Tuesday, June 23, 2009

MLB 2009 Surprises and Disappointments

The 2009 baseball season already had more storylines than an over-hype, over-budget Hollywood film. We have seen Hunt for Red Sox Nation, Waiting for Mannywood, and The Return of A-Rod repeatedly on our television screens all season long. The press has concentrated on the big-budget, major market teams, while ignoring the improve play from the small market teams.

Well, I personally take the responsibility to give you a report on four teams that have surprised and disappointed their fans this season.

Kansas City Royals
The Kansas City Royals closed out the 2008 season going 18-8 in their last 26 games, and baseball scouts raved about how hard the team played every night. This season, they’re led by an underrated pitching staff that stars Zach Greinke, Gil Meche, and Joakim Soria.

The best pitcher of the first half has been Greinke, 8-3 with an 1.96 era, who began his season by throwing 38 scoreless innings. Soria has battled through shoulder pain all season, and his health could play an important role to their success.

If the Royals are going to contend for the American League Central title, they will need to add more power to their lineup. They’re missing a big stick right now, 3B Alex Gordon has been on the disabled list since mid-April, as he is recuperating from hip surgery to repair a torn labrum.
The Royals will not be in this year’s World Series, but there is optimism for continued good play for the rest of the season.

San Francisco Giants
After four consecutive losing seasons, the San Francisco Giants are attempting to reach the post-season for the first time since 2003. They have one of the best starting pitching staff in baseball, as Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain have combined for a 15-3 mark on the season. Barry Zito has shown some signs of regaining his CY Young touch, as his flirted with throwing a no-hitter last weekend.

The Giants hit the fewest home runs in the majors last season, and they still lack power in their lineup. It forces them to play small ball with an aging lineup and that is not a good match. They will need to acquire a cleanup hitter to have any chance of contending in the National League West.

Memo to other N.L. teams: don’t make the mistake of letting the Giants hang around in the pennant race too long. Their farm system is loaded with young reinforcements (P Madison Bumgarner, P Tim Alderson, and C Buster Posey) who are eager to make an impression come September.

Baltimore Orioles
No one expects the Baltimore Orioles to contend in the American League East, as they will have to pass the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Tampa Bay Rays to overtake the top spot. Their offense is young and talented (OF Nick Markakis, 2B Brian Roberts, OF Adam Jones) but their starting pitching is young and inexperienced.

Potential high-end starting pitchers are working their way through the minor league system, and could pitch in Baltimore by the end of the season. Their blue chip prospect is LHP Brian Matusz, a former #1 draft choice who is polished and fairly closed to pitching in the majors sooner than later.

How well the Orioles do down the road will depend how fast their young talent develops over time. If majority of them reach the majors, then team president Andy McPhail was successful with his rebuilding plan.

Cincinnati Reds
Injuries have been the biggest opponent for the Cincinnati Reds all season. Coming out of spring training, their everyday lineup was as good offensively as anyone in the National League. Slowly, nagging injuries have turned into significant time spent on the disabled list.

Seven players are currently on the DL, including 1B Joey Votto, 3B Edwin Encarnacion, and SP Edinson Volquez, who has been on the DL twice this season with elbow tendinitis. Manager Dusty Baker hopes to have Votto back in the lineup by the end of June, as he heads to a minor league rehabilitation assignment later this week.

If everyone can return healthy before the All-Star break, their middle of the lineup could provide enough of a spark to get the Reds back into contention in the National League Central.

Written By Thomas Conroy