2013 MLB Post-Season Predictions

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, All Star Game, Award Winners, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

You can see my 2013 MLB predicted standings in full here. Below are the division winners and wild card entrants.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

AL EAST: Rays

AL CENTRAL: Tigers

AL WEST: Rangers

AL WILD CARD: Blue Jays

AL WILD CARD: Mariners

AL WILD CARD GAME: Mariners over Blue Jays

ALDS 1: Tigers over Mariners

ALDS 2: Rays over Rangers

ALCS: Rays over Tigers

NATIONAL LEAGUE

NL EAST: Nationals

NL CENTRAL: Reds

NL WEST: Diamondbacks

NL WILD CARD: Braves

NL WILD CARD: Giants

NL WILD CARD GAME: Giants over Braves

NLDS 1: Giants over Nationals

NLDS 2: Reds over Diamondbacks

NLCS: Reds over Giants

WORLD SERIES: REDS OVER RAYS

In depth information packed in over 400 pages on all 30 teams with players’ height, weight, where they were drafted, age, contract status and how they were acquired is immediately available in my new book. In addition there is analysis of front offices, managers, starting rotations, bullpens, lineups, benches, fantasy picks, breakout candidates, trade candidates, predictions and essays on such diverse subjects as the Astros’ teardown and why it’s bad for baseball; Jeffrey Loria; the Yankees’ $189 million payroll; the pending free agency of Robinson Cano; Torii Hunter’s comments about the possibility of a gay teammate; Tim Lincecum, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and anything else you can think of is available in my new book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide now available on Amazon, BN, Lulu, Smashwords and more outlets coming soon.

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ESPN Is To Blame For Rob Parker

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Rob Parker is a symptom, not the disease. In spite of ESPN’s decision to suspend him for his absurd comments about Robert Griffin III, Parker’s presence or absence from the network is not going to cure the malady that infects any sports fan who has no choice but to use ESPN because it has such a wide-ranging hand in every sport.

Is Parker to blame for pushing the envelope with comments that were designed to provoke? Isn’t that the ESPN mandate? To get people to pay attention to them not with legitimate sports news and analysis, but by doing the equivalent of screaming “FIRE” in a crowded theater with impunity? So entwined with every aspect of sports, there’s no escaping ESPN. This makes Parker and his inept ilk in their employ all the more galling. They get away with this silliness, so why couldn’t they get away with deciding not to partake in this fire-stoking, and chose to provide quality and substance instead of resorting to antics like a bad Madonna outfit?

Parker maintains the inexplicable combination of knowing nothing about sports and writing in an amateurish, clumsy fashion. Yet he’s employed by ESPN and treated as one of their “signature” voices with a prominent platform. It’s just easier to find a stable of Rob Parkers than it is to find people who will be able to express themselves in a manner befitting such a pulpit.

Of course Parker’s responsible for what he says, but those claiming he should be fired for his offensive and borderline incoherent statements are missing the point of the entire Parker package: Why is he employed by ESPN in the first place? How can it be that the self-proclaimed “worldwide leader in sports” is so incapable of hiring talented, intelligent, knowledgeable people who can draw an audience without having the content secondary to numbers they’re able to accumulate through cheap tactics.

ESPN need only look at the foundation of today’s NFL to understand the narrow difference between “look at me!!!” to accrue a brief burst of activity like staring at a train crash, and attracting a consistent viewer/readership.

The late Hall of Fame NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle was a public relations man and knew how to create a business that would provide thrills and watchable sports action without turning it into a circularly ridiculous entity doomed to fail. Tex Schramm was also in publicity (in fact, he hired Rozelle with the Rams) and knew that in order to succeed, he also had to sell. With the Cowboys, that’s what he did: he sold an image. Tom Landry was the football guru; Gil Brandt the personnel “genius”; the Cowboys, with their space-age uniforms, unique style implemented by the religious, stoic Landry and moniker of “America’s Team” wouldn’t have gone anywhere if the product wasn’t high quality. In addition to creating an image and making money, the team won, so Schramm wasn’t tricking anyone with trash. There’s a fine line between sale and scam and ESPN crossed that line long ago. Whether or not they’re aware of it is the important question.

ESPN could learn the separation between entertainment and rubbernecking by examining how the NFL became what it is today in large part because of Schramm and Rozelle.

Rather than emulate the NFL, ESPN has chosen to copy the doomed Vince McMahon project the XFL in which pro wrestling announcers were shoved into a “professional” football broadcast booth and Jesse “The Body” Ventura (then Governor of Minnesota) tried to start a pro wrestling style feud with Rusty Tillman, one of the head coaches who wanted to coach football and not undertake a starring role in McMahon’s carnival. It didn’t work. There has to be something to cling to for the fans to stay and watch. Like McMahon’s main moneymaking venture, the WWE, you know what it is when watching it and if the viewer chooses to suspend disbelief and become invested in the canned nature of professional wrestling, it’s a wink-and-a-nod contract made with the show itself. There’s something dirtier about ESPN when they’re hiring the likes of Parker and encouraging these types of comments, then hanging Parker out to dry when the comments are deemed as “offensive.”

The difference between what Schramm and Rozelle built in the NFL is that if you pull back the curtain behind all the hype, there’s substance for the old-school football fan to still watch the game if they’re not interested in the sideshow. Is that the case with ESPN? Do they have anything substantive—from their intentions to their implementation—left? What is their long-term purpose apart from ratings, webhits, and the higher advertising rates that come along with it?

For every quality person ESPN has working for them, there are ten who shouldn’t be allowed to write a personal blog, let along have a forum on ESPN. Parker is one of those people. The only time people care about what he says is when he says what he said yesterday; they’re certainly not going to him for sports insight because he doesn’t have any, nor does he have the skills to present his non-existent knowledge in an engaging way. If he was able to do that, he’d be due a certain begrudging credit for being able to write. But he can’t, so there’s no reason whatsoever for him to be there.

Firing him will placate the masses who are calling for his dismissal as if it would accomplish something, but Parker isn’t the problem. ESPN is. If they fire Parker, they’ll simply replace him with someone else. I’d say whomever it is that replaces Parker couldn’t possibly be worse, but this is ESPN and if any company has the skills and history of discovering the newest-latest in lowest common denominator, it’s them.

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It’s Not 1998 And The Yankees Are Not 46-10

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Did  the Yankees start the season 46-10 and I missed it?

I must’ve because the tone of the Yankee-centric media and fanbase implies that they’re still in the midst of a dynasty that ended 12 years ago.

Or maybe I didn’t miss anything. Maybe there’s such an overtone of arrogance that surrounds the Yankees’ organization in general and extends to everyone within some semblance of its orbit that they think they’re the world champions even when they’re not the world champions.

It never ends. If you watch the YES Network, listen to Mike Francesa or Michael Kay and have any ability to sift through the propaganda and see reality, you’ve sensed it too.

Here’s reality: the Yankees are not 46-10. They’re a mediocre 31-25 with an aging starting lineup, a shaky bullpen and a starting rotation that has found itself dependent on a returning hero who had retired after the 2010 season. This idea that the Mets are going to enter Yankee Stadium starstruck and spend the entire 3 game series at Yankee Stadium gazing longingly at the pinstripes and wishing that they were plying their trade across town rather than in Queens feeds into the monster that has created this lie.

During his team report on WFAN, Sweeny Murti was talking to Francesa about Nationals’ rookie sensation Bryce Harper. He related a story from spring training when the Yankees were playing the Nats and Harper was watching the Yankees take batting practice with an intensity that bordered on hypnotized. Apparently one of Harper’s favorite players is Mickey Mantle, which makes perfect sense for a 19-year-old to idolize someone who hadn’t played since 1969 and has been dead since 1995. That same someone who is the poster child for misplaced idolatry engaged in by the likes of Francesa in spite of being the epitome of a once-in-a-lifetime talent who threw much of that talent away with drinking and carousing.

Suffice it to say I would not want Harper to emulate Mantle.

Harper was so engrossed and googly eyed at the sight of the Yankees (according to Murti) that Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo went over to Harper, pulled him aside and (again, according to Murti) said something to the tune of, “Look, we know you’re gonna be with the Yankees when you become a free agent, but for now you’re a Nat. Watch them from the dugout.”

Really?

Is that what happened?

Is this hyperbole on the part of Murti or did Rizzo actually say that to his prize prospect?

Either way, it’s ridiculous. The days of the Yankees getting every free agent they want ended with the new collective bargaining agreement and the conscious decision not to spend so much money on players of other teams. That the players themselves might have a say in the matter is irrelevant to the blind Yankees supporters, but Cliff Lee decidedly said no to the Yankees and signed with the Phillies because he preferred a team other than the Yankees.

It does happen.

Trust me when I tell you that if Harper is everything he’s hyped to be, the Nationals are not going to let him smell free agency and will lock him up long-term. In fact, they might try to do it in the next year or two to make sure they have him until he’s at least 30.

It’s this type of thinking that led to the appellation of the word “tragedy” on Mariano Rivera’s season-ending knee injury.

Tragedy?

Anyone who thinks it’s a tragedy should consider themselves lucky that they’ve never experienced such an actual tragedy that a baseball player’s injury is judged as such.

YES’s website still doesn’t have any information on the injuries to Manny Banuelos or Jose Campos. They never mentioned Brian Cashman’s off-field issues with his stalker and are loathe to discuss the nightmarish trade that netted them Michael Pineda and Campos.

YES is no more of a “sports news” network than a paid televangelist channel or something Kevin Trudeau would come up with. It’s not designed to disseminate sports information in a bipartisan way. It’s there to promote the Yankees. Any “reporter” who works for the network in any fashion knows that and tailors their work accordingly. They’re not reporters, they’re PR people wearing a press pass.

General support for the team a network focuses on is completely understandable—even expected. But with the Yankees, it’s turned into a general sycophancy that requires this fantasy of superiority even where one doesn’t exist.

The Yankees mandate is World Series or bust. That has extended to the spoiled rotten fanbase that throws a self-indulgent tantrum when things don’t go the way they’re “supposed” to go. It’s systemic and disturbing. With that mandate, it’s indelibly connected to their success or failure and by that metric, they’ve only been successful in one season since 2000. How can that be called success? And how can it be called success when the team has made the playoffs every single year but one and gotten bounced each time except in 2009? How can that be called success when they spend $200 million a season on payroll while most teams spend half of that and less? Shouldn’t their financial might beget more than one title in 11 years?

The adjustment of the expectations are stark. Before, when they were winning every year, it was because they’re the Yankees. Now that they’re more likely to lose in the playoffs than win, the concept of the playoffs is at fault and—as Moneyball stated as an excuse for Billy Beane’s clubs losing every year—it’s a crapshoot.

If you want to see a crapshoot, check out the draft.

Yankees’ apologists have said such ludicrous idiocies as “the Yankees do most of their draft damage in the 20th round and beyond”.

Damage?

What damage?

Any player taken past the 10th round who makes it is a product of late blooming, an alteration in their game or pure luck. But because in 1990 they drafted a skinny infielder named Jorge Posada in the 24th round and a lanky lefty named Andy Pettitte in the 20th round, it was Yankees’ foresight and mystique.

If it’s damage, it’s retrospective damage on what they became, otherwise known as serendipity.

I hate to break it to you, but two picks in the 20th and 24th rounds doesn’t imply design. Since it happened 22 years ago, it doesn’t have any connection to the Yankees draft in 2012 nor their drafts from 1991-2011.

What you have is a clinging to the myth of the Yankees being superior to other organizations based on history, but that history has nothing to do with now. They’re a contender with holes. They have the money and prospects to fill those holes, but as of right now they’ll have to fight their way into the playoffs.

Alex Rodriguez is aging and has to cheat (not in the PED sense) to be able to catch up to a good power fastball—sometimes he does, most of the time he doesn’t. They’re reliant on Pettitte, grasping for a way to patch together their bullpen with the absences of Rivera, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and navigate mangaer Joe Girardi’s still odd and questionable pitching decisions.

In short, this isn’t 1998. The Yankees are not dominating anyone and there’s no reason for an opposing team to walk in and stare at their array of stars as if they’re beaten before the games start. They’re 31-25. That’s their record. That’s what they are. Those are facts. You can accept them or you can tune into YES and WFAN.

It all depends on your concept of truth.

The dynasty is over whether you like it or not; whether you believe it or not. And no amount of denial is going to bring it back.

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Santana’s Return and Enthusiasm

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During his Cy Young Award years with the Twins, Johan Santana was so good because he had an exploding fastball that reached 95-96 mph; a changeup with the exact same arm speed as his fastball; and a hard slider.

It wasn’t simply the differences in velocity and movement of the pitches, but that his delivery was identical and the eye levels of the hitters were so varied from high to low to low and inside or outside that they couldn’t risk guessing on what he was throwing but didn’t have much of a choice because by the time they waited to read the seams and react, they had to commit to swinging or the ball was by them.

The fastball seemed faster because of that changeup. The slider moved sharply in a downward, horizontal direction. The changeup looked like a fastball when he released it with a similar rotation, but wasn’t moving and dove into the dirt at the hitting zone.

Then if you add his control into the mix, you have a pitcher who won two Cy Young Awards for the Twins and finished in the top seven of the voting three other times.

Now, after surgery to repair his shoulder capsule, what do you have?

You have a pitcher who has created excitement with his first appearance in a big league game since September of 2010 and whose velocity (registered in some circles at around 87, others as high as 92) is stoking overenthusiasm for Mets’ fans.

That excitement needs to be tamped down.

Immediately.

That type of surgery doesn’t lend itself to a full return to a pitcher’s former self. There are going to be days in which he feels good and is able to hit 93-94 mph on the radar gun, but the hop on a fastball isn’t predicated on velocity alone. It has to do with his extension at release and how the ball jumps from his hand.

That’s gone forever and was only rarely seen in Santana’s time with the Mets even in 2008 when he finished 3rd in the NL Cy Young Award voting.

He hasn’t thrown his slider much at all as a Met.

It’s a show-me pitch now and when he throws it, it’s not the diving, darting pitch that looked like a fastball until the last second.

The changeup will be his salvation to be effective and while he’s not going to reduce himself to the lengths of tricking hitters and using savvy as Jamie Moyer has, nor is he going to get away with mistakes because of pure stuff.

If it’s easier for a hitter to guess on what Santana is throwing and easier to adjust if they guess wrong, it’s easier to hit him hard.

That was the key to his greatness with the Twins: the hitters couldn’t guess without paying the price.

Johan Santana can still be a good pitcher, but after a serious shoulder injury, expecting him to revert to what he was six or even four years ago is delusional.

In a multitude of ways, the hitters will tell you that that Santana is not the same—the most glaring of which will be in their reactions to the pitches that are no longer what they once were.

Just like Johan Santana.

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The Pirates, Andrew McCutchen and the Crocodile Arm Snap

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With the Pirates, there’s always been a reluctance to believe that they’re doing something smart without doing something foolish immediately thereafter.

It’s like feeding a crocodile—arm extended, cringing, hoping that the only thing taken is the food and not the arm up to the elbow.

In retrospect the Pirates maneuvers of perpetual housecleanings and bargain basement payrolls didn’t turn out as badly as they looked upon their completion. Jason Bay, Xavier Nady, Damaso Marte, Nyjer Morgan, Nate McLouthAdam LaRoche, Jack Wilson, Octavio Dotel and Freddy Sanchez were all dealt away in recent years. Most didn’t perform up to expectations with their new clubs and the Pirates got some usable pieces for them after savage critiques in their immediate aftermath.

The deals may not have worked out as hoped for the Pirates and they probably could’ve gotten more for than they did for some of the above-listed players, but apart from Bay, most were total disappointments in their new venues in one way or another.

Of course there are the things like non-tendering Matt Capps and declining the option on Paul Maholm, but potholes of idiocy will continue to exist no matter how desperately they’re patched over.

From those trades, they have James McDonald, Jose Tabata, Jeff Karstens and a couple of minor leaguers that might eventually be of use.

Now the Pirates have signed star center fielder Andrew McCutchen to a 6-year, $51.5 million contract to buy out his arbitration years and first two seasons of free agency—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story.

After the Pirates had implied that they’d be willing to listen to offers on McCutchen, the crocodile-cringe became more pronounced.

“Uh oh, the Pirates are about to do something stupid.”

The entire “we’ll listen on anyone including McCutchen” rhetoric was like something out of The Onion. “You can call and we’ll listen. Then we’ll laugh and tell you to take a hike.”

The “stupid” was ever-present, but for now it’s gone.

McCutchen is a foundational star at a hard-to-fill position and only getting better at age 25. He’s exactly the type of player a club either spends their money to keep or gives up the majority of their farm system to get.

With him onboard, the Pirates are turning their attention to signing Pittsburgh native and second baseman Neil Walker to a contract extension.

With the young stars in the fold for the long-term; Clint Hurdle—a manager who doesn’t take crap or “we’re the Pirates” as an excuse for losing; and an improved farm system, the Pirates are capable—you’re reading it here first—of a .500 season in 2012 and finishing as high as third place in their division.

Keeping McCutchen is a great decision and indicative that the Pirates’ front office is no longer content to be the big league talent mill for the bullies and are looking to follow the lead of clubs like the Rays who develop and try to win simultaneously.

The Pirates have an advantage the Rays don’t: a beautiful, fan friendly ballpark.

Believe it or not, the Pirates are on the way to getting much, much better.

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The Mets, Rush Limbaugh and Non-Communicable Disease

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You’ll notice that the advertisers that are running from Rush Limbaugh like he has a communicable disease have mostly “suspended” their advertising on his show. As of right now the only one that I’ve found to use the word “terminate” has been Legalzoom.

Why do people advertise on Limbaugh’s show to begin with?

Because he has ratings and his listeners are people who will purchase the products being sold by the advertisers.

It’s about demographics, sales and business.

Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke were idiotic, but he apologized. Now, the apology isn’t good enough to stop the firestorm; the inundation on his advertisers has gotten worse because rather than quell the outpouring, it’s been seen as a sign of weakness for a wounded animal that he even apologized to begin with. So they’re going for more.

Proflowers.com also ceased advertising yesterday.

Because Limbaugh has never been one to apologize and the wording was sort of a non-apology apology in the vein of, “I’m sorry if I offended anyone who can’t take a joke and isn’t smart enough to know that it’s satire,” it’s not good enough and has exponentially increased the pressure being placed on his advertisters.

It leads to the question of why he even bothered to apologize to begin with.

Similar to the Dick Cheney decision to support gay rights, it doesn’t matter what someone like Cheney or Limbaugh says, their opponents are going to seize on it and use it to their advantage anyway.

Cheney supports gay rights…but it’s only because his daughter is a lesbian.

He’s not a supporter for the “correct” reasons; the organic reasons; for reasons of support because it’s the way things “ought” to be, therefore it doesn’t count toward the advancing of the cause.

I think we all know that if Cheney’s daughter wasn’t a lesbian that there’s no possible way he’d be in support of gay rights, but what’s the difference? Just accept the help from Cheney; accept the apology from Limbaugh and move on.

Or don’t.

But don’t act like there’s some underlying cause to support your position.

What does this have to do with the Mets and the revelation that Ike Davis has Valley Fever?

The Mets found an abnormality during Davis’s pre-spring training physical and sent him back to New York for tests; they discovered that he probably has Valley Fever and are taking steps to keep him healthy and on the field.

If you read this Mayo Clinic description of the disease, it doesn’t sound all that serious and isn’t expected to affect Davis’s play. The one thing that’s said is that Davis needs to avoid extreme fatigue.

Baseball position players don’t exactly exert themselves to the degree that they’ll be “extremely fatigued”. None other than John Kruk once uttered the famous line (and wrote a book of the same name), “I ain’t an athlete, I’m a baseball player.”

The disease is contracted in Arizona where Davis makes his off-season home; the Mets performed their due diligence and are following the advice of the medical community…and are still the subject of ridicule for something they had nothing to do with and are dealing with in the proper manner.

It gets to the point where the Mets might as well say, “Screw everyone, this is what we’re doing and if you don’t like it, too bad.”

But it won’t stop.

Because it’s a convenient and simple story to attack the Mets for anything and everything they do whether it’s considered “right” or “wrong”.

In the end, they might as well just go about their business and ignore the critics. It’s all based on agenda and there’s no possible way to win when there’s no exit from the maze.

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From Here to October

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The following headline in today’s NY Times is an example why people hate the Yankees and Phillies.

Early Whiff of October for Yankees and Phillies

The story itself implies that only a moron wouldn’t want a matchup of the Yankees and Phillies.

Nick Swisher said:

“This is exactly the World Series that everyone wants to see.”

It is?

This is a drastic misinterpretation of “wants” on the part of fans.

Are there segments of fans that “want” to see the matchup between the Phillies and Yankees?

I suppose there are…in the fanbases of the Phillies and Yankees.

But more people want to see a repeat of the stories that took place last season:

Alex Rodriguez striking out to end the ALDS and looking inept while doing it as he couldn’t catch up to a Jose Valverde fastball.

The high powered Phillies getting bounced in the first round and ending the game in a symbolic fashion in terms of their broken season with Ryan Howard not only grounding out as the tying run at the plate, but tearing his Achilles tendon doing it and being left writhing on the ground while the Cardinals celebrate in a dead silent Citizens Bank Park.

The Red Sox imploding and collapsing their way out of the playoffs with subsequent bickering, departures, unforeseen hirings and ongoing madness.

The Rays’ borderline miraculous comeback and series of dramatic homers; the Cardinals catching the Braves and taking out the Phillies, Brewers and Rangers when they were heavy underdogs in each series—all are part of why we watch baseball.

It’s the first day of spring training and already we’re hearing about the superiority of the Yankees and Phillies. Never mind the reality that both teams are far more flawed and questionable than the aforementioned Red Sox and Phillies were a year ago when the implication was that the season didn’t need to be played at all and they were automatically guaranteed of spots in the World Series to determine which powerhouse would rule the world. (And I’m guilty of that too.)

We don’t know what’s going to happen and what the people “want” has little to do with what we’ll see from here to October.

The headline was absurd and the text therein was, amazingly, worse.

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Jason Bay Was a Big Time Power Hitter…

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“Listen, I’ve found something else.”

The above quote is from Keith Hernandez’s book If At First about the 1985 season with the Mets. Hernandez’s dad was his main hitting coach from childhood and during a horrific slump, was trying to help his son regain the swing that made him one of the premier hitters in baseball.

Studying old tapes while Hernandez was with the Cardinals, his dad saw that Hernandez had gradually opened his stance until it was too open; also, he wasn’t seeing the full uniform number on his back from the centerfield camera as his son prepared to swing.

Hernandez didn’t buy it. It was “automatic”. He simply knew where to place his foot when he stepped into the box. He knew how far to turn and other small details of his swing.

He knew.

But his dad was right.

Shortly after making the adjustments with his stance, hands and hip turn in July of 1985, Hernandez went on a tear batting .392 in July with a 1.122 OPS and won Player of the Month.

Veteran players who’ve had success, in general, have a series of checkpoints that they adhere to. There’s not much for a hitting coach to tell them because they’ve usually figured it out for themselves.

But sometimes the hitter needs a coach to tell him what he sees and intervene if it’s not working. If imperceptible alterations have been made without the hitter realizing it, they have to be nipped before becoming ingrained.

In this Sports Illustrated article about Jason Bay, Mets hitting coach Dave Hudgens looked at Bay’s swing, stance and approach while he was with the Red Sox in 2008-2009 and noticed the differences between then and what Bay’s done in his two years with the Mets.

It’s amazing how quickly a great hitter like Hernandez or one that’s been a top power producer like Bay loses confidence and listens to everyone and tries everything.

Bay made the changes Hudgens suggested in September of 2011 and started hitting.

It was only one month, but he had a .313/.392/.563 slash line with 3 homers and 7 doubles. That’s the hitter the Mets thought they were getting.

Those who were savaging Bay as a disaster because of his injuries and poor performance with the Mets used silly arguments to “prove” their assertions.

“It’s because of Citi Field.”

The Pirates’ home of PNC Park is about as tough a hitter’s park as Citi Field and Bay was fine while playing there. As a Met, he’s hit much better at home in Citi Field than he has on the road.

“It’s because he’s a Met.”

What one thing has to do with another is beyond me and it might be because there’s no evidence—other than lame jokes—that signing with the Mets has anything to do with an established All-Star player’s decline. Are the Mets worse than the Pirates were while Bay was there? No.

Sometimes the reason for a fall is obvious. When a player is doing something differently from what worked and is failing, obviously he needs to go back to what he did before. But he has to have someone point it out and he has to listen.

Will Bay again become the player he was with the Pirates? With the Red Sox? Will he stay healthy?

Or will we have a repeat of his first two seasons with the Mets?

There’s no answer until the games start, but a good indicator of a player’s future performance is his past performance and for Bay—someone who was never accused of using any PEDs—to have suddenly “lost” it at age 31 is ludicrous.

Hernandez went back to what he did before and it worked. Bay’s doing the same thing.

Will it work?

Look at the back of the card at his numbers before he joined the Mets. For those seven seasons, he was a top power hitter; for two, he’s been a disaster.

I’ll take the seven over the two and believe that he’s going to hit because that’s what he did before.

It’s not all that hard to figure out.

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National League Fantasy Sleepers

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Let’s look at some fantasy sleepers in the National League.

Mike Minor, LHP—Atlanta Braves

He got a lot of grief for what was perceived to be a “play me or trade me” demand that he start the season in the big leagues in the Braves’ starting rotation.

It wasn’t that kind of demand at all, but that’s how it was taken.

Putting that aside, with Tim Hudson recovering from back surgery Minor is going to have to start the season in the big leagues. He’ll want to get off to a good start to stake his claim in the rotation and validate his assertion that he belongs.

He racks up the strikeouts, hits hits/innings pitched ratio is great and he doesn’t allow a lot of home runs or walks.

John Mayberry Jr., OF/1B—Philadelphia Phillies

Mayberry has never gotten the chance to play regularly from the start of the season onward, but will in 2012.

With Ryan Howard’s return date increasingly uncertain after the procedure to clean up the infection in his surgical wound, there’s even more reason to pick up Mayberry. The Phillies’ situation in left field is in flux and he’ll also play some first base.

He has 25-30 homer potential.

Chase Utley, 2B—Philadelphia Phillies

Looking at his basic stats, it appears as if he’s on the decline due to age and injury.

It’s nonsense.

Utley has hit in notoriously bad luck in the past two seasons. His BAbip was .288 in 2010, .269 in 2011. He stole 14 bases without getting caught after returning from his knee injury. His power numbers were right in line with what he normally produces.

Utley’s going to have a big comeback year.

Chris Coghlan, INF/OF—Miami Marlins

He may have worn out his welcome with the newly star-studded Marlins, as injuries and bickering with the front office have diminished the former NL Rookie of the Year to a forgotten man.

The Marlins don’t have a prototypical centerfielder on the roster (they’re intent on going with Emilio Bonifacio), Coghlan can play the position defensively and his bat can rebound. He’ll get one last shot with the Marlins; otherwise he’s trade bait and is worth the risk in the hopes of a return to what he once was.

Frank Francisco, RHP—New York Mets

He’s not a great closer, but he strikes out over a batter an inning. If you need someone to get you some saves and don’t want to pay for them, he’s going to be cheap.

These are the Mets and fantasy mirrors reality.

Or reality mirrors fantasy.

Or both reflect a nightmare. Or circumstances.

Or all of the above.

Jonathan Lucroy, C—Milwaukee Brewers

Lucroy has a career minor league OPS of .838 and an OBP of .379. He’s hit 20 homers in a season in the minors and hit 12 in the big leagues last season.

He’ll be cheap and there’s major room for improvement.

Alex Presley, OF—Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates’ outfield situation flanking Andrew McCutchen isn’t set. Presley can run and had an .804 OPS in 231 plate appearances in the big leagues last season.

Jeff Samardzija, RHP—Chicago Cubs

The Cubs are going to trade Carlos Marmol at some point and someone—either Samardzija or Kerry Wood—will have to take over as closer. It makes no sense to use Wood at this stage of his career.

Samardzija overcame his control issues for the most part and struck out 87 in 88 innings last season.

Bud Norris, RHP—Houston Astros

Norris isn’t going to win many games for the Astros, but he strikes out close to a batter per inning and has had excellent hits/innings pitched ratios at every level.

David Hernandez, RHP—Arizona Diamondbacks

I don’t trust J.J. Putz to stay healthy and Hernandez saved 11 games in Putz’s absence last season.

Hernandez struck out 77 in 69 innings and allowed 49 hits.

Cory Luebke, LHP—San Diego Padres

Luebke struck out 154 in 139 innings last season and allowed 105 hits.

He began 2011 in the bullpen, but moved to the starting rotation in the second half. He’ll be a full-time starter in 2012.

Jerry Sands, OF—Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers circumstances in left and right field aren’t settled. Juan Rivera is slated to start in left and Andre Ethier is a free agent at the end of the season and is a good bet to be traded.

Sands has posted huge power numbers in the minors—stats—and has the speed to steal 15-20 bases.

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Baseball Will Adapt to Playoff Expansion

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When the devastation of the 1994 strike and subsequent canceling of the World Series is discussed, the main topics are usually the Expos’ demise; the Yankees’ interrupted return to glory; Matt Williams’s run at Roger Maris; and Tony Gwynn’s shot at hitting .400.

That the Texas Rangers were in first place with a record of 52-62 is rarely mentioned.

So what would’ve happened had those Rangers made the playoffs with a record under .500?

It’s easy to say, “Oh, they’d have gotten swept in the first round by the Yankees.”

But would they have?

The Rangers of 1994 had Kevin Brown and Kenny Rogers in their starting rotation; they had Tom Henke as their closer; and they could bash.

Is it so farfetched to think they could’ve bounced the Yankees?

In addition to the other division leaders—the Yankees and White Sox—there were eight teams in the American League alone with better records than the Rangers when the strike hit.

Eight.

Would it be absurd to think that those Rangers would’ve made the playoffs with a record of 77-85, entered with house money thinking they had nothing to lose and gotten a hot pitcher like Brown—who happened to be unhittable when he was on—and rode their lineup and closer to a title that would’ve been seen as a large black spot on baseball’s system had it happened?

You don’t think it was possible?

It’s happened before.

The 1973 Mets and 1987 Twins were two clubs that shouldn’t have been in the playoffs if they’re judged on their regular season records. The Mets had a hellacious starting rotation and upset the Big Red Machine Cincinnati Reds in the then-best of 5 NLCS; the Twins had won 29 games on the road all season, knocked out the high-powered Tigers in the best of 7 ALCS and won the World Series by winning all of their games at home against the Cardinals.

At the time, home field advantage in the World Series was rotated. If the Twins had won the pennant in an even numbered year, they might not have won the championship.

It was circumstance. Or luck. Or design. Or all of the above.

Drastic changes to the game’s foundational rules have long been lamented as ruinous. The shift in strategy of inside baseball to the reliance on the home run; the outlawing of the spitball; expansion to the West Coast; the lowering of the mound; the draft; divisional play; the DH; free agency; the Wild Card; deep statistical analysis; drug allowance and drug testing—I can go on and on.

But the game survived and thrived.

It adapted.

You can be a purist and point out all the things that might’ve been better had certain new rules not been enacted, but it’s hindsight and one small alteration in the fabric of time sets in motion a million other possibilities.

I have no issue with 10 teams out of 30 having a chance to win a World Series after 162 games. Teams that win their divisions will have a far better chance in doing so than the four Wild Card teams that are going to be playing one game to get to the dance.

One game.

Anything can happen in one game.

Anything.

For every really good team that missed out on the playoffs under the old rules—the 1993 Giants and 1980 Orioles come immediately to mind—there are teams that weren’t very good and made the playoffs because of the Wild Card or that they were in a weak division.

Is it fair? Should they have been left on the outside looking in because they happened to be trapped in a division with a team that wound up with a better record than they did? Should they have been excluded because they won their division with 82 wins?

Maybe they should. But maybe they shouldn’t.

Yes, there will be teams that play for third place, get into the playoffs and eventually win the World Series.

But so what?

With the one game playoff, the Wild Card is no longer as easy an avenue as it once was. A one game playoff is not what any team wants to bank their hopes on, so in essence this new configuration will provide more motivation for a team to win their division.

It’s in human nature to adapt.

And baseball will adapt as well.

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