Saturday, March 31, 2007

Fearlessly Stupid Predictions

With Opening Night upon us tomorrow (MASSIVE WOOTAGE!) and it becoming increasingly clear that the NL is going to get short-shafted on the previews, with only the Cards and Rox being examined from the Senior Circuit, I decided instead to change tack and start getting some bad predictions out there in the blogosphere, so I can review them in November, shake my head, and wonder what the hell I was smoking. All or most of these have very little chance of being true, so if I insulted your favorite, please be aware that it's probably a good thing for them.

I think it is necessary to point out that ADAM! is pitching tonight against the Indians in the inaugural Civil Rights Game in Memphis, Tennessee, and thus far has held the Indians hitless while recording a 2-run double of his own. I also think it necessary to point out that I am going to marry him and keep him all for my very own, only letting him out when he needs to make a start. Heheheehe.

First... my actual calls for the season, which may have changed a bit since the previews based on shifting circumstances with the teams. Biased in the extreme, as you'll soon be able to tell. (x = wild card)

AL East
1. Yankees
2. Red Sox
3. Blue Jays
4. Orioles
5. Devil Rays

AL Central
1. Twins
2. Tigers
3. White Sox
4. Indians
5. Royals

AL West
1. Athletics
2. x - Angels
3. Rangers
4. Mariners

NL East
1. Mets
2. x- Phillies
3. Braves
4. Marlins
5. Nationals

NL Central
1. Cardinals
2. Reds
3. Brewers
4. Astros
5. Cubs
6. Pirates

NL West
1. Padres
2. Dodgers
3. Diamondbacks
4. Rockies
5. Giants

ALDS: Angels over Yankees, Twins over A's
ALCS: Twins over Angels
NLDS: Phillies over Padres, Cardinals over Mets
NLCS: Cardinals over Phillies

World Series: Cardinals over Twins, back-to-back championships for the first time in the new millennium.

OKAY! Heeeeere comes the obvious, the fairly reasonable, the mildly ludicrous, and the no-way-in-hells!

The No-Good, Terribly Bad, Generally Inadequate and Inaccurate Prognostications About the 2007 Season of Major League Baseball, Presented by an Amateur but Enthusiastic Blogmistress

1. Joe Morgan will make an ass of himself on national TV.
2. Curt Schilling will make an ass of himself in general.
3. Ozzie Guillen will say something inflammatory and insulting before, during, and after the All-Star break, then claim that he has friends like that.
4. Ken "The Hawk" Harrelson will make the ears of everyone who is not a White Sox fan bleed copiously and may be responsible for at least one homicide in Chicago (not directly, through insanity induced by listening to his homerific broadcasts).
5. David Ortiz will end a lot of games for the Red Sox by hitting walk-off bombs.
6. Albert Pujols will remain God.
7. The Boston media follows Daisuke "Dice-K" Matsuzaka religiously. How does he feel? Does he really throw a gyroball? What did he eat for breakfast? Then "Dice-K" (stupidest.nickname.ever) loses a crucial late-season game against the Yankees and they crucify him. "Matsuzaka: The $100 Million Mistake?" is the headline in the Globe after the 12-2 thrashing.
8. A-Rod fails to produce in assorted important clutch situations, is booed by the fans, whines to the media, and is the subject of numerous articles by schlock tabloids detailing the fact that he is, in fact, no longer sleeping with Derek Jeter. Not in the same bed. Not even in the same house.
9. Some team makes a fuss about the Rockies' humidor.
10. The wind blows. Kerry Wood, Carl Pavano, Ken Griffey Jr., and Bobby Crosby fall over with every bone in their body broken.

1. Adam Wainwright will win 15 games with a high-3 ERA.
2. Rich Harden will win 15+ games with a high-2 ERA.
3. The Cardinals will showcase a new and improved, stronger starting rotation and win the NL Central much more easily than a lot of pundits are giving them credit for.
4. Garrett Atkins, Todd Helton, Matt Holliday, and Brad Hawpe, along with young guns Troy Tulowitzki and Chris Iannetta, will lift the Rockies into definite contention in the NL West. I'll hold off on calling the division outright for them, but they can at the least compete for the wild card.
5. The A's develop more of a situationally oriented offense instead of always trying to play small-ball or avoid certain scenarios (i.e. sac flies, sac bunts, stolen bases). They also compete in their West more than several talking heads think will be the case.
6. Barry Zito will have an unworldly first half while the NL is completely befuddled by that curveball, make the All-Star team as a hometown boy (coincidentally, with the game being held in San Francisco) and be hoo-haed up the wazoo as the Giants' savior and ticket to the postseason. He then falls apart in the second half and walks 5 people per game as the league accustoms to the curve and umps will no longer call it for strikes. The Giants finish fourth.
7. Eric Chavez gets injured and rather than sitting down, continues to gut it out on the field with great defense but low offensive numbers. (C'mon, this one's just too easy. I love Chavy, but there's absolutely no way he'll crack 40 HR this year like Mychael Urban thinks he will).

1. Barry Bonds doesn't break Hank Aaron's homer record, either because both of his knees explode at the same time or Selig grows a sack and kicks him out.
2. The Rockies beat out the Dodgers, Padres, and Diamondbacks and dramatically win the division, ensuring postseason play at Coors for the first time since 1995.
3. Zack Greinke walks out the door one day and is never seen or heard from again. 20 years in the future, Zack Greinke Jr. is drafted by the Pirates and will not speak of what his father endured in the interim. (No, I don't think this falls under the 'HELL FREEZES OVER' category).
4. The NL wins the All-Star game in San Francisco, securing home field advantage. They then proceed to lose the World Series because of it.
5. The Braves actually win the division again after their streak of 14 consecutive NL East titles was broken by the Mets. They then lose in the first round. (The latter part isn't improbable).
6. A-Rod gets through the first half of the season without whining. He does, however, make 20 errors. After the break, he gives a gushy, emotional interview to Elle, detailing the pressure he felt not to complain since he thought Torre would execute a mob hit on him if he did. Torre denys any Sicilian connections. George Steinbrenner gets hold of the story. Chaos ensues.
7. Jason Marquis, Gil Meche, and the assorted overpriced free-agent signees put together decent, if not great, seasons.

1. The D-Rays win the AL East.
2. The Royals win the AL Central.
3. The Mariners win the AL West.
4. The Orioles win the AL Wild Card.
5. The Nationals win the NL East.
6. The Pirates win the NL Central.
7. The Rockies win the NL West.
8. The Cubs win the NL Wild Card.
9. Ozzie Guillen is assassinated by Ugueth Urbina.
10. Curt Schilling decides to quit baseball, the Republican party, and conservative Christianity in favor of hard-core, 24/7 Everquest gaming. He is removed unconscious from a Boston hotspot in December and becomes a vegetable.
11. Jim Edmonds does not run into a single wall during the course of the season.
12. A-Rod comes through in a clutch situation. Not just once, but repeatedly.
13. Johan Santana goes 9-15 with a 4.75 ERA.
14. Albert Pujols hits .267 with 7 HR and 40 RBI. No worries, he's now Darin Erstad the Gritmeister Superstar!
15. Carl Pavano starts opening day for the Yankees (yes, that's true, unfortunately) pitches a perfect game, wins the Cy Young, and does not lie to the team or display a lackluster work ethic all season.
16. The Royals win the AL Pennant.
17. The Cubs win the NL Pennant.
18. The Cubs win the World Series.
19. The world ends.

Tomorrow at 8 PM ET. Tom Glavine vs. Chris Carpenter. New York Mets vs. St. Louis Cardinals. Carp will deliver the first pitch of 2007 to Jose Reyes, the championship banner will be hoisted over Busch, fireworks will go off, hearts will sing, and all will be right with the world again.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Game Above All

(Posted this on Purple Row and Athletics Nation, two SBNation blogs that I participate in, but figured it could use its own post on my blog too. ;) Check back - and scroll down - for my start on the NL Preseason Previews, which no longer will be Preseason unless I get going).

It's 6:35 on Sunday morning and I'm sitting in the Denver airport on the heels of maybe four hours of sleep, awaiting an early-morning flight back to New York and the second half of the college semester. This isn't exactly an hour when most people are compos mentis, and I'm no exception; it's still dark outside and I'm morally objected to morning people in general. But one of the reasons that I stayed awake for so long last night was an idea that had occurred to me earlier, but only in passing. Of course, in the way that your brain does when it's 1 AM, you need to get up at 4, and you can't sleep, I thought it was great. If it's not profound, moving, or even coherent, please don't blame me. Blame the hour. However, it'll need to wait until I have an Internet connection to post, so maybe I can get it to make sense before then.

Opening Day is quickly approaching and I, for one, am thrilled. It's an occasion as American as apple pie or stars and stripes, the renewal and the clean slate, when hopes fly as high as the flag on the clean spring breeze. Everyone has an equal chance again to come out of the gate and make themselves heard, to sail or fall, and the sound of that first pitch on April 1st is beauty itself. This is something it shares with the game in general. The deep grooves of green in a newly mowed field, the smooth chocolate dirt combed and raked, the stark white of the basepaths and the bases, and the feeling of beginning again. Baseball is a precise, geometric, entirely number-oriented game. It's smart, it's sharp, it's stayed almost the same with a few rule tweaks here and there from the days when men played it in baggy wool uniforms in rickety little one-level stadiums. It's enduring. It's constant, it's dependable, and I for one believe that love for it should be a part of your soul.

You may have guessed by now that I like baseball... clearly. More than that, I'm passionate about it. It's my life, which may or may not be healthy and may require psychiatric medicine at some later point. I was introduced to the game when I was seven and I've been an addict since then. My team allegiances have shifted with age, but they're fairly set now and one thing I've never done is hate it, ignore it, or be indifferent about it. I've watched the World Series, or listened to it on the radio, or tracked it on the Internet, for every year since 1995, when I was seven and when I was attending minor-league baseball games sixteen or twenty times a year.

Baseball is simplicity in itself. There isn't a time limit and people complain that it can drag. I've never found that to be the case. I can watch Spring Training games that don't mean a thing and be happy, just because it's the game. I like to watch for a clean dive by the second baseman, a snap to the shortstop, a nifty double play, a catch at the wall, a long homer, a sizzling strikeout. Baseball does things to me in a way I can't precisely explain. I suppose that it's love in the most uncomplicated sense.

We, as fans, spend a lot of time obsessing over statistics, performance, and press, and we should - usually. When they're on that field, men become gods and remain up there for the summer (or come crashing down and turn into toads). They become almost idol-like for us, and that's not really much of a surprise. If we're watching them every day, we begin to take an obsessive interest in them. Our mood for the day can be entirely determined by whether our team wins or loses, and these men are responsible for it.

We give them so much of ourselves and we expect a lot in return for all the emotional investment, late nights, "not now, I'm watching the game"-s and money that we give them, in tickets, caps, shirts, jerseys - everything to show that yeah, we love this team, and we're proud to. But sometimes, we as baseball fans need to step back and peel back that skin of distractions and irritations, and get back to the basics.

When the pitcher toes the rubber and delivers a little white sphere sixty feet, six inches, at speeds ranging from seventy to a hundred miles an hour while another man stands waiting to whack it with a thin little stick, it sounds almost ludicrous. But it's beautiful. On a cold spring night you're at the park in your windbreaker and your scarf, shivering with your hot dog and scorecard clutched in your hand. You're cold, but you're not going anywhere. It's early-season baseball and maybe pennants aren't won in April, but it's the game again and you've missed it so very much during the offseason that you've resorted to badgering your sister to quiz you.

Spring goes onto summer and the days lengthen into long, lazy evenings that you can spend sitting at the park, watching the sun go down in a blaze of glory and enjoying the breeze cooling the hot air. When the sunset etches those tiger stripes of gold and shadow into the green-groomed field, it may be the most beautiful thing on earth. The racks of lights come on and the forty thousand faces peer down and it's become something a little more important by now. You can cheer (you always do) but you're getting more involved. You've been giving this team everything, every day, for two or three months now and you're still ready to go. You're hooked. You may disappoint your family since you just have to catch one more pitch, one more inning, on the events that you can't make it to the park and have to watch on TV.

Then comes autumn, and the chill in the air comes back, but there's more pressure than ever. Your team is in a breakneck race - may make it, may not, your social life is severely suffering, and you just have to know. A thrill and an adrenaline has hold of every pitch the deeper you move into October. You love it more than ever, but boy, are you tired. You resort to all sorts of superstitions that you honestly believe affect the outcome of the game. You need your hat, socks, beard, and you need to be sitting in the same place, at the same angle, with the same drink... but as long as it's working, you're not about to call anyone else for what they're doing.

Then it comes to a glorious, climactic finish (or terrible defeat, depending on your allegiance) and you need the winter to recover, either gloating happily or mumbling about next year. You watch your team's transactions. You write previews, projections. Your long-wearing heart has regenerated itself and it's ready to open up again.

This is baseball: playing catch so late that it's dark, making throws only with the porch light or the moon to judge, then going to the ballpark and marveling at how beautiful just pitch-and-catch can be when it's done by major leaguers. The field, the lights, the applause, the way that you can be shaking your head and cringing in despair and then jumping up and screaming in euphoria, loving the hell out of every single stranger around you despite having never talked to them in your life, exchanging fist bumps, high fives, hoarse shouts. The spring chill, the summer evenings, the autumn thrill, the winter waiting and resting. Talking about it, dissecting it, sometimes wondering how you can keep loving it when it's just killing you. Wishing you could stop caring so much - but you do, you always do, and you go back. After all, you need to see just one more pitch, honey, just one more pitch, before you come up for dinner.

Baseball gets a lot of bad press sometime. There's steroids, scandals, prima donnas, Bud Selig, teams demanding ballparks, teams demanding moves, contraction threats, expansion flops, low TV ratings, snide columnists, angry fans, jaded players, detached executives, and generally a number of other things that overshadow it. But as the great renewal draws closer, Spring Training winds to an end, and everyone gets their pen and pencils (or Internet connections) ready to watch and record and love and hope and die all over again, I thought I'd remind us of what's really important underneath all that: just the pure, simple, real, wonderful game that is baseball.

Bring on the first pitch of 2007. I'm ready.

(Well, I found an Internet connection in my dorm - back to New York safe and sound after a full day of traveling involving a car, two planes, a bus, a train, and a walk. I have to say, it's just a little bit odd how much baseball I kept hearing about today. Somebody asking another passenger when Opening Day was, a kid playing an MLB game on his PlayStation, a guy talking about which teams he liked (the White Sox, Cubs, Padres, and Indians.... and when he asked a little boy, "Do you know why I like the Indians?" the boy answered, "Grady Sizemore?" Priceless. But no, the answer was Major League. A guy reading the baseball section on the train, a mother riffling through her son's baseball cards... it's everywhere, I tell ya).

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Opening Day Starters

Here's the list of Opening Day starters by team. If the starter hasn't been officially named yet, my guess is in parentheses; if the manager has written them in stone, then they're not.

Arizona Diamondbacks: (Brandon Webb. It's not been made official, but he won the Cy Young.... no way it's going to be anyone else).
Atlanta Braves: (John Smoltz. I suspect they'll go with his veteran mojo and reward him with the Opening Day start. Either that or Tim Hudson).
Baltimore Orioles: (Updating this to guess Erik Bedard instead).
Boston Red Sox: (Curt Schilling. As if it'll be anyone else. I don't think they'll choose Daisuke Matsuzaka over him just yet).
Chicago Cubs: (Carlos Zambrano. It's not announced yet, but it's pretty much a sure thing).
Chicago White Sox: (I suspect Mark Buehrle or Jon Garland).
Cleveland Indians: (C.C. Sabathia. Another sure thing that just hasn't been formalized yet).
Cincinnati Reds: (Aaron Harang. Bronson Arroyo is a close second, but I'm pretty certain that Harang will come away with the nod).
Colorado Rockies: Aaron Cook. It's been formalized by Hurdle, Cookie will be tossing the first pitches of 2007 for the Rox.
Detroit Tigers: (Kenny Rogers will probably come away with the start just because of his veteran savvy. Either that or Justin Verlander will be rewarded for his Rookie of the Year campaign, but I'm going with Rogers).
Florida Marlins: Dontrelle Willis, to nobody's surprise, will be opening the season for the Fish.
Houston Astros: (Roy Oswalt. With Clemens gone, there's no way it'll be anyone else).
Kansas City Royals: (Gil Meche. They'll waste no time in getting their putative "ace" out there for a look-see).
Los Angeles Angels: John Lackey. Manager Mike Scioscia formally announced the assignment for the 28-year-old righty today.
Los Angeles Dodgers: (Jason Schmidt - they'll want to trot their prized offseason acquisition out for his first pitches in Dodger blue instead of Giants orange, something which will no doubt solidify the newfound hatred for him among the Giants faithful).
Milwaukee Brewers: (It's almost certain that Ben Sheets will end up with the nod, if they don't surprise everyone and pick Chris Capuano instead. He actually had a better season, but Sheets will likely earn it on name value).
Minnesota Twins: Johan Santana. As if it would be anyone else. Another not-announced but no parentheses needed.
New York Mets: (Since Pedro's out, the honor will almost surely fall to Tom Glavine).
New York Yankees: (The decision seems to be down to Chien-Ming Wang, who went 19-6 last year, or the returning Andy Pettitte. Since I love Andy, I really hope he ends up with it).
Oakland Athletics: Danny Haren will be taking the ball on Opening Day versus the Mariners, lining up Rich Harden for the start in the A's home opener.
Philadelphia Phillies: (Jamie Moyer may end up with it, because he's, um, old. And, er, crafty? Either that or Brett Myers the wife-beater).
Pittsburgh Pirates: (Fairly certain that young Zach Duke will end up with the honors).
St. Louis Cardinals: Chris Carpenter. I've not bothered to put it in parentheses since it's such a sure thing.
San Diego Padres: (Jake Peavy is fairly certain to take the start, if ol' Greg Maddux doesn't accidentally weasel in there).
San Francisco Giants: (Moneygrubber Newcomer Barry Zito is almost certainly going to be getting the assignment for the Gnats).
Seattle Mariners: (Felix Hernandez will almost undoubtedly take the honors if Hargrove gets over his ridiculous hesitation to hand the inaugural ball to a 20-year-old. If not, the role will go to Jarrod Washburn, something that would really piss off Mariners fans).
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: To absolutely no one's surprise, Scott Kazmir will be kicking things off for the Rays in '07.
Texas Rangers: (I'm guessing it's Kevin Millwood).
Toronto Blue Jays: (Another as-good-as-announced assignment will be Roy Halladay).
Washington Nationals: (Gotta admit: I have no idea. That said, I'll tentatively pick John Patterson).

This is another clear sign that we need baseball to start already. Geesh.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Psst.... I Cheated

If you scroll down a few posts, you'll find the rest of the previews which I did not do in a timely fashion, and cheated by back-dating them to make it look like I did.

Monday, March 19, 2007

I Apologize For My Negligence

I am aware that it's been a bit over a week since I updated this blog, and I've fallen off a bit on continuing the preseason previews. Blame the Rangers, who are apparently not fascinating enough to merit me going onwards. I do still hope to finish them sometime, but it may no longer be "preseason" by the time I do. I'm feeling lazy in general, actually, as it's spring break, I've just finished my first week at home, and I still have another week to go. For the past three days or so, I've told myself that I'm going to start writing a) my literature conference project, b) the outline for my philosophy project, and c) my philosophy essay. I did manage to write the title page for a) today, but otherwise, I've been working heavily on my writing project, which I can do without it feeling like homework. That's almost done, but when I get back to school, I'll only have about six weeks until semester is finished. That means I've run out of time and can no longer procrastinate about conference projects. Hammering out a pair of 30-page research papers isn't exactly fun, but I'm a scholar at heart and I like doing it. The problem is stopping my constant ditzing around on the Internet and actually applying myself.

I've really enjoyed being at home, especially sleeping 10+ hours a night, which doesn't usually happen at school. Also, Colorado has been having some of the most beautiful summer-feeling weather you can imagine, and that's a tremendous relief - I brought my hiking boots and winter jacket home with the expectation of shoveling another five feet of snow. It really feels like spring break and for that I am grateful. But as always, I'll be ready to head back to college and finish out my freshman year. Then I'll be happy to be home for the summer as well. It's almost sickening how well-adjusted a person I am; I'm happy in Bronxville, New York, and I'm happy in Evergreen, Colorado. I'm an unorthodox college student in a number of ways, but what the hell. It costs enough to go to SLC without having to add therapist bills in there, and they're raising tuition again. Eeeeep.

Speaking of money, I'll need a job this summer. If worse comes to absolute worse, I suppose I'll be slaving at Wal-Mart, which I am deeply morally opposed to, but, well, I need money. But what I am REALLLLLLY (xcrossfingersx) hoping is that I will get the job with the Colorado Rockies that I interviewed for on Wednesday. I drove down to Coors Field and got there almost twenty minutes early, filled out paperwork, and said all the right things while my interviewers smiled and nodded a lot. I think that was a good thing, and when we were done, I was taken to show "where I would be working," which I pray to God is a good thing. I want this job almost as badly as I wanted to get into SLC, and I'm just as nervous. It's nothing thrilling - a position in ticketing services, in a cubicle, with a computer and a telephone, selling tickets and answering basic questions. But I want it so much. The pay's decent ($8.50 an hour, going up to $9 after 30 days) and there are some unworldly perks. Number one: free parking at Coors Field, which is nothing to sneeze at even if I'll mainly be taking the bus. (It's an hour commute from my house to the ballpark). Number two: Two. Freakin'. Free Tickets to. Every. Home Game. Oh my God. Aaaaaai.

Clearly, I was made for this job. ;) I'm terrified that for some reason they won't hire me, and I'll be stuck in the drudgery of corporate consumerism, wearing a blue vest and ringing up sales. I mean, I'm working this summer regardless, but I want it to be with the Rox so bad that I can barely breathe.... they said they'd call me early this week after "other interviews..." what if I don't get it? AAAAH! I am freaking out. Wish me luck.

Ahem. Well. Composure restored now. Hopefully I'll get back to the previews soon, and maybe do more than one a day to make up for it. Either that or cheat and back-date them, so I post the previews starting at March 8th as if I wasn't a lazy little you-know-what.

One nervous Nellie signing out.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Preseason Preview: Mariners

(It's later in the night, but I'm sure you can all pretend it's March 9. In which case, I'd be leaving for spring break tomorrow, instead of finishing up the second week of it).

The Seattle Mariners are the prime example of how unpredictable a game baseball is, especially when you overspend on mediocrity and hire Mike Hargrove as your manager. The Mariners were a perennial power in the AL West in the early going of the 21st century. In 2000, they finished 91-71, half a game behind the Athletics for the division, and in 2001, they had arguably one of the greatest regular seasons in baseball history, going an unworldly 116-46. So dominant were the Mariners that year that the A's won 102 games and still finished 14 games back. However, they couldn't replicate that mojo in the postseason, getting whacked in five games by the Yankees in the championship series - despite winning eleven fewer regular season games, the Yankees took the AL flag. It seemed as if that crushing defeat took the wind out of Seattle's sails - they posted records of 93-69 in both 2002 and 2003 before performing an absolutely meteoric nosedive in 2004, where they stumbled to a horrific 63-99 finish before following that up with an equally bad 2005, where they improved only six games for a 69-93 final. In contrast, 2006 looked almost good (78-84). The Mariners are desperately looking for a return to respectability in '07, but do they have the pieces to do it?

The Seattle Mariners

1. Felix Hernandez, RHP
2. Jarrod Washburn, RHP
3. Miguel Batista, RHP
4. Jeff Weaver, RHP
5. Horacio Ramirez, RHP


1. J.J. Putz, RHP
2. George Sherrill, LHP
3. Jake Woods, RHP
4. Mark Lowe, RHP
5. Chris Reitsma, RHP
6. Sean Green, RHP
7. Julio Mateo, RHP

1B Richie Sexson
2B Jose Lopez
SS Yuniesky Betancourt
3B Adrian Beltre
RF Jose Guillen
CF Ichiro Suzuki
LF Raul Ibanez
C Kenji Johjima
DH Jose Vidro

The (900, actually) Word Rundown
At this point, the Mariners would just accept a .500 season, even if they can't get over the hump to a winning one just yet. As noted, they took a dramatic fall in between 2003 and 2004, and they continued to muddle along at the bottom of the West for the past few seasons. They have a young flamethrower in Felix Hernandez, who they hope will develop into a bona fide ace, and the most famous Japanese player in the game, the man who only needs one name and now plays center field - Ichiro. Ichiro possesses an uncannily accurate cannon for an arm, can throw out runners at the plate without a cutoff man, and is one of the most consistent producers in the game. He doesn't hit for power - he's only twice topped 10 HR in six MLB seasons - but he's never hit below .300 in a full season and, as everyone knows, broke George Sisler's single-season hits record in 2004 with 262. But he's in his walk year, and it increasingly appears that if the Mariners are collapsing at the break again, they'll trade their most recognizable player. If Ichiro did go on the market, it's likely that almost every team would at least try to establish themselves as suitors - those who can afford the stiff price that the Mariners are likely to demand for their cornerstone.

The rest of the Mariners' offense is still questionable. Seattle signed third baseman Adrian Beltre based on the strength of his MVP-caliber 2004 season with the Dodgers, but he hasn't shown that up north, batting .255 and .268 in his two years with the Mariners. 6-foot-8 first baseman Richie Sexson, appropriately known as "Big Richie," hits well for power, as might be expected with his size, and has put up gaudy numbers of 39 HR/121 RBI and 34/107 in his two years, but his on-base percentage was a disproportionately low .338, his average was .264, and he struck out 154 times in 591 at-bats - or roughly once every 3.8 trips to the plate. Sexson's closest comparison is Cincinnati's Adam Dunn - both have high power numbers but equally high strikeout totals, and because of that, are looked to as good players but not superstars. For the Mariners to get it together and compete in a tight division, they're going to need steady, constant, clutch production from both Beltre and Sexson. Raul Ibanez is also an underrated hitter - he went .289/33/123 last year and had a slugging percentage of .516. Which begs the question: How do the Mariners lose so much with such a power-centric core? (And no, the answer's not Willie Bloomquist, although if you asked Mariners fans, they'd tell you differently).

Usually, it has to do with the pitching. Felix Hernandez will probably win a Cy Young or two in the future, providing he puts an erratic first season behind him and returns to form, but his backup corps are a bit less than stellar. Jarrod Washburn, imported from the Angels for the start of the 2006 season, didn't do much impressing in his first campaign with the Mariners - an 8-14 record, a 4.67 ERA, and only 103 strikeouts. His last, and only, good season was in 2002, so the Mariners' hopes may be waning if they're expecting a rebound. The Mariners are also hoping they signed the postseason-with-St. Louis, and not the rest-of-his-career, model of Jeff Weaver. He also went 8-14/5.76 in regular season play after a terrible start with the Angels, but turned it around in the '06 postseason, pitched the deciding game of the World Series, and won a ring with the Cardinals, which may push his stock the highest it will ever be. My personal suspicion is that Weaver will play out a one-year contract with the Mariners, try to polish his stats, and then bolt for a bigger contract elsewhere. The Devil Scott Boras is his agent, so you can bet he'll be commanding top dollar even if he doesn't precisely deserve it. Inning-eater Miguel Batista will be likely taking the third spot ahead of him. 11-8/4.58 isn't ace material by any means, and almost exactly equals what Gil Meche put up in this slot last year, so there's no real reason to expect Batista to improve it.

The Mariners made one of the more mind-boggling deals of recent memory when they traded fireballing young setup man Rafael Soriano to the Braves for Horacio Ramirez, who will also provide about identical production to Batista. The rotation hasn't been improved, just replaced, but they did dump Achilles-heel Joel Pineiro, so perhaps that has to count for something. As for the bullpen, it's also questionable behind J.J. Putz, who established himself without a doubt as the Mariners' closer with a 4-1 record, 2.30 ERA, and 36 saves. He wasn't entirely untouchable, as he did blow seven of them, but the role is unquestionably his. His bullpen mates are a bit more questionable, and in fact, the Mariners could have one of the poorest relief corps in baseball if the young kids and questionable veterans don't step up and make a solid bridge from the starters to Putz. The Mariners might break even this year, but there's not much of a chance they'll do more than that. Then again, they might have contended if they hadn't lost 16 straight games to Oakland, so who knows?

Projected Finish: 82-80, fourth place, AL West

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Preseason Preview: Rangers

(Pssst... pretend it's March 8th. I back-dated the previews so I could a) pretend I wasn't a lazy you-know-what who fell off on my sacred duty to write baseball, and b) fit them all in March before the season started in, oh, ELEVEN DAYS. Hallelujah. This is my fifteenth preview, which means I'm halfway there).

The Rangers are another team that seems always to be just good enough to lose. While they had A-Rod, they were permanently in the cellar, and even without A-Rod, they still don't seem to have the pieces to push them up over the hump once and for all. They have Michael Young, Hank Blalock, Mark Teixeira, and emerging young second baseman Ian Kinsler to anchor what has always been a scary offense, but not even bats can win the day in Arlington. After ditching their affiliation with struggling sponsor Ameriquest, the ballpark is back to "Rangers Ballpark in Arlington," which, if clunky, is better than "Ameriquest Field in Arlington." Dunno if I've mentioned this, but I've never been a fan of stadiums named after corporations, no matter that it is rampant across professional sports and not just baseball. Count me nostalgic for the old days, I guess. But baseball's a business, and it's always moving forward.

The same may or may not be said for the Rangers. Let's take a look.

The Texas Rangers

1. Kevin Millwood, RHP
2. Vicente Padilla, RHP
3. Kameron Loe, RHP
4. Robinson Tejeda, RHP
5. Brandon McCarthy, RHP

1. Eric Gagne, RHP
2. Akinori Otsuka, RHP
3. C.J. Wilson, LHP
4. Rick Bauer, RHP
5. Frank Francisco, RHP
6. Ron Mahay, LHP
7. John Rheinecker, LHP

1B Mark Teixeira
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Michael Young
3B Hank Blalock
RF Nelson Cruz
CF Kenny Lofton
LF Brad Wilkerson
C Gerald Laird
DH Sammy Sosa

The 500 (Well, 678) Word Rundown
The Rangers have undergone an aggressive revamping this year, starting with the manager. Nice-guy-but-milquetoast Buck Showalter was run out of town in favor of fiery ex-A third base coach Ron Washington, a central figure to the Oakland character and who will be missed by that team, especially when the Rangers are playing against them. I have a feeling that the Rangers are going to win a lot of games against the A's this year simply by dint of the fact that they have an insider at the helm. Wash was considered by many to be the leading candidate for the Oakland managerial job after Ken Macha was fired, but took the Texas post instead. It remains to be seen if he can resuscitate a talented but underachieving franchise. The hitters, while perenially tabbed as the Texas All-Stars, seem to benefit greatly from their launching pad of a home field, the AL version of Coors. Hank Blalock in particular took a drop-off last year, hitting .278 at home, .253 on the road, and .266 overall, with 16 HR and 89 RBI - not bad, but a bit of a decline for a guy who was .276/32/110 just two years previously.

Showing that they don't learn lessons and are always willing to massively overspend on ludicrous contracts, the Rangers almost equaled their A-Rod idiocy this past offseason by rewarding 30-year-old shortstop Michael Young with a five-year, $80 million extension. John Hicks has always shown a willingness to open the purse strings, and while Young is good, he's going to be dragging at the tail end of that contract, which runs through the 2013 season. .314/14/103 are certainly numbers you'd want every day in your lineup, especially when you calculate that he hit 52 doubles and even legged out 3 triples, but Young was also susceptible to the Arlington effect - .346 at home, .280 on the road. He may be worth that kind of money for the first two or three years, but once he hits his age-35 season, it's going to be another financial burden on the Rangers.

Mark Teixeira remains the one Rangers hitter that I am legitimately afraid of; I never wanted to see him at the plate in a tight situation, especially with his propensity for bombing game-winning homers - usually off Huston Street. He has strong peripherals all around, and was one of the few Rangers to actually hit higher on the road - .298 vs. .266 at the Ballpark. There seems to be not much you can do to neutralize him. He hit 21 of his 33 homers off of lefty pitchers, but hit .302 against right-handers - he remains a dangerous power threat and an established cleanup hitter. The Rangers also brought in Sammy Sosa, who I have lost all respect for after the fairly inarguable proof positive that he was a heavy steroid user. Still, the Rangers are hoping he still has something left in that bat, corked or otherwise, and if (this is a big if) he can regain even a glimmer of his mashing ways, the offensive could be as strong as ever.

But that's still not going to help the pitching staff. Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla lead the starters' corps; they went 16-12/4.52 and 15-10/4.50, respectively. The Rangers have also shored up the relief corps with former NL Cy Young winner Eric Gagne, who's missed a massive amount of time with nerve problems, and quality setup man Akinori Otsuka, hoping to provide more of a lockdown on the late innings than last year, when their not-too-brilliant bullpen let one too many slip away.

In a way, the team most comparable to the Rangers is the Rockies. Launching-pad home stadium, terrific offense, mediocre starting pitching, suspect bullpen. The Rockies are almost never picked to take their West, while the Rangers, for some reason, are expected to contend in theirs. They may be better, or they may not. But unless the Rockies win their West (which I would not mind at all!) then the Rangers likely won't win theirs, either.

Projected Finish:
83-79, third place, AL West

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Preseason Preview: Angels

I'm tired as hell and still sick, but gritted out a full-length practice with the softball team today. We held about a half-hour meeting and, much to my surprise, my coach publically upheld me as a "shining example" of commitment, seeing as the only practice I've missed to date was on Monday when I was sick as a dog and even emailed them first to let them know that this would be the case. This being SLC, people can sometimes need a little kick in the butt to stay focused on sports, so it's not an earthshaking honor - you'd think that people are supposed to show up all the time, no exceptions, to what they commit to, but that too can be a bit lackadaisical. It's just that when I made the decision to play on the team, skipping out of practice never even crossed my mind. I may be a nerd who's never missed a class, but at least I am a dedicated nerd, and hey, kudos from the coach are kudos from the coach. What the hell.

That said, let's finish out the last three teams of the AL West - the Angels, Rangers, and Mariners - seeing as the A's were covered in the second preview.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of California of the United States of North America of Earth of the Solar System of the Milky Way of the Universe

better known as the:

1. Bartolo Colon, RHP
2. John Lackey, RHP
3. Ervin Santana, RHP
4. Jered Weaver, RHP
5. Joe Saunders, LHP

1. Francisco Rodriguez, RHP
2. Scot Shields, RHP
3. Kelvim Escobar, RHP
4. Greg Jones, RHP
5. Darren Oliver, LHP
6. Hector Carrasco, RHP
7. Justin Speier, RHP

1B Kendry Morales
2B Howie Kendrick
SS Orlando Cabrera
3B Chone Figgins
RF Vladimir Guerrero
CF Gary Matthews Jr.
LF Garret Anderson
C Jose Molina
DH Juan Rivera

The 500 (okay, 700) Word Rundown
The Angels are usually tabbed as favorites in the AL West, for reasons which I am not quite certain. On the surface, they're constructed in generally the same way as the A's - strong starting staff and bullpen with a suspect offense. The Angels do have a genuine power hitter in Vlad Guerrero, who swings at anything remotely near home plate and usually manages to blast it into the stratosphere, as evidenced by his gaudy .329/33/113 line last year; not bad numbers for a guy who'd swing at a watermelon if he could reach it with his bat. Ex-Yankee Juan Rivera also found a place with the club, putting up .310/23/85, but displayed an unfortunate (or fortunate, depending on your perspective) propensity for grounding into rally-killing double plays. Steroidhead Gary Matthews Jr., aside from providing a ready-made scandal when he was accused of purchasing and using the outlawed supplement HGH (human growth hormone), got $55 million and the expectations to repeat a career year (.313/19/79) which may or may not happen. The Angels are also hoping that young infield duo Kendrick and Morales, a pair of highly touted prospects, can find their bats in their second full season in the majors. But no one would term the Anaheim (yes, ANAHEIM) offense a terror a la the White Sox; they don't have a clear advantage over the A's, who sport plenty of offensive talent themselves (think Piazza, Swisher, Chavez, Bradley) but have extreme trouble keeping it in playing shape and out of the trainer's room.

Perhaps the pitching? 2005 AL Cy Young Winner Bartolo Colon (oh God, I just barfed a bit in my mouth) may or may not be ready for the start of the season (if he's not, Kelvim Escobar will likely be shanghaied into first-month rotation duty) and has a tendency to hit extreme aberrations, where he can literally give up 6 runs a game, every game, for three or four weeks before getting the glitch straightened out. John Lackey came within one batter of a perfect game against the A's last year and posted a slightly misleading 13-11/3.56 line with 190 K; he has legit talent and made quite a splash in the Angels' 2002 world championship season as a rookie, pitching the decisive Game 7. But for all that, the brightest spotlight in the Angels' starting five will likely be on Jered Weaver, the younger brother of '06 postseason hero Jeff. Drafted in 2004 out of Cal State-Long Beach, he burst onto the scene with style in his rookie campaign, carving out a 11-2/2.56 record. However, there is that nefarious symptom known as the sophomore slump, and batters seemed to familiarize to Weaver's stuff as the game went on - until the 4th inning, they hit .176, but that number doubled to .276 in the fifth inning, jumped again to .286 in the sixth inning, and hit a spike of .333 by the eighth inning. A large part of the Angels' success may rest on whether or not the junior Weaver, complete with his doppelganger hideous blonde mullet, can replicate his performance.

The Angels, like the A's, also have an excellent bullpen. Francisco Rodriguez is one of the most annoying automatic closers in the game, as much as it pains me to admit; he uses his slider to great effect and is no longer the heir apparent to Troy Percival's throne - he's the king. Scot Shields is also one of the better setup men in the game. But aside from these two, the A's bullpen may actually be stronger. Escobar will most likely switch between rotation and bullpen duty as long as Colon is out of action, Darren Oliver is a journeyman ex-starter hoping to settle with his seventh team in seven years, Greg Jones pitched a total of six innings last year, and Justin Speier spent the last three years with the Blue Jays to moderate success.

The Angels also have a problem with defense; where the A's infield vacuums up groundballs like a machine, their Southern California counterparts can sometimes look downright Keystone Kops out there. In fact, if the A's are completely healthy, they have more than enough talent to take the division. But there are too many question marks and glass men on the Elephants, and although I do hope that it's not the case, the Angels may prove that durability wins the day in the West - if they can get all their cogs, gears, and prospects clicking, they could claim the flag.

Projected Finish: 91-71, AL West Champions (yes, that was painful)

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Preseason Preview: Royals

Yes, I am taking them seriously enough to both categorize them as a team and write a preview about them in the same fashion as everyone else. However, that may be where the respect ends. I took a look at the Royals' roster in preparation for their day on the big stage and... damn. If I was a Royals fan, I'd be having nightmares already; then again, if I was a Royals fan, I would be so shockingly inebriated most of the time that I wouldn't feel anything. Aside from the much-derided $55 million contract doled out to a pitcher that epitomizes serial mediocrity, one Mr. Gilbert Allen Meche, the Royals haven't done much to improve a team that's become as much of a running punchline as the Tigers were a few years ago - amazing how a league championship can erase that bad taste.

The Royals, however, are in no such position. To revamp the team at this point would probably require a bomb and a busload of cash, neither of which are readily to hand for the Buddy Bell-skippered squad, and no matter what catchy slogans the Royals are busting out in increasing desperation (this year's edition: True Blue. Tradition) the fact remains that this is a bad team. They may win more games than last year, in which they clawed out a miserable 62-100 record; it wouldn't be hard. But the Royals are several years at least away from contention, and may have to seriously step up their player development, revenue, and trade smarts if they want to get back. But people don't pay to see them play if they're bad. It's a nasty little catch-22.

That said. I will keep a straight face.

The Kansas City Royals

1. Gil Meche, RHP
2. Zack Greinke, RHP
3. Luke Hudson, RHP
4. Odalis Perez, LHP
5. Jorge De La Rosa, RHP

1. Octavio Dotel, RHP
2. Jimmy Gobble, LHP
3. Joe Nelson, RHP
4. Scott Elarton, RHP
5. Joel Peralta, RHP
6. David Riske, RHP
7. Todd Wellemeyer, RHP

1B Ryan Shealy
2B Mark Grudzielanek
SS Angel Berroa
3B Mark Teahen
RF Reggie Sanders
CF David DeJesus
LF Emil Brown
C Jason LaRue
DH Mike Sweeney

The 500 Word Rundown
[bad]Scott Boras really is a miracle worker. He got Gil Meche, he of the career 55-44/4.65 marks, a cushy contract with a team scrabbling for pitching, for hitting, for management, for a fanbase - for a viable illusion of competence in any aspect of the game. [bad] I expect that Meche won't enjoy the Royals much more than he did his last team, the Mariners, who have been massively underachieving and perpetual cellar-dwellers since their 116-win 2001 season - I'm still not entirely sure what went wrong with that franchise, but I suspect the culprits may be named Bill Bavasi and Mike Hargrove. [bad] Only on the Royals could Meche qualify as an "ace," as he went 11-8/4.48 last season, but that's exactly how he's being touted. They're hoping he'll provide some "guidance" to their young pitchers, which is somewhat of a frightening prospect, if you consider that there's no way in hell that even Meche can say, with a straight face, "This deal wasn't about the money, I really want to win a championship with the Kansas City Royals." [bad] He knew that desperation would inflate his bank account to a sizeable degree, so he went for it while the getting was good and transferred from one shitty team to another, with a larger paycheck in hand. Well done, Gilbert. But don't mind us if we question your motives. [bad]

Zack Greinke was once touted as the Royals' arm of the future, but he missed almost all of last year with unspecified "personal issues," simply walking out of camp one day and not returning. That, naturally, leads you to question a guy's mental makeup, but I think that he realized that he was, you know, frittering away the best years of his life playing for the Royals. [bad] It could have been because he needed a year off after a brutal 2005, where he went a craptastic 5-17 with a 5.80 ERA; that would tear gouges out of even Cy Young's psyche and that is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when playing word association with the Royals. [bad] The rest of the rotation figures to be made up of Luke Hudson, Jorge De La Rosa, and Odalis Perez, none of whom can claim any distinguishing characteristic except consistently below-average production. Hudson went 7-16/5.12 as a reliever last year. De La Rosa was 5-6/6.49 with split duty between the Brewers and the Royals. Perez has had much more time to establish himself as [bad] - he went 6-8/6.20 in 32 games (20 starts) last year.

Believe it or not, the Royals do have one player who is decent. His name is David DeJesus, and he plays center field. David racked up a .295/8/56/.364/.446/.810 line (AVG, HR, RBI, OBP, SLG, OPS) and did his best for a team that, well, couldn't exactly reciprocate. In one of the greater mysteries of the world, shortstop Angel Berroa actually won the 2003 Rookie of the Year award over Hideki Matsui, and in coincidence, that was his only good year. [bad] His others have been average to awful, such as last year (.234/9/54/.259/.333/.592) and even when he can hit, he's a sieve in the field, committing 24, 28, 25, and 18 errors a year starting with 2003. Let's just say that he isn't about to unseat any Gold Glove incumbents. [bad] The Royals are hoping that young power hitter Ryan Shealy, acquired from Colorado for a pair of extraneous bullpen bits (Jeremy Affeldt and Denny Bautista, for the records) will provide a jolt of power to the cleanup spot. [bad] The other stalwart is poor Mike Sweeney, a lifelong Royal entering his twelfth season with the club. While not great, he did go .300/21/85 in 2005, which is about his normal line; he had only 217 plate appearances last year and consequently went .258/8/33. With Mark Redman gone, he'll probably get chosen as Kansas City's default All-Star. Unless they pick Meche, even if his record is something like 2-9 at the break, so they can say "All-Star and ace Gil Meche." Makes you a little queasy, don't it? [bad]

Projected Finish: 68-94, fifth place, AL Central

Monday, March 05, 2007

Preseason Preview: Indians

After endeavoring valiantly not to get a cold, I did not get one. Then I woke up on Sunday feeling like absolute crap and got another cold anyway. What dramatic irony. However, minor things such as coughing, snuffling, having a terribly sore throat, a headache, and general lack of vital force shall not stop me from bringing you the fourth installment in the AL Central preview series. You can applaud my dedication or condemn my idiocy; either one is fine.

As for a brief update on the land of spring training games, Adam went four shutout innings today against the Astros, while Josh Kinney flailed around for a second straight outing and again yielded 3 runs in an inning. It's looking more and more as if Adam's name is written into the rotation with permanent ink, which makes me very happy. I would be even more thrilled if Looper wasn't in there. I just know he's going to go nuclear at some highly inconvenient junction and then it's going to take too long to get another arm stretched out for starting.

The Rox won 14-7 last night, after Denny Bautista actually tried to blow what was a 13-2 lead by giving up five runs in an inning. The A's also won, staging a late-inning rally to pull off a 4-3 victory, but the most heartening news was that young ace Rich Harden went two innings, yielded one hit, and racked up a staggering 5 Ks - in other words, he got six outs and only one of them was by a ball hit into play. Wrap the boy in bubble wrap and save him for Opening Day so he doesn't break, and he'll be great.

In slightly worse news, Kotsay's balky back is barking again, Duchscherer may have a slight case of tendonitis, and Crosby has been held back from swinging at 100%. Oh, those injury demons...

Yes. Anyway. The Indians.

The Cleveland Indians

1. C.C. Sabathia, LHP
2. Jake Westbrook, RHP
3. Cliff Lee, LHP
4. Paul Byrd, RHP
5. Jeremy Sowers, LHP

1. Rafael Betancourt, RHP
2. Joe Borowski, RHP
3. Aaron Fultz, LHP
4. Fausto Carmona, RHP
5. Matt Miller, RHP
6. Rafael Perez, LHP
7. Juan Lara, LHP

1B Casey Blake
2B Hector Luna
SS Jhonny Peralta
3B Andy Marte
RF Trot Nixon
CF Grady Sizemore
LF Jason Michaels
C Victor Martinez
DH Travis Hafner

The 500 Word Rundown
The Indians became miracle contenders in 2005, finishing at a sparkling 93-69 and ten games ahead of the Twins, albeit six behind the White Sox. Following this, they were the consensus sleeper pick for the Central in 2006. It didn't exactly happen, as they authored a 78-84 turkey of a season and dropped with a clunk to fourth place in an admittedly very strong division. The going won't get easier for the Chief Wahoo Crew this season, but they've assembled a nucleus of some good-to-great young talent and I expect them to do a bit better in 2007. Of course, if they soar back to their previous heights, it could really be a logjam in the Central, but that, of course, remains to be seen.

The Indians have the one thing that every team desires, which is three lefties vs. two righties in the rotation and even an equally balanced bullpen. The starting five are led by big man C.C. Sabathia, who posted only a 12-11 record, but with a strong 3.22 ERA and 172 K. Jake Westbrook, a sinkerballer, went 15-10 with a 4.17 ERA, which was an improvement from 2005 (15-15/4.49) but didn't help the team out, or so it seems. Cliff Lee was quietly one of the best and most underrated pitchers in the game in 2005, when he went 18-5/3.79, but he was another one who suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in oh-six, as those numbers dropped to 14-11/4.40. Journeyman reclamation project Paul Byrd went 10-9/4.88, and there's really no telling what he'll come up with in any given year - he can be mercurial even from start to start.

The bullpen is nothing to write home about, as the Indians lack an automatic ninth-inning man and tend to experiment, alternating between young arms and veteran commodities. They also compiled a major-league low 24 saves, letting one too many games slip out of reach for a talented team that should have done better. But perhaps they will, bullpen or not. The one thing the Indians have, like many of their AL Central compatriots, is a fairly strong offense. Travis "Pronk" Hafner (he got the nickname after he disdained of his teammates' choice - "Shrek") is an absolute beast and one of the top ten hitters in the American League, but underexposed simply because of the fact that he plays for the Indians and not glamour moguls New York or Boston. Consider these numbers: .308/42/117/.439/.659/1.098. That's batting average, homers, RBIs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS, and by any yardstick you use, Hafner's close to the top of the heap. He became even more beastlike in scoring situations, hitting .324 with runners on, .571 with the bases loaded, .442 in late-inning pressure situations, and .409 in late-inning pressure with runners on.

Hafner's companions in hitting are catcher Victor Martinez (.316/16/93) and fangirl object of adoration Grady Sizemore, whose movie-star good looks earned him a fan club of his very own (Grady's Ladies) packed female fans into the Jake to purchase "Mrs. Sizemore" T-shirts, and didn't even distract him too much from his play, as he compiled a .290/28/76 line in only his second full big-league season. They don't have the slot-by-slot lineup lethality of the White Sox, or the pitching of the Tigers, but the Indians will probably once again be a dark-horse pick for an upset in the Central. They may not get that far, but they should be improved from their performance last year. If it'll be enough is quite another question.

Projected Finish: 86-76, fourth place, AL Central (yes... the division is THAT deep).

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Preseason Preview: White Sox

The White Sox, another one of those "cursed" teams that had a monkey on their back since 1917 and the infamous "Black Sox" scandal of 1919, finally broke their World Series drought in 2005, leading everyone to be very afraid. I do believe that if the Cubs had won the Series in '06, the world would have ended, but fortunately, the Cards made sure that the third sign of the apocalypse didn't stack up just yet. Awww, how considerate of you, boys.

Let's examine the lay of the land on the South Side.

The Chicago White Sox

1. Mark Buehrle, LHP
2. Jon Garland, RHP
3. Jose Contreras, RHP
4. Javier Vasquez, RHP
5. Gavin Floyd, RHP

1. Bobby Jenks, RHP
2. David Aardsma, RHP
3. Boone Logan, RHP
4. Matt Thornton, LHP
5. Andrew Sisco, LHP
6. Mike MacDougal, RHP
7. Heath Phillips, LHP

1B Paul Konerko
2B Tadahito Iguchi
SS Juan Uribe
3B Joe Crede
RF Jermaine Dye
CF Darin Erstad
LF Scott Podsednik
C A.J. Pierzynski
DH Jim Thome

The 500 Word Rundown

It’s a testament to the strength of the top half of the AL Central when you consider that the White Sox won 90 games in their attempted title defense and still finished six out from the crown. They still have an offense that’s one of the best in the game, but their pitching has degraded. A glance at the names seems to stack them in prime position, but Mark Buehrle went 12-13 with a 4.99 ERA, Jose Contreras went 13-9/4.27, Javier Vasquez went 11-12/4.84, and Jon Garland won 18 games but was helped out substantially by their offensive thunder as his ERA was 4.51. That averages out to approximately a 4.65 ERA per pitcher, which is what you’d expect from a middling-to-low-end bullpen stopgap, but not from a pitching staff that’s been previously hailed as one of the best in the AL. If you contrast that with the Tigers, where almost every starter had an ERA below four, then there’s a stark difference. The pitchers will still win plenty of games, but only as long as their bats back them up, and if that doesn’t happen, their overall loss numbers could rise.

And as for that offense – one through nine, it is one of the most fearsome in baseball, with very few weaknesses. First baseman Paul Konerko posted a .313/35/113 line, backed up by DH Jim Thome (.289/42/109) and right fielder Jermaine Dye (.315/44/120). Third baseman Joe Crede continued to shine defensively while chipping in .283/30/94 for the cause. Even catcher and perpetual asshat A.J. Pierzynski hit close to .300 with 16 HR. This lineup is so scary that even second baseman Tadahito Iguchi, playing at a traditionally light-hitting position, went .281/18/67. Juan Uribe hit a lowly .235 but when he did get hold of the ball, he mashed it to the tune of 21 HR and 71 RBI. The Sox have amassed a lineup that could, and probably does, give a number of AL pitchers nightmares.

The lone exceptions in this monster’s row appear to be Scott Podsednik, who’s speedy (40 stolen bases) but utterly lacking in power (.261/3/45). The other exception is Darin Erstad. There seems to be some sort of love affair going on with him because he’s “gritty” and “plays the game the right way.” Let me set the record straight. Erstad is not “gritty” because he played football in college; he was a punter. And if playing the game the right way involves hitting .221 with 0 HR and 5 RBI last year, then my beloved baseball is unequivocally doomed. Erstad’s last good season was in 2000, when he hit .355 with 25 HR and 100 RBI for the Angels. From there, it’s been all downhill. If hitting 7-10 HR a year and driving in about 60 runs makes you a gritmeister superstar, then we’d have a lot more than we do. Erstad may have passion for the game. Commendable; a lot of players do, that’s why they devote their lives to playing and practicing every single day. But Erstad just isn’t, how shall we say this, good. By the end of the season, he will have taken up far too many at-bats and the South Side faithful will be sick of him.

I still see the White Sox finishing with a win total in the high-80s/low-90s, mainly thanks to that lethal batting order. But the pitchers aren’t as good, and the competition is too stiff. I don’t see them edging out both the Twins and the Tigers for another crown.

Projected Finish: 89-73, third place, AL Central

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Preseason Preview: Tigers

If you'd asked someone in 2003 who the absolute least likely team to be in the World Series in three years was, they would have answered, "The Tigers." '03 was the year that even the Royals stumbled accidentally into respectability, going 83-79 to finish with a .512 winning percentage seven short of division winner Minnesota. Not championship stuff by any stretch of the imagination, but not entirely terrible - and a full forty games better than the doleful Tigers, dragging along in the dregs of the Central at the well-chronicled 43-119/.265 record, one of the most wretched marks in the history of professional baseball and barely avoiding a dip into the nadir of baseball ridicule, the 1962 New York Mets. It was a hard fall for a once-proud franchise to take. But three years later, the Royals are the laughingstocks and the Tigers were the ones carrying the flag to the Fall Classic, having restored Motown's passion for baseball along the way - for someone who loves the game as much as I do, it was touching to see such an outpouring of support, even though I don't follow them and am totally neutral about the team in general. More baseball fans never go amiss.

So how do things stack up in 2007, one year after the team's first trip to the Classic since 1984?

The Detroit Tigers

1. Kenny Rogers, LHP
2. Justin Verlander, RHP
3. Jeremy Bonderman, RHP
4. Nate Robertson, LHP
5. Wilfredo Ledezma, LHP/Mike Maroth, LHP

1. Todd Jones, RHP
2. Joel Zumaya, RHP
3. Jose Mesa (AND WELCOME TO HIM...) RHP
4. Fernando Rodney, RHP
5. Jason Grilli, RHP
6. Zach Miner, RHP
7. Roman Colon, RHP

1B Sean Casey
2B Placido Polanco
SS Carlos Guillen
3B Brandon Inge
RF Magglio Ordonez
CF Curtis Granderson
LF Craig Monroe
C Ivan Rodriguez
DH Gary Sheffield

The 500 Word Rundown
The Tigers' unquestioned strength is their pitching. Each of the top three starters - Rogers, Verlander, and Bonderman - could be the number one on several other teams. Put together with Nate Robertson and Ledezma/Maroth, they comprise one of the best starting five in baseball, and Verlander won the AL Rookie of the Year award for going 17-9 with a 3.63 ERA and 124 K. A bona fide flamethrower whose fastball can top 100 mph even in the seventh and eighth innings, Verlander is a rising star and will be the unquestioned number one once 42-year-old Kenny Rogers finally hangs up his spikes. That, however, may not be for another few years, as the crafty lefty still has plenty left in his tank if his 17-8/3.84 line in 2006 was any indication. Bonderman, the former roommate of the A's Rich Harden, went 14-8/4.08 for a nice symmetrical line, but could, and probably will, do better. However, he was the only one of the Tigers' top guys who had an ERA above 4 - Nate Robertson won only 13 games but with a 3.84 ERA. This is a very good rotation, and, taken in the whole, better than that of chief competitor Minnesota.

There isn't any lack of offense either, as the Tigers added Gary Sheffield over the offseason to complement Magglio Ordonez, Brandon Inge, and Ivan Rodriguez, their already established mashers. However, the Kitties' bats have a lot more questions than those of the Twins. Sheffield, if left out in the sun and given plenty of water, will grow a scandal and/or complaint a day. Ordonez has recently missed a significant amount of time with injury. Inge hit .253 despite 27 homers, and I-Rod is no longer a dominant offensive force. He's great with pitchers and defense, and was widely credited with helping to lead the Tigers in their turnaround from doormat to champions, but his slugging days with the Rangers are well behind him now. Carlos Guillen, who hit .320 with 19 HR, should not be discounted entirely, but he definitely overachieved to a massive degree. Barring '06 and one 20-HR campaign in 2004, he has never hit more than 10 bombs in a season - there is room for a vast regression here. There are a lot of parts that may have to click just right for everyone to match their production from last year, and perhaps it's due to the Tigers' meteoric rise that everyone is expecting them to take a step back.

The Tigers have a decent-to-good bullpen, led by closer Todd Jones and young Joel Zumaya, who, like Verlander, is capable of hitting 100 with regularity - during the World Series, he was supposedly clocked at a stunning 103 mph. However, the Tigers made headlines in the Series not for their pitching, but rather for their pitchers, and not in a good way - they made errors almost every time they touched the ball, and as one helpful sign in Busch Stadium advised, "Hit it to the pitcher!" The absolute first thing that manager Jim Leyland did, upon reuniting his squad for spring training '07, was to run them through PFP - pitchers' fielding practice, as all the pitching in the world won't do a team a bit of good if the pitchers involved can't handle the ball cleanly when it's hit to them. The rotation is stellar, the bullpen good, the offense good with a potential for lethality, but there's a number of questions for the Tigers that the Twins don't have. Will Rogers defy age again? Will Verlander hit the sophomore slump? Will Bonderman transform into the true ace he's expected to be? Will all those gears in the offense hold together? And will there be the general aura of fairy-pixie-dust that spirited the Tigers onward last year? I'd definitely expect this team to win 90 games, but for some reason which later may prove to be entirely false, I don't see them catching the Twins - even if only missing by the slimmest of margins.

P.S. They have Jose Mesa, who single-handedly cost the Rockies close to ten games last year when you figure in the 1-5 record and the fact that he was staggeringly bad at converting chances – one successful save in eight save opportunities. If that’s not a recipe for bullpen doom, I don’t know what is.

Projected Finish: 92-70, second place, AL Central

Thursday, March 01, 2007


Just a random post that has nothing to do with baseball and actually must mention the dreaded real life... it's 10:00 PM, I have a headache, I'm slogging through all the homework that I didn't do while watching baseball this afternoon, and my roommate brings her boyfriend back while having forgotten to tell me that he's coming, which, coincidentally, was what happened last time... Well, he's been here for at least the past two weekends, far more than he was last semester, and now he's back again... I have nothing against him personally, even like him since he has the ability to talk baseball and trust me, I do need someone who speaks my language. Let's just say, however, that it's a little aaaaawkward to sit at your computer with your eyes crossed, doggedly typing up Kant's opinions on the rational emphasis of religion, while you can hear them making out behind you. Not that they've started that just yet, but I'm sure they'll get there.

Back to writing philosophy papers.

Preseason Preview: Twins

(Frickin' dammit. Netscape had to go and freeze just as I was putting the finishing touches on a pinnacle of incisive, brilliant baseball analysis, aka my Twins preview. If this is not witty, insightful, or even coherent, it's not my fault. It was undoubtedly all in the other post).

So it's Thursday night and you know what I'm not doing. Instead, I've moved on to the Central, and it's time to check out who I personally believe will be the division champs - the Twins. They swiped every major award this year - they sport a Cy Young winner (Santana) an MVP (Morneau) and a batting champion (Mauer). Not to mention perennial Gold Glover Torii Hunter, even if he only got it this year in recognition of his amazing leaps at the wall to steal homers away from a number of disgruntled sluggers. There is a lot of talent on this team and I think it will pay off. Despite the Tigers' fairy-tale transformation from 43-119 pathetic punchline in 2003 to AL Champs in 2006, I can't help but feel that they overachieved just a bit and not even tobacco-chewing crusty curmudgeon Jim Leyland can steer them to two crowns in a row. The White Sox still have a potent offense, but their pitching has declined since their "If the Red Sox can do it, we can too!" world championship in 2005. Even without Francisco Liriano, lost for the entirety of the 2007 season due to that pernicious Tommy John surgery, this Twins team is very good and very scary. Although I am an amateur baseblogger with emphasis on the amateur, and could very easily be mistaken, I still feel as if this is the team to beat. With that said, let's take a look.

The Minnesota Twins

1. Johan Santana, LHP
2. Boof Bonser, RHP
3. Carlos Silva, RHP
4. Ramon Ortiz, RHP
5. Matt Garza, RHP

1. Joe Nathan, RHP
2. Jesse Crain, RHP
3. Dennys Reyes, RHP
4. Juan Rincon, RHP
5. Matt Guerrier, RHP
6. Glen Perkins, LHP
7. Pat Neshek, RHP

1B Justin Morneau
2B Luis Castillo
SS Jason Bartlett
3B Nick Punto
RF Michael Cuddyer
CF Torii Hunter
LF Lew Ford
C Joe Mauer
DH Jason Kubel

The 500 Word Rundown
As I've stated above, I do believe that the Twins are the team to beat in the Central. That rotation isn't as good as it could be with Liriano so conspicuously absent, but there aren't a whole lot of teams that wouldn't be better with a 23-year-old left-handed Santana clone in there, who went 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA. Yeah. Good. You can still see why Giants fans are still kicking themselves in agony over the trade that sent Liriano, closer extraordinaire Joe Nathan, and young starter Boof Bonser (yes, Boof, born John, apparently) to the Twins in exchange for serial troublemaker A.J. Pierzynski. Despite that, the Twins still have the best pitcher in baseball, one Johan Santana, and the AL MVP, emerging masher Justin Morneau.

All this
in addition to a Gold Glove-winning center fielder (Hunter) who clubbed 31 HR and 98 RBI last year, a 23-year-old catcher (Mauer) who won the batting title with a full-season mark of .347, and a right fielder (Cuddyer) who hit .284 with 24 HR and 109 RBI. This is not a team to underestimate and take lightly. They started off slowly last year, but roared to a second-half rocket finish with a 96-66 record after the Tigers couldn't clinch the Central - they lost three straight games to the Kansas City Royals, and this is one of the reasons, albeit a very minor one, that I'm picking against the Motor City Kitties. They subsequently recovered and dispatched of the Yankees and A's en route to their first AL pennant since 1984, but put on a horror show to tumble in five to the Cardinals in the Fall Classic. (Not that I'm not happy about this, mind you, but I just have a feeling, which of course could be entirely mistaken, that the Tigers aren't going to get quite so high for a second consecutive year).

The Tigers also mainly feasted on their own division, posting a 45-30 mark against Central foes, but weren't quite so fearsome against the rest of the league, going 16-17 against the East and 19-17 against the West. By contrast, the Twins went 41-35 against the Central, but 22-13 against the East and 17-16 against the West. They still do have all those award-winners, and even if they don't have Liriano this year, they have his return to anticipate in '08, in which they should be the clear-cut favorites. And of course, they still have Johan Santana. A man who may be a machine, or an escaped military-level cyborg, Santana went 19-6 with a 2.77 ERA and 245 K to (justly) claim his second Cy in three seasons after a brief lapse to lose it to Bartolo Colon in 2005. (Oh, the heresy. Talk to me about Fatolo later).

In short, I'm not picking against the Twins. They have the pieces to put it together again in Minneapolis, and if they do so, they're going to be quite a force in the AL, in the regular season and beyond. It's like with the Yankees. Aside from Santana, their rotation isn't fearsome, but with those hitters, and with Nathan closing things out, they're going to win a damn lot of games anyway.

Projected Finish: 94-68, AL Central Champions