Friday, April 04, 2003

The Royals are winning again. That's a story in the making that feels good. But even better than the script could write it, David Cone started for the Mets tonight against the Expos and pitched five shutout innings, giving up only three hits and struck out five. On top of that, he had his first Major League hit in years and went one for one. Remember, David Cone did not pitch last year for anyone. Remember that he is forty years old! He came to the Mets camp and no one gave him much of a chance to make the team. He was their best pitcher all Spring and made the club. Then in the feel great story of the day, the old man pitched five scoreless innings. Congratulations, Mr. Cone, on your welcome back night to the majors where you have shined and showed class and toughness for many, many years.

The American League West is a very difficult division to call. You only have four teams that are going to slug it out with each other day after day. That will make it difficult for one of the teams to continue winning the wildcard as they did last year. The A's don't look a whole lot improved as a team as their hitting is less effective while their pitching is probably more effective. The Angels have something intangible and much has been made of their spirit. But will Washburn hold up as spirit doesn't throw the ball. Lackey was lackluster (was that clever or what?) in his first start. Seattle has to be considered but everything has to fall into place for them to contend and much the same thing can be said for the Rangers who do look better. I think this will be a four team race for at least half the season and then one of the teams will pull away after the Allstar break.

The Oakland Athletics have to be considered the favorites in the division and so I will agree and state that it's their division to lose. Their pitching is unbelievable and reminds me of the Mets in the Seaver/Koosman glory days of power pitchers who could throw strikes and knew how to win. (Koosman should be in the Hall of Fame by the way.) I don't think the A's will hit like A's teams in the past and although Tejada and Chavez are two of the best players in the league, I don't believe the Longs, Gants, Menechinos of the world will get much done. The A's are vulnerable this year more so than last. I also think their relief pitching is much weaker as Foulke is a step down from the past two years.

Homeruns: Chavez with 39
RBI and average: Tejada with 135 and .316
Surprise player of the year: Ted Lilly, who will win 17 games
Wins: Tim Hudson with 24
Saves: Foulke with 32 and 15 blown saves

The California Angels just want to make believers out of you. They don't look like they have enough talent to win it all and yet they did. Their pitching doesn't look strong enough, but it was. Somehow, their character overcomes their ability level and makes anything possible. Darin Erstad is one of those players whose fearless play limits his ability to physically perform. But if he is healthy, he could reverse two years on the down side of a remarkable year when he had 240 hits. 240 hits! If he has 210 hits and comes close to his guady average of a couple of years ago, this team becomes all that more dangerous. Tim Salmon seems to have resumed his career just when it appeared dead. He's another one who could have a big year and change things. Glaus will be super as always but can you imagine how he would do if he learned the strike zone and cut down on his strikeouts?

Homeruns: Glaus with 42
RBI: Garrett Anderson with 132
Average: Darin Erstad at .325
Surprise player of the year: Brad Fullmer
Wins: Ramon Ortiz with 18
Saves: Troy Percival with 42

The Texas Rangers have a new manager. They have a healthy and committed Juan Gonzalez, young stars in Blalock and Teixeira, an old reliable in Palmeiro, an improved bullpen (don't let today sway you) and what appears to be a productive Carl Everett. If they could get hot, this team could be dangerous! Oh yeah, and they have the best player in the game at shortstop.

Homeruns: Juan Gonzalez with 42
RBI: Gonzalez with 125
Average: Alex Rodriguez at .348
Surprise player of the year: Hank Blalock
Wins: Ismael Valdez with 17
Saves: Ugie Urbina with 46 (why did the Red Sox dump him!)

How can I pick the Seahawks last? How can I pick a team with Ichiro and Olerud and Edgar Martinez? Probably because their pitching hasn't gotten much better and they haven't really improved themselves at all. In fact they are weaker at catcher and third base. Winn was a nice pickup, especially now that he can shine away from Tampa Bay. Who knows, they could still contend, but I think their pitching and age will collapse them after the AllStar Break.

Homeruns: Bret Boone with 27
RBI: Olerud with 102
Average: Ichiro at .325
Surprise player of the year: Gil Meche
Wins: Gil Meche with 20
Saves: Sasaki with 24 (he'll breakdown and Nelson will have to take over)

And now I must celebrate because Sammy Sosa just hit his 500th homerun. What a great tribute to hard work and a will to succeed. He hit most of those homeruns with no one to protect him in the lineup. He's one of the best players of our time. Sammy Sosa is in the 500 club. Congratulations!

Thursday, April 03, 2003

Just a quick post to remind folks that Thursday is the Flagrant Fan's day of rest. In the meantime, you can ponder the Kansas City Royals and the Pittsburgh Pirates both at 3-0 in the young season. What is most distressing for Chicago fans is the way that White Sox bullpen fell apart today at the end of their game with the Royals.

And the new Yankee shortstop, Erick Almonte, looked super in his first game with the team. One of the writers wrote an article on him a couple of weeks ago as one of the best prospects nobody knew.

Have a great night and we'll talk to you tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Isn't the beginning of a new season always such a great thing? At what other time of the year could a 2-0 Kansas City Royals ball club give you optimism and smiles? As Jeff Bradley says so eloquently: "There's hope in every blank scorecard, every freshly dragged infield, every & Ah, just enjoy watching CF Carlos Beltran run down fly balls and swipe bases for another year. (Well, at least until July.)" (

Hope is still in the air for a lot of teams and a lot of fans. The Royals and the Twins sit atop the American League Central. Just a year ago, they were trying to bury the Twins. They won the division last year! They will win the division again this year. The Royals start isn't really a fluke. They have a funky, quirky and pretty talented team. They also have a great attitude and that is half the battle in baseball and in life.

I would be a pretty antsy White Sox fan at the moment and that antsy-ness is going to get worse because I don't think the Chisox have it this year. The pitching isn't there and I don't think the chemistry is there. The Indians are rebuilding and won't win 80 games this season and the Tigers are still a real mess. The Twins could win 110 games this season playing all those games against this competition. What makes the Twins so strong?

It starts with the system Tom Kelly started and Ron Gardenhire administers. They are the best prepared, most fundamentally sound team in MLB. They play hard and take advantage of the BaggyDome when most teams would moan and cry about that miserable place. And it doesn't hurt to have great young talent.

At each position is a player who can hit and field and possibly their best hitting outfielder can't get a regular gig. They have potential superstars in center, behind the plate, at third and in left. It's a great team with few flaws as even the pitching is solid. Here are some personal predictions:

Homeruns: Torii Hunter with 34
RBI and Average: Jacque Jones with 109 and .324
Surprise player of the year: Michael Cuddyer
Wins: Joe Mays with 22
Saves: Everyday Eddie with 45

Who comes in second in this division? I don't think it's the White Sox. Okay, let's go for the Royals with 75 wins. Yes, I'm serious. But here me out...they are going to come in second with a record of 75-87. Get it? Mike MacDougal may be the rookie of the year with more than 40 saves. Cheer up Royals fans, you have a little team to watch this season!

Team Triple Crown: Mike Sweeney...a true superstar
Surprise player of the year (other than MacDougal): Raul Ibanez
Wins: Runelvys Hernandez with 16
Saves: Mike MacDougal with 40

The White Sox should finish in third with 70 wins. On paper, they look good, but paper doesn't swing the bat and this always looks like a non-committed team. As for pitching, there is a new slogan: "Colon and Buehrle and then score often and early."

Homeruns: Magglio Ordonez with 39
RBI: Frank Thomas with 110
Average: Paul Konerko
Surprise player of the year: Josh Paul
Wins: Bartolo Colon with 18
Saves: Billy Koch of the 100+ MPH fastball with 36

The Cleveland Indians are rebuilding and doing the right thing. They are playing all their young players and within a few years, look out people.

Homeruns: Matt Lawton with 26
RBI: Ellis Burks with 89
Average and surprise player of the year: Travis Hafner
Wins: C.C. Sabathia with 18
Save: Danys Baez with 30

The Tigers are just miserable. I think they will stay in more games because of Trammell but that's the best I can say. How they have been allowed to have the worst teams AND not restore themselves in the minors is hard to fathom. It's going to be a long road.

Homeruns: Carlos Pena with 29
RBI: Bobby Higginson with 92
Average: Dmitri Young
Surprise player of the year: Any one that can hit over .270
Wins: Steve Sparks? At least I know who he is.
Saves: Franklyn German with 28

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Thank goodness it's finally April except that for those of us in the frozen tundra that is Northern Maine, we still have too much snow on the ground and overnight lows in the single digits. At least we can watch baseball being played in places that at least look like Spring and Summer. Speaking of snow, did you see the snow in the Baltimore/Cleveland game? And the game wasn't even in Cleveland! It was wild. "Baseball Tonight" which is god's gift to baseball fans, showed a clip from the game and the amazing thing was how long it took the umpires to notice that nobody could see the ball!

The Jeter injury is as devasting as I thought. He is history for at least six or more weeks and will have a long process of healing after that. There is doubt that he can ever be the same player he has been. It's such a shame because he was going to have a big season. I truly believe that he was not himself last year and that he never let on that his health wasn't right. Watching the games, he never looked comfortable and I think he was hurt all year. The injury still angers me and it isn't because he is on my favorite team. If Griffey was the guy that the idiot catcher crushed, I would have been just as angry. The catcher simply destroyed Jeter and should be fined and/or suspended. I saw the sickening replay a hundred times last night and it's not as if Huckabee tripped and fell into Jeter. He launched his legs into Jeter AFTER Jeter had already reached the bag. Dive in with your glove and I have no problem. Dive into a player with your knees and you're going to hurt someone. I repeat boys and girls, it was NOT a clean play.

Okay...calming myself heartrate is back near resting...I'll now return to Fearless Flagrant Fan mode and start my American League predictions with the AL East.

I wrote a post a week or so ago about the Red Sox looking strong and challenging the Yankees. Jeter going down makes that prediction look better, but watching the Red Sox bullpen last night and tonight changes my mind. After watching Urbina look strong for the Rangers on Sunday night, I couldn't help wonder why they didn't keep him. The guy looked lights out while no one on the Red Sox bullpen by committee can come in and strike someone out. All of the Red Sox relievers are finesse types and I don't think that will get it done. It looks as bad as the Ranger's bullpen last year. And now the Rangers have the Red Sox pen. Go figure.

The Yankees have question marks. Can Matsui do half of what he did in Japan? Will Clemens, et al, hold up? Will the bullpen hold on until Rivera comes back (they've looked great so far)? I hope they give Almonte a shot instead of spending more money on filler until Jeter is ready. Almonte is exciting. In either case, the Yankees are going to hit but Jeter out of the lineup weakens it considerably. I think Soriano suffers the most because he doesn't have Jeter behind him. The Yankees could win the division with 90 wins.

Homeruns: Soriano with 43
RBI: Giambi with 134
Average: Bernie Williams
Surprise player of the year: Nick Johnson (it's time to see what the potential tag is all about)
Wins: Pettitte with 22 (a breakout year)
Saves: Tie Rivera and Osuna with 24 each

The Red Sox will need to abandon their bullpen by committee immediately and find someone who can do the job. If they can do that, then the Yankees could still be in trouble because this team is going to crush the ball all year. Nomar and Manny are back all the way, Hillenbrand is better and Millar was a perfect addition. The best roster move was Todd Walker who will hit near or over .300 and give them some extra fire in the lineup. His fielding isn't spectacular but he can't be worse than Offerman! Ortiz can mash as can Mueller. This team will lead the league in runs scored. Damon starts them off perfectly and if he has a good year, the rest will fall in place. The staring pitching is mostly excellent but oh...that bullpen. Oy!

Homeruns and RBI: Manny Ramirez with 54 and 145 in an MVP year
Average: Nomar Garciaparra with .348
Surprise player of the year: It still could be Chad Fox
Wins: Pedro with 23
Saves: Wakefield?? with 22??

Tampa Bay Devil Rays will come in third only because the Blue Jays look like they are starting the season sleepwalking and Baltimore just won't do much this year. Don't under estimate Lou Piniella as manager as he makes a huge difference. And I really hope that Baldelli breaks in with wide brush strokes. Go Rocco!

Homeruns: Travis Lee with 36
RBI: Ben Grieve with 96
Average: Carl Crawford at .298
Surprise player of the year: Jim Parque
Wins: Jim Parque with 16
Saves: Lance Carter? with 22

The Orioles will sneak past the Blue Jays as the Blue Jays look dead. The Orioles are rebuilding and seem better than last year. I think Jay Gibbons is a future star. Conine is solid as is Surhoff who is back home. They will lose 90 games but there might be a glimmer of hope here.

Homeruns and RBI: Jay Gibbons with 31 and 94
Average: Marty Cordova
Surprise player of the year: B.J. Ryan
Wins: Omar Daal (he better at that price)
Saves: B.J. Ryan with 34

Maybe it's just my perception and maybe the Yankees are that good, but the Blue Jays looked like they were asleep the last two games. Stewart is the best player nobody knows but he must be falling inside in a place that never grows. Delgado is the same thing as his numbers are declining from year to year. I remember a couple of years ago when you couldn't throw anything by him. Now everything hits off his fists. It's a long season and it may turn around but I see 100 losses this year.

Homeruns and RBI: Delgado with 35 and 110 (ho hum numbers that should be better)
Average: Shannon Stewart at .309
Surprise player of the year: Frank Catalanotto who is a good pickup as a role player
Wins: Roy Halliday with 18
Saves: Kelvim Escobar with 25 (with his usual 12 blown or so)

The Red Sox are still an enigma. They could make this an interesting year and contend strongly. Or they could watch their bullpen blow 30 saves and wallow away the season just above .500. The Yankee experience is just as up in the air. I don't see either team advancing far in the playoffs should they get that far.

Monday, March 31, 2003

What a day in baseball. Glavine, Maddux, Randy Johnson all rocked. Pedro and Clemens strong. And then the soul of the Yankees, Derek Jeter gets crushed by Huckabee, the catcher of the Blue Jays. I was amazed at how little recrimination was directed to Huckabee. Either it was a tremendously dirty play (as it looked to me) or it was a tremendously stupid play by an oaf of a catcher who has no body awareness and no awareness of where he is on the field. The announcers kept talking about how it was a clean play. Excuse me but I've been watching baseball for 40+ years and I've never seen a player totally wipe out another player like that. It was disgraceful. I only hope that Jeter isn't as seriously hurt as it appeared.

Well what else did today show around the majors? It's only one game, but I look brilliant with my Cubs predictions. I'll let you look at them to see what I mean. I know. I know. There are 161 games left.

Tonight, I'll finish off the National League by some prognostications concerning that division.

I really think the Dodgers will win the division. First, the Giants lineup looks weaker to me with no one scary enough to protect Bonds even a little bit. Bonds could walk 200 times this year! In contrast, the Dodgers look balanced and poised to go over the top. Brown is back as is Dreifort and Ishii. And Nomo wins opening night with a four hitter! With Gagne in the bullpen along with Mota and Perez, it's hard to pick against this team. And although their lineup isn't as awesome as others, it seems solid and should score enough to give their pitching something to work with. Hundley was a good pickup as was McGriff.

Homeruns: Shawn Green with 46
RBI and Average: Adrian Beltre who will also be the surprise player of the year for this team.
Wins: Brown with 17
Saves: Gagne with 40

The Giants should come in second simply due to the force of Bond's personality and Felipe Alou's character. But the team is mostly smoke and now Nen is hurting. They have some good pitching with Moss being a good pickup to go with Rueter and Jason Schmidt.

Other than Bonds who should have another big year, J. T. Snow should have a great comeback season. He's been spooked by the new park in San Fran, but he's stronger and he'll be a force.

Homeruns, RBI and Average: A true triple crown candidate every year. His numbers? .350 55 124
Surprise of the year: Snow who will hit .300, hit 25 homers and drive in 100.
Wins: Tie Rueter and Moss with 16
Saves: Nen with 24

I don't see the Diamondbacks coming in higher than third. Sure, they have the potential for great pitching. But their pitching is old and who knows what could happen. But the age factor really comes to play in their lineup. Grace is 38, Williams is 37, Finley is 38, Gonzalez is 35. I just don't see them coming in any higher than 10th in runs scored. They are running on fumes.

Homeruns: Gonzalez with 32
RBI: Spivey with 94
Average: Danny Bautista
Surprise player of the year: Spivey
Wins: Schilling with 24
Saves: Mantai who throws serious gas with 36

I don't ever see the Colorado Rockies contending as long as they have that funky home/away mind game. They have finally figured out that you need flamethrowers and they have some. Again, there will be some fun games of 14 to 12 but that translates to fourth place and maybe fifth.

Home runs: Todd Helton with 42
RBI: Preston Wilson with 118
Average: Larry Walker with .375
Wins: Elarton with 11 wins?
Saves: Jimenez with 28

The Padres are interesting and they might be better than the Rockies. They have so many question marks in young players and they could be great and they could be awful. I think they'll be awful one more year. But you have to like the only team in baseball with a player as old as the Flagrant Fan!

Homeruns and RBI: Ryan Klesko with 29 and 110
Average: Sean Burroughs with a breakout year
Surprise player of the year: Rondell White who is not healthy.
Wins: Oliver Perez with 12?
Saves: Villefuerte (who?) with 29 to be a nice surprise.

Some variables that could affect the order listed above:
Will Adam Eaton regain his status as one of the great young pitchers in the game?
Can Alfonso protect Bonds enough for Barry to get some hacks?
How much will the lost of Dusty Baker affect the Giants?
Will the injury prone Dodgers stay healthy and have a big year?
Can Randy and Kurt pull off another big year together and get Arizona in the show again?
Can Kim make the transition to starting pitching?

Again... one hundred and sixty one games from now, we'll know.

Sunday, March 30, 2003

The Flagrant Fan is getting excited. We are 90 minutes in front of the opening game of the 2003 MLB season. Yesss! How will this season turn out? To continue yesterday's post, the Fearless Flagrant Fan will take a look at the National League Central. The division looks to be the most difficult one to predict. Anything can happen but here are my guesses:

Dusty Baker is the intangible that will propel the Cubbies to the top of the division. They have talent. But they also have holes just like every team in this division. So Dusty is the difference but Chicago's favorite team won't win more than 92 games.

The pitching staff has two young horses in Prior and Wood. But unless others step up in the rotation, it may be Wood and Prior and put out the fire. Arizona prooved that if you can get to the playoffs, having two dominant pitchers can do you the rest. Like every team, I'll also predict the team leaders:

Homeruns and RBI: Sammy Sosa who will have a monster year (the last of his career?) with more than 60 homers and 130 RBI
Average: Moises Alou who comes all the way back from last year's injuries
Surprise player of the year: Corey Patterson who becomes a star this year.
Wins: Kerry Wood with 18
Saves: Veres (who springboards over Alfonseca who is injured) with 29

The Cincinnati Reds are going to do some thumping this year. Griffey will win comeback player of the year and hit fifty homers. Dunn will continue his climb to stardom and Kearns may be the best of them all. Branyon can still crush and watch this Felipe Lopez who may end Barry Larkin's long reign at shortstop. Pitching is key here and I just don't see enough.

Homeruns: Griffey with 52
RBI: Adam Dunn with 126
Average: Austin Kearns
Surprise player of the year: Sean Casey is injury free for the first time in three years and will have a great year
Wins: Ryan Dempster with 17
Saves: Scott Williamson with 34

The St Louis Cardinals are dangerous enough to win the division but a lot has to fall in place...too much. Will Drew come back from injury to recreate the can't miss prospect status? Will Edmonds stay healthy? They do have potentially the best pitching and that one fact could put them ahead of the others.

Homeruns RBI Average and MVP: Albert Pujols who is one of the best hitters of our time.
Surprise player of the year: Scott Rolens, who finally settles down and has a great season.
Wins: Matt Morris with 24
Saves: Doesn't look good here...Jeff Fassaro? with 18?

The Houston Astros have the biggest hearts but age and long term injuries are catching up to their nucleus of stars. Bagwell's shoulder will never be the same. Biggio was an adequate second baseman who will be a less than adequate center fielder. Hmm... Thank goodness for their starting pitching and for Lance Berkman

Homeruns: Lance Berkman with 42
RBI: Jeff Kent with 118
Average: Jeff Bagwell who can hit to the opposite field better this year.
Wins: Wade Miller with 23
Saves: Billy Wagner with 31
Surprise of the year: Bruce Chen who comes back from the dead to win 14 games

The Pirates have pitching that could take them farther than expected, but those with the bats seem to be an odd collection of spare parts: Reggie Sanders, Pokey Reese, Kevin Young, Kenny Lofton and Matt Stairs. Puhleeze. But Brian Giles is a fiery superstar and could push that collection farther than they should go. Look for Benson to have a break out year.

Homeruns: Brian Giles with 43
RBI, Average, and surprise of the year: Jason Kendell who is healthy for the first time in years.
Wins: Tie: Kris Benson and Josh Fogg with 16 each.
Saves: Mike Williams with 37

And finally, the Milwaukee Brewers, ugh! This poor team doesn't have a chance and the only tension will be whether or not they can avoid 100 losses or not. Bad, bad team...

Homeruns: Richie Sexton with 38
RBI: Sexton again with 104
Average: Oh...let's go with Vander Wal for lack of anyone else who could hit .300
Surprise player of the year: Geoff Jenkins who has shown flashes of brilliance but keeps getting hurt.
Wins: Glendon Rusch with 14
Saves: Mike DeJean with 22 and 12 blown saves...

Variables that could change the above predictions:
Which team starts hot and gains the confidence to take it to the top?
Which team has the better interleague schedule?
Do the Astros reach inside and go for one more shot before they have nothing left?
Will the Cubs' young pitching blossom or fall victim to injury?
Can Sammy Sosa continue the most bombastic run of seasons in Major League history?
Can the Cardinals pitching stay healthy enough to make them the best team?
Can Griffey truly have the comeback season he and baseball really deserves?

Tomorrow begins the 162 game journey to the answers.