BASN At Bat – With Tee- Mack
By Anthony McClean, Editor- in – Chief, Emeritus
NEW HAVEN, CT (BASN/BASN NEWSROOM): After another brutal winter, it’s time to make all of our readers (and myself) feel a little bit warmer. Yes, I know that Final Four is just around the corner as well as the NBA and NHL playoffs.
And even the NFL Draft is coming up later this month in Chicago. However, today we will try to get you ready for the upcoming baseball season with our annual MLB preview.
Every year around this time, we ask 10 burning questions that can shape and serve as a guide to prepare you for another season of Major League Baseball. We’ll try to inform and enlighten you on the game heading into Sunday’s Opening Night at the “new” Wrigley Field.
Today, we start with the National League.
1. Can the Giants avoid the good season/bad season cycle that has plagued them over the years?
Even before OF Hunter Pence got injured in spring training (broken arm), the defections of All-Star 3B Pablo Sandoval to Boston and key sub Michael Morse to Miami made one think that Bruce Bochy’s squad would have a tough chance at repeating. You can’t completely discount a team with a rotation that includes Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson, and Tim Lincecum, though. However, hen you look at how the Dodgers and Padres have retooled during the off-season, you get the feeling that it will definitely be at worst a three-horse race in the West. If San Fran doesn’t repeat, be prepared to call it the “Curse of the Panda Bear”.
2. Does the Zach Wheeler injury kill any chances for the Mets to make the postseason?
Losing another young arm to the dreaded Tommy John surgery is never a good thing. But given the pitching depth this team appears to have (i.e., Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Bartolo Colon, Jonathon Niese, Dillon Gee) in the starting rotation, it may not be as huge of a blow for this season. The real key to seeing postseason baseball in Flushing this year will be the offense. After finishing 22nd overall in the majors last year (8th in the NL), management brought in the fences — again — at pitcher-friendly Citi Field. Ex-Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long and veteran OF Michael Cuddyer were brought in as well to spark things. But will it be enough? Met fans should see some improvement, but the playoffs may still be a year away.
3. How seriously should the rest of the NL Central take the Cubs?
Entering last season, the Cubs had seven of the top 50 minor league prospects in all of baseball. Two of them (OF Jorge Soler and 2B Javier Baez) made impressive MLB debuts in 2014, and a third (3B Kris Bryant) was the talk of the spring in Arizona before he was sent to AAA. Adding LHP John Lester (free agent) as well as All-Star C Miguel Montero (trade) to the mix has added a clear air of optimism in Chi Town. New manager Joe Maddon has already seen Theo Epstein spend more money in one off-season than Tampa Bay did during his entire tenure. Now they must jell and find a way to bust up the perennial postseason two-step in St. Louis and Pittsburgh. Trust this, the rest of the division sees you and hears you loud and clear.
4. Now that Matt Kemp has been banished to San Diego, how much pressure is on Yasiel Puig?
L.A. made a huge statement by trading Kemp (to San Diego), 2B Dee Gordon (to Miami), and letting SS Henley Ramirez walk (free agent to Boston). While the local and national media continue to try underestimate the youngster’s gifts, the Dodgers’ moves spoke volumes as to how they feel about his future. Now it’s up to Ol’ No. 66 to put together that breakout season and leave no doubts. Don’t be surprised if newly acquired SS Jimmy Rollins serves as a mentor for Puig while also giving Don Mattingly’s crew an attitude adjustment en route to another expected run at the World Series.
5. Who could emerge with a Royals-like run at the pennant and or World Series?
While the hype surrounding the Cubs has many thinking they can make a “worst to first” run, don’t be surprised if a real playoff run can come from the NL East by way of South Beach. Yes, we’ve seen this story before with the Marlins just a few years back when their shiny new ballpark opened. Injuries and bad press (and even worst baseball) led to another “going out of business” sale by Jeffery Loria. Why should we think anything different about this team? Inking homegrown stars Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich to long-term deals as well as interesting acquisitions (i.e., INF-OF Martin Prado, RHPs Mat Latos and Dan Haren, and the aforementioned Gordon and Morse) may be a sign that maybe the fire sale days in Miami are a thing of the past.
6. Is the window of World Series opportunities slowly closing for the Nationals?
They’ve clearly been the best and most talented team in the NL East — despite a dismal 2013 — the last three years. However, they haven’t been able to get out of their own way in the postseason. Adding Cy Young Award winner Matt Scherzer to an already strong starting staff (an MLB-leading 3.03 team ERA) just makes them even more of a favorite to take another division crown. But can they get the pair of gorillas off their collective backs and win a playoff series? When you also realize that four of their key members (SS Ian Desmond, RHPs Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann, and OF Denard Span) are in their walk years, 2015 has the look and feel of a George Allen “The Future is Now” scenario.
7. Who has the better outfield — Padres or Marlins?
The contrasts between these two groups are very staggering. One is a fantasy leaguer’s dream, the other has been a homegrown production. One has been together for the last two seasons, the other are still introducing themselves to each other. When the Padres bum-rushed the Winter Meetings by acquiring the aforementioned Kemp, Justin Upton, and Wil Myers, it turned San Diego into instant contenders in the NL West. The aforementioned Stanton and Yelich to go along with a very underrated Marcell Ozuna have been making a name for themselves — albeit somewhat anonymously — in Miami the last two seasons. One man’s opinion — Padres get the hype, but the Marlins are a tad bit better.
8. Which NL manager needs to win this year to save his job?
We already mentioned the desperation in D.C. regarding the Nats and Matt Williams heading into the season. Ironically, we mentioned Williams as being somewhat on the hot seat last year at this time as well. However given his tenuous relationship with management and the high expectations in L.A., Don Mattingly — entering his fifth season — may be looking at a win or else season in Dodgerland. Also, don’t be surprised if Terry Collins gets shown the door in New York if the Metsies get off to a slow start.
9. Are the Braves slowly becoming one of MLB’s whitest team?
Jason Heyward — gone. Justin Upton — gone. Justin’s brother — so disliked by the fans and press that he went back to calling himself Melvin. Yes they may add former Met OF Eric Young Jr. to the mix (as a possible replacement for the outfielder formerly known as B.J.), but slowly the Braves are becoming reflective of what many MLB rosters will look like heading into Opening Day. The key factor facing the Atlanta nine is their pending move from racially diverse Fulton County to predominantly white Cobb County in 2017. It’s a sobering thing to see from the franchise that gave us Ralph Garr, Ron Gant, Dusty Baker, Dave Justice, and a fair to middling player by the name of Henry Louis Aaron.
10. If you had one baseball game to win and your life depended on it who would you choose — Clayton Kershaw or Madison Bumgarner?
They’ve been among the best pitchers in all of baseball, not just the National League over the last three seasons. While Mad Bum’s career postseason performances have put him with some of the all-time greats (7-3 with a 2.14 ERA in 14 starts), Kershaw has struggled mightily (1-5 with a 5.12 ERA in eight starts). Now I could just cop out and say I’d take Bob Gibson and be done with it. But I posed the question, so I’ll give an answer. Kershaw has been an absolute beast during the regular season as his pair of Cy Young Awards will attest to. Ironically, Bumgarner has always been overshadowed by Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelson, and Tim Lincecum most of his career. Last year’s Fall Classic may have given him some separation with his San Francisco brethren. At the end of the day, I’d lean toward big fella from Carolina.