January: Paul Westphal
February: Tara Gallagher
March: Robert Joseph Ahola
Patience. That is the trait that leaps to mind first when I think about Rickey Perkins as my coach for the Northern Lights Swim Club in Anchorage, Alaska. Rickey was incredibly patient with me, and I was under his tutelage for something like five years across a couple of different levels. Beyond that, Rickey was an excellent technical coach who had a major role in producing a rather astonishing amount of quality swimmers for NLSC, a role that was actually a side gig to his job as the head coach at the University of Alaska-Anchorage. And that patience has served him well in a long career that has seem him go through some fairly out-of-the-way places.
Saturday, April 12, 2014
And so here we come to the last entry in our preview series, the NL East. This looks like a battle between two very good and very deep teams, with the other three cleaning up the scraps. The Marlins are on the seventeenth rebuilding project in franchise history before they once again dump their young stars the moment they start to threaten eight figures in the salary department. The Phillies will attempt to fight the undefeated Father Time with the oldest group of regulars in the National League. Mets GM Sandy Alderson may talk about 90 wins, but it's hard to see that coming this year with Matt Harvey on the shelf thanks to Tommy John surgery. The Braves and Nationals are both loaded and looking for bounce-back performances from a couple of key players (Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton for the Braves, Adam LaRoche and Ross Detwiler for the Nationals), although the Braves are also dealing with a rash of pitching injuries.
Every team in the AL East thinks that they can win the division. Only one of them, of course, will actually do so, and three of these teams have significant enough holes that they're realistically not going to be fighting for anything apart from the second wild card spot. Toronto hopes that their one-percentile outcome of last year leads to some positive regression to the mean or better, like it did for Boston between 2012 and 2013. The Yankees want to fend off the undefeated Father Time in Derek Jeter's last summer in the sun. Baltimore is looking for continued development from its young players and might get a shot in the arm from a pair of top pitching prospects this season. The Red Sox are seeking a repeat trip to the World Series with a couple of new faces playing key roles. And Tampa Bay has put together perhaps their best roster yet.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Apart from the Cardinals, each of the NL Central teams has some serious flaws, but all of them except Chicago are hoping to compete for a wild card spot. The Cubs are content to take their lumps for one more year (although hopefully with some more positive developments from their best players, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo) before attempting to be more competitive in 2015. The Reds will have some adjustments to make after upheaval at the top of their lineup. Pittsburgh aims for a repeat of last year's exciting playoff run, although they are a prime regression candidate. Milwaukee gets its best player back from a Biogenesis suspension and hopes to ride him and the other stars in its lineup back to October baseball. And the Cardinals continue to solidify their strong case as baseball's best top-to-bottom organization, making astute trades and filling gaps on the major league roster with hidden gems from their farm system.
It has puzzled me for the last few years as to why Detroit hasn't won this division by 20 games every year. They have far and away the most talent in the AL Central, with two of the three best pitchers, the best hitter on the planet, and a solid supporting cast. I guess it just goes to show how difficult it is to truly stand out in baseball over a 162-game season. The Twins are rebuilding and waiting for a pair of phenoms (Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano) to arrive, hopefully next year. The White Sox should bounce back from a dismal 2013. Cleveland has some talent and one of the best managers in the business, but also sustained a couple of key losses. The Royals are all in for a playoff push this year. As for those Tigers? They had better watch out, because a couple of their rivals have made major strides over the past couple winters, and even the bottom-feeders are starting to build strong foundations.
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Welcome to our first divisional preview of the senior circuit, the quietly compelling NL West. The Dodgers have the most star power and the most polarizing player in the game (Yasiel Puig), but each of the other four teams has a guy who has been a serious MVP candidate within the past two to three years (Buster Posey, Chase Headley, Paul Goldschmidt, and Carlos Gonzalez) and other talented players. The Giants could use a bounce-back from their non-Madison Bumgarner pitchers and a big year from Pablo Sandoval. One of these years all the young talent in San Diego is going to jell. Arizona backs up Goldschmidt with the grittiest bunch of scrappy ballplayers in the league, and Colorado hopes for full seasons from Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki along with a rotation that can at least survive in Denver's thin air.
Opening Day is creeping up on us fast, which is why I want to give all you baseball fans out there a giant six-part preview, with one column for each division, starting with the American League West. Thanks to Seattle's bold play for Robinson Cano over the winter, this division looks like it should be the most entertaining in baseball in 2014, with four very different teams all gunning for a division title and only the Astros looking primed to develop some young players and lose one hundred games again (speaking of which, my good friend Keith Hankins has developed some excellent proposals to limit the appeal of tanking for MLB and NBA teams). Without further ado...