Wow! Is there any better way to kick off a season than with 12 exciting, competitive games? I don’t think so. From Bryce Harper’s pair of homers, to Kershaw putting the Dodgers on his back, Opening Day was full of big performances as well. These are my starting nine from Opening Day 2013:
1) Josh Reddick’s beard
It’s majestic. I mean just look at the thing. Can his eyes even make their way through that hairy forest to see the pitches opposing hurlers throw? Is he going for the Johnny Damon circa-2004 look? I’m not really sure but I know I like it.
2) Clayton Kershaw as a dual threat
In the best game of the day the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw dualed the Giants’ Matt Cain to a draw through 8 innings. Neither offense could muster much more than a bloop single or two as the starters combined to strikeout 15 batters. By the start of the 8th inning the game was handed over to the Giants’ bullpen and George Kontos with Clayton Kershaw scheduled to lead-off. In a bold move Dodgers’ manager Don Mattingly decided to leave Kershaw in the game, eschewing a pinch hitter, and boy did it pay off. Kershaw hit an absolute blast to centerfield some 400-odd feet away for his 1st career homer, sending Dodgers’ fans into a frenzy. Los Angeles added 3 more insurance runs in the inning but Clayton Kershaw didn’t need them as he pitched a perfect 9th to grab the 4-0 victory.
In what is quickly becoming one of the wildest off-seasons in memory, the Atlanta Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks appear to have agreed on a seven player swap. Atlanta will add their second Upton brother this offseason, Justin, while also picking up 3rd baseman Chris Johnson. In return the Diamondbacks are getting Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, and a host of minor league talent. This trade has the potential to work out beautifully for both ball clubs. Arizona has, for some odd reason, been trying to trade the hyper-talented Upton for the better part of the last two years, trying to stake out the best deal. Well it appears GM Kevin Towers has finally found his elusive match, and he may have gotten the short end of the stick. On a more positive note, he also found his starting 3rd baseman and a nice collection of young talent as well, but it’s harder to judge his return in this deal until the youngsters involved acquire more seasoning. Instead, let’s take a look at what the deal does for the Braves.
Compared to the flashier moves being made by division-mates San Francisco and Los Angeles, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ offseason has largely flown under the radar. But no team’s maneuverings have piqued my curiosity quite like those of the Diamondbacks. Arizona’s general manager, Kevin Towers has been quite the beacon of activity this offseason, swapping out Chris Young, Trevor Bauer, Matt Albers, and Brian Shaw for Heath Bell, Cliff Pennington, Didi Gregorius, Lars Anderson, and Tony Sipp. Towers also set aside $18 million to sign Brandon McCarthy and Eric Chavez to deals that will bring the former AL veterans to the desert. The Diamondbacks still have a couple of small moves remaining to fill their remaining roster spots, but otherwise any renovation Towers had appears to be complete. So what do they have to show for it? Is this roster any better than the one that finished 81-81 a year ago? Did Arizona give up on Bauer too soon? Let’s get to some of these questions and more.
Every season there are some players with some alarmingly large pull tendencies. These hitters, due to the fact that they show a dominant pattern of hitting the ball in one direction, should be shifted. Bill James and John Dewan, two major players in the MLB statistical community, have speculated that any hitter that pulls the ball in one direction 80% of the time or more should be shifted, but I tend to side with a more aggressive approach, and advocate shifting or shading the defense if a hitter exhibits a pull tendency 70% or more. Some classic examples of extreme pull hitters include David Ortiz, Mark Teixeira, and Carlos Pena. All three of those hitters are classic sluggers who have put up big homerun numbers at some point in their respective careers. But other than those hitters, who in Major League Baseball is that pull-happy to warrant a shift on defense? Let’s take a look at a couple of players over the next few days, starting with right-handed hitters.
A week and a half ago I previewed the month of September and attempted to divide teams up into Contenders or Pretenders. The National League in particular, had a bunch of teams withing reasonable striking distance of a playoff berth, particularly if everything broke right. Well so far so good, because damn near every team at the top of the running for the NL Wild Card spot is slumping, which means that teams like Arizona, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee have been reawakened from the dead. St. Louis has lost 5 of their last 6, while Los Angeles has lost 6 of 9 since acquiring Adrian Gonzalez in the blockbuster trade with the Red Sox, and don’t even get me started on the nasty slide the Pirates are in. The wheels have fallen off in the Steel City, as Pittsburgh is just 13-25 since the start of August while winning just 2 of their past 10 games. Atlanta is still looking good at the top, so the question is worth asking: does anybody want to win the win the 2nd Wild Card spot? And could one of the long-shot teams entering the month of September (Philadelphia, Arizona, and Milwaukee) sneak in there?
The stretch drive in baseball has finally arrived. It’s September, which means that each and every Major League team has about 30 or so games to make one final push toward October. Some teams like Texas, New York, Detroit, Cincinnati and St. Louis were expected to be here, possessing teams that lived up to their early season potential. Other teams like Baltimore, Oakland, Pittsburgh, and Washington have surprised this year, finding themselves in a position to chase a playoff spot. Others (Boston and Philadelphia) have been far more disappointing in 2012 and won’t be participating in the October fun this year. With just one month left it’s a good time to survey the field of contenders to try to find the teams that have the best chance to make some noise come playoff time.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have had a disappointing season after being one of baseball’s biggest surprises a year ago when they won the NL West and pushed Milawaukee in the NLDS before eventually falling in 5 games. They’ve lingered around .500 all year in 2012, never going further than 4 games over or 6 games under the mark and they currently sit at 64-65. The offense ranks slightly above average in the NL in runs scored and the pitching staff ranks slightly below average in runs allowed. The team recently traded away a couple of usable pieces in Joe Saunders and Stephen Drew, neither of which had made any sort of significant contribution to the 2012 team, in the hopes that another player would step up and play a little better if given more playing time. Arizona is going to need somebody to step up if they have any hopes of playoff contention this season.