After the Houston Astros dis–hey…stop laughing…it really happened–dismantled the Texas Rangers last night at Minute Maid Park, we had our first full day of baseball today.
Naturally, ESPN kicked it off with proof that they are extremely stubborn as a network, pitting C.C. Sabathia and the hobbled Yankees versus Jon Lester and the completely average Red Sox.
There were so many amazing moments in a long day of ball that it was hard to narrow down to just five. But here is our best shot at it. This is what we do at Three Up, Three Down. We write stuff on baseball-related activities for your enjoyment. So, enjoy!
5. Justin Jacks One
Welcome to Atlanta, where the playa’s play and Upton hits bombs like every day. No disrespect to Freddie Freeman, who also went mammo today, but this Justin Upton blast was put in orbit. And it’s not just a top moment because of the distance–the Braves outfield is the most freakish in baseball, and this is just the first sampling. The Braves faithful have been waiting for this moment since the original trade was made, and the little bro definitely didn’t disappoint.
4. Brewers Bailed Out
One of KP’s least favorite memories of the 2012 season was any blown save by John Axford and Co. If you see our tallest group member, give him a hug. Because Axford was at it again on Opening Day, giving up a no-doubter with two outs in the ninth to the Rockies’ Dexter Fowler, which tied the game. Fortunately for Milwaukee and the home fans, the Rockies pitching staff is deplorable and Jonathan Lucroy was able to score a walk-off sac fly and bail the bullpen out.
3. Bryce Decides Twice is Nice
If there was any debate that last year’s NL Rookie of the Year would suffer from a sophomore slump, he killed it quick. In his first two at-bats of the 2013 season, Bryce Harper absolutely crushed two Ricky Nolasco pitches and put them in the right field bleachers. I’m not buying that his second one has landed yet. In fact, it might currently be traveling over the Atlantic Ocean. Keep an eye out for it. The 20-year-old phenom is on pace for 324 jacks this year.
The late Cardinals legend and Hall of Famer Stan Musial is being honored by the team with a cool, classy patch (pictured to the right) on their left sleeves in 2013. But the Arizona Diamondbacks, who hosted the Cards on Opening Day, pulled off a fantastic move by paying homage with a video tribute to Musial between innings. Unfortunately, I don’t have video for you, but the gesture itself was a true act of sportsmanship and remembrance of one of the greatest hitters and humans the world has ever seen.
1. Kershaw Goes Krazy
Let me set the stage: The defending champions travel to their heated rival’s new stadium and face their fancy new team in a battle between two of the best pitchers in the league. A pitcher’s duel turns into a one-man show as Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw not only throws a complete game, four-hit shutout, but hits a go-ahead home run that breaks a scoreless tie in the eighth inning. Unbelievable. And in a game that began with a well-choreographed first pitch skit from Dodgers heroes Sandy Koufax and Orel Hershiser. I have to take a second to brag, as humbly as possible. I tweeted THIS about five minutes before magic occurred. Of course it was a coincidence but it makes me believe in fairy tale endings, and reinforces our love of this magical sport.
Buckle up, baseball fans. This was just day one. Only 161 more regular season games to go! Vote below on which one of these moments should have been in the top five, or comment about any moments we missed!
– Jeremy Dorn (@Jamblinman)
If you missed our most recent podcast, which officially kicks off-season number two for Three Up, Three Down, then you’re tacky and I hate you. Also, you can find the aforementioned work of art right HERE.
The majority of this episode was dominated by the five guys at 3u3d taking their hypothetical bets on whether to go over or under the Vegas betting lines for team wins this season. After the first two divisions (the AL West and NL West, respectively), had been discussed, it was noted that I had picked nine of the first 10 teams to outperform the betting line.
When all was said and done, 20 of my 30 decisions went in the positive direction. Apparently, nobody is going to lose any games this year.
But in all seriousness, there are a lot of very good teams this year. I believe 11 of the 15 National League teams could finish above .500 in 2013, and there is an argument to be made for 13 of the 15 in the junior circuit, too. Of course, that won’t happen. This won’t stop me from invoking another one of the podcast’s favorite pastimes, “DEFEND YOSELF,” and explaining why I picked certain “tweener” teams to go over the line this year.
For context, there will be only a handful of teams selected here. I think it’s a safe bet that the Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins, Miami Marlins, Chicago Cubs, and Colorado Rockies will go under. Similarly, it’s safe to say that both Los Angeles teams, the San Francisco Giants, Cincinnati Reds, Washington Nationals, Atlanta Braves, and Detroit Tigers will go over.
That leaves me with 18 teams to choose from, 13 of which I said would go “over” the total set by Vegas for wins. I’ve chosen the five most controversial picks of mine and explained further, below. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to pry that golden jock off last year’s winner, KP, and I’ve got goggles and gloves at the ready.
Feel free to rip me a new one in the comment thread, and VOTE in the poll at the bottom! For a full list of everyone’s picks, go HERE.
1. Arizona Diamondbacks (Line: 82.5 wins)
Enough with this two-horse division race crap. The more we ignore the venomous snakes lying in the grass, the more their bite will hurt. Yes, they got rid of Justin Upton this winter which significantly depleted their power. Except that they still have Jason Kubel, added Cody Ross, and can expect even more production from Paul Goldschmidt and Miguel Montero. We know the bullpen is solid, and bringing in Brandon McCarthy makes the rotation sneakily, ridiculously dangerous.
When you have three candidates fighting for the fifth spot in the rotation who are all number three’s on most staffs, complaints will be at a minimum. Adding McCarthy and Martin Prado were two of the more underrated moves of the off-season, and when all is said and done, the D’Backs will not only destroy that 82.5-win line, but they might settle closer to 90.
2. Kansas City Royals (Line: 78.5 wins)
My man-crush team tried really hard to put together a pitching staff this winter that would make my Wild Card prediction not look so foolish in 2013. I was burned last year by the Royals, but I’m sticking with my guns this season. James Shields is the ace they’ve been missing since whatever they had in Zack Greinke back in 2007, and they’ve added so many arms that last year’s number-one starter might not even make the Opening Day rotation. Frankly, I’m insulted by the below-.500 projection from Vegas, and I pledge never to give them my business again (straight up LIE).
I don’t need to tell you about the offense, but I will. Especially Billy Butler. Because I think I’m in love with the man. Anyone who can hit .300 consistently on a diet of what I presume is strictly tobacco, PBR, and steak deserves a couple MVP votes every year. And Butler’s young, talented supporting staff is chock full of breakout candidates like catcher Salvador Perez. This applies to almost every batter in the lineup. Almost. Because Jeff Francoeur still starts for KC. There’s no fixing that.
3. St. Louis Cardinals (Line: 86 wins)
Contrary to popular belief, I did not pick the Cardinals to win over the allotted 86 games because my girlfriend loves the team more than Barney Stinson loves suits. I can think for myself, guys! I realize Chris Carpenter is out for the season, and likely for his career, that Jason Motte, David Freese, and Rafael Furcal are injured, and that Grandfather Beltran could kick the bucket any day now. But I’ll take a banged-up Cardinals team to contend over many teams, and here’s why.
Not only is St. Louis likely the most well-coached and well-run organization in the National League, but the depth of their farm system is preposterous. If Beltran does go down, MLB’s number three overall prospect Oscar Taveras is there to pick up the slack. If the starting rotation struggles, Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal and Michael Wacha ride to the rescue. Matt Adams can take over if Allen Craig has to cover second base duties in the event of a true disaster. A dynamic offense, a great bullpen, and good starting pitching makes me a believer.
4. Seattle Mariners (Line: 77 wins)
I’m higher on the Mariners than most of their own fans. Right, right!? No? Marijuana-is-legal-in-the-state-of-Washington joke? Fine, whatever. That brilliant line still holds true, because I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see the M’s top .500. By a couple of games, even. For the first time in years, they have an offense capable of supporting the always-strong rotation, and I can’t understate the value that two bats like Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales bring to the heart of the order.
Let’s say, in a worst-case scenario, that some of the young talent (Kyle Seager, Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, for example) don’t pan out. Well, they can still count on the return of Franklin Gutierrez, and the impending arrivals of Nick Franklin at shortstop and Mike Zunino behind the dish. In short, Seattle is a time bomb waiting to explode all over the AL West, much like the A’s did in 2012. The farm system is overflowing with Major League-ready talent, and ace Felix Hernandez pretty much guarantees them a win every fifth day. Be optimistic, Seattle. Your time is coming.
5. Philadelphia Phillies (Line: 84.5 wins)
Really? The Phillies’ clubhouse may double as a nursing home, but those are the most wise, shuffleboard-dominant, sexually active old men at (Senior) Citizen’s Bank Park. Just in case that comparison went over your head, I’m stating that the Phillies are old and injury-prone in general, but still have a talent-laden roster. Look at who the Phillies are returning from injury in 2013, and tell me they aren’t going to improve by at least four games on their 81-win campaign a year ago.
The heart of the order is back in Chase Utley and Ryan Howard–both of whom can still crush–and Roy Halladay will rejoin Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee in the most fearsome rotation this side of Washington D.C. I know what you’re thinking: But Jeremy…Halladay is struggling SO much this spring! Yeah, well Lonnie Chisenhall is also hitting over .400 this spring. Whoop-de-doo. The Doc is back in town, and he’s helping bring Philly closer to 90 wins than that lowly 84.5.
– Jeremy Dorn (@Jamblinman)
On one hand, the San Francisco Giants are the defending world champions and can look forward to having a full season of Hunter Pence in the middle of their lineup. On the other hand, the Los Angeles Dodgers went out and spent about 500 Houston Astros to acquire the most powerful lineup in the league and add a second ace to the rotation. And don’t forget about the Arizona Diamondbacks, who this writer believes is a dark horse to win the West with a more balanced lineup and a ridiculously underrated pitching staff. Sorry Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres fans…your teams just won’t cut it this year. Let’s break down the N.L. West:
Predicted Order of Finish: Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Diego Padres, Colorado Rockies
Why the Dodgers could win the N.L. West: There’s a difference between what the Yankees used to be hated for doing every off-season and what the Dodgers did this winter. Rather than just throwing the most money at every ego maniacal overage player on the market, Los Angeles actually went out and acquired new corner infielders, a leadoff man, and a top of the rotation pitcher who they believed would mesh into an already-tight clubhouse and contribute on the field. Taking a chance on Carl Crawford might pay off huge for the Dodgers, who can use him as an invaluable trading chip at the deadline if he’s playing well (remember, Yasiel Puig should be nearly ready by then). With Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke at the top, it’s easy to overlook the fantastic spring from Hyun-Jin Ryu, too. But with a strong rotation, good bullpen and explosive lineup, a lot of things will have to go wrong for the Dodgers to not at least be in the hunt down the stretch.
Why the Dodgers wouldn’t win the N.L. West: I’m not buying into the whole “team chemistry” issue, and not just because I root for the team. The Dodgers in the preseason seem to have become a fraternity of sorts, without the cheap beer and piles of laundry. Anyway, there is something to be said for the injury history of key players on this team. The entire starting outfield has had recent issues, both middle infielders have encountered some bad luck lately, and three-fifths of the starting rotation either had problems throughout the 2012 season or during this spring. If the injury bug doesn’t hit Southern California, there is always the possibility that Greinke bombs and the Dodgers are left leaning on Kershaw as the lone stud pitcher, which could mean big time trouble.
Why the Giants could win the N.L. West: The Giants won the World Series last year, god forbid Angelo or I forget it. And they’ve been one of the models of consistency throughout the regular season over the last few years. It’s scary that this 2013 team, on paper, is their best in years. We know the pitching staff is dominant, even with Tim Lincecum struggling, and Sergio Romo anchors a very good bullpen. But the biggest reason you might see the Giants make another run at defending their division and world titles is because their offense is going to be MUCH better than people are expecting. Angel Pagan is in his prime, and we know what Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey and Pence can do in full seasons. Additionally, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford seem to be getting better with the bat every week.
Why the Giants wouldn’t win the N.L. West: At the rate the Dodgers improved their roster and the ease with which they gelled in spring, it might just be bad timing for the Giants. They could still be just as good or better than last year and miss out on the division title. But the two guys who could really end their dreams are the city’s newest hero and the city’s oldest. Lincecum looked awful again in the spring, and could cost the Giants in the long run–Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong are all either good or great pitchers, but nobody ever had the consistency that Lincecum had during his glory years. And Marco Scutaro is bound to come down to earth. As a 37-year-old middle infielder, chances are his .362 average with the Giants in 2012 drops back to around his career average of .275.
Why the Diamondbacks could win the N.L. West: As I mentioned in the intro, this is the most dangerous team in the league that nobody is talking about. When you have to send Tyler Skaggs, one of the better rookie performers of last season, to the bullpen because your rotation is already too stacked, you are pretty set for pitching. And the level of talent in the lineup can’t be understated. Miguel Montero, Paul Goldschmidt, and Martin Prado are all signed for the long run, and are complemented by a strong outfield group and a powerful second baseman in Aaron Hill. This team loves playing together and now that it cut out the cancer of Justin Upton, manager Kirk Gibson can take control and mold the team as he pleases.
Why the Diamondbacks wouldn’t win the N.L. West: Not only are the two teams that finished above Arizona last year improved, but questions do linger in the D’Backs starting rotation. As high-potential as it might be, you never know what you’re going to get from Ian Kennedy and Trevor Cahill, and Brandon McCarthy is always on the DL. Furthermore, how will the offense respond without long-time outfielders Chris Young and Upton no longer in the clubhouse or lineup? I have faith in Jason Kubel and new addition Cody Ross, but I’m not sure if either will be reliable enough over the course of an entire year.
Why the Padres could win the N.L. West: Because you never know. Who in their right mind would have thought the Orioles or A’s would have represented the American League in the playoffs last season? The Padres do have a scrappy team of mostly unknown players who proved they can play some good ball. Down the stretch in 2012, they played spoiler and looked like a legitimate dark horse playoff team. If they can carry some of that momentum over and get a full season out of closer Huston Street and slugger Carlos Quentin, San Diego will turn some heads. They have some solid young hitters like Yonder Alonso and Cameron Maybin who could completely turn around the team’s fortunes if they continue to progress, too.
Why the Padres wouldn’t win the N.L. West: They just don’t have enough. The pitching rotation is not deep and it’s very inexperienced. The bullpen has some fire, but it isn’t on par with the three teams ahead of them. And the facts that Yasmani Grandal will be suspended for 25 games and Chase Headley, far and away their best player, will be nursing an injury and start the season on the DL, make a death sentence. I truly think the Friars are close to contending (give it two more seasons), but this is a year they focus on building some of the young talent.
Why the Rockies could win the N.L. West: Let’s put it this way: Most players in the Colorado lineup know how to hit baseballs very far. Last year, they were the most prolific offense in the National League, and they didn’t even have Troy Tulowitzki around, or Michael Cuddyer for much of the year. The fact that both of those guys will be back (at least to start the year) is a terrifying proposition for opposing pitchers. In 2012, the Rockies scored 758 runs and hit .274 without their two stars. Those numbers could go up, believe it or not, in 2013.
Why the Rockies wouldn’t win the N.L. West: Is it possible the Rockies score 10 runs per game? Sure! But if they give up 11, it doesn’t matter. The pitching staff, on the other end of the spectrum, was god awful. The worst in baseball by a comfortable margin. And the Rockies really didn’t do much to improve that particular aspect of the team over the winter. There is some promising young talent in the farm system, but nowhere near the level they need to be competitive. And even some of the best potential has been wasted once their fastballs start sailing through the thin Rocky Mountain air in Denver.
Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez – Los Angeles Dodgers
Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval – San Francisco Giants
Martin Prado – Arizona Diamondbacks
Chase Headley – San Diego Padres
Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez – Colorado Rockies
Clayton Kershaw – Los Angeles Dodgers
Matt Cain – San Francisco Giants
Brandon McCarthy – Arizona Diamondbacks
Rookie of the Year
Hyun-Jin Ryu – Los Angeles Dodgers
Adam Eaton – Arizona Diamondbacks
Jedd Gyorko – San Diego Padres
So will the Dodgers steal the division away from the defending champs? Do the D’Backs sneak up and surprise everybody? Can Colorado or San Diego battle for the cellar or make spoiler runs? Comment below!
– Jeremy Dorn (@Jamblinman)
Y’all Gon Make Us Lose Our Minds! Upton here! Upton here! Well, Uptons in Atlanta, but the Three Up, Three Down crew breaks down the trade that puts the brothers together. We also talk about Chris Carpenter with special guest Kelsey Shea, where the free agents will end up, and dabble in this years 2013 Fan Cave talk. I mean, c’mon, that’s what brought us all together in the first place! Go Vote!
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In about six weeks, the World Baseball Classic will be upon us again and Team USA will look to win its first title in the competition’s history. They’ve got a good shot — manager Joe Torre released his roster on Thursday, and they are absolutely loaded.
Unfortunately for fans of Team USA, one glance at a few competing rosters will stop the celebration in its tracks. Can someone unseat two-time defending champions, Team Japan? Will Team USA improve upon their 4th-place finish in 2009?
We can’t predict the results down to the wire, but we’re here to do what we do best at Three Up, Three Down. We rank the rosters! So strap in, baseball fans, and see if your favorite team stands a chance:
**The “Stick to Soccer” Group**
Notable player(s): Barry Larkin, Manager (and Hall of Fame Reds SS)
International Baseball Federation (IBAF) Ranking: 20
Breakdown: Good thing for their dominance on the international soccer scene, because Brazil isn’t going anywhere in the Classic. Yan Gomes was the first Brazilian player to ever reach the big leagues, and the country itself only has 14 players signed to Major League contracts. How they will win: They won’t. Why they won’t: See “How they will win.”
Notable player(s): Bruce Chen, SP, Royals
IBAF Ranking: 18
Breakdown: The Chinese baseball team is a decade away from being a serious contender, but they are headed in the right direction. They’ve made steady improvements over international tournaments since a decent showing at the 2009 WBC, in which they eliminated Chinese Taipei. How they will win: Hustle, starting pitching. Why they won’t: Not enough of either.
Notable player(s): Paco Rodriguez, RP, Dodgers/Engel Beltre, OF, Rangers
IBAF Ranking: 16
Breakdown: I’m not sure what to think about Spain. They lack star power, but did knock off Israel and South Africa in qualifiers. The roster is dotted with promising Major League prospects, but I don’t foresee Spain winning more than a game, maybe two in the WBC. How they will win: Breakout tourney from Beltre. Why they won’t: Their Pool C competition is stacked (Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Dominican Republic).
Notable player(s): Jason Grilli, RP, Pirates/Francisco Cervelli, C, Yankees/Nick Punto, IF, Dodgers/Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Cubs/Chris Denorfia, OF, Padres
IBAF Ranking: 9
Breakdown: Not only did we miss out on a Hall of Fame induction for Mike Piazza, but he won’t be participating on Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic either. Props to the Italians for back-to-back Euro Championships, but the competition is pretty weak over there right now. I think they will be humbled in the WBC. How they will win: Play with a chip on their shoulder. Why they won’t: Even the MLB-level hitters are thin.
#12: KINGDOM OF THE NETHERLANDS
Notable Player(s): Jair Jurrjens, SP, MLB Free Agent/Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox/Jurickson Profar, 2B, Rangers/Jonathan Schoop, 3B, Orioles/Andrelton Simmons, SS, Braves/Roger Bernadina, OF, Nationals/Andruw Jones, OF, MLB Free Agent
IBAF Ranking: 7
Breakdown: The Dutch soccer team is one of my favorites to watch. And for the first time in recent memory, so will their baseball team. They just missed my “dark horse” cut, due to sheer overall talent of the rest of the field. But the Major League potential of some youngsters on this roster is extremely intriguing. They’ve won 20 of 32 Euro Championships ever played. How they will win: Infield of dreams breaks out. Why they won’t: Not all the youngsters will perform.
**The Dark Horses**
#11: SOUTH KOREA
Notable player(s): Jae Seo, SP, former Met, Dodger, Ray in MLB
IBAF Ranking: 4
Breakdown: I feel ridiculous ranking Korea this low, considering their past successes in the WBC. But, it’s the third time this tournament has been played and each team has scouting on the opposition now. I don’t think South Korea will sneak up on anyone this time around. How they will win: High on-base percentage, good defense. Why they won’t: Too much good competition.
Notable player(s): Peter Moylan, RP, Dodgers
IBAF Ranking: 10
Breakdown: There’s a handful of good Major League players (like A’s closer Grant Balfour) who hail from the land down under, but there isn’t a whole lot of MLB experience on this roster. Team Australia still has a shot at advancing, but they may have more trouble than in years past. How they will win: Pure grit. Why they won’t: Not enough runs, upstart opposition in Pool B.
Notable player(s): Jesse Crain, RP, White Sox/John Axford, RP, Brewers/Jameson Taillon, SP, Pirates/Russell Martin, C, Pirates/Brett Lawrie, 3B, Blue Jays/Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins
IBAF Ranking: 6
Breakdown: We all know that Canada produces some bona fide stars in MLB (Joey Votto, anyone?), but not all are present and accounted for on this roster, similar to Team Australia. They still have the talent to make a run with Lawrie, Morneau and Martin in the middle of the lineup though. How they will win: Dominant bullpen, good middle of the lineup. Why they won’t: Too much youth in the rotation.
#8: CHINESE TAIPEI
Notable player(s): Chien-Ming Wang, SP, MLB Free Agent
IBAF Ranking: 5
Breakdown: There’s a reason that Team Chinese Taipei is a top-five ranked country right now. But their proudest current professional representative (Orioles pitcher Wei-Yin Chen) is not on the team yet. This team is still legit, and has a very winnable pool group. How they will win: Small ball. Why they won’t: Overall talent is lacking.
**The “Justtttt A Bit Outside” Group**
#7: PUERTO RICO
Notable player(s): Yadier Molina, C, Cardinals/Carlos Beltran, OF, Cardinals/Angel Pagan, OF, Giants/Mike Aviles, IF, Indians/Javier Vasquez, SP, MLB Free Agent
IBAF Ranking: 12
Breakdown: There may be no more high-ceiling-yet-average team in the WBC this year. Team Puerto Rico has finished fifth at both tournaments preceding this, and killed Team USA in 2009 before being ousted by them two games later on a walk-off hit. Even with players such as Molina, Beltran and Pagan, they won’t even be favorites in their own pool. How they will win: The Major League talent they have is relentlessly good. Why they won’t: Lack of depth in the rotation.
Notable player(s): Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Dodgers/Luis Cruz, 3B, Dodgers/Yovani Gallardo, SP, Brewers/Danny Espinosa, 2B, Nationals/Sergio Romo, RP, Giants
IBAF Ranking: 11
Breakdown: In their pool, Team Mexico will have to deal with Team USA, but other than that they should be favored to top Team Canada and Team Italy to move on. They have a decent infield, top-of-the-line ace, and one of the best closers in baseball. How they will win: Adrian Gonzalez goes off, Gallardo is dominant. Why they won’t: Romo is neutralized unless they have a lead late.
Notable player(s): None
IBAF Ranking: 1
Breakdown: Don’t let the lack of notable players deceive you — this team is good. Really good. They have played in the IBAF World Cup 29 times and won 25 gold medals, finishing second the other four times. In the WBC, Team Cuba has finished second and fourth (which, at the time, was their lowest finish ever in international competition). They just can’t legally have players like Aroldis Chapman or Yoenis Cespedes on their squad, otherwise they might be even better. How they will win: Hard-throwing starters, handful of five-tool prospects. Why they won’t: The top four teams are just too stacked.
Notable player(s): None
IBAF Ranking: 3
Breakdown: Again, don’t let the lack of Major League firepower fool you. Much like Cuba, Team Japan has been a hotbed for MLB stars over the years (Daisuke Matsuzaka, Yu Darvish). Even though none of them joined the fray in 2013, this team is stacked. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple of future MLB players come off this roster after good WBC performances. After all, they are two-for-two in WBC titles up to this point. How they will win: Ichiro-style on-base scavengers, deceptive pitching. Why they won’t: Not having Ichiro and Darvish, among others, will end up costing Team Japan.
#3: DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Notable player(s): Santiago Casilla, RP, Giants/Octavio Dotel, RP, Tigers/Alexi Ogando, RP, Rangers/Fernando Rodney, RP, Rays/Wandy Rodriguez, SP, Pirates/Edinson Volquez, SP, Reds/Carlos Santana, C, Indians/Adrian Beltre, 3B, Rangers/Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees/Edwin Encarnacion, DH/OF, Blue Jays/Hanley Ramirez, IF, Dodgers/Jose Reyes, SS, Blue Jays/Nelson Cruz, OF, Rangers/Melky Cabrera, OF, Blue Jays
IBAF Ranking: 13
Breakdown: The only reason Team Dominica is ranked so low by the IBAF is because all those notable players are stars in the big leagues, and don’t regularly compete internationally for their country. But now that the WBC has rolled around again, this is one unbelievably good team. My only concern is their starting pitching depth. How they will win: Scoring 15 runs per game (no…really). Why they won’t: Like I said, starting pitching depth. Will Volquez and Rodriguez be enough?
#2: UNITED STATES
Notable player(s): Jeremy Affeldt, RP, Giants/R.A. Dickey, SP, Blue Jays/Craig Kimbrel, RP, Braves/Kris Medlen, SP, Braves/Ryan Vogelsong, SP, Giants/Chris Perez, RP, Indians/Joe Mauer, C, Twins/Brandon Phillips, 2B, Reds/Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies/David Wright, 3B, Mets/Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees/Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers/Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Marlins/Adam Jones, OF, Orioles/Joe Torre, Manager
IBAF Ranking: 2
Breakdown: I didn’t even pick all the “notable players” I could have for this team. It’s Team USA’s equivalent of the MLB Dream Team, and Justin Verlander still is undecided as to whether he’ll join the rotation. This team is already a favorite with a balanced lineup and very strong pitching staff, but adding JV would be a coup. Check out fellow Three Up, Three Down host Bryan Mapes’ grades-by-position for Team USA. How they will win: Veteran experience, explosive pitching. Why they won’t: The bane of their existence, Team Japan, will come along eventually.
Notable player(s): Anibal Sanchez, SP, Tigers/Felix Hernandez, SP, Mariners/Francisco Rodriguez, RP, MLB Free Agent/Ronald Belisario, RP, Dodgers/Miguel Montero, C, Diamondbacks/Salvador Perez, C, Royals/Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers/Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, Indians/Miguel Cabrera, 3B/1B, Tigers/Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Giants/Marco Scutaro, 2B, Giants/Carols Gonzalez, OF, Rockies/Gerardo Parra, OF, Diamondbacks
IBAF Ranking: 8
Breakdown: The quantity of star power on Team Venezuela might not match up to Team USA or Team Dominica, but the quality is far and beyond. When you start your rotation with Hernandez and stack the middle of your lineup with the reigning Triple Crown winner between Gonzalez and Sandoval, you are a very, very scary team. Even though their WBC pool is very tough, it would be a momentous upset to not see Team Venezuela make moves in the 2013 tournament. How they will win: A large margin of victory. Against anyone. Why they won’t: Slumping hitters or being outplayed by one of the other favorites.
And that’s a wrap. This writer believes Team Venezuela is the team to beat, with Team USA, Team Dominica and Team Japan not far behind. But in all honesty, there are about 10-11 teams who could potentially take home the title in 2013. Root for your team and country to take home top honors, and stay tuned to Three Up, Three Down because we’ll have all your World Baseball Classic coverage.
– Jeremy Dorn (@Jamblinman)
In today’s edition of Grade That Trade! we have three very young, talented teams swapping players. It looks like the Marlins got sick of Heath Bell thinking that walking OTHER people would help burn calories. But that contract was surely burning a hole through Jeffrey Loria’s pockets.
Bell was shipped off to Arizona, to join a bullpen that actually didn’t need that much help. Miami ate $8 million of the $21 million left on Bell’s contract, and received a highly-ranked third base prospect, Yordy Cabrera (no relation to Miguel – I checked), from the Oakland A’s to complete their end of the deal.
Aside from taking on the behemoth contract of Bell, the D’Backs snatched middle infielder Cliff Pennington from the A’s, and sent outfielder Chris Young to Oakland. Whew, that was a doozy. Let me break this down for you:
3B Yordy Cabrera (Single-A)
RP Heath Bell
SS/2B Cliff Pennington
OF Chris Young
This trade has a lot of question marks surrounding it, a lot of bad contract cash flowing through it, and plenty of very interesting theories because of it. For example, who the hell is Yordy Cabrera? According to friends of the organization, he is “pretty damn good.”
When looking at his stats, I have to question if my sources were tailgating for college football all day – Cabrera’s best season was 2011, when he hit .231 with 6 homers, 47 RBI and 23 stolen bases (he also had 21 doubles and 5 triples in 359 at-bats). His on-base percentage was below .300 and his OPS was a staggeringly-low .664 that year (.625 in 2012).
I can’t deny that on paper, the kid has potential. At 6’1″, 205 pounds, only 22 years old with gap power and speed, you’ve got to like what he could become. But he better play some solid defense if he’s not going to develop into a serviceable Major League third baseman some day.
If Cabrera has his head on straight, you could be looking at a player who turns the doubles into homers, cuts down on strike outs and steals 30 bags a year. That could equate to a mid to high-.200’s hitter with 15 homers and 30 stolen bases. Time will tell, but the Marlins could have turned Bell in for scrap metal if Cabrera doesn’t pan out.
The most interesting question for me is what the A’s are going to do now with such a crowded, talented outfield. My gut says there is no way they can cut ties with the heart and soul of that lineup, Coco Crisp. He was a spark plug down the stretch and proved that when healthy, he’s one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball.
That being said, with the immensely talented (yet always hurt or underperforming) Chris Young on board, there are four starting outfielders for three spots. We know Billy Beane isn’t crazy enough to trade away Josh Reddick or Yoenis Cespedes, but is he possibly thinking of swapping Young back to someone for some prospects?
Oakland could use a few infield bats to develop, as their outfield looks set for the near future. But the A’s have question marks at catcher and second base (depending on how Jemile Weeks bounces back), and could use a solid, every day first baseman. One thing this move means for sure, is that Stephen Drew will likely be sticking around in Oakland with Pennington out.
As for Arizona. Oh, Arizona. I’m not sure I understand the moves they made at all. Not only did they take on $13 million of an overweight, over the hill relief pitcher’s contract, but they paid part of Young’s contract to send him to Oakland. They essentially swapped Drew for Pennington (the A’s picked up Drew from the D’backs in the middle of the regular season), which is a huge down grade. AND they lost Young, who has 30/30 potential if he can play a full, healthy, focused season.
Not only do the moves puzzle me, but I don’t see how they made the Diamondbacks a better team at all. Maybe Arizona has some tricks up it’s sleeves, because they usually make very savvy moves. Justin Upton could be the next outfielder out the door, leaving an outfield of Jason Kubel, Gerardo Parra and Adam Eaton in the desert.
Sure, it’s not a bad outfield – but it was a lot better with Young and Upton there (assuming Upton gets moved). Either way, I have to grade this trade on what has happened, not what might happen. And for that, I give the following marks:
Oakland A’s: B+
The A’s now have a crowded outfield with a lot of options, and plenty of curious fans. What comes next for Billy Beane? Getting rid of Pennington was a long time coming, but now they are short on infield depth. If Yordy Cabrera does pan out, they might kick themselves down the road. Then again, this team proved it can win now. So I applaud the move to bring in immediate help.
Miami Marlins: A-
Sure, they got a Single-A infielder who got on base at a worse clip than Juan Uribe does, but he is only 22. There is plenty of room for Cabrera to turn into a great player. It depends how they develop him. Getting rid of Heath Bell and his ridiculous contract is reason enough for the Marlins’ front office to celebrate.
Arizona Diamondbacks: D+
I just don’t get it. Trade away an outfielder who could have star potential, just because you’re tired of waiting. In return, take on a big contract for an old, declining reliever and a slick-fielding, yet offensively inept middle infielder? Unless G.M. Kevin Towers has some tricks up his sleeve, this will remain a head scratcher.
– Jeremy Dorn (@Jamblinman)
As you’re well aware by now, there is quite a heated battle for both newly instituted second Wild Card slots. With just about ten games remaining for everyone, there are no less than four teams in each league fighting for that last spot and a one-game playoff to move to the Divisional Series.
Let me first acknowledge a few things so you can’t yell at me later:
1) Yes, it has made the stretch run much more exciting. Just like the doctor ordered.
2) I understand that most professional sports leagues have at least 12 teams total in the playoffs, still more than MLB.
3) Every team that is still in the chase for that second spot, regardless of league, is a “good” club.
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s cut to the chase. Is there really a National League team that deserves the second Wild Card? After all, the division leaders have all already clinched a playoff spot, and the Atlanta Braves are six games better than the next best contender.
The defending champion St. Louis Cardinals are currently holding the coveted fifth seed, 2.5 games ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers and 3.0 ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Philadelphia Phillies and Arizona Diamondbacks are barely hanging on, 4 and 5 games back, respectively.
Of those five, only the Cardinals have clinched a .500 season with a week and a half of games remaining. Again, don’t get me wrong. Those are some good teams. Among them we have the third-best team ERA in the league (L.A.), an offense led by the reigning league MVP (Milwaukee) and a team with the most dangerous starting rotation in baseball (Philadelphia).
But all these teams have seen their fair share of struggles. Hitting rough patches isn’t anything new – eventual World Champions will take their lumps over a long season as well.
If the Cardinals, Brewers, Dodgers, Phillies or D’Backs are going to sneak into the playoffs on the strength of a new Wild Card spot that was likely designed with the intention of getting the Angels, Rangers, Red Sox, Yankees and Tigers into the A.L. postseason most years (Oops!), why do they get a do-or-die opportunity against a far superior team?
There is no question that the Braves have been a better team than all the above listed. You can’t really argue with that large of a gap in the standings, but I can argue that it’s absolutely ridiculous that they will face one of the lesser teams in a one-game playoff that determines who continues on in the playoffs.
Putting such a fantastic season on the line in a one-game playoff where literally anything could happen seems crazy to me. Not that Bud Selig has ever done much to dispel the notion that he’s a little cuckoo, but this one is just too much. I appreciate the excitement the new Wild Card spot is bringing to the pennant chase, but I’d be pretty annoyed if I was a Braves fan.
Atlanta has arranged their schedule to send either Kris Medlen or Tim Hudson to the hill in a must-win. Both are great pitchers, but just because of the new rule, you could see them facing Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Clayton Kershaw, Roy Halladay…a whole slew of starters who have huge-game experience and success to their names.
The Braves could legitimately take that Wild Card spot by nearly ten games over the fifth seed and get sent right back home because of one, single game. As we’ve seen a million times in the past, anything can happen in a baseball game. The Astros beat the Reds a couple of weeks ago – why couldn’t that happen in a one-game playoff?
A bizarre error could change a game. A bad call. One wild pitch. In such a long season, it seems preposterous to allow a team that really earned a postseason berth to be in peril of going home at the hands of an 82-win team based on one game. At the very least, it should be a three-game series to truly determine (in most cases) a winner.
And don’t you even get me started on the fact that the Braves or whoever beats them in the one-game playoff will get the first two Division Series games at home. That’s a whole different beast.
So, it’s a very legitimate question that I’m posing here: Do any National League teams deserve that second Wild Card spot? And does the new postseason structure get re-thunk if the Braves get worked in the one-game playoff? We would love to hear your take on the issue, so comment and VOTE below!
– Jeremy Dorn (@Jamblinman)
Fear not, lovers of trades. The Orioles and Diamondbacks are here to feed your appetite today. News just broke on a trade that sends a reliever to Arizona and a starter to Baltimore.
Let’s break it down:
RP Matt Lindstrom
SP Joe Saunders
Yep, that’s all. No nine-figure contracts. No high-end prospects. No all-star sluggers. But let me just put it out there right now – this is still a hell of an important trade.
Both the D’Backs and Orioles are striving to make the playoffs. Both have a tough road as they will likely only have a shot in the Wild Card race, with legitimate competition in their respective leagues. As it stands now, the O’s are tied for the second Wild Card with the Oakland A’s, just percentage points behind the Tampa Bay Rays and one game ahead of the Detroit Tigers. And lest we forget about Mike Trout and his pesky Los Angeles Angels, still hanging around.
All in all, the American League looks to have five very good teams battling for two spots.
Over in the National League, the picture is just as muddled. Defending NL West champion Arizona sits 5.5 games behind the Braves, who have a slight lead on the St. Louis Cardinals, who have a slight lead on the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have a slight lead on the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Again, we are looking at five legit contenders battling for the final two NL playoff spots.
So if the D’backs want to return to the postseason and make this a regular thing, what did they have to do?
If the Orioles want to finally return to glory after years of cellar-ridden misery in the AL East, what moves could they make?
How about Joe Saunders to Baltimore, for Matt Lindstrom to Arizona? Hey! What do you know?!
The D’Backs were sitting right in the middle of the pack in team ERA and had 14 blown saves on the season. J.J. Putz is doing well at the back end, but how about another solid ‘pen arm to fortify a bullpen and hold late leads that the powerful offense has built?
Answer: Lindstrom. Every team Arizona is chasing in the Wild Card race has incredibly good pitching staffs. That needed to change in the desert, and now it has. Any time you can add a veteran bullpen arm with a sub-3.00 ERA, you did good. Especially when said arm has previous closing experience. Insurance is good, people!
Besides, they wanted to get rid of Saunders, based on the placement of the lefty starter on waivers early last week.
I won’t be coy about it. I think the Orioles made a brilliant move in acquiring Saunders. I think they won the trade if only for the immediate impact that another starting arm can add to that squad.
Because the Orioles have been playing fantastic baseball this season, and despite my high expectations of failure, have continued to chug along and contend this late into the season. The offense is there, but the one major question mark behind Wei-Yin Chen and Jason Hammel (when healthy) has been consistent starting pitching.
I’m not saying Saunders is some kind of super star, but he eats innings (only went less than five innings in two of his starts for Arizona this year) and has had multiple double-digit win seasons between Arizona and Los Angeles (AL). He has shown flashes of brilliance at certain points in his career, and new scenery could do him well.
Sure, the AL East is terrifying for pitchers, but if he even puts together three or four quality starts in big games for the O’s, they are on their way to a Wild Card spot.
On the 2012 season, Saunders has a 4.22 ERA and a scary 1.36 WHIP. Again, he’s no superstar, but will get you quality innings on most nights. Before getting shredded by the Miami Marlins for 9 earned runs in less than four innings in his last start, Saunders’ ERA was a respectable 3.70. Before that it was as low as 3.48.
So here is how I see the trade playing out: The D’Backs added a strong bullpen arm to add some legitimacy to their relief corps. With Tyler Skaggs, Trevor Bauer, Patrick Corbin and Rookie of the Year candidate Wade Miley all performing well as starters at certain points, Saunders became expendable.
The Orioles needed a little pitching depth to go with a hefty offensive attack. They were also middle of the pack in terms of team ERA and quality starts, trailing most teams in the Wild Card chase in those categories. With Hammel back in the fold in the next couple weeks and Chen continuing to grow, the Orioles now have a more solid, albeit very anonymous top three.
If either team makes the playoffs, you can thank the respective GMs for pulling off this very minor, yet impactful waiver trade.
Who do YOU think won this trade? Vote and comment below!
– Jeremy Dorn (@Jamblinman)
It’s my turn to create an all-division team. And lucky for me, the NL West is chock full of talent, even if it might only take 90 wins to capture the division. I’ll try to include one player from each team, but that’s hard to do with bottom feeders like the San Diego Padres hanging around. That being said, I have plenty of stars to choose from on the Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants and Colorado Rockies. I’m spoiled with this division, so I’m going with the full 25-man roster. Here goes:
1. Carlos Gonzalez, LF (Colorado):
If Car-Go is leading off, you know the other divisions are in for a hell of a time. Gonzalez is one of the few legitimate 40/40 threats in baseball. He hits for power, average, and can steal bases. Not to mention he plays a very impressive left field. Forget the typical leadoff hitter, Gonzalez is the guy!
2. Todd Helton, 1B (Colorado)
First base was a bit of a weak spot in the NL West, and while I was tempted to choose the Padres’ Yonder Alonso based on potential and personal bromance, I stuck with the wily veteran here. Helton is a career .322 hitter with an on-base percentage well over .400. Despite his stature, he’s the perfect #2 hitter.
3. Matt Kemp, CF (Los Angeles)
Duh. Do I really have to explain? Okay, fine…I’d love to! Kemp, the 2011 NL MSMVP (Most Snubbed Most Valuable Player) is the hottest hitter in baseball so far in 2012, picking up right where he left off from last season’s .324/39/126/40 line. Oh, and all he’s done in the first two weeks is pick up back-to-back NL Player of the Week awards.
4. Troy Tulowitzki, SS (Colorado)
Tulo is a defensive magician at shortstop and one of the ten best hitters in baseball when healthy. I sure hope he stays off the DL for this team too. Otherwise I’m stuck picking between a bunch of guys who can’t break a .250 batting average. This 3-4 will give opposing pitchers fits though, and might push this lineup over 200 combined homers.
5. Andre Ethier/Justin Upton, RF (Los Angeles/Arizona)
Yeah, that just happened. A good old-fashioned platoon in right field. Why? Because Andre Ethier struggles against lefties. The remedy? How about slotting the defending divisional champions’ best hitter into the spot? You can’t really go wrong. Both can rake, and play a little defense. Ethier won a Gold Glove last season.
6. Pablo Sandoval, 3B (San Francisco)
Sandoval is a very dangerous switch hitter and can play a mean hot corner. He gets the nod over teammate Posey in this spot because he can hit from both sides. When your sixth hitter is putting up 25 homers and 100 RBI, your team might be verging on legendary.
7. Buster Posey, C (San Francisco)
What is the best offensive catcher in baseball not named Healthy Joe Mauer doing hitting seventh? Have you SEEN the lineup ahead of him? This is the best I could do. But catcher for this division was no contest; the former Rookie of the Year can handle a pitching staff and hits cleanup in the Giants’ lineup already.
8. Orlando Hudson, 2B (San Diego)
The correct choice here probably should have been Mark Ellis from the Dodgers. A .994 career fielder who is a specialist at moving runners over. But Hudson gets the nod for a few reasons: First, he can make some dazzling plays in the field. But he can also hit from both sides and is just one of the coolest dudes to ever play ball.
9. Clayton Kershaw, P (Los Angeles)
The 2011 NL Cy Young winner and leader of all three pitching Triple Crown categories was a no-brainer. The Giants boast three incredible pitchers and Arizona has a 21-game winner, but Kershaw is the best of the bunch. In fact, he is arguably the best pitcher in the entire National League. I dare you to disagree with me.
2. Matt Cain (San Francisco)
Mr. Cain is very, very rich as of a couple of weeks ago. And proved his worth with a complete game, 1-hit shutout of the Pirates in his last start. Cain is absolutely lights-out in the postseason, but also is good for an ERA in the low 3’s every regular season. Man, I’d sure like to have a shirsey of his.
3. Ian Kennedy (Arizona)
Kennedy gets a look at the #2 spot because of his incredible 2011 season. He went 21-4 and finished second in the Cy Young voting to Kershaw. He does have a good arsenal of pitches, but could find himself demoted to the fifth spot in the rotation if he doesn’t have continued success in 2012.
4. Madison Bumgarner (San Francisco)
Bumgarner also just got locked up by the Giants through 2017 for a measly $7 million per year or so. That’s a bargain, considering the Giants relied on the young southpaw to take them to the Promised Land in 2010. He’s got some of the filthiest pitches in the game. This is an unfair #4 starter.
5. Tim Lincecum (San Francisco)
I’m very worried about Tim in the rotation at all, but I wasn’t in the mood to hide from a horde of angry Giants fans with pitchforks and bread bowls (I live close enough that this is a real possibility). His velocity is down and his location is way off. The ERA is in double digits this season, but he is still a young, two-time Cy Young winner.
Lefty specialist: Javier Lopez (San Francisco)
Ask any lefty if they’d want to face a side-arming southpaw. The answer is no. Lopez is the guy, barely getting the nod over San Diego’s Joe Thatcher.
Long reliever: Jamie Moyer (Colorado)
Hey, why not? I can’t make an all-NL West team without Grandpa Jamie on the team! He can put together a few innings if the starter is rocked (ahem…Lincecum…) and the change of pace from any of the starters would be very confusing for the hitters.
Others: Kenley Jansen (Los Angeles), Craig Breslow (Arizona)
One righty, one lefty, respectively. They are both young, quality arms. Jansen is actually a guy who challenged for Guerra’s closer’s role in L.A. And Breslow has had good success wherever he’s been in the bigs.
7th-inning Man: Andrew Cashner (San Diego)
Call me crazy, but I’ll take the young gun over the likes of Kenley Jansen in Los Angeles or Santiago Casilla for the Giants. Cashner is still raw, but seems to have good command of his pitches and a great idea of situational pitching. Did I mention he throws an easy 98 MPH?
Set-Up Man: Sergio Romo (San Francisco)
The man with the less-than-stellar-and-therefore-more-respectable beard than teammate Brian Wilson has been one of the best set-up men in baseball for the last couple seasons. He throws a weird frisbee-like slider that absolutely destroys right-handed hitters. He’s the guy you want in for a big strikeout in a tight spot.
Closer: Javy Guerra (Los Angeles)
First of all, Brian Wilson is on the DL. Again. So don’t even go there. And I know Guerra isn’t as big of a name as Huston Street in San Diego or J.J. Putz in Arizona, but tell me you’d rather have either of those guys (especially Putz this year…YIKES!) than Guerra’s 26 out of 28 career saves. Didn’t think so.
Backup Catcher: Miguel Montero (Arizona)
Montero is a dangerous bat. You have to figure Posey will play most games, but he might need to take some days off. And in that case, Montero is the next best thing.
Pinch-running specialist: Dee Gordon (Los Angeles)
Hands down the fastest man in baseball, he’s a threat to steal any time. Can you imagine Todd Helton getting on base in the 8th inning of a tie game (not that any games would be close against this team…) and suddenly turning into Gordon on the basepaths? Besides, it’s good insurance with Tulo’s injury history at short.
Pinch-hitting specialist: Chris Young (Arizona)
This is by default. He’s having an incredible 2012 so far, and has adjusted his swing to finally live up to the potential he really possesses. Young is not somebody a reliever wants to face anytime, let alone in a pressure situation.
Utility specialist: Marco Scutaro (Colorado)
Scutaro has been around the block. He can hit a little, but most importantly can play second, short and third. Honestly, he could probably be stuck in the outfield if necessary.