Mastersball

NL Beat


POO Put into Practice
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Thursday, 28 February 2013 03:30

For those expecting to see my second part to last week’s column, The Price of Ownership (POO), I beg your indulgence as I stray from that this week.  The reason for the change of plan is I (as well as Ryan Carey) are representing Mastersball in the CBSSports.com Analysts NL-only league, the auction being held this past Tuesday.  I won’t reveal anything of Ryan’s team as he will most likely be posting about it and the auction itself from his perspective.

In participating this year, I am looking to improve greatly on last year’s tenth place (out of 12) finish – even if it happens to be at Ryan’s expense (sorry, buddy).  In preparing for the league, I was contemplating my strategy.  How was I going to beat all the sharks in this league?  Should I go stars and scrubs?  Draft for positional scarcity?  Take a balanced approach?  After mulling over different possibilities, I decided not to pigeonhole myself into a strategy but to instead take what the auction presented me.  Many times this is counter-intuitive to what we think about drafts.  We always have to come up with the perfect plan that will guarantee a Yoo-Hoo shower at the end of the year and the accolades (as well as the bragging rights) that come with it.  In most cases, that plan usually goes up in smoke well before the season actually ends with our team languishing deep down the standings.

As it turns out, I drew the last place in the nomination process, which worked to my advantage in waiting to see what the draft was going to give me.  While I was sitting there bidding some but mostly watching the proceedings, it became evident to me that this auction was dovetailing nicely with The Price of Ownership.  First on the block was Washington Nationals phenom outfielder Bryce Harper and the bidding was hot and furious, finally topping out at $29.  This was a little over my value but effectively set the bar for the top tier players and I realized the price of ownership was going to be expensive.

Next up was a curve ball in shortstop Billy Hamilton of the Cincinnati Reds, which was obviously a speculative play as he’s projected to get fairly minimal playing time this year.  Hamilton went for a meager $3.  Being that he is one of the hottest prospects out there, this signaled to me that most people were quite possibly saving their money for the big boys.

The next player on the block was Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Kris Medlen, who I had valued in the mid teens but who was sold for $20.  After Medlen came the whale of the auction, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun.  I had him valued in the $41 - $43 range and was mildly surprised when he sold for $40.  But I just didn’t want to pull the trigger and bid $41.

Next player up was the premier NL starting pitcher, the Los Angeles Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw.  My draft sheet showed him at $33 - $35 and I couldn’t resist as the bidding started to stall in the upper $20’s and I bought him for $31.  Back to offense and teammate Matt Kemp was thrown up for bid next.  I looked at my sheet and saw I had him valued in the $33 - $35 range and was surprised when he actually sold for $39.

The bidding was back to the NL Central’s Reds with Joey Votto up for sale.  The mashing first baseman was auctioned for $37 against my projected value of $30 - $33.  Next was another young power hitter in Giancarlo Stanton.  The Florida Marlins outfielder sold for $39 versus my value in the mid to upper $20 range.

Up next was the premier NL closer in the Braves’ Craig Kimbrel and I knew the price was going to be a bit steep.  Bidding escalated quickly then slowed considerably in the high teens.  My list price on him was in the $20 - $22 range and as the bidding dragged, I jumped in near the end and purchased him for $25.  I now had the top starting pitcher and top closer in the National League on my team.

The next two players were Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg and Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen.  Strasburg went for pretty much the same value ($30) versus my $29 projection.  I mentioned last week that 2012 was the year to own Cutch as the secret is now well out.  I had him valued at about $34 which was exactly what he went for.  I bought him last year in this same league for $32 so the price of ownership has gone up a bit as I predicted.

It became obvious to me that the top players were pretty much going for a premium and I then decided to try to work this to my advantage and get some players that would provide a profit.  I looked down my list and came upon the name Andrelton Simmons.  This is a player I like (especially in an NL-only format) and I figured I’d try to get someone I actually wanted to own at a discount.  I had the Atlanta shortstop valued in the mid-teens and won him with a bid of $12.  Chalk up a profit of a few dollars.

I stayed with this plan and didn’t purchase another player until I nominated Darwin Barney my third time up and purchased the Chicago Cubs second baseman for roughly half his value at $6.  I continued watching players go over value then had to spend some money on a first baseman as the position was getting thin.  I overpaid a bit on the New York Mets’ Ike Davis at $24 but really like what he did in the second half last year.  Likewise for shortstop, which was also getting thin at the top, so I ponied up $24 for Davis’ divisional opponent Jimmy Rollins.  I made one mistake midway through the draft with the +$1 button and got saddled with Travis d’Arnaud as my first catcher for $8 when I wanted to top out a couple dollars below his $7 projection.

All in all, I stayed with this game plan and wound up pretty much in control of the last third of the auction when I was able to purchase the likes of Tim Hudson, Nate Schierholtz, Wandy Rodriguez, Gerardo Parra, Chris Nelson (both of whom I spent $10 on just because I could), Gregor Blanco, Ted Lilly, Eric Kratz, Sean Marshall, Jorge de la Rosa, and Jhoulys Chacin.  All in all, I’m pretty happy with the results. Here is the whole squad with price paid along with projected value in parenthesis.

C – d’Arnaud 8 (7), Kratz 2 (2)

CI – Davis 24 (18), Chris Johnson 6 (12), Adam LaRoche 21 (20)

MI – Barney 6 (11), Simmons 12 (14), Rollins 24 (25)

UT – Nelson 10 (10)

OF – Juan Pierre 17 (27), Michael Cuddyer 21 (20), Schierholtz 4 (10), Parra 10 (12), Blanco 1 (10)

P – Kershaw 31 (34), Kimbrel 25 (20), Motte 18 (15), Hudson 6 (5), Rodriguez 4 (5), Lilly 1 (1), Marshall 2 (4), de la Rosa 3 (6), Chacin 1 (1)

Bench – Alex Gonzalez, Jeff Karstens, Dioner Navarro, Xavier Paul, Logan Schafer, Edward Mujica, Josh Harrison

By my calculations, I spent $257 for $289 worth of stats.  Now I just have to manage it and hope the ROI is what I think it should be.
 
The Price of Ownership
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Thursday, 21 February 2013 04:34

As we are really getting into draft season, there certainly are a number of ways to skin a cat to put together a team. And there are certainly many fantasy players who have their must-have list. Of course, everyone would like to have the top portion of the rankings list but unless you’re playing in a league comprised mainly of your son or nephew’s 12-year-old friends, you’ll be lucky to get even one of these gems, the likes of Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp or Joey Votto on the hitting side and Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg or Cliff Lee on the pitching side.

No matter if you’re playing in a straight draft or an auction league, there is a cost associated with every player you add to your roster. In an auction, the cost is pretty straight forward – it is the dollar value out of your budget you had to pay for that player. Obviously, the higher the player is ranked, the more it costs to purchase him, thereby leaving you with fewer dollars to spend on other players. That is the cost – fewer funds to pay for more players.

In a snake draft league, the cost is more subtle. If you draft first and take Braun, for example, you now have to wait until the 24th pick to be able to take a second player. In theory, you miss out on 22 better players before you get to make your second pick. In a snake draft league, you don’t really have control over what happens except for who you choose when it’s your turn. Your fate, in a sense, has been locked into a specific position and there is little you can do except watch the players fall off the board. Granted, that is a very simplistic notion and only is the case if the rankings are followed verbatim without taking into consideration factors such as reaching for players, position scarcity or position runs.

In either case, though, there is a high cost to pay for the top players. For this reason, there are a number of them I am unlikely to have much ownership in this year, with the aforementioned Braun being at the top of the list. I just won’t be willing to pay the mid $40 price tag and, even though I will kick the tires a bit, I won’t be driving him home.

Last year was the year to own Andrew McCutchen and I did have him on a couple teams, having targeted him going into the season. The breakout happened to the tune of 31 home runs, 20 stolen bases and a .327 batting average. The cat is now out of the bag and the Pirates' outfielder will be going for a premium I’m not likely to pay.

The trade of Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves has hurt his value more than just the price tag consideration in my eyes. He was going to go for a hefty amount to begin with but now has to play half his games in a home field where the home run park factor was 26% less than Chase Field in 2012. Does that mean the 25-year-old will hit 26% fewer bombs in 2013? No, but that’s a considerable difference to make up just to break even with the investment.

Bryce Harper will not be on any of my 2013 teams. Not that he isn’t a great talent and will eventually become one of the premier players in the league, but he’s still only 20 years old and the hype has inflated his perceived value into the stratosphere. I’m just not seeing a positive ROI on Harper for 2013.

In looking at pitchers I likely will not own this year, R.A. Dickey was at the top of my list but is now out of consideration for this column with his move to the American League. So that leaves me with my second choice of Gio Gonzalez. With the success of the Washington Nationals last year as a team, there are high expectations for them entering 2013. They aren’t going to take anyone by surprise again. I was high on Gonzalez going into 2012 and pretty much no one expected Washington to be as good as they were. Their success has increased the cost to own many of their players and Gio is no exception. Add to this the fact that the 27-year-old was in the running for the Cy Young award and actually finished third in the voting, and the price for Gonzalez will be through the roof.

The success of the San Francisco Giants in 2012 will also hurt fantasy players looking to own Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner.  Both pitchers had good seasons but the fact the Giants won the World Series will inflate their cost even more.

I certainly wouldn’t mind owning any of the players mentioned here but the cost will likely be too high for me and there will be no profit.  I’ll be more likely to own one of the pitchers in a straight draft league as the round they’ll go in will be more conducive for me to use a pick on. In fact, I picked Gio Gonzalez in the fifth round of a slow NFBC draft I’m participating in. But I can almost assuredly guarantee none of them will be on any of my auction teams. So who will I be more likely to pay for? I’ll go into that next week.
 
And So It Begins
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Thursday, 14 February 2013 04:10

The season has started off slowly for me as I’ve been pre-occupied with personal things. As it stands now, I’m in a handful of leagues.  One is a 14-team mixed keeper league in which I haven’t been able to get out of my own way and wound up in rebuilding mode again last year. The second is a 16-team mixed keeper league that I won in 2012. The third is an NFBC mixed slow draft that I joined at the last minute and is now in the 12th of 50 rounds.

The last team I currently have is the Mastersball entry in the CBSSports.com Analysts Auction League, National League version. I represented the site last year in the same league which was won going away by Al Melchior of CBSSports.com. I wound up 10th of 12 teams and will be looking to avenge the site’s honor this year.

I felt pretty good with my team entering the year with my offense and pitching anchored by Andrew McCutchen and Roy Halladay, respectively, but it didn’t work out as I had expected. The entire 10th place squad (with auction values) was as follows:

C  - Miguel Montero (20), Chris Snyder (3)

CI – Jesus Guzman (3), Scott Rolen (2), Jimmy Paredes (8)

MI – Chase Utley (20), Brandon Crawford (2), Neil Walker (18)

OF – Andrew McCutchen (32), Chris Young (23), Melky Cabrera (15), Alex Presley (10), Brian Bogusevic (3)

U – Roger Bernadina (1)

P – Roy Halladay (33), Johan Santana (6), A.J. Burnett (5), Josh Collmenter (3), Jonathan Papelbon (19), Joel Hanrahan (17), Jason Motte (15), Eric Surkamp (1), Shelby Miller (1)

Bench – Juan Francisco, Scott Cousins, John Baker, Randy Wells, Jake Westbrook, Eric O’Flaherty, Guillermo Moscoso

While this team was good on saves, it turned out to be woefully light on other categories, especially home runs, runs and strikeouts.

The auction for this league is February 26. So what will my strategy be entering this draft?  I don’t really have a strategy per se but I do know I probably won’t be too involved in the bidding for the likes of top players like Ryan Braun, Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp, all of whom will most likely go for more than I’ll be willing to spend.

Another player I’m not too high on is Justin Upton, who will be making the move from the Valley of the Sun to Atlanta and the Braves. I expect a rebound from last year but don’t think the power will be what it was in 2011.

I doubt I’ll be too much involved in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes either. While he’s a very good talent, the outfielder is still only 20 years old and there’s a lot of hype (or high expectations, if you prefer) to meet for the price someone will have to pay.

Anyone else, I’ll at least look at. I’ll be keeping a close eye on things the next week and a half as I set out to redeem last year’s result.
 
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.

sandoval

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.

cards

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.
 
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