Jim Tracy hopes that having Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez signed long-term means good things lie ahead for Colorado.
Jim Tracy beams when he is asked about the importance of Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to his team. Tracy knows he could wind up keeping his job for many years to come thanks to the luxury of writing the names of Tulowitzki, the big-hitting and slick-fielding shortstop, and Gonzalez, ultra-talented left fielder, in the lineup for at least the next seven seasons.
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A preview of the Dominican Winter League, taking a look at the teams, stadiums, managers, and players to watch for.
The "National Religion" came back on October 16th, as the Dominican League launched its 56th edition. Reliably praised as having the highest level of talent among the winter leagues, one should expect to watch another mix of highly ranked prospects, mid-level major leaguers, a few recognizable American players, veterans looking for another shot, and some major league stars between now and the end of the Caribbean Series in February. The league format has six teams playing a 50-game regular-season schedule, with the four best records advancing to a long 18-game round-robin playoff, and the two remaining best clubs play a best-of-nine final series to decide the league's champion. Without further ado, here's what this season will bring us:
Tigres del Licey (Licey Tigers)
Home: Santo Domingo
2008-09 record: 26-24, fourth place (tied) regular season; 12-6, first place round-robin; beat the Gigantes in the final series 5-0.
Ballpark: Estadio Quisqueya; strong pitcher's park, with a Park Factor of 92.
A rematch from the '07 postseason makes for a great showdown of two teams with very different virtues.
Well, here we are again, with the Phillies and Rockies set to battle one another in the National League Division Series for the second time in three seasons. Just as it was in 2007, the Phillies enter the fray with a division title while the Rockies used an incredibly strong second half to win the NL Wild Card. Unlike that entertaining 2007 season, however, in which the Phillies ousted the Mets from the top spot of the NL East on the final day of the season, only to have their spotlight stolen soon thereafter by a Rockies team that won a controversial play-in game, this year's Phillies controlled their division practically all season. In addition, the Rockies' second-half surge proved so strong that they actually gave the division-leading Dodgers a run for their money in the final week. A good chunk of the 2007 cast of characters remains intact for each team, but enough has changed to merit a new writeup instead of a recycled version of the prior Phillies/Rockies preview.
As the Round Robin playoffs start up in the Dominican Winter League, Carlos Lugo checks in with some notable news.
Despite the fact that most of their major league stars never showed up, and while suffering through the persistent struggles of D'Angelo Jimenez, one of the team's main figures, the Licey Tigers comfortably won the regular season, finishing 32-18, five games ahead of the Cibao Eagles. Licey had the best run differential in the league (+75) and they underperformed their Pythagorean record by just one game. They were the best at run prevention (3.7 runs allowed per game, league average 4.7) and their offense was second behind the Eagles.
Carlos Lugo checks in from the Dominican Republic with an update on the Winter League.
The new season of the Dominican Winter League started a few days earlier than usual, in an effort to avoid the past nightmare of having to quickly select the Dominican team for the Caribbean World Series.
The current champion Eagles finished the first half of the season in an unfamiliar position, third place. This was just the second time in the last seven years that the Eagles didn't finish in first place during that span. Bullpen inconsistency has been one of the team's main problems, specifically the lack of a dominant front end, but a timely five game winning streak has returned the Eagles to a tie for first place.
Are patient hitters better hitters, or do free-swingers get a bad rap? James Click has the answers.
Even if you had never seen baseball before, you could infer from the multitude of replays and even the superfluous dirt-cam introduced in the World Series this year that an at-bat is a complex series of events that requires lengthy analysis. Or you can divide it into two separate events: decision and result. From the batter's perspective, the decision is simple: swing or do not swing (there is no try). Once that choice is made, the batter can additionally influence the outcome if he chooses to swing, or he transfers the decision to the umpire if he does not.
In order to determine if the decision was "good" or not, we must evaluate both the choice and the effectiveness of that choice. For example, if the batter chooses not to swing, that choice can be deemed "correct" if the pitch is called a ball or "incorrect" if it's a strike. (Though many of you may debate that in light of some of the recent strike zone interpretations by our friendly umpiring crews.) Once the batter has decided to swing, the results become more varied and therefore more difficult to evaluate.
Most of the excitement in Philadelphia has to do with an improved bullpen, recent versions of which have been the perceived bane of the city's existence. So out with Jose Mesa, in with Billy Wagner. Given how much of the blame for the Phillies' disappointing performances the last two seasons has been placed at the foot of the relief staff, it's easy to understand why fans, media, and the team itself is so eager to have the hard-throwing lefty closing games. I actually agreed that the move would help the Phillies, although not exactly for the reasons generally given. Closers are overrated as a class, and as great as Wagner is, using him solely to protect ninth-inning leads and the occasional ninth-inning tie is a suboptimal application of his talent. However, I also know that Larry Bowa is one of the most temperamental managers in the game, and I strongly believe that his emotional style has been a detriment to this team over the past two seasons.
While I've avoided saying so until now, the Phillies have to be considered the favorites in the National League East. It's not clear that any team is better than them, but this isn't the AL Central. There are basically five teams who look to be no worse than 75-87, and four who should be over .500. The Braves have fallen back to the pack, the Marlins should decline a little from last year's 91-71 performance, and the Mets could rise to .500 if their new acquisitions, Kazuo Matsui and Mike Cameron, meet expectations. Even the Expos have a chance to stay in the Wild Card chase, thanks to a balanced offense and Frank Robinson's demonstrated ability to get a lot from no-name bullpens.
A lost season for the Angels has folks in Anaheim scratching their heads. John Smoltz's injury buries Bobby Thigpen's name for another year. The Royals' run evokes memories of George Brett and company. Sandy Alomar...you can probably guess what Chris will write about Sandy Alomar. Witticisms, Kahrlisms and roster schmisms in this edition of Transaction Analysis.