NL Beat

The Final Chapter
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Saturday, 27 October 2012 00:00

I succeeded in continuing my wretchedly poor record of picking the winners in the postseason by saying the St. Louis Cardinals would defeat the San Francisco Giants and go to the World Series. What made it all the more a lousy prediction was the fact the Cardinals blew a three games to one lead.  We now have the Giants with a two games to none lead over the Detroit Tigers in the final matchup of the season. I’m not going to lie and say I picked the Giants. I actually went with the Tigers to dispatch the Giants fairly easily.

Why did I envision the Tigers coming away with the World Championship? One reason was they had their starting pitching all set up. Justin Verlander would go in Game 1 and could possibly start three games in the series if necessary, albeit on short rest. The Giants, on the other hand, had to start with Barry Zito taking the ball for Game 1 instead of Matt Cain or even Madison Bumgarner. Zito held Detroit to one run in five and two-third innings while Verlander was torched for five runs in only four innings. San Francisco went on to win Game 1, setting up a Bumgarner vs. Doug Fister matchup in Game 2. We now know that Bumgarner didn’t allow a run in seven innings and the Giants scored two late runs to defeat Detroit and take a 2-0 lead despite a good pitching performance by Fister.

San Francisco now has the pitching advantage with Ryan Vogelsong getting the start for Game 3 and ace Cain in line for a Game 4 start to go against Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer. And don’t forget, that’s with a 2-0 lead!

The other reason I picked the Tigers was the combination of Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. But the two combined went 2-for-7 with one RBI and no runs scored in Game 1 and 0-for-4 with one walk in Game 2. That’s a total of 2-for-11 with one RBI between the two mashers, which just isn’t going to get it done.


On the other hand, Pablo Sandoval cracked three home runs in his first three at-bats (after only a dozen round trippers in the regular season) in Game 1, leading San Fran to an 8-3 drubbing of Verlander and the Tigers. In Game 2, the Giants scratched two late runs to earn a 2-0 victory and a 2-0 series lead.

The series now switches to Detroit for Games 3, 4 and 5 on Saturday, Sunday and Monday after an off-day on Friday. The Tigers are now in a position of having to win all three games at home if they want to win the championship, as I don’t see them winning the last two back on the West Coast. It’s going to be a long, uphill battle for the Tigers and it doesn’t look good at this point. But on the bright side, a Giants World Series victory would give me a perfect oh-for record in my postseason predictions.
Updated Playoff Picture
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Friday, 19 October 2012 03:05

What have the playoffs told us to this point? Mainly, they have again told everyone not to bet anything on my predictions. Aside from that, they’ve told us that Chipper Jones will retire on a losing note because the Atlanta Braves couldn’t fully exorcise the demons from last year’s season ending collapse. This year, they actually made it into the postseason but that foray lasted exactly one game as the St. Louis Cardinals dumped them from the playoffs and onto the golf course.


The Cardinals warrant extra mention here. They lost some key players in Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook, Lance Berkman, and Rafael Furcal near the end of the season but again managed to get themselves into the playoffs in spite of many pooh-poohing their chances. Kind of like when they beat the Detroit Tigers in the 2006 World Series and Texas Rangers in the 2011 World Series. Just saying.

After dispatching the Braves, St. Louis went on to outlast the Washington Nationals in the Division Series three games to two. I believe Washington made a fatal error in not pitching Stephen Strasburg in the series at all and paid for it with a short playoff stint. But at least he’ll be rested for the start of the 2013 season.

Moving onto the other Division Series, I picked the Cincinnati Reds to dispatch the San Francisco Giants. Things looked good for awhile as the Reds jumped out to a two game lead but then proceeded to surrender the next three games to the Giants – all of them in Cincinnati where the Reds won 50 of 81 in the regular season. Cincinnati scored 14 runs in the first two games but then went on to score a total of eight in the next three games. That was their downfall.

So it’s obvious my Washington/Cincinnati League Championship didn’t come to fruition as we’re left with the Giants and Cardinals. At the moment, St. Louis is up three games to one as Tim Lincecum got the start in Game 4 for San Francisco and performed as he did all season long. It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that St. Louis will make their 19th World Series appearance – 23rd if you count the St. Louis Browns years.

In the American League, the Detroit Tigers completed a sweep of my beloved New York Yankees (who will have a lot of work to do in the off-season) to advance to the Fall Classic.  The first two games are scheduled for next Wednesday and Thursday in St. Louis courtesy of the NL winning this year’s All Star game – which is ridiculous but I digress. Both teams finished the regular season with identical 88-74 records so this should be a good series (assuming the Cards get past the Giants). Detroit should be favored but I feel some St. Louis magic again this year.
The Party’s Over (or is it just beginning)
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Thursday, 04 October 2012 03:35

In reading last week’s piece it’s obvious to anyone I shouldn’t be counting on my prognostication skills to make a living, as the Milwaukee Brewers didn’t make the playoffs.  Not only didn’t they make the postseason, it wasn’t even close as the St. Louis Cardinals finished five games ahead of them to win the second wild card spot.

The Cardinals accomplished this by heating up over the last five series of the regular season.  Near the beginning of September they lost two of three to Milwaukee then were swept in a three-game series by the San Diego Padres before splitting four games with the Los Angeles Dodgers.  At this point, it looked like St. Louis might be going into a nose dive.

But the Red Birds managed to pull the nose up and swept the Houston Astros, take two of three against the Chicago Cubs, win twice in three games against the Astros again, then win twice in three games against both the Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds.

Milwaukee, on the other hand, swept three games from the Pittsburgh Pirates, split four games with the Washington Nationals, and then lost two of three against both the Reds and Astros before taking two of three against the Padres when it was too late.  St. Louis finished the season victorious in seven of their last ten games while Milwaukee limped to the wire winning only four of ten.

So with the last day of the regular season behind us, the postseason teams have been decided and in the National League they are division winners Washington, Cincinnati and San Francisco as well as wild card entries Atlanta and St. Louis.  After a one-day respite from the regular season marathon, the playoffs get started on Friday as the wild card winners, the Braves and Cardinals, square off in a one-game sudden death matchup in Atlanta.  The winner will go on to face the surprising Washington Nationals in a potential five-game series with the first two games scheduled for the home field of the wild card game winner.  The final three games would be in the nation’s capital.

The other division series will pit the Giants against the Reds with the first two games of this five-game series in San Francisco and the final three scheduled in Cincinnati.  The winners of both the division series would meet in the League Championship series in a best of seven format.  Washington owns the home-field advantage for as long as they last in the playoffs (including the World Series courtesy of a NL victory in this year’s All-Star Game) with Cincinnati the runner-up.

While I like the idea of an additional wild card team (it certainly added to the excitement of the regular season and kept more people interested longer), I am not a fan of a one-game, winner-take-all, do-or-die proposition.  I don’t even like a five-game contest in the division series.  But there isn’t much of a choice with the playoffs now stretching into potential snow-out season.

So the wild card game will pit Kyle Lohse of the Cards against Kris Medlen of the Braves.  So dare I venture into predictions again?  Why not.  There’s no fun just sitting on the sidelines.  I’m going with Atlanta to continue to put the ghosts of 2011 behind them – at least for the wild card matchup.  They will end their quest for a World Series title in a loss at the hands of the Nationals.  In the division series between San Francisco and Cincinnati, I’m going with Cincinnati to set up a Nationals/Reds League Championship series.  Washington will get revenge for 1994 and proceed onto the World Series.  Time will tell if my prediction will hold up.
One Last Look
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Thursday, 27 September 2012 03:01

This is it.  The last week of the twenty-six week regular season is about to start.  A week from now we will know all we need to know for the start of the playoffs as far as who will be dancing and who will be playing golf.  Last week I really went out on a limb predicting the Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds, and San Francisco Giants would win their respective divisions.  We now know the Reds and Giants have held up their side of the equation while the Nationals have a comfortable four game lead over the Atlanta Braves with seven games to go.  In fact, Washington has clinched a playoff spot – the first time a major league team from Washington, D.C. has accomplished this since way back in 1933.

I also said the Braves would put last year’s debacle in the rear view mirror and make the playoffs this year.  They have done just that, clinching at least a wild card spot in Chipper Jones’ final year.  They are still mathematically in the race for the division title but overcoming a four game deficit at this point is a very long shot.  Especially since the Nationals (with the best record in the major leagues) haven’t shown us any sign of surrendering their lead.

One of the questions now is if the Reds or Giants will coast the rest of the regular season, thus sticking it to any fantasy team with some of their top players who may get extra rest.  I don’t think either of them will take this approach since the fight for home-field advantage is still up in the air.  Every one of the four National League teams that have already made the playoffs have at least 90 wins with Washington in the lead with 94.  There is still a lot to gain for each team by penciling in their best players on the lineup card.

As for the last playoff spot, the St. Louis Cardinals are in the driver’s seat with a three and one-half game lead over both the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers.  St. Louis expanded their lead over the Dodgers by one and one-half game and the Brewers by one game in the past week.  My prediction was Milwaukee would win the second NL wild card spot and I’m not going to take the easy way out by changing that now.

I still think the Brewers have an advantage even though they are trailing at this point.  St. Louis did what they had to in taking five of seven games from the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs.  But they now have three games each against Washington and Cincinnati, who are only separated by one game and are fighting for the best record in the major leagues and home field throughout the NL playoffs.  St. Louis has split the 12 games against Cincinnati this season but has only won two of six in the second half.  Against Washington, they only have one victory in four games.

Milwaukee has won four of seven games in the past week (only one less than the Cardinals) even though six of those games were against the Nationals and Reds with the Brewers splitting the six games.  They still have one game left against Cincinnati before finishing at home with three games against the Astros and finally three games against the San Diego Padres.  The Brewers have won eight of 14 against Houston, four of six in the second half while splitting six games against San Diego – all of them in the first half.

They still have an uphill battle but I’m sticking with Milwaukee to pull it out.  The Brewers have won 17 of 24 games in the month of September and have held their own against the best teams in the league.  They will continue their winning ways and squeak into the playoffs on the last day of the season.  It might seem like wishful thinking on my part but I’d like to see another exciting end to the season like last year.
The End Draws Nigh
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Thursday, 20 September 2012 03:43

Here we are at the top of the stretch run of the 2012 Major League Baseball season.  As things now stand, the National League is the cream of the crop as far as team records go.  The Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds are in a virtual dead heat in the race for the best record in all of baseball.  Washington is currently 90-58 while Cincinnati is 90-59.  The Nationals are clinging to a five game lead over the Atlanta Braves and the Reds are sitting on a very comfortable 11 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals.

The other NL division leader – the San Francisco Giants – has a better record at 86-63 than every team in the American League save for the Texas Rangers.  The Giants are also sitting on a comfortable lead – nine games over the Los Angeles Dodgers with 13 games to go for both teams.  Cincinnati and St. Louis also have 13 games each left to play while Washington has 14 remaining and Atlanta has 12.

The wild card race has Atlanta and St. Louis currently in the playoffs if the season were to end today.  There are a handful of chasers including the Los Angeles Dodgers at two games out, Milwaukee Brewers at two and a half games out, Philadelphia Phillies at four games out, and both the Pittsburgh Pirates and Arizona Diamondbacks four and a half games out.  Philadelphia and Milwaukee have each staged nice comebacks over the past month to put themselves back into contention for a wild card berth.

Philadelphia plays one game at the New York Mets and then head home for three each against Atlanta and Washington before finishing the season on the road with three games at Miami before a season finale set of three at Washington.

Milwaukee has one game left at Pittsburgh before going to Washington for four games and Cincinnati for three games.  The Brewers then head home to finish the season with what should be three easy games against the Houston Astros and three against the San Diego Padres.

Los Angeles plays at Washington once more before going to Cincinnati and San Diego for three games each then are back home for three with the Colorado Rockies and three games with division leader San Francisco.

The Pirates finish a series with one more game against Milwaukee then travel to Houston for three games and New York for four games.  Pittsburgh (who slumped badly in the second half) then finishes the regular season at home with three games with both the Reds and Braves.

Arizona finishes a series with the Padres then hit the road for four at Colorado and three at San Francisco.  Then they are back home for three each with the Chicago Cubs and Rockies.

St. Louis has the last game of a series with Houston then goes to Chicago for three with the Cubs and Houston for three with the Astros.  The Cardinals then finish at home with three tough games against both the Nationals and Reds.

The Atlanta Braves travel to Philadelphia for three games then are back home with three-game series against both the Marlins and Mets before finishing at Pittsburgh for three games.

If any of these teams get hot, they can really shake things up.  My limited bankroll says Washington, Cincinnati, and San Francisco will each win their division.  I definitely feel Atlanta will exorcise the demons of their collapse last year and win the first wild card berth.  My second wild card team is the hottest National League team at this time.  They will ride their hot streak to competitive series against division leaders before beating up two lesser opponents, thus giving the second wild card spot to the Milwaukee Brewers.
Unlikely Heroes
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Thursday, 13 September 2012 00:00

Everyone knows the baseball season is very long.  (That’s certainly not a big, ground breaking revelation).  During the course of the season, just about every team winds up with holes that need to be filled due to injury or trade or just poor performance.  Sometimes, these holes are filled by a shrewd acquisition by management to bring in a more than serviceable replacement.  Other times, they are filled through the team’s own farm with a top prospect at the position.  There’s even the spaghetti approach where a team keeps bringing up farm players or free agents in a revolving door way to see if something sticks.

Many of these substitutes don’t work out.  We see players who are long past their prime and really should have retired, prospects that just aren’t quite ready or don’t live up to the hype, and Quad-A type players who show us again that they will be nothing more than Triple-A performers.  But sometimes teams (and we) get surprised by someone who steps up and plays a big role for a club for a long stretch in the year or just the month of September (who doesn’t remember Shane Spencer?)

Once in a while that player goes on to play a significant role for the team for a number of years – they get their chance, grab hold of it and don’t let go.  It might be that highly touted prospect or someone not as high on the prospect chart.  But usually we don’t really know what to make of them or how they’ll play out until they are here for awhile.  Sure, teams and fans have high hopes, but the road to the major leagues is littered with broken down wrecks.

Fans and fantasy players don’t like to dwell on those replacements that didn’t make it as they might have cost the team a playoff spot or fantasy title.  But the stories are long (and usually exaggerated a bit) about the fantasy owner who was an astute genius to pick up what turned out to be one of the year’s biggest surprise free agents.  A closer look at a few of these free agents is warranted.

Patrick Corbin – Corbin was one of the top pitching prospects in the Los Angeles Angels system in 2010 when he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks for starting pitcher Dan Haren.  But he took a back seat to starter Tyler Skaggs who was a bigger prospect.  The 23-year-old Corbin is a left-hander who can throw his fastball near 91 MPH and who struck out nearly a batter per inning throughout his minor league career.  He was called up to replace Josh Collmenter in Arizona’s rotation at the end of April.  The southpaw has appeared in 18 games, starting 13 of them.  Although he only has five victories to go along with seven losses, Corbin has pitched fairly well with a 1.28 WHIP and 4.19 ERA in his rookie campaign.  Corbin’s 7.64 K/9 is good but he walks only 2.41/9 and has a nice 3.17 K/BB ratio.  He projects to be a solid rotation cog for many years.

Mike Fiers – Fiers was called up at the end of May to replace an injured Marco Estrada for the Milwaukee Brewers.  At 27 years old, he isn’t really a prospect anymore and was thought by many to be a bottom of the rotation or long relief type.  The right-hander only throws in the high 80’s but has a delivery that fools batters and is striking out better than one per inning.  Fiers has appeared in 19 games thus far, starting 18 of them for the Brew Crew.  He has been pretty successful, winning nine games while losing seven.  With a 1.18 WHIP and 3.05 ERA, he has been a boon for both Milwaukee and his fantasy owners.  A solid 2.49 BB/9 and 3.70 K/BB rounds out the package.  Although he hasn’t come with the high pedigree of a top prospect, Fiers has been extremely valuable and should have a pretty good career now that he’s been given the chance.

Adam Eaton – No, not Adam Eaton the pitcher turned hitter.  Another player who wasn’t considered one of the Arizona Diamondbacks' top prospects, Eaton was projected to be a fourth outfielder type.  But that was before he hit .300 in Double-A Mobile in 11 games and then .381 for Triple-A Reno in 119 games.  One of the main things that punched his ticket to the big leagues was his impressive plate discipline – walking almost as many times as he struck out.  The 23-year-old is also a burner, stealing 38 bases in 48 attempts – a 79 percent success rate - while at Reno.  That makes up for his lack of pop, which is understandable since at five-foot nine-inches and 180 pounds, he’s on the small side.  Eaton has started off well, batting .357 in six games.  While he has only swiped one base so far, he’s making his presence known, scoring an average of one run for every game he’s played.  Given his nice plate discipline, Eaton should at the very least be a good platoon player in the major leagues (being a left-handed hitter he’s on the better side of a platoon) with a chance to be an everyday player if he continues to be judicious with the bat.
September is Spoiler Time
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Thursday, 06 September 2012 04:34

Here we are entering the last month of the marathon known as the Major League Baseball season.  The division races are gelling more with the Washington Nationals holding a seven and one-half game lead in the East, Cincinnati Reds holding an eight and one-half game lead in the Central, and San Francisco Giants holding a four and one-half game lead in the West.  With the composition of the teams, I don’t foresee any changes at the top of the divisions.

The two wild cards, however, are still up for grabs.  Right now, the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals are in while the Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers are out.  But the wild card race isn’t limited to just these four clubs.  There are many teams out there itching to play the role of spoiler and some are already at it.

The San Diego Padres have just finished taking two of three from the Dodgers, who were playing at home at a time when they couldn’t afford to drop any games to a team ten games below the .500 mark.  San Diego is obviously relishing their role as they did the same in defeating the Braves two out of three games the week prior.

Other teams are getting in on the act as well.  The Colorado Rockies won the middle game of a three-game series against the Braves.  The New York Mets joined the ranks of spoiler, defeating the Cardinals once in a three game series.  Even the Houston Astros succeeded in not losing every game in a series when they beat the Pirates once out of three games.  While one game might not sound like a big deal, Atlanta, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh don’t have a wild card playoff spot sewed up just yet.  These are the teams they all have to make sure they are beating every time out.

The old adage is split with the teams in your own division and win two-thirds of the games outside your division and you’ll win your division title.  That can be applied here as well to a certain extent.  The more games a team loses against these lesser teams (or spoilers) the more they have to win against their direct competitors.  While this all sounds very fundamental and obvious, the point is these teams must make hay against the lower teams and prevent them from taking the role of spoiler.  But the time is fast approaching when these particular wild card contenders won’t be facing each other head-to-head anymore and will need to take care of business against anyone they happen to be playing.

In fact, each of the four wild card leaders only face one of the other three one series each the rest of the way.  Atlanta finishes the regular season with three games at Pittsburgh and St. Louis has four games at Los Angeles next week.  Clearly, if any one of these teams sweeps the other they will be in the driver’s seat.  If they don’t sweep and split or win two out of three, then the wild card race will remain close and the team that wins the majority of their games will be in.

Looking at the schedule of the four wild card contenders, Atlanta has one other series against a team with a winning record besides Pittsburgh, that being three games at home against Washington.  This gives them six out of eight remaining opponents with losing records.

St. Louis has three games each against Washington and Cincinnati to close out the year besides the four games at Los Angeles.  The Cardinals have five opponents out of eight remaining with losing records.

Likewise, Pittsburgh has five opponents out of their remaining eight with losing records, with three games in Cincinnati next week before finishing out the year with three each at home against the Reds and then Atlanta.

Los Angeles has the toughest road of the four with only three of their remaining eight opponents having losing records.  They travel to San Francisco this week for three games before St. Louis comes into L.A. for four games.  The series against the Cardinals is immediately followed by three games at Washington and three games at Cincinnati.  The Dodgers then finish out the year with three games at home against the Giants.

None of the four wild card leaders have a significant advantage with home-field advantage.  Atlanta and Los Angeles have three of eight series at home while St. Louis and Pittsburgh each have four of eight series at home.  The Braves and Dodgers have winning records at home and away while the Cardinals and Pirates have identical home winning records but each has a losing record on the road.

We are winding down the season and the race to the playoffs is certain to be filled with excitement for some and disappointment for others.  Each year, some team rises out of the depths to play the role of spoiler.  It is the job of each of these teams to make sure they aren’t the club whose season is spoiled.
The Deal
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Wednesday, 29 August 2012 04:15

We heard rumors from the middle of last week of a blockbuster deal between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox.  At the time, the rumors seemed pretty improbable considering the centerpiece would be none other than first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.  The rumors got louder until it was announced that a deal was in fact consummated this past Saturday.  When it was over, we obviously learned that Gonzalez would indeed be heading to the left coast.

On the Dodgers side of the equation, they would be picking up starting pitcher Josh Beckett, outfielder Carl Crawford, and infielder Nick Punto and some cash along with Gonzalez.  In return, the Dodgers gave up infielder Ivan DeJesus, first baseman James Loney, starting pitcher Allen Webster (one of Los Angeles’ top prospects), and two players to be named later, reportedly starting pitcher Rubby De La Rosa (coming off Tommy John surgery) and outfielder Jerry Sands.

From the Dodgers' perspective, they are getting the power hitting first baseman they had been coveting for a long time in A-Gon.  Beckett gives them another arm to bolster the starting rotation since it is pretty obvious Ted Lilly won’t be riding to the rescue this year.  Crawford, out with ulnar collateral ligament replacement himself, is out for the rest of this year and most likely a good portion of 2013.  Punto will serve as a utility player for Los Angeles.

The trade paid immediate dividends for the Dodgers as Gonzalez smashed a home run deep over the right field wall in his first at-bat for his new team in his new home ballpark.  That immediately put him ahead of Loney in the number of home runs each has hit in Dodger Stadium.  Adrian didn’t get another hit that game but came back the following day with two more hits, starting him off with three hits in nine at-bats for Los Angeles.  Things were looking very good on the surface.

Under the surface, however, things weren’t as rosy.  Gonzalez went hitless in his next two games, both at hitter-friendly Coors Field.  Beckett started his first game for Los Angeles on Monday (also at Colorado) and allowed three earned runs on seven hits and three walks in five and two-thirds innings.  But he did also strike out six Rockies.

From the Dodgers’ point of view, they had to make another move to bolster their offense since only four teams in the National League have scored fewer runs than they have this year and none of them are remotely close to making the playoffs.  Since winning their first game after the trade, however, Los Angeles has lost three games in a row, scoring a total of six runs in those games.  Included in that stretch was a 10-0 whitewashing at the hands of Cy Young candidate Jeff Francis (granted, he only pitched five innings in that game).

Adding Adrian Gonzalez would seem to be the answer to the anemic Dodger hitting since he sports a .294 career batting average and has four seasons of over 30 home runs in the past five.  However, Gonzalez has a career .212 batting average at Dodger Stadium with only six home runs, albeit in only 47 games.  On the positive side though, left-handed hitters do better than right-handed hitters in Los Angeles and Dodger Stadium doesn’t suppress home runs as much as Petco Park does – Adrian’s home the four years he hit over 30 balls over the wall.

Obviously, it remains to be seen how this trade will play out and the final grades won’t be in until Gonzalez, Crawford, and Beckett finish their Dodger careers.  But the fact that this ownership is willing to make a deal of this magnitude, take on the salary that they have in all their deals this year, and absorb the risk of the trades they made bodes very well for Dodger fans.  The message to this point is clear – they want to win and are willing to go to whatever lengths to accomplish that goal.
Postseason Push
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Thursday, 23 August 2012 00:00

It has been an entertaining baseball campaign thus far.  We’re now down to about twenty-five percent left in the 2012 regular season – roughly six weeks of games in the race for the playoffs.  Virtually all of the trades have been made and for the most part teams will make due with the players they now have in their own organization.  There will probably be some call-ups as teams decide they need some help to get over the top.

The playoff picture in the National League is taking shape but still far from decided – especially with two wild card teams.  The teams with the most breathing room at this point are the Washington Nationals (it’s surprising to say this based on their history) with a seven game lead over the Atlanta Braves and the Cincinnati Reds with a seven and one half game lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates (also a surprise).

The Nationals have 39 games remaining, 22 at home and 17 away.  Washington actually plays a little better on the road than at home, being 13 games over .500 in Washington and 18 games over .500 away from the nation's capital.  There is still talk of them at least partially shutting down ace Stephen Strasburg going down the stretch.  Look for them to skip starts and/or limit his innings but not totally shut him down given the position they are in.

The Reds have 38 games remaining with 18 home and 20 away.  Unlike the Nationals, they play significantly better at home, where they are 19 games over .500 compared to seven over .500 on the road.  Cincinnati is getting good pitching, having allowed 468 runs to opponents in 2012, which is the third lowest total in the NL.  A big difference has been Aroldis Chapman, who has saved 30 of 34 chances while striking out a massive 112 hitters in 61 innings – a rate of 16.5 K/9!

The National League West is much more up for grabs with the San Francisco Giants currently clinging to a one and a half game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The Giants have 39 games remaining with 20 at home and 19 away.  They are nine games over .500 playing in front of their home crowd and four games over .500 in their opposition’s ballpark.  Los Angeles has 38 games left to play with 21 of them being in front of their own fans and 17 on the road.  The Dodgers are six games over .500 at home and four games over away from home.  The Dodgers and Giants face each other six more times in the regular season with each having three games at home, and these could be the deciding games.  This race would have been virtually over already if Tim Lincecum was the old Tim Lincecum, but he hasn’t been this year and I don’t expect him to all of a sudden morph into that guy.

The wild card is a race between five teams – the Braves, Pirates, and Dodgers as well as the St. Louis Cardinals and Arizona Diamondbacks.  Atlanta is in the driver’s seat with 70 wins.  Pittsburgh and Los Angeles both have 67 while St. Louis has 66 and Arizona the long shot with 62.

Atlanta has 39 games remaining with 16 in Atlanta and 23 away.  The Braves have played marginally better on the road, being ten games over .500 there compared to seven games better than break even in their own park.

Pittsburgh also has 39 games remaining with 21 at home and 18 away.  The Pirates play significantly better at home, where they are 14 games over .500 while three games under .500 away from home.

The Cardinals have 40 games left to play – 17 at home and 23 away.  St. Louis also plays quite a bit better at home, where they are 12 games over .500 while two games under .500 playing on the road.

Arizona has 39 games left with 22 being at home and 17 on the road.  The Diamondbacks also prefer home cooking, being three games over .500 when they sleep in their own beds and two games under .500 living out of a suitcase.  They are looking for a bump and have called up prospect Tyler Skaggs to pitch this week and hopefully give them that bump.

The playoff race has been and will be very exciting with the addition of the extra wild card spot.  Keep an eye on the chess match each team plays as they try to find the right moves that could earn them a postseason berth.  Some of those moves may also result in fantasy championships for those paying close attention.
Don’t Despair
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Wednesday, 08 August 2012 04:39

So the non-waiver trade deadline has passed, you’re in a NL only league outside of first place and you’re saying I didn’t get what I needed at that time so all is lost.  After all, the waiver wire has long ago been picked clean of any warm body.  Well, not so fast.

There are still trades that could be made to bring players over from the American League that could help NL fantasy players.  Historically, there aren’t the volume of trades that are made pre-waivers but there have been trades that registered more than a slight bump on the Richter scale.  However, many times you don’t need an 8.9 sized deal to affect the outcome of a race.  Often enough a 4.5 sized tremor is enough to jumble things up in the standings.

It didn’t take too long for one of these tremors to happen in 2012 as catcher Kurt Suzuki was acquired by the Washington Nationals from the Oakland Athletics just a couple days after the deadline.  The 28 year-old will play pretty regularly for the Nationals and can certainly help in all two catcher leagues and many one catchers leagues.  Suzuki won’t help much in the power department and, while his average has slipped this year, has historically hit for a decent average for a catcher.

While there are sure to be more deals of this sort, trades aren’t the only place to look for roster help.  Clubs will start bringing up players to see what they can do at the major league level, especially those teams that are out of the running.  Not all of the call-ups will stick on the big stage, but some will and, even if they are up just a couple weeks at a time, could provide the difference in a category or two.

One example of these call-ups was the Chicago Cubs bringing up outfielder Brett Jackson and third baseman Josh Vitters.  The 22 year-old Vitters was a high first round pick in 2007 and doesn’t have much standing in his way at third base – he just has to show some production to stick for a while.  Vitters can help with batting average and has more than enough power to hit the ball out.  He will even surprise with a stolen base occasionally.  Jackson hasn’t started out well with only two hits in 11 at bats and has eight strikeouts already.  He is two years older than Vitters at 24 and can hit for a fair average with some decent homerun power.  One of Brett’s assets is his speed, with 27 stolen bases in 106 AAA games this year.  But you know the old adage – you can’t steal first base. At the same time, Tony Campana and his 26 stolen bases were optioned out to AAA.  If someone in front of you had Campana and you managed to pick up Jackson, it’s a double win as they lose and you gain.

The Milwaukee Brewers traded away Zack Greinke and, in return, got standout shortstop prospect Jean Segura from the Los Angeles Angels.  The 22 year-old started in AA Huntsville for the Brewers but was called up and could see significant playing time the rest of the year.  The shortstop can hit the occasional homerun but his biggest contributions will be a pretty good batting average and outstanding speed on the bases.  Segura isn’t just fast; he knows how to steal bases – being successful on close to 80 percent of his attempts.

It’s not only big name prospects that get a chance to show something at the major league level.  Milwaukee pitcher Mike Fiers is an example.  He is hardly a prospect at age 27 but has been up since the end of May and has pitched a lot better than in the minors.  Fiers has six wins against four losses with an ERA of 1.80 and a strikeout per inning.  It’s too late to pick him up in leagues but this is the kind of player you have to be ready to roll the dice with if you’re looking to make up some ground.

When you ride the waiver wire merry go round this time of year, it usually comes down to throwing a lot of spaghetti against the wall to see if something sticks.  If you’re in chase mode, there isn’t much else you can do.  But you have to be very alert, with your ear to the ground listening for the slightest hint of who might be bringing up whom.  It is imperative to pay very close attention to injuries to get the jump on your competition for the services of the next call up.  The bottom line is all is not lost.  It’s not easy and takes a lot of work and research but many times persistence and due diligence pays off with a league title.
Deadline Winners
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Wednesday, 01 August 2012 04:56

The non-waiver trade deadline is always full of wish lists, high hopes, and dashed dreams.  Inevitably, there are winners and losers.  Some of the last minute deals work out the way a team has scripted and many don’t.  After all, there can only be one World Series Champion and that is the goal of every team looking to add the final pieces of the puzzle.  The ultimate winner is the team left standing at the finish of the Fall Classic.  The deadline has now passed and the trades came fast and furious right at the end for both leagues.

The division leaders in the National League at the deadline are the Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds, and San Francisco Giants.  The Nationals are being chased by the Atlanta Braves but Washington didn’t pull off any late trades while the Braves did.  Atlanta picked up pitcher Paul Maholm and outfielder Reed Johnson from the Chicago Cubs.  Maholm certainly isn’t in the category of Cliff Lee (who wasn’t traded at the deadline) but he enables Atlanta to replace Tommy Hanson in the rotation in the short term and keep Jair Jurrjens out of the rotation in the long term while providing health insurance for the fragile Ben Sheets.  Johnson gives the Braves some outfield depth with the benefit of being able to play all the fields defensively.  The thirty-five year old will be best suited as the right-handed part of a platoon for his new team.  While this isn’t a blockbuster trade, it’s the kind of deal that could make the Braves’ whole better than the sum of its parts.  Atlanta is winners while Washington is losers by virtue of their inactivity at the deadline.

The Cincinnati Reds are up by a few games over the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Cincinnati made one deal picking up Jonathan Broxton from the Kansas City Royals.  Broxton, who served as the closer for the Royals, will be setting up closer Aroldis Chapman for the Reds. Pittsburgh was one of the busiest teams on the final open trade day.  In one transaction they picked up right-fielder Travis Snider from the Toronto Blue Jays.  The twenty-four year old will start out with regular playing time unless the Pirates are forced to send him back to the minors as Toronto was earlier in the season.  Pittsburgh got Gaby Sanchez from the Miami Marlins in another deal.  Sanchez has been pretty brutal this year and was demoted to Triple-A by Miami but is coming off back to back 19 HR seasons with the Marlins in 2010 and 2011.  In a third trade, Pittsburgh came up with Chad Qualls from the New York Yankees.  Qualls will provide some right-handed bullpen depth.  Combined with the acquisition of Wandy Rodriguez last week, Pittsburgh came out winners at the end of the day.

The West is the closet race in the NL with the Giants hanging onto a slim one game lead over the Dodgers.  Los Angeles consummated a trade with the Philadelphia Phillies in which they landed outfielder Shane Victorino.  The thirty-one year old gives the Dodgers a playoff veteran and a top of the order hitter to replace Dee Gordon who stole a lot of bases but had trouble getting on base before he dislocated his thumb.  Victorino could play either center or left field and manager Don Mattingly has said he will man left field for Los Angeles.  The Dodgers also acquired Brandon League from the Seattle Mariners for a bullpen that has had its problems.  He should fare well pitching in the NL West and not having to face the hitters of the Los Angeles Angels or Texas Rangers anymore in the regular season.  Not wanting to be seen as playing favorites, the Phillies also made a deal with San Francisco sending outfielder Hunter Pence to the west coast.  Pence gives the Giants some much needed offense and can steal a base as well as hit a ball out of the park although his power will be hurt away from the friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park.  Along with the addition of Hanley Ramirez a week ago, the Dodgers are clear winners at the deadline.

So who is the overall winner of the most improved award in the NL?  As much as I’m impressed with the fact that Pittsburgh made some big time deals (not to mention they’re in the position to make big time deals), the overall winner has to be the Los Angeles Dodgers getting some much needed offensive help and a proven leadoff hitter.  But, as always, time will tell who the real winners (and losers) are.
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