Friday, April 02, 2004

Since we must wait until Monday for the season to restart (after the funky start in Japan), we might as well ponder the divisions and how they could shape up this year. Let's start in the wide open National League West (in order of where they should finish):

1. The San Diego Padres. The Padres will be this year's Cinderella team, not because they will be that good, but because the rest of the division could be that bad. Looking on paper, all the teams in this division have glaring weaknesses.

The Padres have weaknesses, but they can run three decent starters out there and have some good players in their lineup. Here are my projected leaders on the team and a few keys for them to win:

Homeruns - Brian Giles (36)
RBI - Ryan Klesko (105)
Average - Jeff Burroughs (.308)
Wins - Sterling Hitchcock (16) <--longshot
Career Year - Jay Payton
Record - 88-74
Keys: Trevor Hoffman coming back from injury; How long David Wells can hold up; whether Khalil Greene is ready to be the every day shortstop.

2. The Colorado Rockies. The Rockies should have a great lineup but have little pitching, so expect another season of 12-11 games. The Rockies will never win their division as long as they play in Colorado. But it sure will be fun to watch Vinnie Castillo (who comes home this year), Larry Walker, Todd Helton, Jeremy Burnitz and Preston Wilson knock the ball around in the thin air:

Homeruns - Vinnie Castilla (40)
RBI - Todd Helton (122)
Average - Larry Walker (.334) Rooting for a Larry comeback
Wins - Scott Elarton (14)
Career Year - Jeromy Burnitz
Record - 81-81
Keys: Pitching. Any pitching. Some pitching. Starting pitching. Relief pitching...

3. The San Francisco Giants. The Giants have little besides Bonds and it's always interesting to see when age finally catches up with Bobby's son. But this should be a record making year for Bonds and that should keep him popping the baseball into McCovey Cove. The trouble is, there's nothing to protect him from all those walks.

Other than Bonds, the pitching is weak and the lineup would be awful without Barry Bonds' presense in their.
Homeruns - Barry Bonds (46)
RBI - Edgardo Alfonso - (97)
Average - Bonds (.338)
Wins - Jason Schmidt - (15)
Career Year - Michael Tucker
Record - 80-82
Keys: I don't see where the pitching is going to come from and Barry Bonds does not have one star around him that would make any pitcher in the league.

4. The Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks lost Schilling. Randy Johnson got shelled in his last Spring Training tuneup and is 41 years old. Brandon Webb is all that is left. You know a pitching staff is in trouble when the big off-season addition is Shane Reynolds. Yeesh. The Diamondbacks should have a better lineup, but for the first time in years, seem destined for the lower reaches of the division.

Homeruns - Richie Sexson (45) Book it, Dano.
RBI - Richie Sexson (125) As consistent a slugger as there is in the game.
Average - Alex Cintron - (.318)
Wins - Randy Johnson (14)
Career Year - Brandon Lyon
Keys: What do Randy Johnson, Roberto Alomar, Luis Gonzalez and Steve Finley have left in those aging tanks?

5. The Los Angeles Dodgers. Last year, the Dodgers had the best pitching in the division and the worst offense in the majors. They haven't improved their offense and their pitching looks very, very shakey. Hideo Nomo looked bad all Spring. Kaz Ishii has lost all zip on his fastball. There is no telling how Jeff Weaver will respond after his disastrous detour in New York and Dan Dreifort and Odalis Perez could be great or non-existent. It will be a long, long year in the Chavez Ravine.

Homeruns - Shawn Green (22) If that...
RBI - Juan Encarnacion (88)
Average - Paul Lo Duca (.278) Really
Wins - Odalis Perez (15)
Career Year - Dave Roberts
Keys: Perhaps their pitching will gel, but that's a long shot.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

The Cubs seem poised to have a great season. Kerry Wood has gone 5-0 this Spring and looks nasty. Sammy Sosa looks healthy and has hit well. Derrek Lee has mashed the ball and every game seems lopsided. Houston also looks good as their starting pitching has been terrific. This could be one heck of a race in the NL Central with a slight nod going to Houston since I'll take Dotel as a closer over LaTroy Hawkins.

Hawkins was given the closer role in Minnesota in 2001 and, though he saved 28 games, ended with a 5.96 ERA. The past two years, he has been a setup man and has posted ERAs of 2.13 and 1.86 with a combined 15-3 record. In those two years, he gave up only 162 baserunners in 157 innings.

Some pitchers just aren't meant to close. Mike Timlin has been handed the job several times in his career and never could do it. Scott Williamson has been handed the job twice in his career and failed twice. Hawkins might be in that category. So what the Cubs have to hope for are a lot of 12-3 games with the starting pitching strong and the offense hitting like it has this Spring.

Speaking of Scott Williamson, both he and Kevin Foulke have been hit hard this Spring and that has to make Red Sox Nation a little scared. Nomar Garciaparra is going to start the season on the shelf and Pedro looks like a shade of himself. On the bright side, Schilling looks like a horse and their surprise this year seems to be David McCarty. McCarty, who has hit 32 career homers in his long, cup of coffee type career, has about that many during the exhibition season.

It was nice for Hidecki Matsui to hit a homer in front of his home country friends today. No wonder they love him over there. The Yankees are only tied now for the worst record in baseball. Kevin Brown pitched great getting his first win as a Yankee. Posada hit two homers and had six RBI in the game.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The first day of the season didn't feel like the first day of the season. The Fan woke up this morning and turned the game on. Two teams from the major leagues were playing, but it didn't look or feel like a real game. I stand by earlier post that I hate this Japan thing. The opening day of baseball should be about the home team's fans screaming for the first time of the season. It shouldn't be about a game a world away in front of polite and respectful fans.

The only good thing about the game today was old friend, Tino Martinez, starting the season going three for three with a homer, double and two RBI. He got a bad rap in St. Louis where it was said he wasn't a team player. Joe Torre doesn't put up with those types of players and a man doesn't change just because he moves to another city. I hope Tino has a great season in Tampa Bay.

Can you tell already that Tino will be one of my box score heroes?

The Red Sox have to be worried about Pedro Martinez. He got banged around today in his last exhibition game before the season. Peter Gammons reports that Pedro hasn't risen above 90 on the radar gun all Spring. The dominating days of Pedro Martinez are gone. He could be a very effective Luis Tiant type of pitcher--which can be very good--but not the kind of pitcher who puts fear into the batter.

Joe Girardi didn't make it with the Yankees and retired. He was a big part of some of their champion seasons and I'm sure that Steinbrenner will find him a job in the Yankee organization. I always thought he looked like Tony Danza.

Okay, there is one thing I have to get off my chest. I know reality shows are the rage on television and the best seem to be where the American Dream is lived out in front of us like on American Idol, Nashville Star and now ESPN's Dream Job. Most of those shows narrow their field down to a dozen or so contestants and then the audience takes over until the winner is chosen. Dream Job gave the audience only a fraction of influence until the final two.

Now why should the Fan care about the Dream Job and who the winner is? I am a baseball fan. A show like Sport Center is where I live. Who hosts that show makes a big difference. And the problem with leaving most of the voting in the hands of the judges is that we ended up with a choice of two safe, vanilla smoothies. Chris Berman never would have won that show. Kenny Mayne never would have won that show.

Zach was the correct choice for fans like me. He had personality. He had an edge. He was entertaining. He was what Sport Center needs. We certainly don't need another cutesy cookie cutter good talker. It was very, very disappointing. Congratulations to the guy, he has one of America's great jobs. But he wasn't my choice.