BY DEREK BARSNESS, Couchsideshow.com writer
After returning from a weekend in Arizona for a few Cactus League games, I remain convinced that baseball is the true American sport.
Many aspects of baseball’s spring training are desirable to both the avid and casual fan. The first and probably biggest reason it’s so popular is the weather. For the majority of the country we are still suffering the end of a harsh winter in March. After six months of cold, snow and wind there are few things more appealing than sitting in 80+ degree weather drinking a cold beer and watching baseball under sunny skies.
For those of you who haven’t attended games at either the Cactus League or the Grapefruit League (in Florida) you need to put it on your bucket list. The atmosphere at the games is incredible. Literally every seat in the stadium has a great view. For the younger crowds, many new stadiums are including a second level “Party Deck” which is an excellent option for spring breakers. For more of the family atmosphere there is the lawn seating where the outfield bleachers usually are. Make sure to arrive early and claim your spot with a blanket or two. This is a great option if you have younger kids as there is usually plenty of room for them to run around and not have to sit still for two hours. (more…)
No longer will the skipper climb out of the dugout, walk to the mound and signal for the closer in the seventh inning, heck, rarely will they call for him in the eighth. Most guys throw one inning, unless it is an important game, then the closer will get the next game or two off. Either way, closers are the guys who slam the door shut, or are the goat for the night. Here’s a few pitchers who I would call upon in the ninth innings this season.
Shoved into the closer role, Axford did not disappoint. He posted 46 saves, 86 strikeouts in 73.2 innings pitched and blew only two saves. He got stronger after the all-star break and cut down on his walks. His 49 percent ground ball rate helped him record an ERA of 1.95. Although he has Francisco Rodriguez behind him, Axford has proved to be composed. One thing that worries me is his 59 hits given up. He will need to get more swing and misses without the same lineup in Milwaukee. (more…)
During the live ball era, the job of pitchers have slowly, but surely changed. No longer is a starter relied on for eight or nine innings a night, and closers do not have to throw three innings. You think they would, given the amount of money closers receive in their contracts.
Now, set-up men and relievers are the bridge from the seventh to the ninth inning, where they hand the ball over to the manager. It’s the dirty work, and too often are these names forgotten, unless you glance over the box score and see the letter ‘H’ next to their names. Here’s a list of the top-5 set-up men in baseball.
The Atlanta Braves’ bullpen is pretty stacked, and most of the attention is given to Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel. In the 2010-11 season, O’Flaherty appeared in 78 games, and surrendered eight earned runs over 73.2 innings pitched. The right-hander sported a 1.09 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP while recording 32 holds on the year. Considering all the other arms on the team, not too shabby. O’Flaherty is one of the more underrated pitchers in baseball, he’s generated grounders 55.1 percent of the time over past three years combined. He’ll be called upon all season long, if he stays healthy.
For part seven of Couch Side’s 12 part series on the best baseball players by position for 2012, I’m going the be showing a lot of love for the National League’s top left fielders. This list was an easy pick before I remembered that Ryan Braun’s suspension had been lifted. So although I don’t agree with his actions, until the man is proven guilty, he’ll lead off Couch Side’s list of the best in L.F.
Like it or not, Ryan Braun was the N.L. MVP last season. And hate it or love it, he will be playing this season despite some faulty handling of his drug test. With that out of the way, let’s focus on how this guy plays. Braun almost won the Triple Crown last season, falling just short in each category by the slimmest of margins. By hitting for power and contact last year, Braun proved that he may just be the best hitter in baseball. And it’s hard not to call a guy who hit 33 bombs, 111 RBIs and carried a .332 batting average just that. You never saw guys like Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire hit for average. That’s why it’s hard for me not to love Ryan Braun just a little. He may have cheated, but at least he didn’t gun for the single season home run record. Instead, he was Mr. Baseball last season. And if he is completely innocent, I feel like he could be one of the best of all time. After all, the guy is an extremely talented outfielder, feared hitter and a threat on the base paths with 33 swipes last season.
If Hamilton can avoid injury and any sort of bad press by “relapsing,” he may just have a breakout season this year. It’s a stretch to say a former MVP is still capable of a breakout season, but Hamilton is due after missing solid stretches of time during the past two summers. We all know he is capable of 30 or even 40 home runs and is a lock to secure 100 RBIs. With a full season, he may just throw his name back into the MVP hat and Hamilton will certainly be looking to improve his numbers, considering this is the final year of his contract.
As pitchers and catchers reported to their respective camps during the past few days, Couch Side also has Spring Training fever.
And with the Major League Baseball season about a month away, we’ve decided to begin a look into the top players at each position. So here is our fist in a series of 12 blogs in which we will break down the top five players at each position during the next few weeks. Couch Side’s own Trevor Gould appropriately chose to start our series off with starting pitchers. Here is who he sees as this year’s movers and shakers from the hill.
1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
Last year, Justin Verlander almost singlehandedly redefined the definition of domination. The right-handed fire-baller posted a league high 24 wins along with a stellar 2.40 ERA, scintillating 250 punch-outs, and a .92 WHIP, the lowest in the league. Major League Baseball rewarded Verlander handsomely for his accomplishments by handing him both the AL Cy Young and league MVP award. Verlander’s pitches often exceed 100 MPH, and he is able to accurately pinpoint all areas of the strike zone, keeping hitters constantly guessing. Thanks to the Tigers’ offensive potency and the recent addition of power bat Prince Fielder, Verlander has a very good chance of racking up an equally gaudy number of wins this season.