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Tags: MLB

Wrigley Field Turns 100 Today



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A joke that’s heard in Chicago goes like this: “What do the Cubs and Marlins have in common? Neither has won a World Series in their new ballpark.”

Marlins Park opened two years ago, while the first professional baseball game in Wrigley Field (née Weeghman Park) was played on this date in 1914.

Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune offers up an interesting read on the North Side landmark, pointing out that the cathedral nearly hosted its first night game 46 years before the lights were finally turned on:

People think of Wrigley Field as a link to our past, and most view longtime owner Philip K. Wrigley as a traditionalist because of his resistance to installing lights.

But that’s not completely accurate. Wrigley was ready to begin playing night baseball in 1942, only to donate the lights, towers and cable to the government for the World War II effort the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941.

The Cubs host the Diamondbacks at 1:20 p.m. CDT.

Tags: MLB

Pujols Strokes No. 499, Then No. 500



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Congratulations, King Albert:

The impressive milestone notwithstanding, I’m guessing that the 34-year-old Pujols is even happier to have rediscovered the stroke that made him a St. Louis legend for eleven seasons. He has eight home runs and five doubles in a mere 92 plate appearances this season, good for a .619 slugging percentage and .406 weighted on-base average.

The Halos won their second in a row at Nationals Park, 7–2.

Tags: MLB

The ‘Unwritten Rules’ Strike Again



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Last weekend was all about MLB’s “unwritten rules,” as the code that’s too amoprhous to put in writing reared its ugly head in Oakland on Friday, Washington on Saturday, and Pittsburgh on Sunday.

  • At O.Co Coliseum, a pitcher took exception to a bunt with his team down seven in the first inning. Words were exchanged between the pitcher and his skipper on one side and the batter on the other, leading to both benches’ emptying.
  • In Nationals Park, the home team’s young superstar didn’t run through the first-base bag on a comebacker, never mind that the out had already been recorded by the time he peeled off in the direction of the dugout. In response, the manager abruptly removed him from the game.
  • Over at PNC Park, a pitcher who has less than one year of service in the majors got peeved after a batter playing in his eighth big-league season hit a deep fly to center and then flipped his bat and started a slow trot toward first base. When the ball neither cleared the fence nor was caught, the batter turned on the jets and slid into third base with a triple. The pitcher and a bench-warming teammate ran over to the batter to jaw at him, and a brawl ensued.

The objection to Jed Lowrie’s bunt against the shift is downright silly. Even if you believe that a bunt or attempted steal in a blowout is bush-league, no professional team with an ounce of dignity — yes, that includes the bottom-feeding Astros and manager Bo Porter — has the right to cry “No más!” in the bottom of the first inning.

Bryce Harper is the face of his franchise and, if anything, he too often risks injury by playing the game with reckless abandon. On the play in question, he hit a one-hopper back to the mound. Although out by a country mile, he didn’t run through the bag – apparently a cardinal sin in Matt Williams’s unwritten rule book. Why that’s so important on a comebacker is beyond me. And even so, why make a mountain out of a molehill? Was yanking the 21-year-old from a close game ND then later blabbing to reporters about his decision the appropriate way to address the matter?

From batting Harper sixth on the second game of the season to whispering to the Washington Post’s Tom Boswell that he faked a quadricep injury so as not to face Marlins’ ace Jose Fernandez, the Nats seem more interested in feuding with their five-tool sensation than with the rival Braves. He won’t be a free agent until four more seasons, but the Nats act as though they can’t wait to see him playing the game in pinstripes.

Whatever you thought of last September’s Turner Field antics featuring Carlos Gomez, the behavior of the Brewers’ center fielder on slugging Gerrit Cole’s over-the-middle fastball was more mild than your typical deep-fly flip-and-pose. Moreover, Gomez’s slow trot toward first might have cost him a chance at an inside-the-park home run, which should have angered his own teammates, not Cole. Heck, the young pitcher and Travis Snider, the bench player, should have profusely thanked him for dogging it out of the box.

In each of these cases, the breaking of one of three of the game’s supposedly unwritten rules — don’t bunt when your team is way ahead, run through the first-base bag even though you’re out by 45 feet and/or not 100 percent healthy, and don’t admire a well-struck ball because it upsets the opposing pitcher — resulted in hurt feelings because they’re either ambiguous and/or plain stupid.

The solution?

I don’t know, perhaps players and managers alike may devote a little less energy on attitude adjustment and more on winning the darn game?

Tags: MLB

Reveille 4/21/14



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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:

As good as they are, the A’s easily could ask: Why should we pigeonhole ourselves? Why should [Jim] Johnson or anyone else solely pitch the ninth? Most teams need multiple closers to get through a season, anyway. Heck, eight other clubs already have swapped out their original choice because of injury or ineffectiveness, and it’s only mid-April.

To be sure, devotees of Bill James would rejoice if the A’s abandoned the standard middle reliever/setup man/closer setup in favor of a less structured approach. Managers, though, generally prefer order in their bullpens. And relievers generally prefer defined roles. . . .

To be sure, a one-inning closer who pitches mostly in save situations is not conducive to an optimal bullpen. On the other hand, the creation of an entirely new usage pattern would require not just a strong manager, but also strong-minded relievers.

  • While ESPN Radio gabber Mike Greenberg kvetches that the strike zone is too small, Beyond the Boxscore’s Chris Moran shows that the K rate keeps rising.
  • Pay close attention, fans of the Diamondbacks and Brewers: Moran’s colleague, Scott Lindholm, investigates whether early-season records, really good (Milwaukee) and pretty awful (Arizona), are accurate barometers of how teams will perform the rest of the way.
  • Citing a plate appearance from a recent Astros–Blue Jays game, Blake Murphy of Fangraphs asks, “Why would a pitcher pitch against the shift?”

As mentioned, the Astros were probably smart to employ a shift and then pitch “out” of the shift by dealing away. Last year, [Jose] Bautista took 27 outside pitches to the opposite field while pulling 64 outside pitches. More importantly, he hit groundballs to the right side on just six occasions compared to 49 pulled groundballs.

In other words, even with an outside pitch that should theoretically be easier to take the other way, Bautista is pretty unlikely to hit a groundball to the right side, meaning the cost of shifting isn’t very high at all. Sometimes pull-push percentages can confuse the fact that teams don’t care about pull rates on the whole when shifting, they only care about where groundballs are hit (since, obviously, flyballs and even linedrives are less likely to land where shifted players are or are not).

 

 

  • David Schoenfield of ESPN’s SweetSpot discusses yesterday’s on-field brawl in Pittsburgh featuring the showy and combustible Carlos Gomez. (I hope to offer a few thoughts later today regarding three weekend incidents — the one in Oakland, the one in Washington, and the aforementioned one in Pittsburgh — involving the so-called unwritten rules.)

That’s it. Have a walk-off week!

Tags: MLB

Did the Secret Service Take Aim at Mr. Met?



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According to a new book by the young man who inhabited the Mr. Met costume from 1994 to 1997, it nearly came to that:

 

 

[A. J.] Mass was angling to get a picture with Clinton on April 15, 1997 — the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s historic first major league game.

Accompanied by two female college interns, the costumed Mass set off in search of his presidential prey: “The holy grail for all mascots — a photo op and meet and greet with a sitting President,” he wrote.

His hopes were soon crushed by the Secret Service agent sporting a dark suit and a darker mood.

Mass recalled the agent started eyeballing him after Mr. Met’s head failed to fit through an on-field metal detector.

Alas, the article doesn’t indicate whether the “two female college interns” were able to spend quality time with President Clinton.

More here.

Tags: MLB

Chris Resop Strikes a Pose



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Well, my first visit to the Cespedes Family Barbeque site was a memorable one.

While sitting down during lunch today, I clicked over to check out a recommended post from Jordan Shusterman entitled ”Chris Resop — The Most Interesting Reliever in the World”:

As some of you may know, I am quite fond of ridiculously lopsided batter-pitcher match-ups. The match-up that everyone’s been freaking out about lately is Paul Goldschmidt vs. Tim Lincecum, and rightfully so. It’s completely ridiculous. Anyway, I was recently checking out Starlin Castro’s most lopsided match-ups. Sure enough, there was Resop. Castro is 6-8 with three home runs, zero walks, zero strikeouts, and one hit-by-pitch against Mr. Resop. Interesting! Sorta. Using our buddy Daren Willman‘s amazing Media tab on Chris Resop’s player page over on baseballsavant.com, I went back and found video of the three dingers he gave up to Starlin.

To find out what Shusterman subsequently uncovered about Resop, you will need to visit his post.

H/T Baseball Think Factory.

Tags: MLB

These Phillies Fans Have the Video of the Day



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Via Deadspin, watch Dan Uggla, batting in the ninth inning with the bases loaded and his team down by one, respond to fans showering him with Citizens Bank Ballpark’s version of Brotherly Love:

The final score: Braves 9, Phillies 6.

Tags: MLB

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

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

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

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

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

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)

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Tags: MLB

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