Results tagged ‘ Yoenis Cespedes ’
As recently as two seasons ago the offensive attack at Oakland’s O.co Coliseum was stagnant. The A’s ranked 12th in the American League in runs scored as they struggled with just about every facet of hitting. That trend continued through the start of the 2012 season as well. At the All-Star break just one season ago Oakland ranked last in the AL in runs scored, scoring just a mere 19 runs more than worst-in-baseball San Diego. But something clicked during that magical 2nd half run a year ago. Oakland started pummeling the ball, scoring a run and a half more per game than they did before the summer’s festivities in Kansas City, as they rode their offense to a 51-25 finish and the AL West title.
Before the start of the 2013 season many were wondering which A’s offense was going to show up. Would it be the anemic, strikeout-friendly lineup that struggled to get things going during the season’s first half a year ago, or would it be the walk-off winning, home run bashing unit that propelled Oakland to the playoffs? Well, if early returns are worth anything it’s safe to say that last season’s 2nd half wasn’t a fluke. The boys in green and gold are punishing opposing pitchers once again, outscoring every other team in the Major Leagues. So how have the A’s been able to do this? Let’s take a look:
The race for the American League West title hasn’t been much of a contest for most of the season, until recently that is. At the All-Star break the Rangers had a comfortable 4 game lead on the surging Los Angeles Angels while nobody thought too much of the A’s, who were sitting 9 games back with a strong pitching staff. The Oakland A’s have been on fire since , posting the best record in baseball at 41-18 (.695 win %), while eating up 7 games in the standings. It’s not like the Rangers have been slouches either, as they have played .576 baseball (34-25) since the break.
All of that good baseball by the bay has put Oakland in the driver’s seat for the 1st Wild Card spot, owning a 5 game lead over 3rd place Los Angeles and a 3 game lead over Baltimore that may shrink by a game if the A’s drop today’s game. But as everybody knows, you don’t want to play in that play-in Wild Card game, because anything can happen in a single game series. No, the A’s have the sights set on something a little bigger: the AL West crown. The only question is: can the wrestle it from the two-time defending American League champion Texas Rangers?
With the playoffs fast approaching, half of the teams in Major League Baseball are either looking at a playoff spot or still have fantasies of winning one. All that means is that we as fans have a smorgasbord of delicious games to watch between wanna-be playoff teams. Let’s take a look at the 3 best series of the weekend:
Every season one of my favorite debates revolves around which big league team has put together the best outfield trio. This season the debate is as heated as it’s ever been, with contenders from both the American and National Leagues. So without further adu, let’s break down the strongest outfield units to see what we can find.
Sorry for the delay this month on the Rookie Report. We’re attempting to move to Springfield and it’s a little difficult to find time to do the research and catch up on games while I’m busy packing, interviewing (I got the job!!), and still going to work at my current job. But anyway, enough about me, let’s take a look at the league’s best rookies:
If today’s reports involving the Dodgers signing Yasiel Puig its just another indication of the Cuban invasion occurring in Major League Baseball. This is great for Major League Baseball, mostly because it means that our country is continuing to stockpile all of the best baseball talent in the world. American scouts have been invading Japan, Australia, South Korea, the Latin American countries and mining for talent like prospectors at Sutter’s Mill in California in 1848. Cuba is just the latest market to be invaded by American scouts and they are signing any escaped players like its going out of style. Let’s take a look at some of the recent outfield players to receive big league contracts in 2012:
With the 1st 10% of the Major League regular season in the books, let’s take a look at some of the burning questions from around the league.
Can Matt Kemp hit .400? Or how about 60 homers?
Matt Kemp launched another homerun last night, his 10th of the year, and he is currently hitting a robust .449 at the plate. Kemp is on pace to smash over 85 homeruns and post a batting average that would stand as an all-time record. Regression will inevitably set in at some point however, so his performance will inevitably decline, but does he have a shot at history. Kemp had a sizzling start a year ago, hitting .368 the 1stmonth of the season, with 6 homers before average declined, but he continued hitting homers at the same rate. While I don’t think Kemp can legitimately hit .400, I do believe that this start will enable him to bat above the .375 mark, a very difficult feat. I think Kemp has a better chance at hitting 60 dingers, because he would only need to hit a homer about 1 in every 11 at-bats the rest of the year, which would be a decline in his current 1 per 7 rate. Last year he hit 1 homer per every 15 at-bats, so he would have to continue to slug better than he did a year ago, but it is possible and I think Kemp will do it.
Do the Yankees have a pitching problem?
What was once thought to be the deepest rotation in baseball, with 7 major league caliber starters, is now treading on thin ice due to poor performance and injury. The Rangers bombed Phil Hughes yesterday, being chased after allowing 4 runs on 5 hits in 2.2 innings. His season ERA now stands at an ugly 7.88 and his biggest problem is the home run ball. Hughes has given up an unsightly 5 homers in the 16 innings he’s pitched, while allowing 13.5 hits per 9 innings. Batters are just teeing off on Phil right now. The news got worse yesterday for the Yankees and Michael Pineda, as they learned the young righty has a partially torn labrum, which requires surgery and will end his season before it began. Freddy Garcia has also been unsightly in the rotation, and now the Yankees are viewing the return of Andy Pettitte as a need, rather than a luxury. Pettitte is 40-years-old and didn’t pitch a season ago, so he should be counted on for nothing more than back of the rotation help. If Garcia can put together one good start his next time out, Hughes will probably be sent to the bullpen. CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova make up a solid top of the rotation, but the Yankees will need someone else to step up in the 3rd spot if they want to improve what has been their biggest problem so far in 2012. That pitcher will probably have to be Hiroki Kuroda, who has been mediocre for the Bronx Bombers so far. If he steps up the Yankees pitching woes will be a thing of the past. But if he continues to struggle and posts a mid-4.00 ERA or worse, New York could be watching baseball in October, because the AL East is a meat grinder this year.
Are the Nationals for real?
Most definitely yes, the Nats are for real. Washington has the best pitching staff in baseball so far. They rank 1st in runs allowed, hits allowed, homeruns allowed (only 4!!!), average fastball velocity and they rank 2nd in baseball in strikeouts. Before the season manager Davey Johnson said he would take his staff over any in baseball, including the vaunted Philadelphia rotation, and so far he’s been proven right. The top-3 of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and Gio Gonzalez all possess ERAs under 2.00. Strasburg, in particular, has been untouchable, posting an absurd 336 ERA+ while striking out 10.3 batters per 9. The offense could use a little boost, ranking 22nd in baseball so far, but many of their best hitters are struggling or on the DL. Michael Morse has yet to play, and he was the team’s best hitter a year ago. Morse will probably return to action around the end of May. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington’s star 3rd baseman, has also struggled hitting only .224/.324/.345. Expect the offense to improve when the weather really heats up and expect the Nationals to keep on winning.
Should Yoenis Cespedes be your new favorite player?
Yes. The guy is a treat to watch. Cespedes swings with all his might, hits with massive power, steals bases, has a rocket launcher for an arm, and plays the game with passion. And if that isn’t enough for you how about this?
Oh, and he will probably be a 30-30 player for years to come. He already has 5 homers and 4 steals on the young season and his plate discipline is improving. And the scary part is how good Cespedes will be in a year or two, once he adjusts to living in America and gets a better grasp of the strike zone. He’s a fantastic player who is breathtaking to watch.
Where has Albert Pujols gone?
The Machine has not been the same since leaving St. Louis for the sunny shores of California. He’s having the worst April of his entire career and is also currently stuck in the worst slump of his career, a 0-19 bender that has many pundits baffled. He is now hitting .222/.282/.319 and still hasn’t hit his 1st homerun. Last night against the Tampa Bay Rays, Pujols looked downright uncomfortable at the plate, striking out twice, and pulling into the shift once. Two or three years ago, a manager wouldn’t have dared to use a shift on Pujols, because he would punish it by immediately taking the 1st good pitch to the opposite field for a base hit. The Rays shifted on Pujols for every at-bat, showing either a lot of conviction out of Joe Maddon or knowledge that Pujols is trying to pull everything. If Albert relaxes a little more at the plate and starts to use the whole field again, he will once again take his place as one of the 3-5 most feared hitters alive. Pujols should recover in time to hit around .280-.300 with 25 homers, a far cry from the production expected out of him when he signed in LA for $240 million. The bigger concern should be going forward, because if Pujols’ production is already declining, the Angels are in big trouble.
The steal is one of the most exciting, heart-pounding, and thrilling events in all of sports. When a quick runner gets on first and begins to take his lead, the entire stadium sits in nervous anticipation, thinking along with the runner: Which pitch should I go on?, How big of a lead should I get?, and in the case of a pickoff move, Get Back! Get Back!
The true Picasso’s of the steal, Ricky Henderson, Maury Willis, Lou Brock were impossible to gun down on the base paths, and could nab any base off of any pitcher at any time. These players, if used properly by managers, could be used as baseball’s point guards, shifting the defense around, irritating the pitcher, and allowing other players to pick up hits. Today’s top thieves include Brett Gardner, Dee Gordon, Coco Crisp, and Juan Pierre. Each of these players are slap hitters who rely on speed, not power, to attack an opponents pitching game. If any of the hitters can get on base, pitchers should be proceed with extreme caution, or have their pocket picked.
There are many variants to stealing bases: the steal of 2nd, 3rd, home, a double steal, a delayed steal, and even the rare triple steal, a feat not performed in over 100 years. Today we’re going to look at a couple examples of the double steal.
The double steal is a particular treat, and was performed to perfection yesterday by the St. Louis Cardinals, completely catching the unsuspecting Reds napping. Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran, a speedster in his younger years, easily swiped 2nd and 3rd last night, contributing to a big 1st inning, which put the Cardinals up for good at 3-0. Beltran saw something in the delivery from Mat Latos and was able to jump the pitch, taking 3rd without a throw. Berkman, always a heads up player, followed his teammates lead and hustled into 2nd.
About a week ago two of the fastest players in baseball were also able to pull off the feat down in Miami against the Houston Astros. Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio each led off the game with singles and put the pressure on immediately, taking 3rd and 2nd in one maneuver. Reyes has fantastic speed, and if he can get a good jump, he will almost assuredly take any base. Even with a good throw down to 3rd, Reyes was still safe, and Bonifacio wisely followed his example taking 2nd base.
Another version of the double steal, in which runners begin on 1st and 3rd is a particularly risky, but rewarding play if executed properly. The Yankees ran this to perfection with two excellent base runners, Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter, in 2010 against the Red Sox. The Yankees were able to pull this play of without a hitch, because of the speed of Gardner at 3rd base, and the jump Jeter gets at 1st. When Jeter reads the pitcher properly and gets a fast start toward 2nd base, it forces Martinez to react immediately, without looking the runner at 3rd base back. As soon as Martinez stands up to fire toward 2nd, Gardner takes off and is easily able to take 3rd base.
The middle infielder on the play is taught to come in to receive the throw in front of 2nd base so he can fire home to nab the runner. Marco Scutaro, the Red Sox shortstop attempts this maneuver, but because Brett Gardner’s jump was so excellent he has no chance at getting him at home. Jeter is able to take an extra pause to try to distract the fielder, and in doing so completely freezes Scutaro out, taking 2nd base to complete the double steal. This is a textbook version of the double steal of home, and it makes one wonder why more teams do not resort to this play in close games.
Around the League
-Boy that Cliff Lee-Matt Cain duel was a doozy wasn’t it? In a game seemingly from a previous era, the Giants were able to edge the Phillies 1-0 in 11 and it only took a tidy 2 and 27 minutes. Lee went 10 innings, throwing only 102 pitches with an astonishing 81 going for strikes. He allowed 7 hits, walked no one, and struck out 7, but got nothing to show of for his efforts. Matt Cain was similarly excellent, throwing 9 innings, scattering a measly 2 hits with 1 walk and striking out 4. The Giants won the game on a Melky Cabrera base hit 1 inning after Lee was removed from the game.
-The Washington Nationals won another 1-run game, their 5th already on the young season, beating Houston 3-2. They improved their record to a National League best 10-3, and look every bit the part of a contender. Adam LaRoche, Jason Werth, and Ian Desmond are all having nice bounce back years so far, and once Ryan Zimmerman gets it going the offense could be scary. The pitching staff has proven to be as strong as it looked on paper, allowing the 2nd fewest runs in all of baseball, behind Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and company. The schedule has been a little cushy so far, with the Mets, Astros, and Cubs all figuring to be bottom-feeders, but give the Nats credit for taking care of teams they believe they should beat.
-The best record in the American League currently belongs to the 2-year reigning champion Texas Rangers at 10-2. They plowed over Boston again last night 6-3, and are now allowing the fewest runs in all of baseball, 30 total. Boston on the other hand has been bombed for 74 runs already. If they can’t find a way to get the pitching staff in order it won’t matter what Bobby Valentine is doing or how many runs the offense scores, because team with bottom-5 pitching staffs historically do not make the playoffs and struggle to play .500 baseball. The Red Sox have played a brutal schedule so far, so expect some improvement once they get away from playing the Tigers, Rays, and Rangers, all of whom are good offensive teams.
-Bartolo Colon had a dominant night for the A’s against the Angels in a 6-0 win. At one point during his start he threw 38 straight strikes, and was utterly unhittable. He’s now 3-1 with a 2.61 ERA on the season and if he keeps this kind of performance up he could become very desirable on the trade market in June and July. The offense for Oakland was provided by Yoenis Cespedes, who smashed his 5th homer, an absolute missile to right field that scored 3 runs. Pitchers are starting to figure him out, over the past week and his batting average has dropped down to .238, but he has been having good at-bats for the most part, which is an encouraging sign.
- Yoenis Cespedes’ power. My oh my does he have plenty of it. Cespedes already has 3 homers in his first 4 games, and all of them have been moon shots. Each homer has been over 400 feet with the best of the bunch going for an absurd 462 feet. I think he has a legitimate chance to finish in the top-5 in homers in the American League and I hope that he gets a chance to hit in the Home Run Derby this year. Cespedes is already that much fun to watch.
- Motown’s Bash Brothers. Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera wasted no time this season before they went back to back, doing so in the 5th inning of their second game. The Tigers offense was humming all weekend against the Red Sox, rocking the Boston staff for more than 10 runs on Saturday and Sunday. Fielder and Cabrera also could threaten the record for most back-to-back homers in a season. The current record is 6 times and is held by 4 combos, Johnny Damon and Mark Teixiera in 2009, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez in 2004, Magglio Ordonez and Frank Thomas in 2000, and Hank Greenberg and Rudy York in 1938.
- Joe Maddon’s Defensive Shifts. No manager in baseball uses shifts more, or with more success than Joe Maddon. In the series against the Yankees, Maddon shifted his defense more than he played them straight up. He even had Tampa shift against righties. Righties Alex Rodriguez and Mark Texiera (he’s a switch hitter, so Tampa shifted either way) both saw the shift move three fielders to the right, giving a massive hitting gap where the 2nd baseman normally is. Neither hitter could make Maddon pay. Curtis Granderson also lost multiple hits in the series to Maddon’s shifts. This is worth keeping an eye on, and I plan to write much more on this subject once there have been a few more games.
- Yoenis Cespedes’ defense in center. Yes, Cespedes makes it twice. He is that exciting. His defense leaves much to be desired however. In Saturday’s Mariners-A’s game, Ichiro came up to bat and hit a liner to straightaway center. Cespedes not only makes the mistake of taking one step in, he takes multiple steps in!!! Predictably, by the time Cespedes realizes his mistake, the ball is sailing over his head, allowing Ichiro an easy triple. Cespedes needs quite a bit of work on positioning and getting the proper jump in the outfield. Oakland would be wise to swap him and left-fielder Cocoa Crisp, who is excellent in center.
- Boston’s relief pitching. Ouch. Granted it was against Detroit, who look to have a killer lineup, but still ouch. The Sox bullpen allowed 10 earned runs in 11.1 innings of work and took 2 of the 3 losses. Nearly every pitcher, outside of Vincente Padilla’s stellar 4-inning performance Sunday, was abysmal. The Red Sox are really feeling the loss of Daniel Bard to the rotation and Andrew Bailey to injury. If the Red Sox can’t figure their bullpen out, no lead will be safe, and their playoff chances will go up in smoke. Starting pitchers Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz also struggled, each giving up 7 runs.
- New York, Boston, Minnesota, San Francisco, and Atlanta. It’s never fun to start the season with a sweep like all of these teams did. San Francisco, Atlanta, and the Yankees all have to be steamed in particular, losing to division rivals. Minnesota also has to feel pretty terrible right now, losing 3 straight to the hapless Orioles, getting shut down offensively in every game.