Articles By Charlie Miller
Last night, Adam Rosales of Oakland launched an apparent game-tying home run in the ninth inning at Cleveland only to have it ruled a double by the umpiring crew. After reviewing the call via replay, the umpiring crew, led by Angel Hernandez, emerged and held Rosales at second base.
MLB, slow to enter the digital age and catch up to the wonders of instant replay with the ability to right wrongs called on the field, still has much work to do to with its replay system.
It’s pretty clear that the three umpires reviewing the play were the only people who believe the ball hit the outfield wall. I’ve watched replays of the Oakland broadcast, the Cleveland broadcast and heard replays of both teams’ radio calls, and every announcer involved felt it was clearly a home run. In every replay I saw it appeared the ball hit the dark railing beyond the wall, clearly above the yellow line marking the top of the outfield fence. I’ve yet to see or hear any reports of anyone saying, “Good call, that ball hit the wall.” And I’m sure we won’t.
So how did Hernandez and his crew miss that? Good question. If you want to give the umpires the benefit of a doubt, there have been complaints from the arbiters in the past that they don’t have access to all the angles that fans see at home. Why that might be the case is unclear, unacceptable and certainly something that should be rectified immediately. But in this case, I’m not sure what angles might be inconclusive. The ball hit the railing. It changed direction above the wall. Unless the umpires were viewing replays on a black and white, 14-inch, non-HD monitor, I don’t understand how they could reach their conclusion.
Now we don’t know that the outcome would have been different. Had the home run counted, the game would have been tied with the A’s batting in the ninth inning. At any rate, this was a pivotal call. And MLB must get these calls right.
MLB’s replay system failed. The system didn’t just fail the A’s, but all of baseball. If the system in place can’t guarantee the right call in this situation, then how do we expect any calls to be right?
-Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
There's never a shortage for cool numbers in baseball. Cleanup hitters struggle, a former utilityman goes off and some dude who's never closed games before is perfect. Go figure (which is what we've been doing).
1.150 Bryce Harper’s OPS for April
At age 20, Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals led the National League with a 1.150 OPS in April, becoming the youngest player to lead the NL in OPS after April since 1965 when Ed Kranepool of the Mets batted .418 with a 1.161 OPS. In case you’re wondering, the New York first baseman ended the season at .253/.675.
12 Saves in 12 attempts for closer Jason Grilli of the Pirates
The 36-year-old righthander had just five saves at the major league level and three in the minors — in his career — prior to closing games for Pittsburgh this season.
16 Home runs for Boston at Toronto this season
In six games at Toronto this season, the Red Sox have clubbed 16 homers. Boston bats have been much quieter in their other 25 games totaling just 17 clouts.
.591 Ryan Raburn’s batting average for the week
The former Detroit utilityman has found a home in right field in Cleveland. Last week, Raburn hit .591 with two four-hit games, a three-hit game and a two-hit game. He homered twice in back-to-back games for his only four long balls of the season. During the week, he raised his season batting average from .214 to .344.
.188 Batting average for Milwaukee cleanup hitters this season
After losing Prince Fielder to free agency prior to last season, the Brewers enlisted third baseman Aramis Ramirez to hit cleanup and protect Ryan Braun in the lineup. Ramirez responded well last season. But the third baseman has spent most of this season on the DL and the Brewers have found no suitable replacement behind Braun.
8 RBIs by the Mets’ Ike Davis this season
It’s not for the lack of opportunity, Davis has come to bat with 37 runners in scoring position this season. He’s 4-for-27 with 13 Ks with ducks on the pond.
12 Stolen base attempts for St. Louis in 2013
These are not your father’s St. Louis Cardinals. The running Redbirds of the 1980s made the stolen base fashionable as Whiteyball turned the Cardinals into one of the best clubs throughout the decade. With just 12 stolen base attempts this season, St. Louis ranks last in the majors. At least the 83 percent success rate is tied for sixth. Two players have more steals than the entire Cardinals team.
14 Strikeouts for Yu Darvish vs Boston
In his last start, Darvish whiffed 14 Boston batters over seven innings. It was the second time this season that the young righthander has struck out 14. He punched out 14 Astros during the first week of the season. Darvish is only the second Texas Rangers pitcher to strike out at least 14 batters in one game twice. The other? Nolan Ryan, of course, who did it seven times.
11 Come-from-behind wins for Kansas City this season
In those 11 comeback wins, 10 different players have driven home the winning run.
6 Pinch-hit home runs for Jordany Valdespin
Jordany Valdespin of the New York Mets has six home runs in 59 career pinch-hitting appearances. The extra outfielder has four homers in 212 non-pinch-hitting plate appearances.
6 Consecutive seasons St. Louis has ended April in first place
The Cardinals’ conversion rate over the past five years for completing the season in first place is just 20 percent.
37.2 Innings pitched by the Oakland bullpen last week
The busy bullpen logged more innings than the starters last week. Of course, it didn’t help that the A’s and Angels played 19 innings on Monday. The starters threw 35.1 innings.
4 and 1 Saves and Wins for Sergio Romo of San Francisco last week
San Francisco’s closer made five appearances last week and notched four saves and a win. He retired 15 of the 18 batters he faced, allowing just three singles. His durability and reliability permit Bruce Bochy to manage games cautiously to the Giants’ advantage.
11 Wins by the Yankees of less than three runs
The Yankees are not afraid to play close games. And why not with Mariano Rivera lurking in the bullpen. Of the Yankees’ first 18 wins, five of them have been one-run games and six of the wins were by two runs.
6 Catcher Interference calls this season
Of the six catcher interference calls in the majors this season, D-backs hitters have been the beneficiaries three times. Can you coach that?
.182 Phillies batting average last week
The Phils surprisingly managed to win two of six games last week with the worst batting average in the majors for the week. Philadelphia defeated Miami twice, but was shutout twice, once by the Marlins and once at Cleveland.
-Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best (Texas Rangers) and worst (Houston Astros) baseball teams and players in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings and Players of the Week.
At the end of the season, the major awards voters will evaluate players in their own way, with a variety of definitions applied to the word “Valuable” in Most Valuable Player. There are the Sabermetricians who will argue each player’s effect on his team winning, commonly using the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) stats. Traditionalists will focus on raw stats that can be calculated without logarithms. But what about the players that teams can ill-afford to lose, the truly indispensable? Some of the players mentioned below will get MVP consideration, others will not. But at this point in the season, these are the 15 most indispensable players.
Each week during the 2013 MLB season, we highlight the most important, intriguing and bizarre stats in baseball.
.516 David Ortiz’s Batting Average
Big Papi is back and the Red Sox are loving it. Already in first place in the AL East, Boston received a lift when Ortiz returned recently. He’s hit safely in all eight games he’s played batting .516 and driving in 11 runs. Dating to last July 2, the slugger has a 20-game hitting streak and is batting .471 during the stretch with a .743 slugging percentage and .558 OBP.
39 Strikeouts by Braves hitters during weekend at Detroit
The Tigers swept the Braves and Detroit pitchers dominated Atlanta hitters. Led by Anibal Sanchez’s 17 whiffs — a single-game franchise record — on Friday night, the Tigers’ pitchers held Atlanta to a .186 average and just five walks in the series.
37:1 Strikeout-to-walk ratio for Adam Wainwright
The Cardinals’ ace set a modern record with 35 strikeouts to start the season before issuing his first walk. Through the week, he had four wins, 37 Ks and just one walk. Not since the dead ball era has a pitcher won 20 games and finished the season with more wins than walks.
.177 Yankees shortstops’ batting average
Just how much do the Yankees miss Derek Jeter? This season Yankee shortstops are batting a combined .177 with just one home run, seven RBIs and seven runs. Last season at the end of April, Jeter was hitting .389 with four homers, 13 RBIs and 16 runs.
12 Homers for the Marlins and Justin Upton
Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins ended his home run drought over the weekend with a clout on Saturday and two on Sunday. Those were his first homers of the season and tied the Marlins with Justin Upton of the Braves with 12 this season.
.151 Cubs batting average with RISP
There must be something about Chicago this season. The White Sox own the lowest mark in the American League at .188.
9 Saves for Mariano Rivera
With three saves last week, Rivera has nine this season. Only once (2011) in his Hall of Fame career has Rivera had nine saves in April prior to this season. The Sandman just keeps going and going and going.
.143 Combined batting average for Adam LaRoche, Adam Dunn and B.J. Upton
The trio will make a combined $37 million this season. They are currently batting a combined .143 with 11 homers and 24 RBIs. The home run and RBI totals would rank second and fourth in the majors, respectively.
34 At-bats with RISP for Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera
Last season’s American League Triple Crown winner is batting .500 with 23 RBIs in those situations. With two outs and runners in scoring position, his average jumps to .615.
14 At-bats with RISP for Paul Konerko of the White Sox
Like Cabrera, Chicago’s first baseman is batting .500 in those situations, but has just 11 RBIs.
.198 Kansas City cleanup hitters batting average
The Royals are one of the most improved teams in the majors this season. While most teams expect their cleanup hitters to produce runs, especially with the long ball, the Royals are getting very little production. At the end of the week, No. 4 hitters for K.C. were hitting .198 with no home runs and just six RBIs.
0 Home runs by cleanup hitters against Detroit pitchers
Through 24 games, Detroit pitchers have given up 12 home runs, but none of them were hit by opposing cleanup hitters in their 88 at-bats.
5 Home runs for Brandon Crawford
Not Buster Posey or Pablo Sandoval, and not even Hunter Pence was leading the Giants in home runs by week’s end. It was shortstop and No. 8 hitter Brandon Crawford who led the Giants with five homers. Crawford had just seven career homers coming into this season.
1.54 ERA for Matt Harvey
The Mets’ Harvey is 4-0, and lest you think this might have something to do with pitcher-friendly Citi Field, the rest of the Mets’ staff is 6-13 with a 4.88 ERA.
3.14 ERA of the Chicago Cubs rotation
While this speaks well for the Cubs’ starters, their 5-12 record speaks volumes about the Cubs’ anemic offense.
Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams and players in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings and Players of the Week.
The Chicago White Sox finally passed Joey Votto in the Walk Chase, but there remain some amazing digits from the Week of April 15-21.
8-of-9 Batters struck out by Greg Holland
After a rough couple of weeks to begin the season, Kansas City closer Greg Holland was absolutely lights out last week. In three appearances, he faced nine batters and struck out eight to notch three saves for the surging Royals.
10 RBIs for Boston’s Mike Napoli
First baseman Mike Napoli is more than earning his $5 million salary so far this season. Last week, he drove home 10 runs in seven games as the Red Sox went 5-2 to move into first place in the AL East. For good measure, Napoli bookended that week with two RBIs on the Sunday before and five ribbies the Monday after for 17 RBIs over a nine-game span from April 14-22. He now leads the AL in RBIs.
6.28 ERA for the Yankees’ fourth and fifth starters
How important are fourth and fifth starters? Presumably a team’s fourth starter will take the mound as many times as its ace. And the No. 5 man only a few less. The Yankees are cruising when CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda take the hill. The trio is a combined 8-3 with a 2.69 ERA. Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes are not pulling their weight just yet. The two are 1-3 with a 6.28 ERA.
.322 Batting average for Baltimore’s first five hitters
Managers expect the top of the lineup to produce runs. They expect the 1-2 hitters to get on base, be able to run and set the table for the run producers at the 3-4-5 spots in the order. The Orioles are meeting all of Buck Showalter’s expectations in that regard. None of the Orioles’ AL East brethren is close to Baltimore’s .322 average. Boston is the next best at .285.
.114 Batting average for Baltimore’s last four hitters
But a successful lineup must have depth. And Baltimore doesn’t. The Orioles are getting very little production from the bottom of the order.
.179 Batting average for Mets cleanup hitters
The Mets’ No. 4 hitters, primarily Ike Davis, are batting just .179. But the news isn’t all bad, the cleanup hitters have produced 12 RBIs, which equates to about 114 over a full season.
27.8 Percent of Dodgers runs scored by Carl Crawford
The former All-Star appears to be returning to form. He’s batting .338 with a .427 OBP and has scored 15 runs (tied for 10th in MLB). His teammates are having trouble touching all the bases. Only the Marlins (43) have scored fewer runs than the Dodgers (54) this season. Just two other players — Austin Jackson of Detroit (23.8) and Desmond Jennings of Tampa Bay (20.5) — have scored more than 20 percent of their teams’ runs.
.232 Pirates batting average
It’s not that the Bucs are the worst hitting team in the majors, there are six teams with lower batting averages. It’s just that, as of the end of the week, the Pirates had outscored their opponents 68-66 in spite of their offensive inadequacies.
4 Hitters below .210
Four Twins with enough qualifying at-bats are hitting below .210. That’s right four. The Braves are the only other team with as many as three below the .210 line and six teams have none. Bottoming out for the Twinkies is rookie Aaron Hicks at .059.
9 Run support for Felix Hernandez – Total
King Felix has toed the rubber for the Mariners four times this season and the offense has produced very little for the ace. Seattle has managed nine runs in the four games. Although Hernandez had a 2.51 ERA, his record stood at 1-2.
.222-2-8 Batting average, home runs, RBIs for Josh Hamilton
The Angels’ right fielder signed a 5-year, $133 million deal over the winter, but has yet to hit his stride with his new team in Anaheim. But let’s wait until May 5 to judge Hamilton too harshly. Last May 4, Albert Pujols’s line looked rather dismal as well at .194-0-5. The Angels were 10-17 at that point last season.
.383/.179 Detroit’s Austin Jackson’s batting averages in the Tigers’ wins and losses
Yes, the Tigers have last season’s Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, who is off to a terrific start this season, and Torii Hunter, who has found happiness to the tune of a .390 batting average, in the lineup. But the Tigers go as their leadoff man goes. In Detroit’s nine wins, Jackson is batting .383 and has scored 15 runs. In the nine losses, he stands at .179 with only four runs.
200 Career wins for Roy Halladay of the Phillies
He joins Andy Pettitte as the only active pitchers with at least 200 wins. But Tim Hudson of the Braves is scheduled to go for No. 200 on Wednesday at Colorado. CC Sabathia of the Yankees is just six wins away from the milestone.
.149 On-base percentage for Jeff Keppinger
Keppinger has yet to draw a walk this season in 74 plate appearances. With a .153 batting average and two sacrifice flies, Keppinger of the White Sox is the only player of the 189 with enough qualifying at-bats with a higher batting average than OBP.
9 Games the Miami Marlins have plated fewer than two runs
Through 19 games the team is on pace for 77 games with fewer than two runs. The most in a season in the 2000s for any team is 45 by the 2011 San Diego Padres.
7 Players with more home runs than the Marlins
Three of those hitters — Justin Upton, Bryce Harper and John Buck — call the NL East home.
-Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
It’s tough to gauge just which rookies will emerge this season. Some players—like the Rays’ Wil Myers—are expected to become stars, but the Rays haven’t called Myers up from Durham yet. Others, such as Evan Gattis of the Braves, have an excellent opportunity to show what they can do now, but once regular catcher Brian McCann returns from injury, Gattis’ playing time will all but disappear.
Just two weeks into the season, the sample size is small, but it’s fun to dissect a few notable numbers from the early going. Here are a few from the week of April 8-14.
20 Walks for Joey Votto
The former MVP of the Reds is on pace for 270 walks this season. He has drawn a walk in every game this season save one. In that lone game, he was 3-for-4. But we know that 12 games is a small sample size, and at some point NL pitchers will find a way to pitch to him. Perhaps even more remarkable than Votto’s 20 walks is that the entire White Sox team has but 16. I guess patience at the plate isn’t such a virtue on the South Side of Chicago.
1.82 ERA for the Atlanta Braves
At the end of two weeks, the Atlanta pitching staff has been downright filthy, clearly the main reason the Braves are off to such a hot start. With an ERA of 1.82, the Braves are so much better than the season’s standard. Only three other teams have an ERA below 3.00.
0 Home runs hit last week by teams from Florida
The Tampa Bay Rays have just five home runs on the season, and didn’t go yard last week as they went 1-4 with one rainout (thankfully). It wasn’t any better in South Florida. The Marlins scored just six runs in six games against the Braves and Phillies, winning one and losing five.
2.78 ERA for Miami starting pitchers
Just how bad is the run support in Miami? Bad enough that a few starters may need to be put on suicide watch. The rotation has a respectable combined ERA of 2.78. Their won-loss record is a combined 1-6.
20.1 Paul Maholm scoreless innings
Prior to this season, Paul Maholm owned a 66-84 record in 216 career starts and a 4.26 ERA, primarily with the Pirates. He has averaged 9.6 hits per nine innings and 5.7 strikeouts. This season he has yet to allow a run in 20.1 innings and has found a strikeout pitch. He’s whiffing batters at a rate of 8.9 per nine innings and allowing just 4.9 hits. The lefthander ended the week with 14.2 shutout innings over the Braves’ division rivals Miami and Washington, both games on the road.
39 Scoreless innings for St. Louis pitchers
The St. Louis Cardinals’ pitching staff recently put together a streak of 39 scoreless innings. A stretch that included a shutout over division favorite Cincinnati and two whitewashes of Milwaukee.
33 Scoreless innings for Milwaukee hitters
Ryan Braun broke the string with a two-run homer off of St. Louis reliever Trevor Rosenthal, a clout that also ended the Cardinals’ scoreless streak.
6.09 Bullpen ERA in St. Louis
Just how badly do the Cardinals miss closer Jason Motte? The reliever is out with an elbow injury that could require Tommy John surgery and the shakeup in the St. Louis bullpen hasn’t yielded great results. The starters are certainly carrying their load with a 1.82 ERA and a combined 7-2 record as of Sunday. The bullpen? Well, that’s been sketchy. Relievers have combined for a 6.09 ERA, three losses, no wins and four blown saves in six opportunities.
1.67 Home ERA for Colorado pitchers
It seems that it may not be too tough to pitch in the thin air of Denver after all. Or maybe it has to do with cold — dare we say, frigid — air. It’s a small sample, but in 27 innings at Coors Field, the Colorado staff has allowed just 24 hits and five earned runs. Jhoulys Chacin, Jeff Francis and Jon Garland all chipped in with a quality start and the bullpen allowed just one run in 8.1 innings. On the road, they seem to be more themselves with a 4.92 ERA.
.632 Prince Fielder’s batting average for the week
The hottest hitter in the majors over the past week collected 12 knocks in six games, leading the majors with 11 RBIs over that span. He batted .632 with nine walks and just two whiffs. He finished the week with a .527 OBP and .833 slugging percentage.
-Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
Today, MLB celebrates Jackie Robinson Day, honoring the man who broke baseball's color barrier amid tough circumstances in 1947. Perhaps no other man had such a far-reaching effect on the game, and especially future players. But Robinson’s influential life stretched far beyond the game of baseball.
And while Robinson was the first, there were others who came closely behind. Men who endured insults, humiliation and ridicule as well as Robinson, but persevered so that other players previously denied the opportunity to play in the major leagues could enjoy that privilege.
There were few signs in 1947 that this “experiment” by Dodgers owner Branch Rickey would not be a success. So why did it take other teams so long to catch on?
After Robinson had played three complete seasons, just four of the 16 major league teams were integrated. When Robinson was a seven-year veteran, only half of the major league teams had followed the Dodgers’ lead.
Robinson retired after a 10-year career at the end of 1956, and the Philadelphia Phillies, Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox had yet to enlist a player of color at the major league level. It wasn’t until midseason 1959—12 years after Robinson’s debut, and more than two years after his retirement—that Pumpsie Green took the field for the Boston Red Sox, the last team to hold out.
Every April 15, MLB reminds us of some dark times in our nation’s history. But after the heroic stances by Robinson and others, the game—and our country—are much better.
How Each Team Integrated
Jackie Robinson—Brooklyn Dodgers, NL—April 15, 1947
The multi-sport star out of UCLA played first base and hit second for the Dodgers. In his debut, he scored the go-ahead run in the Brooklyn’s 5-3 win over the Boston Braves.
Larry Doby—Cleveland Indians, AL—July 5, 1947
The Hall of Famer struck out as a pinch-hitter at Chicago in his first appearance. Unlike, Robinson, Doby didn’t make a single start in the 29 games of his first season in 1947.
Hank Thompson—St. Louis Browns, AL—July 17, 1947; New York Giants, NL—July 8, 1949
Was 0-4 with an error at second base in his debut with St. Louis. Two years later, he became the first African-American to play for the Giants leading off in the same game that Monte Irvin pinch-hit.
Monte Irvin—New York Giants, NL—July 8, 1949
Drew a walk as a pinch-hitter in his first game, struck out as a pinch-hitter in his second game.
Sam Jethroe—Boston Braves, NL—April 18, 1950
Whiffed in his first at-bat, but later drove in the go-ahead run and homered in his debut, a game in which Hank Thompson of the Giants also went deep.
Minnie Minoso—Chicago White Sox, AL—May 1, 1951
The Cuban Comet made his debut with Cleveland in 1949 and was traded to the White Sox after eight games in 1951. He was 2-4 in each of his first two games with the Sox.
Bob Trice—Philadelphia Athletics, AL—September 13, 1953
Threw eight innings and didn’t walk anyone, but gave up five runs on eight hits including two homers in the loss to St. Louis. Don Larsen earned the win and took Trice deep in the eighth inning.
Ernie Banks—Chicago Cubs, NL—September 17, 1953
Mr. Cub went hitless and made an error in his debut, but drove in two runs in a win over the Cardinals in the next game. Soon became an all-time favorite in Chicago sports.
Curt Roberts—Pittsburgh Pirates, NL—April 13, 1954
The second baseman tripled off Robin Roberts in his first at-bat. Fluent in Spanish, he is credited with helping Roberto Clemente adjust to life in the majors.
Tom Alston—St. Louis Cardinals, NL—April 13, 1954
Thomas Edison Alston appeared in 66 games for St. Louis in 1954, but just 25 games total over the next three seasons. He was hitless in four trips in his debut.
Nino Escalera—Cincinnati Reds, NL—April 17, 1954
The Puerto Rican singled as a pinch-hitter one batter before Chuck Harmon was called on to bat for the pitcher.
Chuck Harmon—Cincinnati Reds, NL—April 17, 1954
Popped out to first in his debut, but played in 289 major league games, mostly at third base.
Carlos Paula—Washington Senators, AL—September 6, 1954
Struck out in his first at-bat, but doubled in a pair of runs his next time up.
Elston Howard—New York Yankees, AL—April 14, 1955
Howard entered the second game of the season in left field late in the game and singled home Mickey Mantle in his first at-bat. The 1963 AL MVP averaged .296-17-74 from 1958-64 and earned two Gold Gloves.
John Kennedy—Philadelphia Phillies, NL—April 22, 1957
Kennedy pinch-ran for Solly Hemus in his debut. The shortstop played in just five games in the majors, three of them as a pinch-runner.
Ozzie Virgil, Sr.—Detroit Tigers, AL—June 6, 1958
After debuting with the Giants in 1956, Virgil was traded to Detroit in January 1958. He was called up from the minors and was the regular third baseman for a couple of months. He hit safely in his first eight games with the Tigers.
Pumpsie Green—Boston Red Sox, AL—July 21, 1959
Pinch-ran for Vic Wertz in the eighth inning of his debut, finishing the game at shortstop. He had no chances in the field and was on deck when the game ended. He started at second the following day and essentially became the regular second baseman for the remainder of the season.
Baseball is a numbers game. Always has been. Always will be. And here are a few notable numbers for the opening week of the season: March 31-April 7.
15 Earned runs allowed last Sunday by reigning Cy Young winners
David Price and R.A. Dickey dominated last season and won the 2012 Cy Young awards. Neither was himself last Sunday though. After teammates Alex Cobb and Matt Moore shut down the Indians the two previous games, the Tribe took it out on Price. The lefthander lasted just five innings and surrendered 10 hits and three walks while giving up eight runs. Dickey’s story is similar in that the team he faced was shut out the day before as well. J.A. Happ and three relievers shut out Boston, but Dickey’s knuckler was doing very little dancing on Sunday. He gave up eight runs — seven earned — on 10 hits and two walks before he was lifted with two out in the fifth.
17 RBIs for Baltimore’s Chris Davis
It took the Baltimore DH just four games to reach 17 ribbies. Last season, the first player to drive in that many was Andre Ethier, who reached the mark on April 17 in the Dodgers’ 11th game. His teammate, Matt Kemp, drove in his 17th the following day. Nick Swisher was the first in the American League with 17 RBIs last season. He did so on April 21 in the Yankees’ 15 contest. Josh Hamilton, then of the Rangers, was the only other player to drive in 17 in his team’s first 17 games.
.099 Batting average for the Pittsburgh Pirates infield
First baseman Gaby Sanchez (.063), second baseman Neil Walker (.100), third baseman Pedro Alvarez (.091) and Clint Barmes (.154) are a combined 7-for-71 with three RBIs and only two extra-base hits, both doubles by Barmes. As a team, the Pirates ended the week batting .119 with one home run. They scored just eight runs in their first six games. No wonder why they finished the week 1-5.
69 Win/save combinations for Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera
The two 40-somethings have been toiling in pinstripes for what seems like forever. Actually, it goes back only to 1996 when Mo’s first career save was a win for starter Pettitte. The total of 69 is the most all-time and does not include the 11 postseason win/save combinations for the pair of likely Hall of Famers.
14.05 Combined ERA for five aces last Sunday
It wasn’t just the reigning Cy Young winners who were knocked around last Sunday. In addition to David Price and R.A. Dickey, Matt Cain, Stephen Strasburg and Cole Hamels struggled as well. The quintet allowed 38 earned runs in just 24.1 innings.
26 Consecutive batters retired by Yu Darvish
Darvish, the emerging ace of the Texas Rangers mowed through the Houston lineup for eight innings before allowing a hit to shortstop Marwin Gonzalez to fall one batter short of a perfect game.
16 Scoreless innings by the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw
While some aces were getting beaten up in their second starts, Kershaw picked up where he left off on Opening Day. In the opener, Kershaw tossed a complete game shutout over San Francisco and helped himself with a home run in the eighth inning to break a scoreless tie. For an encore, he threw seven shutout frames in a win against Pittsburgh.
0-17 Dodgers infielder Luis Cruz goes 0-for-the week
Luis Cruz, filling in for the injured Hanley Ramirez, struggled through a forgettable week. Of the 204 players with enough qualifying plate appearances, Cruz is the only one hitless. He walked once and whiffed four times.
.500 Batting average for Jed Lowrie
The sandwich-round pick of the Boston Red Sox (45th overall) in 2005 was traded to Houston along with Kyle Weiland for Mark Melancon prior to last season. This spring, he was dealt to Oakland with Fernando Rodriguez for Max Stassi, Chis Carter and Brad Peacock. The Oakland shortstop has reached safely in all seven games for the A’s with three three-hit games and a 1.000 slugging percentage.
12 Players with 12 (or more) consecutive Opening Day starts
Most fans could get pretty close to naming the dozen players with a dozen straight starts to open the season. Todd Helton leads the list with 16. Torii Hunter has made 15 straight OD starts with Minnesota, the Angels and this season with the Tigers. Aramis Ramirez, primarily with the Cubs but dating to his days in Pittsburgh, has 14 straight. Paul Konerko, A.J. Pierzynski, Placido Polanco, Albert Pujols and Jimmy Rollins have 13 in a row. Adrian Beltre, Adam Dunn, Alfonso Soriano and — perhaps the most surprising — Vernon Wells have 12 each.
16 Consecutive Opening Day starts by Todd Helton
The Rockies’ first baseman has indicated that 2013 would be his final season. He carries the longest consecutive Opening Day starting streak at 16. Amazingly, he and Andres Galarraga are the only two players in history to start at first base for Colorado on Opening Day.
27 All-Star appearances among current Tigers
All 10 players in Detroit’s Opening Day lineup claim at least one All-Star honor. Led by Miguel Cabrera’s seven and Justin Verlander’s five, the Tigers’ opening lineup totals 27 All-Star appearances, the most of any team’s Opening Day lineup.
10 All-Star appearances by Ichiro
New York Yankees right fielder Ichiro Suzuki is the only player who started Opening Day for any team with 10 All-Star Games to his credit. All 10 appearances were made wearing a Seattle uniform.
+2 Games over .500 for the AL Central
Only one division in the American League played winning baseball during the season’s first week — and it wasn’t the vaunted AL East. The AL Central finished four games over the breakeven mark with the other two divisions each two games under.
Now that baseball is back in full swing, we started thinking about the future. And there’s nothing more fun than projecting where today’s baseball stars will be playing three years from now, and predicting who the best players in each league will be. So here goes. The 2016 All-Star teams.
CF—Mike Trout—Los Angeles
The game’s brightest superstar is the leading vote-getter.
The newest wave of young shortstops hasn’t overtaken Reyes just yet.
With Baltimore the likely host of the 2016 game, Jones will receive the loudest ovation.
The old vet is still punishing pitchers.
3B—Evan Longoria—Tampa Bay
Longoria wins the closest vote in years, edging Robinson Cano who has just made the switch to third base.
Prince edges King Albert who is showing serious signs of decline.
C—Sal Perez—Kansas City
Defensively and offensively, the best catcher in the AL.
It's taken a while, but Jackson makes his first All-Star start.
Yes, Profar really is that good.
SP—David Price—Tampa Bay
The leap here is that Price is still pitching for the Rays in 2016. The assumption is that he and Longoria help usher in a new stadium that year.
Managers always seem to pick an old vet as a lifetime achievement award.
The rising star will soon be a perennial All-Star.
1B—Albert Pujols—Los Angeles
Still a machine, just not quite as efficient.
The Astros must have a representative and Altuve cost Elvis Andrus a spot.
The lone Red Sox is deserving in his own right.
3B—Robinson Cano—New York
He’s still getting used to third defensively, but his bat never takes a day off.
Although Cleveland has toyed with moving him to second, he can still pick it at short and is surprisingly the lone Indian.
Manny Machado and Alcides Escobar were shunned in favor of the second-year player.
OF—Wil Myers—Tampa Bay
Myers has given Tampa Bay fans — all 23,000 of them — a reason to cheer for three and half years now.
OF—Bubba Starling—Kansas City
Even after a stellar rookie season, Starling occasionally appears overmatched.
Twins fans most favorite player since Kirby Puckett.
No longer sees much time in the outfield, but one of the most feared hitters in the league.
OF—Alex Gordon—Kansas City
Fans in K.C. believe teammate Billy Butler was a better choice.
OF—Mason Williams—New York
The youngster has taken New York by storm.
The Rangers’ ace led the AL in wins in 2015.
King Felix cruising toward 200 career wins.
Anderson is one of the few players who missed the old stadium in Oakland. The new park is not nearly as pitcher-friendly.
He doesn’t hit triple digits in the ninth inning any longer, but hitters still ask for a day off when he pitches.
After two years of struggling with injuries, Sale is back in ace form.
Baltimore fans would love to see Bundy start the game.
The Brazilian is quickly becoming an ace in Chicago.
Best closer in the AL.
P—Taylor Guerrieri—Tampa Bay
Devastating curveball keeps hitters off balance.
P—David Robertson—New York
He’s very good, but he’s also following the legendary Mo Rivera. Not an enviable situation.
Introducing the leading vote getter in the NL, second only to Mike Trout of the Angels.
The anchor of the Pirates lineup will have finally led the club to a winning record by 2016.
Another batting title and MVP trophy would be good guesses for the face of the Reds.
Still one of the premier hitters in the NL.
C—Buster Posey—San Francisco
The only question will be how many MVPs Posey will have by the 2016 game.
Okay, so the chances of Stanton still residing in Miami in 2016 are slim, but he’ll be a good option for the manager’s choice for DH anyway.
3B—David Wright—New York
Anthony Rendon’s numbers will overshadow Wright’s, but the fans will vote for the New York veteran one more season to give him the start.
With few choices at the position, the veteran wins the fans vote.
With no real stars at the position, fans have begun to fall in love with Segura in Milwaukee.
No manager can resist calling on Strasburg to start the game now that there are no innings limit for the kid.
C—Yadier Molina—St. Louis
The Cardinals backstop makes his final appearance in an All-Star Game.
Without Posey in the league, Montero may have an All-Star start or two by then.
The rising star in Colorado moves from third to first for 2016.
His power and average will steadily rise every season for the next several years.
1B—Allen Craig—St. Louis
The hitting machine can’t seem to stay healthy enough to become the premier first baseman in the NL.
Moved off of short by Javier Baez, Castro will struggle at third before finding a home at second.
Ryan Zimmerman was moved to first base to accommodate Rendon who quickly becomes the best third baseman in the league.
Controversy: The NL manager shuns Andrelton Simmons of the Braves in favor of Cozart. (Obviously Tony La Russa has not returned.)
OF—Jedd Gyorko—San Diego
Youngster Christian Yelich of Miami may have a better argument, but the Padres must be represented.
Justin upstages his brother in Atlanta.
The veteran Rockie is still putting up big numbers at Coors Field.
Two-thirds of the Braves outfield will be represented.
OF—Oscar Tavares—St. Louis
The brightest rising star in the NL makes the team, but doesn’t get in the game.
P—Matt Cain—San Francisco
Cain is the unquestioned leader of the best staff in the NL.
P—Madison Bumgarner—San Francisco
The lefty is part of one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball.
P—Clayton Kershaw—Los Angeles
Now completely over a hip injury, Kershaw remains a Cy Young candidate.
Many fans would argue that Skaggs has better numbers than Strasburg and deserved to start. But his time will come.
P—Adam Wainwright—St. Louis
There are maybe four or five pitchers that deserve this spot, but the manager’s choice is the veteran from St. Louis.
P—Shelby Miller—St. Louis
The new ace of the Cardinals.
The Phillies have turned into an old, mediocre team, but Hamels is still nasty.
P—Zack Wheeler—New York
Fruits of the Mets rebuilding project are fully mature.
Still the best closer in the league. His career may rival Mariano Rivera’s without the postseason glory, of course.
We see him as an All-Star whether starting or finishing.
He piles up saves and his resume looks good at All-Star time.
Nicknames and baseball players just seem to go together like bat and ball. For as long as young boys and men have been batting baseballs around, they have given each other descriptive nicknames for facial features, deformed body parts, the way they played the game, hair color and, the most popular, shortening their surnames. In fact, some players with nicknames were given nicknames for their nicknames.
Here are the 50 best—and often very politically incorrect—nicknames in baseball history.
50. Don Mossi
Ears (also The Sphinx)
Perhaps you had to see Mossi to really appreciate the name. In Ball Four, Jim Bouton said Mossi “looked like a cab going down the street with its doors open.”
49. Ernie Lombardi
Not to allow Mossi and his ears steal all the thunder, the catcher who was also known as the world’s slowest human had a beak of monumental proportions. But the catcher hit his way into the Hall of Fame.
48. Nick Cullop
Cullop spent 23 years in the minors, hit 420 home runs and had 2,670 hits, both minor league records when he retired.
47. Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown
Known more commonly as Three Finger Brown than by Mordecai, Brown capitalized on losing most of his index finger in a childhood farming accident. Apparently that helped him throw a devastating curveball described by Ty Cobb as the toughest in baseball.
46. Don Zimmer
Despite the success for the Red Sox in the late 1970s, Zim is blamed for the team’s collapse in 1978, ultimately losing a playoff game at Fenway Park (commonly known as the Bucky Dent game). Because of this, lefthander Bill Lee, with whom Zimmer often sparred, gave him the name Gerbil.
45. Bill Lee
And speaking of Lee, it wasn’t as though he was a mental giant himself. The lefthander’s outrageous, often irreverent personality and his fearless rhetoric earned him the name Spaceman, allegedly, from John Kennedy (the Red Sox utility infielder, not the former President). Just being left-handed in Boston was probably enough.
44. Jim Grant
Grant, who became one of the most successful African-American pitchers in the 1960s, was the roommate of his boyhood idol Larry Doby when he first came to Cleveland. It was the veteran Doby who dubbed him “Mudcat”, saying that he was “ugly as a Mississippi mudcat.”
43. Jim Hunter
Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finely often seemed more interested in flashy P.R. than winning baseball games. Evidently, this nickname was a product of the PR-conscious Finley more than any angling the Hall of Fame pitcher might have done in his home state of North Carolina.
42. Randy Johnson
Okay, get your mind out of the gutter. Former Expos teammate — yes, Johnson was originally a member of the Expos — Tim Raines once collided with him during batting practice, looked up at the 6’10” hurler and proclaimed, “You’re a big unit.”
41. Mark Fidrych
The affable righthander enjoyed talking to the baseball while on the mound and manicuring the mound on his hands and knees between innings. But it was because of his resemblance to Big Bird of Sesame Street fame that Fidrych was given his name.
40. Marc Rzepczynski
Some surnames scream for nicknames, like Yastrzemski with Yaz, and Mazeroski with Maz. But there are few names that could earn more points in the famous word game than this lefthander’s.
39. Doug Gwosdz
Ancestors of the former catcher of the San Diego Padres must have misspelled this name somewhere down the line. But as astute teammates surmised, his jersey resembled those charts hanging on walls in optometrists’ offices.
38. Johnny Dickshot
First of all, that is his real name. And secondly, he referred to himself as the “ugliest man in baseball.” So, we have no qualms about Dickshot making the list.
37. Luke Appling
Old Aches and Pains
Dubbed by teammates, it’s unclear whether the name was given in jest. But it is clear that Appling didn’t mind complaining about the physical demands of the job all the way to the Hall of Fame.
36. Roger Bresnahan
The Duke of Tralee
Nothing really unusual about this name; after all many players were named in honor of their hometowns. Earl Averill was the Duke of Snohomish after his hometown in Washington. But, Bresnahan was from Toledo. For some reason he enjoyed telling folks he was born in Tralee, Ireland.
35. Bob Feller
Taking the American League by storm as a teenager led to this nickname as well as The Heater from Van Meter (Iowa).
34. Edward Charles Ford
The Chairman of the Board
Well known as Whitey because of hair color, the lefty dominated the American League for 16 seasons as a member of the Yankees. As a tribute to his calm, cool demeanor in tough situations, he became known as the Chairman of the Board.
33. Leon Allen Goslin
Several sources agree on how Goslin acquired his name. Evidently, he waved his arms as he chased fly balls, had a long neck, and was not the most graceful player.
32. Willie Mays
Say Hey Kid
There is no definitive agreement on how Mays acquired this classic name.
31. Mickey Mantle
The Commerce Comet
Mantle, a star athlete from Commerce, Oklahoma, was offered a football scholarship by the University of Oklahoma, but wisely chose baseball.
30. Joe Medwick
Ducky-Wucky (also Muscles)
According to Baseball-Reference.com, fans called Medwick Ducky-Wucky more than merely Ducky, presumably because of his gait, or perhaps the way he swam. Teammates, seemingly out of self-preservation, never called him Ducky-Wucky, but chose instead the name, Muscles.
29. Brooks Robinson
If you ever saw Brooksie do his work around the hot corner, you would quickly understand the moniker. Teammate Lee May once quipped, “Very nice (play)...where do they plug Mr. Hoover in?”
28. Aloysius Harry Simmons
With an exaggerated stride toward third base. Bucketfoot Al bashed major league pitching at a .334 clip on his way to the Hall of Fame.
27. Lynn Nolan Ryan
No one readily admits giving him the name, but any hitter who stood in the box against Ryan is keenly aware of what the name means.
26. Darrell Evans
One look at the famous puppet and a glance at the power-hitting lefty, and you’ll know why.
25. Dennis Boyd
Born in Mississippi (where beer may be referred to as oil), the colorful righthander carried the nickname on to the major leagues.
24. Johnny Lee Odom
Reportedly, a classmate in grade school thought Odom’s face looked like the moon. Really?
23. Frank Thomas
Given to Thomas by White Sox broadcaster Ken Harrelson. Thomas put the big hurt on American League pitching for 19 years.
22. Garry Maddox
Minister of Defense
If you watched Maddox patrol center field for the Phillies in the 1970s, you immediately get the name.
21. Mike Hargrove
Human Rain Delay
And you think Nomar Garciaparra invented the step-out-of-the-box-and-adjust-your-batting-gloves routine. Nope. Seasons changed between pitches when he was at bat.
20. Daniel Joseph Staub
Le Grand Orange
Known as Rusty by the Texans while with the Colt .45s, he became Le Grand Orange in Montreal as a member of the original Expos.
19. Jimmy Wynn
His small stature and powerful bat led to this moniker.
18. Steve Balboni
Presumably, Balboni was given the name because of his propensity to hit home runs. It may also be noted that a double meaning could be bye-bye, as in “He gone” back to the dugout because of his propensity to strike out.
17. Joakim Soria
When the Royals’ closer took the mound, it was usually lights out for the opponent’s offense. He has since requested another, less violent name.
16. Frank Howard
The Capital Punisher
While playing in the nation’s capital, Howard punished AL pitching for 237 home runs in seven seasons, twice leading the league with 44, and finishing second in 1969 with 48.
15. Carl Pavano
After signing a four-year, $38 million deal with the Yankees prior to the 2005 season, Pavano made just nine starts in four seasons, going 3-3 with a 5.00 ERA.
14. Lawrence Peter Berra
Evidently when Berra sat with arms and legs crossed a friend suggested he looked like a Hindu yogi. Now the term Yogi is associated with malaprops more than Hindu.
13. Mariano Rivera
Good night batters.
12. Rickey Henderson
Man of Steal
One look at his stats and you understand this one: 1,406 career steals and a record 130 in 1982.
11. Shane Victorino
The Flyin’ Hawaiian
Victorino plays the game with endless energy and spunk, but his heritage rules the day.
10. Vince Coleman
Vincent Van Go
A true artist of the stolen base.
9. Ken Reitz
Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon marveled at how the St. Louis third baseman could pick up everything.
8. Pablo Sandoval
Kung Fu Panda
The loveable Giant Panda.
7. Fred McGriff
One of ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman’s nicknames that actually stuck. Thanks McGruff, the cartoon Crime Dog.
6. Kenny Rogers
“Every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser. The best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”
5. Jose Bautista
Bautista was terrific as Joey Bats in “The Hitman” on YouTube. He’s been even better as himself for the Blue Jays.
4. Harry Davis
Poor Davis lost his job as Detroit first baseman to some kid name Hank Greenberg in 1933.
3. Ron Cey
Playing for Tommy Lasorda in the minor leagues must have had its pros and cons. Having your manager dub you Penguin because of your awkward running style would probably fall on the con side.
2. William Ellsworth Hoy
As if anyone needed reminding, here’s a clear indicator of just how far political correctness has come in 100 years. William Ellsworth Hoy lost his hearing and ability to speak as a result of childhood meningitis. At only 5’4”, he was difficult to strike out and was the first player to hit a grand slam in the American League. He died in 1961, just five months shy of his 100th birthday.
1. George Herman Ruth
Babe (also the Bambino, Sultan of Swat, The King of Sting, The Colossus of Clout)
Babe was the only major leaguer large enough for five larger than life nicknames.
The 2013 Major League Baseball season kicks off on Sunday night with the Astros taking on the Rangers. Before the first pitch, here are 101 stats to know for the 2013 season.
101 Stats to Kick Off the 2013 Major League Baseball Season
Players elected by the BBWAA for Hall of Fame induction in 1950, as was the case in 2013. There were 48 players on the ballot in 1950 that would eventually gain election to the Hall.
Number of times a team has overcome a 3-games-to-0 deficit to win a postseason series. The Boston Red Sox mounted the historical comeback over the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS.
Hits by Joel Youngblood off two Hall of Fame pitchers (Fergie Jenkins and Steve Carlton) for two teams (Montreal Expos and New York Mets) in two cities (Chicago and Philadelphia) in the same day. On August 4, 1982, Youngblood started in center field and batting third for the Mets at Chicago in an afternoon game and singled in two runs in the third inning off Jenkins. He was replaced by Mookie Wilson in center in the middle of the fourth inning when it was learned he had been traded to the Montreal Expos. He hopped a flight to Philadelphia and arrived during the game. He was inserted in right field for Jerry White in the sixth inning and caught a fly ball to end the inning. In the top of the seventh, he singled off Carlton. The well-traveled Youngblood was on deck when the game ended with the Phillies ahead 5-4.
The number worn on the back of Babe Ruth’s uniform. The Yankees introduced uniform numbers in 1929.
Consecutive MVP awards won by Barry Bonds from 2001-04, becoming the only player to win more than two in a row.
Members of the original Hall of Fame class in 1936. Ty Cobb received the most votes (222), followed by a tie between Honus Wagner and Babe Ruth (215). Christy Mathewson (205) and Walter Johnson (189) were the two pitchers elected. Cy Young was named on just 49.1 percent of the ballots, Lou Gehrig 22.6 percent and Jimmie Foxx 9.3 percent.
Stan the Man Musial made this number famous in St. Louis. Among his many gaudy stats, are 1,815 hits on the road and 1,815 hits at home.
Modern record for hits in a nine-inning game. Rennie Stennett of the Pirates pasted Cubs pitching for seven safeties on Sept. 16, 1975 at Wrigley Field. The Pirates’ leadoff hitter had four singles, two doubles and a triple in the Pirates’ 22-0 thrashing in Chicago. After Stennett’s eighth-inning triple, future New York Yankees All-Star Willie Randolph pinch-ran for him. Stennett led off the game with a double off of Rick Reuschel and ended his day with a triple off of Paul Reuschel.
Different pitchers to lead the Rays in saves over the past eight seasons. With Fernando Rodney back this season, the string is likely to be broken.
Players sent to the plate in the 1976 World Series by Reds manager Sparky Anderson. With the DH used for every game that year, Anderson used the same lineup for all four games and used no pinch-hitters in the Reds’ sweep of the Yankees.
John Tudor in 1985 was the last pitcher to throw 10 shutouts in one season.
Home runs for Babe Ruth for the world champion Red Sox in 1918, which led the American League. That was the first of 12 home run titles for the Babe.
Batting titles for Ty Cobb.
Times Lou Gehrig posted 100-plus runs and 100-plus RBIs in the same season, the most all-time.
Walk-off losses in the postseason by the New York Yankees.
Full seasons in which Joe McCarthy managed the New York Yankees. During his tenure, the Yanks won eight pennants, winning seven World Series, and finished second four times.
Retired numbers by the New York Yankees, the most of any franchise. This number includes the No. 42, retired across all of baseball in honor of Jackie Robinson. It counts the No. 8 just once, although it is retired in honor of both Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra.
Age of Bob Feller when he made his first major league start in 1936. He tossed a complete game against the St. Louis Browns giving up six hits, four walks, one earned run with 15 strikeouts for the win.
World Series home runs for Mickey Mantle, the most all-time.
Wins by rookie Mark “The Bird” Fidrych for the Detroit Tigers in 1976, a season in which he captured the hearts of baseball fans everywhere.
Consecutive losing seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates, setting the all-time record for any North American major team sport.
Consecutive losses by the Baltimore Orioles to begin the season in 1988.
Games started in the World Series by Whitey Ford, most all-time.
Grand slams hit by Lou Gehrig and Alex Rodriguez, the most all-time.
Appearances by Mariano Rivera in the World Series.
Hits by Lou Brock in the 1967-68 World Series. The total is the most ever in back-to-back World Series.
Consecutive games won by the New York Giants in 1916, the longest winning streak in history. From Sept. 7-Sept. 30, the Giants didn’t lose a game, but gained just 8.5 games in the standings before finishing the season in fourth place. Lefty Tyler of the Boston Braves pitched a complete game to end the streak.
Wins for Steve Carlton of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1972. The team won just 59 games that season giving Lefty more than 45 percent of his team’s wins.
Times Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera grounded into a double play in 2012, which led the majors.
Wins for the Baltimore Orioles in one-run games in 2012. Their 29-9 record (.763) is the best all-time.
Home runs hit by Albert Pujols after May 5 last season. The slugger began the season by hitting just .217 with no homers and four RBIs in April. After taking a day of on May 5, he homered the next day and proceeded to put together a Pujols-esque season.
Wins for Lefty Grove of the Philadelphia A’s in 1931 and Detroit’s Denny McLain in 1968, the highest win total in the live ball era (since 1920).
Postseason doubles for Derek Jeter, most all-time.
Miles between the high schools where reigning Cy Young winners R.A. Dickey (Montgomery Bell Academy, Nashville, Tenn.) and David Price (Blackman High School, Murfreesboro, Tenn.) attended. It is the closest of any two Cy Young winners from the same season.
Hitting streak by Dom DiMaggio of the Boston Red Sox in 1949.
Strikeouts by Bob Gibson (27 IP) in the 1968 World Series.
At-bats by Jimmy Collins in the 1903 World Series. It’s the most ever in a Fall Classic and was established in the first World Series ever played.
Number retired in honor of Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel by both the Yankees and the Mets.
Saves by John Hiller of the Tigers in 1973, just two years after suffering a career-threatening heart attack at age 28. The total led the majors and was the record for saves in a season until 1983.
Number retired by the Los Angeles Dodgers in honor of Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella, whose career was cut short due to an auto accident, which left him paralyzed.
Appearances in the World Series by the New York Yankees, by far the most of any franchise.
Wins by Jack Chesbro of the Yankees in 1904, the highest total since 1900.
Number universally retired by MLB in honor of Jackie Robinson.
Age of Nolan Ryan when he won his 11th strikeout title. In 1990, he struck out 232, the most in the American league a year after whiffing 301.
Consecutive game hitting streak for Pete Rose in 1978 to tie Wee Willie Keeler for the National League record. Rose hit .385 during the streak and raised his average from .267 to .316.
Over the 104 years since the Chicago Cubs last won the World Series, the team has had 45 winning records, finished .500 twice and posted 57 losing seasons.
Earned runs allowed by the San Francisco Giants in 16 postseason games in 2012.
Hank Aaron’s career-best home run season, which came in 1971. The total has been eclipsed 72 times, 28 of those before Aaron retired in 1976.
Road wins for the Washington Nationals in 2012, most in the majors.
Home runs hit in the regular season by Babe Ruth in ballparks still in use today. Ruth hit 48 home runs at Fenway Park and one at Wrigley Field.
World Series games played by Frankie Frisch, eighth all-time, but the most by anyone who never played with the Yankees.
Seldom-used uniform number may possibly be retired by five franchises some day. It is already retired by San Diego in honor of closer Trevor Hoffman. It is highly likely to be retired in Seattle (Ichiro Suzuki) and likely by Arizona (Randy Johnson). The Cardinals (Willie McGee) and Yankees (Bernie Williams) have yet to issue the number since those players retired.
Last season, the San Diego Padres, according to Elias, became the only team since at least 1900 to have three catchers start as many as 52 games. Nick Hundley started 56 times, John Baker and Yasmani Grandal 52 each.
Hits by Cincinnati pitchers last season, most in the majors.
Home runs by Babe Ruth in 1920, smashing the record of 29 that Ruth had set the year before. The total of 54 was eclipsed by just one team in all of baseball that season (other than the Yankees), the Philadelphia Phillies.
Wins for the Houston Astros in 2012, a franchise low including the strike-shortened seasons of 1981 and 1994.
Consecutive games in which Joe DiMaggio of the Yankees hit safely in 1941. Interestingly, during that same stretch from May 15 to July 16, Ted Williams of the Red Sox outhit Joe D .412 to .408 with a better on-base percentage (.540 to .463) and OPS (1.224 to 1.181).
Road home runs hit by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012, the lowest total in baseball.
Home runs needed by Oakland A’s hitters to reach 12,000 in franchise history. Getting their start in 1901 as the Philadelphia Athletics, the franchise also played in Kansas City from 1955-67 before relocating to Oakland in 1968. Entering this season, only eight other franchises (New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, Atlanta Braves, Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies) have hit 12,000 or more home runs. The Baltimore Orioles will also reach this milestone this season and should do so before the A's, as the O's need just eight round-trippers to reach 12,000.
Consecutive scoreless innings pitched by Orel Hershiser to end the 1988 season. The streak including five complete games in September and 10 shutout innings in his last start, which the Dodgers eventually lost 2-1 in 16 innings.
Extra innings played by Baltimore last season.
Number of games last season that Tampa Bay pitchers struck out 10 or more batters breaking the record of 57 set by the Cubs in 2003.
Number of players drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1996, two years before the club fielded its first major league team.
Fewest regular-season wins ever for a World Series winner. The Los Angeles Dodgers won just 63 games in 1981, a season shortened by almost 40 percent to a players strike.
Years since the Cleveland Indians last won the World Series. It is the second-longest drought in baseball behind the 104 years that Cubs fans have been waiting.
Average number of wins for the Kansas City Athletics during their last seven years in the Midwest before moving to Oakland in 1968.
Wins for the Cincinnati Reds in 1981, the most in the National League. However, the Reds were not one of the four teams in the playoffs that season. The St. Louis Cardinals also had the best winning percentage in the National League East, but didn’t qualify for the playoffs that season due to the split-season format forced by the players strike.
All-time record number of doubles in a season set by Earl Webb in 1931.
Wins needed by Josh Beckett, Carlos Zambrano and Randy Wolf to reach 200 for their careers.
Runs scored by the San Francisco Giants in 16 postseason games in 2012.
Home runs hit by Mark McGwire in 1998 to break the 37-year-old record of 61 held by Roger Maris.
Hits in World Series play by Yogi Berra, most all-time.
Highest uniform number retired for a player. The Chicago White Sox retired No. 72 in honor of Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk.
Home runs for Barry Bonds in 2001, setting a new record for home runs in a season.
Wins for the Orioles last season against no losses when leading after seven innings.
World Series games played by Yogi Berra, the most all-time.
2013 will be the 76th season since a player in the National League won a triple crown. In 1937, Joe Medwick for St. Louis was the last National Leaguer to accomplish this. Joey Votto, Matt Kemp and Ryan Braun seem to be the likeliest candidates to break the string with Carlos Gonzalez, Giancarlo Stanton, Justin Upton and perhaps Bryce Harper having outside shots.
Points Alex Rios’ batting average increased from 2011 to 2012 (.227 to .304)
Stolen bases by Jose Reyes in 2007, the most of any player in the 1990s and 2000s.
Percent of the seasons that the New York Yankees have finished above .500. In 112 seasons, the Yanks have posted 89 winning seasons and finished at an even .500 once.
Hits Colorado first baseman Todd Helton needs to reach the 2,500 mark in his career. That would make Helton just the 7th player in major league history to have 2,500 hits, 1,300 runs, 500 doubles, 350 home runs, 1,300 RBIs, a batting average of .300 or better and more walks than strikeouts in their career. The others are Hank Aaron, Lou Gehrig, Chipper Jones, Stan Musial, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.
Wins by Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally, Pat Dobson and Jim Palmer in 1971 for the Baltimore Orioles. That was the last time a team had four 20-game winners.
Players with 250 home runs for one club. There are 10 Yankees who have hit as many as 250 homers in pinstripes. Arizona, Washington, Tampa Bay, San Diego and Miami have none.
Fewest regular-season wins ever for a world champion in a season not cut short due to a labor dispute or war. The St. Louis Cardinals squeaked into the playoffs in 2006 with an 83-78 record.
Home runs for Curtis Granderson over the past two seasons. No other player has more than 74.
Runs scored by Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels last season. It was the first time in his 12-year career than the All-Star first baseman had scored fewer than 99 in a season.
Years between World Series wins for the Red Sox. Boston won in 1918 then suffered through 86 years before winning again in 2004.
Wins needed by the Los Angeles Angels this season to end the season above .500 for the history of the franchise. The last time the team was above .500 was after their first game in history on April 11, 1961.
Years between World Series wins for the White Sox. Chicago won in 1917 then suffered through 88 years before winning again in 2005.
Years since Washington, D.C. celebrated a World Series win. The old Washington Senators (now the Minnesota Twins) defeated the New York Giants in seven games in 1924. It was Tom Zachary, not the great Walter Johnson, who won two games. Goose Goslin and Bucky Harris combined to drive in more than half of the Senators’ runs.
The number of shutouts that Roy Halladay needs to tie Walter Johnson for the most all-time. Halladay is the active leader with 20.
Tim Raines received 91 more votes (297 to 206) than Barry Bonds in the most recent Hall of Fame balloting.
Runs Derek Jeter needs this season to pass Babe Ruth as the all-time leader in New York Yankees' franchise history.
Plate appearances at the Triple-A level for Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout before his call-up last April. He was batting .403 with a .467 OBP and had four doubles, five triples, a homer and scored 21 runs in 20 games with Salt Lake.
Wins for Babe Ruth as a pitcher.
Average number of wins for the Oakland A’s from 1971-75 during which they won five AL West titles and three straight World Series.
Doubles for Alex Gordon of Kansas City over the past two seasons, the most in the majors.
Average number of wins for the New York Yankees over the last 17 years. (1996-2012)
Wins by the Washington Nationals last season establishing a new high-water mark for the franchise surpassing the 95 wins by the 1979 Expos.
Hits needed by Alex Rodriguez to become the 29th member of the 3,000-hit club.
Wins for the Amazin’ New York Mets in 1969 after finishing in ninth or 10th place the previous seven years.
The 2013 MLB season is almost here. Texas and Houston will get things started on Sunday night as the Astros play their first-ever game as an American League team. That's not the only change baseball fans will have to get used to this season as interleague play will take place year-round, starting with the Los Angeles Angels opening their season in Cincinnati.
In the American League alone, many players, notably Josh Hamilton, Torii Hunter, James Shields and Nick Swisher will be in a different uniform this season, while others like Michael Bourn, Melky Cabrera, R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes and Shane Victorino are switching leagues entirely. There also is another crop of up-and-coming players that everyone will be watching to see if any of them can have the same type of impact that Mike Trout and Bryce Harper had on their respective teams last season.
Related: 2013 NL Predictions
2013 American League Predictions
1. New York
2. Tampa Bay (Wild Card)
The Toronto Blue Jays made the biggest splash of the offseason and the AL East with the additions of shortstop Jose Reyes and starting pitchers R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle. Robinson Cano anchors the injury-riddled Yankees’ lineup. Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira will begin the season on the disabled list. Tampa Bay has, by far, the best pitching, maybe in either league. The rotation, led by Cy Young winner David Price, and the bullpen, led by Fernando Rodney, are deep and talented. While the Blue Jays added some key components, especially in the rotation, the bullpen has questions. The Orioles found magic in extra-innings and close games last season. They probably won’t go 29-9 in one-run games again. Boston is now the team left out of contention.
3. Kansas City
Last season there was no debate over the favorite in the AL Central. The Tigers made the experts sweat a little falling behind by six games in June, but managed to eke out a division title, taking over first place for good with eight games to play. Triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera returns as does Prince Fielder, ace Justin Verlander and Victor Martinez, who missed last season with a knee injury. Cleveland with new manager Terry Francona should be better, but still not at Detroit’s level. Kansas City now has a respectable rotation but is still dependent on youngsters developing in the bullpen. The White Sox clearly overachieved last season and were in contention until the final week of the season. The Twins are still attempting to develop young pitchers. Kyle Gibson may be the team’s next ace, but he’ll begin this season in Triple-A.
1. Los Angeles
2. Texas (Wild Card)
The Los Angeles Angels continued to up the ante in the AL West by signing Josh Hamilton a year after inking Albert Pujols. With those two former MVPs and leadoff hitter Mike Trout, the Angels clearly have the best lineup in the division. However, the Angels’ bullpen was among the worst in the majors last season. Texas will miss long-time linchpin Michael Young and Hamilton even though Adrian Beltre is among the best hitters in the league. Lest we forget, it was the Oakland A’s who won the AL West last season. There were some smoke and mirrors along with stingy pitching and the emergence of Yoenis Cespedes. Seattle has made a financial commitment to ace Felix Hernandez, but the M’s are easily a notch below the leaders. The Houston Astros join the AL at the lowest point in franchise history.
Detroit over Los Angeles
Detroit over Washington
1. Robinson Cano, Yankees
2. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
3. Evan Longoria, Rays
4. Albert Pujols, Angels
5. Adam Jones, Orioles
6. Mike Trout, Angels
7. Prince Fielder, Tigers
8. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
9. Yoenis Cespedes, A's
10. Adrian Beltre, Rangers
AL Cy Young
1. Justin Verlander, Tigers
2. David Price, Rays
3. Jared Weaver, Angels
4. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
5. Yu Darvish, Rangers
AL Rookie of the Year
1. Wil Myers, Rays
2. Jurickson Profar, Rangers
3. Dylan Bundy, Orioles
A band of misfits won the World Series in 2010. Two years later, the Giants simply banded together. Their second title in three seasons felt more scripted than ad-libbed, as a fantastic defense made plays behind a talented pitching staff, and NL MVP Buster Posey steadied the entire operation from behind the plate. The Giants survived six playoff elimination games and became the first NL team since the Big Red Machine in the 1970s to win two World Series in a three-year span. But these Giants aren’t seen as a dynasty yet, mostly because they’ve had so much turnover in their everyday lineup. There will be new challenges as the Giants seek to wear the crown a bit better this time around, especially since the archrival Dodgers all but broke into Fort Knox while loading up their roster with former All-Stars since the middle of last season. Even though the Giants brought back all their impact players from a year ago, they might be considered, by some, underdogs to win the West. It’s a role that has suited them just fine.
The Giants received at least 30 starts from five different pitchers — and all five return this season. Stalwart ace Matt Cain had no complaints after signing a $112 million extension, throwing the first perfect game in the Giants’ 129-year existence, starting for the NL All-Star squad and capping it off with another World Series ring. Madison Bumgarner, who turned 23 in August, topped 200 innings for the second consecutive year. Well-traveled Ryan Vogelsong proved his breakout 2011 campaign was no fluke; he led the NL in ERA as late as Aug. 12 and completed at least six innings in each of his first 21 starts — the longest streak by a Giant since Atlee Hammaker in 1983. As for Barry Zito, long the butt of jokes for his $126 million contract? He paid dividends as the Giants went 21–11 in his starts — including 14 consecutive wins to end the season, if you include his three playoff starts. Those fantastic four made it easier for the Giants to absorb a wildly erratic year from two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, whose 5.18 ERA was the highest among all NL pitchers to qualify for the ERA title. But this lines up to be the NL’s best rotation in 2013.
It’s hard to replace a ninth-inning presence like Brian Wilson, but the Giants made a successful adjustment after the black-bearded Taco Bell pitchman was lost to elbow surgery on the season-opening road trip. After non-tendering Wilson and letting him become a free agent, the Giants will be in committee mode again to open the season. Sergio Romo is expected to get first crack at the ninth inning after he fearlessly threw his sweeping slider and 88 mph two-seamer to escape every big spot in the playoffs. The Giants re-signed valuable lefthander Jeremy Affeldt to a three-year contract and wrapped up righthander Santiago Casilla for three more years, too. Casilla saved 19 of his first 20 chances last season before yielding the closer job in July. Sidewinding lefty Javier Lopez also returns; he’s allowed one home run in two-plus seasons as a Giant.
Brandon Crawford is a Bay Area native who grew up idolizing Royce Clayton. When Crawford took over the everyday shortstop position, his idol gave him one piece of advice: Stabilize the infield. Crawford struggled to do that in the first two months of last season while committing 12 errors in his first 59 games. But he committed just six miscues after that, and he was a playmaking force in the postseason while mixing in a few clutch hits. The Giants paired Crawford’s youth with second baseman Marco Scutaro’s professionalism after they acquired the league’s best contact man (he misses on just 5.3 percent of swings he takes) from Colorado at the trade deadline. Scutaro, the NLCS MVP, hit .362 for the Giants during the regular season, and he carries a 20-game hitting streak into 2013. The 37-year-old probably won’t approach those numbers, but he’s a reliable hit-and-run presence for a team that thrives on crossing the plate without home runs.
The bad news: Pablo Sandoval spent a lot of time on the disabled list for the second straight year. The good news: The switch-hitter has no more hamate bones to break, after dealing with surgeries to repair fractures in both hands. Sandoval, the World Series MVP by virtue of his three-homer game off of Justin Verlander, is forever on the verge of an MVP-caliber season. Although his weight is scrutinized, he’s a gifted athlete who moves well enough to be a solid defender at third base. Brandon Belt endured an up-and-down first season but showed flashes of the pure-hitting talent that allowed him to rocket through the minor leagues. The former pitching prospect is a Gold Glove-caliber presence at first base, even if he hasn’t put up the kind of power production associated with the position. Expect Posey to log 30 or so starts at first base as the Giants seek to save the legs of their most gifted hitter.
Angel Pagan’s career year included a MLB-leading 15 triples, which broke the Giants’ San Francisco-era franchise record previously held by Willie Mays. The club responded by signing him to a four-year, $40 million contract — a bit of a reach for a 31-year-old who’d only played in 125 games twice in his career. But the Giants didn’t have another in-house candidate to replace Pagan’s leadoff presence, since top prospect Gary Brown isn’t ready yet. Right fielder Hunter Pence reached 100 RBIs for the first time in his career, and even managed to knock in 45 runs in 59 games as a Giant despite hitting .219. The Giants’ toughest task in the outfield will be replacing the production of Melky Cabrera, who was leading the majors in hits and runs on Aug. 15 when he was suspended 50 games for a positive testosterone test. Gregor Blanco, a non-roster invitee last spring, will get the bulk of time in left field. But a former 2010 World Series hero, Andres Torres, was re-signed to a one-year contract and will compete for at-bats. The switch-hitting Torres is likely to start against lefthanders.
What a difference Posey makes. In 2011, when a vicious home plate collision destroyed his ankle and ended his season in May, the Giants coughed away the division in the final eight weeks. Posey didn’t take long to reestablish his offensive presence and poise behind the plate. He’s the cleanup centerpiece the Giants had lacked ever since Barry Bonds retired. Posey became the first Giant since Bonds in 2004 to drive in 100 runs; more notably, he became the first NL catcher to win a batting title since Ernie Lombardi in 1942. Not bad, considering it was his first full season in the bigs.
Joaquin Arias is a better right-handed hitter than the numbers indicate, and he can fill in at three infield positions. Backup catcher Hector Sanchez developed a good rapport with Lincecum and Zito, and the switch-hitter is far from an easy out. Aubrey Huff and Xavier Nady are gone, so the Giants could look within the system for depth, with outfielders Roger Kieschnick and Francisco Peguero knocking on the door.
In three seasons, Bruce Bochy went from being viewed as a slow-talking retread to a certifiable genius with a Hall of Fame résumé. He brilliantly shuffled a tired rotation in the postseason and turned Lincecum from an inconsistent starter into a radioactive weapon in long relief. Brian Sabean returns for his 17th season — the longest consecutive tenure of any current GM in the game. It’s hard to find a manager and GM who are more on the same page than Bochy and Sabean.
Not only did the Giants get the band back together by re-signing Pagan, Scutaro and Affeldt, but they also brought back a 2010 World Series hero in Torres. They can’t count on smooth sailing to another division title, though, given their rivals’ free spending.
CF Angel Pagan (S)
Rare hitter whose game thrives at AT&T Park, which is made for triples.
2B Marco Scutaro (R)
Veteran knocked in 44 runs in 243 at-bats after joining the Giants last summer.
3B Pablo Sandoval (S)
Judged Miss Universe pageant over the winter, now hoping for an all-world season.
C Buster Posey (R)
Patient, disciplined, confident and calculating; Posey is a pure hitter.
RF Hunter Pence (R)
Plate discipline is lacking, and he doesn’t look pretty, but he still finds a way to drive in runs.
1B Brandon Belt (L)
The “Baby Giraffe” hit .254 before the break, .293 after it; only hit seven home runs in 411 at-bats.
LF Gregor Blanco (L)
Superb defender is a solid OBP guy but wears down when he plays every day.
SS Brandon Crawford (L)
Wasn’t even a finalist for the Gold Glove last season, which was a crock.
OF Andres Torres (S)
A year after trading him to Mets for Angel Pagan, Giants scooped him up again as a free agent.
INF Joaquin Arias (R)
Former top prospect hit .303 vs. left-handed pitching in his first season with the Giants.
C Hector Sanchez (S)
Caught 25 of Barry Zito’s 32 starts and 16 of Tim Lincecum’s 33, allowing Buster Posey’s legs to stay fresh.
1B Brett Pill (R)
Beat Clayton Kershaw with a two-run homer, but had arthroscopic knee surgery in March and will miss the start of the season.
OF Francisco Peguero (S)
Tooled-up and with a cannon arm, Peguero needs to get on base more to become an everyday player.
RH Matt Cain
His 14 strikeouts in a perfect game matched Sandy Koufax for the most all-time.
LH Madison Bumgarner
His 16 wins were most by a Giants lefty since Kirk Rueter in 1998.
RH Tim Lincecum
Delivery was a mess as he led NL in losses, runs allowed, earned runs, wild pitches; second in walks.
LH Barry Zito
Pivotal win in Game 5 of NLCS at St. Louis was his first in postseason since 2003 with A’s.
RH Ryan Vogelsong
Postseason ace (3–0, 1.09 ERA in ’12) has thrown 41 quality starts over last two regular seasons.
RH Sergio Romo (Closer)
Only Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman and Eric O’Flaherty posted a lower ERA among NL relievers.
LH Javier Lopez
Sidearm specialist held lefties to a .191 average and did not allow a hit in 3.0 postseason innings.
RH Santiago Casilla
Had a 1.82 ERA after Aug. 1 but didn’t regain closer role; saved 25 games total.
LH Jeremy Affeldt
Filthy curveball artist has thrown 42.2 consecutive innings without allowing a home run.
RH George Kontos
Made huge improvement stranding inherited runners, especially in playoffs.
RH Chad Gaudin
Is now pitching for his eighth franchise in last six seasons.
LH Jose Mijares
He had seven holds and a win after joining the Giants in early August.
It has been a billion-dollar makeover. The Dodgers have emerged from bankruptcy and the dark days of the McCourt ownership transformed into one of baseball’s heavyweights. Armed with deep-pocketed owners (and anticipating a multi-billion dollar windfall from the negotiation of a new TV rights deal), the Dodgers have taken on $600 million in salary commitments over the past year, trading for former All-Stars Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford in midseason then adding free-agent pitching prize Zack Greinke and top Korean lefthander Hyun-Jin Ryu in the offseason. The midseason makeover did not take. The anticipated playoff push never materialized. Now the Dodgers will enter 2013 with the highest payroll in MLB history — and expectations to match.
The Dodgers pieced together a rotation for 2012 with low-cost signings of free agents Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano. The result was a 3.41 starters’ ERA that ranked second in the National League and third in the majors. That wasn’t good enough to secure a playoff spot, though, and the Dodgers made landing a top-tier starter their No. 1 offseason goal. Health issues with ace Clayton Kershaw (hip), Chad Billingsley (elbow) and Ted Lilly (recovering from shoulder surgery) made depth in the starting rotation a need as well. A commitment of over $200 million satisfied both goals as the Dodgers gave Greinke the second-largest contract ever given to a pitcher ($147 million over six years) and signed Ryu. The result could be one of the best 1-2 punches in any rotation (Kershaw and Greinke), uncommon depth (Billingsley, Ryu and Beckett), and potential trade chips to address other possible needs (Capuano, Harang and Lilly).
A deep bullpen was a Dodgers strength in 2012, and GM Ned Colletti did his best to put the band back together for 2013. Re-signing Brandon League was the first step. Acquired from the Mariners in July, League will open the season as the team’s closer. But the Dodgers have a hard-throwing option to step in if needed in Kenley Jansen (recovering from a surgical procedure to address recurring problems with an irregular heartbeat). J.P. Howell was signed as a free agent to fill the lefty specialist role.
The “best-case scenario,” manager Don Mattingly said during the offseason, is for Ramirez to be the Dodgers’ everyday shortstop in 2013. That will take a re-commitment to defense by Ramirez, who has not been known as the most focused and consistent performer in the field, or the hardest worker. That sounds great, but Ramirez tore a ligament in his thumb in spring training and will miss the first two months. So much for Ramirez taking over at short. When he returns, if Ramirez has to move to third base, Luis Cruz is the next option at shortstop. Second base figures to be shared by steady veteran Mark Ellis and Skip Schumaker, a versatile left-handed bat acquired from the Cardinals.
Not that long ago, Gonzalez was one of the most complete and consistent hitters in baseball. The Dodgers are hopeful that Gonzalez — sidetracked by the pressure and clubhouse drama that come with playing for the Red Sox — can once again provide a productive presence in the middle of their lineup. If Gonzalez does, he and Matt Kemp could form a 1-2 combo to rival other top duos like Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera in Detroit or the anticipated pairing of Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols in Anaheim. Third base is more of a question mark. The Dodgers hope Ramirez grabs hold of the shortstop position when he returns in June. If he does, Cruz gets first crack at being their everyday third baseman. The journeyman hit .297 with 40 RBIs in 78 games for the Dodgers last year and is the best of some unappealing options at third base. For now, Cruz will be the main man at short with Nick Punto filling in at third.
Kemp, Crawford and Andre Ethier might be the best outfield in baseball — if this were 2010. It isn’t, however, and the Dodgers are counting on a rebound to health by Kemp (offseason shoulder surgery) and Crawford (wrist and elbow surgeries in 2012) as well as bounce-back years overall from Crawford and Ethier to make this group worthy of the massive financial investment the Dodgers have made in them. Kemp is the best bet to live up to his potential. After a near-MVP season in 2011, Kemp was limited to 106 games in 2012 due to hamstring and shoulder injuries, and there is some concern that Kemp’s power could take time to return. If the rest of the Dodgers’ potentially potent lineup is productive, there won’t be as much pressure on Kemp. Crawford and Ethier are much more questionable commodities. Crawford was a complete bust with the Red Sox. Health issues were only part of his problem, and Crawford has a long way to go to rediscover the game that produced four All-Star selections and a Silver Slugger award with Tampa Bay. Ethier has become a flawed player since his All-Star selection in 2010, posting disturbing splits against left-handed pitching. That could be less of a problem with a much deeper lineup around him in 2013.
For all the headline-grabbing moves the Dodgers made last season, one of the most pleasant and valuable developments was the emergence of A.J. Ellis at age 31 as a rare commodity — an everyday catcher capable of contributing offensively. Ellis hit .270 with 13 home runs and a robust .374 on-base percentage that was critical in helping turn over a National League lineup. Defensively, he handled the Dodgers’ evolving staff well enough to have a catcher’s ERA of 3.31. The Dodgers are confident enough in Ellis’ ability to reproduce that performance in 2013 that they could stick with inexperienced Tim Federowicz as his backup.
The Dodgers added an important, versatile piece when they traded for Schumaker. He provides a left-handed bat off the bench capable of filling in for Kemp and Crawford in the outfield if they are not at full strength after 2012 surgeries (as well as providing balance at second base with the right-handed Ellis). The rest of the bench is an assortment of spare parts left over from last season — Jerry Hairston Jr., Juan Uribe, Punto and Federowicz, the backup catcher.
Has any GM in baseball weathered a wider swing in fortunes than Colletti over the past few years? Colletti has gone from needing to pinch pennies and make do with limited resources in the dying days of the McCourt era to the free-spending billionaire-backed days of the new ownership. But the high payroll and big investment made in these Dodgers have created high expectations that both Colletti and Mattingly will have to meet — or likely feel the heat.
The Dodgers will carry the highest payroll in baseball history during the 2013 season — and big bucks have not always brought big success for their predecessors among baseball’s biggest spenders. The Dodgers changed a third of their roster on the fly last season, adding a passel of former All-Stars. It remains to be seen how that group will play together, and health issues (with Crawford and Billingsley, in particular) could scuttle any progress made. Playing in the same division with the Giants (World Series champions in two of the past three seasons) also presents a large challenge. Given all that the Dodgers’ new owners have invested in the past year, however, anything short of a playoff spot and deep run into the postseason would have to rank as a disappointment.
LF Carl Crawford (L)
Dodgers are counting on combination of good health and escape from Boston to revive his career.
2B Mark Ellis (R)
Veteran second baseman came back after nearly losing leg from fluke injury in May.
CF Matt Kemp (R)
Talk of 50-50 season disappeared with injuries in 2012 — but massive potential remains intact.
1B Adrian Gonzalez (L)
Career .244 hitter at Dodger Stadium, second-lowest of any park in which he’s played (.236 at Tropicana Field).
RF Andre Ethier (L)
Has gone from foundation piece to flawed complementary player (poor lefty-righty splits) in matter of months.
SS Luis Cruz (R)
Feel-good story with breakout season in 2012 after 12 seasons in pro baseball with six organizations. Will spend the first two months at shortstop.
C A.J. Ellis (R)
One of only four catchers in NL last year to start at least 125 games (Buster Posey, Miguel Montero and Yadier Molina).
3B Nick Punto (S)
The solid defender will fill in at third as Cruz shifts to short while Hanley Ramirez recovers from a torn ligament in his thumb.
UT Jerry Hairston Jr. (R)
Played well in super-utility role last season until hip issue that led to surgery became problematic.
2B-OF Skip Schumaker (L)
Could see plenty of playing time as multi-position backup — and protégé of hitting coach Mark McGwire.
IF Juan Uribe (R)
Has hit .199/.262/.289 in first two years of misguided three-year, $21 million deal.
C Tim Federowicz (R)
Could head back to Triple-A if Dodgers sign a more experienced backup for Ellis.
UT Alex Castellanos (R)
Appeared in 16 games last season as a rookie, entering five times as a pinch-runner.
LH Clayton Kershaw
Young ace is 35–14 over past two seasons, lowest ERA and WHIP in NL each year.
RH Zack Greinke
$147 million man only 10th in wins (57), 24th in ERA (3.37) among starters since 2009. Elbow inflammation is a red flag.
RH Chad Billingsley
Offseason rehab and throwing program have put surgery for partially torn elbow ligament on hold — for now.
LH Hyun-Jin Ryu
Led Korean Baseball Organization in strikeouts five times in seven seasons — but will that translate to MLB?
RH Josh Beckett
ERA dropped from 5.23 with Red Sox to 2.93 as Dodger last season, but WHIP didn’t (1.33).
RH Brandon League (Closer)
Lost closer job in Seattle but finished season with one run, eight hits, 27 strikeouts in final 27.1 IP with Dodgers
RH Kenley Jansen
Has closer stuff and could be back in that role quickly if League’s Seattle struggles resurface.
RH Matt Guerrier
Veteran presence was lacking for much of 2012 due to elbow problems.
LH J.P. Howell
Held left-handed batters to a .200 batting average with the Rays in 2012.
LH Ted Lilly
Dodgers’ surplus of starting pitching could land a veteran like Lilly (recovering from shoulder surgery) in the pen.
RH Ronald Belisario
Struck out 69 last season and allowed just 47 hits.
RH Aaron Harang
Evidently, he’s still in the league.
General manager Kevin Towers was at his wheeler-dealer best again this offseason, and his acquisitions should return the Diamondbacks to contention in the NL West, the division they won in 2011 in his first full season on the job. Towers believes in pitching, and he added key pieces to the starting rotation and the back end of the bullpen, his area of greatest expertise. He also added offensive firepower and clubhouse chemistry in free agents Cody Ross, Eric Chavez, Eric Hinske, and trade acquisition Martin Prado. Combined with the holdovers, the D-backs appear to have all the ingredients for a bounce-back year.
Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill and Wade Miley comprise the front three, with newcomer Brandon McCarthy penciled in as 3b. Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs, prospects obtained from the Los Angeles Angels in the Dan Haren 2010 deadline deal, and Randall Delgado acquired over the winter from Atlanta in the Justin Upton trade, competed for the fifth spot. Currently Corbin stands as the winner, although getting Skaggs regular starts at Triple-A is not a bad thing. Kennedy was fourth in the NL Cy Young Award balloting when he went 21–4 in 2011, but he lost some command of his fastball at times last season and fell to 15–12 as his ERA jumped from 2.88 to 4.02. Kennedy’s typical season probably lies somewhere in between. He has logged more than 200 innings in each of the last two seasons, and when he pounds the strike zone, his fastball-changeup combination can be very effective. Cahill also got to 200 innings in his first season with the D-backs and finished strong, winning four of his last five starts. Miley, the only lefthander in the top four, was the surprise of 2012, starting in the bullpen and finishing as a top candidate for the NL Rookie of the Year award. Miley commanded the strike zone — he averaged 1.7 walks per nine innings — and got early contact. McCarthy signed a two-year, $15.5 million free-agent deal shortly after the Winter Meetings. Like Cahill the year before, McCarthy will face the challenges of moving from a pitcher’s park in Oakland to a hitter’s park in Chase Field. McCarthy reinvented himself two years ago by throwing more two-seam fastballs, and that approach should play well in his new home. Corbin, Skaggs and Delgado should be fixtures in the rotation in the near future.
This is the strongest area of the team, and with it the D-backs should be able to shorten a lot of games. It starts at the very back with righthanders J.J. Putz, Heath Bell and David Hernandez. All three have closed games in pressure situations. Bell, who had three 40-plus save seasons in San Diego from 2009-11, was acquired in a three-team trade with Miami and Oakland early in the offseason. The pecking order entering spring training is set — Bell in the seventh inning, Hernandez in the eighth and Putz in the ninth. Putz lost some velocity when he toyed with a cut fastball early last season, but he junked that after six weeks and dominated from then on, finishing with 32 saves and a 2.82 ERA. Hernandez has 15 saves since joining the D-backs’ bullpen in 2011 as another Towers find and averaged 12.9 strikeouts per nine innings with his fastball/slider combination last season. Bell struggled after signing a $27 million free-agent deal with Miami, but the D-backs believe a change of scenery and a reunion with Towers will help. Strike-throwing submariner Brad Ziegler had the best season of his career in 2012, and his arm angle gives righties fit. Newcomers Tony Sipp and Matt Reynolds will give the D-backs two lefthanders for the first time in, well, forever. Sipp enjoyed good success against lefties in Cleveland last season. Long reliever Josh Collmenter pounds the strike zone with a high-80s mph fastball, a high-70s mph changeup and guts galore.
Aaron Hill may be the best two-way second baseman in the NL. He won the 2012 Silver Slugger Award by hitting a career-high .302 with 26 home runs and also showed great range on the fast track at Chase Field — especially to his right, where he made play after play on balls hit up the middle. Cliff Pennington was acquired from Oakland in the three-team trade that also landed Bell, and will open the season at shortstop.
Paul Goldschmidt took another step forward in his first full season in the majors in 2012, developing into the kind of guy a franchise could build around. With the bluest of blue-collar attitudes, Goldschmidt hit .286 with 20 home runs, 43 doubles and 82 RBIs while playing a solid first base. He has power to all fields, and it would not be a surprise to see more of those doubles turn into homers as he continues to learn pitchers and counts. As tough as it was to trade Upton, getting a player like Prado should pay huge dividends. He can play several positions well having started at four different positions at one point last season in four consecutive games. He is a proven .300 hitter and terrific in the clubhouse.
Jason Kubel led the D-backs with 30 homers and 90 RBIs in his first season in Arizona, and his 14 outfield assists also led the team. Ross, who was the NLCS MVP with San Francisco in 2010, signed a three-year $26 million free-agent deal to add an experienced hand in center field after the trade of Chris Young to Oakland. Gerardo Parra, who spent much of 2012 as the fourth outfielder returns as a starter. The former Gold Glove winner has a tremendous arm in right field and can be disruptive on the base paths.
Miguel Montero signed a five-year, $60 million contract extension two months into 2012, and the big-money deal already appears to be a bargain for the D-backs. Montero followed his All-Star 2011 season by hitting .286 with 15 home runs and 88 RBIs. His bat is hardly his only weapon. Montero threw out 42 percent of the runners who attempted to steal on him last season, and his 41 percent success rate is the best in the majors the last two years. He is an upbeat clubhouse presence, and when he talks, pitchers listen.
Towers made a concerted effort to improve this area and signed several of the players he targeted, including left-handed bats Chavez and Hinske and reserve catcher Wil Nieves. Chavez and Hinske provide quality pinch-hit and designated hitter options, and Chavez could be part of a platoon, playing third base and allowing Prado to move to the outfield on occasion. All three bring the clubhouse presence that Towers has made a priority during his tenure. Willie Bloomquist was the starting shortstop on the 2011 NL West title team, and he can play just about anywhere after seeing his first career action at third base in 2012. He’ll nurse a oblique injury to start the season. Outfielder Tony Campana can’t seem to land a starting gig, but in limited action last year, the left-handed hitting speedster swiped a team-high 30 bases for the Cubs.
Managing partner Ken Kendrick and president/CEO Derrick Hall have opened the purse strings, green-lighting a $95 million budget for the 40-man roster, a number Towers reached when he signed Ross. Towers must feel like he won the lottery — his budgets in San Diego were routinely half of what he has this season. The D-backs had their largest attendance in the last four years in 2012, but that is less a driving force on the increased payroll than a determination to put a winning product on the field.
The under-appreciated NL West will only get more difficult, with the Giants building on the momentum of two World Series championships in the last three seasons and the Dodgers now able to spend freely under new management and a new TV deal. The D-backs under manager Kirk Gibson will never give an inch, however, and they believe they have the nucleus to reprise 2011, when they won 94 games and the division.
CF Cody Ross (R)
The MVP of the 2010 NLCS with the Giants, he is back in the NL after a year with the dysfunctional Red Sox. A strained calf may keep him on the shelf for the first week of the season.
3B Martin Prado (R)
Career .295 hitter has carried an average of .300 or better in four of the last five seasons.
2B Aaron Hill (R)
A perfect fit in Chase Field, Hill set a career high with 76 extra-base hits in his first full season in Arizona.
C Miguel Montero (L)
Has blossomed into one of the elite two-way catchers in the game with regular use the last two seasons.
1B Paul Goldschmidt (R)
All you need to know about his acuity — he tagged up from first and took second on a 45-foot foul-out to the catcher.
LF Jason Kubel (L)
He had a triple-double — 30 homers, 90 RBIs, 14 outfield assists — in his first season with the D-backs.
RF Gerardo Parra (L)
A 2011 Gold Glove winner owns one of the best arms in baseball.
SS Cliff Pennington (S)
He had 58 stolen bases in three seasons as an Oakland regular; can play both middle infield positions.
3B Eric Chavez (L)
Hit 16 home runs in part-time duty with the Yankees last season and made playoff starts ahead of A-Rod.
UT Eric Hinske (L)
Valuable member of four playoff teams — the Red Sox, Rays, Yankees and Braves.
UT Willie Bloomquist (R)
Always in high gear; the D-backs see him as a perfect handyman at three infield spots and as a pinch-hitter/runner. An oblique strain will cost him at least a week and could be more serious.
C Wil Nieves (R)
A quality defender and clubhouse presence; his two-month stint in 2012 earned him a return date.
OF Tony Campana (L)
A basestealing wonder who can’t seem to find a place in the starting lineup. May be pushed aside when promising rookie Adam Eaton is ready to return from elbow sprain he sustained in spring training.
RH Ian Kennedy
The top winner in the National League with 36 victories the last two seasons (21 and 15).
RH Trevor Cahill
Already with 53 victories in 128 starts, Cahill does not turn 25 until early in spring training.
RH Brandon McCarthy
Back to full function after suffering a brain contusion and skull fracture when struck by a line drive Sept. 5.
LH Wade Miley
Turned the corner in his first full season in 2012 by throwing strikes and pitching to contact.
LH Patrick Corbin
Used both in the bullpen and the rotation in his rookie season, averaged only 2.1 walks per nine innings.
RH J.J. Putz (Closer)
Was his dominant self the final four-plus months of 2012; has 77 saves and a 2.48 ERA in two seasons in Arizona.
RH David Hernandez
A mid-90s fastball and a slurvey breaking ball he can throw in the 80-85 mph range give hitters pause.
RH Heath Bell
Jerked around in Miami when his closer’s role was taken away early; a return to the NL West should help.
RH Brad Ziegler
Continued to holds righties at bay and made a sharp improvement in success against lefties in 2011.
LH Tony Sipp
A workhorse who had 202 appearances and 51 holds the last three seasons in Cleveland.
LH Matt Reynolds
After 144 appearances the last two seasons in Colorado, should benefit from a change of venue.
RH Josh Collmenter
He brings an 87-mph fastball, a 73-mph changeup and a Michigan woods full of smarts and guts.
The Rockies will try to rise from the ruins of a 98-loss season, the worst in franchise history, and steer a new course under manager Walt Weiss. A popular, heady shortstop for four seasons with the Rockies and later a special assistant to general manager Dan O’Dowd for seven years, Weiss was coaching a high school baseball team in the Denver area when the Rockies reached out to him after manager Jim Tracy surprisingly resigned and walked away from $1.4 million. Tracy saw his job being marginalized when Bill Geivett was given the title of senior vice president of major league operations in August with a desk in a conference room adjacent to Tracy’s office. Those dynamics won’t deter Weiss, eager for the opportunity and in no position to quibble about workplace conditions having never coached or managed at the professional level. Weiss will bring honesty and toughness to his new role and will try to create an environment where the players respect and trust each other and, consequently, the greater good reigns. Chemistry, esprit de corps and a harmonious clubhouse matter, of course, but the Rockies need better starting pitching to make any meaningful progress. The Rockies’ 5.22 ERA was the worst in the majors. Their starters went 29–68 with a big-league high 5.81 ERA last season and at Coors Field were 17–33 with a 6.70 ERA. The Rockies rotation should be healthier and hence better this season. But the depth is questionable, and notable improvement is needed from young starters Drew Pomeranz, Christian Friedrich and Tyler Chatwood.
Injuries marred last season for lefthander Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin and Juan Nicasio, which forced the Rockies to rely too heavily on inexperienced youngsters. De La Rosa, who underwent Tommy John surgery in June 2011, finally returned to the Rockies last September but went 0–2 with a 9.28 ERA in three starts and was understandably inconsistent. After his August return, Chacin pitched well in his final nine starts, but that was after spending more than three-and-a-half months on the disabled list with an irritated nerve in his pectoral muscle. Nicasio, who is less experienced than De La Rosa or Chacin, suffered a season-ending knee injury in early June. Lefthander Jeff Francis, 32, is a veteran who provides depth at the back of the rotation but must have precise location at this point to succeed. With none of the youngsters seizing the fifth spot, the Rockies turned to veteran Jo Garland, who spent most of the spring with Seattle. Almost immediately after his release from the Mariners, Colorado pounced. He brings a badly needed veteran presence. Josh Outman, Pomeranz, Friedrich and Chatwood will contend for a spot in the rotation at some point this season.
As protection against a decline by closer Rafael Betancourt, who will turn 38 in late April, the Rockies acquired Wilton Lopez, who will give the team another late-inning weapon and help Matt Belisle and lefthander Rex Brothers in the setup role. Lefthander Adam Ottavino should have a significant role in middle relief and veteran Chris Volstad will eat innings in long relief.
Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki hits cleanup and can make a huge impact on offense and defense, provided he can stay on the field. That wasn’t the case last year. Tulowitzki played only 47 games, none after May 30 due to a strained left groin that required surgery. A healthy Tulowitzki can go a long way toward improving the Rockies’ defense, which was shaky last season, particularly on the left side of the infield. Josh Rutledge made an immediate offensive impact when called up from Double-A Tulsa to play shortstop at the All-Star break but then tailed off. He also made seven starts at second base, where he will play with Tulowitzki back.
First baseman Todd Helton, who turns 40 in August, is expected back for his final season after playing in only 69 games due to a labrum tear in his right hip that eventually required season-ending surgery in August. If he’s healthy, the Rockies can count on Helton for stellar defense and a decent on-base percentage but not much run production at this point. Jordan Pacheco and Chris Nelson both hit better than .300 last season but provide little power and ordinary defense (at best) at third base. Newcomer Ryan Wheeler will challenge for playing time at third as well.
Left fielder Carlos Gonzalez is a plus defender and a solid No. 3 hitter who still had a very productive season despite not having Tulowitzki protecting him for the final four months. Center fielder Dexter Fowler had a breakthrough season on offense, hitting .300 with a .389 on-base percentage and 42 extra-base hits, and has the plus range needed in expansive Coors Field. Right fielder Michael Cuddyer, limited to two starts after July 31 by a right oblique strain, was terrific as advertised in the clubhouse but did not produce as much as expected on the field.
Wilin Rosario had a superb rookie season on offense, setting club records for a catcher with 28 homers and 71 RBIs, but his receiving skills were very shoddy as he led big-league catchers in passed balls (21) and errors (13). Rosario played more than expected because of injuries to Ramon Hernandez, who turns 37 in May and is now a $3.2 million backup.
Tyler Colvin can play all three outfield positions and first base, where he and Cuddyer can spell Helton. Colvin hits for power — 18 homers and an .858 OPS last year — but strikes out too often (117 times, or once every 3.6 at-bats last year). Eric Young Jr. has worked hard to become an acceptable corner outfielder who can make a difference offensively with his speed and energy. Injuries limited Hernandez to 52 games, including 45 starts at catcher, where he has declined. Reid Brignac can play multiple positions, but doesn’t have much pop in his bat.
The Rockies showed a willingness to experiment, instituting two notable changes last year, one short-lived. With an eye toward overcoming the inherent challenges at Coors Field, the Rockies switched to a four-man rotation with a limit of 75-80 pitches in mid-June. However, they abandoned that plan two months later because the pitchers, too cognizant of pitch counts, were not efficient and were able to do less work between starts. And on Aug. 1, Geivett was given the title of senior vice president of major league operations. O’Dowd retains final say over trades but will focus more on scouting and player development. The Rockies have had little success developing starting pitchers they’ve drafted, a reason Mark Wiley was hired to oversee pitching throughout the organization.
Injuries last season enabled several young position players to gain experience. But of that group, only Rosario at catcher seems to be a future everyday player capable of making an impact, and that’s provided his defense improves markedly. The young starting pitchers were generally overmatched and looked to scouts like future No. 4 or No. 5 starters. Weiss seems capable of growing into the job of manager. But this offseason the Rockies have been outspent and outmaneuvered by their NL West foes. This team can improve with better health, particularly from starting pitchers De La Rosa, Chacin and Nicasio. But how much of a load can those three shoulder as they come back from injuries? A breakthrough from a young starter would help. Regardless, the rotation lacks certainty, making another losing season likely.
CF Dexter Fowler (S)
Hit .315 with .395 OPS and .462 slugging percentage right-handed and .293/.387/.479 left-handed.
2B Josh Rutledge (R)
Third-round pick in 2010 showed some decent power in his first season in the big leagues.
LF Carlos Gonzalez (L)
Hit .330 with 17 homers before All-Star break and .261 with five homers after the break.
SS Troy Tulowitzki (R)
On a nine-game hitting streak, was 14-for-36 (.389) with four homers and four doubles when his season ended May 30.
RF Michael Cuddyer (R)
Despite the benefits of Coors Field, his .317 OBP was his lowest for any season spent primarily in the majors.
1B Todd Helton (L)
Played in a career-low 69 games due to a hip problem that required season-ending surgery Aug. 10.
C Wilin Rosario (R)
.530 slugging was highest by rookie catcher in majors since Mike Piazza (.561) set all-time rookie catcher mark in 1993.
3B Chris Nelson (R)
OPS was .881 in 180 at-bats after All-Star break compared to .733 in 165 at-bats before break.
OF Tyler Colvin (L)
Played all three outfield positions and first base and hit everywhere in the lineup except eighth and ninth.
OF Eric Young Jr. (S)
Hit .420 with three homers and 15 runs scored in 19 games before season-ending rib muscle injury Aug. 19.
C Ramon Hernandez (R)
Hit four homers in 49 at-bats through April 27 and one homer in final 135 at-bats rest of season.
3B Jordan Pacheco (R)
First NL rookie to finish in top five in batting since Greg Gross (third) and Bill Madlock (fifth) in 1974.
UT Reid Brignac (L)
Hit just .185 in 270 at-bats over the past two seasons with Tampa Bay.
RH Jhoulys Chacin
Came off DL on Aug. 21 and went 3–2 with 2.84 ERA in final nine starts.
LH Jorge De La Rosa
Made first of three starts for Rockies on Sept. 20 following slow comeback from June 2011 Tommy John surgery.
RH Juan Nicasio
Struck out 54 in 59 innings pitched prior to injury to his kneecap in 2012.
LH Jeff Francis
Went 3–2 with 4.97 ERA in first 10 starts and 3–5 with 6.06 ERA in final 14.
RH Jon Garland
Veteran spent almost all of spring training with Seattle before his release and immediate signing with the Rockies.
RH Rafael Betancourt (Closer)
In first full season as closer, blew seven saves but finished with 31, tied for fourth-highest total in club history.
RH Wilton Lopez
Went 10-for-12 in save opportunities while serving as the Astros’ closer in final two months of 2012.
LH Rex Brothers
Led the Rockies with eight wins and an average of 11.0 strikeouts per nine innings.
RH Matt Belisle
Wore down after All-Star break with 6.21 ERA and .317 opponents batting average.
RH Adam Ottavino
Finished third on the team with 81 strikeouts, trailing only reliever Rex Brothers and starter Drew Pomeranz (83).
RH Edgmer Escalona
He struggled in 22 games last season, but is out of options and had a strong spring.
RH Chris Volstad
With 123 starts and only one relief appearance in his career, he’ll begin the season as the long man.
Despite new ownership and a new TV deal, it looks like it’s going to be more of the same for the Padres. While the NL West rival San Francisco Giants are coming off a second World Series title in three seasons and the Los Angeles Dodgers continue to spend lavishly, the Padres appear content with the status quo. They hope Chase Headley will replicate his big season, and they will continue to build from within. They don’t seem inclined to go after big-name free agents, even though they are bringing in the fences at Petco Park. The Padres were so bad in April and May that a strong second half couldn’t lift them out of fourth place.
The Padres were hit particularly hard by injuries to starters last season, beginning when projected Opening Day starter Tim Stauffer was scratched hours before first pitch due to a sore elbow. Stauffer came back in May and made only one start before the injury flared up again. Then again, it wasn’t a powerhouse rotation to begin with. Edinson Volquez, one of four players obtained from Cincinnati for Mat Latos, bounced back nicely from a disappointing final season with the Reds. Jason Marquis made 15 starts after coming to San Diego from Minnesota, and posted the lowest WHIP (1.302) of his career. Eric Stults seemed to get better as the season progressed. The Padres won eight of his final 10 starts. Tyson Ross, who never found his groove in Oakland last season, has earned the fifth spot with s strong spring.
Injuries weren’t limited to the rotation. Huston Street, who replaced Heath Bell as the closer, was on the disabled list twice, with lattisimus dorsi and calf injuries. Nonetheless, he made his first All-Star team and converted 23-of-24 save opportunities. The Padres gave him a $14 million, two-year contract extension. San Diego will look for some stability in the bullpen, where 19 different pitchers made at least one appearance last year. The pen featured seven rookies, including righthanders Brad Boxberger (2.60 ERA in 24 games), Brad Brach (3.78 ERA in 67 games), Dale Thayer (3.43 ERA in 64 games) and Nick Vincent (1.71 ERA in 27 games). Luke Gregerson is the only remaining pitcher from San Diego’s former 1-2-3 punch in the pen, which included Mike Adams and Bell.
The Padres injected some life into their dismal season when they released second baseman Orlando Hudson and placed shortstop Jason Bartlett on the disabled list with a knee injury on May 17. On the same day, the Padres brought up Everth Cabrera, who has been with the Padres off and on since 2009, and exciting Alexi Amarista, who stands just 5'7" and was obtained from the Angels in the deal for reliever Ernesto Frieri. Cabrera became the first Padres player to lead the National League in stolen bases, swiping 44 bags in 48 attempts. While Cabrera took over at shortstop, Amarista split time with Logan Forsythe at second base. Forsythe is the projected starter at second, but Amarista will definitely be in the mix. Top prospect Jedd Gyorko could force himself into the picture if he continues to hit well.
After failing to put up the kind of numbers expected of a third baseman in his first four big-league seasons, Headley more than made up for it with a career year in 2012. The Padres, who control Headley’s rights for two more seasons, would like to see him do it again. He’ll get a late start this season due to a fractured thumb that will cost him the first month or so. With a more aggressive approach and adjustments to his swing that helped him cope with spacious Petco Park, he hit .286 with 31 home runs and led the National League with 115 RBIs. Headley was rewarded with his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, and he finished fifth in NL MVP voting. On the other side of the infield, Yonder Alonso had a solid rookie season. He started 144 games at first base, hit .273 and led all big-league rookies with 39 doubles, which set a Padres rookie record. Alonso is one of four players obtained from the Reds for Latos the previous offseason.
Two of the three probable starters, left fielder Carlos Quentin and center fielder Cameron Maybin, have contract security. The Padres haven’t yet bestowed that on right fielder Will Venable. Quentin had a mixed season, showing the power the Padres sought when they obtained him from the White Sox but missing considerable time after having arthroscopic knee surgery during spring training. Quentin played in only 86 games, hitting .261 with 16 homers and 46 RBIs in 284 at-bats. After being reinstated from the 15-day disabled list on May 28, he announced his arrival by hitting five home runs, four doubles and driving in nine runs in his first six games. If he can stay healthy, he can do some damage at Petco Park. The Padres gave Quentin a $27 million, three-year contract that runs through 2015. During spring training, the Padres signed Maybin to a $25 million, five-year contract. He started slowly but set career-highs by playing in 147 games and driving in 45 runs, and tied his career-best with 44 walks. Maybin made several spectacular catches, including robbing Matt Kemp of a go-ahead homer in a Padres win at Dodger Stadium in early September. Venable made a career-high 103 starts, 80 of them in right, while hitting .264 with nine homers. Chris Denorfia started 60 games in right and proved his worth by setting career-highs with a .293 average, 102 hits, 19 doubles, 56 runs scored and 130 games played.
The Padres were thrilled with Yasmani Grandal after he made his big-league debut on June 20. He hit .297 with 16 extra-base hits and 36 RBIs in 60 games, with 52 starts. Then they were shocked when Grandal was suspended for the first 50 games of 2013 after testing positive for testosterone. Grandal’s suspension gives the job back to Nick Hundley, who seemed expendable after an awful season. Hundley was given a $9 million, three-year contract extension during spring training, then proceeded to hit just .157, was demoted to Triple-A and then, after being recalled, suffered a season-ending knee injury. Backup John Baker also returns.
Denorfia is practically a starter, platooning with Venable in right field and also making starts in left and center. Amarista excited fans with his speed and hustle as he played second base and a little bit at shortstop. Baker ended up starting 52 games at catcher and will be called on again early this season due to Grandal’s suspension. The Padres like Mark Kotsay’s veteran leadership — in the clubhouse as well as in the dugout — so much that he’ll be back at age 37.
The Padres picked up the options for 2014 and ’15 for manager Bud Black, who is the eternal optimist. On one hand, he’s perfect for this club because of his positive nature. On the other hand, there are some who would like to see Black get on his players more. Like Bruce Bochy before him, Black seems destined to shepherd a team that’s barely given a fighting chance by ownership. General manager Josh Byrnes says the Padres were inspired by seeing another low-budget team, the Oakland A’s, reach the playoffs last season.
The Padres teased their fans with a strong finish in 2009, followed by a 90-win 2010 season that fell just short of the playoffs. They appear to be following the same script, although losing 10 of their final 15 games of 2012 put a damper on what had been a strong second half. The Padres might inch closer to finishing .500 or slightly above, but that’s probably about all the fans can expect this season. If they’re really going to contend, that probably won’t happen until 2014 or later. Their payroll is expected to increase beyond last year’s $55 million, but much of it will go toward salaries decided in arbitration rather than to free agents. A big clue came when the Padres were extremely quiet during the Winter Meetings.
SS Everth Cabrera (S)
Recalled on May 17 and became first Padre to lead NL in stolen bases with 44 in 48 attempts.
2B Logan Forsythe (R)
Played in 91 games, including 73 starts at second, and hit .273 in first full big-league season. Could lose playing time to top prospect Jedd Gyorko, who will fill in at third during Headley's absence.
3B Chase Headley (S)
Former second-round pick became the first player in Padres history to have two months with 30-plus RBIs. Will miss the start of the season with a fractured thumb, but hopes to return in April.
LF Carlos Quentin (R)
Limited to 86 games after knee surgery; five of his 16 homers came in his first six games.
1B Yonder Alonso (L)
Made 144 starts, had .348 on-base percentage and hit .273 with Padres rookie-record 39 doubles.
RF Will Venable (L)
Played in career-high 148 games, including 103 starts; tied career-best with .264 average.
CF Cameron Maybin (R)
Set career highs with 147 games played and 45 RBIs and tied career-high with 44 walks.
C Nick Hundley (R)
Rough year included demotion to minors, .157 average and season-ending knee injury.
C John Baker (L)
Played in 63 games and started 52; threw out only 9-of-58 basestealers.
UT Jesus Guzman (R)
Utilityman made first Opening Day roster and started 65 games at three different positions (plus DH).
OF Mark Kotsay (L)
Hit .271 with two homers and nine RBIs as pinch-hitter; started 29 games. Should make a terrific manager some day.
OF Chris Denorfia (R)
Made career-high 77 starts in outfield; batted leadoff in 45 games, hitting .303.
IF Alexi Amarista (L)
Injected life into middle infield after trade from Angels; first career home run was game-winning grand slam.
RH Edinson Volquez
Was 11–11 with 4.14 ERA in first Padres season; threw first complete game, a one-hitter vs. Houston at Petco.
LH Clayton Richard
Workhorse set career-highs with 218.2 innings, 14
victories and 31 homers allowed.
RH Jason Marquis
After release by Twins was 6–7 with 4.04 ERA in 15 starts for Padres before breaking left wrist.
LH Eric Stults
Waived by White Sox; went 8–3 with 2.92 ERA in 18 games with Padres, including 14 starts.
RH Tyson Ross
Struggled mightily with Oakland last season, but has rebounded with a strong spring.
RH Huston Street (Closer)
First-time All-Star converted 23-of-24 save opportunities; earned two-year extension.
RH Luke Gregerson
Had career-bests with 2.39 ERA and nine saves in team-high 77 appearances.
RH Dale Thayer
Was 2–2 with 3.43 ERA and seven saves in 64 games in his longest big-league stint.
RH Brad Brach
Was 2–4 with 3.78 ERA and led all NL rookies with 67 appearances, second-most on team.
LH Joe Thatcher
Bounced back from 2011 shoulder surgery to pitch in 55 games, going 1–4 with 3.41 ERA.
LH Tommy Layne
Made jump from Double-A to majors, going 2–0 with a 3.24 ERA in 26 appearances.
RH Anthony Bass
Split between rotation and pen; went 2–8 with 4.73 ERA and had first career complete game and save.
Back in December, Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney introduced Jim Deshaies as the team’s new television analyst and said he would be “the guy who will call the next World Series team for the Cubs.” The last guy to call a World Series team for the Cubs was…well…no one. The Cubs’ first televised game was in 1946, and the team was last in the World Series in 1945. The Cubs haven’t been to a World Series in more than 65 years, haven’t won a World Series in more than a century, lost 101 games in 2012 and made offseason moves that were patchwork for another season of rebuilding. So fans might be forgiven for saying the usual “Wait ’til next year’’ before the season even begins. The second year of the Theo Epstein Era could be similar to the first, with promising players taking their lumps and marginally talented veterans filling up roster spots. Epstein promised the turnaround process would take time and asked fans to show patience. But the resolve of even the most patient Cubs fans was tested last year as the franchise lost 100 games for only the third time ever.
Last year the Cubs opened the season with Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, Chris Volstad and Paul Maholm in the rotation. They ended the season with Justin Germano, Chris Rusin, Jason Berken, Volstad, and Travis Wood. Samardzija threw the most innings (174.2) and was shut down in early September. He could become the ace of the staff. Garza, who was supposed to be traded last offseason and again during the season, suffered an elbow injury a few weeks before the trading deadline and is back to give the rotation some stability. The healthier he gets, the hotter the trade rumors will get. Shortly before Christmas, the Cubs agreed to a four-year, $52 million deal with Edwin Jackson and a two-year, $10 million pact with Carlos Villanueva. Jackson went 10–11 with a 4.03 ERA with the Nationals in 2012. Travis Wood and Scott Feldman seem to have locked up spots in the rotation. Villanueva will have a place at least until Garza returns. It will be interesting to see how Scott Baker, coming off Tommy John surgery last summer, will figure in as the season progresses. He won 38 games for Minnesota from 2008-10.
The Cubs nearly traded closer Carlos Marmol in the offseason. He can either be unhittable or wild. His 11.7 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio is impressive, but his 7.3 walks-per-nine-innings ratio is alarming. Marmol was demoted for a few weeks last May. If that happens again, expect Kyuji Fujikawa, a Japanese import signed to a two-year deal in December, to slide into the closer’s role. Fujikawa posted dominant numbers in the last six seasons as the closer for Hanshin. He had 202 saves with a 1.36 ERA and a 0.855 WHIP. Southpaw James Russell and righthander Michael Bowden could become valuable setup men.
While many people in baseball believe shortstop Starlin Castro and second baseman Darwin Barney will occupy the Cubs’ middle infield for years to come, there are others who believe that minor leaguer Javier Baez is the team’s shortstop of the future because of his superior defense. Castro is erratic, but he and Barney, a 2012 Gold Glove winner, will team together for another year at least. Castro is a gifted offensive player who led the Cubs in hits for the second year in a row. Barney, the Cubs’ fourth-round pick in 2007, needs to improve his .254 average. He hit .303 in Wrigley Field but only .206 on the road.
First baseman Anthony Rizzo and third baseman Ian Stewart are on the opposite ends of the offensive spectrum. Rizzo is an up-and-coming player who many in the organization believe has All-Star potential. Epstein and his lieutenants drafted Rizzo when they were with the Red Sox. Current Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer dealt for Rizzo while he was an executive with San Diego. Then Hoyer joined the Cubs and acquired Rizzo once again. The left-handed hitter showed some power (15 home runs in 337 at-bats) and hit for average (.285) in a half season with the Cubs. Can he keep it up during a full season? This is the year to find out. Between stints on the DL, Stewart hit .201 in 179 at-bats in his first year with the club after hitting .156 in an injury-filled season with Colorado in 2011. Stewart signed a one-year deal in December to remain with the Cubs. But the injury bug has struck once again as Stewart is dealing with a strained quad. Luis Valbuena and Brent Lillibridge will share the position until Stewart is proven healthy and productive.
Left fielder Alfonso Soriano had one of his best seasons as a Cub, hitting .262 with team highs in homers (32), RBIs (108), doubles (33) and total bases (280). He has two more years remaining on his contract, and current management would love to move him and dump his large salary. But as long as there are no takers, Soriano will return and should provide a solid bat, improved defense and veteran leadership. Steady David DeJesus will likely man center field again after moving over to right when rookie Brett Jackson was promoted. Jackson struggled in the big leagues, and it’s doubtful he’ll open the season as a starting outfielder. DeJesus led off and had a team-high 61 walks. His seven stolen bases were third on the team. The Opening Day right fielder could be left-handed hitting newcomer Nate Schierholtz, who has a career average of .270 in six seasons with San Francisco and Philadelphia. He, like Soriano, has a cannon for an arm, and the two should make baserunners think twice about taking that extra base.
With just 63 games under his belt, Welington Castillo will be given the nod as the Cubs’ starting catcher. Last year, in his first significant action in the majors, Castillo hit .265 in 170 at-bats with 51 strikeouts. He is regarded as an outstanding defensive player. If he can just hit a little, he will be a more-than-adequate replacement for Geovany Soto, who was traded last season.
Outfielder Dave Sappelt showed some hitting and speed in a brief stint with the Cubs and could make a case to stick around. Backup catcher Steve Clevenger, a left-handed hitter, has hit .309 in 548 games in the minors but just .202 in his first 71 big-league games and could share backup duties behind the plate with Dioner Navarro. Clevenger can play first and maybe even some third if his bat comes to life. Valbuena filled in when Stewart was hurt last year. He didn’t impress with the bat but was a good fielder. Scott Hairston and Brent Lillibridge bring experience and versatility to the bench.
Epstein cleaned house in his first year with the Cubs. With all of the changes comes an adjustment period — which will require patience from the long-suffering fans. Epstein didn’t get it done with the Red Sox overnight, but he eventually delivered two World Series crowns to the city. His plan is to stock the minor league system with valuable assets. It figures to pay off in the long run, but the struggles in the short term will continue.
The offseason moves were underwhelming. It’s pretty clear there will not be a quick fix. But there is hope that the Cubs will be an improved team in 2013. The starting pitching should be better, and the lineup has some potential if Rizzo develops into a consistent producer and Soriano continues to deliver. There have been times in the not-so-distant past — 1998, 2003 and 2007 — when the Cubs have stunned the baseball world by making the playoffs the season after winning fewer than 70 games. There aren’t, however, many signs pointing in that direction for 2013.
CF David DeJesus (L)
Will become a more effective leadoff man if he can improve against lefties (.149 last year).
SS Starlin Castro (R)
Proven hitter for average — .297 in three full seasons — but is probably a better fit for a No.2 hitter than No.3.
1B Anthony Rizzo (L)
Hit .338 with runners in scoring position in his first run with the Cubs last year.
LF Alfonso Soriano (R)
Slugged .499, hit 32 homers and drove in 108 runs in ’12. Will continue to be shopped.
RF Nate Schierholtz (L)
Was known as “Nate the Great” with Giants. Ready to rebound after a toe injury hampered him last August.
3B Ian Stewart (L)
Hoping back-to-back nightmare seasons at the plate — and in the health department — are behind him. But a strained quad has sent him to the DL.
C Welington Castillo (R)
Solid defensive tools for a player who could be around awhile if his offense develops.
2B Darwin Barney (R)
Already has a Gold Glove under his belt. Has the tools to be a solid No. 2 hitter eventually.
IF Luis Valbuena (L)
He’s an ideal candidate as a late-inning replacement; good glove but light bat (.219 in 2012), but will fill in at third until Stewart gets healthy.
C-1B Steve Clevenger (L)
Will be challenged by Dioner Navarro for the backup backstop position in spring training.
C Dioner Navarro (S)
Has just 369 at-bats over last three seasons total.
OF Dave Sappelt (R)
Could grab the final spot on the roster if prospect Brett Jackson is shipped back to Class AAA.
OF Scott Hairston (R)
Utility player will get lots of at-bats, especially against left-handed pitching.
UT Brent Lillibridge (R)
If he shows he can offer anything offensively, the valuable defender can keep a job.
RH Jeff Samardzija
Impressed in his first extended time as a big-league starter and led the club with 180 strikeouts.
RH Matt Garza
Could be dealt if he bounces back from elbow injury; has a 15–17 record in two seasons with the Cubs. Strained lat will keep him out for at least the first few weeks.
RH Edwin Jackson
Has been on eight teams since 2003 but picked up the long-term contract he’s been seeking with the Cubs.
RH Scott Feldman
Had a 5.00-plus ERA in 2010 and 2012 for Texas and is now looking for success in the National League.
LH Travis Wood
Second on the team with 14 quality starts last year, but will have to fight to win the final rotation spot.
RH Carlos Marmol (Closer)
Will enter the season as the Cubs closer, but don’t be surprised if the team shops him aggressively.
RH Kyuji Fujikawa
Will open the season as a setup man, but has the tools to close. Put up dominant numbers in Japan.
RH Shawn Camp
Had six losses but led the squad with 18 holds last year; tied for the NL lead with 80 appearances.
RH Carlos Villanueva
Has valuable experience as both a starter and reliever; a strong spring could vault him into the rotation. Should fill in for Garza in the rotation.
LH James Russell
Seven wins and a 3.25 ERA in 2012 gives him an edge as the top left-handed setup man in 2013.
RH Michael Bowden
Had a 2.95 ERA with the Cubs in 30 appearances after a long stint with Class AAA Iowa.
RH Hector Rondon
Rule 5 pick should spend the summer eating lots of innings in Chicago.
The Reds dove head-first into the 2012 season determined to make a run at more than just the NL Central division when they traded away Edinson Volquez and two prospects to acquire starting pitcher Mat Latos. That run might have fallen short in a five-game loss to eventual World Series champion San Francisco in the divisional series, but it showed the organization that it isn’t far away. As was the case last offseason, general manager Walt Jocketty didn’t hesitate to make another significant trade. He acquired outfielder Shin-Soo Choo from Cleveland in a three-team exchange that sent center fielder Drew Stubbs to the Indians and minor league shortstop Didi Gregorious to Arizona. Jocketty strengthened a club deficiency by parting ways with talented players who weren’t going to fit into Cincinnati’s future plans. The Reds struggled with their 1-2 hitters last year, but Choo’s presence in the leadoff spot followed by Brandon Phillips should solidify the batting order and provide plenty of opportunities for Joey Votto, Ryan Ludwick and Jay Bruce to drive in runs, especially at hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park.
This is a maturing group that could be as good as any rotation in the majors for the next few years. Only Bronson Arroyo (36) will be older than 27 during the season. Johnny Cueto was a Cy Young candidate last season, and Latos went 9–2 with a 2.43 ERA over his final 19 starts. Homer Bailey set career highs for wins (13), starts (33), quality starts (21), innings (208) and strikeouts (168). No NL starter has more wins, starts or innings pitched since 2006 than Arroyo. With the experiement to move closer Aroldis Chapman into the rotation now ended, Mike Leake is back in. Leake, the team’s first-round pick in 2008, started 30 games last season and threw 179.0 innings.
Chapman proved to be one of the best closers in the game last season with 38 saves and 122 strikeouts in just 71.2 innings. Aside from a second lefthander to go along with Sean Marshall, the bullpen has plenty of pieces. Jonathan Broxton, who has 111 career saves, is the primary setup man. Marshall, signed through 2015, started last season as the closer but was moved into a setup role as Chapman emerged and excelled in that role. Jose Arredondo had 66 appearances for a bullpen group that led the majors in ERA (2.65) and saves (56) and led the NL in opponents’ batting average (.219). Arredondo seemed to tire down the stretch and wasn’t as effective late in the year. J.J. Hoover, acquired in a trade with Atlanta last April, has closer-type potential and could provide valuable innings that Nick Masset was slated to handle last year before a spring training injury sidelined him. Masset had shoulder surgery in September, and his availability for the start of this season is unknown. The Reds aren’t going to wait around for him. Sam LeCure, once seen as a potential No. 5 starter, has found his niche as a long reliever who can be counted on in tight situations. He allowed just two hits over his final 10 appearances last season as he set a career-high with 48 games. Manny Parra, a member of Milwaukee’s starting rotation for three seasons, has found a home in the bullpen.
Phillips did everything but win the Gold Glove last season, while Zack Cozart became the first rookie to start at short for the Reds on Opening Day since 1971. His development made Gregorious expendable. Cozart showed good power with 33 doubles and 15 home runs, but his .246 average was a detriment at the leadoff spot. He’ll hit down in the order this season. Phillips was the team’s MVP. He’s versatile enough to hit in any spot in the order — an ability similar to what Barry Larkin showed in his playing days for the Reds — but should settle into the No. 2 hole behind Choo and in front of Votto. Phillips and the Reds agreed on a six-year extension last season in part because he’s grown from a highlight-reel defensive player into an all-around threat.
Votto missed 48 games with a knee injury and didn’t have the same pop in his bat when he returned in September, but he was still respected enough that he managed a .474 on-base percentage, 94 walks and 18 intentional walks. He hit .337 with 44 doubles but just 14 home runs and 56 RBIs. Better production at the top of the lineup and a return to full health should make Votto an MVP candidate. Todd Frazier takes over the everyday duties at third for Scott Rolen after being a fill-in at multiple positions last season when he was third in NL Rookie of the Year balloting. There will be more pressure on Frazier to produce this season now that he has a starting role. Last season, he was the guy everyone wanted to see more of in the lineup. Those people will get their wish this season.
Bruce is a two-time All-Star and will be just 26 this season. He improved on his consistency, going through fewer lulls at the plate, and increased his home run total (34) for the fifth straight season. He finished with 99 RBIs. Choo will be playing center field on an everyday basis for the first time in his career, but the smaller dimensions of Great American Ball Park should make that an easier transition than it might sound. Ludwick found his groove in the second half of last season and carried it right through the postseason, earning a two-year deal. He finished with 26 homers and 80 RBIs, including hitting .421 with runners in scoring position over his final 57 chances. He has legitimate power to be the cleanup hitter and provide protection for Votto in the lineup. If this threesome has any major weakness, it would be defensively, especially in center.
Devin Mesoraco might be the catcher of the future, but Ryan Hanigan is still the catcher of the present. He’s got great rapport with the pitching staff (3.05 ERA with him behind the plate), throws extremely well and handles the bat admirably. He hit .274 mostly batting in the No. 8 hole. Mesoraco got plenty of experience last season but didn’t see much action down the stretch. He hit only .212 with five home runs and 14 RBIs.
The Reds will be more versatile off the bench this season. Chris Heisey can play all three outfield spots and gives some speed and power. Xavier Paul found a niche as a left-handed bat, something missing for much of last season. Infielder Jack Hannahan was signed as a free agent from Cleveland and provides another left-handed bat and can play first and third. Infielder Jason Donald was also part of the Choo deal and will give the Reds depth in the middle of the defense.
Owner Bob Castellini has set winning as a priority, and the entire organization follows his lead. Jocketty identified the team’s needs and addressed them by re-signing Ludwick, trading for Choo and signing Hannahan. Manager Dusty Baker signed an extension through 2014 late last season. He’s criticized for a constant shuffling of the lineup, but his formula keeps players fresh, and players respond well to his style.
The Reds are on the short list of contenders to win the World Series. The starting pitching is coming into its own, especially if Bailey continues the maturity and development he showed last season. This is a strong defensive team, even with the loss of Stubbs, and the lineup has the potential to be as good as any in the majors.
CF Shin-Soo Choo (L)
Career .289 hitter will provide decent pop in center field; had 43 doubles and 16 HRs with Cleveland last season.
2B Brandon Phillips (R)
Had 52 multi-hit games to lead club while batting leadoff (28 games), third (43 games) and fourth (73 games).
1B Joey Votto (L)
Led Reds in OBP for third straight season, joining Joe Morgan as only player to accomplish the feat.
LF Ryan Ludwick (R)
Hit .313 with 21 doubles, 18 home runs, 53 RBIs in his last 80 games, securing his spot in the everyday lineup.
RF Jay Bruce (L)
Joined Ryan Braun and Miguel Cabrera as only players with at least 34 homers, 35 doubles and 99 RBIs.
3B Todd Frazier (R)
Won Players Choice Award as the NL’s outstanding Rookie after ranking in the top 10 among rookies in BA, HR, RBIs.
SS Zack Cozart (R)
Became one of four shortstops in franchise history to have 30 doubles and 15 home runs in a season.
C Ryan Hanigan (R)
Caught 11 of the 12 shutouts by the pitchers and six of nine complete games by starters.
C Devin Mesoraco (R)
Optioned to Class AAA in August before returning in September, making just two appearances the rest of the way.
OF Chris Heisey (R)
Started 80 games and received the team’s Heart & Hustle Award for his passionate play.
OF Xavier Paul (L)
Found his niche as a pinch-hitter after July call-up, hitting .314 in 55 games for Reds.
IF Jack Hannahan (L)
Experienced at all four infield spots, primarily at third base and first base, but has had lingering back issues.
IF Jason Donald (R)
Has yet to have a full season in the big leagues but has versatility to play third base, second base and shortstop.
RH Johnny Cueto
Cy Young candidate also helped himself at plate with 17 sacrifices, tying Philadelphia’s Juan Pierre for NL lead.
RH Mat Latos
Has already made 105 starts before his 25th birthday,
including 30-plus each of last three seasons.
RH Bronson Arroyo
Has thrown 200 or more innings seven of last eight
seasons. The one season he didn’t, he had 199 innings.
RH Homer Bailey
Finally finding consistency to match first-round talent. Won four starts in a row last July for first time in career.
RH Mike Leake
Was odd man out with Chapman in rotation but has earned his way back in the rotation with Chapman closing.
LH Aroldis Chapman (Closer)
Got a long look as a starter, but with a week or so to go before the season, was moved back into the closer’s role.
RH Jonathan Broxton
Saved all four chances he got when Chapman was out with shoulder soreness in September.
RH Jose Arredondo
Had a career-high 66 appearances last season with 62 strikeouts, also a career best.
RH J.J. Hoover
Allowed 17 hits in 30.2 innings over two stints with Reds,
including 0.71 ERA in final 11 appearances.
LH Sean Marshall
Didn’t allow an earned run in his final 15 appearances of the season or any runs in final 13 games.
RH Sam LeCure
Set a career high with 48 appearances, including throwing at least 2.0 innings 12 times.
LH Manny Parra
A former starter with the Brewers, he held lefties to a .229 average in 62 games in relief last season.
It will all come down to pitching. Heard that one before, Brewers fans? Offensively, Milwaukee has a versatile and explosive lineup built to contend right now. The Brewers led the National League in runs, home runs and stolen bases a year ago, and every regular returns in 2013. So while Bernie Brewer should be plenty busy again this year, the hope is that the bullpen phone won’t ring so much. The team took a major step in improving the rotation while hopefully lessening the load on the bullpen with the signing of Kyle Lohse late in spring training. He and Yovani Gallardo are the only proven winners in the starting rotation, and the bullpen, though largely remade, was arguably the worst in the majors last year.
In Gallardo and Lohse, the Brewers boast two aces at the top of the rotation. Gallardo is a workhorse who almost always keeps his team in the game and can be counted on to be among the league leaders in strikeouts. He has started three consecutive Opening Days, and there’s zero doubt that he’ll again anchor Milwaukee’s rotation. Just how soon Lohse will be ready this season is a question, given that he signed on March 26, just six days prior to the Brewers’ first game. A victim of a shrinking free agent market, the 34-year-old inked a three-year deal for $33 million. Lohse has been a double-digit winner just five times in his 12-year career, but was 30-11 with a 3.11 ERA in just under 400 innings for the Cardinals over the past two seasons. He will offer a huge boost to the rotation. However, the contract may not look so good in 2015. The big question is, who will follow them? Veterans Marco Estrada and Chris Narveson, both of whom have pitched well in starting roles in the past, are the third and fourth starters. Both missed time with injury last year (Estrada missed a month with a quad strain; Narveson was out nearly the whole year with a torn rotator cuff) and both have experience pitching out of the bullpen, so manager Ron Roenicke may opt to put one or both of them there to solidify a shaky relief corps. Mike Fiers was surprisingly effective over his first 16 starts (8–6, 2.85), but seemed to tire as he faltered down the stretch (1–4, 7.09 in last six starts). Mark Rogers, a former No. 1 draft pick who saw his ascent slowed by injuries, finally got his chance and pitched well, striking out 41 in 39 innings. Big Wily Peralta, the organization’s top pitching prospect, threw well in his first big-league stint late last year (2–1, 2.48). He’ll get a shot at some point this season.
There’s nowhere to go but up. Brewer firemen had a bad habit of starting more infernos than they extinguished for a significant stretch of 2012, dooming any chance Milwaukee would return to the postseason for a second consecutive year. The good news is that flame-throwing closer John Axford seemed to fix his problems late in the year (converting 17 of his final 18 save opportunities), and just about all the other arsonists are gone. After toiling in the minor leagues for 10 years, Jim Henderson finally made it to The Show in 2012 and pitched well enough that he’ll be the set-up man for Axford. Brandon Kintzler, another late-season addition, will also get plenty of late-inning work. Lefties in the bullpen have been a rarity in recent years, but the Brewers picked up two from the Washington Nationals in the offseason, Tom Gorzelanny and Mike Gonzalez. So, the Brewers return the closer who led the majors in blown saves and everybody else is either new or relatively unproven. A recipe for success?
Milwaukee’s middle infield promises to be one of the most dynamic in the National League. At second, Rickie Weeks worked hard to dig himself out of a major early-season hole (raising his average from .190 to .230 by hitting .282 over his final 65 games), and his powerful bat is a rarity at the position. As always, the question is whether he can stay away from injury. The Brewers have struggled to find a reliable shortstop for several years, but the Crew believes they’ve found one in 23-year old Jean Segura, the key pickup in the Zack Greinke trade. Though he’s a free-swinger, Segura has the tools at the plate and in the field to be a fixture in the Milwaukee infield for years to come.
At third, Aramis Ramirez was just what the Brewers hoped for in his first year in Milwaukee, putting up his usual impressive numbers at the plate (hitting .300 and collecting 100 RBIs for the seventh time and notching his 10th career 25-homer campaign) and leading all NL third basemen in fielding percentage. At first, Corey Hart settled into his new position nicely and didn’t let the transition affect his offensive performance. However, knee surgery in January will delay his season up to a month. Veteran shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who has 1,536 games at short and none anywhere else on the diamond, will don the first baseman’s mitt to start the season. His season ended last year after just 24 games due a torn ACL.
If you’re a fan of the No. 8, you’d better enjoy watching Ryan Braun wear it because odds are it will never be donned by anyone else ever again in Milwaukee. Braun seems assured of going down as one of the Brewers’ all-time greats, and he’s still only 29 years old. One of the game’s most prolific sluggers, Braun followed up on his MVP season by posting numbers that were just as gaudy, leading the NL in homers, total bases, runs and OPS. In center, Carlos Gomez has finally established himself as a legitimate everyday player. He’s always been a plus defender, and last year he became much more consistent at the plate, putting up career bests in just about every category and ranking as one of only five players in the majors with at least 15 homers and 30 stolen bases. There was no more pleasant surprise in Milwaukee last year than Norichika Aoki. Arriving from Japan with little fanfare, Aoki’s emergence allowed Hart to move to first base. As a catalyst at the top of the lineup, Aoki has a nice blend of speed and occasional power.
Roenicke has a nice problem behind the plate with two more-than-capable backstops. Starter Jonathan Lucroy ranks among the top hitting catchers in the game today; his .320 average last year was the best among Milwaukee catchers in team history. When he missed a long stretch due to a hand injury last year, Martin Maldonado stepped in and showed he belonged in the bigs. Defensively, he’s better than Lucroy, and he more than holds his own at the plate. Expect him to see more action than the typical backup.
The bench has rarely been a strong point in Milwaukee, and this year is no exception. With regulars firmly established at every position, there will be little opportunity — barring injury — for significant at-bats for anyone on the pine. Logan Schafer is a nice fourth outfielder, bringing superior defense and great speed. Taylor Green is a capable left-handed pinch-hitting option, and Maldonado will spell Lucroy behind the plate.
Brewer fans have every reason to be confident in the franchise’s leadership. Even though he’s cut payroll back this year, owner Mark Attanasio has shown a willingness to spend money and make bold trades to give the team a chance to win. GM Doug Melvin has assembled a group that has won consistently, a fact that should not be taken for granted in Brew Town. The franchise has posted four winning seasons the last six years; this after zero plus-.500 campaigns the previous 14 seasons. Roenicke made a great first impression, leading the Crew to the NLCS in 2011, but last year may have been a more impressive performance, guiding the club through an early offensive slump and a midseason bullpen meltdown to eventually get the team back in playoff contention.
Brewer fans are a little confused about how to approach this season, and with good reason. Is it a rebuilding year? With a group of unproven starting pitchers and a re-tooled bullpen, it looks that way. Is the Crew a contender? With a proven offensive attack, it’s hard to count them out. Here’s the most positive way to look at it: Expectations will be lower than they were a year ago. The team can hit. Axford may have solved his problems, and the rest of the bullpen is new. A bunch of talented young pitchers are looking to make their mark. It’s more fun to be the hunter than the hunted. Sound good, Crew fans? If not, there’s always the Sausage Race.
RF Norichika Aoki (L)
Versatile offensive threat who ranked among NL’s most potent rookie bats in 2012.
2B Rickie Weeks (R)
Veteran overcame horrendous early-season slump by
hitting .282 over final 65 games.
LF Ryan Braun (R)
Perennial All-Star is only player in the majors with 100 runs and RBIs in each of last four seasons.
3B Aramis Ramirez (R)
Steady presence at hot corner batted .327 over final 111 games, raising average from .218 to .300.
C Jonathan Lucroy (R)
Arguably best offensive catcher in team history; .320 average was tops ever among Brewer catchers.
CF Carlos Gomez (R)
Solid defender coming off career-best year at plate — notched career highs in homers (19) and steals (37).
1B Alex Gonzalez (R)
The veteran shortstop who lost most of last season to a knee injury, will be the stopgap at first until Corey Hart is healthy.
SS Jean Segura (R)
Highly touted prospect was key acquisition in Zach Greinke trade; hit .329 in final 22 games.
1B Corey Hart (R)
Moved to new position and still excelled at plate, ranking among NL leaders in HRs and extra-base hits. Knee surgery in January has delayed his season.
INF Taylor Green (L)
Became first Brewer since Prince Fielder (2005) to collect first two career homers as pinch-hitter. A strained hip has landed him on the DL, but he shouldn’t miss too much time.
C Martin Maldonado (R)
Outstanding defensive catcher gets results — team was 10 games over .500 in his 58 starts.
OF Logan Schafer (L)
Speedy centerfielder is ideal fourth outfielder with good defensive skills.
INF Jeff Bianchi (R)
Second-round pick in 2005 made his first appearance in the majors last year, hitting .188 in 69 at-bats.
RH Yovani Gallardo
Ace produced second-most quality starts in NL (25); has four straight seasons with 200-plus strikeouts
RH Kyle Lohse
The Cardinals’ ace in 2012 pitches to contact. He had a 1.090 WHIP last season, but just 143 whiffs in 211 innings.
RH Marco Estrada
Bounced back from injury to go 5–2 with 2.03 ERA in final eight starts of season.
LH Chris Narveson
Opened season in rotation but suffered year-ending rotator cuff injury after just two starts.
RH Mike Fiers
Ranked third among NL rookies in wins (nine), strikeouts (135), ERA (3.74) and IP (127.2).
RH John Axford (Closer)
His 81 saves over last two seasons are third-most in MLB; had career-high 93 K’s in ’12.
RH Jim Henderson
Made big-league debut after 10 seasons in minors; pitched well enough to earn set-up role in ’13.
RH Brandon Kintzler
Worked way back from injury to add stability to Brewer pen; retired 12 of 14 first-batters faced.
RH Mark Rogers
Lost his spot in the rotation after team signed Lohse; struck out 41 in 39 IP a year ago. Begins the season on the DL, but not too serious.
LH Mike Gonzalez
Veteran lefty held left-handed batters to .179 average last year; has 56 career saves and could be closer in a pinch.
LH Tom Gorzelanny
Steady veteran lefty is equally effective against left- and right-handed hitters; can also spot start.
RH Alfredo Figaro
Non-roster player has earned the final spot in the pen.
RH Burke Badenhop
Could be the odd man out when Rogers returns.
After another unlikely October comeback, the Cardinals won three quick games against San Francisco and found themselves one victory away from a second consecutive National League pennant and the World Series. It was where they planned to be. It was not how they planned to get there. The Cardinals took several detours before their seventh National League Championship Series since 2000, navigating around a spring training injury to ace Chris Carpenter and the loss of Albert Pujols (to free agency) and Tony La Russa (to retirement). Rookie manager Mike Matheny inherited the 2011 World Series champs and drove them to contention despite a maddening offense. The Cardinals scored the second-most runs in the NL, but did so in gulps. In 44 of their 162 games they scored two or fewer runs and went 5–39 in those games. A third consecutive second-place finish in the NL Central meant the Cardinals needed the grace of Bud Selig’s second Wild Card to reach the postseason. Once there, the offense helped oust Atlanta in the Wild Card Game and proved timely for the Cardinals’ record rally from a 6–0 deficit to Washington in Game 5 of the NL Division Series. Then, true to the trend, the lineup wilted. The Cards scored one run in the final three games of the NLCS, and the Giants claimed the pennant. Denied a fourth trip to the World Series in nine years, the Cardinals confronted their contrast: To match the team that was one win shy of the World Series, they first had to address what also made them the team that finished nine games behind Cincinnati.
Adam Wainwright returned from the elbow surgery that stole his 2011 season, but Carpenter had recurring nerve issues in his right shoulder and eventually surrendered to surgery. Second-year righty Lance Lynn won 18 games as his sub. Kyle Lohse’s 2.86 ERA anchored the rotation’s 3.62 ERA, fourth-lowest in the majors. Jaime Garcia struggled because of a shoulder injury that did not require surgery but will be closely monitored during the spring. The absences tested the Cardinals’ pitching depth, and they passed with surging prospects. Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal, and Shelby Miller — all 24 or younger — proved themselves capable of joining the rotation. Wainwright became stronger as the season progressed and appears to be back in Cy Young form. Carpenter, on the other hand, appears to be at the end of his career due to continued nerve problems. Lynn has nailed down a spot in the rotation, as has Garcia as long as his shoulder holds up. It’s now Miller’s time to join the group as the fifth starter.
After weeks of letting leads slip in the unsteady seventh inning, the Cardinals’ grip improved with the addition of Edward Mujica. Acquired at the trade deadline, the splitfinger-firing righty gave Matheny an effective, three-step approach: Mujica in the seventh, NL holds leader Mitchell Boggs in the eighth and closer Jason Motte (42 saves) in the ninth. That trio was the backbone of a bullpen that had an average age of 26 in the postseason and, led by Rosenthal’s 100-mph heat, overpowered with fastballs often surpassing 97 mph. But it was still lacking a lefty. The Cardinals signed veteran lefty specialist Randy Choate, who has held left-handed batters to a .173 average since 2010, and expect him to further simplify the relief recipe.
Rafael Furcal’s season ended with a torn ligament in his right elbow in August. Rehab created optimism, but his elbow didn’t hold up in spring training and he’s lost for the season. Rookie Pete Kozma’s unexpected punch from shortstop in September fueled the postseason run. He’ll get the call from the start of the season this year. It remains to be seen how he can produce over the long haul. Matheny will have an interesting decision at second. He has incumbent Daniel Descalso, a solid defender, and Matt Carpenter, a third baseman by trade. Carpenter batted .294 with an .828 OPS last season. Contrast that with Descalso’s .227/.627. Both will get some time there as Matheny must choose between offense and defense, at least until Carpenter gains some experience.
Allen Craig’s move to everyday play at first base happened a year earlier than expected, but his production was exactly as imagined. Despite missing a month recovering from knee surgery, Craig delivered 92 RBIs and a .522 slugging percentage. Since 2011, Craig’s .889 OPS ranks 17th among hitters with at least 700 plate appearances, and he’s the only one in the top 24 who hasn’t been an All-Star. That should change. Craig and third baseman Dave Freese were two of the five Cardinals who hit at least 20 home runs, a first for the club. Freese set career highs in homers and RBIs because of one big change: health. The hero of the Cardinals’ 2011 October run played more than 100 games in the majors for the first time in 2012. Now healthy again is an issue as a balky back has landed Freese on the DL to begin the season. Optimistically, he’ll miss no more than a week or so.
With Pujols away and Lance Berkman reduced to 32 games due to knee injuries, Carlos Beltran became a worthy and necessary complement to Matt Holliday. Beltran’s 32 home runs and 97 RBIs were his highest totals since 2007. Holliday’s .903 OPS since 2010, his first year with the Cardinals, ranks fifth in the NL, and he and Beltran are the only current teammates to rank in the top nine in OPS during that span. Often hitting back-to-back, they were bookends in the field around Jon Jay, who became a deft center fielder and then a capable leadoff hitter when Furcal faltered. With three stalwarts, prospect Oscar Taveras offers intrigue in the outfield. The heir to Beltran in right, Taveras, 20, could see playing time in center if he sticks out of spring training, which isn’t likely.
Yadier Molina’s record-setting season ended with a fourth-place finish in the NL MVP, the highest for a Cardinals catcher since Tim McCarver was second in 1967. On his way to a fifth consecutive Gold Glove Award, Molina became the first Cardinals’ catcher in more than three decades to hit 22 home runs and drive in 76 runs. With a .315 average, he led the team in batting for the second consecutive season, all while nurturing a pitching staff to a 3.60 ERA with him behind the plate. Molina started 133 games, leaving few for Tony Cruz, an adept backup despite the limited activity that will likely continue. Molina enters the first season of a five-year, $75-million extension signed in March 2012 insisting that “what I did was good, but I know I can do more.”
The Cardinals moved quickly this winter to add the player they believed their bench missed late in games last summer. Ty Wigginton signed to provide right-handed power potential and a veteran presence — “a piece, by definition, that you (cannot) get from your system,” GM John Mozeliak explains. Greenhorns and a rotating cast of minor leaguers will still be asked to provide bench options — like rookie slugger Matt Adams, a true left-handed threat — but Wigginton’s addition concedes that an unproven and improvised bench left Matheny shorthanded last season.
A rookie manager, Matheny showed he could work around injuries, integrate youth, and massage a lineup to avoid overtaxing players. Over the winter, the club tinkered with the roster to better fit his managing style. Mozeliak’s increased imprint on the organization includes the expanded use of analytics and a business model that rewards in-house players and avoids bidding wars. In five seasons as GM, Mozeliak has routinely made midseason moves to solve weaknesses, like the bullpen in 2011 and 2012. The trades have recently been subtle, yet substantive. Now with a cache of young pitching talent, he has the means and awaits the motivation to make a splash.
The Cardinals had a quiet winter, content to use a thin free-agent market for fine-tuning. With several aging contributors, health remains their biggest risk, but less so as the club has a stronger, self-sufficient farm system ready to keep them consistently competitive. There are many routes to their stated goal of annually reaching the playoffs. And the Cardinals, twice a champ as the Wild Card, know October’s abiding rule: A team just has to get in it to win it.
CF Jon Jay (L)
In his first year as the everyday center fielder, Jay seized the leadoff role with a .303 average when batting No. 1.
RF Carlos Beltran (S)
Seven-time All-Star brought desired jolt to Pujols-free lineup, with 32 homers and 97 RBIs, his best totals since 2007.
LF Matt Holliday (R)
Through nagging hip and back injuries, outfielder played 157 games and was an offensive fulcrum with team-high 102 RBIs.
1B Allen Craig (R)
In his first season as an everyday player, ranked seventh in the NL in both average (.307) and slugging (.522).
C Yadier Molina (R)
After signing a 5-year, $75-million extension, Molina set career highs in home runs (22), RBIs (76), and batting average (.315).
3B David Freese (R)
Adding 2012 health to his 2011 heroics, Freese set highs for homers (20), RBIs (79) and games played (144). Injuries continue to plague Freese this spring as a bad back has landed him on the DL again.
2B Daniel Descalso (L)
Emerged as the starter at second in September, overcoming a difficult offensive season with sure-handed play at the pivot.
SS Pete Kozma (R)
Thrust into starting job at short late last season, he responded with a .333 average and a .569 slugging percentage in 26 games.
UT Matt Carpenter (L)
Called “offensive spark” for production in a reserve role, he’s being outfitted for more playing time and a new position. He replaces Freese at third (his natural position) to start the season, but it will be interesting to see if he hits enough to replace the better defender (Descalso) at second once Freese returns.
UT Ty Wigginton (R)
Craving a seasoned presence for clubhouse and right-handed pop for the bench, Cards signed veteran who hit 22 HRs in 2010.
1B Matt Adams (L)
The slugger had 24 strikeouts and 21 hits in an audition last season.
C Tony Cruz (R)
Proven to be a reliable backup for his handling pitchers and ability to also play corner positions.
OF Shane Robinson (R)
Need for a right-handed-hitting center fielder off the bench creates an opportunity for solid-fielding Florida State alum.
IF Ryan Jackson
Recalled when Freese went on the DL.
RH Adam Wainwright
Gaining strength with each start after elbow surgery, Wainwright went 5–1 with a 2.75 ERA in six August starts.
LH Jaime Garcia
Inconsistency stemmed from a shoulder injury he insists he can overcome without surgery. Has 2013 to prove it.
RH Lance Lynn
Burly righty filled Carpenter’s spot in the rotation with an 11–4 record and 3.41 ERA in first half before stamina faltered.
RH Jake Westbrook
Sinkerballer’s 3.97 ERA was his lowest in a full season since 2004, and his overall sturdiness earned an extension for 2013.
RH Shelby Miller
The top prospect finally joins the rotation full-time.
RH Jason Motte (Closer)
In first season as surefire closer, Motte collected every save for the Cardinals, tying for league lead with 42. A sore elbow has shelved the former catcher and could delay his season.
RH Mitchell Boggs
Fulfilling his promise to be an impact pitcher in 2012, power righty led NL and set club record with 34 holds. He’ll close in Motte’s absence.
RH Edward Mujica
Acquired at the trade deadline, veteran righthander became the seventh-inning solution with 18 holds and a 1.03 ERA.
RH Fernando Salas
Led team with 24 saves in 2011, but that workload may have contributed to erratic, ragged results in 2012.
RH Trevor Rosenthal
Flamethrowing rookie was a postseason revelation as he struck out 15 of the 30 batters he faced in October.
LH Marc Rzepczynski
Perhaps miscast as a specialist; Cards hope addition of second lefty allows “Scrabble” to reset and thrive in late innings.
LH Randy Choate
The 37-year-old received a 3-year, $7.5-million commitment from the Cards because he’s the lefty neutralizer they lacked.
RH Joe Kelly
Will take on the long relief role if Motte is out for an extended time.
If the season ended in mid-September, the Pirates’ streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons would be over. Alas, the Major League campaign continues to run through September, and the Pirates have to find a way to keep playing well throughout the entire season. Their record after Aug. 1 the past two seasons is a combined 37–76, costing them a chance (twice) at making a run at a postseason berth. So how do the Pirates get over the hump in the final third of the season?
Righthander A.J. Burnett and lefty Wandy Rodriguez, both acquired in trades last season, are the top two starters. Burnett went 16–10 with a 3.51 ERA after coming over from the New York Yankees in the early days of spring training. Rodriguez was acquired from Houston in a late-July trade and was 5–4 with a 3.72 ERA in 13 games with the Pirates and 12–13 with a 3.76 ERA overall. Righthander James McDonald went 9–3 with a 2.37 ERA before the All-Star break but finished 12–8 with a 4.21 ERA and was yanked from the rotation in the season’s final weeks. One of pitching coach Ray Searage’s biggest challenges this spring will be to get McDonald back to his first-half form. Another priority for the affable Searage will be finding a way to turn Jeanmar Gomez, acquired from Cleveland in a January trade, into a reliable starter. The 25-year-old Gomez had a 14–16 record in three years with the Tribe, but he had his worst season in 2012, going 5–8 with a 5.96 ERA in 20 games, including 17 starts. He’ll probably start the season in the bullpen until he proves he has turned the corner. The Bucs will turn to one youngster and one journeyman to complete the rotation. Lefty Jeff Locke, just 25, will get a chance to start every fifth day. Jonathan Sanchez, with just one successful season — 2010 with the Giants — on his résumé, will begin the season in the fifth spot.
Setup man Jason Grilli will be elevated to closer following the offseason trade of two-time All-Star Joel Hanrahan to Boston. Hanrahan converted 76-of-84 save opportunities during his two years as the Pirates’ closer. Meanwhile, Grilli has five saves in 10 big-league seasons. However, the Pirates are convinced the 36-year-old can pitch effectively in the ninth inning after he struck out 90 batters in 58.2 innings last season. They signed him to a two-year, $6.75 million deal in the offseason. Mark Melancon, who came over in the Hanrahan trade, will get a chance to pitch in a setup role despite struggling (6.20 ERA in 41 games) with the Red Sox last season. Jared Hughes will also pitch late in games after proving to be durable as a rookie in 2012. He worked in 66 games and recorded a 2.85 ERA. Tony Watson served as the lone left-handed reliever for most of last season and led the team with 68 appearances, posting a 3.38 ERA. Righthander Chris Leroux, out of minor league options, is likely to make the team as well. Gomez will pitch in long relief early, but he should eventually replace Sanchez in the rotation.
The double-play combination of shortstop Clint Barmes and second baseman Neil Walker is not the flashiest in the big leagues, but they form a solid defensive duo. Barmes struggled at the plate last year in the first season of a two-year, $10.5-million free agent contract, hitting only .229 with eight home runs in 455 at-bats. Walker hit .280 with 14 homers but missed most of September with a herniated disc in his lower back.
Few big-league hitters have more raw power than third baseman Pedro Alvarez, but he is still refining his game. He hit 30 home runs in 2012, his first full season in the majors, but also had a .244 batting average and 180 strikeouts. First baseman Garrett Jones had the best season of his five-year career, hitting .274 and belting 27 homers. However, Jones is a career .198 hitter against left-handed pitchers and will be often spelled against southpaws by Gaby Sanchez.
Center fielder Andrew McCutchen had his best season yet in 2012 as he won back-to-back National League Player of the Month awards in June and July, hitting a combined .405 with 14 home runs in 52 games. He capped the year by winning his first career NL Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards. He finished the season hitting .327 with 31 home runs and 20 stolen bases. A group of five players — Starling Marte, Alex Presley, Jerry Sands, Travis Snider and Jose Tabata — began the spring competing for the other two starting spots. Marte hit .257 with five homers and 12 steals in 47 games as a rookie last season, while Presley, who began the year as the starting left fielder, batted .237 with 10 homers. Sands played in 70 games with the Dodgers the past two seasons and hit only .244 with four homers. Snider battled hamstring problems after being acquired from Toronto in a late-July trade last season and hit just .250 with one homer in 50 games. Tabata flopped in the first year of a six-year, $15-million contract, posting a .243 batting average with only three home runs. For now, the Pirates will go with Marte and Snider. But both are one slump away from demotion.
The Pirates made a rare free-agent splash by signing Russell Martin for two years and $17 million after he hit a career-high 21 home runs for the Yankees. He also hit a career-worst .211 but should be a big upgrade defensively from Rod Barajas.
Michael McKenry is a solid No. 2 catcher with pop who hit 12 home runs in 88 games last season. Sanchez hit just .241 with four homers in 50 games after coming over from the Marlins last year but is being counted on as the top right-handed hitter off the bench. Josh Harrison is below average defensively, but he is valuable because he can play almost anywhere on the infield and both corner outfield spots. John McDonald, acquired from Arizona late in spring training, is the backup at middle infield. He is a terrific defender. Tabata, one of the odd men out in the outfield competition, should stick as the fourth outfielder.
Hurdle has changed the culture of the clubhouse and instilled confidence and a winning attitude in a young club during his two years as manager. While he may not be a master strategist, and his bombastic nature can be wearing at times, he is a motivator. General manager Neal Huntington has hit some potholes along the way but has improved the talent throughout the organization during his five-year tenure. Huntington has whiffed on a number of free-agent signings, so it’s important that Martin — who received a big-money contract by the penny-pinching Pirates’ standards — plays well enough to warrant his deal in 2013.
The last two seasons have ended in disappointment for the Pirates. But there’s no denying that this franchise has made significant progress in recent years. The Pirates went 79–83 last season and were just three wins away from finally ending their streak of sub-.500 finishes. Making a run at the postseason might be a stretch — even in the era of the second wild card — but a winning record appears to be a realistic goal in Pittsburgh.
LF Starling Marte (R)
Has the power and speed to be a star, but needs to raise his .300 on-base percentage.
2B Neil Walker (S)
A solid all-around second baseman with some pop in his bat, though back problems are a concern.
CF Andrew McCutchen (R)
Already one of the game’s biggest stars at 26, and he still has room to improve his all-around game.
1B Garrett Jones (L)
Mashes right-handed pitching, but his troubles against lefties keep him from playing every day.
3B Pedro Alvarez (L)
Plenty of pop in his bat, but he also has plenty of holes in his swing; struck out 180 times last season.
C Russell Martin (R)
Figures to give his new team solid run production and a strong presence behind the plate.
RF Travis Snider (L)
Has seemingly been a prospect forever, but this season might be now or never for him.
SS Clint Barmes (R)
Solid glove work is the only thing still keeping him in the lineup; hit a career-low .229 last season.
C Michael McKenry (R)
Solid backup has surprising pop in his bat for a little guy, and pitchers love throwing to him.
1B Gaby Sanchez (R)
Late-season power surge in 2012 provides hope he can offer more run production in 2013.
UT Josh Harrison (R)
A true hacker as he has drawn just 13 walks in 480 big- league plate appearances.
OF Jose Tabata (R)
Still just 24, but the regression of his power and speed is alarming; has only 11 home runs in 1,072 at-bats.
SS John McDonald (R)
The outstanding defender was picked up from Arizona late in spring training.
RH A.J. Burnett
Still has great stuff at 36 and was rejuvenated last season by getting traded from the Yankees to Pirates.
LH Wandy Rodriguez
Southpaw’s outstanding command allows him to compete with an average arsenal.
RH James McDonald
Has the stuff to be an ace but lacks both the confidence and mental toughness to be a top-of-rotation fixture.
LH Jonathan Sanchez
Discounting his breakout (and fluky?) 2010, he’s 26-46 with a 1.52 WHIP and 5.09 ERA for his career.
LH Jeff Locke
Only twice in 10 career starts has he completed six innings, never more than that. But in his last start in 2012, he allowed just two hits and one run over six innings to the Braves.
RH Jason Grilli (Closer)
The journeyman is throwing harder than ever at 37 and was dominant last season as a set-up man.
RH Mark Melancon
Pirates hoping a switch back to the National League will get him back on track after a horrible year with Boston.
LH Tony Watson
Took a little bit off his fastball last year in his first full big-league season and gained better command.
RH Jared Hughes
He has an outstanding sinker and could be dominant if he develops a stronger second pitch.
RH Chris Leroux
Tall pitcher whose arm angle makes it difficult for hitters to pick up his pitches.
LH Justin Wilson
Converted starter has hit 99 mph with his fastball out of the bullpen.
LH Jeanmar Gomez
Gets a fresh start in the National League after a rough 2012 with the Indians.