2022 MLB Preview: The lockout is over, now what?

Come March, when the offseason is generally winding down as Spring Training games, begin, we weren’t even sure if there was going to be an MLB season. However, the lockout has ended, and despite a shortened preseason and slightly delayed Opening Day, baseball is finally back. While it’s a little later than usual, the MLB preview is a staple of this blog, and I couldn’t miss the boat on it. I once again collaborated with my cousin Michael Philipkosky for this. Our predictions can be found in my article below or his podcasts, which I was a guest co-host for:

Podcast Links

AL Preview

NL Preview

Let’s get right into our division predictions, starting with the AL East.

AL East

#Andrew’s PredictionsMichael’s Predictions
1 Toronto Blue Jays Boston Red Sox
2 Boston Red Sox (Wild Card 1) Toronto Blue Jays (Wild Card 1)
3 New York Yankees (Wild Card 2) New York Yankees (Wild Card 2)
4 Tampa Bay Rays Tampa Bay Rays
5 Baltimore Orioles Baltimore Orioles

Everything is really starting to come together for the Blue Jays. To add to a flashy lineup including Vladimir Guerrero Jr., they have built one of the deepest rotations in baseball. I have them taking this division, but it won’t necessarily be a runaway. This is a very strong division and the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays could all be competitive.

If all goes well after the signing of infielder Trevor Story and several relievers, the Red Sox have World Series upside. The Yankees come back with a similar team to last year, and while they have less upside than the Sox and Jays, they should definitely be in the mix. After getting rid of several key players like they do every year, I’m expecting a step back from Tampa. I wouldn’t be shocked to see them in the playoffs either though, as Kevin Cash’s rapid development of pitching talent is unmatched.

Whether the Orioles see more production out of their youngsters or not, I expect Baltimore to be in rock bottom of this division. There’s just too much competition for them. I’m thinking at least 3, if not 4 AL East teams will make the playoffs in this expanded field.

AL Central

#Andrew’s PredictionsMichael’s Predictions
1 Chicago White Sox Chicago White Sox
2 Detroit Tigers Detroit Tigers
3 Minnesota Twins Minnesota Twins
4 Cleveland Guardians Cleveland Guardians
5 Kansas City Royals Kansas City Royals

I think the White Sox definitely stand out within this division. As the Twins declined last season, there is no team that I feel is capable of keeping up with their budding young roster, and I could even see someone like Luis Robert or Eloy Jimenez posting an MVP-caliber breakout season.

The Twins and Tigers have decent teams, but I don’t think they’re division-winning material or even playoff material this year. It appeared the Twins were gearing up for a rebuild, but their signing of SS Carlos Correa will keep them competitive. The Tigers may start slow, but with a combo of incoming free agents and young talent that will improve throughout the season, I could see them heating up later on. While they aren’t a playoff team this year, watch out for them in 2023.

That leaves the Guardians and Royals towards the bottom of the division. The Guardians are unwilling to spend money to build around their core of 3B Jose Ramirez, OF/DH Franmil Reyes, and SP Shane Bieber. I thought the Royals were starting to put it all together last year, but I think it may be getting to the point where they may need to rebuild within their already existing rebuild. The window is closing for this era of Royals players like infielders Whit Merrifield and Hunter Dozier. Neither of these teams will be anywhere close to contention this year.

AL West

#Andrew’s PredictionsMichael’s Predictions
1 Los Angeles Angels Houston Astros
2 Houston Astros (Wild Card 3) Seattle Mariners (Wild Card 3)
3 Seattle Mariners Texas Rangers
4 Texas Rangers Los Angeles Angels
5 Oakland Athletics Oakland Athletics

Michael and I were split on the Angels. Assuming nobody gets hurt, it’s hard to bet against Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. However, things always seem to go wrong in Anaheim. It’s not a crazy take to keep the Angels out of the playoffs, but I’m not going to predict injuries, and a healthy Angels squad is playoff material. Despite the losses of OF George Springer and Correa in the aftermath of the cheating scandal, I think we can agree that the Astros are still playoff material. This team still has one of the strongest lineups in the league, still including 2B Jose Altuve, OF Michael Brantley, and 3B Alex Bregman.

The Mariners are going to be set in the long term, and it’s possible they do sneak into the expanded playoff field, though I have them taking a slight step back compared to last year. Can we really guarantee that youngsters like Ty France and Kyle Lewis will match their 2021 numbers? I have them more towards the middle of the pack alongside the Rangers. As for Texas, they may have built one of the best middle infield duos in baseball by signing free agents Marcus Semien and Corey Seager. This team still lacks the existing talent around those two, especially in the pitching staff.

Both these teams should still beat out the Athletics. The A’s decided to tear it down this offseason by trading SP Sean Manaea, 3B Matt Chapman, and 1B Matt Olson. They will have to suffer the consequences for the time being.

NL East

#Andrew’s PredictionsMichael’s Predictions
1 Atlanta Braves Atlanta Braves
2 New York Mets (Wild Card 1) New York Mets (Wild Card 1)
3 Philadelphia Phillies (Wild Card 3) Philadelphia Phillies
4 Washington Nationals Washington Nationals
5 Miami Marlins Miami Marlins

I know I said this last season, but this division should be a neck and neck battle between the Braves and Mets. Last year, the Mets disappointed while the Braves won it all. This year, the Mets may have the chance to put an end to their rotten luck with one of the best pitching duos of all time in Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer. Personally, I also have the Philadelphia Phillies in the playoffs. Now that Bryce Harper has become better adjusted to the Phillies, I think he has returned to his typical elite status and expect him to lead the offense in 2022.

That leaves the Nationals and Marlins on the outside looking in. The Nationals tore things down at the deadline last year, though they did leave behind a strong foundation that includes OF Juan Soto and 1B Josh Bell. The Marlins are slowly building back from their own massive rebuild in which they traded away Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich among others, but it’s still going to be another year or two before this team is playoff material.

NL Central

#Andrew’s PredictionsMichael’s Predictions
1 St. Louis Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals
2 Milwaukee Brewers Milwaukee Brewers (Wild Card 2)
3 Cincinnati Reds Cincinnati Reds
4 Chicago Cubs Chicago Cubs
5 Pittsburgh Pirates Pittsburgh Pirates

This division looks to be a two horse race. You have the always competitive Cardinals, who have the perfect mix of longtime veterans such as Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, and Albert Pujols and younger, rising talent like Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson. Then there’s the Brewers, who had the biggest year to year turnaround from a pitching staff in a long time. It really comes down to whether the numbers of Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta, and the rest of this rotation are sustainable in the long term. While Michael has both these teams making the playoffs, I don’t think this division is strong enough for two playoff teams, and that will make for an exciting race as the Cards and Brewers compete for one.

Despite being in different stages, the rest of the division is rebuilding. The Reds sold off a good portion of their batting talent from last season to save money. The Cubs got rid of the core group of Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, and Kris Bryant that won them a World Series in favor of a younger crop of players that will need time and experience to develop. The Pirates are the deepest into their rebuild, and I still see them as far away from contention.

NL West

#Andrew’s PredictionsMichael’s Predictions
1 Los Angeles Dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers
2 San Francisco Giants (Wild Card 2) San Francisco Giants (Wild Card 3)
3 San Diego Padres San Diego Padres
4 Colorado Rockies Colorado Rockies
5 Arizona Diamondbacks Arizona Diamondbacks

The Dodgers were already stacked up and down the roster with talent in 2021. Now they come into this season and somehow look even better?! With two former MVPs in Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger already on the roster, the Dodgers went out and added a third in Freddie Freeman! They signed former Royals ace Danny Duffy and he won’t even make the starting rotation! It’s getting to the point where it’s unfair how much talent the Dodgers have. I honestly feel they could staff two borderline playoff teams. However, given the unpredictability of baseball, they obviously cannot win every game.

The Padres have continued to add to a talented roster as well, but this National League wild card race is going to get extremely competitive. It’s the Giants I have joining the Dodgers in the playoffs. While it’s easy to call the resurgences of infielders Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, and Evan Longoria a fluke, I believe these guys have something left in the tank. The Giants did lose Kevin Gausman, but they found an ample replacement in ex-White Sox star Carlos Rodon. San Diego will be missing SS Fernando Tatis Jr. until June, and that could cause them to get off to a slow start. The Padres won’t make the playoffs in this NL if they have to play catch up. They still have a far higher chance than the Rockies or Diamondbacks.

The Rockies are not the team I expected when I thought of potential suitors for Kris Bryant. Playing at Coors Field could make an already strong hitter like Bryant look even stronger, but his power alone won’t be enough to overcome poor pitching and a lack of lineup depth. The Diamondbacks have even less to be hopeful about. While I could see Madison Bumgarner or Zac Gallen bouncing back to bolster the rotation, this lineup has very few significant names. Ketel Marte is the only guy who comes to mind, and he could want out of Arizona if things don’t improve soon.

Playoff Bracket

While I do have the White Sox taking the #1 seed in the AL due to an easy division, it’s the AL East that will end up with two teams in the ALCS. The Red Sox could give the Blue Jays a hard time, but this Toronto lineup just has too much power for Boston’s pitching staff to handle.

Here’s a fun fact: since the tainted Astros-Dodgers World Series in 2017, either the Astros or Dodgers has made every World Series. The Astros have made it in odd years (2019 and 2021), while the Dodgers have made it in even years (2018 and 2020). I expect that pattern to continue in a pretty clear runaway for LA. Everyone used to associate even years with their rivals up in San Francisco, but I think that could become the Dodgers’ thing in years to come. The Mets or Braves could pull off a surprise if luck goes their way, but the Dodgers are the logical pick here.

Toronto may be a flashy team, and they could make it a fun series. Regardless, I still think it’s foolish to bet against the Dodgers to prevail.

I hope you enjoy your Opening Day. In the meantime, feel free to comment with your thoughts.

WooSox host Fidrych Foundation, Challenger players take the field

On August 21, 2021, Challenger League players had the chance to live in the shoes of a WooSox player as they took the field at Polar Park as part of a Mark Fidrych Foundation event.

This was an awesome opportunity for the players, who were kids of a variety of ages with special needs. It’s all thanks to the WooSox partnership with the Fidrych Foundation.

A longtime partnership

Even back in Pawtucket, the Red Sox AAA affiliate has always given back to the community around them and made their ballpark accessible to all audiences. As part of this, they have longtime partnerships with both the Challenger League, a baseball league for those with physical and developmental disabilities, and the Mark Fidrych Foundation, an organization that enhances the lives of those with special needs through sports and sports education. The Fidrych Foundation was started by the family of Mark ‘The Bird’ Fidrych after he died in a tractor accident back in 2009. Fidrych, a former MLB pitcher who spent time with the AAA Red Sox, was highly involved in the community of his hometown of Northborough, MA prior to his death and his family wanted to continue his legacy.

When the team moved to Worcester and became the WooSox, it was the perfect opportunity to bring their Fidrych Foundation and Challenger partnerships together, as the Foundation supports Challenger teams in many nearby towns.

I caught up with Ann and Jessica Fidrych from the Foundation as well as Joe Bradlee, the WooSox Vice President of Baseball Operations and Community Relations, who spoke about the partnership.

Challenger League comes to bat

To begin the day, Challenger League players and their buddies were welcomed onto the field and each player got the chance to bat and run the bases.

As players came up to bat, their names were announced, just like the real WooSox players.

Bradlee pitched to the players and multiple coaches and WooSox staff members, including former Red Sox catcher and current WooSox hitting coach Rich Gedman, played the field.

I caught up with Gedman after the game. Gedman is a Worcester native and is proud to be involved not only with the WooSox but also in giving back to the Worcester community.

I also spoke with several long time Challenger League players: Krish from Shrewsbury, Tobin from Southborough, and Jay from Framingham. All three of them had nice hits off of Bradlee, and Krish had one of the biggest hits of the day as he drilled the ball down the third base line. Krish said it was a result of him continuing to work on his swing.

Parents were able to watch their kids from the berm. I spoke with the parents of Ryan Love, a longtime Shrewsbury Challenger League player. They were ecstatic about Ryan having the opportunity to take an at bat at Polar Park.

Outstanding volunteers honored

After the players finished batting and running, the Fidrych Foundation announced the honorees of their annual Citizenship Award. The award was given to four individuals who have volunteered as buddies in Fidrych Foundation programs. According to the Foundation’s website, the Citizenship Award is for “young men and women who have actively participated in and advocated for special needs athletic involvement within their surrounding communities.” This year’s winners were Kyle Daunais, Gianni Colonero, Michael Warwick, and Chase Collins.

Kyle and Gianni, both longtime Challenger League buddies, were in attendance. I had the chance to speak with both of them after they received their awards. They were glad the Foundation was so appreciative of their volunteer efforts and were happy to take part in this welcoming community.

Ken’s Foods welcomes Challenger League back

Thanks to Ken’s Foods, all the Challenger League players, buddies, and their families were welcomed back to Polar Park later that day for the game against the Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, the AAA affiliate of the New York Yankees. The Fidrych Foundation was honored as part of the pregame ceremony. This topped off a fun day for everyone involved in this evolving partnership.

The Fidrych Foundation not only improves the lives of the players, but also gives teenagers in the area a chance to make a difference in their community. I have several friends who have gotten involved either as players or volunteers, and when I played in the Northborough Challenger League for its first five years, I truly saw how much the Foundation did to make the Challenger players feel special.

The WooSox have continued to welcome people from all backgrounds to the ballpark with open arms, and I think it’s amazing that they’re supporting an organization like the Fidrych Foundation.

Sale leads to first Polar Park sellout, WooSox win on Autism Acceptance Day

It was Autism Acceptance Day at Polar Park and it was a beautiful day for some baseball. The WooSox faced the Toronto Blue Jays AAA affiliates, the Buffalo Bisons. Before the game, the WooSox honored many organizations that support people affected by autism. The New England Center for Children (NECC), a leader in autism education and training (and the school that taught me to talk) was honored during the pregame ceremony. Many NECC students, teachers, and family members also received tickets to the game.

Autism Acceptance Day was also the first 100% capacity sellout at Polar Park (9,508 fans) as Chris Sale took the mound for a rehab start after undergoing Tommy John surgery back in March 2020.

While Sale’s rehab start made this game even more exciting, large crowds can be a challenge for individuals with autism. As a result, the WooSox added an additional sensory-friendly space in the DCU Club. The Unum Sensory Friendly Room was also open, as it is for every game, along the first base line adjacent to fan services.

I covered the game and events of the day on behalf of the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism. I was focusing not only on the game but also on the inclusive environment Polar Park had created.

I caught up with Jared Bouzan, NECC’s Chief Development Officer, before he was honored on the field. I also spoke with Jeff Arnold, a member of the NECC marketing team. Both Jared and Jeff were excited for the events of the day and very appreciative of the WooSox.

Marie Roy, an autistic WooSox employee, was working at the nacho stand. I met Marie last month during the Polar Park open house and caught up with her again at this game at the nacho stand where she works:

Joe Bradlee, WooSox VP of Baseball Operations & Community Relations invited me to come to the park at 1 p.m., three hours before the game, to catch batting practice (BP). It was a pretty incredible experience to be welcomed on the field to cover BP along with several other press members. Many extra media members came to Polar Park for Chris Sale. Red Sox utility player Marwin Gonzalez, like Sale, was also on a rehab assignment and took BP with the team. After BP, I had the chance to interview WooSox first baseman and designated hitter Josh Ockimey as well as WooSox coach Bruce Crabbe.

I also had the chance to speak with reporters like Joe McDonald of the Worcester Telegram (who I had originally met in 2015 during my first press box experience with the Bruins), and Alex Speier, a Boston Globe baseball writer and researcher who is frequently on NESN during Red Sox games to provide unique insight on the players. I was surprised to learn that despite the wealth of information that Alex shares during a game, like the percentage of change-ups a pitcher has thrown all season, that he is a one-man research team. He noted that he comes up with the good questions and then finds the data on the internet.

After covering BP and the pregame ceremony, I found a spot behind home plate next to the press box to watch the game. I was able to see Sale’s warm-up in right field in front of the Worcester Wall, and the game began shortly afterwards.

In the top of the first, the crowd roared as Sale took the mound. Even though he let a couple of baserunners on in the first, he kept the Bisons scoreless. Marwin Gonzalez, who I saw smash a few balls to right field during BP, gave the WooSox an early lead by crushing a solo homer over the Worcester Wall in the bottom of the first.

Over the first three innings, Chris Sale struck out six batters and he looked very sharp in the third inning when hitters Christian Colon, Corey Dickerson, and Tyler White all went down swinging for strike three. I performed some play-by-play from the stands during the top half of the second inning.

The fourth inning wasn’t as easy for Sale as he struggled with his fastball command. Sale gave up his first run in this inning on a pair of doubles. However, if it weren’t for center fielder Tate Matheny leaping up against the wall to rob Kevin Smith of a home run, the Bisons would have taken the lead. Matheny also had a running catch for out #2, with the third out coming on Sale’s seventh strikeout.

In the bottom of the inning, Matheny showed how great defense can lead to offense by hitting a two-run shot over the wall and onto the left field berm. Michael Gettys, who had reached base in all four of his at bats, scored on the HR blast.

Sale left the game with the score 3-1, after throwing 81 pitches, striking out seven, and giving up one run in five innings. Shortly after Sale was done, several media members exited the press box and a few of them asked me if I wanted to go see Chris Sale, so I followed them out of the ballpark.

The WooSox set up a temporary press tent just outside the ballpark specifically for the Chris Sale post game interview. He spoke to the media during the bottom of the 6th inning. I was told that I could observe, as Joe McDonald and Alex Speier asked the bulk of the questions, but I was encouraged to take a spot up close on the side of the tent just before Sale came out to speak.

Sale said he was very encouraged by the results and that this was different than the previous rehab outings. He said he “felt normal” for the first time in a long while during this game. He knows what the Red Sox are doing is special and that he needs to be ready to help them when he rejoins the club.

While Sale was speaking, the WooSox continued to build on their lead as #2 Red Sox prospect (according to MLB.com) Jeter Downs, hit a huge solo shot into deep left field and well past the berm seats.

Buffalo made the game closer in the seventh inning. Nash Knight who had already knocked in the first Bisons run, tripled for his third hit before scoring on a Rodrigo Vigil groundout.

However, Durbin Feltman came in to pitch the last two innings, and prevented the Bisons from scoring any more as the WooSox secured a 4-2 victory. Sale was the winning pitcher with his first official win since August 2019.

After the win, fans headed onto the field for the Sunset Catch. Fans are invited to play catch after every Saturday WooSox game at Polar Park.

I had a thrilling day at Polar Park as I had the opportunity to enjoy all the events of the day as a press member, a fan, and a member of the autism community. I’ll be back at Polar Park again on Friday August 13 to see the game and watch fireworks afterwards, something Polar Park does for every Friday night game. If you haven’t had the chance to go to a game yet, I highly recommend it.

Sox Overcome 4-0 Deficit despite German’s 7 No-Hit Innings

Graphic from Extra Innings Live on NESN

The Red Sox lead the MLB in comeback wins, with today being their 32nd. Even with all these comebacks, today was probably the most impressive of the entire season.

Domingo German absolutely dominated most of the game as he had a no-hitter through seven innings, and there were no signs of him slowing down. In the seventh inning, German had to face the middle of the Red Sox lineup: Jarren Duran, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and J.D. Martinez. In what one might see as an opportunity for the Red Sox to break up the no-hitter, German was looking unstoppable. He ended up with a total of not three but four strikeouts in the inning. Bogaerts reached first on a passed ball after striking out. German remained focused and was able to strikeout Devers and Martinez, and keep the no-hitter going with 10 K’s on the day.

This game started out as a pitchers duel but the Yankees quietly got out to a lead, scoring single runs in the third, fourth, sixth, and eighth. Second baseman Rougned Odor was a large part of the scoring, as he had two RBI including a solo homer.

The Red Sox headed into the bottom of the eighth in a bad spot. It appeared they were about to lose the AL East lead, split with the Yankees, and let the Yankees get back to within seven games of first place. However, even with German’s dominance, the Red Sox were inspired by Alex Cora’s words during the seventh inning, as Kike Hernandez noted during the postgame press conference.

“Things weren’t looking great,” Hernandez said. “When [Alex Cora] went up to the mound and he took Yacksiel [Rios] out of the game and brought in [Josh Taylor], he said to us, ‘If JT gets out of this inning we’re winning this game…’ You trust what AC says, a lot of times he sees things before they happen and you just go with it. If he says we’re going to win this game, it’s probably going to happen… we’ve said it many times, we’re not out of a game until a game’s over and we proved that today.”

Alex Verdugo led off the bottom of 8th by breaking up the no hitter as he nailed the ball to deep right center for an off the wall double. With that hit, Yankees manager Aaron Boone decided to pull German after 93 pitches. Jonathan Loaisiga entered the game in relief, but he didn’t have any success against this Red Sox lineup.

Against Loaisiga, Hunter Renfroe drilled the ball down the third base line for another double to knock in Verdugo. The Red Sox were on the board, but they weren’t done there. They were ready to rally. Christian Vazquez’s ball dropped into the outfield for an RBI bloop single. Franchy Cordero, who was up next, had struggled at the major league level so far this year despite success in Worcester. Cordero, the potential tying run surprisingly tried to bunt on the first pitch. Fortunately, the bunt was hit foul and out of play and then with two strikes, he hit a ground ball single right up the middle quickly over the mound and by second base.

Kike Hernandez was 0-3 on the day, but after playing a major part in the two other victories of this series, he came up clutch. He drilled another one down the third base line for a double and made it a one run game. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The Red Sox had gone from a hitless day to five consecutive hits, two runners in scoring position, and still nobody out in the inning as Kevin Plawecki came in to pinch hit for Duran. The Sox were down 4-3 and now had a chance to take the lead.

Duran had struck out three times on the day so Sox manager Alex Cora opted for Plawecki to face the tough lefty Zack Britton who had come in to replace Loaisiga. Plawecki, a good contact hitter, hit a soft roller to short, but with both Hernandez and Cordero running on contact, both were able to advance with Cordero touching home to tie the game. The Red Sox still had Bogaerts, Devers, and Martinez ready to hit after Plawecki. Bogaerts hit a fly ball into right field just deep enough for Hernandez to try to tag up and score. He began charging towards home plate and arrived just in time to beat the throw with a diving head first slide. The crowd was on their feet as the Sox now had a 5-4 lead and a well rested Matt Barnes ready in the bullpen to record his 21st save and secure another Red Sox comeback win, and the 10th win against the Yankees out of the 13 games with their longtime rival.

Barnes came in to pitch the top of the ninth inning and retired the first Yankee batter helped out by a good running catch by Verdugo on a hard liner to left by Greg Allen. D.J. LeMahieu grounded out to second for out number two. DH Giancarlo Stanton followed with a base hit off of Barnes though, and the Yankees brought in Tyler Wade to pinch run. Meanwhile, coming up to bat was Rougned Odor, the same guy who had knocked in two of New York’s four runs. Wade stole second, and with a runner in scoring position, Odor had the chance to get another run on the board for the Yanks and tie the game back up. However, Odor popped one up to third base and Devers was there to end the ballgame. Barnes had survived a scare and the Red Sox had gone from being no-hit to pulling off their best comeback of the season.

I think this game really shows what the 2021 Red Sox are capable of, and I’m excited to see how the Red Sox can improve themselves with Chris Sale close to returning and the MLB trade deadline approaching fast.

The Sox are now 61-39 after 100 games. With 62 games left in the regular season and 13 of them against the second place Rays, fans may look back on today’s game the as the one that defined their season of success.

Fun day at WooSox with Advocates despite rain complications

The WooSox were set to play two games on Sunday, July 18. Saturday night’s game had been postponed after just over an inning, and was scheduled to resume at 12:05 on Sunday followed by Sunday’s regularly scheduled game, which would be reduced a to 7 inning game.

Sunday was also Advocates Day as a group from Advocates, a non-profit organization that supports people with disabilities like me, was in attendance. The game was originally set to start at 1PM but with two games being played, the start time was moved up an hour.

Despite the change of plans, Advocates Day went forward. I was invited to join Advocates, and they collaborated with the WooSox so I could have special press credentials to report on the happenings of the day around most areas of the ballpark.

I started out on Polar Park’s Hanover Deck, a great viewing area high up in right field with views of the field and the city of Worcester. I spoke with Diane Gould, President of Advocates:

Advocates, like the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism, continues to help individuals like me. Meeting with Diane, a big sports fan, was a great start to the day despite the overcast skies and expected rain. I was given the opportunity to report on all the action so I watched the continuation of the first game from the Hanover Deck, and did some play by play of my own with my dad serving as my personal cameraman:

Rain began to fall during the 5th inning, so after 5 scoreless innings combined for the first game carried over from Saturday, the WooSox grounds crew brought the tarp out for another rain delay.

Despite the rain delay, there was plenty to enjoy at this brand new ballpark. Behind home plate in the upper level is where the press box and broadcast booth are located. The WooSox provided me special access to the DCU Club which is adjacent to both. It’s a huge premium area with couches and other special seating areas where you can avoid the elements outside but still watch the game.

In the DCU Club, I ran into WooSox broadcaster Mike Antonellis, who I had met at the open house on July 10. He was very generous with his time and gave me the chance to speak with him for a spontaneous rain delay report:

I also had the chance to stop by the press box, which was full during the game but had space during the delay. In the press box I met Cassandra Riley, a graduate of my current high school (Algonquin Regional High School) who is now a WooSox photographer. She had always been interested in photography and baseball, so this was a dream job for her. It turns out that Cassandra’s mom, Patricia Riley, is a teacher at Algonquin who has been a big supporter of my career aspirations and has gone above and beyond for me during my time at Algonquin. It was a pleasant surprise to meet Cassandra because I did not know she worked at the WooSox and we had a lot in common to discuss:

The day was also the first Bark in the Park day at Polar Park, where fans were allowed to bring their dogs to the stadium. The remainder of the games scheduled for the day were eventually called off due to the on and off rain (game 2 was rescheduled to August 19 as another Bark in the Park day), but the WooSox did an excellent job keeping fans (employees too) and their dogs engaged, allowing them onto the field to walk the warning track after the game was called:

Despite weather complications, it was a fun day at the ballpark thanks to Advocates and the WooSox staff. While I wish I could have watched more baseball, the rain delay opened the door for opportunities I may not have had at a typical WooSox game. In addition, even though there wasn’t much action on the field, it’s really exciting watching players like Jeter Downs and Marcus Wilson who could be playing for the Red Sox at Fenway some day, maybe even in September when major league roster sizes are expanded. I’ve been invited to return to Polar Park again as a reporter on July 31 for Autism Acceptance Night and I can’t wait.

Fans can come again to Polar Park with their dogs on August 19 and August 22 (the make-up date for the July 18 game)
I hope to catch up again with Cassandra at future WooSox games at Polar Park, including July 31, Autism Acceptance Night

Red Sox Second Half Preview and Midseason MLB Power Rankings

We’re coming off a quiet, yet also busy week in baseball, both for the Red Sox and the rest of the league. The week started off with the MLB draft, in which the Red Sox landed top shortstop prospect Marcelo Mayer. Pete Alonso took home his second straight Home Run Derby, despite impressive performances by two-way star Shohei Ohtani, Coors Field hometown hero Trevor Story, and cancer survivor Trey Mancini among others. Five Red Sox players contributed to the AL’s All Star Game victory, with Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers each knocking in a run, Nathan Eovaldi and Matt Barnes each pitching a shutout inning, and J.D. Martinez also batting in the game. Additionally, after strong performances in Worcester, the Red Sox announced that Jarren Duran and Tanner Houck would get the call to the majors. They had been set to join the team in this weekend’s series against the Yankees. With Yankee COVID problems postponing the first game, everything’s up in the air, but when the Red Sox play again, Duran and Houck will be able to make their mark. This is all happening while Chris Sale begins his rehab assignment with the FCL Red Sox.

The first half has come to a close, and I’ve written about my thoughts on the Red Sox’s first half performance as well as what I expect in the second half, from the rest of this month to the trade deadline to the playoffs. I’ve also included my power rankings from the end of June, and while a couple things have changed since then it seems we have already began to establish which teams have a chance at a playoff run.

Red Sox: First Half in Review

Red Sox: Xander Bogaerts climbs franchise list for shortstops with latest  home run

Heading into the year, I was expecting a middle of the road type of season from the Red Sox, but at the same time, I saw a low floor and a high ceiling. In this first half, this team has played close to their ceiling. Martinez, Bogaerts, and Devers have led the way for one of the best lineups in baseball. The team has come up clutch as they lead the league in 2 out runs. Chaim Bloom has hand crafted the outfield that leads the league in outfield assists, bringing in Alex Verdugo in the Mookie Betts trade and signing Hunter Renfroe and Kike Hernandez this past offseason. The rotation has been inconsistent, but it has definitely had its moments. After a rough patch in May and June, Eduardo Rodriguez has began to rebound. Eovaldi was in that All Star Game for a reason, as a healthy season from him has been exciting to watch. Additionally, Nick Pivetta has been able to completely revitalize his career in Boston after struggling to maintain a starting job in Philadelphia. The question in whether the Red Sox can keep playing at this level to secure the AL East victory and make a playoff run.

Red Sox Outlook for the Second Half

Red Sox ace Chris Sale inches closer to return after rehab start - The  Boston Globe

I think what we’ve seen so far this season is the ceiling of what the current Red Sox roster can do. However, there’s more talent on the way. Jarren Duran has a lot of potential between his power and his speed, and he’s a great addition for the outfield that can allow Kike Hernandez to spend more time at other positions and show off his versatility. Tanner Houck can be another talented arm for this rotation. The Red Sox could be looking for ways to further improve the team at the approaching trade deadline. However, what might be the most significant is the fact that Red Sox ace Chris Sale is working his way back to the majors, and could rejoin the team as soon as August. The rotation is decent right now, but adding Sale to it (assuming he can return to pre-injury form) puts the Red Sox at another level. I think the combo of young talent, trades, and the return of Sale can fix some of the issues the team has had and put them in an even better position to contend this October.

The Red Sox do have some tough competition though. The Astros’ lineup has been unstoppable even after the resolution of the cheating scandal. The White Sox rotation has been near unstoppable. The Dodgers, Padres, and Giants are all battling it out for the NL West and could also end up battling it out for a World Series title. Whether the Red Sox win a title is going to come down to how they handle this elite competition. Will they falter against some of the league’s best talent and end up back in the middle of the pack, or will they stand strong and win a ring in a historic season? Boston’s outlook likely falls somewhere in between, but there are lots of possibilities.

Check out my midseason power rankings below. The Nationals have began to slump and the Reds have began to rise since the end of June, but many of these teams are still in the same spot.

Midseason Power Rankings (as of June 30)

That wraps up the first half this baseball season. During the All Star Break, I also began to look ahead to football season. Check out this podcast my cousin and I put together to begin to preview this year’s AFC.

Polar Park, a ballpark experience everyone can enjoy

On Saturday, July 10, I visited Polar Park for the “Saturday at the Park” open house event. With the WooSox on the road, the park was open to the public for a few hours for fans to explore all areas of the the new ballpark in the heart of Massachusetts.

Fans were also encouraged to give their feedback on how to improve the ballpark. The WooSox value fan feedback so much that they had 21 planning meetings with fans that resulted in 877 ideas and suggestions on how to design the ballpark (me with WooSox President Dr. Charles Steinberg holding a book with the 877 fan ideas pictured below).

The event was held on what would have been the 100th birthday of Harvey Ball, the Worcester-born inventor of the smiley face. Much of the design of Polar Park and the WooSox logos were also based on Worcester history. Smiley Ball, the team’s mascot, is a reference to Harvey Ball’s roots in Worcester. Since Worcester is often called the “heart of Massachusetts,” the road signs around Kelley Square, Worcester’s downtown area, contain hearts.

Polar Park is located in a redesigned Kelley Square, so it’s fitting that the team’s logo contains a heart and this theme is incorporated throughout the ballpark including the seats as you can see pictured below.

The sides of the game seats are not only a reference to Worcester being the heart of Massachusetts but also a tribute to the Worcester’s, an 1800s baseball team that played in the city.

The ballpark also took inspiration from both Pawtucket’s McCoy Stadium and Boston’s Fenway Park. The WooSox wanted to make sure that they had a lot of unique and good seating options. I caught up with a WooSox employee on the Hanover deck, where there’s a great view of both the city and the ballpark. We spoke about a wide variety of seating options.

I had the chance to visit the seats behind home plate later on, which were in front of NESN’s broadcast booth.

The left field berm is a grassy area that’s just about to open. Berm tickets will be sold to the general public for $9, and kids under 12, college students, and veterans can purchase tickets on the berm for $8.

The Worcester Wall is Polar Park’s version of the Green Monster. The main differences? The Worcester Wall is located in right field and stands at 22 feet high, as opposed to Fenway’s Green Monster which is in left field and stands at 37 feet high. In addition, as opposed to Fenway green, the Worcester Wall was painted with a new color known as “Woo Blue.”

I also had the chance to see some of the private suites.

In addition to good seating options, the WooSox have found ways to accommodate fans that may need a break from typical ballpark noise. The Unum Sensory Friendly Room was designed to make Polar Park welcoming to fans with disabilities like autism who may have sensory overload challenges. The room is located adjacent to Fan Services.

According to WooSox employee Marie Roy, the organization is a very welcoming employer. I spoke with Roy, who shared with me that she is autistic and described her experience working at the ballpark.

This day was also filled with opportunities to explore ballpark areas not normally open to the public. Everyone was welcome to check out areas usually reserved only for members of the media: the press box, the broadcast booth, and the control room.

In the broadcast booth, I had the chance to meet Mike Antonellis, one of the WooSox broadcasters. He was extremely friendly and even provided me advice on my sports broadcasting pursuits.

In the control room I saw a lot of familiar graphics and designs on screens across the room, and caught up with two control room employees.

Just outside the control room, I was able to meet WooSox Chairman of the Board (and former Red Sox owner) Larry Lucchino and WooSox president Dr. Charles Steinberg. Steinberg has been a part of many memorable events with the Red Sox organization. He orchestrated the ceremony at the April 20, 2013 Red Sox game right after the Boston Marathon bombings that I attended and wrote about. I caught up with Steinberg about his thoughts on how Polar Park has done in its first few months as well as plans to improve the ballpark.

After the event, I interviewed some fans to see what they thought about the experience at the ballpark.

Before leaving, we also stopped by the Team Store to pick up inaugural season merchandise.

The Team Store has merchandise containing the main WooSox logos as well as their “Los Wepas de Worcester” logos. The WooSox have worn “Los Wepas de Worcester” uniforms for a couple of their games to honor the Latino community. “Wepa” is Spanish slang for words like “wow” or “amazing”, and the logo contains rockets to honor Worcester-born rocket inventor Robert Goddard.

I had a great time visiting Polar Park on this open Saturday. It’s a really nice ballpark and I’m looking forward to attending some games at the ballpark this season. The team has a lot of exciting players to watch and some of them could be called up to Boston soon. Polar Park is a great venue to see a game.

If you want to see a game this week, the WooSox come home to Worcester on Tuesday, July 13 for a seven game series against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees. I’ll be attending on Sunday, July 18, and you can buy tickets for any of these seven games at https://www.milb.com/worcester/tickets.

MLB 2021 Predictions: National League

April is almost here, and when the month begins, so will the MLB season. Just like in my last 7 years writing this blog, I have put together predictions for the season. We only got 60 MLB games last year, but for this year we’ll have a full 162 game season. I just went on my cousin Michael Philipkosky’s podcast, the Master Plan, to discuss all 30 teams, with one episode for the AL and one episode for the NL. Monday, I posted the AL podcast alongside my predictions. You can check out the NL podcast here, and I have my full NL predictions below.

NL East

  1. Atlanta Braves (100-62, #2 seed)
  2. New York Mets (91-71, #5 seed)
  3. Philadelphia Phillies (89-73)
  4. Washington Nationals (82-80)
  5. Miami Marlins (78-84)

This might be the best division in baseball. The Braves and Mets will be competing for the division title most likely. Atlanta has a great duo of star hitters in first baseman Freddie Freeman and outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. Their rotation is also starting to come together between younger pitchers like Ian Anderson and veterans like Charlie Morton (signed this offseason). The Mets were purchased by Steve Cohen this offseason, and he told Mets fans that the Mets would leave mediocrity behind them and act like the big market team they are. Cohen hired a new GM, and the team made a ton of moves, highlighted by a trade for shortstop Francisco Lindor and starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco. You also can’t forget that they have Jacob deGrom who’s arguably the best pitcher in baseball.

That doesn’t mean the other teams won’t be competitive. It will be difficult to secure a playoff spot in the NL, but the rest of these teams will at least fail trying. Philadelphia has their flaws, but between outfielder Bryce Harper, first baseman Rhys Hoskins, and a nice top two starting pitchers in Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, they have a lot of talent. This should be a somewhat competitive team, but the bullpen among other minor problems could hold them back, similar to how the Celtics have struggled this season in the NBA. The Nationals experienced a World Series hangover last year, and I think they’ll see some improvement in 2021 even though that will be tough in this division. They brought in first baseman Josh Bell alongside outfielder Juan Soto and an amazing rotation. Washington has as much star power as most teams in baseball, but they lack the depth to make a run in this NL East.

The Marlins were the joke of the division back in 2019, but they saw many young pitchers break out and lead them to a 2020 playoff spot. The outfield has really come along as well with Adam Duvall joining Starling Marte and Corey Dickerson. I think the Marlins have definitely made progress in their rebuild, more so than the Tigers and Orioles who saw surprising starts to the season last year. However, it will be hard for Miami to make the playoffs again now that they are back down to 10 teams (you never know though).

Even though the Mets and Braves are frontrunners, I wouldn’t be shocked to see any of these teams in the playoffs.

NL Central

  1. Cincinnati Reds (88-74, #3 seed)
  2. St. Louis Cardinals (87-75)
  3. Chicago Cubs (80-82)
  4. Milwaukee Brewers (65-97)
  5. Pittsburgh Pirates (53-109)

I doubt more than one team makes the playoffs out of this division. Compared to the depth of the NL East and the star power of the NL West, the NL Central is not in a good spot. I think the Reds and Cardinals will be competing for that spot. The Reds lost starting pitcher Trevor Bauer, but the lineup is still strong and the rotation is still serviceable despite depth problems behind Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo. The Cardinals were already decent last year. Now they brought in star third baseman and MVP candidate Nolan Arenado. That could put them in a position to contend, but I still don’t see them dominating this division.

The Cubs were looking like they were in for a long rebuild after cutting contracts early in the offseason. However, after lots of rumors they decided to hold on to third baseman Kris Bryant and add some rotation depth. If they were trying to rebuild, they halted that effort. If they’re trying to contend, I don’t see them achieving that goal. The Cubs haven’t really chosen what direction to go in, and I expect that they will decide by the time the Trade Deadline rolls around. If not, they’ll be stuck in the middle for now.

The Brewers may have 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich in their lineup, but this rotation is not anywhere close to the other teams in this division. They’ll need to add pitching before they think about contending again.

They’ll still be better than Pittsburgh, a rebuilding team in their own realm. They already traded first baseman Josh Bell and I bet outfielder Gregory Polanco will be gone by midseason. That will leave an inexperienced roster with no sign of improvement anytime soon. They’ll need some prospects to develop before they contend again. That development will start by letting the MLB ready prospects like third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes start.

NL West

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers (107-55, #1 seed)
  2. San Diego Padres (94-68, #4 seed)
  3. Arizona Diamondbacks (81-81)
  4. San Francisco Giants (77-85)
  5. Colorado Rockies (65-97)

The Dodgers are another team that will be in their own realm: a realm of dominance. This lineup is highlighted by outfielders Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger but has a lot of talent and depth around those two including Corey Seager and Justin Turner. The lineup isn’t even the best part here. The Dodgers have David Price, Dustin May, and Julio Urias competing for their final two rotation spots! That’s because they have Clayton Kershaw, Trevor Bauer, and Walker Buehler as their top three. No team in baseball has a rotation that can compete with that. The Dodgers are the closest thing I’ve seen in a while to a lock for the best record in baseball. The question is whether the Dodgers will choke in the playoffs like they did in 2017, 2018, and 2019 before winning it all in 2020.

Everyone’s been debating whether the Dodgers or Padres will win this division. I don’t understand how you can have that debate. The Padres are a really good baseball team. In some other divisions they’d come out on top. In this division they seem to be a lock for a Wild Card spot. The Padres rotation went from inconsistent at best to one of the better rotations in baseball. This offseason they brought in Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, and Joe Musgrove to bolster the pitching staff. The lineup was already strong, headlined by third baseman Manny Machado and the young Fernando Tatis Jr. at shortstop. However, you can’t put them on the same level as the Dodgers.

Behind those two teams, this division isn’t anything spectacular. The Diamondbacks might be the definition of average. They don’t have many standout players, but they have a serviceable lineup and a serviceable rotation. This is a high floor, low ceiling team. They will most likely be close to, if not exactly .500. They should beat up on the Giants and Rockies but cannot come anywhere close to competing with the Dodgers and Padres.

The Giants have improved between developing young talent and bringing in a couple of veterans. This isn’t their year though. Maybe next year they’ll see more improvement and cook up some even year magic. The Rockies have actually regressed since last year. They dealt away Arenado and shortstop Trevor Story and outfielder Charlie Blackmon could be gone soon too. The core of the lineup is beginning to disband and though the rotation saw some success last year, it’s nothing spectacular.


That’s all for my MLB predictions this year. Stay tuned for more baseball coverage soon, including my MLB playoff bracket which I’ll be posting at some point on Twitter.

MLB 2021 Predictions: American League

April is almost here, and when the month begins, so will the MLB season. Just like in my last 7 years writing this blog, I have put together predictions for the season. We only got 60 MLB games last year, but for this year we’ll have a full 162 game season. I just went on my cousin Michael Philipkosky’s podcast, the Master Plan, to discuss all 30 teams, with one episode for the AL and one episode for the NL. You can check out the AL podcast here, and I have my full AL predictions below.

AL East

  1. New York Yankees (96-66, #2 seed)
  2. Toronto Blue Jays (89-73, #5 seed)
  3. Tampa Bay Rays (84-78)
  4. Boston Red Sox (80-82)
  5. Baltimore Orioles (58-104)

I think the Yankees are in a good position to win this division. They lost some of the pitching depth they had last year, but this lineup is still on another level compared to the other teams in the AL East. Even with some injuries last year, the Yankees were able to dominate the AL East, and I expect the same this year. The question is whether they have the pitching staff to go all the way.

This should be a competitive division behind the Yankees. The Blue Jays, Rays, and Red Sox should all finish somewhat close in the standings. The Jays are really starting to come together. The young talent in the lineup is improving and they’ll be supplemented by new outfielder George Springer and new middle infielder Marcus Semien. Their rotation is also really starting to look sharp.

Tampa was the AL pennant winner last year, but this was a team that was highlighted by its dominant rotation and the Rays lost two of their top three starting pitchers. As a small market team, they tend to subtract in the offseason as opposed to adding. As they lose a key element of their 2020 team, they will see a significant World Series hangover.

The Red Sox should get Chris Sale back towards the end of the year, and when they do they could force the Rays into 4th place. After bringing back Alex Cora and making some underrated signings, I see the Sox finishing around .500 like they did back in 2019. However, this team is hard to read. They have a low floor (they could be a repeat of last year), and a high ceiling (they could potentially contend for a Wild Card). The signings by GM Chaim Bloom have included multiple utility players. Bloom, a University of Pennsylvania alumnus, explained some of his reasoning behind this in a Q&A at a UPenn event on Wednesday. He stated that in the past, utility players were often limited to utility role because they weren’t good enough to play a position every day. However, in modern baseball, there are utility players who can play every day at a variety of positions, like Enrique Hernandez and Marwin Gonzalez who he signed. These players likely flew under the radar due to the fact that they’re utility guys.

I can’t really see the Orioles competing with these teams. The Orioles have improved since 2019, but their early 2020 success was a bit of a fluke. I think the young talent is starting to come along but it won’t be enough to make a noticeable difference just yet.

AL Central

  1. Chicago White Sox (101-61, #1 seed)
  2. Minnesota Twins (90-72, #4 seed)
  3. Kansas City Royals (77-85)
  4. Cleveland Indians (75-87)
  5. Detroit Tigers (66-96)

The White Sox are really starting to come together. They have a good ace in Lucas Giolito. The lineup is looking great between young talent like Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez, and Nick Madigral and more experienced players like Jose Abreu and Yasmani Grandal. I think they have what it takes to make a deep playoff run this year. I have them ahead of the Twins, who choked in the playoffs last year. Minnesota has a strong rotation headlined by Jose Berrios, Kenta Maeda, and Randy Dobnak, but their lack of elite lineup talent compared to other top teams is going to hold them back from more than a Wild Card. The Twins should be able secure 2nd place though, as the rest of this division is unlikely to compete.

The Royals have added talent, including starting pitcher Mike Minor, and they have a decent core led by Hunter Dozier and Whit Merrifield. However, I don’t think they have quite enough firepower to contend. I think they will get third place over the Indians, who dealt away Carlos Carrasco and Francisco Lindor in an effort to lower payroll. Star hitter and third baseman Jose Ramirez is still in Cleveland, but the Indians don’t have any other big name hitters. They also lack rotation depth behind defending Cy Young winner Shane Bieber. Aside from Bieber and Ramirez, the Indians lack star power. The Tigers got off to a strong start last year thanks to the emergence of outfielder JaCoby Jones. They should perform better than they did in 2019, but I still don’t think they’ll be anywhere close to playoff contention in a 162 game season.

AL West

  1. Los Angeles Angels (87-75, #3 seed)
  2. Houston Astros (84-78)
  3. Oakland Athletics (76-86)
  4. Texas Rangers (65-97)
  5. Seattle Mariners (63-99)

This division is not nearly as strong as it was last year. The Angels always tend to disappoint with a lack of success surrounding star outfielder Mike Trout, but I think they’ll be able to win this weakened division. That doesn’t necessarily imply playoff success. The Angels did add some pitching help and that should put them in position to win the AL West but taking down the Yankees or White Sox will be a difficult feat. The Astros should come close as well, even though they lost outfielders George Springer and Josh Reddick. This lineup’s success between 2017 and 2019 was likely boosted by sign stealing, and the depth of the rotation is slowly dwindling, so I have the Angels edging out Houston here, but it will be close.

The A’s will probably have the biggest drop off in the division. They have a very talented young rotation, but without shortstop Marcus Semien and designated hitter Khris Davis, this lineup is lacking standout hitters. Corner infielders Matt Olson and Matt Chapman are improving at the plate, but that’s not enough lineup talent for a playoff team. I have them falling to third place, but finishing ahead of the Rangers and Mariners.

The Rangers failed to contend last year with an awkward mix of young talent and older players, so they’ve torn it down and prepared for a rebuild headed into this season. Joey Gallo is still here but I don’t expect him to stay for long. Seattle has some young talent that is starting to develop and could have a very strong outfield soon once Kyle Lewis and top prospect Jarred Kelenic fully develop alongside Mitch Haniger. Even with the outfield and the rotation improving, this isn’t the year for Seattle to contend.


That’s all for these American League predictions. I’ll have my NL predictions out in the next couple days. In the meantime, feel free to comment with your thoughts.

Celebrating 7 Years of Boston Sports Mania

Today marks 7 years since I took a book out of the library and decided to start this blog, posting an MLB 2014 Preview. That’s pretty fitting considering my sports fandom began with baseball.

Just like I did in 2014 and have done in every year since, I’ll be posting my MLB season predictions before the season begins. For the second year in a row, I collaborated on these predictions with my cousin Michael. I made an appearance on his podcast, The Master Plan. I’ll have a post up about those this weekend. In the meantime, I have some special announcements to make.

I designed this new logo in commemoration of this 7 year blog anniversary as well as the upcoming Autism Acceptance Month this April:

When I was first diagnosed with autism at the age of 2, my parents were told I may never speak. I have made lots of progress since then, from learning to talk, read, and write, to discovering my passion for sports, to starting this blog. After starting this blog, I realized I wanted to become a professional sports journalist, and I have been lucky enough to have some experiences in the industry thanks to connections I’ve made through this blog.

I wouldn’t be where I am today without the supportive communities that helped me along the way. That’s why I’ve launched a apparel fundraising campaign featuring this new logo to help give back to the autism community this April.

Click here or watch the video below for more information on this campaign:

I’m excited to be celebrating 7 years of Boston Sports Mania and Autism Acceptance Month with this campaign, and I look forward to keeping this website active for many years to come.