By Mike Ivcic
Before I get into the second full column of the year, I would like to quickly ask everyone in the Los Angeles metropolitan area to stop jumping off of your teams respective bandwagons. I would also like the mayors of Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Boston to please put the championship parade plans on hold. It’s one week, folks! Only 1/26 of the season has been played – we have 178 days left until the playoff even start!
Ok, now that we’ve handled that little piece of housekeeping, time for a little game we like to call, “Three Up, Three Down.” Here are three teams that had a better than expected week, and three teams that didn’t quite get off to the start they probably wanted.
1) Boston Red Sox
For a team that’s spent the last year and a half being the running joke of the American League, it has to be refreshing for Sox fans to see their team get off to a solid start. The joy of the 4-2 opening week is tempered slightly by the injury to John Lackey, but especially considering the power show that Will Middlebrooks displayed Sunday afternoon against reigning Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, there’s been a lot to like about this Boston team – and that’s not even counting the new Jackie Bradley Jr. Fan Club.
2) Atlanta Braves
It’s true that the Cubs and Phillies aren’t exactly the best two teams in the National League, and we’ve still yet to see the Braves go on the road, but going 5-1 to start the season after losing the face of the franchise and clubhouse leader is a nice way to start the post-Chipper Jones era. There’s never been a question about the talent on this team, only whether that talent would remain at the current plateau or advance into superior-level producers. Again, it’s only a week, but the early returns show much more of the latter. I don’t think it keeps up this way for 156 more games, but I’ve been known to be wrong before.
3) Cincinnati Reds
Easily, for me, the most impressive team. Like Atlanta they did get their first six games at home, but if you read my column from a week ago you also know they hosted the two teams I project to be playing in the World Series, so winning each series is quite a feat. I still think the best spring training move of the entire season at any camp was the non-decision by Dusty Baker and the rest of the Reds management to keep Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen. I watched him pitch the ninth inning on Sunday afternoon and Denard Span had a 0.00% chance of hitting any of those fastballs. If they stay healthy and keep scoring, they may actually surpass Washington as the team to beat in the NL.
1) Toronto Blue Jays
Like I said in the season preview, there are a lot of talented players on this team that didn’t win in Miami, so I’m not quite sure what moving them to Ontario was supposed to accomplish. Add to that the fact that Dickey – a guy for whom I sincerely root because he’s truly one of the good people in the game – is clearly not the same pitcher as he was a year ago and suddenly the Jays are 2-4. Just like the teams that started off hot, the season is long as there’s plenty of chance for recovery, but with Jose Bautista injured again and an offense that’s been outscored by every AL team not named the Astros, it may be time to once again rethink the whole “putting together an All-Star team” philosophy.
2) Milwaukee Brewers
Ryan Braun or no Ryan Braun, getting swept at home by the Arizona Diamondbacks is definitely not what Milwaukee fans were hoping to see fresh out of the gate from their ballclub. We said pitching would be a question mark, but 39 runs in six games to the Rockies and D-backs – who both should be honorable mention for the “three up” list, by the way – is simply not going to get it done. John Axford’s struggles appear to be carrying over from last season, too, so this could be a long summer in Wisconsin.
3) Philadelphia Phillies
So many good choices, but I can’t really attack the Yankees (no offense), Padres (no pitching), or Astros (no anything), and the Angels lost two road series to playoff teams – not great, but certainly not anything worth crying over. Instead it’s the Phillies, who were one Kevin Frandsen swing away from getting swept by the Royals. Yes, Philadelphia put up runs and almost rallied again on Sunday for the win, but this is a team that clearly lacks offense from their outfield and doesn’t appear to be getting the 2010-11 Roy Halladay back any time soon. Given the teams currently comprised in Atlanta and DC, it’s likely the Phils will miss the playoffs for the second straight season.
Three series to watch this week…
1) TAM @ TEX (4/8-4/10) – Two years ago, these two teams met in the ALDS. Last year both underachieved, with Texas losing in the wild card game and Tampa missing the postseason. Should be a nice barometer for both teams to see if either are capable of returning to 2011 levels.
2) CIN @ STL (4/8-4/10) – Talk about a rivalry – this is now the best there is in the NL Central. The Reds have won two of the last three divisions, and despite playing in the postseason each of the last two years, the Cards haven’t captured the crown since 2009. Could be fun to see what cooks up in the first meeting of the year between these two foes.
3) OAK @ LAA (4/9-4/11) – We gave the Angels a free pass for one week, but now they open their home schedule with last year’s surprising AL West champs. To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best, and as much as Angels-Rangers brings some spice to the TV, it’s the A’s that have to be the focus for LA. Win this series and all the AL pennant talk can resume.
Three series to watch this weekend…
1) ATL @ WAS (4/12-4/14) – If you want an early read on who’s the best in the NL East, well here it is. Both teams will have 5-1-2 going from their respective rotations, so be sure to lock in Saturday (Hudson-Strasburg) and Sunday (Maholm-Gonzalez) for what should be some great baseball.
2) DET @ OAK (4/12-4/14) – Think the A’s won’t be drooling for some revenge, however slight, when the Tigers return for the first time since last year’s ALDS? Verlander throws Saturday for Detroit, so even just getting two of three would be a nice boost for Oakland to continue their momentum from last year – especially if they can beat LA earlier in the week.
3) TAM @ BOS (4/12-4/15) – I include this four-gamer for both the sudden importance and impact it has in the AL East, but also because it includes my favorite baseball day that doesn’t involve the words “opening” or “postseason” – Patriot’s Day! Find me another day besides the third Monday in April when you can watch live, Major League Baseball at 11 a.m. on the east coast? Oh right – you can’t. Bring on the marathon!
Check out my weekly column, “The Tenth Inning,” every Monday at ultimatecapper.com
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