Posts Tagged ‘Justin Verlander’

Cabrera_

Nothing was the same in the middle ground point of the American League last year….well sort of. The Tigers did win the division for the third consecutive year, but they were not pushed by their usual rivals in the Chicago White Sox. Instead, it was a mixture of a coming of age revival in Kansas City, as well as a rebuilt and recharged Indians club that made the division quite interesting for the first time in a while.

2013 Finish

1. Detroit Tigers (93-69)

2. Cleveland Indians (92-70)

3. Kansas City Royals (86-76)

4. Minnesota Twins (66-96)

5. Chicago White Sox (63-99)

Looking ahead at this year, and there is perhaps no division with more clubs in “win now” mode than the Central. The Royals are at a boiling point coming off of their progressive 2013 campaign, with their young studs at a complete maturity point and their rotation anchor, that they traded the farm for just last season, likely in his last year in town. Likewise, the Indians have taken a few losses from last year’s surprise Wild Card-winning club, but are still laden with young talent and a manager in Terry Francona that proved he still has the innate ability to get production out of players they failed to see in themselves. Even the bottom feeders in the division have made strides to get back into the mix. The Twins moved their all-universe catcher in Joe Mauer to first base to get more from him more often, while the White Sox had an understated, but clear overhaul on their roster to attempt to reverse the free fall they spun into last summer.

Even the champs have refused to stay pat. While the Central has been the Tigers’ lair, they saw fit to make some stunning changes, shipping out a franchise cornerstone in Prince Fielder after only two years, and moving on All-Star pitcher Doug Fister, all in the name finding some sort of edge that is more than just being a regular division champion, but fizzling out before becoming much more. Will the winter of change be enough to shake things up in the AL Central? Or will it be more of the same when the summer dust settles?

All-Division Team

1. Austin Jackson—Tigers, Center Field

2. Torii Hunter—Tigers, Right Field

3. Jason Kipnis—Indians, Second Base

4. Miguel Cabrera—Tigers, First Base

5. Victor Martinez—Tigers, Designated Hitter

6. Alex Gordon—Royals, Left Field

7. Salvador Perez—Royals, Catcher

8. Trevor Plouffe—Twins, Third Base

9. Astrubal Cabrera—Indians, Shortstop

Mauer's move from behind the plate is the only thing that keeps him from his division's dream team. He has only hit beneath .315 once in the past six years, including finishing 2nd in the AL batting race a year ago.

Mauer’s move from behind the plate is the only thing that keeps him from the division dream team. He has only hit beneath .315 once in the past six years, including finishing 2nd in the AL batting race a year ago.

Starting Pitcher: Justin Verlander—Tigers

Starting Pitcher: Max Scherzer—Tigers

Starting Pitcher: James Shields—Royals

Starting Pitcher: Chris Sale—White Sox

Right Handed Reliever: Aaron Crow—Royals

Lefty Handed Reliever: Tim Collins—Royals

Closer: Greg Holland—Royals

Cleveland's decision to build around the multi-talented Kipnis was a good one. The fourth-year second baseman leads sneaky balanced team with a pennant chase under its belt now.

Cleveland’s decision to build around the multi-talented Kipnis was a good one. The fourth-year second baseman leads sneaky balanced team with a pennant chase under its belt now.

Lineup

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

Just taking a look back up at the all-division lineup tells you all you need to know about the potency of the Tigers lineup. Even without Fielder, their 1-6 of Ian Kinsler, Hunter, Cabrera, Martinez, Jackson and Alex Avila is just a gauntlet. However the Royals have a relentless balance of speed and line drive hitters, built around the ability to score in bunches. Likewise, the Indians have a lineup that could be more potent this year than last, as their core continues to develop.

Heart of the Lineup

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

Cabrera is the best hitter alive, and has won the previous three AL batting titles and previous two MVPs. Simply put, he’s better than the heart of a few teams lineups himself. However, KC could see an upswing in production from the heart of its lineup with the decision to move Gordon back into it, just as the White Sox should be more potent with the addition of Cuban first baseman Jose Dariel Abreu.

Table Setters

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

The place that the Tigers get most noticeably better is at the top of their lineup, by adding a bonafide speed/contact/power threat in Kinsler to join the ageless Hunter. But the addition of Norichika Aoki (.356 on-base %) in Kansas City, along with former Tiger Omar Infante (.345 OBP) gives the Royals a hellacious duo to lead off games as well.

Depth

1. Indians

2. White Sox

3. Tigers

4. Royals

5. Twins

Cleveland won with an everyman approach last season, and they return a team that is capable of pulling out all stops for contributions. With Mike Aviles and Ryan Rayburn as versatile weapons at his disposal, Francona can compete even at less than 100% roster availability. An increase in MLB-ready youth as made the White Sox deeper, with players such as Dayan Viciedo and Matt Davidson waiting in the wings, and experienced utility man Jeff Keppinger back in a more suiting support role.

The trio of Verlander, Scherzer and Sanchez give Detroit three All-Star starters that passed 200 strikeouts last summer.

The trio of Verlander, Scherzer and Sanchez give Detroit three All-Star starters that passed 200 strikeouts last summer, all before reaching the promise of Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly.

Rotation

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

Detroit boasts the AL’s best rotation, with Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander (winners of the 2 of the last 3 AL Cy Youngs) headlining, and the underrated Anibal Sanchez (the 2013 AL ERA champ) coming out behind them. The Twins still have a ways to go, but added a headliner in Ricky Nolasco and solid rebuild project in Phil Hughes to help resurrect the Majors worst starting five from a year ago.

1-2 Punch

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. White Sox

4. Indians

5. Twins

There is no better 1-2 combo in the game than Scherzer and Verlander, who have combined to win 67 games over the past two seasons. James Shields is perhaps the most indispensable member of any rotation that is slated to be in the pennant race this year, as his presence likely guarantees the Royals stay in the division and/or wild card race or if he is shipped out to help another contenders chances. In Chicago, it is tough (if not impossible) to name a better under 25-or-younger hurler than Chris Sale.

Holland ascended to the ninth inning elite a year ago, closing out 47 games while holding batters to a .170 clip against him.

Holland ascended to the ninth inning elite a year ago, closing out 47 games while holding batters to a .170 clip against him.

Bullpen

1. Royals

2. Tigers

3. Twins

4. Indians

5. White Sox

Spearheaded by Greg Holland, Aaron Crow, Tim Collins and Kelvin Herrera, the Royal pen led the AL in relief ERA by nearly half a run at 2.55 and had the lowest average against at .217. It is one of the premier units in all of the game, even with Luke Hochevar lost for the year. The Tigers’ Achilles heel has been locking down games late, but they spent top dollar on Joe Nathan (43 saves, 1.39 ERA) to end those concerns. Glen Perkins is one of the more underrated closers in the game, closing out 52 of the Twins tough earned wins over the past two years.

Defense

1. Royals

2. Indians

3. White Sox

4. Tigers

5. Twins

By a team defense measuring metric, the superb Royals defense saved 93 total runs last year. With Gold Glovers in Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez leading the way, the Royals cover their spacious home in Kaufmann Field exceptionally well. The addition of Adam Eaton to Alejandro De Aza in Chicago gives the Sox two very athletic outfielders to accompany an equally capable middle infield of Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez.

Manager

1. Terry Francona—Indians

2. Ron Gardenhire—Twins

3. Robin Ventura—White Sox

4. Brad Ausmus—Tigers

5. Ned Yost—Royals

Francona proved his worth as one of the game’s best game managers and motivators last year, pulling the Indians into the postseason in his first year in Rock City and becoming the AL Manager of the Year in the process. Ventura and Gardenhire are held in high regard, despite the lacks of talent they have at their command. Ausmus will be asked to fill in some sizable shoes in replacing the retired Jim Leyland.

Finances

1. Tigers

2. White Sox

3. Indians

4. Royals

5. Twins

The Tigers have shown the willingness to spend the extra dollar to add what is needed to win, and they may have to do so sooner than later to address their suddenly empty shortstop position. Conversely, the Royals and Indians are a pair of franchises that are all in financially entering the season, and finding that extra piece late in the year would take some maneuvering.

Abreu is a major part of both the immediate and impending scene with on the South Side. He has plus power and the chance to be built around in the cleanup spot.

Abreu is a major part of both the immediate and impending scene with on the South Side. He has plus power and the chance to be built around in the cleanup spot.

Impact Additions

1. Joe Nathan (Tigers via free agency)

2. Jose Dariel Abreu (White Sox via free agency)

3. Ian Kinsler (Tigers via trade)

4. Omar Infante (Royals via free agency)

5. Norichika Aoki (Royals via trade)

The Royals made a series of moves in the offseason to add quality depth, at reasonable costs. The outcome was Infante, Aoki, Jason Vargas and Danny Valencia. Going in the completely different direction, the White Sox made a leap of faith in giving $60+ million to Abreu to add some needed life to a shiftless lineup.

Leap Forward

1. Danny Salazar—Indians

2. Drew Smyly—Tigers

3. Jose Quintana—White Sox

4. Adam Eaton—White Sox

5. Kyle Gibson—Twins

Salazar played so well down the stretch he was chosen to pitch the AL Wild Card game after only 10 games. The club believes in him enough that it was comfortable with letting Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez leave this winter. A similar belief in Smyly allowed the Tigers to move on from Doug Fister and his impending contract negotiations.

Rookies/Propects To Watch

1. Jose Dariel Abreu—White Sox

2. Nick Castellanos—Tigers

3. Yordano Ventura—Royals

4. Matt Davidson—White Sox

5. Erik Johnson—White Sox

No longer is Castellanos log jammed behind an out of position Cabrera at third base, and he will enter the season as a favorite to push for AL Rookie of the Year. The White Sox youth movement is based around acquiring a handful of quick to play rookies such as Abreu and Davidson, who they will put into the mix immediately this year.

PREDICTIONS

1. Detroit Tigers

2. Kansas City Royals

3. Cleveland Indians

4. Chicago White Sox

5. Minnesota Twins

The AL Central has long been a class struggle of a mix: the bourgeoisie, the proletariat and the impoverished all very clearly separated. But if things play out the way they could this year, it could be a mostly competitive division. The White Sox are better, as are the Royals. It doesn’t seem like it, but the Twins are slowly pulling it together and have one of the game’s best managers to oversee it. The Indians have more fight than any other team, and while some pieces are gone, they are far from has beens.

Then there are the Tigers, and they are….well different than they have been before. But that is a good thing, because what was in place, while good enough to win the division every year, had peaked and needed to be adjusted. They made some stunning moves, but stayed strong where they already were and got more versatile in the process—all while keeping the game’s best hitter and two of its premiere pitchers in two.

But the Royals should not be underestimated. In many ways, they resemble the Pirates of last year in they got a taste of the race, return an improved mix of vets and matured talents and have talent on par with both of the teams that finished ahead of them the previous year. In the end, the Tigers are still the class of the division and will push for the league’s best record as they always do, but the Royals will push them all summer and break into the postseason for the first time in a generation.

For more on the year as it approaches in the Central, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

Wainwright_50

One thing there will always be in the game is a dominant right-hander on the mound. And in the lineage of Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson and Bob Feller, the best of the best change the course of an entire day from the moment they touch the mound.

Entering into this summer, there are a plethora of hurlers cut from that game defining cloth, and has this list shows, they approach doing so from every possible angle. There’s two sets of teammates included, both whom do it via running up the strikeouts with overwhelming fastballs. While there is a second set that does so in about as divergent ways as possible—one via 95 mph fastballs and cutters, and another with mid-80’s material that never ends up where you’d think it would.

Overall, making the cut here is no easy task today. There is an MVP, four Cy Young winners (including one that is one in the same). There’s two rookies of the year—one former and one reigning—as well as a two-time World Series winner and a phenom that is quietly earning his stripes. Rounding it off, two arms that are in the business of proving that dominance on one side of the ocean can translate just fine to the other. Consider all of this without the inclusion of the injured Matt Harvey as well.

There’s plenty of ways to get the job done, but the ten guys here have found the most dominant ways to go about creating the hardest scenario in sports—squaring up a baseball.

10. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals: His record lies about how well he performed last summer. The Nats managed to net him only eight victories, despite him limiting batters to a .207 average against him, and striking out 191 across 30 starts.

9. Jered Weaver, Angels: One of the trickiest pitchers in the game, his ability to throw six pitches at any point, combined with his long delivery and 6’7 frame make him a frustrating presence to get a read on. Injuries limited him 24 starts last summer, but he won 18 and 20 games respectively in 2011-12.

8. Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners: The owner of maybe the best splitter in baseball made proved his keep in his second season. In route to finishing third for AL Cy Young honors, he won 14 games, with on a 2.66 ERA, while walking only 42 batters in 219 innings.

7. Zack Greinke, Dodgers: The only thing that sidetracked him from a season that could have potentially rivaled rotation mate Clayton Kershaw was a broken collarbone from an April brawl. Overall, he won 15 games in 28 starts, reaching the victory marker for the fourth time in five years.

yu-darvish-2013-opening-day

6. Yu Darvish, Rangers: He came up short of two no-hitters after the start of the 7th inning, but despite those disappointments, Darvish’s rise to ace status was undeniable. He led all of baseball with 277 strikeouts and finished fourth in the AL with a 2.83 ERA.

5. Jose Fernandez, Marlins: Maybe only Kerry Wood and Doc Gooden made a more immediate impact on their first arrivals in the last 30 years than Fernandez. The NL Rookie of the Year finished second in the league in ERA and allowed the least hits per game of any starter in baseball, at just over five.

4. Max Scherzer, Tigers: It all came together for Scherzer in route to winning the AL Cy Young and pulling rank on par with his more renown rotation mate. Always an overpowering presence, he added a changeup that took him to the next level. The result was a 21-3 record, which led the Majors in wins, while keeping his strikeouts per nine innings mark north of 10.

3. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals: He not only returned to his pre-Tommy John form of 2010, he set a new personal standard. He won the National League in wins , innings pitched, complete games and shutouts, while setting a personal high and strikeouts and finishing second in the NL Cy Young ballot, along with a Gold Glove to boot.

Felix-Hernandez-Seattle-Mariners-

2. Justin Verlander, Tigers: He had a down year by his own otherworldly standards a year ago, but the ship has far from sailed on JV. In the postseason, he gave up a single run over three starts while striking out 31 against only three walks. He’s averaged 18 wins, 236 innings and nearly a strikeout per inning over the last three seasons.

1. Felix Hernandez, Mariners: As he has come into his own and made his potential reality, King Felix has made the excellent the norm. He seems to have the rare ability to throw any pitch on demand, regardless of location, speed and count. He topped 200 strikeouts for the fifth consecutive year, and at age 27 he already has 110 wins, a Cy Young win and two other finishes in the top three within the past five years. What’s more is that he is finally pitching for a team that has a few everyday talents that can match his own.

 

Just A Bit Outside: Matt Cain, James Shields, Jordan Zimmermann

Come back tomorrow for the conclusion of this year’s ‘Top 10 Today’, and for the real-time read, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

Justin+Verlander+Miguel+Cabrera+Kansas+City+jOMIn3GJU5Zl

The American League Central went a little differently than expected last year. Yeah, the bad teams were that and the good teams were that, but it took a lot longer road to figure it. The Chicago White Sox were legit for much of the season, behind an MVP-caliber early effort from Paul Konerko, Chris Sale’s emergence and bounce back campaigns from Alex Rios and Adam Dunn. In a division that was supposed to clearly belong to the Detroit Tigers, it seemed like a coup was on deck.

That was until Miguel Cabrera went into overdrive. The Tigers third baseman went on a second-half tear, and finished up the season by pulling his club to not only a division title, but to the World Series, and secured a first in 45 years Triple Crown for himself as well.

2012 Finish

1.                   Tigers (88-74)
2.                   White Sox (85-77)
3.                   Royals (72-90)
4.                   Indians (68-94)
5.                   Twins (66-96)

A year later, and the Tigers are perhaps better equipped than they left off, but it is not the same AL Central either. The Royals made a big, gamblers splash in the offseason, and are rounding into shape as legit competitors. Meanwhile the Cleveland Indians were a surprise aggressor on the open market, and have handed new manager Terry Francona a lot of weapons to utilize. For the first time in years, former MVP Justin Morneau is back to join Joe Mauer at the core of the Twins attack, and the White Sox are still in the fray as well. The Tigers had to fight their way to top last season, and if a similar bumpy road comes in front of them this time around, will a third consecutive division title be there for the taking this year?

All Division Team

Catcher: Joe Mauer-Twins

First Base: Prince Fielder-Tigers

Second Base: Jason Kipnis-Indians

Third Base: Miguel Cabrera-Tigers

Shortstop: Alcides Escobar-Royals

Left Field: Alex Gordon-Royals

Center Field: Austin Jackson-Tigers

Right Field: Josh Willingham-Twins

Designated Hitter: Billy Butler-Royals

In regaining his health, Mauer regained his bat as well. His .416 on-base percentage led the AL.

In regaining his health, Mauer regained his bat as well. His .416 on-base percentage led the AL.

Starting Pitcher: Justin Verlander-Tigers

Starting Pitcher: James Shields-Royals

Starting Pitcher: Chris Sale-White Sox

Starting Pitcher: Jake Peavy-White Sox

Righty Relief: Vinnie Pestano-Indians

Lefty Relief: Tim Collins-Royals

Closer: Chris Perez-Indians

Top 10

  1. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
  2. Justin Verlander, Tigers
  3. Prince Fielder, Tigers
  4. Joe Mauer, Twins
  5. Alex Gordon, Royals
  6. James Shields, Royals
  7. Paul Konerko, White Sox
  8. Billy Butler, Royals
  9. Chris Sale, White Sox
  10. Austin Jackson, Tigers

Lineup

  1. Tigers
  2. Royals
  3. Indians
  4. White Sox
  5. Twins

The Tigers already could do serious damage with Cabrera and Fielder coming in behind Austin Jackson. Yet now the rich will get richer with Victor Martinez back from injury and Torii Hunter taking swings from the two spot, the Tigers 1-5 everyday lineup is ridiculous. Don’t sleep on the Royals either, with Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar all primed for breakthrough seasons.

Dunn and Konerko combined for 67 homers at the heart of the White Sox lineup.

Dunn and Konerko combined for 67 homers at the heart of the White Sox lineup.

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Tigers (Cabrera/Fielder/Martinez)
  2. White Sox (Konerko/Dunn/Rios)
  3. Twins (Mauer/Willingham/Morneau)
  4. Royals (Butler/Perez/Moustakas)
  5. Indians (Kipnis/Swisher/Santana)

There may not be a better 3-4-5 in baseball, depending on how well Martinez rehabs. However, the rest of the division is in good shape in the midst of their orders as well. The Indians are the relative worst in the division, with Nick Swisher, who hit 24 home runs last season, at the core of it. The entire fortune of the Twins rests on what Mauer, Willingham and Morneau are capable of pulling off each day.

Table Setters

  1. Tigers (Jackson/Hunter)
  2. Royals (Gordon/Escobar)
  3. Indians (Bourn/Cabrera)
  4. White Sox (De Aza/Keppinger)
  5. Twins (Mastroianni/Carroll)

Once again, the Tigers rule. Jackson was a terror last season, hitting double digits in doubles, triples and home runs, and topped 100 runs scored for second time in three years. By adding Bourn, the Indians add the most dynamic stolen base threat in baseball over the past five years. Alejandro De Aza is coming into his own as well, getting on-base at .329% clip.

Bench

  1. Indians
  2. Tigers
  3. Royals
  4. White Sox
  5. Twins

Quintin Berry is capable of producing anywhere in the Detroit outfield, and Ramon Santiago is capable at every position in the infield. In Cleveland, Terry Francona will be able to split time in multiple areas, with a very diverse bench of Mike Aviles, Ryan Rayburn and Lou Marson.

Rotation

  1. Tigers
  2. White Sox
  3. Royals
  4. Indians
  5. Twins

Justin Verlander, winning of 41 games since 2011, is a great start, but Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and the resigning of Anibal Sanchez gives them a glutton on riches. A bounce back effort from John Danks would go a long way towards giving the Sox one of the better AL rotations. The addition of James Shields, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis has completely revamped the Royals attack as a team.

The durable Shields was brought in to be both an example and stabilizer atop the Royals rotation.

The durable Shields was brought in to be both an example and stabilizer atop the Royals rotation.

1-2 Punch

  1. Tigers (Verlander/Scherzer)
  2. White Sox (Sale/Peavy)
  3. Royals (Shields/Guthrie)
  4. Indians (Masterson/Jimenez)
  5. Twins (Worley/Correia)

While there’s no question who’s the top dog in the D, Sale and Peavy are both capable of anchoring a very competitive club, as they proved last season in combining for 28 Chicago W’s. The Twins see a lot of potential in Vance Worley, as he inherited the top spot in their rotation from the second he was acquired. The Indians have a ton of potential, which has struggled to move past being only that in the inconsistent Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson

Bullpen

  1. Royals
  2. Indians
  3. Tigers
  4. Twins
  5. White Sox

One of the quietest, dominant units in baseball is the KC pen. They have 4 hurlers in Greg Holland, Tim Collins, Aaron Crow and Kelvin Herrera that can throw pure smoke. They are very versatile, and can be deployed in a variety of situations. Vinnie Pestano finished second in the AL in holds last season for Cleveland, while Glen Perkins limited left-handed hitters to a .192 average in Minnesota.

Defense

  1. Royals
  2. White Sox
  3. Indians
  4. Twins
  5. Tigers

The biggest Achilles for the Tigers is the fact their defensive often makes their potent lineup and pitching staff work too hard for wins. That’s not a problem that the Royals, as Gordon and Francouer are arguably the best defensive corner outfielders in baseball, while Escober, Hosmer, Moustakas and Getz are the best defensive infield in the game. The White Sox 70 errors were the fewest in MLB as a team.

Bourn pushes both the Indians extra base (42 steals) and defensive potential (2 Gold Gloves) to a new level.

Bourn pushes both the Indians extra base (42 steals) and defensive potential (2 Gold Gloves) to a new level.

Speed

  1. Royals
  2. Indians
  3. White Sox
  4. Tigers
  5. Twins

There’s not a bad runner on the team in KC, save for Billy Butler, but he’s not paid for that gig. In Cleveland, Bourn and Stubbs are fast enough to play a two-man outfield if needed (I’m sure of it). Between Alex Rios, Alexei Ramirez, DeWayne Wise and DeAza combined for 81 steals a year ago, and the best team defensive percentage .

Manager

  1. Jim Leyland, Tigers
  2. Ron Gardenhire, Twins
  3. Terry Francona, Indians
  4. Robin Ventura, White Sox
  5. Ned Yost, Royals

Leyland and Francona have a combined four World Series wins, and are two of the greatest motivators in the game…albeit in very different fashions. Ventura jumped from college baseball analyst to an 85-win MLB rookie manager last year. Also, there’s a reason why there’s no talk of trouble around Gardenhire despite two consecutive 90-loss seasons; it’s scary to think how bad it could be WITHOUT him.

Finances

  1. Tigers
  2. White Sox
  3. Indians
  4. Royals
  5. Twins

The Tigers played it cool for the most part on the market, outside of keeping their club intact for another run. They’ll need to hold funds back for the always needed in-season addition mid pennant chase most likely, especially with their current bullpen condition. The Indians had a surprisingly aggressive spending run this offseason, which could see them as sellers if it doesn’t payout by mid-summer.

Impact Additions

  1. James Shields (Royals from Rays)
  2. Michael Bourn (Indians from Braves)
  3. Nick Swisher (Indians from Yankees)
  4. Torii Hunter (Tigers from Angels)
  5. Wade Davis (Royals via trade)

The Royals made the ballsy move of the winter in trading everybody’s top prospect in Wil Myers to the Rays for Shields and Davis. It is a huge “win now” move from a franchise that hasn’t been in a position to do that in some time. The Indians core was rebuilt starting with Swisher, and later Bourn. Add in Trevor Bauer and Mark Reynolds, and it was an interesting winter in AL Ohio.

The continued growth and experience of Hosmer and Perez is at the heart of the Royals rise this summer.

The continued growth and experience of Hosmer and Perez is at the heart of the Royals rise this summer.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Salvador Perez,Royals
  2. Eric Hosmer, Royals
  3. Jason Kipnis, Indians
  4. Anibal Sanchez, Tigers
  5. Greg Holland, Royals

The time is finally here for the Royals window of competition to open. A key component will be Perez rising up to the elite producers at catcher this summer. He’s hit .311 in first 115 games, and should rise over 20 homers as well. If Hosmer can rebound from his down sophomore effort, the everyday lineup will have a lot more punch. Kipnis has a chance to ascend into the upper tier of second basemen in baseball this season.

Rookies/Prospects to Watch

  1. Trevor Bauer (Pitcher, Indians-MLB)
  2. Bruce Rondon (Pitcher, Tigers-MLB)
  3. Nick Castellanos (Third Base, Tigers-AAA)
  4. Aaron Hicks (Center Field, Twins-MLB)
  5. Francisco Lindor (Shortstop, Indians-A)

The biggest question mark for any serious competitor may be the Tigers’ closer situation. Rondon blew through the minors, and has been in the mix for the final frame in the Majors as well. If he takes on the role this year, he could be in the mix for AL Rookie of the Year. Hicks has blown up on the scene this spring and looks ready to step in and live up to his former Top 10 prospect potential.

2013 PREDICTIONS

  1. Tigers
  2. Royals
  3. Indians
  4. White Sox
  5. Twins

The Central is a division in transition…in the middle. Kansas City has improved each of the last three seasons, and is primed to make a major leap to league-wide respectability. This is due in part to the focus of management to add impact players to their maturing core, as well as a very balanced development of young talent both developed and acquired over the past few years. A run into the Wild Card picture should be expected, and a surge similar to last year’s Oakland Athletics should shock nobody.

Behind them, the margin between the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians is close. Where Cleveland is strong at the plate, Chicago is tough one the mound. The margin of difference could come down to the better equipped system of the Indians vs. the barren Sox farm. The Indians have the pieces to add to their push from within, while the Sox do not. Cleveland’s lack of pitching will keep them from truly pushing the Tigers, but a rise 10 game improvement or should be in the cards.

The Twins are in the midst of a long and drawn out rebuilding phase that has finally hit its bottom floor, and is ready to look up again. An influx of youngsters around their lineup should make things exciting occasionally, but frustrating more often than not. Another 90-loss year is on deck.

That just leaves the Tigers in the end, and the question is more not where they’ll finish in the first 162, but if they finally have the legs to win the last four of the last series of the season. They are a study in extremes: huge bats/terrible defense, great starters/questionable bullpen end. These are the type of issues that separate a club from the other elite teams in the league in the end, not so much the division. They will win the Central by more games than any other divisional champ, and could produce both an MVP, Cy Young winner, Comeback Player of the Year and maybe even a Rookie of the Year. Those would-be accolades aside, the difference is in the details for Leyland’s club. And it will take the full stretch of games to see if this “win now” club gets over itself, to rise above everyone else.

Justin Verlander

A couple of weeks ago, I broke the Top 100 Players in Baseball coming into 2013. As to be expected, it cause several levels of debate, from the way that such a decision was arrived at, all the way down to the results in the end. As the course of it went along, the players were ranked as a large pool, not by position, and in the end, some players landed interesting places.

But what is does this say about the strength of each position in game? If you go back and take it apart to assess “who’s the best (fill in blank position) in baseball, what does my Top 100 say about that. Well to save the time on that, I’ve done it for you. Today we’ll rank the Top 5 players by position, as well as breakdown what the game looks like at each spot both today, and moving forward.

To refresh on the entire list, head to The Sports Fan Journal, where the full Five Part Series is listed here.

 

Catcher

13. Buster Posey

15. Yadier Molina

38. Joe Mauer

81. Matt Wieters

92. Brian McCann

Catcher was tough at the top, with the margin between Posey and Molina nearly requiring a daily check of the box score to decide who’s better on that day. Overall, only six catchers made the list, with Miguel Montero being the only one missing here.

First Base

8. Joey Votto

9. Albert Pujols

23. Prince Fielder

33. Adrian Gonzalez

39. Mark Teixeira

Votto and Pujols are another pair that can trade off by the day, but overall the entire first base position could be in a different place by next year. Fielder, Gonzalez and Teixeira all had career-low efforts in some of their signature categories last season, which an upswing could pull each of them back to the top 25.

dustin-pedroia

Second Base

5. Robinson Cano

36. Brandon Phillips

47. Dustin Pedroia

58. Ian Kinsler

98. Chase Utley

It’s Cano, and then everybody else. Robby is on the verge of pushing for the best in the game period, but everybody else isn’t so bad overall; but they pale in comparison. The 31 slot difference between Cano and Phillips is easily the largest of any other everyday position.

Third Base

1. Miguel Cabrera

16. Evan Longoria

18. David Wright

22. Adrian Beltre

42. Ryan Zimmerman

Quiet as kept, the current group of third baseman around the league could be the most impressive group of any era in baseball history. This group has multiple MVP-caliber competitors as well as the last two World Series MVPs in Pablo Sandoval and David Freese as well.

Shortstop

24. Troy Tulowitzki

28. Jose Reyes

53. Elvis Andrus

56. Starlin Castro

59. Hanley Ramirez

Shortstop as a whole is a position that’s steady across the board, but is in transition some. Andrus, Castro and Ian Desmond are emerging, and prospect Jurickson Profar could easily force his way into the mix. But Tulowitzki remains the best due to a mixture of potential, and few legit challengers to his class thus far.

Carlos_Gonzalez white classic

Left Field

3. Ryan Braun

4. Mike Trout

19. Carlos Gonzalez

29. Matt Holliday

45. Bryce Harper

With Trout moving over to the left corner, the position has taken a swing upward. The Harper/Trout era will now pit them against each other from the same position, so for comparison’s sake, this is a story that just keeps getting better.

Center Field

7. Matt Kemp

10. Andrew McCutchen

35. Adam Jones

41. Curtis Granderson

61. Jacoby Ellsbury

What fantastically deep group there is roaming the middle of the outfield there is in the game today. Kemp, McCutchen, Jones and Ellsbury have each been major players in each of the last two MVP races. It’s a deep position as well, with Michael Bourn, Austin Jackson and Shin-Soo Choo all representing the diversity that comprises the spot now.

Right Field

12. Josh Hamilton

20. Jose Bautista

32. Giancarlo Stanton

54. Jason Heyward

62. Jay Bruce

No position may have more raw power than right field right now. Stanton is a 50 home run season waiting to happen, and Bautista has already passed the mark. Heyward and Bruce are as well-rounded players as imaginable on the corner, and neither is close to their 30th birthday.

Starting Pitcher

2. Justin Verlander

5. Clayton Kershaw

11. Felix Hernandez

14. David Price

21. Stephen Strasberg

Picking the top 5 pitchers in baseball is a task at best. Especially in the current era of wide spread dominance, staying on top is truly an impressive feat, which Verlander has pulled off in 2011-12. Strasberg appears after giving a glimpse of what could be in only 159 innings last year, but a case could be made for no less than 10 other arms to crack into the top 5 with no real arguments.

Relief Pitcher

17. Craig Kimbrel

37. Mariano Rivera

55. Jonathan Papelbon

78. Fernando Rodney

86. Jim Johnson

Considering that Aroldis Chapman will move to the starting rotation, Kimbrel’s position as the best ninth inning guy in the game is virtually untouched. Rivera and Papelbon have consistency on their side, but an emerging group of closers featuring Johnson, Jason Motte and Sergio Romo are all closing in on overall elite league status as well.

 

That’s what it is for now for the year in looking at the players, but coming up next week it’s time to look at the teams, with the third annual CSP divisional previews. Until then, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan for up the second info on everything I’m up to.

Los Angeles Dodgers Photo Day

It’s tough to do an intro to the very best of the game and just why they are, so I won’t bother. The credentials on the best of the top 100 players in baseball are below and speak for themselves. But just to quantify why they are who they are, this is a rundown of just what they have accomplished along the way:

  • 10 Players
  • Nine MVP/Cy Young Awards
  • 40 All-Star appearances
  • Five World Series Championships
  • And $134,000,000 coming their way this season

All things considered, they’re worth it. It is a level where 30 home run seasons are answered with “What’s wrong with him?” instead of congratulations for the effort. Where if they give up a home run from the mound, there’s legitimate shock. It’s also a place where there’s constantly someone else pushing you, where an injury or simple down year (by their standards) gets them seen as having a “bad” season. Dominance is what it takes to get to this level, but answering expectations, repeatedly, is what it takes to stay here.

Here’s the 10 best in the world at doing just that. For now at least …

 

10. Andrew McCutchen-Center Field-Pittsburgh Pirates: The Cutch nearly became not just the undisputed man in Pittsburgh a year ago, but nearly all of baseball. His tear through the first half landed him a starting All-Star gig and firm placement in the MVP race. While the Pirates faded in the second half, he still led the National League in hits with 194 and set other career highs in home runs (31), RBI (96) and average (.327), while also topping 20 stolen bases for the fourth consecutive year.

9. Albert Pujols-First Base-Los Angeles Angels: He had a down year in 2012, hitting “only” .285. But for the unmatched historic standard he set for himself in his first decade in the game (posting averages of 40 homers, 121 RBI and hitting .323), it’s understandable why  a career-low 30 home runs is frowned at. He’ll pass 500 home runs and 1,500 RBI in his upcoming 12th season and remains the most devastating first-base bat of all-time.

8. Joey Votto-First Base-Cincinnati Reds: For as good as Pujols still is, Votto’s all-around game has edged him to top of the first base heap. He hit 44 doubles before being curbed by a knee injury in July, which landed him 24 off of setting a new record, despite missing two months. He’s a line-drive hitting terror with a .313 career average and has led the NL in on-base percentage for the past three seasons. As testament to his steady approach, he has only popped out 10 times in his career.

7. Matt Kemp-Center Field-Los Angeles Dodgers: If not for a hamstring injury that sent him to the disabled list for the first time in his career, Kemp was set up for another tear through the summer. He launched 12 homers in April alone before the injury and still rebounded to hit a respectable 23 on the year despite missing 50 games. Consider that to be a glimpse of what could have been for the man one year removed from 39-homer/40-steal 2011…..

 

To see the rest of where this year’s CSP Top 100 Players ends at, head over to The Sports Fan Journal now: http://www.thesportsfanjournal.com/sports/baseball/the-2013-top-100-players-in-baseball-the-top-10/#sthash.qpLfExvj.dpuf

 

And for more in real-time, as well as the world on the World Baseball Classic, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

So far this year in the CHEAP SEATS, the focus has been on breaking down the best units in baseball.  When we last left off, the best pitching units at the back end of games were broken down, but now it’s time to move to front end and the spotlight arms of the game. As last year’s World Series match up proved, a great starting rotation is the difference between night and day in a season. And to make this list, it takes more than just a great number one; having a great 2-4 is huge, and even a fifth arm can make all the difference.

Lee Hamels Halladay

Here is the difference between the cream, and the crop…the best starting staffs in 2013’s upcoming baseball offering. And remember, pitchers and catcher report a month from today. Spring’s saving mercy gets underway in the winter.

 

 

1. Washington Nationals: Top to bottom there’s none better, because even their bottom is better than half the team’s baseball’s top. Stephen Strasberg is on the verge of being the league’s best and is good enough to make a 20-game winner in Gio Gonzalez to second billing. Add in a potentially resurgent Dan Haren, along with two of the most underrated arms in either league in Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler, and you’ve got a problem everyday of the week in DC.

2. Detroit Tigers: There’s a lot more to the Tigers than Justin Verlander (who’s averaged 20 wins the last four seasons). None of their starters have seen their 30th birthday yet. Max Scherzer actually struck out two more batters per nine innings than Verlander. Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez are tremendous options to be 3rd and 4th arms, while Drew Smyly and Rick Porcello are only 23 years old. This will be a strong collection for years to come.

3. Philadelphia Phllies: For everything that the rotation didn’t do last year, there’s still so much potential here. Cole Hamels has become a perennial Cy Young candidate, and nobody pitched to more tough luck than Cliff Lee did last year (30 starts, 3.16 ERA, but first win on July 4th). Add back a healthy Doc Halladay to the mix and this is as devastating of a top end rotation as there is, still.

4. San Francisco Giants: The strength of the World Champions is based in just how many arms can step up to be the top dog at any time. Matt Cain came into his own as an elite hurler last year, while Ryan Vogelsong and Madison Bumgartner both sported 3.37 ERAs, while winning a combined 30 games. Barry Zito showed a renaissance in the NLCS and World Series, and if Tim Lincecum can manage a similar effort during his contract push this summer, no reason to not at least pencil them back into another October.

5. Los Angeles Dodgers: With the Zack Greinke signing, the Dodgers locked up the toughest 1-2 punch in all of baseball. Kershaw has 35 wins and a 2.40 ERA over the last two years, and Josh Beckett should serve to be an important veteran axis in the middle of the rotation. And they currently have quality options abound for the bottom of the mix, with Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano, Ted Lilly, Chad Billingsley and Korean star Ryu Hyun-jin all options to round out a suddenly uber-talented mix.

Landing a reigning Cy Young winner is huge (and rare), but there's a lot more to the new Jays rotation than just RA's knuckler.

Landing a reigning Cy Young winner is huge (and rare), but there’s a lot more to the new Jays rotation than just RA’s knuckler.

6. Toronto Blue Jays: Of all the moves the Jays made to try to climb out of the bottom of the AL East, their aggressiveness to finally fix their horrible starting pitching should pay out the most. They put together a diverse group in finesse workhorses R.A. Dickey and Mark Buerhle, while Josh Johnson has one of the livest arms in the game, and Ricky Romero become a huge bounce back candidate as a fifth starter.

7. Oakland A’s: Billy Beane outdid himself putting together a group that came to age in a hurry last summer, and hijacked the AL West. Jarrod Parker and Tom Millone (both acquired in offseason trades) both won 13 games, and long with AJ Griffin (7-1, 3.05 ERA in 15 starts) all could make a claim to best rookie arm in the baseball, and if Brett Anderson can stay healthy to anchor the group, they’ll be a force once again.

8. Cincinnati Reds: It’s all about balance on the Reds understatedly good rotation. Cuerto has been among the NL ERA leaders the last two seasons, and Latos found recaptured his old form in his first year in Cincy. And if they hold true to their plan, and can successfully convert Arodis Chapman into a starter, this will be a very potent group.

9. Tampa Bay Rays: Not many teams could lose Matt Garza and James Shields in back to back years and stay relevant, but there’s also no other team with the young arms of the Rays. Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and the quietly good Alex Cobb make up the meat of the group, but it really doesn’t hurt to have 2012’s Cy Young winner David Price entering his prime atop it all.

10. Arizona Diamondbacks: A gut of rich young pitching gives the D’Backs is impressive. Ian Kennedy has won 35 games since the start of 2011, and Wade Miley reached All-Star level as a rookie. Add in the potential return of Daniel Hudson from Tommy John Surgery by mid-summer, and the addition of Brandon McCarthy as well, and this is a rotation that will cause a lot of trouble.

Just A Bit Outside: Yankees, Braves, White Sox

 

For more in real-time on these starters starting up their year, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

The American League on the mound in 2011 was like a Japanese building next to Godzilla, only there were no Mothra’s or annoying little tanks to slow down Justin Verlander. He ran so thoroughly through the opposition that his Cy Young win looked small next to the eventual MVP he took on.

A year later, the class step up their ballgame to come up to his level, and even surpass it. The race to call name the best arm in the AL was as even and spread out of a race as was offered. The consistency the perennial threats such as the Yankees’ CC Sabathia was battled by the undeniable rise of Chris Sale and the White Sox along with him. Meanwhile out west, Jared Weaver joined the No-Hit bandwagon, while Felix Hernandez did a notch better tossing a Perfecto on the Rays. And Tampa Bay showcased the brilliance that is watching an amazing skill set come together every day, such as David Price’s 2012 endeavor showed.

However, all things considered, Mount Verlander still posed a considerable task peak to climb on its 2012 merits alone. While he faced an impossible encore performance, was even a return to Earth still finding him on a level of his own? Well…yes, it still did. Soon enough, could the Baseball Bloggers Alliance AL entry to the Walter Johnson Award be due for a renaming? If this keeps up, maybe.

2012 AL Walter Johnson Award—Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

Nobody was in a more impossible position than Verlander was every time out in ’12. He was coming off one of the most decorated years any pitcher has ever authored, and was doing so for a team that had upgraded around him. But there had to be a happy medium; winning 20 games is a task to repeat, so winning 24 again? No, there was no way that he had as good of a year as he did a summer ago, but still the AL couldn’t keep up with the game’s ultimate Ace.

Verlander’s effort epitomized the Tigers season. He was gritty, leading the Majors once more in innings pitched (238.1), strikeouts (239) and complete games (6). The wins were down to 17, which was his lowest total in four years, however when the chips were down, he was never better. The Tigers, who won the AL Central by 15 games a year ago, had to fight until the season’s last week to overcome the Chicago White Sox. Over that stretch, Verlander went 5-1 in September, sporting a 1.93 ERA and 41 strikeouts.

Last season, his outright domination wowed an amazed to a point that the Tigers closed out business better than anybody in baseball. This year, he had to focus it late to pull the team into the playoffs. That versatility and dependency makes him the definition of an Ace. There’s a legit buzz of history and hopelessness around any appearance he makes on the mound. 2012 wasn’t 2011, and it proves that clutch grit is just as great as distance producing excellence. And it also makes him the best pitcher in the world, until somebody outdoes him.

Best of the Rest

2. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners: He once again defied the confines of his place as the top arm on a non-contending team. King Felix finished with 223 spread across 232 frames, and led the Majors with 5 shutouts. From mid-June to August, he struck out 100, while walking only 14 on a 1.40 ERA.

3. David Price, Tampa Bay Rays: In year four, Price became the complete package.  His 2.56 ERA was the lowest in the AL, and he became the first Ray to ever top 20 wins in a season, also the top total in the league.

4. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox: Sale’s rise to prominence totaled 17 wins and 192 strikeouts, as well as grabbed the White Sox by the collar nearly drug them back into the playoffs. Not bad considering he made his first career start this past April.

5. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels: Weaver was the rock of the Angels through a tough team start and injuries himself. He went undefeated in July, and only lost once in both May and September, racking up his first 20 win season, tying for the league lead.

Later today, the ballot for the Goose Gossage Reliever of the Year in both leagues will be revealed.

MLB Awards Season in the CHEAP SEATS, recap & preview

October 9Connie Mack/Manager of the Year Award: Davey Johnson & Buck Showalter

October 10Willie Mays/Rookie of the Year Award: Bryce Harper & Mike Trout

October 11—Walter Johnson/Pitcher of the Year Award: Clayton Kershaw & Justin Verlander

October 11—Goose Gossage Reliever of the Year Award:

October 12—Stan Musial Most Valuable Player Award

For more on the run through a crazy October, and tomorrow’s big MVP announcement in the CHEAP SEATS, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.