Sunday, October 22, 2006
posted by David 12:23 AM
Sunday, April 23, 2006
Some impressions from the NL Central
It's nice to see Morgan Ensberg and Brad Lidge get off to solid starts after their struggles towards the end of the 2005 postseason. Along with Lance Berkman being Lance Berkman, Craig Biggio finding new life (for the first few weeks of the season, at least) at age 40, and Wandy Rodriguez doing his best Roger Clemens impersonationm Ensberg and Lidge have helped the Astros to an early stint at first place in a suddenly competetive NL Central race.
Is the NL MVP race already over? Maybe it's too early to call after fewer than 20 games, but Albert Pujols is tearing it up. The thing is, outside of the 11 dingers in the Cards' first 18 games, his stats don't look too much different from what he produces year in and year out. If you take what he's done in these first 18 games, and then figure that for each subsequent batch of 18 games he averages 5 doubles and 5 homers and continues to hit .333, he'll have 43 2B and 51 HR to go along with that .333 average.
The scary thing is that that really doesn't seem like a reach for Pujols, not in the least. The other scary thing is that it looks like this could be the year that Pujols has his first monster walk total for the season. He's always had decent plate discipline that has steadily improved over the years -- his walk totals in his first five seasons were 69, 72, 79, 84, and 97. But he has 18 walks in his first 18 games, and I'm pretty sure I can do the math in my head to figure out what that projects to for a full season. Even if he doesn't draw a full 162 walks this year, having a walk total in the 120-140 range is only going to help his rate stats, and if the first 18 games are any indication, his counting stats won't suffer too much, either.
Turning to the Cubs, I guess 18 games isn't enough time for the book to form on Ronny Cedeno. The kid has gotten off to a faster start than anyone had a right to expect, with 20 hits in his first 55 AB, including 6 2B and 2 3B. For the most part he has done it in the 8-hole of the lineup, but he has been pressed into the 2-slot with Todd Walker sliding down to the 3-hole (and sliding over to first base) in Derrek Lee's absence. Stay tuned to see when, or perhaps if, the league catches up with the Cubs' young shortstop.
And speaking of Todd Walker, I don't think this is the way he would've wanted it, but he has a golden opportunity to show Dusty Baker that he needs to be in the lineup for 150 games this season. He's not going to hit .408 for the season, but he is going to get his chance to show his stuff with Juan Pierre and Cedeno hitting in front of him and Aramis Ramirez hitting behind him. If he continues to produce at a high level, it'll be awfully difficult to rope him back into a platoon situation with Jerry Hairston, Jr. and Neifi Perez.
There was one other thing I was going to write about, but it seems to have slipped my mind. And now I must be off to the $0.99 store. Thriftiness is the watch-word of the day, after all. Until next time...
posted by Tom Renbarger 7:20 PM
Sunday, April 02, 2006
2006 Season Predictions
The opening pitch of the 2006 season will be thrown out in a few hours, so it's time for the brave and foolhardy alike to put down their 2006 predictions.
1. Boston Red Sox
The Sox don't appear to have any more "chemistry" problems than they've had in the past, and they've improved in the infield (Mark Loretta, Mike Lowell), centerfield (Coco Crisp), and by adding a front-line starter (Josh Beckett) and veterans in the bullpen. They may have a slow start, but as long as Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz are in the heart of this order, they should win their first title since 1995.
2. Toronto Blue Jays
More or less a .500 club in 2005, added two big players in Troy Glaus and AJ Burnett and a closer (sort of) in BJ Ryan. While the health of Burnett is a question, the team's a good bet to stay in games. I don't see them as contending all year, though, because of the lack of offensive depth.
3. New York Yankees
Last year the club managed to overachieve a bit thanks to the miracles of Mariano Rivera and Joe Torrre. The lineup will make for a great Old-Timers' lineup in 2020...or maybe 2008. It's old, with only Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez in their prime, and the laws of probability are that lineups this old, on the whole, decline and have injury problems. The rotation is a serious question, Randy Johnson included, but the pen has been improved with Kyle Farnsworth and Octavio Dotel. The trick for the Yanks will be getting to the eighth with the lead.
4. Baltimore Orioles
Subtracting the distractions of Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa will probably do more to improve this club than anything else. The team finally also rid itself of its strange attraction to Sidney Ponson, replacing him with the former Mr. Anna Benson. And Ubercoach Leo Mazzone has joined the club, which is going to help a pretty talented but still underexperienced staff. There are some holes in the offense in the bottom of the lineup, but it's good enough to suggest the Orioles will flirt with .500.
5. Tampa Bay Devil Rays
The Rays are definitely heading in the right direction at long last, and have a pretty nice top of the order with Julio Lugo, Carl Crawford, Jorge Cantu, and Aubrey Huff. The rotation and bullpen are quite raw, though, and the offensive depth is not there, with a mixture of retreads and cast-offs supplementing the home-grown hitters. I don't see much of an improvement on last year's 67-95 in a more competitive Eastern division, but the club will probably look a lot better on the field as the year wears on.
1. Chicago White Sox
There's two theories about the success of the defending World's Champs: either they just got lucky with a lot of players hitting the cylinders all at once, or the club matured on schedule. In the off-season they upgraded El Duque to Javier Vasquez, and got rid of problem children Carl Everett and Frank Thomas in favor of Jim Thome (not quite done yet). The rotation has never had a real ace, but it's a nice collection of above-average guys in the top three spots in the rotation, and that should be good enough to win another close division race.
2. Cleveland Needanewnicknames
It's so fashionable this year to pick the Cleveland club to win the central that I, always ahead of the pack, picked them last year. They hung on with the White Sox until the last week only to get blown out of the water with a sweep. In the off-season, they dealt up and comer Coco Crisp to the Red Sox for super prospect Andy Marte make room for dreamboat Grady Sizemore, and could only replace free agent Kevin Millwood with Paul Byrd. This is a mid-career lineup, so will likely be very competitive, and has a great top three of the rotation in CC Sabathia, Jake Westbrook, and Cliff Lee, but I think they're still missing a couple of dominators in the lineup.
3. Minnesota Twins
The Twins team concept keeps going backward, emphasizing players and a style that appears suited to the Metrodome. The lineup, pun intended, ends up looking a bit hit and miss. This year's poster child is Luis Castillo, a speedy slap-hitting second baseman from the Marlins who will probably hit .300 and steal a bunch of bases and produce almost nothing else. Rondell White replaces Jacques Jones...and will hit clean-up? Nice guy, good little player, but that's the Twins' offensive depth in a nutshell. They do have the best pitcher in the league, Johan Santana, and another good veteran in Brad Radke, so are a good bet to be around .500 or above, but I don't see them excelling except against the Tigers and Royals.
4. Detroit Tigers
Fourth place is beginning to look like a permanent home for the Tigers, who keep trying to improve with young pitching and patching together a lineup of veterans on top of B-grade youngsters. They'll be more exciting this year with rookie Curtis Granderson, who has both speed and pop, leading off and playing center, but he is just a rookie. The rest of the lineup is spotted with mediocrities and a couple of suspect veterans (Pudge Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez). The fightin' gambler, Kenny Rogers, who is ninety years old, was added to the perennial prospects of Bonderman, Maroth, and Robertson, and although phenom Justin Verlander made the club as a fifth starter, he can't carry the club even if he lives up to the hype.
5. Kansas City Royals
Maybe they should recognize the fact that we won the Revolution, stop paying homage to the monarchy, and change their name to the Patriots. At least they'd sell new team gear. The Royals have restocked the lineup with still more NL rejects: Mark Grudzielanek, Reggie Sanders, Doug Mientkiewicz, and Tony Graffanino in the Joe Randa-Emil Brown school of team building. The rotation's a mess with a similar collection of starters who have washed out elsewhere and a prospect or two that has yet to pan out. Not looking good, and they may yet surpass last year's wretched 56-106 mark with a few bad breaks.
1. Oakland Athletics
They managed 88 wins last year despite a series of injuries to key players, including starter Rich Harden. When you replace Scott Hatteberg and Erubiel Durazo with Milton Bradley and Frank Thomas, what you lose in clubhosue chemistry is made up for mighty fast in the box scores, at least on paper. The "Moneyball" draftees (Mark Ellis, Bobby Crosby, Dan Johnson, Nick Swisher) are all coming into their own, and Eric Chavez is very solid in the middle of the lineup. The rotation, featuring Harden, Barry Zito, and Dan Haren, will be supplemented by the somewhat odd free agent signing of Esteban Loaiza and sophomore Joe Blanton. It's a deep lineup and probably the most solid rotation, one through five, in the league, and the prospects of the A's are marred only by the still-porous defense. But I think they'll be good enough to have the best record in the league.
2. The The Angels Angels of Anaheim (Wild Card)
This was a tough club in 2005 and could've won it all if they'd had a bit more in the tank in October. They haven't changed much, replacing Jarrod Washburn with Jeff Weaver, which is a bit of a wash for the only move of note. Heralded younster Ervin Santana moves into the rotation full-time, and with Bartolo Colon at the top of the heap, it's quite a good fivesome. The bullpen remains deep, backended by Francisco Rodriguez at closer. When you get back to Vlad Guerrero and Garret Anderson, you have a 3-4 punch rivaled only by Boston's Ramirez and Ortiz. But the rest of the offense isn't quite as dominating, and that's why I think while the club will probably be just as good as the 2005 edition, they won't have quite enough to catch up with the A's. You can probably count on a wild card appearance at the least, though.
3. Texas Rangers
Speaking of hearts of the lineup, the Rangers have a great one with Michael Young, Mark Teixera, and Hank Blalock in the 2-3-4 spots. They added three NL veterans to the rotation this year, Kevin Millwood (most recently with the Cleveland club), Vicente Padilla, and Adam Eaton. Padilla and Eaton both had stellar credentials coming up but have had odd struggles with injury and rhythym in Philadelphia and San Diego, but are decent low-cost higher-upside pitchers given the unfriendly confines of the Taxpayer-financed Boondoggle at Arlington. The rest of the lineup and pitching staff are even iffier, and to be honest, the numbers of the talented trio at the top of the lineup are buoyed a bit by the ballpark as well. They may struggle to near .500 as the summer wears on.
4. Seattle Mariners
The M's may feature two of the most exciting players in baseball this year: the always-watchable Ichiro Suzuki, fresh off leading Team Japan to the crown of the inaugural World Baseball Classic, and phenom 19-year-old rookie Felix Hernandez, who according to press accounts, apparently throws a 157-MPH fastball that also reduces cholesterol and might just stop global warming in its tracks. (He is also young enough to be front of the rotation pitcher Jamie Moyer's Great-Grandson.) But the rest of the lineup and rotation looks a bit tired; the only big addition to the lineup is the mercurial and occasionally vicious Carl Everett, who isn't known for his consistency.
1. Atlanta Braves
I am SO BORED WITH THE ATLANTA BRAVES WINNING THIS DIVISION, but probably not as bored as Phillies or Mets fans. I thought last year was going to be the year of the big drop-off, but the Braves continue to be buoyed by a very productive farm system that recycles their lineup and allows them the occasional expensive addition (such\ as Tim Hudson). This year they traded megaprospect Andy Marte to the Red Sox to get the dubious talents of Edgar Renteria at short to replace free agent Rafael Furcal, and that's about it. Jeff Francouer and Brian McCann will play full seasons after impressive half-year rookie debuts in 2005, and the usual core of the Jones boys will be in the middle of the lineup. I don't see the Braves as being that great a club, but it took only 90 wins to win the division last year, and being very good and very consistent may be all they need. This is the most tenuous of all my predictions this year, though, as the Phils and Mets both have interesting clubs.
2. Philadelphia Phillies
On paper, the Phillies got worse in the off-season by trading Jim Thome and letting closer Billy Wagner walk over to the Mets and by not doing much of anything about a B-grade rotation. But the club finally seems to be letting the young stars from its farm system fill in the lineup, and the improvement of the club in 2005 subsequent to the departure of Larry Bowa as manager in favor of a mellower Charlie Manuel augurs well for 2006. Aaron Rowand comes over from the Sox to play center and fill in a lineup with youngsters Ryan Howard and Chase Utley and mid-career prime players Bobby Abreu and Jimmy Rollins. The rotation is headed by Jon Lieber, which is not a great sign, but home-gorwn Brett Myers, Ryan Madson, and Gavin Floyd will flesh out the rotation. Because the pitching may not yet be completely ripe and there's no ace or dominating closer (Tom Gordon was signed to replace Wagner), the club may be a couple of years away, but the arrows are definitely up here. Given they won 88 games last year and essentially lost the division by a single game lost to Atlanta, if the Phils get out of the gate fast they are just as likely to finish first as anybody.
3. New York Mets
The offense bulked up by shedding Mike Piazza out of the cleanup hole in favor of Carlos Delgado, and Paul LoDuca also came up from Florida to provide a defensive improvement at catcher. This latter move may end up being the most significant, as LoDuca's vastly superior defensive skills (relatively) can't help but improve the pitching staff. But after Pedro Martinez, there are a lot of questions (and despite Petey's Hall of Fame caliber performances, there's always a bit of a question mark about him as well.) Tom Glavine is now a league-average starter, at best, and Victor Zambrano and Steve Trachsel are also mediocrities. Still, with star David Wright and Delgado in the middle of the lineup, and Carlos Beltran and Kaz Matsui bound to improve after a highly-disappointing year in 2005, the Mets seem likely to improve on last year's 83-79.
4. Washington Nationals
Yes, yes, you've heard about the brouhaha over Alfonso Soriano, acquired in his walk year from Texas, grumbling about moving from second base to the outfield. That puts a bit of a question mark on the most significant move the Nats made, on top of the usual issues with Soriano's swinging barn-door hitting style. Jose Guillen and Jose Vidro are battling injury problems, and the club has two untested rookies starting, Brandon Watson in center and Ryan Zimmerman at third. They have a good 1-2 punch with Livan Hernandez and John Patterson in the rotation, followed by injury-prone Tony Armas and Ramon Ortiz, who had an historically-wretched year playing in the Great Joke of a Ballpark in Cincinnati. The Nats have perhaps the best closer in the majors, Chad Cordero, but lost key set-up man Luis Ayala for the season with an injury he suffered in the meaningless last game against Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. I like the lineup, the pitching is iffy but will be helped by the ballpark and an improved defense (at least as long as Soriano stays away from second base), and Frank Robinson is always going to be in every game, but it still looks like a club that will hover around .500 in the end.
5. Florida Marlins
The Marlins in the 2005-2006 off-season did the same thing they did in the 1997-98 off-season, selling off the expensive parts of a World's Championship club for the future. It worked in 1997, since they won again in 2003, and though the complete sell-off was delayed a bit this time, they got a ton of talent back. The future is bright for the Phish with the additions of such players as SS Hanley Ramirez, but th present will be a bit ugly. With the exception of once-and-future third baseman Miguel Cabrera, one of the great stars in the league, and near-Cy Young winner Dontrelle Willis at the top of the rotation, the entire starting lineup and rotation of the Marlins has turned over, mostly with young guys up from the farm. There's a lot of talent here and if they can keep the club together this will be a juggernaut in about 2008 or 2009, but for now it's going to be a lot of learning on the job. The bright side of all this is that as a club, they already look better than the Devil Rays.
1. St. Louis Cardinals
It's hard to say the Cards are any better this year, but they had the best record in baseball in 2005, and it's also hard to say they're any worse. They let aging vets Matt Morris, Reggie Sanders, and Mark Grudzielanek leave, and Larry Walker retired. But Scott Rolen appears to be healthy again, and that's a huge addition to a lineup that has Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds batting ahead of him. Aaron Miles replacing Grudzielanek is a bit of a wash, but with upside, and perenially undervalued Juan Encarnacion will certainly at least replace Walker's output in right. The rotation returns intact in the 1-4 slots-- Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder, Jason Marquis, and Jeff Suppan -- with the curious choice of Sidney Ponson as the fifth starter. The pen has been recycled, but Jason Isringhausen and his sore elbow return at closer. That's a lot of talent in the lineup and the rotation, and despite the improvements of a number of other clubs in the division, I think the Cards are still the team to beat by a longshot.
2. Chicago Cubs (Wild Card)
Egads, did I pick the Cubs to win it all last year? I did. It remains to be seen if any club with Dusty Baker at the helm can go over the top, but the Cubs had serious problems with injuries on their pitching roster last year, and that sank them from the get-go. If Prior / Maddux / Zambrano remain healthy, that's an awesome top trio, and the hard-used Kerry Wood may yet bounce back to be a good if not dominating starter. They've got a good fifth man in Glendon Rusch, and a better bullpen with the addition of Scott Williamson and Bobby Howry to set up for closer Ryan Dempster. Since the bullpen was in turmoil last year, stability on that end will help make the Cubs look a lot better. On offense, the departure of Bakeresque free swingers Nomar Garciaparra, Jeromy Burnitz, and Corey Patterson can only help the team OBPs. The superb Juan Pierre takes over in center, an OBP machine with plus defensive skills, and Jacques Jones will provide a decent right field in comparison to Burnitz. The middle infield is still a bit of a question mark, and the Cubs being the Cubs, they will find a way to blow it and make me look like a fool again, but I think this is a club that can contend in October -- as long as the pitching stays healthy. Is this possible under Dusty Baker? Is it? Is it?
3. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brew crew are my choice for "surprise" team of 2006, and it's possible that if the inevitable pitching woes befall the Cubs, the Brewers might sneak into contention for a playoff spot. While ace Ben Sheets is starting the year on the DL, he should be back in mid-April to head up a pretty decent rotation, with unheralded Doug Davis and Chris Capuano providing above-average number-two arms. The bullpen had a weak spring and remains a concern, but there are a couple of decent arms backing up closer Derrick Turnbow. The lineup has some dynamic young players who project as stars -- Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder -- and some solid veterans, Carlos Lee, Geoff Jenkins, and Corey Koskie (obtained from Toronto in the off-season). Everybody looks healthy and the arrows are pointing up for nearly everybody, and in the strange NL Central that spells opportunity for the Brewers. They finished exactly at .500 last year, and I expect they will win another five or six games ahead of that this year and continue to look good for 2007. If you're a betting person and like Vegas longshots, the Brewers to win it all isn't a terrible bet.
4. Houston Astros
The Astros have too much native talent on this roster to be ranked fourth in the division, but there you go: that's what the numbers add up to. Roger Clemens may or may not rejoin the club after May 1st, but even after his terrific 2005, how much can one expect out of him at this point? Still, Roy Oswalt is a Cy Young-caliber pitcher, and Andy Pettite appears to have bounced back after a difficult start with the Astros a few yars ago. The bottom of the rotation is a little suspect right now. Closer Brad Lidge comes off a wretched end of 2005, giving up key runs in the post-season, but remains among the best closers in the game. Why do I rank the Astros so low? The lineup feels, well, misshappen. Lance Berkman and Morgan Ensberg should be solid in the middle of the lineup, but they're backed up by the strangely variable talents of Preston Wilson in the five hole, and 40+ year old Craig Biggio is not a likely candidate to replicate his career power year in the two spot even with the Enron power inflation effect. It's a decent club and will be above .500 again, but they were only 89-73 last year and got quite a few breaks to get into the World Series, so I don't see a repeat in a toughening division.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
I may be a bit charitable to give fifth place to the Pirates, but they do have Cincinnati in the same division. The Buccos had an awful 2005, beset by injuries in the rotation and the odd implosion of Oliver Perez, who had been ace-caliber in 2004. The Pirates continue to bring along young pitching, and despite their spotty record in years past, it looks like they've got a number of decent prospects maturing: last year's sensation Zach Duke, Ian Snell, and Paul Maholm. That alone, in a pitcher's park, will help keep the Pirates in a some low-scoring games. The lineup is all supporting-cast with one star, Jason Bay. Bay's as good as they come in the NL and may be that unlikely player, an MVP candidate on a losing team (cf. Andre Dawson, 1987) if he gets any help from the men in front of him in the lineup. The rest of the Pirates lineup is a mixture of B-grade youngsters (Jose Castillo at 2B, Ryan Doumit at C, Chris Duffy in center) and checkered veterans (Joe Randa at third, Sean Casey at first, Jeromy Burnitz in right). Breaking 75 wins would be a big victory for this club, which is working on a fourteen-year streak of a sub-.500 record.
6. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds might have the best offensive outfield in baseball: Griffey, Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns. They've got one high-upside hitting prospect, third baseman Edwin Encarnacion, who will put up some ugly numbers at the Great American Joke of a Ballpark. And the Reds did finally add a legitimately good pitcher, Bronson Arroyo (in trade with Boston for Wily Mo Pena) to keep the at-least-respectable Aaron Harang company. But the rest of the rotation is a mess, the bullpen is so bad its "closers" are David Weathers and Kent Mercker, and there's not any help on the way. And the rest of the lineup isn't remarkable, with the likes of Scott Hatteberg and Tony Womack stepping into the lineup. Sure, they'll score runs -- you can't avoid that in the Great American Joke -- but not nearly as fast as the opposition.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers underperformed a lot last year, in large part due to pitching injuries and off years. They've added Jae Seo, who is coming off a stellar WBC performance, and Brad Penny and Odalis Perez appear to be healthy. Sinkerballer Derek Lowe has wild variations in performance from year to year, and how he goes is probably how the Dodgers are going to go. The lineup wil be stocked with veterans, starting with free agent signees Rafael Furcal, Kenny Lofton, and Nomar Garciaparra, and Jeff Kent still appears to have all his skills. JD Drew is never healthy, but if this is the year he plays in 150 games the Dodgers could run away with it. I don't see this as a dominating club, but in the NL West you don't have to, and the improvement over 2005 should be remarkable.
2. San Diego Padres
Well, the Padres' 82-80 last year was good enough for a division crown and a quick October exit at the hands of the Cards. The club hasn't done a whole lot to improve itself, adding Mike Piazza as catcher after trading Mark Loretta to Boston for Doug Mirabelli, and the venerable Vinny Castilla and injured-yet-again Mike Cameron. They did get former prospect Adrian Gonzalez to supplement the questionable Ryan Klesko, and Khalil Greene should be healthy for the year. Josh Barfield is an exciting rookie 2B who will give the Pads good defense up the middle in tandem with Greene, and Brian Giles will anchor the middle of the lineup. The Pads turned over the bottom of their rotation, adding some recycling projects in Shawn Estes and Chan Ho Park, and have the great Jake Peavy at the top with a few choice pitching prospects coming up. It's a ho-hum lineup and a spotty pitching staff after Peavy, to be sure, but given the other weaknesses of teams in the division, I'll peg the Pads for second and another repeat around the .500 mark.
3. San Francisco Giants
On paper the Giants look like they should contend. They added veteran Matt Morris from St. Louis, and he should do well at Pac Bell / SBC / AT&T / Corporate Merger Park. Jason Schmidt is allegedly healthy, and there were few better than Schmidt when he was on, but he's got some serious durability issues. Super rookie Matt Cain had a heralded debut in 2005 and will be in the rotation full-time in 2006, but even the best pitching prospects have a steep learning curve in the bigs. Soft tosser Noah Lowry was just signed to a fat contract, but his upside looks more like Mike Boddicker to Cain's Jim Palmer. The lineup is old again, bolstered slightly by having Randy Winn start out the year at the leadoff spot, but with all sorts of decline written on the rest of the starters. When your hot rookie is Lance Niekro (who's a gazillion years old now) your club is in trouble. I think the team concept is to figure that Bonds will carry them through one final campaign, but without getting into details you can read aplenty elsewhere, Bonds' production this year is going to be a huge question mark. I suppose if everybody's healthy the club could win the division, but I don't see it. .500 if they're lucky.
4. Colorado Rockies
The Rox have a young lineup, featuring nearly all home-grown talent and all of it other than Todd Helton under 30 (Helton is not exactly ancient, either). They have a couple of hot young arms in Jason Jennings and Jeff Francis, the Coors effect notwithstanding, and help from the farm in the pipeline, notably superprospect Ian Stewart (who blew away spring training pitching). The Rockies are probably closer than, say, the Marlins, but still have yet to crack the problems of their home-road splits -- the effect on the hitters is worse in a way than on the pitchers -- so I don't see the club contending within the next few years, but 2008 and beyond are looking better.
5. Arizona Diamondbacks
Ugh. The Diamondbacks also have some nice offensive help in the farm pipeline, but in the meantime are relying on a grab bag of veterans from Luis Gonzalez and Shawn Greem to Craig Counsell and Eric Byrnes. Rookie first baseman Conor Jackson projects well but will have to break in to the bigs, and last year's big breakout player, Chad Tracy, will have to show he can repeat while moving back to third base. The rotation, after Brandon Webb, is a real mess and has one of the worst pitchers in baseball (Russ Ortiz) on top of El Duque Hernandez and journeymen Miguel Batista and Claudio Vargas. The bullpen is among the worst in the league, although closer Jose Valverde has a live arm and will do fine if not overworked. The club will probably score runs in fits but blow a lot of leads, and a sub-70-win year is not at all out of the question.
Man, this is meaningless, but I put it down every year.
Boston vs. Angels (WC)
Oakland vs. Chicago
Oakland vs. Angels
Atlanta vs. Chicago (WC)
St. Louis vs. LA
St. Louis vs. Chicago
St. Louis vs. Oakland
Oh, sure, why not the Cards this year?
AL Cy Young
NL Cy Young
AL Rookie of the Year
NL Rookie of the Year
posted by The Crank 2:50 PM
Friday, March 31, 2006
Here's How It Will All Play Out
Last year at this time I predicted that the Florida Marlins would be celebrating their third World Series crown come October. With that being said, take the following predictions with a grain of salt.
1. New York Yankees
2. Boston Red Sox
3. Toronto Blue Jays
4. Baltimore Orioles
5. Tampa Bay Devil Rays
1. Oakland A's
2. Los Angeles Angels
3. Texas Rangers
4. Seattle Mariners
1. Chicago White Sox
2. Minnesota Twins
3. Cleveland Indians
4. Detroit Tigers
5. Kansas City Royals
1. New York Mets
2. Philadelphia Phillies
3. Atlanta Braves
4. Washington Nationals
5. Florida Marlins
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. San Diego Padres
3. San Francisco Giants
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
5. Colorado Rockies
1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Milwaukee Brewers
3. Houston Astros
4. Chicago Cubs
5. Pittsburghj Pirates
6. Cincinnati Reds
Boston Red Sox
Milwaukee Brewers ( Hey if I'm right I look like a genius, if not it will be long forgotten that I made this prediction)
St. Louis Cardinals
World Series Champs
posted by Dean Swanton 10:15 PM
Saturday, March 11, 2006
MLB QUICK HITTERS
By Dean Swanton
-I like what the Los Angeles Dodgers have done this off season. Ned Colletti has done an admirable job of assembling a team that should be able to compete in the weak NL West. The Dodgers have a loaded farm system which is soon going to start paying dividends at the major league level.
-The Toronto Blue Jays must be extremely excited to get the season started to see if the changes they have made will have them competing with the Yankees and Red Sox. It is still hard to believe that Benjie Molina, Lyle Overbay, Troy Glaus, A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan are all Blue Jays. If the Blue Jays pitching staff stays healthy this team could very easily win the AL East.
-Credit to the White Sox for going out and improving after winning the World Series. If Jim Thome stays off the disabled list he will put up huge numbers back in the American League. Adding Javier Vazques to the rotation didn't hurt either.
-The Cleveland Indians feel like they will be contenders this season but I fail to buy into the belief that they will be better in 2006. The Indians failed to address their weak spots in rightfield and at first base and I don't see how Bob Wickman repeats his performance from last season. This is a team with some exciting young players but with holes that General Manager Mark Shapiro can't fill because of lack of financial commitment from ownership.
-I wish Barry Bonds would just go away. It would be nice to see him not pass Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron on the all time home run list. Bonds and other suspected steroid users have made a mockery of the record book and that is a shame. I am tired of watching Barry Bonds interviews where he bullies the press and blames everybody else for the predicament he is in. Barry Bonds' head barely fits on the front cover of this week's Sports Illustrated magazine. That's all the evidence I need to suspect him of cheating.
The World Baseball Classic is a great idea that is just never going to work. There will never be enough participation from all the greatest players from around the world to make it a truly classic event. Can you really blame a team like the Mariners for not allowing phenom Felix Hernandez to pitch in the event. There is just never going to be a right time of the year to hold the event. There is no way that mlb would ever shut down the season for a couple of weeks in the middle of summer for the tournament to be played. We would end up with the World Series winner being decided in November. Too bad, because if everybody could participate it would be a true World Series. I've always wondered why teams from North America that play in leagues in North America call themselves "World Champions" when they win a title.
-It is hard to believe that Kirby Puckett is no longer with us. Despite some serious allegations made about him a few years back I choose to remember him as a great player who was fiercely loyal to the Minnesota Twins. His career ended to soon and sadly so did his life.
posted by Dean Swanton 7:05 PM
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Life Imitates Rotisserie, ReduxTeam USA managed to blow one against Team Canada, a fall of an All-star team to one made up primarily of low-A ball players, independent league holdouts, and major league rejects. Of course, in any given game it's possible to lose like this, which given the unforgiven round-round and up format of the WBC could be fatal enough. But Team USA may have just played its way out of the tournament completely thanks to an incredibly poorly-constructed tiebreaker system that is part World Cup Soccer and part rotisserie baseball.
You see, the tiebreakers are (reproduced below in whole), after head to head play has been considered, Runs allowed per 9 Innings, Earned Runs allowed per 9 innings, and bating average. Yes, the latter two make the Official Scorer a potential decider of winners and losers. Bearing in mind that ties are allowed -- mandated after 14 innings of play ending in a tie, or in the case of rain -- it wasn't so hard to imagine these tiebreakers would come into play. But now that USA has booted one to Canada, we have the unseemly prospect of three teams in the pool being tied with 2-1 records -- that is, if Mexico beats Canada and the US beats South Africa tomorrow -- and each of the top three teams having beaten one of the others, and we go to "goals scored" or the baseball equivalent to determine the winner.
This may be fine for soccer, but last I heard, a team which wins by a 9-8 score wins as much as one that wins by a 1-0 score. And since the USA has now given up 8 earned runs, it stands at the bottom of the Runs allowed tiebreaker going into tomorrow's games. This means that if, say, Mexico and Canada colluded (or it just so happens) that Mexico beats Canada by a 1-0 score, both Mexico and Canada would advance and the US would stay behind.
Since the other dumb thing about the WBC format is that teams in the first pools who advance still play one another in the second round, and it would be in Canada and Mexico's interests to advance without team USA in the mix in the second round, there certainly is incentive if not for them to collude, at least to lay up into a small-ball strategy.
Hey, I love the WBC idea -- I just wish they hadn't used the idiotic International Baseball tournament format for it. Bud Selig may keep repeating about how excited the rest of the world is, but the US audiences will tune out in droves without the US participating in the latter two rounds. I, personally, will be glued to my TV, because there have been some fun games so far and when we get into elimination-round baseball with the DR and Cuba going head to head, it's going to be something wild. But the WBC may be doomed to die with its inaugural meeting if there isn't some kind of revision of the dumb opening round format.
A tiebreaker? In baseball? What were they thinking?
Official WBC Tiebreaking rules follow.
In Round 1, the Teams in each pool shall be ranked according to the percentages of games won in Round 1. The two Teams with the highest such percentages in each pool shall advance Round 2. In Round 2, the Teams in each pool shall be ranked according to the percentages games won in Round 2, without regard to the results of Round 1. The two Teams with the highest such percentages in each Round 2 pool shall advance to the Semifinal round.
Ties shall be broken in the following order of priority:
The team that defeated the other tied team head-to-head in a given Round shall be ranked higher in the pool standings for such Round.
The tied teams shall be ranked in the standings for that Round according to fewest runs allowed divided by the number of innings (including partial innings) played in defense in the games in that Round between the teams tied.
The tied teams shall be ranked in the standings according to fewest earned runs allowed divided by the number of innings (including partial innings) played in defense in the games in that Round between the teams tied.
The tied teams shall be ranked in the standings according to highest batting average in games in that Round between the teams tied.
Standings shall be determined by the drawing of lots, conducted by WBCI.
Note: Standings and Tie-Breaking Procedures are based on IBAF rules.
posted by The Crank 4:14 PM
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
KirbyI've read a lot about Kirby Puckett's passing, talking about the joy he brought to the game, but honestly I can feel nothing but great sadness at this point. There is no memory at this point that's abating the grief. I have my Kirby game memories like everybody else, but here's a personal story that maybe could convey a little of what Kirby meant to some people.
In 1992, I was in St. Paul on business and had that most serendipitous of occasions, an afternoon off -- and an afternoon game scheduled for the Metrodome. I did not have a rental car, so got on the intercity bus to get over to downtown Minneapolis. I can't tell you anything from memory about the game other than that I met a college friend there, and we had our pictures taken "with" various players by using a zoom lens to make it look like we were standing right next to the likes of Shane Mack and Kent Hrbek. Puckett played, batting third, and according to the box score went two for four and made only one put-out all game. My vague recollection was that it was a ball up against the baggy, which always made (makes) me laugh, the idea of this big guy running into a piece of vinyl to make a major league play.
But my lasting memory of that day is the bus ride over to Minneapolis. There's a stretch on the highway, and I was sitting close to the front so the driver could tell me where to get off. No need, as it turns out: there was a small gaggle of regular Twins fans up front as well, riding along. I could tell from the way they were gassing with the driver that they were well-known to one another, and they and the driver kept jawing about baseball the whole way over. The fans were still giddy from the championship of '91, but were a bit concerned over the poor-mouthing of the Twins' ownership at the time, and the rumored sell-off of some major contracts in trades. One of the kids was really keen on getting Tom Brunansky back from the Red Sox, and it occurred to me as I heard the driver throw out proposed trades, and the fans started throwing back ever more outrageous trade ideas -- the fans throwing these trades out and engaging in such happy pre-game banter were all mentally handicapped. I don't mean that metaphorically - I just hadn't quite noticed the signs until I tuned in on their conversation. So the driver would throw out Greg Gagne's name, and the kids would say back, "Don Mattingly!", or Scott Erickson, and they'd say "Roger Clemens!"
The driver then said, "OK, who would you get for Kirby Puckett?" and this incredibly loud chorus of everybody on the front of the bus yelled, "KIRBY?!? KIRBY?!?" in disbelief. The driver said, "No, I'm serious, they said they're going to trade Kirby." There was more buzz from the group, but it settled into an eerie silence as it became clear to them the driver wasn't kidding around. Then one of the fans started to cry, really sobbing quite fast. "They can't trade KIRBY, they can't!" and he sort of bent over like he'd been punched. The driver, glancing into his mirror, quickly backtracked and called the "kid" -- who must've been in his twenties or thirties -- by name, and slowly got him to come around, convincing him that he'd just been kidding around and had made it all up and the Twins are never, ever going to trade Kirby Puckett.
And they never did, and they never will.
posted by The Crank 10:23 PM