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Now that we are a few weeks into the season, let’s take stock. The Rockies and Braves play each other with the best records in baseball on the line. Former aces look mortal and sluggers are slumping. Everyone is overreacting, but it is important to remember: we are only a few weeks into the season! It’s a small sample size. Still, it doesn’t take long until a sample becomes a trend. With that in mind, here are the hot and cold starts and what to actually believe.

Hot Teams

Boston Red Sox 12-6 (.667) 1st Place AL East as of 3/23

Last year, the Red Sox finished in last place and were part of the salary dump trade to the Dodgers that people saw as a team giving up. And yet, here they are a year later sitting at first place in the AL East with a team and city that is playing for something beyond the standings. 

The Boston offense is producing well, and Mike Napoli looks like he is happy to be out of Texas. Big Papi is back from the DL and the top of the order is healthy (Ellsbury) and getting on base (Pedroia). The offense is doing well, but the success of the Red Sox so far comes down to one thing: pitching.

Last year, the Red Sox starting pitching was among the worst in the league. This year, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester are leading the way. Neither has lost a game yet on the season, and they look like the pitchers everyone expected them to be. So, do you believe it? Well, kind of. The fried chicken fiasco and the attitude of Josh Beckett are long gone. With that departure, the young Boston pitchers lost a bad influence and look like they are taking to new manager John Farrell well. Also important is the arrival of Allen Webster with the big league club. Webster was part of the trade with the Dodgers, and despite all the big names involved, is looking like he might be the diamond in the rough.

The Red Sox picked a great time to get hot. The city of Boston needs something to root for right now, and I think everyone in America is happy that they are succeeding. For now. The Red Sox aren’t going to keep up their current pace, but I am a believer in the younger, healthy rotation. If they can stay healthy, and the offense can continue to put runs on the board, there is no reason that Boston shouldn’t keep winning baseball games. Sports are always important when they come to signify something other than just the standings, and that is happening in the city of Boston right now. In the words of Big Papi:

Colorado Rockies 13-5 (.722) 1st place in NL West as of 3/23

The Rockies have surged out of the gates this year, surprising, given their last place finish in 2012. A healthy Tulowitzki, CarGo and Wilin Rosario lead the offense, while Jorge de la Rosa (2-1, 2.82 ERA) and Jhoulys Chacin (3-0, 1.46 ERA) anchor the staff.

The Rockies are doing well despite almost no roster turnover from last year, with 21 of the 25 roster spots returning from 2012, and no major free agent signings in the offseason. The main thing to focus on with the Rockies, as with any team, is health. Tulo is an all-star caliber shortstop who’s worst enemy is health. If he is healthy, he transforms any lineup. The Rockies offense is legit. Dexter Fowler is having a coming-out party and Rosario is showing that his offensive prowess last year was no fluke. 

Photo credit: Bleacherreport

The Tulo Mullet – Never forget.

However, the pitching will not hold up. Chacin just went on the DL and won’t be back any time soon. De La Rosa has shown potential throughout his career, and could be legit, but the rest of the staff is a shambles. Garland is coming off shoulder surgery, and can’t be trusted to hold up for an entire season. The bullpen is a strong point, but whether they can continue their success all season will come down to the managing of rookie manager Walt Wiess. 

The Rockies are currently scoring 4.22 runs per game, and the offense is capable of continuing at this pace. They may just surprise everyone and be a .500 team, but the starting pitching will not hold up. Expect a come back to earth, as early as tonight against the Braves.

Honorable Mentions:

Atlanta Braves 13-5 (.722) 1st place, NL East – legit. The offense with the additions of Justin Upton and Evan Gattis will have pop all year provided they can keep the strikeouts down. The pitching, including Paul Maholm should continue to keep runs off the board. The team is currently best in the majors with a ridiculous 2.36 ERA, and while this may come up a bit, the Braves are still the team to beat in the NL.

Oakland A’s 12-8 (.600) 2nd Place, AL West – legit (kind of). The A’s have succeeded so far thanks to an incredible 5.26 runs per game so far. There is no way they will keep this up. Coco Crisp is about to hit his season high in homers in the first few weeks. Jed Lowrie is hitting well, but has never been able to stay on the field for a full season. The A’s are a legitimate contender this year, but they will do it with their pitching, not their hitting. The hitters are on a hot streak right now, but the runs per game will come down, and it will be on the pitching staff to pick up the slack for the A’s to make it to the playoffs for the second year in a row.

Cold Teams

The two teams I will be talking about here are actually not doing terribly. They are only a few games below .500 and will both likely climb in the standings soon. However, they are included here because the expectations for success were so high. The Dodgers and Jays will both be fine and both be contenders by the end of the year, but they are both off to cold starts, and here is why:

LA Dodgers 8-10 (.444) 4th place, NL West

The Dodgers have run cold so far this year. Everything starts and ends with pitching, and even Clayton Kershaw has looked mortal (not counting opening day when he crushed my Giants). Zach Greinke landed on the DL after a brawl with Carlos Quentin. The rest of the staff has looked average, but none have stood out. Meanwhile, the offense is bipolar. Big name acquisitions such as Adrian Gonzalez (.385 avg) and Carl Crawford (.338 avg) are hitting great, while local stars Matt Kemp (.235 avg) Andre Ethier (.230 avg) are slumping badly. The hot and cold starts should even out, as good hitters don’t stay cold for long. That being said, there are some real problems with this team.

Photo Credit: USA Today

Not a good way to start a season.

The left side of the infield is weak. Shortstop and third base is currently a merry-go-round of average to bad players, and even when Hanley Ramirez comes back from the DL, the Dodgers will have below average defense and average offense at third or short depending on how they structure their lineup card. Kershaw is fine, but the rest of the staff could have troubles. Ryu is still adjusting to American baseball, Greinke is out indefinitely, Billingsley is having Tommy John and done for the year, Lilly is coming off another surgery, and Josh Beckett’s best years are far behind him. The bullpen is not yet reliable, and manager Don Mattingly has not yet figured out the intricacies of managing a bullpen over the course of the season.

There is a lot to worry about with the Dodgers, maybe buying a championship isn’t as easy as we thought.

Toronto Blue Jays 8-12 (.400) 5th place, AL East

Speaking of buying a championship: the Toronto Blue Jays are also having some troubles with their new roster. Fresh off relieving the city of Miami of their baseball team, the Jays are struggling to put it all together. Jose Reyes was lost to injury on a bad slide during an attempted steal of second base. Jose Bautista is still dealing with some nagging back issues, and the Jays are 2-4 without him in the lineup. Meanwhile, starters Josh Johnson and Mark Buerhle have yet to contribute much in a Jays uniform.

Photo Credit: NY Daily News

Reyes may only be able to watch the Jays for most of this season

The Jays are batting .227 as a whole, good for 3rd worst in baseball behind the Mariners and Marlins. Meanwhile, the pitching staff has given up the second most runs in baseball behind only the Astros. If we go based on the numbers alone, the Jays should actually have a worse record than 8-12 at this point. They have been bailed out a bit by the long ball (21 on the year) and the arrival of J.P. Arencibia as a power threat, but the Jays seem to be trending in the wrong direction. A healthy Bautista will do a lot to curb some losses, but the Jays do not seem to be doing any better with the 2012 Miami Marlins roster than the 2012 Miami Marlins did.

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria took out ads in three major south Florida newspapers and wrote a “Letter to our fans.”

Loria took out the ad because he had “sat quietly” for long enough and wanted a chance to respond to his fans about the Marlins losing season and their offseason that included a trade to the Toronto Blue Jays of almost all of the team’s highly-paid star players.

The Fastball

By: Matt

To understand the full villainy of Jeffrey Loria, we have to go back in time and realize what kind of a man this is. This is a man that wants to profit from the game of baseball above all else. He feels no duty to his fans and no duty to put a winning baseball team on the field. Jeffrey Loria

Loria managed to go from a small stake in the Montreal Expos to convincing Major League Baseball to bring back the Nationals in exchange for ownership of a new team in Florida. He then managed to convince taxpayers to build him a new stadium (with some questionable art choices). Loria has done all this because he is smart and because he knows how to use sports to take advantage of people.

Marlins Statue

Taxpayers are still on the hook for over $600 million of the Marlins new stadium-which checks in as the most expensive of all time-but Loria was able to get it built based on promises that the team would dramatically raise their payroll, put out winning teams, and compete for the playoffs every year. And they did, for about half a season.

Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell were the big name free agents signed by the Marlins last offseason. They brought in sparkplug (but World Series winner) Ozzie Guillen and everything looked ready to click. But the season was a disaster, the Marlins went 69-93 and started didn’t even make it a full season before they started to dismantle their team.

Star infielder Hanley Ramirez and reliever Randy Choate were the first to go, off to the Dodgers for a back of the rotation starter. 1st baseman Gaby Sachez was sent to the Pirates. Starter Anibal Sanchez and infielder Omar Infante were sent to the Tigers and Manager Ozzie Guillden was fired (partly for his incendiary comments about Fidel Castro in a town with a large Cuban population). The turning point for the Marlins, though was their blockbuster trade with the Jays. Reyes (a franchise shortstop) and Buehrle (a workhorse starter) were sent off, along with ace Josh Johnson, catcher John Buck, and utilityman Emilio Bonifacio.

In total, the Marlins trade 12 players from their opening day roster. They took a payroll of $146.5 million in 2012 to an expected opening day payroll of $45 million (the lowest in baseball) in 2013.

I’m not here to say trading former stars is never a good idea, but when really evaluating the trades and the returns received, it is obvious that the Marlins were looking to dump salary and nothing more. In the Jays trade the Marlins received several prospects that could see time in the major leagues, but these are not your future Trouts or Strasburgs. They aren’t even future Reyes or Johnsons. In fact, none of the Jays top prospects (Travis d’Arnaud, Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, and Anthony Gose) were sent off in the deal. Another highlight is the trade of utilityman Emilio Bonifacio. Bonifacio was set to make around a $2.5 million but could play multiple positions, get on base, and is a threat to lead the league in steals. In short, he is the type of player every GM wants on their team. But it seems that every player making over the minimum is too expensive for the Marlins these days.

Loria writes in his appeal to fans that “experts have credited us from going from the 28th ranked Minor League system…to the 5th…Of the Top 100 Minor Leaguers rated by MLB Network, we have six.” This is Loria’s attempt to justify the trade, but it doesn’t hold up. Of the six top 100 prospects, only two were acquired in trades (Nicolino and Marisnick from the Jays). The top two Marlins prospects are outfielder Christian Yelich and pitcher Jose Fernandez, both of which were draft picks that had nothing to do with the trade. Another top prospect was first round pick Andrew Heaney and finally, Marcell Ozuna was a signing from the Dominican Republic.

According to Forbes, the Marlins have made a combined $196 million in operating profits over the previous six seasons. For two of those years, the team’s financial documents list an expense for a “management fee” to the Double Play Company in the millions. Take a guess at who runs that company? Jeffrey Loria and David Sampson, the team president.

This is as low as it gets. Loria has funneled millions of dollars from his team to his pocket, convinced taxpayers to foot the bill on a new stadium, and refuses to do his job of keeping a winning team on the field. But, hey, now that Frank McCourt is gone, someone needs to assume the role of resident scumbag, right?

The Changeup

By: Ryan

I feel like I need to issue a disclaimer before this post. The words that are about to follow we’re difficult to write and hard to justify. But it’s important to say that this post will not attempt to serve as an endorsement of Jeffrey Loria. He is doing his best to demolish a fan base, and, short of having a contest where a fan is selected out of the crowd to start in LF, I’ll be surprised if they fill Opening Day. Instead, I’m going to pitch an idea that attempts to explain the rational behind the recent actions made by the Marlin’s front offices.

The Marlins entered 2012 with a new stadium, a new uniform, and a lineup full of big names. While the lineup was impressive and excitement was at its highest since they won the World Series in 2003, the team started struggling by July. At that point in time, the team had scored the third fewest runs in the game; the team simply wasn’t hitting. A big reason for the offensive struggle resulted from the poor rotation that couldn’t keep them in games. Their starting rotation going into the season was Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez, and Carlos Zambrano. While the Marlins had a rotation of big names, they weren’t performing like it. Plus, none of them could be considered higher than a #3 starter at any point in 2012, and their run differential at mid-season proved it. The Marlins were -66, fourth worst in the league at the end of June.

A month later, Loria apparently had given up on the season, and began restructuring. As they traded Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante, they opened up space for Bonifacio, and picked up a slew of highly ranked prospects, two of which will be starting this year. They then attempted to fix their pitching situation by trading Hanley Ramirez, to the Dodgers for Nate Eovaldi. Up to this point in the season, Eovaldi was performing well, especially for his age. And with Hanley far from his MVP numbers from 07-09 (he hasn’t posted a WAR above 2.6 since), it seemed like a way to add back rotation depth in the short term (Eovaldi could be considered at best a mid rotation guy in the long term) and free up payroll to land another deal in the off season. These two moves we’re strategic baseball moves that allowed the Marlins to give up some big names that were under performing for improvements in their rotation and at catcher.

Yet as with all prospects, they take time to grow. And in November, Miami decided they couldn’t wait any longer. So they traded their remaining names off to the Blue Jays for a bunch of no names, with the biggest name, Yunel Escobar, getting shipped off two weeks later. It’s at this point it becomes hard to justify Miami’s actions, if only for the minuscule haul of talent that they received in return. (I think more of the blame should be placed on the catatonic commissioner, but that’s for another time). As my colleague points out there are major flaws in Loria’s argument that the Marlins have one of the best farm systems, but when you consider five of the farm system guys they traded for last season were highly touted in 2012 and are now starting, he does have some truth to the argument.

As for the stadium, it appears that the $161 million Loria mentions is a little high, the correct number is closer to $125.2 million or 20%. (Link) Even with that, as Loria states the public funded portion of the stadium will be funded by tourist’s traveling to and from the city. In other words, this tax is least likely to burden the citizens of Miami, which should make it a hit with the taxpaying Marlin fans. The only negative effects they will directly face is a shortage of revenues for other commodities they receive from the city. However, tourist taxes are highly inelastic and likely to be a stable source of revenue, and while there is no doubt that it will cut into Miami earnings, the city can easily just raise the tax a percentage or two to make up the difference without upsetting the citizens of Miami. (Plus, the stadium has won tons of awards, which will look great next to the stadium’s $73,000 bobble head display case…I couldn’t resist).

With this letter, Loria is attempting to offer the City of Miami an olive branch. Is it a first step? Yes. Does it explain everything that happened last year to the Marlins fans? No. But if he wanted to do that, he should have bought the whole Sunday paper; he definitely can afford it.