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As the American League Divisional Playoffs get underway on Wednesday, let’s take a look at the match-ups:

New York vs. Minnesota

It seems that this is deja-vu all over again. Haven’t we seen this movie before? As a matter of fact, yes we have. The Minnesota Twins have lost in the first round of their last four playoff appearances, three of which they lost to the Yankees. As good as the Twins were during the regular season, they finished the season 2-8, including getting swept by Detroit and losing 2 of 3 to Kansas City.

Moving into the playoffs, it’s all about who has the momentum, and the Yankees have it. Though they ended the season 3-7, they did it against much tougher opposition in Boston and Tampa Bay. I believe a better match-up to see would have been New York and Texas, because that would force both struggling teams to take on teams on the upswing.

It was reported that AJ Burnett would not be in the three-man rotation which seems to be an addition by subtraction. With the performance that he’s had this season, there is little confidence instilled in him that he could win a baseball game for them in the postseason. For that reason, he will work out of the bullpen.

Obviously the Yankees have a very strong lineup, especially moving into October, with Rodriguez, Cano, Texiera, and, in his last chance to show that he is worth a $20 million per year extension, Derek Jeter.

Minnesota, on the other hand, is more of a small ball team. Joe Mauer is obviously their big bat with Justin Morneau out, to go along with the breakout year of Delmon Young. In the pitching rotation, Francisco Liriano is the only guy in that three that could be put in and win a game for you single-handedly.

In the end, it will be big bats against small ball, and I expect the powerful Yankees to win the series 3-2.

Tampa Bay vs. Texas

The Tampa Bay Rays, holding off the Yankees to win the AL East, actually got the shorter end of the stick going into Round 1 of the playoffs. It seems that the AL West champion Rangers pose a bigger threat to them than the AL Central champion Twins do.

With such big bats as Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz, the Rangers are poised to run up the scoreboard if the Rays pitching, led by Cy Young candidate David Price, cannot keep them in check.

The biggest key for the Rangers this season was picking up ace Cliff Lee. Not only is Lee a great pitcher in his own right, but he also brings a great deal of stability to a rotation that is very young. Moving into the postseason, it is tough to say with confidence that the Rangers would be in a position to win if it were not for Lee. He brings the winning attitude and postseason experience that was lacking before his arrival.

On the Rays side, they do not have the overpowering lineup that the Yankees or Rangers have. They are similar in style to the Twins offensively in that they will get guys like Carl Crawford on base and use their big bats to drive runs in. The biggest concern seems to be the rotation where, outside of David Price, there have been inconsistencies. Matt Garza has been up and down this season, a different pitcher from the one we saw in the 2008 run to the World Series. Going up against such a potent lineup, the pitching will need to be on top of its game.

Ultimately, I think the Rangers lineup is too powerful for the Rays to handle. Because Texas has solidified their rotation with Lee, they look to be the better team in this series. I see them winning it 3-2.

With the post season upon us it’s time to pick and choose who will come out of the N.L. Division to face the A.L. winner for a chance at the World Series Title.

Phillies verses Reds:

The Reds are here for the first time in quite sometime, the Phillies on the other hand are just back to where they always seem to be.

With a rotation that consists of Roy Halladay (21 wins) Roy Oswalt (13 wins) and Cole Hamels (12 wins) the Phillies have the right formula of H2O to make another trip to the World Series. Not only do they have their top three starters with lower the a three era they have a line up that consists of Ryan Howard, a finally healthy Chase Utley and Jason Werth who has been their catalyst for the most part this season. Werth and Howard have combined for 58 home runs and 193 runs batted in. Not bad for you number four and five hitter but I believe that the play of Chase Utley at the Phillies number three spot will be a big key in this offense getting going early.

For the Reds they have a very young and or inexperienced pitching rotation. Besides Benson Arroyo, who has been their ace with 17 wins this season, no pitcher has playoff experience. Arroyo had his time with the Boston Red Soxs so he knows what to expect. Johnny Cueto is seconded in wins this season with 12 but everyone else is below ten and whats surprising even more is that it’s not either of those pitchers will take the mound game one. Edinson Volquez will take the mound for game 1. Dusty Baker saying he wanted to go with his most rested pitcher in game one. The Reds will have to look for their bats to come up big. Joey Votto, arguably the MVP of the N.L. can’t do it alone. Brandon Phillips, Jonny Gomes and Jay Bruce have to get it going as well. All three players have big bat potential and will need to help Votto in putting this offense together.

Who Wins?: Ultimately I think the Phillies will win this in 4 games. I think the Reds will be able to eek one out at home but having to face Halladay twice is no easy task. Phillies in four.

Braves vs. Giants


Will the retiring of manager Bobby Cox be the fuel to a Braves World Series run or will the Giants play spoiler and advance themselves?

For the Braves starting pitching will be their main key in winning this series. With Derek Lowe posting a 4.00 era it does not say good for the first game against a hot Giants offensive team. Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson have had the best season of all starting pitchers and both will have to be on their game come their starts. Hudson has been great all season long posting a 2.83 era and earning 17 victories. Tommy Hanson had a great start to the season but fell off a bit towards the end. The Braves line up has some high averaged hitters at the 1-2 with Omar Infante and Martin Prado at the top. A rookie slugger in Jason Heyward and a veteran Derek Lee.  Lee is the main guy in this rotation. Playing clean up, Lee needs to find his former self. Hitting for power and average and keeping the offense always ahead of the team it’s facing.

For the Giants the number one factor is the offense. This offense isn’t a very solid one that you can compare to other teams in the playoffs. No real big bat in the line up but a lot of average bats that if they heat up can score some runs playing small ball. Buster Posey, the rookie catcher, had a great season when he was called up. Batted over .300 and hit 18 home runs. Aubrey Huff was their only player to get over 20 home runs with 26. Huff will need to be consistent with the long ball to help drive in timely runs when needed. Pablo Sandoval and the rest of the Giants offense needs to produce for this pitching staff that has pretty much carried them all season. Tim Lincecum, though having a down year, is still your number one ace. Can strikeout a whole line up with no problem but consistency has been an issue. Matt Cain has been another stellar pitcher for this team with 13 wins and a 3.14 era. Johnathan Sanchez, though erratic at times, is a very tough pitcher to face. If he’s on, beating him will be a very difficult task. And Barry Zito, probably having the most experience out of all the starting pitchers, had found his old self for the most part of the season. Curve ball looks to be up to par and ready for playoff action.

Who Wins?: I’m taking the San Francisco Giants over the Atlanta Braves in 5 games. I think their pitching will be to tough for the Braves batters and their offense has been hot of late and they say, “The hottest team is the dangerous team.”

Giants vs Phillies

This will be a great pitching match up every night for both teams. Oswalt, Halladay and Hamels vs Sanchez, Cain and Lincecum will be even match ups. Though the pitching might be even the offense is not. Here is where the Giants offense will hurt this team and their chances. The Phillies hitters are consistent and will cause problems on the base paths. The Giants will truly miss a big bat in their line up.

Who Wins?: The Phillies will win this in 5 games. Pitching will be good for the Giants but the Phillies hitters will be better. Phillies return to the World Series for the third time in three years and look to be winners twice out of the three times.

– Tim Dimas ( @TimmyD_WSJU )

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“Is the sun going to come up tomorrow?”

This is the question most Mets fans are asking themselves after team owner Fred Wilpon gave his clear vote of confidence towards Omar Minaya’s future with the team.  How are Met fans supposed to feel when it seems clear that ownerships main goals don’t seem to be centered on the 2011 season? How can they be? This front office has seen mild success, and catastrophic failure.  For Fred Wilpon to come out and say that the G.M. position is not under review in a year that the Mets are looking at not making the playoffs for the 4th straight season is an utter embarrassment.  What has Omar done (other than the Santana deal) that would allow him a free pass. NOTHING. And this is a concern

The Problem – 700 million dollars.  That is the alleged sum of money that the Wilpon family watched spiral down the drain in the Bernie Madoff scandal.  I don’t know about you, but if I lost that kind of money, I would be hesitant on wasting any more money i.e. Oliver Perez.  Other than eating the 12 million owed to Ollie this season, the Mets have decided to essentially play with a 24-man roster and let him rot in the bullpen. A decision based entirely on money.  The Mets are in a position eerily similar to the one the Knicks were in prior to this summer, with one issue. There is no potential LeBron James at the end of the tunnel, or even for that matter an Amare’ Stoudemire.  Due to the current front office’s contractual blunders such as the four-year 25 million dollar disaster for Luis Castillo, and the seven-year 199 million dollar contract signed by Carlos Beltran.  With an abundance of bloated contracts on the current payroll, and the new money conscious attitude in the front office, it seem likely that the 2011 Metropolitans are doomed to another season of ineptitude with a lineup consisting of over-paid and under-performing players, sprinkled in with the likes of AAA level talent such as Ruben Tejada, and Josh Thole starting at key positions.

The Bigger Problem There have been teams that made drastic personnel changes to cut salary that managed to remain successful, ex. Marlins.  Granted it took them a few seasons to get back in the winners circle, but they did it. The Marlins had two things going for them that the Mets don’t, a fan base that has about as much passion as a grapefruit, and a farm system.  Rebuilding is never easy in New York, especially in the shadows of the Yankees and it doesn’t help that the current front office regime has stripped the farm system down to the studs.  The farm is filled with one-time blue chip prospects, full-time busts.  Fernando Martinez a one-time top rated prospect has watched his value plummet at the Mets expense.  In order to get rid of some of the unwanted contracts on the club, the Mets will need to blow teams away with offers that just aren’t there.  Can you imagine any team giving up a solid pitching prospect for the likes of Ollie Perez and Mike Hessman. No chance.

The Solution – In all of this mess, Jerry Manuel seems to get a free pass, which too is sickening.  Although he has been hamstrung by ownership with the personnel he’s given to field a team, he has done nothing to spark the team and it seems more and more every day that the team has given up on this season and this managerial regime.  Although that type of attitude is unacceptable for a paid athlete, players are there own commodities, and if they don’t feel they are being put in a situation to succeed they will shut it down early regardless of what anyone says. The solution to this mess is simple. Bobby Valentine. A proven winner, and a New York personality, Bobby V seems like a no-brainer.  I defy anyone to say the Bobby managed 2000 Mets team was more talented than this Mets team as currently constituted.  An outfield consisting of Benny Agbayani, Jay Payton and Timo Perez is nowhere near as good on paper as Bay, Beltran, and Pagan.  Paper doesn’t win games, players and coaches do.  Valentine gets the most out of all of his players, and demands 110% of everyone at all times.

There is no doubt that this is an extremely talented team, on paper.  The thing now is converting paper to the playing field, and Bobby Valentine is the best candidate to make that dream a possibility.

-Frank Giambrone

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Half man; half machine

Throughout Major League Baseball a lot of people are on Alex Rodriguez watch. After hitting his 600th home run of his career a couple weeks back everyone is preparing for him to break Barry Bonds 762* home run mark. The Yankees were and probably still are confident that A-Rod will break the record which led them to playing him 25 million a season plus giving him incentives that increases each years total to about 30 million. So A-Rod is the 30 million dollar man ready to break baseball’s home run mark and be king?Don’t look now The Machine is coming for him.

The Machine that is Jose Alberto Pujols hit his 400th career home run last night off Washington Nationals Pitcher Jordan Zimmerman. He is the third youngest to do it, behind Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez. He is the 6th player in MLB history to post a .330+ batting average with 1,200+ runs batted in at the 400 mark. The other 5 players were Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Fox and Stan Musial. Not a bad company to join.

What makes Pujols stand out on his own and make him the first person to do something is hitting 400 home runs in his first 10 seasons. No one has ever done it but now Pujols stands alone in that category. Pujols is a hitting machine to say the least. 30+ homers in his first 10 seasons, 4 of which he hit 40+ and 2 of which he hit 51 twice in back to back seasons (2003 & 2004) at the ages of 23 and 24. 10 years to hit 400 and can anyone say he doesn’t have the chance to hit 700 and if he keeps up the pace maybe even 800.

Another thing that makes Pujols the best player in the league is that not only can he hit bombs but he hits for average. His on base percentage is amazing. Every time he steps up to the plate he gives his team the chance to score whether it’s getting a hit and being scored later or hitting an RBI or a home run. To top it all off he’s an excellent defensive player at first base posting a .997 fielding percentage over the past 10 years.

Albert Pujols should be the highest paid player. He plays baseball the right way, the only way and the clean way. I hope and I pray that he is never mixed in with steroids or HGH (human growth hormones) because if he is clean until the day he retires Albert Pujols could go down as one of the three best hitters of all time, the home run king and overall the greatest first baseman to play the game of baseball ever. Albert Pujols said,”It’s a special milestone but I don’t play for numbers.” You may not Albert but us baseball fans do. The Machine is making his mark on history. Are you watching?

-Timmy Dimas

(@TimmyD_WSJU)

For more numbers check out this link. Baseball Reference – Albert Pujols

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As the 2010 MLB season comes to its midpoint and the Mid-Summer Classic, here are my first half awards.

MVP

Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers

The 27 year old Tigers’ first baseman is in the midst of another stellar, under-the-radar season. After six straight seasons of 100+ RBIs, he has a league-leading 71 at the break, putting him on pace for a fantastic 140. Pair that with a .339 average (tied for 4th in the MLB) and 20 HR (tied for 2nd), and Cabrera has quietly become a Triple Crown threat. Look for him to have the same success in the second half and, hopefully for him, lead his team to the playoffs.

Cy Young Award

David Price, SP, Tampa Bay Rays

Following his key role in the 2008 Playoffs, Price had a subpar 2009 season, going 10-7 with an ERA of 4.42. But, he seems to be back to fulfill the promise he showed as a rookie. At the break, Price is 11-4 with a 2.42 ERA and 90 K’s in 16 starts. The only question that remains is, can he sustain the grind of 30+ starts and, perhaps, a playoff run? With the selection of pitches he has and the fact that he’s a lefty, he should be able to.

Rookie of the Year

Neftali Feliz, CP, Texas Rangers

While most of the  rookie buzz has been surrounding a certain phenom in our nation’s capital, Neftali Feliz has done a nice job closing games for the Rangers. At the break, he has 22 saves and an ERA of 3.00.

Manager of the Year

Joe Girardi, New York Yankees

The Yankees, being the only team in the MLB with 50 wins at the half-way point, have been led by their general. Joe Girardi. Girardi has done a good job this year taking on a variety of managerial calls, including developing young starter Phil Hughes, working with a struggling Mark Texiera, and, the toughest of all, defending the World Series crown with the inherent target-on-the-back that comes with it.

-Dan Martin

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With All-Star break right around the corner I decided to give out some mid-season awards for the National League players.

MVP: Joey Votto (1B Cincinnati Reds)

This guy has been on fire all season long. 21 HR’s 59 RBI’s .316 BA and is slugging .594. Tell me how you could not put this guy here. Apparently MLB doesn’t think he’s All-Star game worthy and it’s left up to the fans to choose him. In my mind as of right now Votto is an All-Start starter and the first half MVP.

CY Young: Ubaldo Jimenez (P Colorado Rockies)

To even think of putting someone else here is ridiculous. Jimenez is 14-1 with 107 strikeouts and a 2.24 ERA. He is one win away from breaking his career record of wins (15) and it’s only the first half of the season. Not to mention throwing a no-hitter against the Atlanta Braves earlier this month. The kid has an incredible gift and just to think he could have turned down being a MLB pitcher to be a doctor instead makes me as a baseball fan shutter. His talent needs to be used and right now he’s Cy Young worthy.

Rookie of the Year: Gaby Sanchez (1B Florida Marlins)

A lot of people would figure to put 20 year old Braves star Jason Heyward here but Sanchez is looking like a better case. Hitting just over .300 (.309 which is better then Heywards .251 BA) with 9 home runs and 38 RBI’s. He has been a solid player on the young Florida Marlins team which includes another young talent Mike Stanton, another 20 year old call up in the majors this year. Look for Sanchez to continue his strong season.

Manager of the Year: Dusty Baker (Cincinnati Reds)

When the season started I said that the Reds could be a solid team but what I’ve seen so far is unexpected. The pitching staff filled with lots of youngsters has really emerged and the position players have found their grove. Dusty Baker has been making the right calls all year. The Reds are a top the N.L. Central with St. Louis right behind them. Dusty has to continue to make the right calls for the Reds to continue this great season.

-Timmy Dimas

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Washington Nationals rookie phenom Stephen Strasburg has come out of the gate here in his first year, living up to the astronomical hype that welcomed him. Posting a 2.45 ERA and 53 strikeouts in just 6 starts and 36.2 innings pitched, he has put himself in prime position to win Rookie of the Year if he keeps this pace.

But, below the surface, the Strasburg tale is a cautionary one. Many pitchers before him have gotten off to fantastic starts in their career, only to find struggles and/or injury down the road.

In the last decade or so, a few names come to mind. Kerry Wood, after winning the Rookie of the Year with the Cubs in 1998, has never lived up to the multiple-Cy-Young hype that surrounded him early in his career. Despite his resurgence the past few years as a solid closer for the Cubs and Indians, many still wonder what he could have been, had a series of elbow and arm problems limited his growth and success at the Major League level.

In a second stroke of bad luck in the Cubs organization,the early 2000s brought the rise and fall of young Mark Prior. After winning 18 games and finishing the season with a 2.43 ERA in 2003, injuries cut his career short at age 25.

Unfortunately, there are many similarities between Prior and Strasburg, many of which are hard to ignore. Both armed with fastballs near 100mph and killer breaking pitches, they used their repitoire to strike out a lot of batters. In Prior’s break-out season of 2003, he struck out 245 batters in 211.1 innings. Right now, if Strasburg throws that many innings, he’d end up with over 300 K’s, but expect the Nationals to take their time with the coveted arm of this flame-throwing 21 year old.

So what is to be learned? A combination of things, some of which have become cliched in the past few years.

Firstly, save his arm.

There is a correct and an incorrect way to go about that, though. What the Yankees have attempted to do with Joba Chamberlain has turned out to be a disaster. Stretching out and shortening his arm has done nothing but put him back in the bullpen where he probably should have been all along.

Thus far, it seems the Nationals have it right. In six starts, Strasburg has thrown just over 36 innings, or 6 innings per start. That is smart on their part because, at 21 years old, it is a long career that lies in front of him and, in a crowded NL East, it doesn’t seem the Nats are going anywhere this season.

The second aspect to look at is the hype and exposure he’s endured so far and will in the future. Every one of his first six starts has been nationally televised, he has been on Letterman, and he is a constant talking point on television and radio broadcasts across the country. To me, he seems seasoned enough with the media and being a star at every level to handle it, but he is only six starts into what is hopefully a long career for him.

Until we can tell for sure what exactly will come of him, enjoy his fastball, if you can see it, and his curve, if you can follow it.

-Dan Martin

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