Thanks to a 2-run blast by shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and some great pitching from Jhoulys Chacin, the Colorado Rockies were able to vanquish the Arizona Diamondbacks 3-1, running their winning streak out to 7 games. The offense has been hanging with the highest scoring lineups in the National League, the defense has been much improved thanks to the addition of Tulo and some nice improvements from catcher Wilin Rosario, and most importantly, the pitching staff has become competent.
If recent baseball history has taught us anything, it’s that you can never, under any circumstance, rule any team out. There’s always a surprise team lurking, just waiting to go from worst-to-first. Last year everybody counted the A’s and Orioles among the dead before the season even started and by October those teams got the last laugh. The Diamondbacks followed a similar script in 2011, improving by 29 wins to jump on top of the NL West after finishing in the cellar the year before.
These kind of quick turnarounds are happening more and more often and they seem to be coming from further and further out of left field. Everybody and their mother was picking the A’s to finish near the bottom of not only the AL West but baseball. But some savvy front office moves, some progression from the young players, some big years from rookies, and a few star turns later and the A’s were rocking their way to an AL West title on the final day of the season. Could this worst-to-first team come from out west again? Could the Rockies actually be flying under the radar?
They certainly fit the first part of the profile after finishing 64-98 a year ago. Colorado’s 2012 season was the worst in franchise history. It was one wrought with scary injuries to key players, disjointed pitching, and lackluster management, but 2013 may be different. Here’s a few of reasons that Blake Street may be home to baseball biggest surprise party:
Thanks to some savvy reporting courtesy of MLB.com beat writer Alden Gomez, we’ve learned that preliminary rosters for the World Baseball Classic are due on January 17th. Player decisions have been coming through the wire just about daily. Some have been negative, like Andrew McCutchen withdrawing his name from consideration, while others have been positive with the likes Ryan Braun and Adam Jones joining the Red, White, and Blue. Team USA isn’t the only country pulling in All-Star commitments either. Venezuela has already pulled in Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera to man one of the infield corners, and the nation appears to be close to getting a positive confirmation from ace right-hander Felix Hernandez. Those two players alone give the Venezuelan team a ton of MLB star power, and if the country can successfully fill out the rest of their roster with some more big league talent, they could head into the WBC on the short list of favorites to win the whole damn thing. Let’s take a glimpse at their best potential roster.
I have somewhat of a problem with the final vote for the “last” roster spot available in both leagues. First of all the American League is no contest. Yu Darvish will win in a runaway, because Ranger fans have stuffed the ballot box thus far and will continue to do so. And unless the large contingent of fans in Japan suddenly decide Jason Hammel or Jonathan Broxton is their guy, Darvish will win in a landslide. No, the more interesting (and maybe odd) case is over in the National League, where we more than likely have a two horse race between Chipper Jones and Bryce Harper.
Now that every team has about 1/3 of its season complete, we have a large enough sample of games to get a flavor for the awards races this year. Some of the early favorites to take home hardware are no where to be found, a group including Albert Pujols, Justin Upton, Tim Lincecum, and Roy Halladay. Some new and exciting players like James McDonald and Chris Sale have emerged, seemingly out of nowhere to take up residency on my 1st awards watch. Let’s take a look, starting with the MVP race today:
Here are your NL All-Stars up to June 5th. Sorry for the delay, I had some technical difficulties and a fantastically fun cabin trip to attend over the weekend. Continue reading
Now that we’ve taken a look at the American League’s best, let’s take a look at the best the Senior Circuit has to offer.
Catcher- Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
Molina gets a slight edge over Buster Posey because he plays the position everyday, rather than playing half his games at 1st base. Molina has been excellent with the bat so far, hitting .316 with 4 homers and 15 RBI. He even has 2 stolen bases so far, half of his entire total from 2011. He has always been the finest of the catching Molina’s with his glove work, and now, in his age-29 season, the bat is starting to catch up.
1st base- Bryan LaHair, Chicago Cubs
LaHair has been given his 1st real shot in the big leagues at 29 and has not disappointed so far. In 20 games he has hit .390/.471/.780 with 5 homers and 14 RBI. Very few players are ever given their first crack at the Major Leagues at 29 and his early success has been one of baseball’s best stories so far. If LaHair could finish around .280 with 20+ homers, numbers that are very realistic, the Cubs will have gotten an absolute steal at 1st base.
Another surprise out of the NL Central has been the play of the Astros’ 2nd baseman. Altuve is very green at only 21 years of age, but has been smacking extra-base hits all over the field batting .360/.404/.547 with 11 XBH. The Astros have been surprisingly feisty so far, and Altuve is one of the major reasons why. His speed game is also excellent, having stolen 4 bases without being caught.
Shortstop- Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs
The 2nd Cub to grace the list, Castro is a singles hitting machine. He led the National League in hits a year ago, and is already back to his old tricks, piling up 30 hits already. He’s added some new moves as well, and has already stolen 10 bases, which puts him on pace to smash his previous career high of 22. Troy Tulowitzki is also playing well, but I’m giving the nod to Castro.
3rd base- David Wright, New York Mets
Wright gets the nod over Pablo Sandoval and David Freese at the National League’s deepest position. Wright leads all of baseball in on-base percentage, at a stellar .494, and is hitting a robust .389. He has been enjoying the moved in fences at Citi Field, bombing 3 homers already, putting him on pace to beat last season’s measly 14. He is also walking more than he is striking out, which is always an excellent sign that a hitter is really locked in at the plate.
Outfield- Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers
Well, this one’s obvious. Kemp is leading everyone in everything, topping the National League in batting average, OPS, slugging, total bases, runs, hits, homeruns, and RBI. His defense in center has also been excellent, and his batting eye at the plate looks to be improved. He’s got an outside shot at hitting 60 homers, and a really long shot at hitting .400 for the season. This kind of production wins no-doubt-about-it MVPs.
Outside of Matt Kemp, there are plenty of deserving candidates, and Ryan Braun is my first. Braun had been having a somewhat slow start to his MVP defense until last nights 3 homer, 1 triple, 6 RBI outburst. He’s now all the way up to 3rd in OPS for National League outfielders, and also has 7 homers total. He’s also showing last seasons 33 steals weren’t a fluke, as Braun has swiped 3 bases in 4 attempts.
Outfield- Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies
Gonzalez snaps up the last of the available outfield spots, because of his all-around play. He’s 6th out of NL outfielders in OPS, 13th in steals, 8th in homers, and 4th in RBI. His batting line: .303/.376/.539 with 4 homers, 4 steals, and 18 RBI. Other deserving candidates include: Andrew McCutchen, Michael Bourne, Carlos Beltran, Jay Bruce, and Chris Young, who was having a monster season before hitting the DL. If Young comes back and plays as well as he had been, the All-Star spot is his.
Right-handed Pitcher- Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
The ace of the best pitching staff in baseball so far has lived up to all the hype. Strasburg has pitched 5 games, compiling 32 innings and has struck out 34 while allowing 6 walks, 22 hits, and only 4 runs, giving him an ERA of 1.13. Hitters have looked overmatched against his powerful fastball and wipeout curveball. Strasburg is a legitimate Cy Young candidate if his team doesn’t shut him down first.
For as dominant as Strasburg has been from the right side, Kershaw has been nearly as dominant from the left. He has a 1.78 ERA in 30.1 innings and has already struck out 28 batters to begin his Cy Young defense. His WHIP sits under 1.00 once again and he has only allowed 1 homer so far, which was his biggest weakness a season ago. If Strasburg is shut down, look for Kershaw to reap the rewards.
Relief Pitcher- Jonathan Paplebon, Philadelphia Phillies
Without the excellent rotation put together in Philly, the team would already be sunk. They spend a fortune for Paplebon to close the door on teams, and he has gotten the job done so far this year. Paplebon is striking out 1 batter per innings, has a tidy .90 WHIP, and a miniscule .90 ERA as well.