What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
It’s that time again. With Opening Day less than a week away (for the record, we will never count those games played in Japan as the real opener (if for no other reason Opening Day is about consuming your weight in hot dogs and beer, not sushi and sake), it is time to give you some solid opinions on all 30 Major League teams from somebody who actually watches baseball.
1) Washington Nationals
Remember when it was easy to belittle the Nationals by calling them the Gnats? Well, those days are over.
Last year’s major league leader in wins promises to be even better this year. The addition of Denard Span gives the Nationals the bona fide center fielder and lead-off hitter they have sorely needed, and Dan Haren marks a solid upgrade over the inconsistent Edwin Jackson. Rafael Soriano jock-strap bursting power to a bullpen that already makes opposing hitters crap their pants.
The Nats also boast a great core of young players who are only going to get better…ace Stephen Strasburg, future all-star Bryce Harper, reliever Drew Storen, and catcher Wilson Ramos.
2) San Francisco Giants
In 2010, when the Giants won the World Series, they virtually overhauled their batting order in the off-season. That’s not the case this year, but then again, in 2010, Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval were non-factors. This time, Posey is coming off an MVP season, and Sandoval crushed enemy pitchers in October. The Giants also made sure all the crucial free-agents who helped drive the 2012 championship team left their hearts (and contract signatures) in San Francisco. What happens at the really is just icing on the cake; the strength of the Giants is the pitching staff, which only really has one question: Which Tim Lincecum will they get…will it be the two-time Cy Young winner of years past, or will it be the guy who got rocked for a 5.18 ERA in the regular season, or will it be the dominant October closer?
3) Cincinnati Reds
Despite two bad decisions, the Reds will still be one of the best teams in baseball. Thinking that Shin-Soo Choo can be a center fielder despite the fact he’s been a right fielder his whole career is going to be a problem. Cincinnati’s lead-off hitters last year had the worst OPS (.581) and the worst on-base percentage (.254) in both leagues. Choo is not likely to fix that hitting lead-off (which he’s never done on a regular basis) and learning a position he’s never played.
Moving Aroldis Chapman to the rotation right now is the right call, if you want to see his arm in a display case in about three months. We must never forget what Dusty “The Ligament Shredder” Baker does to pitching staffs.
Having said that, an offense powered by Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, and Joey Votto is going to score a shitload of runs.
4) Los Angeles Dodgers
A lot of people want to anoint the Dodgers as champions given the load-up they’ve had in the last six months. Those people are over-looking a couple of key facts. First, you can only consider Brandon League as an elite reliever because he gets an elite-sized paycheck. The slide-rule, sabremetrics crowd has a Dodger blue boner for Zack Greinke, but the fact that he hasn’t notched an ERA below 3.48 since 2009 should give them blue balls. Josh Beckett couldn’t even get a rise of that same crowd; he’s been coasting on days gone by for far too long now.
Offensively, there are some other worrisome signs. Carl Crawford is a complete question mark. So is Hanley Ramirez now given his hand injury. Adrian Gonzalez’s drop in power production last year should really have the Dodgers concerned, especially since they added him to cure the fact Dodger lefty hitters had a .661 OPS last year, the second-worst of all major league clubs.
5) Atlanta Braves
The dirty little secret about the Atlanta Braves? They had a better staff ERA (3.42) than the vaunted championship San Francisco staff (3.68). The dirty little secret about the Atlanta Braves they wish you didn’t know? The Braves production from its right-handed hitters was the worst in the National League (49 HRs and a .671 OPS).
That’s why it’s no secret the Braves looked to improve on offense with the addition of B.J. and Justin Upton.
6) Los Angeles Angels
Offense will be no problem for the Angels; a lineup featuring Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Mark Trumbo, and Mike Trout should have opposing pitchers praying. Meanwhile, Angels fans will be praying that C.J. Wilson, Tommy Hanson, and Joe Blanton can provide something more than just eating up innings behind Jered Weaver.
7) St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals nearly repeated as National League pennant winners in 2012, and they looked to be just as good in 2013 until the news came down that they would be without Chris Carpenter; likely for good. The Cardinal lineup is more than adequate, but the loss of Carpenter coupled with the free-agency debacle of Kyle Lohse raises some question marks for the Cardinal pitching staff. Namely they will be looking to Adam Wainwright to continue the form he showed coming down the stretch in 2012, and they may find themselves relying on “blue chip” prospects Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal.
8 ) Tampa Bay Rays
There’s two big factors that will determine where the Rays 2013 campaign goes…the health of Evan Longoria and the development of Wil Myers (assuming he starts the season in the major).
Beyond that, even after losing James Shields and Wade Davis, the Rays still have one of the deepest pitching staffs in baseball. The Rays allowed the fewest runs (577) in the majors last season, which was far better than anyone else in the AL East. The trouble was they failed to score 700 runs for the first time since 2006.
9) Detroit Tigers
Because the American League Central is the weakest division in baseball, the Tigers should have no problem riding their starting rotation into the postseason. Once there, the weaknesses that got them swept by the Giants will re-emerge. The hitting tends to disappear at key times, the bullpen is a train wreck, and the Tigers are notoriously awful on defense. If the Tigers can fix any one of those issues, they can rocket up this list.
10) Texas Rangers
Ok, so losing Josh Hamilton is going to hurt. But look at the upsides the Rangers still have. First of all, If Yu Darvish maintains his form from last September and October (2.21 ERA, 39 strikeouts, and 20 hits allowed in 36.2 innings), Texas will have a legitimate #1 at the front of the rotation. They have the best prospect in baseball in Jurickson Profar (who will start the season in the minors), a power-hitting third baseman ready to play every day (Mike Olt) and pitching depth in the minors with Martin Perez and Cody Buckel. The Rangers may or may not be a play-off team this year, but they will be a factor yet for a while.
11) Toronto Blue Jays
There’s no question the Blue Jays pulled the biggest “load-up” job in the off-season, but I’m not sure I buy this team yet.
My first concern is the pitching staff. Yeah, they added a lot of names, but let’s take a hard look at that whole staff. I am not a believer in that voo-doo bullshit knuckleball, and hence I think R.A. Dickey’s 2012 season was a fluke. Plus, he’s 38 years old. Mark Buehrle isn’t exactly young anymore either, and to see my concerns about him, just look at his stats before he pitched that perfect game, and look at them after. Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow have a track record of not being able to stay healthy, And Ricky Romero is an implosion waiting to happen.
The bottom line: The Blue Jays are “all-in” with an attempt to go from being a 70-win “also-ran” to a play-ff contender. Aside from the aforementioned changes on the hill, they’ve added Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, and Adam Lind, but it cost them the depth in their farm system they spent years building.
12) New York Yankees
I fully admit I have no idea what to do with the Yankees. This ranking is on the optimistic side, given that it will all depend on how long it takes them to get healthy. As it stands now, they are going to start the season with Derek Jeter, Mark Teixiera, and Curtis Granderson on the disabled list; not to mention it is very possible Alex Rodriguez will never wear a Yankee uniform again. There’s really no ready-to-go talent in the farm system, and the pitching staff gets thin behind CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda. Top it off with the fact that Phil Hughes is already hurt, Mariano Rivera is 43 years old and coming off major knee surgery, and it becomes clear that the Yankees could easily drop to being the 70-win “also-ran” role usually reserved for Toronto.
13) Oakland Athletics
Last year’s surprise AL West winners won’t have to rely on an all-rookie rotation as they did down the stretch. Those pitchers now all have a full season and a play-off appearance under their belts, and more importantly, will have help from the full-time availability Brett Anderson and veteran Bartolo Colon who returns from a PED suspension. They’ll still be platoon-heavy and the home runs, strikeouts, and defense they had in abundance last year should be augmented by the addition of Chris Young.
14) Baltimore Orioles
Ok, Oriole fans, don’t get pissed at me when I tell you your season last year was a result of luck. There’s nothing wrong with that, honestly, the fact the O’s were a single win away from playing in the American League Championship Series was one of the best baseball stories of the entire season.
But it all happened because everything went right. The bullpen, which was like a car built from spare parts, managed to come together to form one of the best units in baseball. The team went 29-9 in one-run games during the regular season and won 16 consecutive extra-inning games.
To that roster, they seem to be looking largely to internal improvements to fuel the 2013 season, with a full season of Manny Machado, a re-signed Nate McLouth, a hopefully healthier Nolan Reimold, and at some point the call-up of Dylan Bundy. The one addition they made was bringing in Jair Jurrjens to the starting rotation.
All the luck that the Orioles needed last year, plus the fact that Jurrjens has a solid shot at having a Baltimore-area MRI machine named after him means I have a hard time picking the O’s to be in October again.
15) Arizona Diamondbacks
While the Diamondbacks made a lot of off-season moves, they seemed to be like a dog on a tile floor; expending a lot of effort and not really going anywhere. The bottom line is they are a solid team, but they aren’t nearly as good as the Giants and the Dodgers. Not to mention, there’s no way you can expect this team to be better without Justin Upton.
16) Pittsburgh Pirates
Even though the Bucs just missed out on a .500 record, it had to be considered a successful campaign because their farm system took a big leap forward. Pirates fans need to be patient because I really think the turnaround is coming.
I get that it is hard to ask fans of a team that has sucked swamp water to two decades to be patient, especially in the light of two straight second-half collapses. Breakout superstar Andrew McCutchen needs to lead an offense featuring Russell Martin, Gaby Sanchez, Travis Snider, and promoted prospect Starling Marte. The starting rotation has potential with a top three of A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald, but that three still has some questions. Beyond there’s more :what ifs,” such as Francisco Liriano Jonathan Sanchez. Boil it all down and I see the Pirates as an even bet to reach .500 for the first time in two decades.
17) Philadelphia Phillies
Because the Phillies have Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels at the top of their rotation, the perception is that they will be able to mask a lot of problems. Teh trouble is one of those problems is Halladay. He has been so shaky in spring training, he’s not getting the ball on Opening Day for the first time in ten years.
Here’s the other problems they can’t hide.
They added two mediocre bats who suck defensively (Michael Young and Delmon Young) in a league where there is no designated hitter.
No matter who they put in the outfield, Ben Revere is going to be the only one who isn’t a defensive liability.
Philadelphia’s offensive production in terms of total runs scored has ben in decline for three straight seasons.
Don’t look now, but they are old. On Opening Day the Phillies’ four infielders and catcher will all be 33 or older, and the only player in that group who hasn’t shown signs of decline is catcher Carlos Ruiz, who just happens to be suspended the first 25 games of the season for a failed PED test.
It is time for Phillies fans to come to terms with the fact this team will be mediocre until further notice.
18) Boston Red Sox
For the second year in a row, the mantra is Boston is as follows: The Red Sox are not nearly as bad as their record last year would indicate, it was just a storm of everything falling apart at exactly the same time.
The difference is that they seem to have grasped what the really need to do to rebuild over the long haul. Namely, they needed to not make the same mistakes when it comes to giant money, long-term contracts. This past off-season, the Red Sox only signed free-agents who were willing to accept contracts of three years or fewer, who wouldn’t cost them a compensatory draft pick and who aren’t pains-in-the-ass. Having said that, third-place is the upside for this team.
19) Kansas City Royals
There was a big change in Kansas City this off-season, but it may be a distinction without a difference. Under general manager Dayton Moore, the Royals spent years building the game’s best farm system, then they traded it all in an attempt to bolster a dismal pitching staff.
At first glance, it isn’t hard to see why the Royals would want James Shields and Wade Davis. The Royals had a horrendous rotation in 2012, notching a 5.01 ERA. Granted, Shields and Davis may help that, but when you stop to consider that they gave up the fruit of their farm system in future potential star Wil Myers and major-league ready pitcher Jake Odorizzi, plus the fact the offense depends on first baseman Eric Hosmer coming back from his sophomore slump and hoping that Mike Moustakas can learn that drawing the occasional walk is OK, this team still won’t be much better than .500 at best.
20) Chicago White Sox
The White Sox are another team for whom everything went right in 2012…until the calendar read September.
Jake Peavy stayed healthy for the first time in recent memory. Chris Sale was a surprise contributor, but hisdelivery makes me wonder how llong befgore he becomes a major injury problem. Alex Rios and Adam Dunn remembered how to hit a baseball, which a big part of why the Whiteys had five players who hit at least 25 homers. No other big league team had more than three, which helps to explain how the White Sox powered their way to a division lead for two-thirds of the season.
Then, what happens to teams that rely too much on the long-ball finally happened. That bats went to sleep, and even Jobu couldn’t wake them up . The White Sox stumbled across the finish line with an 11-17 September record. There weren’t any major changes to this team in the off-season; they signed Jeff Keppinger to replace Kevin Youkilis and re-signed Jake Peavy…that’s really it. That’s why I really can’t see this team getting over the hump and making the play-offs.
21) Cleveland Indians
Speaking of teams that need some help from Jobu…
In 2012, Cleveland allowed the most runs in the American League and scored the second-fewest. You don’t really need to the super-computers at NASA to figure out that isn’t good. The Indians hit the fewest home runs by right-handed batters of any major league club, so they added guys like Mark Reynolds, Drew Stubbs, and the switch-hitting Nick Swisher. to the lineup. They added Michael Bourn to set the table in front of those guys.
The problem is the pitching staff is still pretty shaky. To improve a staff which had the league’s second-worst ERA at 5.25, they added the perenially-durable-yet-mediocre Brett Myers. To shore up the league’s second-worst bullpen ERA of 3.97, they added the career under-achiever Matt Albers.
The addition of manager Terry Francona will certainly help, and the offense should improve, but that pitching staff simply isn’t going to cut it. Maybe the Indians ought to bring back Eddie Harris and Rick “Wild Thing Vaughn.”
22) Seattle Mariners
The Mariners locked up Felix Hernandez. That’s the good news.
They’ve got nothing else to go with him. That’s the bad news.
It’s not like they didn’t try. The tried to land Josh Hamilton and Nick Swisher. Failing that, they were left with the likes of Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse, and Robert Andino in trades and Raul Ibañez, Jason Bay, and Kelly Shoppach in free agency. Granted, those are certainly improvements over what they had, but to compete in the stacked AL West, they’ll need a hell of a lot more, especially in terms of pitching.
23) Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers’ pitching staff in 2012 allowed the fourth-most runs in the National League last year. That staff included Zach Greinke and Shaun Marcum. The 2013 Brewers’ staff will not include those two. Kyle Lohse is not going to be the answer to that problem.
24) San Diego Padres
The 2013 San Diego Padres look almost exactly like the 2012 version that finished fourth in the NL West, 18 games behind the World Series champion San Francisco Giants. Many fans don’t think that’s a good thing. It actually is a good thing.
Don’t look now, but soon, the Padres will not be this far down on this list. The Padres were among the National Leagues’s five best teams in the second half, finishing the year on a 48-36 run. They had the league’s top defense and they still have a first-rate farm system. They gave Carlos Quentin and Huston Street contract extensions. If Quentin can stay healthy to support burgeoning star Chase Headley in the lineup, the Padres should only be a starting pitcher or two away from being wild-card contenders.
25) New York Mets
In typical fashion for the Mets, they offered a big contract extension to David Wright. Then he got hurt. The offense is going to be a complete mess, adn teh pitching staff isn’t much better. There’s a few more lean years on the horizon for the Mets before things get better.
26) Chicago Cubs
As they enter the second year of the Theo Epstein regime, the Cubs are sayingthe pieces are falling into place and they are ready to contend for a division title.
They’ve been saying that every year for decades now.
If Jeff Samardzija is your Opening Day starter, you aren’t a contender.
If the hope for your starting rotation is for Matt Garza and Scott Baker to get healthy, you aren’t a contender.
If your next best proven offensive threat after Alfonso Soriano and Starlin Castro is arguably Nate Schierholtz, you aren’t a contender (don’t write me any shit about Anthony Rizzo…I said PROVEN, and he ain’t that yet).
If the best guy out of you bullpen is Carlos Marmol, you aren’t a contender.
The upside for the Cubs is this: there’s plenty of help in the minors getting ready to flesh out a team around budding stars Castro and Rizzo. The strting will be under-impressive, but they should eat a lot of innings.. The Cubs’ win-loss record should show a marginal improvement from last year’s 61-101 debacle, and now there are only two more years left of Alfonso Soriano before the Cubs are out from under that stupid contract.
27) Colorado Rockies
At least the Rockies got rid of one headache when Jim Tracy resigned. Troy Tulowitzki will be back,and Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler are still two of the most exciting young players in the game.
What else do the Rockies have? (insert cricket noises here…)
28) Minnesota Twins
The Twins traded two center-fielders and received three pitchers, the 25-year-old Vance Worley and two blue chip prospects, Alex Meyer and Trevor May, neither of whom have yet reached Triple-A. Once again, the Twins have built one of the best farm systems in baseball, but as far as 2013 is concerned, all of the real talent in the minors is at least two years away (if not more), so Twins fans are going to have to clinch up at gut out a few more awful seasons before the turn around.
29) Miami Marlins
Remember that old Who song that has the line “meet the boss…same as the old boss?” Well, meet the new Marlins, same as the old Marlins. You know the drill; spend a shit-load of money in an attempt to win a title, and whether it works or not, sell off the team for spare parts after a year or so.
The team tried to spend money to compete last season as it moved into a new ballpark. It didn’t happen, fans still didn’t show up, so the front office did what it felt necessary to turn a profit. They also got good talent in return for all the players they dealt. But they won’t matter for two years.
30) Houston Astros
Until further notice, the Houston Astros will be considered a Triple-A team.