

Breaking Cardinal Rules

 

The Louisville Escorts

 

Shock It To Me

 

Shock and Awe

 

March Sadness

 

Point Gods

 

Court Stormers

 

 

 

This Whole Things a Bracket

 

Bill Walton Smells Colors

 

7-10 Splits

 

I Smell Dwayne Bacon

 

Dwayne Bacon & Eggs

 

Bubblicious

 

March Mad Men

 

Use the Force, Luke Kornet

 

Fast Breaking Bad

 

Ball So Hard University

 

Definitely In My Izzone

 

Sparty Party

 

Bruce Pearl’s BBQ

 

Bruce Pearl Necklace

 

 

Hoops, There it Is

 

 

 

March Badness

 

Brack On Track

 

Bo’s Badgers

 

F--- ‘Em Bucky

 

 

 

Headbands Make Her Dance

 

Stallings Will F’n Kill You

 

 

Big Dancin’ For Money

 

One Shining Moment

 

And1 Shining Moment

 

Nebrasketballers

 

Church of Bracketology

 

Amoeba Defense

 

Stretch Final Fours

 

 

Air Ballers

 

 

One Man Wolf Pack

 

Pitino’s 15-Second Drill

 

Marchmageddon

 

One Time at Band Camp

 

Band-Aides

 

 

Coach 1K

 

 

Grayson's Anatomy 

 

Cameron Crazies

 

 

Duke’s No-Look Policy

 

Don't Hate the Player, Hate the Game

 

Calipari’s Recruiting Budget

 

Ashley’s Judds

 

Big Bluegrass Nation

 

One and Won

 

Undefeated

 

Ballbusters

 

 

 

Teaser:
These funny March Madness bracket names will make your office pool laugh
Post date: Tuesday, March 8, 2016 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News, Magazines
Path: /mlb/mlb-scouts-talk-anonymously-about-al-east-teams-2016
Body:

Real live baseball is here. Spring training games are starting this week throughout camp in Florida and Arizona.

 

That means manager and GMs are evaluating their lineups and rotations, which players will fill the final spots on the 25-man roster and which players need more seasoning in the minors.

 

In the , we’ve already done some of the homework. We asked scouts throughout MLB to give us their candid thoughts on teams and players for 2016.

 

These scouting reports and more are available in this year’s Athlon Baseball Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and .

 

 

“They’ve never really found that No. 1 guy, and their window to win is closing. Chris Tillman’s not the answer; he’s very erratic, never seems to put together a nice, long string of solid starts. Ubaldo Jimenez frustrates you, as always. Kevin Gausman has the arm to be a solid No. 2, but his command needs to be better, or high pitch counts will always be a problem. They do have things you like — Matt Wieters is back and should be healthy all season, Manny Machado is outstanding, J.J. Hardy is very good, and Adam Jones is an absolute star. Zach Britton is one of the best closers out there, with that power sinker, and Darren O’Day is one of the best setup guys in baseball. Jonathan Schoop is a little big to be playing second base, but I like his bat speed. Mark Trumbo is a big swing-and-miss guy who fits best at DH.”

 

 

“They signed David Price when they hired Dave Dombrowski, and it’s understandable. They overpaid for him and Craig Kimbrel, but it’s what they had to do, and they didn’t take anything away from their major league team to get them. They’re the best team in that division, for me, but they still need a guy to start Game 2 of a playoff series. They’re going to get more from Pablo Sandoval — they can’t get much worse — and while Hanley Ramirez will probably be a poor first baseman, he’s going to bring value with his bat. Rusney Castillo doesn’t have to be a great player, like Mookie Betts already is, and Chris Young is a good fourth outfielder who can play half the time, if needed. They can expect their young core — Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Blake Swihart and Jackie Bradley Jr. — to keep getting better, and Dustin Pedroia is still an All-Star-caliber second baseman. After a long offseason, I expect him to be healthy and productive again.”

 

 

“I’m surprised they won as many games as they did with all the health issues in that rotation. Their bullpen was great, and I’m shocked they let go of two big pieces in Adam Warren and Justin Wilson. I know Warren solved second base for them by bringing in Starlin Castro, but he was an important guy for them. Dellin Betances is a big, strong guy with great stuff, but they’ve worked him so hard the last couple of years, you wonder about the cumulative effect of so many innings and high-stress situations. The guy they need to get ironed out is Jacoby Ellsbury. He’s really had a hard time coming back from injuries, but he’s a major catalyst and they need him badly. When he and Brett Gardner are doing their thing at the top of the order, it makes things so much easier for A-Rod, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. Didi Gregorius stabilized after the first six weeks of last season, swinging the bat better and playing very steady defense. He’s going to be fine.”

 

 

“The reality is that they probably won’t compete, but their pitching still gives them a chance. Chris Archer’s awesome, Jake Odorizzi is good, and if Matt Moore and Drew Smyly are healthy, that’s a rotation that gives them a chance every night. And then they should get Alex Cobb back in the second half. A lot of it will come down to position players like Brad Miller, Steven Souza and Desmond Jennings. These guys could establish themselves as above-average, everyday big league players, but they’ve also failed a little bit, so you don’t really know. They can count on Evan Longoria — he’s durable, has a good approach and is still a very good defender — and Kevin Kiermaier does it all in center. Their catchers — Rene Rivera, Curt Casali and Hank Conger — are in that Jose Molina mold. They’ll make good pitchers look even better by getting a lot of called strikes, but they won’t hit. If they’re in it in July, that’s a position they could look to upgrade.”

 

 

“They lost David Price, but I’m still very bullish on the Blue Jays. They’ll just go and outslug everyone again. Their window is closing, because Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion can be free agents after this year, but adding Troy Tulowitzki was huge, and Russell Martin is a real pro. He and Josh Donaldson brought a different swagger to that team last year, a real edge they didn’t have before. If you want to know why Donaldson succeeds with that high leg kick, stand on the side and just watch his head. It looks like he has a ton of moving parts, but that head stays very still; he’s controlling his body and staying in a really balanced position. Bautista’s the same way. I like Roberto Osuna better as a starter than a reliever; he repeats his delivery and commands the strike zone. Aaron Sanchez, stuff-wise, plays better in the back of the bullpen.”

 

 

Teaser:
MLB Scouts Talk Anonymously about AL East Teams for 2016
Post date: Monday, March 7, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/worst-sports-teammates-all-time-2016
Body:

The locker room is a sacred place. It is also an extremely fragile place.

 

The smallest change in attitude or perception can cause one to implode or splinter in the worst possible way. Critical injuries, lack of leadership from the coaching staff or a nosey, overbearing owner are a few reasons why the delicate pursuit of a championship can be derailed. Other times, the locker room can be infested with teammates who clearly aren't committed to winning. It can rub off on others, can be a distraction in the media and is obviously a terrible way to represent yourself in your community to so many who look up to those in pro sports. Sometimes — most times — these athletes have so much talent that they continually are given chances to succeed. It generally leaves fans wondering what if?

 

Here are some of the most parasitic and dangerous teammates of all-time:

 

Ryan Leaf, QB, NFL

The torrid and tawdry tale of the San Diego Chargers' first-round pick in the 1998 NFL Draft is well documented. His off-the-field drug issues as a coach alone make him one of the most tragic members of any locker room in all of sports. Yet, simply as an NFL quarterback, Leaf failed to live up to his 6-foot-5 frame. He was in yelling matches that nearly developed into physical altercations with teammates, general managers, fans during practice and one famous reporter who should have "knock(ed) it off." The list of bizarre and ignorant decision-making is shocking. He skipped the final day of the rookie symposium. He complained to the front office about a standard rookie credit card prank. He constantly blamed teammates publicly for his poor play. He missed practice with an injury to play golf. He refused to have surgery when doctors told him he should. There is a reason he won only four of his 21 career starts.

 

Tonya Harding, Figure Skater

Aside from never being able to get to the arena or onto the ice on time, I'm not sure it gets any worse than physically assaulting your teammate with the direct intent of ending their career. On Jan. 6, 1994, Harding conspired with ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her bodyguard, Shawn Eckhardt, to break teammate and competitor Nancy Kerrigan's right leg. They hired a man named Shane Stant to assault Kerrigan at Cobo Arena in Detroit, causing Kerrigan to withdraw from the 1994 US Championships. The attack didn't keep Kerrigan from competing in the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer where she won the silver medal. Harding would end up pleading guilty to conspiracy.

 

Latrell Sprewell, Guard, NBA

Few players have wasted more talent on nonsense than Sprewell. Not many players can say they have literally choked their head coach. His excuse? "It's not like he was losing air or anything." Spree's laundry list of locker room dust-ups is too long to comb through. But choking your coach and publicly wondering how he was going to feed his family on a $21 million contract is enough to make this list.

 

Richie Incognito, OL, NFL

Spitting on players, fighting in games, fighting during practice and in bars all dot his resume. And that was just before he transferred from Nebraska to Oregon in college. Repeated incidents in the NFL have led to Incognito playing for multiple teams. The most notable, of course, coming in the Miami Dolphins' locker room involving supposed friend Jonathan Martin. He is widely regarded as one of, if not the, dirtiest player in the NFL.

 

Manny Ramirez, OF, MLB

No one makes you shake your head quite like Man-Ram. Yes, he has had physical altercations with teammates and even apparently knocked over an elderly secretary. He was an extraordinary hitter and one of the most bizarre outfielders in the history of the game. Cutting off throws, disappearing into the Green Monster and landing on the baseball only scratch the surface. He was also suspended for using steroids while playing for the Dodgers late in his career. But Manny is also guilty of the worst crime in all of sports: intentionally not playing hard. Manny Being Manny was great for a laugh — if you didn't play with him.

 

John Terry, Centre Back, English Premier Soccer

One of the most decorated English soccer plays of all-time, Terry won "Dad of the Year" in 2009. The voters must not have known about his bar fights, airport altercations, handicap parking tendencies and general sleaziness. He has been investigated for racial abuse and was busted for having an extramarital affair with a teammate’s significant other. Well done, sir.

 

Carlos Zambrano, SP, MLB

He was suspended for arguing with teammate Derrek Lee. He got in a fight between innings with catcher Michael Barrett. His temper and childish behaviors were caught on film numerous times on the North Side of Chicago. Why do you think new management was willing to pay millions for him NOT to be in their clubhouse? In Jan. 2014, he had to apologize for starting a brawl in the Venezuela's winter series final.

 

Bill Romanowski, LB, NFL

The burly and physical tackler was a menace on the field as one of the nastiest hitters in the game and off the field as one of the worst teammates. During his playing days, he was linked to potential steroid use that likely led somewhat to his insane practice habits. No less than six major violent incidents with teammates dot Romanowski's resume. He shattered Marcus Williams' eye-socket, ending his career, broke Kerry Collins' jaw and attacked Tony Gonzalez. He kicked another teammate in the head, spit in another's face and was known to aim for an extra-sensitive area of the body with the football from time to time. Now several years removed from the game, Romanowski has since toned down his antics dramatically and has been slowly working to rebuild his image off of the field.

 

Barry Bonds, OF, MLB

Possibly the most talented and most high profile player on this list, it seems awfully appropriate that the seven-time MVP never won a World Series. The stories from teammates, fans and reporters stretch out longer than one of his bombs into the Bay. Not showing up for team photos, blaming teammates for failed drug tests, berating journalists, distracting the team and constantly distancing himself from his team. There is a report from Rob Dibble that Pirates players would offer steak dinners and cash to opposing pitchers if they would hit Bonds. He was hit 106 times in his career and, for the most part, his home run record is sneered at for a reason.

 

Delonte West, G, NBA

This one isn't too hard. Over a three-year period, West was traded three times and eventually waived by the Minnesota Timberwolves. His career began unceremoniously when officers found a concealed handgun in his pocket and, I can't make this up, a shotgun in a guitar case on his back during a speedy stop — while on a motorcycle. In 2010, he got into a locker room fight with Von Wafer, one that witnesses say West instigated. In 2012, he wasn't allowed to attend the Mavericks' trip to the White House and he reacted with an intense Twitter rant. Finally, and even I will admit, the most far-fetched tale involving West is of his alleged indiscretions with The Chosen One's Mom. No, I am not kidding. He never averaged more than 12.2 points per game in any season and averaged in double figures only three times in eight years in the NBA.

 

Terrell Owens, WR, NFL

Constantly throwing teammates under the bus, Owens' selfish attitude on and off the field cost his locker room any cohesion and, at times, cost his team yards on the field. Effort was never his issue like some other prima donna wideouts in the NFL, but to blame quarterbacks and coaches for his own failures is absurd. And to infer certain things about Jeff Garcia in a negative way is unacceptable, distasteful and classless. Especially, coming from a guy as vain as T.O.

 

Gilbert Arenas, G, NBA

He has long been known to berate and verbally abuse teammates. He has also been connected with some of the more vicious rookie hazings. However, being suspended for nearly an entire season because you brought a handgun into the locker room takes the cake. Which is unacceptable, especially if you are a career 42.1 percent shooter.

 

Steve Smith, WR, NFL 

Multiple fights with multiple teammates during training camps have made Smith a constant headline even before the season gets started. He has been sued, fined, suspended and sent to anger management training for the better part of a decade. It’s not working. He has long been one of the most talkative — and generally not using pleasantries — players in all of the NFL.

 

Jeff Kent, 2B, MLB

Few players have ever been as abrasive as Mr. Kent. Stories of Barry Bonds — yes, Barry Bonds — having to play the role of peacekeeper in the Giants' clubhouse should tell you all you need to know about Kent. Teammates, media, coaches and fans couldn't stand to be around him. 

 

The "Worst" of the Rest:

Albert Haynesworth, Defensive Lineman, NFL
A paycheck player who refused to play certain positions and never stayed in shape following his payday.

 

Keyshawn Johnson, Wide Receiver, NFL
Was always wondering why the Jets were throwing the ball "to that little white guy." Hmmm...

 

Stephon Marbury, Guard, NBA
Constantly battling with teammates and even his GM, he single-handedly derailed the Knicks.

 

Allen Iverson, Guard, NBA
Game effort was never the issue. His Diva persona and attitude toward practice was.

 

Joe Horn, Wide Receiver, NFL
On the field antics and sleeping with a teammate's wife qualifies Horn for this list.

 

JaMarcus Russell, QB, NFL
Lazy, out of shape and unfocused in regards to anything that had to do with winning games.

 

Johnny Manziel, QB, NFL

His love of partying has alienated teammates and hampered his on-the-field efforts.

 

Milton Bradley, Outfielder, MLB
Eight teams in 12 years for the short-tempered maniac. Also has had multiple domestic abuse issues.

Teaser:
Who are some of the worst teammates of all-time in pro sports?
Post date: Friday, March 4, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: autos, Life
Path: /life/favorite-sports-cars-2016
Body:

Spring is just around the corner, beckoning us to sunnier days and saying farewell to treacherous snow-covered roads. It’s the perfect time of year to satisfy your need for speed. Here are our favorite road rockets to fit any budget.

 

Scion FR-S

It’s fun, fast and sexy. The low-slung, rear-wheel drive makes it agile and a blast whipping around corners. Start shifting the manual six-speed at high RPMs (via a 2.0L, 4-cylinder Boxer engine making 200 hp) and enjoy the sensation of a pricier, exotic ride. Bonus: a standard back-up camera and 7-inch touch screen display. We should mention that although the plug was pulled on the Scion brand, the FR-S is still alive and kicking, and will display a Toyota badge in 2017.

0-60mph: 6.5 seconds

Top Speed: 136 mph

Cost: $26,100

 

Lexus RC 350 F Sport

It’s like Jekyll and Hyde, thanks to an aggressive, rocket-ship exterior and gorgeous interior details (wood trim, perforated leather seats). The nearly silent interior, heated/cooled seats, and smooth suspension is indicative of Lexus’ luxury roots, while the healthy 306-hp V6, high-speed cornering, and responsive paddle shifters make it a savage.

0-60mph: 5.6 seconds

Top Speed: 143 mph

Cost: $46,885

 

Porsche Cayman Black Edition

The sweet-looking, black on black Cayman Black isn’t all show. It boasts significant upgrades to the $53,595 Cayman base model, including bixenon dynamic headlamps, park assist, upgraded audio, navigation and climate control, plus a sport steering wheel. The 2.7L flat-six engine puts out 275hp and tops out at 165mph, just like the base model, but the Black Edition offers about $11,000 of upgrades for $6,000 more. The only downside? It’s only available in black. We can live with that. 

0-60mph: 5.4 seconds
Top Speed: 165mph
Cost: $59,200

 

Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R

The 526 hp, 5.2L V8 engine is Ford’s most powerful naturally-aspirated production engine, taking this 3,655-pound monster to outrageous speeds, while continuously-controlled MangeRide dampers adjust suspension independently to keep handling on point. While its guts are all business, the interior’s suede details and 8-inch touch screen make it as comfortable on your daily commute as it is on the track.

0-60mph: 4 seconds

Top Speed: 175 mph

Cost: starting at $61,295

 

Mercedes AMG GT S 

The GT S’s 503 horsepower, 4L twin-turbo V8 is capable of pushing this beautiful beast up to 60 mph in 3 gut-wrenching seconds, while the 4-wheel wishbone suspension keeps you in control with electronically adaptive dampers and three modes of suspension to suit your driving style. The interior is just what you’d expect from Mercedes: Nappa leather, a Burmeister Surround Sound System, and a touchpad controller.

0-60mph: 3 seconds

Top Speed: 193 mph

Cost: starting at $129,900

 

Story by Billy Brown

 

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 3, 2016 - 16:08
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/sports-strangest-non-game-related-injuries-2016
Body:

The number of sports injuries that have occurred on the field over the years have been staggering. But fans are used to it and consider it part of the game. However, the injuries that still get fans upset are the ones that occur when players hurt themselves doing random, seemingly mundane things. Here’s a list of our favorite ways players have been injured. Most are true, but a few seem a bit suspect. We’ll let you decide.

 

Wild animal attacks

While Nolan Ryan was playing for the Astros in 1985, a coyote bit him on the hand and forced him to miss a start; no word on whether any Acme products were involved. Former Norwegian soccer star Svein Grondalen was absent from an international match in the late-1970s because an angry moose ran into him while he was jogging. We suspect the moose was a fan of Brazil and vuvuzelas.

 

Eating

The Homer Simpson Award for injuries sustained while eating donuts goes to former National League MVP Kevin Mitchell, who chipped a tooth on a frozen donut in 1990 (dude, that's what microwaves are for). He had to have a root canal and ended up on the DL. Montreal Expo infielder Bret Barberie got chili pepper juice in his eye and missed a game. Hockey player Dustin Penner of the Los Angeles Kings takes the (pan)cake, though, wrenching his back last year while leaning over to eat a stack of flapjacks. His back spasm caused him to miss one game. 

 

Sneezing

Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa got back spasms from sneezing in 2004 and was never the same player again (he even turned white after he retired). Pitcher Mat Latos tried to learn from Sosa's example on the dangers of the sneeze, attempting to suppress the one he felt coming in July 2010. Latos strained muscles in his left side and wound up on the DL anyway.

 

Vomiting 

Most of us feel better after we throw up, but not baseball’s Kevin Mitchell (yes, the same Mitchell from the earlier item) and Josh Outman. Both strained rib muscles while puking and had to be placed on the DL. Mitchell’s injury occurred in 1992, while Outman’s happened in April 2012.  

 

Playing video games 

NBA star Lionel Simmons missed several games of the 1991 season from tendonitis suffered while playing his Nintendo GameBoy. Detroit pitcher Joel Zumaya may have been a Guitar Hero, which cost him a chance to be a baseball hero in the 2006 ALCS. He missed three games due to injuries to his elbow and forearm due to aggressive strumming on his PlayStation 2. Apparently he was attempting to play Buckethead on advanced. 

 

Chopping wood...in the locker room

When the Jacksonville Jaguars started 0-3 in 2003, coach Jack Del Rio put an axe and a stump of wood in the locker room and implored his team to “keep chopping wood.” It turns out that his players were still better at football than lumberjacking. Punter Chris Hanson took aim at the stump, but whacked his non-kicking foot instead and missed the rest of the season. Del Rio finally got the axe himself, a few years too late for Hanson. 

 

Participating in the coin toss

Call this one the Anton Chigurh Award for career-ending coin toss. Offensive tackle Turk Edwards’ career was good enough to make the Hall of Fame, but it might have been better if he hadn’t been the Washington Redskins’ captain in 1940. Edwards called the coin toss and shook hands with Giants’ captain Mel Hein, but when he turned toward the sideline, his cleat caught in the turf and his knee buckled. He never played again. 

 

Yelling at teammates

Words hurt, especially when you scream them with such force that you dislocate your jaw, as Manchester United goalie Alex Stepney did in 1975. If you're a python swallowing a deer, a dislocated jaw is an advantage. Otherwise, not so much.

 

Sleeping

All sorts of potential dangers await the slumbering athlete. Former baseball player Glenallen Hill, an arachnophobe, had a nightmare in 1990 involving spiders and consequently tumbled down the stars and slammed into a glass table. He sustained multiple cuts and required a stay on the disabled list. Thank God he steered clear of the bed pillows, or it might have been worse: former MLB pitcher Terry Mulholland scratched his eye on a loose feather in 2005, and Detroit catcher Brandon Inge went on the DL a few years later (2008) when he pulled an oblique while adjusting a pillow. Former Tigers pitcher Denny McLain once awoke from his slumber with two dislocated toes in 1967. Then, there’s "sleeping." Milan AC midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng earlier this year had a muscular lesion on his left thigh. His model girlfriend attributed it to “too much sex.”

 

Ironing shirts

This possible injury is shrouded in mystery. As legend has it, former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz burned himself back in 1990 while ironing his shirt. But that’s not the weird part. The story goes that Smoltz was wearing the shirt when he decided to iron it and not surprisingly burnt himself. Smoltz, of course, denies that it ever happened. And he’s probably telling the truth. Probably. 

 

Phone book attack 

In 1994, 28-year-old knuckleballer Steve Sparks missed out on a chance to make his first big-league roster when he dislocated his left (non-throwing) shoulder during spring training in Chandler, Ariz., with the Milwaukee Brewers. He tried to rip a phone book while imitating a group of motivational speakers named "Radical Reality" who had visited the team.

 

Celebrating the Birth of Our Nation

On July 4, 2015 New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was messing around with some fireworks and paid a huge price, suffering a serious injury to his hand. The injury necessitated surgery that included the amputation of at least one finger and portions of others. He subsequently missed the first eight weeks of the season before returning in Week 9.

 

by Chris Lee (), publisher of

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 3, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News, Magazines
Path: /mlb/mlb-scouts-talk-anonymously-about-nl-west-teams-2016
Body:

Real live baseball is here. Spring training games are starting this week throughout camp in Florida and Arizona.

 

That means manager and GMs are evaluating their lineups and rotations, which players will fill the final spots on the 25-man roster and which players need more seasoning in the minors.

 

In the , we’ve already done some of the homework. We asked scouts throughout MLB to give us their candid thoughts on teams and players for 2016.

 

 

“I’m not buying it. Paul Goldschmidt and Zack Greinke and A.J. Pollock are awesome — we know that. But Shelby Miller is wildly overrated, certainly not worth what they gave up. He’s not much of a strikeout guy, and he walks more than you would expect from an elite starting pitcher. He has the pedigree and he’s putting it together, but I wouldn’t expect him to get much better than he was last year, and I actually think his value is negated by the loss of Ender Inciarte. Now they’ll use Yasmany Tomas every day in right field, and his defense is just so bad that his offense has to be really great to justify his spot in the lineup — and it isn’t. He’s got a bad approach up there, but he’s getting so much money that he’ll get every chance to succeed. Their defense is really good, especially up the middle with Nick Ahmed and Chris Owings, but a subtle factor might be the loss of Andy Green, who left to manage the Padres. He ran their defense and always positioned them really well.”

 

 

“I won’t be optimistic on these guys until they get some starters that catch your attention. Jon Gray’s got a really good arm, and he has a chance to be something. But the big question is how much he has to throttle back to be effective. Maybe he’s got a chance to be a No. 3. There’s just really no ceiling anywhere. On his best day, Jorge De La Rosa is a 3. There’s nothing close to an ace. They’ll score, but I think you could put any nine guys in that ballpark 81 times a year, and they’ll score. In any other ballpark, DJ LeMahieu is probably not even a starter, but at Coors, he’s an All-Star. The big exception is Nolan Arenado. He does everything well. He’s maybe the best defender I’ve ever seen in my life. I didn’t scout Brooks Robinson, but I can’t imagine anybody being able to make the plays he can make. He turns doubles into double plays faster than you can blink.”

 

 

“When you get past all the noise, the Dodgers are still the best team in this division, by a good amount. They still have the ace in Clayton Kershaw and a lot of solid options behind him. They’ve done a terrific job of adding depth, and they’ve got guys who can play a lot of positions, like the old Tampa Bay teams Andrew Friedman had. It’s not just Chase Utley at second; it’s guys like Enrique Hernandez. And there’s the usual depth they have in the outfield. I’m not giving up on Joc Pederson, either. He’s a flawed player, but a good one. He’s going to frustrate you with the strikeouts, so he’s easy to pick on. But he knows the strike zone, he’s got power and he’s a plus defender. Corey Seager has a great approach, phenomenal tools, and he’s hit at every level. Having him all season will help them a lot.”

 

 

“It seems like they took their shot last year, and now they’re doing some re-tooling. If they keep James Shields, Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner, they have a chance to be respectable. I liked Wil Myers when he first came up, with the Rays, but you just never know with wrist injuries. You always have doubts after that — no snap. Matt Kemp is always the wild card there. He could be anything. It wouldn’t surprise me if he has a really good year, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he hits .250 with 18 meaningless home runs. He’s definitely not a leader. One guy I really like there is Brandon Maurer, who should be their closer. His slider is filthy out of the pen, and he throws 97 to 101 in short stints. But when he starts, there’s a real drop-off in the quality of his stuff, and he’s just another guy.”

 

 

“I expect them to get good things out of Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto. I think last year was an aberration for both of them, and San Francisco is the perfect environment — a big ballpark and an organization that always gets the most out of its pitchers. People criticize Brandon Belt, but I don’t know why. He hits for some power, but a lot of it is doubles. He’s not going to hit 30 homers there, but as a .270/.280 guy who’s one of the best defensive first basemen in baseball, that’s very good. You love Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford and Hunter Pence, of course, and Matt Duffy really came out of nowhere. It’s shocking what he’s done, considering his minor league record, but he may be one of those rare guys who is actually better at the major league level. I still think these guys are well behind the Dodgers, but it’s an even year, and we know what happens then.”

 

 

These scouting reports and more are available in this year’s Athlon Baseball Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and .

 

Teaser:
MLB Scouts Talk Anonymously about NL West Teams for 2016
Post date: Wednesday, March 2, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News, Magazines
Path: /mlb/mlb-scouts-talk-anonymously-about-nl-central-teams-2016
Body:

Real live baseball is here. Spring training games are starting this week throughout camp in Florida and Arizona.

 

That means manager and GMs are evaluating their lineups and rotations, which players will fill the final spots on the 25-man roster and which players need more seasoning in the minors.

 

In the , we’ve already done some of the homework. We asked scouts throughout MLB to give us their candid thoughts on teams and players for 2016.

 

These scouting reports and more are available in this year’s Athlon Baseball Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and .

 

 

 

“This is the best team in the division, and maybe in the league. They’re going to score a lot of runs, and their pitching has more depth. I don’t know if Jake Arrieta is going to do that again, but he’s so impressive the way he throws across his body and still gets the ball to the other side of the plate without difficulty. He’s got command, velocity, presence — everything you want in a No. 1 starter. Kyle Schwarber’s bat is a very big plus, but the more he plays left field, the more he gets exposed. And obviously they have concerns about his catching, or he’d be back there. Their bullpen is just OK; they may need to keep adding to it, the way they did last year. But they’ve found some gems, like Justin Grimm, who has great stuff. Jason Heyward’s contract surprised some people, but they just need him to be himself. The young guys and the free agents embrace the challenge of winning here, and I think that matters.”

 

 

“They’re in a really tough situation, as an older team with a lot of strikeouts trying to develop young pitchers in an unforgiving park. Joey Votto was at his best last year, or close to it, but it will take time to build a respectable team around him again. Jay Bruce is in decline, left field is an issue, and they need Devin Mesoraco to be healthy behind the plate, especially after losing Brayan Pena as a free agent. Anthony DeSclafani was OK in the rotation, but he’s the only guy they can count on. I do think Brandon Finnegan has a chance; he had good command and aggressiveness as a bullpen guy for the Royals, and he was very impressive in college. Their setup relief is a big problem. I just don’t see a way for them to compete in this division at all.”

 

 

“They’re going to compete for the top pick in the draft. They’re one of the worst teams in baseball, but it’s by design, and it’s the right thing to do. I don’t expect Jonathan Lucroy to be there long, and they should move Scooter Gennett, Will Smith and Wily Peralta if they can, too. They’re focusing on what’s below at the minor league level — guys like Orlando Arcia, who will be the shortstop there for a long time. There’s not much hope for that rotation, but I like Zach Davies, and Taylor Jungmann looks like he’s finally figured it out. Ryan Braun is past his prime, no longer an MVP candidate, but he should be an above-average bat for the next few years. It seems like he’ll stay — that’s an ownership issue — but he’s 32 and was never a great defender; he’ll look like an American League player pretty soon.”

 

 

“They’re one of the most athletic teams in baseball, and they play together, as a unit, better than almost anybody. Andrew McCutchen’s their only star, and he was still one of the best players in the game last year, even though he wasn’t at his best. I think Starling Marte has a chance to join him as a star, and Jung Ho Kang really asserted himself offensively after a slow start. He was a huge surprise, and they missed him down the stretch. Their bullpen is very solid with Mark Melancon and the rest, and that staff loves pitching to Francisco Cervelli. The rotation is a bit short, but (pitching coach) Ray Searage has had so many success stories now, you don’t doubt him anymore. Their ace, Gerrit Cole, will only get better — he’s got velocity, improved command, a very good breaking ball, and the tenacity and aggressiveness you want from your No. 1 guy.”

 

 

“I think the Cubs have passed them in that division. Losing Jason Heyward really hurts, and John Lackey was a quality innings-eater. Now both are with their rivals. Some of their best players are starting to get older, with Jhonny Peralta, Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday. I do like Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk. Piscotty really played well moving from position to position, and I like his power as he continues to develop. Grichuk’s a very good athlete who can play anywhere in the outfield. They got Jedd Gyorko, but he doesn’t help much in the overall picture. I think Adam Wainwright will be fine, but they need another durable starter. Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha wore down last season, and they’ll really miss Lackey and Lance Lynn. They’ve always been so good at developing guys through the minors, and they need to do it again — or this is a team in decline.”

Teaser:
MLB Scouts Talk Anonymously about NL Central Teams for 2016
Post date: Tuesday, March 1, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News, Magazines
Path: /mlb/mlb-scouts-talk-anonymously-about-nl-east-teams-2016
Body:

Real live baseball is here. Spring training games are starting this week throughout camp in Florida and Arizona.

 

That means manager and GMs are evaluating their lineups and rotations, which players will fill the final spots on the 25-man roster and which players need more seasoning in the minors.

 

In the , we’ve already done some of the homework. We asked scouts throughout MLB to give us their candid thoughts on teams and players for 2016.

 

These scouting reports and more are available in this year’s Athlon Baseball Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and .

 

 

 

“We haven’t seen a team rebuild this aggressively in a long time. They’ve gotten premium guys in trades and added so much pitching to their system that they’re bound to shake out an ace somewhere — although I don’t see a real No. 1 in the group they’ll take out of camp. I like Matt Wisler’s stuff. Mike Foltynewicz has a good arm, but he’s a little bit of a thrower. Manny Banuelos and Williams Perez seem like back-end guys to me. They brought back A.J. Pierzynski to catch, and he really buys into the team concept now; he’ll challenge that young pitching staff. I like Jace Peterson; he’s got limited power, but he’s fine defensively and he sprays the ball to all fields. He’s one of the few regulars they can count on. They’re relying a lot on Hector Olivera, but there’s no learning curve; he’s 31 in April. There’s a lot of age on this team, actually — you can see it in Nick Swisher’s knees and the decline of Michael Bourn. There’s just no protection in that order for Freddie Freeman.”

 

 

“I want to like them, but I just don’t think there’s quite enough talent here to take that next step. The Mets and the Nationals are too far ahead, and there’s just not enough here. Jose Fernandez is as good as anybody if he’s healthy, but beyond that I don’t know what you’re dealing with. They’ve got a decent bullpen, but just not enough pieces in that rotation. I do like their lineup, and they’re going to battle you. It will be interesting to see what kind of effect Barry Bonds has; I can’t imagine there’s anybody smarter about hitting. When Giancarlo Stanton is healthy, he’s going to get his. I like Christian Yelich a lot, and Marcell Ozuna is better than we saw last year. The outfield defense is pretty much plus across the board. Adeiny Hechavarria is a really good shortstop; I’ve never seen him do anything that hasn’t been impressive. They made a nice find with Justin Bour last year, and stole Dee Gordon from the Dodgers. It’s a decent young team, and they’ll be competitive. But they’re not there yet.”

 

 

“They will have Michael Conforto all season, and he’s going to be a really good player. Neil Walker is a better version of Daniel Murphy — more reliable defensively and similar offensively. David Wright’s spinal stenosis is a big deal. You need to fuse it to resolve it, and that would end his career. They have to be really mindful of that and get him out of there before he tells you he’s sore — or before his bat speed diminishes. If you asked me to pick one of those four starters, I might just take Steven Matz. He’s that good. But you can’t go wrong with Noah Syndergaard or Jacob deGrom, either. Matt Harvey’s stuff is great, but they’ll never be able to keep him long-term, and I think he looked really heavy in the face and the midsection toward the end of the year. That concerns me.”

 

 

“They’re doing a good job, aggressively bringing in a lot of talent. Their system looked better last August, after the Cole Hamels deal, than it had in a long time, and then they got a good haul in the Ken Giles trade. With Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton, they added some veterans to eat innings in that rotation, and Aaron Nola’s going to be a good one. He needs to work on his changeup, but he’s a poor man’s Greg Maddux. He throws strikes and keeps hitters off-balance. Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera are young, aggressive and fearless, which you like to see, but they have a ways to go in developing other position players. Cesar Hernandez can have a nice career as a switch-hitting version of Omar Infante; you can play him anywhere. They still owe Ryan Howard $35 million, but the contract’s over after this season, so they can finally move on.”

 

 

“They were really ugly to watch last year — boring and lifeless at times. Matt Williams’ voice didn’t seem to resonate there, so maybe Dusty Baker’s will. I think this might finally be the year Stephen Strasburg does what everybody expects him to do. Stuff-wise, I don’t know if anybody is better in the game. They lost Jordan Zimmermann, but with Max Scherzer, Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Joe Ross and Tanner Roark, that’s a solid rotation. And Lucas Giolito is a stud in the minors. Bryce Harper, what can you say? Only Mike Trout might be better in the game, and Harper’s a year younger. Two years ago their best player was Anthony Rendon, but he can never stay healthy. When he’s out there, he barrels everything, hits everything hard. He’s a .300 hitter with 25-homer power, and there’s not a ton of those guys out there. It just always comes down to health with him.”

Teaser:
MLB Scouts Talk Anonymously about NL East Teams for 2016
Post date: Monday, February 29, 2016 - 08:30
All taxonomy terms: NFL Scouting Combine, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/10-most-athletic-freaks-nfl-combine-history-2016
Body:

The 2016 NFL Scouting Combine is set for Feb. 26-29 in Indianapolis. The unofficial kick off to draft season, the Combine serves as the first opportunity for invited players to make a strong first impression on the team that may ultimately end up drafting them come April 28-30.

 

While some may not care for the event that is also know as the "Underwear Olympics," those participating are completely aware of what's at stake. Drills such as the 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical leap, broad jump, cone drills, Wonderlic and BOD Pod tests are just part of the lengthy and exhaustive process these players are about to embark on as they seek to fulfill their dream of playing in the NFL.

 

So which players aced their opening interviews by opening eyes at the Combine? Here are 10 workout warriors who impressed those holding the stopwatches, measuring tapes and clipboards.

 

 

1. Bo Jackson, RB, Auburn – 1986

The two-sport tall tale weighed in at a chiseled 6’1”, 230 pounds before running an unofficial hand-timed 4.12 in the 40-yard dash — a jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring effort that is still a part of Combine folklore.

 

2. Tony Mandarich, OT, Michigan State – 1989

In hindsight, the most impressive thing the “Incredible Bulk” did was pass his steroid drug screening during the Combine. At 304 pounds, Mandarich ran a 4.65 in the 40, exploded for a 30” vertical and 10’3” broad jump, and ripped off 39 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.

 

3. Vernon Davis, TE, Maryland – 2006

Davis looked like a body builder or, at the very least, an actor from an Under Armour commercial en route to running a 4.38 in the 40, skying for a 42” vertical, 10’8” broad, and slamming 33 reps on the bench press.

 

4. Mike Mamula, LB, Boston College – 1995

After all these years, Mamula remains the go-to cautionary tale of the Combine. The BC beast vaulted up draft boards after a 4.58 in the 40, 28 reps of 225 pounds on the bench, a 38” vertical and a 49-of-50 on the Wonderlic Test. Mamula never looked as good in pads as he did in shorts.

 

5. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor – 2012

The fastest quarterback in Combine history, RG3 was a track star on the fast track to NFL (at least initially) and commercial superstardom — with a blistering 4.41 in the 40-yard dash to go along with a dunk contest-worthy 39” vertical.

 

6. Chris Johnson, RB, East Carolina – 2008

Before he became CJ2K, the gold-grilled CJ4.24 was the gold standard official record-holder in laser-timed 40-yard sprints, posting a 4.24 and hitting the first-round finish line in-stride.

 

7. Deion Sanders, CB, Florida State – 1989

The ultimate showman (and show-boater), Deion showed up fashionably late (and probably fashionably loud) to the Combine, then ran his 40-yard dash only once — in a time between 4.19 and 4.29, depending on whose hand-timed stop watch you trust. But Prime Time didn’t stop running once he hit the finish line; Sanders ran out of the building to a limousine waiting to take him to the airport.

 

8. Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech – 2007

With his draft stock holding strong near the top of the class, Johnson planned on kicking back and watching the festivities. But once the fireworks started, Megatron’s competitive juices started flowing and he decided he wanted to run after all. The only problem? He didn’t bring any track shoes. So Johnson borrowed a pair of spikes from East Carolina’s James Pinkney — then proceeded to run a blistering 4.32 in the 40.

 

9. J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin – 2011

In hindsight, the numbers that Watt put up at the Combine were a window into his dominant Defensive Player of the Year future. At 6-foot-5, 290 pounds with 11 1/8” hands and 34” arms, Watt ran a 4.84 in the 40, soared for a 37” vertical and 10’ broad jump, and threw up a long-armed 34 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.

 

10. Vernon Gholston, DE, Ohio State – 2008

One of the main reasons teams remain skeptical of off-the-charts Combine stats, Gholston was the classic “look like Tarzan, play like Jane.” In shorts and a muscle shirt, Gholston ran a 4.67 in the 40, had 37 reps on the bench and lifted off for a 35.5” vertical and 10.5” broad jump.

Teaser:
10 Most Athletic Freaks in NFL Combine History
Post date: Monday, February 22, 2016 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News, Magazines
Path: /mlb/toronto-blue-jays-2016-preview-and-prediction
Body:

As pitchers and catchers report this week in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports will preview every team in Major League Baseball. Outlooks for every team and so much more information, including rosters, advanced stats and anonymous scouting reports, are featured in the Athlon Sports 2016 MLB Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and in our .

 

The Toronto Blue Jays ended a postseason drought dating back to 1993 by winning the American League East in 2015, and they are well positioned to defend that title this season. To make it happen, they’ll need an offense that scored a major league-high 891 runs — 127 more than the second-best Yankees — to keep mashing, and a rebuilt pitching staff to lock down leads that the bats should regularly provide. Even with a defense sure to steal hits, the mound is where the questions lie for the Blue Jays after ace David Price, a trade deadline rental, left for the Boston Red Sox as a free agent. The new regime of Mark Shapiro is also under the microscope after the unexpected departure of popular general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who cited concerns over the “fit” with the president and CEO as his reason for leaving.

 

 

Rotation

 

Marcus Stroman made a surprising September return after tearing the ACL in his left knee in a freak spring training mishap, and over four regular-season starts and three playoff outings showed why the Blue Jays believe he’s a potential ace. Should he approach his ceiling in 2016, the starting staff will be much steadier. Marco Estrada, re-signed to a $26-million, two-year deal, logged a career-best 181 innings while posting a 3.13 ERA, and the Blue Jays are counting on the performance not being a one-off. Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey provides the rotation a 200-inning pillar of stability, while new addition J.A. Happ returns north after a year away looking to show he was the guy who dominated over 11 starts in Pittsburgh, not the guy who was mediocre in 21 games for Seattle beforehand. Swingman Jesse Chavez may open the season as the fifth starter, although Drew Hutchison and perhaps Aaron Sanchez will try to convince the Blue Jays otherwise.

 

Bullpen

 

With newly acquired Drew Storen, 21-year-old Roberto Osuna, Sanchez (if he doesn’t end up in the rotation) and lefty Brett Cecil, the Blue Jays have the makings of a strong back end of the bullpen. The issue they face is in the depth of quality behind them as the losses of Mark Lowe via free agency and LaTroy Hawkins to retirement have thinned out the bridge arms to get the ball from starter to closer. A return to form by Aaron Loup would give the Blue Jays a second trusted lefty and the potential for length if needed, but that’s no given. Hard-throwing Ryan Tepera impressed in a small sample size, while Bo Schultz, Steve Delabar and switch-pitcher Pat Venditte will all be in the mix to fill out the bullpen. Chavez could also find himself in a relief role should he get squeezed out of the rotation.

 

Middle Infield

 

The trade deadline pickup of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki helped change the Blue Jays’ infield defense, and a full season of him up the middle with Ryan Goins at second base will steal hit after hit from opposing batters. Tulowitzki also expects to be better at the plate with more time to acclimate to his new team and a new league. If his bat gets going, the Blue Jays lineup gets even scarier. Goins will open the season at second with Devon Travis recovering from shoulder surgery, and he showed enough production at the end of 2015 to carry his stellar glove. Darwin Barney, another defensive whiz, will provide protection at both positions as well as a right-handed option at second base for games against tougher lefties.

 

Corners

 

Between reigning MVP Josh Donaldson and the first base combination of Edwin Encarnacion, Chris Colabello and Justin Smoak, the Blue Jays can count on getting a good chunk of their offensive production from the corners. Rescued from the cavernous parks of the AL West, Donaldson crushed in the hitter-friendly locales of the AL East, hitting at a .297/.371/.568 clip with 41 homers and 123 RBIs, mostly out of the two-hole. His defense often got lost amid his escapades at the plate, but the intensity he brought both with his glove and his bat set the tone for the team. Encarnacion played 59 games at first base and the rest at DH as he hit 39 homers with 111 RBIs. Colabello’s punch and Smoak’s ability to gobble up throws good and bad at the bag give the Jays a well-rounded combo of skills for the position.

 

Outfield

 

Right fielder Jose Bautista anchors a diverse group of outfielders adept at running down balls in the gaps and delivering at the plate, too. Bautista hit 40 home runs to reach that plateau for a third time while driving in 114 runs with 110 walks, both the second-best totals of his career. Thanks to the opportunity created by Michael Saunders’ springtime knee injury, Kevin Pillar was able to emerge as arguably the best defensive center fielder in the AL not named Kevin Kiermaier. Pillar also came up with several important hits. The Jays are hoping that Saunders’ knee issues are in the past and that he’ll be able to take over left field — vacated when Ben Revere was dealt to Washington for Storen — on a full-time basis.

 

Catching

 

The sturdy Russell Martin caught 117 games last season despite fighting through left hamstring issues in August and will be counted on even more heavily this season with backup Dioner Navarro leaving as a free agent. On the plus side, the return of Josh Thole as the backup means Martin will no longer have to deal with Dickey’s knuckleball, a task that he handled well but that often left him battered and drained mentally. Thole may be able to get more out of Dickey than any other catcher due to the volume of experience the two have together, so that change may pay dividends in other ways. If all that also helps Martin post another OPS in the .787 range or come close to his career-high 23 homers in 2015, the Blue Jays will take it.

 

DH/Bench

 

Encarnacion started at DH 85 times last season, and he may see more time there this year with the Colabello/Smoak combination working so well at first base. Manager John Gibbons also worked in some rest for various starters by giving them the occasional DH day, a trend he’s likely to continue. The Blue Jays lineup features few players who get pinch-hit for regularly, though Barney could see some at-bats in place of Goins, while Dalton Pompey can provide offense and speed off the bench.

 

Management

 

To some degree, Gibbons silenced the doubters who have dogged his second run as Blue Jays manager by leading the team to the American League East title. But with the departure of Anthopoulos, his fate under Shapiro will be closely watched. Former Cleveland Indians executive Ross Atkins was named GM in place of Anthopoulos, whose bold July dealings helped push the Blue Jays back into the playoffs. Atkins was only hired in December — assistant GM Tony LaCava, the runner-up in the process, oversaw the offseason business — and it will take time before a sense of his style emerges. His work will be compared against that of Anthopoulos by a fan base frustrated by the unexpected change, leaving Atkins with big shoes to fill.

 

Final Analysis

 

Though the Blue Jays have some questions about their pitching staff, they remain more than capable of repeating as AL East champions. On paper, the Red Sox appear to have closed the gap with a strong offseason, but making up the 15 games they finished off the pace in 2015 is a big leap. The same goes for their other rivals in the division. Now, one key ingredient they may be lacking this year compared to last is the type of prospect depth that allowed Anthopoulos to make so many impact July moves. Though another wave of prospects is coming, expect the Blue Jays under Shapiro to manage their assets a bit more carefully. But Shapiro has also identified the 2016 season as a win-now year, so they’ll have a chance to address needs midseason. Barring any surprises from the farm system, any help they get is likely to come from external sources, something they may or may not need, depending on how the AL East shakes out.

 

Prediction: 1st AL East (World Series champions)

 

Lineup

 

SS Troy Tulowitzki (R)

3B Josh Donaldson (R)

RF Jose Bautista (R)

DH Edwin Encarnacion (R)

1B Chris Colabello (R)

C Russell Martin (R)

LF Michael Saunders (L)

CF Kevin Pillar (R)

2B Ryan Goins (L)

 

Bench

 

1B Justin Smoak (S)

C Josh Thole (L)

INF Darwin Barney (R)

OF Dalton Pompey (S)

 

Rotation

 

RHP Marcus Stroman

RHP Marco Estrada

RHP R.A. Dickey

LHP J.A. Happ

RHP Jesse Chavez

 

Bullpen

 

RHP Roberto Osuna (Closer)

RHP Drew Storen

RHP Aaron Sanchez

LHP Brett Cecil

LHP Aaron Loup

RHP Ryan Tepera

RHP Steve Delabar

Teaser:
Toronto Blue Jays 2016 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, February 21, 2016 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News, Magazines
Path: /mlb/tampa-bay-rays-2016-preview-and-prediction
Body:

As pitchers and catchers report this week in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports will preview every team in Major League Baseball. Outlooks for every team and so much more information, including rosters, advanced stats and anonymous scouting reports, are featured in the Athlon Sports 2016 MLB Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and in our .

 

It was Connie Mack who, during the dead-ball era, estimated that pitching is 75 percent of baseball. The Tampa Bay Rays, mired in a dead-ball era of their own, have discredited that statement. If old Cornelius was correct, the American League team with the fourth-lowest ERA the past two years wouldn’t have lost 10 more games than it won. No matter how well the Rays sling the ball, it seems, they don’t strike it well enough to be anything more than a plucky annoyance to their foes. Coming off a winter of relative stasis, that’s likely to be their identity again in 2016.

 

 

Rotation

 

The Rays have the “problem” of too much starting pitching. After leading AL starters with a 3.63 ERA in 2015, they dealt Nate Karns who, at 27, was the oldest member of the rotation. Still, the cupboard remains stocked. On and off the diamond, charismatic Chris Archer is rivaling Evan Longoria as the face of the franchise. With more run support and without four beatings that elevated his ERA from 2.14 to 3.23, he might have won the Cy Young Award. Featuring a 95-mph fastball to set up a slider that David Price has called the best in the game, Archer was just the eighth pitcher of the modern era to strike out 250 batters yet be saddled with a losing record.

 

Drew Smyly missed more than 100 games (shoulder) but sparkled in September. Since arriving in the Price deal with Detroit, the southpaw is 8–3 with a 2.52 ERA. Jake Odorizzi’s 3.35 ERA was eighth-lowest in the AL, but his run support ranked 35th. Erasmo Ramirez is a change-up specialist whose .507 OPS off that pitch was the league’s lowest. After posting a 5.12 ERA for Seattle in 2013-14, he went 11–6, 3.75. If Matt Moore can advance his comeback from Tommy John surgery, he’ll round out the quintet. Although he’s no longer a flamethrowing ace-in-waiting, the 1.35 ERA of his final four starts was reassuring. Should this array of starters splinter, next up are potential phenom Blake Snell and the accomplished Alex Cobb, who could be the best of them all when he returns in midseason from Tommy John surgery.

 

Bullpen

 

In the Cracker Jack world of relief pitching, the Rays always seem to find a cool prize at the bottom of the box. The latest is Brad Boxberger, who led the circuit with 41 saves. The flip side is that he did the same with his 16 losses-plus-blown saves and six walk-off defeats. Though “Box” is far too generous with walks and gopher balls, the trade of dominating Jake McGee to Colorado for outfielder Corey Dickerson eliminated his only serious competition for the ninth inning. The sole other bullpenner with high-leverage experience is one-time closer Danny Farquhar, who was a nightmarish 1–8, 5.12 in Seattle last year. Filler-outers include Steve Geltz (2–6, 3.74 — although he retired 32 consecutive batters at one point), electric/erratic Alex Colome, quadruple-A types Matt Andriese and Andrew Bellatti, and lefty specialists Xavier Cedeno and Enny Romero.

 

Middle Infield

 

Logan Forsythe became a borderline star at second base and one of the game’s more underrated players. Tampa Bay’s MVP was first or second on the club in almost every key stat while doing sharp glovework. Only Ian Kinsler had a higher WAR (6.0 to 5.1) among keystoners. Landed in the Karns deal was Brad Miller to replace Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop. Despite his sketchy defensive stats, the Rays think he’ll be fine. There are fewer trepidations about offensive ceiling. The only AL shortstop (primary position) to match his 11 home runs, 13 steals and .402 slugging percentage was Houston’s Carlos Correa. Since almost all of Miller’s damage was done against righties, he might platoon with Tim Beckham (.462 slugging vs. lefthanders).

 

Corners

 

Either because he’s been left naked in an impotent order or (as some scouts suggest) his hands have slowed down and he can be busted inside, Longoria is in a two-year funk (.744 OPS). Last season, his 73 RBIs led the team, yet were only the 14th-most in the division. If he can’t return to 2008-13 mode (.870 OPS), the Rays’ attack is doomed to its sideways trend. The extended slump hasn’t disturbed Longo’s defense; his team-record .976 fielding percentage led AL third basemen. In comparison to the hot corner, though, the first base position is in a deep freeze. Tampa Bay’s embarrassing .629 OPS at that spot was the lowest in the majors by .073. The team has been trying to find a way to move on from four-home run man James Loney. If it does, either Steve Pearce (the Rays’ only semi-significant free agent signee) or the presumptive DH platoon of Logan Morrison and Richie Shaffer will take up the cause.

 

Outfield

 

In the olden days, Kevin Kiermaier would have been just another guy, but advanced defensive metrics have made him a legend. Even Luddites can understand the term “twice as high,” which is what his SABR Defensive Index of 29.2 was compared to any other AL player at any position. At the plate, the rocket-fast Kiermaier is neither asset nor liability. The Rays counted heavily on rookie right fielder Steven Souza Jr. to enflame the offense in 2015 but saw only a flicker of his five-tool capabilities. He went deep 16 times as a finger injury cost him two months, and he swung and missed at nearly a third of the pitches he saw. Left field will be an episode of “Last Man Standing.” The cast includes Desmond Jennings (who was sidelined 133 games by a knee injury), Dickerson, Pearce, Brandon Guyer and Mikie Mahtook. The Rays are in love with Dickerson even though he’s done just one thing well: hit right-handed pitching, and even that only at Coors Field.

 

Catching

 

Add Rene Rivera to the list of 2015 acquisitions who flopped at the plate. After a career year in San Diego, he made Jose Molina look like Mike Piazza by batting .178. He’ll time-share with Curt Casali and/or Hank Conger. The former went on a shocking tear of six homers in 17 at-bats at one point. The latter is a switch-hitter whose OPS against righties was an equally shocking .892.

 

DH/Bench

 

Also-rans in the overcrowded 1B/OF muddle will either be shopped or colonize a deep bench. Although Morrison was a chronic underperformer in Miami and Seattle, he’s had seasons of 23 and 17 homers. Shaffer is a former first-rounder with a too-long swing who nonetheless has cleared Double-A/Triple-A/MLB fences 45 times in the last two years. Pearce and Dickerson have had one big season each, Mahtook one big month. Forsythe, Miller and Beckham all can staff numerous positions.

 

Management

 

Despite being the youngest manager in the majors, Kevin Cash earned mostly positive reviews. He did, however, find himself defending his use of the bullpen. He summoned a new arm a startling 3.3 times per game and was credited with 72 “quick hooks” (as defined by Baseball Info Solutions)  — the most by any current manager in any season of their careers. Longtime team president Matt Silverman enters just his second season pulling the personnel strings. One bold move was his revision of the scouting hierarchy: In the past 20 years, only 17 non-pitcher Rays draft picks have played more than 100 games for them.

 

Final Analysis

 

Owner Stu Sternberg compares his plight to riding a three-speed bicycle when everyone else has tanks, but admits, “I don’t know how many (owners) would trade their last 10 years for mine.” His 11th is destined to go nowhere fast — unless spring moves turn up some heavy artillery to go with an inarguably impressive pitching rotation.

 

Prediction: 5TH AL East

 

Lineup
 

SS Brad Miller (L)

CF Kevin Kiermaier (L)

3B Evan Longoria (R)

1B Logan Morrison (L)

2B Logan Forsythe (R)

DH Corey Dickerson (L)

RF Steven Souza Jr. (R)

LF Desmond Jennings (R)

C Rene Rivera (R)

 

Bench

 

C Curt Casali (R)

1B/OF Steve Pearce (R)

INF Tim Beckham (R)

OF Brandon Guyer (R)

OF Mikie Mahtook (R)

 

Rotation

 

RHP Chris Archer

LHP Drew Smyly

RHP Jake Odorizzi

RHP Erasmo Ramirez

LHP Matt Moore

 

Bullpen

 

RHP Brad Boxberger (Closer)

LHP Enny Romero

RHP Danny Farquhar

RHP Alex Colome

RHP Steve Geltz

LHP Xavier Cedeno

Teaser:
Tampa Bay Rays 2016 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, February 21, 2016 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News, Magazines
Path: /mlb/minnesota-twins-2016-preview-and-prediction
Body:

As pitchers and catchers report this week in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports will preview every team in Major League Baseball. Outlooks for every team and so much more information, including rosters, advanced stats and anonymous scouting reports, are featured in the Athlon Sports 2016 MLB Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and in our .

 

After shrugging off a slow start and successfully stemming a run of four straight seasons with 92 losses or more, the youthful Twins hope to build on those gains with an even stronger postseason push in 2016.

 

Bridging the 12-game gap that separated them from the Kansas City Royals, two-time reigning American League pennant winners, remains the primary objective — and it won’t be easy. The 83-win Twins, after finishing second by the majors’ largest margin and falling three games shy of the second Wild Card, also will need to find a way to hold off the revamped rosters of their other three division rivals in Detroit, Cleveland and the South Side of Chicago.

 

 

Rotation

 

This area showed great improvement under first-year pitching coach Neil Allen, whose increased emphasis on the changeup and working inside helped Twins starters jump from last in the majors to 16th in earned run average (4.14). Slashing nearly a full run off their rotation ERA, they were able to overcome an 80-game steroid suspension to $55 million free agent Ervin Santana and injury-marred seasons for fellow righthanders Phil Hughes (back) and Ricky Nolasco (ankle surgery). Mike Pelfrey has jumped to the division-rival Tigers on a two-year deal, but the Twins feel encouraged after watching sinkerballing Kyle Gibson enjoy a breakthrough campaign and rookie curveballer Tyler Duffey go 5–1 in his 10-start audition.  Lefthander Tommy Milone also fought back from a first-half demotion to Triple-A to post some of his best work since he was in Oakland. Righty Jose Berrios, the organization’s top pitching prospect, should arrive at some point in the first half after leading the minors in strikeouts last season.

 

Bullpen

 

Three-time All-Star closer Glen Perkins was unable to stay healthy for the second straight year. Neck and lower-back issues that required a combined three cortisone shots severely hampered the hometown hero down the stretch. Into the void stepped career setup man Kevin Jepsen, acquired at the July 31 trade deadline from Tampa Bay. In line for an arbitration-fueled raise to at least $6 million, Jepsen is coming off a career-best 15 saves and provides much-needed insurance should Perkins break down again. An overbooked rotation that pushed Trevor May into a setup role figures to keep him there from the outset this time. May’s fastball reached 98 mph in a relief role, which seemed to suit him until lower-back issues of his own slowed him in September. Journeyman Casey Fien doesn’t miss many bats, but he challenges hitters and avoids free passes.

 

Middle Infield

 

All-Star second baseman Brian Dozier faded badly in the second half, especially in terms of power production, but the Twins are still pleased to have their fiery leader under contract for another three seasons. Dozier’s offensive profile seems to fit best in the middle of the order, but he seems most comfortable atop the lineup, even though the former 20/20 man doesn’t run as much anymore. For the second straight year, switch-hitting mite Eduardo Escobar stepped in for an anointed shortstop who failed (Pedro Florimon in 2014, Danny Santana in 2015) and made the most of his opportunity. This time, the Twins figure to ride with Escobar from Opening Day forward.

 

Corners

 

Trevor Plouffe seemed like an obvious trade candidate with the emergence of young slugger Miguel Sano, exclusively a third baseman in the minors. However, the Twins were so impressed with Plouffe’s steady improvement on both sides of the ball that they opted to move Sano to corner outfield so they could keep Plouffe for another season at the hot corner. Franchise first baseman Joe Mauer may take a few more breaks with Byung Ho Park signed away from South Korea’s Nexen Heroes, but Mauer remains the primary option despite his lack of traditional power at that spot. Three seasons and $69 million remain on the former catcher’s contract. Mauer, who turns 33 in April, has a full no-trade clause as well, so the Twins will simply have to find their power supply from other sources.

 

Outfield

 

Even with 40-year-old Torii Hunter patrolling right field, the Twins saw their outfield defense improve markedly last season. Now that Hunter has retired and acrobatic center fielder Aaron Hicks has been traded to the Yankees, it remains to be seen whether those gains are ceded. Sano will give one corner outfield spot a go despite ending last season at an acknowledged 268 pounds. At 22, he could evoke memories of a late-career Adam Dunn, but the Twins were determined to keep him from getting pigeonholed at designated hitter. The key will be keeping his legs in shape after a nagging hamstring injury slowed him down the stretch in an 18-homer debut. Byron Buxton, still considered an elite prospect, will get every opportunity to win the Opening Day job in center field after an underwhelming offensive debut. Slowed by a sprained left wrist that cost him six weeks at midseason, Buxton is still just 22, and his eye-popping tools remain. Free-swinging Eddie Rosario was one of the rookie revelations who thrived under Paul Molitor. Rosario’s defensive prowess was a key benefit as well, and he could play center should Buxton need a little more time in Triple-A. Germany’s Max Kepler, the reigning Southern League MVP, could push for a starting job at some point this season.

 

Catching

 

Kurt Suzuki, who turned 32 on the final day of the regular season, is coming off his worst year at the plate. His durability, however, remains unquestioned after a variety of physical ailments and dings failed to keep him from making 123 starts and trailing only Salvador Perez for innings caught in the AL. Suzuki remains the starter, mainly due to his game-calling and staff-handling talents, but ex-Yankee John Ryan Murphy is being groomed as his successor. Suzuki will earn $6 million in his third season with the Twins, but his 2017 option appears unlikely to vest. At 24, Murphy has shown some pop to go with solid catch-and-throw skills in parts of the last three seasons in the American League East. He also got in the face of ex-Twins agitator Carlos Gomez last season, which shows some of the competitive fire the position demands.

 

DH/Bench

 

Park may get 30-40 games at first base, but his main job will be to DH and hit the ball over the fence. After averaging 52.5 homers the past two seasons in Korea, the 29-year-old figures to set up shop in the middle of the order. Park also tends to strike out, so it will be interesting to see if Molitor sits him against some of the league’s tougher righthanders, at least in the early going. Danny Santana, who held down center field in the second half of 2014, could transition to a utility role after picking up second base in the Dominican Winter League. He would join veteran utility man Eduardo Nunez, who shared shortstop duties with Escobar for portions of July and August.

 

Management

 

General manager Terry Ryan mostly remained in stealth mode after splurging for rotation help the previous two offseasons. Despite a stated need to improve the bullpen, the Twins weren’t about to pay exorbitant prices on the free agent market, especially with young power arms such as Nick Burdi, J.T. Chargois and Jake Reed on the way. After the Twins successfully integrated a handful of rookies in Molitor’s rookie year at the controls, the plan is to try the same approach in 2016. Payroll figures to remain in the same neighborhood of $108 million, including the pro-rated portion of the $12.85 million posting fee it took to sign Park.

 

Final Analysis

 

Keeping pace with the high-flying Royals is a tall task, but the Twins appear to have stabilized enough to eye a return to divisional prominence in the next few years. Once free agency hits the Royals’ core with its full brunt after the 2017 season, the Twins will be well positioned to sweep past them on a wave of young, cost-controlled talent. After winning six division titles in a nine-year span from 2002-10, the Twins just might be able to enjoy another run of sustainable success.

 

Prediction: 3rd AL Central

 

Lineup

 

2B Brian Dozier (R)

1B Joe Mauer (L)

RF Miguel Sano (R)

3B Trevor Plouffe (R)

DH Byung Ho Park (R )

LF Eddie Rosario (L)

SS Eduardo Escobar (S)

C Kurt Suzuki (R)

CF Byron Buxton (R)

 

Bench

 

C John Ryan Murphy (R)

UTL Eduardo Nunez (R)

OF Oswaldo Arcia (L)

UTL Danny Santana (S)

 

Rotation

 

RHP Ervin Santana

RHP Kyle Gibson

RHP Phil Hughes

RHP Tyler Duffey

LHP Tommy Milone

 

Bullpen

 

LHP Glen Perkins (Closer)

RHP Kevin Jepsen

RHP Trevor May

RHP Casey Fien

RHP Ricky Nolasco

LHP Fernando Abad

RHP J.R. Graham

Teaser:
Minnesota Twins 2016 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, February 21, 2016 - 06:45
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News, Magazines
Path: /mlb/oakland-athletics-2016-preview-and-prediction
Body:

As pitchers and catchers report this week in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports will preview every team in Major League Baseball. Outlooks for every team and so much more information, including rosters, advanced stats and anonymous scouting reports, are featured in the Athlon Sports 2016 MLB Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and in our .

 

So it didn’t work in 2015. At all. Now comes Year 2 of the transformation, and the A’s seem hard-pressed to return to the playoffs, where they surfaced three straight years before posting the American League’s worst record last season. Billy Beane, now the VP of baseball operations, added starting pitchers and infielders and revamped the league’s worst bullpen after his team lost 35 one-run games. But fans can’t help but reflect on what life was like with Josh Donaldson and Co. After the 2014 season, Beane attempted to make the roster younger and healthier. He made nine trades involving 27 players, dealt four All-Stars and retooled his infield. The results weren’t pretty. With Donaldson winning an MVP award in Toronto, 2015 was the worst in Beane’s 18 years on the job. The A’s can only go up from here.

 

 

Rotation

 

Well, Sonny Gray will keep hitters off balance every fifth game, and how great is that? The ace went 14–7 with a 2.73 ERA and 1.082 WHIP and surpassed 200 innings for the second straight year. He’s one of the game’s premier starters and is coveted by many teams, and we’ll see how long the A’s stand by him. Beyond Gray, rotation spots are there for the taking. The A’s signed Henderson Alvarez ($4 million), who might open on the disabled list after last summer’s shoulder surgery, and 35-year-old lefty Rich Hill ($6 million), who made four September starts for Boston to complete a comeback journey that included independent ball last year. Hill, an intriguing acquisition, posted a 1.55 ERA for Boston, collecting 36 strikeouts and five walks in 29 innings. Others in the mix include promising young pitchers acquired in deals: Jesse Hahn (Derek Norris trade), Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin (Donaldson trade), Chris Bassitt (Jeff Samardzija trade) and Aaron Brooks (Ben Zobrist trade). Jarrod Parker is trying to re-establish himself after a second Tommy John surgery, but the A’s released fellow Tommy John patient A.J. Griffin.

 

Bullpen

 

Relief help was an offseason focus after the A’s bullpen stumbled to a league-high 4.63 ERA and lacked power arms. Four experienced relievers arrived: Ryan Madson ($22 million over three years) and John Axford ($10 million over two years) through free agency and Liam Hendriks (from Toronto) and lefty Marc Rzepczynski (from San Diego) via trades. Closer Sean Doolittle is due back after missing most of last season with a shoulder injury. Suddenly the A’s have several relievers who throw in the mid- to high-90s, a refreshing twist. Madson, an ex-Phillies closer, was out of baseball for three years before signing a minor league deal with the Royals last spring. Fernando Rodriguez and Felix Doubront remain. Gone are Dan Otero, Drew Pomeranz, Fernando Abad, Evan Scribner, Edward Mujica and switch-pitcher Pat Venditte, as well as swingman Jesse Chavez.

 

Middle Infield

 

The A’s remain faithful to shortstop Marcus Semien despite his league-leading 35 errors in 2015, breaking Bert Campaneris’ franchise record. To his credit, his defense improved in the second half. He made three errors in his final 30 games, and the A’s see a defensive progression with Ron Washington on board as the infield coach. Semien showed pop (15 homers, 45 RBIs) but needs to improve his average (.257) and OBP (.310). His likely double-play partner is Jed Lowrie, the A’s shortstop in 2013 and 2014 before signing a three-year, $23 million contract with Houston and missing most of the season with a thumb injury. It was the second time the A’s acquired Lowrie from the Astros. Brett Lawrie, who had been acquired from Toronto in the Donaldson trade and was the Opening Night third baseman, finished last season at second before being shipped to the White Sox, so the A’s are making a Lowrie-for-Lawrie transition.

 

Corners

 

Danny Valencia has played for six teams in six years and joined the A’s after he was claimed off waivers from Toronto in early August. His numbers were impressive over 47 games: .284/.356/.530 with 11 homers and 37 RBIs. Has he finally found a home? That’s never a sure thing in Oakland, but it’s at least encouraging for Valencia that Beane chose to keep him over Lawrie. Across the diamond, Yonder Alonso is the first baseman, acquired from the Padres. He hasn’t hit more than nine home runs in a season and averaged just 95 games the past three years. But he hit .282 with a .361 OBP in 2015, usually makes contact (48 strikeouts, 354 at-bats) and claims his stroke finally felt right late last season in the wake of his 2014 wrist surgery. It’s possible he could platoon with Mark Canha as Ike Davis did last year.

 

Outfield

 

With injuries to Coco Crisp, Billy Burns emerged as the leadoff hitter and center fielder, hitting .294 and legging out 38 infield hits (second-most in the majors) and nine triples (third-most in Oakland history). He stole 26 bases and also homered five times after hitting just two homers in 1,798 minor league plate appearances. Known as a team that works the count, the A’s love Burns despite his aggressiveness from the leadoff spot: He was a .479 hitter when making contact on first pitches (117 at-bats). Burns will be flanked by Khris Davis in left and Josh Reddick in right. Davis, acquired from Milwaukee in February, hit 21 home runs after the All-Star break last season. Old standby Reddick led the team in both categories (20, 77). Reddick has survived four seasons with the A’s, who say they’re open to a long-term contract.

 

Catching

 

Stephen Vogt made his first All-Star team, led all major league catchers in OPS at .853 (counting games in which he caught) and hit .316 with runners in scoring position, a long way from being a journeyman minor leaguer who opened his big league career 0-for-32. It’s a neat story, and it was no surprise Vogt won both the Catfish Hunter Award (as the team’s most inspirational player) and Dave Stewart Community Services Award.

 

DH/Bench

 

Billy Butler was considered a bust in the first year of a three-year, $30 million contract, hitting a career low .251 — .233 with two outs and runners in scoring position. The A’s need more from their most expensive player. A wild card is Crisp, 36, who was limited to 44 games because of a chronic back issue. When healthy and in the lineup, Crisp has provided energy and an improved winning percentage — it was .554 from 2010-13 when he was in the starting lineup, .485 when he wasn’t. Eric Sogard backs up at second and short, and catcher Josh Phegley, who bats right-handed, will spell the lefty-swinging Vogt. Canha, a Rule 5 acquisition who collected 16 homers and 70 RBIs, will see time at first and in the outfield.

 

Management

 

Manager Bob Melvin is signed through 2018 after getting a two-year extension in September, just as a lost season was ending. It showed how much Beane and GM David Forst value Melvin and didn’t blame him for the poor play that led to a last-place finish, though Melvin himself accepted blame. He guided the A’s to the playoffs in his first three full seasons and is widely respected by players as a boss and communicator. A day after the season, Beane and Forst were promoted and received new job titles, though Beane said the duties wouldn’t dramatically change. Forst has been Beane’s top assistant for more than a decade.

 

Final Analysis

 

The A’s desperately need a fast start. Last year, after a majors-best 22–11 record in spring training, they were 6.5 games out of first place by April 30 with a 9–14 record. The slow start and roster revamping caught up with the team, and Beane was left to dump stars at the trade deadline, sending Zobrist to Kansas City and Scott Kazmir to Houston. There were reports that the clubhouse didn’t jell and chemistry was bad. The goal is to get the good vibes back in the clubhouse and, more important, a winning environment back on the field.

 

Prediction: 5th NL West

 

Lineup

 

CF Billy Burns (S)

2B Jed Lowrie (S)

C Stephen Vogt (L)

3B Danny Valencia (R)

RF Josh Reddick (L)

LF Khris Davis (R)

1B Yonder Alonso (L)

DH Billy Butler (R)

SS Marcus Semien (R)

 

Bench

 

OF Coco Crisp (S)

OF Sam Fuld (L)

INF Eric Sogard (L)

C Josh Phegley (R)

1B/OF Mark Canha (R)

 

Rotation

 

RHP Sonny Gray

RHP Henderson Alvarez

LHP Rich Hill

RHP Jesse Hahn

RHP Kendall Graveman

 

Bullpen

 

LHP Sean Doolittle (Closer)

RHP Ryan Madson

RHP John Axford

RHP Liam Hendriks

RHP Fernando Rodriguez

LHP Marc Rzepczynski

Teaser:
Oakland Athletics 2016 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Saturday, February 20, 2016 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News, Magazines
Path: /mlb/seattle-mariners-2016-preview-and-prediction
Body:

As pitchers and catchers report this week in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports will preview every team in Major League Baseball. Outlooks for every team and so much more information, including rosters, advanced stats and anonymous scouting reports, are featured in the Athlon Sports 2016 MLB Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and in our .

 

Perhaps more than any team in baseball, the 2016 Mariners are an unknown entity. New general manager Jerry Dipoto has completely overhauled the mess left behind by Jack Zduriencik. The Mariners of 2015 — a chic sleeper pick to make the World Series — were a disaster. Dipoto has changed more than 50 percent of the 40-man roster he inherited, trying to put together a team that features more athleticism, better defense, fewer strikeouts and more walks at the plate and more strikeouts and fewer walks from the mound. He kept the elite core of Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager in place and believes the new pieces around them could lead to a more consistent level of production. But that may not be enough to win a difficult American League West division.

 

 

Rotation

 

If healthy, the Mariners’ collection of starting pitchers is as good any in the American League. The rotation is led by Hernandez, who enters his 12th season in the big leagues. He had a down season by his standards, going 18–9 with a 3.53 ERA in 2015. Hernandez’s numbers were torpedoed by four forgettable starts in which he allowed 32 runs in 14 innings pitched. For about 10 days, it appeared the Mariners had lost Hisashi Iwakuma to the Dodgers in free agency. But a failed physical led Iwakuma back to the Mariners on an incentive-laden one-year contract. It was an unexpected bonus for the staff.

 

Dipoto had already executed his contingency plan in acquiring Wade Miley from the Red Sox via trade. Much like his stuff, Miley’s numbers aren’t eye-catching. But the Mariners love his durability and four straight seasons of 190 or more innings pitched. But it’s the trio of young starters — righthanders Taijuan Walker and Nathan Karns and lefthander James Paxton — behind the veterans who could make the rotation special. After some early struggles to start his first full big league season, Walker went 10–3 in his final 20 starts with 3.62 ERA with 118 strikeouts in 126.2 innings pitched.  When he’s healthy — which hasn’t been often — Paxton has the potential to be top-level starter. He’ll compete with Karns, who was acquired from the Rays after a solid rookie season, for the No. 5 spot.

 

Bullpen

 

Seattle had one of the worst bullpens in all of baseball last season. Leads weren’t safe, and one-run deficits were turned into blowout losses. As part of the roster overhaul, Dipoto changed virtually the entire bullpen. Only left-handed specialist Charlie Furbush will be back from last year’s group. In the search for consistency and predictability from a position that offers little, Dipoto traded for 38-year-old Joaquin Benoit from the Padres. Benoit, who has not posted an ERA over 2.40 in his last three seasons, will fill the setup role. The Mariners filled out the bullpen with a slew of free agent right-handed pitchers coming off down seasons, including Steve Cishek, Justin De Fratus and Evan Scribner. Cishek will take over as closer and says the mechanical issues that cost him the closing job with the Marlins have been fixed. After being used in multiple-inning situations with the Phillies last season, De Fratus will move back to a one-inning relief role.

 

Middle Infield

 

Cano has played next to six different shortstops in Seattle, and none of them was good enough to assume the everyday job. It appears Ketel Marte may be the exception. Just 21 years old last season, Marte took control of the job after being called up on July 31. A switch-hitter and an aggressive baserunner with plus speed, Marte batted .283 with a .753 OPS in 57 games with 14 doubles and three triples. Cano had a miserable first two months of the season, hitting .251 with a .639 OPS while dealing with stomach issues stemming from an offseason infection. From June 1 until the end of the season (107 games), Cano hit .303 with a .843 OPS, 22 doubles, 19 homers and 63 RBIs despite playing the final 58 games with a double hernia. He had surgery in the offseason and should be ready for spring training.

 

Corners

 

Following his philosophy of looking for players who get on base, Dipoto went out and acquired Adam Lind from the Brewers to handle the first base duties. Lind hit .277 with a .360 on-base percentage last season. Lind mashes right-handed pitches, batting .291 with an .883 OPS, 24 doubles, 20 homers and 77 RBI against them last season. He is a logical platoon candidate. But the Mariners aren’t certain which right-handed hitter they might pair with Lind. Jesus Montero could be that player, but there are questions about his ability to hit MLB pitching and his defense at first base. Seager was his typical productive self in 2015, hitting .266 with 37 doubles, 26 homers and 74 RBIs while playing elite defense at third base. He had some struggles with runners in scoring position at times, but the Mariners believe he pressed a little after signing a seven-year, $100 million contract last offseason.

 

Outfield

 

The group should be better defensively than in 2015, when there were times when Mark Trumbo was in left field and Cruz was in right. Seattle acquired the speedy Leonys Martin to be the everyday center fielder. Martin is a plus defender with an outstanding throwing arm. His inconsistency at the plate cost him a starting job in Texas. Nori Aoki will see the bulk of his time in left field but also fill in for Martin in center on days when a tough left-handed pitcher is on the mound. Dipoto loves Aoki’s approach at the plate, with his career .353 on-base percentage and ability to hit left-handed pitching. Seattle will employ a platoon in right field on most days with Seth Smith and Franklin Gutierrez. The left-handed-swinging Smith hit .255 with an .801 OPS vs. right-handed pitching last season. After missing the entire 2014 season while adjusting to an arthritic condition called ankylosing spondylitis, Gutierrez flourished as a part-time player. In 59 games, he hit .292 with a .974 OPS, 11 doubles and 15 homers.

 

Catching

 

Chris Iannetta hit .188 last year for the Angels in 92 games. It was one of the worst seasons of the veteran’s career. And yet, the Mariners would have happily taken that .188 batting average and .293 on-base percentage that came with it. That’s how bad Seattle’s catching was last season. Last season’s everyday starter — Mike Zunino — is expected to spend most of 2016 in Class AAA trying to rework his swing. The acquisition of a starting catcher from a slim free agent market was one of Dipoto’s main offseason priorities. He signed Iannetta to a one-year, $4.25 million contract, believing the veteran will return to his more normal form, specifically his career .351 on-base percentage. Backup Steve Clevenger offers a good compliment as a left-handed hitter.

 

DH/Bench

 

Cruz prefers to play in the field, but the Mariners’ everyday lineup will be best when he’s at the designated hitter spot, particularly from a defensive standpoint. Cruz had a brilliant first season at the plate with the Mariners, hitting .302 with 44 homers and 93 RBIs. The Mariners won’t have many position battles in the spring, but utility infielder will be a competition between Luis Sardinas, Chris Taylor and Shawn O’Malley. Sardinas has the edge as a switch-hitter and a natural shortstop. 

 

Management

 

Scott Servais has never managed a game at any level. He’s worked in an assortment of capacities in baseball and shares the same philosophies as Dipoto, which is why he was hired to replace Lloyd McClendon. Servais, a former big league catcher, has assembled a coaching staff featuring plenty of managerial experience to help him with in-game mechanics. Bench coach Tim Bogar is a long-time minor league manager, while third base Manny Acta has managed 890 big league games.

 

Final Analysis

 

With so much roster turnover, it’s hard to project what the Mariners can be as a team. They should be more consistent with better defense and an overall improved approach at the plate. But Dipoto acquired many players coming off down years in the hopes that they would return to previous form. It seems unlikely they will all have bounce-back seasons to push them to an AL West title.

 

Prediction: 4th AL West

 

Lineup

 

LF Nori Aoki (L)

SS Ketel Marte (S)

2B Robinson Cano (L)

DH Nelson Cruz (R)

3B Kyle Seager (L)

RF Franklin Gutierrez (R)

1B Adam Lind (L)

C Chris Iannetta (R)

CF Leonys Martin (L)

 

Bench

 

OF Seth Smith (L)

1B Jesus Montero (R)

C Steve Clevenger (L)

INF Luis Sardinas (S)

 

Rotation

 

RHP Felix Hernandez

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

LHP Wade Miley

RHP Taijuan Walker

LHP James Paxton

 

Bullpen

 

RHP Steve Cishek (Closer)

LHP Charlie Furbush

RHP Joaquin Benoit

RHP Justin De Fratus

RHP Evan Scribner

LHP Vidal Nuno

RHP Ryan Cook
 

Teaser:
Seattle Mariners 2016 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, February 19, 2016 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News, Magazines
Path: /mlb/san-diego-padres-2016-preview-and-prediction
Body:

As pitchers and catchers report this week in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports will preview every team in Major League Baseball. Outlooks for every team and so much more information, including rosters, advanced stats and anonymous scouting reports, are featured in the Athlon Sports 2016 MLB Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and in our .

 

General manager A.J. Preller went for the “wow” factor with a wild shopping spree last offseason, and the Padres responded with an uninspiring, underachieving season that left fans more than disappointed. Preller is shaking things up again as he continues to put his stamp on a franchise that has gone nine years without a postseason appearance. Some outsiders call it a rebuilding; rookie manager Andy Green calls it a “redesign.” Rather than going for big names like he did a year ago, Preller is attempting to rebuild the farm system that he depleted with his many moves in December 2014.

 

Some believe Preller erred by firing Bud Black in mid-June and replacing him with interim manager Pat Murphy, who had no big league experience of any kind. Murphy couldn’t get through to the players, and the Padres were worse than they were in 2014, going 74–88 and finishing fourth in the NL West. After firing Murphy at season’s end, Preller pulled another surprise by passing over veteran skippers and choosing the little-known Green, the third base coach of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The 38-year-old Green takes over a clubhouse that lacked chemistry and leadership. Unfortunately for long-suffering Padres fans, that playoff drought is likely to reach a decade.

 

 

Rotation

 

This was supposed to have been one of the team’s strengths last year after the addition of ace James Shields. But when the pitching was going well, the hitting wasn’t, and vice versa. Shields even said midway through the season that it should be expected that a roster would take a year-and-a-half or so to jell. While that’s not what the fans wanted to hear, it appears Shields was right. Barring more offseason peddling by Preller, the top three spots in the rotation should be Shields, Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner. Shields and Ross were workhorses, each making 33 starts and reaching the 200-strikeout plateau. Cashner had a mystifying season, going 6–16 with a 4.34 ERA. With Ian Kennedy testing free agency, there will be plenty of competition for the final two spots among Robbie Erlin, Colin Rea, Odrisamer Despaigne and Drew Pomeranz. Pomeranz came over from the A’s in the trade for Yonder Alonso and can either start or come out of the bullpen.

 

Bullpen

 

In the span of two days in November, Preller acquired six prospects in two separate deals that moved setup man Joaquin Benoit to Seattle and closer Craig Kimbrel to Boston. He also cleared nearly $19 million, which can either go toward a shortstop or be salted away to help ease the sting of failing to contend with the first $100 million payroll in club history. The Padres will spend spring training sorting out who will be the eighth-inning guy and who will close. Unlike last year, when Preller traded for Kimbrel the day before Opening Day, the setup guy and closer are currently on the roster, and the Padres appear to have some flexibility. Candidates to close are Pomeranz, Kevin Quackenbush and Brandon Maurer. Then again, Pomeranz and Maurer could find themselves in the rotation. The Padres also have a number of younger players who will be in the mix. Whatever the makeup of the bullpen, it’ll be shaped to perform in pitcher-friendly Petco Park.

 

Middle Infield

 

The Padres’ well-documented pursuit of an everyday shortstop ended in January with the signing of Alexei Ramirez to a one-year contract. The native of Cuba spent the first eight years of his career with the White Sox, earning the Silver Slugger Award twice (2010, 2014) and making one trip to the All-Star Game (2014). Ramirez, who has played in at least 148 games in each of the last seven seasons, is a .273 career hitter and has hit 10 or more home runs six times. While the Padres shopped for the other half of their double-play combination, they traded second baseman Jedd Gyorko to St. Louis for outfielder Jon Jay. Gyorko never lived up to the big multi-year contract the Padres gave him just a few weeks into his second full big league season, struggling with injuries and at the plate. Cory Spangenberg, the Padres’ 2011 first-round draft pick, is poised to take over for Gyorko.

 

Corners

 

Wil Myers, who missed much of 2015 with a wrist injury, is expected to take over at first base after Alonso was dealt to Oakland for Pomeranz. Although Myers came over as a center fielder, he started only 33 games there during his injury-interrupted season. He ended up making 19 starts at first and is the team’s best option at the position. Alonso had a hard time staying on the field, and his departure means all four players who came over from Cincinnati for Mat Latos after the 2011 season are gone. Yangervis Solarte returns at third base. For most of last season, Solarte seemed to be the only Padres player who was having any fun. He hit .270 with 14 homers and 63 RBIs.

 

Outfield

 

The all-everything outfield of Justin Upton, Matt Kemp and Myers didn’t carry the Padres to great heights like fans and the team hoped. As expected, Upton was a one-year rental and has moved on after leading the Padres with 26 home runs. Kemp, who hit 23 home runs, returns to play right field. Jay is expected to take over for Upton in left while Melvin Upton Jr. is the leading candidate to play center. The Padres took on Upton Jr.’s hefty contract, and he was hurt coming into last season. The Padres certainly hope he’ll be productive. The 31-year-old Jay helped the Cardinals win the 2011 World Series title but hit .210 last season, his lowest average in six big league seasons and down from .303 in 2014. He has a .287 career average. Jay has a $6.2 million salary next season and then can become a free agent.

 

Catching

 

Derek Norris returns after doing the bulk of the catching last season, as does Austin Hedges, who made 41 starts as a rookie in 2015. The Padres acquired Christian Bethancourt in a trade with Atlanta that cost them Casey Kelly, one of the key players obtained from Boston for Adrian Gonzalez five years ago. They also obtained Josmil Pinto from Minnesota, but he was designated for assignment after the Padres signed lefthander Buddy Baumann. Bethancourt is out of options, so there’s a good chance he’ll start the season with the big league club and Hedges will start out at Triple-A El Paso.

 

Bench

 

One of the key players is first baseman Brett Wallace, who showed some pop with five home runs. Some fans would like to see him as the starting first baseman. Also projected to be on the bench are Bethancourt, outfielder Travis Jankowski and utilityman Jose Pirela, who was obtained from the Yankees in November.

 

Management

 

Preller was dubbed a “rock star GM” by Kemp after pulling off his many moves a winter ago, but the sweet music didn’t last past April. Preller passed over some veteran candidates for manager in settling on Green, who brings a youthful enthusiasm but could be tested in trying to bring cohesion to the clubhouse. Green led the Missoula Osprey to the Pioneer League championship in 2012. He then became the first person to be named Southern League Manager of the Year in consecutive seasons. Green was Arizona’s third base coach last season.

 

Final Analysis

 

Unless the Dodgers, Giants and D-backs all underachieve on a massive scale, there’s not much reason to think the Padres will do anything but finish fourth again. It’s hard to get a grasp on Preller’s ultimate blueprint. He tried to buy his way into the postseason in 2015 and failed miserably, and now he appears to be trying a youth movement that includes restocking the farm system. But he’s going against a division that includes the free-spending Dodgers; the Giants, who added Johnny Cueto; and the Diamondbacks, who signed Zack Greinke. The season’s highlight likely will be the All-Star Game at Petco Park.

 

Prediction: 4th NL West

 

Lineup

 

1B Wil Myers (R)

2B Cory Spangenberg (L)

3B Yangervis Solarte (S)

RF Matt Kemp (R)

C Derek Norris (R)

CF Melvin Upton Jr. (R)

LF Jon Jay (L)

SS Alexei Ramirez (R)

 

Bench

 

1B Brett Wallace (L)

C Christian Bethancourt (R)

OF Alex Dickerson (L)

OF Travis Jankowski (L)

UTL Jose Pirela (R)

 

Rotation

 

RHP James Shields

RHP Tyson Ross

RHP Andrew Cashner

LHP Robbie Erlin

RHP Colin Rae

 

Bullpen

 

RHP Brandon Maurer (Closer)

LHP Drew Pomeranz

RHP Kevin Quackenbush

RHP Nick Vincent

RHP Luis Perdomo

RHP Leonel Campos

LHP Buddy Baumann

Teaser:
San Diego Padres 2016 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, February 19, 2016 - 07:45
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News, Magazines
Path: /mlb/los-angeles-dodgers-2016-preview-and-prediction
Body:

As pitchers and catchers report this week in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports will preview every team in Major League Baseball. Outlooks for every team and so much more information, including rosters, advanced stats and anonymous scouting reports, are featured in the Athlon Sports 2016 MLB Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and in our .

 

The honeymoon is definitely over.

 

When the Dodgers hired Andrew Friedman away from the Tampa Bay Rays following the 2014 season and he assembled a progressive, analytically minded front office in Los Angeles, it was hailed as a “Dream Team” of sorts. The most creative thinkers in baseball would have the most robust financial resources in the game to support them. The sky was the limit.

 

Then the Dodgers were eliminated in the NL Division Series again, a loss punctuated with the embarrassment of Daniel Murphy taking an uncovered third base at a critical point in the decisive game. A winter of disappointment followed. The Dodgers were outbid by division rival Arizona for Zack Greinke. The team’s fallback option, Hisashi Iwakuma, returned to Seattle after issues arose during his physical. A trade for Aroldis Chapman fell apart when his alleged involvement in a domestic dispute came to light. The winter moved on without the Dodgers as any number of free agent and trade options were gobbled up by other teams, forcing them to seek out alternatives.

 

At the same time, Friedman et al. have made tremendous strides in strengthening a farm system that might be one of the deepest in baseball. Starting with a refusal to sacrifice top prospects at the 2015 trade deadline, no decision has been made that might compromise the future for short-term benefits.

 

Admirable as that might be, it could leave the Dodgers with the highest payroll in baseball again in 2016 even as the Diamondbacks and Giants pass them in the National League West.

 

 

Rotation

 

The past three years, the Dodgers tried to ride the best 1-2 rotation combo in baseball (Clayton Kershaw and Greinke) to the World Series. The result: Just one playoff series victory (the 2013 NLDS over the Atlanta Braves). They will have to try a different path now. Kershaw remains at the front of the rotation. At age 28, the Dodgers’ ace has established himself as the best pitcher in baseball. Over the past five seasons, he is 88–33 with a 2.11 ERA, three Cy Young Awards, a runner-up finish and a third-place finish (to Jake Arrieta and Greinke last year). With Greinke gone, the dropoff behind Kershaw will be greater; but the depth will be better with Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda added to Brett Anderson and Alex Wood. Healthy returns from Hyun-Jin Ryu (shoulder surgery) and Brandon McCarthy (Tommy John) could supplement that.

 

Bullpen

 

With the front of their rotation depleted, the Dodgers sought to build a formidable back end to their bullpen by adding Chapman to incumbent closer Kenley Jansen. That didn’t work out, so Jansen returns to the closer role with Chris Hatcher the primary setup man. After a rough start to the season that shook his confidence and a long stretch on the DL with an oblique injury, Hatcher finished strong in 2015. Joe Blanton returns for his second tour of duty with the Dodgers, this time in a relief role. The rest of the corps figures to be the same inconsistent group of young arms that showed promise at times in 2015 led by Pedro Baez and Yimi Garcia plus lefthanders J.P. Howell and Luis Avilan.

 

Middle Infield

 

Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick were acquired last year as temp workers to man the middle of the infield while Corey Seager finished his development in the minors. Rollins is gone, but Kendrick re-signed with the team in January in a two-year deal. Kendrick will reclaim his spot as the primary second basemen, though there are other options — the Dodgers re-signed Chase Utley for a backup role, acquired Micah Johnson in a trade and have Enrique Hernandez on hand. Seager takes over as the Dodgers’ everyday shortstop at age 21 (he will turn 22 in April). The blue-chip prospect flashed his star potential with a .337 average and .986 OPS in 27 games last September.

 

Corners

 

Adrian Gonzalez and Justin Turner were the pillars upon which the Dodgers’ 2015 offense rested. They will be counted on to repeat their production in 2016. Though his batting average has suffered with the increased use of defensive shifts, the 33-year-old Gonzalez remains a consistent run producer. Last season was his ninth straight with at least 90 RBIs and ninth in the last 10 seasons with at least 22 home runs. Turner, meanwhile, has been a massive surprise since joining the Dodgers. Signed as a reserve, he won the third base job by hitting .314 with an .876 OPS in two seasons as a Dodger. But he is coming off knee surgery and will have to prove once again that he can continue to play at that level. Utley figures to spell him at third base.

 

Outfield

 

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Dodgers are overloaded in the outfield once again with some new names but mainly familiar holdovers. Center fielder Joc Pederson had a wildly up-and-down rookie year, hitting 20 home runs by July 1 and making the All-Star team — then becoming a lineup sinkhole in the second half and eventually losing playing time to Hernandez.  Pederson is a prime candidate to platoon with Hernandez and/or newly acquired Trayce Thompson. The Dodgers got good results in 2015 by limiting Andre Ethier’s exposure to left-handed pitching. But the wild card is the wild horse — Yasiel Puig. Puig’s potential has been largely untapped since he made the 2014 All-Star team. Repeated hamstring injuries limited him to 79 games in 2015. The Dodgers need his performance to more closely match his potential if they are going to succeed in 2016.

 

Catching

 

Yasmani Grandal was another Dodger who experienced a dramatic reversal of fortune in 2015. For most of the season, he was one of the best combinations of defense and offense among National League catchers and made his first All-Star team as a result. He played hurt for the final two months of the season, however, and his offense disappeared. The Dodgers are confident that surgery on his left shoulder immediately following the season will address that. If so, and Grandal rebounds to his first-half performance, he and A.J. Ellis provide the Dodgers with as solid a combination behind the plate as any team in MLB.

 

Bench

 

The Dodgers’ analytically minded front office embraces the idea of maximizing production by frequent use of platoons and matchup-driven lineups. That makes a multi-position player like Hernandez, who hit .423 against left-handed pitching with a 1.215 OPS, valuable. Scott Van Slyke has also shown an ability to be productive when spotted against left-handed pitching. Utley will get playing time at first, second and third base while providing a veteran presence in the locker room.

 

Management

 

From the moment Friedman was hired as the Dodgers’ new president of baseball operations following the 2014 season, the clock was ticking on Don Mattingly’s time as Dodgers manager. Not surprisingly, Mattingly left following another first-round playoff defeat in 2015. Dave Roberts was hired as his replacement, with only pitching coach Rick Honeycutt retained on the coaching staff. Relentlessly upbeat and enthusiastic, Roberts should play well in a clubhouse that will feature more young players in 2016.

 

Final Analysis

 

One thing seems certain about the 2016 Dodgers — there won’t be a $300 million payroll for critics to use as a cudgel if they don’t succeed. The payroll still figures to lead the majors but will be closer to $200 million. Getting younger, cheaper (relatively so) and more reliant on homegrown talent is part of the Dodgers’ master plan for sustainability. In the immediate future, though, it might result in an expensive third-place team with the Diamondbacks and Giants seemingly passing the Dodgers in talent this season.

 

Prediction: 3rd NL West

 

Lineup

 

SS Corey Seager (L)

2B Howie Kendrick (R)

1B Adrian Gonzalez (L)

3B Justin Turner (R)

LF Andre Ethier (L)

RF Yasiel Puig (R)

C Yasmani Grandal (S)

CF Joc Pederson (L)

 

Bench

 

INF Chase Utley (L)

C A.J. Ellis (R)

OF Scott Van Slyke (R)

2B Micah Johnson (L)

UTL Enrique Hernandez (R)

 

Rotation

 

LHP Clayton Kershaw

LHP Scott Kazmir

RHP Kenta Maeda

LHP Brett Anderson

LHP Alex Wood

 

Bench

 

RHP Kenley Jansen (Closer)

RHP Chris Hatcher

LHP J.P. Howell

LHP Luis Avilan

RHP Pedro Baez

RHP Joe Blanton

Teaser:
Los Angeles Dodgers 2016 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, February 19, 2016 - 07:30
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Life, Magazines
Path: /mlb/washington-nationals-2016-preview-and-prediction
Body:

As pitchers and catchers report this week in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports will preview every team in Major League Baseball. Outlooks for every team and so much more information, including rosters, advanced stats and anonymous scouting reports, are featured in the Athlon Sports 2016 MLB Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and in our .

 

The disaster that was the 2015 Washington Nationals is best left to the dustbin of history. The consensus pick to win the World Series, the Nats crashed in August and were essentially eliminated by the second week of September. The lingering image of their season was new closer Jonathan Papelbon with his hands around the neck of soon-to-be-named MVP Bryce Harper in the season’s waning days. Based on their offseason moves, Washington’s management appeared to have chalked the whole mess up to Matt Williams’ ineffective managing. Williams’ firing, and the hiring of Dusty Baker to replace him, was the team’s signature move of the winter.

 

Their player pursuits were mostly fruitless, as they fell short in attempts to acquire Brandon Phillips, Ben Zobrist, Darren O’Day and Jason Heyward, before finally scoring with a three-year deal for Daniel Murphy. Add it all up, and the Nationals appear to be banking on the notion that 2015 was more or less an aberration and a failure of management, and that their talent-laden roster, helmed by a new skipper, can fulfill its lofty promise — one year later.

 

 

Rotation

 

Jordan Zimmermann’s departure after an excellent run in Washington was a fait accompli, one whose impact was lessened by the signing of Max Scherzer the winter before. But even with Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg atop the rotation, the loss of Zimmermann — a steady 200-inning, 15-win performer — will hurt. That is especially true in light of Gio Gonzalez’s decline from a 21-game winner and third-place Cy Young finisher in 2012 to an undependable mid-rotation guy with a bloated 1.423 WHIP in 2015. But the Nats believe that they have young reinforcements on the way, in not only Joe Ross, a revelation during a 13-start apprenticeship in 2015, but also top prospect Lucas Giolito. With Tanner Roark moving back from the bullpen to reprise (the Nats hope) his 2014 role as rotation workhorse, this could still be a very formidable rotation. But without Zimmermann to lean on, it looks a lot less deep.

 

Bullpen

 

The Nationals will head into spring training with Papelbon as the team’s closer — despite the fact that he got into a very public fight with Harper, the team’s best player. Any hopes that Drew Storen would reclaim his role as the Nats’ ninth-inning option ended in January when he was dealt to Toronto for outfielder Ben Revere. Papelbon — whose acquisition at the trade deadline pretty much coincided with the Nats’ slide to oblivion — saved 39 games for Philadelphia as recently as 2014. Meantime, Felipe Rivero returns as the top lefty setup man, with newcomers Yusmeiro Petit, Oliver Perez and Shawn Kelley — as well as holdovers such as Blake Treinen and Rafael Martin — giving the pen some much-needed depth. One under-the-radar player the Nationals missed in 2015 was bullpen stalwart Craig Stammen, who missed the season following elbow surgery. They will miss him again in 2016; he was non-tendered.

 

Middle Infield

 

Ian Desmond’s departure via free agency robbed the Nationals of not only their starting shortstop for the previous six years, but also the soul of their clubhouse. The Nationals had already acquired his eventual replacement, highly regarded prospect Trea Turner, but preferred to start Turner in Class AAA for some final seasoning. The Christmas Eve signing of veteran infielder Daniel Murphy was the piece that made it all fall into place. With Murphy in the fold to play (mostly) second base, Danny Espinosa — coming off a resurgent 2015 season spent mostly as a super-utility player — is expected to get the bulk of the playing time at shortstop. That is, until Turner’s anticipated midseason arrival.

 

Corners

 

Anthony Rendon emerged as one of the top young hitters in the game during a stellar 2014 season, but injuries to his knee, oblique and quadriceps plagued him throughout a disappointing 2015. This year, presumably healthy again, he returns to third base — where he spent the bulk of his time in 2014 before shifting to second base last year. The Nationals hope he can also return to his 2014 form at the plate. At first base, veteran Ryan Zimmerman also needs to stay healthy in 2016 after missing 168 games the past two seasons and seeing his OPS decline in 2015 for the third straight year. At age 31, he can still rake when healthy, as evidenced by the .311/.372/.652 line he put up over the final 39 games of 2015.

 

Outfield

 

The Nats gave the outfield a much-needed upgrade by adding Revere to play center. A 2007 first-round pick by the Twins, Revere is a career .295 hitter who played well in a pennant race for the Blue Jays last season. He stole a combined 31 bases in 2015 and has topped 40 steals twice in his career. Jayson Werth, penciled in to play left field, continues to showing signs of a deepening decline. He played in only 88 games in 2015 and hit .221 with an alarmingly low .685 OPS. Meantime, in right field, Baker will be happy simply to write Harper’s name in the lineup every day. The 2015 season was the one in which the former phenom produced his long-awaited breakout, winning MVP in a unanimous vote.

 

Catching

 

In a career plagued by injuries, Wilson Ramos always found a way to produce at the plate, leaving the Nationals to wonder what he could do if he could stay healthy for an entire season. The answer came in 2015, and it was not the one the Nats wanted. Despite playing in a career-high 128 games, Ramos regressed offensively, putting up an OPS (.616) roughly 100 points below his career norm and 163 points below his breakthrough rookie season of 2011. A career high strikeout rate of 20 percent was a big part of the problem. At the same time, Ramos’s defensive work is stellar enough that no one in Washington will complain too much — though the hope is he comes back with a big year at the plate in what will be his free agent “walk” year.

 

Bench

 

After eight years in the minors (broken up only by a couple of cups of coffee in the bigs), burly Clint Robinson got his shot with the Nationals as a corner utility man and turned it into a breakthrough year, hitting .272/.358/.424 with 10 homers in 352 plate appearances. He’ll return in 2016 as the left-handed anchor of a bench that also includes right-handed corner man Tyler Moore and extra outfielder Michael Taylor as well as Stephen Drew — signed in late December — and a backup catcher (likely Jose Lobaton).

 

Management

 

Because GM Mike Rizzo went out on a limb to hire Williams as manager prior to the 2014 season — based largely on his history with Williams and despite Williams’ lack of experience — his failure lies largely at Rizzo’s feet, one of the GM’s few major missteps in Washington. With their latest managerial move, the Nationals’ hiring process itself came under scrutiny when the team reportedly reached initial agreement with Bud Black, only to lowball him with their first contract offer and, when Black bristled, toggle toward Baker. In the end, the Nationals still may have gotten the right guy, as Baker is uniquely skilled and experienced at handling challenging clubhouses — which the Nationals’ almost certainly will be. The analytics crowd will hate Baker’s under-reliance on advanced stats, but his best work is done behind the scenes and away from the cameras.

 

Final Analysis

 

Compared to the hype and hysteria of a year ago, the Nats will be flying under the radar at the start of 2016, which is exactly what they need. They still have largely the same talented roster that most pundits envisioned winning the World Series in 2015 — headed by a once-in-a-generation hitter in Harper — and the 1-2 punch of Scherzer and Strasburg is the envy of nearly every team in baseball. But since the Nats last made the playoffs, in 2014, the Mets have emerged as a dangerous force in the NL East. With some better luck on the injury front, steps forward from young players such as Taylor and Ross and the expected infusion of talent from prospects Turner and Giolito, the Nationals should be back in the hunt for a division title, and possibly more.

 

Prediction: 2nd NL East (Wild Card)

 

Lineup

 

CF Ben Revere (L)

3B Anthony Rendon (R)

RF Bryce Harper (L)

1B Ryan Zimmerman (R)

2B Daniel Murphy (L)

SS Danny Espinosa (S)

LF Jayson Werth (R)

C Wilson Ramos (R)

 

Bench

 

1B/OF Tyler Moore (R)

1B/OF Clint Robinson (L)

C Jose Lobaton (S)

OF Michael A. Taylor (R)

INF Stephen Drew (L)

 

Rotation

 

RHP Max Scherzer

RHP Stephen Strasburg

LHP Gio Gonzalez

RHP Tanner Roark

RHP Joe Ross

 

Bullpen

 

RHP Jonathan Papelbon (Closer)

LHP Felipe Rivero

RHP Yusmeiro Petit

LHP Oliver Perez

RHP Shawn Kelley

RHP Blake Treinen

RHP Rafael Martin

Teaser:
Washington Nationals 2016 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, February 19, 2016 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News, Magazines
Path: /mlb/milwaukee-brewers-2016-preview-and-prediction
Body:

As pitchers and catchers report this week in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports will preview every team in Major League Baseball. Outlooks for every team and so much more information, including rosters, advanced stats and anonymous scouting reports, are featured in the Athlon Sports 2016 MLB Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and in our .

 

The winds of change have blown through Miller Park with hurricane-like force. From the top of the front office down, the Milwaukee Brewers have entered all-out rebuilding mode. They do so after stumbling through a nightmarish 2015 that began with the early May firing of manager Ron Roenicke and ended with 94 losses — the team’s most since 2004.

 

Leading the strip-down is wunderkind David Stearns, who replaced Doug Melvin as general manager last September. The youngest current GM in baseball — he was 30 when hired — has experience with successful rebuilds after his previous stint as assistant GM with the Houston Astros. Melvin started the process of shedding veteran players last July, with Stearns moving even more in the offseason. With spring training looming, a total of 12 players with varying levels of major league experience had been traded since last July in exchange for almost exclusively younger, controllable talent.

 

While taking a step back is often a necessity for small-market teams like Milwaukee, it doesn’t make the present too pleasant for fans. This year’s team is likely to feature a cast of relative unknowns around Ryan Braun and Jonathan Lucroy.

 

 

Rotation

 

Eleven different pitchers made starts for the Brewers in 2015, and eight of those head to camp this spring. The veteran holdover in that group is Matt Garza, who was so bad a year ago (6–14, 5.63) that he was removed from the rotation in September. Milwaukee needs a big-time rebound from both him and Wily Peralta. Considered the future ace coming into 2015, Peralta instead scuffled his way to a 5–10 record and 4.72 ERA while an oblique injury limited him to just 108.2 innings. His stuff is too good to give up on, but the leash is getting shorter for the affable Dominican.

 

Taylor Jungmann, who burst onto the scene before fading down the stretch, is going to be relied upon heavily along with Jimmy Nelson, who proved to be the workhorse of the staff by leading in innings (177.1) and starts (30). Peralta, Jungmann and Nelson all need to become more consistent and avoid the long spells of ineffectiveness that hampered them a season ago. A fifth righthander, Chase Anderson, will slide right into the rotation after being acquired from Arizona in a late January trade.

 

Bullpen

 

After another strong season from Francisco Rodriguez, the Brewers flipped him for a prospect, leaving them searching for a closer. Two in-house candidates are lefty Will Smith and righty Jeremy Jeffress, both of whom have proven their worth in high-leverage situations. Smith led the Brewers in appearances for the second straight season with 76. Jeffress was right behind him at 72. Smith’s year was strange in that he was much more effective getting righties out than lefties — .193 to .257 — but his slider remains one of the best in baseball. Jeffress, with his power fastball, can get tough outs as well, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see manager Craig Counsell utilize both in the ninth inning depending on the situation.

 

Two other hard throwers who could develop into late-inning options are Corey Knebel and Michael Blazek. Knebel struck out 58 in 50.1 innings over two separate stints with the Brewers, while Blazek was arguably Milwaukee’s most effective reliever early in 2015 before a broken hand ended his season prematurely. Both are also versatile enough to fill other roles. Tyler Thornburg has had success as a reliever in the past but is coming off a disappointing 2015 after missing most of 2014 with an elbow injury. Youngsters Yhonathan Barrios and Adrian Houser, obtained in trades, are also hard throwers who displayed promise last September while making their major league debuts.

 

Middle Infield

 

The Brewers cleared the way for Orlando Arcia at shortstop by trading Jean Segura. But with Arcia ticketed to start the season at Class AAA Colorado Springs it’s likely Jonathan Villar and Yadiel Rivera will split time there until he’s ready. Scooter Gennett struggled so badly early last season he was sent back to Class AAA for three weeks to regain his stroke. Ultimately he started 93 games at second base and hit .264 with six homers and 29 RBIs, but he again couldn’t hit left-handed pitching, (114 average). With veteran Aaron Hill coming over in the Segura trade, the Brewers now have a right-handed hitting option to platoon with Gennett at second base. Colin Walsh, another Rule 5 pickup, will also get a look.

 

Corners

 

While they still are seeking long-term solutions at both first and third base, the Brewers should be OK in the present with the signing of free agent slugger Chris Carter and the addition of Hill. Carter, a prototypical all-or-nothing slugger, signed a one-year deal in early January and will man first base. His power should play well at hitter-friendly Miller Park, as his 90 homers over the last three years rank eighth in the major leagues. Hill, while clearly on the downside of his career, can still play a competent third base on the days he’s not spelling Gennett at second. The Brewers will also look at former Boston prospects Will Middlebrooks and Garin Cecchini at the hot corner, with Villar and Rivera also able to play there.

 

Outfield

 

Braun is coming off his strongest season since 2012, putting up a .285 average, 25 homers, 84 RBIs and 24 stolen bases while also returning to the All-Star Game. After two seasons in right field, he’s expected to return to his former spot in left after the trade of Khris Davis. The Brewers would undoubtedly listen to offers for their franchise player should he turn in another big year. Taking over for Braun in right will be Domingo Santana, who came to Milwaukee from Houston as part of the Carlos Gomez trade. Santana is a strapping 23-year-old who flashed a powerful bat and strong throwing arm in a 38-game audition with the Brewers in 2015. Center field will be an all-out audition in spring training with a host of players vying for what will likely be a two-player platoon. The most notable candidates are Keon Broxton, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Rymer Liriano, Ramon Flores, Eric Young Jr. and Michael Reed. Brett Phillips, another piece in that Gomez trade, will also be in big league camp.

 

Catching

 

Lucroy was viewed as perhaps the Brewers’ biggest piece of trade bait in the offseason despite coming off a career-worst 2015, but ultimately wasn’t moved. Lucroy broke a toe after a miserable start at the plate early on, then didn’t catch the last three weeks after suffering a concussion. Even still, he’s regarded as a top-tier catcher and a prime candidate to bounce back. Lucroy is also just 29 and under team control for two more years at a reasonable price, leaving Milwaukee in a strong position.

 

Bench

 

Backup catcher Martin Maldonado figures to be the longest-tenured player returning to what is going to be a fluid area. With the team likely to be auditioning a number of players during the season, what Counsell opens with is likely to be very different from what he finishes with on the bench.

 

Management

 

For the first time since buying the team in 2005, owner Mark Attanasio has given the green light to a complete rebuild. It was a tough pill to swallow for the competitive New Yorker, who wrote a letter to the team’s fans in the offseason explaining his thinking. “I’m all about how we’re going to compete (this year),” he said in late January, referring to his usual win-now approach. “We have to put a team on the field we can be proud of and we want to get back to playoff baseball in Milwaukee. So, it’s a little bit of a new experience.” Counsell, the popular hometown boy and former Brewers player, will be a patient, steady leader through what are sure to be tough times.

 

Final Analysis

 

While the Cubs, Cardinals and Pirates continue their stranglehold on the National League Central, Milwaukee is facing the possibility of just its second 100-loss season in franchise history and first since 2002. But Brewers fans are nothing if not patient, and most understand that short-term pain is the best path to potential long-term success.

 

Prediction: 5th NL Central

 

Lineup

 

SS Jonathan Villar (S)

C Jonathan Lucroy (R)

LF Ryan Braun (R)

1B Chris Carter (R)

RF Domingo Santana (R)

3B Aaron Hill (R)

CF Rymer Liriano (R)

2B Scooter Gennett (L)

 

Bench

 

C Martin Maldonado (R)

INF Yadiel Rivera (R)

INF Colin Walsh (S)

OF Kirk Nieuwenhuis (R)

OF Ramon Flores (L)

 

Rotation

 

RHP Matt Garza

RHP Wily Peralta

RHP Jimmy Nelson

RHP Taylor Jungmann

RHP Chase Anderson

 

Bullpen

 

RHP Jeremy Jeffress (Closer)

LHP Will Smith

RHP Corey Knebel

RHP Michael Blazek

RHP Tyler Thornburg

RHP Yhonathan Barrios

RHP Junior Guerra

Teaser:
Milwaukee Brewers 2016 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, February 19, 2016 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News, Magazines
Path: /mlb/chicago-cubs-2016-preview-and-prediction
Body:

As pitchers and catchers report this week in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports will preview every team in Major League Baseball. Outlooks for every team and so much more information, including rosters, advanced stats and anonymous scouting reports, are featured in the Athlon Sports 2016 MLB Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and in our .

 

Nobody expected the rebuilding to go from last place to the 2015 playoffs when the season started. But 2016? They’re not only expected to do it again, but according to some outlets, they’re also World Series favorites. Sensing an especially strong two-year window, given the status of contracts and last year’s success, the Cubs committed $275 million in free agency to upgrade a bad outfield (Jason Heyward), lengthen the lineup (Ben Zobrist) and create a semblance of a playoff rotation (John Lackey), among other things. “There was a real effort,” team president Theo Epstein says, “to go from good to great this winter and to capitalize on a moment in time.”

 

 

Rotation

 

Starting with the reigning NL Cy Young winner in Jake Arrieta and continuing with a pair of 2013 championship Red Sox pitchers in Jon Lester and Lackey, the Cubs’ rotation was touted as one of the best in the league almost as soon as Lackey, 37, was signed to a relatively low-cost two-year deal ($32 million). It pushes Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks back to no more than the four and five slots, and the front office addressed last year’s depth issues by trading All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro to the Yankees for potential starter Adam Warren and retaining swingmen Clayton Richard, Travis Wood and Trevor Cahill. As high as the potential upside might be, the depth remains enough of a concern that the Cubs continued to troll the trade market for starting pitching throughout the winter, and they are prepared to try again to add at the trade deadline. All of the top four starters also bear watching this year: Lackey for his age; Arrieta for the fact that he exceeded his previous career high in innings by 72 last year; Hammel for a 5.10 second-half ERA after a July knee injury; and Lester because of ongoing issues with throwing to first and controlling the running game.

 

Bullpen

 

The bullpen is set up to be a strength, and depending on what the back end of the rotation looks like early in the season, it could quickly grow into an eight-man crew again. Bringing his 27-outs-any-way-I-can-get-them approach from Tampa Bay, manager Joe Maddon is quick to pull a middle- or end-of-the rotation starter for a chance to take control of a game in the fourth or fifth inning. During the torrid stretch run, Maddon often paired Richard and Cahill in a left-right tandem to match up once through the opponent’s order, and the Cubs figure to have at least two such swingmen in the pen again this year. Their top three late-inning power arms are all back, including closer Hector Rondon, who responded to a brief demotion from the role in June to finish with a 0.96 ERA the rest of the season.

 

Middle Infield

 

Castro, the three-time All-Star shortstop, was the last of the big league players Epstein’s front office inherited four years ago. He’d already been bumped off short in August by rookie Addison Russell, a steady, sometimes spectacular fielder whom Maddon affectionately refers to as “no chrome” because he tends to make every play, but with little flash. The Cubs can afford to let him continue to develop at the bottom of the order after lengthening a potentially powerful lineup by adding long-coveted, top-of-the-order hitter Zobrist — the super utility player who was signed to be the primary second baseman.

 

Corners

 

The Cubs have one of the most powerful young sets of corner infielders in the game in Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant, 24, at third and two-time All-Star Anthony Rizzo, 26, at first — the right-left combo the team builds its lineup around. The two All-Stars in 2015 combined for 57 homers, 155 walks, 200 RBIs and more than 12 wins above replacement. Both are under club control for six more seasons. Rizzo is one of the better defenders at first, while Bryant is a work in progress defensively who improved dramatically from early in the season — and who is versatile enough to have played all three outfield spots as a rookie.

 

Outfield

 

After passing on the top-priced pitchers on the free agent market, the Cubs built their offseason around the $184 million courtship of Heyward to upgrade their biggest defensive problem area. The best right fielder in the game agreed to open the season in center field, where he immediately helps improve the shaky corners manned by second-year players Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler. Heyward, 26, is uniquely young for a free agent, and the Cubs are betting the largest contract in franchise history that he can become an impact core player for a perennial contender — and possibly even reach some of his long-anticipated power potential as he enters his prime years. He could find his way back to right field quickly if the Cubs find the pitching they’re looking for in trade talks involving Soler — who raised his value with a 9-for-19 playoff run that included three home runs. Schwarber, who debuted barely a year after being drafted fourth overall in 2014 out of Indiana, showed more power with a compact, left-handed swing than anyone on the team over the second half and into the playoffs. The Cubs are forced to shoehorn the extremely raw catcher into left field to keep his bat in the lineup.

 

Catching

 

The Cubs have a two-time All-Star starting catcher, but you wouldn’t have known it much of last season. Miguel Montero admittedly struggled in a reduced role with David Ross assigned to Lester every fifth day and with the Cubs working in a third catcher early in the season (Welington Castillo) and late (Schwarber). A midseason thumb injury sidelined him for a month and lingered. So Montero, who still managed to produce his best OPS (.754) in three years, expects a bounce-back in his second year under Maddon and with a bolstered lineup. Most important, Montero and Ross were two of the better receivers in the league, according to various catching metrics, and both will be in their second seasons with a staff that returns every key member from a group that led the majors in strikeouts (1,431), ranked third in ERA (3.36) and fifth in fewest walks (407).

 

Bench

 

Javy Baez, already the team’s best defensive infielder overall, could be the key bench player by the time the season plays out. Team officials suggest the already versatile infielder could become a Zobrist-like super utility player, and he was assigned to play center field during winter ball. Ross might be the most important bench guy every five days; the strong-armed catcher liberally uses back picks and disguised pitchouts to compensate for Lester’s deficiencies in the running game. Chris Coghlan (five positions) and Tommy La Stella (two) give Maddon versatility.

 

Management

 

Epstein’s front office achieved contender status at least a year ahead of internal projections through the fruit of tanking three seasons and the 2015 big league development, en masse, of key rookies (Bryant, Russell, Schwarber and Soler). National League Manager of the Year Maddon’s sudden availability before last season helped make 2015 a 97-win perfect storm, with the nine-year veteran of young Rays teams pushing nearly every right button at nearly every right time — especially with the rookies. Epstein and Maddon have the Cubs in a position to project a strong window to contend, leading into an anticipated 2020 spike in TV-related revenues.

 

Final Analysis

 

The Cubs had remarkably good health last year (none of the five in the opening rotation went on the DL), and they are bracing for the likelihood that won’t happen in consecutive years. Depth is still an issue in areas, the bullpen could go either way, and sophomore seasons can be rough even for impressive rookies. But between their improvements and a less impressive winter for the rival Cardinals, the Cubs will be America’s Darlings, if not favorites for both the division and pennant.

 

Prediction: 1st NL Central (NLCS)

 

Lineup

 

CF Jason Heyward (L)

2B Ben Zobrist (S)

3B Kris Bryant (R)

1B Anthony Rizzo (L)

RF Jorge Soler (R)

LF Kyle Schwarber (L)

C Miguel Montero (L)

SS Addison Russell (R)

 

Bench

 

C David Ross (R)

UTL Javy Baez (R)

UTL Chris Coghlan (L)

INF Tommy La Stella (L)

 

Rotation

 

RHP Jake Arrieta

LHP Jon Lester

RHP John Lackey

RHP Jason Hammel

RHP Kyle Hendricks

 

Bullpen

 

RHP Hector Rondon (closer)

RHP Pedro Strop

RHP Justin Grimm

LHP Clayton Richard

LHP Travis Wood

RHP Trevor Cahill

RHP Adam Warren

LHP Rex Brothers

Teaser:
Chicago Cubs 2016 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, February 19, 2016 - 06:45

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