Tag Archives: MLB

Jays need to attack starters early and often, Santos will come around

Jays closer Sergio Santos got roughed up again last night, blowing the lead and taking the loss in a 4-2 comeback by the Sox. His command was off and two passed balls cost the Jays. But fret not - it's the fourth game of the season and Santos will find his swagger.

LIVINGSTONE: It wasn’t the prettiest of endings for the Jays last night against the Sox, falling 4-2 to the divisional rivals – but not all is lost like some of the people in attendance last night might seem to think so (Many weren’t necessarily ‘fans’ but people just there because it was opening night and the 500 level is a glorified frat house).

Already people are ripping on closer Sergio Santos for blowing two saves in the first four games of the season. Maybe he didn’t get enough work during the spring – he only threw about five innings or so all spring – and in comparison to the rest of the bullpen staff, many who tossed ten or more innings (Villenueva, Perez, Cordero, Frasor and Oliver all threw ten or more). It’s no excuse for giving up the lead, but Santos, pitching for the first time in the Skydome in front of an energized crowd, it couldn’t been too much for him. Let’s keep in mind the kid was drafted as a shortstop and only converted to the closer position about three years ago. He’s young and still trying to get comfortable in the role. He’s going to be the closer for the Jays and it’s going to take a lot for manager John Farrell and management to remove him from there. He’s in for the long-term, there is no doubt. There needs to be some patience.

Keep in mind: it was the fourth game of the year. Fans jeered and boo’ed Santos off the field after Farrell pulled him with two outs in the ninth. It was shocking, to be honest. I chalk it up to being a sold-out crowd of beer-chugging non-fans (half the row behind us in the 500-level where my season tickets are were passed out by the 7th), but hey, even they have expectations and that includes a pitcher not blowing the lead.

Things will get better for Santos and the two blown saves will be a thing of the past when he is closing out games later in the season.

However, it could be difficult for him to do that if hitters don’t start attacking starting pitchers through the first round of the order. It’s been the theme through the first four games – let the first pitch go, maybe even the second. I can’t think of one hitter outside of Colby Rasmus who hasn’t let the first pitch go in the majority of their at-bats. Brett Lawrie, Edwin Encarnacion and even Jose Bautista are settling into pitchers counts early in their at-bats and end up having to fight to stay alive at the plate. Lawrie has done it for more than 50 per cent of his at-bats.

The potent offense that we saw during the spring and last season exists, but if the team wants to capitalize on it, they have to stop letting starters get their confidence levels in the clouds. Sox starter Felix Doubront should’ve been an easy target for the Jays to open up the floodgates and mash the ball around. But they didn’t. They sat back on a lot of first pitch strikes – even second pitch strikes – and ended up having to settle on breaking balls and junk pitches to try and put the ball in play.I said to my wife during Colby Rasmus’ third at-bat of the game and said ‘I bet you ten bucks he swings at the first pitch’. He’s the only guy who has been doing it more than the rest of the team. While it hasn’t turned into a lot of hits – outside of a 1-for-15 series against the Indians and his crowd-pleasing triple last night – he’s attacking the ball.

Santos shouldn’t have been in such a tight game last night. The Jays had an opportunity to hit Doubront – who was pitching in his fourth-ever game as a starter – and they didn’t take that chance. If the run support is there, Santos won’t be in those tight games against such a potent, dangerous line-up like the Sox. And outside of Santos and the bats, the bullpen has been lights out sand the defense was incredibly solid last night. Rasmus and Lind made two great defensive stops to save runs. If they hadn’t, the game might never have gotten to Santos’ hands because they would’ve been down going into the ninth.

That all said, I can tell you I’m excited to get back to the stadium tonight. It’s been a twenty-year dream of mine to be a Jays season ticket holder and to attend opening night. It was exactly what I expected and more.

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Weekend notes: Collmenter’s delivery and Johnson’s plate discipline

Diamondbacks' pitcher Josh Collmenter delivery is odd in comparison to the rest of the league - it certainly got one Write Fielders' attention.

LIVINGSTONE: After watching the Jays drop the series finale of the opening weekend series to the Cleveland Indians 4-3, The San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks game came on and after watching Josh Collmenter throw his first inning, I had to sit down and write about him.

In the many years I’ve watched baseball, there are a number of unorthodox pitchers that come to mind – Hideo Nomo with his near corkscrew pitch delivery, Giants Tim Lincecum with his rocket launchpad approach, Brad Ziegler and Peter Moylan’s submarine-style delivery, the list could go on.

But looking back over the years, I can’t think of anyone with a delivery like Collmenter. While his delivery isn’t as, well, below the belt as the submarine, it is less than normal. When he throws a pitch – either the fastball or change-up, both pitches he relies on heavily – his arm looks like that of a cricket bowler (ie: the guy who launches the cricket ball), a near-mechanical looking delivery. Coming out of his wind-up, his arm doesn’t sit outside his shoulder, but seemingly right in line with it. The over-the-top delivery is uncommon in baseball and certainly can be deceptive to hitters.

There is a certain amount of expectation surrounding Collmenter. Since his days pitching for the Homer High School Trojans, where The Homer, Michigan native put up eye-opening numbers. Collmenter won 18 games in the 2004 season, the third highest total in state history. He recorded a state-record 13 shutouts that season while striking out 223 batters and notching a 0.13 ERA. Collmenter finished his High School career with 49 wins, 23 shutouts, 546 strikeouts and a 0.99 ERA, all of which rank in the top six in state history.

His minor league stats weren’t nearly as lights out – he went 45-27 between 2007 and 2010 with one Trilple-A appearance in 2011 before being called up to the Diamondbacks – but they were enough to get him a spot in the starting rotation where he went 10-10 last season, striking out 100 in 154-plus innings, helping the D’Backs win the National League West division.

He’s a fun kid to watch pitch and with some work on refining his curveball into a quality breaking pitch to compliment his fastball, change-up and cutter, Collmenter will be a top-three starter during his career.

That all said, I want to fast-forward back to the Jays opening series, briefly, to spare our readers the saturation of Jays talk.

Despite being three games into the season, Jays second baseman – and number two hitter – Kelly Johnson is showing some incredible plate discipline. While he’s 5-for-14 with a home run, he’s got four walks, most of them long plate appearances, drawing it out to eight or nine pitch at-bats before taking his base. The biggest one was in the ninth today against the Indians, taking a walk on a 12 (I think) pitch at-bat with two out to load the bases for Jose Bautista. While Bautista flied out (to the moon) to end the game, it wasn’t a total loss.

Hitting in front of one of the most dangerous bats in the game requires you to get on base as much as possible. If the opening series is any indication (Johnson’s OBP is over .500) Bautista is going to have ample opportunity to put runs on the board – or get walked (he’s got four walks in three games), paving the way for Lind, Encarnacion and Lawrie to empty the bases.

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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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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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Cecil down increases need for Nash

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Brett Cecil.

STRADER: Brett going down means Brian Burke needs to chase Rick Nash?

Yep.

No, I don’t think the big forward from Brampton can snap off a slider, but there was one thing on my mind after I saw the news that our 15-game winner from 2010 is going back to AA.

Please god don’t let this become a theme!

Sports writers have a duty. We can’t be homers. We have to look evenly at every situation and report on it how it is, not how we think it is, how we think it might be. Look like you’re favouring a team, coddling a favourite player, and what are you for your reader?

Here’s me doing a little Jays apologizing. But don’t fret, this is not homerism, this is a balanced and well thought out preemptive strike.

Shut the f–k up!

That’s for all the vultures circling the Jays rotation right now. For as many sports writers that look at the depth of talent the Jays have put together and see the light at the end of the tunnel, there will be those, call them the sheen on the glass walls of the fishbowl, that will circle a failure like vultures. Has Brett Cecil regressed? Absolutely. Is there an organizational concern with what once looked like a can’t miss prospect?

Yep.

But does this mean that if Dustin McGowan experiences a set back, if Henderson Alvarez comes back from (??? Superman’s home planet), that we need to see a million stories from a dozen or so sports geniuses who will go back and forth about whether 75 wins is a failure and the starting rotation is the reason, and they should have seen this coming….veteran starter….been saying it all year….Blah blah blah.

I’m certainly not saying don’t pick on the players. I’m not that guy.

I’ll heckle with the best of them. That’s the glory of professional sports.

But is a 75 win season by the 2012 Jays, if it happens, a failure?

No.

Brett can go down. He’s not ready, and maybe won’t be able to get it back.

Alzarez can struggle, he’s 22!!

Lawrie can bat .260, with maybe 15 homers, and learn more about his position and being a professional, these would all be normal. But with the amount of hype surrounding the Jays (Oh man, American writers are picking them for the playoffs, this is all we need…) there are those on the hunt for the pin, and as soon as they find it, they will jam it in the balloon.

Cecil is going down, McGowan’s got a bad foot, the vultures are in the air.

Let me say it here first. The Jays don’t need to make the playoffs. If they do, it’s icing on the cake, enjoy it as such.

But cake is still awesome.

Progression of the kids, growth of the minor league prospects, how is Anthony Gose doing with more major league type off speed pitching? What is Henderson Alvarez working on, a change up that he can throw away from left handers? A slider? A curve?

What are the weaknesses in Brett Lawrie’s swing? What are the holes, and how can he correct them?

How has Dustin McGowan changed as a pitcher now that he’s pitching again? Does he do anything differently on the mound, behind the scenes?

Why Eric Thames over Travis Snider? Can people stop guessing, analyze their motions in the batters box, write a comprehensive piece about their differences and talk to some scouts about what makes one better than the other? Is Thames being showcased while Travis gets work in?

The real wave of talent is coming in Jake Marisnick, Anthony Gose, Noah Syndegard, Drew Hutchison and others. Can we read more in depth pieces about what they bring to the table, or do I just get to read that Gose is fast until I see him with my own eyes?

I’ll reiterate, I’m not saying don’t pick on the team.

Look at the match ups for the first week. Romero vs. Masterson, Morrow vs. Jimenez, Carreno vs. Tomlin (?? – or whatever Carmona is called maybe?), and then we have Alvarez and Drabek facing the Red Sox, and for as many chicken jokes as people want to make, they’re a powerhouse.

I’m a Jays fan, but if they falter, I don’t mind pointing out why. I just don’t want to read the same thing all summer. Our rotation is Romero, Morrow, Alvarez, Drabek and McGowan, with Hutchison, McGuire, Jenkins, Carreno (probably a future reliever) and loads more of live arms waiting, and hunting, for their own spot.

Is our rotation a question mark right now? Yes. But is that a problem? No, it actually isn’t.

Please, can we read stories about baseball and not what baseball geniuses you all are for pointing out something that was obvious at the beginning of the season.

This team is young, the rotation is young. If the season falls apart, I would still take the same rotation into next year with a smile on my face.

So let’s read about what they’re working on, what’s happening on the field, and why.

Not a bunch of easy stories about how a young rotation is going through the problems of a young rotation.

Let Burke go pick up Nash, and halfway through the summer, we’ll leave the same old to the Leafs reporters, okay?

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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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Vogelsong and the Rudy Effect

McGILLIGAN – There wasn’t one thing I didn’t like about Ryan Vogelsong last season. From his fantasy numbers after I plucked him off the waiver wire to his story that was chronicled in Showtime’s The Franchise TV show. Ryan Vogelsong helped save my fantasy season last year. I had under-performing hurlers and a rash of injuries.

Picking up Vogelsong covered up some of those deficiencies and I rightly or wrongly began to see him as a saviour and believing he did things he may or may not have done.

He was 13-7 with 139 strikeouts, 2.71 ERA and 1.252 WHIP for the San Francisco Giants. Good numbers, but not the kind you would have thought he had if you heard my pronouncements last season. I was openly wondering why he wasn’t getting Cy Young consideration, was sure he would win every time he went to the mound and I was positive he wold be a main stay in my fantasy rotation for years to come.

So when this year’s draft came around what did I do?

Nothing, he was selected by another team and although it pained me to see him go, I believe it was the rational thing to do.

I fell in love with Vogelsong’s story and his above average season cemented him in my mind as a main stay for years to come. I believe this is a problem that can plague people in fantasy leagues. You fall in love with a player for irrational reasons. Perhaps you saw them play in person and they performed unbelievably well, they wore the same number as you, or any other number of foolish reasons to select someone based on anything but sound reason.

Here’s an example: When I was a kid on a trip to Florida my dad took me to a spring training game between the Yankees and Astros. Jeff Bagwell had just come off his rookie of the year campaign and took a few at bats in the contest.

As a youngster, I crowded with other kids for an autograph from the man we were calling out to as Mr. Bagwell. He said he would return to sign things after he changed. We hung by the fence waiting for his return, but when he came out, he got into a car and left. No autographs, nothing.

In the same game, Yankees young slugger Kevin Maas smashed a homerun that landed in a duck pond beyond the wall of the left centre wall that had to be the longest homerun I’ve ever seen hit.

I ended up loving Maas and hating Bagwell and had I been part of a fantasy league I would have irrationally chosen Maas while not even entertaining the possibility of Bagwell playing for me.

Now, how stupid would that have been. Maas couldn’t hit a curveball and washed out while Bagwell was a perennial all-star.

Sure, you say I was just a kid, I wouldn’t do that now. Really, I hate Johnny Damon for going from the Red Sox to the Yankees – to this day it still annoys and I’m a grown man.

When it comes to sports, like many men, I can get emotionally invested and make dumb decisions. Which brings me back to Vogelsong.

His solid play and story of being out of the majors since2006 before making a last ditch comeback that resulted in an All-Star appearance was a great one, truly the kind of Rudy story we all root for.

(NOTE: I use Rudy as the term for any emotionally moving sports story, Joe Montana and his myth crushing be damned.)   

So I had to make a tough decision at the draft. I needed to make sure I thought with my head on Vogelsong not my heart. Here’s the thing, He’ll turn 34 this year and had one good season. Strike one. He’s dealing with some lower back issues this spring. Strike two. He won’t have the Showtime cameras to give him the Rudy treatment, thus taking emotions out of the equation. Strike three, I’m out.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against Vogelsong having a good season and proving me wrong. It’s just that I would rather that happen than pick him for my team and have my head proved right and my heart wrong.

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Reds’ Bruce poised – finally – for ‘big’ year

Cincinnati Reds OF Jay Bruce is poised for his biggest season yet - and a shot at the homerun title in the NL. (AP Photo/David Kohl)

LIVINGSTONE: He’s marching into his fifth season with the Cincinnati Reds, and despite his biggest year at the plate last season, OF Jay Bruce is poised to make more noise than he ever has before, and vault him into the National League elite – and, per my prediction – the league homerun crown.

Looking at ESPN’s statistics on what stadiums are most hitter-friendly, Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati ranks the third most-friendly to hitters (1.314) behind Coors Field (1.354) and The Ball Park in Arlington (1.500). The advantage to hitters who play 82 games a season is obvious, looking at Bruce’s numbers over the past four years (see baseball-reference.com). Hitting with the likes of Brandon Phillips, and perennial first baseman Joey Votto, along with Drew Stubbs and Ryan Ludwick, Bruce has the opportunity to capitalize on a line-up ripe with strong bats, forcing pitchers to pitch to him, rather than around him.

This all said – Bruce had a big year last and some would argue my pick for breakout player, well, he’s already broken out. He hit .252, 33 HR and 97 RBI last season. However, he struck out twice as much (158) than he walked (71) and his average dipped 25 points from his career-high in 2010 (.281).

There is a lack of plate discipline there, something it seems he’s worked on over the winter and through spring training. If he can shave down his strikeout total, and avoid swinging at pitches out of the zone, Bruce has the potential, tied in with the bats around him, to bring his average up and add to his round-trip total this year. He only bagged 26 doubles last season, a number that could easily rise close to 40 if he’s patient.

And let’s not forget what division Bruce plays in. the Central is seemingly weaker this year than it has been the last couple of years, especially with teams like Pittsburgh and Houston settling into a long year battling it out for last (who are we kidding – the Astros will finish dead last – in the league). Minute Maid Park in Houston and Wrigley Field will prove advantageous to Bruce, however, PNC Park in Pittsburgh and Busch Stadium in St. Louis will favour pitchers over hitters, so this potential advantage might be a wash.

Regardless, Bruce is in for a big year and I think he’s got serious potential to hit .290 or higher, as long as he can show some plate discipline, and pop for 40 HR – or more. I think come September, Bruce will be in the thick of the homerun race.

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