Saturday, March 29, 2008

Baseball Season Preview

Tomorrow night the true regular season begins, because I'm not counting that weird little Japan thing the Red Sox and the A's did. But tomorrow the Braves and the Nationals will play a season opener at the brand new Nationals Park (if you haven't seen pictures of it yet, look it up, it's nice) in the United States of America, followed by the normal full fledged Opening Day slate on Monday, including the Cubs vs. Brewers at Wrigley. So since you clearly have no idea what to expect this season, and look to me as your spiritual and mental leader in all things baseball, here are my team by team, division by division, league by league, previews and prognostications for the 2008 season.

Starting with the National League, where men are men, pitchers bat, and nobody has a Steinbrenner.

NL East (in predicted order of finish)

1. Philadelphia Phillies (92-70)- They have a great lineup including the last two MVPs and a guy who hit 22 homers and 103 RBIs last year despite missing well over a month with a leg injury. Rollins, Howard, and Utley plus Brett Myers back in the rotation and the continued ascendance of Cole Hamels will have the Phils back in the playoffs this year.

2. New York Mets (89-73)- Johan Santana is a god, and no one will deny that, but relying on guys like Moises Alou (already hurt), Orlando Hernandez (already hurt), Pedro Martinez (hurt every year), and Ryan Church (not actually good) for key contributions just ain't gonna cut it. This team is aging and injury prone and will fall far short of their expectations. Fuck David Wright.

3. Washington Nationals (83-79)- Yeah, these guys are my surprise team for 2008. Remember in 2005 when in their first year as the Nationals they surprised everyone by playing .500 for the season? This team is talented, and despite some serious questions in the rotation (read: God-Awful Rotation), I like the outfield of Wily Mo Pena/Elijah Dukes in right, Lastings Milledge in center, and Austin Kearns in right, as well as their two first basemen (Dmitri Young and Nick Johnson), and think that Ryan Zimmerman is just an outstanding young ballplayer. They'll surprise people.

4. Atlanta Braves (81-81)- Smoltz is already suffering some injury problems, Glavine doesn't have much left in him in his second Atlanta go-round, Mike Hampton won't make it through the season, Tim Hudson has posted just one great season in his Atlanta tenure, and I don't think they even know who their fifth starter is. I see this team stumbling out of the gate, trading Teixera at the deadline, losing Chipper Jones to his yearly injury, and causing Bobby Cox to retire in fury.

5. Florida Marlins (69-93)- Mark Hendrickson, Rick VandenHurk, Andrew Miller, Scott Olsen, and Ricky Nolasco. Thats their starting rotation. Miller has bonafide talent, Olsen has a bonafide douchebag attitude, and the other three are bonafide hacks. I don't care what Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla do, they aren't overcoming that rotation.

NL Central

1. Chicago Cubs (95-67)- The pitching is solid, the offense can be great (though it'll probably be just enough), and who else did you think I would pick?

2. Milwaukee Brewers (84-78)- Ben Sheets has pitched one full season in his career, Yovani Gallardo is already hurt, Jeff Suppan has never really been great, Capuano needs another surgery and had a terrible year last year, and Villanueva, Parra, Bush, and whoever else may wind up in that rotation are all just mediocre to bad. The offense will be great again, but I don't understand Brewers fans who can't see that Rickie Weeks is their version of Corey Patterson.

3. Houston Astros (77-85)- I like their lineup, and Carlos Lee always scares the shit outta me, but there is Nobody in that rotation after Oswalt

4. Cincinnatti Reds (75-87)- Everyone and their mother thinks this team will surprise and finish second. Dusty Baker is doing everything he can to keep their true talent off of the team, and he'll run Harang and Arroyo into the ground.

5. St. Louis Cardinals (72-90)- Pujols is hurt, Ankiel will struggle after his HGH debacle as he's not exactly mentally tough, Troy Glaus isn't the force he used to be, they have Cesar at shortstop, and their rotation until Mulder, Carpenter, Matt Clement, and Joel Piniero (laugh at those last two, go ahead) is Adam Wainwright (good), Braden Looper (mediocre), Kyle Lohse (hahaha), Todd Wellemeyer (you're killing me), and Brad Thompson (hoooo boy). This team is gonna be bad, and only Cardinals fans are naive enough to assume that the Carpenter/Mulder/Clement trio is actually going to just come off the DL and be great from day one. Jesus. They'll lose 90 some games.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates (70-92)- The rotation is actually the best in the division behind the Cubs, but the offense is just putrid after Freddy Sanchez, Jason Bay, and Adam LaRoche, none of whom are superstars as it is.

NL West

1. Colorado Rockies (91-71) I don't trust having three unproven starters in the rotation, but that offense is the best 1-8 in the National League.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks (88-74)- Their one two of Webb and Haren is the best in the NL, but I just can't believe in a full season of Randy Johnson at this point, I wish Doug Davis the best with his cancer treatment but there's no telling how long that will keep him out, and Micah Owings has to prove he's a better pitcher than hitter, and the offense has yet to prove itself. Except in three games against the Cubs in the playoffs. Sigh.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers (85-77)- Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, and Chad Billingsley are a solid 1-2-3 combo, and Hideki Kuroda has drawn great reviews from critics. Esteban Loaiza is holding down the 5th spot until Jason Schmidt is ready, but I don't expect much from either. Outside of the rotation, they need to keep playing Andre Ethier over Juan Pierre and play Andy LaRoche over Nomar, but I see Andruw Jones slump from last year continuing, Jeff Kent continuing to decline, and this team failing to be a scoring threat on any kind of a consistent basis.

4. San Diego Padres (79-83)- Yet another great rotation in this division, which contains 3 of the NL's top 4, as the Padres have Jake Peavy, Derrek Lee's punching bag Chris Young, Greg Maddux should still do just enough to win 10-14 ball games, and Randy Wolf is a decent #4. Some guy named Joe Germano is #5, so, good luck with that. The offense is anemic after Adrian Gonzalez. Khalil Greene has yet to put two good offensive seasons together, Brian Giles is nearly dead, their other two outfield spots are practically empty, and they have the great platoon of Michael Barrett and Josh Bard behind the plate. Rough year for Padres fans.

5. San Francisco Giants (63-99)- Oh God will this team be bad. Barry Zito has looked awful lately and will be traded if he puts up good enough numbers to have anybody want him, Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are great young talents who will lose games they shouldn't thanks to their shitty offense, Kevin Correia and Noah Lowry need to rebound big time. Their offense is just, well, sad. They've got the rotting corpses of Omar Vizquel, Rich Aurilia, Dave Roberts, Randy Winn, and Ray Durham either starting or taking up space on the bench, their rookie stars (Daniel Ortmeier and Eugenio Velez) haven't looked all that impresive, and they have Bengie Molina batting cleanup. They'll be the worst team in the majors this year.

Division Winners- Phils, Cubs, Rockies
Wild Card- Mets

NL MVP- Ryan Howard, Phillies. Runner Up- Aramis Ramirez, Cubs.
NL Cy Young- Carlos Zambrano, Cubs. Runner Up- Johan Santana, Mets.
NL ROTY- Kosuke Fukudome, Cubs. Runner Up- Geovany Soto, Cubs. (the girlfriend has him winning it, which she swears is due to his talent and potential, not his name).

Cubs Preview 3/29/08

Roster Spot #3- LF- Alfonso Soriano #12
Ht: 6'1'' Wt: 180 Bats: Right Throws: Right

Smoked

Few things offer as much excitement for Cubs fans as an Alfonso Soriano at-bat. Though he frequently strikes out and seems to be a walking contradiction to our belief in the power of On Base Percentage, no one, bar none, has as many eyes on him when he comes to the plate as Alfonso. Because everyone knows when he gets one, he hits faster and harder than just about anyone else in the league. Last night's spring training game against the Mariners is a prime example. In Fonzie's second at bat he hammered the first pitch he saw nearly 500 feet down the left field line. Foul. On the second pitch he hammered the next pitch 400 feet to right. Fair. How one human being has so much power in a relatively slight frame no one knows. But he downright punishes the ball.

Soriano started out in Japan, then was signed as second baseman by the Yankees, played with them from 1999-2003, though his first full year was 2001. Before the 2004 season he was traded to the Texas Rangers as the centerpiece of the A-Rod deal. After spending 2004 and 2005 with the Rangers Soriano was traded to the Washington Nationals, who wanted to move him from second base to left field, as Soriano was a less than adequate defensive second baseman. Soriano at first refused the move to left field and said he wouldn't play. When Nationals manager Frank Robinson reminded him that if he didn't play he wouldn't be eligible for free agency after the year, Soriano relented and took the field. In his two seasons as a left fielder Soriano hasn't been spectacular other than with his power arm, as he leads all major league outfielders in assists over that period with 31.

But Soriano is an offensive player and his offense vonsists of the long ball. He's hit 241 of them in his career and averages 36 a season. In his season in Washington he hit an amazing 46 over the deep walls of RFK stadium, which lead to him being the most sought after free agent of the 2006 offseason. Surprisingly the Cubs actually went after the most sought after free agent and gave him the biggest deal in Cubs history for 8 years and $136 million.

In his first season with the Cubs Soriano stayed true to his exciting-if-inconsistent history, if one looks at his month by month totals:

April: .270, 0 hrs, 1 RBI, .308 OBP, .392 slugging
May: .302, 4 hrs, 11 RBIs, .362 OBP, .500 slugging
June: .336, 11 hrs, 18 RBIs, .379 OBP, .697 slugging
July; .265, 3 hrs, 12 RBIs, .276 OBP, .425 slugging
Aug.: .250, 1hr, 1 RBI, .294 OBP, .375 slugging.
Sept/Oct: .320, 14 hrs, 27 RBIs, .354 OBP, .754 (Jesus Christ!) slugging

Soriano's April/May and August numbers especially were hurt by two stints on the DL with leg injuries which also cut his stolen base numbers from 41 in 2006 to 19 last year, but you can see that in general when he was hot, as he was in June when he won National League Player of the Month, and in September when he set a Cub record for home runs in the final month of the season, he was an unholy power-hitting force. When he was cold, he was mostly a mediocre guy who struck out a lot and had a very hard time getting on based. In the end, however, Soriano finished with 33 homers and 70 RBIs despite missing over a month total with the injuries and was the spark plug for the Cubs, as their two really great runs of the season corresponded with Soriano's two really good months, and their August slump began as soon as he went down with his quad injuries.

As Soriano goes, so go to the Cubs, so pray he goes all season long in 2008.