Revving up the Rivalry

After a slow start Boston has come alive. In the Orioles series they pounded the opposing hurlers for 30 runs and tacked on 17 more a series later against the Twins. They have had major contributions from Kevin Youkilis (12 RBI), Mike Lowell (16 RBI) and Jason Bay (11 RBI). Bay, Lowell, Varitek, and Drew all have three home runs and Kevin Youkilis has four. Dustin Pedroia has scored twelve runs, behind only Youk’s fourteen. So there is no doubt the offense is heating up. David Ortiz got off to a slow start but the homestand has been kind to him and he has been blasted balls of the Monster since they’ve been home. The pitching is definitely getting better as the year progresses, in large part Tim Wakefield, who has spun two consecutive gems.

So the hot Sox meet up with the stalemate Yankees for a series that means little but feels like it matters a lot. Game was was all the Boston fans could have hoped for. Bay smashes a two out, two-run homerun off Mo and Kevin Youkilis sends a Damaso Marte fastball over the Monster to win it. Lester pitched well and there were some fine defensive plays behind the pitching staff all day, wether it be Mike Lowell, Dustin Pedroia, or Youkilis. So the tension is riding high for both teams. The Yankees must be tired from two consecutive extra inning games (thankful for the off day in between now, huh?).

The series will be decided by pitching, with Josh Beckett towing the rubber against AJ Burnett tomorrow, hoping to build on a solid opening to the season thus far. The Sox have now come from a 2-6 record to get to ten wins and now have some breathing room for the moment between them and the Rays. The Yankees lurk right behind but all three powerhouse AL East teams have under-performed so far in April. Game two and game three won’t lack excitment, any Yankee-Red Sox game has tension, but Game one certaintly gave us a fair share. Now the Yanks will try and get revenge and maybe the Sox will be the only team to actually greet aged Mariano Rivera and his much less dynamic cutter. 

The Controversy of Inequality

This decade, the American League has been called the elite league, a leg above the National League. They have won to prove it, winning five World Series since 2000, losing out only to Arizona, Florida, St. Louis, and Philadelphia. The domination goes back all the way to the All-Star Game, where the American League team has not lost since back in 1996 when Mike Piazza led the NL to a 6-0 win in Philly (the 7-7 in 2002 was the only other game the AL has not won since the 1996 game). So if winning is anything at all, the AL has clearly been the top league in recent memory but there remains some question as to why.

The NL is home to some elite players, arguably most of the best at each position. David Wright, Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, Tim Lincecum, Johan Santana, Manny Ramirez, Cole Hamels, K-Rod, Russel Martin, Geovany Soto, among others, are all NL players and can all be considered as the best at their respected position (granted some are closer to that title than others). So the question looms, why is it that the NL can’t win if they have so many superstars. Is it the managing, does the AL have such superior skippers it overcomes the lack of talent comparatively to the National League. This certaintly can’t be the case, top managers like Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa, and Lou Piniella all man the helm in the NL. Is it the GM’s that don’t build the teams correctly to overcome the AL? This equally can’t be the case with such GM’s as Omar Minaya and Ned Colleti in the National League, but it certaintly is getting warmer.

The real answer to our problem is the depth and equality of the AL teams. Top to bottom the AL has teams that are cleary built for championships. They have more money, the Yanks, Sox, and Halos all AL teams and also the top three in payroll. They have more overall talent, from pitching to defense to hitting, AL teams are typically stronger and more solid than opposing NL teams. Where teams like the Marlins or Cardinals rely heavily if not totally on their stars, the American League teams are able to rely more on multiple players on the roster, giving them the upper hand and the ability to win despite fallouts from their elite players.

The only way to spread out the talent level is to pump more movey in the NL clubs via the IV and to simply give them a few months to negotioate with free agents without AL influence. Because this is totally ridiculous and unimagionable, the NL will remain the inferior league but not for much longer. Such teams as the Mets, Marlins, Cardinals, Dodgers, and Reds are growing and maturing aroudn their stars, becoming more deeper and dangerous teams that gives the NL hope that they might soon challenge the mighty AL.

Glory of Fantasy

The buzz around baseball (besides Opening Day of course) is fantasy. The game we all love and participate in has come back for more with an even more intense playing field now that some young stars have stepped it up all over the diamond. Last Saturday I had a six team fantasy draft with a few of my close friends and I though I’d give out my results. I was fortunate enough to have the second pick in the draft which enabled me to bring in some real talent early. I am a firm believer in starting by adding strong offensive bats to my infield and then hitting the starters around the fifth round. With only six teams in my draft, I had a better chance of getting some guys I really wanted.

1) My first pick was of course Albert Pujols. The pick needed no thought and no regret. As long as he is healthy, he will hit. Pujols has power that rivals that of A-Rod and has the ability to just go off on a team and tear through any opposing pitching staff. This was a no brainer for me mostly because Hanley Ramirez was gone and I wanted the next best thing.

2) My second pick was out of pure appreciation. A big Dustin Pedroia fan myself, I watched Ian Kinsler play at ASU during the Pedroia era in Arizona. The kid has a good bat that when healthy, should really be considered one of the top in the game. Granted he has limited power but he is well above average for second basemen in home runs, RBI’s, runs, batting average, and stolen bases. I like a guy who can hit 15-20 homers and swipe 30 or so bags. He also hits for a high average and that translates into scoring a lot of runs in that powerful Ranger’s lineup.

3) Having seen Jimmy Rollins put on a show in the WBC, I instantly snatched him up when I had the chance as late as the third round. I was amazed to be able to pick up a top three shortstop that late in the first part of the draft and I was happy to do so. Talented all around, Rollins is often passed up because he doesn’t hit a lot of round-trippers, doesn’t drive in an excess of runs, and doesn’t hit for insanely high average. All the same, I think this is his year and that this guy can steal (47 a year ago).

4) Pitchers were going early in my draft and I wanted to cash in before all the really strong talent was gone. I picked up Brandon Webb with my fourth pick and slotted him as the ace of my rotation. I see Webb play a lot our here in Phoenix and I like his stuff. Obviously he has the sinkerball working well for him but he also has an underrated two seam fastball and a nasty curveball. He doesn’t strike out a ton of guys but he also has a lot of control and therefore little walks. His sinkerball keeps the ball on the ground and limits runs, allowing him to keep the ERA down. He gets good run support which should translate into wins.

5) I’m a Boston fan and while I try desperately not to draft all Sox, with Kevin Youkilis still on the table, I snatched him up quickly. He was eligible for third base in my league and I think he is one of the top five first basemen in the league this year. Already having Pujols, I think it was a steal to get two top ten first basemen (though I think top five) in the first five rounds. Kevin has solid power, draws a lot of walks, drives in runs, and hits for a high average consistently. He will have a bigger role in the Boston offense this year and I think having a combination of Youk, Pujols, Kinsler, and Rollins in the infield was a major bargain.

6) There remains a position scarsity in the league right now for catcher. I wanted to get the best quality I could and there were certaintly some quality out there. Joe Mauer and  Geovany Soto were both on the board along with my eventual pick Brian McCann. I haven’t seen McCann play that much and was unsure as to his ability as a fantasy player. He was the number one catcher in the draft with Soto and Mauer behind him. I would have drafted Mauer but he is hurt now and I’m not sure when he will be back at one hundred percent. I knew going a month or so without a top catcher would hurt me. I had Geovany Soto last year on a few of my teams and he played very well but I think the pitching in the Central has improved and he might hit that unfortunate sophmore wall. Therefore, I picked McCann based on a weak pitching division toward the back end of the rotations for all teams and solid 2008 numbers,

7) Picking McCann was hard, picking Nick Markakis as my number one outfielder in the seventh round was not. I like what I see from Nick. He now has the motivation of a lucrative contract and I think he will continue to play at a top level. He actually had a down year in 08 from a splendid 07 campaign and still posted solid numbers. He can certaintly hit the ball but he also has a gun from right field and I really think he will become a top putfielder comprable to maybe Carlos Beltran in his prime.

8) I grabbed K-Rod with my eight pick because of two reasons. Jonathon Papelbon had been picked four people ahead of me and I was nervous that the closers might be leaving soon. I also liked the way my offense was shaping up so I took a risk and drafted an elite closer in the 8th round. A lot of people don’t like where K-Rod’s strikeout, hits, and walk numbers are going and his ERA has gone up in the past but he has introduced a powerful changeup that will help him become a more finess closer this year. He won’t have to play against as tough of offenses as in the AL now and should probably get somewhere around 50 saves.

9) Keeping pitching in mind, I hit the market for another starter and was happy to find Roy Halladay. Granted he plays in a tough division but he still puts up the solid numbers that can be valuble and with his expensive contract weighing thr Blue Jay’s rebulding process down, he could be traded to a conteder at mid-season and have a CC Sabathia type second half if sent to the NL.

10) Just about halfway through my draft I was fortunate enough to find a player I had my sights on, Matt Holliday. Knowing he would be shunned because of his less than solid away numbers, I waited as long as I could to add this power bat to my lineup. He goes to a weak pitching division and will play with more quality team mates around him than in Colorado. Tutoring from Jason Giambi in hitting as well as club house and leadership mentality will make Matt a top player once again.

11) Looking for another closer, I passed on San Fran’s Brian Wilson for strike out master Carlos Marmol. I knew he wouldn’t have the closer job but his ERA remains low, his walks infrequent and his strikeouts very high. Those three numbers made it very easy to pick up Marmol over some other less than elite closers who will get 25-30 saves but have a 4+ ERA.

12) In the twelth round I kept my run of draftign pitchers alive by adding lefty Jon Lester. This is a guy who deserves to be in the talks of the best pitchers in the league and I think he will break out even more this year with John Smotlz there to teach the young guys of the art of pitching. I think Lester can be penciled in for over 15 wins with a solid ERA and good strikeout numbers.

13) And so the pitching high ends as I add my last outfilder to the starting slots with Nate McLouth. I felt lucky to pick him up this late in the draft and was fortunate tpo be adding a solid bat to my already stacked lineup. Nate hits in the 25 home run range and steals and equal amount. He drove in 93 runs in a horrid Pirates offense and also scored over one hundred runs, making him a great grab this late in the draft.

14) Still in need of a utility guy for my final starting slot, I grabbed Cub’s third baseman Aramis Ramirez. Not a guy to hit for a great average, he does hit toward the 30 home run mark with over 100 RBI’s and even in the fifth slot in that Cubs order, can score upwards of 80-90 runs. I was glad to add a solid power bat to play my utility role. Being a 3rd baseman allows me to have some flexibility if Pujols and Youkilis gets hurt.

15) With my lineup pretty much se
t and my pitching staff strong, I went hunting for some guys that would improve my depth and trade-ability later on. Matt Wieters was a shock for me to be around this late but I gladly picked him up knowing I could trade either him or McCann later for any needs I mgith have.

16) I like what I see with Ricky Nolasco and decided to pick him up in the 16th to add depth and talent to my pitching. Ricky has a solid offense behind him with Hanley, Uggla, and Maybin and has above average stuff that, with some run support, could net him a high numbers of wins.

17) Edwin Encarnacion is a guy I have watched for the last few years. His RBI and home run numbers continue to go up at a steady rate and his average is god as well. he plays good D and has good potential to be a top third baseman in the NL in a few seasons. His power and run producing abilites made him a nice luxury to have in the draft. I may not need him with two third baseman already but he might be a guy that I can try and trade later on.

18) Here in the 18th I decided to adress my outfield depth and add Jay Bruce. He is a guy with a dangerous bat who can make an impact on a lineup. If Markakis or Holliday don’t perform, I would not hesitate to throw Bruce in there until they get hot again.

19) With two rounds to go, I wanted to see to my middle infield depth and added Miguel Tejada. He brings a power bat to the plate with an ability to produce runs and thrive with a elite middle of the order around him. I can only hope his legal troubles do not effect his playing ability.

20) I added Derek Lowe as my last pitcher because he is having a good spring and should do well in the weaker bottom feeder offenses in his new division (Washington and Florida). Lowe played well in Boston and is a great quality kind of guy who can get the job done in place of a fallen Webb or Halliday.

21) My last pick in the draft was Robinson Cano. I brought him on board because I think Mark “Tex” can help him fine tune his bat like he did with the Angels. Cano could be a good backup second baseman who could be able to fill in possibly at SS is Tejada went down in legal flames. 

AL East Predictions

This division will play host to one of the tightest playoff pushes in recent memory. Arguably the top three teams in the entire league will fight for most likely two playoff spots as long as the wild card comes from the AL East. The Yankees saw their stock drop with Alex Rodriguez’s surgery and the Rays hopped up in many predicted standings charts. The Red Sox spent frugally, the Yankees doled out some unbelievable mark and the Rays quietly held on to much of their roster.

5) The Orioles have the pieces to have a solid offense but their pitching will hurt them. Playing in this division means you have to have pitching to fend yourselves among the forests of bats in New York, Boston, Tampa, and even Toronto. Sure they have rising stars like Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Matt Wieters but the lack of pitching is scary. Another quick tidbit, the right field stud who the Orioles showered with a six-year contract in the offseason actually had a down offfensive season last year than from his 2007 campaign. Not a single pitcher on their roster reached over 200 innings last year and only Jeremy Guthrie won double digit games (10). Their closer, George Sherrill, had a 4.73 ERA last season and walked 33 batters in 53 innings. The lack of pitching will hurt the Orioles chances this year.

4) Toronto’s pitching isn’t great but it is slightly better than Baltimore’s, increasing their stock but not by much. Two pitchers got more than 180 innings (Roy “Doc” Halladay and AJ Burnett). One is gone to free agency and one could be traded depending on the outlook at mid-season, rebuilding time or not. The offense for Toronto was unable to get it done last season, their top RBI guy driving in only 79 runs. Scott Rolen was a bust, only driving in 50 runs, and fellow newcomer David Eckstein didn’t even make it the whole way with the team. Relying on a lot of players to have bounce back years could come back to bite the Blue Jays if they are unable to get some more runs this campaign, but the Orioles horrid pitching will keep the Jays out of the cellar.

3) When A-Rod goes down, so do the Yankees. It will be close but not having their superstar third baseman until March drops a bomb on the Yanks order. Their pitching should be better. CC Sabathia adds an unbeleivable lefty arm to the rotation but Burnett isn’t as good as he is being paid, having an ERA in the high 4’s last season and having history of injuries. The age of the team will also catch up with the Yankees. Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, and Andy Pettite are all getting up in age and the youth of the team isn’t that great either. With Joba Chamberlain officially in the starting rotation, the Yankees will have major troubles bridging the gap to Mo in the ninth unless they decide to trade Nick Swisher or Xavier Nady for a set-up man. Mark Teixeira will help the offense like he did in Anaheim but it may not be enough. We don’t know for sure if A-Rod’s March return tiem frame will be the point where he is “A-Rod 100%” or just able to play.

2) The Rays kept most of their roster from a magical season intact this year, eerily similar to what the Red Sox did after their 2007 title. Look where it got the Sox, one game away from the World Series, good but not enough. That is what the Rays will be this year, good but not enough. The pitching is good, the bullpen deep and powerful, the starters more than capable, and the offense strong and resiliant but the teams still has holes. Though Pat Burrell is a good addition, he will have to adapt to American League pitching, especially American League East pitching and might not explode. There is some element of relying on guys to keep up their hot streak of last year (these guys were the same in 07 when they couldn’t get the job done) and some are questioning the emotional effect of winning. Now the team can’t rely on the whole “they don’t beleive in what we can do thing” so that might translate into some kind of fall-off.

1) The Red Sox are without a doubt an elite team. Their pitching is deep and the best overall in the league and the offense is riddled with strong players. They have the ability thanks to their depth to address holes through trades and they have a nice mix of youth and veterans on the roster. Jason Varitek is having a great spring at the plate and David Ortiz is flashing the power again. John Smoltz has the potential to help make the final push to the playoffs and three elite starters with Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Dice-K mean that there could be three 15+ win guys at the front end of the rotation. Banking on strong years from Pedroia, Youk, and Bay as well as solid comeback years for Mike Lowell, Varitek, and Big Papi, the team should win the division easily.

AL Central Predictions

This division is a tough one to sort through because there remains one central weakness for all five clubs and that remains weak pitching. The division is full of aged sluggers, weak starters, and rising stars yet to prove themselves over a full season, all of which will lead to a tough fight to the finish.

5) The Tigers struggled last year, that goes without saying. The offense many expected to lead them to a championship failed them mightily and their pitching staff was largely ineffective and brittle. Dontrelle Willis was a bust and has now landed on the DL, his career spiraling wildly out of control. Miguel Cabrera remains a top ten offensive contributor and really turned it on in the second half but down years from Curtis Granderson, Magglio Ordonez, and Carlos Guillen rendered the Tigers victimed of the fabled Sports Illustarted Cover Curse. Though their offense is still one of the best in the AL, they are relying to heavily on bounce back years from some veterans and cannot continue to stack up on offense while not addressing their pitching staff. Justin Verlander and Armando Galarrage are bright spots in the first two slots of the starting rotation but Edwin Jackson (an ERA over 4 last year with the Rays), Jeremy Bonderman (only 71 innings last year thanks to injury, and Nate Robertson (a ridculous 6.35 ERA in 2008) are all weak links in the back end of the rotation that will hurt the Tigers. Brandon Lyon showed last year he clearly cannot close which is how the Tigers plan to use him and Joel Zumaya has already hit the DL this year. Things do not look good for Detroit.

4) The White Sox are one heck of a team, last year was phenominal for the South Siders, but the team is old and too reliant on the home run. This team relys on top power numbers from vets Jim Thome, Paul Konerko, Jermain Dye, and AJ Pierzynski and these guys are just getting too up there in age to keep up. They traded Nick Swisher without bringing in pitching help, leaving their starting rotation will holes that will cost them in this offensive division. Mark Buehrle is a quality guy who can win somewhere between 10-15 games this year but both Gavin Flloyd and John Danks have had inconsistent sucess and can’t really be expected to win ten or so games in the two and three spots of the five man rotation. Bobby Jenks remains an elite closer but he has little other bullpen help and the age will hurt the staff.

3) The Royals are coming back, adding some power with Mike Jacobs and speed with Coce Crisp. Their starting rotation looks strong with Gil Meche and Zach Greinke who combined for 27 victories last year and 3.73 ERA combined. 3 of the pitchers slotted for the starting rotation had winning records last year and a much improved bullpen features a stud closer with Joakim Soria, solid set-up man with experience with Kyle Farnsworth, and a seventh inning guy in Juan Cruz who had a 4-0 record last year and a sub-3.00 ERA in Arizona. The team has a sub-par offense but Mike Jacobs has hit 27 homeruns in two consecutive seasons (07-08) and Alex Gordon and Jose Guillen are both poised for strong seasons at the plate.

2) The Indians had a great 2007 and then hit the wall in 2008. They have a lot to prove coming back and will in large part return to form but they are in need of too many guys to come back from poor 2008 campaigns to suceed. Their offense is potent with Grady Sizemore, Pronk, Victor Martinez, and Ryan Garko but there are holes here like at second base and third base. Mark DeRosa is a quality pick up and should be considered the bets utility man of this generation but his bat isn’t comprable to other everyday shotstops. Shin Soo Choo is a gamble and so is Ben Fransico in left. The pitching should be good as well with Cliff Lee and hopefully Fausto Carmona bouncing back but the back end is weak. The bullpen has gotten a little better too but again, this team relies too heavily on comebacks that may not happen.

1) The Twins overcome the odds better than anyone else is the league. Their offense is dangerous with Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau in there with the best at their position and rising stars like Denard Span and Carlos Gomez manning the outfield. They have high hopes for Span and are also glod to have veteran outfielder Micheal Cuddyer back to lead the outfield bunch and add some pop to the middle of the order. The third baseman situation settled out nicely as the team now has a set guy to man the hot corner in Joe Crede who plays exceptional D and also adds a solid bat to the bottom of the lineup. Yes the rotation is young and untested but it worked last year and with four of five predicted starters with winning records (Nick Blackburn had and 11-11 record) they should have high hopes for this bunch. The bullpen is thin but they will overcome it, as they do everything else.

AL West Predictions

There is something new in the air for the American League West division this year. Could it be…..competition maybe? This will be the first time in several years since the decline of the once mighty A’s that this division might actually play host to a multi-team race to the finish. The Angel’s aging lineup and hurting pitching will allow for a reloaded Athletics team to maybe make a run at the division crown this year. The pitching deprived Rangers will have to pray their power-laden offense will be enough for them and the Mariners hope only for a season will less than one hundred losses.

4) The Mariners sit in a tough position for me right now. I like a few guys in their starting rotation and I definitely think they have quality guys on offense but for me, I’m not sure they can keep up in the West. I like King Felix, there is no doubt this kid can pitch. He pitches somewhere around the 190-200 inning mark and strikes out 175-180 guys. If he can limit the hits he gives up, he can really become a true ace. I like Felix, I don’t like Erik Bedard; his numbers are all over the place the last few years and I don’t know what to expect out of this guy. They definitely have some bright spots with Ichiro, Franklin Gutierrez, Ken, and Adrian Beltre but these guys just aren’t at the top of their games any more and the team will suffer for it. The rotation is weak and the bullpen is like a ship made of random and broken peices of wood, it won’t even float.

3) The Rangers have one heck of an offense. I’d like to see Josh Hamilton do it again before i fall head over heels for him but there is definitely some pop in this lineup. Ian Kinsler is one of the top second basemen in the league and really sets the table well for the power guys later on. Micheal Young won’t be as productive as in years past but he certaintly still has some run-earning ability. Their loaded catcher position with Max Ramirez, Tayler Teagarden and Salty gives them the opportunity to trade for some bullpen or starter help. They need it badly. Kason Gabbard needs to be starting, not stuck in the bullpen as a sixth inning guy. The also need to get Andruw Jones locked up at the BIG LEAGUE level and slap that big guy at first base for a while. Either way, a lack of pitching will force them down a spot in 2009.

2) The A’s suffered a big blow today in losing Justin Duchscherer and their young and untested rotation now has to pick up the slack. I’d hope they’re smart and don’t close with Ziegler as they need to preserve his arm for later on. Matt Holliday will add some major pop to the lineup and will be a threatening force in the middle of the order. Jason Giambi, the guy who formerly provided said pop and said force, will be a nice nostalgic piece to the puzzle but really won’t do that great as he is getter older and now has to hit it  deeper to right than he ever did in New York. Orlando Cabrera is a nice pickup, improving Oakland’s defense and giving them an everyday shortstop.They need to have Chavez and Ellis back healthy and productive to really put the heat on the Angels and Bobby Crosby needs to move on and step up and give the A’s some pop off the bench. Just not enough pitching talent to get the job done though.

1) A lot of things are going against the Angels right now. They lose their record-setting closer and firstbaseman in free agency. Their outfield plays host to three aging veterans, only one of which is a star defensively and who can hold his own in the lineup anymore. Vlad is just plain out old and Bobby Abreu is also on the downside, though he will be a leg up from Garret Anderson. The bullpen got worse and so did the starting rotation and the team got older still. They need new talent and fresh blood to the back end of the rotation to replace Weaver, Moseley, and Saunders. They still have enough gas in the tank to get it done but their dominance has come to an end and in a few years, there will be more than one or two teams in contention for the West.

NL Central Predictions

This division is historic. One of the most storied franchises in the game dwells here as well as one with a century and more of championship void seasons. Curses and champions alike, this division is greatly improved from last year and overall will be more even. However, it is Chicago’s for the taking now and with their top competition from last year stripped of their starters, there will be a chance for the Cards and Reds to jump up to the second and third spots in the Central and contend for the Wild Card.

6) The Pirates have holes, stars, and busts. Their pitching rotation is dry as a desert and their offense revolves around one man. They have some rising players and some quality guys but some of their starters would be benchwarmers on other teams. There is no denying it, the Pirates are far from an elite team. Their pitching rotation relies on guys like Ian Snell and Paul Maholm and their bullpen is faceless and lacks any power guys to seal up a win. Their offense is centered around Nate McLouth who has proven to be an elite outfielder comprable to Nick Markakis in some aspects of his game, good power and ability to drive in runs coupled with middle of the road speed and a rocket arm from the outfield. Adam LaRoche also adds power to the group but this team is by no means a contender and will not be until they add a run producer and a bona fide ace.

5) What the difference a year makes. Losing Ben Sheets and CC Sabathia in the offseason hurt the Brewers a lot. Their rotation is now stripped of much of their talent and their bullpen is thin and relying too heavily upon Trevor Hoffman. The lineup is good and will without a doubt pick up some slack for the pitching but it will be hard to overcome the short comings of a rotation led by a guy who has a total of 9 carreer wins. David Bush and Jeff Suppan will have to bite off more than they can chew and like it, taking up the reins in the two and three spots of the five man rotary. Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun are proven power guys who will drive in runs for the Brew Crew and vets like Bill Hall and Mike Cameron will help the team as well but the pitching is too lackluster to keep the team at a playoff level.

4) Houston remains a force to be reckoned with in this division. Thei have a dynamic middle of the order to make up for a weaker rotation. Roy Oswalt pitched well in the WBC which is a god sign for Astros fans if they hope for good things this year. Oswalt will need to be strong and carry the starters this year and lead the team pitching wise. Jose Valverde is a proven closer who will most likely close the door down there in the ninth but the Stros may have some trouble getting to him as the season wears on. Still, Lance Berkman, Miguel Tejada, Carlos Lee, and even Pudge Rodriguez are solid bats in that lineup and will provide power and the ability to score runs for the weak pitching team.

3) The Reds are a young and athletic team that can be ready for some breakout seasons from their starters. Aaron Harang is not as bad as last year was and had a large total of K’s last season. He should bounce back this year to lead the rotation. Edinson Volquez is one of the better young pitchers in the game with some wicked stuff that accounted for over 200 strikeouts last year. He is followed by Bronson Arroyo and Jonny Cueto who are both quality guys who have a chance to bounce back like I think Harang will.The real secret weapon the Reds have is Micah Owings. Personaly, I think converting him to the outfield as a Rick Ankiel type guy would be the best move for Cincy. He has dangerous power that with a year or two of fine tuning could translate into a solid offensive contributor. Willy Tavarez adds speed, Jay Bruce and Joey Votto have power and Edwin Encarnacion remans on a fast track to becoming an elite third baseman in the league.

2) The Cardinals have an underrated starting rotation as well as a solid offense that will make them dangerous out in the Central. Pujols remains the game’s best player and will remain so until he retires. His bat is insanly powerful and his slumps are still the red hot streaks for some guys around the league, Kahlil Green and Skip Schumaker will be solid offensivly for the club and Rick Ankiel will become a top ranked outfielder if you ask me. I’m a big Kyle Lohse fan and he is riding a great year with 15 wins and 200 innings and will continue that run and lead the Cards staff over Wainwright and Carpenter who will both be solid in 2009.The only hole is the bullpen which can be remedied or simply overcome and Troy Glaus will be missed but upon his return, this team will be as dangerous as anyone in this division.

1) The Curse of the Billy Goat has haunted Chicago for just too long. This is a championship caliber team and in a weak division may already have the div. crown sealed up. Their offense is strong with Aramis Ramirez leading the bunch. Derek Lee should play well as he usually does and the Cubbies hope Kosuke Fukodome will hopefully be able to perform at a top level all year.If Milton Bradley remains healthy their lineup will be one of the best in the league and with rising superstar Geovany Soto behind the plate, their pitching staff will be in good hands. Zambrano needs to consistently win this season and Ted Lilly will need to be healthy and effective as well. More importantly, Rich Harden must be available for as long as possible to make this rotation really top of the line. Carlos Marmol is one of the better releivers in the league with some great stuff and Jeff Samardzija is a stud in the pen as well. The curse is certantly going to be tested here in 2009.

NL West Predictions

The National League West plates host to a major lineup, one of the best one-two pitching duos in the game and a team hoping to return to top form with virtually no offensive powerhouse on board. The Dodgers will look to reclaim their division title with Manny leading a group with a sub-par pitching staff. The Diamondbacks have a weak bullpen but their starting rotation still houses Brandon Webb and Dan Haren and therefore they remain in contention. The Giants have got some flair back with a reigning Cy Young award winner, a former Cy Young out to prove last year was a fluke, the porbable last man to win 300 games, and a lot riding on an offense led by Aaron Rowand, Edgar Renteria, and Benji Molina.

5) The Padres are two years removed from a play-in game to the postseason. Now they sit at the bottom of their division. The future of their ace, Jake Peavy, is up in the air but if he remains a Padre, he will help them immensley. Behind him in the rotation sits Chris Young, whose fastball is among the league’s best when he is healthy. Those two are really the only threats in San Diego’s starting five and will need to really step it up to keep the Padres out of the basement. Their bullpen has taken a major hit with the loss of Trevor Hoffman and an unproven Heath Bell will need to step it up to keep this team alive for any length of time. The Padres have a lot riding on Bell to develop into a solid ninth inning guy. Losing Khalil Green hurts the team’s offense but adding David Eckstein will help their middle infield defense. Adrian Gonzalez still leads the team from the plate but, as most people are in San Diego, his power is limited by the spacious Petco Park.

4) The Rockies went from the top of the world and dropped the ball, all the way down to fourth in the West. After riding a 22 game winning streak to end 2007, they were swept in the World Series and fell flat on their faces in 08. Losing Matt Holiday and Brian Fuentes take away two leaders of their club and not adding a major starter this offseason hurt them just as much.Brad Hawpe has a lot to prove without the protection of Holliday in the lineup and Todd Helton must stay healthy for the Rocks to rock anyone here. Tulo will need to return to his 2007 form in order for this lineup to be fearful and Hawpe will need to develop fast into a primary power guy and run producer in that lineup. Huston Street and Manny Corpas can both close and Alan Embree gives the Rocks some veteran leadership as well as a lefty specialist in the pen. Their starting five will be led by Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez will be forced to step up with Jeff Francis done before he got the chance to start up. It looks like they have a elite catcher in the making with Chris Ianetta but they need him to step up fast.

3) The Giants rotation got them some fanfare early in Spring Training but the fever for the Giants has long since cooled and the holes in their lineup scream at you like banshees. Without Lincecum, this would be a 4 or 5 team but their rotation is a strong one that will keep them afloat. Lincecum will lead the league in strikeouts and will most likely win fifteen or more games. Matt Cain remains one of the most underrated right handers in the NL but his run support is one of the worst league wide and that prevents him from winnign games. Randy Johnson has no more than ten wns left in him and Barry Zito is at a major turnign point. Either he can return to form and prove last year was a fluke or he can slide back into the shell of a washed up vet. Their bullpen has some bright spots and also some holes and their virtual non-existing lineup will cost them games. They need some guys like Rowand, Molina, and Renteria to step up big time but they still have major holes in the lineup and in the field.

2) The DBacks have a great young core of players but their depth is a turn-off. Their outfield is strong with such guys as Chris Young, Justin Upton, and Conor Jackson but having Erik Byrnes as a primary backup isn’t the most settling of all ideas. Their infield is testy. Stephen Drew has shown a quite superb upside but has yet to generate a string of hot hitting to carry the team. Felipe Lopez will need to play a quick game this year and steal bags at the top of the order and Mark Reynolds and Chad Tracy are fickle defenders at the corners. Reynolds has some unbeleivable power but strikes out quite a lot when he goes cold. The starting rotation is strong with Brandon Webb leading the squad and Dan Haren behind him. The two of them are both ace-caliber guys and will be sure things this year. Doug Davis is a question mark in the three spot but inning-eater Jon Garland will pick up the slack for him. Max Scherzer is unproven but has the ability to rack up the K’s and dominate hitters when he is on. Their pen has some question marks with Qualls closing and Rauch setting up, both of whom will need to bounce back and play well if their is any hope for Arizona.

1) Manny changes a team in unmeasurable ways. Man-Ram is a force that will propel the Dodgers to the playoffs. He will lead an already strong lineup featuring young stars like James Loney, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and Russell Martin. Casey Blake was a good addition at the deadline last season and will remain at third for LA. However, a bullpen that is by no means lights-out hurts LA and having Hiroki Kuroda as your ace is by no means reassuring. Chad Billingsley has the potential to win ten or more games if healthy and Clayton Kershaw is also a rising star that will help them in the future but in an offseason spent trying to pin down Manny left some holes in the starting rotation and bullpen. Orlando Hudson will be an addition that helps the team like Blake did in 2008. The offense will help the team ride high but without a true ace, the team won’t be able to last long in the playoffs.

NL East Predictions

The NL East is now home of the defending champs.They also play host to one of the top lineups in the league, a reformed rotation, and a team carried on the shoulders of essentially one offensive player. The Mets added not one but two closers to fill in their ‘pen, the Braves brought in Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez, and Kenshin Kawakami in hopes of once again becoming the elite pitchign team in the league. The Marlins got approval for a new stadium but couldn’t get a new bat (or arm) to bolster their team around that guy Ramirez (not to be confused with Manny) and the Phillies kept their roster in most part intact in hopes of repeating their title run. Even the Nationals made some news, adding Adam Dunn to an already stuffed outfield and got some pitching help in former Oriole Daniel Cabrera. This is a stronger division now, so strong that the defending champs may not even be favored to win it.

5) In the cellar of the East, The Nationals find their home. They are improving, just at too slow and steady a pace to be expected to rise up out of the five hole any time soon. Rather, their season wil be spent refining their rotation and hoping Adam Dunn can help lead some young, talented guys like Zimmerman, Dukes, Milledge, and Guzman. Their rotation isn’t good, they really have no bona fide ace and their bullpen still lacks a guy that strikes fear into the heart of opposing rosters as the game goes on. They are certaintly improving and with the first pick in the draft, they might just get an ace with that fireballer Erik Starsburg waiting for his name to be called. They are on their way up but their pitching will need to improve and their offensive guys will need to step up big time before this team goes anywhere up.

4) The Marlins had a good season last year but they lost a few key guys in the offseason. Mike Jacobs will be missed and now Jorge Cantu will have more pressure to contribute. Dan Uggla was a formidable power hitter in the first half and went as cold as ice after the break and the key for the Marlins will be for him to be going strong all year. Hanley will be superb as he always is but this team needs to build up some offense around him. They have Uggla and in a year or two from now Cameron Maybin will be the next Curtis Granderson out there in center but for now much of the offensive spark will be provided from the shortstop. They will have to rely a lot on a weak bullpen and a young, inexperienced rotation that can be lights out when hot and deader than a pitching machine when cold.

3) An improved rotation moves the Braves up my list this year. Lowe is a true ace and isn’t as ancient as the guys the Braves hold on too for nostalgia (*cough* Glavine). Vazquez can be good or bad but has a good upside and Jair Jurrgens is a real gem in the gravel for Atalanta. I like Rafael Soriano in the pen but he needs to close out these games if they want to get full value for him. Chipper will be Chipper and play solid but the offense will be average at best. I do like Garret Anderson but he is definitely on the downside of his career and Jeff Francour will need to step it up. A good team, but not elite (as you need to be in this division).

2) Speaking of elite, what is better than winning. World Series champs the Phillies finish second. Their offense is loaded with great contributors and their major offseason pickup in Raul Ibanez is a leg up from Pat Burrel in my eyes. Their Achilles heel will be their pitching. Cole Hamels is one of the best lefties in the game but is the only real sure thing in that rotation. Brett Mayers and Jamie Moyer and getting too old to be productive and Joe Blanton will have as many off-days as he does good-days. Their bullpen will be good, especially the back end with Lidge and Madson but their starting five isn’t strong enough to overcome such a strong lineup as the team ranked ahead of them. Jimmy Rollins is still on the way up, Ryan Howard is riding high, and Chase Utley will be productive yet again but the offense won’t be able to pick up all the slack and the pitchign will cost the Phillies the division crown.

1) And last but not least, the Mets will overcome their past September….wait, go no further, it’s just too painful to New Yorkers. They have one of the top three lineups in the National League and their starting rotation is strong. Johan is one of the best, Perez is solid, Pelfrey is a rock and a horse, Maine is going to break out sometime soon and Livan Hernandez has a point to prove. They also have strong guys waiting like Garcia and Redding that might break in later on. Their bullpen is strong but not yet perfect. They still have questions in the early stages of their pen but the back end with Putz and K-Rod will not allow as many games to slip as the former bullpen did in 2008). Thye also have the option of trading Garcia or Hernandez or Redding in exchange for some sixth or seventh inning guys if need be. Their lineup with Reyes, Wright, Delgado, Beltran, and Castillo will be dynamite and Church and Schneider will contribute as well. This team will challenge the Cubbies for the NL Pennat and thanks to a weak Philidelphia rotation, will have the opportunity to put away the “chokers” label (there i said it)