Tagged: 2009 Previews

’09 Preview — National League

NationalLeagueLogo.pngThat’s it for the previews.  Next year I might par them down a bit in terms of writing; 1200 words per day for a month can be daunting when you have school commitments, music commitments, and general life commitments, but I enjoyed it thoroughly.  Thank to everyone who read them and showed me support, I hope you enjoyed them.

So, without further adieu, here is my overview of the NL.

I think there will be a lot more parody in the NL than there will be in the AL, which will make for some interesting races down the stretch, especially for the tight NL East and the Wildcard.  Here’s how I think the standings will shake out:

NL East
NY Mets               90-72
Philadelphia          89-73
Atlanta                 84-78
Florida                  81-81
Washington          55-107

NL Central
Ch. Cubs             100-62
St. Louis               86-76
Cincinnati              83-79
Milwaukee             78-84
Houston                74-88
Pittsburgh             60-102

NL West
Arizona                 93-69
LA Dodgers           87-75
Colorado               80-82
San Francisco       78-84
San Diego             66-96

With the AL finishing 24-games above .500, the NL will finish 24-games below .500 so expect a lop-sided interleague play schedule, dominated by the American League.  The Mets, Cubs, and Diamondbacks will win their respective divisions and the Phillies will narrowly capture the Wildcard over the Dodgers, Cardinals, Braves, and Reds.  Here’s how the NLDS will be played:

1. Ch. Cubs
4. Philadelphia

2. Arizona
3. NY Mets

In this situation, the Cubs would win their series with Philadelphia with more depth in the pitching staff and Arizona’s duo of Brandon Webb and Dan Haren will easily handle the Mets, setting up a classic NLCS.

1. Ch. Cubs
2. Arizona

In typical Cubby fashion, the Cubs will take the D’Backs to six or seven games only to do what the Cubs always do…lose.  Having to face Webb and Haren twice in one series is just too much.  Call your friends and tell them the D’Backs will be the ’09 NL Champions.

Here’s how I think the NL Awards will go down

MVP – Chase Utley, PHI
CY Young – Dan Haren, ARI
Rolaids Relief Man – Francisco Rodriguez, NYM
Rookie of the Year – Jordan Zimmerman, WAS
Manager of the Year – Bob Melvin, ARI

This leaves only one prediction remaining.  Who will win the World Series?  Will it be the Boston Red Sox or the Arizona Diamondbacks?  Julia will be very happy to know that I’m picking her BoSox to win it all in 5 games over a simply overmatched Arizona team.  Clearly, as a Jays fan, this hurts me to say.  I’d like to see the Red Sox finish behind the Jays in the standings and sit at home and watch October baseball, but as I’ve said before, I’m a realist, and as a realist, I can plainly see that the Red Sox have the best chance at winning the World Series.

Final Prediction: Boston Red Sox, 2009 World Series Champions


       
 

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’09 Preview — San Francisco Giants

San_Francisco_Giants_logo_2000.png2008 Record: 72-90, 4th NL West
2009 Prediction: 4th NL West

Impact Player: Bengie Molina
Impact Pitcher: Tim Lincecum
Top Prospect: Madison Bumgarner, RHP

Significant Acquisitions: P Randy Johnson, P Bob Howry, P Jeremy Affeldt, SS Edgar Renteria, INF Juan Uribe
Significant Losses: SS Omar Vizquel, P Kevin Correia, P Tyler Walker 

The San Francisco Giants come into the 2009 season with one of the most unchanged rosters of any major league team from their ’08 version.  The 2008 Giants finished 4th in the NL West with a 72-90 record so one could safely presume that they’re going to finish around the same place this year, but that might not be true.  Are the Giants a contender? Probably not.  Do the have some young talent that will make them very fun to watch in ’09?  Yes…yes they do.  With a few improvements made to their pitching staff, the Giants could have one of the best in the NL and while their lineup wouldn’t scare a mouse, their pitching will win them their fair share of games.

Pitching
No one expected it, but the Giants have the defending NL Cy Young Award winner heading their rotation.  Tim “The Freak” Lincecum was unbelievable last year posting an 18-5 record on a terrible team with a 2.62 ERA and the 5’11” 160lbs fireballer threw 227 innings, good for third most in the league.  Lincecum’s size and high-energy delivery scare some people who think he’ll be prone to injury in his career, but so far, so very good.  24-year-old Matt Cain steps in as the #2 starter after a solid ’08 that saw him the unlucky recipient of terrible run-support.  Cain was just 8-14 despite a 3.76 ERA and 217.2 innings, ranking him 5th in the league.  Future HOFer Randy Johnson was signed in the off-season and comes into ’09 just 5 wins shy of 300 for his career.  He may be 45-years-old (second-oldest pitcher in the league behind Jamie Moyer), but he was still solid on the D’Backs last year going 11-10 with a 3.91 ERA.  If he stays healthy, he’ll be a major asset to this team.  Barry Zito will look to rebound from perennially declining numbers and will try to live up to his massive contract; the Giants tried hard to trade him in the offseason but there were no takers.  Ownership likely won’t permit the team to move him to the bullpen simply because of his contract, but that may be where he’s most suited now.  The fifth spot will likely go to Jonathan Sanchez who had a 5.01 ERA last year but won more games than Cain (9), and at 26, has a lot of upside.  If he faulters or Johnson can’t stay healthy, Noah Lowry will likely be ready by June.  Lowry missed all of ’08 with injury.

The Giants’ bullpen looks pretty good heading into the season.  Brian Wilson returns as the closer (no bad Beach Boys puns, I promise), but was shaky in ’08 despite 41 saves.  His ERA was 4.62 and he blew 6 save opportunities.  Bob Howry and Jeremy Affeldt were signed in the offseason to add depth and veteran leadership and should setup Wilson.  Sergio Romo returns in mid-relief after a solid showing in ’08, posting a 2.12 ERA and will likely be joined by fellow righties Merkin Valdez and 40-year-old Keiichi Yabu.  Joining Affeldt from the left-hand side will probably be Jack Taschner who was just erratic enough in ’08 to compromise his job-security; if he struggles, Alex Hinshaw could crack the team.  Minor-league contracts were handed out to Ramon Ortiz, Brandon Medders, and Francis Beltran who could all also play a role if injuries occur.

Rotation (Handedness/Age on June 30, 2009)

  • Tim Lincecum (R/25)
  • Matt Cain (R/24)
  • Randy Johnson (L/45)
  • Barry Zito (L/31)
  • Jonathan Sanchez (L/26)

Bullpen

  • Brian Wilson (R/27) — CLOSER
  • Bob Howry (R/35)
  • Jeremy Affeldt (L/30)
  • Sergio Romo (R/26)
  • Jack Taschner (L/31)
  • Merkin Valdez (R/27)
  • Keiichi Yabu (R/40)

Lineup
The Giants are an awful offensive team.  Recall that I named Bengie Molina their “Impact Player.”  That ain’t good, son.  It’s not that he’s not a good player (he did drive in 95 runs last year, yeah I know, I was surprised too) but Molina as your cleanup hitter and best player, that’s a problem.  The Giants finished ’08 dead last in the NL in home runs, and second-to-last in runs scored.  Unless some of their young players have breakout years, don’t expect much change in ’09.  In the outfield, veterans Randy Winn (RF) and Aaron Rowand (CF) return and provide decent (but not great) bats and solid defense.  Both are strong clubhouses presences.  In Left will likely be Fred Lewis who was once billed as the future cornerstone of the franchise, but has yet to live up to those lofty expectations.  In the infield, the Giants signed veteran Edgar Renteria to play Short and to help along the rest of the young infield as they develop into true major-leaguers.  25-year-old Travis Ishikawa (1B), 24-year-old Emmanuel Burris (2B), and 22-year-old Pablo Sandoval (3B) will likely make up that infield.  Sandoval has shown the most promise so far after hitting .345 in 41 games last year, but has no true defensive position.  He could also play First if Ishikawa struggles.  Molina will catch and cleanup.

If the young infield struggles, there are plenty of solid veterans on the bench to help them out.  Rich Aurilia returns and can play all four positions, and Kevin Fransden can play third, second, and short.  Juan Uribe was signed to add depth and is also versatile.  He has tremendous power but has also struggled defensively throughout his career.  John Bowker played more innings at First than any other Giant in ’08 and could be called up if Ishikawa struggles to take the reigns.  The backup catcher will likely be Steve Holm and the fourth outfielder will be Dave Roberts who has speed to burn.  He could start in Left if Lewis struggles.

Lineup (Handedness/Age on June 30, 2009)

  • SS  Edgar Renteria (R/33)
  • 2B  Emmanuel Burriss (S/24)
  • CF  Aaron Rowand (R/31)
  • C    Bengie Molina (R/34)
  • RF  Randy Winn (S/35)
  • LF  Fred Lewis (L/28)
  • 3B  Pablo Sandoval (S/22)
  • 1B  Travis Ishikawa (L/25)

Bench

  • OF  Dave Roberts (L/37)
  • INF Rich Aurilia (R/37)
  • INF Kevin Fransden (R/27)
  • C    Steve Holm (R/29)
  • INF Juan Uribe (R/29)

Outlook
The Giants will be involved in a lot of 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2 games this year and they’ll win enough of them to make people take notice, but they won’t contend yet.  Their pitching is great, but they need at least one big bat in the middle of their lineup (and no, I’m not speaking of Barry Bonds) to truly make a run at the division.  They tried modestly to attain Manny Ramirez and that would have worked, but they’ll instead have to hope that one of their young players steps up.  Final Prediction: 78-84, 4th NL West

’09 Preview — San Diego Padres

padres.gif2008 Record: 63-99, 5th NL West
2009 Prediction: 5th NL West

Impact Player: Adrian Gonzalez
Impact Pitcher: Jake Peavy
Top Prospect: Kyle Banks, 1B

Significant Acquisitions: INF David Eckstein, OF/1B Cliff Floyd, C Henry Blanco, P Kevin Correia, P Chris Britton, OF Emil Brown, UTIL Chris Burke
Significant Losses: SS Khalil Greene, C Josh Bard, C Michael Barrett, P Shawn Estes, P Trevor Hoffman, P Bryan Corey

It’s hard to believe that the San Diego Padres were one run away from beating the Rockies in a one-game playoff for the NL Wildcard in ’07.  In ’08 the Padres, not unlike the Rockies, experienced a massive fall from grace.  They finished with the second-worst record in the NL at 63-99.  Unfortunately, the Padres probably won’t improve much this season and are likely a few years away from making any noise.  The team tried very hard to trade ace Jake Peavy in the offseason and still might do so at some point this year; and all-time saves leader and maybe the most popular Padre ever, Trevor Hoffman, was let go and signed with the Brewers.  It’s going to be a long year for Padres fans (sorry Kaybee).

Pitching
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strength the Padres possess, it is in the top end of their
starting rotation.  Peavy will likely be in another uniform before the end
of the season, but is a true ace capable of putting up great numbers. 
Last season he was only 10-11 due to god-awful run support, but still posted a
very good 2.85 ERA.  After Peavy, the Padres are hoping for the return to
health of Chris Young.  Young was limited to only 102.1 innings in ’08 due
to shoulder problems but is a solid #2 when healthy.  After that, the
rotation falls off a cliff.  Cha Seung Baek returns and is likely going to
be the 3rd starter after going 6-10 with a 4.79 ERA last year and the fourth
and fifth spot will be battled for by three pitchers: Off-season signing Kevin
Correia who returns to his hometown but had a 6.05 ERA in San Fran last year;
Josh Greer who was impressive in a 27 inning stint with the club last season
posting a 2.67 ERA; and 24-year-old lefthander Wade LeBlanc who has an outside
shot.

With Mr. Padre, Trevor Hoffman gone, the closer position in San Diego is in
limbo for the first time in 15 years.  Heath Bell has been handed the job
and has earned it.  He has been one of the most consistent setup guys in
the NL over the past few years.  Chris Britton was acquired from the
Yankees organization and could develop into a solid setup option; and the main
lefthander will be Justin Hampson who had a 2.93 ERA in 30 innings last
year.  Mike Adams has a spot waiting for him when he returns from his
shoulder injury in late May or early June after a very solid ’08, but taking
his place for now will be mid-relievers Cla Meredith, Chad Reineke and either
Mike Ekstrom or Scott Patterson.  The second lefty job will likely go to
either Joe Thatcher or LeBlanc if he doesn’t start.

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Rotation (Handedness/Age on June 30, 2009)

  • Jake Peavy (R/28)
  • Chris Young (R/30)
  • Cha Seung Baek (R/29)
  • Kevin Correia (R/28)
  • Josh Greer (R/26)

Bullpen

  • Heath Bell (R/31) — CLOSER
  • Chris Britton (R/26)
  • Justin Hampson (L/29)
  • Cla Meredith (R/26)
  • Chad Reineke (R/27)
  • Mike Ekstrom (R/25)
  • Wade LeBlanc (L/24)
  • **Mike Adams (R/30) — OUT UNTIL MAY/JUNE W/ SHOULDER INJURY

Lineup
The Padres won’t do well this year, mainly because their hitting is atrocious.  They were 15th in the NL in batting average last year and dead-last in runs scored.  This year will be no better unless there are some HUGE surprises in store.  Veteran Brian Giles is back and will play Right but is a mere shell of his former self.  He’s still reliable, but no longer has the ability to carry the team.  In Center will likely be the re-emergent Jody Gerut who fell into obscurity after a couple good seasons in Cleveland and popped up in San Diego last year to post a .296 batting average with 14 home runs and 45 RBI.  The Leftfielder job will be battled for by Chase Headley and Scott Hairston.  Hairston was a solid power threat last year putting up 17 home runs in only 112 games but had only 31 RBI and a .248 batting average.  In the infield, Adrian Gonzalez returns at First.  He has become a premier hitter in the NL; in ’08, in spite of being in a terrible hitter’s park, he still hit 36 home runs and drove in 119.  At only 27, the Padres can build around this slugger who might be an MVP contender if the Padres were a winning team.  Kevin Kouzmanoff mans the other corner and has developed into a solid player and Luis Rodriguez will likely start at Short.  Look for 22-year-old Everth Cabrera to join the Pads at some point during the year and challenge him for the job.  Career Shortstop David Eckstein was signed in the offseason to play Second Base and leadoff.  Catching will most likely be the responsibility of Nick Hundley who needs to improve offensively but is a solid game-caller for someone his age (25).

On the bench, the Padres signed Cliff Floyd who helped the underdog Rays capture an American League pennant in ’08.  Floyd is probably not an everyday player anymore but will provide a capable bat and the ability to play the outfield and First.  The Padres signed former Cub Henry Blanco to be their backup catcher and could start if Hundley takes a step back.  The bench should be filled out by the loser for the job in Left, infielder Edgar V. Gonzalez, and possibly Cabrera and minor-league invitees Emil Brown, who can play effectively in the outfield, and utility-man Chris Burke.

Lineup (Handedness/Age on June 30, 2009)

  • 2B  David Eckstein (R/34)
  • RF  Brian Giles (L/38)
  • 3B  Kevin Kouzmanoff (R/27)
  • 1B  Adrian Gonzalez (L/27)
  • CF  Jody Gerut (L/31)
  • LF  Chase Headley (S/25)
  • C    Nick Hundley (R/25)
  • SS  Luis Rodriguez (S/29)

Bench

  • INF Edgar V. Gonzalez (R/31)
  • OF/1B Cliff Floyd (L/36)
  • C    Henry Blanco (R/37)
  • OF  Scott Hairston (R/29)
  • UTIL Chris Burke (R/29)


Outlook
It’ll be a long year for the Padres.  Even their strongest area, the starting rotation, is weak in comparison to most NL teams and will get weaker if they decide to trade Peavy.  Their offense might be the worst in baseball and will have a hard time getting leads for their pitchers.  I’m thinking the Padres’ year will likely be 2011 or 2012.  Final Prediction: 66-96, 5th NL West

’09 Preview — Los Angeles Dodgers

MLB_Dodgers.gif2008 Record: 84-78, 1st NL West
2009 Prediction: 2nd NL West

Impact Player: Manny Ramirez
Impact Pitcher: Chad Billingsley
Top Prospect: Andrew Lambo, OF

Significant Acquisitions: 2B Orlando Hudson, P Randy Wolf, P Guillermo Mota, C Brad Ausmus, INF Mark Loretta, P Shawn Estes, P Claudio Vargas, P Jeff Weaver
Significant Losses: 2B Jeff Kent, SS Angel Berroa, OF Andruw Jones, INF Nomar Garciaparra, 1B Mark Sweeney, P Derek Lowe, P Brad Penny, P Greg Maddux, P Takashi Saito, P Joe Beimel, P Chan Ho Park, P Scott Proctor

DISCLAIMER:  As I said in the last entry, this preview will be written as if Manny Ramirez has signed with the Dodgers as it is my belief that it is only a matter of time.  As we saw in the Braves preview involving Ken Griffey Jr., I have a tendency to be wrong about these things.  With my luck, he’ll sign in Kansas City before nightfall.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were the beneficiary of baseball’s weakest division in ’08, finishing with only 84 wins but winning the West.  But the Dodgers ended last year as a team that was much better than most other 84 win teams in baseball history.  The Dodgers entered September with a 67-70 record when Manny Ramirez was still getting used to his new surroundings; and Manny’s new surroundings were still getting used to him.  They figured it out.  The Dodgers finished with a 17-8 September and won the weak West by 2 games over the Diamondbacks.  Then they stunned the hapless Cubs in 3 straight in the NLDS before falling to the Phillies.  Manny should sign any time now and the Dodgers can enjoy/loathe a full season of what he can bring to the table.  With him in their lineup and the unflappable Joe Torre still at the helm, the Dodgers can challenge for a playoff spot. 

Pitching
The Los Angeles Dodgers didn’t have a great off-season in terms of their pitching staff, what with losing Derek Lowe, Greg Maddux, Brad Penny and four key members of their ’08 bullpen, but there are a number of pitchers that should step into new roles and succeed with the talent they have.  Chad Billingsley emerged as an ace in ’08 posting a 16-10 record with a 3.14 ERA in 200.2 innings.  Billingsley is still only 24 and could be a challenger for the Cy Young in the next couple years.  Hiroki Kuroda took a while to get used to his new major-league setting after coming over from Japan but should continue on his incline that started late last year.  He finished ’08 with only 9 wins but by the end of the year had lowered his ERA to a very respectable 3.73.  Randy Wolf was brought back for a second tour with the Dodgers and was 12-12 with a 4.30 ERA between pitcher-friendly Petco in San Diego, and the hitter-friendly “juice-box,” Minute Maid Park in Houston.  21-year-old Clayton Kershaw will have every opportunity to crack the rotation after showing a lot of promise in 22 starts last season, however, at only 21, you never know what you’re going to get.  Jason Schmidt will attempt to comeback from a long string of arm problems that has seen him start only 6 games since the Dodgers signed him before 2007, but if he fails, veteran lefties Shawn Estes and Eric Stults could also vie for spots.  This rotation needs someone to step in and be reliable; Schmidt could be that pitcher with a return to form, but the Dodgers could also use another outside influence such as Pedro Martinez…just saying.

In the bullpen, the Dodgers will give the closing job to Jonathan Broxton who had 14 saves last season.  With Saito now gone to the Red Sox, Broxton could become the dominant closer most envisioned him becoming since he’s been in the majors.  Lefthander and converted starter Hong-Chih Kuo should be the team’s go-to lefty this season after posting a 2.14 ERA last year.  Guillermo Mota was signed from the Brewers and will make his return to SoCal and could function as the primary setup man if his decline last year was incidental.  If it wasn’t, 26-year-old Cory Wade emerged as a solid option posting a 2.27 ERA in ’08.  The final three bullpen spots could go to any number of pitchers including Yhency Brazoban, Claudio Vargas, Estes, Stults, Ramon Troncoso, Scott Elbert, James McDonald, *DEEP BREATH* or minor league contract recipients Charlie Haeger, Tanyon Stultze, Jeff Weaver, Eric Milton, and Stephen Randolph.

Rotation (Handedness/Age on June 30, 2009)

  • Chad Billingsley (R/24)
  • Hiroki Kuroda (R/34)
  • Randy Wolf (L/32)
  • Clayton Kershaw (L/21)
  • Jason Schmidt (R/36)

Bullpen

  • Jonathan Broxton (R/25) — CLOSER
  • Hong-Chih Kuo (L/27)
  • Guillermo Mota (R/35)
  • Cory Wade (R/26)
  • Yhency Brazoban (R/28)
  • Claudio Vargas (R/31)
  • Eric Stults (L/29)


Lineup
This lineup is scary with or without Manny.  With him, it’s downright urine-inducing.  Assuming Manny starts in Left, he will likely end up with his usual .310-40-130 season, especially if he’s motivated and could be a prime contender for MVP.  In Center should be Matt Kemp who’s combination of power, speed, and defensive ability makes him one of the better Centerfielders in the National League, and in Right will likely be Andre Ethier who is emerging as a true star.  This may be the best outfield in baseball.  In the infield, Casey Blake resigned and will play Third and James Loney is yet another budding star-in-the-making at First.  In the middle-infield, Rafael Furcal chose to remain in LA, rather than bolt back to Atlanta and if healthy is a dependable leadoff hitter at Short, while 3-time Gold Glove winner and former Jay Orlando Hudson was signed to play Second.  Hudson is also a great clubhouse presence.  Catching will be Toronto-native Russell Martin.  Martin has become a truly superior catcher doing everything in the game very well.  Players like him are key components to any contender.

The bench is laden with experience and skill.  Juan Pierre provides tremendous speed from the fourth outfielder spot and always seems to be a big part of good teams.  Veteran infielder Mark Loretta was signed in the offseason and brings versatility and a solid bat to the mix.  Blake DeWitt can play any infield position and will give Casey Blake some much needed days off at Third.  Veteran catcher Brad Ausmus was signed to be Martin’s backup and outfielder Delwyn Young should also crack the big club.

Lineup (Handedness/Age on June 30, 2009)

  • SS  Rafael Furcal (S/31)
  • C    Russell Martin (R/26)
  • CF  Matt Kemp (R/24)
  • LF  Manny Ramirez (R/37)
  • 1B  James Loney (L/25)
  • RF  Andre Ethier (L/27)
  • 3B  Casey Blake (R/35)
  • 2B  Orlando Hudson (S/31)

Bench

  • OF  Juan Pierre (L/31)
  • OF  Delwyn Young (S/27)
  • INF Mark Loretta (R/37)
  • INF Blake DeWitt (L/23)
  • C    Brad Ausmus (R/40)


Outlook
The Los Angeles Dodgers are a good team without Manny Ramirez; with him they are a true contender.  They have one of the best lineups in the NL which consists of a nice mix of savvy vets and young talent and their bench and bullpen are very deep.  The only small problem with this team is its depth in the starting rotati
on.  Although the rotation is still solid, an emerging arm or mid-season pickup would be welcome for Dodger fans; without it, they may just miss out on October baseball.  Final Prediction: 87-75, 2nd NL West

 

’09 Preview — Colorado Rockies

Colorado.GIF2008 Record: 74-88, 3rd NL West
2009 Prediction: 3rd NL West

Impact Player: Garret Atkins
Impact Pitcher: Aaron Cook
Top Prospect:  Dexter Fowler, OF

Significant Acquisitions: P Huston Street, P Jason Marquis, P Greg Smith, P Alan Embree, OF Carlos Gonzalez, P Josh Fogg, P Matt Belisle
Significant Losses: OF Matt Holliday, OF Willy Taveras, P Mark Redman, P Livan Hernandez, P Brian Fuentes, P Matt Herges, P Glendon Rusch, P Luis Vizcaino, P Kip Wells

The Colorado Rockies took the sporting world by surprise in late 2007 when they went on an improbable run of 21 victories in 22 games, won a one-game playoff over the San Diego Padres to capture the NL Wildcard and stunned both the Phillies and the Diamondbacks to capture the NL Pennant before being unceremoniously swept by the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.  The Rockies were seen by many as a team on the rise and people expected big things from them in ’08; a year in which it seemed the NL West was theirs for the taking.  That didn’t happen.  The Rockies seemed to be a young team who just wasn’t ready.  They finished the year 3rd in baseball’s weakest division with a record of 74-88.  2007 was dubbed as a fluke and the Rockies sunk quickly back into baseball obscurity.  But there are reasons to be hopeful.  Most of the young talents that led the team to its first pennant remain and although they might still be slightly overmatched in 2009, look for the Rockies to be a contender in the next few years.

Pitching
Pitching in the Rocky Mountain-juiced air in Coors Field has proven to be difficult for the Rockies franchise over the years.  Until the last few years, it seemed management was completely oblivious to the effects of its own home ballpark, developing and signing predominantly fly-ball pitchers who were lit up on a nightly basis.  It seems that, finally, the Rockies have pitchers who rely more heavily on good sinking pitches that induce a tonne of ground balls, and low-and-behold, they have some pitching.  Aaron Cook has developed into a true ace.  Last year, he was 16-9 with a 3.96 ERA; in any other park that ERA probably would have been in the low-3s.  Ubaldo Jimenez impressed in his first full season going 12-12 with an impressive 3.99 ERA and should be the team’s #2 option; management also signed him long-term.  Canadian Jeff Francis will miss the entire season because of a shoulder injury, but there are options to round out the rotation.  Dependable Jason Marquis was acquired in a trade with the Cubs that sent reliever Luis Vizcaino packing and figures to be the #3 pitcher.  He was 11-9 for the North-Siders last year.  Young lefthander Greg Smith was acquired in the Matt Holliday trade with Oakland and should also have a spot.  Lefties Jorge de la Rosa and Franklin Morales and righthander Jason Hirsh could also start.

In the bullpen, the Rockies look very strong in spite of the fact that dependable closer Brian Fuentes bolted via free agency to the Angels.  Huston Street was acquired in the Holliday deal and should replace Fuentes as the closer.  Street has 94 career saves and is only 25.  Manny Corpas and Taylor Buchholz will be the primary setup options.  Corpas looked very good as the Rockies’ closer during their improbable ’07 run and Buchholz had 6 wins and a 2.17 ERA in ’08.  39-year-old southpaw Alan Embree was signed to a one-year deal in December and veteran righty Jason Grilli returns for his first full year in Rocky-purple.  Ryan Speier and possibly Morales will grab the final spots.  Steven Register, Juan Morillo, and veteran lefty Randy Flores could also challenge for spots in the spring.

Rotation (Handedness/Age on June 30, 2009)

  • Aaron Cook (R/30)
  • Ubaldo Jimenez (R/25)
  • Jason Marquis (R/30)
  • Greg Smith (L/25)
  • Jorge de la Rosa (L/28)

Bullpen

  • Huston Street (R/25) — CLOSER
  • Manny Corpas (R/26)
  • Taylor Buchholz (R/27)
  • Alan Embree (L/39)
  • Jason Grilli (R/32)
  • Ryan Speier (R/29)
  • Franklin Morales (L/23)

Lineup
As always, the Rockies can hit.  Even without Matt Holliday, easily their most prolific hitter the past few seasons, there are enough proven hitters in this lineup to strike some fear into opposing pitchers.  In the outfield, Brad Hawpe returns in Right and should fit nicely into the 5-hole, another piece from the Holliday trade in Carlos Gonzalez should start in Center and has leadoff-hitter makeup.  In Left will be a battle between 3 players: Ryan Spilborghs, Seth Smith, and Matt Murton who was acquired in another trade with the Athletics.  Garret Atkins anchors the infield at Third and is the team’s best hitter now that Holliday is gone and veteran Todd Helton is back at First.  Helton is coming off his worst professional season where he hit just .264 in only 83 games due to injury.  After posting an unbelievable rookie season in ’07, Troy Tulowitzki’s numbers dropped off dramatically in ’08.  Now that the Rockies’ Shortstop is done with his sophomore slump, most people project him to be back to form in ’09, and that is good news for Rockies fans.  At Second Base there is expected to be a Spring battle between Clint Barmes and 24-year-old Ian Stewart.  Barmes is likely to win the job after he rebounded nicely in ’08 hitting .290 with 11 home runs.  Catching will be Chris Iannetta who still needs to improve defensively but emerged as a solid offensive threat last season.  He hit 18 home runs and drove in 65 RBI.

On the bench will be the losers in the respective battles for Left Field and Second Base along with backup catcher Yorvit Torrealba.  Utility-man Jeff Baker should also make the team.  Minor-league contracts were handed out to veteran catchers Sal Fasano and Paul Phillips, infielder Luis Gonzalez, and outfielders Scott Podsednik and Dan Ortmeier and any one of them could crack the team with a solid spring.

Lineup (Handedness/Age on June 30, 2009)

  • CF  Carlos Gonzalez (L/23)
  • 2B  Clint Barmes (R/30)
  • 1B  Todd Helton (L/35)
  • 3B  Garret Atkins (R/29)
  • RF  Brad Hawpe (L/30)
  • C    Chris Iannetta (R/26)
  • SS  Troy Tulowitzki (R/24)
  • LF  Ryan Spilborghs (R/29)

Bench

  • OF  Seth Smith (L/26)
  • OF  Matt Murton (R/27)
  • INF Ian Stewart (L/24)
  • UTIL Jeff Baker (R/28)
  • C    Yorvit Torrealba (R/30)


Outlook
The Rockies weren’t so much a fluke in ’07 as they were a young team who got on a hot streak at the right time.  They came crashing back down to earth in ’08 but should rebound slightly in ’09.  They still aren’t legitimate contenders but they aren’t much more than a year off either.  Final Prediction: 80-82, 3rd NL West

’09 Preview — Arizona Diamondbacks

arizonadiamondbacks2007logo.gif2008 Record: 82-80, 2nd NL West
2009 Prediction: 1st NL West

Impact Player: Stephen Drew
Impact Pitcher: Brandon Webb
Top Prospect: Jarrod Parker, RHP

Significant Acquisitions: P Jon Garland, P Tom Gordon, P Scott Schoeneweis, 2B Felipe Lopez, INF Josh Wilson
Significant Losses: 2B Orlando Hudson, OF/1B Adam Dunn, UTIL Chris Burke, INF David Eckstein, P Randy Johnson, P Brandon Lyon, P Juan Cruz, P Edgar Gonzalez, P Brandon Medders

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In the short history of the Arizona Diamondbacks, they have
accomplished some very impressive things.  In the first few years, owner
Jerry Colangelo spent a lot of money trying to win; and it worked.  The
D’Backs won the 2001 World Series in only their 4th year of existence. 
Since then, the focus has been more on player development and more conservative
free agent spending.  That seems to have worked as well, as Arizona has
posted back-to-back winning seasons and had an appearance in the 2007
NLCS.  This year, the D’Backs have one of the best pitching staffs in
baseball and a young lineup that could put it all together very, very
soon.  Don’t be at all surprised if this team becomes one of the best in the
NL in 2009

Pitching
As I said in the opening paragraph, the D’Backs have one of the best
pitching staffs in baseball.  They have two top-flight aces in Brandon
Webb and Dan Haren.  Many people think Webb was robbed of his second Cy
Young Award in ’08 after leading the NL in wins with 22 and posting a 3.30
ERA.  Either way, Webb has been easily the best pitcher in the NL since
2006 finishing 2nd or higher in Cy Young voting every year.  He is durable
and harnesses one of the best curveballs in the game.  Haren was brilliant
last season after being traded from Oakland the previous offseason.  Haren
had a career-high in wins with 16 and posted a 3.33 ERA.  He has seen an
increase in wins every year he has been in the majors, so don’t be surprised if
he finishes ’09 with 18-20 wins.  Lefthander Doug Davis battled cancer
last year which limited him to only 146 innings and a 6-8 record.  A
healthy Davis is good for 12-15 wins, and he is apparently 100% again. 
The loss of Randy Johnson to division-rival San Francisco prompted ‘Zona to
sign Jon Garland.  Garland benefited from great run support last year
going 14-8 in spite of a 4.90 ERA.  He is, however, very dependable
posting at least 32 starts every year since ’02 and hitting 200 innings 4 times.  The fifth spot will likely go to 24-year-old Max Scherzer who had a 3.05 ERA in 16 games in ’08.  If he fails to deliver on his promise, young guns Yumeiro Petit and Billy Buckner also have outside shots.

The weakest part of this team could be their bullpen if ’08 numbers are replicated.  There is a wealth of experience in there though, and if pitchers who had bad ’08s rebound in ’09 they should be fine.  The closer job will likely be given to Chad Qualls who posted a 2.81 ERA in ’08 predominately as a setup guy, but if he faulters, Jon Rauch posted 18 saves last year.  Tony Pena also has closer-type stuff and veteran Tom Gordon was signed away from the world champion Phillies and brings with him his 158 career saves.  Lefty Doug Slaten returns and has fellow southpaw Scott Schoeneweis with him.  Schoeneweis posted a 3.34 ERA last year with the Mets, but stuggled badly in big games down the stretch.  Buckner or Petit could also be in the mix for a spot in the ‘pen.

Rotation (Handedness/Age on June 30, 2009)

  • Brandon Webb (R/30)
  • Dan Haren (R/28)
  • Doug Davis (L/33)
  • Jon Garland (R/29)
  • Max Scherzer (R/24)

Bullpen

  • Chad Qualls (R/30)
  • Jon Rauch (R/30)
  • Tony Pena (R/27)
  • Tom Gordon (R/41)
  • Doug Slaten (L/29)
  • Scott Schoeneweis (L/35)
  • Billy Buckner (R/25)

Lineup
The Diamondbacks were a below-average offensive team in ’08 as their young lineup couldn’t retain the momentum it gained in the ’07 season.  Not one projected starter is older than 29 and there’s a lot of talented players that have yet to hit their stride in the majors and should do so soon.  Conor Jackson will move from First to Left Field where he can take advantage of his plus-speed and arm strength defensively.  He should continue to improve with the bat as well.  He hits well for contact and drove in 75 runs in ’08 but has yet to show much power.  Most people believe that he is a 30 HR-threat waiting to happen.  In Center Field, Chris Young returns with his gold glove-caliber defense and plus-power and baserunning ability, but needs to raise his career .243 batting average.  Right Field will belong to Justin Upton who is still only 21 years old and has tremendous upside; think brother B.J. with more pop and slightly less speed.  In the infield, Mark Reynolds returns at Third and needs to strike out less; he did hit 28 home runs last year, however.  Chad Tracy moves from Third to First where he should receive the playing time he deserves and Felipe Lopez was signed to replace Orlando Hudson at second.  If Lopez struggles, veteran Augie Ojeda is still around.  At Shortstop is Stephen Drew who is probably the best all-around hitter on the team.  Last season, Drew hit .291 with 21 home runs and also led the team with 44 doubles and 11 triples.  Catching duties will belong to Chris Snyder who hit 16 home runs and drove in 64 last season in spite of a .237 batting average.  He is solid defensively and also calls the game well.

On the bench will be Ojeda along with pinch-hitter extraordinaire Tony Clark who re-signed for one more year.  Outfielder Eric Byrnes lost his starting job last year but is still a solid fourth outfielder, especially defensively.  The D’Backs round out their bench with 25-year-old backup catcher Miguel Montero who could supersede Snyder if he lives up to his potential.  Infielder Josh Wilson signed a minor-league contract in the offseason and should also crack the team.

Lineup

  • CF  Chris Young (R/25)
  • RF  Justin Upton (R/21)
  • LF  Conor Jackson (R/27)
  • 3B  Mark Reynolds (R/25)
  • SS  Stephen Drew (L/26)
  • C    Chris Snyder (R/28)
  • 1B  Chad Tracy (L/29)
  • 2B  Felipe Lopez (S/29)

Bench

  • INF Augie Ojeda (S/34)
  • INF Josh Wilson (R/28)
  • 1B  Tony Clark (S/37)
  • OF  Eric Byrnes (R/33)
  • C    Miguel Montero (L/25)

Outlook
The Diamondbacks starting pitching will be second-to-none as long as they stay healthy and their bullpen has a lot of experienced arms that could thrive if they only have to throw 2 or 3 innings per game.  Their lineup has lofty potential and you have to expect that sooner rather than later they will be one of the tougher young lineups in the league.  I believe this is their year.  Character veterans like Clark, Byrnes, and Ojeda coming off the bench will provide the guidance this young team needs.  Although the Cubs are the best team on paper, the D’Backs pitching staff could easily go toe-to-toe with them in a post-season series should they meet there.  Expect big things this year in Arizona.  Final Prediction: 93-69, 1st NL West (NL Champions over the Cubs).

’09 Previews — St. Louis Cardinals

st_louis_cardinals.jpg2008 Record: 86-76, 4th NL Central
2009 Prediction: 2nd NL Central

Impact Player: Albert Pujols
Impact Pitcher: Adam Wainwright
Top Prospect: Colby Rasmus, OF

Significant Acquisitions: SS Khalil Greene, P Royce Ring
Significant Losses: 2B Adam Kennedy, SS Cesar Izturis, INF Aaron Miles, INF Felipe Lopez, 1B Josh Phelps, P Braden Looper, P Russ Springer, P Randy Flores, P Mark Mulder, P Jason Isringhausen

With all of the injuries the Cards sustained last season, it’s pretty amazing that they played as well as they did.  In spite of the fact that they had the second most man-games lost to injury in the NL, St. Louis finished with an 86-76 record.  This year, they enter camp healthy and so does Albert Pujols who won the NL MVP in spite of playing injured all of last year.  If the Cards get a fully recovered Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright gets close to 200 innings, Albert Pujols continues to put up his record-breaking-pace numbers, and Kyle Lohse pitces the way he did last year there is no reason why they can’t challenge for the NL Wildcard.  That may sound like a lot of “ifs” but none of those things are unlikely.

Pitching
If they can stay healthy, the Cardinals have one of the best potential rotations in all of baseball.  Adam Wainwright went 11-3 with a 3.20 ERA last year and steps in as the Cards’ #1.  His only problem in ’08 was that injuries limited him to 132 innings.  Kyle Lohse was a bargain-basement signing last spring and ended up to be one of the best pickups in league.  He went 15-6 with a 3.78 ERA and was the only Cardinal to register 200 innings.  He signed a 4-year $41-million deal in the offseason so it’s obvious that the Cards didn’t consider his ’08 a fluke.  The number 3 spot should go to Todd Wellemeyer who impressed managment and his teammates with a strong clubhouse presence and a 13-win, 3.71 ERA season.  The caution against him is that he’s 30-years-old and on his 4th team and hadn’t shown much before last year.  Carpenter has only pitched in 5 games since 2006 and is a risk for further injuries as he has been his entire career.  When healthy, however, he is one of the best pitchers in the game.  At 34, however, one has to wonder how much he has left in the tank, healthy or not.  The fifth spot should go to either Joel Pineiro or Mitchell Boggs depending on who impresses the most in the spring.  Pineiro, who hasn’t been consistent in a starting or relieving role since 2003 could be on thin ice and Boggs has upside but posted a 7.41 ERA in a 34 inning stint with the big club in ’08.  Prospects Adam Ottavino and Brad Furnish have outside shots at landing a spot if they have amazing springs.

In the bullpen, the Cardinals are strong overall but lack a true closer.  The early thought is that manager Tony LaRussa is prepared to go ‘closer-by-committee’ but, as we all know, LaRussa likes his dominating closers (see Eckersley, Isringhausen, etc).  23-year-old Chris Perez has the stuff but lacks in experience; he had 7 saves last year with a 3.46 ERA.  Ryan Franklin does not have typical-closer makeup but is a solid reliever.  He had 17 saves in ’08 and a 3.55 ERA.  Kyle McClellan and Brad Thompson should be in the ‘pen as well in spite of inconsistent ’08s.  Josh Kinney has great stuff and should be given a full-time bullpen spot providing he continues to show improvement and Jason Motte allowed only one earned run in 11 innings in a September callup.  The Cards are short on lefties but signed Royce Ring to a minor-league contract and Furnish could also be in the mix.

Rotation (Handedness/Age on June 30, 2009)

  • Adam Wainwright (R/27)
  • Kyle Lohse (R/30)
  • Todd Wellemeyer (R/30)
  • Chris Carpenter (R/34)
  • Joel Pineiro (R/30)

Bullpen

  • Chris Perez (R/23)
  • Ryan Franklin (R/36)
  • Kyle McClellan (R/25)
  • Josh Kinney (R/30)
  • Brad Thompson (R/27)
  • Jason Motte (R/27)
  • Royce Ring (L/28)

Lineup
The Cards made only one change to a lineup that led the NL in hits and batting average in ’08; adding Khalil Greene.  In the outfield, Ryan Ludwick will start in Right, but buyer beware: last year was his breakout year and he was 29.  Centerfield might go to Colby Rasmus who almost got the job last year.  Rasmus is a potential 5-tool player who needs to mature before he can be a impact major league player.  Converted pitcher Rick Ankiel should start in Left unless Rasmus doesn’t make the team.  In his first full year as an outfielder, Ankiel showed plus defense and hit 25 home runs.  If Rasmus doesn’t make the team there are many other options in Chris Duncan, Skip Schumaker, and Brian Barton.  In the infield, the Cardinals have the best hitter in the NL in Pujols.  He was apparently injured all of last year yet still won an MVP hitting .357 with 37 home runs and 116 RBI.  Pujols is on pace for some truly remarkable career numbers; at only 29, he already has 319 home runs and 977 RBI.  At Third Base is Troy Glaus who can still hit when he’s healthy and is an underrated defender and Greene is the only new offensive addition coming over from San Diego to play Short.  Second Base will be a wide open Spring battle.  Schumaker is apparently being converted to play the position and Brendan Ryan, Brian Barden, prospect Tyler Greene, and veteran Joe Thurston are all said to have a shot.  Catching is Yadier Molina who has become one of the most solid catchers in the NL; he hit .304 in ’08 and won a gold glove.

Because of uncertainty in Centerfield and at Second Base, predicting who will be on the Cards’ bench is futile.  Schumaker, Duncan, and backup catcher Jason LaRue are likely locks to make the team, but Barton, Barden, Thurston, Greene, and Ryan will be involved in a heated battle.

Lineup (Handedness/Age on June 30, 2009)

  • SS  Khalil Greene (R/29)
  • 2B  Skip Schumaker (L/29)
  • 1B  Albert Pujols (R/29)
  • 3B  Troy Glaus (R/32)
  • RF  Ryan Ludwick (R/30)
  • LF  Rick Ankiel (L/29)
  • C    Yadier Molina (R/26)
  • CF  Colby Rasmus (L/22)

Bench

  • INF Brendan Ryan (R/27)
  • OF  Brian Barton (R/27)
  • OF/1B Chris Duncan (L/28)
  • C    Jason LaRue (R/35)
  • INF Brian Barden (R/28)

Outlook
The Cardinals have a very good lineup and one of the game’s best hitters.  Their pitching staff looks solid on paper and if they can remain healthy they could be one of the top units in the NL.  Khalil Greene isn’t much of a defensive downgrade from the departing Cesar Izturis and if he can regain his former offensive form, the Cardinals will be very tough to beat.  Final Prediction: 86-76, 2nd NL Central