Category Archives: Sports

From the desk of a Sox fan: Blue Jays opening series

Jays rookie phenom third baseman Brett Lawrie is looking good in the eyes of a Red Sox fan. The best thing for the Jays this week? The Winless Red Sox coming to town for the opening series at the Skydome.

With the first weekend in the books, I’m of two minds on the Jays opening weekend.

So in interest of being fair to both sides of my thoughts, I will present the positive and negative sides of the Jays first three games.

RECORD

Positive: The Jays won two of three against the Cleveland Indians and had a chance to sweep the road series, but came up a run short. Anytime you win a road series, you’ve got to be happy.

Negative: While the Jays did win a pair, they could have just as easily lost all three games. Two extra inning games on the road can go either way.

PITCHING

Positive: Even without a good start from ace Ricky Romero, the Jays won two of three and the bullpen, a weakness last year, did a nice job holding off the Indians bats in the extra inning contests. Brandon Morrow looked good in his first outing, a good sign for all Jays fans.

Negative: Romero didn’t pitch well, Joel Carreno didn’t look good in his start and Sergio Santos blew a save in his first opportunity. The Jays starters were heavily out pitched by the Indian starters.

HITTING

Positive: What more can you say, these guys are never out of a ball game and proved it with late inning and extra inning heroics. Brett Lawrie looks like he’s going to pick up where he left off last season and Jose Bautista has bashed his first homerun. Kelly Johnson had some nice at bats in the series and J.P. Arencibia was the hero in Game 1 with a three-run blast. The Jays took advantage of the Indians bullpen and were one-hit away from possibly sweeping the Indians.

Negative: The trio of Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Derek Lowe dominated the Jays in the series. The trio threw 26 innings, allowed eight hits and three earned runs while striking out 14. That’s a 1.04 ERA for Cleveland starting pitchers. A team with a better bullpen could have made the Jays 0-3. Arencibia had an important hit, but the guy has to get more than one in a series to be an everyday starting catcher.

Colby Rasmus needs to be better at the plate. Unlike my colleague Strader, I don’t believe good defence from Rasmus is enough. He has to hit like an everyday centerfielder, but it’s early and I still believe that he can be a good offensive player.

OVERALL

You have to like the Jays opening weekend. The team played with a swagger and never gave up on any play. Outside of Morrow, the starting pitching wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible – basically it was average.

Lawrie is a lot of fun to watch, he gives maximum effort on every play and, as I said earlier, the bullpen looks much improved and Santos should be fine.

My verdict is while there are more positives than negatives, the Jays need to be able to hit starting pitching and not depend on late inning comeback every time, although it is exciting.

The pitching was average and still the team won two games, but now we’re into the part of the staff that is a real unknown.

The good news is the reeling Boston Red Sox are in town. This team is finding a way to lose in spectacular fashion

While Sunday’s offensive explosion was nice to see, Boston has struggled on the mound. Besides Lester’s performance on opening day, the Sox have not had good pitching and the bullpen is a huge weakness as Aceves has blown two saves.

Honestly, it will be a long year in Beantown if Bobby Valentine can’t right the ship.

I expect a high scoring game between the two as the biggest question marks for both are the back end of the rotation.

It should be a great night at Skydome (I’m following fellow Write Fielder Livingstone’s lead in refusing to call it Rogers Centre). Livingston and Strader will be blogging from the stands, so check the site for some instant insight and photos from the home opener.

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Gino Reda and an odd autograph

A Gino Reda signature on this Boston Red Sox program is a piece of one Write Fielders youth.

McGILLIGAN: For the longest time I had pictured a photo of Red Sox outfielder Mike Greenwell on the cover of my most prized and oddest piece of sports memorabilia.

In fact, when we created this blog, I referenced the magazine in question and wrote Greenwell as being on the cover.

I was wrong; the man on the cover is Tom Brunansky.

Funny how time changes things, but none the less here’s how I ended up with oddest autograph of my sports-loving life.

It was Friday, Sept. 28, 1990 and I definitely should have been in school. However, my Dad thought a different sort of education was needed, so off to Boston we had gone to watch the Red Sox play the Toronto Blue Jays.

Boston was up one game in the AL East in the waning days of a pennant race and Fenway was packed with more than 35,000 fans. We got to the park early to watch batting practice. My sister was in love with Toronto’s mullet-headed third baseman Kelly Gruber and we desperately wanted autographs from the players.

We were on the third base side of the field along with some other Canadian fans and a TSN camera crew.

A few of the guys were yelling out to the TSN reporter calling him Chris Sedens, but it was Gino Reda.

After finishing an on-field interview, he came over to talk with the Canadian fans. I remember knowing who he was, even at 10 I was sports crazy and watched a lot of TSN. As a 10-year-old, he had the coolest job I could think of. As a 31-year-old, he has the coolest job I can think of.

Anyway, he talked with the fans and asked where everyone was from. My dad mentioned we had driven nine hours to come see the game and Gino saw that as some serious dedication.

My sister and I asked him if he could get some players to come sign our programs. To this day the next few moments are confusing.

I don’t remember asking him to sign my program, neither does my sister. Dad believes that he misheard our request for player autographs and thought we asked for his.

Next thing I know, my program was in Gino’s hands and he signed it ‘To Andrew, Thanks for making the long trip. Gino Reda.’

The program cost my dad $1.75 and it’s the best sports investment I’ve ever been a part of.

As a 10-year-old, I wanted to be Wade Boggs when I got to Fenway that day, but after two games, part of me left wanting to do what Gino did.

Years later, I became a sports reporter for a few years and it was the best part of my time as a working journalist.

So I can credit a good portion of my love for sports journalism and part of my professional career to Gino Reda and skipping school to watch baseball.

Biggest Bash of them all

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STRADER: Alomar’s or Carter’s?

Which one was bigger?

By now, every die hard Jays fan knows I’m talking about dingers, not…anyway…

A walk off to win the World Series, at home – that is the stuff of legends.
But Alomar’s was a moment. An undeniable moment. We hadn’t won anything yet. Blue Jay fans remember watching that series and thinking, geez, we’re really giving Oakland a fight. We might, have a chance here? And then Eckersley came in. It was game four. It was game over, and probably series over if Oakland took that 3-1 lead. I mean, come on, it was 51 of 54 during the regular season, it was Eckersley.

Alomar hit that home run and we all had a collective moment. We all put our hands in the air. No dancing. No screaming. Just hands in the air, and a collective moment of disbelief. A breath in that hurt our chest.

He tied the game, and the Jays won the series.

It was something we hadn’t had before.
As fans, we got to live in that space between losing and winning and watch our team be the team that comes back, the team that finishes when it’s ahead.

We were witness to a moment as fans when you realize you’re watching a winner.

I just watched a major league record 16 innings, a three run shot that will be legend because of its timing, and I don’t want to talk about either. I want to talk about moments. A catch, and a simple tap of a manager’s arm.

I watched a major league record 16 innings, and I can’t stop thinking about the bottom of the fifth. Our starter was looking shaky. Romero was rough but he was hanging in there. And then a line shot got laced to centre. It was hooking toward the gap. Last year that ball falls.

It falls, the inning is extended further, and things really fall apart.

Outfield defense was an identified need, and it had been clearly answered.

Colby will be criticized for his average. We can all sense it now, it permeates the city. If he continues to struggle, Rasmus is going to be the name we always hear on the radio. Read in the paper. See on the TV. It’s gonna be a Rasmus summer. But this team didn’t need offense. It needed outfield defense. Romero needed that catch.
In 2012, he’s going to get it.

And my hands went in the air.

Romero couldn’t finish this game. (I was secretly hoping it wasn’t going to be a superstar seven inning comeback performance, ‘cause I’m still hoping to fleece him from my buddy Germain in our fantasy league) Farrell was going to have to make the walk, tap his arm, and call in relief. The comeback was going to be tough. Masterson was showing signs of being unhittable, it should be Mr. 5.65 ERA to hold things down, or dribble a few hits, a few walks here or there, maybe give us a chance. But this time, when Farrell goes to tap his arm, it’s Jason Frasor, Casey Janssen, Oliver, Cordero…

It’s all men we’re used to seeing in one run game eighth innings, two run lead seventh innings. I was excited in the off-season, but it took 16 innings for me to realize the Cadillac this bullpen was going to be. And one tap of the arm to see that it was going to be there all season. None of our games are going to be easy on opposing hitters. What kind of gravy is this?

It was the game with a five man infield, and maybe the biggest double play in Blue Jay history.

A ninth inning comeback, our home run king showing in game one, hey, don’t forget the king.

But I can’t stop thinking, that in the bottom of the fifth and the top of the sixth, I was witness to a couple moments.

A catch, and a tap.

And what moments they were.

The Curious Case of Mark Bellhorn

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McGILLIGAN:It was the fall of 2004 when the words that would change my sporting life were first uttered.
I was sitting in the living room of my apartment with my roommate Bryan, buddy Jon and future wife Becky when Mark Bellhorn made yet another out against the New York Yankees.

To be honest I can’t even remember which of the first three games of the ALCS the words were uttered in, but I know they came from a place of frustration.

“F&*^%$# Bellhorn,” Jon said.
The statement was accompanied by head nods from the rest of us and the next time he came to bat, the magic words were said again.

From that point on, every time Mark Christian Bellhorn came to bat in the postseason for the 2004 Boston Red Sox, those words were spoken.
With frustration mounting about the three-straight losses to the Yankees and Bellhorn’s woeful numbers to that point – he hit .091 in the divisional series and .150 in the first five ALCS games – he became the lightning rod upon which all of our frustrations were vented.

Even if he made a good play, someone would say they were surprised he didn’t screw it up or ‘Don’t worry, he’ll botch the next one to make up for it.’

We needed something to let loose on as it appeared another year was going down the tubes to the Yankees and in stepped Bellhorn.

Then a curious thing happened, the Sox won game 4 and 5, all while we were criticizing everything Bellhorn. He would come up to bat and it would be time for a bathroom break or go outside for a smoke, because nothing would happen with him at the plate. Literally every time he appeared on camera, a comment was made. The Sox had won the games with us berating Bellhorn and it wasn’t going to stop.

Then came the curious incident of Game 6. With two on and two out in the fourth inning, Bellhorn hit a homerun to leftfield providing the Red Sox with all the runs they would need in a 4-2 win to force a deciding Game 7.

So how did we react to Bellhorn going from goat to hero, well three of us were outside smoking when he hit the homer. I remember Becky opening the back door and saying Bellhorn just hit a homerun, amazement in her voice. This is where we could have switched and jumped on the Bellhorn bandwagon, but without missing a beat Bryan said, “Typical that he would be a jerk and do it while we were outside.”

That confirmed it; we would keep with the Bellhorn bashing all the way to the World Series title. It was not easy as Bellhorn homered again in Game 7 at Yankee Stadium and then hit .300 with a homerun and four RBI in the World Series sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Still we held firm and it even became a game to see who could come up with the best jeers.

“I hear he’s hated around the clubhouse because he never flushes.”
“He looks like he smells terrible.”
The one thing they weren’t was sporadic; Bellhorn was derided at every chance. I have not employed this bit of reverse psychology ever again, nor has any of the other three. However, I might try and bring it back for use on Mike Aviles this season to see if negativity can produce some positives out of his bat.

I’ve taken the necessary steps of picking him up for my fantasy team and now I’m contemplating if I should do it or not. When discussing this with a friend the other day, he remarked it would be kind of a slap in the face of Bellhorn to do this with another player.
That was all the convincing I needed, a final swipe at Bellhorn, a veritable passing of the hate-fueled torch.
Say it with me: F*&%*$# Aviles.

Note: I had my former roommate read this piece and he took a stab at what Bellhorn might be doing in his post-playing career.
Bryan: Bellhorn is probably coaching a division 3 high school team in Wisconsin that has a team batting average of .106 and fielding percentage of .356. What a donkey!

The excitement – and emotion – of Opening Day

Opening Day. Opening Day. The two greatest words ever.

McGILLIGAN: Opening Day.

It’s unbelievable how two words can bring so many emotions.

For Cubs fans, hey, you’re still in the race and the drought might end this year (it won’t).

For Yankees fans, it’s time to be over confident, smug and arrogant – just kidding; you’re like that year round.

Yes, opening day can mean many things, but one thing it’s not is a day.

Didn’t the season start last week in Japan? Opening day is quite drawn out nowadays, but I digress. For me, opening day washes away all the beer and friend chicken smell and replaces it with the strong smell of hope (which smells like Fenway Franks and stale beer).

However, there is another side to opening day (week). It’s the time of year when my reverse sports Darwinism sets in. For the next 162 games I will be watching, monitoring and dissecting all things Red Sox making me into a less evolved person than my current form.

In fact it’s already started.

Who will replace Andrew Bailey as closer?

Why is Bard starting and Aceves in the bullpen?

How is Beckett’s thumb?

Why is Curt Schilling making it harder and harder for me to like him?

Do you think Theo misses us?

Is David Ortiz’s steady diet of rice and beans the secret to a fountain of youth?

Does Dustin Pedroia have a new nickname or are we still using ‘The Muddy Chicken?’

These are just the opening volleys of my baseball neuroses. As maddening as this can be for those around me, I actually enjoy it. Baseball is great because it’s the sport that can be analyzed the most through its ridiculous amount of statistics. Pouring over who should be in the lineup against right-handers and left-handers, who the outfield should shade to pull the ball and a whole host of things to ponder for no other reason than to distract myself from more pressing matters.

And this is why I love opening day, it’s time for me to focus on stuff that really doesn’t matter.

LIVINGSTONE: It’s finally here. After an off-season that saw the American League become the powerhouse of baseball with the additions of Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols, columnists, baseball nuts and die hard fans talking about who will win it all, who will have the big season, who will throw the first no-hitter, who will fall from high expectations – it’s here.

For any baseball fan, opening day is about equality. Every team starts today tied for first in their respective divisions (not the Cardinals and Marlins, of course, after the 4-1 win last night for the reigning World Series champs).  Every team, after a long and intense spring training season, walk into their clubhouses to play the first of 162 games with the hopes – and dreams – of making the playoffs. Every fan is excited, even Astros fans, at the chance, albeit slim, that their team will play meaningful games in September and hopefully, in October.

For baseball fans, it’s about living out a childhood dream, day in and day out, watching your favourite team, favourite player, whatever it may be, playing the great game of baseball. It’s about the dream of being on the field, playing a game you once played in the schoolyard, or play with your friends on a Sunday afternoon in July. For the fan, it’s about being able to live that dream of playing in the major leagues, even if there was never a chance of being the starting first baseman for the Royals, or the starting center fielder for the Cubs.

We all dream it. Even today, nearly thirty, out of shape and likely to have my arm fall off if I tried to throw a pitch, I think about those days on the field when I was 13, pretending to be Juan Guzman, or Dave Stewart, or Rick ‘The Wild Thing’ Vaughan on the mound in small-town nowhere, pitching in the biggest game of my life. It brings me chills of excitement.

My wife teases me about my profound love for the game. I eat, sleep and breathe the sport and sometimes it drives her nuts and she’ll tune me out when I start talking about how I’m nervous about Adam Lind’s performance this year, or my never-ending rants about how frustrating it is the Jays didn’t sign Yu Darvish or whatever. But she understands. We all have a profound attachment to something in our lives – that isn’t necessarily a person.

I love my wife more than baseball (I think it’s a given, but I’m sure some fans love baseball more), but baseball takes me back to those timeless moments on the field, a wad of sunflower seeds in my cheek, my fist slapping the palm of my glove as I wait for a groundball, the dust coming up after a short-hop snag at first base. Whatever it is, I couldn’t care less. I was playing baseball.

Years later and more a slo-pitch player than anything, when opening day comes along in early April, I can’t help but revert back to my childhood, when nothing but baseball mattered.

It’s a beautiful day during the season of hope and revival. It’s the beginning of the baseball season and I, like millions, welcome it with open arms.

So today, leaving work early enough to get home in time for the first pitch of the Jays and the Indians, I’ll embrace another opening day and the childhood memories that come with it.

Lorraine McGillis loved the Blue Jays - especially Kelly Gruber. Her first baseball game is one Matthew Strader will always remember.

STRADER: When I think about opening day I think about my buddy Germain’s grandmother, Lorraine McGillis.

I moved to Toronto for the second time, about five years ago. My wife grew up here, here family unit is here, and so for our early-thirties lets start a family phase of life, she wanted to come home.

Chris Germain is one of my closest friends from the west, Kamloops to be exact.

He came to visit, and we arranged a Blue Jay game.

I was pumped. Canada doesn’t have a lot of us, true baseball fans I mean, so when one does come along, it’s a kindred spirit, and anything baseball you do get to do with each other you make a massive deal about it.

Believe me, I’ve had stickball games in my backyard that have lasted six hours.

But as our day approached, and Chris’ visit was imminent, it kept becoming clearer that this day, for him, wasn’t about us.

At first I was disappointed, and a little frustrated. But then I met grandma.

She was a heavy set women bound to a wheelchair. Serious health issues had stolen a good portion of her life. She clung to an oxygen tank, and would not leave her two-wheel ride that day no matter how much she had wanted to stand and cheer.

She wore grey on grey sweat pants and shirt. Clothes no longer were about fashion for her, simply practicality.

She was a picture of the phases of life we all in our heart fear, and yet, on that day, she was also one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen.

You see, Chris’ grandmother had an unfortunate health story. Her body had begun to betray her years before that day. She had no choice but to cling to her chair, and because of that, her physical life stagnated.

And what did she do to pass the time?

She watched her Blue Jays.

Every day, every game she could. If no TV, she turned on the radio. She didn’t miss her Blue Jays. She hadn’t missed a game since the first opening day, health concerns or not. This was her team. Those were her boys.

She knew everything about everybody on the team, she knew everything about Blue Jay team’s I couldn’t even remember. She knew the look of the inside of the stadium like the back of her hand, and because of the way life was choosing to leave her, she’d never even seen the outside of it.

Her health problems, along with meager financial means, meant she was a TV only fan.

This was to be the first Blue Jay game of her life. Within minutes we were all children at our first game.

Chris and I joked weeks before hand that if Brian Tallet came into the game (a sign of certain death) we were throwing our peanuts and leaving.

Brian Tallet did come into that game. The Blue Jays lost 10-0.

None of us cared. We enjoyed every minute of it.

There is something pure about the game. Something magical about having your home team that you hold dear. We all get to feel involved, entitled, expectations and disappointments. We all get to feel…and that’s all she wanted.

She wanted to smell the smells, hear the sounds, and cheer with the crowd.

She wanted to enjoy a baseball game. I’ll never forget the day we got to give that to her.

Chris’ grandmother died in February of the next year. The Blue Jay game was still fresh on her lips.

“That game was all she talked about every weekly phone call from that day to her passing,” he told me.

When I think about opening day, and why I love this game, I will always think about that day, my buddy’s grandmother and the words of the great Ernie Banks.

“It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame…let’s play two.”

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The Write Fielders unscientific guide to the 2012 MLB season

Matt Kemp for MVP? It's possible, and likely, says Write Fielder Andrew McGilligan.

McGILLIGAN: With the season about to start, what follows are my predictions for the 2012 MLB 2012.

I will either be proven a genius (the most unlikely of scenarios) or, like 99 per cent of others making predictions, just plain wrong.

So with that bit of inspirational writing here are my picks:

American League Division and Wild Card Winners

AL East – New York Yankees

Al Central – Detroit Tigers

Al West – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

AL Wildcard – Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox

RATIONALE: The Yankees always find a way to win and I have a hard time thinking this year will be different, however, I think it will be extremely tight in the East. I think all the moves made by the Angels might take a few games to come together, but when they do, its going to be fun to watch. There’s no team in the central that should be close to Detroit. The Rangers should get one wildcard spot, as for the other, it’s a tossup between the Sox and Rays, but I give it to the Sox because, well, I like the Sox (no one said this was going to be scientific).

National League Division and Wild Card Winners

NL East – Philadelphia Phillies

NL Central – Milwaukee Brewers

NL West – San Francisco Giants

NL Wildcards – Arizona Diamondbacks and Miami Marlins

RATIONALE: I think the Phillies know the clock is ticking and will be fighting tooth and nail with the Marlins for the East, but pitching gives the Phils the division. So many people like the Reds and Cardinals in the central, but even without Fielder I think the pitching and decent but weaker Brewers lineup can still get it done. In the West, its pitching once again for me as the Giants staff will be too good to have the Diamondbacks wrestle the crown away for a second year.

World Series

Detroit over San Francisco in six games

RATIONALE: I’m big on Detroit this year. A solid lineup with two of the most intimidating hitters around combined with a pitching staff led by Verlander should be enough for World Series crown in Motor City.

And the trophy goes to…

AL MVPMiguel Cabrera – With Fielder doing the job of Victor Martinez providing protection for arguably the best hitter in the game, I see another outstanding year on the horizon.

AL Cy YoungDavid Price – He’s developed other pitches to go with his great fastball and I think this is the year he puts it all together.

AL Rookie of the YearMatt Moore – I was tempted to go with Yu Darvish or Yoenis Cespedes (honestly either one could have been my pick), but I’m going with the Rays rookie hurler Matt Moore to take the honour.

NL MVPMatt Kemp – Can’t see why he wouldn’t be just as great this year as last. New ownership makes it a more stable place to play, which can’t hurt.

NL Cy YoungRoy Halladay – I don’t ever like to bet against Roy Halladay, so I won’t. Chalk up another trophy for Doc.

NL Rookie of the YearYonder Alonso – I wanted to slot in Bryce Harper, but I decided to go out to the left coast and predict Padres rookie Yonder Alonso comes home with the award.

I also have some random predictions I hope come true this year:

– Ozzie Guillen conducts an entire press conference using nothing but Spanish curse words

– KFC tries all season to make Jon Lester and Josh Beckett their news spokesmen to no avail…..John Lackey offers to do it for bucket of chicken and is turned down

– After being thrown out of a game, Bobby Valentine dresses up as Matt Damon, sits next to Ben Affleck near Red Sox dugout and tries to coach using various hand signals being relayed to David Ortiz.

LIVINGSTONE: Predicting anything sports related is either going to make you look like a genius, a bandwagon jumper or a complete moron who was way off the mark.

I’d like to think I can be the genius, but it’s all a guessing game – so I’ll go with being the moron over the bandwagon jumper out of pure respect of taking a gamble rather than the safe bet.

Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista propels the Jays into the post-season for the first time in nearly two decades - and finally, his well-deserved MVP.

With out further adieu:

American League Division and Wild Card Winners

AL East – Yankees

Al Central – Detroit Tigers

Al West – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

AL Wildcard – Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays

RATIONALE: The Yankees, while pitching may be a bit of a question mark, have a potent line-up that will likely win 97 games, despite an average rotation with one superstar (CC). Detroit is the sexy pick in the Central, and with good reason. Who else is going to compete with that monster? The West is going to be a shootout this year. I like Anaheim purely for the stronger pitching staff, considering CJ is going to be third or fourth in the rotation after being at the top in Texas. Sox and Jays – I’m calling it. Tampa is going to be in the mix, but the lackluster offense is going to be troublesome down the road. If the Jays can get their rotation woes straightened out, they’ll be strong contenders come September.

National League Division and Wild Card Winners

NL East – Washington Nationals

NL Central – Cincinnati Reds

NL West – San Francisco Giants

NL Wildcards – Milwaukee Brewers and Philadelphia Phillies (odd team out: D’Backs, Dodgers, Braves – all nipping at the heels)

OVER-RATED: MIAMI MARLINS (new stadium, new unis, new players – same whiny Hanley Ramirez. Expect him to bring down the team.)

RATIONALE: My ‘are you f’in’ crazy’ pick. Washington has a strong rotation, a quality bullpen and a strong line-up with young talent ready to breakout (Michael Morse, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and eventually, Bryce Harper). I like Philly, too, but age, injuries and what I predict to be a loss of one of the big arms in the rotation will make them fall short of the division title. Loving the Reds this year. Young, strong pitching, with a solid line-up and an MVP candidate.  San Fran – fixed the top of the order with Pagan and Cabrera and have by FAR the best rotation in the game. Expect a breakout year from Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey to be in fine form after missing last season. Milwaukee – hell, it could be St. Louis again, who knows. Brew Crew have a good rotation (Greinke, Marcum and Gallardo), closer (Axford) and a good line-up, despite losing Prince to the Tigers. Arizona will come up short when the duo of Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy come back to earth.

World Series

Angels over Giants in six games

RATIONALE: The Angels are the real deal. Incredible pitching staff, out of this world line-up. It’ll be a pitching showcase in this Fall Classic, sure to be an interesting one.

And the trophy goes to…

AL MVPJose Bautista – Jays make the playoffs for the first time in 19 years on another massive year from Joey Bats. Don’t count out King Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder or Robinson Cano, though.

AL Cy YoungCC Sabathia – Guy just dominates year in and year out. Expect it to be a tight race with the likes of Verlander, Price and Angels’ Jared Weaver.

AL Rookie of the YearYoenis Cespedes – His team won’t make the playoffs, but he’ll have a big year regardless. Matt Moore will be nipping at his heels – and maybe even Yu Darvish.

NL MVPJoey Votto – The kid is going to put together one heck of a year to take his second MVP title. Don’t count out Rockies’ SS Troy Tulowitzki, Dodgers’ Matt Kemp or Washington’s Michael Morse (YEP – I said it!)

NL Cy YoungMatt Cain – Huge contract, huge year. If it’s not Cain it’s Lincecum. Expect dominate years from Halladay, Lee, Clayton Kershaw and Yovani Gallardo.

NL Rookie of the Year Brandon Belt – Originally, I had Alonso here like McGilligan, but I changed my pick once I found out Belt was making the team (see article on Belt from yesterday).

A healthy Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau? Strader says watch out wild card favourites Texas, Tampa Bay and Boston - there is a surprise coming.

American League Division and Wildcard Winners

AL East – New York Yankees

AL West – LA Angels

AL Central – Detroit Tigers

AL Wildcards – Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins.

RATIONALE – Ok, ok, the Minnesota Twins. I know. But here it is. The pitching staff is not impressive, but it’s solid. The lineup is not impressive, but it’s solid. And there is a team every year that surprises all the prognosticators, so I’m sorry, I’m not going, Angels, Tigers, Yankees, Red Sox, Rays like every other lazy ass out there.

It’s 162 games. Injuries happen. The Twins, I believe, will DH Morneau more than he even needs. I think Ryan Doumit, with some consistency and health, actually has a chance to outperform his career numbers, and there is an ability to do a bunch of different things with the offence (Span, Willingham, Mauer, Parmelee). Who better with a bunch of different parts than Gardenhire?

If I have to explain the other four, you’re probably picking the Royals and their young and up and coming lineup right now….

I know the Rangers aren’t there, but I have a feeling it’s going to be a year of injury concerns for a number of their players. And really? Three WS appearances in a row? Come on. They’re not the Bills…

National League Division and Wildcard Winners

NL East – Braves

NL Central – Cincinnati

NL West – LA Dodgers

NL Wildcards – Arizona, Colorado

RATIONALE: The Braves are too complete, and nobody else in the NL East quite matches up to that description. I believe, much like my colleague Livingstone, that Cincinnatti got a raw deal of circumstances last season, they have too much talent on both sides of the ball not to be a turnaround story. And I don’t think one playoff run makes David Freese a comparable replacement to ALBERT PUJOLS!! How did any Pujols bashing even start? I would have paid him double.

The Dodgers, yeah, that’s right, the Dodgers. They did it on the back of Ethier and Kemp before (sprinkled with a little Manny of course), they’re going to surprise and do it again. The question marks are over, those guys are going to be hungry to play ball.

Oh, and Kershaw’s kind of awesome.

World Series

Yankees over Braves in four.

RATIONALE: Sorry, but this feels like one of those years where we all love the season, and the only people who like the playoffs are the pinstripers…

And the trophy goes to…

AL MVP – Jose Bautista – In spring training we saw American media attention for Canada’s only team. During award season, we’re going to see what that media attention can do for your squad.

AL Rookie of the Year – Yu Darvish – Pitchers who win 18-20 games win awards. Plain and simple. (Honourable mention: Lorenzo Cain)

AL Cy Young – Ricky Romero – Maybe I watch the team to much, but look at the progression, the peripheral numbers, and the fact that all this left hander has to do is find his pitches to dominate lefties, and he’s actually one of the most dominant starters in the game.

NL MVP – Troy Tulowitzki. I don’t think we’ve ever seen the ceiling. A little health, a little less Ubaldo, and maybe we get to see it?

NY Rookie of the Year – Drew Pomeranz. He’s earned a spot and will start. I love Alonso’s bat, but pitchers get credit for pitching in Colorado more than hitters seem to get credit for hitting in San Diego. So I’m going Pomeranz.

NL Cy Young – Kershaw. I see a Greg Maddux style award dominance here for a while.

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The debate is over: Giants settle on Belt

Giants' management made the right call by putting Brandon Belt on the starting squad. His bat is going to be a big addition to an otherwise low-run scoring offense.

Finally, it seem, the debate is over.

There has been a lot of talk about whether or not San Fransisco Giants’ first baseman – and pending superstar – Brandon Belt would even be on the squad to open the season against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the desert.

And the Giants’ have decided to put Belt on the roster – and start him at first base, displacing the over-paid Aubrey Huff into the outfield.

It’s been a day and night kind of career for Belt. In the minors he destroys pitching, especially in 2010 when he hit .352 between single-A and triple-A ball in the Giants system – not to mention 23 HR and 112 RBI, while only striking out 99 times in 462 plate appearances. Last year, same thing – in 53 games he hit .320 with 8 HR and 26 RBI to go with 12 two-baggers – this all while missing time due to a fracture in his wrist, requiring him to miss part of the season.

While his numbers in the minors are out of this world – his time in the big leagues has been nothing but disappointment. In 2011 he hit .225 in 168 plate appearances, had 9 round-trippers and 18 RBI – while striking out 57 times. Not the best case for a spot on the starting roster this year.

That said – his spring has been strong, apparently showing the talent he has in the minors during the Giants’ spring schedule. However, there is an overload of quality talent on the team and Belt ended up in a battle with career minor-leaguer Brett Pill (who had a decent last couple months last season in a call-up) and journeyman Gregor Blanco, who was turning heads this spring.

The Giants want to win, and they’ve got the line-up and pitching staff to do it. Belt comes with high expectations, and rightfully so. He should be performing to the number 23 ranking he was given by Baseball America in its annual top 100 prospects list.

And this could be his year to cement himself as the everyday first baseman. Huff is in the final year of a pricey contract – and with his age and numbers slowing down, it’s likely he won’t be back next season, leaving the door open for Belt.

To be honest, the fact the Giants’ were debating over Nate Schierholtz in the outfield, over moving Huff there and putting Belt at first – it’s just mind-boggling to me. Sure, Nate’s consistent at the plate and plays great defense – but in a line-up that didn’t fair well at the run-producing part of the game last season – Belt is needed to bolster the run support to compliment the pitching.

If he can get in some decent playing time this season and put up the numbers he did in the minors over the last two seasons – putting his dismal big league appearance from last year behind him – he will become part of a youthful core in San Fran poised to make noise for a number of years.

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Can’t help but cheer for Morrow

Expect big things from Blue Jays RHP Brandon Morrow this year after a quality spring (0.52 ERA in 17 1/3 innings pitched).

LIVINGSTONE – Ah, Vogelsong. Definitely a guy you can’t avoid rooting for, especially being on one of the, if not the, best pitching staffs in baseball. It’s hard to remain relevant on a staff with the likes of Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain – but somehow Vogelsong did it last season.

For me, my Vogelsong – and don’t judge me because I’m a die hard Jays fan – is Brandon Morrow. Yeah, yeah, you’re just picking the guy because he’s on your favourite team. In some respects, yes, but in many, he is the guy this year who will settle into his own and put together an all-star season.

Since coming into the big leagues as a relief pitcher for the Mariners in 2007, Morrow has been on my radar. Sure, he was predominantly a reliever in his first two years (he started five games in 2008), Morrow showed potential to become a quality starter. In 2009 he threw 10 games as a starter and while his numbers weren’t off the charts (1.579 WHIP, 8.1 SO/9, 4.39 ERA), the Jays saw enough to bring him on as a starter and utilize the high-90s fastball, hard slider and twist-em-up change-up to bolster an under-performing rotation.

Yes, the rotation has under-performed the last two years – but Morrow’s shown steady improvement, despite faltering late in games (usually somewhere after the fifth inning). Despite an 11-11 record with a 4.72 ERA, he fanned 203 in 179.1 innings worth of work and finished 7th in the league in strikeouts and his 10.2 SO/9 innings was the best in the American League and third in all of baseball.

If his spring is any indication of what to expect from the hard-throwing right-hander, than a breakout season is in the cards. Morrow allowed just one run in 17 1/3 spring innings for a career-best 0.52 spring ERA. While he’s striking out guys less (7 Ks in his last 12.0 IP) he’s gained a lot of confidence with his change-up and curveball – both pitches that seemingly got him in a lot of trouble last season. Unable to rely on them confidently, hitters tagged him often on his heater and slider.

While I think he’s looking at a big year – I would’ve been faced with a difficult task had he been available by the time I would’ve thought about drafting him.

The last two years have been a tail of two different Morrow’s – the untouchable who would strike out the entire team and the guy who showed no confidence and got tagged for more extra base hits than one could keep track of. When Morrow is on, he is on and looks like one of the elites, but then he comes out and throws an egg of a game and one has to wonder if he is the real deal.

With the potential for the team to put up quality run support on a more regular basis, Morrow could have the safety net of runs on the scoreboard allowing him to focus more on his pitching rather than overpowering the opposition (as we’ve seen with his lower strikeout rate this spring).

And hell – if it’s not Brandon Morrow having the breakout season, it’s going to be a guy like Royals’ first baseman Billy Butler. Playing on a team with a group of young, potential superstars, Butler might finally have the bats around him to thrive. I expect a .300 AVG/30 HR/100 RBI season from this guy. Maybe even more.

Regardless – Morrow is looking damn good and one can only hope he brings his quality spring right into the regular season.

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No reason to hate Jays. Pinstripers on the other hand…

One Write Fielder - the lone Sox fan in the trio - just can't hate the Jays. Why? Well, they aren't a concern to the Sox making the playoffs. The other two Write Fielders definitely disagree this season.

McGILLIGAN, POINT: I’m sorry Blue Jays fans, you just can’t make me do it. As a Red Sox fan I just can’t hate you. There’s only room in my heart for one massive hatred and that’s all filled up with pinstripes.

I hear you. Out there telling anyone who will listen that the extra wild card is yours for the taking. This is the year when you finally ascend into the upper echelon of the AL East. Jays fans are vocal and gleefully believing they’re leaving the Red Sox, in the dust.

As far as I’m concerned, talk until you’re blue in the face. Go ahead, it doesn’t bother me, know why? Because talk is all it is. No games have been played and supporters of teams from the Big Smoke are notorious for getting ahead of themselves.
Every year is the one where the Leafs will make the playoffs and the Jays are poised to reap the benefits of solid transactions and drafting.

I know the pundits are talking about Toronto being the surprise team, the one whose bandwagon is getting fuller by the day.

However, the team doesn’t possess one part of their lineup that beats the AL East Big Three. The Rays have a better pitching staff, Boston and New York have better offences.

I will admit the Jays would be a playoff team if they were in another division, but they are not. What I don’t understand in all this talk is where the Jays will make up 10 games, the number they finished behind the Rays in the wildcard race. A revamped bullpen will account for a few, but certainly not nine and Lawrie is a talented young player, but not one that accounts for that major a swing, at least not this year anyway.

The Jays had a losing record against the AL East last year (33-39). While it’s bound to be better in 2012, I have a hard time believing it will be dramatically different.

Ultimately, here’s what it comes down to for me:

The Yankees and the Sox have a long history and the Rays have caused Boston some recent heartaches, but the Jays haven’t made me suffer in a long time, so until that changes, I just can’t hate them, I’m too busy boiling over thinking about pinstripes.

LIVINGSTONE, COUNTERPOINT: Well, first off, you’re an asshole. Being a Jays fan  – and season ticketholder – I can’t help but shake my head at what you are saying: I don’t worry about the Jays because they can’t compete with the likes of the Rays, Yanks and Red Sox.

However, let’s remember, because it wasn’t too long ago, that you could have adjusted the J to an R and it would’ve been an equal argument. The Rays were one of the most lackluster teams for years, well, since they became a team in 1998 right up until they clinched their first ever post-season birth in 2008. That’s right, 2008. Seems like ages ago and seemingly McGilligan forgot about the fact they’ve only become a competitive team in the last four years (this will be their fifth).

So let’s look at where the Jays are at. They’ve got their superstar (Jose Bautista), Strong one-two-three rotation (Romero, Morrow, Alvarez), rookie on the verge (Lawrie), and quality role players to make up a strong line-up that can produce runs, steal bases and bash the ball. That and they’ve got the third best farm system and some of the most heavily touted prospects in the game (Anthony Gose, Travis D’arnaud, Drew Hutchinson, Deck McGuire, Adeiny Hechavarria..and plenty more).

The 2012 Jays have the makings of the 2008 Rays (NOTE: The Jays won 86 games that season, were 10 games over .500 and still finished fourth).

In 2008, The Rays finished with an 11-7 record against the Sox, as well as the Jays, a 7-11 record against the Yanks and an incredible 15-3 against the dismal Orioles. Far from dominant in the AL East stronghold owned by the Sox and the Yanks – but putting up a record like that against the other East birds, well, it would help you win 97 games. Don’t forget they played 6 games against the Marlins, three against the Astros and Pirates. 12-6 in interleague play.

I don’t think there is any reason not to think the Jays could compete this year for the post-season. If the Sox continue to have injury problems on their pitching staff (Closer Andrew Bailey apparently needs surgery now, and Josh Beckett is having thumb issues) and the likes of Carl Crawford continues to produce below his $100-million value – oh, and old man Ortiz finally shows regression – well, things could be ugly. The Rays, while likely to have one of the best pitching staffs in the league, they’ve got Kyle Farnsworth as a closer and some questions in their line up (how much can you rely on Evan Longoria to carry your offense?).

Regardless, I don’t think the questions surrounding the Jays are any worse than those around the Sox or Rays. Yankees? Yeah, looking damn good again (sigh).

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Going the depth route on draft day

One Write Fielder took a strategic position depth approach to his draft. Will it pay off?

STRADER: Napoli in the fifth round?

“First one off the board for Strader…”

Actually, no boys, that one was right on the board, and you can suck on my Napoli/Avila duo all the way until September.

You see, more than any other sport, fantasy baseball is about organizational depth. (I will be using this very thing to shred my colleague’s diatribe about how the Sox/Yanks/Rays are still ahead in the east soon) Think about it this way.

If I have a starting catcher who can put 30 out of the park, and 100 on the board, how much is that worth?

What if I have two? Starter and backup?

How deep is this position around the major leagues? How many catchers can do that?

So, I say to my buddies who are struggling with Yadier and Miguel as their starters, and on the constant hunt for a backup that will give them a competitive 10 and 50, good fuckin’ luck. I’m takin’ Napoli early and making sure my catchers outscore the rest in the league by 30 per cent.

I rank my fantasy baseball team picks by position as much as overall ability. Second base is another great place for a falloff. You have your Dan Uggla’s, Dustin Pedroia’s, and the king, Robinson Cano.  Phillips tantalizes people every year, Ackley has people wondering, Asdrubal, are you for real? (‘Cause I can still play you at second?)

And Utley, will you be healthy?

There are so many question marks in this position, there are so many inconsistencies, that finding consistency can put you leaps and bounds ahead of the next guy. If you sacrifice a star outfielder who’s a consistent 25 and 90 to get a second basemen who’s a consistent 20 and 80, who’s going to be harder to duplicate?

Do you take Adam Jones early, to keep that strength in your outfield, or do you realize that outfielders are a dime a dozen, and guaranteeing yourself a strong second base platoon will be way harder to do off the waiver wire.

Besides, somebody always comes out of nowhere (Luis Gonzalez, ahem….) in the outfield. Watch the waiver wire there, not at second.

Catcher, second, short stop, relievers and third base. They’re the most difficult positions to ensure strength from top to bottom.

Use your first or second overall pick to secure your ace, and throw in another quality starter between rounds 3 and 5, and then focus on your depth chart.

Trust me.

You’ll take a bunch of crap from your pool buddies for drafting Napoli in the fifth round, and then rub it in their faces in September.

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