Thursday, February 28, 2013

NL Central Preview

Next on the list of divisional preseason previews, we have the National League Central. This division used to be highlighted by the biggest disparity in baseball. On one end of the spectrum, you had the St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds. On the other end, you had the 3 worst teams in baseball: the Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates. Any wonder where the top 3 got all their wins from?

Well apparently baseball got tired of the disparity (and lack of divisional symmetry) and forced allowed the Astros to move to the AL West where they could help the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers win a few more games, but that's not what we're here to discuss.

We are going to discuss the three biggest questions in the NL Central:
  • How far will Ryan Braun take the Brewers?
  • Are the Cincinnati Reds in the upper-echelon of teams in baseball?
  • Are the Cubs ready to make a run at their first World Series since 1908?
First the previews:

The Pittsburgh Pirates shocked everyone by getting off to an amazing start spearheaded by Andrew McCutchen (my NL MVP) and A.J. Burnett. Two-thirds of the way through the season they were sitting a comfortable 16 games over .500 (62-46) and making a run at not only their first winning season in 20 years, but a run at the playoffs themselves. That's when everything fell apart. The Pirates went on to finish the season 17-37 in what was the worst collapse in Major League Baseball (statistically speaking, but I think the 2011 Red Sox could argue that one).

Will the Pirates be able to build on last season's early success and avoid another historic meltdown? Maybe. The Pirates have no chance to make the playoffs, not in this division, but I do believe they will break their record streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons by winning 81 games this year.

How far will Ryan Braun take the Milwaukee Brewers? That question depends on how well MLB's investigation into the Biogenesis Report. Do I believe Ryan Braun took steroids? Yes, absolutely. Is that going to stop him from being one of the top 3 players in the game? No at all. If this team can overcome its pitching woes, stay healthy and get another bat at the trade deadline besides Aramis Ramirez, the Brewers could make a run at the playoffs. However, that's expecting a lot of things to go right with a team that has one ace pitcher and some other guys.

Are the Cincinnati Reds one of the best teams in baseball? They sure look like it. With an amazing rotation that include Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto and Matt Latos with an emerging Aroldis Chapman, you won't find better rotation in the NL Central. They also have a healthy MVP-caliber Joey Votto, dependable Brandon Philips and Jay Bruce and young guys throughout the diamond who are ready to produce. Not to mention they upgraded their outfield with Shin-Soo Choo, and the Reds are ready to build on last year's 97-win season (and huge post-season meltdown to the Giants) and make another run at the World Series. They're the team to beat in this division.

Let's not forget about the 2011 World Series-winning St. Louis Cardinals. This team has a formidable lineup mix of young and dying stars. They picked up the revitalized Carlos Beltran at the trade deadline last year, and while he's still producing, this will probably be his last year with the team. David Freese, the 2011 World Series MVP will be back to man third base, and first baseman Allen Craig had the most underrated season of the year. His season was so underrated that you probably think that last sentence was a typo. To put it in perspective, the Cardinals did not resign Albert Pujols who ended up hitting .285 with 30 home runs and 105 RBIs. Craig who filled in for Pujols hit .307 with 22 home runs and 92 RBIs while costing a BAZILLION DOLLARS cheaper. Nice job, Cardinals management. With a solid rotation that includes Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, and Jake Westbrook the Cardinals have the best chance to top/keep up with the Reds this year.

Finally, the question you have all been waiting for. Are the Chicago Cubs finally ready to make a run at their first World Series since 1908?

Hell no.

MY NL CENTRAL PREDICTIONS: The Reds will finish in first place with 95 wins. The Pirates will surprise a lot of people by having their first winning season in 20 years. Braun and the Brewers will struggle to stay in ball games with lack of an experienced starting rotation. The Cardinal's entire season will once again come down to the last 2-3 games as they fight for the second Wild Card playoff spot.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

NL West 2013 Preview

Why did I choose to preview the NL West before any of the other division: The Dodgers.

The Los Angeles Dodgers have been the most talked about team in baseball since making their blockbuster for Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto last August. Since then, with the high-profile signings of free agent pitchers Zack Greinke and Ryu Hyun-jin, and a new ownership that's willing to spend whatever it takes, the Dodgers have been featured in more front stories than the World Series champion and division-rivals, the San Francisco Giants.

The San Francisco Giants have spent the offseason trying to keep their current World Series winning formula intact by resigning Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro, Jeremy Affeldt, and confidently making Sergio Romo their closer and not resigning injured Brian Wilson. The Giants are probably the only team to have won 2 of the last 3 World Series and not be the favorites to win their division as reigning champions.

The Giants get absolutely no respect despite having one of the best pitching staffs in baseball and the reigning NL MVP, Buster Posey.

Speaking of teams that get no respect, the San Diego Padres will once again finish at or near the bottom of the division by making little-to-no effort to upgrade their team to win this year. Carried by exemplary pitching in 2010, the Padres negated their biggest home-field advantage by bringing the walls in closer this year. Do not mistake this as a dig at the Padres as they are a young team with a long-term plan, but they will not be getting out of the NL West basement for the next 2-3 years as long as they stay away from repeated PED offenses.

Fun stat: the Padres only have 9 players on their current 40-man roster in their 30s.

Also in the NL West, we have the Colorado Rockies. The 2012 Rockies had the worst record in their 20-year history, finishing 64-98 while battling injuries, atrocious pitching and a terrible home record. To put things in perspective, Rockies' starting pitchers had a combined 6.70 home ERA, by far the worst in the majors. This year, the Rockies will attempt to right the ship with their explosive young talent in All-Stars Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, veteran wine-connoisseur Todd Helton, and a new high school manager in Walt White Weiss. Do I think they'll contend this year? Absolutely not. Will they improve on last year's historically bad season? They couldn't do any worse.

Finally, our last NL West team is the underrated Arizona Diamondbacks. The desert snakes slightly improved their starting pitching and bullpen with the acquisitions of Heath Bell, Matt Reynolds and Brandon McCarthy, but absolutely destroyed their star power by trading away All-Stars Chris Young and Justin Upton, and top-prospect pitching prospect Trevor Bauer. Granted, these moves could be blessings in disguise as both outfielders were under-performing in Arizona and Bauer drove his catcher crazy. The D-backs have a solid team with Martin Prado (acquired from the Braves), Miguel Montero, Aaron Hill, Paul Goldschmidt, and pitchers Ian Kennedy (La Quinta High), JJ Putz and Trevor Cahill who all seem to over-perform despite their perceived lack of talent.

Each division has its own story and the story of the NL West is that it will be a two-team race between the Dodgers and Giants. The Rockies could surprise some teams with their power, but will struggle in pitching, and the Diamondbacks always find a way to hang around, but neither team can match the offense and pitching of the Dodgers and Giants.

MY 2013 NL WEST PREDICTION: Dodgers 1st place finish with 89 wins, Giants get second Wild Card sport with 88 wins.

These two teams will be trading wins and losses all season and will face tough competition from the Diamondbacks and Rockies, thus limiting their total wins. I'm sure two teams from the NL East will finish with more wins than the Dodgers and Giants, but both will find a way to make it to the post season.

Disclaimer: Be careful on the Dodgers though. This prediction is based on everything going right for the "super team." I'm still not convinced this is a super team despite everyone jumping on the bandwagon. I'll cover this in a future article, but Dodgers have a lot more problems than people think, which is the main reason I can't see them winning over 90 games despite having Greinke and Clayton Kershaw the whole season.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

2013 MLB Season Is Almost Here

The 2013 MLB season is almost upon us, and I couldn't be more excited. With 6 weeks remaining until the regular season, and 6 divisions in baseball, I thought now would be the perfect time to get back into the swing of writing and preview each of the divisions (one per week).

I'm going to start in the National League West, work my way east, switch over to the American League, and finish in the Angel's division, the revamped A.L. West.

Throughout Spring Training, I will also be giving my thoughts on player development, how I see the rotation and lineup shaking out, and maybe a few updates on the World Baseball Classic (if any of the Americans decide to play). Once the regular season starts, I will once again be covering all of the Angels 81 home games, and will be there live for a lot of them.

I know that I may not be the best Angels writer out there, but I promise a higher quality of work from last year, and I thank you for sticking with me and the Hometown Halo.

With that being said, here is a picture of a 30-pound heavier Mike Trout. Enjoy.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Angels Sign Josh Hamilton, A Defensive Move

Late Thursday morning, radio host, Joe McDonnell reported that Angels were in "serious contract discussion" with free agent Josh Hamilton. Less than an hour and a half later, the Angels had signed Hamilton to a 5 year $125 million contract.

Angels fans erupted on Twitter with excitement! For the second straight season, Arte Moreno and Jerry Dipoto had snagged the biggest free agent available, and once again with great secrecy. This was a different kind of eruption for Angels fans than the previous signing of Albert Pujols last year though.

After the initial excitement of signing one of the top 15 players (arguably top 10) in baseball, fans began to become cautiously optimistic about the decision: $25 million per year is a lot of money, what about his demons, we didn't need another outfielder.

I could spend all day talking about how signing a player to a big contract past his age-30 season could be a bad move, but look at what we got with Torii Hunter. I could write how Hamilton could suffer a relapse or strain his knee, but the former is unlikely and the latter is uncontrollable. I could write how we now have 2 of the top 3 highest paid players in baseball (Vernon Wells and Alex Rodriguez would be the other 2), but this move wasn't about the money. This move was about how we did not need another outfielder. Let me explain.

After freeing up space in the outfield with the speedy (albeit unproven) Peter Bourjos, and a decent backup in Wells, the Angels had no need to go out and find another outfielder. This move was not about personnel, it was about market share.

With the Los Angeles Dodgers being the sexiest team in town again and grabbing all the headlines, the Angels looked pretty conservative signing only Joe Blanton and a couple of relievers in free agency. The Dodgers had traded for big name players and signed Zack Greinke away from Anaheim, while putting money into upgrading their stadium and doing it all in the name of winning for the fans. Some fans, including myself, would take a look at this new, exciting Dodgers product and say, "Hey, I think I'll risk my life going to LA to check this new thing out." Moreno, who is a highly competitive person could not stand for this. For fear of losing fans trying something new, he had to make a splash to get the spotlight back on his Angels again, and there was only one free agent left to do this with: Hamilton.

Add to the fact that signing Hamilton would take away their division rival's best player and this was more a defensive move by the Angels, trying to protect their market share, get the spotlight in Los Angeles back on them, and weaken the competition, than it was a player move to add a great bat to an already solid lineup.

If you don't agree with me, then why did the Angels spend the Greinke money on a position player when they could have easily just had Greinke, which would've filled their biggest need at starting pitching?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Angels Offseason Moves (So Far)

The baseball season may not be back, but I am! Last season was an emotional roller coaster that broke down near the end. A couple of us were left on the ride for a few hours before firefighters could come and get us, but we had a good time nonetheless. We may be in limbo with the upcoming season, but it's still a good time to be an Angels fan.

Now that we're ready to get back up again, let's break down the Angels offseason moves this winter:


By far the most consistently broken and glaring problem the Angels have faced since the departure of Fransisco Rodriguez has been the dependability (or lack thereof) of their bullpen. Angels made some big moves and are taking some gambles in an effort to turn their biggest weakness into their biggest strength.

Ryan Madson

Two years ago (pre-Tommy John surgery), Madson was one of the biggest surprise closers in baseball. Thanks to Brad Lidge starting the season on the disabled list, Madson was given the opportunity to audition for the closer role and ran away with it. He compiled 32 saves in 60.2 innings with a 2.37 ERA. In 2010 as a setup man, he had a 2.55 ERA and has been a solid bullpen arm since transitioning from a starter to the bullpen in 2007. Following Tommy John surgery, the Angels are taking a gamble that he will return to form, but it's not a high investment at a $3.25 million base salary. Madson will most likely serve as the Angels closer this year if he starts the season healthy, but we can't rule out a Jordan Walden-like collapse.

Sean Burnett

This was a guy I had not even heard about until the Angels signed him and am embarrassed to say so. The guy piled up a solid season last year, but was buried behind the flair of Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen. In 56 innings, he had a 2.38 ERA and a 9.1 K/9. Solid arm that will provide 7th and 8th inning depth.

Add these two guys to a bullpen that was carried by 3 solid arms last year (Kevin Jepsen, Scott Downs and Ernesto Frieri), the Angels shouldn't have any problem holding on to late leads.


What was supposed to be the most feared rotation in all of baseball last year was derailed by injuries and inconsistency. I think every pitcher, including Jered Weaver, got hurt or gave up a million home runs (we're looking at you Ervin...). Weaver missed a couple weeks early in the season, Dan Haren battled back problems all year, Jerome Williams mysteriously collapsed in the clubhouse and struggled with his command when returning, CJ Wilson played Jekyll and Hyde in the first and second halfs, and Santana couldn't keep the ball in the same area code.

The season ended with Angels letting Zack Greinke walk in free agency while trading Santana and getting nothing in a botched trade for Haren. The Angels have 3 holes to fill and here's what they did:

Joe Blanton

Oh my god, what were they thinking giving this guy $15 million over 2 years? I don't know why people are trying to talk themselves into thinking he was once a great pitcher. The dude had an ERA under 4.00 only TWICE in his MLB career (3.53 in 2005 and 3.95 in 2007). The rest of his career has been filled with home runs and nothing else. Blanton was second to Santana's home runs allowed last year and also gave up the 2nd-most earned runs as well. If the front office is hoping for a bounce back from a terrible pitcher, they should've stuck with Santana. That money would have been much better spent on Brandon McCarthy (2-years, $15.5 million with Arizona) if he was open to playing in Anaheim.

Tommy Hanson

Angels traded power-arm and former closer Jordan Walden to the Atlanta Braves for Hanson in what I think is a great move. Hanson is a young, solid 3-4 guy in the rotation with plenty of upside to his young career. Walden proved he couldn't handle the pressure of the full-time closer role and let his inexperience get to him. Walden tried to throw harder to get out of jams instead of pitch smarter. While Walden may turn out to be a great bullpen arm somewhere down the line, the Angels were definitely the big winners in this trade. In Hanson's 4 years in the majors, he is 45-32 with a 3.61 ERA. If the Angels can get 12 wins out of him, I think the trade will be more than worth it, but I also see Hanson as a 14-win guy. While 2012 was a down year filled with home runs and his whole career is trending screw it! Please get 12 wins.

Starting pitching is going to be a struggle this year, especially if CJ Wilson doesn't step up. The offense and bullpen are what will have to carry this team. The Angels are really going to have to hope letting Torii walk was the right decision because they'll look pretty dumb if Peter Bourjos flops and Torii leads the Detroit Tigers to another World Series berth.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Angels Rout Rangers, Eat Tacos (72/81)

Angels came home last night for the start of their last home stand of the regular season, but hopefully not this year. The red hot Texas Rangers had come to town, but the Angels, determined to do everything humanly possible to make the post-season, routed the Rangers with a 11-3 victory, sending all fans in attendance home with Chronic Tacos.

Jered Weaver had a tough 3rd inning when he gave up home runs to Mike Napoli and Ian Kinsler, but the Angels came roaring back with an 8 run 4th inning in which every Angel scored except for Mark Trumbo.

The Angels finished the game 11-3 and the fans went home happy.

There were a couple of big stories that stemmed from last night though:

A. Josh Hamilton leaves the game due to sinus infection. After two at-bats, the AL home run leader went to the clubhouse and was not seen again. It was reported earlier today that he's not even at Angel Stadium tonight and has been experiencing blurred vision. I know the playoff race can be heated, but keep this guy in your thoughts.

B. Another guy to keep in your thoughts is Texas Rangers pitcher Tanner Scheppers. After hitting Erick Aybar (one of the hottest-hitting shortstops in baseball right now) with a pitch, he threw another wild pitch and had his legs swept out from him when covering the plate by Chris Iannetta. It looked ugly and Scheppers was down for a long time, but it gave the Angels the momentum they needed to keep racking up the score in the 4th inning and inch closer to a playoff spot. Can't blame the Angels for playing aggressive, but hopefully Scheppers injury is nothing more than a bruised knee.

C. Erick Aybar makes his way to my fantasy team. This isn't really a big story to anyone but me, but if you're an Angel and you make it on my playoff roster for the semifinals, I have a lot of faith in you. Not only is Aybar on a piping hot hitting streak, batting an insane .520 in the past 7 days, but he is flashing the glove effortlessly and made a huge throw on the run to get a tough out at first base last night.

D. Did I mention that everyone gets Chronic Tacos when the Angels score 10 or more runs? I think I did. Time to chow!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Weaver's Gem Too Little Too Late? (69, 70, 71/81)

Angels ace, Jered Weaver made his triumphant return with a gem against the Oakland A's on a warm afternoon at the Big A, but it might not have been enough. Weave was masterful tossing 7 shutout innings of 2-hit ball while racking up 9 strikeouts and walking only one in the 6-0 victory. Fortunately for Weaver, the Angels racked up all 6 of their runs in the 7th inning to give him his 17th win of the season, but we still can't forget about the first three games of the series.

The Angels offense struggled during this series, only managing 7 total runs in the first three losses versus the A's after averaging 5.5 runs per game during a previous 6-game winning streak. Had they not lit up in the 7th inning of yesterday's game, the Angels playoff hopes could seem even more slim.

I was listening to the radio yesterday when a fan said that the Angels are a very bad team and will be sitting on their couches come October, and I took offense. It was obvious that this "fan" has been frustrated with the Angels recent 3-game losing streak, but we can't forget that, before the A's came to town, the Angels had won 15 out of their last 18 games. That's beast and EXACTLY what the Angels needed down the stretch. To call them a "bad team" after that run just because they lost three games to a good Oakland pitching staff shows that this guy obviously doesn't pay close enough attention to the Angels in August/September and doesn't give Oakland enough credit for playing crazy good lately. Props to Rodger Lodge for putting the caller on blast and disagreeing with him.

The Angels offense has been missing the last 3 games, but their pitching has still been great. Losing three games is not enough to count the Angels out of October yet and nothing's changed. We knew all along that the Angels would have to play great to get there, just like any playoff team, and there's still some time to finish strong.