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For over 25 years, Bob Matthews has held the title of Rochester's most popular sports writer/commentator. For over 20 years, Bob has hosted WHAM's nightly sports talk program...consistently ranked at the top of his time slot!
From 1978 to 2012, Bob Matthews was a sports columnist for the Times-Union and Democrat and Chronicle and a regular "As the Sports World Turns" contributor to the Gannett News Service. He is the only person to be selected Press-Radio Club Sportswriter of the Year (five times) and Sportscaster of the Year, and was a pioneer inductee into the Frontier Field Walk of Fame.
A Rochester native, Bob graduated from Brighton High School where he played varsity baseball, basketball and served as student council V-P. Bob is also a veteran, serving his country in Vietnam.
Always opinionated and outspoken, Bob's proudest accomplishment is advocating for Frontier Field. His all-time favorite athlete...former Red Wing Luke Easter. One of his sports regrets……not being around for the glory year of the Rochester Royals.
MICHIGAN -2 OVER SU; WICHITA STATE +10 1/2 ARE MY FINAL FOUR PICKS
ALMOST GUARANTEED TO HAPPEN THIS BASEBALL SEASON
HOW RYAN NASSIB FARED HEAD-TO-HEAD VS. GENO SMITH
BOB’S DREAM 2013 NFL DRAFT FOR THE BUFFALO BILLS
Syracuse vs. Louisville (and Jim Boeheim vs. Rick Pitino) in Monday night’s NCAA men’s championship game in Atlanta would be a fitting finale for the Big East as we know it.
I hope to see it happen -- but I’m picking Michigan (-2) over the Orange in Saturday night’s Final Four semifinals.
SU’s trademark 2-3 zone defense has been in excellent form during the team’s current 7-1 run in tournament play. But I believe a bit too much is being made of SU’s defense and too little is being made of Michigan’s offense in this matchup.
The Wolverines are an excellent offensive team. They’ve made almost 50 percent of their field-goal attempts (124x251) in this tournament .
They have the Associated press college basketball Player of the Year in point guard Trey Burke, and three perimeter threats in Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas. Burke is a clutch scorer and distributor. He isn’t likely to panic against SU’s zone. The Orange thrive on transition baskets off turnovers but Burke isn’t likely to be generous.
As well as SU point guard Michael Carter-Williams has been playing, I have to give the edge to fellow sophomore Burke,
Freshman muscleman Mitch McGary gives Michigan a strong inside presence. He doesn’t jump high but has a knack for getting open and the strength to give SU’s back line problems. He decisively outplayed Kansas star big man Jeff Withey in this tournament.
Perhaps the key man in SU’s hopes for a mild upset is James Southerland. The three-point specialist is a streak shooter. If he takes around 10 shots from long range and makes more than half of them, the Orange would be in good shape.
My pick: Michigan 75, Syracuse 70.
Wichita State was an underrated No. 9 seed and already has upset Gonzaga (No. 1 seed) and Ohio State (No. 2) to get this far. The Shockers have the size and depth to hang tough against 10 ½-point favored Louisville. The Cardinals responded to guard’s Kevin Ware’s season-ending broken leg by humiliating Duke in the second half of a 85-63 romp in the Elite 8. I don’t know how much of that emotion will carry over for this game but I’m pretty sure Louisville will miss Ware’s presence on the court.
My pick: Louisville 72, Wichita State 64.
ALMOST GUARANTEED TO HAPPEN THIS BASEBALL SEASON
For the first time, I believe Bryce Harper (Washington Nationals) will have at least as productive a baseball career as Mike Trout (Los Angeles Angels).
I don’t remember when two young players of this extraordinary ability entered the majors in the same season. I won’t be surprised if Harper and Trout both win Most Valuable Player awards in the same year -- perhaps even THIS season.
I wonder if they’ll have a rivalry to match Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams in the 1940s or Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle in the 1950s and early 1960s.
Here are some predictions for the 2013 season. Clip and save (someone always does):
The Washington Nationals will lead the majors in regular-season victories.
The Yankees will suffer their first losing season since 1992.
The Houston Astros will lead MLB in losses in their first season in the American League.
The Baltimore Orioles – 29-9 in one-run games last year – will be .500 at best in one-run games this season.
The Pittsburgh Pirates will end their 20-year losing streak.
Division winners: Toronto, Detroit, Angels, Washington, Cincinnati, San Francisco.
Discarded Yankee Rafael Soriano (Washington) will have more saves than Mariano Rivera (Yankees).
The Yankees will not have an Alex Rodriguez bobblehead promotion.
Minnesota rookie center fielder Aaron Hicks will be a Red Wing by July 1.
Johan Santana (Mets) will never pitch again.
The only reason Giancarlo Stanton (Miami) won’t lead the NL in home runs is that opponents will pitch around him.
Cleveland’s Drew Stubbs, Mark Reynolds and Nick Swisher will combine to strike out more than 500 times.
R.A. Dickey (Toronto will lead MLB in complete games.
Derek Jeter will start at shortstop for the AL in the All-Star Game no matter how few games he plays in the first half of the season.
CC Sabathia will have a higher ERA than he weighs for the Yankees.
Justin Morneau (Minnesota) and Alfonso Soriano (Cubs) will be traded before the deadline – possibly both to the Yankees.
Toronto will have a winning record in road games for the first time in 10 years.
Justin Upton, B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward (Atlanta) will combine for at least 100 HRs and 320 RBI.
The most impressive rookie will be outfielder Oscar Taveras (St. Louis).
Kansas City will have fewer than 90 losses for only the second time in the last 10 years.
The Cubs will not win their first World Series since 1908 (I want to get at least one right).
NASSIB HAD THE EDGE HEAD-TO-HEAD OVER GENO SMITH
According to most NFL talent analysts, West Virginia’s Geno Smith’s is the best quarterback available in the first round of the NFL Draft April 25.
But judging by Smith’s four games head-to-head against Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib, maybe Nassib would be the better pick.
Oct. 10, 2009 – West Virginia won 34-13 at Syracuse…Nassib replaced ineffective QB Greg Paulus to start the second half. He was 7x16 for 120 yards, with 2 TD passes and 0 INTs…Smith replaced starter Jarret Brown in the fourth quarter. He was 3x4 for 14 yards with 0 TD passes and 0 INTs.
Oct. 23, 2010 – Syracuse won 19-14 at West Virginia…Both started…Nassib was 5x15 for 63 yards, with 1 TD and 0 INTs…Smith was 20x37 for 178 yards, with 1 TD pass and 3 INTs.
Oct. 21, 2011 – Syracuse won at home 49-23…Nassib was 24x32 for 229 yards, with 4 TD passes and 0 INts. He ran 4 times for 11 yards and 1 TD…Smith was 24x41 for 338 yards, with 2 TD passes and 1 INT.
Dec. 29, 2012 – Syracuse won 38-14 in the Pinstripe in the snow and wind at Yankee Stadium…Nassib was 11x23 for 130 yards, with 2 TD passes. He had 7 carries for 13 yards…Smith was 19x28 for 201 yards, with 2 TD passes and o0 INTs. ..Both were sacked twice.
Totals…Nassib was 3-0 when they were starters in 2010-11-12…In all four games, Nassib was 47x86 (.547) for 542 yards, with 9 TD passes and 1 INT…He had 21 carries for 45 net yards with 1 TD…Smith was 66x110 (.600) for 731 yards, with 5 TD passes and 5 INTs…He had 13 carries for minus-59 yards.
Nassib’s 9x1 TD pass/INT ratio compared to Smith’s 5/5 ratio more than negates Smith’s advantage in passing yardage…Neither did much running the football. That’s not their style.
HERE’S HOPING BILLS PASS ON QUARTERBACKS IN THE FIRST TWO ROUNDS
I hope another team selects quarterback Geno Smith in the first round of the NFL Draft April 25 before the Buffalo Bills are tempted to pick him. I don’t think he’d be a top-20 pick in a year with a normal number of really good QB prospects.
The Bills have only six picks in the 2013 draft: 8th…41st…71st…105th…143rd…177th.
Buffalo has no seventh-round pick and no compensatory picks.
My dream Buffalo draft: The best available linebacker (Jarvis Jones or Dion Jordan) or wide receiver (Corarrelle Patterson or Kennan Allen) with the No. 8 pick…The best available wide receiver (Tavon Austin, DeAndre Hopkins, Terrence Williams or Justin Hunter) or linebacker (Barkevious Mingo, Alec Ogletree, Damontre Moore or Manti Te’o) with the No. 41 pick…One or two of the remaining four picks on QBs. The Bills are due to get lucky on a QB. Long overdue.
I’d be happy with Ryan Nassib with the 71st pick. He figures to be gone by then (ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr, has him going to the Bills No. 41), but I’m not convinced he’s a cut above Mike Glennon, Tyler Bray, Zac Dysert, EJ Manuel or Landry Jones as an NFL QB prospect. Maybe there is a gem hidden in that group.
PETTITTE GIVES YANKEES A TIMELY VICTORY…IS HE A HALL OF FAME CANDIDATE?
Andy Pettitte has pitched bigger games in his long career, but Thursday night’s 4-2 home win against Boston was an important one.
The hurting Yankees were off to a 0-2 start in the season-opening series against the Red Sox and about to embark on a weekend series against the defending American League champion Detroit Tigers.
Pettitte will turn 41 this summer. He now is a terrific example of a “crafty left-hander.” He no longer has awesome stuff but he’s a smart pitcher and makes the most of what he has left.
He is a marginal Hall of Famer and a solid 2013 season would build his case.
Positives on his resume for Cooperstown: 246 regular-season victories. Many Hall of Famed pitchers had fewer wins…Very good .634 career winning percentage (246-142) in the regular season…904/2,323 walk/strikeout ratio…19-11 postseason record (most wins ever)…fifth-or-better in Cy Young Award voting five times (2nd 1996; 5th 1997; 4th 2000; 6th 2003; 5th 2005)…Two 20-win seasons (not bad by modern standards)…Spent most his career with the Yankees (15 seasons with Yankees; 3 seasons with Houston). That never hurts.
Negatives for his bid for election to Cooperstown: Admitted brief use of PEDs… Career 3.85 ERA is high for a Hall of Famer…has allowed more hits (3,258) than innings pitched (3,138 2/3)…Seldom was the No. 1 starter for the Yankees…Selected to only three All-Star Games.
Is Jason Pominville a future Rochester Americans Hall of Famer? I’d say marginal.
Here are his Amerk stats:
2002-03 – 73 games…13 goals…21 assists…34 points…+5 (plus/minus)
2003-04 – 66 games…34 goals…30 assists…64 points…-1
2004-05 – 78 games…30 goals…38 assists…68 points…+1
2005-06 – 18 games…19 goals…7 assists…26 points…+2
Totals: 235 games…96 goals…96 assists…192 points…+7
In 19 playoff games with Rochester, he had 10 goals, 11 assists, 21 points, +7.
Had he played the entire 2005-06 season, he was on pace to have one of the all-time greatest individual seasons for Rochester.
--Americans have won all 14 events on the 2013 PGA Tour (and 16 straight since last year). If that is a problem, the LPGA Tour must wish it had it.
--Undefeated Vyjack (4-0) and Verrazano (3x3) are the horses to beat in Saturday’s Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. It is a key prep for the Kentucky Derby (May 4). Normandy Invasion is an interesting long shot.
--The Finger Lakes Casino and Racetrack 2013 live thoroughbred racing season starts Saturday, April 20.
KEVIN KOLB AT BEST: A BRIDGE TO THE FUTURE
WOLVERINES 2-POINT FAVORITE OVER ORANGE
MICHIGAN ‘S OFFENSE VS. SYRACUSE’S ZONE A CLASSIC MATCHUP
HICKOK BELT WINNER BOB TURLEY DEAD AT 82
I don’t believe Kevin Kolb is going to lead the Buffalo Bills to a playoff berth this season…or ever!
Kolb probably is just another in the long line of below-average journeymen quarterbacks the Bills have employed since Jim Kelly retired in what seems like about 50 years ago.
Kolb was selected No. 36 overall by Philadelphia in the 2007 NFL draft. He was the third QB chosen – behind JaMarcus Russell (No. 1 overall by Oakland) and Brady Quinn (No. 22 by Cleveland). Not much cause for optimism there.
Is Kolb better than Ryan Fitzpatrick? Maybe, but probably not.
Is he better than Tarvaris Jackson or Tyler Thigpen or Aaron Corp? We can only hope so.
Kolb has been inconsistent and injury prone in his six NFL seasons with Philadelphia and Arizona.
His career stats: 34 games…9-12 record as a starter…449x755 passing (.595) for 5,206 yards…28 TD passes…25 INTs… 78.9 passer rating…69x229 rushing (3.3-yard average) with 2 TDs and 20 first downs.
Kolb lost his starting job to Michael Vick in Philadelphia and former Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt’s confidence in Kolb cost him his job.
In fairness, Kolb didn’t have a lot of help in Arizona. The offensive line made Buffalo’s OL look like the Great Wall of China. No QB in the league faced nearly as much pressure the last two seasons. He also had no top-notch running back , no elite tight end and only one stellar wide receiver (Larry Fitzgerald).
The Bills reportedly signed Kolb to a two-year deal worth a maximum for $13 million. That means he’ll likely have a big advantage in the “competition” with Jackson for starting QB, who signed a one-year, $2.2 million deal in February.
The main reason I like the addition of Kolb is that it probably means the Bills aren’t going to use the No. 8 overall pick in this month’s NFL draft to reach for a quarterback in a weak crop. I also think Buffalo views Kolb as a bridge to the “franchise” QB the team has been waiting for. He’s not the projected long-term solution to Buffalo’s major long-term deficiency.
I believe the Bills should use the No. 8 pick on the best available linebacker, their second-round pick on the best remaining wide receiver and one or two of the rest of the picks on quarterbacks. Buffalo might get lucky for a change.
NCAA MEN’S BASKETBALL FINAL FOUR ODDS
The odds to win the NCAA tournament (courtesy of LVH Superbook) – Louisvillw 10x13 (bet $13 to win $10)…Michigan 3x1…Syracuse 4x1…Wichita State 12x1.
Odds on Saturday’s semifinal games in Atlanta – Louisville favored by 10 1/2 points over Wichita State (6:09 p.m. start time)…Michigan favored by 2 points over Syracuse (8:49 p.m. start time).
MICHIGAN HASN’T SEEN ANYTHING LIKE SU’S 2-3 ZONE
The offensive-minded Michigan Wolverines will be a huge test for Syracuse’s 2-3 zone in Saturday’s Final Four showdown.
Ask the disappointed players from Montana, California, Indiana and Marquette if the Orange have a chance.
Here are some of SU’s impressive defensive stats through four NCAA tournament games:
Holding four opponents to 183 points – 45.75 points per game. Montana (34), Indiana (50) and Marquette (39) all had their lowest-scoring games all this season against SU in this tournament.
Holding opponents to a 28.9 field-goal percentage (61x211) and a 15.4 percent 3-point field-goal percentage (14x91).
The best way to beat any zone is quick ball movement to find wide-open hot shooters. SU has been doing a great job pressuring opposing perimeter shooters and forcing them out of their comfort zones.
SU coach Jim Boeheim has been lauding his players for playing stingy defense all season. The numbers back him up.
Here is how SU measures up against the best defenses in Division I (up-to-date stats):
Scoring defense – Stephen F. Austin 1st (allowed 51.2 points per game)…Syracuse 21st (58.6 points allowed per game).
Field-goal defense – Kansas (36.1 percent)…Syracuse 3rd (37.1 percent).
3-point field-goal defense – New Hampshire 1st (28.1 percent)…Syracuse 4th (28.2 percent).
Other reasons to like SU’s chances entering the Final Four:
The Orange are on a 7-1 role and have a strut in their step with renewed confidence,
They’ve been outscrapping and outhustling their opponents. That wasn’t the case when they were in a 5-7 slump (to drop to a 23-8 record) and often appeared listless and sometimes disinterested.
Boeheim kept his cool and his players have responded when it matters the most. SU now is 30-9 and this season is a success. One or two more victories would be gravy.
Sophomore guard Michael Carter-Williams is playing like an All-American and the lottery pick he figures to be in the June NBA draft. The growing pains appear to be over. He’s keeping his cool and playing under control. He hasn’t been reckless with the ball and his shot selection has improved. He’s working hard at the top of the zone. He was the NCAA East Region Most Outstanding Player and no one else was close.
Through four tournament games, opponents have 67 turnovers (SU has 43) and only 19 steals (SU has 44). Carter-Williams deserves much of the credit.
Brandon Triche appears to have his mojo back. He’s playing with a sore back and has to be an inspiration to his teammates.
James Southerland continues to be a steady 3-poiint threat (9x22 in the NCAA tournament) and helping on the boards.
C.J. Fair continues to be one of the most underrated players in college basketball.
Baye Keita is giving Boeheim quality time at the back end of the zone.
He’s earning himself big minutes for next season. A summer in the weight room and double portions at the chow line would help.
Jeremy Grant (40 minutes), Trevor Cooney (31 minutes) and DeJuan Coleman (15 minutes; 3 DNPs) haven’t seen much action. Another advantage of the zone is helping to keep players out of foul trouble. So far, so good.
YANKEES HERO BOB TURLEY DIES AT AGE 82: WON HICKOK BELT
Bob Turley, baseball’s best pitcher in 1968, died Saturday at a hospice in Atlanta. He was 82.
Turley was 21-6 with a 2.97 ERA for the New York Yankees that season. He had 19 complete games (honest), including 6 shutouts, in 31 starts.
“Bullet Bob” won the American League Cy Young Award and probably won the Rochester-based, $10,000 diamond-studded Hickok Belt over Jim Brown, Archie Moore and Johnny Unitas on the strength of his World Series heroics:
Game 2 – He started and lasted one-third of an inning as the defending World Series champion scored seven runs en route to a 13-5 victory and a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Game 5 – The Braves led the series 3-1 and the Yankees were on the brink of elimination. Turley responded with a five-hit , 10-strikerout, 7-0 shutout victory.
Game 6 – Turley came out of the bullpen with Milwaukee runners on first and third to record the final out in a 4-3 10-inning victory.
Game 7 -- One day later, Turley worked 6 1/3 shutout innings in relief and got the decision in a 6-2 Yankees victory for the championship.
Turley’s record in six seasons with the Yankees was 82-52 with a 3.64 ERA. His career record in the majors was 101-85 with a 3.64 ERA.
He was in Rochester’s for Tony Liccione’s Hickok Belt banquet last fall.
Pittsburgh Penguins star Sydney Crosby figures to miss the rest of the NFL regular season after jaw surgery Saturday night. Has he already clinched the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player? He has player in all 36 of Pittsburgh’s games this season and the Penguins (28-8-0) have the league’s best record and will enter Tuesday night’s home game against Buffalo on a 15-game winning streak. He leads the NHL in scoring by 10 points (56-46 over Steve Stamkos of Tampa Bay) and has a +26 plus-minus rating. Crosby has won the Hart Trophy only once (for the 2006-07 season).
The Buffalo Sabres had played 36 games – and 23 of them were decided by one goal…The Sabres were 9-14 in those games. The 9 wins included 4 in shootouts and 1 in overtime. The 14 losses included 4 in shootouts and 2 in OT.
I hope AHL Most Valuable Player voters will give Rochester Americans iron-man goalie David Leggio the consideration he deserves. He leads the league in wins and saves (by a huge margin)…Since the Les Cunningham Award (AHL MVP) began in 1948, only 7 goalies have won (a total of 10 times): Johnny Bower 1956, 1956, 1957; Denis DeJordy 1963; Gilles Villemure 1969 and 1970; Pelle Lindbergh 1981; Jean-–Francois Labbe 1997; Martin Brochu 2000; and Jason LaBarbera 2004).
The Amerks rank 10th in the 30-team AHL average home attendance (6,317( and are leading the New York State attendance derby:
Syracuse 5,388 (16th); Adirondack 25th (4,097); Albany 3,897 (26th); Binghamton 3,542 (29th). The AHL average is 5,649.
The Rochester Knighthawks are 21x42 (.500) on the power play and a National Lacrosse League-best 31x49 (.632) in penalty killing…For the second straight season, the K-hawks are getting crushed on faceoffs (63.1 percent to 36.9 percent).
Major League Baseball spring training leaders: Bryan Harper (Washington) .478 batting average…Michael Morse (Seattle) 9 HRs…Brandon Belt (San Francisco), Billy Butler (Kansas City) and Justin Upton (Atlanta) 19 RBI.
Miguel Tejada, 38, made the Opening Day roster of the Kansas City Royals as a utility infielder. He last played in the majors in 2011 and played two months last season with the International League Norfolk Tides, including a series in Rochester…Tejada was the American League MVP for Oakland in 2002. The A’s were the subject of the movie “Moneyball” . Amazingly, Tejada barely was mentioned in the flick.
Cheers to Newark’s Doug Kent for being inducted into the PBA Hall of Fame at a banquet in Indianapolis last Saturday night. Kent, 46, won 10 Professional Bowlers Association tour titles, including four major titles. He joined the PBA Tour in 1988 and earned more than $1.5 million. In 2009 voting for the 50 all-time greatest PBA bowlers, he was 43rd.
Tim McCarver will retire as a broadcaster after this season, ending a 55-year in baseball. His first pro season as a player was 1959, when he was a 17-year-old catcher. After hitting .359 at Class D Keokuk, he had a 17-game stint with the Rochester Red Wings. He hit .357 (25x73) with 1 double, and triple and one stolen base.
NCAA men’s tournament update (entering the Final Four) : Higher-seeded teams are 41-19 straight-up and 31-28-1 against the Las Vegas point spread…Las Vegas favorites are 39-21 straight-up and 30-29-1 against the spread…13 games were decided by 4-or-fewer points…Big East teams are 11-6 (including 4-0 Louisville, 4-0 Syracuse and 3-1 Marquette),
Two Rochester sports giants passed away last week. Don Murray was a long-time basketball coach at Charlotte and athletic director at East High. He was a prime mover in the development of the City-Catholic League and was a member of the Frontier Field Walk of Fame…Don Smith was a prominent long-time golf, baseball and assistant football coach at the University of Rochester.
Top-to-bottom, the American League East is baseball’s most competitive division..
For the first time in a long time, the New York Yankees are not the team to beat in the AL East. They’re old, hurting and suddenly pinching pennies. George Steinbrenner must be fuming in his private suite in baseball heaven.
I believe the Yankees are more likely to finish last in the AL East than win it.
Here is Bob’s American League preview:
1—Toronto Blue Jays (predicted record 91-71). Can this team defy the odds and go from a 73-89 record in 2012 to first place in arguably baseball’s best division in 2013? I think so…Eight reasons why: Slugger Jose Bautista is healthy again + newcomers SS Jose Reyes, LF Melky Cabrera, 2B Emilio Bonifacio, INF Maicer Izturis, and starting pitchers R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle…Holdovers include Edwin Encarnacion (42 HRs, 110 RBI), Brett Lawrie, Cody Rasmus, J.P. Arrencibia, Adam Lind and starting pitchers Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero, and relievers Casey Janssen, Steve Delabar, Brad Lincoln, Darren Oliver, J.A. Happ, Esmir Rogers and J.A. Happ…There are question marks: Is Bautista’s wrist 100 percent? How much will the carpet at Rogers Centre hurt Reyes’ knees? Can Rasmus and Lind return to top form? How much did PEDs help Cabrera last season (.346, 11 HRs, 60 RBI in 113 games with San Francisco)?...Losing road records the last nine seasons…Buehrle has double-digit wins the last 12 seasons…Blue Jays were 15-25 in one-run games last season…Bautista had a MLB-most 124 HRs the last three seasons…4.82 ERA in 2012 ranked 25th in MLB…Likely to make the playoffs for the first time since winning the World Series in 1992 and 1993.
2—Tampa Bay Rays (89-77). No team does more with less. The frugal Rays have averaged 92 wins the last five years…What the Rays do worst is draw fans to Tropicana Field (the first team to win 90 games but finish last in MLB in attendance). It isn’t their fault…What the Rays do best is pitch. That’s why they’re always a threat against the much richer major-market teams…Led MLB in ERA (3.19; best ERA in AL since 1990) and opposing batting average (.228) last season…Excellent top four starting pitchers: David Price (20-5; 2.56 ERA), Jeremy Hellickson (10-11, 3.10 ERA), Matt Moore (11-11, 3.81 ERA), Alex Cobb (11-9, 4.03)…Price and Moore combined for 2,561 Loaded bullpen, including closer Fernando Rodney (0.60 ERA; 48 saves), Joel Peralta (MLB-most 37 holds), Jake McGee and Chris Archer…3B Evan Longoria (new $100 million contract through 2022) and versatile Ben Zobrist are the team’s only established big-time hitters…Other decent bats include Desmond Jennings, Yunel Escobar and 2012 Minor League Player of the Year Wil Myers (acquired for pitcher James Shields)…The 2012 Rays (.240) and A’s (.238) became the first teams to win at least 90 games and bat .240 or worse since the 1972 A’s (won the World Series).
3—Boston Red Sox (83-79). The Red Sox were 69-93 in 2012, their worst record since 62-100 in 1965. But they’re considerably better than many critics think…An extraordinary number of injuries to key players (including Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, John Lackey, Andrew Bailey) and unpopular and ineffective manager Bobby Valentine were the main reasons…John Farrell has replaced Valentine and the team figures to be healthier this season. The additions of Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes and Ryan Dempster can’t hurt…Lots of scoring potential with Ellsbury, Pedroia, Ortiz, Napoli, Victorino, Gomes, Will Middlebrooks, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and new SS Stephen Drew…Underrated starting rotation with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Dempster, Felix Doubront and maybe John Lackey…Bullpen should bounce back with closer Joel Hanrahan, Koji Uehara, Bailey, Junichi Tazawa, maybe Daniel Bard, and lefthanders Craig Breslow, Andrew Miller and Franklin Morales…Started 4-10 in 2011 and 2-10 in 2012…Some poor numbers from 2012: 17-22 in one-run games; 43-68 vs. right-handed starting pitchers; 2-10 in extra innings; 4.70 ERA was 27th in MLB.
4—Baltimore Orioles (81-81). The O’s shocked the baseball world with their first winning season (93-69) and trip to the playoffs since 1997…They were pretty good and extremely lucky: 54-23 in games decided by two runs of less, including a MLB-record 29-9 (.763) in one-run games and 16-2 in extra innings…No pitcher won more than 12 games…Hit just .256 with runners in scoring position…45-50 at the All-Star break and 48-29 in the second half…Promising nucleus of position players (3B Manny Machado, C Matt Wieters, CF Adam Jones, 1B Chris Davis, RF Nick Markakis, LF Nolan Reimold, J.J. Hardy)…A comeback by 2B Brian Roberts would be a boost…Decent starting rotation without a true ace: Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman and maybe Jair Jurrgens…Baseball’s top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy will be ready soon…Solid bullpen, featuring closer Jim Johnson (MLB-most 51 saves last season), Pedro Strop, Darren O’Day and Luis Ayala…74-0 in games they led after seven innings….MLB-worst .980 fielding percentage…214 HRs second-most in MLB…16-18 vs. AL west and 77-51 vs. all other teams…Breakthrough 2012 season wasn’t a complete fluke but don’t be surprised if improved Toronto and Boston win more games this season.
5—New York Yankees (80-82). They were an AL-best 95-67 last year but they suddenly look too old and too injured to make the playoffs this season…A self-imposed payroll cap doesn’t help…George Steinbrenner must be fuming in his private suite in baseball heaven…Team-record 245 HRs last season. Nine players hit at least 15 HRs, but most of them are gone or will start this season on the disabled list (including Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter)…2B Robinson Cano, CF Brett Gardner and INF Eduardo Nunez are the only position players in their primes…Weak-hitting catcher platoon (Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli)…Loaded with retreads, including Ichiro Suzuki, Kevin Youkilis, Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner, Juan Rivera , Brennan Boesch and Chien-Ming Wang…itching is the team’s strength but there are a few injury concerns…Team-record 1,318 strikeouts and AL-fewest 431 walks in 2012…Familiar starting rotation: CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova or David Phelps…Deep bullpen, including closer Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Clay Rapada, Boone Logan…Figure to miss departed catcher Russell Martin and closer Rafael Soriano…Jeter led MLB with 216 hits last season. He’ll turn 39 in June…Sabathia is 74-29 as a Yankee…Have made the playoffs 17 of the last 18 years. I don’t expect them to make the postseason this season.