Archives for: 2009, week 32

08/15/09

Pennant Fever - NL West

Permalink 11:14:02 am, Categories: All World All Sports Blogs  

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-Digger's Daily-

Welcome to my final August installment of pennant fever blogs. Time to shift focus to the NL West. Joe Torre's Los Angeles Dodgers have been dominating play. San Francisco is the NL's surprise team thanks to a splendid 1-2 rotation knockout punch. Colorado has been surging after firing Clint Hurdle. Cellar dwelling Arizona has much work to do before they return to respectability. Here's how I see things shaping up the rest of the way.

Los Angeles Dodgers (69-47) owned baseball's best record most of the year. They remind me of Torre's young Yankees teams from the 90's Series winning years. LA has been in control only having trailed for six days way back in April. Dodgers are very deep and continued piling up runs even when Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games. Fundamentally sound team ranking near the top in NL team stats - fielding (2nd), batting (1st) and pitching (2nd). A complete team effort without prima donna type clubhouse distractions. Torre kept these guys focused during the Manny PED suspension saga. It's been all business this year as LA seeks a return to World Series play for the first time since 1988. Only stretch drive weakness seems to be 5th starter and a lackluster beginning to this month (5-8). Very young nucleus (Loney, Kemp, Ethier, Martin, Billingsley, Kershaw, Braxton) almost guarantees success for many years to come. Torre needs to keep this team focused over the final 6 weeks. NL's top team.

Colorado Rockies (64-52) were struggling (18-28) before Hurdle was fired and replaced by Jim Tracy. They've gone 46-24 since to firmly plant themselves in the thick of pennant fever. Colorado has climbed into the Wild Card lead and trail LA by only 5 games. Everyone expected the Rockies to hit well in the thin air of spacious Coors Field. However, it's been pitching which has turned the Rockies season around (Jiminez, Cook and a career year by Marquis). Offense has been getting it done from top to bottom. I believe they have what it takes to make the playoffs. But, I can't see them going to far as pitching matchups will hurt them in post season play. LA, Philadelphia and St. Louis sport far more talented pitching staffs. Sometimes all it takes is a hot team to advance and nobody knows this better than the Rockies. Their incredible finish to the 2007 is still fresh in their minds. Watch out LA... these guys may do it again!

San Francisco Giants (62-53) are NL's surprise team of 2009. Not many expected good things from this team which had baseball's weakest lineup coming out of spring training. Starting pitcher and last seasons Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum (12-3, 2.19, 205 K) has been sensational again in '09 and appears well on his way to bring home the hardware once again. This kid is the real deal. #2 in SF's rotation is Matt Cain (12-4, 2.44) who is giving Lincecum a run for his money. These two are clearly the reason why SF is challenging (currently 6.5 behind LA). On offense, it's only Pablo Sandoval who is putting up good numbers (.329, 33 2B, 17 HR). Giants offense doesn't scare anyone. They've only scored 4 or more runs in 11 of their past 29 games. One game over .500 in past 39 contests and probably won't keep pace with other wild card contenders unless opponents stumble. San Francisco's future is bright if they can add a few hitters.

Prediction: LA, Colorado, SF. I'd like to see Torre's Dodgers vs his old Yanks in the World Series. Colorado will give LA a run for their money. I see them as NL Wild Card team which doesn't bode well for Phillies fans since I predicted Atlanta to win East. We'll soon see how it all plays out.

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08/14/09

Pennant Fever - NL Central

Permalink 12:45:53 am, Categories: All World All Sports Blogs  

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-Digger's Daily-

What's happened to NL Central teams? On July 28th, only 4.5 games separated four powerhouse ballclubs. Not anymore. Milwaukee and Houston are heading backwards. Chicago is riding a 5 game losing streak. St. Louis has won 7 of 10 and leads by 4 games. All four teams can wreck baseballs. Cardinals pitching is the only staff not getting creamed. Here's how I see things shaping up.

St. Louis Cardinals (64-52) sport the Central's best manager (Tony LaRussa). His team has survived injuries all season long and are poised to run away with the division title. Key trading deadline deals netted versatile multi-positional Mark DeRosa and LF Matt Holliday. Holliday struggled much of the first half playing for Oakland. Right now, he's MLB's hottest hitter. As a Cardinal he's batting .484 in 18 games with an OPS of 1.319... outstanding! Cards are led by my pick for NL MVP Albert Pujols who might become the first player in decades to win a Triple Crown. Chris Carpenter has been lights out since returning from injury (12-3, 2.27). Closer Ryan Franklin is having the best season of his 10 year career (2-1, 1.20, 28 Saves). Everything has been going the Cards way after struggling in May/June. 24-14 lately and beginning to pull away from the pack. Cards match up well against every NL team.

Chicago Cubs (58-54) have driven manager Lou Piniella nuts all season long. As usual, this was to be their year. In typical Chicago Cubs style, they've been a major disappointment. They're a deep team who seemed lost when key injuries struck (Soto, Ramirez, Harden and now Zambrano). Lineup never gelled and relievers have handed away games. Derrek Lee has been the only brightspot in the Cubbies lineup. Starting pitchers have been pretty good until recently but have fallen victim to shoddy late inning relief. Quite frankly, I don't know how Piniella hasn't exploded. On paper, this was to be a team challenging for 100 wins. They had one great month notching 18 July victories. Then came August... and a current 5 game losing streak. They're not playing well against the NL's better teams. Not a good sign of things to come.

Milwaukee Brewers (56-58) was predicted by many to be the team to beat... they were right. Everyone is starting to beat them up. Hitters, as I predicted, have squandered opportunity after opportunity and defense has been terrible. Throw in a lousy pitching staff and no deadline deals... these guys are lucky to be only 7 games behind St. Louis. When the Brewers lineup gets hot, they can hit homers at will. However, way too many strikeouts kill rallies. 4 players currently on pace for more than 100 K's. It would have been 6 players but 2 have lost their starting jobs. Pitching STINKS except for closer Trevor Hoffman. This is a team in dire need of being taught basic baseball fundamentals. I've said this year after year. Front office failing to bring in a front line starting pitcher was a major mistake. Brewers will win a handful of games. They might even catch a winning streak. Too little too late. Front office gave up on this season by not making a legit effort to solidify pitching staff for the stretch run.

Houston Astros (56-59) were coming on strong after a dismal 20-29 to begin the year. They were only 1 game out on July 22nd. They've slipped to 7.5 games back and a sub .500 record. Blame it on the starting rotation which now has 3 hurlers sporting shoddy ERA's over 5.00... yikes. Astros staff has surrendered 6 or more runs in 8 of past 14 games including 4 double digit implosions. Hitters are plating runs but can't keep up with horrid pitchers. It's safe to say they'll continue free falling out of contention before this month ends.

Prediction: NL Cental was one of the most exciting until recently. It's tough to watch these guys pitch. St. Louis runaway winners. No team will challenge for Wild Card.

Stay tuned... NL West on deck.

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08/13/09

High School Junor Signs Pro Contract in Israel

Permalink 01:51:49 am, Categories: All World All Sports Blogs  

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-Digger's Daily-

I came across a human interest sports story a few moment ago worthy of blogging. A San Diego high school junior is so "bored" with his current level of competition he decided to become the first American player to drop out and sign a $140,000 one year professional contract with a foreign team.

Jeremy Tyler (6-11, 260lbs) has been signed to play in Israel's Premier League with Maccabi Haifa. He found high school play extremely boring because of constant triple teams game after game and decided to turn pro. Tyler averaged 28.7 points per game last season and his goal is to become one of the greatest players ever. Isn't this every kids dream? To become the best.

I've never seen this kid play, not even highlights. Is opting out of high school in his best interests? He'll be playing in a pro league with skilled players. A far cry from high school players half his size with half the smarts. He wants to play against men to prove his worth. He'll get his shot playing against men far more mentally challenging. His big frame will be challenged often. Tyler expects to gain pro experience playing for Maccabi before returning in hopes of being drafted by an NBA team in 2011.

There are two ways to gauge this story. 1) He's either the next natural superstar in the making... or... 2) He's flat out foolish giving up a diploma to get pounded night after night by men just as, if not more, physical and experienced. I'll stick with #2 for now. If Jeremy is as good as he believes in his own mind then why blow a free ride towards stardom? He's obviously a dominant force on a high school level with natural abilities to score 28.7 ppg against triple teams (even if they're half his size). I hope he proves me wrong and is the real deal. It's one heck of a risk to take. If he gets clipped and injured, his stock will drop dramatically. Then again, "winners" always go for it. If Tyler is truly a natural then more power to him.

According to Maccabi's team website... "Tyler's size and natural talent will present matchup problems in our favor against other teams in Israel," said Coach Avi Ashkenazi. "We know Tyler is hungry to prove himself on the court. We look forward to him developing over the course of the season and improving our team."

If it's experience Tyler seeks, he's about to get it in a hurry. Last season Maccabi Haifa played in their first Premier League Championship Game and State League Finals. Training camp begins at the end of this month. He'll be playing with former USA college players and the reigning MVP of the Puerto Rican League.

I'll be keeping a close eye on this story. The Premier League begins play in October. Good luck kid. It would be great seeing the next true natural star live up to his dream of becoming the best.

All World All Sports

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08/12/09

Pennant Fever - NL East

Permalink 05:38:26 pm, Categories: All World All Sports Blogs  

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-Digger's Daily-

National League baseball has been topsy turvy all season long. Classic battles are raging in each division. Teams in the playoff hunt had better beware of potential spoilers filled with players looking to secure their futures. Washington ran off 8 straight wins this month. San Diego 4 of 5. Arizona is 7-4 in August. No lead is safe as summertime heat gets turned up full throttle. My take on the NL East....

World Series Champs Philadelphia Phillies (62-48) have their fans sitting on edge lately. After a 20-7 July, they're stumbling in August (3-6). The suddenly surging Marlins swept three in Philly including a final game 12-3 romp over vet Moyer who lost his rotation spot to Pedro Martinez. Pedro makes his first start of 2009 for his new team tonight. Phils lineup is struggling to plate runs and bullpen woes continue to haunt. Closing in quickly is Florida (5 wins in a row) and Atlanta (4 in a row). When will Ryan Howard stop striking out at alarming rates (137 in 109 games)? I'm guessing the Phils are having a temporary lull and will snap out of it. Question is ... will they wake up before it's too late? I'm beginning to believe they will have a hard time qualifying as a wild card.

Florida Marlins (60-52) 5 straight wins has them hot on Phillies tail trailing by 3.5 games. These young Marlins can smell blood and are starting to believe. Florida's recently history has been to fade down the stretch. Right now, their bats are alive and well after struggling to find consistency most of the season. If their pitchers can start keeping teams to 4 or less runs then watch out... these fish will swim. I like the Marlins. They play inspired baseball with nothing to lose since no one expects them to win. Dangerous team if they stay hot.

Atlanta Braves (59-54) have come alive winning 4 in a row and 6 of 7. Since June 28th, they're 25-14. It's been all about pitching for the Braves. Rotation is getting stronger. Vasquez (2.90 ERA), Jurrjens (3.01), Hanson (3.05), Kawakami (4.12) & Lowe (4.15) compose the best cumulative 1-5 rotation in NL. Team ERA is 3.70. If Atlanta has one weakness, it's their lack of power. Chipper Jones leads with 15 HR's. They manage to score runs even without big power numbers. New acquisitions have helped energize their attack (Church, LaRoche). Bullpen has been very stingy and effective. Manager Bobby Cox is showing why he's one of baseball's best. Watch out for the Braves! I've never been a big Braves "fan". As of this very moment, they're the most well balanced team in the East. History shows, good pitching wins games. Braves sporting East's best staff top to bottom and will silence opponents down the stretch.

Prediction: Atlanta wins East in final week. I'll reserve judgement on whether or not Philadelphia has enough in the tank for a wild card birth. Marlins pitching needs to get better for them to make a September surge. 1-Atlanta, 2-Philadelphia, 3-Florida.

On deck... NL Central.

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08/11/09

Pennant Fever - AL West

Permalink 05:00:11 am, Categories: All World All Sports Blogs  

-Digger's Daily-

AL West 2009 has been a great division to follow. Los Angeles, Texas & Seattle have had their moments of greatness and disappointments. Pre-season favorite LA is holding a slim 3 game lead over Texas. Seattle began April on fire, fizzled in May and continues to hang tough even after trading one of their top starters (Washburn). The summer heat is on. Don't count any of these clubs out just yet, especially when considering wild card implications. Here's my read on how the West will be won.

Los Angeles (65-44) has been a model unit showing others how a team decimated by injury can succeed. Manager Mike Scioscia continues to make all the right moves night after night. It's been a complete team effort on both sides of the diamond. Kendry Morales (1B) is having a career year and might be team MVP. Hunter had been an AL MVP candidate until injuries sidelined one of the games best OF's. Guerrero has been in and out of their lineup battling nagging injuries all season long. It doesn't seem to make any difference who Scioscia inserts in daily lineups. Angels find a way to win. They're 56-32 after a rough beginning (April 9-12). Starting pitchers might be their only weak spot come playoff time. Southpaw Saunders has been getting roughed up lately after a great first half. Ervin Santana has yet to find his stride after returning from injury (4-6, 7.20). Team ERA is an unusually high 4.70 and must come down if Scioscia's squad wants to advance beyond the first round against what will certainly be heavy hitting playoff opponents. If the starting rotation faulters or if their fragile arms fall off later this summer ... then look out. Texas is a hungry team hot for their first division title since 1999.

Texas Rangers (62-48) led the West for more games than any team in this division. As usual, their lineup is explosive. It's been Texas' pitchers hurling the surprises (team ERA 4.18). Rangers staff has been a consistent disappointment for years. It's been a pleasant surprise and key to their '09 success. I've always been a fan of Texas baseball. Usually sounding off on how they never seem to sign good pitchers and I still hold this theory. However, they're finally doing something right this year on the hill. Will they continue to win or will they do the usual Texas fade in sweltering 100 degree heat? It remains to be seen. It's been a relatively injury free season (except for '08 surprise Hamilton). Rangers lineup is a wrecking crew when on their game. Swing and miss when off. I'm rooting for them to pass LA for the West crown. Texas is also a wild card contender as of now. I was very disturbed when they didn't trade for a veteran winner (pitcher) to help down the stretch. There's still a chance for a waiver wire deal but it's highly unlikely. The good news here is Texas has owned both LA (9-3) and Seattle (9-3). Winning ways must continue vs these division rivals or the Rangers will be on the outside looking in once again.

Seattle Mariners (58-53) will be included in my pennant fever report based solely on their record even though it appears management has thrown in the towel. They have an outside shot (at best) of winning the West ... but, remain very much in the wild card hunt (for now). I don't think the M's will hang around much longer especially since they traded away a key hurler (Washburn). If they are to stay in the hunt then Felix Hernandez and Eric Bedard will have to win nearly every single remaining starting assignment. 447 total runs scored by their offense is 2nd lowest in AL. Seattle has been fading of late and I project them to finish double digit games out of first place.

Prediction: LA, Texas, Seattle. Texas will just miss on both West and wild card in season's final week.

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08/10/09

Pennant Fever - AL Central

Permalink 04:37:32 pm, Categories: All World All Sports Blogs  

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-Digger's Daily-

AL Central is currently engaged in a three team dogfight as Cleveland and KC have played their way out of contention. It'll be a winner take all as I see no way any of these teams will qualify as wild card winners. Detroit, Chicago & Minnesota have motivating managers challenging their teams to step it up in summer months as they claw tooth and nail to become division champs. A long winning streak could very well decide which team heads to the playoffs.

Detroit (59-51) stands alone leading the Central by 3 games. They made a key acquisition before the trading deadline by getting Jarrod Washburn from Seattle. Washburn had been 8-6, 2.64 (1.086 WHIP) before heading to the Motor City. Unfortunately, he's been hit hard in two games for his new squad (0-2, 8.74). Tigers rotation is anchored by Justin Verlander (12-6, 3.45) & Edwin Jackson (8-6, 2.62). Leyland's offense has been inconsistent but gets the job done. AL MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera has been sensational as the lineups lone standout star (.330, 23 HR, 67 RBI). What's happened to Magglio Ordonez? 2007's MVP runnerup has been in Leyland's doghouse and now plays on a platoon basis. Detroit is hungry for another World Series appearance (2006). Mixed results in head to head competition against Minnesota (4-7) & Chicago (7-5). I like the Tigers and believe they'll win AL Central.

Chicago (57-55) has endured a rollercoaster type season. Win a few, lose a few has led to a three game deficit. Front three starters have looked very good at times. Buerhle pitched a perfect game vs Tampa Bay July 23rd. In his next start he had a no-no going vs Minnesota for six innings before getting bombed and it's been a rocky road since losing 3 straight to drop his record to 11-6). Rotations 4-5 starters haven't been good at all and unless they start showing some life, Chicago will be doomed. Ozzie Guillen's lineup has been streaky too which has been giving this firebrand manager fits. White Sox losing record vs both Detroit (5-7) and Minnesota (5-7) will have to change down the stretch or these guys will be cooked. ChiSox are a dangerous team when everyone is contributing. I think they're hitters are just as good as Detroit. For some reason, they just can't seem to get out of their own way which is probably due to lack of consistency from the pitchers.

Low budget Minnesota (54-57) has lost 6 of 8 to begin August and trail by 5.5 games. Twins starting rotation hasn't performed well this season and is the main reason they're in third place. Minnesota plays great defense (.988 2nd), tied for 3rd in AL hitting .270. However, pitchers have a less than stellar 4.66 ERA and opponents are bruising the staff with a .273 average. Only one current starter has an ERA below 4.85... ouch! I've always enjoyed watching this fundamentally sound team play ball. This just isn't their season and didn't make any trades to spark a sputtering rotation. I don't see how they'll be able to cool heavy hitters in Detroit and Chicago.

Prediction: Detroit Tigers will win AL Central in a very close race vs Chicago. Minnesota is out of this race before August ends.

On deck... AL West.

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