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Right Field

Brief chronicles of our sporting times.

Frenchy Stars in the Video of the Day



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What is the world coming to when minor leaguers, including some who have never played a single game in the majors, pull a practical joke on a player with almost enough big-league playing time under his belt to be eligible for Hall of Fame consideration?

Nah, this is too funny to care all that much:

After spending 10 years in the big leagues, Jeff Francoeur finds himself playing for San Diego’s Triple A affiliate in El Paso. Instead of rolling out the red carpet to welcome the free-swinging outfielder, the Chihuahuas decided to play a month-long prank on him.

It took a total team effort to convince Francoeur starting pitcher Jorge Reyes was deaf. The payoff for this massive conspiracy is a seven-minute video roasting him for his stupidity.

More here.

Tags: MLB

Reveille 4/14/14



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Good morning.

Here are several links from the past week that will make your Monday at the office a bit more bearable:

  • Not only did Garcia’s teammate, Jose Abreu, slug two home runs against the Indians on Thursday evening, reports Lindsey Foltin of Fox Sports Ohio, he managed to tear open a brand-new ball with another swing.   
  • Abreu’s 439-foot bomb in the second inning of that game came off Danny Salazar. Gammons Daily’s Bill Chuck noted that the 24-year-old fireballer had a most peculiar outing:

Salazar faced just 18 batters [over three and two-thirds innings,] allowing six hits, including two homers and a double, and walked two and permitted five runs.

Now here’s the amazing part . . .

He struck out every other batter he faced.

Check out his BABIP yesterday — the White Sox were perfect [1.000].

That’s it. Have a walk-off week!

Tags: MLB

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Nebraska’s Bo Pelini Takes the Field - With His Cat



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First, some background. There’s a hilarious Twitter-parody account of Nebraska’s head football coach called @FauxPelini that has a photoshopped picture of the acerbic coach cuddling with a cat:

Pelini has been good-natured about the account in the past, and at one point asked the parody account for his cat back.

And to continue the gag, Pelini brought the cat with him to Nebraska’s spring game, much to the delight of the fans:

Click the link in the tweet above for the video.

According to ESPN’s write-up of the game, the Huskers have issues at QB. Can the cat help with that I wonder?

 

Tags: NCAA

Report: Manziel Had Top QB Wonderlic Score



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CBS Sports:

Texas A&M redshirt sophomore quarterback Johnny Manziel reportedly scored a 32 on the Wonderlic intelligence test, tops among the highest-ranked prospects at the position in the 2014 NFL Draft. [. . .]

For most teams, the timed logic and reasoning test is used to gauge calm and critical thinking in a pressure environment. The test is given by most teams at the Scouting Combine, when they also are put through athletic, medical and psychological testing.

Manziel is regarded as a top 10 prospect in the 2014 draft. As many as five quarterbacks could be drafted in the top 40 picks: UCF’s Blake Bortles, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Fresno State’s Derek Carr and Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garroppolo.

The rest here.

 

Tags: NFL

This White Sox Beer Vendor Has the Play of the Day



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Thanks to Comcast Sports Net Chicago via Big League Stew’s David Brown, we get this painful highlight from the Cell:

As Frank Costanza once explained, “It was a million to one shot, Doc. Million to one.”

Tags: MLB

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Stars and Stripes Burns in Atlanta



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In the aftermath of their home opener on Tuesday, a 4-0 loss to the Mets, Atlanta decided to resume the Civil War:

New pyrotechnics had been affixed to Braves Vision (the big screen in center field), and an errant firework lit the AMERICAN FLAG ON FIRE during a postgame fireworks show. One fan captured the incredible image and shared it on Facebook.

Team spokeswoman Beth Marshall said the team was trying a new location for a pyrotechnic display. …

“The flag was made of flame-retardant material so it didn’t catch fire, but did burn holes.  We replaced the flag immediately following the game and we will no longer use pyrotechnics from that location,” Marshall told Channel 2 Action News.

More here and here.

Sergio’s Moment



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I write this at 10 p.m. Central the night before the Masters, having meant all week to post it. The Masters this year has the worst story lines, entering it, of any Masters I can remember. There’s just no galvanizing story, no rivalry, no stars obviously peaking . . . nothing that makes for great drama going in, other than the fact that this is indeed Augusta, and Augusta in April rarely disappoints.

A few thoughts. First, I won’t even link to them, but I have been struck by an amazing spate of columns in recent days that effectively shovel dirt on the imaginary grave of Tiger Woods. For years, the golf press worshiped, at least in print, so obsequiously at the Shrine of Tiger that it was sickening. It was very, very, very, very, very difficult, pre-2009, to find anybody in print with the guts to criticize Woods about anything. Then, when he had his public fall from grace, the piling on began. He is standoffish. He curses. He’s not as gracious as Nicklaus when he loses. Heck, he’s not as gracious when he wins. He ignores the gallery. He tends to bend the rules in his favor. And on and on. All of these things are true. But none of them were frequently mentioned before Woods’s sex scandals came to light. And this week, with his missing the Masters because of injury, the media have been brutal. They compare him with Nicklaus, in terms of character and grace, and, accurately, find him wanting. They quote fellow players seeming to belittle him and to take his absence in stride, as if he’s no longer really a big deal. And the undertone of these columns is almost gleeful, as if the writers are just really enjoying “sticking it” to Woods.

I say enough already. A lot of the criticisms are accurate. I’m no big Tiger fan. But he’s not a monster. By the standards of any sport other than golf, he’s a reasonably good role model apart from his sexual escapades. He tries to comport himself with dignity, even if it doesn’t come naturally to him. He is usually courteous, even if not warm, to other players. He reveres the military, and honors military personnel every chance he gets. He does do good charitable work for children, and seems to really care about it. He gives all he has on the course. He plays hurt, horribly hurt. 

In short, he’s no ogre. And the time to kick him isn’t when he is down, suffering from a bad back and unable to play. He doesn’t deserve to have his misfortune be cause for being treated badly. Even those of us who don’t want to see him win more majors can and should wish that he be afforded more respect and, more important, more decency . . .

Now, on to those who will actually be playing . . . There is a lot of analysis that could be done. I wish there were time to explain why Trevor Immelman might surprise and put up a real challenge. There are encomiums to be written to Jason Day’s skills and reasons to predict him to win if his wrist holds up. There is also lots of good speculation about the chances of Dustin Johnson. But my crystal tarot tea leaves, sending me smoke signals and saying Abracadabra, tell me the real guy to watch is Sergio Garcia. As good as he has been for so long (it’s been 15 years since he finished second to Woods at the PGA), he still ranks up there with Greg Norman and very few others as having underperformed, in overall records, given the potential that his own hard work has given him. At age 34, after 15 years on the big stage, he still has won not a single major title.

But now is the time for him to step up. His game has really come back in the past 16 months or so, with several Euro titles and some close calls in the United States. He finished third last week in Houston, and for once he is putting beautifully, whereas for a long, long time it was his putting that was his Achilles’ heel. And his nemesis Woods, who seems to “get in his head,” is not around to bedevil Garcia. The Masters recently seems to reward people in the 32–34 age range. Garcia is 34. He is “due,” as the saying goes. Here’s saying Sergio Garcia puts on the Green Jacket on Sunday.

Frank Thomas Has the Quote of the Day



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Without further to-do:

Perhaps the Big Hurt was responding to yesterday’s White Sox-Rockies game in Denver, which featured six home runs by the visiting team.

Never mind that no team has played more than ten games, Frank, the Yankees didn’t hit their first home run of the 2014 season until their sixth contest. They now have three, as do the Marlins and Rangers. Heck, the Royals have yet to hit their first. 

Of course, it’s worth noting that the Hall of Fame newbie blames the ball (and presumably MLB, by extension), not performance-enhancing drugs. We do know that a livelier ball will almost certainly result in more home runs. What is considerably less clear is how PEDs in the bloodstream of hitters and pitchers alike affect the frequency of round-trippers. (For example: “[T]he rate of home runs on contacted balls was higher in 2012 than it was in 1998.”)

Tags: MLB

Ryan Braun 2.0 Slugs Three Home Runs



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The Phillies fans who showed up for their team’s home opener let visitor Ryan Braun know exactly what they thought of his use of and repeated lying about performance-enhancing drugs.

Braun, who had had a quiet first week at the plate, responded to the chorus of boos and shouts of “cheater” by slugging three home runs in a 10–4 win for the Brewers:

Two of the home runs were three-run blasts to left field. The third was a solo shot the opposite way.

More here.

Hank Aaron on Race: Little Has Changed



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Ben Nightengale of USA Today recently interviewed one-time home-run king Henry Aaron, as tonight marks the 40th anniversary of hitting no. 715.

Regrettably, the 80-year-old’s remarks were laced with a Sharpton-esque suggestion that politicos opposed to President Obama are racist:

“To remind myself,” Aaron tells USA TODAY Sports, “that we are not that far removed from when I was chasing the record. If you think that, you are fooling yourself. A lot of things have happened in this country, but we have so far to go. There’s not a whole lot that has changed.

“We can talk about baseball. Talk about politics. Sure, this country has a black president, but when you look at a black president, President Obama is left with his foot stuck in the mud from all of the Republicans with the way he’s treated.

“We have moved in the right direction, and there have been improvements, but we still have a long ways to go in the country.

“The bigger difference is that back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts.”

Aaron went on to say that the decline of African-American participation on the big-league diamond was also an indication that racism was alive and well:

“When I first started playing, you had a lot of black players in the major leagues,” Aaron says. “Now, you don’t have any (7.7% of big-leaguers last season). So what progress have we made? You try to understand, but we’re going backward.”

Actually, a SABR study found that, while Aaron is correct that black-player involvement is down from its 18.5 percent zenith in 1975 (his final season), African-Americans made up a mere 5.4 percent of the ballplayers during his 1954 rookie season and 5.2 percent one year later.

More importantly, the sport has gone global in more recent years. For example, 24 percent of last year’s opening-day MLB rosters consisted of players not from the United States.

More here.

Tags: MLB

Did Boston’s David Ortiz Kill the Presidential Selfie?



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Could be. If so, he deserves a medal.

Exit question: Why is Team Obama more embarrassed by the Samsung-Ortiz stunt than the selfies from the Mandela funeral?

Tags: MLB

Reveille 4/7/14



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Good morning.

Here are several links from the past week that will make your Monday at the office a bit more bearable:

  • C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams claims he didn’t mean to give a shove to the Reds fan who, sporting a knee brace and crutches, snared a foul ball that Adams had attempted to catch. Hmmm.
  • Who is Charlie Blackmon and how did he manage to go 6 for 6 in the Rockies’ third game of the season? ESPN SweetSpot’s David Schoenfield investigates. 
  • Meanwhile, Schoenfield takes issue with the decision of new Nats skipper Matt Willliams to bat Bryce Harper sixth last Wednesday against the Mets (and on Friday against the Braves):

The biggest flaw here is that [Denard] Span is hitting leadoff and he’s clearly one of the weakest hitters on the team. He’s not terrible, so it’s far from the worst lineups we’ve seen, but he doesn’t bring a high enough on-base percentage to offset his lack of power (.279/.327/.380) and he’s not a big enough base thief to create many extra runs that way (20 steals in 2013). He is, however, probably the fastest guy on the team and that’s why he’s hitting leadoff. So Williams has elected — for now — to give an inferior hitter more plate appearances. 

  • Two players were inked to six-year contract extensions last week: Chris Archer of the Rays and Jason Kipnis of the Indians. Cliff Corcoran of SI’s The Strike Zone gives the Kipnis signing a big thumbs-up for Cleveland, noting that “Kipnis has a very similar offensive profile to Dustin Pedroia and Ben Zobrist,” but is three and a half years and six years younger respectively. Similarly, Randy Holt of The Outside Corner notes that, by extending Archer, they “lock[ed] up a pitcher who’s just 25 with big upside, for a very nice price.”
  • An unexpected overnight rainstorm ought not be a problem for teams playing the following evening . . . unless no tarp was covering the stadium infield. Janice Mccauley of the Associated Press provides the soggy details from Oakland. 
  • Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight’s Data Lab explores the relative importance of having a top farm system.
  • In the wake of a successful two-game exhibition series in Montreal — the first baseball games played in the city since the Expos departed after the 2004 season — the Hardball Times’ Blake Murphy looks back at the “10 best moments in the history of Olympic Stadium.” Among them:

Believer Fever: In 2003, with Death knocking at the Expos’ door, Montreal took the first three games of a four-game set from the Phillies. A win in the final game of the series would have created a tie for the Wild Card with a month to play. The crowd was electric, and while the team stumbled down the stretch (no September call-ups? C’mon son), it was a final sign that the city would support the team, even as the fans were getting crapped on.

  • Murphy’s colleague Frank Jackson reviews the mostly refreshing relationship between beer and baseball.

That’s it. Have a walk-off week!

Tags: MLB

18-Inch Stuffed Corn Dogs a Desert Hit



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I am pretty sure the first lady was not at all amused on reading this update from Phoenix:

The Arizona Diamondbacks are having trouble keeping up with the demand for their new D-bat corn dog, an 18-inch long corn dog stuffed with cheese, bacon, and jalapenos.

Arizona says they moved 300 of the $25 behemoths on opening day and now they only have enough left to make 100 per game for the rest of their opening home stand.

Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall told ESPN that the team will use their upcoming road trip to stock up on the necessary provisions and possibly make the D-bat available in more than two of the stadiums concession stands.

Here’s hoping that Chase Field’s bathroom pipes are also able to handle the increased demand. (And considering the ongoing issues at Oakland’s O.Co Coliseum, thank heavens the A’s didn’t come up with a similar product for sale.)

More here.

Tags: MLB

Two Redskins, One Uniform Number



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Via CBS Sports:

What number will Jackson wear in Washington? And that question isn’t as easy to answer as it might seem.

Since his rookie year in 2008, Jackson has worn No. 10. There’s a small problem with getting that number in Washington though: It’s already taken. And it’s taken by someone who Jackson probably won’t be able to buy off. That someone would be Robert Griffin III.

Even though RG3 has worn No. 10 since high school, Jackson is still holding out hope that the Redskins quarterback will give the number up, “We talked about it a little bit, but there hasn’t been a decision that’s been made yet so far,” Jackson said on Tuesday. “Maybe RG3 will wear No. 3 and I’ll try to get 10. We’ll see how it goes.”

This makes no sense, as Redskins management would first have to approve the switch. And if the two did switch, the NFL merchandising policy is that RGIII would have to personally buy all the old merchandise with his name and number on it. As RGIII’s jersey is a best-seller, that’s a lot of inventory he’d have to purchase. Plus, imagine all the angry Redskins fans who now have the wrong jersey.

RGIII later tweeted that he wasn’t switching numbers. Either Jackson was delusional when talking to Griffin about the jersey change or the media are quoting this out of context. 

Tags: NFL

Sports Broadcasters Criticize Paternity Leave in MLB



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Radio broadcaster Mike Mike Francesa at New York City’s WFAN is not happy that Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy took a few days off to be with his wife and their newborn son. Via the New York Daily News:

Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy missed his second straight game Wednesday night to be with his wife and newborn child, taking advantage of his collectively bargained paternity leave.

But his absence didn’t sit well with some of New York’s sports talk radio hosts, who took the second baseman to task for not “getting his ass back to the team.”

“One day I understand. And in the old days they didn’t do that. But one day, go see the baby be born and come back. You’re a Major League Baseball player. You can hire a nurse to take care of the baby if your wife needs help,” WFAN afternoon host Mike Francesa said on Wednesday.

Murphy left the Mets on Monday to be with his wife, Tori, who gave birth to their son, Noah, in Florida. The Mets were off Tuesday and called up Wilmer Flores on Wednesday to play second base.

Murphy, who is allowed 1-3 days off for paternity leave that was put into MLBPA’s collective bargaining agreement in 2011, is expected to be back in the lineup for Thursday’s afternoon game against the Nationals. That isn’t soon enough for Francesa, who says all dads should follow his example.

“What are you going to do? I mean you are going to sit there and look at your wife in a hospital bed for two days?” he mocked. “Your wife doesn’t need your help the first couple of days; you know that you’re not doing much the first couple days with the baby that was just born.”

And Francesa wasn’t alone:

Boomer Esiason, on WFAN’s morning show, took it even a step further, saying Murphy should have insisted his wife “have a C-section before the season starts. I need to be at Opening Day, I’m sorry.”

His partner, Craig Carton agreed: “Assuming the birth went well, the wife is fine, the baby is fine, 24 hours and then you get your ass back to your team and you play baseball.”

Really Boomer? After all Esiason has gone through with his son, I’d expect that he’d at least understand the importance to a father being with his wife and child at his child’s birth.

Tags: MLB

President Selfie Update: Ortiz Photo Was Staged by Samsung



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So now the President of the United States is nothing more than a prop in a marketing campaign? 

Staged selfies might be the name of the game.

It started at the Oscars with Ellen DeGeneres’s epic picture of celebrities and now it appears David Ortiz himself may be in on the action.

Samsung confirmed that it had helped Ortiz take Tuesday’s selfie with President Obama. The mobile provider then promoted the picture on Twitter to the company’s 5.2 million followers.

Trade publication Sports Business Journal reported on Monday that Ortiz had inked a new endorsement deal with the cellphone provider.

Samsung Mobile promoted the Obama-Ortiz selfie on Twitter after the Red Sox appeared at the White House, and it had been retweeted 34,000 times as of Tuesday evening. As Twitter users weighed in, Samsung Mobile smartly responded to individual users asking about the picture. “This photo was taken with a #GalaxyNote3,’’ Samsung Mobile US tweeted.

The rest here.

Tags: MLB

President Selfie Strikes Again



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This time with David Ortiz and the Boston Red Sox:

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Tags: MLB

Tiger Backs Out of Masters



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I’ve long been in the middle ground re Tiger Woods, neither a hater nor a big admirer (although I do approve of his commitment to our military, which is a consistent theme for him). But this – this is sad. A Masters without Tiger Woods, which will occur this year for the first time since 1994, is a much poorer Masters. I don’t think I’ve ever actually rooted for Woods to win a major; I don’t celebrate when he loses, but his demeanor doesn’t fit my ideals. Still, I want him in the field. He makes almost every tournament more exciting. He provides a great storyline, every time. And his performances sometimes are so otherworldly as to be absolutely riveting. (His most recent major victory, the 2008 U.S. Open on a fractured leg, was a wonder to behold and a testament to his skill and grit.)

More than that, no matter what one thinks of his personal life or his occasional lack of graciousness, Woods certainly has had a run of bad luck with injuries. Calf, knee, ankles, leg, wrist, and back: This is a guy who has suffered a lot, physically, at what for a golfer is still a rather young age (if not young for major victories, at least young for the number of injuries he has had). It is a shame to see a fierce competitor sidelined like this.

Moreover, this is just awful for the Masters and for CBS. With the exception of a stunningly entertaining match-play championship, this golf season (post New Year’s) already has been a dud, from the standpoint of the casual fan. Neither Woods nor Phil Mickelson has come close to winning. Nor has Sergio Garcia, at least not in the United States. Rory McIlroy hasn’t won. Adam Scott hasn’t won. Ernie Els hasn’t won. Jim Furyk, Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose: nada. Even some of the more identifiable rising stars — Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Bill Haas, Rickie Fowler, Brandt Snedeker — have been largely AWOL.

Even the mid-level golf fan, before the season started, probably couldn’t identify half of the following from a photo lineup: Stephen Bowditch, Matt Every, Chesson Hadley, Patrick Reed, Scott Stallings, or maybe even Russell Henley. Yet all have been winners since New Year’s, and often without a lot of serious drama. It’s good for young players to emerge — but it’s usually good when they do so in a mix with established stars, rather than all at once, in a parade of unfamiliarity for most fans.

In short, there is no obvious, galvanizing storyline leading into Augusta this year. Indeed, there’s not even a semi-obvious one. It’s the most unsettled, aimless season leading into the Masters that I’ve ever seen. 

And now, to take away Tiger Woods . . . well, that just is a huge buzz-kill. 

Here’s hoping the magic of Augusta transcends the lack of buzz leading in. And here’s wishing for a speedy recovery for Woods, even if one hopes he never surpasses the Major victory record of Jack Nicklaus.

Tags: Golf

The Highlight of Opening Day



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Neil Walker’s first career walk-off home run off of Rollie Fingers Carlos Villanueva in the tenth inning of what had been a scoreless affair between the Cubs and Pirates is the no-doubt highlight of Opening Day:

More here, courtesy of Bucs Dugout’s Charlie Wilmoth.

Tags: MLB

My 2014 Picks (Whaddaya Think?)



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Below you will find my MLB predictions for the 2014. (For a hearty chuckle, check out my prognostications from 2012 and 2013.)

Sure, snow was falling in Washington, D.C., only a few hours before I submitted this post; nonetheless, the regular season in North America got underway earlier this evening in San Diego, where the Padres were hosting the 2–0 Dodgers on ESPN. 

So what should we expect from the 30 clubs in the months to come?

American League East
Tampa Bay, Boston, New York, Toronto, Baltimore

WHAT TO FANCY: The Rays get one more season out of David Price and he won’t disappoint. Every baseball fan in New England is excited about shortstop phenom Xander Bogaerts. Masahiro Tanaka ought to put up excellent peripherals in the Bronx, and even Michael Piñeda looks poised for a solid season. Colby Rasmus quietly slugged over .500 in Toronto last season and there’s no reason why he can’t repeat that feat. At one year and $8 million, Nelson Cruz was an absolute bargain pickup for the Orioles.

WHAT TO FEAR: Now that Tampa Bay re-signed James Loney, he needs to show that he can replicate last season’s .339 wOBA. Even if Bogaerts excels, don’t expect this year’s Red Sox lineup to equal the performance of the 2013 version. (Every starter last season, save third baseman Will Middlebrooks, either met or exceeded career norms.) No Yankee taking the field tomorrow will be under 30 years old. The Jays pitching looks to be better but two of its starters are returning from major injuries. Manny Machado’s injured knee remains a concern for the Orioles.

BOTTOM LINE: The division remains reasonably competitive from top to bottom, but the Rays have the fewest holes and finish with 95 wins, just ahead of the Sox, who pick up a wild-card berth.

AL Central
Detroit, Kansas City, Chicago, Cleveland, Minnesota

WHAT TO FANCY: Prince Fielder doesn’t get dealt away and Miguel Cabrera moves back to first base if the Tigers don’t think Nick Castellanos is the third baseman of the future. While salivating over Yordano Ventura’s 101-mph fastball, don’t forget that the offseason trade for Aoki and the signing of free agent Omar Infante might prove to be among the best Royals transactions since they stole Amos Otis from the Mets . . . after the 1969 season. Speaking of acquisitions, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn deserves major props for picking up Matt Davidson and Adam Eaton from the Diamondbacks and for signing Cuban power-hitting first baseman Jose Abreu. Having Carlos Santana man third base at Progressive Field is a risky move but with considerable upside. With their two top prospects out with injuries, Twins fans can take heart that the 2015 season is only a year away.

WHAT TO FEAR: Playing half of his games in Comerica Park will take its toll on Ian Kinsler’s offense. At what point does Kansas City give up on Mike Moustakas and his career .296 OBP? There is little depth on the South Side. Danny Salazar may have Cy Young potential, but Cleveland asks way too much of him and the talented but erratic Trevor Bauer. With their two top prospects out with injuries, Twins fans can be depressed that the 2015 season is a full year away.

BOTTOM LINE: The Tigers fend off a charge from the Royals, while a young White Sox team takes a sizeable step forward.

AL West
Los AngelesOakland, Texas, Seattle, Houston

WHAT TO FANCY: Albert Pujols is no longer Albert Pujols, but his good health entering the season means that a .900 OPS is a reasonable expectation. Now with the Rangers, Fielder will slug 45 home runs this season . . . at home. (I kid. Kind of.) In Jed Lowrie and Josh Donaldson, the A’s may have the best — and criminally underrated – left side of the infield in the majors. When signing the mega-deal with Seattle, Robinson Cano was well aware that Safeco Field is no longer considered a pitcher’s paradise. Top Astros prospect George Springer will get called up well before the All-Star break, reminding Astros fans that there is a flicker of light at the end of the long tunnel.

WHAT TO FEAR: Josh Hamilton is no longer Josh Hamilton and, unless he can stop his frequent swinging at pitches outside the strike zone, bad things will continue to happen. Aside from more raw sewage seeping into the O.Co Colisuem clubhouses, there’s this: a healthy portion of Oakland’s 94 starts in 2013 that went to Bartolo Colon (now with the Mets) and A. J. Griffin (injured and out indefinitely) and Jarrod Parker (injured and out for the season), who need to be replaced. The injury bug plagues the Rangers as well, with four-fifths of their rotation on the shelf to start the season. If Cano’s career in the Pacific Northwest gets off to a slow start, when do the boo birds make their presence known? With all of its division rivals perched near, at, or above .500, what are the odds that Houston doesn’t lose over 100 games for the fourth consecutive season?

BOTTOM LINE: Albert and the Halos pitching staff remain reasonably healthy, leading the Angels to a division title. The A’s capture the second wild card.

National League East
WashingtonAtlanta, New York, Miami, Philadelphia

WHAT TO FANCY: This is the year that Bryce Harper earns his superstar status with a near-.600 SLG. Any offensive improvement for defensive stalwart Andrelton Simmons, however marginal, will be a boon for the Braves. A healthy Jenrry Mejia in Queens this season may post peripherals that are ace-like. Surely, Giancarlo Stanton can’t have two disappointing seasons in a row? If the Phillies do finish behind the Fish, there’s a better than 50–50 chance ownership will look for a new general manager, granting legions of Phillies fans their No. 1 wish.

WHAT TO FEAR:​ With all due respect to Adam LaRoche and his career year in 2012, the sooner Ryan Zimmerman moves to first base and Anthony Rendon shifts to third, the better. With two-fifths of their rotation on the shelf this season, Braves fans have reason to worry if Ervin Santana is deemed the ace of the staff. Even if offseason additions Curtis Granderson and Colon perform well for the Mets, at most they’re merely replacing the 2013 production of departed Marlon Byrd and injured Matt Harvey. Casey McGehee and Rafael Furcal are the Marlins’ starting third baseman and second baseman, respectively. (Nuff said.) Other than Cliff Lee and perhaps A. J. Burnett, is there anyone on the Phillies roster who’s a decent bet for a solid season? Even Cole Hamels is a question mark, given the concerns about his sore shoulder.

BOTTOM LINE: What was supposed to happen in 2013 will happen this season. The Nationals run away with the division, but the Braves do just enough to qualify for a wild-card spot. 

NL Central
St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago, Milwaukee

WHAT TO FANCY: Youngsters Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha have thrilled fans at Busch Stadium with their electric stuff, but Adam Wainwright still anchors the Cardinals rotation. When prospect Gregory Polanco receives the inevitable call-up later this spring, the Pirates will boast the most athletic outfield in the bigs. Speedster Billy Hamilton may steal over 100 bases for Cincinnati, provided he can reach first base safely more than 30 percent of the time. With his vision problems reportedly a thing of the past, the Cubs’ Mike Olt may finally live up to the hype that surrounded him while in the Rangers organization. The Brewers won’t be giving Yuniesky Betancourt (now plying his trade in Japan) playing time at first base this season.

WHAT TO FEAR: St. Louis has few holes, but losing David Freese to a trade and Carlos Beltran to free agency drains some of the power from the lineup. While Pittsburgh will benefit from a full season of Gerrit Cole on the mound, Burnett’s departure hurts while Francisco Liriano will have a difficult time replicating last year’s sparkling numbers. Injuries have ravaged the Reds’ top bullpen arms. The Cubs may sport one of the most talent-rich farm systems, but for a third season in a row there’s little depth at the big-league level. This year’s first-base tandem of Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds may lead more than a few Milwaukee fans to long for the good ol’ Yunieksy days.

BOTTOM LINE: If any MLB franchise reaches the three-digit win total, it will be the Cards, who enjoy both a formidable roster and weak division rivals.

NL West
Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Arizona, Colorado

WHAT TO FANCY: Boasting MLB’s highest payroll ($216+ million) doesn’t mean the Dodgers are free of worries, but there’s enough talent to win the division and go deep into the postseason. Three of San Francisco’s four infielders are in their prime, and the fourth, second baseman Marco Scutaro, remains an above-average threat at the plate. Counting on success from the Padres’ Opening Day starter Andrew Cashner looks increasingly like a good bet. Paul Goldschmidt and Mark Trumbo ought to hit more than enough long balls in Chase Field to keep the fans in the left-field seats happy. Carlos Gonzalez (center field) and Troy Tulowitzki (shortstop) are the best offensive threats at their positions. 

WHAT TO FEAR
You’d think LA riches could haves bought a little more talent to start the season than a Dee Gordon–Justin Turner platoon at second base. The Giants’ starting rotation looks considerably more mortal than the ones that won rings in 2010 and 2012, although the addition of Tim Hudson helps. Counting on an injury-free season from Josh Johnson is a mug’s game, yet the Padres are the latest team to roll the dice. CarGo and Tulo are injury-prone; if they don’t play full seasons, a 100-loss season in Denver is a real possibility.

BOTTOM LINE: Thanks to a weak division, the Dodgers should coast to their second consecutive title. The Giants get just enough quality pitching to earn the other wild card.

* * *

AL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
Tampa Bay over Boston

NL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
St. Louis over Washington

WORLD SERIES
St. Louis over Tampa Bay

* * *

As for the hardware:

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Robinson Cano (AL), Bryce Harper (NL)

CY YOUNG AWARD
David Price (AL), Adam Wainwright (NL)

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Xander Bogaerts (AL), Mike Olt (NL)

Your comments, thoughtful or otherwise, are always appreciated.

Tags: MLB

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