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2011 MLB Team Preview: Philadelphia Phillies

Over the past four seasons, the Philadelphia Phillies have easily been one of the top three teams across Major League Baseball.

In that time the Phillies have been the NL Champions three times, the 2008 World Series Champs, went back to World Series again in 2009 and made the post season in 2010. Also, the team won 97 games last year, which was the most in baseball.

This ball-club is clearly popular favorite with fans, in Vegas and with players because everyone seems to want to a piece of the Phillies. This off-season proved that after Cliff Lee chose the Phanatic over the Yankee pinstripes.

The pressure is on for this team in 2011, can they live up to the World Series or bust position they’ve put themselves in?

Let’s take a look at the Philadelphia Phillies heading into the season.

The Positives:

Pitching. There is no better rotation heading into 2011 across baseball.

Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels (and Joe Blanton) almost seems surreal, but then you realize this is reality in Philadelphia and that is nuts. Each of the names already so respected in the league by itself, that it would be no surprise if they went down historically as the best starting rotation ever. Just think about the fact that Blanton is the team’s fifth starter and anywhere else he would easily be a #2 or #3 guy.

SS Jimmy Rollins talents shine when the spotlight is on him and this season it is glaring in his face, as Rollins is in a contract year. Last year was an utter disappointment, as he played in just 88 games, posting just eight home-runs, 41 RBIs and a career low .243 batting average. Rollins showed up this Spring in incredible shape and is healthy as can be, so expect those numbers to shoot up big time because he knows that at 32-years-old, this will be his last big contract.

If the team ever needs a pick-me-up, the Phillies fans will surely give them that extra motivation. Citizens Bank Park will be packed without question for every home game, as the fans are nuts for this team.

It doesn’t hurt that the Phillies are managed by one of the best skippers in the game Charlie Manual. Manual is one cool customer and the players literally worship him.

The Negatives:

All-star 2B Chase Utley’s injury situation keeps looking more grim with each passing day. The latest confirmed by MLB Trade Rumors is the worst news yet, as the Phillies have signed Mets throwaway Luis Castillo. Castillo got kicked to the curb by NY’s other team a week ago, despite having to eat $6 million owed just to get him to leave.

This is the Mets, who financially are in serious hot water, presumably wouldn’t waste money unless the situation was dire. Same reason the Phillies went out and grabbed Castillo, desperation because Utley knee must be really bad. It is embarrassing for the Phillies, as Utley must have felt his knee had a problem during the off-season. Utley has yet to play in a game this spring. YIKES!

It would be impossible for the ‘fab four’ to throw for nine innings every start, but my bet is they will try. Handing the ball to Brad Lidge after working eight shutout innings does not reassure a win at all. Lidge hasn’t been the same since 2008 and a closer has to be consistent. Lidge has been flirting with biceps tendonitis this spring but he did pitch an inning in a minor league game and it went well. Lidge has to get back to his World Series Championship form so the starting rotations efforts aren’t a total waste.

I have said from the moment Jayson Werth was not re-signed that the team would seriously regret it. This I still firmly believe as Werth was their only power right hitter. Werth really carried the team in 2010 when Utley, Rollins and Ryan Howard were all on the DL.

Werth still preformed pretty much knowing he was a goner at the end of the season.

How did he know this? Continue reading ‘2011 MLB Team Preview: Philadelphia Phillies’ »

2011 Spring Training Update: The New York Yankee Wounded

Leaving Spring Training a team can look very different from when they got there.

The leading cause is injuries, as players are warming-up their bodies to get ready for the 162-game grind of the regular season. To see the most up-to-date injury report, team-by-team go to ESPN Injury Updates.

Daily reports seem endless, but also remember that if a player feels anything is off, he will rest as a precautionary measure.

Other then catcher Francisco Cervelli broken foot, the New York Yankees have been pretty healthy considering the clubhouse has been dubbed a part-time nursing home.

The pitchers have had their usual stiffness, as at one point the majority of the Yankee bullpen was in the training room instead of on the mound.

Marc Carig of the Newark Star-Ledger gave the latest updates:

  • Both Joba Chamberlain (groin) and Pedro Feliciano (triceps tightness/dead arm) are both throwing off the mound without any problems.
  • Eric Chavez, who should easily make the 25-man roaster, is having calf spasms but is sidelined till Friday as a precautionary measure and he says it is not anything of concern.
  • Brett Gardner’s bruised shin is fine and he is back in the line-up as the Yankees lead-off hitter.

The New York Times reported on the latest blow:

  • Curtis Granderson did not play against the Orioles today after straining his right oblique muscle in batting practice. Still waiting on the severity of the injury, but his Opening Day status is possibly in doubt.

That is not good news, but guess skipper Joe Girardi will keep us updated on Granderson’s condition. He was having a really productive Spring and hope he will be in Center Field on Opening Day.

Opening Day is just 10 days away and everyone is ready to get the regular season going….

2011 MLB Team Preview: Detroit Tigers

The 2010 season did not pan out the way the Detroit Tigers had planed and that is putting it kindly.

Injury-ridden across the board, it is a miracle within itself that the Tigers managed to finish with an 81-81 record. The Tigers are not a .500 team and going forward

Is 2011 the year of the Tigers? Hey anything it possible, so let’s take a look at Detroit heading into the regular season.

The Positives:

The Tigers off-season easily ranks as one of the most productive in baseball, with the additions of catcher Victor Martinez, RHP Joaquin Benoit and RHP Brad Penny.

The big splash was signing Martinez to a 4-year deal worth $50 million. Martinez is one of the best hitting catchers in the game and in my guess is he will hit fifth, right behind arguably the best hitter in the game, Miguel Cabrera. This is a huge upgrade behind the plate, as Martinez is that good.

The Tigers are looking forward to the return of OF Magglio Ordonez, after he broke his ankle in 2010. Ordonez is the top half of the Cabrera sandwich hitting in the third spot. Ordonez is 37 years old and entering his 15th season, but his first 14 years makes an average season of 38 doubles, 27 home-runs and 111 RBIs. If Ordonez can get anywhere near those numbers, watch out.

Rookie OF Austin Jackson came to the Tigers as part of the Curtis Granderson trade with the Yankees right at the start of 2010 season. Jackson finished second in the Rookie-of-the-Year voting and had a great first season. As the Tigers lead-off expect big things from Jackson, who hit in over a 100 runs, stole 27 bases and finished up with a batting average just shy of .300. Jackson needs to cut down on his 170 strikeouts from 2010, but that will come with time.

Detroit’s infield also has 3B Brandon Inge who is like a fine wine, he keeps getting better over time. Next to Inge at shortstop is Johnny Peralta who is all around solid both offensively and with the bat.

This is a really good group of bats that will compliment the Tigers’ equally talented pitching rotation.

Led by team ace Justin Verlander, who is the definition of an innings eater pitching just shy of 230 total last season. Verlander posted a 3.37 ERA, with 219 strikeouts and an 18-9 record. Max Scherzer, who pitched 195 innings total, with a 3.50 ERA, follows Verlander in the two spot. Rounding out the rotation is Rick Porcell, Phil Coke and Brad Penny. This will be Coke’s first season in the bigs as a starter and his performance could impact the team big time.

Closer Jose Valverde is healthy again and with the Tigers new addition of Benoit to be his 8th inning guy sets Valverde up to get a lot of save opportunities.

The Tigers look good all around and are determined that this is their year.

The Negatives:

The off-field behavior of Cabrera is a great concern, as it should be. Cabrera has had problems with alcohol for quite some time, but after the trouble he caused at the end of 2009 things seemed to be on track. So, at the start of Spring Training it came as quite a shock to hear the Cabrera had been arrested for a DWI again and resisting arrest. The Tigers had no problem letting Cabrera come into camp, which I hope was not for selfish reasons. Cabrera is obviously not well and without professional help, like going to a rehab, it is almost certain he will find trouble again soon.

With the team looking healthy again, the Tigers have to improve their record on the road. Last season going 29-52 is disgraceful, after going the reverse 52-29 at home. If they want to contend they have to win more away from Detroit or they can forget the playoffs. Continue reading ‘2011 MLB Team Preview: Detroit Tigers’ »

New York Yankee Rumors: Oliver Perez Going From Queens To The Bronx

The New York Mets finally did what was thought to be the inevitable by cutting ties with pitcher Oliver Perez.

For any team, especially one in a financial mess like the Mets, it takes a lot to sever ties with a player who will still be on the payroll for $12 million.

Perez is actually second Met of the week to be kicked to the curb. Luis Castillo was sent packing just a few days prior, as the Mets are finally doing some spring-cleaning.

This was a long time coming for Perez, as he was literally wasting a roaster spot. Perez had diminished velocity and a complete inability to throw strikes, making him totally ineffective, costing the team wins.

He does throw from the coveted left side, so sending to the bullpen, as a lefty specialist was the last resort. Perez imploded, as lefty hitters crushed everything he threw.

Last season, the Mets wanted to help Perez right himself again by sending him to minors to work on changing his mechanics.

Many MLB pitchers have to change their delivery as they get older and usually they can still be effective even with the drop in velocity. Problem was Perez just turned 29 years old, meaning he was 28 back then and most players are amid their prime still.

This all doesn’t matter as Perez refused to go to the minors, leaving the Mets to claim Perez was injured just to get him off the roaster and onto the DL. What a stellar attitude.

Not only lacking talent, Perez is a horrible teammate.

Last year, I read an article by Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com about the Mets visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to lift the spirits of injured war veterans.

Perez just didn’t show up to the team charity event and his excuse was:

“I don’t like to see people like that, so I never go there. Sometimes you see people with no legs, no arms. I don’t like to see that.”

That is just horrible, as all MLB teams do a ton of charity work. Professional athletes like to give back and for a wounded vet to meet famous athletes could be a dream come true. Perez showed his true colors and Mets fans hatred towards him was well justified.

Knowing all this I understood why Mets fans have been adamant about getting rid of Perez.

So you can understand my absolute disgust when MLB Trade Rumors headline read Yankees Have Some Interest In Oliver Perez. The original source of this torrid rumor came via twitter from Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman, who tweeted:

Yankees people have discussed ollie as cheap sign. Initial read: cashman not that enthused. Dbacks, w towers ties, best hope?

This is absolutely embarrassing for the Yankees. To be even associate with a guy like Perez in the same sentence is not cool.

Just like Cashman, I was not enthused by this whole rumor either and hopefully will never have to hear of Perez anywhere in New York again.

New York Yankees Update: AJ Burnett Gets What He Deserves

The New York Yankees skipper Joe Girardi made an important announcement on Saturday and one that was well earned.

The starting rotation starts with Yankees ace CC Sabathia, who will be followed by AJ Burnett and then Phil Hughes.
Anthony Mccarron of the NY Daily News quoted the skipper after this was announcement was confirmed:

“That’s what we brought A.J. here to do, bottom line,” Girardi said. “In 2009, he was very, very important for us and pitched very well for us, playoffs, World Series, you name it. He struggled last year, but we believe he’s going to be back.”

I have touched on the Burnett subject a couple of times and this was the right move. Not only logical, but Burnett has worked his butt off and it shows.

Nothing is more inspiring than to see a pro-athlete, at Burnett’s level to still care with so much determination. Burnett loves the game of baseball and he well deserves to be right the team’s second ace.

I have faith that Burnett will prevail and have a solid 2011 season.

With passing each day, the 2011 Yankees purpose is becoming quite clear. The bad taste lingering from 2009 that Alex Rodriguez talked about at the start of Spring Training is for real.

The players are working their butts off to make sure that 2011 is a season with no regrets in New York. All I can say is I like what is going on down in Tampa.

2011 MLB Team Preview: Atlanta Braves

Not much attention has been paid to the Atlanta Braves this Spring, which is not shocking considering the Braves play in the same division with two drama queens, the Phillies and the Mets.

Please note that this lack of headlines is not covertly saying the Braves are not contenders in 2011. Fact is nothing could be farther from the truth.

Last season, Atlanta won 91 games in the regular season and did not finish the way they had hoped, losing to the Giants in the NLDS. The disappointment stemming from the departure of their beloved skipper Bobby Cox and wanted nothing more then to have him go out on top.

A baseball legend, Cox retired after 28 years as a MLB skipper, with the last 24 serving as the Braves manager. Cox’s presence in the dugout will be sorely missed in Atlanta, and throughout baseball, but he has signed a one-year deal to be a special advisor in 2011, so Cox is not totally done yet.

Let’s take a look at the Atlanta Braves heading in to the 2011 season, in the team’s first year of the post-Cox era:

The Positive:

The Braves claim if any pitching rotation can compete with the Phillies ‘fab-four’ they can. Led by Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, this statement is not far from the truth.

Atlanta’s 1-4 in their starting rotation is impressive, with all easily winning 15+ games and should post an ERA of less then 3.00.

The fifth spot has not been named yet, but it looks to be top prospect Mike Minor. Minor is a 23-year-old lefty who had an ERA just shy of 6.00, going 3-2 over his eight starts in 2010. Minor will either struggle in his first full season or become a hero; he has the potential to go either direction.

The bats will be better than last season, with the acquisition of Dan Uggla from the Marlins. Uggla will be sandwiched in between rookie sensation Jason Heyward and his mini-me, rookie 1B Freddie Freeman who is said to be better than Heyward was last season. That is a nice group of power in the heart of a line-up, as the addition of two-time All-Star and recent Silver Slugger winner in Uggla will be the difference maker.

New Skipper Fredi Gonzalez will take over for Cox, his mentor and the Braves front office only interviewed manager by choice. Gonzalez was the Braves third-base coach for four seasons under Cox, till he became the Marlins manager following 2007. Gonzalez got canned last season for benching Marlins star shortstop Hanley Ramirez for being lazy, which was more then fair. Ramirez threw a fit and Gonzalez took the fall. Gonzalez is glad to be out of that situation and has a bright future ahead of him.

Regardless, Gonzalez believes in hard work ethic, with a smile. Gonzalez is perfect for this job and even though Cox’s shoes will never be filled, this is pretty darn close.

The Negative:

Defensively the Braves have to improve to back-up the pitchers on the mound. There is not one infielder that excels with their glove. The 126 errors in 2010 cannot happen again, as they only had one less then the Pittsburgh Pirates. It is just unacceptable and sloppy form by a playoff team.

The concerns start with 3B Chipper Jones is about to be 39-years-old and almost retired last season after he had to have knee surgery. After Jones, Freddie Freeman is a rookie covering first and Uggla playing at second is not comforting. Uggla brings a lot of talent but catching the ball is not one of them.

Behind the plate is catcher Brian McCann, who has been with the Braves for four seasons. McCann continues to improve his stats each season and is a threat with a bat. He has to stay healthy, as he was clearly worn down last season. Atlanta is counting on McCann’s bat being more productive to add to one of the club’s clear strengths. Continue reading ‘2011 MLB Team Preview: Atlanta Braves’ »