It's that time of year again. When hope is new, the grass smells clean, and people foolishly put down what they think will happen in the baseball season to come. The United Cardinal Bloggers are no different.
Every year we take a crack at these things. Sometimes it goes pretty well--Pittsburgh's late fade last year kept me from nailing them being third and over the .500 mark. Sometimes it goes disastrously--I had Boston winning the AL East last year. Yeah, that was pretty much bad from the get-go.
However, terrible performances don't stop us from trying it again anyway. (Kinda like Mike Matheny continuing to use Victor Marte last year.) So we'll do it again on the same kinda schedule--the entire American League today, then each division in the National League gets a day before wrapping it up on Friday with postseason predictions and awards.
Since we hardly pay attention to the American League--we all know real baseball lets a pitcher hit, don't we?--let's try to make a quick pass through there today. If you want to use these as a guide, odds are you better figure the opposite is really going to happen!
For the fifth straight year, Playing Pepper returns to C70 At The Bat. If you aren't aware, this series helps get a feel for the other 29 teams in baseball by asking those that follow them the closest--their bloggers. We've got spring training action going, so it's time to play a little pepper.
New York Yankees
95-67, first in the AL East, lost in the ALCS
The world shifted a bit on its axis last season, as Baltimore threatened to crash the party usually reserved for those Northeastern types. Instead, the Yankees righted the ship and caught the Orioles right at the wire, then was able to clip their wings again in the postseason before Detroit proved to be too much for the New Yorkers.
In that last game, Derek Jeter went down with an ankle injury and the news overall hasn't trended upward since then for the Bronx Bombers. Two major cogs have gone down in the spring and a team that used to sniff at the luxury tax is now becoming more cost conscious.
So what do we make of these pinstriped players? You and I don't have to make anything of them, because I've got another great lineup of bloggers to do that work for us.
You know, during the winter, there were a lot of days where there just wasn't anything to talk about. Things were slow and we grasped at whatever crumbs we could find. Yesterday, well, yesterday wasn't one of those days.
Let's start with the biggest news. Rafael Furcal will be having Tommy John surgery next week, effectively ending his season. OK, sure, after last year and Chris Carpenter you hesitate a bit to put "season ending" down in print, but I think we can be pretty sure of this one. The Goat curse continues in a unique way, because it seems unlikely Furcal will ever see the field in a Cardinal uniform again.
Of course, this news set off a ton of recriminations toward John Mozeliak, most of which seem to be unwarranted. If what he says is accurate, that no doctor last year recommended surgery, then I don't think you can blame Furcal and the team for not going that route. Getting cut on is not exactly a walk in the park, after all. We have had amazing advances in medical technology and knowledge, but surgery still is one of those things that you tend to not have unless there are no other options.
And, if that's the case, it really hamstrung Mo this offseason. He likely knew Furcal was going to have issues, even though the reports during the winter seemed to indicate he was healing, but what could you do? You can't get a Stephen Drew to come in when he wants a guarantee he will start. You can't use some of your significant trade chips to bring in a shortstop knowing that he'll be sitting the bench if Furcal is ready to go. It was a tough corner to be in.
That said, you do wonder if he couldn't have shored up the backup role a little better in preparation for such an eventuality. Pete Kozma looks to be the starter now (an obvious departure from the Tony La Russa days, where Ronny Cedeno would have been written into the lineup due to his veteran status) and if the team actually thinks he can be some part of the player that he was last year, even though his minor league numbers don't support that, then more power to them, I guess. It could happen, sure, but it seems like a dangerous way to bet. As for Cedeno, when the only person that was in favor of your signing (the general manager) says in relation to how he's been doing in spring with, "Um, not good," I don't think I'd get entirely comfortable, though it seems like he'll go with the team anyway due to a lack of other options and the fact that Mo inexplicably gave him a major league contract instead of a minor league one. (However, Joe Strauss notes his contract isn't guaranteed, so we might not be seeing much more of him.)
In an ideal world, Mo would have made a move for a young shortstop who could have been the backup this year, being groomed to take over the role in 2014. That way, if Furcal did go down, you could still use Kozma and let this new guy ease into things or throw him into the deep water and let him start. However, I'll freely admit that save for Jurickson Profar, whom the Rangers are not going to part with, I don't know where said shortstop would have come from.
That said, there's no need to panic. (Great idea for a Jupiter T-shirt: "Keep Calm and Kozma On".) As Strauss writes, a full season from Furcal wasn't in the plans anyway, given all his health issues. Most teams don't have All-Stars at every position, yet the Cards could make the case for one everywhere but the middle of the diamond. If Kozma is as defensively adept as he's made out to be (which was better than a hurt Furcal last year), it won't matter too much what he hits. I do have visions of rallies dying on the vine when Daniel Descalso and Kozma are stacked back-to-back at the bottom of the lineup, but it would also be reasonable to expect that Descalso will have a stronger season than last year and that might not be as terrifying a vision as it seems on first glance. Couple that with the fact Matt Carpenter might start some games at second and the offense part of the equation fades into the background.
All in all, this feels like bigger news than it probably is. Losing two players for the season before the first game starts is a tough thing for a team to deal with, but it looks like the losses of Furcal and Chris Carpenter can be absorbed and not put much of a dent in the playoff aspirations of this team. Which says a lot right there, I think.
Right before the Furcal news came out yesterday, the club made it official that Trevor Rosenthalis going to the bullpen. The Cards were excited about what he brings out of the bullpen and were afraid that he wouldn't get enough innings in spring to stretch him out (for which you can thank Michael Wacha's emergence mostly). On the positive side for Rosenthal, this basically assures him a spot on the major league roster, which is what you want as a player anyway.
It always seemed like there were three outcomes for the three pitchers vying for that last spot in the rotation. One was going to get it, one was going to the bullpen, and one was going to start in Memphis. We've figured out part of the equation, so now what's left is to see which of Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly get to ride in the red convertibles and which one gets to enjoy some Southern BBQ. Kelly pitched yesterday--more on that in a bit--and Miller goes today.
Let's not leave Rosenthal just yet, though. The conventional wisdom is that starters are more valuable than relievers, so moving Rosenthal to the pen seems to be a short-term gain at a long-term loss. I think there's some truth to that. Rosenthal has shown in the past that he can be very effective as a starter and you hate to lose all those innings that he could give you. While the club has said that they'll continue to develop him as a starter if he wants, it seems the longer he's in the bullpen the less likely you can flip the switch without losing some of his effectiveness.
That said, there are a whole lot of starter arms coming up. Right now you still have Kelly and Miller and coming up you have Wacha and Carlos Martinez and perhaps Seth Maness and the list continues on and on. Not all of these guys are going to get regular turns in the Cardinal rotation, there's just too many of them. So the loss of Rosenthal as a starter can be offset pretty easily by some of these other arms. I think we'd rather have Rosenthal as a reliever than him starting against the team somewhere, so this move is definitely not the worst thing that could happen.
This is getting a bit long and we've not even touched on yesterday's game. Click the link to continue!
Every year about this time, the United Cardinal Bloggers take aim at their predictions for the upcoming season. It's a great way to look at the divisions, get a feel for what is going on, and write down picks that you will be trying to scrub from any internet search engine by probably July.
I'm far from an expert, so take all of these picks with a grain of salt. There are few gut picks that don't have a lot of basis in reality, so feel free to take that into consideration when reading them.
Since the American League doesn't really matter as much, we at the UCB just lump it all into one day. So keep reading to see how I pick the divisions to shake out.
In 2009, I decided to get a feel for other teams around baseball by asking bloggers for those teams some questions about their squad. Not only has this series been very popular, but it spawned the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. With camps opening up again and spring training getting into gear, it's time once again to play a little pepper.
New York Yankees
97-65, first in the NL East, lost in five games to Detroit in the ALDS
The Yankees are still the Yankees.
They will spend money, they will win games, and they will get to October. Now, they may not be the lock for the World Series like they used to be and they may be getting a little longer in the tooth, but they are still a team to be reckoned with.
Last year, they were able to eventually cruise to the division title (after a tussle with Boston in the summer), though they played a part in Game 162 by losing to Tampa Bay after having a large lead. However, they weren't able to get past Detroit, losing two one-run games to go home for the winter.
A new season and the Yankees are still considered the team to beat. Writing about them as they do so is an extensive blogosphere, well represented by the people we have with us for this entry.
Gregg Snyder keeps up with the pinstripers at Double G Sports, where you'll find all sorts of sports coverage. He's on Twitter at DoubleGSports.
This baseball team wasn't the richest team, though it wasn't poor by any means. It wasn't the strongest team and it wasn't by any means the fastest team. It wasn't even considered the best team within its region, much less in all the land.
This team had many players that made up its merry band. It had the Warrior, who could battle teams with amazing firepower and also could undermine them with guts and guile, depending on the situation. It had the Young Gun, a man who started building his legend early and then continued to develop it.
There was the Legend, one known far and wide as the most intimidating, the most amazing, the most everything of players. Aiding the Legend was the Hired Hand, imported indirectly from the mountain tribes to help the Legend in his times of trial. To go along with these two was the Rival, a man that had started out as a fierce member of an opposing tribe, only to become a trusted member of this team.
There were others, of course. The Local, the Phenom, the Lefty, the Poet, the Gunslinger, the Finisher. All sorts of names and characters made up this unique team.
Every year, the Lords of Baseball held a contest in the fall of the year, when the leaves were changing and the north winds began to blow. This contest was to see just which team would be able to hold the title of Best Team and feast on the adoration of those that followed these brave and intrepid men. Teams came from far and wide, down long and winding roads, to get to the tournament, well knowing that only eight of them would be allowed inside the gates once they arrived at their destination.
Tony La Russa pulled out another of his sleight of hand tricks today, stating that Chris Carpenterwould be the Game 2 starter in Philadelphia, sending Carpenter out just three days after throwing a complete game shutout.
There's no doubt Tony has his reasons. We talked this morning about Jaime Garcia and how he does much better at home, ruling him out of the first couple of games. It seemed fairly obvious, then, that Edwin Jackson would be the much better choice to go in the second game, until this announcement. As you've probably heard, Carpenter has never--never, mind you--gone on three days' rest in his career.
Josh from Pitchers Hit Eighth and I were chatting on Google Talk this afternoon and he brought up a point that I hadn't considered, namely that Jackson is more of a fly ball pitcher. I recall him going to extremes with that in one of his last starts, as balls continued to fly deeper and deeper, but stay in the ballpark. With Philadelphia's bandbox, those balls would be much more likely to soar over the wall.
However, I wanted to see if that was actually true. Pulling up his Baseball Reference page, I note that he has been a bit more likely to give up the longball since moving to the National League and that his strikeout rate has decreased. His GB/FB is 0.64 and his HR/FB% is at 6%, higher than it has been in his last couple of teams. How much of these numbers are skewed due to the beating he took in Milwaukee, I don't know, but that does have to be considered. Nevertheless, it does look like he'd be an ill fit for Philadelphia. He did not pitch in Citizens Bank Park this season and in his one career game there, he gave up five runs in five innings.
I also think this is a good way for TLR to keep the pressure off of Kyle Lohse. We know that he likes to do that (look at the disastrous attempt back in 2000 with using Darryl Kile as a decoy for Rick Ankiel) and he loves to get the focus on him so that the players can do their jobs without concern. People are talking about Carpenter and whether this decision is the right one. They aren't talking about Lohse having to go up against Roy Halladay.
With Lohse and Carpenter, the latter of which treats 100 pitch games are like warmups, going in enemy territory it does seem like the best way for the Cards to steal a game there and have a chance to win it at home. I'm a little worried that TLR is getting too cute with things and that these kind of moves have a tendency on backfiring, but I understand the logic and it's worth a shot.
Also, per the discussion earlier today, TLR has said that Jake Westbrook will be on the postseason roster, so you can probably go ahead and cross off Eduardo Sanchez, which is too bad because I really think he could make a difference.
Quick plug before I wrap this: you can hear my thoughts on the upcoming series and some on the season that's past on this Popblerd podcast. Garrett and I have known each other for a couple of years, as internet people know each other at least, and it was good to sit down and talk to him about the squad. I hope to have him on my podcast sometime this winter so we can have a chat about the San Francisco squad.
Before the 2006 postseason, I remember looking at the path the Cardinals were going to take and thinking that they really had a legitimate shot. I felt like they could get past San Diego, in part because they always did. I looked at the Mets and thought that the Cards had the pitching edge in that series because Pedro Martinez was unavailable. I looked at Detroit and again thought the Cards had the edge because of their pitching and how they were playing, having everyone healthy and ready to go.
I look at this 2011 postseason and, while they don't necessarily have all the edges that the 2006 squad had, I really do like their chances. Getting past Philadelphia will be tough, but it's a team that the Cards have beaten in the regular season so I don't think there will be as much of an intimidation factor as there might be with some other teams. Couple that with a fairly experienced squad and I think they can beat Philadelphia in five.
I'm not sure who wins in the Arizona/Milwaukee series, but I think the Cardinals can hang with either of them. The Cards went 4-3 against Arizona and 9-9 against Milwaukee. Arizona has a big top two of Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy, but the Cards can counter those and have been able to get to those guys as well. As for Milwaukee, a matchup against them in the NLCS would be epic. You know it'd go seven games and all the stops would get pulled out. The Cards have proven they can beat their aces (though Yovani Gallardo can give them fits) and the Brewers have done damage against the Cards. Again, I'm not saying that the Cards would definitely win against either of those teams, but I think there's a legitimate case to be made that they could.
Finally, you get to the World Series, and I don't think any team that makes it that far out of the AL doesn't have their own weaknesses. The Tigers can't throw Justin Verlander every night. The Yankees drop off after CC Sabathia. I'm not sold on the Rangers pitching (and, being that the Rays are now beating the Rangers 6-0 in a game that their ace started, there seems to be a reason) and the Rays....well, now, the Rays might make for an interesting time. They have good pitching and a solid offense to go along with it. Just on the face of it, I think Tampa Bay will be the toughest team the AL can send to the Series.
I know it's optimistic, I know it's red-colored glasses, but if the Cards can get past Philadelphia (which, admittedly, is a tough but possible chore), I really like their chances. However, as the players say, we've got to take it one game at a time. And that game is tomorrow afternoon. Go Cards!
You wouldn't think Derek Jeter would be the cause of any headaches
for the New York Yankees. An 11-time All-Star, 1996 American League
Rookie of the Year, presumptive first-round Hall of Famer. A .313
lifetime batting average with 236 home runs and 1,146 runs batted in.
And, unless something goes drastically wrong, about to become the only
player to accrue 3,000 hits for the Bronx Bombers.
But the expiration of his contract at the end of the 2010 season
presented a problem for the team: What to do with him? Should they give a
37-year-old shortstop with diminishing skills the long-term contract he
wants to end his career in the sacred pinstripes, or do they risk the
enmity of their fans for allowing him to sign with another team? A
Hobson's choice, to be sure.
Eventually, the Yankees compromised by giving him a shorter deal for
beaucoup bucks. But when Jeter got off to a slow start, the haters
couldn't wait to say "I told you so." There was even a recent front-page
story about his decline in The New York Times. But a two-home
run performance on Mothers' Day seemed to silence the critics --- for
the time being. That's one of the things that's so intriguing about the
timing of Ian O'Connor's THE CAPTAIN: The Journey of Derek Jeter. When
he began the project a couple of years ago, did he perhaps expect Jeter
would "relocate" or retire? Did he want to take advantage of what might
be the popular figure's swan song? And when it didn't transpire that
way, why did the publisher decide to push ahead, knowing there would be
more to come?
Just prior to its release, THE CAPTAIN made headlines in the local
tabloids, focusing on the frosty relationships between Jeter and a few
of his teammates, most notably former "BFF" Alex Rodriguez. Leave it to
the likes of the Post and Daily News to focus on one
aspect in an otherwise near-perfect career to inflame the situation (and
boost newspaper sales). Whether or not that issue is out of proportion
to the rest of the book is irrelevant. In fact, it is precisely Jeter's
goody-two-shoes persona that probably cries out for reviewers and
sportswriters to find that one nugget of controversy.
The book is overwhelmingly complimentary, praising Jeter as a
hard-working athlete, always trying to improve himself. He is
respectful; he would call his manager "Mr. Torre," rather than more
informal appellations; and he remains unfazed to a large extent by his
celebrity status. (Of course, one can always fall on the "half full/half
empty" school of interpretation. O'Connor would have the reader do a
lot of reading between the lines.) Being a living legend isn't easy.
Fans and employers expect nothing short of brilliance, and when they
don't get it, the sniping begins, primarily in the form of shots that
appear in the media. And who among us is ever thrilled by criticism?
Jeter, too, is not a saint. He has his moments of pique, where he
shows annoyance at teammates who do not live up to his standards.
O'Connor credits (blames?) him for having an unpopular player traded,
but offers no hard evidence. In fact, if there's a knock on the
narrative, it's the writer's frequent employment of innuendo. In the
section "Note on the Authors Interviews and Sources," O'Connor
acknowledges "piecing together the narrative" by "lean[ing] on scores of
interviews with Jeter that I either conducted or participated in over
the course of his fifteen-year career" (Jeter is now in his 17th
season). Some media and sports pundits and reviewers have questioned the
accuracy/fairness of this method of reportage; Jeter himself has
offered a few complaints.
One almost wishes O'Connor had waited until Jeter retired
for a more appreciative coda for one of the finest players of his
generation. Despite its overall positive portrayal, as it stands, it
comes across as obviously incomplete.
(Ron Kaplan hosts Ron Kaplan's Baseball Bookshelf, a blog about baseball literature and other media. This review originally appeared on Bookreporter.com. Reprinted with permission of the writer.)
Two years ago, I started a series I called Playing Pepper, where I asked questions of bloggers of each major league team about the season to come. Not only was that informative and entertaining, it led to the spawning of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. With spring training coming up, it's time to get back into shape by again playing a little pepper.
New York Yankees (95-67, 1 GB and second in the AL East; lost in ALCS)
If you ever want to get a strong opinion, toss out the word "Yankees" to a group of baseball fans. Some may love them, some may hate them, but all of them have some sort of feeling about them.
The tradition and history of the Yankees appeals to a lot of people while their checkbook baseball (or at least, that perception) turns off just as many. The good thing about the biggest team in the biggest market? There are a lot of great bloggers to tap.
Gregg Snyder, Jr. pens Double G Sports, which not only covers the Yankees but also other New York sporting teams, both professional and college. Keep up with him on Twitter as well as Facebook, or give a listen to his regular Blog Talk Radio show.
Last year before the season began, I posed five questions to a blogger for each team, so as to get to know the rest of baseball. I focus so heavily on the Cardinals that sometimes the rest of MLB can pass me by. That went very well, so much so that it spawned not only a postseason edition but was part of the impetus for the formation of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.
So this year, I've brought Playing Pepper back, with a little bit of a twist. Instead of five questions, I posed 10 questions, and this year every team got the same set. Plus, tapping into those BBA connections, I sent them to every blogger representing that team in the BBA.
We'll try to do two a day in a general alphabetical order---ah, who are we kidding, we'll get them up when we get them up.
New York Yankees 2009 Finish: 103-59, first in AL East, won World Series
OK, you really can never feel sorry for Yankee fans. I'm pretty sure that's part of the agreement you sign when you start following baseball. You either root for the Yankees or, at the very least, you don't feel pity for them.
That said, in Yankee terms the championship last year ended a terrible drought, especially because the Red Sox had won two titles since the Yanks had won one. It was a righting of the world order, in some degree. But are we on the cusp of another Yankee dynasty? Lisa and Jon from Subway Squawkers took a look at the upcoming season for me.