Monthly Archives: March 2014

Detroit Tigers 2014 Season Preview

This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.

Today we look at the Tigers, who are looking to improve their luck in the postseason, after three straight unsuccessful Octobers. There are high hopes that a healthy Miguel Cabrera can lead the charge this year, and bring that long-awaited championship to Detroit.

Projected Lineup: 2B Ian Kinsler, RF Torii Hunter, 1B Miguel Cabrera, DH Victor Martinez, CF Austin Jackson, C Alex Avila, 3B Nick Castellanos, LF Don Kelly, SS Andrew Romine

Many well-respected baseball blogs out there have the Tigers as a shoo-in to win the AL Central.

Then there’s my blog, where respect went out the window a long time ago.

The Tigers are far from a sure thing. Let me remind you that they only won the division by one game last year. They’ll be hard-pressed to repeat that performance after losing Prince Fielder, Jhonny Peralta, Omar Infante, Doug Fister and Joaquin Benoit. That’s a fifth of the team. That’s like asking Guns N’ Roses to play “Sweet Child O’ Mine” without Slash.

But it’s not all bad news. Just as Guns N’ Roses attempted to replace Slash with that Buckethead guy (who you can’t deny was pretty awesome for a while), the Tigers added some new guys too. Most notably, they brought Ian Kinsler over from the Rangers.

Kinsler has an important thing working for him: he’s angry. He recently went on record calling Texas GM Jon Daniels a “sleazeball” and basically a big poophead for trading away a franchise player who was an integral part of two pennant-winning squads. That anger will lead to a strong drive to outperform his former team, so look for Kinsler to push hard for a championship this year, something Texas never got to enjoy.

The Tigers also added Joe Nathan, who is now 39 years old, but seems to have plenty left in the tank: last year, his 1.39 ERA and 0.897 WHIP were among the best in baseball. And now he’s back in the AL Central, in the freezing cold of Detroit every night, conditions where he seems to thrive (If you’re curious, Nathan has a career 1.52 ERA at Comerica Park).

My main concern is the Tigers’ offense. With the departed Fielder no longer holding the lineup together, there is a sharp decline in production after the first four hitters. The five hole looks to be occupied by either Torii Hunter or Austin Jackson, neither of whom are viewed as especially intimidating power threats. And from there, it gets worse: Alex Avila put up career lows in nearly every offensive category last season, and then you’ve got rookie Nick Castellanos, a Rajai Davis/Don Kelly platoon, and fringe major leaguer Andrew Romine. Not quite Murderer’s Row.

With Victor Martinez and Max Scherzer each in contract years, the fuse is short for the Tigers as they are currently configured. We could easily see the Tigers’ front office making a big push around midseason, acquiring a few big names in an effort to help the cause. Because there’s no holding back this year in Detroit—after three straight years of postseason runs which were cut short, it’s championship or bust.

Projected Finish: 87-75, Second place in AL Central

Minnesota Twins 2014 Season Preview

This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.

Today we look at the Twins, who have an intimidating group of prospects on their way, none of whom will be a factor this season. It’s the story of, “Yeah, we’re bad now, but just wait…”

Projected Lineup: CF Aaron Hicks, 2B Brian Dozier, 1B Joe Mauer, LF Josh Willingham, RF Oswaldo Arcia, 3B Trevor Plouffe, DH Jason Kubel, C Josmil Pinto, SS Pedro Florimon

In lieu of a traditional preview, here is a month-by-month breakdown of what to expect from the Twins this season. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t end well.

April

It quickly becomes apparent that Opening Day starter Ricky Nolasco is not an “ace”, which comes as a complete surprise to the Twins’ front office, who handed him the largest free agent contract in franchise history this winter. The team releases him, citing a breach of contract for masquerading as a good pitcher.

Meanwhile in Double-A New Britain, Byron Buxton hits .375 for the month.

May

The Twins pull off a rare five-game win streak, thanks to a few guys getting hot at the right time. Then a massive snowstorm hits Minnesota, canceling a week’s worth of games, and the team loses all momentum. They lose their next ten.

Meanwhile in Double-A New Britain, Byron Buxton falls into a horrible slump and hits just .350 for the month.

June

Joe Mauer, no longer on catchers’ legs, starts stealing bases. He swipes fifteen by midseason, surpassing his career high. Things are great until he celebrates one of his steals against the Yankees one night, and Brian McCann takes exception. Mauer, out of respect for the fellow catcher, apologizes and stops stealing immediately.

Meanwhile, Byron Buxton hits .400 and earns a promotion to Triple-A.

July

Chris Parmelee, left without a position to play after Mauer’s move to first base, asks the team for a trade. The Twins respond by trading Josh Willingham. Parmelee says, “That’s not what I meant”.

Meanwhile, Byron Buxton doesn’t miss a beat in Triple-A, hitting .350.

August

Aaron Hicks suffers an injury diving for a fly ball that he had no hope of catching. It’s the perfect scenario to call Buxton up to the big leagues, but the Twins don’t want to start his arbitration clock. Instead, they sign Tsuyoshi Nishioka’s cousin, an outfielder in the Nippon Professional Baseball league who promises to be just as good as Tsuyoshi.

Meanwhile, Byron Buxton steals 40 bases in the month of August.

September

The Twins finally call Byron Buxton up to the big leagues, but only to use him as a pinch-runner. They refuse to give him an at-bat because they “don’t want to give the rest of the league a good glimpse of our secret weapon”. Buxton still uses the opportunity to steal 20 more bases.

Oh—and it almost goes without saying, but the Twins miss the playoffs. Let’s get ’em next year!

Projected Finish: 67-95, Fifth place in AL Central

Kansas City Royals 2014 Season Preview

This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.

Today we look at the Royals, a young team loaded with talent. Could this finally be the year they turn their fortunes around?

Projected Lineup: RF Norichika Aoki, 2B Omar Infante, 1B Eric Hosmer, DH Billy Butler, LF Alex Gordon, C Salvador Perez, 3B Mike Moustakas, CF Lorenzo Cain, SS Alcides Escobar

The Royals had a big offseason, even dipping their toes into the world of popular music. Lorde’s hit song “Royals” was inspired by her excitement at the team’s signing of Omar Infante. The lyric, “I’ve sever seen a diamond in the flesh” is a reference to the Royals’ World Series drought, and the hope that Infante could be the guy that finally gets them that elusive championship ring.

Ok, that might not be 100% true.

But the Royals did add some impressive pieces this winter, including Infante and new right fielder Nori Aoki.

The two veterans are welcome additions to a lineup full of ever-improving youngsters. Eric Hosmer leads the youth movement, continuing to develop more as a hitter each year, to the point where you can pretty much call him a superstar now and no one would argue. He really turned it on in the second half last season, hitting .323 after the All-Star Break. And it wasn’t just a few disconnected hot streaks—rather, he stayed very consistent: hitting .324 in July, .323 in August, and .324 in September.

The Royals also boast one of the best defenses in baseball, with three incumbent Gold Glove Award winners, including Hosmer, catcher Salvador Perez and left fielder Alex Gordon. Alcides Escobar also has been known to flash the leather once in a while, when he needs to remind Ned Yost to keep his bat in the lineup. Basically, the Royals’ defense is an array of vacuums that inhale fly balls (they even have a guy named Dyson—you can’t make this stuff up!), which will be a huge advantage in close games and critical situations.

It also helps to have a lights-out closer to shut the door. Greg Holland notched 47 saves last year with an ERA of 1.21. There may not be a more dominant closer in the game, and that’s taking into full consideration that guy in Atlanta. For the record, Holland was better than Craig Kimbrel—let me just say those words again, because I don’t get a chance to say them often—better than Craig Kimbrel last year in WHIP (.866 to Kimbrel’s .881) and strikeouts per nine innings (13.8 to Kimbrel’s 13.2).

One more guy to keep an eye on this year is rookie Yordano Ventura. He won a rotation spot out of camp after blowing everybody away this spring with a fastball that routinely clocks at 100 mph. How well he does this year will depend on the strength of his secondary pitches, but one thing’s for sure—he’ll be fun to watch.

These Royals have the talent to make a strong charge into the postseason, and the youth to keep getting better for years to come. And for those who doubt them—they don’t care. They’re driving Cadillacs in their dreams.

Projected Finish: 91-71, First place in AL Central

Oakland Athletics 2014 Season Preview

This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.

Today we look at those scrappy Oakland A’s, who year after year continue to defy all logic and on-paper projections by completely exceeding everyone’s expectations. The A’s are why the championship isn’t won on paper; they are why we play the games.

Projected Lineup: CF Coco Crisp, 3B Josh Donaldson, SS Jed Lowrie, DH Brandon Moss, LF Yoenis Cespedes, RF Josh Reddick, C John Jaso, 2B Eric Sogard, 1B Daric Barton

The past 30 days have not been good for elbows, and Jarrod Parker’s right one in particular is causing problems for the A’s, having rendered one of the team’s best pitchers out of commission for the entire season.

To make up for the loss of Parker, the A’s are counting on a full season from the young Sonny Gray. Not only does Gray have amazing stuff, but he’s the perfect pitcher for the A’s because his name is the perpetual answer to “What’s the weather like in the Bay Area?”. This guy faced off against Justin Verlander in one of the more epic pitchers’ duels of the postseason, and is more than capable of handling the spotlight.

So before you write the A’s off this year, consider that they’ve won the AL West in each of the last two seasons. And the primary reason for that is depth. The A’s refuse to let the injury bug affect them, because they keep multiple starting options available at nearly every position. So just as Derek Norris would spell John Jaso, or Alberto Callaspo would step in if Eric Sogard’s newfound Twitter fame went to his head, Gray and the rest of the A’s young starters will easily make up for the loss of Parker.

Another guy providing depth this year for the A’s will be new outfielder Craig Gentry. A career .288/.376/.399 hitter against lefties, he’ll sub for Brandon Moss when the team is facing a southpaw, and provide an added speed threat as well.

Also under the radar this winter (as is everything the A’s do) was the team’s total revamp of the bullpen. A bit uncharacteristically, the A’s went out and paid top dollar for a closer, bringing in Jim Johnson from the Orioles to fill the vacancy left by Grant Balfour. I’m a big believer in Johnson, and though he may have slightly underperformed last year, stat guys will all tell you his inflated numbers were due to a high BABIP (.330) and high HR/FB rate (11.4%).

(I love that I always have the hypothetical “stat guys” to fall back on. It makes me feel like far less of a nerd for having looked up those stats myself.)

The A’s didn’t stop there with their bullpen revamp—they also added set-up man Luke Gregerson, lefty reliever Fernando Abad, and injured lefty specialist Eric O’Flaherty (so like the A’s to sign an injured pitcher), who is expected to return from Tommy John Surgery later in the year.

The point is, the A’s will be alright. Year after year, everybody keeps writing them off, but they keep winning. You all should know better by now. These guys can make it as far as they want to, provided they don’t have to face Justin Verlander in an elimination game.

Projected Finish: 89-73, 2nd place in AL West; Wildcard berth

AL East Preview

AL East Preview

by

Resident Asian Baseball Columnist

Alex Hom

My name is Alex Hom, I live and breathe baseball. I started writing about baseball two years ago, doing season previews and postseason analysis. The blog stopped due to the writers and myself being incredibly busy with work around the height of baseball. Now my good buddy Woody has signed me off the streets to write an article for everyone to enjoy.

The AL East is the toughest division in all of baseball boasting 4 teams that can claim playoff spots and a Toronto Blue Jays team that would probably be a .500 team if not for being in the AL East. Here’s my breakdown of each team:

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Texas Rangers 2014 Season Preview

This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.

Today we look at the Rangers, the perennial powerhouse team in the AL West. They say everything’s bigger in Texas—and that includes opposing pitchers’ earned run averages.

Projected Lineup: LF Shin-Soo Choo, SS Elvis Andrus, 1B Prince Fielder, 3B Adrian Beltre, RF Alex Rios, DH Mitch Moreland, 2B Jurickson ProfarC J.P. Arencibia, CF Leonys Martin

The Rangers have the best pitcher on the planet, and even though Yu Darvish only pitches every fifth day, he’ll take the team pretty far. The question is, will it be far enough?

The rest of the rotation is filled with question marks. Tanner Scheppers will be in the starting rotation for the first time this year, after a great 2013 in which he was lights-out in the setup role. But he has never pitched more than 80 innings in any professional season. It remains to be seen how Scheppers will handle the workload of a full season, but the Rangers don’t have many other options—Derek Holland is out until at least midseason with a knee injury, and Matt Harrison is dealing with some injuries of his own.

And speaking of the injury bug, the Rangers are also now faced with a quandary at second base, with Jurickson Profar now on the shelf for 2-3 months. With Ian Kinsler now in Detroit, they don’t really have a major league second baseman to speak of.

Ah—but wait! There’s a prospect on the horizon.

A guy who General Manager Jon Daniels picked up on a whim in the Rule 5 Draft, because he saw a certain level of discipline rare in players these days. That’s right, I’m talking about Russell Wilson, a middle infielder in the organization who is currently on the inactive list because of what he calls “other obligations”. But once he’s finished screwing around with those extracurricular activities, he’s a lock for the second base job.

And man, I’m excited. He’s the type of guy who just screams “champion”. You know?

Even if Wilson doesn’t show up, the Rangers have a great new-look offense which should carry the team. The Rangers’ addressed their need for left-handed bats, and added Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder to an already potent lineup. Choo is one of the best on-base threats in the game, and will be crucial to the Rangers’ success. But even more crucial will be the guy hitting between Choo and Fielder, Elvis Andrus. Andrus is a career .306 hitter with a runner on first and less than two outs—which, hitting behind Choo, is a situation he’ll be facing a lot.

What do you get when you add all that up? You get Fielder and Adrian Beltre hitting with a lot of ducks on the pond. Cha-ching.

My only real concern with the team is the questionable closer situation. Neftali Feliz is back in the fold after his recovery from Tommy John surgery, but he hasn’t pitched in a high-stakes situation in almost two years. Joakim Soria, likewise. No one has been further from the ninth inning than these two guys, outside of that family of four who leaves the ballpark in the sixth to beat the traffic.

So here’s a dark horse to win the closer role: Alexi Ogando. The Rangers have moved him to the bullpen, a decision which may have had something to do with his career numbers in relief: 7-1, 110 strikeouts in 113.1 innings, and a 2.46 ERA. And that’s not even counting his postseason numbers, which are even better.

The Rangers definitely have the pieces to contend in this stacked division. And if they’re really lucky—they’ll put together another unsuccessful championship run.

Projected Finish: 94-68, First place in AL West

San Francisco Giants 2014 Season Preview

This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in the National League. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.

Today we look at the Giants, who still boast the same pitching rotation that won two World Championships, and they’re ready to bring that trophy back to San Francisco.

Projected Lineup: CF Angel Pagan, 2B Marco Scutaro, 1B Brandon Belt, C Buster Posey, RF Hunter Pence, 3B Pablo Sandoval, LF Michael Morse, SS Brandon Crawford

The Giants’ disappointing 2013 season reached a low point when a quiet October culminated with Kim and Kanye’s engagement ceremony at AT&T Park. Such a violation of the field should give the Giants extra incentive to ensure the only ceremony taking place this October will be of the World Championship variety.

The key player that hinges on is Brandon Belt. Belt reportedly made a change to his grip in the batter’s box in early August, lining his knuckles up on the bat. It sounds like a pointer you’d get from your little league coach, but nevertheless, Belt responded, hitting .346/.408/.576 in August and September. Manager Bruce Bochy rewarded Belt by elevating him to the third spot in the lineup. That comes with added responsibility, however. Belt now needs to be “the dude” in this lineup. Sorry, I’m using very technical baseball terms here—by “dude”, I mean the guy you want at the plate in a critical spot, feared by pitchers throughout the league because of his ability to come through in big situations.

Now, I’m not necessarily talking about home runs. Belt’s value has always been greatest when he’s getting on base, ever more important now that he’s hitting ahead of Posey, Pence, and the rest of the power hitters. Belt’s career-high for drawing walks in a season is just 54, but he’s absolutely capable of reaching 80 or 90. If he does, that’ll be what keeps the line moving in the Giants’ lineup.

A winning team also needs a spark plug. That’s the guy who starts rallies by becoming a presence on the basepaths, getting into the heads of opposing pitchers. And that role on the Giants belongs to Angel Pagan. The Giants were 39-32 last year in games in which he played, and 37-54 when he didn’t. Talk about a crucial piece of the puzzle.

The Giants also added Michael Morse, addressing their subpar left field situation. Morse will be a great fit for San Francisco because of his raw power, something the Giants have severely lacked in recent years. Along with Hunter Pence, it also gives the Giants the ultimate one-two punch of ridiculous on-deck circle routines.

The pitching staff remains a strength for the team, despite the recent struggles of ace Matt Cain and former ace Tim Lincecum. Lincecum is still struggling to find a rhythm after the perils of aging took hold of his velocity about two years ago. The good news for Lincecum comes in the form of Tim Hudson, the new member of the staff. Hudson is a veteran with the same body type as Lincecum, who has learned to pitch effectively with limited velocity, and who can hopefully help Lincecum find a little consistency. Lincecum doesn’t need to throw a no-hitter every night, but avoiding the early-game implosions and throwing a solid six innings every time out could be within his reach.

With the ever-consistent Madison Bumgarner anchoring the staff, the Giants’ rotation can tolerate a few rough outings here and there, and still vie for the division.

Projected Finish: 89-73, First place in NL West