Friday, October 31, 2008

Mike Jacobs to Kansas City

I noticed earlier today that the Kansas City Royals acquired slugging first-baseman Mike Jacobs of the Florida Marlins for lefty specialist Leo Nunez. I know that Nunez was a very effective reliever this past season, posting a sub-3.00 ERA, but Jacobs has proven himself to be a very effective power hitter, he is a bat that is begging for a good lefty-hitting park. Unfortunately, he won't get that in Kansas City, but I am still very high on a guy like Jacobs and see this move as being a steal for Kansas City. This past year, in 477 at-bats (primarily against right-handed pitching), Jacobs hit 32 homers for the Marlins, also in a very spacious park.

This is the perfect move for the Royals who sorely need power in a lineup that hit 120 home-runs in the entire season and the Marlins lose him as he enters his arbitration years, which is a big help to them as they try to bring that payroll down to less than half of ARod's salary in 2009. Leo Nunez will be an effective reliever with the Marlins, but the Royals had a very solid bullpen in 2008 and addressed two huge issues with their team: filling the hole at first-base and adding power. I wish to give a lot of credit to Dayton Moore, who has been incredibly aggressive throughout his time with Kansas City.

Keep an eye on Kansas City in 2009, they really are looking like a team that is going to be vastly improved.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Congratulations to the Phillies

I have got to hand it to the Phillies. They certainly came to play right out of the gate and won this series, to bring serious sport euphoria to the city of Philadelphia. I do however feel that the story of the Series was more that the Rays lost the series rather than the Phillies winning it. Through poor defensive play, lack of clutch hitting and lack of aggression on the base paths, the Rays did not play their game. Despite pitching performances that kept them in the games, the Rays just could not break through against Philadelphia pitching, which is a credit to the excellent preparation and scouting work that their franchise had done to prepare for the series. I really feel that the lesser team won this series and really, with four of five games being decided by two or fewer runs (Three one-run games), the Rays mistakes that led to a run or not scoring did come back to cost them the series. The best example in my view was the defense of Akinori Iwamura. This is a player that is a serious contender for winning a gold glove and throughout the series, he committed 4-5 errors or misplays by himself. Take some of those back and we could be in Tampa right now.

The Phillies certainly did play as well as they are capable. Cole Hamels looked great in both games and the other starters did what they needed to to keep their games close, two eventually being won by the Phillies. Their offense did what it usually does -- hitting lots of long fly balls. I will give credit to the Phillies, they played their strengths perfectly in this series and Charlie Manuel's use of their bullpen was excellent.

Overall though, this was a memorable series for Major League Baseball, with one of the lowest ratings in the history of the World Series. The play was sloppy and there was a 46-hour rain delay. The Rays made it to the Series after a season in which they had the worst record in baseball. The Phillies won the Series despite being forecasted to not even make the playoffs on September 1st. It was a fantastic season for Major League Baseball for story lines and pennant chases and the World Series was the perfect culminating event for some of the best stories of the year. Congratulations to the Philadelphia Phillies on their first World Championship since 1980.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Running a 5K

Dear Family and Friends,

As promised, I am deviating from baseball for just one article to include the results from my 5K. I have to admit that this was one of the harder things that I have physically done in a long time, certainly since my knee surgery. For those who do not know the landscape of the city of Ithaca, it is at the tip of Appalachia, which means hills and lots of them. In the picture above, I was off to a burning quick start, in third place of over 200 runners after the first quarter-mile. It was a great feeling. I was thinking in my head that all of the treadmill work I had done in the past two months really had worked. Then, of course, reality set in as I reached the base of a 30 degree hill that quickly felt like from the top, I would be able to see several states away. The effect of this hill was the same as attaching a fifty pound anvil to my waist for the rest of my run. Despite miserable cramps, tired and sore legs and the cold rain falling on me, I managed to finish the first half of the race in 11:50, which put me on pace to finish well ahead of my goal of 24 minutes. Though, lap two presented the same challenge as lap one, that damn hill! As I climbed again, it completely took the air from my sails. I was through and pulled into the grass and walked while trying to stretch the cramps that had engulfed my entire torso into quiet submission.

It was at this point of weakness that I became thoroughly convinced that Uncle Bill was with me on this morning because it was at this time I started to think about the reasons why I decided to torture my body on the hills of Ithaca, New York. I thought that my Uncle Bill was not a quitter and walking my way towards the finish line would just not suffice. He stood for hard-work and constant effort in my eyes and there was absolutely no way that I could allow myself to stay limp in the grass. With the memorable guitar solo from "Free Bird" resounding in my ears through the headphones to my iPod, my legs began to move faster, catching up with Skynard's fingers. I reached the downhill portion of the course and had noticed that I was starting to pass people, rather than the reverse effect. With Uncle Bill pushing, I reached full stride again as the stopwatch hung around my neck ticked to 23:00. The cramps did not dissipate, but somehow they didn't matter. The only thing that did was to accomplish my goal, to beat the 24:00 mark. With the finish line in sight and a supportive crowd cheering me on (probably because I looked as though I was about to pass out), I turned off my music and enjoyed my moment with Uncle Bill. We crossed the finish line 72nd overall at 23:55 and with love and pride in our hearts.

Not long after the race was over, I got back to my car to notice that I received a message from a special friend, who had managed to skip out on a very important meeting just to root me on at the start and take a few photos. She wished me luck and told me how proud my uncle would have been of me. With tears in my eyes, I looked down at my number and it dawned on me -- I was wearing number 75 on my chest, the same as the age of my Uncle Bill.

There is no doubt in my mind that something special happened to me that morning and I have learned from this experience. No goal is large enough when you live like my Uncle Bill did. Through constant perseverance, loving what I do and the people around me, and never letting in anything is possible. All I have done throughout my time without Uncle Bill is try to take from these qualities and become a bit more like him. That day, I realized that thanks to Uncle Bill, I have the strength, ambition and love in my heart to do anything I want in life because I admired those things about him and have made them my own throughout the years of knowing him.

Doing this race was an eye opening experience to receive the amount of support and love from people in my family or close friends. Whether the support was meant to be for me or for Bill, it was appropriately sent because we both were together once more on a rainy morning in Ithaca, New York. Thank you very much to all of those who contributed to my effort to raise funds for cancer awareness and honor my Uncle Bill.

Love,

Dan

Monday, October 20, 2008

World Series Preview

Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays

Alright Las Vegas, you're going to have to pay up big to anyone who picked this match up on opening day. While I have been a constant voice of Rays support, not even I thought that they would go this far with a mediocre offense, a starting rotation all under the age of 26 and a bullpen comprised of scrap-heap pickups. The Phillies have been up and down all season and have gone as their hitters have, yet they are now hot and have led their team to a convincing World Series berth.

I look at the Phillies and I see a lot of offensive talent, that when hot, can dominate teams. Against mediocre pitching in Los Angeles and Milwaukee, that is exactly what happened. The Phillies offense has been firing on all cylinders and really has impressed the baseball world with their maximum capacity. They also have a dynamic starter in Cole Hamels and a better closer in Brad Lidge, yet to blow a save in nearly 50 opportunities (including the playoffs). One thing that I fear for the Phillies is that they clinched their series well earlier in the week and the Rays are still on a high after beating the team of the decade to this point.

The Rays have immense depth in starting pitching, relief and in speed on the base paths. This team is going to win if it can field the ball and run as it has all season. The three games that the Rays won behind their offense are a fluke to me however. With no regular player hitting over .280 in the season, having Upton, Crawford, Pena and Longoria around or above .300 in the playoffs shows me that these players got hot at the right time, but based on the body of work for their season, it will likely not last another seven games. Their pitching is an extreme strength. They had six starting pitchers on their ALCS starting rotation, all of which are under the age of 26 as mentioned previously. Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, James Shields and Andy Sonnanstine all have different approaches to the game and will give the seasoned Philadelphia hitters four different looks. Another thing about the Rays starters is that with the exception of Kazmir, they are durable enough to go deep into games. Their bullpen also will be a strength as shown in throughout the ALCS. Their strength was especially amplified when in the 8th inning of Game 7, Joe Maddon used four different relievers consecutively to retire the Red Sox. Maddon has guys from both sides that can throw gas in Price and Balfour, soft-tossing out getter's in Bradford and Howell, and a seasoned veteran in Wheeler. With those five pitchers the Rays have a lot of ways to mix and match to get 6 outs at the end of a game which may be presented to them with the durability of their starters.

All that said, I have to give the edge to the Rays in this series. They just beat a team in Boston, with far better pitching than the Phillies and a similar offensive approach. I expect Maddon to keep running and putting pressure on Philadelphia throughout the series. The Rays will ultimately win this series behind their speed, great defense and strong relief adaptability. It should be very obvious by this point that they are not scared of the magnitude of the situation and it is expected of them to continue their success. The Phillies will have to shake off any rust that 6 days of rest may have given them at Tropicana Field, where the Rays have looked great all season. The Phillies could very easily find themselves in an 0-2 hole, even with their true ace (Hamels vs. Kazmir) on the mound in Game 1. I expect this series to provide baseball with the fairytale ending to the best story written in Baseball in the last half century.

Prediction: Rays in 6

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Joe Maddon's Game 2 Decision Making

While staying up until 1:30 A.M. on the east coast, Rays fans were well rewarded for watching the game well past their bedtimes of 8:00 and witnessed what great postseason moments are made of.

In an epic 5 and a half hour game, the Rays and Red Sox matched great bullpen performances after their starters let them down. After the offenses cooled, Joe Maddon's bullpen pitched great, led by Dan Wheeler. Wheeler, the Rays closer, threw 3.1 innings and 48 pitches in his effort and kept the Red Sox lineup quiet in extra innings. I will give credit to Maddon for being so agressive with his best relief option to put him out for a fourth inning of work. Of course, there is reason to question using his closer for 48 pitches in Game 2, but it really was a must win situation. Time will tell if Wheeler remains effective with the coming games at Fenway, but I have to say that I like the move for now.

The other Maddon move that I wish to discuss was in the bottom of the 11th when he sent Fernando Perez to steal 3rd base with Jason Bartlett hitting. Bartlett grounded to third, and without the run on, Youkilis had a sure thing double play, which would have left a runner on second and two down and the inning would have been over with Upton's flyout. Instead, the Maddon led Rays were agressive and it eventually paid off, evening the series at 1-1. Looking at Jon Lester, who has yet to give up an earned run in two postseason starts, the Rays needed Game 2 and got it thanks largely to the management of Joe Maddon.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

LCS Preview


National League Championship Series:

Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies

This promises to be a very good series. Each team offers very similar style and are playing the best baseball of their season right now. They have two managers in Joe Torre and Charlie Manuel that have been in the postseason a great deal in their day, and they each have offenses that can mash the ball, with a slight advantage to Philadelphia if Pat Burrell is indeed getting his stroke back (2HR's in Game 4 of the NLDS vs. Milwaukee). The Phillies and Dodgers both have the offensive talent but the Phillies offer something that Joe Torre cannot counter with, a bonafide ace in Cole Hamels while the Dodgers counter with one of the best postseason hitters in baseball history in Manny Ramirez. In the playoffs however, good pitching beats good hitting most of the time and the Phillies absolutely have an edge with Hamels in potentially three games if necessary. In the battle of late inning relief, Brad Lidge has been amazing this season and Takashi Saito is not on the Dodgers roster because of an elbow injury which will weaken their bullpen greatly. Those two factors are going to make the difference in this series -- Hamels and a dominant closer in Philadelphia countered by average starting pitching and relief pitching. Whichever team makes it to the World Series will have their hands full with their American League opponent.

Phillies in 6

American League Championship Series

Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays

Oh how great it feels to type Tampa Bay Rays in for another playoff series. This is a team that has amazed all season and now things are getting serious. They are 8 wins away from the right way to end such an incredible story of worst to first while having such a low payroll which is doubled (Jays), tripled (Red Sox) and quintupled (Yankees) by teams in their own division. The Rays are going to have to really test their mettle with this series against defending champion, Boston. The Red Sox bring a better offense, better rotation and better closer than the Rays, yet they need to be afraid because the Rays have found a way to get to 100 wins (including post-season play) on clutch hitting and solid pitching performances, they also outmatch the Red Sox with a deeper bench and better middle relief. The bottom line to this is that the Rays and Red Sox make a great match up with the Rays taking 10 of 18 in the regular season.

It will come down to the starting pitching match ups from my point of view. The Rays will send James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine out in the first four games of the series countered by Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Tim Wakefield. I thought that the Rays had a great chance to take the first three games of the series or at least be up 2-1 on Boston with a rotation of Shields - Garza - Kazmir because the first two games would give an advantage to the Rays as Shields is far more consistent than Matsuzaka and Garza has been much better at home than the road versus an uncomfortable looking Josh Beckett. Then Kazmir, who has not looked comfortable with a 5.19 ERA in September and an ugly win versus Chicago could come out of nowhere and be the dominant pitcher that he is capable of being and take on Jon Lester head to head. I really think that with that rotation, the Rays were just about guaranteed 2 or maybe even 3 wins.

Instead, with Kazmir against Beckett in game 2 and Garza and Lester in game 3, I now think that the Rays will be down 2-1 in Boston, which can mean death for some teams. Kazmir/Beckett looks like a match up that will become a battle of the bullpens, though either or both pitchers can be scintillating. Then Jon Lester should be able to continue his playoff dominance in Game 3 as a pitcher who is better at home against one who is far worse on the road. Despite the 2-1 advantage that I predict Boston to have, I think that the Rays will take one of the next two games in Boston with Wakefield's knuckleball in cold weather and Matsuzaka's erratic nature, though I do not expect Matsuzaka to lose to the same team twice. This means that the series will be going back to Tampa where the Rays have lost just two games all season with sellout crowds. Facing Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, Boston's two best pitchers, I have to think that the Red Sox will take this series. I can guarantee one thing here though, this series is going to be phenomenal and the best moments are going to happen in Tropicana Field, I hope Bud Selig joins in on the fun. Enjoy fans...

Red Sox in 7

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Reflecting on the Angels/Red Sox

To start, these were four of the best consecutive games in a playoff series perhaps ever played. These four games were hard fought for each of the 39 innings and there was doubt as to who would win the game until the final out was made. This series can best be described as being intense.

In the end, it came down to the Angels not being able to come up with the clutch hit while the Red Sox taking advantage of the uncharacteristic sloppy defense that the Angels played, particularly in the outfield. While the Red Sox did not play great, they did play well enough to win this series. I will give this credit to the nature of their regular season play. The Red Sox (and Rays) play in arguably the most competitive division in baseball and most competitive division in the past decade with four playoff capable teams. The nature of play in the American League East prepared the Red Sox for the playoffs better than that of the West, where two of the worst teams matched up with the Angels. Since much of September is played against their division, it makes sense that the Red Sox were better prepared for this series than the Angels were.

The Red Sox are now preparing to play in their fourth ALCS in six years, firmly allowing the Red Sox to take grasp as the team of the decade to this point. As Jerry Crasnick points out on ESPN.com (http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/playoffs2008/columns/story?columnist=crasnick_jerry&id=3630312), the culture that surrounds the Red Sox franchise has changed to that of confidence and I fully expect this to continue to be a factor against the Rays, as they play in their first ever ALCS.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Cubs Swept

The Cubs will be back next year, their nucleus is just too good not to in such a weak National League. Though, I'll bet that Lou Pinella does not bench his all-star starters for the entire final week to the season. I'd say that it threw off their timing just a bit. I will give credit to the Dodgers, they put on pressure and kept it on, but the Cubs have now been swept out of the playoffs in the Division Series three times in the last six years. It may be time to get a high OBP, lead off type to take over in center field for Jim Edmonds and Reed Johnson and push Alfonso Soriano down to a lower spot in the lineup. Either way, you kind of have to feel bad for the Cubs. On the cover of Sports Illustrated and ESPN's choice for World Series champions, they fell hard and their fans have got to be feeling the pain.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Angels Woes Versus Boston

Sports analysts across the country have been screaming since Boston's 7-5 defeat of the Angels last evening about the post-season dominance that the Red Sox have over the Angels. Last nights win marked the 11th consecutive win for the Red Sox over the Angels in post-season play, a streak that spans back to the 1986 LCS. While those games seem unimportant, the Red Sox domanince of the Angels in October baseball is unusual and at least the 8 consecuitive victories (sweep in the LDS in '04, '07; and a 2-0 lead in '08) are relevant. This is unlike any other matchup that I have seen in my time as a follower of the game, while the 2008 series has provided some incredibly hard fought games, the Red Sox have still been winners.

I find it hard to believe in professional athletes allowing for a postseason losing streak that spans two decades to get into their minds, but it does seem unreal that the best team in the playoffs may go down tomorrow night to the same team. I think in this case, the Red Sox are the only team to win two World Series championships since the millenium. The experience of winning in the playoffs is in favor of the Red Sox and that may be the difference. Anchored by Josh Beckett, David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis and Jonathan Papelbon, the Red Sox do not get fazed by adversary and look for them to go in for the kill on Sunday.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Game 1: BOS @ LAA

It is the 3rd inning in Los Angeles this evening and already this game is shaping up to be a battle of two of the greatest and most successful managers in Major League Baseball today. Whatever happens, this is going to be an incredible series. Also, tonight is the first time I recognized Howie Kendrick's improved defensive prowess. Thanks to Buck Martinez, the stat of one error in 70+ games is a huge improvement in just one year (9 in 86 games last year).

ALDS Preview

Boston Red Sox vs. Los Angeles Angels
I don't know where to begin with this series because defending champion, Boston, has history of defeating the Angels in the Divisional series in 2004 and 2007 though these teams appear to be in different situations. The Angels finished the season as the best team in the American League and did it with a solid lineup from top to bottom and great starting pitching. The Red Sox have won two championships with teams built on that premises, which is why I say that the winner of this series will be World Series champion in 2008. I said Boston back in July and I am going to have to stick with that choice here. Either way, this is going to be a great set of games and probably the best match-up in the first-round of the playoffs.
Pick: Boston in 5

Chicago White Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays
Oh the satisfaction that it gives me to write Tampa Bay Rays in a divisional series preview. The 11 year wait for postseason play is over for the Rays, winners of the American League East. I don't think that the winning is over for the Rays. They won the East, where four teams were viable enough to take the NL West crown and the Yankees would have been AL Central champions, without a play-in game. The bottom line here is that the Rays were winners of the deepest division in baseball, so respect that. They excel in pitching and clutch hitting, which is the formula for playoff success. Also, they are getting healthy at the right time with Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria coming back to their lineup within the last two weeks of the season. This series may be the most one-sided because the White Sox energy has got to be running low and they have the worst overall team of the 8 playoff teams, while the Rays are rested and ready to continue their miracle story.
Pick: Rays Sweep!