Monday, September 30, 2013

Postseason 2013

(image courtesy of Fox Sports Detroit)

As temperatures slowly start to cool and leaves begin to fall, the most exciting month of the baseball calendar is upon us once again.  The 2013 postseason is set to begin tomorrow and is yet another example of the great parity of this game - so much parity, in fact, that we need a Game #163 between the Rays and Rangers tonight.  Only 3 of the top 10 payrolls have made the playoffs this season, and the team with the 3rd lowest payroll has defied all odds to win their division for a 2nd straight season - the Oakland Athletics.  Billy Beane continues to show that even when the entire league knows the cards he's playing following the release of Moneyball that he is still ahead of the curve and arguably the best GM in the baseball.  The A's have won the most games in the big leagues over the past two seasons and are one of several feel-good stories of this postseason.  The other big story definitely has to be the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are enjoying not only their first playoff birth in 21 years, but their first winning season in that same time frame.

NL Wild Card - #4 Pirates v. #5 Reds
NLDS - #1 Cardinals v. WC winner
#2 Braves v. #3 Dodgers

AL Wild Card - #4 Indians v. #5 Rays
ALDS - #1 Red Sox v. WC winner
#2 Athletics v. #3 Tigers

Most improved team: Red Sox +28
World Series Prediction: Tigers defeat Cards in 7
Rooting for: Reds v. A's

Preseason Predictions
#1 Nationals
#2 Reds
#3 Giants
#4 Phillies
#5 Brewers
Nats defeat Giants in NLCS

#1 Blue Jays
#2 Tigers
#3 Athletics
#4 Angels
#5 Rays
Rays defeat Tigers in ALCS

Most improved team: Indians +17
Nationals defeat Rays in 6

Brewers 74-88, -23.0, 4th in NL Central
Reds 90-72, -7.0, NL Wild Card #2 (v. Pirates)
Twins 66-96, -27.0, 4th in AL Central

Erik - 11 (+41 worked)

Peter - 45

Monday, September 23, 2013

September Call-ups

There's been a lot of debate recently about whether or not it is fair for a team to be able to call up every member of its 40-man roster in September, as is the current system.  No other professional sport allows you to affect your roster so greatly at the time of year when it matters the most.  I agree that the system should be a little more balanced from team to team and not unlimited, but I personally like the concept of the September call-ups, and wouldn't want it to go away entirely.  It gives managers a few extra players to mix and match in the late innings, and an opportunity to give guys a rest during the grind of a long season before the playoffs.  It is also an exciting time of year for fans to see hot young prospects getting their first taste of the Major Leagues and perhaps a brief tryout for the club next year.

The Rays have quite an intriguing crop of callups this year.  First and foremost is shortstop and former top prospect Tim Beckham.  Beckham was the last of a slew of high draft picks the Rays had before they got good, drafted #1 overall in 2008 out of high school.  This guy has a sort of Josh Hamilton-Evan Gattis type story where he had to overcome some personal problems off the field.  He has only posted average numbers so far throughout the minors and has generally underachieved, but is still only 23 and has plenty of time to showcase the raw talent the Rays saw in him.  The Rays also called up Enny Romero from AAA to start this week, all because Romero tweeted that he would be "ready to pitch" if the Rays needed him.  Joe Maddon or somebody with the Rays tweeted him back taking him up on his offer.  I don't know anything about Romero, but it's a pretty cool story.  Lastly, the Rays picked up Delmon Young off the scrap heap and he's DH-ing for them now.  Just the type of player a team like the Rays would take a flyer on and have contribute, like Yunel Escobar or James Loney this year, or pretty much anybody they've had in the bullpen the last 5 years.

Another really exciting callup this year is Billy Hamilton.  He is the heir apparent in centerfield for the Reds and his blazing speed and base-stealing prowess are already somewhat of a legend.  He broke Vince Coleman's 30-year old steals record with 155 for AA-Pensacola last year and has 10 stolen bases already in only 9 games played with the Reds this year.  The really intriguing thing about the Hamilton call-up is that it occurred slightly before September 1st, so the Reds will have the option to put him on their playoff roster.  In his first 10 times reaching base, he had 9 steals and 6 runs, and became the first player since 1920 to steal four bases in his first major league start.  If this guy can post a .300+ OBP, he is going to be a dynamic force for the Reds for many years.  It's not very often that base-stealing is touted as a major skill for prospects, which makes Hamilton a very unique and exciting player.  Cincinnati is still going to be Votto's town though, because Billy is a pretty ugly dude, and chicks dig the long ball.

Other call-ups of note to watch: 
  • Yordano Ventura, Kansas City.  This guy averages 99-100 MPH - as a starter - and he dominated in his ML debut.  His problem right now is that he dangerously flies open on his delivery.  If he doesn't hurt himself, he's going to be a #2 starter on that team very quickly.
  • Taijuan Walker, Seattle.  I think he just came up for a couple of starts and is being shut down.  But, much like Yordano Ventura, he throws gas and will position himself as the #2 in the rotation probably middle of next year.  Big time prospect not only for the Mariners but in all of MLB.
  • Xander Bogaerts, Boston.  Called up in mid-August, but I'll include him in this list.  Turned a lot of heads in the 2012 Futures game, #8 on list of top 100 prospects.  Will Middlebrooks and Bogaerts are going to be a really solid left side of the infield for the Red Sox the next 6-8 years.
  • Nick Castellanos, Detroit.  Another guy that really grabbed a lot of attention at the '12 Futures Game in KC.  Tigers have always considered him untouchable in trade negotiations, but he needs to find a position if he wants to play full-time next year.
  • Jimmy Nelson, Milwaukee.  Had to throw a homer in there.  After hitting on a number of picks in the 2000s, Nelson is one of the few lower-round draft picks since Ryan Braun that looks like he could make an impact.  He'll be fighting it out with Tyler Thornburg and Johnny Hellweg for the #5 spot next spring and has done very well in the bullpen in his first taste of the big leagues, as he has not yet allowed a run.  He was the Brewers' lone representative in the Futures Game this year.
Brewers 70-86, -21.0, eliminated (3 @ Braves, 4 @ Mets)
Reds 89-67, -2.0, -- WC (3 v. Mets, 3 v. Pirates)
Twins 65-90, -25.5, eliminated (3 v. Tigers, 4 v. Indians)

Erik - 11 (+37 worked)

Peter - 45

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Midwest League Playoffs

All photos of the Snappers' 2013 playoff run available on Flickr.

The Snappers got off to a hot start this year and carried it into a first half championship, earning them a spot in the postseason regardless of their second half performance.  A lot of teams will let off the gas a little bit with a postseason spot locked up so early, but the Snappers had themselves a fine first full season as an Athletics affiliate.  I headed down to Beloit for a couple of games to cheer them on during their playoff run.  I'm not going to lie - a big part of the reason I made the drive down there twice was to partake in the ridiculous end-of-the-season concessions firesale that is standard fare in Beloit.  Given that Pohlman Field is perennially one of the lowest attended stadiums in all of the minor leagues and that the Snappers were really only guaranteed one home playoff game, most years the team just refuses to restock the concessions during the final homestand so as to avoid throwing away unsold food.  This means that every year the Snappers make the playoffs, they more or less give food away while supplies last.  Both games I went to were Dollar Beer & Soda and half-price food and I spent less than $30 in total.

The Snappers drew the Clinton LumberKings in the first round and completed the 2-0 sweep in the game I attended.  The story of the day was Dylan Covey.  He is the pitcher the Brewers drafted in the first round in 2010, but ended up not signing when they found out he had diabetes during his team physical.  Covey went on to attend college and the A's drafted him three years later, and he spent most of this year in Beloit.  He got the start tonight in Game 2 and went six strong innings, giving up 2 runs on 3 hits.  He's not a big power arm with a lot of strikeouts, but he induced a ton of ground balls, which is the prototypical pitcher the A's like to draft.  Guys who throw 95 and strike out 10 command big contracts and are more likely to get hurt, but Covey could be on the fast track to the big leagues if he keeps it up.  John Wooten was the offensive star for the Snappers, as his 2-run double down the left field line in the 5th pretty much put the game out of reach for the LumberKings.

I also went to Game 2 of the Western Division Finals against the Quad Cities River Bandits last Sunday.  The Snappers also won this game, 4-3, to even the series 1-1.  The man of the match in this one was 2B Chris Bostick.  He launched a homerun in the 1st inning as part of a 3-run inning, and the Snappers never looked back.  He also contributed two more hits and another RBI later in the evening.  It's hard to keep track of players on the Snappers since they do not have very up-to-date programs nor a scoreboard with any player information whatsoever, but he ended up having a pretty fine season.  The top prospect at this level for the Snappers is Matt Olson, and he went 0-4 and was hitless for the playoffs as of this game.  The player I was most excited to see in this game was for the other team though - SS Carlos Correa, the #1 overall draft pick last year for the Astros.  He went 1-2 with 3 walks, and it's pretty clear he has quickly gained a reputation around the league, given how they were already pitching him like Babe Ruth.  Looking at his stats now and seeing he hit .320 with 86 RBI primarily out of the 3-hole, I'd say that's warranted.  He reminds me a lot of Manny Machado - stellar defense, hits a lot of doubles right now with not a lot of power, but with his frame and skill, he's going to fill out and be a 25-homerun guy in the big leagues.  Unfortunately I did not get to see Mark Appel, the Astros' #1 overall pick from this year, as he reached an innings limit and was shut down a few weeks ago.  Earlier this season, the River Bandits became the first minor league team in baseball history to have consecutive #1 overall draft picks playing for the same team in the same game.

The Bandits would go on to win on Monday (clearly because I was not there) and eventually defeat South Bend to win their 2nd Midwest League Championship in the last 3 years, which is impressive considering they changed their parent affiliation in that span.

Brewers 65-83, -21.5, eliminated (4 v. Cubs, 3 v. Cardinals)
Reds 84-66, -3.5, -- WC (3 @ Astros, 3 @ Pirates)
Twins 64-84, -21.5, eliminated (3 @ White Sox, 4 @ Athletics)

Erik - 11 (+37 worked)

Peter - 44

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Montreal Baseball Project

I've undoubtedly been very fortunate to have attended a game in so many ballparks, but up to this point I have two stadiums I majorly regret not going to: Tiger Stadium in Detroit, and Olympic Stadium in Montreal.  Yes, there are a countless number of former parks it would have been nice to have seen if I were older, but these are the two that were still being used during my lifetime that I had ample opportunity to see.  In the case of Tiger Stadium, it has long since been demolished, but Le Stade Olympique retains a shred of hope at hosting baseball once again.  Since the Expos left to become the Nationals in 2005, the Blue Jays have been in sporadic negotiations to bring preseason exhibition games to Montreal, and those talks have ramped up again for the 2014 season.  There are many hurdles to this, as the stadium is far from being up to MLB standards from hosting a game, and in fact was a pretty terrible facility even when the Expos were there - one of many reasons the team left.  But, the stadium still hosts events and soccer matches, so it's not outside of the realm of possibility that baseball could be played there once again, albeit temporarily.  I'm a very calculated person, but if there is one thing I would drop everything to do, it would be to go see a baseball game at Olympic Stadium.  I've just always wanted to go to Montreal and have been fascinated with all things Canadian and I think it would be an amazing experience.  Plus, the stadium boasts the world's tallest inclined tower as part of the structure - very much a part of mine and Erik's M.O., as if we needed more incentive to watch international ball.

Beyond the exhibition games, there has also been an underground movement to bring baseball back to French Canada in the form of the Montreal Baseball Project.  This organization is led by Warren Cromartie, a former popular Expos player who patrolled the outfield at Le Stade along with Andre Dawson in the 70s and 80s.  This non-profit organization's purpose is mainly informational and to get the city excited about baseball once again, but they also are conducting a feasibility study to see if professional baseball would work in Montreal.  MBP also has a website with a team store that I'm unsuccessfully trying to convince myself I don't need a t-shirt from.  Cromartie wrote an interesting piece on the website that talks about how towards the end of the Expos reign, the city really did nothing to save the team, but this time around, the opposite is true - a reincarnation of the Expos could save a city that is mired in corruption and lacks civic pride.  I know that there were a lot of bridges burned when Omar Minaya & Company were run out of town, and a new or renovated stadium would pretty much be a necessity to bring a team back, and these are certainly major obstacles.  But I personally feel that Montreal deserves another chance, and that fans would be passionate about the opportunity.  I will go out on a limb and say that Montreal (along with San Antonio and Las Vegas) will see a new major league franchise at some point in my lifetime, and Erik and I will certainly have a duty to get there as soon as possible.  Hopefully, at least twice - once to see Olympic Stadium, and once more to see its inevitable replacement.

UPDATE: Seriously, not even 24 hours after posting this story, it was announced that baseball will indeed be returning to the Big O next season for some Jays exhibition games!  I guess I have to put my money where my mouth is and start planning a trip now.

Brewers 61-80, -20.5, E# 1 (3 @ Cardinals, 3 v. Reds)
Reds 81-62, -1.5, -- WC (3 v. Cubs, 3 @ Brewers)
Twins 61-79, -20.0, E# 2 (1 v. Angels, 3 v. Athletics, 3 v. Rays)

Erik - 11 (+33 worked)

Peter - 42

Monday, September 2, 2013

Brewers, Reds Quiet at Trade Deadline

For the second consecutive September, the Brewers find themselves in spoiler mode, and the Reds right in the thick of a playoff hunt and Central Division title.  The non-waiver trade deadline and playoff roster trade deadline have both come and gone, and given the position of both of these teams, it comes as kind of a surprise to me that both teams did not make more moves.  The Brewers moved K-Rod to the Orioles pretty early for an A-ball third baseman with a lot of promise, Nick Delmonico, and also recently traded reliever John Axford to the Cardinals.  It's not necessarily a shock to me that Axford was traded - the Brewers do not need, nor can they afford, a $5+ million middle reliever in his 30s - but to trade the guy to a division rival is pretty uncommon (unless this is part of some ploy to have Ax work as a double-agent and pitch bad for St. Louis on purpose).  

The Brewers have a number of expensive contracts nearing their end, an outstanding bullpen, and some exciting young players in their future - it seemed like the perfect season to have a firesale.  Unfortunately, that word is not in owner Mark Attansio's vocabulary, and understandably so.  After all that went on with Ryan Braun and the team not being very good this year, the Brewers attendance figures were already bound to take a hit, and that is something a team in the smallest media market in the country cannot afford.  The Brewers rely more than most teams on high attendance figures to sustain growth, and selling off a lot of talent would be a deterrent to that.  I think if it were up to GM Doug Melvin, from a logical baseball perspective, it makes sense to try to trade players like Yovani Gallardo, Rickie Weeks, and Aramis Ramirez, all of whom have are owed a lot of money next season and are past their prime, and I think any smart baseball fan would understand that.  It just makes sense to get something for a player you're not going to (or shouldn't) resign anyways while he still has value, and save some money in the process.  But I think to Attanasio and the casual baseball fan, that sends a message you are "giving up," and that is not something the Brewers can afford.  This team is in a very delicate position of having to try to win every year while still developing their minor league talent and being fiscally responsible.  They could not financially withstand to do what Houston or Chicago is doing right now, and I understand that.  But, several big trades have depleted our farm system, so in turn the Brewers have had to rely heavily on free agent contracts to fill in the holes, which is not a model for sustained growth.  These things ebb and flow and there is finally a crop of exciting young players waiting in the wings, and I hope Brewer fans can be patient with these players.  If fans can put up with probably one more down year, and the front office has the sense to move some large contracts, I think 2015 and beyond will be exciting years with a nucleus of young talent, just as we had coming up 10 years ago.  Regardless of the product on the field, it's a true testament to the organization and the fans that Miller Park will have over 2.5 million fans walk through the gates again this year, which is more than a lot of playoff teams - including the Reds.

Speaking of the Reds, they are sort of in the opposite mentality of the Brewers.  Both teams have had the philosophy of locking up a group of core players, but that is about where the similarities end.  Despite being very competitive each of the last 4 years, the Reds have been notorious for not really making a big splash with trade deadline moves.  Whereas the Brewers have been selling the farm to get to the playoffs, the Reds are not willing to sacrifice the young players they have in their future for maybe a handful of more wins in one season.  You could certainly argue either line of thinking has its pros and cons, and certainly neither is wrong.  I think this year, the Reds are probably thinking that getting Johnny Cueto and Ryan Ludwick back from injury and having Billy Hamilton on the bench as a September call-up are just as good as trades, so there is no real need to make any moves.  The Reds obviously have it in their minds that they have their young talent locked up for a number of years, including an outstanding rotation all under contract, so there is no need to go all in for one year.  We've seen that backfire before with the Nationals and Pirates - after two years not really making big moves, the Pirates finally made some trades this season.  You can look at young talent as trading chips, or as the future of your team, and different general managers have different lines of thinking.  For instance, the Rangers have stockpiled talent for so many years and now have so much of an overabundance that they can afford to make these Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster 3-month rental trades, and it's working out well for them now, but soon they will be a lull as the Brewers are now when they need to restock the farm system.  There's no denying the Reds need an extra bat on the left side of the field, and it would have been nice to see them make a move for a utility guy, but some teams would rather be more even keel than go all out for a season, and that's respectable.  It's very hard and rare to be like the Cardinals who just seem to have young stud talent fall into their laps every year and win every single season.

Brewers 59-77, -20.0, -16.5 WC (3 v. Pirates, 3 @ Cubs)
Reds 76-61, -3.5, -- WC 
(4 v. Cardinals, 3 v. Dodgers)
Twins 59-76, -20.0, -16.0 WC (3 @ Astros, 3 v. Blue Jays)

Erik - 11 (+30 worked)

Peter - 41