Archive for ‘Opening Day’

Thursday: 04.5.2012

American League Predictions

I realize this is the third Opening Day of the season when you consider the games in Japan between Oakland and Seattle last week as well as last night’s St. Louis/Miami game, but I’m certainly not the only one who considers today the real Opening Day.  And while there aren’t nearly enough games (just seven games), we’re not here to focus on the negative.  The important thing is we have seven games sprinkled throughout the day including Justin Verlander vs. Jon Lester today at noon central!  With that, it’s time for the most important part of the season: predictions.  These mean SO much and they are very scientific.  I expect to be held accountable to these, punishable by death.

AL East

New York Yankees 92-70

Boston Red Sox 91-71*

Tampa Bay Rays 90-72

Toronto Blue Jays 85-77

Baltimore Orioles 62-100

The Yankees would obviously be in better shape if Michael Pineda had dominated throughout Spring Training and was slotted into to their #2 slot, but Hiroki Kuroda is still an upgrade there.  Even with some age regression factored into the lineup, it is still one of the best in all of baseball.  A lot of people are sleeping on Boston for some reason.  First let’s be clear that Andrew Bailey going down doesn’t matter AT ALL.  It’s a complete non-factor and easily the most replaceable piece of the team.  The guy hasn’t topped 50 innings the last two years so Bailey is especially easy to replace, but even if he were a 65-inning stalwart it wouldn’t be a problem.  Few things are more overrated than closer.  Their lineup is amazing, but I worry about the non-Lester rotation pieces given Josh Beckett’s health track record and the general uncertainty of the other three (Buchholz, Doubront and Bard).

This division is just so filthy.  It is hard to look at that Tampa Bay rotation and not have them in the playoffs, especially since the lineup is improved from 2011, too.  Honestly with a three game split from first to third, the top of this division could easily finish in any order.  My guess happens to be in this order, though I would love to see Tampa-Boston-New York.  Don’t sleep on Toronto, either.  I don’t think they quite have the rotation to stack up top to bottom.  I love Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow, but it drops off from there especially compared to Tampa Bay.  There are some nice pieces in the Baltimore lineup, but the pitching staff remains rough.  They need to see some major improvement from their former prospects (Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton and Chris Tillman).

AL Central

Detroit Tigers 92-70

Chicago White Sox 82-80

Cleveland Indians 79-83

Kansas City Royals 73-89

Minnesota Twins 66-96

I know most of the world has my beloved Tigers going 170-0 (yes, we’re going to win 8 more games than anyone even plays) and frankly it disturbs that everyone thinks the team simply can’t lose and will run away with the AL Central.  When the general public thinks a team simply cannot lose, that’s usually when they lose.  Even with the curse of expectations, this is a really strong team with an amazing lineup, killer rotation and solid bullpen so it isn’t hard to see them among the AL’s best.  The infield defense as a liability is massively overrated.  For the few that aren’t bought in on the Tigers, this is their only real reason, but the next time that an infield defense dooms a team will be the first time.   If you’ve got “Sox” in your name, it seems you’re being slept on.  The White Sox are the opposite of the Red Sox in that their strength is the rotation while the lineup has some questions, but this is a great 1-5.  On offense, Adam Dunn and Alex Rios simply cannot be as bad as they were in 2011.

The Indians have some really nice pieces, especially on offense, but I’m not entirely sold on the rotation top to bottom.  What Ubaldo Jimenez are they going to get?  Will Justin Masterson’s continued issues with lefties doom him in ’12?  I like the lineup, but the rotation will keep them below .500.  Kansas City isn’t quite ready for the big time, either.  Love Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon leading the lineup, but the rotation is still a mess.  The bullpen will cover up some of the mess, but they need some of their pitching prospects to make an impact this year.  Everyone is excited for Francisco Liriano’s 2012 based on his impressive Spring Training (33 K, 5 BB in 27 IP with 2.33 ERA and 1.11 WHIP).  I’m not so sure it portends regular season success, but even if he’s peak Liriano, they still don’t have nearly enough in the rotation to compete.  Add in the major injury risks littered throughout the lineup and it’s going to be another long season in the Twin Cities.

AL West

Texas Rangers 91-71

Los Angeles Angels 90-72*

Oakland Athletics 70-92

Seattle Mariners 70-92

It’s a two-horse out west with the incredibly deep Rangers powered by their disgustingly good lineup and the new look Angels led by their elite rotation and some guy named Albert.  Don’t overlook the Texas rotation, though.  They replaced CJ Wilson with Yu Darvish and they’ll enter the season with eight starters on the staff as Alexi Ogando, Scott Feldman and Robert Ross have all been starters during their career yet find themselves in the bullpen for now.  I think Ogando is better than Neftali Feliz, but the Texas can afford to see the experiment through with Feliz since they have so much depth.  LA’s lineup is hardly Albert & The Scrubs.  Howard Kendrick is going to explode for a big year while Kendrys Morales finally appears ready to contribute again.  Like Dunn in Chicago, Vernon Wells simply can’t be that bad again (.248 OBP in 529 PA) while Chris Iannetta and Peter Bourjos make up a hell of an 8-9 combo at the bottom.

Oakland and Seattle both have a handful of intriguing pieces, but neither has the team to contend especially in this division.  Brandon McCarthy’s profile has been raised this offseason with mainstream exposure through ESPN and I like him for a big year.  Yoenis Cespedes should enjoy some success, too, but a Coco Crisp/Seth Smith combo at 3-4 in the lineup is telling.  I’m a huge Dustin Ackley fan and see big things for him with the M’s, but the rotation stalls out quickly after Felix Hernandez.  Help is on the way with some great pitching prospects on the rise, but they are unlikely to make a big dent in 2012 making another down season likely in the Great Northwest.

AL Playoffs

Wildcard – Angels defeat Red Sox

Division Series – Tigers defeat Angels 4-3; Rangers defeat Yankees 4-2

Championship Series – Rangers defeat Tigers 4-3 :sadface:

AL Awards

MVP – Miguel Cabrera, Evan Longoria, Albert Pujols, Brett Lawrie, Dustin Pedroia

Cy Young – David Price, Dan Haren, Justin Verlander

ROY – Matt Moore, Joe Benson, Yu Darvish

I’ll do the National League next.

Monday: 04.4.2011

2011 Season Preview: NL West

Other Divisions:

I know I promised this last night, but I just passed out while watching the Oakland/Seattle game on my DVR.  It wasn’t necessarily a strenuous weekend as I pretty much only watched baseball, but there were a lot of long nights that just caught up to me.  This afternoon, I did some packing for impending move and then watched my Tigers lose to the white-hot Baltimore Orioles.  So here’s the final piece of the Season Preview.

COLORADO ROCKIES:

Record – 89-73

Improved playerSeth Smith (the batting average dipped a bit last year, but otherwise his year was essentially identical to 2009.  Look for a very nice season as a full-time player for the first time ever.)

Improved pitcherJason Hammel (I’ve written exhaustively about him.  I’m betting he finally improves with runners on base which, with his skills, will lead to a very nice season.)

Regression playerCarlos Gonzalez (a middling walk rate, astronomical BABIP and pretty high strikeout rate give some pause on CarGo’s follow up to his brilliant 2010 season.  He’s not some out-of-nowhere fluke so I don’t think he will fall off of the map, but a full season of his 2009 triple slash numbers with 25-28 HRs is what I think we will see.)

Regression pitcherUbaldo Jimenez (again, not a significant fall from grace or anything, but use 2009 as your guide for Jimenez, which would be a great season for the Rockies’ ace.)

Why they will win – …because the regression of their two superstars won’t be overwhelming and their rotation behind Jimenez is very underrated especially if Hammel improves as expected and Esmil Rogers performs up to his skill level.  I really like the lineup, though Todd Helton should likely be hitting 2nd with Smith in the run producing 5-hole.  This is the last gasp for Chris Iannetta, but if even he doesn’t meet expectations, he is going to do much harm as a catcher in the 8th spot.  Their bench is also very strong.

Why they might not win – …because despite how much talent there is in the rotation, it’s also rife with uncertainty.  We’ve still yet to see it for a full season Jorge de la Rosa, it will only be Jhoulys Chacin’s second season and Hammel & Rogers are upside guys.  Similarly, there is a lot of projection within the lineup, too.  Tulowitzki is very streaky, CarGo has done it for just a season and guys like Smith, Ian Stewart, Dexter Fowler, Jose Lopez and Chris Iannetta have only shown themselves in spurts throughout their career.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – It’s a deep division, but I like this team with their star power and up & comers, who they will rely on to win the division.  Even a regression from their two superstars in the lineup is still going to yield All-Star caliber play.   

LOS ANGELES DODGERS:

Record – 88-74

Improved playerMatt Kemp (his “down” season last year was heavily overblown and due a lot to BABIP regression and a rise in strikeout rate.  The rest of his skills either held steady or went up including a career high in ISO which led to a career high 28 home runs.  But I’m not just seeing a rise back to his 2009 levels; he can have an MVP-type season if he remains focused.)

Improved pitcherChad Billingsley (another guy I’ve talked about a lot this preseason, so I won’t re-hash everything again.  I see 2008 or better out of Bills this year.)

Regression player – I’m not going to force one here as one just don’t jump out, probably because the team was such a disappointment last year.  Juan Uribe is a bit streaky, so I could his power dip a little, but it was his fourth 20-home run season so he is hardly a fluke.

Regression pitcherKenley Jansen (Jansen should have a very nice season as a setup man, but he’s not carrying a sub-1.00 ERA all year as he did in 27 innings last year.  If he doesn’t limit hits as well as he did last year [4.0 H/9], the walks could haunt him a bit, too.  I like him a ton for strikeouts, but the converted catcher is still learning to pitch so his ERA and WHIP might be a little higher than expected based on his first major league cup of coffee.)

Why they can win – …because their rotation is sick.  They are running four deep with Jon Garland on the shelf, but it is a very impressive 1-4 and it will be the strength of the club all year long.  The lineup isn’t great, but there is some star power within it and with the rotation backing them, they won’t need to mash the cover off of the ball to win.

Why they won’t win – …because the bullpen could fall apart if things go awry.  Jonathan Broxton is a wildcard after last year’s second half meltdown and if he’s not right, it could be trouble.  Hong-Chih Kuo is fantastic, but hardly a bastion of health.  Pair that with the potential of three dead spots in the lineup on any given night (Tony Gwynn Jr., Rod Barajas and Jamey Carroll) and they may not have enough firepower to overtake the Rockies.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – I love the rotation and once their lineup is whole, it will be improved, but they need to stay healthy because the reinforcements aren’t plentiful and the divorce messiness severely limits their ability to make moves in season, or so it would seem.  I have them just a game behind the Rockies so I like their chances to compete. 

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS:

Record – 88-74

Improved playerBrandon Belt (thrilled to see him win the job out of spring as I thought we’d have to wait a month or two to see him.  Here’s my scouting report on him from the Arizona Fall League.)

Improved pitcher – Hard to see anyone improving from their dream season last year that resulted in a World Series win.  The two studs, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, will remain very good, but we could see some regression elsewhere.

Regression playerAubrey Huff (because he’s got an on/off trend going since 2005 making 2011 an off season.  Just kidding, I don’t really buy into those types of trends.  I don’t see a ton of regression out of him, but I’d be really surprised by another 138 OPS+.)

Regression pitcherJonathan Sanchez (with nearly identical skills from 2009, it is safe to say that Sanchez’s 3.07 ERA was pretty luck-fueled, specifically with BABIP and a well-above average LOB%.  He’s a 4.00 ERA pitcher barring a skills change.  And that’s fine for your #3 as he gets a ton of strikeouts and can be nearly unhittable on any given night.)

Why they can win – They are the reigning champs and added a key piece in Belt which goes toward addressing their main weakness.  If Pablo Sandoval’s newfound svelte figure allows him to get back to his 2009 level, they will be tough once again.

Why they might not win – Winner’s Hangover will rear its ugly head and open the door for some other teams in this division to ascend a bit past the Giants.  More than that, the extra innings of postseason on this relatively young staff could cost them a bit, especially because the division will be so tight.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – Almost nobody had this team winning the World Series last year and almost no one has them even repeating as division champs, but they can’t be dismissed altogether.  Now obviously I didn’t predict them to win, either, but a tie for second place and a game out of first is so tight that a key break or two for any of these three teams could be the difference. 

SAN DIEGO PADRES:

Record – 76-86

Improved playerBrad Hawpe (ugly season last year, but I think it’s a blip and he will be back in the mid-20s for home runs this year… yes, even in PETCO.)

Improved pitcherTim Stauffer (very excited to see what he can do over a full season.)

Regression player – They had a host of new plays to an otherwise bad offense (outside of Adrian Gonzalez) from last year and the PETCO monster could eat them up a bit, but I don’t see anyone severely disappointing against expectations.

Regression pitcher – Hard to regress in that stadium, but I guess Mike Adams could see his ERA tick up even if he repeats those impeccable skills as it’s virtually impossible to maintain a sub-2.00 ERA, even in a reliever’s sample.

Why they can win – The pitching would just have to be excellent to the point that Stauffer, Aaron Harang and Clayton Richard all posted low-3.00 or sub-3.00 ERAs while the offense would need to surge to not only make up for the loss of Gonzalez, but also compete with their divisional foes who are set to get better, too.

Why they won’t win – It’s not just the loss of Gonzalez, but that’s most of it.  I like the additions they made to the offense, but I don’t think it is enough to remain competitive.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – The lineup is just not good enough as it’s filled with complementary and role player types lacking anything close to Gonzalez in the middle and that will be their undoing even if the rotation repeats 2010’s success. 

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS:

Record – 67-95

Improved playerStephen Drew (the D’Backs have a brother in each of the big brother combos in baseball with Drew and also Justin Upton.  Unfortunately, both sets of brothers kind of underwhelm with their performance against what many believe their peaks can be given the incredible talent of all four.  I think Drew rises up and has a career year… once he gets off of the DL.)

Improved pitcherDavid Hernandez (as a full-time bullpenner now, he is set to emerge as a true asset.  If the D’Backs wanted to flip J.J. Putz for pieces in the summer as he isn’t going to be a part of their next good team, Hernandez could definitely fill in capably.  In fact, I think he is a future closer whether later this year or in the years ahead.)

Regression player

Regression pitcherDaniel Hudson (don’t take this to mean that I don’t like him for 2011, but I was worried he would be overrated in fantasy circles based on his excellent stint with Arizona after the trade last year and that came to fruition in my drafts and auctions.  He’s just not going to be a sub-2.00 ERA stud with those skills.  Instead use Ian Kennedy’s 2010 as a guide for expectations of Hudson in ’11.)

Why they can win – I have them as one of the worst teams in the league and as such I just can’t compose a scenario in which they will rise up and win.  The rest of their rotation behind Hudson and Ian Kennedy would have to MASSIVELY over perform expectations and I just don’t see it.

Why they won’t win – See above.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – They’ve got some more down seasons in their future before things turn around, but there’s a solid youthful core to build and they need to use this deep draft to their advantage, too.  GM Kevin Towers has already done a lot to address last year’s horrible bullpen from last year and that alone should earn them a few extra wins. 

Sunday: 04.3.2011

2011 Season Preview: NL Central

Other Divisions:

CINCINNATI REDS:

Record – 92-70

Improved playerJay Bruce (I’m on the increasingly large bandwagon looking for a major breakthrough season out of Bruce, although in fairness, I’ve been on for a while.)  Also really like Chris Heisey, he should eventually get the job from Jonny Gomes or at least get on the good side of the platoon.

Improved pitcherAroldis Chapman (putting a lot of faith in Dusty Baker to use him properly which would be 100+ innings allowing him to go two or more innings on occasion.  He should be Mike Marshall circa 1979.  He’s going to be in the rotation eventually [next year, not this] so stretch him out.)

Regression playerJoey Votto (he’s still going to be their rock in the middle of the lineup, but he’s a high-20s, low-30s home run hitter.  His home run/flyball rate was an absurd 25% which almost certainly isn’t happening again meaning he would need a legitimate skills change to be a high-30s home run hitter again.)

Regression pitcherFrancisco Cordero (this could lead to Chapman taking the closer’s role which would take him out of contention for 100+ IP so I’m torn on whether or not I want him to take the role from Coco.  They should move Nick Masset in and leave Chapman as the bridge since he can realistically be the 7th and 8th inning guy.)

Why they will win – …because they have remained essentially whole while their chief competitor lost their ace and their second-best hitter (though for a much shorter time than the ace) and the division’s winter winner has similar injury issues and is pretty flawed even when whole.

Why they might not win – …because it’s hard to count to St. Louis out even when they look completely down and out from the jump and though Cincinnati has excellent rotation depth, they are already using a good bit of it with Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto on the shelf.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – Until last week when I finally heard some pundits hopping back on the Cincy train, I thought they were being completely overlooked in favor of the offseason darling in Milwaukee and the now-underdog St. Louis Cardinals given the blow they were dealt early in Spring Training.  Alas, this has been my pick for this division from the jump and would be even if Adam Wainwright and Zack Greinke were completely healthy. 

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS:

Record – 84-78

Improved playerColby Rasmus (I originally had his growth being put toward making up for Wainwright’s loss, but now it has to cover the loss of Matt Holliday to an appendectomy and an uncertain timetable for return.)

Improved pitcherJake Westbrook (might enjoy his first sub-4.00 ERA season since 2004 in his first full season as a National Leaguer under the tutelage of Dave Duncan.)

Regression player – Can Gerald Laird or Ryan Theriot really get any worse?  There aren’t any candidates that jump out at me here, even for a disappointment against expectations as I can easily envision a scenario where Lance Berkman has a mini-revival.

Regression pitcherJaime Garcia (I actually love his profile, but he was due for some ERA regression even if the team remained intact from 2010, but switching of Brendan Ryan to Theriot at shortstop alone is going to cost Garcia dearly.  Even an improvement of skills [specifically his control] would only go toward mitigating Theriot’s horrid defense.  I would love to see him succeed in spite of Theriot, but with his heavy groundball lean, it’s just not likely.  He should still be good, just not unable to max out on his skills.)

Why they can win – …because Duncan has made magic out of a ragtag group before and this group at least still has a bona fide ace leading out and some legitimate skill in Garcia, Westbrook and Kyle McClellan.  If Berkman does surge back toward his mean and Holliday returns in a timely fashion, they have a strong heart of the order which of course includes the best player in baseball, too.

Why they won’t win – …because they have too many “ifs” compared to Cincinnati and they need a lot of things to go just right in order to dethrone the Reds.  I really don’t like their bullpen, either.  I’ve never been a fan of Ryan Franklin.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – This team isn’t afraid to make the big move to shore up their weaknesses, but I doubt they want to relinquish Shelby Miller, who projects as a #1, and he is their only big ticket trade chip right now.  They are already being stretched thin with two major injuries at the outset of the season and any more might bury them entirely. 

MILWAUKEE BREWERS:

Record – 81-81

Improved playerPrince Fielder (he could have another 2009esque season combing all of his skills for a monstrous walk year.)

Improved pitcherChris Narveson (love this guy as a 5th starter as he could cut as much as a full run off his 4.99 ERA from 2010 if he can push his LOB% up to league average while maintaining or improving the skills he showed last year.)

Regression playerCasey McGehee (I’m just not sold.  It’s a hunch.  I don’t have statistical support so I wouldn’t push that view on others, but I just don’t see him as a consistent above average player in the big leagues.)

Regression pitcherKameron Loe (he was great out of the bullpen for them last year thanks in large part to a 59% groundball rate and career-best 77% LOB%, but the addition of Yuniesky Betancourt is an unwelcomed sight for Loe [and probably the rest of the team, but it is like when Detroit had to take Dontrelle Willis to get Miguel Cabrera] and he will have trouble repeating that LOB% with poor shortstop behind him.)

Why they can win – …because they have an excellent 1-3 once Greinke returns and among the league’s better 4-5 starters.  Combine that with some true star power in the lineup led by Fielder and Ryan Braun and supplemented by Corey Hart (when he turns) and Rickie Weeks.

Why they won’t win – …because the rotation and three or four strong hitters isn’t enough to win this tough division.  The team defense top to bottom is bad which will slice into the effectiveness of that rotation.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – I applaud the Greinke and Shaun Marcum trades,  but compared to their preseason expectations, Milwaukee will end the season as one of the biggest disappointments of 2011.  Depending on how the first few months pan out, Fielder could be gone by the trade deadline. 

CHICAGO CUBS:

Record – 80-82

Improved playerCarlos Pena (he might only hit .235, but that would be a major improvement from his .196 of 2010 while his home run total should be back in the mid-to-upper 30s with ease.)

Improved pitcherRandy Wells (he didn’t deserve his 3.05 ERA in 2009 as his skills were closer to a 3.80-4.00 ERA, but he didn’t deserve to be saddled with a 4.26 ERA last year with nearly identical skills, either.  Look for him to shave a quarter of a run or more off of his ERA in ’11.)

Regression player – With a lineup as old as theirs, a couple guys are likely to tick down, but I don’t see anyone drastically underperforming.

Regression pitcherMatt Garza (I want to be wrong about this, but I’m worried about Garza in Wrigley Field.  He’s got ridiculous talent and the stuff to be excellent, but the mind is lagging behind at this point.)

Why they can win – I really like their rotation even if Garza does dip a bit plus the veteran-laden lineup has the skills to be very successful if the stars aligned properly.  Add in that Carlos Marmol is arguably the best closer in the National League, too.

Why they won’t win – …because it is unlikely that all of the veterans will click together which could make run scoring difficult for stretches.  The lead up to Marmol is shaky, too, with unknowns and also-rans.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – Some have stepped out on a limb and projected this team to win the division.  I like them to win a handful more games than they did last year, but I’m not sure they have the bullets to overcome the competition in this division.  

PITTSBURGH PIRATES:

Record – 66-96

Improved playerJose Tabata (only 22 years old, he will add some power and speed in his second season, though he is still likely a year or two away from truly exploding.)

Improved pitcherJames McDonald (I’ve been thrilled to see so many hop on the McDonald bandwagon this offseason.  If you’ve been coming here for any amount of time, you know how much I like this kid and I think we will see a nice step forward in 2011.)  Also watch out for Charlie Morton.  I’m not kidding.  Monitor him in your NL-Only league and you could have a gem on your hands.

Regression playerPedro Alvarez (maybe not a regression per se, he only played 95 games last year, but I think he might disappoint against lofty expectations for ’11.  He has huge contact issues that aren’t likely to disappear in a single offseason so while some decent power should be there, it might come with a sub-.250 batting average.)

Regression pitcher – Go look at their staff from last year, how could anyone really regress?  That wouldn’t even be fair.  That would just be a cruel joke by the baseball gods.

Why they can win – Truth be told, they can’t because they just don’t have the pitching, but this young lineup is exciting and will keep them in more games this year.

Why they won’t win – Again, because their pitching just doesn’t stack up at all.  I think they’ve got something with McDonald for sure.  And Morton could become a useful piece, but 4/5ths (or at least 3/5ths) of their next viable rotation is still in the minor leagues or not yet drafted.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – A 66-win season is hardly anything to write home about, but it’s a 9-win improvement from last year, which is pretty significant.  I’ve been saying for a few years that I love what the Neal Huntington regime is doing with this club and others are starting to see it, too, as the Pirates are becoming a chic darling this season.  I mentioned back in February that I wanted to see them take Gerritt Cole or Matt Purke (before Purke dipped and Cole surged) over Anthony Rendon and as we get closer to the draft, it appears as though Cole is the frontrunner for that #1 overall pick. 

HOUSTON ASTROS:

Record – 63-99

Improved player – Nobody.  The only good parts of their lineup are stable veterans (Michael Bourn, Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee) highly unlikely to improve and the rest is fodder.  Sorry, Brett Wallace.

Improved pitcherBud Norris (I’ll defer to my Favorite Pitchers piece where I profiled Norris a few weeks ago.)

Regression player – Probably one of those veterans I mentioned earlier, which would be especially unfortunate for this already-down team.)

Regression pitcherWilton Lopez (Brandon Lyon is a terrible closer and there are going to be a lot of days like Opening Day for him, but I’m not sold that Lopez is the answer.  His nearly invisible walk rate last year [0.7 BB/9] is unlikely to hold another year.  He has great control throughout his minor league control, but not that good.  Meanwhile, his underwhelming strikeout rate for a reliever [6.7 K/9] leaves him an unappealing fit for the closer’s role.)

Why they can win – They can’t.  They just can’t.  Their pitching, specifically the top three of their rotation, is better than Pittsburgh’s, but Pittsburgh has an overwhelming advantage in every other facet of the game.

Why they won’t win – Mainly because they aren’t a good team and unfortunately, there isn’t much light at the end of the tunnel, either.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – Until they realize that the team they have right now is nowhere near winning and actually blow it up (move Wandy, Myers, Lyon, Lopez [he’s 27] and Lee) and stopping signing shlubs like Bill Hall or trading viable parts for even bigger shlubs like Clint Barmes, then they are destined to remain a bottom feeder for years to come.  They don’t realize it, though and a microcosm of that is how they handled the Myers situation last year.  They took a gamble on him and paid off in spades so they should have moved him midseason for parts to re-stock their garbage farm system, instead they sign him to a 3-year deal for $28 million dollars.  That’s the Houston way, also referred to as the stupid way.

Saturday: 04.2.2011

2011 Season Preview: NL East

Other Divisions:

I’ve been taking my sweet time with these, but I will have them completed on Sunday.  Since it was kind of an Opening Weekend with this new format, I didn’t mind stretching them out Thursday through Sunday.  I’ll have some thoughts on the first set of games tomorrow evening as well.  Until then, follow me on Twitter for instant thoughts as I’m watching a TON of baseball all weekend.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES:

Record – 93-69

Improved playerJimmy Rollins (his OPS has been in a free-fall since his 2007 MVP, but I think he’s got at least one more .800 OPS in him.)

Improved pitcherCole Hamels (he’s got Cy Young stuff.  Hard to improve on the season he had last year, but a Cy Young would do it.)

Regression playerRyan Howard (I don’t think the power drop was a fluke and while he can back into an .800 OPS season, he is supposed to be putting up .900 OPS seasons so an .825-.850 mark would be a disappointment.)

Regression pitcherRoy Oswalt (he will have a good season, but look for an ERA around 3.20-3.45 as opposed to the 2.76 he posted for the season or the insane 1.74 he posted after the trade to Philly.)

Why they will win – …because they have one of the best rotations assembled in baseball history.  The offense isn’t great especially with the uncertainty around Chase Utley, but that didn’t stop San Francisco with a lesser rotation and lesser lineup last year.

Why they might not win – …because now there is a lot of uncertainty in the bullpen, too and they don’t have the budget to fix the lineup or bullpen in-season, let alone both.  Outside of their own question marks, the competition is going to be fierce from Atlanta for sure and possibly even Florida.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – That rotation is just downright insane and the lineup does have three upper tier players even without Utley (Rollins, Howard and Shane Victorino) plus another pair of second tier guys with Placido Polanco and Carlos Ruiz so while they aren’t without questions, they remain a frontrunner for the division and the league.

ATLANTA BRAVES:

Record – 92-70

Improved playerBrian McCann (he has kinda fallen into a groove with four similar seasons from a runs scored, home runs and runs driven in aspect, but the OPS has dipped each of the last two years from .896 in 2008; I think he surges back up over .875 in 2011.)

Improved pitcherTommy Hanson (he’s among my favorites for ’11, big season forthcoming.)

Regression playerDan Uggla (there was no change in his skills leading to his .287 average meaning it was almost certainly BABIP-fueled luck [career-high .330 BABIP], so I think we’ll see it come back down, but 30 HR-90 RBI is still in order.)

Regression pitcherTim Hudson (I love Huddy, but those skills don’t yield a sub-3.00 ERA two years in a row with some incredible luck.  His BABIP and LOB rates well above league average last year and we’re unlikely to see that again, especially with Uggla fielding plenty of groundballs at second.)

Why they can win – …because their bullpen and lineup are both better than Philadelphia’s and while the rotation doesn’t quite stack up (nobody’s does), it is still very strong.  They need to wise up and swap Jason Heyward and Chipper Jones in the lineup or they’ll hurt their own chances of winning.

Why they won’t win – …because they probably won’t move Heyward to third and Jones to sixth in the lineup and that could be enough to be the margin that Philly wins by, after all I have the two just a game apart.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – This is a damn good team with reinforcements nearby in AAA and plenty of assets to trade if they need to go that route to plug holes during the season.  I still give the edge to that incredible rotation in Philly, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they flip-flopped spots by season’s end.

FLORIDA MARLINS:

Record – 86-76

Improved playerLogan Morrison (he only hit 2 home runs in his 62 major league games last year and it would’ve paced out to just 8, but I think we’ll see 13-16 this year.)

Improved pitcherRicky Nolasco (I’ll keep beating the “Nolasco has to improve with those skills” drum for a third straight year.)

Regression playerJohn Buck (after a career year in 118 games, Buck earned a fat contract with the Marlins, but they are going to be disappointed when he hits mid-teens home runs with a .240ish average.)  Also watch out for Mike Stanton.  I love the kid and want to be wrong, but he could struggle mightily and underperform expectations if he doesn’t get a bit more selective at the dish and start making a lot more contact.

Regression pitcherEdward Mujica (another offseason acquisition that might not quite be what the Marlins are expecting as he is going to miss PETCO Park.  He needed to PETCO to protect his HR/9 to a still-ugly 1.8, imagine what it’s going to be without half of his games there.)

Why they can win – …because they remain sneaky good with a potent lineup of youngsters supplemented by solid “glue” veterans (like Buck and Omar Infante) meanwhile if Nolasco plays up to his skill and Javier Vazquez improves as planned now out of NY, they have a great rotation, too.

Why they won’t win – …because the competition is too tough.  It’s more about Philly and Atlanta being too good than it is about Florida not being good enough, the Marlins would contend in a lot of other divisions, but the one they are a part of is a bit too tough for this youth-laden ballclub.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – There are some bona fide stars on this team as well as some in the making, but they would all need to take a step forward together for this team to compete with two of the best teams in the National League.  This is a team on the rise. 

WASHINGTON NATIONALS:

Record – 74-88

Improved player – The Middle Infield (the club is expecting big things out of their double-play combo as Ian Desmond enters his second full season and Danny Espinosa begins his first.  Both have strong power-speed skills with strikeouts being their big problem right now.  At 25 and 24, respectively, there is time to improve, but it beings now.)

Improved pitcherJordan Zimmermann (I love the skills he’s displayed in his 122 major league innings as the 4.71 ERA and 1.35 WHIP are a bit misleading.  This guy has strong #2/soft ace potential.)  Also keep an eye on Ross Detwiler.  He’s in the minors right now, but I just have a feeling he can do something at the big league level.

Regression player – None.  This is a team on the come and no one in their lineup really over-performed.

Regression pitcherLivan Hernandez (Houdini would be learning from Livan if he were still alive.)

Why they can win – Without Stephen Strasburg, it’s really hard to put together a scenario where they can seriously contend.  Even with him it’d be tough, but at least they would have two strong starts atop the rotation.  As it stands, it’s Zimm and little else.

Why they won’t win – Again, because of that pitching, or complete and utter lack thereof.  It will be another long season, but there will be some incremental growth with the future looking brighter each year.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – It may not seem all that great, but this prediction is a five win improvement from 2010 despite the loss of Strasburg.  They are putting something together here and it will be nice to see their 1-2 together when Zimmermann and Strasburg are healthy together. 

NEW YORK METS:

Record – 70-92

Improved playerJose Reyes (look for a vintage [2006-2008] Reyes season as he is back to 100% health and still in the midst of his prime.)

Improved pitcherJonathon Niese (the skills are in place for a sub-4.00 ERA season and if he improves the middling walk rate, he could push down near 3.50 or better.)

Regression player – No one really screams regression or even significant disappointment to me.  Ike Davis might slide a bit his second time around the league, but I could see him matching ’10 or even a tick better, too.

Regression pitcherR.A. Dickey (it has to be Dickey.  You have to love the story and success he enjoyed last year, but knuckleballs are just too uncertain to bet on another sub-3.00 ERA even if the skills are intact.  Just look at the variation in Tim Wakefield’s ERA year-to-year and he’s this era’s knuckleball master.)

Why they can win – Even though I project them worse than Washington, there is a dream, everything-goes-right scenario in which they could go crazy and compete.  Niese and Mike Pelfrey jump forward, Dickey maintain while Chris Young and Chris Capuano battle for Comeback Player of the Year with excellent seasons while the offense is rejuvenated by Carlos Beltran playing 145 games and Eric Karabell prediction fulfilling itself as Brad Emaus wins Rookie of the Year.

Why they won’t win – …because very little of the above is likely to happen, except Niese of course because I predicted that!

Conclusion/Bottom Line – It’s going to be really ugly in year 1 of the Alderson Era, but he and his regime understand it is part of the process.  I’m bullish on this team long-term with him at the helm, but 2011 is going to be rough for this veteran-laden ballclub outside of star bright spots Reyes and David Wright.

Friday: 04.1.2011

2011 Season Preview: AL West

Other Divisions:

OAKLAND ATHLETICS:

Record – 87-76*(*tiebreaker w/LAA)

Improved playerJosh Willingham (had a brilliant first half in ’10 before injuries ruined the season; looking for the ~30 HR power and .400 OBP skill again in ’11.)

Improved pitcherBrett Anderson (a playing time breakout as Anderson offers nearly 200 innings of the excellent work we saw for 112 innings last year.)

Regression playerDavid DeJesus (if only slightly off the pace of his ’10 OPS+ of 127, but that will be mitigated by the fact that he will play more than 91 games.)

Regression pitcherTrevor Cahill (like Clay Buchholz of Boston, this is obvious, but I’m not projecting the complete drop off that many seem to believe is coming.  He has devastating stuff, good enough to get Ks, but if he wants to focus on groundballs, then he needs to trim the walk rate significantly to get a 2.0+ K/BB.  He had a great K rate in the minors, so don’t be surprised starts adding Ks in 2011.)

Why they will win – …because they have amazing pitching staff ace to closer and everything in between.  There is upside, there is proven and there are reinforcements in case things go awry.  Quality pitching isn’t especially new in Oakland, but they have supplemented it with solid hitting.  Not great hitting, but the power additions of Hideki Matsui and Willingham are underrated especially because now they don’t need to rely on Daric Barton for power he doesn’t have, he can sit in the 2-hole and just get on base 40% of the time.

Why they might not win – …because their offense is equal parts likely to breakout or likely to breakdown.  There is a lot of injury risk tied up in their starting nine and their primary backups aren’t bastions of health, either.  Their cross-town rivals showed that excellent pitching can mask a lot of hitting deficiencies, but the Giants eventually added a bona fide star to the middle of their lineup in Buster Posey while Oakland doesn’t have that guy on the way.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – The combination of this excellent staff with the upside of their offense assuming health might even be worth more than the five win (a sixth with the tiebreaker) jump I gave them over last year, but I will play it conservatively because this is hardly the first time that Oakland has been a preseason darling.

LOS ANGELES ANGELS:

Record – 86-77* (*tiebreaker w/OAK)

Improved playerBobby Abreu (he fell below .800 OPS for the first time since 1997 when he played 59 games for Houston.  His batting average returns and he remains an OBP force in the middle of that lineup.)

Improved pitcherDan Haren (already showed improvement after the trade to LA; he’ll have a full season around where his 94-inning debut with the Angels was: 2.90-3.15 ERA, 1.15-1.20 WHIP.)

Regression playerVernon Wells (he will still be a useful piece, but around 25 home runs as opposed to the 31 outburst from last year.)

Regression pitcherFernando Rodney (stats might not recede, but a similar season will lose him the closer’s job pretty quickly opening it up for rookie Jordan Walden, who I love this year.)

Why they can win – They have a strong rotation even with Scott Kazmir being a part of it along with a solid bullpen in the non-Rodney division.  The lineup isn’t excellent, but it won’t need to be in that division and I think it is being underrated as a whole because it is a lot of unsexy veterans.  I’m obviously projecting a relatively quick return from Kendrys Morales here, too.

Why they won’t win – I have them losing a game 163 to Oakland which is essentially crapshoot, but why they might not even contend would be a mass regression from the veterans and a lack of improving youngsters to make up the difference.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – The team is being overlooked despite one of the best 1-2 punches in all of baseball and a lineup filled with capable veterans.  They aren’t without flaws, but so are the other two contenders in this division.

TEXAS RANGERS:

Record – 85-77

Improved playerElvis Andrus (acquitted himself well throughout the minors as a teenager all four seasons so I’m not ready to pigeonhole him as an all glove, no hit shortstop because of a weak sophomore campaign.)

Improved pitcherDerek Holland (look for a really nice debut season as a starter for Holland, though it won’t be enough to make up for the loss of Cliff Lee and regression of other starters.)

Regression playerJosh Hamilton (the obvious pick, but the reigning AL MVP isn’t hitting .359 again.)

Regression pitcherC.J. Wilson (if he doesn’t markedly improve his control, he will have a very hard time posting another 3.35 ERA.)

Why they can win – Holland and Matt Harrison emerge and Brandon Webb returns for 150 innings to absorb Lee’s departure and any Wilson/Colby Lewis regression while the offense gets better thanks to complete seasons from Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz Hamilton and newly-added Mike Napoli.

Why they won’t win – …because only Holland is likely to emerge while and the bullpen leading to Neftali Feliz is shaky, especially after Alexei Ogando inexplicably won a spot.  Meanwhile their lineup is laced with consistent injury risk.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – Everything went right and it is unlikely to happen again while their chief competitors improved themselves making a repeat difficult.  I like this ballclub and it’s not unreasonable to project a scenario where they win again, but I like the pitching of LA and Oakland more.

SEATTLE MARINERS:

Record – 63-99

Improved playerJustin Smoak (I believed in him prior to last year and I’m not going to let 100 games completely dissuade me, though the new home park is an unfortunate development to his offensive potential.)

Improved pitcherErik Bedard (the skill is there and it’s elite, but it’s all about getting on the field consistently.  After back-to-back 15-start seasons, I think combines them for 30 big ones in ’11.)

Regression player – Can anyone really get any worse than they were last year?

Regression pitcherJason Vargas (because those skills don’t deserve a sub-4.00 ERA regardless of the home park and defense.)

Why they can win – …because a perfect world scenario includes rookie Michael Pineda having an amazing debut and combining with Felix and Bedard for a great top three taking pressure off of the offense which should improve significantly on regression alone after last year’s historically bad season.

Why they won’t win – …because their offense is still bad and Bedard staying healthy and Pineda immediately excelling would be major upsets.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – The offense just can’t be that bad again this year, but it won’t matter much because even at its peak, it’s bad, but the rotation should offer a glimmer of hope and maybe older parts like Milton Bradley and Jack Cust shine and can be traded for useful parts by July.

Thursday: 03.31.2011

2011 Season Preview: AL Central

Other Divisions:

CHICAGO WHITE SOX:

Record – 89-73

Improved playerCarlos Quentin (health has eluded him, even in his best season when he played just 130 games, but he is still at the beginning of his prime and a fully healthy season would yield another .900+ OPS season.)

Improved pitcherEdwin Jackson (it was a small sample at 75 innings, but I’m buying into what I saw from Jackson after his trade to Chicago.  I’m putting faith not only in Jackson’s skill, but also in pitching coach Don Cooper who has done more with less.)

Regression playerPaul Konerko (we saw some vintage Konerko at age 34, but I’m not betting on another 39 home runs or .312 batting average.  Of course, I’m not expecting him to disappear either, just be around his 28-30 home run average with a .270-.280 batting average.)

Regression pitcherJake Peavy (my friend Andrew [@andtinez] pointed out to me how Peavy seems to want to throw his fist at the batter on every single pitch.  I went back and watched some of his starts and saw the exact same thing and that kind of 110% max effort 100 times a game just isn’t a remedy for staying put together and I would be surprised if he threw more than 100 innings or posted an ERA anywhere near his career 3.36.)

Why they will win – They match an excellent lineup with a very strong, diverse (a couple lefties, some hard throws, some soft tossers) rotation that leads right into a very good bullpen making them the odds-on favorite for a very difficult division.

Why they might not win – The lineup’s excellence depends on growth from four spots and sustained quality from four of the top five.  If a few pieces were to falter, things could go south quickly in a division with little wiggle room.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – There is little variance between the top three in this division and it will likely come down to health and in-season moves (whether internal or via trade).  On paper they hold a slight edge, but I have been notified that they will not be playing the games on paper this year. 


DETROIT TIGERS:

Record – 88-74

Improved playerRyan Raburn (he has got to put it together for a full season this time around after two years of resurgent second halves.)

Improved pitcherRick Porcello (Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer give Detroit a dynamic 1-2 that might be the best in the American League, but Porcello will ultimately be instrumental to the team’s fate as the most talented of their remaining three.  He’s not going to become a strikeout artist, but if he can add 1-1.5 per game and rely a little less on an average at best infield defense, he can have his best season yet.)

Regression playerAustin Jackson (I guess he’s the obvious answer because of the gaudy BABIP, but I don’t think he falls off of a cliff as some seem to think.  He will need to improve his skill set to hit .293 or better again, namely cutting down on the massive strikeout total, but if he stays flat then he is likely in for a .275ish season.)

Regression pitcher –  Joaquin Benoit (no matter how strong his peripheral stats were last year, and they were elite, he has to come down from his 1.34 ERA/0.68 WHIP of 2010 as there’s almost no way he can strand 95% of his runners again while allowing a sub-.200 BABIP.)

Why they can win – The middle of the lineup isn’t just Miguel Cabrera as Magglio Ordonez returns from injury and Victor Martinez almost quietly joins the club from Boston as the move happened so early and so quickly that it is kind of overlooked.  The rotation is deep on Opening Day with a solid prospect in Andy Oliver on hand in Toledo just in case.

Why they won’t win – If the table setters (Jackson and Will Rhymes) don’t repeat their 2010 success for the middle of that lineup, runs could be scarce.  The bullpen has plenty of raw talent leading to Jose Valverde, but if they don’t convert the triple digit arms into quality innings, they could lose some leads late.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – This is a definitely a three team race, but Detroit has the star power to stick around all year.  If their complementary pieces of the lineup don’t step up, they will run out of gas by September. 

MINNESOTA TWINS:

Record – 86-76

Improved playerDenard Span (I’m willing to bet that his talent level is more 2009 than 2010, or at the very least I’ll give him another year to prove he wasn’t a product of the Metrodome.)

Improved pitcherKevin Slowey (Nick Blackburn is terrible.)

Regression playerJoe Mauer (Despite being a Tigers fan, I love Mauer.  He’s one of my favorite non-Tigers.  He’s not a hate-able rival like Jordan or Chris Chelios [before he became a long-time Red Wing], at least not for me, so this isn’t Detroit bias.  I’m worried about the knee and just the injury profile in general.  It is the games played we would see regress, not the skill, he remains elite.)

Regression pitcher – Guess. Rhymes with Snick Crapchurn.

Why they can win – …because they are a well-run organization able to make deft moves to fill holes as the season progresses.  Of course their history as a smart franchise is what boggles my mind so much with the Blackburn/Slowey saga and even the fact that Scott Baker had to fight for a spot.  If Delmon Young continues to ascend as I believe he will, they’ll have three superstars in the heart of their lineup.

Why they won’t win – …because their two superstars are two of their biggest question marks from a health concern and they seem to hate their best pitcher (Francisco Liriano, not Slowey this time!) to the point that they are rumored to have him on the block.  Bizarre moves with their pitching from an otherwise stable franchise.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – I refuse to count them out as I think the talent will win out in their rotation and they have the makings of a really strong lineup especially if Tsuyoshi Nishioka steps right into the fold.  For now, they are a tick below the other two because of bigger question marks. 

KANSAS CITY ROYALS:

Record – 69-93

Improved playerAlcides Escobar (predominantly from a fantasy angle as I believe he will run a ton improving his value at a thin position, but I also think we’ll see this 2-time top 20 prospect start to hit closer to the .293 figure he posted in the minors.)

Improved pitcherJeremy Jeffress (watch him emerge into a dominant 7th/8th inning guy with blistering heat and a devastating breaking pitch.)

Regression player – No one.  (their older guys are stagnant and I don’t see any of their younger guys falling off.)

Regression pitcherBruce Chen (no way this crazy luckbox has another 4.17 ERA rabbit in his hat.)

Why they can win – …because the lineup really isn’t awful as currently constructed and if Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain were up to supplement it by mid-May, they’d have something.  Of course the pitching would need a total makeover and Mike Montgomery and the entire AA-Northwest Arkansas staff would need to come up and take over for their current staff.

Why they won’t win – …because they aren’t really playing to win in 2011, nor should they.  Debut a few of the blue chippers from the jump (Jeffress, Tim Collins and Aaron Crow), pull a few more up as the season rolls along and then a few more in Spring Training of 2012 and see if this is going to come together as many suspect it might.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – This is a historically great minor league system, but not all of them are going to pan out, certainly not to full potential anyway.  Some are going to bust completely, some are going to be average everyday regulars (which isn’t necessarily a failure), some of the heralded starters are going to fail there and shift to the pen and succeed.

It’s going to a be a smorgasbord of success and I just hope the fans realize that instead of expecting Hosmer to be Adrian Gonzalez, Mous to be Evan Longoria and the top arms to be the second coming of Philly’s 2011 rotation.  My biggest concern is whether Dayton Moore can adequately surround these prospects with the right major league pieces as they do become ready.

I wouldn’t bet on it, so KC fans might want to hold off on those 2014 playoff ticket deposits for now (note that despite my negativity re: Moore, I’m actually pulling for this class to perform at or above expectations, even though it’ll make life harder for my Tigers). 

CLEVELAND INDIANS:

Record – 65-97

Improved playerLonnie Chisenhall (not yet with the big league club, but it won’t be long and I think he hits the ground running.)

Improved pitcherCarlos Carrasco (well-chronicled love for C2 this year, but in case you missed it, check out my favorite 2011 SP piece.)

Regression player – No one. (It was Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Santana and a bunch of flotsam.  I don’t see the former two regressing so that doesn’t leave anything.)

Regression pitcherFausto Carmona (I just don’t trust that flimsy skill set.  He had no business with a 3.77 ERA and he’d have to get pretty darn lucky to do so again with those peripherals.)

Why they can win – Umm… hmm… OK, let’s try this: Grady Sizemore only misses a little bit of time in April and then comes back and plays like his old self, Travis Hafner has one more excellent season hitting 30 bombs and driving in 100, Michael Brantley displays great plate patience atop the lineup with a near-.400 OBP and Matt LaPorta finally does something with his life and smacks 25 home runs.  Those four combine with Asdrubal Cabrera, Choo & Santana for a helluva lineup.

Why they won’t win – …because none of the above is going to happen.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – Their farm isn’t as heralded as KC’s, but it is pretty good and this is a team on the rise, too.  Their young major league parts (Carrasco, Santana, Brantley and Cabrera) will be the core supplemented first by Chisenhall in ’11, but then Jason Kipnis, Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Jason Knapp and Nick Weglarz soon whether it’s late ’11 or next spring.  Depending on how the current trio atop this division holds up in the near future, this could become a ridiculous 5-team race soon.

Thursday: 03.31.2011

2011 Season Preview: AL East

Other Divisions:

BOSTON RED SOX:

Record – 96-66

Improved playerDustin Pedroia (a health prediction as he was limited to 75 games last year.)

Improved pitcherJohn Lackey (wasn’t as bad as many perceived last year.)

Regression playerMarco Scutaro (already regressed a bit in ’10, could see another step down in ’11 opening the door for Jed Lowrie.)

Regression pitcherClay Buchholz (but probably not as much as some believe; think 3.30-3.55 ERA as opposed to something near or above 4.00.)

Why they will win – because they won 89 with an injury-ravaged team and they’ve added two All-Stars (to replace Victor Martinez & Adrian Beltre) in addition to getting the injured players back full-time.

Why they might not win – Lackey and Josh Beckett regress further and Buchholz does fall off as far as many think leaving them with essentially a one man rotation and too many 8-7 games in an ultra-competitive division.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – It may be boring, but they are the best team heading into Opening Day and it’s by a clear margin.  Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez aren’t pure additions because of the losses, but those two are better than what they lost.  Throw in full seasons of Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis to 89-win team and they could push 100 with the right breaks. 

NEW YORK YANKEES:

Record – 90-72

Improved playerAlex Rodriguez (his “down” seasons are still well above average, but I think he has at least another MVP-caliber season left in his career and it could be 2011.)

Improved pitcher Joba Chamberlain (this looks like a strong bullpen on paper, but they will need Joba to be Daniel Bard/Luke Gregerson-esque and anchor those middle innings getting to Sori & Mo especially as the rotation works itself out behind C.C. Sabathia.)

Regression playerRussell Martin (nothing in his profile suggests resurgence, in fact it stands to get worse which could open the door for super-prospect Jesus Montero sooner than later.)

Regression pitcherFreddy Garcia (did yeoman’s work in 157 IP last year at 35, but the skills were flimsy and 2011 sets up to be worse than his 4.64/1.38 numbers last year.)

Why they can win – …because the team we see right now is almost assuredly not the team they will end up with by season’s end whether they add reinforcements from their farm or outside of the organization using their farm depth to get the missing ingredients.

Why they won’t win – …because the back-end of that rotation, and by back-end I mean #2-5, is shaky and there may not be enough reinforcements available to fix it, especially since Manny Banuelos likely won’t be ready to be a major contributor at any point this year having pitched just 15 innings above High-A.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – They have a stacked lineup, a true ace and a strong bullpen, but too many wildcards in the rotation makes it tough to compete with the league’s best team and two others who aren’t terribly far behind them.  Don’t rule out a major trade with this team, though, which would change the game entirely. 

TAMPA BAY RAYS:

Record – 87-75

Improved playerManny Ramirez (I think he beasts out for one more season.  Not quite 2008’s explosion, but about 80% of it.  He’s not done.)

Improved pitcherJames Shields (well he can’t get any worse and his skills are just far too good for another 5.18 ERA season.)

Regression player – I don’t really have one for them, I think we will see improvements from some (Manny, Longoria, Upton) and just “as-is” performances from the rest with any major disappointments.

Regression pitcherJeremy Hellickson (not really a regression since he’s a rookie, so I’ll go with “Disappointment” here.  Rookie pitchers more often pitch like David Price did [4.42 ERA/4.59 FIP] than Tommy Hanson [2.89 ERA/3.50 FIP] and Hellickson would be an exception to the rule with an impact season.)

Why they can win – The loss of Carl Crawford is filled in differently (power as opposed to speed & defense), but adequately from a wins standpoint by Ramirez, Johnny Damon and Upton’s improvement.  The rotation is strong 1-5 even if Hellickson “only” pitches to a 4.20-4.40 ERA as a rookie.

Why they won’t win – The bullpen is entirely rebuilt (unless you count Andy Sonnanstine and the currently injured J.P. Howell) and I have zero faith in Kyle Farnsworthless as a potential closer regardless of his otherwise strong peripherals the last three years.  I’m even less sold on Joel Peralta after a 49-inning sample of quality at 34-years old.  Shaky bullpens can ruin seasons and if theirs doesn’t work out, they could finish as low as 4th.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – The talent is there for another run, but they would need a lot to go right for another division title or even a wildcard berth.  I think there is slight regression for this club in 2011.  However, per usual since their rise in 2008, reinforcements are on the way in droves so they won’t be “down” long even if they do just have an over-.500 third place season. 

TORONTO BLUE JAYS:

Record – 83-79

Improved playerTravis Snider (I’ve had him on the Adam Lind Path to Stardom for a few years and I was hoping he could skip a year and breakout last year, but it wasn’t so making 2011 his eruption season.)

Improved pitcherBrandon Morrow (this obviously assumes limited time missed on his current injury, but all signs point toward just one missed start.  We could see a mid-3.00s ERA and 200 strikeouts in approx. 180 innings.)

Regression playerJose Bautista (easy, obvious, but also very probable.  I don’t think he falls off the map though, with 36-41 home runs and a strong on-base percentage despite a middling batting average.)

Regression pitcherKyle Drabek (as with Hellickson, this is a disappointment call more than a regression because Drabek is also a rookie with just 17 major league IP under his belt.  I think the expectations need to be tamped down a bit for both.)

Why they can win – …because they have gobs of power throughout their lineup (Adam Lind and Aaron Hill improving back to their mean level should cover Bautista’s comeback) and two very good starters (when Morrow returns) atop their rotation.  Their bullpen, once whole, has four guys with closing experience who have had success at various times (Frank Francisco, Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch and Jason Frasor) along with other useful parts.

Why they won’t win – What if Morrow doesn’t come right back?  Then you’re left with Ricky Romero, who I love, but then a series of question marks.  Heck, even if all the “why they can win” comes true, the competition might still be too fierce to overcome.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – An improving team with an excellent fantasy baseball lineup and some intriguing rotation parts, but they are still at least a year away from viable contention in their remarkably difficult division. 

BALTIMORE ORIOLES:

Record – 70-92

Improved playerMatt Wieters (the former #1 prospect in all of baseball can’t keep disappointing, right?  No more excuses about learning to catch, no more excuses about adjusting to the big leagues, it’s time to put up or shut up for the talented backstop.)

Improved pitcherBrian Matusz (it is cheating a bit to pick him given how well he did down the stretch, but we need to see a full season if he’s to be trusted as a budding ace and I think we will despite the stiff competition of the AL Beast.)

Regression playerBrian Roberts (only played 59 games last year, but even a full season is likely to carry some regression to average or slightly below for aging, fragile second baseman.  I don’t think he falls off the map entirely, but he’s no longer one of the best of his position.)

Regression pitcherJeremy Guthrie (I just don’t believe in this guy and I know perhaps I should after three sub-4.00 ERA seasons out of four despite skills that suggest much worse.  Call me stubborn, but I prefer risk-averse, he’s just not that good.)

Why they can win – …because the lineup could really surge as the youth ascends and the quality veterans return to their former glory for at least another year.   Combine that with their non-Matusz top pitching prospects (Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton) all paying dividends this year and they could shock the Junior Circuit.  In other words, it’s a longshot.

Why they won’t win – …because they just don’t have the pitching to compete in that division.  Even in a crop of multiple blue chip prospects, you can’t expect all of them to hit big so it could be that Tillman and Arrieta don’t develop to a level commensurate with their minor league track record.  It looks like Matusz is going to be the star and I think Britton is going to be a quality 2-3 type which leaves the odds strongly against either of Tillman or Arrieta becoming All-Star quality.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – They are making strides, but they are still a good bit away.  I like the veteran fill-ins that could make them competitive in stretches throughout this season, but too many question marks in the rotation leave them in cellar for at least another year.  I do look forward to Britton coming up because I think he will emerge and give them a strong 1-2 youth punch with Matusz breeding hope for the future.

Monday: 04.6.2009

2009 Predictions

Though these will invariably be wrong, here is my take on how the 2009 season will shake out:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

AL East –
Boston 98-64
New York 96-66
Tampa Bay 93-69
Baltimore 72-90
Toronto 70-92

I originally had the BOS, NYY and TB with three more wins apiece, but this division is so stacked so that I bumped all down a notch. It’s shame that one of these teams will have to go home in October. I love Boston’s 1-3 and if they get 250 total IP from Brad Penny-John Smoltz, look out. Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Jason Bay and Kevin Youkilis will lead the offense even if David Ortiz doesn’t comeback…

If the Yanks stay healthy on the mound, specifically AJ Burnett, they’ll be very good. Overall, they shouldn’t miss A-Rod SO much that it cripples their season. Even if he misses time past May. Perhaps we’ll see a case of Bill Simmons“Ewing Theory”. Fact is, the lineup is deep enough to still be productive even without an all-world player like Rodriguez. Moving Derek Jeter to leadoff was a very wise move and it looks like Jorge Posada might have enough for one more year in the tank based on his strong spring. The bullpen has some live arms with Edwar Ramirez, Jose Veras, Brian Bruney and Jonathan Albaladejo to lead up to Mariano Rivera. Rivera was excellent last year, but he’s not getting any younger so he could feasibly just fall off the table at any point. Their depth on the bench would allow them to sustain an injury much better than in 2008…

Tampa isn’t a one-year wonder, but they could be on the outside looking in this season. Carl Crawford will be excellent and a full season of Evan Longoria should be even better. And the Pat Burrell signing was a stroke of genius, but the offense as a whole might not be enough to net back-to-back playoff appearances in that absurdly deep division. The rotation might actually be better in 2009 as they are a truly elite group poised to get better thanks to emerging youngsters Jeff Niemann and David Price. The bullpen will regress a bit, but still be a reliable asset. That said, we’re talking about a very slim margin between them and the BoSox so I just went with the gut here, but I could see any variation of those three at the top…

I actually like a lot of about the Baltimore and Toronto squads, but 57 games against those behemoths is just unfair! Baltimore will score some runs with that lineup with table-setter Brian Roberts getting it started for Nick Markakis as he makes a bid to become a reliable 30-100 producer and Aubrey Huff who comes down a bit from last year but remains very productive. I hate their staff top-to-bottom barring a huge Rich Hill comeback. Koji Uehara is a complete unknown coming over to the States, but even if both panned out they’d still struggle to reach .500…

Toronto is uncertain behind Roy Halladay, but I do like David Purcey. Those two alone won’t be enough and I think the bullpen will be pressed much more this year and likely won’t respond as they did in 2008. Any lineup with Marco Scutaro leading off is suspect. Alex Rios and Vernon Wells have been favorites of mine for awhile and they could end up with those two, Adam Lind and Travis Snider forming a potent 3-6.

AL Central –
Cleveland 84-78
Minnesota 82-80
Kansas City 82-80
Detroit 80-82
Chicago 74-88

Very tight race top-to-bottom and the right breaks could flip the standings upside down here. Cleveland’s offense should be strong even if Travis Hafner doesn’t make a comeback, but I’m not at all sold on their rotation past Cliff Lee. And he won’t be like last year, so they could be in trouble. Reliance on Carl Pavano and Anthony Reyes for a team that is a chic pick to make noise this season is frightening…

As much as I love the front three of Minnesota’s staff, they can’t do it all. Scott Baker is apparently already banged up and how many innings do they really want to put on Francisco Liriano‘s arm this year? Nick Blackburn and Glen Perkins will both have ERAs at or topping 4.50. With Joe Mauer out, they have a pretty horrible infield offense outside of Justin Morneau and their OF core though deep with usable players lacks any legitimate lineup studs…

Kansas City is chicest pick to succeed this year and while I like what they’re building, they’re not there yet. Great 1-2 punch with Gil Meche and Zach Greinke and some are projecting nice things for Kyle Davies, but even if he pans out, their winning streaks will often be halted at 3 with Sidney Ponson and Horacio Ramirez manning the back end of their rotation. Can’t have a sub-.300 OBP Jose Guillen again and need Mike Aviles to be close to his 2008 version…

The Tigers will ride their lineup to this record and any legitimate success will be based entirely on their rotation and bullpen vastly improving from 2008. Miguel Cabrera‘s name is being bandied about as a Triple Crown threat and though it’d be very difficult, the talk is merited as he is that good. Curtis Granderson didn’t run as much in 2008, but manager Jim Leyland plans to utilize his speed much more along with that of newly acquired Josh Anderson. On the mound, Edwin Jackson will be a key as will phenom-blue chipper Rick Porcello. If they can be 4.30/1.35 pitchers (a tall order indeed), then the Tigers can be competitive especially with that dynamite offense and vastly improved defense…

The White Sox aren’t particularly strong on either side of the ball. John Danks and Mark Buerhle are reliable at the top of the rotation, but it’s scary from there on. How will Carlos Quentin respond to the wrist surgery? Can Paul Konerko come back? Will Alexei Ramirez be the mini-Alfonso Soriano he’s been pegged as for 2009? Is Josh Fields finally ready? Jermaine Dye and Jim Thome are pretty bankable, but that’s it. Bobby Jenks needs to show that his minute 8 IP spring sample is a sign of things to come as opposed to his 62 IP from 2008 in which he had 5.5 K/9.

AL West –
Oakland 86-76
Los Angeles 84-78
Texas 75-86
Seattle 70-92

Another tight division that could go more than one way. Oakland’s youth movement is in full effect in the rotation, but their veteran presence in the lineup is why I like them to take the division. The Matt Holliday trade was very strong and Billy Beane supplemented it by acquiring Jason Giambi, Orlando Cabrera and Nomar Garciaparra. If they can get healthy seasons out of Mark Ellis, Ryan Sweeney and Travis Buck, they’re in business. Look for Kurt Suzuki to take a big step forward offensively as this offense and defense takes pressure off of the green staff. Sean Gallagher and Gio Gonzalez are primed and waiting in the wings if any of their first five should fail…

The Angels lost their two aces (John Lackey and Ervin Santana) before the season even started while another top SP, Kelvim Escobar, isn’t back from last year’s injuries. Their offense could be very strong in a best-case scenario, but it’s old in the outfield and unproven on the infield (except for Chone Figgins). Hopefully Joe Saunders didn’t return his smoke or mirrors because he’ll need both in 2009. A big step forward from Jered Weaver won’t be enough to cover the health issues if Lackey, Santana and Escobar don’t hurry back and stay for good…

Texas relies heavily on their very potent offense, but you can’t win every game 9-8. Their rotation sucks. There is virtually no upside in that quintet and Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland can’t get to Arlington quick enough for the Rangers. Their defense can’t possibly give up another 100+ unearned runs again or they could lose 100 games. The future is EXTREMELY bright for this ballclub, but for 2009 they remain a one-dimensional team. They’re a fantasy baseball team that punted starting pitching.

I love Seattle’s 1-2 and their outfield defense once Ichiro Suzuki returns is excellent. Jose Lopez is a great 2B and should be even better in 2009, but when he, Ichiro and Adrian Beltre are really all they have on offense. Brandon Morrow is closing, which is best for him and the team. There isn’t much else that inspires confidence in the M’s. They refuse to play Jeff Clement for some reason instead choosing to rely on Mike Sweeney & Russell Branyan for serious playing time.

Playoffs –
Boston over Cleveland
New York over Oakland
Boston over New York

Awards –
MVP: Grady Sizemore
Cy Young: Daisuke Matsuzaka
Rookie of the Year: Matt Wieters*

* – he might not even have the best rookie stats, but as long as he doesn’t totally bomb, they’ll give him the nod.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

NL East –
New York 98-64
Atlanta 94-70
Philadelphia 82-80
Florida 79-83
Washington 75-87

The Mets addressed their biggest weakness from the last two years by acquiring two elite closers for the 8th and 9th innings. Throw-in Sean Green from the JJ Putz deal will also help shore up that pen with his insane 60%+ GB rate. Three superstars carry the offense while Ryan Church and Daniel Murphy have the potential to take nice steps forward and alleviate any potential regression from Carlos Delgado and Luis Castillo due to age…

Atlanta was just horrible in 1-run games last year (11-30) thanks in large part to not having their three best options in the bullpen for almost the entire season as Mike Gonzalez, Rafael Soriano and Peter Moylan combined for 65 innings last year. They should log more than three times with around 200 IP between them this year. Adding Javier Vazquez, Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami to Jair Jurrjens gives them a legitimate staff to get to the aforementioned bullpen. A Jeff Francoeur rebound would give them a lineup that contains no breaks for opposing pitchers. Could chase down the Mets with 500+ ABs from Chipper Jones

Having their own trio of superstars powering the offense should prevent a TOTAL post-World Series collapse for Philly especially with very good players like Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez giving them a very potent 2/3rds of the lineup. The pitching is the scary part this year. Neither Brad Lidge nor Cole Hamels will repeat their dream seasons from 2008. Lidge won’t fall back to his Houston form that prompted this move in the first place, but how will he respond to the merciless fans when he blows a few saves? Hamels will still be great when he pitches, but can he top 175 IP? The staff after Hamels is laden with question marks…

Unless the defense improves sharply, this team won’t be able to push forward on their surprising 84-win 2008 campaign. The upside of their top 4 starters is jaw-dropping, but will be stunted if they lead the league in errors again. They could also be limited by an uncertain bullpen. Matt Lindstrom is supposed to be their best, but he’s not terribly impressive so where’s that leave the rest of them? Jose Ceda could emerge from the minors as their stopper. Jeremy Hermida needs to finally make good while Jorge Cantu can’t just disappear again…

Washington finally doesn’t have an offense hinged on whether or not Nick Johnson stays healthy. They are pretty strong 1-8 as well as deep on the bench with Elijah Dukes, Josh Willingham and Willie Harris. Pitching remains the problem in the nation’s capital. At 27, Daniel Cabrera is elder statesman of the staff. Will he finally put it all together in the NL? His trends are horrible as his primary asset (strikeouts) has eroded to 4.7 K/9. Scott Olsen is on a similarly terrible downtrend in K/9 bottoming out at 5.0 last year. They’ll be better, but still a good bit away from contending.

NL Central –
Chicago 95-66
Milwaukee 84-78
St. Louis 83-78
Cincinnati 83-79
Houston 66-97
Pittsburgh 60-102

Chicago remains the class of the division though jettisoning Mark DeRosa was puzzling. They have two elite players known more for getting hurt than playing in Milton Bradley and Rich Harden. If both last the full season, it could be a dominating one in the Windy City. It looks like Lou Piniella realizes that Carlos Marmol is more valuable at the 7th-8th inning guy while Kevin Gregg is plenty capable of closing. It broke the hearts of us fantasy baseballers, but he’s not concerned with giving the best skills guy the most saves. Plus it’s not set in stone. Sean Marshall‘s improvements as a full-time starter will help alleviate Ryan Dempster‘s regression and Carlos Zambrano‘s continued descent…

The losses of CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets can be quelled, at least to a degree, by Yovani Gallardo‘s return and the maturation of Manny Parra into a top-level starter. If Dave Bush can finally put his skills together for an entire season, they might not even notice their 2008 1-2 punch is gone. What makes their potent offense all the more impressive is how much of it is home grown. Look for Rickie Weeks to finally emerge and Corey Hart to be the improved 2007 version that was hoped for last year. Carlos Villanueva was brilliant in relief last year and he could end up as their closer for more than just this week while the 41-year old Trevor Hoffman gets well…

The Cardinals have built around the league’s best hitter and gone from there. Ryan Ludwick‘s minor league power translated perfectly last year as he was finally given a full season to flourish. Albert Pujols, Ludwick and Rick Ankiel are the power core of the lineup and that’s pretty strong. Ludwick won’t approach .300 again, but he’ll smash 30+ again. In fact, he and Ankiel may have matching .270-30-90 seasons. Khalil Greene finally leaves Petco and will be very good if healthy. His defense will help cancel out the potential defensive pitfalls from bringing Skip Schumaker into 2B from the outfield. Todd Wellemeyer was a brilliant surprise in 2008, but a repeat would be 10x more surprising. Chris Carpenter‘s spring portends a rebound to his previous excellence, but it’s far too early to tell. If he and Adam Wainwright go for 350 IP, the Cards have a shot…

The Reds are built around three star offensive players (Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce) and very strong rotation anchored by the revitalized Aaron Harang. Edinson Volquez won’t be what he was in 2008, but Harang’s return to dominance will offset that dip in performance. Getting Johnny Cueto that big-league experience in 2008 will prove invaluable moving forward. Francisco Cordero may not last as the closer all year, but Jared Burton is a more than adequate replacement for the walk-happy incumbent. However, if Cordero does last then Cincy will have a similar Marmol-Gregg set up where the better skills guy is pitching the higher leverage situations. Edwin Encarnacion is still just 26 years old and should build upon his career-high 26 HR season from 2008…

Two top-level starters and three star hitters describes the Astros in a nutshell. After Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez, they are letting Brian Moehler, Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz make starts. Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman are bona fide superstar hitters while Hunter Pence is quite good and getting better. Pudge Rodriguez could recapture his magic one last time, but that still wouldn’t be enough to make this team worthwhile. Even a resurgence from Miguel Tejada and quality seasons from Michael Bourn, Geoff Blum and Kaz Matsui could overcome the back 3/5ths of that rotation. In case you forgot form a few seconds ago, Brian Moehler is their third starter…

The bright side for Pittsburgh is prospects Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez point to better days ahead. They have some other useful pieces already with the club like Nate McLouth, Ryan Doumit, Paul Maholm and Matt Capps, but too many question marks everywhere else leave them as a bottom feeder. Will Ian Snell ever be worth anything again? Can the LaRoche brothers be high quality contributors for the next five (for Adam) to eight (for Andy) years? Pitching looks like it’ll be an issue for years to come as Brad Lincoln is their only top 5 pitching prospect and he’s a 24 year old getting crushed in high-A ball.

NL West –
Los Angeles 92-70
Arizona 89-77
San Francisco 82-80
Colorado 64-98
San Diego 58-104

A full year of Manny Ramirez, Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake and Clayton Kershaw along with maturation from youngsters Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, James Loney, Russell Martin and Chad Billingsley and the addition of Orlando Hudson to the lineup and defense points towards a runaway victory in the West. James McDonald is their top prospect and will be called on to deliver as Kershaw did last year. A capable bench along with flexibility among the starters makes LA a pretty complete team. And if they run into issues midsummer, they aren’t above trading from their ever-deep farm to acquire the appropriate pieces needed…

Arizona loves to pair two elite aces and go from there. Brandon Webb and Dan Haren are their new Johnson-Schilling combo. Losing Hudson for Felipe Lopez will severely dent the defense behind elite groundballer Webb, but Lopez is poised for an offensive rebound after a strong stint with St. Louis. Many pitchers experience a boost moving from the AL to the NL and the D-Backs are definitely hoping Jon Garland follows suit. Their rotation runs six deep and their bullpen has three guys that could feasibly be closers. Drew is going to take another step forward at the plate as could Chris Young, Conor Jackson, Justin Upton, Mark Reynolds and Chris Snyder. Healthy seasons out of Chad Tracy and Eric Byrnes would only add depth to this very strong ballclub…

Powered by an excellent pitching staff, the Giants are the National League’s chic pick to be successful in 2009 and they addressed a key weakness by acquiring Bobby Howry and Jeremy Affedlt to shore up their bullpen. Tim Lincecum, Randy Johnson and Matt Cain might be the best top three in baseball. I’m past suggesting that Barry Zito could return to his superstar form, but 5th starter Jonathan Sanchez is a fireballer capable of much better than his 5.01 ERA from 2008. The offense limits the ceiling of this team for this season. There are a lot of quality role players that would work wonderfully in established lineups like Philadelphia’s, Boston’s, Texas’s and Detroit’s etc… but all of them in one lineup without a centerpiece leave something to be desired. Many believe Pablo Sandoval could be that centerpiece, but that’s based on a 145 AB cup of coffee and white-hot spring. They got 39 HRs in 2008 from the power positions (1B and corner OF), lowest in the NL and tied for the lowest in all of baseball (Toronto)…

Trading your superstar as Colorado did with Matt Holliday this offseason signals that the upcoming season might not be a contending one. Uncertainty seems to surround the offense as Hawpe is the only consistent performer over the past three seasons. Atkins is in three-year decline, Troy Tulowitzki suffered an injury-riddled sophomore campaign, Todd Helton hasn’t topped 20 HR since 2004 and injuries took his average below .300 for the first time since his 1997 93 AB cup of coffee. Aaron Cook is as steady as they come on the mound and finally used that high GB rate to get below 4.00 ERA last year. Ubaldo Jimenez is a talented youngster who also uses the groundball to his benefit, but can’t seem to get above the desired 2.0 K:BB rate you like to see from starting pitchers. Jorge de la Rosa will emerge as a capable #3 and catcher Chris Iannetta has 30 HR power.

Playoffs –
Los Angeles over New York
Chicago over Atlanta
Chicago over Los Angeles

Awards –
MVP: David Wright
Cy Young: Javier Vazquez
Rookie of the Year: Andrew McCutchen

World Series –
Boston over Chicago

Tuesday: 04.3.2007

Opening Day: Spoiled by the Jays

While the end result wasn’t exactly what the Tigers fans would’ve have wanted, there was plenty to like about game 1 of the 2007 season. Jeremy Bonderman struggled in the first inning, but settled down and was locked in with five goose eggs. And while he did allow three runs in that first inning, he wasn’t really roughed instead the Jays nickel-and-dimed him. They even went strongly against their general philosophy in the first inning with two stolen bases. A blooper that fell in between Craig Monroe and Carlos Guillen led to the third run.

Even more impressive than Bonderman getting back on track, was the fact that the offense didn’t allow the three-run first to be the end of it despite facing Roy Halladay. The team as a whole looked markedly more patient this game than they did at any point during 2006. Curtis Granderson did strikeout once, but looked very solid at the plate going 2-for-5. Placido Polanco picked up where he left off in the playoffs going 3-for-5 with a run batted in. Gary Sheffield was 0-for-3 in his Detroit debut, but did notch two sacrifice flies that helped the Tigers draw even at 3 before heading to extra innings.

Fernando Rodney looked very similar to his two appearances that I saw in Lakeland. The non-roster invitees he was facing late in those games didn’t make him pay nearly as much for his mistakes as the Blue Jays did yesterday. He stuff wasn’t necessarily off, but he couldn’t close hitters out despite getting ahead. Billfer notes that during a part of last year, pitching coach Chuck Hernandez was trying to Rodney to rely less on the changeup and look more to the fastball. After an at-bat with Troy Glaus where he threw three straight changeups and eventually lost Glaus to an RBI-single, maybe that should once again be a focus for Hernandez and Rodney.

Overall, the team looked solid and battled back against one of the AL’s finest. I’m not going to pretend that I’m not disappointed with the loss, but it is just one game and it could’ve been much worse considering that first inning. Wednesday afternoon brings another quality matchup with A.J. Burnett toeing the rubber for Toronto against Mr. Gum, Nate Robertson. In his final spring start, Thursday’s starter Justin Verlander was filthy and he’ll get the nod against Toronto’s Gustavo Chacin.