Articles By Charlie Miller
This time of year, sports fans and many non-sports fans are thinking about one thing: their NCAA Tournament brackets. For the next few days hoops fans will dissect rebounding margins, three-point shooting percentages, experience of guards and the ability to force turnovers. But for those of us who spend much more time studying pitchers’ velocity, prospects’ development and fielding practice on back fields in Florida and Arizona, it can be a bit difficult to complete basketball brackets.
But here goes. A completed NCAA Tournament bracket from a baseball nerd, uh, fan.
1 Louisville vs. 16 Liberty/North Carolina A&T
8 Colorado State vs. 9 Missouri
The fighting Sid Breams of Liberty will live to face Louisville in what we call the first round. We understand enough to know that 16s don’t beat 1s. Claiming Garry Templeton’s son, Garry Jr., isn’t enough for NC A&T. We love 8/9 games. Colorado State and Missouri is a classic. The Tigers with Max Scherzer, Aaron Crow and Ian Kinsler advance. But our favorite Mizzou alum might jut be Homer Summa.
In the second round Mizzou knocks out Louisville. There are only five former Cardinals who ever reached the majors, four of them in the 2000s. The tradition just isn’t there for Louisville.
5 Oklahoma State vs. 12 Oregon
4 Saint Louis vs. 13 New Mexico State
Oklahoma State and Oregon should be a real battle, but Okie State advances. After all, the Ducks just revived their program five years ago after rival Oregon State won a couple of College World Series titles. Saint Louis and New Mexico State? Really? How can I pick against a team from Saint Louis?
But being from Saint Louis is good enough only for one round. Not having produced a big leaguer since 1971 can’t match a school that produced Robin Ventura. Cowboys advance to Sweet 16.
6 Memphis vs. 11 Middle Tennessee/Saint Mary’s
3 Michigan State vs. 14 Valparaiso
St. Mary’s easily slides by Middle Tennessee. The Gaels have produced about four times as many major leaguers as the Blue Raiders. But we’ll take Dan Uggla’s alma mater (Memphis) over Mark Teahen’s (Saint Mary’s). Michigan State dominates Valpo. Steve Garvey and Kirk Gibson begin making plans to drop in on the Final Four.
Sparty keeps moving. There have been 38 players in the bigs who matriculated at East Lansing. Far more than at Memphis.
7 Creighton vs. 10 Cincinnati
2 Duke vs. 15 Albany
Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson, who grew up in Omaha, was a basketball star at Creighton in the 1950s. He appeared with the Harlem Globetrotters, so this is a no-brainer as the Bluejays soundly defeat Cincinnati. Dick Groat, a teammate of Gibson’s on the 1964 World Champion Cardinals, was an All-America hoopster at Duke. No one from Albany has ever played in the majors.
The Blue Devils’ Groat hit .317 off of Creighton’s Gibson in his MLB career with no HBPs. Advantage Groat and Duke.
Things begin to get serious in the Sweet 16. The Oklahoma State Cowboys have appeared in 19 College World Series, Missouri just six. Groat continues a march toward MOP. He hit .320 in 101 plate appearances off Hall of Famer, and Sparty alum, Robin Roberts.
Crash Davis, an infielder not a catcher, played in 148 games over three seasons for Connie Mack during WWII. Basketball All-American Groat won NL MVP in 1960. Two-sport star Quinton McCracken played defensive back for Steve Spurrier before playing 999 games in the majors. With those three stars, Duke takes this bracket rather easily.
1 Gonzaga vs. Southern
8 Pittsburgh vs. 9 Wichita State
I’m sticking with the rule that 16s don’t lose to 1s, but I like Southern’s heritage with players like Lou Brock and Rickie Weeks. Pitt has never reached the College World Series, Wichita State has been to Omaha seven times, winning it all in 1989. Easy call. Not to mention the Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t fielded a winner since 1992.
The Zags have such little baseball tradition, Wichita State shocks the No. 1 seed.
5 Wisconsin vs. 12 Ole Miss
4 Kansas State vs. 13 Boise State/LaSalle
Wisconsin has produced a few heavyweights through the years, namely Addie Joss and Harvey Kuenn. But long-time Cubs shortstop and Ole Miss alum Don Kessinger was named to the SEC Decade of the 60s basketball team along with Pete Maravich, Louie Dampier, Dan Issel, and Neal Walk. We’re sold on the Rebels. No major league hitter explored LaSalle or Boise, and the schools have combined to produce just five pitchers. With 194 major league wins, Larry Jackson gets the nod for Boise State. Even though Carlos Torres, who spent some time in Manhattan, Kan., is kicking around spring training with the Mets, Boise State advances to face Ole Miss.
Ole Miss easily dispatches the Broncos.
6 Arizona vs. 11 Belmont
3 New Mexico vs. 14 Harvard
Arizona has 16 CWS appearances and is the reigning champ. I love Belmont, but the Bruins are not going to knock off the Wildcats. New Mexico has never been to the College World Series. Harvard made four CWS appearances in a span of seven years from 1968-74. But that was a long time ago. Three Lobos spent time in the bigs last season, so New Mexico advances.
Arizona easily advances past New Mexico.
7 Notre Dame vs. 10 Iowa State
2 Ohio State vs. 15 Iona
It’s pretty simple, really. Iowa State defeated Notre Dame 13-8 in 10 innings in the 1957 College World Series, so there. Both teams were eliminated the day before Cal beat Penn State 1-0 for the title. We’d have to see Nick Swisher of Ohio State face Jason Motte of Iona to be sure, but since the Gaels have yet to produce a major league hitter or play in the College World Series, we’re moving the Buckeyes into the next round.
Ohio State wins big over Iowa State, a school without a major leaguer since Mike Myers retired in 2007.
The Shockers have had an alum in the major leagues every year since Bryan Oelkers and Joe Carter entered the league in 1983. Ole Miss is no match. Arizona is looking like a tournament favorite with all its tradition. Former Wildcats have accounted for 793 saves in the majors, 601 coming from Trevor Hoffman.
In a battle of heavyweights, Arizona by virtue of 16 CWS appearances to Wichita State’s 7 moves on to the Final Four.
1 Kansas vs. 16 Western Kentucky
8 North Carolina vs. 9 Villanova
No. 1 seed Kansas played in the 1993 CWS. The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers did not. Villanova has produced 49 big leaguers, but only 10 have made it to the show since the 1940s. Of the 60 players UNC has produced, 23 have played in the majors in the 2000s. Go Tar Heels.
During the second round, most basketball pundits will want to talk about Roy Williams and the UNC-Kansas connection. We’ll be talking about Brian Roberts’ comeback in Baltimore and breakout seasons from Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager. Tar Heels keep moving.
5 VCU vs. 12 Akron
4 Michigan vs. 13 South Dakota State
Evidently VCU has a smart coach and Brandon Inge, of course. There are no major league hitters from Akron. Zip. Nada. Rams advance. Way back during the Dead Ball era, Vean Gregg won 92 games, 72 coming with the Indians. He’s the lone Jackrabbit to make it to the show. And really, if you have to go back that far, forget it. Wolverines in a cake walk.
Michigan has the old: Hall of Famers Charlie Gehringer and George Sisler while VCU can counter with Jerry DiPoto, the general manager of the Angels. Edge to the old guard.
6 UCLA vs. 11 Minnesota
3 Florida vs. 14 Northwestern State
Who would have thought that a cold weather school like Minnesota would have more CWS appearances (8) and titles (3) than UCLA (4,0)? But the Gophers haven’t been there since 1977 and UCLA has been twice in the past three years. Bruins in a squeaker. Although in the 1973 NBA Draft (when John Wooden was still at UCLA) Jim Brewer from Minnesota was drafted second, Ron Behagen seventh before Swen Nater of UCLA was picked 16th. In that same draft, Golden Gopher Dave Winfield was the 79th pick by the Atlanta Hawks. He opted for baseball. Good decision. No big league hitter has ever come out of Northwestern State. Florida has produced three All-Star hitters since the 1980s. Laugher.
In a battle of two baseball factories, Florida has had 18 players drafted in the last two years, UCLA just 16. We’ll take Mike Zunino over Trevor Bauer or Gerrit Cole. Chomp!
7 San Diego State vs. 10 Oklahoma
2 Georgetown vs. 15 Florida Gulf Coast
Oklahoma can lean on basketball star Ryan Minor who hit .177 in 142 games for Baltimore and Montreal. He was a second-round pick of the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1996 NBA Draft, but never played in the NBA. His claim to fame is that he replaced Cal Ripken in the lineup to end the Iron Man’s streak of 2,632 consecutive games. San Diego State has the school’s all-time assists leader, Tony Gwynn, who also managed more than 3,000 hits in the majors. Yep, Gwynn is better than Minor. You know a No. 15 has beaten a No. 2 six times. Of the 35 former Georgetown Hoyas who made it to the show, just one has played in the majors since 1960. Florida Gulf Coast has Chris Sale. Upset!
Okay, we mentioned Tony Gwynn’s basketball exploits earlier, so now it’s time to play the Stephen Strasburg card. See ya Florida Gulf Coast.
And with the even older history of brothers Moses Fleetwood Walker and Welday Walker — two African-American major leaguers in the 1800s — Michigan continues to advance by knocking off the Tar Heels.
Sheer numbers of the Florida Gators are too much for the Aztecs, although the Strasburg-Addison Reed combo put up a fight.
You have to go back to the Dwight Eisenhower administration (1960) to find a season in which there was no Michigan alum in the big leagues. Wolverines fight their way into the Final Four.
1 Indiana vs. 16 Long Island/James Madison
8 NC State vs. 9 Temple
Right off the bat, Long Island takes James Madison. Larry Doby is the most famous LIU alum, while Billy Sample takes that honor for JMU. Uh, no contest. However, Indiana keeps the No. 1 seeds perfect. NC State’s Tim Stoddard, who pitched 13 years in the bigs, was a power forward on the 1974 national title team that featured David Thompson, Monte Towe and the 7’4” Tom Burleson. Temple has Bobby Higginson. Go State!
The NC State Wolfpack knocks off No. 1 seed Indiana based on State’s lone College World Series appearance in 1968. Yep, it was an ugly game. I’m guessing neither team shot better than 30 percent.
5 UNLV vs. 12 California
4 Syracuse vs. 13 Montana
UNLV can impress with the Stottlemyre brothers (Todd and Mel Jr.), the Ludwick brothers (Ryan and Eric) and Cecil Fielder, but you can trace a Cal alum in the bigs all the way back to 1920. That’s a long time. Cal in an upset. No Montana Grizzly has made it to the show. A total of 26 Syracuse alums have made it, but none since Will Pennyfeather last appeared in 1994. Orange moves forward.
Cal absolutely blows out Syracuse. There have 25 former Bears in the majors since Pennyfeather’s retirement as the last Orange.
6 Butler vs. 11 Bucknell
3 Marquette vs. 14 Davidson
Doug Jones had 303 career saves and Dan Johnson hit a memorable walk-off homer for Tampa Bay on the final day of the 2011 regular season. Go Butler. Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson had 373 wins. Bucknell rules. Ralph Shinners is the lone Marquette alum to play in the bigs, and he played his final game in 1925. Davidson wins.
Christy Mathewson continues to pitch Bucknell into unchartered waters. They knock off Davidson to advance to the Sweet 16.
7 Illinois vs. 10 Colorado
2 Miami vs. 15 Pacific
Illinois has sent 71 players to the majors, Colorado only five. Blowout. The list of 11 former Pacific Tigers to play in the majors includes current Padre third baseman Chase Headley, who transferred to Tennessee. The University of Miami had 14 alums playing last season alone. Over by halftime.
Tournament favorite Miami can count 28 All-Star appearances from alums who have played since 2000. Illinois has no chance.
Ryan Braun, Mike Piazza, Chris Perez and others end Bucknell’s Cinderella run. In the top of the bracket, it’s Cal all over NC State. Jeff Kent and Andy Messersmith lead the Golden Bears past, well, Stoddard and the Pack.
There have been 55 Miami Hurricanes play in the big leagues, and 46 of them have done so since 1990. Hurricanes are in the Final Four.
The Michigan Wolverines, living on old tradition, finally run out of gas against the much more modern cast from Miami.
Arizona easily dispenses with Duke. The Wildcats call on Kenny Lofton, the sixth man on the 1988 Final Four team. After basketball season, Lofton joined the Arizona baseball team and got in just five games, mostly as a pinch-runner and had just one at-bat.
Arizona, having appeared in 16 CWS, winning four, and Miami with 23 appearances and also four titles, meet in the championship game.
The two have crossed paths in five CWS, but met only twice on the field. Arizona won 5-1 in 1979, and Miami defeated the Wildcats 4-2 in 1986, but Arizona rebounded to win the title.
In a double-overtime thriller, the Hurricanes prevail with a little help from Barry Larkin’s son Shane, Miami’s point guard.
So, there you have it. That’s how a die-hard baseball (even in March) fan fills out his NCAA Tournament bracket. Enjoy the madness. Opening Day is just around the corner.
-Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
After years of making flashy purchases, the New York Yankees hunkered down after last season, treading carefully in the market with an eye on their 2014 payroll. Baseball's new collective bargaining agreement gives the Yankees significant financial incentive to keep their payroll under $189 million that season, and they plan to do it. The reasoning is sound — every other champion has spent less than the Yankees on payroll, so why waste money? But the composition of their roster looks thin in certain spots, and old throughout. The Yankees handed one-year contracts to Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Hiroki Kuroda, and signed Kevin Youkilis for a year to spell the injured Alex Rodriguez, at least initially. It’s not an inspiring group, and it’s lacking key contributors like Russell Martin, Rafael Soriano and Nick Swisher. But this is still a team that won 95 games last season and should remain a force in the AL East.
The Yankees doubled down on their 2012 rotation, bringing back Kuroda and Pettitte on one-year contracts to slot behind their ace, CC Sabathia, and in front of 16-game winner Phil Hughes. Ivan Nova and David Phelps are options for the fifth spot, and the Yankees are eager to finally see what they have in Michael Pineda, who missed all of last season with shoulder trouble that could cost him at least the first two months of 2013. Sabathia persevered through elbow discomfort last season and had minor elbow surgery in late October. Other American League aces have surpassed Sabathia in prominence, but there is no one the Yankees would rather have on the mound. Kuroda will be 38 this season, but he made such a seamless transition to the AL last year that he seems to be a sure thing. Pettitte turns 41 in June, and his stamina bears watching. While last year’s broken fibula was a freak injury — it came from a line drive — the fact remains that Pettitte has made just 12 regular-season starts in the last two years. Hughes, who turns 27 in June, should be squarely in his prime. If he’s going to reclaim his All-Star form of early 2010, now is the time. But a back injury has put him on the shelf for what will likely be the first few weeks of the season.
This was supposed to be Rivera’s first year of retirement, but he tore his ACL in a freak injury while shagging fly balls last May and decided to make this his final year. Rivera is 43, but remarkably, his skills have never diminished. To avoid a most awkward parting with the classy franchise icon, the Yankees need him to be the Rivera of old and leave on top, especially after losing their top insurance policy, Soriano. Even without Soriano, Rivera has a top setup man in David Robertson, a strikeout specialist who may have peaked in 2011 but was plenty effective last season, with 81 punchouts in 60.2 innings. Injuries have kept the once-electric Joba Chamberlain from reaching even 30 appearances in either of the last two seasons, but he’s still good for a strikeout per inning and should team with veteran David Aardsma or Cody Eppley as effective righties in middle relief. Lefties Clay Rapada and Boone Logan give manager Joe Girardi some solid matchup options.
Derek Jeter’s gruesome season-ending ankle injury in the ALCS casts him again as an aging icon, obscuring what a dynamic season he had at age 38. Jeter led the majors in hits, with 216, his most since 1999, and even added 15 homers, a figure he had topped just once since 2005. He turns 39 in June, so the offense will go sometime, but that time does not appear to be soon, and the injury should not impact him in the batter’s box. The more important concern is how much the surgery will affect his range in the field, which was already limited and has been well below league-average for years. His double-play partner, Robinson Cano, has no such concerns. Cano, 30, starts his ninth season with the Yankees and his first as a potential free agent. Cano is coming off a career-high 33 homers and .929 OPS, and won his second Gold Glove while finishing fourth in the AL MVP race. He came under some criticism for failing to hit in the clutch, finishing below 100 runs batted in for the first time since 2009.
If the Yankees could dial back the clock five years, they’d have two of the best corner infielders in the game, with another on the disabled list. Alas, it is 2013, not 2008, and Youkilis and first baseman Mark Teixeira appear to be past their prime. Rodriguez, meanwhile, is working to regain strength and agility after offseason surgery on his left hip. He’s scheduled to come back no sooner than June, a lengthier DL stint than he had in 2009 because of the need to repair a bone impingement. To that end, Youkilis was a smart buy on a one-year deal. Teixeira struggled at the end of the season with a calf injury, and he still has four years remaining on his eight-year, $180 million contract. A wrist injury suffered while taking some practice swings in the spring hoists another red flag.
You want left-handed hitters with speed? The Yankees have them, with Brett Gardner in left, Curtis Granderson in center and Ichiro Suzuki in right. Granderson, of course, is more of a power hitter now than a stolen base threat; with 43 homers last season and just 10 steals, he has become the ultimate Yankee Stadium player. Granderson is a top run producer but has a serious problem making contact, with 195 strikeouts in the regular season and 16 in 33 plate appearances in the postseason. But his homers, strikeouts and steals must wait while he recovers from a broken arm suffered when hit by a pitch during his first at-bat of the spring. Gardner missed almost all of last season, but thankfully for the Yankees, the injury was to his elbow, not the legs that scampered to an AL-best 49 stolen bases in 2011. The Yankees are eager to get Gardner and his .355 career on-base percentage back in the lineup, even if he is a very similar player to Suzuki, as a lefty singles hitter. Suzuki, who hit .322 in 67 games for the Yankees, returns with a two-year contract at age 39.
In a sure sign that their world is quite a bit different these days, the Yankees let Martin sign with Pittsburgh without bothering to match his two-year, $17 million offer. That might seem like a lot considering Martin’s .211 average last year, but he hit for decent power and handled the pitching staff well. What’s worse, the Yankees seemed to have no real backup plan, simply turning over the position to reserves Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli while they wait for their vaunted catching prospects to develop.
The Yankees have so many older players needing rest, they really wish they could have more than one DH spot. They’ll begin with Travis Hafner in this role, but will rotate Teixeira, Jeter and Rodriguez (when he returns) in and out. The Yankees are eager to give Eduardo Nunez more playing time, and if his fielding misadventures continue, DH makes the most sense. The Yanks’ tighter budget will result in a considerably weaker bench. Jayson Nix started nine games or more at four positions last season is attractive due to his versatility. Outfielders Matt Diaz and Ben Francisco were added to the mix in the offseason. An intriguing option could be Cuban defector Ronnier Mustelier, who has impressed this spring and can play third base.
Girardi’s stock phrase is “I believe in my guys,” but his faith has limits, and that should be encouraging for Yankees fans. Girardi’s greatest challenge is getting the most from aging superstars, and by benching Rodriguez and others in the playoffs, he showed a realization that big names cannot produce big results forever. Expect Girardi to deftly move his creaky veterans in and out of the DH spot and continue to work closely with Brian Cashman, who enters his 16th season as GM. Cashman recognizes the need for the Yankees to eventually get younger, but with a mandate to win every season, he’ll keep searching for impact veterans on short-term deals.
The Yankees won’t come right out and say it, but they’re going through a transition. The old guard can’t hang around forever, and their presence restricts the club’s flexibility on the field and in the payroll. But while the Yankees aren’t as feared as they once were, there’s still enough punch here to put them in the AL East mix, and the pitching looks solid. A division title is no certainty, but it’s still within reach.
RF Ichiro Suzuki (L)
Longtime Mariner hit .394 in final 16 games to earn two-year contract in winter.
SS Derek Jeter (R)
A hit machine, but serious ankle injury suffered in postseason could further hinder range at short.
2B Robinson Cano (L)
Only American League player to score 100 runs in each of the last four seasons.
1B Mark Teixeira (S)
His .997 AL fielding percentage is best in league history for a first baseman (min. 1000 games). An injured wrist may force him to miss all of April.
CF Curtis Granderson (L)
Has 61 homers at home, 47 on road, since joining Yanks in 2010, but he strikes out a ton. Hit by a pitch in his first plate appearance of the spring that left him with a broken arm and a place on the DL until May.
3B Kevin Youkilis (R)
After .233 average for Boston, hit just three points better after being dealt to the White Sox. He will see some time at first while Teixeira is on the mend.
DH Travis Hafner (L)
Although exclusively a DH, he hasn’t been healthy for a full season since 2007.
C Chris Stewart (R)
Yankee pitchers had a 3.41 ERA when working with this well-traveled veteran.
LF Brett Gardner (L)
Elbow injury ruined last season; led the American League in steals in 2011, with 49.
C Francisco Cervelli (R)
Returns to backup role after spending almost all of 2012 in minors; has hit .271 in his time in the bigs.
INF Eduardo Nunez (R)
They know he can hit and run. Weakness is fielding, so DH spot fits — at least until A-Rod returns.
OF Melky Mesa (R)
The only Melquisedec to make it to the major leagues. That’s why they call him Melky.
OF Matt Diaz (R)
Career .324 hitter vs. left-handed pitching has battled thumb problems recently.
LH CC Sabathia
Only pitcher in the majors with at least 15 wins in each of the last six seasons.
RH Hiroki Kuroda
His 16 victories in first season with Yanks were a career high, including his 11 seasons in Japan.
LH Andy Pettitte
Has made 140 starts without a complete game, longest active streak in MLB.
RH Phil Hughes
Won 16 games in 2012 and 18 in ’10 but only five in dreadful ’11 season. A bulging disc this spring has added to his misery.
RH Ivan Nova
Allowed 87 extra-base hits, a single-season record for a Yankees pitcher.
RH Mariano Rivera (Closer)
Only other Yankee to earn a save after age 40 — Jim Kaat, in 1979.
RH David Robertson
His seven losses in 2012 were most by Yankee reliever since Jeff Nelson in 1997.
RH David Phelps
Held opponents to a .209 average as a reliever in his first season in the majors. Will be the first option to fill in for an injured starter.
LH Clay Rapada
Allowed only 29 hits in 38.1 innings in first season as a Yankee; lefties hit .186 off him.
LH Boone Logan
His 80 appearances in 2012 led the majors and set a record for a Yankees’ lefty.
RH Joba Chamberlain
Missed Yanks’ first 102 games recovering from elbow and ankle injuries.
RH David Aardsma
Has faced just five batters since Sept. 19, 2010.
Grab your hard hats and watch your step, Red Sox fans, because Fenway Park’s going to be a construction zone. After hitting rock bottom in 2012, the Sox aren’t beginning a remodel so much as a teardown. The return to respectability won’t happen overnight, not in the rugged American League East, but at least the Red Sox shouldn’t embarrass themselves, which would be a refreshing development. They spent the winter patching the roster with veterans like Ryan Dempster, Shane Victorino and Stephen Drew in the hopes that augmenting a nucleus featuring Dustin Pedroia, Will Middlebrooks and David Ortiz will keep the Sox in the hunt for the second Wild Card while the farm system prepares the next generation. We’ll see if that scenario unfolds. In the meantime, beware of falling concrete.
Here’s where the season will be made or broken. If Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz return to the form that made them All-Stars in 2010, John Lackey rebounds from Tommy John surgery to win his customary 13-to-15 games, and a youngster takes the fifth spot and runs with it, the Red Sox could contend for the division title. Unfortunately, that’s a lot of ifs, especially since the alternatives — Lester and Buchholz struggle for a second straight season, Lackey struggles with reentry, the fifth starter stumbles — are just as likely. It all starts with Lester. Now that Josh Beckett is gone, Lester is the leader of the rotation, and if he can rejoin that upper echelon of AL starters, he gives the Red Sox a bona fide ace. There are some worrisome signs, though. His strikeout rate has dipped in each of the last four seasons (from 10.0 in 2009 to 7.3 last year), along with his velocity. That’s why it’s so important that Buchholz returns to form and stays healthy. One name to watch is Rubby De La Rosa, a flamethrower coming off Tommy John surgery who was acquired from the Dodgers.
Whatever doubts exist about the rotation, they’re not shared in the bullpen. Taking a page from the 2012 Orioles, the Red Sox have tried to build a deep stable of power arms in the hopes of winning enough close games to stay in contention. The Red Sox have the arms to do it, particularly after acquiring two-time All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan from the Pirates. That shifts fellow two-time All-Star Andrew Bailey to the eighth. From there the Sox have their pick of arms like Koji Uehara, hard-throwing Junichi Tazawa, lefty Craig Breslow, lefty Andrew Miller, and the rubber-armed Alfredo Aceves. Plus, whichever of Felix Doubront and Franklin Morales loses the fifth starter’s battle should end up in relief, too. Breslow’s shoulder has been balky in the spring and will likely delay his season. But this is as deep a group as you’ll find in the majors.
If everyone stays healthy, the Red Sox have a chance to field one of the best all-around double-play combos in the game. Pedroia’s résumé speaks for itself at second. He’s a former MVP and Gold Glover whose tenacity sets the tone on the field and off. And don’t discount the underrated Drew, who has 20-homer power and an ability to work the count. If something happens to the latter, then slick-fielding youngster Jose Iglesias would get the call from Pawtucket, though there are real concerns about his bat. The utilityman should be speedy Pedro Ciriaco, who was a jack-of-all-trades in 2012.
The Red Sox figured they had their hole at first base plugged when they signed Mike Napoli to a three-year, $39 million deal as their first big move of the offseason in early December. More than a month later, the sides still hadn’t agreed on language to protect the Red Sox in case Napoli suffered a hip injury. But on Jan. 17. The sides agreed on language for a one-year deal for $5 million guaranteed. But staying clear of the DL and answering the call every day, the former catcher can earn as much as $8 million. His bat is a plus, but his glove, not so much. The other side of the diamond is far less murky thanks to Middlebrooks, who’s a 25-homer hitter in waiting. Middlebrooks is fully healed from the freak broken wrist (hit by pitch) that ended his rookie season in August.
The Red Sox had once hoped to just pencil in the names Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford in center and left, respectively, and watch them wreak havoc. Instead, Crawford was a colossal disappointment before being dumped on the Dodgers, while Ellsbury has only been able to stay on the field once in the last three seasons. With Ellsbury due to enter free agency, he could be traded at any point before the July 31 deadline, particularly if the Sox struggle to remain in contention. Otherwise, he’ll be flanked by Victorino, a former Gold Glover with the Phillies, in right field and Jonny Gomes in left. Gomes struggles in the field, but his right-handed power and clubhouse leadership make him an intriguing acquisition. Gomes has murdered left-handed pitching but will need a platoon partner against righties, with Daniel Nava and Mike Carp possibilities.
From the moment the Red Sox signed respected backup David Ross in November, it seemed inevitable that the other shoe would drop in the form of a trade of either incumbent starter Jarrod Saltalamacchia or promising youngster Ryan Lavarnway. But the Red Sox believed they could find room for all three catchers, even if it meant returning Lavarnway to Triple-A for further seasoning. In any event, the Sox could employ some intriguing permutations. The switch-hitting Saltalamacchia became an all-or-nothing proposition in the second half after a borderline All-Star first half. He’ll need to improve his selectivity or he won’t be playing anywhere. Lavarnway was likewise hideous down the stretch (.157-2-12 in 46 games). Ross is probably the most talented of the bunch, but he’s purely a backup at age 36 and is unlikely to play more than 70 games.
The man they call Big Papi is officially the last link to the glory of 2004, when the Red Sox ended their 86-year-old curse. Signed to a two-year deal over the winter that finally should provide some peace of mind, Ortiz is nonetheless as motivated as ever to prove to the doubters that (a) he’s worth the $13 million he’ll receive in each of the next two years, and (b) that he can stay healthy. In many respects, he was in the midst of his best season last year before an Achilles injury basically ended his season in July, so proving the first part seems easy enough. However, pain lingers in his Achilles making his availability for Opening Day doubtful. As for the bench, the Sox have put a premium on versatility. Ciriaco can play all over the infield and debuted in center last year. With Victorino able to play center, the Sox are covered behind Ellsbury. Nava and Carp can back up the corner spots and/or platoon with Gomes in left. The final order of business as spring training beckoned was adding Carp as a reserve left-handed first baseman.
Bobby Valentine divided and conquered the clubhouse through passive-aggression last year, and his tenure goes down as one of the biggest mistakes in franchise history. The Red Sox believe they’ve found the anti-Bobby V. in John Farrell, the team’s former pitching coach, who commands respect throughout the organization. Farrell dealt with the Hanrahan and Bailey situation immediately, naming the former his closer in December. In the GM’s office, Ben Cherington has learned from the mistakes of his first season — when he didn’t do enough to change the clubhouse culture — by striking aggressively late last summer (Dodgers blockbuster) and then all winter, securing a number of solid veterans on contracts of three years and fewer. Farrell and Cherington see the game similarly (they’re both former farm directors) and work well together.
The Red Sox need so much to break right to contend in the AL East. Most of their free-agent acquisitions are coming off down years. Vital cogs like Ortiz, Pedroia, and Ellsbury must stay healthy, something none of them managed in 2012. They need the starters to rebound and the bullpen to remain stout. It also wouldn’t hurt if some of the other teams in the East underachieved. In reality, this is Year 1 of a lengthy rebuild, and even though the Red Sox hope and expect to remain competitive, it’s probably going to be another season or two before they restore their status as legitimate contenders.
CF Jacoby Ellsbury (L)
With free agency looming, Ellsbury would like nothing better than to prove his breakout 2011 the rule, not the exception.
SS Stephen Drew (L)
Drew knows how to work himself into a hitter’s count, and then he’s hacking.
2B Dustin Pedroia (R)
Pedroia and Drew are both better suited to hit second, but one of them must bat in the 3-hole where Pedroia owns a lifetime .840 OPS.
DH David Ortiz (L)
Baseball’s best DH by a wide margin, Ortiz hit .320 with a .985 OPS against lefties last year. But Achilles problems continue to plague him and make him doubtful to be ready by Opening Day.
1B Mike Napoli (R)
Napoli’s problem isn’t his production; it’s his health. He has averaged only 379 plate appearances per season.
RF Shane Victorino (S)
Victorino hits lefties (.881 career OPS) far better than righties (.727).
3B Will Middlebrooks (R)
Free swinger struck out 70 times and walked only 13 in 286 plate appearances as a rookie.
LF Jonny Gomes (R)
Gomes may never be a full-time player, but he has reached 20 homers in fewer than 400 at-bats three times.
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (S)
Needs to add more discipline to his approach, or he’ll be taking a seat in favor of David Ross or Ryan Lavarnway.
INF Pedro Ciriaco (R)
Opened eyes last year as a speedy pest who can play pretty much anywhere.
C David Ross (R)
Ross was universally adored in Atlanta, where pitchers loved throwing to him. Probably the game’s best backup.
1B/OF Mike Carp (L)
Acquired from Settle to potentially platoon with Gomes in left and as insurance for Napoli at first.
OF Daniel Nava (S)
A .317 hitter over six seasons in the minors, the Red Sox expect his bat to come around at the major league level as well.
LH Jon Lester
Let’s not forget that until his terrible 2012, Lester was pretty much a guaranteed 16 wins.
RH Clay Buchholz
There may not be a more diverse arsenal in the game, with Buchholz throwing everything but a knuckleball.
RH John Lackey
The man in the middle is Johnny on the spot. If he’s his Angels self, the Sox could be in business.
RH Ryan Dempster
The Red Sox suspect Dempster will struggle with good lineups, but they want him to feast on bad ones.
LH Felix Doubront
With legit swing-and-miss stuff and a 96 mph fastball, Doubront needs to harness his command.
RH Joel Hanrahan (Closer)
Hanrahan brings the 98 mph heat and buries with a slider that ranks among the game’s most unhittable pitches.
RH Andrew Bailey
Former All-Star closer says he’s okay with move to set up Hanrahan. If he takes to it, it’s difficult to imagine anyone better.
RH Junichi Tazawa
On another team in another season, the hard-throwing Tazawa could be considered a closer candidate.
RH Koji Uehara
Like Tazawa, Uehara strikes out more than a batter an inning with impeccable control.
LH Craig Breslow
After kicking around the game’s margins for nearly a decade, Breslow owns a 3.15 ERA since 2010. A sore shoulder has shelved him for a few weeks.
LH Andrew Miller
A bust as a starter, the 6'7" Miller has been reborn as a junior Randy Johnson in relief, abusing lefthanders.
LH Franklin Morales
Morales was a revelation as a starter last year, and may beat out Doubront for the fifth spot.
General manager Andrew Friedman talks about “always trying to thread the needle” in harmonizing the present and future. President Matt Silverman says the team is operated “as if we’re balanced on the head of a pin.” Both make good “points.” The attendance-famished, cash-impoverished Rays perennially stitch together a contender with a quilt of creative contracts, bargain-basement free agents, prospect development and Joe Mad(don)-scientist field management. Improbably, despite the loss of one of the top three position players (B.J. Upton) and pitchers (James Shields) in their history, they’ve done so again for 2013. Not that they’ve really darned a threadbare offense that was the fourth-lowest-scoring in the AL, but they’ve patched it. Not that they’re likely to match an ERA that was the best in the league since 1990, but the pitching remains enviable. Not that they can replace Upton’s stolen bases or have definitively addressed a defense that led the circuit in errors, but the roster is still athletic. It’s a living-on-the-edge formula tailored to Tampa Bay’s unique situation and executed with dexterity. “We are a turnover team. We do change things on an annual basis,” says Maddon. “Welcome to the Rays.”
Hanging on the wall in a corner of the Rays clubhouse is a slogan made popular by Shields: “If you don’t like it, pitch better.” Even after dealing the inspirational soul of their staff, the team still has a backlog of moundsmen who would be shoo-ins to make many rotations, but will have to “pitch better” to crack this one. David Price can’t pitch much better than he did in 2012. He went 20–5 and compiled a 1.62 ERA in his no-decisions. The Cy Young Award winner now mixes three solid complementary pitches to go with his hot, hot heat, and he remains driven to sustain the growth. Matt Moore is Price on training wheels — outrageously gifted, but sometimes with elusive fastball command. Although he broke the team’s rookie strikeout record, and his 3.31 ERA over his last 22 starts denotes improvement, Maddon cautions, “the finished product is probably two, three years down the road.” Jeremy Hellickson consistently pitches himself in and out of peril with the net result being the AL’s third-lowest ERA (3.02) over the past two years. To take the next step, he’ll have to economize; on 11 occasions, he was yanked after passing 90 pitches yet not completing the sixth inning. Blossoming Alex Cobb will build on an impressive finish to 2012, when his seven wins after July 31 tied for most in the circuit. Despite a career ledger of 40–26, oft-injured Jeff Niemann must hold off the youth brigade for the No. 5 slot. Chris Archer is at the vanguard. “This guy’s going to be so good,” Maddon predicts — but the 24-year-old needs a third pitch to get lefties out or risk being recast as a closer. Jake Odorizzi, Alex Colome and Alex Torres face slightly longer odds. The X-factor is Roberto Hernandez, a former 19-game winner who lost track of his mojo — and his age — as Fausto Carmona in Cleveland.
Closer Fernando Rodney had, according pitching coach Jim Hickey, “maybe the best relief season in the history of the game. So I don’t expect him to do that (again).” Anything remotely close to his 48-for-50 save rate and all-time-record 0.60 ERA would be just fine. When Rodney is locating his high-90s fastball and low-80s change-up as he did in 2012, batters have no chance. Should he regress, pea-chucking lefty Jake McGee could probably work the ninth. Of the 44 men he faced in September, four got hits and 21 were punched out. Joel Peralta, the MLB holds leader with 37, was re-signed as the primary bridge man. Kyle Farnsworth brings stability and experience, but is not the fireballer he once was. The pen will fill out adequately with some combo of the losers in the starter’s derby and “4-A” veterans Cesar Ramos, Brandon Gomes and Josh Lueke.
Now that the words “Yunel” and “eye black controversy” will never again appear in print independently, we’re left to wonder whether his gay-slur incident will doom the new Rays shortstop to even more underachievement or prompt him to finally grow up. Escobar is gifted defensively and streaky-solid at the dish, but mystifyingly prone to all manner of mental mistakes. Maddon, like many managers before him, has been impressed initially by Escobar in the spring. We’ll see how long that lasts. The acquisition from Toronto frees Ben Zobrist (who finished 2012 at short) to return to second base where, as a total package, he’s one of the game’s five best. Maddon calls him “no chrome” — nothing flashy, but steely-solid. Zobrist will also see some time in right field as Maddon thrives on mixing and matching lineups.
“Nine 1/2 Weeks” was a movie about a shallow affair. That pretty much describes the Rays offense in the nine-and-a-half weeks it was without hammie-hobbled Evan Longoria. As the team’s only authentic run-producer, his absence turns the attack into a series of toppling dominoes. A full slate of the third baseman’s batsmithery is worth 30 homers and 100 RBIs — or more. “If we have Longo in the lineup all year, we win 10 more games, or 20,” Price speculates. His hyperbole was only slight. Things are not as secure at first, where James Loney succeeds Carlos Pena. He’s a hard worker, but an impatient one, both within individual at-bats and settling on an overall approach. The club would gladly take his 2008-10 production, when he averaged .279-12-89 for the Dodgers. Still, Loney is, says the skipper, “a great defender.”
Where there’s a Wil there’s a wait. At least it would seem that way, based on the team’s inclination to delay prospect debuts for both developmental and financial reasons. But unless the Rays add a thumper at the 11th hour, they almost have to slot treasured rookie Wil Myers into right field. The central return in the trade of Shields to the Royals, he’s a 22-year-old who ranked second in the minors with 37 home runs and carries a “superstar” projection by many scouts. Matt Joyce would then slide to left. His glove is fine, but a once-promising bat has yielded two straight OPS declines to a ho-hum .769. If that doesn’t improve, Myers will shift to left, Zobrist to right and giving Kelly Johnson a chance at second. With Upton off the grid, Desmond Jennings returns to his natural habitat in center, where he has Gold Glove possibilities. He’s a potential league leader in stolen bases, but not if he can’t elevate a .314 OBP that, as a leadoff man, was a literal non-starter. The issue: Jennings worked himself ahead in the count in a team-low 30.7 percent of plate appearances.
The Rays chose not to (or could not) upgrade the catching position, where Jose Molina is a liability at the plate and becoming immobile behind it. He’s still a master receiver/pitcher-handler with an adequate arm. As the team’s oldest position player by five years, he’s limited to 100 games, with replacement-level operatives Jose Lobaton or Chris Gimenez taking up the slack.
There’s no great cache of talent in reserve, just a smorgasbord of versatile grinders. Just the way Maddon likes it. He can play Sean Rodriguez (who Pena says might be the best defensive player he’s ever seen) almost anywhere and Johnson at second and the outfield, get two honest games a week out of three-position outfielder Sam Fuld, dispatch Ryan Roberts to second base when moving Zobrist to the outfield for platoon reasons … and so forth. Lefty swinging Luke Scott and righty Shelley Duncan will likely platoon at DH.
There’s none better in the bang vs. buck department. Friedman checks all the boxes as a GM; Maddon works below market because he adores the environment; owner Stuart Sternberg is fan-friendly and surprisingly agile with his bank. But, warns the latter, “At some point, it stops. You’ve got to make a decision. We’re going to eat steak, and we’re going to eat lobster, and we’re going to order some wine, but we’re not going to be able to turn the heat on, and the house isn’t going to get painted.”
Maddon says the franchise’s “DNA” is “great pitching … great defense.” When he gets both, as he should most days in 2013, the Rays are No. 1 on any opponents’ least-like-to-play list. Unfortunately, there is no forensic evidence to suggest they’ll be any better than mediocre at scoring runs. Still, in a year in which you can throw a blanket over the entire AL East, the Rays have a respectable chance of sewing up a fourth postseason appearance in six years.
CF Desmond Jennings (R)
Set team record (min. 20 attempts.) with 93.9 percent steal success rate last year.
SS Yunel Escobar (R)
Third-most hits (720) while playing shortstop since 2008, behind Derek Jeter and Jose Reyes.
2B Ben Zobrist (S)
Was, in 2012, first player in the modern era to start at least 45 games at three different positions.
3B Evan Longoria (R)
Rays went 47–27 (.635) when he started, 43–45 (.489) when he didn’t.
DH Luke Scott (L)
Hit .149 vs. lefties, .260 vs. righties last season.
RF Wil Myers (R)
Consensus 2012 Minor League Player of the Year will get a chance to win the job in the spring.
LF Matt Joyce (L)
Hit .219 when slotted third through fifth in the order, but .337 at sixth through eighth.
1B James Loney (L)
Led the big leagues in hits with runners in scoring position (161), 2008-10.
C Jose Molina (R)
Third among active catchers (min. 500 games) with 39.1 caught-stealing percentage.
INF Ryan Roberts (R)
Errorless in 225 chances at second base, but made nine in 197 at third.
INF Sean Rodriguez (R)
Has gone to 0-2 count in 1 of every 4.5 career PAs, reaching base in only 1 of 5 when he does.
C Jose Lobaton (S)
Only player ever to be married at home plate at Tropicana Field (last July 2).
1B/OF Shelley Duncan (R)
Will be the primary DH against left-handed pitching.
2B/OF Kelly Johnson (L)
Hit .201 vs. lefties last season, but carries a .274 career average against southpaws.
LH David Price
33–11 in career vs. AL East teams, including 10–2 with a 2.51 ERA in 2012.
RH Jeremy Hellickson
With runners in scoring position, OPS is .083 lower and HR rate about half as in other situations.
LH Matt Moore
Induced swing-and-miss on 11.8 percent of pitches — tied for second in AL.
RH Alex Cobb
ERA would have been 3.22 if his two eight-run stinkers were thrown out.
RH Jeff Niemann
Holds foes to .236 average first two times through order in career, but .284 thereafter.
RH Fernando Rodney (Closer)
MLB relief-record 0.60 ERA was 0.98 lower than any other in 2012 AL (min. 50 innings).
RH Joel Peralta
Has appeared in the most games (147) of AL hurlers the last two years.
LH Jake McGee
At 95.7 mph, unleashed fastest average heater (min. 50 innings) of AL lefty relievers.
RH Kyle Farnsworth
In roughly the same number of plate appearances, he allowed a .088 average in August, .364 in September.
LH Cesar Ramos
Held Triple-A lefties to .125 AVG and big-league righties to .130.
RH Roberto Hernandez
Won 32 games with a 3.41 ERA in his two best seasons with Indians.
The Toronto Blue Jays acted boldly in the offseason to snap out of the relentless mediocrity that has characterized the franchise for almost 20 years. They raided the NL East, acquiring Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle from the downsizing Marlins and Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey from the rebuilding Mets. They also signed Melky Cabrera despite his suspension for his positive test for testosterone, and re-hired a former Jays manager, John Gibbons, who already understands the local culture. It won’t be easy in the always-treacherous AL East, but it’s reasonable to expect Toronto to find its way back to the playoffs for the first time since winning the World Series in 1992 and 1993.
The Blue Jays’ rotation had a 4.82 earned run average last year, ranking 25th in the majors. It underwent a drastic renovation in the offseason, with trades for Dickey, Johnson and Buehrle. The Jays signed Dickey to a contract extension through 2015, betting on a knuckleball that has baffled hitters for three years and earned Dickey the NL Cy Young Award. Dickey is 38, but his career is ascending as he masters the finicky pitch, which he throws hard and controls with uncanny precision. Johnson pitched better than his record indicated and made it through the season after losing much of 2011 to shoulder trouble. He’s still in his prime and should be stronger now, and he will be unfamiliar to many AL hitters. Buehrle, the longtime White Sox mainstay, is no secret, but it’s hard to find a more consistent, dependable pro. Brandon Morrow was on his way to a long-awaited breakthrough season before losing more than two months to an oblique injury, but on his best days his stuff can match anyone’s. The biggest question is Ricky Romero, who seemed to be growing into a force at the top of the rotation before regressing badly last season. The restocked Jays won’t ask too much of Romero, their Opening Day starter the last two seasons, but if he can find his way back to at least being league-average, he’ll help a lot.
The Jays thought they had their closer of the future in Sergio Santos, the former position player who saved 30 games for the White Sox in 2011. But Santos saved only two for Toronto before needing shoulder surgery, and he returns to find his job taken by the veteran Casey Janssen — who also had a damaged shoulder. Janssen pitched a full season but had an operation in late November to shave down a small portion of his clavicle to relieve soreness. It was said to be minor surgery, but shoulder trouble is never a good sign. If healthy, though, Santos and Janssen would form the back end of the bullpen, supported by two lefties — one old (Darren Oliver) and one young (Aaron Loup) — and an intriguing group of righties including Esmil Rogers, Brad Lincoln and Steve Delabar. Rogers blossomed for the Indians last season after never quite figuring out Colorado, fanning 54 in 53 innings, while Delabar also showed strikeout stuff after midseason trades to Toronto.
Maicer Izturis signed a three-year, $10 million contract with Toronto in early November, a move that added a nice, versatile player to the infield mix. Soon after, though, they added a lot more sizzle, trading for Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio from Miami. Bonifacio hopes to pick up where he left off early last season, when he was successful on his first 20 stolen base attempts. Injuries to his thumb and knee torpedoed his progress, though, and he appeared in only 64 games. Like Izturis, he can play all over the infield, a valuable attribute for a team that plays home games on turf and would like to rest some starters now and then. Reyes, in particular, could benefit from occasional days off the turf, considering his history of hamstring injuries. But he was healthy last season and led the National League in plate appearances with 716. He was not the dynamic force the Marlins wanted him to be, and when they saw a chance to escape the last five years of his six-year, $106 million contract, they took it. In Toronto, Reyes might be in a late-season pennant race for the first time since the Mets’ collapses in 2007 and 2008. He should be energized and, still just 29 years old, can be a sparkplug for a dangerous Jays offense.
Trading two years of Shaun Marcum for the start of Brett Lawrie’s career was a steal for the Blue Jays, who love Lawrie’s background (he’s from British Columbia), his versatile offensive skills, and his defense at third. Forget the 17 errors, which led AL third basemen. By more advanced metrics, Lawrie ranked among the most valuable defensive performers in the game, with exceptional range. He’s battling a rib cage injury this spring, but it doesn’t appear too serious. Across the diamond, the Jays can use Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion, who have enough power to fit the profile for a first baseman. Encarnacion had a monster year last season, with 42 homers and 110 runs batted in, double his total from 2011. The Jays rewarded him with a three-year, $29 million contract extension, a bargain for that production, but a waste if his season was merely an anomaly. That is how Lind’s contract looks now, with three consecutive seasons that have fallen well short of his 2009 breakout. Lind, who was sent to the minors last season after hitting .186 through the end of May, has club options for 2014, 2015 and 2016. He needs to turn things around in a hurry for the Jays to consider retaining him.
Gibbons was the bench coach in Kansas City when Cabrera exploded for 201 hits in 2011. Cabrera was even better for the Giants last season, before his suspension for testosterone raised questions about what kind of player he really is. The Blue Jays are spending $16 million for the next two seasons to find out. They’ll trust that Cabrera can be a dynamic player cleanly. Colby Rasmus clashed with an intense manager in St. Louis (Tony La Russa), and played even worse for another intense manager in Toronto (John Farrell). Gibbons has had run-ins with his own players, but by nature he’s laid-back and affable, and perhaps in that environment Rasmus can unlock the talent that made him a first-round pick out of high school in 2005. On paper, he’s the only weak link in an outfield highlighted by Jose Bautista, the game’s premier power hitter the last few seasons. A wrist problem ruined Bautista’s second half, but as long as the injury has healed, there’s no reason to expect anything other than lots of homers, RBIs and walks, and plenty of screaming drives down the left field line.
The Blue Jays used catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud to land Dickey from the Mets. One reason they were willing to part the rising star is that they believe in J.P. Arencibia, with power by far his best tool. He caught Dickey in the World Baseball Classic, which allowed him to become familiar with the knuckler. Veteran Henry Blanco (yes, he’s still in the league) will be the backup at age 41. He still throws as well as any catcher in the AL.
The Jays can use Encarnacion or Lind as the designated hitter, which is also a convenient place to shift Reyes on occasion and play Izturis at shortstop. Gibbons could also inject speed into the lineup by using Rajai Davis or Anthony Gose, both reserve outfielders, in the DH spot.
GM Alex Anthopoulos constantly chases undervalued talent. It’s a worthwhile strategy, but it only goes so far, and Anthopoulos changed course in November. The industry-rattling acquisition of Reyes, Johnson and Buehrle brought proven performers to the Blue Jays, who are owned by a communications giant — Rogers — and have a nation to themselves. Anthopoulos is savvy and aggressive, and in Gibbons, he picked a manager who knows him and knows Toronto.
Four different AL East teams have reached the playoffs in the last four years, and the Jays are tired of being left out. There are no more excuses. The roster is not perfect, given the injury history of Reyes and Johnson, the declining performance of Rasmus and Romero, and the questionable sustainability of Cabrera’s recent success. But Dickey gives them a legitimate ace and helps make this the most talented Toronto team in more than a decade. All the elements are in place for the first postseason games in Canada since Joe Carter homered off Mitch Williams in 1993.
SS Jose Reyes (S)
Ended lackluster season in Miami by hitting .310 with 11 steals after Sept. 1.
LF Melky Cabrera (S)
Must prove his recent breakout is more than a result of PEDs. He was a gamble worth taking.
RF Jose Bautista (R)
Trade from Pirates for catcher Robinzon Diaz is one of great heists in MLB history.
1B Edwin Encarnacion (R)
Blue Jays need him to show that career year in 2012 (42 home runs, 110 RBIs) was no fluke.
CF Colby Rasmus (L)
OBP tumbled from excellent (.361) to abysmal (.289) in two years; still has the talent to be productive.
3B Brett Lawrie (R)
Hit .319 vs. lefties to lead the Blue Jays in his first full season in the big leagues. A rib cage injury leaves his availability for Opening Day in doubt.
DH Adam Lind (L)
Career peaked in 2009 (.305-35-114); can he come close to that again?
C J.P. Arencibia (R)
Is his decent power enough to offset his low on-base percentage?
2B Emilio Bonifacio (S)
Had .360 OBP and 40 steals as everyday infielder for Marlins in 2011.
IF Maicer Izturis (S)
Veteran started at least 162 career games at second, short and third; will be a valuable reserve.
OF Rajai Davis (R)
Playing time could be scaled back despite 46 steals in ’12; could grab some at-bats as the DH.
C Henry Blanco (R)
The 41-year-old backstop has thrown out 45 percent of base stealers since 2008.
OF Anthony Gose (L)
Former second-round pick must make better contact to take advantage of great speed.
3B Mark DeRosa (R)
The veteran will fill in for the injured Lawrie, then return to utility role.
RH R.A. Dickey
Threw one-hitters last year vs. new AL East rivals Baltimore and Tampa Bay.
RH Josh Johnson
A free agent after the ’12 season, he hopes to reestablish himself as an ace.
LH Mark Buehrle
Gold Glove winner in each of the last four seasons, three with White Sox, one with Marlins.
RH Brandon Morrow
Untouchable when he’s on; in his 10 wins, his ERA was 0.68; could be one of the game’s best No. 4 starters.
LH Ricky Romero
Suffered 13 consecutive losses, with 7.42 ERA, before winning last decision.
RH Casey Janssen (Closer)
Went 22-of-24 in save chances after assuming closer’s role.
RH Sergio Santos
Given closer job in 2012 but made only six appearances before season-ending shoulder surgery.
RH Steve Delabar
12.55 Ks per 9 innings was the best figure in the American League in 2012 (min. 60 innings).
LH Darren Oliver
Posted the lowest ERA (2.06) of his 19-year career in 2012, his first season with the Jays.
RH Esmil Rogers
Had 3.06 ERA for Indians in 44 games after escaping Coors Field.
LH Aaron Loup
Held lefties to .207 average in 33 games after promotion from Class AA.
The Baltimore Orioles’ breakthrough season included their first trip to the playoffs and first winning record since 1997. They shocked the baseball world. Unfortunately, it doesn’t guarantee future success. They didn’t follow up with an impact move as the calendar turned to 2013. Other teams in the division, most notably the Blue Jays and Red Sox, made the kind of improvements that should lift them past the Orioles.
Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez are the staples of a rotation that could add a veteran starter before Opening Day. Hammel wasn’t added until last February. Gonzalez was signed out of the Mexican League in early March. Chen adapted quickly to the demands of pitching in the U.S. and was the only Orioles pitcher to post a double-digit win total (12). He also led the staff with 32 starts, 12 more than the next-closest teammates. Chris Tillman figures to stay in the rotation after going 9–3 with a 2.93 ERA in 15 starts, easily his best season in the majors. There is no shortage of candidates for the fifth spot. Jake Arrieta started last Opening Day but was demoted to Triple-A and later placed in the Orioles’ bullpen. He’s competing against lefthander Zach Britton and righthander Jair Jurrjens, who won 27 games for the Braves in 2008-09. Top prospect Dylan Bundy is expected to join the rotation at some point this season.
This was a team strength in 2012 and figures to stay that way. Jim Johnson converted 51-of-54 save opportunities in his first full season as a closer, but he’s quick to credit others for continually handing him the lead. Pedro Strop was an effective setup man until slumping in September. His bouts of wildness are a concern. Darren O’Day (7–1, 2.28 ERA, 69 games) turned out to be one of the best signings of the offseason — and it came after Andy MacPhail left the front office and before Dan Duquette was hired as the team’s executive vice president. O’Day was equally good against lefties and righties, an oddity for a submarine-stylist. Luis Ayala and lefthander Troy Patton also return, and Matusz figures to be the lefty specialist, a role he took on after returning from the minors. The last spot can go to whichever starting candidate is bumped from the rotation. Hunter is out of options, which could make him the favorite.
Shortstop is in the reliable hands of J.J. Hardy, who finally won his first Gold Glove in 2012. He committed only six errors in 779 total chances. Hardy wasn’t nearly as reliable at the plate, however, with his average dipping to .238 with a .282 on-base percentage. His home run total decreased from 30 to 22, and his RBI total from 80 to 68. Second base is becoming less of a riddle. Brian Roberts says that his surgically repaired hip is feeling good, and he’s no longer experiencing post-concussion symptoms. The job belongs to Roberts if he stays healthy through spring training. Otherwise, Alexi Casilla, claimed him off waivers from the Twins, or Ryan Flaherty, a super-utility player would take over.
Top position prospect Manny Machado joined the Orioles in August and was outstanding at third base, steadying a position that had been a disaster for the first four months of the season. Who knew that a 20-year-old Double-A shortstop would make such an impact at the hot corner? He’s the shortstop of the future, but he’s needed at third base in the present. Chris Davis is the leading candidate to play first base after the Orioles made no attempt to re-sign Mark Reynolds. The club needs a big bat for the middle of the lineup. Davis, the team leader in home runs and RBIs, is able to play the outfield corners if needed.
All three projected starters have Gold Gloves at some point in their careers that they can show off, which the pitching staff loves. The Orioles re-signed Nate McLouth, who was a huge addition after they purchased his contract from Triple-A over the summer. He can bat leadoff if needed, and he was the only player whose bat didn’t go into a deep freeze in the playoffs. Nolan Reimold, who didn’t play after April because of a herniated disk in his neck that required surgery, will vie for the starting job in left. A platoon is possible. Adam Jones returns to center field after being named Most Valuable Oriole for the second consecutive season. He played all 162 games. He’s getting a little better every year. Nick Markakis used to be an iron man, but he went on the disabled list in late May with a broken hamate bone and had his left thumb shattered by a CC Sabathia fastball on Sept. 8, costing him the rest of the season and sidelining him for the playoffs. The thumb is healed, and he expects to play every day in right. He’s also a candidate to bat leadoff if Roberts is unavailable.
Matt Wieters won his second consecutive Gold Glove in 2012. No catcher does a better job of fielding short hops and applying the tag. Wieters has turned it into an art form. And it’s usually not wise to run on him. He’s quite a weapon behind the plate. With the bat, he posted career highs with 23 homers and 83 RBIs, but his .249 average was disappointing. He may never be Johnny Bench, but he’s plenty good. The Orioles re-signed Taylor Teagarden to serve as Wieters’ backup. He didn’t break camp with the team last spring because of a back injury. Teagarden had only nine hits, but he also collected nine RBIs. His value comes in his work behind the plate, not beside it, but he had some clutch hits last year.
Manager Buck Showalter can choose a platoon that includes Wilson Betemit, who batted 162 points higher from the left side. Betemit can play the infield corners and left field, but his glove isn’t an asset. He’s best used as a DH and pinch-hitter. Danny Valencia, a new addition to the organization, could be a right-handed DH and occasional third baseman. Casilla will be a utility infielder if he’s not starting at second base. Reimold could be a fourth outfielder. So could Trayvon Robinson, acquired from the Mariners over the winter. He’s out of options. Infielders Yamaico Navarro, acquired in a trade with the Pirates, and Flaherty a Rule 5 pick last year, are also bench candidates.
Showalter clearly is the face of the franchise. His hiring was one of the best moves to come under the ownership of Peter Angelos. He brought instant credibility to a franchise in desperate need of it. The players respect him and play hard for him, and nobody handles a bullpen better. Duquette’s hiring last year was greeted mostly by criticism and skepticism from the national media. He had been out of the game too long. Nobody else wanted the job. Duquette got the last laugh, adding key pieces such as Chen, Hammel, Gonzalez, Ayala and McLouth. He greatly improved the depth in the organization with under-the-radar signings. Angelos is a big supporter of both men, which doesn’t hurt.
There’s a lot more to like about the Orioles than in previous years. They have a fine nucleus of players in Wieters, Jones, Hardy, Markakis, Davis and Machado. The bullpen is outstanding, and there’s great potential with their younger starters. Plus, top pitching prospects Bundy and Kevin Gausman loom on the horizon. They have lots of candidates for the rotation, but no one who’s a bona fide ace. Having only one double-digit winner is insufficient. The Orioles can’t count on winning as many one-run and extra-inning games as they did last season. They could battle for another playoff spot or tumble into a battle with Boston to avoid last place. The latter seems more likely to happen in baseball’s toughest division, but that’s what everyone predicted in 2012.
2B Brian Roberts (S)
Not a sure thing after being limited to 115 games the past three seasons.
RF Nick Markakis (L)
Needs better luck after having two surgeries and a broken left thumb in 2012.
CF Adam Jones (R)
Two-time defending Most Valuable Oriole batted cleanup in 133 games last year.
C Matt Wieters (S)
Hit .224 with 18 homers from right side and .323 with five homers from left side.
1B Chris Davis (L)
Led the Orioles with 33 home runs, 85 RBIs and 169 strikeouts in 2012.
SS J.J. Hardy (R)
Provides pop but must improve on a .238 average and .282 on-base percentage.
LF Nate McLouth (L)
Also a candidate to bat leadoff or second if Roberts has another health-related setback.
DH Wilson Betemit (S)
Platoon candidate after batting .302 with 11 homers from left side and .140 with one homer from right.
3B Manny Machado (R)
Stud shortstop prospect made smooth transition to third as 31st player to make Orioles debut before age 21.
C Taylor Teagarden (R)
His nine hits in 2012 included three doubles and two homers to produce nine RBIs.
OF Nolan Reimold (R)
Should be fully recovered from disc surgery in neck to compete with McLouth and Betemit for at-bats.
INF Alexi Casilla (S)
Could start at second if Roberts is hurt; is 71-for-80 in stolen base attempts during career.
3B Danny Valencia (R)
Career .316 hitter against lefthanders could platoon with Betemit at designated hitter.
RH Jason Hammel
Was having an outstanding season before bothersome right knee led to surgery in July.
LH Wei-Yin Chen
Only Oriole to reach double digits in victories while adjusting quickly to life in the U.S.
RH Chris Tillman
Long on potential and short on results until going 9–3 with a 2.93 ERA last year.
RH Miguel Gonzalez
Didn’t sign with Orioles until early March and wound up being one of their most dependable starters.
RH Jair Jurrjens
On his way to beating out Jake Arrieta for the fifth spot.
RH Jake Arrieta
Opening Day starter won three games and will need big spring to beat out a host of young candidates. Will likely start season in Triple-A.
RH Jim Johnson (Closer)
No one is suggesting he should be a starter after he saved 51 games in 54 chances last year.
RH Pedro Strop
Was dominant setup man before posting an 8.38 ERA in his last 15 games beginning Aug. 27, but was huge for Dominican Republic in WBC.
RH Darren O’Day
Lefthanders hit .205/.237/.420 against him and righthanders hit .201/.263/.325.
RH Luis Ayala
Can work sixth, seventh or eighth innings, but he did a poor job when inheriting runners.
LH Troy Patton
Former starter posted 2.43 ERA in 59 relief appearances and was sole lefty in pen much of season.
LH Brian Matusz
Former first-round pick thrived as lefty specialist with 1.35 ERA in 18 relief outings.
RH Tommy Hunter
Could be long man if he doesn’t make rotation because he’s out of options; allowed 32 homers in 2012.
As spring training continues in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports offers its thoughts on all the offseason movement. Here are the best free agent signings in Major League Baseball for 2013:
Michael Bourn, Cleveland Indians
4 years, $48,000,000
The Indians certainly were the beneficiaries of a shrinking market late in the offseason. Bourn, one of the best defensive center fielders in the game, immediately makes the Cleveland pitching staff better. While his efficiency stealing bases has declined the past few years, he has a .346 OBP over the past three seasons and will be the catalyst for the Indians' lineup. With a vesting option for 2017, this contract will likely end up being a five-year, $60 million deal, which will make it look even better. It’s backloaded as Bourn will make just seven million this season.
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We all know the favorties to win the American League Cy Young award this season: David Price, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez and Jered Weaver. But who are the longshots that could come out of nowhere. Here's a quick list of 10.
Healed and Ready
Brett Anderson, Oakland
After making 30 starts as a rookie in 2009, Anderson has been plagued by injuries, succumbing to Tommy John surgery in 2011. He was healthy enough last season to make six starts and shut down the Tigers over six innings in a Game 3 win in the ALDS, allowing just two hit and two walks.
Out of the Shadows
Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle
During his first year in the states, Iwakuma not only had to deal with the usual culture adjustments, but also the severe illness and eventual death of his father in Japan. He began the season in the bullpen and struggled. The 31-year old earned his first big league save in a 21-8 blowout, and his second save in a 12-inning affair. After joining the rotation in July, Iwakuma was 8-4 with a 2.65 ERA as the Mariners won 10 of his 16 starts.
Wade Davis, Kansas City
After two seasons in the Rays’ rotation with mixed results, Davis found a groove as a setup man last season. After June 28, opponents batted just .153. During that stretch he had a 1.82 ERA, 0.923 WHIP and 52 Ks in 34.2 innings.
Matt Moore, Tampa Bay
With stalwart James Shields traded to Kansas City, more burden will fall to Moore, a 23-year-old lefthander. He allowed more than two earned runs just three times in his last 14 starts. He appears ready to turn the corner.
Alex Cobb, Tampa Bay
The Rays are loaded with Cy Young candidates, beginning of course with reigning winner David Price. But Cobb, who has been overshadowed by Price, Shields, Moore and 2011 AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson, had two rough starts last season that raised his ERA from 3.22 to 4.03. Opponents batted just .173 during his five September starts.
Ready for Limelight
Jose Quintana, Chicago
Quintana shouldered a much larger role than expected last season and tired a bit down the stretch. Over his first 15 starts, he had a 2.94 ERA and a 1.214 WHIP.
Zach McAllister, Cleveland
Over a six-start stretch in June and July — all against winning teams — he went 3-1 with a 2.65 ERA as opponents hit just .248.
A Rookie Cy?
Dylan Bundy, Baltimore
After two brief appearances in relief last season, it would not be a shock to see the prized prospect in the rotation out of spring training. The first-round pick in 2011 has just a scant more than 100 innings of minor league experience.
Trevor Bauer, Cleveland
The former top pick of the Diamondbacks owns a 13-3 mark at Double-A or higher in the minors. Manager Terry Francona will give Bauer a long look during the spring.
Kyle Gibson, Minnesota
The Twins are in dire need of pitching and their former first-round pick is completely recovered from Tommy John surgery, making 11 starts in the minors last season. If he breaks camp in the starting rotation, the Twins will monitor his innings closely.
We all know the favorties to win the National League Cy Young award this season: Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, Cole Hamels, Matt Cain and maybe closer Craig Kimbrel. But who are the longshots that could come out of nowhere and surprise baseball fans. Here's a quick list of 10.
Hyun-Jin Ryu, Los Angeles
The lefthander led Korean baseball in strikeouts five times in seven seasons, but domination in the Far East doesn’t always translate to the states. The Dodgers have committed $36 million over the next six years, plus a $25.7 million posting fee and are expecting big things.
Out of the Shadows
Mike Minor, Atlanta
The seventh overall selection in the 2009 draft showed over the final few months last season just how dominant he can be. While pitching in the shadows of fellow starter Kris Medlen and dominant closer Craig Kimbrel, Minor was 7-4 with a 2.21 ERA and 0.865 WHIP over his final 15 starts with 73 strikeouts in 93.2 innings.
Ross Detwiler, Washington
Overshadowed by Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, Detwiler was a first-round pick two years before Strasburg. Opponents hit just .234 off the lefty during the second half last season, but issuing too many free passes remains a problem. Harnessing his control could put Detwiler among the elite pitchers in the league.
Homer Bailey, Cincinnati
It’s easy to fall in love with Bailey after his one-hit, one-walk, 10-strikeout performance against the Giants in the playoffs. But over his final seven starts of the regular season, he owned a 0.740 WHIP and 1.85 ERA.
Ready for Limelight
Jacob Turner, Miami
Long considered a top prospect in the Detroit organization, Turner finally received a chance in a regular rotation with the Marlins. In seven starts he had a sub-1.00 WHIP.
Matt Harvey, New York
Few fans outside of New York may recognize the name, but Harvey burst onto the scene last season. The seventh overall pick in 2010 made 10 starts for the Mets and allowed five earned runs once and three earned runs once with the rest zeros, ones and twos. He whiffed 70 over his 59.1 innings.
Jeff Samardzija, Chicago
The once promising wide receiver at Notre Dame transitioned from setup man in 2011 to starter last season. Over the past two years he has 267 Ks and allowed only 221 hits.
A Rookie Cy?
Wily Peralta, Milwaukee
In three starts in September against teams headed to the postseason, the 23-year old struck out 14 in 14 innings with a 2.57 ERA.
Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh
He will make his major league debut at some point this season. The former No. 1 overall pick won’t turn 23 until September.
Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis
With the injury to Chris Carpenter, another opportunity in the rotation awaits this flame thrower.
2013 Spring Training camps are open and many players will compete against teammates for jobs before taking on other baseball teams in April. Here are some position battles to keep an eye on this spring.
National League East
The trade of Randall Delgado to Arizona in the Justin Upton deal eliminates most of the questions surrounding the rotation. This team is pretty much set as far as regulars go. Waiver claim Jordan Schafer will be competing with Jose Constanza for a backup outfield spot and a chance to return to the major leagues with the team that drafted him in the third round in 2005.
Journeyman outfielder Justin Ruggiano enjoyed a breakout season in 2012, when he hit .313 with 13 homers in 91 games, and he will get the first crack at the starting job in center field. If he falters this spring, Gorkys Hernandez or former National League Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan will be there to pick up the pieces. Wade LeBlanc, who got a late-season look in the rotation, will fight it out with the likes of fellow lefty Brad Hand, righty Alex Sanabia and retread John Maine for the fifth starter’s spot. Former Cubs lefthander Scott Maine will compete with Rule 5 pick Braulio Lara and Sam Dyson among others, for a spot in the setup crew.
New York Mets
Amazingly for a team projected to finish so low in the standings, the Mets have few questions in the lineup and rotation, such as they are. With closer Frank Francisco ailing, there is an opening for closer, at least to start the season. Brandon Lyon with 79 career saves is the front runner. Bobby Parnell will be in the mix as well.
Roy Halladay will be highly scrutinized as he tries to rediscover the electricity on his pitches after an offseason spent reconditioning his high-mileage shoulder. While that drama plays out on the mound, rookie Darin Ruf will try to build on a remarkable year in which he hit 52 homers in three leagues on two continents. Blocked at first base by Ryan Howard, the less-than-fleet-footed Ruf is trying to become a left fielder at 26. If he can play the position and keep driving balls, he will earn some playing time. With the equally inept defensively Delmon Young coming off also in the mix, perennial prospect Dom Brown and John Mayberry Jr. will be necessary as defensive replacements.
With the rotation, starting lineup and bench basically set in stone, precious few battles remain in spring training for roster spots, but there could be opportunities in the Nationals’ bullpen. The Nationals have a decided preference for hard throwers, which means that righthander Christian Garcia, who impressed with his 100-mph heat last September, has an inside track for one of those spots, provided the Nationals don’t convert him to a starter. The Nats might look to add a situational lefty before Opening Day.
National League Central
There is a logjam for the final two positions in the rotation. Carlos Villanueva started 29 games for the Blue Jays the last two seasons. Travis Wood was second on the team with 156 innings pitched last year but now has to fight for a spot. Free-agent signees Scott Baker (who missed 2012 after elbow surgery) and Scott Feldman are other candidates. Feldman, a 17-game winner with Texas in 2009, was told he had a spot in the rotation before Jackson and Villanueva signed. In the outfield, David DeJesus will likely hold off prospect Brett Jackson for now, although Jackson is an intriguing combination of power and speed.
Aroldis Chapman and Mike Leake are vying for that No. 5 rotation spot, and it’s very possible the Reds use Leake at the start of the season and bring Chapman along slowly or some other creative strategy to utilize both pitchers. It will affect the bullpen makeup, as will the health of Nick Masset. Logan Ondrusek has had 60-plus appearances in three straight seasons and could easily wind up on the final 25-man roster. How catcher Devin Mesoraco develops also deserves attention. He won’t beat out Ryan Hanigan but needs to show improvement from last season.
With the league’s most potent starting lineup returning intact, there will be no spring training battles among position players, but if shortstop Jean Segura doesn’t convice manager Ron Roenicke he is ready for prime time, veteran Alex Gonzalez will pick up the slack. The Brewers hope Gonzalez will merely serve as a mentor this season. However, the starting pitching rotation is an entirely different matter. Only No. 1 starter Yovani Gallardo is a proven commodity. Marco Estrada and Chris Narveson have pitched well in stretches, but both battled injuries a year ago. Young arms Wily Peralta, Mark Rogers, Mike Fiers and Tyler Thornburg will also compete for starting roles, and even Hiram Burgos has a shot to crack the rotation. Kelvim Escobar signed a major league contract in January. He will get a look as a starter, as well.
Both corner outfield spots are open, and it will likely come down to two competitions — Starling Marte vs. Alex Presley for left field and Jerry Sands vs. Travis Snider vs. Jose Tabata for right field. Presley and Tabata began last season as the starters but lost their jobs to Marte, a highly touted prospect, and Snider, who was acquired from Toronto in a late-July trade. Sands is a wild card after being acquired from Boston in the offseason. Six young pitchers will compete for one spot in the starting rotation. Lefthander Jeff Locke and righties Kyle McPherson and Jeff Karstens are the favorites, but lefties Andrew Oliver and Justin Wilson will get a look as well.
St. Louis Cardinals
Despite winning 18 games and being an All-Star in 2012, righthander Lance Lynn will enter spring training with no guarantee of leaving it as a starter. The Cardinals are throwing open two spots in the rotation for auditions, inviting Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal and Shelby Miller to make their claim. Lynn has the edge, but the three young righties have starter’s stuff. The World Baseball Classic will allow playing time for prospect Kolten Wong, who will get a long look at second base, where Pete Kozma, Ryan Jackson, Matt Carpenter and incumbent Daniel Descalso will compete. That contest will carry into the season before Cards have an answer.
National League West
Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs, who have been paired most of their careers since coming to the D-backs from the Angels in the 2010 Dan Haren deal, will battle for the final spot in the starting rotation along with Randal Delgado, acquired from the Braves in the Justin Upton trade. Cliff Pennington could face a spring challenge from rookie Didi Gregorius, but the D-backs appear inclined to have Gregorius open the season at Class AAA Reno. Cody Ross enters spring as the starting center fielder, but it will be interesting to see how rookie Adam Eaton fits in the mix. The speedy 24-year old made a strong impression with his defense and energy in a September call-up after hitting .381 with 46 doubles and 38 steals in 488 at-bats at Triple-A last summer.
With the return of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Rutledge will slide back to second base, where he will challenge DJ LeMahieu for the starting job. LeMahieu played well last season and improved as a hitter. The Rockies have to choose a third baseman from among Jordan Pacheco, Chris Nelson and newcomer Ryan Wheeler. The latter is a left-handed hitter, creating the possibility of some platooning at the position. Lefties Drew Pomeranz and Christian Friedrich and righthander Tyler Chatwood, all of whom struggled with the Rockies last year, will compete for the fifth starter’s spot in the rotation.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The most important battles will take place in the trainer’s room. The Dodgers’ fortunes in 2013 will be affected heavily by the health of a handful of key players — outfielders Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford and righthander Chad Billingsley chief among them. Kemp (shoulder) and Crawford (wrist and elbow) are recovering from serious surgeries during or following the 2012 season. Billingsley spent the offseason rehabbing and working out in hopes of avoiding surgery to repair a partially torn ligament in his pitching elbow.
San Diego Padres
The only position battles will be for the middle infield spots. Everth Cabrera, Alexi Amarista, Logan Forsythe and prospect Jedd Gyorko are in the mix. Heading into camp, Forsythe is penciled in as the starting second baseman and Cabrera at shortstop, with Amarista on the bench. Gyorko is one of the organization’s top prospects. His development is one of the reasons the Padres haven’t given third baseman Chase Headley a long-term extension. There will also be the usual battles at the back end of the rotation and bullpen. Casey Kelly, who made his big-league debut on Aug. 27, and Robbie Erlin will be considered for rotation spots.
San Francisco Giants
Gregor Blanco might have been the most impressive player in the Cactus League a year ago while winning a spot on the Giants’ Opening Day roster. He’ll need another big spring performance to hold off Andres Torres as the starting left fielder. Although the Giants system has plenty of young pitching, not much of it is big-league-ready. So prospects like Chris Heston and Michael Kickham will get a long look in exhibition games. With the lineup and rotation set, this spring will be about staying healthy and deciding on a final spot or two on the bench and in the bullpen.
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2013 Spring Training camps are open and many players will compete against teammates for jobs before taking on other baseball teams in April. Here are some position battles to keep an eye on this spring.
American League East
The fifth starter spot is wide open. Candidates include Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Steve Johnson, Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter. Japanese pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada, who underwent Tommy John surgery on his left elbow last May, is ahead of schedule in his recovery and could join the fray. Nolan Reimold isn’t ready to concede left field to Nate McLouth. The last bench spot won’t be handed to Danny Valencia. Infielders Yamaico Navarro and Ryan Flaherty and outfielder Steve Pearce, among others, will try to avoid the minors. Executive VP Dan Duquette speaks highly of first basemen Conor Jackson and Travis Ishikawa and has indicated that they could contribute to the big-league club.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox aren’t opening too many starting spots to competition. The main area to watch will be catcher. With David Ross already announced as a backup who’ll play more than average, that leaves Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway battling for the starting spot. If the former wins, the latter will return to Triple-A. If Lavarnway wins, Saltalamacchia immediately becomes trade bait. The fifth starter’s spot should be a dogfight, too, with Felix Doubront and Franklin Morales battling newcomers like Rubby De La Rosa. The bullpen will be a free-for-all as well, with former dominant setup man Daniel Bard on the outside looking in at the moment.
New York Yankees
It was notable that the Yankees chose David Phelps for a postseason roster spot over Ivan Nova. True, Phelps worked 22 games as a reliever and Nova worked none, but there was no mistaking that the Yankees had more confidence in Phelps to get big outs. Nova was 12–8 in the regular season, but he had a 6.38 ERA after July 1. Phelps flopped in October, losing twice, but he had a solid rookie season and at the very least should challenge Nova for a rotation spot. Michael Pineda, a 2011 All-Star for Seattle, is recovering from shoulder surgery and could be a factor by May or June. Travis Hafner and Eduardo Nunez will compete for at-bats at the DH spot.
Tampa Bay Rays
If super-prospect Wil Myers makes the roster, it’s to play every day. If he doesn’t, four (instead of three) utility spots will be available to contestants Sean Rodriguez, Kelly Johnson, Ryan Roberts, Mike Fontenot and Tim Beckham. Rookies Brandon Guyer and Stephen Vogt will battle Luke Scott for DH duties. An all-out scrum for two of the six bullpen jobs is anticipated, with Cesar Ramos standing the best chance of survival because he’s left-handed and out of options. Most intriguing of all is who, out of at least four serious suitors, will be the fifth starter. Jeff Niemann is the pre-injury incumbent; Jake Odorizzi is the most polished rookie; Chris Archer has the highest ceiling; and the brass thinks it can resuscitate Roberto Hernandez’s star-crossed career.
Toronto Blue Jays
It seemed a little redundant for the Blue Jays to trade for Emilio Bonifacio shortly after signing Maicer Izturis. Both are switch-hitters with little power, and both could start at second base. Izturis has more experience there and is considered a better fielder. But Bonifacio profiles as a better bat and is more of a threat to steal bases. Bonifacio plays more positions, having started at least 17 career games at all three outfield positions and at least 65 at third, short and second. There’s room on the team for both, so expect John Gibbons to use their versatility to mix and match, with a slight edge to Bonifacio as the starting second baseman if he shows enough skill in the field.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox
Carlos Sanchez is ticketed to open the season alongside Brent Morel, Tyler Saladino and Andy Wilkins in the Triple-A infield but could make life uncomfortable for Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez in his first big-league spring. As a switch hitter with speed and strong base-running skills, he could add some balance to a lineup that will lean to the right side without A.J. Pierzynski. John Danks’ health will determine if there are one or two openings for a group of starting pitchers including Jose Quintana, Hector Santiago, Dylan Axelrod, Andre Rienzo, Charlie Shirek, Simon Castro and Nestor Molina.
Backup catcher Lou Marson could be pushed by newcomer Yan Gomes, who hit .328 with the Blue Jays’ Class AAA affiliate last year. If lefthander Scott Kazmir, once one of the most promising young pitchers in the game, has anything left, he’ll get a chance to crack the rotation. Trevor Bauer, Zach McAllister, Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber should have a hotly contested competition for the last two spots in the rotation.
As might be expected from a team with championship aspirations, there are few job battles in the truest sense of the term. There is still some uncertainty at the front end of the bullpen and the far end of the bench. But the biggest question could be the fifth starter’s job, where Rick Porcello is the incumbent and Drew Smyly the challenger. However, knowing what we know about the attrition rate with pitchers, it is almost certain the Tigers will need both of them at some point.
Kansas City Royals
Two to watch: second base, where Chris Getz and Johnny Giavotella continue competition for the third straight year; and the fifth spot in the rotation between Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar, who spent last season as the club’s top two starters. Getz was having a career-best season in 2012 until injuries intervened, but Giavotella is generally viewed as having the higher upside. There are other possibilities — Miguel Tejada and Christian Colón — but it’s likely to be Getz or Gio. Either Chen or Hochevar could be traded to fill another need. Otherwise, their battle shapes up as a choice between back-of-the-rotation consistency (Chen) against unfulfilled upside (Hochevar).
Brian Dozier should be a man on a mission this spring. After being named the Twins Minor League Player of the Year in 2011, he had a disappointing 2012 both offensively and defensively. The Twins gave him an 84-game audition at shortstop, and he made 15 errors and posted a .271 on-base percentage. He’ll get another chance to win a starting spot this spring, either at shortstop or second base. Pedro Florimon is the favorite to land the shortstop job, and veteran Jamey Carroll can play either position if the others aren’t ready, so it should lead to some healthy competition.
American League West
The Astros have no shortage of candidates for the final two spots in the pitching rotation, with lefty Dallas Keuchel and righthanders Philip Humber, Alex White, Edgar Gonzalez, John Ely and elite prospects Brad Peacock and Jarred Cosart among those battling for innings. The outfield also figures to be a battle in the spring. Justin Maxwell is likely to start at one of the three outfield spots, but the other two starters will come from a group that includes Brandon Barnes, Trevor Crowe, J.D. Martinez, Fernando Martinez and Jimmy Paredes or even Rick Ankiel. As expected with a team predicted to lose 100-plus games, there should be plenty of interesting battles from among the youngsters in the bullpen, as well.
Los Angeles Angels
Young righthander Garrett Richards nearly pitched his way into the rotation last spring and seemed poised to step into a spot in 2013. The Angels’ offseason moves, adding veteran starters Tommy Hanson, Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton, have pushed Richards out of the picture. He might be in the position of battling a handful of other pitchers for the final spot in the bullpen rather than make a return trip to Triple-A. Offensively, the Angels will have some decisions to make about their batting order this spring, most prominently who gets the enviable task of batting between Mike Trout and Albert Pujols at the top of the lineup.
If you trust OPS as the definitive measure of offensive value, then Jemile Weeks was the worst hitter in the majors last season, with a .609 mark that ranked last among qualifiers. Weeks has talent; he was a first-round pick with a brother in the big leagues, and hit .303 as a rookie in 2011. But he also has competition at second base in Scott Sizemore, who tore his ACL last spring but should be healed now. It’s tough to say who has the edge — a player like Sizemore who missed all of last season, or a player like Weeks who performed so poorly. Spring training will decide it, but the early bet is on Sizemore, who has shown more power. Jed Lowrie and Hiroyuki Nakajima will compete for time at shortstop. The odd man out could see some time at second as well.
If Justin Smoak isn’t dealt, he’ll battle Kendrys Morales for first base time and Raul Ibanez and Michael Morse for DH duty. Left fielder Jason Bay needs to show something to make the team. He’s guaranteed only $500,000, and Casper Wells can fill his role. Lucas Luetge shined as a rookie situational lefty, but fellow southpaws Oliver Perez and Charlie Furbush might force him to Class AAA. Luetge might stay if the team keeps only one of the two fireballing righties — Stephen Pryor and Carter Capps. Non-roster invitee Jeremy Bonderman hasn’t pitched since 2010 and will compete for a fifth starter job with Hector Noesi and top minor leaguers.
The most interesting question will be what the team does with super prospect Jurickson Profar. He just turned 20 and showed signs last September that may be ready for the bigs, middle infielders Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler are well-established. It wouldn’t make sense to keep the youngster, who has never played at the Triple-A level, as a bench player in lieu of getting him regular playing time at Round Rock. Martin Perez enters camp as the fifth starter. The lefthander has been one of the Rangers’ top prospects almost since the day he was signed as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela. He’ll be 22 on April 4, and the Rangers are expecting him to deliver on all the promise they have seen. The Rangers want Perez to be in the rotation, but he could pitch himself out of the job if he struggles with his command. It’s not just throwing strikes, but quality strikes. Righthander Justin Grimm, another top prospect who also debuted in 2012, could land the job if Perez slips.
RELATED: 75 Funny Fantasy Baseball Team Names
Want more baseball? Check out Athlon Sports' 2013 Baseball Annual for the most complete preview available. Order your copy now!
Pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training camps in Florida and Arizona. Here are a few stories to watch as MLB players sharpen their skills in preparation for the 2013 season, which begins for every team April 1.
1. Canadian Chemistry
The Toronto Blue Jays, seemingly tired of watching the AL East world pass them by, loaded up this winter for a serious summer run at their first postseason appearance since winning the 1993 World Series. They traded for three near-elite starting pitchers and one of the best shortstops in the game. But the most intriguing move is hiring manager John Gibbons for his second stint in the Blue Jays’ manager’s office. Gibbons posted a 305-305 record as Jays skipper from 2004-08, but there is very little even-keeled about the man. He clashed with several players during his time in Toronto, most notably Ted Lilly and Shea Hillenbrand. The latter led Gibbons to threaten to quit if Hillendbrand wasn’t cut, which he was. But Gibbons was fired about halfway through the 2008 season. Now the older — and presumably wiser — Gibbons must deal with even larger egos. The chemistry that Gibbons establishes with the left side of his infield could be the difference between success and failure this season. Shortstop Jose Reyes is an established star accustomed to more coddling than Gibbons will likely impart, and third baseman Brett Lawrie is one of the most emotional and fiery players in the game. Some kind of confrontation is inevitable. How the manager and players respond to that will make all the difference.
2. Super Sophs
Last spring Mike Trout of the Angels and Bryce Harper were two high-profile prospects, deemed not quite ready for the majors. There was little pressure during spring training as both players knew more seasoning at the Triple-A level was in store. Both were called up at the end of April and their lives immediately changed. Now they are established big leaguers who shoulder significant responsibility for their teams’ postseason fate. Neither player is old enough to buy alcohol in most states, and neither had to weather many tough times last season. Most observers close to the situations in Washington and Los Angeles agree that the two are mature beyond their years, but it will be worth watching how these two respond to the pressure that comes when players are no longer rookies.
3. Angels in the Playoffs?
Last winter the Angels made a huge splash with the signing of C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols. And just when you thought this winter would be much quieter, owner Arte Moreno reeled in the biggest fish in free agency by signing 2010 AL MVP Josh Hamilton away from division rival Texas. The outfielder joins a roster full of other big-name, big money stars and his positive effect should be huge for Pujols and second-year player Mike Trout. This time last season expectations were high for the Halos, but many thought Texas was still the favorite. No more. Anything less than a division title in Anaheim will be a failure this season.
4. Astros in AL
After 51 seasons in the National League, the Houston Astros are crossing over to the DH league. No more rivalries with St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Chicago. Now fans in Houston must familiarize themselves with Oakland, Seattle, and the Angels in addition to the team up I-45 in Dallas. Still undergoing a massive rebuilding program that saw the Astros produce the two worst seasons in their history, the Astros are likely to lose close to 110 games this season. We’ll see if the new batch of opponents coming to Minute Maid Park this season will be enough to entice fans to visit as well.
5. War on Drugs
Six players were suspended last season for positive PED tests, the most since 2007. Is that a result of more cheating, or more stringent testing? Probably some of both. Drug tests this season that now include blood tests in spring training should lead to a cleaner game. But just when it appeared that renegade labs were under control and whispers about current players juicing had subsided, a Miami newspaper uncovers some disturbing information coming out of Biogenesis, an anti-aging clinic in Coral Gables, Fla. As the investigation continues into the Biogenesis lab, most certainly more names of baseball players will surface, and more innuendo and denials will follow. It’s one thing for players already having tested positive for banned substances like Bartolo Colona and Melky Cabrera to be connected with the lab, but for names like Gio Gonzalez and Nelson Cruz and Francisco Cervelli, it’s another matter. Some will say it’s unfair to presume guilt by association. And that’s true. Others might argue that this isn’t a court of law and where there’s this much smoke there must be some flames. Gonzalez and Cruz have already issued denials and MLB is investigating. But all players with any presumed or real ties to Biogenesis will have to answer questions all spring. MLB certainly needs to offer fans and the media some confidence that the game is as clean as it has been since the so-called Steroid Era began in the late 1980s. However, MLB doesn’t need another BALCO on its hands either. This investigation must be complete and pretty swift for this not to linger as a major story all season.
6. Old Yankees Won’t Go Away
The New York Yankees will likely have as much support as any team in the competitive AL East to repeat as division champs this season. But keeping an eye on some of their veterans coming back from injury will tell us much more about this team. Shortstop Derek Jeter is recovering from a broken ankle suffered in the ALCS. He has begun running and says there are no lingering issues. But we’ll need to see him moving laterally to field ground balls before we believe him. Closer Mariano Rivera tore his ACL last May in Kansas City shagging flies. Will the best closer the game has ever seen, now age 43, be effective this season? Andy Pettitte is back in camp for at least one more go at this game. The veteran of 44 postseason starts hasn’t appeared in a season more than 21 times since 2009 when he was 37. Now at 40, will he be able to answer the bell for 30 starts? And what about A-Rod, the unending lightning rod for the Yankees. Recovering from knee surgery, the third baseman is staying behind in New York for rehab rather than join the team in Florida. Just how much of the season A-Rod will miss is still a mystery, but it wouldn’t be a shock if he doesn’t return until next spring training.
7. Profar in Texas – Majors or minors?
Jurickson Profar is universally considered the best rising prospect in the game. The middle infielder briefly tasted life in the majors last season when the Texas Rangers called him up in September. By all accounts he is ready for the big time. But how will the Rangers find playing time for the budding star? Shortstop Elvis Andrus is a two-time All-Star and still getting better. Second baseman Ian Kinsler is a linchpin in the lineup. So will Kinsler move to first base? Will he DH? And what about Lance Berkman signed to be the full-time DH? Will the Rangers keep Profar around as a part-time player, potentially retarding his progress? Or will he spend the season at Triple-A getting regular at-bats?
8. WBC Effect
For more than three weeks in the middle of March, spring training will be interrupted for several players who will participate in the World Baseball Classic. For most veterans, this isn’t a big deal. Miguel Cabrera will surely get enough swings in whether he’s working out with Venezuela or the Tigers. But there could be a few issues created by this international event. As mentioned above, new Toronto manager John Gibbons will work during spring training to foster good will among his players. However, R.A. Dickey, J.P. Arencibia, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Brett Lawrie will leave camp for a spell. Milwaukee will lose both catchers on its 40-man roster when players join their international teams. Jonathan Lucroy will play for the U.S. and Martin Maldonado for Puerto Rico. That’s a lot of bullpen sessions and spring training innings Milwaukee pitchers must work with young catchers rather than developing a rapport with the regulars. Russell Martin, a new catcher to the Pirates this season, will also leave his new club for a while losing opportunity to get to know his new staff better. The impact isn’t all negative. With veterans missing in action for a few weeks, younger players will have opportunities for at-bats to impress their managers. Giants skipper Bruce Bochy will not have the services of Angel Pagan, Andres Torres, Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval during the WBC. But Bochy knows what they can do. This may give Bochy a better look at youngsters Gary Brown, Adam Duvall, Ehire Adrianza, Francisco Peguero and even Angel Villalona (if the Giants can get him into the country).
9. Free Agent Effect
Three players not under contract for 2014 bear watching this spring. Robinson Cano of the Yankees, Adam Wainwright of St. Louis and Jacoby Ellsbury of Boston could become free agents at the end of the season. How quickly will their teams move to lock them up long term? Will they investigate trades during the season? It seems unthinkable that the Yankees would not sign Cano to a long-term deal during spring training to avoid his contract situation from becoming a distraction during the season. And Wainwright still must prove that he is completely healthy, but the Cardinals have probably seen enough to get a deal done. Ellsbury’s situation is a little more tricky. Unlike the Yankees and Cardinals, the Red Sox are not expected to be in contention this season, so a trade may make sense at the deadline.
10. Brothers Upton
There’s an unofficial changing of the guard in Atlanta. Remember when the Braves were winning 14 straight division titles? Now that Chipper Jones has left the field for his hunting lodge, there are no ties to the titles in uniform this spring. But there are two Uptons, possibly the most talented pair of brothers to play alongside each other since, well, the Waners in Pittsburgh. Will this new age in Atlanta bring a division title? The Washington Nationals will be tough to unseat in the NL East, but the Braves have the bullpen and outfield that should rival any in the game. We’ll see in spring training how the rest of the team comes together.
No matter where you stand on the Baseball Hall of Fame debate this year, there really is no winning side. There are those that will never vote for any steroid user. Voting for a player who is connected with steroid use is an affirmation that PED use is acceptable.
There are those voters who argue that we will never know the truth about steroid use and that players must be judged by performance alone, no matter how enhanced that performance may be.
Still there are others that will attempt to be their judge and jury for each individual player. Maybe Player A did a little something but not enough to keep him out of the Hall, while Player B’s use was somehow more egregious.
Still others will send in blank ballots maintaining that the Steroid Era has forever tarnished the game and that any players during this era deserve some kind of punishment. After all, the players union did very little to curtail PED use for more than a decade.
Some writers will argue that baseball — by its own inaction — passively encouraged steroid use. After the strike in 1994 severely damaged the game’s image and the pain was felt at the turnstiles, MLB enjoyed a significant boon in 1998 as artificially pumped up players like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chased one of the most hallowed records in baseball. As MLB learned, not only did chicks dig the long ball, but so did most fans. So any player performing during this era could be excused for going along with the system at the time and keeping his edge any way he could.
So when the Hall of Fame inductees — if there are any — are announced today, there will continue to be controversy. Because the only real truth here is that the game has been tarnished and there is no going back. There is no giving Hank Aaron his home run record back. Roger Maris will not get his record back. No one will take any Cy Young or MVP awards away. The damage has been done.
Just as I did a few weeks ago, I once again examine the pennant races as they’re shaping up for 2013. Sure, it’s early, but what else are you going to read about? Bowl games between a bunch of non-BCS .500 teams? Now that some major free agent dominoes have fallen, and some major trades have changed the MLB landscape, here are my early 2013 MLB picks.
1. Tampa Bay Rays
Even after the trade of James Shields, no AL East team can match the Rays’ pitching. Manager Joe Maddon will prevent newcomer Wil Myers from absorbing too much offensive pressure.
2. New York Yankees
The decline of the pinstripes is happening before our eyes, but the roster still includes some of the best players on the planet.
3. Toronto Blue Jays
Will the All-Star rotation and lineup the Jays collected over the past two months equate to a division title? It quite possibly could. The AL East is much more winnable than anytime this century.
4. Baltimore Orioles
Just about every bounce went the Orioles’ way in 2012. There’s been too little work done to bolster the pitching staff to expect any kind of a repeat from Buck’s troops.
5. Boston Red Sox
Now the Red Sox have overpaid two Drew brothers.
1. Detroit Tigers
Keeping Anibal Sanchez, signing Torii Hunter and the return of Victor Martinez are three reasons to believe in the Tigers in 2013.
2. Kansas City Royals
The trade with Tampa Bay for James Shields and Wade Davis will be the difference between finishing second and fourth. Shields is a big-game workhorse.
3. Cleveland Indians
A change of scenery will probably be good for both Shin-Soo Choo (traded to Cincinnati) and Drew Stubbs (received in return). But Terry Francona is the second-most (behind Shields) important acquisition in the division.
4. Chicago White Sox
We were oh so wrong about this team this past summer. Can they surprise us again?
5. Minnesota Twins
Still not enough pitching. Still not enough hitting.
1. Los Angeles Angels
So, the Angels once again make a huge splash in free agency. Now the belief is that the Halos can avoid a terrible start and take control of the division early. Now about that bullpen…
2. Texas Rangers
The window is closing. No more Josh Hamilton. No more Michael Young. No more Mike Napoli. The newest wave of rising stars in Texas should carry the mantel well, but not well enough to top the Angels.
3. Oakland A’s
If they could win it with the 2012 roster, they can certainly win this division with the 2013 group. But they probably won’t.
4. Seattle Mariners
So happy to see the Astros join the AL West.
5. Houston Astros
It is possible that the Astros will spend less than $30 million on payroll this year. The dividends better pay off down the road.
1. Washington Nationals
In a close call with the Braves, the Nats get the edge with Dan Haren as a No. 5 starter. But they must find a replacement for Adam LaRoche’s RBIs.
2. Atlanta Braves
B.J. Upton is no leadoff hitter. And who will protect Jason Heyward in the lineup until Brian McCann returns?
3. Philadelphia Phillies
The core group that won five consecutive division titles prior to last season is not ready to fold its tents yet. Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee comprise one of the best pitching trios in the bigs.
4. New York Mets
Trading R. A. Dickey was the right thing to do and the return was nice. But it doesn’t help 2013 when you lose a Cy Young winner.
5. Miami Marlins
True to their name, this franchise now has the appearance of a minor league team in the old International League.
1. St. Louis Cardinals
In this tight division, one major injury, one major trade, one major breakout season can tip the scales. Could the trade be Cleveland shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to St. Louis? Could the breakout season belong to pitcher Trevor Rosenthal?
2. Cincinnati Reds
Shin-Soo Choo should stabilize the lineup at the leadoff spot, but will his defense in center field be too big of a weakness? If Aroldis Chapman succeeds as a starter, the Reds could run away with this mediocre division.
3. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers were remarkably restrained during this winter’s free agency frenzy. Congrats to them for not overpaying for overhyped players. But there’s not enough firepower here to overcome both red teams.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
Could this finally be the year when the losing streak is broken?
5. Chicago Cubs
Next year. No really, next year.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
What’s not to like about this roster? Oh, the fact that it didn’t challenge the Giants last season. Oh yeah. But give Don Mattingly a chance to have all the stars in the clubhouse from the beginning of spring training and we’ll see how well he learned from his former boss Joe Torre about managing a roster full of superstars.
2. San Francisco Giants
Go ahead and pencil this team in as the host of the wild card play-in game.
3. San Diego Padres
Moving the fences in may propel Chase Headley headlong into the MVP discussion.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
The pitching should be sound, but where’s the punch in the lineup to protect Justin Upton? Paul Goldschmidt? Jason Kubel?
5. Colorado Rockies
Another winter, another futile search for pitching.
-Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
In a season that will be remembered for perfect games, no-hitters and near misses, there were lots of options for this list. Here goes my top 10. Send me yours.
More Year in Review for 2012:
2012 Year in review: Baseball's top 10 individual performances
1. Panda becomes a World Series home run hero
Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, Albert Pujols and Pablo Sandoval. Those are the four players who have hit three home runs in a World Series game. The Kung Fu Panda struck in Game 1 last October on his way to earning the World Series MVP award. Sandoval performed large on the biggest stage of the season.
2. Josh Hamilton assaults Baltimore pitching
Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers sandwiched a double between four home runs in his assault on Baltimore pitching on May 8. Hamilton hit two homers and the double off Orioles starter Jake Arrieta. He then victimized Zach Phillips and Darren O’Day. Hamilton raised his AL-leading batting average to .406 with his five hits and ended the day with 14 homers and 36 RBIs, both tops in the American League, making him the early favorite for AL MVP.
3. Justin Verlander dominates the Pirates
Justin Verlander was honored with two nominations on this list. The most notable was his four-hit, one-walk shutout against the Oakland A’s in the deciding Game 5 of the ALDS. However, his most dominating effort came in May with a one-hit shutout of the Pirates. Josh Harrison bounced a hit up the middle in the ninth inning to break up the no-hitter. Verlander walked two and just two runners reached second base in the 6-0 Tigers win.
4. Raul Ibanez takes over for A-Rod
It took guts for New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi to pinch-hit for star Alex Rodriguez in the ninth inning with the game on the line in Game 3 of the ALDS. But Raul Ibanez was called off the bench to hit for A-Rod with the Yankees down 2-1 with one out and facing Baltimore closer Jim Johnson, who had been lights out all season. Ibanez rewarded his manager not once but twice. He took Johnson deep to tie the game, sending it to extra innings. Ibanez struck again in the 12th inning with a bomb to win it, giving the Yankees an edge in the series.
5. Humber, Cain and Hernandez pitch perfect games
As mentioned above, it seemed as if some pitcher was flirting with a no-hitter every couple of nights. So, to honor the perfect games, I present them as a three-way tie for No. 5.
Phil Humber of the White Sox entered the season with a modest 11-10 lifetime record with just 214.1 innings in his 6-year career. But in his second start of 2012, the journeyman righthander tossed a perfect game at Seattle, striking out nine in the White Sox 4-0 win.
Matt Cain, the ace of the Giants, was at his best in a 10-0 whitewashing of the Astros. Cain struck out 14 in his perfect game. He had a three-ball count on just four hitters, striking out three of them in his masterpiece.
Just 11 days after a masterful performance at Yankee Stadium in which Felix Hernandez needed just 101 pitches in a two-hit 1-0 win over the Yankees, he threw a perfect game at home against the Rays. Once again, there was very little run support for King Felix as the Mariners won 1-0. Hernandez whiffed 12 Rays in the 113-pitch effort.
6. R.A. Dickey strikes out the Orioles
The National League Cy Young winner also had two stellar performances seriously considered for our greatest list. After winning three consecutive starts without allowing a run, R.A. Dickey won back-to-back one-hitters over Tampa Bay and Baltimore. He didn’t walk a batter in the win over the Rays, but allowed an unearned run. So, the performance that is officially No. 6 came when Dickey walked just two and struck out 13 in the win over the Orioles.
7. Ryan Braun blows up San Diego
Ryan Braun, the reigning NL MVP, had four of the Brewers’ seven hits and drove home six of their eight runs in Milwaukee’s 8-5 win at San Diego. After hitting home runs in the fourth, fifth and seventh innings, Braun came to the plate in the ninth inning with an opportunity for a rare four-home run game. He tripled in a couple of runs with a shot to deep right-center.
8. Mike Napoli's 6 RBIs against the Angels
With the Rangers struggling to stay on top of the AL West as the Oakland A’s surged, Texas fell behind the Angels 4-0 in the first inning. It was Mike Napoli to the rescue as he homered in the second and third innings before adding a double in the fifth. His six RBIs helped the Rangers take an 8-4 lead in a game they would eventually win 8-7.
9. Curtis Granderson's 5-hit game
Curtis Granderson joined Josh Hamilton as the only players with a five-hit game in 2012 that included as many as three round-trippers. The Twins led 4-0 after the top of the first, but after two-run homers by the Yankees’ center fielder in the first and second innings, the Yankees led 6-4. He added his third home run of the day in the fourth, then singled in his last two at-bats in search of a fourth dinger.
10. Aaron Cook uses 81 pitches of awesomeness to beat Seattle
This game didn’t get much attention in a season when no-hitters were relatively common, but Aaron Cook’s effort in a 5-0 win over Seattle was among the best all season. Needing just 81 pitches — the fewest for any complete game in 2012 — Boston’s Cook didn’t allow any Mariners to reach second base. He faced just one batter over the minimum as he allowed two singles with both runners erased on double plays. Another batter reached on an error and was stranded at first. Cook had a two-ball count on just three batters the entire game.
- Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie or email him at Charlie.Miller@AthlonSports.com)
Every MLB team should have its own Mt. Rushmore — four individuals that have risen above all others for each organization. Here is one man’s opinion for all 30 Mt. Rushmores from Aaron Cook for Colorado to Babe Ruth for New York. Depending on the organization and how long the franchise has existed, some teams were difficult to find four worthy players. Most teams provided ardent debate.
Below, you’ll find links to all 30 Mt. Rushmores.
Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him Charlie.Miller@AthlonSports.com
With the news that the Los Angeles Angels just signed Josh Hamilton to a five-year contract for a reported $125 million, it begs the question: Five years from now, will this be viewed as one of the worst free agent deals in history? If so, Hamilton must “outperform” these big-money free agents from the distant and recent past.
Here's our look the worst free agent signings in baseball history.
Wayne Garland, Cleveland, 1977
The Indians were determined to make a splash in the first year of free agency. The appeal of Garland was his recent 20-7, 2.67 season in Baltimore. Perhaps they didn’t notice he had just 33 career starts. The 10-year, $2.3 million deal gave the Tribe a 13-19 record in 1977 and a 15-29 mark over the next four seasons, then retirement and five years of the contract to eat.
Dave Goltz, L.A. Dodgers, 1977
The Dodgers thought Goltz would bolster their rotation and gave him a six-year contract worth upwards of $2.5 million. He was waived in April of 1979.
Mark Davis, Kansas City, 1990
Davis’ huge 44-save season in 1989 and Cy Young award for San Diego was just too enticing for the Royals. Never mind he had just two seasons with more than seven saves at that point. It took only 15 appearances in 1990 to lose the closer’s job for good. His tenure in K.C. began with five saves, four blown saves and a 7.24 ERA, with 11 walks in 13.2 innings.
Carl Pavano, N.Y. Yankees, 2005
Proof that the Yankees can withstand bad contracts is that Pavano made $39.9 million over four years, but made just 26 starts for the Yankees, finishing with a 9-8 record and 5.00 ERA. Adding to the pain is that in 2009, he made 33 starts for Cleveland and Minnesota combined and won 14 games, while earning just $1.5 million.
Carlos Silva, Seattle, 2008
In 2008, $12 million per season was the going rate for a No. 2 starter. Apparently that was what the Mariners thought they were getting with their four-year, $48 million investment. But in four seasons as a full-time starter with Minnesota, Silva was 47-45 while the Twins were 52 games better than .500. The M’s found out the hard way that he wasn’t a No. 2 starter after all, going 5-18 in two seasons prior to his trade to the Cubs for Milton Bradley, perhaps an even bigger problem.
Jason Schmidt, L.A. Dodgers, 2007
The Dodgers grew tired of facing the Giants’ ace for five and a half seasons, so Los Angeles signed the supposedly durable righthander for three years and $47 million. After going 78-37 for San Francisco, Schmidt mustered only 10 starts over three seasons with the Dodgers, finishing 3-6 with a 6.02 ERA.
Edgar Renteria, Boston, 2005
After making the final out of the 2004 World Series, which gave the Red Sox their first championship since 1918, Renteria inked a four-year, $36 million deal with Boston. That was the going rate for top shortstops. After a season of uninspired play, which gnawed at fans and management, the Red Sox paid the Braves to take on the final three years of his deal in exchange for Andy Marte.
Barry Zito, San Francisco, 2007
He won a Cy Young with Oakland at age 24, and signed a seven-year, $126 million deal. But in his first five seasons with San Francisco he was 43-61 with a 4.55 ERA and was left off the 2010 postseason roster. He redeemed himself to some degree in 2012 with a 15-8, 4.15 season. And the Giants won all three of his postseason starts.
Jayson Werth, Washington, 2011
His name is Werth, not worth. Prior to signing a seven-year, $126 million deal with the Nationals, Werth had never hit .300, nor had he ever driven in 100. This came a year after Matt Holliday signed with St. Louis for seven years and $120 million.
Chone Figgins, Seattle, 2010
The Mariners believed they were stealing the division title away from the Angels by taking their leadoff hitter Figgins. The thinking was that Figgins and Ichiro atop the Mariners’ lineup would put immense pressure on defenses. Turns out the pressure was on Figgins. He hit .259 and stole 42 bases his first season in Seattle. Since then, he’s hit .185 and been a non-factor on the bases.
Joe Rudi, California, 1977
In a five-year, $2.09 million pact, the Angels paid for a .285 average and about 80 RBIs and 70 runs. They received a .249 average, about 60 RBIs and less than 50 runs. However, the club packaged Rudi prior to the final year of his contract in a deal with the Red Sox that brought the Angels Fred Lynn.
Larry Hisle, Milwaukee, 1978
Coming off a .302 average and a AL-leading 119 RBIs as a 30-year-old in 1977, Hisle appeared to be a plum signing for the Brewers, at six years, $3.155 million. Even after his first season in Milwaukee (.290-34-115) in which he finished third in MVP voting, the Brewers were thrilled. That’s where the joy ended. For the next four seasons, he totaled 79 games, 15 home runs and 46 RBIs. He played his final game in May of 1982 with almost two full years left on his deal.
Roger Clemens, N.Y. Yankees, 2007
Hoping for one last hurrah from their former ace, the Yankees committed more than $17 million to Clemens in May, knowing they would get less than 20 starts from him. Clemens didn’t provide a boost of any kind. The Yankees lost nine of his 17 starts, and he averaged less than six innings per start, so the bullpen was not spared. In his lone postseason foray in 2007, he lasted just 2.1 innings in a loss to Cleveland.
Bob Horner, St. Louis, 1988
After a year in Japan, the Cardinals believed that the long-time Brave could rekindle his offensive prowess in the States. Injuries, sub-par hitting and horrendous defense are the lasting memories in St. Louis. He hit three homers in 60 games.
Richie Sexson, Seattle, 2005
His four-year, $50 million deal seemed a bit excessive at the time, but he provided good value in his first two seasons. Seattle released him midseason during the fourth year of the contract, eating about $8 million.
Albert Belle, Baltimore, 1999
After a season with 108 runs, 117 RBIs and 101 walks, it appeared that the Orioles’ $60 million investment might work out. Then Belle’s body began to break down, and he suited up just one more season, although he was paid for four additional years after he unofficially retired.
As we celebrate 12/12/12 today, the number 12 has been associated with many aspects of our everyday lives — and in sports. We enjoyed “The Dirty Dozen.” We buy eggs by the dozen. We’re familiar with “Cheaper By the Dozen,” and we have a song about “The 12 Days of Christmas.”
But today we recognize the 12 Best Athletes to have worn the No. 12.
1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
The New England quarterback entered the league as a sixth-round draft pick in 2000 and saw action in just one game his rookie season. He took over the starting job after Drew Bledsoe was injured in Week 2 of 2001 and led the Patriots to their first Super Bowl title. He will leave the game as arguably the best ever at his position.
2. Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh Steelers
The No. 1 overall draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1970 didn’t wow with stats, but his teams won — and won big. He led the Steelers to four Super Bowl wins in the 1970s, earning league MVP honors in 1978 and was the Super Bowl MVP twice.
3. John Stockton, Utah Jazz
It’s rare to hear the name Stockton without “and Malone” following, as Stockton and Karl Malone formed one of the greatest tandems in NBA history. The crafty point led the Utah Jazz to 19 consecutive playoff appearances. Stockton started 1,300 games for the Jazz and led the NBA in assists for nine straight seasons, a span that included a time when Magic Johnson was at the top of his game with the Showtime Lakers.
4. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
The 2011 NFL MVP as well as the Super Bowl MVP after that season is quickly moving up the list of the greatest signal-callers in NFL history.
5. Roger Staubach, Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys drafted the 1963 Heisman Trophy winner in the 10th round in 1964, but due to his commitments to the Navy, Staubach didn’t appear in a Dallas uniform until 1969 at the age of 27. He led the Cowboys to four Super Bowls, winning two, one as MVP.
6. Dickie Moore, Montreal Canadiens
The Hall of Famer led the NHL in goals once and assists once. But he was an impact player with the Habs on six championship teams, including five consecutive Stanley Cups from 1956-60.
7. Yvan Cournoyer, Montreal Canadiens
Cournoyer took over from Moore and continued the legacy of No. 12 in Montreal. The Hall of Famer was part of eight championships with the Canadiens.
8. Jim Kelly, Buffalo Bills
Kelly started 160 games for the Buffalo Bills over an 11-year career in which he led the Bills to the playoffs eight times, including four consecutive Super Bowls.
9. Joe Namath, New York Jets
Broadway Joe learned the game from Bear Bryant at Alabama, and sports fans learned of the AFL from Joe Willie Namath. His brash Super Bowl prediction prior to Super Bowl III remains one of the signature moments in NFL history.
10. Bobby Allison, NASCAR
The racing legend drove car No. 12 to Victory Lane 25 times.
11. Roberto Alomar, Toronto Blue Jays/Cleveland Indians (primarily)
The Hall of Fame second baseman was a 12-time All-Star, won 10 Gold Gloves and finished in the top six in MVP voting five times.
12. Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls
The man who made the No. 23 famous wore No. 12 for one game in 1990. On Valentine’s night at Orlando, Jersey donned No. 12 after his jersey had been stolen prior to the game. He put up 49 on the Magic in 47 minutes, but the Bulls lost 135-129.
A Dozen More
Dick Barnett, NBA
Wade Boggs, MLB (Yankees and Rays)
John Brodie, NFL
Lauren Cheney, USA Soccer
Bob Griese, NFL
Thierry Henry, France Soccer
Dwight Howard, NBA
Andrew Luck, NFL
Ryan Newman, NASCAR
A.J. Pierzynski, MLB
Alfonso Soriano, MLB
Ken Stabler, NFL
It’s never too early to start thinking about 2013. At least now that the World Series is over. I mean, what else is there to think about? Pitchers and catchers report in a little more than 100 days. Certainly, key trades and free agent signings will tweak these predictions as we get deeper into the offseason. But for now, here’s an early, early look at how the standings might appear next October.
1. Tampa Bay Rays
No one in the division will be able to match the Rays’ pitching, and expect Joe Maddon to find an offensive force from an unexpected source.
2. New York Yankees
The decline of the pinstripes is happening before our eyes, but the roster still includes some of the best players on the planet.
3. Baltimore Orioles
After everything, I mean everything, went right for Buck Showalter’s troops in 2012, it’s back down to earth in Baltimore, especially for the pitching staff.
4. Toronto Blue Jays
Will losing manager John Farrell retard this team’s progress?
5. Boston Red Sox
This club has the resources to fix problems quickly with smart decisions.
1. Detroit Tigers
It’s easy to see how Detroit can improve on its 88 wins this season.
2. Cleveland Indians
Somehow Terry Francona will keep this team focused and in the race.
3. Kansas City Royals
How many years now have we been hearing about all the prized prospects the Royals have collected?
4. Chicago White Sox
We were oh so wrong about this team this past summer. Can they surprise us again?
5. Minnesota Twins
Not enough pitching. Not enough hitting.
1. Los Angels Angels
Don’t expect this club to suffer through another horrendous start.
2. Texas Rangers
The championship window is far from closed, even without Josh Hamilton.
3. Oakland A’s
Can the Green and Gold win 94 games and the division again? We don’t think so.
4. Seattle Mariners
No more last-place finishes for a while.
5. Houston Astros
This rebuilding road is long and winding.
1. Atlanta Braves
The Braves will have the best pitching in the East this season, not the Nats.
2. Washington Nationals
The Nats look more like a solid wild card team, but just a little magic can make them a division champion again.
3. Philadelphia Phillies
With aging stars, injuries are expected, which will keep this team from winning the division.
4. Miami Marlins
This team is talented enough that a strong manager could have the Fish competing for the wild card.
5. New York Mets
Will another championship opportunity come along during David Wright’s prime?
1. St. Louis Cardinals
A potent lineup and some young power arms will keep the team in contention.
2. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brew Crew finished the season with a strong second half.
3. Cincinnati Reds
The lineup just isn’t deep enough to stay on top.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
In a close division, there may not be much separating first from fourth.
5. Chicago Cubs
Better, but not very good.
1. San Francisco Giants
Pitching, defense, and don’t be surprised to see the Giants make a free agency splash.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
Given this much talent together in spring training, Don Mattingly could become this generation’s Joe Torre.
3. San Diego Padres
The youngsters are developing and the fences are moving in.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
Will Justin Upton be in a D-Backs’ uniform in Spring Training?
5. Colorado Rockies
It seems like the Rox are starting over every few years, especially with their pitching staff.
The San Francisco Giants and Detroit Tigers—both of these franchises have been in business for more than 100 years, but the two tradition-laden clubs have never met in the World Series. Detroit has won 11 American League pennants, winning the World Series four times. The Tigers last won the Series in 1984 and lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006. Since 1900, the Giants have 19 pennants, appearing the World Series 18 times, winning six, the most recent coming just two years ago when they defeated the Texas Rangers in 2010.
This matchup features two of the best pitching staffs in baseball, especially when it comes to starting pitching. The two ballparks play well for pitchers as does cooler weather. So don’t expect any shootouts in this series.
Having said that, the two players expected to take their respective Most Valuable Player awards — Miguel Cabrera and Buster Posey — lead their offenses, but pitching will rule the day.
In 2006, the Tigers swept the ALCS and then had a six-day layoff, which could have played a role in the Detroit offense coming out flat against St. Louis. Manager Jim Leyland tried to keep his troops sharp and their timing down by playing a couple of intrasquad games on Sunday and Monday. If the Detroit hitters come out slow this fall, at least the Tigers’ pitchers are well-rested. Ace Justin Verlander is set to pitch Game 1 followed by Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer.
San Francisco has no time to rest having finished off three pressure-packed games. That could work in the Giants’ favor in terms of keeping the hitters locked in. But the starting pitching doesn’t line up exactly how Bruce Bochy would like. Having to use Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain in Games 3 and 4 is not optimal, but Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum should be up to the task. Having Cain available for just one game is not what the Giants had in mind.
The Detroit bullpen has struggled of late, and the Tigers’ defense could let the pitchers down. San Francisco loves close, low-scoring games, and these games should play out just like Giants manager Bochy relishes.
Prediction: San Francisco in 7
There are 16 players on the Tigers and Giants World Series rosters who have played for winning teams in a previous World Series. Can you name the only player in this year’s Classic to have played for two World Series champs? (Answer below)
San Francisco Giants
During the regular season, the Giants relied on Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey to carry the offense. However, in the postseason it’s been table-setters Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro who have established the tone. The Cardinals held Posey and fifth-place hitter Hunter Pence in check, but the damage was done at the top. Lest you think that Scutaro has been some kind of postseason wonder, think again. After the Giants acquired him in July, he hit .362 in 61 games, sparking the most potent offense in the league during the second half. Brandon Belt, Gregor Blanco and Brandon Crawford were solid at the bottom of the order in the NLCS.
The Giants’ rotation matches up well with any team in baseball. It starts with Matt Cain — a strong Cy Young candidate — and Ryan Vogelsong. Cain pitched the Giants into the World Series with 5.2 scoreless innings in Game 7 of the NLCS. Vogelsong allowed fewer than one baserunner per inning in his three starts with a 1.42 ERA. Former Cy Young winners Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito earned starts after struggling at times during the season.
Even though the Giants lost eccentric and effective closer Brian Wilson to injury very early in the season, San Francisco has a collection of relievers that manager Bruce Bochy mixes and matches to gain advantages. Sergio Romo gets most of the save opportunities, but Santiago Casilla is called on to get tough outs from the right side. Detroit first baseman Prince Fielder will see lots of lefties Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez. The four combined for 12.2 scoreless innings against St. Louis.
The Giants have Gold Glove caliber defense all over the field. Crawford and Scutaro are smooth up the middle, while Posey behind the plate and Belt at first base are stellar. These guys will not beat themselves and will take pressure off the pitching staff. Third baseman Sandoval is the only sub-par defender on the field.
Path to the World Series
The Giants added Scutaro just prior to the trade deadline. Their NL West rival Los Angeles Dodgers added Josh Beckett, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez and the injured Carl Crawford. After that point, the Giants led the NL in scoring while the Dodgers finished at the bottom of the league. Once in the playoffs, San Francisco seemed to thrive with their backs to the wall. Facing elimination three times against the Reds in Cincinnati, then three more times against St. Louis, the Giants were 6-0 in those games.
The Prince Fielder-Miguel Cabrera duo provides the Tigers a 1-2 punch among the best in baseball. While Cabrera, who at least one hit in all LCS games he appeared in his career, became the first triple crown winner since 1967, this lineup is much deeper than the two sluggers in the middle. Leadoff hitter Austin Jackson leads the club with five extra-base hits in the postseason. Jhonny Peralta is batting .343 in the playoffs, and ALCS MVP Delmon Young drove in as many runs as the entire Yankees team in the series.
Justin Verlander is pitching as well right now as anytime in his career, including a 132-pitch gem in Game 3 of the ALCS. The ace has won all three of his postseason starts this year. Combined, the four starters — Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister — have a 1.02 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in 62 innings against the A’s and Yankees.
Closer Jose Valverde, who was perfect in 49 save situations in 2011, has been anything but perfect in the postseason. In only 2.1 innings this postseason, Valverde has given up seven of the 16 earned runs allowed by the Tigers. Phil Coke, who saved Games 2 and 3 of the ALCS, may be called upon to close games in the World Series. Coke was effective as the closer, but that leaves Drew Smyly, who was a starter all season, as the only other lefthander. Octavio Dotel, who was so good last season during the Cardinals’ magical run, will play a pivotal role, especially against the right-handed Buster Posey and Hunter Pence.
Detroit doesn’t make too many errors, but they don’t do the pitching staff any favors by taking away base hits, especially in the infield. The Tigers’ pitchers are much more effective when they are missing bats because too many balls put in play tend to find holes.
Path to the World Series
Detroit won just 88 games — the seventh-best record in the AL — and took over first place in the AL Central from the White Sox with seven days left in the season. Although they were pushed to a fifth game by Oakland in the ALDS, the Tigers made it look pretty easy in the AL playoffs. The Yankees were a pushover in the ALCS. Detroit outscored New York 19-6 as the Tigers’ pitchers held the Yankees to a .157 batting average. Detroit held the A’s to a .194 average in the ALDS.
San Francisco reliever Javier Lopez faced two batters, giving up two hits, for the Boston Red Sox in 2007. He also faced two batters in 2010 for the Giants, retiring both.
-Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
Neither the Giants nor the Cardinals made anything look easy in the NLDS. After losing the first two games at home, the Giants handed the Reds three losses in a row in Cincinnati, the only time the Reds dropped three straight at home all season. The Cardinals — stop me if you’ve heard this before — were down to their last strike twice, down two runs at Washington. Now the last two world champions will meet in a rematch of the 1987 and 2002 NLCS. The teams split six regular season games. The Giants outhit the Cardinals .281 to .247 but the Cardinals hit for extra bases and outslugged the Giants .428 to .389. San Francisco outscored St. Louis 30-22, but that included a 15-0 blowout. Bruce Bochy’s troops win with excellent pitching and just enough hitting. St. Louis relies on a potent offense, which at times struggles with inconsistency. They scored 2, 12, 8, 1 and 9 runs against the Nationals in the NLDS.
Keys for San Francisco
The Giants hit just .194 in the Reds’ series, getting outhit in two of their wins. They managed just three hits in their 10-inning win in Game 3. San Francisco cannot win games that turn into shootouts, but they love close, low-scoring games.
Keys for St. Louis
The Cardinals seem to manage the staff through the first six innings pretty well. Whether it’s Chris Carpenter shutting down teams, or relievers Joe Kelly et al picking up the slack when Jaime Garcia and Adam Wainwright couldn’t get through three innings. And closing out games can be an adventure, but when given run support, the Redbirds’ pitchers don’t throw away too many games. So getting the offense going will be the difference.
Giants to Watch
The offense revolves around Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey. However, center fielder Angel Pagan provided a huge spark in August and September and was instrumental in the wins at Cincinnati from his leadoff positon. The Cardinals will try to negotiate around the big hitters in the middle. If Marco Scutaro can be effective as a table-setter and Hunter Pence proves he can drive in big runs, the Giants will be tough to beat. It will be interesting to see whether Bochy goes with Tim Lincecum or Barry Zito in Game 4. The Giants have won 12 straight when Zito starts, but he struggled in Game 4 and was bailed out by Lincecum, who looked more like the Cy Young Lincecum than the out-of-sorts pitcher we’ve seen all season. Lincecum was certainly more effective than Zito, but is more suited to coming out of the pen, where he has proven to be a weapon.
Cardinals to Watch
Leadoff hitter Jon Jay is 11-for-18 against the scheduled starters for the first three games. With Jay on base in front of Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and Allen Craig, life will be much more difficult for the Giants’ starters. Manager Mike Matheny, who has juggled lineups all season in an effort to keep guys sharp, has stuck with the same batting order in the postseason. But if he needs to change things up, look for Matt Carpenter in the lineup against Matt Cain. He was 4-for-4 this season off the Giants’ ace while David Freese was 0-for-4 with three Ks. However, I don’t see Matheny pulling Freese. Adam Wainwright appears to have hit a wall, not unexpected coming of Tommy John surgery and missing all of 2011. So Lance Lynn must step up and be the No. 3 starter behind Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse. Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal and rookie Shelby Miller could be instrumental out of the bullpen as reliever Mitchell Boggs is showing signs of fatigue.
SAN FRANCISCO IN 6
-Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
On Sept. 17, the Tigers lost a make-up game to the White Sox that dropped Detroit three games behind Chicago in the American League Central and not even in the wild card discussion. The Tigers finished 11-5 and flipped the standings ending the season with a three-game lead over Chicago. During that time, the Tigers’ starting pitching found a groove. The Yankees, on the other hand, took over first place on June 11 and built a 10-game lead by mid-July before hanging on over Baltimore down the stretch.
The Yankees won six of 10 meetings during the regular season. CC Sabathia struck out 20 in 21.1 innings and allowed 20 hits in his three starts agains the Tigers this season. Sabathia will face Tigers’ ace Justin Verlander in Game 3 and again in Game 7 if the series goes down to the wire. Both pitched complete games in their respective Game 5s in the Division Series.
Keys for Detroit
The Tigers’ offense begins and ends with the two big guys in the middle, triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera, and his protection Prince Fielder. But the Tigers will live and die with starting pitching. Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez combined to go 12-4 with a 2.21 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in September. That level of performance continued in the playoffs. Detroit starters held Oakland hitters to a .176 average in their five-game series. They had 41 strikeouts but allowed just 21 hits and 10 walks. Setup man Joaquin Benoit, and especially Jose Valverde, were horrible in the ALDS. That can’t help Jim Leyland’s confidence in his bullpen, which was so good last season. That will put added pressure on the starters to go deeper in games.
Keys for New York
The Yankees must get their bats going. They hit just .211 in the five games with Baltimore. Manager Joe Girardi was able to push all the right buttons, but the lineup can’t rely on clutch swings off the bench to carry the team through a seven-game series. Girardi, who was dealing with the death of his father, was masterful in the Division Series. Whether it was pinch-hitting twice for Alex Rodriguez with the game on the line or benching his aging star for Game 5, Girardi earned his money with tough decisions. But only Derek Jeter (.364) and Mark Teixeira (.353) hit better than .217 off Baltimore pitching. A-Rod wasn’t the only hitter struggling.
Tigers to Watch
Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister will each get two starts if the series goes six games. Fister won his only start against New York this season, but Sanchez was hit hard, lasting just three innings with seven earned runs in his start. First baseman Fielder didn’t have a good series against Oakland stats-wise, but looking a little deeper into his at-bats reveals that he was hitting the ball well. He was robbed of at least four hits with good defensive plays and backed up Oakland outfielders to the track on more than one occasion. If his line drives begin to find holes, he’ll be tough for New York hurlers to deal with.
Yankees to Watch
Lefthander Clay Rapada will have some opportunities to neutralize Fielder. But he could be used to get more than just lefties out. Players on the Tigers roster are 1-13 off Rapada with the only hit by Quintin Berry. Rodriguez and his fragile psyche will certainly grab media attention whether he is in the lineup and no matter where he is in the batting order. But A-Rod isn’t the only Yankee struggling. Second baseman Robinson Cano, who was so good down the stretch, is just 2-for-22.
Detroit in 5
-Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
For two days, Yankees manager Joe Girardi deflected questions about moving third baseman Alex Rodriguez down in the batting order for last night’s Game 3 of the ALDS vs. Baltimore due to A-Rod’s recent struggles.
Girardi explained his decision to keep A-Rod near the top of the lineup by saying trust was a major piece of the Yankees’ success. He reiterated how important it is for him to trust his players and that his players trust him. And after Wednesday night, his players have multiple reasons to trust their skipper.
Two moves the manager made in the Yankees’ 12-inning comeback win over the Orioles give fans, media, and most importantly, his players plenty of reasons to trust the fifth-year manager.
The most notable move was pinch-hitting for Rodriguez with the game on the line in bottom of the ninth inning as the Yankees trailed, 3-2. Girardi called on 40-year-old Raul Ibanez to pinch-hit for Rodriguez. The two players’ history together goes back to Appleton Foxes of the Midwest League in 1994. Ibanez, a 36th-round draft pick of Seattle out of Miami, spent much of his time in the minors behind the plate. His was a slow climb through the minors to the big leagues. Rodriguez, a No. 1 overall selection by Seattle out of Miami in 1993, was on a fast track to the bigs, making his debut in 1994.
But on October 10, 2012, Girardi had more faith in the lefty Ibanez against the Orioles’ premier closer Jim Johnson. And Ibanez rewarded his manager, not once, but twice. His solo home run in the ninth inning sent the game into extra frames. Ibanez, making just $1.1 million this season with no 2013 contract, came up again leading off the 12th inning off tough young lefthander Brian Matusz. Ibanez sent another pitch into the right field seats for a walk-off winner.
The other decision Girardi made? It may be meaningless, but Derek Jeter was not on the field for the final 12 outs. After fouling a pitch off his foot early in the game, Jeter was noticeably limping after singling in the sixth. Girardi called on Jayson Nix to play shortstop in the ninth inning. Last night, the defensive replacement was most likely due to an ailing Jeter. But the door is open for Girardi to replace the future Hall of Famer on defense late in games. Will a healthy Jeter be replaced later this postseason? Maybe not, but Girardi has earned some trust among all his players should he pull the trigger and pull Jeter late in games.
-Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
What a fascinating season 2012 proved to be. A Triple Crown, a division champion having spent just one day in first place and 19- and 20-year-olds taking the league by storm. As postseason baseball begins, it’s time to reflect on the season by showing off what would be my ballot for various awards. Today, I reveal the 10 players most deserving of Most Valuable Player (MVP) honors in the National League.
10 MVP Candidates for the National League
What a fascinating season 2012 proved to be. A Triple Crown, a division champion having spent just one day in first place and 19- and 20-year-olds taking the league by storm. As postseason baseball begins, it’s time to reflect on the season by showing off what would be my ballot for various awards. Today, I reveal the 10 players most deserving of Most Valuable Player (MVP) honors in the American League.
10 MVP Candidates for the American League