It’s a new season of hope at Wrigley Field as the Chicago Cubs host the Washington Nationals in their season openers on Thursday.
It’s a new Era on Chicago’s North side as Theo Epstein takes over as GM of the Chicago Cubs and while many of the fans are looking for him to work miracles like he did in Boston more than likely if those are going to happen it’s going to be later rather than sooner. The Cubs spent the off season like most teams moving the roster around but with a lot of long term and high priced contracts they are somewhat limited over the short term. When it comes to contracts it all begins with Alfonso Soriano who is a defensive liability and offensively when he’s hot he’s hot but when he gets cold it’s tough to see the 25 million dollar a year ball payer anywhere. Carlos Zambrano and Aramis Ramirez are gone as is Carlos Pena and in comes David Dejesus, Ian Stewart, Travis Wood, and Chris Volstad, hardly a list that sounds like they will rejuvenate this organization. The Cubs of course have some nice young players in the lineup with Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney, Geovany Soto, and Marlon Byrd which they hope will be a core of a future winner. Ryan Dempster gets the opening day start but even the usually dependable Dempster is coming off of a pretty rough year. Carlos Marmol remains the closer and with him it’s usually a walk or a strikeout but how many save chances will he even get this season as it looks to be a long year ahead for the Cubbies.
The Washington Nationals are still regarded as an expansion team by many but the reality of it is that this is an organization that has built themselves the right way. Washington’s lineup isn’t full of household names but a group of players who are growing together and who seem to know how to get the clutch hits. Ryan Zimmerman is the best of the position players and last season’s big free agent acquisition Jayson Werth was a big disappointment leaving plenty of room to improve this season. Wilson Ramos takes over full time at catcher and he has a world of potential and Michael Morse was Washington’s best hitter last season. For the Nationals Stephen Strasburg gets the opening day start and after being injured two seasons ago he looked just fine when he played at the end of last season and is ready to resume his role as the face of the organization. Drew Storen is a capable closer and Tyler Clippard is an All Star set up man. The Nationals may surprise a lot of people this year but it all begins in this game.
Chicago is 5-2 in their last seven home games, 4-1 in their last five game one of a series, and 2-7 in Dempster’s last nine starts. Washington is10-1 in their last 11 road games, 12-4 in their last 16 against a right handed starter, and 4-0 in Strasburg’s last four road starts.
The wind is blowing in at Wrigley and don’t expect much scoring in this one so my free pick is on the under. I also have a pick on who will win and I posted it in the Premium Area.
The new York Yankees are 134 games into the season and are six games behind the Boston Red Sox for a wild card spot. the Minnesota Twins are actually in second place, currently sitting three games ahead of the Yankees. This would be the first time in 13 years that the Bronx Bombers won’t be on the diamond in the postseason, a fact that is a punch in the gut to Yankees fans that have grown accustomed to superstars and winning, but should put a smile on the face of most of the rest of baseball fandom.
There is also the possibility that Minnesota might overtake Boston for the wildcard spot, leaving the Red Sox out as well. the MLB playoff bracket hasn’t been without the Yankees or Red Sox, which would be the first time since 1993. Boston is 21-16 since the all star break, losing Manny Ramirez in trade and J.D. Drew to injury along the way, though Jason Bay has done a nice job replacing Ramirez.
Minnesota is 22-17 since the break but have recently gotten ace Francisco Liriano back from the disabled list and he is undefeated with a .90 era in his five starts since returning.
The real story here is the Tampa Bay Rays, though. This is a team that started out hot and was expected to fade down the stretch. but, they just keep winning, thanks in large part to the great young arms of Andy Sonnanstine, Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza and Edwin Jackson.
They continue throwing well, and with Carlos Pena doing his usual thing of tearing the cover off the ball in the second half of the season, there’s no reason to think the Rays won’t hold on and win the American League East. their current lead is 4 1/2 games over the Red Sox.
The rest of the American League side of the MLB playoff bracket has the Angels leading in the West by 16 games over the Rangers and the White Sox leading the Twins by a single game.
The National League side of the MLB playoff bracket shapes up like this:
The Mets lead the Phillies by 2 games in the East, the Cubs are 6 1/2 games up on the Brewers in the Central, and the Diamondbacks are ahead of the Dodgers by 3 1/2 games. In the wild card standings, the Brewers lead the Cardinals by 4 1/2 and the Phillies by 5 1/2 games.
It should be a fantastic September once again for Major League Baseball, with a number of pennant races still close and the possibility of the three most dominant teams over the last decade – the Yankees, Red Sox, and Braves – staying home in October. Baseball seems to do the least of the four major American sports to prevent parody, thanks to allowing teams to exceed the salary cap claiming profit sharing will make up the difference, but this year it may have to succumb any way.