Tag Archives: Seattle Mariners

The American League Wildcard and the Trouble with Schedules

It appears that the Indians’ favorable schedule down the stretch is keeping the glimmer of playoff baseball alive in September.

I can’t believe it. You can’t believe it either. As I wrote last week, the Cleveland Indians are still relevant as it pertains to the 2015 playoffs. At the beginning of August, most writers and fans alike had capped this season as a disappointment and were looking ahead to 2016. Slowly but surely, the Indians strung some wins together and figured things out.

Currently, the Indians are just 4.5 games out of the second wildcard spot currently held by the Texas Rangers. In front of them are the Los Angeles Angels (3.0 GB) and the Minnesota Twins (1.0 GB).

Let’s take a look at each of the current contenders and their remaining schedules in the months of September/October:

Minnesota Twins

The Minnesota twins are currently locked in a series with the Chicago White Sox, having won game one of the three game set last night, 6-2. After their remaining two games in Chicago, the Twinkies travel home to Target Field for a 10 game homestand featuring visits by the Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels, and, after an off day on 9/21, the Indians. They then travel to Detroit for a three game set, followed by a four game set at Cleveland to finish out the month of September. Their final series of the season comes against the Kansas City Royals at home at Target Field.

Clearly, of the remaining games, the most important series comes against the Los Angeles Angels next week. Considering it’s a four game series, it could make or break the Twins’ wild card hopes in addition to sinking other squads’ hopes. In a perfect world, you hope that the teams split the two game series and gain no ground either way. The Indians have a favorable weekend series against the White Sox at the same time as the Twins v Angels series, so a sweep there could really place the Indians in a position to own the 2nd wildcard spot conversation entering the final two weeks of the season.

Another problem the Twins face down the stretch is the perceived strength of their schedule. They only face 4 teams after their weekend series against Chicago: Cleveland, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Kansas City. Of those four teams, one is going to be a division winner (KC), two are currently competing with the Twins for the second wildcard spot (CLE and LAA), and one is down and out this year, but still can pack a wallop (DET).

While the Minnesota Twins have been a nice story this season (see: Houston Astros), the strength of their schedule down the stretch may overarchingly doom them.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

The Los Angeles Angels are currently in the middle of a three game home set against the Houston Astros and won their game last night 3-2. After finishing with the Astros, the Angels travel for 10 straight games against the Mariners (3), Twins (4), and Astros (3). After a day off, the Angels open a 6 game home stand against the Mariners and Athletics, before traveling to Texas for a 4 game showdown with the Rangers.

Of the teams remaining in the wildcard race as it stands right now, the Angels probably have the hardest schedule of them all. The AL West has been the surprise division (in my opinion) this year in terms of divisional excellence. The thought entering the season was that the Angels and Mariners would clash for the division crown while using the injury plagued Rangers, downtrodden Astros, and talent-less Athletics as target practice in between. In reality, Seattle has been an overwhelming disappointment considering their talent level. In addition, the Angels have played well below expectations and nobody really knows what team their going to get when playing them. The Rangers, even with all of their injuries entering the season, have found ways to win games and keep themselves relevant while the Houston Astros shocked the world and took the division by the horns while never looking back. The Athletics are the only team that have really played to expectations before the season started.

Instead of just one team to worry about down the stretch (Mariners), the Angels have to play three decent baseball teams within their own division. While this makes for interesting storylines as a writer, Angels fans are undoubtedly worried about the strength of schedule they face over the course of the upcoming weeks and what that means to their playoff hopes. Unfortunately, Mike Trout can’t play every position.

Texas Rangers

Like the Angels, the Rangers play many games remaining on their schedule in their own division. The Rangers have it slightly easier in that they see the Athletics twice (6 games) and have a random series at the end of the month against Detroit. Other than that, the Rangers play the division leading Astros twice (6 games), the Mariners once (3 games), and finish their season at Los Angeles (4 games).

If you read the second paragraph under the Angels tab, it applies here as well. The only difference being the strength of schedule the Rangers face. It is slightly less difficult than the Angels with two series against the Athletics and one series against the Tigers.

Cleveland Indians

Of the AL wildcard teams mentioned in this article, the Indians overwhelmingly have the easiest schedule down the stretch. Cleveland plays 3 at home against Detroit followed by a four game set against the Royals and a three game set against the White Sox – All at home. After an off day, they travel to Minnesota for 3 games and then to Kansas City for 3 games. They then travel home for the final home series of the season against the Twins (3 games) and Boston Red Sox (4 games).

Easy, I think, is a relative term in baseball. The Indians have some challenges when it comes to their remaining schedule. The difference, I think, is the strength of the challenge as compared to other challenges faced by the latter wildcard contenders. Yes, the Indians face the Royals seven times down the stretch. Yes, the Indians face the Twins six times down the stretch. Those 13 games will be tough, of that I have no doubt.

But are we really afraid of going 0-13 against those two teams? Of course not.

Are we afraid of dropping all but one game in the series against the Royals and Twins? Of course not.

When I look at teams like the Angels and Rangers, I actually believe that they could walk into each others’ ballparks or Seattle’s or Houston’s and get blanked three straight games.

That’s how good I think the West is this year.

The Indians just have to play their style of baseball, get a few hits, and play no- to minimal-error baseball. They do that, and they have a chance to travel to New York for a one game wild card playoff against the vaunted Yankees. I believe that this team is in the right place, when it comes to their hitting, pitching, and defense, to make a push.

I’m not overly optimistic about our chances. I think, as a Cleveland sports fan, I packed away optimism, along with the ideals of “hope” and “dreams”, in a box long ago.

I do think the Indians have a golden opportunity to do something special and I hope they can muster together enough to make a wildcard appearance happen.

I guess, as the leaves change, we will see if the Indians fortunes change as well.

*Note: Teams directly behind the Indians in the standings were not included in this article due to its potential length if they were added and the shear number of teams still vying for a spot. As teams either move in front of the Indians or separate themselves from the pack, this article will be updated to reflect their chances and remaining schedules.

Tribe Time Now Episode #16: Peaks & Valleys

In this episode of the Tribe Time Now Podcast…

Mike “Miggy” Brandyberry of Did The Tribe Win Last Night? joins Ryan Thompson MTAF Cleveland. Miggy and Ryan discuss Carlos Santana’s baby girl, the division as it stands now, conclusions from the TEX series, a preview of the SEA series, the curious case of Michael Bourn, and CF replacement options!

 

Topics:

  • Divisional Overview
  • Texas Series: Conclusions and thoughts
  • Michael Bourn: Too little too late?
  • Trade targets in center field
  • Seattle Series

Links:

Don’t forget to join us Saturday, July 11th at Hoopples Riverbed Cafe for our first tweet up. Information can be found here.

Cleveland Indians News & Notes: 28 Days Until Pitchers & Catchers Report

With less than a month until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, this tribe fan is skeptical of the 2015 Cleveland Indians due a lack of moves made over the off-season

Color me skeptical

Unfortunately, the 23 years of disappointment that I’ve endured as a Cleveland sports fans tells me not much more than the same as last year from the 2015 Cleveland Indians. I don’t say that as a debbie-downer. If the Tribe plays above potential (see: 2013) in 2015, I will be more than happy to write about how wrong I was at the end of the season. Like I said: if my experience as  a Cleveland fan tells me anything, it’s this: The Cleveland Indians Front Office did not make enough moves to compete in 2015.

The Washington Nationals made moves to get better.

The Detroit Tigers made moves to get better.

The Seattle Mariners made moves to get better.

The Chicago White Sox made moves to get better.

And those are just a few of the teams that significantly improved their rosters in the off-season.

The Indians’  biggest signing has been acquiring 1B/RF Brandon Moss from the Oakland A’s for minor league 2B Joey Wendle. I wrote back when the move was made about how it will benefit the Tribe in the long-run due to Nick Swisher’s diminishing returns and the smoldering dumpster fire that is RF for the Tribe. As much as I like David Murphy, he is not the long-term solution in right field. Moss will at least allow for Tito to squeeze a few more hits/runs/etc out of his everyday lineup.

Then there is the idea that Gavin Floyd is just going to magically step into the #4 starter role

Again: Really? That’s the best we could do (I wrote recently how Antonetti’s signing of Floyd was an attempt to reincarnate Scotty Kazmir from the ’13 campaign). I’d take ’09 Floyd over ’14 Floyd any day of the week (just look at the numbers). To say that he is the #4 starter is ballsy, particularly on the part of Chris Antonetti. What about T.J. House? He had a solid 2014 campaign and he isn’t even in the rotation. Sure, Salazar, Bauer and Carrasco have much higher upsides than T.J. House, but all three of them have proven inconsistent at times. House was no Kluber, but at least he provided some consistency in the back-end of the rotation.

Floyd is going to have to really prove it to me in spring training that he belongs as the #4 man in our rotation.

There is an upside to all of this though

As ESPN and FanGraphs noted in their ESPN Insider story (full text available here), the Indians’ starting rotation (on the surface) can be described in two words: young and inexperienced (save Kluber of course).

But then people began to dig a little deeper and discovered that the Indians don’t have just 1 very descent starter — they have 4. Bauer, Carrasco, and Salazar all took positive steps forward in their development as top-tier starters while Corey Kluber just went out and won the AL Cy Young. IF the Indians can get 150+ consistent, quality innings from Bauer, Carrasco, and Salazar, not only will the Indians win the AL Central, they will cruise into the ALDS with the best, if not one of the best rotations in baseball.

So: If Floyd doesn’t work out, at least we’ll have a plethora of able starters ready to jump up into his place.

Signings, arbitration, etc.

Over the course of the last week, the Indians avoided arbitration with several players including: Carlos Carrasco, Lonnie Chisenhall, Mark Rzepczynski, Brandon Moss, and a few others.

I’m really happy we got that mess out of the way in a timely fashion this year. I’m all for players fighting for their worth, but last year’s arbitration “issues” leaked in spring training and it just left a bad taste in my mouth going into opening day.

In addition to avoiding arbitration with the latter players, the Indians signed former Twins pitcher Anthony Swarzak. Swarzak’s best year was in 2013 where he went 3-2 in 48 appearances with a 2.91 ERA over 96 innings. Looking at next level stats: Swarzak had a 3.28 FIP and 1.156 WHIP. He regressed somewhat in 2014 posting an identical record over 50 games with an ERA of 4.60 over 10 less innings.

Swarzak provides a solid relief arm in the bullpen which Terry Francona so eagerly goes to in the middle innings. If Swarzak makes the big league club out of spring training, he’ll make a cool $900k with an opportunity for an additional $350k in incentives.

Finally, 1st round draft pick Justus Sheffield was arrested in Tullahoma, TN on charges of aggravated burgalary and underage drinking after allegedly braking into a residence in Tullahoma around 4:30 AM on Monday, January 12th. The Indians released a statement that stated they were “aware of the report” involving Sheffield and “will not comment further until the legal process is completed”. Sheffield was released after posting bail ($5,500). He is scheduled to appear in Coffee County Court on February 5th.

In Memory of Hank Peters

Sadly, on January 4th, Former Indians GM and President (’87-’91) died from complications with a recent stroke in Boca Raton, FL. He was 90.

I feel that it’s fair to credit Hank with the foundation of what was the most amazing decade of Indians baseball ever. Before his 2nd tenure with the Tribe, Peters served as GM of the Baltimore Orioles for 12 years where he won a world series (’83) in the midst of ten consecutive winning seasons.

Next week: A preview of the 2015 depth chart

Tune in next week for a detailed preview of the 2015 Indians depth chart in addition to guesses at the final starting rotation, record at the All-Star Break, Post-season birth %, etc.

Should be fun; Go Tribe!

 

Cleveland Indians: Corey Kluber vs. Felix Hernandez for AL Cy Young

Major League Baseball is in the midst of handing out their regular season awards and several Cleveland Indians are either award recipients or potential recipients. The two big announcements come today (11/12) and tomorrow (11/13) with the Cy Young and MVP, respectively. The Indians have a horse in each race in Corey Kluber (AL Cy Young) and Michael Brantley (AL MVP). Before looking ahead, here is a look at some of the other major award winners.

Rookie of the Year

American League – Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox

National League – Jacob deGrom, New York Mets

Manager of the Year

American League – Buck Showalter, Baltimore Orioles

National League – Matt Williams, Washington Nationals

Unsurprisingly, no Cleveland Indian won a Gold Glove or Defensive Player of the Year award, although a case could’ve been made for Michael Brantley (.996 fielding percentage with only 1 error, 2 double plays, 12 assists and 271 putouts in 1304.1 innings of work in the outfield). Speaking of Brantley, he and Yan Gomes were given American League Silver Slugger Awards, which honors the games top hitters and is decided by votes compiled from MLB coaches and managers. Brantley finished the year batting .327 and had an OBP of .385. He hit 20 home runs, had 97 RBI, scored 94 runs and had an even 200 hits. Gomes hit .278 with a .313 OBP while hitting 21 home runs to go along with 74 RBI and 61 runs scored on 135 hits.

Looking ahead, tonight we will find out who will win the Cy Young award. In the National League Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto as well as Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals will more than likely finish as runners up to Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers, who was undoubtedly the best pitcher in baseball for the entire 2014 season. Over in the American League Chris Sale (Chicago White Sox), Felix Hernandez (Seattle Mariners) and Corey Kluber are in a much tighter race, with many feeling it’s between Hernandez and Kluber. To completely rule Sale (12-4, 2.17 ERA, 174 IP) out of the race isn’t fair, but both Kluber and Hernandez have the fuller body of work (mostly due to an injury Sale suffered to start the year). However, assuming the experts are correct, this race is between Kluber and “King Felix”. While it shouldn’t factor in, Hernandez has the more impressive resume with five All-Star appearances, twice the American League ERA leader (including this season) and one Cy Young already (2010). But don’t dismiss Kluber, who can be considered an AL All-Star snub, was tied for most wins among AL pitchers this season and finished near the top in most statistical categories. If you look at this race by the numbers it’s very tight, and a slight edge might go to Hernandez depending on what you place your values on. Kluber was 18-9 with a 2.44 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. In 235.2 innings of work he struck out 269 batters, walked just 51, allowed 64 earned runs (74 total runs), and a K/9 ratio of 10.27 while the opposition had a batting average of just .233 against him. He also had three complete games and one shutout. Hernandez numbers read as follows: a 15-6 record with a 2.14 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP. In 236 innings he struck out 248 batters, walked 46 while giving up 56 earned runs (68 total runs allowed) with a K/9 ratio of 9.46. The opposition hit an even .200 against him, however he never had a complete game or a shutout. He also gave up two more home runs than Kluber (16 vs. 14). A voter putting more emphasis on wins and losses will likely vote for Kluber, whereas a voter placing more emphasis on numbers like ERA will likely be inclined to vote for Hernandez. The two aces were also almost identical in team run support, with Hernandez getting an average of 4.29 runs per start and Kluber getting an average of 4.35 runs per start. If you want to look at Sabermetrics their numbers are still similar, with Kluber edging out Hernandez in WAR (wins above replacement) 7.39 to 6.75.

Both Felix Hernandez and Corey Kluber were dominant in 2014.
Both Felix Hernandez and Corey Kluber were dominant in 2014.

So is there anything that can definitively set somebody apart in this race? Perhaps, yes.

The Cleveland Indians defense during the 2014 season was horrendous. They finished with a .981 fielding percentage while committing 116 errors. Both of these numbers were the worst in baseball last year. Conversely, the Seattle Mariners had a .986 fielding percentage (3rd) and committed just 82 errors (2nd). It isn’t unfathomable to think that with even an average defense behind him, Kluber may have had another win or two and more than likely would’ve had a lower ERA. Put a top of the league defense (or at least a defense that committed as few errors as Seattle did) behind Kluber and his ERA, WHIP, and opposition batting average probably much closer resembles that of Felix Hernandez. If you subscribed to Sabermetrics stats then maybe Kluber (with a higher WAR than Hernandez) may have even had better numbers than Felix with Seattle’s defense. That’s all, of course, speculation. What isn’t speculation is this. Kluber was slightly more dominate later in the season (August, September and October) when both teams were in playoff contention. During this time Kluber was 7-3 with a 2.10 ERA in 77.1 innings of work while Hernandez was 4-3 with a 2.44 ERA in 70.2 innings.

Despite the defensive factors, there isn’t really a clear winner in this race. As much as Corey Kluber deserves to be the 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner, so does Felix Hernandez. Personally, my vote would go to Kluber. While he does have a slightly higher ERA he has a better K/9 ratio and more strikeouts overall, more wins (which, admittedly, aren’t all due to a starting pitcher) and a higher WAR.

Come back tomorrow as we discuss the AL MVP race between Mike Trout, Victor Martinez and Michael Brantley.

Detroit's Dealin' Dave Dombrowski

Matthew Kline’s analysis of the David Price trade was spot on and it got me thinking about my perspective on the issue. The deal was an utter failure for the Tampa Bay Rays, their fans and the general state of baseball in Florida (do they even deserve two teams down there?).

I’ll admit I was convinced the Rays were keeping Price to make a run at this year’s pennant in an up-for-grabs AL East. Apparently the surging Baltimore Orioles convinced them it would be better to deal away the best thing (maybe the only thing) they had going for them.

Drew Smyly and Nick Franklin are serviceable Major League talents and will positively impact the team in the years to come but c’mon. The Rays should have needed a barge to haul all the prospects they got in return for the most sought-after player at the deadline. Instead, they needed only a makeshift raft. I’m left wondering how the team with seemingly all the power in these negotiations ended up getting the shortest of all possible straws.

The Seattle Mariners got an absolute bargain here! All they had to do was go along for the ride and hang on tight. They picked up a reliable everyday centerfielder in Austin Jackson just by sending Franklin to Tampa. It seems like the Rays got cheated.

If that’s what you believe then direct your anger toward the Rays’ front office. Sending away your best player while in the middle of a division race means you cannot play that “small market” public relations card that has allowed you to hide the fact you aren’t truly committed to winning championships. Having little spending money is one thing, indifference is quite another. Notice how Oakland all of a sudden doesn’t care much about payroll.

The only logical explanation I can offer is this: Dave Dombrowski, the Detroit Tigers General Manager/ President/ CEO. He is the very best in the business at what he does. At least it appears that way with all the tremendous transactions he has made in his tenure. (I also believe all but a handful of GMs aren’t given enough authority to effectively alter their teams’ rosters, thus making it hard to compete with Dombrowski who clearly does.)

The acquisition of David Price is one of the many blockbuster moves Dombrowski has pulled off for the benefit of the Tigers and their fans. The complete list is long. Most of these moves go under the radar or are forgotten about in due time, but the highlights are evident when watching the team. Take a look:

Jan. 2005: Ugueth Urbina, Ramon Martinez for Placido Polanco.

  •  Seems like ancient history by now but Polanco was invaluable during the resurrection of baseball in Detroit along with Ivan Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez.

Dec. 2007: Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, Eulogio de la Cruz, Burke Badenhop for Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis.

  • Willis was fun to watch for maybe three starts but who cares about him. This deal landed the game’s best hitter in Detroit. Maybin and Miller have had marginal success in the Bigs but again, who cares.
Dombrowski laughing at the haters.
Dombrowski laughing at the haters.

Dec. 2009: Curtis Granderson, Edwin Jackson for Austin Jackson, Phil Coke, Max Scherzer, Daniel Schlereth.

  • Boy oh boy did I have a hard time talking to Tigers fans about this trade. Granderson was loved in Detroit and it seemed everyone refused to acknowledge this as a good trade simply because he was shipped out. He never would’ve become the player he is today had he not gone to the Yankees back then. Edwin Jackson continues his grand tour around baseball playing for the Cubs these days (his ninth team in his twelve seasons). Austin Jackson stepped seamlessly into the void left by Granderson and remained the starting centerfielder until recently being dealt in the Price trade. Coke struggles a lot but who in the Tigers ‘pen doesn’t nowadays. Scherzer took some time to pan out but I’d say winning last year’s Cy Young more than makes up for his late bloom. And I will continue to ask Detroiters if they still miss the Grandy man.

July 2010: Giovanni Soto for Jhonny Peralta.

  • Not Soto the catcher, some lefty who I haven’t heard anything from since. Peralta literally made history immediately dropping bombs over the Green Monster in his first two at-bats with the Tigers (the only player ever to do so). He was suspended 50 games last year and was forced to move to left field when he got back because Jose Iglesias was manning shortstop by then. Peralta still hit better than everyone not named Victor Martinez during the postseason. It would have been nice to have him at short this season too with Iglesias on the shelf.

July 2012: Jacob Turner, Brian Flynn, Rob Brantly for Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante.

  • Turner is still trying to lockdown a permanent spot in the Miami rotation while Sanchez has soared. The American League ERA leader from last year has electric stuff even though he goes mostly unnoticed considering the arms that surround him. Infante was a Tiger earlier in his career. It was nice to see him back at second base since everyone and their mother in the Tigers’ system was trotted out at the position after he left the first time. He’s moved on again, to Kansas City this time but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him come back once more to finish his career in Detroit.

July 2013: Avisail Garcia, Brayan Villareal for Jose Iglesias.

  • This was part of the trade that sent Jake Peavy to Boston. Garcia has been hurt ever since getting to Chicago which really is too bad because he and Jose Abreu would have made for an incredible 3-4 punch. Iglesias wowed everyone who watched him in the field down the stretch last year. He too has been hurt for the entirety of this season. If he can’t come back healthy and stay that way, I’ll have to say I don’t like this deal because I hated seeing Garcia go, especially to a division rival.

Nov. 2013: Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder.

  • As a Tigers fan, the only thing better than signing Fielder was trading him away. Kinsler is the straw that stirs the Tigers’ drink. I was ecstatic when I heard this news and have not at all been disappointed by the results thus far. Rangers fans would have to disagree I’m sure since Fielder didn’t play more than a couple months this season before being diagnosed with a season-ending neck injury.

Dec. 2013: Robbie Ray, Ian Krol, Steve Lombardozzi for Doug Fister.

  • This one’s still up in the air a bit. Ray has become the Tigers’ top pitching prospect. Krol has looked too much like Coke when he’s been healthy. Lombardozzi was soon dealt to Baltimore for Alex Gonzalez (ugh). Put it this way though, without having dealt Fister the Tigers wouldn’t have had the opportunity to get Price.

So now I’m thinking maybe it wasn’t the fault of Tampa Bay’s front office. Maybe Dave Dombrowski is just that damn good at what he does.

Thursday’s Trade Deadline: Baseball Nerds' Christmas in July

Major League Baseball’s trade deadline is a prime example of why the sport is so unique. Trades simply don’t happen as frequently or with nearly as much magnitude in other sports as in baseball.

Four O’clock PM Eastern Standard Time on July 31st is the annual deadline to finalize any non-waiver trades. (To be clear, players can still be swapped if they are passed on by all MLB teams, hence clearing ‘waivers’.) Ultimately the decisions to pull the trigger on deals are telling enough that by the next day fans have a good understanding whether their squad is chasing this year’s pennant or gearing up to make a run next season.

The final hours leading up to the deadline were the most active of any in recent memory with twelve deals being made on Thursday. Each general manager has a plan, some more thorough than others. Those intentions I cannot quite speak to because of extremely limited access. I can, however, speculate as to why certain moves were made while defending those I like and ripping the boneheaded ones.

Let’s start with the Twins stealing away a potential top of the rotation guy in Tommy Milone from the Athletics, giving up only Sam Fuld. Milone is a huge addition for Minnesota. Fuld can play a part in the Oakland outfield equation going forward but Milone might already be the best Twins starter.

There were a few deals made with the present in mind more than the future. Although it may appear one team got the better of a deal, that could very well change as prospects further develop. The Brewers and Mariners also added pieces to their outfields. Milwaukee acquired Gerardo Parra who won’t set the world on fire but is another solid option for the Brew Crew. Seattle upgraded in the form of Chris Denorfia and Austin Jackson via the 3-way David Price deal which they simply piggy-backed on, completely lucking out.

David Price
David Price

Left-handed Red Sox reliever Andrew Miller was dealt to Baltimore. The O’s would have done well to grab a starter but Miller is money out of the ‘pen. The Yankees acquired a good hitter and utility man in Martin Prado from the Diamondbacks who didn’t need him the way they’re playing this summer.

There were plenty of puzzling deals too. As good as the Prado addition was, the Yanks had me seriously scratching my head with the Stephen Drew for Kelly Johnson transaction. This one might be a case of both players needing a fresh start. It’s still odd to see Boston and New York trading with one another just before facing off in a weekend series in Fenway.

I was under the impression that Asdrubal Cabrera would be a building block in the current Cleveland configuration. Apparently I was wrong as he was sent to Washington for Zach Walters. His sudden departure might be the result of wearing out his welcome as I know was the case with the seemingly-indifferent Justin Masterson. The Tribes sent their former Opening Day starter to St. Louis for James Ramsey. That brings us to the Cardinals.

I cannot believe what the Cardinals did on Thursday. Allen Craig and Joe Kelly are heading to Boston in exchange for John Lackey and a prospect. Trading these two guys away shows you how deep the cardinals are at all positions. Craig is a victim of the Oscar Taveras craze and Kelly was just a number in the shuffle of fantastic young pitchers that St. Louis is hoarding.

Lackey has a pretty good track record in the postseason going back to his rookie season in 2002 with the Angels. He pitched and won Game 7 in that Series against San Francisco. Last autumn, after losing Game 3 to the Cardinals, he won Game 6 to again clinch the Series. The dude literally WINS the World Series. The Cards have seen it themselves and apparently decided he’s a guy they want on the mound for their side. He is owed a fair amount of praise, but all those games were in American League parks. Now we’ll see if he can do it in the Senior Circuit.

Jon Lester
Jon Lester

The BoSox dealing away ace Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes to the A’s for Yoenis Cespedes was a blockbuster Thursday morning splash and early sign how exciting deadline day would be. Red Sox GM Ben Cherington is going to look like a genius when he re-signs Lester to a new multi-year deal in the offseaon.

The 3-way cannonball deal that sent David Price to Detroit; Jackson to Seattle; Drew Smyly, Nick Franklin and Willy Adames to Tampa Bay was undoubtedly a direct answer to the Athletics landing Lester. And although the originally reported text from Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski to A’s GM Billy Beane about the deal was false it’s still a nice little storyline. Either way, I think it’s cool to see competitors acknowledge each other instead of ‘coach speak’ oozing from everyone who steps in front of a microphone.

Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski with owner Mike Ilitch in background.
Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski with owner Mike Ilitch in background.

Certainly the Tigers strengthened their starting rotation for this postseason but I think the deal was truly made as an insurance policy. Max Scherzer’s contract expires at the end of the season, he’s playing at an incredible level and he is a Scott Boras client. I can easily see him wearing Yankee pinstripes next year. Now that scenario wouldn’t hurt the Tigers nearly as much. The price Detroit had to pay was an everyday centerfielder. Jackson was pulled off the field minutes before the deadline. Sitting in my seat at Comerica Park I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. Never have I been to a game where the starting pitcher and centerfielder don’t finish the game on the same team.

After letting all the ideas marinate in my head I think it’s clear the deadline day winners were the Red Sox and the Braves. Boston made moves for their future, Atlanta acquired for an immediate impact. They picked up the antithesis of every player they have in Emilio Bonifacio. His style of play can really help them going forward. Boston fans should be thrilled though. They’ve now got their corner outfield spots set up for years and a solid middle of the rotation pitcher with a high ceiling.

Boston’s 2014 is looking a lot like their 2012. Of course they won the World Series last year. That’s just something for your baseball brain to snack on going into next season.

For a more in depth look into the Boston Red Sox trade deadline activity check out Matthew Kline’s column.

At What Cost a Title?

These thoughts came about as I read a reply to my article on Monday with regard to MLB’s anti-trust exemption:  loyal reader Rich Mahoney posited the question whether the fans of the Seattle Mariners might find Robinson Cano’s 10 year/$240 million contract worth it if they Mariners were able to win a title or two during his time with the Mariners.

That got me to thinking what cost would a fan be willing to endure in order to have their favorite team win a Championship?  What would a die-hard Cleveland Indians’ fan think?  Or perhaps a Chicago Cubs’ fan?  Would anything be too much?

Continue reading At What Cost a Title?

Ranking MLB's Divisions And Winners

Another Major League Baseball regular season is approaching its end, and while this year has seen controversy and scandal unlike any other the league has ever experienced, it’s also provided us with great moments: teams out-performing expectations, players having breakout campaigns, and spirited award debates.  Below is how strong I see each division in MLB and I predict who will win each division.

6. NL East

Heading into the 2013 season, the National League East was going to be a battle between the Atlanta Braves and the Washington Nationals, with the Nationals viewed as a trendy pick to win the division and eventually the World Series.  But here we sit on August 21st studying the standings, and we see that Atlanta has been the better team in almost every way, and not just in the division.  The Braves have led the East for nearly the entire season and now have a 15-game lead over Washington, as well as the best record in baseball at 76-49.  They have feasted on an extremely weak division; they’re 35-19 against the Nationals, Phillies, Mets, and Marlins, who collectively have averaged 55 wins in 2013.  Atlanta may win this division by 20 games, arguably the biggest surprise in the majors this season. WINNER: Braves

5.  NL West

A couple months ago, this division was intriguing, with the Diamondbacks leading the way, followed by the surprising Padres and Rockies, with the reigning World Series champion Giants on the outside looking in.  Then the Dodgers called up Yasiel Puig, woke up, won 42 of 50, and opened up a commanding division lead which now sits at seven games.  The Diamondbacks are only a handful of games out of a wild card spot, but even then will have to top at least one of the three more-talented NL Central teams jockeying for playoff position.  The other three teams in the division have all struggled mightily in the last two months and are out of contention for anything than top ten draft picks.  WINNER: Dodgers

4.  AL West

After the big-money signing of Josh Hamilton this offseason, the Angels were expected to be in the thick of a great race out West with reigning division champs Oakland and former back-to-back pennant winners in Texas.  But the “baseball gods” had other ideas. While the A’s have for the most part maintained their solid play of last summer and the Rangers have overcome an assortment of free agent departures and injuries, the Angels (despite another excellent campaign from Mike Trout) have underachieved horribly, with Hamilton and his .228 average the poster boy for these struggles.  The bottom two teams (the Mariners and Astros) were expected to be…not good, but their farm systems are churning out quality prospects as we speak.  For this season though, I predict the West will be won by the Rangers, who have an easy schedule the rest of the way and have been buoyed by the acquisitions of Matt Garza and Alex Rios.  WINNER: Rangers

3.  AL Central

The Tigers were expected to run away with this division after adding to their already considerable amount of talent in the winter, and they are in the process of doing so.  With a six-game loss column lead over a predictably improved but still extended-slump-prone Indians squad, an eight-game lead over the improved but unproven Royals, and even bigger leads over the bad Twins and the really bad White Sox, the Central (while stronger than in the recent past) is still Detroit’s to lose.  Perhaps the World Series is as well.  WINNER: Tigers

2.  NL Central

The best division race in baseball.  The top three teams (Pittsburgh!, St. Louis, Cincinnati) all have legitimate shots at winning the division, and all three should make the playoffs.  The Pirates currently lead by a single game over the Cardinals and lead the Reds by three (four in the loss column).  The Brewers and Cubs are bad, yes, but the strength of the top three teams makes this a division to watch in the final weeks.  Will the Pirates cap their stunning return to MLB’s elite with a division title? I’m going to say no, but it’s awesome that we’re even thinking about it.  The Cardinals have a healthy Yadier Molina and that’s good enough for me.  WINNER: Cardinals

1.  AL East

The Toronto Blue Jays hadn’t made the playoffs since 1993, so to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the drought, they went out and raided the Miami Marlins for Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio, Josh Johnson, and Jose Reyes this past winter.  They also acquired NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets.  As a result of this shopping spree, the Jays instantly shot up the AL East totem pole.  How did that work out?  Well, I’d say 57-69 and in dead last is not what they had in mind.  Meanwhile in Boston, the Red Sox have surprised everybody and continue to keep the Tampa Bay Rays at bay (get it?) atop the division.  The Orioles haven’t gone away after their shocking 2012 but will need a surge to qualify for the postseason and, as expected, the Yankees have faltered and will need a lot of help to sneak in.  So who wins this crazy division that features four teams over .500 and could field three playoff teams?  I’ve got Boston over another good Tampa team.  WINNER: Red Sox

Thanks for reading.  You can follow me on Twitter @puncakes_.

My Two Cents on Kevin Durant and Brandon Maurer – A Feel-Good Edition

by Ryan Isley

Before I get started on this week’s “Two Cents” column, I want to congratulate the Cleveland Cavaliers for winning the NBA Draft Lottery for the second time in three seasons. Maybe when Dan Gilbert said “I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE,” he actually meant the Cavaliers would win two NBA Draft Lotteries before LeBron wins two NBA titles.

Wheeeee!

And now this week’s “Two Cents” topics – an all-feel-good edition:

On Kevin Durant:

In previous weeks in this space, I have been critical of Kevin Durant the basketball player and his inability to lead the Oklahoma City Thunder past the second round of the NBA Playoffs after the injury to Russell Westbrook.

This week, I applaud Kevin Durant the man.

With the devastation in Moore, Oklahoma following Monday’s tornado, Durant felt that he had to do something. After all, Oklahoma City is now home to the NBA superstar. While other athletes were donating money based on their on-field performance, Durant went the extra mile and donated $1 million to the victims. But not only did Durant donate money, he also went and visited the scene where the one-mile wide tornado did the most damage.

In an interview with ESPN’s Shelley Smith in Moore, Oklahoma during the visit, Durant said the following:

“I got a special place in my heart for kids and you think back to when you were in elementary school and something like this would happen and how would you react. It’s just unfortunate. I am glad that most of them are safe. I heard that a few didn’t make it and a family going through that, I can’t fathom that.

I am just trying to bless them with what I’ve got and what I can. They need it more than I do. I am just trying to bless them with what I have and just be there for them. I think that’s what I can do for them most is just be there for them. I am sure I will be back up here a few times just to meet some more families and give them a sense of hope. Hopefully things get back to normal. It’s going to take a while, but I got faith it will get back to normal.”

As Durant was talking, you could see that the four-time All-NBA selection was visibly shaken by what he had seen and what had transpired. This wasn’t just a case of an athlete giving money to get the publicity – it was an athlete who truly cared about the place he plays and the people who live there.

Kevin Durant made a lot of highlights on the basketball court this past season, but his best play came off the court. Well done, Kevin.

On Brandon Maurer:

I am sure that if you don’t follow baseball closely, you are wondering who in the world is Brandon Maurer? Maurer is a starting pitcher for the Seattle Mariners, who currently owns a record of 2-6 with a 6.80 ERA.

What’s so special about Maurer, you ask?

Well, like Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Gio Gonzalez of the Washington Nationals in previous weeks, Maurer is my spotlight athlete who engaged fans at a game and made the day for a young fan at the ballpark. Only this one was less publicized and probably not seen by many. Thankfully, I was there to witness it firsthand.

On Monday afternoon before the Mariners took on the Cleveland Indians in Cleveland, Maurer said hello to a few young Indians fans down the right field line. He then walked away and headed to the dugout, only to come back out a few minutes later with at least a half dozen baseballs. He headed over to the kids once again and let them each pick out a ball and then signed it for them. After those kids got theirs, Maurer found more kids in the stands and was handing out baseballs one after another. All in all, I saw him give out at least 10 baseballs to lucky kids prior to the game.

This may not seem like a big deal, but to me it was. The Mariners were coming off their third straight loss to the Indians the day before and Maurer has probably not had the season he had hoped for when it began. Yet here he was, in an opposing ballpark talking to young fans of the game who were wearing gear of the opposing team and giving them baseballs. It was the kind of thing I remember from my youth when my parents would take me to games and it is something that these kids will remember as well.

Hats off to you, Brandon. You just may have a few young fans in Cleveland.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at ryan@morethanafan.net