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Perfect*

June 3, 2010 Leave a comment

History was made in Detroit on Wednesday night. Unfortunately, the gem thrown by Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga will be remembered for all the wrong reasons, as a blown call at first base robbed the 28 year-old righthander of the 21st perfect game in baseball history. Umpire Jim Joyce, who mistakenly called Indians SS Jason Donald safe at first, now finds himself among the most infamous umpires in baseball history. His gaffe will forever be in the discussion of the worst calls of all-time. (Grab a seat next to Don Denkinger, Jim.) In his defense, he admitted his mistake and apologized to Galarraga after the game. While watching these events unfold last night, I felt terrible for Galarraga. I thought he handled the situation in about the classiest way possible. My hat goes off to him for holding his emotions there.

If Joyce got that call right last night, we’d be looking at an unbelievably historic pitching run. We’re barely two months into the 2010 MLB season, yet we’ve already seen two perfect games, a no-hitter, and Galarraga’s should-have-been-a perfect game. There has only been one other season in the history of baseball with multiple perfect games, and none in the modern era, yet we almost had three occur in less than a month. Not even the wisest of baseball’s wise men could come up with an explanation for what we’ve seen thus far.

Joyce’s blown call could end up having quite a lasting impact on the game of baseball. Instant replay is a topic that has been gradually picking up steam for a few years now. Last night’s lack of replay availability virtually guarantees that it will be pushed to the forefront and become the hot-button issue among baseball executives. Personally, I’m on the fence concerning the use of replay in baseball. On one hand, I’m a baseball purist who doesn’t want to see instant replay violate the sanctity of the game. On the other hand, I’m a realist who sees that replay, when not overused, can help ensure the correct calls are made in the game’s crucial moments. Whether we like it or not though, I do believe instant replay is on the horizon for Major League Baseball. Wednesday night’s debacle may have sealed the deal on this issue.

In the end, I believe Galarraga’s near-perfect game will be more memorable than the actual perfect games thrown by Roy Halladay and Dallas Braden. Baseball has always been deeply rooted in the game’s historic past, and last night we witnessed a historic baseball moment that won’t soon be forgotten.

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Categories: MLB

Rockies’ Rotation Gets Boost With Return of Jeff Francis

May 17, 2010 Leave a comment

The Colorado Rockies received a major shot in the arm on Sunday, as starting pitcher Jeff Francis made his Mile High return. The 29 year-old lefthander dominated the surprising Washington Nationals in a 2-1 Rockies win. In his first appearance in more than 18 months, Francis worked seven strong innings, allowing only one run while striking out six. Francis, who missed all of the 2009 season following surgery to repair a torn labrum, last pitched on Sep.12, 2008 against the Dodgers.

His return couldn’t have come at a better time, as the Rockies are battling to keep pace in the ultra-competitive NL West. The Rockies currently sit in 4th place, 3.5 games behind baseball’s biggest surprise, the San Diego Padres. The Rockies also trail the pitching-rich Giants and the suddenly red-hot Dodgers, who have won 9 of 10 entering Monday’s action.

If Francis can stay healthy, he and Ubaldo Jimenez will form quite the dynamic duo atop the Rockies’ rotation. The Rockies have gotten a solid season from righthander Aaron Cook, but Jason Hammel has struggled, and the team still awaits the return of injured lefthander Jorge De La Rosa.¬† Colorado will need strong starting pitching to compete for a postseason berth, especially with the questions surrounding their bullpen. Closer Huston Street has lingering shoulder issues, and no one has stepped forward to take hold of the 9th inning role.

Colorado still has some pitching questions that need answered, but with Ubaldo Jimenez and a healthy Jeff Francis leading the way, I still think the Rockies will be battling for the NL West crown come September.

Categories: MLB

MLB: Early Cy Young Leaders

May 7, 2010 Leave a comment

As of today, we are right around 1/6 of the way through the 2010 MLB season. We’re nearing the point where we can really get a feel for how players and teams are performing, and what it might mean for the rest of the season.

With that in mind, I decided to pick my early leaders for AL and NL Cy Young:

American League – Francisco Liriano, Twins

In addition to the Cy Young, Liriano would have to be a leading contender for Comeback Player of the Year as well. The 26 year-old lefthander, who is three years removed from Tommy John surgery, is starting to regain the form that made him one of the best young pitchers in all of baseball. Coming off a forgettable 2009 season, where he finished 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA, Liriano has been a resurgent force atop the Twins’ rotation. Through five starts this season, Liriano is 4-0 with a 1.50 ERA (2nd best in the AL), and has yet to allow a home run in his 36 innings of work.

So what has been Liriano’s secret to success in 2010? Confidence, both in his health and his stuff. In ’08 and ’09, it was clear, when watching Liriano pitch, that he was holding back because of his elbow. This was especially true when throwing his slider, which had been one of the best in the game. This season, however, Liriano has seen his fastball velocity return to pre-surgery levels, and his slider has become an out pitch once again. Liriano’s return to dominance has been a pleasant surprise for the Minnesota Twins, who currently lead the AL Central with a 19-10 record.

Other Contenders: CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett (Yankees), Matt Garza and James Shields (Rays)

National League – Ubaldo Jimenez, Rockies

While the American League is lacking in early Cy Young contenders, the National League has several pitchers who have staked an early claim to the award. None more so than Colorado Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez. The 26 year-old righthander, who burst onto the scene during the Rockies’ 2007 World Series run, is quickly becoming one of the best pitchers in baseball. Jimenez has been the most dominant pitcher in the National League in 2010, narrowly edging out Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay. On April 17, Jimenez threw the first no-hitter in Rockies history against the Atlanta Braves. In his most recent start, a 5-2 win over the San Diego Padres on May 3, Jimenez racked up 13 strikeouts over 7 strong innings. Overall, Jimenez has put together an eye-popping early stat line: 6-0, 0.87 ERA, 44 K in 41.1 innings pitched. Jimenez is in the hunt for the Pitching Triple Crown, as he sits tied for 1st in Wins, 1st in ERA, and tied for 4th in K’s.

What makes Jimenez so dominant is, first and foremost, his great stuff. He features one of the best fastball-slider combinations in baseball, and everything he throws has outstanding velocity and movement. As he has matured physically, his velocity has gradually risen. This season, as he begins to enter his prime, his fastball and slider velocities are the highest of his career. According to FanGraphs, Jimenez’s average fastball velocity is 96.8 mph, and an even 88 mph for his slider. What also makes Jimenez special is his ability to hold that incredible velocity deep into starts. He has always been known as a hard-thrower, but this season, Jimenez is putting it all together and realizing his, seemingly, unlimited potential.

Other Contenders: Roy Halladay (Phillies), Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito (Giants), Adam Wainwright (Cardinals)

Categories: MLB

Mariners Pitcher Cliff Lee Set for Free Agency?

May 3, 2010 Leave a comment

On Friday night, Mariners starting pitcher Cliff Lee dazzled the Seattle fans for the first time since the offseason trade that brought him to the Great Northwest. Lee, making his first start of the season due to a lengthy DL stint, dominated the Texas Rangers over 7 shutout innings, striking out 8 in the process.

On Saturday, however, Lee was grabbing headlines for reasons other than his masterful Mariners debut. That afternoon, Lee’s agent hinted at his client’s future plans, which apparently don’t include signing a long-term deal with Seattle. Lee’s agent told ESPN’s Buster Olney:

“We’re five months away from free agency, so I think that’s the most likely scenario at this point. We’ve not really had any significant discussions with Seattle. I wouldn’t anticipate a deal [with the Mariners].”

It definitely sounds like Mariners fans better come out to watch Lee pitch while they still have a chance. You can’t really blame him (or his agent) for wanting to test the free agent waters, though. The 31 year-old Lee will most certainly be the cream of the pitching crop this Winter. The left-hander is right in the prime of his career, enjoying immense success in recent years. Over the last two seasons, Lee compiled a 36-16 record for the Indians and Phillies, winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2008 with Cleveland.

Also working in Lee’s favor is the relative weakness of the free agent pitching market as a whole. The only other frontline starters destined for free agency come with red flags firmly attached to their million-dollar arms. Diamondbacks’ hurler Brandon Webb, who took home the NL Cy Young in 2006, hasn’t pitched since Opening Day of 2009, due to lingering shoulder issues. Also scheduled to hit the open market is Yankees pitcher Javier Vazquez, who has an ERA of 9.78 through 5 starts this season.

With Lee as the best free agent pitcher available this Winter, teams looking for a potential ace will be lining up for the chance to sign him, which means a big payday is on the horizon. Sorry, Seattle.

Categories: MLB

MLB: Predicting the 2010 NL Division Winners

April 21, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve already made my picks in the American League in my first post. Here are my predictions for the NL: Read more…

Categories: MLB

MLB: Predicting the 2010 AL Division Winners

April 19, 2010 Leave a comment

For my first post here at Sports Confidential, I thought I would take a shot at predicting the winners of each division  for the 2010 MLB season. I know the season is already underway, but nothing has happened yet to change my original predictions I made prior to Opening Day.

Offseason additions and subtractions have changed the landscape in many of the divisions. While some teams look like clear-cut favorites to reach the postseason, other divisions appear to be more of a toss-up. Part 1 will cover my predictions for the American League. Without further ado, my AL division winner predictions:

Read more…

Categories: MLB