Tagged: Justin Upton

The 2013 Way Too Early MLB Awards

It’s May Day!  Meaning the first month of the MLB season is in the books, also meaning it’s time for the monthly awards rankings.  Last year, I finished by picking four of six awards correctly, missing out on NL Rookie of the Year (I still think Wade Miley should’ve won) and AL MVP (ditto Mike Trout).  Here’s who I think is in line for some hardware after April.

American League Rookie of the Year

Silver Medal: Nick Tepesch, Texas Rangers

Normally, we do a top three with a bronze medal, but the American League rookie crop is so poor right now that you’re only getting two.  Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Aaron Hicks both had promise coming into the year and underwhelmed.  Wil Myers or Dan Straily should hurry up and get called up and take the award you’re supposed to win.  Tepesch has been solid for the Rangers going 2-1 with a 2.53 ERA and an inpressive 14:3 K:BB ratio.

Gold Medal: Justin Grimm, Texas Rangers

Unfortuately for Tepesch, his teammate has been slightly better for now.  Grimm is 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA and a 15:4 K:BB ratio that’s been impressive in place of Matt Harrison.  There’s still plenty of time for someone to step up and become the frontrunner for this award.

In the Running: Stephen Pryor, Seattle Mariners

National League Rookie of the Year

Bronze Medal: Jim Henderson, Milwaukee Brewers

Unlike the American League, there is a plethora of rookie candidates in the NL that had a great start to the season.  Jim Henderson has wrestled away the closer’s role in Milwaukee from John Axford and isn’t giving it back.  He’s six for six in save chances, with a sparkling 0.75 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 12 innings.

Silver Medal: Evan Gattis, Atlanta Braves

It’s clear that Gattis has been the best rookie hitter in the Majors leading all MLB rookies with six home runs and 16 RBI.  He’s journey back to baseball has been nothing short of remarkable.  Can he keep it up though is the main question. Especially with Brian McCann returning from injury, there might not be a daily spot in the Braves lineup for El Oso Blanco.

Gold Medal: Shelby Miller, St. Louis Cardinals

If Tony Cingrani of the Reds had been called up for one more start this month, he might be in the top spot.  For now, I’m giving the edge to Shelby Miller who’s been everything Cardinals fans hoped he would be in place of Chris Carpenter.  Miller is 3-2 with a 2.05 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 30.2 IP this season.

In the Running: Tony Cingrani, Cincinnati Reds, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Los Angeles Dodgers, and A.J. Pollock, Arizona Diamondbacks

American League Cy Young

Bronze Medal: Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle Mariners

My love for Hisashi Iwakuma has been strong from the preseason.  Iwakuma is only 2-1, but has 1.67 ERA and leads MLB in WHIP at 0.69.  He’s also become more in command of his pitches with a fantastic 7.4 K:BB ratio.  The Mariners have a formidable 1-2 punch now with Iwakuma and Felix Hernandez.  All due respect to Yu Darvish, who leads the American League in strikeouts, I have a feeling he’ll crack the top three at some point this season.

Silver Medal: Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays

It’s a close call for the top spot and Matt Moore gets the short end of it for now.  He’s given the Rays rotation a great boost as defending Cy Young winner David Price has been a little bit of a disappointment thus far.  Moore leads the American League in wins, ERA, and hits/9 innings, but his inability to work deep into games keeps him in the silver spot.

Gold Medal: Clay Buchholz, Boston Red Sox

It’s really splitting hairs between Buchholz and Moore, but I’m going to give the razor-thin edge to the Red Sox starter.  Both pitchers are 5-0, Buchholz has slightly worse ERA and WHIP, but has gone deeper into games for Boston.  Buchholz also has the advantage over Matt Moore in WAR and is tops in the AL in that stat.

In the Running: Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez, Detroit Tigers, Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers, Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners, and Hiroki Kuroda, New York Yankees

National League Cy Young

Bronze Medal: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

Kershaw or Verlander?  Who’s the best pitcher in all of MLB?  That’s a debate for another day, but right now based on the stats, Kershaw has been 3rd best in the National League.  The Dodgers ace finished the opening month with a 1.71 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and is tied for 2nd in the National League in strikeouts.

Silver Medal: Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals

Wainwright looks fully back from Tommy John surgery and better than ever.  His streak of not walking a batter to start the season reached epic proportions and leads the league in K:BB, wins, and innings pitched.  He sports a beautiful 2.03 ERA and 0.99 WHIP and hasn’t given up a home run yet this season.  Let me repeat, HE LEADS THE LEAGUE IN BATTERS FACED AND HASN’T GIVEN UP A HOME RUN TO ANY OF THEM.  Amazing.

Gold Medal: Matt Harvey, New York Mets

Who would’ve thought that when the Mets traded 2012 NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, they would have another Cy Young contender this year?  Harvey has been a revelation for the Metropolitans going 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA and a league-leading 0.81 WHIP.  It’s a shame that he’s not eligible for Rookie of the Year, because he’d be leading that race as well.

In the Running: Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler, Washington Nationals, Mat Latos, Cincinnati Reds, Jake Westbrook, St. Louis Cardinals, and Paul Maholm, Atlanta Braves

American League MVP

Bronze Medal: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

The defending AL MVP picked right up where he left off in 2012.  The Triple Crown winner is hitting .363 and is tied for the lead in runs batted in with a player we’ll get to soon.  Could there be back-to-back Triple Crowns in the works?

Silver Medal: Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians

Probably the best player this season you haven’t heard anything about.  Santana leads the American League in batting average, on-base percentage, OPS, and offensive WAR.  He’s blossomed into the AL’s Buster Posey so far this season, we’ll see if he can keep it up.  If the Indians can make the playoffs with Santana performing at this level, he’ll be the MVP.

Gold Medal: Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles

He’s cooled slightly since his blistering start to the season, but “Crush” Davis leads the AL in home runs, runs batted in, total bases, and slugging.  He’s even hitting .348 with a great .448 OBP.  He’s one of the reasons the Orioles are proving 2012 wasn’t just a fluke.  Let’s not forget his clutchness too!

 

In the Running: Robinson Cano, New York Yankees, Coco Crisp, Oakland Athletics, Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers, Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox, and Prince Fielder, Detroit Tigers

National League MVP

Bronze Medal: Shin-Soo Choo, Cincinnati Reds

I may have made a mistake having Carlos Gonzalez over Choo on my preliminary All-Star Game ballot last week.  Choo has been a fantastic pick-up for the Reds.  He’s hitting .337 with a league-leading .477 OBP, that has paced the Cincinnati lineup.  He’s also 4th in the NL in runs scored, OPS, and total bases.  That was a great trade for the Reds so far.

Silver Medal: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals

It’s entirely possible that Harper is about to repeat Mike Trout’s twenty year-old season (minus the stolen bases).  He’s 3rd in the NL in offensive WAR and leads the league in OPS and OPS+.  Harper also is hitting .344 and getting on base at a .430 clip, both top five in the league.  It’s going to be beat into the ground that he’s doing this before he can legally drink, so get used to it.

Gold Medal: Justin Upton, Atlanta Braves

It’s pretty safe to say that Justin Upton enjoys playing with his brother B.J.  The younger Upton has almost carried the Braves lineup leading the National League in home runs, slugging, runs scored, total bases, and offensive WAR, while hitting .298.  If Upton can start to hit better with runners in scoring position, he could have one of the greatest seasons in Atlanta Braves history.

Who would win your awards after April?  Let us know in the comments!

-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)

The Why am I Filling Out All-Stars on April 24th? Ballot

The 2013 MLB All-Star Game is 83 days away, but never fear you can start voting for your favorite players today here.  You get 25 votes that gets bumped up to 35 if you log in with your MLB.com account.  Of course there are still paper ballots that can be found at every stadium and the MLB Fan Cave for you to fill out.  While I don’t fill out mine until I get a better grasp of who deserves it (like that ends up mattering) here’s what my ballot would look like on April 24th.

First Base

American League: Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles Davis is off to a hot start for Baltimore. He’s hitting .382 with an AL-leading 7 home runs coming into the games on the 24th.  Mike Napoli and Prince Fielder have cases and Napoli would be my pick if he was on the ballot at catcher, not first base. (Runner-up: Prince Fielder, Tigers)

National League: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds The power numbers aren’t there, but Votto-matic is automatic at getting on base leading the league with 26 walks so far and a crazy .485 OBP.  The next highest walk total is 16 by David Wright. (Runner-up Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers)

Second Base

American League: Robinson Cano, New York Yankees I can make a case that Robinson Cano is the MVP of the American League right now.  Then you can make the case that it’s April 24th and that’s stupid. (Runner-up Ian Kinsler, Rangers)

National League: Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds It must be nice for Phillips to just get to drive in OBP-machines Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo getting on base ahead of him all the time.  He leads NL second baseman in RBI and is tied for the lead in home runs.  Plus, he’s the best defender at the position in the league. (Runner-up Daniel Murphy, Mets)

Shortstop

American League: Jed Lowrie, Oakland Athletics Lowrie has been quite a coup for Billy Beane’s boys.  Lowrie leads AL shortstops in runs, RBI, and batting average. (Runner-up: Jose Reyes, Blue Jays, I’m not joking either)

National League: Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies Why have the Rockies been surprising in 2013?  A healthy and hitting Troy Tulowitzki is a big part of it. He leads NL shortstops in home runs, RBI, and runs, while hitting .292. (Runner-up: Jean Segura, Milwaukee Brewers)

Third Base

American League: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers The defending AL MVP is off to a quiet start, but is still among the league leaders in hits and is best among AL third sackers in batting average. (Runner-up: Evan Longoria, Rays)

National League: David Wright, New York Mets I really wanted to have NL batting leader Chris Johnson here, but Wright has had the overall better start to the season, especially on the basepaths.  There’s a lot of depth here right now with Todd Frazier, Pablo Sandoval, and Martin Prado off to solid starts.  (Runner-up: Chris Johnson)

Catcher

American League: J.P. Arencibia, Toronto Blue Jays Napoli not being on the ballot at catcher is Arencibia’s gain for now.  He leads the American League in home runs with eight after another one on Wednesday.  He’s my least likely from here to be on my actual ballot in a couple months.  (Runner-up: Carlos Santana, Indians)

National League: John Buck, New York Mets Let’s just sum up Buck’s start with this meme. (Runner-up: Evan Gattis, Braves, wait he’s not on the ballot?!?)

Screen Shot 2013-04-24 at 1.53.30 PM

Outfield

American League: Coco Crisp, Oakland Athletics, Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston Red Sox, and Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles These three have been the best all-around outfielders in the American League this season.  It’s not my fault that they’re all center fielders.  (Runners-up: Austin Jackson, Tigers and Alex Rios, White Sox)

National League: Justin Upton, Atlanta Braves, Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies, and Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals There is a ton of depth at National League outfield right now.  You could take the next four on my list and make a case they deserve it on to the squad.  Justin Upton has been hands-down the best hitter in the game so far this season, it’s ridiculous that he’s still on pace for 90+ home runs. (Runners-up: Shin-Soo Choo, Reds, Dexter Fowler, Rockies, Ryan Braun, Brewers, and Andrew McCutchen, Pirates)

Designated Hitter

American League: Mark Reynolds, Cleveland Indians Reynolds has been a great find for Cleveland with seven home runs and 18 RBI, both are top ten in MLB right now.  (Runner-up: Travis Hafner, New York Yankees)

Who would you have on your All-Star ballot on release day?  Let us know in the comments!

-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)

The Literal Power Rankings: April 15th, 2013

Upton HRWe like to mix it up a bit here at Three Up, Three Down. And we figured having a traditional power ranking every week wasn’t enough. We wanted to give you a source for finding the most powerful teams each week as well.

So here, in all its glory, is our first weekly installation of the “literal” power rankings. Which team has bashed the most home runs so far in the 2013 regular season?

The list might surprise you:

1. Colorado Rockies (21) — Leader: Dexter Fowler (6)

This is no surprise. The ball really carries in Denver. I heard Todd Helton once hit a wiffle ball into the upper deck at Coors Field.

2. Atlanta Braves (20) — Leader: Justin Upton (7)

For some reason, Upton decided to take out all of his aggression from his Arizona days in the first week and a half of 2013. Wrensanity, anyone?

3. Oakland A’s (19) — Leader: Coco Crisp (4)

That is the most “A’s” thing ever. Your home run leader is a speedy lead-off hitter who’s already on the shelf and forever on the trading block.

4. New York Yankees (18) — Leaders: Robinson Cano (3), Travis Hafner (3), Vernon Wells (3)

Now, Cano I can understand. But newly-signed Hafner and Wells pitching in a trey each? That short porch in right field must be really short.

5. Washington Nationals (17) — Leader: Bryce Harper (5)

Things are going to get a little awkward for all the Harper haters when he drops 40 this year. The defending NL Rookie of the Year is on fire to start the season.

6. Chicago White Sox (16) — Leader: Alex Rios (4)

So…you mean…Rios IS for real? That’s great for White Sox fans, but I’m sure Adam Dunn will be leading the pack here when all is said and done.

6. Cincinnati Reds (16) — Leader: Brandon Phillips (4)

A hot start to the season for Phillips could mean big things for Cincy. Except that they are under .500. Where is the rest of the pop?

6. Seattle Mariners (16) — Leader: Michael Morse (6)

This is the section where Jeremy gets to gloat. “Morse won’t do anything,” they said. “He’s overrated,” they said. Told. You. So.

9. Baltimore Orioles (15) — Leader: Chris Davis (6)

It’s weird — my cell phone keeps auto-correcting “Davis” to “Ruth” when I try to text or tweet about him. Maybe his .366 average and 19 RBI have something to do with it.

9. Cleveland Indians (15) — Leader: Mark Reynolds (5)

Naturally. If he wasn’t leading this category, Reynolds would be completely worthless. Believe it or not, though, Reynolds has only K’d 10 times in 10 games so far.

9. New York Mets (15) — Leader: John Buck (6)

That name atop the team’s leader board is preposterous, but this is baseball. Anything can happen. Buck is hitting over .300 with 19 RBI and is sure to reach his quota soon.

12. Chicago Cubs (14) — Leader: Anthony Rizzo (3)

Unfortunately for Cubs fans (really, what sentence about them hasn’t started that way since about 1908?), Rizzo’s three homers account for almost half of his hits (7).

12. Toronto Blue Jays (14) — Leaders: J.P. Arencibia (3), Jose Bautista (3), Colby Rasmus (3)

It’s a low number for the Canadian Yankees so far, but by the end of the year this team will be near the top of these rankings and Rogers Centre will be battered and bruised.

14. Arizona Diamondbacks (13) — Leaders: Paul Goldschmidt (2), Aaron Hill (2), Jason Kubel (2), A.J. Pollock (2), Martin Prado (2)

Really? You’re going to make me type out five names, D’Backs? That’s cute to share and all, but how about someone take the initiative here?

15. Boston Red Sox (12) — Leader: Will Middlebrooks (4)

Hey, I would have four home runs too if I jacked three in one game. Or something. Good for you, kid. Let’s just move on.

15. Houston Astros (12) — Leader: Chris Carter (4)

This is why they traded for Carter. He has unreal strength and could touch 30 jacks this year if he stays healthy. Oh, he has 19 strikeouts, too. But who doesn’t on the Astros?

15. Texas Rangers (12) — Leader: Ian Kinsler (4)

Not buying that Kinsler’s career isn’t dead. Jurickson Profar is hitting in a Kinsler costume.

18. Los Angeles Angels (11) — Leaders: Josh Hamilton (2), Chris Iannetta (2), Albert Pujols (2)

Ah, yes. Just the three names I expected to see leading this team in home runs!

18. Philadelphia Phillies (11) — Leaders: Dominic Brown (2), Laynce Nix (2), Chase Utley (2)

Ryan Howard conspicuously missing from this list. I will pat myself on the back for drafting Brown and Utley in my fantasy league. Brown’s hitting .244? Nevermind.

18. St. Louis Cardinals (11) — Leader: Matt Adams (3)

I don’t know how long Mike Matheny can keep Adams out of the lineup. Everything he touches turns to gold.

21. Detroit Tigers (10) — Leader: Prince Fielder (4)

Obviously. The big boy has been on a tear to start the year, and won’t be slowing down anytime soon.

22. Los Angeles Dodgers (9) — Leaders: Adrian Gonzalez (2), Juan Uribe (2)

Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and Clayton Kershaw have combined to hit as many homers as Uribe. Ethier has one and Kemp has zero. You do the math.

23. Milwaukee Brewers (7) — Leader: Ryan Braun (2)

At least it’s the right guy leading the way for the Brewers. But every homer he hits is nullified by a blown save, methinks.

23. Minnesota Twins (7) — Leader: Josh Willingham (2)

One of the Killer J’s is doing his job, but why don’t I see Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau on this list?

23. San Francisco Giants (7) — Leader: Hunter Pence (4)

I called this, unfortunately. The Giants have a really underrated power presence in their lineup for a full year now. It might be their only power presence though.

26. Pittsburgh Pirates (6) — Leaders: Andrew McCutchen (2), Michael McKenry (2)

McKenry heard we were putting this list together today and really wanted to be on it. So he hit two yesterday.

26. San Diego Padres (6) — Leaders: Yonder Alonso (2), Will Venable (2)

Carlos Quentin almost cracks this list with one home run and one mound charge. Doesn’t that count for something?

28. Kansas City Royals (4) — Leader: Billy Butler (2)

Surprisingly, the Royals are in second place because of their pitching so far! Who woulda thunk it? (Raises hand)

28. Tampa Bay Rays (4) — Leaders: Shelley Duncan (1), Kelly Johnson (1), Matt Joyce (1), Ben Zobrist (1)

Zobrist is the best player on this list, but Joyce has the best home run so far (a walk-off against the Orioles on April 3rd).

30. Miami Marlins (2) — Leaders:  Greg Dobbs (1), Justin Ruggiano (1)

Oh, Stanton where art thou? This is probably for the best, as nobody should be subjected to seeing the god-awful home run structure at Marlins Park light up.

– Jeremy Dorn (@Jamblinman)

Tune in next week for the “literal” power rankings. You can follow @3u3d on Twitter and like Three Up, Three Down on Facebook.

Top 5 Moments of Opening Day

Opening DayThis is no April Fools prank: Baseball. Is. Back!

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. 

2. Stan the Man MUSIAL PATCH

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)

Follow @3u3d on Twitter and like Three Up, Three Down on Facebook! The best baseball coverage, coming at you from five different states and five different fan bases.

3U3D Break It Down: The N.L. East

Has the National League evolved into a two-team arms race between the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves?  It seemed all offseason one would make a move and the other would counter it.  B.J. Upton, Dan Haren, Denard Span, Rafael Soriano, Justin Upton, Chris Johnson, and Jordan Walden all enter the fray and make these two teams on paper the teams to beat.  The Phillies aren’t ready to go down with a fight adding Ben Revere and Michael Young in the offseason.  The Mets and Marlins?  Well they might go down without a fight, let’s break down the National League East.

Projected Order of Finish: Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets, Miami Marlins

Why the Braves could win the N.L. East: It’s pretty hard to believe that Atlanta lost three of the four best hitters from last season in Chipper Jones, Martin Prado, and Michael Bourn and the lineup is better.  The Upton brothers move into the outfield along with Jason Heyward, giving the Braves two MVP-potential candidates in the corners.  Andrelton Simmons showed in the WBC that he is ready, especially defensively.  Freddie Freeman’s growth continues in an all-star caliber 1st baseman.  The rotation might not be on the Nationals level overall, but Tim Hudson, Kris Medlen, Paul Maholm, Mike Minor, and Julio Teheran is solid.  Teheran could be ready to shine as he was spectacular in spring training.  Craig Kimbrel is the best closer in the game, while Eric O’ Flaherty is among the best setup men.  All the pieces are there for a return to the playoffs.

Why the Braves wouldn’t win the N.L. East: First, the leadership from Chipper Jones, Martin Prado, and Michael Bourn’s departure throws off the clubhouse and no one behind Tim Hudson steps up.  The lineup is filled with just too many strikeouts that kills putting together rallies.  Brian McCann’s shoulder is completely shot and he’s not the player he once was or even comes back at all leaving the catching duties to Gerald Laird and Evan Gattis.  Jonny Venters injury is more serious than planned (i.e. Tommy John surgery) and Jordan Walden isn’t ready to go and the bullpen suffers and becomes overworked.  Brandon Beachy returning from Tommy John surgery mid-season isn’t able to come close to the form he displayed at the start of 2012.

Why the Nationals could win the N.L. East: The rotation is the best in MLB with Stephen Strasburg’s innings cap behind him, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Dan Haren, and Ross Detwiler.  The bullpen is no slouch either with Rafael Soriano (42 saves in 2012) joining Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, and Ryan Mattheus is a great bullpen.  The lineup is good to great and can be better than great if “The Phenom” Bryce Harper continues to progress into an MVP candidate.

Why the Nationals wouldn’t win the N.L. East: The Braves end up just slightly better top to bottom.  Newly-signed Denard Span reverts back to an injury-plagued season like in 2011.  Ryan Zimmerman’s right shoulder, that caused him to receive cortisone shots throughout last season, acts up and his bat his lost from the middle of the lineup.  It’s really hard not to see the Nationals as a probable playoff team.

Why the Phillies could win the N.L. East: Roy Halladay might not be what he used to be, but Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee are both still good enough to carry a rotation.  I highly doubt Lee will only win six games again.  The lineup is improved with a healthy Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, plus Ben Revere providing speed at lead-off.  Michael Young joins Philadelphia to provide leadership and hitting prowess.  He would need get back to hitting .300 for the Phillies to have a real chance.  Domonic Brown’s spring breakout continues into the season and he finally pays dividends for all of those trades Ruben Amaro Jr. refused to do when Brown was a prospect.  Plus, Jonathan Papelbon is one of the best closers in the games.

Why the Phillies wouldn’t win the N.L. East: It’s entirely possible that Roy Halladay never gets back to what he was before 2012.  His velocity has been down after an injury-plagued season.  The lineup is on the wrong side of their prime with Howard, Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Young all over 33 years-old.  Carlos Ruiz’s 25-game suspension messes with the pitching staff and they get off on the wrong foot after Ruiz broke out offensively.  Brown does what he’s done his whole career and tease greatness, but not come through.

Why the Mets could win the N.L. East: David Wright’s injury is nothing and the new Mets captain goes on to be his usual self in the middle of the lineup.  Ike Davis evolves into a 35-40 home run hitting first baseman.  The Mets call up Zack Wheeler and pair him with Matt Harvey and create the best young pitching duo in the division.  Travis d’Arnuad can’t be held back anymore in the minors and starts developing into the next Mike Piazza.

Why the Mets wouldn’t win the N.L. East: Johan Santana is probably out for the season taking leadership out of the clubhouse on a daily basis.  The bullpen in atrocious.  The outfield is near-atrocious, unless Jordany Valdespin steps up big.  The Mets are a rebuilding project, but there are some nice pieces coming to Flushing.

Why the Marlins could win the N.L. East: They can’t, but what kind of season would Giancarlo Stanton have to have to put Miami in contention?  60 home runs?  I do like Steve Cishek a lot as a potential closer, but he may end up trade bait at the deadline.  I might just like him because he’s a submariner.

Why the Marlins wouldn’t win the N.L. East: The rotation is the worst in the division, where their “ace” Ricky Nolasco can’t be trusted to not blow up on any given start.  The lineup has some veterans who can hit for average in Juan Pierre, Placido Polanco, Justin Ruggiano, and Casey Kotchman, but aside from Stanton there isn’t a 2nd run producer.  This might take years for Miami to get into contention.

Awards Watch

N.L. MVP

Jason Heyward and Justin Upton-Braves

Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasberg-Nationals

Cole Hamels-Phillies

David Wright-Mets

Giancarlo Stanton-Marlins

Cy Young

Craig Kimbrel and Kris Medlen-Braves

Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and Gio Gonzalez-Nationals

Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee-Phillies

Rookie of the Year

Rob Brantly and Adeiny Hechavarria-Marlins

Julio Teheran-Braves

Travis d’Arnaud and Zack Wheeler-Mets

Who do you think wins the N.L. East?  The Nationals?  The Braves?  Can one of the other three teams steal the division away?  Let us know in the comments!

-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)

Five Days in Orlando with the Braves

Back in November, there was a deal for a Southwest Airlines flight from Hartford to Orlando for $190.  There were two real options coming from booking the flight.  Either I was going to be lucky enough to be in the MLB Fan Cave top 50 (or 52) or I was going to be lucky enough to spend five days with my grandma.  Unfortunately for grandma, she got bumped to just a Valentine’s Day visit, but she couldn’t have been more understanding.

As I sit here in a nearly empty Champion Stadium at Disney’s Wide World of Sports, I can honestly say that this was the most incredible vacation and experience I’ve ever had.  I had no idea what to expect when I landed in Florida.  Would I be able to get field access? (sadly, no)  Would the players even come talk to me? (strangely, yes)  How quickly would I have to explain the MLB Fan Cave for them to do something? (I think I have that down to a science)  Would they agree to do a video of any kind? (also strangely, yes) Luckily, I had some success keeping it short and simple.  Plus, the phrase “Brave in the Cave” is pretty easy to remember.

Every day I came to the ballpark, I was one of the first fans to arrive and always the last one to leave.  I think the players might’ve gotten sick of seeing me.  The first hour of the first day, I was able to snag video endorsements from Cristian Bethancourt, Evan Gattis, and 3rd base coach Brian Snitker.  I was off and running and never looked back.  I couldn’t believe how nice everyone in the organization was.  The key I believe is just having confidence, the worst they can say is no, there’s no risk with a ton of reward.  General Manager Frank Wren was so nice and I thought was he said was hilarious.

Staying late also proved incredibly effective.  There were promotional photo shoots going on after the workouts for Jonny Venters and Eric O’ Flaherty that turned out to be fantastic for me.  You can tell that these guys joke around a lot.

Wednesday was the big day.  The top 30 announcement for the MLB Fan Cave would be coming down after voting ended at 5PM.  I knew if I was going to anything to keep momentum up and score some late votes I’d have to hustle.

At 8:30 in the morning I spotted ESPN’s Buster Olney doing a spot on SportsCenter.  I knew I had one connection with him.  I attended his “Going to Bat for Vermont’s Farmers” charity event last November.  Surprisingly, no one was around.  I went up to him, explained that I had gone to the event and that I was in the top 52 for the MLB Fan Cave.  He said that he tries to stay out of those things, but because I had gone to the charity event and was a fellow New Englander, he’d throw his support behind me.  I couldn’t even believe it.

While Olney was doing his taping for SportsCenter, I spotted Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez walking alone through the ballpark.  I quickly ran down and just started yelling “Fredi!”, he looked over, and I have my now patented quick Fan Cave spiel.  He was happy enough to oblige, even though as he said “doing this stuff really isn’t my thing.”

Finally on Wednesday, just two hours before the deadline, Braves star pitcher came out for a promotional photo shoot.  I had brought a new Braves hat to Orlando with me in hopes that Meds would break it in.  He was nice enough to!

I got the video up with 90 minutes of voting time to spare and put it on Twitter. It was retweeted by the Braves, Jason Heyward, and Paul Maholm.

The Medlen video was the final piece in the puzzle that advanced me into the top 30 for the MLB Fan Cave. I yelled in the middle of an empty Champion Stadium because I was so excited and honored to make it to the next round. Well the stadium was empty except for the grounds crew, who think I’m crazy.

When the top 52 announcement came down, Braves pitcher Paul Maholm was nice enough to retweet the news without me even asking. I contacted him through Twitter and then talked to him Tuesday about pulling off a creative video.  He agreed and “Paul Maholm Connects with the Mahomies” was born!  It’s my favorite thing I’d done so far during this MLB Fan Cave experience. Maholm could not be a nicer individual.

There were a few players who weren’t comfortable doing a quick video, but were nice enough to sign cards for me to giveaway to fans on Twitter, including Craig Kimbrel and Mike Minor.

I did take one “off day” in Florida. The aforementioned Valentine’s Day with grandma in Daytona Beach. Even then the off day consisted of putting together a “thank you video” for Braves fans support at Jackie Robinson Ballpark. I even learned a thing or two, like Robinson wore #9, not #42 with the Montreal Royals when he played the first integrated spring training game on 3/17/1946.

The last day in Orlando, I wanted to take advantage of Tout, a newer social medium, that allows users to tape 15 seconds videos and send them out with tweets. I used it all week to get Braves fans a firsthand near live look at the goings on of Braves camp, with almost no delay on Twitter. It’s one thing to say what the players were doing, it’s even better to show them. I think Tout would be a great use in the MLB Fan Cave this season, especially to have fans on Twitter ask players questions and send them back personalized 15 second videos answering it. It would be a fantastic way to continue the growth and connection between players and fans in the MLB Fan Cave.

Which bring me back to the MLB Fan Cave. I’m so stoked to be heading to Arizona on Monday for the top 30. I’ve done everything I can for this opportunity and I hope that it shows. It’s been an honor to represent Braves Country so far and I hope to continue on for the whole MLB season in the MLB Fan Cave. Thanks again for all of your support from Braves fans, players, and management!  I think they’re ready to kick me out of an empty ballpark again! Back to Connecticut for two day to repack and I’ll see you in Arizona!

-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)

Episode 37 – DMX Wants Upton Here! Upton Here!

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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or use this link to download on iTunes

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Enjoy!