Friday, April 17, 2009

AL East: New York Yankees

Prediction: New York Yankees: 3rd place finish

Strengths: The Yankees have a strong veteran lineup that will produce a ton of runs. When healthy Alex Rodriguez and newly signed first baseman Mark Tiexera will form probably the best 3-4 combination in baseball. Shortstop Derek Jeter and left fielder Johnny Damon offer a little speed and great on-base ability at the top of the order. With the free agent additions of CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett to go along with holdovers Chien-Ming Wang, Joba Chamberlain and Andy Pettite the Yankees have one of the top rotations in the league. Mariano Rivera is the best closer in baseball and gives New York a huge luxury when the 9th inning comes along.

Weaknesses: Injuries and age are the two biggest problems facing the Yankees this season. Rodriguez will miss the first 4-6 weeks due to a hip injury. Two other big bats catcher Jorge Posada and designated hitter Hideki Matsui are coming off major injuries and will need to stay healthy for this lineup to be productive. Matsui, Posada, Pettite, Damon and Jeter are all going to be 35 years or older this season and will likely see their numbers decline to some degree. The Yankees defense is another problem area. Other than Tiexera the Yankees defensive alignment is made up of mostly average fielders.

Farm Aid: The Yankees farm system isn't as talented as their AL East counterparts but is still fairly solid. Pitching is the area that their farm system will bolster the most this season. Lefthander Phil Coke will be a long reliever in the Yankees bullpen this season and will likely be joined at some point by Alfredo Aceves and David Robertson. Starter Phil Hughes will be the first pitcher called upon if any of the Yankees top five go down with an injury. Given that the Yankees will be in the playoff hunt all season the Yankees may turn to their farm system to help them make a trade.

Outlook: The Yankees reloaded this off season but they are still in the toughest division in baseball. I think the Rodriguez injury will cost them some wins in April that could leave New York out of the playoff picture.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Voice of the Fan

This week the sports world lost two iconic ambassadors and voices of the game when Harry Kalas passed away and John Madden retired. Madden and Kalas were so well known and liked that they were sought after for endorsements due to their distinct voices and presence. Both men will be sorely missed by the sports community for their insight and ability to capture the game.

Kalas began broadcasting baseball games 46 years ago and was entering his 39th year with the Philadelphia Phillies. During that time Kalas connected to Philadelphia fans through both their losing seasons and their World Championship years. His impact on the game of baseball is evidenced by his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002. His impact on the Phillie faithful is immeasurable. He is part of the Philadelphia Phillies and his name will always be remembered with the team.

Following John Madden's head coaching career in which he has the highest winning percentage in the NFL he became a football commentator. Madden has covered the NFL for network television the last 30 years. Madden is also the namesake of the most popular video game series of all time EA's Madden NFL series. John Madden has become probably the most popular and recognizable sports announcer in the country.

As a sports fan I'm saddened to see the loss of two giants in the sport community. Both Madden and Kalas touched the lives of their listeners. They brought the game in to the living rooms of countless fans and helped them connect to their favorite teams and sports. Both were excellent at translating the game to capture the fan's attention and help make them feel apart of the action. Madden and Kalas were the ultimate professionals and will be missed by the sports world.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

AL East: Tampa Bay Rays

Prediction: Tampa Bay Rays: 2nd place finish

Strengths: Tampa Bay is one of the most talented young teams top to bottom in baseball. Their lineup features the perfect combination of power and speed. Last year's Rookie of the Year Evan Longoria is one of the best players in baseball and headlines the middle of the Rays batting order. Longoria is joined in the middle by first baseman Carlos Pena and designated hitter Pat Burrell each capable of hitting 30 plus home runs a year. Center fielder B.J. Upton and left fielder Carl Crawford provide the speed at the top of the lineup. Tampa's starting rotation is another strength of this team, they have three young starters (Scott Kazmir, James Shields, and Matt Garza) that all have the ability to anchor a rotation. With as good as their lineup and pitching rotation are the Rays best attribute is their defense. At every position the Rays start a quality defender. They have great speed and range in the outfield and probably the best left side of the infield in the AL.

Weaknesses: Though the Rays are one of the better teams in baseball they are not without their flaws. While they have a quality bullpen from top to bottom, the Rays lack the shutdown closer that their division rivals possess. Another area of concern for the Rays is their 5th starter. Rookie sensation David Price was expected to take the job but he is starting the year in the minors, leaving the 5th spot for Jeff Niemann. Niemann a former first round draft pick has a ton of potential but hasn't yet shown he's a major league starter. He'll need to give the Rays some quality starts while Price is in the minors for the first month or two of the season.

Farm Aid: Price is the best pitching prospect in the the game and will likely be up with the Rays sometime in May. Price will join the big three at the top of the rotation to form possibly the best group of starters in baseball. Beyond Price Tampa has one of the deepest systems in baseball and has quality prospects at every level. Pitcher Wade Davis, shortstop Reid Brignac and outfielder Fernando Perez should all be up with the big league club at some point this season.

Outlook: The Rays won't be making any return trips to the AL East basement anytime soon. Tampa will be in the hunt for their 2nd division title all season. Though they may come up short in the division they should be the favorite to win the Wild Card.