Sunday, March 31, 2013

The calm before the storm

This is a special day for baseball fans. For me, it has very much the same feel as Christmas Eve did when I was a lad. You’d waited weeks and weeks, then there was that day where the universe seemed to take a breath and time stood still. I may be hitting the hyperbole button a bit too much here, but while today there’s no baseball, tomorrow there will be – and it will count! Every small muscle twitch once the ump shouts, “Play ball!” will be for something. Swept away will be the thought that those runs that the pitcher just gave up or that missed fly ball are no big deal because “the game doesn’t mean anything”.

I’m sure ball players feel no different from the fans. They must be really pumped – especially those teams that have the horses to really compete in any particular year. A team like the Astros, if you dug down really deeply, is probably hoping that they won’t embarrass themselves. Thinking back to last season should probably give them more hope since who expected the Athletics to win the AL West? Or the Orioles to nearly get to the ALCS? Magical thinking sometimes works, so every team is hoping that things go well for them, that the gods smile on them giving them that bouncing ball that bleeds through, scoring the game-winning run in the fourteenth inning, that none of their main cogs goes down with an injury, that the third baseman you’re not expecting much from has a career year?

Today, it’s all possible, and that’s the wonder of the day before the baseball season starts. I’m taking a deep breath, along with everyone else, and waiting for tomorrow when it all begins. Tuesday, I’m at the Jays home opener with John, and we’re arriving as the gates open so we can sit inside that stadium and soak up the sounds and sights, waiting for that first meaningful pitch that will start the juggernaut moving forward towards October. At least, we hope it will be a juggernaut.

Only time will tell…

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Joys of Spring Training

Last week I was in sunny Florida to watch my very first spring training games, live.
I went to visit my friend Chris in Vero Beach, Florida.  He graciously interrupted his schedule of walking and swimming to accompany me to three games and four different ballparks. He is a baseball fan from way back. We have had many intense discussions about baseball and the Jays, in particular. Being in Vero Beach, it was too far to get to Dunedin or any west coast team. Fortunately, there were plenty of games on the east side of the state.

Note the sign. You know who you are.
We saw the Marlins at home to the Nationals.  They play at Roger Dean stadium in Jupiter. Got a chance to say hello to Henderson Alvarez – in the bullpen – and saw Adeiny Hechavarria play shortstop. Remember, these are small ballparks (5-6000 tops) with easy access to players. The bullpens are next to the stands. Highlights of the game were Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth who both hit and scored for the winning Nats. For the Marlins, Placido Polanco made a major league catch at third, diving into foul territory, catching the ball and then throwing the runner out at first from his knees. Great stuff. Hechavarria performed great with the glove but could not hit. However, he did take a couple of walks to show great control. The Marlins should be glad to have Juan Pierre as leadoff. He took a walk, stole second and third and got tapped in for a run. Just what he does best.

Roger Dean Stadium is also home to the Cardinals. They had a big banner showing their World Series wins. Very impressive!  

We next went to the best ballpark of the lot, Traditions Stadium (it’s a condo corporation) in Port St. Lucie, Fl.

The Mets were home to the Cardinals. Adam Wainwright started for the Cards. He got the win and a new $97.5 mil five-year extension to his contract. It has been a nice spring for him. Got to see John Buck and Travis d’Arnaud in action.

Nether one did much at the plate.  For the Cards, David Freese smacked one out. Too bad he is now on the 15-day DL and not on the opening- day roster.  The Cards took it 5-2 and former Jay, Brandon Lyon, took the loss. It again was a perfect day for the game.

There was good company in the stands and lots of Jays vs. Yankees talk with those from NY. Chris saved my  life by catching a foul tip. Thanks Chris.

For my final game we went to the home of the Nats at Space Coast Stadium in someplace called Viera near Cape Canaveral. The Nats faced the Tigers. Stephen Strasburg started vs. Doug Smyly and got hit for a dinger early.

Smyly held it to a shutout until he left.  Two really great plays happened.

For the Nats, Roger Bernadina, in centre field, made a catch so far in the gap that no one thought it could be made. Running with the ball, he just stretched out his arm to make it. It was truly spectacular, a standing ovation from everyone.  Bernadina now has a one-year deal from the Nats. The other involved Tiger, Danny Worth, who made a great pickup at second to complete a 4-3 double play.  Victor Martinez is back in form and had a very solid day with two hits from the DH position –in spring training, each team plays their own league rules.  Matt Tuiasosopo hit a shot to the berm out in left field. I still can’t pronounce his name but he had a good day at the plate. And he also has a one-year deal with the Tigers.I saw a few Montreal Expos hats. Fans don’t forget.

Finally, it was time to head home after what was a great week, but I had not seen Holman Stadium – my fourth park, which is known as Dodger Town.

The Dodgers left Vero Beach seven or eight years ago and went to the Cactus League. Walking around the now mostly run down park was nostalgic. A high school game was going on.
As I wore my Jays hat, a man in the stands asked me how the Jays would do this year. I gave my opinion and we exchanged some banter and he responded with his take on the team. It turns out it was John Sullivan, famed bullpen coach for the Jays from 1982 thru 1993. He was wearing his ’92 World Series Championship ring. This was just too much. It was serendipity to run into a pro, sitting in a ballpark, watching high school kids. He told us how they played and what he liked or not about some of them. He’s a baseball guy thru and thru.  As we drove out of the park, a Blue Jay flew in front of us and landed in a tree. A sign of great portent! I hope!

All the home teams lost. The crowds were big and happy, the grass was green and greenest at the Tradition. People came from everywhere and they seem to follow their team at each park.

Spring Training is one of those times when you can enjoy the heat, the game and the hot dogs in comfort and pure joy. The beer was awful.

Now the season begins and everything counts.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Sizing Up the AL West

Last week I analysed the AL Central, one of baseball's weakest divisions. This week I'm examining the American League West by looking at which teams have the most highly ranked players according to

We'll proceed alphabetically. The numbers after the players' names are their ranking among all American League players. If you don't see a number after a player's name, he isn't among the top at his position. (I consider the top 15 to be better than average at all positions except the outfield and starting pitcher, where I figure you're pretty good if you're in the top 30.)

The Astros have Jason Castro (15) catching, Jose Attuve (5) at first base, and Tyler Greene (12) at shortstop. Not very impressive, though Carlos Pena ranks third among DHs. Jose Veras ranks 19th as a reliever, but I have no idea why. He has been with six teams and, although he has finished several games, he he has just five saves in his career.

Houston's starters could be rated between mediocre and awful. Their ace, and I use the term very loosely, Lucas Harrell was 11, 3.76 in his first full year. It gets much worse from there on. The next three, in whatever order, are Phillip Humber, who had a 6.44 ERA with the White Sox last year, Bud Norris, who has a 4.42 career ERA, and Jordon Lyle, whose lifetime ERA is 5.20. 

Houston is moving to a somewhat stronger division, which could mean even more losses. Last year they won just 55 games. They achieved that lofty total due to finishing 29th in batting average, slugging average, and WHIP. Their ERA was 25th and they were dead last in runs scored.

One of their new acquisitions is a pitcher/center fielder. He hit .210, .239, and .228 the last three years so the fact that he pitched well in St. Louis (11-7, 3.50) is a good thing. Carlos Pena hit 46 home runs in 2007 and 39 in 2009. The last year he hit 19. At least Jose Altuve (.290 with 33 stolen bases) is a bright spot. But when he is one of your top hitters you know you are in trouble.
Jose Altuve after scoring one of Houston's rare runs.

Probable Opening Day Lineup
2B    Jose Altuve
1B    Brett Wallace
DH   Carlos Pena
LF    Chris Carter
 C    Jason Castro
CF   Justin Maxwell
RF   Fernando Martinez
3B   Matt Dominguez
SS   Tyler Greene

The Angels have Chris Iannetta (11) catching, Albert Pujols (1) at first base, Howie Kendrick (7) at second, Erik Aybar (6) at shortstop, Albert Callaspo (13) at third, and Mike Trout (1), Josh Hamilton (3) and Peter Bourjos (30) in the outfield. Mark Trumbo, the likely DH, is rated 18th among outfielders. So, their entire lineup ranks among the top players in the American League. As for their offense, the Angels had the best batting average in the Al last year and were fourth in runs scored. And that's without Mike Trout at the start of the year and Pujols hitting like my grandma in April and May. Add Josh Hamilton to the order and they should do more than okay, even if Trout suffers a bit of a sophomore jinx.

Jered Weaver (5) and C.J. Wilson (18) are two of the league's best starters and, though they lost Zack Greinke (6-2), they now have Tommy Hanson (13-10, 4.48 last year), whom they got from the Braves and Jason Vargas (29), who they got from the Mariners, and Jo Blanton (30), whom they got from the Dodgers. Ernesto Frierei (16) who came from San Diego, had 23 saves last year and Ryan Madson, who did not play last year, had 32 with the Phillies in 2011. So you can pretty much forget about how well the Angels staff did last year, apart from Weaver and Wilson it's a whole new group.

Josh Hamilton was no Angel in his younger days.
Probable Opening Day Lineup

LF   Mike Trout
SS   Erik Aybar
1B   Albert Pujols
RF   Josh Hamilton
DH   Mark Trumbo
2B   Howie Kendrick
3B   Albert Callaspo
 C    Chris Iannetta
CF   Peter Bourjos

The A's have John Jaso (10) catching, Hiroyuki Nakajima (15) at shortstop, Jed Lowrie at third, where he is not rated, though he is rate 11th among shortstops, and Yoenis Cespedes (6) and Josh Reddick (24) in the outfield.  Only Yoenis Cespedes ranks among the very best in the league. Brett Anderson (24), A.J. Griffith (26), Jarod Parker (27), and Tommy Lilone (28) are in their starting rotation. Grant Balfour (4) and Ryan Cook (23) are their stoppers. Not a lot of big names, but the staff, which had the sixth best ERA and WHIP in baseball last year, is very young and could do get even better in 2013. 

In 2011 Oakland traded away Gio Gonzales and Trevor Cahill. Last year they let Stephen Drew, Brandon Inge, Jonny Gomes, Brandon McCarthy, and Tyler Ross depart. Only Gomes (18, 47, .262) and McCarthy (7-6, 3.24) had much of a year in 2012. The others played rarely and poorly. Surprisingly the A's were 7th in home runs last year. Cespedes, Reddick, and Carter will have to have at least as much pop as they did in 2012 if the A's are to repeat last year's remarkable finish.

Yoenis Cespedes
Probable Opening Day Lineup
LF   Coco Crisp
3B   Jed Lowrie
LF   Yoenis Cespedes
1B   Brandon Moss
RF   Josh Reddick
DH   Seth Smith
 C    John Jaso
2B   Scott Sizemore
SS   Hiroyuki Nakajima

The Mariners have Jesus Montero (12) catching, Kyle Seager (6) at third, and Michael Morse (28) in the outfield. Not a lot of All-Star candidates there. Felix Hernandez (3) is their only top rated starter. Tom Wilhelmsen (6) is the Seattle closer.

If newly-acquired Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez can regain their 2009 form (when they each hit more than 30 home runs) and Michael "The Beast" Morse who came over from Washington can hit like 2011 (30, 75, 320) instead of 2012 (24, 565, .227), and Kendrys Morales, who was an Angel last year, can hit 34 homers like he did in 2010 the Mariners should have a lot more power than they did last year when they ranked 19th in home runs. A bright note is that their team batting average cannot rank lower than it did in 2012. They were dead last at .234.

Seattle sent Jason Vergas to the Angels for Kendrys Morales.
Probable Opening Day Lineup
RF   Michael Saunders
3B   Kyle Seager
DH   Kendrys Morales
LF    Michael Morse
1B   Justin Smoak
 C   Jesus Montero
2B   Dustin Ackley
CF   Franklin Gutierrez
SS   Brendan Ryan

The Rangers have A.J. Pierzynski (8) catching, Ian Kinsler (3) at first base, Elvis Andrus (4) at short, Adrian Beltre (2) at third, and Nelson Cruz (15) and Leonys Martin (29) in the outfield. Texas has three of the best position players in the AL in Kinsler, Andus, and Beltre. Yu Darvish (6), Matt Harrison (21), Alexi Ogando (22) and Derek Holland (23) are in the Rangers' starting rotation along with Colby Lewis, who is expected in the lineup by the All-Star Break. I can't see new additions Evan Meek or Joachim Soria contributing much but the Rangers have an excellent closer in Joe Nathan (2), who notched 37 saves last year.

The Rangers lost Josh Hamilton, traded away Michael Young, who played every infield position last year while his batting average plummeted from .338 to .277, and did not re-sign catcher/1st baseman/DH Mike Napoli, who sank from 30, 75, .320 to 24, 56, .227.

I suppose Texas is counting on A.J. Pierzynski, whom they acquired from the White Sox, to hit 27 home runs again this year. But he'd never hit more than 18 in his previous 14 years, and rarely had more than 13. 36-year old Lance "Fat Elvis" Berkman had only 97 at bats in his second year in St. Louis, but in 2011 he was 31, 94, .301, so he could help. If Nelson Cruz can stay healthy for a change (he topped 500 at bats for the first time in his career in 2012 and went 24, 90, .260) the batting order could be quite solid.

Fat Elvis Berkman may soon be Greybeard
Probable Opening Day Lineup
2B    Ian Kinsler
SS   Elvis Andrus
DH   Lance Berkman
3B   Adrian Beltre
RF   Nelson Cruz
LF   David Murphy
 C    A.J. Pierzynski
1B   Mitch Moreland
CF   Leonys Martin

Prediction:  Los Angeles    Oakland        Texas       Seattle        Houston

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A ball player’s most important piece of equipment

A real plus of baseball is that it doesn’t take a lot of equipment to play nor does playing cost much. Neither of my sons played hockey, and in many way I’m glad they didn’t. The cost for equipment and ice time is really horrendous, not to mention sitting around in cold arenas as they practice and play. Golf is another very expensive game to play, and even though we do indulge in that, it’s not as if we can play every day of the week, even if we had the time.

With baseball, all you is a ball and something to hit it with. In New York growing up, we’d play stick ball (usually with a cut-down broom handle and an inexpensive rubber ball (called a “spaldeen” for some reason), or whiffle ball using one of those big plastic bats and a whiffle ball. Gloves were not needed, although with stickball, it made the game a bit easier.

The thing most of us dreamed about, however, was having a “real major league” baseball glove. That was the coolest of the cool. The gold standard glove was made by Rawlings, no questions asked. Spalding made gloves. Wilson was another name that we knew. Then other companies jumped in, but through it all, at least as far as most of us were concerned, a Rawlings glove was the ne plus ultra.

Once you got that new glove, everything was focused on breaking it in. That was, and still remains an arcane art. Everyone has an opinion on the way this should be done, and there are so many methods espoused that there’s no way of knowing what works best. But once you’d gotten everything just right and when you slipped your hand in you knew the glove had molded to your hand and only your hand, it was a golden moment. Going into a sporting goods store and seeing all those gorgeous gloves can still get my heart going as if I was still ten years old. I reckon I’m not alone in this.

When I took up softball in my thirties, I figure I would have grown out of it. Boy, was I wrong. If anything, the need to have a glove that fit my hand perfectly, that had a pocket in which the ball would nestle perfectly with a satisfying “thwack” every time was just as visceral a thing as it had been in my youth.

My method? I did as my dad had suggested when I got my first glove at seven or eight: always use copious amounts of neatsfoot oil to soften the leather. So now in my thirties, like any kid, I would spend hours slamming the ball home as I sat outside listening to a ball game on the radio, unless I could find someone with whom to play catch. My sons were too young and my wife, though game, and blessed with a pretty good arm, couldn’t really throw hard enough. I needed that ball to slam into the leather, stretch things out, and a bit of palm sweat to get that glove really working well. The day it would finally happen still held the thrill it had over twenty years earlier.

As shown by THIS article that appeared in the Toronto Star this past week, it seems that professional ball players feel exactly the same way all us kids (big and small) do.

With spring just on the horizon, I am yearning to get out there and toss the old pill around. Both my boys are now more than big enough to provide a satisfying game of catch, especially Jan, who can throw really hard, being blessed with a real cannon of an arm (a bit envious here). Time to go down into the basement and dig out my two gloves, apply a good coating of neatsfoot oil and spend a bit of time with my inner kid, slamming a ball into the pocket to make sure it’s still as good as ever.

So, what do you use to season a glove?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

World Baseball Classic

In March 2009 I attended the World Baseball Classic at Rogers Stadium. It was a great event and I was glad to have attended. It might never be here again.

Italy, Venezuela, USA and Canada played in this round one. Canada did not advance but did play well against the United States. We got to see young players like Scott Diamond and a 19-year-old Brett Lawrie. Also we saw the veterans Joey Votto, Jason Bay and the very veteran Matt Stairs. Scott Richmond did not play, but was on roster. I think he was injured. Frank Catalanotto and Nick Punto played for Italy. Playing for the USA were Curtis Granderson, Chipper Jones and Ryan Braun, et al. For Venezuela came Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera, and Ramon Ramerez and many more.

It was a blast to see all these players at the dome in March. The weather outside did not matter in the least. A pretty good crowd of around 20,000 plus was there each game. When the Venezuelan’s’ played the fans really showed up and cheered, “Venezuela Hoo!!” as loud as they could. It was a very impressive and exciting thing to see and hear. For the life of me I cannot understand a player not wanting to play in this format instead of spring training. If the reasons for not playing are injury or contract problems, maybe. But, to represent your country at an international competition should be one of pride and lots of fun.

That Russell Martin is dropping out of the WBC is just too much. He made a selfish demand of Ernie Whitt who rightly said no. Martin is a catcher now, not a short stop. If he thinks catching is too much strain, I don’t know how he’ll get thru the season with the Pirates. He should not be thinking that playing SS is going to be safer on his knees. Things can happen, especially if your not used to it. I agree with Justin Morneau, when he said of Martin "I understand guys trying to make teams not playing, or guys trying to get contracts," said Morneau, "but I have a hard time understanding why a guy who is healthy is not." He went on to say, "It's kind of hard for me to understand. Obviously, if you want to learn your pitching staff, new team, it's important as a catcher to learn those guys and he signed [in Pittsburgh] for two years. If that was the case, I think we'd all be fine with it. But the desire to play a new position is kind of what has everybody wondering what the decision-making process was behind that. When we get there, we'll be there with everybody who wants to be there and with somebody who's capable of playing shortstop."

The above was written the first week of March and I missed posting it because I was out of town. Now at the end of March, with the Canadians and the Americans out , Martin is still a story that needs telling. In an interview with Chris Toman in Lakeland, Florida a few days ago, Martin said this, “Everybody is going to feel foolish for booing me, that’s what’s going to happen. That’s my prediction”. To quote Toman, “Martin said he did not get a chance to talk to manager Ernie Whitt but he has spoken to Greg Hamilton, the director of the national team programs, and does not think his shortstop-or-bust attitude will lessen his chances of playing in the next World Baseball Classic.”

 If I were Ernie Whitt, I would not ask him again. Martin is just being petulant. It is just bad form.

The WBC, in spite of whose idea it is, is a nice new format for baseball. All players should be on board. It is fun.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Wanna Make a Cool $300,000?

The odds are in and you can quite easily win $300,000 just by placing a $1,000 bet on the Houston Astros, newly of the American League West, to win the 2013 World Series. Yes, the odds are rather long (300 to 1 according to BETVEGA) but sometimes you need to take a risk to win big.

Brother John is doing a fine job of analysing the American League East (the Blue Jays are somewhat less of a risk at 7 to 1) so I shall appraise the American League Central and West, starting with the Central this week. I'll do so by looking at which teams have the most highly ranked players according to

We'll proceed alphabetically. The numbers after the players' names are their ranking among all American League players, including those in the AL East. If you don't see a number after a player's name, he isn't among the top at his position. (I consider the top 15 to be better than average at all positions except the outfield and starting pitcher, where I figure you're pretty good if you're in the top 30.)

The White Sox have former backup Tyler Flowers (14) doing the catching. A. J. Pierzynski left for Texas and his 27 home runs will be missed. Flowers had seven in just 136 at bats, however. Paul Konerko (8) and Adam 'Big Donkey' Dunn (13) are at first base. Dunn is often the DH, but Konerko is now 37 and may DH more often.  Gordon Beckham (10) at second and Alexei Ramirez (9) at shortstop make a smooth double-play combination. Note: the Chisox led the majors in fielding in 2012. Jeff Keppinger (14) is at third. and Alex Rios (11), Alejandro De Aza (16), and Dayan Viciedo make up the outfield. It's a strong but not awesome lineup. Their pitching is among the best in the AL Central with Chris Sale (7), steady Jake Peavy (11), and John Danks (33).

Chris Sale with a White Sox prospect
Projected Opening Day White Sox Lineup

CF    Alejandro De Aza
3B    Jeff Keppinger
RF    Alex Rios
1B    Paul Konerko
DH   Adam Dunn
LF    Dayan Viciedo
 C     Tyler Flowers
2B    Gordon Beckham

The Cleveland Indians have Carlos Santana (1) catching, Nick Swisher (9) at first, Jason Kipnis (6) at second, Asdrubal Cabrera (3) at short, Mark Reynolds (9) at third, and Michael Bourn (7) in the outfield. Also in the outfield is Drew Stubbs, newly acquired from Cincinnati, where he hit some home runs, but mostly struck out.

A few weeks ago I wrote about which teams had the strongest 'meat of the order'. Well the Tribe, with  Jason Kipnis, Nick Swisher, Carlos Santana in the 3-4-5 slots may have one of the weakest. Their pitching is weak too, with Justin Masterson (37) and Brett Myers (38), though Chris Perry ranks eighth in the AL among relievers. The Indians were three games above.500 in mid-July last year. From there on they were just 18-45. The Tribe scored the second fewest runs in the league in 2012. A lot will depend on how Mark Reynolds and Nick Swisher Mike Aviles do this year.
Nick Swisher

Projected Opening Day Cleveland Lineup

 CF    Michael Bourn
SS     Asdrubal Cabrera
2B     Jason Kipnis
1B     Nick Swisher
 C      Carlos Santana
3B     Mark Reynolds
LF     Michael Brantley
2B     Lonnie Chisenhall
RF     Drew Stubbs

Detroit seems to have a bit of talent. They have Alex Avila (6) catching, Prince Fielder (2) at first, Omar Infante (9) at second, Jhonny Peralta (10) at shortstop, Miguel Cabrera (1) at third, and Austin Jackson (10) and Torii Hunter (19) in the outfield. Their designated hitter is Victor Martinez (1). For starters they have Justin Verlander (1), Max Scherzer (10), Doug Fister (13), and Aribal Sanchez (16). In relief they have nobody but old guys like Phil Coke. Flame-throwing Bruce Rondon, the heir apparent to closer Jose Valverde, is having a rotten Spring. Jim Leyland says they will not bring Valverde back even though no one else has signed him.

The Tigers may have a lot of fun at the plate again in 2013.
Projected Opening Day Lineup

 CF   Austin Jackson
 RF   Torii Hunter
3B    Miguel Cabrera
1B    Prince Fielder
DH   Victor Martinez
LF    Andy Dirks
SS    Jhonny Peralta
 C     Alex Avila
2B    Omar Infante

Kansas City is surprisingly strong, with Salvador Perez (5) catching, Billy Butler (4) at first, Alcides Escobar (6) at shortstop, Mike  Moustakas (7) at third, and Alex Gordon (20) in the outfield. KC is now a lot stronger at the starter position thanks to the acquisition of Ervin Santana from the Dodgers and James Shields (9) and Wade Davis (16) from Tampa Bay. Only Jeremy Guthrie and perhaps Bruce Chen remain in the rotation. Shields and Davis cost the Royals their top hitting and pitching prospects, but consider this. Their Opening Day pitchers since 2005 have been: Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar, Scott Elarton, and Jose Lima. Ouch. KC's closer is Greg Holland (9). The Royals have given up a lot of great prospects for established major leaguers and it may produce their best season in a while. KC has finished over .500 just once in the last 20 years! And Blue Jay fans think they've had a bad stretch.
Salvador Perez

Projected Opening Day Royals Lineup

LF    Alex Gordon
SS    Alcides Escobar
1B    Eric Hosner
DH   Billy Butler
 C     Salvador Perez
3B    Mike  Moustakas
RF    Jeff Francouer
CF    Lorenzo Cain
2B    Chris Getz

The Twins have Joe Mauer (3) and Ryan Doumit (7) to share the catching responsibilities, at first is Justin Moreau (14) or Joe Mauer or Ryan Doumit - when they aren't behind the plate. At third they have Trevor Plouffe (11) who hit 24 home runs last year and in the outfield they have Josh Willingham (14). Tellingly, the Twins have no second basemen, shortstops, or starters among the top players in the AL.

Their starting rotation of Vance Worley, whom they got from Philadelphia, Kevin Correia, whom they obtained from Pittsburgh, Mike Pelfrey, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, and Liam Hendriks (1-8, 5.59 last year) will be an improvement on 2012 but will not strike fear into opponents' heart. The Twins have Glen Perkins (13) in relief. The Minnesota starters had the second worst ERA in baseball last year. The staff gave up the second most home runs in the Majors last season, behind only Toronto. Minnesota's in trouble unless Mauer and Moreau can carry them. Maybe they could pitch when they aren't behind the plate or at first.

Trevor Plouffe
Projected Opening Day Minnesota Lineup

CF     Darin Mastroianni
2B     Jamey Carroll
 C      Joe Mauer
LF     Josh Willingham
1B     Justin Moreau
DH    Ryan Doumit
RF     Chris Parmalee
3B     Trevor Plouffr
SS     Pedro Flormon

This is one of the weakest divisions in baseball. Detroit was 20-18 against the AL East and Chicago went 20-12 against the West. Apart from that no AL Central team played .500 against another division. My prediction is Detroit, Chicago, Kansas City, Cleveland, and Minnesota. Next week it's off to the left coast. You can read about how likely it is that the Astros will win their division, the ALCS, and the World Series so you can collect that $300,000.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A new little – so far – website has shown up recently. It is run by Canadians Dan and Chris Toman. It features video clips that loop themselves so you can see the same event over and over again without using back buttons or rewind. Very clever.

You have probably seen this clip already and it's already gone viral. It shows RA Dickey whiffing Robinson Cano in a WBC game. It is truly amazing.

Also, there are some good articles on the Jays in particular. If you’re a Raptors fan, there's even a clip of Jose Caldarone with a behind-the-back pass. Beautiful. A gain for the Pistons.

So check it out.

This new technique is great.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Is spring training lasting too long?

An artsy-fartsy photo of spring training.
Is it just me or does spring training seem interminable this year? I tend to stick with the Jays and their team dynamic and needs are different this year than in the recent past. They’re also broadcasting all spring games this season, and that’s something new. Since I work at my computer most days, I’ve listened to a good portion of most games. Another twist is the WBC going on. The Jays have nine players out of camp, and I think that has a bearing on my perception of the unfolding spring, too. Regardless, I’m not enjoying the festivities as much as expected.

Spring training has always had a two-fold purpose. The first is to allow the senior players a chance to shake off the rust and round into playing shape. In days past this was much more important. The off-season for players really was off. They enjoyed their five-month holiday from being an athlete and often arrived in spring training in pretty poor shape. They needed every moment in time to get ready for the coming season. Now, in this age of multi-million dollar deals and improved knowledge on strength-training, stretching and agility, players stay in shape most of the year.

A serious new training exercise?
The other important facet is for management to evaluate upcoming talent, those kids in the farm system and how near they are to major league readiness. If they’re not ready, what’s the best level for them to hone their skills. That’s why you see so many high uniform numbers and unrecognizable names late in spring training games.

Since I work at home, I often put a spring training game on, just to stay up-to-date with what’s happening, who’s hot, who’s not and who may be outrighted as the clock ticks down to April.

And perhaps that’s the problem. I’m listening to way more ST games than I ever have, coupled with the fact that so many of the mainstays of my team are off at the WBC. We’re missing the starting catcher, our ace, our all-world shortstop and our first baseman, not to mention that our third baseman sustained an injury with the Canadian team. By the fourth or fifth inning, you can’t recognize the Jays’ line-up. Forget AAA, they’ve been using a ton of AA players. The results have been pretty predictable.

I am so looking forward to April when the A team is on the field and we can put all this time-wasting preparation in the rear view mirror, at least until next February.

Still, I’ll take spring training over those dreary winter days when there’s no baseball. Perhaps it might be an idea to look at games from the previous season for my baseball fix.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

You won’t believe your eyes

I'm really pressed for time this weekend, and can’t really put the time in to write a well-thought-out post on what’s been happening this week in baseball – and there has been a lot. But I also don’t want to leave out the week without posting.

So I’m bringing you this. An absolutely jaw-dropping catch that was made in a collegiate baseball game by a young man named Brett Williams. I’ve done some poking around and it doesn’t seem to have been “enhanced” digitally in any way. It is just a-mazing. And here us old timers used to be so impressed by Ozzie Smith doing a running backflip when on his way out to shortstop back in the good old days…

Hope you enjoy it. Be back next week!