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Opening Day: Official Start of the Regular Season

We’ve had the Opening Series, held down in Australia on March 22nd and 23rd; we’ve had Opening Night, held down in San Diego last night; and now, after so much anticipation leading up to the year, we’re set for Opening Day — an unofficial holiday for millions of baseball fans around the country. This is the day we’ve all been waiting for, ever since the final out of the World Series was recorded in October of last year.mlb-opening-day-logo_2014_hero

Thirteen total games are on tab for today, with the Yankees, Astros, Dodgers and Padres being the only teams not in action. The games will take place all throughout the day, from 1:05 Eastern, with the Pirates taking on the Cubs, to the Mariners going up against the Angels, at 10:05, making the entire day exciting.

Not only is Opening Day fun because of the official start of the 162-game baseball regular season, but it also stands out as one of the few times you ever see every single teams pitching ace on the mound around the country. Every team starts from zero, with hopes of making the postseason (some with better odds than others) and putting your best pitcher on the mound is a great way to kick off the year on a high note; knowing that things may not look too good towards the end of the year.

With so many changes this past offseason, this could be one of the most intriguing Opening Days in years. While teams and players have had over a month of Spring Training games to show off their potential, those games are basically meaningless. You never know how individual players, and teams as a whole, will fare for the entire length of a season. That’s what makes a given season so entertaining — the unknown factor.

So, make it a point today – if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably planning to anyhow — to sit back and watch a least a little baseball at some point. With every game played from here on out taking teams closer and closer to the World Series in October, there’s nothing quite like Opening Day baseball.

Beat the Streak Returns for Its 14th Year

Ever since MLB.com debuted the fantasy baseball style game ‘Beat the Streak’ back in 2001, fans all around the country have been doing their very best to pick up some cash, while at the same time “beating” Joe DiMaggio’s hit streak of 56 games. With a 57-game hit streak of sorts needed to beat the streak and claim the money ($10,000 being the top prize back in 2001), fans have developed all kinds of strategies that they felt certain would help them win the game.

But no one has done it yet — in fourteen years. photo

Truly incredible when you think about it, that not one person has even come close to winning ‘Beat the Streak’, with a fan back in 2007 coming the closest of anyone, amassing a hit streak of 49 games. And therefore, since 2001, MLB.com has upped the prize money. For the past several years, the top prize for breaking the hit streak has been 5.6 million dollars (yes, MILLION). That’s a pretty good prize for a free online baseball game.

The rules of the game are fairly straight forward: Pick up to two players a day that you think are the most likely to get a hit. If the player(s) you selected get a hit, your streak climbs. If, however, your player — or either player, if you pick two in a day — doesn’t get a hit, your streak falls all the way back down to zero. That can be discouraging, especially if you were in a groove and had a good streak going; making this a fun, but somewhat stressful, and seemingly impossible, game to play.

Nonetheless, MLB.com is doing its very best to help someone win the game. Debuting last season was a Dunkin Donuts mulligan, which you could use only once throughout the entire season, but that saved any streak lower than 10, should your chosen player not get a hit. This season, they increased it to a 15-game hit streak, and that could possibly make the mulligan an even bigger help.

But you don’t necessarily have to come close to beating the streak to win some sort of prize. For the first time, the game is offering scratch off cards (electronic ones) that give you the chance of winning MLB game tickets, Dunkin’ Donuts gift cards, MLB.TV subscriptions, merchandise and much more. With all the possible prizes and neat stuff you can get, this year’s ‘Beat the Streak’ could turn out to be the best one yet.

While the odds may seem slim, they’re actually your best odds to win this amount of money. It’s not easy to win ‘Beat the Streak’ by any means, but with your odds of winning 5.6 million dollars being less than one in a million, by many accounts, you stand a better chance of winning this game than you do your local lottery. (Unlike the lottery, where you get one shot, you get multiple chances in a game for your player to get a hit. )

So give it a shot. It doesn’t cost anything, so you have nothing to lose. And who knows, maybe, with a little luck, you’ll be the first person ever to beat the streak and take home the money. That’s definitely worth playing for.

Why the Yankees Shouldn’t Sign Masahiro Tanaka

There are multiple teams around Major League Baseball that are currently looking to sign another pitcher to add to their rotation, and there is no pitcher on the market better than Masahiro Tanaka. Going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last season in the Japanese League, Tanaka is being sought after by numerous teams, and has until January 24th to make a decision.

tanaka

Though multiple organizations around the country are reportedly interested in Tanaka, the New York Yankees are the team that could use him the most, in the minds of many, of the teams that can actually afford to make the deal. The Yankees have made a few good moves so far this offseason, and signing Tanaka to add to their somewhat weak rotation would make an immediate impact for the 2014 season.

Joining a rotation of C.C. Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda, among others, Tanaka would likely be the Yankees’ number two pitcher, behind Sabathia, and could potentially become their number one. Tanaka certainly has the talent, though there’s always the risk that he could fail in the Major Leagues, as has happened to multiple Japanese pitchers in the past. Most people, however, don’t see that occuring with Tanaka, as he has incredible stuff.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean signing Tanaka is the right thing to do.

While the Yankees are likely going to be able to use the money previously owed to Alex Rodriguez, who is going to miss all of the 2014 season, they need to look at the big picture, in my opinion. Yes, picking up Tanaka would make them a good team, but signing other players with the money would make them a really good team.

Tanaka is going to take a lot of money to sign — probably leading them to overspend to beat out the competition. To me, it would better serve the Yankees to use the A-Rod money to sign multiple, cheaper free agents to fill their needs, such as their closer role, as well as other starting pitching options.

The Yankees are rumored to be interested in Grant Balfour, who was picked up by the Orioles last month before having his deal canceled after failing their physical, reportedly due to knee and wrist issues. Assuming Balfour is actually healthy, the Yankees should be able to get him for a decent price, and, while he’s no Mariano Rivera, he would do a great job at closing out games for them, posting 38 saves with a 2.59 ERA last season.

As far as starting pitchers go, Ubaldo Jimenez would be a great alternate option for the Yankees, as I’ve felt for awhile. Though Jimenez has had his share of ups and downs over his career, he has the potential to be a good pitcher, showing that ability over the last half of the 2013 season in which he was tremendous. Should Jimenez have a bounce back year in 2014, he could easily be a steal by the Yankees.

All things considered, there are several options for the Yankees moving forward this offseason, many of which don’t include Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka.

Therefore, if I were the Yankees, I’d have to pass on Tanaka.

Jacoby Ellsbury Hits the Jackpot With Yankees

Things haven’t slowed down a bit since my blog post yesterday on the latest major trades and free agent signings. Numerous deals have taken place since, including Jarrod Saltalamacchia going to the Marlins, and Justin Morneau heading to the Rockies, as well as multiple other transactions. But I’m not focused on those. The only signing on my mind at the moment is the deal the New York Yankees gave to Jacoby Ellsbury. It’s a deal that Ellsbury would’ve been crazy to turn down, and that, in my opinion, the Yankees were crazy to offer.

jacoby-ellsbury-076929823Ellsbury received a seven-year, 153 million dollar deal on Tuesday to play with the Yankees through 2020 — the third largest contract for an outfielder in MLB history. For a player who is injury prone — missing a good part of this past season, and playing in just 74 games in 2012, and a mere 18 in 2010 — this isn’t a very smart deal in the long run.

But it’s not just the health of Ellsbury that makes this a bad deal in my mind. Ellsbury isn’t a player worth over 20 million dollars a year, given his career stats.

In Ellsbury’s career best season, in 2011, he batted .321 with 32 home runs and 105 RBI’s to go along with 39 stolen bases. That’s a player worth this type of money. But considering the fact that Ellsbury hasn’t had another season even close to 2011 – his highest other seasons being 9 homers in 2008 and 2013, and 60 RBI’s in 2009 — I don’t feel he’s worth anywhere near that. The one thing you get with Ellsbury is speed, having stolen 52 bases last season, but that’s about it on a consistent basis.

In addition to the amount of money, at thirty years old, Ellsbury is too old for a contract of this length, especially given his injury history. If Ellsbury was an everyday player, playing 160+ games every season, it would go a long way in convincing me that this deal will be worth it. But for a player with a career best 158 games in a season, and an average of 113 games a season for his career (not including his rookie year), this deal is bound to disappoint both the Yankees and their fan base, who need something to get excited about.

The Red Sox really don’t lose anything by Ellsbury signing elsewhere. They have a good young prospect, Jackie Bradley Jr., who, while he doesn’t have the same speed as Ellsbury, is nearly equal in every other aspect of his game. Bradley should be able to stay healthier than Ellsbury has been able to, and will be a great asset to the Red Sox for years to come.

While the Yankees are the Yankees and seem to be sticking with their historical trend of spending money for the players they want, I feel this is money wasted. Sure, you get a slightly above average player when healthy, and an impact player, at least for now, at the leadoff spot, but this likely ends any possible run for Carlos Beltran, who is reportedly close to a deal with the Royals.

The Yankees could’ve used the money to sign a player of Beltran’s caliber (if not Beltran himself) to an outfield spot. But instead, they overpaid for Ellsbury. Nonetheless, the Yankees are supposedly still looking to lock up Robinson Cano at second base, so they have some more money to burn, apparently, even after spending a combined 238 million on Ellsbury and Brian McCann. So, who knows what they’ll do from here?

Despite my pessimism, I truly hope that Jacoby Ellsbury proves me wrong and makes this deal well worth it for the Yankees. If he can have a fully healthy next few seasons, and subsequently post good numbers as their likely leadoff hitter, the Yankees could have a decent 2014 and beyond, especially with newly acquired Brian McCann behind the plate.

But, from the way I’m viewing things, I just don’t see that happening.

2013 MLB Leaders (March 31st-September 30th)

The 2013 MLB regular season is in the books. It took an extra 163rd game to decide between the Rangers and Rays, with the Rays coming out on top. It sure was an exciting year.

Now begin the playoffs to determine who will be crowned World Series Champions. But before I begin to blog about all of that in the weeks to come — be sure to check out my predictions HERE – I wanted to do one more ‘Latest Leaders’ post to finalize the winners of each category, from both hitting and pitching. I’ve been doing a post like this on the first day of each month this season, with the exception of August, but now that the season is over, this is, obviously, the final one until next year.

The following lists are categorized into hitting and pitching, but NOT AL or NL:

MLB LEADERS (AL and NL) – HITTING

Most Games Played-Four tied for most. (162)

Most At-Bats-Manny Machado (667)

Most Hits-Matt Carpenter and Adrian Beltre. (199)

Highest Average-Miguel Cabrera (.348)

Highest OBP-Miguel Cabrera (.442)

Highest SLG-Miguel Cabrera (.636)

Most Runs-Matt Carpenter (126)

Most Doubles-Matt Carpenter (55)

Most Triples-Denard Span (11)

Most Home Runs-Chris Davis (53)

Most RBI’s-Chris Davis (138)

Most Base On Balls-Joey Votto (135)

Most Strikeouts-Chris Carter (212)

Most Stolen Bases-Jacoby Ellsbury (52)

Most Caught Stealing-Starling Marte (15)

Most Intentional Base On Balls-David Ortiz (27)

Most Hit By Pitch-Shin-Soo Choo (26)

Most Sacrifice Flies-Matt Wieters (12)

Most Total Bases-Chris Davis (370)

Most Extra Base Hits-Chris Davis (96)

Most Grounded Into Double Plays-Matt Holliday (31)

Most Ground Outs-Norichika Aoki (272)

Most Number Of Pitches Faced-Joey Votto (3,033)

Most Plate Appearances-Joey Votto (726)

MLB LEADERS (AL and NL) – PITCHING

Most Wins-Max Scherzer (21)

Most Losses-Edwin Jackson (18)

Best ERA-Clayton Kershaw (1.83)

Most Games Started-Four tied for most. (34)

Most Games Pitched-Joel Peralta (80)

Most Saves-Jim Johnson and Craig Kimbrel. (50)

Most Innings Pitched-Adam Wainwright (241.2)

Most Hits Allowed-Jeremy Guthrie (236)

Most Runs Allowed-C.C. Sabathia (122)

Most Earned Runs Allowed-C.C. Sabathia (112)

Most Home Runs Allowed-A.J. Griffin (36)

Most Strikeouts-Yu Darvish (277)

Most Walks-Lucas Harrell (88)

Most Complete Games-Adam Wainwright (5)

Most Shutouts-Bartolo Colon and Justin Masterson. (3)

Best Opponent Avg.-Jose Fernandez (.182)

Most Games Finished-Jim Johnson (63)

Most Double Plays Achieved-Adam Wainwright (32)

Most Wild Pitches-Trevor Cahill and Matt Moore. (17)

Most Balks-Four tied for most. (3)

Most Stolen Bases Allowed-John Lackey (36)

Most Pickoffs-Julio Teheran (8)

Most Batters Faced-Adam Wainwright (956)

Most Pitches Thrown-Justin Verlander (3,692)

Final Games of the 2013 MLB Regular Season

Every new season brings new hope among all thirty teams around Major League Baseball. No matter how badly you did the year before, there’s always a chance that any given season could be your year. However, the yearly aspiration of postseason baseball ended for nineteen teams on Sunday afternoon — leaving just the Red Sox, Tigers, Athletics, Indians, Rays, Rangers, Braves, Cardinals, Dodgers, Pirates and Reds with shots at winning it all.

But it’s not going to be an easy road for any of them.

The Rays and Rangers face arguably the most difficult path, as they ended the season tied for the second American League Wild Card spot, and therefore will have to play in a one-game tiebreaker game Monday night in Arlington — game 163 of the season. It’s do or die for both teams, as a win could mean playoff glory, with a loss meaning the end of the season.

It’s sure to be an incredibly great game.

While eleven teams are still battling it out for a shot at becoming World Series Champions, the remainder of the teams are done for the year. But some players on those teams are finished forever, as they announced their retirement earlier in the season.

7Mariano Rivera and Todd Helton are two of the biggest names of the retirees, and both have good cases for the Hall of Fame, once their first year of eligibility rolls around in 2019.

Rivera — the greatest closer in MLB history — is the definition of greatness, both on and off the field. Rivera will go down as one of the best players and people the game has ever seen, and will undoubtedly be missed by everyone around the baseball world.

Another player of equal caliber is Todd Helton, who made a name for himself as arguably the best player in Rockies history, as well as a player who is well respected all around the game.

It will be interesting to see how both the Yankees and Rockies — teams that had subpar years — will do next year without their long-time star players.

In the end, no matter what next year brings, it’s extremely sad to see them go.

But Sunday wasn’t completely full of sadness.

Henderson Alvarez, of the Miami Marlins, threw the fifth no hitter in franchise history, however, it wasn’t done in the most conventional way; part of what makes it so intriguing. Alvarez recorded the twenty-seventh out of the game in the ninth, without having allowed any hits, but it wasn’t officially a no-no just yet. The Marlins gave Alvarez absolutely no run support, and it took a bases loaded, wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth to secure both the Marlins win and, more importantly, Alvarez’s no hitter.

Truly a remarkable way to end the year.

If the 2013 postseason winds up providing anywhere close to the level of excitement the last day of the 2013 regular season brought, it’s sure to be an amazing month of October.

My final latest leaders blog post, which I was planning to post tomorrow, will have to be moved to Tuesday, as game 163 of the year is being played tomorrow night between the Rangers and Rays, with the stats counting towards the regular season stats. After that, my postseason predictions will be posted on Thursday as scheduled. Be sure to check back to see who I have making it to the World Series. (My World Series predictions will come after the two teams have been decided a few weeks down the road.)

Puig and Bradley Jr. Blast First Career Home Runs

The biggest news of the day on Tuesday was the announcement that Major League Baseball plans to make an attempt to suspend approximately 20 players, with connections to the biogenesis clinic in Miami, for accused use of PED’s; including stand out players such as Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun, who could be forced to sit out up to 100 games. While this has been in the news since January, this “major development” certainly got people talking again.

A-Rod’s situation is a bit different than many of the other players on the list of those with connections to use of PED’s. Unlike most of them, Rodriguez doesn’t have all that much time left in his career, if any at all. He’s currently in the process of coming back from hip surgery, and if mlb_u_bradley_gb1_400suspended, wouldn’t be able to play in another game until the middle half of next season; assuming Rodriguez returns by August as expected.

In my opinion, if Alex Rodriguez does receive a 100-game suspension, we may have seen the last of him in a Major League uniform.

But despite all of this, Tuesday wasn’t entirely fully of negative news stories. A couple of highly coveted prospects hit their first career home runs, which will likely be just the first of many to come once all is said and done.

Jackie Bradley Jr.–the number 29 overall ranked prospect in all of baseball, and number two prospect in the Red Sox’ organization–cranked the first homer of his career to left field, over the bullpen, off of the Rangers’ Justin Grimm, in last night’s 17-run game by the Red Sox.

While Bradley doesn’t possess all that much power, his first home run went over 400 feet, and he’s sure to have plenty of chances to hit many more like that in his predicted long career in Boston.1370323957000-06-03-2013-Yasiel-Puig-1306040133_3_4_r537_c0-0-534-712

Yasiel Puig–the number 70 overall ranked prospect in all of baseball, and number one prospect in the Dodgers’ organization–hit both his first and second home runs, in his second career game, in which he went 3-4, with 5 RBI’s.

Many thought Puig should’ve stuck with the Dodgers out of Spring Training, as he had one of the best performances of any Dodger, however, he has spent the year to this point at Double-A Chattanooga. But nonetheless, Puig is in the big leagues now, and he’s fitting right in.

Puig has been extremely impressive so far in the majors. Though he’s only had eight at-bats, Puig has gotten a hit in five of them, and has also been able to show off his other tools, including his rocket arm as well as his above average speed. Both of which have the potential to develop even more.

Though you can tell Puig is still figuring things out, as is to be expected with a player this new to the big leagues, he’s been able to show a decent amount of his overall potential. Puig just might end up being what the struggling Dodgers need to help get their disappointing season back on track.

Chapman Prefers Closing; Myers To Begin 2013 In AAA

When it was first reported that the Cincinnati Reds had plans to convert Aroldis Chapman–known for his overpowering fastball, that’s been clocked up to 106 MPH–from closer to a starter, to begin the 2013 season, I couldn’t help but question the decision.mlb_u_chapman_b1_400

Chapman struggled a bit last year after pitching in multiple outings in a row, so I don’t understand what good would it really do to make him a starter. And now, with the recent comments from Chapman himself that he would prefer closing out games over starting, I question the change even more.

“In the beginning when I started closing, it was something I didn’t know,” Chapman stated in an interview. “But as I started throwing and getting into the late part of the game when the game is more exciting and has more meaning, I kind of liked it. Yeah, the adrenaline goes up and I like to be in that situation. I would like to be a closer, yeah, but there are some things that I can’t control.”

I understand that the Reds would like for Chapman to have a greater impact on the entire game, rather than just the ninth inning, but I feel they should just leave things the way everyone’s used to: With Chapman as their closer. That’s where Chapman feels the most comfortable, and where he has proven to be the most dominant–recording 38 saves off a 1.51 ERA, with 122 strikeouts in 71.2 inning pitched, last season.

To me, there’s too much uncertainty to have the move work out in the long run, especially with Chapman not fully on board.

In other news, Wil Myers was reassigned to minor league camp on Saturday, ensuring that he will begin the 2013 season with Triple-A Durham. Thus finally answering the question everyone had on their minds throughout the entire offseason, of whether or not Myers would break camp with the big league club.

Myers seems to be taking the news well, stating, “It was something I knew was going to come eventually. It wasn’t a surprise at all…I’m really looking forward to getting down there [to minor league camp] and getting some at-bats….I really enjoyed my time here, it was a blast. But now I’m ready to get down to business.”

While I somewhat disagree with the Rays’ decision, Myers beginning the year with Durham guarantees the opportunity for fans, like myself, to see the number four prospect in all of baseball in action. So I can’t really complain all that much.

UPDATE: 3/21/13

The Reds have made the decision to leave Aroldis Chapman as their closer.

My Last Baseball Game of the Year

If you’ve followed this blog for awhile you’re aware that although this is a Major League Baseball blog for the most part, I tend to throw in entries on the Minor Leagues every now and then. Well, get ready for the biggest MiLB blog entry I’ve ever put together, as I’m set to attend tomorrow’s Triple-A National Championship game in Durham, NC.

The Championship game will see the Pawtucket Red Sox (International League) and the Reno Aces (Pacific Coast League) squaring off in a winner-take-all game in front of a sellout crowd. Trevor Bauer, of the Aces, and Nelson Figueroa, of the Red Sox, are due to take the mound for their respective teams. If you can’t make it to the game you can still watch it all unfold on NBC Sports Network at 7:05 EST. It’s sure to be a great game.

And….that’s pretty much it. Not much else can be said about it. Check back on Wednesday* for a recap of my time spent at the ballpark, and the game itself. With the kind of storms we’re supposed to have around here tomorrow, who knows; I might have a story of what it feels like to be struck by lightning. (Fingers crossed that I don’t.)

*The game is set to be played on Tuesday, however, there is a good chance of rain so it may not be played until Wednesday. If that occurs, my blog entry on the game obviously won’t be able to be posted until Thursday, as the game wouldn’t have taken place yet by Wednesday afternoon.  

Stephen Strasburg Not As Vital As You Might Think

Since the beginning of the season the Washington Nationals have had a plan. A plan for their Ace, Stephen Strasburg, that they hope will ensure a healthy arm in the many years to come; as this is his first full season since having Tommy John surgery, in 2010.

But the decision to play it safe, by placing Strasburg on a 160-innings limit–combined with making him a starter out of the gates, on Opening Day–is proving to be a somewhat questionable one. As now that the Nationals are pretty much guaranteed a playoff spot, they won’t have Strasburg to mow down hitters in those all-important October games.

Had the Nationals taken the approach to Strasburg, that the Braves have taken with Kris Medlen–in this his first full season since Tommy John–by pitching him out of the bullpen to start out the year, they wouldn’t be in this situation. Strasburg would be nowhere near his innings limit, thus he could continue pitching on into the post season. Instead, the Nationals took the opposite route, and it’s costing them. (Though I truly don’t feel the Nationals will be hindered too much by the loss of Strasburg. They’re too good of a team as a whole.)

The thing that sets the Nationals apart from nearly every other team in the Majors is the fact that they not only have a heavy duty line-up–consisting of guys like Danny Espinosa, Michael Morse and of course, rookie phenom, Bryce Harper, who’s been heating up as of late–but they also have one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball. A lot of teams vying for a spot in the post season have one or the other, but very few have both. That’s what makes the Nationals special. And that’s what I think will enable the loss of Strasburg to be more of a speed bump, rather than a road block.

While it would be impracticle to say that the loss of Stephen Strasburg will have absolutely NO impact on the Washington Nationals, I also find it rather ill-informed to state that the Nationals have little chance to win in the post season without Strasburg. They certainly have a chance. (An extremely good one, at that.)

What it really comes down to is whether or not the Nationals pitching staff can step it up without Strasburg in the rotation. The key three to their staff, being Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson, can’t let it get to them. The line-up shows no signs of slowing down–thus they should perform well come crunch time–but if the starting pitching isn’t there, it’s a lost cause.

In the end, anything short of a World Series title, come November, and the spotlight will be immediately bestowed upon Mike Rizzo and Nationals, with the question forever being: “What if?”

Stephen Strasburg is 15-6 on the year, with a 2.94 ERA. He’s set to make his final home start of the season on Friday; with his final start of the season coming September 12th in New York, versus the Mets.

UPDATE

Stephen Strasburg was officially shut down for the season after his start on September 7th. He finishes the year 15-6, with a 3.16 ERA.

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