My goal is to add perspective to subjects other than the regular headlines.
Contact Stephanie at s.betweenthelines@yahoo.com



Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Switch Pitcher

Pat Venditte is currently in the Yankees Minor League system. He was drafted in 2007 by the Yankees after this video came out but opted to stay for his senior year at Creighton. He was drafted again in 08 by New York and is currently listed on the single-A Staten Island Yankee's roster. I may feature him on the Prospects Plus page but for now I will leave you with this awesome video:



-S

American League West

Well, here is the final breakdown of the American League. This one was easy for me after having watched the Angels, Athletics, Rangers, and Mariners all play at Spring Training only a few weeks ago.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (98-64)
Mike Sciosca's Angels are going to run away with this division, with their main competition being Oakland. The recent injury to John Lackey may sidetrack them, but won't be a major factor - last year he suffered the same injury and received a cortisone shot and some anti-inflammatory medication and was back in 6 weeks. This time around, the injury is less severe so he should only miss a few weeks. Last year the Angel's pitching staff was one of the best in the American League posting an ERA under 4.00. Ervin Santana, finishing '08 with a 3.49 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP, will be 2nd in the rotation and could be one of the best pitchers in the league in the next couple years. Breaking out in 2008 was Joe Saunders who notched 16 wins. Young righty, Jered Weaver will assume the 4 spot, and despite slipping towards the end of last season his strikeout total and WHIP improved and should continue to do so this year on a contending team. Finally (and pitching today against the Cubs), Nick Adenhart, the Angels top pitching prospect, will fill the final spot in the rotation. With the departure of K-Rod, Brian Fuentes will take over the closers role in Anaheim. He posted a 2.73 ERA and saved 30 games last year, even while pitching at hitter-friendly Coors Field. First runner up if anything should happen to Fuentes is Jose Arredondo who was a major contributor to the bullpen last year notching 10 wins, a 1.62 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. Also in the bullpen will be Scott Shields, who had a good 2008, and Justin Speier who will look to rebound this year. As for the offense, versatile Chone Figgins will lead off. Reaching his prime is second baseman, Howie Kendrick, who could be in contention for a batting title this year. Eric Aybar and Macier Izturis, both great defenders, will platoon at SS unless one of them breaks out offensively. Torii Hunter will patrol center and once again be a candidate for a 20/20 year, while Vlad resumes his role as one of the most feared hitters on the team. Resigning for 3 more years is outfielder/DH, Juan Rivera who looks to be a force in the lineup as well. Kendry Morales has a good spring and shows phenomenal potential especially now being able to take over 1B with the departure of Teixeira to the Yankees. Lastly, a low risk option with superior reward, catcher Mike Napoli who will contribute around 25 HRs while hitting for a decent average.

Oakland Athletics (88-74)
In his 3rd season with the A's, Manager Bob Geren features a bolstered lineup and a young pitching staff. The recent injury to Justin Duchscherer (DUKE-sher; big pet peeve that people still don't know how to say his name) will cause him to miss at least the first month after undergoing arthroscopic elbow surgery this week. They are now counting on their young arms to fill the void. Dana Eveland, who led the A's in K's last year with 118, needs to improve his control (77 BB in 168 IP) to be a key contributor to the rotation. Flame throwing southpaw, Gio Gonzalez will bring some much need power to the lineup. In a trade from the Cubs last year, Sean Gallagher shows promise once he gains a little more control. Dallas Braden is the favorite for the fifth spot, and now with the injury to Duchscherer, rookie Brett Anderson could see some playing time. After trading Huston Street to the Rockies, Brad Ziegler (1.06 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 60IP) will most likely share the role with Joey Devine (0.59 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 46 IP). Young lefty, Jerry Blevins was effective in the bullpen last year and may get a few save opportunities as well. Santiago Casilla should play a significant role in the setup position. The A's offense will once again be stacked. One of my favorites was catching prospect, Landon Powell who went deep at the game I was at, immediately following a HR by Giambi. Jack Cust will be a power threat, leading the team with 33 HR's last year. The addition of Matt Holliday is the key to the lineup. He has been consistent all his career while putting up mammoth numbers, but expect a little decline now that he's not in hitter-friendly Coors. Sweeney will hold down fort in center and hit for average, while Travis Buck will start in right as long as he keeps producing. First baseman Daric Barton will look to live up to his potential with patience. Mark Ellis is a solid middle of the lineup guy, and fan favorite, who will add some speed on the bases. Bobby Crosby has been on a decline for the past 3 years and with his recent request to be traded following the addition or Orlando Cabrera, who knows what will happen at SS. Eric Chavez is just coming back this week and if he can actually stay healthy, he has the ability to put up decent numbers. Backstop, Kurt Suzuki will hit for average, and outfielder Rajai Davis (who impressed me on the bases) will add a ton of speed when pinch running. Also, Nomar Garciaparra should add some veteran at bats and be a great coach for the young kids on the team.


Texas Rangers (81-81)
In his 3rd season with the Rangers, Ron Washington will expect more consistency with his pitching rotation and bullpen staff this year. The downfall of the Rangers is their pitching. Last year the staff was dead last in ERA. Kevin Millwood, despite his +5 ERA the past 2 seasons, is still the number one starter. Even with a 4.74 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP, Vicente Padilla won a club high 14 games last year, and should do it again if the offense continues to produce mass runs in his starts. Another high ERA (5.49) victim, Matt Harrison won 9 games last year. Eric Hurley, one of their top pitching prospects will most likely make the rotation, and Brandon McCarthy and Kasson Gabbard will also compete for a spot, although neither has has much success in the majors. The Rangers hope for more production from the bullpen this year. Frank Francisco is in line to be the closer after posting a 3.13 ERA last year. Also in the bullpen and closer option, expect to see fan favorite, CJ Wilson producing some better numbers. The offense on the other hand ranked 5th in HRs and 4th in hits last year. Chris Davis will continue to improve at first and can hit for power, while Hank Blalock hopes to stay healthy and contribute big power numbers, too. Ian Kinsler is an offensive machine at second, and Michael Young will continue to put up stellar numbers for a shortstop. Outfielder Josh Hamilton has won everyones hearts, and will continue to be an all around star in lineup and on the field. Expect to see David Murphy platooning with Marlon Byrd in left, and combine for some decent numbers. Nelson Cruz could bat clean-up after putting up phenomenal numbers in triple-A last year (.342 BA, 37 HR, 24 SB in 103 games) and continued to succeed once he was called up last year (.330 BA, 7 HR, 3 SB in 31 games). Taylor Teagarden and Jarrod Saltalamacchia will compete behind the plate. Teagarden should win the job with Salty DHing a lot.

Seattle Mariners (75-87)
Well, Griffey's back in the Emerald City... probably the biggest news for the team since the signing of the first Asian manager in Major League Baseball, Don Wakamatsu, who inherits a 101 loss team. All in all, its a decent team with potential but I don't expect them to fulfill much of it. Except for the ace of the rotation, 22 year old Felix Hernandez who has all the potential in the world and in most cases has showed it already. He has great stuff and could be an elite starter for many years to come (picked him up in both my fantasy drafts this year). Bedard had surgery in the offseason to remove a cyst in his should but he is ready to go after a so-so spring. He's another effective pitcher with dominating stuff. Given his high salary and long term contract, Carlos Silva will have a spot in the rotation but will not improve much from his disgusting 6.46 ERA last year. Jarrod Washburn, whose low velocity pitches are continuing to become more hittable every year, will also fill a spot in the rotation. With the move of Morrow to the bullpen, the 5th starter will be Ryan Rowland-Smith who pitched well last September and is better than both Washburn and Silva. The bullpen is a working project, after the trade of JJ Putz to the Mets. Flame throwing Brandon Morrow is being converted into the closer after beating out Roy Corcoran, Mark Lowe, and Miguel Batista for the job this spring. The team signed Chad Cordero who is a top closer, but he won't be available until May at the earliest. The offense features Ichiro Suzuki who always produces a high batting average and 30+ steals. Seattle signed Russell Branyan for some added power alongside Jose Lopez who continues to provide decent power numbers as well. Maybe the best defensive option on the field is Franklin Gutierrez who will strengthen a few aspects of the team. Endy Chavez is the new left fielder who comes with another questionable offense. Adrian Beltre will hit another 25 bombs and be solid at third, while Yuniskey Betancourt will continue to be mediocre at short. Jeff Clement should be the everday DH, and Kenji Johijma will be the regular behind the plate.

There ya have it, the entire American League break down.
AL East Champs: Red Sox
AL Central Champs: Twins
AL West Champs: Angels
As for the Wildcard, I'm going with the Yankees, although it could very easily be the A's.
Back tomorrow with the NL East,

-S

Monday, March 30, 2009

Pittsburgh

One of the best experiences I have ever had in my life was on a trip to PNC Park 2 years ago with my friends. Each year we make it a tradition to visit at least one new stadium, and since the airfare for Pittsburgh was so cheap (less than $100 round trip!) we chose to go see the Cubs play the Pirates. But, just two days before my trip my Grandpa passed away; it was the first death I had ever had to experience and I took it pretty hard. I called my friends and told them what happened, but with my best interests at heart they convinced me to go. To this day I am thankful I had people like in my life- people who knew me so well that they where confident that this trip would help me cope. And it did. Pittsburgh was a great experience and renewed my faith. After deaths, a lot of people start questioning things and become cynical, which is exactly where I was headed. Had it not been for baseball, and for that trip, I'm not sure where I would be today. To me, the beauty of PNC Park strengthened my faith, and being there with my friends lifted my spirits.

(That's me pictured in front of PNC for the first time)

Not only was it a good trip, but I had a great experience with my friend, Brad. Being bleacher bums at Wrigley, it was only natural for us to heckle the other team, and this was no exception! Standing out in center field while the Pirates were taking batting practice, we did our usual calls to the players, finding a personal favorite in the simplicity of "You're on the Pirates!" The players are always fun to joke around with, especially because it's friendly banter going on back and forth. Ian Snell turned around and put his hand around his throat as if he were "Choking." We proceeded to rally up a group of Cubs fans to take over the stadium and sang "Go Cubs Go," clearly being heard around the outfield. We do that a lot, we make friends with strangers around us. In fact, that's how I met Brad! Well, after a good 20 minutes of the fans and players going back and forth, Ian Snell points to me and Brad (the obvious ringleaders) and tells us to meet him by the dugout. We both just looked at each other, got as excited as 9 year olds, and proceeded to run down to meet him at the dugout. We get there and we are looking for Snell when all of a sudden he pops his head out of the dugout with two bats in hand. After he signs both these bats, he hands one to me and the other to Brad while asking us how we like Pittsburgh. In complete shock, we thank him for the bats and remind him that we are Cubs fans, just to make sure he realized what he was doing, and he says, "Ya think?! Hahaha, you guys are great fans in general!" To this day, Snell remembers us, and he and Brad always have some great conversations whenever we see him at Wrigley. Ian Snell is one of those guys who's love for baseball and it's fans is apparent. He didn't know my Grandpa had just passed, all he knew was that we were having a fun time and he appreciated having us in his stadium and in his city. He also doesn't know that to this day, my Ian Snell signed bat is my favorite autograph, and every time I look at it I remember how baseball, once again, saved me.

(Brad and Me with our Ian Snell autographed bats)

I have a deep love for baseball because of times like this. Times when your faith is tested and you feel you have no where to go. Through my parents divorce, going through my own breakups, or just dealing with any uncertainty in life, baseball remains a saving force. I don't know how many times a tough day has turned around just with a ballgame being on. There's no other out of body experience than watching Aramis Ramirez go deep to take the lead. At that instant, nothing else matters; you leave your problems behind and you cheer and you revel in the passion with the people around you. Throughout my life baseball has been there for me and has helped me cope through things while teaching me so much about life in general. Baseball is my escape from the real world.


Seriously, how can this picture not make you happy? Night ballgames in beautiful weather... it really doesn't get much better than that. The best therapy for anything!

-S

American League Central

I'm psyched for the season to start! Everyday we are getting closer and closer, and pretty soon it will be the All-Star break and we'll all be wondering where the time went. In the previous post I predicted the Red Sox to win the division as I broke down each team in the powerful AL East. Well, the AL Central will be a tight division this year. Honestly, any team has a chance. After a long, long debate on this I have made my predictions. Once again, the teams will be in order of record this year, with the first team (the Minnesota Twins) being my prediction to win the central.

Minnesota Twins (90-72)
In his 8th season with the Twins, Manager Ron Gardenhire will once again lead his small-ball-efficient team into the playoffs. After watching teams like Japan dominant the World Baseball Classic with the "small ball" method of scoring runs, you can't help but think of the Twins. They remain one of the few teams in the MLB to continue to utilize their farm system at a constant rate while implementing this style of baseball. After taking the division to 163 games last year, the Twins look to be a stronger, healthier force this year. Key spot to look at: Fransisco Liriano. Returning from Tommy John surgery, Liriano seems healthy and ready to pitch; his only limits being the number of innings the Twins allow him to pitch. The rest of the rotation is pretty talented, as well: Scott Baker was extremely underrated- his strike out to walk ration was incredible, but he gave up too many home runs. Kevin Slowely has had a great spring training pounding the strike zone. Despite Baker and Slowely both being fly ball pitchers, they will succeed in the pitcher-friendly Metrodome. With one of the higher ERA's on the team, Nick Blackburn will only be successful if he continues to have great control. Glen Perkins will round out the rotation and again is another effective, young pitcher with great control. The best part of the Twins, the best closer in baseball, Joe Nathan, will once again dominate in 2009. The setup role, and bullpen in general, are questionable with Jesse Crain as the main guy. They do have a great lefty named Craig Breslow who should be their top choice when needed. Like always, their offense will center around manufacturing runs. Denard Span will lead off after showing his ability to work counts and battle lefties. Once on base, especially in front of Mauer and Morneau he will rack up 100+ runs scored and 25+ stolen bases. Alexi Castilla will need to work on his base running and will most likely not get the green light to run on his own. An injured Mauer will be back soon, and should be in competition for another batting title. Defending HR Derby champ, Justin Morneau will bat 4th and stack up 130+ RBI's (Last year he hit .348 with RISP (runners in scoring position)). Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Carlos Gomez, and Delmon Young will round out the outfield, with Kubel being the DH until the lefties start to dominate him again. Gomez needs to improve his base running but will be an enigmatic player with the club this year. They made it a point to resign club favorite, Nick Punto who should be the regular short stop and hit around .260 with 20 steals.


Cleveland Indians (89-73)
After a disappointing 2008 season, Manager Eric Wedge has his work cut out for him this year. Today on the radio, some people had them in dead last and others had them 2nd or 3rd. They do have a tougher schedule this year, but they bolstered their team in the offseason and they still have Cy Young award winning Cliff Lee, who proved that he's the real deal. Fausto Carmona has a sick sinker ball and will be a great 2 pitcher in the rotation as long as he limits his walks. The other 3 starting pitchers are replaceable if they don't succeed: Anthony Reyes was good last year but his strike out to walk ratio needs improvement (5:4); Groundball pitching, Aaron Laffey will be given the chance to earn a spot despite fading away last season; and Scott Lewis's strong outings will put him in contention for a starting spot as well. The Indians brought in Kerry Wood to close out the games, and despite his injury risks, should prove to be a solid force in the bullpen. Jensen Lewis will setup games and have the chance to resume the closers role if Wood goes down. Southpaw Rafeal Perez has been a consistently effective arm in the pen and will be utilized often. The Indian offense is epitomized by the best lead off hitter in the MLB, Grady Sizemore, whose stats speak for themselves. Versatile off season acquisition, Mark DeRosa will bat 2nd and play 3rd, and with his high OBP, second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera will have a lot of opportunities to bat runners in. Victor Martinez could either be behind the plate or at first base, and SS Jhonny Peralta will drive in 100 runs and bat .280. Plus, Peralta's power numbers should rise after having a career high 42 doubles last season. Expect to see prospect Matt LaPorta up with the Tribe throughout the season, possibly taking over Ryan Garko's spot at first. They have a lot of young arms in their farm system (i.e. Adam Miller and Scott Miller) who should make their debuts this year as well.


Chicago White Sox (87-75)
After a short stint in the playoffs, the White Sox will need to work to make it again. Honestly, it was hard putting them 3rd when the division is as so closely matched with talent. They easily could win the division, especially with their pitching, but after much debate I have them finishing 3rd. They have remarkable talent in their farm system that I have seen firsthand, but that won't help them this year. Their starting rotation should be good this year, though. Buehrle isn't a dominating ace, but he eats up innings as works faster than almost any other pitcher in the majors. His deep work into games will guarantee a day of rest for the bullpen. Southpaw John Danks has raw talent and could be a Cy Young candidate this year. Last year, Gavin Floyd finally lived up to his potential (despite his numbers) and featured a filthy curveball. They have another young lefty at the end of the rotation in Clayton Richard, who pounds the strike zone consistantly and gets ground ball outs. Lance Broadway should get the 5th spot, but if he fails, top prospect Aaron Poreda could get called up later in the season to eat innings. The Sox feature an elite closer in Bobby Jenks and if healthy, will again be a decisive force in the teams success. Dotel will rack up strike outs but don't expect anything great. Lefty Matt Thorton has proved he can dominate both lefties and righties and should get into the saves mix should something happen to Jenks. They have a solid setup man in Scott Linebrink, too. Their offense is built like the other teams in this division. Moving to shortstop is the Soriano-esque, Alexei Ramirez, the little man with great power. Carlos Quentin will duplicate his success of last season, while aging DH Jim Thome's average will probably struggle at the plate but still put up 30 HRs. Konerko will look to bounce back from a dismal 08 season, and Jermaine Dye will still be a leader in the clubhouse and at the plate. The guy everyone hates but would love to have on their team- AJ Pierzynski, who will remain solid versus lefties. The outfielders will have to earn their spots as there is always someone just on their heels waiting to take their spot.. Josh Fields and Wilson Betemit will battle for 3B and look for secondbase prospect, Chris Getz to battle for playing time.

Kansas City Royals (82-80)
The Royals have some talent, but it will be up to Manager Trey Hillman on how to handle the team. Zack Greinke and Gil Meche are both great pitchers who will be the 1 and 2 starters for the club. Greinke is constantly developing into a better pitcher, and Meche was solid after a slow start. Brian Bannister had a great '07 season but falled behind in '08 as a "very hittable pitcher." Kyle Davies finished strong in '08 and will look to fill his potential as a middle of the rotation arm. Luke Hochevar will simply eat innings, and club favorite, Horacio Ramirez will get a chance despite his numbers. Joakim Soria will close out games in his usual dominant fashion. In 2008 he posted a 1.60 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP in 63 appearances. Offseason aquisition, Kyle Farnsworth is a flame thrower who will take over closing if anything happens to Soria. Ron Mahay will resume his role as a dependable lefty, and prospect Carols Rosa could find a spot in the bullpen as well. Their offense is shakey: Coco Crisp was added to the lineup in the offseason, and will be a clutch player for the team and add some speed to a team that desperately needs it. Third baseman Alex Gordon is starting to hit for more power, Mike Jacobs should bring his 30HR power to the American Leauge, and Jose Guillen (if he shuts his mouth long enough) will produce some good numbers. Ryan Shealy and Kila Ka'aihue will warm the bench but prove to be important to the teams success. There is the possibility of KC being better than predicted but that thinking is better saved for next year.


Detriot Tigers (75-87)
Talk about disfunction. The 2009 Tigers have a lot of work ahead of them if they want to surpass the 500 mark. Predicted as the World Series Champions only a year ago, the Tigers have been the biggest let down in Major League Baseball. Their lineup has all the potential in the world, but has yet to show it. Verlander took a few steps back last season, but may benefit from the humbling experience. Galarraga was lucky last year with the potential for improvement this year. Jeremy Bonderman is always questionable. Edwin Jackson was added to the rotation and hopefully fullfils at least the 4th spot especially after showing his improvement in control last season. And lastly, Dontrelle Willis who was just plain bad. I don't know how else to describe it. I heard someone today on the radio say "utterly atrocious"to describe him. And now, all that, coupled with his anxiety attacks, he won't start the season successfully. So, its between Nate Robertson and Zach Miner will both get the chance to fill in. After striking out in the offseason looking for a closer, the likely man is Fernando Rodney. Flame throwing Joel Zumaya is healthy and will contribute but will be handled extremely carefully by the staff. Bobby Seat is back this year as the top lefty in the pen but will stay in the setup role. Offense: At the top of the lineup, Curtis Granderson showed improvement against lefties and will leadoff. Placido Polanco (2B) will hit for average and score plenty of runs hitting in front of Miguel Cabrera and Magglio Ordonez. After having a whole year to adjust to the superior AL pitching, look for Miggy to have MVP type numbers. Mags will continue to drive in runs and hit for average, but his HR number will decrease. Gary Sheffield will try to drag out another season, and if healthy will do just that. With his defense deteriorating, Carlos Guillen will move to LF. Brandon Inge's defense, on the other hand, is incredible, and in my opinion one of the best overall athletes in the game. Behind the plate is newly acquired Gerald Laird, who will also add a solid bat to the lineup.


Looking forward to tomorrow's AL West break down!
-S

Sunday, March 29, 2009

American League East

With Spring Training winding down and the season only days away, its time to take a look at each team. In the next 6 days, I'll feature each division by analyzing their starting rotations, offense, new additions, etc. As for today, the American League East is the division of interest. They are in order of who I think will have the best record (predictions in parentheses next to team name).
Boston Red Sox (93-69 )
In his 6th season with the Red Sox, Manager Terry Francona will look to lead his Sox back to the postseason. I'm predicting a 93 win season because of a few factors. First, their starting rotation: Beckett and Lester will each surpass 200 IP, Daisuke will remain as effective as he has proven himself to be, and Wakefield and Penny will round out the rotation with solid numbers (Expect Penny to be motivated- he's making $5 million this year, but has incentives up to an additional $3 million). Papelbon again will be an elite closer, especially with Okajima and Delcarmen as his main setup men. The addition of Takashi Saito will add more depth to the bullpen, as well, given his elbow doesn't fall off. Offense: After the loss of Manny last year, the team looked and played completely different, especially coupled with the wrist injury to Big Papi. The main question in the lineup now is Ortiz himself, and if he can be the same hitter he has been for the past 5 years. If so, which I fully expect him to be, the Red Sox have another power lineup. Team chemistry is still at its peak with the return of Varitek, the leader of the clubhouse. Youk will continue to have high RBI totals batting clean up, especially with 2008 AL MVP Dustin Pedroia hitting in the 2 spot (.326 OBP). As long as Jason Bay learns how to hit at Fenway he will be solid in the lineup; he finished strong so I have no doubt in my mind he will be a bigger presence in the lineup this year. A lot of confidence is placed in rookie short stop, Jed Lowrie. Lastly, their minors are stacked- Buchholz had strong performances in the Arizona Fall League, and Lars Andersen and Michael Bowden continue to impress the club. Overall the Red Sox have one of the deeper and more balanced teams in the AL East which will help them coast into the playoffs.
New York Yankees (88-74)
After missing the playoffs last year for the first time in 14 years, the Yankees spent a total of $423.5 million in order to acquire and lock up Mark Teixeira, AJ Burnett, and CC Sabathia. There's no denying it- their lineup and rotation is stacked with proven talent. But of course, the star of the show will determine their future. If Alex Rodriguez can play and get on track, the Yankees will be successful, otherwise count on the new Yankee Stadium to be a media circus and turn into its own dirty tabloid. Joba Chamberlain will be another decisive force with New York, who remains adimant about keeping him in a starters role. Recent talk has suggested the the Blue Jays are looking to stack up on minor league talent and rebuild, and if so New York is the first team interested in acquiring SP, Roy Halladay. In his second season with the Yankees, Manager Joe Girardi hopes to bring back the old Yankee swagger from the late 90's, although in my opinion there is no way to get that clubhouse back to 1998 shape, espcially with A-Rod still there. Offense: Damon and Jeter will again start off at the top of the lineup, and should see better pitches with Teixeira now hitting in the 3 hole. Aging players like Posada and Matsui are both injury risks, and with slow starters like Robinson Cano, it could be a rough beginning for the 2009 Yankees. As long as Sabathia keeps up where he left off with the Brewers last year and Burnett stays consistant and healthy, the rotation should be solid. Chien-ming Wang's ERA and WHIP are always his focal point and he is healthy. Chamberlain and Phil Hughes will round out the rotation, both young dominating pitchers with filthy stuff. Finish off with their always proven closer, Mariano Rivera, the Yankees will at least push the Red Sox for a run at the division.
Tampa Bay Rays (87-75)
The AL East is one of the tougher leagues this year. Despite the success of last years "Cinderella" team, the other teams in their division have improved so much that the Rays will most likely miss out on the playoffs this year. Although, I don't see that as a failure. I do expect them to be extremely competitive and make both the Yankees and the Red Sox work for their spots in the post season. We all got a flash of David Price's potential last year and he will be a key to this teams success. Even though he's starting the season in the minors, he won't be there long. As the ace of the staff, Scott Kazmir needs to be more efficient and keep the HR's and walks to a minimum. His high pitch count causes him to leave early, but in 2008, he allowed the least amount of hits in his career. After starting 37 games last year, Scott Shields will pitch 200+ innings this year if he's fresh. Matt Garza has potential, with room to improve. Sonnanstine will have to work for his job, and the 5th spot will be filled by some of the younger kids until Price is back up. Offense: Akinori Iwamura will lead off again, although not a solid choice. Crawfords steals will be back up this year now that he's healthy, and the same goes for BJ Upton- now healthy, he should be a power threat and steal more bags. Pena and Longoria will be the 3-4 punch, and each should have high RBI totals, especially with the power they bring. Navarro is a great offensive option behind the plate and lastely, former Twin, Jason Bartlett will add to the stolen base numbers now that he's healthy. They've got a decent bench too- Joyce, Aybar, Gross and Zobrist. Percival is still their closer of choice until he shows his age agian. Dan Wheeler is in line if he fails, but more importantly JP Howell will be their dominant force as the main setup man in the bullpen.
Toronto Blue Jays (55-107)
I like the Jays, they have a good team, but they are in the wrong division. They simply can't keep up with the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays for 162 games. Their offseason couldn't even match up to the Yankees, but they still have a respectable team on the field. Halladay had a great season, racking up the strikeouts and turning into a dominating pitcher. But with the loss of Burnett, Halladay is now the only dominant pitcher in their rotation. Jesse Litsch was a bit of a sleeper last year- he pulled his weight and showed he is capable of the 2 spot. Marcum will be out most the season, if not the entire season, after having Tommy John surgery. Dustin McGowan is in the same boat, dealing with an injury, but should be back in a few months, although not a strong force in the rotation by any means. With him injured, you can expect to see Matt Clement filling in despite signing with a minor league contract. Or, they could go with a young arm like Brett Cevil who has a lot of potentail, notching 185 K's coupled with a 2.41 ERA in 168 minor league innings last year. Scott Downs and Casey Janssen are candidates to enter the rotation as well. The closing job belongs to BJ Ryan. who will get his 30 saves while staying under a 3 ERA, and yet still stay under everyones radar. Offense: With new hitting coach, Gene Tenace, the lineup should hit with an educated efficiency. The Jays have one of the best overall players in the game in their lineup, Alex Rios. Vernon Wells will be a strong point in the lineup if he stays healthy. The downfalls of the lineup include the men at the corners: Scott Rolen and Lyle Overbay. Both have past their prime but hope to hold down fort, at the least. One of my personal favorites, Marco Scutaro (former A) is the popular choice for shortstop. I see the Blue Jays being good in a few years with the help of their farm system.


Baltimore Orioles (55-107)
In his 3rd season at Camden Yards, Manager Dave Tremblay will have his work cut out for him, especially his pitching staff... This year Camden Yards is voted the best ballpark for HR's and 7th best for hits. Their rotation will consist of Jeremy Guthrie and Mark Hendrickson, and pretty much up for grabs for the rest. As the ace, Guthrie has been consistant posting a 3.66 ERA over the last 2 years. Hendrickson, showing no signs of improvement or potential, will be the innings eater on the team. Remember Troy Patton and Matt Albers? They were the prospects sent over in exchange for Miguel Tejada last year, but after sustaining injuries they have yet to prove anything to the Orioles. With no true closer, the Orioles will start off with George Sherrill, but once he fades away again they might look to guys like Chris Ray and Danys Baez. Their main setup guy, Jim Johnson was dependable and will get the nodd over anyone else in the bullpen. As for offense? Obviously Brian Roberts will lead off, followed by a Markakis-Mora-Huff combination. All three had good stats and will be the strong points in this weak lineup. Adam Jones will be a base threat and will continue to develop. The bottom of the lineup will feature guys like Ryan Freel and Like Scott who will bring speed and some power. The best part of the Orioles- catching prospect Matt Wieters, who was just sent down to the minors, is promising to be an elite force in the majors and will definitely get some at bats starting later on in the season. They are definitely on track towards rebuilding, but they need more respectable pitching talent to even win over 60 games.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Stephen Strasburg

His story is all over the place. Stephen Strasburg- the right handed San Diego State phenom who throws 103mph while averaging close to 20 K's per 9 innings. Obviously the kid is incredible, theres no denying that. But, all I see when I hear "103" is "injury."

I didn't want to write about Strasburg because everyone else already is. But, I got into work a little early yesterday and while catching up on The Yankee Years by Joe Torre, I came across a quote that compelled me to finally write one:

"You will not see a pitcher throwing a baseball 110mph. The arm and shoulder are maxed out. Pushed any further, the shoulder would blow up, like a blown engine," (pg 184)

Some things to know
Research has proven that pitching is the fastest measured motion of all human activity, and it's violent motion is incredibly unnatural to the body. While pitching, there is 7,000 degrees per second of forward rotation for the arm. Included in this, the forces pushing down on the arm are just under 40 lbs. At exactly 40 lbs of force is when ligaments start to blow apart. So pitchers are literally pushing their bodies to the absolute maximum that it can handle. Another thing, pitchers throwing just 90 mph have a 22 second rotation on their arm. The higher the velocity, the more rotations that incur, thus yielding even more strain on the arm. The correlation of injuries with pitchers is clear.

Dr. James Andrews and Glenn Fleisig, PhD, created the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham, Alabama. It's a nonprofit clinic devoted entirely towards injury prevention. Currently 10 Major League teams utilize the clinics' 35 point dignostic checkup for their pitchers.
When asked him opinoin of pitching above 100mph, Fleisig says, "It's better to throw 105 than 95, but it's better to throw 95 and be on the field than be in a trainer's room telling people you used to throw 105."
Obviously young, power pitchers like Strasburg generate a lot of spotlight, especially when they are exceeding the velocities of current Major Leaguers. With the first pick in the draft this year, the Washington Nationals had better do their research. Strasburg is consistently throwing pitches at 100mph and higher, but to decrease his chances of injury, coaches at San Diego State only allow him to throw once a week and limit him to 115 pitches.

A lot of talk has gone into the subject of the possibility of a pitchers reaching 105mph, and while it may be possible, it won't be for a long time and I hope to see Strasburg pitching for a long time.
Video Clip
-S

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ryne Sandberg

Ryne Sandberg 2005 Hall of Fame Induction Speech

Click the link above to view one of the greatest Hall of Fame Induction Speeches ever. The video is just under 24 minutes, so take a chance to watch it when you have some time. I'm glad to have him coaching in the Cubs farm system for the AA Tennessee Smokies.

-S

Book Review 1: The Glory of their Times

Whether it's the newspaper, Sports Illustrated, ESPN Magazine, or just baseball books, I am constantly reading something. A lot of people also know that I rarely listen to music when I am in the car. Instead, I either have on ESPN radio or MLB on XM radio. Between all the driving I do, I average about 2 hours in the car everyday. So, I take advantage of that time by advancing my knowledge of the game with the perspectives of others in sports, specifically baseball. If you are anything like me, you'll love the book I'm about to mention.

A few months ago I finished a book by Lawrence S. Ritter called, The Glory of their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It. It was originally published in 1966, but the book I have is a reprint from 2002. In the 26 chapters that encompass the book, you get a first person narrative from some of the greatest players to ever step onto the field. The ballplayers featured in this book were all honored players of their generations. What I love most about this book is the way it captures the pure essence of an entire era of baseball that I, nor my parents, where ever able to experience first hand. But, through each former players personal anecdotes, you can feel their sheer love for the game. You can actually feel the sacred entity of baseball; the ability to step on the field and play as a team, where individual statistics were ignored and managers ran the team without fear. Most the players featured in the book are deceased, but through Ritter's hard work to compile these stories, we have an opportunity to relive what baseball use to be like and hope for one day to have people like these men back as the majority in baseball.


Throughout the book, I underlined inspiring quotes, funny stories, and anything else I would ever want to share with someone else. My favorite chapter was Fred Snodgrass. As a player from 1908-1916, he chronicled his favorite parts of his baseball life when he played for the Giants under John McGraw. The very first excerpt of this story is this:

"I look back at my years in baseball with a tremendous amount of pleasure. Yes, I'd love to do it all over again, and that in spite of the fact that I had what might be called a rather stormy career in baseball. For over half a century I've had to live with the fact that I dropped a ball in a World Series... and for years and years, whenever I'd be introduced to somebody, they'd start to say something and then stop, you know, afraid of hurting my feelings. But nevertheless, those were wonderful years, and if I had the chance I'd gladly do it all over again, every bit of it," (pg 91)

The passion he has for the game is undeniable and I have an extremely high level of respect for him and the attitude he brought to the game. He made one of the greatest errors ever in baseball, but instead of dwelling on it he moves on- things happen, he says. Today, a lot players only want to talk about their success. They want to be praised for their protruding excellence. Snodgrass, like the other 25 men accounted for in this book, goes on to acknowledge everyone on his team who contributed to the Giant success that represented a better part of a decade while putting himself on the back burner. In the other stories of the book, each player does the same- they put everyone else ahead of themselves and they praise the efforts of the team.

Another thing that almost every player touches upon is the differences of baseball from their days in the game to now (but keep in mind when this was written, the 1960's not 2009). The difference even then was incredible; I couldn't even imagine what they would say about the game today.

"You see, it was a different game then compared to today. Now they're all trying to hit the ball over the fence. It's mostly brute strength. They're always trying to get a flock of runs at once. But in my day a home run was a rarity. You couldn't hit balls over the fence in most parks in those days, because the ball was too dead! So we were always playing for small scores, for one run or two," (pg 99).

There are some great stories in his excerpt, detailing fan interactions, player conversations on the bases, and playing under McGraw. He finishes the story with a paragraph that shows his love for the game. Despite making the most well known error in World Series play, he still would do it all over again.


"Well, life has been good to me since I left baseball. my lovely wife, Josephine, and I have enjoyed success and things have gone well, very well, through these many years. In contrast, my years in baseball has their ups and downs, their strife and their torment. But the years I look back at most fondly, and those I'd like most to live over, are the years when I was playing center field for the New York Giants," (pg 118).

I recommend this book to anyone to plays for love of the game and not the paycheck; to anyone who watches games with love and represents their team with pride; to anyone who has ever been humbled by the game... I promise you'll enjoy it. Back then there was a lot more respect in baseball than you see now. True, there are some players that still hold strong values like these men did, but nothing compares to that raw style of baseball played back then, when individual statistics took a back seat to the name on the front of the jersey.

-S

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

2009 Marlins

I may be one of the few to have high expectations for the Marlins in 2009. Lately the only thing being discussed about the team is their new stadium. I'm taking Florida as the national league sleeper. Their roster is going to be stacked with unbelievable young talent, and don't be surprised to see them in contention down the stretch.

"S" breakdown
In his 3rd season with the Marlins, Manager Freddi Gonzalez (with the help of the rest of the front office personnel) has the pleasure of managing one of the most dominating young staffs in the Major Leagues. Dolphin stadium is one of the worst parks to hit in (It currently ranks 25th best for hits and 27th best for HRs... out of a whopping 30 teams). So his pitching staff already has an edge.
  • After sitting out most of 2007 with elbow problems, former Cub Ricky Nolasco came back in 2008 notching a 15-8 record in 32 starts. More impressive than that was his consistency from first half to second half; in fact, he gained more of an edge as the season extended: Following the all-star break, Nolasco's 119k's and 13 walks made for a 9.2 K:BB ratio.
  • Also coming back from missing 2007 season, (due to Tommy John surgery) was Josh Johnson, who limited his opponents to 3 runs or less in 12 of his 14 starts while maintaining a 1.35 WHIP. His walk count has always been a little high, but he has maintained a consistent 3.45 career ERA.
  • Chris Volstad: In his rookie season, Volstad proved he deserved to be in The Show after compiling stats to predict a 200+ IP season with at least 12 wins for 2009. In 14 major league starts in 2008, the 22 year old right hander threw 84 innings yielding 6 wins and 52 K's. His 2.88 ERA and 1.33 WHIP impressed me, especially being a rookie on a weak Marlins team.
  • With a variety of filthy pitches, left handed pitching Andrew Miller is the highest touted kid in the rotation. He was the main piece in the deal with the Tigers last year shipping out Miggy and the D-train, and you can see why. His fastball tops out in the mid 90's, he's got a devastating slider, and is especially clutch against left handed power hitters (limiting them to a .321 SLG). He struggled out of the bullpen a bit after coming back from knee tendinitis during the season, but showed the front office everything they needed to be convinced.
  • After the Scott Olsen trade to Washington, Anibal Sanchez will win the 5th spot in the rotation. Another young kid (25 years old) he is most well known for his no hitter in 2006 vs the Diamondbacks, in what was only his 13th MLB start. Since 2006, he hasn't earned more than 4 wins but he is healthy and has had a great spring so far, so expect him to be a solid 5 starter who will only get better with age.
(Former Tar Heel and personal favorite, Andrew Miller)

And don't forget about the Bullpen. After dealing Kevin Gregg to the Cubs, Matt Lindstrom will be taking over the closers role. He's everything you expect from a typical closer. He's got that Papelbon confidence on the mound and is armed with a 100-mph fastball.

Projected Starters
C: John Baker
1B: Jorge Cantu
2B: Dan Uggla
3B: Dallas McPherson
SS: Hanley Ramirez
LF: Cameron Maybin
CF: Cody Ross
RF: Jeremy Hermida

Offense: The unanimous number one pick in all fantasy leagues this year, Hanley Ramirez is the greatest offensive threat in this lineup. I picked up Uggla on my team last year and he was a phenomenal home run hitting force as well (Always leading middle infielders in HR's). Cantu's 29 bombs last year and 95 RBI's will hopefully be repeated this year. After trading Mike Jacobs to the Royals, Dallas McPherson, and his 42 Triple-A HR's from last season, will look to fill the void at thirdbase. John Baker consistantly has a higher than normal BA than most catchers, and 5-tool outfielder, Cameron Maybin, finally has his chance to show what he's got. At only 25 years old, Hermida is still expected to have that breakout season the Marlins have been waiting for, and Cody Ross (another solid run producer with power) will look to fill the void in leftfield after the trade of Josh Willingham to the Nat's.

1993: Marlins become a new franchise in Major League Baseball
1997: Marlins win their FIRST World Series
2003: Marlins win their SECOND World Series
Look for 2009 to be a competitive year for Florida. After trading away super star players for years, they have focused on the farm system and groomed the youngsters. Add in some key trades, this could shape up for another Championship year... unless of course my Cubbies finally decide 101 years is long enough to wait!

-S

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Doug Deeds

After just returning from Spring Training in Arizona, I'd like to feature Chicago Cubs outfielder, Doug Deeds. At first, my friends and I liked him simply because of his name. But, after watching him a play a few times, I realized that this guy is a serious force in the Cubs system, and it's only a matter of time before he's up in The Show for good.

Selected in the 9th round of 2002 draft, the Minnesota Twins drafted Doug Deeds out of Ohio State University. Deeds holds the home run record (28) at Brexley High School in Ohio.
Last year, Deeds hit .325 at Double-A Tennessee (Cubs affiliate)

Position: Rightfielder
DOB: June 2, 1981
Height: 6'2'’
Weight: 180
Bats: Left
Throws: Left
"S" Analysis
The first thing that made me notice Deeds, besides his awesome name, was his presence at the plate, his smart base running, and his great defense in the outfield. Deeds is clearly one of the more polished hitters in the Cubs farm system. He has a smooth swing and can prove to be valuable to the Cubs this year, if called up, as a reliable left handed bat. He has proven that he can hit at any level, and will most likely average 15 home runs a year in the majors. He is not a big guy by any means, but you can see him use his whole body when connecting with the ball. Plus, he's got a great eye at the plate. He is a solid base runner, too- not exceptionally fast and not too much of a stolen bags threat, but he is smart on the base paths. I sat out in left field, but I was still able to get a great view of his range in right field. He makes all the plays expected of him and more. Plus he's got a cannon, which will make runners think twice before advancing on the bases.

At this specific game(3-13-09) vs the Angels, Deeds went 1-for-4 and showed great athleticism in the outfield.

A few days prior to this game (3-10-09), my friend and I made the trip to Surprise, AZ to watch Harden's first start of spring training against the Mariners, where we sat in the right field lawn seats, right behind Deeds. In the 8-1 win that day, Deeds showed his undeniable talent going 4-for-5 with 2 doubles and 2 RBI's.

So, congrats on getting my attention, Mr. Deeds. Hope to see you in the Majors!
-S

World Baseball Classic

Well, first off congratulations to Japan for defending their title and winning the WBC again last night. I enjoyed watching the game, especially after having seen Korea play the Padres in an exhibition game a few weeks ago at Spring Training. In fact, I was cheering so loudly I may have woken my roommates up! Being a cubs fan, I wanted to see Japan do well, specifically hoping Fukudome would be clutch and put some hope back into Cubs fans for our upcoming season. I personally became a big fan of his at Spring Training 2008 when he made an unbelievable catch on the warning track in right field, robbing an almost guaranteed hit. I know many people doubt him, especially after the disappointing offensive slump that epitomized a dismal rookie season. But, I love defense- always have. Web gems are by far my favorite part of the game. And his defense is unbelievable! Just so happened I was at a game (March 2008) when Fukudome made a spectacular catch, and by chance I made it in the background of the picture that ended up in a few Arizona newspapers and ESPN.com. (See below-- & if you can see my face, I look as scared as can be- my friend(not a cubs fan) next to me was joking around trying to catch it with his hat!)
So needless to say, after seeing a play like that up close, i was hooked. His athleticism was apparent and his effort was phenomenal (everything a Cubs fan loves to see of a new player!) But, despite being a Fukudome fan, I wanted Korea to win. Like I said, I saw them play the Padres in a spring training night game on March 11th of this year. And, talk about passion! Not only where the Korea fans entertaining but they were friendly as well! The whole game they taught us cheers in their language, drank some beers with us, and even helped us heckle the umpire (all in good fun), and he even played along! It was one of the best times I have ever had at a game. I know when Fukudome came to the Cubs I immediately wanted to learn about the Japanese culture, and I even learned some phrases and proverbs. Well, after the Korea game, I became completely fascinated with the Korean culture and customs. I have a paper due in a few weeks analyzing the culture of a race/ethnicity different than my own, so I have already chosen to do it on the Koreans. I think the World Baseball Classic not only provides for great competition and entertainment, but it also educated Americans, especially the youth. After watching the dominating performances from Korea and Japan, as well as all the other countries that competed this year, I have a much deeper respect and appreciation for cultures around the world. In saying that, I would encourage parents to take their kids to these games when they come back around in 2013, I know I will definitely be there. This next picture is of my friends and me at the game with some of the Korean fans that we met! That's how friendly and fun they were!If sports has taught me anything, it's that people are brought together by a common love- and for us, it's baseball.

-S

Peter Gammons

Here is a question I am constantly asked- "If you could meet any one person, dead or alive, who would it be any why?"
And I always have an answer: Peter Gammons. He is by far the absolute when it comes to baseball knowledge and wisdom. One of my friends was called up to the Majors last year- he's an incredibly hard worker and no one could have earned it more than he did. Anyways, after being up for a month or two I asked him what his welcome to the big leagues moment was? You know how you are always seeing that in Sports Illustrated and you get generic answers like, "My first home run" or "my first time striking out Derrek Jeter." And while those are great, I knew I was going to get a deeper response from him. He looked me in the eyes, and said "When Peter Gammons knew who I was." Talk about surprising! He's a power pitcher, and I fully expected to hear simply that- the first strike out, the first home run given up, maybe even stepping on the field for the first time, but no. Having Peter Gammons greet him by name and shake his hand was his welcome to the big leagues moment. That sentence epitomized the impact of Peter Gammons in the sports world. At any one time there are 750 current major leaguers, and that's just the 25 man roster. Gammons not only knew this kid's name, but made it a point to shake his hand, look him in the eye, and tell him the great expectations he had for him.

Gammons not only is a smart man, but he does his job with a passion not seen very often. He loves what he does, and he loves baseball. A glorified Red Sox fan, Gammons' passion is prevalent in his high profile interviews, in depth analysis, and always up-to-date rumors and news. His opinions are highly regarded by fans, media outlets, and baseball players. I look up to him because he's worked hard, networked smartly, and has the utmost respect of anyone in baseball.

Just imagine having Peter Gammons come up to you, shake your hand, and say "S- I absolutely love your curve ball. I saw you throw in the Cape a few years ago and I remember the presence you had on the mound. Keep that confidence and your gonna be in the show for many years. The fans here are really gonna take to you- just keep it up." I couldn't even imagine! That would be the absolute compliment for any player.

He's definitely someone to look up to and idolize. Making even a rookie feel like a champ... now that's something to respect.

-S

Between the Lines

Welcome to the ultimate fan's perspective, Between the Lines! With this site I hope to provide a different angle of baseball information to fans across the world. I come armed with an unbiased view of the events that occur on the field in the major and minor leagues. As a deeply avid fan myself, you'll get my view and analysis of newspaper articles, books, and other blog entries. I'll keep you up to date on prospects to keep an eye on (high school, college, minor leagues, etc), upcoming events in your area (autograph signings, games, auctions), and major league charities (new, old, and worthwhile causes). I'll be posting debates while arguing both sides of the issues. As a fan who travels to watch my team, I'll provide in depth information about ballparks, the fans I meet, best place to get autographs, and even pictures/scorecards from the games I attend!

I work for a major league baseball team in the Midwest, and therefore get to see a lot of the work that goes on behind closed doors. But don't be fooled, this is not a "tell-all" airing the dirty laundry about the ugly side of sports. I don't' know about you, but I'm sick of it. I'm here for the fans who love the game- the one's who, like myself, love to be informed. The one's who buy fantasy draft magazines and join leagues with their friends, the ones who spend all their extra money on tickets to a game in the bleachers. I'm here for the fan who breathes the sport, who see's it as a subculture of their life. Working for a major league team gives me access to the players and therefore I will be able to post things on here you won't find anywhere else. Stories from the minors, getting called up to The Show, favorite choice of equipment and brands, tips for younger kids, conditioning secrets, and reactions from the players are just some of the things I will be covering.

Everyone's got an angle. Mine? I'm here because I love baseball. It's that simple. I love writing about it, I love talking about it, and I love playing it. I have tremendous respect for the players who play the game the right way- not just omitting steroids from their diet, but the ones who play the game with respect towards their opponents, teammates, and especially to the fans. I've grown up around this game- I basically live at the ballpark. I have a second family at the field, and I have met some of my best friends at fan conventions, spring training, and at games. Averaging 50 games a year, you learn a lot about the players and the staff of the parks. Some players brush off fans who want autographs, while others stop and have conversations and socialize with the fans... not just because they want to seem nice, but because they love the interactions. Here you'll learn who those people are, who holds this game together even when steroids and lies threaten to destroy this beautiful pastime.

I hope you enjoy my blog and interact with this baseball community. Please share photos, experiences, and insights. Send in the local high school ballplayer that deserves some recognition. Send in anything you want to share with those who are as passionate about baseball as you are!

Thank you for stopping by!
-S