C70 At The Bat

It’s one of the annual traditions here at C70 At The Bat, our trip around the majors in blog form.  Since 2009, I’ve been asking bloggers from other teams about what’s going to happen with their squad in the coming season.  It’s always fun to see what the opposition is thinking and how optimistic some of their most devoted and intelligent fans are.  This year, the Pepper series is brought to you by Out of the Park Baseball 16, coming soon for PC.  Order this outstanding baseball simulation today!

Texas Rangers
67-95, fifth in the AL West

Everything went south quickly for the Rangers last season.  A year after a 91-win season and falling just one win shy of the playoffs, nothing went right for the Texas team.  Injuries, bad play, you name it, you could probably find it in the 2014 season.

I noticed during the 2011 World Series that I live almost exactly between St. Louis and Arlington.  My brother’s a fan of the team (though not of the GM) and you can find them on TV up here, so I tend to check them out from time to time.  However, if you want the real scoop you, of course, go to the bloggers.  Today we’ve got three for you to read through.  First up is Steve from One Strike Away…Twice!, a blog title that will always warm the heart of a Cards fan.  He’s on Twitter @RangersBlogger.  After him, we have Rob from Texas Rangers Cards, a look at the history of the franchise through baseball cards.  No Twitter for Rob, I don’t believe.  Finally, we have Chris from the staff of The Texas Rangers Blog.  You can follow the blog on Twitter @TTRBTweets.

C7o: What are your thoughts on the team’s offseason?  Did they do what they needed to do?

OSA: They mostly did what they needed to do. Ask the average fan and they might say Texas didn’t do enough. But they’re the ones who think the Rangers should be able to afford James Shields, Max Scherzer AND swing a trade for Giancarlo Stanton. Yovani Gallardo and Ross Detwiler were two pick-ups that should allow Nick Martinez and Nick Tepesch to get a little more seasoning in the minors, where they should have been all of last year if not for the injuries. I would’ve liked to see Texas pick up a better catcher but if Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo do what they’ve done in their careers, the Rangers won’t need a lot of offense from the position. Jon Daniels doesn’t believe in spending a lot on the bullpen pieces outside of closer so the jury’s out there. The biggest lack was getting a legitimate starting left fielder. At the same time, there’s a lot of talent in Spring Training trying to get that job so it may turn out not to be a lack. Overall, the front office might get a “Meh” based on the pieces they picked up but we won’t know how well it all works til the end of September.

TRC: I thought they might have until Yu Darvish went down for Tommy John surgery. Now I’m not so sure. Seems the starting pitching is pretty thin and it’s going to take a lot of luck to get through the season in one piece. Of course with the contracts the team already has on board it would have been very difficult to pick up any front-line starting pitching over the winter.

TRB: As of yet, I don’t think the Rangers have really done anything this offseason that will have a big effect on the season, for better or worse. I know there is a lot of buzz around Gallardo, but he has yet to prove he can be the ace he was projected to be when he broke into the league in 2007. In fact, his career ERA and WHIP are 3.69 and 1.30, and those are great representations of every year he’s been in the majors. Unfortunately, when those numbers are translated to the AL, we’re probably looking at a 4+ ERA, which they probably could have found without trading prospects for. The Rangers also added a former 1st rounder who has been unable to keep a rotation spot, a few bullpen pieces, and Kyle Blanks, an enormous first baseman with a ton of power and an inability to stay healthy. All that being said, the success of the Rangers this season hinges on health (darn), and the players they paid big money to last year showing they’re worth anything close to the contracts they were given. Given the large contracts on the roster and the rash of injuries, there isn’t a lot the Rangers can do yet. I do like the idea of pitching Juan Carlos Oviedo and Leo Nunez in the same game.

C70: What are the expectations for Prince Fielder this year?

OSA: I expect Prince is going to be just fine. The first thing to keep in mind is that before this injury, Prince Fielder was one of the most durable players in baseball, playing no less than 157 games in 8 consecutive seasons. By all accounts, he is A) healthy; B) happy; and C) in the best physical shape of his life. Will he match his offensive output of his best years? That I don’t know. The bar I have for him, though, is performing better than the Rangers first basemen of a year ago performed. All told, Texas got just 14 homers and 67 RBI out of the first base position a year ago. Even if Prince only puts up 20 homers and 90 RBI (below his marks in any full season he’s played except for the 81 RBI in ’07), that’s a far cry better than a year ago.

TRC: Very high. Even higher than when he first arrived. Last season was extremely disappointing, even more so since Ian Kinsler enjoyed a pretty good season in Detroit and there was a hole at the top of the Rangers lineup. Prince has got to have a bounce back season. Rangers fans are pretty forgiving but a second lost season and they will start to sour on him and his large contract.

TRB: I have high hopes for Prince Fielder, but much lower expectations. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him get off to a slow start given the year off. I’d say .260 with about 22-25 HR’s is what I’m expecting, assuming he plays the whole year. If he can get to about .275 with 30 HR’s, it will be a successful season for him.

C70: Jurickson Profar’s name seems to always come up in trade rumors. Is he going anywhere? (Note: the problem with sending the questions out early…..)

OSA: As you know, Profar is out, likely for the season, after recurring shoulder muscle issues cropped up before Spring Training even began. He’s not going anywhere until he’s healthy.

TRC: Short answer is no, not anytime soon. His recent injuries and now his shoulder surgery have pretty much sapped any trade value he had. Roughned Odor seems to have passed him up in the organizational depth chart as well. One fellow fan I talked to referred to Profar as being “Wally Pipped” by Odor. Right now that seems to be an accurate assessment of the situation. Long term Jurickson still has come promise. He’s young and can bounce back from the injuries and surgery. What remains to be seen is if Texas will have a spot for him when he bounces or if he’ll find himself on the way to another club. The Rangers are unlikely to move him up to the Majors or to another club until he’s fully healthy.

TRB: A resounding no. Obviously, this has become a much easier question to answer. With the state of his shoulder, they can’t get enough in return to make it worth trading him. Might as well hold on and hope he fulfills the immense potential.

C70: What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?

OSA: I’ve got two to pick from, a pitcher and a position player. For the pitcher, I’m going to say Derek Holland. After missing most of the season with a knee injury, he was close to dominating upon his return in September. He’s said the time off actually helped him in realizing how much he missed competing and made him renew his focus. Dutch has been inconsistent most of his years in Texas but I have a feeling he’s finally going to turn the corner in 2015.

For a position player, Rougned Odor has shown in every level of the minors that after a few months, he starts to figure the league out and then shows a marked improvement. He was already beginning to show those signs towards the tail end of 2014 and I think he outperforms all the projections that are out there: ZIPS, Pecota, any of them. Stink is one of those guys who’s competing 100% of the time, he hates to lose and makes other teams hate him at the same time they respect him and wish they had him for a teammate. Odor might make people forget Ian Kinsler ever played in Arlington.

TRC: Going to cheat a bit and give two names. Roughned Odor or Robinson Chirinos. Both impressed with partial seasons in the Majors last year. There are pretty high expectations for both this year, probably more for Odor. Both have shown an ability to adapt under pressure and should be able to make great progress with a full season and a starting job.

TRB: I’d love to say Rua or Rodriguez, but I think it has to be Odor. He flew through the minors and held his own last year with the big club. He could add twenty points the the batting average, hit about 15-17 HR, and steal about the same amount of bases. His stolen base percentage should improve greatly from last year, when he was caught about twice as many times as he was successful.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and where will they finish in the division?

OSA: I go back and forth on this all the time. Is this a pennant contending team or am I just drinking the Kool-Aid. After all, this is a team with a new manager, a number of injured players trying to come back and real question marks in left field and the bullpen. Despite all that, though, I believe. I’m not going to predict an AL West crown in 2015, especially with Yu Darvish out for the year. I do think, health permitting, this Rangers team will be in playoff contention in September even without Darvish and have the horses to be in the post-season. They’re deeper than they were a year ago, two of the injuries were to players with no history of steady DL trips and Jeff Bannister seems to already have the team reading off the same page. I think 85 wins is the minimum we see from the Rangers this year.

TRC: Hurts to say but 81-81. Third place in the American League West. The entire division is improved and that’s going to make things real tough. Texas has the ability to stay ahead of the Astros and one of the other three teams is likely to stumble. The A’s are going to be tough again this season and will likely win the division. The Mariners are also greatly improved and the Angels are a yearly contender at this point.

TRB: Of the teams in their division, the Rangers are probably the hardest to predict. I could see them with anywhere between 65 and 85 wins, but I’m going to say 74-88 and just behind the Astros for dead last in the West. I’d love to be more optimistic, but too many things have to go right, and some of them are already going wrong.

C70: What do you like best about being a Rangers fan?

OSA: I just relocated to Austin from the Rio Grande Valley in November. That means two things: Instead of an 8 hour drive, I can get to Arlington in three hours; and if I can’t go to Arlington, the AAA Round Rock Express is just a 35 minute drive away. I actually plan on seeing more games live this year than ever. Besides that, I love that Rangers fans have such a strong presence on social media so we can do a lot of back and forth during the games. I love that there are a number of good blogs and podcasts out there devoted to the Rangers. I love being to share my fandom with my oldest son, who lives in Arlington and is just as big a fan as I am. The ballpark can be miserable in the middle of summer but Rangers fans are passionate and brave the heat to see their team.

TRC: The club does a pretty good job of fan relations. Having been to the FanFest the past couple of years and reading about how other teams do theirs, it becomes obvious that Rangers fans have it pretty good. This holds true at the ballpark as well. The atmosphere is great and the club clearly cares about retaining its fan base. Throw in the fact that they’ve been competitive recently (until last season) and have a bright future and being a Rangers fan is a great place to be.

TRB: I live in Chicago right now, so this is fairly simple; Nolan Ryan pummeling Robin Ventura, who was 20 years younger than him. I love that that wins me almost any argument here. As Rangers fans, we don’t have a rich history full of World Series victories and Hall of Fame players, but I remember where I was when Ryan manhandled Ventura . I remember the front page of the paper the next morning. I miss Nolan. I’m afraid we may be approaching a mild rebuild, so that’s what I fall back on right now. This season, I’ll be able to add a food stand at The Ballpark entirely devoted to fried food to this list. Given the current food climate, fans may actually have a heart attack the next time the Rangers get one strike away. Twice.

My thanks to all these guys for their time and efforts.  Seems like it should be an interesting year in Texas!

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It’s Day 2 of the predictions from the United Cardinal Bloggers and today we take a gander at the National League East.  It’s a division that always gets attention, especially since one of the New York teams is in it.  How will it shake out, though?  Don’t ask me, but that won’t stop me from writing about it.

National League East

Washington–The best team in the division last year went out and got better, signing Max Scherzer to add to an already deep pitching staff.  When Stephen Strasburg is perhaps third in your rotation, you are doing something right.  Couple that with an offense led by Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth and there should be no lack of runs being scored.  They won’t need much, of course, but it should keep them from a lot of 1-0 games like the Cardinals saw last year.

New York Mets–I’m not saying that they are going to be close to the Nationals, mind you.  Someone has to finish second in this division and I think pretty much 2-4 can swap around.  Even though the Mets have lost Zack Wheeler, they do have Matt Harvey coming back.  I think David Wright will have a better year this season and will help the offense push past some of their closer competitors.

Miami Marlins–While he probably won’t be back to start the season, having Jose Fernandez available for the stretch could be a huge difference maker.  Again, I’m thinking there could be a lot of similarities in these clubs and having an ace like that in your rotation can be huge.  Having a focused Giancarlo Stanton can’t be a bad thing either and some of the young talent that the Marlins have been developing should be about ready to blossom.

Atlanta Braves–It’s been a bit of a puzzling offseason for the Braves, but it’s difficult to say that they got any better.  Gone are Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and Evan Gattis, taking a large portion of the offense with them.  While there’s still pitching in Atlanta–and we’ll likely all be rooting for Shelby Miller in a Braves uni–it’s tough to know if that’ll be enough to get them past the others in the midst of the middling division.

Philadelphia Phillies–As we said in Pepper, it’s hard to believe four years ago they were in the playoffs, only seven years ago winning a World Series title.  Time wins every battle and some of the stranger moves of Ruben Amaro Jr. are coming home to roost.  The rebuild has started, but there’s still Cole Hamels to move.  If he gets shipped out for prospects, expect the Phillies to be very comfortable in the cellar this year.

Tomorrow, we tackle the best (or at least our favorite) division in baseball!

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This winter, the St. Louis Cardinals made it clear that they expected Carlos Martinez to be the fifth starter in their rotation. Yesterday, the Cardinals named Martinez as that fifth starter. However, as you know, it’s been anything but a straight path for the young righthander. We’ve talked about the fifth spot over and over again, the competition that wasn’t and such, but it’s tough to see it get settled with an injury.

Jaime Garcia was placed on the 15-day DL yesterday, which made Martinez the fifth starter in all but announcement, which came later on. What this means for Garcia is still pretty unclear. Best case, he’s able to return after the 15 days are up, which would be April 10 since it was backdated to Friday, but since Martinez won’t make his first start until the 11th, we know that’s not going to happen. Garcia’s going to have a rehab stint to finish building up his arm strength to make up for missing the last two starts of the spring. So even if he’s ready to go next week, you are probably talking about the end of April before he could legitimately return to the rotation. And that’s just if the soreness goes away quickly.  If it lingers, who knows what will happen.

Given his history, it’s probably not worth talking about what the Cardinals will do when he’s healthy until he is healthy. There’s a non-zero chance that he won’t pitch at all for St. Louis this year. I don’t think it’s a large chance, but that possibility is there. When he looks like he’s about to return, then we’ll debate what happens to Martinez or at least how we get him into the starting rotation.

Martinez has earned the job, however. If you went strictly by spring performance, perhaps Marco Gonzales has a better case but that’s more a tiebreaker than a decision point. Gonzales, as we’ve gone over many times, is younger, less experienced and well-served by a little time in Memphis, no matter how sharp he looked this spring. One thing to watch for will be how he handles going to AAA. Remember when Shelby Miller got sent down after he thought he should have gone north he bombed and admitted later that affected his focus. I doubt the same will be with Gonzales, honestly, but it’s something to keep an eye on.  If he’s as sharp in Memphis as he was this spring, John Mozeliak may have tough decisions coming earlier than expected.

We finally get to see what the Cardinals have in Martinez. Martinez, save for that bump in the road against the Twins early on, had a pretty solid spring and wound up tallying a strikeout per inning, which is nice to see. More importantly for me, he walked just one every three innings, which has been my major concern with him, that his stuff may be too good and it continues to move out of the strike zone. If he’s got that under control, watching him every five days could really be a treat. There’s a reason St. Louis held on to him and let Miller go to the Braves and let the Phillies keep Cole Hamels. I look forward to seeing him prove that reason!

Before Martinez was official, the news about Garcia was paired with the fact that Carlos Villanueva had made the team as a long reliever, thus removing any suspense from the fifth starter announcement. The only way Gonzales was going to get it was if they wanted to move Martinez to the bullpen, but Villanueva took the last spot. Like Martinez, Villanueva had one real rough outing and that skewed a lot of his numbers given the small number of innings we are playing with. He also struck out a batter an inning, though, and gives the team that long man that Mike Matheny tends to think they need. Given the health situation and the idea of saving innings on most of these starters, he’s probably more right this year than in years past. Plus, no offense to Villanueva, this isn’t like keeping Joe Kelly around as a seldom-used starter. If Kelly was the “Ferrari in the garage”, Villanueva is the mini-van in the carport. Not necessarily flashy, but gets the job done and isn’t a terrible waste when it’s not on the road.

The last decision that has to be made is the last bench spot, but in actuality that decision was made as well with the decision by the Redbirds to go with five starters early in the year. (Which, incidentally, shows their commitment to saving innings on these starters.  With an off day on Monday as well as Thursday and the next Tuesday, the Cards could have easily used four starters for a bit, but hopefully saving the innings in April will allow them to be better in September and October.) If they had just gone with four, Ty Kelly might have been able to make the squad for the first couple of weeks. Now, with a 12 man staff, that leaves five spots for the bench, four of which are taken up by Mark Reynolds, Tony Cruz, Pete Kozma and Peter Bourjos. Randal Grichuk would seem to be way out in front for that last spot, especially since he still leads the team in home runs (though he’s been stuck on four for a while). Kelly will probably wear Cardinal red at sometime this season, but it seems likely he’ll be staying in Memphis after the exhibition Friday night.

Before we wrap it up, take the time to read Jenifer Langosch’s story about Josiah Viera. You’ve seen him around the Cards, but maybe you’ve never heard the full story. I hadn’t, honestly. I knew some of it, but Jenifer lays it all out there in an outstanding read.

If you are a regular listener to Gateway To Baseball Heaven on download, you may be wondering where this week’s edition was.  Blog Talk Radio had technical problems Sunday night and so Tara and I were unable to record the show.  With all this news, though, we didn’t want to wait until next Sunday, which would be overshadowed with, you know, an actual game, so we’ll be on tonight at 10 PM if you want to tune in and listen to us break this all down.

Today we look at the NL East in the predictions and the Texas Rangers in Pepper. Man, this blog has been busy lately, hasn’t it?  Making up for all those quiet days in the winter, I guess!

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Joe Schwarz of Viva El Birdos and I sat down Wednesday night and chatted a bit.  Of course, a lot of things have happened since then, but it’s still a good listen!

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It’s one of the annual traditions here at C70 At The Bat, our trip around the majors in blog form.  Since 2009, I’ve been asking bloggers from other teams about what’s going to happen with their squad in the coming season.  It’s always fun to see what the opposition is thinking and how optimistic some of their most devoted and intelligent fans are.  This year, the Pepper series is brought to you by Out of the Park Baseball 16, coming soon for PC.  Order this outstanding baseball simulation today!

Tampa Bay Rays
77-85, fourth in the AL East

We’ve been conditioned to think that Tampa Bay is always the little engine that could.  That even though they are a small market team, they’ll be able to overcome due to their talented farm systems and smart management.  There’s even been a book written on that general theory.

Sadly for Rays fans, that wasn’t the case last year as various things conspired to keep them out of the playoff hunt.  Now they face a season without David Price and Joe Maddon for the first time in a long while.  Can they continue to be relevant?  To answer that, we have Anthony from X-Rays Spex.  Hunt Anthony up on Twitter @XRaysSpex and give him a follow!

C70: What are your thoughts on the team’s offseason? Did they do what they needed to do?

XRS: The Tampa Bay Rays had an eventful offseason to say the least. Gone are middle infielders Yunel Escobar and Ben Zobrist; former Rookie of the Year award winners Wil Myers and Jeremy Hellickson; Matt Joyce; relievers Cesar Ramos and Joel Peralta; and catchers Jose Molina and Ryan Hanigan. Matt Silverman’s offseason moves ushered in a new crop of players like John Jaso, Rene Rivera, Asdrubal Cabrera, Steven Souza, Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri, to name a few. Expect prospects like Tim Beckham, Nick Franklin and Nathan Karns to make an impact as well.

As a certain former manager used to say, pitching and defense are in the Rays DNA — that still holds true now. The lackluster 2014 season made it abundantly clear, something needed to be done to bolster the offense. Did Silverman put together a more potent team? That fails to be seen at the moment. However, Steamer projects an improved Rays offense that will score around 675 runs and drive in 617 RBI — 63 more runs, and 31 more runs batted in over the previous season.

It should be noted, Kansas City scored 651 runs last season and went to the World Series. Two other playoff contenders — St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants — scored 619+ runs, less than the Rays are projected to score in forthcoming season. If Tampa Bay’s pitching staff is solid once again, and if the team can drive in more than 619 runs (the total St. Louis scored last season), a solid season wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility.

C70: How will things change now that Joe Maddon is gone?

XRS: Joe Maddon changed the culture within the Rays organization, and the team will always owe him a debt of gratitude for that. Yet the hiring of Kevin Cash over Dave Martinez symbolized a desire to change things from the previous regime. It’s a little early to predict what the net difference might be — after all this is Cash’s first managerial position, and there really isn’t much to go off of. However, he seems to value the player’s input on things (not that Maddon didn’t), Cash has already espoused the benefits of a stable lineup day in and day out, and you can be certain there won’t be any penguins or mariachi bands in the clubhouse.

C70: Who will be the ace of the rotation by the end of the year?

XRS: If he can stay healthy and log 200-225 innings, Alex Cobb without a doubt.

What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?

Pitching wise, I would expect Drew Smyly to make great strides. Smyly is projected to outperform his career norms, and it will exciting to see how he improves in this, his first complete season under the tutelage of pitching coach Jim Hickey. As for position players, Evan Longoria will need to make great strides in order to meet and/or exceed his offensive projections (.256 BA/.334 OBP/.446 SLG/.780 OPS/.340 wOBA/124 wRC+/5.4 WAR) if Tampa Bay is going to be relevant in 2015.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and where will they finish in the division?

XRS: I’ll put it this way, PECOTA has the Rays leading the AL East with an 86+ win season. Why? Pitching and defense. PECOTA projects the pitching staff to allow 638 runs — second in the American League, just behind the Mariners. Furthermore, the defense is pegged to save 28.3 runs above the average — second in all of baseball, just behind the Royals.

C70: What do you like best about being a Rays fan?

XRS: Beyond the fact they are my local team, I love watching a team that plays hard, intelligent baseball. That they are competitive on a shoestring budget certainly doesn’t hurt.

My thanks to Anthony for all his insight here.  Save for San Diego, there might not be a team that has more change to deal with this season and it should be interesting how they handle it!

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Every year, we in the United Cardinal Bloggers decide to work up our magic balls and see how this season is going to pan out.  Then we bury these things and agree never to speak of them again.  I’m notably bad at these things–I think I’ve picked Boston last when they’ve been first and vice versa–so I wouldn’t be putting any credence into them.  That said, I’m going to give it a go anyway.  The American League goes today in one fell swoop, because any league that uses 10 players for their starters isn’t worthy of deep thought.  We’ll do the NL divisions Tuesday-Thursday, then we’ll talk about the postseason and the awards on Friday.

American League East

Baltimore
New York
Boston
Tampa Bay
Toronto

This is a division that I really have no feel for at all.  It seems like everyone could win it.  I think the Yankees might get enough out of Alex Rodriguez to be in the mix, assuming their pitching holds up.  I think losing Marcus Stroman could be the difference between Toronto winning the division and losing it completely, because I wouldn’t be surprised if all five teams don’t wind up with 10-12 games of each other.  I’m going with Baltimore mainly because 1) they did it last year, 2) they didn’t modify the team a whole lot and 3) I think Buck Showalter‘s pretty darn good.

American League Central

Cleveland
Detroit
Chicago
Kansas City
Minnesota

I could easily see Detroit winning this division again, but they are getting older.  We don’t know if Justin Verlander can return to a similar form to what we’ve seen in the past.  Miguel Cabrera won’t hit forever, though he’ll still hit a lot this year.  I like Cleveland to edge them out by a game or so.  I expect Kansas City to revert to form a little bit this coming season, given who they lost, though again, all these teams save Minnesota should be neck-and-neck throughout the year.

American League West

Seattle Mariners
Los Angeles Angels
Houston Astros
Oakland Athletics
Texas Rangers

Let’s shake things up a bit.  Again, I’m still not feeling it but I think Seattle can ride Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker to the top of the division.  The Angels may get a good season out of Albert Pujols, but that group is getting older and I’m not confident they can battle the injury bug successfully enough to wind up in first.  Houston is going to keep improving and might even be on the fringes of the wild card race this year.  Or perhaps I threw darts and this is how it worked out.  (I probably should have done that, much better odds of being right.)

Tomorrow, the NL East!

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A Left-Handed Weekend

If you threw from the sinister side and were a part of the Cardinal roster, chances are you made some news this weekend.

We start with Sam Freeman, who was dealt Saturday to the Texas Rangers.  We’d been talking about something like this for a while now, since Freeman was out of options and the bullpen crunch was pretty noticeable, with only one job possibly up for grabs.  Freeman had a decent camp, though he showed that he still hadn’t conquered his command problems.  Hopefully he can overcome them in Texas, though switching to a different league and a more hitter-friendly ballpark isn’t likely to help him a lot.  Still, the Rangers must be planning to use him since he can’t be sent down, so we’ll root for him to be effective.

The only thing more certain than a Freeman move was the thought that, eventually, we’d be talking about some sort of Jaime Garcia injury.  That came Saturday as well, as the Cards announced they were “hitting the brakes” in relation to Garcia, who was complaining about shoulder soreness.  It’s tough to really know how big a deal this is.  On the more optimistic side, there’s no doubt that Garcia has been going strong for a while now.  He pushed his offseason to be ready earlier than everyone else.  He’s only thrown an official 9.1 innings, but he just threw 80 pitches in a simulated game last week.  Given that he’s coming off a major surgery, it’s not real surprising that all that work is leaving the shoulder sore as it builds up strength.  Garcia says it’s a minor setback, which perhaps it is.

On the other hand, it’s Jaime Garcia.  Nothing ever seems to be a minor setback with him.  He’s coming off surgery for throacic outlet syndrome, which Chris Carpenter never came back from.  Carpenter also could have a run of good outings before hitting a wall.  That wall was usually more solid than those bouncy houses that kids get to play in.  When you mix that in with the general fear that comes along with any Cardinal injury diagnosis, given past history, it’s hard to believe that things are going to be rosy for Garcia in the short-term.  Garcia himself doesn’t know if he’d have to build back up to 80 pitches or could start from there, but either way, it seems to have come at the worst time for him being able to make the Opening Day roster.

Baseball has a way of working out problems.  You have too much depth?  Hey, look, now you don’t.  Garcia’s injury knocks him out of the fifth starter spot that he’d pretty much claimed, leaving it up to Marco Gonzales and Carlos Martinez.  Both pitched this weekend and did quite well.  Martinez threw Friday in one of the split squad games and allowed just a run on five innings.  Gonzales, adding to the Weekend of Lefties, took Garcia’s spot on Sunday and, while he had trouble early, still went just short of five innings and allowed a run.  Gonzales even was able to score the tying run after singling to lead off the third and scoring on a Jason Heyward triple.

While nothing has been decided, given the fact that the Cards were pushing Martinez for the fifth spot earlier in the year and nothing has really happened in the spring that would change anyone’s mind, Martinez will take that fifth starter spot assuming that Garcia’s injury really is a minor one.  As noted, they don’t really need a fifth starter the first couple of weeks, so they could take an extra hitter and wait on Garcia, but odds are he’s not going to be ready in two weeks.  That’s just a gut feeling, though I imagine many others would tell you the same.  It just seems a lot like Carpenter and when he wasn’t able to go, when he hit setbacks, it wasn’t a short-term problem.  They may delay making the decision, but that’s more because they seem to be interested in taking Ty Kelly north than because they think Garcia is ready to go.

A few of these roster decisions could hang on what happens this week.  For instance, Carlos Villanueva, after having a rough start to the spring, has been pitching much better.  You’ll also note he’s striking out a batter per inning while walking just two this spring.  You could make a case for starting the season with both Gonzales and Martinez pitching for Memphis to stay ready and Villanueva taking that last spot.  I’m not sure that they are going to go that way, but I wouldn’t completely say it’s out of the realm of possibility.  I expect no matter what they do, all of these guys will be in St. Louis at one time or another this season.

We’ll see what happens this week.  Garcia gets reevaluated on Tuesday and that might be the key to making the final roster decisions.  There’s only four more days in Jupiter, one day in Memphis, then a day off before Opening Night.  The season that we’ve been waiting for so long is now right upon us.  There’s not a lot more data you can gather before you take your 25 and you head off to Chicago.  Seeing who those 25 are should make for an interesting week.

Couple of posts coming your way today.  Mid-morning we’ll kick off the UCB predictions project with the American League, then this afternoon we look at Tampa Bay in the Playing Pepper series.  So, in some immortal words, so long for just a while!

0 comments

It’s one of the annual traditions here at C70 At The Bat, our trip around the majors in blog form.  Since 2009, I’ve been asking bloggers from other teams about what’s going to happen with their squad in the coming season.  It’s always fun to see what the opposition is thinking and how optimistic some of their most devoted and intelligent fans are.  This year, the Pepper series is brought to you by Out of the Park Baseball 16, coming soon for PC.  Order this outstanding baseball simulation today!

Seattle Mariners
87-75, third in the AL West

One game.  Baseball is a game of inches and one game is pretty much the epitome of that idea.  The Giants, whom we looked at yesterday, won one more game than the Mariners, grabbed the last wild card spot, and the rest is history.  The Mariners won one less game and that was the difference between a cold October and at least a play-in game for the play-in game.

Still, the Seattle faithful have a lot to be excited about, what with adding Robinson Cano last year and Nelson Cruz this offseason and a pitching rotation headed up by one of the most electric talents in the game in Felix Hernandez.  Why wouldn’t you want to check this team out?  To find out a little more, we have two bloggers lined up today.  Jeff writes at Jeff’s Mariners, which covers all Seattle sports but obviously focuses on the best sport of all.  He’s on Twitter @jeffsmariners.  After Jeff, we have Tim from Seattle Mariners Musings.  You’ll see that Tim’s also on the OOTP bandwagon when you check out his blog!  You’ll find him Tweeting @msonmnd24.

C70: What are your thoughts on the team’s offseason? Did they do what they needed to do?

JM: I believe the acquisition of Nelson Cruz giving the Mariners a legit #4 hitter to bat between Cano and Kyle Seager was the move that will put the Mariners over the hump. The other signings of platoon type players including Rickie Weeks are icing on the cake.

SMM: I’m generally pleased with the offseason. I was pleasantly surprised by the terms of the Nelson Cruz deal. I don’t like the Michael Saunders-J.A. Happ trade, but at the same time I like the creativity with the Seth Smith/Justin Ruggiano platoon and the late free agent flier taken on Rickie Weeks. Most importantly, the team held on to their prospect core. I still think it will be wise for the M’s to deal one of their shortstops (my preference is to trade Chris Taylor), but if the right deal wasn’t available in the offseason it was wise to hold on to everyone.

C70: How quickly can Taijuan Walker build on the strong beginning of his career?

JM: Taijun Walker is ready to roll this year along with James Paxton and maybe even the forgotten pitcher Danny Hultzen.

SMM: I don’t know. I’ve watched Walker pitch in AAA several times. He’s been inconsistent, though at the same time I never get the feeling he pitches with his best stuff in Tacoma. I don’t know if this is because he is being asked to work on secondary pitchers or because he wants the challenge of facing MLB batters. Personally, I think Walker is still a bit of a thrower and not a pitcher, but his raw stuff is pretty filthy. I’m not sure he will get pushed to learn how to pitch until he faces MLB hitters. Walker’s ability to effectively mix in his secondary offerings, which might as much about trusting Mike Zunino as anything else, will be the key to his 2015. I’m assuming he makes the Mariners rotation because he should.

C70: What’s the key for this team to be successful?

JM: The key for the Mariners to win this year will be getting a strong start in April and May and building a lead in the wide open AL West, then staying healthy.

SMM: The youngsters that will get lots of playing time. The Mariners need some of their young starters to take a step forward if they are going to be legitimate contenders. Mike Zunino, Brad Miller/Chris Taylor, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker are the key players. They don’t all need to step up, but if one or two of them can take a step forward this season the Mariners will be strong.

C70: What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?

JM:  I pick Dustin Ackley to have a break-out year and hit 300 this year.

SMM: I’d say Brad Miller if I was certain he can grab the starting shortstop gig. He was more productive last year than he gets credit for, and some advanced metrics suggest he suffered through some horrible luck. Without that certainly I’ll say Mike Zunino. He can focus more on his hitting this year now that he knows the pitching staff. His bat speed, hitting mechanics, and work ethic are all too good for him to not figure out how to hit with some authority at some point. Zunino will be a better hitter in 2015. The only question is how much better.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and where will they finish in the division?

JM: I predict the Mariners will win the AL West with a record of 12 games over . 500.

SMM: I expect the Mariners to win 88 games and finish second in the AL West but grab a wild card spot.

C70: What do you like best about being a Mariners fan?

JM: My favorite part about being a Mariners fan for over 35 years and blogger for my sixth year is that there are so few real long term faithful that when we finally make it back to the playoffs in 2015 it is going to be a feeling only a few of us will be able to truly appreciate. Go Mariners!

SMM: King Felix! He’s a great pitcher and a true face of the franchise. He’s more than a great player – he also bleeds Mariners blue. I want the Mariners to make the playoffs for him as much as I want it for myself as a fan.

I appreciate Jeff and Tim filling us in about the Seattle squad.  My son’s a fan of Felix as well, so we try to catch the Mariners after the Cardinal game sometimes. Probably will do even more of that this year!

0 comments

It’s one of the annual traditions here at C70 At The Bat, our trip around the majors in blog form.  Since 2009, I’ve been asking bloggers from other teams about what’s going to happen with their squad in the coming season.  It’s always fun to see what the opposition is thinking and how optimistic some of their most devoted and intelligent fans are.  This year, the Pepper series is brought to you by Out of the Park Baseball 16, coming soon for PC.  Order this outstanding baseball simulation today!

San Francisco Giants
88-74, second in the NL West, won World Series

We talked earlier this week about Cardinal rivals when we looked at the Pittsburgh Pirates.  If there’s been a post-season rivalry over the last few years, it’s been with the San Francisco Giants.

Of course, in a real rivalry both sides win sometimes.  Here lately, even though the Cards win some games, it always seems to be the Giants winning the series, whether getting a remarkable performance out of an unlikely source in Barry Zito or watching Randy Choate throw the ball into the stands.  The bounces have gone the Giants way at times, but they’ve been able to capitalize on them and take home the grand prize three times in five years.

Will they be able to break this even-year-miss-playoffs part of the cycle?  To address that, we’ve got three San Francisco bloggers lined up to blast away at the Pepper questions.  First, many of you remember Craig from our interactions in the postseason.  Craig’s site, THE San Francisco Giants Blog, has been nothing but gracious and accommodating when I’ve stopped by.  (Craig’s answers are on this thread if you’d like to see the opinions of his commenting crew.)  He Tweets @1flapdown77.  Following him is Richard, who plies his trade over at The Giants Cove on the Bloguin network.  Follow him on Twitter @GiantsCove.  Finally, we have Kevin from SF Lunatic Fringe.  As always, Kevin has provided his answers in the comic format that highlights his blog.  He’s on Twitter @sflunaticfringe.

C70: What are your thoughts on the team’s off season? Did they do what they needed to do?

TSFGB: They replaced Pablo and Morse with McGehee and Aoki. That’s a big minus-minus. They resigned starting pitchers who have a questionable amount of productive innings left in their arms. But we’ve won 3 of the last 5 World Series with teams that didn’t look so good on paper. As the great Flap veteran DJ Loo once said, “Sabean’s off season doesn’t end until the trade deadline.”

TGC: For a Championship organization, the Giants’ recent offseason was dormant and unproductive– for two reasons.

First, the Giants were rejected by a number of free agent players, even when they offered more money.

San Francisco offered Pablo Sandoval $100 million for five years; Boston signed him for $95m/5 years. Reports are that San Francisco also offered Jon Lester and Chase Headley more than the Cubs and Yankees did—but they signed (respectively) with those teams.

The Giants have the wealthiest ownership group in the Majors (in fact, according to Forbes.com, the 5th wealthiest in all pro sports). But after falling short to attract premium free agents, they apparently decided not to invest any more than they had to in 2015.

So to replace the significant offense lost with Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse, the organization went cheap. GM Brian Sabean picked up Kansas City castoff Nori Aoki and Marlins castoff Casey McGehee, both inexpensive, marginal players.

SFLF: 

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C70: What does this team do so well in the post season when they get there?

TSFGB: They act like they’ve been there and because they have been there they have a different mindset than other teams. They don’t freak out and throw stuff around when things don’t go their way (see: 2014 Washington Nationals). They don’t get too high or too low….until the job is done and it’s time to celebrate. When you know you’re going to win it’s a fairly huge advantage over your competitors. And no one out-manages Bruce Bochy in the post season.

TGC: Every postseason, and each World Series win, was different.

In 2010 the Giants had very talented, young pitching and just enough offense to support that pitching. The 2012 San Francisco Giants were flat out one of the best teams in baseball, and sealed that by sweeping Detroit in the World Series.

The 2014 Giants were a poor performing team who managed to make the playoffs as the 10th best team out of ten. Without the individual performance of Madison Bumgarner throughout the playoffs, the Giants would have been eliminated early.

SFLF:

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C70: What’s the weakness of the team?

TSFGB: The regular season? Kidding. People think the Giants “got lucky” again in 2014 but remember, they were 42-21 to start the season. You don’t get that record by accident. They have gotten weaker offensively but they’ve maintained most of the core of both the position players and the pitching staff. If they stay healthy, I don’t see any holes that can’t be overcome once Sabean ends his vacation shortly before the 2015 trade deadline…

TGC: Every team has weaknesses, but the 2015 Giants have four areas of concern that can’t be fixed with a couple of deals at the trade deadline.

Starting pitching, long the foundation of the franchises’ recent success, has flattened out. Bad contracts with Tim Lincecum, Jake Peavy, and Ryan Vogelsong coupled with an older, injury-prone Tim Hudson, and .500 starter Matt Cain don’t bring a lot of support to ace Madison Bumgarner.

Second, team run production, which was barely acceptable last season, is weaker than it’s been in years. In 2015, finding enough offense will be an ongoing challenge for the Giants.

Third, the Giants’ bench is constructed on the “fill-in” theory. These are “extra” players who aren’t good enough to start, but who also aren’t professional hitters who can be difference-makers in the late innings of close games.

Last, and maybe most concerning, is the team’s minor league system. There are few prospects on the farm who could either, 1) help the big league team; or, 2) have enough value to be trade chips.

Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and the MLB Network’s top 100 prospects in baseball have two Giants on their lists (and in the last half). The Giants farm system has consistently been rated one of the worst in the game.

SFLF: 

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C70: What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?

TSFGB: I mean, they just won yet another World Series with most of the same guys from the one they won before this one. I’m not sure there are too many more strides to take. Brandon Belt is the obvious choice, should he remain healthy…..

TGC: For the last three years, Brandon Belt has been the perennial pick to “break out”. Belt will be 27 this season and if he doesn’t finally move up to the next level in 2015 his value will quickly start to diminish.

Second baseman Joe Panik proved his worth as a rookie in 2014, both defensively and as a singles hitter. But the Giants will eventually have to find some power bats to compliment Buster Posey.

SFLF: 

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C70: What’s your projection for their record in 2015 and where will they finish in the NL West?

TSFGB: Probably another 88 wins or so, 6 games back of the Dodgers. And another World Series win from the wild card slot.

TGC: The goal for the Giants in 2015 will be to finish above .500, which I think they can do. The Dodgers will take the NL West, but San Francisco could also be challenged by the emerging San Diego Padres.

The real problem for San Francisco in 2015 is the sheer number of quality “second tier” teams in the League– Miami, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Chicago, the Mets, and the Padres.

SFLF: 

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C70: What do you like best about being a Giants fan?

TSFGB: The knowing dude head nods I get to partake in with strangers on the street on a daily basis. Through association, we are world champions, multiple times over the last 5 seasons. We don’t take it for granted. But we’ll ride this supernova till it burns out. The trophies, however, will never fade away….

TGC: There is no one thing I like best about being a Giants fan.

I love the team’s rich history; I savor the 2010 and 2012 Championships; my seat partner and I relish being season ticket holders at the stunning and beautiful AT&T Park; and I like those lovable, wacky Giants fans.

SFLF: 

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My thanks and appreciation to Craig, Richard and Kevin.  If we meet again in October, though, I’m hoping for a different ending!

8 comments

You’ve heard the old saw that the three most important things in real estate are location, location, location?  While pitching doesn’t quite rate like that in baseball, it’s pretty close.  The way the Cardinals have been going lately, pitching isn’t something they’ll be worrying about.

Save for John Lackey‘s game on Sunday, where he admitted he was just throwing fastballs and going at about 75% for a season tune-up, the Cardinals haven’t allowed a run since last Friday.  Now, to be fair, there’s an off day in there and one rainout, though Lance Lynn had kept Boston scoreless for four innings before those rains came.  Still, it’s a nice run that’s seen them win two 1-0 games, something we saw a lot of last year.

Yesterday it was Michael Wacha‘s turn to shine and that’s exactly what he did.  Wacha went just shy of six innings, his longest outing of the spring, and allowed no runs on four hits, striking out four and walking one.  While I don’t know how long it’ll be before we can expect Wacha to go into the seventh or later, I think the Cards would take that outing just about every time, especially if the bullpen is as strong as we are hoping it is going to be.  More importantly, there’s been no signs of a recurrence of that stress reaction.  While that doesn’t mean that it’ll never happen–I expect that’ll be hanging over Wacha for the rest of his career–it does give credence to the idea that he’s going to be healthy for 2015.

If it’d been the regular season, maybe you read something into the fact that Jordan Walden got the save in a close game rather than Trevor Rosenthal, but even then probably not.  Rosenthal picked up a win on Sunday with a scoreless inning of relief, so most likely Mike Matheny was just getting some work for Walden as well as maybe trying to see if he can turn to him if the situation warrants.  We saw last year in the splits that it seemed like much of Rosenthal’s problems came when he pitched too many days in a row.  (OK, there were problems on back-to-back days, so it’s not like it required a lot.)  If Matheny feels confident enough in Walden, perhaps he can rest up Rosenthal some.  That said, knowing Matheny’s typical bullpen usage, Walden’s going to be working just as much as Rosenthal with his eighth inning work, so that might not be an option very often.

We’ve talked about the bullpen before, how it seems to be pretty locked down with Rosenthal, Walden, Seth Maness and Matt Belisle from the right side and Randy Choate and Kevin Siegrist from the left.  That leaves one more spot, which would likely be Carlos Martinez should Jaime Garcia, as expected, get the fifth starter spot.  (There have been many that suggest that Martinez should then go to Memphis, which is a reasonable thought, though I think the Cards would rather him on the big league roster.  Joe Schwarz and I talked about it last night for the next Conversations interview, which hopefully will go up today or tomorrow.)  If that’s the case, it makes life tough on Sam Freeman.  Freeman’s out of options and has been good, but not great, in the spring.  Good enough that you could put him on your roster, but not good enough that you have to with the arms that are available.  Still, you don’t want to give away a left-handed reliever by placing him on waivers.  It’s not going to be a blockbuster deal, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see John Mozeliak try to find him a home before April 5.

Tommy Pham is still nursing that injury that, at the time, looked to keep him out just a day or two.  That was almost two weeks ago and, unfortunately, fits in with Pham’s injury history.  It would seem to be this weekend at the earliest before we’d see him, giving him just a week to try to make an impact.  (If he’s good to go by Friday with the split-squad games, that would be a good time for him to get some play.)  With Randal Grichuk still leading this team in home runs, it seems unlikely a week would be enough for Pham to unseat him for the last bench outfielder role.  I expect we’ll see Pham some this season in St. Louis, but most likely he’ll be on the Memphis side when the Cardinals are down there for their exhibition on April 3.

Forbes came out with their list of most profitable MLB clubs and the Cardinals topped it.  They are also the sixth-most valuable franchise in baseball at $1.4 billion, which makes for a good return on the $150 million they spent to buy the team in 1995.  (It was actually less than that as they immediately turned around and sold the parking garages that came with the deal.)  That’s an amazing testament to what the DeWitt’s have accomplished in the Gateway City.  There’s no logical reason why a team in a market such as theirs should be able to be more valuable than the New York Mets (though, of course, the Mets have their own off-the-field issues) or the Los Angeles Angels.  Yet with smart moves and a dedicated fan base, that’s exactly where they are.

Now, some are going to look at the fact that they were the most profitable last season and say, “Well, see, they should be spending more.  They are just interested in lining their pockets.”  I’m not one to be critical, but there’s only one thing to say to folks like that.

Stuff it.

As much as we might like to think so in Cardinal Nation, baseball is not a public trust.  It’s a business, and just like any other business, it has to make money to stay afloat.  Now, if the team had been languishing in last or even in mediocrity while these kind of profits were made, sure, you’d have a case to say maybe they should try harder.  However, this is the most successful long-term run in the history of the Cardinals.  Do you realize that?  For much of their history, it was basically on-a-decade, off-a-decade.  Three World Series in the ’40s, nothing in the ’50s.  Three World Series in the ’60s, nothing in the ’70s.  You get the picture.

Now, though, it’s almost an unbroken line of success from 1996 to the present.  You have, what, three years under .500 in that stretch?  And one of those was 2007, when the Cards were coming off not only a World Series title but a three year run the likes of which we may not see again and lost Chris Carpenter on Opening Day.  Sure, the wild card and the three divisions have helped in this regard, but it’s still a wonderful run.  And the reason it’s been a run, the reason that it’s been sustainable, is because of the decisions made by ownership.  Even if that decision was hire the right people and get out of their way, which is more than a lot of owners can do.  They’ve provided money when necessary but they’ve not used that as their only weapon.  You should be proud to be a Cardinal fan right now and a large part of that comes directly from the top.

All right, enough of that.  Running out of time this morning and we still need to do the Cardinal Approval Ratings.  Today, we take a look at Jon Jay.  Jay, even though he has been sidelined much of the spring recovering from wrist surgery, should still be the main centerfielder this season.  Jay has had a lot of detractors throughout his career, though some of that eased last year as he recovered from a slow start and seemed to play better defense.  He checks in with a 77.1% mark this year, which is significantly better than last year, when he was around 65%.  In fact, that’s the second highest mark for him since we started polling him in 2012.

Our media focus today is Jenifer Langosch, the beat writer for MLB.com.  Jenifer’s been here since 2012, taking over for the well-loved Matthew Leach, and has done an admirable job with the role.  I still have yet to meet Jenifer, but perhaps this year at UCB Weekend we can fix that.  Jenifer gets a 78.3% rate this season, perfectly in line with what she’s received the past two years.

Finally, we look at FOX Sports Midwest, where most of us see the Cardinals on a regular basis.  You could argue that the product could be better, that the broadcast teams aren’t up to what you want, but I don’t think anyone will say that they wished FSMW didn’t carry the Cards.  They bring us baseball basically every day, so how bad can they really be?  Interestingly, they too get a 77.1% tally this season.  That’s down from last year’s 82% mark, but I’d still say the change in sample size likely was more the cause rather than any changes at the broadcaster.

The World Series Champions and perpetual playoff thorn in the Cardinals’ side will be our focus of Pepper today, so be sure to join us!

8 comments

It’s one of the annual traditions here at C70 At The Bat, our trip around the majors in blog form.  Since 2009, I’ve been asking bloggers from other teams about what’s going to happen with their squad in the coming season.  It’s always fun to see what the opposition is thinking and how optimistic some of their most devoted and intelligent fans are.  This year, the Pepper series is brought to you by Out of the Park Baseball 16, coming soon for PC.  Order this outstanding baseball simulation today!

San Diego Padres
77-85, third in the NL West

Every year, there seems to be one team that gets involved with Extreme Makeover: Hot Stove Edition.  Our contestant this year is the Padres, who dealt and signed their way into a seemingly completely new roster from the one that finished in the middle of the pack last year.  Such revamps aren’t all that common out in San Diego, though many of the right age will remember that blockbuster deal of Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter for Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff 25 years ago.  (Ugh, 25 years ago?  Pardon me while I go ponder my own mortality.)

You can’t tell the players without a scorecard and you can’t know about the Friars without a guide.  Luckily, we have three such guides for you today.  Geoff writes at Left Coast Bias, which is part of Padres Public, the inspiration for The Cardinal Conclave.  He’s on Twitter @LeftCoastBias.  Next we have Richard, one of the stable of writers over at Friarhood.  You can follow the blog on Twitter @friarhood and Richard himself @dorsha78.  Finally, we have long-time friend Mike Metzger, a man with dual citizenship.  You may know Mike from his work here at West Coast Redbird, but he’s also part of Padres Public with his blog Padres Trail.  You can get his San Diego musings on Twitter @PadresTrail (more of his Cardinal stuff is at @metzgermg).

C70: What are your thoughts on the team’s offseason? Did they do what they needed to do?

LCB: Wow, where do you start? This was an offseason unlike any I can ever remember for the Padres. In years past, the signing of Clint Barmes would have been the “big” move of the Winter. This year? I have to keep reminding myself that they got Clint Barmes because there were so many moves. Last season the Padres were historically bad offensively. Despite that, they still managed to win 76 games. That is quite an accomplishment when you consider how bad they really were. They probably should have loss more. To rectify that, AJ Preller somehow obtained, via trade, Matt Kemp, Derek Norris, Justin Upton, and Wil Myers. He did it without giving up the top 3 prospects in the Padres system (Austin Hedges, Matt Wisler, Hunter Renfroe). If nothing else, the offense will be better this year than last. To cap that off, he goes out to get James Shields to top the rotation of promising yet volatile arms like Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross. Did they do what they needed to do? It’s tough to turn a 76 win team into a playoff team in one offseason. I’m not sure he’s done that. But he’s made them better. And perhaps more importantly, he’s made them relevant. It’s one team to be bad. The Padres were boring. They won’t be that this year.

FH: My initial response was shock. In 30+ years following this team, this offseason was unprecedented. Which is a good thing. There is no doubt the team accomplished its initial goal, which was to create interest in their product after years of boring baseball. Come April, all that interest must translate into play on the field, or the malaise in the fanbase will return. There are plenty of unknowns with this team, however, and it is next to impossible to know what to expect this year.

PT: The Padres were a team with no buzz and a distracted fan base when the off-season started. Now that Kemp, Upton, and Shields are here, they have both buzz and a re-energized hard-core fan base. So from that perspective they did exactly what they needed to do. From a roster construction perspective I’m really curious to see what AJ Preller does next. They seem to have too many outfielders in camp and the infield outside of Gyorko is unsettled. Heck, we’re trying Carlos Quentin at first base. Seriously.

C70: What will be the strength of this year’s team?

LCB: Right handed power hitting feels like a cop out but…I mean, it’s right handed power hitting. Without question. They have question marks on defense. They have question marks in the infield (though less than I think some think). Health is an issue for Cashner, Ross and guys like Kemp and Myers. But, all things being equal, this team should be able to mash from the right side. And in Petco Park, right handed power hitting is what you are looking for.

FH: Despite all the offensive upgrades, this team will still live and die by its pitching. The top 4 in the rotation can match-up with almost any team in the Majors and there should be wonderful competition for that 5th rotation spot. The upgrades in the bullpen were largely overlooked, but adding Shawn Kelly and Brandon Maurer to an already solid ‘pen was huge. You add returning players like Nick Vincent, Kevin Quackenbush and Joaquin Benoit and the Padres could have one of the best bullpens in the National League.

PT: As last year, starting pitching. Shields and Tyson Ross are lethal. Cashner is too if he can stay healthy. Ian Kennedy is the wily veteran. Josh Johnson is rehabbing. We haven’t even touched on Odrisamer Despaigne, Cory Luebke, or Brandon Morrow. This club is overflowing with starting pitching talent.

C70: What do you think you have in Wil Myers?

LCB: I remember the baseball world being up in arms over the Myers to Shields trade a few years ago. Then that ROY season when he showed every bit the skill that was promised when he was a prospect. I think he’s likely closer to that than he was last year when he was battling a nagging injury. Young players have down years (look at Jedd Gyorko). But he’s too talented to not regain some of that ROY season form.

FH: That’s the multi-million dollar question. In many ways, Myers is the key to this entire season. Can he play centerfield at Petco Park? Does his power return from his rookie year? Are his injury problems finished? The Padres are singing his praises and he certainly passes the eyeball test but none of that matters. I don’t think he is a centerfielder, but the Padres have no choice at this point. I think Myers is right fielder with decent power who will be asked to bat at the top of the lineup and play center field, two things he is not really suited for. He makes me very nervous.

PT: Don’t know. It all depends on his health. I think we have a speed/power guy who will be an anchor in the lineup for several years. I hope we have a guy who can cover CF and hit his weight. Watching how Bud Black uses Myers and Cameron Maybin will be one of the more intriguing sub-plots of this season.

C70: What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?

LCB: Jedd Gyorko. Much like the aforementioned Myers, Gyorko had a great rookie season followed by a very disappointing 2014. Gyorko was battling an injury that he is fully healed from. Gyorko has been good at every level he’s every played at, including the Major League level in his rookie season. Now he has a lineup where he won’t be called on to be the primary source of offense. I think he has a big bounce back year.

FH: I expect Tyson Ross to enter the Cy Young discussion this year. Nearly all of his pitching metrics were fantastic last year and most of the baseball world knows about the swing-through rate on his slider. If he didn’t play with such a bad offense he could have won 20 games last year. Now, he will be pushed back to either the 2nd or even the 3rd spot in the rotation and he should get a favorable matchup on the mound every night.

PT: I’m hoping Gyorko turns back into the hitter he was in 2013, so we’ll go with him. If Quentin can stay healthy and play 130 games, that would qualify as a major stride.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and where will they finish in the division?

LCB: 87-75. Fighting for 2nd in the division.

FH: This team might be better than the 1998 team that won 98 games. However, the division is better as well. I’d put the over/under at 89 wins, which won’t be enough to win the NL West, so they likely finish 2nd and earn a Wild Card spot.

PT: I said .500 last year based solely on their starting pitching. But we have an offense now. I don’t think they’ll be a WC team but they should be entertaining all season. Let’s go with 84-78.

C70: What do you like best about being a Padres fan?

LCB: Huh…interesting question. Well, Tony Gwynn is a big one. But mostly it’s the underdog role the Padres have. Most years are pretty lean, honestly. Mediocre teams, mediocre baseball. But every now and then, they put together a season that’s magical. It’s so much fun when that happens. And I don’t think it’d be nearly as much fun if the Padres making the playoffs and going to World Series were regular things. I suffer the bad because I so cherish the good.

FH: I love the “me against the world” mentality we fans have. We know no one cares about us. We know ESPN will never show a Padres highlight in their “A” block. So when we do something noteworthy and force the national media to take notice it feels very gratifying. I will read the newspaper in the market of a team the Padres just swept just to see the columnists and fans lose their minds. If the Padres can somehow find a way to win a World Series in my lifetime, they could make a TV executive’s brain melt and I will smile.

PT: Rarely sitting in traffic waiting to leave the parking lot after the game ends. Although if they’re in contention come August and that starts to happen, I won’t mind a bit.

Big thanks to Geoff, Richard and Mike for their thoughts.  It’s going to be fun to see how the team that “won the offseason” does when it hits the field!

 

 

 

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It’s one of the annual traditions here at C70 At The Bat, our trip around the majors in blog form.  Since 2009, I’ve been asking bloggers from other teams about what’s going to happen with their squad in the coming season.  It’s always fun to see what the opposition is thinking and how optimistic some of their most devoted and intelligent fans are.  This year, the Pepper series is brought to you by Out of the Park Baseball 16, coming soon for PC.  Order this outstanding baseball simulation today!

Pittsburgh Pirates
88-74, second in the NL Central, lost in the Wild Card Game

The Cardinals seem to rotate through teams to worry about.  For a while it was Houston that gave them the great battles.  Then it was Cincinnati rearing its head.  Milwaukee popped in there for a year or two.  Everyone takes a crack at them.

For the last couple of years, the most serious of competition has come from the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The Pirates awoke from their lengthy sub-.500 stupor not content to just go 82-80.  Instead, they have pushed the Cardinals to the very brink each year, making the Redbirds dig deep for a divisional crown.

There seems little reason to believe 2015 will be much different.  To prove that point, we have today Marcus from the delightfully-named Hidden Vigorish.  Give Marcus a follow on Twitter @piratesvigorish.  We also have Pat from Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke?, one of the longer-running Pirate blogs out there.  He’s on Twitter @whygavs.

C70: What are your thoughts on the team’s offseason? Did they do what they needed to do?

HV: This was the most exciting Pirates offseason in a long time. The Pirates rarely make moves early in the offseason, and seldom make major moves. But this was a much different off season. The Pirates acquired a new catcher to replace Russell Martin, signed AJ Burnett, and resigned Francisco Liriano…all before the Winter Meetings were even held. To bid on and then sign Jung-ho Kang was icing on the cake. I think they addressed all their needs this offseason as capably as they possibly could have given their financial constraints.

WHYG: I think they got pretty close. The big free agency concerns when the season ended were Russell Martin, Francisco Liriano, and Edinson Volquez, and the Pirates managed to re-sign Liriano, replace Volquez with AJ Burnett, and at least address Martin’s departure but trading for Francisco Cervelli.

Burnett should be an interesting signing as he really excelled at PNC Park with the Pirates’ defense behind him in his first Pirate stint and his peripheral numbers were similar to Volquez’s last year, even though his traditional stats look a lot worse. At the very least, he should be able to eat up some innings in the middle of the rotation for the Pirates in the same way Volquez did last year. Cervelli isn’t quite a 1:1 replacement for Martin, obviously, but his defensive reputation for framing and working with pitchers is very good. My hopes for the winter were that if the Pirates couldn’t keep Martin (which was always a long-shot), that they’d at the very least replace the part of his value that can only come from another catcher (ie, that defensive value) and I think that they did that.

They also addressed two pretty glaring weak spots from 2014 by bringing in players to shore up the infield depth and bullpen. In the infield, Sean Rodriguez can ably play pretty much any position with an average or slightly below average bat, while Jung Ho Kang will be really interesting to watch develop as the first Korean born KBO player to jump to the US. Corey Hart’s knees seem to be much better than they were in Seattle last year, so it’s possible the club might finally have a potent first base platoon with Hart and Pedro Alvarez. In the bullpen, they added quite a few live arms (Antonio Bastardo, Radhames Liz, Arquimedes Caminero), and so while the whole group might take some time to sort out, there should be more depth there than in 2014.

C70: How excited are you about the starting rotation?

HV: I’m torn over this rotation. It is a deep rotation. I think the back end is really solid. The Pirates options for the 4 and 5 spots in the rotation are better than what most teams have. But the front of the rotation lacks an ace. Gerrit Cole has ace potential, but it hasn’t always come out. The Pirates have been aced out of the playoffs the last two seasons (Madison Bumgarner in the 2014 WC game and Adam Wainwright in the 2013 NLDS), so lacking a true ace is a big concern of mine.

WHYG: Quite a bit, mainly because of Gerrit Cole. Liriano, Burnett, Charlie Morton, Vance Worley, and Jeff Locke are all pretty much known quantities at this point and they are, frankly, a pretty nice way to fill out the 2-5 spots in your rotation. There’s no real horse in that group, though, that can be counted on to shut down teams every or strike fear into the hearts of a playoff opponent. Cole’s shown the ability to be that pitcher in small flashes at the end of both 2013 and 2014, and I think pretty much every Pirate fan is hoping that this is the year he makes his big leap forwards.

C70: Was 2014 a breakout year or a fluke for Josh Harrison?

HV: I think Josh Harrison is for real. Maybe not .800+ OPS for real, but he is a legit everyday third basemen.

WHYG: Can I cheat and say a little bit of both? It was probably somewhat of a fluke in that I don’t expect Harrison to finish in the top ten in the NL’s slugging percentage race (honestly, every time I write that I double-check it to make sure it happened) or to garner deserved down-ballot MVP votes. At the same time, his numbers last year weren’t that far removed from his AAA numbers, and his peripheral batted ball data suggests that he wasn’t hugely lucky on balls in play or anything like that in his big year. My best guess for Harrison is that he’ll probably settle into a solid .290/.330/.430 third baseman with a solid glove, and there’s plenty of value in a player like that even if it’s not quite the level that he was at last year.

C70: What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?

HV: I hope it is Gerrit Cole, but I think it will be Gregory Polanco. He has all the tools. He got off to such a hot start last year as a rookie, but digging out of his first major league slump was a challenge. I think he will be better for it.

WHYG: Besides Cole, who I already mentioned, there’s Gregory Polanco out in right field. Polanco had a bit of a disappointing rookie year (.235/.305/.343) after a ton of hype in spring training and during his Triple-A stint, but the Pirates committed to him this winter when they traded Travis Snider to the Orioles for some minor league pitching. Polanco’s plate discipline (which was part of the reason he was such a highly-regarded prospect) was mostly intact with the Pirates, though, and given that he’s just 23, there’s plenty of reason to think he can rebound from the rough rookie season in 2015.

I also want to mention Starling Marte here; I’m not sure if he really counts since his hot finish to 2014 was a big part of the Pirates’ late playoff push, but every year Marte seems to get a little bit better and he was phenomenal down the stretch last year. He’s put together a bit of an unusual offensive profile (he doesn’t walk much and he strikes out too much, but he’s a line drive machine, he’s fast enough to beat out ground balls for infield hits, and he gets hit by a ton of pitches, which drives his OBP up), but I think there’s a decent chance that he takes things to the next level at the plate this year.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and where will they finish in the division?

HV: 91-71. I think this is the year they catch the Cards and win the division.

WHYG: 92-70, first place, two games ahead of the Cardinals. You guys can deal with the stress of the Wild Card Game this year!

C70: What do you like best about being a Pirates fan?

HV: The Pirates are like family to me. I am proud of my family. We went through some tough times together but we are stronger for it. What I most like about being a Pirates fan is knowing that our spirit can never be broken. We have already endured the worst.

WHYG: It sounds weird to say now, but the experience of having been through 20 consecutive losing seasons was really a galvanizing process for the fan base. The last two seasons have been absolutely incredible: every Pirate fan knows exactly how bad things can be, and that memory makes savoring the good times that much better. I couldn’t go to any of the 2013 playoff games, so I made a trip home for last year’s Wild Card Game. I was worried that the atmosphere wouldn’t be quite the same as it was the year before, but it was still electric to watch the Pirates take the field in front of 40,000 roaring Pirate fans. Now if only the Pirates can find a way to give us more than a few home playoff games this year …

Do appreciate Marcus and Pat taking the time to fill us in about the Pirates this season.  There’s no doubt there are going to be some more fun matchups between them and St. Louis this year!

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