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2011 MLB Team Preview: Minnesota Twins

Two-time reigning AL Central Champions; the Minnesota Twins are looking to three-peat in 2011.

For the Twins and their loyal fans, the postseason has been bittersweet, not being able to get past the ALDS or more specifically the New York Yankees. The Evil Empire has the Twins number, sweeping the series both in 2009 and 2010.

So, the Twins enter this season with a monkey on their backs, in a division that got a lot tougher during the off-season.

Can the Twins defy odds, win another AL best 94 games and not get hung out to dry in the playoffs…again?

Is three times really a charm?

Let’s take a look at the Minnesota Twins heading into the 2011 season.

Positives:

Catcher Joe Mauer and 1B Justin Morneau, Minnesota’s M & M boys are two of the best players in baseball, that is when they are not on the DL. If these two can stay healthy that will be a big step forward in Minnesota.

Mauer has to return to his 2009 MVP form, where he hit 28 home-runs and drove in 96 RBIs with a batting average of .365.

Morneau, the 2006 MVP just has to be able to play, as this guy has produce, as he hit 18 home-runs and 56 RBIs in 2010 playing in just 81 games. So, imagine double those numbers as Morneau’s career full season norm. Concussions have not allowed for Morneau to even touch a field until about two weeks ago when he got cleared to go.

Getting closer Joe Nathan back, after losing him for the entire 2010 season to Tommy John surgery is something the whole city of Minneapolis is happy about. Nathan has not looked like his normal ace-like self in Spring Training, but this is expected with any pitcher just coming off Tommy John.

Even though the Twins lost key bullpen guys in Joe Rauch and Jesse Crain, they still have Matt Capps who is a solid set-up man. Capps can close if need be, but with the rest of the bullpen being young and inexperienced; Nathan’s return will be the difference maker.

The Twins skipper has proven he can tweak a team to win. Ron Gardenhire took a severely damaged 2010 Twins team, led them to the playoffs with the most wins in the AL. Gardenhire was without question the 2010 Manager of the Year, for making the impossible, possible.

The Twins rotation is not without questions, but is good enough to have a winning year, as the bats have been the problem. The starters are not going to make or break the team, as they will just go with the flow.

Led by ace Francisco Liriano and a solid #2 Carl Pavano provide a solid punch atop the rotation and three reliable youngsters to finish out the back-end follow them. This is a nice group that can eat innings. The starters posted the fourth best ERA in the AL last season with a 3.95, throwing nine complete games and three shout-outs.

Negatives:

Are Nathan, Mauer and Morneau going to be able to stay off the DL in 2011? If history dictates anything this would be a miracle.

Nathan is coming back from Tommy John surgery, so expect some road bumps. That means everyone in the bullpen is bumped up a spot to adjust and makes the team’s strength a lot weaker.

Morneau’s concussion caused dizziness and blurred vision for that last eight months. He was rumored to be able to play last October and only just got cleared. This is a life-impacting situation for Morneau, as he was out for so long with no activity allowed. This is a reason for concern and mainly that you don’t want to see the slugger do any more damage to his brain. Continue reading ‘2011 MLB Team Preview: Minnesota Twins’ »

2011 MLB Team Preview: Oakland Athletics

The Oakland Athletics (A’s) biggest headline last season was when New York Yankees Alex Rodriguez took a jog over the pitching mound at The Coliseum on his way back to the visitor’s dugout, and SP Dallas Braden through a temper tantrum.

The A’s finished up the 2010 season at 81-81, a vast improvement from seasons prior but finishing second in the AL West was not as much earned, as it was lost when the Angels got injured.

So, where does that leave the A’s heading into 2011, let’s take a look.

The Positives:

Pitching, pitching and more pitching as the A’s have possibly the most talented group of youngsters across baseball. Finishing with a 3.56 ERA, an AL best and making 103 Quality Starts, which was the most in baseball in 2010.

This season the A’s are banking on the continued maturity of the righty Trevor Cahill, who is now 23-years old and in 2010 was one of the best pitchers in the AL. Cahill won 18 games, posting a 2.97 ERA over 30 starts. The rotation will be led by Cahill, who went 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA and was named to the All-Star Team in 2010.

Then there is 25-year-old, lefty Gio Gonzalez also made strides in 2010, posting a 15-9 record, with a 3.23 ERA but the 92 walks needs to improve. Gonzalez needs to learn when to throw what pitch, as well as get better control to lower the amount of walks.

The A’s most promising rookie is 22-year-old, lefty Brett Anderson, who has a 95+ fastball and has command well beyond his years. Anderson pounds the plate and throws for strikes, featuring a slider, change-up and curveball. In 2010 Anderson was sidelined twice with elbow soreness, which limited him to 19 starts. This kid has the biggest future, if he keeps maturing like this.

The third lefty, Braden, the newly acquired Brandon McCarthy and Rich Harden will fill the back-end spots. Harden is not unfamiliar with the A’s, as his last stint with Oakland dates back to 2008, where he made 13 starts, posting a 2.34 ERA, with a record of 5-1,

This is a very talented and young rotation, which is clearly the strength of this A’s ball-club.

There are not many teams featuring three lefty arms on the brink of becoming top of the rotation pitchers. I still think the A’s staff is working out their kinks and figuring out how to be the most effective on the mound.

This is not a “will it happen” situation, but a “when it happens.”

The Negatives:

The great pitching happens to be paired with one of the worst line-ups in baseball.

The A’s management seems so occupied with getting a new stadium built that they made no significant moves in the off-season that will bring a consistent pop to the batting order.

They traded away the speed of Rajai Davis to the Blue Jays for two prospect relievers. Davis stole 41+ bases in each of the last two seasons.

They picked up injured Nationals Josh Willington for two young prospects. In 2010 Willington played in 114 games, posting a .268 batting average, hitting 16 home runs, 56 RBI’s, and had eight stolen bases. He missed the last six weeks with a knee injury, but has played without any problems this spring and is hoping to put up some numbers in Oakland. Just have to wait and see.

Another pick-up the injured outfielder David DeJesus who only contributed in 91 games last year with the Royals. They also snagged the aging great Hideki Matsui as the team’s DH, which is worrisome considering Matsui’s age, injury history and the expectations the A’s are hoping Matsui can bring. Continue reading ‘2011 MLB Team Preview: Oakland Athletics’ »

New York Yankees: 2011 Pitching Rotation Is All Set

New York Yankees skipper Joe Girardi has announced the starting pitching rotation that will begin the 2011 season. 

Starters: (1) CC Sabathia, (2) AJ Burnett, (3) Phil Hughes, (4) Ivan Nova, (5) Freddy Garcia

Bullpen: Bartolo Colon, Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, Boone Logan, Pedro Feliciano, Raphael Soriano, Mariano Rivera (closer)

Mike Wallace at ESPN claims:

“The team with a longer history of excellence than any in the history of professional sports opted for mediocrity.”

Don’t know if I would put it in the same context as Wallace, but here is why I think Girardi made the right choices.

This was no easy decision as Nova, Colon and Garcia all pitched well enough to keep them in this competition right till the end.

Nova clearly earned himself the fourth spot, throwing a 1.80 ERA in four starts and five exhibition games this spring. In 2010, Nova was called up mid-pennant race and made seven starts for the Bombers, posting a 4.50 ERA, over 10 games to finish with a 1-2 record.

Garcia did not have as good a spring as Colon, but reputation and reliability is a factor. Considering Garcia won 12 games for the White Sox, while remaining healthy last season; and Colon hasn’t pitched in the regular season since September of 2009.

Colon’s also came to camp un-physically fit, about 25 lbs. overweight and a history of injuries on his resume. This surely benefited Garcia into being the logical and more dependable choice.

Shockingly, I am happy that Colon is staying after projecting flashes of his previous 2005 CY Young winning self. Colon will be as solid as any team could hope for in the long relief role out of the bullpen. Trust me Colon will be needed more then he probably realizes, and that I would live to admit.

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2011 MLB Team Preview: Colorado Rockies

The Colorado Rockies just missed the post season last year, unlike in 2009 when the Rockies slipped in as the Wild Card team or back in 2007 when the franchise made its first World Series appearance.

Point being is that the Rockies never seem to live up to their potential, as they love to leave everything to hanging to the last minute. They are a younger franchise, in a great city with a loyal group of fans just waiting for their first World Series win.

Could 2011 be the year for the Rockies? Let’s take a look.

The Positives:

Not a busy off-season outside of the organization, but internally the Rockies made it a priority to lock up two of the best players in baseball, SS Troy Tulowitzki and OF Carlos Gonzalez.

Locking up both Tulo and Gonzalez for the next seven years at the price of $134 million and $80 million respectively, gives the Rockies a solid core for the next few seasons. Gonzalez played in 145 games, hitting 34 home-runs, 111 RBIs and he almost snagged the NL MVP from Reds Joey Votto. Tulo posted a .315 batting average, hitting 27 homers and driving in 95 RBIs.

Considering that these twos’ bats make up for about a third of the team’s overall run production, it is easy to see why Tulo and Gonzalez went from important to vital. Overall, solid move making sure these two remain in Denver for the long haul.

In the first half of 2010, Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez was the talk of baseball. Jimenez threw the Rockies first no-hitter in April and finished the month 5-0 in five starts. He also pitched just shy of 26 straight innings without a run scoring until it got broken up May 3rd. So, Jimenez just went on another hitless marathon topping 33 innings straight through July of last season.

The second half of 2010 was not so pretty as Jimenez came back down to earth, but finished with a 19-8 record, posting a 2.88 ERA and pitched a total of 221.2 innings over 33 starts. It would be hard to repeat the historical first half of last year, but Jimenez is the staff’s ace and needs to win 19 games for the team to contend in 2011.

The pressure was completely on Jimenez last season, but a finally healthy Jorge De La Rosa should provide the needed relief. De La Rosa is a solid lefty who had a middle finger issue last season, which kept him on the DL for 12 of his scheduled starts, but in 2009 he won 16 games and expect the same or better in 2011.

Jayson Hammel will most likely follow De La Rosa, who was second, behind Jimenez in strikeouts with 141 last season and threw just shy of 180 innings in 30 starts. The back end will be Jhoulys Chacin and Aaron Cook who broke his finger before Spring Training, so he won’t be available right away.

The Rockies bullpen was sans closer Hudson Street who missed 70 games with should injury, but still had 20 saves in 44 games. In 2009, Street had 35 saves so hoping for a comeback season to close out some wins in the ninth inning.

The Negatives:

It is hard to imagine that a team with two powerhouses, such as Tulo and Gonzalez biggest disadvantage would be offense. Finishing 19 games below .500 in 2010 is unacceptable for any team looking for long-term success.

For a team who plays at such a high altitude, but the problem was not at home where they led the league in batting average with .298. It was anywhere other the fun-hitting Coors Field, where the team’s batting average went from first to last with a .226.

Oh we are not done yet, as there are two even bigger concerns lingering from 2010. The team ranked at the bottom with a .223 batting average with the bases loaded and came in as the third-worst in strikeouts per game averaging eight for a total of 1,274 on the season.

Tulo and Gonzalez are coming into their primes but they have absolutely zero support on either side of them. The Rockies don’t look much different from 2010, as the only external off-season move was a trade for 2B Jose Lopez. Continue reading ‘2011 MLB Team Preview: Colorado Rockies’ »

New York Yankees: Finally Say Adios To Sergio Mitre

Sergio Mitre

Image via Wikipedia

Ex-New York Yankees Sergio Mitre is a phrase I have been waiting to hear for two years.

Well, according to a tweet from ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick, this is now fact, as the Brewers are bringing the talents of Mitre to the city of Milwaukee.

What talents did the Brew Crew just acquire?

Not quite sure, but the Brewers are currently missing their two aces Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum so presumably Mitre would be used as a filler.

The Sporting News reported that Marcum should be ready to go at the start of the season, but Greinke’s broken ribs are a few weeks away from returning.

So, Mitre will replace Greinke temporarily in April or be used as a long man, but who cares not soenthing Yankee fans need to worry about any longer. The Brewers will face the Reds, Phillies, Braves and Cubs in the month of April, which is tough bunch of NL hitting teams. Well, I guess the Brewers are hoping for a speedy recovery because if it is the Mitre Yankee fans grew to know he will get slammed by these hard hitting clubs.

This means the Yankees rotation is almost set with Sabathia, Burnett, Hughes, Nova and Colon/Garcia/Millwood. Garcia said he will take a bullpen job and he is a way better option then Mitre.

This move gets two thumbs up and a snap, as Mitre should have been let go way before this.

Hopefully skipper Joe Girardi will not be too heartbroken by the break-up, but I just hope Mitre doesn’t let the door hit him on the way out.

Six days and counting till the regular season….

2011 MLB Team Preview: Cincinnati Reds

After a 14-year postseason drought, the Cincinnati Reds finally made it back to October after winning the NL Central in 2010.

Facing the Phillies in the NLDS proved too much for this young team, as they didn’t win one game but were so content just to be there.

This led to the popular question, were the Reds just lucky last year? Or are they a team for fans to really get excited about in 2011?

Let’s take a look at the Cincinnati Reds:

The Positives:

2011 was predicted as the year the Reds would be competitive in the NL Central, making last year a pleasant surprise. It looks as if virtually the same team is returning from 2010, but should be a little wiser after experiencing the post season.

The batting line-up is young and led by the 27-year-old, reigning NL MVP 1B Joey Votto, who posted a .324 batting average, with 37 home-runs, 113 RBIs and managed to steal 16 bases too.

Votto did get some help from 23-year-old Jay Bruce, 25 year-old Drew Stubbs and veteran Scott Rolan’s hot bats that neighbored him in the line-up. Bruce finished with 70 RBIs, 25 home-runs and posting a .281 batting average, while Stubbs had 22 home-runs, 77 RBIs, with a .255 batting average.

The bats are the Reds muscle but how strong rest on the shoulders of the three youngsters (Bruce, Votto and Stubbs). Bruce and Stubbs could break out in 2011, like Votto did last year at least that is the plan.

Not to leave out the Reds bullpen, which features the highly talked about Cuban phenom Aroldis Chapman. Chapman broke the MLB for fastest pitch clocking a 105+ mph fastball in 2010. Chapman could become a dominant closer and will definitely play that roll a few times in the upcoming season. Considering Chapman’s price tag, the Reds will try him out in the rotation but doubt it will be this season. For now he can shorten games and eat some innings for the starters.

The Negatives:

The Reds don’t have a true ace on their pitching staff to go out there every fifth day. The rotation’s success will depend on veteran, 34 year-old Bronson Arroyo and Edison Volquez, who is still recovering from 2009 Tommy John surgery.

Rounding out the bottom includes the undependable Johnny Cueto and an ineffective Homer Bailey.

GO figure that Cueto will start the season on the DL, missing the month of April due to shoulder soreness. That is never a good diagnosis.

Bailey is 24-years old ex-phenom, who has not come close to his lavish days in the minors. Bailey from the past is what everyone is still hoping to see, but his 4.46 ERA, 109 hits over 109 innings has to improve. Bailey did strike out 100 batters, but walking 40 hitters counteracts the one positive.

The team’s hope is that youngsters Travis Wood and Mike Leake continue to improve on 2010 performances. These two had roles in getting to the Reds to the playoffs. Sans Cueto, both Leake and Wood will start the season in the rotation, which gives the two a nice little battle to keep a spot. My guess is Wood will remain in the rotation all season; Leake stays until Cueto gets healthy.

Bottom line is this rotation is not ideal because Arroyo is getting up there. It is doubtful he can win 17 games and throw 200+ innings again in 2011. Volquez was an ace in 2008, but getting back there is tough and only time will tell. Volquez was named the Opening Day starter earlier this week.

Somehow skipper Dusty Baker, who has been known to destroy pitcher’s arms (i.e. destroyer of ‘Chicago Heat’ of Prior and Wood) has to make this work without losing any arms to injury. He did it last season, maybe he learned from past mistakes. Continue reading ‘2011 MLB Team Preview: Cincinnati Reds’ »