Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Breaking Down the Wildcard Race

The race for the second AL wildcard is coming down to the wire. Right now the Astros are clinging to a two game lead over and Twins and two and a half over the Angels. Here's a full breakdown of who will win.
Starting pitching
Its Gibson-Hughes-Santana-Duffy-Pelfrey for the Twins (and eventually Milone in for one of those guys when he comes back) vs. Richards-Shoemaker-Weaver-Heaney-Santiago with the Angels and Keuchel-McCullers-Kazmir-McHugh-Hernandez for Houston. We can rule the Twins out right away, although Gibson's having an underrated season and Duffy's been solid so far. I'll go with the Astros. Starters 3-5 are pretty similar for both teams, but Keuchel and McCullers are way better than anything the Angels can throw at you.
Edge: Astros
The Astros have a brand of baseball unlike any other team in the league: hit the ball as far as you can and don't worry about anything else. They have hit the second most homers in the league at 209, behind only the Blue Jays and are also second in strikeout percentage, whiffing 23% of the time. Obviously Mike Trout gives the Halos a massive boost, but they have no chance against a deep Houston lineup.
Edge: Astros
Once again, the most obvious answer here is "not the Twins". The Astros, on the other hand have been no less than dominant. Led by Pat Neshek, Will Harris and Luke Gregerson, they've struck out over nine batters per nine innings, en route to a 3.20 ERA, good for third in the American league.
Edge: Astros
Even with Jose Altuve and Carlos Gomez, the Astros have no chance here because of their style of play. The Twins have the potential to be Royals-esque in the outfield with Hicks, Buxton and Rosario, but right now with Hunter in right field it's the Angels. Trout moves like a gazelle in center field, and David Freese is a solid fielding third baseman.
Edge: Angels
This one's a push. None of the teams can anyone who can make a real difference from behind the plate. Although the Twins can use Buxton as a pinch runner or defensive sub late in the game.
Edge: Twins
It should be the Astros. On paper, they're the best. They have the most talent, they've been the best all year, and yet somehow, they're not. Why that is is a column for later, but they're just faltering for whatever reason. I feel like the Twins are still a year away, so that leaves the Angels. They're red-hot right now during a perfect part of their schedule, it's theirs for the taking.
Edge: Angels

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Vikings Preview

     I figured I needed a break from the first scoreboard watching I've done in years with the Twins and obsessing about how the Rangers are doing so here's a look at the Vikings for this upcoming season.
Most important players
3. Adrian Peterson
We all know what we're getting from AD. 1,300-1,600 yards, 10 TDs and a lot of defenders run over. Of all the reasons I'm hopeful about this season, Peterson being a part of my life on Sundays is one of the biggest. Best of all, he seems to think he's been slighted in some way. He plays best with something to prove. It can just be our little secret that all the offseason issues were his fault.
2. Matt Kalil
The big offensive tackle had a tremendously disappointing season last year, allowing 13 sacks. If he can rebound that will be huge for Teddy's development. In fact, that can go to the entire offensive line. Rookie out of Pitt T.J. Clemmings will fill in for the injured Phil Loadholt, which is something I'm slightly less concerned about. As I alluded to a few sentences ago, the biggest problem last year was the pass protection. Teddy was sacked 39 times last year in 13 games. Loadholt's a good run blocker and that's about it. He can't pass protect and if I had a nickel for every time he killed a drive with a stupid penalty I'd be a very rich person. Here's to Clemmings taking over after this year.
1. Teddy Bridgewater
I can barely write coherent thought about Teddy because I'm so excited. For the first time in the last ten years, the Vikings have a quarterback of the present and future. He threw for 2919 yards last year with 14 touchdowns and a completion percentage of 64.4. It's only going up from here.
Defense Situation
The biggest weakness on D last year for the Vikings was the secondary. And while the abominable Robert Blanton is still in a strong safety, they could potentially have three above average defensive backs in Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes and rookie Trae Waynes. Waynes is the X-factor here. He had an uneven preseason, but if he can play up to his potential, combined with a solid line led by Brian Robison and Everson Griffin this can be a dangerous unit.
Best case scenario
Teddy flourishes in his second year, Peterson plays like he usually does, the offensive line holds up and the defense is stingy. Vikes go 11-5 to make the playoffs.
Worst case scenario
Peterson deals with injuries throughout the season, the offensive line doesn't have it and Teddy never has enough time to throw. The defense is decent but continually gives up long drives in the last two minutes of games. They go 6-10 and miss the playoffs again,
I'll go with 10-6, snagging  a wildcard before losing in the first round.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Breaking Down the Contenders for the AL Wildcard

     There are some certainties in the American league right now. One is that the Royals will win the Central. Another is that either the Blue Jays or Yankees will take the East with the other claiming the first wildcard. The second wildcard is where things get interesting. Five teams (Rangers, Twins, Angels, Orioles and Rays) are within three games of that spot*. Here's a look at them.
*At least at the time I started writing this. Since then the Orioles have gone into a massive slump and almost fallen out of contention
Texas Rangers
Why they'll make it
The Rangers deserve a break at some point. They lost the World Series two years in a row this decade, coming one strike away twice in 2011 against the Cardinals. The next year they lost in the one game playoff and haven't been back since. Then last year they were favored in the West, when a miserable rash of injuries hit either knocking out or impairing Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo and Derek Holland. Then at the beginning of this year, Yu Darvish had to have Tommy John surgery, shelving him all season. Going beyond karmic reasons, their rotation now boasts one of the top combination of 1-2-3 starters in the league with Cole Hamels, Yovani Gallardo and Colby Lewis. Prince Fielder has come back from his injury to hit .316/.380/.474 with 17 homers. Mitch Moreland is having an unusually good season, Adrian Beltre has had his usual solid season.
Why they won't
Since coming to the Lone Star State, Hamels has posted a decent ERA of 3.89, but his FIP is lagging behind at 4.21, implying he's been getting somewhat lucky. Those balls being put in play hard could find holes at any time. Hopefully for Texas that time won't be during a crucial game in late September.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Why they'll make it
I don't know, maybe because they have the best overall player of this generation and one of the greatest first basemen of all time.
Why they won't
The rest of the roster. Outside Trout and Pujols, C.J. Cron and Kole Calhoun are the only other active players in the lineup with an OPS+ over 100. Overall they make up an offense that's last in the AL in park adjusted offense. The pitching hasn't much better. Two fifths of their rotation are Jared Weaver and Matt Shoemaker, each sporting ERAs above four. As the Twins are proving right now with Mike "I've sucked my entire career and still suckered Ryan into giving me a two year extension" Pelfrey and Ervin "Somehow I contributed more while suspended" Santana*, it's hard to win when your offense has to score al least five runs twice a week, especially this offense.
*I wrote that before Sunday night's gem against the Astros. We'll see how it works out.
Baltimore Orioles
Why they'll make it
Manny Machado has had a breakout year, batting .289/.355/.496 out of the leadoff spot. Their suspect starting rotation has been helped by a dominant bullpen, led by Zach Britton, Brad Brach and Darren O'Day, all of whom have ERAs under 2.70 and are striking out at least ten batters per nine innings.
Why they won't
The O's are already on their way out. They've lost ten of their last 11, which, from the Twins perspective is good, (four game sweep in Baltimore) and infuriating. (Damn it, Orioles would it kill you to beat the Rangers once so taking 2/3 from the Astros isn't a complete waste?) Much of the slump can be chalked up to a lack of hitting. In those ten losses, the Orioles haven't scored more than three runs in any of those games. Particularly slumping are the guys with the highest expectations. Adam Jones is hitting .245/.275/.408 in the last two weeks. Machado's hitting .204/.271/.296, and Chris Davis has a line of .178/.288/.289 with over three times as many strikeouts (25) as hits (8).
Tampa Bay Rays
Why they'll make it
Kevin Kiermaier has developed into one of more underrated players in the game, swatting a league leading 12 triples while also leading all center fielders in defensive runs saved with 35. That helps out an excellent pitching staff. Led by Chris Archer they all have ERAs under four.
Why they won't
As good as their pitching is, the Rays might not have enough hitting to keep up. Logan Forsythe is leading the team in batting at .281 and nobody's hitting more than 15 homers. If they make it it'll be with a lot of 1-0 and 2-1 games.
Minnesota Twins
Why they'll make it
Young talent. Eddie Rosario is raw, but is hitting .272 and has a cannon in the outfield. Byron Buxton, the future, the five tool stud who's supposed to own the game someday, hasn't done as well. But that's ok. Two things to remember with Buck and his near impossible to achieve expectations. 1) He's 21 years old. 2) We have to be patient. It took Aaron Hicks over three years before he figured it out. But none of that matters right now because of Miguel Sano. The powerful righty is hitting .287/.398/.591 and showing unprecedented patience. The biggest difference between Sano and Buxton is how Sano lays off breaking balls in the dirt. Buxton swings through them just like Rosario, Vargas, Arcia and a lot of young hitters. The future's in good hands.
Why they won't
Any stat nerd will tell you that the Twins are getting lucky this year because of their high batting average with runners in scoring position. Also, their rotation is atrocious. Take Sano out of the lineup and it becomes horribly stagnant and there's a nagging feeling that they just aren't that good. But they just keep winning.