American League West Predictions

(Looking for my NL West preview? Here it is!)

“Oh cool, a helicopter!” -Jose Altuve, probably

5. Houston Astros 

 2013 Record: 51-111 (5th in division)

Manager: Bo Porter (2nd season as mansger, 51-111 career record)

General manager: Jeff Luhnow

Home field: Minute Maid Park

So what’s good?: Bupkiss.

Just kidding. There isn’t any reason for Astros fans to commit mass suicide yet. While this team has absolutely no hope of a winning record, much less making the playoffs, this season, there still are reasons to head to Minute Maid Park in 2014. For one, the big league team, despite barely being better than most AAA teams, has some solid talent in young players such as Jason Castro, Jose Altuve, Dexter Fowler, Chris Carter, Matt Dominguez, Jarred Cosart, Brett Oberholtzer and L.J. Hoes. None of these guys are superstars, obviously, but as a young core group of players, you could do worse.

And lest we forget that the Astros have the best farm system in the game, the beneficiaries of a bunch of good drafts. George Springer, Domingo Santana and Jonathan Singleton are all knocking on the door of the big league club, and Carlos Correa, Mark Appel and Mike Foltynewicz should all be factors way down the line.

Sounds great, but what sucks?: What could I possibly say about the Astros’ chances this year that hasn’t already been said?

Team Grade: D

Insert “99 Problems”joke here.

4. Seattle Mariners

 2013 Record: 71-91 (4th in division)

 Manager: Lloyd McClendon (6th season as manager (1st with Mariners) 336-446 career record)

 General manager: Jack Zdurienczik

 Home field: Safeco Field

 So, what’s good?: If there’s one nice thing to say about the Seattle Mariners, it’s that their rotation is very impressive. Felix Hernandez, of course is a wonderful pitcher, and should contend for the Cy Young Award, but often overlooked is Japanese hurler Hisashi Iwakuma, who was arguably even better than Hernandez last year. When you factor in the arrivals of prospects Taijuan Walker and Canadian lefty James Paxton, you have what could potentially be a great rotation on your hands.

There are some bright spots in this lineup as well, such as the highly underrated third-baseman, Kyle Seager, highly-touted catching prospect Mike Zunino and, of course, the highest profile signing of the offseason, Yankee expat Robinson Cano, probably the best second baseman in the game and a probable MVP candidate.

Sounds great, but what sucks?: Remember how I said how great the M’s rotation was? Well, that was before Walker and Iwakuma got hurt and became doubtful to not miss the start of the season and the rotation was depleted to Hernandez, Paxton and such superstars as Erasmo Ramirez and Blake Beavan. Add what looks to be, even with the addition of Fernando Rodney, a very thin bullpen (Although Rodney’s in decline, anyways) and you have a recipe for a ton of runs allowed, at least until the starting pitching gets healthy.

And the starting lineup doesn’t inspire much confidence either. Aside from Seager and Cano, most of the hitters are either mediocre (Justin Smoak, Logan Morrison, Michael Saunders, Dustin Ackley) or unproven (Zunino, Brad Miller). And holy shit, why would you pay $6 million dollars to Corey Hart? I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but I’m even more sure he hasn’t played in a major league baseball game since the end of the 2012 season. And while I may not be the best judge of managers, Lloyd McClendon’s poor record with the Pirates from 2001-05 isn’t that impressive.

Team Grade: C-

Admit it. You thought Bryce Harper was gonna be the next big thing too.

 3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

 2013 record: 78-84 (3rd in division)

 Manager: Mike Scioscia (15th season as manager, 1233-1035 career record)

 General manager:Jerry Dipoto

 Home field: Angel Stadium of Anaheim

 So what’s good?: Any discussion about the strong points of the Angels has to begin and end with Mike Trout, the best all-around player in MLB bar none. He probably should have won MVP awards the last two seasons (Although it’d be hard to make an argument against Miguel Cabrera) and has to be considered the favourite to win the big prize this year, even if his team doesn’t make the playoffs.

 Another point in the Angels favour is the improved starting rotation, which was just plain rancid last year. Jered Weaver should be excellent, as long as he stays healthy, C.J. Wilson is a very good pitcher, although he is criminally overpaid, and Garrett Richards and Hector Santiago are some nice young talent. And let’s not forget about Tyler Skaggs, whom they acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Sounds great, but what sucks?: I have a feeling that Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton are going to rebound a bit this year, but I’m also quite sure that a) neither are going to be elite players ever again and b) even that slight rebound will not be enough to justify the inhuman amount of money that they’re being awarded in 2014 or going to be awarded way down the line. These idiotic contracts may turn out to be the reason that the Angels may not be able to afford to lock up Mike Trout before he becomes a free agent in 2018.

Team Grade: B-

 

Just let them move to San Jose already! That’s fucking disgusting!

2. Oakland Athletics

2013 record: 96-66 (1st in division)

Manager: Bob Melvin (11th season as manager (4th with A’s) 730-694 career record (237-186 with A’s))

General manager: Billy Beane

Home field: O.co Coliseum

So what’s good?: The good news is, aside from the recent injuries to their starting rotation, the A’s don’t really have a discernible weakness. The bullpen looks great, as seems to be the norm in Oakland, even if I maintain that Jim Johnson is highly overrated, and there isn’t a single bad player on the starting lineup. Sure, one could complain that there’s no real superstar, but who could really complain about a 1-2-3-4-5 of Coco Crisp, Josh Donaldson, Jed Lowrie, Yoenis Cespedes and Brandon Moss?

Sounds great, but what sucks?: The young A’s rotation has, unfortunately for my second-favourite team, fallen prey to injuries. Jarrod Parker is going to miss the season because of Tommy John surgery and A.J. Griffin is going to miss the first few weeks of the regular season with elbow tendinitis. I suppose you could ask for a worse rotation than Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Dan Straily, Tommy Milone and Jesse Chavez, but it could still cost them some serious ground.

Team grade: B+

Catcher J.P. Arencibia posing for his first Texas Rangers headshot. Or hiding from irate Blue Jays fans. Either would be applicable.

1. Texas Rangers

2013 record: 91-72 (2nd in division)

Manager: Ron Washington (8th season as manager, 611-524 career record)

General Manager: Jon Daniels

Home field: Globe Life Park in Arlington

So what’s good?: No intelligent pitching staff wouldn’t shudder in fear upon glancing at the Rangers’ lineup. It’s a nice mix of 20-20 candidates (Alex Rios, Shin-Soo Choo) elite hitters (Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder) speedsters (Elvis Andrus, Leonys Martin) and even a couple of strikeout-prone sluggers (J.P. Arencibia, Mitch Moreland), you know, to lull opponents into a false sense of security until they get hot. Or something.

To compliment this beast of a lineup, the Rangers have a good bullpen, led by Joakim Soria, Alexi Ogando, Neal Cotts and Jason Frasor among others, a good rotation, once healthy, and the great management skills of Ron Washington backing them up.

Sounds great, but what sucks?: What with all the injuries to the A’s pitching staff, I would  have had Texas as the clear favourite to win the division… Until 60% of their rotation was struck down by the injury bug.

Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison are likely to miss a few starts at the beginning of the season, and Derek Holland will be out ’till mid-season.  Until they return, their rotation will likely consist of Martin Perez (A very good young starter), Tanner Scheppers (Who has a previous career high of seven starts in the minors), Robbie Ross (Hasn’t started a game since since 2011, in the minors), Joe Saunders (5.26 ERA in 2013) and Nick Martinez (Who the hell is Nick Martinez). Also, second baseman Jurickson Profar will miss a whole bunch of time in the beginning of the year. Other than that though, I don’t see why the Rangers shouldn’t compete this year.

Team Grade: A-

To be continued…

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National League West Predictions

Well, it’s that time of the year again.

Time again for the seemingly endless cycle of initial excitement, heartbreak, fleeting hope and bitterness that is yet another Major League Baseball season.

Anybody feel like deducing who my favourite team is?

Since the season is starting in several hours (In the middle of March. In Australia.), I’ve decided to kick off my predictions for the 2014 Major League Baseball season. Since the Diamondbacks and the Dodgers are the first teams to play, I’ve decided to start with the West division of the National League, as they are the only teams who are going to play meaningful games. Have a problem with that? I don’t give a shit.

Teenage obnoxiousness aside, I’ll get to the other division later. Let’s get this party started, shall we?

(For anybody looking for movie reviews: Don’t worry. This isn’t becoming a baseball blog. I would sooner kill myself then write about the Jays every week. Stay tuned for more movie reviews.)

Troy Tulowitzki is, by far, the best shortstop in baseball, displaying a .876 lifetime OPS, 30+ homer power and good defense to boot. Now, if only he could stay healthy for more than a few goddamn weeks at a time.

5. Colorado Rockies

2013 Record: 74-88 (5th in division)

Manager: Walt Weiss (2nd season as manager, 74-88 career record)

General manager: Dan O’Dowd

Home field: Coors Field

So, what’s good?: Well, the Rox might have some help on the way for their oft-battered rotation. Flame-throwing right-hander  Jonathan Gray should come up sometime in 2015, while Eddie Butler should make his debut later this year. The Rockies also have a pretty decent looking middle of the order with Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki, Michael “Hopefully not a fluke at age 34” Cuddyer, newly-acquired Justin Morneau and Wilin Rosario, the best catcher you’ve barely heard of. And, while he’s not exactly Larry Walker, Nolan Arenado is the best Mexican-sounding defensive third baseman this side of Manny Machado.

Sounds great, but what sucks?: Well, while their top three starters (Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood) all had good years, who knows if you can ever bet on pitching consistency at Coors field, especially when the bottom two rotation spots are likely to go to some combination of Juan Nicasio (5.14 ERA in 2013), Franklin Morales (4.62 ERA in 2014) and Brett Anderson (6.04 ERA and a crap-load of injuries in 2013).

And it isn’t even a given that their superstars (Namely, Tulowitzki and Gonzalez) deliver either. Tulo hasn’t managed to play over 150 games since 2009 while Gonzalez hasn’t even really come close to equaling his career high of 145 games in 2010.

Team Grade: C-

What the fuck are these two doing?

4. San Diego Padres 

 2013 Record: 76-86 (3rd in division)

 Manager: Bud Black (8th season as manager, 540-595 career record)

 General manager: Josh Byrnes

 Home field: PETCO Park

 So, what’s good?: Well, like the Rockies, the Padres have some good young talent coming up through the pipeline. Unlike the Rockies, however, the Padres have much more, and they actually have enough in the majors now that you can see a core of people like Chase Headley, Jedd Gyorko, Everth Cabrera, Yonder Alonso and Andrew Cashner establishing themselves. When you consider this and the fact that players like Max Fried, Austin Hedges and Reymond Fuentes are knocking on the door, and you could see a pretty good team emerge in a couple years or so.

In addition, I think San Diego has one of the better bullpens on the game and, going solely by their team page on mlbdepthcharts.com, I fail to see someone who could be considered a weak link, with the exception of Patrick Schuster, who hasn’t pitched above Class A. Huston Street, Joaquin Benoit, Nick Vincent, Dale Thayer, Alex Torres and Tim Stauffer are all names that inspire confidence in me, though.

Sounds great, but what sucks?: There are way too much question marks surrounding this team, most of them injury-related. Headley is injury-prone, as are Carlos Quentin, Alonso, Cameron Maybin (Who is already on the DL), Yasmani Grandal (Ditto) and Josh Johnson. Also, my memory of Joaquin Benoit blowing leads in the 2013 ALCS is still pretty vivid, so maybe I spoke too soon about the bullpen.

Speaking of Josh Johnson, Lord knows I’m not his biggest fan after contributing a 6.20 ERA to my Toronto Blue Jays last year. However, let’s not forget that he has a very respectable 3.40 ERA for his career and had injury problems last year. This is pretty much the epitome of a low-risk, high reward signing. However, who knows if he’ll be enough to help a rotation that will already be missing Cory Luebke and Casey Kelly.

Team Grade: C+

“Look at me! I’m Kirk Gibson and I’m gritty! Grrrrr!!!”

 3. Arizona Diamondbacks

 2013 record: 81-81 (2nd in division)

 Manager: Kirk Gibson (5th season as manager, 290-279 career  record)

 General manager: Kevin Towers

 Home field: Chase Field

 So what’s good?: Aside from their defense and their bullpen, the D’backs don’t have too much to feel bad about. They would have liked to have Patrick Corbin stay off the DL, but even with their best pitcher missing the entire season, they still have a solid, if not particularly special rotation of Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill, Brandon McCarthy, Bronson Arroyo and Randall Delgado. This talented rotation should benefit from the eventual addition of Archie Bradley, the best pitching prospect in baseball, who is expected to debut some time this year.

I like their lineup too. Paul Goldschmidt is a wonderful young player, and as good a guy as any to build a team around. I’m a big Aaron Hill fan as long as he stays healthy, and Mark Trumbo, Martin Prado and Miguel Montero aren’t anything to sniff at either.

Sounds great, but what sucks?: I hate the D’backs management. I hate, hate, hate it.

I hate that they try to give off the image of false toughness, which always ends up looking like they’re trying too hard. I can’t believe those idiots haven’t figured out that hitting batters is not usually conducive to winning ball games.

Also, they can’t make a deal to save their lives. In recent years, they have given up Justin Upton, Adam Eaton, Tyler Skaggs, Matt Davidson and Trevor Bauer, and are apparently still pondering how in the world they’ve finished at .500 the last two years. Trading away your future tends to lead to mediocrity, guys.

But more on that later…

Also, the bullpen does not impress me much. Oliver Perez, J.J. Putz and Brad Ziegler inspire some confidence, but beyond them, nut David Hernandez, Addison Reed and Joe Thatcher cancel that out.

Team Grade: B-

Sergio Romo, where did you get that shirt? I kinda want it.

2. San Francisco Giants

2013 record: 76-86 (3rd in division)

Manager: Bruce Bochy (20th season managing (8th with Giants), 1530-1530 career record (579-555 with Giants))

General Manager: Brian Sabean

Home field: AT&T Park

So what’s good?: I don’t really buy the Giants’ demise last year. It was pretty much the same team that won the World Series, but I guess the good luck went the other team’s way more often this year.

I can easily see the Giants being a playoff team this year. This is a damn solid team. I still have faith in Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong turning it around, and Madison Bumgarner is looking like a bona-fide ace, though I’m still iffy on Tim Hudson dominating again. Other than them (And maybe Michael Morse) there isn’t that much holes in this team. I’m a big Brandon Belt fan…

Gee, I wonder why…

… and he, Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro are great table-setters for Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval. Even Morse and Brandon Crawford can do some pretty serious damage to any team caught unawares.

Sounds great, but what sucks?: Like San Diego, there are a bit too much question marks surrounding this team then I’d be comfortable with if I were Bruce Bochy (Whom I believe is a hall of fame manager, by the way). For example, there are four, count ’em, FOUR starters in the rotation (Everybody besides Bumgarner) who are coming off bad or injury-filled seasons, and their lineup, while good, won’t be setting the world on fire anytime soon.

Team Grade: B+

Kneel before Puig!!!

 1. Los Angeles Dodgers

 2013 record: 92-70 (1st in division)

 Manager: Don Mattingly (4th season as manager, 260-225 career record)

 General manager: Ned Colletti

 Home field: Dodger Stadium

 So what’s good?: A better question might be “What isn’t good?”. With the exception of second base, every position is plugged up by an above -average to excellent player, and the rotation has , quite possibly the best 1-2-3 punch in baseball, with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu. Bringing in Paul Maholm and Dan Haren to round out the bottom of the rotation isn’t quite as big a splash as I thought they would make (I thought they were a shoo-in for Masahiro Tanaka, personally) but it could pay very big dividends.

Sounds great, but what sucks?: Nothing really. The only problems I foresee are at the second base position, where Cuban acquisition Alexander Guerrero (Who has previously only played shortstop) is struggling so badly defensively that he may be replaced in the early-going by a tandem of Dee Gordon and Justin Turner. Also, Josh Beckett may make the rotation and I think he’s washed up, but otherwise, I can’t really rag on the Dodgers.

Team grade: A

To be continued…

MLB’s Japanese Dream Team (Part 2: The Starting Rotation)

(This is a continuation of this post)

1. Yu Darvish

 Japanese team: Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters (2005-2011)

  MLB team: Texas Rangers (2012-Present)

   Scouted by the Angels and the Braves as early as high school, this Japanese-Iranian righty decided instead to sign with the hilariously named Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. Darvish spent the next seven seasons putting up some of the best numbers that Nippon Professional Baseball had ever seen, going 93-38, with a 1.99 ERA, a couple MVP awards, an Eiji Sawamura Award (The Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young Award), two Gold Glove Awards, and five All-Star nods. That and his performance in the 2009 World Baseball Classic (In which he got the last out of the tournament in the championship game against South Korea) started making fans and big league teams in North America salivate.

After a long bidding war, the Texas Rangers beat out the Toronto Blue Jays (Goddammit!) for Darvish’s services. He signed a six-year, $60 million dollar contract. I believe Clayton Kershaw referred to that sum as: “adorable.”

Anyway, his first season in America wasn’t quite Clayton Kershaw-like, but he was still very good, posting a 3.90 Earned Run Average and striking out 221 hitters. He finished in the top 10 of both the Rookie of the Year race (Behind Mike Trout and Yoenis Cespedes) and the Cy Young  race (In which David Price won). In 2013, however, he really pitched at or near his full potential, nearly throwing a perfect game on Opening Day (Granted, it was against the Astros, but still…) and finishing second in the Cy Young Award Race, ahead of countryman Hisashi Iwakuma, but behind the Tigers ace, Max Scherzer.

2. Hiroki Kuroda

  Japanese Team: Hiroshima Toyo Carp (1997-2007)

  MLB Teams: Los Angeles Dodgers (2008-2011) New York Yankees (2012-2013)

  The relentlessly good 38-year old from Osaka, Hiroki Kuroda has, over the last five years, become not only one of the best pitchers to ever cross the Pacific, but one of the most consistent players in baseball today.

  Kuroda was a mediocre-to-bad pitcher for his first few years with the Hiroshima Carp (Carps?), posting 6.00+ ERA’s in ’98 and ’99. He righted the ship at the turn of the century, however, and went on to post a 3.69 ERA in the NPB. Signing with the Dodgers in 2007, he pitched four rather under-the-radar seasons with the Dodgers that were nonetheless very good, even contributing a 2011 season that could have been a top-ten Cy Young Award contender if his 13-16 record didn’t look so bad in the eyes of people who still think that wins and losses are worth a damn. Leaving the Dodgers after the 2011 season, Kuroda signed with the Yankees, and has been re-signed two more times to one-year deals. He might’ve been in the mix for the AL Cy Young Award in 2013 if he hadn’t faded in August and September, as the Yankees missed the playoffs.

  3. Hisashi Iwakuma 

  Japanese Teams: Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes (2000-04) Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (2005-11)

  MLB Team: Seattle Mariners (2012-Present)

  Poor Hisashi Iwakuma. Not only is he not the first player that leaps to mind when you think of Japanese aces (That’d be Yu Darvish, obviously), he isn’t even the most well-known pitcher on the Mariners!

That said, maybe living under Felix Hernandez’s shadow has helped Iwakuma excel, performing exceptionally well in both his seasons with the Mariners so far.

An elite pitcher in Japan and the 2009 World Baseball Classic along with future big leaguer Yu Darvish and future train wreck Daisuke Matsuzaka, Iwakuma was posted by the Golden Eagles, with the Oakland Athletics winning the bidding. However the two sides did not agree to a deal, and Iwakuma  played in Japan for one more year before signing with the Seattle Mariners.

(Fact: The A’s are 1 for 6 when it comes to Japanese players.  Their only success was the short stint that Hideki Okajima had at the end of 2013. Relief pitcher Keiichi Yabu pitched poorly for them in 2005, Akinori Iwamura hit .129 in 10 games with them in 2010, Hideki Matsui was very bad for them in 2011, they failed to sign Iwakuma, and, most recently, they signed charismatic star shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima to a two-year deal prior to the 2013 season only to have him display poor form in Spring Training (During which he lost the starting job to Jed Lowrie), started the season in AAA, hit for a .698 OPS (Bad) for the Sacramento River Cats, and get outrighted to the minors)

  4. Hideo “The Tornado” Nomo 

  Japanese Team: Kintetsu Buffaloes

  MLB Teams: Los Angeles Dodgers (1995-98, 2002-04) New York Mets (1998) Milwaukee Brewers (1999) Detroit Tigers (2000) B0ston Red Sox (2001) Tampa Bay Devil Rays (2005) Kansas City Royals (2008)

  This is him, folks. The man who really got the ball rolling  when it comes to Asian baseball players. Nicknamed “The Tornado” because of his bizarre mechanics, Nomo pitched great for the Kintetsu Buffaloes, but got into a contract dispute with them. To get off the team and break into a career in America, he exploited a loophole in his contract with the Buffaloes and was signed by the Dodgers in February of 1995.

After a month spent pitching in the minors thanks to the strike, Nomo made his debut and took the nation by storm, becoming a minor celebrity in the States, and a hero in Japan. His best season was his first one, when he posted a 2.54 ERA (Which is excellent) and won the Rookie of the Year Award. He had a couple more fine seasons (In 1996, he became the last Dodger to throw a no-hitter) with the Dodgers before imploding and bouncing from team to team over the next few years. In 2001, he finally put together an OK season with the Boston Red Sox (In which he threw a no-hitter on his first start of the season), which convinced the Dodgers to re-sign him. He had two great years with the Dodgers before imploding once again. Nomo may have been nowhere near a Hall of Famer, but every Japanese big league star owes at least part of their success to the Tornado.

 5. Tomo Ohka

Japanese Teams: Yokohama BayStars (1994-98, 2010-11) Toyama Thunderbirds (Independent) (2013)

 MLB Teams: Boston Red Sox (1999-2001) Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals (2001-2005) Milwaukee Brewers (2005-06) Toronto Blue Jays (2007) Cleveland Indians (2009)

 “Who?” is right.

  Tomo Ohka wasn’t well known or good in Japan either, but his ability to control pitches drew interest from the Boston Red Sox, who signed him in 1999. After pitching well in AAA, he was called up in July, and pitched poorly for the Red Sox. He righted the ship the next year, however, and pitched solidly before being traded to the Expos. He actually pitched very well for the Expos and Nationals in his years with the team, but pitched poorly once again after being traded to the Brewers. After short stints with the Jays and the Indians, he returned to Japan, where he was pretty much awful. In 2013, he reinvented himself as a knuckeball pitcher with the indie league Toyama Thunderbirds, and, after the season, signed a minor league contract with the Blue Jays.

To be continued…