Yankees, Mets make 40-man roster decisions

United States' pitcher Noah Syndergaard throws a pitch during the ninth inning of the All-Star Futures baseball game against the World Team, Sunday, July 13, 2014, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

With the Rule 5 draft looming – it will be held on Dec. 11 – teams are starting to protect rising minor league players from being selected by other teams. Players selected in the Rule 5 draft, typically youngsters who have been in the minors for at least four or five years, must be listed on a club’s major league 25-man roster for the entire 2015 season or they will be sent back to their original club. Typically, few players are taken in the Rule 5 draft because of that stipulation, but teams need to protect their top prospects just in case.

Essentially, it’s a rule that keeps teams from stockpiling talent in the minors for long periods of time. Teams that have holes in their lineups and can’t afford top-tier free agents can sometimes find viable starters this way.

The Yankees added Tyler Austin, Danny Burawa, Branden Pinder and Mason Williams to the 40-man roster today.

The Mets added Jack Leathersich, Cory Mazzoni, Akeel Morris, Hansel Robles, Noah Syndergaard and Gabriel Ynoa.

Let’s take a look at some of these guys.

Tyler Austin and Mason Williams are outfielders, giving the Yankees nine OFs on the 40-man roster. That’s an awful lot of outfielders. Austin, 23, had a solid year at Double-A Trenton last year, hitting .275 with 20 doubles and nine homers in 105 games. Williams, however, was dreadful at Double-A in 2014, hitting .223 in 128 games. Williams, also 23, does have plenty of promise being a fourth round pick in the 2010 draft. It’s doubtful that any other major league team sees Williams as a full-time starter in 2015, but the Yankees must like him enough to want to keep him around, just in case. Keeping Williams in the organization also allows the Yankees to move him in a trade later in the offseason, which is another possibility.

Burawa is a righty reliever with high walk and high strikeout totals, having split 2014 between Trenton and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Pinder pitched just 39 2/3 innings last year, but he struck out 37 and walked nine. Neither look like long-term options for the  Yankees, but they could be quite attractive for other teams looking for cheap help in the back end of a bullpen. So they’re protected.

For the Mets, Syndergaard is one of the organization’s top prospects. Depending on what the Mets decide to do with trades (and what happens with injuries) it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him make his big league debut sometime in 2015, so his inclusion here was a given.

Leathersich is a lefty reliever who’s had mixed success in his minor league career. Still, left-handed. So there’s that.

Mazzoni made 14 starts over four different levels of the minors last year, going from rookie ball to Triple-A. In nine starts with Las Vegas, he went 5-1 with a 4.67 ERA and 49 strikeouts and 12 walks over 52 innings. He was a second round pick in 2011, so the Mets aren’t giving up on him yet. Perhaps he could be the next Jacob de Grom…or trade bait.

A 10th round pick in 2010, Morris has taken his time moving through the minors. He spent three years in rookie ball and the last two at Single-A. His numbers, however, have been outstanding. In five minor league seasons, he’s got an ERA of 2.95, allowed 129 hits over 216 1/3 innings, struck out 288 and walked 122. Obviously, the walks are too high, but the strikeouts and hits allowed are terrific. Morris is still a ways away from the big leagues, but the Mets keep him protected for now just in case, or like Mazzoni, make him available for trades.

Robles split time between the bullpen and the rotation at Double-A Binghamton in 2014, going 7-6 with a 4.31 ERA. He struck out nearly one batter per inning (106 in 110 2/3) but also gave up nearly a hit per inning (107 in 110 2/3). So Robles will have to master his control before he starts knocking on the door at Citi Field, but at 24, he remains an intriguing prospect in the Mets’ system.

Ynoa made 25 starts last season between High-A St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton, going 11-4 with a 4.07 ERA. He gave up 10.3 hits per nine innings, but walked just 25 over 148 1/3 frames. Yet another pitcher with plenty of potential who probably isn’t quite ready for the majors.

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Marlins lock up Stanton; Oakland signs Butler

Giancarlo Stanton signed his record $325 million, 13-year contract with the Miami Marlins at a Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014 news conference in Miami. Stanton signed the agreement at the start of the news conference while sitting next to owner Jeffrey Loria. The contract is the most lucrative for an American athlete and the longest in baseball history. It includes a no-trade clause, and Stanton can opt out after six years and $107 million.(AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

The Miami Marlins made a big splash, signing young slugger Giancarlo Stanton to a 13-year, $325-million contract on Tuesday. It’s the highest-value contract in baseball history, surpassing Alex Rodriguez’s 10-year, $275 million contract signed with the Yankees in 2007.

Stanton’s deal does have a bunch of caveats to it. First, he’ll have an opt-out after six years. Second, the contract is heavily backloaded, so if Stanton does opt out, he’ll lose seven years and $218 million. Conceivably, he could get more than that at that time, but he’d be 31 years old after the first six years of the contract.

It’s a bold move for a franchise that’s traditionally sold off its young starts before they reached their big paydays. Miami is looking for a new TV contract, which would help pay off Stanton’s deal in the long run. It will be interesting to see if the Marlins have enough cash left over to sign young starting pitcher Jose Fernandez as well.

Last year, Stanton hit .288 with 37 home runs and 105 RBI. He led the National League in homers, slugging percentage (.555) and total bases (299). All that in just 145 games, as he missed the last few weeks of the season after taking a pitch to the face.

One wonders if Stanton stays in Miami his whole career. If the franchise can’t commit to winning otherwise, perhaps he jumps ship at the opt-out date, even if he gets less money. On the other hand, maybe he stays even if the Marlins aren’t competitive because the money is so good.

Billy Butler helped lead the Kansas City Royals back to the World Series this fall, but he won’t be coming back for an encore.

The Oakland A’s signed the right-handed hitting DH to a three-year $30 million contract on Wednesday, adding another good on-base percentage guy to the lineup.

Butler had a down year in 2014, hitting a career-low .271 (with a career-low .323 on-base percentage) with nine homers, 32 doubles and 66 RBI. He’s a career .295 hitter and a career .359 on-base guy, so you can expect him to rebound in those categories. Butler, however, probably won’t see a power surge playing in the expansive Oakland Coliseum.

It’s a buy-low move for the A’s, who get a guy who’s still on the way up at age 28. He’ll help balance out what was a lefty-dominated lineup.

As for the Royals, who turned down a $12.5-million club option on Butler after the World Series, they have Eric Hosmer as their first baseman of the future. A lineup without Butler will allow Kansas City to do a DH by committee, rotating some of its everyday regulars through the DH spot to keep them fresh.

Pat Venditte, the switch-pitcher, never got a chance to pitch for the Yankees despite a relatively successful minor league career.

He’s been snapped up by the forward-thinking Athletics, so don’t be surprised to see Venditte do his thing in the majors at some point in 2015.

A 2008 Yankees draft pick out of Creighton University, Venditte has made a name for himself by being ambidextrous. He’ll throw left-handed against lefties and right-handed against righties, using a specially made glove that hinges both ways.

Last year at Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Venditte went 2-6 with a 2.44 ERA, primarily in relief. He did make two starts. In 78 and 1/3 innings, he allowed 65 hits, struck out 83 and walked 22.

Pretty good numbers on the surface. Will that translate to the bigs? Will the Yankees regret letting him go? Or is the switch-pitcher just a gimmick?

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Martin lands in Toronto; St. Louis and Atlanta make a blockbuster swap

Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Russell Martin tips his helmet to the cheering fans after his last at-bat against the San Francisco Giants, in the ninth inning of the NL wild-card playoff baseball game Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014, in Pittsburgh. The Giants won 8-0, advancing to the division series. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

There were two big developments in hot stove action on Monday.

First, free agent catcher Russell Martin has indeed left Pittsburgh, signing a five-year, $82-million deal to play for the Toronto Blue Jays. Martin, a former Yankees backstop, hails from Montreal, so he’ll return to his home country.

Martin played in 111 games for the Pirates last year, hitting .290 with 20 doubles, 11 homers and 67 RBI. He’s a career .259 hitter, so he certainly played well in a contract year.

In February, Martin turns 32, so he’s already well into the second half of his career. Martin does rate well defensively, at least according to the advanced metrics, and that should be a skill that ages well, even if he declines with the bat over the course of the deal.

He’ll help a Blue Jays team that already has plenty of power in its lineup. Martin will also help solidify a group of talented young pitchers.

Is this the move that puts Toronto back in the mix in the American League East? With Boston and Tampa Bay kind of, sort of in reloading modes and the Yankees and Orioles trying to remain competitive, the Martin deal by itself probably won’t get the job done. But it’s a sign that the Blue Jays are serious about winning, no matter the cost.

In the National League, the Cardinals and Braves pulled off a pretty big trade this afternoon.

The Braves send Gold Glove-caliber outfielder Jason Heyward and relief pitcher Jordan Walden to St. Louis for young starting pitcher Shelby Miller and pitching prospect Tyrell Jenkins.

The Cardinals get another All-Star type of player to plug into the lineup in Heyward, who will also provide plenty of run-saving plays with his glove in the outfield. Walden is a high-strikeout, high-walk reliever with plenty of big-league experience.

It’s an all-in move for St. Louis for the 2015 season. They’ll be one of the top teams in the NL next year, probably the World Series pick for many experts.

So why would the Braves make this deal?

Jenkins, 22, is still a complete unknown. He went 6-5 with a 3.28 ERA last season in 13 starts in High-A. He’s been ranked highly in the Cardinals’ farm system, but he’s still years away from the majors.

Miller, 24, has two full years of big league experience under his belt. He’ll also be under team control, relatively cheaply, for the next four years.

Heyward will be eligible for free agency following the 2015 season.

So that’s one big reason why the Braves would make this move. They’ll trade one year of Heyward – who seemed likely to leave Atlanta once his contract was up – for four years of a promising young starting pitcher.

The Braves’ rotation certainly needed the boost.

Julio Teheran is the staff ace for now and he’s earned that distinction. Atlanta’s next-best pitcher in 2014? That was Ervin Santana, who’s now a free agent. Their third-best starter? 36-year-old Aaron Harang.

Yikes.

Mike Minor had a dreadful year and Alex Wood spent some time in the bullpen before finding a home in the rotation.

So adding Miller, who went 10-9 with a 3.74 ERA in 31 starts this season, will be a big boost for the Braves in the years to come.

Atlanta also clears up some money in the trade, so we’ll see if there are any follow-up moves for the Braves between now and spring training.

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Yankees trade Cervelli to Pittsburgh

New York Yankees Francisco Cervelli reacts after scoring on Ichiro Suzuki's sixth-inning, two-run single off Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale in a baseball game at Yankee Stadium in New York, Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees were going to have a surplus catching problem heading into spring training with Brian McCann, Francisco Cervelli and John Ryan Murphy, Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez all on the team’s 40-man roster.

So they’ve solved that problem by trading Cervelli to the Pittsburgh Pirates for left-handed relief pitcher Justin Wilson.

We’ll start with Wilson.

Wilson, 27, has pitched out of the Pirates’ pen each of the last three seasons. In 2014, he went 3-4 with a 4.20 ERA, striking out 61 and walking 30 over 60 innings. He was much better in 2013, going 6-1 with a 2.08 ERA, although his hits allowed, walks and strikeouts were all about the same. He did pitch an additional 13 2/3 innings in 2013.

So he’l figure to be the Yankees’ lefty specialist next year and he’ll come cheap, as he won’t be arbitration eligible until 2016 and won’t hit free agency until 2019. He’ll probably pitch 60-70 innings, perhaps even less, but those types of pitchers are always important, especially with lefty sluggers like David Ortiz facing the Yankees 19 times per year.

As for Cervelli, he had always been a fine backup catcher and a fan favorite in pinstripes. A few injuries over his career, however, led to him never really taking over the job full-time. He’s always had that potential and with Russell Martin likely to leave Pittsburgh in free agency, the Pirates might have their man behind the plate next year.

Cervelli, 28, is a lifetime .278 hitter in his big-league career, which spanned 250 games over seven seasons in New York. He played in 93 games in 2010, hitting .271 with 11 doubles and 38 RBI. Cervelli doesn’t have much power – he has just 10 lifetime home runs – but he’s drawn rave reviews from some Yankees pitchers who liked how he called games and framed pitches. He’ll likely fall into some sort of platoon with former Yankees backup Chris Stewart, who is also on the Pittsburgh roster.

Romine is out of minor league options, so a trade like this was inevitable for the Yankees. They couldn’t possibly keep three catchers on the 25-man roster all year. Look for Romine and Murphy to battle it out for the backup job behind McCann during spring training.

We’ll see how Cervelli fares in Pittsburgh, but at least they got another useful big leaguer in return. Cervelli has a high upside, but he’s also had a tricky history with injuries. Getting a guy who will spend the whole 2015 season in the Yankees’ bullpen is a pretty darn good return at the end of the day for a team that had to move one of its catchers.

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Mets sign Cuddyer

Colorado Rockies' Brandon Barnes, front, tosses a handful of sunflower seeds to celebrate as teammate Michael Cuddyer returns to the dugout after hitting a solo home run against the Arizona Diamondbacks to lead off the bottom of the seventh inning of the Rockies' 8-3 victory in a baseball game in Denver on Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The Mets, yes the Mets, opened the 2014-15 free agent season with a bang, snatching up Colorado Rockies outfielder/first baseman Michael Cuddyer on a two-year, $21-million contract.

Cuddyer played in 49 games in 2014, hitting .332 with 10 home runs and 31 RBI in Denver. Over his career, which started in Minnesota, Cuddyer is a lifetime .279 hitter and has average 13 home runs and 54 RBI per season.

A Norfolk, Va. native, Cuddyer is close with Mets third baseman David Wright. That’s been listed as one of the main reasons why Cuddyer turned down a qualifying offer from the Rockies, which would have guaranteed him $15.3 million for the 2015 season.

Instead, he’ll head to New York, where he figures to be the everyday right fielder next year. Cuddyer, who has a hearing issue in his left ear, is more comfortable in right field than in left. So he’ll join Gold Glove center fielder Juan Lagares and left-handed slugger Curtis Granderson in left field as a part of the Mets’ outfield next year.

Cuddyer turns 36 at the end of spring training, so this is a win-now kind of move for the Mets. His stats were certainly inflated by the Coors Field effect the last few years, so we’ll see how he fares in the much more expansive – and sea-level – Citi Field. Still, he adds another David Wright-type of bat to the Mets’ lineup. He won’t hit for a ton of power, but he will get on base. Add him to the mix with Wright, Granderson, Lucas Duda and an improving Travis d’Arnaud, and the Mets’ lineup suddenly doesn’t look so punchless.

Cuddyer has also always drawn rave reviews for his presence in the clubhouse. I don’t know how many wins that adds to the Mets’ total in 2015, but it’s certainly not a bad thing.

Really, the one problem with this signing for the Mets is that they forfeited their first round pick in the 2015 draft to sign Cuddyer. Signing teams lose their top draft pick when they acquire a player who had received a qualifying offer.

So will two years of Cuddyer be worth more than the No. 15 overall pick, who would have been under team control cheaply for many years to come? That’s a tough question to answer, especially since so many high draft picks in baseball never pan out.

It is, however, a sign that the Mets are willing to spend money to build a winner in the short term. That’s a positive sign for fans with Matt Harvey and other young, talented pitching coming in next season. How much of a difference Cuddyer will make, however, remains to be seen.

Next up on the Mets’ shopping list: a shortstop.

We’ll see how that plays out – almost certainly in the trade market – in the weeks to come.

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Maddon leaves Tampa Bay

It’s been a busy few days with high school sports, but there’s been some baseball news I wanted to catch up on.

Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon comes in to relieve Jake Odorizzi with bases loaded during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox in Boston, Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon opted out of the final year of his contract. When Rays general manager Andrew Friedman bolted for the Dodgers earlier this month, it triggered a clause in Maddon’s contract that gave him the option of leaving if he desired.

The Dodgers have said that they plan to stick with Don Mattingly, so Maddon won’t follow Friedman to L.A.

His list of suitors, however, is long.

The top landing spot at this point seems to be Wrigley Field, as the Cubs are said to have major interest in bringing Maddon aboard. That would seem like an ideal scenario for Maddon, as the Cubs are rich in prospects, should have plenty of money to spend as a big market team and also have former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, he of the sabermetric bent, running the show as club president.

Current Cubs manager Rick Renteria was hired at the beginning of the 2014 season. Although Chicago finished dead last in the NL Central at 73-89, Renteria seemed to be doing a fine job there, so it’d be hard to see him being bought out of his contract or accepting a bench coach role under Maddon.

The Mets also seemed like a possible landing spot for Maddon, even with Terry Collins having the support of management for at least one more year. The news from Flushing was quick, as the Mets announced that they would not pursue Maddon at this time.

It’ll be interesting to see where Maddon goes from here. He could easily take a year off and spend some time doing TV work – where he would be a natural as outspoken and innovative a thinker as he is – and wait for the perfect opportunity.

Baseball’s best manager is currently a free agent. That’s not something that happens every day, so it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in the weeks and months to come.

Of local interest, I wonder how the departure of Friedman and Maddon changes how the Hudson Valley Renegades, a Rays’ affiliate, do things. I’m sure there won’t be any major changes, but in terms of how the players prepare – what drills they do in the afternoons, etc. – and in terms of what kind of players the Rays’ front office selects in the draft, there could be a shift. Time will tell, but I’d imagine the small-market, tight budget Rays will continue to look for value in the draft as well as speed and defense.

Terrible news out of the Dominican Republic as I write this post. Many news organizations are confirming that St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras and his girlfriend have died in a car accident.

Taveras was 22.

Taveras has been one of baseball’s top prospects for the past few years. He got a chance to play in 80 games at the big league level as a rookie this season, hitting .239 with three homers and 22 RBI in 234 at-bats.

He also had a huge game-tying home run in the NLCS against San Francisco.

Sad, sad news about one of the game’s up-and-coming young stars.

St. Louis Cardinals' Oscar Taveras hits a home run during the seventh inning in Game 2 of the National League baseball championship series against the San Francisco Giants Sunday, Oct. 12, 2014, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

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Mets hire K-Long as hitting coach

New York Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long is seen during a baseball game in Detroit, Monday, April 27, 2009. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Consider it the first of many offseason moves to come for New York’s two baseball teams, and it’s a pretty big one.

The Mets have hired former Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long to take the same position in Flushing.

Long was fired by the Yankees following the regular season. The Yankees finished 13th out of 15 American League teams in runs scored (633). The Bronx Bombers didn’t quite live up to the nickname under Long in 2014, finishing 14th with a team OBP of .307 12th with an OPS of .687.

Long served as Yankees hitting coach from 2007 to 2014. He coached some high-powered offenses in the past, including the World Series-winning team in 2009. However, this year’s mix of old age, injuries and poor performances forced the Yankees to make a change.

The Yankees are still in the process of hiring a new hitting coach of their own. Chili Davis, who was rumored to be one of the candidates, recently took the hitting coach job in Boston.

The Mets fired Dave Hudgens in May. Lamar Johnson took over on an interim basis, but he was reassigned within the organization at the end of the regular season.

2014 wasn’t exactly kind to Mets’ hitters as well. The Mets scored 629 runs, which ranked 8th out of 15 teams in the National League. Their 1,306 hits were third-fewest. They ranked 12th in slugging and 13th in batting average.

It’s tough to predict how Long will fare with the Mets. Obviously, a hitting coach is really only as good as his hitters. Long isn’t walking into a stellar situation at Citi Field, as long as the Mets don’t make any major moves this winter, as they’ve hinted at earlier.

There’s no doubt that Long will find ways to get the most out of his new group of hitters, looking at video and offering some advice. He did that plenty of times with hitters in the Bronx. But, as coaches and managers in all sports know, someone has to take the blame for poor performances – and it isn’t often the players. So Long will probably get more of the blame or more of the credit than he deserves based on what the Mets’ offense does in 2015.

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Previewing the Giants-Cardinals NLCS

The National League Championship series will be a rematch of the 2012 version, as the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals both wrapped up their NLDS series in four games on Tuesday. These two teams also met in the 2002 and 1987 NLCS.

Here’s the schedule:

Saturday: at St. Louis, 8 p.m.

Sunday: at St. Louis, TBD

Tuesday: at San Francisco, TBD

Wednesday: at San Francisco, TBD

Thursday: at San Francisco, TBD (if necessary)

Saturday: at St. Louis, TBD (if necessary)

Sunday: at St. Louis, TBD (if necessary)

The Cardinals have announced that Adam Wainwright will start game 1. The rest of the starters are TBD, but here’s what the rotations could look like.

Cardinals

  • Wainwright
  • Lance Lynn
  • John Lackey
  • Shelby Miller

Giants

  • Madison Bumgarner (pitched on Monday, would be on full rest)
  • Jake Peavy
  • Tim Hudson
  • Ryan Vogelsong

San Francisco Giants players greet fans after the Giants beat the Washington Nationals 3-2 to win Game 4 of baseball's NL Division Series in San Francisco, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

San Francisco

The Giants are sort of the National League’s equivalent of the Kansas City Royals. San Francisco, which finished behind the Dodgers in the NL West race, had to play in the Wild Card playoff game, beating the Pirates 8-0 behind a Brandon Crawford grand slam and a shutout from Madison Bumgarner.

The Giants have a little more pop in the lineup than do the Royals, as Buster Posey (22 regular season HRs) and Hunter Pence (20 HRs) have the ability to go deep at any time. One bright note for the Giants this postseason has been rookie second baseman Joe Panik, a Dutchess County native of Hopewell Junction. Panik is 7-for-24 this postseason and he scored the g0-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh inning in the deciding game of the NLDS.

Strengths: Other than Bumgarner, the rotation isn’t the best on paper. Behind Posey and Pence, neither is the starting lineup. The bullpen is fine, but it’s far from the best group of relieves left in the postseason.

So how has this Giants team managed to make it to another NLCS?

That really is the question. They have a great manager in Bruce Bochy. The Giants also have plenty of guys with significant playoff experience. And they just tend to succeed at coming up clutch. I don’t think anyone expected them to knock out the powerful Washington Nationals in the Division Series round, but they did. They’re the underdogs yet again, but don’t be surprised if the Giants, someway, somehow, make this a series.

Weaknesses: There will be a lot of pressure on Bumgarner to win two games by himself in this series. Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy have had fine careers, but they’ve seen better days. Matt Cain is out for the season. Tim Lincecum has been so hit-or-miss that he’s been demoted to the bullpen. So this Giants rotation has some question marks behind Bumgarner, which could be an issue against a Cardinals offense that had no trouble with Clayton Kershaw in the division series.

There are some matters for concern with the Giants’ lineup as well. Will Joe Panik continue to hit? Will guys like Brandon Belt hit clutch home runs? That remains to be seen, but San Francisco has shown that its been able to do that in its recent postseason playoff runs.

St. Louis Cardinals' Matt Adams celebrates after hitting a three-run home off Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw, right, during the seventh inning of Game 4 of baseball's NL Division Series, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014, in St. Louis. The Cardinals won 3-2. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

St. Louis

It’s no shock that the Cardinals have advanced to the NLCS.

It’s just how they did it.

Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, who allowed one home run on his curveball all through the regular season, gave up a pair of bombs on the curve during the NLDS.

Once again, St. Louis has sent a very respectable team on a deep postseason run. Will the Cards make it to the Fall Classic yet again?

Strengths: St. Louis has some darn good starting pitchers. Adam Wainwright had a Cy Young-caliber year, if it wasn’t for Kershaw’s insane regular season. John Lackey has returned to his ace-like form he had with the Angels about a decade ago. Lance Lynn is a fine No. 3 starter and Shelby Miller is still a young gun on the way up.

The bullpen also is a relative strong point for this team. Trevor Rosenthal is sort of the National League version of David Robertson – lots of walks and hits, but that’s countered with all the strikeouts. Pat Neshek has had a bounce-back year.

Of course, the Cards’ lineup is packed with experienced studs in Yadier Molina, Matt Holiday and Jhonny Peralta.

Weaknesses: It’s hard to pick a hole with this team. Sure, the defense isn’t the greatest, not with Peralta playing short although he did have a career-best 2.6 defensive Wins Above Replacement this season.

As strong as the St. Louis bullpen has been in stretches, it could also collapse in a sudden. As long as the Cards’ starters work deep into games – and there’s every indication they can in this series – that limits the innings that will come from the bullpen in the first place.

Series prediction: Like the American League series, it’s hard to imagine this one being a sweep. It’s also very hard to discount the Giants for all they’ve been able to do in October in recent years.

But when it comes down to it, the Cardinals are just a better team across the board. I have a feeling that one of these series will wrap up early, so I’ll take St. Louis in five games.

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Previewing the Orioles-Royals ALCS

The Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals will meet in the ALCS, which opens on Friday night.

Here is the schedule:

Friday: at Baltimore, 8 p.m.

Saturday: at Baltimore, 4 p.m.

Monday: at Kansas City, TBD

Tuesday: at Kansas City, TBD

Wednesday: at Kansas City, TBD (if necessary)

Friday: at Baltimore, TBD (if necessary)

Saturday: at Baltimore, TBD (if necessary)

Both the Orioles and Royals won their ALDS series in 3-game sweeps, with Baltimore not exactly surprisingly dispatching the Tigers and the Royals shockingly knocking out the Angels. Kansas City, one of the Wild Card teams, also won its one-game playoff over Oakland to advance to the ALDS.

So let’s take a look at the teams and how they stack up for this most interesting ALCS.

Kansas City Royals players celebrate following Game 3 of baseball's AL Division Series in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014. The Kansas City Royals defeated the Los Angeles Angels 8-3 to sweep the series. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Kansas City

The Royals appeared to be the fringiest team in the playoffs this season. Kansas City has a dodgy starting rotation behind James Shields, an offense that doesn’t hit for much, if any, power, and a manager in Ned Yost who often looks like he’s in over his head.

But for some reason, the Royals have made it all work this postseason.

Kansas City beat Oakland in thrilling fashion in extra innings in the Wild Card game. They followed it up with extra innings wins over the Angels in Anaheim in the first two games of the ALDS. James Shields pitched six solid innings and then turned it over the bullpen as the Royals closed it out in game 3 at home.

Billy Butler even stole a base in game 3, so it’s been that kind of a postseason for the Royals so far.

Strengths: The Royals’ biggest asset is its tremendous bullpen. Greg Holland (46 saves) is perhaps the best closer you’ve never heard of. Wade Davis, a former Hudson Valley Renegades starter, has blossomed into one of baseball’s best set-up men. Kelvin Herrera gave up 54 hits in 70 innings in the regular season. So if the Royals can pass the ball off to them with a late in the late innings, odds are that they’re going to hold on.

Lineup balance. The Royals have seen a power surge from Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, who hit two homers apiece in the ALDS. Balance that with Kansas City’s mix of speedsters and this team is capable of playing for many runs in the early innings or playing small ball late.

Weaknesses: The starting rotation, excepting James Shields, is an issue. Yordano Ventura had a brilliant rookie season but the fireballing right-hander doesn’t have any playoff experience and he’s already well beyond his mark for most innings pitched in a single season. Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas are fine, but they’re the kind of pitchers you don’t mind running out there for regular season games, not huge spots in the playoffs.

The manager. Of course, for the Royals to get to that great bullpen, Yost is going to have to walk that fine line of knowing when to yank his starter and go to his relievers. He never really fluctuated from his strict usage rules during the regular season, but there’s been some signs he’s been willing to have a quick hook in the playoffs.

Baltimore Orioles left fielder David Lough (9) , Adam Jones (10) and Nick Markakis (21) celebrate after Baltimore defeated the Detroit Tigers, 2-1, in Game 3 of baseball's AL Division Series Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014, in Detroit. Baltimore won the series 3-0. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Baltimore

The Orioles, who surged to a huge lead in the AL East this season, pretty easily swept their ALDS series over the Tigers. Detroit’s bullpen imploded and the Tigers’ offense, which had been so good all year long, fell apart when it mattered most.

On paper, this Baltimore team doesn’t look the greatest of those that made the playoffs. The Orioles lack a top-of-the-rotation ace and are missing three key players in the lineup (Chris Davis, Manny Machado and Matt Wieters) but they’ve been able to ride a strong bullpen and have one of baseball’s best managers in the dugout in Buck Showalter.

Baltimore is making its first appearance in the ALCS since 1997, when it lost to Cleveland. The O’s last played in the World Series in 1983.

Strengths: Like Kansas City, Baltimore’s strength is its bullpen. Zach Britton, who never quite caught on in the O’s starting rotation, has thrived since falling into the closer’s role. Andrew Miller, a situational lefty who came over in a deadline day trade from Boston, has been excellent. Miller allowed eight hits and four walks in 20 innings pitched during the regular season. Darren O’Day has been a strikeout machine as the righty set-up man and Tommy Hunter, like Britton, has improved since shifting from a starting to a relieving role.

The O’s also have some major pop in the lineup. Nelson Cruz hit 40 homers this year. Nick Markakis, J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones are also power threats. In a short series format, a late home run can really change the course of a game and shift momentum in the series.

Showalter could factor into play here as well, especially if some part of this series becomes a chess game with Yost.

Weaknesses: Defense. J.J. Hardy has been one of baseball’s best defensive shortstops in recent years and Adam Jones is a perennial Gold Glove candidate in center field. The rest of the fielders, however? They leave a little to be desired. David Lough turned a diving catch attempt into a double for Victor Martinez in the ninth inning of the deciding game 3 of the ALDS. Delmon Young has been a fine hitter this year, but he absolutely cannot play the field and with Cruz taking the DH at-bats, he’s become a pinch-hitter at best.

Baltimore has managed to get some good performances out of its starting rotation, despite it lacking any household names. Chris Tillman has been one of the better pitchers in the AL in the last few years but this is his first go-round in the playoffs. Baltimore’s top four starters this season all had WHIPs in the 1.20s, which is too many baserunners for a playoff series. Still, if the O’s can get just enough out of the starters and turn things over to the rotation, that will take some of the sting out of their deficiencies in this department.

Series prediction: Well, this should be a fun one seeing as both teams have similar strengths and weaknesses. I don’t think there’s necessarily one area where on team has a huge edge over the other, so this ought to be pretty even all around.

As both teams won their division series in sweeps, they’ve had some time to reset their rotations and give their bullpens a few days off. So that’s a push.

It looks like Moustakas and Hosmer are heating up at just the right time, so they should be able to match Cruz in the home run department.

I like the Royals in that they have the “team of destiny” vibe going for them this season. I can’t quantify that, I can’t prove that, but it’s undeniable and it’s a great story.

I also like Baltimore because I think they have a little, slight edge in the talent department. I think the home field advantage and the Showalter advantage help put the O’s over the top in this one, but I see this series going all seven games. Should be a classic.

Baltimore in seven.

The Cardinals have just moved on to the NLCS with a thrilling series of comebacks and upsets to knock off the Dodgers. I’ll preview that series once we figure out who’s moving on in the San Francisco-Washington NLDS.

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Looking back at Pirates-Giants and forward at the NLDS

San Francisco Giants' Brandon Crawford points skyward as he heads home after hitting a grand slam during the fourth inning of the NL wild-card playoff baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

Wednesday’s National League Wild Card game lacked the drama of Tuesday’s AL version.

Brandon Crawford hit a grand slam, becoming the first shortstop to hit a grand slam in the postseason. The Giants’ Madison Baumgarner pitched a shutout, striking out 10, walking one and allowing four hits in an 8-0. San Francisco moves on to face Washington in the NLDS.

Now that the matchups are set, let’s take a look at the NLDS.

Clayton Kershaw leaps on A.J. Ellis and Brian Wilson to start the celebration after the Dodgers won the National League West against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium Wednesday night Sept. 24, 2014. The Los Angeles Dodgers won the NL West title with a 9-1 victory over the second-place San Francisco Giants on Wednesday night. (AP Photo/The Orange County Register, Ed Crisostomo)

St. Louis vs. Los Angeles

It’ll be a great opening game on Friday, as the Cards send Adam Wainwright to the mound against Clayton Kershaw at Dodger Stadium.

The Cardinals plan to send out Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller and John Lackey in the remaining games. The Dodgers will use Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dan Haren.

Starting pitching: Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet, so the Dodgers have a huge advantage here.

If not for Kershaw’s remarkable 2014 season, you’d be hearing a lot more about Wainwright, who had a terrific year as well. Wainwright went 20-9 with a 2.38 ERA, allowing 184 hits in 227 innings. He won’t pile up the strikeouts quite like Kershaw, but if should be a great head-to-head battle in game 1.

Really, both groups of starters are very strong, so I wouldn’t expect many high-scoring games in this series. Still, the Dodgers will get the points here thanks to Kershaw.

Edge – Los Angeles.

Bullpen: The Dodgers also have a fine closer in Kenley Jansen, who struck out 101 and walked 19 over 65 1/3 innings during the regular season. The rest of the LA pen, however, leaves something to be desired. Brandon League and J.P. Howell are probably the most dependable set-up men. Brian Wilson has had some postseason success with the Giants, but he’s been a little hit-or-miss this year.

St. Louis’ Trevor Rosenthal saved 45 games this year, but his weakness is his wildness. He walked 42 batters in 70 1/3 innings.

Pat Neshek had a career resurgence this year. Seth Maness had a great year with only 11 walks in 80 1/3 innings pitched.

Jason Motte, a Valley Central grad, has been left off the NLDS roster, so you won’t see him in this series. Still, the Cards get a slight edge here with more weapons, but this might be a moot point if Dodgers starters are able to go deep into games and help make the bridge to Jansen.

Edge – St. Louis.

Lineup: The Dodgers can mash, that’s still clear.

Adrian Gonzalez led the NL with 116 RBI this year. Gonzalez (27 home runs) and Matt Kemp (25) led the team in power. Juan Uribe (.311) and Carl Crawford (.300) led the team in average. Justin Turner, formerly the Mets’ jack of all trades, hit .340, yes, .340!, in 288 at-bats over 109 games in a super utility role.

Despite all of their offensive prowess and mix of speed and power, none of the Dodgers scored 100 runs this year. Can this team find ways to push runs across the plate after getting men on base? That’ll be the question for the Dodgers.

St. Louis had neither a 100-run-scorer or a 100-RBI hitter. Jhonny Peralta hit 21 home runs and Matt Holiday hit 20. The Cardinals do have some speed from Kolten Wong and Peter Bourjos, but both of those players had sub-.300 OBPs, so they struggle to get chances to steal.

While this St. Louis has a lot of recognizable names and players with postseason experience, they just don’t stack up on paper to the Dodgers’ hitters. That doesn’t mean the Cardinals can’t scrape together some runs and win this series, but they’ll be hard-pressed to do it against a tough Dodgers staff.

Edge- Los Angeles.

Intangibles: We have a couple of young managers squaring off in this series in Don Mattingly and Mike Matheny. They’ve both done a fine job in their few years on the job, so it’s tough to see one being much better than the other at this point. So the managers are a push.

The Dodgers do have home field advantage and they will throw Kershaw in game 1, so odds are good the Dodgers get a one-game headstart here. That’s enough for a win in this category.

Edge – Los Angeles.

Prediction: Dodgers in seven. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the Cardinals pull out a win here, but they just don’t quite stack up to the Dodgers on paper. Should be a great back-and-forth kind of series with low-scoring games and big strategy decisions every night.

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, left, and left fielder Bryce Harper wear their playoffs sweatshirts in the dugout during the second baseball game of a doubleheader at Nationals Park, Friday, Sept. 26, 2014, in Washington. The Nationals clinched the lead in the National League earlier with a win over the Miami Marlins in the first game of their doubleheader. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Washington vs. San Francisco

The Giants won the Wild Card game in dominating fashion, but much like Kansas City in the AL, they had to use their ace pitcher to do it. So Madison Bumgarner won’t be available until Game 4 or maybe Game 3 if the Giants get aggressive.

Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong likely round out the Giants’ rotation. Tim Lincecum probably gets used out of the bullpen.

The Nationals have yet to announce their rotation for this series. They’ll have plenty of options. Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann look like locks to get starts here. Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez will be in the discussion as well.

Starting pitching: It really has been a great year for starting pitching in the NL. Strasburg struck out 242 batters this year and has lived up to the hype after being selected No. 1 overall. Fister went 16-6 with a 2.41 ERA after coming over in a trade from the Tigers. Zimmermann, who threw a no-hitter on the last day of the season, went 14-5 with a 2.66 ERA and 29 walks in 199 2/3 innings. Roark and Gonzalez also had fine years, so the Nationals have an embarrassment of riches in the rotation.

San Francisco’s rotation doesn’t quite stack up. Vogelsong and Hudson finished the season with losing records, for whatever that’s worth. Peavy pitched well, to a 1.04 WHIP, but he’s 0-3 with a 9.27 ERA in his career in the postseason.

Edge – Washington

Bullpen: A big reason why the Giants made the playoffs was the strength of their bullpen. Sergio Romo had 23 saves and a 0.95 WHIP. Jean Machi was stellar in a set-up role. Jeremy Affeldt is still one of the best at getting out lefties.

But the Nationals, who might be the most well-balanced team in baseball, also have a terrific pen.

Rafael Soriano had 32 saves and Drew Storen picked up 11 saves to go along with his 1.12 ERA. Tyler Clippard has 82 strikeouts in 70 1/3 innings. Between Jerry Blevins, Matt Thornton and Ross Detwiler, the Nationals also have some good lefties available for matchup situations.

With Soriano and Storen to lock down the eighth and ninth innings and a whole bunch of other relievers ready for action in earlier innings, the Nationals are set up well for postseason baseball. San Francisco’s got a great pen, too, but Washington’s looks a bit better on paper.

Edge – Washington

Lineup: Buster Posey remains one of the best hitters in baseball. Pablo Sandoval has had some big postseason moments in his career. Rookie second baseman Joe Panik has had a fine MLB debut this year. Hunter Pence, weirdo that he is, always seems to come up clutch in the big moments.

Washington, however, has an even better set of hitters.

Denard Span, with his .355 OBP and 31 stolen bases, is a model of a leadoff hitter. Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper provide some punch in the outfield corners. Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond have plenty of pop and can produce runs in the middle of the lineup. Anthony Rendon, forced into action with Ryan Zimmerman’s injuries, had a great season. Rendon hit .287 with 21 home runs, 83 RBI and scored a team-high 111 runs. Don’t forget Zimmerman off the bench, who could be key as a pinch-hitter in this series.

The Nationals have everything you want in a lineup. The question is, will they be able to duplicate what they did during the regular season?

Edge- Washington

Intangibles: Looking at the managers, Bruce Bochy certainly gets the nod over Matt Williams with his extensive history managing postseason games. But the Nationals do have home field advantage.

This is just the Washington franchise’s third playoff appearance since 1981. The Nats lost in the NLDS in 2012. The Montreal Expos lost in the 1981 NLCS.

San Francisco has won World Series titles in 2010 and 2012. Will they prevail again in an even-numbered year?

How will Washington deal with being the World Series pick of many experts?

Since the Giants have nothing to lose here, and since the team has proven it can prevail as the underdog, I’m going to go with my gut and give San Francisco the edge here.

Edge – San Francisco.

Prediction: Washington in six. The Giants have a funny way of making things work in the playoffs over the past few seasons, but I just don’t see how they come out on top against a rested Washington team playing at home. San Francisco wins Bumgarner’s start and manages to steal another win elsewhere, but the Nats just have too much talent to get knocked out here.

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