Saturday, February 23, 2008

Season Preview (part II)

Sorry about the delay; we have a guest coming over tomorrow so a clean-up was in order. Here is the rest of the list:

5) The Royals and the Rays: When most fans think about these teams, their first thought is futility. These franchises have embodied the concept for the last several seasons. However, there is breakout potential for both. The Rays may finally get some pitching to go with a surprisingly potent offense that will only improve with the addition of Evan Longoria if Kazmir and Shields continue to make strides, Garza becomes a suitable #3, and Price, McGee, et al. fulfill at least some of their potential. Their bullpen only has to be better with Wheeler and Percival so we'll be spared the brutality of Shawn Camp, Chad Orvella, etc. With the Orioles rebuilding and the Blue Jays potentially overrated (and as last year showed, brittle), the Rays should avoid the basement and might even place third! Crazy what a difference a year can make (and #1 picks help).

As for the Royals, they were a better team than the White Sox last year (just check the run differentials) and not much worse than the Twins. With the White Sox trading away the farm for Nick Swisher and still not addressing a horrible lack of pitching depth (along with a sub-par infield), the Royals have an opening, especially now that the Twins are officially in rebuilding mode. Teahen and DeJesus should bounce back, Billy Butler should mash, and Alex Gordon should build on a good second half to display his prodigious abilities. I actually like the potential in their rotation, particularly if Zack Greinke stops battling his boogeymen and focuses on the guy in the batter's box. Sure, that bullpen may have less name recognition than third Manning brother but at least they're not running Juan Uribe out there every day.

4) The NL West: My girlfriend, a Padres fan, thinks that this should rank higher but I like it right here. Why? Because it's a division in which four teams have a legitimate chance to win the division (everyone except the Giants). The Diamondbacks, who won the division last year, actually had a worse run differential than the other three contenders. The addition of Dan Haren should help but by how much? The Rockies had a miracle run last year but can they repeat it? The Padres have a great pitching staff but collapsed down the stretch last year. Can they hit enough to take advantage of their pitching advantage? Lastly, the Dodgers have a great core of young players. Will Joe "I like older men" Torre give the kids enough chances to succeed or will he plague us all with more Juan "I wish I could steal first" Pierre? This battle should last right up the wire like last season. I'm only hoping that this time around, someone checks to see if Matt Holliday actually touches home.

No, I'm not bitter. Ok, maybe a little. But I'm not the only one.

3) The NL Central: This is the division that no one seems to want. Sure, the Cubs and Brewers are better than the other teams but is it really much of an accomplishment to better than the Cardinals, Reds, and Pirates? The Brewers can hit, no doubt, but their starting pitching is awful and once Ben Sheets takes his yearly pilgrimage to the DL, it's going to get uglier than Ricky Martin at sixty-five. The Cubs have more questions with their lineup (especially if Fukudome struggles) but at least they have Carlos Marmol to close out games once they get over this Bob Howry nonsense and drink their Marmol-ade. But they'll still be relying on Jason Marquis and the remains of Jon "Lefties make me pee my pants" Lieber to hold up the back end of that rotation. This could be an ugly division but in a train-wreck-in-slow-motion kind of way. It will be compelling theater for the exact opposite reason that the NL West will be so good. Just Tivo it so the kiddies can't watch and you'll see what I mean.

2) The AL East: As a Yankees fan (and no, I don't think Joba Chamberlain can cure cancer), this normally would be my #1 storyline. However, not much happened this off-season to justify too much hype. Sure, A-Rod re-signed for the GDP of Andorra, but the biggest storyline was a trade that never impacted the division (see storyline #8). Still, the Red Sox and Yankees still look like great teams that should pummel each other about the head and neck for the entire season. Plus, the Rays shouldn't be pushovers (see storyline #5) and the Blue Jays are dangerous if healthy. Sure, the Orioles are going to be terrible but at least their management realized that they weren't going anywhere and pulled the trigger on the Bedard trade. Plus, it's possible that winning the division will be the only way into the playoffs for the BoSox and Yanks because of the two powerhouses in...

1) The AL Central: With one blockbuster trade, the Tigers instantly turned themselves into true contenders for not only their division, but for best team in baseball. Miguel Cabrera turns that lineup into a combination of Charybdis and Echidna (the mythological creature, not the cute mammal). It's truly pick your poison and if Sheffield is healthy, that team is going to score more than Wilt Chamberlain. However, their rotation is their potentially fatal flaw. If Dontrelle Willis continues to decline (and I think he will), then they're going to have to win a lot of 8-6 games. Without Zumaya and possibly Rodney, that bullpen suddenly looks pretty vulnerable too. Meanwhile, the Indians were quiet over the offseason but didn't have much work to do. They still have an outstanding 1-2 punch in Sabathia and Carmona along with an outstanding bullpen (well, beside their closer). The offense isn't as explosive as the Tigers' but it's plenty good especially if Pronk rebounds and stops staring at Grady Sizemore wistfully during at-bats. Sure, he's dreamy, but I picked your team to win it all last year SO DON'T LET ME DOWN AGAIN.

And with that, the list ends. Feel free to crush my list in the comments section. There's just one rule: no poking fun at Grady. He's a dreamboat and I won't hear otherwise.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Season Preview (Part 1)

I believe that 2008 is going to be one of the best years in recent memory. Despite all of the distractions (read: PEDs and that will be the last time we speak of them) circulating around the game, the game itself is in remarkably great shape. There are intriguing stories around the entire league and incredibly exciting division battles waiting to happen. Along those lines, here are the top 10 storylines I can't wait to watch this year:

10) Young Pitching: Due to the skyrocketing cost of acquiring mid-level pitchers on the open market (more here), more teams are taking chances with young pitchers from their own systems. It's always great to see fresh blood (and less Jeff Weaver et al.) and the inherent volatility of young pitching lends itself to great stories. Will Clay Buchholz and John Lester outduel Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy in the AL East? Can Ubaldo Jimenez finally harness his stuff and stop walking everyone including my dead grandfather? Who will step up for the Twins(maybe these guys)? And that's just a small sampling of what awaits us.

9) The Big Trades (not named Johan): This offseason saw little happen in the free agent market (other than Carlos Silva making GMs across the game cringe with his 4 year/$48 million dollar deal) but lots of movement in the trade market. Big names like Miguel "I swear I didn't do steroids" Tejada, Nick Swisher, Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis, and Dan Haren switched teams while hordes of prospects came back to their former owners. Now the big question is: who won these trades? While it may seem obvious in some instances (ahem.... why the hell do the Astros and White Sox think they have a chance to contend?), others are not so clear cut. Miguel Cabrera can rake, no doubt, but can Dontrelle provide enough value to soften the blow of losing young, affordable superstars-in-waiting like Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin? Will Dan Haren be more his first half self or second half self? I honestly can't wait to see how all these moves pan out.

8) The Big Trade Named Johan (sort of): So this may be the #1 storyline to watch for those who don't find the Mets' HR apple unbearably annoying, but I honestly think that the Mets' fate rests more in the hands of the other pitchers on the staff. Johan is a known quantity (his late season swoon last year will be ancient history by May) and he should destroy the junior varsity. But the health of Pedro Martinez's shoulder will decide their fate far more. They simply don't have the starting pitching depth to rebound from significant injuries unless they try to rewind the clock and turn Aaron Heilman back into a starter (good luck with your bullpen then). So even if Johan wins 22 games and saves an entire bus load of Catholic schoolchildren from Megatron, the Mets will be mush by September if Pedro's shoulder blows out, El Duque finally succumbs to the ravages of 147 years of life, and they are forced to rely upon (shudder) their farm system for help.

7) The Seattle Experiment: I know that while the Bedard trade (details here) has been brutally lambasted by pretty much every sportswriter in the Western hemisphere (myself included), we could all be surprised. Although some of you are probably chuckling to yourselves, I'm being serious. Vladimir Guerrero's bum knee could finally cry uncle and make one of his legs a LOT shorter than the other. Howie Kendrick might turn out to be a bust (or at least empty average). Juan Rivera's leg might break off again, completing the gimpy set with Vlad. K-Rod might take advantage the leg situation and put up a new sign for the "Club-house," leading to a hilarious, hopping showdown in the locker room.

Ok, I'm grasping for straws. Bill Bavasi is an idiot.

6) Mr. Met vs. the Phillie Phanatic: The war of words between the Mets and Phils reached new heights today with suggestions that a fight might be in order. While I like the idea of a real fight, Nolan Ryan style, on a baseball field, I think there is a far better match-up available here than Pedro vs. Jaime Moyer in a slow-tossing contest (and no, I'm not talking about Brett Myers in a rematch vs his wife). I'm talking about Mr. Met vs. the Phillie Phanatic. Both are idiotic, irritating cast-offs from some bizarro Muppets show. Both deserve to die. The solution? A winner-take-all deathmatch between the two mascots for the division title. Weapons are open to debate, though I personally prefer knives. Why? Because they hurt more and take longer to kill you.

The rest of the list will follow in the morning.

My girlfriend doesn't actually hate baseball

but she does hate hearing me talk about it all day, night, and whatever lies between. Now that this little tidbit is cleared up (and I won't have to sleep on the couch tonight), a little about how I came to blog about baseball.

My love for baseball manifested itself late. Growing up, my parents didn't have much use for the sport; after making the last out during the Little League playoffs in second grade, I swore off the game. After all, standing around for minutes at a time at that age is damn near close to torture. So my attention wandered to other, more immediately gratifying sports like tennis and soccer.

After arriving in my college dorm during my freshman year of college, I heard a significant amount of swearing emerging from the room next to mine. Like a trained pig searching for truffles, I found myself drawn to the source of salty language. To my surprise, a small, disgruntled Asian guy was sitting on his floor, hurling imprecations at Mariano Rivera's heritage, parents' marital status at his birth, and views on incest. Introductions quickly followed and despite the fact that I came from New York, we quickly became friends. My interest in baseball was reignited and grew beyond mocking my friend's predicament as a Rangers fan.

This blog will focus on both real and fantasy baseball. The vast majority of my posts will focus on happenings and musings in the world of actual baseball; however, I openly invite guests to submit posts on real and fantasy baseball alike. I will try to incorporate statistical analysis into more traditional methods of evaluation since there are many ways to view the game. I invite guest posters to do the same.

Since my girlfriend is getting bored of me typing this post, I'll try to wrap it up. I am leaving comments open for now. Moderation is on but if everything goes well, I can turn it off. Many of the points that will be raised will create arguments, which is great! That's what is fun about talking about baseball. Just try to keep it civil and please, no trolling! Back up your opinions with facts and all will be well :)

Thanks for reading this far; this should be a great season!