Showing posts with label Ryan Howard. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ryan Howard. Show all posts

Saturday, March 31, 2007

NL East Breakdown

<--- Paul Lo Duca: Good OBP, Bad Sense of humor

Let’s start with what is easy…

5th Place-WASHINGTON NATIONALS

The Nats are still playing on a minor league field. Cristian Guzman is still on the roster (and hitting .425 in the Grapefruit league, might I jokingly add). Their most proven hitter, Nick Johnson, is out with a broken leg and is under no timetable to return. His backup, Dmitri Young, has not had a good year since 2003. Ryan Zimmerman is a blue chip and they still have spoils Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez from the super awesome Jim Bowden “Fleece the Reds like it’s 1867” trade, but the capital is looking at another year with a baseball team that lacks fire power.

Something strange… you look at the ESPN roster… and you don’t find enough starting pitchers left over from Spring to make a rotation… Hmmmmmmmmm… Not a good sign. John Patterson will probably be a very good pitcher in baseball for quite some time. He strikes out a man an inning and hitters only put up a .211 batting average against him last year. With better defense, his ERA might have been at least under 4.00. After that it’s shaky territory for the rotation. The guys duking it out for spots include such high profile names as… Colby Lewis… Tim Redding… Mike Bacsik… Matt Chico…Mike O

Connor…Sheeeet, I give up. I’ve never heard of any of these guys.

Except for Redding. He had one good year with the Astros, a great ERA in the mid-threes, accompanied by a losing record due to the worst run support in major league baseball. That same year, he pitched in the rotation with Jeriome Robertson (yeah, that’s right, J-E-R-I-O-M-E, Robertson) who won fifteen games with an ERA of 5.10. Justice was eventually served; Neither man made it.

Back on track… Washington invited everyone in America to try out for the bullpen and they found some decent picks and maintained several good arms from last year. Ray King should still have some gas in the tank and the vital indicators are all there for Saul Rivera, but no one on the staff really scares the hell out of anyone.

I would shape up the bench but it seems pointless given that they can’t fill in a starting lineup. Manny Acta has his hands full in his first year. On paper, this is a team with three hitters that belong in a lineup, one starting pitcher that belongs in a rotation and a decent bullpen with no closer.

Alfonso Soriano smiles as he sips his Long Island Iced Tea on a lawn chair just off the third base line at Wrigley Field… even in thirty degree weather.

4th Place- ATLANTA BRAVES

A streak so golden. Too bad, so sad, Bobby Cox. The Braves won for so long they forgot what it was like to be home in October. Now they have a fresh taste and I don’t think they like it.

It won’t make a difference.

First and foremost, this division is just too tough for the Braves this year. The Mets won almost 100 games last year and they stand to win in that vicinity again.

There is still good news this year in Atlanta. The bullpen is 100 times better than it was last year because of the additions of Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez. Both throw 97 with hot pitches. Both are closers in waiting. Both are guys that your girlfriend is attracted to. This is going to be a popular pair of pitchers at the end of the year.

They Braves have a decent lineup, which is why they could afford to lose Adam Laroche in order to shore up the bullpen. Ryan Langerhans, Brian McCann and Jeff Francouer are set to have long, solid major league careers and McCann is one of the best pitchers in baseball. They also have vets Chipper Jones, Edgar Renteria and Andruw Jones to fill out a reasonable major league lineup. The problem is that Francouer is no blue chip, due to his abysmal walk rate and the rest of the team is another year older.

The rotation depends on a few major items going the way of the crossed fingers. John Smoltz is ageless and Tim Hudson is hardly a real problem but Mike Hampton hasn’t pitched since 2005, Tim Redman has stunk for two years and Lance Cormier is untested. Chuck James had a great year last year, but young pitchers often have sophomore slump due to the major leaguers finding their weakness (just as position players do, which is why Jason Lanes battled the damn Mendoza line last year).

The Braves real issue is that they’re overmatched and have too many variables. So much of this team depends on drinking from the fountain of youth and stretching over injuries. Do you trust a team held together with Ted Turner’s denture adhesive? I surely don’t.

3rd Place-PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

The Phils are the world’s nature child this off-season, blossoming into a favorite for the division winner. They look good on paper but there are some bottom line flaws in this team.

The rotation is impressive: Hamels, Garcia, Myers, Moyer, Eaton. That’s fgive proven major leaguers in a rotation and more than can be said for any other team in the division. Hamels is likely to be a beast and Freddy Garcia is a definitive number two moving to the weaker hitting league.

Myers, Moyer or Eaton all have the potential to be at least number three pitchers in rotation at this point in their careers. The problem is that Moyer is on the other side of 40, Myers has only had one good year and we have yet to see whether it was the long-term mean or not, and Eaton is one of the most overpaid players in baseball. In a seven game series, I fear them. For a regular season, I would take my chances.

The lineup has plenty of juice and Ryan Howard may hit 60 home runs. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Pat Burrell all make up far more groud at individual positions than the average major league ball player but the lineup goes a little dead five men through. Aaron Rowand enjoys an overrated reputation because he put up a big season and several clutch hits while he was surrounded by sluggers for the 2005 champion Chicago White Sox. Shane Victorino carries a good stick, but this team has not truly improved it’s offense. Even if the Mets decline a slight amount, I would not trust this team to make up 12 games based on the acknowledged improvement of the starting five and the merits of the offense.

The bullpen is anchored by a combination of the vets in Tom Gordon and Rheal Cormier but they will likely get help from young gun Matt Smith in holding leads. Overall this is not the worst that situation can reach. There is a game plan to shutdown a team but every year older a relief pitcher becomes is 50 less innings in which they are reliable (sorry, Todd Jones). Expect the Phillies to stick around for 150 games before just being outsped in the standings to close the year.

2nd Place- FLORIDA MARLINS

The Marlins have always stuck in my craw. It’s because I remember going to the Astrodome on $2 ticket night with my Mom and a buddy from the Boy Scouts only to see us go down 12-3 in a boring game. Then they pick off two World Series in 14 years of existence? No. We’ve suffered so much, just for you to waltz in and rape the chords of victory.

And yet they are they are respectable for their ability to be big ballas, money-ballas, that is. Cheap young arms is one cost-efficient way to send a team far on a regular season schedule and take a swing at the ring. This was the case for both Marlins championships, ala Josh Beckett and Livan Hernandez.

Anibel Sanchez, Josh Johnson, Scott Olsen, Ricky Nolasco, Sergio Mitre and a little-known pitcher named Dontrelle Willis have all had satisfactory seasons in the last year or two. If that pitching staff is 80% as good as it was last year over the course of a full season rather than the fragmented portions inside which the young ones pitched, it will be competitive with both Philadelphia and New York.

The pen looks solid now that they have added Jorge Julio. Julio is a late bloomer who may still yet have room for improvement. He has a career 2-1 K/BB ratio and is likely solid for effective middle relief. Recently added Matt Lindstrom and Henry Owens both throw in the upper 90s. While I lost track of Owens since I saw him last Spring Training, I remember him having nasty movement on his breaking pitches. The pitching should be solid overall in sunny Florida.

The Marlins also have some pop in the lineup. Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla both swept baseball fans over with their Rookie of the Year contention last year. Miguel Cabrera is good enough to anchor any lineup in baseball. Even if Ramirez and Uggla have sophomore slumps, Mike Jacobs may push OUT of his personal sophomore slump into his old production. Miguel Olivo is one of the best hitting catchers in the sport and is a good slot for the middle of the order. Alfred Amegaza is nothing special with a stick but he’s a Gold Glove caliber shortstop with decent speed and potential to be pesky in the end of a potent lineup. Josh Willingham may slump or succeed. Following the remainder of the lineup, he’s a plus if he repeats what he did last year and it’s no big deal if he doesn’t. The outfield is a bit weak. They should be able to compensate.

The Marlins have a classic set of advantages that bode well for a baseball team. They hold good odds for a great rotation, a solid bullpen, great defense and a fair major league lineup with speed scattered throughout. They stand a chance at the wild card and will be in the race fairly late this year. Later, than say, the 2006 Phillies, who were full 12 games out at the end of the season.

1st Place- NEW YORK METS

The Mets should see the Apple drop a million times this year because they’re stacked and ready to roll. This team won last year by 12 games, a steep margin to make up regardless of pickups. The media hype has all eyes on the Phillies, mostly because of a damn good starting rotation (as mentioned earlier). This is foolish; if a team wins 97 games and stays young, it should be the division favorite the following year.

The lineup has an advantage over most major league teams at every single spot with the exception of second base, where Valentin patrols. Second base is hardly a position with a monstrous glut in the major leagues, nor is it a place that requires a heavy stick to succeed. In fact, having a second baseman who can’t hit is barely even a factor since guys started hitting fifty home runs a year at a semi-regular pace. Jose Reyes and David Wright are both MVP candidates. Reyes may be the best shortstop in baseball when all is said and done, hardly music to the ears of the Yankee across town.

The pen holds leads, especially minus the shenanigans of the famous Braden Looper. Heilman to Wagner is a good fit and there are plenty of fireballers surrounding the buzzage. The concern is whether Wagner can hold his position as an elite for another year, I believe he is slowly starting to prove that he is one of the few out there who can maintain a job by thinking rather than relying on old fashioned “stuff”. He and Hoffman are the only ones to prove it so far; We’ll see what happens when Rivera’s fastball ruuns flat.

The rotation is the big weak spot for the Mets in 2007. Glavine and partial Pedro should perform well, but the rest is a bit of a bite on the lip. John Maine and Mike Pelfrey should be good major leaguers but only time will tell and you never can read the slump. El Duque is about 109 years old, and Ollie Perez is a potential ace as well as a potential burnout waiting to happen. Fate controls the situation of the starting rotation. This should and likely does scare the heebie jeebies out of one Willie Randolph.

That said, the Mets will eventually add one full ace to their hand and make everything a thousand times better from that perspective. They may wina few less this year, but unless the rest of the NL: East greatly exceeds expectations, a banner will be hanging at Shea.

PLAY BALL!!!!!

-Tex