Friday, March 31, 2017

Texas Rangers 2017 season preview


        With a record of 95-67, the Texas Rangers finished first in the AL West, 9 games ahead of the second place Seattle Mariners. They also made the playoffs. But in the ALDS, the Rangers were eliminated by the Toronto Blue Jays in 3 games. At the trade deadline, they acquired star catcher Jonathan Lucroy from the Milwaukee Brewers, to improve their squad. If they want to make it to the ALCS or further in 2017, GM Jon Daniels needed to play it smart in the offseason. Let's see what Daniels did.

        Key additions: 1B Mike Napoli, SPs Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Dillon Gee, 3B Will Middlebrooks, OF Travis Snider.
        Key subtractions: OFs Ian Desmond, Carlos Beltran, 1B Mitch Moreland, RP Shawn Tolleson.

        Biggest move: The Rangers offseason is on the bad side more than the good, with star outfielders Ian Desmond and Carlos Beltran leaving. They signed an old friend to replace 1B Mitch Moreland, who also left. That is Mike Napoli, who was signed to a 1 year, $8.5 million deal. He hit 54 homers in two seasons with Texas (those years being 2011 and 2012). He can hit some bombs in 2017.
        X-factor: In 2016, Carlos Gomez had an awful start with the Houston Astros (he had a .210 average and 100 strikeouts). He was released there, and went to the Rangers. He hit .284 with the Rangers. With the Rangers' outfield declining, Gomez needs to step up.
        Biggest bounce back: Andrew Cashner was a big prospect. But, in 2016, he was the opposite of good: REALLY bad. He had a 5.25 ERA in 132 innings with the Padres and the Marlins. He signed a one year, $10 million deal with Texas in the offseason. He needs to bounce back.
        Biggest breakout: In 2016, former number 1 prospect in the league Jurickson Profar played for the first time since 2013. He wasn't amazing, with a .239 average and 5 HRs in 272 ABs. He will play a super utility role in 2017. Expect him to make the most of that opportunity.
        Guaranteed star: There's a couple guys who I considered putting here. They have 2 solid pitchers in Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish. But, I'll put 23 year old 2B Rougned Odor here. Odor hit 33 HRs and stole 14 bases in 2016. He will dominate the league for years to come.
         The Rangers' lineup should look like this.

1. CF: Carlos Gomez
2. 2B: Rougned Odor
3. C: Jonathan Lucroy
4. 3B: Adrian Beltre
5. 1B: Mike Napoli
6. RF: Nomar Mazara
7. DH: Joey Gallo
8. RF: Shin-Soo Choo
9. SS: Elvis Andrus
            Their rotation will probably be this.

1. Yu Darvish
2. Cole Hamels
3. Andrew Cashner
4. Martin Perez
5. A.J. Griffin

            CF Delino DeShields, C Robinson Chirinos and 3B Jurickson Profar will be on the bench.\
            Sam Dyson will be their closer, with Jeremy Jeffress and Matt Bush setting him up.

            Finally, for my prediction, I think the Texas Rangers will win the AL West, and the ALDS, but be eliminated in the ALCS.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Tampa Bay Rays 2017 season preview


       With a record of 68-94, the Tampa Bay Rays finished last in the AL East, 25 GB of the first place Boston Red Sox. They were the only team in the division that weren't in the playoff hunt. To fix that, GM Erik Neander needed to either start the big rebuild, or trade for stars in the offseason. Let's see what Neander did.

        Key additions: Cs Wilson Ramos, Derek Norris, Jesus Sucre, OFs Colby Rasmus, Mallex Smith, Peter Bourjos, RPs Shawn Tolleson, Jumbo Diaz, SP Nathan Eovaldi.
        Key subtractions: 2B Logan Forsythe, SP Drew Smyly, OFs Desmond Jennings, Mikie Mahtook, RP Enny Romero, Steven Geltz, Kevin Jepsen, C Bobby Wilson.

       
        Biggest move: The Rays made one of the biggest trades in the offseason. They acquired a big SP prospect in Jose De Leon from the Los Angeles Dodgers for 2B Logan Forsythe. De Leon can be a star when he eventually makes the team, but not this year.
        X-factor: With the Forsythe trade, the Rays needed to move 1B Brad Miller to 2B. Logan Morrison will be their 1B. "LoMo" is a career .230 hitter. They need him to produce in a starting role.
        Biggest bounce back: Going in to the 2016 season, Shawn Tolleson had the closer job in Texas locked up after 35 saves in 2015. But he struggled mightily, with a 7.68 ERA. In the offseason, Tolleson signed with Tampa. As a set up man, they need him to pitch well.
         Biggest breakout: In 2016, now 24 year old Blake Snell made his MLB debut, with a 3.54 ERA and 98 Ks in 89 innings. He will be their 4th starter in 2017. Expect big numbers for the top prospect.
         Guaranteed star: Though he had a weaker 2016 than 2015, Chris Archer is a career 3.25 ERA guy and for the second year in a row, he posted over 230 Ks. he's a star, there's no doubt about it.
          The Rays lineup should look like this.

1. CF: Kevin Kiermaier
2. SS: Matt Duffy
3. 2B: Brad Miller
4. 3B: Evan Longoria
5. LF: Corey Dickerson
6. DH: Steven Souza Jr.
7. RF: Colby Rasmus
8. C: Derek Norris
9. 1B: Logan Morrison
            Their rotation will probably be this.

1. Chris Archer
2. Jake Odorizzi
3. Alex Cobb
4. Blake Snell
5. Matt Andriese

             OF Mallex Smith, SSs Tim Beckham and Rickie Weeks and C Jesus Sucre will be on the bench.
             Alex Colome will be their closer, with Brad Boxberger (currently injured) and Shawn Tolleson setting him up.

              Finally, for my prediction, I think the Tampa Bay Rays will finish last in the AL East again, and eventually enter the tough years of the rebuild.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

St. Louis Cardinals 2017 season preview


      With a record of 86-76, the St. Louis Cardinals finished 2nd in the NL Central, 17.5 GB of the first place Chicago Cubs. They also saw the Cubs win the World Series. They suffered a big drop-off in 2016. They were expecting a huge season out of prospect Alex Reyes, but Tommy John surgery will keep him from playing in 2017. If the Cards want to keep up with the Cubs in 2017, GM John Mozeliak needed to do big things. Let's look at what Mozeliak did.

       Key additions: OF Dexter Fowler, RPs Brett Cecil, John Gant, Jordan Schafer.
       Key additions: OFs Matt Holliday, Brandon Moss, Jeremy Hazelbaker, SP Jaime Garcia, RPs Seth Maness, Dean Kiekhefer.

       Biggest move: For most teams, signing RP Brett Cecil to a 4 year, $30.5 million deal would be their offseason's highlight. But the Cardinals didn't just sign Cecil, they also signed OF Dexter Fowler to a 5 year, $82.5 million deal. A big part of the Cubs 2016 World Series win wasn't just Fowler, it was also John Lackey and Jason Heyward, two former Cardinals, who previously signed with the Cubs. It's really nice for the Cardinals to get revenge on their archenemy.
       X-factor: On their active roster, the Cardinals only have one catcher in Yadier Molina. Molina is now 34, and hasn't hit double digit homers since 2013. The Cards need "Yadi" to not get hurt in 2017.
       Biggest bounce back: In 2014, Adam Wainwright was a top pitcher in the game with his 2.38 ERA and 179 Ks in 227 innings. But an injury kept him out for all but 28 innings in 2015. In 2016, he had a bad year, with a 4.62 ERA in 198.2 innings (his first full season with less than 200 innings since 2012, where he also pitched 198.2 innings). Carlos Martinez is now the opening day starter, and Wainwright badly needs to get things together.
        Biggest breakout: If it wasn't for the injury, Reyes would definitely be here. But, I'll be forced to put someone else here. The man I'll put here is someone who was supposed to sub at SS for Jhonny Peralta for a month after Peralta was injured. Aledmys Diaz took that chance, and performed nicely, forcing manager Mike Matheny to move Peralta to 3B. Diaz finished the season with a .300 average and 17 HRs. 20 HRs seems ideal for the 26 year old in his second season.
        Guaranteed star: One thing the Cardinals don't necessarily have is a real number one guy. The are very well rounded. The guy I'll highlight is Matt Carpenter. Carpenter is a utility player. He's moved from 2B to 3B to now 1B. He also hits 20 bombs a year. He's no superstar, but he's a solid player to have.
          The Cardinals lineup should look like this.

1. CF: Dexter Fowler
2. 1B: Matt Carpenter
3. RF: Stephen Piscotty
4. LF: Randal Grichuk
5. SS: Aledmys Diaz
6. 2B: Jedd Gyorko (platoon)
7. C: Yadier Molina
8. 3B: Jhonny Peralta
9. Pitcher
              Their rotation will probably be this.

1. Carlos Martinez
2. Adam Wainwright
3. Mike Leake
4. Michael Wacha
5. Trevor Rosenthal

                2B Kolten Wong (platoon with Gyorko), 1B Matt Adams and SS Greg Garcia will be on the bench.
                Seung-Hwan Oh will be their closer, with Brett Cecil and Kevin Siegrist setting him up.

                Finally, for my prediction, I think the Cardinals will improve in 2017, and make the NL wild card game. But, they will lose in it to the San Francisco Giants.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Seattle Mariners 2017 season preview


 
With a record of 86-76, the Seattle Mariners finished 2nd in the AL West, 9 GB of the first place Texas Rangers. They had many players with nice seasons, including 2B Robinson Cano, who showed many that he was the same player that he was for the New York Yankees. 23 year old closer Edwin Diaz had a nice rookie season, with a 2.79 ERA and 18 saves in 51.2 innings. But if they wanted to make the playoffs, GM Jerry Dipoto needed to make some moves. Well, Dipoto made many trades, changing the team. Let's look at what Dipoto did.

    Key additions: SS Jean Segura, OFs Jarrod Dyson, Mitch Haniger, 3B Danny Valencia, SPs Drew Smyly, Yovani Gallardo, Chris Heston, RPs Mark Rzepczynski, Casey Fien, James Pazos, Shae Simmons, Cs Carlos Ruiz, Tuffy Gosewisch.
    Key subtractions: SPs Taijuan Walker, Nathan Karns, SS Ketel Marte, OFs Norichika Aoki, Seth Smith, Franklin Gutierrez, 1B Adam Lind, C Chris Iannetta, RPs Drew Storen, Vidal Nuno, Tom Wilhelmsen.

    Biggest move: The Mariners and the Arizona Diamondbacks pulled off a blockbuster. It sent outfielder Mitch Haniger and SS Jean Segura to Seattle, and SP Taijuan Walker and SS Ketel Marte to Arizona. With 20 HRs and 33 SBs last season (HRs a career high), Segura is a really good player. He was last year's NL hits leader with 203.
    X-factor: When it comes to the best base stealers, Jarrod Dyson is a top 5 guy who comes to mind. Last year, he had a career high in ABs with 299, and still stole 30 bases. After being the Royals 4th outfielder for his entire career, Dyson will get a starting role in Seattle. I'd be surprised if he didn't put up 40 steals.
     Biggest breakout: Many expected 2016 to be the year SP James Paxton broke out. He had a solid year, with a 3.79 ERA in 121 innings. Maybe 2017 is the year we were looking for out of Paxton last year.
     Biggest bounce back: Felix Hernandez will be a hall of famer eventually. But in 2016, he might of had his worst season yet. He had a 3.82 ERA (highest since 2007) in just 153.1 innings (his first non 200 innings season since 2007, and lowest amount of innings since his rookie season of 2005). If the Mariners want to make the playoffs in 2017, they need "King Felix" to bounce back in 2017.
     Guaranteed star: In 9 years with the Yankees from 2005 to 2013, 2B Robinson Cano hit 25 or more HRs 5 times, 100 or more RBIs 3 times and an average over .300 7 times. After signing a huge 10 year, $240 million deal with the M's in before the 2014 season, Cano hit a total of 35 HRs in two years. But in 2016, Cano set a career high in HRs with 39, and hit over 100 RBIs (103) for the first time in Seattle.
      The Mariners lineup should look like this.

1. CF: Leonys Martin
2. SS: Jean Segura
3. 2B: Robinson Cano
4. DH: Nelson Cruz
5. 3B: Kyle Seager
6. RF: Mitch Haniger
7. 1B: Danny Valencia
8. LF: Jarrod Dyson
9. C: Mike Zunino
         Their rotation will probably be this.

1. Felix Hernandez
2. Hisashi Iwakuma
3. James Paxton
4. Drew Smyly
5. Yovani Gallardo

           C Carlos Ruiz, OF Guillermo Heredia and SS Shawn O'Malley will be on the bench.
           Edwin Diaz will be their closer, with Steve Cishek (currently injured) and Nick Vincent setting him up.
  
            Finally, for my prediction, I think the Seattle Mariners will tie with the Houston Astros for second in the AL West, but miss the playoffs in 2017.

Monday, March 27, 2017

My interview with Isles Calvin de Haan


   
Of the many new advanced metrics in the NHL (or any hockey league), shot blocking is a very important one. Defensive skaters like to block opponents' shots, so their goaltender doesn't have to. Each NHL team wants to block shots. On the New York Islanders, no one wants to block shots more than defenseman Calvin de Haan. The Carp, Ontario native is 4th in the NHL in blocked shots, with 175. The Islanders drafted him 12th overall in the 2009 draft, after trading up for him. de Haan, 25, has 65 points (11 goals and 54 assists) in 263 career NHL games. He has career highs in goals (5), assists (16), and of course points (21) this season (2016-17). In 2016-17, the Islanders have watched de Haan change from a 4/5th defenseman to their 3rd best d-man.
     At his teammate Anders Lee's Kan Jam event, I was able to catch up with de Haan. Here's what I asked him.

     Me: "How has the team changed from December to now?"
     de Haan: "Not at all, really. It's something that was one of our goals at the start of the season was to make the playoffs. We didn't have the greatest start that we wanted. We've been working hard lately. We've been fortunate enough to get back into the race.

     M: "How has blocking shots become a big part of your game plan?"
     dH: "It's something I've always taken pride in. The less work the goaltenders have to do, it's one thing that's better. It's part of our system. It's not just me, there's a lot of guys who do that on our team."
  
      M: "What do you feel about this event Anders Lee is running?"
      dH: "It's for a great cause. It's the least we can do. Obviously some [people] are in unfortunate positions. We're just trying to help out children and other individuals who may not be as fortunate as we are. Those kids don't take things for granted, and it's nice to see them smile.

San Francisco Giants 2017 season preview


   
With a record of 87-75, the San Francisco Giants finished second in the NL West, 4 GB of the first place Los Angeles Dodgers. In the NLDS, the Giants lost to the Chicago Cubs in 4 games. The Cubs eventually won the World Series. The Giants needed a new closer, after old closer (and he wasn't even that great of a closer) Santiago Casilla left as a free agent. So, GM Bobby Evans needed to do big things in the offseason. Let's see what Evans did.

     Key additions: RP Mark Melancon, C Nick Hundley, SS Jimmy Rollins, 2B Aaron Hill, RPs Bryan Morris, Neil Ramirez, Cs Josmil Pinto, Tim Federowicz, OFs Michael Morse, Justin Ruggiano.
     Key subtractions: SPs Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Joe Nathan, OF Gregor Blanco.

     Biggest move: Remember when I said the Giants needed a closer? Well they got one in Mark Melancon. They signed him to a 4 year, $62 million deal. It was the highest contract a relief pitcher had signed in MLB history (well, for a week). He can really help them in 2017.
     X-factor: The Giants made a couple of moves at last year's trade deadline. One was trading 3B Matt Duffy to Tampa Bay. To replace him, the Giants brought in Eduardo Nunez. Nunez, who hit career highs in 2016 in HRs (16), RBIs, (67) and ABs (553), needs to show management that they made the right move in choosing him over Duffy.
      Biggest bounce back: Matt Cain was a Cy Young pitcher. But, now he's barely a starter. In 2017, he'll need to fight for the 5th rotation spot. He hasn't pitched in 100 innings since 2013. In the last 2 seasons, he has an ERA over 5.60. It's clear, Cain needs to put things together to save his career.
      Biggest breakout: Two guys: Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson are fighting for the starting left field job. I think Parker will get it. He's yet to show what he can really do in the MLB, with his career high in ABs in a season being 127 (set last year). It would be nice for Parker to break out in 2017.
      Guaranteed star: If it weren't for Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner would be the top pitcher in the MLB right now. His worst career ERA is 3.37 (which is still pretty good), something set in 2012. He's also a better hitter than most, taking Kershaw deep last season.
      The Giants lineup should look like this.

1. CF: Denard Span
2. 2B: Joe Panik
3. C: Buster Posey
4. 1B: Brandon Belt
5. RF: Hunter Pence
6. SS: Brandon Crawford
7. 3B: Eduardo Nunez
8. LF: Jarrett Parker
9. Pitcher
       Their rotation will probably be this.

1. Madison Bumgarner
2. Johnny Cueto
3. Jeff Samardzija
4. Matt Moore
5. Matt Cain

        C Nick Hundley, 3B Conor Gillaspie, RF Mac Williamson (injured) and 2B Kelby Tomlinson will be on the bench.
        Mark Melancon will be their closer, with Hunter Strickland and George Kontos setting him up.

        Finally, for my prediction, I think the Giants will improve in 2017, but still finish in the Wild Card.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

San Diego Padres 2017 season preview


    
With a record of 68-94, the San Diego Padres finished last in the NL West, 23 GB of the first place Los Angeles Dodgers. Former Tampa Bay Rays top prospect Wil Myers had a breakout year for the Padres, with 28 HRs and 28 SBs. The Padres will most likely be awful in 2017. GM A.J. Preller has always made trades when he needs to. Let's look at what Preller did.

     Key additions: SPs Trevor Cahill, Jered Weaver, Jhoulys Chacin, Tyrell Jenkins, SS Erick Aybar, OF Collin Cowgill.
     Key subtractions: SP Tyson Ross, C Derek Norris, OF John Jay, 2B Alexi Amarista, RPs Jose Dominguez, Leonel Campos, Matt Thornton, Brandon Morrow, Edwin Jackson.

     Biggest move: The Padres signed 2 starters that I'll note to small contracts. They signed Trevor Cahill to a one year, $1.75 million deal, and former Angels ace Jered Weaver to a one year, $3 million deal. These are both "prove it" deals, and Weaver can also be a great mentor for their younger pitchers.
     X-factor: After the Padres traded former all-star Chase Headley to the New York Yankees, Headley struggled. The guy who they got for Headley, 3B Yangervis Solarte, is doing better. In 2016, Solarte set career highs in HRs (15), RBIs (71) and average (.286). He's one of the only solid players on this team. He's often overlooked by the bad part of this club.
     Biggest bounce back: The entire team. Well, most of it. The one I'll highlight is Jarred Cosart. In 2014, Cosart had a 3.69 ERA in 180.1 innings. In 57 innings last year, Cosart had a 6.00 ERA. Cosart might not get a rotation spot, but if he does, he needs to pitch in at least 100 innings for the first time since '14.
     Biggest breakout: Out of their 4 outfielders, their 4th outfielder Alex Dickerson is the oldest at 26 years of age. One of their outfielders will breakout in 2017. That's 22 year old Manuel Margot. He was named baseball's number 1 fielding prospect. He made his MLB debut in 2016, with 3 RBIs and a .243 average in 37 ABs. A full MLB season can really help Margot's development.
    Guaranteed star: The only one on this team who you can even call a "star" is Wil Myers. Like I said before, his 28 HRs and SBs in 2016 are something to even improve on in 2016.
    The Padres lineup should look like this.

1. CF: Travis Jankowski
2. 3B: Yangervis Solarte
3. 1B: Wil Myers
4. 2B: Ryan Schimpf
5. SS: Erick Aybar
6. RF: Hunter Renfroe
7. LF: Manuel Margot
8. C: Austin Hedges
9. Pitcher
      Their rotation will probably be this.

1. Luis Perdomo
2. Clayton Richard
3. Jered Weaver
4. Jhouyls Chacin
5. Christian Freidrich (currently injured)

       2B Cory Spangenberg, SS Luis Sardinas, LF Alex Dickerson (injured), RF Jabari Blash and C Luis Torrens will be on the bench.
       Brandon Maurer will be their closer, with Carter Capps and Brad Hand setting him up.

       Finally, for my prediction, I think the Padres will lose at least 100 games in 2017. they'll be the only team to do that. In a couple of years, they'll start to exit the rebuild.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Getting to know Beau: my interview with Isles Anthony Beauvillier


   
When a team drafts a player in the first round, they expect him to at least make the NHL (or MLB, NFL, NBA, or whatever league there is with a draft). When the New York Islanders drafted Anthony Beauvillier 28th overall in 2015, they expected him to make the team eventually. They did not expect he would make it the next season. But on opening night, 2016, Beauvillier made his debut at just 19 years of age. The Sorel-Tracy, Quebec native has 21 points (8 goals and 13 assists) in 57 games this season, and in his career. He quickly made it to the NHL after tearing it up for the Shawinigan Cataractes of the QMJHL for three seasons.
      At his teammate Anders Lee's Kan Jam event, I was able to catch up with "Beau", or "Tito". Here's what I asked him.

      Me: "What do you think of this event Anders Lee is running?"
      Beauvillier: "It's something special. It was a fun event. It shows how great Anders is as a person. It was a great event, it was a great night."

     M: Was it tough to make the change from the QMJHL to the NHL without having any experience in the AHL?"
     B: "Yes, it's special. It's a big step. I'm living my dream. I enjoy every single day."

     M: "How has the team changed from December to now?"
     B: "We've worked our way through. We're exactly where we want to be right now. We want to keep pushing. The next couple of weeks are going to be really important for us, important games for us. Like I said, this is where we want to be. It's very exciting to play, and this is going to be fun."

My interview with Isles Josh Bailey


 If an NHL team wants to have a chance at winning the Stanley Cup, they need a top line center. The New York Islanders have that in John Tavares. A team also needs a number one defenseman. The Islanders also have that in Nick Leddy. Another thing a team needs is a number one winger. The Isles have adopted to having 27 year old Josh Bailey as their top winger. The Isles drafted Bailey 9th overall in the 2008 draft. The Bowmanville, Ontario native has exactly 300 points (105 goals and 195 assists) in 630 career NHL games, all for the Islanders. He is having a career season currently, with career highs in assists (38) and points (50).
   
     At his teammate Anders Lee's Kan Jam event, I was able to catch up with Bailey. Here's what I asked him.

     Me: "What do you think of this event Anders Lee is running?
     Bailey: "I think it's great. I think Anders has put a lot of work into this. It was something we were all happy to join him with, to help towards a good cause. Any time you can give back to the local community, especially kids who are going through a tough time is always a great thing."
  
     M: "How do you think the team has changed from December to now?"
     B: "I don't think I'd say much changed. We always believed we can be here, and give ourselves a chance to make the playoffs, and try to win a Stanley Cup. [We] still have 11 games* to go. They are going to be the hardest ones yet. We want to play our best."

     M: "You are having a career season this year, has
 captain John Tavares affected it at all?"
     B: "Of course he does. He's one of the best players in the league, and in the world. He's fun to play with every night. He makes a lot of great plays. Anders [Lee does] as well. It's been a lot of fun playing with those two this year. We just want to play our best hockey for the next couple of games.

      *This interview was recorded before their games against the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins. They now have 9 games remaining.

Pittsburgh Pirates 2017 season preview


     With a record of 78-83, the Pittsburgh Pirates finished 3rd in the NL Central, 25 GB of the first place Chicago Cubs. Star CF Andrew McCutchen was nearly traded in the offseason, after a career low in average (.256) and his lowest RBI total since 2010 with 79. He's also switched positions to right field. After a 93 win 2015, the Bucs won 15 less games in 2016. If they want to finish over .500 in 2017, GM Neal Huntington needed to improve the team in the offseason. Let's see what Huntington did.

     Key additions: RPs Daniel Hudson, Pat Light, Josh Lindblom, 2B Phil Gosselin.
     Key subtractions: SS Sean Rodriguez, OF Matt Joyce, RPs Neftali Feliz, Jeff Locke, Ryan Vogelsong.

     Biggest move: The Pirates didn't make that many moves, but they brought in a solid reliever in Daniel Hudson, after signing him to a 2 year, $11 million deal. His lights-out April (0.77 ERA in 11.2 innings) was one to remember, but the Bucs would like Hudson to become a solid set up guy in 2017 and '18.
     X-factor: In 2016, 3B/SS Jung Ho Kang hit 21 HRs in 318 ABs. Legal troubles and the fact that he was denied a work visa can prevent him from playing for the Pirates in 2017 (That's why he is not mentioned in the roster part below). But if he plays, he can help the Pirates win some games.
     Biggest bounce back: Like I mentioned earlier, now RF Andrew McCutchen (am I the only one who thinks that looks weird?) had a bad 2016. If he wants to make sure he stays in Pittsburgh, he'll need to have a way better 2017.
     Biggest breakout: This one is tough to decide. So, I'll put two guys here.
     First, 24 year old Josh Bell will finally get the starting 1B job in Pittsburgh. He made his MLB debut in 2016, after hitting .295 or better in each minor league season since 2014. He hit 3 HRs and .273 in 128 MLB ABs last season. In his first full season, Bell will look to impress many.
     The other guy also made his MLB debut in 2016. Top prospect Tyler Glasnow was called up after a 1.93 ERA in 116.2 innings in the minors. He had an ERA of 4.24 in 23.1 inning last year, and can pitch in the back of the rotation this year. I think 2017 will either be a big breakout season for Glasnow, or a solid development year.
     Guaranteed star: Normally, I'd pick McCutchen in a heartbeat. But, while McCutchen struggled in 2017, new CF Starling Marte had a very nice 2016. His HRs dipped from 19 to 9, but in 90 less ABs. His average raised from .287 to .311. He had a nice raise from 30 SBs to 47. If you're playing fantasy baseball, Marte is a solid pick.
     The Pirates lineup should look like this.

1. LF: Gregory Polanco
2. CF: Starling Marte
3. RF: Andrew McCutchen
4. 2B: Josh Harrison
5. 1B: Josh Bell
6. SS: Jordy Mercer
7. 3B: David Freese
8. C: Francisco Cervelli
9. Pitcher
      Their rotation will probably be this.

1. Gerrit Cole
2. Ivan Nova
3. Jameson Taillon
4. Tyler Glasnow
5. Chad Kuhl/Drew Hutchinson

      1B John Jaso, OF Adam Frazier and C Chris Stewart will be on the bench.
      Tony Watson will be their closer, with Daniel Hudson and Felipe Rivero setting him up.

      Finally, for my prediction, I think the Pittsburgh Pirates will progress in 2017, but miss the playoffs.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Philadelphia Phillies 2017 season preview


     
With a record of 71-91, the Philadelphia Phillies finished 4th in the NL East, 24 GB of the first place Washington Nationals. Former face of the franchise Ryan Howard finally left, after having a bad last couple of seasons. As rebuilders, GM Matt Klentak needed to make the team younger in the offseason. Let's look at what Klentak did.

       Key additions: SP Clay Buchholz, OFs Michael Saunders, Howie Kendrick, RPs Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit, Pedro Beato, OFs Chris Coghlan, Daniel Nava, SP Sean Burnett, Cs Ryan Hanigan, Bryan Holaday, SS Pedro Florimon.
       Key subtractions: 1Bs Ryan Howard, Darin Ruf, RP David Hernandez, OFs Peter Bourjos, Cody Asche, 2B Darnell Sweeney, Jimmy Paredes, SP Severino Gonzalez.

       Biggest move: The Phillies made a bunch of minor moves, but made some productive moves too. The one I'll highlight is acquiring former star 2B Howie Kendrick from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Darin Ruf and Darnell Sweeney. He's turned into an outfielder, but seems to be past his .290 days. The Phillies are looking for a bounce back year out of Kendrick.
       X-factor: CF Odubel Herrera had a great second MLB season in 2016. He hit 15 HRs and stole 25 bases. The former Rule 5 draft pick is a big part of this Phillies team. When they become contenders, he'll be a leader.
       Biggest bounce back: They former Red Sox star pitcher Clay Buchholz was acquired by the Phillies this offseason for 2B Josh Tobias. But, he's no longer a star. He can be a solid mentor for their young pitchers. His 4.78 ERA in 139.1 IP last year wasn't so great. Buchholz will try to do better this year.
       Biggest breakout: The Phillies and fans league wide were expecting now 23 year old pitcher Aaron Nola to breakout in 2016. Well, that didn't happen. Like Buchholz, Nola had a 4.78 ERA, but this time in 111 innings. Maybe 2017 is the year Nola turns into a star.
       Guaranteed star: This could be controversial, but I'll go with 24 year old 3B Maikel Franco. He hit 25  HR sand 88 RBIs in 2016. He might not be the biggest star right now (your opinion), but he'll definitely be their big star in the future.
       The Phillies lineup should look like this.

1. 2B: Cesar Hernanadez
2. CF: Odubel Herrera
3. 3B: Maikel Franco
4. 1B: Tommy Joseph
5. RF: Michael Saunders
6. LF: Howie Kendrick
7. C: Cameron Rupp
8. SS: Freddy Galvis
9. Pitcher
         Their rotation will probably be this.

1. Jeremy Helickson
2. Aaron Nola
3. Vince Velasquez
4. Clay Buchholz
5. Jerad Eickhoff

         3B Andres Blanco, OF Aaron Altherr and C Andrew Knapp will be on the bench.
         Jeanmar Gomez will be their closer, with Pat Neshak and Joaquin Benoit setting him up.

         Finally, for my prediction, I think the Phillies will have a growth year in 2017. With the Atlanta Braves exiting their rebuild, the Phillies will drop to last in the NL East.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

My interview with number 2: #Isles Nick Leddy


      Every NHL team needs a puck-moving defenseman. The New York Islanders have one of them. The 26 year old Nick Leddy has turned into a 40 point d-man, with exactly 40 points in 71 games so far in the 2016-17 season (he has 11 goals, a career high, and 29 assists). The Eden Prairie, Minnesota native was drafted 16th overall in 2009 by his home town Minnesota Wild. Before he made his NHL debut, the Wild traded Leddy's rights and defenseman Kim Johnsson to the Chicago Blackhawks for defenseman Cam Barker on February 12, 2010. He then signed a 3 year, $2.7 million contract. In 4 seasons with the Blackhawks, Leddy scored 93 points (20 goals and 73 assists) and won the 2013 Stanley Cup. But at the end of the 2014-15 season, Leddy would become a restricted free agent, and the Blackhawks didn't have cap room for him. On October 4, 2014, the Blackhawks traded Leddy and goalie Kent Simpson to the New York Islanders in exchange for defensemen Ville Pokka, T.J. Brennan and goalie Anders Nilsson. On February 24, 2015, Leddy and the Islanders agreed to a 7 year, $38.5 million contract extension. He has 26 goals and 91 assists in 3 seasons since joining the Islanders. At his teammate Anders Lee's Kan Jam event, I was able to meet Nick. Here's what I asked him.

        Me: "How has the team changed since December to now?"
        Leddy: "Every point counts, especially at this point in the season. Hopefully we'll get back on the winning track."
  
        M: "Has the main reason the team has changed being the firing of coach Jack Capuano, or did the team just wake up?"
        L: "I think we've emphasized on a few different things. We're trying to stick to our game plan every night. A lot of the ways Cappy wanted us to play, we've kept that. We've emphasized on a few more things."
 
        M: "What do you think Joshua Ho-Sang has brought to the team in his 10 games?"
        L: " I think he brings an element to the offense, where he's got a lot of skill, amazing hands and has that pull away speed. He's obviously a great playmaker. We're definitely happy to have him.

        M: "What do think of this event Anders Lee is running?"
        L: "I think it's awesome. Anytime we can support a teammate and something he truly believes in, it's something we want to help with."

Oakland Athletics 2017 season preview


     With a record of 69-93, the Oakland Athletics, or A's, finished last in the AL West, 26 GB of the first place Texas Rangers. The A's are rebuilding, and want to exit the hard years either this year or next year. To do that, GM Billy Beane needed to do things in the offseason. Let's look at what Beane did.
 
      Key additions: 3B: Trevor Plouffe, RP Santiago Casilla, OFs Rajai Davis, Matt Joyce, Alejandro De Aza, SS Adam Rosales, C Ryan Lavarnway, 1B Chris Parmlee.
      Key subtractions: 3B Danny Valencia, OF Brett Eibner, SS Arismendy Alcantara.

      Biggest move: The A's signed a couple of players to cheap, one year deals to try to find a steal. The biggest name is 3B Trevor Plouffe who was signed to a one year, $5.25 million deal. Injuries forced him to 84 games, but he hit 22 HRs and 86 RBIs the year before. It's a real solid pickup for Oakland.
      X-factor: With the biggest bounce back (below) starting the season on the DL, SP Kendall Graveman was named opening day starter. Graveman finished last season with a 4.11 ERA in a career high 186 IP. He had some really bad months, like May (5.87 ERA in 30.2 innings), and some where he looked like an ace, like July (2.68 ERA in 37 innings). It would be nice for Graveman to have a really good 2017.
     Biggest bounce back: 2016 was only his third full year in the MLB. In '14 and '15, he had an ERA of 3.08 or lower in 200 or more innings. Injuries limited him to just 117 IP in 2016, and he had a bad ERA of 5.69. His name is Sonny Gray. He'll start the season on the DL (that's why he's not mentioned in the rotation in the roster part below), but the A's will need Gray to bounce back in 2017.
      Biggest breakout: In 269 ABs last season, his first taste of the MLB, Ryon Healy played really well, with 13 HRs and 37 RBIs, along with a .305 average. With the A's roster not as good as it was years ago, Healy can crack the starting lineup as a part time DH. I'm sure he'll excel there.
      Guaranteed star: A year ago, I would have picked Gray here. But LF Khris Davis hit very well in his first year in Oakland. He had career highs in ABs (555), HRs (42) and RBIs (105), just to name a few. He can put up at least 30 HRs in 2017, and remain a star.
      The A's' lineup should look like this.

1. CF: Rajai Davis
2. SS: Marcus Semien
3. LF: Khris Davis
4. C: Stephan Vogt
5. 3B: Trevor Plouffe
6. 1B: Yonder Alonso
7. DH: Ryon Healy
8. 2B: Jed Lowrie
9. RF: Matt Joyce
          Their rotation will probably be this.

1. Kendall Graveman
2. Sean Manaea
3. Jharel Cotton
4. Jesse Hahn
5. Chris Bassitt

            SS Adam Rosales, C Josh Phegley and 1B Mark Canha will be on the bench.
            Sean Doolittle will be their closer, with Santiago Casilla and Ryan Madson setting him up.

            Finally, for my prediction. I think the A's will finish last in a half good, half bad AL West division. As long as they can have a developing year for youngsters, they can take a step closer to being contenders again.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

New York Yankees 2017 season preview



     With a record of 84-78, the New York Yankees finished 4th in the AL East, 9 GB of the first place Boston Red Sox. They also missed the playoffs. Close to the 2016 trade deadline, the Yankees traded star relievers Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, and watched them play in the WS, with Chapman winning. The prospects they received in those trades, especially SS Gleyber Torres look to be good MLB players one day. If the Yankees wanted to be contenders in 2017, GM Brian Cashman needed to make some moves. Let's look at what Cashman did.

       Key additions: RP Aroldis Chapman, OF Matt Holliday, 1B Chris Carter, SS Ruben Tejada, RP Jon Niese.
       Key subtractions: C Brian McCann, 1B Mark Teixeira (retired), SP Nathan Eovaldi, DH Billy Butler, RPs Nick Goody, Kirby Yates, Anthony Swarzak, Blake Parker, Richard Bleier.
    
       Biggest move: The Yankees got Aroldis Chapman back, after trading him to the Chicago Cubs midseason. It was a record breaking deal for a reliever, at 5 years, $86 million. They now have two-thirds of last years three headed monster (or no run DMC, or whatever you want to call it) in Chapman and Dellin Betances (Andrew Miller was the third). If the Yankees are good, Chapman could reach the 40 save mark in 2017.
       X-factor: He may have only played in 53 games in 2016 (201 ABs), but C Gary Sanchez hit 20 HRs and an average of .299, finishing second in the AL ROY voting. The Yankees need him to avoid a sophomore slump in 2017 if they want to be competitive. At least 30 HRs seems ideal, but as a Yankee fan, I'm still setting the bar a bit lower for Sanchez.
        Biggest bounce back: There's 3 guys who share this spot, so I'll talk about them all. First, SP Michael Pineda was supposed to be a really good MLB player, especially after his 1.89 ERA in 76.1 IP in 2014. But 2016 was rough for him. He had an ERA of 4.82 in 175.2 IP. With the Yankees rotation in shambles after Masahiro Tanaka, they'll need Pineda to pitch way better in 2017.
       Second, in 2011, CF Jacoby Ellsbury hit 32 HRs, with 105 RBIs, and 39 SBs for the Red Sox. He continued to be very good in Boston. But after signing a 7 year, $153 million contract with the Yankees in 2014, things changed. Ellsbury is now barely a 20 SB threat. He needs to turn around quickly, because $153 million is a lot to pay a below average player.
       Finally, LF Brett Gardner dropped off in 2016. His homers dipped from 16 to 7. It was also the first full season of his career in which he did not steal at least 20 bases. He passed his almost 50 steal days, and the power surges in 2014 and '15 are gone, too.
      Biggest breakout: In his 84 ABs in 2016, RF Aaron Judge struggled with an average of .179. Judge is supposed to be a huge prospect, especially when it comes to power. But his season high HRs in the minors is just 20 HRs, which aren't that significant. It would be nice for the Yanks to get a nice first full season out of Judge in 2017.
      Guaranteed star: Since coming to America in 2014, SP Masahiro Tanaka has been pretty good. He was an out away from his first 200 IP season last year, and had a solid ERA of 3.07. Tanaka is definitely their ace this season, and for a couple more years guaranteed, as long as he doesn't opt out of his contract after this year.
      The Yankees lineup should look like this.

1. LF: Brett Gardner
2. CF: Jacoby Ellsbury
3. C: Gary Sanchez
4. 1B: Greg Bird
5. 2B: Starlin Castro
6. DH: Matt Holliday
7. RF: Aaron Judge
8. 3B: Chase Headley
9. SS: Ronald Torreyes
          Their rotation will most likely be this:.

1. Masahiro Tanaka
2. C.C. Sabathia
3. Michael Pineda
4. Luis Severino
5. Chad Green

          SS Didi Gregorius (injured), 1B Chris Carter, RF Aaron Hicks and C Austin Romine will be on the bench.
          Aroldis Chapman will be their closer, with Dellin Betances and Tyler Clippard setting him up.
         
          Gregorius will be out a month, but when he comes back, he'll hit second, with Ellsbury moving to ninth. Torreyes will then be on the bench.

           Finally, for my prediction, I think the New York Yankees will test out some new methods in 2017, but miss the playoffs.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

New York Mets 2017 season preview


    
With a record of 87-75, the New York Mets finished second in the NL East, 8 GB of the first place Washington Nationals. The Mets qualified for the NL Wild card game, but lost to the San Francisco Giants. GM Sandy Alderson must of thought his team was good for next year, making virtually no moves. Let's look at what Alderson did.

     Key additions: P Tom Gorzelanny.
     Key subtractions: SPs Bartolo Colon, Gabriel Ynoa, Logan Verrett, RP Jim Henderson, 1B James Loney, OF Alejandro De Aza, 2B Kelly Johnson.

      Biggest move: The Mets did not acquire anything this offseason but a depth pitcher in Tom Gorzelanny. So, I'm going to break my own rule and put a re-signing as my "biggest move". The Mets signed one of their stars, OF Yoenis Cespedes to a new 4 year, $110 million deal. Cespedes is a key part of this Mets lineup, and retaining his services really helps their organization.
       X-factor: David Wright used to be a top 3B in the league. But injuries have hurt him recently. He hasn't played in at least 39 games in a season since 2014. He hasn't hit 20 HRs in a season since 2012, and hasn't hit 30 since 2008. Wright will likely start the season on the DL (that's why I put him on the bench at the bottom). But when he comes back, he needs to perform well to save his career.
       Biggest bounce back: Injuries limited 1B Lucas Duda to just 47 games in 2016. In 153 2016 ABs, Duda hit 7 HRs, with a lousy average of .229. It would be nice for Duda to have a healthy 2017.
       Biggest breakout: With the Mets having 5 solid outfielders, LF Michael Conforto might start the season on the bench, but if the Mets trade Curtis Granderson or Jay Bruce, then Conforto will need to play well. He's yet to play up to his potential, and 24 years of age is a nice number to breakout. Maybe Conforto will do it.
        Guaranteed star: He may only have 2 years of MLB experience under his belt, but 24 year old SP Noah Syndergaard is already a top pitcher. He had a 2.60 ERA in 183.2 IP last year. The best of "Thor" is yet to come, which is scary for hitters.
        The Mets' lineup should look like this.

1. CF: Curtis Granderson
2. 2B: Neil Walker
3. LF: Yoenis Cespedes
4. 1B: Lucas Duda
5. RF: Jay Bruce
6. SS: Asdrubal Cabrera
7. C: Travis d'Arnuad
8. 3B: Jose Reyes
9. Pitcher
          Their rotation will probably be this.

1. Noah Syndergaard
2. Jacob DeGrom
3. Matt Harvey
4. Steven Matz
5. Zack Wheeler

           LF Michael Conforto, 3B David Wright, CF Juan Lagares, C Kevin Plawecki and 1B Wilmer Flores will be on the bench.
           Jeurys Familia will be their closer, with Jerry Blevins and Fernando Salas setting him up.

           Finally, for my prediction, I think the Mets will once again be in the NL Wild card chase, but lose to the St Louis Cardinals. I think this not because the Mets are bad, because the Cardinals offseason moves make them better than they were in 2016.

Having fun with 91: Speaking with captain John Tavares


  New York Islanders captain John Tavares is one of the best players in the NHL. The Mississauga, Ontario native was drafted first overall in the 2009 NHL draft by the Islanders. Tavares, 26, has 532 points (234 goals and 298 assists) in 581 career NHL games, all with the Islanders. His teammates appreciate playing with him. "He's one of the best players in the league, and in the world. He's fun to play with every night," his linemate, Josh Bailey told me. At his teammate Anders Lee's Kan Jam event, I was able to catch up with Tavares. Here are the questions I asked Tavares.
  
    Me: "How do you feel the team has changed this season from December to right now?"
    Tavares: "As a team, we were a little disappointed with the way we started. It's a tight group in a locker room, and there was still a lot of hockey left to play, around 40-50 games. I think there was a lot of belief that we're a lot better than we played, and we've come together and given ourselves a good chance to make the playoffs."
  
     M: "Do you feel a little extra pressure as the captain of this team to lead them into the playoffs?"
     T: "I don't think I try to add any pressure. I think the expectations are always high, and there's a lot that people expect from a captain, or from your teammates, or for myself. I just try to be myself [and I] feel like that's what has gotten me to this point, and why the team has felt that I've been deserving of captain. So, I just try to be myself and play as hard as I can."
 
     M: "In the last 10 games, Joshua Ho-Sang has come in and has 6 points. How do you feel like he's changed the team?"
     T: "Josh is very skilled, very talented. He is playing hard, being very responsible with what the coaching staff is asking him to do but they want him to play his game and [that's] what has gotten him to this point in his hockey career. He's gone out and he's created a lot of very good offense for us, creating chances and obviously he's been capitalizing on them. It's great to see him get rewarded, he's obviously very talented, he's a good kid."

     M: "What do you think of this event that Anders Lee is running?"
     T: "As a teammate, you want to support that and obviously it's for a great cause, to fight cancer. No question, we all love being here, supporting Anders, and the cause he's fighting for. It's great to be here, we're all having a lot of fun. It's always great to be around your teammates and our great fans."
 
     M: "Do you have any long term plans to stay here on Long Island?"
     T: "I want to play with the Islanders for my whole career, that would be great. Obviously I can't negotiate a new contract until some point this summertime, so I just want to worry about helping this team make the playoffs, and hopefully be here for the long [run]."

Monday, March 20, 2017

Hanging with Ho-Sang


     
He might be just 10 games into his NHL career, but New York Islanders' winger Joshua Ho-Sang has made an impact on his team, with 6 points (3 goals and 3 assists) in those 10 games. Ho-Sang, 21, was drafted in the first round (28th overall) in the 2014 NHL draft. He played for the Windsor Spitfires and the Niagara IceDogs in the OHL, before playing 48 games for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (the Islanders AHL affiliate) earlier this season. In his 10 games, the Thornhill, Ontario native has made a good impression not just on the organization, but on fans as well with his dynamic skating and stick-handling. When I talked to his Islander teammates, they had some positive things to say about him.
      "Josh is very skilled, very talented. He's playing hard, he's being very responsible with what the coaching staff's asking him to do," captain John Tavares said on Ho-Sang.
      "He's pretty electric. He makes a lot of plays out there, a lot of skill," winger Brock Nelson said.

      At his teammate Anders Lee's Jam Kancer In the Kan event, I was able to catch up with Joshua. Here's what I asked him.

      Me: "How does it feel to change from being in the AHL trying to impress the Islanders management to suddenly being in the NHL playoff race?"
      Ho-Sang: "It's pretty crazy. You just need to keep your head on your shoulders, it's the biggest thing. You got to try to contribute where you can and fit in right away. You're playing with a different team, different system, different coaches, different players. The faster you can adjust, the better you'll do."

      M: "How do you feel about this event Anders Lee is doing right now?"
      HS: "It's obviously really special. I don't know if you got the speech at the beginning, but that young man [Fenov Pierre-Louis] who spoke was absolutely extraordinary. He talks about his battle with cancer, and I think that's really good for the players to grab some prospective. Obviously as professional athletes, this is our job, so we're very focused on the hockey and we take it all to heart. But when you can you can see something like this, you can see boys who have fought through and struggled [with] cancer, and you can see that the way they battle adversity, it's pretty easy to grab some inspiration, some courage from them and keep on moving forward."

       M: "Ever since you've been called up from the AHL, people have been giving you grief for wearing #66. Does that bother you at all?"
       HS: "No it doesn't bother me. I think events like kind of show how important the number 66 is. You get to take a look at a boy who's been battling cancer, and you think he cares about the number 66? Not really. I think that at the end of the day there's a lot of bigger things going on in the world. I think it's important to focus on those things, rather than the number. I understand that Mario Lemieux was an extraordinary player, and for me it's just a way to pay tribute. But at the end of the day, I know that it was a big deal when I first came up, but I'm 10 games in to my NHL career, and in the nicest way people kind of need to get over that, and they need to focus on the bigger picture. It's about kids who struggle, kids who don't have food at night, kids who are going through cancer situations. People don't need to focus on my number, they need to focus on the bigger things in the world."

Minnesota Twins 2017 season preview


    With a record of 59-103, the Minnesota Twins were last in the AL Central, 35.5 GB of the first place Cleveland Indians. The Twins were also last in the MLB, being the only team to lose 100+ games in 2016. You can tell GM Thad Levine had a lot of work to do in the offseason. Let's look at what Levine did.

     Key additions: Cs Jason Castro, Chris Gimenez, RPs Matt Belisle, Craig Breslow, SS Ehire Adrianza, OFs Drew Stubbs, J.B. Shuck, 1B Ben Paulsen, SPs Ryan Vogelsong, Nick Tepesch.
     Key subtractions: 3B Trevor Plouffe, Cs Kurt Suzuki, Juan Centeno, OF Logan Schafer, RPs Tommy Milone, Pat Light.

     Biggest move: When it comes to catchers, the Twins are normally at the bottom of the list in terms of skill. They improved their catching by signing C Jason Castro to a 3 year, $24.5 million deal. Castro is an ok catcher, but at least he's better than last year's catcher, Kurt Suzuki. He has double digit homers in each of his last 4 seasons, but his career average (.232) is pretty awful.
      X-factor: The 23 year old Miguel Sano is a top 2 hitter for the Twins. He's been playing RF a lot in his short MLB career, and hit 25 HRs last season in 437 ABs. With Trevor Plouffe out of town, Sano can move to his natural position of 3B. Maybe that can make him more comfortable, because he's an important part of this team.
      Biggest bounce back: An injury kept former elite closer Glen Perkins out for almost the entire 2016 season. He had an ERA of 9.00 in his 2 innings. But it looks like Perkins is out of his closing job. If he performs really well in a set-up role, Perkins can regain that job.
      Biggest breakout: 22 year old prospect Jose Berrios was expected to have a breakout 2016 season, well, despite a 2.51 ERA in 111.1 IP for Rochester (AAA), Berrios had a horrid 8.02 ERA in 58.1 IP for the Twins. If Berrios can get things together in the MLB, he can develop into their ace soon.
      Guaranteed star: In 2016, 2B Brian Dozier set career highs in HRs (42), RBIs (99) and average (.268). He's also a steal threat, with 18 of them in 2016. Expect similar numbers in 2017.
      The Twins' lineup should look like this.

1. CF: Byron Buxton
2. 1B: Joe Mauer
3. 2B: Brian Dozier
4. 3B: Miguel Sano
5. DH: Kennys Vargas
6. LF: Eddie Rosario
7. SS: Eduardo Escobar
8. RF: Max Kepler
9. C: Jason Castro
       Their rotation will probably be this.

1. Kyle Gibson
2. Phil Hughes
3. Tyler Duffey
4. Jose Berrios
5. Ervin Santana

       SS Jorge Polanco, C John Ryan Murphy and LF Danny Santana will be on the bench.
       Brandon Kintlzer will be their closer, with Glen Perkins and Ryan Pressly setting him up.

       Finally, for my prediction, I think the Minnesota Twins will be horrible in 2017, but contenders in a few years.

Anders Lee Kancer Jam and interviewing Anders Lee


    On March 18, 2017, I had the pleasure of attending New York Islanders winger Anders Lee's first Jam Kancer In the Kan event. JamKancerIntheKan.com is a site where people put up a fundraising page, then people donate money for pediatric cancer research. Then, those people compete in a Kan Jam tournament (Kan Jam is a Frisbee game where people aim to throw the Frisbee at a garbage can looking can). Thirty-two teams of players and fans competed in an elimination tournament, with Islanders fans Keith Lavitt and his cousin Josh Rosenberg defeating captain John Tavares and defenseman Scott Mayfield in the finals. In all, the event raised over $90,000, and Lee said it turned out better than expectations. "With how much money we raised and the turnout, you can't ask for anything more for sure," Lee said via NHL.com
     Lee wasn't the only Islander player enjoying the event. Every single Islander was at the event. When I asked Tavares about the event, he said: "As a teammate, you want to support Anders and obviously it's for a great cause, to fight cancer. We all love being here and we love supporting him and the cause he's fighting for. It's great to be here and we're having a lot of fun. It's always great to be around your teammates and our great fans."
    Tavares and Lee were joined by their line mate Josh Bailey, who had this to say, "it was something we were all happy to join Anders with and to help towards a good cause. Any time you can give back to the local community, especially kids who are going through a tough time, it's always a great thing,"
    Sixteen year-old Fenov Pierre-Louis, who has been battling Stage 4 Neuroblastoma since he was 9, gave a passionate speech before the event started. Even rookie Joshua Ho-Sang said it was a great speech. "That young man who spoke was absolutely extraordinary, he talked about his battle with cancer, and it's really good for the players to grab some prospective. When you can see boys who have fought through and struggled with cancer, you can see the way they battled adversity. It's easy to grab some inspiration and courage from them and keep on moving forward.
    The man who organized this event, Anders Lee, is having a career season for the Islanders. He has career highs in goals (26) and points (42). He has more goals than many players this season, including the league leader in points, Connor McDavid. The St. Paul, Minnesota native was drafted 152 overall (6th round) in the 2009 NHL draft. He was a multi-sport athlete, winning the 2008 Gatorade Minnesota football player of the year award, before attending Notre Dame to play hockey. Now that he's found success in the NHL, he's now giving back to the community. "One of our proudest moments is knowing that he's learning to give back," Lee's father, Tom Lee said. Lee was able to get all 24 of his teammates to attend, showing how important he is to his teammates. "It was a fun event. It just shows how great Anders is as a person," rookie Anthony Beauvillier said.
     During the event, I had the pleasure to interview Lee, both about this event, and the team's play. Here's what I asked him.

     Me: "How does it feel to organize this event?"
     Lee: "It really cool. I'm really happy that we were able to get this many people to join in and fundraise. It's a special day, and [I'm] really looking forward to the future."
    
     M: "Because you score most of your goals from deflections in front of the net, is that why you chose Kan Jam, a game where you deflect the Frisbee into a can, for your fundraising event?
     L: That's a wonderful connection you made, but I didn't look at it that way. But it fits into the way I play hockey."
 
    M: "How do you think the team has changed from December to now, going from last place to a playoff battle"?
     L: "We've climbed out of a hole that we dug early in the season. We've really come around and been a really good team of late, so it's nice to be back in the hunt."

     M: "How do you think Joshua Ho-Sang has impacted the team in his 10 games?"
     L: " You can tell by the way he handles the puck, how skilled he is and the vision that he has on the ice. He's been a great addition to our team."

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sitting down with Islanders play-by-play announcer Brendan Burke

 
If you're a fan of the New York Islanders, you might have noticed their TV voice has changed this season. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of interviewing Islanders play-by-play announcer Brendan Burke at Islanders winger Anders Lee's Jam Kancer in the Kan event. Burke, 32, spent ten years in the minor leagues before being named as the Islanders broadcaster before the 2016-17 season. He was the voice of the ECHL's Wheeling Nailers, before calling games for the AHL's Peoria Rivermen (the affiliate of the St. Louis Blues, but now are called the Chicago Wolves) for 5 seasons, then the Utica Comets of the AHL (the Vancouver Canucks affiliate) for the other 3. He won the AHL's "most outstanding media member" in the 2014-15 season. He has also called college football and basketball for FOX sports.

Here are some of the questions I asked him.

    Me: How did you get into broadcasting?
    Burke: "My Dad was a sportswriter, so I grew up around the sports media world and [I] decided at a young age that I thought being a broadcaster would be a cool job. So, I've worked really hard at it, and here I am."

     M: "Did you find it tough taking over for Howie Rose, who had been the Isles broadcaster for decades?"
     B: "Yeah. He was there for 20 years, which is tough to replace somebody like that, and I'm not trying to replace him, I'm just trying to make fans happy even though he's not here. I got a phone call from him before I went on the air for the first time and he gave me some good advice and said 'don't act like you're filling in for anybody, this is your job'. And so I've taken that to heart and I've had a lot of fun here taking over for Howie and he's been a great resource for me and has been very encouraging throughout the season."

      M: "How do you think since the firing of Jack Capuano the team has changed."
      B: "I think that certainly when the coach gets fired there's always a mood change and I think the guys have responded. It looked like it gave them a little bit of energy and then just a little tweaks both in the defensive zone and with the player personnel. I think a lot of what [interim head coach] Doug Weight's success has been is that he's really good in relationships and with talking to his players and one on one, and the guys have responded to that. So I think there's been some tweaks, X's and O's but I think a lot of their success has come from Doug Weight, specifically his relationships with the players and the response they have had from that."

       M: In the last 10 games, Joshua Ho-Sang has made a big difference to the team. What notes do you have on him?
       B: I think that the crowd gets a little excited every time he touches the puck. I think he gets excited when he touches the puck. He's 10 games into his NHL career, and you can see he lights up when he gets the puck and he's been electric with it. So I think when you're first starting in the NHL, you just want to fit in, you don't want to stand out in necessarily a bad way, so you're just looking to fit in and I think he's done that extremely well. He's showed he can play in this league and I think he's only going to get better from here on out."

       M: "How do you feel about Anders Lee and this big event that he's having?"
       B: "This is great. I think that any time there's events like this, for the community, and of course raising money for childhood cancer is incredible.  But I think there's a difference when this is not the New York Islanders saying 'you need to be here', this is Anders Lee wanting to do something and his teammates wanting to help with it, and I think that's a big part of it. It's great to see the big turnout and it's great to see the amount of money raised. It's also great to see the first of what hopefully is an annual event that Anders and everybody gets to enjoy for a long time."

       Big thank you to Brendan for taking the time to do this interview. Follow him on Twitter @brendanmburke.        

Milwaukee Brewers 2017 season preview


     
With a record of 73-89, the Milwaukee Brewers finished 4th in the NL Central, 30.5 GB (the Chicago Cubs were really good) of the first place Cubs. At the 2016 trade deadline, the Brewers dealt star catcher Jonathan Lucroy to Texas, leaving LF Ryan Braun as the only big star on the team. As rebuilders, GM David Stearns aimed to make some moves in the offseason. Let's look at what Stearns did.

         Key additions: 1B Eric Thames, C Jett Bandy, 3B Travis Shaw, RPs Neftali Feliz, Tommy Milone, Joba Chamberlain, 1B Jesus Aguilar, 2B Eric Sogard, SS Ivan Dejesus.
         Key subtractions: 1B Chris Carter, RPs Tyler Thornburg, Blaine Boyer, C Martin Maldonado, 2B Jake Elmore.

         Biggest move: In his major league career, he has 21 HRs in 633 ABs, not so great. He went to Korea, and hit 125 HRs in 1382 ABs. Eric Thames is trying to make his way back to the majors successfully, and signing a 3 year, $15 million deal is a nice prove-it deal for him.
         X-factor: Jimmy Nelson will most likely be their ace in 2017, although his lowest ERA in a season is 4.11, not as good as other aces. If Nelson can have an ERA under 4.00 in 2017, he can really help out the team.
         Biggest bounce back: Many expected Taylor Jungmann to breakout in 2016. Well, he only pitched 26.2 MLB innings, and had an ERA of 7.76 in that time. He was even worse in AAA, with an ERA of 9.87 in 31 IP. He was way better in AA, with an ERA of 2.51 in 75.1 IP. He'll compete for a MLB rotation spot with Chase Anderson and Matt Garza, a d 2017 will be a big season for Jungmann to save his career.
         Biggest breakout: In 2016, C Jett Bandy was ok for the Los Angeles Angels, with an average of .234 and 8 HRs in 209 ABs. An offseason trade to the Milwaukee Brewers gives him a starting job for the entire season. Bandy can hit double digit HRs in 400+ ABs in 2017.
         Guaranteed star: After a couple bad seasons, Ryan Braun finally hit 30 HRs. He once hit 41 HRs, and on this weak Brewers team, Braun is definitely their top player.
         The Brewers lineup should look like this.

1. SS: Jonathan Villar
2. 2B: Hernan Perez
3. LF: Ryan Braun
4. 1B: Eric Thames
5. 3B: Travis Shaw
6. RF: Domingo Santana
7. CF: Keon Broxton
8. C: Jett Bandy
9. Pitcher
            Their rotation will probably be this.

1. Jimmy Nelson
2. Wily Peralta
3. Zach Davies
4. Junior Guerra
5. Taylor Jungmann

             2B Scooter Gennett, CF Kirk Nieuwenhuis and C Andrew Susac will be on the bench.
             Corey Knebel will be their closer, with Neftali Feliz and Michael Blazek setting him up.

             Finally, for my prediction, I think the Milwaukee Brewers will once again be at the bottom of the MLB in 2017.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Miami Marlins 2017 season preview


     
With a record of 79-82, the Miami Marlins finished 3rd in the NL East, 15.5 GB of the first place Washington Nationals. Midseason, they encountered a tragedy, when ace pitcher Jose Fernandez passed away in a boating accident. After that occurred on September 25, the Marlins spent the rest of the season grieving his death. 2017 is the year the Marlins get passed it, and start to focus mainly on winning. To replace Fernandez on the roster, GM Michael Hill needed to acquire players, mostly pitchers (it would be near impossible to replace Fernandez's talents, so Hill needed mostly to stock on many extra pitchers, so Manager Don Mattingly will have many starting options). Let's look at what Hill did.

       Key additions: SPs Edinson Volquez, Dan Straily, Jeff Locke, RPs Brad Ziegler, Junichi Tazawa, C A.J. Ellis, 1B Tyler Moore, OFs Brandon Barnes, Matt den Decker.
       Key subtractions: RP Matt Dunn, SP Andrew Cashner, 3B Chris Johnson, C Jeff Mathis.

       Biggest move: The guy who helped the Kansas City Royals win the 2015 WS with his 3.55 ERA in 200.1 IP, Edinson Volquez struggled in 2016 with a 5.37 ERA in 189.1 IP. The Marlins took a chance on him, signing him to a 2 year, $22 million deal. He can be at the top of their rotation in 2017.
        X-factor: If the Marlins want to have a successful 2017 season, they need 2B Dee Gordon. He only had 325 ABs last year after being suspended 80 games for PED use. He did have 30 SBs in that short 2016 that he had. He has 218 career SBs and an average of .289 in 553 games. He's a big part of this Marlins team, and he can't be doing stupid things like PEDs.
         Biggest bounce back: In 2014 and 2015 (his last years as a Baltimore Oriole), Wei-Yin Chen had an ERA under 3.55 in 185 or more IP. After signing a 5 year, $80 million deal with the fish, Chen had a bad year, with an ERA of 4.96 in 123.1 IP. He'll need to step up and pitch like the number one or two guy he was in Baltimore.
         Biggest breakout: You could say he's already broken out, but I disagree. 26 year old Kyle Barraclough has had a great start to his MLB career, with a 2.78 ERA in 97 IP over 2 seasons. A great 2017 setting up A.J. Ramos can turn Barraclough into a top set up guy.
         Guaranteed star: Injuries have always been a problem for RF Giancarlo Stanton, but when he's healthy, he's amazing. Take his 2014 season, for instance. Stanton hit .288, 37 HRs and 105 RBIs in 539 ABs. But the only other year in his career where he had at least 500 ABs was 2011, when they were called the Florida Marlins.
         The Marlins' lineup should look like this.

1. 2B: Dee Gordon
2. CF: Christian Yelich
3. RF: Giancarlo Stanton
4. 1B: Justin Bour
5. LF: Marcell Ozuna
6. C: J.T. Realmuto
7. 3B: Martin Prado
8. SS: Adeiny Hechavarria
9. Pitcher
             Their rotation will probably be this.

1. Wei-Yin Chen
2. Edinson Volquez
3. Adam Conley
4. Dan Straily
5. Tom Koehler

              RF Ichiro Suzuki, C A.J. Ellis and 2B Derek Dietrich will be on the bench.
              A.J. Ramos will be their closer, with Kyle Barraclough and Brad Ziegler setting him up.

              Finally, for my prediction, I think the Marlins will improve in 2017, but miss the postseason.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Los Angeles Dodgers 2017 season preview


       
With a record of 91-71, the Los Angeles Dodgers finished 1st in the NL West, 4 games ahead of the second place San Francisco Giants. They beat the Washington Nationals in the NLDS, but lost to the WS winning Chicago Cubs in the NLCS. They also received an amazing rookie season from SS Corey Seager, 22, who hit 26 HRs and 72 RBIs in 627 ABs (he hit .308) in 2016. They had some big free agents in Kenley Jansen, Justin Turner and Rich Hill, and managed to re-sign all for them. GM Farhan Zaidi and President of Baseball Operations Andrew Freidman did some other things in the offseason. Let's look at what they did.

         Key additions: 2B Logan Forsythe, RP Sergio Romo, OFs Franklin Gutierrez, Brett Eibner, 1B Ike Davis, SP Brandon Morrow.
         Key subtractions: OF Josh Reddick, 2B Howie Kendrick, SPs Jose De Leon, Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson, RPs Jesse Chavez, J.P. Howell, Louis Coleman, Casey Fien.

         Biggest move: The Dodgers made a big trade, acquiring a solid 2B in Logan Forsythe from the Tampa Bay Rays for a big pitching prospect in Jose De Leon. Forsythe set a career high in HRs (20) last season. He's hit .281 as a career high, and 68 RBIs as another one. He's a good, not great hitter, but a good fielder as well.
          X-factor: After re-signing to a 3 year, $48 million deal, SP Rich Hill is looking to prove he's worth that money. He might be 37, but he's rejuvenated his career. He had an ERA of 2.12 in 110.1 IP between 2 teams in 2016. He's a key part of that rotation, especially if a starter goes down.
          Biggest bounce back: after signing a 3 year, $48 million deal (same as Hill) last offseason, SP Scott Kazmir was a little disappointing in 2016. He had an ERA of 4.56 in 136.1 IP, after having an ERA of 3.10 in 183 innings with two teams the year before. Expect Kazmir to bounce back in 2017.
          Biggest breakout: Now 20 years old, SP Julio Urias had an ERA of 3.39 in 77 IP in 2016, his first taste of the MLB. He should play the entire year in a rotation spot in 2017. Expect him to really breakout.
           Guaranteed star: He's the best pitcher in baseball. He had an ERA of 1.69 in 149 IP. In 1760 career IP, he has an ERA of 2.37, and 1918 Ks. He had 301 Ks in 2015. Yep, you guessed it. I'm talking about 3 time Cy Young winner, 1 time MVP winner and 6 time all-star Clayton Kershaw.
            The Dodgers lineup should look like this.

1. LF: Andrew Toles
2. 2B: Logan Forsythe
3. SS: Corey Seager
4. 1B: Adrian Gonzalez
5. 3B: Justin Turner
6. RF: Yasiel Puig
7. C: Yasmani Grandal
8. CF: Joc Peterson
9. Pitcher
              Their rotation will probably be this.

1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Kenta Maeda
3. Rich Hill
4. Scott Kazmir
5. Julio Urias

               OFs Franklin Gutierrez and Andre Either, 2B Chase Utley and C Austin Barnes will be on the bench.
               Kenley Jansen will be their closer, with Sergio Romo and Chris Hatcher setting him up.

               Finally, for my prediction, I think the Dodgers will once again win the NL West, and be in contention with the Cubs again for the NL Pennant.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Los Angeles Angels 2017 season preview


    
   With a record of 74-88, the Los Angeles Angels finished 4th in the AL West, 21 GB of the first place Texas Rangers. CF Mike Trout won the MVP again. But the rest of the squad dropped off. GM Billy Eppler looked to have a big offseason. Let's look at what Eppler did.

         Key additions: OFs Cameron Maybin, Ben Revere, 2Bs Danny Espinosa, Dustin Ackley, 3B Luis Valbuena, C Martin Maldonado, SPs Bud Norris, Vicente Campos, Manny Banuelos, John Lamb, RPs Jesse Chavez, Kirby Yates, Blake Parker, Yusmeiro Petit.
         Key subtractions: 2B Johnny Giavotella, SP Jered Weaver, RPs Jhoulys Chacin, Cory Rasmus, Brett Oberholtzer, C Jett Bandy, 2B Gregorio Petit, OF Rafael Ortega, C Geovany Soto, 1B Ji-Man Choi.

         Biggest move: Despite making many moves, the Angels didn't do anything major. Their biggest move was also one of their firsts, acquiring OF Cameron Maybin from the Detroit Tigers for minor league pitcher Victor Alcantara. Maybin looks to be the Angels' starting LF, but it still doesn't make this trade anywhere near a blockbuster.
         X-factor: SP Garrett Richards had an ERA of 2.34 in 2016, but only pitched 34.2 innings. The Angels rotation looks a little weak, compared to other rotations. Richards will be their ace in 2017, but they'll need him to recover well from the injury.
         Biggest bounce back: Ricky Nolasco had a 5.13 ERA in 124.2 IP for the Minnesota Twins in 2016. A midseason trade to the Angels changed things. Nolasco had an ERA of 3.21 in 73 IP, finishing with a 4.42 ERA in 197.2 IP. But in both 2015 and 2014 he had ERAs over 5 and 6. A solid 2017 can show that he's really turned around.
         Biggest breakout: When you back up Jonathan Lucroy, it's hard to get playing time. That's what happened to C Martin Maldonado in Milwaukee. Lucroy was traded to Texas, but Maldonado didn't really shine. They traded him to the Angels for C Jett Bandy. 30 is a little old to breakout, but Maldonado can do it with a starting job.
         Guaranteed star: He's the face of the MLB. In his AL MVP winning 2016 season, he stole 30 bases, along with 29 HRs and exactly 100 RBIs. He also hit .315. Yep, you guessed it. I'm talking about CF Mike Trout. Here's some career numbers: 168 HRs, 497 RBIs, 143 SBs, and a .306 average. Did I mention he's only 25 years old?
         The Angels' starting lineup should look like this.

1. RF: Kole Calhoun
2. CF: Mike Trout
3. DH: Albert Pujols
4. 1B: C.J. Cron
5. 3B: Yunel Escobar
6. SS: Andrelton Simmons
7. LF: Cameron Maybin
8. 2B: Danny Espinosa
9. C: Martin Maldonado
            Their rotation will probably be this.

1. Garrett Richards
2. Matt Shoemaker
3. Andrew Heaney
4. Tyler Skaggs
5. Ricky Nolasco

             C Carlos Perez, 3B Luis Valbuena and CF Ben Revere will be on the bench.
             Huston Street will be their closer, with Mike Morin and Jesse Chavez setting him up.
     
             Finally, for my prediction, I think the Angels will once again be a bottom team, and sell some players at the trade deadline (no, not Trout).

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Kansas City Royals 2017 season preview


       With a record of 81-81, the Kansas City Royals finished 3rd in the AL Central, 13.5 GB of the first place Cleveland Indians. Since their 2015 World Series win, the Royals have really dropped off. They have some players entering their walk years, including 1B Eric Hosmer. The Royals suffered a huge loss in the offseason, when SP Yordano "Ace" Ventura passed away in a car crash. To rebound from that death, GM Dayton Moore made some moves. Let's look at what Moore did.

        Key additions: OFs Jorge Soler, Brandon Moss, Peter O'Brien, SPs Jason Hammel, Travis Wood, Nathan Karns, RPs Al Alburquerque, Seth Manness, Bobby Parnell, Brandon League, Chris Withrow, 3B Gavin Cecchini.
         Key subtractions: SP Yordano Ventura (death), RP Wade Davis, SPs Edinson Volquez, Dillon Gee, DH Kendrys Morales, OF Jarrod Dyson.
            

         Biggest move: The Royals signed two SPs in Travis Wood and Jason Hammel to replace Ventura. But the real biggest move was sending closer Wade Davis to the Cubs for outfielder Jorge Soler. Soler didn't get a real starting job in Chicago, something he'll get in Kansas City. Expect a breakout season for the OF.
         X-factor: Without Ventura, the Royals will need SP Danny Duffy to step up and be their ace. He set a career high in Ks (188) in 2016. He can reach 200 IP for the first time in his career, and have an ERA under 4 in 2017.
          Biggest bounce back: After breaking out in 2014, SS Alcides Escobar has had weaker years in 2015 and 2016. In 2014, he racked up 31 SBs. He had 17 in both 2015 and 2016. The only real positive that came out of 2016 was that he set career highs in HRs (7) and RBIs (55). Escobar should get back on track in 2017.
           Biggest breakout: Like I mentioned in the biggest move, Jorge Soler should breakout in 2017. His career highs in Abs (366), HRs (12) and RBIs (47) aren't impressive. With a full time job in 2017, Soler can hit at least 15 HRs and 50 RBIs for the first time.
           Guaranteed star: The Royals don't have that MVP or Cy Young winner like their rivals the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians do, but CF Lorenzo Cain is a solid player. His best season was 2015, where he recorded an average of .307, 16 HRs and 72 RBIs, not to mention 28 SBs. He slightly dropped off in 2016, but he's still good. he's also a top 5 fielder in the game.
            The Royals lineup should look like this.

1. SS: Alcides Escobar
2. CF: Lorenzo Cain
3. 1B: Eric Hosmer
4. 3B: Mike Moustakas
5. C: Salvador Perez
6. LF: Alex Gordon
7. DH: Jorge Soler
8. RF: Brandon Moss
9. 2B: Whit Merrifield
                Their rotation will probably be this.

1. Danny Duffy
2. Ian Kennedy
3. Jason Hammel
4. Jason Vargas
5. Travis Wood

                  OF Paulo Orlando, 3B Cheslor Cuthbert, C Drew Butera and 2B Christian Colon will be on the bench.
                  Kelvin Herrera will be their closer, with Joakim Soria and Matt Strahm setting him up.

                  Finally, for my prediction, I think the Kansas City Royals will once again finish 3rd in the AL Central with a record around .500.