Results tagged ‘ Dodgers ’

Padres Going All In for Next Season

When the dust settles a couple months from now, and spring training begins to kick off, the Padres could turn out to be the winners of the entire offseason. While the Red Sox are arguably the most improved team, with their pickups of both offensive presence and starting pitching, it’s the Padres that have done the most to improve their club in a very short amount of time.

Finishing with a record under .500 for the fourth straight season in 2014, not a lot of people likely had the Padres doing much of anything impactful this offseason that would give them any chance against the division dominant Dodgers and Giants moving forward. However, the Padres are seemingly putting together a competitive ball club, and are losing very little in the process, all thanks to their new general manager, A.J. Preller, who was given the daunting task of turning around one of the worst offenses from the previous year.Kemp-Myers

News of the Padres’ team revamp first arose during the Winter Meetings, when a trade for Matt Kemp was first reported. Although it took them over a week to finalize the deal due to a concerning physical of Kemp that showed arthritis in his hips, the Padres landed their man, getting Matt Kemp (along with 32 million dollars) and Tim Federowicz from the Dodgers, in exchange for Yasmani Grandal, Joe Wieland and Zach Eflin.

Following that initial announcement of the Kemp deal, the Padres proceeded to further improve their outfield for next season, acquiring Wil Myers as part of a three team, 11-player deal with the Rays and Nationals.

In the large swap, the Padres received Myers, Ryan Hanigan, Jose Castillo and Gerardo Reyes from the Rays, and sent Rene Rivera, Joe Ross, Burch Smith, Trea Turner, and Jake Bauers back to Tampa. The Rays then flipped Turner and Ross to the Nationals for Steven Souza and Travis Ott. (Follow all that?) In short, the Padres acquired promising young outfielder Wil Myers without giving up too much in return — just as they did with the Matt Kemp trade.

But the little loss, big return trade pattern didn’t stop there for the Padres. Shortly after announcing the Wil Myers acquisition, the Padres made yet another trade, once again for an impactful outfielder, bringing over Justin Upton and Upton1a low level prospect to be named later from the Braves. In return for Upton, San Diego didn’t have to part with too much, sending away just Max Fried, Jace Peterson, Dustin Peterson and Mallex Smith. Although three of those four players were in the Padres top twenty prospects list, the Padres were still able to maintain their top two prospects in Austin Hedges and Matt Wisler, which is truly remarkable when you think about it.

Not all of the moves the Padres have made have been large, though. Some of the smaller changes the Padres have completed that could turn out to have major impacts have also taken place over the past day or so.

As replacement for the slot lost when they traded away Yasmani Grandal, the Padres traded Jesse Hahn and R.J. Alvarez to acquire former All-Star catcher, Derek Norris, along with Seth Streich and an international signing slot from the Athletics. In addition, the Padres made a smart small move on Friday, flipping Ryan Hanigan, who they just acquired in the Wil Myers trade, to the Red Sox in return for Will Middlebrooks, who will now man the hot corner in 2015.

All of these moves for a brand new outfield, as well as an improved infield, will go a long way in improving the Padres next season. Their lineup is undeniably better, and one that will be a force to reckon with for sure. But what about their pitching? As has been proven time and time again, you don’t win games with just hitting, you have to have pitching as well. But surprisingly, despite the Padres’ dismal win-loss record from 2014, they did in fact have a good, under the radar pitching staff made up of solid players.

Due to the bad offensive production, which saw the Padres finish the season last in batting average, last in RBI’s and 28th in home runs, it was overlooked that the Padres had the fourth best team ERA in all of baseball on the season, coming out to a mere 3.27. With their big name pitchers from 2014 — Tyson Ross (2.81 ERA), Andrew Cashner (2.55 ERA), and Ian Kennedy (3.63 ERA) — still on the roster, to go along with newly acquired Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson, who is reportedly close to returning, the Padres truly have a solid team for 2015.

But they still aren’t likely done.Winnings

After obtaining Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton via trades, San Diego now has a surplus of outfielders — Seth Smith, Will Venable, Carlos Quentin, Cameron Maybin — whose spots have been filled. That assuredly means that at least one of them will be on the move, and that could end up bringing the Padres yet another piece of the puzzle.

But while the Padres are no doubt headed in the right direction and will show drastic improvement as soon as next season, I don’t think it will be enough to win the National League West division. The Dodgers and Giants are still too good, and will likely make moves of their own to get a little better before April. After finishing 17 games back of the division winning Dodgers last season, that’s too far of a jump for the Padres to make in a single season, in my mind.

However, despite that, I applaud the San Diego Padres. Following a season in which they were at the bottom of the pack in nearly every offensive category, the Padres look to have solved that in a matter of a couple weeks. If the new additions of Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton, etc., can play to their full potential, and if the down seasons by former standouts Jedd Gyorko and Yonder Alonso can be turned around, things look to be bright for the Friars.

Even if they don’t make a run at the division title, the Padres are in line to compete for at least the second Wild Card spot in 2015. Having not made the postseason since 2006, fans in San Diego have been waiting for quite awhile to see a team with this talent level be presented on the field, long wishing that some major changes would be made.

It would appear Padres fans have finally received their wish.

Sandoval, Ramirez Agree to Multiyear Deals With Sox

26 days after winning it all with the Giants, Pablo Sandoval is heading to Boston.

Receiving a five-year deal from the Red Sox, reportedly worth around 100 million dollars, Sandoval is set to don a uniform other than that of San Francisco for the first time in his career, going to the Red Sox after three World Championships won with the Giants.

Reportedly offered around the same deal, both in years and dollar amount, by the Giants as was given to Sandoval by the Red Sox, a lot of people question why Sandoval, coming off a World Series title, would leave and join a team thatMLB: World Series-San Francisco Giants at Kansas City Royals was one of the worst in baseball in 2014. But despite the Sox’ down 2014 season, there are many predicting a bounce back year for them in 2015.

A two-time All-Star, Sandoval will certainly help the Red Sox moving forward. Though Sandoval hasn’t hit 20 or more home runs since 2011 — his best all around year came back in 2009, when he blasted 25 homers (career high) and recorded 95 RBI’s (career high) to go along with a .330 average (career high) — that’s not to be expected from Sandoval each and every year. He’s still a respectable .294 career hitter, and a great defender at third base.

Staying healthy this past season, playing in a career best 157 games, Sandoval was able to record 16 home runs and drive in 73 runs, all while batting .279. While that’s certainly solid numbers for a third baseman, and around what you should expect Sandoval to produce from season to season, his most value comes in the postseason, where Sandoval has proven to be one of the most clutch hitters in baseball history.

If the Red Sox can find a way back to the playoffs in 2015, they should see a level of Pablo Sandoval that far exceeds his regular season statistics.

But Sandoval isn’t the only player that could help the Red Sox return to the postseason. Another player who should help the Red Sox’ playoff hopes is Hanley Ramirez, who the Sox also picked up on Monday.

Coming over from the Dodgers, where he hit .283 with 13 homers and 71 RBI’s while manning the shortstop position this past season, Ramirez is receiving a four-year deal from the Red Sox, coming out to 88 million dollars. However, for Ramirez, who has played the infield for all of his career, there’s a slight catch in the contract.

RamirezDue to an already set infield, with newly signed Pablo Sandoval at third and Xander Bogaerts holding at shortstop, the Red Sox’ current plan involves moving Ramirez to left field — a postion he’s never played before. Getting placed in front of the Green Monster at Fenway Park, it will surely be interesting to see how Ramirez fares in the outfield, especially with the 37-foot wall looming behind him.

More importantly, however, sending the three-time All-Star, Ramirez, out to left field takes away the spot of Yoenis Cespedes, who the Sox acquired via trade for Jon Lester in the second half of the 2014 season.

With Cespedes an odd man out, and numerous other outfield options, including Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo, Shane Victorino, etc., Boston will definitely have to move at least a couple of their players. Desperately in need of pitching, many feel it would best serve the Sox to trade away a non crucial outfielder (possibly Cespedes?) in return for some good pitching. And they’re rumored to be looking into doing just that.

But although Boston still needs to do some more work on their pitching situation, the signing of Ramirez would appear to be a good deal. The 2006 Rookie of the Year with the Marlins and Most Valuable Player runner up in 2009, when he hit a staggering .342 with 24 home runs and 106 RBI’s, Ramirez will likely be a nice fit for the Red Sox, regardless of the fact that he won’t be playing his favored position.

A .300 career hitter, Ramirez hasn’t been a superstar level player in a few years, but the potential to be one still remains. Ramirez in set to be 31 years old when the 2015 season begins, but he still can be a big impact on any team he’s on, and that’s more than you can say about a lot of players in baseball.

A Red Sox team that finished last in 2012, only to come back and win the World Series in 2013, and then wind up near the bottom of the pack in 2014, it will be intriguing to see what happens with them in 2015. Signing Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez will definitely go a long way in improving their record, but it will take a few more changes to get the Red Sox where they want to be.

However, if the signings of Sandoval and Ramirez are any sign of things to come this offseason, the Red Sox could be setting themselves up to make another playoff push in 2015 and beyond.

Nationals, Giants Tie Postseason Game Record

After a fantastic outing by their starting pitcher, Jordan Zimmermann, the Washington Nationals appeared to be on their way to tying up the National League Division Series at a game apiece with the San Francisco Giants when they held a 1-0 lead heading into the top of the ninth inning on Saturday night. But a Pablo Sandoval RBI double, which extended his postseason hitting streak to thirteen straight games, quickly let the air out of an ecstatic Nationals team. MLB: MAY 01 Giants at Nationals

And things only got worse from there.

With the Nationals failing to win the game in the bottom of the ninth, the game proceeded to remain scoreless for the following eight innings. Upon reaching the 18th inning, the game subsequently tied the record for number of innings in postseason game history, set back in 2005.

Following the extended run drought, the Giants finally changed things in the top of the 18th inning with a solo shot off the bat of Brandon Belt, who was previously 0-6, giving the Giants a 2-1 lead.

The Nationals would send Danny Espinosa, Denard Span, Anthony Rendon — whose four hits on the night set a new franchise playoff record — and Jayson Werth to the plate in the bottom half, but they did little of anything against the Giants’ flamethrower, Hunter Strickland.

With the final out recorded, the game officially broke the playoff record for game length of 5 hours and 50 minutes set in 2005, lasting a staggering 6 hours and 23 minutes. The series now heads to San Francisco, with the Giants one win away from advancing to the National League Championship Series.

Although it’s not decided yet who the Giants will play if they wind up overtaking the Nationals, either the Dodgers or the Cardinals will be in for a battle. I have to admit I didn’t give the Giants, who have now won ten straight postseason games, nearly enough credit with my postseason predictions. They really have impressed me so far.

Having won the World Series in 2010 and 2012, they’re somewhat jokingly (and somewhat seriously) in line to possibly win the World Series again, in this yet another even calendar year. Although the Fall Classic is another couple of weeks away, and the Giants have several key games to get through first before they have any shot at World Series glory, you have to be happy with how things are looking if you’re a fan of the Giants.

My 2014 Postseason Predictions

For the third straight season I made preseason predictions as to how I felt each division would play out, and for the third 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. However, with that said, last year when I did playoff predictions for the very first time I correctly predicted the World Series matchup of the Cardinals taking on the Red Sox. Unfortunately, I picked the Cardinals to come out victorious, which ultimately didn’t happen, but I was still thrilled that I successfully picked the final two teams.

This year, though, I hope to take it one step further and get the World Series winner correct as well. 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 September 30th & NL October 1st)

American League: Royals Vs. Athletics

Winner: Royals

Both the Royals and Athletics have had their share of ups and downs throughout the 2014 season. Neither one has a group of players that makes them definitively better than the other, and that makes it hard to predict the winner of the one game, win or go home matchup. Even so, I’m picking the Royals to pull out the win over the visiting A’s. While their offense has struggled at times, their bullpen is one of the best in baseball. If the Royals can go into the late innings with a lead, it’s as close to a sure thing as you can get.

National League: Pirates Vs. Giants

Winner: Giants

The Pirates made it to the postseason in 2013 for the fist time since 1992, winning the Wild Card game against the Reds and moving on to the division series only to be beaten out by the Cardinals. This time around, however, I don’t even have them making it that far. The Giants are looking to come into town and pick up the win that will ensure a five game series against the Nationals, and I feel that their pitching, as well as their overall offense, outranks the Pirates’ team in a one game situation.

AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES (Begins October 2nd)

Angels Vs. Royals

Winner: Angels

Although I have the Royals winning the Wild Card game against the Athletics, I don’t see their first playoff run since 1985 lasting past the division series. Going up against a really good offensive Angels team, the Royals will certainly be in for a challenge if they want to prove me wrong. The only question mark for the Angels that would give the Royals a true chance is their starting pitching. With no true ace that you can count on, you never know how the Angels will fare. But I think they will hit just enough to win the series.

Orioles Vs. Tigers

Winner: Tigers

This is going to be a very good series matchup, and I can’t really say for sure who will win. But I’m going with my gut that the Tigers will find a way to get the job done, despite their flaws. While the Orioles have one of the best hitting clubs in baseball, with major threats up and down the lineup, their pitching isn’t nearly as deep as the Tigers. If they want to make things hard on the Tigers, they’ll have to post some great pitching performances. But although that could happen, I see the Tigers moving on to the championship series.

NATIONAL LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES (Begins October 3rd)

Nationals Vs. Giants

Winner: Nationals

The Nationals taking on the Giants would be a good series, but I don’t think it will be too difficult for the Nationals to move on. Taking nothing away from the Giants, who are certainly a good team of players, I don’t feel they stack up against the Nationals very well at all. The Nationals have very few holes from top to bottom in both their offense and pitching. With five good starters that can go out and win big games when you need them to, it would take nothing short of a disaster for the Nats to get beaten out by the Giants.

Dodgers Vs. Cardinals

Winner: Dodgers

Pairing two of the best teams in the National League against one another, this is by far the best guaranteed-to-happen matchup of the postseason, in my mind. While the other games are sure to be exciting, this series could easily come down to a game five, with either team taking the division series title. With the Cardinals and Dodgers both having amazing teams, it’s basically a coin flip for which one will move on. But I have to give a slight edge to the Dodgers — however slight an edge it may be.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES (Begins October 10th)

Angels Vs. Tigers

Winner: Angels

As good as the Tigers pitching staff can be, and as bad as the Angels staff can be, it was difficult for me to select the Angels as the winners of the series. But I feel the Angels have a good enough team to beat out the Tigers, should they have any sort of issues scoring runs or pitching well, which I envision them having. Though many people are picking the Tigers to make it to the World Series, with some going as bold with their predictions as to giving them the World Series title, I have that spot reserved for the Angels.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES (Begins October 11th)

Nationals 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). If the Nationals end up taking on the Dodgers in the National League Championship series as I’m predicting, the baseball world could be in for some extremely thrilling games. Both teams have good pitching staffs and offenses that can seemingly score at will at times. What it will come down to is which of the teams is hot at the right time. For me, I’m putting my money on the Dodgers.

WORLD SERIES (Begins October 21st)

Angels Vs. Dodgers

Winner: Angels

A World Series matchup between the Angels and Dodgers would be incredible for baseball fans everywhere around the country. Not only are the two ballparks a mere thirty miles apart, but this would also be a Fall Classic matchup of two of the best teams in their given divisions. With both the Dodgers and Angels having good lineups, this could be a back and forth series. But regardless of their pitching being an issue, I feel the Angels will find a way to go the distance, coming out on top over the Dodgers.

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

Angles Find Themselves All Alone In First Place

For the first time since May of 2011, the Angels have taken over sole possession of first place in the American League West division. Heading into Monday night tied with the Athletics, who had the night off, the Angels went into Boston looking to pick up an all important win that would give them the lead in the division. Beating the Red Sox 4-2, the Angels now stand a half game ahead of the Athletics in the division, with the best overall record in all of Major League Baseball.Angels

Having been chasing down the Athletics for the first place spot since the weeks approaching the All-Star break, the Angels were finally able to move within striking distance throughout the past month or so, winning 16 of their 29 games since the break. With 2009 being the last time the Angels made the playoffs, they are well on their way to ending the drought, now that they appear to have found their groove.

But it’s certainly taken awhile to get to this point.

After signing Albert Pujols back in 2012, who had recorded 30 or more home runs every season since his debut in 2001, the Angels were expected to do big things in the west. But some bad breaks and poor play by some of their players kept them from fulfilling their potential, finishing third in the division, even with Mike Trout taking home the American League Rookie of the Year award.

Then in 2013, after acquiring yet another star player in Josh Hamilton, the Angels were predicted by many to do dominate the division, but once again, injuries (Pujols missed a major portion of the year) and poor play caused them to tumble, finishing out the season 18 games back of first.

Not exactly what you picture as a bright future.

However, while things had gone terribly wrong in 2012 and 2013, the Angels have put things together so far in 2014. With just over a month remaining in the season, the Angels look to be firing on all cylinders. Mike Trout, who has become one of the game’s youngest superstars, has been having an MVP caliber season, and is on the verge of another 30 home run year. And although Josh Hamilton has been struggling once again this year, Pujols has had a major bounce back season from 2013, approaching 30 home runs for what would be the thirteenth time in his career.

But much of the Angels’ success this season has also come thanks to the overlooked players on their roster, none more so than their leadoff hitter, Kole Calhoun. Having turned into quite the productive player for the Angels, Calhoun has done nothing but get on base time and time again this season, allowing the next hitters of Trout, Pujols and Hamilton to drive him in; being a big reason for their overall success as a team.

On the pitching side of things, Garrett Richards has been fantastic, putting up great numbers, which has been extremely important, with Angels’ standout pitchers C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver both having down years. Without Calhoun and Richards playing the way they have, the Angels could be in a much different position than they currently are.

Though you never truly know what to expect from one season to the next, I’ll be the first to admit that I never saw this type of season coming from the Angels. When I made my final standings predictions back in March, I actually had the Angels finishing fourth, just ahead of the Astros, with the Rangers winning the division. With the Angels in first and the Rangers in dead last, with the worst record in all of baseball, it just goes to show that a few breaks here and there can truly make or break an entire season for any given team.

Felix Hernandez Has Yet Another Quality Start

Start after start after start this season, Felix Hernandez has taken the ball for the Seattle Mariners and given them an unbelievable pitching performance, which has allowed the Mariners to once again become relevant in the American League West division.

Felix+Hernandez+Cleveland+Indians+v+Seattle+dUqcyvbPGzqlWhile they’re not dominating the division like some predicted they would — they currently sit third, behind the Athletics and Angels –, especially with the offseason acquisition of Robinson Cano, along with a few other key players, the Mariners are still finding a way to keep in the playoff mix, thanks in large to a big season by their ace Hernandez.

With a season win-loss record now of 13-3 to go along with a 1.95 ERA, the five time All-Star and former perfect game pitcher is having a career best season in a number of categories. But one of the most impressive numbers Hernandez has put together this season is his streak of consecutive quality starts, which now stands at 16 straight outings of 7 or more innings pitched in which he allowed 2 or fewer earned runs.

That’s simply amazing.

The Mariners currently sit within one game of the second American League wild card spot, which is also quite remarkable, seeing that they were 12.5 games back of the wild card at this point last season. Robinson Cano’s hitting ability has no doubt helped the Mariners reach this point, with him coming up big in the Mariner’s seven-run sixth inning on Monday night, but there’s no telling where they would be without Felix Hernandez.

Robinson+Cano+New+York+Yankees+v+Seattle+Mariners+xNVgSl6OrOElWith talks that Dodgers’ lefty Clayton Kershaw could wind up taking home the National League Most Valuable Player award with the stats he’s posting, many are asking whether or not Felix Hernandez could do the same for the American League.

Though he’ll likely finish in the top few vote getters, the honor will likely inevitably go to Mike Trout, who has finished runner up in the previous two seasons. Even so, Hernandez, barring any major setbacks, is well out in front to take home his second career Cy Young award.

But no matter which awards Hernandez wins, for the Mariners and their fans, the thing that matters most is a playoff run, which Seattle hasn’t seen since 2001.

They have the talent to do it, and with their only chance coming via a wild card spot (they’re too far down to win the division), the Mariners will have to make it past a one game, lose and go home wild card playoff game to keep the run alive for long. But with Felix Hernandez on their team, the Mariners have to like their chances, should they grasp that second wild card spot.

There’s, arguably, no other pitcher in the game today you would want in that situation.

Bautista & Tulowitzki Select Their Derby Teammates

The players who are planning to blast long balls in the 2014 home run derby were fully announced on Thursday, and, for the most part, I’m not extremely shocked with any of them. My original picks only included three of the selected players I wanted to see in the derby, but the new format for the home run derby (ten players instead of eight) threw me off when it came to making my selections.

My initial list included eight players, being Nelson Cruz, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Abreu and Yoenis Cespedes (Jose Bautista hadn’t yet been announced as the captain) for the American League, with Giancarlo Stanton, Evan Gattis, Carlos Gomez and Yasiel Puig (Troy Tulowitzki hadn’t yet been announced as the captain) for the National League.

In the end, American League captain, Bautista, selected Brian Dozier, Adam Jones, Josh Donaldson, and defending derby champion, Yoenis Cespedes. On the National League side of things, their captain, Tulowitzki, added Yasiel Puig, Todd Frazier, Giancarlo Stanton and Justin Morneau to the mix.

All in all, a very solid group of players; though I would’ve liked to have seen rookie phenom, Jose Abreu, compete (he expressed that he wasn’t interested in participating).

As stated, the home run derby is set to see a major change in rules for the first time since match play was first introduced back in 2000. Therefore, I wanted to give a brief overview for those of you who may not have heard about the changes. The new rules are as follows:

Round 1: Five players from the American League and five players from National League compete to see who can hit the most home runs, receiving seven outs instead of the previous ten (they receive the same number of outs in every following round). The top slugging player from each individual league receives a bye, jumping automatically ahead to the third round, and subsequently giving them added rest that they’ve never been rewarded with before. The second and third place hitters in the round from each league will then move onto round two, with the bottom two pairs of players being eliminated (four total).

Round 2: With the top home run hitter from the American League and the top player from the National League in the first round skipping round two, this round sees two American League hitters and two National League hitters (the second and third place finishers from round one) squaring off. The two winners will subsequently move on to round three to take on the round one winners.

Round 3: The sole winner from the American League and National League in round two of the derby is set to take on their respective league’s winner from the first round. The player from the AL who hits the most home runs in this round will move on to the final round where they will compete against the round winner from the NL.

Round 4: For the first time ever, there is going to be a round four added to the mix. This round will see the winners from round three (one from the AL and one from the NL) going head-to-head for the title of 2014 MLB Home Run Derby champion. With the number of great power hitters that are always in the mix at this point in every derby, it’s sure to be an entertaining round.

Overall, I like the changes to the derby format. Allowing the winners from the first round to skip the following round finally gives them an advantage and motivation to try and put on a show. In the past, a lot of players have hit their stride in a round (Josh Hamilton slugged a record 28 home runs in the first round back in 2008 only to tire out and lose the derby) that ended up costing them the derby due to fatigue. A break to give them a chance to regain their energy should make things more entertaining for the players and the fans.

With the field for the home run derby set with its full slate of ten players, and with the new format for this year’s derby fully explained, I wanted to take a second to give my thoughts on how I feel the derby will go.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Round one is going to be a very interesting round. Basically being unpredictable, just about any of the players on the American League side of things has the ability to get hot and win the round. With that said, however, I feel that it’s most likely going to be Jose Bautista. Though he doesn’t have the most power of the group, he has a good combination of an ability to hit for power and total homers to do well. Coming in second and third I see it being Yoenis Cespedes and Adam Jones, meaning Josh Donaldson and Brian Dozier would be eliminated.

With Jose Bautista having won round one in my mind, this round would have Yoenis Cespedes going up against Adam Jones. Though Adam Jones can hit with the best of them, I’m sticking with last year’s winner, Yoenis Cespedes. Next to Giancarlo Stanton in the National League, Cespedes has arguably the best power in the derby, and should be able to make it to round three, with Jones getting knocked out.

The final round for the American League portion of the derby would then see Yoenis Cespedes hitting off against round one winner Jose Bautista. Though somewhat difficult to predict, between these two, I’d have to move Cespedes to the championship round, just beating out Bautista.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Likely to be the more impressive round one show between the two leagues is the National League. With Giancarlo Stanton in the mix, I truly don’t see anyone as having a chance at beating him out in this round. That leaves Troy Tulowitzki, Yasiel Puig, Todd Frazier and Justin Morneau, and I feel that of those, Tulowitzki and Frazier stand the best shot at advancing, even with the always entertaining Yasiel Puig in the running. That would leave Puig and Morneau as the players to be out hit in the first round.

With there a good chance that Giancarlo Stanton will have destroyed the completion in the initial round, the second round would include NL captain, Troy Tulowitzki, taking on Todd Frazier. Though Frazier has hit his share of tape measure home runs over the course of his career, I don’t think he will have enough to overtake Tulo. And thus, it’s likely that Tulowitzki will move on to face Stanton in the next round.

After skipping the second round, Giancarlo Stanton would be taking on the previous round’s winner, Troy Tulowitzki. While anything can happen in a home run derby, and certainly has in the past numerous years, I don’t think Stanton will stumble in his quest for the championship round.

Final Round

If the final, championship round of this year’s home run derby is in fact Yoenis Cespedes and Giancarlo Stanton squaring off, it’s sure to be one of the best final rounds ever. Both Cespedes and Stanton have unbelievable power, and both have the strength and ability to put on long, amazing displays of power. Honestly, the final round could easily go either way, but to stick with my gut, your 2014 Major League Baseball home run derby champion will be Giancarlo Stanton, as many are already predicting.

6/22/14 Tennessee Smokies Vs. Chattanooga Lookouts

When the plan to visit the Tennessee Smokies (Double-A affiliate of the Cubs) was originally being put into place back in early April, I was really looking forward to seeing what was sure to be an extremely talented team. With names such as Kris Bryant, Pierce Johnson, Jorge Soler, C.J. Edwards, and many other top prospects and above average players, I just knew that this game was going to be an exciting one.

That was, however, until everything went wrong.

Pierce Johnson, Jorge Soler, and C.J. Edwards all hit the disable list earlier in the year, keeping them from being at the game, and my optimism that Kris Bryant would still be a part of the team after blasting over 20 home runs in the first half of the season fell just short, as he was called up to Triple-A mere days before my arrival. And thus, Bryant joined the long list of great players who I wouldn’t have a chance of getting an autograph from.

But despite all the bad luck, my dad, grandpa and I made our way out to Kodak, Tennessee yesterday afternoon to take in the early two p.m. game against the Chattanooga Lookouts (Dodgers’ Double-A affiliate, which also didn’t have too many good players). After a quick stop for lunch, we made our way over to the Smokies’ ballpark, bought tickets, and headed inside the stadium:

Smokies 002All I could think about upon first glance of the field was that Kris Bryant had been playing on that very surface not all that long ago  (a number of great players have played there in recent years, including Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, Chris Archer, etc.) but I tried not to dwell on it for too long. To help get my mind off of Bryant’s absence, I swung by the gift shop for a few minutes, where I browsed the wide variety of items before heading down to field level (in the extremely hot sun) with the hopes of snagging a few autographs:

Smokies 003As I stated earlier, the Smokies aren’t all that fantastic of a team at the moment, with so many star players hurt, but I still wanted an auto from Dustin Geiger, Christian Villanueva, Corey Black, and former big league pitcher, Storm Davis. While I was successful in getting Geiger to sign my ticket, I didn’t snag an auto from Villanueva, and never actually spotted Davis or Black.

But regardless of the subpar pregame autographing, the game itself was much more exciting. Though not ranked very highly, the one player that really stood out to me was the Lookouts’ Darnell Sweeney:

Smokies 005Sweeney isn’t ever going to hit for much power according to a lot of people, but he was impressive on the day, picking up a couple of hits, making some great defensive plays, and showing off his speed (he stole nearly 50 bases last season). And therefore, Sweeney is a player I’ll be keeping an eye on.

As far as the game goes, heading into the day, both starting pitchers had an ERA above six for the season, which would lead you to believe it was likely going to be a high scoring game. But things started out rather slowly, with neither team scoring through five innings played, and the most entertaining moment being the traditional chicken run that takes place every home game:

Smokies 008

(Everyone loves a good chicken run.)

However, as the temperature began to heat up, reaching a high of 91 degrees, the game quickly heated up as well. With two out and a man on in the sixth, Christian Villanueva blasted a home run out onto the outfield grass berm, putting the Smokies up 2-0. Then, in the very next inning, Dustin Geiger copied Villanueva with a two-run dinger of his own . . . . :

Smokies 011

. . . . moving the score up to 4-0, which is where things would end.

Upon the final out, I went back down around the dugout to try once more for an autograph, but my main target — the only other key player I had seen before the game — ,Villanueva, bolted down the dugout tunnel. Thankfully, although I never saw him prior to the first pitch, Corey Black popped out of the dugout and began to sign autos for the many people who wanted him. I was the last one he signed for, and was able to leave the game with two autographs.

Though two autographs isn’t very many, the time spent out at the game more than made up for it. Any time I can combine baseball, traveling and time spent with family, it’s sure to be a fantastic time all around.

Who I’d Like to See In the 2014 Home Run Derby

Due to the fact that the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star ballots are asking fans to once again vote for who they’d like to see participate in the home run derby (unfortunately, the votes are only a poll, and don’t actually count towards anything), it hasn’t yet been announced who the derby captains will be, as it had been by now each of the past several years. And therefore, not knowing when it will be revealed, I didn’t want to wait until then to give my take on who I’d most like to see in the derby, along with my reasoning for each pick.

While there are some players that I left off, for one reason or another, I feel the players I selected would make for a great 2014 home run derby, as they all have to ability to hit a good amount of home runs as well as doing so for big power. With the 2014 home run derby now around three weeks away, here are the players I’d most enjoy seeing take part:

American League

Nelson Cruz: One of the game’s most underrated power hitters, Nelson Cruz would be a fantastic pick for the home run derby next month. Currently leading all of Major League Baseball in home runs, Cruz would likely make it deep into the derby, possibly even reaching the final round. His ability to hit home runs seemingly at will and the overall power he possesses would make things very interesting in the derby.

Edwin Encarnacion: After breaking out back in 2012, hitting 42 home runs that season, Edwin Encarnacion has been in a groove ever since. Going on an absolute tear in May, Encarnacion has cooled down a bit as of late, but he would definitely thrive in a home run derby atmosphere. Though Target Field isn’t necessarily a hitter’s park, Encarnacion could easily make it one.

Jose Abreu: Although Jose Abreu is a rookie, he’s already done more than enough to prove that he belongs at the big league level. Coming over from Cuba to the White Sox, Abreu set a rookie record for home runs in his first month, and despite a minor setback due to an injury, Abreu hasn’t let up. If Abreu is in the derby, along with his phenom status and incredible power, he will be someone to watch closely.

Yoenis Cespedes: Winning the home run derby last season, Yoenis Cespedes is somewhat overlooked, playing for the Athletics, but he’s truly a major power threat every time he steps to the plate. Although I don’t feel he will win two years in a row, especially if the other players on my list are going up against him, Cespedes could very well surprise me, as he did in 2013.

National League

Giancarlo Stanton: If Giancarlo Stanton is one of the sluggers in the 2014 derby, I truly don’t think any other hitter stands even a slight chance. The guy is simply amazing, with arguably the most power in all of baseball. When Stanton hits a home run — which is often for him — you immediately know it’s gone. Stanton would put on an unbelievable show in the derby in a few weeks.

Evan Gattis: The true definition of a natural power hitter, Evan Gattis has raw power and can absolutely crush a ball when he squares it up. Although he likely wouldn’t make it terribly deep, with the immense talent that’s in the derby each year, he would hit his share of amazing blasts. Gattis isn’t necessarily a top pick for the derby, but I’d love to see him participate, just to see what he can do.

Carlos Gomez: While some of Carlos Gomez’s on field antics have rubbed people the wrong way, it’s a fact that he’s super-talented. Gomez isn’t a guy who hits an extremely high amount of home runs each year, but put in an environment where the only goal is to hit a homer, I think Gomez would do well. Given the underlying power that he has, Gomez might actually make it deep into the derby.

Yasiel Puig: As with Carlos Gomez, not everyone appreciates the flair that Yasiel Puig shows on a daily basis, but he’s undeniably one of the most exciting young players on the big league level today. Coming up as a rookie from Cuba in 2013, Puig helped to turn around a struggling Dodgers team, and I feel he’d put on a show in the derby (as long as he doesn’t do a bat flip after every home run).

So, those are my picks for who I’d like to see in the 2014 home run derby, up at Target Field, on July 14th. Odds are that not all of them will be selected, but I truly hoped the majority of them are in the derby. Do you agree or disagree with my picks? Who would you like to see participate? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Gregory Polanco Headed to the Pirates

The wait is finally over for Pirates fans.

Gregory Polanco — the 12th overall ranked prospect in all of baseball, and one of the highest praised young outfielders in years — is set to make his MLB debut later tonight against the Cubs, receiving the call after second baseman, Neil Walker, was placed on the disabled list.8396068

Set to play right field for the Buccos, Polanco is joining an already talented outfield of Starling Marte (left) and Andrew McCutchen (center), taking over for Josh Harrison, who has done a fantastic job this year in right field, hitting near .300 and making numerous spectacular catches. Nonetheless, replacing Harrison with Polanco instantly makes the Pirates outfield one of the best in baseball.

And that’s why, in the minds of many baseball fans, the arrival of Polanco is long overdue. After getting off to such a great start to the year at Triple-A Indianapolis, the idea of a big league call up for Polanco began to gain mention (several rumors were started just in the past week regarding a promotion), but when he continued to stay hot, making it up to seven home runs and 49 RBI’s, to go along with a .347 batting average before his call up, Polanco truly left the Pirates no other choice.

With the Pirates struggling somewhat so far this season, the hope is that the young, talented Polanco will arrive on the scene and help turn things around.

Sitting three games back of .500, and 7.5 games back of first place, it’s still too early to count out the Pirates, especially now that Polanco is going to get some time for the club. Despite lofty predictions being made for this year after the Pirates made the playoffs for the first time in twenty years last season, at this point in 2013 they were eleven games above .500, which is allowing understandable concern to come into play.

But could Gregory Polanco’s mere presence truly be enough to turn around the Pirates?

Well, though it’s going to take the entire team playing better for the Pirates to go on a run, we’ve seen big time players make big time impacts before. Take Yasiel Puig for example. The Dodgers were doing terribly last season before his call up, and after Puig’s arrival, the Dodgers went on a record-breaking streak that ultimately led them to the playoffs. Sure, the entire team began playing well, but the initial spark undeniably came from Puig.

However, while it’s certainly possible that Polanco will kick start the Pirates, it’s not all that likely. The biggest difference between the Dodgers’ team, and the Pirates’ 2013 team for that matter, is pitching — bother the starting rotation and the bullpen.

Last season, the Pirates had a magical year, where nearly every one of their pitchers from top to bottom was superb. But the loss of A.J. Burnett this offseason, the recent injury to Gerrit Cole, and the terrible performance by 2013 ace Francisco Liriano, has hurt the chances of an already poor team.

And thus, it will certainly be interesting to see just what type of impact Polanco has for the Bucs. Asking him to put the whole team on his back and carry them to the playoffs for the second straight year is an awful lot to expect from Polanco, but with young phenom prospects, you never truly know what they can do.

But one thing’s for sure: Gregory Polanco is just as excited as Pirates’ fans to finally be making his way to the Steel City, regardless of the current struggles; saying in a tweet on Monday night, “Pirates fans, thanks for being patient with me . . . The wait is over. My dream has officially come true.”

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