Posts Tagged ‘Chase Utley’

Ruiz, Ibanez Power Phillies To Game One Win

October 16, 2009

If Jimmy Rollins doesn’t beat you, then Shane Victorino will beat you. If Victorino doesn’t beat you, then Jayson Werth will beat you. If Werth doesn’t beat you then Chase Utley will beat you. And if none of those guy beat you, Ryan Haward, Raul Ibanez, and Carlos Ruiz will beat you.

That is how deep and powerful the Philadelphia Phillies lineup is. The Los Angeles Dodgers found out first hand how deep the Phillies lineup is in their 8-6 loss in Game One of the NLCS last night.

The Phillies took advantage of seven walks handed out by Dodger pitching as well as some just horrendous managing by Joe Torre to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

This was a weird game because it started off as a pitcher’s duel between Clayton Kershaw and Cole Hamels. Both pitchers looked very sharp early. I was particularly impressed with Kershaw. He had electic stuff through the first four innings.

Kershaw fell apart in the fifth

Kershaw fell apart in the fifth last night

Then the fifth inning happened and this game went from looking like a two hour and 30 minute game, to a game between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

Ibanez led off the inning with a single and advanced to second on Kershaw’s first wild pitch of the inning. Pedro Feliz walked and now you have first and second with nobody out for Carlos Ruiz.

Ruiz proceeds to tomahawk a ball about 360 feet over the leftfield wall. Kershaw was cruising through the first four innings and with just one pitch he is down now 3-1.

What a good little player Ruiz is. He is really underrated. He is just another player in a long list of gritty, gutty, gamers the Phillies have.

To put it in perspective how underrated Ruiz is, according to Marc Hulet over at Fangraphs, Ruiz was worth about $10 million to the Phillies this season. His salary for 2009 is around $475,000. Not a bad deal for the Phillies.

Once Ruiz hit that homerun, Kershaw unraveled like Armando Benitez in any pressure situation. Kershaw walked Hamels on four pitches, then got Rollins to hit into a fielder’s choice, and then struck out Victorino on a ball that bounced five feet in front of home plate.

In that sequence, Kerhshaw, channeling his inner Rick Ankiel (Ankiel threw a record five wild pitches in an inning in 2000) threw two more wild pitches. He was done. Toast. Finished.

This is when Torre went into sleep mode. I would have taken Kershaw out before facing Utley. It was clear this kid was rattled and had nothing in the mound.

Torre left Kershaw in to face Utley and he promptly walked the Phillies’ second baseman. After that there is no way on earth I am leaving Kershaw in to face Howard.

It was still a 3-1 game and the way Hamels was pitching up to that point, three runs might have been enough. There is no way Torre can let that game get out of hand.

He had a lefty warming up in the pen in Scott Elbert and a righty warming up in Ramon Troncosco. Torre either has to bring in Elbert to face Howard or he can walk Howard and let Troncosco face Werth.

Either way, Kershaw can’t be pitching to Howard.

Of course, Torre leaves Kershaw in the game and Howard proceeds to rip one down the rightfield line. The game is now 5-1 and Torre was a day late and a dollar short with his decision making.

Not only was that a terrible managerial move by Torre, but there was another part of this game that would have me really concerned about where Torre is mentally this series.

In the bottom of the sixth with two on and two out, Torre called upon Jim Thome to pinch hit. First, I have no problem with Torre going to Thome that early in the game.

Thome is their big gun off the bench and who knows if the Dodgers are going to get another chance like this for the rest of the game. An extra-base hit gives the Dodgers a lead and Thome is their best chance at an extra-base hit off the bench.

Now here comes my issue with Torre and where I would have lost my mind if I was a Dodger fan.

Thome walked and right now he can’t run. He has plantar fasciitis. Everyone seemed to know this except for Torre. Thome gets to first and there is no pinch-runner coming off the bench.

Torre was so asleep at the wheel on this, it was disturbing to watch. Any manager worth his salt plans ahead and goes to someone on the bench “Hey, if he walks or gets on base, you are going to pinch-run.”

It was like Torre was only expecting a HR or a strikeout from Thome. He was completely unprepared for anything else.

The TV camera goes into the Dodgers’ dugout and it appeared Torre was asking Don Mattingly if he could run? Joe, it’s your job to know that.

I will assume Mattingly said no and now they are scrambling for a pinch-runner. Are you kidding me? I could not believe what I was watching.

Torre eventually pointed to Randy Wolf, who had that “Who me?” look on his face. Wolf had to down to the dugout and put on cleats, which proved Torre had not prepared for the situation.

It was a complete clown show.

Wake up Torre!!! You are not in the American League and you are not in Yankeeland anymore. You actually have to work in the National League and make decisions.

You were embarrassed in Game Four in last year’s NLCS (the Matt Stairs game) and you were embarrassed in Game One of this year’s NLCS.

Dodger fans can’t be too pleased with what they have seen from Torre.

Even with Torre in never-never land the Dodgers still had their chances in this game. Down 5-4 in the bottom of the seventh, the Dodgers had Andre Ethier on second with nobody out.

Then Chan Ho Park entered the game. Park came into the game looking like a guy who just on vacation for a month. He had that “I don’t give a darn about anything” beard going and looked extremely relaxed.

He looked like Vincent Chase when he disappeared on that island during last season’s Entourage. Park came into the game throwing bullets.

Park got Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp, and Casey Blake 1-2-3 and the Phillies had the lead. That inning was huge. Enough can’t be said about Park’s effort in Game One.

Ibanez put the icing on the cake

Ibanez put the icing on the cake

The Phillies got three insurance runs in the top of the eighth on a Raul Ibanez three-run HR off of George Sherrill. Some interesting notes about that inning.

Sherrill walked the first two batters of the inning. Up until that inning, Sherrill had never walked the first two batters of an inning in his career. The last HR Sherrill gave up to a left-handed hitter was on June 14, 2008 to Adam LaRoche.

Ryan Madson did his best to cough up the lead in the bottom of the frame, but limited the damage to just two runs. With the Phillies up 8-6, Brad Lidge came into the game to close the Dodgers out.

This was a long, but entertaining game. The Phillies will try to take a 2-0 series lead today and will have Pedro Martinez going to mound.

The Dodgers will counter with Vicente Padilla. This is a must win game for the Dodgers.

Hero for Game One – Chan Ho Park

Goat for Game One – Joe Torre

Series MVP – Raul Ibanez

Game Three is today at 4:07 ET

Huston We Have A Problem: Phillies Stun Rockies In Ninth

October 13, 2009

Anyone who has read the book Moneyball knows that one of the basic theories or principles of Billy Beane and Bill James is that any pitcher can be a closer. They feel that you can pull anyone off the street and they could pick up saves.

We saw this theory or principal work this year with guys like Heath Bell, JP Howell, and Ryan Franklin.

However, I have always disagreed with this theory or principal to an extent. I say to an extent because I agree that anyone can close a game…in the regular season.

Any yodel can close a game in June against the Arizona Diamondbacks or the Kansas City Royals. However, it takes a special person to close out a game in the postseason. Not just anyone can close out a game in October.

The Colorado Rockies found that out first-hand last night.

In what was just a wonderful baseball game, the Philadelphia Phillies scored three runs with two outs in the ninth inning off of closer Huston Street to defeat the Rockies 5-4 and win their best-of-five series 3-1.

The late inning disaster by Street (we’ll get to that in a bit) overshadowed what was an old fashioned pitchers duel for the majority of the game. Starters Cliff Lee and Ubaldo Jimenez matched each other pitch-for-pitch for seven innings.

Street had a meltdown last night

Street had a meltdown last night

Jimenez made just two mistakes in seven innings. He gave up a solo homerun in the first to Shane Victorino and another solo homerun to Jayson Werth on a serious hanger in the sixth.

This game was 2-1 heading into the bottom of the eighth and then the Rockies came alive.

Thanks to some unbelievable jumping ability by Dexter Fowler, the Rockies had first and second with one out. Charlie Manuel called upon Ryan Madson to get out of the jam.

Madson got Troy Tulowitzki to fly out to left. Ben Francisco, who just entered the game for defense made a great diving catch to get the out.

Jason Giambi, who was pinch-hitting for Garrett Atkins came through with a single to left to tie the game. Yorvit Torrealba then came up and he hit a rope to right center. Todd Helton and Jason Giambi scored and the Rockies had a 4-2 lead.

Then Street came in.

Street was shaky in Game Two, he was shaky in Game Three, and he was ultra-shaky in Game Four. Street struckout Gregg Dobbs to start the inning. Then he allowed an infield single to Jimmy Rollins and then got Victorino to hit into a fielder’s choice.

And then this is where Street fell apart.

When I pitched, I always had a theory about nibbling: Nibbling leads to walks and walks lead to big innings. By nibbling, you also told the hitter that your best stuff as a pitcher couldn’t get him out.

When you nibble and try to make that perfect pitch, a pitcher has a tendency to “aim” the ball. That is what Street did last night. He tried to make that perfect to Chase Utley, nibbled, and ended up walking the Phillies’ second baseman.

Street was scared to throw the ball over the plate. He didn’t believe his best stuff could get Utley out in that situation.

Now with runners on first and second, Ryan Howard came to the plate. Then I saw Street do something and at that point, I knew the Rockies were in trouble.

With Victorino now on second, Street did one of those fake throws to second to try to keep Victorino close. At that point it was all over for Street.

One, where is Victorino going? Do you honestly think he is going to steal third with Howard at the plate? If he would have gotten thrown out at third to end the game, people in Philadelphia would have burned his house down.

And two, if Victorino wants to steal third–let him. His run doesn’t matter. What that told me was that Street was avoiding throwing the ball and his concentration wasn’t 100 percent on Howard.

So what happens? Street misses his spot by at least six inches and Howard laces a game-tying, two-run double to tie the game. If your concentration is not 100 percent focused on Howard, he is going to kill you every time.

Jayson Werth came up next and flared a single to right center and just like that the Phillies had the lead.

The Rockies tried to make a comeback in the bottom of the ninth, but for the second night in a row, Brad Lidge got Tulowitzki to end the game. This time Lidge got Tulowitzki on a wicked slider down and away.

So no Billy Beane and Bill James–not just any old pitcher can close out a game. It takes a very, very, very special pitcher to close out a game in October.

Unfortunately for the Rockies, they didn’t have that special person.

The Phillies will play the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS. Game One is set for Thursday. I will be previewing this series tomorrow

You can follow The Ghost of Moonlight Graham on Twitter @ theghostofmlg

Live Blog: MLB All-Star Game…

July 15, 2009

It’s been awhile since I have done a live blog, so what better time to do one than the 80th All-Star game in St. Louis. I have always been a big fan of the All-Star game, so this should be fun. I am just praying this game does not go deep into extra innings like last year’s game.

Game – American League vs. National League

Date – 7/14/09

Starting Lineups

American League

1. Ichiro Suzuki, RF

2. Derek Jeter, SS

3. Joe Mauer, C

4. Mark Teixeira, 1B

5. Jason Bay, LF

6. Josh Hamilton, CF

7. Michael Young, 3B

8. Aaron Hill, 2B

9. Roy Halladay, P

National League

1. Hanley Ramirez, SS

2. Chase Utley, 2B

3. Albert Pujols, 1B

4. Ryan Braun, RF

5. Raul Ibanez, LF

6. David Wright, 3B

7. Shane Victorino, CF

8. Yadier Molina, C

9. Tim Lincecum, P

Top 1st

Tim Lincecum deals the first pitch of the 80th All-Star game at 8:50 est time and it is ripped by Ichiro down the rightfield line, but foul.

Starting this game at 8:50 est. pretty much eliminates anyone under the age of 15 who lives on the east coast from seeing the end of this game – good job Bud Selig

Ichiro rips a single to right. He is such a good hitter. Being down 0-2 in the count didn’t phase Ichiro one bit.

OUCH!!! With two strikes, Derek Jeter gets hit in the hand with a changeup. Every Yankee fan just took a deep breath. Jeter appears okay.

Lincecumis really all over the place in this inning. He quickly falls behind Mauer 3-1.

Wow, what a quick play by Molina. Mauer hits a ball a foot infront of home plate, Molina pounced on it, and got Ichiro at third. Wright made a terrible throw to first, which pulled Pujols off the bag. Mauer would have been out with a good throw.

Teixeira hits a slow groundball that hits off of Pujols’ glove and goes into short rightfield. Jeter scores to make 1-0 American League.

That was a potential double play ball that Pujols mishandled. Some bad defense by the NL in the first inning. They should be out of this inning.

First and second with one out for Jason Bay.

Bay singles to center. Bases loaded.

Boy, the NL is really asleep on defense. Hamilton gets a hard groundball to first, Pujols gets Bay at second, but Lincecum is late covering first, and the run scores.

2-0 American League. We can eliminate Tim Lincecum from winning the MVP award tonight.

Michael Young grounds to Wright for the third out.

Not a very good start for the NL.

Bottom 1st

Hanley Ramirez leading off for the NL, hits a rope, but right to Aaron Hill. One out.

How many recruiting talks do you think Roy Halladay has gotten in the past two days? 40? 50?

Halladay gets Chase Utley to ground out to Teixeira. Two quick outs here in the bottom of the first.

Now here comes Pujols. Maybe he will make up for that terrible error he made in the top of the first.

Pujols hitting, Mauer catching, and Halladay pitching – it doesn’t get any better than that.

Michael Young is the man. Pujols hits a frozen rope to third. I mean a real screamer. Young snags it and casually throws to first to get Pujols. Now that is how you play defense.

After one it’s 2-0 American League

Top 2nd

Hill grounds to Ramirez for the first out.

Roy Halladay is hitting. I don’t think he planned on this happening. With the luck the Blue Jays have been having with injuries, Halladay will get clocked in the hand here.

He doesn’t and Halladay K’s for the second out.

A much better start to the second inning for Lincecum.

Ichiro hits a linedrive, but right at Braun in rightfield for the third out.

Bottom 2nd

Braun flies out to center for the first out.

President Obama is in the booth with McCarver and Buck. Obama is neck and neck with Bill Clinton as the president you would most want to hang out with.

Ibanez grounds to Hill for the second out. Halladay is making this look easy.

Even when Halladay gives up hits, he splinters bats. Wright bloops one to rightcenter for a hit. His bat shattered in a 100 pieces.

Victorino singles to right. First and second with two outs for Molina.

How about this. Molina singles to center, Wright scores, and Hamilton trying to throw out Victorino at third – hits him in the back and the ball rolls into foul territory.

Victorino scores andwe are tied at two. Molina goes to second on the throw.

Last night’s HR Derby champion Prince Fielder will hit for Lincecum.

Amazing how quickly things change in an inning. Halladay was crusing and a broken bat got a rally started.

Fielder smokes one down the leftfield line for a ground rule double. Molina scores and it is now 3-2 NL.

Ramirez grounds to Hill for the third out.

What an inning for the NL. Three runs with two outs.

After two complete in St. Louis, it’s 3-2 National League

Top 3rd

This is odd, Cardinals’ closer Ryan Franklin is in the game for the NL. I don’t think I have ever seen a closer come into an All-Star game this early before.

Jeter grounds to Utley for the first out.

Mauer lines to Pujolsfor the second out.

Teixeira grounds weakly to Pujols for the third out.

Well that was easy for Franklin. A very impressive inning.

Bottom 4th

Chicago White Sox lefty, Mark Buehrle into the game for the AL. With Buehrle pitching, this inning might last five minutes.

Utley hits a can of corn to center. One down.

Man, does Buerhle work quickly.

Pujols grounds to Teixeira for the second out. Teixeira showed his range on that groundball, as he played that way off the bag at first.

Braun grounds to Jeter at short and in less than five minutes the inning is over.

I wish more pitchers worked like Buerhle.

It’s still 3-2 NL after three.

Top 4th

We start the fourth and McCarver and Buck have been very tolerable tonight. It must be a full moon.

Dan Haren from the Arizona Diamondbacks is now in the game for the NL.

One pitch, one out. Bay flies out to Braun in right.

Hamilton flies out to semi-deep center.

Young singles to left. Michael Young loves playing in All-Star games.

Aaron Hill up. Every kid outside of Toronto just asked their dad “who is that?”

Hill grounds hard to Hanley Ramirez, but Ramirez gobbles it up, and gets Hill to end the inning.

Bottom 4th

Just saw a commercial for the new GI Joe movie. It looks terrible. I was a HUGE GI Joe fan growing up, so I hope the movie is better than it looks. I am not optimistic.

The Kansas City Royals’ Zack Greinke is in for the AL.

One pitch, one out. Ibanez pops up to Young at third.

I hope Greinke goes two innings tonight. It will let the world see who he is.

And this is why – Greinke throws a wicked slider to Wright to strike him out. That was nasty.

Greinke just toyed with Victorino. Got him to swing at a pitch in the dirt and two feet out of the strike zone.

One-two-three for Greinke

This game is moving rather quickly. Still 3-2

Top 5th

The next pitcher for the NL is the Dodgers’ Chad Billingsley.

Carl Crawford hitting for Greinke.

Crawford hits a single to center. With Crawford at first and Molina behind the plate, this should be interesting.

What a great play by Chase Utley. Ichiro hits a ball between first and second, Utley gets the ball, pivots, andgets the lead runner in Crawford at second.

What a great play. Ichiro now at first with one out and Jeter up.

My roommate from college Odie just sent me a text “Ichiro is a dope, let crawford steal.” I agree. The fastest man in baseball is on first and Ichiro is up there hacking.

The NL is flashing some leather. Jeter hits on his classic inside-out balls to the right side, but Pujols dives andgets the lead runner at second.

The first inning must have been a wake up call for the NL.

This brings up Mauer with Jeter on first and now two outs.

Is Joe Mauer the best hitter in the game right now or what? Billingsley throws a curve on the outer half and instead of trying to pull the ball, Mauer goes with the pitch and laces it down the leftfield line.

Jeter running all the way, scores from first. We are now tied at three.

Pujols really wants to make up for that first inning error. He makes another diving stop off of a Teixeira groundball and flips to Billingsley for the third out.

Pujols saves a run, but the AL ties the game heading into the bottom of the 5th.

Bottom 5th

Edwin Jackson the new pitcher for the AL

What is the story with hitters swinging at the first pitch when there is a new pitcher in the game?

Molina on the first pitch grounds to short for out No. one.

Ryan Zimmerman up at the plate. Zimmerman replaced Wright in the top half of the inning and is batting in the pitchers spot.

Zimmerman just missed one. He flies out to deep centerfield.

Ramirez on the first pitch grounds out to Young at third.

Wow what an inning for Jackson. Four pitches and three outs. Not a bad day’s work.

3-3 still as we head to the bottom of the sixth

Bottom 6th

The all-time saves leader, Trevor Hoffman into the game

The first batter he will face is the Orioles’ Adam Jones. Right now every Mariners’ fan is saying “I can’t believe we got rid of this guy.” Jones is hitting in Jason Bay’s spot in the lineup.

Jones hits a rocket to right, but Hawpe tracks it down at the warning track. One out.

Hoffman is not fooling anyone. Hamilton jumps all over the first pitch and singles to right.

Young hits a hard groundball, but right at Utley. After a brief bobble, Utley and Tejada are able to turn the four-six-three double play.

I was a little surprised Hoffman was used so early. I would have thought because he is the all-time saves leader, he would have been used to close out the game.

Bottom 6th

The Seattle Mariners’ ace Felix Hernandez has been called upon to pitch for the AL.

Orlando Hudson will hit for Utley andmost likely come into the game to play second.

Okay, once again we are first pitch swinging. This game counts right Bud?

Hudson hits one deep to right but Adam Jones is there for the first out.

Pujolsgrounds to short for the second out.

Not too many people on the east coast get to see “King Felix” pitch, but he is a dandy. He really can become a legit ace. He has no-hit stuff every time he goes to the mound.

Justin Upton is now hitting for Ryan Braun. A great matchup here of two of the best young players in the game.

Another groundball to short. The sure-handed Jason Bartlett gets Upton to end the inning.

We are getting down to the nitty gritty as Gorilla Monsoon used to say.

Top 7th

Classy move by Charlie Manuel as he lets Pujols go out to take warmups andthen replaces him with Gonzalez so he can get a standing ovation from the Cardinal fans.

Francisco Cordero is the new pitcher in the game for the NL. He is the Cincinnati Reds’ lone representative for tonight.

Aaron Hill up for the third time and he flies out to Upton in in left.

Crawford up for the second time. On the first pitch he grounds to Tejada at short. Two outs.

Justin Morneau up for the AL. He replaced Teixeira at first and is hitting Ichiro’s spot.

That was a quick inning for Cordero. He gets Morneau to line weakly to Zimmerman at third.

Bottom 8th

My buddy Tom just sent me a text “Close game and these idiot managers are using pitchers for one inning each.” Kind of agree. With a lot of the pitchers having pitched on Sunday and after last year’s marathon, I am surprised pitchers aren’t going more than one inning.

A new inning, a new pitcher for the AL. Jonathan Papelbon is in the game for the AL.

OH WOW!!! Carl Crawford makes the play of the game so far. Brad Hawpe on Papelbon’s first pitch (of course) hit a fly ball deep to left and Crawford leaped over the wall to make the catch and rob Hawpe of a HR. Great catch.

Two pitches and two bombs off of Papelbon. Miguel Tejada flies out to deep right but Adam Jones is there to make the catch.

Papelbon is pitching to Victor Martinez. A sign of the future?

Papelbon is throwing his fastball at 89 mph. Someone should tell him this game counts.

Papelbon strikes out Jayson Werth to end the inning. That fastball was 94 mph, so Papelbon got into the groove towards the end of the AB.

It’s still 3-3 heading into the eigth and this game has extra innings written all over it. Lovely

Top 8th

Heath Bell is into the game for the National League.

The first pitch he throws is over the head of Jason Bartlett. Nice pitch.

Bell does better on his second pitch as he gets Bartlett to ground to short.

Curtis Granderson up for the AL. He crushes one to left and the ball  hits off the base of the wall. Granderson digs for third and he makes it.

Grandersonat third with one out and the infield comes in.

Victor Martinez is up and he is getting intentionally walked. That stinks for Martinez. Manuel is walking Martinez to get to Adam Jones.

HeathBell looks like his heart is racing a million beats per second.

Well, Manuel’s strategy backfires as Jones hits one to the warning track in right. Granderson scores to make it 4-3.

Kevin Youkilis is up for the first time and he promptly singles to center.

First and second with two outs for the Rays’ Ben Zobrist.

Bell gets Zobrist swinging, but the damage was done. One run on two hits and two runners left on base.

At the end of seven and a half, it’s the American League four and the National League three

Bottom 8th

New York native Joe Nathan in the game for the American League. The AL is going to go with Nathan for the eighth andthen Mariano Rivera for the ninth. The NL is in trouble.

The Braves and Ron Kittle impersonator, Brian McCann up at the plate to face Nathan.

McCannon a 2-1 pitch pops up to Martinez behindthe plate. One down here in the bottom of the eighth.

Zimmerman swinging at the first pitch, flies to right for the second out.

Here is the best player that nobody knows about – Adrian Gonzalez

FOX just showed Bud Selig with George Will. And there is your reason for a baseball team in Washington.

Good AB by Gonzalez. Down in the count 1-2 and he works a walk.

Another two out rally by the NL. Hudson singles up the middle and now we have first andthird with two outs.

Ryan Howard is coming up to pinch hit. Manuel was picking his spot for Howard and this is it. Very similar to the 2003 All-Star game in Chicago where Mike Scioscia was picking his spot for Hank Blalock in the late innings.

Blalock hit a pinch hit two-run HR off of Eric Gagne to give the AL the win.

They just showed Brian Fuentes warming up. Well, if he is not in the game to face Howard why on earth is he warming up?

Howard is swinging for the downs. Two fastballs, two Ruthian cuts, and now it is 0-2.

Hudson steals second. That’s kind of a good and bad move. Good in that it eliminates the double play and now a single scores two runs. Bad in that this might take the bat out of Howard’s hands.

No 2003 moment here as Howard swings at a pitch in the dirt for strike three.

We head to the ninth with the AL still clinging to a 4-3 lead

Top 9th

The next pitcher up for the National League is the New York Mets’ Francisco Rodriguez.

His first batter will be the Tigers’ Brandon Inge. Of course Inge swings at the first pitch and grounds to short.

Carl Crawford up. He is 1-2. With his catch and with nobody else really standing out tonight, he might win the MVP.

Striking out won’t help his cause. That was a great changeup by Krod.

Morneau rips one into the left-centerfield gap, Werth tracks it down, and makes the catch. What a catch by a guy who is normally not a centerfielder.

This is it. We head to the bottom of the ninth with the AL leading 4-3

Bottom 9th

If the NL is going to come back, they are going to have to do it against the best in the business in Mariano Rivera

Justin Upton will try to get things started for the National League.

Barlettis silky smooth at short. He made a tough, back-handed play look very easy. He gets Upton for the first out

Brad Hawpe, who was robbed of a HR by Carl Crawford will try to hit one a little further against Rivera.

Joe Buck just said Brad Hawpe is a very good defensive rightfielder. I am guessing Buck hasn’t seen Hawpe’s UZR lately.

Hawpe goes down looking on a perfect pitch on the outside corner.

Now it’s up to Miguel Tejada to keep it alive. He doesn’t.

Tejada pops up to Zobrist at second to end the game.

That’s a wrap. The American League wins again 4-3. The American League will have homefield advantage in the World Series.

Like I suspected, Carl Crawford wins the MVP award. This might be the first time in All-Star game history that a guy won the award for a catch.

It was a good game, well played, and it only took 2:31 to play. A little disappointed that Tim Wakefield didn’t get to pitch, but what can you do.

Over 3,000 words later, I am calling it a night. Good night everyone!!!

Handing Out Some Midseason Awards…

July 14, 2009

With the 2009 baseball season officially hitting its halfway point, I think it is time to hand out some midseason awards.

From Randy Johnson’s 300th win, to Zack Greinke’s amazing April, to Albert Pujols’ first half for the ages it’s been a fascinating year so far with some great individual performances. Just like every year, there have been performances that have stood out amongst the pack.

Without any further adiue, here are my first half MVP’s, Cy Young award winners, and Rookie of the Years.

National League ROY

Candidates – JA Happ, Colby Rasmus, Casey McGehee, Randy Wells, Dexter Fowler

My Preseason Pick – Cameron Maybin

Midseason Pick – Colby Rasmus

Rasmus leads all rookies in hits (75), HR (11), and RBI (34). If JA Happ continues to pitch the way he has for the Philadelphia Phillies, he will make a run at winning the NL ROY in the second half.

American League ROY

Candidates – Andrew Bailey, Rick Porcello, Brad Bergesen, Ricky Romero, Nolan Reimold, Elvis Andrus

My Preseaon Pick – Travis Snider

Midseason Pick – Ricky Romero

Romero is 7-3 with a 3.00 ERA in 87 innings for the Toronto Blue Jays. He just beats out Andrew Bailey.

National League Cy Young

Candidates – Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Dan Haren, Josh Johnson, Ryan Franklin

My Preseason Pick– Cole Hamels

Midseason Pick – Dan Haren

I originally had Lincecum winning this award, but when you look at the numbers, Haren is having an all-world first half. Haren is third in wins (9), first in ERA (2.01), first in Quality Starts (17), and first in WHIP (0.81).

American League Cy Young

Candidates – Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander, Josh Beckett, Zack Greinke, Felix Hernandez

My Preseaon Pick – Zack Greinke

Midseason Pick – Zack Greinke

Greinke is making me look like a genius with his first half. Greinke is second in wins (10), first in ERA (2.12), first in Quality Starts (15), and second in WHIP (1.08).

National League MVP

Candidates – Albert Pujols, Chase Utley, Adrian Gonzalez, Raul Ibanez, Hanley Ramirez

My Preason Pick – Albert Pujols

Midseason Pick – Albert Pujols

Pujols has a legitimate chance to win the triple crown this year. He heads into the second half fourth in the NL in batting average (.332), first in HR’s (32), first in RBI (87).

American League MVP

Candidates – Jason Bay, Mark Teixeira, Ben Zobrist, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Torii Hunter

My Preseason Pick – Grady Sizemore

Midseason Pick – Ben Zobrist

While Pujols has been the best player of the first half – Ben Zobrist has been the most “valuable.” Zobrist is second in the AL with a 1.012 OPS, has 17 HR’s, 11 SB’s, and 50 RBI.

All that while playing six positions. Where would the Rays be without him?

Other Awards

NL Manager of the Midseason – Joe Torre

AL Manager of the Midseason – Mike Scioscia

NL Comeback Player of the Midseason – Todd Helton

AL Comeback Player of the Midseason – Russell Branyan

NL Surprise Team of the Midseason – Colorado Rockies

AL Surprise Team of the Midseason – Seattle Mariners

NL Disappointing Team of the Midseason – Chicago Cubs

AL Disappointing Team of the Midseason – Cleveland Indians

Baseball’s Best Infield: Midseason…

July 13, 2009

In the fourth and final installment of the “Baseball’s Best: Midseason” series, I am going to take a look at which team has had baseball’s best infield at the halfway point of the season.

Just when I did baseball’s best outfield, the best infield will be determined by four categories – OPS, Runs Created, UZR, and Fielding Percentage. Stats for the first baseman, second baseman, shortstop and third baseman were used. Catchers’ stats were not considered.

Stats were used for the player who played the most games at that position. For instance, Ian Stewart has played more games at third than Garrett Atkins for the Colorado Rockies, so Stewart’s stats were used.

Each category was worth 10 points. If a team didn’t finish in the top 10 in a particular category, that team received zero points.

Here are baseball’s best infields at the halfway point of the 2009 season…

10 – 6. Washington Nationals, Florida Marlins, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers

5. Colorado Rockies – 23 points

Infield – Todd Helton, Clint Barmes, Troy Tulowitzki, Ian Stewart

OPS – Eight

RC – Six

UZR – Two

FP – Seven

Helton continues to rake

Helton continues to rake

Analysis – It all changed for the Rockies when they put Clint Barmes at second, Ian Stewart at third, and Troy Tulowitzki started hitting. And oh yeah, they still have some guy named Todd Helton at first base.

To nobodies surprise, the Rockies can hit with anyone as their combined .831 OPS suggests. Ian Stewart has given the Rockies a nice lift with a .794 OPS.

This is one of my favorite infields in baseball.

4 (Tie). New York Yankees – 28 points

Infield – Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez

OPS – Nine

RC – Ten

UZR – Zero

FP – Eight

Analysis – The most expensive infield in baseball is also one of the best. The Yankees finished in the top three in three out of the four categories.

Newly acquired Mark Teixeira has been doing it with the bat, as well as the glove. Teixeira has a .920 OPS and has created 66.3 runs so far this season.

Teixeira has been lights out with the glove. If he wasn’t so good at scooping the ball out of the dirt, the Yankees infield would have maybe 20 more errors. I don’t think there is anyone better at scooping the ball out of the dirt at first than Teixeira.

Jeter and Cano have been steady up the middle for the Yankees. Cano has enjoyed a nice bounce year this year, after pretty much taking last year off.

I won’t talk about Rodriguez’s accomplishments because he is a cheater.

4 (Tie). Philadelphia Phillies – 28 points

Infield – Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Pedro Feliz

OPS – Five

RC – Seven

UZR – Seven

FP – Nine

Analysis – The Phillies would be higher on this list if Jimmy Rollins didn’t take the first half of the season off. Can you believe that through over 80 games Rollins has only created 36.7 runs? That is mediocre at best.

While Howard and Rollins have won MVP’s, it’s Chase Utley who has been the real MVP of this group in the first half of this season.

Utley has a sweet 1.004 OPS and has created 77.4 runs this season. The 77.4 runs created is tops of the players on this list.

Pedro Feliz has been very solid defensively with a 6.2 UZR and a .975 Fielding Percentage.

1 (Tie). Tampa Bay Rays – 32 points

Infield – Carlos Pena, Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett, Evan Longoria

OPS – Ten

RC – Nine

UZR – Eight

FP – Five

Longoria leads the best infield in baseball

Longoria leads the best infield in baseball

Analysis – Like the Phillies’ outfield, I guess when you send your entire infield to the All-Star game you are going to be tops this list. Longoria, Bartlett, Zobrist, and now Pena (taking the place of Pedroia) will be packing a suitcase for St. Louis.

The real story of this group is Zobrist. Zobrist is second in the AL with a 1.012 OPS and if the season ended today, he would finish in the top three in MVP voting.

Jason Bartlett is having a career year offensively and actually has a higher OPS than Evan Longoria (.937 to .903).

The Rays have the highest infield OPS in baseball with a .943 mark.

1 (Tie). Toronto Blue Jays – 32 points

Infield – Lyle Overbay, Aaron Hill, Marco Scutaro, Scott Rolen

OPS – Seven

RC – Eight

UZR – Seven

FP – Ten

Analysis – The Blue Jays’ infield can do it all. They can get to the ball, when they get to the ball – they catch it, and they can flat out hit.

The Blue Jays have gotten career years out of Aaron Hill and Marco Scutaro. Like Zobrist of the Rays, if the season ended today, Aaron Hill would be an MVP candidate.

Scott Rolen has enjoyed a nice comeback year. Rolen has a .858 OPS and has played his usually solid third base. Rolen is fourth amongst all third baseman with a .976 Fielding Percentage.

Lyle Overbay should be more like Mark Grace, but instead he hits like Mark Davis pitched for the Kansas City Royals.

So that is all for the baseball’s best series for now. I will do a final baseball’s best series at the end of the year. It will be interesting to see if the teams who were No. 1 at the halfway point, stay No. 1 by the end of the season.

*All stats were calculated for this post before Sunday’s action.

Picking My 2009 National League All Star Team…

June 16, 2009

One of my favorite events of the year is the major league baseball All Star Game. Do I think that home field advantage in the World Series should be decided by the winner of the All Star game? No, I don’t. But I still the event regardless.

The mid-summer classic offers fans the opportunity for fans to see the best players in the game all on the field at the same time. It’s quite a scene.

With the All Star game exactly one month away from yesterday, I am going to put together my All Star game roster. Today I will do the National League and tomorrow, I will pick the American League All Stars.

Of course I will follow the same rules that this year’s National League manager, Charlie Manuel has to go by. A roster of 33 players and each team in the National League has to be represented.

With out any further adieu, here is my National League All Star Team:

Starters

C. Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves

1B. Albert Pujols, St Louis Cardinals

2B. Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies

SS. Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins

3B. David Wright, New York Mets

OF. Raul Ibanez, Philadelphia Phillies

OF. Carlos Beltran, New York Mets

OF. Brad Hawpe, Colorado Rockies

SP. Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants

There were six selections that were pretty obvious. The three players that are worth debating are Hanley Ramirez at SS, Brad Hawpe in the OF and Matt Cain as the starting pitcher.

I gave the slight edge to Ramirez over Tejeda at SS based on Ramirez having a higher OPS and more SB’s. Does anyone realize what a graet year Brad Hawpe is having? .337/9/47 is mighty impressive. I gave him the slight edge over Ryan Braun.

Cain is 9-1 and in my opinion, has been the most consistent NL starter, so he gets the nod over Santana and Billingsley.

Reserves – Pitchers

Johan Santana, New York Mets

Chad Billingsley, Los Angeles Dodgers

Dan Haren, Arizona Diamondbacks

Josh Johnson, Florida Marlins

Ted Lilly, Chicago Cubs

Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants

Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds

Francisco Rodriguez, New York Mets

Trevor Hoffman, Milwaukee Brewers

Heath Bell, San Diego Padres

Jonathon Broxton, Los Angeles Dodgers

Ryan Franklin, St Louis Cardinals

After last year’s marathon, I decided to go with 13 pitchers instead of 12. I also went with more starters because of what happened last year. The toughest ommissions were Jason Marquis (8 wins), Zach Duke (7-4 3.10 ERA), Yovanni Gallardo (2.88 ERA) and Brian Wilson (17 saves)

Reserves – Position Players

C. Yadier Molina, St Louis Cardinals

C. Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies

1B. Adrian Gonzalez, San Diego Padres

1B. Prince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers

2B. Freddy Sanchez, Pittsburgh Pirates

2B. Orlando Hudson, Los Angeles Dodgers

SS. Miguel Tejada, Houston Astros

3B. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals

OF. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

OF. Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks

OF. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers

OF. Carlos Lee, Houston Astros

Some of the notable position players I had to leave off the roster were Chipper Jones, Adam Dunn (couldn’t have two Nationals on the roster), Hunter Pence (hard call between him and Lee) and Ryan Howard.

Here is the player by team breakdown:

4. New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers

3. Philadelphia Phillies, Milwaukee Brewers, St Louis Cardinals

2. Florida Marlins, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Houston Astros

1. Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, Colorado Rockies

What do you think? Anyone I leave off who you feel was deserving?

2009, The Year Of The Second Basemen…

May 14, 2009

Normally, when I am drafting my fantasy team I like to take a top 2nd baseman early because there are so few good ones out there. That strategy has been blown out of the water this year because it is looking like 2009 will be the year of the 2nd baseman. Has anyone else noticed the depth of the 2nd base position this year? There are 15 to 16 2nd baseman right now who are having legit fantasy seasons and that doesn’t even include 4 other 2nd baseman who have the potential to be in the top 10 at the position.

Look at these fantasy numbers put up by 2nd baseman so far in 2009….

Aaron Hill – .357/9/30

Orlando Hudson – .343/3/20/.424 and 4 sb’s

Felipe Lopez – .328/4/9/.390 and 4 sb’s

Alberto Callaspo – .327/2/12

Ian Kinsler – .326/9/28 with 8 sb’s

Dustin Pedroia – .320/1/12 with 4 sb’s

Luis Castillo – .318/0/11/.392

Asdrubal Cabrera – .318/1/17 with 6 sb’s

Freddy Sanchez – .317/3/11

Robinson Cano – .313/6/18

Chase Utley – .294/10/23/.419

Brian Roberts – .281/4/13 with 4 sb’s

Akinori Iwamura – .277/0/12 with 7 sb’s

Rickie Weeks – .274/8/22

Brandon Phillips – .265/6/22 with 4 sb’s

Those are some pretty impressive stats through the 1st month and a half of the season. How about the performance of Aaron Hill so far? He has carried the Blue Jays and it looks like the side effects of the concussion he suffered last year have seized. Do I think he can keep up this pace? Probably not. I mean, he is on pace for Ruthian 50 Hr’s and about 163 RBI. I can see the average being there at the end but, it’s more likely Hill will end up with 25 HR’s and 80-85 RBI.

That list doesn’t even include 4 guys who are off to slow starts and have the ability to be a top 2nd baseman…

Howie Kendrick – .241/4/19

Kelly Johnson – .235/3/11

Dan Uggla – .193/4/20/.310

Jose Lopez – .248/3/19

Poor Dan Uggla, he really hasn’t been the same since that disastrous All-Star Game performance last year at Yankee Stadium. He hit .226 in the 2nd half last year and is off to a .193 start this year. I wonder if that game did permanent damage to Uggla mentally? It would be a shame if it did.

As you can see, you should have no excuse finding a quality 2nd baseman this year for your fantasy team.

Also, you may have have noticed a new Link Category to the right called MLB Memorabilia. The folks over at Bigflysports.com, who are fans of The Ghost of Moonlight Graham are happy to offer a 10% discount to all my readers.

Simply click on the link to Big Fly Sports and enter the Promo Code:  ICGHOSTS

Fantasy Week In Review 4/27-5/3

May 4, 2009

The first weekend of May got off to a flying start thanks to a record tying performance from Carl Crawford. Crawford wasn’t the only player who had a good week. Here are the fantasy studs, players we are concerned about and some other fantasy news from the week of 4/27-5/3

Fantasy Studs

Raul Ibanez – .500/3/9. Ibanez is quickly making everyone forget about Pat Burrell.

Todd Helton – .478/1/7. My pick for NL Comeback Player of the Year is starting to rake.

Jorge Cantu – .346/4/14/.432. Cantu is out to prove last year was no fluke.

Jose Guillen – .357/3/10. Guillen is back with a vengeance. I watched a lot of that Royals and Twins series and Guillen was a force in the middle of the lineup. 

Chase Utley – .462/3/5. The 2nd Philly to make this list, Utley’s fast start will give confidence to other players trying to come back from hip surgery.

Dan Haren – 2-0 with a 1.59 era and 21 K’s in 17 IP. Haren is keeping the Dbacks afloat while their young hitters continue to struggle. Haren will be in the Cy Young running this year.

Verlander was lights out this week

Verlander was lights out this week

Justin Verlander – 2-0 with a 0.64 era with 20 K’s in 14 IP. Verlander dominated both the Yankees and Indians in a 7 day span. This is the type of performance that both the Tigers and fantasy owners were looking for from Verlander.

Trevor Hoffman – 3 saves with a 0.00 era and 5 K’s in 4 IP. Hoffman has come off the DL and has provided some stability to the Brewers bullpen.

Reasons for Concern

Brian Fuentes – 0-1 with a 13.50 era with 1 blown save and 4 H in 3 IP. Fuentes has been a disaster so far for the Angels. I watched his blown save against the Yankees and Fuentes was terrible. Couldn’t get anyone out and looked like he has no confidence on the mound.

Chris Davis – .158/0/1 – Everyone’s mancrush has gotten off to a slow start in 2009. Davis is too good to be this bad. He could be in line for a huge 2nd half

David Ortiz  – .208/0/12/.298 for the season. How bad has Ortiz been this year? Using Baseball Musings Lineup Analysis Tool, a lineup of the legendary Nick Green would outscore a lineup of Ortiz, 5.8-2.9. That’s right, a lineup of just Nick Green would score double the amount of runs that a David Ortiz led lineup would. Ouch!!!

Josh Beckett – 0-1 with a 13.50 era with 10 H in 4.2 IP. Outside of his first start against the Rays, Beckett has been terrible this season. By all accounts Beckett is healthy so I am really not sure what is wrong with the Red Sox ace.

Injuries

Josh Hamilton – Placed on the 15 Day DL with a strained rib cage. Eligible to come off on May 12th

Brandon Morrow – Placed on the 15 Day DL with biceps tendinitis. Hopes to return when he is eligible to come off the DL on May 9th.

Carlos Delgado – Day to day with a hip injury. This is an injury that fantasy owners hate. Not hurt enough to go on the DL but is healthy enough to pinch hit from time to time. What a waste of a roster spot. He should be on your bench until he proves to be healthy

Carlos Zambrano – Left Sunday’s start with strained hamstring. He may be in jeopardy of missing his next start.

Potential Pickups

Chris Ray – According to Orioles manager, Dave Trembley the orioles will go “day to day” in regards to their closer situation. If Sherrill ultimately losses his job, Ray would be next in line for the closers role. If you have a roster spot open, might be a good idea to pick him up now.

Homer Bailey – Bailey was rushed to the majors by the Reds when he clearly wasn’t ready to pitch in the majors and it showed. It seems like Bailey has been a “top prospect” forever but he is still only 23 years old and it looks like Bailey is starting to pitch like he is capable of. Bailey is off to a great start in Triple A going 3-0 with a 1.86 era so far. With Micah Owings struggling out of the gate (1-3 4.84 era), Bailey might take over his spot in the rotation sooner rather than later.

Luke Hochevar – I wrote a couple of weeks ago that Hochevar should be called up and with Sidney Ponson now 0-4 with a 7.16 era, I feel even stronger about that statement. Ponson is a waste and everytime the Royals send him out there, they are basically saying “we don’t want to win today.” Hochevar is 5-0 with a 1.13 era in Triple A and should take Ponson’s spot in the rotation shortly.

David Aardsma – With Morrow on the DL, Aardsma should get some save opportunities for the Mariners.

Andruw Jones – Yes Andruw Jones is alive and is actually doing quite well in Texas to the tune of .333/3/8 in 33 ab’s. With Hamilton going on the DL, a spot should open up in the Rangers lineup for Jones to play everyday.

Don’t Call It A Comeback….

March 25, 2009

As Americans we all love a good comeback. In the last year we have had Mickey Rouke, Robert Downey Jr (again) and Britney Spears all make comebacks. Well in baseball there are 10 players who are trying to make a comeback from injuries they suffered last year. Let’s take a look and see how these players are fairing this spring.

Penny making a comeback

Penny making a comeback

1. Brad Penny, Red Sox. Penny who spent the majority of 2008 on the DL with a bum shoulder, signed a 1 year $5MM contract with the Red Sox in the offseason. After getting off to a slow start in Spring Training, Penny pitched in his first game against major league hitters on Monday and looked like the Brad Penny of 06 & 07. Penny pitched 3 innings, was hitting 92-94 on the gun and afterwards said he felt “100%.” The Red Sox won’t need a 5th starter until April 12th and it remains to be seen if Penny will be ready by then. However, it does look like Penny is on the right track to making a solid contribution to the Red Sox in 2009.

2.Mike Lowell, Red Sox. After hip surgery in October, many doubted the 35 year old Lowell could regain his old form. Those doubters have been quieted this spring as Lowell has looked like he never had hip surgery. Lowell is 6-16 with 2 hr’s so far this spring. Lowell looks on track to be the Opening Day 3B for the Red Sox.

3.Jorge Posada. Posada was limited to only 51 games in 2008 after torn labrum and damaged rotator cuff ended his season. The question headed into Spring Training with Posada is not whether or not he can hit (.333 in 30 ab’s this spring) but whether or not he can catch. In Sunday’s game against the Pirates, Posada threw out 3 of 4 baserunners so Posada’s shoulder looks to be holding up just fine so far. It will be interesting at 37 if Posada’s shoulder can hold up during the season.

4. Chase Utley, Phillies. Utley like Lowell had offseason hip surgery and like Lowell looks on pace to be in the lineup on Opening Day. Utley hit his 1st hr yesterday off of BJ Ryan and is 5-18 so far this spring.

5. Chris Carpenter, Cardinals. After only appearing in 5 games the last 2 years because of injuries, Carpenter has been a buzz saw in Grapefruit League competition. Carpenter hasn’t allowed an earned run in 19 innings and Carpenter felt he had his best stuff all spring when he struck out 6 Nationals in 5 innings on Monday. There isn’t a player in baseball who holds the key to his team’s success more than Carpenter does this year.

Escobar won 18 games in 07

Escobar won 18 games in 07

6. Kelvim Escobar, Angels. It’s amazing, Escobar wins 18 games in 07 and goes down in 08 and nobody flinches. Chien-Ming Wang wins 19 games in 07 and goes down in 08 and the world turned upside down. The Angels lost an 18 game winner from the previous season right before the season started and they still finished with the best record in the AL in 08. It just goes to show you what a solid franchise the Angels have become. But back to Escobar. It seemed as if Escobar was destined to rejoin the Angels in midseason, but after an impressive performance in a minor league game on Monday where he hit 96 on the gun, it might be sooner. Escobar is now throwing every 5th day in order to build strength in his right arm.

7. Travis Hafner, Indians. A shoulder injury limited Hafner to only 57 games and destroyed his 2008 season. Even when Hafner was in the lineup he just wasn’t himself. In those 57 games, Hafner hit .197 with 5 hr’s and just 24 rbi. This spring Hafner has been slow in reverting back to the form that made him one of the most feared hitters in baseball from 04-07. Hafner so far this spring has hit .157 with 0 hr and 3 rbi in 32 ab’s.

8. Erik Bedard, Mariners. Ladies and gentleman, your 2008 Bust of the Year award winner. Bedard was the centerpiece in the trade that sent Bedard to the Mariners and Adam Jones, George Sherrill and 3 minor league pitchers to the Orioles and failed to live up to expectations. Bedard suffered injuries to his hip and left shoulder which limited him to only 15 starts last year. Bedard is making progress (1.08 in 8.1 spring innings) and because of his impending free agency, I look for him to have a bounce back year in 2009.

9. Eric Chavez, A’s. Talk about being a shell of your former self. What on earth has happened to this guy? From 2006-2008 he has averaged 13 hr’s and 44 rbi’s. Not what Billy Beane was looking for when he signed Chavez to a 6 year $66MM in the spring of 06. Chavez has had 2 surgeries on his right shoulder and 1 major surgery on his lower back. He claims he has never felt better this spring but that remains to be seen. Chavez is currently hitting .091 with 0 hr and 0 rbi’s in 11 spring ab’s.

10. Troy Percival, Rays. Percival, who hadn’t saved more than 20 games since 2004, saved 28 for the Rays last year. He would have saved more if not for a back injury that ended his season. Now at the tender age of 39, Percival is attempting another comeback. Having thrown a scoreless inning in each of his last 3 outings, it appears Percival will be the Rays closer on Opening Day.

The “Key” Player For Each MLB Team…

March 3, 2009

Every year each fan takes a look at their favorite team and says…”If this guy can come back from a poor year or come back from an injury, then my team has a chance.” Every team has that “key” guy that can make a difference in the season. The guy that, if he steps up, can be the difference between being  just another team or a playoff contender.

In part 1 of this column we will attempt to identify the “key” player for all 16 National League teams. Part 2 of this column will be posted tomorrow and will cover all 14 American League teams.

Teams are listed by division.

NL East

Braves – Jeff Francoeur. Francouer was pretty dreadful last year hitting .239/11/71/.294. The Braves need Francoeur to return to the 25 hr, 100 rbi guy he was in 06 and 07 in order to contend with the Phillies.

Lindstrom anchors the Marlins pen in 09

Lindstrom anchors the Marlins pen in 09

Marlins – Matt Lindstrom. Lindstrom takes over as the Marlins Closer and they need him to anchor the bullpen in order to have a chance. Nothing is more demoralizing to a young team than a blown save.

Mets – Luis Castillo. I don’t think there has been a player hated this much by Mets fans since Gregg Jefferies. If Castillo can give the Mets anything this year, there lineup will have a lot more depth. If not, there will be a huge void at 2B for the second straight year.

Nationals – Ryan Zimmerman. It’s hard to find a “key” for a team expected to finish in last place. However, Zimmerman is the face of this franchise and the Nationals need him to regain is 06 .287/20/110 form in order for them to have any hope for the future.

Phillies – Chase Utley. Utley is coming off of hip surgery which monitors watching in April. If he can regain his 07 first half form (.291/25/69), then the Phillies will back in the World Series mix once again. If not, then they have a HUGE hole in the middle of that order.

NL Central

Astros – Mike Hampton. Hampton returns to the team that gave him the most success back in the late 90’s but without the spacious Astrodome. The Astros are going to need Hampton to give them at least 20 starts this year because after Oswalt, the Astros starting rotation is mediocre at best. If the Astros can get 20+ starts out of Hampton, they might be able to make there annual 2nd half run in the NL Central.

Brewers – Manny Parra. I have no doubt that Gallardo can handle the pressure of replacing Sabathia, so Parra becomes the key for the Brewers. If Parra can step up, handle his control issues (75 bb in 166 IP) and go from 10 wins in 08 to 14-15 wins in 09…the Brewers will be in business once again.

The Cardinals need Carpenter to bounce back

The Cardinals need Carpenter to bounce back

Cardinals – Chris Carpenter. After the Cardinals grossly overused Carpenter in 05 and 06 (463.1 IP), he has only made 4 starts in 07 and 08.  Early returns on Carpenter have been positive, so if the Cardinals can get 20-25 starts from their former ace, they will challenge the Cubs in the NL Central.

Cubs – Milton Bradley. As I have written several time before, I am not a fan of the Bradley signing. However, with DeRosa and Edmunds absent from the Cubs lineup, they need Bradley to stay healthy and produce. If not, the Cubs lineup all of a sudden looks very weak.

Pirates – Craig Hansen. Why is Hansen, a middle reliever the “key” to the Pirates this season? Because the former 1st round pick out of St Johns was one of the key players in the 3-way trade between the Red Sox-Pirates and Dodgers last season. Hansen needs to develop in order for Pirates fans to believe that they didn’t give away one of their star players for nothing once again.

Reds – Aaron Harang. After Reds Manager Dusty Baker decided to use Harang for 4 innings on 3 days rest in a meaningless game against San Diego in May, Harang’s season went downhill. If the Reds are to contend in the NL Central, Harang has to return to his 2007 16-6 form.  

NL West

DiamondBacks – Max Scherzer. The 11th pick in the 2006 draft out of Missouri will start the year as the Diamondbacks #5 starter. If Scherzer can give the DBacks 170 innings and 8-10 wins, they will be a serious contender in the weak NL West.

Kershaw is the key for the Dodgers in 09

Kershaw is the key for the Dodgers in 09

Dodgers – Clayton Kershaw. Regardless of what Manny Ramirez does, the Dodgers still need someone in their starting rotation to step up. Kershaw might be that someone. With 100 big league innings and 21 starts under his belt, Kershaw has all the talent and ability to be a #1 starter. If Kershaw can get to 150+ innings and 25+ starts, the Dodgers will have a nice 1-2 punch with Kershaw and Billingsley.

Giants – Pablo Sandoval. The Giants need all the help on offense they can get and if Sandoval can hit like he did in his 41 game audition last year then the Giants will have a much better lineup. Sandoval hit .345/3/24 in those 41 games last year.

Padres – Chase Headley. With the Padres in rebuilding mode, they need some of their young talent to start producing. Headley is a great young talent who spent most of 2008 learning how to play the OF. If Headley can start to realize his potential, the Padres will have a nice trio of A. Gonzalez-Kouzmanoff-Headley to build on.

Rockies – Troy Tulowitzki. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when Tulowitzki went down last year with multiple injuries, the Rockies went down with him. If the Rockies want any chance of competing for a playoff berth, they need Tulowitzki to return to the .291/24/99 form he showed in 2007.

So there you have the “key” player for each NL team in 2009. Do you agree? If not, who do you believe is the “key” player for your favorite team?