March 2014

Matt’s Bats Scouting Report – New York Mets

od_white_2014 Opening Day is TODAY! The Mets are hosting the Nationals in our first NL East match-up of 2014. Let’s take a little look at the Mets team and see what they have going well, what is going wrong, and what the Nats need to do to win this series.  Here’s the MattsBats.com Opening Day Scouting Report for Nationals @ Mets.

 

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What’s Going Well – Overall, the Mets had an okay Spring Training, with a 14-16 record in the Grapefruit League.  They start regular season play with a decent infield formed by familiar faces like David Wright, Ruben Tejada, Daniel Murphy, and Ike Davis/Lucas Duda. It will be interesting to see how new Met Curtis Granderson adjusts to playing for the other New York team.  Granderson only bat .157 this spring, but he hit 3 homers, which is alot for spring training.

I talked to Mets fan and kid blogger Niko Goutakolis, who writes Pepper: a MLB Blog.  Niko thinks the Mets got stronger from last year by adding Granderson, Chris Young and Jose Valverde.  He also reminds us to “look out for Daniel Murphy. He’s a constant 300 hitter, and is a true veteran.”

What’s Going Wrong – Pitching. With Matt Harvey out recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Mets’ starting pitching rotation looks pretty weak this year.  The only pitcher in Mets history to throw a no-hitter, Johan Santana, will now be wearing an Orioles uniform.  The Mets starting rotation is Gee, Colon, Wheeler, Niese, and Mejia.  No really ace on the staff.  Niko sees it differently, saying “I expect an amazing season from [Zack] Wheeler and hope that we can get a couple starts from [Matt] Harvey in September if we are in the hunt.”  I think there is little chance that the Mets will be in the playoff hunt, and even Niko expects them to finish at just about .500.  I think Matt Harvey should take all the time he needs and maybe rehab in some minor league games if he is able to later this season.

What do the Nats Need to do to Win?  Post better numbers against Dillon Gee, the Mets’ Opening Day starter.  The Nationals hit .228 off Gee with a .300 On Base Percentage last year. That is not very good. Bryce Harper, however, hit .375 off Gee last year, while some of the veterans, like Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond posted only .174 and .219 averages, respectively.  To even things up, the Mets hit only .200 off Strasburg, .186 off Gio, and .251 off Zimmermann last year.  Pitching is the Nationals’ strength, especially when you compare the Nats bullpen to the Mets relievers.

ENJOY OPENING DAY!  And let’s get ready to PLAY BALL and: 

#UpsetTheMets

UpsetTheMets

(I know what you are thinking, but it means to “Make the Mets Upset”)

50 Things I Love About Opening Day + Post-Season Predictions

od_white_2014Baseball fans have been eagerly awaiting the start of the baseball season. Opening Day is Monday, and my favorite team, the Nationals, will play the Mets at Citi Field. Stephen Strasburg will get the start against Dillon Gee.

To celebrate Opening Day, here are my 50 favorite things (not in any order) about the start of the baseball season. Keep reading, because at the end I make my season predictions.

1. Um, baseball begins!!!
2. The beginning of MASN HD broadcasts so I can watch real, live games, not Nats Classics
3. The family DVR will stop recording all my parents’ shows
4. Lots of new food options to try at Nationals Park
5. The sounds of baseball
6. It looks like Wilson Ramos, Bryce Harper, Danny Espinosa and Stephen Strasburg are all no longer hurt
7. The high pop fly getting lost in the starry night of DC
8. Listening to DC Washington (who has a pretty awesome name) sing the Star Spangled Banner
9. Hopefully going to Blogger Day this year
10. Welcoming Fister, McLouth, Lobaton, Frandsen, Barrett, Blevins to the team
11. Waving your caps for the troops in the 3rd inning
12. Quick Pitch is on MLB Network. It is my main score source for games I can’t stay up to watch
13. 6-4-3 doubleplays!
14. Scoring the games
15. Inside Pitches
16. Vamos El Bufalo!
17. Kids Run The Bases
18. Starting up the rivalry with the Atlanta Braves again
19. I am traveling to see the Nats on the road in three ballparks this year
20. Now that I’m older I get to stay up later to watch more of the night games
21. We’re season ticket holders again!
22. Playing in an easy Division
23. Playing “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light Em Up)” by Fall Out Boy instead of “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC to start the game
24. I can’t wait to see what they do at TheNationalsArchive.com this year
25. Sometimes missing school for games
26. Pups in the Park is always fun to watch on TV (or maybe actually to go to)
27. Seven bobbleheads to collect this year
28. Lots of new things to write about on MattsBats.com (sometimes it’s very hard thinking of topics for posts during the offseason)
29. Seeing how instant replay actually works
30. We play the Mets on Opening Day and for the first series, so we should start the season with a sweep
31. Spring and summer officially begin
32. We actually play games that count
33. Proving that the Nationals have the best rotation in the MLB
34. Seeing Ryan Zimmerman play some games at first base
35. Reading articles by Adam Kilgore, James Wagner, Mark Zuckerman, and Bill Ladson
36. “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack”
37. Bob and FP on TV, and Charlie and Dave on the radio
38. Ryan will hit homers to Zim-bomb-we
39. More posts and podcasts from my favorites like Nationals101, Red Porch Report, The Nats Blog and Citizens of Natstown
40. The Nationals outfield spells “WSH” (Werth-Span-Harper)
41. Talk of the season: Will the Nats return to the Postseason?
42. Lots and lots of cheering Nats fans at each game
43. The only time I can bug my parents for a soda and actually get it
44. I might get my 1,000th Twitter follower
45. Nats Dogs
46. The possibility of MLB announcing the 2017 All-Star Game is coming to DC
47. Analyzing stats
48. Getting the chance to meet more Matt’s Bats readers and Twitter followers at “tweet-ups”
49. Baseball almost every day until at least September and hopefully October
50. Charlie Slowes saying, “Bang! Zoom! Go the fireworks! Another Curly W is in the books!”

What are your favorite things about the start of the baseball season? Leave a comment or tweet me at @MattsBats.

If you have been following my blog, you know that I already published my division previews last week. If you missed them, check out these links:
AL West
NL West
AL Central
NL Central
AL East
NL East

So are you ready for my Wild Card, Postseason, and World Series predictions?
Here are my picks for October:

AL:
West– Texas Rangers
Central– Detroit Tigers
East– Boston Red Sox
WC1– New York Yankees
WC2– Oakland A’s
*But the Tampa Bay Rays are contenders too!
Pennant– Detroit Tigers

NL:
West– Los Angeles Dodgers
Central– St. Louis Cardinals
East– Washington Nationals
WC1– Atlanta Braves
WC2– Cincinnati Reds
Pennant– Washington Nationals

World Series: Who I have in the World Series is a rematch of the teams in Saturday’s exhibition game at Nationals Park—the Detroit Tigers versus the Washington Nationals. This World Series would feature some of the best hitters in the league (Miguel Cabrera vs. Bryce Harper) and the best pitching rotations in baseball (Verlander/Scherzer/Sanchez/Porcello vs. Strasburg/Gonzalez/Zimmermann/Fister). But the team who has the advantage is willing to take their first title back to their city since 1924, the Nationals! It will, however, be very close.

My prediction: Nationals beat Tigers in 7 games

2014 Preview- NL East

2013 Preview- NL EastFINALLY!  This is the last piece of my 2014 MLB Division Previews.  Just in time!  OPENING DAY is 2 DAYS AWAY!  Before looking at my favorite MLB Division, take a look back at the other posts I wrote if you missed any of them:

A few years ago, the NL East was the most competitive division in all of baseball. Now, not so much.  And even though they’re my favorite team, I’m not picking the Nationals to win the Division just because of that fact.  The Division is a lot weaker than it once was and even may be one of the weaker divisions in all of baseball.  The only competition in the Division comes down to the Nats and the Braves.  Let’s take a look at the teams.

The NL East is home to teams representing the US Presidents, the Big Apple, an ugly fish statue, the Liberty Bell, battery throwers, Waffle House, and waffle throwers.  Here’s my run-down.

#5. Miami Marlins

Miami is not expected to be very good at baseball, after trading away most of their star players to Toronto and Los Angeles.  But with NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez and a healthier Giancarlo Stanton leading the squad, Marlins fans should feel a little more comfortable with the year.  I referred to the Marlins last year as the Triple-A Miami Marlins, but now that the fish have some support, I take that back. They have some talent in the pipeline too.  People were saying a lot of the bad things after the huge 2013 offseason trades, but the Marlins will start getting better and better each year.  One thing I am really looking forward to is seeing the Nationals take on the Marlins at the Fishbowl (Marlins Park) in April.  We have awesome seats, and 10 tickets for me and all my cousins cost about the same as just 2 of the best seats at Nationals Park!

#4. New York Mets

The Mets lost Matt Harvey to Tommy John surgery, and if they hadn’t, I would have picked the Mets to be in 3rd. Bartolo Colon will fill Harvey’s spot. They added a premiere outfielder in Curtis Granderson, but lost Johan Santana to the Orioles.  The Mets have some good spots, like Lucas Duda.  The Mets, though, just aren’t a wonderful team.  Hopefully that means the Nationals get on the board with some Curly Ws in the Opening Series in Flushing.

#3. Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies start the season on the road, in inter-league play, Deep In The Heart Of Northern Texas against the Rangers.  Roy Halladay retires this season, so he will not be playing for the Phils.  But he did sign a one-day contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, the team he started his career with.  Will he be the Opening Day starter for the Blue Jays?  I think it is just ceremonial.  Anyway, the thing about the Phillies is that their team is just old.  They have 9 players who are 34 years old or older.  The Phillies have lots of players everyone knows, like Chase Utley, Jonathan Papelbon, Cole Hamels, A.J. Burnett, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins, but they are all past their peaks.  I don’t think this is a team that will contend.

#2. Atlanta Braves

The Braves are the Nationals biggest foes, and my prediction is that the Braves will again give Washington a hard time this year.  However, two of their starting pitchers, Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, are out for the season to have Tommy Johns surgery.   They lost Tim Hudson to the SF Giants in free agency, so that makes Julio Teheran their Opening Day starter.  They just signed Ervin Santana out of the need for a starting pitcher.  They also lost Brian McCann to the Yanks, making Evan Gattis their new starting catcher.  The other big news for the Braves from this winter is that they signed most of their young players like Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons to long contracts. If they were healthy, this is a very, very hard team to beat.  Even so, they have lots of very tough players to face, like the best reliever in baseball, Craig Kimbrel.  I am predicting the Braves to be tough, but not hard enough that the Nationals don’t make another postseason appearance.  I am predicting Atlanta gets a Wild Card spot.

#1. Washington Nationals

The Nats will be challenged by the Braves but they will manage to win the Division if the keep up where they left off in September last year. New manager Matt Williams will help provide more aggressiveness in their game. Stephen Strasburg tops a rotation of starting pitchers that some say is the best in all of baseball.  That includes Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, and another to be named soon.  The infield features Gold Glove winners at almost every position: Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche.  I am hoping for a healthy season for slugger Wilson Ramos behind the plate, which will give the Nats the power of his bat, which they have not had for a full season.  The outfield features Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth, and the #SPANNING talents of Denard Span.  The Nationals also have absolutely one of the best bullpens, highlighted by Ross Detwiler, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen.  Without jinxing anything (I am trying to type this with my fingers crossed), there is really no question that Washington will make it to the post-season, possibly to the World Series, if everyone stays healthy.

ENJOY YOUR 2014 MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL SEASON EVERYONE! 

Leave your comments below or tweet me on Twitter @MattsBats!

2014 Season Preview- AL East

2013 Preview- AL EastBefore starting, take a look at some of my other MLB Division previews that I have written over the past week or two.

Today, we are looking at the American League East, which spans two countries and where teams play in a ballpark that is fairly new– the Rogers Centre (formerly known as the SkyDome) which became the Toronto Blue Jays’ home in 1993–and Fenway Park, which has held Boston Red Sox fans for over 100 years.  We will be talking about their neighbors along the East Coast in Baltimore, New York, and Tampa Bay.

Last year I predicted Boston in 3rd place and I said that Toronto would top the Division. Wow, you could say I was just a little off in my predictions!  Toronto actually ended up in last and Boston ended up winning the World Series.  This year I am predicting:

#5. Toronto Blue Jays

The only team based outside of the continental 48 is in Toronto, and even though they look like a good team on paper, they are playing like the 2012 Miami Marlins.  So I’ll call the Toronto Blue Jays the Marlins North after the major trade between Miami and Toronto in the 2013 offseason.  That trade migrated most of the tropical Fish to a place not so warm.  Everyone thinks that Jose Bautista is the best player on the squad, even though he lost the #FaceofMLB contest, and the Blue Jays hope they will get their run support from him.  He follows hundreds of thousands of fans on Twitter, but not me, and I actually had to unfollow him because his #FaceofMLB tweeting was so annoying.  Still, they have enough good players like R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, and Jose Reyes that they should be good.  It just hasn’t happened yet.

#4. Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore has a beautiful ballpark, Manny Machado, J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz as highlights. I like the O’s, and they have a good team, but still I do not think at all the O’s will make it all the way this year. I hope they do, because I live close enough to the Charm City that I would love to be able to cheer on a winning O’s team in person.

#3. Tampa Bay Rays

This is a good team led by one of the best managers in the game, Joe Maddon.  The team is highlighted by Rookie of the Year Wil Myers, David Price, and Evan Longoria.  What is this team missing?  A nice ballpark to play in.  Watching a baseball game under the non-retractable domed, air conditioned Tropicana Field might be like watching a game in a shopping mall. Even if the ballpark is no good, the team is.

#2. New York Yankees

It seems like the New York Yankees are always expected to be good.  They have won more championships than any other team: 27 World Series trophies on display in Monument Park. The biggest stories this offseason have been what the Yankees lost.  First, they lost Mariano Rivera to retirement.  They lost Robinson Cano to free agency.  Curtis Granderson moved from the Bronx to Queens.  Alex Rodriguez will be out on a 210-game suspension for the use of PEDs, but at 38 years old, he isn’t even the star he used to be.  And at the end of 2014 they will lose Derek Jeter when he retires.  Still, the Bronx Bombers have the fan base to spend a ton of money, and that’s what they did this offseason.  They spent almost A HALF BILLION DOLLARS on players like Masahiro Tanaka, Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran.  Their roster also include Ichiro Suzuki, Mark Texeira, CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda.  So will the Yankees be good again in 2014?  With a $194 million payroll, I would hope so!

#1. Boston Red Sox

The reigning World Series champs have a lot to show. Why am I picking them for 1st in the AL East? Buchholz, Lackey, Lester, Mujica, Peavy, Uehara, Middlebrooks, Pedroia, Napoli, Gomes, Nava, Sizemore, Victorino, Ortiz.  That’s why.

But like I predicted with the NL Central, this is one of the best Divisions in MLB.  Could the order flip around?  Yes, the Yankees could end up #1 and the Red Sox #2.  Could the Orioles or Rays also contend for a Wild Card spot?  Yep, that’s possible too.  I like the competition in the AL East.  It’s going to be a fun season of baseball to watch!

2014 Season Preview-NL Central

nlcentralonlynonhatsToday, I am publishing Part 4 of the Matts’ Bats 2014 season previews, focusing on the NL Center. Before starting, check out any of the other posts in the series that you might have missed:

Today we are heading to the Midwest US, where Barbeque, Sausages, Pierogies, and Deep-Dish Pizza live. The NL Central is a very tough division, maybe the most competitive in all of Major League Baseball.  St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh all made post-season appearances last year (and the Cards went all the way to the World Series).  The only thing I got wrong in my prediction last year was that I picked Reds as #1 and Cardinals as #2.  My prediction last year was that the Cubs would be at the bottom, followed by Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis. I predicted that the Reds would be the champions for the 2nd year in the row. St. Louis, however, topped the division with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati playing each other in the Wild Card Game.

#5. Chicago Cubs

The only thing the Cubs will be celebrating in 2014 is the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field.   The Cubs haven’t won a World Series in 96 years, and I don’t think this will be their year either.  However, they have an amazing farm system and actually could be contenders in the not too distant future.  The star of the pitching staff is Jeff Samardzija, which Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney are great defenders at 2nd and short.  Jorge Soler is a rising third baseman in the Cubs system.  The most exciting thing I am looking forward to in the Cubs’ 2014 season is visiting The Friendly Confines in June when the Nationals travel to Chicago for their road series.

#4. Milwaukee Brewers

Ryan Braun was lost to the Biogenesis scandal, but is back this year.  The Brewers have a lot of other good players, like Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura, Rickie Weeks, and Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza.  I also like Aramis Ramirez. Whenever the Brew Crew hits a homer, the mascot, Bernie the Brewer, slides down a yellow slide into a mug. It looks hilarious. Also, people tailgate during games in the parking lot.  Going to a Brewers game sounds like a lot of fun.  I am picking them as #4, but only because the other teams in the Division are so good.  I wouldn’t be too surprised if the Brewers actually do better than #4, and in some of the weaker Divisions they could be a contending team.

#3. Pittsburgh Pirates

Like in 2013, I expect a close finish between St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh.  Pittsburgh doesn’t have the finishing piece to a World Series contender: bullpen. Sure, they have Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon, but the middle relievers could be improved. Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez are Pittsburgh’s best hitters.  I am lucky enough to be planning a trip to PNC Park to see the Nationals take on the Pirates.  (I can’t believe I am going to see 2 road games in the NL Central this year!).  As good as the Pirates are, Stephen Strasburg doesn’t care, he just loves facing the Pirates. He has only lost to the Pirates once.

#2. Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati is a very hard word to spell. It is also a very hard team to beat. However, their star reliever, Aroldis Chapman, was hit in the face with a ball of the bat of Mike Moustakas last week and will not be able to start the season.  I am hoping he gets better soon because he is fun to watch.  Even without Chapman, the team’s offense makes up for it.  They lost their leadoff Get On Base guy, Shin-Soo Choo, but have power hitters like Joey Votto and Jay Bruce.  These guys can hit long bombs out of the Great American Ballpark, over the Ohio River, and into Kentucky.

#1. St. Louis Cardinals

Anyone who reads my blog knows that I am a huge Nationals fan, and I really don’t like the Cardinals for what happened in the 9th inning of Game 5 of the 2012 National League Division Series.  So it is very hard for me to say that I think the Cardinals will be in first place.  I mean, they just went all the way to the World Series. They also upgraded their team this year, so they are probably even better than last year. Also, they have a lot of talent in their minors, so will probably continue to be very good for a long time.  The Cardinals acquired SS Jhonny Peralta from Detroit and got rid of their Pete K.  No one in St. Louis really liked him, and I can tell you that no one in Washington really likes him either.  Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal are 2 young pitchers who have potential to be one of the best starters and one of the best closers in baseball in a few years.

This is my prediction, but as I said, the Cardinals, Reds, Pirates are all so good that I think any of them could be #1, and I also think the Brewers have a chance to upset some of these standings too if they pull it together.

2014 Division Preview- American League Central

2013 Preview- AL CentralLast week, I wrote my predictions for the AL West and NL West Divisions.  This week it’s the Central.

Today I am previewing the American League Central division. The teams are the Detroit Tigers, the Chicago White Sox, the Minnesota Twins, the Kansas City Royals, and the Cleveland Indians.

My prediction last year was that Detroit would top the list, with Kansas City following, and then Cleveland in 3rd, Chicago in 4th, and Minnesota in 5th. It turned out, however, I only got the top pick right.  Detroit came in 1st, followed by Cleveland, Kansas City, Minnesota, and Chicago. It came as a surprise to me that Cleveland took one of the postseason Wild Card spots, but lost in the 1-game playoff and did not advance.

Here is what I think is in store for the 2014 season.

#5. Minnesota Twins

Long-time Twin Justin Moreneau moved to the Pirates at the trade deadline and then the Pirates traded him to the Rockies.  So the only really big name player on the team is Joe Mauer, who is kind out of his prime. Nats fans will remember Kurt Suzuki and Josh Willingham, who are now on the Twins.  The Twins also added pitcher Ricky Nolasco.  With some bright spots, the Twins are not expected to shine this year.

#4. Chicago White Sox

Some of the stars of the White Sox are Chris Sale, John Danks and (former Nationals 1B) Adam Dunn.  And don’t forget Paul Konerko, who is playing his last season for the Sox. The South Siders finished last in the Division in 2013, but I am predicting a slightly better finish this year.

#3. Cleveland Indians

I think the Indians’ 2013 season took everyone for surprise.  They finished 2nd in the Division and even nabbedone of the League’s 2 Wild Card Spots.  However, the Tribe lost the game to the Rays in the one-game playoff. Cleveland, backed by ace Justin Masterson, also has a lineup starring Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana.  This is a team that is very capable of winning in real life, even though they don’t have lots of the big names. Michael Brantley and Ryan Raburn posted great averages in 2o13.  They were surprise contenders in 2013, but this year I am picking them as third place.

#2. Kansas City Royals

Although they did not make the postseason, Kansas City proved themselves in 2013 to be a good ballclub. There is little chance they will top the Divison, but I think there is a better chance that they can claim one of the AL’s two Wild Card spots.  (If you want to have a little fun, click on the links on the links in the next sentence).  The Royals are one of the better teams in baseball.  The worst decision of 2013 was Wil Myers to the Rays, who ended up being the Rookie of the Year.  (Here is a link to a short post I wrote in 2012 about the trade for Myers).

#1. Detroit Tigers

My pick for top of the AL Center in 2014 should not come as a surprise.  Of course, I am predicting the Detroit Tigers to once again win the Division and possibly play again in the World Series.  The have a pitching rotation that includes some of the best in baseball, like Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer (AL Cy Young for 2013), and Anibal Sanchez.  They did trade Doug Fister this year to the Nationals in a trade that most of the baseball world just did not understand, and traded Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler.  Also, they have some power bats in the name of Miguel Cabrera, Torii Hunter, Rajai Davis, and Alex Avila. The Tigers lineup might be the best in baseball.

2014 Season Preview: National League West

2013 Preview- NL WestThis is Part 2 in my division-by-division preview of the 2014 MLB season.  Last time we looked at the American League West.  Today is my preview of the National League West Division.  Take a look at what I think is in store for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres, and the San Francisco Giants in 2014.

#5. San Diego Padres

The only thing looking good about San Diego is the weather.  Luckily, I will be visiting San Diego this summer and are going to get tickets to see the Padres play the St. Louis Cardinals. In 2013, I saw San Diego take on San Francisco in SF, and 1B-OF Jesus Guzman started a brawl. I kind of think he is the Brian McCann of the West. Looking at the Padres’ lineup, Chase Headley and Chris Denorfia are some bright spots, as well as new addition Joaquin Benoit.  He was a successful reliever for Detroit.  But overall the Padres do not lo0k good to me this year at all.

#4. Colorado Rockies

The Rockies are going to have a semi-rocky season. How are the Rox going to do in their first season without Todd Helton, who retired at the end of 2013?  My opinion is they won’t be too bad, especially in a hitter’s park.  They have slugger Carlos “Cargo” Gonzalez on the team and one of the best shortstops, Troy “Tulo” Tulowitski.  Everyone loves LaTroy Hawkins, who will be 41 years old this season.  (Read this great ESPN article about the LaTroy Hawkins fan club).   One possible downside: believe it or not, Wilin Rosario is the team’s only catcher.  Rosario has to stay healthy or someone will have to put on the gear, possibly in the middle of a game, if he gets injured.

#3. Arizona Diamondbacks

The biggest loss to the Diamondbacks in the offseason was the Nationals’ biggest gain: Matt Williams.  Williams left his spot at third base coach to become manager of the Nationals.  Still, this offseason, Phoenix’s baseball team added a few key players like Mark Trumbo and Bronson Arroyo.  They also lost players like Adam Eaton and Matt Davidson. Miguel Montero provides quality catching while hitting at a premier level. Newly acquired J.J. Putz and Brad Ziegler make Arizona’s bullpen strong. Paul Goldshmidt was an MVP candidate last year.  That’s a good roster.  Add to it Archie Bradley, a pitching prospect for the club, whois ranked #4 on the MLB.com/prospects list.

#2. San Francisco Giants

The San Francisco Giants are now a baseball household name- they have won 2 of the last 4 World Series played. But we know Giants fans want to add one more title. I know that because I have family in the City By The Bay.  They acquired former Nats fan favorite Michael Morse this offseason.  How much are Giants fans at AT&T Park going to love singing “Take On Me” when he comes up to bat?  They also added former Braves starter Tim Hudson.  Their  pitching is one of the best in baseball because it includes Matt Cain (who threw a perfect game in 2012), Tim Lincecum (who threw a no-hitter last year), Yusmeiro Petit (who almost threw a perfect game last year), Ryan Vogelsong, Madison Bumgarner, Jeremy Affeldt, and Sergio Romo.  Buster Posey, who is one of my favorites, and Pablo Sandoval are known throughout the USA as two of the best major league players in their positions.  The Giants are a very, very good team, but they’re not as stacked as their rivals to the south.

#1. Los Angeles Dodgers

The reigning NL West champs look like they will reach the top of their division again this year.  With a rotation that includes Clayton Kershaw, Zach Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dan Haren, and a #5 who could be either Chad Billingsley, Josh Beckett or Paul Maholm.  Add to that a lineup with stars like Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, and Hanley Ramirez.  Also, closer Kenley Jansen has been compared to Mariano Rivera with his sick cutter, and one of my favorites, former Giant Brian Wilson is on the team.  Fear the Beard!  This will not come as a surprise to anyone, but the Dodgers are one of the best teams in baseball and could make it to the World Series.

2014 Season Preview: American League West

2013 Preview-AL WestLike I did last year, I am giving all you Matt’s Bats readers a preview of all the Major League Baseball teams for the 2014 season, Division by Division.  Last year I started in the East and moved to the West.  This year I’ll be going West to East, starting with the American League West.

Check out my AL West preview from the 2013 season.  Last year I made the controversial prediction that the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim would end the year in an exact tie.  I had the Oakland Athletics coming in behind them, #3.  As it turned out, the A’s took the Division (96-66) and the Rangers were #2 (91-72, including a loss in the Wild Card playoff) and Angels were #3 (78-84).

Today, let’s take a look at the AL West for the 2014 season. So let’s go!

#5. Houston Astros

Let me just put it straight: the Astros are not a very good team. Their only really bright spot is 2nd baseman Jose Altuve, who at 5’4” is one of the smallest players in baseball.  Keep an eye on veteran Chris Carter, as well as prospect Carlos Correa, who was taken first overall in 2012. Pitching-wise,  Lucas Harrell is the most well-known in the Astros’ active roster. For Nationals fans, you might remember Brad Peacock, who made a few starts for the Nats in 2011, who is also one of their starters.  Peacock has never made the 25 man roster out of Spring Training, but I’m hoping he does this season and gets one of the starting five spots.  Don’t forget former Nats third base coach Bo Porter, who is now the manager.  Mark Appel, taken first in the 2013 draft, is hovering around the Single-A system and will probably be in Triple-A by the end of the year.

#4. Seattle Mariners

Seattle extremely upgraded their roster in 2014, adding Robinson Cano, Logan Morrison, and Corey Hart.  They join ace pitcher Felix Hernandez and solid players Kyle Seager, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Justin Smoak.  Hernandez is arguably still the best player on the team, but Cano, the best second baseman in the business, may be the new face of the Mariners franchise.  Michael Saunders fills in RF for the Mariners after losing Ichiro Suzuki in 2012 to New York.  This is a good team with one of the best minor league systems in baseball, so look for them to rise up in coming seasons.

#3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

The Angels look great on paper, with a line-up dominated by All-Stars like Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson.  They are a team that is capable of winning but they just couldn’t get it together as a team last year and ended up with a losing record. Pujols and Hamilton were not as good in 2013 as in earlier years, but Mike Trout was a superstar.  He finished in AL MVP vote.  A prospect in the Angels’ system is Kole Calhoun, who made his debut in 2013 as a slugging outfielder who also has some speed, and was a factor to Anaheim’s 3rd place finish. The Angels’ outfield is stacked with veterans Trout, Hamilton and Raul Ibanez, so he will get minimal playing time.  The Angels come here to DC in April to take on the Nationals, and I will be making a stop at Angels Stadium on July 26 to see them take on the Tigers.

#2. Oakland Athletics

The A’s are my favorite AL team because they have some really good players and great fans, just like my hometown Nationals. Also, Washington and Oakland are best trading partners, with former Nats Fernando Abad, Derek Norris, Tommy Milone, and Billy Burns now on the A’s roster.  (The Nats roster features former A’s Gio Gonzalez, Jerry Blevins, and former Nats catcher Kurt Suzuki).  After trading Brett Anderson to Colorado in exchange for Drew Pomeranz, Oakland doesn’t have an ace pitcher.  But their hitting  and defense makes up for it. Take a look at their outfield: Coco Crisp made some unbelievable catches in the outfield, Yoenis Cespedes is the reigning the Home Run Derby champ, and Josh Reddick has a cannon for an arm that matches Bryce Harper’s and a beard that matches Jayson Werth’s.  Two big losses to the A’s: Michael Choice, who had some solid September hitting, was traded to Texas, and Grant Balfour moved to the Tampa Bay Rays.  Also,do you remember this amazing catch from Josh Donaldson last year, which was one of the best of the year?

#1. Texas Rangers

Check out some of the names on this roster: Prince Fielder, Yu Darvish, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Neftali Feliz, Adrian Beltre, and Jurickson Profar.  Texas is set as one of the most stacked teams in baseball.  Are they a lock for the AL West?  No, because the A’s will give them a run for the title.  In the end, I need to make a pick, and I say that the Rangers win the Division.

Keep reading MattsBats.com this week and next as I continue to analyze the Divisions.  Let me know what you think by adding a comment or tweeting me @MattsBats.

Nationals Are On A Spring Training Streak

cwpfvf30It’s Spring Training, so the scores in the games don’t count, but the Nats are off to a great start.  They’ve won all three of the games they have played.  They are on a “Viera Tear.”

For Spring opening day, the Nats traveled to Port St. Lucie where they beat the Mets 5-4.  Then they hosted Atlanta, won 16-15, in what Ian Desmond called a “dolly whopper.”  Yesterday they hosted the Marlins and beat them 10-3.

Today the Nationals took a bus Tampa across the state to take on Ivan Nova and the Yankees, a potential World Series matchup.

The Nationals have first ups and are expecting a win. I looked at New York’s lineup and I did not know some of the players. The Nationals starting lineup is Span, Espinosa, Moore, Hairston, Lobaton, Skole, Walters, Rhymes, and Perez. I think that the Nats will pull a win off. However, Ivan Nova is also looking very good, striking out the side in the 2nd. Zach Walters fell victim to Nova, breaking his 1.000 batting average with a strikeout.

The Yankees got on the board first with Kelly Johnson hitting a double off Ross Detwiler in the bottom of the second. Then, Zach Walters threw away an easy out on  bad throw and it scored two. Corbin Joseph also just hit an RBI single to make it 4-0 with runners on the corners and no outs.  After striking out Brett Gardner and throwing 35 pitcher, Matt Williams pulled Detwiler.  Derek Jeter grounded out in a double play off AAA reliever Danny Rosenbaum to end the inning.  Hopefully the Nats recover in the later innings.

The third inning is coming up, so I expect most of the starters to be pulled.  Detwiler’s afternoon is over.  Even with the Nats down early, it’s still a great activity to watch the Nationals-Yankees on MLB Network on a snow day.