Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

What's Wrong with the Twins and Other Storylines from the First week

     As per tradition, I went into this season full of optimism and hope about the Twins, only to have them dashed less than a week in. But hope isn't completely lost, here's a look at what's going wrong and how it can improve.
Twins miserable start
Outside of the seven-nothing drubbing at the hands of the Royals on Saturday, the Twins haven't lost a game by more than three runs, including two that went into extra innings. Obviously there are a lot of issues here, but it's not all the roster's fault. One of those many issues is the anemic state of the offense. So far, they've scored an average of less than two runs per game. The Twins currently have two people in their normal, everyday lineup with batting averages above .200. Joe Mauer is hitting .400 and Eduardo Escobar is hitting .348. As for the rest of the lineup, Brian Dozier is hitting .182, Miguel Sano .158, Trevor Plouffe .150 and Byung-ho Park .167. Yes, I know the maximum number of at-bats anyone has is 23, but it's still concerning. At the very least it's a really rough coincidence that they're all in slumps at the same time. There aren't a lot of other areas you can look at to explain this slide. The rotation's been solid, with even Ricky Nolasco delivering his one good start of the season Sunday, pitching seven innings and allowing one run in a game subsequently blown by Perkins in the ninth. All we can do now is hope the offense improves.
Trevor Story
Not to sound like someone on ESPN who overreacts to everything, but I've never seen anything like this. That's because, well, nothing like this has ever happened. Story's set the record for both most homers in the first six games of a season and most homers in the first six games in a career- in the same week. At the moment he's on pace to hit 189 homers and drive in 324 runs. I won't insult you and tell you he isn't going to keep up that pace, but it should give you a good idea of how good he's been.
We're barely over a week into the season and we've already seen two tough injuries to NL hopefuls. The first came before opening day, when A.J. Pollock fractured his elbow, putting him on the 60 day disabled list. Less than two weeks later, Cubs stud second year outfielder Kyle Schwarber tore his ACL in a collision with Dexter Fowler while going after a fly ball. He's out for the remainder of the season. As devastating as Schwarber's injury is for the Cubs, Pollock's creates an even worse outlook for the D-Backs. Even without Schwarber, the Cubs have a loaded roster with Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell, and they're still favored in the NL. Meanwhile Pollock's injury kills any chance Arizona had of contending in a tough NL West. Paul Goldschmidt lost his protection, and it could be especially bad with Zack Greinke looking mortal, there's no chance of the Diamondbacks doing anything without Pollock.

Monday, April 4, 2016

MLB Preview 2016! NL Edition

This is part two of my MLB preview, if you missed the AL predictions you can see that here.
Asterisk indicates wildcard prediction.
Washington Nationals
This was the toughest pick to make. I spent a long time trying to decide between the Mets and Nationals and eventually went with the Nats. Dusty Baker is a perfect fit here after micromanager Matt Williams left. This team was so disappointing last year but many of the reasons for that are bounce-back candidates. Anthony Rendon and Wilson Ramos will both likely have better seasons, and Daniel Murphy and most of all Ben Revere will help out the team a lot.
New York Mets*
Regardless of my second place projection, this is a dangerous team. Obviously the biggest reason for that is the rotation. It's hard to see them getting swept too often considering Harvey, deGrom, and Syndergaard will pitch in every series if they're all healthy. Outside of the playoffs Daniel Murphy was pretty mediocre last year, so replacing him with Neil Walker will help the offense. It's really tough for me to pick these guys to finish in second; it's going to be a dogfight down the stretch against the Nationals.
Miami Marlins
This is a pretty interesting team. Giancarlo Stanton, Macell Ozuna, and Christian Yelich comprise one of the top young outfields in the game, and Dee Gordon became one of the best second basemen last year. The X factor for Miami is Jose Fernandez. If he can put out a full season's worth of production the Marlins will contend. If not, it will be another long season for the Fish.
Atlanta Braves
This is a rebuilding year for the Braves, rebuilding for a future that will come much quicker after the pillaging they pulled off on the Diamondbacks to get Dansby Swanson among others for Shelby Miller. Right now obviously the roster isn't anywhere near the playoffs, but it is underrated. The lineup in particular is better than they appear with a top four of Inciarte-Aybar-Markakis-Freeman.
Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies only have one big contract left in Ryan Howard. After that they'll be all set to rebuild without any distractions. This year, Maikel Franco will be the only bright spot on a very untalented team.
Pittsburgh Pirates
I wrote a column about why the Pirates will win the Central in January. That explains it better than I could in one paragraph.
Chicago Cubs*
On paper, this is the best team in baseball, no doubt. But, I'm a little skeptical for a few reasons. The first is Jake Arrieta. Arrieta will be good in 2016, but it's just unrealistic to expect him to perform at the superhuman level he was operating on last year. In the second half, he posted a 0.75 ERA, and opposing hitters hit just .148/.204/.205 off of him. Arrieta's a great pitcher but to consistently pitch that well is impossible. The other reason is that they're the Cubs. There's 108 years of baggage on the franchise, they disappoint every year. Why have we forgotten this?
St. Louis Cardinals
I have a feeling I'm going to regret this prediction just because the Cardinals have a history of making the playoffs even when appearing to be declining. However, it's a little risky to take a team to win the division just of reputation. I just don't trust this team. Yadier Molina's been slowing down for the past few years, Father Time will eventually catch up to Matt Holliday, and I'm just not sure anyone will step up.
Milwaukee Brewers
There is nothing remotely interesting about the Brewers. Ryan Braun will have a decent year. Jonathan Lucroy is their best player, but could be traded. That's all.
Cincinnati Reds
Billy Hamilton and Joey Votto will be enough of a reason to keep an eye on the Reds, but there isn't much else there. Brandon Phillips isn't the same player as he was a few years ago, batting a respectable but not fantastic .294/.328/.395. He and Jay Bruce are both likely getting traded midseason this year.
San Francisco Giants
Between a terrific offseason and the Dodgers becoming just weak enough, I like the Giants in the West. They play in a graveyard of a ballpark, ideal for Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija to have bounce-back years in, and Denard Span will slide seamlessly into the outfield to replace Nori Aoki. Even without considering the moves they made, this is just a very professional, well-run club. Led by Hunter Pence and Buster Posey, the Giants will go roaring back into the playoffs.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The fact that I don't have the Dodgers making the playoffs is a testament to how tough the NL is this year. The Giants' improvement and the Dodgers losing Greinke was just enough to tilt the West in favor of San Francisco. Corey Seager's a stud, and Kershaw's still the best pitcher in the game, but they have too many players on the decline with Adrian Gonzalez, Andre Ethier and possibly even Yasiel Puig.
Arizona Diamondbacks
Well that was... eventful. Arizona had one of the best moves of the offseason, locking up Zack Greinke for only six years, as opposed to the eight David Price got from Boston, and the worst move, trading Dansby Swanson, Aaron Blair, and Ender Inciarte for Shelby Miller. Miller is a very young,  talented pitcher who will be a solid number two for Greinke, but Swanson is a former number one overall pick, a 22-year-old shortstop with superstar potential, and Inciarte is an underrated outfielder, batting .303/.338/.408 with 21 stolen bases last year. Paul Goldschmidt is an MVP candidate but the D-Backs just don't have enough to compete in a tough NL, especially after A.J. Pollock's injury.
San Diego Padres
A wild offseason going into the 2015 reminded baseball fans everywhere that the Padres existed. After the disappointment of going 74-88, along with James Shields and Matt Kemp having underwhelming seasons the Friars are right back to where they were before: largely unknown and slightly below average.
Colorado Rockies
There are three reasons to watch the Rockies this year: Nolan Arenado, D.J. LeMahieu and seeing what they get for Carlos Gonzalez. Other than that I don't know what you're doing.
MVP: Bryce Harper
Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw
Yeah, those are the two easiest answers, but there's a pretty good reason for that. You could talk me into Paul Goldschmidt for MVP, but voters  tend to be swayed by winning. Outside of that, these are the two best players in the NL, no need to overthink this.
Rookie of the Year: Steven Matz
This race will come down between Matz and Corey Seager. I think Matz is a slightly safer choice than Seager, as he's a little older and we got a better look at Matz late last year

Sunday, April 3, 2016

MLB Preview 2016! AL Edition

It's baseball season. You all know what that means. Let's get started.
Asterisk indicates wildcard prediction.
Toronto Blue Jays
Coming off of a season where they made their first playoff appearance since 1993, the Blue Jays are returning with almost the same roster. David Price is their only major loss going into the season, but their offense will improve with Troy Tulowitzki. Tulo struggled last year after moving across the border, hitting .239/.317/.380 for the Jays. He's just too good of a player to continue being that bad.
New York Yankees
I'm done getting deceived by the Yankees. Every year they put out a roster that looks destined for 72 wins and every year they overachieve. That's why I don't care how unimposing everything about this team looks, I'm still picking them as a wildcard team. As for actual analysis, the Evil Empire doesn't have anyone in their lineup who will keep opposing pitchers up at night but no one who's Drew Butera levels of terrible. If Aaron Hicks gets a shot I could see him having a breakout year, he's going to excel with those short fences. And with the Betances-Miller-Chapman combination in the late innings, as long as their rotation is mediocre, they'll do well.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays aren't going to give up many runs, boasting a strong, young rotation led by Chris Archer. Their problem will be scoring runs. Last year, the Rays ranked 25th in the league in runs scored. They have some intriguing prospects on their way, but this is going to be another rebuilding year for the Rays.
Boston Red Sox
Am I missing something here? Why do people think the BoSox are going to be good? They gave David Price way too many years in free agency, and there's just too many holes here. They don't have any starting pitching behind Price, especially if they're relying on Joe Kelly to be anything better than terrible. (The right hander went 10-6 with a 4.82 ERA last year) The rest of the rotation is average at best. On offense, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez, and Pablo Sandoval are all on the decline, Jackie Bradley is going to be 26 years old on April 19 and is a career .213 hitter and Rusney Castillo was a complete disaster last year. Mookie Betts is a reason to be optimistic, but there aren't too many others.
Baltimore Orioles
If there was a baseball version of the Monstars from Space Jam, this would be it. They're big, slow, and I wouldn't be surprised to find out one of them has eaten a person before. Between Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo, and Pedro Alvarez, they're going to hit a lot of homers and strike out a ton. Unfortunately, those guys along with Manny Machado and Adam Jones won't be enough for a team with a rotation that lacks a true number one and was 26th in the league last year in FIP.
Kansas City Royals
The defending champs are coming into 2015 with an almost identical roster to last year, losing only midseason acquisitions Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist over the winter. Projection systems hate them again, but that's because they have a very particular brand of baseball that can't be quantified. They play an old school style, concentrating on making contact and advancing runners, the exact thing advanced stats say doesn't work. But it clearly works for them, and their grip on the AL Central seems pretty secure.
Detroit Tigers*
The Tigers reign atop the AL central officially came to a close last year, and it won't get any easier in 2016. They'll improve assuming they have Miguel Cabrera for a full season. He only played in 119 games last year. Justin Upton will also help an aging offense. The pitching staff is decent with the exception of Mike Pelfrey, who I'm guessing the Tigers had never seen pitch before they signed him. Overall, this team is good enough to stay in the race, but this might be their last year.
Chicago White Sox
If you're looking for a potential sleeper playoff team, here it is. Chris Sale has quietly dominated for the last four years, posting a 2.95 ERA since 2012. The combination of acquiring Austin Jackson and being able to move Melky Cabrera to DH will improve a defense that ranked third to last in the league last year in defensive runs saved, and Todd Frazier will create an intimidating middle of the lineup duo with Jose Abreu. Ultimately, I don't think this team has the arms in their rotation behind Sale to make the playoffs, but this is an intriguing team.
Cleveland Indians
Advanced stats and mainstream media guys love the Indians. Last year Sports Illustrated picked them to win the World Series. Several months into the season, when it was clear they weren't as good an they thought, everyone at ESPN refused to admit they were wrong, considering them contenders up until the day they were eliminated. This year it's more of the same, with Cleveland projected to do well despite a mediocre roster.
Minnesota Twins
I'm saving my Twins thoughts for an extended column about them later, so I won't say too much here. Just know that I'm more optimistic than this fifth place prediction implies.
Houston Astros
The Astros are just the Cubs of the American league. They haven't won anything in a really long time but now have a hopeful future with some young, hyped prospects. While Carlos Correa will only continue to get better, I think George Springer is the most important player in Houston this year. In parts of two years in the big leagues, he's shown a rare combination of the ability to get on base along with elite power. Springer's been effective but hampered by injuries the last two years, so this is his big shot to prove he can be productive over a full season.
Texas Rangers*
This is just a really good, well balanced team. You can't poke holes anywhere in there roster because they're just solid all-around. Rougned Odor was very underrated last year, providing some pop from second base, especially in the second half of the season. Also, Joey Gallo could potentially make a pretty good lineup terrifying for pitchers if he's ready this season.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels have the best player of the of the 2000s, the guy who will likely go on to be the best player for the next 10 to 12 years, and the best defensive shortstop in the game. Their problem is the rest of the roster. Garrett Richards was serviceable last year but nowhere near the Cy Young contender he was in 2014. Andrelton Simmons will help on defense, but he hasn't proven that he can hit and was their only major offseason acquisition. This is just an overall mediocre roster, in danger of wasting Mike Trout.
Seattle Mariners
This is an interesting team. Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, and Nelson Cruz will all keep opposing pitchers up at night, and Nori Aoki has been one of the most underrated players in the league since he joined, batting .287/.353/.380 in San Francisco last year. This is another sleeper.

Oakland Athletics
Historians will look back on the A's of this era as one of the greatest wasted opportunities in the sport. In 2014 they had Josh Donaldson, Jeff Samardzija, Jon Lester and Sonny Gray and somehow botched it worse than Phil Cuzzi botched the call on Joe Mauer's would-be double in the 2009 playoffs. By Opening Day 2015, Lester had left via free agency, they traded Donaldson to Toronto for peanuts monkeys eat at the circus, Samardzija to the White Sox for poop monkeys fling at each other and poor Gray was stuck as the last decent player in Oakland. Then, just in case they hadn't already made enough stupid moves, they traded their best shortstop prospect, Daniel Robertson to Tampa Bay for Ben Zobrist... who they traded to the Cubs at the trade deadline for considerably less a few months later. Now they're stuck in baseball purgatory, just waiting for enough prospects to come up to improve.
MVP: Mike Trout
I know the national media has a collective man crush on Carlos Correa, but he just hasn't proved that he can play on an MVP level yet. Trout's the best player on the planet, and there don't seem to be too many contenders this year.
Cy Young: Chris Sale
See what I said about Sale in the paragraph about the Sox. He's been a great pitcher for a long time, I picked him last year, it's finally his turn.
Rookie of the Year: Byung Ho Park
ROY is always the toughest category to pick simply because there are so many candidates who we don't even know are going to see time in the big leagues this year. I ultimately chose Park because he's one of the few rookies we know will get an opportunity this year.
NL Coming Tomorrow!