Saturday, September 01, 2012

Game Picks - Saturday: September 1, 2012

Friday started out 0-4 as the Giants, Yankees, White Sox and Cardinals all lost. And so it was fortunate for the picks to climb back to a 7-7 tie. One game, the Royals / Twins, was rained out. There were some good picks mixed in there. The Game of the Day was almost easy as it was a given that the Angels would smack AaRon Cook around. R.A. Dickey's win was nice for him and nice for the picks as Ike Davis drove in all three runs. Dickey is forcing the world to consider him for the Cy Young Award at the end of the season.

And so August is over. September will answer all the questions about who the best teams are. By the end of this month, there will be hearts broken and hearts rejoicing. Players have this month to make their cases for post season awards. We have already watched a lot of baseball. But the first day of September is when things really get interesting.

Saturday's picks:
  • The Yankees over the Orioles: This pick is probably foolish. But the heart is foolish. The Yankees' sixth starter, David Phelps is asked to win a game in a pennant race against arguably the Orioles' best pitcher, Wei-Yin Chen. Phelps has been good, but gives up at least one homer every outing.
  • The Giants over the Cubs: These picks are going right down the same rabbit hole as yesterday. Tim Lincecum will have to be good as guys like Alfonso Soriano still swing the bat pretty well. The Cubs counter with Justin Germano, and that is the final reason for this pick.
  • The Bay Rays over the Blue Jays: The Jays have surprisingly taken the first two games of this series as they are enjoying the spoiler role. And they face a pitcher that hasn't pitched in a while in Jeff Niemann. This pick comes down to a lack of trust here in Henderson Alvarez.
  • The Mariners over the Angels: Mike Trout is slowing down slightly and for the first time this season has an OPS under one. Felix Hernandez has been unbelievably dominant lately. Can he keep it going? If not, this pick is doomed. Ervin Santana goes for the Angels.
  • The Braves over the Phillies: The Braves are in serious need of a stop by their ace, Tim Hudson. They cannot keep losing. Craig Kimbrel blew a save yesterday. Can you believe that? Cliff Lee goes for the Phillies.
  • The Cardinals over the Nationals: Wow. Did the Nats punish Adam Wainwright yesterday or what? So how can this picker think that Kyle Lohse will do any better. Well, the guy is 14-2. Argue with that! Jordan Zimmermann continues to pitch well and continues to get a lack of run support.
  • The Twins over the Royals: The two teams will make up yesterday's game by playing a pair today. Going with Cole De Vries over Will Smith in the first one. Double headers are usually split and this one feels like the best chance for the Twins to win.
  • The Royals over the Twins: Luke Hochevar is severely frustrating. But going with him for the win in this one over Liam Hendriks who has yet to record a win this season.
  • The Tigers over the White Sox: The Tigers woke up yesterday and it is no suprise that they did so behind Miguel Cabrera. Max Scherzer has gotten better and better all season and leads the league in strikeouts. Got to go with him over Francisco Liriano.
  • The Reds over the Astros: Sure would love to pick Lucas Harrell to win a game. He has been very good for a lost cause down there in Houston. The Astros have been shut out in three of his starts. Got to go with the powerful Reds behind Homer Bailey.
  • The Marlins over the Mets: This pick is not a solid endorcement for Josh Johnson. Johnson began the season hoping to be healthy. If he was healthy, we all thought we would see fireworks. But his season has been a dud. It is confusing. But his stuff is still killer. And if he is on, he can dominate. The Mets don't hit that well anyway. Jeremy Hefner goes for the Mets and was very good against Houston his last time out.
  • The Pirates over the Brewers: A.J. Burnett is starting to fall to earth and hasn't had a good outing in a while. He will need one to win this game. And if he isn't that great, there is always the Brewers' bullpen. The Brewers will go with Marco Estrada.
  • The Padres over the Rockies: Okay, Padres, this picker got off your wave yesterday and paid for it. Edinson Volquez has looked like a good pitcher lately. We all knew he had it in him. Jhoulys Chacin can be very good at times. If he is today, this pick might look stupid.
  • The Red Sox over the Athletics: This pick feels foolish on the outside. The A's pasted the Red Sox yesterday. But perhaps they will be all tuckered out from all that running around the bases yesterday. And Felix Doubront can be very good for the Red Sox. A.J. Griffin will go for the A's, back from the disabled list.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Dodgers: Tyler Skaggs look really, really good so far. And Josh Beckett looks really, really vulnerable with the Dodgers. Going with the lefty, Skaggs, over a Dodgers lineup heavy on lefties.
And the Game of the Day!
  • The Rangers over the Indians: Scott Feldman isn't exactly setting the world on fire these days: But he has to be the pick here as the Indians are going with Jeanmar Gomez, who hasn't exactly set the world on fire this season. Is Adrian Beltre the hottest hitter on the planet right now or what?
Yesterday: 7-7
Week: 43-36
August final: 249-177
Season: 1086-857
Games of the Day: 81-62

Friday, August 31, 2012

Forehead scrunching about the Mariners

As most of you know, there is a daily feature here that picks games every day. While it is easy to just do it every day without thinking, there has been some reflection on how the year has changed since the beginning. The Padres and Mariners were hard to pick to win in the beginning of the season. Now they are hard to pick against. How did that happen? Take the Seattle Mariners, for example. (somewhere, Henny Youngman is saying, "Please."). The Mariners are 30-22 since the first of July. For a team like the Mariners to have a 15-11 month is reasonable. To do it twice in two months is not something easily brushed aside.

The knee-jerk reaction is to say first off that they are doing well because they got rid of Ichiro. But the team's winning ways started before he left. Here is a rundown on their last twelve series:

  • Took two of three from the Bay Rays
  • Took one of three from the Yankees
  • Swept four from the Royals
  • Swept the Twins
  • Swept the three games against the Blue Jays
  • Took one of three from the Yankees
  • Lost three to the Orioles
  • Took two of three from the Angels
  • Took two of three from the Bay Rays
  • Took three straight from the Twins
  • Took three straight from the Indians
  • Lost three straight to the White Sox
  • Took three of four from the Twins.
What does that tells us? It appears that they are beating up on weak teams, losing to good teams with the Angels in the middle there somewhere between both poles. Well, they have beat up on the Rays and that team is good. So maybe this list isn't telling us anything.

Perhaps they are hitting way better in the second half than they were in the first. Well, not exactly. They have a .669 OPS as a team in the second half compared to .649 in the first half. That really isn't that significant a change. How about pitching? Well, we do know that Felix Hernandez has gone crazy. And yes, otherwise the pitching is significantly better in the second half. The ERA is a half a run better in the second half. The first half WHIP of 1.243 has come down to a second half WHIP of 1.186.

The Mariners pitch much better at home. That is not hard to understand. Their home ballpark is death to batters. And their two month surge cannot be attributed to a schedule fluke where they are playing more at home than on the road. 19 of their last 37 games have been home. So that is a dead end. 

The Mariners have pitched much better and the Mariners are very good defensibly, especially in the infield. Brendan Ryan is the gold standard for shortstops and Kyle Seager has become very impressive at third too.

Two big pitching changes have helped a lot. Hector Noesi was getting shelled on a regular basis. Hisashi Iwakuma has taken over that spot and made it flourish. He has been a revelation, for sure. The other was to dispatch League as its closer and turn to Tom Wilhelmsen. The latter has stabilized the bullpen and other bullpen parts such as Oliver Perez (yes, THAT Oliver Perez), Charlie Furbush and Lucas Luetke are pitching very well.

It seems clear that this surge by the Mariners has been fueled by pitching and defense. All the Mariners have to do for three of every five games is to keep the score low and the team can steal wins. Mariners fans are long suffering and it has to be fun going through these good times. They may not yet be where they want to go, but the Mariners are a lot better than a lot of other teams. That statement would have been impossible to make earlier in the season.

Dick Howser and the 1980 Yankees

Wrote this article for It's About the Money, Stupid site and thought you might like to see it as it was a lot of fun to write.  Please click here.

Hope you enjoy it.

Game Picks - Friday: August 31, 2012

Where in the world did August go? Today is the 31st already!? And yes, this is one of the ways you can tell you are getting older when time passes so quickly that you are forever noting its passing. Most of the people in this country love the end of August because it leads to a three-day weekend. But here in northern Maine, it is a sad passing. Northern Maine really only has three months of summer: June, July and August. September is often nice, but the nights get chilly and the carefree days of just putting on shorts and a tee-shirt without thought are over. And that is a really sad thing.

Oh! And baseball happened. This is a baseball post. That's right. Apologies. Thursday was okay. The day finished at 7-4. The Game of the Day pick was wrong. That pick went to the Tampa Bay Rays. They were shut out by the Toronto Blue Jays, who have suddenly become quite pesky when it comes to the AL East contenders. Good for them. It's a good thing they are not rolling over and dying.

How brutal was that loss by the Brewers? Sure, you can heap a lot of blame on Francisco Rodriguez and sure, he would deserve it. But what about the salad tossings of Shaun Marcum, Livan Hernandez and Manny Parra who allowed nine runs between them? The Brewers would roar back for their eleven runs. But still. Rodriguez was just the last finger in the dam that exploded all around the Brewers' pitching all night. And for all you haters, John Axford was not available according to his manager.

So what other picks went wrong? We got the Rays and the Brewers...Oh yes, the Dodgers. The pick yesterday mentioned that last year, Ian Kennedy was the king of toppling opposing aces. But he wasn't that kind of pitcher this year. Well, he was yesterday. The other bad pick was picking against Kyle Kendrick. This picker's disbelief in that young man has led to quite a few bad picks this season. Perhaps some day, a lesson will be learned.

Speaking of, "Lesson," it is one of the most oft misspelled words in English. "Lessen," means to lower or to make less. And, "Lesson," of course, is to learn something.

Where did that come from? This picks post is terribly unorganized today.

Friday is back to a full schedule. Some big series get underway too. The Yankees host the Orioles. The Tigers host the White Sox. The Astros host the Reds...oh...sorry...never mind. Here are Friday's picks:

  • The Giants over the Cubs: It's very good and nice that Chris Volstad ended his losing drought in his last start. And he is pitching much better lately. But the Giants don't lose these days and Volstad faces Madison Bumgarner. And though Bumgarner isn't a lock when on the road, he has pitched well at Wrigley in the past.
  • The Yankees over the Orioles: The Yankees really need to win this game. And there are several reasons why they should. First, Hiroki Kuroda has been their best pitcher. Secondly, with Miguel Gonzalez going for the O's, the Yankees can use their left-handed platoon which has been much stronger than the other way around lately.
  • The White Sox over the Tigers: You know, at this point, it doesn't seem like the Tigers are going to get there, does it? All season long, it felt like they were one hot streak away from getting there. But then in never happened. A big reason was the season Doug Fister had last year. He was counted on to do similar things this season. But he has come to symbolize the Tigers as his season could never get off the ground. Jake Peavy with the win.
  • The Cardinals over the Nationals: This feels like the only game the Cardinals have a chance in this weekend. Gio Gonzalez has had a nice season, but he is not without his vulnerabilities. Meanwhile, Adam Wainwright and his bionic arm can win this start and go 6-0 in August. Sounds like the player of the month, right?
  • The Rangers over the Indians: Ah, Ubaldo Jimenez, what happened, man? Where did you lose it? And you did lose it. Sure, one out of five starts might be okay. But the rest? Pure stink-o-rama. Unless this is one of those one-out-of-five events, Ryan Dempster should get the win.
  • The Blue Jays over the Bay Rays: Okay, getting a bit giddy with this one. But why the heck not? Brandon Morrow throws seven shutout innings and Jeremy Hellickson gives up two or three runs.
  • The Mets over the Marlins: This pick is not a comfortable one. R.A. Dickey is going for his seventeenth win and that seems favorable. But the Mets' offense is weak. Nathan Eovaldi is the type of pitcher who can have a good game once in a while. Mike Stanton could probably hit a knuckleball about 600 feet if he got a hold of it.
  • The Phillies over the Braves: It is still hard to pick against Roy Halladay. He is still a strike throwing machine and if you don't get to him early, you are not going to get to him at all. Plus, Mike Minor is not having a good season for the Braves.
  • The Reds over the Astros: Mike Leake over Fernando Abad. And yes, it is way too early in the morning to be thinking about what Abad season the Astros are having.
  • The Twins over the Royals: Yeah, this one is fun. Not. Cole De Vries versus Will Smith. What do you do with that? Pick one and move on. Check.
  • The Pirates over the Brewers: Mark Rogers has won two in a row and has pitched well against the Pirates. But Jeff Karstens is a favorite here in the FanDome. He is a worker bee and there is a place in baseball for guys like him who game it out.
  • The Rockies over the Padres: Clayton Richard does really well with big ballparks. Coors Field is not a big ballpark (or at least it doesn't play like one). Alex White should be better with his 75 pitches. But what happens after that is the scary part. Yeah, this picker still hates the 75-pitch thing.
  • The Mariners over the Angels: Kevin Millwood at home is a good pick. Yes, it is. Oh, stop frowning. Dan Haren, on the other hand, has not been good and there is no way he is pitching healthy right now. 
  • The Dodgers over the Diamondbacks: There is no confidence here in Trevor Cahill. He was overrated with the A's. But like his A's days, Chavez Ravine is a nice place for pitchers. So who knows. The same goes for Aaron Harang. Going with the Dodgers as the home team.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Athletics over the Red Sox: Oh gosh, AaRon Cook again. The poor schlub has nothing to get him through six innings of any game other than hope and a prayer that the BABIP goes with him for a night. Brandon McCarthy seems like a much better pick.

Yesterday: 7-4
Week: 36-29
Month: 242-170
Season: 1079-850
Games of the Day: 80-62

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Game Picks - Thursday: August 30, 2012

This has been a very tough week for picking baseball games. The daily record this week so far has been: 6-7, 6-5, 9-6 and yesterday's 8-7. That is not exactly blowing the joint down. It doesn't help that picking the Tigers and Yankees has been a fruitless exercise. Heck, when a pick for Sabathia against the Blue Jays fails, then the world is upside down. Matt Harvey had another great day to shoot down that pick. The pick was for the Orioles to win and the Bay Rays to lose. It happened just the opposite. It's just tough right now. At least the Game of the Day feature finally ended its four-day slide.

Eleven games are on Thursday's schedule and five of them are day games. So this picker will get an early indication on how the picks are going to go today. Here they are:

  • The Athletics over the Indians: Justin Masterson throws 80 percent fastballs. You have to think guys like Reddick and Cespedes and Moss would be able to sink their teeth into one or two of those. But Masterson can be dominant at times. The A's will feature Jarrod Parker who has been very good at times himself. This game time is very hard for the A's since it will basically start at 9:05 A.M. for their internal West Coast clocks.
  • The Orioles over the White Sox: Not feeling great about this pick. Zach Britton has provided so many bad memories but seems to be pitching well now. Jose Quintana just seems like a disaster waiting to happen, but it never seems to come. That is almost an art form. Who knows.
  • The Mets over the Phillies: This one also vexes. Jon Niese is better than his record and is frustrating in that he doesn't put it all together. Kyle Kendrick seems to be over-achieving this season. Again, ou pick em.
  • The Mariners over the Twins: A third straight "Have no idea" game. Brian Duensing has been a disaster. But the Mariners don't have a big offense. That seems to mitigate some of the damage the Twins' pitcher can do. On the other hand, Blake Beavan has had some good outings in between some real clunkers. So which one will this be?  
  • The Brewers over the Cubs: The Brewers have been open in their desire to trade Shaun Marcum. There are teams where he could be useful as he has some talent. A good effort here will help the scouting reports. Brooks Raley will not be allowed to go more than five innings. That is too many outs for that bullpen.
  • The Nationals over the Cardinals: The Cardinals have a tough schedule here. The Nationals are the best team in the National League. But the best team doesn't always win. Since he came back from the DL, Jaime Garcia has excelled once and stunk once. Which is the real deal? This picker thinks the latter. Edwin Jackson is not picnic to pick either.
  • The Giants over the Astros: Ryan Vogelsong has given up a lot of home runs lately. Fortunately, that is not a problem facing the Astros. Jordan Lyles was rewarded with a win in his last start for going out there every fifth day and trying to hold back an army with a pea shooter. That win will have to last him a while.
  • The Royals over the Tigers: Good for the Tigers. They are finally playing a team that is more frustrating than they are. Frankly, this picker is tired of picking the Tigers to win night after night with quiet desperation.  Jeremy Guthrie will have a good night and Rick Porcello will make a mistake or three.
  • The Angels over the Red Sox: Zack Greinke will shut the Red Sox down and Jon Lester runs into the bats of Trout, Trumbo and company.
  • The Dodgers over the Diamondbacks: What a difference a year makes. Last year, Ian Kennedy took on all the aces like Clayton Kershaw and beat them. Not this year.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Bay Rays over the Blue Jays: The Blue Jays won't play the Rays as tough as they do the Yankees. A sweep would not be surprising. Matt Moore should pitch well and the Rays can squeak enough runs off of Carlos Villanueva to win the game.

Yesterday: 8-7
Week: 29-25
Month: 235-166
Season: 1072-846
Games of the Day: 80-61

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Game Picks - Wednesday: August 29, 2012

Another Game of the Day loss. That is three in a row and infuriating. The rest of the day was okay or at least in the positive numbers. Yu Darvish, Phil Hughes and Johnny Cueto were terrific. Stephen Strasburg was not. Kris Medlen was awesome. Chris Sale was not. Yovani Gallardo and Tommy Milone were the bomb. Vance Worley was bombed. And so it went.

Wednesday is always one of the best days of the week because it is getaway day for some teams and you can count on some day baseball. Here are Wednesday's picks:

  • The Yankees over the Blue Jays: If C.C. Sabathia pitches like he did his first game back from the disabled list, this should be a win for the Yankees. Injuries have made the Yankees' offense a little tepid, but if they score three or so against J.A. Happ, they should win. This must be pitchers with initials day.
  • The Dodgers over the Rockies: The Dodgers are still sputtering and pitching is part of the problem. If Matt Kemp's wall collision keeps him out of this game, then all the worse for the Dodgers. But overall, Joe Blanton seems like a better pick at Coors Field than Drew Pomeranz who can't throw his curve in his home park.
  • The Reds over the Diamondbacks: Mat Latos has been somewhat unreliable of late. But he is a much better option than Patrick Corbin in this one.
  • The Braves over the Padres: The Braves finally snapped the Padres' winning streak yesterday and typically, it was a low scoring game. The same will probably rule today. Tommy Hanson has really struggled and there has been talk of removing him from the rotation. As if. If he is not part of that rotation, the Braves are in big trouble. Hanson gets the win today and Eric Stults, who has been terrific, gets the hard luck loss.
  • The Orioles over the White Sox: The White Sox have not announced a starter for this game. That is never good. The White Sox just don't seem like a playoff team, do they? The Orioles, on the other hand, never seem to lose. Miguel Gonzalez has been solid for them in the improbable as that sounds.
  • The Phillies over the Mets: Matt Harvey is very good. But it is hard to pick against Cole Hamels.
  • The Athletics over the Indians: The Indians are a sad team these days. And Cory Kluber isn't having much fun either. Well, maybe he is, but the results aren't there. The first inning has been his big problem. Though he did pitch well against the Yankees recently. Travis Blackley goes for the A's.
  • The Pirates over the Cardinals: Boy was that Cards pick ever wrong yesterday. Wow, that was a lopsided game. The Cards likely will be without Yadier Molina who got banged up good in a collision at the plate with Josh Harrison yesterday. Wandy Rodriguez over Joe Kelly.
  • The Rangers over the Bay Rays: The Rangers have out-pitched the Rays in this series and have won the first two games. The Rays offense is their problem. They have enough pitching. A lot will depend on how good Matt Harrison is for Texas today. If he is on his game, the Rangers should score a few off of Alex Cobb.
  • The Nationals over the Marlins: This same pick was made to look silly yesterday. But the Marlins scoring that many runs seems more a fluke than anything else. Jacob Turner is erratic with his command and that is what will give the Nats a win today behind Ross Detwiler.
  • The Brewers over the Cubs: Jeff Samardzija is much better than his record indicates. But he gets no help on the field from those behind him. Mike Fiers should get the win if he is solid.
  • The Tigers over the Royals: Boy are these Tigers a pain in the neck to predict. What is their problem, anyway? They should beat the Royals and yet don't. They should be going all cylinders down the stretch, but they aren't. Anibal Sanchez over Bruce Chen.
  • The Mariners over the Twins: The Mariners are on fire! Jason Vargas has had a very good season. Samuel Deduno had a good start to the season, but the league is catching up to him.
  • The Angels over the Red Sox: This game could be very high scoring. Zach Stewart gets the start for the Red Sox. He was the guy the Red Sox got for Kevin Youkilis from the White Sox. C.J. Wilson hasn't won since June and has been getting pounded. Can he finally pull it together tonight?

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Giants over the Astros: The last time Barry Zito was picked against, he made the pick look silly. Okay, Barry, going with you this time. Being that it is the Astros makes the pick easier. Dallas Keuchel goes for the Astros.

Yesterday; 9-6
Week: 21-18
Month: 227-159
Season: 1069-839
Games of the Day: 79-61    grrrrr

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Aramis Ramirez's quietly great season

You know the old bit about if a tree falls in the woods? The same thing holds true for baseball. If a player plays great for a team out of contention, does anyone notice? Well, perhaps fantasy baseball players notice. But it is safe to say that this Fan has not noticed what a fine season Aramis Ramirez is having for the Milwaukee Brewers. His season would probably still be beyond notice here if it wasn't for a tweet by Larry Granillo last night on Twitter. Granillo (@wezen_ball) pointed out that Ramirez was an easy push to go beyond fifty doubles this season. That fact makes one sit up and take notice.

If you were to give a quick quiz and ask which Brewer has the most extra base hits, most would say Braun. And true enough, Braun leads the team with 35 homers and his .600 slugging percentage leads the team too. But Aramis Ramirez leads the Brewers with 65 extra base hits. He has hit an amazing 43 doubles, two triples and twenty homers. His 65 extra base hits make up nearly half of his 133 hits for the season. His 532 slugging percentage is his highest since 2007 and his .890 OPS is his highest since his 2009 season.

Where did this come from? Maybe it sneaked up on this writer because Ramirez was pretty pitiful at the start of the season. He finished April with a .645 OPS. By May 19, he still had a .658 OPS. But he started hitting after that. He finished May strong and and his OPS for both June and July were over one. He has cooled off only slightly and has put up a .924 OPS in August. But that is still excellent.

Fielding metrics also show Ramirez to be having an excellent year at third base too. Fangraphs rates his season as tied for fourth best (with Beltre) for the most valuable third basemen in baseball this season. Only Wright, Cabrera and Headley are ahead of him. And if he was a better base runner, he would be scoring even higher. Fangraphs has him at 4.7 fWAR for the season. has him at 3.8. Both are excellent. 

If we go by Fangraphs' valuation, Ramirez's play has been worth $21 million this season. That is making the Brewers look pretty smart considering his back loaded deal nets him only $6 million in 2012. The contract tops out at $16 million in 2014 with a mutual option in 2015. But say the Brewers decline that option in 2015, then the Brewers are well on their way to getting the kind of value in Ramirez they paid for.

So again, why has this all gone so unnoticed? A lot has to do with the fact that the Brewers had losing months in April, May, June and July as their bullpen crashed and burned and took them well out of contention.

Some of the lack of notice is also that a lot of his damage has come at home. Ramirez's home/road splits are pretty dramatic. His OPS at home in 61 games is .966. On the road is a different story. His road OPS is only .774. That is a 192 point swing and is significant. All of his batted ball and plate discipline stats are pretty consistent with his career numbers. The little bump over his recent seasons seems to be from enjoying Miller Park.

But no matter, teams are smart if they sign players who can take advantage of their confines. And Aramis Ramirez has given the Brewers everything they could have hoped when they signed him. Ramirez has quietly put together a great season. A few more close to this one and we could start seeing a HOF argument. To be sure, fantasy baseball players have noticed and Brewers fans have noticed and have come to appreciate their new third baseman.

Game Picks - Tuesday: August 28, 2012

Monday was another struggle as this is turning into a tough week so far. The Padres are amazingly hot and the picks haven't gotten the message. The Yankees lost a tough game. The Rays lost a tough game with their ace, David Price, on the mound. The Dodgers lost big and once again, the Royals and Luke Hochevar were stupid picks. The Game of the Days was incorrect for the second straight day after being correct for a week straight.

Tuesday brings us back to a full schedule of games and there are aces pitching everywhere, so it should be a fun day. All the games are at night though. Boo! Tuesday's picks:

  • The White Sox over the Orioles: Chris Tillman has been pitching well and of course, the Orioles are playing well. But Chris Sale is terrific and pushes the pick meter towards the Chicago White Sox.
  • The Phillies over the Mets: Yes, the Phillies are making a late season push. It's too late, of course, but still. They are playing well. Vance Worley is living with bone chips in his elbow. Really wish the Phillies would shut him down and get him fixed. But even so, he is better than Chris Young, who is like eight feet tall.
  • The Athletics over the Indians: If Tommy Milone is on his game, this is no contest. But that hasn't been a given lately. Zach McAllister is no slouch himself. This is going to be a tight game to the end.
  • The Cardinals over the Pirates: This is tough to state, but it appears that the fun is over in Pittsburgh. The Cardinals are taking over and the Pirates are just their latest victims. Jake Westbrook over James McDonald.
  • The Yankees over the Blue Jays: Ricky Romero has to be hurt or something. He has been bloody awful. The Yankees should jump on him early and often even without Mark Teixeira. Phil Hughes has to have a good game and has to keep the ball in the park. That is tough to do against the Blue Jays as Rafael Soriano found out last night.
  • The Nationals over the Marlins: Will Ozzie Guillen get fired at the end of this season? The feeling here is yes. And the feeling is also that he should be. But never mind that, the big story here is a start by Stephen Strasburg. That is always an event, at least for this observer. Ricky Nolasco goes for the Fish and could put up a good game.
  • The Brewers over the Cubs: Yovani Gallardo has gone 5-0 in his recent starts and has been terrific. The Brewers bats are hot and Travis Wood will try to quiet them. Not much hope of a Cubs win here.
  • The Giants over the Astros: These are the games the Giants need to win as they try to stay ahead of the Dodgers. Matt Cain is a good place to start and should have no trouble with the Astros' lineup. Bud Norris will again make us wonder about his stuff in a losing effort.
  • The Rangers over the Bay Rays: Wishful thinking? Perhaps. Perhaps it is more a thought that the Rangers will get to James Shields and that Yu Darvish will start earning his money down the stretch.
  • The Mariners over the Twins: Scot Diamond has been really good for the Twins. Hisashi Iwakuma has been terrific for the Mariners. So which one wins? Flip a coin. The score will probably be 2-1 or something similar.
  • The Rockies over the Dodgers: The longer the season goes on, the more this picker hates Jim Tracy's 75 pitch thing. It sure makes it hard to pick games. And in the case of Tyler Chatwood, it does not allow him to stretch and grow. But the Rockies should hit Chris Capuano in their home ballpark early and often.
  • The Reds over the Diamondbacks: Johnny Cueto is gunning for a Cy Young Award. Wade Miley is gunning for the Rookie of the Year Award. Both are excellent. So who wins? The better team, of course.
  • The Braves over the Padres: It is certainly difficult to pick against the Padres in this game as they are on fire and Andrew Werner looked good his last start. But Kris Medlen is a bull and the Braves hardly ever lose when he is pitching.
  • The Red Sox over the Angels: Okay, so here is how this game goes. Clay Buchholz and Jered Weaver match zeroes and then it becomes a bullpen game. The Angels' bullpen stinks. The Red Sox' bullpen has been one of its strengths.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Tigers over the Royals: The Royals sure looked flat in Boston. Billy Butler and Alex Gordon keep hitting but there is not much else going on there. Justin Verlander will keep it that way. Luis Mendoza will cough up at least three runs, which is enough for the Tigers' ace.

Yesterday: 6-5
Week: 12-12
Month: 218-153
Season: 1060-833
Games of the Day: 79-60

Monday, August 27, 2012

Ryan Ludwick - Comeback Player of the Year?

The baseball journey of Ryan Ludwick has already been a strange odyssey. He toiled in the minors for years and for three different organizations before finally getting a chance with the Cardinals in 2007 at the age of 28. A year later, he would go to his one and only All Star Game as he crushed 37 homers and posted a .966 OPS. His following two campaigns were still productive but disappointing after that big year of 2008. Ludwick was traded in a three-team deal to the Padres in 2010 as they were fighting for a playoff spot (which they lost on the last day of the season). Ludwick tanked there. Ludwick looked like a one-hit wonder as his 2011 season in San Diego was not going any better. Meanwhile, the Pirates had a surprising start to the 2011 series and were looking for help. They obtained Ludwick from the Padres...and he tanked for Pittsburgh too. Ryan Ludwick was over. Or so it seemed. Then the Cincinnati Red signed him as a free agent. Baseball writers snickered. Ludwick was sort of okay in the first half but nothing spectacular. Then the second half hit and so has he.

And look at Ryan Ludwick now! He has a .911 OPS for the Reds in 2012. He has hit 25 homers and added 23 doubles and a triple in just 349 at bats. He has driven in 71 runs in just 103 games. It is enough to make you scratch your head. Ryan Ludwick!?

Ludwick's career makes you wonder about the vagaries of situation, setting and opportunity. He was drafted by the A's in the second round way back in 1999. He hit 55 homers for the A's farm system in his first two full seasons and by the end of the second, had already been promoted to Triple-A. The Rangers took notice and asked that Ludwick be included with three other players in a trade that sent the A's Pena and Renefro. Ludwick was solid for the Rangers' Triple-A club in 2002 and was called up for a cup of coffee to the big leagues. He got 88 plate appearances and hit his first big league homer, but was thoroughly unremarkable. Ludwick also fractured his hip which affected his play for several seasons.

The Rangers traded him after that season to the Indians and Ludwick actually got into 39 games with the Indians in 2003 and finished with a .791 OPS, good for a 108 OPS+. But he didn't stick and played most of the 2004 and 2005 seasons in the minors. He was granted free agency after the 2005 season and signed with the Tigers.

Ludwick had a big year in 2006 for the Tigers' Toledo Mud Hens. But the Tigers never gave him the call to the majors and he was a free agent again after that season. He signed with the Cardinals. It turned out to be a smart move.

The Cardinals of 2007 had a tough time with outfielders. Edmonds was hurt a lot. They tried the son of the pitching coach, and he hit 21 homers but was not very good otherwise. And they had Encarnacion, who was a fringe player at best. The Cardinals turned to Ludwick that season and he ended up playing in 120 games at every outfield position. His OPS was a respectable .818 and had some pop in his bat. Then came his big season in 2008 where he won the Silver Slugger Award, made the All Star team and even made the top fifteen in MVP voting. Ryan Ludwick became the unlikeliest of stars.

Except he wasn't, not really. He had a great 2008, but in 2009 and 2010, he played closer to his ability level. It was still productive. But the Cardinals and their fans were disappointed. He was a better than league average hitter, but they thought they had a superstar. And so he was shipped to San Diego, the MLB equivalent to Siberia.

Ludwick played 160 games for the Padres. His OPS in those 160 games was .659. His slugging percentage disappeared. His home ballpark there affected him mentally. He took those thoughts on the road with him. By the time he got to Pittsburgh, he was a messed up hitter. His OPS for the Pirates was .671.

And then, Ludwick signed with the Reds. Not only do the Reds have a fun home park to hit in, but they play in a division that also has several fun parks to hit. He started slowly this season. His OPS in April was .662 in 17 games. In another 17 games, it rose slightly to .709 in May. But then he caught fire in June and has had an OPS over one for both July and August.

Those statements can be made because the nitty-gritty stats for Ludwick are pretty much the same from year to year. He hits the same number of ground balls each year. He walks about eight percent and strikes out a little over 20 percent of the time. Those numbers have remained pretty much static through the years. He seems to be more aggressive this season and he is swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone, but otherwise, his contact percentage and swing and miss percentage are consistent from year to year.

But consider that in his two years in San Diego, his homer per fly ball rate plummeted from his career rate of about 15 percent to 10.4 percent in 2010 and 7.5 percent in 2011. Location is everything as they say in the real estate market. This year, his homer per fly ball rate of 21.4 percent is his highest since his big year in 2008.

Ryan Ludwick should get lots of consideration for Comeback Player of the Year. The reality is that for many players, the situation they find themselves in and where they play has a lot to do with how well they perform. Or to state it another way, they perform the same but the results are better. Whatever the case, he is one of the big reasons the Reds are flying high in 2012. They do not care about the semantics of his season. They are simply enjoying the benefits.

Game Picks - Monday: August 27, 2012

Sunday was not a good day for the old game picker. The day finished a pick under .500 and the Game of the Day feature was incorrect for the first time in a while. Among the incorrect picks were the Astros (what was the picker thinking!?), Pirates, Diamondbacks, Royals, Dodgers and the Rangers. Some good teams in there. But, if baseball was easy to predict, the games would be a lot more boring.

There are eleven games on the schedule for Monday including one day game in Boston. Here are the picks:

  • The Royals over the Red Sox: Yeah, this pick did not work out yesterday. But this day game in Boston features the return of Daisuke Matsuzaka to Fenway. His home fans boo him mercilessly and even when healthy has made every game an adventure. The only problem with this pick is wondering which Luke Hochevar will show up today.
  • The Orioles over the White Sox: The Orioles refuse to go away quietly. Wei-Yin Chen has been terrific for the Orioles all season with only a clunker or two along the way. The White Sox go with Francisco Liriano who looks a lot better in the White Sox uniform than a Twins one.
  • The Athletics over the Indians: Brett Anderson looked terrific in his first start and the Indians should not pose any serious problems for him. And Mr. Wagner still thinks Roberto Hernandez is still a Fausto. That was a literary reference in case you missed it.
  • The Cardinals over the Pirates: The Cards have risen to the top of the wild card standings and the Pirates are sinking. That is a sad statement, But that's where we are. A.J. Burnett goes for the Pirates and he hasn't been shut down good for a few games now. He will struggle against Allen Craig and company. Kyle Lohse is quietly going about having a great season.
  • The Yankees over the Blue Jays: The Yankees are back home and face a pitcher they enjoy facing in Henderson Alvarez. Every team Alvarez has faced has enjoyed him lately. David Phelps gets the start for the Yankees so the bullpen better be deep and good.
  • The Brewers over the Cubs: The Brewers have been pretty warm lately. The Cubs are the Cubs. It took Marco Estrada sixteen starts to get his first win. It will take only five days to get his second. Justin Germano goes for the Cubs. Doesn't a name like, "Germano," require a more Mediterranean name than, "Justin?"
  • The Bay Rays over the Rangers: David Price just might be the best pitcher in the American League right now. He seems unstoppable. Derek Holland has shut down stuff for the Rangers and he'll need to be near perfect for this pick to be wrong.
  • The Mariners over the Twins: The M's were a big gypped. yesterday when they were in their game with the White Sox and it was postponed after seven innings. No matter. They will take care of the Twins for one reason: Felix Hernandez. Who also just might be the best pitcher in the American League. Liam Hendriks will be the Twins' sacrificial lamb.
  • The Dodgers over the Rockies: The first start for the Dodgers by Josh Beckett would be an automatic yes pick anywhere. But there is real concern here that his first start comes at Coors. But, Jeff Francis should get pounded by the Dodgers.
  • The Reds over the Diamondbacks: The Reds are just too good to consider picking against even if Tyler Skaggs (who has a country singer name) looks like the real deal for Arizona. The Reds go with Bronson Arroyo. The D-backs seem flatter than a pancake.

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Braves over the Padres: Casey Kelly makes his major league debut and in case you missed it, he is the Padres top prospect. But that he has fought elbow inflammation all season is worrisome and doesn't make this pick feel very good. The Padres have been on a roll, but the Braves are fighting for a playoff spot. Paul Maholm gets ground balls and in Petco, his mistakes will die in the outfield.

Yesterday: 6-7
Week: 6-7
Month: 212-148
Season: 1054-828
Games of the Day: 79-59

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Game Picks - Sunday: August 26, 2012

Saturday was more of a struggle than the previous few days. The picks came up only a game over the break even point. The Game of the Day pick was the deciding one, and of course, that was good news as that feature is on a roll now. And even though the final results were just barely in the positive, the week was one of the best of the summer and finished, 61-35. That is a 63.5 percent success rate. Not too shabby.

The new week begins with a new look Dodgers, an emaciated Red Sox, a fired up Oakland club and interesting games all over the majors. There are only fourteen games because the Republicans took over Tampa. Let's take a look at Sunday's games:

  1. The Tigers over the Angels: The teams have split the first two games and this rubber game is tough to call. Ervin Santana has been better of late. Both teams have their big sluggers struggling with injuries. The game will come down to how well Max Scherzer pitches. When he is on, this guy is electric. Mike Trout went without a hit in five at bats yesterday.
  2. The Yankees over the Indians: The Indians were very fortunate yesterday as the Yankees kept loading the bases and then hitting rockets right at people. Today they face one of the most enigmatic pitchers in baseball in Ubaldo Jimenez. If the Yankees are going to get him, they better do it early. Freddy Garcia has been solid if unspectacular for the Yankees.
  3. The Astros over the Mets: The Astros are going to win a series! Can you believe it? They have their best pitcher, Lucas Harrell, on the mound facing the Mets' sixth starter, Jeremy Hefner
  4. The Cardinals over the Reds: Completely relying on Adam Wainwright to be ace-like in this game. If he isn't, well, then the Cardinals will do it to this picker again. Homer Bailey was much better his last time out, but faces a really tough lineup.
  5. The Royals over the Red Sox: Let's see. The Red Sox traded their best hitter. Lost their DH again, this time perhaps for the season. Suspended their former closer. Are shorthanded and have a pitcher pitching, Felix Doubront, who hasn't pitched in a couple of weeks and hasn't won since June. Hmm... Will Smith goes for the Royals.
  6. The Pirates over the Brewers: The Bucs got off the schnide yesterday with a win as Jeff Karstens was superb. Perhaps that will inspire Erik Bedard who has been spotty all season. The Brewers will start Mark Rogers, who finally got a win his last time out and the bullpen didn't blow it.
  7. The Orioles over the Blue Jays: It's been an exercise in futility picking against the Orioles, so it is a pretty good idea to stop beating the head against the wall. Chris Tillman has been good more often than not and Henderson Alvarez seems to have hit a wall.
  8. The Phillies over the Nationals: This series, the Phillies have roused themselves as if to say, "Okay, you are the new power in the East, but we are the old champs and don't forget it." Cliff Lee over Jordan Zimmermann.
  9. The White Sox over the Mariners: It was a nice run while it lasted, Mariner fans. But the Yankees woke the White Sox out of their slumber and they are now on fire. Gavin Floyd over Kevin Millwood.
  10. The Rockies over the Cubs: Will the ballad of Chris Volstad continue? Will he lose his fifteen decision in a row? Will he go 0-10? There is a strong possibility it may happen. Jhoulys Chacin pitched well in his return from the DL.
  11. The Dodgers over the Marlins: How good do the Dodgers have to feel about themselves right now? That lineup just got awful deep. Aaron Harang is usually solid in his big home park. Mark Buehrle might be the only thing that can spoil the party. Giancarlo Stanton is on a homer tear.
  12. The Diamondbacks over the Padres: The Padres are hot and have made the D- backs look stupid. But this game should turn out differently. Joe Saunders will have a good game and Edinson Volquez will be Edinson Volquez.
  13. The Braves over the Giants: The Braves showed something with their win yesterday and their ace, Tim Hudson, should enjoy pitching in San Francisco. The Giants have to be looking at the Dodgers and thinking, "No way!" Tim Lincecum has been good lately. Can the Braves get to him early?

And the Game of the Day!

  • The Rangers over the Twins: The Twins looked competitive there for a while, but have again fallen on hard times. The Rangers will take full advantage and finish off the sweep. Scott Feldman has been solid in the second half with the exception of a bad start against the Yankees. Cole De Vries has not been so good.

Yesterday: 8-7
Last Week: 61-35
Month: 206-141
Season: 1048-821
Games of the Day: 79-58