Tuesday, February 28, 2006

MLB Preview 6: AL Central

Chicago White Sox

Scott Podsednik LF
Tadahito Iguchi 2B
Paul Konerko 1B
Jim Thome DH
Jermaine Dye RF
AJ Pierzynski C
Joe Crede 3B
Juan Uribe SS
Brian Anderson CF

Mark Buehrle
Freddy Garcia
Javy Vazquez
Jose Contreras
Jon Garland
Brandon McCarthy

There are two (relatively) new names in the White Sox opening day lineup. Anderson is the next in a line of (supposedly) superstar CF prospects. Thome, meanwhile, continues the pipeline of 90s Cleveland talent to the South Side. (See: Alomar, R., Alomar, Jr., S., Belle, A.) The big question, of course, will be Thome's health. If and when Thome can't go, Chicago will have to rely on two capable backups. 3B/SS Pablo Ozuna put up very respectable numbers in an expanded role last year. New acquisition Rob Mackowiak was, for a time, one of the closest things Pittsburgh had to a star. He can play six positions and brings a decent bat, too. The nice thing about these bench players is that they allow Ozzie Guillen to matchup easily - Ozuna is a right-handed batter and Mackowiak a lefty.
The lineup is decent, but Chicago won games last year with their pitching. If they want to repeat, they'll have to win with pitching again. It looks like an easy task, especially after a seeming upgrade from Orlando Hernandez to Javy Vazquez. But not so fast my friend. Virtually all of Chicago's pitchers are coming off of career years, and injury-free years at that. It will be very difficult to stay as healthy and pitch as well as last year. Add to that the fact that the White Sox relievers are all old news. The pen worked wonders last year, but Major League hitters know how to adjust. Can Neal Cotts, Cliff Polittle, Bobby Jenks, and Dustin Hermanson repeat the lights out, closer-by-who's-hot results of Chicago's championship run?

Cleveland Indians

Grady Sizemore CF
Jason Michaels LF
Jhonny Peralta SS
Travis Hafner DH
Victor Martinez C
Ronnie Belliard 2B
Ben Broussard 1B
Casey Blake RF
Aaron Boone 3B

CC Sabathia
Jake Westbrook
Clifford Lee
Paul Byrd
Jason Johnson

A GM that took a step back? An owner that won't spend money? Bull. An organization without a third base prospect at any level traded away one starter for a guy who is perhaps the best third base prospect on any team. Sure, Andy Marte won't be an immediate impact, but when has an extra year (or month) of preparation ever been a bad thing? Boone is coming off of an atrocious year, but he's got a solid glove and is veteran enough to bounce back. Oh, and immediately after Cleveland gave up their one starter, they replaced him with a guy who, for all intents and purposes, is an identical player. Coco Crisp was a switch hitting LF/CF who did a good job of getting on base. Michaels is entering his first season as a full-time starter, and it looks like he'll put up numbers similar to Crisp's. He's a right-handed hitter in a lineup that needs balance for its lefties. Michaels also plays LF/CF. I haven't seen him play much. However, I do know that Crisp had slightly above average range and a below average arm. So, I'm going to assume that Michaels has a little less range than Crisp, but a stronger arm. As for the rest of the lineup. Well, four of the first five guys are fantasy studs (and, of course, if Michaels performs like Crisp, he'll be one too). Belliard is an emotional leader with a decent bat. He knows his strengths and weaknesses on defense, and he has mastered positioning himself to complement his strengths and counteract his weaknesses. He also has a knack for big defensive plays. Broussard is average on defense, and his long swing makes him incredibly streaky at the plate. Blake is coming off of a "terrible" year, where he hit .241 with 23 HR. Of this lineup, Broussard, Boone, and Blake's jobs are most in jeopardy. Broussard will platoon with new acquisition Eduardo Perez, who will mostly bat against lefties. Broussard also needs to worry about Kelly Shoppach and Ryan Garko. The young Shoppach is fighting for the backup catcher role. If his hitting comes along, Cleveland fans could see Shoppach behind the plate and Vic Martinez at first to give Martinez' legs a rest. Garko is a catcher by trade. But, with a lack of defensive development (and with the Tribe being set at catcher but needing a 1B), he is seeing more and more time at first. Blake will need to hit well to keep his job over fourth outfielder Jason DuBois. Also waiting in the wings is Franklin Gutierrez, a very athletic super-prospect from Venezuela. The utility infielder role will go to Ramon Vazquez, unless Brandon Phillips has a spectacular spring. Phillips, once the centerpiece of the Bartolo Colon trade that included "throw ins" Sizemore and Cliff Lee, still is a Gold Glove quality shortstop, but is lost at the plate.
The big question for this team looks to be the pitching staff. Scott Elarton and AL ERA leader Kevin Millwood are gone, replaced by Byrd and Johnson. Byrd may not put up Millwood-like ERA numbers, but everyone in Cleveland will be happy if he avoids Millwood's luck (Millwood was last in the league in run support in 2005). Elarton was a reconstruction project from a bad team when he joined the Indians. I expect Johnson to be similar. Top prospect Fausto Carmona and fireballer Jason Davis are waiting in the wings as emergency starters. The bullpen features Bob Wickman, a year older and a bit richer. He did tie for the league lead in saves, but he always made it interesting. The Indians lost shutdown lefty Arthur Rhodes. Scott Saurbeck is still around, but he's more of a finesse guy. Jason Stanford is back from injury, but he's more of a long reliever. For the righties, Guillermo Mota replaces David Riske. Fair trade off. Rafael Betancourt and Matt Miller are back. After them, will it be young talents Fernando Cabrera and Andrew Brown, or retreads David Graves and Steve Karsay? Of these four, only Cabrera seems assured of a roster spot.

Minnesota Twins

Luis Castillo 2B
Shannon Stewart LF
Joe Mauer C
Rondell White DH
Justin Morneau 1B
Torii Hunter CF
Tony Batista/Mike Cuddyer 3B
Lew Ford RF
Jason Bartlett SS

Johan Santana
Brad Radke
Carlos Silva
Kyle Lohse
Scott Baker
Francisco Liriano
Dave Gassner
JD Durbin

I clicked on the Twins website, and it said manager Ron Gardenhire was struggling to figure out a lineup. Yeah, where have you been the last 5 years? In Castillo, at least, he'll finally have a middle infielder at the top of the lineup that can actually hit. With an OBP of .391, I'd bat him leadoff, but Gardenhire will probably go with Stewart. Mauer put up good numbers when healthy. White gives the lineup some of the pop that this team has strongly needed for years. (Whatever happened to that David Ortiz guy?) Morneau didn't hit for average last year, and Hunter never did. Cuddyer hit .260, so they replaced him with a guy who hit .240. I'd stay with Cuddyer personally. Ford is a gritty fireplug. Bartlett is the future, but he may not be the present. Infielder Juan Castro had a career resurgance on defense and behind the plate, so look for him to steal a few at bats from Bartlett. Catcher Mike Redmond hit well in limited at bats. Jason Kubel is an outfield prospect who impressed in limited playing time last year. Nick Punto is a gritty backup infielder who can handle starting when needed.
Johan Santana may be as good as it gets. The guys behind him aren't too bad themselves. Radke is a staple in Minnesota. Silva and Lohse are decent bottom-of-the-rotation pitchers. Baker is a good young prospect, but not as good as Durbin. Durbin's the star in training. Oh, and if needed, they have Boof Bonser, too. The bullpen once again features a good young closer and a slew of young closers-in-training (and Terry Mullholland). Joe Nathan is of course the closer; he had 40+ saves last year. The closers-in-training are Juan Rincon, Jesse Crain, and Francisco Liriano. It looks like this team will need its pitching to do well this year.

Detroit Tigers

Placido Polanco 2B
Carlos Guillen SS
Pudge Rodriguez C
Magglio Ordonez RF
Dmitri Young DH
Craig Monroe LF
Chris Shelton 1B
Brandon Inge 3B
Curtis Granderson/Nook Logan CF

Kenny Rogers
Jeremy Bonderman
Mike Maroth
Nate Robertson
Justin Verlander
Wilfredo Ledezma
Roman Colon
Jason Grilli

Let's play Optimist/Pessimist. Optimist: Polanco led the AL in batting average last year. Pessimist: This is his second year in the league - pitchers are going to figure him out. Optimist: Guillen has broken out all over Detroit. Pessimist: Health - only 334 at bats last year. Optimist: Pudge and Mags are legit stars. Pessimist: Rodriguez normally stays in excellent health, but he is 35 this year. Ordonez has the body of a 45 year old. Optimist: Dmitri Young is a veteran staple who can play multiple positions. Pessimist: Have you seen him play third? Optimist: Brandon Inge hit well enough to spend some time in the leadoff spot. Pessimist: He struggled to find the good side of the Mendoza line in years past, and who knows if he'll go back. Optimist: Two capable guys can play center. Pessimist: Who are Granderson and Logan, and who are Shelton and Monroe for that matter? Optimist: The bench features Vance Wilson, Omar Infante, Carlos Pena, and Marcus Thames. Pessimist: The bench features Vance Wilson, Omar Infante, Carlos Pena, and Marcus Thames.
Kenny Rogers is an ace, and he's just the pickup this young rotation needs. The rest of the staff falls into one of thee categories:
Gammonsesque Established Star: Bonderman
Gammonsesque Up and Comers: Maroth, Robertson
Gammonsesque Super Gammonsesque Prospect: Verlander
The bullpen has two established, albeit old, closers in Todd Jones and Troy Percival. Also in the bullpen are fireballer Franklyn German and the rubber armed Jamie Walker.

Kansas City Royals

David DeJesus CF
Mark Grudzielanek 2B
Mike Sweeney DH
Reggie Sanders RF
Emil Brown LF
Doug Mientkiewicz 1B
Angel Berroa SS
Mark Teahen 3B
John Buck C

Zack Greinke
Scott Elarton
Runelvys Hernandez
Mark Redman
Joe Mays
Jeremy Affeldt
JP Howell
Denny Bautista
Mike Wood
Jimmy Gobble
Elmer Dessens

There are three key veteran acquisitions in this lineup. Grudzielanek fills a hole at second until Ruben Gotay can hit at the Major League level. Mientkiewicz allows the injury-prone Sweeney to move to full-time DH. Sanders is a solid all-around hitter. The only odd thing about these pickup is that they knock Matt Stairs out of the lineup. Sure, you could replace Brown, but Brown is one of the few young players hitting well. I suppose you could argue that Sweeney and Sanders will need their days off, and that Stairs can start at first if Mientkiewicz isn't hitting. Angel Berroa still sucks, and John Buck is disappointed that his last name is only a third as long as Grudzielanek or Mientkiewicz'. On the bench is veteran catcher Paul Bako and Team Canada outfielder Aaron Guiel.
Zack Greinke will continue to learn on the job. Behind him will be the recently improved Elarton and a trio returning from injury. Hernandez was the top young stud on this team until the injury bug bit him. Redman and Mays are solid veterans, but have always been injury plagued. Affeldt, after a trial as closer, will try to get back into the starting rotation. Returning to the closer role is Mike MacDougal, whose struggles put Affeldt in that spot in the first place. The bullpen includes Jimmy Gobble, another player who has split time as starter and reliever.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Notre Dame 75, Cincinnati 66

Women's Basketball

I didn't realize this game was on TV here (Ohio News Network) until there were about 2 minutes left in the second half. As it turns out, I saw all I needed to see.
The Irish came out in green uniforms, and their gimmickry almost cost them the game against a team with a very similar record. This game was even for almost the entire contest. Notre Dame did build a six point lead with about two minutes left, but that lead quickly vanished. The game was tied with 22 seconds left, and Cincinnati had the ball. The Bearcat point guard tried to get the ball down into the post. Charel Allen came over to help, and knocked the ball away. Unfortunately for the Irish, the loose ball went right to Treasure Humphries, whom Allen had been guarding, and Humphries hit a jumper with 2.4 seconds left.
Muffet McGraw called time out, and drew up the above play. Well, techinically she didn't just draw it up on the spot, as the team had practiced it many times before. This time, they executed it to perfection. Megan Duffy (13) served as little more than a decoy on this play. Courtney LaVere (41) rifled a baseball pass to Lindsay Schrader (24). (And it was one heck of a pass. I wonder if softball coach Deanna Gumpf is looking for a 6'3 shortstop or right fielder.) Up to that point, it was shades of Christian Laettner. But, the Bearcat defending Tulyah Gaines (1) collapsed on Schrader, leaving Gaines open on the wing. Schrader fed Gaines a perfect touch pass. Meanwhile, Allen (2), cut under the basket, ready to take a pass from Gaines if necessary. But, Allen was too far under the basket, and her defender was in hot pursuit. So, Gaines drove to the basket, barely beating her man and Allen's. The shot went off the glass, the buzzer sounded, and the ball fell in. Tie game - overtime! The team couldn't have been happier. Indeed, had that play happened during the NCAA tournament, we would have been seeing replays for years to come.
What makes that play so perfect is the fact that everyone had options. Duffy served as a decoy, but she was also likely LaVere's safety valve had the 6' Schrader not been open. When Schrader caught the pass (and again, it was a great one), she had three options: shoot, pass to Gaines, or pass to Allen. Once the open Gaines caught the Schrader pass, she had two options: drive, or pass to the cutting Allen. (Or, in the worst case, shoot a jumper.) Likewise, had the pass gone to Allen, she would have had the option to drive or pass to a cutting Gaines. Things don't always goes as planned, especially when it comes to desperation shots. Having options, and properly practicing each and every one of those options, is what separates a well-coached team from a poorly coached team. Often, it's also what separates a winning team from a losing team.
In overtime, Notre Dame simply out-executed Cincinnati. After building a small lead, the Irish made 10 of 11 free throws to seal the game. That number includes a perfect 8 of 8 from the line by Duffy.
Duffy finished with 17 points, as did LaVere. Gaines had a career-high 14, and Schrader added 11.
Senior Day for Duffy and LaVere is this Tuesday against Pittsburgh. Then, the Big East Tournament starts March 4 from the "neutral" Hartford Civic Center. The win over Cincy moved ND into a tie for 10th in the Big East with the Bearcats. More importantly, though, it clinches a berth in the Big East Tournament for the Irish.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

World Baseball Classic
Pool C


C Ariel Pestano
1B Danny Miranda
2B Yulieski Gourriel
3B Michel Enrique
SS Eduardo Paret
LF Frederich Cepeda
CF Carlos Tabares
RF Alexei Ramirez
DH Eriel Sanchez

C Vladimir Garcia
C Yulexis La Rosa
C Roger Machado
IF Leslie Anderson
IF Ariel Borrero
IF Yorbis Borroto
IF Loidel Chapelli
IF Yorelvis Charles
IF Juan Carlos Moreno
IF Luis Miguel Navas
IF Hector Olivera
IF Joan Carlos Pedroso
IF Rudy Reyes
IF Vismay Santos
IF Amaury Suarez
OF Yoennis Cespedes
OF Alfredo Despaigne
OF Yoandy Garlobo
OF Rehutilio Hurtado
OF Juan Carlos Linares
OF Serguei Perez
OF Yoandry Urgelles
OF Osmany Urrutia
OF Dayan Viciedo
OF Andy Zamora

The big question mark of the tournament. For me at least. Peter Gammons has probably sipped brandy at Castro's estate, so it'd be better to go ask him. Cheesy Chris Berman Nickname #1: "He's not my Elvis, he's" Yourelvis Charles.

SP Vicyohandri Odelin
SP Adiel Palma
SP Danny Betancourt
SP Fidel Castro

RP Pedro Luis Lazo
RP Vladimir Banos
RP Ubisney Bermudez
RP Alberto Bicet
RP Luis Borroto
RP Robelio Carrillo
RP Maikel Folch
RP Yosvany Fonseca
RP Jose Angel Garcis
RP Valery Garcia
RP Norberto Gonzalez
RP Ylieski Gonzalez
RP Yadel Marti
RP Jonder Martinez
RP Yunieski Maya
RP Alien Mora
RP Yadial Pedroso
RP Yosvany Perez
RP Luis Miguel Rodriguez
RP Ormari Romero
RP Alberto Soto
RP Israel Soto
RP Dennis Suarez


LF Gene Kingsale (Orioles)
3B Vince Rooi (Nationals)
CF Andruw Jones (Braves)
DH Shea Hillenbrand (Blue Jays)
1B Randall Simon (Devil Rays)
C Chairon Isenia (Devil Rays)
2B Alexander Smit
SS Raylinoe Legito
RF Harvey Monte (Mariners)

C Maikel Benner
C Mark Duursma
C Kenley Jansen (Dodgers)
C Tjerk Smeets
C Sidney de Jong
2B Sharnol Adriana
IF Forstine Coenraad
3B-SS Ivanon Coffie
IF Robbie Cordemans
IF Yrendell DeCaster (Pirates)
IF Percy Isenia
IF Ferenc Jongejan
IF Jair Jurrjens (Tigers)
IF Shairon Martis
IF Sharlon Schoop
SS Hainley Statia (Angels)
IF Joseph Woerman (Mariners)
OF Quincy Ascencion (Orioles)
OF Wladmir Balentien (Mariners)
OF Johnny Balentina
OF Denny Beljaards
OF Rogearvin Bernadina (Nationals)
OF Adam Boeve
OF Bryan Englehardt
OF Gregory Halman (Mariners)
OF Ardley Jansen (Braves)
OF Danny Rombley
OF Dirk van Klooster

The Netherlands is one of the better beneficiaries of the lax nationality rules of this tournament. Most players here come from Western countries that are Dutch possessions, or are of Dutch decent. The 3-4-5 hitters in this lineup should win the Netherlands their share of games. Does anyone want to put an over/under on the number of Homsar-style "You sunk my Jongejan" comments I make during the WBC.

SP Mark Mulder (Cardinals)
SP Danny Haren (Athletics)
SP Sidney Ponson (Cardinals)
SP Kirk Saarloos (Athletics)
SP Calvin Maduro (Yankees)

RP David Aardsma (Cubs)
RP Justin Huisman (Royals)
RP Andy Van Hekken (Braves)
RP David Bergman
RP Dave Draijer
RP Gregory Gustina
RP Duko Jansen
RP Diegomar Markwell (Blue Jays)
RP Jan Naterop
RP Simon Pantophlet
RP Nick Stuifbergen
RP Patrick de Lange
RP Robin van Doornspeek
RP Michiel van Kampen
RP Jurjen van Zijl

This is looking like the best rotation in this division. Haren was actually a part of the trade that sent Mulder to St. Louis. Mulder is the established star, and it looks like Haren will be joining his class soon. Ponson, Mulder's new teammate, has struggled as of late, so anything he does is a plus. I have a feeling that, as a knight in Aruba, Ponson will step it up with national pride on the line. The bullpen features three relievers with token MLB experience. A bit of trivia that will soon be worn out in true "Video Killed the Radio Star" style: When Aardsma made the Show, he replaced Hank Aaron as the player listed first alphabetically in a list of all-time Major Leaguers.


2B Jose Macias (Cubs)
C Einar Diaz (Indians)
LF Carlos Lee (Brewers)
3B Olmedo Saenz (Dodgers)
RF Fernando Seguignol
1B Julio Zuleta
SS Vicente Garabaldo
DH Julio Mosquero
CF Sherman Obando

C Jose Camarena (Braves)
C/3B Damaso Espino (Royals)
C Carlos Lee (White Sox)
C Carlos Munoz
C Cesar Quintero
C Nelson Robeldo
IF Alberto Acosta
2B Avelino Asprilla (Pirates)
IF Norberto Batista (Marlins)
SS Javier Castillo (White Sox)
IF Angel Chavez (Giants)
IF Jonny Cordoba
IF Miguel Gomez
IF Joseph Guerra
IF Roberto Gutierrez-Betancourt
IF Freddy Herrera
IF Luis Iglesias
IF Jaime Jaen
IF Yoni Lasso (Reds)
SS Orlando Miller ()
IF Ramon Ramirez
IF Manuel O Rodriguez
OF Earl Agnoly
OF Cirilo Cumberbatch (Indians)
OF Audes De Leon
OF Maruis Loupadiere (Rockies)
OF Adolfo Rivera
OF Manny Rodriguez

This is an interesting mix of players. Lee, coming off of a steller first year in Milwaukee, is the big bat. Saenz did a solid backup job in Los Angeles last year. Macias is a versatile player, and Diaz is a former starter at the Major League level. Seguignol and Zuleta were both useful players in their Major League days. After that, it will be interesting to see what Panama can put out there.

SP Bruce Chen (Orioles)
SP Roger Deago (Padres)
SP Ramiro Mendoza (Yankees)
SP Len Picota

RP Manny Acosta (Braves)
RP Rolando Altamirano
RP Abraham Atencio
RP Albenis Castillo (Dodgers)
RP Manuel Corpas (Rockies)
RP Jorge Cortes (Reds)
RP Paolo Espino
RP Jose Luis Gonzalez
RP Santos Hernandez
RP Rolando Herrera
RP Donald Julio (Diamondbacks)
RP Davis Romero (Blue Jays)
RP Elias Saenz

I don't think this rotation will strike fear into anyone's heart. Chen is a journeyman who's played everywhere east of the Mississippi except the Presidential Wiffle Ball game. Mendoza has spent all of his career as a long reliever. After Mariano Rivera declined to be in the WBC, the bullpen is left with a sprinkling of Minor Leaguers, but no recognizable names.

Puerto Rico

LF Alex Rios (Blue Jays)
CF Carlos Beltran (Mets)
C Ivan Rodriguez (Tigers)
1B Carlos Delgado (Mets)
2B Jose Vidro (Nationals)
DH Javy Lopez (Orioles)
3B Mike Lowell (Red Sox)
RF Jose Cruz Jr. (Dodgers)
SS Alex Cora (Red Sox)

C Ramon Castro (Mets)
C Bengie Molina (Blue Jays)
C Yadier Molina (Cardinals)
C Rene Rivera (Mariners)
C Omir Santos (Yankees)
C/1B Geovany Soto (Cubs)
C Javier Valentin (Reds)
IF Carlos Baerga (Nationals)
IF Alex Cintron (Diamondbacks)
IF Willie Collazo (Angels)
2B Ruben Gotay (Royals)
3B/C Edwards Guzman
IF Jose Hernandez (Pirates)
SS/3B Felipe Lopez (Reds)
IF Ivan Maldonado (Mets)
SS Ramon E Martinez (Dodgers)
1B Eduardo Perez (Indians)
2B Rey Sanchez (Yankees)
IF Jose Valentin (Mets)
IF William Vazquez (Rockies)
CF David DeJesus (Royals)
LF Juan Gonzalez
OF Raul Gonzalez (Cardinals)
OF Ricky Ledee (Dodgers)
CF Luis Matos (Orioles)
OF Miguel Negron (Blue Jays)
OF John Rodriguez (Cardinals)
RF Ruben Sierra (Twins)
CF/RF Andres Torres (Rangers)
RF/LF Pedro Valdes
CF Bernie Williams

I'll say it now: If Team USA comes out flat in the World Baseball Classic - like their men's basketball counterparts in Athens or men's hockey days ago - this Puerto Rican team could win the tournament.
This is the starting 9 that Baseball America put out last summer. I'll go with it for now. Cora has the glove and experience at short, but Felipe Lopez had a great 2005 at the plate. I'd probably start Lopez and go to Cora as a defensive replacement in the late innings. The depth at catcher is still staggering, even without the third Fabulous Catching Molina (Jose) on the team. Ramon Castro, Yadier Molina, and Javier Valentin, all Major Leaguers (Yadier a starter), might not even make this team. Bengie Molina, the hottest free agent catcher on the market, will see some playing time, but only because Javy Lopez isn't a catcher any more. (Lopez is moving to first base/DH this spring.) Righty Juan Gonzalez (if he's healthy) and switch-hiting Ruben Sierra provide you with all the pop off the bench you need. Like Gonzalez and Sierra, Jose Hernandez and Jose Valentin are mirror images of each other. The right-handed Hernandez and left-handed Valentin both started as shortstops, but later in there career moved throughout the infield and even into the outfield. Alex Rios and Luis Matos are swappable as well, depending on who is hot at the moment. Rounding out the bench: Carlos Baerga is Carlos Baerga. Cintron and Gotay are both starting middle infielders in the pros. Ledee is a veteran who can play all three outfield positions. DeJesus is another Royals starter. And Bernie Williams should play center and bat cleanup! Wait, what? No!

SP Javier Vazquez (White Sox)
SP Joel Pineiro (Mariners)
SP J.C. Romero (Angels)
SP Kiko Calero (Athletics)

RP Roberto Hernandez (Pirates)
RP Fernando Cabrera (Indians)
RP Jonathan Aibaladejo
RP Carlos Alvarado
RP Federico Baez (Cubs)
RP Pedro Feliciano
RP Angel Garcia (Twins)
RP Dicky Gonzalez
RP Javier Lopez (White Sox)
RP Josue Matos (Blue Jays)
RP Hector Mercado (Rangers)
RP Juan Padilla (Mets)
RP Saul Rivera (Nationals)
RP Chris Rojas (Phillies)
RP Orlando Roman (Mets)
RP Jonathan Sanchez (Giants)
RP Jose Santiago (Mets)

I'm really surprised that there aren't very many big names on this pitching staff. So, this team will have to score a ton of runs to win. Well, they can do it. Vazquez is close to his family and his country, so look for him to play well at home. Romero and Calero are conditioned as relievers in the Majors. So, it will be interesting to see how they fare as starters in the WBC, especially just two weeks after reporting to Spring Training. Hernandez, who wins the Clifford Robinson Memorial "Wow, They're Still Playing? How Old Are They?" award, will likely be the closer. He'll be aided by Cabrera, a young up-and-comer in the Indians system. Cabrera is expected to be a major contributer in the Tribe bullpen this year. Santiago is a veteran journeyman. The rest of the Puerto Rican staff consists of a spattering of players with their cups of coffee in the Show, including Garcia, Gonzalez, Javier Lopez, Matos, Mercado, and Padilla. (For the record, Hernandez is 41 and Robinson 39.)

Monday, February 20, 2006

UConn 79, Notre Dame 64

Women's Basketball

Editor's Note: Scroll down for my NL Central preview.

OK, I'll start by ranting about the announcers, just to get it out of the way. UConn's radio announcers are more neutral than that ESPN crew. Hey, Gino Auriemma gave you four free copies of his book, and you're allowed to eat at his restaurant whenever you want. Ooh, look at me! I don't know what was worse: That the announcers couldn't believe a decent Notre Dame team, playing their rivals at home, was staying close to an overrated UConn team? Or, that the same announcers started cheering, "OK, here we go!" whenever UConn hit a big shot to swing some momentum? Was this game being called from the Huskies bench?
Now, on to the game. UConn built a nine point lead, until Notre Dame went on a 7-0 run to cut the lead to two. But, just when it looked like the Irish had all the momentum, UConn's Renee Montgomery hit a jumper at the first half buzzer to make the score 37-33. I'm sure I wasn't the only Irish fan to have flashbacks to the 2001 Big East championship game. In that game, Sue Bird ended both halves with a buzzer-beater, the second to win the game for the Huskies.
But the Irish apparently did have some momentum left. A Crystal Erwin jumper made the score 42-41 in ND's favor, but it turned out to be the last lead Notre Dame would have. The Huskies would end the game by outscoring the Irish 38-22. Current Irish arch-nemesis Ann Strother had 11 of her 19 points in the second half.
What was the differnce in the game? UConn outshot Notre Dame from the field in the first half, but the Irish stayed close thanks to free throw shooting. In that first period, ND made 8 of their 12 foul shots, while UConn made only 1 of 4. In the second half, things changed. Shooting from the field was about even, but UConn dominated from the charity stripe. The Huskies got to the line 19 times in the second half, making 16. The Irish did go to the free throw line 11 times in the second half, but converted only 6 times.
UConn did a great job of holding Megan Duffy in check, to the tune of 2 for 7 shooting and 11 points. Duffy's teammates were able to step up, to some extent. Lindsay Schrader, Breona Gray, and Charel Allen each had 12 points. Schrader looked good early, and was playing with a passion, but that seemed to fade off quickly.

Where does this leave the Irish? With three games left, their RPI is at #43. They'll be fully on the Bubble Watch. Notre Dame's remaining games are at #118 West Virginina and #56 Cincinnati, and finally Senior Night at home vs. #61 Pittsburgh. If Notre Dame can beat Cincinnati and Pitt (as they should), and throw in a win or two at the Big East Tournament, they should sneak into the tournament.

MLB Preview 5: NL Central

St. Louis Cardinals

David Eckstein SS
Junior Spivey/Aaron Miles 2B
Albert Pujols 1B
Jim Edmonds CF
Scott Rolen 3B
Larry Bigbie LF
Juan Encarnacion RF
Yadier Molina C

Chris Carpenter
Mark Mulder
Jeff Suppan
Jason Marquis
Sidney Ponson
Anthony Reyes

Cardinals fans will see three new faces in the lineup this year. Both Spivey and Miles have been starters for the majority of their young careers. I'm assuming Spivey will get the nod based on potential, but Miles is very suitable backup. Encarnacion is too good to be a 7 hitter, but I know Tony LaRussa is a big fan of alternating left- and right-handed batters. That #6 spot may be Bigbie's to lose, though, as he hit only .239 in 272 at bats last year. As for the rest of the lineup? Not too shabby. Known for his flashy catches, Edmonds is actually underrated as a hitter. Rolen, meanwhile, will look to rebound from an injury-plagued 2005. The bench reflects the focus of this team: solid, professional players who get the job done. Catcher Gary Bennett was a starter in Montreal. Deivi Cruz is a veteran middle infielder. Hector Luna, who can play at least 6 positions, did a great job of filling in for Rolen last year. I wouldn't be too surprised if LaRussa finds a way to get him into the starting lineup. So Taguchi is a great defender at all three outfielder position. Rick Ankiel is on the 40-man roster as an outfielder.
The pitching rotation loses Matt Morris and gains Sidney Ponson. Ponson, once a rising star as Baltimore's ace, has struggled on and off the field over the past few seasons. Moving to the bottom of the rotation may help resurrect his career. With Carpenter, Mulder, and Marquis, St. Louis can afford to take that risk. The bullpen lost righty Julian Tavarez and lefty Ray King, but quickly replaced them with Braden Looper and Ricardo Rincon. Looper struggled as the Mets closer. A move to setup man could be just what the doctor ordered, but he will have to deal with the high expectations of a perennial pennant contender. Rincon has quietly become one of the best left-handed setup men in the game. Looper and Rincon will be setting the table for closer Jason Isringhausen, who is coming off of another stellar season.

Houston Astros

Willy Taveras CF
Craig Biggio 2B
Lance Berkman 1B
Morgan Ensberg 3B
Preston Wilson LF
Jason Lane RF
Adam Everett SS
Brad Ausmus C

Roy Oswalt
Andy Pettitte
Brandon Backe
Wandy Rodriguez
Ezequiel Astacio

The Astros struggled on offense last year. This year, they picked up hard-hitting Preston Wilson. Wilson has the power to enjoy hitting home runs over Houston's short left field porch, and the speed to enjoy hitting doubles and triples into the gauntlet that is center field. Houston will also need a healthy Berkman and a repeat of Ensberg's 2005 performance to stay afloat. Their bench features, of course, Jeff Bagwell. But there's also talented second baseman Chris Burke, who is learning to play left field in order to get some playing time. Mike Lamb is a decent backup at both first and third base. Young Eric Bruntlett will take over Luis Vizcaino's utility role. Veteran outfielder Orlando Palmeiro will be the team's primary left-handed pinch hitter.
Houston's pitching rotation starts out well, but goes downhill quickly. Oswalt is a true ace, and Pettite would still be a #1 starter on many teams. Backe has shown a tendency to play big in big games, but he's no star... yet. Rodriguez and Astacio both had ERA's over 5 last year, so they'll have to prove they belong as starters on a playoff-caliber team. One wonders if this still is a playoff-caliber team, though. Houston snuck into the wildcard with three aces last year. Essentially, you're asking Preston Wilson's offense to make up for the loss of Roger Clemens' pitching. In the bullpen, Brad Lidge is one of the best closers in the game. An old idiom states that closers have to have short memories. If that's the case, then Lidge's struggles in the 2005 playoffs are already behind him. Lidge will be set up by Chad Qualls, who hasn't gotten much acclaim for the steady job he's done over the past few seasons; Dan Wheeler, a member of Team USA in the World Baseball Classic; and veteran Russ Springer.

Milwaukee Brewers

Brady Clark CF
Rickie Weeks 2B
Geoff Jenkins RF
Carlos Lee LF
Corey Koskie 3B
Prince Fielder 1B
JJ Hardy SS
Damian Miller/Chad Moeller C

Ben Sheets
Doug Davis
Chris Capuano
Tomo Ohka
Dave Bush
Rick Helling
Ben Hendrickson

Milwaukee is already getting attention as a team to watch this year. If Houston truly has taken a step back, then the Brewers are in position to challenge for second place. The wildcard may be a ways off, but Milwaukee will have plenty of time to worry about that. The daunted young trio of infielders - Fielder, Weeks, and Hardy - is finally in place. Weeks and Hardy look like they're already ready for The Show. The only question, then, is Fielder. Sure, he'll be great someday, but is "someday" today? Fielder is replacing Lyle Overbay, who played surprisingly well these past few seasons. In a sense, this team's success could mirror the young Prince's this year. Clark is coming off of a breakout season at the top of the lineup. Lee surprised everyone by flirting with the triple crown. If Fielder can help Lee solidify the middle of this lineup, watch out for Milwaukee. Fielder isn't the only familiar name on this team, either. Tony Gwynn's son Tony is on the 40-man roster, but may not be Major League-ready. Jeff Cirillo will be a veteran presence coming off the bench, and insurance for Fielder's youth and Koskie's injury problems. Finally, how do you like these numbers coming off the bench: .291 average, .342 OBP, 17 HR, 62 RBI, 69 R in 501 at bats. Those are the 2005 stats of Bill Hall, who will be serving a utility role this year.
Those who know baseball know Ben Sheets has dominating stuff. But last year, Dale Davis and Chris Capuano also put up sub-4 ERAs. If this trio can repeat that performance, and if Milwaukee's offense can hold up their end of the bargains, the top of the Brewer rotation will see a big improvement on their combined 39-31 record from last year. Derrick Turnbow stepped in for the departed Dan Kolb as Milwaukee's closer, and Turnbow shined in that role. Kolb, back with the Brewers after a disastrous year in Atlanta, will now serve as Turnbow's setup man. After Turnbow and Kolb, there aren't any big names in the Brewers bullpun. However, a lack of big names doesn't necessarily mean a lack of success.

Chicago Cubs

Juan Pierre CF
Todd Walker/Jerry Hairson, Jr. 2B
Derrek Lee 1B
Aramis Ramirez 3B
Jacque Jones RF
Matt Murton LF
Ronny Cedeno SS
Michael Barrett C

Carlos Zambrano
Mark Prior
Kerry Wood
Greg Maddux
Glendon Rusch
Jerome Williams
Rich Hill
John Koronka

Chicago's 2003 playoff run seems like a distant memory considering their recent performance. Will this year be a step forward, or yet another step back? That remains to be seen. Juan Pierre replaces Corey Patterson in center, giving the Cubs the true leadoff man they had been missing for some time. Of course, Pierre did have a subpar 2005, so his performance will be under the microscope. Derrek Lee is coming off of a career year. He seemed to be a lock for the MVP until the Cubs slipped out of the playoff race. He may not hit .330+ again this year, but past performance has shown he'll put up similar numbers in home runs and RBI. And, oh yeah, he does have 2 Gold Gloves in his trophy case. Jacque Jones is said to be just as good as Torii Hunter, but without all the hype. I'll let you decide if that's a good thing. It will be interesting to see how Walker and Hairston are used. Walker is said to be subpar defensively, and Hairston did have an OK year at the plate. I'd take Walker and use Hairston as a fourth outfielder, but hey, I'm not Dusty Baker. Speaking of Dusty, one of his favorites, Neifi Perez, is back. Perez will likely be used as insurance for young Ronny Cedeno, but I wouldn't rule out time at second for Neifi as well. Another youngster looking to make an impression is Matt Murton. When not spending his time as an assistant director in the Notre Dame band or cutting a CD, Murton hit .321 with 7 HR and an OPS just over .900 in 140 at bats. Not bad at all. Besides the aforementioned Perez, the Chicago bench features catcher Henry Blanco, who may have the best throwing arm of any catcher in the game, and John Mabry, who will likely serve as the left pinch hitting specialist. If Blanco could hit, he'd be a starter somewhere. Since he can't, the cagey defensive-minded catcher makes a perfect backup.
If only. If only this rotation can stay healthy, it's a great one. Truly, I don't think much more needs to be said than that. Perhaps the only question is who will be the fifth starter, the veteran Rusch or the young Williams. The bullpen was upgraded by throwing money at the problem. Converted starter Ryan Dempster will remain the closer. Scott Eyre and Bob Howry are the new additions who will set him up. Howry had a career rejuvenating 2005, following which he is arguably the best 8th inning reliever in the game.

Cincinnati Reds

Tony Womack 2B
Felipe Lopez SS
Adam Dunn 1B
Ken Griffey, Jr. CF
Wily Mo Pena LF
Austin Kearns RF
Edwin Encarnacion 3B
Jason LaRue C

Aaron Harang
Dave Williams
Eric Milton
Brandon Claussen
Paul Wilson
Matt Belisle
Elizardo Ramirez
Justin Germano
Michael Gosling

Notably absent in this lineup is Sean Casey, recently traded to the Pirates. The move allows the talented Wily Mo Pena to move into the starting lineup, and also (perhaps unfortunately) allows Austin Kearns to stay there. Tony Womack takes over for D'Angelo Jimenez - that may be a toss-up at this point. In the world of good-hitting shortstops, Felipe Lopez is a name you may start hearing more often. He'll be playing next to young Edwin Encarnacion. Perhaps Cincinnati's strength is its depth on the bench. Ryan Freel, who stepped up to the plate 369 times last year, is a poor man's Chone Figgins. New addition Scott Hatteberg can allow Dunn to move back into the outfield when necessary, and he can fill in for Encarnacion at third. Rich Aurilia can theoretically play every infield position. Backup catcher Javier Valentin, Jose's brother, is a good hitter, and may once again see some time at first base if his bat is hot enough.
The rotation features three OK-but-not-great youngsters in Harang, Williams, and Classen; Milton, a former star trying to get back to his winning ways; and the veteran Wilson, whose performance on bad teams has lead to a decievingly poor career win-loss record. Harang and Claussen, former super-prospects, did turn in the best performances of any Reds starters last year. The bullpen features a slew of dependable no-name veterans. After the departure of Danny Graves, David Weathers stepped in at closer. This year, he'll be supported by Grant Balfour, Kent Mercker, Ryan Wagner, and Rick White.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Chris Duffy/Jody Gerut CF
Sean Casey 1B
Jason Bay LF
Jeromy Burnitz RF
Joe Randa 3B
Jose Castillo 2B
Jack Wilson SS
Humberto Cota/Ryan Doumit C

Oliver Perez
Kip Wells
Zach Duke
Paul Maholm
Sean Burnett
Victor Santos
Ian Snell
John Van Benschoten

If this team wants to get any better, it needs to start developing some young talent. However, for every Duffy and Castillo, there's large wads of money being thrown at the likes of Casey, Randa, and Burnitz. Granted, they're all good clubhouse guys, and should prove to be solid veteran leadership. But one of those types of players is enough. Really, these guys are best as role players on a pennant contender. If you're a Pirates fan, then, perhaps your best hope is that a few greedy win-now teams have some solid young talent to trade in return for one of these veterans. With all that being said, is it really that bad of a lineup? No, I guess not. Actually, no matter how you order Casey, Burnitz, and Randa, they should be the necessary pieces to help Bay develop as a hitter. Castillo had a decent 2005 season. Wilson is fun to watch defensively; anything he does at the plate is a bonus. Of course, this is a guy who had 201 hits in 2004. Duffy is listed as the starter in center. But, Jody Gerut was driven out of Cleveland after he felt he wasn't being paid enough. If that truly was the case, I don't see how his ego could handle settling for a backup role on a perennial celler-dweller. The Pittsburgh bench does feature some versatile players. Craig Wilson can play catcher and both corner infield and corner outfield positions. Former Boston super-prospect Freddy Sanchez can play anywhere on the infield except first base, and he did hit .291 last year.
If Pittsburgh wants to become a good team, they'll also need to hold onto their trio of young pitchers in Perez, Wells, and Duke. The Pirates often end up trading their good pitchers to a pennant contender, as common logic seemed to dictate that they'd do so much better if they'd ever get out of Pittsburgh. Well, starting with Duke, who went 8-2 with an ERA of 1.81 in 2005, Pittsburgh will have to find a way to keep their young guns in town if they want to turn the corner. Duke, meanwhile, will have to find a way to avoid the sophomore slump. It doesn't take long for Major League hitters to adjust to a pitcher. How long will it take Duke to adjust to those hitters? Mike Gonzalez will step in as Pittsburgh's closer. He'll be set up by Damaso Marte, who was an absolutely dominating lefty until Ozzie Guillen decided he couldn't get along with the reliever. Also in the pen are veterans Salomon Torres and Roberto Hernandez, and converted starter Ryan Vogelsong.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

World Baseball Classic
Pool B


CF Aaron Guiel (Royals)
2B Pete Orr (Braves)
LF Jason Bay (Pirates)
1B Justin Morneau (Twins)
3B Cory Koskie (Blue Jays)
DH Matt Stairs (Royals)
RF Adam Stern (Red Sox)
SS Danny Klassen (Astros)
C Pete LaForest (Devil Rays)

C Russell Martin
C Max St. Pierre
SS Kevin Nicholson
IF Scott Thorman (Braves)
RF Ryan Radmanovich
UT Stubby Clapp (Cardinals)

Canada's final 30-man roster has been set, so this is it. The top of the lineup is rather Gammonsesque. Guiel has some Major League experience. Orr got a lot of experience filling in for an injured Marcus Giles. Bay is a star, and if all things work out Morneau will be too someday (but not yet). At the bottom of the lineup, Koskie and Stairs are established stars. There's not much on the bench, although Clapp has had his cups of coffee in the bigs.

SP Erik Bedard (Orioles)
SP Jeff Francis (Rockies)
SP Adam Loewen (Orioles)
SP Chris Begg (Giants)
SP Aaron Myette (Reds)
SP Eric Cyr (Angels)
SP Scott Mathieson (Phillies)

RP Rheal Cormier (Phillies)
RP Jesse Crain (Twins)
RP Mike Meyers (Red Sox)
RP Paul Quantrill (Yankees)
RP Chris Reitsma (Braves)
RP Steve Green (Tigers)

The rotation is very Gammonsesque. Bedard broke out last year. Francis is your token "talented pitcher who would do very well if only he could get out of Colorado." Loewen is one of the top prospects in the game. The bullpen is solid and experienced, with the likes of Cormier, Meyers, Quantrill, and Reitsma. Crain is yet another Twins reliever who has the stuff to be a closer someday.


2B Juan Castro (Twins)
SS Alfredo Amezaga (Pirates)
DH Jorge Cantu (Devil Rays)
1B Erubiel Durazo (Athletics)
LF Karim Garcia
3B Vinny Castilla (Nationals)
CF Luis Garcia
C Miguel Ojeda (Padres)
RF Matias Carrillo (Marlins)

C Adan Amezcua
C Humberto Cota (Pirates)
C Geronimo Gil (Orioles)
C Adan Munoz (Braves)
C Noe Munoz
C Jorge Vazquez
IF Alfredo Aceves
SS Luis Cruz (Padres)
IF Luis A. Garcia
IF Carlos Gastelum
UT Benji Gil (Mets)
IF Heber Gomez
1B Adrian Gonzalez (Padres)
IF Ramon Orantes
IF Pablo Ortego
IF Javier Robles
2B Oscar Robles (Dodgers)
IF Flavio Romero
IF Jose Sandoval
IF Carlos Sievers
IF Joakim Soria (Dodgers)
IF Carlos Valencia
OF Victor Bojorquez
OF Edgar Quintero (Angels)
LF Mario Valenzuela

Mexico has a couple options here. Castro had a career resurgance in Minnesota last year, so he deserves to be in the lineup. But Cantu broke out last year, and could become one of the top second basemen on the market. If you move Cantu to second (his natural position), you can move Castro to short (or leave Amezaga in), put Durazo at DH (where he's played the past few years) and put (former) super-prospect Adrian Gonzalez at first. Castro, Amezaga, and Benji Gil are all utility infielders, so the Mexican squad has some options. Matias Carrillo has made it to the majors with Florida, but Mario Valenzuela is said to be talented as well. Geronimo Gil has started at the top level in the past. So, in a nutshell, this team is deep in the field.

SP Esteban Loiaza (Nationals)
SP Oliver Perez (Pirates)
SP Rodrigo Lopez (Orioles)
SP Elmer Dessens (Dodgers)
SP Jose Silva
SP Sergio Mitre (Marlins)
SP Francisco Campos (White Sox)

RP Luis Ayala (Nationals)
RP Dennys Reyes (Padres)
RP Ricardo Rincon (Cardinals)
RP Antonio Osuna (Nationals)
RP Edgar Gonzalez (Diamondbacks)
RP David Cortes (Rockies)
RP Rigo Beltran
RP Jorge De La Rosa (Brewers)
RP Victor Alvarez
RP Alejandro Armenta
RP Edgar Huerta (Padres)
RP Isidro Marquez
RP Roberto Ramirez
RP Oscar Rivera

This is a very solid pitching staff. Loiaza had a great 2005. Lopez had an off year, but he's another great young talent out of Baltimore. Mexico doesn't have a dominant closer, but they do have more than their fair share of quality veteran setup men.

South Africa

C Willem Kemp
1B Nick Dempsey
2B Paul Bell (Brewers)
3B Jonathan Phillips (Brewers)
SS Brett Willemberg
LF Ian Butcher
CF Jason Cook
RF Kalin Dreyer
DH Glen Joseph (Reds)

C Kyle Botha
C Bradley Erasmus
C Warren Herman
IF Dylan Haynes
IF Zaid Hendricks
IF Glen Joseph (Reds)
IF Brendon Mitchell
IF Gavin Ray
2B Paul Rutgers (Twins)
IF Ricardo Siljeur
IF Ricardo Vieira
OF Ian Butcher
OF Kalin Dreye
OF Shannon Ekermans
OF Duane Feldtman
OF Marvin Jonathan
OF Patrick Naude
OF Ashley Scott

There are a few guys in Major League organizations right now, but most of these players belong on Dave's "Guys I've Never Heard Of" list.

SP Barry Armitage (Royals)
SP Bruce McCleland (Royals)
SP Tyrone Lamont (Mariners)
SP Carl Michaels (Brewers)

Donavon Hendricks (Braves)
RP Darryn Smith
RP Tyrone Brandt
RP Matthew Dancer
RP Jared Elario
RP Lester Fortiun
RP Gavin Jeffries
RP Gary Maree
RP Jacobus Mostert
RP Nolan Schipper
RP Kevin Townend
RP Robert Verschuren

More of the same. Oddly enough, WorldBaseballClassic.com has most of South Africa's pitchers listed as infielders. Either they're all very athletic, or someone has messed up. Other than that, I can't tell you much.


LF Johnny Damon (Yankees)
SS Derek Jeter (Yankees)
DH Mark Teixeira (Rangers)
3B Alex Rodriguez (Yankees)
1B Derrek Lee (Cubs)
CF Ken Griffey, Jr. (Reds)
RF Vernon Wells (Blue Jays)
C Jason Varitek (Red Sox)
2B Michael Young (Rangers)

C Michael Barrett
C Brian Schneider
3B Chipper Jones
2B Chase Utley
RF Jeff Francoeur (Braves)
LF Matt Holliday (Rockies)
OF Randy Winn (Giants)

The final US roster is also set. This is how I'd order the nine probable starters. Now, allow me to tell you the order I'd use if I was fully in charge: 1 Young SS 2 Utley 2B 3 Lee 1B 4 Teixeira 3B 5 Wells CF 6 Jones DH 7 Francoeur RF 8 Varitek C 9 Damon LF. In both cases the 9th hitter plays "second leadoff." Teixeira played 3B in college, so I'll put him there to save Jones' legs. In the "real" lineup, Damon, Griffey, A-Rod, and Jeter, and Varitek's positions in the field are set. I'm simply assuming the rest. Either way, they could do better, but certainly nothing to complain about. (I'd love to see Travis Hafner out there, but since he and Teixeira are both lefties, Teixeira is the better pick for his versatility in the field.) Perhaps another power bat in the outfield would be nice. But, in a pinch, Jones, and even Teixeira, can play the OF.

SP Jake Peavy (Padres)
SP Dontrelle Willis (Marlins)
SP Roger Clemens (Astros)
SP CC Sabathia (Indians)

Billy Wagner (Mets)
Brad Lidge (Astros)
Joe Nathan (Twins)
Huston Street (Athletics)
Chad Cordero (Nationals)
Todd Jones (Marlins)
Mike Timlin (Red Sox)
Scot Shields (Angels)
Brian Fuentes (Rockies)
Dan Wheeler (Astros)

I'd take this staff any day. The US is going with a 4-man rotation and a 10-man bullpen to save arms. I have no idea what Todd Jones is doing on this roster, but he does get the job done more often than not. The rotation looks good with two lefties and two righties. Even if the starters only go 3 innings per game, there's more than enough in the bullpen to finish the job.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

MLB Preview 4: AL East

Boston Red Sox

Coco Crisp CF
Mark Loretta 2B
David Ortiz DH
Manny Ramirez LF
Trot Nixon RF
Jason Varitek C
Mike Lowell 3B
Kevin Youkilis 1B
Alex Gonzalez SS

Curt Schilling
Josh Beckett
Matt Clement
David Wells
Tim Wakefield
Bronson Arroyo
Jonathan Papelbon

My thoughts on the addition of Crisp have been fairly well documented over the past few weeks. Loretta is much better than the common Boston fan probably realizes. As an established veteran, he won't get rattled by the big city, either. Loretta should help Crisp's transition by batting behind him. The bottom of the lineup doesn't look like it's a huge step down from last year's. For those wondering, that's the Alex Gonzalez that's been a Marlin his entire career to this point. If Youkilis, Lowell, or Gonzalez falter, Boston has a deep bench infield-wise. JT Snow (son of the late Jack), Alex Cora, and Tony Graffanino were all starters at some point last year, and likely could still start on most teams this year. Catcher is also deep, not that Jason Varitek needs much help. Established veteran John Flaherty will compete with the young Josh Bard for the backup spot. Both are good at handling pitching staffs, but I don't know offhand if either has caught a knuckleballer before. (Tim Wakefield normally used former backup Doug Mirabelli as his regular catcher.) There's basically no depth behind the starting outfielders, so that is something Boston will definitely have to address.
If everyone stays healthy, and that's a bit of a question for Schilling, Beckett, and I'm sure Wells to some extent, this is a solid rotation. The bullpen was Boston's biggest question last year. Keith Foulke returns as closer for the time being. He has some new help, too. It will be interesting to see how both handle the pressure of the big city. Julian Tavarez is a veteran coming from a perennial pennant contender in St. Louis, so he shouldn't have much trouble. But, he's known for his temper as much as his pitching. David Riske has been shaky over the past couple seasons, and one wonders how well his psyche will handle the boos if and when they come.

New York Yankees

Johnny Damon CF
Derek Jeter SS
Gary Sheffield RF
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Hideki Matsui LF
Jason Giambi 1B
Jorge Posada C
Bernie Williams DH
Robinson Cano 2B

Randy Johnson
Mike Mussina
Carl Pavano
Shawn Chacon
Jaret Wright
Chien-Ming Wang
Aaron Small
Sean Henn

Plan of attack versus the Yankee defense: start by hitting it to the deepest part of the park, left center. Johnny Damon has a notoriously weak arm, so Matsui will try to compensate by getting to as many balls as he can. Once Matsui starts shading towards center, start pulling the ball down the left field line. This lineup has improved, though. Damon should take advantage of the short right field porch. Jeter is a natural #2 hitter. Giambi put up surprisingly good fantasy numbers last year, and Matsui knows how to drive in runs. But New York's depth starts to show with the fact that Bernie Williams is playing DH. The bench features Miguel Cairo and Bubba Crosby, and then it's all downhill from there.
The Yankee rotation is, well, the same. I have no idea if that's good or bad. They'll probably figure out a way to win a bunch of games anyways. Mariano Rivera gets some big help in the bullpen with the addition of Octavio Dotel and Kyle Farnsworth. Dotel faltered as a closer, but his time in Houston proved he is one of the best setup men in the league. Farnsworth is a young(ish), brash(ish) fireballer, but does he run the risk of becoming the next Jeff Weaver? Weaver let it all hang out in Detroit, but he lost his edge when he tried to tone things down in the Bronx. Farnsworth is a few years older, so that remains to be seen.

Toronto Blue Jays

Russ Adams SS
Reed Johnson LF
Vernon Wells CF
Troy Glaus 3B
Lyle Overbay 1B
Shea Hillenbrand DH
Bengie Molina C
Alex Rios RF
Aaron Hill 2B

Roy Halladay
AJ Burnett
Ted Lilly
Gustavo Chacin
Josh Towers
Scott Downs
Dustin McGowan
Pete Walker

This team may not be great, but they are deep. Well, at least at some positions. Apparently, JP Ricciardi's master plan involves collecting as many corner infielders as possible. I'm not sure how Wes Helms, Ty Wigginton, and Russ Branyan escaped his grasp. In fact, Toronto got great production out of their corner infielders last year, and they added new ones. Former ROY Eric Hinske drops down to third string at both 1B and 3B. Last year's starting catcher, Greg Zaun, now becomes a very qualified backup. The team is very thin in the outfield and, to some extent, the middle infield. John MacDonald is a veteran infielder with one of the best gloves in the AL. Frank Catalanotto, a student of hitting, is the only backup option in the outfield. He started as a second baseman, so he could perhaps play an overall utility role as well.
Burnett is one of this team's four huge pickups (along with Glaus, Overbay, and BJ Ryan). The Jays now have one of the best one-two punches in the league, but injuries are a problem for both. Lilly is serviceable. Chacin broke out early last year, but can he repeat that success now that everyone's seen him? In the bullpen, was BJ Ryan worth the money? Time will tell. Ryan does have two capable veteran setup men, Scott Schoeneweis and Justin Speier.

Baltimore Orioles

Brian Roberts2B
Luis Matos LF
Melvin Mora 3B
Miguel Tejada SS
Javy Lopez DH
Kevin Millar 1B
Ramon Hernandez C
Jay Gibbons RF
Corey Patterson CF

Rodrigo Lopez
Erik Bedard
Daniel Cabrera
Kris Benson
Bruce Chen
Hayden Penn
Eric DuBose
Adam Loewen

I took some liberty with this lineup. MLB.com has Millar starting in left and Jeff Conine at first. But I can't see Luis Matos' bat being taken out of this lineup. He may end up batting 9th with Patterson 2nd in real life, even though the numbers dictate my order looks better. How will this lineup fare? It depends on a few things. Did Roberts have a career year - one that will be tough to repeat, or a breakout year - that is, a sign of things to come? Mora hit 27 HR last year, so he can handle the #3 spot. Lopez will hopefully stay healthy at DH. Hernandez is a great hitting catcher in the NL, but the level of competition is much higher in the AL East. Gibbons probably better than a #8 hitter, but this lineup alternates left/right-handed batters well. The bench is full of serviceable backups, but no one with a name as recognizable as Conine's.
This is a very good young rotation that will only get better in the future. Lopez and Bedard are stars, and Loewen is one of the top prospects in the game. Benson isn't a star, and shouldn't be considered one, but he'll do a great job of rounding out the bottom of the rotation. The bullpen has lost many of its key guys, including BJ Ryan and Jorge Julio. It looks like LaTroy Hawkins will step in at closer. He'll need help from a group of no-names. Despite a decent lineup and an improving rotation, this bullpen may all but assure Baltimore of another fourth place finish in this division.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Carl Crawford CF
Julio Lugo SS
Jorge Cantu 2B
Aubrey Huff RF
Jonny Gomes DH
Travis Lee 1B
Toby Hall C
Sean Burroughs 3B
Rocco Baldelli CF

Scott Kazmir
Mark Hendrickson
Casey Fossum
Seth McClung
Doug Waechter
Edwin Jackson

I'll say it: this lineup has the talent to win the NL West. Unfortunately, their pitching staff would betray them greatly. That, and they're stuck in the ultra-competitive AL East. Crawford is one of the premiere leadoff men in the game. Lugo broke out last year with great numbers, as did Cantu and Gomes. All three will be well-sought in the coming years. Huff, whose trade value has diminished over the years, is still a good young ballplayer. Burroughs was disappointing at best in San Diego, but he's still a major league caliber player. Baldelli, who's coming back from injury problems, hasn't turned into the next Joe DiMaggio. With that being said, I put him at 9th as a compliment to his skills. He's not bad; his ability to get on base and then steal bases make him into a type of secondary leadoff hitter.
Um, wow, yeah. Kazmir, good. Jackson, decent. Fossum, never lived up to huge hype. Moving on to the bullpen, the picture doesn't get any rosier. The Rays have lost their last two closers Danys Baez and Lance Carter, and I dare you to name anyone left in their pen.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Ramble On
And now's the time, the time is now

  • Olympic announcers, Wikipedia is your friend.

    "Slovak (Redirected from Slovakian)"

    "On January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia peacefully split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia."

    Not the same.

    Bob Costas, you're on The List already.

  • Speaking of Slovakia, after watching the Opening Ceremonies, I went online to see if I could find one of the hats the Slovak Olympic Team was wearing. I couldn't, but I did find this masterpiece. Further searching turned up your basic I Heart Slovakia shirt, and this beauty that I may have to get for my grandpa. If I choose to celebrate my own heritage on St. Patrick's day, I could wear this shirt. Or, if I'm feeling brave, I could go with one of these three choices.

  • So, there's this new song out: "I'm in Love With a Stripper." If my ear serves me, the song samples Barry Manilow's "Mandy." Now, could you imagine the conversation that led to Barry agreeing to let his song be sampled in this way?
    Random rappers: "Excuse me, Mr. Manilow. Do you mind if we sample your song 'Mandy' for our new track?"
    Barry Manilow: "Why sure. What's the name of your song?"
    Random rappers: "'I'm in Love With a Stripper.'"
    Barry: "Great! I love strippers, too!"

  • One of my new favorite TV shows has to be MTV's "Wild and Out," starring Nick Cannon. He's hilarious.

  • For a period of several years during grade school, our english textbooks would devote entire chapters to the difference between fact and opinion. Apparently, the textbooks in Bristol didn't. I know that hatred of ESPN is well documented in the blogging community, but this really got to me. The Worldwide Leader is starting to pass opinion off as fact, and that's just dumb. The "Cold Hard Facts" segment is always analyst opinion, and usually nearsighted opinion at that. Then there was the ND-Rutgers game the other night on ESPN Classic. The ticker at the bottom of the screen was showing facts about both of the schools, which I thought was very cool. Until it mentioned retired numbers. "Notre Dame does not retire numbers, but if they did, the number 34 worn by Austin Carr would be the first risen into the rafters." Really? All the greats from the pre-cable era like Mr. Notre Dame, Moose Krause (who earned ND a national championship in basketball) wouldn't be first? Or is that just your opinion?

  • Not gonna lie: 10 Things I Hate About You is just a good movie. But did you realize how may people in this movie had successful post-10 Things careers? There's Heath and Julia, of course. But there's also those two from 3rd Rock. And the best friend is that guy from Numb3rs! (Just found that out today.) You probably know that the principal is also the press secretary from West Wing, but did you realize that the english teacher went on to play Eli on Ed? Oh, and I could have sworn I saw the red-haired girl from Clueless during the party scene.

  • KankaNation consensus best Super Bowl commercials: MacGyver (video), Magic Fridge, the American Insurance commercial where the fly is killed with a defibrillator, and the Nextel commercial about getting sports scores on your cell phone. "Whatever happenede to getting scores the old fashioned way - on the Internet? By the way, what's the Browns' score?" Isn't that me?

  • KankaNation consensus worst Super Bowl commercials: Brown and Bubbly, Gillette.

  • ND Women's Basketball alumni update: Niele Ivey, still a member of the Phoenix Mercury, is an administrative assistant for Xavier's women's team during the offseason. Alicia Ratay appears to still be with Saarlouis of the German league. Kelley Siemon Deyo is still an assistant for Liberty College's women's team. Minnesota's Jackie Batteast is playing with Esperides of the Greek league during the WNBA offseason. Ruth Riley broke her right thumb while playing with her offseason team, the Colorado Chill. Oh, and Ruth also has a very nice website. (Thanks to reader Tara for her help compiling this information.)

  • For those who haven't heard yet, Darrell Campbell signed with the Cleveland Browns as a free agent.

  • Public Service Announcement #1: For those of you playing KankaMatic Baseball, start thinking about who on your team you'd like to keep. I'm going to ask that you cut your rosters down to 10 keepers by the end of this month. We'll start the draft in March. If anyone would like to join KankaMatic Fantasy Baseball, please let me know.

  • Public Service Announcement #2: Don't hook up on February 13.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

World Baseball Classic

Pool A

The provisional 60-man rosters have been announced. Everyone on a country's final roster of 25 will come from their provisional list of 60. For more, see Baseball America's roster projections from last May, and my own from July.


C Wei Wang
1B Qi Chen
2B Fei Feng
3B ?
SS ?
LF Yaging Liu
CF Sun Lingfeng
RF Shuo Yang
DH Hongbo Zhang

C Yi Feng
C Tao Li
C Zhenwang Zhang
Zhe Chen
Tao Guo
Fenglian Hou
Lei Li
Guangbiao Liu
Wenbin Pan
Jingchao Wang
Guogang Yang
Yufeng Zhang

SP Nan Wang
SP Quansheng Zhao

RP Tao Bu
RP Kun Chen
RP Chenhao Li
RP Hongrui Li
RP Shuai Li
RP Jiangang Lu
RP Zheng Xu
RP Minfeng Yin
RP Jun Zhang
RP Li Zhang
RP Bo Zhao

Chinese Taipei

C Chun-Chang Ye
1B Chia-Hsien Hsieh
2B Yung Chi Chen
3B Tai-San Chang
SS Ching-lung Hu (Dodgers)
LF Chin-Feng Chen (Dodgers)
CF Chih-Yuan Chen
RF Long-Yu Huang
DH Cheng-Ming Peng

C Fong-Ming Chen
C Chin-Shou Hsih
C Cheng-Hua Kao
C Chih-Kang Kao
C Yi-Wei Lee
C Chao Kuan Wu
C Kuan-Yi Yang
IF Chia-Hao Chang
IF Chia-Hung Chen
IF Chiang-Ho Chen
IF Chih-Hung Chen
IF Chang-Ming Cheng
IF Kuo-Ching Kao
IF Chih-Shen Lin
IF Yi-Chuan Lin
IF Shi-Yang Teng
IF Shen-Wei Wang
IF Chung-Shou Yang
IF Shen Yang
IF Chung-Han Yu
OF Chih-Yao Chan
OF Chien-Ming Chang
OF Chen-Yu Chong
OF Chun-Yu Kuo
OF Ying-Chieh Liao
OF Wei-Chu Lin
OF Kuo-Hui Lo

SP Chien-Ming Wang (Yankees)
SP Chi-Hung Cheng (Blue Jays)

RP Hong-Chih Kuo (Dodgers)
RP Wei-Ying Chen
RP Chien-Ming Chiang
RP Wei-Ming Chu
RP Chu-Chien Hsu
RP Wen-Hsiung Hsu
RP Chia-An Huang
RP Chun-Chung Huang
RP Yi-Che Huang
RP Min-Ching Kao
RP Po-Hsuan Keng
RP En-Yu Lin
RP Ying-Chieh Lin
RP Ching-Lung Lo
RP Wei-Lun Pan
RP Ying-Feng Tsai
RP Sung-Wei Tseng
RP Pao-Hsien Wu
RP Chien-Fu Yang
RP Yao-Hsun Yang


RF Ichiro Suzuki (Mariners)
C Ryoji Aikawa
1B Nobuhiko Matsunaka
2B ?
3B Michihiro Ogasawara
SS ?
LF Kosuke Fukudome
CF Tatsuhiko Kinjoh
DH Hiroyuki Nakajima

C Tory Hosokawa
C Tetsuya Matoyama
C Tomoya Satozaki
C Motonoby Tanishige
IF Takahiro Arai
IF Atsuhi Fujimoto
IF Kazuya Fukuura
IF Toshiaki Imae
IF Akinori Iwamura
IF Munenori Kawasaki
IF Shinya Miyamoto
IF Shuichi Murata
IF Tomohiro Nioka
IF Toshihisa Nishi
IF Tsuyoshi Nishioka
IF Takashi Toritani
IF Yasuhiko Yabuta
OF Shogo Akada
OF Norichika Aoki
OF Atsunori Inaba
OF Saburo Ohmura
OF Shigenobu Shima
OF Takayuki Simizu
OF Hitoshi Tamura
OF Kazuhiro Wada

SP Daisuke Matsuzaka
SP Koji Uehara

RP Akinori Otsuka
RP Yuya Ando
RP Shugo Fujii
RP Kyuji Fujikawa
RP Soichi Fujita
RP Masanori Hayashi
RP Hirotoshi Ishii
RP Hiroyuki Kobayashi
RP Masahide Kobayashi
RP Tomoyuki Kubota
RP Hiroki Kuroda
RP Takahiro Mahara
RP Daisuke Miura
RP Fumiya Nishiguchi
RP Masanobu Okubo
RP Toshiya Sugiuchi
RP Kiyoshi Toyoda
RP Tsuyoshi Wada
RP Shunsuke Watanabe

Oddly enough, of all the Major Leaguers available, only two will play for the Japanese team (Ichiro and Otsuka). On the plus side, Japan will be managed by Sadaharu Oh, the country's legend who holds the record for most home runs (well over 800).


CF Shin-Soo Choo (Mariners)
C Sung Heon Hong
DH Hee-seop Choi (Dodgers)
1B Seung Yeop Lee
2B Kyung Hyun An
3B Dong Joo Kim
SS Seo Owan Hong
LF Jong Beom Lee
RF Soo Keun Jung

C In Sung Cho
C Kab Yong Jin
C Sang Hoon Kim
C Kyung Oan Park
C Kyung Hyun Shin
IF Dong Chan Cho
IF Kyoung Bae Chung
IF Sung Ho Jang
IF Seong Hoon Jeong
IF Jae Gul Kim
IF Jong Kook Kim
IF Min Jae Kim
IF Tae Kyun Kim
IF Bum Ho Lee
IF Dae Ho Lee
IF Jin Man Park
IF Jong Ho Park
IF Si Hun Son
OF Jae Hyun Kim
OF Jong Hoon Kim
OF Oh Joon Kwon
OF Byung Kyu Lee
OF Jin Young Lee
OF Han Yi Park
OF Yong Taik Park
OF Ji Man Song

SP Jae Seo (Dodgers)
SP Chan Ho Park (Padres)
SP Jung Bong (Reds)
RP Byung-yung Kim (Rockies)
SP Myung Hwan Park

RP Sunny Kim (Rockies)
RP Dae-Sung Koo (Mets)
RP Young Soo Bae
RP Won Ho Choi
RP Young Pil Choi
RP Tae Hyun Chong
RP Jae Hun Chung
RP Doo Sung Hwang
RP Moon Seok Jang
RP Byung Doo Jun
RP Jin Woo Kim
RP Won Hyong Kim
RP Hei Chun Lee
RP Seung Ho Lee
RP Dong Hwan Mun
RP Jang Jin Noh
RP Seung Hwan Oh
RP Seung Hyoun Sin
RP Min Han Son
RP Jae Woung Wee

They're not starts, but they're all Major League caliber players. If this pitching staff clicks, it may be just enough to upset the mighty Japanese.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Villanova 69, Notre Dame 65

Women's Basketball

Anyone who likes to go out of their way to complain about women's basketball should have watched this game. Villanova runs a Princeton-style ball movement offense, and they execute it beautifully. You can't tell me that the NBA's "stand around a force up a bad jump shot" offenses of the late 90s are more exciting to watch than the Nova women's offense. Of course, Notre Dame ran a decent offense in their own right. Unfortunately, they just settled for too many jump shots.
The Irish women started out well, then suddenly turned into their male counterparts. With Megan Duffy blanketed, her teammates began forcing bad shots early in the shotclock. Villanova continued to run their defense to perfection, eventually building a 21 point lead. Then, for some reason, the Wildcats backed off. They stopped running their spectacular offense, and ND came all the way back. The game was tied with 22 seconds left, a Villanova layup put the Cats up 2. Following a timeout, Duffy drove around a pick for an easy layup with 11 seconds left. I'm guessing this was by design - Nova let the Irish score early so they themselves could have the last shot. Well, as it turns out, that last shot never went, and it was on to overtime.
Unfortunately, as the Notre Dame women were immitating the men in this game, they went on to lose in overtime. They came within seconds of the second biggest comeback in women's history (22 by Oregon over Arizona in 2000), but in the end it's just another loss.
I liked what I saw from a couple of the underclassmen. Lindsay Schrader got off to a very good start, scoring the team's first 7 points. True to her freshman status, she's had an up and down year. She's also shooting a whopping 45% from the free throw line. Charel Allen surprised me. I know she could drive to the basket and score that way. Or, she could at least before her knee ligaments were torn. But, it looks like she has most of her speed and confidence back, and she can again take it to the basket. The thing that impressed me, though, was her range. Three pointers are a little too much for her - she was 0 for 4 in this game. But she was absolutely money from 17 feet in. If Allen and Schrader can put this team on their shoulders next year, they should do a decent job of replacing Duffy.

Transaction Wire

Darrell Campbell signed with the Browns as a free agent. No, I'm not going to start stalking him. At 290 pounds (officially), I would assume that he moves to defensive end in the Browns 3-4. As mentioned several times before the 2004 draft, the 3-4 favors largers defensive ends, as they will line up directly against an offensive lineman, instead of in a gap.

Offensive guru Tom Clements, who had been fired by the Bills, was recently named Packers quarterbacks coach. I'm presuming he'll be working with Aaron Rodgers a lot more than Brett Favre.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

MLB Preview 3: NL East

Atlanta Braves

Marcus Giles 2B
Edgar Renteria SS
Chipper Jones 3B
Andruw Jones CF
Adam LaRoche 1B
Jeff Francoeur RF
Ryan Langerhans LF
Brian McCann/Todd Pratt C

John Smoltz
Tim Hudson
John Thomson
Mike Hampton
Jorge Sosa
Horacio Ramirez
Kyle Davies
Roman Colon

A lot of questions with this lineup. Can Giles handle the leadoff spot full time (or when he's not hurt)? Where will Renteria be used? He's ideally a 2 or a 6, but realistically he can hit anywhere except cleanup. Can LaRoche and Francoeur put up the numbers they did last year? If not, who can produce at the bottom of the lineup? Atlanta's key bench player is 3B Wilson Betemit. 2B Pete Orr hit .300 in 150 at bats last year.
There's not much change in the rotation, and it's still a good one. The bullpen is the question. Chris Reitsma moves into the closer role after picking up 15 saves last year. The rest of the group is a bunch of young no-names. I give a lot of credit to Atlanta's minor league pitching coaches and talent scouts over the past 20 years. But how will this young group fare without Major League pitching coach Leo Mazzone?

Philadelphia Phillies

Jimmy Rollins SS
Aaron Rowand CF
Bobby Abreu RF
Pat Burrell LF
Chase Utley 2B
Ryan Howard 1B
David Bell 3B
Mike Lieberthal C

Jon Lieber
Brett Myers
Corey Lidle
Randy Wolf
Ryan Franklin
Ryan Madson
Gavin Floyd
Ricardo Rodriguez
Robinson Tejada
Eude Brito

Last year, Philadelphia's normal lineup had Abreu hitting 3rd, Burrell 4th, and Utley 5th. That order relied heavily on Burrell's career year. If Pat the Bat goes back to his old ways, the Phils may have to move Utley to 3rd and slide the other two down. Could Abreu, often accused of lacking passion, handle the cleanup spot? There's a good chance Howard will hit a sophomore slump, which could be trouble for the bottom of the lineup. The top of the lineup is set. Rollins is a more than capable leadoff hitter when he's healthy, and Roward will settle into the 2nd spot well in this lineup. The bench features a trio of very talented utility infielders - Matt Kata, Abraham Nunez, and Tomas Perez - and little else.
This is a decent rotation, but far from spectacular. Lieber revived his career last year; one wonders if he can repeat that performance. Myers, Madson, and Floyd are talented and young. Wolf is vastly underrated when healthy, and Lidle and Franklin are veterans innings eaters. The bullpen lost two big names in Billy Wagner (presumably) Ugueth Urbina. But, they still have Rheal Cormier, and they added Tom Gordon and Arthur Rhodes. Gordon returns to the closer role after a few years as a setup man in the Bronx. Cormier and Rhodes are two of the best LOOGies in the game, and veteran lefty Aaron Fultz is good in his own right.

New York Mets

Jose Reyes SS
Paul LoDuca C
Carlos Beltran CF
Carlos Delgado 1B
Clifford Floyd LF
David Wright 3B
Xavier Nady/Victor Diaz RF
Kaz Matsui 2B

Pedro Martinez
Tom Glavine
Steve Trachsel
Victor Zambrano
Aaron Heilman
Alay Soler
John Maine

It may not be obvious, but this is a much better lineup than last year's. LoDuca is a veteran "baseball guy" who has good bat control and a knack for getting on base. Delgado obviously steps right into the middle of the lineup. Wright put up a very good 2005 after an equally good, albeit abbreviated, 2004. I'd personally be surprised if he slumps this year. Nady, a former super prospect for the Padres, may not be the answer in right field, but he's at least an answer in right, and a solid one at that. The bench features a host of names that you probably recognize, but who may or may not actually do anything this year. Those names include: Ramon Castro, Jose Valentin, Julio Franco, Chris Woodward, and Endy Chavez.
The Mets went from about 25 starters to 5. Zambrano and Heilman are competent enough to be 4th and 5th starters. The only question is the age at the top of the rotation, and who else can step in when that age starts to show. The bullpen, a major source of frustration in 2005, has added closer Billy Wagner. He should have a good year this year, but it will be interesting to see how he does towards the end of his contract. Again, it's that age thing. Duaner Sanchez and Chad Bradford return from solid seasons, and they're joined by former Baltimore closer Jorge Julio. For more Mets insight, I'll defer to Dave on the message board.

Florida Marlins

Pokey Reese 2B
Alfredo Amezaga/Hanley Ramirez SS
Mike Jacobs 1B
Miguel Cabrera 3B
Jeremy Hermida RF
Miguel Olivo C
Chris Aguila LF
Eric Reed CF

Dontrelle Willis
Sergio Mitre
Brian Moehler
Jason Vargas
Josh Johnson
Scott Olsen
Logan Kensing
Nate Bump

It's two years too late, but the Marlins have once again performed their post-championship fire sale. Really, I have no clue what to do with this lineup. The entire outfield is new. I want to say Hanley Ramirez is a top prospect, but I honestly can't remember. No, Reese probably doesn't belong in the leadoff spot. But, he brings a spectacular glove, and I'm happy to see him back in someone's starting lineup again. Jacobs is actually a rather good young player, and Hermida is decent in his own right. The bench is headlined by 3B/1B Wes Helms, once a young up-and-comer in the Atlanta system, and C Matt Treanor, better known as the husband of Olympic beach volleyball star Misty May.
"Sergio Mitre is the #2 starter?!" Yeah, I said the exact same thing. I really don't know what else to say about this rotation. Willis and Mitre should both make the World Baseball Classic (Mitre for the Mexican team. And, um, I really hope Willis' arm doesn't fall off. That's about it. Former Cubs closer Joe Borowski will get a second chance in Florida. He'll need help, but I'm afraid he may not get any. Look for a basement finish in the NL East for the Marlins.

Washington Nationals

Ryan Church CF
Nick Johnson 1B
Jose Guillen RF
Jose Vidro 2B
Alfonso Soriano LF
Ryan Zimmerman 3B
Brian Schneider C
Christian Guzman SS

Livan Hernandez
John Patterson
Ramon Ortiz
Brian Lawrence
Tony Armas
Ryan Drese

What this lineup should not look like ever: 1. Soriano, 2. Guzman, 3. Johnson. Plain and simple, Soriano is not an on-base guy. Guzman belongs no where near the top of the lineup. He probably doesn't belong near the middle or the bottom, either. (I'd probably give the "fundamentally sound" Jamey Carroll a shot somewhere in the infield in Guzman's stead.) And Johnson may have had a breakout season, but he's still not the star he was predicted to be. I like this lineup the way it is, for the most part. No one stands out as a leadoff hitter, though. Church wins by default. If Zimmerman has a good season, he could move up to leadoff, or flip-flop with Johnson in this order. Schneider is underrated as a catcher, but not great. The bench features a cavalcade of "names": both Marlons (Byrd and Anderson), C/1B/OF and former token All Star Robert Fick (who looks like the backup catcher with no one besides Schneider listed at that position), OF Michael "I wear #24 because I think I'm as good as Ken Griffey, Jr." Tucker (I'm not making that up), and UT Damian Jackson.
Last year's rotation relied on career years/resurgencies from Hernandez and Patterson, and from Drese to some extent. Lawrence is a good young talent, overshadowed in San Diego by Jake Peavy. Together, this group can be surprisingly good or surprisingly mediocre. The bullpen actually looks decent. Chad Cordero, coming off a very good season, is supported by Luis Ayala, Joey Eischen, Gary Majewski, Jon Rauch, and newcomer Mike Stanton.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

MLB Preview 2: AL West

The Angels

Chone Figgins 3B
Orlando Cabrera SS
Vlad Guerrero RF
Garret Anderson LF
Juan Rivera DH
Darin Erstad CF
Casey Kotchman 1B
Jose Molina C
Adam Kennedy 2B

Bartolo Colon
John Lackey
Ervin Santana
Kelvim Escobar
Hector Carrasco
Esteban Yan
Kevin Gregg
Chris Bootcheck
Joe Saunders

Not much change at the top of this lineup. The shakeup comes comes at the bottom. Adam Kennedy continues to be an overly qualified #9 hitter. Darin Erstad, a great top-of-the-lineup guy, will have to anchor the bottom four, including new starters Kotchman and Molina. Jose steps in for his brother Bengie. Bengie wasn't a superstar hitter, but he was decent for a catcher. This team is deep in the infield, with Dallas McPherson and Rob Quinlan backing up at first, third, and DH, and former Rule V guy Macier Izturis backing up Kennedy and Cabrera. Otherwise, it's a bunch of no-names on the bench. Of course, since Figgins and Rivera are both more than adequate in the outfield, maybe it won't be that much of a problem.
The rotation takes a big hit with the loss of Jarrod Washburn. Ervin Santana will have to avoid a sophomore slump for this group of starters and this team to do well. The bullpen is one of the best in baseball with Brendan Donnelly, Scot Shields, and new addition JC Romero setting up Frankie Rodriguez. Shields and Romero could easily close on some teams. But, if the starters can't hold up their end of the bargain, look for some sore arms in the pen later this season.

Oakland Athletics

Mark Kotsay CF
Jason Kendall C
Milton Bradley RF
Eric Chavez 3B
Frank Thomas/Jay Payton DH
Bobby Crosby SS
Dan Johnson 1B
Nick Swisher LF
Mark Ellis 2B

Barry Zito
Rich Harden
Danny Haren
Esteban Loaiza
Joe Blanton
Kirk Saarloos
Joe Kennedy
Juan Cruz
Justin Duchscherer

You know what the problem with this lineup is? Two many #2 hitters. Kotsay, Kendall, Bradley, Crosby, and Ellis could all easily fill that role. I'd love to move Ellis to leadoff and drop Kotsay to second, but Kendall hit all of 0 home runs last year, so one wonders if he really belongs later in the lineup. (Hey, I take the same approach to hitting as he does, so I'm not knocking it or anything.) This lineup is Super-Moneyball, but they'll need Chavez to return his 2004 form. Thomas, Johnson, and/or Swisher will also have to step up for this to be a good year. The offense does have decent depth, at least. Infielder Marco Scutaro has plenty of experience after filling in for an injured Mark Ellis. Payton, Bobby Kielty, and Charles Thomas (no, not that Charles Thomas) all have experience starting in the outfield.
Loaiza was added to a stable of young arms in the rotation. He's not an overly impressive starter. But, his experience as a staff ace will help him mentor a young staff. Plus, as an innings eater (217 IP last year), he can take pressure of a bullpen that is also relatively young. Huston Street lived up to the hype when he was thrust into the closer role last year. He's supported by a bullpen that I'll call "Team Upside" - young talent gleaned from other organizations: Kiko Calero, Juan Cruz, Chad Gaudin, Dan Meyer, and Kirk Saarloos to name a few.

Texas Rangers

Dave Dellucci LF
Brad Wilkerson CF
Michael Young SS
Mark Teixeira 1B
Hank Blalock 3B
Kevin Mench RF
Phil Nevin DH
Rod Barajas C
Ian Kinsler/Mark DeRosa 2B

Kevin Millwood
Adam Eaton
Vincente Padilla
Kameron Loe
Juan Dominguez
Joaquin Benoit
RA Dickey
John Wasdin
CJ Wilson
Edison Volquez

Gone is Alfonso Soriano, but it doesn't look like Texas will miss him all that much. Wilkerson is an upgrade in center. He hit only .248 last year, but did manage a .351 OBP. I'm tentatively sticking him second, assuming his numbers will improve this year in the Texas heat. That moves Young to third. The kid can flat out hit, so I think he'll be up to the task. Speaking of poor averages versus good on-base percentages (as I did somewhere up there), Dellucci will look to continue his surprising success from last year while making the move from DH to a full time outfielder. If he does flounder, I assume Wilkerson becomes the backup plan at leadoff. Anything Nevin does this year is a plus. The same goes for rookie second baseman Ian Kinsler. Kinsler did have 20+ HR and 90+ RBI in AAA last year, so he has the potential to be a good one. The backup plan for Kinsler is DeRosa, a capable utility infielder during his time in Atlanta. Gary Matthews and Laynce Nix, both former starters, highlight the Texas bench.
As of late, Texas hasn't been known for its pitching. So, they just went out and got new pitchers. Millwood was perhaps the best starter on the market. Eaton is a solid talent who until recently was playing in Jake Peavy's shadow in San Diego. Padilla was a cult hero in Philadelphia (the Padilla Flotilla rowed through the bleachers of Citizen's Bank Park) who earned his keep. Loe, Dominguez, and a slew of decent young talent round out the rotation. Closer Francisco Cordero and new acquisition Akinori Otsuka highlight a thin bullpen.

Seattle Mariners

Ichiro! RF
Raul Ibanez/Matt Lawton LF
Carl Everett DH
Richie Sexson 1B
Adrian Beltre 3B
Jeremy Reed CF
Kenji Johjima C
Yuniesky Betancourt SS
Jose Lopez 2B

Jamie Moyer
Jarrod Washburn
Joel Pineiro
Felix Hernandez
Gil Meche
Travis Blackley
Clint Nageotte
Jesse Foppert

Slowly but surely - very slowly, but very surely - Seattle is starting to fill its holes. Ichiro, Sexson, and Beltre are set. Ibanez did surprisingly well with 20 HR and 89 RBI in 2005. Like Dellucci, he makes the move from DH to starting outfielder, so it will be interesting to see how he fares. Reed, brilliant defensively, comes back for a second season. Betancourt will be playing in his first full season. Betancourt and Lopez, like Reed, are said to be good defensively. Johjima is coming over from Japan for the first time. Now, there's normally some drop off between Japanese numbers and MLB numbers. Considering Johjima hit .330 with 30+ HR in each of his past two seasons, I'm sure no one will mind a small step down from those numbers. Everett, of course, is the DH. Matt Lawton, after his 10-day suspension to start the season, will be the key piece coming off the bench. He can DH and play all three outfield position at a starter's level, plus he can competently hit anywhere in the lineup except cleanup. Also on the bench is Mike Morse, a good young hitter who will also be tried in the outfield this season.
Washburn is obviously the key addition to the rotation. But Jamie Moyer keeps doing it well at the top of the rotation. Pineiro had his worst year yet as a full-time starter, going 7-11 with a 5.62 ERA. He's gotten progressively worse in the past three seasons. Meche is still looking to fully bounce back from injury problems a few years back. He was 10-8, but with a 5.08 ERA. Hernandez did very well in limited time last season; he'll look to avoid a sophomore slump. (Oh, and be sure to wish Felix a happy 20th birthday on April 8. Yeah, you read that right. And Dave, I know you're wondering: he was born in Venezuela. You're right, he probably is about 26.) Everyday Eddie Guardado closes behind what is basically a bullpen of no-names.