Tagged: Pablo Sandoval

3U3D Break It Down: The N.L. West

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

A.J. Ellis, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Mark Ellis

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.

SF Giants

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.

Diamondbacks

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.

Padres

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.

Dexter Fowler

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.

Awards Watch

N.L. MVP

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

Cy Young

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)

Ranking the World Baseball Classic Rosters

World-Baseball-Classic-2013In 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**

Brazil hat wbc

#16: BRAZIL

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.”  

china wbc cap

#15: CHINA

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.

Spain wbc cap

#14: SPAIN

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).

italy wbc cap

#13: ITALY

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.

kingdom of netherlands wbc cap

#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**

south korea wbc cap

#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.

Australia-WBC-hat

#10: AUSTRALIA

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.

canada wbc cap

#9: CANADA

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.

taipei wbc cap

#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**

puerto rico wbc cap

#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.

mexico 2013 wbc cap

#6: MEXICO

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.

cuba wbc cap

#5: CUBA

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.

**The Favorites**

japan wbc hat

#4: JAPAN

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.

dominican republic wbc hat

#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?

USA wbc hat

#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 USAHow they will win: Veteran experience, explosive pitching. Why they won’t: The bane of their existence, Team Japan, will come along eventually.

venezuela wbc cap

#1: VENEZUELA

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.

Like what you see? Follow @3u3d on Twitter and like Three Up, Three Down on Facebook for more WBC and MLB news and analysis.

– Jeremy Dorn (@Jamblinman)

Giant Success! San Francisco Wins the World Series!

Much to the chagrin of 3U3D’s Angelo Fileccia and Jeremy Dorn the San Francisco Giants completed their sweep of the Detroit Tigers to win their 2nd World Series title in three years.  Pablo Sandoval took home World Series MVP honors, in part to his three-homer game in game one.  The Giants went on a fantastic run, where they battled back from being down two games in both the National League Division Series and National League Championship series.

Here are some quick stat hits that I’ve seen so far.  A few from @ESPNStatsInfo on Twitter.

-Giants are 1st team to win two World Series in three years since the New York Yankees won three straight titles from 1998-2000 and the first NL team to accomplish the feat since the “Big Red Machine” Cincinnati Reds won back-to-back titles in 1975-76

-Giants are the 1st NL team to sweep to victory in the World Series since the 1990 Reds

-World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval is the first non-Yankee to have a .500 batting average and three home runs in a World Series.  Sandoval joins Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig (who did it twice), and Hideki Matsui as the only players to accomplish this.

-The Tigers have now lost seven straight World Series games, the longest streak by an AL team in MLB history.  They also join the 2007 Rockies and the 1990 Athletics to win their Championship Series with a sweep and then lose the World Series with a sweep

-Miguel Cabrera is the 1st Triple Crown winner to make the final out of his team’s season in the playoffs

-Giants pitcher Matt Cain’s 2012 season: In order, signed $127 million extention making him the highest-paid right-handed pitcher in history, pitched the 1st perfect game in Giants franchise history, became just the 6th Giants pitcher to start the All-Star Game, won the game five of the NLDS, won game seven of the NLCS, and started the title-clinching game four of the World Series.  I’d say he’s having a pretty good 2012.

We’ve reached that sad time where the MLB season is over.  BUT, 3U3D isn’t going anywhere!  Depending on what happens with Hurricane Sandy, we’ll have a new podcast this week and we hope to bring you a very special San Francisco Giants guest.  We’ll cover all the hot stove action in the offseason and how we think teams did with their signings on the blog and podcast.  Plus, it’s a special year where we have the World Baseball Classic!  The next qualifiers are just a short time away on November 15th!  Should be a great time and thanks for all of your support, October has been our best month ever!

-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)

Break it Down: Tigers vs. Giants, World Series Edition

After 2,430 regular season games and 31 postseason games, we’ve reached the World Series. The Tigers and Giants will do battle in the Fall Classic for the first time against each other. The Tigers are making their 1st appearance in the World Series since 2006 and are looking to bring Motown their first title since 1984. The Giants took home the Commissioner’s Trophy in 2010. Side note: can’t we get the World Series trophy a better name? There has to be someone in baseball history worthy of having the World Series trophy named after them, right? That’s a discussion for another time.

Here at 3U3D, one of us each predicted half of the World Series matchup, with Angelo correctly predicting his favorite team, the Tigers, making it. While I had the Giants losing to the Yankees in the Fall Classic, I’ll take half right.

Who will win the World Series though? Our full predictions are coming on Episode 33 of the podcast that will be up before game one, but I just can’t resist giving the full breakdown on the blog!

Starting Pitching

One of my main reasons for picking the Giants to go to the World Series in the preseason was their starting pitching depth. How can they match-up with the Tigers now though, with a rested Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and even Anibal Sanchez. The Giants have been pushed to the brink in each of their two series. This results in Barry Zito having to start game one against the defending AL MVP, that has a 0.74 ERA in 26.1 innings this postseason. Not good for San Francisco. Madison Bumgarner has been roughed up during this playoffs, but wasn’t used in the Giants NLCS comeback. Bruce Bochy’s decision to start Bumgarner, the 2010 World Series hero, or Tim Lincecum may swing the series. Matt Cain should be good to go for games 3 and 7. The depth, quality, and rest of the Detroit’s starting pitching gives them the edge here.

Wednesday Update: Here are the starting pitcher matchup that were announced. Game 1: Verlander vs. Zito Game 2: Fister vs. Bumgarner Game 3: Sanchez vs. Vogelsong Game 4: Scherzer vs. Cain I’m shocked that Bruce Bochy isn’t starting Cain in game 3. As I said on this week’s podcast, I think the theory is that Bochy wanted to have his two best pitchers face the Tigers when they are at full strength with the DH in Detroit. They believe to have figured out Bumgarner’s problems, it makes it looks a little better and Lincecum is suited for the bullpen. Anibal Sanchez is fantastic in his career against the Giants, 3-1 with a 1.98 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP in 36.1 innings. That game 3 is going to be huge.

Advantage: Detroit Tigers

Bullpen

Jose Valverde’s implosion turning into Phil Coke’s success has been a strage turn for the Detroit bullpen. Coke was great against his former team in the ALCS, but that might have just been a culmination of the Yankees completely falling apart. Joaquin Benoit is Detroit’s best reliever and Octavio Dotel has become this bullpen playofs mercenary that goes from team to team. I don’t think it’s enough to best the Giants bullpen. Sergio Romo is arguably the best relief pitcher in the game, with a devastating slider. Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez haven’t given up a run in thirteen appearances this postseason. This is one of San Francisco’s biggest strengths and I have a feeling the Tigers bullpen has one blow up in them.

Wednesday Update: Tim Lincecum will be in the bullpen for the Giants. Making this an even bigger advantage for San Francisco.

Advantage: San Francisco Giants


Catcher

Another great strength for the Giants. Buster Posey scuffled offensively in the NLCS, but called three straight great games behind the plate in the Giants comeback. Alex Avila has been terrible in postseason play hitting .127 in 63 playoff at-bats, including .227 in 2012. Gerald Laird will get at least one start. They don’t match-up with the probable NL MVP though.

Advantage: San Francisco Giants

First Base

This is the biggest plus for the Tigers. Brandon Belt has gotten better, including a home run in game seven of the NLCS, but how can he match one of the top first baseman in the game? Prince Fielder is only hitting .200 in the playoffs, but provides such a threat that it makes pitchers throw to Miguel Cabrera. If you pitch around the Triple Crown winner, it makes Fielder that much better.

Advantage: Detroit Tigers

Second Base

Is there a hotter hitter coming into the World Series than NLCS MVP Marco Scutaro? Scutaro hit an insane .500 and had a record SIX multi-hit games in the NLCS. Omar Infante has been a solid pickup for the Tigers and has a hit in 7 of 9 postseason games in 2012. These have both been positions of strength for the World Series teams, but I’m going to have to ride the hotter hand.

Advantage: San Francisco Giants

Shortstop

I think Brandon Crawford is going to be solid player in the future, but I can’t see him being any more than a player the Giants hope doesn’t hurt them here. He’s been solid defensively, especially that catch off Kyle Lohse in game seven. However, I love the postseason experience of Jhonny Peralta, who’s hitting .343 in the 2012 playoffs and is a career .297 postseason hitter. It gives the Tigers another piece in the arsenal that the Giants don’t have offensively.

Advantage: Detroit Tigers

Third Base

Yes I know, this is a no doubt advantage for the Tigers. Miguel Cabrera, right now, is the best hitter in the game. Pablo Sandoval, in my opinion, is the biggest key for the Giants offense. No pun intended. Sandoval is hitting .326 this postseason and .378 since game five of the NLDS. He needs to stay hot in order for the the Giants to have a chance hang around. Cabrera can put an final stamp on an epic season. Frank Robinson in 1966 was the last player to win the Triple Crown and the World Series in the same year, he was also the World Series MVP. This is the national stage that Cabrera deserves to shine.

Advantage: Detroit Tigers

Outfield

I’m so glad to have a “fat” young sibling back in our lives. I’ve already started calling him “Fat Delmon” the way I called his brother “Fat Dmitri” for numerous seasons. Nicknames aside, Young has provided a spark for the Tigers lineup with a hit in 7 of his last 8 games. Speaking of sparks, no player has provided one off the field like Hunter Pence for the Giants. His pregame speeches have become must-see TV, however on the field Pence has been missing hitting .179 in the NLCS. Could his bases-clearing “triple hit” be the turning point for him at the plate? Austin Jackson and Angel Pagan seem to be mirror images of each other, but I give the edge to Jackson primarily for his defense. Which leaves the 3rd outfielder spot, Gregor Blanco in left for the Giants against the pupu platter of Andy Dirks, Quintin Berry, and Avisail Garcia. I think Berry will be used more defensively, but I can’t really see any of the three providing much here. Naturally, this means they will provide something. In the grand scheme, I can’t decide which is better. Which means it’s time for the first…

Advantage: Push

Manager

Two old-school guys with a World Series ring on their hand and now their 3rd pennant on the mantle. I can’t think of a match-up on this board that is more even. Should be great to see how these to mix and match their teams.

Advantage: Push

Final Mapes Prediction: In my matchups the Tigers take it 4-3-2. The Giants have this thing where they like to be down two games and come back. I’ll have the Tigers taking the first two on the road with Verlander and Fister. Cain rallies back in game three to beat Scherzer. The Giants then win a wild game four, where the Tigers bullpen comes into play. Tigers take game five on the arm of Verlander again setting the Giants up down 3-2 and heading back home again. They repeat what they did in the NLCS, but in a more competitive game seven, where both teams pull out every stop. It’s going to be a great match-up, but ironically it’s Melky Cabrera’s All-Star Game MVP that gives the Giants home-field advantage and the World Series. Giants in 7. Enjoy the Fall Classic, should be a great one.

Wednesday Update: I still think the Giants take it in seven as they put together nine innings from Vogelsong, Cain, and the bullpen while pulling out all the stops in the final game. They still will be down 2-0 going to Motown and Bochy ends up looking smart saving his two best pitchers for the road. Verlander takes game five and locks down the best postseason pitcher in the league award, that he probably already has anyway.

-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)

Fantastic Fielding of 2012

Chicks may dig the long ball, but it’s fielding that makes for the most exciting highlights in the game of baseball.  What have been the best displays of defensive excellence this season?  Let’s see if I can only limit Mike Trout to one play.

Let’s start it off with Mike Trout with what I believe is the best play of the year.  Look at the leap.  Look at the extension.  I don’t think there is anyone else that makes this play in the Majors.  Trout has taken away five home runs this season, but this one was the best.

Trout’s catch was given a run for it’s money though by Blue Jays Rajai Davis. He uses the wall to catapult himself up over a 10-foot wall to rob Casey McGahee. This one is a thing of beauty.

This is one of the top infield plays of the season by Diamondbacks do-it-all man Willie Bloomquist. He ranges to the other side of 2nd base and flips the ball backward almost in a somersault position to Aaron Hill for the force out. Bonus points for getting out Emilio Bonifacio, one of the fastest players in MLB.

Speaking of somersaults, here’s Twins Ben Revere making a great catch in the 9th inning and rolling into a somersault. Revere is one of the best in the league at spectacular plays.

I’m impartial to this play because I was at the MLB Fan Cave when it happened. Tigers Quintin Berry gets turned around, goes back and make a leaping catch over his head. I’m still not sure how he got to it. It was a huge save for the Tigers as they kept the lead at one and took the lead in the 9th inning. Without this catch, they lose.

Who has the best right field arm? My answer has been Jeff Francouer since he was an Atlanta Brave. Look at that laser rocket arm throwing out Alexei Ramirez.

Why has Brandon Phillips won two straight Gold Gloves at second base? Plays like this are part of the reason. He makes a behind-the-back flip look easy.

I promised my fellow podcast host Jeremy Dorn that I would get a Dodgers play into this. Check out Justin Sellers going full sprint over the shoulder and going head first into the stands. If you can get Vin Scully to go “Whoa!” and “Gee whiz!” that works for me.

A late addition to this blog. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pitcher almost end up on the dirt to make a play in no-man’s land going the wrong way like J.P. Howell.

The hands-down Minor League play of the year. Jason Repko robs a grand slam from Kosuke Fukudome for the Pawtucket Red Sox. He even tumbles OVER the wall to complete the play.

Bottom of the 12th, up by one with runners on 1st and 2nd, Roger Bernadina saves the day as he becomes one with Minute Maid Park to win the game for the Nationals.

I’ll close with a double-dip of amazing Giants plays. The first was an amazing, diving catch for Gregor Blanco. This catch was the most important on this list as it preserved Matt Cain’s perfect game. The second is the kookiest play of this list as Pablo Sandoval bobbles a catch in foul territory, dives, tips it up and is caught by a diving Brandon Crawford.

Everyone goes with a top ten list, but I love defense so much that I went with a top thirteen! I can’t resist the urge though, here’s another Mike Trout home run robbery! This one to end the game off the bat of Prince Fielder.

Did I miss anything? What’s your favorite play of the year? Let us know in the comments!

-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)

All-Star Rage: Jeremy’s Take

Look, there are a lot of things I hate about the MLB All-Star Game. The fact that it determines home field advantage in the World Series, even though fans vote. That each team has to have one representative, as if this is some high-fiving, everyone-gets-snacks-after-the-game Little League.

And many, many more. But usually my All-Star Rage doesn’t extend this deeply into my soul. Some things happened this year that are just inexcusable and you can blame the system, the fans, the PR Departments of certain teams, etc.

Whatever you want to do, that’s fine by me. But the fact remains: the National League will lose this year’s game.

Why? Because that’s what happens when you have David Wright on the bench.

That’s what happens when you have Johnny Cueto and Zack Greinke left off the roster.

That’s what happens when your reserve outfield is slightly more talented than your starting outfield.

And that’s what happens when one of your “stud” closers is on the team, holding the spot of a much more reliable, relaxed guy who would actually be able to hold a lead in a pressure situation.

I promise – I won’t even get into the A.L. I won’t talk about the snubs of Josh Reddick and Josh Willingham. Or the blasphemy that is Curtis Granderson and Jose Bautista starting over Mike Trout and Adam Jones. I won’t even point out that A.J. Pierzynski, the best overall catcher in the league from day ONE, isn’t even on the team.

And as much as I want to…I won’t mention the 2.2 million votes Giants fans cast for Freddy Sanchez, who hasn’t played an inning all season. Or that we were probably 12 hours of voting away from Brandon Crawford’s .230 average starting at shortstop for the National League.

Instead, I will focus on the guys who DID make it. Let’s talk snubs, shall we? And point out exactly why the National League is doomed for the 2012 All-Star Game:

1. Pablo Sandoval starting over David Wright

This is just straight ridiculous. I understand that Sandoval is popular in San Francisco. But Holy Toldeo. Wright has been the best third baseman on both sides of the ball in ALL of baseball in 2012. He should have won by a landslide. Instead, we get to watch a guy (very talented, no doubt) who is streaky, overweight and questionable on defense.

2. Dan Uggla starting over anyone

Uggla has power. Captain fantastic. How about the Astros’ (and All-Star reserve) Jose Altuve’s big numbers? Or Aaron Hill’s two cycles in one month? Both less popular names, for sure. But unless Uggla hits a big home run in the game, people should be kicking themselves for this choice.

3. Chipper Jones going to the Final Vote…

…against his own teammate, PLUS David Freese, PLUS Bryce Harper. I mean. My goodness, MLB. Is this your version of a cruel joke? The future first-ballot Hall of Famer needs to be on the N.L. roster, for multiple reasons. Yes, he’s in his final season and it’d be nice to see him there. But he’s hitting .294! When healthy, he’s still one of the best in the game. Now he has to split votes from a Braves fan base with Michael Bourn, and hope to beat out two of the most popular young players in baseball today in Freese and Harper. Ugh. Chipper better get the nod, people. Or kittens will be punted.

4. Buster Posey starting over Yadier Molina and Carlos Ruiz

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I agree. Buster deserves to be in the All-Star Game. He’s been great for the Giants this year. But better than Molina for the Cardinals and Ruiz, one of the best hitters in baseball thus far, for the Phillies? Give me a break. Posey is a great player who can rake at the plate, plays solid defense and handles a pitching staff exceptionally well. And he’s STILL not as good as Molina in general, Chooch in 2012. That says a LOT about Molina and Ruiz.

5. Jonathan Papelbon on the team over Tyler Clippard

Mapes touched on this in his snub-o-meter as well. Papelbon has the star power, the intensity, the fastball, the confidence…wait, stop. Doesn’t he also have a penchant for blowing it in big situations? And isn’t Clippard having the better year anyway? Yes, and yes. The last guy on this entire All-Star pitching staff that I, as a fan of a National League team, want on the mound in the 9th inning with a 1-run lead? Papelbon.

Well, there you have it. A very mild version of the rage that has been swirling inside my head since the final rosters were announced. So, did I miss anything? Will the National League pull a miracle and win this game? Who else got snubbed? Comment below and let me know!

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– Jeremy (@Jamblinman)