San Francisco Giants

Are the Florida Panthers' days numbered?

Do bears poop in woods? Do the San Francisco Giants win the World Series in even-numbered years? Is the Pope Catholic? Are the Florida Panthers a terrible NHL team?

Obviously, the answer to all of those is yes.

For the Florida Panthers, struggling on the ice is nothing new. They’re currently 14th in the Eastern Conference with seven points in seven games. They have scored exactly 10 goals as a team which is only one more than the nine goals that league leaders Corey Perry and Rick Nash have. But perhaps most notably, the Panthers have yet to win a game at home.

And home for the Panthers has not been so welcoming this season. In their second home game, they set a franchise record low for attendance at 7,311. Photos taken that night illustrated the scantily attended NHL game that looked more like a local club hockey meet-up. But one night doesn’t explain the attendance problems of an entire team, does it?

Well, in the case of the Florida Panthers, they have been experiencing attendance woes for the past few years. For the last three years, they have averaged an attendance of 15,932 that puts them squarely within the bottom ten teams of the NHL. These attendance numbers could just be bad attendance numbers with no meaning attached to them. However, thanks to a lack of Sunbelt support for the NHL in the United States and the move of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg, there is some fear that the Florida Panthers could be relocated.

This relocation fear is very real. Since the Florida Panthers were established in 1993, they have made the playoffs only four times and have finished with a winning record just eight times in 19 seasons to date. So, they have an ugly history and they have poor attendance, which makes them a prime contender to move to a Canadian city that is thirsty for an NHL team. 

Maybe, their potential relocation would be for the best. Although they have some exceptional young talent highlighted by former Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau and 2014 first overall draft pick Aaron Ekblad, the Panthers have struggled. Despite the young talent and the team’s veteran additions from the off-season, the Panthers will most likely not make the playoffs, making it three years in a row.

The Florida Panthers days as an NHL team are numbered.

Notes from Giants' World Series win

The San Francisco Giants won the 2014 World Series championship last night over the Kansas City Royals, and I have just two words to describe their title run: Madison Bumgarner.

The big southpaw was outstanding during the seven game set, going 2-0 with a save and boasting a 0.43 ERA. Naturally, he was the unanimous choice for the Most Valuable Player award.

But it wasn’t just San Francisco’s ace that played wonderfully as they clinched their third title in five years. The veteran Pablo Sandoval had an outstanding series, which could prove to be his last with the Giants as he is now a free agent. He was perfect in game seven, going 3-for-3 and scoring two runs.

Both times Sandoval scored he did so courtesy of designated hitter Michael Morse, who had two RBIs in the game. Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford also performed well for San Francisco last night and throughout the series.

Defensively, the play of the game for the Giants came in the third inning when rookie second baseman Joe Panik made a fantastic play on an Eric Hosmer hit to turn the reviewed double play with shortstop Crawford.

The Royals played admirably last night, but a couple of missed opportunities left them dissatisfied. Second baseman Omar Infante slipped while playing a Sandoval hit in the fourth inning, and Sandoval ended up coming home to score the eventual winning run later that inning.

And then, with the Giants just one out away from clinching, Kansas City left fielder Alex Gordon hit an extra-base single that got him to third base due to San Francisco miscues in the outfield. Ninety feet from home is where the tying run stayed as Bumgarner forced Royals catcher Salvador Perez to hit a pop fly to the third base side for the final out of the series.

Overall, the series wasn’t quite as thrilling as I had hoped considering only two games were won by less than five runs, but it was a great one nonetheless. Last night’s game was only the second World Series game seven in the last 12 years, and with the Giants winning on the road a streak of nine home-team wins in the final game of the series ended.

The Giants ended the series with a team batting average of .277 and an earned run average of 3.98. The Royals finished with a .249 team batting average and a 4.28 ERA. Between the two teams, only two bases were stolen and five homeruns hit.

Pence (.444 AVG, HR, 5 RBI) and Sandoval (.429 AVG, 4 RBI) led the offensive attack for San Francisco, who scored a total of 30 runs in the series. Perez (.333 AVG, HR, 4 RBI) and Infante (.318 AVG, HR, 5 RBI) were the offensive leaders for the Royals throughout the series.

Royals, Giants face off in Game 1 of World Series

The 2014 World Series will get kicked off in Missouri tonight as the Kansas City Royals host the San Francisco Giants in the first game of the best-of-seven series.

For the Royals, this is their first World Series appearance since they won it all in 1985. The Giants are back for the third time in five years and looking for their third title. Both teams started this postseason by winning wild card games and are looking to make history by winning this destiny-filled series.

Honestly, I have no idea who will win this one. My postseason bracket this year was awful and these two teams have been playing with some kind of magic that makes anything possible. Nevertheless, here’s my brief rundown of the matchups and my pick to win it all.

The starting pitchers that have been confirmed so far are as follows:

Game 1- (SF) Madison Bumgarner v. (KC) James Shields

Game 2- (SF) Jake Peavy v.(KC) Yordano Ventura

Game 3- (KC) TBD v. (SF) Tim Hudson

Game 4- (KC) TBD v. (SF) Ryan Vogelsong

Statistically, the Giants have a lower team earned run average (2.18) than the Royals (2.93), but I don’t think that completely sums up the pitching comparison. San Francisco’s starting rotation has been a little better this postseason, in my opinion, but Kansas City has a much deeper and stronger bullpen. The Giants’ relievers have been good, but their bullpen isn’t as solid as Kansas City’s.

Both closers successfully saved every game they were asked to, with San Francisco’s Sergio Casilla going 4-for-4 and not allowing a run in 6.2 innings pitched and Kansas City’s Greg Holland going 6-for-6 with one run scored in eight innings pitched. Again, I think the Royals have a slight advantage in pitching as the game goes on and I think their bullpen will need to be extra special against the Giants’ persistent offense.

Offensively, both of these teams are incredibly dangerous. They can both score big early and know how to get runs across the plate when the game is on the line. Kansas City has a better team batting average (.259 to San Francisco’s .244) and a number of guys with impressive hitting stats through the postseason, but you can’t underestimate the veteran hitters in the Giants’ lineup.

The Giants will be led by Buster Posey (.302 AVG, .354 OBP, 5 RBI), Pablo Sandoval (.326 AVG, .396 OBP, RBI), Hunter Pence (.256 AVG, .341 OBP, 3RBI) and former Longhorn Brandon Belt (.286 AVG, .409 OBP, 6 RBI, HR) when they come to the plate. As a team, they hit five homeruns and stole three bases in 10 postseason games so far. They have a number of supporting guys in the lineup that can get on base and drive in runs when needed.

The Royals’ offensive attack will be headed by Eric Hosmer (.448 AVG, .556 OBP, 8 RBI, 2 HR), Lorenzo Cain (.353 AVG, .378 OBP, 4 RBI), Mike Moustakas (.241 AVG, .267 OBP, 5 RBI, 4 HR) and Alex Gordon (.222 AVG, .400 OBP, 9 RBI, HR). With an impressive 13 stolen bases so far, I expect them to continue their aggressive base running. They have a lot of speedy guys who can get on base, and with eight homeruns hit as a team in the postseason, their power hitting is getting hot at exactly the right time.

Both teams have solid defenses that have made big plays to get them this far. Statistically, the Giants are better defensively with a .785 defensive efficiency ratio so far in the playoffs to the Royals’ .748 DER, but both have committed three errors, allowed three stolen bases and caught one runner in the postseason.

If San Francisco’s veteran Posey can control the Royals’ base running, it could affect their offense all the way through. But the Royals have had their way on the base paths against some great catchers already, so we’ll see what happens.

Choosing a winner in this series was very tough for me. Both teams are incredibly resilient and find ways to come up big when necessary and both can take quick leads and preserve them with solid defense. Every time I think one team has an edge, I recall something about the other team that makes me doubt whether any advantage exists.

I don’t think there is a set favorite to win this series. These teams are too similar and both are playing with this great vibe you only see in the postseason. Anything, and I mean anything, can happen when these guys take the field. I think, and hope, this series will go the full seven games and we’ll see some wild, extra-inning, walk off baseball.

So, who wins the title- the seasoned, veteran-filled team or the feisty club full of young stars? It’s an awfully tough decision, but I’m going to go with the Kansas City Royals.

Royals, Giants face off in Game 1 of World Series

The 2014 World Series will get kicked off in Missouri tonight as the Kansas City Royals host the San Francisco Giants in the first game of the best-of-seven series.

For the Royals, this is their first World Series appearance since they won it all in 1985. The Giants are back for the third time in five years and looking for their third title. Both teams started this postseason by winning wild card games and are looking to make history by winning this destiny-filled series.

Honestly, I have no idea who will win this one. My postseason bracket this year was awful and these two teams have been playing with some kind of magic that makes anything possible. Nevertheless, here’s my brief rundown of the matchups and my pick to win it all.

The starting pitchers that have been confirmed so far are as follows:

Game 1- (SF) Madison Bumgarner v. (KC) James Shields

Game 2- (SF) Jake Peavy v.(KC) Yordano Ventura

Game 3- (KC) TBD v. (SF) Tim Hudson

Game 4- (KC) TBD v. (SF) Ryan Vogelsong

Statistically, the Giants have a lower team earned run average (2.18) than the Royals (2.93), but I don’t think that completely sums up the pitching comparison. San Francisco’s starting rotation has been a little better this postseason, in my opinion, but Kansas City has a much deeper and stronger bullpen. The Giants’ relievers have been good, but their bullpen isn’t as solid as Kansas City’s.

Both closers successfully saved every game they were asked to, with San Francisco’s Sergio Casilla going 4-for-4 and not allowing a run in 6.2 innings pitched and Kansas City’s Greg Holland going 6-for-6 with one run scored in eight innings pitched. Again, I think the Royals have a slight advantage in pitching as the game goes on and I think their bullpen will need to be extra special against the Giants’ persistent offense.

Offensively, both of these teams are incredibly dangerous. They can both score big early and know how to get runs across the plate when the game is on the line. Kansas City has a better team batting average (.259 to San Francisco’s .244) and a number of guys with impressive hitting stats through the postseason, but you can’t underestimate the veteran hitters in the Giants’ lineup.

The Giants will be led by Buster Posey (.302 AVG, .354 OBP, 5 RBI), Pablo Sandoval (.326 AVG, .396 OBP, RBI), Hunter Pence (.256 AVG, .341 OBP, 3RBI) and former Longhorn Brandon Belt (.286 AVG, .409 OBP, 6 RBI, HR) when they come to the plate. As a team, they hit five homeruns and stole three bases in 10 postseason games so far. They have a number of supporting guys in the lineup that can get on base and drive in runs when needed.

The Royals’ offensive attack will be headed by Eric Hosmer (.448 AVG, .556 OBP, 8 RBI, 2 HR), Lorenzo Cain (.353 AVG, .378 OBP, 4 RBI), Mike Moustakas (.241 AVG, .267 OBP, 5 RBI, 4 HR) and Alex Gordon (.222 AVG, .400 OBP, 9 RBI, HR). With an impressive 13 stolen bases so far, I expect them to continue their aggressive base running. They have a lot of speedy guys who can get on base, and with eight homeruns hit as a team in the postseason, their power hitting is getting hot at exactly the right time.

Both teams have solid defenses that have made big plays to get them this far. Statistically, the Giants are better defensively with a .785 defensive efficiency ratio so far in the playoffs to the Royals’ .748 DER, but both have committed three errors, allowed three stolen bases and caught one runner in the postseason.

If San Francisco’s veteran Posey can control the Royals’ base running, it could affect their offense all the way through. But the Royals have had their way on the base paths against some great catchers already, so we’ll see what happens.

Choosing a winner in this series was very tough for me. Both teams are incredibly resilient and find ways to come up big when necessary and both can take quick leads and preserve them with solid defense. Every time I think one team has an edge, I recall something about the other team that makes me doubt whether any advantage exists.

I don’t think there is a set favorite to win this series. These teams are too similar and both are playing with this great vibe you only see in the postseason. Anything, and I mean anything, can happen when these guys take the field. I think, and hope, this series will go the full seven games and we’ll see some wild, extra-inning, walk off baseball.

So, who wins the title- the seasoned, veteran-filled team or the feisty club full of young stars? It’s an awfully tough decision, but I’m going to go with the Kansas City Royals.

MLB Division Series Analysis and Predictions

The 2014 MLB postseason got kicked off with a bang in two very different Wild Card games.

On Tuesday night in the American League Wild Card game, it took 12 innings and a late rally in the eighth for the Kansas City Royals to win their first playoff game since 1985. A Salvador Perez walk-off carried them to an intense, hard-fought 9-8 victory over the Oakland Athletics.

Wednesday’s National League Wild Card game was less action-packed, but impressive nonetheless. San Francisco’s ace Madison Bumgarner threw a dominant, complete game shutout with 10 strikeouts and allowed just four hits. Brandon Crawford made history with his fourth inning grand slam- the first ever hit by a shortstop in the postseason. For the Texas baseball loyal out there, former Longhorn Brandon Belt went 2-for-3 with two walks, a run and three RBIs to help the Giants send the Pittsburgh Pirates home.

Though I had the A’s advancing to their division series, I find it difficult to be too upset with the Royals because they played with so much heart. It helps my ego a bit knowing that the experts weren’t expecting that high-scoring of a game, either. At least the Giants made me look good.

Next up, we have four, best-of-five division series match-ups. Here’s my breakdown of each and my predictions on who will get one round closer to the World Series.

 

American League

 

Detroit Tigers (90-72) vs. Baltimore Orioles (96-66)

 

The Tigers will send RHP Max Scherzer (18-5, 3.15 ERA) to the mound and the O’s Chris Tillman (RHP, 13-6, 3.34 ERA) for game one of this division series.

The O’s haven’t announced their other starters, but expect to see Wei-Yin Chen (LHP, 16-6, 3.54 ERA) and Bud Norris (RHP, 15-8, 3.65 ERA) get a start at some point. The Tigers have penciled in Justin Verlander (RHP, 15-12, 4.54 ERA), David Price (LHP, 15-12, 3.26 ERA) and Rick Porcello (RHP, 15-13, 3.43 ERA) in that order for games two, three and four.

When it comes to pitching staffs, I have to think Detroit has a slight advantage. The numbers may not be terribly different, but the Tigers have a lot of veterans that know how to step up in big game situations. Detroit’s pitchers don’t give up the long ball too often either, which will be crucial to continue since homeruns are a big part of Baltimore’s game.

Offensively, I feel the Tigers have the advantage due to consistency throughout the line up. The Orioles hit an MLB-best 211 homeruns this season, led by Nelson Cruz’s MLB-high 40. Adam Jones (.281 batting average, 29 HR, 96 RBI) and Nick Markakis (.276, 14 HR, 50 RBI) provide some explosive offense, too. But the solid bats of Detroit’s Victor Martinez (.335, 32 HR, 103 RBI), Miguel Cabrera (.313, 25 HR, 109 RBI) and J.D. Martinez (.315, 23 HR, 76 RBI) are more consistent, I feel. The Tigers also have lots of guys who get on base and aren’t afraid to run.

Not to mention, the Tigers have the best team batting average (.277) in the majors and a better on-base percentage than the Orioles. Add to that the fact that the O’s stole just 44 bases all season while the Tigers stole 106, and it seems that Detroit’s offense is better-rounded and will find a way to get to Baltimore’s pitchers.

Since the Orioles have home field advantage through the ALDS, it’s possible they could jump out to an early series lead. But I think the Tigers are just a better, more experienced team and will advance to the championship series.

 

Kansas City Royals (89-73) vs. Los Angeles Angels (98-64)

 

The Royals will be using the momentum they created Tuesday night when they face the MLB-best Angels. The set pitching duels for the first three games of the series are as follows:

Game 1- KC Jason Vargas (LHP, 11-10, 3.71 ERA) v. LAA Jered Weaver (RHP, 18-9, 3.59 ERA)

Game 2- KC Yordano Ventura (RHP, 14-10, 3.20 ERA) v. LAA Matt Shoemaker (RHP, 16-4, 3.04 ERA)

Game 3- LAA C.J. Wilson (LHP, 13-10, 4.51 ERA) v. KC James Shields (RHP, 14-8, 3.21 ERA)

 

I have to give the pitching advantage to the Angels. Their staff has really come along throughout the season and seems to be heating up at just the right time. Kansas City also has a good staff, and their bullpen is as good as anyone’s. I’m especially looking forward to game two of this series because Ventura and Shoemaker have been lights-out in their last 10 starts.

Small ball plays a big part in Kansas City’s offense and I expect it to be a factor throughout this series. They have some power as well when you look at guys like Alex Gordon (.266 average, 19 HR) and Salvador Perez (.260, 17 HR). But the aggressive base running backed by speedy guys like Jarrod Dyson (.269, 36 SB) and Alcides Escobar (.285, 31 SB) sparks them most.

The Angels rely on power and consistency. Mike Trout (.287, 36 HR, 111 RBI), Albert Pujols (.272, 28 HR, 105 RBI) and Howie Kendrick (.293, 14 SB) are just a few of the big offensive names this team has to offer. The Angels score often and early, and I don’t foresee them having too much trouble doing so against the Royals.

Though I’m taking the Angels by a pretty large margin in this series, I’m not anticipating a sweep. I expect Kansas City to take game three at home with Big Game James on the mound, but I’m not sure if they’ll get any others.

 

National League

 

San Francisco Giants (88-74) vs. Washington Nationals (96-66)

 

After cruising to a victory over the Pirates, the Giants will have more of a challenge when they face the Nationals in this division series. The starting pitchers for the first three games are as follows:

 

Game 1- SF Jake Peavy (RHP, 7-13, 3.73 ERA) v. WSH Stephen Strasburg (RHP, 14-11, 3.14 ERA)

Game 2- SF Tim Hudson (RHP, 9-13, 3.57 ERA) v. WSH Jordan Zimmermann (RHP, 14-5, 2.66 ERA)

Game 3- WSH Doug Fister (RHP, 16-6, 2.41 ERA)

 

The Nationals pitching staff has been one of the best this season, boasting the lowest ERA (.303) in the MLB. They’ve also given up the least homeruns, which is an important aspect of San Francisco’s offense. They’ve watched their ace Strasburg’s pitch count and innings pitched carefully over the past couple of seasons for the moment they have now- a postseason berth and a team that could be playing for a while. All of Washington’s starters are heating up at the right time, collectively having the second-lowest ERA in the majors through the month of September.

Aside from Bumgarner, the Giants’ pitchers have been a little shaky lately. They’ve done a lot of moving the bullpen around and it has cost them. And with Washington’s offense heating up as well, I’m giving the pitching advantage to the Nationals.

Offensively, I have to go with the Nationals again. Their line up is stacked with guys that get on base, drive in runs and have a good amount of power- examples being Anthony Rendon (.287, 21 HR, 83 RBI), Jason Werth (.292, 16 HR, 82 RBI), Adam LaRoche (.259, 26 HR, 92 RBI) and Bryce Harper (.273, .344 OBP).

The Giants have a solid offense as well, with veterans Buster Posey (.311, 22 HR, 89 RBI), Hunter Pence (.277, 20 HR, 74 RBI) and Pablo Sandoval (.279, 16 HR, 73 RBI) leading the way. They showed they can score quickly on Wednesday, with Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt performing well. I just feel like Washington’s pitching and defense will be too much for San Francisco’s offense to overcome.

If you haven’t guessed so already, I’m expecting the Nationals to move on to the NL championship series.

 

St. Louis Cardinals (90-72) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (94-68)

 

The only set pitching duel we have for this match-up is possibly the best of all four series. The Cardinals will send RHP Adam Wainwright (20-9, 2.38 ERA) to face the winningest pitcher in the majors this season, Clayton Kershaw (LHP, 21-3, 1.77 ERA).

The Dodgers haven’t announced the rest of the rotation, but expect to see Zack Greinke (RHP, 17-8, 2.71 ERA) and Dan Haren (RHP, 13-11, 4.02 ERA) start at some point. St. Louis has penciled in Lance Lynn (RHP, 15-10, 2.74 ERA) for game two, John Lackey (RHP, 14-10, 3.82 ERA) for game three and Shelby Miller (RHP, 10-9, 3.74 ERA) for game four. It’s a close call, but I have to give the pitching advantage to the Dodgers.

Los Angeles has the upper hand in all major offensive categories, but both teams have deep line ups. The Dodgers are led by Adrian Gonzalez (.276, 27 HR, 89 RBI), Yasiel Puig (.296, 16 HR, 69 RBI) and Matt Kemp (.287, 25 HR, 89 RBI) and have a great supporting staff. The Cardinals’ offense is led by Matt Adams (.288, 15 HR, 68 RBI), Matt Holliday (.272, 20 HR, 90 RBI) and Jhonny Peralta (.263, 21 HR, 75 RBI) and is sparked by a number of guys that get on base consistently and know how to extend at-bats.

This series was the hardest for me to pick. When I sit back and look at the stats objectively, I have to pick the Dodgers. But there’s just something about the way the Cardinals play ball in October. They’re seasoned, deep, well-rounded and just find ways to win. These teams faced each other in last year’s championship series which the Cardinals won 4-2.

I wouldn’t mind being wrong in this series, but I have to go with the Dodgers pulling it off and advancing to the NLCS. I’m expecting this one to be really fun to watch.

Useless division projections: North League West

The weather is getting warmer. The days are getting longer. Spring training is in full swing, and you can almost smell the freshly cut grass, hot dogs and peanuts of your local ballpark. The Rangers and Astros will kick off the season in just a few short weeks, and it is now time for a round of useless division predictions so we can all start getting our mind out of basketball mode and into its baseball preset.  If you saw the Orioles finishing in second place in the notorious American League East or the Oakland A’s winning the AL west, then these projections aren’t useless. As it stands, we never know what twists and turns will take place over the course of 162, but we’re going to try to look into the future and see where things will stand come October.

National League West:

San Diego Padres, 5th place

With a supremely mediocre lineup to accompany its supremely mediocre starting rotation, the San Diego Padres figure to be the NL West bottom dwellers for a few more years. Edinson Volquez will lead the tip of the spear on the mound in 2013, following a sub par 2012 that saw him finish with a 4.14 ERA. Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin will lead the offensive charge, which again underlines how mediocre this team is. On the bright side for Ron Burgundy’s bunch, they still play in the most beautiful ballpark in the big leagues.

Colorado Rockies, 4th place

While the Rockies have had a decently solid nucleus in place for the last few seasons, the results have yet to translate to the win column. They finished a whopping 30 games behind the Giants in 2012, but could be poised to have a more competitive 2013. Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Todd Helton are as formidable in the middle of the lineup and nearly anyone, but it is the starting rotation that leaves more to be desired. Juan Nicasio has been the walking definition of bad luck to start his major league career, breaking his neck in 2011and having a bum knee in 2012. If the rotation can manage to not get knocked around in the altitude, the Rox should improve on their 64 wins of a year ago.

Arizona Diamondbacks, 3rd place

After a winter of wheeling and dealing, and ultimately trading their all-star left fielder Justin Upton to Atlanta, the Diamondbacks could have a bit of a hill to climb. The lineup could have its issues through the course of the summer in the dessert, but the starting rotation appears to be a strength heading into 2012. Ian Kennedy and Trevor Cahill are both looking to build on strong campaigns a year ago, and new addition Brandon McCarthy should also give a boost. Highly touted prospect left-hander Tyler Skaggs could be the wild card for the Diamondbacks, and if the rotation can stay healthy, they may be a dark horse candidate akin to the A’s of a season ago. Of course, they could disintegrate and lead to a miserable year, but the D’backs have a few things going for them.

San Francisco Giants, 2nd place

Feels wrong picking the defending World Series Champions to finish second place in their own division, but you’ll see why in about 90 more words. The whole gang is back to try to win their third title in four years, a mixture that obviously seems to yield positive results. Buster Posey is the returning NL MVP, and the starting rotation is just as nasty led by Matt Cain. If Tim Lincecum can return to his old form, the Giants may not care about all the money being spent by their division rivals in So. Cal.

Los Angeles Dodgers, 1st place

So, that happened. After a Magic Johnson led group bought the team last spring for over a billion dollars, they immediately began throwing money around like it was as useless as the paper it was printed on. They acquired Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford over the summer, and then backed the brinks truck up to Zach Grienke’s doorstep to lure him to LA. Over 260 million dollars in added payroll later, the Los Angeles Dodgers have taken the torch from the Yankees as the big spenders of the league, and with a whole spring to let the acquired talent gel, they look as dangerous as anyone. Don’t forget former Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw at the top of the rotation to go along with Greinke either. These guys better hope the ‘making it rain’ approach works or they’ll be a national laughing stock. 

Early MLB predictions: Who will come out of the National League in 2013?

It’s never too early to start making predictions, right? Sure, spring training has only just begun, but what better time to predict which teams will be resilient enough to make it through the season and duke it out for baseball’s ultimate prize? In fact, should I get my predictions right, I’ll be seen as a baseball genius. And, should I get them wrong, I can just attribute it to the fact that my prediction was made in March. It’s a win-win. So, without further ado, here is my 2013 National League Champion prediction. 

On paper, it looks to be a five-horse race for the 2013 National League pennant. The Nationals, Dodgers, Giants, Reds and Braves all look like they could play the part this year in the NL. However, when looking at potential contenders, you can never count out the St. Louis Cardinals, a team that has lived for October over the past decade. Additionally, with their payroll and own version of the “Big Three” atop their rotation, the Phillies will look to come back strong in 2013 after missing the playoffs in 2012. 

The Reds are set to win the NL Central, with a rotation that can rack up innings and a potent lineup. The addition of Shin-Soo Choo at the top of the lineup is one of the more underrated moves of the offseason and could turn out to pay huge dividends when October rolls around. The Cardinals will give them some trouble in the Central, and I expect the Redbirds to earn another Wild Card berth.

A point of concern I have for the Nationals and Braves and the Dodgers and Giants is the fact that both these pairs of teams are in the same division, which could cause them to beat up on each other during the regular season. Furthermore, one of these teams might not even make the playoffs, assuming the Cardinals fulfill my prediction and clinch the other Wild Card spot.

In the NL West, I expect the Giants to win the division once again, despite the blockbuster moves the Dodgers made during the past offseason. I believe there is lots of built-up pressure in the LA baseball community, and I’m not positive that the Dodgers made all the right moves to build toward winning a championship. Instead, the Dodgers roster looks to be full of unproven players who will attract a larger fan base.

In the NL East, I fully expect the Nationals to pick up where they left off, with a slight decrease in run production. However, should Steven Strasburg make it through a whole season this year, expect them to dominate even more than last year. The addition of Denard Span will provide a spark at the top of the lineup and expect Bryce Harper to take another step forward this season. The Braves will rely on an aging Tim Hudson and two very young starting pitchers that have only really proven themselves for one season. What worries me more, in the case of the Braves more than the Nationals, is the threat of the Philadelphia Phillies. After a very disappointing, injury-riddled season last year, the Phillies will be hungry and the intense fan base will provide enough pressure and motivation to force another playoff appearance or a change in management.

In my eyes, the Nationals, Giants and Reds look to be the cream of the crop in terms of management, talent and experience of recent success. However, the Giants have won it all two of the past three years, so the odds are against them. So it comes down to the Reds and the Nationals. To be honest, I can’t make a case against the Reds potentially reaching the Fall Classic, but last year, the Nationals made one decision preventing them from getting past the Cardinals in the 2012 NLDS — the decision to sit Steven Strasburg after pitching 160 innings. Strasburg would have gotten the Nats through that series and perhaps deeper into the playoffs, but the organization chose to make a long-term decision.

Therefore, this year, barring any injuries to Strasburg or any other key players, the Nationals will fight their way through the National League en route to the World Series.
 

Cactus League preview: Rangers move on without Hamilton, Giants begin pursuit of third World Series title in four years

The most exhilarating organized stretching and long toss practice of the season took place Monday afternoon, officially marking the unofficial start to the 2013 baseball season. While it didn’t take place for every team in Major League Baseball, the battery mates got the ball rolling yesterday, with a flood of more pitchers and catchers set to report. In honor of one of the single greatest days of the year, here is the reporting date for each team followed by a single sentence that summarizes each team’s 2013 campaign

Cactus League, Arizona (date pitchers and catchers due to report in parantheses):

Arizona Diamondbacks (Monday, Feb. 11)
• Did trading Justin Upton really help this team?

Chicago Cubs (Feb. 10)
• Still the Chicago Cubs, the Curse of the Billy Goat goes on for another year.

Chicago White Sox (Feb. 11)
• Can the young rotation, led by Chris Sale, lead the Sox into the postseason?

Cincinnati Reds (Feb. 11)
• The experimental move of Aroldis Champan to the rotation should be fascinating to watch.

Cleveland Indians (Feb. 10)
• The Tribe faithful are hoping Terry Francona and a new outfield, including Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, can pay dividends.

Colorado Rockies (Feb. 10)
• Carlos González will waste another year of his career playing in the mountains.

Kansas City Royals (Feb. 11)
• Royals fans everywhere are going to be enamored since the team appears to finally be out of their two-decade-long rebuilding mode and into a win-now mode after their trade to acquire James Shields.

Los Angeles Angels (Feb. 11)
• Does the addition of Josh Hamilton make this team the favorite to win the American League?

Los Angeles Dodgers (Feb. 12)
• With a 123 percent increase in salary since last July, they better win something or they’ll be a laughing stock.

Milwaukee Brewers (Feb. 12)
• Ryan Braun and the Brewers faithful pray the latest performance enhancing drug scandal doesn’t turn into anything serious, or 2013 could be a nightmare.

Oakland A’s (Feb. 11)
• Surely the extremely young pitching staff can’t lead the team to another AL West crown, can they?

San Diego Padres (Feb. 12)
• At least they play in an absolutely beautiful ballpark.

San Francisco Giants: (Feb. 12)
• Defending World Series champions brought the whole band back together to make another run. Can they win three out of four titles?

Seattle Mariners: (Feb. 12)
• Improved, but most fans will only tune in one out of every five days to watch King Felix work his magic.

Texas Rangers: (Feb. 12)
• Does the loss of Josh Hamilton remove this team from the list of World Series competitors?

National League West Preseason Power Rankings

Decisions are starting to be made, pitchers are being stretched out for more than 30 pitches an appearance, and lineups are starting to get closer to resembling major league lineups rather than a mixture of hopeful minor league prospects. As the season draws closer, we’re going to give you a preseason set of power rankings to get you up to speed for Opening Day.

1. Arizona Diamondbacks: The team that won the division in 2011 finds themselves right back at the top of the list to start 2012. After breakout years on the mound for both Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson, the Diamondbacks were not content. They sought after and acquired former A’s pitcher Trevor Cahill to add to the top of the rotation, building what appears to be a very formidable stable of starters. Justin Upton will look to build on his all-star season, and the Diamondbacks are the early favorites out of the west.

2. San Francisco Giants: After winning it all in 2010, the Giants failed to make the postseason last fall. A season ending injury to Buster Posey derailed the Giants in late May, and they were never able to right the ship. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Madison Bumgarner are the tip of the spear for the Giants and should keep them relevant late in the season. Add a healthy Buster Posey and they may have enough to push the themselves passed the Diamondbacks in the end.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers: The kings of Chavez Ravine were sold last week for 2 billion dollars, but being wildly expensive does not translate to wins. Matt Kemp, who nearly hit for the Triple Crown last year, along with Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw will lead the way for the Dodgers, but Magic Johnson and his group are going to need some time to pump new life and money into the franchise before they are back to competing for titles.

4. Colorado Rockies: The Rockies conceded a few years on the competition level last summer with the haul they made out with in the Ubaldo Jiminez trade. Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzales will still be all stars, and the mile high crew could stick around for a few months before fading into the finish line.

5. San Diego Padres: You could say the Padres conceded a few competitive years with their recent set of transactions, but you have to be competitive before you concede it for the future. They traded set-up guy Mike Adams to the Rangers before the trade deadline last summer, top of the rotation starter Mat Latos to Cincinnati over the winter, and recouped a compensatory first round pick for letting closer Heath Bell walk in free agency. The Padres have some young talent coming through the pipeline, but this will not be the year to see it all come to fruition.

SAN FRANCISCO — Matt Downs was facing his former team and he insisted that carried no extra motivation.

Downs delivered a go-ahead single with one out in the 11th inning and the Houston Astros beat the San Francisco Giants 4-3 on Sunday to salvage a four-game split.

“Having Downs get the winning hit against his former team was great,” Astros’ starter Bud Norris said. “I know he’s on cloud nine.”

It was also a special homecoming for Norris, a Marin County native who was pitching in the Bay Area for the first time.

“He was back home and he was absolutely outstanding,” Houston manager Brad Mills said. “He didn’t want to come out and I didn’t want him to come out, he was throwing that good.”

Jose Altuve got things going with a one-out double against Ramon Ramirez (2-3) and Downs followed with a single up the middle. Altuve was forced into action after slugger Carlos Lee left in the top of the ninth with a sprained right ankle, sustained sliding into second on a double.

Mark Melancon (7-4) pitched the 10th and got the win despite allowing Mark DeRosa’s tying single.

Houston went ahead 3-2 in the 10th on pinch-hitter Jason Michaels’ double, then the Giants came back again.

Jordan Schafer lined a tying single to right with two outs in the eighth against Matt Cain to help force extra innings.

Aubrey Huff hit a tying RBI single off Houston starter Bud Norris in the seventh to end a 0-for-15 funk, and singled again in the ninth but the Giants didn’t score. After Huff’s initial hit in the seventh, Norris received a mound visit before giving up Orlando Cabrera’s go-ahead sacrifice fly on the next pitch.

Lee doubled against Sergio Romo in the ninth and hustled to beat the throw from right field. He came in hard to collide with shortstop Cabrera. Lee’s right leg bent and it appeared the spikes on his right shoe got caught on the bag. He grabbed his right ankle in pain as the training staff rushed out to help him off the field.

Norris had only allowed one runner to reach second base before the Giants got to him for two runs in the seventh.