Articles By Athlon Sports

All taxonomy terms: Bubba Watson, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-16-bubba-watson
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 16: Bubba Watson

 

Born: Nov. 5, 1978, Bagdad, Fla. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 7 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 3 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $6,336,978 (2nd) World Ranking: 2

2014 Key Stats

      Driving Distance: 314.3 (1st)

      Strokes Gained, Tee to Green: 1.322 (7th)

      Putting from 15-20’: 28.45% (3rd)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

At 36 years old, Watson has finished in the top 10 in only four majors, but two of those were wins at Augusta National. This more than anything illumines the talents and troubles of one of the game’s most intriguing players. In 2014 he led the Tour in driving distance and was yet again one of the best with long and mid irons, but more impressive and more responsible for his improved consistency was a better year from 50-125 yards and a corresponding improvement from 15-20 feet on the greens, where those wedges put him on many occasions. A win late in the year and overseas at the WGC-HSBC proved for the first time that his game could travel outside the U.S., and that success causes one to at least raise an eyebrow when considering his chances at an Open Championship. Patience is as much his adversary as creativity and length are his gifts, but if he can play a whole year and control his emotions, he could win at major venues other than Augusta National, where the reverence of the patrons and the dogleg left preference of the course fit him like a Savile Row suit.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 28
Wins: 2

2014 Performance:
Masters - 1
U.S. Open - Cut
British Open - Cut
PGA Championship - T64

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - 1 (2012, '14)
U.S. Open - T5 (2007)
British Open - T23 (2012)
PGA Championship - 2 (2010)
Top-10 Finishes: 4
Top-25 Finishes: 8
Missed Cuts: 10

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 09:58
Path: /nba/thunder-lose-serge-ibaka-after-knee-surgery
Body:

The hurt just keeps on coming for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Power forward Serge Ibaka — a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year — will join reigning MVP Kevin Durant on the bench, after undergoing successful arthroscopic surgery to his right knee.

 

Ibaka, according to Thunder P.R., is expected to miss four to six weeks.

 

It should be remembered that Ibaka was deemed out for the season at the onset of last year’s Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, only to return in Game 3 and lead OKC back into the series with his typically excellent rim protection.

 

It’s unlikely now — as it always is — that Ibaka is playing possum, though. This is just more bad luck for a team that’s come to be symbolized by the mask their star Russell Westbrook wears. Even he, their indestructible warrior, is covered in plastic protection.

 

Westbrook’s triple-double-laden campaign has been the silver lining keeping the Thunder alive through injuries and roster reshuffling alike. OKC currently has seven players acquired either over the summer or midseason, and their superstar point guard has been the only consistent factor through their effort to jell, while fighting for their playoff lives as Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans nip at their heels.

 

At time of publication, New Orleans is just a half game behind Oklahoma City for the West’s eighth and final playoff spot. Either team will have the not-so-welcome treat of squaring off with the 53-13 Golden State Warriors if they get in. Provided that the Thunder are the team to land the spot against basketball’s best team, they better hope the indispensable Ibaka is back on the earlier side of his recovery timeline. They’ll need everything they can get to pull off the upset.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 17:41
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/what-most-popular-college-basketball-team-each-state
Body:

Sorry, Louisville, people in Kentucky love Kentucky.

 

Ticket broker TicketCity released this map detailing what it calls the most popular college basketball team in each state.

 

Most of the revelations aren’t that surprising, for example, with Big Blue Nation taking hold of its state. Or Kansas, Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan, LSU, Arkansas and Arizona leading their states.

 

A few states, though, produced interesting results. For example:

 

• What are you doing Virginia? The Cavaliers are a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and back-to-back ACC champs, but VCU is the most popular there.

 

• How about Bruce Pearl in the state of Alabama? Auburn leads that state, edging rival Alabama. UAB, incidentally, is the only team from the state actually in the field.

 

• Memphis takes hold of the state of Tennessee over SEC programs Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Like Alabama, a mid-major (Belmont), is the state’s only representative in the 2015 field.

 

Ticket City says it used “fan engagement metrics (google searches by state, Facebook fans, Twitter followers, ticket prices, and attendance as percentage of stadium capacity)” to determine the data.

 

Disclosure: TicketCity is an advertiser on AthlonSports.com.

 

Teaser:
What is the Most Popular College Basketball Team in Each State?
Post date: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 16:09
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/nl-wests-top-storylines-watch-2015
Body:

The National League West very well could wind up being the defending World Series champion Giants and Dodgers duking it out at the top of the mountain — and then everyone else planning for 2016. Let’s face it, the best thing that could happen to the Diamondbacks this year might have already occurred when Will Ferrell hilariously played left field for them in a spring training game last week against the Reds. But that doesn't mean that the NL West won’t be one of the more intriguing divisions in baseball to watch in 2015.

 

We are now in the heart of spring training, as mid-March signals that Opening Day is just a few more weeks away. To get you ready for the upcoming MLB season, here are a couple of storylines to keep an eye on in the NL West in 2015.

 

Are Tulo and CarGo Colorado trade bait?

The time is now for the Rockies. No, not time to win, that time passed last season. It is now time for new general manager Jeff Bridich to put his two best players and biggest liabilities officially on the trade block. It is time for Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to be traded.

 

Let’s be blunt here. For the Rockies to be competitive at all in 2015 every single chip would have to fall in the most perfect of places, and I’m not one to really believe in a team whose pitching rotation is put together with duct tape and unproven arms, and as one fellow Athlon writer wrote, “retreads.” For the Rockies to be a contender would also require Tulo and CarGo to play as close to a full season as humanly possible — a tall order for those two.

 

In Tulowitzki’s eight big-league seasons he has played in 150 games or more just twice. Last season Tulo played in just 91 games after undergoing surgery to repair the labrum in his left hip. When he is healthy, Tulo is well worth the price of admission, whether you’re a fan of those who swing the bat or flash the leather. In a little more than half a season, Tulowitzki was putting together an MVP-caliber 2014 campaign, hitting .340/.432/.603 with a ridiculous OPS of 1.035 (OPS+ of 171), to go along with 21 homers, 18 doubles and 52 RBIs.

 

Tulowitzki is entering his age 30 season and is owed at minimum $114 million until 2020, with a $15 million club option for ’21. That is a lot of dough to keep in limbo for a franchise player on a club desperate for wins.

 

The Rockies are in the same boat with Gonzalez. When he is healthy enough, CarGo is one of the game’s best five-tool players. Problem is, he is rarely healthy, as he has played in more than 135 games just once in seven seasons. That one time was in 2010 when he slashed .336/.376/.598, led the NL in total bases, batting average and hits, finished third in the NL MVP voting and was award a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove. In 2014, Cargo appeared in just 70 games and was sidelined after having a benign tumor removed from his left index finger and also having surgery to repair the patella tendon in his left knee.

 

How much longer can the Rockies keep their fingers crossed on the health of their franchise players? Hard to say. What needs to be said is that it is time for Colorado to cut ties with Tulo and CarGo and start rebuilding for the long-term future.

 

MV-Puig?

On a good day, Yasiel Puig can set the baseball world on fire, hitting bombs into Dodgertown, stealing bases, making impossible throws from the warning track, stretching doubles into triples. On a bad day, Puig can make the SportsCenter’s “Not Top 10” list, showing up late to the ballpark, arguing with manager Don Mattingly, overthrowing cutoff men, striking out on three straight pitches. Both his flaws and his talents are the reasons that legendary Dodgers’ broadcaster Vin Scully has dubbed Puig “The Wild Horse.”

 

Now is the time for Puig to put it all together and be the MVP for one of the National League’s top contenders. There isn’t a single player in the NL that has all of the tools that Puig does, except for maybe Andrew McCutchen — maybe.

 

Puig dazzled us when he arrived to The Show in 2013. He instantly became a household name with his play and his antics, and we all welcomed it. But when the antics spilled over into his second season, baseball shook its collective head. While Puig still had an All-Star 2014 (.296/.382/.480, 37 doubles)  it didn’t quite live up to the promise we all saw in ‘13. Puig hit just five home runs in his final 100 games last season after hitting 11 in the first 48. He hit 14 round-trippers in 2013, even though he played in 44 fewer games (104) than he did in ’14 (148) and finished with the same number of stolen bases (11) too.

 

With the loss of the resurgent Matt Kemp to San Diego, the presence of an aging Carl Crawford in left field, and the insertion of rookie centerfielder Joc Pederson, it is now Puig’s time to be the leading man in Hollywood’s outfield. If the Dodgers have hopes of making it to the World Series in 2015, they will only go as far The Wild Horse takes them.

 

Are the new-look Padres for real?

I hope you didn’t hibernate this winter, because if you did you won’t recognize the San Diego Padres. New general manager A.J. Preller turned the heat up on the hot stove by making several trades to improve one of baseball’s weakest offenses in an attempt to halt a postseason drought that has lasted almost a decade. Preller made moves that brought in Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and Will Middlebrooks. Kemp, Upton and Norris have been All-Stars, while Myers and Middlebrooks were once considered among the top prospects in the game.

 

While a lot has been about those moves, much depends on the health of those players acquired. Upton is the closest to a sure thing out of the new guys after he hit .270/.342/.491 in 2014 with 29 homers, 34 doubles and 102 RBIs. Kemp had a great bounce back in the second half last season after what seemed like an eternity jumping on and off the disabled list. While Kemp may never reach the his near-MVP numbers from 2011, he has proven that he can still be very productive on a daily lineup card.

 

Middlebrooks and Myers both took turns for the worse in 2014. Middlebrooks hit just .191 in 63 games with the Red Sox, a far cry from the .288 average and 15 homers he posted in his rookie campaign in 2012. Myers missed most of his sophomore season thanks to a broken wrist. When Myers was healthy, he wasn’t the same player that won AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2013, hitting just .222/.294/.320 in half a season’s work.

 

Norris was one of seven A’s All-Stars in 2014, hitting .270/.361/.403 with 10 homers and 55 RBIs as a catcher. Norris is only 26 and has improved noticeably in each of his three seasons. 

 

With a rotation that features free-agent acquisition James Shields, a promising Andrew Cashner and first-time All-Star Tyson Ross, along with a bullpen that compiled the second-best ERA in 2014, the Padres have a very realistic chance at making some noise on the West Coast this summer. 

 

- By Jake Rose

Teaser:
NL West's Top Storylines to Watch in 2015
Post date: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: Patrick Reed, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-17-patrick-reed
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 17: Patrick Reed

 

Born: Aug. 5, 1990, San Antonio, Texas | Career PGA Tour Wins: 4 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,026,076 (14th) World Ranking: 15

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Reed is someone his peers should pay attention to — not for any particular skill, but for the audacity with which he plays the game. In an era of over-coached talent, he wins because too many of those who would otherwise outshine him have had their genius coached out of them, and their timidity or confusion is no match for his belief in himself. It is this belief that we should admire above technical skill, but such is the aesthetic desire in all of us that we look for and seek the beautiful swings and overlook the sloppy ones like Patrick’s. He reminds me of a Lanny Wadkins or Hale Irwin or Hubert Green, all of whom had whirlybird easy-to-find-fault-with moves that were propped up by an inner arrogance that took them all to the Hall of Fame. Reed will keep winning, and too many of his peers will keep looking in the mirror.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 4
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - Cut
U.S. Open - T35
British Open - Cut
PGA Championship - T58

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - Cut (2014)
U.S. Open - T35 (2014)
British Open - Cut (2014)
PGA Championship - T58 (2014)
Top-10 Finishes: 0
Top-25 Finishes: 0
Missed Cuts: 2

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 09:57
Path: /nba/ranking-nba%E2%80%99s-strangest-team-names
Body:

6. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder have two of the game’s biggest faces in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and they’ve been one of the most fun watches for as long as they’ve been in Oklahoma. But NBA purists have long bemoaned their uninspired uniforms and team insignia, which seems focused on creating a sense of association so generic and non-regional that it couldn’t possibly offend anyone. They might as well be called the “Force,” the “Ballers,” or the “Sensations.” We like our squad names to be some sort of reflection of where the team resides, and the Thunder’s moniker falls well short of that mark.

 

5. Washington Wizards

Previously the Bullets, the nation’s capitol city team switched to something more politically correct nearly two decades ago, in 1997. While we’re all about non-violence and safe practices at Athlon, the “Wizards” tag is just as vague and lackluster as the Thunder. The franchise seems to have recognized its misstep with a gradual return to the color scheme and uniform design of the blue-and-red Bullets years, but they’re still walking around calling themselves something impotent and silly. Maybe D.C. native Kevin Durant can negotiate a return to the preferred title during his 2016 free agency…

 

4. Brooklyn Nets

What’s a net? It’s that piece of woven fabric — you know, the one that hangs from the rim. That makes enough sense. Why would anyone want to make this inert object their spirit metaphor, though? A lifeless assortment of string never struck fear into anyone’s heart, and it also certainly doesn’t give one a sense of home. The Nets’ mascot is the Brooklyn Knight — a seemingly randomly chosen character who provides further reminder that NYC’s second team is titled in a way so vague that it badly strains the imagination. The Nets have relocated and rebranded — perhaps now they need to rename themselves.

 

3. Toronto Raptors

Like many expansion teams before them, Toronto grasped at many a straw before landing on a franchise label. The most important factor in their choosing a kind of dinosaur? It was the popularity of everyone’s favorite 1990s Steven Spielberg thriller, Jurassic Park. “Raptors” isn’t exactly a bad name — just a fairly arbitrary one. Hardcore NBA followers have recently taken to calling them “The Drakes,” in reference to their collaboration with the famous Canadian rapper. I, for one, welcome the more culturally relevant shift.

 

2. Los Angeles Lakers

Strange doesn’t have to mean bad. We couldn’t possibly call Kobe, Magic, or James Worthy anything but Lakers — L.A.’s purple-and-gold-laden nickname has become more than indelible over the years. But a bit of context has some scratching their heads; there aren’t, as you may have noticed, a whole lot of lakes in Los Angeles. “The Oceaners” might make sense for them, geography-wise. But this team originally hails from the land of ten-thousand lakes — Minnesota — and has made a very permanent mark on an otherwise senseless handle.

 

1. Utah Jazz

Like the Lakers, Salt Lake City’s team has a name that essentially describes what its surrounding area isn’t. Not only is the largely Mormon state of Utah a pretty jazzless place, but the history of their basketball identity is almost the opposite of flashy. When they were a New Orleans squad featuring the entrancing Pete Maravich, the Jazz were the veritable saxophone of the league. But Karl Malone and John Stockton’s heyday were more about rote, blue-collar execution than style. There’s no changing this one, though — the paradox that is the Utah Jazz title has become far too endearing over the decades.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 16, 2015 - 14:27
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/2015-fantasy-baseball-rankings-relief-pitchers
Body:

Opening Day of the 2015 MLB season is less than a month away, which means fantasy baseball is just around the corner. For some leagues, drafts have already begun or will soon begin and Athlon Sports is here to help.

 

Besides providing our comprehensive Fantasy Baseball Big Board, we also have our positional rankings, courtesy of Bruce Herman. These are pulled straight from this year’s 2015 MLB Preview magazine, which is available at newsstands everywhere and for purchase online.

 

Rankings Key

A: FRANCHISE PLAYER — You need one to compete, two to win, three to dominate.

B: CAREER YEAR — Veteran with a strong possibility of delivering his best season.

C: SLEEPER — Could be a great acquisition at a price or draft slot below his true value.

D: ROADBLOCKED — Rank has been lowered because there is no current opportunity to play regularly.

E: DECLINER — Expect moderately to significantly worse stats than in 2014.

F: INJURY RISK — Has had a recent injury that could affect performance.

G: INVESTOR’S SPECIAL — Top prospect whose immediate impact may be minimal.

 

Pitching stats are expressed W-ERA-SO-WHIP.

 

2015 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Relief Pitchers

 

TIER 1

1. Craig Kimbrel, Braves (A)

Kimbrel meets the rare standard of dominance + durability + consistency better than any other closer. He’s the first pitcher to begin his career with four 40-save seasons, and he set an all-time record by fanning 42.4% of the batters he’s faced.

2. Greg Holland, Royals (A)

Holland’s stats are a virtual mirror image of Kimbrel’s the past two years, right down to the identical WHIP (0.89) and number of strikeouts (193). In AL-only leagues, there’s a vast gap between him and the next reliever, so open the wallet.

3. Aroldis Chapman, Reds (A)

Chapman has yet to log a 40-save season and he’ll have the occasional implosion, but he’s the most unhittable pitcher in the game. Last year he K’d 5.17 batters for every hit allowed; no one else (min. 50 IP) had a higher ratio than 3.17.

 

TIER 2

4. Dellin Betances, Yankees

Tier 2 begins the faith-based segment of the relievers’ list — headed by Betances, who’s saved one game in his career. Last year, though, he gave up 43% fewer hits than anyone else at his innings level and — get this — fanned more men than 54 pitchers who started at least 20 games.

5. Kenley Jansen, Dodgers

Jansen measures up to those above him in saves and strikeouts, but there are times when his one pitch (a Mariano-like cutter) catches too much of the plate, making him susceptible to the barrel (so-so 2.76 ERA, 7.6 hits per nine in 2014). Jansen also will miss the first month or so after underdoing foot surgery in February.

6. Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies

Pap’s velo is not what it once was, but he returned to his fastball as his bread-and-butter last year to chart his lowest WHIP since 2007. Whereas no other pitcher’s current streak is longer than four, he’s saved at least 29 games in nine straight campaigns.

7. David Robertson, White Sox

Robertson surrendered an ER in only 11 of 63 outings, but home runs trashed his ERA (3.08). Only pitcher in history with at least 10 Ks/9 IP in each of his first seven seasons.

8. Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals

Forty-five saves are 45 saves, but Rosenthal’s SOs/9 sank by nearly two and his BBs/9 rose by three to an unsightly 5.4. One theory is that he was overworked. His stuff is too electric not to be successful.

9. Zach Britton, Orioles

Subbing out ground balls for missed bats makes Britton just as effective as the top-shelf closers, sans strikeouts. He saved 37 games with a 1.65 ERA, although his 62 whiffs ranked just 63rd among relievers.

10. Cody Allen, Indians

Devoured the closer’s job when it fell to him in late May. Still a novice, he doesn’t yet have the command of some of his fellow flamethrowers, but if and when he develops it, he could look a lot like Holland.

11. Huston Street, Angels

He’s oft-downgraded for his sub-90s velocity, but Street’s bottom line is that he was the third-youngest closer to save 250 games. He simply has “it” — as well as the longest active streak (10) of 15-save seasons.

12. Steve Cishek, Marlins

Rocketed to 11.6 SOs/9 IP despite charting career-low velocities while throwing 94% sinkers and sliders. Kimbrel and Holland are the only other active closers (min. 50 chances) to convert nine of 10 career opportunities.

13. Mark Melancon, Pirates

He’s not a lights-out guy, but Melancon has allowed only three homers and 19 walks in 142 innings as a Pirate. The flip side: He was the lone full-time closer to serve up three walk-off hits in 2014.

14. Sean Doolittle, Athletics

Doolittle was the sole reliever to put fewer than one-of-five batters faced on base. He allowed 13 of his 19 ERs in three outings, plumping his ERA from 0.87 to 2.73. Looked bad in the playoffs, so he’s not yet totally battle-hardened, and he could miss some time at the beginning of the season because of a shoulder issue.

15. Koji Uehara, Red Sox

Uehara returned to the realm of mere mortals last season, allowing eight homers in 29.2 innings during a two-and-a-half-month stretch. He turns 40 soon after Opening Day, so his leash might be deceptively short.

 

16. Drew Storen, Nationals

17. Addison Reed, Diamondbacks

18. Fernando Rodney, Mariners (E)

19. Glen Perkins, Twins (F)

20. Brett Cecil, Blue Jays (B,C)

21. Joe Nathan, Tigers

22. Santiago Casilla, Giants

23. Jenrry Mejia, Mets

24. Neftali Feliz, Rangers

 

TIER 3

25. Joaquin Benoit, Padres (F)

26. Francisco Rodriguez, Brewers

27. LaTroy Hawkins, Rockies

28. Luke Gregerson, Astros (B)

29. Hector Rondon, Cubs

30. Brad Boxberger, Rays (C)

 

TIER 4

31. Wade Davis, Royals (D)

32. Ken Giles, Phillies (C,D,G)

33. Andrew Miller, Yankees

34. Jeurys Familia, Mets (C)

35. Jake McGee, Rays (E,F)

36. Chad Qualls, Astros (E)

37. Sergio Romo, Giants (E)

38. Bruce Rondon, Tigers (C,F,G)

39. Joel Peralta, Dodgers

40. Jonathan Broxton, Brewers

Teaser:
2015 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Relief Pitchers
Post date: Monday, March 16, 2015 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/charles-oakley-thinks-current-nba-heartless-hard-watch
Body:

The Toronto Raptors recently invited one-time power forward Charles Oakley — more famous for his stints with the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks — to a game, to honor him.

 

Oak used the occasion as an opportunity to speak his mind about the state of the NBA. And he doesn’t love it.

 

"Who do I like watching? It's hard to watch," he said. "I don't know, it's just, it's a different game. It's some good games and a lot of bad games. More bad games than good games these days. Everybody says the game has changed, instead of talking about the guys I got a chance to see them first hand. It was kind of bad. The mind is not — you don't have to be strong to play this game no more. I don't know what it is. 

 

“They just roll you out there like a basketball. That's why ... you see the same teams in the finals or winning 55 games. Strong teams, strong-minded coach. Just the players, they don't think it, they don't know how to play together. So that's one of things I see the weakness is: Communication, the guys don't love the game. They play the game, but they don't play with their heart.”

 

There’s some merit to what Oakley says, even if he comes from the same self-serving place that Charles Barkley and Shaq do when they hurl criticisms at contemporary big men. Like the NBA on TNT crew, Oakley is only human, and watching his narrative of fame fade over time has to be a melancholy experience. Sometimes, that means making a straw man out of today’s players, to take your frustrations out on them.

 

On the other hand, Oakley’s words get at the biggest problem of the NBA’s regular season: it’s too long. Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs changed the model of game-to-game approach by implementing aggressive rest throughout year, a habit now practiced by most contenders. And at the core of this is a heightened awareness of how meaningless much of the 82-game grind is.

 

NBA teams are smart to recognize this. Does it mean a less watchable product, at times? Definitely. But a lack of heart? Maybe not so much.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 16, 2015 - 10:18
All taxonomy terms: Phil Mickelson, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-18-phil-mickelson
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 18: Phil Mickelson

 

Born: June 16, 1970, San Diego, Calif. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 42 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $2,158,019 (38th) World Ranking: 21

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Mickelson will go down in history as one of the greatest players of all time and may yet be considered one of the top ten, but that seemingly impenetrable list includes the likes of Nicklaus, Woods, Jones, Hogan, Hagen, Snead, Palmer, Sarazen, Player and Nelson. Maybe Tom Watson or Harry Vardon or Seve Ballesteros rounds out your list, but the question remains: If Phil is a top-10 all-time player, whom do you kick out?  With Phil’s victory at the Open Championship in 2013, giving him 42 wins and three legs of the career grand slam, he certainly put himself in a different light, and perhaps that was enough to put him in the top-10 discussion, but personally I think he has a ways to go, perhaps two more majors or one more at the right major. When Phil gets to the U.S. Open for the rest of his career or until he wins it, he will have to answer questions about what a career grand slam would mean to him. Of course it would make him just the sixth man to have achieved this, putting him in the rarest of company. Mickelson is sneaking up into his mid 40s and his length off the tee is no longer a huge asset, but his long swing will serve him well for a few more years, time enough for him to add to his already incredible career.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 85
Wins: 5

2014 Performance:
Masters - Cut
U.S. Open - T28
British Open - T23
PGA Championship - 2

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - 1 (2004, '06, '10)
U.S. Open - 2/T2 (1999, 2002, '04, '06, '09, '13)
British Open - 1 (2013)
PGA Championship - 1 (2005)
Top-10 Finishes: 36
Top-25 Finishes: 49
Missed Cuts: 9

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 16, 2015 - 10:07
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/2015-fantasy-baseball-rankings-starting-pitchers
Body:

Opening Day of the 2015 MLB season is less than a month away, which means fantasy baseball is just around the corner. For some leagues, drafts have already begun or will soon begin and Athlon Sports is here to help.

 

Besides providing our comprehensive Fantasy Baseball Big Board, we also have our positional rankings, courtesy of Bruce Herman. These are pulled straight from this year’s 2015 MLB Preview magazine, which is available at newsstands everywhere and for purchase online.

 

Rankings Key

A: FRANCHISE PLAYER — You need one to compete, two to win, three to dominate.

B: CAREER YEAR — Veteran with a strong possibility of delivering his best season.

C: SLEEPER — Could be a great acquisition at a price or draft slot below his true value.

D: ROADBLOCKED — Rank has been lowered because there is no current opportunity to play regularly.

E: DECLINER — Expect moderately to significantly worse stats than in 2014.

F: INJURY RISK — Has had a recent injury that could affect performance.

G: INVESTOR’S SPECIAL — Top prospect whose immediate impact may be minimal.

 

Pitching stats are expressed W-ERA-SO-WHIP.

 

2015 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Starting Pitchers

 

TIER 1

1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (A)

Kershaw is No. 1. Water is wet. Yes, his four-year ERA of 2.11 is the ninth-best of the live-ball era, but consider this: He allowed 18% of his ERs last season in one inning, without which his ERA would have been 1.46 instead of 1.77. SOs/WHIP/wins since 2010: first/first/second.

2. Chris Sale, White Sox (A)

Sale lines up right behind Kershaw in three categories — wins excluded — but now the White Sox are better positioned to supply some runs. In 2014, he made only 26 starts and won just seven of the 15 times he surrendered 0-1 ERs, so he could easily jump from 12 victories to 18.

3. Felix Hernandez, Mariners (A)

Hernandez has shed 3-to-4 mph off his fastball over the years, but he’s made the compulsory transition to the point where his 2014 campaign was his best in ERA, SOs and WHIP. Over his decade of excellence, he tops the majors in whiffs and the AL in ERA.

 

TIER 2

4. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals (A,B)

Strasburg’s 242 SOs move him close to the top tier, but he still has adversarial relationships with the gopher ball and the big inning. It’s easy to imagine him taking the next step, especially if the Nats — who scored three or fewer runs in 15 of his starts — lend a hand.

5. Max Scherzer, Nationals

Scherzer — not Kershaw — has won more games (39, tied with Wainwright) with a higher WIN% (.830) and more SOs (492) than any other pitcher in the game the past two years. He was not as dominant in 2014, though.

6. Johnny Cueto, Reds (A)

Only Kershaw’s ERA is lower than Johnny Beisbol’s 2.48 the last four years. Cueto’s 2014 SO rate of 8.9 per 9 far exceeded anything he’d done before, and he’s won 39 games in his last two full seasons. Durability had been an issue, but he led the NL in batters faced.

7. Madison Bumgarner, Giants (A)

Kershaw, Hernandez and CC Sabathia are the only active pitchers who’ve come close to Bumgarner’s numbers by an age-24 season. As indestructible as he looked in the postseason, how much longer can he throw 1,000-plus high-80s sliders per year out of that slinging, low-slot delivery?

8. Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals (A)

He’s actually more effective than teammate Strasburg, but in roto, the 25% fewer strikeouts are a big deal. A massive bound in SO/BB ratio from 4.0 in 2013 to 6.3 confirmed Zimmermann as having entered the peak phase of his underrated career.

9. David Price, Tigers (A)

Price led the majors with 271 SOs (and in pitches thrown) while walking only 38 batters — not easy to do. He lives in the strike zone so much these days, however, that he’s more hittable than most in the upper echelon of aces. Career ERA away from Tropicana Field is only 3.53.

10. Zack Greinke, Dodgers

Consistency has separated Greinke from the true alpha dogs much of his career, but for the first time, he has put two exceptional across-the-board seasons back-to-back. That includes his MLB-record groove of 22 consecutive starts with two or fewer ERs.

11. Cole Hamels, Phillies

Hamels, whose fate has reached Greek-tragedy depths, desperately needs a trade. Things have gotten so bad in Philly that his nine wins in 2014 were the fewest ever by a pitcher who made at least 30 starts with a sub-2.50 ERA. Since 2008, he’s lost 32 quality starts — most in baseball.

12. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals (E,F)

Wainwright pitched through discomfort the last three months to complete a tremendous season, but October elbow cartilage surgery throws up a yellow flag for a pitcher who’s already had Tommy John. Expect a tempered workload for Waino.

13. Jon Lester, Cubs

After never having posted an ERA below 3.21, Lester hit the free agent jackpot with a 2.46 last year. His 1.102 WHIP also was his best by far. Tossing out 2014 and the 2012 debacle as outliers, his full-season average has been 16-3.42-192-1.252.

14. Corey Kluber, Indians (E)

Never a top prospect, dumped by the Padres in an innocuous 2010 trade and not listed among our top 100 pitchers of 2014, Kluber mustered a miracle: 18-2.44-269-1.095. The only pitchers to match that line in the last quarter-century are Big Unit, Schilling, Clemens and Smoltz.

15. Yu Darvish, Rangers (F)

Darvish’s value is more strikeout-centric than anything else — the pitcher most likely to punch out 300 in a season. His 182 last year were the most ever in a campaign of fewer than 150 IP. He joined the long litany of elbow patients in August, but opted for rehab over surgery. Unfortunately, he could be facing season-ending surgery because of his elbow issues.

 

TIER 3

16. Alex Cobb, Rays

This is a lofty rating for someone who’s never won more than 11 games nor struck out 150 batters, but Cobb needs just to stay healthy (24-start average since 2012) and match his two-year ERA of 2.82 to validate it.

17. Julio Teheran, Braves

This fast-ascending 24-year-old’s 3.03 ERA of 2013-14 was seventh among hurlers with at least 28 wins and 350 SOs — better than such luminaries as Justin Verlander and Lester.

18. Andrew Cashner, Padres (B,C,F)

Something always happens to knock Cashner off the precipice of stardom, from role inconsistency to a lack of run support to physical setbacks. Last year, he went into his final start with the game’s fourth-lowest ERA (2.21) among 100-inning hurlers.

19. Jeff Samardzija, White Sox (B)

One of nine pitchers with an ERA below 3.00 and more than 200 SOs, yet his ledger was a heart-rending 7–13. He’s gone at least seven ER-free innings nine times the last two years — six of which his team lost anyway.

20. Sonny Gray, Athletics

His staying power has been questioned because of his size, but Gray capped 2014 with a 12-SO game, a shutout and a 2.08 ERA in two ALDS starts. He’s not the dominating type, but he is ideal as your No. 2 or 3 starter.

21. Jake Arrieta, Cubs

Among our 2014 “C” sleepers were breakout pitchers Gray, Alex Wood, Garrett Richards, Chris Archer, Wily Peralta, Michael Pineda and — the sleepingest beauty of all — Arrieta. His 2.53 ERA included a 1.46 at Wrigley, and he fanned 9.6 per nine.

22. Alex Wood, Braves

Wood, another hard-luck case, joined Hamels as the only pitchers with a sub-2.80 ERA and 150 or more SOs who lacked a winning record. He presents a bargain opportunity (especially in keeper leagues) before he blows up.

23. Michael Pineda, Yankees

Having taken the ball only 13 times in the last three years, and with his mph nowhere close to where it was as a rookie All-Star in 2011, Pineda isn’t all the way back. Nobody could hit him last year, though — a 1.89 ERA that was lower than anyone’s except Kershaw at his start level.

24. Anibal Sanchez, Tigers

2013 AL ERA champ who was off his game a little last season, then missed 10 starts with a pec injury. At one point he had a two-year streak in which he allowed three or fewer earnies 32 times in a row.

25. Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees (F)

With more emphatic health assurances, Tanaka (scary elbow) would slot high in Tier 2. Had he cloned his first three months over his last three, his season would have been a Cy Young Award-contending 22-2.10-254-0.951.

26. James Shields, Padres

“Small-to-Medium Game James” (career postseason ERA = 5.46) is a dinosaur in his ability to do the heavy lifting without the slightest hint of a physical toll. As such, his nine-year average of 33 starts at 14-3.64-190-1.205 is a secure baseline.

27. Danny Duffy, Royals (B,C)

Duffy was still a nonentity when his ERA peaked at 3.57 at the end of May. It was a stunning 1.93 over his next 18 starts. He’ll perch about halfway in between, but his counting stats won’t be anything great until he stretches out past 5.9 innings per start.

28. Matt Harvey, Mets (F)

The capricious nature of Tommy John “survivors” relegates Harvey to a ranking about 20 spots lower than would have been projected off his career to date: 2.39 ERA, 9.9 SOs/9 IP, 0.985 WHIP. True believers will draft him much higher.

29. Gerrit Cole, Pirates

Tough to get a bead on this presumptive phenom without a full season on his résumé. He tends to pitch consistently well, rarely either dominant or dominated. A 31-start extrapolation on his stats to date is 16-3.45-180-1.191.

30. Gio Gonzalez, Nationals

Seems to be on the downward slope of what has been a bell curve of a career, but he’s only 29 and has a couple of powerhouse seasons behind him. Helps, too, that he’s pitching for a potential championship team.

31. Shelby Miller, Braves

The Rubber Band Man. Partitioning Miller’s career into thirds: 1.98 ERA in his first 20 outings, 4.18 in his next 36, 2.92 in his most recent 13. More hills and valleys ahead, but in the long run, he’s a No. 2.

32. Justin Verlander, Tigers

The easy explanation for Verlander’s ERA inflation (2.40-2.64-3.46-4.54) is that he’s chucked nearly 2,000 more pitches than anyone else since 2007. It may also be the correct one, but it’s too soon to bury a 32-year-old who’s spent much of his career as the best there is.

33. Carlos Carrasco, Indians

Like Duffy, Carrasco went from zero to sexy before anyone noticed. On June 22, he was a middle reliever with a career ERA of 5.12. Suddenly, he was finishing the year on a roll of 10 starts with a 1.30 ERA. We see him more as a “light went on” type than a flash-in-the-pan.

34. Mat Latos, Marlins (F)

Of the 78 pitchers with at least 150 starts who were active in 2014, Latos was among nine with 60 wins, a 3.34 ERA and 850 SOs. Having undergone two elbow procedures in close proximity, his “horse” status has been withdrawn.

35. Doug Fister, Nationals (E)

Fister has improved his victory sum three years in a row, and his 2.41 ERA in 2014 was a yawning departure from his 3.67 of 2013. He’s not your man for punchouts, though — 84th among 88 qualifiers at 5.38 per nine.

36. Garrett Richards, Angels (E,F)

Transited from thrower to pitcher, standing at 13-2.61-164-1.038 prior to wrecking his knee in August. Those numbers are authentic, but he might not be back on the bump until May.

37. Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners (E)

Kuma peaked in mid-August, when his ERA stood at 2.31 over a two-year span of 29 starts. He faltered after that and may not have the durability to remain at the top of his game at age 34. Still a WHIP stud, though.

38. Henderson Alvarez, Marlins

He has a no-hitter and a four-win stretch in which all were shutouts; he’s gone 34 starts while allowing six homers; and last year he threw the fewest pitches per batter (3.38) among qualifiers. Conversely, he posted the highest differential between his actual (2.65) and Component ERAs (3.59), which often portends regression.

39. Michael Wacha, Cardinals (F)

2013 rookie hero who since has endured shoulder woes and a postseason demotion to the bullpen. Assuming the wing holds up, he still has a chance to be fringe-special.

 

40. Yordano Ventura, Royals

41. Drew Smyly, Rays (B,C)

42. Tyson Ross, Padres

43. Chris Archer, Rays

44. Jacob deGrom, Mets

45. Homer Bailey, Reds (F)

46. Zack Wheeler, Mets

47. Lance Lynn, Cardinals (E)

48. Wily Peralta, Brewers

49. Kevin Gausman, Orioles (C)

50. Matt Cain, Giants (F)

51. Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays

52. Jered Weaver, Angels

53. Derek Holland, Rangers

54. Matt Shoemaker, Angels (E)

55. Francisco Liriano, Pirates

56. Jose Quintana, White Sox

57. Chris Tillman, Orioles

58. Kyle Hendricks, Cubs (E)

59. Mike Fiers, Brewers (E)

60. Drew Hutchison, Blue Jays (C)

 

TIER 4

61. Jose Fernandez, Marlins (F)

62. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers (E)

63. Phil Hughes, Twins (E)

64. Collin McHugh, Astros (E)

65. Josh Collmenter, Diamondbacks (C)

66. Wade Miley, Red Sox

67. Mike Minor, Braves (F)

68. Dan Haren, Marlins

69. John Lackey, Cardinals

70. James Paxton, Mariners (C)

71. Dallas Keuchel, Astros (E)

72. Matt Garza, Brewers

73. Ian Kennedy, Padres

74. Rick Porcello, Red Sox

75. Jake Odorizzi, Rays

76. Nathan Eovaldi, Yankees (B,C)

77. Mike Leake, Reds

78. Brandon McCarthy, Dodgers

79. Edinson Volquez, Royals (E)

80. Jorge De La Rosa, Rockies

81. Bud Norris, Orioles

82. Kyle Lohse, Brewers (E)

83. Scott Kazmir, Athletics (E)

84. Jason Hammel, Cubs

85. Ervin Santana, Twins

86. Yovani Gallardo, Rangers

87. Cliff Lee, Phillies (F)

88. Alfredo Simon, Tigers (E)

89. Wei-Yin Chen, Orioles

90. Carlos Martinez, Cardinals (C)

91. Danny Salazar, Indians (C)

92. Jarred Cosart, Marlins

93. Shane Greene, Tigers

94. R.A. Dickey, Blue Jays

95. Trevor Bauer, Indians

96. Drew Pomeranz, Athletics (C)

97. Jonathon Niese, Mets (F)

98. C.J. Wilson, Angels

99. CC Sabathia, Yankees

100. Bartolo Colon, Mets

Teaser:
2015 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Starting Pitchers
Post date: Monday, March 16, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournament-2015-march-madness-bracket-cheat-sheets
Body:

Now that Selection Sunday is over, it's time for March Madness to kick into high gear. It's that time of year when everyone —even your IT guy and Midge in accounting — starts caring about college basketball. Most of the excitement comes from NCAA Tournament bracket games, where anyone can fill out a March Madness bracket in hopes winning cash and bragging rights among friends and co-workers. Of course, the majority of people have no clue which teams to pick.

 

Athlon Sports is here to help you. We put together these handy cheat sheets of bracket picks from three of our college basketball 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 North Florida to win it all.

 

David Fox's Tournament Picks

 

 

Braden Gall's Tournament Picks

 

 

Mitch Light's Tournament Picks

 

Teaser:
NCAA Tournament 2015: March Madness Bracket Cheat Sheets
Post date: Monday, March 16, 2015 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/ranking-nba%E2%80%99s-best-upcoming-free-agents
Body:

25. Lou Williams, Toronto Raptors (Unrestricted)

Lou Williams can be one of the best sixth men in the league for stretches, but there’s a surplus of his type, and he has injury history.

 

24. Rodney Stuckey, Indiana Pacers (Unrestricted)

Stuckey’s a quiet contender for Sixth Man of the Year candidacy with the surging Pacers, and could jump up this list soon. But what he’s doing now isn’t representative of the rest of his career.

 

23. Brandon Knight, Phoenix Suns (Restricted)

Knight’s on the third team of his young career. He was a near All-Star with Milwaukee before being traded, and he has obvious talent. But teams don’t seem to be clamoring for him.

 

22. Reggie Jackson, Detroit Pistons (Restricted)

The Pistons seem ready to lock Jackson up this summer… but why? He’s been a black hole for both Detroit and the Oklahoma City Thunder this year.

 

21. Kostas Koufos, Memphis Grizzlies (Unrestricted)

Koufos is one of the most reliable backup big men in the game, and could likely start elsewhere. Will he flee Memphis — which is loaded down low, with or without him — for more money?

 

20. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs (Unrestricted)

Bat-grabbing Manu is a Hall of Famer, but he’s at the end of his road and is worth far more to the Spurs than he is to anyone else.

 

19. Patrick Beverley, Houston Rockets (Restricted)

In a point-guard-driven league, having a defender like Beverley (who can agitate any of them) is of underrated value.

 

18. Rajon Rondo, Dallas Mavericks (Unrestricted)

Rondo’s sad decline seems to be about both his sinking health and circumstances beyond his control. The NBA is a pace-and-space league with little room left for plodding, ball-dominant, half-court eccentrics like Rajon anymore.

 

17. Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs (Unrestricted)

Green is one of the best “three-and-D” guards around. But how much of his career does he owe to Gregg Popovich’s system?

 

16. Amir Johnson, Toronto Raptors (Unrestricted)

A power forward who’s elite at all the invisible big man tasks imaginable, Johnson could fetch a surprisingly high price tag in July.

 

15. Tyson Chandler, Dallas Mavericks (Unrestricted)

Tyson’s still one of the best defensive centers around. But how much does he have left?

 

14. Omer Asik, New Orleans Pelicans (Unrestricted)

Omer got what he wanted with a starting gig in New Orleans. Will he stick around to keep building chemistry with Anthony Davis?

 

13. Wesley Matthews, Portland Trail Blazers (Unrestricted)

The outstanding Matthews would be much higher on this list, if not for his recent tragic injury, and he could sink down it depending on how well he recovers.

 

12. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors (Restricted)

Green is a polarizing, swaggering utility man who could fit anywhere. But Golden State is likely to match any offer he receives.

 

11. DeMarre Carroll, Atlanta Hawks (Unrestricted)

Aside from Kawhi Leonard, there may be no one better at guarding LeBron James than Carroll, whom the Hawks will probably retain.

 

10. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers (Unrestricted)

Jordan’s dominant second half has him climbing up this rankology very rapidly. He’s making All-Stars look bad these days.

 

9. Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks (Restricted)

Middleton is young, versatile, efficient, and has an invisible personality. Any rebuilding team should be after him, but Milwaukee will probably lock him down and not let them get too close.

 

8. Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks (Unrestricted)

The Hawks’ success has a lot to do with having two great modern big men. Both Al Horford and Millsap can play like wings or post you up all night long. Like Carroll, Millsap is unlikely to leave Georgia.

 

7. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls (Restricted)

The Bulls’ breakout star has one concerning section on his resume — Tom Thibodeau’s crazy minute totals. Aside from that, he’s one of the best shooting guards around, and Chicago should recognize that with a healthy offer.

 

6. Goran Dragic, Miami Heat (Unrestricted)

Dragic is happy to be in Miami, but still plans to test the waters this summer. He’ll get more than one maximum offer sheet.

 

5. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs (Restricted)

Leonard is part of the Spurs’ quiet, dominant compound, through and through. Or is he? The young torch-carrier of the San Antonio dynasty will reveal his fate soon enough.

 

4. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers (Unrestricted)

The Blazers have done a lot to keep Aldridge happy, and he seems content to keep fighting for titles alongside Damian Lillard. But don’t be surprised if he has a flattering dinner or two, with other teams interested in his amazing game.

 

3. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs (Unrestricted)

Duncan is high on this list as a mere honorary formality. He’ll be a free agent this summer, sure, but he’s either retiring or re-signing with the Spurs.

 

2. Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers (Unrestricted)

Kevin Love can’t like being a third wheel in Ohio. He’s good enough to have offenses built around him, and he may go somewhere else this offseason, to experience just that.

 

1. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies (Unrestricted)

Perhaps the best center in the game, Gasol is good enough to be the No. 1 piece for a championship squad. He loves Memphis and probably won’t leave, but the league will surely try to reverse that inevitability.

 

Notes:

Restricted Free Agency means the player’s team can match any salary pitched to him by another team, and retain him.

Unrestricted Free Agency means the player can go wherever he chooses.

 

There is only one free agent player on this list who has a player option for next season — Kevin Love — because players rarely turn down their options.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, March 13, 2015 - 15:01
Path: /mlb/san-francisco-giants-2015-preview-and-prediction
Body:

When it became clear that the Giants wouldn’t catch the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West, they held a team meeting. The message: Just find a way to play baseball in October, and the rest would take care of itself. By this point, who would argue? Under Bruce Bochy, the Giants have met 10 playoff opponents and dispatched every one of them, leading to three World Series parades down Market Street in the last five seasons. Madison Bumgarner overwhelmed the Pittsburgh Pirates in the wild card game and never stopped until the final out of a triumphant Game 7 in Kansas City, posting a 1.03 ERA over 52.2 innings — an all-time record workload in a single postseason. The Giants won’t be favored to repeat, though, in part because of a static offseason in which they lost Pablo Sandoval to the Red Sox and came up short in a bid to sign Jon Lester. That’s OK. They seem to enjoy coming out of nowhere.

 

Rotation

The Giants won titles in 2010 and ’12 on the strength of their starting pitching, but the rotation finished 10th among 15 NL teams with a 3.74 ERA in the ’14 regular season. Aside from Bumgarner, the starters posted just one quality start all postseason. So this is a group that enters the season with some major question marks. Much will hinge on the healthy return of Matt Cain, whose streak of 200-inning seasons ended because of surgery in July to remove bone chips from his elbow. The club re-signed Jake Peavy to a two-year contract, hoping he’ll pitch more like the second-half ace they obtained at the trade deadline and not the 1–9 pitcher they received from Boston. Tim Hudson will turn 40 in July and didn’t have much left after one playoff start. Tim Lincecum, despite being demoted to the bullpen in August, will return in a starting role, with Yusmeiro Petit standing as a safety net. Even Bumgarner comes with concerns after throwing a grand total of 270 innings — the most by a Giant since 1973. Ryan Vogelsong also returned on a one-year, $4 million deal. Insurance for the rotation, he could wind up the long man in the bullpen.

 

Bullpen

Santiago Casilla might be the most underrated closer in baseball. He was 19 for 23 in save chances after taking over duties in midseason when Sergio Romo’s slider lost its signature bite, then was unscored upon in nine postseason appearances. Romo probably would have gone elsewhere as a free agent if the Giants had been able to sign Sandoval or Lester. Instead they had largesse to spread around and brought Romo back on a two-year, $15 million contract. Jeremy Affeldt, when healthy, is a highly valuable piece — a lefty who almost never gives up home runs, can pitch multiple innings, and has the stuff to retire right-handed batters. His streak of 22 consecutive scoreless appearances in the postseason is one away from matching Mariano Rivera’s all-time record. Sidearm lefty Javier Lopez slipped a bit yet still held lefties to a .194 average. Righthander Jean Machi is a workhorse whose splitter is an effective out pitch. Petit, a strike-throwing savant, set a major league record when he retired 46 consecutive batters over eight appearances.

 

Middle Infield

Joe Panik was a lifesaver after his mid-June debut, filling a vacuum at second base after Marco Scutaro’s ailing back limited him to just a token appearance. The line-drive-hitting lefty led all NL rookies in average (.305) and on-base percentage (.343) in 73 games while also playing smooth — and at times spectacular — defense. Panik is an ideal fit in the No. 2 spot with his blend of contact skills and ability to hit behind the runner. Shortstop Brandon Crawford had another season that was greater than the sum of its parts. He finished just short again in his perennial quest to hit .250 (ending at .246) but posted career bests in runs, triples, homers, RBIs and walks — and he hit the grand slam that powered the Giants past Pittsburgh in the wild card game. Although Crawford’s 21 errors ranked as the second most among NL shortstops, he’s a gifted and creative playmaker. If he could just eliminate some of the routine errors, he’d be a Gold Glove candidate.

 

Corners

If not for that ride in another World Series parade, Brandon Belt would have considered his season totally forgettable. He landed on the disabled list three times, once for a broken thumb after getting hit by a pitch in May and then twice for a concussion following a batting practice accident in which he was struck in the face by a thrown ball. Belt ended up hitting .243 with 12 home runs in 61 games, but he finished the regular season free of concussion symptoms, and his home run in the 18th inning in Game 2 of the NLDS at Washington was probably the turning point of the postseason. Casey McGehee was the NL’s Comeback Player of the Year for the Marlins after hitting .287 and finishing fourth in the NL with 177 hits. He doesn’t provide much power and represents a defensive step down from Sandoval.

 

Outfield

Few players are as reliable as Hunter Pence, who has appeared in 383 consecutive games since making his Giants debut in the middle of the 2012 season. Unfortunately, Pence’s consecutive games streak will come to an end due to a broken forearm he sustained when he was hit by a pitch in his first spring training game. The Giants hope to get Pence, who topped 20 homers for the seventh consecutive season and was second in the NL with a career-best 106 runs scored, back in the lineup by late April or early May. Angel Pagan is the antithesis of Pence. He’s a catalyst atop the lineup when healthy, but that’s seldom the case. One year after hamstring surgery limited him to 71 games, Pagan played just 96 games while complaining of a back ailment. Gregor Blanco ended up in the lineup more often than the Giants would like, but he’s a productive on-base guy and a phenomenal defender. Another speedy glove man, Juan Perez, could receive more playing time now that Michael Morse has moved on. The Giants also signed Nori Aoki to a one-year deal. Aoki, who faced the Giants in the World Series when he was with the Royals, will likely take Pence’s spot in the starting lineup while he’s sidelined.

 

Catching

Buster Posey proved once again that he doesn’t need to be an elite offensive player to bring plenty of value to the field. He didn’t have one extra-base hit all postseason but remained a rock for the staff while executing scouting reports to help the Giants pitch their way to a title. Even though a sore back and accumulated innings might have limited his bat in October, Posey remains one of the league’s best pure hitters. His .348 average away from AT&T Park was the highest of all major leaguers on the road. With the emergence of rookie Andrew Susac, Bochy should feel free to keep Posey fresh by giving him more days off or starts at first base. 

 

Bench

Travis Ishikawa became a modern-day Bobby Thomson when he hit a walk-off home run to win the pennant. He returns as a left-handed bat off the bench with the ability to play a serviceable left field and a very good first base. Matt Duffy supplanted Joaquin Arias as the club’s top right-handed pinch-hitter, and there may be room for only one on the bench.

 

Management

Bochy is one of 10 managers in history to win three World Series championships, and the other nine are in the Hall of Fame. Brian Sabean, who took over the Giants baseball operations department after the 1996 season, is the longest-tenured GM in the majors. Although not the most creative when it comes to making trades, Sabean puts his trust in a scouting system that has few peers when it comes to unearthing minor league free agents, breaking down opponents and hitting home runs with top draft picks.

 

Final Analysis

The Giants weren’t able to turn another World Series title into a recruiting advantage on the free-agent market, but their core players (Bumgarner, Posey, Pence, Cain) weren’t going anywhere and still have plenty of prime years left. The bullpen is a strength, but depth remains an issue both in the rotation and lineup. The Giants missed the playoffs as defending champions in 2011 and ’13, and once again, there’s no guarantee they’ll get back to defend — especially if players like Belt and Pagan have trouble staying healthy again.

 

2015 Prediction: 2nd in NL West (Wild Card)

 

Projected Lineup

CF       Angel Pagan (S)      Talented switch-hitter has topped 125 games just twice in his career and is coming off lower back surgery.

2B       Joe Panik (L)            Hit .373 against lefties, joining Willie McCovey and Will Clark as only Giants rookies to hit .300 vs. southpaws.

RF       Hunter Pence (R)    Became first Giant with 700 plate appearances in a season since Brett Butler in 1990.

C         Buster Posey (R)     Started 109 games at catcher, 30 at first base and two as the designated hitter.

1B       Brandon Belt (L)      Joined Dusty Rhodes and Mel Ott as the only Giants to hit an extra-inning homer in the postseason.

3B       Casey McGehee (R)           Returned from a year with Rakuten in Japan to finish fourth in NL with 177 hits for the Marlins.

LF       Gregor Blanco (L)    In 226 total chances, committed just one error — his first since 2012.

SS       Brandon Crawford (L)         His 10 triples were tied for second most in the big leagues behind Dee Gordon.

 

Bench

1B/LF Travis Ishikawa (L)             The Pirates’ Opening Day first baseman ended up becoming an unlikely postseason hero for Giants.

OF       Juan Perez (R)         Hit just .170 while going up and down six times between Giants and Triple-A Fresno.

C         Andrew Susac (R)   Once threw out the Reds’ Billy Hamilton twice in a minor league game.

INF      Joaquin Arias (R)    Hit .305 against lefthanders, so most of his starts should come against southpaws.

OF       Nori Aoki (L) Hit just .071 (1-for14) for Royals against Giants in last year’s World Series.

 

Rotation

LH       Madison Bumgarner           Among all his other talents, he also led the major leagues with nine pickoffs.

RH      Matt Cain       Made 30 starts in eight consecutive seasons before elbow surgery snapped the streak.

RH      Jake Peavy    Posted 1.35 ERA in his last nine outings, the lowest in the majors after Aug. 13.

RH      Tim Hudson             The 16-year veteran leads all active pitchers with 214 victories, but is coming off his first losing season.

RH      Tim Lincecum          Lost spot in the rotation in August after posting 9.49 ERA in his last six starts.

 

Bullpen

RH      Santiago Casilla (Closer) Converted 17 of 18 save chances after taking over closer role in late June.

RH      Sergio Romo            Allowed career-high nine homers and lost closer role at the end of June, but rebounded with strong second half.

RH      Yusmeiro Petit         Was 3–4 with a 5.03 ERA as a starter and 2–1 with a 1.84 ERA in 27 relief appearances.

RH      Jean Machi   Made team-high 71 appearances and had a scoreless streak of 25.1 innings between April 16 and June 21.

RH      George Kontos        Shuttled between Triple-A and the bigs five times, but will be out of minor league options next season.

LH       Javier Lopez             Has allowed just four home runs in 185 innings during his time with the Giants.

LH       Jeremy Affeldt           His 1.10 WHIP in 62 appearances was the lowest of his career.

 

Beyond the Box Score

Mr. October Madison Bumgarner became the fourth pitcher to win both the LCS and World Series MVP awards in a single postseason, joining Orel Hershiser (1988), Livan Hernandez (1997) and Cole Hamels (2008). He also became the first pitcher in history to rack up two wins and a save — in a five-inning relief appearance, no less — in a single World Series. With his four-hit, 10-K performance in the NL Wild Card game at Pittsburgh and a four-hit, eight-strikeout night in Game 5 of the World Series, Bumgarner became the first pitcher since Florida’s Josh Beckett in 2003 to throw multiple shutouts in a postseason.

Granny Bumgarner hit a grand slam April 11 at Colorado and connected again with the bases loaded July 13 at home against Arizona, making him the second pitcher in MLB history to hit two grand slams in one season. Buster Posey also hit a slam July 13, marking the first time in major league history that a pair of batterymates hit grand slams in the same game.

Double no-nos Tim Lincecum no-hit the San Diego Padres for the second consecutive season, this time accomplishing the feat at AT&T Park on June 25. He became just the second pitcher in major league history (joining Addie Joss) to no-hit the same team twice, and joined Sandy Koufax as the only pitchers in history with multiple no-hitters, multiple Cy Young Awards and multiple World Series rings.

Proud papa In 2014, Bruce Bochy became the first manager in major league history to hand the baseball to his son on a big league mound after righthander Brett Bochy joined the roster in September. The Bochys became the eighth father-son manager-player combination in major league history; the previous seven combinations all involved sons who were position players.

Unhittable Yusmeiro Petit set a major league record when he retired 46 consecutive batters over eight appearances (six in relief) from July 22-Aug. 28. He broke the previous record of 45 set by Mark Buehrle, who followed up his perfect game in 2009 with five more perfect innings. Arguably, Petit’s run of perfection was much more difficult because he worked as a spot starter and long man, twice pitching on more than nine days of rest.

 

2014 Top Draft Pick

Tyler Beede, RHP

Before the Giants clinched another World Series title, Beede and his pals stormed the field to celebrate Vanderbilt’s College World Series championship in Omaha. Because of Beede’s heavy workload with the Commodores, he only made six pro starts after signing for a $2.65 million bonus, never working further than the fourth inning. Beede’s college statistics (8–7, 3.20 ERA) don’t reflect his combination of stuff, size and stamina that convinced the Giants that he could move quickly through their system. Beede throws a fastball that averages 92-94 mph and has topped out at 97, although he projects to throw harder when he adds size to his 6'4" frame. The Giants liked his athleticism, arm speed and ability to stay within a clean delivery, even if his 43 walks in 98.1 innings were on the high side.

 

Top 10 Prospects

1. Kyle Crick, RHP (22) Highest-ceiling pitcher in the system was on a 100-pitch limit and only completed six innings four times in 22 starts because of command issues at Double-A Richmond.

2. Christian Arroyo, SS (19) His ticket is his intelligence at the plate and his bat control; a move to second base is probably in his future.

3. Tyler Beede, RHP (21) Giants’ No. 1 pick in 2014 should make a rapid rise. Fastball hits mid-90s, and he boasts a devastating changeup.

4. Keury Mella, RHP (21) Posted 63 strikeouts and just 13 walks in 66 innings at Low-A Augusta, along with a ton of ground-ball outs despite missing some time with shoulder soreness.

5. Steven Okert, LHP (23) Dominated out of the bullpen on two levels, then continued to shine against top prospects in the Arizona Fall League.

6. Daniel Carbonell, OF (24) Gifted athlete signed a guaranteed deal after defecting from Cuba and exceeded expectations both at Single-A San Jose and then in the Arizona Fall League.

7. Adalberto Mejia, LHP (21) Conditioning issues hampered development and a 50-game suspension for using a banned stimulant didn’t help matters.

8. Ty Blach, LHP (24) Smart competitor with a plus changeup in the Tom Glavine mold but won’t be able to get away with mistakes.

9. Clayton Blackburn, RHP (22) Big-bodied strike-thrower had command of four pitches from the day he signed out of high school.

10. Mac Williamson, OF (24) Rare combination of power and on-base skills but missed an important year of development after Tommy John surgery.

Teaser:
San Francisco Giants 2015 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, March 13, 2015 - 12:30
All taxonomy terms: National League, NL West, San Diego Padres, MLB, News
Path: /mlb/san-diego-padres-2015-preview-and-prediction
Body:

It was shaping up to be another ho-hum winter for the Padres when first-year general manager A.J. Preller changed the complexion of the team with a dizzying series of blockbuster trades in just more than a week in mid-December. After eight seasons out of the playoffs, the Padres suddenly have a pulse following the acquisitions of slugging outfielders Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers, All-Star catcher Derek Norris and third baseman Will Middlebrooks. And he didn’t stop there, landing free agent starting pitcher James Shields in February. Preller’s attitude is to win now and win later after pumping up what had been the worst offense in the major leagues and luring one of the top arms on the market. The Padres are finally in position to spend some of the millions of dollars from their local TV deal. The moves will send the player payroll well into the $100 million range. Whether they’re enough to catch the Dodgers and Giants in the NL West remains to be seen, but they at least bring realistic expectations of success to Petco Park.

 

Rotation

Preller was able to swing his big deals without losing the big three in his rotation, Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross and Ian Kennedy, and that was before he brought in Shields. Preller did deal Jesse Hahn, a young righthander who had been penciled into the rotation before being sent to Oakland in the trade for Norris. Even though he was viewed as one of the better pitchers available, Shields was one of the last to sign when he agreed to a four-year, $75 million deal to front the Padres’ rotation. Ross was more than durable in his first full season, going 13–14 with a 2.81 ERA and making the All-Star team. Cashner isn’t as durable, having spent the equivalent of half the season on the disabled list. But when he’s on, he’s hard to hit. Cashner (5–7, 2.55 ERA in 2014) has an active streak of allowing two or fewer earned runs in a franchise-record 18 consecutive starts at home dating back to June 11, 2013. Kennedy was mentioned in several trade rumors during the winter, but the Padres were able to keep him. Kennedy was one of 11 big-league pitchers and one of five National Leaguers in 2014 to log 200 or more innings and strike out 200 or more. Cuban righthander Odrisamer Despaigne won his first two starts before leveling off with a 4–7 record and 3.36 ERA. He will compete with Brandon Morrow for the final spot. Preller signed Morrow, who was never able to stay healthy while he was with the Blue Jays, to a $2.5 million, one-year contract that will allow him to earn up to $8 million if he starts regularly. Waiting in the wings are Casey Kelly and Cory Luebke, still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Luebke had to have a second operation after the first one failed to take. The Padres are also bringing back Josh Johnson, who made $8 million last year but didn’t throw a pitch after sustaining an elbow injury in spring training that required a second career Tommy John surgery.

 

Bullpen

As solid as the rotation is, there’s a pretty good reason why Preller worked to keep his bullpen intact. Padres relievers went 21–15 with 41 saves in 49 opportunities, with a 2.73 ERA. The ERA was second to Seattle’s 2.59 in the majors and was the best mark in team history. Closer Joaquin Benoit was shut down for almost a month late in the season with shoulder discomfort, finishing with 11 saves and a 1.49 ERA. The 37-year-old enters the final year of his $15.5 million, two-year deal. In Benoit’s absence, Kevin Quackenbush stepped into the closer’s role during his first big-league season and gained valuable experience, earning six saves. Overall, Quackenbush was 3–3 with a 2.48 ERA with 56 strikeouts against 18 walks in 56 appearances. He held opponents scoreless in 46 of his 56 appearances. In late December, Preller acquired right-handed setup man Shawn Kelley from the Yankees for a minor leaguer. The Padres also obtained hard-throwing Brandon Maurer from Seattle for outfielder Seth Smith just before the New Year. Maurer was originally a starter for the Mariners last year but was exceptional once he moved to the pen.

 

Middle Infield

The Padres are looking for a bounce-back season from second baseman Jedd Gyorko, who struggled at the plate and with foot injuries after signing a $35 million, six-year deal just weeks into his second full big-league season. He struggled to get his average up to .210 and finished with 10 homers, falling well short of his rookie numbers of .249 and 23 homers. His double-play partner will be either Alexi Amarista or free-agent pickup Clint Barmes, who turns 36 in March. Amarista filled in down the stretch for injured shortstop Everth Cabrera, who was not tendered a contract after the season due in part to off-field drug issues. 

 

Corners

Yangervis Solarte had been penciled in at third base, where he took over after being obtained from the Yankees in the deal for Chase Headley, before Preller traded for Middlebrooks. The Padres are looking for a rebound season by Middlebrooks, who hit 15 homers as a rookie in 2012 and 17 in 2013 before injuries, a .191 average and shuttling up and down from Triple-A led to what he called “a rough year” in 2014. The Padres also need a bounce-back year from first baseman Yonder Alonso, who was limited to only 84 games due to injuries.

 

Outfield

The dynamic of the outfield changed 100 percent in just a matter of days, from an injury-prone group to three stars. Manager Bud Black envisions Upton in left, Myers in center and Kemp in right. All are right-handed hitters, and the hope is they’ll wear out left field at Petco Park. The centerpiece of Preller’s winter revamp is Kemp, who twice made the All-Star team during his time in L.A., as well as winning two Gold Gloves and two Silver Slugger awards. Although Kemp has a history of shoulder and ankle injuries, he had a strong second half in 2014, finishing the season with a .287 average, 25 home runs and 89 RBIs. Myers was the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year with Tampa Bay. A wrist injury limited him to 87 games last year. Upton hit 29 home runs and drove in 102 runs last year. Even after moving Smith, Preller still has a surplus of outfielders, including oft-injured Carlos Quentin, who is owed $8 million this season and has a full no-trade clause, and Cameron Maybin. 

 

Catching

Preller has gone for a total overhaul behind the plate, acquiring Norris from the A’s while dealing Rene Rivera and Yasmani Grandal during his big pre-Christmas shopping spree. Norris set career highs in nearly every offensive category in 2014, including batting average (.270), on-base percentage (.361), runs (46), hits (104), doubles (19), home runs (10), RBIs (55) and walks (54) en route to being named to his first AL All-Star team.

 

Bench

Preller still has some tough decisions to make before settling on a 25-man roster. His crowded outfield includes Quentin and Maybin, both of whom have been limited by injuries. Quentin has a no-trade clause and one year at $8 million remaining on his contract. Maybin still has two years and $15 million left on his deal. Then there’s Will Venable, who struggled with a .224 average. Tim Federowicz, who came over from the Dodgers with Kemp, will be the No. 2 catcher. Barmes and some combination of Solarte, Tommy Medica and Jake Goebbert will comprise the rest of the bench.

 

Management

Preller came in with a reputation of being a hard-working, hard-charging executive, a trait that showed during his remarkable run of trades in December. Ownership is finally loosening the purse strings and spending some of the increased revenues from its local TV contract. One of Preller’s next big decisions will be whether to extend Black, who enters the final year of his contract and has yet to get the Padres into the playoffs during his tenure.

 

Final Analysis

Some people thought the Padres would contend for a wild card spot last year, only to watch them post historically awful offensive numbers in the first half. After Preller’s shopping spree, this might finally be the season when the Padres break through. The NL West is still tough, with the Dodgers’ and Giants’ pitching, but the Padres will at least have a chance.

 

2015 Prediction: 3rd in NL West

 

Projected Lineup

SS       Alexi Amarista (L)    Utility man settled in at shortstop the last month of 2014; now he’ll try to hold position on everyday basis.

CF       Wil Myers (R)            After winning AL Rookie of Year in 2013, was limited to 87 games, six homers, 35 RBIs due to wrist injury.

RF       Matt Kemp (R)          Centerpiece of offseason moves looks to build on strong second half in 2014.

LF       Justin Upton (R)      One of game’s top right-handed power hitters had 29 homers, 102 RBIs last season with Atlanta.

C         Derek Norris (R)      Padres like 26-year-old All-Star’s offense: 10 home runs and 55 RBIs in 127 games last year.

1B       Yonder Alonso (L)   Hand, forearm injuries limited him to 84 games, fewest in three seasons with the Padres.

2B       Jedd Gyorko (R)       Struggled mightily after signing big deal; Padres hope he can return to form of his rookie year.

3B       Will Middlebrooks (R)         Hit 32 homers his first two big-league seasons combined before dropping off to two last year.

 

Bench

OF       Carlos Quentin (R)  Padres are handcuffed by his no-trade clause and perennially troublesome knees.

SS       Clint Barmes (R)     Played in only 48 games in 2014 with 102 at-bats, hitting .245 with seven RBIs. Will be 36 on Opening Day.

3B       Yangervis Solarte (S)          Played in 56 games after coming over from Yankees in Chase Headley deal.

C         Tim Federowicz (R)       Came over from Dodgers in Kemp deal; played parts of four big-league seasons with L.A.

OF       Will Venable (L)       One of many Padres who slumped in 2014; .224 average was 44 points below his career-best set in 2013.

 

Rotation

RH      James Shields        New ace has posted eight straight seasons of 200 or more innings, making 264 starts for Rays then Royals during this span.

RH      Andrew Cashner     Hard-throwing, injury-prone former first-round pick of the Cubs had a 2.55 ERA, 1.127 WHIP in 2014.

RH      Tyson Ross  First-time All-Star threw 195.2 innings in 31 starts, struck out 195 and went 13–14 with a 2.81 ERA.

RH      Ian Kennedy Workhorse was 13–13 with a 3.63 ERA and 207 strikeouts against 70 walks.

RH      Brandon Morrow      Free-agent pickup signed $2.5 million, one-year contract that jumps to $8 million if he starts regularly.

 

Bullpen

RH      Joaquin Benoit (Closer)     Was limited to 11 saves in 53 appearances due to shoulder discomfort in first season in San Diego.

RH      Kevin Quackenbush           Fan favorite went 3–3 with six saves, 2.48 ERA in 56 appearances as a rookie.

RH      Dale Thayer  Set career-bests with four wins, 2.34 ERA, 65.1 innings and 70 appearances.

RH      Nick Vincent Had career-best 25-game, 23.1-inning scoreless streak from July 23 to Sept. 12.

LH       Alex Torres    Stranded 39 of his 44 inherited runners (88.6 percent), tied for the fourth-best rate in MLB.

RH      Shawn Kelley           Went 3–6 with four saves and a 4.53 ERA in 59 appearances as setup man for Yankees in 2014.

RH      Odrisamer Despaigne       Cuban defector had fast start to rookie season that ended with 4–7 record, 3.36 ERA, 65 strikeouts. Will compete with Morrow for final rotation spot.

 

Beyond the Box Score

All-Star Game In January, the Padres were announced as the hosts of the 2016 All-Star Game, one of Bud Selig’s final acts before handing over the commissioner’s office to Rob Manfred. The City Council has approved spending a maximum $1.5 million for police officers, firefighters and other services during the game and five days of related events. The city expects a total economic impact of $80 million. San Diego hasn’t hosted an All-Star Game since 1992.

Padres in HD The Padres are spending more than $10 million to install a high-definition video board in left field. At 61 feet tall by 123 feet wide, it will be the third largest in MLB and the biggest in the National League. It will be nearly five times the size of the old video screen, which has been in place since Petco Park opened in 2004.

Sir Paul at Petco The Padres were able to lure Paul McCartney to play their downtown ballpark on Sept. 28, the third California stadium the former Beatle played on his “Out There” tour. One problem, though: McCartney gave a shout-out to the Chargers, who won their game earlier that day, but he didn’t give any props to the host team. That’s OK — in November 2005, Mick Jagger gave David Wells a shout-out during a Rolling Stones concert at Petco.

A Sinatra man Matt Kemp drew chuckles at his introductory news conference when he called Preller “a GM rock star right now” because of all the big deals he was making. Later, Preller, a native New Yorker, said he listens to Frank Sinatra most mornings, “but I don’t know if that characterizes me as a rock star.”

Job security issue New hitting coach Mark Kotsay, who retired following the 2013 season, isn’t swayed by the fact that the previous six Padres hitting coaches were either fired or resigned before they could be dismissed. “It’s a difficult task. It’s a role that in some regards is not necessarily rewarding,” he says. “Being recently retired … my connection to the game and the players that I’m going to be leading is very close, very new, very fresh. I think that I will have an understanding of what they’re going through as players, based on my career, and the different roles that I played as an offensive player on different teams, the successes, the failures.”

 

2014 Top Draft Pick

Michael Gettys, OF

Gettys was the Padres’ second-round pick, selected behind shortstop Trea Turner, the PTBNL dealt to Washington as part of the 11-player, three-team trade that brought Wil Myers to the Padres. Although Gettys, from Gainesville (Ga.) High School, is a potential five-tool player, concerns about his hitting caused him to drop into the second round. Gettys’ first pro season, in the Arizona Rookie League, played out as expected. He was touted as having speed and raw power, and that he would struggle to make consistent contact. He hit .310 in 213 at-bats, with 66 strikeouts and only 15 walks. Still, he has a strong arm, and the Padres hope he can make a rapid climb.

 

Top 10 Prospects

1. Hunter Renfroe, OF (23) Former Mississippi State star made a quick jump from Single-A to Double-A, where he hit .232 with five homers, 23 RBIs in 60 games. Has raw power and strong arm.

2. Austin Hedges, C (22) Is considered the best defensive catcher in the minor leagues, but his bat is still catching up. He hit .225 with six homers and 44 RBIs at Double-A San Antonio in 2014.

3. Matt Wisler, RHP (22) Made quick jump from Double-A San Antonio to Triple-A El Paso, where he went 9–5 in 22 starts with a 5.01 ERA. Will continue to develop in AAA.

4. Rymer Liriano, OF (23) Played 38 games in first big-league stint. Showed off his raw power by homering into the top deck of the brick warehouse in left field corner of Petco Park. 

5. Michael Gettys, OF (19) Second-round pick out of high school hit .310 with three homers, 38 RBIs in 52 games in rookie league.

6. Jose Rondon, SS (21)  Hit .319 in two stops in High-A ball and should open season with Double-A San Antonio.

7. Zech Lemond, RHP (22) Third-round draft pick in 2014 bounced back from elbow inflammation in final season at Rice to go 2–3 with a 3.43 ERA combined at Single-A Eugene and Double-A San Antonio.

8. Tayron Guerrero, RHP (24) Intriguing, slow-developing 6'7" prospect was added to 40-man roster to protect him from Rule 5 draft; posted 1.45 ERA between Low-A and High-A in 2014.

9. Justin Hancock, RHP (24)  Was not put on 40-man roster after going 3–2 with a 4.12 ERA in 12 starts plus one relief appearance for Double-A San Antonio. Had 6.19 ERA in the Arizona Fall League.

10. Ryan Butler, RHP (23) Seventh-round draft pick last June was 1–1 with a 2.76 ERA in 23 games combined between Low-A and High-A.

Teaser:
San Diego Padres 2015 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, March 13, 2015 - 12:00
Path: /mlb/los-angeles-dodgers-2015-preview-and-prediction
Body:

The Dodgers are hoping to find out what happens when ‘Moneyball’ gets big money.

 

Two years of record payrolls and high-profile acquisitions did just what they were supposed to do — regain credibility for the franchise after the dark days of the McCourt era and garner a massive new TV rights deal. It did not, however, produce postseason success or a return to the World Series for the first time since 1988.

 

So Phase 2 of the Guggenheim ownership group’s master plan kicked in when the Dodgers stole Andrew Friedman from the Tampa Bay Rays to be the new president of baseball operations. A new decision-making hierarchy of Friedman, GM Farhan Zaidi (from Oakland) and senior vice president of baseball operations Josh Byrnes (Arizona, San Diego) brings small-market discipline and sophisticated analytical techniques to the big-market Dodgers.

 

The result was unprecedented roster churn for a two-time division champion and 94-win team — and hopefully a more sustainable model for long-term success.

 

Rotation

A disappointing playoff performance against the Cardinals was the only blemish on one of the greatest seasons any pitcher has had in recent years. Clayton Kershaw became the first National League pitcher since Bob Gibson in 1968 to win both the Cy Young and MVP awards. Kershaw spotted the rest of the league a five-week head start (spending time on the DL for the first time in his career) and still led the majors with 21 wins. He also led MLB in ERA (1.77) — for an unprecedented fourth consecutive season — winning percentage (.875), complete games (six) and WHIP (0.86) and led the NL in strikeout-to-walk ratio (7.71). Zack Greinke returns as possibly the best No. 2 starter in baseball. But the Dodgers are crossing their fingers on the rest of the rotation. Nagging injuries limited Hyun-Jin Ryu to 152 innings — 40 fewer than in 2013, his first season with the team. Brandon McCarthy was signed to a four-year, $48 million contract as a free agent despite a history of shoulder problems. And Brett Anderson was also signed despite a litany of injury problems that limited him to barely 200 innings over the past four years. There is not much depth beyond that group, but the potential upside is strong if the Dodgers’ trainers can hold them together. Former Atlanta righty Brandon Beachy in February, but he’s recovering from a second Tommy John surgery and won’t be ready to return to the mound until around the All-Star break at the earliest.

 

Bullpen

Former GM Ned Colletti spent big in assembling the Dodgers’ 2014 bullpen. That’s the main reason he is a former GM. The relief corps was supposed to be a strength of the Dodgers last season, but it underperformed thoroughly and instead became an Achilles heel —particularly in the Division Series loss to the Cardinals. So Friedman tore it apart and rebuilt it in the winter. Closer Kenley Jansen and lefthander J.P. Howell survived the purge. Joel Peralta, Chris Hatcher and Juan Nicasio were all acquired in trades and will pitch key innings in 2015 (though Nicasio is also a candidate to flesh out the rotation if needed). The reconfigured bullpen will be tested early, as Jansen could miss as many as the first five weeks of the season after undergoing foot surgery in the middle of February. Peralta or Howell figure to see the save chances while Jansen is sidelined.

 

Middle Infield

The middle of the diamond was Ground Zero for the offseason makeover. Oft-injured shortstop Hanley Ramirez had become a moody annoyance in the clubhouse and a defensive liability on the field. He was allowed to leave as a free agent. Second baseman Dee Gordon had been an All-Star in his first season at a new position but was coveted by the Marlins and dealt in an seven-player trade. In their place, the Dodgers acquired Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick. Even at age 36, Rollins is a huge upgrade defensively over Ramirez. Under contract for just one more year, Rollins is keeping the position warm for top prospect Corey Seager. Kendrick will be counted on to replace some of the right-handed offensive production lost when Matt Kemp was traded away. But primarily, Rollins and Kendrick will improve the infield defense behind a ground ball-oriented pitching staff.

 

Corners

Adrian Gonzalez and Juan Uribe survived the winter makeover and will anchor the infield. Both fit the new profile of a lineup more balanced towards defense. Gonzalez led the majors in RBIs (116), won his fourth Gold Glove and second Silver Slugger Award in 2014. He figures to be an even more critical piece of the Dodgers’ foundation with the departures of Ramirez and Kemp. Uribe, meanwhile, continued his late-career renaissance, providing above-average defense at third base and a revitalized bat (he hit a career-high .311 last year). But don’t get used to this infield. The four starters average nearly 34 years old, and only Gonzalez is signed beyond this season — setting up another busy offseason project for next winter.

 

Outfield

One of the first things on Friedman’s ‘to-do’ list when he took over the Dodgers was to clear out the outfield logjam that had made the team’s roster unbalanced and dysfunctional for two years. He did that in a big way — but not the expected way — by trading Matt Kemp to the Padres in a five-player deal. After two years of injuries, Kemp regained his form in the second half of the 2014 season and was one of the most productive hitters in the National League. That offensive production will be difficult to replace. But dealing Kemp cleared a path to the big leagues for blue-chip prospect Joc Pederson and allowed the Dodgers to settle into a more appropriate defensive alignment in the outfield — like Ramirez, Kemp was among the worst defenders at his position in the National League last season. Pederson will step in as the everyday center fielder. Yasiel Puig will move back to right field, and left field will be manned primarily by Carl Crawford. Scott Van Slyke is available to platoon against left-handed pitching (he had a 1.045 OPS against lefties last season).

 

Catching

Dodgers catchers were last or next to last in nearly every offensive statistic last season, and their defensive work was fairly unimpressive as well. A.J. Ellis is back on the strength of his relationship with the Dodgers’ pitchers (particularly Kershaw) and the hope that leg injuries were at the root of his offensive failings. But he will be in a secondary role with Yasmani Grandal (acquired in the Kemp trade) the lead catcher. Grandal hit 15 home runs for the Padres last season and had an .863 OPS in 60 games as a rookie in 2012. But he comes with a red flag: Since a 50-game suspension for testosterone use in 2013, he has been a .224 hitter with a .721 OPS and a rising strikeout rate.

 

Bench

Van Slyke and Justin Turner were two of the most productive bench players in the NL last season. Van Slyke hammered left-handed pitching, and Turner hammered just about everyone. Turner hit a ridiculous .419 (26-for-62) with runners in scoring position, driving in 33 runs in those situations. With those two in place, the Dodgers will sort through infielders Darwin Barney and Alex Guerrero, as well as their outfield surplus, to fill out the bench.

 

Management

Some observers have tabbed the Dodgers’ new front office executives as a ‘Dream Team.’ They certainly hit the ground running in remaking the organization. The mandate is to win now while bringing the payroll into a more manageable range and building a prospect pipeline that will sustain the franchise. It won’t be an easy balancing act. Manager Don Mattingly has earned respect for his handling of a clubhouse loaded with big paychecks and big egos. But the decision-makers will no doubt use 2015 to evaluate whether he is their man long term.

 

Final Analysis

The Dodgers spent nearly a half-billion dollars in salaries over the past two seasons and couldn’t get back to the World Series for the first time since 1988. Tearing apart a 94-win roster was an unexpected turn, but the Dodgers emerged as a much better defensive team and one still built on an exceptional pitching staff that should make them the favorite in the National League West once again. Whether the new approach works any better in October remains to be seen.

 

2015 Prediction: 1st in NL West

 

Projected Lineup

SS       Jimmy Rollins (S)    One of only four players in baseball last year with at least 15 home runs and 25 stolen bases.

LF       Carl Crawford (L)     Emerged from Dodgers’ outfield time-share to hit .403 over his final 44 games last year.

RF       Yasiel Puig (R)         11 HRs in first 48 games but none in next 32 games and only five in final 100 games of season.

1B       Adrian Gonzalez (L) Only two players have had 100 RBIs in seven of the past eight seasons — Miguel Cabrera and Gonzalez.

2B       Howie Kendrick (R) Hit just seven HRs with Angels last year, but Dodgers believe his swing is suited for Dodger Stadium.

C         Yasmani Grandal (S)          Career .225 hitter as a right-handed batter, the switch-hitter figures to share catching starts with A.J. Ellis.

3B       Juan Uribe (R)         Veteran was made “manager for a day” by Don Mattingly on last day of regular season — a 10–5 win.

CF       Joc Pederson (L)     Matt Kemp trade paved way for Pederson, who had first 30-30 season in Pacific Coast League since 1934.

 

Bench

OF       Scott Van Slyke (R) Death to lefthanders — 1.045 OPS, 18 extra-base hits (including eight HRs) in 108 ABs against lefties in ‘14.

INF      Justin Turner (R)     His .388 average, 1.025 OPS after the All-Star break were tops in baseball (min. 70 at-bats).

C         A.J. Ellis (R)  Relationship with Dodgers pitchers (Kershaw in particular) might have saved him from roster churn.

INF      Alex Guerrero (R)     Contract says he has to be on big-league roster this year, but Dodgers have to find a position for him.

INF      Darwin Barney (R)   Last spot on the bench could be a free-for-all among Barney and the last outfiielder standing.

 

Rotation

LH       Clayton Kershaw     Madison Bumgarner stole his thunder, but Kershaw has three Cy Youngs and an MVP in past four seasons.

RH      Zack Greinke            Opt-out clause in Greinke’s contract could make this his last year in Dodger blue — if he wants to leave.

LH       Hyun-Jin Ryu            Nagging injuries, including recurring sore shoulder, limited him to 40 fewer innings in second season.

RH      Brandon McCarthy   Dodgers believe he has begun a new chapter in his career thanks to stronger shoulder, increased velocity.

LH       Brett Anderson         Dodgers are taking a gamble on oft-injured lefthander who hasn’t pitched 45 innings in a season since 2011.

 

Bullpen

RH      Kenley Jansen (Closer)     Converted 44 of 49 saves last year to become only fourth Dodgers pitcher with a 40-save season. Will miss up to the first five weeks of the season after undergoing foot surgery in February.

RH      Joel Peralta  38-year-old was one of most reliable relievers in AL over past four years with Rays.

LH       J.P. Howell    Pitched up to expectations in the first half but struggled down the stretch (11.81 ERA in September).

RH      Brandon League     Hasn’t lived up to his contract extension but was a useful piece of last year’s disappointing bullpen.

RH      Juan Nicasio            Might have found his true calling in move to bullpen with Rockies last year.

RH      Chris Hatcher           Converted catcher acquired in big trade with Marlins gives Dodgers a power arm to deploy in late innings.

LH       Adam Liberatore      Minor league success vs. lefties could give him leg up on others for a bullpen spot.

 

Beyond the Box Score

Quick stay The roster churn that followed Andrew Friedman’s hiring was so thorough that he acquired five players in a six-week span who weren’t around long enough to wear a Dodgers uniform. Lefthander Andrew Heaney, righthander Zach Eflin and outfielder Matt Long were acquired in trades then flipped to a third team in another trade. Catcher Ryan Lavarnway and infielder Ryan Jackson were acquired in waiver claims; Lavarnway was later designated for assignment to clear a roster spot and Jackson was traded to Kansas City for cash. Heaney made light of the tumultuous day that saw him go from the Marlins to the Dodgers to the Angels, posting on Twitter: “Well, Dodgers we had a good run! Great to be a part of such a storied franchise. #thanksforthememories

Legend Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully will return for his 66th season as the Dodgers’ play-by-play broadcaster in 2015. Scully (who turned 87 in November) has cut back his travel schedule considerably over the years (he broadcasts road games in California and Arizona only) but agreed to another one-year contract for the 2015 season. “Naturally, there will come a time when I will have to say goodbye,” Scully said in announcing his decision to return. “But I’ve soul-searched and this is not the time.”

No-no With no-hitters by Josh Beckett in May and Clayton Kershaw in June, the Dodgers ran their major league-high total of no-hitters to 22. But the Dodgers weren’t just doubling up on no-hitters at the big-league level in 2014. On Aug. 28, two of the Dodgers’ minor league affiliates threw no-hitters. Righthander Andres Santiago threw a no-hitter for Double-A Chattanooga, and four pitchers for the Dodgers’ team in the Arizona Summer League combined for a no-hitter.

Experience  With the hiring of Friedman as president of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi as GM and Josh Byrnes as senior vice president of baseball operations, the Dodgers enter 2015 with six former or current general managers in their front office — Friedman (Tampa Bay), Byrnes (San Diego and Arizona), Zaidi, senior advisor Ned Colletti (Dodgers), special advisor to the GM Gerry Hunsicker (Houston and Tampa Bay) and special advisor to the chairman Tommy Lasorda, who was the Dodgers’ interim GM in 1998.

 

2014 Top Draft Pick

Grant Holmes, RHP

Scouting director Logan White’s last first-round pick for the Dodgers — he took a job in the Padres’ front office this winter — fit the profile; it was the 11th time in the past 12 years the Dodgers had taken a pitcher with their first pick. White described Holmes, a big righthander from Conway, S.C., as “an advanced high school pitcher” with a good fastball and a power breaking ball rated among the best in last year’s draft class. Holmes, taken No. 22 overall, struck out five batters in two innings in his pro debut in the Arizona Summer League and was quickly moved to rookie-level Ogden. In 11 appearances at the two levels, he struck out 58 in 48.1 innings.

 

Top 10 Prospects

1. Corey Seager, SS (20) The Dodgers targeted 36-year-old Jimmy Rollins as Hanley Ramirez’s replacement at shortstop so that they wouldn’t block blue-chipper Seager’s imminent arrival.

2. Joc Pederson, OF (22) Got a taste of the big leagues as a September call-up last year and struggled but will get every chance to be Dodgers’ Opening Day starter in center field.

3. Julio Urias, LHP (18) The Dodgers are handling their precocious pitching prospect with kid gloves, limiting his pitch counts and innings. But he could arrive in the big leagues before age 20.

4. Grant Holmes, RHP (19) A high-90s fastball and a power breaking ball could allow Holmes to move quickly through the Dodgers’ system.

5. Joe Wieland, RHP (25) Acquired from the Padres in the Matt Kemp trade, Wieland got his feet wet in big leagues last year and could be first starter called if the Dodgers’ have health issues in their rotation.

6. Scott Schebler, OF (24) Schebler has continued to hit as he has risen through the Dodgers’ system — including a .310 average that put him on the Arizona Fall League’s Top Prospects team.

7. Chris Anderson, RHP (22) The Dodgers’ top pick in 2013 (18th overall), Anderson took his lumps in the hitter-oriented California League.

8.  Darnell Sweeney, 2B (24) Sweeney was on that Top Prospects team with Schebler after following up a .288 season in Double-A with a .316 average in the Arizona Fall League.

9. Austin Barnes, C (25) Barnes has a .298 average in the minors while moving between catcher, second and third base.

10. Zach Lee, RHP (23) Was lured away from playing QB at LSU, but his development has been slow (a 5.38 ERA at Triple-A Albuquerque last year).

 

— Written by Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) for Athlon Sports' 2015 MLB Preview magazine. Plunkett covers baseball for the Orange County Register.

Teaser:
Los Angeles Dodgers 2015 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, March 13, 2015 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: Colorado Rockies, National League, NL West, MLB, News
Path: /mlb/colorado-rockies-2015-preview-and-prediction
Body:

The Rockies endured their fourth straight losing season. Their 96 defeats were eight more than in 2013 and two shy of the franchise record. A regime change resulted. General manager Dan O’Dowd turned down a contract extension and resigned. So did assistant general manager Bill Geivett when he found out he wasn’t going to be O’Dowd’s replacement. Instead, Jeff Bridich was promoted to GM after three years as player development director and 10 seasons in the organization.

 

The only NL West club never to win the division, the Rockies were two games out of first place and six games above .500 on May 20. A slew of injuries followed, and they lost 76 of their final 116 games. Worse, their historic troubles on the road turned into epic failure last season. The Rockies’ 21–60 road record was the worst in franchise history. They lost 39 of their final 45 road games, including 30 of 35 after the All-Star break.

 

Offensively, the Rockies should be fine, if they can stay reasonably healthy. That wasn’t the case last year when core players Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Nolan Arenado and Michael Cuddyer, who departed as a free agent, missed substantial time.

 

Pitching is another matter. The Rockies were last in the majors with a 4.84 ERA. And the ERAs of their starters (4.89) and relievers (4.79) were the highest in the NL. Improving the rotation and the bullpen became the offseason priority.

 

Rotation

Four of the five projected starters last season were sidelined for lengthy stretches with injuries — Tyler Chatwood, Jhoulys Chacin, Brett Anderson and Jordan Lyles. The Rockies dipped into the minors, used a host of retreads and ended up tying a club record by having 15 pitchers start at least one game. Jorge De La Rosa thrives at Coors Field, where he’s 45–14 with a 3.98 ERA in 81 games (76 starts) but is ordinary on the road. Chacin made just 11 starts, the last on June 28. He was diagnosed with a strained right rotator cuff but avoided surgery. Chacin, who can be a free agent after this season, could provide a huge boost if he can give the rotation a second dependable starter at the front end. Lyles was able to develop an effective changeup during his two-month absence, brought on by a broken bone in his left (non-pitching) hand. His command can be erratic, but he has room for growth. Lefthander Tyler Matzek made his major league debut on June 11 and ended up giving the Rockies 19 starts and 117.2 innings. Prospects Eddie Butler, Jon Gray and lefthander Tyler Anderson are close to the majors. The Rockies need one of them to contribute this season at the big-league level.

 

Bullpen

Closer LaTroy Hawkins, 42, consistently throws strikes, doesn’t rattle and can hold down the ninth inning. Lefthander Rex Brothers entered 2014 as the Rockies’ closer of the future but regressed badly, posting an 8.31 ERA in 28 games after the All-Star break. Getting Brothers back to his 2013 form — when he had a 1.74 ERA in 72 games — is a priority. Veteran lefthander Boone Logan signed a three-year, $16.5 million contract as a free agent in December 2013, the largest deal the Rockies have ever given a reliever, despite the fact that he was coming off arthroscopic elbow surgery. A healthy and effective Logan would take some of the burden off Brothers. Adam Ottavino throws hard and throws. He has become a dependable setup man and could close if Hawkins falters.  Colorado also added to its supply of relief arms with a January trade for David Hale and Gus Schlosser from Atlanta and signing former closer Rafael Betancourt and John Axford to minor-league deals. If anything, these additions could help create competition during spring training.

 

Middle Infield

Tulowitzki can impact the game on both offense and defense. But staying on the field has been a problem. He played just 91 games last year before undergoing labrum repair surgery on his left hip but still hit 21 home runs and finished with a .340 average and a 1.035 OPS. In eight full seasons in the majors, Tulowitzki has played 150 or more games only twice, and in the past three seasons, he has played in just 264 games. Second baseman DJ LeMahieu won his first Gold Glove last season and along with Tulowitzki gives the Rockies solid defense up the middle. LeMahieu, who typically bats eighth, has little power but makes steady contact. 

 

Corners

Arenado, one of the game’s top defensive third basemen, can make spectacular plays in any direction. Last year, he became the fifth player to win a Gold Glove in each of his first two seasons in the majors. He missed 37 games starting in late May due to a fracture in his left finger and missed the final two weeks of the season due to pneumonia. In between, he set a franchise record with a 28-game hitting streak. First baseman Justin Morneau revived his career last season, hitting .319 to win the National League batting title and adding 17 homers and a team-leading 82 RBIs. He catches what he can reach, made just four errors and saved his fellow infielders countless miscues by picking low throws out of the dirt. Signed to a two-year, $12.5 million contract as a free agent after the 2013 season, Morneau offers veteran presence and professionalism.

 

Outfield

Left fielder Corey Dickerson, an improved but below-average defender, has a live bat and plays with notable hustle and energy. He hit .312 with 76 RBIs and led the team last year in homers (24) and extra-base hits (57). Center fielder Charlie Blackmon, who can play all three outfield positions, hit .288 with 82 runs scored, 19 homers and 72 RBIs. He set a franchise record with five leadoff homers and led all big-league hitters with 69 RBIs from the leadoff spot. Gonzalez, a very gifted two-way player when healthy, was slowed by knee and finger injuries and finished with a career-low 70 games played, just 15 in the second half.

 

Catching

Nick Hundley will be a much-needed defensive upgrade over Wilin Rosario for the Rockies, whose pitchers will benefit from Hundley’s pitch-framing, receiving and game-calling skills. He won’t be counted on for offense but will benefit from playing at Coors Field. At hitter-friendly Camden Yards last year, Hundley hit .278 with three homers and 14 RBIs in 25 games.

 

Bench

Signing free agent Daniel Descalso to a two-year, $3.6 million contract was an under-the-radar move that will pay significant dividends. He’s a left-handed hitter who can play shortstop, second base and third base  — positions where the regulars bat right-handed — and he brings a winning pedigree from the Cardinals. Catcher Michael McKenry is a capable backup who works well with pitchers and is an adept receiver. Infielder Charlie Culberson is a reliable defender who adds little on offense. Outfielder Drew Stubbs strikes out more than once every three at-bats but has power (15 homers in 388 at-bats) and speed (20-for-23 in stolen bases) and is reliable in center field. Outfielder Brandon Barnes led the majors in pinch hits last year, going 17-for-61 (.279) in that role.

 

Management

Bridich resisted any urge to move quickly and revamp the roster, holding to the belief that the Rockies were a good team early last season when healthy. That said, Bridich will listen to offers for often-injured stars Tulowitzki and Gonzalez. The latter is owed $53 million over the next three seasons, while Tulowitzki has $118 million guaranteed in a contract that runs through 2020 with a buyout the following year. Manager Walt Weiss has a bigger voice in personnel decisions than he did under O’Dowd and Geivett.

 

Final Analysis

To have any chance to contend, the Rockies must hold their own and play close to .500 on the road and dominate at Coors Field, winning at least 50 games at home. If this pattern is going to unfold in 2015, the Rockies are going to have to pitch much better than they did last season. It will take a handful of career years and/or significant contributions from young pitchers for the Rockies to make the leap to contender status.

 

2015 Prediction: 5th in NL West

 

Projected Lineup

CF       Charlie Blackmon (L)         His 28 stolen bases were the most by a Rockie since Matt Holliday (28) and Willy Taveras (68) in 2008.

3B       Nolan Arenado (R)  His club-record 28-game hitting streak was longest in the majors last year.

RF       Carlos Gonzalez (L)            Had surgery to remove benign tumor from left index finger June 10 and to repair left knee patella tear Aug. 18.

SS       Troy Tulowitzki (R)   Tied for NL lead in home runs (21) at All-Star break and led in average (.345) and OPS (1.048).

1B       Justin Morneau (L)  Hit .327 with .363 OBP and .515 slugging percentage at Coors Field and .309/.364/.475 on the road.

LF       Corey Dickerson (L)            In 200 career games, has 80 extra-base hits — 40 doubles, 11 triples and 29 homers — in 630 at-bats.

C         Nick Hundley (R)     Newcomer is very familiar with NL West after spending most of the past seven seasons with the Padres.

2B       DJ LeMahieu (R)     Led all NL second basemen in total chances (5.16), assists per nine innings (3.15) and double plays (99).

 

Bench

INF      Daniel Descalso (L)           Has fared better against LHP — .262 career average and .364 last year — than righthanders (.238/.211).

C         Michael McKenry (R)           Pitchers had 4.19 ERA in 406 innings with McKenry and 5.18 ERA in 824 innings with Wilin Rosario.

OF       Drew Stubbs (R)      Set career highs in batting (.289), on-base percentage (.339), slugging percentage (.482) and OPS (.821).

OF       Brandon Barnes (R)           Had 100 strikeouts in 292 at-bats and hit just .182 (12-for-66) with runners in scoring position.

INF      Charlie Culberson (R)        Made just one error at both shortstop, where he played 135.2 innings, and second base (129).

 

Rotation

LH       Jorge De La Rosa   Went 10–2 with 3.08 in 15 starts at hitter-friendly Coors Field, holding opponents to .228 average.

RH      Jhoulys Chacin        Rotator cuff strain limited him to 63.1 innings in 11 starts, the last on June 28.

LH       Tyler Matzek  Fourth Rockies rookie pitcher to throw a complete game shutout and first since 2001.

RH      Jordan Lyles Missed 54 games after suffering broken bone in left hand on June 4 in a tag play while covering home plate.

RH      Eddie Butler  Went 1–1 with 6.75 ERA in three starts for the Rockies; lefthanders batted .423 (11-for-26) with 1.310 OPS.

 

Bullpen

RH      LaTroy Hawkins (Closer)   Went 23 for 26 in save situations, pitched in 57 games and ranks 16th all-time with 1,000 appearances.

RH      Adam Ottavino          Held right-handed hitters to .238 average and .645 OPS in 172 AB, but lefties hit .347 with .943 OPS in 75 AB.

LH       Boone Logan           Was on disabled list four times, three with elbow soreness that led to Sept. 11 surgery.

LH       Rex Brothers            Left-handed batters hit .309 with four home runs and a .908 OPS against him in 97 at-bats.

RH      Jairo Diaz      Averaged 11.8 Ks and 2.8 walks per nine innings in 56 games combined at High-A and Double-A.

RH      Brooks Brown          Former first-round pick limited first batters he faced to an average of .115.

RH      Tommy Kahnle        Averaged 4.1 walks per nine innings but averaged 8.3 Ks per nine and held opposing batters to .206 average.

 

Beyond the Box Score

Non-Coors factor The Rockies scored a franchise-worst 255 runs on the road, the fewest in the majors, and batted .228. Only the 2010 Rockies had a lower average (.226) on the road.

Home cooking Jorge De La Rosa went 10–2 with a 3.08 ERA in 15 starts last year at Coors Field, giving him a 45–14 (.763) record at home in 79 games, 75 starts, since joining the Rockies’ rotation in 2008. The 45 wins and .763 winning percentage are franchise bests, and De La Rosa’s home winning percentage since 2008 is second in the majors only to Zack Greinke’s .782 percentage (61–17).

Going the distance Rookie Tyler Matzek threw the Rockies’ only complete game last season, a three-hit shutout against the Padres in his 16th career start on Aug. 30. It was the 12th complete game shutout in Denver and first since Jhoulys Chacin on April 15, 2011, against the Cubs.

April reign Outfielder Charlie Blackmon hit .374 (37-for-99) through the end of April with a 1.034 OPS and an average of one strikeout every 14 plate appearances. From May 1 through the end of the season, Blackmon hit .271 (134-for-494) with a .723 OPS and averaged one strikeout every 6.1 plate appearances.

Perfection Blackmon went 5-for-5 or better three times last season. Blackmon is the fifth player in the major leagues since 1900 to record three games of 5-for-5 or better, joining Hall of Famers Ty Cobb (1922), Tris Speaker (1923), Stan Musial (1948) and Tony Gwynn (1993) as well Ichiro Suzuki (2004).

June swoon While appearing in a team-leading and career-high 75 games, Adam Ottavino had a 3.60 ERA. In 13 games in June, he allowed 14 earned runs in 11.2 innings and had a 10.80 ERA. He yielded 12 earned runs in a combined 53.1 innings in 62 games in the other five months for a 2.03 ERA.

Making contact First baseman Justin Morneau, who won the National League batting title with a .319 average in his first season in Colorado, was one of the most difficult players in the league to strike out. He tied for fourth in the NL with 9.2 plate appearance per strikeout.

 

2014 Top Draft Pick

Kyle Freeland, LHP

Born and raised in Denver and drafted eighth overall out of the University of Evansville, Freeland went 1–0 with a 1.56 ERA in five starts for Rookie-level Grand Junction and 2–0 with a 0.83 ERA in five starts for Low-A Asheville. He has two well above-average pitches — a fastball that he commands to both sides of the plate, and a wipeout slider. His fastball ranges from 90-97 mph and sits at 92-93 mph, and he comes inside fearlessly to get outs, not just for intent. In instructional league, Freeland’s priority was his changeup, a pitch he didn’t throw often in college. He has the potential to be a front-of-the-rotation starter and likely will get to Double-A New Britain at some point in 2015 and the big leagues possibly in 2016.

 

Top 10 Prospects

1. Jon Gray, RHP (23) Power pitcher taken third overall in 2013 out of Oklahoma. Went 10–5 with a 3.91 ERA at Double-A Tulsa last year. Will vie for rotation spot in spring training.

2. Eddie Butler, RHP (24) Winter strength program will enable him to hold his delivery better. Has power stuff and will contend for rotation spot.

3. David Dahl, OF (21) 10th overall pick in the 2012 draft rebounded from a lost 2013 season to hit .309 in 90 games at Low-A Asheville and .267 after promotion to High-A Modesto.

4. Kyle Freeland, LHP (21) 2014 first-round draft pick should move up the system and compete for a spot in the rotation in the near future.

5. Ryan McMahon, 3B (20) Hit .282 at Low-A Asheville last year with 46 doubles, 18 homers and 102 RBIs. Has impressive power to all fields for such a young hitter.

6. Raimel Tapia, OF (21) Hit .326 with 93 runs, nine homers and 72 RBIs at Low-A Asheville. Exceptional hand-eye coordination and plus bat speed.

7. Tom Murphy, C (24) Fully recovered from shoulder injury that limited him to 94 at-bats last year at Double-A, where he hit .213 with five homers and 15 RBIs. Arm strength, accuracy and receiving skills are all above average.

8. Antonio Senzatela, RHP (20) Went 15–2 with a 3.11 ERA last year at Low-A Asheville. Added a slider to above-average fastball and plus changeup.

9. Forrest Wall, 2B, (19) Pure hitter with loose hands who batted .318 with three homers, 24 RBIs and .416 OBP at Rookie-level Grand Junction.

10.  Tyler Anderson, LHP (25) First-round pick in 2011 went 7–4 with a 1.98 ERA last year at Double-A Tulsa. If healthy, he could pitch in majors in 2015.

Teaser:
Colorado Rockies 2015 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, March 13, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Chicago Bulls, NBA
Path: /nba/things-look-be-ending-between-tom-thibodeau-and-chicago-bulls
Body:

Breakups are hard, and they’re said to happen for all sorts of reasons. Different goals, different principles, sudden realizations about your partner’s hygiene — love is hard when it fails, and that failure often rears its thorny head through the peskiest, most seemingly forgettable details. Right?

 

There’s long been no love lost between Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau and his front office, though — and the reasons for their enmity are not exactly subtle, or secret. Despite being one of the winningest coaches in NBA history through five seasons in Chicago (compiling a .648 regular-season record) the Bulls seem to be headed for a split with their hard-charging man.

 

Once seen as a revolutionary mind who changed the nature of NBA defense, Thibs is now frequently criticized for operating with false concepts. His blue-collar, win-at-all-costs program has been linked to repetitive major injuries to key players Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. Today, Rose, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson are all out of the lineup as we approach the playoffs, and Noah is still playing on a problematic knee.

 

The blame for these hurts should be sourced to a number of things. While Thibodeau’s approach certainly doesn’t help to nurture any human’s body, there are also large factors of luck, science and timing to be accounted for with the Bulls’ health.

 

But the reported issue between the Bulls’ coach and team management — led by John Paxson and Gar Forman — is Thibodeau’s management of his players’ minutes. Virtually every major NBA reporter has confirmed this tension.

 

The smoke over the fire between these two sides, though, seems misrepresented by such a small grapple. Breakups don’t happen when you don’t like your partner’s new tattoo, and they don’t arise over “minutes”; they come from a more fundamental place. 

 

The combative Thibodeau was likely never meant to last with the sensitive Paxson and Forman, who recently asked for a public apology from Thibs’ friend and Bulls critic Jeff Van Gundy. These people just don’t like each other, and it should surprise no one if they finally call it quits this summer over something deeper than what the hands of a clock say.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, March 13, 2015 - 10:37
Path: /mlb/arizona-diamondbacks-2015-preview-and-prediction
Body:

The Diamondbacks are rebooting, and it is hard to blame them. The wall-to-wall changes began with the hiring of Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa as chief baseball officer last May, and also include new GM Dave Stewart, new director of baseball operations De Jon Watson and new manager Chip Hale. While it remains to be seen if the overhaul from a 98-loss season will pay immediate dividends in a division that has produced the World Series winner in three of the last five years, at least the D-backs should be healthier after the 100-year flood of injuries to key contributors in 2014.

 

Rotation

Stewart, a four-time 20-game winner, knows pitching, and he made several moves to rework the starting rotation in his first offseason. At least three of the D-backs’ starters will be new after the trades that brought righthanders Rubby De La Rose and Allen Webster from Boston and Jeremy Hellickson from Tampa Bay. Steady righthander Josh Collmenter is penciled is as the No. 1 starter, while lefthander Vidal Nuno and righties Chase Anderson and Trevor Cahill are among the candidates for the final spot. Collmenter is intriguing. He has a severe overhand delivery that he attributes to his hatchet-throwing days as a kid in the Michigan woods. His fastball tops out at 87 mph, but he throws strikes, commands his secondary pitches and gets outs. De La Rosa has hit 100 mph in a career that was disrupted by Tommy John surgery in 2012, and he has the kind of power arm not seen around here since the Randy Johnson/Curt Schilling days. He is 8–15 with a 4.34 ERA in 44 major league appearances while averaging 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Hellickson was the AL Rookie of the Year in 2012, the first of three straight seasons of double-digit victories, before surgery to remove bone chips compromised his 2014 season. Stewart was not fazed — his best seasons came after he had bone chips removed. Webster has a three-pitch mix with a fastball that can touch the mid-90s. Nuno, obtained in a July trade for Brandon McCarthy last season, throws a handful of pitches at a variety of speeds. His inclusion would give the D-backs a lefty in the rotation. Anderson’s nine victories tied Mets righthander Jacob deGrom for the most among NL rookies last season. All-Star Patrick Corbin is expected back from Tommy John surgery in June. In January, the Diamondbacks signed 21-year-old Cuban righthander Yoan Lopez for $8.25 million. Where Lopez will start the season remains to be seen, but Arizona hopes its investment will pay dividends in the majors sooner than later.

 

Bullpen

Righthander Addison Reed returns as the closer after recording 32 saves in a hit-or-miss first season in the National League. Reed averaged 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings and had a 4.6:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but he was susceptible to the long ball, giving up 11 home runs in 59.1 innings. No other closer gave up as many. Sidearming setup man Brad Ziegler again was effective in keeping the ball on the ground, inducing nine double-play ground balls in 67 innings before missing most of September with microfracture knee surgery. He may be delayed at the start of spring training but is not expected to miss much if any of the regular season. Righthander Evan Marshall and lefthander Oliver Perez are strike-throwing setup men who can be used from the sixth inning on. Marshall had a 3.18:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio as a rookie in 2014, and Perez was at 3.17:1 as the primary lefthander out of the pen, although he is more than a situational lefty. Randall Delgado gained velocity into the mid-90s when he moved to the bullpen after struggling as a starter last April. Daniel Hudson returned in September after his second Tommy John surgery and threw well. Righthander Matt Stites has a fastball that touches 97-98 mph, but command was an issue his rookie year.

 

Middle Infield

After missing two months with a shoulder injury, Chris Owings spent the final month of the 2014 season at second base and showed well. He had 27 extra-base hits (15 doubles) and 26 RBIs in 91 games in 2014, above-average pop for a middle infielder. Rookie Nick Ahmed, obtained in the Justin Upton deal with Atlanta before the 2013 season, is considered to be the same type of plus-plus defender as departed Didi Gregorius, who was traded to the Yankees in the offseason.

 

Corners

The D-backs opened the wallet for Cuban league bopper Yasmany Tomas, committing $68.5 million over six years. Tomas will receive a $14 million signing bonus and a total of $36 million over the first four years, after which he can opt out and become a free agent. Scouts love his power; he fits best on the D-backs roster at third base, where he will be given every chance. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt has become one of the top power hitters in the game, and the D-backs’ season-ending plummet last season coincided with the fractured right hand he suffered when he was hit by a pitch Aug. 1.

 

Outfield

A.J. Pollock was emerging as a rising star before he missed three months with a broken hand after being hit by a pitch on May 31. He has speed, gap power and the range of Steve Finley and should be the starter in center field for years to come. Mark Trumbo will move from left field to right field, which should be a better fit, and his bat is a constant. Even if his home run rate was slightly down last season in his first season in the NL, Trumbo had 61 RBIs in 88 games, right on his career average. Success story David Peralta, who was playing independent ball as late as June 2013, will play left field. 

 

Catching

Tuffy Gosewisch inherits the position, which opened when Miguel Montero — and the remaining $40 million on his contract — was traded to the Cubs. Gosewisch played eight minor league seasons before making the majors in late 2013, and this will be his first shot at even semi-regular playing time. He has not shown the Montero bat, but he is a strong catch-and-throw guy and a good handler of the staff. Gosewisch has thrown out 40 percent of potential base-stealers in his short career.

 

Bench

Ender Inciarte was a valuable piece at all three outfield spots and in the leadoff position last season after injuries to regulars Trumbo and Pollock. Outfielder Cody Ross is going on two years removed from a devastating hip injury, and he offers solid production against left-handed pitchers. Catcher Oscar Hernandez was the first pick of the Rule 5 Draft from Tampa Bay and is major league-ready as a defender. Aaron Hill had 10 homers and 60 RBIs last season, when he played mostly third base the final month. Cliff Pennington is a valuable defender at three infield positions.

 

Management

La Russa was interviewed for sitting general manager Kevin Towers’ position last May before the D-backs created a new position for him, and he jumped in head-first. La Russa made the rounds of the D-backs’ minor league affiliates to familiarize himself with the personnel before hiring Stewart and Watson in late September. This is a new job for La Russa, but it is hard (read: impossible) to argue with his previous success.

 

Final Analysis

President/CEO Derrick Hall and managing general partner Ken Kendrick remain aggressive in seeking ways to compete in a large market that is one of the smallest in TV/radio reach and revenue. The D-backs wooed Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka before losing him to the Yankees, and this time landed their top international free agent target in Tomas. La Russa, Stewart and Watson provide a strong triumvirate, although it remains to be seen if the D-backs have enough pitching to compete this season. They will hit.

 

2015 Prediction: 4th in NL West

 

Projected Lineup

CF       A.J. Pollock (R)         Breakout 2014 season curtailed by broken hand; hit .324 with 14 extra-base hits in 17 games at leadoff.

2B       Chris Owings (R)    Adjusted to second base effortlessly; his 1.8 WAR (fangraphs.com) was fourth among NL rookies last year.

1B       Paul Goldschmidt (R)         Second player in franchise history with consecutive .300 seasons.

LF       David Peralta (L)      Led NL rookies (min. 325 at-bats) in slugging percentage, triples and OPS; added six outfield assists. 

RF       Mark Trumbo (R)     Finished strong with six homers and 22 RBIs in September; one RBI per 5.38 at-bats a career best.

3B       Yasmany Tomas (R)          Veteran major league talent evaluator: “The guy has potential game-changing power.”

C         Tuffy Gosewisch (R)           After eight-year minor league apprenticeship, defense-first Gosewisch gets call to replace Miguel Montero.

SS       Nick Ahmed (R)       Hit .312 with 14 stolen bases in the Pacific Coast League; Baseball America’s best defensive shortstop. 

 

Bench

OF       Ender Inciarte (L)     Hit .308 the final two months, and he was successful on 19 of 22 stolen base attempts for the season.

OF       Cody Ross (R)         Ross should be more like his old self after a full offseason of training.

INF      Aaron Hill (R)            One of six second basemen with 20-plus doubles in the last six seasons; also could see time at third.

INF      Cliff Pennington (S) Versatile sparkplug is well above average at all three infield spots and is comfortable in either batter’s box.

C         Oscar Hernandez (R)         Rule 5 pick has thrown out 42 percent of potential base-stealers in five minor league seasons.

 

Rotation

RH      Josh Collmenter      Set career highs in victories, starts, strikeouts and innings pitched after early-season move to the rotation.

RH      Rubby De La Rosa A four-game winner in 18 starts with Boston in 2014, his first extended time in a rotation.

RH      Jeremy Hellickson  Averaged 12 victories and 180 innings in Tampa Bay in 2011-13 before bone chip surgery disrupted 2014.  

RH      Allen Webster           Had five victories for Boston while yo-yoing between the Red Sox and Pawtucket a year ago.

LH       Vidal Nuno    Tied for the major league lead with seven “wins lost,” games he left with a lead that the bullpen did not hold.

 

Bullpen

RH      Addison Reed (Closer)      One of 10 closers with at least 30 saves in the last two seasons, the only to do it in each league.

RH      Evan Marshall          Stranded 24 of 29 inherited runners while recording a team rookie-record 19 holds after early May recall.

RH      Brad Ziegler  Second in franchise history with 246 appearances; will pass Jose Valverde with his eighth outing this season.

LH       Oliver Perez One of three lefties in MLB with 60 appearances and 70 Ks in each of the last two seasons.

RH      Daniel Hudson        Made three September appearances in his first major league games since two Tommy John surgeries.

RH      Randall Delgado     Averaged 11.45 strikeouts per nine innings after an April move to the bullpen, when his velocity ticked up.

RH      Matt Stites     Held lefties to a .189 average following mid-June promotion after 15 saves at two minor league stops.

 

Beyond the Box Score

Career change Rookie David Peralta’s helium-laced rise to the major leagues was as captivating as it was successful. Signed as a pitcher with St. Louis in the mid-2000s, Peralta was released in 2011 because of repeated left shoulder issues. He returned to his native Venezuela and took up hitting, working his way to independent league outposts in Amarillo and Harlingen, Texas, before D-backs scout Chris Carminucci found him. The rest is, well, history. Peralta hit .346 at Class A Visalia in 2013 and was tied with Kris Bryant for the Southern League RBI lead last season before being promoted to the parent D-backs on June 1. It took. “I was going to make it,” Peralta says. “I was going to fight for it.”

Not such a g’day The D-backs opened the 2014 major league season in Sydney, Australia, with two games in 24 hours against the Los Angeles Dodgers in late March. The D-backs lost both games a week after losing No. 1 starter Patrick Corbin for the season due to Tommy John surgery, and it never got much better. The D-backs logged about 15,500 miles and 30 hours of plane time on the trip.

Kid-friendly First baseman Paul Goldschmidt and his wife Amy are registered volunteers at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, meaning they can visit on a regular basis. Goldschmidt has helped raise more than $200,000 for the hospital the last two years, first with proceeds from a limited edition print and last year with a “Goldschmidt Bleacher Creature” keepsake toy.

Giving back Reliever Brad Ziegler is active in support of military families with his Pastime for Patriots Foundation and was one of six finalists for the 2014 Bob Feller Act of Valor Award, given annually to the major leaguer who best fits the criteria of baseball accomplishments, integrity and character, service to the country and community involvement. Ziegler’s foundation provides education-based financial assistance and tickets to major league games for military families. Last May, Ziegler dedicated the latest of the D-backs’ youth baseball fields in Prescott, Ariz., as a tribute to the memory of the 19 Granite Mountain Hot Shots who perished in the Yarnell Hill wild fire in 2013. Ziegler proposed the idea to the D-backs and attended the dedication. “I cried my whole speech,” he says.

 

2014 Top Draft Pick

Touki Toussaint, RHP

The D-backs were pleasantly surprised to find the hard-throwing righthander available with the 16th pick, and with starting pitching a stated priority, they snapped him up. Toussaint hit the low 90-mph range with his fastball at Coral Springs (Fla.) Academy last spring and struck out 86 while giving up 17 hits in 45 innings. Toussaint, who had committed to play at Vanderbilt, has an eclectic background. His father was a senator and presidential candidate in Haiti, but Toussaint and his mother moved to Florida when he was 6. His first sport of choice was soccer. He tried baseball at age 10 but quit when he struck out “22 times in 24 at-bats,” he said. He returned to the game for good at 12. His immersion in pro ball was a learning experience — 8.48 ERA in 12 games — but the D-backs believe they have seen the tip of the iceberg.

 

Top 10 Prospects

1. Archie Bradley, RHP (22) Bradley may have pushed too hard to make the major league rotation in 2014, suffering a strained right flexor tendon.

2. Yasmany Tomas, 3B (24) Most recent Cuban season produced a .290/.346/.450 line with six HRs, 21 walks, 46 strikeouts in 257 plate appearances.

3. Yoan Lopez, RHP (21) Diamondbacks signed highly touted Cuban arm for $8.25 million.

4. Jake Lamb, 3B (24) Lamb cannot do much more in the minor leagues after slashing .318/.399/.551 with 35 doubles, 14 homers and 79 RBIs in 103 games at Class AA Mobile last season.

5. Touki Toussaint, RHP (18) First-round pick in 2014 is an outstanding athlete who consistently throws in the low 90s.

6. Aaron Blair, RHP (22) A big-bodied bulldog type, Blair leads with a heavy fastball and adds a good secondary mix. He averaged 10 strikeouts per nine innings in 2014, finishing at Class AA Mobile.

7. Braden Shipley, RHP (23) The D-backs’ first-round pick in the 2013 draft, Shipley is a converted shortstop with an abundance of athleticism and a fastball that has touched the high-90 mph range.

8. Peter O’Brien, C (24) Has shown prodigious power in three minor league seasons, hitting 34 homers last season in little more than four months.

9. Robbie Ray, LHP (23) The D-backs’ return in the three-team trade that sent Didi Gregorius to the Yankees, Ray had a strong 2013.

10. Brandon Drury, 3B (22) Drury followed his minor league-leading 51 doubles in 2013 with his best year — 42 doubles, 23 homers, 95 RBIs — at two levels last year.

Teaser:
Arizona Diamondbacks 2015 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, March 13, 2015 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: Hideki Matsuyama, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-19-hideki-matsuyama
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 19: Hideki Matsuyama

 

Born: Feb. 25, 1992, Matsuyama, Ehime, Japan | Career PGA Tour Wins: 1 (6 on Japanese Tour) | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $2,837,477 (27th) World Ranking: 15

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Matsuyama was the best iron player on Tour in 2014. He was only 116th in greens in regulation, but from every distance — from 50 yards to over 250 yards — he was in the top 30 in proximity to the hole, the consistency of which put him above great ball-strikers like Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose. At 23 years of age he has won some of the biggest events in the game, such as the Memorial and the Dunlap Phoenix, with the latter being a great predictor of success for so many of its champions. Names like Johnny Miller, Seve Ballesteros Tom Watson, Ernie Els, Tiger Woods and Luke Donald used this late-season win in Japan to launch them to great follow-up years. Matsuyama has already shown an ability to contend in majors, and this early success combined with his power and precision give him the best chance to become Japan’s first major winner.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 5
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - Cut
U.S. Open - T35
British Open - T39
PGA Championship - T35

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T27 (2011)
U.S. Open - T10 (2013)
British Open - T6 (2013)
PGA Championship - T19 (2013)
Top-10 Finishes: 2
Top-25 Finishes: 3
Missed Cuts: 1

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, March 13, 2015 - 10:27
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/nba-salary-cap-confirmed-take-big-jump
Body:

The NBA’s giant new TV deal, worth a reported $24 billion and penned this past fall, gave way to an inevitable trend: more money for players.

 

A big jump in the salary cap was confirmed this week, by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. Windhorst’s sources estimate that the cap, currently at about $63 million, will jump closer to the $88-$92 million range this summer. Such a development will surely be a boon for the upcoming free agent class.

 

LeBron James anticipated this event when he signed his most recent deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers, giving himself an opt-out clause after one year so he may renegotiate.

 

News of the jump in the cap comes after the players’ union declined a cap “smoothing” proposition, which would continue to pay players 51 percent of basketball-related revenue. The “smoothing” would mean a steady increase in the cap, but would ultimately net the players less than they’re capable of negotiating for.

 

Windhorst estimates that James, for instance, could be making as much as $30 million per year on a new deal, up from his current rate of $22 million.

 

The bigger picture here is a little clearer now, and it tells us that a future lockout is looking more likely. With aggressive, principled new leader Michele Roberts at the helm of the NBAPA, the players aren’t backing down from the owners, and the fight for a bigger share of the pot is on.

 

While the cap jump is a concession of sorts by the owners, they’re still likely to toe a hard line in 2017, when both sides have an opt-out clause from the current collective bargaining agreement. An era of increased transparency — in which we regularly learn unsavory things about ownership groups — has given players greater clout in Adam Silver’s NBA, and they appear quite ready to utilize it.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 12, 2015 - 17:47
All taxonomy terms: Los Angeles Lakers, Steve Nash, NBA
Path: /nba/steve-nash-still-getting-paid-lakers
Body:

Maybe you forgot that Steve Nash is on the Los Angeles Lakers — we couldn’t blame you. He’s played just 65 games for L.A. over three seasons, including only 15 last year, and none this season.

 

But the 41-year-old is, in fact, still being paid $9.7 million by the team this year, despite being eliminated from the action before the action even began. An injury caused by lifting his bags was a sure omen that Nash should retire, but he hasn’t made that official yet.

 

You can’t blame him for waiting out his contract, and wanting to cash in on the last year’s worth of money on it — any one of us would likely do the same, in his shoes — but Nash’s involvement in any off-court Lakers duties has reached a level that’s straight-up comic. He didn’t even participate in a recent team photo:

 

Nash has been working a bit with rookie point guard Jordan Clarkson (one of the few bright spots on a sunken franchise), but has otherwise seemed totally absent from team affairs. Jeremy Lin said his invite for Nash boot camp was lost in the mail.

 

 

With Nash’s minimal input into Lakerland, it’s easy to imagine that he’s exacting a sort of revenge on the team that repeatedly thwarted him during his multiple-MVP-winning prime with the Phoenix Suns. While Nash is probably not doing that, his circumstances today are still funny and surreal when viewed through the lens of yesteryear — his poetically strange end with a broken Lakers team goes to show the weird ways in which fate and karma can work in the NBA.

 

Let’s try to remember the good times we had with Steve, though. He was once an innovative, electric player who turned every game he played into event viewing. And, of course, he also took part in one of the most memorable fan-athlete moments of our times, when he completed this epic highway beer handoff:

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 12, 2015 - 10:09
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/2015-fantasy-baseball-rankings-outfielders
Body:

Opening Day of the 2015 MLB season is less than a month away, which means fantasy baseball is just around the corner. For some leagues, drafts have already begun or will soon begin and Athlon Sports is here to help.

 

Besides providing our comprehensive Fantasy Baseball Big Board, we also have our positional rankings, courtesy of Bruce Herman. These are pulled straight from this year’s 2015 MLB Preview magazine, which is available at newsstands everywhere and for purchase online.

 

Rankings Key

A: FRANCHISE PLAYER — You need one to compete, two to win, three to dominate.

B: CAREER YEAR — Veteran with a strong possibility of delivering his best season.

C: SLEEPER — Could be a great acquisition at a price or draft slot below his true value.

D: ROADBLOCKED — Rank has been lowered because there is no current opportunity to play regularly.

E: DECLINER — Expect moderately to significantly worse stats than in 2014.

F: INJURY RISK — Has had a recent injury that could affect performance.

G: INVESTOR’S SPECIAL — Top prospect whose immediate impact may be minimal.

 

Batting stats are expressed AVG-HR-RBI-R-SB. Positional eligibility for specific players may vary depending on league, as well as other Web sites and resources.

 

2015 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Outfielders

 

TIER 1

1. Mike Trout, Angels (A)

Trout’s recent proclivities to muscle up at the dish and gear down on the bases dent his overall fantasy yield. His AVG fell .036, his SBs from 33 to 16, and his line drive percentage from 23.0 to 18.9. Yet, even after the “worst” of his three seasons, he’s cavernously better than anyone else.

2. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins (A,B)

Pujols and A-Rod are the only active players to have hit 150 roundtrippers at a younger age than Stanton, and with the roto-value of a home run greater than at any point since 1992, he’s a monumental property. Furthermore, he’s settled contractually and will be playing on his best team yet.

3. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates (A)

He’s not what could be termed “elite” in any category, but Cutch is close enough in all of them to comprise a package that can serve as a the hub of a roster. The only squishy spots are that he’s yet to drive in 100 runs, and he’s at an age when SBs are going to be a lesser component of his game.

 

TIER 2

4. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers (B)

He may be a flake at times, but not a fluke. Although Puig didn’t take a major stride forward as a sophomore, he held his own as pitchers made adjustments. This could be the year the stats — not just the flashes of ability — cascade out of him.

5. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies (F)

Gonzalez would be an easy Tier 1 if not for the knee surgery and generalized fragility that threatens to age him before his time. No more 20-SB seasons, but if he can approach his .311-27-91-91 average from 2010-13, he’s still in rarefied air.

6. Michael Brantley, Indians

Brantley renovated solid numbers in five categories into superlative ones. He hit .050 above his career average, doubled his HR high to 20, and added personal bests of 97 RBIs and 23 SBs. Because improvement has come in steps, it’s apt to be sustainable.

7. Adam Jones, Orioles

Fellow center fielder McCutchen gets more run but, since 2011, Jones has held the edge in HRs by 19 and RBIs by 17. The divergences are in steals and AVG, but at least he’s kept the latter predictably between .277 and .287 six straight times.

8. Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox (F)

Because he’s sat out between 34 and 98 games in three of the last four years, Ramirez’s bidders typically do so while squinting, making strange sounds and mumbling disclaimers. A healthy Hanley in Fenway rivals McCutchen as a five-category force.

9. Carlos Gomez, Brewers

Gomez’s 66 HRs the last three years are more than twice as many as any other player who’s also stolen 100 bases. He’s hit exactly .284 with 73 RBIs two years in a row and, as an all-or-nothing type, those are about his upper limits.

10. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays

With 187, Bautista is the game’s home run king of the past five seasons despite missing 135 games. He was relatively healthy in three of those — each 100-run/100-RBI blockbusters. Medical memoir and middlin’ batting averages keep him out of Tier 1.

11. Hunter Pence, Giants

Pence is a baseball-playing machine. You can throw a rosin bag over his seven full, unerringly productive seasons. The metric of the 162-game average — .280-24-89-88-13 — is extra-meaningful in his case because he’s played at least 154 in all seven. A broken forearm in his first spring training game will limit his numbers this season, as he likely won’t make his debut until the middle of May.

12. Christian Yelich, Marlins

The only 2014 player in a 22-or-younger season with more hits or runs scored than Yelich was Trout, and the Marlins rookie stole more bags (21). A batting title contender-in-the-making, he never seems to slump.

13. Justin Upton, Padres (E)

Once enigmatic, Upton has finally clarified that he is a “star” without the “super.” Which is just fine, since he averages .279-24-80-90-16 since 2009. He’s been unfazed by Petco’s dimensions — a .900 career OPS there.

14. Ryan Braun, Brewers (F)

Whether it was his lack of “vitamins,” an obstinate thumb injury or just the normal ebbs and flows of the game, Braun was a shadow of the masher who led the NL in TBs and runs between 2007 and 2012. That said, he’s capable of a “Nelson Cruz.”

15. Yoenis Cespedes, Tigers (B)

Playing at a park far more suited to right-handed power than his last two, Cespedes has his best opportunity to finally unleash his purported promise. His failure to make adjustments compromises his upside, but this could be his first 30-HR season.

16. Jacoby Ellsbury, Yankees

Ellsbury is caught in a vortex between being a power player and a speed player. Joe Girardi couldn’t decide either, starting him 49 times at leadoff and 93 times in the three-hole. His 16-HR/39-SB campaign split the difference and probably best represents who he is.

17. Bryce Harper, Nationals (B)

It wouldn’t take much for Harper to crack Tier 1, but until he finds a way out of this star-crossed loop he’s in, he’s tough to trust. He saved 2014 from being a washout with power spurts in August and October.

18. Starling Marte, Pirates

If a 2013-14 output of 25 HRs, 71 SBs and a .286 AVG doesn’t dazzle you, take note that Marte is the only player in the game to have done it. His power is still embryonic, and his AVG must be viewed through the lens of an MLB-high .373 mark on balls in play.

 

TIER 3

19. Jason Heyward, Cardinals

Heyward is a short cab ride from Bustville, and now he’ll have to regroup in a park where he’s batted .234. Addressing his 2014 OPS of .477 against lefties would be a good place to start. He’s just 25, so there’s still a pulse to his promise.

20. Jay Bruce, Reds

Bruce called 2014 “the most embarrassing year of my life.” To which scores of fantasy players who squandered a premium pick on his .217-18-66-71-12 responded: “Tell me about it.” This isn’t a very accommodating era for extreme-strikeout, extreme-pull power hitters.

21. Ben Revere, Phillies

Revere takes a lot of grief for power that extends to the edge of the outfield grass, but as a two-category role player on an otherwise well-appointed fantasy team, he can be the exclamation point. He’s doinked .301 since 2012, averaging 46 SBs per 150 games.

22. J.D. Martinez, Tigers

What do Alex Presley, Jesus Guzman, Robbie Grossman and L.J. Hoes have in common? They were outfielders the Astros chose to keep ahead of Martinez last spring. Starting in Detroit by June, he outstripped his career AVG by 64 points (.315) and, with 23, nearly doubled his HR/AB % to 5.2.

23. Billy Hamilton, Reds

Still a rudimentary hitter (.195 AVG when infield hits are discounted), but he’s not entirely without punch (39 XBHs, solid line drive rate of 21.1%). Though his 70.9% success rate was in the bottom 10 of 50-SB men over the past 25 years, he has historic thievery aptitude.

24. Matt Kemp, Padres (E,F)

Kemp is a Tier 1 talent with a Tier 5 skeletalature moving to a park where good hitters go to commit statistical suicide. His past glories and fast finish (MLB-high .606 second-half slugging) are not to be slighted, but there’s a lot of push-back to his comeback.

25. Lorenzo Cain, Royals (B)

Because his rep is “glove first” and he doesn’t clear fences, Cain has been a soft fantasy play. We tagged him as a “C” last year, and he added .050 to his AVG (.301) and doubled his SBs (28). There’s still some evolution left, and we’re projecting .310-70-10-60-35.

26. Leonys Martin, Rangers

Martin is precisely where Cain was two years ago, comparably styled and with a similar ceiling. He’s a more aggressive thief, though — one of only eight players with 30-plus steals each of the last two years.

27. Gregory Polanco, Pirates

There are only two questions with Polanco: “How good can he be?” and “How fast can he get there?” A young Vladimir Guerrero comes to mind. Reluctantly promoted by the Bucs last summer due to need, he interspersed wows and warts.

28. Alex Gordon, Royals (F)

Gordon has severely underperformed and overperformed at times in his career, but his last two seasons have been identically positioned in the upper (but not close to elite) strata of outfielders. Underwent wrist surgery on Dec. 30.

29. Jayson Werth, Nationals (E)

Werth, Cabrera, Trout, Beltre, McCutchen, V-Mart and Cano are the only players with a triple crown line of at least .304-41-164 the last two years. He’s at the bottom end of that array, though, and he turns 36 in May.

30. Mark Trumbo, Diamondbacks

Revere turned inside-out — a two-trick pony (HRs, RBIs) best-suited for a roster than can absorb 450 empty outs. Homered only once in his first 55 games back from a foot injury last year, but had five in the final eight days.

31. Marcell Ozuna, Marlins

Homered his age (23), but he’s at the crossroads where many young power hitters need to decide whether they’re going to round out their craft or just sell out for the longball.

32. Denard Span, Nationals (E)

Had the year we’ve long waited for, three-category-wise: .302 AVG, 94 runs, 31 SBs. We’d advise banking only on his more established levels of .285, 70 and 20. Unexpected muscle core surgery also will delay his arrival to the end of April or early May.

33. Charlie Blackmon, Rockies

Surviving a mad scrum for a Rox outfield post last spring, a late-developing Blackmon put a death grip on it with a .288-19-72-82-28 shocker. He was ordinary the last two months, though, so stay wary.

34. Rusney Castillo, Red Sox (C)

Castillo is a wild card, but he passed every test after signing in August. Comparables? We searched for players who hit .285-.300 with 10-to-15 HRs and 20-to-30 SBs, and came up with such names as Dustin Pedroia, Shane Victorino — and some guy named Jackie Robinson.

35. Brandon Moss, Indians (F)

Since Moss stopped pinballing around the “4-A” landscape at age 28 in 2012, he’s concocted one of the 10 highest percentages of HRs/100 ABs (6.28) in the game. AVGs are plunging in inverse proportion to his prodigious strikeout totals.

 

36. Melky Cabrera, White Sox (F)

37. Corey Dickerson, Rockies (E)

38. Brett Gardner, Yankees (E)

39. Adam Eaton, White Sox (E)

40. Carl Crawford, Dodgers

41. Kole Calhoun, Angels

42. Matt Holliday, Cardinals (E)

43. George Springer, Astros (F)

 

TIER 4

44. A.J. Pollock, Diamondbacks

45. Alex Rios, Royals

46. Joc Pederson, Dodgers (C)

47. Shin-Soo Choo, Rangers (F)

48. Dexter Fowler, Cubs

49. Steven Souza, Rays (C)

50. Khris Davis, Brewers

51. Josh Hamilton, Angels (F)

52. Austin Jackson, Mariners

53. Nick Markakis, Braves (F)

54. Angel Pagan, Giants (F)

55. Michael Cuddyer, Mets (E)

56. Desmond Jennings, Rays

57. Wil Myers, Padres (F)

58. Jorge Soler, Cubs (C)

59. Dustin Ackley, Mariners (B,C)

60. Oswaldo Arcia, Twins

61. Michael Saunders, Blue Jays (C)

62. Mookie Betts, Red Sox (C)

63. Avisail Garcia, White Sox (C)

64. Evan Gattis, Astros

 

TIER 5

65. Danny Santana, Twins

66. David Peralta, Diamondbacks

67. Allen Craig, Red Sox (F)

68. Drew Stubbs, Rockies (D)

69. Jon Jay, Cardinals

70. Michael Bourn, Indians

71. Nori Aoki, Giants

72. Chris Coghlan, Cubs

73. Curtis Granderson, Mets

74. Josh Reddick, A’s

75. Arismendy Alcantara, Cubs

76. Torii Hunter, Twins (E)

77. Marlon Byrd, Reds (E)

78. Shane Victorino, Red Sox (F)

79. Juan Lagares, Mets

80. Kevin Kiermaier, Rays

Teaser:
2015 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Third Basemen
Post date: Thursday, March 12, 2015 - 10:00
Path: /mlb/st-louis-cardinals-2015-preview-and-prediction
Body:

Ten days after the Cardinals’ postseason run ended just shy of their intended destination, a tragedy stunned the organization and sent its future in an unplanned direction. The prospect the Cardinals intended to unleash in right field and one who could partially answer their offensive needs, Oscar Taveras, was killed with his girlfriend in a single-vehicle crash in the Dominican Republic. Taveras was 22. Within a month the Cardinals had moved swiftly to reshape the lineup, even at the expense of a valued starter. In a four-player trade, the Cardinals acquired Jason Heyward from Atlanta to play right field. At 25, Heyward is entering the final year of his contract, but the Cardinals believe he’ll star and then stay as the club’s next cornerstone.

 

Adding a jolt to the offense was essential after the Cardinals averaged a run less per game in 2014. The division-champ Cardinals’ wheezing bats burdened the pitching staff, as 47 of their 90 wins came by a margin of two runs or fewer.

 

While the front office reshaped the roster in the weeks after Taveras’ death, manager Mike Matheny became a unifying force for the club. He felt the Cardinals would find “strength in being a family.” The Cardinals may have a new look, a new face and, they hope, a renewed lineup, but they are still defined by familiar October aspirations.

 

Rotation

Two trades cost the Cardinals two young members of their 2014 Opening Day rotation, Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly. Filling those spots is the least of the Cardinals’ pitching questions. Pillars of the rotation, ace Adam Wainwright and upstart Michael Wacha, are returning from ailments. Wainwright had an elbow cleanup after his second career 20-win season and expects to be at full strength for spring, something he rarely was last season despite success in the second half. Wacha missed several months with a stress reaction in his right shoulder — an unusual injury that has the Cardinals altering his workouts and budgeting his innings. Budding No. 2 Lance Lynn and veteran John Lackey offer required stability. Carlos Martinez and rookie Marco Gonzales will audition for the rotation’s vacancy, though the club has openly shown its eagerness to see how Martinez’s fastball allows him to sizzle as a starter.

 

Bullpen

The trade for Heyward also brought an arm that will add to the late-inning heat index. Righthander Jordan Walden, who signed a two-year extension, brings a hefty fastball and closing experience to the setup role. He, groundball guru Seth Maness and possibly Gonzales or a healthy Kevin Siegrist will build the bridge to closer Trevor Rosenthal and give Matheny the bullpen blueprint to maintain success like last year’s. Rosenthal overcame a heavy workload to fall just shy of being the Cardinals’ first 50-save closer. Adding multitasking veteran Matt Belisle to the bullpen frees up lefty Randy Choate for a specialist role and gives Matheny more flexibility to utilize Gonzales.

 

Middle Infield

For eight consecutive seasons, a new Cardinals shortstop arrived like tax day, every April. Jhonny Peralta brought an end to the turnstile position as he emerged as the NL’s best all-around shortstop in 2014. The veteran topped the team with 21 home runs and led all big-league shortstops with a .779 OPS and a .443 slugging percentage to go with dependable defense. He was the club’s isolated power early last season, though he’ll get added support this season from his sidekick at second, Kolten Wong. The Hawaiian finished third in NL Rookie of the Year voting, punctuating his season with a superb October. A jubilant player, Wong is set to emerge at second with what Peralta provided at shortstop — only for years to come.

 

Corners

A third baseman for most of his life, Matt Carpenter was an All-Star in 2013, his first year as a second baseman. Asked whether he’d prefer to be an All-Star at second or an everyday player at his natural position, Carpenter grinned: “Why not an All-Star at third?” The move back to third in 2014 didn’t slow his ascent as a top leadoff hitter or keep him from a second All-Star invite. His next move could be in the order. Carpenter, who hit three homers in the NLDS, could see swings at No. 2 or 3. The thunder to hit behind Carpenter should come from first baseman Matt Adams. In 231 more at-bats in 2014, Adams hit two fewer home runs than in 2013. Vexed by defensive shifts, Adams seems to favor hitting for average over hitting for damage. He’s got the strength to hit over the shifts and will get the at-bats for a defining season.

 

Outfield

A rut in the Cardinals’ offense was right field, where the club had a .326 slugging percentage (30th in the majors) and a .609 OPS (also 30th). At a traditional power position, the Cardinals got the equivalent of an average middle infielder. Enter Heyward. The left-handed-hitting outfielder says he altered his approach to be the leadoff hitter Atlanta required. The Cardinals will use him elsewhere in the lineup to ignite his offense. He averaged 20 homers in his first three seasons and a .447 slugging percentage — the boost the Cardinals crave. Matt Holliday, a fixture hitting No. 3, had a career-low slugging percentage. He’ll elevate the offense with health and an early start to his annual second-half surge. Jon Jay was the only regular to hit better than .300, and he returns as the stated starter in center for the first time in his career. Peter Bourjos, a defensively gifted speedster, had hip surgery that should increase his comfort at the plate and allow him to run away with some additional at-bats.

 

Catching

The soul of the team and the shepherd of its rotation, Yadier Molina is entering the phase of his career where the Cardinals intend to be more proactive with time off. Molina, 32, remains a force behind the plate and strives to lead the majors in innings caught, a feat that knee soreness has interrupted in recent seasons. To keep him fresh and productive at the plate, the Cardinals want to script rest, preserving his strength for a late-season push. Tony Cruz remains the valued backup who models his game-calling after Molina’s.

 

Bench

Corner infielder Mark Reynolds is the right-handed complement at first base and brings seven consecutive seasons with at least 20 homers to a part-time role. His reputation and Randal Grichuk’s budding talent give the Cardinals pinch-hit pop that’s been lacking. Pete Kozma or newcomers Dean Anna and Ty Kelly offer the versatility required of infielders by Matheny.

 

Management

A nurturing defender of his players and gifted motivator, Matheny acknowledges that having never managed at any level means some of his learning is coming while contending. The club sees the questions of October adding to his answers going forward. A general manager who treasured the team’s young pitching depth has dipped into it twice for short-term and necessary moves. The Cardinals have “payroll muscle” they can flex in coming seasons, and John Mozeliak has used talent and financial wherewithal to stay ahead of the market. He calls it “pre-emptive.” It comes with a trace of urgency because the “sustained success” ownership seeks implies winning now and later.

 

Final Analysis

The Cardinals reached the NLCS for a fourth consecutive year but ended their season with a three-game losing streak for the third consecutive year. A 12th World Series title has eluded them, as an aging core and pitching depth thinned by trades now put the Cardinals at a pivot in this era, one of the most successful in franchise history. Changes may be afoot — forced upon them by tragedy or invited by them to address flaws — but one thing in St. Louis remains the same: championship expectations.

 

2015 Prediction: 1st in NL Central

 

Projected Lineup

3B       Matt Carpenter (L)    Since he moved to No. 1, no leadoff hitter in the NL has a higher on-base percentage than Carpenter’s .384.

RF       Jason Heyward (L)  Credited with 32 runs saved by Baseball Info Solutions, among the highest at any position.

LF       Matt Holliday (R)      Second-half surges the past three seasons have seen his SLG spike from .451 before the break to .509 after.

1B       Matt Adams (L)         Averaged a homer every 17.4 at-bats in 2013. At that pace as the starter in 2014, Adams would have hit 30.

SS       Jhonny Peralta (R)  Sure-handed fielder warmed to NL with 75 RBIs, the most by a Cards SS since Edgar Renteria’s 100 in 2003.

C         Yadier Molina (R)     Injury kept him from catching 1,000 innings for seventh straight year. Pitchers had a 3.38 ERA in his innings.

CF       Jon Jay (L)    A .295 hitter, Jay enters 2015 designated — for the first time in his career — as the planned starter in center.

2B       Kolten Wong (L)       First Cardinal in a decade with at least 10 homers and 20 stolen bases.

 

Bench

CF       Peter Bourjos (R)     Hip surgery should correct issue that slowed the speedster and had him unsteady at the plate.

INF      Mark Reynolds (R)   Will get chance to be right-handed-hitting complement at first and a power implement off the bench.

OF       Randal Grichuk (R) Athletic outfielder hinted at his potent power with two homers in October as he seized starting job.

INF      Pete Kozma (R)        Two years removed from his turn as everyday shortstop, Kozma either makes team or must clear waivers.

C         Tony Cruz (R)           Entering his fourth season as Molina’s trusted backup and scouting voice.

 

Rotation

RH      Adam Wainwright    Cardinals ace has finished second or third in Cy Young Award voting four times in the past six seasons.

RH      Lance Lynn   His 48 wins since joining the rotation in 2012 trail only four other pitchers, including Wainwright.

RH      John Lackey Had 2,202.2 innings in the AL before throwing his first pitch in the NL after trade to Cardinals.

RH      Michael Wacha        In 33 starts in two seasons (including playoffs), intriguing dynamo has 3.11 ERA, 13 wins in 202.2 IP.

RH      Carlos Martinez        Opportunity to start will give electric, lithe righty the role he wants and a stage to flaunt his 96 mph sinker.

 

Bullpen

RH      Trevor Rosenthal (Closer)  No closer threw as many pitches (1,263) or innings (70.1) as Rosenthal did on his way to 45 saves.

RH      Jordan Walden         Power righty Walden signed a two-year, $6.6-million extension to be setup man for Cardinals.

RH      Seth Maness            Sinkerballer will take a strong second half (2.76 ERA) into larger late-inning role.

RH      Matt Belisle   Cardinals targeted the versatile veteran reliever to fill several roles to free others for specialized jobs.

LH       Randy Choate          Held lefties to a .093 average with 28 strikeouts and seven hits allowed.

LH       Kevin Siegrist           Power lefty must show recovery from muscle tears in his left hand to reclaim shutdown reputation.

LH       Marco Gonzales       Polished prospect will be ticketed for prominence in bullpen if he’s not in the rotation.

 

Beyond the Box Score

Remembering Oscar While the Cardinals considered ways to memorialize Oscar Taveras after his death in October, his boyhood friend and closest teammate Carlos Martinez already had one. He wanted to wear Taveras’ No. 18 and approached the Cardinals with his idea. The process is more intricate than simple approval because of jersey merchandising. Martinez received permission, and a friend said he was “really moved” by the chance to wear 18 in 2015.

Curious clause John Lackey made a promise to the Cardinals when they traded for him in July that he hadn’t made in Boston: He would honor his 2015 contract, as odd as it is. Lackey, a 12-year veteran, will play this season for the minimum salary, $507,500. Lackey’s alternative was to retire. The reason for the unusual salary is an option on his five-year, $82.5-million contract with the Red Sox that triggered when he missed a year to injury.

Gold standard Although he missed a month with a thumb injury, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina still won his seventh consecutive Gold Glove. Among catchers, only Ivan Rodriguez (13) and Johnny Bench (10) have more than Molina’s seven career Gold Gloves. They are the brightest ornaments on a career that Bench suggests could lead to Cooperstown. “If he stays healthy,” the Hall of Famer says, “call me in 10 years.”

Hitter homecoming St. Louis-area native Bill Mueller had never put on the hometown jersey until this spring. Displeased with his situation in Chicago, Mueller resigned as Cubs hitting coach and later accepted an assistant hitting coach role with the Cardinals. The former batting champ says he found the situation he wanted, and it was closer to his home. “It’s familiar, St. Louis,” Mueller says. “You can turn any corner and run into a friend.”

Going international The Cardinals expanded their international interests in 2014, signing a Cuban infielder and bidding on a Korean shortstop. GM John Mozeliak wanted the club to start acting on years of scouting and be more active in “emerging markets.” In March the Cardinals signed infielder Aledmys Diaz, but they failed in December to have the highest bid for Jung-Ho Kang. Diaz would be a top prospect if not for injuries interrupting his 2014.

 

2014 Top Draft Pick

Luke Weaver, RHP

The Cardinals revisited a familiar well with the 27th overall pick in the draft, selecting a refined starting pitcher from a major Division I college program. Less likely to zoom to the majors than Michael Wacha and Marco Gonzales before him, Weaver has some similar traits: an athletic delivery, potential velocity sizzle, and a strong changeup. As Florida State’s ace last spring, Weaver worked with an 88-92 mph fastball that scouts saw tickle 96 mph. Weaver has a wiry 6'2" frame that should add strength as he matures. He had a humbling start to his pro career — eight earned runs in 3.1 innings at High-A — but that’s barely a hiccup in his development. The Cardinals wanted to control his innings and will continue to do so in 2015 as they look for him to start in a Class A rotation and see where his stuff takes him.

 

Top 10 Prospects

1. Marco Gonzales, LHP (23) Former Gonzaga standout has poise and a wily changeup. Future is in the rotation, but his present assignment will be a multitasking and late-inning reliever in the majors.

2. Stephen Piscotty, OF (24) A high-average batter who sports a strong arm from right field. His tools should get him to the majors this summer.

4. Alexander Reyes, RHP (20) Has blossomed as a power pitcher who has used 98 mph fastball to record 205 strikeouts in 167.1 pro innings.

4. Randal Grichuk, OF (23) Known as the player the Angels drafted before Mike Trout; made a name for himself with slick fielding and a livewire bat.

5. Rob Kaminsky, LHP (20) Kaminsky flips a biting curve, and with a plus fastball, scouts believes he has burgeoning combo that will excel in relief.

6. Jack Flaherty, RHP (19) Flaherty’s $2 million bonus was the Cardinals’ second largest in 12 years. Young, strapping righty has four quality pitches, including a popping fastball.

7. Luke Weaver, RHP (21) The Cards’ top pick in the 2014 draft boasts a fastball that sits in the low 90s and an effective changeup.

8. Tim Cooney, LHP (24) Closest Cardinals pitching prospect to the majors who hasn’t already thrown a pitch there. Has a safecracker’s feel for his fastball, a good changeup and elite command.

9. Sam Tuivailala, RHP (22) Former infielder hits 100 mph on his fastball and has more strikeouts (170) than walks and hits (151) in the minors.

10. Charlie Tilson, OF (22) A strong 2014 allowed the high-energy center fielder to regain pace as a prospect after losing a season to injury.

Teaser:
St. Louis Cardinals 2015 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Wednesday, March 11, 2015 - 13:00
Path: /mlb/pittsburgh-pirates-2015-preview-and-prediction
Body:

It is almost hard to believe the Pittsburgh Pirates were the laughingstocks of baseball not long ago. They had 20 consecutive losing seasons from 1993-2012, the longest such streak of futility in major North American professional sports history.

 

However, the Pirates have put that in the past by winning the first NL wild card in each of the last two seasons. The expectations of the organization far exceed finishing .500 now, as the goal has become to reach the World Series for the first time since 1979. The Pirates are in position to contend again this season, and also for many years to come, as they have a talented core group of players in the major leagues — led by superstar center fielder Andrew McCutchen — and a solid farm system.

 

“Somewhere along the way I was asked if we were content not being one-year wonders,” says general manager Neal Huntington, who enters his eighth full season on the job. “Our goal is to not be two-year wonders. We’ve set the goal from the day we got in here, the day we arrived in Pittsburgh, our goal was to be a consistent championship-caliber organization.”

 

Rotation

Hard-throwing righthander Gerrit Cole is eventually going to be the ace of the staff and has already shown he can win big games. However, he is still just 24, and the Pirates have surrounded him at the top of the rotation with a pair of veterans in lefthander Francisco Liriano and righthander A.J. Burnett to ease some of the transition into being a No. 1 starter. Liriano was re-signed to a three-year, $39 million contract as a free agent in December after going 23–18 with a 3.20 ERA in 55 starts in his first two seasons with the Pirates. Burnett returned on a cut-rate deal, signing for one year and $8.5 million after spending last season with the Philadelphia Phillies, where he led the MLB in losses while going 8–18 with a 4.59 ERA in 34 starts. However, the 38-year-old wanted to pitch one final season before retiring and do so with the Pirates after going a combined 26–21 with a 3.41 ERA in 61 starts with the team in 2012-13. Righthander Charlie Morton will likely begin the season on the disabled list after undergoing hip surgery in late September but could be back sometime in May. Lefthander Jeff Locke, two years removed from being an All-Star, likely will begin the season in the rotation, and Vance Worley has the edge over fellow righty Brandon Cumpton and veteran lefthander Clayton Richard for the final spot. Worley was a revelation last season, going 8–4 with a 2.85 ERA in 18 games.

 

Bullpen

Huntington has consistently built first-rate relief corps on a tight budget. Closer Mark Melancon will anchor the bullpen again. In his two seasons with the Pirates, the righthander has compiled a 1.65 ERA in 144 games while allowing just 1.2 walks and 0.2 home runs per nine innings. Lefthander Tony Watson is an outstanding setup man and was selected to play in his first All-Star Game last season. He has a 2.63 ERA in his four-year career. Towering righthander John Holdzkom came out of nowhere — he was signed off the Amarillo roster in the independent American Association in June — to pitch high-leverage innings late last season. The Pirates are hopeful he can be their top setup reliever from the right side with his 100-plus fastball. Righthander Jared Hughes has compiled a 2.95 ERA in his first four seasons in the major leagues. Lefthander Antonio Bastardo was acquired from the Phillies in a trade for lefty pitching prospect Joely Rodriguez at the winter meetings after holding opponents to a .201 batting average in his six seasons in Philadelphia. Stolmy Pimentel has pitched just 42 major league innings but will almost certainly make the team out of spring training as a long reliever. He is out of minor league options and would be subjected to waivers if the Pirates tried to send him to Triple-A. The Pirates were so impressed by how well Radhames Liz pitched in winter ball in his native Dominican Republic that they signed him to a major league contract, even though the one-time top prospect is 31 and hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2009 with the Baltimore Orioles.

 

Middle Infield

The Pirates’ biggest offseason splash came when they signed 27-year-old Korean shortstop Jung-Ho Kang to a four-year, $11 million deal plus $5 million posting fee. Kang put together a monster season in the Korean league in 2014, hitting .356 with 40 home runs and 117 RBIs, but it remains to be seen how this will carry over to much stiffer competition in the U.S. Kang’s no lock for significant playing time, as he will need to unseat Jordy Mercer at shortstop. Seemingly an afterthought in the Pirates’ farm system for many years, Mercer spent his first full season as a starting shortstop in the major leagues last year and did well after an awful start. He ended up hitting .255 with 12 home runs in 149 games, but the biggest surprise was his above average defense. Switch-hitting second baseman Neil Walker is a dependable player and a hometown hero — he grew up in the northern suburb of Gibsonia, Pa. The six-year veteran belted a career-high 23 home runs last season while hitting .271 in 137 games.

 

Corners

Pedro Alvarez will make the move across the diamond from third base to first base in spring training after he developed a problem making routine throws last season that led to him leading the major leagues with 25 errors. He also hit just 18 home runs in 122 games, half of his NL-leading total of 36 in 2013. Josh Harrison will begin the year as the everyday third baseman after being one of the best stories in baseball last season. Harrison barely made the team in spring training and wound up playing in the All-Star Game as he hit .315 with 18 stolen bases in 143 games while, at various times, filling holes at second base, third base, left field and right field.

 

Outfield

McCutchen anchors a talented and athletic outfield that includes Starling Marte in left and Gregory Polanco in right. McCutchen had a better season in 2014 than when he won the NL MVP award the year before, hitting .314 with 25 home runs and 18 stolen bases in 146 games while leading the majors with a .410 on-base percentage. Marte didn’t have the breakout season many expected as he was distracted by tragedies in his personal life. Yet he still hit .291 with 13 homers and 30 steals in 135 games. Arriving to great fanfare in June, Polanco responded with a hit in each of his first 11 games. However, the league caught up to Polanco, and he finished with a .235 batting average in 89 games, though he hit seven homers and stole 14 bases.

 

Catching

Francisco Cervelli gets his long-awaited chance to be a starter after logging seven years as a backup with the New York Yankees, who traded him to the Pirates in November for left-handed reliever Justin Wilson. Cervelli is outstanding defensively and has a .278 lifetime batting average. However, he has been hampered by injuries throughout his career, and the Pirates plan to limit him to around 100 starts in an attempt to keep him healthy.

 

Bench

The Pirates could have their most powerful bench in years, especially if Kang’s power translates to his new league. Pittsburgh also added right-handed-hitting first baseman/outfielder Corey Hart, who was signed to a one-year, $2.5-million contract as a free agent. The Pirates traded with the Tampa Bay Rays for Sean Rodriguez, who can play all four infield spots and each of the three outfield positions. He also provides some pop. Slick-fielding middle infielder Pedro Florimon was claimed off waivers after spending the last three seasons with the Minnesota Twins. Veteran Chris Stewart will be the backup catcher to Cervelli, his former Yankees teammate.

 

Management

Clint Hurdle enters his fifth season as manager and has been the perfect fit in Pittsburgh. His positive attitude and the ability to connect with people and inspire them have not only left a mark on the franchise but also the city.

 

Final Analysis

The Pirates’ goal this season is to win the NL Central and avoid the wild card. They will have their hands full in a strong division but once again have the look of contenders with a good pitching staff, solid lineup and increased depth.

 

2015 Prediction: 2nd in NL Central (Wild Card)

 

Projected Lineup

3B       Josh Harrison (R)    Earned a promotion to full-time third baseman after thriving as utility player last season.

RF       Gregory Polanco (L)            Has more raw talent than anyone in the lineup but needs polish.

CF       Andrew McCutchen (R)      Missed out on back-to-back MVPs despite having another brilliant season.

2B       Neil Walker (S)         He is a steady run producer — especially for a middle infielder.

LF       Starling Marte (R)     A burgeoning star who seems poised for a breakout after two solid seasons.

1B       Pedro Alvarez (L)     Will be interesting to see how he handles making the transition from third base to first base.

SS       Jordy Mercer (R)       Not flashy in the field, but he gets the job done and can also hit.

C         Francisco Cervelli (R)         Longtime Yankee is a solid defensive backstop who has hit well when given the opportunity.

 

Bench

C         Chris Stewart (R)     Had his best offensive season in 2014 but is in the major leagues because of his defense.

1B/OF Corey Hart (R)         Will likely start at first base against lefthanders while trying to get his career back on track.

INF      Pedro Florimon (S) Provides excellent defense at the middle infield positions, but don’t expect any offense.

UT       Sean Rodriguez (R)            Versatility is his strength, and he can also pop an occasional home run.

SS       Jung-Ho Kang (R)   Everyone waiting to see if Korean League star can handle transition to MLB.

 

Rotation

LH       Francisco Liriano     Re-signed after testing the free agent market and will be the de facto ace of a strong staff.

RH      A.J. Burnett   Returns from a one-year hiatus in Philadelphia with hopes of winning a ring in his last season.

RH      Gerrit Cole     Former top pick is the No. 1 starter in waiting — and the wait might not last much longer.

LH       Jeff Locke      Former second-round pick of the Braves is a very capable major league starter — when he throws strikes.

RH      Vance Worley           One of the Pirates’ many pitching reclamation projects, Worley won eight games in 2014.

 

Bullpen

RH      Mark Melancon (Closer)     Thanks to an unhittable cutter, he’s had a sub-1.000 WHIP each of the last two seasons.

LH       Tony Watson            One of the most talented and durable left-handed relievers in the game.

RH      John Holdzkom        Pirates found a gem when they signed him from an independent league last June.

RH      Jared Hughes           Former fourth-round pick has been excellent at escaping mid-inning jams.

LH       Antonio Bastardo     Former Phillie provides a solid lefty option in the middle innings.

RH      Stolmy Pimentel       Has yet to be given the chance to show if he can pitch in high-leverage situations.

RH      Radhames Liz          One-time Oriole looks to return to the major leagues after a three-year stint in Korea.

 

Beyond the Box Score

Destination job There was a time not long ago when free agents who signed with the Pirates felt like they were going to the end of the baseball world. However, perceptions have changed following back-to-back postseason trips that came on the heels of 20 straight losing seasons. Throw in the fact that the Pirates have one of the most scenic homes in the major leagues in PNC Park, and Pittsburgh has become a destination. “We’re in a position now where agents are calling us, versus us having to chase their guys,” general manager Neal Huntington says. The Pirates were able to sign a pair of veteran starting pitchers as free agents in the offseason, bringing lefthander Francisco Liriano back on a three-year, $39 million contract and righthander A.J. Burnett on a one-year, $8.5 million deal. Both said they turned down more lucrative offers from other clubs.

Show me Agent Scott Boras isn’t quite sold on the Pirates having staying power as a contender, though. “How you build that World Series contender year after year is that when you bring these young players here and they become great players you have to sign not one or two, but you have to keep a core of them,” he says. “That’s the question that has yet to be answered as we go forward.” Boras represents Pirates righthander Gerrit Cole and first baseman Pedro Alvarez along with top first base/outfield prospect Josh Bell.

Finally home Super utility player Sean Rodriguez, acquired from Tampa Bay in an offseason trade for pitching prospect Buddy Borden, has seemingly always been a National League player trapped in an American League uniform. Rodriguez has played every position but pitcher and catcher in the major leagues, and that versatility should play well in the NL. “Whatever they ask me to do, I’m going to do it,” Rodriguez says.

Shagging flies Left fielder Starling Marte and right fielder Gregory Polanco spent part of the winter working out together in their native Dominican Republic, concentrating on tracking fly balls. “I think if people hit it that way, they have no chance,” Marte says of a potentially outstanding defensive outfield that also includes Gold Glove center fielder Andrew McCutchen.

 

2014 Top Draft Pick

Cole Tucker, SS

While the Pirates were mulling the idea of drafting Tucker from Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix with the 24th overall pick, there were three people with ties to the organization who could vouch for him. Retired corner infielder Kevin Young coached Tucker in youth baseball. Current Pirates first baseman Pedro Alvarez has known Tucker, whose younger brother plays youth baseball with Alvarez’s brother-in-law, since 2008. Also, a son of former shortstop and hitting coach Jay Bell played with Tucker in high school. Though 6'3", Tucker has the athleticism, range and arm to stay at shortstop. He is a project offensively, however, as he is primarily a contact hitter and lacks pop, but the Pirates are confident that the 180-pounder will hit for at least some power as his body matures.

 

Top 10 Prospects

1. Tyler Glasnow, RHP (21) Fifth-round pick in 2011 has blossomed as a professional, winning the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year in each of the last two seasons.

2. Jameson Taillon, RHP (23) The second overall pick in the 2010 draft missed the season after undergoing Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery

3. Josh Bell, 1B/OF (22) His development was slowed by a knee injury in 2012. Finally healthy again last season, he was the Florida State League Player of the Year.

4. Austin Meadows, OF (19) The first of two first-round draft picks in 2013, Meadows has shown five-tool ability when healthy. However, he missed most of last season with a hamstring injury.

5. Nick Kingham, RHP (23) 2010 fourth-round pick has good command of a three-pitch mix. Could be the first starter called up from Indianapolis this season.

6. Reese McGuire, C (20) The Pirates’ second first-round pick in 2013 is considered one of the finest defensive catchers in the minor leagues.

7. Alen Hanson, 2B/SS (22) The Dominican native will likely wind up at second base because of a below-average arm. He has speed and some power.

8. Cole Tucker, SS (18) Tucker shows great maturity for his age and should be able to handle the jump to Low-A West Virginia this season.

9. Harold Ramirez, OF (20) The product of Colombia has speed and emerging power. However, his 2014 season was ruined by leg injuries.

10. Mitch Keller, RHP (19) A second-round pick in last year’s draft, he has a fastball that reaches 95 mph and a curveball that is developing into a weapon.

Teaser:
Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Wednesday, March 11, 2015 - 12:30
Path: /mlb/milwaukee-brewers-2015-preview-and-prediction
Body:

Who, exactly, are the Milwaukee Brewers? Are they the team that led the NL Central for 150 days last season? Or are they the team that collapsed down the stretch? After an in-depth review of all aspects of baseball operations, general manager Doug Melvin is betting on the former, as picked up Aramis Ramirez’ option and traded for first baseman Adam Lind. However, a maxed out payroll led to one big change, trading ace Yovani Gallardo to Texas for three players. There’s still lots of proven talent returning, although much will be riding on the balky right thumb of right fielder Ryan Braun. But if he’s even close to his former MVP self and the pitching is again solid, Melvin’s gamble might well pay off.

 

Rotation

In Matt Garza, Kyle Lohse and budding ace Wily Peralta, the Brewers have a nice 1-2-3 punch atop their rotation. Peralta, a burly Dominican righty, won a career-high 17 games utilizing a fastball that ranked third in the majors in average velocity at 95.8 mph and a nasty slider that induced lots of ground-ball outs. Entering his second season in Milwaukee, Garza battled injury and inconsistency but showed flashes of his former dominance. Lohse remains a reliable workhorse, pitching right around 200 innings for each of the past four seasons. The Brewers are hoping the No. 4 spot in the rotation will be solidified by yet another righty, Mike Fiers, who came out of nowhere to go 6–4 with a 2.09 ERA in 10 late-season starts after a nondescript stint earlier in the season as a long man. Fiers was nothing short of incredible, posting a 14-strikeout game in his second turn in place of an injured Garza and then bouncing back mentally following his scary September beaning of Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton. The  Gallardo trade also opens up the final spot in the rotation for young, hard-throwing Jimmy Nelson.

 

Bullpen

Milwaukee was set to lean on veteran Jonathan Broxton, acquired from the Reds in a late-August trade, as its closer, that was until Francisco Rodriguez was brought back at the start of spring training. K-Rod signed a two-year deal to reclaim his closing duties, something he was quite effective at (44 of 49 opportunities) last season. His return and Broxton’s move back to a setup role gives the Brewers two veteran options to pair with its collection of ascending, but relatively unproven, arms. Lefty Will Smith and righty Jeremy Jeffress both figure to serve as the bridge between the starter and the finishers. Smith was a revelation early on with his devastating slider befuddling left-handed hitters, but he faded badly after being overused. Still, with 86 strikeouts in 65.2 innings, he certainly has stuff befitting a late-inning reliever. Jeffress, with a fastball that routinely touches the high 90s, does as well, and he went 1–1 with a 1.88 ERA in 29 appearances after the Brewers — the team that drafted him back in 2006 — rescued him off the scrap heap. The longest-tenured reliever is righty Brandon Kintzler, who scuffled his way to a 3–3 record and 3.24 ERA after a dynamite 2013. He had a lingering knee injury repaired in the offseason, and the hope is he’ll return to his old form. Melvin found himself in the hunt for another lefty when Zach Duke signed with the White Sox, which is why veteran Neal Cotts was signed in late January. Righties Jim Henderson and Tyler Thornburg are coming off shoulder and elbow injuries, respectively.

 

Middle Infield

There are major questions here. Most center around shortstop Jean Segura, who slumped badly in 2014 after turning down a $38 million extension from the Brewers in spring training and then having his newborn son unexpectedly pass away just before the All-Star break. The free-swinging Segura did himself no favors by continuing to swing at pitches out of the zone, giving opposing pitchers no reason to throw him strikes. He was expected to employ some changes at the plate while playing winter ball in the Dominican in the offseason, and if he can regain some consistency it would help solidify the bottom of the Brewers’ lineup. At second base, budding star Scooter Gennett finally gets a chance to be the full-time starter. He hit .289 with nine homers and 54 RBIs in a platoon in 2014, but the question remains: Can he hit left-handed pitching? He comes into 2015 having hit just .128 against lefties in 78 career at-bats.

 

Corners

Melvin hopes he solved the offensive black hole at first base by trading for Lind, whose left-handed bat should be a perfect fit in the middle of the lineup. And the belief is he can at least be an adequate defender. Lind has battled nagging injuries in recent years, but when healthy he murders right-handed pitching — a major plus in a division that features a lot of it. Jonathan Lucroy will likely be called upon in place of Lind with a lefty on the mound. At third base, Ramirez is coming off an All-Star season, but one in which he posted his worst offensive numbers since becoming a full-time player. He turns 37 in late June and announced at the start of spring training that this would be his last season. Ramirez has battled numerous leg issues since becoming a Brewer, but the hope is he can turn in one more respectable campaign.

 

Outfield

Braun’s return from his Biogenesis suspension did not go according to plan. A painful nerve issue in his right hand returned and got progressively worse over the course of the season. He underwent a little-known cryotherapy treatment in the offseason in hopes of eliminating the pain. Left fielder Khris Davis acquitted himself fairly well in his first season as a starter, banging 22 homers and driving in 69 runs. But his .244 average needs to improve, as does his selectiveness at the plate. Center field remains locked down by Carlos Gomez. He became the Brewers’ full-time leadoff hitter and displayed better plate discipline.

 

Catching

The Brewers might be better positioned here than any other team in the majors with an All-Star in Lucroy and an above-average backup in Martin Maldonado. Lucroy was a doubles machine, leading the majors with 53, while also improving defensively. He’s regarded as the finest pitch-framer in the game. Catching 133 games wore him down, so playing him more at first base should help keep him fresh this year. The next step for Lucroy is to become a bigger presence on a team with plenty of veterans but precious few vocal ones.

 

Bench

Switch-hitting Luis Sardinas was acquired in the Gallardo trade and can play all over the infield. In the outfield, the Brewers have a terrific insurance policy in two-time Gold Glover Gerardo Parra, who can play all three spots as well as provide a left-handed bat on a righty-heavy team. Luis Jimenez, a waiver claim from the Angels, is expected to be a backup at the corners. Outfielder Logan Schafer, another left-handed bat, will probably round out the bench.

 

Management

Principal owner Mark Attanasio was livid after his team’s slide out of playoff contention. After cooling off, he and Melvin chose to keep manager Ron Roenicke, determining that an offensive funk was mostly to blame. New hitting coach Darnell Coles will be tasked with teaching a more consistent approach at the plate, and it will be on Roenicke to rein in a group that has continually run into some baffling outs on the bases. The Brewers’ expected payroll of $110 million signals Attanasio’s desire to win despite his team’s small-market status.

 

Final Analysis

The Brewers’ struggles against the Cardinals have been well documented. Now, with the Cubs going all-in on the strength of their active offseason, the Central becomes that much tougher. Avoiding major injury and playing more consistently will be crucial for Milwaukee, which proved last year it had all the pieces needed to contend.

 

2015 Prediction: 3rd in NL Central

 

Projected Lineup

CF       Carlos Gomez (R)    Hit five leadoff homers in 2014, providing the Brewers with a terrific mix of power and speed atop the lineup.

2B       Scooter Gennett (L)             Diminutive gamer has plenty of pop in his bat, but he needs to show more patience at the plate.

RF       Ryan Braun (R)        A healed right thumb for the former NL MVP would do wonders for a team that badly needs his punch.

1B       Adam Lind (L)           Provides much-needed pop and lineup balance from the left side of the plate. But can he stay healthy?

C         Jonathan Lucroy (R)           Backstop was the model of consistency in 2014. More time at first base might help save his legs.

3B       Aramis Ramirez (R)             Milwaukee is hoping for one more productive year out of the aging slugger.

LF       Khris Davis (R)         Must become more selective and consistent to harness his full potential.

SS       Jean Segura (R)      Got himself out far too often in 2014 by swinging at everything.

 

Bench

INF      Luis Sardinas (S)     Came over from Texas in the Yovani Gallardo trade, can play everywhere in the infield but first.

OF       Gerardo Parra (L)     By virtue of his left-handed bat and two Gold Gloves, Parra will play much more than the usual substitute.

C         Martin Maldonado (R)         Solid backup catcher who could see more time behind the plate if Lucroy plays a lot at first.

INF      Luis Jimenez (R)      Backup corner infielder who was acquired off waivers in the offseason from the Angels.

OF       Logan Schafer (L)    Left-handed bat could be an asset on a righty-heavy team, but plate production (.181 in 116 AB in 2014) must improve.

 

Rotation

RH      Kyle Lohse    Coming off a fourth consecutive 30-start season, the veteran has been a model of consistency.

RH      Matt Garza     Alternated between terrific and troubling in 2014. Can be great when he’s healthy.

RH      Wily Peralta   Budding future ace who could well be Milwaukee’s next 20-game winner.

RH      Mike Fiers      Reclamation project who will have to prove this spring that his strong finish to 2014 was no mirage.

RH      Jimmy Nelson           Yovani Gallardo trade opens up spot in rotation for young righty after going 2-8 with 4.76 ERA in 12 starts last season.

 

Bullpen

RH      Francisco Rodriguez (Closer)       Back with Brewers after saving 44 in 49 chances last season.

RH      Jonathan Broxton (Closer) K-Rod’s return pushes Broxton back to setup role, but he could get his opportunities to close too.

RH      Jeremy Jeffress        Possessing a power arm, Jeffress might well find himself in a setup role if he can hit his spots consistently.

LH       Will Smith      Nasty slider makes him ultra-tough on lefties. Could also set up or even close on occasion in 2015.

RH      Brandon Kintzler      If he’s healthy, Kintzler could reclaim a big role in the Brewers’ bullpen.

RH      Jim Henderson         Former closer hoping to return from second career shoulder surgery.

LH       Neal Cotts     Could grab last bullpen spot simply because he’s a southpaw.

 

Beyond the Box Score

Doubling down Jonathan Lucroy became the first primary catcher in modern baseball history (since 1900) to lead his league in doubles by pounding out 53. Lucroy tied his 2014 teammate, Lyle Overbay, for the franchise record, with Overbay racking up 53 in 2004. Lucroy’s 46 doubles as a catcher set a new major league record, breaking the previous mark of 45 set by Ivan Rodriguez in 1996. It was a season to remember for Lucroy, who also started in the All-Star Game in his first trip as he replaced an injured Yadier Molina. Lucroy was just the second catcher in Brewers history to start an All-Star Game, joining Ted Simmons (1983).

Go-go Gomez Center fielder Carlos Gomez furthered his reputation as one of baseball’s pre-eminent speed and power threats by finishing with 24 home runs and 34 stolen bases. That gave him his second consecutive 20-homer, 30-stolen base season after hitting 23 homers and stealing 40 bases in 2013.

On Fiers Mike Fiers joined the Brewers’ rotation on Aug. 9 and made a total of 10 starts. Over that span, the righthander ranked second in the National League in strikeouts with 71 — second only to NL MVP and Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, who had 82. Fiers also ranked 10th in the NL in ERA at 2.09 from Aug. 9 on.

Khrush Davis Since July 23, 2013, the date of his first major league homer, left fielder Khris Davis is tied for third among NL outfielders in homers with 33. The top two long-ball outfield artists? Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton with 51 and San Diego’s Justin Upton with 40. Davis also finished 2014 tied for 10th in the NL with 61 extra-base hits.

 

2014 Top Draft Pick

Kodi Medeiros, LHP

With three picks in the top 50 overall, the Brewers went for upside in the 2014 draft, selecting three high schoolers. Medeiros was the first, coming off the board 12th overall. He impressed the Brewers during a late-spring workout at Miller Park with a fastball that consistently reached the mid-90s and a slider that was considered one of the best breaking pitches among all prep pitchers. Medeiros also throws from a low arm slot, making his breaking pitches even tougher to pick up. Many believed he profiled as a reliever coming into the draft, but the Brewers are going to give him every opportunity to prove he can start. Medeiros, a product of Waiakea High School, is the highest-drafted native Hawaiian ever, a great source of pride for him. He turned down a scholarship to Pepperdine to sign with Milwaukee.

 

Top 10 Prospects

1. Tyrone Taylor, OF (21) Speedy center field prospect who was drafted by the Brewers in the second round in 2012. He reached Class AA at the end of 2014 and should start there in 2015.

2. Orlando Arcia, SS (20) Terrific defensive shortstop whose hitting has improved, albeit without much power. He could push Jean Segura. 

3. Clint Coulter, OF (21) First-round pick of the Brewers in 2012 who has moved from catcher to the outfield. Had a big year at Class A Wisconsin.

4. Monte Harrison, OF (19) Big-time athlete who turned down a football/baseball scholarship with Nebraska to sign with the Brewers as the 50th overall pick in 2014.

5. Kodi Medeiros, LHP (18) At 6'2" and 180 pounds, Medeiros has a solid frame with room to grow. He struggled with command in the Arizona Rookie League in nine appearances.

6. Jacob Gatewood, INF (19) Had maybe the most raw power potential coming out of high school in 2014, when he was picked between Medeiros and Harrison at No. 41 overall.

7. Jorge Lopez, RHP (22) Long and lanky at 6'4", 165 pounds, Lopez is a starter who has a terrific curveball and developing fastball.

8. Devin Williams, RHP (20) The Brewers’ top pick in 2013 averaged around a strikeout per inning in rookie league in his first full season as a pro.

9. Victor Roache, OF (23) Roache is the classic boom-or-bust hitter with tons of power but the strikeouts to match. Taken 28th overall in 2012.

10. Taylor Jungmann, RHP (25) It’s been a long, slow climb for Jungmann. He’s finally on the big-league radar as a back-end starter.

Teaser:
Milwaukee Brewers 2015 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Wednesday, March 11, 2015 - 11:30

Pages