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Pittsburgh Pirates

NLDS Preview: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Pirates & Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Atlanta Braves

Should we even mess around with the narrative? The MLB Playoffs officially began on Tuesday with the first of two single elimination Wild Card play-in games, but starting our MAMBINO previews with those contests can be an exercise in futility. We’ve waited until the Elite Eight were set in order to unleash our full swath of previews onto an unsuspecting, undemanding, unrelenting public.
 
Now that at least the National League picture is settled, let’s take a look, MAMBINO style, on the matchups at hand. If you’ve been delinquent on your baseball watching for the first 162 (or 163) of the season, you’ve come to the right place to catch up. First, the best of five games National League Division Series.
 
Pittsburgh Pirates (Wild Card) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (Central Division champion)
 
Why will the Cardinals prevail in 4?
 
Anything the Pirates do, the Cards can do better. Well, almost.
 
Starting pitching? Pittsburgh will have a fearsome trio in A.J. Burnett (3.30 ERA, 209 Ks in 191 innings), Gerrit Cole (3.22 ERA, 100 Ks in 117 innings) and Wild Card game winner Francisco Liriano (3.02 ERA, 161 Ks in 163 innings). More than fearsome, maybe. Devastating.
 
To counter, St. Louis throws out a probable top-3 Cy Young vote getter in Adam Wainwright (2.94 ERA, 219 Ks in 241 innings) and a probable top-5 Rookie of the Year vote getter in Shelby Miller (3.06 ERA, 169 Ks in 173 innings). They’ll be accompanied by Lance Lynn (3.97 ERA, 198 Ks in 201 innings) and probably rookie Michael Wacha (2.78 ERA, 65 Ks in 64 innings), who merely threw a damn near no-hitter in his last outing. … Read more...

Lima Lumps: A solid start for the LA Dodgers

(Each and every week, we’ll be running two posts: Dodger Digs and Lima Lumps. Aside from out obvious obsession with alliteration, we’ll look at the most good and bad of our beloved Los Angeles Dodgers. Here is Que-Ese’s maiden voyage into the world of the Lumps. Enjoy.)
 
While my esteemed friend and Washington DC-phobic colleague KOBEsh uses this space each week for his insightful and well thought out Dodger Digs, I plan on keeping things punchy and exciting (and mostly based on what I’m seeing with my eyes).
 
Jose Lima, the man who was once sued for spreading a particularly lumpy disease around Houston, was a starting pitcher who carried the Dodgers to a 2004 playoff victory, remarkably their first since the 1988 Kirk Gibson-led World Series team. I am naming this assortment of weekly thoughts in his honor. Though all Dodgers fans at heart hope for a return to World Series glory, we all know at some point no matter how well we are doing, the wheels will probably fall off. It is with that woeful optimism that I present Lima Lumps.… Read more...

NL Central Preview: Reds Ruling the Day

Cincinnati Reds. Open and shut case, right? NL Central Division winners. Preview, done.
 
Not so fast.
 
After years of rebuilding, tinkering and teasing, it seems that the Cincinnati Reds have what it takes to become the class of the National league. The Reds unexpectedly won 91 games in 2010 (leading to a sweep and a no-hitter at the hands of the Phillies in the NLDS) and bouncing back to  97 games in 2012 after a sub-.500 2011 (getting bounced in 5 games to the eventual champion SF Giants), but 2013 is the first year where organization is facing external expectations. Most writers, bloggers and talking heads are calling for an easy Cincy playoff lock. With good reason.
 
The Reds are positively stacked. They may have the NL’s best offense, starting with arguably the league’s best hitter in 1B Joey Votto, and a cast of All-Star-caliber sluggers: 2B Brandon Phillips, OF Jay Bruce, OF Shin-Soo Choo, 3B Todd Frazier and OF Ryan Ludwick. The bullpen might actually be just as strong as the offense, with Aroldis Chapman re-taking his place as closer, and Sean Marshall, Jonathan Broxton and Manny Parra throwing in front of him.
 
The starting rotation begins with ace Johnny Cueto and nominal co-ace Mat Latos, but doesn’t give up much from there. Homer Bailey is a solid 3/4 starter that’s capable of ace-like performances (see his 7 inning, 1-hit, 10 strikeout start in the playoffs), while Mike Leake and Bronson Arroyo are steady options at the back of the rotation. Truly, the Reds don’t have any apparent weaknesses. They should win this division.
 
But as good as they’ll be, I don’t necessarily think they’ll be head and shoulders above the rest of the division, specifically the St. Louis Cardinals.… Read more...

(Not So) Instant Trade Analysis: David Wright, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Russell Martin and BJ Upton

In the midst of the NBA’s multiple storylines right out of the opening gate, the MLB hot stove is burning. In the past 36 hours especially, there’s been a ton of action on the baseball front, so let’s take a MAMBINO-sized shot at examining the various moves with our (not-so) Instant Trade Analysis:

New York Mets get: 3B David Wright

David Wright gets: 7 years, $122 million

As much as people everywhere want to revile David Wright for signing with one of the worst ownership teams in professional sports, the truth is that on his end, the future could look pretty bright for the Mets. It certainly doesn’t start with the bats: the offense is still hugely reliant on big years from Wright and Ike Davis to merely be better than mediocre. Meanwhile, the bullpen still lists Frank Francisco…anywhere, so there’s obviously work to be done. But, the hardest task is seemingly complete–the rotation.  
Examining their 2013 roster, it’s headlined with the 2012 NL Cy Young winner, an aging but effective Johan Santana, young pitching prospects in Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey and Jenrry Meijia, and steady hands in Dillon Gee and Jon Niese. If Harvey and Wheeler emerge this year in a Lincecum/Cain-like tandem, then the Mets could potentially have the…best rotation in the NL East? It’s not crazy. 

For the Mets, there’s obviously two ways to look at this: management needed to show fans (and the team itself) that they weren’t going to completely submerge themselves in a middle-market type of free agent irrelevance. They had to keep their star player at whatever price it took. After all, what type of message would not re-signing a six-time All-Star who just finished in sixth place in the NL MVP voting? 

However, I do have concerns that as Wright reaches his 30’s (this contract will take him until his age 37 season), he’s going to wear at a high pressure, high intensity position at third base and his recent injury history is going to become even more a problem. All of Wright’s advance metrics suggest that he’s just as good as he’s ever been despite hitting for less power than in his early twenties, but he’s still a very good to elite defensive hot cornerman and a 40 doubles, 20 (maybe not 30) homer hitter. 
In regards to the contract, Wright certainly could have gotten more money playing out free agency. Anaheim, LA, the Yankees, Philadelphia and both Chicago clubs could have offered him more money. However, Wright has always proclaimed that he’s wanted to retire as a Met (the fool!), and he obviously saw the team’s future prospects ready to emerge.

The Mets had to make this deal, simply to show everyone that they weren’t turning into the Cleveland Indians. I have little doubt that Wright won’t be earning his money by the time the contract ends, mostly due to the fact that he’ll be playing first base around that time. However, re-signing with the Mets wasn’t an awful decision for his personal future, baseball-wise.

New York Yankees get: SP Andy Pettitte, RP Mariano Rivera

Andy Pettitte gets: 1-year, $12 million (plus $2.5 million in performance bonuses)

Mariano Rivera gets: 1-year, $10 million (plus performance bonuses)

The City of New York gets: A grand total of three active Yankees they’ll never boo

In both guys, there’s a strange dichotomy of knowing exactly what you’ll get, but at the same time having not knowing anything. Rivera is coming off a torn ACL, the first serious injury of his cRead more...

MAMBINO Fantasy Mondays: The Kevin Youkilis Non-Trade Fall-out

In the move that everyone saw coming, the Boston Red Sox finally traded Kevin Youkilis on Sunday. After rumors flew around fast and furious like a CC Sabathia batting practice, GM Ben Cherington shipped his third baseman to the Chicago White Sox for reliever Zach Stewart and utility man and First Team All-MLB Ugly member Brent Lillibridge.

The trade fallout has been discussed all over the internet: the deal has largely been called a great one for the White Sox, who get a former All-Star third baseman to man their MLB-worst hot corner, who hit to a combined .466 OPS. Boston has rookie Wil Middlebrooks handily playing third and mashing, so at this point, an unhappy Youkilis wasn’t doing any favors sulking in the BoSox locker room and creating an uncomfortable situation for everyone. RP Stewart was one of the main pieces Chicago got back in the Colby Rasmus/Edwin Jackson/Marc Rzepcynski deal with the Cardinals and Blue Jays last summer, but has so far not panned out on the South Side. He’ll be sent to Triple-A Pawtucket, while Lillibridge will largely serve in the same utility man capacity when on the White Sox.

The impact that this deal will have on both side is pretty clear: the White Sox get a formerly great hitter to play a position that was absolutely killing them day-to-day. On top of everything else, the Red Sox foot nearly $5.5 million of his salary, so unless Stewart turns into the next coming of Jonathan Papelbon, the White Sox largely gave up nothing for a guy who could potentially help them win the division. For Boston, this clears the way for Middlebrooks, and to a lesser extent DH David Ortiz and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, to play every day, and hopefully Stewart will be able to help a beleaguered Red Sox ‘pen down the line.

What’s more interesting though is how this trade impacts the teams that didn’t quite have enough to acquire Youkilis. According to mlbtraderumors.com, the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Indians, Pirates and Braves were all involved in talks with Boston to some extent. Let’s take a look at how this non-move will affect these teams going down the line.


Los Angeles Dodgers

How badly did they need him? Pretty badly. The Dodgers third base situation has been tenuous from the onset, with offensive millstone Juan Uribe taking his historically bad season right into 2012. Adam Kennedy (.616 OPS), Elian Herrera (.716 OPS) and Ivan DeJesus (.708 OPS) have all taken their shots at the hot corner, with only Jerry Hairston (.821 OPS, .311 average in 36 games with 11 extra base hits) having any success there. However even Hairston, a lifetime utility man, can’t be counted on for production over the long term. LA has no third base prospects in the pipeline, and considering the cheap price the White Sox paid, it’s hard to believe that another game-changing third baseman will come along in a month that could potentially replicate Youkilis’ production (especially, keeping in mind that he’d be going from the AL East to the NL West).

So what do they do now? Jerry Hairston is the answer for the next month or so, but a very expensive (prospect-wise) inter-division trade for Chase Headley could be coming down the line.

Fantasy Spin: If you’re in a deep NL-only league, you’ve already got Jerry Hairston on your roster. I do think Headley is going right out of San Diego’s door in a month, as he won’t be under team control whenever they’re ready to compete. I’d most expect him to head to the Dodgers, but wouldnt’ be surprised if he g… Read more...

Burning Qs for the 2012 MLB Season (Part 2)

The MLB season has partially gotten underway (16 teams have yet to throw a single pitch as of Friday morning), so to prep, we started our world famous internet renowned popular burning questions for 2012. We launched part 1 back on Wednesday, and here are, what we think, the most important questions from now until October.

Are the Rays the best team in the AL East?
BockerKnocker: No, of course not.


But they will give the Yankees and Red Sox fits, possibly all the way through game 162, just like last year. As everybody knows, Tampa’s rotation is one of the best in the bigs. David Price and James (dare I say “Big Game,” KOBEsh?) Shields form one of the best 1-2 punches in the game, but it is the #3 and #4 slots in the rotation that has the folks in Florida beaming. Matt Moore is probably the game’s brightest prospect right now, including The Bryce Harper Experience. Moore struck out 15 in 9+ innings last year and was credited with the Rays’ lone win against Texas in the ALDS. Then again, he struck out 15 in 9+ innings last year. To anoint this guy so quickly is problematic; not only will this be his first big league season, but he will probably be pitching on an innings limit. Following Moore will be an absolute stud in Jeremy Hellickson, who proved that he can win on the big stage last year. Hellickson posted an ERA under 3 in the vaunted American League East on the way to the Rookie of the Year award. Hellickson, however, had an awful spring, allowing an earned run per inning pitched. Veterans are usually able to shake off the effects of a horrendous spring training, but how the young buck deal with it remains to be seen.

Got to get it together, BJ

The pitching will carry the Rays all year. Even if a starter gets injured here and there, the team has some minor-league depth in Wade Davis and Alex Cobb. The problem for the Rays lies with their lineup card. The franchises in New York and Boston will produce hitting clinics all summer, featuring brand names like Cano, Pedroia, Ellsbury, Gonzalez, and Granderson. Tampa struggled to put runs on the board all year, so they did what any bat-starved team would do. They went out and signed Luke Scott, daily golden sombrero candidate and Rays retread Carlos Pena, and Jeff Keppinger. Nice. There are some familiar faces returning in Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist. But even if those guys have the years everyone knows they can have, the team will need breakout seasons from B.J. Upton (seriously, B.J., we’ve been waiting forever for one from you) and Desmond Jennings.

The Toronto Blue Jays have become somewhat of a sexy sleeper pick to make the playoffs with the extended wild-card format. The always dangerous Jose Bautista leads a decent hitting squad, especially at home, but the Jays just don’t have the firepower on the mound to make a significant move in this 3-horse race. The Baltimore Orioles round out the AL East, but they don’t deserve any more than 1 sentence because they lost to a COMMUNITY COLLEGE team on Tuesday.


Are we in any danger of seeing the Orioles, Pirates, Mariners or Royals ending their years-long futility?
KOBEsh: No, don’t be silly Peter Pan. But that doesn’t mean there’s not signs of life.

There’s not a team in that sad bunch of glorified minor league teams that I would guess play for better than third-place in their divisions, and that’s partially because the Mariners play in a four-team division.

Out of the four, the O’s have the greatest opportunity to continue their tradition of absolute abject suckitude. Looking at … Read more...

MLB: Bold and/or Reckless Predictions

MLB Opening Day is the best day of the year. The Fourth of July, Christmas, and the Super Bowl all have nothing on Opening Day. On the first day of the season, every baseball city in America has a legitimate chance to set course on a path towards the World Series (well everyone except those who root for the Cubs). Look at the champions over the last 10 years in the MLB and tell me if you would’ve correctly predicted: St. Louis, San Francisco, NY Yankees, Philly, Boston, St. Louis, Chicago White Sox, Boston, Florida, Anaheim, Arizona. Barring the normal Yankee dominance and a stint in their time as a ‘roided up Red Sox team, all those teams listed were not expected to win the whole thing on the first day of the season.

As a kid, I waited nervously for opening day. I checked spring training box scores and standings each morning in the LA Times. Now, as an adult (albeit a fairly irresponsible one), I feverishly read everything on the Internet about the upcoming summer of lazy days and double plays.
Everyone who knows anything about baseball can tell you the Dodgers are going to be a shitty team this year. We have the worst infield in the League and we still haven’t ensured that Frank McCourt is going to be out of lives forever (seriously, he still owns the parking lot/land in joint venture with Magic). So even though KOBEshigawa went through the trouble of doing a full season preview on the boys in the blue, I don’t see the point in guessing exactly how many players on our starting 9 will be hitting under .250. Instead, I would like to spend my time here with thegreatmambino making reckless predictions about the upcoming season that you will not get anywhere else…
Prediction 1: The Marlins AND the Pirates will WIN a playoff series
The Miami Marlins have been making a name for themselves this offseason. They no longer have to play in their cavernous hole of a stadium, and somehow they landed the craziest manager in baseball. Add that to a lineup that now has speedy (yet fragile) Jose Reyes, a rotation that boasts Josh Johnson (not crazy), Mark Buerhle (kinda redneck crazy), and Carlos Zambrano (batshit crazy), and you have a recipe for dominance. Granted, success in Miami will only come if this witches brew of talent can gel, but with the powerhouses in the East set to have down years (looking at you Braves and Phillies), a hot Ozzie-led squad will eek out a playoff series win this fall.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are finally going to do it this year. I live with a die-hard fan of the losingest team in baseball over the last 25 years and he has assured me that this season is the one! With the expanded playoffs and a Central that no longer has a Pujols or a Prince, the Pirates will finally put it all together and make it into the playoffs as a wild-card team. The playoff series they win… that first game to get into their series with Miami.
Prediction 2: This is the last season without a DH in the NL

The MLB has been run by a bunch of drunks for decades. Each league used to have power beyond anything you can imagine in any other professional sport. So much so that one league plays by entirely different lineup rules. This has been allowed to continue for decades for no apparent reason other than the fact that the AL prefers winning a lot, and the NL has cited tradition/purity in the game. Don’t get me wrong, I hate the DH, but with the new way the MLB has set up the schedule for 2012, the DH has to go. Currently, almost every single baseball league in the world uses a DH (all minor leagues, Japan, Latin leagues etc.).

Teams are soon going to be playing interleagu
Read more...

Trade Analysis: AJ Burnett to the Pittsburgh Pirates

Here on MAMBINO, we like to try and do Instant Trade Analysis posts, as to collect and document the immediate reactions that we have to impactful transactions in both baseball and the NBA. While time always gives us the objectivity to better reflect on any trade, the visceral reaction that we have to player movement as fans is always such a fascinating part of any trading deadline. Also, it gets us a lot of hits.

Yes, we blew it on the A.J. Burnett deal. But my reflections have gone largely unchanged since this was a reported deal on Friday. So here we go:

New York Yankees get: minor league outfielder Exicardo Cayones, and pitcher Diego Moreno

Pittsburgh Pirates get: RHP AJ Burnett, $20 million dollars

Just writing that seems preposterous. One team is paying another team over $20 million dollars (!) just to get rid of a guy. I don’t care if Selena Gomez is in your starting rotation, $20 million to essentially get rid of a player is unbelievable.

Let’s cover the basic reasons why the Yankees would pay such an outrageous price to get rid of Burnett – in short, he sucks. He sucks big time, if you want to be more specific. His notorious career with the Yankees began with a 5-year, $82 million dollar deal in the same winter that the Yankees essentially bought the 2009 title, along with the signings of future 2009 ALCS MVP CC Sabathia and 2009 AL MVP runner-up Mark Teixeria. Burnett went on to a 3-year Yankees career ending with a 34-35 record, starting at least 32 games a season, with an average of 171 strikeouts in 195 innings. That’s where the highlights end, however. He had an ugly 4.79 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and nearly 4 walks per nine innings. He pitched to a 93 on an ERA+ scale, which essentially means he was a below average pitcher in comparison with the other starters in the league. His postseason pitching was even worse than his regular season starts. He threw to a 5.08 ERA with a 1.41 WHIP, 5 walks per nine innings and a 2-2 record. Though he largely pitched well in 4 of his 7 postseason starts, the three games his team lost, he gave up at least 5 runs in 6 innings or less.

As for the deal itself, the Yankees are paying a staggering $20 million dollars of the $33 million still owed to Burnett. The prospects that the Yankees got back would are considered fringe, though with a small amount of upside. The word is that Cayones can hit for average, but nothing more than that. Moreno supposedly can touch the mid to high 90’s on the speed gun, but doesn’t have the control to make much of an impact in the big leagues. Obviously, the prospects weren’t the main motivation for this trade.

Further statistical analysis really isn’t necessary in my mind. After watching a good portion of Burnett’s starts over the past 3 years, anyone would be able to tell you that this guy wasn’t cut out to be the number 2 or 3 starter in the Yankees (or anyone’s, really) rotation. Though he’s always had the talent and the raw power to be one of the best starters in the game (he threw a no-hitter in Florida almost a decade ago), his lack of competitive fire, emotional stability and infuriating inconsistency led to the Yankees finding almost any way they could to drop him from the roster. It wasn’t so much that the money was a problem, or that he was something less than a mediocre starting MLB pitcher – it was that the fear of needing to depend on him for any game of consequence was not a risk New York management was willing to take. Last postseason, the chatter in the New York media, as well as amongst Yankees fans, before Burnett̵… Read more...