All-Star Activities Approaching: Blogging Plan for July

Other than the last two months of the year, in which numerous baseball awards are given out, July is usually always the month that sees the most number of blog posts from me. With the All-Star festivities taking place, the topics to blog about are endless.

With that said, however, I do have a rough idea of the things I plan to write about over the upcoming month.

On the first day of the new month, I’ll be continuing the series of posts on the first of each month of updating the latest leaders around Major League Baseball. It’s always interesting to see which players are leading any given category after another entire month of baseball games.

Following that, I’ll write something about the All-Star game rosters when those are officially revealed, in addition to the players who are chosen to participate in the home run derby. I already gave my take on both for who I feel would be the most worth players to fill those roles, so it should be fun to learn how many of those actually come true.

When the All-Star festivities finally arrive in mid-July, I’ll be writing something on both the Home Run Derby as well as the All-Star Game itself. I’m not sure exactly what I’ll discuss in those posts, but I do plan on writing something. Also, sometime around the same dates, I will probably post an entry with the players I feel are the frontrunners for the major year-end awards halfway through the season.

With so much to write about, July looks to be another busy month.

What Impact Will Lincecum Signing Actually Have?

It’s been nearly a year since we last saw Tim Lincecum pitch in a Major League Baseball game, but that will soon change. After being rumored to have made Lincecum an offer earlier this week, the Angels finally made a deal with him official on Friday, signing Lincecum to a one-year contract for the 2016 season worth around two million dollars (plus incentives).

LincecumAs a Lincecum fan, I’m certainly happy to see him on his way back to pitching in the majors (it’s believed that he will need a few starts in the minors to get ready), but I also find myself questioning just which Tim Lincecum the Angels are getting. After all, he’s been extremely inconsistent over the past several years.

Following a stellar start to his career, in which Lincecum recorded back-to-back Cy Young award seasons in 2008 and 2009, the former first-round pick has gone down hill ever since around the 2012 season.

After posting his final sub-three ERA year in 2011, Lincecum proceeded to see that number rocket up to 5.18 over the course of 33 starts made in 2012 (given, the Giants still went on to win the second of Lincecum’s three career World Series rings that season).

Over the past four seasons, the soon-to-be 32-year-old Lincecum has notched a collective 4.68 ERA over 106 games started, all before being shut down mid-season in 2015 due to a degenerative condition in both hips. It took Lincecum all of the offseason as well as Spring Training and the first two months of this season to get healthy, but he appears to be fully recovered from his injury, impressing many with a pitching showcase two weeks ago in Arizona.

The Angels certainly could use a fully healthy starter in their injury-plagued rotation. After the loss of Garrett Richards for the remainder of the 2016 season, who had a 2.34 ERA so far on the year, as well as Andrew Heaney (and C.J. Wilson until June), the Angels needed someone to replace some of those lost innings. They appear to have found their guy in the form of Tim Lincecum.

Sitting 4.5 games back in the American League West, the Angels have a bit of work to do but aren’t completely out of things, with it still being very early in the season. The Mariners are performing better than most people believed they would, and the Astros have been a major disappointment so far, so anything can truly happen in that division.

Although Lincecum’s old team, the Giants, are riding an eight-game winning streak, the Angels are more than capable of going on a big run and getting back into the mix. Signing Tim Lincecum goes a long way in making that a possibility.

Lincecum AZWith decent production coming from Nick Tropeano and Hector Santiago to this point, Lincecum will likely slide into the middle to back end of the Angels rotation, but that’s a step in the right direction for a guy who was predicted to inevitably have to begin his journey back into being a big leaguer as a bullpen piece. The Angels have given Lincecum a big opportunity to begin as a starter right out of the gate.

With that in mind, however, I don’t think Lincecum will let them down. In fact, I think he may turn out to be a bit better than anticipated.

Throughout his poor outings over the last several seasons, Lincecum has thrown sporadic quality games, recording a no-hitter in both the 2013 and the 2014 seasons. He’s still a major league caliber pitcher, especially now that he’s reportedly fully healthy and ready to go.

Perhaps Lincecum won’t ever be an All-Star again — as he was in four straight seasons from 2008-2011 — but the Angels don’t need him to be. They’re getting a fan-favorite, and, more importantly, a guy who knows how to win, and has proven his value over and over again throughout his career.

In the end, no matter what happens, the Angels lose nothing (besides a couple million dollars) by signing Tim Lincecum. On one hand, if Lincecum flops, they’re no worse off than if they had passed on signing him in the first place. But on the other hand, if Lincecum returns to even a portion of his former self, the Angels may have just helped their team out in a big way. It’s the definition of a low-risk, high-reward type of deal.

When it comes to a guy like Tim Lincecum, I’d take that deal every time.

Marlins Awarded the 2017 All-Star Game

After a busy offseason of moves that included trading for speedy Dee Gordon, signing free agent outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, and locking up slugger Giancarlo Stanton on the biggest contract in sports history, the Marlins have officially been named as the hosts of the 2017 Major League Baseball All-Star game.

Marlins

Set to come in the 25th year of the Marlins’ existence, this is the first time in their franchises history that they have been awarded the Midsummer Classic — they were supposed to host the game in 2000, but it was given to the Braves instead — making it sure to be a game full of excitement for the fans in the area.

But there is one thing on everyone’s mind that a lot of people are posing issue with.

Generally, the All-Star game has alternated between American League and National League hosts each year, with the host team having home field advantage. With the All-Star game holding a lot of value, in that the winning league receives home field advantage during the World Series, the stakes have become very high. However, with the Cincinnati Reds set to hold the surrounding festivities this year, the Padres in line to do the same in 2016 and now with the Marlins getting named the site for 2017, that makes for three straight years in a National League teams ballpark.

However, there is a solution to the problem that new commissioner, Rob Manfred, has put into place. “We will alternate years, in terms of who bats last,” said Manfred on Friday. “We will be making that change going forward.” Meaning, in 2016, when in San Diego, the American League team will be the “home” team and bat in the bottom half of the order to make things a bit more fair.

As far as the Marlins are concerned, after spending 19 seasons in a football stadium — they shared a venue with the Miami Dolphins, finally receiving a park of their own in 2012 — they are extremely deserving of the All-Star game. Although attendance has been up and down (mainly down) over the course of time since, they will undoubtedly do a great job of hosting the event.

But before Marlins fans get too excited about the looming All-Star game, they need to enjoy focusing on the season at hand. Their team is really, really good, and they stand a shot at doing some big things in the National League this coming season. While getting the All-Star game for 2017 is a big story, the Marlins could be making plenty of headlines throughout the season as 2015 rolls along.

Brewers Still Surprising Many With Formidable Play

It was a rather intriguing story line when the Brewers were leading the National League central division after the first full month of the season. It was somewhat of an impressive feat when they were still leading the division after the first two months had passed. But now that we’re just a couple of weeks away from the All-Star break and the Brewers are still on top, it’s beginning to become one of the most discussed topics in all of baseball.

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Predicted by many to do poorly this season (I had them finishing fourth), with the seemingly average team the Brewers have and the difficult division in which they play, the fact that the Brewers currently sit 5.5 games ahead of the second place Cardinals is incredible — especially after the Cardinals won the division fairly easily last year, with the Brewers ending up 23 games back.

But while most of the baseball world counted out the Brewers for 2014, their players felt they had just as good of a shot as anyone, which is proving to be true. “We felt good about our situation,” said Brewers’ second baseman, Rickie Weeks, on Thursday. “Obviously, a lot of the media didn’t. That’s one of the things that keeps us together in this clubhouse.”

Having achieved the most wins in all of baseball (only the Athletics have a better winning percentage), and holding the largest division lead of any other team over the second place opponent, the Brewers making the playoffs is no longer a long shot as it appeared to be at the beginning of the year. It has now become a really good possibility.

Off to the best start halfway through the season (81 games) in their franchise’s history, the Brewers not only have momentum on their side, they also have statistics. Since the Wild Card was introduced in 1995, 69 percent of teams (82 out of 118) in first place at the halfway point have made the playoffs, with 61 percent (72 out of 118) holding on to win their division.

One of the biggest reasons for the surprising performance by the Brewers as a whole has been their consistent game play by their individual players. Jonathan Lucroy, one of the game’s most underrated catchers, has done a fantastic job both defensively behind the plate as well as offensively. And despite a slightly down season for Ryan Braun (he’s still making a good contribution), Carlos Gomez, Aramis Ramirez, and Scooter Gennett are all doing their share, with Khris Davis and Mark Reynolds providing a good deal of power, regardless of their low batting averages.

On the pitching side of things, Kyle Lohse has really stepped up his game this year, doing a great job of giving the Brewers opportunities to win ballgames, and with the exception of a couple of rough starts, Yovani Gallardo has been a valuable asset as well. With a closer like Francisco Rodriguez, who currently leads baseball in saves, coming on in the ninth inning to shut down games, the Brewers have a really solid team no matter how you look at it.

With just 14 games remaining until the All-Star break, the Brewers find themselves on the verge of making some more history by surpassing the old franchise record of 54 wins at the break. That would certainly be an amazing feat. But I’m sure the majority of the Brewers would tell you, having made the World Series just once back in 1982 (they lost), their main focus is on making it deep into October.

Who I’d Like to See In the 2014 Home Run Derby

Due to the fact that the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star ballots are asking fans to once again vote for who they’d like to see participate in the home run derby (unfortunately, the votes are only a poll, and don’t actually count towards anything), it hasn’t yet been announced who the derby captains will be, as it had been by now each of the past several years. And therefore, not knowing when it will be revealed, I didn’t want to wait until then to give my take on who I’d most like to see in the derby, along with my reasoning for each pick.

While there are some players that I left off, for one reason or another, I feel the players I selected would make for a great 2014 home run derby, as they all have to ability to hit a good amount of home runs as well as doing so for big power. With the 2014 home run derby now around three weeks away, here are the players I’d most enjoy seeing take part:

American League

Nelson Cruz: One of the game’s most underrated power hitters, Nelson Cruz would be a fantastic pick for the home run derby next month. Currently leading all of Major League Baseball in home runs, Cruz would likely make it deep into the derby, possibly even reaching the final round. His ability to hit home runs seemingly at will and the overall power he possesses would make things very interesting in the derby.

Edwin Encarnacion: After breaking out back in 2012, hitting 42 home runs that season, Edwin Encarnacion has been in a groove ever since. Going on an absolute tear in May, Encarnacion has cooled down a bit as of late, but he would definitely thrive in a home run derby atmosphere. Though Target Field isn’t necessarily a hitter’s park, Encarnacion could easily make it one.

Jose Abreu: Although Jose Abreu is a rookie, he’s already done more than enough to prove that he belongs at the big league level. Coming over from Cuba to the White Sox, Abreu set a rookie record for home runs in his first month, and despite a minor setback due to an injury, Abreu hasn’t let up. If Abreu is in the derby, along with his phenom status and incredible power, he will be someone to watch closely.

Yoenis Cespedes: Winning the home run derby last season, Yoenis Cespedes is somewhat overlooked, playing for the Athletics, but he’s truly a major power threat every time he steps to the plate. Although I don’t feel he will win two years in a row, especially if the other players on my list are going up against him, Cespedes could very well surprise me, as he did in 2013.

National League

Giancarlo Stanton: If Giancarlo Stanton is one of the sluggers in the 2014 derby, I truly don’t think any other hitter stands even a slight chance. The guy is simply amazing, with arguably the most power in all of baseball. When Stanton hits a home run — which is often for him — you immediately know it’s gone. Stanton would put on an unbelievable show in the derby in a few weeks.

Evan Gattis: The true definition of a natural power hitter, Evan Gattis has raw power and can absolutely crush a ball when he squares it up. Although he likely wouldn’t make it terribly deep, with the immense talent that’s in the derby each year, he would hit his share of amazing blasts. Gattis isn’t necessarily a top pick for the derby, but I’d love to see him participate, just to see what he can do.

Carlos Gomez: While some of Carlos Gomez’s on field antics have rubbed people the wrong way, it’s a fact that he’s super-talented. Gomez isn’t a guy who hits an extremely high amount of home runs each year, but put in an environment where the only goal is to hit a homer, I think Gomez would do well. Given the underlying power that he has, Gomez might actually make it deep into the derby.

Yasiel Puig: As with Carlos Gomez, not everyone appreciates the flair that Yasiel Puig shows on a daily basis, but he’s undeniably one of the most exciting young players on the big league level today. Coming up as a rookie from Cuba in 2013, Puig helped to turn around a struggling Dodgers team, and I feel he’d put on a show in the derby (as long as he doesn’t do a bat flip after every home run).

So, those are my picks for who I’d like to see in the 2014 home run derby, up at Target Field, on July 14th. Odds are that not all of them will be selected, but I truly hoped the majority of them are in the derby. Do you agree or disagree with my picks? Who would you like to see participate? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Ballot Released for the 2014 MLB All-Star Game

On Friday, the ballot for the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star game, set to take place up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at Target Field on July, 15th, was released, giving baseball fans all across the country the ability to pick which players they’d like to see in the starting lineups of Untitledthe midsummer classic.

With more and more attention being given to the All-Star game as years pass (a record 40.2 million ballots were cast in 2012), and with there being so many top quality candidates to choose from, the voting has become extremely intriguing.

To cast your vote, you can head down to your local ballpark and pick up a ballot, or, the easiest of ways, just head to MLB.com and fill out an online ballot with the player you feel most deserves the honor for each position. You have up to 25 votes (35 if you’re a registered member with MLB.com) that you can use.

Voting doesn’t end until July 3rd, but I’m not waiting (at least not completely).

I went ahead and cast half of my eligible 35 votes today for the players who I feel would deserve to make the All-Star team if it were being played tomorrow, with a plan for my remaining picks to be cast much closer to time. A lot of things can change, and therefore, my picks will subsequently change as well. However, for the sole purpose of this blog post, I figured I’d reveal the players I voted for, with the reasoning behind my picks:

FIRST BASE: Albert Pujols (AL), Paul Goldschmidt (NL)

With the great start he’s had so far this season, picking Albert Pujols was an easy choice. Though there are several other great candidates, including Miguel Cabrera, who just recently moved back over to first, and rookie phenom, Jose Abreu, who’s off to a fast start to his major league career, it was Pujols who had the overall package, posting a solid campaign for comeback player of the year.

For the National League side of the vote, it was a bit more difficult, with even more great candidates. From Brandon Belt’s fantastic, breakout start, to the always consistent Freddie Freeman, it was hard to settle with the decision I came to of picking Paul Goldschmidt. However, after the breakout season he had in 2013, and the fact that he isn’t letting up, he’s done enough to earn him my vote.

SECOND BASE: Robinson Cano (AL), Neil Walker (NL)

Though his power numbers have yet to show up so far this season, as many predicted with his move to the Mariners, I voted for Robinson Cano to start at second for the All-Star game. He’s still been fairly consistent at the plate this season, and his defensive skills are always fun to watch. While both Jason Kipnis and Dustin Pedroia were considered, Cano, in my mind, is the best choice at the moment.

I never thought I’d cast a vote for Neil Walker over the walking web gem that is Brandon Phillips, but that’s exactly what I did. Walker is off to a fantastic start to the year, and while Phillips hasn’t slowed down with his glove handiwork, he’s been a bit slow at the plate thus far. If he can pick it up offensively, he’ll likely earn the fan’s vote, but for now, I’m sticking with the Pirates’ Walker.

SHORTSTOP: Derek Jeter (AL), Troy Tulowitzki (NL)

Statistically, Alexei Ramirez probably deserves the starting shortstop role more than Derek Jeter, having one of the fastest starts of anyone in baseball, and the best kickoff to his career. However, with this being his final season (and Jeter being my favorite player), I had to vote for Jeter. The model of consistency, Jeter in all likelihood will be making his final All-Star start come July.

Troy Tulowitzki has always had the potential to be one of the top players in all of baseball, however, health has played a big role in hindering that caliber player from showing up. But with Tulo fully healthy, he’s begun to show signs of his full potential, and has been doing fantastic so far for the Rockies. While Andrelton Simmons and Hanley Ramirez would be great picks, mine goes to Tulowitzki.

THIRD BASE: Evan Longoria (AL), David Wright (NL)

In voting for the American League third baseman, though Josh Donaldson has, arguably, gotten off to the best start of any third baseman in baseball, I went with Evan Longoria. While Donaldson could definitely earn the All-Star spot should he continue his great play, Longoria has always been able to be consistent for the Rays. He should be able to do enough to earn the honor yet again.

Pedro Alvarez and Nolan Arenado have both begun the 2014 season on a high note, however, with David Wright having a good year as well so far, and factoring in his track record, my ballot saw Wright as the pick for third base. Wright always seems to have the numbers to warrant an All-Star selection, and I feel he’ll likely make the cut this time around as well.

CATCHER: Matt Wieters (AL), Yadier Molina (NL)

With Brian McCann heading from the NL to the AL this offseason, many felt he would be an immense impact as he has been over the years. But while he certainly has been great, he hasn’t had the fastest start to the season among catchers. Matt Wieters has had a career season so far, really producing well for the Orioles, and if he can keep it up, he very well could overtake McCann in the voting.

When it comes to picking the National League catcher, it truly is a tough choice. There are several great ones to pick from, many of which have been All-Stars before, and the great seasons so far by those players makes it nearly impossible to say which one player stands above the rest. With that said, however, I went with Yadier Molina, who does nearly everything well on the field, and deserves another selection.

DESIGNATED HITTER: Nelson Cruz

Being just an American League category, there weren’t too many players to pick from, so it came down to David Ortiz and Nelson Cruz for me. While David Ortiz is usually the obvious choice, Cruz is having a career season so far, and he might receive the All-Star votes needed if he can keep up his hot start. However, don’t count out Ortiz, as he could heat up as July continues to approach.

OUTFIELD

It’s never easy to narrow down 90 players to just six (three for each league), especially when you could make a strong case for a dozen of the outfield choices for each league, but it’s a requirement when casting a ballot. So, while I voted for the players who I felt were All-Star caliber players at the moment, there are a few more I would’ve liked to vote for, but couldn’t. Keep that in mind when reading the outfielders I selected for the American League and National League:

Mike Trout, Carlos Beltran, Jose Bautista (AL)

All three of these players are off to tremendous starts to the season, with all three standing a good shot at making the All-Star team this year. Mike Trout is, arguably, the best player in the game today, constantly making great plays and showing off his power at the plate, with Carlos Beltran and Jose Bautista possessing some of the best power baseball has to offer. Everything together, they all deserve consideration.

Ryan Braun, Giancarlo Stanton, Andrew McCutchen (NL)

As with most categories, the National League has more players overall that have an argument each season to be an All-Star. For this season, I voted for Ryan Braun (unfortunately), Giancarlo Stanton and Andrew McCutchen, as while I’m against Braun for his PED use, he’s still a good player. But with that said, I felt a lot better about choosing Stanton and McCutchen than I did Braun.

Do you agree or disagree with my picks? Leave a comment below.

My First Game of 2014; Big Autograph Expectations

After nearly seven months, I’m finally attending another baseball game.

Later today, I’m heading out to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP), in Durham, North Carolina, where the visiting Gwinnett Braves are set to take on the defending International League Champion Bulls in game three of a four-game series. With the teams having split the series so far through two games, it’s sure to be an exciting game. Untitled

The thing I’m most excited about, besides the game itself, is seeing the DBAP for the first time since it underwent a multimillion dollar renovation this past offseason, which involved putting in new lights, new seats, a new playing surface, in addition to changing just about everything you can think of. Anything that helps make the fan experience better I always approve of.

Now, if you’ve followed my blog for awhile, you know the DBAP is one of the two local minor league ballparks — Five County Stadium, home of the Carolina Mudcats, being the other — that I frequent throughout each baseball season. Though I always enjoy a good baseball game, generally, I only go out to see a game when a good amount of prospects are set to be there, or if an MLB player is playing in a rehab game. Otherwise, I’m content to merely reading the box score each night.

As many of you are aware, within the past couple of seasons, I’ve developed a big passion for going out to games and getting autographs from the games’ most promising young players who are on their way up, and that’s the main reason I’m heading over to the ballpark tonight. Not living near any MLB teams, it’s truly my only chance to get autographs from what will likely be future MLB stars down the road, and Gwinnett certainly has plenty of them, with Christian Bethancourt, Tommy La Stella and Cody Martin, among others.

However, they’re not alone.

The Bulls definitely hold their own when it comes to roster construction. While this year’s roster doesn’t compare to the one they had last season, which saw Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer as part of the Opening Day roster, their lineup and pitching for this year is set to be good yet again. From Enny Romero to Nathan Karns, and many inbetween, the Bulls stand a good chance of repeating as Champions, and as such, there are numerous players I want to snag an autograph from at some point this year.

But the Braves are the team I’m going for tonight. I’m not going to be trying for any autographs from the Bulls players this time around due to the fact that I can always get them in a few weeks, as opposed to a team that may not return with the same players next time. I learned that lesson last year with Wil Myers. In taking three games to finally get Myers, I missed my chance to get the top opposing teams’ players. I won’t let that happen this time around.

The way I’m viewing the schedules right now, it’s likely that I’ll be going out to Durham often this first month, with possibly no trips to see the Mudcats until May.  The Mudcats simply aren’t that great of a team, and the teams that are going to be visiting aren’t that fantastic either. But it’s just the opposite All-Star-Game-Final-2014for the Bulls, as every team they’re playing against throughout April has some really good players on it that I hope to get autos from. Though, it’s likely that I won’t be blogging about any of it, unless things happen to change.

But that’s just the very beginning of what looks to be a great autographing season.

From May through the end of the season, both the Mudcats and Bulls are taking on loaded teams, making it difficult to decide when I want to head out to the ballpark and see certain players in person, though that’s a good problem to have.

More significant than that, however, the DBAP is hosting the 2014 Triple-A Home Run Derby and All-Star game in mid July, which will bring in numerous top prospects from the Pacific Coast League which usually never comes closer than Memphis. I truly can’t wait until then, as it’s a can’t miss experience that I’ll absolutely be blogging about.

From the exciting Bulls games to kick off the season, to the remaining strong schedules between both the Mudcats and the Bulls, and the All-Star events thrown in there as well, everything combined altogether, it’s sure to be an unforgettable season.