All posts by Jon Doble

UCB Project: American League West

Each month the United Cardinal Bloggers try to do a network-wide blogging project. For the month of March, our project is to preview the season. So this week at Redbird Dugout and other UCB sites will be preview week. Since I’ve already done the NL Central in a whole series, I’m going to skip that this week as I head around baseball. I’ve already done the AL East and Central, tonight is the AL West.

Last season, despite the Angels’ best attempts to close the gap with their acquisition of Dan Haren, the Texas Rangers were uncatchable. Then, on the arm of Cliff Lee and the bat of Josh Hamilton, the Rangers became the first team since the 2002 Anaheim Angels to make the playoffs while coming out of the American League West.

4. Seattle Mariners (66-96)
It will be little improvement for the Mariners this season. Last year the team’s offense was horrible and they didn’t really make any moves in the offseason to directly address that issue. Their best offensive improvement was the addition of Jack Cust as their designated hitter, but even Cust is coming off a lack luster year. Their defense improved with the addition of former Cardinals’ short stop Brendan Ryan, who was just named the starting short stop this week.

For the Mariners to exceed expectations, they are going to need performance from their starting pitching behind Felix Hernandez, though there are even rumors that the Yankees are making a big play to trade for Hernandez. Erik Bedard will need some return to form behind Hernandez and on the offensive side of the ball, Chone Figgins is going to need to return to the player that the Mariners thought they were getting when they signed him to a big deal.

3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (78-84)
Ultimately the Angels will regress this season. They moved a couple pieces of their 2010 offense and didn’t bring in much to replace them. They did make a trade for the overpaid Vernon Wells. With Wells, and Torii Hunter expected to play corner outfield this season, it could make for a pretty solid defensive outfield. That should help the team’s pitching staff.

That pitching staff is pretty young with Jered Weaver sitting at the top. Each of their starting pitchers is capable of being an ace in the rotation. Their bullpen added Scott Downs, who I heavily wanted the Cardinals to pursue as their primary left handed reliever.

The team should be better off with Kendrys Morales back with the team after his freak injury last season, but I still don’t think they will be able to battle for the division.

2. Oakland Athletics (85-77)
The Athletics boasted the best team ERA in the American League last season by quite a margin. However, they were poor on offense with Kevin Kouzmanoff leading the team with just 16 home runs. However, the A’s addressed that issue in the offseason, bringing in three hitters: Hideki Matsui, David DeJesus, and Josh Willingham. They should help bring some offense to a pitching heavy team and make them one of the best teams in the American League.

Their question will be whether or not their young pitching continues to improve in 2011 or will they regress as the league catches up to them. Personally, I hope not as rotation leader Trevor Cahill is on my fantasy team and with the loss of Wainwright (who I also had), I need all the help I can get.

1. Texas Rangers (86-76)
Yes, that’s right. Only one game apart. That’s mainly because I think it’s a toss up between the two teams. The Athletics’ pitching against the Rangers’ offense. While pitching may win you championships, it’s hitting that gets you there. While the team let Vladimir Guerrero go, they did bring in Mike Napoli and Adrian Beltre to help play offense. Also, Yorvit Torrealba is taking the place of Bengie Molina who took his two postseason shares and seems to be riding off into the sunset.

Unfortunately for the Rangers they were in the headlines for all the wrong reasons this offseason, despite the solid additions. Cliff Lee elected to go play for Philadelphia after helping get the Rangers to the World Series for the first time in franchise history. Replacing him will be difficult. The team signed Brandon Webb, the former Arizona Diamondbacks ace who has spent more time on the disabled list than pitching the last two years. If he can get close to back to form, it will be a big boon for the Rangers who need someone to step up to fill those shoes.

The other reason is for the handling of Michael Young. Young has been the career Texas Ranger and changed position for everyone through the years. He played second while Alex Rodriguez player short stop. He took over short stop when Rodriguez left. Then he played third after the arrival of Elvis Andrus to the major leagues. With the addition of Beltre he was moving to first base, but the addition of Napoli changed that too. He is looking to be the team’s DH and spot starter in the infield. It was a role he wasn’t happy with and he requested a trade. No trade has been made, probably because Young’s salary is prohibitive.

The team will need to sort these out, otherwise they have a solid club that I still like, even without Lee in the rotation. Who will step up in the rotation to help fill the empty shoes and how will Young respond to still playing in Texas in a role he doesn’t want?

Cardinals narrow down roster

With less than 10 days remaining in Spring Training, the Cardinals made a major step towards finalizing the Opening Day roster by cutting 10 players.

Included in that number is Matt Carpenter who, as I expected, was reassigned to minor league camp and is expected to be the Memphis Redbirds’ starting third baseman. It’s also likely that he will be the first to get a call if anything happens with David Freese.

The other players cut are C Tony Cruz, P Brandon Dickson, P John Gast, 1B Mark Hamilton, P Joe Kelly, P Blake King, P Lance Lynn, OF Shane Robinson, and P Raul Valdes. They were reassigned to minor league camp where they will then receive their minor league assignments.

With the moves, it confirms that Daniel Descalso and Tyler Greene will be the backup infielders on the bench, joining Gerald Laird, Jon Jay, and Allen Craig. Also, Kyle McClellan is the only fifth starter candidate left in camp as well, securing his position with the team.

The moves should leave four relievers battling for two spots in the Cardinals’ bullpen. Those would be Bryan Augenstein, Miguel Batista, Eduardo Sanchez, and Fernando Salas.

Salas should have one of the spots in the bullpen as, beyond McClellan, he has been the most impressive pitcher, statistics-wise as he has only allowed one hit in his over 9 innings on the mound.

I expect the final spot to come down between Augenstein and Batista. Both have pitched well in spring training thus far, and each offer something different. Augenstein is younger and is more of a strikeout pitcher with his 9 Ks in 8 innings. Batista is older, but he is more versatile since he is capable of spot-starting if the Cardinals need him to. I’d prefer Augenstein, but I expect Batista to make the club because of that versatility.

UCB Project: American League Central

Each month the United Cardinal Bloggers try to do a network-wide blogging project. For the month of March, our project is to preview the season. So this week at Redbird Dugout and other UCB sites will be preview week. Since I’ve already done the NL Central in a whole series, I will skip that one as I head around baseball. Last night I touched on the AL East and today I will tackle the AL Central.

Last season the Minnesota Twins took the division lead in mid-August and then cruised their way to the title, only to lose to the Yankees in the playoffs. Aagain.

As far as the division has historically gone, there wasn’t much change in that either. For the last few years, the Twins, White Sox, and Tigers have had their time at the top while the Indians and the Royals find themselves as nearly perennial cellar dwellers. But will that change in 2011? We shall see.

5. Kansas City Royals (69-93)
For the Royals, that isn’t likely to change this year. However, the future is looking bright. It was an offseason that saw them deal away their ace pitcher and former Cy Young Award winner Zach Grienke to the Brewers for a haul of prospects. The Royals are very young, with second baseman Mike Aviles as the team’s oldest player and he just turned 30 a week ago.

While they have a glut of prospects in their system getting ready to come up, they aren’t quite ready for prime time this season. Though I do expect them to make some noise, I don’t see them with the pitching staff to contend regularly or even compete to be .500. With Grienke gone, they’ve lost their stopper. They added Jeff Francis to add a veteran voice to the rotation, but Francis is coming off a rough year in Colorado and historically he’s always pitched better in Coors Field than he has anywhere else.

What they need to answer is whether or not their potential success can turn into actual success over the coming seasons. That’s something that the Royals have tried and failed on before, hopefully for Royals fans they will get a shot in the arm in the coming years.

4. Cleveland Indians (76-86)
The Indians didn’t really lose anyone during the offseason, yet added some depth, so they should improve in 2011. That said, they still don’t have a team that is worthy of contending in this division. Grady Sizemore is injured, though coming back early in the season, and entering what is likely his final season in Cleveland. Carlos Santana proved himself to be a capable catcher last season and Shin-Soo Choo could be one of the most underrated players in the major leagues.

In their rotation, they have five solid (if not spectacular) starters. Fausto Carmona has the potential and has shown it, but can he be their ace? That’s always the question with young pitchers. The team does have a solid closer, though, with former Cardinals reliever Chris Perez getting the ninth inning call. So if the Indians do take a lead into the ninth inning, if Perez can repeat his success from last season they should be able to pull out the victory.

Cleveland is still working on their rebuilding, but really not. they have a lot of the pieces they need to contend, but they aren’t complete. I don’t expect them to contend for the division, not with the shape of the other teams ahead of them.

3. Detroit Tigers (87-75)
Detroit made some solid signings in the offseason as they bring in Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit. They also signed Brad Penny who, if he can stay healthy, could be a valuable addition to that starting rotation.

The Tigers are once again a very capable team and could make another playoff run this season. That will require a healthy year from Brad Penny, the successful conversion from reliever to starter for Phil Coke, and Max Scherzer finally reaching his potential. Should that be done, the Tigers will definitely challenge for the division title.

Their question mark will be how Miguel Cabrera responds. After spending the 2009-2010 offseason in rehab for alcohol abuse and staying clean through the 2010 season, Cabrera was cited for suspicion of drunk driving before spring training this year. Can Cabrera hit the Tigers to wins while battling his personal issues? It’s easier for young players, and Cabrera is reaching the point where he isn’t young in baseball years anymore.

2. Chicago White Sox (88-74)
To me, the White Sox and the Tigers are two very comparable teams. They added Adam Dunn in the offseason and his legitimate power threat in the middle of their lineup should definitely boost the offense. With Paul Konerko coming back to play again and if some of their young talent in the lineup continues to improve they can be the division champs.

Their question mark seems to be in the pitching staff. Jake Peavy is back after having shoulder surgery last season. He will need to return as a top half of the rotation starter to help out John Danks and Mark Buerhle. In the bullpen, longtime closer Bobby Jenks is gone and their setup guy, Matt Thornton, will get the chance to be the closer. New signing Jesse Crain is expected to take Thornton’s role. While Thornton put up better numbers than Jenks did last season, can Thornton take the pressure of being the closer? White Sox fans are hoping yes.

1. Minnesota Twins (90-72)
I expect it to be a very close three-team race once again for this season’s AL Central crown. The Twins were depleted in free agency as they lost a total of 7 players to free agency, most of those from the bullpen. Luckily, the major players will be back for the Twins and that is good news. Their rotation remains intact and Justin Morneau‘s return should be a boost for the offense.

I see two major questions for the Twins entering the season. Their bullpen will be juggled around between new signings and young talent. Joe Nathan makes his return after receiving Tommy John surgery last spring. How the players adjust to their new roles on the club will be key for the Twins.

Then you also have the infield defense. Going into 2011, the infield combination has not played very much together. Morneau spent most of last year on the DL after sustaining a concussion, Japanese player Tsuyoshi Nishioka is expected to play second base with Alexi Casilla at short and Danny Valencia at third. How quickly they adjust and learn each other will be important for the team’s early success.

UCB Project: American League East

Each month the United Cardinal Bloggers try to do a network-wide blogging project. For the month of March, our project is to preview the season. So this week will be preview week at Redbird Dugout. Since I’ve already done the NL Central in a whole series, I will skip that one this week. Today I will take a look at the American League East. Then each other division through Thursday and then review and predict the post-season on Friday. So new content every day this week!

In thinking about this division, I thought it’d be pretty easy. While the top-2 are basically expected to be the top-2, the other three teams in the AL East are capable of finishing in any order. So this can be an easily proven to be wrong. Many of the teams in the AL East are trying to play a lot of young players and that can just add to the uncertainty as young players are difficult to predict just how much they will help their team win.

5. Toronto Blue Jays (71-91)
I’ve got the Blue Jays for around 71 wins as they fall to the bottom of the American League East. While the team might be making progress towards a rebuilding efforts, they did absolutely nothing to make their team more competitive now. And actually probably made it less so. With the trade of Vernon Wells to shed salary and sending Shaun Marcum to Milwaukee, the team will definitely lose ground on the numbers they put up last season. Combine that with some young talent getting their chance and their team could be anywhere in the bottom half of this division.

They will once again have a new manager, and the biggest question is whether Jose Bautista can repeat his 54 HR performance of 2010.

4. Baltimore Orioles (76-86)
Baltimore made some moves in the offseason. They brought in several players via trade and spent some money in free agency. They brought in J.J. Hardy from the Twins and Mark Reynolds from the Diamondbacks. They also signed Derrek Lee, Vladimir Guerrero, and Kevin Gregg to help shore out the team. The team experienced a boost when Buck Showalter was named the manager, but usually teams experience a small boost when the manager is replaced and it probably won’t push much into this season.

However, with the new bats in the middle of the lineup, the team is much improved over it’s 66 win counterpart from 2010. Their rotation will be the major question of 2011 with the young arms they have. If their pitchers prove themselves and put up solid seasons I could see the Orioles challenging for second-place in the division. But it will take a lot of luck for that to happen, I think fourth place is a solid finish for them.

3. Tampa Bay Rays (82-80)
Tampa is probably one of the toughest teams in the league to predict because they are always cycling in young talent. Young talent is hard to predict because a star player can come out of nowhere and potential stars can always turn to duds on the big stage. That said, I have a special place in my heart for the Rays because I’ve seen most of their players play at Triple-A Durham regularly.

The Rays saw quite a bit of talent leave town this offseason. Most notably was their closer Rafael Soriano and Carl Crawford, each of which signed as free agents with division rivals. There are many good names on the list of departures. However, there are some really interesting names on the list of those who are coming to Tampa this season. Notably, Manny Ramirez, but also Johnny Damon and Kyle Farnsworth.

If Manny is Manny (the good Manny, not the headache Manny) and Damon can at least recapture some of what he’s been in the past, I think the odds are pretty good that the Rays could outplay this prediction.

2. New York Yankees (90-72)
New York is going to have many issues this season. Andy Pettitte announced his retirement and they missed on Cliff Lee. Their biggest issue in 2010 was their rotation and they were unable to do much of anything to improve it in the offseason, despite adding veterans Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia.

However, they did heavily improve that bullpen with the addition of Rafael Soriano as the primary setup guy and ostensibly, Mariano Rivera‘s replacement-in-waiting. They also added Pedro Feliciano, who was probably one of the best lefty relievers on the market this offseason. The bullpen should not give up many leads, and when you have a big question mark in the pitching rotation

As always the Yankees offense will be jam packed. The Yankees are looking to make the move of Jorge Posada to the full-time DH role this season with the signing of Russell Martin to play catcher for them. It will look like a great deal if he returns to his previous form when he was considered one of the top catchers in baseball.

1. Boston Red Sox (94-68)
The Red Sox are probably the most improved team in the AL East, and maybe even the entire American League. They added Carl Crawford to play the outfield while trading for Adrian Gonzalez to fill the first baseman role. Those additions potentially give Boston the best 1-7 hitters in the majors. The Red Sox finished third and missed the playoffs last season, but that should change this year as their team should rebound from injuries to Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia.

The team also hopes Jarrod Saltalamacchia (yeah, I had to look that spelling up) is capable of being an everyday catcher for them and that he can live up to the promise he showed when he was still with the Braves. They will still have Jason Varitek, while he is not as good as he once was (he’s as good once as he ever was) or so the Red Sox will hope, if he needs to jump into the catcher’s role in a larger role than expected.

The team’s rotation is solid once again as there is no expected changes there. The improvement on the offensive side of the ball should be enough to push them up and over the top of the other teams in their division.

Cardinals Approval Ratings: Introduction

If you’ve been around the United Cardinal Bloggers long enough, I’m sure everyone is aware of the Preseason Approval Ratings that Daniel at C70 at the Bat does during Spring Training. You can find them at the end of several posts or the summary in the sidebar of his page. However, I came up with a way to take it a notch further.

After consulting with Daniel about the idea (because I am basically borrowing the core idea from him), the Cardinals Approval Ratings will appear next week. Basically, I will poll the feelings of whatever Cardinals fans I can get the survey in front of and they will rank their satisfaction with the performance of the player from 0-10. The first will be the calibration to make sure this idea will work and to get a good starting number for each manager or player listed.

This will be something that I repeat in the final week of each month as the season progresses. The end goal will be to track the change in fan perception as the season goes on. Does it remain constant? Does is fluctuate with on field performance? Do recent games impact it more than others?

To me, there are several very interesting things that could be tracked and stated about these. Then each month I will do a wrap-up post where I list the summary of some of the more interesting numbers to emerge from the survey.

The inaugural list, which will probably run from Wednesday of next week until the following Tuesday, will feature Cardinals’ management and most of the players who were in Spring Training. At the bottom it will also have some survey questions that might be part of a future post at Redbird Dugout in the future. I thought it would be an interesting addition to a post to not only be able to mention my feelings, but the general feelings of Cardinals fans.

Look for the survey at the middle of next week. You can follow Redbird Dugout on Twitter or Like us on Facebook and you can get the notification there. Or you can catch the retweet from me on Twitter @jondoble.

We Are Cardinal Nation

So by now, I’m sure everyone is aware that the 2011 Cardinals television commercials have been released online. Remember the old days when you had to watch TV to see commercials?

The new tagline this year is “We Are Cardinal Nation.” Personally, I preferred the “Play like a Cardinal” tagline of the previous couple years.

The ads feature Lance Berkman trying to pick a number, Red Schoendienst showing he’s still got it, Schumaker giving Fredbird advice, Fredbird climbing out of his tree to report to Spring Training, Matt Holliday hitting home runs with a variety of things, Fredbird cranking up the hot dog gun, and the bullpen eating donuts.

Some quick thoughts on a couple of them. On the commercial where Schumaker is giving Fredbird advice on his ‘beaking,’ it made me wonder if he got similar advice from Fredbird last season on how to play second base. Then, in the commercial with Fredbird and the hot dog gun, I’m sure the mascot gained a few fans as he tried to take Tony LaRussa out.

My personal favorite was Berkman’s attempts to pick a number. Adam Wainwright asks Berkman what number he’s going to wear and every one that he chooses has been retired by the team and Wainwright informs him of it. At one point, Berkman seems to grab a number out of thin air, “What about 85?” only to find out that it’s retired too.

A close second would have been the bullpen sharing a box of donuts. Jason Motte comes in and complains that there aren’t any more powdered donuts and Ryan Franklin sprinkles the rosin bag over the donut. Motte takes a bite and says “that’s good.” The commercial would have surpassed the Berkman commercial for me if Motte had said something to the effect of “good save” after taking a bite.

However, I’m sure the commercial with Red Schoendienst will take home the honor of favorite commercial in the voting because Cardinals fans have a sense of the history of the game. It’s one of the reasons I love the Cardinals. They have a storied past and fans that understand and respect it. And as I check the results, it currently has a 10% lead over the Hot Dog Gun commercial.

The noticeable thing to me was that Pujols was not featured in any of the commercials. He puts his arm around Fredbird at the end of the one where Fredbird is climbing out of the tree to report to Spring Training. Makes me think the team is trying to sell the other players rather than Pujols. That, in itself, could have a variety of meanings if we wanted to look into that. However, I’m a little tired of writing about Pujols lately, and I’m sure the majority of the UCB would agree.

All things considered, I love the ads. They are one of the things I look forward to every year that helps signal that the season is right around the corner. I also have a great idea for a commercial for next year. 15 days until the season begins.

What were your favorites?