Looking at the Team MLB roster for the Japan All-Star Series

Above, you can see the roster for the Japan All-Star Series for Team MLB. As you can see, the term “All-Star” is sort of loose. Oh, yes, it’s a good team, and there are plenty of All-Stars on it. It’s definitely a team you’d be able to make the post-season with in a 162 game schedule. But on the other hand, the pitching staff isn’t exactly world-beating and the outfield is thin due to the pull-outs of Bryce Harper and Adam Jones, meaning a utility player like Ben Zobrist or Chris Carter will be playing a bit there. Another worry is that Evan Longoria might have to leave early because his fiancee is very pregnant, and, honestly, I’m surprised he’s going in the first place with something like that going on.

Anyway, here’s a bit of a run-down on the MLB roster… after the jump:

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The Phil Hughes deal isn’t as crazy as you think

As you no doubt have found out by now, Phil Hughes has signed with the Minnesota Twins. On one hand, you likely thought this was a crazy and reckless move by the Twins, throwing 24 million dollars at a pitcher who has been wildly inconsistent and who was 4-14 last year with an abominable 5.19 ERA. At least Ricky Nolasco, the other big signing for the Twins in their attempt to make their rotation better, was good last season, after all.

But, get this: this could actually end up being a good move. Maybe.

For one, keep in mind the type of pitcher Hughes is. He’s a fly ball pitcher. Last year, 46.5% of balls hit off Hughes ended up as fly balls, according to FanGraphs. That’s a lot, and it is especially dangerous in stadiums like the new Yankee Stadium, which is a hitters park that at times seems to turn routine fly balls into unexpected home runs. Compare that to Target Field, however, where the opposite seems to happen: if I had a quarter for every time it looked like Joe Mauer had just hit one over the wall only for it to fall short (either turning into a double or a fly-out, depending on the outfielder and the part of the stadium he hit it to), I’d have many quarters.

It’s entirely possible that, with more of his games in a more spacious stadium, Hughes will be able to cut down on the gopher-balls and deflate his ERA quite a bit. Although it’s admittedly a small sample size (and he was facing Twins hitters), Hughes’ regular-season numbers in his three games and 21.1 innings at Target Field seem to back this assessment up. He is a career 2.53 ERA pitcher in those three games, and gave up just one HR (That’s one HR every 21.1 innings, compared to one HR every 5.015 innings in the current Yankee Stadium). If Hughes can replicate anything close to that performance when he pitches in Minnesota wearing a Twins’ jersey, he could prove to be a reliable two or three starter for the Twins, and certainly an improvement over the revolving door they had last season.

And, what’s more, there is also the fact that at times, Phil Hughes’ roller-coaster career has climbed very high. Back in 2010, for example, he was an All-Star who went 18-8 (more on that next sentence). As recently as 2012, he won 16 games, although, as Brian Kenny would tell you, that more-or-less tells you nothing (and, what’s more, he also lost 13 games). Could Hughes be heading for another upward trend? Well, that has yet to be seen, and the answer may well make the Twins look like geniuses (or fools).

On Day 1 of the WBC

Some thoughts on Day 1 of the WBC….

…The Brazilians aren’t screwing around. They very easily could have won that game against Japan had a few plays turned out different, perhaps even had a single play gone differently. This is Brazil’s big coming out party for baseball, and based on the fact that words like “Japao” (Japan) were trending in Brazil, I’d say that they baseball could be seeing the emergence of a new market.

…Korea is in trouble. The Netherlands is good, and may have won their game against Korea even if the Koreans could hit a lick or didn’t have four errors. But the fact that Korea was so impotent at the plate and inept in the field made it a game that was far more of a blowout than the score suggested. So now, Korea is a loss away from near-certain elimination and due to face two tough teams: Taipei and Australia. Neither are close to a guaranteed win, especially if Korea plays like they did against the Honkballers.

Chien-Ming Wang still has it. Well, not the speed on his pitches, but certainly the sinker and it’s patented ability to get a double-play at the right time. Whatever rallies that Australia was able to have against the Taiwanese starter were quickly destroyed by the twin killings. While I don’t think Wang has the stuff for a MLB starter anymore, he could probably find a good niche as a reliever and spot-starter.

Quick Impressions of the other 15 WBC rosters (and a link to the US)

More rosters were revealed at 4 PM, go below the jump for my quick run-down of them. It will be updated as the rosters are revealed on television. Also, note that the rosters (which I will link to when I find a good link) are NOT FINAL and could change.

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Getting a lay of who is still in it, who isn’t, and who could get back into it

Well, with the Olympics now over, it’s time to return to 100% baseball mode. Okay, 97% baseball mode. You never know when I might decide to go off on a tangent about football or the movies or something.

But right now, all baseball. With the season about to enter it’s last month-and-a-half of madness, it’s time to figure out where all the teams are and who, exactly, still has a shot at reaching the playoffs. With the addition of the second Wild Card, this means more teams than previous years have at least an outside shot at the postseason. Of course, that doesn’t mean every team has an outside shot. So, here are how every team can be classified, in rough order of least to most chance of reaching the playoffs.

(jump)

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Party like an Aught-Star: Ben Sheets and the Oakland Athletics

Ben Sheets is now 2-0. The Athletics have beat the Yankees three straight to open their series. Although I can’t be sure, I’m going to have to guess that I’ll be playing a Nintendo Gamecube tomorrow, as soon as I finish the last chapter of the latest Harry Potter book.

Yes, it is true, we have seemingly done a time-warp into the first decade of the 21st century. The Aughts, as they are sometimes called, since saying “The 2000s” is kind of unclear as to whether you are talking about the decade or the century.

The Aughts were good to the Oakland Athletics and to Ben Sheets, but they had fallen on hard times by the 2010s. Now, however, they seem to be turning things around.

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What is wrong with the Orioles?

It’s too early to declare the Orioles’ season, which I wrote about awhile back, as heading down the tubes. But it is definitely not looking as good as it once did. They’ve lost six straight. They’ve fallen out of first. Nick Markakis is hurt. The AL East is becoming even more of a gigantic no-holds-barred brawl than it was.
So what happened?

What happened was that the pitching- especially the starting pitching has been having a tough week. They have been routinely falling behind early. They fell 5-0 on Friday night, for example, giving up all of those runs in the first inning. They were falling behind to the Blue Jays early in games. In other words, the Orioles are getting dragged into the same kind of shooting-gallery, pray-we-can-outhit-them-because-our-pitching-cannot-stop-them kinds of games they’ve been getting stuck in the last decade and a half or so. Spoiler alert: They usually can’t.

The Orioles are by no means out of it yet. They are only one game back. A win today would get them tied for first again. Two wins over the weekend would get them to first outright. All of the AL East teams have flaws, and the Orioles still have a very good bullpen, something that is essential in this day and age. They also have Adam Jones, who can, on some days, win a game by himself.

The question is: Can they pull themselves off the mat, or will, like so many season before, the Orioles squander a good start and fall back into the basement?

Only time will tell.

How long can the Orioles keep this up?

The Orioles won again last night. In 15 innings, they defeated the Royals, rallying in the 9th to tie the game and then taking the lead for good with a Adam Jones homer in the top of the 15th. With the victory, the Orioles kept pace with the Tampa Bay Rays (who they are tied with), and extended their lead over the Yankees, who are now 3.5 games back. So we must ask: how are they doing this, and can they keep this up?

Maybe it’s the return of the classic logo…

One thing that really is standing out with the 2012 Orioles is how well the no-name pitchers are doing. Most of the All-Stars the Orioles have had since the retirement of Cal Ripken have generally been hitters: Miguel Tejada, Melvin Mora, Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, etc. The only exceptions have been B.J. Ryan in 2005 (who flamed out after a few years in Toronto in the late aughts)  and George Sherrill in 2008 (he now pitches for the Mariners), although Erik Bedard (who was slyly traded for Jones, Sherrill and others in 2009) could probably have been said to have been snubbed on at least one occasion. That likely will remain true this year: the Orioles will probably see Wieters (who should probably start) and Adam Jones make the All-Star Game this year if they keep it up. But it will be ignoring the no-name pitchers that are keeping them in the race this late in the season.

Take their bullpen. It is spectacular, and I, like most people, can’t name a single one of them without looking it up. Even I, who prides myself on trying to be at least vaguely familiar with everybody in baseball, is just that with the Orioles: vaguely familiar. I recognize the names when I see them, but if I were vacationing down in Maryland and ran into one of them in the Inner Harbor, I wouldn’t be saying “Oh, you’re Jim Johnson!” I would probably instead say: “Look where you’re going!”

And yet, Johnson is having a brilliant year. He has a 0.51 ERA and he leads the league in saves. And the rest of the bullpen has been doing great:

-Pedro Strop, who had been given to the Orioles as a player-to-be-named-later from the Rangers, has a 1.29 ERA in 21 innings.

-Veteran reliever Luis Ayala is the holder of 1.86 ERA and, along with Johnson, Strop and Darren O’Day, is one of four O’s pitchers with WHIPs (Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched) under one.

-Speaking of O’Day, he has the lowest WHIP of anybody in the Baltimore ‘pen: 0.873. Like Strop, he’s a cast-off from the Rangers: the Orioles picked him up off of waivers.

By comparison, the Baltimore rotation hasn’t been as good, especially at the top. Tommy Hunter (another Texas cast-off, arriving to Baltimore along with the immortal Chris Davis last season in exchange for Koji Uehara) is 2-2 with a 4.78 ERA. Jake Arrieta, arguably the best homegrown starter in the rotation, has also struggled, with a 5.21 ERA and a 2-4 W-L record. It leads one to wonder why Buck Showalter hasn’t promoted the two success stories in the rotation up a bit. Taiwanese import (via Japan) Wei-Yin Chen has yet to lose a game, and has a 2.45 ERA. Jason Hammel, a serviceable-but-unremarkable starter the last few years, is 4-1 with a 2.68 ERA.

In my eyes, the only chance the Orioles have of staying in the race in the long run is having the pitching hold up. This seems obvious, but it is true. No matter how well the Orioles hit, they cannot survive the apocalyptic struggle that is the AL East without pitching that can silence the Rays, Yankees, Blue Jays and Red Sox.

Whether they can is up for debate. Chen, for example, is still new to the majors, so it’s possible that the hitters just might not be used to facing him yet. Eventually, they will figure him out, and then, like every other pitcher, Chen will have to make more adjustments.

But if the Orioles keep this up- unlike so many of the previous years where they have teased the world with hot starts- the people who may need to adjust are the rest of the AL East, which somehow now finds itself even stronger.