Category Archives: MLB

Top Three Questions Going into the 2017 Season

Fort Myers, Florida is beginning to heat up, as the team that was hotter than hot during the offseason reported to Spring Training today. The Boston Red Sox have begun their journey toward their 9th World Series title, but many questions still remain. Throughout Spring Training we will get a better sense of how this team is going to shape up. From top to bottom it looks to be one of the deepest teams that Boston has ever seen. Get your sunblock and your cameras ready as we take a trip down to Florida to examine the biggest question marks for this year’s Boston Red Sox.

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Question Mark #3- Will David Price have a comeback year in 2017?

$30 million…yes, that is right. David Price was paid $30 million to have his worst year of his career in 2016. Boston is not a place where you can be complacent as an athlete. If you get paid and don’t perform there is a better chance than not that you will be booed out of the stadium every time you step on the field. The passion and love for sports that this city shows toward their teams is unheard of in most places.

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Price has pitched in Toronto, Detroit, and Tampa Bay throughout his 7 years previous to playing in Boston. All three cities do not demand nearly as much as fans in Boston do. I am not trying to make any excuses for Price. He did not perform anywhere close to what his salary is portraying he should perform at. But I believe when he stepped under those bright lights at Fenway Park, he faced a huge culture shock, one that he had never encountered before. I believe that this year is going to be different.

During the offseason the Red Sox acquired White Sox ace Chris Sale. Many eyes in Boston will now be fixated on the Sale rather than Price. This will alleviate some of the pressure, as he was expected to jump right into the rotation and become the ace of the staff in 2016. Not to mention the Red Sox also have last year’s Cy Young Award winner, Rick Porcello, who will be toeing the rubber every 5th day. The Red Sox front office noticed that Price felt the weight of 37,949 Red Sox fanatics on him every time he stood in the middle of Fenway Park. Now with the attention off of him slightly, I believe that Price will be able to hold up to his contract and focus solely on pitching. But make no mistake, Price needs to get off to a fast start in 2017 or Red Sox fans will be calling for his head.

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Question Mark #2- Is Pablo Sandoval going to have a productive year?

The past two years for Pablo Sandoval have been a rollercoaster ride to say the least. After having his worst year statistically and physically he followed up his 2015 campaign by spending 159 games out of 162 on the DL in 2016. Regarded as one of the top third basemen when he played for San Francisco, Sandoval is now fighting for a starting spot with the Boston Red Sox.

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Many questions have been asked about Sandoval’s weight issues. In 2016 “The Panda” came in looking more like sumo wrestler than a baseball player. The weight issues clearly affected his play and health. The word around Red Sox camp is that Sandoval has finally slimmed down and is in the best shape of his life. He has also dedicated himself to becoming a better player than when he won three World Series titles with the Giants. Sandoval said

“My career had fallen into an abyss because I was so complacent with things that he had already accomplished.” Sandoval said. “I did not work hard in order to achieve more and to remain at the level of the player that I am and that I can be.”

The first step with any problem is admitting there is one. Sandoval has clearly acknowledged his issues and is working hard to achieve some personal goals he has set for himself. All signs point to Sandoval actually having a comeback year in 2017.

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Question Mark #1- How will the Red Sox lineup coop with the loss of David Ortiz’s bat?

As everybody has probably heard, David Ortiz hung up his cleats at the end of the 2016 season for the last time. Big Papi was a Red Sox legend on the field and off. His presence will be missed tremendously as a leader and as a big bat in the middle of the Red Sox lineup.

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The question remains whether or not the Red Sox have a bat that can replace Ortiz’s. Sorry Red Sox fans but the answer to this one is no. Ortiz made other players around him better, simply with his presence in the on-deck circle. Mookie Betts who hit ahead of him in the lineup for the majority of the season came in second place in the MVP voting. In the offseason the Red Sox signed Mitch Moreland to try and fill the void that Ortiz’s bat has left.

Moreland has decent power, usually averaging around 23 home runs a year and 80 RBIs. Moreland’s numbers are nowhere near the production of Ortiz. But one question still remains, will it even matter? The Red Sox have the deepest pitching rotation in the MLB and their lineup will still score plenty of runs without Ortiz.

Don’t worry Red Sox nation, the Sox will still be World Series favorites no matter what.

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Top 4 League All-Star Weekends

Ah, the All-Star games. While nobody is ever lining up outside a bar to get in and watch the All-Star game, it provides for a somewhat entertaining event. The constant battle between fans wanting athletes to take it seriously while also wanting six Hail Mary touchdowns in one quarter makes for an impossible scenario in which to enjoy the game.

One of the issues with these games is the leagues’ inability to pin down exactly what fans want to see. It seems like every year, they switch up the formula to try and get people to pay attention, just to confuse casual fans with a bunch of nonsense.

Some leagues do it better than others, but all four need some work. Here’s the big four U.S. sports leagues’ All-Star Weekend festivities, based on entertainment value:

  1. NFL Pro Bowl

The NFL Pro Bowl has never been known for holding anyone on the edge of their seat. For years, fans have complained that there is no defense, no competitive spirit and no effort. On top of that, many of the NFL’s actual pro-bowlers end up rejecting the offer to play in the game. Back in 2013, the league tried to spice things up by allowing former NFL stars to draft their own teams. This continued for several seasons, but in 2016 they reverted back to the traditional AFC v. NFC format. This year, the teams actually played some defense, and it still wasn’t that interesting. The AFC won 20-13, with Travis Kelce winning the MVP.

For the first time, however, the Pro Bowl wasn’t the only event of the weekend. This season, the NFL added on a Pro Bowl Skills Challenge. While it didn’t offer quite the same excitement that the NBA Slam Dunk Contest or Three Point Contest provide, the NFL may have something worth keeping around a few more years to see if it catches on. Any time you can get grown men to compete against each other catching footballs from a drone, it might be worth another look.

It seems odd that the most popular sports league in America has one of the least interesting “All-Star” events, but with the popularity of the NFL, the ceiling is very high if they can find something to latch on to.

  1. NHL All-Star Weekend

The NHL All-Star Weekend is probably the weirdest out of all four major sports. Instead of one game, the NHL plays three 20-minute games in a 3-on-3 elimination tournament, with a semi-final and final round occurring after elimination play. In addition to this, the NHL has a skills challenge similar to the NBA.

After John Scott in 2016, the NHL was fighting an uphill battle if they were trying to increase popularity with their All-Star Game. The bizarre concept that an unknown enforcer from the Phoenix Coyotes could get voted in, win the MVP and actually play well baffled minds everywhere, and made a lot of headlines in the process.

This year, there were several interesting storylines. A few days before the weekend was set to get underway, Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella told the Colombus Dispatch that he had a family matter to attend to and would not be able to coach the Metropolitan Division. In his place, Wayne Gretzky stepped in. Gretzky’s last official coaching experience came from 2005-09, when he was head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes for four seasons.

However, the real talent here was Ilya Bryzgalov. For those unfamiliar with him, he’s the one who brought us this gem:

Also, the dude has some deep thoughts on everything from the universe to Russian booze, as we see in this clip from Episode 1 of HBO’s 24/7 Flyers v. Rangers from the 2012 NHL Winter Classic:

This year, they let him be a guest reporter for All-Star weekend, and the results were exactly what you might expect:

And of course, he asks the universally unknown question: is a hot dog a sandwich?

  1. MLB All-Star Weekend

The MLB is the only league to put a real stake in their All-Star game, and they usually end up being pretty damn interesting. In recent years, the retirements of Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter and David Ortiz have given the All-Star Game more attention, and the Home Run Derby almost always delivers on our expectations.

The Home Run Derby has given us plenty of action the past few years, with Yoenis Cespedes going back-to-back in 2013 and 2014, and Todd Frazier and Giancarlo Stanton followed up the following years.

The MLB also has the advantage of holding their All-Star festivities in July, the worst month for sports. Because of this, it’s one of the only interesting things going on all month, and it looks a lot better.

  1. NBA All-Star Weekend

The NBA does a great job promoting All-Star Weekend, and despite the lack of stars in the Slam Dunk Contest, it almost always ends up being a great show. Plus, there was that time last year that Kevin Hart accidentally beat Draymond Green in a 3-point contest.

Hopefully we get the same great theater this year. The league has been using #NBAVote to allow fans to have a say this year, but now players also can chime in. Some players have been campaigning with fans in order to secure a nomination, while others don’t seem to care as much.

The Three-Point Shootout will be interesting this year as well- Steph Curry won in 2015, while teammate Klay Thompson took the crown the following year. Who knows, maybe KD will take it now? NBA All-Star Weekend is only a couple weeks away, and while nobody is really out here getting pumped up for an All-Star game, let’s just hope it will at least be.. mildly entertaining.

Who will Feast in the National League East?

The National League East has been a division of complete disarray over the past few years. Looking up and down the division, it is hard to find a team that has established their true identity. In 2016 the Washington Nationals began to establish themselves as one of the powerhouses in the National League, cruising away with the division title. Looking past the Nationals, the rest of the division does not impress me much. Look for 2017 to be no different.

Washington Nationals 95-67

New York Mets 90-72

Miami Marlins 80-82

Atlanta Braves 74-88

Philadelphia Phillies 73-89

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The Nationals are head and shoulders above their competition in the National League East. The Nats tallied 95 wins on their way to their third division title in 5 years. Their roster is filled with talent throughout. Toeing the rubber every fifth day is reigning Cy Young Award winner, Max Scherzer and batting cleanup is former MVP Bryce Harper. Harper had a dramatic drop in production following his MVP season in 2015. Look for the slugger to turn things around and be a more dynamic player in 2017. Following Scherzer in the rotation are two other pitchers who could compete for a Cy Young of their own. Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez combined for 26 wins and have created one of the most dominant one-two-three punches in the National League. The Nationals are poised to make a run at a Pennant this coming October.

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The New York Mets were hampered with injuries in 2016 which could have led to their early exit in October of last year. Going down the stretch run the Mets depended heavily on Noah Syndergaard to carry them throughout the playoffs, a very tough task for a 24 year old kid. What made the Mets so dominant just two years ago was their pitching rotation. Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey silenced bats night in and night out, leading them all the way to the World Series. The Mets have plenty of talent throughout their roster, the question is whether or not those players can stay healthy enough over the course of the season.

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The Miami Marlins were in the thick of a Wild Card race when star pitcher Jose Fernandez was tragically killed in a boating accident last September. The loss of their best pitcher was too much to handle as they collapsed down the stretch, coming in third place in their division. It is imperative that the Marlins are able to establish a true number one in their rotation before the 2017 season begins. Over the offseason the Marlins made a few moves to improve their bullpen and rotation but did not do much to improve upon their offense which was their main downfall in 2016. If the Marlins are unable to acquire a big bat to follow Giancarlo Stanton in the lineup then the Marlins will have to suffer through another mediocre year.

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At the bottom of the division I have both the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies. The Braves made a few head scratching moves this offseason, signing 43 year old Bartolo Colon and 42 year old RA Dickey. As a team that should be rebuilding, the addition of these two pitchers leaves me extremely puzzled. Both Colon and Dickey signed 1 year deals that totaled around $20 million. Neither pitcher will put the team over the top, and both take up a good chunk of cash that could be used to acquire young players for the future. As for the Phillies they have not done much to improve so I see them being bottom dwellers for a few more years to come.

The Nationals are the clear favorites to come out of the National League East, but don’t count out the Mets who, if healthy, can make a run for a division title. Don’t spend much time watching this division, there are better ones to keep an eye on in 2017.

Royal’s Ace, Ventura, Lost Too Early

Just 4 months after the tragic loss of Jose Fernandez, the MLB has to face yet another young star taken too early. Early Sunday morning, Kansas City Royals’ flame-thrower, Yordano Ventura was pronounced dead after a horrific car accident in his native Dominican Republic.  Ventura was a fan favorite, lighting up the radar gun at 100 MPH and having a fiery, competitive arrogance to go along with it.

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In 2015, Ventura helped lead the Royals to their first World Series Championship since 1985. At the ripe age of 25, Ventura was the ace of a World Series Championship staff and had many years to continue his dominance. Watching Ventura reminded me a lot of a young Pedro Martinez. A skinny kid who owned the inside half of the plate by intimidating hitters and changing speeds at will. Ventura never backed down from any player, continuously challenging hitters inside and occasionally knocking a batter on their ass and worrying about the consequences later. His competitiveness and burning passion to win was an inspiration to me and is something that the MLB is going to truly miss.

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Tragedy did not stop there. Also early Sunday morning former big-leaguer, Andy Marte died in a separate car accident in his home country, the Dominican Republic. Unfortunately, this is not the first time players have died on the highways of the Dominican Republic. Back in 2014 the St. Louis Cardinals lost their star outfielder Oscar Taveras to a car accident in his hometown of Puerto Plata.

The loss of both Ventura and Marte Sunday morning, as well as Taveras’ death just two years ago, has brought light to the extreme dangers of players going back to the Dominican Republic to train. For many, the Dominican Republic is home. Players will always go back to visit and prepare for the upcoming season. But at this point, it may seem wise to stay away from such dangerous areas. The World Health Organization put out a recent study, stating that the Dominican Republic had the highest traffic accident death-rate in the Americas.

As a General Manger, I believe it is imperative to explain to your players the dangers could come about in everyday scenarios. I think it is about time front offices around the league begin to talk about these issues. If contracts can be made to prevent players from doing dangerous activities like skydiving and riding a motor cycle, then precautions should be made to protect players from losing their lives in traffic accidents in the Dominican Republic.

I realize that for many, this takes away a person’s right to travel back to their home country and visit family members, but a solution along these lines needs to be made. I am not saying they should never be allowed back and that organizations should prevent them from traveling home. But hiring professional drivers or simply giving players a seminar about the dangerous situations they could face could prevent deaths, like we saw 4 months ago with Jose Fernandez or the most recent deaths of Ventura and Marte.

Tragedy strikes every sport but baseball is beginning to have a reoccurrence of heartbreaks. It is time to start talking about this problem. Baseball can no longer ignore the dangers associated with driving in the Dominican Republic as well as other vulnerabilities that can cause baseball’s stars to continuously be in harm’s way.

Should We Believe in Cleveland?

The American League Central has been represented in the World Series for three consecutive years. Is it possible that this division is the best in baseball? For all we know, it seems like this could be the case.

In 2016 the Cleveland Indians ran away with the division, beating out the Detroit Tigers by a hefty 8 games. From the very start of the season, Cleveland took command of the division and never looked back. The Indians rode that momentum all the way to their first World Series appearance since 1997, ultimately losing to the Chicago Cubs in 7 games.

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The Indians shocked the world, steamrolling past the MLB’s best offense in the Boston Red Sox, during the divisional round of the playoffs and then handily taking the Toronto Blue Jays in 5 games to win the American League Pennant. The Indians stayed out of the spotlight, quietly compiling 94 wins and the second best record in the American League. Can the Indians continue their torrid pace this year or is there another team that is poised to take the reins of the American League Central.

My predictions are as follows:

  1. Cleveland Indians 98-64
  2. Detroit Tigers 87-75
  3. Kansas City Royals 80-82
  4. Chicago White Sox 70-92
  5. Minnesota Twins 69-93

I know these picks are not very sexy so I apologize. In fact, these are how each team finished in the division last year.

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The Cleveland Indians are one of the best teams from top to bottom. Without two of their best three pitchers, the Indians were able to scratch and claw their way to a game 7 in the World Series. Now that both Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar are healthy, the Indians have one of the deepest rotations in the MLB. Sitting at the 4 and 5 spots in the rotation will be Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin, who both came out of nowhere to have amazing playoff performances. If those two can ride that momentum into 2017, the Indians would have one of the strongest rotations baseball has ever seen.

We don’t stop there with the Indians either. Waiting out in the bullpen is every hitter’s worst nightmare, Andrew Miller. The tall lefty had a season for the record books, establishing himself as the finest closer in the world.

The Indians also have a young and inspiring lineup that manufacture runs at will. From top to bottom they have the perfect blend of speed, contact, and power. The biggest free agent signing of the offseason also went to the Cleveland Indians. Edwin Encarnacion landed in Cleveland, signing a 3 year $60 million contract. Encarnacion provides the power that Cleveland lacked at occasions last season. With a roster like this, it would not be unrealistic to see the Indians make a consecutive appearance in the World Series.

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Coming in second place I have the Detroit Tigers. Justin Verlander had an astounding year in 2016 and if he can carry that over into 2017 the Tigers may have a potential Cy Young Award winner. Following Verlander is Michael Fulmer who is poised to be an ace in the future. If you don’t know the name now you should get accustomed to hearing it a lot soon. The Tigers have a lot of good pieces throughout their roster but it is not constructed well enough to take down the Indians. If the Tigers are out of it come July, look for the Triple Crown winner, Miguel Cabrera, to be dealt away for prospects that can help start a rebuilding process in Detroit.

Just one year out of a World Series championship, the Kansas City Royals finished in 3rd place in the American League Central. This year is going to be no different. The Royals have a talented roster but in an extremely competitive division, their talent is not good enough.

For both the Chicago White Sox and the Minnesota Twins, the rebuilding processes have already begun. As many of you know, the White Sox dealt away their biggest asset, Chris Sale, to the Boston Red Sox. In this deal they acquired Yoan Moncado, who is ranked as the top prospect in the entire MLB. For the Twins sake, they are simply put, putrid. The Twins are coming off of a 103 loss season and are poised to possibly do it again this year.

Everybody mark it down. The Cleveland Indians are head and shoulders above the rest of the American League Central. If I were a betting man, I would put all my money on the Indians running away with the Central in 2017.

 

Who Will be the Best in the West?

The American League West has been an extremely confusing division over the past five years, having a different winner in 4 of the last 5 seasons. In 2016 the Texas Rangers ran away with the wild, Wild West and have been the reigning champs for the past two seasons. Will the Rangers reign continue or is there another team that is poised to knock off the defending American League West champs?

My predictions are as follows:

  1. Houston Astros 92-70
  2. Texas Rangers 90-72
  3. Seattle Mariners 86-76
  4. Los Angeles Angels 80-82
  5. Oakland Athletics 76-86

There it is everybody. My very early predictions are in and I have the Houston Astros winning the American League West for the first time in team history. Why the Astros you ask? Let me explain.

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In 2016 the Houston Astros finished in third place, and found themselves watching the postseason on their couches, a far cry from their Wild Card berth in 2015. The Astros are one of the youngest teams in the MLB. Their inexperience has been their kryptonite and has led them to underperform in pressure filled situations. During this offseason, the Astros front office addressed this issue head on, signing veterans Brian McCann, Josh Reddick, and Carlos Beltran. These three players will certainly add the veteran leadership and guidance that the young Astro players need.

On top of the veteran additions, the Astros have easily the greatest middle infield in the MLB. Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve lock down the middle of the diamond as well as the middle of the lineup. At the ripe age of 21, Correa blasted 20 home runs and compiled 96 RBIs. Altuve, who is just 26 years old, is a 3 time Silver Slugger and has accumulated over 200 hits in each of the past 3 seasons. The Astros don’t stop there. At the hot corner the Astros have Alex Bregman, who is an extremely promising young player. In their rotation, the Astros will be hoping for the resurgence of 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner, Dallas Keuchel. If Keuchel and Bregman can perform to their potentials in 2017, then the sky is the limit.

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The Texas Rangers are still a team that has the potential to make a playoff push.  The Rangers will be a Wild Card team in 2017 but should not be taken lightly. The Rangers have a shutdown rotation, headed by Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels. On the offensive side of the ball, the Rangers have a solid core. Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, and rookie Joey Gallo will lock down the middle of their lineup. The Rangers and the Astros have constructed their rosters very similarly. Both rosters have a veteran presence with a multitude of young talented players. Things are going to start to heat up in Arlington so grab your sunscreen and a beach chair and get ready for a wild ride.

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The Seattle Mariners have been an enigma to be for many years.  Their roster is full of award winning candidates, but seems to never put it all together. The Mariners front office has done very little to improve this offseason because many believe they can make a push with their current roster. Unfortunately, this year is going to be no different. The Mariners will stay afloat for a while but will ultimately flounder in the dog days of August.

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The Los Angeles Angels have been terrible for the past two seasons because of the huge contracts offered to Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. This has deterred them from making a big push for free agents over the past few years. This year’s Angels team will have to suffer through another year of dismay. Once Pujols’ and Hamilton’s contracts come off the books, look for the Angels to become a team that can make a playoff push, unfortunately that is not going to be in 2017.

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The Oakland Athletics will be sellers by the July 31st trade deadline. The A’s are a team that needs to start a rebuilding process immediately. Look for stud pitcher Sonny Gray to be dealt to a contender come July. This year is a chance to build their farm system and develop some of their young promising players.

The Wild, Wild West is going to be a very competitive division and is worth keeping an eye on. In the end, I believe the Houston Astros are poised to be the best in the West.

Beasts of the East

The countdown to the first pitch of the 2017 season is already ticking away. Only 42 days until pitchers and catchers report to their Spring Training facilities, but who’s really counting? Teams around the MLB have begun to solidify their rosters in preparation for the grueling 8 month season just around the corner. With that being said, it is time to make some REALLY early preseason predictions.

We will begin with a division that people are most familiar with, the American League East. In 2016, the Boston Red Sox ran away with the division in late August, beating out the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays by 4 games. Is it possible that the Sox can repeat as division winners for a second consecutive year in the league’s most competitive division? Here is how I see the division shaping up.

  1. Boston Red Sox (95-67)
  2. New York Yankees (90-72)
  3. Baltimore Orioles (85-77)
  4. Toronto Blue Jays (85-77)
  5. Tampa Bay Rays (70-92)

The Bo Sox and the Evil Empire are both primed to take the American League East by the reins. The last time we have seen these two teams at the top of this division dates back to 2009. The MLB is in dire need for this rivalry to be renewed and this may be the season it materializes.

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The Red Sox made the biggest move in the offseason, acquiring former Chicago White Sox ace, Chris Sale in a blockbuster deal that involved 4 Red Sox prospects. The addition of Sale makes the Red Sox the most dangerous team in the American League. The pitching rotation, which was a disappointment at times in 2016, will be the Red Sox strong suit come 2017. On top of the improved pitching rotation, the Red Sox have one of the strongest lineups, littered with young talent throughout. The 2017 Red Sox roster is the most talented that we have seen since 2013. Anything other than a division title will be a disappointment to the fans in Beantown.

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The New York Yankees were one of the most dangerous teams in the second half of the 2016 season. Stud rookie, Gary Sanchez lit up the MLB blasting 20 homeruns in just 53 games. The 23 year old solidified the middle of the Yankees lineup and gave them some much needed power. In addition to Sanchez, the Yankees signed Matt Holiday who at an old age still puts fear into opposing pitchers. The lineup is going to have to carry the Bronx Bombers because their pitching rotation is lackluster at best. In order for the Yankees to be successful they will need pitchers Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka to step up and perform to their potentials. The mission of the Yankees pitching rotation will be to try to get the ball into Dillion Betances and Aroldis Chapman’s hands with a lead. The Yankees bullpen and their improved offense will lead to a Wild Card spot in the American League.

Both the Baltimore Orioles and the Toronto Blue Jays have done nothing to improve their rosters. In fact, both have gotten worse. The Jays lost Edwin Encarnacion to free agency and the O’s are on the verge of losing the league leader in home runs, Mark Trumbo to free agency as well. Their rosters are not nearly as talented as the Red Sox or Yankees and are poised to be mediocre at best.

In the cellar of the American League East comes the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays are the laughing stock of the American League and maybe all of baseball. At this point they should be in the business of selling their talent and stockpiling a farm system that will bring them back to the forefront.

The American League East will be one of the best divisions to watch in 2017. Putting all biases aside, the Red Sox are the most talented team and look poised to be the beasts of the east.