Thursday, March 28, 2013

MLB 2013 Preview: Kansas City Royals

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-Digger's Daily-

Can Kansas City take the American League by surprise in 2013? It's been 27 years and counting since Kansas City's last playoff appearance. The Royals were one of baseball's top teams during the mid 1970's-80's. Royals teams recorded just one winning season since 1994. Enough is enough. Royals management has made a determined effort to win now.

New faces for 2013 - starting pitchers Jamie Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Wade Davis & Ervin Santana give KC an instant boost on the mound. Add maturing young players into the mix and Royals fans have good reason to be hopeful. These guys can hit too. DH/1B Billy Butler, LF Alex Gordon, 3B Mike Moustakas, CF Lorenzo Cain, RF Jeff Francoeur, C Sal Perez, 2B Chris Getz and SS Alcides Escobar.

Let there be no doubt. Kansas City Royals are much improved heading into 2013. They're playing energized spring ball sporting a Major League best 23-7 record. Of course, spring training is practice ball so lets not get overly excited. Can they carry a winning attitude from spring ball to regular season play? Why not? AL Central is up for grabs. Detroit and Chicago have been tabbed as favorites. Minnesota and Cleveland fading. KC controls their own destiny this season.

Forecast: KC may have mortgaged their future to win now. They were panned for trading top prospect Wil Myers to land Shields & Davis. Another notorious slow start in April must be avoided. On paper, this team has talent and potential. A winning season well within reach. Anything less might lead to a total team shakeup in July. 81 wins a reality. Playoffs if they reach 90. Exciting days coming to KC.

Friday, March 22, 2013

MLB 2013 Preview: New York Mets

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-Digger's Daily-

The 2013 New York Mets has local fans dreading a return to the late 1970's. This team is not shaping up well on paper. Quite frankly, Mets ownership should be completely embarrassed on the state of baseball in Willets Point.

There's no room for error by Mets players. This squad must learn to manufacture runs one at a time. Unfortunately, many outs will be given away in a small ball game atmosphere (sacrifice bunts/caught stealing). Ike Davis needs to rebound from a 2012 first half from hell. He did well in latter months and one can only hope Davis bat is consistent from April through September this season. Fan favorite David Wright is nursing a rib injury and might not be ready opening day. There you have it. Davis and Wright as the Mets only two proven players on offense and defense. Yep, that's it!

As for the rest of the lineup: An open competition between lightweight hitters in NL's weakest outfield. LF belongs to developing talent Lucas Duda who disappointed in '12 after an impressive mid-season call up in '11. CF will be light hitting Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Re-tread light hitting Marlon Byrd is rumored to have won spring training's RF battle. Collin Cowgill and Jordany Valdespin to be spot starter/utility type role players.

Up the middle infield defense leaves much to be desired. Ruben Tejada (SS) and Daniel Murphy (2B) have potential to reach base. Their biggest handicap is keeping opponents from doing the same. Not much range and weak arms will drive pitching staff crazy all year long. Davis and Wright are top notch on the corners. Catching is another potential sore spot. John Buck has a career line of .235/.303/.405. He's hit over .227 only two times during past six seasons. It should be quite clear this team will need to scrap and claw for every single run in 2013. No margin for error. It can be done. Just don't bet on it. Back up Anthony Recker was a solid minor league hitter. Only 66 MLB AB's. He could be a nice surprise if given a regular chance to play.

New York Mets pitchers need to dominate every night if this team expects to win more than they lose. All need solid defense behind them. On paper, only Wright and Davis will provide help. Jonathan Niese is an All Star caliber pitcher getting better each year. Matt Harvey is another stud. Pure ace material but still must learn consistent command of stellar pitches. He's the real deal. Johann Santana still isn't 100% and will likely begin '13 on the DL. If he can regain and keep arm strength, then, Mets have a great 1-2-3. Shaun Marcum was brought in as a 4th starter and the final rotation slot has yet to be determined.

Bullpen is very deep and talented. These guys need to shut down inherited runners and not give up late inning runs. Baseball is a funny game. Mets will not be scoring often but could shock the baseball world behind strong pitching. Bullpen arms are very lively. Brandon Lyon, Bobby Parnell, Josh Edgin, Pedro Feliciano, Scott Atchison and potential closer Frank Francisco (injured). Francisco is the wrong choice closing out for a deep and talented pen. I have a feeling he won't last long. The final bullpen slots yet to be determined.

Forecast: By all logical accounts the Mets are headed to 90+ losses in 2013 unless Terry Collins finds Gil Hodges old playbook lying around. Lack of defense and extra base power might make for a very long season. Don't give up on this overly picked on team just yet even when there's nothing to get excited about. Games are won and lost on the field - not on paper. If they hustle, execute small ball & pitch - then expect some late season excitement.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

MLB 2013 Preview: New York Yankees

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-Digger's Daily-

Will the 2013 New York Yankees go down in history as the largest payroll team finishing with a losing record? Can anyone remember the last time New York finished with a sub .500 record? Get ready fans, 2013 is shaping up to be a very long season.

Yankees are supposed to be in cost cutting mode. 2013 cumulative salaries exceed $200M. Only one major off season roster adjustment for the first time in ages (Kevin Youkilis). It could be a very long season for Yankees fans accustomed to winning. Then again, perhaps the 2013 version goes back to baseball basics. Hit, run, pitch & field. It's their only hope.

New York limps into opening day missing key cogs. Captain Derek Jeter's ankle is hurting. Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira will miss significant time. Mariano Rivera returns after missing most of '12. This squad reminds me of the late 90's pennant winning clubs. All prognosticators believe the Yankees are cooked. I think there's a great deal of hope.

2013 will not be another fodder of free swinging, no clutch, rally killing strikeout artists. Ichiro & Gardner provide contact, speed, defense and superb base running ability. Youkilis is a solid contact hitter who gnaws away at pitch counts. Robinson Cano is baseball's best second basemen and was WBC's batting star. 1B Dan Johnson is due. A great career minor league hitter for both power and average finally gets a shot in a hitters park after early years in Oakland. I predict a break out season in hitter friendly AL East if he can steal time away from Juan Rivera. Rivera might open the year at 1B and platoon in LF with recent pick-up Brennan Boesch. Rivera is a streak hitter who showed temporary flashes as an Angel. Boesch can rake it and New York's short right porch might make him an instant hit with Bleacher Bums. Russell Martin wasn't retained opening the door for catcher's Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart. Both are adequate defenders but can't hit a lick. Travis Hafner will DH. A carefully planned lineup could go a long way. Gardner, Ichiro, Youkilis, Cano, Hafner, Boesch, Johnson/Rivera, Nunez & Cervelli/Stewart on opening day. This lineup will put the ball in play. 2012 lineup struck out an alarming 1176 times featuring six with 90+, three with 100+, led by Granderson's 195. Why hasn't this club fired their hitting coach? Jeter will hopefully return soon. (However, don't expect much range from a surgically repaired ankle which is already causing problems. Nunez time to shine is now or never).

How well will the starting rotation pitch in 2013? CC Sabathia, Kuroda & Pettitte are a solid front three if A.P. can stay healthy. Back end is up for grabs. On again, off again Hughes tries to fulfill expectations (again). Ian Nova & David Phelps are battling for the final starting slot. There's no room for error in April. Hurlers need to come out of the gates in mid-season form or it will be a long season.

Bullpen, if not over worked, is a strength. Rivera returns to close and looks strong. Robertson, Logan, Aardsma, Joba, Eppley & Rapada have live arms. A very formidable pen on paper. We'll soon see how they perform in April.

Forecast: AL East is very tough. Orioles, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Rays & Yanks will battle all season long. Yanks need a strong April or they won't be able to keep pace. Small ball, hit and run, defense & pitching. Rivera is not a long term solution at 1B if Teix is out for the year. Yanks already spurned by Chipper Jones & Derek Lee. This squad may win as few as 79 games or as many as 95.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

MLB 2013 Preview: Detroit Tigers

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-Digger's Daily-

Detroit will open the 2013 season as defending American League champions. San Francisco disposed of the Tigers in 4 straight World Series games leaving this squad hungry for revenge. They were simply out played in nearly ever facet of the game. So what's in store for '13?

2011 Cy Young winner Justin Verlander anchors Detroit's rotation. Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Sherzer fill out 2-4 slots. Second year man Drew Smyly looks like the favorite to nail down the final rotation spot and would be the teams only left handed starter. Just how far can these guys carry Detroit's title hopes remains to be seen. Big question marks remain for bullpen arms. Former closer (and still unsigned free agent) Jose Valverde was perfect in 2011 (49-49 in save opportunities). 2013 was a different story as he was terrible during September and the post-season. Closer duties are up for grabs this spring and nobody seems to be a front-runner at this time. 

On offense, this might be one of the Tigers best lineups in recent memory. Triple Crown & AL MVP Miguel Cabrera and 1B slugger Prince Fielder are the headliners. Veteran Torii Hunter comes to town and takes over in RF. DH Victor Martinez returns after sitting out the entire 2012 season. DP combo of Infante & Peralta are clutch regular season performers. CF is anchored by rising star Austin Jackson. LF belongs to promising Andy Dirks. Runs should be plentiful.

Forecast: Bench depth might be an issue if starters get miss significant time with injuries. Starting rotation will need to go deep into games. Bullpen remains team weakness on paper. Detroit will win AL Central once again. However, if late inning pitching doesn't step up to protect leads then World Series hopes will remain on hold.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

MLB 2013 Preview: San Francisco Giants

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-Digger's Daily-

The countdown to opening day has begun. Can San Francisco become baseball's first team to win back to back World Series titles in the new millennium? Winners in 2010 & 2012 has Giants fans believing they can win it all again in 2013.

Not much has changed since last season. The strength of this team lies squarely on the shoulders of starting pitchers. Cain, Bumgarner, Lincecum, Vogelsong & Zito remained injury free last year. They accounted for every start except two. The only question mark on this staff is two time Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum. He's was far removed from usual domination. His pitching motion isn't the same as Cy Young years and it's safe to assume more of the same until he corrects a major mechanical flaw.
San Francisco's offense usually doesn't da
zzle but they're one of the top clutch hitting teams when the game is on the line. Don't forget how they became champs. During the '12 playoffs they came behind from 0-2 NLDS and 1-3 NLCS deficits before sweeping away Detroit in World Series action. Buster Posey was the only hitter to connect for more than 20 HR (24). Pablo Sandival's 63 RBI were good enough for 2nd highest (Posey 103). A full season from RF Hunter Pence will to wonders for scoring a few more runs. However, this one key missing ingredient from their attack as power.

Another strength is one of the National Leagues best bullpens. Relievers get the job done. Somehow they're always ready to go. Giants pitchers only completed 5 of 162. One of the keys in 2013 is keeping these guys healthy. Manager Bruce Bochy seems to make the right moves at the right time.
Forecast: Champs remain the team to beat. NL West will be a dogfight from beginning to end. Expect many dramatic 1 run contests. SF will go as far as their rotation takes them. 2013 will be challenging. 88-92 wins.