Archive for the ‘Baseball’ Category

MLB 2014 season preview

- March 28th, 2014

This will without a doubt be a season of transition for Major League Baseball.

For that reason, we’re going to see some good, some bad and some weird things. Here’s what to look out for in the coming 162-game grind known as the MLB regular season.

-The MLB regular season has already started, but spring training is still going on. Weird, right? Yes, those two games in Australia between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks opened the season last week – they weren’t just exhibitions. But that didn’t mean Spring Training was over. In fact, both of the teams that played in Australia kept on playing pre-season tilts. Kind of takes away from the whole season-opening series, right?

-Thanks to the Winter Olympics extending the NHL season and baseball trying to get the regular season to end earlier, we’re going to have two weeks of overlap between the NHL and MLB regular seasons. So, if you’re a Leafs fan, feel free to flip the channel to the Jays if you get too depressed.

-For the first time in 15 years, the New York Yankees won’t have the league’s top payroll. This year, it’s the Los Angeles Dodgers at $235 million to the Yanks $204 million.

-It’s not like the Yankees weren’t trying to splash the cash either. The Bronx Bombers looked like their early 2000′s vintage, shelling out big deals to players like Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Masahiro Tanaka.

-The average baseball salary is up to nearly $4 million this season. To put that in perspective, in 1995 – Derek Jeter’s first MLB season – the league average was $1.07 million. Oh, how far this league has come.

-Speaking of Jeter, he’ll be on a 162-game victory lap. This is the farewell season for one of the most popular players to ever hit the field. Expect a lot of tributes, a lot of pre-game ceremonies and – shockingly – some cheers even from the Fenway Faithful. In an interesting twist, Jeter’s final regular-season game will be in front of them in Boston.

-In an interesting loophole, suspended-for-the-season Alex Rodriguez will still earn some money. Of his $25 million salary, A-Rod will earn $2.8 million. Why? Because the season is actually 183 days long and A-Rod is only banned for the team’s 162 games. That leaves 21 days when he’s technically working.

-Did you know that there are currently no active pitchers with 200 career wins? Bartolo Colon and Mark Buehrle are close, but they likely won’t reach the milestone until at least mid-season. Remember the days when guys would be going for 300 wins? I guess longevity goes out the window with everyone blowing out their arms so quickly.

-Can Miguel Cabrera capture a third straight MVP and another near Triple Crown? I think it’ll be really hard without Prince Fielder hitting behind in the Tigers lineup.

-How many no-hitters will we see this season? After seven in 2012, there were just six in 2013. But, it may be an even-odd year thing. In 2010, there were six while in 2011 had three also. Don’t forget that last year we saw three no-nos broken up in the ninth inning either.

As for some predictions…

AL East: Boston Red Sox.

AL Central: Detroit Tigers.

AL West: Los Angeles Angels.

AL wild cards: Texas Rangers, New York Yankees.

NL East: Washington Nationals.

NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals.

NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers.

NL wild cards: Pittsburgh Pirates, San Francisco Giants.

AL MVP: Mike Trout, LAA

NL MVP: Bryce Harper, WAS

AL Cy Young: Matt Moore, TB

NL Cy Young: Madison Bumgarner, SF

Surprises: Kansas City, San Diego, Albert Pujols somewhat comes back,

Disappointments: Robinson Cano, Chris Davis, Oakland Athletics, Atlanta Braves, Max Scherzer.

Biggest name traded: David Price, TB.

The Blue Jays will finish: 82-80, fourth in the AL East.

ALCS: Tigers over Rangers.

NLCS: Dodgers over Nationals.

World Series: Dodgers over Tigers.

How to fix every sport’s all-star game

- January 27th, 2014

Even after all the rule changes and tweaks made for Sunday’s night Pro Bowl, the game itself was so terribly blah that the only redeeming thing about it was the final few minutes.

So the time has come and I have taken it upon myself to fix all-star games once and for all. Yes, we’re not going to fix just the NFL’s version of the all-star game, we’re going to fix them all. It’s a tough job – well, not really – but somebody has to do it.

Let’s start with a general problem that plagues every all-star game: Fan voting.

I understand that these games are exhibitions for the fans and a way to reward players, but having fans vote for the starters leads to controversy every year. Just look no further than basketball fans electing Kobe Bryant to start this year’s game despite playing just six games due to his Achilles injury and a broken bone in his knee.

I won’t go as far as to take voting away from the fans completely, but let’s scale it back a bit. How about having the top vote-getters in each conference make instead of the entire starting lineup? Or why not use fan voting as one of the factors, but not an automatic place on the team? That way we would see only the most deserving players competing.

Another general improvement I would make is to up the payday for the winning teams, giving players more incentive to compete instead of playing some unreasonable facsimile of defence that is often embarrassing to sports and competition in general. More cash at stake – for the players or charity – would eliminate some of the matador defence you often see in these games.

As for the individual games, let’s start with the easiest one to improve, the NFL’s Pro Bowl. How do you improve it? Eliminate it completely. Using a fantasy draft to pick the teams was a nice step forward, but not enough to salvage that trainwreck. Let’s just scrap the game entirely. Give the players their titles as all-pros, give them a trip to Hawaii, but don’t force them to play another meaningless game. It has no value to the fans, league and TV networks, so let’s just quit this farce.

For baseball, it’s hard to make changes when you consider that something is actually at stake for their Midsummer Classic. If you take out the whole playing-for-homefield-advantage thing, a fantasy draft could be quite interesting. You could even have the winner of the home run derby get first pitch and such. One other thing would be to have the fan-voted starters finish the game instead of starting it. That way you wouldn’t see some of the lesser “stars” facing off with the game on the line – although that does create more heroes in the game. Otherwise, there’s not much you can do improve the best all-star game out there.

The NHL, which started this fantasy draft craze, has pretty much plateaued. I think you could actually take it one step further to make deciding teams even more fun: Do it shinny style. Have every stick thrown in the middle of the ice and sort it out like that. Or, instead of having players as captains, have two lucky fans pick the teams. What a publicity win for the league that would be!

The only real way to improve the game itself would be to have a higher compete level and players that actually try on defence. An 11-9 score isn’t exactly representative of a real ice hockey game. But, again, that’s a general ASG problem.

The NBA all-star game is perhaps the easiest fix: Use a fantasy draft. There is no league in which the players are driven by slights as the NBA. Being passed over by a teammate who is captain or picked behind a positional rival would bring out the best sides of players in this meaningless exhibition. If you don’t think Rajon Rondo would go crazy after being picked last, you’re crazy.

And if you want me to fix the MLS all-star game – which is basically an exhibition against a European team – you’ve come to the wrong place. That thing is a nice exhibition, but it’s beyond fixable.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

Who will win the World Series?

- October 23rd, 2013

Baseball is at its best when everything is on the line. In October, every at bat feels like it means something. That couldn’t be truer than for the World Series matchup of St. Louis and Boston.

Why is that you ask? Because both of these teams have pitching staffs that look unhittable.

That was the big story through the Championships Series in my opinion.

Between Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester, offence will be at a premium.

It feels like every starter in this series is capable of tossing seven innings of quality stuff, despite the fact they’ll be going against some stacked lineups.

The Red Sox have an odd conundrum when it comes to putting up runs. Through the ALCS, they had one heck of a time hitting the Tigers staff, but when they did, they came up with some of the biggest clutch hits in years. Shane Victorino’s and David Ortiz’s grand slams will be talked about for years to come in Beantown.

St. Louis has a solid homegrown lineup with 19 of 25 guys being brought up through the Cards’ system. It’s the definition of how to build a team without having to break the bank in free agency and a perfect model for the rest of the league on how to build towards success.

So who is my pick to win? I have to go to with the Red Sox. Home-field advantage means something and you can’t ignore the team’s intangibles – their amazing camaraderie and ability to get those amazing clutch hits.

Let’s just hope these games don’t go four hours as the Sox are prone to draw out games longer than any other team. It’s a shame when Boston kids can’t even watch these late-inning heroics because they’re happening at midnight EDT.

Pick: Red Sox in six.

MLB’s wild, wild, wild-card games

- September 30th, 2013

Baseball sure knows how to fire up fans for the playoffs.

How’s this for starters: Three nights in a row with a one-off, all-in game to make the Division series. This will be baseball at its finest.

I’ve long contended that post-season baseball is the biggest upgrade over its regular-season product, but this could be next-level stuff. So rarely before last season did we see these one-game wild card play-ins and this year the stakes have been raised even higher with the Rays and Rangers facing off in a tiebreaker to make the wild card game.

Criticize Bud Selig for his failures all you want, but he has created a new playoff system that is exciting as hell. Think about how amazing a single-game showdown for the two teams tied for the final spot of the NHL playoffs would be. Are you drooling yet? Leave the statistical tiebreakers for seeding, not for who is in and out.

The best part of baseball’s wild-card: The teams who won their divisions get an actual reward of three or four days off, something only afforded during the season at the all-star break. After the long grind of 162 games over six months, I’m sure that’s greatly appreciated.

So sit back, relax with a frosty one and enjoy some of the most exciting baseball you’ll ever see.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

Thoughts about A-Rod’s suspension

- August 6th, 2013

The Biogenesis bans have finally been handed down after weeks of speculation and some pretty on-the-nose reports. The aftermath: 12 players, including three all-stars, were suspended for 50 games while Ryan Braun had previously accepted a 65-game ban.

Oh yeah, and then there is Alex Rodriguez.

This is a guy that has been touted as a future hall of famer since he broke onto the scene, a guy who has 2902 hits, a career .300 batting average and sits fifth all-time on the home runs list with 647 and has three MVPs plus 14 all-star game appearances.

But now, he’ll simply be remembered as the guy who was issued the longest non-lifetime ban in MLB history – hell probably any sport’s history. 211 games is what A-Rod will serve if he loses his appeal. That puts him on the sidelines through the 2014 season.

But for some reason, he is allowed to play until Thursday? How does that make sense?

I get that he has going to appeal the suspension unlike the rest of the guys involved in this Biogenesis mess, but why not just get it over with and make the bans immediate? Especially when you consider the timing of A-Rod coming back from his rehab assignment the day that the bans were doled out.

Now, many think that Rodriguez is deserving of an even bigger suspension – a lifetime ban. I say consider this: He is 38 years old right now and will sit out an entire year of baseball before coming back. Isn’t his career essentially over?

You can argue that it would keep him out of the hall of fame, but when you look at the voters recent track record of support for even alleged PED users, there’s no way that A-Rod will get in.

Also, when you consider that A-Rod is losing an astounding, mind-boggling $154,321 for every single game he is suspended, isn’t that pain enough?

A-Rod deserves what he got – no more, no less – for not just cheating, but lying and trying to circumvent the MLB investigation. It’s a harsh, but fair reality.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki