We’re a full weekend into the baseball season, and NPI still hasn’t previewed the most important league! Don’t fret, though, John S is here to break it all down for you, and to make sure you don’t get fooled by Baltimore’s 3-0 start.
1. Oakland Athletics
2. Texas Rangers
3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
4. Seattle Mariners
So you’re on the A’s bandwagon? Yeah, and I’m not even going to pretend like I got on it particularly early. I was really just looking for someone to pick over the Rangers.
Why do you feel the need to mess with Texas? Well, I was early on the Rangers bandwagon, picking them to win the West at the beginning of 2010, so it’s not like I’m anti-Texas. This year, though, the defending AL champs are both overrated and underrated. They are underrated because people have inevitably focused on the loss of Cliff Lee this off-season; but while losing Lee is obviously big, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the Rangers were in first before trading for Lee last season, and that they likely would have won the division even without his acquisition (Lee was actually pretty mediocre for Texas in the regular season). Continue reading
Yesterday was Opening Day, and while NPI still be caught up in college basketball excitement, that doesn’t mean we can’t bring you the brilliant baseball analysis you’ve come to expect. Today John S will be breaking down the National League, so brace yourself for backhanded compliments, ill-informed generalizations, and an overall tone of condescension and derision!
1. San Francisco Giants
2. Colorado Rockies
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
4. San Diego Padres
5. Arizona Diamondbacks
Hey, remember when the Padres were in first place? What? When did that happen?
For most of last year, actually. Lies! Next you’ll be telling me that it was largely due to someone named Luke Gregerson…
Well, now that you mention it—Look, the Giants’ whole “underdog” thing was fun when they toppled the Phillies, but it sort of ignores the fact that San Francisco has great starters, including two of the best in baseball. And it’s not like any of the four had unsustainably great years—in fact, we can probably expect Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner to get better. After all, Lincecum had by far the worst year of his young career in 2010, and Bumgarner only pitched half a season. Continue reading
Tim and John S already proved their baseball knowledge by issuing World Series predictions that were proven wrong within moments of the series starting. Now, with Game 3 moments away, they reconvene to discuss the series in progress.
TIM: Two games into the World Series, John, and as everyone expected, the Giants are just bludgeoning the Rangers’ pitching. I don’t think I’m telling any tales out of school when I say that everyone knew Cliff Lee and C.J. Wilson could handle the Yankees, but neither one really stood any chance against this San Francisco lineup, right?
JOHN: Surely nobody expected Cliff Lee and his 1.26 postseason ERA to shut down a lineup that included Juan Uribe and Freddy Sanchez, but did anyone expect a dazzling 5.2 IP, 4 ER shutdown performance from Tim Lincecum? In all honesty, I think a lot of people were prepared for that matchup to disappoint after the relative anticlimax that was Lincecum-Halladay, but it was obviously shocking to see Lee pulled in the 5th for Darren O’Day. I think what Game 1 showed, though, was why the idea of a “great postseason pitcher” is kind of a flawed notion. Most of the time, Lee has excellent control and is masterful, but when he starts missing spots, even slightly as he did in Game 1 (only 1 BB and 1 HBP), he becomes a mediocre pitcher. The reason his playoff numbers were so great was that he simply hadn’t had a game like in the playoffs yet.
TIM: Well, I think you can say it shows why the idea of calling Cliff Lee a “great postseason pitcher” is flawed, but not the concept in and of itself — with the caveat, of course, that most great postseason pitchers are great pitchers, period. Even the best postseason pitchers — such as Bob Gibson and Curt Schilling — have had bad outings somewhat like Lee’s the other night. One bad outing may hurt his reputation, but it doesn’t tarnish it.
New York Yankees (95-67) at Texas Rangers (90-72)
Fresh off the franchise’s first playoff series win, the Rangers take on the Yankees, who once again swept the Twins in the first round. Oddly, the Yankees’ sweep of the Twins may have been a closer—or at least more exciting—series than the Rangers-Rays five-gamer. The Yankees came from behind in each of the first two games (with Mariano Rivera of course saving both) before finishing the Twins off at home. The Rangers and Rays, meanwhile, played only one close game in five—a Game 3 win for the Rays. Two great starts from Cliff Lee and another from C.J. Wilson (combined for 2 ER in 22.1 IP) were enough to put the Rangers in their first ever ALCS. Continue reading
Texas Rangers (90-72) at Tampa Bay Rays (96-66)
Two teams that missed the playoffs last year face off in a series where, amazingly, the Rays are the “Goliath” in a David vs. Goliath matchup. The Rangers are in the playoffs for the first time since 1999, have only one playoff win in their franchise’s history, and have never appeared in a League Championship Series, let alone a World Series. Meanwhile, the Rays won the pennant just two years ago with more or less the same roster that they have now, and finished this year with the best record in the AL.
With the MLB All-Star Game come and gone, it’s time for John S and Tim to look back at their pre-season (well, more like 5 days into the season) predictions and see where they stand now. Here’s John S looking back on what he got right and what he got dead wrong.
What I Got Right
We should start in the AL West, where I made probably my best call in picking Texas to beat LA for the division title. As I expected, the Angels have taken a big step backwards—they are only three games above .500, and their run differential is -24. A lot of that is due to a rough patch the team hit shortly after the devastating injury to Kendry Morales, but a lot of it also has to do with a mediocre rotation. Joe Saunders and Scott Kazmir, the two veterans of the staff, have turned in lousy seasons, and the team is 11th in the AL in runs allowed.
Meanwhile, Texas has been even better than I anticipated. They have the biggest divisional lead of any first place team in the majors, and their run differential is better than every non-AL East team in baseball. And the only glaring weakness of the Rangers—the lack of a real ace—was addressed by trading a package centered on Justin Smoak for Cliff Lee. The Rangers won’t be able to resign Lee, but he makes them a legitimate pennant contender this year. Continue reading
Now that Tim has started breaking down the archaic, stuck-in-the-19th century National League, it’s time for John S to focus on the American League, where our lineups actually go nine-deep and pitchers aren’t forced to pretend to know how to hit. As Tim did, we’ll being in the West.
The AL West is the most wide-open division in the American League, and probably in all of baseball this year. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim won the division easily last year, as we’ve become accustomed to: They’ve won it five of the last six years. But the Angels lost their ace, John Lackey, their leadoff hitter, Chone Figgins, and their slugger, Vlad Guerrero, to free agency, and only really replaced Guerrero (by adding World Series MVP Hideki Matsui). Add in the fact that Guerrero and Figgins went to division rivals, and that every other team in the division made a significant addition to their rotation, and the Angels seem particularly vulnerable this year. Continue reading
Tim and I have each spent time challenging the uses and abuses of the English language. Josh, for his part, has highlighted words the make him cringe. It’s not unfair to say that we are sticklers for linguistic precision here at NPI.
So it is with this in mind that I take umbrage with the overuse of the phrase “must-win” in sports parlance. When the Yankees lost Game 1 of the World Series, people started calling the next game a “must-win” for New York. Except that it wasn’t. “Must” means that something has to happen, from the sheer force of necessity. The Yankees were down one game in a best-of-seven; they didn’t need to do anything. Continue reading