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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

NL West Preview

Finally, we end up in NL West, where the top 3 teams all believe that they have a shot at winning the division. Manny Ramirez's return to LA likely pits the Dodgers as the favorite, but they have a few teams (Giants and D-Backs) right on their heels that are looking to improve on what they did in 2008.

1st Place, Los Angeles Dodgers
Lineup:
SS Rafael Furcal
2B Orlando Hudson
CF Matt Kemp
LF Manny Ramirez
C Russel Martin
RF Andre Ethier
1B James Looney
3B Casey Blake

Pitching:
RHP Hiroki Kuroda
LHP Randy Wolf
RHP Chad Billingsley
LHP Clayton Kershaw
RHP James McDonald
SU: Hong-Chih Kuo
CL: Jonathon Broxton

DL- RHP Jason Schmidt (May)

Position-by-position, the Dodgers are the best team in the division, hands down. The re-signing of Manny Ramirez puts them right back into the drivers seat in the NL West and unless Manny gets hurt, that's where they should stay all season. They have speed, they play good defense and they'll score runs, but the only question surrounds their starting rotation. Chad Billingsley was roughed up this spring and may not be %100 going into the regular season and although he's slated as the #3, he's the most important pitcher to that starting rotation. Clayton Kershaw is also being counted on heavily this season and the 21 year-old lefty must live up to his reputation if the Dodgers are going to hold off the Giants and D-Backs. Any contribution the Dodgers get from Jason Schmidt would be an un-expected bonus. The bullpen should be a strength, led by Broxton and Kuo so if your going to beat the Dodgers, your going to have to do it in the first 7 innings.

2nd Place, San Francisco Giants
Lineup:
RF Randy Winn
SS Edgar Renteria
LF Fred Lewis
C Bengie Molina
3B Pablo Sandoval
CF Aaron Rowand
1B Travis Ishikawa
2B Emannuel Burris

Pitching:
RHP Tim Lincecum
LHP Randy Johnson
RHP Matt Cain
LHP Barry Zito
LHP Jonathon Sanchez
SU: Bob Howry
CL: Brian Wilson

DL: LHP Noah Lowry (could miss season, still undetermined)

The Giants improved in the off-season with the addition of Randy Johnson and Edgar Renteria, and also strenghtened their bullpen with the addition of Bob Howry and Jeremy Affeldt. A lot of people think Renteria isn't nearly the player he was just 2-3 years ago, but he's going to be better offensively than anything the Giants have had at short since 2003, and he'll play better defense than he did in Detroit (he's lost some weight and has more range than he did any point last season). The Giants are also hoping youngsters Pablo Sandoval, Travis Ishikawa and Fred Lewis continue to blossom like they did last season. Aaron Rowand isn't going to be the offensive player he was in Philly in 2007, but I am expecting him to be better than he was during his first go-round in San Francisco. If the offense can manage 4-5 runs per night, that should be plenty of support. The pitching staff is a huge strength as they very well could have the best starting rotation in the National League and their bullpen is much improved. It's still a mystery as to whether or not they'll be able to score enough runs to support their starters, but if they do, they could end up winning this division or at least making some noise in the NL wild card race. Either way, the Giants have more talent on their team than they've had in a few years and a lot of it is young talent, meaning that the tide is finally turning in the city by the bay. For a more in-depth Giants preview and stat predictions, check out this post.

3rd Place, Arizona Diamondbacks
Lineup:
2B Felipe Lopez
CF Chris Young
SS Stephen Drew
LF Conor Jackson
1B Chad Tracy
3B Mark Reynolds
RF Justin Upton/Eric Byrnes
C Chris Snyder

Pitching:
RHP Brandon Webb
RHP Dan Haren
LHP Doug Davis
RHP Jon Garland
RHP Max Sherzer
SU: Tony Pena
CL: Chad Qualls

The Diamondbacks have a ton of talent in their lineup, but not all of these guys have realized their potential yet. Chris Young and Justin Upton need to improve their plate discipline if they're going to start living up to their hype. Mark Reynolds also needs to cut down on his strikeouts and it would be nice for them to get a full year out of Chad Tracy, who's only played in half of the previous 2 seasons. Those things happen, this lineup will be a force to be reckoned with and they have more than enough pitching to support them. Brandon Webb and Dan Haren are the best 1-2 punch in baseball, IMO, and they have two solid veterans (Garland and Davis) and a young phenom (Scherzer) backing them up. The bullpen is young bunch of arms, but they have talent, even after losing Juan Cruz and Brandon Lyon. They still have 3 guys who could close for them in Jon Rauch, Pena and Qualls (who will actually be better than previous closer, Brandon Lyon) and a solid lefty specialist in Scott Schoeneweis. The bench is also a strength for the snakes as they have Eric Byrnes in the 4th outfield spot and Tony Clark backing up at first. They have the talent, and if that talent plays like they're capable of, then the D-Backs could run away with the division.

4th Place, Colorado Rockies
Lineup:
CF Ryan Spillborghs
SS Troy Tulowitzki
1B Todd Helton
3B Garrett Atkins
RF Brad Hawpe
2B Ian Stewart/Jeff Baker
C Chris Ianetta
LF Seth Smith/Carlos Gonzalez

Pitching:
RHP Aaron Cook
RHP Ubaldo Jimenez
LHP Jorge De La Rosa
RHP Jason Marquis
LHP Franklin Morales
SU: Manny Corpas
CL: Huston Street

DL: LHP Jeff Francis (out for season), RHP Taylor Buchholz (early-May)

The Rockies, much like the D-Backs, have a lot of young talent on their roster. The Matt Holliday-trade brought in a few guys who will play key roles for the Rockies right away in outfielder, Carlos Gonzalez and starting pitcher, Greg Smith. While that trade may not work out the best for them in 2009 (both of those players will start the year in AAA), they'll definitely start reaping the benefits next season and beyond. They also have Todd Helton and Garrett Atkins, who very well could be dealt at mid-season if the Rockies are out of it, and those guys would bring the Rocks' even more young talent to build around. I really like the makings of their starting rotation, led by Cook and Jimenez, even after the loss of Francis for the year. Jorge De La Rosa needs to become more consistent, be he became one of the tougher lefties in the league to hit last season as he really came into his own. The bullpen is a solid group as they have two guys who could share the closing duties throughout the year in Street and Corpas and one of the better right-handed set-up men in baseball in Taylor Buchholz. Still though, they aren't quite ready to take on the better teams in this division.

5th Place, San Diego Padres
Lineup:
CF Jody Gerut
SS David Eckstein
RF Brian Giles
1B Adrian Gonzalez
3B Kevin Kouzmanoff
LF Chase Headley
C Nick Hundley
2B Edgar Gonzalez

Pitching:
RHP Jake Peavy
RHP Chris Young
RHP Cha Sueng Baek
RHP Kevin Correia
RHP Shawn Hill
SU: Cla Merideth
CL: Heath Bell

The Padres are going to be one of the weaker teams in the National league, unless they have some extremely good luck. I really like Adrian Gonzalez and Chase Headley looks like he's primed for a nice breakout season, but their lineup is old and slow. 3/5 of their rotation is made up of guys signed minor league contracts or who were originally brought on as relievers. I'm sorry, but Cha Sueng Baek as a fifth starter isn't going to get you very far. The bullpen is also a question mark after losing their closer of the past 15 years, Trevor Hoffman, and replacing him with a career middle reliever in Heath Bell. If Giles and Eckstien find a fountain of youth, and their young bats, Kouzmanoff and Headley have all-star seasons, then maybe the Pads will make some noise, but those are not realistic probabilities.

Giants Notes: The Giants 25-man roster appears un-officially set, as Bruce Bochy and co. made some moves and comments on Tuesday that appear to have cleared up all the question marks. As expected, Manny Burris was named the starting second basemen, but surprisingly, Kevin Frandsen will start the year in Fresno, where he can play everyday, instead of making the 25-man roster out of the gate. That was the plan for Burris coming into the spring, but his play forced the Giants to to flip-the-script. Instead of Frandsen, the Giants will carry Juan Uribe, Rich Aurilia and Eugenio Velez as the reserve infielders, with Nate Schierholtz and Andres Torres getting the 4th and 5th outfield spots. Another surprising thing about the roster that will open the year, is that they will only have one catcher, Bengie Molina. Now, Pablo Sandoval will back him up and is a fine catcher, but the Giants are asking him to concentrate on third base right now, and moving him back behind the plate a lot could interfere with that.

It also appears that rule V draftee, Luis Perdomo, is going to make the team, as Bochy informed Brandon Medders and Justin Miller that they will likely be asked to throw in Fresno to start the year. So, the 'pen looks like it will consist of Brian Wilson, Bob Howry, Jeremy Affeldt, Merkin Valdez, Alex Hinshaw, Luis Perdomo and either Ramon Ortiz or Keeichi Yabu as the long-reliever (assuming they don't make a move to acquire another reliever).
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Sunday, March 29, 2009

NL Central Preview

The NL Central is one of the more evenly matched divisions in baseball. The top three teams in the division have a legit shot at reaching the playoffs, which should make for an exciting regular season.

1st Place, Chicago Cubs
Lineup:
LF Alfonso Soriano
SS Ryan Theriot
1B Derek Lee
RF Milton Bradley
3B Aramis Ramirez
C Geovany Soto
CF Kosuke Fukudome
2B Mike Fontenot

Pitching:
RHP Carlos Zambrano
RHP Rich Harden
LHP Ted Lilly
RHP Ryan Dempster
LHP Sean Marshall
SU: Carlos Marmol
CL: Kevin Gregg

The Cubs are once again loaded with talent, top to bottom. The problem they've had over the last couple of years though is keeping everybody healthy, especially their starting pitching. Zambrano and Harden are a potentially great 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation, but it's really anyones guess as to whether or not these guys will last the whole season. Their bullpen should be a strength as they have two guys who can close in Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg. Pinella has hinted that Gregg could open the year in the closers seat as Marmol has struggled this spring, but they could flip-flop at some point in the year, depending on performance. The lineup got a nice addition in Milton Bradley, but he has health issues of his own to worry about. Now, if the Cubbies can keep these guys off the disabled list in 2009, they have the talent on paper to win over 100 ballgames, but we know that injuries happen in baseball and chances of them staying healthy are slim. They'll need to minimize their health problems and get strong, complete seasons from Harden, Zambrano and Soriano, or else they'll lose their grasp of this division.

2nd Place, St. Louis Cardinals
Lineup:
2B Skip Schumaker
CF Rick Ankiel
1B Albert Pujols
RF Ryan Ludwick
LF Chris Duncan
SS Khalil Green
C Yadier Molina
3B David Freese

DL: 3B Troy Glaus (June)

Pitching:
RHP Adam Wainwright
RHP Chris Carpenter
RHP Kyle Lohse
RHP Todd Wellemeyer
RHP Joel Pineiro
SU: Ryan Franklin
CL: Jason Motte

The Cardinals are led by Albert Pujols and Tony LaRussa and I've learned to never count those guys out, even when they may not have the best talent in the division. That's the case here as the Brewers might have more all-around talent than the Cards, but having a %100 healthy Pujols in the lineup and a healthy Chris Carpenter in the rotation should be enough to overcome some of their other weaknesses. Losing Troy Glaus until at least May hurts, but he'll be back at %100 in June and even in a shortened 4 month season, he'll still give the Cards 25 (hr) and 90 (RBI). I really like how they've constructed their lineup as they have one of the most powerful offensive lineups in baseball, consisting of at least 6 guys who should hit 20+ home runs this season (Ankiel, Pujols, Ludwick, Green, Glaus and Duncan). Their starting rotation is a lot better than people give them credit for as well. Wainwright, Wellemeyer and Lohse were rock-solid last year and the addition of Carpentar will only help. They do have some questions in the bullpen, where they don't have a sure thing at closer, but they're hoping Jason Motte and Chris Perez take the initiative there.

3rd Place, Milwaukee Brewers
Lineup:
2B Rickie Weeks
SS J.J. Hardy
LF Ryan Braun
1B Prince Fielder
RF Corey Hart
CF Mike Cameron
3B Bill Hall
C Jason Kendal

Pitching:
RHP Jeff Suppan
RHP Yovani Gallardo
LHP Manny Parra
RHP Braden Looper
RHP Dave Bush
SU: Seth McClung
CL: Trevor Hoffman

The Brewers could have been one of the NL favorites had they figured out a way to retain CC Sabathia, but unfortunately for them, it was never going to happen. What I don't understand, is why they didn't try and replace him or Ben Sheets with someone else, and there were options (Derek Lowe, A.J. Burnett, Randy Johnson, Oliver Perez, just to name a few). They did add the ancient Trevor Hoffman to the back-end of their bullpen and although he's ancient, Hoffman is still a decent pitcher and a better than average closer. I think Rickie Weeks is primed for a big year and the four guys following him are all-star caliber hitters, so offense won't be an issue. But every other facet of the game will be. They lack both the starting pitching, and the relief help to be able to match up with the Cubs and Cards, and they aren't the best defensive bunch in the league. If they make another mid-season blockbuster acquisition this July though, all bets are off, but as they sit now, they're a nice team, but not quite a playoff one. They do have the chips to make that move though as shortstop Alcides Escobar is a 5-star prospect and either he or J.J. Hardy (plus someone like Tony Gwynn Jr.) could probably get the Brewers some a pitcher or two and certainly improve their chances.

4th Place, Cincinatti Reds
Lineup:
CF Chris Dickerson
LF Jerry Hairston Jr.
RJ Jay Bruce
2B Brandon Phillips
1B Joey Votto
3B Edwin Encarnacion
C Ramon Hernandez
SS Alex Gonzalez

Pitching:
RHP Edison Volqeuz
RHP Aaron Harang
RHP Bronson Arroyo
RHP Johnny Cueto
RHP Micah Owings
SU: David Weathers
CL: Francisco Cordero

The Reds are starting to fill their roster out with home grown talent, and they're still a few years away from being legit contenders. Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips are both potential all-stars and Jay Bruce and Chris Dickerson look like they have bright futures as well but this lineup lost 40 home runs and 100 RBI with when they dealt Adam Dunn away, and the offense will feel the loss. Surprisingly, the spot where the Reds do have an advantage on some of the other teams in the division is in the rotation. They have put together a nice array of veterans and youth with Arroyo and Harrang providing leadership and Cueto, Volquez and Bailey providing the young power arms of the future (assuming Bailey can take that next step this season). They also have stability in their bullpen, which is more than a lot of teams can say. I just don't see them scoring quite enough runs to keep up with the teams I have ahead of them here.

5th Place, Houston Astros

Lineup:
2B Kaz Matsui
CF Michael Bourn
1B Lance Berkman
LF Carlos Lee
RF Hunter Pence
SS Miguel Tejada
C Ivan Rodriguez
3B Geoff Blum

Pitching:
RHP Roy Oswalt
LHP Wandy Rodriguez
RHP Brian Moehler
LHP Mike Hampton
RHP Russ Ortiz
SU: LaTroy Hawkins
CL: Jose Valverde

Like seemingly every other team in the division, offense won't be a problem for the Astros. The addition of Pudge gives them a veteran heavy squad who shouldn't hesitate to put up runs. However, when you move down the roster to the pitching department, you see their gaping holes. Outside of Oswalt and Rodriguez, their rotation is made up of castoffs and wash-ups. Brian Moehler and Mike Hampton would have been great adds....8 years ago. The bullpen is rock solid though as Jose Valverde is one of the more underrated closers in baseball, but their starting pitching won't keep them close enough for that to matter much.

6th Place, Pittsburgh Pirates
Lineup:
LF Nyjer Morgan
2B Freddy Sanchez
CF Nate McLouth
C Ryan Doumit
1B Adam LaRoche
3B Andy LaRoche
RF Brandon Moss
SS Jack Wilson

Pitching:
LHP Paul Maholm
RHP Ian Snell
LHP Zack Duke
RHP Ross Olendorf
RHP Jeff Karstens
SU: John Grabow
CL: Matt Capps

The Pirates are one of the least talented teams in the National League, no two ways about it. Their everyday lineup lacks power and run production. They also have very little team speed to speak of and they don't have many hitters who hit for particularly high averages. I like Nate McLouth and Ryan Doumit but those guys aren't nearly good enough to carry this offense by themselves. The bullpen is probably the strength of their team heading into the season, and even that isn't a very strong group. They have major questions surrounding their starting rotation. Their top 3 (Maholm, Snell and Duke) are solid when they're on, but they've all been very inconsistent in their careers. Snell (7-12, 5.42 era) and Duke (5-14, 4.82 era) both need to rebound in a big way if the Pirates are going to avoid being rearded the #1 pick in June 2010's Amateur draft.

Giants Notes: As was expected, the Giants traded reliever Jack Taschner this Friday, and actually got something halfway decent in return for him. At first they got Ronny Paulino and it looked like he was going to be Bengie Molina's back-up, but then they flipped Paulino to the Marlins for 21 year-old right-hander, Hector Correa. Now, Correa isn't a premiere prospect by any stretch, but he's had some success as a pro and only turned 21 a week ago. The 6'4", 175 pounder struggled in 2008 as he battled an arm injury for most of the year, but really showed his potential when healthy in 2006/07. He's a tall, hard thrower, who averages 91-93 mph on the fastball with a big hook, but his secondary pitches need work. In the rookie league in '06, he carried a 1.76 era through 41 innings in his brief stint after being drafted in the 4th round of the amateur draft. The following year, in low-A ball for Florida in '07 (the same level Madison Bumgarner pitched at for the Giants in 2008), Correa made 11 starts, going 6-2 with a 3.22 era, striking out 83 batters in just 58 innings of work. Last year he only threw a combined 12.2 innings in the low minors in Florida's system as he didn't really get healthy all year. I would expect to see the Giants start Correa off in either low-A Augusta or high-A San Jose and he should be an intriguing arm to follow in 2009.
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Friday, March 27, 2009

NL East Division Preview

The National League East is going to be one of the best divisions in baseball in 2009, much like their American League counterpart. There is a ton of talent in the division, including the reigning world champs, so whoever comes out of the NL East will likely be the team to beat in NL playoffs. It also wouldn't surprise me to see the top 3 teams (Mets, Phills and Marlins) all finish within a few games of each other.

1st Place, New York Mets
Lineup:
SS Jose Reyes
LF Daniel Murphy
3B David Wright
CF Carlos Beltran
1B Carlos Delgado
RF Ryan Church
C Brian Schnieder
2B Luis Castillo

Pitching:
LHP Johan Santana
RHP Mike Pelfrey
LHP Oliver Perez
RHP John Maine
RHP Livan Hernandez
SU: J.J. Putz
CL: Francisco Rodriguez

DL: RHP Tim Redding (late-April/early-May)

The Mets are bringing back the exact same lineup that ended the season for them last year and are hoping they all can stay healthy. If they do so, they should have one of the better offenses in the league. I'm still waiting for David Wright to become a worthy MVP candidate after predicting him as the NL's MVP last season. He and Jose Reyes are still going to get even better. The only thing I worry about offensive wise with them is that they are pretty stacked with left-handed hitters and could be exposed against some of the better left-handed pitching in the NL. Johan Santana leads an above average starting rotation followed by youngsters Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez. The real strength of the team this season though lies in the bullpen. The Mets have two closers to shorten games and their ninth inning guy could be the best in the business. They'll play solid defense as well.

2nd Place, Philadelphia Phillies (NL Wild Card Winner)
Lineup
SS Jimmy Rollins
CF Shane Victorino
2B Chase Utley
1B Ryan Howard
RF Jayson Werth
LF Raul Ibanez
3B Pedro Feliz
C Carlos Ruiz

Pitching:
LHP Cole Hamels*
RHP Brett Myers
LHP Jamie Moyer
RHP Joe Blanton
RHP Chan Ho Park
SU: Ryan Madson
CL: Brad Lidge

*Hamels will miss at least first 2 weeks of the season.

The Phillies are once again going to be an offensive juggernaut, as their 1-4 hitters are probably the best in baseball. Ryan Howard is a perennial MVP candidate and Chase Utely has become the left-handed version of Jeff Kent when Kent was in his prime with San Francisco. They are a pretty sound defensive ball club as well, especially adding Ibanez and losing Burrell. The pitching has a lot of question marks though, and that's whats going to hold this team back in my mind. Their ace and the key to their success, Cole Hamels, is having issues with his elbow and if he goes down for any long period of time, their playoff hopes will likely go with him. Also, I respect the heck out of Jamie Moyer and call me cynical, but I just can't see him repeating what he did last season. The Phills still have plenty of talent up and down the roster though and a solid add to the starting rotation (Roy Oswalt and Erik Bedard are two guys who could be available mid-season) could push them over the top, but I like New York at this point for the division.

3rd Place, Florida Marlins
Lineup:
CF Cameron Maybin
C John Baker
SS Hanley Ramirez
3B Jorge Cantu
2B Dan Uggla
LF Jeremy Hermida
RF Cody Ross
1B Gaby Sanchez/Dallas McPherson

Pitching:
RHP Ricky Nolasco
RHP Josh Johnson
RHP Chris Volstad
RHP Annibal Sanchez
LHP Andrew Miller
SU: Leo Nunez
CL: Matt Lindstrom

The Marlins have a load of talent on their roster and if they gel, they can certainly make some noise this season. Hanley Ramirez is one of the best young players in baseball. In fact, if I had to select one position player to start building a franchise around right now, it would be HanRam. Cameron Maybin is as elite as they come, prospect wise, and the Marlins are hoping for a huge rookie season from the 22 year-old. I also really like the potential of their starting rotation. None of their starters are older than 26, and all of them have huge upside. Nolasco, Johnson and Sanchez have already proven what they can do if healthy and Volstad had a terrific rookie season last year compiling a 2.88 era in 14 starts over the second half of the year. The big question with the Marlins outside of the lack of experience, is their bullpen. Lindstrom should be a fine closer, but he's had some arm issues this spring and he isn't exactly surrounded by the best bunch of relievers. Still, the Marlins have talent and a lucky break here or there mixed with some bad luck for either the Phills or Mets (like Hamels missing an extended period of time or the Mets once again underachieving) could put the Marlins right into the thick of things.

4th Place, Atlanta Braves
Lineup:
2B Kelly Johnson
SS Yunel Escobar
3B Chipper Jones
C Brian McCann
1B Casey Kotchman
RF Jeff Francoeur
LF Garrett Anderson
CF Jordan Schafer

Pitching:
RHP Derek Lowe
RHP Jair Jurrjens
RHP Javier Vazquez
LHP Tom Glavine
RHP Kenshin Kawakami
SU: Rafael Soriano
CL: Mike Gonzalez

The Braves are in partial rebuilding mode. They still have their centerpiece, Chipper Jones, but the only other 30-something year-old player in the everyday lineup is the newly-acquired Garrett Anderson. I am expecting a rebound season out of Francoeur, who struggled mightily last season. I also like McCann, Johnson, Escobar and Kotchman as a nice core of position players that they're building around, but they need some more pop in the lineup. The rotation is so-so, not great, but good enough to keep them in games on most nights. Lowe and Vazquez were nice additions, but they don't really have a clear-cut ace. The bullpen should be pretty solid if they're healthy. They could have a two-headed monster at closer with Soriano and Gonzalez and solid set-up man in Manny Acosta. The Braves are a nice team, but this division isn't an easy one and they don't have quite the all-around talent as the three teams I have ahead of them.

5th Place, Washington Nationals
Lineup:
SS Christian Guzman
2B Anderson Hernandez
3B Ryan Zimmerman
LF Adam Dunn
CF Lastings Milledge
RF Elijah Dukes
1B Nick Johnson
C Jesus Flores

Pitching:
LHP John Lannan
RHP Daniel Cabrera
LHP Scott Olson
RHP Jordan Zimmermann
RHP Shairon Martis
SU: Joe Beimel
CL: Joel Hanrahan

The Nationals are kind of like the Marlins, except they haven't developed the pitching that the Marlins have yet. However, they may have something in the works. John Lannan had a nice rookie campaign (9 wins, 3.91 era, 117 k's in 182 IP's) last season and the 'Nats are handing him the ball opening day. They also have the young phenom, Jordan Zimmermann, set to make his major league debut in a few weeks and some people feel he has a great shot at taking home the NL Rookie of the Year award this season. Cabrera and Olson also still have some upside, although both need to gain more consistency to the strike zone. Their lineup is a pretty exciting one and should put up some fireworks this summer. Elijah Dukes and Lastings Milledge are building blocks in the outfield and Ryan Zimmerman looks like the franchise third basemen for years to come. They also added 40 home run/100 RBI machine Adam Dunn at a bargain basement price (2 years, $20 million). The bullpen is thin though, and they don't have nearly enough starting pitching yet to start competing with the Mets and Phillies. They are getting close though.

Giants Notes: In Scottsdalle, Bruce Bochy started the Giants' projected opening day lineup in Thursday nights game vs. the Cubs (who also had most of their regulars in the lineup) and the first unit impressed. Barry Zito got the start and had a strong outing, going 5 innings, allowing 3 runs on 7 hits while striking out 7 batters. It was Zito's second positive start in a row and it looks like he's buckling down with the regular season a little over a week away. The offensive charge was led by Fred Lewis (2-2, RBI, 2 runs) and Pablo Sandoval (2-4, 2 RBI, 2 runs). Edgar Renteria got on base twice, and Travis Ishikawa and Aaron Rowand each had RBI's in the 5-3 victory as well. Emmanuel Burris got the start in the game at second base and hit 8th in the lineup, which is where he'll probably be on April 7th vs. the Brewers. The win improved the Giants spring record to 16-14, but they're also laying a beating on Indians as I type. Jonathan Sanchez got the start in the game and has gone 5 strong, allowing 1 run while striking out 5. The reason why I mention the spring record is because over the last few springs the Giants have had pathetic Cactus League showings and they've ended up sub-par regular seasons as well. Not saying a winning spring will mean a winning regular season for the Giants, but the fact that they are winning games period is a step in the right direction. Spring training or not, this team is learning what it takes to win ballgames.
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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

AL West Division Preview

The AL West seems like one of the easier divisions in baseball to predict this year. There's the class of the division, the LA Angels, then the rest of the bunch could basically finish in any order behind them. Here's how I think it will go:

1st Place, Los Angeles Angels
Lineup:
3B Chone Figgins
2B Howie Kendrick
RF Vladimir Guerrero
LF Bobby Abreu
CF Torri Hunter
1B Kendry Morales
DH Gary Matthews Jr.
C Mike Napoli
SS Erick Aybar

Pitching:
RHP John Lackey
RHP Ervin Santana
LHP Joe Saunders
RHP Jered Weaver
RHP Dustin Moseley
SU: Scott Shields
CL: Brian Fuentes

DL: RHP Kelvin Escobar (late-April)

The Angels' move to obtain Bob Abreu went way under the radar, but that move really completed their offense if you ask me. Their lineup has everything; speed, power, average and clutch hitters all the way down the order. Their starting rotation has some question marks entering the season, as both Escobar and Santana may not open the year on the 25-man roster, although Santana should be back within the first couple of weeks of the season and Escobar before the first month. In other words, their starting pitching should be at full strength come May. They also play good defense and despite the loss of one of the game's premiere closers, Francisco Rodriguez, their bullpen is again amongst the AL's best. If their boppers stay healthy, and Escobar and Santana come back strong, they really should run away with the AL West, once again.

2nd Place, Oakland Athletics
Lineup-
CF Ryan Sweeney
SS Orlando Cabrera
LF Matt Holliday
DH Jason Giambi
RF Jack Cust
3B Eric Chavez/Nomar G.
C Kurt Suzuki
2B Mark Ellis
1B Daric Barton/Nomar G.

Pitching:
RHP Justin Duchsherer
LHP Dallas Braden
LHP Dana Eveland
RHP Sean Gallagher
RHP Trevor Cahill
SU: Joey Devine
CL: Brad Zieglar

The A's could end up being a very good ballclub, or they could end up tanking, depending largely in part to their health. They have some age/injury concerns which hold the key to the teams offensive success (Giambi, Nomar, Chavez, Cabrera). We know Holliday's going to give them 25+ home runs 100+ RBI with a .300 average while giving Oakland their best hitter since Miguel Tejada was around. I also think that Giambi can still be a successful DH if he can share some of the duties with Nomar. If they can get anything out of Eric Chavez this season, that would be huge as Jack Hannahan wasn't the answer there last year. I like the makings of their young starting rotation, and they need Duchsherer healthy all year to lead them. Trevor Cahill is a bright young arm and should have a nice rookie year and Dallas Braden reminds me a lot of Noah Lowry, unfortunately he can't seem to stay healthy though either. Mr. Steady, Dana Eveland should continue to progress, albeit marginally. They have the bullpen to succeed as well with Zieglar and Devine (although his shoulder is an issue) both shutting the door on teams. If the vets are healthy and the pitching keeps progressing, the A's could win 80-85 ballgames in this division, easy, but I just don't see all of it clicking.

3rd Place, Seattle Mariners
Lineup-
RF Ichiro Suzuki
SS Yuniesky Betancourt
DH Ken Griffey Jr.
3B Adrian Beltre
2B Jose Lopez
1B Russell Branyan
CF Franklin Gutierez
C Jeff Clement/Kenji Johjima
LF Wladimer Balentien

Pitching:
RHP Felix Hernandez
LHP Eric Bedard
LHP Jerrod Washburn
RHP Carlos Silva
LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith
SU: Tyler Wakler
CL: Mark Lowe

DL: RHP Brandon Morrow (mid-April)

The Mariners are in full on rebuilding mode. Take away Ichiro, Ken Griffey Jr. and Adrian Beltre from the lineup and everyone's 25 or under, and the youngsters, although some have high ceilings (Balentien and Clement), have proved little to nothing at this level. I really do like that starting rotation though, and I think Eric Bedard is in line for a nice comeback year. 2007 #1 pick, Phillipe Aumont, is in the wings and could help this season after pitching for team Canada in the WBC. I'm also still waiting for the year that Hernandez realizes his potential and puts it all together: sub-3 era, 200+ strikeouts and 15+ victories. They also will play pretty good D. It's the bullpen that's the team's major weakness, as they will be hard pressed to hold any leads that they do get, led by Tyler Walker, Miguel Batista and Mark Lowe.

4th Place, Texas Rangers
Lineup:
2B Ian Kinsler
3B Michael Young
DH Hank Blalock
CF Josh Hamilton
RF Nelson Cruz
LF Marlon Byrd
1B Chris Davis
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
SS Elvis Andrus/Omar Vizquel

Pitching:
RHP Kevin Millwood
RHP Vicente Padilla
LHP Matt Harrison
RHP Brandon McCarthy
RHP Scott Feldmen
SU:C.J. Wilson
SL: Frank Francisco

Once again, the Rangers have the offense to keep up with practically anybody on the universe. Hamilton and Kinsler are all-stars and MVP candidates and Chris Davis looks like one of the next members of the new age sluggers (Ryan Braun, Josh Hamilton, Prince Fielder ect...). However, their pitching just seems to get worse and worse each year. I like Brandon McCarthy, and I think he can still turn it around if he gets healthy, but they just don't have much in their rotation. Millwood and Padilla are on the downside while Feldman and some of the other are what they call 4A pitchers (advanced for AAA, but not quite good enough for the show). The bullpen is a little better than last years, but they won't often get leads to hold onto with that rotation getting them the ball. Maybe if they could somehow add a starting pitching....or two... or three, then they could jump right up there with the Angels and they may have a few in their system. Youngsters Neftali Perez (19) and Derek Holland (22) could arrive in the second half of 2009 and provide a huge shot in the arm for the rotation.
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Monday, March 23, 2009

Giants Notes

I wanted to break away from the divisional previews for a post because there has been a lot going on in Giants camp recently, including a game Monday which included appearances from both Randy Johnson and Tim Lincecum vs. the Mariners. Johnson didn't throw quite the way he wanted to, throwing only 3 innings, giving up 2 earned runs on 3 hits. Lincecum threw a little better as he was the second Giants starter to go 6 innings in an outing this spring, giving up 3 runs on 4 hits while striking out a batter. Bruce Bochy said that from here on out, starters are going to start getting into the 5th and 6th innings with more regularity as there is only about a week left on the Cactus League schedule. Another positive to come from Monday's game in Scottsdale was the play of Pablo Sandoval. The Giants 22 year-old third basemen hit his 3rd home run of the spring while going 3-4 Monday, raising his spring average to .442. Again, nobody is going to expect Sandoval to carry this into the regular season, or even perform like he did at the end of the '08 season, but he's showing his capabilities and if he can fully adapt to third base, the Giants may have found themselves the answer there for the foreseeable future. The Giants did lose the game Monday, but positives continue to spring up all over camp as Spring Training 2009 has been pretty good to the Giants thus far.

In other ST news, it looks like Emannuel Burris is inching closer and closer to being named the opening day starter at second base and a decision could come as soon as this week. Originally, the plan was to announce the winner of the competition in April, but Bochy would rather get his first unit assigned and playing together over that last week so a decision should be coming here in the next few days. On numbers alone, Burris has won the gig, hands down. He's hitting .407 and leading all probable regulars in OBP. He's also stealing bases and has been playing much more up to par defensively over the last few weeks. Early on in spring he had a game where he committed a few errors, but he's been almost flawless since then. Frandsen has done pretty good in his own right though, hitting .333 with a home run and 5 RBI. Both are going to be on the big league roster, and both will see their time at second base, but I think Burris will enter the year atop the depth chart there.

While the second base situation seems to be clearing up, the bullpen and bench spots couldn't be more unpredictable at this point. On the bench, the Giants seem to have at least 3 sure things in Nate Schierholtz, Steve Holm and Kevin Frandsen. However, the decision on whether to start the year with a 12-man pitching staff or not hasn't been made yet, so it's not even clear how many bench spots there will be available. Jesus Guzman and Andres Torres are really forcing the Giants to take a long look at them, but guys like Rich Aurilia, Eugenio Velez and Juan Uribe seem to be the favorites for the remaining spots. In the pen, there seems to be only 3 sure bets right now too, as nobody is guaranteed anything, outside of Bob Howry, Jeremy Affeldt and Brian Wilson. The team is trying to find a long-reliever and could end up turning Brandon Medders into just that, which could be his ticket onto the roster. They have also been looking outside the organization as Will Ohman's name has surfaced a few times recently as the Giants try and find a more consistent lefty to help out Affeldt. It looks like they have lost faith in Jack Taschner, who thinks he'll be traded by opening day, and they don't seem too confident in Merkin Valdez's health, even though he's out of options. So yes, the Cactus League is winding down, but things are just starting to get interesting.

Note: Tomorrow, I will be back to the predictions and carry through with those until I finish. Sorry for those of you visiting for strictly Giants news. I will be adding updates at the end of the prediction posts.
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Friday, March 20, 2009

'09 AL Central Preview

The AL Central, in my mind, is going to be one of the tougher divisions to pick this season. They're really isn't a clear-cut favorite, but here's my take:

1st Place, Minnesota Twins
Lineup-
CF Denard Span
2B Alexi Casilla
C Joe Mauer
1B Justin Morneau
RF Michael Cuddyer
DH Jason Kubel
3B Joe Crede
LF Delmon Young/Carlos Gomez
SS Nick Punto

Pitching-
RHP Scott Baker
LHP Francisco Liriano
RHP Kevin Slowey
LHP Glen Perkins
RHP Nick Blackburn
SU: Jesse Crain
CL: Joe Nathan

I think the Twins will stay the most consistent in this division because of their starting pitching. Scott Baker is vastly underrated and Francisco Liriano looks like he's fully healthy and ready to rock after finishing strong in '08. If he stays healthy all year, he should be amongst the AL Cy Young candidates. Their lineup is also young and has the potential to be very good. I think Joe Mauer (if he gets healthy sooner than later) and Justin Morneau are ready to take another step and become even better ballplayers than they've been. Both of those guys should be in the AL MVP discussion come September as well. The only question I have with the Twins (outside of how Mauer's back will hold up) is with their bullpen. It's still led by Joe Nathan and Jesse Crain, but it's not as strong as it's been in years past (the loss of Pat Neshek is big) as they have some unproven guys down there playing some big roles. Still though, their pitching should hold up and their offense should be good enough to score consistently, so I see the Twins coming out of a mediocre AL Central. Even if they aren't scoring 7-8 runs a game, they can beat you with speed, defense and pitching and that's what they'll do.

2nd Place, Detroit Tigers
Lineup-
CF Curtis Granderson
2B Placido Polanco
RF Magglio Ordonez
1B Miguel Cabrera
LF Carlos Guillen
DH Gary Sheffield
C Gerald Laird
3B Brandon Inge
SS Adam Everett

Pitching-
RHP Justin Verlander
RHP Jeremy Bonderman
RHP Armando Galarraga
RHP Edwin Jackson
LHP Nate Robertson/Rick Porcello
SU: Fernando Rodney
CL: Brandon Lyon

I like the Tigers finishing towards the top of this division if they can keep their pitching staff somewhat healthy. Both the bullpen and starting rotation have been nailed by injury over the last few seasons in Detroit, and it's caused the team to underachieve. They certainly do have talent in their starting rotation, but Bonderman is a huge question mark after starting only 4 games in '08, and their fifth spot is still undetermined at this point. Their bullpen also has question marks as they've got some injury issues there as well and a new, sometimes-shaky closer in Brandon Lyon. I do like their lineup again, as they should have no problem scoring runs, especially with those top 5 hitters. The Tigers will probably have a handful of players in the all-star game come July, but unfortunately for them, that doesn't mean they will be playing October baseball.

3rd Place, Cleveland Indians
Lineup-
CF Grady Sizemore
3B Mark DeRosa
C Victor Martinez
DH Travis Hafner
SS Jonny Peralta
LF Shin-Soo Choo
1B Ryan Garko
LF Ben Francisco
2B Asdrubal Cabrera

Pitching-
LHP Cliff Lee
RHP Fausto Carmona
RHP Carl Pavano
RHP Anthony Reyes
LHP Aaron Laffey
SU: Rafael Betancourt
CL: Kerry Wood

It's tough not to appreciate the way Cleveland's gone about business, producing a solid, homegrown team that is getting better and better. I really liked the add of Mark DeRosa, and Grady Sizemore is a stud and a perennial MVP candidate, but Vic Martinez and Travis Hafner need to rebound in a big way for the Tribes' offense to be at full-strength. They have some major questions in their rotation after Lee and Carmona, and things could get really messy there once the season starts. They are counting on two guys (Carl Pavano and Anthony Reyes) who combined for only 72 big league innings last season. Their bullpen should be nails, as Betancourt should rebound from a tough '08 season and Kerry Wood should provide plenty of stability to the back end. If only they had another arm or two that they could count on a little more than they are with their 3-5 starters, they would probably division favorites, but as they stand now, I don't think they could hit with Detroit or be able to pitch with the Twinkies.

4th Place, Kansas City Royals
Lineup-
CF Coco Crisp
SS Mike Aviles
LF David DeJesus
RF Jose Guillen
1B Mike Jacobs
3B Alex Gordon
DH Billy Butler
C Miguel Olivo
2B Alberto Callaspo

Pitching-
RHP Gil Meche
RHP Zack Greinke
RHP Kyle Davies
RHP Brian Bannister
LHP Horacio Ramirez
SU: Juan Cruz
CL: Joakim Soria

The Royals have the potential to field their best team this decade if they all stay healthy and break camp together. They have a nice mix of youth and veterans in their everyday lineup and a lot of those players aren't as good as they're going to be yet. I also really like their bullpen and think it can be the best in the AL Central. Soria and Cruz are supported by Kyle Farnsworth and Ron Mahay and shouldn't have a problem shutting the doors on teams when they have the lead. Their starting rotation is still a work in progress. Meche and Greinke are legit leaders, but then things get a little less stable. This division isn't a great one though, and a lucky break here or there could catapolt the Royals into relevance. I look at them a lot like I looked at Tampa Bay last season. The Royals aren't as good as last season's Rays, but they have similar squads and the Royals have a much easier division to play in.

5th Place, Chicago White Sox
Lineup-
CF Jerry Owens
SS Alexei Ramirez
LF Carlos Quentin
DH Jim Thome
RF Jermaine Dye
1B Paul Konerko
C A.J. Pierzynski
3B Josh Fields
2B Brent Lillibridge

Pitching-
LHP Mark Buehrle
RHP Gavin Floyd
RHP Jon Danks
RHP Bartolo Colon
RHP Jeff Marquez
SU: Octavio Dotel
CL: Bobby Jenks

A lot of people are predicting the demise of the ChiSox this season, but not many have them finishing last in the division. Their top three starters alone could have them avoid finishing fifth, but I just don't see '09 being a good year for Ozzie Guillen and Co. Their lineup is getting very old and so is their bullpen. Carlos Quentin and Alexei Ramirez are both rising stars, but I don't know how much Dye, Thome and Konernko have left in the tank. They still hit home runs, but they don't get one base and are nowhere near the threats they were just a couple of seasons ago when they won the World Series. I've been wrong with predictions before, and I'm going to be wrong again, but something is telling me that this team is really going to be a mess.
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Monday, March 16, 2009

2009 AL East Preview

Like we've done here at The Giants Baseball Blog over the last few springs, it's time to take a closer look at baseball in general as I will be spending most of the final 2 weeks in March breaking down each team and division in baseball and predicting how I see things turning out this season. So here we go, as always, starting with the AL East and eventually finishing in our very own NL West:

1st Place, Tampa Bay Rays
Lineup-
2B Akinori Iwamura
CF B.J. Upton
LF Carl Crawford
3B Evan Longoria
1B Carlos Pena
DH Pat Burrell
C Dioner Navarro
RF Matt Joyce/Gabe Kaplar
SS Jason Bartlett

Pitching-
RHP James Shields
LHP Scott Kazmir
RHP Matt Garza
RHP Andy Sonnanstine
LHP David Price
SU: Grant Balfour
CL: Troy Percival

The "wonder team" from last year was no joke and they should be even better equipped to take on the tough AL East this season. They made all that noise last season despite getting full years out of arguably their two best players, Evan Longoria(122 games) and Carl Crawford (109 games). Not to mention, they only got the sevices of '07 first round pick David Price in September and October. So, with all these youngsters on board for a full season, and improved health to the bullpen, this team could easily repeate what they did last season. They also added Pat Burrell who doesn't seem like a huge add, but he'll be on base all the time and be right around 30 home runs and 100 RBI for that club as it really was a good fit for them. Also, the starting pitching, with the addition of Price, should be amogst the best, youngest rotations in baseball. Again, they're pen is a little thin and they need to stay strong all season, but if they do, I think Tampa will be the team to beat in the East.

2nd Place, Boston Red Sox (AL Wild Card Winner)
Lineup-
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
2B Dustin Pedroia
DH David Ortiz
1B Kevin Youkilis
LF Jason Bay
RF J.D. Drew
3B Mike Lowell
C Jason Varitek
SS Jed Lowrie

Pitching-
RHP Josh Beckett
LHP Jon Lester
RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka
RHP Brad Penny
RHP Tim Wakefield
SU: Hideki Okajima
CL: Jon Papelbon

The BoSox will still win their 90 plus games and probably end up winning the wild card, but I just don't look at the Sox the same way I did 2-3 seasons ago. Their core is much older now and although they do have some young offensive bright spots (Pedroia, Lowrie and Ellsbury), I think it's safe to say that their offensive anchor (David Ortiz) and the guys surrounding him aren't as good as they were a couple years ago and the lineup is starting to really age. I still do like their starting rotation, as their front 3 could match up with any in baseball and their bullpen is still a strength, led by Papelbon and Okajima, but I don't think this Red Sox team, as is, has any more World Series victories in it. As much as they wanted him gone, Manny Ramirez would still have made this team the favorites in the division if he were here, but instead, it's Jason Bay.

3rd Place, New York Yankees
Lineup:
LF Jonny Damon
SS Derek Jeter
1B Mark Teixera
RF Xavier Nady
DH Hideki Matsui
C Jorge Posada
2B Robinson Cano
3B Cody Ransom
CF Melky Cabrera

DL- 3B Alex Rodriguez (late-May)

Pitching:
LHP CC Sabathia
RHP A.J. Burnett
RHP Chin-Ming Wang
LHP Andy Pettite
RHP Jaba Chamerblain
SU: Damaso Marte
CL: Mariano Rivera

Speaking of teams in decline, the 2009 Yankees are just that. They rebuilt their pitching staff over the winter adding Sabathia and Burnett, but I don't think that will be enough to push them over the top. Like Boston, their lineup is getting older by the year, but unlike Boston, they haven't been able to produce, or keep any of their own homegrown talent lately. The last 2 best position players the Yanks' have developed have been Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano and that's been it this decade. They need to start rebuilding from within a bit rather than dig themselves further in a hole by committing big dollars and big years to free agents which ages a team rather quickly. Believe me, I saw it happen over the last 8 years in San Franciso while they kept trying to build around Barry Bonds. Eventually they just need to start doing what's best for the organization, even if it means a year or 2 under .500. I just think the Yankees are gradually getting worse and in about 2 years, they're really going to be a mess. Oh yeah, they probably won't get ARod back until late May, and I don't think he'll be at full strength at all this year.

4th Place, Toronto Blue Jays
Lineup-
CF Alex Rios
DH Adam Lind
CF Vernon Wells
1B Lyle Overbay
3B Scott Rolen
LF Travis Snider
2B Aaron Hill
C Rod Barajas
SS Marco Scutaro

Pitching-
RHP Roy Halladay
RHP Jesse Litsch
RHP Casey Janssen
LHP David Purcey
RHP Matt Clement
SU: Brandon League
CL: B.J. Ryan

DL- RHP Dustin McGowan (June)

The Jay's are really hurting in the starting pitching department where they will be without 2 of their top 3 starters for much or all of the season. Dustin McGowan should be back around mid-season, but Shawn Marcum will miss all of it and that will hurt. The Jays are really counting on some of their younger offensive players to help carry the team. Former elite-prospect, Adam Lind, will start the year as the everyday DH with another former top pick, Travis Snider, getting the nod in left. I also like the Blue Jay's bullpen, if healthy, as B.J. Ryan is one of the better closers in the league and Brandon League and Jeremy Accardo are well above average set-up men. Still though, the Jay's are going to have a rough time scoring runs and keeping up with the rest of the division as their starting pitching just isn't there (after Roy Halladay) and their lineup is a little too thin.

5th Place, Baltimore Oriioles
Lineup-
2B Brian Roberts
CF Felix Pie
RF Nick Markakis
1B Aubrey Huff
3B Melvin Mora
CF Adam Jones
DH Luke Scott
C Greg Zaun
SS Cesar Izturis

Minors: C Matt Wieters (will be up in May)

Pitching:
RHP Jeremy Guthrie
LHP Koji Uehara
LHP Mark Hendrickson
LHP Rich Hill
LHP David Pauley
SU: Chris Ray
CL George Sherrill

The O's are starting to build a nice, young versatile lineup, but they continue to lack developement in their starting pitching department. After about 3 years of trade rumors, Brian Roberts is amazingly still at second base and the top of the order for Baltimore, where he's one of the better all around second basemen in the game. The O's also have young outfielders Nick Markakis and Adam Jones who both should have bright futures and baseball's top catching prospect, Matt Wieters, on the doorstep. However, the pitching is lacking. Jeremy Guthrie is solid, and they are expecting big things from Koji Uehara, but after those two, things get real ugly, real quick. Rich Hill and David Pauley were in the minors most of last season, struggling, and the 35 year-old Hendrickson carries a career 5.07 era and a 1.45 WHIP. I do like their bullpen a lot though and I think they might have had something here if they would have landed say, CC Sabtahia and A.J. Burnett, instead of the Yankees.
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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Cain Impressive, Then Wild

Matt Cain has been somewhat of an enigma the last couple of seasons and Saturday was no different. Cain has looked both dominant and horrible at times this spring, but I think that when the Opening Day comes around, the kid is going to be ready to thrive.

Cain's most recent outing was Saturday vs. the Padres in a split squad match-up. In that outing, Cain went 3 innings, allowing a walk and a hit along with 5 punch-outs on 40 pitches and was cruising until hitting slipping a bit in the fourth and fifth innings. The pitch count is going to be key this season for the 24 year-old. If he can limit his innings to an average of 15 pitches or less, he's going to be a lot more effective and be able to get into the 8th and 9th innings more often. He's a horse already, and is used to throwing 100+ pitches a start, but he has to start using those pitches more economically if he's going to shake the "above average" sticker and start becoming a really good starting pitcher like he's capable of. I've mentioned in previous posts over the winter that I think a lot of the pressure is off of Matt Cain now and I think he's ready to thrive. Tim Lincecum is the ace and won the Cy Young award so obviously and rightly so, all eyes are going to be on him. But then there's also Randy Johnson who is hunting for his 300th victory and is a baseball icon. So this season, IMO Cain is kind of playing third fiddle, so to speak. And again, I just think this will alleviate any extra pressure or expectations on Matt Cain and he'll ultimately be a better pitcher for it. The only thing that Cain can hope for is a better defense surrounding him. I haven't seen any pitcher suffer as bad of luck as Cain has over the past few seasons as I can think of a handful of games of the top of my head (the Todd Linden mis-play in left at Coors in '07 comes right to mind) where the defense and/or bullpen absolutely screwed Cainer.

The overall starting pitching hasn't been the only thing looking good in Giants camp lately. Pablo Sandoval is hitting over .400, Travis Ishikawa has hit for power and is hitting over .300 and Emmanuel Burris is really starting to take the bull by the horns in this battle for second base, hitting .364, scoring runs and wrecking havoc on the base-paths. They have also found a nice little batch of young, big-league ready position players in Jesus Guzman, Andres Torres and Matt Downs who could be amongst the fist call-ups of the 2009 season. Guzman has been mentioned here about as much as Tim Linceum this spring and I'm sure Giants fans are starting to familiarize themselves with this kid. He's been the top offensive player this spring for the Giants as he has 6 doubles, a triple and 2 home runs while carrying a .435 average through 23 spring at-bats. I was expecting a nice spring from Guzman, but he's been scary good this spring and I don't think anyone has expected that. And yes, I do know it's only spring training, but I don't think Guzman has ever gotten this much action in a spring season, so all of this is new to him and he's taking it with ease. Again, the only issue with Guzman will be finding him a position. He's looked both good and bad at times at third base this spring, but has played exceptionally well at first and in the outfield, so it should be interesting to see where he starts out in Fresno. Downs also has the ability to play multiple positions as he's experienced at 2nd and 3rd base as well as right field, where he should open the season at for Fresno.

*Note: The Giants top two picks from the last 2 drafts both appeared in a Saturday's game vs. the Padres as well. Madison Bumgarner threw a scoreless sixth inning, striking out one and walking a batter. I didn't expect to see Bumgarner in the big league camp this season, but there he was, and he looked pretty darn good, albeit for one inning.... Also, Buster Posey, who has been seeing scattered at-bats in Cactus League play, hit his first un-official big league home run in the 9th inning of Saturday's Giants/Padres tilt. Posey is now 5-13 (.385) on the spring with 1 home run and 5 RBI. The more he plays, the more he's proving himself big league ready. Some think that he probably won't be up sooner that September '09 at the earlies, but I'm thinking late July might be more accurate, especially if he goes down and starts tearing up the minor leagues the way I think he's going to.
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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

2009 Giants Preview and Predictions

I wanted to break away from the spring training jargon for a bit and I wanted to go ahead and do more of an in-depth preview of what the Giants will look like come opening day. I also am going to predict some of the key stats for the players. With our annual MLB team/divisional preview just around the corner, and opening day less than a month away, now is as good a time as any to take a closer look at the San Francisco Giants. Some of the final roster moves aren't set yet (as there still is 3 weeks of Cactus league to go still) but I'm going to go with my best guess.

Lineup:
1. RF- Randy Winn ( .288 avg, 11 hr's, 57 RBI, 89 runs, 21 sb's, .776 OPS)
2. SS- Edgar Renteria (.282, 12 hr, 64 RBI, 79 runs, 9 sb's, .759 OPS)
3. LF- Fred Lewis (.301, 17 hr, 76 RBI, 84 runs, 26 sb's, .817 OPS)
4. C- Bengie Molina (.280, 15 hr, 77 RBI, 43 runs, 0 sb, .756 OPS)
5. 3B- Pablo Sandoval (.277, 15 hr, 70 RBI, 62 runs, 5 sb, .786 OPS)
6. CF- Aaron Rowand (.281, 16 hr, 74 RBI, 64 runs, 9 sb, .782 OPS)
7. 1B- Travis Ishikawa (.270, 15 hr, 68 RBI, 44 runs, 2 sb, .778 OPS)
8. 2B- Emannuel Burriss (.285, 4 hr, 41 RBI, 63 runs, 31 sb, .759 OPS)

Rotation:
1. Tim Lincecum (19-8, 2.81 era, 217 IP, 242 k's, 1.12 WHIP)
2. Randy Johnson (14-9, 3.35 era, 184 IP, 172 k's, 1.26 WHIP)
3. Matt Cain (13-11, 3.79 era, 211 IP, 181 k's, 1.29 WHIP)
4. Barry Zito (9-15, 4.74 era, 188 IP, 113 k's, 1.42 WHIP)
5. Jonathan Sanchez (11-12, 4.26 era, 190 IP, 175 k's, 1.37 WHIP)

Bullpen:
CL: Brian Wilson (2-5, 67 games, 42 saves, 3.62 era)
SU: Bob Howry ( 4-3, 77 games, 2 saves, 3.31 era)
LH Jeremy Affeldt (4-4, 80 games, 1 save, 3.79 era)
RH Merkin Valdez (2-3, 61 games, 0 saves, 3.12 era)
LH Alex Hinshaw (1-4, 70 games, 0 saves, 4.36 era)
RH Brandon Medders (2-4, 65 games, 1 save, 4.14 era)
RH Joe Martinez* (2-5, 47 games, 7 starts, 4.67 era)

DL- Sergio Romo (mid-April, replaces Medders or Martinez)

Bench:
IF Juan Uribe (.252, 254 ab's, 11 hr, 31 RBI, 3 SB)
IF Rich Aurilia (.283, 275 ab's, 8 hr, 36 RBI)
OF Andris Torres* (.272, 142 ab's, 3 hr, 22 RBI, 11 SB)
OF Nate Schierholtz (.297, 340 ab's, 11 hr, 45 RBI)
UT Eugenio Velez (.272, 300 ab's, 7 hr, 27 RBI, 25 SB)

*denotes player who starts the year on 25-man roster, but isn't expected to finish season w/team.

Again, this is just pure instinct on how I think things will turn out as of March 11th. I haven't taken any other projection sites into account and this is assuming all stay healthy and on the team all season, which we know won't happen. It should be interesting to look back at this in September though, and see how close (or likely how far off) I was to predicting some of these numbers. I also am reserving the right to change them any number of times before opening day and finalize it once the roster has been finalized. I will revert back to this post at least once a month during the season to see how things are going.

2009 Record: 80 W-82 L
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Sunday, March 08, 2009

Giants' Varsity Handle A's

The Giants had their first split-squad games of the spring on Sunday, and Bruce Bochy kind of divided the teams into A and B teams, or what I call the Varsity and JV squads.

The Varsity, or the A team, shut down the Oakland Athletics as they were led by another Randy Johnson gem. The 6'10" lefty went 3 1/3 innings, allowing no runs on 2 hits and striking out 3, leading the Giants to a 10-1 victory of the A's. In that game, the Giants played most of the players who will be in the opening day line-up. Offensively, the Giants got solid outputs from Fred Lewis (2/3, 2b, 2 RBI and a run), Bengie Molina (1/2, hr, RBI) and Pablo Sandoval (1/3, RBI). They also got a nice game from Matt Downs, who started in right field while Randy Winn got the day off from the field and started at DH. Downs is another guy who has the versatility to play both the infield and outfield and should start the season in Fresno after hitting a combined .294 with 20 home runs and 82 RBI in 523 at-bats split between San Jose and Fresno. The soon to be 25-year old (March 19th) is starting to hit that final phase of true prospect eligibility, hopefully he takes that next step this season and can maybe contribute to the big league club at some point in '09. One more interesting tid-bit from this game was that Bochy decided to play Emmanuel Burris with the varsity team as their starting second basemen while Kevin Frandsen played with the B team. I'm not sure we should take too much out of this, and there still is plenty of baseball to be played before the decision needs to be made, but apparently Burris could have the leg up on Frandsen at this point.

The Giants bullpen arms are starting to look a lot better over the last few days as well. There weren't many positives that came out of the JV 8-1 loss to the Angels, but one was the outings of Jack Taschner and Alex Hinshaw. Both threw scoreless innings, and both got their spring era's back into single digits. With Jeremy Affeldt on board and the Giants possibly leaning towards carrying an 11-man pitching staff, it would appear that Hinshaw and Taschner are fighting it out for one spot. They both could end up making the team, but I'd doubt it. As I've said earlier, I'd lean towards Hinshaw. Both guys are very similar at this point in their careers, but Hinshaw is a few years younger and I think he'll end up being better than Taschner. A bullpen arm that has had a good spring and is fighting both Hinshaw and Taschner for a roster spot himself is Brandon Medders. The former D-back continued to extend his spring scoreless-inning streak by throwing another uneventful inning. Medders leads all Giants relievers in innings pitched this spring with 6 1/3, and is really making a case for himself to make this team out of spring. If Merkin Valdez and Sergio Romo are both healthy and throwing like they can before the end of March, then chances are against Medders. However, Romo may not be ready to start the season as he's had continuing stiffness in his elbow which has required a few MRI exams. After Brian Wilson, Bob Howry, Affeldt and Valdez, there will be either 2-3 spots to be had. One of those spots will go to another lefty, leaving 1-2 open spots for either Romo, Medders, Justin Miller or Luis Perdomo and I think that Medders has a slight edge on the others right now.

In other notes from the weekend games, Matt Cain had his best outing of the spring on Saturday, throwing 3 innings, while allowing 1 hit and striking out 3....Edgar Renteria, the only projected opening day starter that didn't play Sunday for the Giants, has played a little better of late and has raised his spring average to .261 after a very poor first week at the plate....Jesus Guzman, a guy who has been a huge bright spot for the team offensively, played his first game of the spring at 1st base vs. the Angels Sunday and played it beautifully... Buster Posey continues to get time in big league camp and went 1-2 Sunday, improving to 3/8 on the spring with 2 RBI.
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Friday, March 06, 2009

Perdomo and Guzman Impressing

We're only a week into March, but a few Giants' youngsters (and a few guys who have been getting a lot of pub at this particular blog) that are really making some noise so far are infielder Jesus Guzman and reliever Luis Perdomo.

Heading into Saturday's game, Guzman is tied for the team lead in both home runs (2) and RBI (5) and leads the team in extra-base hits as well. The amazing thing about this, is that he's had only 12 at-bats compared to most of the other big leaguers who are at or around 20+ at-bats. Not only is he roping the baseball, Guzman has also played better defense at third than people thought he would coming in. He's still not flawless there, and has one error this spring to show, but he's definitely improving. I don't think there is any question that his bat is ready to be tested in the bigs, the only problem will be finding him a roster spot. With Dave Roberts' recent release (more at the bottom of the post), it does open up another potential bench spot, but Guzman is still a long shot to make the club out of spring. He's taken grounders at first and flyballs in the outfield as well, so he may see some action at some other positions before the the team breaks north, just so the Giants can get a feel of how versatile he can be. I still think he will open up as the Grizzlies starting third basemen, but he should be amongst the first call-ups in 2009, much like Jon Bowker was in '08 after his impressive spring.

The other young Giant fighting for a roster spot, rule V draftee Luis Perdomo, has also continued to excel this spring. What really helped his case was the recent demotion of Keeichi Yabu. Most likely, the Giants felt Yabu was expendable because Merkin Valdez is finally back and healthy (he threw 1 scoreless/hitless inning in relief of Tim Lincecum's flawless start on Friday), but Perdomo is definitely in the mix. Speaking of Merkin, Perdomo's spring so far this year has reminded a lot of how Valdez threw last spring before dominating in April and May then going down for the year with an arm injury. If Luis Perdomo doesn't make the squad out of the gate, I have a feeling that the Giants are going to do their best at trying to work a deal with the Indians in order to keep him Perdomo. There have been whispers of possibly going with a 11-man pitching rotation which would open up another bench spot for someone like Guzman or Bowker, but also make it would be pretty tough (espesially if Valdez stays healthy) for Perdomo to make the team. If Sergio Romo comes back strong in a week, that also would work against Perdomo's chances. If the Giants are planning on carrying only 6 relievers than that would leave about 2 possible spots as Brian Wilson, Bob Howry, Jeremy Affeldt and Merkin Valdez are all essential locks if healthy leaving Perdomo, Alex Hinshaw, Jack Taschner, Sergio Romo and Justin Miller battling for those last 2 spots.

As I mentioned in the post, the Giants made few roster moves over the last couple of days, releasing Dave Roberts, and demoting Keeichi Yabu to Triple-A. They released Dave Roberts, deciding to eat his 6.5 million dollar salary and let him play somewhere else for free. This is a bittersweet move because it does rid the roster of an aging vet that doesn't really have a role here and allowing a younger player to take the roster spot. At the same time, the front office just basically admitted they made a huge mistake by signing the left fielder in the first place. I don't know many fans that were happy about the Roberts signing, and while I fully expected him to become a bench guy before the end of his deal, I didn't think it would get to the point where the Giants would release him, but they do have Velez and Bowker who both have some upside and both are actually better than Roberts at this point anyway. So no, this move didn't surpise me in the slightest, but I was really hoping they'd at least get a low level prospect in exchange for him. The same can be said for Yabu. There are a handful of younger, better pitchers who are itching to fill Yabu's role from a year ago, and the 40 year-old just isn't the better option here. I am glad Yabu will be staying in the organization though because he's a good veteran to have in case you need a quick call-up.
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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Johnson, Sandoval Lead Giants

The Giants battled back for their first comeback win of the exhibition season on Tuesday, as they were led by a couple of guys who the team is expecting big things out of in '09.

Randy Johnson struck out 7 batters in 3 innings as he faced his former employer (D-Backs) for the very first time. The lefty has now gone 5 innings this spring, allowing 1 run on 4 hits and 1 walk while striking out 10 batters. Johnson made it very clear coming into spring training that he was feeling better than he had in years at that point and he was extremely excited to see how things were going to go because of it. I know it's only spring training, but the Unit has looked like the Unit of 5-10 years ago early on in spring. He had the place buzzing when he threw BP and bullpen sessions during spring practices, and apparently he isn't lying. Now I'm not expecting a full fountain of youth for Johnson here, and it's still kind of unclear how his back is going to take to pitching those cold nights on the water in San Francisco, but if he holds up for 180-200 innings, he's going to be a force to be reckoned with, just ask the D-Backs hitters that faced him Tuesday. You can also ask the D-Backs pitchers about young Pablo Sandoval, who was also a big part of Tuesday's come back victory. Sandoval hit his first home run of the spring, a 2-run shot in the sixth inning, part of a 4-run inning that helped the Giants tie the game. There has been some around the organization that have suggested moving Sandoval into the cleanup spot and Molina to the fifth spot, so it will be interesting to see what happens if Sandoval keeps on driving in runs.

While the starting pitching and offense continue to be bright spots, the bullpen and occasional spotty defense have continued to be a negative. The defense was atrocious a couple days ago for Matt Cain as they made 3 errors behind him in his 1+ inning of work. The starters have been good for the most part, but potential bench guys like Eugenio Velez, Juan Uribe and Jon Bowker, among others, have made some costly mistakes. In the bullpen, Jack Taschner, Keeichi Yabu, Sergio Romo and Alex Hinshaw have really dug themselves in a hole as far as making this team out of spring. All four, especially Taschner, Romo and Hinshaw, were favorites coming in, but Taschner has walked 5 batters and allowed 4 runs in 2 innings while Yabu has allowed 6 runs on 7 hits and 3 walks in only 2 innings. Hinshaw has allowed 2 jacks and has given up 4 runs in less than 2 innings pitched and Romo (who reported arm stiffness Tuesday and is being held out 10 days) has also given up 2 bombs while allowing numerous baserunners in just over an innings pitched. Now these guys are only going to get about 10-12 total innings this spring so they really are already behind the 8-ball here as some other guys are flourishing. Rule V draftee Luis Perdomo allowed a run on Tuesday for the first time in 3 outings, but he continues to look pretty good and is throwing strikes. Other guys who aren't favorites but could force the issue are Brandon Medders (4 IP, 0 hits/runs, 2 BB, 3 K's), Justin Miller (2 IP, 0 hits/runs, 1 K) and Osiris Matos (2.1 IP, 0 hits/runs, 1 BB/K). As a matter of fact, if I had to construct my bullpen today, on March 3rd, it would probably go like this: 1.CL Brian Wilson 2. SU: Bob Howry 3.LHP Jeremy Affeldt 4.RHP Brandon Medders 5. RHP Luis Perdomo 6. RHP Justin Miller 7. LHP Alex Hinshaw (I still take him over Tasch, and this pen carries two lefties). Although, I still would love to see Merkin Valdez assert himself and claim a spot, but he's yet to throw in Cactus League games and it's not clear when exactly that will happen. Merkin told me last August that there was no doubt in his mind that he was going to pitch before the end of the '08 season, so his injury issues are still very much holding him back.

Extras: I found it surprising that Juan Uribe led the team in at-bats through the first week of spring training while guys like Jesus Guzman (3/6 with 2 doubles, a triple and 2 RBI) are itching for opportunity but aren't really getting it....Randy Winn is still looking for his first hit of the spring while Travis Ishikawa is still looking for his first long ball and RBI since the Cactus League opener.... Also, Emmanuel Burris and Kevin Frandsen are really going neck and neck in the battle for the starting second base job so far this spring. I am not a big fan of ever going with a platoon, but if both of these guys are hitting over .400 all spring and playing good defense, then this battle might carry over into the regular season.
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