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2011 MLB Team Preview: Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox didn’t make the postseason in 2010, and that is unacceptable response following a 2009 New York Yankees World Series win.

Boston’s GM Theo Epstein clearly did not want this to resonate in the minds of Red Sox Nation.

So, Epstein made the Red Sox the unmistakable winners this off-season, by signing LF Carl Crawford and trading than signing 1B Adrian Gonzalez, two of the best players in the game.

Crawford and Gonzalez’s paychecks for bringing their talents to Boston for the next seven years are $142 and $154 million bucks respectively. That is a lot of coin, but both players are well worth the money. Guess the Yankees now share the evil empire, with an evil nation.

The Positives:

Signing Crawford and initially trading for Gonzalez made an already substantial line-up into a lethal one. Last season, the Red Sox hit the second most homeruns in the Majors with 211 and led the AL with 358 doubles.

Expect these numbers to grow, as Gonzalez will be hitting in batter friendly Fenway Park. This is heaven compared to his old stomping ground of Petco in San Diego, where Gonzalez went yard 31 times in 2010 and posted 40 homers just a year earlier.

Crawford retains all the tools, as a hitter, as a defender and is just in his prime at 28-years-old. Crawford’s speed is undeniable, with a career average of 54 stolen bases and posting 47 total last season.

Add the swiftness of a healthy Pedroia and Ellsbury who stole 70 bases in 2009, the Red Sox surely won’t be ranking 12th in steals in the AL like last year, with a team total of 68.

Don’t forget that the two newest Red Sox join a line-up that includes David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, JD Drew, Pedroia and Ellsbury, which gives skipper Terry Francona lots of choices.

Speaking of Francona, he is one of the paramount skippers in the game. Francona has a fantastic report with his players, but they respect him even more. After what Francona did with his injury ridden team in 2010 just certifies what we already know, that the Red Sox are in some good hands.

Boston’s starting rotation has a one-two punch of 27-year-old Jon Lester and 26-year-old Clay Buchholz, who both verified their worth in 2010. Buchholz pitched just shy of 174 innings, posting a 2.33 ERA; and Lester had a 3.25 ERA, with 225 strikeouts over 208 innings pitched.

Epstein also added needed depth to the Red Sox’s bullpen by picking up Dan Wheeler and Bobby Jenkins.

What didn’t, excuse me couldn’t Epstein not achieve this off-season?

Pretty much nothing because he took a great team and made them even better. This is stuff of a GM-Genius, but the Red Sox owners deep pockets help a little too.

The Negatives:

Even with as much ‘wow-factor’ as the 2011 Red Sox radiate, it doesn’t exempt them from having areas of concern.

Epstein and Francona’s primary worry has to be the decline of closer Jonathan Papelbon, who lead the league with eight blown saves last season, which equaled his 2008-09 numbers combined.

The once dependable Papelbon has to prove himself reliable again, as any team without a dominant closer will have serious problems, especially in the AL East.

This also adds pressure on the Red Sox starters to try to stretch out seven or eight innings every fifth day. Boston’s back-end of the rotation of Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Daisue Matsuzaka were not reliable last season. Continue reading ‘2011 MLB Team Preview: Boston Red Sox’ »

2011 MLB Team Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

The Tampa Bay Rays finished last season with 96-66 record, the top in the AL and were the AL East champs for the second time in the last three seasons.

Heading into the off-season, as expected this homegrown, dynamic group was going to take a hit.

Rays fans are complaining, but they shoulder a lot of the blame for the team’s $40-$45 million dollar payroll. The Rays were awesome the last three seasons, but no one came to watch. Yes, they play in a dumpy dome known as Tropicana Field, but for only 12,000+ fans to show up on the night the Rays clinched the AL East is sad.

Winning normally fills ballparks, which means more revenue for a team to invest in good players.

No Rays fans can criticize that the 2011 season is already over because the door was open for three seasons to give their stars a reason not to want to leave.

The Positives:

The Rays still have 3B Evan Longoria, who is arguably the best in baseball. Longoria was named Rookie Of The Year in 2008; he has also won two Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger all before turning his current age of 25. Longoria is only going to get better.

Voted second behind King Felix in the 2010 CY Young ballot, the Rays still have their staff ace David Price. He finished 19-6, with an ERA of 2.72, with 188 strikeouts and only giving up 15 home-runs pitching just shy of 205 innings.

Price is the leader of a still very viable starting rotation.  Trading Matt Garza for a slew of prospects was a move that the Rays could afford with the emergence of ace prospect Jeremy Hellickson, who scouts say will dominate in his first full season, at the bottom of the order. In between sits Wade Davis, James Shields and Jeff Niemann, which is still a solid group.

Skipper Joe Maddon is an oddball, but he has molded so many youngsters into superstars that it overrides anything else. For two seasons straight, not one Rays starting pitcher went on the DL for an arm issue and that is all due to Maddon.

The Rays signed old teammates Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, which give them a needed veteran presence. Nothing calls for incentive more for these two than sticking it to both the Red Sox and Yankees. This was a great move by the Rays front office, as it gives the youngsters something to get excited about.

The Negatives: Continue reading ‘2011 MLB Team Preview: Tampa Bay Rays’ »

2011 MLB Team Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

The Toronto Blue Jays haven’t seen the post season since 1993.

Just like the Baltimore Orioles, the Blue Jays suffer from AL East syndrome.

The AL East Division was tough enough when it housed the two best teams in baseball, the Red Sox and Yankees. Than, in the last few seasons the Tampa Bay Rays jumped onto the elite list, which made baseball life in Toronto only harder.

What is so frustrating is the Blue Jays would have made the playoffs many times, if they played in any other division. In 2010, the Blue Jays won 85 games and in four of the last five seasons prior have won 80+ games. That amount of W’s has been enough to make the playoffs many times and even clinch a division title outside of the AL East.

For the Blue Jays, even with their major-league leading home-run total of 257 from last season, heading into 2011 things look to be the same…meaning anything is possible.

Blue Jays fans blamed not making the postseason on unfortunate circumstances for a darn good team, until the Rays proved that theory wrong.

The Positives:

With the sad departure of skipper Cito Gaston, the Jays hired Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell that was a great move. The Jays have a young pitching staff with a lot of potential and under Farrell’s guidance they could flourish.

Trading ace Roy Halladay prior to last season was not a popular move, but the starters finished with an ERA of 4.30, which top the Yankees 4.35 ERA.

The starters have the potential to make Toronto a 2011 surprise story, lead by Rickey Romero who looks to replace the traded Shaun Marcum. Romero finished last season with a 14-9 record and an ERA of 3.73. Three other youngsters Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil and Kyle Drabek will follow Romero.

The Jays had the most homeruns, 46 more than the Red Sox who had 211. Jose Bautista led that charge being accountable for 54 of the 257 total. Bautista should have a big year, as the 30-year-old is a free agent at the end of 2011, and players know the better play, the bigger contract. He also had 124 RBIs last season.

Joining Bautista is rookie Travis Snider, who displayed power in the minors and so moving Bautista to third base frees up a spot in the outfield for Snider to move in full time.

Also, the Jays were the slowest team in baseball, finishing 2010 with a pathetic 58 steals. So, signing Rajai Davis who stole 92 bases for the Oakland A’s the last two seasons is be a huge improvement. Look for Davis’ RBIs and total runs to jump because of the massive power bats behind him in the line-up.

The future of the Blue Jays looks very promising, as their outlook has changed under second-year GM Alex Anthopoulos. Instead of trying to compete with the ‘win now’ attitude of their peer teams, Anthopoulos’ is putting the money into acquiring the top young talent, by adding more scouts all over; in California alone the team has five. This attention to detail seems to be right on track so far. Continue reading ‘2011 MLB Team Preview: Toronto Blue Jays’ »

2011 MLB Team Preview: Baltimore Orioles

Over the last 13 seasons, the Baltimore Orioles have been the bottom-feeders of the AL East; often referred as “the toughest division in baseball.”

The O’s started last season 2-16, which added to an already the diminishing fan base at Camden Yard.

Looking for an answer, the O’s made three managerial changes. I guess three times a charm, as on August 1st, Buck Showalter took over in Baltimore and they O’s finally got their man.

Under Showalter, the team went 36-23, the best record in the AL East. The pitching staff made 36 quality starts and the bats averaged .300; so whatever Showalter was cooking, the O’s players were eating.

So, how do the Birds look heading into 2011?

The Positives:

Showalter could not have been a better fit, as his confidence became infectious, proved by O’s ending the 2010 season winning. The fans started showing up again at the Yard and the O’s displayed resilience.

The O’s needed a power bat at third base, so they sent some prospects to the Diamondbacks and got 3B Mark Reynolds in return. Reynolds averaged nearly 35 homers for the last three seasons, but the tradeoff is his 200+ strikeouts each season.  The O’s enhanced their infield defense by signing 1B Derek Lee and trading with the Twins for shortstop JJ Hardy.

The O’s finished their off-season just like they did the 2010 season, as without question the $8 million one-year deal with future Hall-of-Famer and perennial All-Star Vladimir Guerrero was their biggest upgrade. Vlad had a .300 batting average, with 29 homers and 115 RBI last season with the Rangers. Bringing in Vlad makes a statement not only at the plate, but also with his influence. This move was owed, as the O’s have one of the best fan-bases in sports who needed a jump and Vlad’s name does that.

The Birds have young pitching with a lot of promise; so adding veteran SP Justin Duchscherer even with his injuries makes a lot of sense. Also, adding two Blue Jays, Jeremy Accardo and Kevin Gregg solidify their bullpen.

The O’s made a lot of moves this off-season, paying attention to detail in filling the major holes for the immediate season. They were already above average in the outfield with Adam Jones and Nick Markakis, so focusing in on players to surround 2B Brian Roberts was exactly what the doctor ordered. Continue reading ‘2011 MLB Team Preview: Baltimore Orioles’ »

Super Bowl XLV Giveaway: Congrads To Lisa Swan Of Subway Squawkers

Lady Loves Pinstripes had a Super Bowl XLV Giveaway, where the two winners (picked at random) each receive a $50.00 gift card from, which has the biggest section of officially licensed sports products on the planet.

Our first winner happens to be the brains behind one of my favorite New York baseball sites. Trust me, you will thank me later after you visit winner and Yankee fan Lisa Swan at Subway Squawkers.

Subway Squawkers appeals to both Yankees and Mets fans, with Lisa writing about the Bombers and her partner Jon Lewin talking about life with the New York Mets.

Both New Yorkers, and diehard fans that love to argue about their teams – and each other.

Subway Squawkers is a favorite read of mine, as it is enlightening, straightforward, and can keep all New York baseball fans up-to-date with the latest news. This is a must read for New York Yankees and Mets fans alike.

New York Yankees Invite Eric Chavez To Spring Training Is One To Watch

Eric Chavez about to swing, May, 2005. Photo b...

Image via Wikipedia

Third-baseman Eric Chavez is the latest player invited to the New York Yankees 2011 Spring Training.

Chavez has a potential contract ready to be signed if he lands on the Yankees 40-man roster at the end of camp; but for now he is another non-roster invite so it costs the Yankees nothing.

This is Chavez shot at making a comeback, as he has been plagued with injuries over the last three seasons. Chavez has undergone two back operations and three shoulder surgeries in his career; and the most current being bulging discs in his neck.

Once a great player before all the injuries, Chavez had won six Gold Gloves from 2001-06 and a 2002 Silver Slugger. Chavez has played all his 13-seasons with the Oakland A’s, but was let go resulting from inactivity. From 2007-10 he only appeared in 64 games.

Wow, is anyone else thinking this sounds like a broken record?

Look, no one is denying that Chavez is just another name on GM Brian Cashman’s growing list of free agent ex-stars.

Chavez also falls into the category of being plagued by injury, which has kept him from baseball in recent seasons; but this signing is one with potential and here is why:

3 reasons Chavez might work out the Yankees:

1) He is a great teammate, as Chavez gets all thumbs-up from baseball’s biggest critics. Susan Slusser who covers the Oakland A’s for the SF Chronicle wrote this about Chavez back in May 2010:

“Chavez is among my favorite players I’ve ever covered – and one of my favorite people, period. It’s impossible not to like him: He’s honest, he’s accessible, he’s quotable, he treats everyone around him with respect. He’s just a genuinely nice person, and I have seen how hard he’s tried to get onto the field and stay on the field over the years, much of it without ever even mentioning how much pain he was in.”

2) The job of backing Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira comes with minimal pressure and tear on the body; Chavez would make an overly solid substitute for A-rod or Tex on their occasional days off. He could also be penciled in at DH for Jorge Posada if he is behind the plate or needs a rest.

3) When healthy, Chavez can hit and he draws a lot of walks. Over his career, Chavez has a .267 batting average, with 282 doubles, 230 homeruns, 565 walks and an on-base percentage of .343. Chavez is a great defender when everything is feeling good.

3 reasons why Chavez might not work for the Yankees: Continue reading ‘New York Yankees Invite Eric Chavez To Spring Training Is One To Watch’ »