Tuesday, March 30, 2010

2010 NL West Preview

Well, here I am crawling to the finish line of MLB predictions and this series ends with a division the will be as competitive from top to bottom as any in sports. One analyst’s favorite to win the division could be another’s prediction to be fourth; it is that competitive. That being said, here is my breakdown of the final five teams in baseball.

Colorado Rockies:

The Colorado Rockies have a lineup that will be the best small-ball team you will ever see. Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler are lightning quick at the top of the order and right behind them is Todd Helton, one of the most consistent hitters in baseball. As if that wasn’t threatening, Troy Tulowitzki provides the most power on the team in the clean-up spot. They have a great combination of contact, power and speed and could surprise people with their ability to manufacture runs.

In addition to the offense, the pitching staff is made up of some of the best pitchers you have never heard of. Ubaldo Jimenez has quietly become an ace for the Rockies and he has Aaron Cook, Jorge De La Rosa, and Jason Hammel behind him bringing ERA’s all hovering around 4.00. The x-factor is Jeff Francis. Francis was this team’s ace before suffering a serious injury in 2008. Even if he isn’t everything he used to be, having him back is an invaluable addition.

Prediction: 88-74

Los Angeles Dodgers:

Before you argue the Dodgers won’t be good because Manny Ramirez is in decline, let me say that this has very little to do with ManRam. While he is still an above average hitter, it is the other two outfielders that are scaring every pitcher in baseball. Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp are two of the best young talents in baseball and made Ramirez’s suspension insignificant last year.

Pitching is the strength in LA though. Clayton Kershaw is one of the best lefties in all of baseball, and I believe Chad Billingsley’s 4.03 ERA last season was more of a fluke rather than sign of things to come. Hiroki Kuroda is solid when healthy and having a veteran like Vincente Padilla as a fourth starter is a valuable asset.

The Dodgers biggest concern will be at the catcher position. Russell Martin burst onto the scene two years ago as an all star, but was terrible last year. To try something different, Martin put on 25 pounds in the offseason, but it has already resulted in injuries. Even if he is healthy, gaining weight is a risky move.

Prediction: 86-76

San Francisco Giants

No one will argue that this staff isn’t loaded. Even if you believe that Tim Lincecum won’t be as dominant this year (his velocity has dropped this spring), Matt Cain, Barry Zito, and Jonathan Sanchez are all top-tier pitchers. Scoring runs on the Giants will be difficult on any given day because of their ability to start these guys for any game.

That being said, it is the offense that keeps them from making it to that next level. While Pablo Sandoval was a pleasant surprise last year, I don’t think that he has they power you would what from your 3-hitter. In addition, Aubrey Huff’s numbers declined significantly last season and he spent most of the season in Baltimore, where the left field fence is much shorter than that in AT&T Park. The lack of power is also supplemented with a lack of speed. Speed is crucial in a spacious park, but the Giants management has done a poor job building a team to fit the field they play on.

Prediction: 85-77

Arizona Diamondbacks;

For the last few years, we have seen how dominant Brandon Webb is when healthy. However, after making just one start in 2009, what kind of health will he be in this year?

Even without Webb, Arizona features a good rotation with Dan Haren leading the way. Edwin Jackson is an interesting story to follow this year because of how his 2009 went. After a dominant first half, Jackson had a 5.07 ERA after the break. Some say that hitters just figured him out, while others offer obscure reasons like he was tipping his pitches. Either way, what he brings to the table will be a big key to this team’s success.

Just like the Giants though, the D-backs struggles will be run production. Other than Justin Upton (who has surpassed his older brother BJ as the best Upton), who could be ready for a breakout season, there is no one to fear. Adam LaRoche is a solid hitter, but not a clean-up worthy power hitter, and Mark Reynolds has as much late discipline as Scooby Doo at an all you can eat buffet. Overall, I just don’t see the Diamondbacks scoring enough runs to contend with the Rockies or Dodgers.

Prediction: 84-78

San Diego Padres:

The Padres are the one team that I don’t see posing much of a threat. While the other teams have either a dominating pitching staff or a potent lineup, the Padres are pretty mediocre in all categories.

On offense, the only names anyone would know are Tony Gwynn Jr. and Adrian Gonzalez and they aren’t dominant enough to do much on their own. Gonzalez is by far the best player here, but if the Padres aren’t contending at the All Star Break, he will most likely be shipped somewhere else.

The rotation isn’t much better either. While Jon Garland will be a solid presence when on the mound, there isn’t much experience with success behind him. Clayton Richard and Mat Latos could be on their way to being very competent pitchers in this organization, but this is just Richard’s second season as a full year starter, while Matos is entering the season with just 10 career starts.

Prediction: 73-89

Monday, March 22, 2010

Injuries Could Stifle Baltimore's Breakthrough Season

Ever since Andy McPhail took over as General Manager, Baltimore Orioles fans have had this year circled. This is supposed to be the year that we saw signs that all of the waiting and developing prospects was going to show itself. However, as Spring Training is ¾ done, it seems that something unforeseen could stand in the way, injuries.

Every manager in baseball will say the same thing about record in Spring Training; it doesn’t matter. While I agree that your record doesn’t matter, what happens there is crucial.

Coming into the spring, the Orioles had four major players that either used the offseason as time to heal or were still injured coming in: Nolan Reimold (Achilles), Brad Bergesen (shin and shoulder), Adam Jones (ankle), and Brian Roberts (back). While Roberts’ has been the most publicized, all of these should be concerns.

Since Roberts has been the most talked about, I will start with him. While not the most talked about player anymore, Roberts is as critical to the Orioles success this season as anyone.

Though the Orioles have said he should return to the lineup in a few days, consider this a warning. Back injuries like this don’t just go away. They linger; sometimes they end careers abruptly.

If he can’t consistently be in the lineup, the leadoff spot goes from a solid spot, to one where there isn’t a viable option. Andino would take his spot in the field, but who bats leadoff? Izturis doesn’t have the speed or the average, and Jones has the power to be more of a two or three.

Next comes the most underrated player on the Orioles this year. If you saw Brad Bergesen take that line drive to the shin from Billy Butler, you would know why I’m still concerned. When he got struck, Orioles fans everywhere flashed back to when Mike Mussina got hit in the face by a Sandy Alomar Jr. line drive. It was that gruesome.

Before getting injured, Bergesen was a candidate for rookie of the year and had racked up 11 quality starts in his last 12 starts. If he can return to that form this season, he is probably the staff’s most consistent pitcher.

My issue isn’t so much the shin, but the shoulder injury he got while idiotically shooting a commercial for MASN. Shoulder injuries on a pitcher are never minor…ever. They can cause accidental change in a pitchers delivery, loss of velocity, and loss of movement on the breaking ball.

If I’m right and the shoulder is a bigger issue than Dave Trembley is letting us know, this could go down as the most irresponsible thing the team has ever done with a player.

Injured player number three is the Orioles sole All Star and gold Glove winning centerfielder. If healthy, Adam Jones is the teams most talented player. An amazing combination of speed, contact, power and field give this guy endless potential.

The biggest part of that sentence is “if healthy.” Jones’ 2009 was outstanding when he was able to play, but saw stints on the DL because of hamstring and ankle problems.

Centerfielders have a knack for pulling muscles because of the amount of ground they cover and Jones might not be an exception to this rule. Look what happened to Ken Griffey Jr.

Jones may be the team’s best player, but at least he has a solid back up. Having Pie as a fourth outfielder will be invaluable if Jones can’t go the distance.

Finally, we get to the player I least suspected would be an issue, Nolan Reimold. We knew of Reimold’s achilles injury early in the season last year, but it was so down played, no one spent much thought on it. When he was shut down, it was done quietly and his surgery made very few headlines.

Here we are on March 22, and it still is a major obstacle for Reimold.

As a result of his heel, Reimold has prevented him from playing as much and cause Trembley to keep him from playing back-to-back games pretty often.

That lack of playing time and number of at bats is proving to be a challenge. Reimold is just 1-23 with a measly single this spring. While he is working diligently with hitting coach Terry Crowley, the heel still worries me.

2010 NL Central Preview

If you are looking for a top heavy division in sports, this is it. The NL Central is the exact opposite of its counterpart in the American League. This year, you have got two great teams in the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs, while you have four clubs that will be irrelevant by early May.

St. Louis Cardinals:

Last year, we spent a lot of time discussing whether or not Albert Pujols could be productive without any protection in the lineup. It was actually a pretty big issue; that is, until they traded for Matt Holliday. Holliday finished the year by leading the team in batting average, RBIs and slugging percentage.

After signing a $120 million dollar contract, Holliday will stay apart of arguably the best 3-4 in all of baseball.

Outside of those two guys, the Cardinals lineup is a little soft. The key here will be Colby Rasmus. You will more than likely get a .300 batting average from lead off man Skip Schumaker; however, what Rasmus does in between him and Pujols could be the difference between scoring four runs a game and scoring seven runs a game.

Whatever the offense does is anyone’s guess, but Tony LaRussa knows what he is getting with his pitching staff. Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright are probably the second and third best pitchers in the NL (behind Tim Lincecum). In addition to those guys, the Cards have Kyle Lohse and Brad Penny. Penny may have looked terrible last year in Boston, but chalk that up to the superior hitting in the AL. I expect him to bounce back and be an effective third or fourth starter.

Prediction: 99-63

Chicago Cubs:

Welcome to year number 102 without a World Series title. It truly baffles me how the city of Chicago is so loyal year after year, but it is why I pull for them every year.

I look at this team and see one that has no reason to not make the playoffs. I’m treating last season as a fluke because of injuries and a few terrible seasons. When you lose your best pitcher and best hitter for significant parts of the season, you are but a shell of what you thought you could be. The example of that is if you saw the Cubbies when Aramis Ramirez was on the DL, and when he came back.

In addition to having a healthy Ramirez, they also get Geovany Soto minus 40 pounds. After going through the epitome of a sophomore slump, expect Soto to look more like he did during his 2008 rookie of the year campaign.

I have no idea what to expect from Alfonzo Soriano, but it is a smart move to drop him to seventh in the lineup. He will be under a lot less pressure there and it might revive his bat a little bit. Also, the decision to fill his spot with Ryan Theriot makes perfect sense as well and you could see him set a career high in OBP this year.

If Carlos Zambrano is healthy and effective, the pitching staff swings from average to pretty good. Ryan Dempster is a great second starter, and Randy Wells was one of the best rookie pitchers in the league. How Zambrano plays affects everything. A solid ace gives the rest of the staff confidence and that is exactly what Piniella needs. Big Z needs to be a leader and stay away from his infamous temper tantrums.

The only weakness is the bullpen, but it could be a giant one. The projected closer is Carlos Marmol, and even if you don’t see that as a problem, what is behind him isn’t very good either. As if Cubs fans need more stress in their lives. You could see the Cubs look out-of-house for options as soon as May.

Prediction: 95-67

Milwaukee Brewers:

Milwaukee comes into this season following an 80-win season in which they were disappointed because no post-season play was involved. However, the 80 wins made it the first time the franchise hit that mark three years in a row. This year, look for the Brewers to be right there again, as they are better than the Reds, Astros, and Pirates; but nowhere near the talent level of the Cubs or Cardinals.

At the plate, the Brew Crew has a heart that is filled with power. Prince Fielder hits 400 foot bombs with ease, and Ryan Braun is getting scary good. Other than those guys, the lineup gives Brewer fans a myriad of questions. Cory Hart, Carlos Gomez, and Ricky Weeks all disappointed for different reasons last year and if they can make an impact, the Brewers will be much better.

Out of that group, Weeks is the most likely source of production. The guy has always been oozing with talent, but has just been riddled with injuries. If healthy, he could be a great number two in the lineup to set up Braun and Fielder.

The pitching staff is very similar to the lineup in that after Randy Wolf and Yovani Gallardo, you don’t have a lot of great talent. Jeff Suppan has been a 4.50-5.00 ERA pitcher these past few years, and Manny Parra has been the model of inconsistency. Even if the lineup is more potent than anticipated, the back half of the rotation will prevent the Brewers from being serious contenders

Prediction: 80-82

Cincinnati Reds:

Ok, is it just me, or are you still trying to figure out why the most sought after pitching prospect in Latin America chose the Cincinnati Reds? What ever the reasoning behind it was, the Reds may have gotten a pitcher to anchor their staff for a decade.

Aroldis Chapman may have seemed like a longer term project as early as two weeks ago, but what he is showing in spring training is that he might be ready soon. Imagine a rotation led by him, Edinson Volquez and Homer Bailey. That is what the future holds here.

Unfortunately, that isn’t what this season brings. Volquez will be gone almost the entire season, and those young guys will need time to evolve into great talent.

At the plate, the Reds have a group of players that are either over the hill, or under achieving. Guys like Orlando Cabrera and Ramon Hernandez are on the decline, but will be expected to be significant contributors despite only being good enough to be role players this late in their careers.

If you want to see my second group of players, look no further than Jay Bruce. I’m still very high on this kid, but he took multiple steps backwards last year. Considering that the Reds were counting on him big time last year, his .233 average was disheartening to see as a Reds fan.

The only guy to not be in these categories is first baseman Joey Votto, who had a superb season. However, it’s hard to get 100 RBI’s if no one wants to get on base

Prediction: 75-87

Houston Astros:

Have you ever looked at a lineup that makes you wonder how they score any runs at all? This is it.

It all starts at the top with Michael Bourn. I ’m not saying that he isn’t a good player, but he strikes out way too much to be in the lead off spot. Combine that with Kaz Matsui, Lance Berkman, and Carlos Lee all coming off terrible years, you have a giant question mark over your entire lineup.

If you are expecting me to say that the Astros will be ok though because of their rotation, think again. Besides Roy Oswalt, Houston doesn’t have a single guy they can count on. What is even more unsettling than that is the fact that Oswalt is starting to show signs of aging and isn’t as reliable as he used to be.

So, there you have it; a terrible pitching staff and lineup. If it wasn’t for the Pirates, Houston would be looking at 100 losses easily.

Prediction: 65-97

Pittsburgh Pirates:

If you are a Pirates fan, I’m sorry…I truly am. While perrenial losers like the Nationals and Orioles seem to be improving, the Pirates seem to enjoy trading every good player you develop in your farm system.

There is one reason to watch the Pirates at all, Andrew McCutchen. He’s a solid hitter, dazzling fielder, and is lightning quick. His potential might be limitless and if the Pirates are actually trying to build a winner, it should be built around him.

The addition Akinori Iwamura gives Pittsburgh stability at the no. 2 spot behind McCutchen, forming a pretty good top of the order. After them, the Pirates will rely on youngster Garrett Jones and injury riddled Ryan Doumit to knock them in.

That lineup is decent, but won’t be able to score 10 runs a game, which is what it might take to win. This pitching staff is very mediocre and doesn’t have a guy that seems able to be considered the ‘ace.’ Expect inconsistency from just about everyone and some midseason call-ups such as Daniel McCutchen, who had a 3.47 ERA in AAA last year.

Prediction: 59-103

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Rex Grossman To The Redskins...SERIOUSLY?

Rex Grossman?

Are you serious?

If there was any doubt that you should stop hoping the Redskins will ever be good again, it should be gone now.

Rex Grossman is the worst quarterback in the history of the NFL to ever start in the Super Bowl. As quarterback of the Chicago Bear in 2006, all he had to do was not throw interceptions, and he couldn't even do that.

He had one of the best defenses in the NFL, the most electrifying punt returner in NFL history in Devin Hester, and Thomas Jones behind him. Lovie Smith literally was telling him "don't throw it to the other team and we will win."

If you read my previous post on how I didn't like the signing of Larry Johnson, you know that I'm a bit skeptical of the new management. However, before this, you could defend them by saying that there is no rove Johnson won't bounce back. But this?

Grossman has never had a good season! He can't bounce back too anything other than mediocre!

Hell, I can't even form complete sentences at this point. 'Baffled' is truly the only word I can use to describe myself here.

Even if you have somehow convince yourself that Shanahan is going to use him as nothing but a backup, do you even want him close enough to your starter to talk with him?

What do you think Grossman would talk about?

"Dude, I know he is triple covered, but trust me, it will work"

Jason Campbell has been under so many systems between here and Auburn, that I wouldn't be surprised if he listened to anyone. Even the advice of the worst backseat driver ever.

Theoretically, Grossman is there because he was the backup in Houston, when Kyle Shanahan was running the show and he is going to help teach Jason Campbell-or whoever or quarterback may be-the system.

However, I don't want that man to teach my quarterback anything. That is like bringing in Shaq to teach your center how to shoot free throws.

The question I have is does this mean the Redskins no longer want to draft a quarterback in the first round. With Campbell, Grossman and Colt Brennan, where does the new quarterback fit?

If the Skins pass up the opportunity to draft Sam Bradford or Jimmy Clausen because of this guy, get ready to break out your tar and feathers. It is going to get Ug-ly.

At this point, I honestly don't know if the Redskins' management is trying to perform a stand up comedy act or build a champion.

Either way, it is making me laugh and cry at the same time.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

2010 NL East Preview

The NL East had every type of team. The great (Phillies), the pretty good (Marlins and Braves) and the god awful (Mets and Nationals). This year will probably be more of the same. The Mets and Nationals might be a tad better than last year, but not worth paying attention to if you have playoff hopes.

Philadelphia Phillies

You wont find a more perfect lineup in all of baseball. You want speed; they got it. You want power; they got it. Normally, National League teams favor small ball with less power than AL teams, but not these guys.

The heart of the lineup- Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth- gives pitchers across baseball the chills to just think about. Then you put Raul Ibanez and Shane Victorino behind those guys? Have fun keeping this team from scoring 10 runs a game.

The 1-4 spots in the rotation are very solid, if not dominant. Trading Cliff Lee would normally kill a staff, but not when it comes with adding Roy Halladay. In addition to him, I expect to see the 2008 version of Cole Hamels. You know, the one that batters were scared of being embarrassed by. Joe Blanton is solid, and JA Happ is a name you need to know because he is a future star and could be the x-factor to winning the World Series.

Just like Hamels, I see Brad Lidge returning to all star form. He is just good not to. While the Phil’s did lose some depth in the bullpen, JC Romero is a solid setup man, and the addition of Danys Baez should be a great boost.

Prediction: 101-61

Atlanta Braves:

Just as if we were talking about the Braves of the 90’s, the strength here is pitching. Tim Hudson will be the guy at the top of the rotation, but that spot could also be taken by Derek Lowe or Jair Jurrjens. Also, don’t forget about Tommy Hanson, who was stellar in his rookie year.

Yea, they lost Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano from the bullpen, but if Billy Wagner is healthy, having him is actually an upgrade.

As for the Braves lineup, many think that it is weak, but I disagree. While it doesn’t compare to that of the Phillies, they have potential to be a good lineup. The one problem I see is a lack of power. A 3-4-5 of Chipper Jones, Troy Glaus, and Brian McCann is not going to get the job done.

If Atlanta is going to fight for a playoff spot, the x-factor is going to have to be new acquisition Melky Cabrera. Now, projected lineups have him batting eighth, but there is no way that’s where he is after a month. I was very impressed with Cabrera last year on the Yankees and I believe the Braves just got a future all star. By May, expect him to be in at least the five spot and driving in everyone on base.

Prediction: 87-75

Florida Marlins:

Every year, you look at the roster of this team and contemplate whether they are actually a AAA ballclub. Despite this, they are always way better than everyone expectsThe one player that isn’t a no-name here is Hanley Ramirez, the best shortstop in baseball. He has power, speed, great range, and has great overall hitting skills. He is the perfect player to build around.

The rotation is a little suspect. Behind ace Josh Johnson, I have no idea where the Marlins get their wins. They will get a big boost if Ricky Nolasco can return to his 2008 numbers, but that is a big “if.”

Prediction: 83-79

New York Mets:

There was literally not one thing from last year that you could look at positively. An anemic offense, mediocre pitching and as many injuries as wins led to a surprisingly dreadful 2009 season.

For as bad as the offense was last year, it is actually a fairly potent offense when healthy. Jose Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran are all-stars and we have seen them wreak havoc. Unfortunately, the injury bug isn’t even waiting for opening day to hit. Beltran will be out for a while and Reyes is battling injury and will probably miss the first week or two.

Because of the absence of power, the Mets big acquisition this offseason was getting former Red Sox left fielder Jason Bay. Personally, I think they overpaid for him, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a great player. While he doesn’t have the build or pure power that will scare pitchers, he is a great hitter with enough power to clear the fence even in spacious Citi Field.

The pitching staff will be decent, but nothing stellar. This doesn’t bode well for a team that scored so few runs last year. Johan Santana is solid-though not what he once was-and Mike Pelfrey and John Maine are nothing more than adequate.

The key in the rotation is Oliver Perez. Perez was arguably the worst starter in baseball last year. The Mets were so high on him, but shut him down after getting shelled with a 6.92 ERA in 14 starts. The Metropolitans haven’t given up on him just yet though. If he can become anything like what we thought he would be, that is a giant boost.

Prediction: 79-83

Washington Nationals:

Everyone is saying that this team is close to being competitive. Even if that is true, that doesn’t help this year.

The Nats defense is the worst in baseball by far. Josh Willingham is almost as bad as Alfonso Soriano in the outfield, and Pudge Rodriguez is so old that he has been in the MLB almost as long as some of the players have been alive.

Hitting won’t be a problem because they have a pretty balanced lineup. Nyjer Morgan is a great leadoff guy and with Adam Kennedy behind him, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn will have people to drive in instead of every home run being a solo shot.

As of right now, the rotation is comically bad. John Lannan and Jason Marquis are decent, but the fact that those two guys are leading your staff says something.

It won’t be until midseason that you could see the Nats win as much as they lose. When Stephen Strasburg gets called up and Chien-Ming Wang comes back, you could see drastic improvement and the future anchors of a rotation.

Prediction: 67-95

Friday, March 12, 2010

2010 AL Central Preview

Yet again, the AL Central will be the most competitive division in baseball. The White Sox, Twins, and Tigers could be the team making the playoffs here. Hell, the Indians could make a run as well. Because of this, you aren't going to see a team win 100 games. However, you will see some great baseball.

Chicago White Sox:

Last year, the White Sox spent the majority of the summer getting publically bashed by Ozzie Guillen and justifiably so. The lacked effort, were bad in the field, and were just flat out terrible in fundamentals. This year, I have to figure Guillen is using every threat including water torture in spring training to assure that isn’t the case again.

Despite last year, I really like this team. The lineup looks solid in my opinion with a little bit of everything. Juan Pierre is a solid lead off guy, and has a lot of names behind him that can get him across the plate. When healthy, Carlos Quentin hits it over the fence half asleep, and Paul Konerko is the same. Yea, there are question marks with Alex Rios, who seems to be on a very steep decline, and Andruw Jones, but I bet that at least one of them has a good season to contribute on offense.

The pitching staff is solid. Having Mark Buerle and Jake Peavy to hold you staff down is pretty damn good. John Danks and Gavin Floyd aren’t bad themselves. If Freddy Garcia can return to what he was three years ago, they have the best rotation outside of the AL east.

Prediction: 87-75

Minnesota Twins:

I was all ready to say that the Twins would be the division champs again, but spring training has been rough for Minnesota. The loss of Joe Nathan is way bigger than anyone can imagine. If the tear in his arm is enough to need surgery and he misses significant time, the Twins might be too far in a hole to get back to the top.

The lineup is not the issue; it is loaded with stars. A 3-4-5 of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Michael Cuddyer is scary. Especially when it sits behind guys like Denard Span, who have no trouble getting on base.

Pitching is another story. I like Nick Blackburn, but everyone else is just average. There is a lot of talk about Francisco Liriano getting back into form and if that is true, then I retract my previous statement. After a fantastic 2006 and okay 2008, his ghastly 2009 has made people forget he was once someone we thought to be a superstar in the making. If he goes back to his 2006 form, the Twins have an edge. However, I don’t quite see that happening. I don’t doubt that he will bounce back and have a decent year, but nothing like what we saw a few years ago.

Prediction: 85-77

Detroit Tigers:

Last season’s second half collapse was enough to have management make some pretty big changes. These changes include trading away Curtis Granderson, signing Johnny Damon, and starting rookies Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore. For better or for worst, the team looks drastically different.

With two rookies in the lineup, here will be a bit of inconsistency coming from them. In order to counter that, the veterans must step up. There in lies the problem.

Magglio Ordonez had one of his worst seasons ever, and Carlos Guillen wasn’t much better. Miguel Cabrera is one of the premier hitters in all of baseball, but I don’t see much protection behind him. I just explained Guillen’s situation, but it then gets worst with Brandon Inge and his .226 average over the past three years.

Damon is coming to Detroit after a great season in New York, but it will be interesting to see whether the short right field fence in the new Yankee Stadium aided his stats.

Everyone knows that Justin Verlander will dominate when he is on the mound, but what’s behind him is in flux. I really like Rick Porcello, who is coming off a fantastic rookie year, but it will be interesting to see if he suffers from a sophomore slump.

Rounding out the rest of the rotation is Max Scherzer (it is rare for a National League pitcher to do great in the AL), injury prone Jeremy Bonderman, and Nate Robertson. Notice that I didn’t mention Dontrelle Willis.

Overall, you have question marks all over the place, which doesn’t bode well for playoff contention.

Prediction: 78-84

Cleveland Indians:

The Indians are a team that people can’t really figure out. There are some that think they could lose 100 games, and other who think they can contend in the AL East. While I don’t think they will lose 100 games, I don’t think they are good enough to threaten the Twins.

At the plate, the Indians will be led by Grady Sizemore, who is coming off of a season riddled with injuries. I really like the decision by new Manager Manny Acta to drop him from the lead off spot because it gives him protection with Shin-Soo Cho behind him with more RBI opportunities.

Even without Sizemore, the Indians have a great offense. Travis Hafner, Cho, and Russell Branyan are all good power hitters, and guys like Asdrubal Cabrera have no trouble getting on base.

Pitching will be the problem in Cleveland. After a great 2007, Fausto Carmona has appeared to be a terrible identical twin. After a 3.06 ERA and 19 wins in ’07, Carmona has just 13 wins in the two years since with an ERA of almost six.

The Indians are hopeful with young guys Jake Westbrook and Justin Masterson, but they are still too ripe to lead a staff of nothing but trouble.

Prediction: 77-85

Kansas City Royals:

The Royals are…how do I say this without being mean…not good. They are destined to finish in the cellar for what seems like the millionth time after some predicted them to surprise people last season (not me).

Zach Greinke will continue to dominate and will give them the opportunity to win every fifth day, but the other four will be painful to watch.

Gil Meche and Luke Hochevar both had ERAs above five and even though they are young, there are some things a year of experience can’t fix. In addition, Brian Bannister’s 3.66 ERA might look good, but the 6.63 ERA after the break doesn’t.

I will concede that the Royals did improve greatly in the offseason by adding Rick Ankiel, Jason Kendall and Scott Podsednik, but adding consistent veterans isn’t something that will fix a team riddled with inadequacy.

While I don’t see them contending this year, winning 80 games might not be a giant stretch. Who knows, maybe the Royals know more about the talent they have than we do.

Prediction: 75-87

Thursday, March 11, 2010

2010 AL West Preview

For the last five years or so, the AL West has been dominated by the Angels. Whether they claimed to be from Los Angeles or Anaheim, they had no problem beating up on a weak division with only four teams. However, with the Rangers getting better each of the last three seasons, I see this year as a changing of the guard.

Texas Rangers:

If you followed the Rangers last year, you know that offense wasn’t an issue last year. With guys like Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, and Josh Hamilton, the Rangers spent a great deal of time circling the bases. While the numbers say that they were 10th in the MLB in run production, look closer. Hamilton missed 73 games and Young missed 27. When this team was healthy, they were deeper than any other in baseball.

The Rangers achilles heel was their pitching. Kevin Millwood (now with the Baltimore Orioles) was the only Ranger starter with an ERA under 4, and everyone else was pretty bad. However, this year could be better. Scott Feldman, Derek Holland, and Tommy Hunter all showed improvement throughout last season and could become big time contributors. The best thing for them is that they won’t be asked to be fantastic because of the offense. They just need to be adequate.

In addition to giving those younger pitchers a year of experience, the Rangers also added Rich Harden, who could end up being the steal of this year’s free agency. Harden is a superstar when he is healthy…granted, that is rarely the case. If he can give the Rangers 30 starts, he becomes the x-factor for the team’s success.

Prediction: 91-71

LA Angels:

The Angles are a dying franchise that is in dire need of youth. An outfield of Juan Rivera, Torii Hunter, and Bobby Abreu might have seemed amazing ten years ago, but now has ‘injury’ written all over it. In addition to that, the team’s leader on offense Vladimir Guerrero is gone. Even though Guerrero has been injury prone and finally has showed his age, I still think he has a lot of value as a DH.

Instead of trying to get younger, the Angels added 35-year-old Hideki Matsui and 31-year-old Joel Pineiro. The only youth on the team comes from second baseman Howie Kendrick, who has gone back and forth from the minors over the last couple of years, and first baseman Kendry Morales, the one player I like to not take a step backwards.

The only thing keeping this team a contender is its pitching staff. Even with the loss of John Lackey, the staff of Joe Saunders, Scott Kazmir, Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver, and Pineiro is one of the best in the league. The only question is whether or not it can handle the lineup of the Rangers.

Prediction: 89-73


Seattle Mariners:

There is very little doubt in my mind that Seattle had the best offseason in the MLB. In addition to signing Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley, and trade for Cliff Lee, the Mariners locked up Franklin Gutierrez, who is arguably the best centerfielder in baseball. I loved their moves so much that I was starting to think that they would be able to win the division. After looking at the team more in depth, the team’s pitching is a little sketchy.

The combo of Lee and Felix Hernandez is as good as any in the league, but the drop after them is almost comical. Even if you assume that both Hernandez and Lee win 18 games a piece, where do the other 60 wins come from? The only note worthy pitcher other then them is Erik Bedard, but if you get 20 starts from him in a season, you are fortunate.

Yea, the team’s lineup is nice, but not nearly good enough to carry a terrible bottom rotation and mediocre bullpen. If the Rangers couldn’t do it last year, then the Mariners certainly won’t be able to.

Prediction: 79-83

Oakland Athletics:

It seemed like just a year or two ago that Oakland was a perennial contender in the division and was on the way up with a young team. If you look at the roster now, you realize how long ago that was. The bottom line is that the most recognizable name on the roster is Coco Crisp…that is not a good thing.

The only storyline remotely worth following for the A’s this year is how Ben Sheets will return after surgery that took away the chance to pitch in 2009. Other than that, the A’s really don’t seem to be a team to pay much attention to. However, Oakland finds a way to develop great talent in their farm system, so expect them to be active in trading them away at the deadline.

Prediction: 67-95

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Tampa Bay Rays: Trying To Prove Money Isn't Everything

Last season didn’t exactly start the way Joe Maddon wanted. A brutal schedule early in the season crippled a team that seemed destined to be contenders for another run at the World Series. A year later, the Rays are hoping that 2009 was nothing more than a hiccup in the building of a champion.

Key Arrivals- Rafael Soriano, Kelly Shoppach

Key Departures- Gabe Gross, Akinori Iwamura


For the first time since 2004, this staff won’t be anchored by Scott Kazmir, who was traded to the Angels last year. That means that “big game” James Shields will take the honor at the age of 29. The hope is that he steps up and leads a staff that was the strength of an American League champion. The combo of him and Matt Garza is very strong and normally would be the best in their division, except Beckett-Lackey and Sabathia-Burnett both trump them. After that, the Rays have three young arms that they just keep pumping out of their minor league system.

Jeff Niemann won a team-high 13 games last year and was one of the few players that exceeded expectations for the Rays last year. As far as the four and five spots in the rotation, there are some pretty big question marks.

David Price is slotted as the number four spot, but the former No. 1 prospect is at a serious crossroads. Yea, his stuff is filthy, but his style involves way too many pitches. He works too deep into counts, and foul tips seem to get him to 100 pitches after three or four innings. He might actually be a bigger mystery than Wade Davis, who has the fortune of being hardly heard of.

Davis showed promise last year, surprising some with a fastball reaching 95 mph and a curve that has the ability to have the bottom drop off it without notice. He could be a star in the making, but there will almost certainly be a growth period. The Rays will have to be patient with him, but what if he starts out with a few duds? Do they pull him or let him fight through it, like you are supposed to with rookies? These are all questions Maddon will be forced juggle with as a manager with playoff aspirations and as one trying to bring along prospects at the same time.


The lineup that dazzled in the 2008 playoffs suffered the same setbacks that the pitching staff did. In 2008, B.J. Upton seemed to be on the verge of super-stardom, Evan Longoria became a superstar in the first month of the season, and Dioner Navarro elevated to being one of the top catchers in the American League. Fast forward a year, and Longoria is the only one not being threatened by fantasy baseball managers.

The few absolutes here are Jason Bartlett, Ben Zobrist, Carl Crawford and Longoria-I know I talk about Longoria a lot, but that is because he is good enough to win the AL MVP award this year. All four of those guys are solid producers and will lead the offense. However, the other five spots are mysteries.

Matt Joyce will be joining the big leagues again after spending a year in AAA to share the duty of right field with Gabe Kapler. That fight for position would normally be big news if the one between Shoppach and Navarro wasn’t just as important.

Even if you want to talk about the three players not under heat, you should be worried. Upton took a major step backwards last season and was rumored to cause in-house issues during his struggles; Pat Burrell saw career lows in hits, doubles, RBIs, home runs and total bases; and Carlos Pena was so bad at getting on base, that he actually had more extra-base hits that singles. When your batting average is .227, that isn’t a good thing- it is a sign of an extreme flaw in hitting philosophy.


With the addition of Soriano, the Rays got the closer they have been trying to find for three years. The funny thing…that gives them the ability that they are tied for third in the AL East for the best closer. Jonathan Papelbon and Mariano Rivera are both better, and Baltimore’s new closer Mike Gonzalez is just as good.

As critical as I just was, the Rays have just gone from a mediocre bullpen, to a great one. JP Howell and Dan Wheeler form a duo of great set up men with Grant Balfour expecting to make a comeback to his form in 2008. This ‘pen is as deep as they come and is probably the best in the AL.


Two years ago, the Rays gave us a beautiful gift, the ability to see someone other than the Yankees or Red Sox winning the AL East (the first time since 1997). Now, the team sits in a very precarious situation. The team is in a totally crappy stadium, which means they are hemorrhaging money and can’t keep the payroll they have unless they are kicking ass. If the team gets off to another slow start, the Rays could hold a fire sale of big contracts like that of Crawford, Burrell and Pena. For the small market teams in the MLB hoping to have an example of a team that can compete with the bigger markets, I really wanted to say the Rays were on their way up, but I don’t see it happening.


89-63 3rd in the AL East