Do You Trust Your Closer?

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Do You Trust Your Closer?

Posted on 30 May 2013 by Jennifer Gosline

Every position in baseball is important. Every pitch. Every catch. Every play. Once the starting pitcher has exhausted, he counts on his relievers to carry some weight for the rest of the game, and then the final touch must be executed with extreme precision by the closer.

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The closers role is glamourous yes, but the amount of pressure that lays upon them is intense. They are there for that final inning. They are responsible for finishing a game that the rest of the team has worked long and hard for. They face the final three batters. Well, hopefully just three. The opposing team’s batters have an extra exuberance for one last chance at taking the lead in a game. They have more adrenaline for the last shot at being the hero. Even though every out in every inning matters, the closers seem to have a heavier job to do.

Not every reliever can handle the pressure and stress of this responsibility. A lot of closers get demoted to the set-up guy if they struggle too often. Some even get sent down to the minors to work on their pitches, or even get released.

Detroit Tigers, Jose Valverde, was mercifully given another opportunity with the team this year. After initially releasing him to free agency, no other team wanted the veteran on the back-end of their bullpen. He then agreed to sign a minor league contract with the Tigers organization, and was eventually called back up and given another chance to prove he deserves his former closing role.

Last season, Tiger’s fans would cringe when Valverde was given the ball in the 9th. They never knew what would happen. But one thing for sure was that he would make it interesting. At times he would pitch a flawless inning. Three up. Three down. But more often, the 9th inning would seem just as long as the first 8 innings combined. As Tiger’s fans would shake their heads in disgust, Valverde would still be trusted by his skipper and continue to pitch the painful, what should have been, final inning.

But he was not always unreliable. In 2011, he amazed baseball fans everywhere for completing 49 saves out of 49 tries, being one of the best closers in the majors. So, how can someone with such a solid record do so much damage in 2012, and lose the faith of most of the fans?

Closing a game is not easy.

The Tigers see something in Valverde that the fans right now, are not. And they decided to give him another chance at becoming the phenomenal pitcher that he has been before. Tiger’s fans, and maybe some of the players themselves, are now on the edge of their seats, waiting to see which type of pitcher Valverde will be this season. He has 4 saves, and has blown one so far in 2013.

There is a weakened bond between the fans and Valverde, but then there are other closers such as Phillies, Jonathan Papelbon, who has the trust of most of the entire crowd to be able to finish games. His career numbers prove his worth with a career ERA of 2.30 and WHIP of 1.01. He has 8 saves so far this season and none blown, but last season he had 4 blown saves which was only one less than Valverde in 2012. But for the fans to have faith in their closer, they want that 1-2-3 final inning. Valverde is not that type of closer. But the difference between a much loved Papelbon and a oh-no-here-he-comes Valverde, is consistency.

Another loved closer is Rangers, Joe Nathan. He has 13 saves already this season and not one blown save yet. He has pitched 17 innings and has 16 strikeouts. Nathan has been highly reliable, finishing last season with 37 saves, an ERA of 2.80 and 78 strikeouts. Much like Papelbon, Nathan is dependable. When he is handed the ball in the 9th, the fans are a little more relaxed. And if he fails, they are more likely to be forgiving. But if a closer gets that reputation for being unpredictable like Valverde, he is likely going to have everyone clenching their jaws until the final out.

Valverde has a chance at gaining back the confidence of the fans. His charismatic off-the-wall personality will help soften hearts, but ultimately it is what he does on the mound that will determine the patience and belief of the crowd.

The fans want their closer to succeed. Not only because they want their team to win, but they want that connection between pitcher and fan. That feeling where they know the team is in good hands, so they can sit back and enjoy the rest of the game. But fans do expect pitchers to mess up sometimes. Every now and again, closers are going to give up hits, runs, or blow a save. That is understandable.

Fans are forgiving as long as they do not have to forgive every single game.

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Kansas City Royals – Contenders Or Pretenders?

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Kansas City Royals – Contenders Or Pretenders?

Posted on 08 May 2013 by Jennifer Gosline

As a baseball fan watching Kansas City suffer for years, I have to wonder if they are actually a good contender this season for the playoffs, or if this is just their 15 minutes of fame.

Kansas-City

There is certainly something for Royals’ fans to get excited about right now. At this point in the year, Kansas City is 17-10, when last season at this time they were only 10-20. A dramatic difference. Pitching, in particular, seems to be carrying most of the team, but their offense is not far behind.

Royal Pitching

Veterans like Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie are having stellar seasons. They have combined for 7 Wins to date, both with having an ERA under 2.50 and WHIP just above 1.00. According to ESPN, while Santana is owned in 97% of fantasy leagues, Guthrie is only owned in 50%. Guthrie brings a commendable work ethic to the team and I think would be a valuable pick-up if he is still available in your league. The right-hander excels at mixing all of his pitches to keep hitters off balance, and he recently threw his first major league shut-out.

The Royals’ starting rotation has been rounded out with the new additions of Wade Davis and James Shields. While Davis is has been struggling since joining Kansas City with a 4.75 ERA, he hopefully can get back down to that 2.43 ERA he finished with in 2012. And Shields may soon become the ace of the team, filling the void that Zack Greinke left. Both Davis and Shields are 2-2 this season.

The Royals’ bullpen has been strengthened with former-starting-pitchers-now-relievers, Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar. Chen has not allowed an earned run yet this year in 5 appearances, and Hochevar has only given up 1 earned run in 7 appearances. Greg Holland is settling in nicely as a solid anchor for the bullpen. He has 7 saves so far this year and only 1 blown.

Royal Batting

Kansas City’s pitching has started off hot, but the fans are still waiting to see the promise the line-up showed during Spring Training this year. There are only three batters with an average above .300 right now, Jarrod Dyson is one of them and he only has 20 plate appearances so far.

The power is not quite there yet from their top hitters. It somehow got lost in the transition between Spring Training and the regular season. If this team can get their bats going and keep the pitching consistent, they can be a force for the entire summer.

Fantasy owners might want to watch players like Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, and Mike Moustakas. They have all been showing signs of improving in their last 15 games, and might just break out of their slumps soon. Moustakas is only 39% owned in fantasy leagues which is obviously due to his struggle at the plate. If he can start making solid contact again, he will prove he deserves a position on your fantasy roster.

Even though the Kansas City line-up is not producing the way they are capable of, they can still be tough to beat in the American League Central. But if history is any indication, this poor team does not have a chance. If someone were to walk into the baseball world right now and not know anything about the Royals’ past, they would never know that they are usually toward the bottom of the AL Central division.

First place Detroit Tigers better take notice that Kansas City is only a half game back. Can they keep this up? Is this just a flash in the pan? If the starting pitching can continue eating up innings, their bullpen will be able to stay fresh for the long season. And if their bats start producing, then I would say that the Royals can shed the pretender branding and will be a contender in 2013.

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It’s All About The Bens

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It’s All About The Bens

Posted on 23 April 2013 by Jennifer Gosline

I have had Tampa Bay Rays, Ben Zobrist, on my fantasy baseball team for the past 3 years. In general, I have not been disappointed.

Ben-Zobrist

I am not sure how I end up with him each year, but it has turned out that way lately. As with every player, there has been times where he is not performing well. But he has helped my team so I cannot complain too much.

I like Zobrist for his versatility. He can be used in the outfield and both of the middle infield positions, which certainly helps when injuries take out other players and guys need to be moved around to accommodate those deemed day-to-day. This season, in 48 plate appearances the switch hitter has a .292 average and 10 RBIs. And judging by the past couple years, he should be swiping some bags pretty soon. He has one stolen base so far this season, and a career total of 82.

He has been known to start off a little shaky in the spring. Last April and May, his average hovered around .200, but he was still driving in runs. He did, however, end the season strong. From August to September of that same year, the number of runs he raked in significantly improved. He had 11 RBIs in August and increased that to 20 for the month of September. He has been consistent with the amount of home runs per month for the entire season, and ended his year with a total of 20. So, the power is there and with crossing the plate 88 times himself in 2012, Zobrist is a worthy overall player to keep on your fantasy team.

Sometimes I wish fantasy baseball gave points for defensive plays too. In case you missed it, Phillies Ben Revere had a spectacular catch in the outfield on Monday. With incredible speed, he went horizontal for a diving over-the-shoulder gem to catch a deep drive off the bat of Reds, Todd Frazier. And if that athleticism he demonstrated was not amazing enough, he jumped to his feet and gunned it to Freddy Galvis, who then tossed it to Ryan Howard to complete the double play. That was some beautiful baseball. He did it all as if it was nothing, simply just another day at the diamond. But those in the Phillies dugout recognized Revere’s super-human performance and applauded. And starting pitcher, Cliff Lee, was left with a stunned expression.

Revere was traded to the Phillies over the off-season, and has settled there nicely in center field. But he has never been much of a power hitter. Last season with the Twins, he had 32 RBIs and never once hit out of the park, but his average was note-worthy at .294. Right now he is only batting .194 with 2 RBIs, but sit back and enjoy his skills in the outfield and brilliant base running hustle. Just be careful with him on your fantasy team if you are looking for power. But if you need stolen bases, he is your guy. He snagged a total of 40 bases last season, and already has 5 this year so far. The speedy 24 year-old is exciting to watch, and will quickly become a fan favorite in Philadelphia. He is also known to be a genuine down-to-earth guy, which of course does not do anything for fantasy stats, but it is always nice to hear.

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Read At Your Own Risk

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Read At Your Own Risk

Posted on 08 April 2013 by Jennifer Gosline

If you are superstitious you need to read this post, but be careful. You must, I repeat, you must blink three times quickly before reading any further.

Phew. Okay, good job.

Foul-line

Oh, the silly superstitions about baseball that only a true fan understands. Ballplayers are notorious for their strange regimens and even fans have them. Managers have been known to not change their underwear when their team is on a winning streak, and I am going to assume that is not because they can not afford it. People go through great lengths because of a superstition, even going as far as construction. There was an article posted recently by Sportressofblogitude.com about a locker being removed in the Atlanta Braves clubhouse because it was cursed. After a long history of misfortune to its users, no one would take a chance on the voodoo seeping from this particular locker. It had to be taken down, and now a computer sits in its place. Fortunately, there are no reports of the computer claiming any victims yet.

There are also smaller rituals players do on the field daily. Notice how some players adjust their batting gloves after each at-bat. Their gloves could not have possibly moved that much. Some tap their bat on each foot before entering the batter’s box, or players will not touch the foul line when entering or exiting the field. Some switch bats if their bat is bringing unwelcome negativity, or they change their uniforms from long pants to tall socks to help get rid of any supernatural powers the long pants might possess.

Some routines stay out of the viewing pleasure of the general public. It says on Aroldis Chapman’s 2013 Topps Calling Card that he watches Soap Operas as part of a superstition, five to seven per day in fact. That is a lot of Soap Operas. It also states that he does not replace his undergarments, but it is unclear whether he washes them or just will not get a new pair.

Justin Verlander always eats Taco Bell the day before he starts. I am not sure if that is a superstition or if he is just that fond of Taco Bell, but in my opinion it is not delicious enough to eat every 5th start. Sorry, Taco Bell. But hey, Verlander is one of the best pitchers in baseball right now, with a 2.64 ERA in 2012, so maybe there is something to those tacos after all.

I am going to go out on a limb and say that female baseball fans everywhere are hoping that Josh Reddick’s beard is for superstitious reasons. He can pull it off though.

Josh-Reddick

The fans get in on superstitions too. Making sure they have the same shirt on if their team is on a winning streak, not drafting a player in fantasy baseball because they will jinx them, or holding their breath during the last out.

So, who is responsible for Yu Darvish destroying a perfect game on the 27th batter he faced last Tuesday? Darvish pitched flawlessly against the Astros, until Marwin Gonzalez, hit a ground ball single straight up the middle that actually went between Darvish’s legs. Gonzalez can ultimately be blamed for doing his job, but I am sure a fan must be kicking themselves right now for standing when they should have stayed seated, or left their hat on when it should have been off. Or was it CSN’s Ray Ratto that jinxed Darvish on Twitter for possibly the worse offense of all? He dared to utter the words “perfect game” before it was completed.

Ray-Ratto

We will never know, but I am sure that Ranger fans are not happy with Ratto and his uh, powerful words.

And is the rosin bag exploding on Pirate AJ Burnett Opening Day a sign of a curse, or will it bring him luck? That day he pitched 5.2 innings and allowed 3 runs, taking a loss to the Cubs. Hmm. Rosin bag juju? On the other hand, he had a significant number of strikeouts. He forced 10 batters to have the walk of shame back to their dugout that day. So perhaps the bag just, in fact, broke with no curse attached? Only time will tell. Last year, he went 16-10 with a 3.51 ERA, and fanned 180. Not bad, but there is no telling whether the ruptured rosin bag will haunt him the rest of this season.

Other sports have superstitions too, but it seems more prevalent on the diamond or else the players and fans are just more obvious about it. It is fascinatingly addicting. If people find themselves inadvertently “helping” their team they simply can not stop once they notice what is going on. It is the fear of the infamous jinx. No one wants to be at fault for not obeying the forces beyond their control. Because it might just work.

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Ah… Predictions, Predictions

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Ah… Predictions, Predictions

Posted on 30 March 2013 by Jennifer Gosline

There is no true off-season in baseball. It is simply some down time to make adjustments to rosters, to reflect on past stats, and make predictions for the future. Baseball is never over in the heart of the fans, and now it is almost time again for the first pitch of the regular season.

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2013 is going to be interesting. Numerous changes have been made to many Major League rosters. Some seemingly revamping their whole team. I think this season, teams that may not have been thought of as strong have made themselves good contenders to snag that division title. And other clubs that are expected to always be the leader, might suffer.

AL East
The Toronto Blue Jays gained a lot of solid veteran players over the off-season making them seem unapproachable for the rest of the AL East. As long as they can handle the pressure and do not burn themselves from the stress, they will be dangerous. They just need to stay focused, and not get swept away by all the talk of high hopes swirling around them. If they can pull this off, the Red Sox, the Rays, and the Orioles will have a hard time keeping up with the Blue Jays this year.

The Yankees… Oh the Yankees… They seem to be on a steady decline with the injuries they are facing. Healthy Yankees have always been a threat, but right now they seem to be scrambling. If they can pass the injury issues, they can once again be capable of making it to the playoffs.

AL Central
The Twins lost both Denard Span and Ben Revere over the off-season which will slow the team down considerably. They both have tremendous hustle and now Minnesota is lacking in that category. They made some much needed upgrades to their pitching, and they do have a little bit of pop in their line up, but I do not think it will be enough to replace the loss of these outfielders. They will likely fall to the retooled Cleveland Indians and the up and down Chicago White Sox. Even the Royals will be a stronger competitor than the Twins, with the improvements they made this season.

I expect the Detroit Tigers to be as impressive as last year. Adding leader and weathered outfielder Torii Hunter to the team will increase the power in their already dominant line up. And if Victor Martinez can stay off the disabled list, they could be unstoppable. And not to mention Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez in their starting rotations. As long as having no dedicated closer does not make this team crumble, I think the Tigers will be in the post-season.

AL West
The Astros will not make a smooth transition over to the American League. They will be a fish out of water this season. Once they get acclimated, they may increase their skills, but for now it will just be a learning period.

The Angels and the Rangers will, as usual, be tough to beat this season. They both have well-rounded teams with some scary defensive talent. The Rangers lost Josh Hamilton to the Angels which might not be that big of a blow, as the rest of the team is capable of picking up the slack. And now the Halos have that added power to their roster. These two teams are comparable.

The Oakland Athletics are a favorite for being the scrappy underdogs, but they will have to rely heavily on their pitching to defend their division crown. Newcomers, Chris Young and John Jaso will not be enough to put fear into their rivals.

The Mariners will once again try to build around their ace Felix Hernandez. However, I feel that they will not be a serious contender for the division title. They might get a little more adrenaline after facing the Astros, but there will not be much change for Seattle this year.

NL East
The Atlanta Braves have a fierce line up with the Upton brothers and Jason Heyward, but I think they might not excel as much as expected. Justin Upton has major potential to win an MVP award in his career and still has yet to show everything he is capable of, but the initial excitement of playing with B.J. Upton might be more of a distraction than a motivator. Eventually, these two will tear up the NL East, maybe even toward the end of this season in a push for the playoffs. But I think they might be too amped in the beginning to reach the standards that everyone is anticipating. The Braves do have some bullpen talent that can rescue them in any inevitable jams. This team will certainly make their name known this year.

I am not sure what the Marlins were doing over the off-season. It seems that most clubs were making improvements and Miami had a different plan. This will not be their year. They may put up a fight… or perhaps a squabble. But I do not think they will make much of a dent in opposing teams. The Mets will surly dominate them with Shaun Marcum in their starting rotation.

Between the Nationals and the Phillies, both teams could give a strong push to the playoffs. Both have offensive depth, but the Nationals will have an edge over the Phillies with their strong pitching rotation. With Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg as starters, the Nationals could take the division title.

NL Central
With young stars like Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, there is reason to be excited about the Chicago Cubs. Having said that, I feel they will not make much of an impact yet in their division, especially competing against Andrew McCutchen and the upstart Pirates.

The Brewers could be a worthy contender for the playoffs if they were not facing the Reds. Milwaukee has some dependable bats, but their pitching is lacking. And the Reds have too much offensive ammunition for the Brewers to tame.

The question is: can the Cardinals take on the Reds? The Cardinals play hard, always come hungry, and seem to excel at the most important times. They are healthy competition for the Reds. Both teams have offensive talent and their pitching matches up fairly evenly.

NL West
The Los Angeles Dodgers are trying to rely too much on big names to carry them through the season. Chemistry is important. Big names are not everything. If these guys can figure out how to work together, they can be merciless to their opposing teams. But everything has to click seamlessly. And I am not sure the Dodgers are quite there yet. They have ample pitching with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, and a powerful offense. They look good on paper, but may need a year to get more settled.

The Arizona Diamondbacks have a proficient pitching rotation with Ian Kennedy and Brandon McCarthy starting. And their bullpen is jam packed with solid relief options. They made many adjustments to their positional players as well, to create a unique team. They were average last season, but this time around they might have the formula to increase their game. Competing against the Colorado Rockies, who are an average team, and the San Diego Padres, who will actually put up a fight this year, the Dbacks have a chance at making their team stand out.

The Giants have kept most of their team intact from last year. The World Series Champions will likely still be a strong competitor in their division, and now they have Tim Lincecum back on the mound which can increase their pitching depth considerably. They will be the team to beat in the NL West.

So what will actually happen this season? Every one has an opinion, but we all know anything can happen in baseball. That is the beauty of the sport. And it is almost time, once again, to play ball.

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