Saturday, March 29, 2008

The 2008 NY Mets--As Good As It Gets!

Here are my National League predictions for 2008NL EAST

After pulling one of the worst choke jobs in the history of baseball (’51 Brooklyn Dodgers, anyone?) the New York Mets are better for one reason: Johan Santana. It was a major move getting the all-star pitcher and the dividends should be immediate. If he wins 15 games, it will be a disappointment, let’s put it that way. There are still several question marks on this team, however. One is age. Moises Alou, Luis Castillo and Carlos Delgado aren’t spring chickens anymore. The other is catching. Newcomer Brian Schneider may not be the answer. And the third question is named Pedro. Can Pedro Martinez be the all-star pitcher he once was? Will he rebound from injury? If he can, the Mets will be tough to beat, with a starting rotation led by two of the finest hurlers in the game. Throw an improving John Maine and a tough bullpen led by Billy Wagner into the Big Apple’s picture, and what you have is a lot of opponents’ whiffing and whining. Manager Willie Randolph seemed surprised that he wasn’t fired by GM Omar Minaya after last season’s debacle. If he doesn’t win with this stellar squad, he might not get another chance. With Jose Reyes leading off and jumpstarting the offensive attack; David Wright holding down 3B and hitting taters; and Carlos Beltran doing what Beltran does – the Mets are the team to beat not just in the NL East, but in the entire league.

The Atlanta Braves have four future HOFer’s on their team (Chipper Jones, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz) if you also include Skipper Bobby Cox. It’s hard to believe that they won only one World Series after taking all those division titles. One of the problems is that Glavine is 42 and Smoltz is 40. Glavine didn’t have a great year last season (4.45 ERA) and Smoltz seems more hittable than ever, which isn’t surprising when you consider his age. The Braves have some solid bats throughout their lineup, including Jones, Mark Texeira, Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur. Andrew Jones is gone to LA-LA Land, but the team picked up Mark Kotsay to replace him. The way A.J. was hitting, it might be an improvement. LF Matt Diaz is a top prospect and could contribute almost immediately. On the mound, the Braves are hoping that Tim Hudson can regain his old form, because their prospects for a decent fourth starter look dim. Mike Hampton, the guy who has made a career out of hauling in huge money while being injured, is slated for the spot, but he has proven to be more fragile than a porcelain China doll. Pitching prospect Jair Jurrjens has a live arm and could step in, as could either Jo-Jo Reyes and/or Chuck James. I like a lot about this team and with a few breaks they could make it to the postseason. But, it’s more likely that they’ll finish far behind the Mets and several games out of the wild card spot.

The Philadelphia Phillies made a great run last year, right up until they ran head-on into a surging Colorado Rockies squad. They won’t even make the playoffs this season, in my estimation. This team is loaded with top-tier talent, with names on their roster like MVP Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. But, the departure of Aaron Rowand to San Francisco will hurt the Phils more than they probably realize. This Pete Rose throwback never stops hustling and all his teammates love him, so that fact that he’s gone isn’t good news. Philly’s pitching rotation is a case of Cole Hamels and not much else. Brett Myers will go back into the starting five after being used as a closer late last season, but with names like Moyer, Eaton, Kendrick and possibly Benson after that, this team’s pitching is likely to be its Achilles Heel in 2008. GM Pat Gillick went out during the off-season and picked up reliever Brad Lidge, who is coming off a knee injury and may not be ready when the season starts. Trouble will reign if he isn’t ready to go. Manager Charlie Manuel may also run into problems if some of his marquee players start reading their press clippings. The City of Brotherly Love will flirt with the playoffs, but in the end I just don’t see them putting it together enough to make it happen this season.

The Florida Marlins traded their two best players to the Detroit Tigers, but they still have a ton of good, young kids on the field and in the pipeline. The Tigers gave the Big Fish a group of promising future stars who will be the nucleus of the team within the next few years. And now that the Marlins look like they’re going to get a new stadium, they can stockpile some good players and try to build another contending team. With an influx of cash (which a new ball park should bring) there’s no excuse for this team to trade away top players once they become too expensive. But, for now, the Florida Marlins (who will be changing their name to the Miami Marlins when their new park opens) are pretty atrocious. Dan Uggla, Jeremy Hermedia and Josh Willingham have proven they can hit. Cameron Maybin is a promising kid with many skills. The pitching staff is full of unknowns-NL teams will regularly feast on these arms-and the Marlins will hook themselves some victories here and there. But, they surely won’t contend-at least not anytime soon.

The Washington Nationals have a new stadium. That’s the good news. They have to field a team to fill the place. And that’s where the bad news begins. Manager Manny Acta has a team that is full of huge holes and big problems. Not one of his pitchers has ever won more than seven games. And he’s got two new guys who have three-and-a-half egos between them (Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes). If the Nats can be even slightly competitive, it will be close to miraculous. The fact that they won 73 games last year was amazing and a tribute to Acta. Don’t get me wrong. This squad has a few bright spots within an otherwise pretty dim-looking crew. Paul Lo Duca, Aaron Boone and Austin Kearns should provide a little pop at the plate and some much-needed leadership. Willy Mo Pena (if not injured) is a solid part to this confusing puzzle. And Chad Cordero will save some games if there are any that need saving. All in all, it will be a long season in a nice, new park for the Washington Nationals in 2008.


One hundred. That’s the number the Chicago Cubs are going to be forced to live with all season long. They’ve been hearing it all winter, and they’re going to hear it all spring and summer long. The Cubs have not won a World Series in 100 years, and just to get there, they’re going to have to make the postseason for the second straight year—something they also haven’t done in a century. Fortunately for the Cubs, little has changed in the inferior NL Central, with no divisional opponent spending hundreds of millions of dollars on players as Chicago did last year. Better yet, the Cubs are walking into the new campaign feeling more at ease, having proved they can win after burdening $300 million dollars worth of expectations upon their shoulders last season. If Japanese import Kosuke Fukudome is every bit the equal of, say, a Hideki Matsui, he’ll provide some terrific glue to an already potent offense that includes Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. A fine starting rotation is anchored by Carlos Zambrano, who not only brings 18 wins from last season but is feeling content to boot, having signed for five years and $90 million. The only mystery at Wrigley Field remains who will close; the sexy option is former starter Kerry Wood, but he’ll have to prove he can condense all that gas into his arm for one inning every couple nights without—all together, now—re-injuring himself. All in all, the Cubs will KO one century-old drought by returning to the postseason. Will they overcome the other, far more famous 100-year run? In today’s MLB, when even the Colorado Rockies can reach the World Series, anything is possible.

Dusty Baker is a fast starter. In his first year managing San Francisco, the Giants posted 103 wins. When he managed the Cubs for the first time, in 2003, they came within five outs of a World Series appearance. Now Baker brings his act to the Cincinnati Reds, a team with two hitting stars (Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr.) each in the last year of their contracts, two upscale starters (Aaron Harang and Brandon Arroyo), promising stars of the future (Joey Votto and Homer Bailey) and a legitimate closer via free agency (Francisco Cordero). Put all of this together, and the Reds, in my opinion, will be the closest thing to a surprise in the NL. Then again, they’d better make an impression; if Baker can’t work his first-year magic and Dunn and Griffey bolt after the season, there will be a sense of starting over in 2009. So the future is more or less now for the Reds, and Baker is the perfect tonic to make the present a good thing.

The Milwaukee Brewers are getting a lot of attention from the pundits following a solid showing last year, and much of it is justified. It’s hard to argue against a team that has two under-25 sluggers (Prince Fielder and reigning NL Rookie of the Year Ryan Braun) who went nuts with the bat in 2007. But the Brewers are handcuffed with some major disabilities; the defense is atrocious, they carry two catchers (Johnny Estrada and Jason Kendall) who can’t throw any base stealers out, and closer Francisco Cordero (44 saves) has left town, replaced by Eric Gagne—whose 2007 went from good (Texas) to bad (Boston) to worse (the Mitchell Report). What ultimately may keep Milwaukee upright is its starting rotation, but only if Ben Sheets and Chris Capuano can stay healthy and effective.

I picked the Houston Astros to win the NL Central last year. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…well, the Astros are doing everything to try and cast shame on me and win now, but I doubt that’s going to happen. The team has cleaned house; there’s a new manager (Cecil Cooper), new GM (Ed Wade), new closer (Jose Valverde) and just two everyday position players (Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman) returning from Opening Day of last season. Yes, Houston also snagged Miguel Tejada, but his production isn’t what it used to be and will likely suffer further now that the Mitchell Report will dog his tail wherever he goes this year—not exactly the intangible the Astros are looking for. This team should hit; besides the vets, they have last year’s rookie sensation Hunter Pence (.322, 17 homers) and a potential A-list slugger in rookie catcher Justin Towles, but for all the production they put up, the Astros will pray that something good comes out of a weak rotation beyond premier ace Roy Oswalt. To be honest, this team is something of an enigma. I doubt I’ll get fooled again.

Next, we have the Pittsburgh Pirates who don’t do anything. After finishing with the NL’s worst record in 2007, the Pirates stood pat. Now, that’s okay if you’re the Boston Red Sox; they’re the champions. But Pittsburgh, a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 1992? Even some of the team’s better players (Jason Bay, Xavier Nady) are scratching their heads over the Bucs’ do-nothing philosophy, and they used the team’s winter funfest—an event designed as a feel-good mixing of players, fans and media—to air their complaints. The state of affairs in Pittsburgh has become almost criminal; the Bucs have the beautiful ballpark they told fans had to be built so the revenue can pour in and allow them to compete. The public certainly did its part by providing the funds to build PNC Park, but the Pirates have not carried out their end of the bargain. The team does hold promise—especially with a starting rotation that’s developing more slowly than anticipated—but “promise” has become a tiring word to Pirate fans, who would rather hear “results” instead. Not this year. Again.

But wait—I’m not picking the Pirates to finish last. I’m reserving that spot for the St. Louis Cardinals, who have tremendous potential to completely collapse in 2008. It’s all but assured if megastar Albert Pujols’ bad elbow finally gets the better of him and is forced to shut down sometime during the season. Beyond Pujols, there’s trouble everywhere with this team. Chris Carpenter will not pitch until late in the year if at all; Mark Mulder will be back sooner, but he needs to prove, for the first time since 2005, that he can pitch effectively; Juan Encarnacion is out all year, still recovering from that freak on-deck circle injury late last season; and boomers Troy Glaus and Rick Ankiel have been fingered as steroid users and have not responded well to their accusations. Then there’s a clubhouse still drenched with the afterthoughts of Ryan Hancock’s drunk-driving death and the recent release of Scott Spiezio, who survived his own drunk-driving adventures but faces a scroll’s worth of misdemeanor charges back in California. Otherwise, the level of talent on this roster is approaching paper-thin. Tony LaRussa somehow signed on to all of this for two more years, but if he gets this team anywhere over .500, he’s Manager of the Year.


The Arizona Diamondbacks are a young, balanced and well-coached team that will win the NL West and with any luck could make it all the way to the Fall Classic. Manager Bob Melvin must be salivating like one of Pavlov’s mutts when he views this team on paper. When you look at their starting rotation, featuring stoppers like Brandon Webb, newcomer Danny Haren, Doug Davis and Mike Owings--not to mention future HOFer Randy Johnson—it’s hard to believe that this team won’t win 100 games. Offensively, the D-Bax are stacked as well--with names like Byrnes, Drew, Reynolds, Hudson and Upton. They lack power, but make up for it with smart play and enthusiasm. There are no prima donnas on this team, just hungry solid performers. Arizona got into the playoffs last season, even though their opponents outscored them by 20 runs. That won’t happen this year. The only big question with this group is—“Will Brandon Lyon be able to replace Jose Valverde’s 47 saves?” If he can, watch out. The D-Bax are ready to break out and this is the year they could do it.

Fans in Colorado rode a Rocky Mountain High last season when the Rockies came out of nowhere and nearly took the whole thing. That’s not going to happen this season. The team just has too many question marks and holes to fill. For one, the starting pitchers are very good, but there’s little depth. After Francis and Jimenez, you have a bunch of guys who have never put together anything more than a semi-successful season. The bats on the Rockies are formidable – Matt Holliday had an MVP season last year and should be one of the league’s toughest outs again this season. And Troy Tulowitzki is an amazingly poised player for being so green. But, guys like prospect Ian Stewart and up-and-down sluggers like Todd Helton and Garrett Atkins will have to have stellar seasons if this team is to repeat last year’s performance. Don’t bet the house on it. This team is more likely to get lost in the mountains than it is to climb to the pinnacle of the NL once more.

In the City of Angels, the Dodgers are looking forward to exiting Vero Beach as their Spring Training site and moving their camp to Arizona next year. Joe Torre is at the helm and ready to look good wearing Dodger Blue. But, unfortunately for the Hollywood Bums this team is full of more holes and question marks than they were last season. No one knows if Jason Schmidt will pitch effectively again. Juan Pierre is out-of-place and feels unwanted. And the team paid big bucks for Andruw Jones, who they hope can provide power. Sure, the team has some young studs (Kemp, Loney, Ethier, LaRoche and Billingsley), but they also have a lot of brittle oldsters (Garciaparra and Kent). Yes, the Dodgers’ staring rotation looks good with guys like Penny and Lowe leading the way. And with Saito in the pen, you’re bound to get 30 to 40 saves. But, to pick this crew to win any more than 75 games this season would be crazy when you look at the other dynamic teams in this division. Get your young kids some valuable experience this year, Torre. L.A. is at least a year away from getting into the playoff picture.

If pitching wins games, the San Diego Padres have a shot at winning this division. Unfortunately, you also have to score a few runs to be victorious on a consistent basis. The Pads’ starting rotation is awesome – lead by Cy Young winner Jake Peavy and followed by names like Maddux, Young and Wolf – but their bats are weaker than a Happy Hour drink at an airport bar. CF Jim Edmonds is old and tired, as is 2B Marcus Giles. Up-and-coming 3B Kevin Kouzamanoff is still a couple of years away from being a stud and rookie Chase Headley will need time to develop. There’s just no pop in this lineup. Playing in home run unfriendly Petco Park means they could set an all-time record for fewest dingers. Future HOFer and Trevor Hoffman (who choked big-time late in the season last year and showed he was merely mortal) definitely won’t be closing out as many games as he did last season. His team will rarely be ahead late in games. San Diego will drop a lot of 3-2 and 2-1 contests this year and will fade quickly in the NL West race.

The San Francisco Giants have a slogan this year that says something like “We’re going full out all season.” What it should say is “We’re going to be out of it all season.” If the Giants lose their first series this season, they won’t spend a single day atop the NL West. Everything on this team is suspect--from a young, pitching staff led by Cain, Lowery and Lincecum--to an aging lineup led (or misled) by names like Roberts, Vizquel, Durham and Aurilia. These guys might be going through a re-building stage, except for the fact that they don’t have enough to re-build with. The Giants are the midgets of the NL West and will dwell all alone in the cellar all season.


Ed’s playoff picks:
NL: New York Mets, Arizona Diamondbacks, Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs
NL Champion: New York Mets
AL: Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Angels
AL Champion: Detroit Tigers
World Series Champion: Detroit Tigers

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Detroit Tigers Will Soar and Roar in 2008!


The Boston Red Sox were as well-oiled as a team could be in 2007. They streaked out to a great start, didn’t collapse in a contrast to tradition, and with the exception of spotting Cleveland with delusions of grandeur in the ALCS, sailed through the postseason. The winter after has been every bit as good for the Red Sox; they re-signed everyone they wanted back (including World Series MVP Mike Lowell) avoided messing with chemistry by not trading for Johan Santana and was largely steered clear of the Mitchell Report. Outside of what to do with Curt Schilling’s shoulder and who’ll start in center field (Coco Crisp or rookie Jacoby Ellsbury—a good thing, as management loves competition), there’s been very little controversy in Boston heading into 2008. For now, they have it all: Veteran hitting (David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez), veteran pitching (Josh Beckett, Tim Wakefield), veteran leadership (Jason Varitek), terrific Japanese imports (Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Okajima) and hot young stars of tomorrow, if not today (Ellsbury, Jonathan Papelbon and Dustin Pedroia). Unless there’s a mass outbreak of injury, the Red Sox should have no problem returning to the top of the AL East.

To say what I just said of the Red Sox sounds awfully dismissive of the New York Yankees’ chances. That’s correct. I’m not anticipating another fall of the Yankee Empire, but there’s serious potential for some cracks to start developing with a roster that’s either aging or inexperienced. Think about it. Reigning AL MVP Alex Rodriguez is one of the younger pups on the everyday roster, and he’s turning 33 this year. Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu and Johnny Damon are all older, and they’re not getting any younger while other teams, including the Red Sox, are. But an even bigger concern for the Yankees is pitching. Chien-Ming Wang, with nearly 40 wins over the past two seasons, is the only reliable starter. Mike Mussina (age 39) is all but washed up, Andy Pettitte (36 in June) has Mitchell Report distractions to fight off, Kai Igawa has yet to prove he truly belongs, and a young group of prospects (Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy) show promise but not much proof as of yet. And closer Mariano Rivera, at age 38, is exhibiting less A-game than he used to. In a very competitive league—and a much tougher division than in years past—the Yankees are showing severe vulnerability. It would be something of a shock if they could overcome the Red Sox—and not one if they slipped to third place.

The Toronto Blue Jays did well to finish above .500 considering what went down last year north of the border. An early shutdown for B.J. Ryan, leaving the team without a reliable closer. A season-long slump for prime power source Vernon Wells. Sizeable absences from starting pitcher A.J. Burnett and first baseman Lyle Overbay due to injury. Troy Glaus cowering under steroids accusations. In an AL with a black-and-white separation of haves and have-nots, the Blue Jays are one of the few teams—maybe the only—residing in the middle-class neighborhood. Whether they can accomplish an upgrade or avoid relegation from that center depends on the health of the roster, which is essentially the same as last year. The only major addition—if you can call it that—is Scott Rolen, a brooding, oft-injured presence who replaces Glaus. The Jays have the makings of a balanced, scrappy unit that could overachieve, but that’s asking a lot in the powerful AL.

Now here’s three words you never thought you’d read together in relation to baseball: Watch Tampa Bay. I see you chuckling, but don’t laugh. It’s very possible that the team which has taken the “Devil” out of its name will give opponents a devil of a time like never before. The Rays have two quality starters (Scott Kazmir and James Shield) and possibly a third (Matt Garza); a well-rounded batting order led by Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton and comeback bopper Carlos Pena; improved defense with shortstop Jason Bartlett; a third baseman of the future in rookie Evan Longoria (who does not hail from Wisteria Lane); and a potentially solid closer in Troy Percival, who pitched wonderfully at St. Louis in 2007 after being shelved for two years. Perhaps best of all, the clubhouse was cleaned of malcontents with the trading off of Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes. Some issues remain, including suspect depth in a bullpen that was beyond sorry last year, but the Rays may very well develop into the surprise of the AL, and a solid bet to set a franchise record for wins—though with their current high at 70, that’s not a tall order. True, a postseason appearance is not likely given Tampa’s placement in the Division of Death with the Red Sox and Yankees, but a third-place finish is not out of the question—and, hey, if you’re in Vegas and you have a Hamilton to burn, it’s not so insane to plunk it down to win $1,500 on the Rays, 150-1 longshots to win the World Series.

The Baltimore Orioles pretty much reached rock bottom at the end of 2007. The team stunk, the bullpen completely imploded after a 30-3 loss to Texas in August, the fans vanished from Camden Yards (whoever expected that?) and Miguel Tejada, Jay Gibbons and Brian Roberts were prominently named in the Mitchell Report. Now comes the hangover in 2008—and it won’t be pretty. But at least the Orioles have finally asserted some hope for the future. They dealt away Tejada and ace pitcher Erik Bedard, because the team could just as easily lose with them as they could without them—but more importantly, the two trades netted ten players, many of them solid young prospects, including highly-thought of Adam Jones, who may end up as an Opening Day outfielder. What’s left of the Orioles isn’t much; the pitching staff from start to finish remains awful and the lineup is filled with players (Aubrey Huff, Melvin Mora, Ramon Hernandez) who have never fulfilled the stardom they hinted at early in their careers. Yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s going to be a long, dark ride.


The Detroit Tigers have everyone talking. There hasn’t been a lineup like this one in Detroit since 1968, when guys like Cash, Kaline, Horton and McClain won the whole enchilada. With a starting nine featuring power (Ordonez, Sheffield and Cabrera); speed (Granderson, Polanco and Jones) and hits for average (I. Rodriguez, Renteria and Guillen) one would be hard-pressed to find any weaknesses with these bats. Ditto with the Tigers’ starting pitching—with Verlander, Rogers, Willis, Bonderman and Robertson—I can’t find a weak sister in the bunch. If there’s one question mark with Detroit’s stellar crew this year, it would have to be their relief pitching. If Joel Zumaya’s shoulder rebounds, that question will be satisfactorily answered and this team could win 120 games. The fans at Comerica will be seeing some amazing baseball this season and the Tigers are on everybody’s “can’t miss” list. Unless they experience a complete breakdown at every level, Manager Jim Leyland’s job should be stress-free and as easy as writing the names on the scorecard every day. Maybe the Skipper will be so relaxed that he’ll even be able to quit smoking. Who knows? The Tigers have all of the right pieces in all of the right places and should win the Fall Classic if they play just 75% of what they’re capable of.

The Cleveland Indians have been cursed ever since they traded Rocky Colavito approximately 50 years ago. Since then, they’ve run into a whole slew of problems—from bad trades to season-ending strikes, all the way to players getting cancer and being involved in fatal boating accidents. Last season could have been such a triumph for the Indians. But, they folded like a plateful of paper-thin crepes against the Red Sox in the playoffs and handed Boston a shot at the World Series after being just one win away. Cleveland should be much tougher and a little wiser this season. Guys like Peralta, Sizemore, Hafner, Garko and Blake are more experienced and will be a little hungrier. One of the first things GM Mark Shapiro needs to do is take the Master Lock off his wallet and sign C.C. Sabathia to a multi-year mega-deal. You would think Shapiro would have learned a valuable lesson after the Twins let Johan Santana get away. It will be interesting to see how Japanese pitcher Masahide Kobayashi does—is he the real thing or just another Usual Suspect? And Closer Joe Borowski is a major accident waiting to happen. All in all, however, the Indians should do well enough to capture the AL wild card. They have the personnel, the attitude and the talent to break the Curse of Colavito and make it into the postseason once more.

The Chicago White Sox bid for free agents Torii Hunter (didn’t everyone?) and Aaron Rowand, but whiffed on both. Now they’re without a quality CF and will have to make due with either Nick Swisher or a plethora of unproven names (i.e., Alexei Ramirez, Carlos Quentin and/or Rookie Jerry Ownens). When you look at what Detroit did during the offseason, the Chisox pale by comparison. Sure, they have some solid performers—guys like Thome, Konerko and Dye are gamers who come to play every day—but they lack depth and if someone gets hurt, they’re in real trouble. Chicago’s pitching staff is light as well. Vazquez and Buehrle are semi-first-rate, but after that you have a group of unproven has-beens or wannabes like Floyd, Contreras and Danks. The bullpen is fairly strong, with arms like Jenks, Dotel and Linebrink. The only thing that will plague the Hose this season is the same ailment that will be make every other member of the AL Central sick this year—they have a lot of games against both the Tigers and Injuns in their immediate future. GM Ken Williams needed to make more moves this winter and he didn’t get it done. Consequently, he’ll be on the sideline watching the playoffs along with all of the other front office people who couldn’t get the Santana’s and Hunter’s of the free agent world.

The Minnesota Twins aren’t re-building, according to GM Bill Smith. They’re doing what’s called “re-tooling.” Re-tooling is for teams that are close to being a winner, but just need to tweak a few things to get to where they want to be. After losing their two best players (Torii Hunter is gone to the Angels and Johan Santana is off to NYC), the Twins are in a state of major flux. They did make a couple of good moves – adding OF Delmon Young and leadoff hitter Carlos Gomez in the Santana trade will help – and the Twinkies have a ton of young, untested talent on the back burner. But, their 2008 campaign is so full of if’s, and’s and but’s that I just can’t consider the Twins a contender in the super competitive AL Central, arguably the toughest division in baseball. To add to their woes, no one knows if SP Francisco Liriano will rebound from a rather serious injury. If he can’t, Minny’s starting rotation will be thinner and weaker than Gandhi on a hot summer day. Whether or not Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer will continue to be formidable is also subject to debate. The sad fact is that this squad will have to play the Indians and Tigers a whole lot, and that will mean a good number of “L’s” for this team. If Minnesota can make some type of run, I would say they’re a long shot for a wild card spot. But, other than that, they’ll swim along in third or fourth place, out on the lake that is called mediocrity.

Just how long have the Kansas City Royals been bad? Well, do names like Bret Saberhagen and George Brett ring a bell? Unless you’re in your 30’s or older, you might as well be talking about Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson. The Royals have stunk for so long the fans in K.C. have lost their sense of smell. During the offseason, they made a play for free agent Torii Hunter, but he opted for L.A. and they settled for Jose Guillen ($36 million, three years) Ouch! There is hope on the horizon, however. The Royals are slowly getting better. After stockpiling draft picks and prospects, General Manager Dayton Moore has assembled a team with great potential. But, potential won’t win games. Much ballyhooed 3B Alex Gordon got better during the second half last year, and kids like Billy Butler, Luke Hochevar and Brian Bannister are impressive and will only improve if given time. The Royals could spoil a lot of other teams’ dreams in 2008, but are several seasons away from achieving their own. It will be another nightmarish year for the kids (and the fans) from K.C.


Last year, I picked the Seattle Mariners to win the AL West while everyone else thought nothing of them. Give us credit for reading between the lines. The Mariners were the surprise of the AL although they missed out on the postseason, and…they’ll likely miss out again in 2008. It won’t be because of the pitching, which has been strengthened with the addition of Erik Bedard and an overpaid yet serviceable Carlos Silva, both of whom will flank around the still very young, bound-to-be-improved Felix Hernandez (22 in April). Or because of the bullpen, anchored by J.J. Putz—far and away the most underrated closer in the AL. You may know where I’m headed, but before the defenders waive the M’s .287 batting average—second best in the majors in 2007—at me, do the homework a little more and you see a lot of singles, few long hits and even fewer walks attached to that figure. And if you think Silva is overpaid, $14 million better get the Mariners something more from Richie Sexson than his .205 average, 21 homers and 63 RBIs from a year ago. Seattle’s close, but they still have some work to do.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have done theirs. They gained pitcher Jon Garland from the White Sox to fortify an already stout rotation, and nabbed outfielder Torii Hunter via free agency, adding more fear factor to an everyday lineup that’s starting to look sharp from top to bottom. Otherwise, there are few weaknesses on this team. If you want to carp in that direction, you can find some fault in a relatively inexperienced infield (all the more so with Gold Glove shortstop Orlando Cabrera gone in the trade for Garland), or that an overcrowded outfield may lead to some clubhouse dissension courtesy of the odd man out, or that closer Francisco Rodriguez is an angry guy after losing his arbitration battle. But these are minor issues. So how good are the Angels? I’ve gone this far without mentioning Vladimir Guerrero. But now I have, and now you see. The Angels are the team to beat in the West, and quite possibly all of baseball.

Gertrude Stein once wrote that there’s no “there” there in Oakland. If A’s front office czar Billy Beane keeps trading away his best talent, there won’t be much “there” there in the Coliseum, either. And because of the team’s low budget and relative small revenue streams playing in a multi-purpose stadium, there will be a continued lack of “there” until the A’s become the Oakland A’s of Fremont. (And if you thought there was no “there” there in Oakland, wait ‘til you see what’s around the A’s proposed ballpark in Fremont.) Over the winter, Beane traded away the team’s best pitcher (Dan Haren) and best hitter (Nick Swisher), and rumors are flying rampant to the point that the remaining A’s are keeping the nearest U-Haul location on speed dial, just in case. The A’s, as they currently are, might make a dent in the West—but they need solid production and good health from starting pitcher Rich Harden, third baseman Eric Chavez and shortstop Bobby Crosby—all of whom have given Oakland neither over the past few years. My old standby is that you can never count the A’s out, but if they start off awful, who’s left “there” in Oakland may well get cleaned out to other teams.

If anything else, the Texas Rangers will be interesting to watch this year because their two biggest offseason pick-ups were players with deeply troubled pasts: Josh Hamilton (drug addiction) and Milton Bradley (hot-tempered addiction). For the Rangers to have any chance of success, they’d better hope these two major talents don’t relapse during the season, because the rest of this roster is a virtual repeat of last year’s last-place finish—and less. Good P.R. was spent bringing Nolan Ryan back as the team’s new president with the hope he could reverse the franchise’s ill fortunes of the past eight years; if only the 61-year old Ryan could still pitch. No one else on the Rangers’ staff seems to be able to. Texas has no closer, not much power (Hank Blalock returns, but it remains to be seen how much pop he has minus a rib) and, as the norm so far this century, not much hope—unless owner Tom Hicks can convince baseball to change the rules to something more like soccer and borrow some of the lads over from Liverpool for the summer.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Yo, Meathead!

Could it possibly be true?

Could the New York Knicks finally be seeing an oh-so-faint pinprick of light at the bottom of the chasm into which they have fallen, a hole so deep that the sun looks like just another star?

Over the last seven years, I remember the papers in New York proclaiming that the Knickerbockers’ woes were over each time someone new came into the picture—Isiah Thomas, Stephon Marbury, Lenny Wilkens, Larry Brown. Things have only gotten worse. I was totally against bringing Marbury to New York, and that proved to be a bad decision, especially since Marbury had such a huge contract and the Knicks gave up expiring contracts to get him. But Thomas, Wilkens, and Brown are all Hall-of Famers. Why should Donnie Walsh, lately from the Indiana Pacers, be able to do any better, especially if, as rumors have it, he has decided to keep Isiah on as coach?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The New York Daily News today is reporting that Walsh has a handshake agreement to become team president, and that he will bring in a new general manager. There is speculation that he will retain Zeke as coach due to an order from owner James Dolan, but suggestions for both a new GM (Mark Warkentien, Billy King) and a new coach (Mark Jackson, Scott Skiles, Tom Thibodeau) appear. Newsday reports that Kiki Vandeweghe is also in the mix for GM and that Herb Williams could be considered as coach, leaving the door open for Patrick Ewing to become a Knicks assistant under Williams.

I would be all for seeing Mark Jackson get his first head coaching job from the Knicks. I think Jackson was tough as nails as a player and has a never-back-down attitude that the Knicks could really use. Thibodeau spent many years as a Knicks assistant, and since he’s learned a few tricks under Jeff Van Gundy, I think he’d be fine, too. And I think if Williams is given full head-coach responsibilities, he’ll be a good choice, too. Not so sure about Skiles, but anything has to be better than the past seven years of misery at Madison Square Garden. There are NCAA teams that could beat the pathetic squad of losers the Knicks organization has the nerve to put on the floor every night.

If the Knicks keep Isiah in any capacity, their credibility is shot. It shows that Dolan still has his fingers in the pie, rather than that Walsh has the autonomy to make decisions as he sees fit. Since Dolan’s decision-making has been—um, questionable, at best, the fans have grown so disgusted that they really need to see that Dolan has moved into the background and is satisfied to stay there.

In addition, what do the failures of Marbury, Wilkens, Brown, and Thomas all have in common? The answer: Dolan and Thomas. Since we (sadly) know by now that Dolan will remain the owner for the foreseeable future, the only way to sever ties with all the failures of the past as much as possible is to let the ax fall on Isiah. Don’t cry for him, New York! Since Isiah knows he’ll never get another NBA job, he’s milked this one for all it’s worth, and after running a league flagship franchise into the ground competitively, I’m sure he’ll be able to live off the interest his money makes while the fans watch this phoenix struggle to rise from the ashes before someone pours water on it and puts the fire out.

Of course, this is all hearsay at the moment, as the team has announced nothing, and for now Walsh is still employed by the Pacers until the end of the year. The Knicks could be on their way to losing 60 games for the first time in their history. If that doesn’t speak to the need for change on this team, what other proof does Dolan need?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

This One Goes to 11!

Last night I had the pleasure of being at the San Jose Shark’s hockey game at HP Pavilion. If you’re not a hockey fan, you’re probably not aware of this team’s amazing 11-game winning streak. It’s the longest streak in the NHL this season and the most impressive run of consecutive victories since the New Jersey Devils won 11 in a row two years ago. The all-time record is 17 straight, accomplished by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1993.
To say that San Jose is excited about their Sharks right now is a huge understatement. Last night the arena (aka “The Shark Tank”) was absolutely electric. San Jose has only one professional sports team and they really support it. That place was rocking from the second the first puck dropped, all the way until well after the game. Downtown San Jose was packed with partiers and happy fans. It was like Mardi Gras – people were drinking in the street and women were flashing their breasts.
San Jose hasn’t been this hyped up over something since November 27, 1933 when a mob of vigilantes lynched two guys named Thurmond and Holmes in Saint James Park for kidnapping and killing a kid named Brooke Hart. But, that’s a whole different story.
Here is what Yahoo Sports said about last night’s game:
The San Jose Sharks have been playing their best hockey of the season over the last few weeks. What they did in the first period against St. Louis took it to another level.
Milan Michalek scored on the opening shift, San Jose added three more goals in its highest-scoring period of the season and the Sharks coasted to their franchise-record 11th straight victory, 4-1 over the Blues on Friday night.
“We came out flying,” forward Jeremy Roenick said. “The first shift set the tone for the whole game. That’s what we have to continue on here, our strong starts. We’re tough to beat when we get a lead.”
Roenick, Brian Campbell and Patrick Marleau also scored in a dominant four-goal opening period that helped San Jose increase its lead in the Pacific Division over idle Dallas and Anaheim. The Sharks are three points ahead of the Stars and four in front of the Ducks, with two games in hand over both teams.
That’s quite a turnaround from the end of last month when San Jose was 11 points behind Dallas. All it took to erase that was the longest winning streak in the NHL since New Jersey won its final 11 games of the 2005-06 season.
“It’s a good win for us,” Campbell said. “It’s what we need right now when we have games in hand. We have to take advantage of those.”
While many of those games were close—all decided by two goals or fewer with two going to shootouts and a third decided in overtime—this one was over almost from the start against a Blues team that has lost 11 of 12.
San Jose’s top line led by Joe Thornton applied heavy pressure on the opening shift and it paid off when Campbell fed Michalek, who beat Hannu Toivonen into the top of the net just 1:10 into the game. The Sharks didn’t let up and the onslaught was on from there.
“When you have the lead, you can afford to make a mistake here or there and you’re not going to be behind,” coach Ron Wilson said. “It keeps the other team on their heels and gets your crowd into it. When you have a first shift the way we did with three or four quality scoring chances before we scored you create in them, ‘Oh no, here we go again.’ You just have something to build on.”
Roenick tipped in a shot from the point by Craig Rivet just 1 second after Andy McDonald’s high-sticking penalty ended to make it 2-0 midway through the period.
Less than 2 minutes later, Thornton fed a trailing Campbell for a one-timed shot that beat Toivonen for his seventh goal of the season.
“It’s almost a nightmare at times when you step on the ice and you have a line of Marleau, Jonathan Cheechoo and Thornton coming at you full speed,” Blues forward David Backes aid. “When you dig yourself a hole like that in the first 10 minutes of the game, to expect to climb out is unrealistic.”
The scoring barrage was capped when Erik Johnson pulled Marleau down from behind for a penalty shot. Marleau converted from there to make it 4-0 at 13:2
Evgeni Nabokov made 19 saves for his league-leading 41st win for the Sharks, allowing only a power-play goal by Backes 54 seconds into the second period.
San Jose swept the four-game season series from the Blues, outscoring them 11-2.
“That’s one of the best teams in the NHL,” Toivonen said. “We have to find a way to play like that and then maybe we’ll win games.”
(I would like to thank my brother Gino—he goes by the name Yoko Ducked as a BrooWaha Reader-for letting me use his tickets last night.)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Yo, Meathead!

So we are getting closer and closer to Opening Day for baseball—is everyone excited? Maybe once the games start, people will be able to concentrate on balls and strikes instead of Deca Durabolin and Winstrol—although the impending federal investigation of Roger Clemens makes that unlikely.

I don’t know about you, but I am starting to have some mixed feelings about all the steroids coverage. On the one hand, I think cheats should be busted as far as they can and never be made available for induction into Cooperstown. If Barry Bonds was a cheat, I hope he gets put in jail. Clemens? Wow, I never saw anyone dig his own grave like Clemens. I wonder who recommended his lawyers to him, Krusty the Clown? If he’s guilty, they should throw the book at him. Imagine what might have happened had the Rocket just humbled himself like Andy Pettitte, admitted he “made a mistake,” and asked for forgiveness.

So here are my thoughts on some other sports issues of the day:

SEASONINGS: It always makes me feel my age when a great player who has been around for years retires and rides off into the sunset. Brett Favre was a class act and one of the great ones. He made the Packers relevant again almost single-handedly, and they were one of the most exciting teams to watch while he was their quarterback. True, he holds the record for INTs, but the great ones always take risks—they know you cannot succeed without risking failure—and if you stay around long enough in any sport, you’re going to garner some negative stats to go with the positives. Reggie Jackson retired as the all-time strikeout leader—would anyone dispute his greatness? As for all these opinion columns ranking Favre among the great NFL quarterbacks, I’m not going to get into that. Different players from different eras can rarely be compared straight up. Let’s just agree that Favre was up there at the top, and the game is losing a star.

Could it really be true that James Dolan wants to keep Isiah Thomas as coach of the New York Knicks next year? That’d be a disheartening rumor for any Knicks fan. The New York tabloids are whispering that just to be perverse, Dolan will keep Zeke as coach and bring in a new GM, relieving Isiah of his VP duties. As I’ve said before, Isiah knows how to coach. It’s just that the pieces he assembled for himself in New York are so bad that NO ONE could coach this bunch. (Eddy Curry went out with a tear in his knee cartilage Monday.) If Isiah can settle himself in one role, and—to borrow Bill Parcells’s metaphor—just do the cooking while someone else buys the ingredients, there may be a chance for a winning season after seven on the minus side. If the someone else is, say, Kiki Vandeweghe or Jerry Colangelo, could there possibly be a sniff of playoff basketball at Madison Square Garden once again? We’ll have to wait until next year to find out.

If Dolan were to finally stop smoking whatever he’s on, wake up, and fire Isiah, is there any chance he could bring back the Big Fella—as coach? With five years’ experience as an assistant coach, Patrick Ewing is waiting to be offered his first head coaching position. After playing under Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy, as well as coaching under Van Gundy and his brother Stan, Ewing probably has a decent grasp of what it takes to be a coach. What better way to begin his coaching career than with the Knicks? After all, even if he stinks, he couldn’t possibly be worse than what the Knicks have right now—can he? (That’s the thing about being a Knicks fan these days. Every time you think this team has sunk as low as it can go, it manages to sink even farther. Yeesh!

Might as well make this a record for the most I’ve written about the NBA in a single post. I just have to point out how low the Miami Heat have fallen in the past season. They’ve won just 11, that’s right, count ’em, e-lev-en games this year, and now Dwayne Wade is being sat down for the rest of the year due to a balky knee. This all makes me so happy, I could just laugh out loud!

Lastly, I just want to comment on how strange it feels to not be going to Opening Day at Oakland Coliseum, though we are planning to go see the Rangers–Mariners game at Safeco. In the last nine years, I missed Opening Day for the A’s just twice, and both times were for travel reasons. To be attending another team’s game on the first day of the season just feels odd—and taking a ferry home after the game will be even more bizarre (though I did take the ferry to one or two San Francisco Giants games before)—but I’m sure once we get a full season of the Mariners under our belts, Opening Day next year will be just like coming home!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What Will Video Spygate Reveal?

Former New England Patriots video assistant Matt Walsh, the main figure in the "Spygate" controversy, may be ready to talk to officials from the NFL.
The Boston Globe reported Monday that Walsh, who has asked for immunity from the league, and the NFL are nearing an agreement that would allow him to come forward and tell what he knows. And evidently, he must know something that could prove damaging to the Patriots. Otherwise, why would he be asking for immunity?
Five weeks ago, Walsh told the Globe that he possessed possible damaging information about the Patriots' videotaping.
Walsh's testimony could help NFL commissioner Roger Goodell complete his investigation into allegations that the Patriots filmed opponents' signals. For the past month, however, attorneys on each side have been unable to come to an agreement.
The fact is that it’s becoming quite clear the Patriots didn’t just videotape a few practices and games illegally. We’re going to learn a lot more real soon and I think the evidence might shock some folks.
The question is –what will the NFL do once they get the information they’ve been waiting for? Will Walsh waffle and fold under pressure, or will he tell all he knows and reveal exactly how rampant the Patriots’ videotaping was? Furthermore, will it show that the Pats’ had an advantage by videotaping?
"In the last seven days, the lawyers have had intensive and constructive discussions regarding some new and promising approaches," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in a statement released Monday by the league.
"They have made substantial progress toward and agreement that will allow Mr. Walsh to be interviewed. Both sides are optimistic that any remaining issues can be addressed successfully."
Monday's announcement contradicts comments made by Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, who told the New York Times that the NFL does not want to speak with Walsh.
Specter, who has been highly critical of the NFL's handling of the situation, wants Goodell to release letters exchanged between the league and Walsh's attorneys, according to a report in the Times.
Two days prior to Super Bowl XLII, Specter questioned the quality of the NFL's investigation of the Patriots' videotaping practices and Goodell's decision to destroy evidence uncovered by the league earlier this season.
Goodell fined New England coach Bill Belichick $500,000, fined the team $250,000 and took away a first-round draft pick after the Patriots were accused of videotaping defensive coaches of the New York Jets in the season opener September 9.