SportsTemps home

Saturday, March 31, 2012

2012 MLB Preview: NL West

The National League West is the division that seems to get less coverage than any other.  This may be because the Dodgers have been mediocre of late, the Rockies play in a smaller market, the late start times, or all of the above.  This is all too bad because there were some impressive performances in this division last season.  Ian Kennedy and Clayton Kershaw tied for the league lead with 21 wins apiece -Kershaw actually won the triple crown (wins, strikeouts, ERA) title.  Matt Kemp nearly won the hitter's triple crown, failing to win only the batting title where he finished third.  Troy Tulowitzki is one of the most impressive talents in baseball and last season put up his third straight season of 5 wins above replacement. There is a lot of individual talent but the depth of each team's rosters is lacking.  No team should run away from another and whoever finishes in last place may only be 10 games back giving each intradivisional matchup meaning.  That's good for baseball.

Arizona Diamondbacks
2011 Record: 94-68
2012 Estimated Team Salary: $72.9 million
Highest Paid Player: Stephen Drew - $7.75 million
Best Player: Justin Upton was expected to be a superstar when he broke through to the majors at age 19. Last season he seemed to put it together by hitting 31 homers and finishing with a .289/.369/.529 line.
Best Pitcher: Ian Kennedy had his breakthrough season last year going 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP.
Say Hello To: Lyle Overbay 1B, Trevor Cahill SP, Craig Breslow RP, Takashi Saito RP, Jason Kubel OF, Mike Jacobs 1B, Cody Ransom 3B, Craig Tatum C
Wave Goodbye: Xavier Nady OF, Jason Marquis SP,  Zach Duke SP (Hou), Collin Cowgill OF (Oak), Jarrod Parker SP (Oak), Ryan Cook RP (Oak), Micah Owings P (SD)
Biggest Questions:
1. Is this team the 2010-11 Padres? Oh no, they're much better than that.  The Padres won the division in 2010 due to an incredible bullpen, defense, and a ton of luck.  The Dbacks have some real talent on the roster and won't collapse like the Padres did last season.
2. Who's the biggest wild card on this team?  Stephen Drew's health is paramount. Willie Bloomquist is not a good enough player to have in the lineup everyday and while Drew may not have lived up to his hype, he's still a solid major league shortstop.  The longer the club is without him the tougher it will be to overtake the Giants.
3. Is Ian Kennedy the type of pitcher to build around long term? It's too soon to say although last season's results were pretty remarkable.  If he performs close to that level again this season Arizona should be working their butts off to keep him around. 
Expectations: The team traded for Oakland's #2 starter in the offseason in an effort to bolster their own rotation and signed Jason Kubel to be the left-handed side of their platoon in left field.  This team should compete and has a very good chance to get back to the playoffs.
Arizona traded for groundball machine Trevor Cahill to
improve a rotation and enhance their attempts to win now.
Probable Opening day lineup:
1. Bloomquist SS
2. Hill 2B
3. Upton RF
4. Montero C
5. Young CF
6. Kubel LF
7. Roberts 3B
8. Goldschmidt 1B
Probable Rotation/Closer
1. Kennedy
2. Hudson
3. Cahill
4. Collmenter
5. Saunders
CL: Putz

Friday, March 30, 2012

2012 MLB Preview: AL East

Every year there is talk about how baseball should approach realignment to make it more fair for the other teams in the American League East division.  "Who can compete when you've got teams tripling the payroll of the other teams?" they say.  The Yankees and Red Sox are two of the most successful teams in baseball right now and it's no coincidence that they're the two big spenders, too. But frugal Tampa Bay has had success right along with them of late and looks to be there again this season as well.  Now Toronto's rebuild is beginning to bear fruit and after finishing with a winning record last season, the team looks to take the next step with some exciting young players.  Baltimore is in the middle of what seems like a never ending rebuilding process but there are beginning to be signs of changes for the positive.  All of these factors make this a division to watch this summer.  The Yankees and Red Sox are not invulnerable meaning maybe it's someone else's time for a change.  This should end all that nonsense about "fairness" and realignment.

Baltimore Orioles
2011 Record: 69-93
2012 Estimated Team Salary: $97 million
Highest Paid Player: Nick Markakis - $12 million
Best Player: Catcher Matt Wieters broke out last season but I believe the best is yet to come.
Best Pitcher: Jake Arrieta gets the nod over Brian Matusz here simply because of how awful Matusz was last season.
Say Hello To: Darren O'Day RP, Taylor Teagarden C, Endy Chavez OF, Jai Miller OF, Wilson Betemit 3B, Armando Galarraga SP, Ronny Paulino C, Jason Hammel SP, Matt Lindstrom RP, Nick Johnson 1B
Wave Goodbye: Craig Tatum RP (Hou), Vladimir Guerrero (Japan), Cesar Izturis SS (Mil), Luke Scott DH (TB), Jo-Jo Reyes SP (Pit), Jeremy Guthrie SP (Col)
Biggest Questions:
1. What is the organizational plan? The team believes by abstaining from big name free agents and allocating that money to player development through the draft and via international signees they'll be able to build a better foundation that will allow for prolonged success.  The only problem with this method is it takes a long time to see results.
2. Is Brian Matusz's career as an effective big leaguer over? That's a little harsh but there are reasons to be concerned. Whispers about work ethic may not be unfounded but the bigger question is why did his velocity and command slip so much last season? If he posts another year like 2011 he'll go from elite prospect to bust in less than two years.
3. What's the latest on Brian Roberts' health?  In May of last season Roberts hit his head sliding into first base and suffered a severe concussion.  He missed the rest of the season and has not participated in live games in spring training.  The team is likely optimistic he'll play soon since they put him on the 15 day DL and not the 60 day DL.
Expectations: It's going to be another losing season thanks to being in a stacked division.  If the young pitchers can take a step forward there will be reason for optimism, otherwise the team will be going backwards - not a good sign when you're already in last place.
Matt Wieters is another example of how it often takes a catcher
 longer than the average hitter to develop his offensive skills.
Probable Opening day lineup:
1. Reimold LF
2. Johnson DH
3. Markakis RF
4. Jones CF
5. Wieters C
6. Hardy SS
7. Reynolds 3B
8. Davis 1B
9. Andino 2B
Probable Rotation/Closer
1. Arrieta
2. Hammel
3. Chen
4. Hunter
5. Matusz
CL: Johnson

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

2012 MLB Preview: AL West

Since Opening Day is tomorrow I figured I should hurry up and write my preview of the American League West.  This is a top-heavy division.  Anaheim blew their entire wad of cash on the best available free agents while Texas should remain strong thanks to their core of young players.  Seattle is undergoing a youth movement and has several young players who they hope will be a part of their lineup for years to come.  And then there's Oakland, a team who traded away their top players to reload their farm system in hopes they can compete in three years. For some it's time to win now, for others it's in the future.  This division has a lot of both.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
2011 Record: 86-76
2012 Estimated Team Salary: $159.1 million
Highest Paid Player: Vernon Wells - $21 million
Best Player: Albert Pujols might be the best player in baseball.
Best Pitcher: The Angels excellent outfield defense makes Weaver really tough to beat.  Give this team an average outfield and it's Dan Haren. Either way this is a really good staff.
Say Hello To: Albert Pujols 1B, CJ Wilson SP, Chris Iannetta C, Brad Mills RP, Jason Isringhausen RP, Juan Rincon RP, LaTroy Hawkins RP, Eric Hurley RP, Ryan Langerhans OF, Jorge Cantu 1B
Wave Goodbye: Russell Branyan 4C (NYY), Fernando Rodney RP (TB), Joel Pineiro RP (Phi), Tyler Chatwood RP (Col), Jeff Mathis C (Tor),
Biggest Questions:
1. Are the Angels the division favorites? They've got the best rotation, the best player, and the best outfield defense, and maybe the best depth but they're not necessarily the best team.  Expect a dogfight with Texas all summer.
2. When will we see Mike Trout?  Mike Trout is to the Angels what Bryce Harper is to the Nationals.  Trout is an electric player who also happens to be an excellent defensive outfielder.  After Vernon Wells' historically bad 2010, if Trout gets off to a hot start a change may be forced to happen.
3. Is the Pujols contract a mistake?  Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to get your man.  I think Pujols will be worth it the first three years or so but ten years is a long time and these kind of marriages don't always end well.
Expectations: This team forked over more money than any other last season and now sports the third highest payroll in the A.L. With that kind of spending frenzy come playoff expectations.  Winning the World Series should be the goal and this team has the talent to do it.
Perhaps the most underrated pitcher in baseball, Dan Haren
will just keep on keepin' on as this team's true staff ace.
Probable Opening day lineup:
1. Aybar SS
2. Kendrick 2B
3. Pujols 1B
4. Hunter RF
5. Morales DH
6. Wells LF
7. Callapso 3B
8. Iannetta C
9. Bourjos CF
Probable Rotation/Closer
1. Weaver
2. Haren
3. Wilson
4. Santana
5. Williams
Cl: Walden

Sunday, March 25, 2012

2012 MLB Preview: NL East

Now that my NCAA bracket filled with scratch marks and red ink I think it's time to move on to some baseball.  Each year I do a preseason preview for every team and this year will be no different.

The National League East is likely the most improved division in baseball.  They didn't lose any high profile players to other divisions and the one big name that changed teams stayed in the division (Jose Reyes).  Several key players are coming back from injury and there's a lot of young talent that's beginning to mature. As a Braves fan I'm concerned their model for success won't work unless they make some changes but as a baseball fan it's great to see Washington and Miami are no longer pushovers.  Philadelphia is still the team to beat but they're pretty beat up right now making this officially a four team race for two (or three?) spots.

Atlanta Braves
2011 Record: 89-73
2012 Estimated Team Salary: $101.8 million
Highest Paid Player: Chipper Jones - $13 million
Best Player: Brian McCann has been an All-Star every full season he's played.
Best Pitcher: Tommy Hanson made strides towards becoming an ace last season.  If he's over the shoulder woes he'll be the man.
Say Hello To: Tyler Pastornicky SS, Drew Sutton INF
Wave Goodbye: Alex Gonzalez SS (Mil), Derek Lowe SP (Cle), George Sherrill RP (Sea), Scott Linebrink RP (StL), Brooks Conrad INF (Mil), Nate McLouth OF (Pit)
Biggest Questions:
1. Was standing pat the right move? The Braves didn't add a single player via free agency or trade this offseason.  The club is hoping one of Tyler Pastornicky or Andrelton Simmons will claim the shortstop job with a strong spring now that Alex Gonzalez has taken his .290 OBP to Milwaukee.
2. Is there enough offense to make the playoffs?  One of the reasons Atlanta didn't make any moves is because they believe the poor seasons of Jason Heyward, Martin Prado, and the first half from Dan Uggla were aberrations. They'll also get a full season from Michael Bourn who will provide an upgrade in center field.  A new hitting coach was hired as insurance for these guys.
3. Will this team be able to overcome injuries?  Everyone, even Jones himself, acknowledges Chipper cannot play a full season anymore (he's already being out 3 weeks).  If someone like Heyward and/or like Uggla have to miss extended time how will the team be able to cope?  The losses of Conrad and McLouth make the bench weaker than last season and put an enormous strain on the starters to stay healthy.
Expectations: I think the offense will be better than last season but the bullpen will take small step back. They'll be in the wild card race all year but in the end will fall just short unless they make a move at the deadline.
The Braves goal this year will be to win one last time
for Chipper.  They weren't able to do it for Bobby Cox so
I'm not optimistic this will end any differently.
Probable Opening day lineup:
1. Bourn CF
2. Prado 3B
3. McCann C
4. Uggla 2B
5. Freeman 1B
6. Heyward RF
7. Hinske LF
8. Pastornicky SS
Probable Rotation/Closer
1. Hanson
2. Minor
3. Beachy
4. Jurrjens
5. Medlen
Cl: Kimbrel

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Round 2 Upsets: Is your bracket in the trash?

The most exciting two days in college college basketball have ended.  This first (now second) round of the NCAA Tournament is often filled with buzzer beaters, 100 point outbursts from #1 and #2 seeds, and of course upsets.  Well, I don't recall any buzzer beaters (thank you, Josh Jones) and the three highest scoring teams of round 2 are Michigan St. (89), Marquette (86), and Norfolk St. (84). 

What? Norfolk St?

Yeah, that just happened.

That's right, fans. Something crazy happened and your brackets probably have more red than you thought after day one went pretty much as planned. Coming into this year's tournament only four #2 seeds failed to advance to the round of 32 and that last happened in 2001.  Yesterday both Missouri and Duke failed epically making the 2012 tournament one that will be remembered forever regardless of what happens the rest of the way. 

According to Luke Winn at, protected seeds (1-4) who have 
a great offense but a poor defense tend not to do well in the tournament.  
This does not bode well for Missouri, Duke, and Indiana. 

This was the first bullet in the second section of my Tips for Filling out Your Bracket post. Why, then didn't I follow my own advice?  I had these guys in the Final 4!

Missouri has the number one offense in the nation. Number one. Let that sink in.  They don't turn the ball over, they shoot the lights out (40% from 3, 57% from 2, 77% FT), and they don't foul.  The only game they turned in a poor offensive performance was their loss at Kansas St.  They should be able to score on anyone, especially in the potentially wide open West Region.  The Tigers struggles can be attributed to poor offensive rebounding and defense.

Last night Norfolk St. scored, and scored, and scored some more.  They pretty much scored at will. In a 64 possession game they put up 86 points (1.36 points/possession) which might be one of the five highest numbers put up by any school this season.  Watching the game it was apparent to me that Missouri had no interest in playing defense.  They'd let the opponent shoot and wait for a rebound to start their offense.  Well, Norfolk St. didn't miss much and Missouri missed more.  This was an incredible upset.

If the result of the Missouri game shocked you there are probably no words to describe how you felt when a second #2 seed got eliminated yesterday.  I watched Duke in person this year and came away unimpressed.  The Blue Devils rely far too heavily on the 3-point shot and though they excel at getting to the free-throw line, they don't have much of an inside game (the Plumlee's are not good, folks).  That cost them last night as they shot 26(!) threes. It's not like they were making them either. Duke finished 6-26 from the line with Austin Rivers being the only person who made more than one (he made two).  I don't know why they insisted on raining it in (can I say this if they weren't making them?) from beyond the arc but Lehigh was glad to let it happen. Oh, by the way, Lehigh's best win coming into this game was either Wagner or Bucknell neither of which made the NCAA Tournament.  On defense, Duke couldn't get Lehigh to turn it over.  This is something the Blue Devils have struggled with all season and when you only get your #15 seed opponent to turn it over eight times something strange is going to happen.  My bracket isn't ruined from this one since I had Xavier knocking the Blue Devils out in the next round, but my opinion of Coach K took a bit of a hit tonight.  Poor offensive execution and a refusal to alter the game plan for 38 minutes can't be blamed entirely on the players.

My new favorite small school. I like anyone who beats Duke.

Best Second Round Games
  1. #15 Norfolk St. 86 - #2 Missouri 84
  2. #8 Creighton 58 - #9 Alabama 57
  3. #12 VCU 62 - #5 Wichita St. 59
  4. #1 Syracuse 72 - #16 UNC Asheville 65
  5. #11 Colorado 68 - #6 UNLV 64 
Top Games to Watch this Weekend
  1. #4 Wisconsin vs. #5 Vanderbilt - The winner of this game might be favored to go to the Elite 8 
  2. #4 Louisville vs. #5 New Mexico - I still believe the West can be won by anyone. MSU is not a great #1 seed.
  3. #8 Kansas St. vs. #1 Syracuse - Syracuse looked awful on Thursday. Can they rebound?
  4. #3 Florida St. vs. #6 Cincinnati - Two excellent defensive teams mean this game will probably be close.
  5. #15 Lehigh vs. #2 Xavier - I just have this feeling the craziness isn't over.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tips for Filling out Your Bracket

It's an event even non-college basketball fans look forward to: the annual filling out of their NCAA Bracket. Seemingly every year a cinderella story emerges when a team no one believed in upsets a good team from a power conference. There are other trends and stats to look at when picking and as a wise man once said "it's all about the matchups." I don't know who this wiseman was but it sounds good to me.

First Round:
  • Pick your #1 & #2 seeds to advance. A #16 seed has never upset a top seed and though this year may finally be the first, don't count on it. #2 seeds have lost four times though none since 2001. This year I believe the #16 seeds are actually better than the #15 seeds. Don't waste your time.
  • #3 seeds are 92-16 (85.19%) in the first round while #4 seeds are 85-23 (78.7%).  It's possible a #3 will fall but it's more likely one of the #4 seeds will be upset.
  • The classic #5-#12 matchup is where most people like to pick their upsets.  The #12 seed pulls it off one third of the time as #5 seeds are 72-36 in the first round.
  • #6 seeds are also likely to be upset. Many people fail to capitalize on this in their picks but #11 seeds have the exact same winning percentage as #12 seeds in the first round (33%).
  • #7 seeds are 65-43 (60.2%) in the first round.
  • The 8-9 game is essentially a coin flip as the #9's actually win at a slightly higher rate (52.78%).
Sweet 16
  • It's a pretty good idea to put your #1 seeds in the Sweet 16.  Not only are they the superior team (they win this game 88% of the time), they generally have a semi-home court advantage. Take Kentucky this year as an example.  The Wildcats will be playing the winner of Iowa St. and Connecticut in Louisville.  Not exactly a favorable location for the opponent.
  • #2's, on the other hand are no guarantee to advance past the first round. #2 seeds are 23-9 (72%) against #7 seeds in the second round but actually have a losing record against #10 seeds (12-14). This bodes well for Purdue, Xavier, West Virginia, and Virginia if they're able to win in the first round. 
  • #3 seeds win about two-thirds of the time vs. #11 seeds but just over half the time vs. #6 seeds.
  • #4 seeds have a losing records vs. #5 seeds (46%) but kick the crap out of #12 seeds (69%).
  • #5 seeds are 13-2 vs. #13 seeds.
  • In the last 15 years only one #14 seed and three #13 seeds have made the Sweet 16.
Elite 8
  • An average of 2.8 #1 seeds make the it to the Elite 8.  So go ahead and pick 3.
  • #2 seeds get there just shy of 25% of the time.
  • #3 seeds average 1.2 appearances in the Elite 8.
  • A #4, #5, or #6 seed gets to the Elite 8 about every other year.
  • Only one #12 seed has made the Elite 8 (Missouri 2002).
Final Four
  • Once you make it this far it's up to your gut.  Only once have all #1 seeds made it to the Final Four. Only twice have no #1 seeds made it.
  • The lowest seed to make it to the Final Four is a #11 and it's been done twice.
Other Nuggets
  • According to Luke Winn at, protected seeds (1-4) who have a great offense but a poor defense tend not to do well in the tournament.  This does not bode well for Missouri, Duke, and Indiana.  This also should scare Creighton fans as Jays own one of the worst defenses in the tournament.
  • Looking at how a team fared on the road this season is an indicator I like to utilize when trying to choose in a close game.  Remember there are no home games in March.
  • Teams that don't turn the ball over are great bets to advance in games that seem like a toss up (this is obvious, right?).  The top five teams at protecting the ball (according to are Purdue, Wisconsin, Missouri, South Dakota St., and Syracuse.
  • Mid-majors tend to be less athletic and smaller than teams from the power conferences.  Where they make up ground is in their three point shooting.  Teams that shoot a lot of 3's and shoot them well are good upset picks against teams who don't defend the perimeter well.  
    • The top first round beneficiaries in this regard appear to be Purdue against St. Mary's and Murray St. vs. Colorado St.
    • The toughest are Michigan vs. Ohio and Belmont vs. Georgetown.
  • Teams that are good offensive rebounding teams are good bets to pull off upsets as well.  The best offensive rebounding teams in the tournament are: New Mexico St., West Virginia, Kansas St., UNC, and Loyola-MD. 
  • If you can't get second chance points you better prevent your opponent from doing the same. The best defensive rebounding teams are: Ohio St., Virginia, Wichita St., Creighton, and St. Mary's. This is not a good omen for Syracuse who not only is the worst rebounding team in the tournament but ranked ahead of just four teams in the nation.
  • When your shots aren't falling one way to get points is by getting fouled. The best teams at getting to the line are New Mexico St., Gonzaga, Indiana, Murray St., and Duke.
  • And finally it's better to be lucky than good when making your picks.  Everyone knows Kentucky is a great team but that doesn't mean they're going to win it all.  You're probably going to need to get 3 Final Four teams right and be the one who picked this year's George Mason or VCU going farther than anyone else expected.