Results tagged ‘ Jay Bruce ’

C.J. Wilson, and the second time thru …

Chris Iannetta, C.J. WilsonA former starting pitcher had one big takeaway after watching C.J. Wilson‘s good-but-not-great outing against the Reds on Wednesday night: He’s over-thinking it again.

Wilson, he said, assumes hitters are going to make adjustments on him the second time through the order and sometimes winds up complicating matters, trying to be too fine rather than going with what worked early in the game. It’s just one man’s theory, of course. But it did seem to play out that way against the Reds in the bottom of the fourth, walking Chris Heisey and Joey Votto on nine pitches before serving up a three-run homer to Brandon Phillips and a near-homer to Jay Bruce.

Last year, as Wilson struggled through the second half, the left-hander’s biggest problems seemed to come the second time through a lineup. Wilson gave up 65 runs (56 earned) in 91 innings in the second half last year, resulting in a 5.54 ERA. Thirty-five of those runs came in the second and third inning, which is when a lineup would turn over once guys start reaching base (Wilson was perfect through three on Wednesday, so it wasn’t until the fourth that he faced guys a second time).

Per Baseball-Reference.com, here’s how opposing hitters fared against Wilson the first, second and third time through last year …

First: .203/.318/.297
Second: .298/.360/.454
Third: .188/.276/.307

Wilson (6 IP, 4 R, 3 ER, 5 H, 4 BB, 4 SO) was asked Wednesday night about his hiccup in the fourth and basically broke it down batter by batter …

“The pitch I really just whiffed on was a couple pitches to Heisey. Those were just kind of out of the zone. Just trying to make adjustments and couldn’t, and I got a little bit closer to being dialed in with Votto but still missed. And then the pitch Phillips hit was a cutter that just cut too much. It was supposed to be outside and then cut all the way across the plate and he hammered it. The at-bat with Bruce was really pivotal, though, because I had him with two strikes and couldn’t put him away. That was 100 percent on me; it didn’t have anything to do with anybody else. There was no bad hops or anything like that. I just made a bad pitch instead of making a good pitch and he hit it off the wall. So that’s kind of what turned the game around. That and me popping up the bunt [in the third] were two of the things that I’m going to be extremely upset about for a long part of the season.”

Alden

Game 2: Angels-Reds …

Angels (1-0)

angelslogo2 Mike Trout, CF
Erick Aybar, SS
Albert Pujols, 1B
Josh Hamilton, RF
Mark Trumbo, LF
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Alberto Callaspo, 3B
Chris Iannetta, C
C.J. Wilson, SP

Reds (0-1)

redslogo2Shin-Soo Choo, CF
Chris Heisey, LF
Joey Votto, 1B
Brandon Phillips, 2B
Jay Bruce, RF
Todd Frazier, 3B
Zack Cozart, SS
Ryan Hanigan, C
Mat Latos, SP

  • Ryan Madson, experiencing some elbow tightness from his last session, threw 15 pitches off the mound on Wednesday afternoon, which is a step down from where he was last Wednesday — throwing 40 pitches, including changeups and letting it go on his last few throws. Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher doesn’t believe Madson is back to where he was when he first returned from missing nearly 40 days, though. “Way further along than that,” Butcher said. “This is more precautionary than anything else.”
  • Everyone is available out of the bullpen for the Angels today, two days after six of their seven relievers appeared in Monday’s win (with Mark Lowe throwing two innings). The off day was big.
  • Garrett Richards, 24, is the youngest member of the bullpen. And since they don’t have the pink, little-girls’ bookbag yet, Richards is carrying a WWF championship belt to the ‘pen. It’s pink.

Alden

Opening Day: Angels-Reds …

Welcome to Great American Ball Park, home of the first ever interleague matchup on Opening Day and the scene where the Angels will kick off another highly anticipated season …

Angels (0-0)

laaMike Trout, CF
Erick Aybar, SS
Albert Pujols, 1B
Josh Hamilton, RF
Mark Trumbo, LF
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Alberto Callaspo, 3B
Chris Iannetta, C
Jered Weaver, SP

Reds (0-0)

REDSShin-Soo Choo, CF
Brandon Phillips, 2B
Joey Votto, 1B
Ryan Ludwick, LF
Jay Bruce, RF
Todd Frazier, 3B
Zack Cozart, SS
Ryan Hanigan, C
Johnny Cueto, SP

Some pregame notes …

  • Chris Snyder could’ve opted out of his Minor League deal with the Angels, but the veteran catcher instead accepted his assignment to Triple-A Salt Lake, increasing the Angels’ depth behind the plate. Snyder will be on a Salt Lake Bees roster that also includes John Hester and Luke Carlin, with the three of them rotation between catcher, DH and bench duty. Snyder will also play some first base.
  • Mike Scioscia, on where Garrett Richards‘ role in the bullpen is: He’s much more than just an innings-eater in the ‘pen. His power arm is something we can take a look at at any point in the game.” Ernesto Frieri, Scott Downs and Sean Burnett are ahead of him in the depth chart, but it could change if he pitches well.
  • Scioscia said he “would anticipate” that Pujols would play all three games at first base in this series. The day off certainly helps.
  • Ryan Madson is away from throwing, still experiencing some tightness in his elbow, but Scioscia expects him to get back on the mound in a couple days.
  • Trout has about 10 family and friends at Great American Ball Park for his first Major League Opening Day. “It a feeling you really can’t explain,” he said.

Some Opening Day numbers …

  • The Angels have won eight of their last nine Opening Day games, including four straight, which ties a franchise record.
  • This is Weaver’s fourth straight Opening Day start and fifth overall, joining Mike Witt as the only pitcher to start five Opening Days for the Angels. Weaver is 3-1 with a 2.03 ERA on Day 1.
  • Hamilton made his debut in this stadium almost exactly six years ago (April 2, 2007, in Cincy).
  • The Angels are the only team in the Majors to open the 2013 season with three straight series against playoff teams (Reds, Rangers, A’s). That actually hasn’t been done since ’07 (Giants and Orioles).
  • This is the third series all-time played between the Angels and Reds, and first since 2007. The Angels have won four of six.
  • Angels’ 74-34 record in Interleague Play since 2007 leads the Majors.
  • Aybar and Kendrick are making their fifth straight Opening Day start together up the middle, the longest active active Opening Day start streak by a middle-infield tandem in the Majors. Today, Kendrick passed Bobby Knoop for most consecutive Opening Day starts by an Angels second baseman.
  • The Angels’ first road trip has six different times (all local): 4:10, 7:10, 12:35, 1:05, 3:05, 7:05.
  • Pujols’ career 143 RBIs and 46 homers against the Reds rank second among active players.

Alden

Trout’s mom: ‘I’m really going to miss Torii’ …

TROUT-TORIIThere are a lot of pictures at Mike Trout‘s parents’ house in Millville, N.J.

To his mom, Debbie, this is the favorite.

It’s hanging in a frame downstairs, in the basement Mike has turned into his own personal “man cave,” and autographed with silver Sharpie by the two of them.

This is a snapshot of Mike’s first Major League game on July 8, 2011, taken just after Mike raced to the wall to make this running catch.

But the significance of this photo lies in the man standing to Mike’s right, Torii Hunter, who took Mike under his wing basically since the moment he was drafted and is now gone, signing with the Tigers to a two-year, $26 million contract over the offseason.

“I’m going to miss Torii,” Debbie said. “I really am going to miss Torii. He was just absolutely wonderful to Mike.”

“Not only did he help him with his approach to the game, but all the little things that people don’t realize when you get up there as a 20-year-old kid — how to behave in the clubhouse, what time to get there,” Mike’s father, Jeff, said. “He’s counseled Mike on nutrition, how to take care of his legs, how to take care of your body, how to handle fans, how to handle the autograph thing. He really has been a really, really positive influence on Mike.”

Hunter was one of the first players Mike met after being the Angels’ 25th overall pick in 2009. The Angels invited him to take batting practice at Angel Stadium, Hunter introduced himself and the veteran outfielder stayed in touch with Mike as he was coming up through the system. Hunter bought Mike a suit shortly after he came up to the big leagues, tipped clubbies for him and even paid for his parents’ dinner when he spotted them at a restaurant one night. The two still stay in touch.

Shortly after Hunter signed with the Tigers, Mike’s mom sent him a tweet (her handle: @DebbieTrout27) …

Thank you from the bottom of my heart!!! Mike has learned from the Best!!!We will miss you but see you in Detroit!!!

Hunter’s response (via @toriihunter48) …

no mama! Thanks to u for raising such a great kid. He was easy to work with and talk to. @Trouty20 is a special kid

“He was a great mentor, and we appreciate everything he did,” Jeff said. “Hopefully some day Mike can do the same for a young player coming up.”

“That’s right,” Debbie added, “because that’s what it’s all about. But I’m really going to miss Torii.”

We ran a story today on Mike’s hometown of Millville — the impact it’s had on his life, the way it has rallied around him these last nine months and how, in some ways, things can never be the same again there. Here are some additional notes …

* The Angels have not begun talks with Mike and his representatives with regards to a long-term extension, sources have said. The club is past the point where it can get him to agree on an Evan Longoria-type deal — six years, $17.5 million, agreed on when he first arrived in the big leagues.

Big-market clubs, as a general rule, can opt to wait a little longer to sign controlled players to a long extension because they aren’t scared by looming arbitration. And by waiting, they minimize the risk for nine figures at such a young age. Normally it’s the small- to mid-market teams that do it in the pre-arbitration years (think Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Jay Bruce, Justin Upton and Hanley Ramirez) because it’s one of few ways to assure a star player doesn’t leave via fre agency.

Also, the competitive balance tax accounts for the average annual value of a contract, not the year-to-year price point. So, for example, if Mike signs a 10-year, $200 million contract that’s typically backloaded into his free-agent years, the $25M AAV is factored into the “now payroll” for the CBT. So, even if that contracts pays him only $1M in 2013, the Angels are paying taxes as if that were a $25M deal. That gets to be very pricey when you have other massive deals (Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, etc.).

In short, the Angels’ thinking is: What’s the rush? They’ll get there at some point. They’d sure like to.

* Mike isn’t too thrilled about being relegated to left field next season, several people close to him say. No surprise. (How would you feel if you were told to switch positions after being the MVP runner-up?) But Mike has made no mention of his displeasure to Angels management, simply telling them he believes he’s a center fielder but will do what it takes to help the team win.

The Angels remain committed to putting Peter Bourjos in center and Trout in left for a vast majority of the 2013 season – unless Bourjos struggles offensively again. They like the alignment because Bourjos is also an elite-level defensive center fielder – some would say he covers more ground than Mike – and Mike has more experience in left field. Also, staying away from center will only limit the wear and tear on Mike’s legs long-term. Being a left fielder, however, could cost Mike some money, especially in arbitration. It’s highly unlikely that Mike attains Super Two status, so he probably won’t reach arbitration until after the 2014 season.

* Here’s a running joke around Millville: The city doesn’t have any maternity hospitals, so every woman in this city gives birth in Vineland, which just so happens to be their heated, neighboring rival. That was no different for Debbie Trout on Aug. 7, 1991, when Mike was born. And because of that technicality, every Mike Trout baseball card and bio page lists his birthplace as Vineland, N.J. (The grainy picture below is from his freshman year of high school.)

IMG_1753Millville folks don’t generally find that very funny, as you might imagine.

“Yeah, but he never spent no time there,” Millville Mayor Tim Shannon bellowed. “Soon as he was born, we brought him back!”

* Jeff and Debbie point to the July 10 All-Star Game in Kansas City as the moment they realized their lives, and especially Mike’s, would never be the same again.

At about 2 a.m., while the Trouts were celebrating Debbie’s 50th birthday at one of The Capital Grille’s private rooms, fans were still parked outside waiting to hound Mike for autographs as soon as he stepped out. At that point, he and his family were led out the back – where Charlie Sheen was coming in, and sparked a short conversation with Mike.

“That’s when we realized things had changed forever, for us and for Michael,” Jeff said.

Added Debbie: “We no longer were coming in through the front door.”

Alden 

How Angels’ ‘Big 3′ stacks up in 2013 …

Josh Hamilton

I wrote recently about the Angels’ own prestigious “Big Three” of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton — how they could potentially hold up historically and in this era.

But how do they hold up in 2013? There’s little debate that the Angels now have the most talented and celebrated lineup trio in baseball, giving them arguably the game’s most potent offense. But I was a little stunned that their 2012 stats didn’t show it.

In fact, when combining each of their OPS from 2012, the Angels’ trio ranked third, behind those of the Tigers and Reds. Below is the top 15, based on combined OPS of the top three current players in each lineup (minimum is 400 plate appearances) …

  • Tigers (Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Austin Jackson): 2.795
  • Reds (Joey Votto, Ryan Ludwick, Jay Bruce): 2.759
  • Angels (Trout, Pujols, Hamilton): 2.752
  • Brewers (Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, Corey Hart): 2.729
  • Red Sox (David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli*): 2.635
  • Blue Jays (Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera): 2.627
  • Cardinals (Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Yadier Molina): 2.627
  • Rangers (Adrian Beltre, David Murphy, A.J. Pierzynski): 2.607
  • Rockies (Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, Tyler Colvin): 2.602
  • Pirates (Andrew McCutchen, Garrett Jones, Pedro Alvarez): 2.569
  • D-backs (Aaron Hill, Paul Goldschmidt, Jason Kubel): 2.565
  • Yankees (Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira): 2.547
  • Twins (Josh Willingham, Joe Mauer, Ryan Doumit): 2.532
  • Giants (Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Belt): 2.527
  • Dodgers (Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Adrian Gonzalez): 2.524

* Napoli’s deal still hasn’t been finalized. 

** A special thanks to all of you for making this blog the 10th-most popular among MLB.com beat writers in 2012. You’re the whipped cream on my sundae. 

Alden 

Game 26: Angels-Reds …

The Reds aren’t going with the DH, as originally planned, so Kendrys Morales will instead have the day off. He said he’s feeling a bit fatigued and expects to be in the lineup on Thursday, at home against the Royals …

Angels (15-9-1)

Peter Bourjos, CF
Bobby Abreu, RF
Maicer Izturis, SS
Vernon Wells, LF
Mark Trumbo, 1B
Alberto Callaspo, 3B
Chris Iannetta, C
Alexi Amarista, 2B
Dan Haren, SP

Others pitching: Kevin Jepsen, Jason Isringhausen

Reds (10-16-1)

Brandon Phillips, 2B
Wilson Valdez, SS
Joey Votto, 1B
Scott Rolen, 3B
Jay Bruce, RF
Todd Frazier, LF
Drew Stubbs, CF
Ryan Hanigan, C
Bronson Arroyo, SP

Some notes from this morning …

  • These are two really big days for Isringhausen. “Pitch well or go home.”
  • It’s pretty much a sure thing by now that Michael Kohn (forearm strain) and Bobby Cassevah (labrum tear) will be starting the season on the disabled list. Kohn won’t start throwing again for another week. Cassevah threw all his pitches in a 25-pitch bullpen on Tuesday and said he “felt normal,” so he hopes to be activated as early as possible — which would be April 11.
  • Ervin Santana will pitch in a Minor League game on Thursday, instead of throwing against the Royals in Tempe.
  • Mike Scioscia on Magic Johnson, who he would run into periodically during his playing days and is part of the group that won the bidding for the Dodgers: “He’s always been a huge baseball fan, and I’m sure it’s going to be a positive.”
  • Jered Weaver felt good while hurling six shutout innings in a Triple-A game at Talking Stick on Wednesday. Felt it was his best outing yet.
  • Scoiscia on Yu Darvish, who he’s seen video of: “Obviously he has a variety of pitches, has good angle and looks like his command is good. That’s why he’s had success in Japan, that’s why he was coveted to come over here.”
  • The plan for Morales is to play on Thursday and Friday, then Sunday and Monday. He’ll then pinch-hit on Tuesday and Wednesday at Dodger Stadium (where there’s no DH), and Scioscia feels that will be enough to have him ready for Opening Day.

Some links from Tuesday …

Some AL West links …

And the Heat are in need of an energy boost. Yeah, tell me about it.

Alden

Postseason breakdown: National League

MINNESOTA — While the American League was pretty much decided by the time the final week of the 2010 regular season began, the National League came down to the final Sunday.


Heading into the playoffs, the mystery continues. 

Three of the four NL postseason clubs were watching from home at this time last year. Can anyone from the Reds, Braves and Giants knock out the red-hot Phillies, who have won the pennant two years in a row? 

Have a look … 
Phillies (97-65)

Potential lineup

Jimmy Rollins, SS

images2.jpg

Placido Polanco, 3B
Chase Utley, 2B
Ryan Howard, 1B
Jayson Werth, RF
Raul Ibanez, LF
Shane Victorino, CF
Carlos Ruiz, C

Potential rotation

Roy Halladay, RH
Roy Oswalt, RH
Cole Hamels, LH
Joe Blanton, RH

Key relievers

Brad Lidge, RH (CL)
J.C. Romero, LH
Ryan Madson, RH
Jose Contreras, RH

Key reserves

Brian Schneider, C
Wilson Valdez, INF
Ross Gload, INF/OF
Ben Francisco, OF

Why they’ll win: They’re calling them “H2O” now. But however you want to identify them — “The Big Three,” “Cole Oswaday” (that was me) — the starting-rotation trio of Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels is looking untouchable heading into this postseason. So untouchable that they’re pretty much all you need, especially in a short AL Division Series. Throw in the fact that their offense — when it’s right — is one of the most deadly in baseball, and the Phils look poised for a third straight trip to the World Series. 

Why they won’t: Just like last year, the Phillies and Charlie Manuel aren’t sure what they’re going to get in the ninth inning from Lidge, even though he has closed out the season very well. Also, the offense has been inconsistent this year, to say the least, and that’ll be something to watch out for, too — especially with J-Roll not looking too healthy. 

Giants (92-70)

Potential lineup

Andres Torres, CF

Timma.jpg

Freddy Sanchez, 2B
Aubrey Huff, 1B
Buster Posey, C
Pat Burrell, LF
Juan Uribe, SS
Jose Guillen, RF
Pablo Sandoval, 3B

Potential rotation

Tim Lincecum, RH
Matt Cain, RH
Jonathan Sanchez, LH
Madison Bumgarner, LH

Key relievers

Brian Wilson, RH (CL)
Sergio Romo, RH
Jeremy Affeldt, LH
Santiago Casilla, RH

Key reserves

Eli Whiteside, C
Edgar Renteria, INF
Cody Ross, OF
Aaron Rowand, OF

Why they’ll win: The Giants’ duo of Lincecum and Cain is as good as any in baseball and will keep games close, and Sanchez, the No. 3 man, has been an under-the-radar stud. San Fran is also a hot team going in, having gone 19-10 since the start of September to take the NL West from the Padres. Their bullpen is lights-out, too. The Giants finished the regular season with the best ERA in baseball, and the second-best relief-pitcher ERA. 

Why they won’t: This department has been better lately, but the Giants’ offense is still a big question mark heading into the postseason. Does Bruce Bochy‘s club have enough punch to compete with some of the NL’s best? Can they manufacture runs without having to rely on the long ball? And can Posey, the potential NL Rookie of the Year, bust out of his recent slump — 6-for-42 — and come up big in his first postseason? They’ll need him to. 

Reds (91-71)

Potential lineup

Brandon Phillips, 2B

votto.jpg

Orlando Cabrera, SS
Joey Votto, 1B
Scott Rolen, 3B
Jonny Gomes, CF
Jay Bruce, RF
Drew Stubbs, CF
Ramon Hernandez, C

Potential rotation

Edinson Volquez, RH
Bronson Arroyo, RH
Aaron Harang, RH
Travis Wood, LH

Key relievers

Francisco Cordero, RH (CL)
Arthur Rhodes, LH 
Nick Masset, RH
Aroldis Chapman, LH

Key reserves

Ryan Hanigan, C
Miguel Cairo, INF
Paul Janish, INF
Laynce Nix, OF

Why they’ll win: Some may be surprised to learn that Cincinnati finished the regular season with the most runs in the NL, but the Reds are a very good offensive ballclub despite the lack of sexy names. Whether they hit against the Phillies and, perhaps eventually, the Giants remains to be seen. Their bullpen has some weapons, especially in Chapman — a wild card for this team. 

Why they won’t: Dusty Baker‘s club just has too many inconsistent parts. It starts with Volquez, the Game 1 starter who’s been up-and-down since coming off ’09 Tommy John surgery, and it ends with Cordero, who’s blown eight saves this season. Then you can sprinkle Phillips and others in between. And then there’s this: The Reds went a combined 7-12 against the three other NL playoff teams this season. 
Braves (91-71)

Potential lineup

Omar Infante, 3B

bobby_cox_cigar.jpgJason Heyward, RF

Derrek Lee, 1B
Brian McCann, C
Matt Diaz, LF
Alex Gonzalez, SS
Brooks Conrad, 2B
Rick Ankiel, CF

Potential rotation

Derek Lowe, RH
Tommy Hanson, RH
Tim Hudson, RH
Brandon Beachy, RH

Key relievers

Billy Wagner, LH (CL)
Takashi Saito, RH
Jonny Venters, LH
Peter Moylan, RH

Key reserves

David Ross, C
Troy Glaus, INF
Eric Hinske, INF/OF
Rick Ankiel, OF

Why they’ll win: Because fate says they should, considering this will be Bobby Cox‘s last season at the helm. Need a more concrete reason? The Braves can still pitch with just about anybody, and it can be enough to keep them in contention despite a myriad of injuries. 

Why they won’t: Because of what I just mentioned — injuries. Chipper Jones was first, then Martin Prado, and now Jair Jurrjens has been shaken up and won’t be starting in the NLDS. The Braves’ offense will be relying on an inconsistent Lee, Ankiel, McCann and Gonzalez, and a rookie in Heyward. That’s a lot of question marks that need to turn into solid answers. 

NL CHAMPION: Phillies. 
– Alden Gonzalez

6 Divisions in 6 Days: NL Central

With this being the final week of Spring Training (crazy, right?), I figured it’d be justified to take a look at all 30 clubs and examine where they stand, what they need and where it looks like they’ll finish heading into the 2010 season. So, leading up to Opening Night between the Red Sox and Yankees, I’ll touch on one of the six divisions each day Monday-Saturday. Today, Day 4, we look at the National League Central …


Cardinals: They will enter the season without a big lefty bat off the bench. That starting rotation is shaky 3-5. I’m having trouble identifying a true setup man in that bullpen. And I don’t know how much I trust Ryan Franklin to do it all over again as the closer. But baseball can be a simple game sometimes, so I’m not going to complicate the Cardinals’ situation. They have arguably the best 1-2 combination at the top of the rotation with Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, and arguably the best 3-4 combination in the middle of the lineup in Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. Questions answered. The Cardinals are the best team in the division. It’s not just because of that, though. They have a great manager in Tony La Russa, and they have some nice pieces around those four studs. All those other problems, they can be addressed through in-season trades, as general manager John Mozeliak has proven he’s capable of pulling off (see: Holliday). La Russa admitted Thursday his club is a little thin heading into the season — especially with some of their Spring Training injuries — but they’ve been “thin” before and won. This year should be no different. 

holliday-pujols.jpg
Cubs: Lou Piniella basically has one more shot to turn those lovable Cubbies into champions. Can he do it? I don’t think so. I know last year’s team was severely hurt, but I just don’t see enough on that club to be able to compete in this division. Main power threats are Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee and an Alfonso Soriano who could barely bend over anymore? Rotation aces are Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster? Closer is Carlos Marmol? I just don’t see enough. There’s a lot of question marks among those names. If healthy, though, I do think they’ll stay in contention, mainly for the Wild Card, and I like the fact they essentially swapped Milton Bradley for Marlon Byrd. But Soriano’s contract — he’s got $18 million coming annually through 2014 — is eating away at them, and they’re relying on too many unproven and/or volatile guys for me to be a believer. Maybe year 103 is the lucky one, Cubs fans. 

Brewers: I don’t feel like they have enough to be legitimate factors, but I sure like this team. They’ll be fun to watch, and it isn’t just because of their choreographed celebrations after Prince Fielder home runs (though that of course plays a factor). Fielder and Ryan Braun is one of the best middle-of-the-order combinations in baseball, and one nobody really ever talks about. And I like that rotation. Sure, they overpaid for Randy Wolf (proud owner of a three-year, $29.75 million contract). But you have to overpay in that market to get arms like that. Wolf, along with Yovani Gallardo, Doug Davis, Dave Bush and Manny Parra make this a more-than-formidable bunch. The back end of that bullpen is pretty set with LaTroy Hawkins and Trevor Hoffman. And keep your eyes on new shortstop Alcides Escobar and new center fielder Carlos Gomez. It amazes me how general manager Doug Melvin can keep fielding competitive teams while facing the elements each offseason. Nice (though not great) team. 

Reds: Many are picking the Reds to be the surprise team of baseball, and I can see why. But I don’t think they have enough to get past the Cardinals in this division. Still, that starting rotation is nice with Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey. The bullpen isn’t bad, either, with guys like Arthur RhodesFrancisco Cordero and Nick Masset in the back end. There are questions in that starting lineup, though. Scott Rolen and Orlando Cabrera will have to turn back the clock, Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips need to keep producing, Jay Bruce needs ;to be better, and somebody needs to step up and become a reliable leadoff man. That’s too many things that have to go right. Aroldis Chapman will eventually play a big factor in that starting rotation — or maybe the bullpen? — but he needs more time. 

Astros: In every sense of the word, the Astros are your run-of-the-mill average ballclub. Bullpen? Average. Starting rotation? Average. Offense? Average. Defense? Average. I like the hiring of Brad Mills, who will run a tighter ship while being more well-liked than Cecil Cooper (it’s hard not to be, frankly), and I’ve already seen first-hand the impact new pitching coach Brad Arnsberg has had on the staff. The additions of Brett Myers, Matt Lindstrom, Brandon Lyon and Pedro Feliz were fine, but nothing that’s going to put this team over the top. I love Ed Wade, but I think the Astros are going to have to pick a direction soon. Are they going to push all their chips to the middle of the table and push to be a World Series contender now? Or are they a club that will look to build up its farm system to really contend down the line? Right now, it seems they’re stuck in the middle, and that will reflect on their record. 81-81 finish? Probably a good gauge. 

Pirates: It goes without saying that the Pirates will struggle. They did a nice job last season of ridding themselves of salary and getting some nice pieces in return before the Trade Deadline, as they strive to make the playoffs for the first time since 1992. (Wow, has it really been that long?) They have a lot of work to do before they’re back on top, though. It is going to be fun to watch Andrew McCutchen for a full season, and Garrett Jones could be poised for a big year. But I don’t know about Jeff Clement at first base and Ryan Doumit catching, nobody else in that lineup really sticks out at me, and the rotation and bullpen is very weak. Keep your eyes peeled on two prospects, though: third baseman Pedro Alvarez and catcher Tony Sanchez

– Alden Gonzalez
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