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Sunday, March 30, 2008

American League Preview

Yesterday I got the National League, so here's my predictions for the American League

AL East

1. Boston Red Sox (97-65)-
There are some questions about the rotation, but Dice-K will take a step up this year and the offense and bullpen are both excellent. They'll make it back to the playoffs.

2. New York Yankees (88-74)- Their counting on two guys who are essentially rookies (Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy) and two guys who are essentially dead (Andy Pettite, Mike Mussina) to key the rotation. I like Joe Girardi's ability to coax some success out of the youngsters, but this rotation and an aging lineup (Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera are the only starters under 31) will keep them out of the playoffs for the first time since 1994.

3. Tampa Bay Rays (84-78)- I know, I'm batshit crazy, but I like Kazmir, Shields, and Garza in the rotation (assuming Kazmir gets back from his injury soon), and they have a solid lineup with Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford, Cliff Floyd, and BJ Upton.

4. Toronto Blue Jays (82-80)- They have some potential in the rotation, but they're injury prone. Scott Rolen sucks offensively these days and he's already hurt. They think David Eckstein will help because he's a "gamer". At least they have Matt Stairs.

5. Baltimore Orioles (64-98)- Fuck Andy MacFail. This team sucks. I won't even describe it for you. Just look at the roster.

AL Central

1.Detroit Tigers (95-67)-
They have some shakiness in the bullpen without Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney, but the rotation is solid 1-5 and they'll score 1,000 runs. No exaggeration.

2. Cleveland Indians (92-70)- CC Sabathia could possibly be better in his free agent year than last year when he won the Cy. I don't think Fausto Carmona was a fluke, and I think Travis Hafner rebounds from a so-so year to lead their extremely good offense. If I could trade Felix Pie and my dreams for Grady Sizemore, I'd do it.

3. Chicago White Sox (77-85)-
They're starting Joe Crede over Josh Fields, hoping someone will trade for Crede, they're secretly shopping Paul Konerko. This team has fire sale written all over it. They'll blow it up and start from scratch.

4. Minnesota Twins (73-89)- They sent Fransisco Liriano down to the minors to build up strength. There's really not much to be excited about here, but there never is with the Twins. They're a few years away from building back up to contention.

5. Kansas City Royals (71-91)- They have three middle of the rotation starters who will give them some quality innings (Meche, Bannister, Greinke), but you could wander through Kenya and find a place with more power than their lineup.

AL West

1. Seattle Mariners (89-73)-
I think Felix Hernandez has a huge year in their rotation, but it's Erik Bedard who will make them contenders. They need a big rebound from Richie Sexson to score consistently, but I think they'll do just enough.

2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California, 90210 (86-76)- They have potential for a good offense in Guerrero/Hunter/Anderson/Rivera/Kendrick, but John Lackey is out for at least a month and Kelvim Escobar's shoulder may require season ending surgery. I don't think there's enough pitching left after that.

3. Oakland Athletics (76-86)- Their rebuilding, and will probably deal Rich Harden, Joe Blanton, or both during the season. They have a potential star in Daric Barton. Other than that, not much too look forward to in Oakland (is there ever?).

4. Texas Rangers (72-90)- I expect them to shop Hank Blalock as soon as he proves he's healthy, their pitching rotation needs career years from Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla just to hope for .500. Josh Hamilton was a good pick-up, though.

Division Winners- Boston, Detroit, Seattle
Wild Card- Cleveland.
AL MVP- Miguel Cabrera, Tigers. Runner Up- David Ortiz, Red Sox
AL Cy Young- Justin Verlander, Tigers. Runner Up- CC Sabathia, Indians.
AL ROTY- Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox. Runner Up- Daric Barton, A's.

Division Series-
Cubs over Mets AL- Red Sox over Indians
Phillies over Rockies Tigers over Mariners

Cubs over Phillies ALCS- Tigers over Red Sox

World Series- Cubs over Tigers. Honestly, who the hell else did you think I was going to take?

Cubs Opening Day Roster Finalized

Alright, Lou finally did announce that Pignatiello has made the team over Marshall. This is really a smart move, as keeping Marshall stretched out and ready to start is important to this team in case Dempster or Marquis falter, or in case he becomes a bargaining chip for a trade. Pignatiello was a reliever in the minors and during his 4 appearances with the Cubs last year. So that means..

Roster Spot #24- P- Carmen Pignatiello #63
Ht: 6'0'' Wt: 205 Bats: Left Throws: Left

No major league photo available

Also, I'm pretty much tired of the previews now. So preview Pignatiello yourself. Here's his baseball reference page. Make him whatever you want to be. Is he a pony lover? Does he paint in his free time? Was it always his childhood dream to be a left handed middle relief pitcher? Can he be good enough that they just get rid of Scott Eyre? You decide.

Anywho, until Eyre gets back here's the official rankings of your Cubs 25 man roster for Opening Day 2008

25. Ronny Cedeno #5
24. Carmen Pignatiello #63
23. Reed Johnson #9
22. Mike Fontenot #17
21. Michael Wuertz #43
20. Jon Lieber #32
19. Hank White #24
18. Kevin Hart #22 (Eyre's Spot)
17. Felix Pie #20
16. Ryan Dempster #46
15. Jason Marquis #21
14. Ryan Theriot #2
13. Bob Howry #62
12. Daryle Ward #33
11. Carlos Marmol #49
10. Kerry Wood #34
9. Geovany Soto #18
8. Mark DeRosa #7
7. Rich Hill #53
6. Kosuke Fukudome #1
5. Ted Lilly #30
4. Aramis Ramirez #16
3. Alfonso Soriano #12
1B. Carlos Zambrano #38
1A. Derrek Lee #25

Tomorrow's game will be Cubs vs. Brewers at Wrigley Field. 1:20 pm central time.

Pitching Matchup: Carlos Zambrano (0-0) vs. Ben Sheets (0-0)

SS Ryan Theriot
LF Alfonso Soriano
1B Derrek Lee
3B Aramis Ramirez
RF Kosuke Fukudome
2B Mark DeRosa
C Geovany Soto
CF Felix Pie
P Carlos Zambrano

2B Ricky Weeks
CF Tony Gwynn, Jr.
1B Prince Fielder
LF Ryan Braun
RF Corey Hart
3B Bill Hall
SS JJ Hardy
P Ben Sheets
C Jason Kendall

That's right, the intrepid manager of the Brewers, Ned Yost, has decided that his lineup will be more productive with former Cub Jason Kendall batting in the 9 spot and PROTECTING the pitcher than with the traditional pitcher in the 9 hole lineup. Yikes.

But soon our national nightmare is over, Opening Day is coming!

Cubs Preview 3/30/08

Roster Spot 1A- 1B- Derrek Lee #25
Ht: 6'5'' Wt: 245 Bats: Right Throws: Right

Bow to me. Or not, I'm still gonna tower over you.

I know this is debatable. There are those of you out there mentioning how Soriano and Ramirez had more homers last year, and Ramirez had more RBIs. You'll mention Derrek's abysmal spring training stats. You'll show that I picked Aramis Ramirez to win National League MVP this year. You'll, hell, I don't know, and I don't care. Derrek Lee is the most valuable position player on this team. He is the only person who consistently blends hitting for average, hitting for power, near-perfect defense, and a high on-base %. When he went down in 2006, the whole team fell apart. He is the undisputed team leader, as noted by Lou Piniella, who frequently held conferences with Derrek during the tumultuous early months of last season. He plays the game with dignity and excellence, and seems in perfect control of his actions and emotions, though he knows when to fight and to fire up the team, like his brawl with the Padres Chris Young last year.

Last season Derrek lead the team in average, OBP, hits, was second in total bases, made the All Star team, and he won his third career Gold Glove award. He was the only one of the big three to show up in the playoffs, as he hit .333, where Soriano and Ramirez combined hit .068. Some were afraid, after he hit only 6 home runs in the first half, that his wrist injury of 2006 had forever robbed him of his power. Then he clubbed 16 second half home runs. Overall Derrek hit .317, 22 hrs, 82 RBIs, .400 OBP, and .513 slugging. That's a pretty good year. Not great, at least not by Derrek's standards. I expect that the wrist is now fully healed, given his second half power surge, and will put the number of home runs he hits this season at 35. But the true value of a Derrek Lee to a team isn't with the statistics, its in the clubhouse and the dugout, and in the way he sets an example for his teammates on the field.

After the Cubs let Mark Grace go after the 2000 season I viewed everyone of his replacements at first base with everything from scorn (Fred McGriff, Julio Zuletta, Hee Seop Choi) to bemusement (Randall Simon, Matt Stairs), but never did I really see any of them as the player the team needed at that key spot. From the moment the Cubs acquired the Derrek after the '03 season, he's been my favorite on this team. This season he'll continue to show us all why.

Cubs Preview 3/30/08

We reach the end of the roster preview (pending whether or not I have to do one for Carmen Pignatiello, I really wish Lou would just say whether he or Marshall got the lefty reliever spot), and rather than put one ahead of the other like I did with the previous 23, I'm going to label these two 1A and 1B, and let you , the reader, decide which one is more important to the team, as I can't imagine them winning without either.

Roster Spot 1B-P-Carlos Zambrano #38
Ht: 6'5'' Wt: 255 Bats: Switch Throws: Right

Don't lie, the Crazy turns you on just a little..

There are few characters in Cubs history like Carlos Zambrano. On one hand you have a guy who (if his Venezuelan records can be believed) is only 27 years old and has already won 82 games and pitched at least 200 innings a year since 2003. A guy with five pitches with unbelievable movement that can make him downright unhittable when he's on. A guy with competitive spirit unlike any other and breaks his bat over his knee when he strikes out, because unlike most pitchers he can hit, and wildly screams and gesticulates after getting needed outs.

On the other hand, however, you have a guy who walks way too many batters (0ver 100 in '06 and '07) and frequently erupts because his personality is his own worst enemy. When Carlos has a bad day, everything goes to shit. In his 18 wins last year, Carlos had a 1.43 ERA, in his 13 losses? 7.75. In 123 innings in those wins, he walked 43 batters. In his 76 losing innings he walked the same number. Sometimes his gestures and emotion can broil him in conflict with his teammates (see Barrett, Michael) and anger his manager. Frankly, even Cubs fans should admit that they'd probably hate the crazy Venezuelan if he weren't on our team.

But Carlos IS on our team. And we love him. After years of losing Cubs teams, too many of whom gave the appearance that they didn't Mind losing, we embrace his antics, knowing that more often than not, he'll shove it down the other team's throat. Critics will point to his rising walk total and how his ERA has increased by small increments the last few years. I'll wager on Carlos anyways. The guy is a champion, and anyone who watches him sees that the stamina and the stuff have always been there. He hasn't lost anything, if anything his stuff sometimes gets so much movement and velocity that it surprises him. Maybe losing Prior and Wood and Maddux and having to be the ace put pressure on him and he needed time to cope, especially last year during one of the craziest, most up and down seasons in Cubs history. But Carlos was there when we needed him most. He keyed the June/July turnaround for the Cubs by going 9-3, and he nailed it down in September and August with a 4-2 stretch. In game 1 of the NLDS, he pitched fantastically only to be let down by the bullpen.

This spring training Carlos has steered clear of his usual predictions and bold statements. He's gone out, taken the ball, and quietly dominated. Two weeks ago he declared himself ready for Opening Day. Tomorrow, and all this season, he will prove it.

OPENING DAY IS TOMORROW (well, tonight kinda)

That's right, besides tonights Braves-Nationals one game "look at our ballpark" game, Opening Day starts in earnest tomorrow. Tomorrow starts the first of 162 wonderful Cubs games to keep you from having to deal with the reality of your own life. Girlfriend left ya? Well Derrek Lee hasn't so sit your ass down and turn on WGN. Dying of a terminal illness? So you suffer for a few painful months preoccupied with your own demise. Welcome to life as a Cubs fan! Grab an Old Style and shut up! Wondering what that massive lump on your neck is? It can wait till after the massive lump that is Daryle Ward hits a pinch hit home run to win the game!

Seriously, though, ask any kid,even those that have played both football and baseball on a team, what sport they wished they could play professionally. Jeff Samardzija chose baseball over football. When Michael Jordan had reached the highest of heights in basketball, he went back and he tried baseball. Bo Jackson had it in him to be one of the greatest runningbacks of all time, and he risked it by playing baseball and football. The skeptic will tell you its because there's less chance of getting hurt in baseball, its not a contact sport, it requires less physical exertion. True, all of that may be the reason. But I'm willing to wager that any kid, whoever got that first glove, oiled it, slept with under his mattress with it wrapped around a ball wouldn't tell you its because its easier. Baseball captivates and holds people for life in a way no other sport can. In football its the aesthetic thrill of watching the crack and the thunder of the collisions, of watching the ball fly in the air, and the dazzling catches. Then the game is over, the people head home, and you wait another week. In baseball you see a walk off home run, a complete game shutout saved by a diving catch into the wall by the centerfielder, and you go back, you watch the replay on Sportscenter, and the next day its waiting for you again.

I, like most kids, can still remember that first glove, and how Dad taught me how to use it. How you learn not to be afraid of the ball by having it hit you in the mouth one time and realizing you'll survive. How you sit there and stare the time you hit your first home run, not to show off like Manny Ramirez or Barry Bonds, but just out of sheer amazement that you had the ability to do that. 99.9% will never play Major League Baseball. Hell, I never played high school baseball. But every Opening Day I raced home from school, made excuses to get out of whatever afternoon commitments I had, and got in just in time to catch the last 6 or 7 innings. Baseball's seen a lot in the way of scandals the last decade, from strikes to steroids to Selig. But if you were never watching for the home runs or the excitement, if the reason you sit down in front of a TV to watch the game is just to know that its still there, just like it was when you were four years old and your grandfather talked your ear off while going on about Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and how much he feared having to see the Cubs pitch to Willie Stargell, you never left. Sure, the Cubs could go 66-96 just three years after being 5 outs away from the World Series, and you could curse and swear and Vow not to be pulled into it again. Then someone tells you they signed Alfonso Soriano and you find yourself checking spring training box scores. It's just the game. Just the game.