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MLB 2011: National League Preview

Posted By Christopher Rowe On Mar 19 2011 @ 3:03 pm In MLB | 9 Comments

[1]The 2010 season saw the San Francisco Giants win their first World Championship since moving away from New York, 52 years ago. Cincinnati took the central division with a late-season surge to overtake the Cardinals and it seems easy to forget that the San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies were in the race right down to the final day of the regular season. Milwaukee is improved as are the Braves, Dodgers and Nationals – but it is most likely that [2]St. Louis or Colorado make a run at the postseason. St. Louis seems to be bleeding aces while Milwaukee is stockpiling them. Colorado keeps locking up young superstars and Cincinnati is following suit – both will be there for the long haul. 2011 has seen a power shift as Adrian Gonzalez leaves San Diego, Cliff Lee returns to Philadelphia and Zack Grienke lands in Wisconsin. The NY Mets are bankrupt while the Diamondbacks, Marlins, Astros and Nationals all seem to be taking different approaches to their market limitations. Could the Phillies and Giants square off for another NLCS tilt or will a new team take the NL title into the World Series?

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

[3]1. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

2010 FINISH:  97-65, NL East Champs, Lost NLCS to SFG

ADDITIONS:  Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt (2010), Delwyn Young, Pete Orr, Brandon Moss, Juan Samuel (Coach), Ryne Sandberg (manager), Michael Martinez , Ron Belliard, Cory Sullivan, Josh Barfield, Brian Bass, Eddie Bonine, Ryan Feierabend, Erik Kratz, Jeff Larish

SUBTRACTIONS:   Jayson Werth, Mike Sweeney, Jamie Moyer, Chad Durbin, Cody Ransom, Davey Lopes (Coach)

POSITION BATTLES:  RF-Ben Francisco/Ross Gload/Domonic Brown; LF-Raul Ibanez/John Mayberry; Fifth starter; Bullpen, Second base, #5 hitter

http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/philadelphia-phillies/ [4]

[5]STORYLINES: Let’s be clear. Saying that the Phour Aces/Phour Loco/Phantastic Phour campaign has been overplayed by Philly media would be a huge understatement. Insisting that all five starting pitchers be photographed, interviewed and included was a bit much. All in all, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton may very well be the best rotation seen in [6]the Majors since the Atlanta Braves of the early/mid 1990 or the Baltimore Orioles of the 1970s. While that is true, do not delude yourself into thinking that this fearsome foursome (no Joe Blanton, that does NOT include you) has any shot of matching the feat of four 20-game winners as they did in Baltimore in 1971. The game has changed too much with bullpen specialists, pitch counts, [7]agents telling managers when to use their clients (er-pitchers), endorsement deals and of course bonus incentives. Even if Four of a Kind are limited to 30 decisions each, what manager wouldn’t like to head into battle knowing that he has an ace on the mound four out of five days? Stealing Cliff Lee from the Yankees for LESS money = $120M. Knowing you have Four Aces and will dominate every [8]postseason series? PRICELESS! Now to the real dilemma for this team – lack of offense? Not kidding. Jayson Werth took $126M to pump up the nation’s deficit in DC and Domonic Brown is out until June with a broken hand. Chase Utley hasn’t played a lick through Spring Training due to a mysterious tendinitis issue (a second MRI showed tedinitis, chondromalacia [9] and bone inflammation, all symptoms have not been uncommon for Utley in the past – but this time cortisone and rest have not worked. Surgery [10]would be a last resort) and there wasn’t a lot of protection in the lineup for Ryan Howard as it was. Now the final strikeout of the 2010 NLCS will likely receive the Barry Bonds treatment because no one else in the lineup strikes fear in the hearts of moundmen. Would you be afraid to walk Howard and take your chances on Raul Ibanez or Ben Francisco? So the team is faced with a dilemma… wait it out to see what happens with Utley or address the issue that was never addressed when Werth defected. Who bats fifth and now who bats third? Theoretically, Wilson Valdez would take over at 2B and defensively, Valdez is a superior player (which he proved in 100 games in 2010). Offensively, Valdez comes [11]nowhere close to half of Utley’s numbers. OK the payroll is around $160M and GM Ruben Amaro claims they are maxed out after dumping all that green on bringing the Lee family back from Seattle by way of Texas – oh and getting Roy Oswalt at the trading deadline – and signing Roy Halladay… and handing Ryan Howard $25M…Right so Ibanez makes $10M, Blanton makes $8.5 and there is a salary crunch… Clearing out $18M dollars would allow the option of going to get Michael Young ($17M) who is unhappy with a utility role in Arlington.

[12]PREDICTIONS: Due to a weak division and their pitching, the Phillies have the luxury of playing out the first two months of the season and then determining a [13]course of action. In 2007 it was Jamie Moyer. 2008 Joe Blanton was brought in at midseason. 2009 it was Pedro Martinez and Cliff Lee. 2010 saw Lee leave and Halladay arrive in the offseason, followed by the acquisition of Roy Oswalt on July 30. Now with Lee back in the fold, the question remains whether or not Blanton and Ibanez have any market value because the farm system is tapped for trades. In-house bench options include Delwyn Young, Pete Orr, Cory Sullivan, John Mayberry and Josh Barfield. Even with Utley 100%, this team still needs a #5 hitter.

[14]2011 FINISH: Barring a comet hitting the earth, the Phillies look like they could win their 5th straight NL East title and should be favorites to get back to their third World Series in four seasons. Four Aces in the postseason will be invaluable so it won’t matter who the 5th starter is. It will matter whether or not the offense can score runs, an offense that has been in decline since early 2009 – and evidenced by their inability to take the Giants in 2010 NLCS (see Ryan Howard striking out with a win in their grasp). Trading Blanton or Lidge or Gload might be required to get any kind of thumper added to the lineup. Speculation of approaching the 116 win mark may not be realistic but a likely goal is 100-62, NL Champs   http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/philadelphia-phillies/ [4]

 

[15]2. ATLANTA BRAVES

2010 FINISH:  91-71, Wildcard berth, 2nd NL East 6 GB, lost NLDS to SFG

ADDITIONS:  Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla, George Sherrill, Scott Linebrink

SUBTRACTIONS:  Omar Infante, Kenshin Kawakami, Derek Lee, Troy Glaus, Kyle Farnsworth, Rick Ankiel, Matt Diaz, Takashi Saito, Melky Cabrera, Billy Wagner (RET)

http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/atlanta-braves/ [16]

POSITION BATTLES:  SS-Gonzalez/Hernandez, CF-McClouth/Schaefer

[17]STORYLINES: Chipper Jones was a rookie when Hank Aaron retired… or so it seems… Actually Jones was the successor to Terry Pendelton back in the early to mid 1990s and remains the only tie to the Braves glory days. This was a year or two into the Braves 14-year run of division titles dating back to the NL West (prior to the 1994 realignment). In recent years (2007-2010) the Phillies have ruled the roost. Pundits and Tomahawk Cheerleaders [18]debate about the viability of the Braves chances in 2011 but this team has questions to answer. Bobby Cox has retired, replaced by Freddy Gonzalez. Chipper Jones is playing his final season and will be diminished by injuries, surgery and age. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery have been replaced by Hudson, Lowe, Hansen and Jurrjens (though Kevin Millwood is still a free agent). Let youth prevail as the next generation of Braves have begun to take their place in the form of Jayson Heyward, Brian McCann, Martin Prado and Freddy Freeman. Obvious comparisons lend Freeman to be “the next Fred McGriff” but that remains to be seen. Bullpen is an area of concern but then again, those 14 division champs never had a decent bullpen except when Smoltz was the closer – so perhaps the relief wigwam will not be the focus until free agency next year. Sherrill and Linebrink should help Kimbrell but that needs to be a project for 2012 – as will third base.

[19]PREDICTIONS: These are not your father’s Atlanta Braves. Besides Jones, Heyward and newcomer Dan Uggla, these Bravos don’t wield the thunder stick as in the days of Andruw Jones, Ron Gant, Jermaine Dye or … well Chipper Jones (in his prime). Solid starting pitching, a lineup full of very capable if unspectacular hitters and a wait and see approach to freshman Freddy Freeman and Jason Heyward’s situation with the sophomore slump are warranted. Think of this as the JV team of the NL East. Next year they will be dangerous but for now Phillies are still wearing varsity letters.

[20]2011 FINISH: Since the NL East is collectively improved but still generally weak, Atlanta would have to make a concerted effort to finish worse than second. Florida and Washington are improved but won’t seriously contend until 2012 at the earliest. The challenge for the Braves this year is to determine their areas of focus for 2012 and gear up for their free agent pursuits. Braves should really spend their season fending off the rest of the NL East and help determine who makes the playoffs. Can the Braves be a wildcard team again or will they fall too far behind the contenders in the NL Central? 90-72, 2nd NL East   http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/atlanta-braves/ [16]

 

[21]3. FLORIDA MARLINS

2010 FINISH:  80-82, 3rd NL East, 17 GB  http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/florida-marlins/ [22]

ADDITIONS:  John Buck, Omar Infante, Randy Choate, Javier Vasquez, Greg Dobbs

SUBTRACTIONS: Dan Uggla, Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, Will Ohman, Chad Tracy, Ronnie Paulino

POSITION BATTLES:  2B-Bonifacio/Infante; 3B-Helms/Coghlan;  CF-Cousins/Coghlan; Bullpen  http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/florida-marlins/ [22]

[23]STORYLINES: New Stadium. Location. Location. Location. The very survival of this team in Miami is tethered to a new stadium. Can the moribund team remain afloat long enough to get there – AND will they suffer the same fate as the NY Mets after unveiling their multi-billion dollar boondoggle? The only season ticket-holders in Joe Robbie/Dolphins Stadium/Lank Shark Park/Dogfish Head Lager/Starkist Tuna/Chicken of the Sea/Florida Marlins Mausoleum are wearing orange empty seat costumes and are more apathetic than laissez faire Dodger fans in Chavez Ravine! Ask the [24]Miami Heat what happens when you bring marquee players to play at South Beach? Since 1990, the Heat (NBA), Florida Panthers (NHL) and Marlins (remember those super-swanky teal pinstriped uniforms for Charlie Hough, Jeff Conine, Chuckie Carr and the expansion 1993 squad?) have joined the Miami Dolphins. Suffice to say attendance at games that don’t include the moniker “World Series” or “Finals” have been sporadic. Historically this franchise has two World Series titles (1997, 2003) over the span of six seasons in less than 20 years of existence. Both of those teams were immediately disbanded and the Marlins were gutted down to their low minors. 2011 looks like another year of Hanley Ramirez, Josh Johnson, Mike Stanton and Gabby Sanchez auditioning for the 2013 championship run – but not much else.

[25]PREDICTIONS: Gone fishing. Usually it is old fish that stink but this team doesn’t have a graybeard or salty mariner among them. Closest thing is Wes Helms who somehow remains timeless but not ageless. Helms should be playing in a Marlins Old Timer’s Game with Gary Sheffeld, Mike Piazza (Marlin for a day) and Livan Hernandez. Make no mistake, Johnson, Stanton and Ramirez are blue chip prospects who will become living legends in Miami should anyone ever venture to go to the games.

2011 FINISH: It could be years before the local media and fans would notice the relocation of the Marlins but the new stadium project has been fairly well advertised. So coming soon to Miami …could be a major league franchise. 75-87.  http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/florida-marlins/ [22]

 

[26]4. WASHINGTON NATIONALS

2010 FINISH:  69-93, last NL East, 28 GB

ADDITIONS:  Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, Tom Gorzelany, Chad Gaudin, Corey Brown, Matt Stairs, Jerry Hairston, Rick Ankiel, Jason Marquis  http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/washington-nationals/ [27]

SUBTRACTIONS:  Adam Dunn, Stephen Strasburg (injury until 2012), Adam Kennedy, Willie Harris, Kevin Mench, Miguel Batista, Scott Olsen, Josh Willingham, Chien Meng Wang, Will Nieves, Joel Peralta

POSITION BATTLES:  LF/CF-Ankiel/Bernadina/Morgan;  CL-Storen/Stammen; 2B-Hairston/Espinosa

[28]STORYLINES: Much as Congress, the Nationals seem to have figured out the methodology of Washington, DC. Throw as much money as possible at identified problems and then realize that it is the next administration’s problem to deal with the consequences!!! $126 million were thrown at Jayson Werth (.296, 27 HR, 85 RBI) who joins Rick Ankiel and Adam LaRoche (.261, 25 HR, 100 RBI). Don’t misunderstand, Ryan Zimmerman and friends will take anyone with talent who wants to wear “Natinals” on their chest but losing Adam Dunn and company is not exactly a wash.

[29]PREDICTIONS: The capitol exodus is virtually continuous due to public opinion. Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper have been the top draft picks over the past two years and will likely be the cornerstones of this burgeoning franchise’s talent pool. Tell Zimmerman and Werth that it will be a long and lonely two seasons before these “can’t miss prospects” become major leaguers.

[30]2011 FINISH: Despite losing Dunn and Strasburg, the Nationals do have some talent (Thomas Jefferson seems to kick butt in the Presidential race) and do have at least one future Hall of Famer (Ivan Rodriguez, who seems to have been playing in the majors since the last Washington Seantors left town). Jim Riggleman and Steve McCatty have the opportunity to mold and shape a minor league team with a major league budget. Believe it or not, 2011 should be a pivotal year in [31]the history of this franchise. Since 2005 the former Montreal Expos have been a franchise in freefall – reeling from the loss of the 1994 season, sobbing about the team’s talent from the late 1970s and early 1980s and feeling like a second-class citizen while barnstorming through Puerto Rico as the marionettes of Major League Baseball . Now they have a new stadium, capable ownership, a decent revenue stream and the [32]potential to become a true contender. What will they do? So far they have drafted some EXCELLENT young players while struggling to keep  a big league team on the field. Soriano didn’t carry the franchise and Zimmerman will need help from more than Jayson Werth, but they are laying the groundwork for what the Washington Nationals will someday become. Talk about a plan for long-term growth…  72-90, 4th   http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/washington-nationals/ [27]

 

[33]5. NEW YORK METS

2010 FINISH:  79-83, 4th NL East, 18 GB  http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/new-york-mets/ [34]

ADDITIONS:  Chin-lung Hu, Ronny Paulino, Russ Adams, Boof Bonser, Tim Byrdak, Raul Chavez, Blaine Boyer, Scott Hairston, Chris Young, Willie Harris, Taylor Tankersley, Chris Capuano, Jason Isringhausen

SUBTRACTIONS:  Henry Blanco, Fernando Tatis, Kelvim Escobar, Elmer Dessens, Pedro Feliciano, Joaquin Arias, John Maine, Chris Carter, Luis Castillo     http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/new-york-mets/ [34]

[35]POSITION BATTLES: 2B-Murphy/Emaus/Tejada; SP-Seven guys for 5 spots with Johan Santana starting the season rehabbing from injury so Pelfrey with Young, Niese, Dickey, Capuano and Mejia (AAA). K-Rod is back in the bullpen but who knows how long before he explodes again? Oliver Perez and Bobby Parnell are the interesting names in the bullpen. Parnell would become the closer should K-Rod have another meltdown while Perez is hoping to make the team simply because he is left-handed and has a pulse.

STORYLINES: Has there ever been a franchise with a new stadium, located in the media capitol of the Western [36]world with a payroll this large and a crippling inability to put a winning team on the field? They drove Omar Minaya out of town, fired Jerry Manuel (because you can’t fire all the players), they have tried to get a loan (Citibank turned them down… note the name on the stadium) they will likely sell the team (besides Donald Trump, not a lot of offers in this market) and they have been neither relevant nor healthy since 2008. Saying that there is nowhere to go but up would imply that there is some sense of optimism in Queens but the pessimism is more obvious than the flight path to LaGuardia. Why? Well, the short version includes storylines such as Carlos Beltran, Oliver Perez, Jason Bay and Johan Santana. Those four players have salaries [37]rivaling a few franchises and yet none of these would-be All-Stars seem to be able to both remain on the field and collect a paycheck (most focus on the latter). Then there’s the man they call K-Rod (Francisco Rodriguez). 2008 marked Rodriguez’ fourth straight season with 40+ savesin which he posted a whopping 62. Free agency brought him to Flushing Meadows where he would team up with David Wright, Beltran, Jose Reyes, Santana and all the rest to form a superteam of imported All-Stars paired with the jewels of the Brooklyn Cyclones.  After all, it had been since the 2000 Subway Series that Mets fans had anything to brag about. Back in those days people buried their faces in newspapers on the subway so others could read the back sportspage – rather than bury their faces in I-Phones. Now names like Ike Davis, Josh Thole, Angel Pagan and Mike Pelfry are asked to be team leaders when most fans are still uncertain as to exactly who they are. The worst part is that the team went shopping in free agency at one of those corner bodegas where the sign is indecipherable and the security gate is almost always 90% closed. Not a good year for Mets fans.

[38]PREDICTIONS: An entire generation ago names like Strawberry, Gooden, Knight, Wilson, Dykstra, Darling, Franco, Carter, Hernandez and a man named “Mookie” ruled the baseball world. Brash and bold these Shea sluggers and Flushing Flamethrowers didn’t care what anyone thought so long as they won the game. Fans loved them for [39]that and non-Mets fans hated them for their braggadocio and their superior talent. A mere 10 years ago, it was the Black and Blue Boys of Delgado, Piazza, Leiter , Ventura, Hampton and Benitez. They were a less Herculean squad than their mid-1980s predecessors but more of a team. Bobby V had them playing sound fundamental baseball and taught them how to enjoy victories while enduring defeat. What will this 2011 team do? Well, in 2006 they won as many games (97) as they had in 1999 and 2000 (94). Then 88 and 89 wins respectively in 2007 and 2008. In 2009 they dipped to 70-92 record and while 2010 saw an improvement to 79-83, this team is still headed in the wrong direction and like a cabbie headed for the airport they are in a hurry to get there. Fawgetabout.

[40]2011 FINISH: They say you have to hit rock bottom before you start making your way back to the top and 2011 should be that year. Rock Bottom. NL East basement – behind the Washington Nationals. Jason Bay will be traded and if possible they should unload Carlos Beltran as well. If they go to the Yankees for five blue chip prospects that would be even sweeter – but good luck selling the Yanks on [41]those deals! Trim the payroll, bring the fans back with some kind of excitement and start making deals to find the next Joey Votto, Carlos Gonzales or Dallas Braden. The first decade of the new millennium has not been kind to the New York Mets. If there is still a team in Citi Field (Trump better keep them in Queens rather than play baseball at the Meadowlands) perhaps the next decade will be more Met-friendly rather than simply Met-adjacent.  69-93, cellar-dwellers in NL East  http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/new-york-mets/ [34]

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

[42]1. CINCINNATTI REDS http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/cincinnati-reds/ [43]

2010 FINISH:  91-71, NL Central Champs, lost NLDS to PHI

ADDITIONS:  Justin Lehr, Dontrelle Willis, Edgar Renteria, Fred Lewis, Jeremy Hermida, Jose Heredia

SUBTRACTIONS:  Russ Springer, Arthur Rhodes, Laynce Nix, Aaron Harang, Willie Bloomquist, Orlando Cabrera, Jim Edmonds    http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/cincinnati-reds/ [43] 

POSITION BATTLES:

[44]There are very few areas in which any uncertainty remains. Johnny Gomes may split time with Fred Lewis in Left and catcher is more of s shared platoon with Hernandez and Hannigan. Paul Janish will be pushed by veteran Edgar Renteria as the better offensive shortstop is likely to see increased playing time. There are six candidates (Volquez, [45]Cueto, Arroyo, Bailey, Wood and Leake) for 5 spots in the starting rotation so one of them (likely Bailey) will be the bullpen longman. As for the bullpen, Cordero and Chapman provide an excellent 1-2 punch but the rest of the troops have not defined their roles. Masset, Ondrusek, Bray, Lecure, Arredondo, Fisher, Maloney and Smith can’t all make the team but each had periods of effectiveness. Look for Arredondo and Masset to assert themselves as setup men behind the two-headed hydra of Cordero and Champman. 

 STORYLINES:  

 

[46]Everybody seemed surprised when the Reds took the NL Central last season – right up until they looked at the collection of talent amassed by this team. Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and an impressive young pitching staff led by Volquez and Cueto are just some of the forces Dusty Baker has at his command. Toss in veterans like Scott Rolen, Johnny Gomes and Bronson Arroyo to round out a formidable team for years to come. They will need to be as Milwaukee, St. Louis and even the Cubs should all contend for NL Central bragging rights. Cincinnati did not stand still over the winter. They signed Jay Bruce and Votto to long-term deals not to mention ensuring that Arroyo, Cueto and Volquez will stick around [47]for awhile. Most national fans don’t yet know about Drew Stubbs or Mike Leake or Travis Wood but they made significant contributions in 2010 and will do so in 2011. Everyone has heard of Aroldis Chapman and his 106 MPH fastball but no one seems to be able to hit it (or SEE it) so the flamethrower will remain in the bullpen.  The bullpen suffered a few defections from 2010 but there is a plethora of young and hungry talent on this squad.

PREDICTIONS: MVP Votto and future MVP Bruce will once again tear up NL pitching but the experience will serve them as they become household names. Scott Rolen will have another consistent season if he can avoid injuries. The pickings are slim (Cairo, Renteria) should Rolen [48]miss any significant time. If there is one weakness it is that this team has virtually no bench. Fred Lewis and Renteria provide some support but if any of the statering lineup go down, the Reds will far too far behind Milwaukee and St. Louis. Johnny Cueto has been reported to suffer a few nagging injuries throughout Spring Training so careful attention should be paid his way. Not much has changed save that this young crop of talent is a year older and wants revenge for being swept in the 2010 NLDS. They will get it.

2011 FINISH:  Look for a battle to the finish in NL Central . 93-69. NL Central champs

http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/cincinnati-reds/ [43] 

[49]2. ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

2010 FINISH:  86-76, 2nd NL Central, 5 GB

ADDITIONS: Ryan Theriot, Brian Tallet, Raul Valdez, Jake Westbrook, Gerald Laird, Maikel Cleto, Lance Berkman, Nick Punto, Ian Snell, Miguel Batista   http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/st-louis-cardinals-mlb-baseball/ [50]

SUBTRACTIONS:  Blake Hawkesworth, Jeff Suppan, Mike MacDougal, Brad Penny, Pedro Feliz, Aaron Miles, Randy Winn, Jason LaRue, Dennys Reyes, Brendan Ryan, Jim Edmonds (RET), Ian Snell

[51]POSITION BATTLES:  Virtually none exist. John Jay is solidly in place as the fourth outfielder while Nick Punto and Tyler Greene will be the utility infielders behind Freese, Schumaker and Theriot. Gerald Laird will spell Molina behind the plate. Allen Craig may make the squad as a fifth OF and backup 1B, a chore he will share with veteran Lance Berkman. This roster is mostly set aside from the end of the bullpen.

[52]STORYLINES: Adam Wainwright is lost for 2011 with so-called “Tommy John” ligament surgery. Chris Carpenter was feared lost for some time as well but appears to be ready to make his Opening Day start. Everyone else in the rotation moves up one to replace Wainwright so that means that following Carpenter will be [53]Jake Westbrook, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse and then choosing among Lance Lynn, Brandon Dickson or favorite prospect Kyle McClellan (217 IP in 202 games, 3.23 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, .237 OBA). One former candidate, veteran Ian Snell, has already been released. As for the offense, Albert Pujols will be joined by Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman and budding superstar Colby Rasmus but the latter third of the lineup is looking a little lacking in the land of the longball. David Freese is the full-time 3B and while he is a .300 hitter he has not shown much pop as [54]yet. Ryan Theriot and Skip Schumaker will comprise the double play combination and they are clearly in the lineup for their defense. Each proves to be about a .265 hitter with the ability to steal a few bases, meaning Yadier Molina remains more of a threat than anyone in the infield not named Pujols. Gerald Laird should help balance Molina’s [55]workload (140 games played on average) but will not provide a lot of offense. So it seems this is a team predicated on pitching and defense with a few RBI men in the middle. Cardinals had a 49-53 record against losing (sub-.500) teams in 2010which is something they will need to turn around. Much like the 1980s Cardinals who were speed demons on the bases, vacuum cleaners on defense (which was especially good since they played on carpet) and lights out in their effort to win every game 2-1 or 1-0 with fantastic pitching. Pujols, Berkman, Holliday sounds like a modern incarnation of Murderer’s Row but Colby Rasmus is the dynamic difference between contention and pretention.

[56]PREDICTIONS: Ryan Franklin has been the bullpen closer to moderate if unspectacular success (sub-3.00 ERA as a closer) and while he is no Bruce Sutter, he has amassed 82 saves over the past three seasons. The rest of the bullpen brigade consists of Jason Motte (124K in 120 IP),Trever Miller (the requisite “crafty lefty” sported an 0.96 WHIP and .197 OBA two years ago) Brian Tallet (231 runs allowed in 446 IP while with Toronto and Cleveland), Miguel Batista (who may have pitched for the Gashouse Gang in the 1930s) and likely either Mitchell Boggs (spot starter or longman) or Fernando Salas (26 and still a very raw talent). Give Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan credit for knowing how to manage a bullpen.

2011 FINISH: Offense will prove problematic – or lack thereof – especially when tangling with the Brew Crew and the Firecracker Reds. St. Louis may fall behind Milwaukee if the Brewers pitching and devastating lineup have anything to say about it – and they will. Another bridesmaid season. 85-77

http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/st-louis-cardinals-mlb-baseball/ [50] 

[57]3. MILWAUKEE BREWERS

2010 FINISH:  77-85, 3rd NL Central, 14 GB

ADDITIONS:  Tim Dillard, Sean Green, Roger Mercedes, Yuniesky Betancourt, Zack Grienke, Wil Nieves, Shaun Marcum, Brandon Boggs, Jeremy Reed, Shawn Riggans, Takashi Saito, Mark Kotsay   http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/milwaukee-brewers/ [58]

SUBTRACTIONS:  Chris Capuano, Doug Davis, Trevor Hoffman (RET), Dave Bush, Gregg Zaun, Alicdes Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Jeremy Jeffries, Brett Lawrie, Carlos Villanueva, Todd Coffey, Joe Inglett

POSITION BATTLESCF-Gomes/Dickerson/Boggs    C-Lucroy/Nieves/Kottaras/Maldonado

[59]STORYLINES: Last season The Brewers received outstanding offensive seasons from Prince Fielder, Braun, Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart and Casey McGehee, but their pitching almost completely began and ended with Yovani Gallardo. Now that Zack Grienke and Shaun Marcum join Gallardo, Randy Wolf and Chris [60]Narveson, the buzzword in Brewtown is “balance.” Perhaps the balance of power is finally changing in the NL Central – but is it happening just in time for Prince Fielder’s last Tour of Duty with the Brewers? Prince won’t discuss contracts during the season but he and Albert Pujols could force at least one major league team to pony up $30M semolians in 2012. For all their press Milwaukee ranked only 12th in 2010 for runs scored and RBI but 5th in HR and 21 in SB. Grienke and Marcum better help that 25th ranking in ERA not to mention the staff ranking 4th in pitcher [61]strikeouts and 22 in SV (27 in WHIP), which tells us this team is all over the map statistically.  Bullpen is anchored by John Axford ()24-27 in SVOP) who studied under the tutelage of Trevor Hoffman before taking over the closer’s role last season. Axford has the talent but has to prove his mental toughness over the long season. There he will seek help from the likes of veteran LaTroy Hawkins (who has never been successful as a closer but makes a nice setup man), Takashi Saito (84 Sv in 94 Op) and cavalcade of burgeoning talent. This includes Zach Braddock, Kameron Loe, Manny Parra and Sean Green. The rest of the Brewmeisters  are focused on the geographic map because a playoff berth will likely require winning the NL Central – and that means fending off the Cardinals, Reds and Cubs while hopefully pummeling the hapless Astros and the truly putrid Pittsburgh Pirates.

[62]PREDICTIONS: Grienke (10-14, 4.17 ERa, 220 IP) will benefit exponentially by pitching for a good club with a powerful offense. Fielder, Braun, Hart, McGee and Weeks will tear up the basepaths like a team of Bugs Bunny characters but it is the supporting cast and bullpen that cause pause. Carlos Gomez has speed and a good hitter’s eye but promises to be a single machine. Lucroy behind the plate is homegrown but not very exciting while Yuniesky Betancourt (.259, 16 HR, 78 RBI) takes over at short, marking his fourth team in 2-1/2 seasons (KC, ATL, SEA). The Brewers may have fireworks on offense but they will go as far as they can get on pitching and defense.

[63]2011 FINISH: This may be the final year that the Brewers have a shot to go for it as Prince Fielder is not likely to be back. Surprise is that much like in 2008 when they acquired CC Sabathia to rent for 2 months, Grienke and Marcum reflect more of a commitment – a commitment to pitching and defense – which were areas of huge concern. Brewers could overtake St. Louis but will have a lot of difficulty catching the Reds down the stretch. Even Cheeseheads expect a Hunt for Red October. 84-78, third in NL Central

http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/milwaukee-brewers/ [58] 

[64]4. CHICAGO CUBS

2010 FINISH:  75-87, 5th NL Central, 16 GB

ADDITIONS:  Erick Castillo, Kerry Wood, Angel Guzman, Scott Rice, Scott Moore, Carlos Pena, Todd Wellemeyer, Braden Looper, Augie Ojeda, Reed Johnson, Max Ramirez, Fernando Perez, Matt Garza

SUBTRACTIONS: Bobby Scales, Micah Hoffpair, Brad Snyder, Xavier Nady, Tom Gorzelanny http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/chicago-cubs/ [65]

[66]POSITION BATTLES:  Blake DeWitt and Starlin Castro were not the keystone combination heading into 2010 but forsee no real competition for either spot. Geovany Soto has established himself as one of the better young catchers in the league. Less press than Buster Posey but in his third full season Soto has learned the pitchers and hitters of the league to [67]call a good game and he can post 20+ HR himself while hitting around .285 when healthy. Castro (139 hits in 463 AB) and DeWitt (.260 hitter with some pop) have the tools to be complete players but need time to prove it. Castro just turned 21 while Blake has never had more than 400 AB – which he had in 2010. DeWitt was once considered a Chase Utley clone but has not proven it at all. Marlon Byrd has staked a claim in center and has become an All-Star in his 9th season with his 5th major league team at the age of 33. Suddenly Byrd is a .300 hitter with power to hit 25 HR, knock in 75 runs and swipe a few bases. No one is taking any jobs away with that routine.

STORYLINES: Considering that the Cubs ranked [68]middle of the pack or worse in almost every major category (7th in 2b, 4th in pitching staff strikeouts and dead last in pitchers walks surrendered) their 2010 finish makes perfect sense. Not much else makes sense outside of Wrigleyville. The team actively pursued and landed slugging 1B Carlos Pena and swung a deal brining Matt Garza to town, but other than the return of prodigal son Kerry Wood the only other major move was to send Tom Gorzelanny packing for Washington. The rest of the team remains very much the way it looked in September and October. Aramis Ramirez remains as does Alfonso Soriano (.258, 24 HR, 79 RBI) so Pena (.198, 28 HR, 94 RBI) joins them in the middle of the lineup. Marlon Byrd remains in center with Fukudome in RF and Tyler Colvin (.254, 20 HR, 56 RBI in 130 games) waiting in the wings to claim his stake. Fernando Perez may also make the squad depending on what kind of bench manager Mike Quade wants to have.

[69]PREDICTIONS: There was a time when this team was called the Chicago Orphans and we all know about the 100 years and counting without a championship…   Alfonso Soriano has been misused for most of his career. This power/speed raw talent can hit anywhere from 1 to 6 in the lineup but seems suited for none of them. Speed to steal based but low OBP, power to drive in runs but inconsistent slugging percentage – not to mention never having a natural defensive position. Soriano draws more ire than praise especially in his seasons with the Cubs, but he bounced back from a rough 2009 campaign to wallop 24 homers and 40 doubles over [70]147 games. After years of batting atop of the lineup, Soriano has settled into the more suitable No. 6 hole and is really suited for #3 in front of Pena and Ramirez. Soriano is 35, but he’s capable of duplicating last season’s numbers if his health holds up. If there were an award for most batspeed, Soriano would win! Another question is Kosuke Fukudome, who may be the first flop in the recent wave of baseball’s Japanese imports. Defensively, he is brilliant, but Fukudome has managed a .259 AVG, 34 HR, 156 RBI, 25 SB and 283 strikeouts over the course of [71]3 seasons. While we neither expect him to mirror Ichiro or Saduharu Oh, it may be time for the 34-year-old to give way to Tyler Colvin. Starlin Castro is a future star but after just 450 AB, he is being asked to carry this team with defense and a solid batting eye. Carlos Marmol should benefit by having veteran and former Cubs legend Kerry Wood in the bullpen. Replacing Fukudome and developing young pitching should be on the Cubs’ radar. Perhaps a fire sale is in store for late July this year?

2011 FINISH: Due to their century of bad fortune, most true baseball fans feel for the Cubs. Whether it is recent memories like Bartman or the Black Cat incident or any number of events, the Curse of the Cubs is now the longest-standing myth that pervades baseball. Classic Wrigley Field dates back to the days of Prohibition and Cubs fans seem to always show up in droves but what would it be like if this team and this town erupted for a championship? The White Sox won in 2005 and it seems like Chicago barely noticed but if the Cubs won there would be pandemonium. Not this year. 79-83 closer to 5th than 3rd.  http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/chicago-cubs/ [65]

 

[72]5. HOUSTON ASTROS

2010 FINISH:  76-86, 4th NL Central, 15 GB

ADDITIONS:  Clint Barmes, Bill Hall, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Jose Thompson, Sergio Escalona

SUBTRACTIONS:  Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, Tim Byrdak, Gustavo Chacin, Geoff Blum, Brian Moehler, Matt Lindstrom, Albert Cartwright   http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/houston-astros/ [73]

[74]STORYLINES: It may prove difficult to recognize the Astros in 2011 as a number of the names have changed. Roy Oswalt is gone (Phillies) as is stalwart Lance Berkman (Cardinals by way of Yankees), leaving no remnant of their 2005 World Series team. GM Ed Wade is very good at collecting talent from the scrap heaps of other teams – and often finds diamonds in the proverbial rough. The prospects garnered in those two trades will help in the future but what about this year? The OF remains undisturbed so that Carlos Lee (.246, 24 HR, 89 RBI), Michael Bourn (.265, 52 SB, 84 R) and Hunter Pence (.282, 25 HR, 91 RBI) all return with familiar Jason Michaels as the likely fourth outfielder.  Brett Wallace is new at 1B thanks to the Oswalt deal but he may need some time figure out big league pitching – which he will do at the big league level. So far Wallace has had a torrid Spring and shows no signs of slowing down. The rest of the infield is comprised of Chris Johnson (.308, 11 HR, 52 RBI in 92 games) along with newcomer veterans Billy Hall (.247, 18 HR in Boston) and Clint Barmes (.245, 23 HR, 76 in his last full season in Colorado before being supplanted by the artist known as “Tulo”) who is no slouch at SS. Hall has been known to hit 35 HR or steal bases but at 32 a solid if unspectacular season would be more likely. Catching will be Quintero/Esposito and neither of them will make your heart stop but either are solid options. The real story is the pitching. Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez and JA Happ do not strike fear into the hearts of opponents, but they do know where the strike zone is. The rotation will be completed by whoever wins the sweepstakes from among Ryan Rowland-Smith, Nelson Figueroa and  Bud Norris who may be the lynchpin to this rotation. At 26, Norris has 200+ IP over 2 seasons but wants to find out what it feels like to make 30-35 starts in the Big Leagues. Rodriguez and Lance Pendelton are as likely to head back to the minors as to grapple for bullpen spots – though the latter is already 27 and a Rule 5 pick so he would have to stay in the majors or be returned to the Yankees system.  Jordan Lyles is a possibility. Rowand-Smith should wind up in the bullpen as he would be a valuable veteran lefty. There he would pair with closer Brandon Lyon and sidearming lefty Wesley Wright to anchor a shaky bullpen corps in need of experience.

[75]PREDICTIONS: There is a lot to look forward to in Houston.  Manager Brad Mills is optimistic, saying that he will do what is right for the team’s long-term growth and that players should check their egos at the door. For example, Mills may move massive Carlos Lee to 1B should Brett Wallace need more seasoning. Mills has also said that he will not be afraid to experiment this season (players at new positions, tinkering with lineup or even using multiple platoons) so long as he thinks it will help the team move forward.  The name “Clemens” may appear on the back of an Astros jersey again – this one belonging to Kolby Clemens, who is a first baseman born the year that his father struck out 20 Seattle Mariners while with the Boston Red Sox. Clemens has been reassigned to minor league camp but should start the season at AAA. Look for a lot of travel back and forth between AAA Oklahoma City and Houston for 2011. Do not be surprised to see Carlos Lee dangled as trade bait come Trading Deadline as he will be sought after by teams looking to bring in another big bat. The arrow is pointing up on the Astros.

2011 FINISH: Astros fans should not expect a championship before 2013 but they will see an exciting team when they come out to the ballpark in Houston. The Astros will experience growing pains in their rebirth but a new nucleus of young starts will emerge and this team will soar the cosmos again. 70-92.     http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/houston-astros/ [73]

[76]6. PITTSBURGH PIRATES

2010 FINISH:  57-105; 6th NL Central, 34 GB

ADDITIONS:  Clint Hurdle, Justin Thomas, Aaron Thompson, Garrett Atkins, Josh Fields, Matt Diaz, Lyle Overbay, Scott Olsen, Fernando Nieve, Andy Marte, Joe Beimel, Garrett Olson

SUBTRACTIONS:  John Russell (manager); Javier Lopez, Bobby Crosby, DJ Carrasco, Ryan Church, Brendan Donnelly, Akinori Iwamura, Andy LaRoche, Delwyn Young, Zack Duke, Brian Burress, Lastings Milledge, Will Ledezma                                                   http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/pittsburgh-pirates/ [77]

POSITION BATTLES:  SS-Cedeno/Rodriguez; 2B-Walker/Rodriguez; Starting Pitching & Bullpen

[78]STORYLINES: Pride. Passion. Pittsburgh Pirates. Nice slogan but you can’t argue with results or history. Nineteen straight losing seasons… if the Bucs can’t put it together they will post their 19th straight losing season. Not just losing… but losing painfully – losing abysmally!!!  In 123 seasons through 2010, this franchise has amassed 19,015 [79]games for a 9,616-9,399 (.506 win pct) record. 57 wins in 162 games marking just the 7th time in Pirates history that they have posted more than 100 losses (three of those since 1985). However, in the past two decades, the team has averaged 91 losses per season.  If the “We Are Familee” Pirates of 1979 could see this team they would do the same thing that PNC Park faithful have done – they would go into the Pirates Relocation Program (a.k.a. MLB teams [80]that will pay players who leave Pittsburgh)! Not since the days of Bobby Bonilla, Barry Bonds (wearing  #7 and not resembling the Incredible Hulk), Doug Drabek, Mike LaValliere and Andy Van Slyke have the Pirates seen the postseason. Naturally that ended when former Pirate Sid Bream carried the winning run around third and slid into home for the worst-to-first Atlanta Braves. Doug Drabek’s son Kyle is now starting for the Toronto Blue Jays. An entire generation of Pirates fans have grown up losing. Hopefully they know the names Dave Parker, Willie Stargell, Kent Tekulve, Bill Maddlock and John Candaleria – and Hall of Fame inductee Bert Blyleven who started his career at Three Rivers! Clint Hurdle and his staff have a lot of work to do in order to teach this extremely unproven ballclub how to play Major League baseball.

[81]PREDICTIONS: There is talent on this team and the Pirate flag will fly proudly again… someday… Andrew McCutcheon (.286, 16 HR, 56 RBI, 33 SB), Jose Tabata (.299, 4 HR, 35 RBI in 400 AB) and Garrett Jones (.247, 21 HR, 86 RBI)  could play together for 10 years. Pedro Alvarez (.256, 16 HR, 64 RBI in 90 games) displays all five tools and may be an All-Star but for now he does everything well and nothing exceptionally. The rest of the roster needs some work. Neil Walker (.296, 12 HR, 66 RBI, 110 G) is the leading candidate at 2B while SS Ronny Cedeno (.256, 8 HR, 38 RBI, 12 SB) is the only person in America who won his job because no one else applied. Lyle Overbay (.250, 25 HR, 80 RBI) will [82]man 1B and no one has distinguished themselves as the dominant catcher. Going into Spring Training with this many jobs up for grabs never modes well for a Major League team – but we all know that the Pirates are a major league team in name only. The pitching would probably do fine so long as they keep up the cage and only have to throw batting practice. A quintet of McDonald, Maholm, Correia, Ohlendorft, Morton, Olson would likely be better served playing in the Pittsburgh Symphony than at PNC Park. Sadly, until beautiful modern Mecca PNC Park sees some fannies in the seats, the payroll will remain low and the Pirates will resemble the Durham Bulls more than the marauding buccaneers of old!

[83]2011 FINISH: It is not all gloom and doom. Andrew McCutcheon is going to become one of the most exciting players in baseball (he may already be among the league’s best defensive centerfielders) and the Pirates will win their share of games. The real victory will be when the farm system finally pays off and this team has time to develop their core of players for the next decade. It will take more time but how can you ask the Pittsburgh fans to have more patience with this team? Relocation is not the answer for this proud and storied franchise but bringing in some modicum of talent would do a world of good. In the mid-1980s, the Bucos were pretty bad but they were about to display players named Bonds, Bonilla, Drabek and Bell – who would lead them into contention by 1990. What would be nice would be the expectation of having more than one token Pirate player on the All-Star team when PNC Bank Park hosts the All-Star Game. Aren’t fans tired of seeing their players auctioned off to the highest bidder or sent packing at the trading deadline for another influx of prospects? 60-102. 20 years anyone?    http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/pittsburgh-pirates/ [77]

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

[84]1. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

2010 FINISH:  92-70, NL West champs; World Series Champs

ADDITIONS:  Javier Lopez, Cody Ross, Pat Burrell, Aubrey Huff (re-signed), Casey Daigle, Miguel Tejada, Brad Eldred, Ryan Vogelsong, Jeff Suppan   http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/san-francisco-giants-mlb-baseball/ [85]

SUBTRACTIONS:  Jose Guillen, Chris Ray, Guillermo Mota (re-signed), Juan Uribe

POSITION BATTLES:  LF-DeRosa/Burrell, CF-Torres/Rowand; Serious bench deficit

[86]STORYLINES: Critics and haters alike seem to circumvent the fact that the Giants won the World Series and now are defending champions. San Francisco sported the best pitching staff (3.36 combined ERA, ranked #1 for hits allowed, strikeouts and saves) and made the strongest late-season and playoff run grabbing clutch hits when needed… oh and… was it mentioned that the Giants won 11 postseason games to take the 2010 World Championship? Because they have a trophy to prove it in case anyone forgot. Buster Posey (.305, 18 HR, 67 RBI in 406 AB) came out of nowhere to become the Rookie of the Year who played like a veteran. This guy was hitting third or fifth most days, handling the pitching staff and at the same time was still acclimating to life in the major leagues. A full season of [87]Buster will likely bring more success. Help will come from an improved offense – exponentially improved over the fodder from Opening Day lineup 2010. That lineup didn’t have Posey, Pat Burrell (.250, 30 HR, 90 RBI) or postseason superstar Cody Ross (.270, 20 HR, 80 RBI). The 2011 version features imports Miguel Tejada (.269, 15 HR, 71 RBI), [88]Mark DeRosa (.272, 20 HR, 75 RBI) and Freddy Sanchez (.292, 10 HR) at the expense of losing Juan Uribe. Andres Torres (.268, 16 HR, 68 RBI, 26 SB in what became his first starting role of his career) will work out playing time with veteran Aaron Rowand (.230 with 11 HR in 105 games) – who has never been the player who posted gaudy numbers with the Phillies in 2007 (.309, 27 JR, 89 RBI). DeRosa [89]may work at 2B with Sanchez to allow Burrell and Nate Schierholtz (only 225 AB in 2010 but hits well and plays sterling defense) some extra AB. Don’t sleep on Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval who is fighting for his life and his starting job over at 3B. Panda hit .330 with 25 HR & 90 RBI in 2009 but dipped to .268, 13 HR, 63 RBI in one fewer game (152) in 2010. Bench will be seriously weaker in 2011.

[90]PREDICTIONS: Being the champs means that everyone else is gunning for you with the hopes that they will have a shot. Being the champs also means that you need to realize that winning it all in 2010 has no real bearing on your success in 2011. In other words, don’t believe your own PR department! You are as good as your next game! The Giants know that. In fact, I think they are hungry for another postseason run because no one picked them as the favorites last year. Can they do it again? Possibly [91]but they will need some improvements. Look for more of the same from Tim Lincecum (16-10, 3.43, 212 IP, 231 K, OBA .242), Matt Cain (13-11, 3.14, 223 IP, .221 OBA), Jonathan Sanchez (13-9, 3.07, 205 K, .204 OBA), Madison Bumgarner (7-6, 3.00 ERA as a 20-year-old rookie)and Jeff Suppan (138 -143 career with 4.69 ERA). Barry Zito (142-120, 3.86 ERA in 10 seasons with .239 OBA and 1.31 WHIP) may have seen the handwriting on [92]the wall when he was left off the postseason roster and subsequently told that his spot in the 2011 rotation is not guaranteed. Signing Suppan indicates that Zito is at a disadvantage. The bullpen looks good led by Brian “Fear the Beard” Wilson (48 of 53 SV, 1.81 ERA, .235 OBA, 26BB/93K). Jeremy Affelt, Javier Lopez and Sergio Romo fill out the group with Santiago Casilla.

2011 FINISH: No reason to think that the Giants won’t take the NL West again – and this time with less drama because the only real contender would be Colorado. However, don’t expect the Giants to make it deep into the playoffs. Spectacular pitching but mediocre hitting and defense. 90-72, NL West champs.  http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/san-francisco-giants-mlb-baseball/ [85]

 

[93]2. COLORADO ROCKIES

2010 FINISH:  83-79, third in NL West, 9 GB

ADDITIONS: Matt Lindstrom, Jose Morales, Ty Wigginton, Jose Lopez, Alfredo Amezaga, Willy Taveras, Joe Crede, Jason Giambi (re-signed), John Maine, Mike Jacobs, Billy Buckner, Greg Smith, Claudio Vargas http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/colorado-rockies/ [94]

SUBTRACTIONS: Taylor Bucholtz, Octavio Dotel, Clint Barmes, Manuel Corpas, Jason Giambi, Jeff Francis, Melvin Mora, Jay Payton, Joe Beimel, Miguel Olivo, Manny Delcarmen

POSITION BATTLES:  3B/1B-Ty Wigginton/Ian Stewart/Todd Helton; Bullpen

[95] [96]STORYLINES: Don’t look now but the Rockies appear to be gearing up for a championship run from 2012-2017. They have the most promising young OF Carlos “CarGO” Gonzalez (.336, 34 HR, 117 RBI) locked up through 2017 and the best SS in the league Troy “Tulo” Tulowitzski  (.315, 27 HR, 95 RBI) through 2020. Dexter Fowler (.260, 6 HR, 73 R, 20 SB in 439 AB), Seth Smith (.246, 17 HR, 52 RBI, 55 R in 358 AB), Ian Stewart (.256, 20 HR, 70 RBI) and Chris Ianetta (.234 AVG, 10-15 HR, 60-70 RBI) all have their best seasons ahead while grizzled veteran Todd Helton (.324 career hitter, 2200 hits, 333 HR and 1240 RBI in 14 seasons) is determined to hang around long enough to win a ring with the Rockies.

[97]PREDICTIONS: Dismantle the humidor at Coors Field because these Rockies can throw some serious pitching at you! Ubaldo Jimmenez (19-8, 2.88 ERA, 221 IP, 214 K, .209 OBA, 1.15 WHIP) proved that he is an elite pitcher so far as finishing second in Cy Young voting (between Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum). Jorge DelaRosa, Jason Hammel, Aaron Cook and Jhoulys Chacin collectively ranked in the second half of team pitching. All showed flashes of brilliance not reflected in their season’s numbers.

[98]2011 FINISH: Make no mistake this team is ready to compete right now and into the future. They will hit and pitch and field and make errors and learn from their mistakes but they will also serve as the Giants only real challenger in NL West. Difference would be Rockies Bullpen (Huston Street) is not in the same league as Brian Wilson and the Giants. Additionally the Giants starting rotation is in a class by itself. Rockies fans should feel that the future looks extremely bright. 85-77 will be good for 2nd in NL West.     http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/colorado-rockies/ [94]

 

[99]3. LOS ANGELES DODGERS

2010 FINISH:  80-82, 4th in NL West, 12 GB

ADDITIONS:  Don Mattingly (manager), Davey Lopes (coach),  Jon Garland, Blake Hawksworth, Juan Uribe, Kazuki Nishijimi, Kazuya Takano [100], Juan Castro, Matt Guerrier, Dioneer Navarro, Tony Gwynn, Dana Eveland, Gabe Kapler,  Oscar Villareal, Marcus Thames, Orlando Mercado, Aaron Miles, Ron Mahay, Mike MacDougal, Lance Cormier, Juan Rincon, Ted Lilly  http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/los-angeles-dodgers/ [101]

SUBTRACTIONS:  Joe Torre (ret), Manny Ramirez, Octavio Dotel, Ronnie Belliard, Russell Martin, Ryan Theriot, Scott Podsednik, Jeff Weaver, Reed Johnson, Brad Ausmus, George Sherrill

POSITION BATTLES:  LF-Thames/Gwynn/Gibbons; C-Barajas/Navarro

[102]STORYLINES: Much like merging onto the freeway at rush hour, you see a lot of traffic moving at a very rapid rate but it is impossible to focus on anything more than what you are doing – which is trying to get up to speed. Only at the end of Spring Training can we look back on the flurry of moves made by the Dodgers and hope to gain any sort of perspective. Don Mattingly takes [103]over for the retired Joe Torre but Mattingly has been with the Dodgers for years. Davey Lopes is back in Chavez Ravine this time as a coach, a position he held for years with the Phillies (facing the Dodgers in 2008 and 2009 NLCS). Jon Garland and Juan Uribe would seem the most significant free agent moves -  that is aside from the end of the Mannywood Era. Garland (200 IP, 14-12, 3.47, OBA .240, WHIP 1.32) becomes the unquestioned best fifth starter in baseball because he has averaged 31 starts per season over ten years along with 14 wins, 200+ IP and usually fewer than 70 walks in those 200 IP. Rotation will consist of Kershaw, Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Garland and then either Vicente Padilla or Hiroki Kuroda.  Maybe that makes Garland the #4 starter? [104]Regardless, there are a lot of changes. Matt Kemp (has hit 30 HR, drive in 100 runs, steal 35 bases and hit around .290-.300 – but has yet to do all of those things in the same season) and Andre Ethier (.292, 23 HR, 82 RBI) remain holdovers and look to play prominent roles both offensively and defensively as will first baseman James Loney (.267, 10 HR, 88 RBI, 157 H, 41 2B). Manny Ramirez is in Tampa, replaced by Marcus Thames (in 9 seasons has hit 25+ HR twice and is a career .248 hitter who has never amassed more than 348 AB in a given season) [105]spelled by Jay Gibbons (.260 hitter with 3 seasons of 25 HR but hasn’t been within 30 RBI of 100 since the 2003 season), Gabe Kapler (hip flexor and ankle problems limited him to 124 AB in 2010 and he has not had more than 290 any season since 2002; Kapler’s .210 average makes him a longshot to make this roster)and Tony Gwynn, Jr. (.244, with virtually no power and pedestrian speed). The infield now sports Uribe (.248, 24 HR, 85 RBI, NLCS helo) at 2B, while SS-Rafael Furcal and 3B-Casey Blake return. Rod Barajas and Dioneer Navarro will split the catching and the bullpen will be a Spring Training decision. Broxton remains the closer but supporting roles will be held by Guerrier, Kuo, Jansen, Hawksworth and a few other candidates.

[106]PREDICTIONS: Dodgers as a team ranked 11 in SV, 3rd in K, 8th in WHIP, 16 in BB and 12 in ERA so Garland will contribute to some improvement – but the bullpen does not look improved and Broxton has a tendency to melt down once his confidence is shaken by any kind of adversity. Their offensive categories were generally in the lower half of the league. There is no reason to believe that this team will be better offensively nor will the bullpen be better than 2010. However, over 500 player games were missed as a result of injury last season so look for Ethier, Loney, Kemp and Blake to rally if healthy.

2011 FINISH: It would be foolish to think that the Dodgers will repeat their 80-82 season from 2010, but indications are that the team could go in either direction. San Diego is not going to be in contention this year so if Mattingly’s boys can’t secure at least third place they are in serious trouble.  80 wins could garner third place in NL West but the erstwhile trolley Dodgers would really like to see something closer to 85-77. Split the difference and we’ll suggest 83-79 or 82-80http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/los-angeles-dodgers/ [101]

 

[107]4. SAN DIEGO PADRES

2010 FINISH:  90-72, 2nd in NL West, 2 GB

ADDITIONS:  Ryan Ludwick, Cameron Maybin, Rob Johnson, Orlando Hudson, Jason Bartlett, Dustin Moseley, Aaron Harang, Jorge Cantu, Chad Qualls, Gregg Zaun, Kevin Franzden, Brad Hawpe, Randy Flores, Pat Neshek, Mike Koplove, Geoff Geary, David Newhan

http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/san-diego-padres/ [108]

SUBTRACTIONS:  Miguel Tejada, David Eckstein, Willy Mo Pena, Chris Young, Tony Gwynn, Jr., Chris Stewart, Edward Mujica, Ryan Webb, Yorvit Torrealba, Jerry Hairston Jr, Kevin Correia, Jon Garland, Matt Stairs, Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Hairston,

POSITION BATTLES:  RF-Wil Venable/Chris Denofria; 3B-Chase Headley/Jorge Cantu; 1B-Hawpe/Cantu; Fifth starter, back of bullpen spots are still up for grabs

[109]STORYLINES: What a difference a year makes! Last year the upstart Padres held the division lead an remained in the race right up until the final week of the regular season thanks to Adrian Gonzalez, Miguel Tejada, David Eckstein, Jon Garland and a group of players who bottled the spirit of the average Little League team and found a way to win games – 90 of them in fact, 2 fewer than it would have taken to make the playoffs! Padres boasted the second-best pitching staff in the majors by ERA, K, SV and WHIP (SFG were #1). This is a team whose offense didn’t register among the top half of 30 MLB teams in any category. Now the roster is virtually overhauled and the [110]yardstick of success for 2011 will be to avoid another losing season.  Is this what passes for progress in the modern Major Leagues? Jason Bartlett (.281, 10 HR, 50 RBI, 15-20 SB, excellent defense) replaces Miguel Tejada so that’s an upgrade.  Orlando Hudson (.280, 5-10 HR, 30 SB, 80-100 Runs) replaces David “Jiminy Cricket” Eckstein. Upgrade. Cameron Maybin (.250, 13 HR, 50 RBI, 20 SB) is only 23 years old and will take advantage of PETCO Park’s cavernous alleys and pinball-action outfield walls. Brad Hawpe, Jorge Cantu and Aaron Harang are all finding their roles on this team in an effort to help fans forget Gonzalez, Garland and Scott Hairston. Nick Hundley, Chase Headley and Ryan Ludwick return but now must become team leaders either by example or mentoring the young players. Orlando Hudson will take care of being the team’s unofficial cheerleader, trash talker, color commentator and stand-up comic. Don’t look now but this bullpen may be the best in the league. Heath Bell (89 for 98 SV-SVOP in last 2 seasons), gains a lot of support from the combination of Luke Gregorson, Mike Adams, Joe Thatcher and Chad Qualls.

[111]PREDICTIONS: If it is possible to not realize that the second-best pitching staff resided near LaHoya in 2010, it is going to be noticed even less when the Padres fall back into the NL West pack. Mat Latos (14-10, 2.92, 184 IP, 189 K, OBA .217 in his first full season) and Clayton Richard (14-9, 3.75, 201 IP) are 1-2 but with Garland and Young departing, the pool of possibilities must produce some starting pitching for manager Bud Black. These candidates include Tim Stauffer, Dustin Moseley, Cory Luebke, Wade LeBlanc and Aaron Harang to fill 3 spots. ..Hawpe and Cantu will likely revitalize their careers as both have been offensive juggernauts in the past. Can’t say that either will elicit comparisons to Gonzalez, Kouzmanoff, Garvey or Nettles but the Padres do upgrade at several positions while decline a bit with their starting pitching. Padres are doing what they can to avoid being victims of Baseballonomics.

2011 FINISH: Night and Day 2010 to 2011 or to be accurate, Day and Night. 80-82, 4th NL West  http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/san-diego-padres/ [108]

 

[112]5. ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

2010 FINISH:  65-97, 5th NL West, 27 GB

ADDITIONS:  Bobby Crosby, Joe Saunders, Mike Hampton, Brandon Allen, Zach Duke, Juan Miranda, Geoff Blum, Xavier Nady, Henry Blanco, J.J. Putz, Melvin Mora, Brian Sweeney, Armando Galaraga, Micah Owings, Andy Tracy, Mike Hampton (re-signed), David Winfree, Willy Mo Pena, Cody Ransom, Aaron Heilman (re-signed), Willie Bloomquist, Russell Branyan, Sean Burroughs,

http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/arizona-diamondbacks/ [113]

SUBTRACTIONS:  Edwin Jackson, Dan Haren, Aaron Heilman (re-signed), Kris Benson, Brandon Webb, Rodrigo Lopez, Adam LaRoche, Rusty Ryal, Mark Reynolds, Ryan Church, Augie Ojeda, DJ Carrasco, Blaine Boyer, Mike Hampton (re-signed), AJ Hinch

POSITION BATTLES:  1B-Allen/Miranda/Branyan/Nady/Blum; Bullpen (behind JJ Putz) and Bench

[114]STORYLINES: Kirk Gibson, Don Baylor, Matt Williams and Alan Trammell will endeavor to bring fundamentally sound baseball to the Arizona desert – but as coaches not players. If they are successful, this very young team could grow together for years to come. If not, one or both of them could wind up as part of a vulture breakfast buffet in that watercolor wasteland… Speaking of wasteland, make sure your local classified section indicates that the Arizona Diamondbacks have a “Help Wanted” sign on their clubhouse door. Refugees from the Bad News Bears to the Yomuri Giants are all welcome but make sure that no one suggests the name Charlie Sheen. Even the fictional Wild Thing wouldn’t want a place on this roster.  There is a lot of talent [115]in the form of Justin Upton (.275, 25 HR, 85 RBI, 20 SB), Steven Drew (.290, 25 HR, could be 20/20 guy depending on his place in lineup but not enough speed to be a true leadoff hitter), Chris Young (.250, 30 HR, 90 RBI, 30 SB) and Miguel Montero (.270, 15 HR, solid defensively). Should Juan Miranda not beat out Brandon Allen the latter will finally have a breakout season with solid power numbers. Veterans Russell Branyan or Xavier Nady could start the season at 1B. Gerardo Parra is the wildcard of this deck. Parra enjoyed a solid rookie campaign in 2009, but he took a step back last season and appears headed for a backup role in ’11. He’ll likely need to cut back on the strikeouts and rediscover the stolen-base prowess he showed in the Minors before he gets another chance to start on a regular basis. Willie Bloomquist and Xavier Nady would be safer bets to crack the Opening Day lineup.  This talented nucleus will stick around until the next Diamondbacks Renaissance but it may be a long wait and could require a lot of excellent drafts over the following couple of years.

PREDICTIONS: 4.81 team ERA put the D’backs 27th overall as a team but they ranked poorly in most pitching categories across the board. Reduced offense with the departure of Reynolds/LaRoche is still not as big a concern as pitching. Joe Saunders (57-39, 4.29 ERa in 128 GS, 1.39 WHIP, .277 OBA), Daniel Hudson (20 [116]GS, 114 IP, 2.61 ERA with 11 HR, 98 K and WHIP of 1.05), Ian Kennedy (46G, 253 IP, 4.33 ERA), Armando Galarraga (famous for his almost perfect game in 87 game career, 475 IP, 186/301 BB/K with .239 OBA), Zach Duke (160 starts, 4.54 ERA, .305 OBA, 1.48 WHIP) and Barry Enright are all recycled from other organizations but it will take more than glue and a resounding rah-rah speech to mold them into a major league pitching staff. Enright shows the most upside though expectations for all are high. Promoted mid-way through the 2010 campaign after fashioning a handsome 1.03 WHIP with an ace-like 5.83 K/BB ratio at Double-A Mobile, Enright gave the D-backs 99 workman-like innings and finished up with 3.91 ERA. His peripherals tell a different story, however, as he wound up stranding nearly 85 percent of the runners that reached base against him — a figure far above the league average of 72.2… JJ Putz leads a bullpen brigade with very little experience who will be called on infrequently.

2011 FINISH: It is sad, but Arizona will have competition for the worst record in the league by season’s end. Pittsburgh, Seattle, Washington, Kansas City, Cleveland or Houston will all be in the running (and don’t forget how the NY Mets could implode) but there is no prize offered for this feat. Really it depends on the level of competition and Arizona will likely not get pounded quite as much as Pittsburgh and Houston. There is real hope and real talent on this team. The coaches are all sound fundamental baseball men in the tradition of Sparky Anderson, Roger Craig, Earl Weaver and Tommy Lasorda. Fundamentals pay off much easier in the minors or Little League while the Diamondbacks may be seeking the institution of the Mercy Rule. 60-102. NL West Basement.

http://prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/arizona-diamondbacks/ [113]

 COMING UP: Playoff Predictions & Postseason Award Predictions

MLB Pitchers Preview: http://prosportsblogging.com/mlb-baseball/aces-wild-in-philadelphia/ [117] 

AL PREVIW:  http://prosportsblogging.com/mlb-baseball/mlb-2011-preview-al-east/ [118]

About the Author Subscribe to author's RSS feed [119]


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[100] Kazuya Takano: http://mlb.mlb.com/team/player.jsp?player_id=599812

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[116] Image: http://prosportsblogging.com/psb/uploads/2011/03/2001-Arizona.jpg

[117] http://prosportsblogging.com/mlb-baseball/aces-wild-in-philadelphia/: http://prosportsblogging.com/mlb-baseball/aces-wild-in-philadelphia/

[118] http://prosportsblogging.com/mlb-baseball/mlb-2011-preview-al-east/: http://prosportsblogging.com/mlb-baseball/mlb-2011-preview-al-east/

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