Wednesday, March 30, 2011

2011 Major League Baseball Predictions

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-Digger's Daily-

It's time. Major League Baseball's 2011 regular season is ready to begin. Buckle up for another thrilling season. 2010 was dubbed "Year of the Pitcher" after hurlers tossed gems including a bunch of no-hitters. What's in store for this season? Our "Spring Training Spotlight" will continue. Right now, it's time to predict how the 2011 season shakes out.

American League
New York Yankees
Boston Red Sox*

Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays
Baltimore Orioles

Minnesota Twins
Chicago White Sox
Detroit Tigers
Kansas City Royals
Cleveland Indians

Oakland A's
Los Angeles Angels
Texas Rangers
Seattle Mariners

National League
Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves*
Florida Marlins
New York Mets
Washington Nationals

St. Louis Cardinals
Chicago Cubs
Milwaukee Brewers
Cincinnati Reds
Pittsburgh Pirates
Houston Astros

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Diego Padres

AL MVP: Carl Crawford (Bos)
AL Cy Young; Gio Gonzales (Oak)
NL MVP: Albert Pujols (StL)
NL Cy Young: Tim Hudson (Atl)
World Series: Dodgers over A's


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Spring Training Spotlight: Kansas City Royals

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-Digger's Daily-

There was a time when the Kansas City Royals were one of baseball's most exciting teams. Fans of the 70's/80's era remember well many famous thrilling battles against the New York Yankees. Their franchise record 102 win season of 1977. World Series victory over state rival St. Louis in 1985 and a long list of fan favorite players.

It's been a very long time since Kansas City's glory years. Only three winning seasons since 1990. Over the years future stars washed out. Current stars bolted. Team finances and ownership concerns. Dwindling attendance. There was even a period of time when ownership entertained moving the franchise.
2011 represents a new season filled with hope and renewed enthusiasm. Former players and coaches are praising this young Royals team. Quite a few recent KC squads were praised in recent years. What's the difference between recent past lip service and current prognostications? Talent.

Poor pitching and weak team defense haunted this club for years. Pitching talent is nothing to write home about but will receive a boost with solid gloves backing them up and making plays for a change. Luke Hockevar, Jeff Francis, Bruce Chen, Kyle Davies and Vin Mazzaro represent their projected rotation. Who? 2011 rests on their shoulders. For better or worse. None posted any sort of consistency in their short careers. KC's bullpen has talent and every bit of it will be needed to shut down hitters when starters struggle. Manager Ned Yost hopes relievers aren't burnt out by over use before the All Star break. Royals hidden strength is opponents over confidence vs perennial losers.

Royals starting lineup is young, aggressive and tearing it up in Cactus League games. Don't go rushing to draft Royals hitters for your fantasy team because of the spring power numbers. Their stats are inflated due to playing games in hitter friendly Arizona. However, this new group of KC hitters will score plenty of runs in 2011. Around the horn: (1B) Kila Ka'aihue, (2B) Mike Aviles, (SS) Alcides Escobar, (3B) Wilson Betemit. This crew comes to play. If spring plate discipline carries over into regular season games then opposing pitchers will have their hands full. Batting coach Kevin Seitzer installed a new attitude into these young hitters. Results have been great so far.

Roaming the spacious outfield in Kauffman Stadium will be (LF) Alex Gordon, (CF) Melky Cabrera & (RF) Jeff Francouer. Melky's spring has many wondering if this former Yankees future star finally put it all together. He's ripping everything in site this spring. Spending time with Seitzer and legendary George Brett is paying early dividends.

How many wins Kansas City records after 162 games is anyone's guess. Expect a new look team. New found enthusiasm. Better chemistry. Greater talent. There's finally a reason to watch Royals games again.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Should NFL Ban Tackling, Adopt Flag Rules?

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-Digger's Daily-

NFL competition committee activism strikes again. Under the guise of making kickoffs safer, kickoffs now originate from the 35 yard line beginning next season (currently at 30). The goal is to cut down the number of player concussions by limiting returns. Kickoffs from the 30 had 16% non-returns. Expect this number to skyrocket into 40% or greater whenever NFL resumes play effectively eliminating one of the most important part of football games, special teams. Also, no long running starts by coverage teams. Only 5 yards leading up to kickoffs instead of current 10-15 yards.

I do not support changing how the game of football is played. I'm all for protecting players, 100%, while in complete disagreement over how the league has chosen to do so.

Here's a catch-22. The league moves back kickoffs to cut down on injuries? Really? Then why not properly introduce for voting independent proposal's to outlaw players launching to make hits and expanding the definition of a defenseless receiver? Perhaps the two most important factors in preventing blows to the head weren't even considered because they were attached to rules ultimately defeated in committee.

Politics of football. NFL celebrates fewer kickoff returns as a battle won vs concussions? Are you kidding me? Oh, I see, kicking off from the 35 is more advantageous than eliminating hitting defenseless players? Or "launch" hits? Hmmm, one now begs to question why direct rules protecting players weren't written independently especially if stated goals are to protect players? Now, key elements of player safety become deferred to a later date.

Now for a little hard core facts. In a perfect world concussions arising from playing football would never occur. We don't live in a perfect world. Football players "accept" harsh realities of the game from pee-wee through the pro's. Injuries happen. Accidents happen. Injuries are part of life. Going to the grocery store can easily become treacherous. Football's risks are well recorded and understood. Changing basic strategic rules of the game does not increase or decrease injuries. Owners and various committee's would be best served not altering basic game strategies using politically correct language summarizing changes with little or no effect towards desired results.

Effective attempts to reduce injuries include rules eliminating specific blocks, hits to the head, defenseless hits, late hits, fighting etc have been received well by all in the football community.

Instead, we're now getting swift rebukes from some of football's elite return specialists who today learned their opportunities were severely reduced. The game will change and they don't like it. Twitter accounts on fire. I don't blame them one bit.
The Chicago Bears' Devin Hester also blasted the rule change in a radio interview with ESPN 1000 in Chicago.
"They're going too far. They're changing the whole fun of the game," Hester said Tuesday on "The Waddle & Silvy Show." "Fans come out -- especially in Chicago -- to see returns. That's one of the key assets to the team. Fans [like] our big returns. You take that out of the game, not only do they kick it out of bounds when it's time to punt the ball, now you get the disadvantage on kickoffs. We felt we were guaranteed [a chance] on kickoff returns and now you're taking that away, it's like you're taking the whole return game out of the picture."
If the NFL is going to take this route then perhaps we can eliminate all injuries by outlawing tackling altogether. Why tackle? Just give players a little red flag to attach on hips and let's play ball! Might as well. How about the new college style playoff overtime rules? We got lucky not to see any last season. Just wait until it finally comes into play. It's a fiasco in the making. Don't change the game, fix the problem!


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Spring Training Spotlight: Seattle Mariners

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-Digger's Daily-

Seattle Mariners management, players and fans thought 2010 was going to be a great season. Seattle turned heads after a busy off season acquiring prime time players. Ichiro and Figgins were to be baseball's best top of the lineup 1-2 punch. Griffey was to have one more productive season. Bradley's dugout troubles left behind. A revamped pitching staff to shut down opponents. Instead, just about everything that could go wrong did. Clubhouse fights, backstabbing comments, ineffective manager and poor team attitudes all directly led to a team full of playoff promise crashing and burning. Seattle lost 101 games in 2010. 2011 isn't looking much better.

Seattle ia an AL West afterthought heading into 2011. Division rival Texas, Los Angeles and Oakland are sporting tough playoff caliber rosters. All improved by way of off season wheeling and dealing. Seattle lost money hand over fist in '10. M's remained relatively quiet this past winter instead of chancing duplicating another year of signing non-performing high priced players.

If the Mariners were smart they would dangle superstars Ichiro Suzuki or Felix Hernandez attempting to pull off a Herschel Walker type of trade. Two players at the top of their game could land plenty of talent from draft picks to rising stars. Seattle fans might revolt at first but, in the long run, this type of deal would reap long term results if handled correctly.

What's up for 2011? Starting rotation anchored by Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez. Felix has lived up to all expectations and is far from reaching his prime. Tough knocks probably awaiting remaining starters. Fister, Vargas & Pauley face a daunting task of taming strong opposing lineups. No bullpen help to be found once starters tumble. Seattle's team ERA will be ugly.

It's tough to decipher how Seattle will score runs consistently from game to game. Huge question marks at every single position except for Ichiro in RF. 3B Figgins is coming off a career worst season. 1B Smoak, tagged as a future star, has struggled mightily during early stages of his career. SS is an offensive and defensive disaster with the Wilson's. Anyone's guess as to who will start at 2B. Seattle's around the horn combination is the weakest bunch of hitters and fielders in baseball. None are known for their defensive prowess. Only unproven strikeout artist Smoak offers power potential. None carry high OBA to the dish.

Ichiro's bat and absolutely stellar defense is the long bright spot. Michael Saunders figures to get opening day honors as starting LF. M's have been high on this unproductive kid. He looks lost as a major leaguer. CF sports another underachiever, Franklin Gutierrez. M's need these guys to mature quickly. Hot head locker room distraction Milton Bradley returns after a tumultuous 2010 campaign. He's competing for plate appearances against new DH Jack Cust.

Manager Eric Wedge hopes negatives turn to positives. Good luck. It's going to be a very long season. 100 losses nearly inevitable. A collectively weaker than most hitting, pitching and fielding units equates to doom and gloom. It's been a long time since predicting a team to lose 105-110 games. If ever there was a team suited to challenge Detroit's 2003 record for losses in a single season (119)... this is it.


Spring Training Spotlight: New York Mets

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-Digger's Daily-

Is there any magic left in Flushing? The ugliness known as the New York Mets has been well documented in blogs of mine. I've reserved nearly all vitriolic editorials squarely at management. By the way, Mets hierarchy and partners received yet another jolt Friday. The Madoff trustee assigned to recoup victims funds upped the ante to one billion dollars citing too cozy of a relationship between the parties. Plenty of suitors will be ready, willing and able for a shot at purchasing the Mets. Wilpon's have destroyed a proud franchise dragging it down to a laughingstock among those of us paying attention. Bad contracts, Madoff accusations, CitiField, minors in shambles, off field distractions, receiving operating loans from MLB and the list goes on. It's time for this crew to suck it up and step aside.

Enough of the sideshow. Let's talk Mets baseball. Leading off with their negatives. Carlos Beltran cannot be counted on contributing again. His knee is shot. Lost CF duties and can't even suit up to get comfortable in RF. He's done. It's not 2B for recently cut Luis Castillo. A talented player looked lost as a Met. Can Jose Reyes remain healthy for a change? He's a vital key to New York's attack. His certain all star career status has tarnished via considerable time spent on disabled lists. Southpaw supreme Santana's injury rehab has come under microscopic scrutiny of late. Rumors suggesting serious setbacks have been flatly denied by Mets brass never known for preaching truths. Mets bonus babies spent more time off the field than on. Pedro Martinez, Mo Vaughn, Carlos Delgado, Jason Bay, Jose Reyes, Luis Castillo, Johann Santana and then last season's blowup by closer Rodriguez.

Is anyone out there expecting New York to succeed on any meaningful level in 2011? Mets players know the answer. No. This is New York's greatest strength. No one will see them coming. Mets have a great shot at a hot start setting the tone for determining 2011 baseball. Laugh if you must. Yes, they're an admitted long shot and I'm not jumping on their bandwagon yet. Just consider this....

Starting rotation puts fear into nobody. Starters would be wise to use this to their advantage when hitters aren't expecting much of a challenge. Good pitching wins games. Mets pitchers have given away a ton of games by not throwing strikes. Walks, hit batters, wild pitches and balks all contributed to failures. Mike Pelfrey, Jonathon Niese, R.A. Dickey and Chris Young are starters 1 through 4. Not household names by any means. But, they're good. If they can keep counts in their favor, avoid walks, throw strikes and get a solid dose of defense.... ? ? ?

Offense never found consistent rhythm in '10 largely due to injuries. They're supposed to be healthy and ready to resume doing what they do best. All eyes are on the new 2B competition. Castillo was cut opening the door for Luis Hernandez and Justin Turner to compete to become New York's newest second sacker. Reyes, Bay and team leader Wright are their most recognizable national names. Locally, fans should be confident Angel Pagan is quite capable of handling CF. 1B Ike Davis will be a mainstay for many years to come. Biggest question marks are 2B and C. Can Thole and Nickeas handle the load of playing everyday and managing an unproven pitching staff? Mets lineup has the ingredients to create havoc. Like I said earlier.. what makes this team dangerous is nobody expecting them to play well. Hitters might get lucky enough to see better pitches (challenged more often). Mets must capitalize on nearly every run producing situation if they're to have any shot at challenging for playoff possibilities.

There's a new sheriff in town going by the name of Manager Collins. He laid the law down early. 2011 is about on-field productions. Not off field distractions (guaranteed to be plentiful). Captain David Wright made a bold statement on day one of spring training. It's an old phrase with heavy importance for teammates. "Put up or shut up!" By all reasonable estimates, I pin New York's season on being lucky enough to squeak out 70-75 wins. A hot April start could quickly turn losers into believers. There's talent to be found but it must be a team effort. Hitting and running. Good outs which advance runners vs an over abundance of worthless strikeouts. Pitchers must throw strikes and stay ahead of hitters. Pretty much the same philosophy every manager attempts to drill into players heads. Mets have to want it more.

In my book, Mets starting rotation is the single biggest key. NL East is loaded with some the leagues best hurlers. Halladay, Oswalt, Lee, Hamels, Hudson, Hanson and Johnson. Time for Pelfrey, Niese, Dickey and Young to step up and deliver career years. Look for the Mets to be baseball's biggest trade deadline seller's if they fall behind early. Bay & Reyes will be easiest to unload. Wright doesn't want to go. Seaver didn't either so anything's possible. A slow beginning will assure this club of 90+ losses. A long April win streak could transform the New York Mets into baseball's uplifting story of the year. Time will tell.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

In Case You Missed It...

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-Digger's Daily-

March Madness has arrived. Time for the best of the best in college basketball to rise to the top. Ohio State, Kansas, Pittsburgh & Duke represent this year's tourney number one seeds. Will one of the favorites win it all or will a long shot peel off upset after upset? Thousands of fans entered their predictions in office pools and online forums hoping to walk away with a few extra bucks. Even President Obama, with the world on fire from wars to earthquakes to nuclear meltdowns, found time from his busy vacation schedule to create a self fulfilling bracket selection video. Too bad he's not as energetic when it comes to restoring fiscal stability to the United States!

Phillies players, coaches and fans have good reason to be concerned about Chase Utley's injury. There's a good chance he'll begin 2011 on the disabled list. His achy knee will probably be a chronic problem throughout the year. The Phils are cash strapped and publicly state they're not interested in any trades at this point to fill voids created by injury. 3B Polanco gave everyone a scare when coming up lame (elbow). He'll be ready to go after a few days rest. Utley is the main concern. His injury creates lineup and defensive problems while creating an excellent opportunity for NL East opponents to challenge for division title honors.
One of baseball's all time greatest players retired without much fanfare last year. Just the way he wanted. Ken Griffey, Jr. remained silent on his retirement until today. "I just felt that it was more important for me to retire and instead of being a distraction, it no longer became the Seattle Mariners, it became, 'When is Ken doing this? When is Ken doing that?' and that's something I didn't want to have my teammates, who I truly cared about, having to answer these types of questions day in and day out," Griffey said in Peoria, Ariz. "Second, I gave myself a little bit of a head start. There are a lot of people that are friends of mine that would have tried to talk me out of it. And I just felt that it was best for me and the organization to retire. Through no fault of its own. Things happen. I'm not upset," he told reporters. "I think people thought I was upset about certain things, but that's not the case."

Griffey was one of baseball's good guys on and off the field. His skills were second to none until injury problems started popping up. He always gave 110% every night leading to full speed crashes into outfield walls and torn hamstrings. I think almost all of his fans hoped for one last season of respectability before Griff hung up his spikes. It wasn't to be but shouldn't diminish anything "Junior" accomplished. A certain soon to be first time Hall of Famer.

New York Mets troubles never end. Management is being sued for $1billion, team up for sale, players hurting and ticket sales guaranteed to be way down in 2011. Oft injured Carlos Beltran's knees continue to flare up. He lost starting CF duties (now plays RF). It's now all but official Beltran will begin 2011 disabled. His career will never be the same. Add his name to the growing list of Mets free agent busts. Beltran's been a complete waste of money. Johann Santana and Mets officials continue to deny injury rehab rumors. It's been suggested, and strongly denied, Santana will not pitch this season. He was one of the games most dominant pitchers when healthy. Unfortunately, it appears he's done from live action for a very long time.

It really stings me when professional sports unions and owners do battle. It's absolutely disgusting hearing grown up athletes complaining they aren't getting paid enough? Does anyone know what the minimum salaries are in pro sports? High enough to place them in the upper 1% of world earners. To watch them moan and grown is pathetic. Are the players being treated unfairly by owners? No. Are they compensated at the highest rates in the world? Yes. What more do they want? When is enough enough? They don't deserve their current salaries yet it's not enough. Owners must cringe every time a player gets arrested for beating his wife, rape, drugs, DWI or murder. Coaches cringe when overpaid narcissists don't hustle or give up at key moments. And these guys want more? What is the average price of tickets to any major sporting event? Throw in transportation, food etc and tell me how a middle class family of four can afford a trip to the ballpark? Why are ticket prices to high? So owners can afford over priced players. Do the players care fans have to shell out big bucks? Not a chance. Time for the millionaire cry babies to take stock of how good they have it when the rest of the world struggles to put food on their tables and gas in their cars. Grow up!

NBA push for the playoffs is on. Would anyone have believed me if I told you months ago that the Chicago Bulls would own best record in the Eastern Conference? One really has to feel for Cleveland fans. Cavs basketball was strong. One of the leagues best. Advanced to conference semi-finals in 3 of last 5 years (lost), conference finals (lost) and NBA finals (lost). Star LeBron James toyed with them for much of the off season before deciding for big Miami Heat money. Now Cleveland is in shambles. 13-53 represents the NBA's worst record. Quite a turnaround. Cleveland owner's felt duped. Fans outraged. It will be a long time before Cleveland turns around this train wreck.

Can the Devils do it? New Jersey was left for dead during one of their worst starts in team history (5-13-2 & 10-29-2). Players were puzzled and disgruntled. Superstar net-minder Brodeur was playing terribly. After a 23-4-2 run the Devils find themselves within reach of the playoffs. Coach Jacques Lemaire to the rescue. They've won 24 since he took over a team in disarray. Brodeur's been stellar of late winning 15 of 18 after dropping 8 contests in a row during late December, early January. Devils still have work to do currently 6 points off the playoff pace. However, they're the leagues hottest team and playing exceptional hockey. Go Devils!


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Spring Training Spotlight: Atlanta Braves

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-Digger's Daily-

2011 marks the first time in 20 years spring training began without Bobby Cox managing the Atlanta Braves. A new era of Braves baseball has begun. Atlanta's new manager Fredi Gonzalez takes over a very talented group of players. The Braves are in somewhat of a transformation stage. GM Wren did a masterful job assembling the 2011 roster. Injuries to key players on division rival clubs leaves Atlanta sitting pretty and ready to play ball.

When National League pitching is discussed most quickly bring up Philadelphia and San Francisco. Little attention has been focused on these four names: Derek Lowe (16-12, 4.00), Tim Hudson (17-9, 2.83), Tommy Hanson (3.33) and Jair Jurrjens (2.60 in '09). All are sound. All give deep innings and quality starts. Braves front four will keep games close. Lowe and Hudson are steady vets. The future is bright for Hanson and Jurrjens. Hanson may actually churn out an Cy Young caliber season.

Braves bullpen is intriguing as they bring a new look staff into '11. Remember the name Craig Kimbrel. He's a flame thrower auditioning to become their new full time closer replacing retired Billy Wagner. A great future awaits this kid if he keeps his head screwed on straight. Good luck getting hits against the likes of Venters, O'Flaherty, Moylan, Linebrink, Sherrill and possibly Proctor. Gonzalez has plenty of options for key late inning match-ups. An injury free staff guarantees Atanta will be in the playoff hunt all season long.

The face of the Braves returns for one more season. Chipper Jones looks great recovering from MCL surgery. How well he holds up against the rigors of everyday play remains to be seen. Braves traded for 2B power man Dan Uggla. I like this move. Uggla's young and Atlanta secured a great lefty/righty power punch coupled with RF Heyward. Unfortunately, sophomore Heyward is battling back issues in spring training. Which McLouth will show up 2011? .190 from one year ago? Or the slick fielding 20 homer, .260 guy? Uggla's arrival shifts Prado to LF which has been problematic in Atlanta for a few seasons. Prado's a perfect fit. All Star backstop McCann hopes to remain healthy. He'll see plenty of RBI situations. 1B is Atanta's unknown. Freddie Freeman (who?) gets a shot to win the job. He's been okay so far during spring games. Veteran Hinske is backing up and main man off the bench in key pinch hitting situations.

I think Atlanta has a great formula for success in 2011. Key injuries most likely hurt Phillies chances of running away with the NL East opening the door for Atlanta. Overall excellent health, solid lineup and excellent pitching gives manager Gonzalez all the tools needed. All he has to do is find a way for the pieces to gel. Atlanta has a serious shot at World Series glory.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Spring Training Spotlight: Colorado Rockies

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-Digger's Daily-

Is Colorado ready to become best in the NL West? Rockies baseball isn't for weak heart fans. Late season heroics in two of three past years catapulted Colorado from being afterthoughts and into playoff baseball action. They were 11 games behind on August 21. Rockies then got hot after being left for dead running off victories in 17 of 21 and 20 of 26 contests to claw within one game of first place. Nearly everyone in the baseball world anticipated another late season Colorado baseball miracle. It didn't happen. They proceeded to drop 13 off their final 14 games finishing a distant 9 games behind. What's in store for 2011?

The Rockies are locked and loaded, for better or worse, as they've signed many players to long term deals. Several players recently received lucrative deals: SS Troy Tulowitzki - 7 years $134MM, LF -Carlos Gonzalez - 7 years $80MM, RP Matt Lindstrom - 2 years $6.6MM ($4MM club option for 2013 with a $200K buyout), SP Jason Hammel - 2 years $7.75MM, RP Rafael Betancourt - 1 year $4.25MM ($4.25MM mutual option for 2013 with a $250K buyout),RP - Matt Belisle - 2 years $6.125MM. Rockies gold rush spending could eventually burn bottom line numbers and simultaneously hamstring future rosters. Deals with extra years and dollars guaranteed to Huston Street, Chris Iannetta, and Aaron Cook were less than shrewd.

Colorado's offense is an anything can happen crew. Carlos Gonzalez & Tulowitzki form the new nucleus. Veteran Helton hopes to bring back glimmers of the player he once was. Plenty of question marks for the rest of their lineup. Is RF Smith ready for everyday action? Production and defense from new 2B (Lopez/Young)? Stewart's (MCL) ability to mature and stay healthy. Can CF Fowler step up his level of play? Former catcher of the future Iannetta has never lived up to bloated hype. Ty Wigginton provides plenty of pop and continues his fight for everyday playing time. Jason Giambi is chomping for more AB's. This might very well be Colorado's most powerless bunch of hitters in recent memory.

Another possible team first, pitching could be the Rockies strength heading into 2011. That's a scary thought. Only #1 starter and Cy Young runner-up Jiminez can be counted on to deliver a heavy dose of quality starts. It's a mixed bag for the rest especially if defense falters. De La Rosa, Chacin & Hammel round out 2-4 slots while #5 has yet to finalized. Bullpen will be heavily taxed due to starters anticipated failures to get deep into games.

2011 will be a long year for Rockies players and fans. Offense will have to produce. On paper, it's difficult figure out where runs will come from beyond Gonzalez and Tulo. If either were to miss significant time then this team is cooked. Pitchers need to reach back for a little extra while trying to keep their over worked arms sound.

Outlook. 2011 will be a very challenging season for manager Jim Tracy. Plenty of questions including how to get maximum production from a team hitting 72 points lower on the road than at home.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Spring Training Spotlight: Oakland Athletics

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-Digger's Daily-

The Oakland Athletics youth movement is maturing. 2011 could be Oakland's turn to shock the baseball world. They must be sensing their time is now judging by an active winter of wheeling and dealing. New faces counted on to contribute include Hideki Matsui (DH), David DeJesus (rF), Josh Willingham (LF), Grant Balfour (P), Brandon McCarthy (P) and a few others currently competing for roster spots. A's brass aggressively perused the likes of Lance Berkman, Adrian Beltre and Japanese import Hisashi Iwakuma but lack of big money offers failed to entice.

Oakland's starting rotation progressed wonderfully in 2010. Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez & Dallas Braden represent the front four. All talented and primed to take a step to the next level. Middle relieve is nearly unhittable setting up lights out closer Andrew Bailey. Opposing teams will have a tough time scoring against my prediction for AL's top ERA unit. Question, can offense find ways to generate enough runs to win ball games?

Offense received a boost. Matsui & Willingham will be heavily counted on as run producers. A healthy Coco Crisp and DeJesus will be top of the lineup table setters. Remaining injury free has been a major problem for Oakland players in recent seasons. Most major contributors missed time derailing potential team success and, in some cases, prematurely ended careers.

A's lineup isn't geared to go toe to toe with powerhouse clubs. However, if they can score just enough then expect their pitchers to take care of the rest. There won't be many late inning rallies against these guys. If Oakland can manage a relatively injury free season then they'll be in the hunt all year long.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Spring Training Spotlight: Chicago White Sox

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-Digger's Daily-

Feisty White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen expects 2011 success after key injuries sidetracked division title dreams one year ago. Five season's have gone by since winning the 2005 World Series over Houston. What to expect in 2011...

Chicago was fairly quiet during the winter but did manage to land one of baseball's biggest sluggers, 1B/DH Adam Dunn. Paul Konerko re-signed providing the Sox with a big time 1-2 power punch. Many players attempting to rebound from nagging injuries. Carlos Quentin is two years removed from 36 HR, 100 RBI season. 3B has been a problem position for a few years. Mark Teahen has first crack at trying to win the job. Juan Pierre returns to everyday duty. He's been a forgotten man of late. Pierre is one of the games top lead off hitters. He's going to enjoy a fine '11 campaign. Chicago's batting order can be dangerous when healthy. Bench depth is lacking.

Starting rotation gets an immediate boost if Jake Peavy's right arm is sound. A big if. Peavy's still one of the games top hurlers. Buerhle, Jackson, Danks & FLoyd create a formidable four. Throw in a sound Peavy and this is one of AL's deepest 1-5. Bullpen gave Ozzie fits last year. They failed to keep one run games close and handed away a few wins too. Matt Thornton gets a crack at everyday closer duties in 2011.

AL Central figures to be a three team race on paper. Minnesota, Detroit and Chicago are the divisions top guns. All clubs faced serious injury concerns one year ago. Make sure to tune in when these teams play head to head match-ups. Chicago's fate rest squarely on health issues. They'll score runs in bunches. Does Chicago have the right chemistry to overtake Minnesota? We'll find out by game 162.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Spring Training Spotlight: Chicago Cubs

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-Digger's Daily-

The "Lovable Losers" continue tacking on years to their World Series drought with no end in sight. 1908 was the last time the Chicago Cubs won a World Series. It also marks the last time they won a playoff series. Chicago has another dubious streak in tact. 1935 was their last 100 win season. NL Central is up for grabs. Cubs find themselves legitimate contenders as no team has a stranglehold over foes. What's in store for the 2011 Chicago Cubs?

2011 begins with a new manager, Mike Quade. Quade energized the Cubs to 24-13 record after Piniella's early departure. Players realized they were trying out for '11. Limited off season payroll options turned Chicago into shrewd buyers. 2011 fate rests squarely on starting rotation. Matt Garza jumps into the NL fray after making his bones in Tampa Bay. He joins a talented staff featuring Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, Randy Wells and Carlos Silva. Keep an eye on both Carlos'. Zambrano's mid-season implosion was one of many distractions within Chicago's dugout contributing to their 5th place finish. Silva already exploded during spring training. If these hot heads can't control themselves then the season's over before it begins. However, if they're able to bring A games...? There's no dominant NL Central rotation placing the Cubs back in the race. Only downside is no left handed starter.

Bullpen looks as strong as ever. Kerry Wood is back! Wood returns to Chicago by choice and for less money than others were willing to pay. He becomes set up man to flame throwing closer Carlos Marmol (138 K's in 77 IP). Sean Marshall (90 K in 78 IP) delivers darts as left handed specialist. Middle relievers will be decided by the time camp breaks.

Cubs offense has the pieces but doesn't seem to take advantage of game changing situations. Clutch performances have been lacking. Mental errors, base running gaffe's and useless strikeouts often kill key moments. LF Soriano's health held up after back to back injury plagued years. '11 presents a golden opportunity for Soriano to prove his skills haven't diminished as stats suggest. Wrigley Field is perfect for CF Marlon Byrd who will see a spike in power numbers. RF Fukudome was a star in Japan who hasn't been able to live up to hype in USA. A Japanese League career .305 hitter who routinely smacked in excess of 30 2B's, 20 HR's has been anything but clutch during three Major League Baseball seasons. Batting .259, low RBI totals, high OBA suggest Fukudome being mis-used deeper in batting order. This guy should be given a shot leading off or in the two hole. Should Soriano and Fukudome put together respectable .280 averages their contributions will go a long way towards winning close games. 32 one-run losses were the most in baseball last year.

Cubs infield sports a new look. Only 3B Aramis Ramirez returns looking for redemption after battling nagging injuries. 1B Carlos Pena takes a stab at NL baseball. Strong range and solid glove guarding the RF line. It'll be interesting to see how he handles NL pitching in a great hitters park division. His only downside is 150-170 strikeouts. Blake DeWitt (2B) and Starlin Castro (SS) form the dp combo. Add backstop Geovany Soto's name to oft injured Cubs. He's a talented ball hacker vital to run production.

Chicago's lineup needs to avoid prolonged or nagging injuries. They've endured two consecutive season's of devastating hard knocks. This lineup can be dangerous when healthy. 2011 is also a year for players to prove they've still got it. Strikeouts are game killers for the Cubs. Runners fail to advance while hitters swing wildly at dirtballs. Hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo has his hands full teaching these guys how to hit with two strikes and/or two outs. 2B is a weak area. Baker/DeWitt platoon hasn't provided stellar D. Lineup could use another left handed bat vs a right handed pitching rich division.

Keys to Cubs success. How well can Quade manage on and off the diamond? Quirky to volatile players in the dugout completely destroyed team moral last year. Tempers already sprouting during Cactus League games. Lack of discipline will doom Chicago. Jaramillo must teach these guys to cut down on strikeouts, put the ball in play and drive in runners. Can former stud Zambrano keep his cool and pitch effectively? Can Garza become an effective NLer? Is Silva's spring meltdown history or waiting to boil over? 2011 is a key year for most veteran players. Thin bench not ready for prime time if recurring injuries strike. Cubs need cosmic tumblers all to lineup. 100+ years of frustration.

NL Central division title well within their grasp if they wise up. A big IF.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Spring Training Spotlight: New York Yankees

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-Digger's Daily-

The Texas Rangers crushed any hopes the Yankees had of back to back titles as they dismantled the world champs in the ALCS. New York's off season nearly turned into the Bronx Zoo II. Yankees had many decisions to make. How much to offer aging stars Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera?. Could they lure free agent Cliff Lee to the Bronx? Would Andy Pettitte return for one more year? What will become of the starting rotation?

Most questions were answered relatively quickly. But, the process was very muddied. Cliff Lee spurned Yankees cash and returned to Philadelphia. Andy Pettitte recently announced his retirement. No Yankees fan was prepared for how captain Derek Jeter's contract renegotiation played out in the press. Tensions nearly boiled over as Yankee brass went public with negative comments before a deal was finally consummated.
Talk around town is how will New York manage to field a competitive starting rotation? CC Sabathia represents the Yankees only true performer. AJ Burnett has a Cy Young repertoire but hasn't pieced it together in pin stripes. #3 man Phil Hughes was sensational during early 2010 but tapered off in the 2nd half. Plenty of spring competition for rotation slots 4 and 5. Young stud Ivan Nova is projected to be their 5th starter. 2005 Cy Young winner Bartolo Colon has looked impressive this spring trying to prove his right arm is finally sound. Colon hasn't pitched a full season since winning the '05 award.

Yankees relief corps promises to be one of the franchises best ever. Rivera returns as the closer chasing MLB's all time saves record. New York signed former Rays closer, and probably heir apparent to Rivera, Rafael Soriano as their new setup man. Coming across town from the Mets is southpaw specialist Pedro Feliciano. Joba's role now appears to be middle relief specialist to get New York over the hump when starters fail to go deep into games.

Much has been made regarding lack of Yankees starting rotation depth. Well, there's plenty of future stars on the horizon. Nova gets his shot this spring to prove he's ready to handle major league batters. One of the most pleasant surprises this spring is southpaw 19 year old sensation Manny Banuetos. A tremendous talent who possesses poise beyond his years and a major league arsenal firing away from a powerful left arm. He looks like a young Johann Santana. Scouts from around the league also have their sights set on following the progress of Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman, Yanks GM Brian Cashman continues to be steadfast against mortgaging New York's future. With good reason. If these young guns remain healthy and live up to their billing... then Yankees have another dynasty decade in the making.

New York's lineup has a few minor tweaks. Jorge Posada's catching days are over. He's the new full time DH. Russell Martin will guide the staff while top catching prospect Jesus Montero figures to secure the official backup role. Montero reminds me of Mike Piazza. Explosive bat with questionable defensive skills. Make no mistake, this kid can flat out pound baseballs. I predict he'll soon be starting catcher or involved in a blockbuster trade. Bench depth received a major boost this winter. Andruw Jones figures to platoon in LF and fill in at all three OF positions when needed.

Can Mark Teixeira avoid another horrid beginning? 2009-10 April performances were flat out ugly. Alex Rodriguez is completely locked in this spring for the first time in years. Derek Jeter's swing is still off. What's happened to Jeter since last May? Believe it or not, free agent signee Eric Chavez may win a roster spot. Chavez' signing might prove to be one of the winters shrewdest moves if this guy can finally put an end to perennial injuries. EC will back up 1B/3B, fill in at DH and be the top lefty PH. Utility infielder Ronnie Belliard might make the team as a versatile backup. Plenty of decisions left for manager Joe Girardi. Making cuts will quickly become a difficult process.

When it comes to picking the AL East division winner most seem to be looking in Boston's direction. Not so fast. AL East is wide open in 2011. All divisional games will be tough. Baltimore and Toronto vastly improved. Boston and Tampa retooled. Yanks represent AL's strongest lineup and relievers. Will it be enough to overcome a question mark riddled rotation? If New York's rotation solidifies and comes out blazing then there's no stopping this crew. If they falter, it'll be a long summer of vocal headline making discontent from the Steinbrenner clan. We're only a few short weeks away from finding out how 2011 unfolds.

I'm expecting AL East baseball to be 2011's most exciting race.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Power Rankings Movers & Shakers

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-Digger's Daily-

Rankings shake up from league to league...

1 - Philadelphia Phillies
2 - San Francisco Giants
3 - Chicago White Sox
4 - Boston Red Sox
5 - Minnesota Twins
6 - Oakland A's
7 - New York Yankees
8 - Atlanta Braves
9 - Texas Rangers
10- Los Angeles Angels

1 - Vancouver Canucks
2 - Philadelphia Flyers
3 - Detroit Red Wings
4 - Boston Bruins
5 - San Jose Sharks
6 - Tampa Bay Lightning
7 - Washington Capitals
8 - Pittsburgh Penguins
9 - Chicago Black Hawks
10- Montreal Canadiens

1 - San Antonio Spurs
2 - Boston Celtics
3 - Dallas Mavericks
4 - Miami Heat
5 - Los Angeles Lakers
6 - Chicago Bulls
7 - Orlando Magic
8 - Oklahoma City Thunder
9 - Atlanta Hawks
10- New York Knicks

2011 NCAA Men's Basketball (as of 2/28/11)
1 - Ohio State
2 - Kansas
3 - Bringham Young
4 - Duke
5 - Pittsburgh
6 - San Diego State
7 - Purdue
8 - Texas
9 - Notre Dame
10- Syracuse

NCAA Women's Basketball (as of 2/28/11)
1 - Connecticut
2 - Tennessee
3 - Baylor
4 - Stanford
5 - Duke
6 - Texas A&M
7 - UCLA
8 - Xavier
9 - Miami
10- Notre Dame

*Countdown to lockout*


Spring Training Spotlight: Tampa Bay Rays

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-Digger's Daily-

Tampa Bay (96-66) won the AL East on the last day of regular season action. Their season came to a screeching halt in the playoffs as they ran into a red hot Texas Rangers club. World Series dreams came crashing down.

Tampa spent a busy off season retooling their club. They cut loose a bunch of fan favorite performers and players who helped turned this franchise into winners. Here's the list: Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano, Carlos Pena, Joaquin Benoit, Lance Cormier, Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler, Randy Choate, Jason Bartlett, Matt Garza, Fernando Perez, Zach Rosscup, Willy Aybar, Gabe Kapler, Dioner Navarro, Brad Hawpe, Rocco Baldelli, Chad Qualls, Dale Thayer. That's quite a turnover for a 96 win team.

So who's new? Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez, Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta & J.P. Howell. Other notables fighting for roster spots (minor league contracts): Felipe Lopez, Juan Cruz, Joe Inglett, Chris Bootcheck, Chris Carter, Casey Kotchman, Ray Olmedo, Dirk Hayhurst, R.J. Swindle, Cory Wade. On paper, Tampa has taken a big step backwards offensively and, most importantly, on defense.

Tampa Bay will rely heavily on their starting rotation to keep games close. Offense took a hit so every pitch becomes most important. David Price and James Shields provide the 1-2 punch. #3 Garza is now a Cub. Who's going to step up their game? Wade Davis? Jeff Niemann? Perhaps the biggest pitching question mark surrounds one of their former strengths. Bullpen. They lost all key players here and Farnsworth is no Soriano.
I think Tampa Bay made some key personnel errors. Table setters and shut down bullpen has been wrecked due to cost cutting moves. Cost cutting is fine and dandy when replacing stars with sure handed players. Time will tell if Tampa missed the boat. AL East powerhouse Yankees have pitching concerns. Boston continues to battle health issues. 2011 could have been the year Tampa blew away the East. Prospects will have to step it up and become major contributors or Tampa will be lucky to play .500 baseball. Team chemistry takes a hit too.

Tampa needs to duplicate last season's hot April. They began 17-6 and finished May with a 34-18 record. A slow beginning in an improved division will cost the Rays any chance of success.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

In Case You Missed It....

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-Digger's Daily-

So much for February being a quiet month for sports news. Major happenings from coast to coast. Here's my highlighted version just in case you blinked or asleep at the wheel...

Look out, here come the New York Knicks. They pulled off the trade of the season in a blockbuster 3 team deal with Denver & Minnesota. Knicks landed Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Shelden Williams, Anthony Carter and Renaldo Balkman. Knicks gave up a kings ransom for instant bliss. Denver may not be an immediate winner after this deal but their future is bright. New York dealt forwards Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari, guard Raymond Felton and center Timofey Mozgov to the Nuggets. New York also shipped centers Eddy Curry and Anthony Randolph to Minnesota for forward Corey Brewer. Denver acquired center Kosta Koufos from Minnesota, plus New York's first-round draft pick in 2014, second-round picks in 2012 and 2013 and cash.

So where do the Knicks stand now? Exuberant New Yorkers expecting Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire to immediately dominate. Not so fast. The new look Knicks need to gel first. Playoffs will happen. A title? One never knows how playoff hoops will unfold. New players need play better defense than their predecessors. If everything goes according to plan, Knicks will be top contenders. New York is now loaded with talent. Hungry to win. Time to put it together. Knicks will be a force for years to come. Doom and gloom days soon to become a distant memory in rear view mirror.

New Jersey Nets quickly followed suit with a trade of their own. After publicly ridiculing the Carmelo experience, Nets management re focused and pulled off a big deal. The Nets will send Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, two first-round draft picks and cash considerations to Utah for All-Star point guard Deron Williams. Nets have a very long climb to respectability. This was a first good step.

Spring training in full speed. Regular season baseball is less than one month away from opening day. Early injury news struck hard in St. Louis with the Cards losing dominant starting pitcher Adam Wainwright for 2011 (Tommy John surgery).

Carlos Beltran will be the Mets new RF. Knee injuries created limited range for Carlos and opened the door for Angel Pagan. Pagan becomes New York's every day CF. New York remains clouded in controversy as team owners face a stiff lawsuit resulting from their involvement with Bernie Madoff. News reports this morning suggest Mets brass aggressively pursuing loans. MLB reported they loaned New York $25 million last year to help the team cover payroll. Mets have continuously denied cash flow problems. It's time for the Wilpon's & Katz' to sell this franchise before they do any more harm to a team within one pitch of the World Series only a few short seasons ago.

Boston manager Terry Francona performed near miracles keeping the Sox in contention most of last year. Injuries popped up at almost every position. Yesterday, ace Josh Beckett got nailed in the head during spring drills.

Yes or No? Football in 2011 or not. It's owners vs players. NFL Players Association and owners seem destined for an ugly showdown. Believe what you want but both sides are nuts. In January the NFLPA filed a motion of collusion against the owners. Good luck. Owners clearly in the drivers seat here. Players griping owners making too much money, players not enough. They're fooling themselves. NFLPA may try a tactic to decertify before the current bargaining agreement expires Thursday night. It's a gamble. Both sides seem very far apart. What exactly to the players seek to gain? Owners holding all the cards. NFLPA has no muscle in this issue.