Baseball Returns With a Three-Game Slate

It’s been a little over five months since the last non-exhibition Major League Baseball game was played, but meaningful baseball is finally taking place again today (Opening Day, part one). After a month of Spring Training games, six of baseball’s thirty teams are scheduled to dual it out over the course of this afternoon and evening, with the remaining twenty-four squads playing their opening games on Monday.Opening Day

Game one of the regular season is set to kick off at 1:05, and sees the Cardinals taking on the Pirates in a National League Central battle. Francisco Liriano and Adam Wainwright are the scheduled starters for the contest, leaving little to doubt that it will be a great game. With the NL Central likely to be a very close race throughout the coming 162 games, it’s never been more important to get off to a good start against a division rival.

The second game on the docket for today is another divisional faceoff, as the Blue Jays are going up against their American League East counterpart Rays. While the Rays aren’t predicted to hold up against Toronto in the long run, anything can happen in the first game of the year. On the mound for Tampa is Chris Archer, with Marcus Stroman toeing the rubber for the Jays. It will likely be a fun one to watch, with this game beginning at 4:05 in the afternoon.

But while the previous two games are sure to be exciting and well worth watching, the one I’m going to be watching the closest and am looking forward to the most is the World Series rematch between the Mets and the Royals at 8:37. Game five of the Fall Classic way back on November 1st saw Matt Harvey starting for the Mets, with Edinson Volquez setting the tone for Kansas City, which just so happens to be the pitching matchup for tonight. For that reason, this should wind up being an unbelievable game.

As we all know, the Royals walked away World Series champions over the Mets in 2015, however, that was last season. It’s a new year, and with it comes new opportunities for each and every team around baseball. The road to the World Series starts with game one, and the first week always promises excitement from teams and individual players around baseball, as they all look to get off to hot starts.

Let the season begin.

Q and A With Joe Kelly

Joe Kelly was drafted by the Cardinals in the 3rd round of the 2009 draft, despite recording a 5.65 ERA his final year at the University of California-Riverside.

Joe KellyFollowing the draft, Kelly performed well in the minors and made a steady progression through the ranks from 2009 to 2012, earning a mid season call up in 2012 to the Cardinals, where he proceeded to post a 3.53 ERA over the course of 107 innings pitched.

Kelly had a terrific following year in 2013 with the Cardinals, recording a 2.69 ERA over 124 innings and looked to be on his way to becoming one of the Cardinals’ top pitching options in their rotation. But after a 4.37 ERA seven game start to the 2014 season, Kelly was traded to the Red Sox where he has remained ever since.

The 2015 season saw Kelly take the mound for the Red Sox 25 times, but his outings varied in consistency and his overall results were subpar. Following the up and down year, Kelly was shut down for the final portion of last season due to shoulder soreness, after a cumulative 4.82 ERA.

Despite the poor year for Kelly in 2015 and subsequent talks that he may be moved to the bullpen full time, many people still feel that he can turn things around to become an effective major league starting pitcher once again. After all, he still owns a decent career ERA of 3.82, and there have been plenty of signs in the past that he has the potential to still pan out.

Joe Kelly — pitcher for the Boston Red Sox — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

I became most interested when I was about 5 years old. Growing up, my biggest influences were my parents. They were always so supportive and loving.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

My favorite baseball player was Ken Griffey Jr. He was the best player in the league. Everyone loves a winner.

3.) You were drafted by the Cardinals in the 3rd round of the 2009 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

It was an awesome feeling. I was with my family and closest friends at a local pizza parlor. It was also my 21st birthday, and we had a great time celebrating all night.

4.) You made it to the World Series in 2013 with the Cardinals, and started game three. What was that overall experience like for you?

Being in the World Series is a great experience that I will never forget. I can’t wait to hopefully make it back and get a ring.

5.) For the Cardinals, you pitched in around 70 games before being traded to the Red Sox midseason in 2014. What were the biggest differences you noticed about switching to pitching in the American League? How difficult was it to make the transition during the season?

The biggest difference is that you don’t get to face the pitcher hitting. You actually have to focus on the number nine hitter and work for your out. It was hard in the middle of the season, because it was such short notice. I had to live in the hotel for two months in Boston.

6.) Throughout your career in the minors and majors, you’ve made the switch back and forth between the bullpen and starting rotation numerous times. How do you enable yourself to thrive in whatever role you are placed in?

I just try to keep pitching simple, whether it’s in the pen or being a starter.

7.) The Red Sox made the major additions of David Price and Craig Kimbrel this past offseason to bolster your rotation and bullpen. How do you feel their presence will impact the overall makeup of the Red Sox in 2016?

I think we have a really good team, and should compete for the top spot in the AL East. Adding those two guys is huge. They are great teammates and leaders. I can’t wait to play with them.

8.) After a somewhat poor start to 2015, you won eight consecutive starts from August through September before being shut down due to shoulder soreness. What do you feel you were doing differently that allowed you so much success?

I just started to locate my fastball with more consistency and mixed my off speed pitches well. I hope that I will pick up right where I left off at last season.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

Favorite show is ‘Breaking Bad’, and favorite food is ‘In-N-Out’.

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

I would tell kids to just have fun, throw the ball as hard as you can and swing as hard as you can. You can always teach proper mechanics later on in life.

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Big thanks to Joe Kelly for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @JosephKellyJr

Takeaways as Spring Training Winds Down

As history has shown us, Spring Training virtually means nothing when it comes to projecting how any given team or player will fare when the regular season actually rolls around. Spring

In season’s past, teams that “won” their leagues in the Spring wound up finishing in last place when the games actually mattered, with the opposite holding true for other teams that had poor Spring Trainings. The same applies to players, some of which vastly underperform or overperform in the Spring but return to their expected selves when April begins. For that reason, looking at the standings and stats is useless.

But that doesn’t stop me from checking them out anyhow. With Spring Training nearly over, and regular season games set to begin on April 3rd, I figured I’d share some of the things I took away from a quick glimpse at the standings and stats of teams and players around the baseball world.

The Mets and Cardinals are expected to do big things in their given divisions in 2016, but you wouldn’t reach that conclusion from peering at their Spring record. Each is well below .500, despite individual players on both teams shining at times. But that will inevitably change when the year actually begins.

On the flip side of things, the Phillies have a great record in the Grapefruit League, with the Rockies and Brewers doing well in the Cactus League side of things. But although they are outplaying other teams to this point, none of them are expected to do much of anything this season, with a last place division finish possible for each of them when all is said and done.

Individually, player’s stats can also be somewhat misleading.

PeraltaDavid Peralta and Christian Yelich — each of which were terrific in 2015 and have the ability to hit for a very high average — are ice cold thus far in Spring Training. However, they should easily turn things around when the true games begin. Likewise, as far as pitchers are concerned, veterans Jake Peavy and Jeff Samardzija haven’t faired much better than Peralta or Yelich, as each is doing horrible this Spring. But fortunately for them, the likelihood that all of these players continue to perform at such a low level is extremely low.

So if your favorite team or player is having a terrible Spring Training, don’t panic — at least not just yet. Theses things always seem to find a way of working out. But all the same, don’t set your hopes too high on a player or team who is putting up stellar numbers but is expected to do poorly this year. It likely won’t be able to last over the long 162-game year.

But then again, that’s why the games are played. Anything is truly possible from one year to the next.

Q and A With Luke Weaver

Luke Weaver was drafted by the Cardinals in the 1st round of the 2014 draft, after posting a 2.62 ERA over 16 starts his final year at Florida State University.Weaver

Since the draft, Weaver has been even more remarkable, holding a 2.12 ERA over the course of two seasons of pro ball, including a stunning 1.62 ERA in 2015.

For his efforts this past season, Weaver was chosen to participate in the Arizona Fall League where he continued to work towards being the caliber of pitcher that he’s capable of becoming.

Many believe it won’t be all that long before Weaver makes it to the majors. With the stats he’s posted, it would seem that Weaver is certainly poised to be on the fast track. He holds a good fastball and a changeup that many scouts marvel at, as well as a slider that he’s been working on. If Weaver can continue to put it all together, he should be pitching for St. Louis before all is said and done.

Luke Weaver — top prospect in the Cardinals’ organization — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

I want to say around 5 years old. Those memories are a little blurring. My biggest influence was my dad. He was always there no matter what and spent countless hours helping me get better. It didn’t matter what he had going on, he would always make time for me.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

I can’t say I ever had one die-hard favorite player. I always enjoyed watching a bunch of players. If I had to say one it would be Juan Pierre. I loved watching him use his speed to make things happen. He’s a low key guy, who is a Christ follower and went about his business the right way. He’s very involved in the community, and is a great role model all the way around.

3.) Back in your college days at FSU, you had the opportunity to pitch for the 2013 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team. What was the overall experience of that like? What did you take away from playing with some of the best college talent from around the country?

That experience was amazing. It was such an honor, not only getting to play with some of the best collegiate players out there but to wear the country’s colors. I took a lot away from it. Being able to pick their brains about all kinds of things was really insightful. Getting to mesh with the fun personalities was a blast as well.

4.) You were drafted by the Cardinals in the 1st round of the 2014 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

That process was exciting but also nerve racking. Not knowing what the future had planned was a moment where I had to rely on God and trust in His plan. It meant a lot that I was able to have my family, fiancé, her family and friends join me in that moment. My thoughts were thoughtless. It was such a surreal moment where reality vanishes for a short period a time and I’m thinking, “Did that just happen?”. Just an awesome night!

5.) Although you can still crank it up when needed, your fastball has seen an overall drop from consistent mid-90’s in early college to lower 90’s now in the minors. How (if at all) has that decrease in velocity impacted your approach when going after hitters?

When you get into professional baseball you learn that it doesn’t matter how hard you throw. There are so many guys who have electric arms, so for hitters it’s nothing they haven’t seen before. I went through a time frame where my velocity dropped due to fatigue from a long season. It’s all back now, but it is something I’ve been working on to see where I am comfortable pitching at; where I can be consistently efficient and have full command of all my pitches. It’s all part of the process to be the best pitcher I can be.

6.) You were selected to participate in the 2015 Arizona Fall League. What type of things did you work on out there to improve as a pitcher moving forward?

I worked on a couple of things. First off trying to get these hitters out. They are super advanced and they make hitting seem like it’s the easier thing out of the two. I’m always trying to work on command, but mainly staying at the bottom of the strike zone. I also worked on a slider that is coming along very nicely and will be a huge boost too for me.

7.) Is there any one stat that you pay attention to throughout the season? Or do you try to steer clear of them altogether?

Definitely try to steer clear, but if there is one stat that I try to stay attentive to it is walks. Nothing drives me more crazy than walking people.

8.) What do you feel went well in 2015? What are your goals for 2016?

I think throwing a lot of strikes and keeping the walks down was a huge part of it. Good things tend to happen when you can stay on top of those two things. I’ve spent a lot of time in bullpens and just playing catch to repeat my mechanics. The more comfortable and less I have to think about those things, the more I can concentrate on throwing it over the plate. [Goals for 2016 are] to continue to glorify God and the platform He has given. None of this is possible without Him. Keep growing as a pitcher and to learn some more as I go. Simple as that. Never a time when you can’t learn something and get better.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

Big ‘Modern Family’ guy, but more of a variety than a particular one. [For food] I would go anything Asian. They got the good figured out.

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

My advice to them is to have as much fun as possible but make sure you’re working hard along the way. Practice doesn’t make you perfect, it makes you better. Believe in yourself and remember to give God the Glory no matter what.

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Big thanks to Luke Weaver for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @DreamWeava7

My 2015 Postseason Predictions

For the fourth straight season, I made preseason predictions as to how I felt each division would play out, and for the fourth straight season I was extremely far off. For one reason or another, I’m not very good at making division predictions before a given season begins.

This year, though, I hope to finally correctly predict how the postseason will play out. While I’ll likely be off, either by a little or a lot, it’s always fun to make predictions. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get lucky and have a perfect prediction of how the postseason will play out. You never can tell what may happen in October.

WILD CARD GAMES (AL October 6th & NL October 7th)

American League: Yankees Vs. Astros

Winner: Yankees

It’s somewhat difficult to pick a winner of this matchup. Neither one of these teams were locks to make the playoffs at all when the season began, and yet here they are. I would have to say that the Astros’ lineup has more thump in it than the Yankees by a bit, but when it comes down to it, I think the bullpen will decide this game. With Masahiro Tanaka going up against Dallas Keuchel, the relievers could very well be the ultimate factor. With that said, I think the Yankees will be able to hold off the Astros and advance to the next round.

National League: Pirates Vs. Cubs

Winner: Cubs

This is another tough one to call. With it being just one game, and with Jake Arrieta going up against Gerrit Cole, you can basically flip a coin to pick which team is more likely to win. Overall, though, I think that the Cubs will have the added motivation of trying to break the century long World Series drought that will help them prevail. Even so, this is sure to be one of the best games of the entire playoffs when all is said and done. Both teams have great lineups, and each has the ability to make this an unforgettable game.

AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES (Begins October 8th)

Blue Jays Vs. Rangers

Winner: Blue Jays

The Rangers have a good pitching staff as well as a good lineup, but they are quite simply no match for the Blue Jays in my mind. I could easily see this being a three-game sweep by the Blue Jays if Toronto’s pitchers can pitch well. Their roster, consisting of unbelievable power throughout the lineup, is more than enough to dominate the Rangers. Although the Rangers made an impressive run to even make it into the playoffs, their run will likely end in the first true round of the 2015 postseason.

Royals Vs. Yankees

Winner: Royals

After making it all the way to the World Series in 2014 — they lost to the Giants in game seven — I think the Royals will easily overtake the Yankees. The Royals have a strong team in every single aspect. From their pitching staff to their bullpen to their extremely diverse lineup, the Royals are a very formidable club. Although I’m not sure they will make it to the World Series as they did in 2014, I think they will have no problem overtaking the Yankees, despite the Yankees being a good team as well.

NATIONAL LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES (Begins October 9th)

Dodgers Vs. Mets

Winner: Dodgers

This is going to be a series for the ages. The Dodgers have one of the best one-two pitching staff punches in baseball history, with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, and their offense is one that can score a lot of runs. Likewise, the Mets have a deep pitching staff that starts with phenom Matt Harvey, and they can score runs with the best of them as well. I could see this series going down to a game five, with the team that scores first being the team that holds on to advance to the Championship series.

Cardinals Vs. Cubs

Winner: Cardinals

Unfortunately, this is where I see the Cubs’ hopes for a 2015 World Championship coming to an end. They are a good team, as I previously stated, but I don’t think they can withstand the team with the best record from the regular season. The Cardinals are a great team, and they know how to win. I think they will continue their winning ways and push on to the next round of the playoffs. Despite that, it should be fun to watch the Cubs put up a fight to take out the Cardinals. If absolutely everything goes perfect, they could do it, but I just don’t see that happening.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES (Begins October 16th)

Blue Jays Vs. Royals

Winner: Blue Jays

What a series this would be. Both teams are dynamic, and both teams are very talented. However, both teams can’t win. With that said, I think it will be back and forth series in every sense of the word. I think this series will take six or seven games to decide, and it will be extremely exciting to watch. In the end, however, the Jays have an extremely good team, and I see them knocking the Royals out of contention. Although the Blue Jays haven’t been to the World Series since 1993, I have them making it there this year.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES (Begins October 17th)

Cardinals Vs. Dodgers

Winner: Dodgers

Another sure to be great series against two great teams, this is yet again a nearly impossible matchup to predict (as many of them are). It could honestly go either way, depending on an exponential number of factors. It will all come down to who is hot at the right times and which team comes up with the clutch hits. But if Kershaw can hold up against the Cardinals (something history has shown he’s had a difficulty doing), I would bet my money on the Dodgers. They have the ability to make it into the World Series.

WORLD SERIES (Begins October 27th)

Blue Jays Vs. Dodgers

Winner: Dodgers

If the Blue Jays can’t score runs they can’t win games. That’s the logic I’m using for trying to predict the World Series. Going up against the Dodgers’ unbelievable pitching staff, it may be difficult for Toronto to come out on top. The Blue Jays’ strength is undoubtedly their power bats, which the Dodgers don’t have as much of. But the Dodgers have more than their share of good pitching, which is what usually has the edge. When all is said and done, and the season has completely come to an end, I see the Dodgers as the only team remaining, as World Series Champions.

Leave a comment with who you have winning the World Series. I’d love to hear your picks.

Excitement Building With First Place Races

From one year to the next, you never truly know what to expect in any given division race around baseball. Sometimes one team will completely blow away the rest of the teams in their division and run away with the first place spot, while other cases see multiple teams within a few games of each other down to the last game of the season. This year is more of the latter.

Of the six divisions, four of them have the second place team within three games of the first place squad (the Royals and Cardinals lead their divisions by a good margin). Furthermore, some of the teams closing in on first — or in some cases leading the division — haven’t been doing so well in quite a long time. Astros

The biggest example of that being the Astros and Mets. Each are leading their given divisions at the current moment, and each are making their push towards the playoffs years earlier than many people thought they would.

With the Angels a mere one game back of the Astros and the Nationals a game and a half removed from the Mets, the remaining games of the season should be exciting as we find out which teams can hold on to their hot seasons.

Although not in first place (at least not yet), the Blue Jays are another team that is making things very interesting in the race for first place. The Yankees, somewhat surprisingly, lead the American League East at the moment, but the surging Jays are right on their tail, at just one and a half games back. With the lineup they have, Toronto has the ability to overthrow the Yankees as the season progresses.

The Dodgers are also in the mix as far as exciting division races are concerned, despite still holding a two and a half game lead over the Giants for first. Even so, the Dodgers have been in somewhat of a slump lately (as have the Giants) and things could quickly switch around in the NL West.

No matter what happens over the coming several weeks as teams push towards October, the fact that so many teams that weren’t expected to make the playoffs in 2015 are currently on their way to doing just that is exciting. If the season ended today, the Yankees, Royals, Astros, Blue Jays, Angels, Mets, Cardinals, Dodgers, Pirates and Cubs would all be headed to the postseason.

With the Astros not having made the playoffs since 2005, the Mets since 2006, Cubs since 2008 and the Blue Jays since way back in 1993, this could turn out to be the season a lot of droughts could be broken for a lot of teams. That’s worth looking forward to.

Multiple 100-Game Winners In 2015?

When you think of a magic number for a pitcher in a season the first number that will likely will pop into your head is twenty wins. For a hitter, when you think of a solid season, it likely involves around a .300 average, 20-30 home runs and/or around 100 RBI’s. And when you think of a so called magic number for a team as a whole, the number 100 probably stands as the number that everyone pictures each team shooting for but very few teams hitting.

While a twenty win pitcher occurs seemingly every year, and a player (or several) always reaches the aforementioned magic numbers for a hitter, it is becoming more and more rare for a team to pick up 100 wins in a season. In fact, there hasn’t been a single 100-game winner in all of baseball since the 2011 Phillies. Taking things even deeper, two or more teams haven’t reached the 100-win mark in a single season since 2004, after a streak of multiple 100-game winner from 1998 through 2004 (with the exception of 2000).

It would appear, however, that both droughts could be broken in 2015.

With that in mind, I decided to take a look at the division winners from 2014 — the teams with the best shot at making a strong run in 2015 — and attempt to project how many, if any, of the teams could potentially obtain 100 wins in 2015:

2014 American League Division Winners

East – Orioles (96-66): The Baltimore Orioles completely blew away all of the competition in the American League EastOrioles last season, winning by a total of twelve games over the second place Yankees. But while they were a terrific ball club last season, things are likely going to take a bit of a downfall in the coming season.

The biggest reason for the fall being that they O’s lost a good chunk of their offense via trades and free agency throughout the past few months. No longer possessing slugger Nelson Cruz, veteran outfielder Nick Markakis or reliever Andrew Miller, things are sort of up in the air for how the Orioles will perform in 2015.

Therefore, even if they surprise some people, I don’t think they’ll be able to pull off the stunning feat of winning 100+ games.

Central – Tigers (90-72): For the Detroit Tigers, they are a particularly intruiging team. For the past couple of years, there’s no reason they shouldn’t have been able to pull off a 100-win season, playing in somewhat of a weaker division, however, the Tigers have disappointed to a degree.

Having a great lineup and pitching staff, the Tigers have recently been in the preseason World Series predictions by a number of people throughout the baseball world. But things just haven’t panned out.

Having lost Max Scherzer — their undeniable ace of the pitching staff — to the Nationals, and with certain players not performing up to their potential, I’d say it’s going to be tough for the Tigers to even hold off the Royals from taking the division crown. A 100-win season was doable over the past few seasons, but the opportunity for them has come and gone.

West – Angels (98-64): The Angels fall into a category much like the Tigers. The slightly more successful version of Detroit, many people saw the Angels winning it all in 2012 after the acquisition of Albert Pujols, but injuries and underperformance in general have caused the Angels to come up short.

AngelsBut falling just two wins shy of the coveted 100-win plateau in 2014, things look promising that the Angels could become the first team in four years to hit triple digits.

Their lineup is there — with the exception of Josh Hamilton, who is a huge question mark — and their pitching is good as well.

The only thing standing in their way are the other teams in the West. The Athletics — despite an offseason deconstruction — always seem to be in the mix, and the Mariners are very good as well. It will be exciting to see what happens.

2014 National League Division Winners

East – Nationals (96-66): Without question, the number one team to watch throughout the 2015 season is the Washington Nationals. After Natsputting together a 96-win season last year — winning the National League East division by a major league best 17 games over the Braves — the Nationals could likely make a run at 100 wins if they put out the exact same roster from 2014. But their roster is better than last season — much better.

Picking up Max Scherzer who has gone 39-8 with a 3.02 ERA over the past two seasons, their pitching staff is the top one or two in all of baseball. If Scherzer can continue to pitch as he has over the recent history of his career, and if supposed phenoms Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg can finally put up super star caliber numbers, the sky is truly the limit for what appears to be an extremely dominant Nationals team.

Central – Cardinals (90-72): I am a strong believer that the National League Central Cubs will make a run at the postseason as soon as 2015, but they by no means will win 100 games. The Cardinals, though, stand a chance, however slight it may be. Given, it would have to be a ten win jump from their record in 2014, the Cardinals are one of those teams that could surprise some people.

With a decent rotation that includes the always reliable Adam Wainwright, and a lineup that possesses All-Star catcher Yadier Molina, who can make any pitcher look like a former Cy Young winner, the Red Birds will win a lot of games moving forward. The division isn’t extremely strong, and their track record has proven that the Cardinals can go on a run with the best of them. Still, it won’t likely add up to a 100-win year for them.

West – Dodgers (94-68): A pitching rotation that includes Clayton Kershaw is always sure to be a terrific one. But Dodgersthe Dodgers’ staff doesn’t begin and end with Kershaw. He’s their best pitcher, no doubt, but the addition of Brandon McCarthy to go along with Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu will go a long way in a 2015 quest for 100+ wins.

But the Dodgers will be without on and off superstar Matt Kemp in the outfield — the hope is that Joc Pederson will fill the role there — and the loss of Dee Gordon and Dan Haren will certainly have an impact. The lack of those players could be enough to keep them from winning the division like they were able to do in 2014.

Nonetheless, despite all of the losses, the pickup of veteran infielder Jimmy Rollins in addition to promising backstop Yasmani Grandal should lead to a decent enough lineup. If I had to guess, though, the Giants will be riding them too closely for the Dodgers to break 100 wins.

In conclusion, while every season is unpredictable, this year could see a 100-game winner (or two) for the first time in four seasons. But even if that doesn’t happen, there are teams such as the Cubs, White Sox and Padres who will make legitimate playoff runs after failing to do so in quite some time. That alone is enough to cause any baseball fan to continue counting down the days until Opening Day.