Free-agent slugger Carlos Beltran is in Kansas City meeting with the Royals front office. The club is hoping for a big-bang reunion with Beltran, who began his career in Kansas City in 1998. He was traded to the Astros during the 2004 season. He batted .287 and compiled a .835 OPS for the Royals. Most impressively he produced four seasons of 100 runs and 100 RBI in a five-year span from 1999-2003. Beltran arrived in Kansas City on Monday and is staying through Tuesday to meet with club officials and listen to the Royals’ pitch to have a homecoming with the right fielder. The Royals most likely will need to be willing to go to three years to sign Beltran. The Mariners also have a big interest in adding a bat like Beltran’s and are expected to make a serious offer to Beltran to get him to be their designated hitter. ESPN reported Beltran has a three-year offer on the table for $48 million, though it did not specify which team made such an offer.
The leader in the Beltran sweepstakes is the Yankees because of their payroll and chances to make the playoffs. The main reason Beltran is still a major free agent at the ago of 36 is because he brings a clutch bat that can push these teams into the playoffs. The Royals have seen in first hand how important Beltran can be in a lineup. One thing they haven’t been able to see is what he can do with hitters around him such as Billy Butler and Alex Gordon. Signing Beltran will help Butler and Gordon’s RBI numbers because Beltran gives protection to the middle of the lineup. At some point fans and front office executives will have to worry about carrying two designated hitters on the same team in aging Beltran and Butler. The Royals may be able to play Beltran in right field for this season but in 2015 he will be most effective as a DH. I personally wanted the Royals to pull the trigger for Dexter Fowler for one of the relievers. This trade made sense because the Royals needed another outfielder and had a surplus of relievers. The Astros were able to jump on the low asking price the Rockies put out there on Fowler. The best-case scenario would be the Royals sign Beltran and in 2015 they decide to move Butler for a needed piece at that time. The only way this signing makes the Royals better is if both Butler and Beltran are in the lineup together for the first two years. In addition, if the Royals can’t make that work, the return for Butler should be high because of his consistency at the plate. While the Royals will lose their draft pick to the Cardinals for signing Beltran, they will gain a draft pick from who ever signs Ervin Santana. Lastly, The Royals lineup next year will look like this… LF Gordon, RF Beltran, 1B Hosmer, DH Butler, C Perez, CF Cain, 3B Moustakas, SS Escobar, 2B TBD. This lineup now puts fear in opposing pitching staffs. If the Royals are able to sign Carlos Beltran it will most likely be their biggest free agent signing since David Cone. The cheers at opening day when Beltran takes the field will be the loudest I will hear at the K in my short life so far.
Over the past three weeks or so, the Cardinals have kept up their great style of play. They have gone 13-7 in their last twenty games, with a big three game sweep of the Washington Nationals. In addition to picking up key wins against the Nationals, the Cards have played solid, fundamental baseball against their division rivals. In the last twelve NL Central games, the Cardinals are 8-4. As I begin this recap, they have just completed their four game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. They put up a ridiculous twenty-nine runs in those four games, while only giving up thirteen. As play concluded on Sunday, the Cards held a two and a half game lead over the Reds for the lead in the NL Central. St. Louis is on a six game winning streak, with good timing, too, because the Reds are on a three game streak of their own.
As the season is progressing, player statistics are becoming more realistic. Unsurprisingly, Yadier Molina is the offensive MVP of the team so far. Through thirty games played, Yadi is hitting an impressive .328, with two bombs and seventeen runs batted in. Allen Craig is also proving himself as an everyday, middle of the lineup hitter. Through twenty-nine games played, Craig is batting .291, with one home run and twenty-five RBI’s. Once Craig gets the long ball going, watch out.
On the defensive side, the starting rotation has been nothing short of phenomenal. Jake Westbrook is the only starter that doesn’t have at least four wins. Wainwright, Miller, and Garcia each have four, while Lance Lynn of all people leads the team with five. Lynn, also, has yet to lose a start. The story of the rotation (again) is Mr. Adam Wainwright. Since I last wrote about him, almost nothing has changed. Through almost fifty innings of work, Wainwright has only three walks. THREE! That’s unheard of! Things tend to go well when you avoid walks and record an average of at least one strikeout per inning pitched. That’s exactly what Wainwright does.
The Cards should have at least two more wins coming up in the next few days. They have a two game series coming up against the Cubs, which unfortunately for me being from Chicago, should mean two easy wins against the Cubbies. Other key upcoming series include the Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers, and the surprisingly good Kansas City Royals.
Tomorrow night marks the beginning of the NBA’s “second season”. The NBA playoffs begin the flow of casual basketball fans starting to watch and pay attention again, because as they justify it, “These games actually matter.” The stakes are raised, the contenders rise to the occasion, superstars are born and pretenders are sent packing. While the Heat, Thunder and Spurs are the obvious favorites for the title, there always seems to be a dark horse that emerges in the postseason. With the regular season over, the storylines are set for the first round. Here’s a break down of each match-up.
(1) Miami Heat vs (8) Milwaukee Bucks
We’ll start with the easiest match-up to predict this postseason. Here are some of the facts. The Bucks finished with a sub-.500 record at 38-44 in a depleted Eastern Conference including a 24-28 conference record. Miami just completed one of the most impressive regular seasons in the history of the league. They also have the best player in the world right now, possibly ever, in LeBron James. If the Bucks look like anything less than a deer in the headlights throughout this series, Jennings deserves a max deal and Jim Boylan deserves an extension. This scenario is about as likely as Gary Busey winning an Oscar for Best Actor (I know, I know, he was nominated in 1978). Prediction: Heat in 4.
(2) New York Knicks vs (7) Boston Celtics
Live by the three, die like a fly. That was the philosophy taught by my father to all the teams he coached back during his stint as a grade school head basketball coach. This series features a team that has based its entire season on living or dying from beyond the arc. Mike Woodson is an excellent coach, but Knicks fan should be fearful of a series in which 2 or more of their 3-point specialists get cold for any extent of this series. The Celtics defend and rebound the ball incredibly well and could cause fits for the Knicks, especially if Jeff Green can maintain a steady motor throughout the series. Look for the Celtics to push this series to at least 6 games. Prediction: Knicks in 7.
(3) Indiana Pacers vs (6) Atlanta Hawks
Frank Vogel needs the Paul George from 2 months ago back if the Pacers want any hope of making a deep playoff run. In fact, Vogel will need a consistent Paul George if they want to advance past the Hawks, who are deceptively very good. George is averaging only 12.8 per contest during the month of April and the whole team has certainly felt the lack of production. With the core of Josh Smith, Al Horford and Jeff Teague, the Hawks are certainly capable of pulling off the upset. George Hill’s health will also be crucial to the Pacer’s returning to mid-season form. The teams split the series during the regular season. Look for this one to be a dogfight. Prediction: Pacers in 6.
(4) Brooklyn Nets vs (5) Chicago Bulls
The Nets have quietly been a very strong team down the stretch. At he beginning of the season almost no one would have predicted that the Nets would be one of the better defensive squads in the league, ranking 6th in points per game allowed. Deron Williams has also come on strong recently and has morphed back into the Deron Williams we had seen in the past, a top tier point guard. With both Rose and potentially Noah out for the series, I don’t see anyway the Bulls compete with the Nets in this series especially when it comes to matching up against Williams and All-Star Center Brook Lopez. The Nets are my dark horse selection for the 2013 postseason. Prediction: Nets in 5.
(1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (8) Houston Rockets
This is the match-up most NBA fans wanted to see. With Kevin Martin and James Harden squaring off in this opening round, it appears as if the exes have both been invited to the same party, and it makes for a awkward yet great story. Aside from Harden, the Thunder are better at nearly every single position including a deeper bench. While the Rockets are certainly a talented team, they’re still a year or two away from being a legitimate strength in the West. They may have enough in the tank to steal one, possibly two from the Thunder, but don’t expect an upset here. This is Durant and Westbrook’s conference to lose. It won’t happen in this round. Prediction: Thunder in 5.
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs (7) Los Angeles Lakers
Believe it or not, of all the series in the first round this one has the most upset potential. For starters, the Spurs have been shaky down the stretch this season, including a loss to Los Angeles post Kobe Bryan injury. With Parker and Duncan’s limits being limited all season due to health concerns, and Ginobili potentially our for the whole series, the Spurs rotation is greatly depleted. Look for the Lakers to try to pound the ball inside like they did in their recent win over the Spurs on Sunday. Expect the Lakers to take try to take advantage of spots in the series when Duncan is off the floor and Poppovich is managing his minutes. This series will go to the brink but look for the Spurs to come out on top. Prediction: Spurs in 7.
(3) Denver Nuggets vs (6) Golden State Warriors
NBA statisticians could be reaching for the record books during this series, because this one will be a shootout. Both the Warriors and the Nuggets have two of the most high-powered offenses in the game (7 and 1 in scoring respectively). Both have very young and incredibly talented point guards in Ty Lawson for the Nuggets and Stephen Curry for the Warriors, who are both arguably their teams best players. Curry, though has been playing at an unbelievably high level in the last half of the season. It’s often said that the team with the best player wins the series, and if Curry maintains his high level of play through the first round, they could find themselves in the quarterfinals. Prediction: Warriors in 6.
(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs (5) Memphis Grizzlies
There’s a lot of bad blood between these two teams, especially with this being a repeat of these teams’ first round series last year. It’s been made very clear Blake Griffin and Zach Randolph don’t take to kindly to one another and their physicality towards one another will certainly rub off on their teammates. While the Clippers appear to have the edge in overall talent, the Grizzles superior post play of Marc Gasol and Randolph could give the Clippers fits. They may not be able to play small ball as much as they did in the regular season, at least during this series. The Clippers, still, are a much deeper team than the Grizzlies and are 3-1 in the season series between the two. They will rely heavily on DeAndre Jordan and Griffin and their athleticism to limit Gasol and Randolph. Look for the Grizzlies to make yet another early postseason exit. Prediction: Clippers in 6.
Rookie of the Year: Damian Lillard, Trailblazers
Sixth Man of the Year: J.R. Smith, Knicks
Defensive Player of the Year: Marc Gasol, Grizzlies
Most Improved Player: Paul George, Pacers
Coach of the Year: Mike Woodson, Knicks
Most Valuable Player: LeBron James, Heat
As the Cardinals are now two weeks into the young 2013 season, I figured I would write a recap and discuss some of the highs and lows at this point in the season. After twelve games, the Cardinals have an overall record of 7-5 (4-2 home). They have done a good job against division rivals, taking two out of three from both the Cincinnati Reds and the Milwaukee Brewers. They also took two of three from the defending champion San Francisco Giants, which had to feel good after the disappointing NLCS series last October. In the following article, I will list a couple pros and a couple cons of the season so far.
1. Adam Wainwright-Cardinals fans should be ecstatic about the start that Wainwright has had to this point. Although he got knocked around by the D’Backs in the season opener, he has been nothing short of sensational since. In three starts he has a 2-1 record with a 2.05 ERA. In 22 innings of work, he has 24 strikeouts which should not come as a huge surprise, but impressive nonetheless. Perhaps the two most important statistics are innings pitched and walks. Through three starts, Wainwright has 22 IP, which confirms the question of whether or not he is still able to go deep into games. Perhaps more importantly is his walk total…or lack thereof. Through three starts he has not issued a single free pass. You know what they say…walks will kill you. Maybe that’s why Wainwright has let up so few runs so far. With the injuries and contract situation out of the way, look for Wainwright to have a big year.
2. Matt Carpenter- Another pleasant surprise has been the offensive production of Matt Carpenter. He has played in all twelve games so far, and already has fifteen base hits. Though he only has one home run, he is still being very productive. He has fifteen hits, six RBI, and four walks, which shows that he also has patience at the plate. More importantly, six of his fifteen hits have been doubles, which has helped him to score thirteen runs in twelve games. He leads position players with a .319 batting average, and his on-base percentage is slightly higher.
1. Competition Level- What I mean by this is how the Cardinals play against teams with different talent levels. For example, they played extremely well in the two games that they beat the division rival Reds. That being said, they also came out slow against the weaker Arizona Diamondbacks, losing two of three to begin the season. Now that may have been just because it was the beginning of the season, so we’ll see how things play out going forward.
2. Road Play-Through six games on the road, the Cards are a mediocre 3-3. They dropped two of three in Arizona, one of which was a 10-9 loss to a decent-at-best Diamondbacks team. They did take two of three from the Giants, but the game that they lost was one where they could not get a run across throughout the entire game, losing 1-0. A better road record would have been 5-1 or 4-2 at the very least. I have no doubt that they will start to pick it up, but if they want to be a dangerous team, they will have to be significantly above .500 on the road this season.
The next few weeks will be a real test for the Cardinals. Through their next 16 games, they have six against the Pirates, four in Philly, three in DC, and three back at Busch against the Reds.
The following list consists of the top five shortstops currently in the Major Leagues in my opinion.
- Derek Jeter– I hope this pick does not surprise anyone because Mr. Jeter has been nothing short of outstanding for the better part of the last two decades. Since his first full season in ’96, Jeter’s season-low in games played is 119. Only five times in seventeen seasons has he hit under .300; four of those times he hit in the .290’s. A great contact hitter, Jeter keeps his strikeout total low, and is also a very talented base-stealer. Jeter has recorded 200+ hits in a season eight out of his seventeen seasons, which is nothing short of phenomenal. He is coming off of a serious ankle injury this season, so keep your eyes open to see whether or not he can be the same player he was a year ago.
- Jose Reyes– Some may not realize how good Jose Reyes is because of his awful situation in Miami, but in reality, Reyes has been very solid for the past few years he has been in the league. His first full season came in 2005 with the Mets, in which he hit .273. Reyes, like Jeter, is a fantastic contact hitter who does not hit for much power. On occasion he can put a ball out of the park, as he did nineteen times in 2006. The only real problem I have with Reyes’ game is his fielding is sometimes very shaky. There have been several seasons in which he has made fifteen or more errors. Fielding aside, Reyes is one of the better base-stealers in the recent years. In 2007, he totaled a whopping seventy-eight stolen bases! He has gotten off to a slow start this year in Toronto, but look for Reyes to pick it up now that he is out of Miami.
- Troy Tulowitzki– Tulowitzki is personally one of my favorite shortstops in the league, due in large part to his passion for the game day in and day out. When he broke into the league in 2007, he hit a stellar .291 while playing in 155 games. The only downside to Tulo is his lack of consistency as an everyday player. Only twice in six years has he played in over 150 games. He is not a base-stealer like Reyes or Jeter, but he is still an above average baserunner. Fielding-wise, Tulowitzki is a stud. His career high in errors is eleven, and he has a career fielding percentage of .985. He is off to a good start this season, as are his Rockies who have started the season 3-1.
- Hanley Ramirez– Coming in at number four is Hanley Ramirez. In his early years, Ramirez was known as a big time young player as he broke out with the Florida Marlins. His missed a little less than half the season in 2009, which led to his worst season in the pros. He batted over .300 for four straight seasons, 2007-2010, and has a career average of .298. When he got out of Miami halfway through last season, he admittedly struggled a little bit with his new Dodgers team. He was also recently injured in the World Baseball Classic so he has not played in a game so far this season. Ramirez commits a significant amount of errors each season, which is why he dropped toward the bottom of my list, but he is also a fantastic base-stealer like Jose Reyes.
- Starlin Castro– Starlin Castro rounds out my top five because I believe he is the best young shortstop, and maybe even player in the game today. Though Castro hasn’t been playing that long, he has been an all-star two out of his first three years. He has accumulated a .295 batting average over his first three seasons, and in 2011 he totaled 207 base hits. He is not a known power hitter but he did put fourteen balls out of the park in 2012, a season in which he played every single game. On the negative side, Castro is sometimes a very shaky fielder. When he messes up once, there is a good chance he will get down on himself and mess up again in the near future. Though still not great, he has progressed his fielding over the last season or two and I believe that with time and effort, he will become an MVP caliber player in the next three to five years.
Other notable shortstops include Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies, Alexei Ramirez of the White Sox, and Elvis Andrus of the Texas Rangers.
Wait, did I just see the Royals on ESPN? I have caught myself thinking this more already than any other season in recent years. Dayton Moore and the Royals have finally gone all in for this 2013 season. With a huge trade for James Shields, the Royals were finally able to go from being one of the worst starting rotations in the history of the MLB to one of the better rotations in the AL. To go with a better rotation, they Royals have offensive threats that could contribute to a rare winning season.
The biggest X-factor this season is health. The Royals have invested so much this season, so if James Shields or Salvador Perez gets injured, fans can kiss this season goodbye. Concerning health, the major statistic I see is which starter pitches the most innings. Last year, the starters went just six innings too often. Though the bullpen was dominant, the relievers were typically worn out. The Royals trade for Shields has given Kansas City a workhorse. It has also given the Royals and Ned Yost options for their rotation and bullpen.
The starting rotation is bound to be better this year than last, but by how much? As I said earlier, the inning the starters consume will show the specific talents the Royals have in the bullpen. Right now, here is how I see the starting rotation shaping out:
1. James Shields: 15-10, 3.52 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 223 Ks, 58 Walks in 227.2 Innings
2. Ervin Santana: 9-13, 5.16 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 133 Ks, 61 Walks in 178 Innings
3. Jeremy Guthrie: 8-12, 4.76 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 101 Ks, 50 Walks in 181.2 Innings
4. Wade Davis: 3-0, 2.43 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 87 Ks, 29 Walks in 70.1 Innings
5. Luis Mendoza: 8-10, 4.23 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 106 Ks, 59 Walks in 166 Innings
Remember when I said they Royals will have options this season? Well, what should the Royals do with Luke Hochevar and Bruce Chen? I have always been a huge believer that the best way to motivate and get the best out of players is through pure competition. I hope Ned Yost has made it clear that no one’s starting spot is a lock. Mendoza has been pitching extremely well so far this offseason and spring training. While this does not matter too much, it does show that he is coming in ready to compete for a job. This season, the Royals will have something they have not had since they traded away Zack Greinke. The Royals will once again have a pitcher with whom they will expect a win no matter what in James Shields. “Big Game James” actually thrives off of pitching in games against the best teams and will get his opportunity in the Royals opener against Chicago White Sox. Plus, Shields will bring playoff experience to the staff.
The Royals’ bullpen has been the strongest part of the team because of young prospects coming in and producing immediately. Greg Holland and Aaron Crow are the “Leaders of the Relievers”. Both can come in with confidence that they will get the team out of any jam. The 5 players below are current locks on having a spot in the rotation due to how they have fared in the majors so far. Holland will close and Crow will be the set-up man just like last year. With Luke Hochevar being put in the bullpen, the relievers are starting to form a complete group.
Greg Holland: 7-4, 16 Saves, 2.96 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 91 Ks, 34 Walks in 67 Innings
Kelvin Herrera: 4-3, 2.35 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 77 Ks, 21 Walks in 84.1 Innings
Tim Collins: 5-4, 3.36 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 93 Ks, 34 Walks in 69.2 Innings
Aaron Crow: 3-1, 3.48 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 65 Ks, 22 Walks in 64.2 Innings
Louis Coleman: 0-0, 3.71 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 65 Ks, 26 Walks in 51 Innings
Nate Adcock, Will Smith and Everett Teaford are all fighting for one spot in the bullpen and it will most likely be this way the entire season. Will Smith did a better job than most expected last year as a starter but did not perform at a high enough rate to retain his role in the rotation.
The Royals will not intimidate opposing pitching staffs with their power, but will with their ability to run the bases, hit for contact and situational hitting. The biggest difference from last year to this year’s offensive attack is having Salvador Perez healthy. Along with Perez, look for Alex Gordon and Billy Butler to carry the load for this lineup For the most part, Gordon and Butler have been consistent. I expect Butler to finally jump into the thirty home run club and be the sole member from the Royals. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas could both take major strides this year as well. Hosmer should benefit immensely from playing with the USA team because he gets to see how the best players prepare themselves on a daily basis. I do not expect Perez to hit in the .300’s but around .280 mark. Though the Royals may lack strength in power, they more than make up for it in their athletic youth.
Alex Gordon (LF): .294/.368/.455, 14 HR’s, 72 RBI, 93 Runs in 161 Games
Alcides Escobar (SS): .293/.331/.390, 5 HR’s, 52 RBI, 68 Runs, 35 SB’s in 155 Games
Eric Hosmer (1B): .232/.304/.359, 14 HR’s, 60 RBI, 65 Runs, 16 SB’s in 152 Games
Billy Butler (DH): .313/.373/.510, 29 HR’s, 107 RBI, 72 Runs in 161 Games
Mike Moustakas (3B): .242/.296/.412, 20 HR’s, 73 RBI, 69 Runs in 149 Games
Salvador Perez (C): .301/.328/.471, 11 HR’s, 39 RBI, 38 Runs in 76 Games
Jeff Francoeur (RF): .235/.287/.387, 16 HR’s, 49 RBI, 58 Runs in 148 Games
Lorenzo Cain (CF): .266/.316/.419, 7 HR’s, 31 RBI, 27 Runs, 10 SB’s in 61 Games
Chris Getz (2B): .275/.312/.360, 17 RBI, 22 Runs, 9 SB’s in 64 Games
Come September, I expect the Royals to finish at 79-83. Lorenzo Cain’s health will be crucial as this team aims to achieve a winning record. With major injuries to any of the starting lineup, the Royals winning chances diminish because they do not have the depth to plug another player in without a great drop off. Furthermore, the Royals do not have the pieces or money to make trades to improve the roster in the middle of the season. The Royals are all in this year and pitching will tell the story for the Blue Crew.
Top 5 Second Basemen
The following article will consist of the five best all-around second basemen in the Major Leagues in my opinion…
- Dustin Pedroia– What can I say about Dustin Pedroia? How about I start with this: he’s really, really good. Even in his young career, Pedroia has clearly established himself as one of the faces of the MLB. The pressure of playing in a big market city like Boston hasn’t slowed him one bit. Pedroia consistently plays 140+ games each year, which doesn’t sound like much but it is something that a lot of guys don’t do. Through six seasons he has a lifetime average of .303. He is also often associated with the phrase “Laser Show,” which is nothing short of accurate. A great majority of Pedroia’s hits are literally laser line drives that give infielders almost no chance of making a play. On top of that, he is a solid base stealer and has never made more than seven errors in a season.
- Chase Utley– Over the past several years, Chase Utley has been the cornerstone of the Phillies franchise. Through thick and thin, he has been there the whole time with just a few other players. While he is not as good of a fielder as Pedroia, his batting statistics are closer to a Pedroia level. Utley has given himself a .288 lifetime average over a nine year career, which includes almost twenty home runs per season. Unfortunately, Utley’s consistency has slightly declined over the last two or three seasons due to injury, but I still believe he is one of the elite second basemen in the game today.
- Ian Kinsler– In the number three slot, I have chosen Ian Kinsler, who narrowly beat out Brandon Phillips and Howard Kendrick. Kinsler has been a very strong player since he came into the league in 2006, at the age of twenty-four. Kinsler consistently hits in the high .200’s every year, but gets on base in more than one third of his plate appearances. He also averages around twenty home runs per season, and what doesn’t clear the fence often ends up as a double or even a triple. He is also a very strong base-stealer, and can hold his own on the infield.
- Howie Kendrick- I believe that Howie Kendrick is one of the most underrated players in the whole MLB. His contributions to the Angels are often overshadowed by the accomplishments of others such as Jered Weaver or Kendrys Morales. Unfortunately, I think his stats will still be overlooked in the future because of new Angels such as Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. In his seven year career, Kendrick has hit almost .300, with about 125 hits per season. Home runs are few and far between, but he does drive in a decent amount of runners for a contact hitter. The only real problem I have with Kendrick is his amount of strikeouts per year, but that can be easily fixed. Look for Kendrick to maintain his role as a solid, everyday player under a cloud of superstars.
- Brandon Phillips– Through his first eight full seasons in the pros, Phillips has been nothing short of solid. Known for his flashy defensive plays, he has only had one season in which he committed more than ten errors in the field. That being said, Phillips can also swing the stick a little bit, as well. He is sporting a .273 lifetime average, with 1249 hits in just 1188 games in his career. Only once in eight full seasons has he played in less than 140 games. Phillips has been a key contributor to the Red’s success over the past couple of seasons, consistently beating down on my beloved Cubs.