Category Archives: Basbeall

You’re Killing Me, Smalls!

It’s hard to believe that another winter has come and gone. Opening Day (the American one, not the Australian one that put Kershaw on the DL) is here and the boys of summer are ready to get back it. 30 baseball teams will take the field over the next few days to get their 2014 season rolling.

What if there were a 31st team? What if there was an All Star line-up of all the characters from baseball movies and T.V. shows clumped into one mega-team? It would be an insult to call this a Dream Team, but that is what we are talking about here. There needs to be some guidelines though. I can’t take players from movies or shows that are actual players. That eliminates Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, the entire Chicago Black Sox and a bevy of others. Characters based on actual players (like the ladies in A League of Their Own) or a likeness of an actual player (like the ghosts in Field of Dreams), however, is allowed. With these rules in place, my prep work began. I had to dig deep. Some of these movies I haven’t seen in a while. Some are outright terrible, but they all deserved consideration. After much deliberation I narrowed it down to a few players at each slot. Here’s a look at a position by position breakdown of the one week training camp (and by training camp, I really mean me sitting in front of my Smart TV and watching classic clips on YouTube to remind myself how great some of these characters were) held to see who made the cut.

The Fantasy Dream Amazeballs All-Hollywood Team 

Hope the got a whole chicken...
Hope they got a whole chicken…

Catcher:  Aside from the outfield, this was the closest position battle. There were quite a few players to choose from, but four took it down to the wire. Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis, A League of Their Own) definitely deserves consideration. She was the heart and soul of the Rockford Peaches and was hands down the best player in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Crash Davis (Kevin Costner, Bull Durham) also enters the debate. His downside is that he is a career minor leaguer. His upside is his willingness to be demoted to help tutor the future of baseball.  Hamilton “Ham” Porter (Patrick Renna, The Sandlot) is not only a great catcher, but he is a historian, a comedian, and one of the best s’mores chefs in the land. What can’t you say about Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger, Major League)? He came out of retirement to lead a team of nobodies to the playoffs and win the heart of Rene Russo.

WINNER: Taylor. His experience, baseball sense, and ability to leg out a bunt with no knees make him the leader of this squad.

First base: There haven’t been many great fictional first basemen through the years. Stan Ross (Bernie Mac, Mr. 3000) was a superstar for the Milwaukee Brewers, except it took him until the end of his selfish career to understand what being a team player really meant. And he NEVER GOT HIS 3000th HIT! Let’s face it. Bertram Grover Weeks (Grant GeltThe Sandlot) was a junkie. He introduced the whole team to that Chew and disappeared in the ’60s on some drug bender and was never seen again. That doesn’t help much with team chemistry, and what players that use drugs ever pan out as All Stars? Jack Elliot (Tom Selleck, Mr. Baseball) didn’t know when to hang it up and had to end his career in Japan. That doesn’t sound like someone I want anchoring my first stop around the bases.

WINNER: You think I would choose any of these bums? Hell no. My first baseman is Toby Whitewood (David Stambaugh, the original Bad News Bears). He really was the most unheralded star of Chico’s Bail Bonds as Kelly Leak always stole his thunder and pulled a beauty of a hidden ball trick in the field at the Astrodome.

Second base: This came down to a two man… er, player competition. Tommy “Repeat” Timmons (Shane Obedzinski, The Sandlot) is the third member from The Sandlot team to make the list. Tommy was better at constructing things than he ever was at baseball. Marla Hooch (Megan Cavanagh, A League of Their Own) is a hard hitting, hard to look at basher. But if we were picking on pure looks, Tom Selleck and that legendary mustache would already be on the team.

WINNER: Hooch. Let’s spice it up and give this team some variety. On the plus side, she shouldn’t be a distraction in the clubhouse.

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Short stopI allowed Gus (Rob Schneider, The Benchwarmers) a very quick tryout, but in the end, no matter how much he changed, he was a liar and a one-time bully, and I’m not looking to run a Miami Dolphins locker room with my squad. That means this was a simple one-man battle.

WINNER: Tanner Boyle (Chris Barnes, the original Bad News Bears) This is the second Chico’s Bail Bonds alum to crack this squad, so it tells you a little something about Buttermaker’s bunch. Boyle was a little sloppy, but who on the Bears wasn’t? He was the spark plug though and the toughness this team needs.

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Third base:  Doris Murphy (Rosie O’Donnell, League of Their Own) was a brash, overly confident vixen of a baseball player, but she had guts and could play the hot corner pretty well. Ed (Ed) was a freaking monkey, and do you think I would pass on giving a monkey a try-out at third base? Do you know what kind of revenue a third base-monkey would generate? Especially if he smoked cigarettes? Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen, Major League) was a snide and snooty little brat, but we’re talking baseball skills here.

WINNER: Dorn. When he isn’t ole-ing the ball and worrying about his contract amenities, he can straight up field. We also know he is clutch at the plate delivering timely hits at the end of that one-game playoff series with the Yankees. He also delivers a hell of a sucker punch.

OutfieldThis was hands down the toughest position battle. Roy Hobbs (Robert RedfordThe Natural) didn’t even need to show up for try-outs. If he wants to play and his side is all healed up, he starts on my team, no questions asked. That sliced the competition down to just two slots. I was able to remove Bobby Rayburn (Wesley Snipes, The Fan) from the conversation because I’m not allowing one actor to occupy the last two spots in the outfield. That means Willie Mays Hayes (Wesley Snipes, Major League) is in the mix. The guy flat out flies on the base paths, plus he has the Richard Sherman ego on top of it. Kelly Leak (Jackie Earle Haley, the original Bad News Bears) has a leg up on the competition because he smokes cigarettes and drives his motorcycle right onto the field and, well, I’m afraid of telling him no. Benjamin Franklin Rodriguez (Mike Vitar, The Sandlot), more lovingly known as Benny the Jet, is borderline. First of all, did he ever play one single position in the entire movie? Secondly, aside from his speed, he has a marginal skill set. The Ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta, Field of Dreams) was invited to try-outs because technically, he isn’t a real player. And even the specter of Shoeless Joe hits a hell of a lot better than some living ball players (paging Mr. Uggla). Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert, Major League) is a hulking beast of a man. He needs to still get a better grasp of that curve ball, Jobu.

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WINNERS: Hobbs, Leak, and Hayes. He may run like Mays but he hits like the leadoff guy I want in my line-up. He will man center field while Leak, who shifted from third to outfield in Breaking in Training, will man left. With Hayes’ swagger and Leak’s bad boy attitude, teams will fear us. Having Hobbs patrol right quietly will install fear by silence.

I’m keeping Cerrano as my DH, though, and I am also keeping Benny the Jet as my utility guy, so here is the batting order:

CF — Willie Mays Hayes

SS — Tanner Boyle

3B — Roger Dorn

RF — Roy Hobbs

DH — Pedro Cerrano

LF — Kelly Leak

C — Jake Taylor

2B — Marla Hooch

1B — Toby Whitewood

Pinch hitter/runner: Benny the Jet Rodriguez

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My offense is stacked, but wait until you get a load of the pitching. As far as I was concerned, there wasn’t any competition when it came to the starting rotation, the middle reliever, the set-up man, and closer. So, without further ado, here is your staff:

The Ace — Amanda Whurlitzer (Tatum O’Neal, Bad News BearsShe’s sneaky and sly and has quite a mouth on her, but she can flat out throw and hold her own with the big boys.

Chet Steadman (Gary Busey, Rookie of the Year) The Rocket is a crafty veteran who happens to be played by one of the funniest living specimens on the planet. There was no way I was leaving Busey off this team.

Billy Chapel (Kevin Costner, For the Love of the Game). Costner lost out on Crash Davis, but he gets the nod on the mound. I wanted to leave him off entirely because the S.O.B. no-hit the Yankees but he’s too good to deny.

Eddie Harris (Chelcie Ross, Major League). If he can’t get it done with that old rubber arm of his, then he has an arsenal of Crisco, Bardol, and snot hidden away to sneak one by any batter.

This spot was a toss up. Both were youngsters and both had promising futures. It came down to Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins, Bull Durham) or Henry Rowengartner (Thomas Ian Nicholas, Rookie of the Year). It was a really tough choice, but it came down to the fact that Nuke winds up with Susan Sarandon and Rowengartner got to have pretend sex with Tara Reid. I choose Tara Reid… I mean, Rowengartner to round out the staff.

The bullpen is the most fun part of this team. There will be a lot of money spent on fine wine, hookers, and bail when the three of them go out to celebrate. Sam “Mayday” Malone (Ted Danson, Cheers) is the unquestioned elder spokesman of the bullpen. He cleaned up his act, so he should be a calming influence on his other two compadres. Kenny Powers (Danny McBride, Eastbound and Down) may just be an average American with extraordinary hair, he may be a bit of a xenophobe (or patriot depending on who’s definition you use), but he will blow anyone away with his stuff. The closer is Rick Vaughn (Charlie Sheen, Major League). This is a no brainer. Not only does he hit triple digits on the radar, he’s one of the most memorable sports characters on this list. He’s the Wild Thing baby, and we all know that’s winning.

Now, who in their right mind would want to manage this bunch of A and B-List, ego-driven celebs? I wanted to go with Lou Brown (James Gammon, Major League) for the job he did creating that peal away stripper. Ultimately, Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks, A League of Their Own) gets the job because he uttered one of the most famous lines in baseball movie history: “There’s no crying in baseball.”

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There you have it, folks. It may very well be the greatest roster ever established. Until next time, enjoy your Final Four and happy opening week of baseball.

A Universe, A Nation, and a Sting Ray

The Madenss is creeping up on us, folks. I hope you have been enjoying the conference tourneys because there have been upsets galore which should make Selection Sunday quite unpredictable. Surprisingly, Jared Allen, Chris Clemons, and Julian Edelman remain unsigned in this quickly evolving NFL free agency season. And the bats are coming alive and the arms are getting looser in Florida and Arizona as we are just a few short weeks from Opening Day 2014.

THE AL EAST

The AL East is the only division in baseball that the “worst” team has a legitimate chance at winning the division. That’s because no one team is a great team. Their offenses are stacked and all five teams are very good, so they should beat each other up all season long. It will be a war of attrition and who comes  out on top will be the team not with the most powerful bats but the deepest pitching.

5. The Toronto Blue Jays

(Covers.com has the O/U at 82-80 while FanGraphs has them finishing 82-80)

south-park-blame-canada

There are three primary factors holding back Toronto. First and foremost, they play in the province that gave us Justin Bieber so they don’t deserve to win anything. Secondly, their pitching is old. Lastly, they simply cannot avoid the injury bug.

Jose BautistaJose Reyes, and Melky Cabrera are enough to make any line-up powerful and strong, but not one of the three were on the field for over 120 games last season. Edward Encarnacion is a total offensive beast, but he also has never played an entire season. Adam Lind had a nice bounce back last season after a lost 2012 and is slated to bat clean-up in this potent line-up (making him a great option in fantasy). They really need former first round pick Brett Lawrie to play a full season and come into his own at third base. It may be time to move on should he flop again this season.

39-year old R.A. Dickey anchors this staff as its ace, but the crafty knuckle-baller returned to earth after his 2012 Cy Young campaign. Now 34-years old, Mark Buehrle is not much more than a .500, innings-eating pitcher. Brandon Morrow spent last season working his way back from injury after a promising 2012. He showed he can be a solid top-end of the rotation pitcher prior to going down, and the Jays will benefit greatly if he can return to his 2012 form. Where’s Ricky Romero? That guy got a case of the Knoblauchs and completely fell apart!

Casey Janssen leads a rather uninspiring bullpen. He does have former closer Sergio Santos setting him up, so they do have a nice one-two punch. As long as the Blue Jays hold on to those 11-10 leads in the 8th inning these two should shut down a fair amount of games.

Projected 2014 finish: 80-82. To purchase tickets to any game this season check out Ticket Monster.

4. The Baltimore Orioles

(Covers.com has the O/U at 80.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 79-83)

Like the Blue Jays, the Orioles are another power-house line-up with minimal pitching. The O’s did bolster their starting rotation this offseason but it may be the move they couldn’t make that comes back to haunt them.

21-year old all-world third baseman Manny Machado is the key to this offense. Unfortunately he is still recovering from offseason surgery and is projected to start the year on the DL. When he does return, the Os will have one of the best one through six line-up runs in baseball. Nick Markakis is never going to be the superstar people projected but he’s still very good and becoming a quality leadoff hitter no matter how unorthodox he may be in the slot. Chris Davis is a beast and is still maturing. He needs to cut down on the strikeouts (199 in 2013), but there is no reason that he can’t match his 2013 league leading 53 HRs and 138 RBI. Adam Jones is one of the best all around outfielders in baseball and is a 20-20 threat every year. The addition of Nelson Cruz makes them even stronger. Batting behind Cruz, Matt Wieters is one of the best hitting catchers in the biz. They need to improve in creating runs and not solely relying on the long ball. They led baseball with 212 HRs but were near the bottom with a .313 on base percentage.

The Ubaldo Jimenez signing gives them an ace. I personally don’t project him translating well to a full season in the AL East. He’s always had a bit of a problem with the long ball and pitching more games at Fenway, Yankee Stadium, Toronto, and Camden may be bad news for him. They had a shot at Ervin Santana but were unwilling to part with draft picks. That leaves Chris Tillman at number two and a bunch of uncertainty filling out the rest of the rotation.

The Orioles need to replace 101 saves over the last two seasons as Jim Johnson left town. I’m not so sure Tommy Hunter is going to be the answer, but he should do just fine. Johnson got a lot of lucky saves with a high WHIP and a powerful offense to bail him out of his mistakes. Should Hunter fail, Darren O’Day is one of the better set-up men in the game and can quickly jump in to the closer spot.

Project 2014 finish: 81-81. For ticket purchases click here.

boston-sucks

3. The Boston Red Sox

(Covers.com has the O/U at 87.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 88-74)

You hairy bunch of bearded buttheads. The Red Sox Nation get to raise another World Series flag on Opening Day, and I am not happy about it. They were Boston Strong last season, so for the city of Boston on the heels of tragedy I applaud them. Now I want to watch them crumble.

There was no one better than the Sox at producing runs last season. They were always on base as David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia led a line-up that had 6 players finish with over a .350 OBP. In fact, they led baseball in runs scored, RBI, and OBP. That means a lot has to go right for them to return to those heights. And so far it hasn’t: their leadoff man and newest Boston turncoat left town, they got older at catcher by adding AJ Pierzynski, and they are banking that their elite prospects are ready to mature.  Jackie Bradley, Jr. is struggling to beat out Grady Sizemore, who was once elite, but injuries have stolen his best years. Will Middlebrooks needs to finally play a full season because his two partial seasons have shown a lot of promise. Xavier Bogaerts looks ready to take over at shortstop and produce immediately.

The pitching staff only got older this offseason already losing Ryan Dempster to old age. Jon Lester is the most confusing ace in baseball. He can be a shut down, Cy Young candidate one season and a middling .500 pitcher the next. John Lackey and Jake Peavy are crafty veterans who use to be former aces, but they, like Lester, are boom or bust. Clay Buchholz was on his way to becoming the ace until injuries derailed his season.

Their bullpen is deep (how deep is it?). It’s so deep that I project newly signed Edward Mujica replacing Koji Uehara at closer sooner than later. Uehara had a great 2013 but older closers (he is 38) rarely produce back-to-back elite seasons. Andrew MillerCraig Breslow, and Junichi Tazawa round out a solid back end.

Projected 2014 finish: 85-77. For ticket information click here.

2. The New York Yankees

(Covers.com has the O/U at 83.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 83-79)

ANGELS YANKEESThey are old. They are beat up. They are prone to the nagging injury. But there is simply no way this team is not going to rally and get Derek Jeter to the playoffs one last time. Plus, I’m a total homer and there is no way I’m ever going to project the Red Sox to finish over the Yankees… ever.

This line-up is barely recognizable from last year’s debacle that finished dead last in the AL East in every offensive category. Jacoby Ellsbury brings a reliable table setter to the top of the line-up. Carlos Beltran brings a veteran presence to the outfield. Brian McCann will make the right field porch his beyotch and handle this pitching staff better than anyone since Hip Hip Jorge left.  Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts… well I guess they need to play. At least we don’t have A-Rod. All eyes of the baseball world will be on Jeter’s every move. He will be just fine and win the AL Comeback Player of the Year.

The pitching staff is a huge question mark but if they do click, then the Yankees could actually win the division. CC Sabathia is no longer the CC of old, but he still has a bounce back in him. Despite being shelled this spring, he is working on new pitches and simply can’t be as bad as he was last season. Masahiro Tanaka will be under the microscope both for the lucrative contract he signed and the fact that he is coming off of a 24-0 season in Japan. He will be a solid addition to the middle of the rotation. The fifth starter spot is still up in the air, but the Yankees really need Michael Pineda to claim it. He could be the Yankees x-factor if he can return to his 2011 form.

There is absolutely no pressure on David Robertson in replacing The Sandman. He only needs 644 more saves to match what Mo brought to the Yankees for two decades. The Yankees bigger problem is in moving Robertson to closer, they lose one of the best set-up men in baseball. This bullpen is going to be a revolving door all year.

Projected 2014 finish: 87-75 AL Wild Card. For ticket information click here.

This thing is just weird
This thing is just weird

1. The Tampa Bay Rays

(Covers.com has the O/U at 88.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 84-78)

There is one reason and one reason alone the Rays are perennial contenders: Joe Maddon is the best manager in baseball. This team has never had a potent offense and they haven’t had any consistency in the bullpen, but the 2-time AL Manager of the Year will have the Rays back on top again.

The offense begins and ends with Evan Longoria. If he puts up god-like numbers the Rays are tough to beat but when he plays  like a mere human, the entire line-up struggles. It will be exciting to see reigning AL Rookie of the Year Wll Myers‘ encore. The coveted Royals’ prospect came over for James Shields and didn’t disappoint. Desmond Jennings needs to continue his growth and become the 20-20 threat he can be.

David Price leads one of the best rotations in baseball. He will bring home the AL Cy Young Award in 2014 as the unquestionable leader to this young staff. The rotation is full of names that will be in Cy Young conversations for the foreseeable future. Matt Moore needs to get his control issues resolved (he led baseball with 17 wild pitches) but still finished 17-4. If he continues to fine tune his stuff, he will be lights out. As long as Alex Cobb can mentally comeback from being hit in the head by a comeback liner, which all signs show he can, he will be a Cy Young winner one day soon. Chris Archer had a strong first season as a full-time starter. All four finished with ERAs under 4.00.

Gone is Fernando Rodney and his wacky antics. Enter Grant Balfour. Balfour has been a dominant closer for the back-to-back AL West Champions As and has the avocados to lock down important games. He brings stability to a deep bullpen that also acquired Heath Bell this off season. Should Balfour struggle at all, Bell can immediately jump in and shut down games. The Rays are going far in 2014 because of their pitching depth both in the rotation and the pen.

Projected 2014 finish: 91-71 AL East Champs. For ticket information click here.

Yo, Bartender, Jobu Needs a Refill

Well sports fans, March Madness is upon us. If you’ve been following along you are aware that the mighty Fighting Blue Hens are heading to the Big Dance. NFL free agency is also underway with names like Revis Island and Eric Decker changing places. In Florida and Arizona, though, Spring Training keeps on trucking along and so does your divisional previews.

THE AL CENTRAL

The AL Central is a division that has quite a few unique claims to fame. They have the last Triple Crown winner. They made pine tar use very famous. One of the greatest sports movies ever was made about a team that calls their division home. Heading into 2014, they have one of the best teams in all of baseball.

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5. The Chicago White Sox

(Covers.com has the Over/Under at 76.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 74-88)

Most people have the White Sox finishing ahead of the Twins this year but when push comes to shove they are both pretty bad teams. It could go either way. Any way you cut it, the whole city of Chicago is in for a long season so they better hope the Bulls make a really deep run in the playoffs!

The eyes of the baseball world will be focused on Jose Dariel Abreau, the 27-year old Cuban import who signed a 4-year deal for $68 million and should earn every penny. He tore up the 2013 World Baseball Classic batting .360 with 3 HRs, 6 runs scored, and 9 RBI IN SIX GAMES! With his nature ability and White Sox legend Paul Konerko hanging around one last season to mentor his replacement, Abreau should take home the AL Rookie of the Year Award. They also ignited their line-up with youth via trades by bringing in Adam Eaton and Matt Davidson. Eaton, as the new leadoff hitter, should immediately help improve a team that was second to last in on-base percentage last season. Davidson may still be a year away.

The starting rotation has a ton of ifs. Chris Sale, at only 24 years of age, is the ace of this staff. The White Sox could have upgraded the team overall with all of the trade offers for Sale this offseason, however they hung onto him for a reason. John Danks at one point had all of the tools to grow into an ace as well but he has been plagued by back-to-back injury riddled seasons. There is no guarantees he will ever regain his 2010 form. The rest of the rotation is young and inexperienced which rarely pans out.

The bullpen took the biggest hit this offseason. Gone are closer Addison Reed (who had 40 saves last season) and left handed specialist Matt Thorton. 28-year old Nathan Jones will step in as closer with zero career saves. Ronald BellisarioScott Downs, and Mitchell Boggs were signed in the offseason and have some closing experience, however there is a reason they didn’t stick as closers. The White Sox are in for a long season.

Project 2014 finish: 72-90. For ticket information visit Ticket Monster.

4. The Minnesota Twins

(Covers.com has the O/U at 65.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 70-92)

If you want a model of consistency take a look at the Twins. Two years in a row they have finished 66-96. That is the main reason I believe it can’t get much worse.

Their offense is in a holding mode while waiting on two of the Top Ten prospects in the AL. Miguel Sano, who many expected to break camp this season, needs Tommy John surgery and is out for 2014. Most experts have Byron Buxton as the number one prospect in the game. He will most likely start at Triple A but we will hear from him sooner than later. The line-up the Twins will field to start the season is more on the veteran side but still has some pop in their bats. Joe Mauer, now at first base, is still Joe Mauer and without the strain of catching everyday he could return to his old form. Josh WillinghamTrevor Plouffe, and Jason Kubel have all shown they could hit in the past. They need to do it again for this team to stay competitive.

They revamped the pitching staff bringing in two guys that, on paper, may seem mediocre. The Twins are hoping that a change of scenery for Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco is all that they need. Both could be a nice top of the rotation punch and at the very least they will eat innings. Crafty veterans Mike Pelfry and Kevin Correia fill out a rotation that will keep them in games.

After failing as a starter, Glenn Perkins has had nice back-to-back seasons shutting down games for the Twins. The rest of the bullpen is a bit shaky filled with a bunch of middling veterans. Samuel Deduno will most likely start the year in the pen coming off surgery but he could find his way into the rotation.  This will be a much better team than it has been the last three seasons, but they are clearly waiting on their future.

Projected 2014 finish: 78-84. To purchase tickets click here.

3. The Cleveland Indians

(Covers.com has the O/U at 82.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing at 81-81)

Strike this mother@$&*r out
Strike this mother@$&*r out

Wild Thing, you make my heart sing. This team isn’t as bad as that Indians team started out. In fact, their line-up is pretty sick. It’s what they lost in pitching this offseason that will ultimately hurt them. Maybe they can get vaseline-baller Eddie Harris out of retirement.

The line-up from the leadoff spot to the nine hole is stacked. Michael Bourn isn’t getting any younger but he makes Willie “Mays” Hayes look slow. Nick Swisher is still one of my favorite players in the game as he is the ultimate model of consistency. I’m willing to bet he bats .240 with 25 HRs, about 85 RBIs, and tons of walks. Jason Kipnis is threatening to become the best second baseman in baseball as he is evolving into a solid 5 tool player. Carlos Santana’s numbers, which are already stellar, will benefit now as the full time DH with the emergence of Yan Gomes at catcher. Throw in newly resigned Michael Brantley and veteran Asdrubal Cabrera and this team is going to score a lot of runs and hit a lot of dingers.

The problem is how many runs the other teams are going to score against them. Ubaldo Jiminez and Scott Kazmir are gone leaving Justin Masterson as the lone ace of this staff.  At 28, I can’t figure out if he is a work in progress or has peaked. One thing is for certain: when he is dominant, he is lights out as evidenced by his 3 complete games shutouts in 2013. The rest of the rotation is young and could be decent as Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber showed a lot of promise last season.

The bullpen remains the same mess it was before they let Chris Perez go. John Axford is no Rick Vaughn. The rest of the bullpen will struggle to close out games, but this team will win games off their bats alone. As long as no one steals Jobu’s rum that is.

Projected 2014 finsih: 85-77. To purchase tickets for any game click here.

U mad, bro?
U mad, bro?

2. The Kansas City Royals

(Covers.com has the O/U at 85.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 79-83)

The only promising stat to point out about the Royals’ playoff history is that the last time they made the playoffs they won the World Series. Unfortunately that was 1985. That drought ends this year as you are looking at one of this season’s AL Wild Card teams. You can ask Jay Scott, I have been hyping this team of youngsters for three years now, and finally it’s their turn.

The main reason this team will make the playoffs is because of the MVP performance Eric Hosmer is going to put together. I haven’t deemed him the AL MVP just yet because of Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera, but I’m tempted. He’s 24 now and he has teased us for a few years but he’s ready to become the team’s leader. The heart of this line-up is young but have been playing together for several years and are finally ready to click. Hosmer, Billy ButlerAlex GordonSalvador Perez, and Mike Moustakas are primed and ready to take this franchise back to the playoffs. This is the stuff dreams are made of, kids. All five are homegrown talent, and aside from Perez, were top 15 picks in the first round of their respective drafts. They’ve made it to the bigs together and now they will make a run at the MLB playoffs.

The pitching staff is a bit shaky but they should be just fine. They are anchored by James Shields in a walk year so he is ready for a Cy Young-type season. Top prospect Yordano Ventura is making a very strong statement this spring to start the year in the rotation. The rest of the staff are crafty veterans (aka junk ballers) who seem to find ways to win.

The bullpen is strong as Greg Holland is one of the best closers in the biz. Set-up man Aaron Crow is a former All-Star. Wade Davis is a good swingman in case someone in the rotation suffers. Get ready Kaufman Krazies, it’s time to have fun again.

Projected 2014 finish: 90-72 AL Wild Card Team. For ticket information click here.

Have a nice day
Scarface

1. The Detroit Tigers

(Covers.com has the O/U at 91.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 88-74)

They lost Prince Fielder. They lost Doug Fister. They acquired Joba Chamberlian. Despite all of the negative offseason moves, the Tigers are just fine. It’s easy when you have the best hitter and pitcher in the AL.

Ian Kinsler comes to Detroit with a massive chip on his shoulder wishing an 0-162 on his former club. As long as he and Torii Hunter get on base regularly they will score a thousand runs with Miguel Cabrera right behind them. He is so good. You can put 8 shlubs on the field and as long as Cabrera is batting 3rd they will win games. The guy won a Triple Crown. That’s not a big deal for you old farts, but for me it’s the only one I have ever seen. For that reason, no matter how good Mike Trout is becoming, until Cabrera loses a limb, he’s still the best hitter in the game.

Then they have arguably the best pitcher in the game. Justin Verlander is silly good. He had a “down year” last season with 13 wins, 217 Ks and a 3.46 ERA. Read that again. He has four top-of-the-line pitches and a fastball that increases in speed later in games. Go ahead, read that one again, too. Following him in the rotation is reigning Cy Young Award winner Max Sherzer and behind him is reigning AL ERA Champion Anibal Snachez. Do the other two pitchers even matter in the rotation?

The biggest problem the Tigers have had the past few seasons (and probably the reason the haven’t won a World Series) was their bullpen. They fixed that problem by signing Joba Chamberlain from the Yankees. Ok, ok, I’m done with the Joba jokes. The Tigers now have Joe Nathan,  who has averaged 40 saves a year the past two seasons, closing out games. Flamethrower Bruce Rondon will set him up and be ready to take the reigns when the 39-year old closer hangs it up. This team is making a deep run into October this year and I’ll probably lose more money to Ted Reed.

Projected 2014 finish: 98-64. AL Central Champs. For ticket information click here.

Everyone Loves a Little Billy Ball

Baseball is almost here, folks. We are only 12 short days away from the first pitch Down Under, mates. It’s getting real exciting, too. If Spring Training had any sort of meaning behind it, we would have an exciting match-up between the Cleveland Indians versus the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. As it stands, Spring Training means nothing, and that’s precisely why I’m here telling you exactly how this season is going to play out.

THE AL WEST

5. The Houston Astros

(Covers.com has the Over/Under at 57.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 67-95)

It has to be tough to be an Astros’ fan. The last time they had a winning record was in 2008 when Usher unleashed Justin Bieber upon the world (so, we have all been struggling ‘Stros fans). They have lost over 100 games for three seasons in a row. They got booted, not only from their division, but the whole damn National League. They can’t even get poor Craig Biggo into the Hall of Fame.

This season doesn’t look like things will be getting any better as GM Jeff Luhnow has this team prepping for the future. I know a lot about sports, an unhealthy amount, so for me to tell you that there are only four people I in this line-up speaks volumes. It’s not so much who will be on the 2014 Astros’ roster, but who is waiting in the wings as the Astros have what several experts are calling the top farm system in baseball with elite prospects at every position. The simple fact that I know more about Jonathan Singleton (1B), 2013 number one overall pick Mark Appel, and one of the top prospects in the game, shortstop Carlos Correa than most of their starters shows that the Astros will be prime contenders… in two years.

Until then, Houston will have to watch second baseman Jose Altuve and All-Star catcher Jason Castro lead a cast of no names to the basement of the West. I guess newly acquired Scott Feldman, who has gone 27-35 since his 17-8 2009 breakout, is the ace of this staff. That’s mainly because Jarred CosartBrett Oberholtzer, and Brad Peacock have appeared in 44 major league games combined. Chad Qualls, more famous for falling off of pitchers mounds than striking people out, will be the teams closer. Be patient Astros fans. Good times are ahead… way ahead.

Projected 2014 finish: 61-101. For ticket information check out Ticket Monster.

Unbelievable, right?
Unbelievable, right?

4. The Seattle Mariners

(Covers.com has the O/U at 80 while FanGraphs has them finishing 83-79)

I am not a bitter Yankees’ fan. I loved Robbie Cano. I think he was a more of a made things look easy kind-of-guy rather than the lackadaisical, no effort type-of-guy that everyone seems to suddenly be bashing him about. That being said, $240 million is absolutely absurd. He couldn’t lead a Yankees team to the playoffs last season that had very similar talent to what this Mariners’ team has this season and he’s not going to do it this year, either.

The revamped offense seems to have given up on Jesus Montero, the colossal bust acquired from the Yankees two years ago. His batting average has lowered, his home runs have dropped, and he appears to have eaten former Mariner Edgar Martinez. They brought in outfielder Corey Hart and DH Logan Morrison along with Cano to try and revitalize this offense. A lot will depend on the continued growth of 1B Justin Smoak and 3B Kyle Seager. Both have developed some nice pop but it would be nice if they could hit their weight and they would become All-Stars if the could hit Montero’s weight.

The pitching staff is anchored by Felix Hernandez who is simply one of the best the game has to offer. It’s scary to think what his numbers would be if he pitched on a contender. The rest of the rotation has already taken a big hit this spring. Hisashi Iwakuma is dealing with a finger issue and the Ms hope to have him back by May. Top prospect Taijuan Walker has a bum right shoulder and he is also doubtful until May. King Felix and the four castoffs they have attempting to hold the team together until both return may put them out of contention early.

Fernando Rodney leads an uninspiring bullpen. He returned to reality last season after his superhuman 2012 and that reality is that he is shaky closer. Should Rodney fail, the Ms will have to turn to Tom Wilhelmsen who struggled big time last season. Things are as bleak as the weather in Seattle this season.

Projected 2014 finish: 79-83. For ticket information click here.

Don't drop Trout
Don’t drop Trout

3. The Anaheim Angels of Los Angeles that were once California

(Covers.com has the O/U at 84.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 85-77)

The Angels are a prime example of how money does NOT buy championships. Mike Scioscia built this team on a small ball philosophy and when the big brass brought in sluggers, their success changed. It appears that they bought some broken down pieces on offense and their once vaunted pitching staff is half of what it used to be.

Mike Trout is the best player in baseball, folks, and he is only 22. We as baseball fans are very lucky to watch Trout in the AL and Harper in the NL taking over their leagues. It is the Larry Bird and Magic Johnson of the MLB. What is also undeniable is how terribly awful Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton played last season. I know, they both suffered through injuries, but the reality is these guys are getting up there in age and have a lot of mileage on them. A bounce back from these two highly paid superstars is the only way the Angels can return to the playoffs for the first time in 4 years. Pujols unfortunately is on the wrong side of 30 and dealing with a torn plantar fascia which is never easy to come back from. The entire line-up is getting older and the addition of 41-year old Raul Ibanez to replace the departed 28-year old Mark Trumbo may not be enough.

The pitching staff is a question mark. Only James Shields and Justin Verlander have thrown more pitches than CJ Wilson has over the last two seasons. It may catch up to him as he has always had a high WHIP and is entering his mid-30s. Jered Weaver was once a perennial Cy Young candidate, however both his strikeout rate and velocity have been in a steady decline for a few years now. Rounding out the rotation is a new and relatively young staff. What effect Hector SantiagoTyler Skaggs, and Garrett Richards can have in turning around this team is yet to be seen.

Ernesto Frieri is an enigma in the pen. He’s a bit like Rick “The Wild Thing” Vaughn. He is either going to strike you out or the ball his going to leave every park but Yellowstone. This is never a good sign for a long-term answer at closer.

Projected 2014 finish: 83-79. For ticket information click here.

Still the best Texas Ranger
Still the best Texas Ranger

2. The Texas Rangers

(Covers.com has the O/U at 86.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 84-78)

Ron Washington is the winningest coach in Rangers history and will always have this team competing. They could wind-up the last Wild Card spot if it weren’t for my most outrageous prediction yet (which hasn’t been made, so stay tuned!)  They made some big changes for the better this past offseason and like Chuck Norris’s beard, it makes them stronger.

Shin-Soo Choo was brought in from Cincinnati and instantly makes the offense more potent. The guy does everything well but most importantly knows how to get on base. That will be huge with fellow Ranger newbie Prince Fielder waiting in the hole. The veggie burrito eating monmouth is built for the home run-frienldy confines of The Ballpark at Arlington (I don’t believe in corporate name changes to stadiums, so back off Globe Life) and alongside Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios form a pretty sexy heart of the line-up. Ian Kinsler was sent to Detroit for Fielder which makes room for he prospect we have all been waiting on: Jurickson Profar. He will have his chance to prove his worth with no real threat on the roster.

The pitching staff is a bit iffy, but if you haven’t noticed, that appears to be the theme in the AL West. Yu Darvish is the clear cut aceThe Rangers really need Matt Harrison and Derek Holland to return to full health because it gives them a very formidable front end of the rotation. Joe Saunders and Tommy Hanson will be forced into action without their services and that’s not good for anyone.

Neftali Feliz is officially the closer… again… I think. He wants to be a starter but because of his mechanical flaws, the Rangers feel he is more suited for the bullpen. Well, that doesn’t make much sense, now does it? Should he stumble the Rangers are actually in good shape as they have Joakim Soria and Tanner Schepps waiting in the pen.

Projected 2014 finish: 90-72. For ticket information click here.

mark-mcgwire-jose-canseco-19972

1. The Oakland Athletics

(Covers.com has the O/U at 86.6 while FanGraphs has them finishing 84-78)

The A’s are geared and ready for another run like the early 90s. They don’t have the power or swag that the Bash Brothers had but the back-to-back AL West Champs have all the goods to keep the title run going for at least another season.

The A’s return the same line-up that has been the best of the West. Josh Reddick needs to bounce back from an injury plagued 2013 and become the power surge in the middle of the line-up he was in 2012 when the A’s nabbed him from the Red Sox. Yoenis Cespedes must continue to adjust to pitchers as they have clearly begun to figure him out. He has all the tools and raw talent to take the next step, the question remains on when he will do it. Jed Lowrie is still the unsung leader of this offense while Josh Donaldson quietly continues his rise as one of the best third basemen in baseball.

The loss of last year’s ace Bartolo Colon should not be a problem for this young staff as their rotation gives them the edge in this division. Jarrod Parker must now become the leader of this staff and at 25 he should be ready to shine. The addition of Scott Kazmir brings some veteran leadership to the young staff, although a history of injuries along with it. I still feel like even at age 30 we are waiting for that one amazing season from Kazmir, but those expectations may be a result of too much hype early in his career. Sonny GrayDan Straily, and AJ Griffin round out a staff that is growing into one of the most solid rotations in the league.

The A’s let Grant Balfour walk and brought in Jim Johnson as their new closer. It will be interesting to see how he pans out. He amassed 101 saves over the last 2 years in Baltimore, however, he walked a ton of batters and blew a lot of saves that the O’s potent offense frequently bailed him out of losing. Should he struggle, the A’s are safe with possibly the best bullpen in the AL featuring Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook, and Luke Gregerson.

Projected 2014 finish: 95-67, AL West Champs. For ticket information click here.

DO IT FOR DONNIE: The Dodgers and the Rest of the West

Spring Training rolls on. So does the tour of The Wayniac’s NL Predictions.  In case you haven’t been following along you can check out the NL East picks and NL Central projections at your leisure but for the time being I demand your full attention on the NL West. The winner will round out the playoffs with the fifth and final spot.

THE NL WEST 2014 PREDICTIONS:

5. The Colorado Rockies

(Covers.com has the Over/Under at 76.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 80-82.)

Unlike Coors Original, the Colorado Rockies offense has never had a problem with its strength. Heading into 2014, the Rockies’ main problem is not their offense but the same two issues they struggle with every season: injuries and pitching. Michael Cuddyer, Wilin RosarioTroy Tulowitzki, and Carlos Gonzalez are lethal in the middle of the line-up. They could carry this team very far… if they stayed on the field. Last season, the Rockies didn’t have one and of their offensive threats play over 130 games. This season, the Rockies begin their first season since 1998 without Peyton Manning’s former back-up, Todd Helton. Justin Morneau was brought in to replace him. He is a nice addition, but is also injury-prone.

The pitching staff from top to bottom is pretty weak. When Jorge De La Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin are battling to be the ace of your rotation, you are in for a long season. They brought in Brett Anderson from Oakland. Anderson has always had sick stuff but he is, of course, an injury risk. Tyler Chatwood showed a lot of promise last season, but he needs to get his control issues under, well… control! The bullpen is anchored by 41-year old LaTroy Hawkins, who has pitched 1374.1 innings over his 19-year career and has amassed a meager 101 saves.  Now he is be asked to be the closer. Rex Brothers filled in admirably last season as the teams’ closer; however, he has always been plagued by control issues with a career 1.37 WHIP. Perhaps the Rockies feel more comfortable with Hawkins’ experience, but I wouldn’t rule out seeing Brothers as the team’s closer by season’s end.

This team could hover around .500 if they stay healthy. Based on history, that is a big IF.

Projected 2014 finish: 78-84. For ticket information check out Ticket Monster.

I'm kind of important.
I’m kind of important.

4. The San Diego Padres

(Covers.com has the O/U at 76.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 81-81)

The team is named after a holy person, their mascot is a chicken, and I am told that the name of the city translates to whale’s vagina. None of that makes much sense to me, but as the saying goes, when in Rome.

Believe it or not, despite not having many big names, this team isn’t half bad. Their offense has a bunch of nice players, but none are close to superstars.  Heck, I don’t even think one classifies as an All-Star. But together they work and could push this team around .500. Yonder Alonso and Jedd Gyorko are the future of this team. It’s time for them to stop teasing us and become the big time players the Padres need so the team can be relevant for the first time since Tony Gwynn retired. 

Andrew Cashner should emerge as the ace of this staff as he set career bests in ERA and WHIP in his first full season in the bigs. Ian Kennedy will never be the 21-4 pitcher he was in 2011, having won 22 games in the 2 seasons since then, but he is still a good pitcher. The real X-factor will be Josh Johnson. He is one of the most frustrating pitchers in baseball with all the talent in the world but rarely stays healthy.  If he can, they form a pretty strong 1-2-3.

If they can get to the bullpen, Huston Street and newly acquired Joaquin Benoit are very solid. Benoit came on strong last season when the Tigers needed him to be a closer for the first time in his career at the ripe age of 35. Sliding back into his set-up role for Street gives the Padres extra insurance should they need him. The Padres are kings of one-run ballgames so the deeper the bull pen, the better. Stay classy, San Diego.

Projected 2014 finish: 80-82. For ticket information click here.

Los Angeles Dodgers v San Francisco Giants

3. The San Francisco Giants

(Covers.com has the O/U at 86.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 85-77)

I never think these guys are going to be any good, but the Giants are legit contenders as long as Buster Posey is around. He isn’t the best in the league. Hell, he isn’t even the best player in the division, but there are very few players more valuable to his team than Posey. He bats in the clean-up spot and handles one of the better pitching staffs in the league.

The rest of the offense is a question mark. The biggest question every spring is always how fat can Kung Fu Panda actually get? Talk about a guy wasting his talent on French Fries. Pablo Sandoval can hit but his conditioning has derailed his career as his peripheral stats are already in a decline at 27. Brandon Belt has been a “sleeper” breakout candidate since he came into the league.  He has gotten increasingly better each year so don’t be surprised to once again hear how this will be his “breakout campaign”. Hunter Pence is pretty reliable and really is the only protection that Posey has in the line-up.

No matter if the offense struggles, the pitching staff is strong enough to keep the Giants in contention. Tim Lincecum is the X-factor for these guys. It doesn’t make sense how he has fallen off from the best pitcher in the league to a guy battling to be in the rotation. I think he has a nice bounce back but I don’t think we will ever see The Freak again. Tim Hudson is the veteran leadership the front end of the rotation needs. Huddy can still pitch even if his best days are behind him. Madison Bumgarner (that name is funny, I don’t even need a joke) and Matt Cain are both the aces of the staff and I would trust either in Game 7 of a playoff series. Ryan Vogelsong is playing on borrowed time at 36 but there really isn’t anyone to take his job yet.

Sergio Romo leads a strong bullpen and should have no problem repeating as closer after a strong debut replacing Brian Wilson. Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, and Santiago Casilla will make closing out close games seem easy.

Projected 2014 finish: 83-79. For ticket information click here.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Arizona Diamondbacks

2. The Arizona Diamondbacks

(Covers.com has the O/U at 81 while FanGraphs has them at 83-79)

I hate the Diamondbacks. Not only did they win that 2001 World Series from my beloved Yankees, but on one pitch, on one bloop single by Luis Gonzalez, the D-Backs ended the Yankee dynasty. That being said, I think they have a good squad this year. If the Pirates fall back into their losing ways, then the Diamondbacks could steal the last Wild Card slot.

The offense is led by one of the best all-around players in baseball. Paul Goldschmidt’s stat line last season was sick: .302 batting average with 36 HRs, 125 RBI, 103 runs scored, and 15 SBs, all while getting on base at a .401 clip. He will be a Triple Crown threat soon enough as his batting average has jumped tremendously in each of his first three seasons. Bringing in Mark Trumbo from the Angels surrounds Goldschmidt with a solid 2 through 6 in the line-up. DiDi Gregorius has been a highly touted prospect for a few years and showed a glimpse of what he is capable of last season. If he can put it together this year, then the D-Backs will have a very potent line-up from the leadoff spot right up to the pitcher.

The pitching staff isn’t full of Cy Young contenders but they have 6 solid starters. Newly signed Bronson Arroyo brings some much needed veteran leadership to this young staff. Patrick Corbin stepped up and became the ace of this staff last season. Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy need to return to their old form. If not, Randall Delgado is waiting in the wings. I watched this guy as a youngster in Atlanta. He has the stuff to be in this rotation — most likely for McCarthy — by mid-season.

The bullpen is deep as well. They acquired Addison Reed from the White Sox and now have three go-to options with closing experience at the back end of the bullpen. J.J. Putz (yet another fantastic name) and Brad Ziegler will lock down plenty of wins for the upstart Diamondbacks.

Projected 2014 finish: 88-74. For ticket information click here.

I know plenty of Yankee fame rooting for the Dodgers
I know plenty of Yankee fame rooting for the Dodgers

1. The Los Angeles Dodgers

(Covers.com has the O/U at 92.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing at 91-71)

Well, folks, for just $224 million, you too can have the best team in a mediocre division. This Dodgers team (on paper) has all of the tools to win the NL Pennant. Which is why Don Mattingly is already on the hot seat.

Most Yankee fans are rooting heavily for the Dodgers just to see the hero of our youth make a World Series. He will have a lot of managing to do to pull it off both on the field and in the dugout. He has some highly paid egos that could implode on him if he doesn’t clamp it down right from the get go.

It truly is a Hollywood story for the Dodgers. Yasiel Puig is going for the Fat Albert look putting on 40 pounds in the offseason, which is exactly what you want from your stud 23-year old outfielder. Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp appear to be poised to bounce back from injury-riddled seasons… again. Adrian Gonzalez is the first player in the history of baseball to become a worse hitter after leaving the pitcher-friendly confines of San Diego. Together though, with the likes of Carl Crawford, Juan Uribe, A.J. Ellis, and Dee Gordon, there is no weakness in their line-up.

The pitching staff is anchored by possibly the best pitcher in baseball. You can mark it down now, Clayton Kershaw is your 2014 NL Cy Young. He’s too good not to win the award for the third time in the last 4 years. This starting five is so deep (how deep is it?) that newly signed starting pitcher Paul Maholm may most likely start the year in long relief out of the bullpen. Zack Grienke would be an ace on any other staff and it will be exciting to see how Hyun-Jin Ryu responds in his second year in the states.

The bullpen is super deep. Kenley Jansen throws straight-up gas striking out 111 batters in just 76.2 innings last season. That’s a 13 K/ 9 inning ratio which translates to INSANE. Like the Diamondbacks, Jansen’s set-up men both have closing experience. Brian Wilson seems like he is back and hairier than ever.  Reports are that he is also adding a knuckle ball into his repertoire which is perfectly normal 8 years into your career and also translates to INSANE. Chris Perez has long struggled closing out games for the Indians but maybe he thrives in LA with the pressure off of him as a closer.  There is no reason this team can’t reach 100 wins.

Projected 2014 finish: 100-62 NL West Champs. For ticket information click here.

YARGH MATEY: Brews, Big Reds, and Birds – The NL Central Breakdown

Spring is in the air. We have a few official Grapefruit and Cactus League games in the books. If you have been following along you are also aware that I have the NL East predictions in the books (or in the Internet as the case may be). Today we move onto the NL Central.

THE NL CENTRAL

The NL Central is a well-rounded division. There are four solid teams competing for the title and at least one will most likely lock up the other Wild Card spot. This could be quite an interesting battle from the first pitch in April right down to the last strike in September.

5. THE CHICAGO CUBS.
(Covers.com has the Over/Under at 66.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 73-89.)

20140301-002317.jpg
One hit?

They are famous for their legendary field. They are famous for their legendary announcer. Unfortunately, they are most famous for losing and it doesn’t seem that 2014 will change that. The longest championship drought in professional sports will continue for the 106th season.

When I look at the Cubs roster, I feel like I’m watching the beginning of Major League as I’m left asking who the hell are these guys? Starlin Castro, the lone star on the squad, took a giant step backwards last season. Their 2013 offense was second to last in the NL in both runs scored and RBI… and they made no moves to better the situation.

The pitching is an even bigger project. Last year’s ace, Matt Garza, is gone and Jeff Samardzija was on the trading block for much of the offseason but couldn’t bring in anything worth… well, anything. The ace of this staff, and that term is used very loosely, is Travis Wood. Wood is coming off a 9-12 season posting a 3.11 ERA with 144 Ks over 200 innings. That’s the third or fourth pitcher on most other rotations. They have a great back of the bullpen in Pedro Strop and Jose Veras but getting to them in meaningful situations may be a challenge.

Theo Epstein is in charge and this is clearly a team dedicated to rebuilding. He was the man in charge when the curse was reversed in Boston and Chicago faithful are still holding out hope that this team isn’t far away from contending. Until then they have the continued growth of Junior Lake, Anthony Rizzo, and Nate Schierholtz to root for — Hoo rah.

Projected 2014 Finish: 69-93.  For ticket information, check out Ticket Monster.

4. THE CINCINNATI REDS.
(Covers has the O/U at 87.5 while FanGraphs has them at 80-82.)

This could be my biggest blunder in all of my predictions. The Reds could easily win this division. They have a solid rotation as Johnny Cueto and Matt Latos are as formidable a 1-2 punch as any in the bigs. Homer Bailey is the newest $100 million-dollar man (yes, you read that correctly) so he better perform. Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, and Ryan Ludwick are as good of a heart of the line-up as there is. And Cincinnati finally gets to see rookie speedster Billy Hamilton in the line-up. Then why I do have this team slated to finish fourth?

The Reds have no depth–zip, zero, nada. Where other teams made big signings to deepen their rosters, the Reds lost two huge pieces while adding none. Losing Bronson Arroyo forces Tony Cingrani into the starting rotation. He showed future ace talent in his rookie season last year but that was over a mere 18 starts. He was able to be the swingman last season being used as the 6th starter when Cueto was on the DL and others needed rest. If he has a sophomore slump the Reds are thin at starting pitching and will struggle to fill the void. Cueto, the undisputed ace of the rotation, has Cy Young stuff. He also has big-time injury history. If the Reds intend to go far Cueto needs 30-plus starts.

On the offensive side of the ball they lost the on-base machine Shin-Soo Choo. Choo was huge as he hit homers, hit for average, got on base, stole bases, and scored tons of runs for the Reds big bats. He is now in Texas and Billy Hamilton is his replacement. No one has questioned what Hamilton can do when he gets on base, but many questions surround if he can get on base. Ryan Ludwick, who has never had 500 ABs in his career and is coming of a 2013 season lost to injury, will now be needed as an everyday outfielder.

This team has tons of talent. Their stars are also getting older and are injury prone. Baseball, as we know, is a long season. Their lack of depth will come back and haunt them.

Projected 2014 Finish: 85-77.  For ticket information click here.

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3. THE MILWAUKEE BREWERS.
(Covers has the O/U at 78.5 while FanGraphs has them at 78-84.)
The Brew Crew is back and Milwaukee once again has something to look forward to other than a sausage race. This offense is stacked with power so even if their questionable pitching staff struggles they should win a few games just by out-bombing the other team.

Ryan Braun is the big question mark. All eyes will be on him as he returns from suspension for his PED soap opera that he didn’t take, but took, but didn’t mean to take, yet still did. Will he be the player he once was, a perennial NL MVP candidate, or was he a PED nightmare? I stand firm to my belief that PEDs don’t make someone a good player. Ryan Braun can play ball and the PEDs simply enhanced the gifts he already had. Braun will be back with a huge chip on his shoulder. He will have a lot of young guns like Scooter Gennett, Khris Davis, and Jean Segura to drive in as well as solid bats like Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucoy, and the shell of Aramis Ramirez to protect him.

The starting pitching is a bit iffy. That’s why they brought in Matt Garza. I have never thought this guy was ace-of-the-staff material being more suited as a number two pitcher, however the Brewers are banking on his power pitching to come through in a big way. Yovani Gallardo was absolutely dreadful last season. The one time ace of the staff will now throw every third day. He has shown some flawed mechanics over the past few seasons watching his strikeouts fall and walks rise yearly. He is the Brewers X-factor: only 28-years-old, if he can find his old form, Garza, Kyle Lohse, and Gallardo are one heck of a 1-2-3 front end of the rotation.

Projected 2014 Finish: 87-75.  For ticket information click here.

2. THE PITTSBURGH PIRATES.
(Covers has the O/U at 86.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 84-78).

Finally! Pittsburgh fans got to cheer for a winning season for the first time in over two decades. Clint Hurdle has this team poised and ready to make sure they continue their winning ways and don’t return to the perennial sub-.500 joke of the NL Central they had been.

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McCLUTCHen

Reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen is my favorite player that doesn’t wear pinstripes. There isn’t one thing this guy does poorly as he is a lights out center fielder, a terror on the base paths, a nice contact hitter, and has the power to be a run producing threat. McCutchen is a special player and a team with his sort of talent won’t just go away. It’s a scary thought for the rest of the NL Central that Cutch seems to be now hitting his stride at 27 years of age.

The Pirates have one glaring problem on offense and it is why I don’t have them catching the Cardinals quite yet. They are a boom or bust team. They don’t play an inkling of small ball or get on base frequently. The have bashers like Pedro Alvarez. Starling Marte came into his own last season and coming off a 12 HR, 41 SB campaign he can help change that mindset. Pirate fans are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Gregory Polanco who has already had a big debut in Spring Training.

The pitching staff takes a hit losing veteran ace AJ Burnett but let’s face reality. Losing a 37-year old pitcher who was set on retiring is not the biggest loss. They need Francisco Liriano to continue his rebirth and mature into what everyone thought he could be as he enters his 30s and becomes the ace of this young staff. They also need Gerrit Cole to avoid a sophomore slump and not tease us with the goods he showed as a rookie. This staff has 6 quality starters which is never a problem for any team. The Pirates also have the luxury of knowing that if their starters can getting them six quality innings then they are in good shape. Set-up man Mark Melancon and closer Jason Grilli were nearly untouchable last season as anchors to one of the best bullpens in baseball.

Projected 2014 Finish: 90-72. NL Wild Card. For ticket information click here.

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These guys love to win

1. THE ST. LOUIS CARDINALS.
(Covers has the O/U at 90.5 wins while FanGraphs has them finishing 88-74.)

There is no reason to bet against the reigning NL Champs. They once again seem to get better by subtraction as the loses of Carlos Beltran, David Freese, and Edward Mujica shouldn’t hurt them at all. This team is solid up and down the line-up and has one of the best young pitching staffs in the game.

The Cardinals line-up shouldn’t miss Freese as his departure will get Matt Adams full time at bats. They also made themselves strong up the middle bringing in veteran infielders Mark Ellis at second base and Jhonny Peralta at short. The outfield takes a little hit with the loss of Beltran but everyone in baseball knows he was just keeping the spot warm for all-world prospect Oscar Taveras. The Cards are in no rush to get him to the bigs, but I think it happens sooner than later. That is why I see Taveras as the NL Rookie of the Year.

The pitching staff they have assembled is one of the top five in baseball. It has some homegrown youngsters that will be fun to watch develop as a unit. Veteran ace Adam Wainwright anchors the young staff. Watching what playoff hero Michael Wacha and rookie phenom Shelby Miller do for an encore will be exciting as they both possess top of the rotation stuff. If they come of age this season and Jaime Garcia returns to full health, along with Lance Lynn the Cardinals will have the best rotation in baseball. Once they get to the bullpen, Trevor Rosenthal will take over at closer for the departed Mujica. I don’t know what they feed their closers on the farm, but Rosenthal is yet another hard throwing pitcher that will have no problem shutting down games for the Cards.

Projected 2014 Finish: 93-69. For ticket information click here.

NL East Projections: Politicians or Politically Incorrect?

It’s that time of year, folks. The bats and pitches are a little slower but baseball is back. This begins my division by division look at the National and American Leagues. Hopefully, unlike my Super Bowl prediction, I get a few things right. Even if I don’t, I’m sure I’ll ruffle some feathers along the way.

THE NL EAST:
The NL East is a two-trick pony. It doesn’t take an expert to realize that this division will come down to the Nationals and the Braves for the title with both teams likely heading for the postseason. The other three teams? Well, they do have one thing in common: the Phillies, Mets, and Marlins will all struggle to get close to .500.

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Your 2014 Philadelphia Phillies

5. The Philadelphia Phillies.
(Covers.com has the Phils Over/Under wins at 78. FanGraphs.com projects the Phillies to finish at 78-84.)
If they reach 78 wins, then it isn’t a terrible season though it’s not good. It’s certainly not because they don’t have the talent. It just so happens that the talent they have peaked 5 years ago.

AJ Burnett, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Marlon Byrd, Cliff Lee, and Mike Adams are 35 or older. Ryan Howard, Jonathan Papelbon, Roberto Hernandez, and Cole Hamels are all 30 or older. Hell, the 35-year-old Carlos Ruiz has 36-year-old Wil Nieves backing him up. Every person listed above aside from Nieves is a starter in this line-up. The 2012 Yankees showed us all this is not a recipe for success.

Like I said earlier, these guys aren’t washed up bums. These are still talented veterans, guys who can still contribute and play key roles on a contender. Then how does it make sense that I rank these guys last in the NL East? I think that once they are out of contention, they will have a fire sale and start to rebuild. Rollins, Utley, and Lee are sure to go, and Papelbon leaving is a strong possibility as well. Hopefully, this leads to a late season call-up for right-hander David Buchanan, a promising starting pitcher in the organization but he also helped me move about 5 years ago, so go David!  At that point it will be a lost season and the Phillies will sink to the bottom of the muck.

2014 Projected Finish: 74-88.  For ticket information, check out Ticket Monster.

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The highest paid OFer on the Mets in 2013 (no lie!)

4. The New York Mets.
(Covers.com has the O/U at 71 games while FanGraphs has them finishing 77-85.)
I wish this team was worse than it is, especially since I think Bobby Bo is seriously still on their payroll. I love watching this team play second fiddle in the Big Apple. In fact if I had a chance to go to a Wilmington Blue Rocks game or sit front row at Citi Field, then I’m going to Wilmington. Unfortunately this team does have some talent but fortunately, it’s not enough to return to relevance just yet.

That could happen when Matt Harvey returns from Tommy John surgery in 2015 but with 41-year-old (so he says) Bartolo Colon as your ace, you could be in for a long season. David Wright is the heart and soul of this team. We continue to be told that he is still a superstar but the last few years he has done anything to prove that. He is officially injury-prone and his best years could very well be behind him.

Ike Davis versus Lucas Duda is a position battle worth watching… if you have no TV, can’t read books, and are duct taped to a seat in Citi Field. Chris Young and Curtis Granderson are upgrades in the outfield but these guys are there to mash home runs, not to change the franchise. The pitching staff does have some nice pieces as I look forward to Zach Wheeler’s second go round. Jon Neise has the goods, but he is coming off an injury-riddled campaign and is already heading for an MRI this spring. This season is about making strides for the Mets and getting ready for the future and surrounding Wheeler, Harvey, and d’Arnaud with the right pieces.

Projected 2014 Finish: 77-85.  For ticket information click here.

3. The Miami Marlins.
(Covers has the O/U at 66.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 74-88.)
The consensus both in Vegas and with the “stat guys” have the Marlins finishing dead last. Well, what fun is it to go along with the masses? Especially when you know I can make a compelling case as to why you should believe me.

I went to a Marlins’ game last season and, let me tell you folks, this was a bad team. They were so bad that it was impressive that they won 62 games. It was, however, a young team that kept growing throughout the year. The starting team in September vaguely resembled the team that started in April. In that final month when rookies Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, and Adeiny Hechavarria finally had some games under their belt together, the Marlins put up 13 wins. That’s about 20% of all of their wins the whole season.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Garret Jones, and even aging Rafael Furcal are not baseball superstars but are a much needed improvement that brings veteran leadership to the squad. They should add some pop to give a healthy Giancarlo Stanton some protection and make that weird eyesore in center field light up and blow its lid a few times.

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Is this the Miami Sound Machine?

Their young pitching staff is maybe baseball’s best kept secret. Sure, the whole world knows Jose Fernandez after his Rookie of the Year campaign that put him in Cy Young talks but little is known of his cohorts. Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez, and one-time Tigers’ top prospect Jacob Turner all anchored a staff with very respectable ERAs in the 3s. Like the line-up, a full season together as a staff should show vast improvement. I don’t think the Marlins have what it takes to be a sleeper playoff team, but I think they have the goods to surprise a lot of people with a nice comeback story.

Projected 2014 Finish: 80-82. For ticket information click here.

2. The Washington Nationals.
(Covers has the O/U at 90.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 87-75.)
An important mid-September series in Atlanta will probably determine the winner of this division. Like their Braves counterpart, the Nationals are stacked on both sides of the ball. What separates the two teams?

Until the Nationals can solve their injury woes, I can’t be a believer. I was all-in last season on these guys, trading a first-round pick in fantasy to get Stephen Strasburg with delusional visions of a 20-win shutdown season. The only thing shutdown about his season was Strasburg himself. Bryce Harper has endless potential but has to stay on the field this season and become the face of the NL. Ryan Zimmerman seems to always be sore or playing through pain and his bat is needed in the heart of this line-up.

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The best pitching staff in the NL

If Strasburg can finally reach 200 innings and Gio Gonzalez can bounce back to his 2012 form, then this is hands down the best pitching staff in the National League and, aside from the Detroit Tigers, could be the best in the game. Jordan Zimmermann is getting better and better. That’s a scary thought coming off a 19-9 season. Doug Fister, a number two on most other teams, will be the fourth slot in their rotation. Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, and Fister are all capable of pitching Cy Young-type seasons. If they do it all in the same year, this team isn’t just winning the NL East, they are winning it all. This team is young and has many future seasons atop the NL East. I simply don’t think their reign will begin this year.

Project 2014 Finish: 92-70; National League Wild-Card.  For ticket information click here.

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Politically incorrect choppin!!!

1. The Atlanta Braves.
(Covers has the O/U at 86.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 85-77.)
I know, I know. You picked the team in the city you live in to finish first. Homer.

If there is one thing that I have learned watching the Braves over the years, it is that you can never count them out in the regular season. That being said, I think they repeat atop the NL East.

This team won 96 games last season with three of their key pieces having career-worst seasons. There is absolutely no way that BJ Upton and Dan Uggla can be as bad as they were last season. Despite batting a horrific .179, Uggla still slugged 22 HRs. He still has his power, so he can still bounce back to at least being a mediocre second baseman. Upton managed to hit a whopping .184 and didn’t get on base which was what the Braves brought him in to do (or lure his brother into town, which in that case, he succeeded). Let’s give Upton a wash for signing the big contract and not performing under the pressure. If he could reclaim his spot atop the line-up and cause ruckus on the base paths, then the Braves line-up would benefit greatly. The key factor is Jason Heyward. I’m done hearing about what this kid is capable of or comparisons to great right fielders of yesteryear. It’s now or never for him, which is probably why the Braves only signed him to a two-year extension.

Sure, they lost Brian McCann and Tim Hudson, but they have plenty of ammo to replace them. Throw in a Top Ten starting rotation in all of baseball AND one of the best bullpens in the game anchored by the second coming of The Sandman and this team is without question playoff bound. The boldest of the predictions? Your 2014 NL MVP is going to be Freddie Freeman. BOOM. That just happened.

2014 Projected Finish: 95-67; NL East Champs.  For ticket information click here.

How Derek Jeter Taught Me to Love Again

This was supposed to be a quiet week for sports bloggers. There was no more football, Spring Training is just about ready to begin, there was only a half of a week of NBA action, and for those of you that actually noticed the NHL is on a 2 week break for the Olympics. Then the fireworks started: Marcus Smart goes Ron Artest on an old fat guy, Michael Sam comes out as the soon-to-be first openly gay NFL player, and Tyler Ennis hits a miracle three to keep Syracuse undefeated. If that wasn’t enough, yesterday, via a Facebook letter to all of his fans, Derek Sanderson Jeter announced he was hanging it up.

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For the last 19 years, Jeter has represented everything good about baseball. He has never been vocally arrogant, he has always put the team above himself, and he has never been linked to steroids. If you have been a Jeter hater for the last two decades it is for one of two reasons: you are a Red Sox fan or you hate the Yankees and Derek Jeter is the epitome of everything Yankees.

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Photo courtesy of The Daily News

Until Jeter and The Core Four came along, being a Yankee fan was miserable. We were young fans of the winningest franchise in professional sports, but had never seen a winner. Sure, we had our Yankee legend in Don Mattingly, but they couldn’t win when he was our Captain; Not one first place finish and one lone playoff appearance in Mattingly’s last season. In fact, we endured some of the most awful seasons in Yankees history between 1982 and 1993.

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Then it all changed. Jeter and his three wingmen came along and taught Yankee fans how to love again. Five World Championships, 7 AL Pennants, and 11 AL East crowns later Yankee Pride was restored for my generation. Like I said, the children of the 80s had Mattingly, but he didn’t win. Yankee fans of my era finally had their Gehrig, their DiMaggio, their Mantle, their Munson.

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Getty Images

Jeter did it all with style, grace, a sense of dramatic flair, and the patented Jeter fist pump. Was he the best fielder of his generation? By no means, but he sure made some of the most memorable plays in Yankee history. Was he the best power hitter of his time? No where close, but he hit bigger home runs than Bonds, A-Rod, Griffey, or Big Mac ever did. Was he the best hitter of his era? Considering he played in a time of Tony Gwynn and then later Ichiro, I would have to say no.

That was never important to Jeter. He has no regular season MVP awards in his trophy case. The Yankees all-time hits leader has no batting titles to his name. All Jeter ever did was his job. He did what was best for the Yankees. He got on base more times and scored more runs than anyone for one of the most prolific offenses of our generation. His reward was ring after ring after ring.

He was always more about being a Yankee than being Jeter. The fact that he did it with Jorge and Mo by his side for 17 straight years shows family values. Throw in Pettitte for all but three of those years and you have a heart that beats strong. The Core Four could have signed anywhere throughout their career, for any amount of money they wanted, but they always returned home because together they could win. Alone, who knows what they would have been.

That was the environment that Jeter established in 20 years in pinstripes. Sure, some of the big-time free agents came to New York for the money, but they didn’t last. The ones that stuck were the ones that realized they came to New York to win. David Cone was a hired gun most of his career, but he left it all on the field every start for the Yanks. Roger Clemens had done it all, Cy Youngs, MVPs, back-to-back Triple Crowns, but he never won until he was a Yankee. It was something you had to accept on Jeter’s Yankees: winning and the fans happiness, no matter how bright your star shined, was always first. I still don’t think A-Rod gets that.

I’m glad that we get one last season together with Jeter as a Yankee family. He deserves every accolade, speech, and gift he will get on his Farewell Tour. I have no doubt that, just like Mo, the most emotional and touching send-off he will receive will be from the Red Sox because when you’re a stand-up guy, even your biggest enemies respect you.

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So I say thank you, Oh Captain, My Captain. Thank you for 1996 when Bisach, Bret, Ross, Varrass, Bull, Rosie, Andy, myself, and others squeezed onto the tiny Courtney Street couches to watch the birth of a dynasty. Thank you for all those sunny Saturdays and cool weeknights with Big Lar, D-Sant, and Greene at the old ball park. One of the writers I work with at YanksGoYard.com tweeted how Jeter’s retirement marked the end of his childhood. He’s 20. At 38-years-old, I feel the same way.

(For more on Jeter’s illustrious career, check out my piece on Jeter’s Top Ten Moments at YanksGoYard.com)

Happy Freakin New Year from the Hall of Fame

Hey there, sports fans. My name is Wayne, and I am a sportsaholic. With Chris Christie closing bridges, a united healthcare plan no one understands, religion starting wars all over the world, and Miley Cyrus reigning as the queen of pop culture, I don’t see much of a reason to follow much else. That being said, I feel like the perfect time to start a blog, especially one centered around sports rants, is the beginning of a brand new year. It isn’t because this is something I have procrastinated about for two years (which I have) and made some sort of resolution to start. And no, it is not because this is the time to start anew. It’s simply because in January, the biggest hypocrisy in all of professional sports occurs: the voting for the newest inductees into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Oh, dear reader, where do I start? Well, before I tear apart what has transpired, how about I say congratulations to Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa and Bobby Cox. All six are very deserving of the honor and I truly believe they are all first ballot guys. If you were to ask me who the three best managers of my lifetime were, those three take the honor. Plus, are you going to tell a guy named The Big Hurt he doesn’t deserve to be in the Hall? I’m not.

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One of my big problems with this years votes is Greg Maddux. I’m 38 years old. I had the pleasure of watching Greg Maddux’s entire career and remembering it. Growing up in the New York City area, as a Yankee fan, I rather enjoyed watching him take on the Mets, often ruining any fantasy their fans had of being competitive. Mr. Maddux received 97.2% of the votes, and I have a huge problem with this.

There is absolutely no excuse for why Greg Maddux did NOT receive 100% of the votes. I would love the opportunity to sit down with the 16 people who didn’t vote for him and find out why. After they gave me some outdated explanation, I would take their votes from them… And then slap them in the face with the ballots.

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From around 1992 to 2000, if Maddux was pitching against your team, you pretty much chalked it up a loss. Take away his pitching for just a second. From 1990 to 2002, he won 13 straight Gold Gloves. After an “off year” in 2003, he came back to win the award 5 more consecutive years from 2004 to 2008. That means from the ages of 38 to 42, well past his prime in a sport that has 20 year olds sprouting up yearly, he was still the best fielding pitcher in the game. He had 5 career home runs and made us all aware that chicks do indeed love the long ball. He was also an 8 time All Star, but let me say something about All Star appearances. I hold no credence to All Star game selections except for pitchers. Fans vote in the offensive starters with as much, if not slightly more, credibility than the BBWAA, and I had to endure watching the likes of Cal Ripken and Ozzie Smith well beyond their time. However, managers pick their pitchers, and when an opposing manager picks you, well, that is just respect.

In case you forgot how glorious the commercial was, check out Chicks Dig the Long Ball here.

Now, let’s look at that pitching. Any avid baseball fan knows Greg Maddux won 4 Cy Young Awards. But it wasn’t just that he won those 4 awards, it was how he did it. Let’s just look closely at 2 of the seasons he won the award. In 1994, he posted a ridiculous 1.56 ERA and came back in 1995 with a 1.63 ERA. In both of those said seasons, he lead the league with 10 complete games and 3 shutouts (talk about consistency). He finished in the top 5 in THE MVP voting in both the ’94 and ’95 campaigns. He was a one man wrecking crew and arguably the MOST dominant pitcher of his era, yet 16 people felt he wasn’t a first ballot Hall of Famer. And all I can do is ask why?

 

It’s pretty simple, actually. There is absolutely no criteria to be in the Hall of Fame. For SEVENTEEN straight years, Maddux finished with 15 or more wins and in only one of those campaigns (1990’s 15-15 campaign) was he not well above .500. He has 355 career wins. That’s eighth all time, folks. EIGHTH! Do you know how many pitchers have thrown a baseball? And even though The Professor was all about finesse, he still finished with 3,371 strikeouts, which puts him at tenth all time. (Incidentally, many thanks to baseball-reference.com for all of this information!) Throw in an unreal 3.16 ERA over a 23 year career and we are looking at one of the all time greatest pitchers to ever throw a baseball. And again, 16 people apparently disagree.

One of the problems today’s inductees are facing is the whole Steroid Era, and how certain writers will not vote for anyone who played during the era under the unfair assumption that everyone abused the drug. Of course, the Steroid Era is kind of shaky on its official start date. In June of 1991, then commissioner Fay Vincent issued a statement making steroids officially illegal in clubhouses. Is that the official start? Or was it in 1992, when Curtis Wenzlaff was busted for allegedly supplying the likes of The Bash Brothers with steroids? No, I think most consider the real start of the Steroid Era the post 1994 strike, when not just anabolic steroids but new supplements were being used. Well, if that’s the case, Maddux already had 3 of his 4 Cy Young Awards sitting in his trophy cabinet, so I’m not ok with that rationale.

Other writers have admitted they simply won’t vote for players because they feel that no one should be a first ballot inductee. Excuse me? That’s a blatant bias, and people with any bias should not be on a panel deciding someone’s fate. I was a high school teacher for a few years. I couldn’t just sit there and grade my students based on assumptions or biases. There were scoring rubrics I had to make that set certain standards, elements, and points each student had to hit in order to gain an A, and not only did I create it, I presented it to the students so they understood what their goal was. The Baseball Hall of Fame voting process has none of this. If it did, Maddux hit EVERY standard and stat he needed to, as he is top ten in two huge stats. On top of the numbers, he has the awards, the championship, he was never linked to steroids, he was liked by his peers, the fans seemed to think he was a stand up guy, and as I pointed out earlier, thanks to the longball, chicks dug him.

Maybe you feel like you wasted your time reading this, because at the end of the day, Greg Maddux is now in the Hall of Fame. But 16 people feel he shouldn’t be. And Craig Biggio, one of 28 people with 3,000 hits in the history of the game, isn’t. And nobody is really sure why.

I need to cool off. Until next time folks. Hopefully The NBA won’t have another Nickname Night by then.