Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Your FIIIIIIRRRRRRED....wait I'm Fired? Oh Man.

Well I wasn't technically fired today. I belive the actually used the term "Reduction in Force," which for those of you who don't have the pleasure of working in what's left of corporate America, is the same as being laid off. So as of 10.30 am April 29th, I'm now offically better at this then I am at my day job, because, well I don't have a day job.

I don't think the reality has set in yet so I haven't burst into tears or started punching inanimate objects for no reason. Although, I must say I'm tempted, because at least I would have an excuse. I'm trying to take a positive attitude on this "unfortunate event". After nine years I'm free to persue a new career (possibly in TV/VCR repair!).

As I was being informed of my company's decision (I liked that part "company's decision" how nice of them to remove the human element. I wasn't let go by my director or boss, but by the faceless "company") I did ponder two things.

1. No More Free Tickets.
2. No More Money for Cards.

Arrghhh. That's gonna suck. I loved getting free tickets to games. Especially since they were nice tickets, luxary box tickets. Hopefully, some of those left behind at the company will remember me and throw me an invite from time to time.

Not being able to buy cards is going to be a bummer as well. I was just starting to embrace this whole internet thing and now it's been taken away! Oh well, I still have plenty left to trade so feel free to send me your extra O's and Ray's cards. I'll make sure to send you some nice cards in return.

Well, I won't bore you with any more details. Suffice it to say I'll have more time to post on this here site, so that's either a good thing or a bad thing depending on your point of view.

Job search starts Friday, Thursday I'm heading to the beach!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

So it’s that time of year, two weeks into the season, for my pre-season baseball predictions. It’s now a three year tradition, a tradition that shows I’m really not that good at prognostication. How do we know I’m not good at this? Simply because at the end of the season I will dig up this post and review it. After all, unlike mainstream media I believe you should be held accountable for what you say or type.

By the way, as I’m typing this I’m watching game 6 of the Caps / Rangers playoff series. There is nothing better, and I do mean NOTHING better, than playoff hockey. Oh wait, there is something better. That would be playoff OVERTIME hockey. Who knows if the game will go to overtime, but if it does - then there is nothing better to watch. It’s true what they say, every shift, every shot counts. So I ask you - find VS on your cable box and watch a playoff game.

Enough procrastinating. Time for the predictions. As always, these are totally random with no rhyme or reason. I won’t predict Cy Youngs or World Series winners. If you need that go out and look online. There are people better qualified doing that, already.

Here we go:

Prediction Number One: No one will hit 50 Home Runs this year.

I wouldn’t say I’m going out on a limb here. After all, no one hit 50 last year. Heck Miguel Cabrara led the American League with only 37 last year. It was the first time since 2004 that no one in either league reached the 50 HR plateau.

I’m sure that the new steroid policy has something to do with it, but I think we’re seeing a return to the age of pitching. From Tim Lincecum to Johan Santana to James Shields and Jon Lester, both leagues are littered with talented young arms. Baseball is nothing if not cyclical. The era of the long ball seems to be in a decline and part of the reason may be teams focusing more on pitching and defense, because, as the Rays proved, you can make it pretty far for pretty cheap when you focus on those two things.

I happen to wholeheartedly approve of this trend. To me, the real game of baseball isn’t a three run home run, but a perfectly executed hit and run or a pitcher painting the black for a called third strike. I’d rather have a shortstop on my team that can catch 99% of the ground balls hit to him. Than one with stone hands that hits 37 home runs. That’s why I don’t mind the fact that the O’s traded Tejada last year and have relatively light hitting Cesar Izturis manning the position this year.

Prediction Number Two: CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett will both spend time on the DL this season.

Again, I like to keep things simple. Burnett is almost a no-brainer. In 2006 and 2007 he made a total of 4 trips to the DL and has had major injuries to both his elbow and shoulder. In 2008 (a contract year), he logged the most innings of his career (221.1). While some might say that means he’s “learned to stay healthy” I think it’s going to lead to problems this season.

Sabathia, is another story. He is a workhorse, never making less than 28 starts in his career, and throwing more than 200 innings three times in his career including an outstanding 253 innings last year. He hasn’t been on the DL since suffering an oblique stain in 2006.

That’s the good news, the bad news is that it’s about time for mother nature to catch up with him. He’ll turn 29 this year and the weight he carries has to start wearing on his arm sooner or later. He is generously listed at 290 pounds on, but visual evidence says he is easily over 300lbs. Pitching in Yankee Stadium is going to be a little more pressure packed than Cleveland or Milwaukee. If he pushes himself harder (especially after his slow start) it wouldn’t be surprising to see him start to develop arm problems.

Of course none of that is going to matter for the Yankees if they don’t figure out what’s wrong with Chien Ming Wang.

Prediction Number 3: Someone is going to lay a beating on Josh Beckett

He managed to not miss a start after throwing at Bobby Abreu. Red Sox apologists can object all they want, but there is no doubt where that pitch was heading. He’s starting to spout a Roger Clemens-Lite attitude on the mound and sooner or later he’s going to buzz the wrong hitter and a melee will breakout and he’s going to be at the bottom of the pile with someone poking him in the eye and pulling his hair.

Prediction Number 4: Someone on the field is going to be hurt badly by a broken bat.

It’s only a matter of time. According to an article on Major League baseball collected more than 1700 broken bats from major league games from July 2nd to the date the article was published (September 8th). That’s in less than ½ season!

The league needs to do something about this before a 3rd baseman has to field a ground ball with the barrel of a bat jammed into his neck. I’m not going to say I have a solution, but something has to be done. Surely there should be some testing into a synthetic material that has the properties of a wooden bat without the shattering that is occurring. After all, we can put a man on the moon, someone should be able to come up with this, right?

Oddly enough, as I was writing this article and looking up the above link I saw another story in which umpire Kerwin Danley suffered a concussion in last weeks’ Rangers / Blue Jays game when a shattered bat from Hank Blaylock struck him directly in the face mask. Several other links could be found talking about fans getting hit as well. However, it seems this is going to sit on the back burner until a player gets seriously harmed.

Let me offer a bit of an extreme comparison. I live on the Gulf Coast of Florida which means I don’t go more than a week or two about reading in the paper about a missing boater. Usually, it’s contained to an article 3 or 4 paragraphs long in the local section. Every once in a while there will be a follow up story about the boaters being found or the boat being found, but it’s usually not something that makes the actual newscasts.

Flash back to the end of February when NFL players Marquis Cooper, Will Bleakley, Corey Smith and Nick Schuyler went missing after launching from the Seminole Boat Ramp (which is about 5 miles from my palatial estates). All of sudden experts were sprouting up every where analyzing why this had happened, what they should have done differently, or how the search should have been conducted. Somber newscasters updated us every hour on the hour. Hundreds of people took to their own boats to find the missing boaters.

That’s all well and good, but why does it only get coverage when it’s someone quaso-famous? Why doesn’t the disappearance of a hard working family man warrant the same type of coverage? I feel it’s the same with the broken bat epidemic. As long as it’s an anonymous fan or umpire getting hurt no one will care.

However, should it happen to David Wright or Evan Longoria all hell is going to break loose. So why not dedicate the resources to it now. The players union and the owners should contribute equal amounts to something more than a random task force to find a solution.

I’ll get off my soapbox now and come up with at least one random team prediction. The team coming out of the NL West - San Francisco Giants. Other than the fact that I like their pitching I have absolutely no reason to believe why this should happen.

Tomorrow I may post some Rays specific predictions from my esteemed co-worker - Work Mike.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Always Late and Rarely Useful - The O's Season Preview

As of this writing the O’s are sitting at 5-2 in second place in the American League East. They have taken 2 of 3 from presumptive powerhouses Tampa and New York. They’re hitting .303 as a team. Their ace (c’mon you know who it is - Jeremy Gutherie) is 2-0 as is their hot Japanese import Koji Uehara. So why do I think they’re going to end up in 4th place by the time September rolls around?

Simply put - the pitching.

There is no way around it, this team will get as far as the pitching staff lets it. When you factor in that Mark Hendrickson and Adam Eaton compose 40% of the starting rotation - that means their not going to go too far. They are 5-2 with a team ERA over 6.00. That’s not exactly playoff material. Making things worse, they just lost Alfredo Simon, a promising young right-hander who claimed the 5th spot in the rotation out of spring training.

Guthrie is an interesting case. He may be one of the few “aces” that took a pay cut going into a season where the team knew he was going to be the number one starter. In 80 games (59 starts) with the O’s over three seasons he has amassed a 19-17 record. That is pretty consistent for a team that is 46 games below .500 in that same stretch.

Back to his contract. In 2008, Guthrie was playing under a one year contract that paid him $770,000 base on a deal he signed with Cleveland when he was drafted in 2002. According to The Baltimore Sun. going into 2009 the O’s had the right to cut his salary by 20% under the current labor agreement. The final deal he signed was for about $650,000 which is about 15% less than what he was making.

Only the O’s could find a way to pay their ace less despite him having a decent year. Of course if he continues his effective above .500 pitching he could be in for an AJ Burnett type deal in a few seasons. Meanwhile, he’ll be fighting the good fight while the O’s management grooms the next generation of starters.

Well sure, the starting pitching has some holes, but the bullpen is strong right? Well it could be. Chris Ray was a solid closer before he blew his arm out two seasons ago. How he rebounds has yet to be determined. If he is strong he could take over the closing role from George Sherrill, the lefty known as much for his comically flat-billed cap as he is for his prowess as a closer.

Getting from the starter to the closer will be an adventure based on a bullpen filled with names such as Danys Baez, Jim Johnson, Brian Bass, Dennis Sarafate, and Jamie Walker. With lackluster starting pitching these guys could be logging a ton of innings. I tend towards optimism when it comes to my teams and even I have to admit that there is a minor sense of trepidation when I see those names in print.

So while the pitching will be the weak spot, the offense will be explosive. Headlined by star in the making and the newest multi millionaire from Glen Cove, NY - Nick Markakis this team will put some runs on the board. They are solid in the 1-4 slots with Brian Roberts leading off, future All Star Adam Jones hitting second, Markakis third and Aubrey Huff in the cleanup sport.

Once you get past those four the production drops off a bit with the likes of Cesar Izturis and Greg Zaun hitting. It’s no secret that Zaun is just holding a spot until the club feels uber-prospect Matt Weiters is ready to don the orange and black. What Izturis lacks in offense he’ll make up for in defense.

A key spot in the lineup will be Melvin Mora. He has quietly provided solid offense from the third base spot over the last 7 seasons. He’s never hit less than 14 home runs or under .274. Another average year from him give the O’s 7 of 9 spots that could hit .300 with double digit home runs.

After years of wondering the baseball no man’s land - spending money like they’re the Yankees or Red Sox, but playing the Royals or Pirates the O’s management made a true rebuilding commitment last year. That rebuilding centered around strong, young pitching and locking up their good talent like Markakis.

Strengthing their defense has also been important, hence the off season signing of the slick fielding Izturis. In 2008, the Rays showed how improving your defense improves your pitching. The young pitchers that will start getting called up this season will only be helped by infielders that can turn the ground ball up the middle into an out instead of a base hit.

So to wrap things up the O’s should have the guns to compete in the AL East, but their lack of major league quality arms will be their undoing over the long season.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

It's Over

The long, national...well local...nightmare is over. The Lightning have officially entered the post season. Sure 16 other teams are still playing, but that's not the important thing. The important thing is well, um, the Bolts get an extra two months of rest?

I'll post a longer wrap up this week when I've had some time to distance myself from the season and take a slightly more objective look. The good news is that I think things will be looking up for them next season.

Until then - get ready for the best sports "season" of the year - the NHL post-season.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Quick Hits - Opening Day Edition

Yeah, yeah, yeah Opening Day was yesterday, but this site has never prided itself on promptness. After all, if I'm not mistaken I still owe my readers an O's preview and a list of predictions. Hopefully, by this weekend they will be posted.

In the meantime here are some random observations:

- I'm typing this as 10.38pm on Tuesday night. Thanks to the MLB Extra Innings free preview I'm watching the Dodgers vs Padres and that means I'm listening to the soothing tones of Vin Scully. There is no better announcer working today - I will not argue this, part of the reason I pay for the mlb tv online is so that I can listen to Dodger games late at night. The only reason I bought, "The Love of the Game" is because he is calling the Billy Chapel's historic last game (what you thought it was for Kevin Costner's realistic pitching motion?)

- The O's are in first. Hot Damn. 112 wins here they come! No matter what happens the rest of the year, at least the fans have that day.

- It's ok Rays fans. You can put the knives down, the season isn't over yet. It's just one loss. I know you're not used to this since you've only been following the team since August of last year, but it's going to be alright.

- The Lightning lost to the Penguins 6-4. At least they had the common courtesy to lose in regulation. It's been awhile since I've seen a team limp home like this. If the Lightning were a horse they would have been euthanized two weeks ago.

- I have two boxes of Hockey cards and a couple of packs of Topps Heritage on the way from Dave and Adam's Card World. I like this ordering online stuff. the last couple of visits to my local card shop have been less than overwhelming. Lack of inventory (still no Topps base product), lack of interest (the guy behind the desk was flipping through comic books for 5 minutes before acknowledging that I might want to buy something from him) and prices that aren't worth make me wonder if I'll even go back.

- Vin Scully just dropped the line "Like the music man, you have to know the territory". Fantastic.

- Tommorrow I will be boarding a US Air Flight to Wilmington, NC. My dad will pick me up at the airport and then we'll make the five hourish drive to Augusta, Georgia. Together we will attend the first round of the Masters on Thursday. After that we'll drive back to Wilmington for a quick round of golf on his home course before I catch a flight back to Tampa. Not a bad way to spend a couple of days - it sure beats sitting at a desk.

Enjoy the baseball folks.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Let's play ball! Well let's talk about playing ball!

It’s that time of year. The time of year when everyone gazes into their crystal ball and tries to predict what’s going to happen in the upcoming season. I’m not going to lie, I haven’t spent too much time this season watching or listening to Rays preseason games. I’ve read the local papers and a couple of the websites around the internet, but I haven’t exactly done all of my homework.

Are you surprised? After all, you don’t come here for well thought out and reasoned opinions, right? You come here for the pictures of naked women. Wait, my editor just told me we don’t have those either. Looks like you’re all out of luck.

So since there are no naked women or well-formed, thought out analysis I guess you’ll have to settle for half thought out, easily disproved, spur of the moment ideas. In past seasons I’ve previewed the Rays by going over the projected 40 man roster (I was bored with that by the 15th player) and by comparing and predicting year over year results by position (I made it all the way though 2 positions!) This year you get some random thoughts followed by an overall prediction. So without further adieu - here it goes:

Player who is ready to burst on onto the national scene: B.J. Upton

While his season may start a week late, look for the 24 year old to build on his solid post season from last year. He has the potential to play Gold Glove defense while hitting 30 homeruns, 30 doubles and stealing 30 bases. While last year the press was ready to run him out of town this season they will be begging the Rays to lock him up long term (possibly at the expense of moving Carl Crawford).

Not to throw too many numbers at you, but while playing with a torn labrum last season he still hit 37 doubles and stole 44 bases. He also increased his walk total from 65 walks in 2007 (a rate of one walk every 8.43 plate appearances) to 97 in 2008 (one every 6.59 plate appearances). He also struck out 20 less times despite having 57 more at bats. All those numbers point to increased plate discipline which leads to him getting better pitches to hit. With a repaired shoulder he will be able to drive the ball more, especially to left field.

Player who is about to change “future potential” to “lost potential”: Scott Kazmir

He has now pitched 125 games in the green / white / blue uniforms of the Rays. In 5 seasons he has always been labeled as the future ace or ace of the staff. The times, however, are changing. Right now James Shields is the present and David Price is the future.

Kazmir is only 25, but he is quickly turning into an “old 25”. His arm has thrown 12,736 pitches during regular season games (and another 543 in All-Star / Post Season innings) and that it is biggest problem. Over the past three seasons his number of pitches per inning have increased from 16.80 to 18.05 which is the number one reason he hasn’t had a complete game since 2006.

The lefty has mentioned that he never trusted his slider last year and that could have been part of the problem. I have yet to find this stat anywhere, but I am willing to bet that no one in the league gives up more 2 strike foul balls than Kazmir. If he’s regained the confidence of his slider that may change, if not it’s going to be another long season of watching him throw 115 pitches to get through 6 innings. If that’s the case maybe it’s time to explore the possibility of moving him to the bullpen.

Player who should have retired gracefully last year, but is hanging on and making things uncomfortable: Troy Percival

He brought leadership to the bullpen last year. He wore the morale building T-Shirt. He saved 28 games out of 32. He also had three trips to the disabled list last year and off season back surgery. Oh, and when he was told that he wasn’t on the postseason roster he took his ball and went home to California.

While he’s saying all the right things now(feeling great, never been healthier, etc) things could be very different by June or July. With him staying on the roster the Rays are forced to chose between Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel. Closer-in-waiting Grant Balfour will spend another season in set up exile.

I spent much of last season defending his role on the team, but this season it just seems deferent. The team has been through the fires of the post season and that “veteran role” isn’t so important. With the talent the Rays have waiting in the wings they can’t afford to waste a roster spot with a player coach.

Joe Maddon is loyal. He is loyal to a fault. If Percival struggles early on will Merlot Joe be able to make the decision to pull the aging closer? If he does, how will Percival react. He is stubborn, which is a solid trait in a closer, but might fracture a team that prides itself on chemistry.

Enough on the players how about the team?

What is the worst thing that can happen for the Rays? A slow start.

I was debating between a slow start and injuries, but using the injury excuse is a cop out. The Rays made it through last year despite having their top slugger (Carlos Pena), stud rookie (Evan Longoria), best all around talent (Carl Crawford) and strikeout artist (Kazmir) all spend time on the DL.

So we’re left with a slow start. Six of their first nine games are against the Red Sox and the Yankees. It will definitely be an early test to see how the Al East is going to shake out. More important, however, is how the rest of the month will shake out. If they stumble against the O’s, Mariners, and A’s then they might find themselves playing catch up in October.

Am early slump could also erode away the growing fan base that the ownership is counting on to pay for the $60 million payroll. The TBA is a notoriously fickle sports nation. A three game losing streak will have “fans” cancelling their season tickets and complaining about the lack of football in the summer.

What is the best thing that can happen for the Rays? Offense, Offense, Offense

The two big off season acquisitions were Pat Burrell and Matt Joyce. It looks like they’re going to both be in the opening day lineup. They were brought in to stabilize a line up that had a few holes in it - especially against left handed pitchers.

The line up now boasts two possible 40 home run threats (Pena and Longoria), two 30 home run threats (Upton and Burrell) and a possible 20 home run hitter in Crawford. That’s enough offense to make Jon Gruden giddy. What I can’t make a Gruden/offensive genius joke just because he was fired?

Adding that kind of firepower to a team that’s built on a base of defense and pitching could make for a very dangerous team. In the AL East they will need every bit of it to repeat as the Division Champs.

So enough with the build up - where are they going to finish? Wildcard

It pains me to say it, but I think the Yankees made enough changes to jump back to the top of the standings. Adding two legitimate number one starters is going to make the difference. It will be a close race, which means another fun season!