Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Preseason Preview: Devil Rays

Okay, the euphoria of the renewed baseball season has finally worn off and it's time to get back down to business before I head to practice. The Devil Rays. Hmm, not an overwhelming prospect, eh? They've never finished higher than fourth in their history, which is admittedly short when you consider that the D-Rays and D-backs only joined The Show in 1998. However, the D-backs, in the short time since their inception, have won a World Series and competed annually for a division crown. Arguably the most successful expansion team is the Marlins, but their companions in both Florida and fishhood haven't been able to duplicate their success. If there are any D-Ray fans, you get a cookie. I doubt that will make up for the pain, but you know.

Also, apparently, the D-Rays are trying to cut the "devil" part out of their name since it offends certain Bible-bashers. My God, some people. It's a sports team, not one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Yes, well. To compensate for this, I shall always refer to them as the D-Rays, even if it's more annoying to have to type out the D and hyphen. I must do my part against political correctness, and that involves even allowing that the D-Rays are a team.... How do the perpetual doormats of the East look this year? Glancing over their pitchers, I realize that I can't exactly tell starters from relievers, so advance apologies if I mess something up.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays


1. Scott Kazmir, LHP
2. Casey Fossum, LHP
3. Seth McClung, RHP
4. Jae Seo, RHP
5. Tim Corcoran, RHP

1. Dan Miceli, RHP
2. Ruddy Lugo, RHP
3. Scott Dohmann, RHP
4. Chad Orvella, RHP
5. Edwin Jackson, RHP
6. Jeff Niemann, RHP
7. James Shields, RHP

1B Greg Norton
2B Jorge Cantu
SS B.J. Upton
3B Ty Wigginton
RF Jonny Gomes
CF Rocco Baldelli
LF Carl Crawford
C Dioner Navarro
DH Delmon Young

The 500 Word Rundown
You don't exactly need to be a baseball expert to realize that the D-Rays are bad. Their team is filled with a bunch of no-names and low-level prospects, and when not even famous firebrand Lou Piniella can motivate a team to win, you know you have a problem. Talented young lefty Scott Kazmir may yet make a legit major-league pitcher – too bad that he's stuck on this team. His ERA was 3.24, but his win/loss total was skewed by the fact that he was, you know, playing for the Devil Rays. He had more strikeouts than innings pitched – 163 to 144.2 - which is a very impressive feat. However, not even he and Carl Crawford – Tampa Bay's only other player with a claim to stardom - are going to be able to save this edition of Florida marine life. The Marlins are also questionable, but not to the degree of these guys.

Crawford, as mentioned, is a very good, if not great player - .305 average, 18 HR, 77 RBI, with unreal speed - 58 bags swiped in 67 attempts. Get him on, and he's going to run, causing a thorn in the side of more than one catcher. Jonny Gomes hit 20 HR, but with a Yadier Molina-equal average – .216. Doesn't exactly bode well for things to come. The Rays are also hoping that young shortstop B.J. Upton can inject some excitement and sell some more tickets to boost dismal attendance numbers – the Trop (Tropicana Field) is regularly beneath 10,000 fans. They do, however, have a most entertaining heckler, who picks one guy from the opposing team and rides him mercilessly – and loudly, since there's nobody else really shouting in the stadium. But who really wants to see these guys play? As far as the expansion era goes, the D-Rays still have a lot to prove, and it's unlikely that they're going to finish higher than their customary fifth this year.

Projected Finish: 64-98, fifth place, AL East

That concludes it for the East previews. Moving in a Central direction, the Twins are up next.


Yes, yes, the Devil Rays are last on the list for the AL East previews, can you blame me if I'm not raring to write about them? I'm just so thrilled beyond belief that I can't get to them. Maybe tonight, once I get back from softball practice. In the meantime.... BASEBALL HAS STARTED.... and some enterprising fellow on Viva El Birdos discovered a link to watch spring training games on Gameday, which is how I do the vast majority of my game-watching. So... right now... I am watching ADAM pitch against the Marlins, and can you blame me for squealing with happiness? The update time isn't the greatest... but it's ADAM... and the CARDINALS.... and BASEBALL!!!

The offseason is over! Praise jeebus!

The man is just so fricken' adorable. Look at him concentrate on that bunt like it's the most important thing in the world.

He's even cute as a bobblehead. Yes, I have been sorely tempted to buy the Adam World Series bobblehead off eBay.

No, there is no point and purpose to this post except to a) rejoice in the glory that is baseball reborn from the depths of offseason darkness, and b) Adam Wainwright is just so cute I can't stand it. Devil Rays preview later, if you must.

edit: The Cards win 6-3, with Randy Flores permitting 2 of the runs in the ninth. Adam threw 3 scoreless, hitless innings, needing only 30 pitches. The Rockies are currently whipping up on the White Sox 11-4, with big men Atkins, Holliday, and Hawpe all showing up and contributing in a big way. Baseball is back and this girl is happy.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Preseason Preview: Orioles

It's Tuesday night and guess what I'm not doing? If you said "reading philosophy," then right in one. As mentioned, I do like the class, and I do quite well in it, but it's never the first thing on my nightly list of priorities. So, here's the rundown for the Orioles, who have gone from scrapingly decent to shockingly terrible in the past few years. At the end of the post is also some real-life stuff which I would like to talk about, seeing as this is my blog and my forum for doing so. But you're not obligated to read that; we'll get to the baseball stuff first.

Seeing as I just threatened to throw the Faerie Queene at my roommate unless she stopped singing the Pokemon song, now we have quiet. (If she's reading this: I love ya, Markel). If you have ever taken an English class in your life, you know the size of that thing. My lit teacher even suggested that employing it as a missile was an excellent idea for use. Entirely in good fun, of course.

Yes, well. The paragon of shittiness entitled the Orioles (although not yet descended to Pirates/Royals/D-rays depths).

The Baltimore Orioles

1. Daniel Cabrera, RHP
2. Erik Bedard, LHP
3. Steve Trachsel, RHP
4. Jaret Wright, RHP
5. Hayden Penn, RHP

1. Danys Baez, RHP
2. Chad Bradford, RHP
3. Chris Ray, RHP
4. Adam Loewen, LHP
5. Scott Williamson, RHP
6. Jamie Walker, LHP
7. Todd Williams, RHP

1B Kevin Millar
2B Brian Roberts
SS Miguel Tejada
3B Melvin Mora
RF Nick Markakis
CF Corey Patterson
LF Jay Payton
C Ramon Hernandez
DH Jay Gibbons

The 500 Word Rundown
The Orioles are bad. There, I got it out of the way. They won a scant 70 games last year, and there's no real reason to expect that they'll make significant progress this year. There's certainly no way they're going to finish higher than fourth, and depending on if Tampa Bay plays up (down?) to its usual doormat status or not, they could even end up in the cellar. They did make some effort to upgrade the pitching, but Steve Trachsel and Jaret Wright are nobody's definition of ace. Baltimore scooped them both up after they were cut by their respective New York teams after posing problems in the postseason, which seems to be their general modus operandi. Steve Trachsel won 15 games, but had an ERA three ticks short of 5. Jaret Wright won 11, posted a 4.49 ERA, and was the furthest thing from reliable in the Yankees' abbreviated postseason against the Tigers. Daniel Cabrera is still as mercurial as ever, projected to be a decent-to-good starter but prone to getting utterly thrashed. Where that belief comes from, I'm still not quite sure, as his line last year was a less-than-stellar 9-10/4.74 mark. Erik Bedard, surprisingly, may project to be the best of the lot. He won 15 games with a 3.76 ERA and 171 K - not at all shabby. The bullpen is nothing to write home about - an aging closer (Baez) who's counted the Dodgers, Devil Rays, and Braves among his recent employers, finding only very limited success with each - and a collection of prospects and spare parts. Jamie Walker is the only standout, as he posted a 2.81 ERA for the AL Champion Tigers last year. Submariner and ex-A Chad Bradford also registered a 2.90 mark in limited action for the Mets.

As for the offense, it's the same group as last year, with the lone exceptions being the additions of Jay Payton from the A's and Aubrey Huff from the Astros. The Orioles have an overpriced, but admittedly quite durable and talented, shortstop in Tejada - another former A, what, is Baltimore starting a collection? He hit .330 last year with 24 HR and 100 RBI, but can't do the heavy lifting himself and is severely hindered by lack of a power-hitting backup corps. Pesky second baseman Brian Roberts hit .286 and was good for getting on base, but other than that, the Orioles don't really have a power hitter. The only ones that come close are Huff and catcher Ramon Hernandez (would you know it - ANOTHER EX-A!) who hit 21 and 23 HR last year, respectively.

As I'm taking a closer look at the Orioles, I'm getting puzzled. They do have some decent players, so it makes a little harder to understand how they're quite as bad as they are. I mean, they have a lot more talent than the Pirates/Royals-type teams, and yet they only outstripped the Pirates by three wins and the Royals by eight. The Orioles do have a craptastic owner, Peter D'Angelos, and an uninspiring front office in general, but you'd think that they'd be able to string together at least a smoke-and-mirrors illusion. There's certainly no chance for them in the AL East, and it's doubtful they'll even be close to the perpetual third-stringer Jays, but it makes one wonder why this Orioles team underwhelms so massively. Oh long past are the days when Cal Ripken Jr. and Brooks Robinson roamed the range...

Projected Finish: 73-89, fourth place, AL East


And now for the real life stuff. This week, the SLC softball team began their every-night practices (which will carry on for two weeks and then stop for break, before renewing just in time to start playing intercollegiate games) and man, I hurt. Our butts were kicked tonight - throwing, intense cardio/fitness drills, crunches, all that. It feels good, but I'm exhausted and the two extra hours of sleep that I'm able to glean on Wednesday mornings, due to philosophy starting at 11 AM instead of 9:30 AM as my classes do on all other days, will be most welcome.

This is Sarah Lawrence, not exactly your jock bastion, so we're pretty much reduced to groveling on our knees for the required 12 players to even field a team and play varsity games. We have at least 11 committed players, but still only about two pitchers, and we're not interested in playing Dusty Baker Syndrome with them; i.e. throw them until their arm starts to literally detach and has to be held on with spit and Elmer's glue. Hopefully it works out, otherwise we will have been working our butts off for nothing and that would really suck.

Well, anyway... this being, again, Sarah Lawrence, winning isn't the focus so much as getting out, playing, feeling good, etc., all admirable qualities, but I guess I dislike losing. Since we need anybody and everybody, we also accept people of varying skill levels - again, perfectly fine, but when I was running a throwing drill with two of my teammates tonight, there were times when I really wanted to say (but didn't) - "Christ, catch the damn ball." I kept throwing it right at them, and... they'd miss. I just hope that another few rounds of intense practice irons out the kinks. Now, it's not like I'm better than everyone, but at least I can throw the ball straight, levelly, and accurately, not flying off-target rainbows. Well, practice makes perfect. I'll say it here since I'm not going to say it anywhere else. I actually do like my teammates - they're fun and committed girls, and it's not my intent to badmouth them. Which leads me to my next point....

While we were doing stretches, the coaches apologized (!) for using "gender-specific language." I.E. "Let's go ladies!" or "Good job gals!" Excuse me? I understand that this is the land of the bleeding-heart liberals, but unless I missed something, this is a women's softball team, and therefore, this type of language should be perfectly appropriate. However, I suspect it has something to do with one of our new recruits, the first person I've met at SLC whose gender I honestly cannot discern. Looks like a boy, speaks mostly like a girl, plays on the women's softball team, and according to Facebook (tellingly, no gender listed) is into women. Have to admit that the gaydar at least went off immediately, but... guy playing on girl team? Transsexual playing on girl team? Girl playing on girl team? Don't get it. He/she is cute, too, but not knowing the gender is a bit of a stumbling block. I'm actually straight as an arrow, and I'm not into women like that, despite the large lesbian population at SLC... but, well.

This pisses me off. Nothing against her/him, my teammate, but rather the fact that suddenly we're not allowed to be "ladies" any more, and have to be some appropriately gender-neutral term. Let's get it out of the way - I hate the "PC phenomenon." I certainly don't believe in bigotry, or discrimination in any way, but I can't stand the pressing need to encapsulate everyone in such vague language as to be indistinguishable. I am not religious in the slightest, and I hold strong liberal political convictions, but one of my best friends is a conservative, southern Christian. You wouldn't call a group of Republicans the "Politically Neutral Party" if one Democrat was present, and I don't get why it's different here. Whatever gender he/she is, he/she signed up to play on a women's softball team, with women coaches, among other women, and therefore, should expect to be called what everyone else is being called. And please - "let's go ladies!" is not being used in a demeaning connotation. It's something to say to keep the blood pumping (and Christ, it was tonight... never gonna walk again...).

I don't believe in discrimination, but I don't believe in preferential treatment. Contrary to popular belief, the two are not the same - discrimination is to start from an equal footing and treat a party worse, while preferential treatment is to start from an equal footing and treat somebody better. In this case, on a women's softball team, we are all equal in gender, whether biologically or by association. So call us what we are. Girls who love sports and are eager to represent SLC in varsity games in this upcoming season. Go Gryphons.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Preseason Preview: Blue Jays

Will the team from Toronto, MLB's last Canadian representative after the Expos became the Nationals, be able to compete in baseball's most top-heavy division? They finished a surprising second last year, one game ahead of the Red Sox, but as usual, the Yanks and Sox have revamped. Can Toronto keep the pace? Let's examine.

The Toronto Blue Jays


1. Roy Halladay, RHP
2. A.J. Burnett, RHP
3. Gustavo Chacin, LHP
4. Tomo Ohka, RHP
5. John Thomson, RHP


1. B.J. Ryan, LHP
2. Jeremy Accardo, RHP
3. Brandon League, RHP
4. Matt Roney, RHP
5. Jason Frasor, RHP
6. Scott Downs, LHP
7. Dustin McGowan, RHP


1B Lyle Overbay
2B Aaron Hill
SS Royce Clayton
3B Troy Glaus
RF Alexis Rios
CF Vernon Wells
LF Reed Johnson
C Gregg Zaun
DH Frank Thomas

The 500 Word Rundown

The Blue Jays are a decent-to-good team that has the misfortune of being permanently squashed in the AL East beneath heavyweights New York and Boston. They have the pitching - former Cy Young winner Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett, if he can stay healthy – but the bottom of the rotation, after Halladay and Burnett, is less certain. Gustavo "Bug Man" Chacin, who wears insectile goggles and moonlights as a perfume connoisseur away from the ballpark, will almost certainly be occupying the third slot, but for the other two, I'm making educated guesses about who will occupy those places and in what order - offseason acquisition from the Brewers Tomo Ohka is an established, if not standout starter, and should be in the fourth or fifth spot. John Thomson, if healthy, should also be present. As for the bullpen, the only name I was certain to pencil in was big man B.J. Ryan, Toronto's ninth-inning go-to guy. Posting a microscopic 1.37 ERA to accompany a 2-2 record and 38 saves, Ryan is as good as Toronto's going to get and a lot better than some. His bullpen mates are also educated guesses on my part after scanning the current active roster, although those guys do have better-than-most chances of being in there. Injury, as with any club, could change the picture dramatically, especially when it comes to Burnett and Thomson. If two-fifths of their projected starting rotation go down, Toronto could be in a pretty pickle pretty quickly.

Aside from the Deadly Duo top-two pitching combo, Toronto sports a very scary three-headed monster in the offense, consisting of Troy Glaus, Vernon Wells, and Frank Thomas (the traitor who made all the right noises about staying with Oakland, a year that single-handedly revived his doddering career... and then split for the Jays and the fatter paycheck. Yes, well). Those three, if healthy, should be good for 30+ HR and 100+ RBI apiece, providing the Jays with a legit power jolt in the lineup. Thomas, of course, is coming off a rebound year – before that, he was destroyed with foot and ankle injuries. Wells was rewarded for his efforts with a monster contract extension the same size as Barry Zito's – 7 years, $126 million. He deserves it somewhat more than Zito does, as he's a feared hitter who's played in 159, 161, 134, 156, and 154 games over the past five years, only missing significant time in 2004. (There is, of course, the question whether anyone deserves that kind of money, but that's a topic for another post).

On paper, the Jays could be easily competitive in any other division besides the one they're in. Unfortunately for them, as long as the Yankees and Red Sox are throwing their weight around and spending freely (although the Jays got a little liberal with the purse strings in regard to Wells) they're just not going to be able to crack the top and take home the division crown. The AL East has stacked up the same way for a decade, excepting last year, in which the Jays finished second, but it may be the same order again. The Jays may give everyone a run for their money and make Yankees and Sox fans very nervous, but in the end, they're still stuck. Sad, because I'd root for them over either NY or Boston.

Projected Finish: 88-74, third place, AL East

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Preseason Preview: Red Sox

Onwards with the short, quick-glance previews. We take on the Red Sox, who I personally do not like, but what hey. How do things stack up in Beantown in '07, one year after a disappointing third-place finish 11 games behind the hated Yankees? Let's take a look-see.

The Boston Red Sox

1. Curt Schilling, RHP
2. Daisuke Matsuzaka, RHP
3. Josh Beckett, RHP
4. Tim Wakefield, RHP
5. Jonathan Papelbon, RHP/Matt Clement, RHP/Jon Lester, LHP

1. Julian Tavarez, RHP
2. Joel Pineiro, RHP
3. Mike Timlin, RHP
4. Javier Lopez, LHP
5. Manny Delcarmen, RHP/J.C. Romero, RHP

1B Kevin Youkilis
2B Dustin Pedroia
SS Julio Lugo
3B Mike Lowell
RF J.D. Drew
CF Coco Crisp
LF Manny Ramirez
C Jason Varitek
DH David Ortiz

The 500 Word Rundown
The Red Sox like to peddle themselves as the small-market, gritty, more "down to earth" version of the unabashedly big-market Yankees, but the truth is that they're also one of the most profligate buyers in Major League Baseball, and they actually spent more than their rivals this year - on one player. The Sox paid $50.1 million for the right to even talk to prized Japanese right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka, who doesn't really throw a gyroball, but has All-Star stuff anyway, and then that amount again to actually sign him. They're hoping that the 26-year-old import from the Seibu Lions will upgrade a starting rotation that features still-good but aging Curt Schilling, injury risk Josh Beckett, knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, and phenomenon ex-closer Jonathan Papelbon. Left-hander Jon Lester, if he's recovered from anaplastic large-cell lymphona, better known as cancer, should be in there as well - best wishes to him on the road back from chemotherapy treatments. He was cancer-free in December, but it remains to be seen how he'll slot into a generally strong starting rotation, if he has enough stamina right off the bat, or if he opens the season in the bullpen.

The Red Sox are hoping that ex-Mariner Joel Pineiro can copy Jon Papelbon - maybe it's something about the initials? - and become the closer this season. Pineiro has suffered through a number of rocky years since being drafted high by the Mariners, and the Sox are hoping he can regain some of his vanished form. Mike Timlin should also be in there, along with Julian Tavarez, and the remaining slots may be a battle coming out of Spring Training.

The Red Sox lineup doesn't have quite the firepower that it used to, but still features Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, and Jason Varitek, along with newcomer J.D. Drew. Ramirez is quite simply a headcase and a defensive liability in left field, but is one of the better hitters in the game. David "Big Papi" Ortiz is a machine, especially in clutch situations, and should continue his mashing. Team captain Varitek doesn't have the firepower in his bat that he used to, hitting only .238 last year with 12 homers, but the Sox are hoping that mercurial outfielder J.D. Drew - such of an injury risk that he has clauses built into his contract that regulate pay based on the number of games he plays - can provide more spark. I don't expect that the Sox will unseat the Yanks for the division title - I would be very surprised indeed if that unfolded. Still, I expect that they'll play with a bit more respectability this year than last, and should finish in second place... again.

Projected Finish: 91-70, second place, AL East

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Preseason Preview: Yankees

So it's my very short encapsulated preview for each team that hasn't been covered in detail, in which I outline starting rotations, lineups, and a brief gloss of each team's chances/projected records, all the while challenging myself to extreme brevity. We'll start with the AL East and heeeere we go. On an unrelated note, happy 30th birthday, Bronson Arroyo.


The New York Yankees

1. Chien-Ming Wang, RHP
2. Mike Mussina, RHP
3. Andy Pettitte, LHP
4. Kei Igawa, LHP
5. Carl Pavano, RHP

1. Mariano Rivera, RHP
2. Kyle Farnsworth, RHP
3. Scott Proctor, RHP
4. T.J. Beam, RHP
5. Mike Myers, LHP
6. Luis Vizcaino, RHP
7. Colter Bean, LHP

1B Doug Mientkiciwicz
2B Robinson Cano
SS Derek Jeter
3B Alex Rodriguez
RF Bobby Abreu
CF Johnny Damon
LF Hideki Matsui
C Jorge Posada
DH Jason Giambi

The 500 Word Rundown
The Yankees still have a fearsome offense, which is what leads everyone to pick them as World Series champions, every year, despite that they haven't been to the big dance since 2003 and haven't won it since 2000, when they beat the Mets in a Subway Series. They also revamped their pitching with the addition of Japanese lefty Kei Igawa and old fan favorite Andy Pettitte. Carl Pavano is a question mark after displaying lackluster work ethic and being sidelined with (and lying to the team about) a number of injuries. Mariano Rivera is still one of the most automatic closers in the game, the standout of a shaky bullpen, yet for all the team's talent, they can play up to it in the regular season, win the division comfortably, and come to pieces in October.

Perhaps it's true that money can't buy a championship, especially since the Yankees are picked almost every year to break their "drought" - seven years by now - and win the Series. You'd think that one of these years all that talent would bring a 27th crown back to the Bronx, but no. I'll tab them to win the AL East, no problems, but I'd be surprised to see them make it deep into the postseason. Alex Rodriguez in particular has had two consecutive dreadful Octobers, wilting under the glare of the Bronx spotlight, and no, I don't like him. Let's just leave it at that. I'm sure that later in the season we'll see a treatise outlining the fact that he's one of the more overrated players in baseball. Good? Sure. The one man you want to build a team around and count on him to always step up? No. Worth $250 million? Fuck no. I'm not inclined to lay the blame for the ridiculous contract on A-Rod - no, that's the Devil's... ahem, Scott Boras's... fault.

Everyone is one year older, the pressure is on just as much, and manager Joe Torre's chief job will be juggling all the egos in the clubhouse. This is a team of superstars who know they are superstars and often play like it - i.e. in their own best interests to pad their stats. I don't think they disdain each other, it's just that they run baseball like a business - cool, performance-oriented, professional courtesy only. Perhaps that's an asset, as after all this is the team that has won the most World Series championships in history, but I don't see the Yankees players bonding over game shows and guys' night out; they put on their suits and calmly walk out the door to their own lives. There have also been a number of clubhouse friction incidents - most notably Jeter/Rodriguez and Pavano/Mussina. Until the jaded superstars are weeded out and young guys who want it are brought in, I foresee the title drought marching onwards in the Bronx. Buy George Steinbrenner some blood pressure medicine.

Projected Finish:
95-67, AL East Champs

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Preseason Preview: Rockies

Another day, another night that I am putting off reading my philosophy assignment. Don't get me wrong, I love the class, but when I get back from dinner at 6:21 PM on a damp, cool Thursday evening, my thoughts do not turn immediately to contemplating the extent of reality, the fallibility of human knowledge, etc., etc. So instead, it's time for the last of the three main team previews, although I may write paragraphs about the 27 other teams in MLB that I haven't covered in any detail yet. Some, of course, are glossed over in the course of the Overall Preview, some just aren't worth writing about (the Royals, for example, aside from the ridiculous contract they gave Gil Meche) and I don't care about the others. So, here we have it - the last of the in-depth hashing-through.

Why the Rockies, as I am aware they haven't been a topic of much conversation before? The reason for that is that they weren't in the playoffs, and the Cards and A's were. As to why, well, A) I really started to like the Rockies this summer - after all, they're my hometown team - once my sister and I discovered the miracle of the free-ticket vouchers they give out to all ladies on Wednesday night. We are hitting that up majorly. B) Brad Hawpe has a fiiiiine ass. I'm a straight woman, okay?! My love of the game would go on if Martians were playing it, but as long as there are men out there doing their thing in tight pants and high socks, I am fully allowed to appreciate it. My sister and I began steadily choosing seats in right field just to look at Mr. Hawpe's posterior portions. Disturbing, I know.

Also, C) I may have a job with the Rockies this summer!!! How awesome is that? I put out some feelers with a cover letter and resume addressed to the VP of Human Resources, and got a voice mail message back saying that they may have an opening for me in Ticketing Services this summer. I don't care if it's sitting in a boring office and answering calls from bitchy Denverites, I will be at the park, in my element, and I will love it. Looooove it. Call me back and give me the job, James Valdez, aka Nice Man Who Telephoned Me. :) I will work at Wal-Mart if I absolutely have to, in order to supplant my unfortunately diminishing bank account, but it goes without saying that I would MUCH rather do it for the Rox.

Yes, well. Onwards and upwards. Due to the fact that I haven't watched the Rockies closely until last year, I don't have quite the encyclopedic knowledge of them that I do of the A's and Cards; i.e. I can't name the pitch arsenal for every starter the way I can do for those two. I do, however, have a general working knowledge of the team, and it's enough to propel me through my latest round of bad predictions.

The Colorado Rockies


Who's Gone?
All-time wins leader Jason Jennings (yes, well, it's the Rockies we're talking about here) vacated the humidored premises for the humid premises. In other words, he was traded to Houston for Dan O' Dowd's favorite breed of ballplayer, pitching prospects. Taylor Buchholz, Jason Hirsh, and a low-OBPing center fielder, Willy Taveras, registered as the final haul. Jennings had a much better year once they started using the humidors (the pitchers loved it, the hitters, not so much...) and was the wins leader, even if that's mildly uninspiring when you consider this is a baseball club started in 1993. Jennings' loss does destabilize the rotation, and despite O'Dowd's almost ludicrous belief in rebuilding, it remains to be seen how the Rockies' young pitchers will be shaped without a veteran(ish) presence at the head.

Who's Here? Jeff Francis, a young Canadian lefty hailed as the future ace after a decent-to-solid season (13-11, 4.16, 117 K, which was nonetheless a marked improvement, ERA-wise, after he posted a 5.68 figure in '05). Aaron Cook, two years removed from potentially life-threatening blood clots in both lungs, figures to back him up in the #2 slot; he pitched well last year but received low run support for a slightly misleading 9-15 final record. Other than those two, things are less settled. Josh Fogg, whose last name can also be spelled B-A-D-D, figures to be sucking up the #4 or #5 job, while Jason Hirsh may attempt to make a name for himself. Skinny soft-tossing sidewinder Byun-Hyung Kim, somewhat removed from his status as 2001 World Series trivia question answer, will probably be in the running as well, despite an 8-12 record and a 5.57 ERA. He has awful peripherals all around, but somehow managed to pitch well on the occasions in which I was personally in attendance. Never fear, though, if I was an ameliorating effect on terrible pitchers, Jose Mesa wouldn't have appeared, which he did far too frequently for anyone's peace of mind.

Brian Lawrence, ex-Padres righty signed for a song after an injury-ruined 2006, may also try to compete. Seeing as he was 7-15 with a 4.83 ERA in his last full Major League season, I'm not thrilled, but alas, this is the type of players that the Rockies go for. Whether they're the only ones they can afford is another question. They shelled out $100 million for Todd Helton, but both Helton and his contract are separate matters which shall be addressed below.

In the meantime, let us take a look at the probable starting five for the purple and black's latest incarnation.

- Jeff Francis (with Jennings out of the picture, the weight of expectation falls on young Francis, optimistically called 'Franchise' by some in the Rockies blogosphere. I think it's much too early to be applying such cornerstone cappers to pitchers who have only ever won 2 more than they've lost - albeit ones with only three full MLB seasons under their belts. Francis did lower his ERA substantially last year, which again could be due to the humidor, and showed flashes of brilliance, such as one-hitting my beloved Cards through eight innings, but it remains to be seen if being hailed as an ace will substantially change his gameplan. This is Colorado, of course, where Cy Young doesn't exactly roam on the range, but if Francis can continue to mature, he could be better than league average).
- Aaron Cook (sidelined in the middle of '05 by dangerous blood clots in both lungs, Cook possesses a sweet success-against-all-odds story and was the recipient of the Tony Conigliaro Award for his efforts to get back in the game. Cook pitches with reasonable competence, which is, sadly, the most you can ever really expect from a Rockies starter, and next to Francis, is the sure-ticket thing for the rotation. He will need to get more run support to boost what was otherwise a decent line, but the lack of it cost him several ticks in the win category).
-Byung-Hyun Kim (Home ERA: 5.79. Road: 6.75. Grass : 5.63. Turf: 13.50. Day: 0.00. Night: 9.53. Doesn't really sound like a guy you'd want pitching in any situation, does it? Kim's sole saving grace being that he held righties to a .192 average, he nonetheless figures to be occupying a slot for at least part of the season. So... let me get this straight... if we pitch him only during the day... against righties.... at home.... then he'll win 20+ games, the Cy Young, and the MVP. The humidor is, evidently, remaining, but I don’t think that that will help Kim all that much. He may get the Ryan Franklin Neck Strain watching hitters blast homers.
- Rodrigo Lopez (the definition of serial suckitude, Lopez's end results were - not pretty. 5.90 ERA, 9-18 record... yikes. Unfortunately, he will probably be shouldering a substantial amount of innings in the rotation, and there have even been murmurings about him stepping it up to be the Number One guy. Yes, we truly have fallen into a sad state of affairs... yet whatever wise leadership dear Rodrigo could provide would strictly be of the veteran variety - aka how to last a long time in the big leagues, with bad stats, without even being left-handed - as Francis is otherwise looked to as the number one in regards to his stuff).
- Jason Hirsh (you're going to be hearing it a lot - he's big. It'll be the "6-foot-8 righty this" and the "6'8" hurler that." Hirsh, in addition to his height, weighs 250 pounds, both of which beg the question a) what was his mother eating when pregnant with him? and b) who can you possibly choose to bring along as a sidekick in event of a bar fight? Richie Sexson, possibly. I must admit that I know very little about Hirsh, except that he was acquired in the Jennings trade, he likes to write (mad props, man! Mad props!... except that reading his journal, I see he has bad grammar and a flagrant disregard for the apostrophe's proper usage - mark against) and he's, well, big. He is, however, or rather was, the Astros' top pitching prospect, racking up a slew of awards to the tune of 2005/2006 Pitcher of the Year (Texas League and Pacific Coast League, respectively) and the Triple-A Starting Pitcher of the Year. He had a 13-8 record but a 2.87 ERA).
- Josh Fogg (unfortunately so. Fogg, or Badd, as he could more accurately be called, just isn't that good. Or is that goodd? Somehow, he managed to end up with a better record than Cook - 11-9 - but he also posted a more accurate 5.49 ERA, which was reflective of his pitching. The only place Fogg was slightly useful was on turf, but unfortunately, every other peripheral is screaming negative VORP. If you're a totally geeky sabermetrician, you'll get it; otherwise, in layman's terms, he's bad. 5/6 innings and 4/5 runs is Fogg's game, which will hardly improve and may get worse).

Also possible, as mentioned, Brian Lawrence could make a run for the rotation if healthy; same with Taylor Buchholz. The five mentioned above appear to be the front-runners. It's never easy rotationally in Colorado, and this could be another slog through inflated ERAs and bloated WHIPs. However, it seems that my information was mistaken and that the humidor is, in fact, staying, so if the pitching can do well and combine with improved hitting, this team could have a shot.

Best-Case Scenario: Francis continues to mature as a pitcher and puts up, if not exactly a Cy-worthy line, then one better than has been seen in Colorado for quite some time, lowering his ERA into the high threes and racking up more Ks with better use of his fastball to compliment his offspeed repertoire, so hitters don't sit on him quite so much. Cook gets some run support and wins more than he loses, while Hirsh proves to be the same pitcher at the MLB level than he is at the minor-league level. Lawrence makes a successful return from injury, and Lopez manages to match his decent peripherals to decent performance. Kim is used sparingly for spot starts. Fogg falls off the face of the earthh.

Worst-Case Scenario: Everyone gets sandblasted more acutely than usual.


It's important to mention that the Rockies carried out a case of addition by subtraction when they mercifully did not re-sign Jose Mesa, serial game blower, to a new contract after his one-year pact expired. Known as the hometown goat in a number of teams, the reason Mesa has been to so many is because he's bad. And not like Josh Fogg-badd either, in which he manages to scrape together enough barely competent outings to fool the casual observer. No, Mesa is just bad, and now he's bad for the Tigers. Hallelujah!

That said... I have very little complimentary to say about the state of the bullpen.

- Brian Fuentes (the only Rockie bullpen man with a stake to being, yes, good, Fuentes was an All-Star last year, and not only because they had to choose one from every team. With a 3-4 record, 3.44 ERA, and 30 saves against 73 K, Fuentes was quite solidly competent last year and did well in his tour of duty as the Rockies' closer. Point of worry: that fugly 8.10 home ERA. The going isn't about to become any easier next year at Coors, either. However, most of those putrid outings came right after the All-Star break, at which Fuentes, having proven his mettle, retreated briefly to the environs of mediocrity-to-awfulness inhabited by his mates).
- Jeremy Affeldt (acquired from the Royals ... yes, the Royals, as if they ever set the bar for baseball excellence, posted a 4-2 record and 6.91 ERA in half a season for the Rockies last year. Sadly, it won't get better, as Affeldt scuffled through the Royals' rotation and bullpen before being considerately removed to Denver for Dan O'Dowd and his amazing developmental machine to work on. Thus far, it seems to be missing a part).
- Manny Corpas (the bullpen's only legitimate claimant to being a firethrower, Corpas can touch the high-90s with his fastball and looked unhittable at times last year. He balanced it with the expected number of debacles from a member of the Rockies bullpen, but still managed to end up with a 1-2, 3.62 final tally, with 27 K in 32 innings).
- Tom Martin (I could go on about possible competence, decent ability if used only in very, very controlled situations, unavoidable necessity, and would have a spot on the roster even if he had a third head since he's left-handed, but decided to be pithy: Will generally suck).
- Ramon Ramirez (another no-name bullpen part, who will be used in assorted situations in which Clint Hurdle is trying to stall for time by making pitching changes, not that said pitcher will help in any capacity generally related to winning a baseball game. For those cold Denver nights, he will be instrumental in keeping the bullpen bench warm).
- LaTroy Hawkins (he was bad for the Twins, Cubs, Giants, and Orioles, and now, by golly, he's bad for the Rockies. Dan O'Dowd is the only one who can answer why he considers a guy with a 4.75 career ERA a "vital piece." Imagine if Mesa was still here - it would be a black hole of suck).
- Ryan Speier (you're waiting for me to bust out another joke here, and I wish I could oblige, but Speier was actually okay last year, if 10 ER in 24 IP for a 3.65 ERA is okay. It's possible he could be less terrible than the others, which is like asking a lake to be a little less wet than the ocean, I understand, but you can't have everything. Another big guy, at 6-foot-7 and 210 pounds. What is it with the Rockies and tall pitchers? Are they amassing a bionic army, and THAT is the true purpose of Dan O'Dowd's developing plan? Scary. It seems the circuits fell out in Helton last year, though, so they may need to get a new robotics engineer. You'd also think that cyborgs could put up better collective ERAs.

Best-Case Scenario: Fuentes continues to thrive as a closer and avoids the riotously terrible patch that he struggled with last year. Everyone else posts ERAs in the low fours and don't blow more than 12 games between them.

Worst-Case Scenario: Nobody, including Fuentes, has an ERA under 5 and once ballgames are past the fifth or sixth inning, they become a holy nightmare for the Rox and the Coors Field faithful. (Believe or not, there are some people who care passionately about the team and come to see them. Although I'm not quite at this stage, I must admit that they're definitely growing on me).

EDIT: It has been brought to my attention that the humidor is being kept after all – the MLB rules require all baseballs to be stored in regulated environments and the Rox, because of it, were already in compliance. Therefore, I am adjusting the pitchers' numbers – and the team’s overall record – accordingly.

The Nonexpert Nostradamus Predicts:

Jeff Francis, LHP, 15-10, 4.05 ERA, 201 IP, 135 K, 32 starts
Aaron Cook, RHP, 15-12, 4.12 ERA, 215 IP, 95 K, 32 starts
Byung-Hyun Kim, RHP, 7-10, 4.78 ERA, 144 IP, 125 K, 25 starts
Rodrigo Lopez, RHP, 8-14, 5.31 ERA, 170 IP, 101 K, 24 starts
Josh Fogg, RHP, 10-15, 5.24 ERA, 165 IP, 85 K, 30 starts
Jason Hirsh, RHP, 7-4, 4.05 ERA, 93 IP, 56 K, 10 starts
Brian Lawrence, RHP, 3-2, 4.90 ERA, 70 IP, 28 K, 5 starts

Taylor Buchholz, RHP, 3-4, 4.65 ERA, 75 IP, 32 K, 4 starts


Brian Fuentes, LHP, 4-2, 3.15 ERA, 31 SV/37 SVO
Jeremy Affeldt, RHP, 1-1, 6.04 ERA, 1 SV/3 SVO
Manny Corpas, RHP, 3-2, 3.34 ERA, 2 SV/3 SVO
Ramon Ramirez, RHP, 2-2, 4.55 ERA, 1 SV/1 SVO
Tom Martin, LHP, 2-3, 5.64 ERA, 0 SV/o SVO
LaTroy Hawkins, 1-1, 4.77 ERA, 2 SV/ 5 SVO

Hoooooly crow, that is not the most beautiful bullpen I’ve ever seen. The starters – read: Francis and Cook) could continue to improve, but I’m leery of that back end. As for the bullpen, it’s, well, the Rockies’ bullpen. Fuentes is the only guy I'd take to have a decent-to-good season, although the other guys might step it up if used correctly by Clint Hurdle, another thing which is not guaranteed. As usual, the thin air of Denver is going to wreak havoc on the poor Rockies' arms - they've tried everything they can in order to secure some midline talent, but haven't gone after the topflight tier - when they do, their acquisitions prove to suck and/or get arrested on Colfax with, um, women of the evening (see: Hampton, Mike and Neagle, Denny). If the Rockies have the pitching to back up what could be a thunderous offense, cogs might finally start turning in Denver.


Projected Lineup (by position)

1B Todd Helton (coming off an off-year where he hit only 15 HR despite driving in 81, Helton posted the lowest average for a full season - .302, which is actually bad when you consider that he's tops in terms of career average among all active players, with a .333 mark. Yeah, yeah, there were all the unpleasant whispers about losing chemical enhancement, but Todd is 33 (34 in August) and even the best players must decline. That said, he was also struggling with a nasty stomach bug last year, for which he was briefly hospitalized, and admitted that he came back too early. If he's healthy, look for his numbers to tick back upwards).
2B Jamey Carroll/Kazuo Matsui (Carroll was a beast at Coors Field last year, posting a .371 average in Denver, but suffered when the team went on the road, dropping drastically to .219. It seemed as if he was constantly on base whenever he was playing the A's or the Cards, which was probably why I noticed - we nicknamed him the 'Pest.' Most are tabbing him for a fall, but if taking out the humidor will hurt the pitchers, it may help the hitters. Kaz Matsui is the Japanese superstar that wasn't, playing two highly disappointing years for the Mets before being shuttled off to Colorado, and he and Carroll figure to split playing time at this slot. Neither is a great power hitter, but both, and Carroll in particular, have the ability to get on by stinging singles to the right side. Carroll is also unafraid to steal once on base, although sometimes he gets a bit too eager and is picked off at first).
SS Troy Tulowitzki/Clint Barmes (Barmes started off boiling-hot in '05, hitting close to .400, but got injured in the well-publicized event of falling down the stairs while carrying deer meat, and wasn't the same afterwards. He had far, far too many ABs in 2006, as Clint the Second, better known as Hurdle, refused to believe that the 27-year-old was no longer very good with the bat. As in, most replacement-level players should be easily able to outstrip the woeful .220 mark that Barmes ended up with. Tulowitzki, considered the Rox's shortstop of the future, is a 22-year-old former Cal State-Long Beach standout, but Hurdle, being Hurdle, has announced that he'll give Barmes a shot to get his job back, which means that he'll probably still be clogging up ABs that Tulo could be taking).
3B Garrett Atkins (as a note completely unrelated to his hitting, my mother commented that when they announced Atkins over the PA system, his name sounded like 'Pterodactyl.' Yes, well, the Flying Dinosaur has proven himself to be a very legit major-league hitter, racking up a near-MVP-caliber line of .329/29/120. His slugging percentage was also .556, and he hit almost equally well on the road as at home - .316 vs. .346 - one of the few Rockies who's exempt from whatever screwy combination they're using with the humidor. Atkins is also a beast when it comes to runners in scoring position, registering .341 with ducks on the pond. In short, a very good young hitter who should only improve).
RF Brad Hawpe/Jeff Baker (Hawpe is also a legit power threat, but his long swing can sometimes throw him off-balance and makes his K total higher than it otherwise might have been. .293/22/84 is nothing to sneeze at, and Hawpe has a cannon of a left arm that cuts down countless daring runners that try to stretch a single into a double and a double into a triple. If he could shorten up and compact his swing a bit, and increase his peripheral numbers - .255 with runners on and .232 against lefties - he could be another true heavy-hitter. Baker is another late-season call-up who hit .368 in limited duty and may see more action if Hawpe continues to struggle vs. lefties).
CF Willy Taveras/Cory Sullivan/Ryan Spilborghs/Jeff Salazar (quite frankly, the Rockies' CF situation doesn't have a clear front-runner. Heaven help us if Taveras plays often, as he's terrible at getting on base and would probably hit leadoff - two traits which do not reconcile except in the possibly demented skull of O'Dowd. However, he has speed - he stole 33 bases last year - so if he does get on, he can run. Sullivan may also see a substantial amount of playing time, and Spilborghs and Salazar can switch between center and right).
LF Matt Holliday (the only Rockies outfielder that has his position locked down with clamps is Holliday, who turned into an absolute beast last year at age 26 and should keep it up this year at 27, traditionally the best year for a ballplayer. Holliday posted a .326/34/114 final line in 2006, despite scuffling a bit away from Coors, where he hit .280. That's by no means bad, but it doesn't exactly compare to the rampaging .371 average he amassed in Denver. He also hit .200 with runners in scoring position and two outs, and his defense can be a bit erratic at times, but his bat more than makes up for it. He's not eligible for free agency until 2008 (I think... could be 2009) which means that he's under club control for the next two years, but they have very little chance of re-signing him after that... he's all but announced his intentions to test the open market when he hired the Devil - I mean Scott Boras - as his agent. If Boras can get $55 million for Gil Meche, I cringe to think what he can command for Holliday, and in the meantime, the management will be soaked annually by the single-year pacts that will drag us through Matt's arbitration years. Sadly, it appears as if he'll be another great hitter that we can't keep, but in the meantime, he should continue to mash).
C Yorvit Torrealba/Chris Iannetta/Javy Lopez (he of the odd name, Yorvit will be challenged by yet another youngster, Iannetta, another "Rockie of the future" who will be fighting him for the starting spot. Torrealba, the veteran, figures to see more time, but Iannetta will undoubtedly be in there, sooner rather than later if Torrealba tanks. In Yorvit's favor, he does hit .370 with runners in scoring position and two outs, so he's good for late-inning clutch situations. Javy Lopez, acquired during the winter, hasn't had a decent season in a while, but it's quite possible he'll see a significant amount of games from behind the plate. Another position where there isn't a clear-cut front-runner, as the two veterans may see the majority of time, but expect Iannetta in the mix somewhere).

Best-Case Scenario: Atkins, Holliday, and Hawpe continue to blossom, backed up by a healthy Todd Helton, while youngsters Salazar, Baker, and Iannetta are impressive and manage to establish themselves as incumbents. The Rockies are the Blake Street Bombers v. 2.0, the humidor in place keeps the ERA numbers down, and they can look legit. The Rox improve to the point of actually competing in the NL West, going late into the season with a shot at the title. It's doubtful that they take it, but even a non-last-place finish would please the fans at this point.

Worst-Case Scenario: Helton can't recover and continues to decline, while Atkins and Holliday take steps backwards and Hawpe can't cut down on his spotty clutch numbers. The youngsters get overwhelmed and the veterans are underwhelming. The bats can't make up the holes dug by the arms and Colorado sinks to the bottom of the West again.

The Nonexpert Nostradamus Predicts:

Todd Helton, L/L, 1B: .318 AVG, 21 HR, 90 RBI, .430 OBP, .490 SLG, .920 OPS
Jamey Carroll, R/R, 2B: .301 AVG, 2 HR, 27 RBI, .363 OBP, .390 SLG, .753 OPS
Kazuo Matsui, S/R, 2B: .262 AVG, 3 HR, 30 RBI, .327 OBP, .436 SLG, .763 OPS
Clint Barmes, R/R, SS: .237 AVG, 7 HR, 27 RBI, .270 OBP, .330 SLG, .600 OPS
Troy Tulowitzki, R/R, SS: .282 AVG, 8 HR, 45 RBI, .330 OBP, .340 SLG, .670 OPS
Garrett Atkins, R/R, 3B: .331 AVG, 33 HR, 130 RBI, .400 OBP, .567 SLG, .967 OPS
Brad Hawpe, L/L, RF: .301 AVG, 27 HR, 95 RBI, .399 OBP, .530 SLG, .929 OPS
Jeff Baker, R/R, RF: .312 AVG, 14 HR, 46 RBI, .385 OBP, .477 SLG, .862 OPS
Ryan Spilborghs, R/R, RF/CF: .270 AVG, 5 HR, 25 RBI, .330 OBP, .415 SLG, .745 OPS
Cory Sullivan, L/L, CF: .272 AVG, 3 HR, 31 RBI, .317 OBP, .375 SLG, .692 OPS
Willy Taveras, R/R, CF: .260 AVG, 1 HR, 17 RBI, .314 OBP, .323 SLG, .637 OPS
Jeff Salazar, L/L, CF: .293 AVG, 9 HR, 56 RBI, .378 OBP, .433 SLG, .811 OPS
Matt Holliday, R/R, LF: .339 AVG, 38 HR, 125 RBI, .390 OBP, .600 SLG, .960 OPS
Yorvit Torrealba, R/R, C: .250 AVG, 6 HR, 44 RBI, .299 OBP, .405 SLG, .704 OPS
Javy Lopez, R/R, C: .244 AVG, 7 HR, 39 RBI, .301 OBP, .364 SLG, .665 OPS
Chris Iannetta, R/R, C: .270 AVG, 8 HR, 50 RBI, .375 OBP, .387 SLG, .762 OPS

Now this is an offense. I might venture to say that out of the Cards, A's, and Rockies, the Rockies have the best position-by-position offensive production of the three. They clearly outstrip the A's, and while the Cards have Pujols and Rolen, they just don't have the same steady firepower that the Rockies do. This is the fun part about this young team, and that's what got me hooked on them. However, despite this, I still hesitate to say that the Rockies will be contenders. Why? Two simple words: Clint Hurdle. As one of my friends so astutely pointed out, he is the definition of a Little League manager - play everyone so no one's feelings are hurt, no matter how bad/ineffective they are, and in the process of mollifying egos, let's not bother to win ballgames. He utterly lacks the competitive fire of a Tony La Russa, Lou Piniella, even Ozzie Guillen type (although Guillen is a total asshole, no one can deny that he's a motivator). As long as this bland, insipid, kindly, "developer" of a non-entity is at the helm, no matter how much of a nice guy he may be, the Rox are going to struggle even in a division that's been cruelly, and accurately, called the NL Worst. There are no really overwhelmingly good teams in this division. The Dodgers might swing to the favorite because of their pitching, but the D-backs have 2006 NL Cy Young Winner Brandon Webb and the Big Unit, who may benefit from being out of the intense New York spotlight. The Giants are old. The Padres are valiant, but understaffed. The division is basically wide open, and the Rockies could conceivably claim it if they went for the jugular. Will they? No.

The other reason the Rockies won't get anywhere is because they have a bad front office. Dan O'Dowd has a legendary history of making bad trades, usually to score more pitching prospects who then turn out to be busts. He also won't pony up the cash for top-tier players, doesn't keep established players, and generally seems to be playing constantly for the future at the expense of the present. It's frustrating - this team is not a Royals/Pirates-style doormat. They have legit stars and true power hitters, and I'd like to see them finally do something with it.


The Giants stayed old, but signed Barry Zito in the process, leaving their rotation as Zito/Matt Morris/Noah Lowry/Matt Cain/Russ Ortiz, which is possibly decent but could also possibly get shelled. Of course, they have the Bonds three-ring circus still going on, which is the main focus of an old, slow, boring, uninspired team that I don't really like - I watched them play the Rockies last year and was stunned by their lack of fire and hustle. They played, well, like someone had confiscated their walkers, and their warm milk was waiting in the dugout. I don't foresee that Zito can single-handedly lead them to glory, ridiculous contract or not, and they still have Armando Blownitez, as he is not-so-affectionately known, in the bullpen, who wreaks havoc with the ninth inning.

Pitching was the name of the game for the rest of the West, as the Dodgers added Jason Schmidt and Randy Wolf, the D-backs have Cy Young winner Webb and Randy Johnson, and the Padres added Greg Maddux. The latter also added second baseman Marcus from the Braves to fill out the Brothers Giles, as older brother Brian was already on the team. Some people are tabbing the Dodgers as the favorite based on their pitching, but the fact is that nobody has a solid claim to this division. The Dodgers and Padres ended up in a deadlock record-wise last year, with the Padres winning the West by dint of their head-to-head record against the Boys in Blue - 13-5. Everyone else - Giants, D-backs, and Rockies - piled up on each other with successive records of 76-85, 76-86, and 76-86, so it'll be a dogfight for the cellar.

How I envision things shaping up (but in this division, I could very easily be wrong on every single slot). Because of the humidor, I’m going to bump up the Rockies’ win totals a bit and assume that the pitchers improve. I’ll give the Rox a .500 season, which in itself would be a milestone.

1. Dodgers, 86-76
2. Padres, 85-77
3. Giants, 82-80
4. Rockies, 81-81
5. Diamondbacks, 75-87

That concludes the in-depth previews, ladies and gents. More baseball to come soon, along with some Spring Training photos off Yahoo! and no doubt one or two more interesting little nuggets that my baseball-starved psyche can mine.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Preseason Preview: Athletics

So it's Tuesday night and I should be reading the latest dense section of John Locke's An Essay on Human Understanding in preparation for my philosophy class tomorrow, which I like because it falls on the only day of the week, aside from Monday, that I don't have to get up at 8:45, which is anathemically early to a college student such as myself who prizes sleep highly. So what am I doing instead? Two things. Working on my collection of stories for my second-semester writing project, and attempting to tackle the issue of constructing a coherent preview for the A's ala the one the Cards received the last time. I was planning to do this yesterday, but you have to be in a certain mood to crunch all the numbers, and besides, I had a lot of homework. However, seeing as I have a good two hours before I need to read more philosophy, I thought I'd get it done for the green and gold. Off we go.

The Oakland A's



Who's Gone?
Most importantly, Barry Zito, staff leader. The veteran of Oakland's youthful mound men, he led the team with 16 wins and a 3.83 ERA and fled cross-Bay for the richest contract for a pitcher in MLB history, a seven-year, $126 million albatross doled out by the increasingly desperate Giants. They apparently believe that two overpaid Barrys are better than one and that Zito's relative youth - 28, 29 in May - can counteract the average age of el Gigantes, which is approximately 80. Other than that, no notable departures.

Who's Here? Any question involving the A's starting rotation, of which many have been floating about this offseason with good reason, come down to one inescapable caveat emptor - will Rich Harden be healthy? Classic case of buyer beware, as A's fans really want to get excited about their young potential ace with the sweet smile and the 100-mph heat, but constant injury woes the past few seasons have besieged him and he's never topped 200 innings pitched - the closest he came was in'04, when he logged 189.2 IP with an 11-7 mark and a 3.99 ERA. Not bad, but there's room for improvement, especially for someone with as meteoric a talent as Harden. With Zito gone, he's looked to as a bona-fide ace, but will the 25-year-old Canadian be able to shake off his recent problems, ranging from a shoulder strain incurred while turning off an alarm clock to a number of back and oblique troubles? It's very important.

Backing up Harden is #2 guy Danny Haren, who I steadfastly refuse to call "Dan" ala other media outlets. Things are less settled after that, with #3 Joe Blanton and #4 Esteban Loaiza generally guaranteed starting spots unless they do some massive pooch-screwing in Spring Training. The fifth slot in the rotation, as with the Cards, is unsettled for the A's. Hefty lefty Joe Kennedy appears to be the front-runner. I'm less than tickled about this (see old post entitled: I Hate Joe Kennedy) but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Other names being tossed around include Brad Halsey, Jason Windsor, Shane Komine, and Lenny DiNardo. Hmm. Nothing stellar. Zito's shoes won't be easily filled. Also, the rotation is entirely righty, without the benefit of a lefty to put in there to change things up... another thing that departed with Zito.

A slot-by-slot look goes:

- Rich Harden (now regarded as Oakland's #1 guy, Harden, as mentioned, has a lot to prove. When he's on, he's absolutely unhittable, and sports a fastball that can top 100 mph even late in the game, plus a "ghost pitch" that is impossible to hit. He took a perfect game into the eighth inning in 2005, and racks up high K numbers. But again... the health factor is troubling, and the state of the A's rotation could go from "above average" to "pretty shitty" if he goes down again).
- Danny Haren (a legit #2, he also sports a high-90s fastball, a sinking cut fastball, a devastating splitter, and an above-average changeup, all of which he can use effectively, and mixes up well. He's also a workhorse, logging well over 200 IP the past two seasons. The 6'5" righty is regarded as the prime score from the Mulder trade, but still scuffles with unpredictability - he has the raw talent to be as good as any in the game, but can sometimes hit prolonged ruts in which he can't locate to save his life and consistently leaves the ball up in the zone).
- Joe Blanton (another weighty matter, literally, as the Kentuckian tips the scales at 255 pounds. He wins a lot of games, but tends to get lucky by relying on fortutious run support, and a decent - but not stellar - 16-12 record was made a little bit more bitter by the fact that he posted a 4.82 ERA to go with it. Not the stuff you'd want consistently out of your #3 guy - the Cards look better in comparison if you consider that Reyes or Wainwright will be taking this slot. Hopefully Blanton, not a power pitcher who relies on fine control and hitting his spots, will be improved this year. He could also stand to lose some weight).
- Esteban Loaiza (he started off terribly last year, posting an 0-3 mark and an 8+ ERA that caused much, much unhappiness in A's Nation, but was revealed to be injured, and went on the DL a day after allowing five runs in the first inning to the fricking Royals, a game which was fortunately washed out of the standings by rain. Upon his return, Loaiza was serviceable, still prone to the odd turkey, but fortunately with far less regularity. He was brilliant in August, earning Pitcher of the Month honors. He started Game 2 of the ALDS in Minnesota and only permitted 2 runs through six innings, so there is some hope for him, despite a bel0w-average 11-9/4.89 final record).
- Joe Kennedy/Brad Halsey/Jason Windsor/Shane Komine/Lenny DiNardo (as with the Cards, absolutely nobody has a lock on the final spot, although A's management seems to indicate that Kennedy is the frontrunner. A chancy reliever who comes by his numbers a bit dishonestly - he tends to let the inherited runners of other pitchers score, instead of his own - Kennedy is known as "Bazooka Joe" among the A's faithful, and nobody feels quite comfortable with him out there. Let him get one or two runners on, and he turns into a veritable horror show. Perhaps being stretched out as a starter from the get-go will help. As for Halsey, he's worse - an ex-Yankee prospect whose nickname is the Gas Can, for good reason, and not a guy I want to see starting for my team every fifth day. Windsor and Komine are the highly touted arms of the future, who each had one good start and one bad start last year before being sent back to Triple-A Sacramento. DiNardo is a 27-year-old lefty snagged off the waiver wire from the Red Sox, who had a 7.85 ERA as a reliever last year, but this could be due to persistent neck problems. Healthy, he could possibly find a role in the bullpen as a LOOGY (Left-handed One Out GuY)

Best-Case Scenario: Harden stays healthy for the entire year, finally achieves his potential, and crafts the breakout season that the A's have been waiting for. He wins 15+ games, easily racks up 200 K, a 2-something ERA, and 200 IP. Haren matches him, posting another ERA in the high 3's with his loss total cut back by some run support. Blanton harnesses his suspect command and lowers his ERA while still winning a high number of games. Loaiza continues his round of newfound success and is a decent to good back-end starter, while Kennedy proves to be not terrible and stabilizes the fifth spot. The A's prove that their pitching, once again, carries the day for them, and they nab a second straight AL West title.

Worst-Case Scenario: It shouldn't be this easy... there's too many question marks in the rotation. Harden is injured by May and useless afterwards, logging perhaps 50 IP while the burden of making up for his absence falls largely on the incompetent shoulders of patchwork replacements. Haren continues to be steady, but gets tagged with too many losses since the bats can't help him out. Blanton posts an ERA north of 5 while his win total declines due to spotty control, and Loaiza regains April '06 form, resulting in an ignominious departure by the break, at which point the A's are steadily sinking in the AL West. Kennedy, Halsey, and everyone else give up runs like a sieve. The Elephants are unequivocally doomed.


- Kiko Calero (another piece of the Mulder deal, Calero is as close to automatic as a 7th-inning guy can be. He's prone to the odd misstep, of course, but for the most part, he's an exceptional late-game reliever who relies almost exclusively on his hard, biting slider. He's never really done anything to disillusion me, and when I see him coming in after a pitching change, I feel confident that we'll get to the next inning with the lead intact).
- Justin Duchscherer (known fondly as The Duke, Duchscherer(rererererer...) is a vastly underrated gem. He was Oakland's All-Star representative in 2005, possibly by default, possibly because Duke is one of the absolute best relievers in the game today. He has put strangleholds and padlocks on the eighth inning, posted a 2.91 ERA in '06, and is one of the very few guys on either of my teams at which I breathe a sigh of relief to see him coming in. Absolute trust).
- Huston Street (the final piece of the Unholy Troika which compromises Calero, Duchscherer, and himself, Street can nonetheless sometimes look the most fallible of the lot. Chosen in the 2004 draft from UT Austin, he made it to the big leagues in '05 and kept the Rookie of the Year crown in Oakland after Bobby Crosby had won it the previous year. However, he was prone to that troublesome sophomore slump, blowing a total of 11 saves and not always looking entirely comfortable on the mound. However, he has admitted that he was injured, didn't feel quite right, and is completely healthy now, which leads Oakland fans to expect a repeat of his stellar freshman compaign. Hopefully - good closers are a rare breed).
- Santiago Casilla (the masked man, who used to be known as Jairo Garcia, he's decent and killed everyone in Triple-A, but hasn't shown true major-league talent yet. Mainly used as a mopup guy last year, it's possible he could see action in more meaningful games this year. Not sure how I feel about that).
-Ron Flores (the younger brother of Randy Flores of the Cardinals; I suppose every team needs one. A soft-tossing, wily junkballer, who either utterly baffles hitters or gets his butt kicked, Flores is inscrutable, and can either pull off a great save or blow it all to hell. Even if he does do the former, it usually involves wiggling out of some baserunning jams, so, uh, nothing's certain).
- Jay Witasick (is a punchline for A's fans. I have fond memories of him due to conversing briefly with him while the A's were in Denver, and found him a personable and funny guy. None of my fond memories, however, have to do with his pitching).
- Alan Embree (journeyman, with the Red Sox, the Yankees, and the Padres among his recent employers, he nonetheless posted a fair 3.27 ERA last year, but in Oakland, with the late innings locked down between Calero/Duchscherer/Street, I foresee him being used only to get the ball to one of the three).
-Chad Gaudin (terrific K numbers, but equally shocking B/B numbers, as he walks as many people as he strikes out. When he pounds the strike zone, he can display flashes of brilliance, but all those walks keep coming back to bite him).

Best-Case Scenario: Calero, Duchscherer, and Street dominate. Fortunately, this is very likely to happen, as Oakland's bullpen revolves entirely around the three and everyone else is supporting cast in order to give the big men the most innings. This is as it should be. However, the building is as only strong as its infrastructure, and if the fill-in guys can't get the game to the Troika with the lead intact, trouble will ensue.

Worst-Case Scenario: Calero and/or Duchscherer and/or Street go down, leaving the A's to patch the absences with pick-and-choose junk. The game becomes a very dicey proposition after the sixth or seventh inning, or whenever the starter leaves, and because of this absence, the A's can never pull out late-game victories. Their record suffers, leaving them to drop in the standings accordingly.

The Nonexpert Nostradamus Predicts:
(again, starters/relievers listed under overall numbers)

Rich Harden, RHP, 15-6, 2.87 ERA, 195 IP, 220 K, 25 starts
Danny Haren, RHP, 15-8, 3.76 ERA, 220 IP, 200 K, 34 starts
Joe Blanton, RHP, 16-10, 4.55 ERA, 185 IP, 125 K, 33 starts
Esteban Loaiza, RHP, 14-10, 4.35 ERA, 175 IP, 100 K, 30 starts
Joe Kennedy, RHP, 10-9, 4.45 ERA, 160 IP, 90 K, 25 starts
Brad Halsey, RHP, 2-5, 4.77 ERA, 75 IP, 55 K, 7 starts
Shane Komine, RHP, 2-3, 4.66 ERA, 50 IP, 20 K, 3 starts
Jason Windsor, RHP, 2-3, 4.50 ERA, 27 IP, 15 K, 2 starts
Chad Gaudin, RHP, 3-3, 3.89 ERA, 43 IP, 20 K, 2 starts

Huston Street, RHP, 3-2, 3.01 ERA, 34 SV/40 SVO
Justin Duchscherer, RHP, 2-1, 2.83 ERA, 3 SV/3 SVO
Kiko Calero, RHP, 3-1, 3.22 ERA, 2 SV/2 SVO
Ron Flores, LHP, 1-2, 4.86 ERA, 1 SV/2 SVO
Jay Witasick, RHP, 0-3, 5.95 ERA, 0 SV/0 SVO
Santiago Casilla, RHP, 1-3, 4.26 ERA, 1 SV/2 SVO
Lenny DiNardo, LHP, 1-0, 4.22 ERA, 1 SV/1 SVO


Projected Lineup (positional, not batting, order)

1B Nick Swisher (a genuine power threat, who slugged 35 HR and knocked in 95, Swish nonetheless posted a surprisingly low average, .254. He's the homer-or-nothing type of guy - he's admitted freely in the past that he swings for the fences in key situations - and while that certainly has its merits, I'd like to see Swish continue to mature as a hitter and develop some more plate discipline and pitch selection).
2B Mark Ellis (the finest defensive second baseman in the AL, Ellis was gypped out of a Gold Glove last year despite posting a league-best .997 fielding percentage. There's nobody smoother with the glove, which discounts his lower offensive contributions. He hit only.249 last year, albeit with 11 HR, following a breakout year in '05 in which he hit .316).
SS Bobby Crosby (the lineup's version of Rich Harden, Crosby has good, raw talent combined with an almost preternatural ability to hurt himself. If it wasn't his finger, it was his back. If it wasn't his back, it was his rib. Ad nauseam. A number of A's fans, myself included, are growing impatient with the constant parade of injuries, and are ready to see him play up to the image of the superstar he was projected to be when Tejada left Oakland. By now, we've realized that he'll never live up to that, but if he was ever healthy, he should be good for 20+ HR. Big for a shortstop at 6'3" and 215 lb, Crosby is a smooth fielder, which is his redeeming value. Speaking of pitch selection... if you throw a slider outside in the dirt, you can bet your life that Crosby will swing at it and strike out flailing. He desperately needs to move closer to home plate and close his stance).
SSa Marco Scutaro (Oakland's magical little man, the small Venezuelan second-stringer shortstop has a knack for delivering key hits whenever the club most needs them, seven of the game-winning persuasion since he joined the club after being dropped by the Mets in 2003. He saw extensive action last year when Crosby was out of commission, but is a natural second baseman and his range can suffer a bit if he's playing deep in the hole at shortstop. Still, he's invaluable for his ability to come through in the clutch).
3B Eric Chavez (Oakland's only player with a claim to stardom, Chavy is another mercurial character who has already proven something. He's won six straight Gold Glove awards at the hot corner and is an orgasmic pleasure to watch play in the field, handling even the toughest hops with stunning ease. He's also good for 30 HR and 100 RBI most seasons, but his '06 campaign was crippled by a string of debilitating injuries that clipped his power numbers and left his average at a miserly .241. If he's in full fettle, however, he should return to his established career norms).
RF Milton Bradley (the man with the board-game name and a volatile temper, who has seemed much mollified since his transition to Oakland's frat-house atmosphere, he's a five-tool player, has decent speed and good power, and is also capable of slugging 20+ HR when healthy... alas, he's another guy with an all-too-recent injury history. Keeping him healthy with the others will be key).
CF Mark Kotsay (another Gold-Glove worthy fielder, another injury risk. Kotz has made his name catching the uncatchable, usually with Torii Hunter-style leaps at the outfield fence and never losing balls, even deep in the gap, but he also had back problems for most of '06 and his offensive numbers are slowly starting to decline).
LF Shannon Stewart (acquired from the Twins, he hits for a good average but low power numbers - the last time he cracked in excess of 20 HR was in 2000, for the Blue Jays, where he hit 21. He has some speed and can possibly re-introduce the running game to Oakland).
C Jason Kendall (an absolute iron man who's famous for refusing to take days off, Kendall hit .299 last year, but it's a running joke as to how long it'll be before he hits another homer. He managed to tally one last year, an occasion which set off mass celebrations in A's Nation. However, he's a decent top-of-the order hitter who can be pesky about getting on by slapping singles and stealing bases - he has speed, unusually for a catcher).
DH Mike Piazza (he has some big shoes to fill, literally, after Frank Thomas, 6'5", 275 lb, with 39 HR and 114 RBI, departed for the Blue Jays after they offered him more money. The A's are hoping he can decently replicate his 2006 production, as he's still a good hitter, posting numbers of the tune of a .283 average, 22 HR, and 68 RBI. While they're nowhere near Thomas's numbers, the A's are hoping that a healthy Chavez and Bradley can provide the extra punch. He won't see much action as a catcher, mainly because his defense has degenerated to the point where he caught only 13 of 97 base thieves for an epically lousy 13% success rate, and also because Kendall just won't get out of there).

Best-Case Scenario: Chavez, Crosby, Bradley, and Swisher are all healthy and productive, hitting 20-30 HR apiece and driving in 90-100 runs to accompany it. With that fearsome foursome in the center of the lineup, the A's could finally generate some buzz for having the one thing they've always notably lacked - offense. The supporting cast provides extra perks, even Piazza, who contributes another good season with the bat. The A's established bats overrule the Angels' prospects, and Oakland clinches the West title with breathing room.

Worst-Case Scenario: Nobody stays healthy, and even the valiant few who tough it out, such as Chavez, can't bring much to the table. The A's notoriously doddering offense gets even weaker, unable to support the rotation, and filling Thomas's place proves just too daunting to Piazza, who can't adjust to the AL. With horrid hitting and patchwork pitching, this is a club destined for the doldrums.

The Nonexpert Nostradamus Predicts:

Nick Swisher, S/L, 1B/OF: .275 AVG, 38 HR, 100 RBI, .385 OBP, .500 SLG, .885 OPS
Dan Johnson, R/R, 1B: .261 AVG, 7 HR, 34 RBI, .315 OBP, .360 SLG, .675 OPS, I predict he gets cut around or before the break as he's becoming something of a fifth wheel.
Mark Ellis, R/R, 2B: .267 AVG, 12 HR, 54 RBI, .325 OBP, .300 SLG, .625 OPS
Bobby Crosby, R/R, SS: .265 AVG, 14 HR, 48 RBI, .300 OBP, .340 SLG, .640 OPS
Marco Scutaro, R/R, SS: .268 AVG, 6 HR, 47 RBI, .340 OBP, .380 SLG, .720 OPS
Eric Chavez, L/L, 3B: .270 AVG, 29 HR, 97 RBI, .366 OBP, .450 SLG, .816 OPS
Antonio Perez, R/R, 3B, .201 AVG, 2 HR, 10 RBI, .200 OBP, .215 SLG, .415 OPS
Milton Bradley, S/R, RF: .280 AVG, 20 HR, 86 RBI, .380 OBP, .455 SLG, .835 OPS
Mark Kotsay, L/L, CF: .277 AVG, 16 HR, 70 RBI, .327 OBP, .375 SLG, .702 OPS
Shannon Stewart, R/R, LF: .275 AVG, 9 HR, 40 RBI, .320 OBP, .350 SLG, .670 OPS
Bobby Kielty, S/R, OF: .266 AVG, 6 HR, 27 RBI, .320 OBP, .404 SLG, .724 OPS
Jason Kendall, R/R, C: .287 AVG, 1 HR, 52 RBI, .350 OBP, .335 SLG, .685 OPS
Adam Melhuse, S/R, C: .220 AVG, 3 HR, 18 RBI, .270 OBP, .351 SLG, .621 OPS
Mike Piazza, R/R, DH: .269 AVG, 20 HR, 65 RBI, .340 OBP, .489 SLG, .829 OPS

This just isn't a team of heavy hitters - you'll notice that despite the high HR totals I predicted for several players, I didn't tab a single one to break .300, and the likeliest candidate to do so is scrappy single-punching Jason Kendall, who I also expect to hit (maybe) one HR all year. The A's are famous for not running and disdaining the sacrifice bunt, all part of the highly mythologized and much-copied "Moneyball" style of play for which they're famous, but new skipper Bob Geren says that he may be more inclined to give the A's the green light to steal more often, so perhaps this could translate into more runners advanced on the base paths and more runs scored because of it. The A's are also (in)famous for leaving the "ducks on the pond," and hopefully the runners being moved up can help put them in.


It looks to be another close and tight season in the AL West - whatever else, this race is never boring, and there's never really one team poised to run away with it all. The A's entered the season as the favorites last year, and managed to live up to their billing by capturing their first divisional flag since 2003. I've got them marked for a 90-72 record, three games off the pace from last year, and in a race that's normally so close, I'm not entirely sure if that'll be enough to bump them over the hump. As much as it kills me to make this call, since I hate, hate, HATE the Los Angeles Angels of Whereverville California USA, I may have to slide them in by one game ahead of the A's. The Angels have only two weaknesses. Fortunately for A's fans, these are known as: Offense and Defense. Despite this, however, this A's team is built of china men, and if any injuries wreck an already precarious picture, the green and gold could be in for a long summer. If they're healthy, they'll be in it until the end; if not, this one could be over pretty quickly in Mudville.

The Angels have one of the better starting rotations in baseball, but Bartolo Colon has health problems and patches of atrocity, and it remains to be seen if Jered Weaver can follow up his sterling rookie campaign. They also have as bad of an offense as the A's, although that could change if the LAA prospects begin to hit (and the A's veterans do the same). And while the A's infield is watertight, the Angels have a little trouble with basic things like catching and fielding. Defense could prove to be a late-season key.

The Rangers are primed for a fall - even with new manager, and former A's coach, Ron Washington, their hitters' numbers are artifically inflated by playing at the launching pad known as Ameriquest Field, and their pitching still isn't any better. That lineup, with Blalock, Young, and Teixeira, is still admittedly fairly scary, but as long as the rotation can't hold up their end of the bargain, they're going to be treading water, yet again, in a tight division. They aren't the pushovers that they were a few years ago, but I just don't see them managing to upset both the A's and Angels.

The Mariners had one of the more dismal offseasons in recent memory, and their rotation consists of Felix Hernandez/Jarrod Washburn/Jeff Weaver/Miguel Batista/Horacio Ramirez, none of whom are very awe-inspiring. If Hernandez turns it on and lives up to his promise, he could become a solidifed ace, but his backup corps are a bit... well, perhaps underwhelming would be the word. They have Richie Sexson, Adrian Beltre, and Raul Ibanez on the offensive half of things, all of whom are capable of providing decent-to-excellent seasons, but have struggled to do so with any consistency during their tenure in Seattle. Aside from the omnipresent, and still very talented, Ichiro Suzuki, the Mariners also have "Princess Willie," (utilityman Willie Bloomquist) a running joke among their fanbase, who is kept around by the management despite displaying baseball skills that could charitably be rated mediocre. He's like the Seattle version of Scutaro, without the clutchness. The Mariners have experienced a meteoric and painful fall from grace since their otherworldly 116-win campaign in 2001, and it just doesn't look as if the pieces are there to turn it around this season. They're still headed by Mike Hargrove and their general manager is still Bill Bavasi.

As you can see, I think that the A's and Angels will be duking it out for first place, and the Rangers and Mariners will be duking it out for the cellar. If the A's manage to unseat the Angels, I will cheerily and happily eat all the crow dished out to me, but I'm too dubious of the team's overall health to make an outright championship call, however much I would like to.

1. Angels, 91-71
2. A's, 90-72
3. Rangers, 75-87
4. Mariners, 74-88

Now that I've wasted a good two hours on writing this preview, I shall head off to read some philosophy. The Rockies preview should come in the next few days.