Archive for the 'Baseball' Category

2006 Preview: Predicting the Junior Circuit

With four innings in the books before the rains came, Opening Night is well under way. And that means baseball is back. Today, I’ll offer up my American League predictions. Tomorrow, I’ll use my crystal ball to predict the National League.

American League East

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

The American League East could be in for a minor shake-up below the top spot. While the Yankees are old, aging, and overpaid, it’s hard for me to pick against this team. Randy Johnson threw 225 innings last year, and he seems to be ready to reach that mark again. This time, however, he’s comfortable. While Johnny Damon may not be worth the long-term deal the Yankees gave him, at least in 2006, he’ll lead a fearsome offense. The Bombers also have some solid relief pitching to back up Mariano Rivera this year. Kyle Farnsworth should fill in adequately for Tom Gordon, and Octavio Dotel will end up as the best off-season signing this year. By mid-year, Yankee games could be seven inning affairs as they were in 1996.

For a while, I had the Blue Jays in second, but A.J. Burnett’s recent injury scare highlights how vulnerable this team is. Their infield defense is subpar, and Bengie Molina threw out just one would-be base stealer this spring. Ted Lilly or Burnett could go down at any time. While B.J. Ryan ought to justify the long-term deal, every other piece of this team needs to fall into place for them to succeed. While the right combination of good health and good luck could make the Blue Jays this year’s 2005 Chicago White Sox, odds are not on their side.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, are engaged in a stealth plan of rebuilding. They have an awesome array of arms and some position players in the farm system as well as a young core of players to complement Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. However, the other pieces don’t quite fit in Fenway. Mike Lowell is past his prime, and J.T. Snow will probably be used too often. Alex Gonzalez is as close to an automatic out as anyone else in baseball. Keith Foulke, Curt Schilling, David Wells, and even Josh Beckett’s blisters are big question marks. While the Sox could win the division, I think the wild card is more likely. And by June or July, some of the young arms should be starring in New England.

It’s hard to believe, but the Devil Rays were among the best teams in baseball following the All Star break last season. After eight seasons of mediocrity, the Devil Rays may be ready to make waves. While they won’t hit their stride until about 2008, their young, dynamic offense should scare any opposing pitcher in the American League. Carl Crawford, Johnny Gomes, Julio Lugo, and Jorge Cantu lead the hitters. But the organization’s young pitchers lag behind. This season could be a turning point for Scott Kazmir as the young stud tries to find his control. The Devil Rays will have no problem scoring runs but they will have problems preventing runs.

Finally, we get to the Orioles. Can Leo Mazzone turn around the pitching staff? Sure. Can he figure out what to do with Jeff Conine, Kevin Millar, Luis Matos, and Javy Lopez? Not at all. Reports out of Spring Training say that Miguel Tejada hasn’t been himself this spring. Whether it is lingering feelings from the Rafael Palmeiro blow-up last year or his lack of B-12 vitamin shots, no one knows. But Orioles fans should be in for a long season.

American League Central

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

Nothing new here really. While no one picked the White Sox last year, they are now the Central’s team to beat in 2006. The stellar rotation that lead the team to a title last year is back, but this year, Javier Vazquez has replaced Orlando Hernandez. While Bobby Jenks is not yet a sure thing in the bullpen, the Pale Hose have enough live arms to fill that gap. Jim Thome, if healthy, will provide another big bat to complement Paul Konerko, and Brian Anderson should shine in center. While they won’t reach 99 wins, they should capture another division title.

The Indians came oh-so-close to one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history last year only to fall short in the last week of play. This season, things don’t look as promising. While the young core is in place (and mainly locked up in the long term), the Indians pitching took a hit. Paul Byrd and Jason Johnson probably won’t duplicate Scott Elarton and Kevin Millwood’s contributions. An early injury today to C.C. Sabathia could be costly as well. Bob Wickman is always a little shaky out of the pen. If early season struggles plague Aaron Boone, I would expect to see Andy Marte sooner rather than later.

The Twins have the pitching to compete but the offense lags. Johan Santana should win the Cy Young Award this year (as he should have last year). Francisco Liriano should join Scott Baker in the rotation sooner rather than later. But the Twins are relying on Tony Bautista at third base, and early reports are not high on his hitting or fielding. Justin Morneau is due to break out, but he could be a dud. Jason Kubel’s health is a question mark but he could compete for Rookie of the Year. While many pieces are in place, the Twins just aren’t as solid as the Indians or the White Sox.

Once upon a time, the Tigers were more than a blip on the baseball landscape. These days, though, the outlook is grim in Detroit. A heavy pitching park doesn’t do the Tigers offense justice. The team has the offense to compete, but right now, with a costly injury to Todd Jones, they are looking at a closer-less beginning of the season. This team is a hodge-podge of oft-injured veterans and fringe players. Fourth place for another season and a shot at 81 wins is the upside.

Finally, the Royals. The Royals are bad. They have back-up infielders in the starting lineup and number four or five starters fronting their rotation. Their young arm – Zach Greinke – left the team for unknown reasons, and their reliable closer is injured. While the All Star game may land in Kansas City in a few years, the only stars on the field this year will be visiting.

American League West

1. Oakland Athletics
2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
3. Texas Rangers
4. Seattle Mariners

The Oakland A’s should return to the postseason this year. Whether they make it past the divisional series is a toss-up. Their rotation is well-balanced, and a healthy Rich Harden to go with Barry Zito, Esteban Loaiza, Danny Haren, and Joe Blanton will carry them far. Milton Bradley is a perfect fit for OBP-minded Oakland, and Frank Thomas could be the steal of the off-season. While Jay Witasick should fall to Earth this season, the rest of the bullpen looks great. The A’s are looking at 90 wins and a legitimate shot at a World Championship.

The Angels are pesky. The Angels are annoying. They win when they shouldn’t and they have a seemingly endless supply of top-rated middle infield prospects. However, the Angels should see their 2006 season end before the playoffs. This team is relying on hobbled players – Garret Anderson and Vlad Guerrero – as well as a few old guys and one former ESPN blogger – Tim Salmon. Jeff Weaver gave up 42 hits in just 25 innings this spring, and Bartolo Colon threw just six innings. While the Angels are waiting for their kids to grow up, this year will be an off-year in Anaheim.

No team is more fun to watch than the Rangers and no team save for the Devil Rays has less pitching to go with an explosive offense. The Rangers will turn to Kevin Millwood and fly-ball pitching Vincente Padilla to anchor their revolving-door rotation. Adam Eaton’s injury was a big blow to this team. Led by Mark Teixeira, they will score runs, but they will surrender them in bunches as well.

Was it just 2001 that the Mariners won 116 games? Since that year, it seems that the M’s have lost their golden touch. Jamie Moyer will start his 54th Opening Day and the rotation behind him has never lived up to its potential. The one bright spot is Felix Hernandez, but as the Mariners fall out of contention, they would be wise to save the youngster’s arm. Adrian Beltre should rebound from an awful 2005, and Jeremy Reed could finally have his big year. But this team is clearly at the bottom of the American League West.

Playoffs

Divisional Series
A’s over Red Sox
Yankees over White Sox

American League Championship
Yankees (but it goes to seven games)

MVP
David Ortiz

Cy Young
Johan Santana

Rookie of the Year
Nick Markakis

IOC playing petty politics with baseball, softball

In a stunning rebuke to a sport deemed “too American” by many Europeans, the International Olympic Committee voted to uphold a decision made last summer to cut baseball and softball from London’s 2012 Olympic games.

Four years ago, IOC Jacques Rogge of Belgium announced his intentions to cut the two sports from the Olympic slate. As Major Leaguers are not permitted to participate in the Olympic games, Baseball, Rogge and his allies claimed, could not guarantee the highest quality athletes for the sport. Thus, the sport was undeserving of an Olympic spot. The panel had no similar justification for dropping softball.

With another vote scheduled for yesterday, many of the two sports’ proponents believed the panel would overturn the 2005 decision. However, the vote fell just short. While a plurality of voters opted to allow baseball and softball back in the games, neither sport could muster the 51 percent majority needed to ensure inclusion in London.

Across the baseball and softball worlds, the news was met with dismay. “I am shocked and deeply disappointed,” Dot Richardson, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in softball, said to the Associated Press. “It’s a shame that politics between nations will affect in a negative way the future dreams of young girls and young women.”

Donald Fehr, head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, expressed similar sentiments. “In my judgment, the reason why the vote wasn’t taken is that baseball and softball are not European sports,” Fehr said in an interview with MLB.com reporter Barry Bloom. “The Olympics are Eurocentric and Euro-dominated, and they want to bring in other sports. I don’t think it’s much more complex than that. I never have

Fehr and Richardson both touched on the same point: This decision came to down to international relations and America’s international standing. Currently, the United States’ reputation has taken a hit among Europeans. Our aggressive foreign policy has not won over many supporters in European nations, and this decision concerning the fate of sports deemed American-centric is a slap in the face to Americans.

I believe this decision came to down a bunch of European delegates knowing their nations were not baseball-focused. So at the expense of numerous other countries, these delegates penalized the Americans. It is a short-sighted and petty attempt at retribution.

Currently, baseball and softball are hardly American-centric. The World Baseball Classic proves this much. Baseball is second in popularity only to soccer in nearly every Central American and Caribbean nation. Baseball is just as popular in Japan, China, Taiwan, and Korea as it is in the United States. Even Australia, thousands of miles away from baseball’s supposed birthplace in Cooperstown, New York, has a vibrant baseball league. Clearly, this is a game with international appeal.

Furthermore, I believe the Olympic Committee is not too thrilled about the upcoming World Baseball Classic. Doesn’t an event such as this overshadow Olympic baseball? The game’s best athletes from Major Leaguers on down are participating in this event. While prominent players keep dropping out, the USA team playing in the World Baseball Classic is already better than the Olympic teams from the past few summer Olympics.

If the Olympic Committee wants to cut baseball for being too Americanized, I am sure I could find a few more sports worth eliminating. How about hockey? That’s too Eastern European. Hockey, one of the cornerstones of the Winter Games, hardly enjoys the same appeal as baseball. I don’t see a Dominican hockey team. Panama? No hockey team.

But hey! Germany, Sweden, Russia, and Italy all have hockey teams. In fact, the only two countries from the Western hemisphere with hockey teams are the U.S. and Canada. This is hardly a sport that transcends the globe. And does anyone even play curling?

So now with baseball and softball out as Olympic Sports, baseball can rebound through the World Baseball Classic. I have long been opposed to the WBC on purely logistical grounds. I think it disrupts Spring Training and puts players not yet ready for competitive play at a greater risk of injury.

But now, baseball should exploit the World Baseball Classic. This is the sport’s chance to thrive on the international stage. Show the world and the IOC that baseball is compelling and that baseball has a huge international following.

In fact, I have an idea that could very accomplish this task while overshadowing the Olympics. While the 2008 Olympics in Beijing will feature baseball, in 2012, if Major League Baseball has deemed the World Baseball Classic a success, they should stop the season for a few weeks around the All Star break and showcase the Classic. Upstage the Olympics at around the same time.

When people watch more of the World Baseball Classic than of the fairly boring Summer Olympics, maybe then the IOC will be willing to put petty politics in the past and come crawling back to baseball.

Pondering burning out, fading away, or leaving on top

I’m a big fan of the FX cop drama The Shield. I’ve been watching regularly since a friend showed me the first ten episodes of the first season. After a stellar fourth season featuring Glenn Close, the fifth season, which started yesterday, has all the markings of the show’s final season. It’s longer than any other season, and the protagonist Vic Mackey may finally have to answer for his checkered past. It’s clearly being billed as the final showdown.

Interestingly, The Shield is also at its peak. The reviews this week for the new season were glowing, and the acting is fresh and intense. The story lines are still gripping, and the characters are better than ever. Nothing seems tired yet. For an industry that often insists on milking stale shows for all they’ve got until they are rotten, it’s refreshing to see a show’s creators decide they want to go out on top.

To paraphrase Neil Young (or is that Jack Black?), while The Shield isn’t exactly burning out, it sure ain’t fading away.

This baseball off-season, the free agent picture couldn’t be much different as a group of aging sluggers seem more intent on fading away than bowing out gracefully. Led by Mike Piazza and Sammy Sosa, a group of nearly-definite first-ballot Hall of Famers haven’t yet come to grips with the march of age pushing ever onward.

Piazza, the former Met catcher, is the poster boy for this group. Piazza, who just turned 37, is one of the most prolific offensive catchers in the history of the game, but he’s fallen hard and fast this decade. In 2000, Piazza led the Mets back to the World Series for the first time in 14 years. In a five-game Series that was exciting for New Yorkers only, the Mets lost handily. But that year, Piazza had a season to remember.

For the Wild Card Mets, Piazza hit .324/.398/.614 with 38 home runs and 113 RBIs. He couldn’t quite capture the MVP, finishing third to Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds, and Piazza never matched those totals. In 2005, he finished as a shell of his former self. In just 113 games, he hit just .251/.326/.452 with 19 home runs and 62 RBIs. Never a great defensive catcher, he has become a liability behind the plate. The Mets, playing in the DH-less NL, opted not to re-up with Mike.

For all of the wear and tear Piazza has suffered through, he’s not ready to call it quits. While no one is knocking at his door, Piazza thinks he can still help out the right team as a Designated Hitter and back-up catcher. Slowly, the rumors have dried up though. Originally, the Twins, Orioles, Blue Jays and A’s were interested, but one-by-one, the suitors have stopped calling. The Angels have denied any interest.

Could Mike’s swan song really be with Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic? Just 3 home runs away from 400, Piazza would choose to keep going, but at what cost? Is it better for him to latch on with a directionless team for a few at-bats or just call it quits now? Hang up the spurs; sit back and wait for Cooperstown to come calling.

In the same boat is Sammy Sosa. Tarnished by a bad attitude, a foot injury and a shaky appearance before Congress last season, Sosa had his worst season since the first George Bush was president. Just four years removed from his 60-home run, 160-RBI campaign, the 36-year-old hit .220/.295/.376 with just 14 home runs and 45 RBIs. Like Piazza, Sosa is nearing a milestone; he is just 12 home runs away from becoming just the fifth player to hit 600 home runs.

He may have to get there as a member of the Washington Nationals, playing literally down the street from the scene of the infamous steroid hearings. While being on the Nationals is worse than being on, say, the Royals these days, Sosa’s stock has fallen so far that he will have to take an incentive-laden contract to play in an extreme pitcher’s park. If he duplicates last season’s success, he may not even reach 600 this year. Fade away or hang it up? That’s always the question.

Sosa and Piazza aren’t the only two trying to find a few more at-bats before succumbing to age. Frank Thomas, also 37 and coming off a 2005 lost to injury, may land in Oakland. Thomas has spent his entire 16-year career as a member of the Chicago White Sox, but he’s topped the 74-game plateau just twice in the last five years. Why tarnish a legacy for one more season in a different uniform?

Last but not least comes Rafael Palmeiro, waging finger, infected B12 shot, and all. Palmeiro gained fame by becoming the third member of the 3000-hit, 500-home run club. Then he became a member of the Steroid Club. After testifying that he never, ever used steroids, Major League Baseball found out that, well, maybe he wasn’t telling the truth. Palmeiro has yet to find a new home, but will anyone give the disgraced slugger the chance? He tried to throw a teammate of his under the bus, and his legacy comes now with a big black mark that may even shatter his Hall of Fame hopes. Palmeiro burned out last year. Now he’ll fade away this year.

So as the last few months of the Hot Stove League wind down and the last few episodes of The Shield carry me toward the start of baseball season, I’ll be witnessing two different sides of one coin. The Shield will go out on top, and fans will remember it for a long time. Meanwhile, Piazza, Sosa, Thomas, and Palmeiro will fade away, aging sluggers trying to recapture the glory days of their careers before facing the long, hard path toward retirement.

2005 By the Numbers

With just a few more days left in 2005, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at the numbers that shaped the 2005 season. From a spring steroid scandal to a team in the nation’s capital to a second Sox team shedding decades of bad luck, 2005 proved to be yet another unique season for ages.

The 2005 Playoffs: One for the Number
0: Number of home runs White Sox lead-off hitter Scott Podsednik hit during the 2005 season.

1: Number of home runs White Sox lead-off hitter Scott Podsednik hit during the 2005 postseason World Series. Podsednik won game 2 of the World Series with a walk-off shot against Astros closer Brad Lidge. Edit: Thanks to Jon for pointing out my mistake here. Podsednik did indeed homer off the Sox in the ALDS.

4: Number of complete-game victories the White Sox starting rotation threw during the American League Championship Series. The four starters became the first pitchers to accomplish this feat since the 1956 World Series.

88: Number of years it took the White Sox to win another World Series. Their last title was in 1917, one year before the Red Sox won their last title for 86 years.

97: Number of years since the Chicago Cubs last captured a World Series championship.

412: Number of feet that Albert Pujol’s monstrous three-run home run in game 5 of the NLCS traveled. While the Cardinals would fall in six games to the Astros, Pujols’ blast will leave a lasting impression in the minds of Brad Lidge and baseball fans everywhere.

Papi, A-Rod MVP race incites debate

10: Number of games David Ortiz appeared in the field. He saw just 78 innings of action at first base this year.

10: Number of runs Yankees third baseman drove in on April 26. The Yankees beat the Angels 12-4 that night.

15: Number of at-bats David Ortiz had with the bases loaded.

20: Number of runs Ortiz drove in with the bases loaded.

24: Number of points by which Alex Rodriguez captured the AL MVP over Boston Red Sox DH David Ortiz. The award with a final voting tally of 331-307 was one of the more hotly contested MVPs in recent history, and the debate on the Internet raged for weeks.

‘He’s going the distance.’

5: Number of complete games thrown by Roy Halliday in just 19 starts this season. He was on pace for 8 complete games before injuries derailed his season.

4: Number of shut-outs thrown by NL Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter.

5: Number of shut-outs thrown by Marlins’ ace Dontrelle Willis.

7: Complete games hurled by both Chris Carpenter and Dontrelle Willis. The duo led the NL in that category.

Blue Jay hurlers rake in the dough

42: Number of career saves for B.J. Ryan. The lefty has just one season of closer experience under his belt.

47: Number, in millions of dollars, Ryan will earn closing for the Blue Jays over the next five years.

49: Number of career wins for A.J. Burnett.

50: Number of career losses for A.J. Burnett

55: Number, in millions of dollars, Burnett will earn starting for the Blue Jays over the next five years.

Griffey, Giambi among comeback stars

0: Number of times Yankees slugger Jason Giambi mentioned the word “steroids” in his apology in March. People are still wondering what it was Giambi apologized for.

35: Home runs Ken Griffey, Jr., launched this year. This marks the first year since 2000 that Griffey cracked the 30-home run barrier.

108: Walks by Jason Giambi. After a .208/.342/.379 2004 season marred by, well, everything, Giambi apologized for something and then rebounded to hit .271 with a league-leading .440 OBP and a .535 slugging percentage.

Baseball celebrates progress in combatting steroids

0: Number of times Rafael Palmeiro has taken the blame for his steroid suspension that came just a few months after he told Congress he “never” used performance-enhancing drugs.

1: Number of teammates Palmeiro threw under the bus. He fingered Miguel Tejada as the supplier of a tainted B12 vitamin shot. Tejada has since expressed his displeasure with the Orioles franchise.

12: Players suspended 10 days for violating baseball’s new drug policy.

17: Number of days after become the latest member of the 3000-hit club that Rafael Palmeiro was suspended for violating the drug policy.

26: At-bats for Palmeiro after he returned from his suspension. Palmeiro, who in March testified before Congress against steroid use, was asked to leave the team before the start of September.

50: Days a first-time drug offender will be suspended starting in 2006.

Nationals, Red Sox, Yankees see large crowds

226: Consecutive sell-outs at Fenway Park. The 35,000-capacity stadium has become the New England sports destination.

33,651: Fans per game cheering on the Washington Nationals at RFK Stadium. The 2004 Expos suffered through an average of just 9,356 fans per home game.

4,090,440: Fans who passed through the turnstiles at Yankee Stadium this year. The 2005 Yankees became just the third team in Major League history to crack the 4-million mark.

But who’s counting?

51: Days until pitchers and catchers start reporting for Spring Training.

97: Days until Opening Day 2006

Looking ahead to baseball in 2006

With Christmas and Hanukkah on the horizon, it’s a quiet time of year for baseball. The executives, agents and players all have the next few days off to unwind at home. While some minor signings occurred over the last few days, there was nothing groundbreaking that warrants much new discussion. So I thought I would do a list of stories that await baseball fans in 2006.

1. World Baseball Classic: Spring Training this year is more than just exhibition. For hundreds of players, the games in March will be all about national pride and global entertainment. While in the U.S., baseball fans view the WBC as a marketing ploy, many countries are taking this competition quite seriously. No matter what, it will be fun to see baseball games in March that don’t involve guys wearing number 72 playing first base and batting fourth.

2. A New Basic Agreement: It’s hard to believe that four years have gone by so fast but it’s that time again. This season, the owners and the players will once again work out a new Basic Agreement. The owners may push for contraction, a better revenue sharing system, and a strict drug testing program. The players will resist a salary cap and limits on spending. It’s the same old song and dance, but it’s entertaining.

3. Johnny Damon in the Bronx: A week ago, I would have been shocked at that title, but Johnny Damon is indeed on the Yankees. While many Yankee fans aren’t welcoming Damon with open arms, it’ll be hard for fans of the Bombers to resist the temptation of this star-studded lineup. Can the 2006 Yankees score 1000 runs?

4. The Roger Clemens Sweepstakes: As Clemens and the Astros are not heading to arbitration, the first major story of 2006 is bound to be Clemens’ destination. Will he wait until May to sign with Houston? Will Boston (a town Clemens seems to dislike) and New York (a town Clemens loves) engage in an all-out bidding will? Will the Rocket finally retire? We should know by the end of January.

5. Manny Being Manny Somewhere Else? On the heels of Damon’s departure, Ramirez, The New York Daily News reported, is pushing hard for a trade and would consider the Mets. It’s possible that the Red Sox could be without two-thirds of their World Series-winning outfielders and two important cogs in their lineup come Opening Day.

5a. Shaking Up the AL East: With turnover on the Sox and the new co-GMs struggling to assert their authority, is this the year the Red Sox finish third? Will age catch up to the Yankees and they fall out of first place? Can the B.J./A.J. tandem in Toronto lead the Blue Jays to the playoffs for the first time since 1992? Stay tuned. The uber-competitive AL East should provide great drama.

6. The Year of the Mets: The Mets have their closer in Billy Wagner, their catcher in Paul LoDuca, and their All Star first baseman in Carlos Delgado. They want Manny and another starting pitcher. They’re poised to be everyone’s pre-season favorites for the NL East. Can someone finally unseat the 14-time division champion Atlanta Braves?

7. The Los Angeles Red Sox: Since Ned Colletti replaced Paul DePodesta as the Dodgers’ General Manager, the team has become the Red Sox West. Colletti brought in Grady Little to manager, Bill Mueller to play third, and Nomar Garciaparra to play first. With Derek Lowe as their projected Opening Day starter, it seems that Colletti is trying to bring in proven winners. Add Rafael Furcal to the mix and this team has as good as shoot as any to win a division where 85 wins might just be enough to capture a division title.

8. A Bondsian Pursuit of Ruth: Barry Bonds is sitting pretty with 708 home runs. The Giants slugger, who claims to be healthy and ready to play, is just six home runs behind Babe Ruth and 47 behind the all-time leader Hank Aaron. I’m sure all eyes will be on Bonds every time he steps to the plate this season. As he says he’ll play in the World Baseball Classic, Bonds-mania should build to a fever pitch this summer.

9. Nationals, DC, MLB Working Out a Stadium Deal: Yesterday, I wrote about the failed stadium negotiations between MLB and the Washington, DC city council. As the MLB-imposed stadium deadline is fast approaching, the City Council will have to act. This off-field drama will be the last big story of 2005 and the first big one of 2006. Will MLB call in an arbitrator to mediate the case? Will a failed stadium deal drag baseball away from DC for the last time?

10. Breaking Curses: In 2004, the Red Sox broke years of bad luck. In 2005, the White Sox shed their losing ways. Is it time for the Cubs to reclaim a crown after 98 title-less seasons?

11. Two Books: Finally, as a bonus, there are two books coming out that should attract a lot of attention from the baseball blogging universe. On February 17, just as pitchers and catchers are heading south, Dayn Perry, a writer for FoxSports and Baseball Prospectus, is releasing his book Winners: How Good Baseball Teams Become Great Ones (and It’s Not How You Think). Then, on March 20, as we’ll begin to hear more about the collective bargaining negotiations, Bronx Banter writer Alex Belth will see his book Stepping Up: The Story of All-Star Curt Flood and His Fight for Baseball Players’ Rights arrive in stores. It’ll be a good season for baseball literature.

As the holidays are upon, I want to wish all of my readers a Happy Hanukkah and a Merry Christmas. I hope this holiday season sees everyone enjoying time with family. See you on Monday.

Opening Day 2005: Top 10 Stories for the New Season

Nothing is sweeter than Opening Day. It’s the symbolic start of spring and the start of a new baseball season. With 30 teams playing out their 162-game schedules, anything can happen between now and the end of October.

Maybe another cursed team can break a decades-old spell. Maybe the .400 mark will finally fall. Maybe baseball will have a glorious return to the nation’s capitol. The beauty about baseball is that anything can happen on any given day. For now, though, I’m just going to take a look at what I think are the top ten compelling storylines for the 2005 season. Feel free to disagree with me. That’s what the comment section down at the bottom is for.

So without further ado…

1. The Boston Red Sox, Defending World Champions – After winning their first title in 86 years, the Red Sox underwent something of an overhaul this winter. Gone are Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Orlando Cabrera. Joining the self-proclaimed idiots are David Wells, Matt Clement, Edgar Renteria, and Wade Miller. With the team and its fans basking in the glow of the World Series trophy, expectations will be at an all-time high for the Boston Red Sox, and anything short of a first-place finish will be viewed as a disappointment. But will the team be able to meet these expectations or will David Wells’ failed Opening Night start serve as a harbinger of a long season?

2. Overcoming the Choke – As everyone and their mothers now know, the Yankees, baseball’s most storied franchise, chalked up a dubious record last October when they became the first Major League team to blow a 3-0 series lead. For the first few months of the season, many eyes will turn to the Bronx to see how the Yankees rebound from what could have been a crushing psychological blow. Mariano Rivera, who was once viewed as infallible, will be particularly scrutinized at first. If last night is any indication, however, the Yankees looked looser on the field than they have at any time since the start of the 2002 season, and Randy Johnson in a very average start was better than most of the Yanks’ 2004 rotation. Considering the pressure, that’s a good sign for Yankee fans and a bad sign for anyone else.

3. The Post-Steroid Era or Not? – Just hours before Opening Night, Tampa Bay Devil Rays outfielder Alex Sanchez became the first player to be suspended for violating the new drug policy. While Buster Olney is ready to feed Sanchez to the dogs and move on, I disagree with his assessment. Sanchez’s suspension shows that players may still be using steroids. For baseball to put this scandal in the past, no one else should test positive this season. But if more players are suspended, the public – and Congress – may grow more skeptical of baseball’s commitment to clean up.

4. Challenging .400 – Last season, Ichiro Suzuki hit .372 and set a new record for hits in a single season. What isn’t mentioned is that for the last three months of the season, Ichiro hit .408. Then, for an encore, he went 31 for 71 during Spring Training. While the eyes on Seattle may focus on the newest additions to the Mariners’ lineup, the rest of the baseball world may see a hitter reach the .400 plateau for the first time in over 60 years.

5. New-Look Mets – The Mets, New York’s other team, is trying to become New York’s team again. They signed Pedro to a sizable contract and wooed Carlos Beltran to Shea Stadium. With a solid young core of players, including Beltran, David Wright, and Jose Reyes, and a sturdy group of veterans, the Mets have the makings of an offensive force. But can Pedro Martinez and Tommy Glavine, two aging starters, make up for a back-end rotation that reeks of mediocrity? The path to Braden Looper, the Mets’ closer, is fraught with failure as well. I don’t expect Omay Minaya to sit pat, but I don’t think 2005 is the Year of the Met in New York.

6. Billy Beane’s Magical Touch – A’s fans the nation over are despairing about the offseason. After blowing a late-season lead, Billy Beane traded away Oakland’s top two starters. Left with Barry Zito and Rich Harden as their 1-2 guys, the A’s aren’t in the dire straits their fans think they are in. They too have a solid core of young players, and Nick Swisher should move beyond his Moneyball reputation this year. It may be a mini-rebuilding year in Oakland, but with Billy Beane at the helm and more money in the owners’ pockets, don’t count out of the A’s just yet.

7. A Reverse Switch – Many prominent pitchers have gone from the starting rotation to the closer role with devastatingly effective results. Now, one of the game’s top closers who has already made the switch once is heading back to the rotation. What kind of starting pitcher will John Smoltz be after four seasons as a closer? The Braves’ hopes for another division title may rise and fall on his right arm.

8. Barry’s Knee and the NL West – With the race to 756 on hold while Barry Bonds recovers from another knee surgery, the Giants will have to find ways to win without the most potent threat in baseball in the lineup. With a bunch of grizzled, old (and I mean old) veterans, they just might be able to stave off disaster until Barry comes back to resume his assault on the Babe and Hammerin’ Hank.

9. The Rocket Redux – What do you do for an encore when, at age 42, you win your seventh Cy Young Award? Is it best to retire when you’re ahead or push through for another season?

10. Breaking a Curse – Who gets to break their curse this year? Will it be the Cubs behind the arms of oft-injured Kerry Wood and Mark Prior? Will it be the White Sox behind the arms of the Cuban tandem of Orlando Hernandez and Jose Contreras? Or will curses remain in place for yet another season in the Windy Season?

Now play ball!


RSS River Ave. Blues

  • Open Thread: March 23rd Camp Notes March 23, 2017
    Your browser does not support iframes.The Yankees neither won nor lost today. They tied. First of the spring. The Yankees were down 5-0, then they chipped away and tied the game in the top of the ninth. There’s the ol’ Fighting Spirit. Aaron Hicks had a double and a walk while Aaron Judge had a […] The post Open Thread: March 23rd Camp Notes appeared first o […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Could Didi Gregorius’ injury be Rob Refsnyder’s opportunity? March 23, 2017
    Didi Gregorius‘ injury is unfortunate in every way, even if he may only miss a month of the season. The Yankees don’t have a ready-made replacement and, much more importantly, a key cog of their future has to deal with an injury that can set him back after he made strides last season and hoped […] The post Could Didi Gregorius’ injury be Rob Refsnyder’s oppo […]
    Steven Tydings
  • The Middle Relief Duo [2017 Season Preview] March 23, 2017
    The Yankees have had an elite bullpen most every year for what feels like an eternity at this point, owing largely to the incomparable Mariano Rivera, and the ability to churn out high-end relievers that would close for most teams (particularly David Robertson and Dellin Betances, who spent most of their time with the team pitching […] The post The Middle Re […]
    Domenic Lanza
  • Spring Training Game Thread: Montgomery’s Big Chance March 23, 2017
    This afternoon left-hander Jordan Montgomery will make his first and possibly only Grapefruit League start. The Yankees have two open rotation spots and two open bullpen spots, and Montgomery has opened enough eyes this spring that he’s now being considered for the Opening Day roster. Today will be his best chance to show what he’s […] The post Spring Traini […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Jordan Montgomery and the prospect of an Opening Day roster spot March 23, 2017
    Later today left-hander Jordan Montgomery will make his first Grapefruit League start as the Yankees begin to bear down and really evaluate  their Opening Day roster candidates. They have two open rotation spots and two open bullpen spots, and lots of guys competing for them. Montgomery has pitched his way into Opening Day roster consideration […] The post J […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Open Thread: March 22nd Camp Notes March 22, 2017
    Your browser does not support iframes.The Spring Training of our dreams continued with another win this afternoon. Greg Bird crushed two no-doubt home runs, and I’m pretty sure the first one sailed out of the stadium. It looks like it cleared the chain link fence in center field in the first clip above, no? Chase […] The post Open Thread: March 22nd Camp Not […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Piecoro: Yanks believed to have some interest in Nick Ahmed March 22, 2017
    According to Nick Piecoro, the Yankees are believed to have some level of interest in Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed. Arizona has plenty of middle infielders (Ketel Marte, Chris Owings, Brandon Drury, Daniel Descalso) and they reportedly started gauging interest in Ahmed a few days ago. The Yankees will be without Didi Gregorius for a few […] The post Pie […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Same All-Star reliever but with minor concerns [2017 Season Preview] March 22, 2017
    For the last three years, I have essentially marked games as wins in my mind whenever Dellin Betances comes in. Sure, there have been a few blown saves here and there, but for the most part, the Yankees win when Dellin comes into the game whether they lead or are tied. And it isn’t just […] The post Same All-Star reliever but with minor concerns [2017 Season […]
    Steven Tydings
  • Spring Training Game Thread: In Search of a Shortstop March 22, 2017
    Thanks to Didi Gregorius‘ shoulder injury, the Yankees suddenly have an opening at shortstop that will last for at least the first few weeks of the regular season. They have a small army of okay-ish fill-in shortstops, and now they have to sort through them and figure out who can best handle the job. Opening […] The post Spring Training Game Thread: In Searc […]
    Mike Axisa
  • It’s official: Yankees name Greg Bird starting first baseman March 22, 2017
    As expected, Greg Bird has officially been named the starting first baseman. Joe Girardi made the announcement this morning, according to Andrew Marchand. Bird is hitting .421/.500/.947 with four home runs and eleven extra-base hits this spring, the most in baseball. He’s been the team’s best hitter all Spring Training. Bird, 24, missed all of […] The post I […]
    Mike Axisa

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