National League

MLB Division Series Analysis and Predictions

The 2014 MLB postseason got kicked off with a bang in two very different Wild Card games.

On Tuesday night in the American League Wild Card game, it took 12 innings and a late rally in the eighth for the Kansas City Royals to win their first playoff game since 1985. A Salvador Perez walk-off carried them to an intense, hard-fought 9-8 victory over the Oakland Athletics.

Wednesday’s National League Wild Card game was less action-packed, but impressive nonetheless. San Francisco’s ace Madison Bumgarner threw a dominant, complete game shutout with 10 strikeouts and allowed just four hits. Brandon Crawford made history with his fourth inning grand slam- the first ever hit by a shortstop in the postseason. For the Texas baseball loyal out there, former Longhorn Brandon Belt went 2-for-3 with two walks, a run and three RBIs to help the Giants send the Pittsburgh Pirates home.

Though I had the A’s advancing to their division series, I find it difficult to be too upset with the Royals because they played with so much heart. It helps my ego a bit knowing that the experts weren’t expecting that high-scoring of a game, either. At least the Giants made me look good.

Next up, we have four, best-of-five division series match-ups. Here’s my breakdown of each and my predictions on who will get one round closer to the World Series.

 

American League

 

Detroit Tigers (90-72) vs. Baltimore Orioles (96-66)

 

The Tigers will send RHP Max Scherzer (18-5, 3.15 ERA) to the mound and the O’s Chris Tillman (RHP, 13-6, 3.34 ERA) for game one of this division series.

The O’s haven’t announced their other starters, but expect to see Wei-Yin Chen (LHP, 16-6, 3.54 ERA) and Bud Norris (RHP, 15-8, 3.65 ERA) get a start at some point. The Tigers have penciled in Justin Verlander (RHP, 15-12, 4.54 ERA), David Price (LHP, 15-12, 3.26 ERA) and Rick Porcello (RHP, 15-13, 3.43 ERA) in that order for games two, three and four.

When it comes to pitching staffs, I have to think Detroit has a slight advantage. The numbers may not be terribly different, but the Tigers have a lot of veterans that know how to step up in big game situations. Detroit’s pitchers don’t give up the long ball too often either, which will be crucial to continue since homeruns are a big part of Baltimore’s game.

Offensively, I feel the Tigers have the advantage due to consistency throughout the line up. The Orioles hit an MLB-best 211 homeruns this season, led by Nelson Cruz’s MLB-high 40. Adam Jones (.281 batting average, 29 HR, 96 RBI) and Nick Markakis (.276, 14 HR, 50 RBI) provide some explosive offense, too. But the solid bats of Detroit’s Victor Martinez (.335, 32 HR, 103 RBI), Miguel Cabrera (.313, 25 HR, 109 RBI) and J.D. Martinez (.315, 23 HR, 76 RBI) are more consistent, I feel. The Tigers also have lots of guys who get on base and aren’t afraid to run.

Not to mention, the Tigers have the best team batting average (.277) in the majors and a better on-base percentage than the Orioles. Add to that the fact that the O’s stole just 44 bases all season while the Tigers stole 106, and it seems that Detroit’s offense is better-rounded and will find a way to get to Baltimore’s pitchers.

Since the Orioles have home field advantage through the ALDS, it’s possible they could jump out to an early series lead. But I think the Tigers are just a better, more experienced team and will advance to the championship series.

 

Kansas City Royals (89-73) vs. Los Angeles Angels (98-64)

 

The Royals will be using the momentum they created Tuesday night when they face the MLB-best Angels. The set pitching duels for the first three games of the series are as follows:

Game 1- KC Jason Vargas (LHP, 11-10, 3.71 ERA) v. LAA Jered Weaver (RHP, 18-9, 3.59 ERA)

Game 2- KC Yordano Ventura (RHP, 14-10, 3.20 ERA) v. LAA Matt Shoemaker (RHP, 16-4, 3.04 ERA)

Game 3- LAA C.J. Wilson (LHP, 13-10, 4.51 ERA) v. KC James Shields (RHP, 14-8, 3.21 ERA)

 

I have to give the pitching advantage to the Angels. Their staff has really come along throughout the season and seems to be heating up at just the right time. Kansas City also has a good staff, and their bullpen is as good as anyone’s. I’m especially looking forward to game two of this series because Ventura and Shoemaker have been lights-out in their last 10 starts.

Small ball plays a big part in Kansas City’s offense and I expect it to be a factor throughout this series. They have some power as well when you look at guys like Alex Gordon (.266 average, 19 HR) and Salvador Perez (.260, 17 HR). But the aggressive base running backed by speedy guys like Jarrod Dyson (.269, 36 SB) and Alcides Escobar (.285, 31 SB) sparks them most.

The Angels rely on power and consistency. Mike Trout (.287, 36 HR, 111 RBI), Albert Pujols (.272, 28 HR, 105 RBI) and Howie Kendrick (.293, 14 SB) are just a few of the big offensive names this team has to offer. The Angels score often and early, and I don’t foresee them having too much trouble doing so against the Royals.

Though I’m taking the Angels by a pretty large margin in this series, I’m not anticipating a sweep. I expect Kansas City to take game three at home with Big Game James on the mound, but I’m not sure if they’ll get any others.

 

National League

 

San Francisco Giants (88-74) vs. Washington Nationals (96-66)

 

After cruising to a victory over the Pirates, the Giants will have more of a challenge when they face the Nationals in this division series. The starting pitchers for the first three games are as follows:

 

Game 1- SF Jake Peavy (RHP, 7-13, 3.73 ERA) v. WSH Stephen Strasburg (RHP, 14-11, 3.14 ERA)

Game 2- SF Tim Hudson (RHP, 9-13, 3.57 ERA) v. WSH Jordan Zimmermann (RHP, 14-5, 2.66 ERA)

Game 3- WSH Doug Fister (RHP, 16-6, 2.41 ERA)

 

The Nationals pitching staff has been one of the best this season, boasting the lowest ERA (.303) in the MLB. They’ve also given up the least homeruns, which is an important aspect of San Francisco’s offense. They’ve watched their ace Strasburg’s pitch count and innings pitched carefully over the past couple of seasons for the moment they have now- a postseason berth and a team that could be playing for a while. All of Washington’s starters are heating up at the right time, collectively having the second-lowest ERA in the majors through the month of September.

Aside from Bumgarner, the Giants’ pitchers have been a little shaky lately. They’ve done a lot of moving the bullpen around and it has cost them. And with Washington’s offense heating up as well, I’m giving the pitching advantage to the Nationals.

Offensively, I have to go with the Nationals again. Their line up is stacked with guys that get on base, drive in runs and have a good amount of power- examples being Anthony Rendon (.287, 21 HR, 83 RBI), Jason Werth (.292, 16 HR, 82 RBI), Adam LaRoche (.259, 26 HR, 92 RBI) and Bryce Harper (.273, .344 OBP).

The Giants have a solid offense as well, with veterans Buster Posey (.311, 22 HR, 89 RBI), Hunter Pence (.277, 20 HR, 74 RBI) and Pablo Sandoval (.279, 16 HR, 73 RBI) leading the way. They showed they can score quickly on Wednesday, with Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt performing well. I just feel like Washington’s pitching and defense will be too much for San Francisco’s offense to overcome.

If you haven’t guessed so already, I’m expecting the Nationals to move on to the NL championship series.

 

St. Louis Cardinals (90-72) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (94-68)

 

The only set pitching duel we have for this match-up is possibly the best of all four series. The Cardinals will send RHP Adam Wainwright (20-9, 2.38 ERA) to face the winningest pitcher in the majors this season, Clayton Kershaw (LHP, 21-3, 1.77 ERA).

The Dodgers haven’t announced the rest of the rotation, but expect to see Zack Greinke (RHP, 17-8, 2.71 ERA) and Dan Haren (RHP, 13-11, 4.02 ERA) start at some point. St. Louis has penciled in Lance Lynn (RHP, 15-10, 2.74 ERA) for game two, John Lackey (RHP, 14-10, 3.82 ERA) for game three and Shelby Miller (RHP, 10-9, 3.74 ERA) for game four. It’s a close call, but I have to give the pitching advantage to the Dodgers.

Los Angeles has the upper hand in all major offensive categories, but both teams have deep line ups. The Dodgers are led by Adrian Gonzalez (.276, 27 HR, 89 RBI), Yasiel Puig (.296, 16 HR, 69 RBI) and Matt Kemp (.287, 25 HR, 89 RBI) and have a great supporting staff. The Cardinals’ offense is led by Matt Adams (.288, 15 HR, 68 RBI), Matt Holliday (.272, 20 HR, 90 RBI) and Jhonny Peralta (.263, 21 HR, 75 RBI) and is sparked by a number of guys that get on base consistently and know how to extend at-bats.

This series was the hardest for me to pick. When I sit back and look at the stats objectively, I have to pick the Dodgers. But there’s just something about the way the Cardinals play ball in October. They’re seasoned, deep, well-rounded and just find ways to win. These teams faced each other in last year’s championship series which the Cardinals won 4-2.

I wouldn’t mind being wrong in this series, but I have to go with the Dodgers pulling it off and advancing to the NLCS. I’m expecting this one to be really fun to watch.

Useless division projections: North League East

The weather is getting warmer. The days are getting longer. Spring training is in full swing, and you can almost smell the freshly cut grass, hot dogs and peanuts of your local ballpark. The Rangers and Astros will kick off the season in just a few short weeks, and it is now time for a round of useless division predictions so we can all start getting our mind out of basketball mode and into its baseball preset.  If you saw the Orioles finishing in second place in the notorious American League East or the Oakland A’s winning the AL west, then these projections aren’t useless. As it stands, we never know what twists and turns will take place over the course of 162, but we’re going to try to look into the future and see where things will stand come October.

National League East:

Miami Marlins, 5th place

Jeffrey Loria has a lot in common with Danny Ocean, he is a thief. He got a new stadium from the tax payers in Miami, and in return, promised higher payrolls and more competitiveness. The Marlins signed Jose Reyes, Mark Beurhle and Heath Bell a winter ago, and appeared to be the darling of the NL East. Then the plan started backfiring, and they traded Hanley Ramirez before the trade deadline. Then, the fire sale really started when they traded Reyes, Beurhle, and ace pitcher Josh Johnson to Toronto weeks after the season, completing his evil scheme, returning to an embarrassingly low payroll in a beautiful new ball park. Because Loria is a disgrace to Major League Baseball, I will not waste any more time writing about his team, and will pick them to finish dead last in the National League East when the season ends.

New York Mets, 4th place                                               

They’re heading in the right direction. Out of all the current rebuild jobs going on in the league right now, the Mets should see the fruit first. They dealt Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey to Toronto but got a massive haul of prospects in return. The big league team looks bare, lead by David Wright and only David Wright, but if the prospects pan out, they should be back and running in a few short years. The number one catching prospect in all of baseball, Travis D’Arnaud, who they got in the Dickey deal, should get his first chance at being an everyday catcher at some point in the season, and the hope in the Big Apple is that he is the first arrival of the rest of the cavalry. The rotation will be led by Jonathan Niese and Shawn Marcum, but the Mets don’t have enough to compete in what is arguably the best division in baseball.

Atlanta Braves, 3rd pace

The top three spots in this division could fall in any order. The addition of the Upton brothers, B.J. by free agency and Justin by trade, along with Jason Heyward in the outfield will make the Braves a formidable force at the plate. The rotation could have some more star power, but Tim Hudson, Kris Medlen and Mike Minor should provide the Braves a chance to win every five days. In another division, this team may be the one to beat.

Philadelphia Phillies, 2nd place

After a dismal 81-81 season in 2012, the Phillies finally look like they might be healthy enough to regain their throne atop the NL East. A healthy Roy Halladay would go a long way in making that happen, as well as a full season of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, along with Halladay still represent one of the best rotations in all of baseball, but the name of the game for the Phills is health. If they can stay healthy and get a big year from left fielder Dominic Brown, no one will want to see these guys down the stretch.

Washington Nationals, 1st place

And with the blink of an eye, the Nationals went from the first pick overall to division winners and nearly National League champions. The Houston Astros are wondering why there isn’t a Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper in the consecutive years they have had the number one overall pick. The Nats are a power house, lead by Strasburg and Gio Gonzalz on the mound while NL rookie of the year Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Laroche lead the way offensively. They won 98 games in 2012 on their way to their first NL East title as the Nationals, and figure to only be better in 2013 when they don’t have an innings limit on super ace Stephen Strasburg.

Early MLB predictions: Who will come out of the National League in 2013?

It’s never too early to start making predictions, right? Sure, spring training has only just begun, but what better time to predict which teams will be resilient enough to make it through the season and duke it out for baseball’s ultimate prize? In fact, should I get my predictions right, I’ll be seen as a baseball genius. And, should I get them wrong, I can just attribute it to the fact that my prediction was made in March. It’s a win-win. So, without further ado, here is my 2013 National League Champion prediction. 

On paper, it looks to be a five-horse race for the 2013 National League pennant. The Nationals, Dodgers, Giants, Reds and Braves all look like they could play the part this year in the NL. However, when looking at potential contenders, you can never count out the St. Louis Cardinals, a team that has lived for October over the past decade. Additionally, with their payroll and own version of the “Big Three” atop their rotation, the Phillies will look to come back strong in 2013 after missing the playoffs in 2012. 

The Reds are set to win the NL Central, with a rotation that can rack up innings and a potent lineup. The addition of Shin-Soo Choo at the top of the lineup is one of the more underrated moves of the offseason and could turn out to pay huge dividends when October rolls around. The Cardinals will give them some trouble in the Central, and I expect the Redbirds to earn another Wild Card berth.

A point of concern I have for the Nationals and Braves and the Dodgers and Giants is the fact that both these pairs of teams are in the same division, which could cause them to beat up on each other during the regular season. Furthermore, one of these teams might not even make the playoffs, assuming the Cardinals fulfill my prediction and clinch the other Wild Card spot.

In the NL West, I expect the Giants to win the division once again, despite the blockbuster moves the Dodgers made during the past offseason. I believe there is lots of built-up pressure in the LA baseball community, and I’m not positive that the Dodgers made all the right moves to build toward winning a championship. Instead, the Dodgers roster looks to be full of unproven players who will attract a larger fan base.

In the NL East, I fully expect the Nationals to pick up where they left off, with a slight decrease in run production. However, should Steven Strasburg make it through a whole season this year, expect them to dominate even more than last year. The addition of Denard Span will provide a spark at the top of the lineup and expect Bryce Harper to take another step forward this season. The Braves will rely on an aging Tim Hudson and two very young starting pitchers that have only really proven themselves for one season. What worries me more, in the case of the Braves more than the Nationals, is the threat of the Philadelphia Phillies. After a very disappointing, injury-riddled season last year, the Phillies will be hungry and the intense fan base will provide enough pressure and motivation to force another playoff appearance or a change in management.

In my eyes, the Nationals, Giants and Reds look to be the cream of the crop in terms of management, talent and experience of recent success. However, the Giants have won it all two of the past three years, so the odds are against them. So it comes down to the Reds and the Nationals. To be honest, I can’t make a case against the Reds potentially reaching the Fall Classic, but last year, the Nationals made one decision preventing them from getting past the Cardinals in the 2012 NLDS — the decision to sit Steven Strasburg after pitching 160 innings. Strasburg would have gotten the Nats through that series and perhaps deeper into the playoffs, but the organization chose to make a long-term decision.

Therefore, this year, barring any injuries to Strasburg or any other key players, the Nationals will fight their way through the National League en route to the World Series.
 

New performance enhancing drug scandal surrounds Alex Rodriguez and others

Death, taxes, and professional baseball players cheating. Those are the three things we can assuredly count on in this life of ours. On Tuesday, a potential new list of performance enhancing drug users was revealed by a clinic in Miami, allegedly tying Alex Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera, Nelson Cruz and Gio Gonzalez to the use of human growth hormone and anabolic steroids.

Shocked, aren’t you?

All of the players tied to the report from Miami have claimed the accusations to be false, including Alex Rodriguez who hired a Miami attorney to defend him on the case. Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals pitcher who finished the season with 21 wins, most in the National League, stated Tuesday, “I’ve never used performance-enhancing drugs of any kind, and I never will.”

While the public stands from a distance to hear the outcome of Major League Baseball’s newest steroid saga, the teams of the players in question haven’t. According to league sources, the Yankees are trying feverishly to find a way to void the contract of 37 year old Alex Rodriguez, who still has over 100 million dollars owed to him.

While nobody has been proven guilty in this round of steroid finger pointing, yet, one thing is clear. The game is still not as clean as it needs to be, and they appear to have a way to go to get it as clean as they desire. Take Melky Cabrera for instance. Cabrera bounced around the league as a serviceable fourth outfielder for years with a number of different teams. All of a sudden in 2012, he breaks out in San Francisco, and was arguably the front runner for National League MVP before he was caught using PED’s. Even after he was caught cheating, he parlayed his huge season into a two-year, 16 million dollar deal from the Blue Jays.

Cheat, get caught, make 16 million dollars to play baseball. Sounds simple enough, right?

While Major League Baseball is leaps and bounds ahead of where they were on drug testing a decade ago, the punishments need to be more severe to deter the players from playing their own version Russian roulette. Anyone in their right mind would juice, produce at a high level, and take a 50 game suspension if it meant they would get paid eight million dollars over the next two years.

With all the money to be made in Major League Baseball these days, players will do anything they can to stay on top of their game. What we do know is that until the consequences become more severe for players who are caught, they will keep spinning the wheel of fortune on PED’s. Hopefully that day comes in the near future, or baseball fans everywhere will continue to have doubt creep into their minds every time one of their own has a season to remember. Something that is all too unfortunate for the ones who do solely perform on God given ability, not scientist given.

Melky Cabrera bails out Bud Selig

Did everybody just see that? Melky Cabrera, San Francisco Giant’s outfielder, just took a bullet aimed straight for Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig’s head. On Friday, Cabrera requested through the MLB players union that he be disqualified for the 2012 National League batting title.

Cabrera, playing in his seventh full major league season, was enjoying a breakout campaign out by the Bay Area in San Francisco. He was hitting a whopping .346 through 501 plate appearances. He was the National League MVP of the All-Star Game in Kansas City, Mo., and was presumably on his way to being the National League MVP of the season. He was also on his way to a big pay day when his contract was due to expire at the end of the season. And just like so many before him, it all came crashing down around him when it was announced that he had tested positive for testosterone. He was suspended for 50 games for violating the MLB drug abuse policy, and his entire stellar season would be remembered with a hint of resentment from the fans who have been cheated in a similar fashion all too many times.

But Cabrera still had a chance, even after being caught cheating, to be listed in the history books as the 2012 National League batting champion.

It was announced Thursday through the commissioner’s office that if the season ended with Cabrera still in the lead in the batting race and on Friday he was still leading second-place Pirates’ outfielder Andrew McCutchen by seven points, then he would be crowned as the batting champion because of a quirky rule.

Did you catch that? The guy who failed a drug test for performance-enhancing drugs would still be remembered in history as the batting champion. Let it sink in.

Of the four big sports in North America, baseball has suffered plenty of black eyes. While Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and a slew of others are being held out of Cooperstown, N.Y., for their alleged performance-enhancing drug use, all of their records still stand just as pristine as ever.

Those games happened, and this isn’t “Men in Black” where you can simply flash all of America and make them forget that magical season when McGwire and Sosa were going toe-to-toe for the single season home run record. We can’t forget the season just a few years later when Barry Bonds blew past the both of them.

The point is, if Bud Selig didn’t have his head in the sand for a decade-plus on the steroid issue, those records wouldn’t be tainted. Hank Aaron wouldn’t be second on the all-time list for home runs, behind someone like Bonds, who put on almost 40 pounds of muscle over the course of his 22-year career. Those records will forever be tainted because Selig was reactionary instead of being proactive.

Now six-and-a-half years after Major League Baseball adopted its new drug-testing policy to cleanse the game, we still have superstars faltering and tainting records and personal achievements. 2011 National League MVP Ryan Braun failed a drug test a month after he received the prestigious award. And while Braun had the test overturned on a strange appeal, the award still holds a bit of question, even if Braun is matching his MVP numbers this season under a presumably clean slate.

If Melky Cabrera had not taken himself out of the running for the National League batting crown, which he likely would have won, baseball would have affectively not taken a positive step forward since the days of the “juicers.” Cheaters would still be embraced as historical icons, and the game’s integrity would continue to sink like the Titanic.

Instead Cabrera did what was right, something Bud Selig cannot seem to wrap his mind around. Cabrera took the bullet for a spineless commissioner in hopes of returning integrity back to America’s pastime. And while Cabrera still cheated, he at least owned up to his mistake and made it right, something the cheaters before him did not. He ensured that the proper winner will win the batting title the right way, not by cheating the game and all its fans that crave to put the days of tainted baseball behind them.

National League Central Preseason Power Rankings

Decisions are starting to be made, pitchers are being stretched out for more than 30 pitches an appearance, and lineups are starting to get closer to resembling major league lineups rather than a mixture of hopeful minor league prospects. As the season draws closer, we’re going to give you a preseason set of power rankings to get you up to speed for Opening Day.

1. Cincinnatti Reds: The Cincinnati Reds become the favorites in this division purely based off subtractions from other teams. Albert Pujols is no longer a Cardinal, and Prince Fielder is no longer a Brewer. The Reds did make a big trade in the offseason to acquire front line starter Mat Latos from the Padres, and he will join Johnny Cueto at the top of the rotation. Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips will bring the offense, and the Reds are sitting pretty before the season gets under way.

2. St. Louis Cardinals: The World Series champions have had a bit of retooling to do since they were spraying champagne in October. Albert Pujols took his talents to Los Angeles, and that leaves a big gap in the lineup for Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman to fill. Hall of Fame head coach Tony LaRussa retired, meaning they will have a new manager on the top step for the first time in 16 season. It’s not all doom and gloom in St. Louis though, they do get Adam Wainright back into their rotation, who missed all of last year with Tommy John surgery. Along with the strength of the rest of the rotation, the Cardinals will once again be competitive.

3. Milwaukee Brewers: Like their divisional counterpart Cardinals, the Brew Crew has a bit of rebuilding to do as well. Prince Fielder left for big money over the winter, and his left handed bat will be sorely missed. They added former Cubs third basemen Aramis Ramirez to the squad, and they do still have the reigning NL MVP in Ryan Braun. With the rotation headlined by Zach Greinke, the Brewers should make noise again in 2012.

4. Pittsburgh Pirates: With the Pirates on the cusp of their 20th consecutive losing season, there seems to be at least a small, minute gleam at the end of the tunnel. The Pirates were the surprise of the National League last year when they managed to stay relevant until August before unraveling at the seams. They locked up Andrew McCutchen to a long term deal and add A.J. Burnett to their rotation, but just crossing the .500 mark for this team would be cause for a parade in the steal city.

5. Chicago Cubs: The Steve Bartman incident of 2003, along with the last century of torture from the baseball gods, continues to burn holes in the souls of Cubs fans everywhere. The good news on the north side is that they took a step in the right direction this winter, trading for Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, who knows a thing or two about killing legendary curses. The bad news is, it takes time to build a team from the ground up, and the Cubs are in year 1 of a multi-year process. Patience Cubs fans, nothing lasts forever.

6. Houston Astros: They finished with the worst record in all of baseball last season, and appear to be spiraling into another failure of a season in 2012. They do have a new owner, Jim Crane, who promises to pump money and provide resources to turn the team around, but it’s not in the foreseeable future. The Astros have a farm system ranked in the bottom half of the entire league and average to below-average baseball appears to be on the horizon for awhile. The good news? They’re doing baseball a favor and bringing back the awesome Colt .45 jerseys that they wore for their first three years of existence.

Fans unimpressed by watered-down All-Star game.

American League's Alexi Ogando of the Texas Rangers pitches at the MLB All-Star baseball game Tuesday, July 12, 2011, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
American League's Alexi Ogando of the Texas Rangers pitches at the MLB All-Star baseball game Tuesday, July 12, 2011, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The National League beat the American League 5-1 in the 2011 MLB All-Star game, and that is about as much as some are willing to remember.

“What a waste of two hours and some odd minutes of my life,” said broadcast journalism senior Derek Lewis.

Like many sports fanatics, Lewis decided to watch the All-Star game on Tuesday, but was disappointed by the lack pomp and circumstance. Some of these fans said that this year’s watered-down cast of All-Stars and boring broadcast was not appealing.

“It had three big plays,” Lewis said. “The rest was all fairly boring, undominating pitching that was just good enough to get outs for the National League and some poor defensive efforts that made the game into Keystone Cops at certain points. Plus, several big American League pitchers were out. Several big name players overall were out. Not a good showing from baseball.”

In the American League two players chosen to by the fans — Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez — and four pitchers selected by the players (including three more Yankees), skipped for medical reasons. Jeter, who recently recorded his 3,000th career hit, cited mental and physical exhaustion as the reason for his absence. Rodriguez is currently in on the DL.

In the National League, only one voted starter — Jose Reyes — didn’t suit up Tuesday in Phoenix, but Shane Victorino, who won the final vote over Washington Nationals first baseman Michael Morse, was also out injured.

Though this year’s numbers have not been released, the MLB All-Star game’s ratings have declined consistently over the past decade, with last year’s mid-summer classic boasting the worst ratings ever. Fans who watched but didn’t enjoy this year’s game said the MLB isn’t doing enough to keep the very people that drive the game interested — the fans.

“It was like any other baseball game, which is sad because it’s the All-star game,” said baseball fan Sarang Patel. “A lot of it may be Fox's fault. There was no "fun" appeal. The highlight was Justin Timberlake with his beer near a pool with girls. The NBA All-Star game has all these in-game microphones, celebrity interviews, jokesters, etc. The MLB and Fox couldn't even utilize Brian Wilson correctly.”

Other fans echoed Patel’s sentiment that the MLB has gotten lazy in keeping fans interested, and say other sports offer more exciting draws in the summer sports lull.

“They [MLB] really aren't trying to fight Soccer for this summer market while the NBA and NFL take vacations,” Lewis said.

Brian Wilson is the San Francisco Giants reliever known for his post-game celebrations and hilarious antics.

It may not be fair to compare the two sports’ All-star games, but in terms of ratings, the NBA knows what it’s doing. It puts the game on a weekend and spends an entire week building the event up with funny promotions; Usher crooning about it, and with players who actually want to play in the game. The 2011 NBA All-Star game boasted its highest ratings since 2003, bringing in over 12 million viewers.

Some regular sports fans didn’t even realize the All-Star game was even scheduled for Tuesday night.

“I didn’t even know it happened,” said business senior Saagar Grover, adding that he didn’t mind missing it.

Obviously these dissenting voices don’t represent the voice of every sport and baseball fan. The fact of the matter is that baseball is slowly losing younger viewers to the glitz and glamour of the NBA and NFL. Both those leagues are able to draw viewers to games in which a fan may not even have a vested interested beyond the desire to be entertained. One would have thought that with the other leagues wrapped up in lockouts, baseball would do everything it could to retain and even gain viewers who have nothing else to follow right now. If I were Bud Selig, I would have put in a call into Usher, or maybe Ke$ha.

Not every baseball fan had a bad time. History junior Eli Perez said he preferred the low-key nature of the game, as well as getting the opportunity to see some fresh talent.

“It was exciting to see the next crop of super stars like Starlin Castro and Rickie Weeks come up and playing in the game, but it was really disappointing to not see Derek Jeter out there," Perez said. “Overall it was a fun game to just sit back and relax to. Not every game is going to have hundreds of runs scored. Sometimes they are just a grind which can be equally as enjoyable to watch.”

He may be right. That type of game does appeal to some people, and I certainly tuned in for 90 percent of it. But it wasn’t exciting enough to keep me from flipping back and forth between Fuse’s 100 Sexiest Videos of All-time, and ESPN U’s rerun of last year’s Texas vs. Nebraska football game.

Wrigley Field, home to the Chicago Cubs since 1916, will host yet another Opening Day game this afternoon when the Cubs take on the Washington Nationals. Stephen Strasburg returns from surgery to pitch for the Nationals, while the Cubs will give Ryan Dempster the nod.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Opening day: It’s a special time of year.

Hot dog vendors are open for business, employees everywhere are calling in sick to work and fathers and sons are making lifelong memories watching their favorite team begin the season anew.

All 30 teams start with a clean slate, and every fan believes their team has a shot to be competing in October — yes, even Cubs fans.

That dream of reaching the postseason became even more real this season, as the MLB added an extra wild card slot, meaning that five teams from each league make the playoffs instead of four.

But realistically, there are only a few teams from the National League and the American League that have a shot at a ring each fall.

The American League is wide open, with up to six teams with real pennant aspirations. Offseason moves have altered the landscape of the league, and the balance of power has shifted to the AL with the moves of a pair of superstar first basemen to the AL — Prince Fielder to the Tigers and Albert Pujols to the Angels.

The usual subjects in the AL East will be in contention: New York, Boston and Tampa Bay, each of which has loaded pitching staffs and dangerous lineups. The AL Central on the other hand should be clear-cut, as the Tigers have the reigning AL MVP Justin Verlander and a scary one-two combination of Fielder and Miguel Cabrera in their lineup.

The AL West is top-heavy this season with the two-time AL defending champs, the Texas Rangers, returning the most potent lineup in baseball while adding Japanese import Yu Darvish to lead the rotation. The Angels also made a splash, inching closer to the Rangers with the signing of the best player in the game, Pujols, and adding former Ranger C.J.

Wilson to an already stacked rotation.

In the National League, the picture is just as murky.

Perennial powers like the Phillies and World Series champions the Cardinals each lost key pieces this offseason, and each have questions about their ability to score runs.

The other two playoff teams from last season, the Brewers and the Diamondbacks, aren’t exactly sure things, either.

The Brewers lost their hefty star slugger in the offseason, and they will have to contend with the hard charging Cardinals and Reds for the NL Central crown. Arizona, a young squad, has questions whether it can repeat its success of last season while continuing to improve. The Diamondbacks will also have to deal with a talented San Francisco team that returns stud catcher Buster Posey from injury. That’s without even mentioning the Miami Marlins or the Atlanta Braves, two very improved teams that will be players in the race for the postseason.

While it’s tough to predict what will happen 162 games down the road, that’s part of the beauty of opening day. Everyone is even in the standings, and the broad picture is still fuzzy.

So, baseball fans sit back and enjoy the American classic that is opening day. Besides, how many other days of the year can Cubs fans say they were in first?

Printed on Thursday, April 5, 2012 as: Pennant race wide open in 2012

Astros catcher Jason Castro is finally healthy and ready to contribute in Houston.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Opening day is upon us and the Houston Astros will be celebrating their 50th anniversary when they take on the Colorado Rockies on April 6 at Minute Maid Park.

Last season the Astros went 56-106 and finished last in the National League.

The Astros have named five pitchers to the opening rotation.

Left handers Wandy Rodriguez and J.A. Happ, along with right hander Bud Norris, return from last season’s main rotation. Rodriguez and Norris will serve as the backbone of the pitching staff.

Last season Rodriguez turned in a season ERA of 3.49 with 7.82 strikes and 3.25 walks per nine innings pitched. He also pitched an impressive 191 innings last season which should help keep the bullpen fresh. Rodriguez is also the only player or coach who remains from the Astro’s 2005 World Series squad.

Norris’s fastball has helped keep him in the starting position, and while it has slowed to around 93 mph, his control in the past two seasons has kept it effective. He turned in a 3.77 ERA last season.

Happ did not have an impressive 2011 season. Late in the season, Happ was demoted to the Astro’s triple A affiliate Oklahoma City RedHawks. He posted a 5.35 ERA in 2011 and his offseason performance has coaches hoping he will return to his 2009 or 2010 form where he achieved ERAs of 2.93 and 3.40, respectively. Happ is 1-1 in 2012 spring training games.

Kyle Weiland and Lucas Harrell are the new faces on the mound at the start of this season. Both had ERAs below 4.00 in their respective minor league career. Weiland has posted a 2-1 spring training record this season with a 3.75 ERA. As a member of the Boston Red Sox in 2011, Weiland had a 0-3 record on the mound, giving up 22 runs with 13 strikeouts.

Harrell pitched three games for the Chicago White Sox over two seasons. He posted a 1-2 record for the Sox with a 4.71 ERA. Despite injuries, Harrell makes up for his lack of a fast ball with his powerful sinker.

Last season’s pitching staff ranked 15th in walks given up and 14th in hits given up and owned a team ERA of 4.55, lowest in the National League.

The two most productive hitters on the roster last season, outfielders Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn, both were traded at the end of the season. Jason Bourgeois returns to the 2012 Astros with the highest batting average from 2011 which was .294.

The offense as a whole scored 615 runs, less than the major league average of 694, and was the second straight season under 700. Only four teams had less production at the plate.

Despite this dismal statistic, the 2011 Astros looked pretty good on paper. They ranked first in the NL in doubles, fourth in batting average, and third in total hits. However, they also ranked 15th (out of 16) in home runs and 13th in runs scored. The lack of runs is what hurt last season’s squad.

In the offseason, the Astros only traded out and not in, as far as hitters go. First baseman Carlos Lee will return to the plate as the anchor of the Astro’s struggling line up. Lee finished with a .275 batting average, a team-high 18 home runs, and a team-high 94 RBIs.

Right fielder Brian Bogusevic is also expected to help Lee out at the plate. The former pitcher hit .287 in 2011, but Bogusevic is inconsistent at best against left-handed pitchers.

In addition to trading their top hitters, the Astros also traded their fastest base runners. In 105 games, Bourn stole 39 bases and, after being traded to Atlanta, went on to finish the league with the highest number of stolen bases.

Outfielder Jason Bourgeois, who was second on the team in stolen bases, was traded to the Royals in the offseason.

They are expected to finish about the same in 2012 as they did in 2011 due to the lack of incoming talent.

The 2011 season was the first in franchise history where a squad lost more than 100 games, a statistic that most want to forget. Hopefully the offseason was enough to start the rebuilding process for the Astros as they play their last year in the National League.

When the Texas Rangers reached their first-ever World Series appearance last season, not having the home-field advantage took a toll on them. They dropped both games in San Francisco before losing the series in five games.

Rangers manager Ron Washington will lead the American League at this year’s All-Star game, where the American League will try to redeem themselves after having their 14-game winning streak snapped by the National League in last season’s Midsummer Classic.

2010 AL MVP Josh Hamilton secured a spot in the starting lineup of the 2011 All-Star Game, which will take place in Phoenix, Ariz., on July 12. Each team’s rosters were announced Sunday, and three of Hamilton’s Texas teammates will join him in Phoenix — pitcher C.J. Wilson, third baseman Adrian Beltre and designated hitter
Michael Young. Hamilton edged out Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury for the starting spot by just 36,727 votes.

Hard-hitting right fielder Hunter Pence was the only member of the Houston Astros chosen to be on the NL’s All-Star squad.

Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista. Bautista was the leading vote-getter. Bautista, who led the majors with 54 home runs last year and leads the majors this year with 26, blasted Ken Griffey Jr.’s 1994 vote record of 6,069,688 with 7,454,753 votes.

The New York Yankees led all squads with six All-Star selections, including four starters — second baseman Robinson Cano, third baseman Alex Rodriguez, shortstop Derek Jeter and center fielder Curtis Granderson. However, the Yankees ace and 11-game winner, CC Sabathia, did not make the cut. Last year’s AL- and NL-leading vote-getters, Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer and St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols were also left out.

This year’s All-Star game will feature plenty of fresh faces as well, as 24 players are participating for the first time.

The Rangers are well-represented at this year’s All-Star game. If they make a return trip to the Fall Classic, home-field advantage would help. But to earn that, they’ll need a good showing at the Midsummer Classic.