Siberian Baseball

Thursday, March 30, 2006

NL Central Wrap Up

Too many question marks. That's the problem in the NL Central this year. Too many question marks.

Like, that screaming dude on late night television hawking his book on getting money from the government's suit question marks.

The Cubs should be tops, but not without Prior and Wood. The Astros should be top three, but what about Brad Lidge and Roger Clemens? About the only team that's solid right now out of the gate is St. Louis.

Looking at their top three starters, it's the best team on paper in the NL Central right now and they have the strongest actual pitching staff (discounting the Cubs injury-plagued starters and no Clemens in Texas). Show me any other team in the Central that can beat the Cardinals at their own game.

The past two seasons have seen the Cards get a great start and hold that lead all year. With the rest of the teams hobbled or just bad, what's to keep them from doing so again? Exactly.

The rest of the division is a mess. It's difficult to gauge the Cubs this year. On paper, they should contend for tops in the NL Central, but in the papers you see a lot of trips to the DL. Milwaukee should be up there, but they have a very young infield, which is something to consider no matter the talent level.

Houston has been there at the end for two years now with different results, but always make their push at the end of the year, after they've been left for dead at the All-Star Break, so how do you discount them off the bat?

I guess what I'm saying is that I'm hedging my bets with the predictions here. If you put me in a basement with no contact with the outside world, pulled teams from a hat for those top four and told me that's how the division would shake out in the end, none of it would surprise me.

So, as it stands, I see the Cardinals up top, the Cubs battling their way to second against their best efforts to start the season without any healthy pitchers who are older than 19 and younger than 38, Milwaukee making the most of their young guys and its middle of the road rotation to third and Houston fading away to fourth.

Feel free to mix and match those teams as you see fit.

National League Central
1.) St. Louis Cardinals
2.) Chicago Cubs
3.) Milwaukee Brewers
4.) Houston Astros
5.) Cincinnati Reds
6.) Pittsburgh Pirates


Pittsburgh Pirates (67-95, .414, 6th in NL Central)

Who? Who? Who? Oh, Jason Bay! Yeah, the rest of them? I've never even heard of those guys...

Here's what you need to know about the Pirates.

1.) It's not their year. Accept that they will be last or next to last this year as well.

2.) Keep and eye on Jack Wilson, Joe Randa, Jason Bay and Zach Duke. Especially those last two.

3.) If thise team wins 70 games with that pitching staff, I'll be shocked.

4.) I'm done wasting my time looking at the Pirates. Maybe next year, Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Pirates
C: Doumit; Cota; Paulino
1B: Casey; Wilson; Eldred
2B: Jose Castillo; Freddy Sanchez
SS: Jack Wilson
3B: Randa; Sanchez; Bautista
LF: Bay
CF: Duffy; McLouth
RF: Burnitz; Wilson; Gerut

SP: Oliver Perez; Kip Wells (may be PUP); Duke; Maholm; Burnett
CP: Mike Gonzalez
RP: Marte; Torres; Grabow; Snell; Hernandez; Vogelsong; Capps


Cincinnati Reds (73-89, .451, 5th in NL Central)

The outfield logjam in Cincinnati seems to have been broken for now following the trade of Wily Mo Pena (my favorite name in baseball right now) for Bronson Arroyo. This marks the first time in years that the Reds will begin the season without a minor controversy swirling around the team.

Ken Griffey Jr., Ryan Freel and Austin Kearns will work the outfield for the Reds, at least until Griffey is hurt in June or July.

Ken Griffey Jr. began his career as one of the top young players in baseball and lived up to that billing in the years in Seattle. Then, his body started to fall apart to the point where he's rarely mentioned as an impact player in the majors anymore.

Despite a strong showing at the World Baseball Classic, Griffey's health is a major concern for the Reds, which makes me wonder why they dealt their insurance policy for a mid-level starter.

A few other moderate sluggers round out the lineup, placing the Reds in their usual position as a spoiler team that jumps up and bites other NL Central teams in the ass. For instance, say you're the Cardinals, you need to take two of three from the Reds in August to keep your lead and the Reds haven't done anything all season to show signs of life.

That's exactly when the Reds will reel off a quick four- or five-game win streak. And that's just about all you can expect from them this season as well.

Cincinnati Reds
C: LaRue; Valentin; Sardinha; Perez
1B: Dunn; Hatteberg
2B: Womack; Aurilia; Freel
SS: Felipe Lopez; Aurilia; Olmedo; Womack
3B: Encarnacion; Aurilia; Freel
LF: Freel; Denorfia; Womack
CF: Griffey; Freel; Denorfia
RF: Kearns; Denorfia

SP: Harang; Dave Williams; Milton; Arroyo; Claussen; Paul Wilson
CP: ?
RP: Standridge; Simpson; Burns; Gosling; White; Mercker; Weathers; Hammond; Wagner; Coffey; Belisle; Balfour; Shackelford


Houston Astros (89-73, .549, 2nd in NL Central)

What a bad year to be an Astros fan. You go into the 2005 season after missing the World Series by one game and leave it with an ass-whipping at the hands of the White Sox. If this keeps up, Houston fans are going to turn into the flinchy, beaten fans usually seen in Boston and Chicago.

Roger Clemens is still unaccounted for and was telling anyone who would listen at the World Baseball Classic that he was done for good after that (maybe he just wanted more free stuff from the Roger's retiring chuckwagon).

Jeff Bagwell is working his way back, but even he admits he's probably played his last game which is too bad, considering how hard he's clung to his playing days. The fact that he's played at all with his body breaking down that badly reminds me of the same sort of pain Mickey Mantle played though - not the same astronomical results, but the same determination.

Finally, how is Lidge going to perform this year? It's got to be pretty uncomfortable within five feet of Lidge everywhere he goes in Houston these days. I think Phil Garner is man enough to keep him in there, but how he performs in the first two weeks of the season will go a long way to deciding what happens for the rest of the season.

If he struggles, Garner will need to pull him to stave off full-scale riots at the ballpark and save Lidge's career from himself.

It's not a bad team, but minus those three players the stock of the Astros falls dramatically. If Clemens comes back and if Lidge rebounds, then they are right up there with the Cubs and Brewers for second. If not, It can be a very long season for Houston.

Houston Astros
C: Ausmus; Chavez; Quintero
1B: Bagwell*; Lamb; Berkman
2B: Biggio; Burke
SS: Everett; Bruntlett
3B: Ensberg
LF: Berkman; Burke; Bruntlett
CF: Taveras; Preston Wilson
RF: Wilson; Lane; Palmiero; Scott

SP: Oswalt; Pettitte; Backe; Rodriguez; Astacio; (Clemens)
CP: Lidge
RP: Qualls; Wheeler; Springer; Gallo; Miller


Milwaukee Brewers (81-81, .500, 3rd in NL Central)

For the first time in a few years, Milwaukee has reason to be optimistic for the upcoming season. In addition to Bob Uecker, brats and a shiny new ballpark, the Brewers should field a decent ballclub this year. If nothing else, they should give Milwaukee fans hope and that has been in short supply as of late.

Some of us are more optimistic than others this year, but Frank the Tank is on the right track... just for the wrong reasons. Forget Carlos Lee and Ben Sheets (who will likely start the season on the DL). Forget anyone you've heard of before. Instead, focus on the young guys in the infield.

If you are a fan of an NL Central team, you're going to have to start paying attention to this team - I can't keep bailing your inattentive ass out. Around the horn is Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, JJ Hardy and Corey Koskie. If I could attach a sound file that played the "white guy walks into a black club record scratch" when you read Koskie's name, I would. But I'm not that smart... or motivated.

Soon, Koskie will be gone and shortly thereafter Milwaukee will get pitching help for Mike Maddux (brother of Greg) to work with. Outside of Baltimore (gothca! Used to be Atlanta) I think Maddux is one of the top pitching coaches in the NL.

Fielder - son of that Fielder - broke into the bigs last year with Weeks and forced the issue with Lyle Overbay. He was shipped to the Blue Jays in the offseason only because Fielder was deemed ready by the club.

Weeks was called up on June 10 and hit .239 with an OBP of .333, 13 homers and 42 RBI in 360 at bats. Not great, but I think most rookies would dive at those numbers for their first pro season. This too, is after he tore the Pacific Coast League a new one, where he proved he can theoretically hit for power consistiently. One of the great saying in baseball comes into play here, "See how he hits with an upper deck on the park."

In the field, Weeks had 21 errors and turned 60 double plays in 95 games in the show. Seems like he's fitting in fine there. On a more unscientific note, he's one of the most watchable second basemen that I've seen in a while - just an exciting guy to watch - we're talking checking the MLB cable package to see when the Brewers are playing fun to watch.

On the other side of second is Hardy, who in 119 games committed 1o errors as a true rookie. To only scrape double digits as a rookie shortstop is pretty amazing or he's slow as hell and never gets close to a ball in the hole. I've seen him, he's not slow as hell.

Solid three starting pitchers in the rotation, then a Simpsons punchline and a few others. Three pitchers are OK. Three will get you over .500 at least. One of the only things standing in the way of a decent season is an offseason pickup - Dale Sveum.

While I have combed the free content at the Baseball Prospectus site, looking at fielding stats, VORP and all sorts of other bits, there is no stat on coaches. Sveum will cost this team between 15 and 20 runs a season - I'm not kidding, this guy is very, very bad at his job. He is possibly the worst third base coach of my lifetime. Bad enough that total strangers asked who he was as I've watched the Red Sox at away ballparks... twice.

Milwaukee Brewers
C: Damien Miller; Moehller
1B: Fielder; Cirillo; Hart
2B: Weeks; Hall; Sorensen; Cirillo
SS: Hardy; Hall; Sorensen
3B: Koskie; Hall; Cirillo; Hart
LF: Lee; Gross; Hart
CF: Clark; Hart
RF: Jenkins; Gross; Hart

SP: Sheets; Doug Davis; Capuano; Ohka; Bush; Helling
CP: Turnbow
RP: Kolb; Wise; Eveland; DeLaRosa; Capellan; Kane Davis; Lehr


Chicago Cubs (79-83, .488, 4th in NL Central)

The goat. The Bartman Game. Leon Durham's glove getting a Gatorade bath.

Enough already.

The last time the Cubs won a World Series, there were 17 states in the union, Joan Rivers was in grammar school and unicorns roamed the earth.

We know.

Kerry Wood and Mark Prior are hurt, despite what the Cubs have been saying all spring. On top of that, they didn't make it a priority to go and grab another front line pitcher.

You don't say!

It's really difficult to love this team. At least with the Red Sox, it was a bad relationship that doesn't work because of all the weird crap getting in the way. The Cubs are a bad relationship that doesn't work because one person is too stupid or just doesn't care.

Seriously, knowing that you have two pitchers with injury issues, how do you not pursue a few insurance policies? At worst you have Wood, Prior, Maddux and Zambrano and move Glendon Rusch back to the bullpen.

That's not to say this offseason has been a bust for Chicago - on the contrary, it was one of the best in recent memory. After Sammy Sosa handcuffed the team a few years ago until an 11th hour trade moved him out east, this season sees a new outfield and bullpen upgrades.

Juan Pierre will make a world of difference if he sticks to his bread and butter of using his speed to get on base and then letting Derek Lee or Aramis Ramirez worry about plating him. I cannot overstate how much a solid leadoff man will help a team's offense. The difference between none on, one out and one on, none out with a speedy baserunner is huge in terms of strategy and upsetting a pitcher on the mound.

With the Corey Patterson nightmare over, this fresh blood should jumpstart the Chicago offense. Jacque Jones has identical numbers to Patterson, so that's a wash but should provide better defense than Jeromy Burnitz did. If Matt Murton picks up where he left off last year, he could have Red Sox Nation kicking themselves for years to come.

There's a slight pileup at second base, but Jerry Hairston and Neifi Perez can play multiple positions, so it's nothing to worry about - they'll get their time spelling the everyday guys. Perez can switch hit as well, so look for him as a pinch hitter.

I'll spare everyone the pitching analysis for now, but this is the key to a successful season in Chicago. Zambrano and Rusch cannot carry this team alone. Greg Maddux never used speed or overwhelming stuff to handle batters, so he'll be fine this year, but with question marks there, the Cubs will be crossing their fingers every fourth and fifth day.

The bullpen looks better than it has lately, and while I don't think that Ryan Dempster is a great closer, he can come in and shut things down to end games. Bobby Howry and Scott Eyre are nice pickups, although I question the paychecks they'll be getting when the team failed to grab a starter.

As has been the case for a few seasons now, as the starting pitchers go, so goes the rest of the team. Oh, crap.

Chicago Cubs
C: Barrett; Blanco; Soto
1B: Derek Lee; Mabry
2B: Todd Walker; Hairston; Neifi Perez
SS: Cedeno; Perez
3B: Ramirez; Mabry
LF: Murton; Pagan
CF: Pierre; Hairston
RF: Jones; Mabry; Pie

SP: Zambrano; Prior; Maddux; Rusch; Jerome Williams
CP: Dempster
RP: Wuertz; Wellemeyer; Ohman; Williamson; Novoa; Wood; Hill; Koronka; Eyre; Howry


St. Louis Cardinals (100-62, .617, 1st in NL Central)

Is there some stat about teams in a new ballpark? I know that traditionally teams play well when there is a measure on the ballot to fund a new park, but what about the first season in? How did Seattle do? Or Baltimore? Screw Milwaukee, they'd have lost games in Pony League in the mid-90s.

Does any of that matter when it comes to St. Louis? Not really, I refuse to pick against a team that has both Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter. Further, I won't think twice about it when you add Mark Mulder as a No. 2 man behind him and have decent depth in the outfield.

Say what you will about windows of opportunity and what the Cardinals should have done the past five seasons, they are still a viable contender. This might hinge on Scott Rolen staying healthy, though. His injury last year crippled this team and it'll happen again this year if he goes down.

Pujols is one of the top clutch hitters in the league, trailing only David Ortiz in terms of big hits in tight spots - just ask Brad Lidge. He probably still has nightmares about that one.

I remember watching that game, seeing Houston fans starting to celebrate and doing the math about when Pujols would be coming up - would he get one more at-bat? To go into the Astros house and crush a ball like that? I'm honestly shocked that the Astros came back from that. Just a demoralizing, soul-crushing home run. And the thing is that most folks outside of that park could just feel it coming.

Oh, and this season he's 26. And he's never hit under .314. Really, is there any other hitter you'd rather avoid in the league? It's got to be a toss up between him and any other hitter you can name right now. A power hitter who has contact numbers like that? It's just unfair.

I'll get off my knees and quit blowing Albert now as we move to the pitchers. Carpenter and Mulder at the front of the rotation and solid guys Jeff Suppan and Jason Marquis and Sidney Ponson looking to save his career after wearing out his welcome and eating his way out of Baltimore.

While Jason Isringhausen isn't a dominant closer, he is a solid pitcher who can come in and nail down a game in the ninth. This puts the Cardinals over 80 percent of the teams in the majors right now.

It's tough to find a true dominant closer these days, and even Mo Rivera is on his way out after his reign of terror. There are plenty of better than average guys now, but the new crop of lights out guys has yet to emerge.

The point? The Cards aren't being hurt with their closer situation and are better off than most. Depending how Lidge comes back after his Byung Hyun Kim performance last year, they have the top closer in the NL Central (and may have had that before Lidge's meltdown anyways).

Lat thing here is that Larry Bigbie was always a quiet guy in Baltimore, so it'll be interesting to see how he does with his first full season in the National League. He has 23 games under his belt with Colorado last year after being moved from the Orioles and I think he should see decent numbers out in left field. If not, I've liked So Taguchi out there as well, so they have options.

Keeping in mind that this is the team that had Reggie Sanders for two seasons, I see a lot of their players in his mold - older guys, not head cases, been pros for a few years or more and while they aren't going to be perennial All-Stars, they will give you solid production.

That's not such a bad thing.

St. Louis Cardinals
C: Y. Molina; Bennett; Michael Hernandez
1B: Pujols; Chris Duncan
2B: Spivey; Miles; Luna; Cruz
SS: Eckstein; Cruz; Luna; Ryan
3B: Rolen; Cruz
LF: Bigbie; Taguchi; Rodriguez; Gall
CF: Edmonds; Taguchi; Encarnacion; Schumaker
RF: Encarnacion; Taguchi; Rodriguez

SP: Carpenter; Mulder; Suppan; Marquis; Reyes; Ponson
CP: Isringhausen
RP: Looper; Rincon; Flores; Thompson; Wainwright; Mateo


Sunday, March 26, 2006

NL West Wrap Up

Oh, baby, have I been waiting for this.

Since I ran through the NL East, I've been waiting for this. Go back and look at the overall records. See anything interesting? Yeah, the NL West is a big, bleeping joke.

The NL East's worst team record-wise was the Nationals, which finished dead even at 81-81.

Granted, the Braves led with a 90-72 record, not really a world-beater, but still everyone there had non-losing record. Now look at the cesspool that are the colective records of the NL West. Yeah, but it was a bunch of fun to see people freak out over the prospect that a losing team could make the playoffs.

The NL West champs were the Padres at 82-80 and everyone else had a losing record... some bigger losers than others. Is this piling on? Yup, but any collection of teams that bad deserve it.

It doesn't look much better this year. The Dodgers have upgraded with flashier players, but they should be enough of an uprgade talent-wise to take the West this season. I feel this is an accident. After picking up some of the sexier names in the offseason, the Dodgers took a decent team and made them dangerous out west.

A healthy rotation is the big question mark and Eric Gagne needs to stay the course after injuries last year.

The Padres are moderately better, but traded for age this season and I think that will hurt them. There are too many creaky knees and bad backs on that list to make San Diego a strong contender.

For the rest of them, it's a toss up as to who will be the least embarrasing. In terms of talent it seems to be the Giants, Diamondbacks and Rockies, but with the Barry Bonds circus, who knows what'll happen off the bay there. Arizona has a few good additions, but not enough to balance a lack of depth or talent overall and Colorado is Colorado. It's not their year.

It's a two team fight here and the other three will roil around in the bottom until they are dismissed in October (it helps to imagine Simon Cowell here, shooing them away with an air of disgust). On the plus side, I'll enjoy seeing how crazy the Bonds' mess gets.

(As a quick note, the NL Central preview is in the works, but I figured I'd save that for last. Plus, this one was easy, so it's done first.)

National League West
1.) Los Angeles Dodgers
2.) San Diego Padres
3.) San Francisco Giants
4.) Arizona Diamondbacks
5.) Colorado Rockies


Colorado Rockies (67-95, .414, 5th in NL West)

This needs its own post. But I want to save it for July when news is slow. It'll even go on both web sites, it's that good.

Of course, I'm talking about the accident that cost Clint Barmes the Rookie of the Year Award and any shot at respectability. Barmes hit like a demon last year as he got off to a hot start, batting .400 into June if my recollections are correct.

Then, in one of my favorite fluke accidents in a sport that is known for fluke accidents and dumb explanations for injuries (see: Wade Boggs and his cowboy boots), Barmes falls down the stairs. He tells the club that he was carrying groceries and didn't want to take the elevator, etc., but it turns out that instead of groceries it was fresh deer meat after a hunt. I assume the Rockies frown on firearms during the season, but I never heard a solid answer to why he didn't admit to falling down the steps with deer meat in first place.

Barmes is back to face hecklers wearing antlers this year and Jeff Jennings is a really good pitcher. If he can keep his numbers down in Coors Field, he should be able to write his own ticket out of baseball purgatory soon enough. Not as much fun to watch as Felix Hernandez or Dontrelle Willis, but a solid pitcher worth seeingwhen you get a chance.

The Rockies as a whole had a pretty crappy season in a pretty crappy division, so it's a special kind of failure to come in last. It'll be even more special to come in last again. They should get a medal for that sort of continued futility.

Colorado Rockies
C: Torrealba; Ardoin; Closser
1B: Helton; Luis A. Gonzalez; Shealy
2B: Gonzalez; Carroll; Josh Wilson; Quintanilla
SS: Barmes; Carroll; Wilson; Quintanilla
3B: Atkins; Gonzalez; Carroll; Baker
LF: Holliday; Cory Sullivan; Piedra
CF: Sullivan; Freeman; Salazar
RF: Hawpe; Piedra; Shealy

SP: Jennings; Cook; Francis; B.H. Kim; Day; Kim; Fogg; Esposito
CP: Fuentes
RP: King; DeJean; Tsao; Cortes; Dohmann; Cerda


Arizona Diamondbacks (77-85, .475, 2nd in NL West)

What the hell is up with Shawn Green? It was only a few years ago that he signed that monster contract, got on the cover of the PS2 game and then dropped under the radar. He gutted out a season or two in LA, then got shipped to the desert where he's been streaky for two seasons.

Seen through the prism of fantasy baseball, he's the worst type of player because he'll have a hot bat for a week to 10 days, then you'll see that and pick him up as he goes cold for a week. Then you drop him and he heats up again and someone else makes the same mistake you just did.

If we were smart, fantasy players would draft him with a productive outfielder like Ichiro and then let him hit for a week, bench him and bring him back when his bat wakes up. If we were smart, we'd find more productive ways to spend our time. We're not that smart.

Unfortunately for me, Alex Cintron was shipped off to the White Sox in the month or so that I've been spreading out these capsules. The only reason anyone even knows this guy is because in last year's PS2 baseball offering by EA Sports, Cintron's picture was the one they used for every Latin guy who didn't have a head shot.

It took me a few days to catch on to this and I just assumed Alex's daddy was a travelling salesman who was a hit with the ladies. Now I know better. No way does this team repeat as the second-place team this year, even in the NL West. There's just no way.


Arizona wins World Series - pitchers are Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson.
Arizona can't beat a pick up team at Hamlin Park in 2006 - Webb and Ortiz


Arizona Diamondbacks
C: Johnny Estrada; Snyder; Hill
1B: Jackson; Clark
2B: Hudson; Cintron; Easly; Andy Green
SS: Counsell; Easly; Green
3B: Tracy; Cintron; Easley; Green
LF: Luis Gonzalez; Terrero
CF: Byrnes; Terrero; Chris Young
RF: Shawn Green; Terrero

SP: Webb; Ortiz; Batista; Hernandez; Halsey
CP: Valverde
RP: Medders; Lyonl Vizcaino; Bulger; Bruney; Vargas; Grimsley


San Francisco Giants (75-87, .463, 3rd in NL West)

The Giants are so old... How old are they?

The Giants are sooooo old that Barry Bonds farts dust. Wait, that may be a side effect from the roids. Umm, oh, OK, the Giants are so old that when Moises Alou pees on his hands now, he does it three times in the middle of the night and spends most of BP complaining about his prostate.

Oh, and Steve Finley doesn't have to worry about his wife beating him anymore because she's in a home. Or dead. In a home or dead. Dead because of natural causes...

Let's assume that none of these guys breaks a hip out there and we're still left with Barry's big mess. I just can't see this team playing through the dual distractions of Bonds' home run chase and the steroid story. There are already two books out on him and there have to be more in the works. Oh, and he has yet to really run on that knee.

He keeps making excuses about why he's not running, but the other day he watched a ball drop 15 feet in front of him. That's not a great sign for the Giants. He can't be benched and the NL can't hide him as a DH and a hobbled left fielder isn't the best compliment to an ancient right fielder. I don't care who they put in center, even if Bonds was healthy there will be some sizeable alleys to hit to against San Francisco.

Nothing about this team really impresses me and there are too many things to go wrong in the dugout. Put it this way - while I hope that the White Sox clubhouse gets the spark to start up that tinderbox, I think the Giants will just have a season-long smolder that will poison them from wire to wire.

San Francisco Giants
C: Matheny; Knoedler
1B: Niekro; Mark Sweeney; Vizcaino; Feliz
2B: Durham; Vizcaino; Angel Chavez
SS: Vizquel; Vizcaino; Angel Chavez
3B: Feliz; Vizcaino
LF: Bonds; Finley; Alou; Sweeney; Linden; Feliz
CF: Winn; Finley; Ellison
RF: Alou; Finley; Sweeney; Linden; Ellison; Ortmeier

SP: Schmidt; Matt Morris; Noah Lowry; Cain; Hennessey; Correia
CP: Benitez
RP: Munter; Fassero; Accardo; Taschner; Walker; Worrell; Kline


San Diego Padres (82-80, .506, 1st in NL West)

A breathtaking two games over .500 was all it took last year for the Padres to grab the invite to the post-season and set the Las Vegas bookmakers' all-time record for fewest bets placed on a baseball team in the playoffs.

At the time, I was driving to San Diego with a friend who was relocating out west and she and I would grab bits and pieces of the California radio broadcasts as we headed west. Suffice to say that with the season coming to a close and the Padres trying to hold on for the playoff spot, that interest in the team could have been a bit higher.

Simply put, there were more people who saw me have dinner a quarter mile from the stadium the last night of the season than who saw the Padres clinch the NL West. Had we not eaten outside that night, who knows, maybe it would have been a fair fight.

The team is decent, but not great. Kind of the same as last year's effort. Leading the list of solid guys is Dave Roberts, Khalil Greene and Jake Peavy. The list of past-their-prime guys is Ryan Klesko, Vinny Castilla, and Woody Williams. All of the above are capable players, but the older guys are due for injury issues (Klesko is already hurt) and that will be all that's needed to tank a season in San Diego.

Luckily there'll be the Giants, Rockies and D-Backs to soften the fall.

San Diego Padres
C: Piazza; Mirabelli; Ross; Laforest
1B: Klesko; Adrian Gonzlez; McAnulty; Young
2B: Barfield; Bellhorn; Hill; Eric Young
SS: Greene; Blum
3B: Castilla; Blum; Hill
LF: Dave Roberts; Sledge; Young; Ben Johnson; McAnulty
CF: Cameron; Roberts; Johnson; Guzman
RF: Giles; Sledge; Johnson

SP: Peavy; Chris Young; Woody Williams; Estes; Park; Hensley; Stauffer
CP: Hoffman
RP: Linebrink; Hensley; Cassidy; Andrade; Etherton; Brocail; Sikorski; Embree


Los Angeles Dodgers (71-91, .438, 4th in NL West)

One of the funniest things I saw on ESPN this week was one of the baseball shows posing the question of whether or not Nomar Garciaparra will return to the numbers he saw in his Boston days. My dog - who had been napping on the couch - perked up his ears when he heard that question, snorted and shook his head disapprovingly.

There's no way Garciaparra returns to his old numbers after injuries, age and bullheaded refusals to work a count or even see three pitches in an at-bat are taking their toll. Is that part of his little OCD handjive he does? Does he think if he stands in for three pitches he'll need to go home that night and bathe in orange Fanta to scrub the failure away?

Here's the thing with Nomar, other than the fact that he's a first-ball hitter with injury issues. When he was younger and a bit quicker with his bat, he could afford to get up and react to the pitches he saw. He's lost a half step up there (watch how many first pitches he fouls off this spring) and for whatever reason he won't show patience and try to adapt his style. This will continue to baffle me until his retirement in four years.

Garciaparra is the first baseman on an aging infield that was imported this season. Around the horn, it's Garciaparra, Jeff Kent, Raffy Furcal and Bill Mueller. This looks like a mid-level fantasy team, doesn't it?

I have better than average odds that Furcal doesn't live up to his massive contract and have serious concerns about the outfield, but the NL West is really, really weak. When the Dodgers pitchers are healthy, they're fine but with Derek Lowe, Brad Penny and Odalis Perez that's not a realistic expectation, now is it?

Eric Gagne is back and while he hasn't been lights out up to now, it's still spring and he's still Eric Gagne. From 2002 though last year, Gagne racked up 52, 55, and 45 saves before injuries shut him down last year. Those numbers are pretty stunning when you see them laid out like that. Name another closer in the past five years you'd rather have on your team.

The bullpen is another story. Yikes. Still, despite that hole, I think the NL West is so up for grabs enough this year that even a non-existen bullpen and Grady Little can't keep the Dodgers from the post-season.

Yeah, and that's saying something.

Los Angeles Dodgers
C: Navarro; Alomar
1B: Garciaparra; Choi; Saenz; Kent
2B: Kent; Robles
SS: Furcal; Robles; Izturis
3B: Mueller; Aybar; Robles; Saenz
LF: Cruz; Werth; Repko; Ledee
CF: Lofton; Drew; Repko; Werth; Ledee
RF: Drew; Cruz; Repko; Ledee; Werth

SP: Lowe; Penny; Perez; Tomko; Seo
CP: Gagne
RP: Brazoban; Baez; Osoria; Kuo; Broxton; Carter; Hamulack; Houlton


Saturday, March 18, 2006

NL East Wrap Up

As strong as this division is, I can't help ut see this as a two horse race between the Braves and the Mets. While the Braves have the experience and an infusion of fresh blood, they lost Leo Mazzone and the law of averages says they can't win forever.

On the other hand, the Mets continue to spend in the offseasons and have a few young guys who were home grown and give New York some serious options in the field and behind the plate. Whether or not the new faces can come in and contribute remains to be seen as the Mets have been stockpiling contracts for a few years now.

Here's the thing - for as much of a lopsided division as this may appear to be with the Phillies, Marlins and Nationals, none of the East's teams finished under .500 last season. More on this when I look at the NL West, but that's a really high level of competition there.

The Marlins will fall off the table this year with their M(AAA)jor League ballclub, but the Nationals and Phillies should be winning clubs again this year. Aside from that drop, it should be a competitive (if overlooked) division this season. I qualify this as we wait on Soriano in Washington, DC and to see what other moves shake out with Atlanta, because I have a hunch they aren't done.

In the end, I think the Braves have the advantage in pitching and stability as the Mets are still letting everything settle out and for word on Pedro Martinez's toe problems which might hinder them to start the season. Simply put, the Braves are a team that know how to win and are well-coached on top of that. It is an older team with a few young guns and solid position players and pitching.

Additionally, Atlanta was held up as the gold standard in terms of their farm system last year when they were able to patch holes without skipping a beat as injuries cropped up, so really what more can you ask for?

Well, except to win a post-season series more than once every 12 years.

National League East
1.) Atlanta Braves
2.) New York Mets
3.) Washington Nationals
4.) Phildelphia Phillies
5.) Florida Marlins (and are relegated to the Carolina League after the season)


Florida Marlins (83-79, .512, t-3rd in NL East)

OK, Marlins, if you're not going to try, then I'm not going to try. Without further ado, quick hits on the Florida Marlins:

1.) Watch this team for three guys - Dontrelle Willis, Miguel Cabrera and Hanley Ramirez. Everyone else can go to hell.

2.) God bless a team with players named Abercrombie, Bump and Uggla. Easily the most-heckle-able team in the majors for these reasons alone. Also, they sound like characters in Marjor League 4: Shrunken Roid Nads. If you think any ballpark won't be ringing with calls of "You Uggla! Yo momma Uggla! Your sister is Ugg-la!" then you are a resident of Alabama.

3.) Gotta give it to the Marlins, when they have a fire sale, they burn the whole clubhouse, not just the bullpen or the end of the bench. Yowza.

4.) Kerry Lightenberg cut his sideburns... sellout!

5.) Looks like the clock is ticking on Willis and Cabrera - seriously how much would they have to pay you to play without complaint for this team if you were either of those men? They should have a bonus clause for Marlins' contracts to kick in another $5 million if the team ERA goes over 8.00 or the batting average drops below .150 - I think those are reasonable expectations for this year.

Florida Marlins
C: Willingham; Treanor; Olivo
1B: Jacobs;Helmsl Stokes
2B: Uggla
SS: Ramirez; Andino
3B: Cabrera
LF: Aguila; Abercrombie
CF: Reed; Aguila; Abercrombie
RF: Hermida; Aguila

SP: Willis; Mitre; Moehler; Vargas; Johnsonl Olsen
CP: Borowski
RP: Bowyer; Resop; Messenger; Bump; Kensing; Lightenberg


Philadelphia Phillies (88-74, .543, 2nd in NL East)

Philadelphia must not be very happy with their lineup these days.

First, they ship Jim Thome to the White Sox (a pretty viable move in the long run, espcially with Ryan Howard waiting in the wings for playing time. It also brought Aaron Rowland to center field to help out in Philly, so it was a solid move for the Phils.

Next, they involved Bobby Abreu in every trade rumor this winter, not the smartest thing you can do with one of your team's only bona fide stars.

Finally, they didn't do much with their starting rotation and have Tom "Flash" Gordon as their closer. I've always thought "Flash" was more of an honorary/ironic nickname like really fat guys named "Tiny" or "Dr." Phil. I could be wrong on all counts there.

This doesn't look like a second-place team right now, but it doesn't look like the Marlins, either. Depending on which Brett Myers comes to the ballpark and how the infield gels, this could be a good season for the Phillies. Chasing the Braves and Mets will keep them hungry and set a pretty good pace and don't underestimate the outfield with the addition of Rowland. That goes both offensively and defensively, too.

Oh, and yes, John Lieber is still alive and well and apparently living in Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia Phillies
C: Lieberthal; Fasano; Ruiz
1B: Howard; Utley; Alex Gonzalez (the bad one); Perez
2B: Utley; Nunez
SS: Rollins; Gonzalez; Nunez
3B: Bell; Gonzalez
LF: Burrell; Victorino
CF: Rowland; Victorino
RF: Abreu; Victorino

SP: Lieber; Myers; Lidle; Franklin; Madson; Floyd
CP: Gordon
RP: Rhodes; Cormier; Geary; Fultz; Santana; Brito; Tejada


Washington Nationals (81-81, .500, 5th in NL East)

The long-suffering Montreal Expos were finally unshackeled from their exile in the wolverine- and mink-infested backwoods of Canada and presented all shiny and new in our nation's capital.

They were greeted with a hero's welcome and struck out to a handsome lead in the NL East before sometime around the All-Star Break, the rest of the league realized, "... Wait... We get it now! These guys used to be the Expos, didn't they?" and the party was over.

The Nats finished an even .500 on the season and that was that.

This offseason saw the signing of Alfonso Soriano from Texas and that may be the dumbest move made this winter, but more on that later.

First, I'd like to focus on a man among boys and a hog among piglets. I speak, of course, of Matthew LeCroy.

LeCroy was the only player that Minnesota fans consistiently (and openly) heckled at Spring Training last year. In and of itself, that was reason enough to keep him with the Twins. When the nicest people in the Midwest are agitated with your performance, that's saying something.

Fan One: "Hey fat boy! You're out of shape!"
Fan Two: "Also you are lazy."
Fan One: "You betcha!"

Then again, David Ortiz is lard-assing his way to 100-RBI seasons and MVP contention after the Twins gave him the boot, so go figure. I liked the guy and will miss seeing him. There's something to be said for players on the hometown team who you know you could beat in a comprehensive athletic competition without having to quit smoking first.

Back to the big issue for the Nationals (other than no solid pitching), which is what to do with Soriano. Unwilling to move Jose Vidro - either to the outfield or to another team - they are stuck with a premium player, but no place to play him.

Soriano is digging his heels in now, not wanting to move to the the outfield, and the Nats have limited options. Meanwhile, the knock of Soriano (average glove, but he loses focus and gets a bit lazy over the course of a long season) pretty much dictates that you'd want to keep Vidro in position there and Manny Ramirez Soriano out to left field.

While this has been an interesting side plot this spring, I hadn't paid a ton of attention to it. Also, in these capsules, I've been editing them for space, cutting the fifth and sixth right fielder on the depth chart if they don't matter. In this case, look at the logjam in left. If you are the Nationals, you're telling Soriano to get in the middle of that mess? Are you sure? Also, if you are the Nationals, quit collectively reading this blog and get back to work, slackers...

Let me put it this way. At the all you can eat sushi restaurant, they keep sending great fish around and around and around and it's your job to pick out what you want and grab it as it goes by.

Now, I really dig eel. Probably my favorite type of sushi because it's served warm and so you can't just pick eel up at the grocery store's sushi cooler. When I see eel coming around, I'll lunge for it, regarless of any other type of fish I already have in front of me... unless I already have eel.

The Nats had some really good eel with Vidro and they wanted to go with some warmer eel that refuses to pay attention for every inning of every game and frustrates the manager because the only way to guarantee that focus is to play in a big game (which doesn't happen a majority of the time).

My question is why they would do this without a plan in place to either move Soriano and have his blessing to do so or trade him or Vidro for some starting pitching... or a really good cut of tuna.

Washington Nationals
C: Schneider; LeCroy
1B: Nick Johnson; LeCroy; Fick; Anderson
2B: Vidro; Soriano; Marlon Anderson
SS: Guzman; Zimmerman
3B: Zimmerman
LF: Soriano; Anderson; Byrd; Church; Kelly; Watson
CF: Church; Byrd; Watson
RF: Guillen; Anderson; Byrd; Church; Watson

SP: Hernandez; Patterson; Ortiz; Lawrence; Armas; Drese
CP: Cordero
RP: Ayala; Eischen; Hughes; Majewski; Rauch; Bermann; Stanton


New York Mets (83-79, .512, t-3rd in NL East)

When I think of Mets GM Omar Minaya this offseason, I remember the gremlins in Gremlins 2 as they took over the Clamp Center. At one point a crazed gremlin is grabbing ringing phones in an office as he plays the stock market.

Wild-eyed and crazed, he screams, "Buy! Sell! Buy! Sell!" as he rotates between picking up phones and slamming them down again. I have a sinking suspicion that Omar is a lot like our little gremlin friend.

Don't get me wrong, I think he's a great in-person GM and obviously makes the most of his contacts and heritage when it comes time to sign on the dotted line and I'd love to have him calling the shots for the Cubs (well, most days) but the 2005-2006 offseason was not his finest hour.

Carlos Delgado? Buy!

Kris Benson? Sell!

Billy Wagner? Buy!

Mike Piazza? Sell!

I'm all for a GM that likes to shake things up and see what happens, but as Hemingway once said, "Never mistake movement for action." The Mets have been moving a lot.

After the coup of last year's off-season in securing Carlos Beltran, the Mets went out and picked up Pedro Martinez and other to take a run at the Braves in the NL East. They ended up a scant four games over .500 and limped into September with injuries galore. That's not really their fault.

What is their fault is going into this season with holes in the middle of the infield (Jose Reyes and Kaz Matsui) and an unstable rotation before Pedro's toe started acting up during Spring Training. There is no way I'd feel comfortable if I were a Mets fan with those two responsible for keeping balls out of the outfield.

On the plus side, those are the only glaring weaknesses and there is plenty going right for them. Start with the young players making their way up or who are already there, look to the rest of the NL East and check out their bullpen and there is reason to be optimistic.

David Wright is seen as the next big thing at third. He hit very well last year (.306, 27 HR, 102 RBI) and was a real bright spot in the league, not only for the Mets. There's no reason he can't continue on that path in his sophomore season. Lastings Milledge carries the hopes of Mets fans as far as outfielders go, and is expected to slot in as the right fielder this summer once he settles in. A natural center fielder, Milledge will be played out of position to keep him from pushing Beltran out of center field. (Mets fans, try to block out what happened to the Yankee outfield of DiMaggio and Mantle).

Also, don't underestimate Victor Diaz, either. He made a strong impression last year, but the Mets ultimately decided to let him get more experience in Triple A versus allowing him to struggle in the majors. He should get another look this summer, especially if Milledge fails to produce out of the chute.

The bullpen looks great this season, as well. Billy Wagner is a good pickup, especially if his fastball returns after injury, but Jorge Julio and Chad Bradford are also solid acquisitions. Julio could throw through a brick wall if he needed to in Baltimore and Bradford is a good specialty guy who went from Oakland to Boston last year. If nothing else, Bradford's unconventional delivery should give some NL guys fits this year.

The biggest addition to the Mets bullpen is a non-roster invite this spring in Jose Lima. I will always hold a special place in my heart for that crazy little man. After getting shelled in Enron Field in Houston Lima told reporters, "That's not Enron Field... It's ten-run field!"

Say it with me, New York... It's Lima time!

New York Mets
C: LoDuca; Castro
1B: Delgado; Franco; Nady
2B: Matsui; Hernandez; Keppinger
SS: Reyes; Woodward
3B: Wright; Woodward
LF: Floyd; Chavez; Woodward; Milledge
CF: Beltran; Chavez
RF: Nady; Diaz; Chavez

SP: Martinez; Glavine; Trachsel; Victor Zambrano; Heilmanl Soler; Wylie
CP: Wagner
RP: Sanchez; Julio; Bradford; Fortunato; Bell; Schmoll; Padilla; Maine; Iriki; *Lima


Atlanta Braves (90-72, .556, 1st in NL East)


Damn, damn, damn...

In doing the Baltimore preview, it had slipped my mind that Leo Mazzone had moved up the coast to the Orioles. that's gotta give them another 10-15 wins this year, just by him being there to work with those arms. And that's good enough to vault past the Devil Rays and maybe Toronto. Damn.

Back in Atlanta, it's more of the same as Bobby Cox takes aim at the Braves' 27th consecutive division crown. It'll be very interesting to see how he does without Mr. Autistic there to lend a hand and feed and care for the pitchers. John Smoltz and Tim Hudson headline the rotation and there's a pretty steep drop after that.

Then again, Atlanta's farm system all but guarantees interchangable and productive parts across the board, so take that with a grain of salt. Last year was the emergence of Wilson Betemit and Jeff Francoeur and people should really stop doubting the Braves... at least in the regular season.

Baseball's answer to the Buffalo Bills will return Andruw and Larry Wayne (Chipper) Jones and add Edgar Renteria at shortstop after a stop in Boston last year. Maybe a little National League competition is all he needs. Maybe a town where no one seems to question making the playoffs every year only to bow out quickly is the bigger part of that equation.

Good for the Mets in their offseason dealings - Atlanta is the best example of holding onto the crown until someone takes it from them.

Atlanta Braves
C: McCann; Pratt;Pena
1B: LaRoche
2B: Giles; Orr
SS: Renteria;Betemit; Orr
3B: Jones
LF: Langerhans; Kelly Johnson; Matt Diaz
CF: A. Jones
RF: Francoeur

SP: Smoltz; Hudson; Thomson; Sosa; Ramirez; Davies
CP: Reitsma
RP: Boyer; McBride; Foster; Devine; Lerew; Cormier; Villarreal


Friday, March 17, 2006

Roger Clemens... Mr. July, but only if he has a four-run lead...

ESPN ran a graphic yesterday morning before the United States game versus Mexico. It showed that in five or six big games (playoffs, win and you're in situations), Clemens was 1-1 with a bloated ERA and 20 strikeouts total.

Good to see you fought that knock on you, Roger.

While you can't control the offensive output of your teammates, it's hard to argue that you're the same pitcher with something on the line as you are in the middle of the summer with no one watching.

We can't miss you until you go away.

(Jeff Gross/Getty Images /

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Barry Bonds is one sick bastard

I promise that this isn't going to become your one-stop shop for all things Barry Bonds.

The fact that I've made two Bonds posts in a month is really pretty shocking to me, considering my lack of respect or compassion for him, but how are you going to ignore what's going on the past few days?

When I first started seeing stories about the Bonds' steroid abuse... well, when I first started seeing the stories this week with regards to the Sports Illustrated reprint of the pending book, I e-mailed Frank the Tank asking exactly what Bonds had to do in order to receive any sort of discipline from the league.

Frank wrote back drawing parallels between the Black Sox scandal and this - citing a need to make an example of Bonds to clear baseball's name for the public and I tend to agree.

Despite reports to the contrary, ESPN has posted copies of the league manifest from 1991, outlining the league's decidedly non-friendly stance on their use.

Gene Wojciechowski hit the nail on the head in his column from earlier in the week:

Bonds is finished. He might play again, but there is only a chalk outline left around his integrity and home run totals. And the only way he gets into Cooperstown is if he spends the $14.50 for a Hall of Fame admission ticket.

Winstrol. Deca-Durabolin. Insulin. Testosterone decanoate. Human growth hormones. Norbolethone. Trenbolone. Clomid.

These are the substances and steroids Bonds is alleged to have injected or ingested. They are the medicine cabinet of a cheater... Clomid is prescribed to women for infertility. Trenbolone enhances the muscle tone of cattle.
Deca-Durabolin is a medication used in the treatment of kidney failure-related amnesia.
According to the accounts gathered by the San Francisco journalists, Bonds started to treat his body as a chemistry lab when he saw Mark McGwire's reception in St. Louis during the 1998 home run record chase and got jealous. Basically, he put his body, career, credibility and the franchise in jeopardy because he felt that McGwire was getting too much publicity and that it was only because he was white.

He reportedly got jealous and upset because he felt he was a better player than McGwire (whch he was) and decided to level the playing field by junking his life to prove a point.

Admittedly, this is just the kind of stupid shit that has added countless problems and complications in my own life, but this seems a bit extreme, even for my tastes. It's beyond compare, but the best I can come up with off the top of my head is feeling jealous of someone getting attention for a twisted ankle and deciding to shoot yourself in the leg to pull back your share of the spotlight.

Is it shocking that Bonds was juicing? No. Anyone (even people who never watch sports) could have come to that conclusion. What is shocking is the rationale behind it. Not to pass his godfather or try to set him apart in the pantheon of great players, it was to show up McGwire, who will likely garner as much historical respect as Roger Maris. Bonds came into the league as a coveted five-tool player with the pedigree to match and McGwire will be forever seen as a one-trick pony with a really cool trick.

Whereas McGwire will be seen as a quick flash and a few great seasons, Bonds had the possibility to be one of the greats. He essentially threw all of that away with a series of awful mistakes capped by this bitter self-destructive showing. I can't even begin to express how sick this is.

Any way you slice it, it's pretty pathetic, which seems to be where most people are coming down on the issue. They aren't angry or hurt or betrayed, they just look around and feel uncomfortable and try to find an excuse to walk away. Have you ever been around a kid who really acts up when company is over and the parents have to discipline them while you're around? You feel kinda bad because the kid was only acting out for the attention anyways and you just stare at the floor or try and watch TV or talk to your date and hope the whole thing is over soon.

Well, little Barry just lit the carpet on fire, pushed your car down the driveway into traffic and broke off a broom handle in the dog's ass. Maybe it'd be best if we just walked away and called it a night.

(Photo from Boston Dirt Dogs)

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

It's WBC time! Pass out the whiffle bats!

The World Baseball Classic got rolling in earnest this afternoon with Venezuela and the Dominican Republic matching up this afternoon. It was a fun game to watch, but the competition levels seem kind of askew, with no one wanting to get hurt in what amount to exhibition games on an international stage.

The Venezuelans and Dominicans met up in the Carribean series (with the winning run scoring when a ball ricocheted off the shortstop's head) and fought to the finish, with the incredibly strong Dominican team falling on that fluke play.

Johan Santana stood up and wanted the ball in the rematch... then left after 60-something pitches. Carlos Zambrano came in as the long relief, but the whole thing left me scratching my head.

Then I found this.

A pitcher must:
Throw no more than:
65 pitches per game in Round One of the tournament;
80 pitches per game in Round Two of the tournament; and
95 pitches per game in the Semifinals and Final of the tournament.
Note: A pitcher may exceed the maximum per-game limits in order to complete a batter's plate appearance.

This was a little-publicized facet of these games. Mandatory pitch counts and the league office is still trying to sell this thing as a serious competition? And why is this happening before the season again?

(God bless the Baseball Tonight broadcast crew trying to put a happy face on this mess, but look at these numbers in what MLB is pimping as the Baseball Olympics:
Santana - 3.1 IP; Carlos Zambrano 2.2 IP; Victor Zambrano 2.1 IP.
Not good. I'm all for protecting the arms, especially before the season starts, but then don't build this up to be such a showcase of talent. I just hope it gets better in the next few rounds.

That said, look at the Dominican and Venezuelan rosters. Hell, throw Puerto Rico in there, too. Damn, those are some stacked teams. There's an old saying in Caribbean ball accounting for their prolific slugger production that goes, "you don't walk off the island." With Pujols, Tejada, Ortiz, Alou and Soriano all on the Dominican team, I'd say so.

ESPN did a nice job on their History of Latin Baseball piece and that seems to be the focus of the WBC (no lie, the United States/Mexico tilt was sponsored by Taco Bell). John Kruk did a good job Tuesday during the Dominican game, hitting many of the talking points ESPN had laid out.

Taking a different perspective, Kruk was telling stories of playing winter ball, where American players are outnumbered by their Latin counterparts. He remembered playing in Mexico and seeking out the Americans to joke around with on the field and grab dinner with afterwards. His point was that many of the players are friends in the offseason and go out of their way to hang out during the season as well, regardless of the major league teams they play for.

Whether this exercise flops or not remains to be seen, but it's already not impressing me. While it's a cool idea in theory, I think the timing is off and I question the commitment to winning when Ken Griffey Jr. is not only starting, not only pushing Johnny Damon to left field, but is also batting third in the lineup.

I guess it doesn't matter who starts, where or the team's collective BAC when you play South Africa, though.

Is this a bigger deal in some of the Caribbean countries? I think so. Will it ever come close to being mentioned in the same breath as the World Cup? Not in a million years. Despite all of that, it'll still be a fun exhibition - I just wish Bud Selig would quit trying to promote these Wargames as World War III.

(Preston C. Mack /

Kirby Puckett

I got an e-mail from a friend last night asking what I'd have to say about Kirby Puckett's death Sunday and I honestly had to tell her nothing.

I cited the "if you can't say anything nice" rule, because I really had nothing to add to the conversation. However, after a day and a half of people paying their respects, I kind of wish I'd known a bit more about the man, because I think I would have liked him.

Sure, he always seemed to be a likeable enough guy, but in my mind, he was kind of interchangeable with Cecil Fielder in that tubby little guy who played like crazy in a town I don't care about. Catching up now, he seems to have been one of the guys to understand what a pleasure playing professional ball can be.

I know it's the difference between the Twin Cities and pressure cookers like Boston or New York, where he could eat a meal with his family or just walk around town without being driven insane, but he seems to have really enjoyed his playing days and I can respect that.

So, while it's a shame that he seemed content to shrink from the spotlight after a string of bad luck, I can't help but respect a man who came to play and did so with quiet respect. I'm just left wishing that he'd made a bit more noise in his life so that more people would have noticed.

(Jim Mone/Associated Press)

Kerry Wood's failing fastball

Kerry Wood is one year and six days older than I am and he may be washed up at 28. I always knew this time would come, but I kind of hoped it wouldn't arrive this quickly.

There are a few basic points to understand about guys who follow sports. First, we all think that given a few more miles per hour on our fastball, a few less ticks on our 40-yard dash time or a bit more size, we could have made an impact in professional sports. We will admit to this in varying degrees on varying days, but it's always there. For instance, I know my sleeve length is roughly the same as Randy Johnson's. With just the simple physics involved from slinging a ball on a like-sized fulcrum, I should be an All-Star. Obviously, that worked out differently than it could have.

Somewhat related to the first point is the assumption that the only real obstacle that we couldn't overcome (with that extra heat, speed or size, of course) would be time. After years of seeing players come and go, quit in their primes and hang onto the dream a season or three too long, we know the rules.

With exceptions of freaks of nature like Julio Franco and others, most players don't last very long past their 40th birthdays. The sports matter here, with football players going first and baseball players going last, but it's inevitable and somewhere we know that. There's just a slight disconnect when it comes to the first of our peers.

Every guy has that first player who was their age, usually when they are 18 or 19. It's funny and surprising and a little strange when you first hear "20-year-old Kerry Wood on the mound for the Cubs today..." and it grabs your attention. It's the dual realization of "I could be out there, now... but I'm not, so what went wrong and is it too late to major in center field?" And from then on you start to live vicariously through them. Sports is great for that.

When Wood struck out 20 as a rookie to tie the record set by Roger Clemens, I was three doors down in my dorm in John and Joe's room, playing Playstation football on the second TV. As Wood kept rolling, we shut the game off and threw it on both televisions, it was that good.

That rainy afternoon against Houston, we tried to keep up with how many batters were left and how many Wood needed. We watched him ring up five, ten, fifteen and kept our fingers crossed that the umps didn't postpone history because of the rain. There is a strange sense of pride in someone your age making a splash like that.

When you're a little kid, you have your sports heroes and then in your teens you broaden your perspective and learn appreciate talent (even if it's not on your team) if you become a blanched fan. Then, without any real conscious reason why, it becomes a bit childish to cheer exclusively for one player. I guess you don't want to be the guy in the stands only cheering for Favre or Urlacher, but maybe it's just avoiding putting all your eggs in one basket. Chris Chelios can get too old and Kevin Garnett can get hurt, but it's not like the San Diego Chargers are going to pull a hamstring or the San Antonio Spurs will lose their roster spot to a younger point guard.

But that first peer is different. He becomes both a milestone and a measuring stick. Wood became the first player I openly cheered for, checked stats on and worried about for the first time in years. I could remember doing all of those things for Ryne Sandberg and was now doing it again. Looking at it now, I guess I knew inherently that for all intents and purposes, when his time runs out, so does yours. When these players (with the arm, speed and size) can't compete anymore, what chance do mortals like ourselves have?

On the other hand, that first big moment is unforgettable. It doesn't need to be Doc Gooden or Clemens or any of the rookie phenoms in any sport, just the first guy your age to start for your team. I still remember picking up the new MLB video game the year Kerry Wood made his first appearance and getting excited about it when I played the demo at Best Buy. Like a little kid, I couldn't wait to get home.

It's being able to say, "There, right there; Our generation is now viable, now we matter, we have a great deal of value to you" after years of being pushed aside. And while you realize it'll be years before your peers take over in business or politics, it's the first hint of being worthwhile in the big picture.

I guess that's why it's been so tough to watch the whole Wood/Mark Prior injury carousel the past three or four seasons. It's not just crushing to watch your team fall apart and lose front line pitchers, it's tough to watch those specific guys get hurt.

Watch those specific guys wash out.

Watch those specific guys cease to be worthwhile in the big sports picture.

So, for me, Wood's injuries are tough to take on a deeper level than just being a fan wondering how my team's starting pitching will hold up this year. In one way, I'm pulling for my own usefulness and youth. This is strange and ridiculous at 27, but then again, Wood was supposed to follow Clemens' footsteps to pitching into his 40s, not Koufax's and shutting things down early.

It's pretty much neck and neck between who or what I'm cheering for more at this point: My team and it's chances this season or Wood and my viability as I enter the prime of my life. Having come this far, it's not like I can just switch over to Chone Figgins and solve the problem.

Even if Wood is shut down for good this season, I realize that life will go on and someone will be called up from AAA to take his place. A new pitcher may even be signed as a free agent who could be older, but it wouldn't be the same. In no small way your peer player's first start is like starting a clock in the background and while you will never meet them or even think about it often, your subconscious will always ask, "What have you done with the same 10 years?" whenever you hear their name.

In the big picture, Wood will probably never be an impact player again. If he did regain his confidence and health and began dominating batters again, most of us wouldn't be able to enjoy a minute of it, wondering when he'd get hurt again and waiting anxiously for the other shoe to drop. By the same token, if Wood learned to throw a knuckleball that took the pressure off his arm and he pitched into his 40s, it wouldn't be the same thing. Teenage phenoms with golden arms aren't supposed to ever have a need for tricky slop pitches thrown by middle-aged men.

And that, in a nutshell, is the sad conclusion of what this situation boils down to; Wood will never be that 20-year-old again - full of unlimited promise and untold potential - and neither will we.

(Associated Press / Nam Y. Huh)

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Minneapolis Baseball History is History

From 1884 to 1960, Minneapolis was the home city to the minor league Minneapolis Millers. In addition to laying the groundwork for Major League Baseball to come to town when the Washington Senators broke from D.C. for the second time, the roster of former Millers is really, really impressive.

All told, there were 17 former Millers who went on to the Baseball Hall of Fame (15 players, 1 manager, 1 coach) after finishing their professional careers.

The full list can be found here, but topping the alumni reunion are Hoyt Wilhelm, Willie Mays, Carl Yastrzemski, Jimmie Foxx and Ted Williams. Yeah, there are some good players there.

This morning, I got up and headed to where the old ballpark used to stand. I'd hoped that at the least there'd be a small ballfield or maybe a bronze plaque or something. What I found was a KMart.

I'd have taken a picture, but it was too depressing. The field that was home to Williams and Mays (not to mention countless others who passed through as visiting players) is now a parking lot surrounded by the KMart and a few mini-malls. If I wasn't looking for the park, I'd have never even known it existed.

Further south, in Bloomington, is one of the biggest reasons other countries hate us - the Mall of America. It sits on the site of the old Metropolitan Stadium which was razed in 1985. All that remains there is a home plate painted onto the sidewalk outside of one of the shops.

Right now, the reigning baseball venue is the Metrodome, which if I were either Minneapolis or St. Paul, I'd keep on the down low. It's really no place to play baseball, and it's three times as depressing when baseball landmarks (Nicollet more than the Met) are plowed under for more retail space.

Given the amount of available land here, I don't think another park with a diamond would have been such a bad move, considering how park-happy these towns are anyways. When the Wrigley Field renovations were under discussion a few years back, someone had floated the idea of moving the Cubs to a new ballpark, closer to Evanston or further west, and keeping Wrigley for use on a rotating basis by high school teams.

At the end of the season, the high school playoffs could be held there and the rest of the facility could be a historical landmark. Personally, I have no problems with Wrigley (save for capacity and the fact that most of the people with tickets on any given day shouldn't be allowed in the ballpark under a strict "no douchebag" policy I'd enact as team owner) but why wouldn't that idea have worked at Nicollet?

If you're a high school ballplayer and you see a schedule that puts you on the same diamond as Mays and Williams, wouldn't you jump at the chance? If you have a group of buddies who play pickup ball, wouldn't you pay $100 or so an hour to have that same field to yourself? Hell, even if it were free, I'd bet that there'd be enough public interest to keep the park filled on the weekends.

It's a crying shame.

(Photos from

Minnie and Buck

While these two aging giants may have names that sound like they came from an animated movie from Pixar, sadly it's more weighty than that.

Frank the Tank weighed in on this earlier in the week, but the gist of it is that a special panel released their 17 selections to enter the Baseball Hall of Fame. This was the result of a five-year process that acted independently of the Hall of Fame selection or veterans' committees and was seen as the last best chance for many of these aging stars to make it in.

For a little background, Phil Rogers had this to say in the Chicago Tribune on Minoso:

"Not only was Minoso 28 when he got to the big leagues to stay, but before he turned 23 he played in what Burgos calls "the sugar-cane leagues" of Cuba, essentially semipro and amateur town teams. It didn't take long for him to get discovered once he got into Cuba's top leagues; he was only 26 when the Indians signed him.

"But Minoso lost more years when the Indians kept him in Triple A, apparently not wanting to risk having too many men with dark skin on the field. The 1949 team he debuted on also had [Larry] Doby, Satchel Paige and Luke Easter."
Meanwhile, O'Neil has become somewhat of an elder statesman for the Negro Leagues and their surviving players. Baseball abounds with stories about O'Neil, including the day he was working in the Florida sun with his father, the foreman in a celery field, and was caught cursing about the job they were doing.

O'Neil told Steve Wulf the story in 1994 for Sports Illustrated.

One day I was having lunch by myself next to a big stack of boxes, and it was so hot, I said out loud, "Damn, there has got to be something better than this."

It turns out my father and some of the older men were on the other side of the stack having their lunch. That night my father told me, "I heard what you said today," and I thought he was going to reprimand me for swearing, but he said, "You're right. There is something better than this. But you can't find it here. You're going to have to go out and get it."
What he went out and got was a solid career as a player(he led the league in batting average in 1946), before managing the Kansas City Monarchs from 1948 to 1955 and players ranging from Ernie Banks to Elston Howard. His story follows a long arc of baseball history, from boyhood in Florida, watching the Yankees and others in spring training to the present day. He tells a story of hearing Babe Ruth's bat for the first time and thinking it'd be the last time he'd ever hear it, but would catch snippets of its thunder for years to come that is one of the best in the lore of baseball.

When his playing days came to a close, he became the first black coach in history with the Cubs in 1962 and has grown into his current position as ambassador of the game. For anyone who hasn't seen the Ken Burns documentary on baseball, pay particular attention to O'Neil's segments. To see the 80-something-year-old's face light up when he talks about the good old days is worth putting the discs on your Netflix list.

While we're on the topic, Sports Illustrated also released a compilation of baseball stories, Sports Illustrated Great Baseball Writing that is a must-have for fans, as well. The Wulf story can be found there as well.

When I first read these stories in local papers and on national web sites, I was getting ready for a post about how it's too bad some really great guys don't make it into the Hall, but that's what makes it special and that's why induction means so much.

With a few exceptions, the players who are in the Hall of Fame deserve to be there and those left out in the cold are usually there for a reason. Midway through several of these articles and to the point that I can't remember who brought it up first, some columnist mentioned in passing that it's not the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, it is the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Negro League players aren't inducted as visiting inductees or special inductees and for the sake of argument, if the writers would vote together, a Little League manager should be eligible for induction just like John McGraw was. In light of this (and admittedly, I haven't done a lot of research on this, aside from confirming the semantics) there's no good reason to keep either of these men out, aside from difficulty in confirming stats from minor and Negro league contests.

And while I support Frank and his push for Minoso, I have to stand by O'Neil whose overall contributions to the game should make him a lock for the Hall. If there has been a better man to stand on behalf of baseball - and all forms and leagues therein - I'd have a hard time finding him. Not to take anything from Minnie, but if I had one vote for him or Buck, it'd be a no-brainer.

In any event, neither man is on that list of 17 members, and even if they were, there'd be other discussions about who had been left off in their place. It's too bad that they weren't included, especially considering the ages of both men, but the decisions have been made.

On a positive note, both also have incredible perspective on their situations, with Minoso saying he'd settle for being in individual fans' Halls of Fame. Frank voted him in on the first ballot.

"There's nothing greater for a human being than to get his body to react to all the things one does on a ball field," O'Neil said. "It's as good as sex; it's as good as music. It fills you up. Waste no tears for me. I didn't come along too early. I was right on time."

(Photo from Riedel/AP)

AL West Wrap Up

Tough calls, but it looks like we're free of the chalk out east. The west looks like it's going to be up for grabs again, but I can't see the second place team making the playoffs this year. Between Boston/New York/Toronto and Chicago/Cleveland the second place finisher out west is out of luck this year.

That said, Anaheim is weak, and any injury makes them incredibly vulnerable. If that injury comes to one of their front-line players, they are triple-screwed. On the other hand, Oakland has built a team, franchise dogma and reputation on being able to use interchangeable parts to compete. I don't see that resiliency out of the Angels.

Seattle will be better this season, but still lacks the horses to be there at the end. They'll be fine through the middle of the summer, then tail off. Texas is another tough call, but someone has to be last and their pitchers are non-existent after Millwood and Eaton.

Defense may win championships, but pitching will keep you in it from day to day. They'll win shootouts and a few games when their top hurlers are up, but I can't see them holding up... then again, they weren't supposed to keep up last year, either. They get a pulse from one, maybe two other pitchers and they could be a contending team - they're a weird situation.

All told, I'm pretty comfortable with Oakland over the Angels, but Seattle and Texas are a toss up. Texas makes a move for another arm or pick one up in June or July and they're a different team entirely.

American League West
1.) Oakland Athletics
2.) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
3.) Seattle Mariners
4.) Texas Rangers


Texas Rangers (79-83, .488, 3rd in AL West)

How a team that is dumb enough to ruin their payroll for generations on the A-Rod deal managed to put this roster in place is beyond me. Then again, dropping Alfonso Soriano wasn't the smartest move, either, but it's hard to argue with Teixeira, Young and Blalock in your infield.

This has to be one of the most promising young teams in all of baseball right now, until you get to their rotation. After losing Kenny Rogers to the Tigers, they reloaded with Kevin Millwood and Adam Eaton. I really like Eaton. Really. Did you know that he is two stolen bases behind Greg Maddux as the second-best base stealing active pitcher in the majors? Well, he is.

Did you know Texas posted a "20 Facts About Adam Eaton" page on their web site? Yeah, looks like they really like Adam Eaton, too. He wears number 21 in honor of Roger Clemens... we'll just let that slide.

Aside from those two, is there another pitcher you remotely trust to do anything beside make lunch? Yeah.

Vincente Padilla, Kameron Loe and Juan Dominguez. Try that on for size, Texas. Score all you want with that offense and it still won't be enough three days out of five. (Side note: I'm watching Born in East LA and Padilla looks like he could pass for an extra - man, there are a lot of hard miles on that guy. If I ever start a fantasy team of guys who look like they shouldn't be doing any physical activity, he's in strong contention for team captain. Also, Jesus estoy in Tijuana)

Someone has to bottom feed in the AL West and I'm taking Texas this year. I like them as an offensive unit, but the pitching isn't there. If you think October is a bitch without any pitchers, try the first few months with only two in the rotation.

It's a shame that the position players are going to have to suffer through another year without pitching and it seems kind of stupid that the team that overpaid wildly for A-Rod can't scrape together a few bucks for two more solid starters.

If you're a Texas fan, get used to a solid nucleus being sold off piece by piece, unless there is a flurry of activity around the All-Star Break. Just as a historical perspective the biggest buzz last year was who was going to get Soriano or Kevin Mench. That's the wrong side of the trade ledger.

Texas Rangers
C: Barajas; Laird
1B: Teixeira; Nevin
2B: Kinsler; DeRosa
SS: Young; DeRosa; McDougall
3B: Blalock; Nevin; McDougall
LF: Dellucci; Matthews; Mench
CF: Wilkerson; Matthews; Nix
RF: Mench; Matthews; Nix
DH: Nevin; Dellucci; Matthews
SP: Millwood; Eaton; Padilla; Loe; Dominguez
CP: Cordero
RP: Otsuka; Benoit; Shouse; Ramirez; Wilsonl Wasdinl Feldman; Dickey; Francisco


Seattle Mariners (69-93, .426, 4th in AL West)

Let's just file the Mariners under X-Factor for right now, OK? Making the most of their location on the Pacific Rim, they boast more Japanese imports than a used car lot. First it was Ichiro and Hasegawa and now they've added Kenji Johjima behind the plate.

Touted as the next big thing, he fills a hole behind the plate for the Mariners after proving himself in Japan. Ichiro is happy because it should draw heat away from him this season (not that the pressure seemed to matter much to him in the past) and will let him relax a little more in his sixth season.

After setting the single-season hit record and making George Sissler's widow cry, Ichiro went out last season and racked up 200 hits for the fifth year running. Say what you will about the team, but Ichiro is the best pure hitter in baseball right now, has an explosive first step (especially from the right side of the plate) and keeps the Mariners in more games that he gets credit for.

If he does all of this while being distracted by the Japanese media, imagine what he'll do this year.

Adrian Beltre's magical contract year took a lot out of him and Richie Sexson slacked a bit, too. I'm not sure either of them give a damn what the fans think of their performances, but it's a good thing the M's brought in Carl Everett to help stabilize the locker roo... oh, wait. As long as there are no dinosaur-related conversations, they'll be fine, I'm sure.

Jeremy Reed was trade bait all offseason which will do one of two things - make him play harder to prove them wrong/drive up his value or crap out just to screw them over. Could go either way there.

Finally, King Felix gears up for his first full season in the majors. A late season call up was a ringing success with numbers and columnists linking him to the past greatness of Doc Gooden. It became an event to watch him pitch when his day came up in the rotation. Yes, he was that good. But, he was also playing as the big story of the season in Seattle with no pressure, so I can't wait to see what he does this year.

After tying the single-game rookie strikeout record, Hernandez has a ton of expectations on him this year. As the top prospect in the M's system, it was bad enough, but after such success, there's not much room for error in Seattle. This team needs a winner and quick after so many near misses and squandered talent (Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, Jay Buhner's one solid season) that yielded nothing in the long run.

Expect Felix to be fitted with an ankle bracelet and kept at the top of the Space Needle should he perform well this season. I can't see Seattle letting another superstar slip through their fingers.

Seattle Mariners
C: Johjima; Rivera
1B: Sexson; Bloomquist; Morse
2B: Lopez; Bloomquist; Betancourt
SS: Betancourt; Morse; Bloomquist
3B: Beltre; Bloomquist; Morse
LF: Ibanez; Everett; Lawton; Morse
CF: Reed; Everett; Lawton; Bloomquist
RF: Ichiro; Lawton
DH: Everett; Ibanez; Morse
SP: Moyer; Pineiro; Washburn; Meche; Felix Hernandez
CP: Guardado
RP: Soriano; Putzl Mateol Sherrill; Thornton; Gonzalez; Carvajal


Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, (95-67, .586, 1st in AL West)

The team that brought you the Rally Monkey, the most ridiculous name in all of professional sports and came along at the right time to spoil Barry Bonds' decade is back to defend their AL West title.

No word if they plan on doing that the same way they won it - by default.

After folding to the Red Sox in 2004, they managed to make it to the second round to fold to the White Sox last year. Nice bit of symmetry there.

The reasons for both years' collapses are pretty apparent by looking to the depth chart. Notice anything? That's right, no depth.

Vlad Guerrero gets hurt and who steps in? Juan Rivera. I couldn't pick any of their three first basemen out of a police lineup and I honestly had to look up which of the Flying Molina Brothers they'd kept this year. It's great to have solid front lines, but there is no talent behind that. As someone who was saddled with Dallas McPherson in an auto-draft last season, I can say with 100 percent certainty that there is no talent behind Chone Figgins.

In 2004 it was Guerrero's injury that held them back against Boston. Bartolo Colon breaking down in last year's playoffs cemented at least one loss to Chicago and plenty of panic in a baseball illiterate town. Not good.

The Angels are always players in the free agent market from year to year and are usually in the thick of the big rumors as well. It's not that they aren't trying, it just seems that they keep coming in as a close second in the free agent chases and that means an aging team keeps on aging.

The big bright spot for the Angels is Francisco Rodriguez, who is a phenomenal reliver despite a stupid nickname. The reason that Troy Percival was sent packing has been rock solid for the past few seasons. Congratulations to Rodriguez who is one of a select few pitchers who has been handed the closer's job and actually flourished.

If all the starters can hold up this season, Anaheim is the most talented team in the AL West. If nature takes it course with an aging team with a history of injury, enjoy watching McPherson and Maicer Izturis in Anaheim in 2006.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
C: Jose Molina; Mathis
1B: Kotchman; Quinlan; Molina
2B: Kennedy; Izturis; Figgins
SS: Cabrera; Izturis; Figgins
3B: Figgins; McPherson; Alfonzo; Quinlan; Izturis
LF: Garret Anderson; Juan Rivera
CF: Erstad; Figgins; Rivera
RF: Guerrero; Rivera
DH: Rivera; Kotchman; Quinlan
SP: Colon; Lackey; Ervin Santana; Escobar; Jeff Weaver
CP: Francisco Rodriguez
RP: Shields; Donnelly; Yan; Carrasco; Gregg; Greg Jones; Romero; Saunders


Oakland Athletics (88-74, .543, 2nd in AL West)

Every year things get a little hectic in the fantsy baseball department and guys are looking for ways to beat on each other in the name of pride and a few extra bucks from time to time. Up until a few years ago, raiding the A's for little-known, but statistically superior players was the best-kept secret in baseball.

Then, Michael Lewis had to open his big, dumb mouth.

While I'd love a little more Billy Beane in my personality when it comes to fantasy league GM dealings, I tend to side more with players I like and against teams I don't. While I laugh at the Packer fans in our football leagues that refuse to go near any of the Minnesota Vikings, I'll pass on all sorts of players, now totalling 350 in the major leagues alone.

Depending on what types of stats are kept in individual leagues, the A's can be your best friends or worst enemies. Cold-hearted reason and numerical analysis puts players on the A's and moves them along just as quickly.

Last year Huston Street was a relative unknown at draft time and blew the doors off the AL the entire season. Jason Kendall was brought in to help behind the plate and some of the young guys grew into their roles.

Bobby Crosby returns at short after inuries plagued him in 2005 and Eric Chavez is back to hold down the hot corner. Aside from the fact that this team always seems to win in the second half of the season (to make the playoffs before an early first-round exit - where's the book on that?) they are the best in the bigs at plugging holes to come back and compete year in and year out.

The major additions here are Milton Bradley and Frank Thomas, who may actually round off the rough edges of his career in Oakland. After injury upon injury, I honestly can't remember the last time he played a full season or resembled a productive member of a professional team. Nice of him to get a ring for being assistant to the batboy five years running in Chicago, though.

Solid four in the rotation (after losing Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder last year) with Zito leading a cast of has-beens and might-be-someday's. Personally I like Danny Haren in the four slot and think Esteban Loaiza getting out of New York can only help that Tony Robbins looking motherfucker's career.

Marco Scutaro isn't a bad backup if Crosby goes down again and all you need to know about the remainder of the bullpen is that Oakland cuts a check to a man named Kiko every two weeks. How badass is that?

Soild all around without a glaring weakness, I'd say it's shaping up to be Oakland's year, but then again, when isn't it? The American League West is shaky and has been up for grabs the past five or six seasons. With another year of experience for the rotation and Street, Oakland will contend and shouldn't need late-season heroics to do so this time around.

Oakland Athletics
C: Kendall; Melhuse
1B: Dan Johnson; Swisher; Frank Thomas
2B: Ellis; Antonio Perez; Scutaro
SS: Crosby; Scutaro; Ellis; Perez
3B: Chavez; Perez; Scutaro
LF: Swisher; Bradley; Payton; Kielty
CF: Kotsay; Bradley; Payton
RF: Bradley; Swisher; Payton; Kielty
DH: Thomas; Payton; Kielty; Johnson
SP: Zito; Harden; Loaiza; Haren; Blanton
CP: Street
RP: Calero; Duchscherer; Witasick; Kennedy; Saarloos