Recently in 2010 Division Previews Category

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We at Walkoff Walk pride ourselves with our annual dabble in Division Preview bloggin'. Not that we promise any factual evidence to support our pitiful prognostications, nor do we even double-check our figures to ensure that the projected wins add up to equal the projected losses.

What's the point? We're just trying to throw some syrupy pancakes at the ceiling and see what sticks, and what flops back down on our heads.

Hope you've enjoyed the ride. This is the final installment for 2010.

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The National League East, once a guaranteed gift for the pitching-strong Atlanta Braves in the late 90s and early aughts has become a perennial prize for the powerful Phillies of Philly, with a quick one-year break for the quixotic Queens quagmire. Three straight division championships for the Phils does not equal the eleven straight that the Braves can boast, and yet both teams notched one tidy World Series win. Interesting? Yes. Meaningful? Hard to define. The postseason is a fickle lover, and yet Mets fans would bend over backwards for the mere chance to be jilted in October instead of September, or August, or July...

Also of note: the NL East has not produced a Wild Card winner since 2003, when the Marlins took home the whole pie. I predict that the Western domination of the Wild Card will end in 2010, but in a wacky way that will have young punks everywhere calling for realignment, or redistribution of funds, or both.

Join me now:

5. Washington Nationals

The Good:

  • Stephen Strasburg is the second coming of Tom Seaver, or Bob Gibson, or the Strasbourg Cathedral depending on who you believe. Either way, the young righty is a legend before his first pitch and a prime example of late Gothic architecture. He's a major news story whether or not he even gets called up to the big team later this season. Don't expect him to turn the Nats around just yet, but do expect many, many strikeouts.

  • Ryan Zimmerman is entering the prime of his career. Fella will turn 26 this fall and he's got four years of fulltime ML experience under his belt already. Expect thirty homers, an improved OBP, and some terrific glovework at third base for this Virginia Cavalier. Do not expect him to add an extra 'n' to his last name in a show of solidarity with teammate Jordan ZImmermann.

  • By throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at Nationals Park on Opening Day, President Obama is going to raise the Nationals profile on an international level, that is, if he chooses to participate in a photo op with the racing Presidents. Because that's what a sitting President of the most powerful nation on Earth does: pose with mascots. Failing that, he can settle for a photo op with the African Queen. Now that'll give him the approval rating bounce!

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The Bad:

  • Um, they're still the Nationals, and they still employ Livan Hernandez in their starting rotation. With the aforementioned Strasburg at least a year away from contributing, the Nats will muddle along with not-a-Beatle John Lannan, wormballer Jason Marquis, Livan, someone named Craig Stammen, and my old favorite Chien-Ming Wang starting games. For Stammen and Lannan, it might play in Triple-A; for Wang, it might play in Taiwan; and for Livan, it might play in 1997, but it ain't playing in the 2010 NL East.

  • Ian Desmond, like Strasburg, was a can't-miss prospect and yet he couldn't find his way into the big league lineup until after he already logged six years in the minors. He may very well prove to be a great middle infielder in the near future, but consider 2010 a learning season. Also, he's not a great hitter to slot in the #2 hole ahead of Zim and Adam Dunn.

  • Speaking of Dunn, have you seen these Nats try to field a baseball? Eeee-yuck. Outside of Gold Glove candidates in Zimmerman and CF Tony Plush, we've got some questionable talent here. The Nats obviously didn't get the memo about defense being the new hottness; corner outfielders Willie Harris and Josh Willingham, and the first baseman Dunn will do them no favors.

Predictions: 61-101 record. Manager Jim Riggleman retains his job when no one in the front office has the energy to fill out all the paperwork involved in firing him. Team sets attendance records with tons of new promotions (Bring Your Helper Monkey to the Park! Free Canned Cheese Day!) and turns the Red Porch into an exclusive cocktail club for season ticketholders. Strasburg finished fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting and buys a Sea Doo.

1. (tie) Florida Marlins

The Good:

  • Hanley Ramirez is one more step in improved defense away from being the best player in baseball. He's increased his OBP every year in the last three seasons, maintained his power, and has not stopped stealing bases. Were Ramirez to make the impossible leap to Gold Glove status, he'd be the quintessential five-tool player and make Albert Pujols take a step down from his well-deserved podium. Or he could make 45 errors and this could all be for naught.

  • They have a terrific twosome atop their rotation in Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco. Last year, they combined to go 28-14 with a tidy FIP of about 3.30 and a whopping 10 WAR between them. No two human beings can stake claim to such amazing sliders since Harold & Kumar's late-night culinary adventure. Shame that they'll both be in the AL East within two years.

  • Sassy Senior Jorge Cantu is leading the daily workout program for the Marlins. Now if the team could only persuade him to get the Marlins Manatees in the pool, the fans in Miami might not be forced to endure such a blubbery sideshow.

The Bad:

  • Team owner Jeff Loria is neither FDR nor is he Lorenzo de Medici. Rather, he is a dastardly money hoarder and he can be partially blamed for holding back the success of his team. C'mon, Jeff, throw some sheckels at Rick VandenHurk, those early-morning phone calls back to the Netherlands ain't cheap.

  • Florida re-acquired Nate Robertson to fill out the fifth starter role. Robertson has never posted a sub-4.50 FIP, but hey, the Tigers are paying his ENTIRE $10 million contract this year. Whatta steal!

  • Chris Coghlan's Twitter account is really f**king annoying. I don't know how someone can be so irritatingly Christ-y when he obviously sold his soul to the Dark Lord to win the NL Rookie of the Year over Andrew McCutchen in 2009. Yeah, he can get on base and steal a base and score a run yada yada yada, but how can you root for a guy who tweets crap like this:


Predictions: 87-75 record. See below.

1. (tie) New York Mets

The Good:

  • The top half of the Mets lineup rivals any other lineup in the National League. When healthy and playing together, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Jason Bay could combine to smack a hundred homers, steal a hundred bases, and produce 450 runs on their own. Now, Beltran's knees, Reyes' hammy and Bay's affinity for maple syrup and poutine could spell disaster for the team, but this is still one heckuva lineup on paper.

  • Billy Wagner is long gone yet the Mets have lots of good bullpen depth. Despite the fact that they overpaid for closer Francisco Rodriguez, the Mets can still bring in some no-name relievers like Raul Valdes to strike out the opposition. Value! And if that fails, they can just bring Tobi Stoner back up.

  • His reign is shaky but Johan Santana is still the best pitcher in the National League East. Santana should be in good health this year; give the man 200 innings and he'll strike out the world and get his name back on the Cy Young voting tote board.

The Bad:

  • Like a saline-saddled skanky stripper, the Mets' lineup is a tad top-heavy. Past that fearsome foursome, manager Jerry Manuel must pencil in the tepid quartet of Daniel Murphy, Jeff Francoeur, Luis Castillo, and Rod Barajas ahead of the pitcher's spot.

  • The only way the rest of the rotation could look more like a question mark is if they were dressed up like Matthew Lesko for Halloween. Maybe John Maine can be counted on to be serviceable, but I have little to no faith in Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez and youngster Jonathon Niese. Niese is recovering from a hamstring he tore up in 2009; give him 2010 to grow as an MLB starter and I'll be sure to upgrade him in my 2011 preview.

  • The defense will get better less bad. When your best infielder and best outfielder post a UZR of exactly 0, you know your team has the range of an armless, legless motivational speaker.



Predictions: 87-75 record. See below.

1. (tie) Atlanta Braves

The Good:

  • Tim Hudson is healthy. If all goes to plan, the Tommy John surgery will not only have healed his arm but turned him into a bionic pitching machine, unhittable by NL batters and unstoppable by your mere human weapons. Add in Jair Jurrjens and Derek Lowe and you've got a perfectly good front of your rotation. Nothing too gaudy, but good enough to impress Southern folk.

  • I can't find a weak spot in their lineup. Trust me, I tried. As long as leadoff man Nate McLouth shakes his springtime slump and newcomer Melky Cabrera adjusts to the NL well, expect the hitters between the two to produce above the league average. Much rides on the success of cleanup hitter Troy Glaus: can he stay healthy? If not, can Eric Hinske fill in at first? These are not rhetorical questions, I need answers, people.

  • Young gentlemen Tommy Hanson and Jason Heyward are on the verge of something spectacular. Hanson showed what he could do last year (143 ERA+ in 127 IP) and Heyward currently sits atop everyone's top prospects list. Their combined age is still less than Jamie Moyer's age and their readiness gives the Braves hope not just for the future but for today.

The Bad:

  • Chipper Jones is like 77 years old, give or take a dozen. Some day he'll be in the Hall of Fame but right now, he's somewhat of a defensive liability at third base and a big fat question mark in terms of health. His OBP dipped under .400 in 2009 for the first time in five years and he posted his lowest HR/FB rate in a decade. Plus he's gotta play all those games at CitiField! Chances are Jones will still be a productive hitter in the three hole and if he fades, perhaps Jon Sciambi can give him some pointers to improve his swing.

  • It's Bobby Cox' final season at the helm. You'd think the nostalgia would give the team an extra boost, and perhaps it will, but Cox' farewell tour has the potential to overshadow the team's success. Or maybe it will provide a useful distraction. I'd just have been happier seeing Cox depart in a more organic way, like walking away quietly at the end of the season or keeling over dead in the middle of being ejected for arguing with an ump.

  • The cow is going to become sentient and terrorize the Greater Atlanta area.

Predictions: 87-75 record. See below.

1. (tie) Philadelphia Phillies

The Good:

  • That core of hitters makes your mouth water. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Jayson Werth. To a lesser extent Shane Victorino and Raul Ibanez. Their home park only magnifies the tater tot totalling potential. They could score 900 runs if they played with the DH. Plus they all field pretty well; even Ibanez posted a positive UZR last year!

  • Roy Halladay wants to go to the Philadelphia Zoo with you. Big fella is excited to move to a National League contender; not only will his chances of pitching in the postseason for the first time go way up, but he'll get to feast on the pitchers hitting in the nine hole. Twenty-five wins might be a stretch, but expect a spectacular Philly debut with a tidy 3.50 ERA and many, many strikeouts. Expect Cole Hamels to rebound as well.

  • A team-related blogosphere representation that is so formidable and so thorough that someone found 65 of them to participate in an NCAA-style bracket. Like the fanbase for the Brewers, the Phillies fans are a devoted sort who will celebrate every victory and deride every loss with the same amount of passion. We at Walkoff Walk make no apologies for our love of the Phillies blogosphere, even when they get a bit obsessed about personal grooming.

The Bad:

  • Brad Lidge used up all his goodwill and good luck in 2008. When this guy trots in from the bullpen, you can already feel the homers flying off the bat. I'd call him a headcase but that's an insult to mental patients everywhere. In case Lidge completely breaks down and leaves the game to live on a kibbutz, the Phillies have a decent replacement in Danys Baez who spent 2009 recovering from elbow surgery and pitching for the Orioles. Ick.

  • New third baseman Placido Polanco hasn't manned the hot corner for a full season in years. The Phils are basically going from a wildly underrated defensive whiz Pedro Feliz at third to someone who spent the last half decade playing second base. Polanco did it well, but who's to say he won't poison Utley's Tastykakes so he can reclaim his favorite position?

  • No HEIST bump this year.

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Predictions: 87-75 record. Holy crap, we've got a four-way tie for first in the division! How the heck do you rectify that situation?

Via Baseball-Reference, this is the official MLB rule for a four-way tie in a division or Wild Card race:

Scenario #6: If four Clubs are tied for first place in the Wild Card (or Division) with an identical winning percentage at the conclusion of the championship season and the tied Clubs do not have identical records against one another in the championship season, the tie for the Wild Card (Division) shall be broken as follows:

The four teams will be designated Club "A," "B," "C," and "D" based on a draw by the Office of the Commissioner. Club "A" shall play Club "B" at the ballpark of Club "A" and Club "C" shall play Club "D" at the ballpark of Club "C" on Monday, September 29. The following day (Tuesday, September 30), the winner of these games shall play one game, at the ballpark of Club "A" or Club "B," whichever has won the game between the two. The winner of the third game shall be declared the Wild Card.

Well that's about as clear as a unfiltered craft-brewed hefeweizen! Last year, the general managers voted to end coin flips to determine home field advantage and used various other tiebreakers, like best record in one-run night games played in under 2 hours and 55 minutes. So really, let's say the Phillies host the Marlins and the Braves host the Mets for one game playoffs, and then the winners of those two games meet. The winner gets the division, the loser gets the Wild Card, and the fans of the other two teams are left scratching their heads.

Note: the chances of this happening are about 0.000003%, but if we hit on those lightning-striking odds, you'll be prepared. Prepared to be confused, amirite?

For the sake of completeness, let's say the Phillies win the division and the Braves win the Wild Card, with the Braves beating the Cardinals and Phillies losing to the Rockies in the NLDS. The Braves will sweep the Rockies in the NLCS and then go on to lose the World Series to the Yankees, because that is what Atlanta does best: lose World Serieses to the Yankees.

That's Why They Play The Games: 2010 AL East

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Time for the last AL preview. Rob's got one more coming for the NL East, then it's time to take it to the field. Here are the ones we've already done. His are much better than mine.

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Eat it, objectivity. You know why we save this one for last in the AL every year? It's the Grandaddy Of Them All. The AL East has baseball's two most successful franchises (The You Know Whos and The What's Their Names) and one could make the argument that the three best teams in the league all reside here (throw in Tampa). Not only does the division have more than a handful of marquee starting pitchers, but either the Red Sox or Yankees have led the AL in scoring for 6 of the last 7 years. Don't have 95 wins? Get lost. I will now ascend the steps of the golden temple to suss out a Chosen One.
5. Toronto Blue Jays

The Goodish:

  • Shaun Marcum missed the entirety of 2009 after having Tommy John surgery, but I sure loved his stuff before he got hurt. He's looking strong enough for Clarence to have named him the Opening Day starter. Dustin McGowan was also looking like he was getting ready to pitch his first innings since '08 but just hit a snag. Ricky Romero had a decent 2009 and if he can improve on that K/BB ratio he could be the best second year starter in the league.

  • Adam Lind and Aaron Hill combined for 71 HR last year. That's a ton. They'll remain the heart of the order (with a possible sprinkling of Travis Snider). They also combined for 208 Ks to 100 BBs. That's kinda bad.

The Bad:

  • They lost some guy named Halladay. After Marcum and Romero, the rotation has Brandon Morrow and Marc Rzepczynski, neither of whom have ever pitched more than 70 innings in a season and The Immortal Brian Tallet.

  • Lots of at bats from Edwin Encarnation, Jose Bautista and Alex Gonzalez. Also, Jays fans have to pray for a continuation of the Every Other Year Vernon Wells Is Good thing.

Predictions: 67-95 record, John Buck inherits Rod Barajas' Waverunner and rides it out to the middle of Lake Ontario where he strips down naked to "help free Mumia." The world learns that all Toronto catchers are given Waverunners, but it may not be a good idea for the voluble and viruently leftist Buck.

4. Baltimore Orioles

The Good:

  • How about that outfield? Nick Markakis is the defacto leader on offense, and while he Felix Pie is waiting for playing time. Solid.

  • Kevin Millwood was brought in, and as much fun as we like to have around here with The Kev, he had a pretty good 2010 and pitches a lot of innings. That'll be no small help to a rotation that has seen approximately 81 promising young arms flame out in the past decade.

  • Brad Bergesen and Brian Matusz are two rooks in rotation that everyone seems high on. Matusz, especially, has been dazzling 'em this Spring.
  • Matt Walters? Walker? Fetters? Something like that. Anyway I guess their catcher is supposed to be good.

The Bad:

  • The good things on this team are all real young. Markakis, Millwood, Jones (kinda), Brian Roberts and Miguel Tejada are the only dudes with substantial MLB experience. There are lots of growing pains to be worked out on the field for everyone else.

  • Their bullpen will probably suck again.

Predictions: 75-87 record, Following a disastrous stint in Colorado, Melvin Mora retires and returns to Camden Yards opening up an eel on a stick stand next to Boog's BBQ called "More Of Mora's Impaled Morays." It is even more disastrous than his stint in Colorado.

3. Tampa Bay Devil Rays

The Good:

  • Longoria-Crawford-Pena-Zobrist can hold it's own against almost any other lineup 4some in the game from a bat standpoint. Bringing in Kelly Shoppach to split time or possibly replace the offensively abysmal Dioner Navarro also looks like a good move. Even Jason Bartlett had pop in 2009.

  • James Shields has been a rock in the rotation for a few seasons now, and 2010 looks like the year that Matt Garza will emerge as an ace if he doesn't have a brain aneurysm first. Jeff Niemann is looking ot build on a career year and year two of David Price Takes The Majors should also be an improvement on the first.

  • The bullpen is very good on paper, as illustrated with colors and numbers by these guys. But there are localized rumblings that JP Howell's recent arm troubles could send the whole thing crashing down.

  • Their defense continues to be one of the best in baseball.

The Bad:

  • With the Rays counting on him for power, Pat Burrell had a lousy year in 2009. But it was his first year in the AL and this is also a contract year. If he was younger you could see it going either way, but as it is he could be toast.

  • If BJ Upton keeps regressing at the plate he may just disappear.

  • Joe Maddon is wicked annoying.

Predictions: 85-77 record, With no production from the DH troika of Burrell, Gabe Kapler and Hank Blalock the Rays sign Dean Palmer, who is promptly suspended for steroids.

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2. Boston Red Sox

The Good:

  • There are several teams making the claim, but The Red Sox probably have the best top to bottom starting rotation in baseball, despite the uncertainty with Daisuke Matsuzaka. Especially if they Do The Right Thing and just make Clay Buchholz the fifth starter when Dice-K returns. Enough with the 6 man rotation talk.

  • Rad Theo had a fine offseason. The Red Sox act like money is a factor when it really isn't. They lost the ability to play that card when they signed a third starter for $90M, just like the Yankees. So with that in mind, the Lackey signing was a good one. After getting by over the past couple years with near death cameos from John Smoltz, Paul Byrd and Brad Penny, Lackey takes that out of the equation.

  • Acquisitions at position player have both offensive and defensive components. Defensively, Mike Cameron is an upgrade in center over Jacoby Ellsbury, Ellsbury is an upgrade over Jason Bay in Left, and Adrian Beltre is an upgrade over the modern day injury plagued Mike Lowell. Marco Scutaro isn't an upgrade over Alex Gonzalez at short, but he's a fine fielder in his own right.

  • Losing Bay's offense can be recouped with a full season from Victor Martinez, and Scutaro coming close to his '09 numbers in lieu of the Lowrie/Lugo/Gonzalez SSThing. Cameron himself has had 20+ HR each of the last 4 seasons.

  • Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia are as close to healthy sure things as the Red Sox have seen since I've been a baseball fan and JD Drew went to Florida State.

The Bad:

  • David Ortiz still holds a key role in this lineup and there is no indication he'll return to his glory days. It's more about him finding the median between his years as an MVP candidate and the futile fanning that plagued him for the entire first half of last year. If Mike Lowell wasn't occupying this strange land where he plays for the Red Sox but no one acts like it, he could be a viable backup at DH. But itseems a foregone he's gone. And he's hurt again. This leaves Jeremy Hermida as the biggest bat off the bench.

  • Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon are solid for the 8th and 9th inning. Ramon Ramirez is also a good one inning reliever. It's getting to those guysin long relief that will prove to be the problem for the bullpen. Manny Delcarmen is inconsistent. Hideki Okajima regressed in 2009. The other spots in the pen will belong to some combination of Boof Bonser, Scott Atchison, Joe Nelson and Brian Shouse. Unless Dice-K comes back and someone has to move. Uncertainty.

Predictions:96-66 record, Jason Varitek takes up knitting while on the bench and makes a wool tarp for rain delays.

1. New York Yankees

The Good:

  • Well, when you win the World Series you have to really try to get significantly worse the next season. Like the Marlins. But the Yankees didn't do that. They added Javy Vasquez to the rotation. Guys they lost, like Damon and Matsui, may significantly improve their new lineups but they don't take much away from the one in the Bronx. Especially when you add Curtis Granderson.

  • Mariano Rivera remains the best closer in baseball. Their whole bullpen had a good 2009 and will be even better if Phil Hughes cuts it as a starter allowing Joba Chamberlain to have a designated role in the bullpen, where he's proven most effective.

The Bad:

  • The Vasquez signing did a lot to calm people who still don't see AJ Burnett as a near-ace and saw a huge dropoff in the rotation after Sabathia. But Vasquez has been in New York before and had one of his worst seasons in the majors. Add that to the fact that even with last season's renaissance in Atlanta he's been inconsistent at best over the past 5 or 6 years. What if he underperforms again? What if Burnett underperforms? What if Hughes struggles and that 5th spot stays unstable all year? Do you see how many hypotheticals I had to come with for something to put in "The Bad"?

Predictions: 97-65 record, Robinson Cano changes his name, and will only answer to, Dookie "Blood Spitting Crocodile Messiah" Crocodilemessiah-Thompson.

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I hope you turned your clocks back, friend, because it's finally time for us to turn our gaze towards the Walkoff Walk annual divisional previews. Daylight ain't the only thing you'll be saving if you peek back at 2008 and 2009's versions. Boy, did we miss the mark in almost every way possible! But at least we had fun being wrong, no?

Previously, Liakos looked into the plight of the AL Central. It was a hoot. Today, we stay in Middle America but flop over to the National League once again.

If the National League Central was one of your family members, it'd be the oft-ignored doughy 45-year-old male uncle that everyone assumes is gay, only to shock and awe the clan on Thanksgiving when he shows up with a 22-year-old Norwegian model, a Porsche, and a fine Armani suit. And then he leaves before dessert because nobody put out his organic cranberry, mint and tangerine sauce.

What does that have to do with the NL Central? Well, we tend to push our biases towards the coastal teams in the NL, your Phillies, your Dodgers, etc, and just assume that the winner of this flyover division will struggle to the gate with a mediocre record and fade early in the Division Series. But watch out, because you never know when Tony La Russa will show up to your house, wearing a big grin, toting his cranberries.

Make with the previews:

6. Houston Astros

The Good:

  • Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez are good enough to win 20 games. Well, combined, with the lackluster offensive support expected.

  • They probably won't be spending $100 million to field a losing team in 2010. The projected payroll is about $90 million, down from last year's high-priced squadron of squalor. Still, those former Phillies players do not come cheap, Eddie. Would I be surprised to hear Ed Wade convince Dickie Thon and Von Hayes to come out of retirement and don Astros jerseys? No.

  • Houston still has Momma and Poppa Bush sucking face at Minute Maid Park to inspire and arouse the fanbase. Yecch.

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The Bad:

  • Their best player has an ouchie in his knee-spot. Lance Berkman may not make Opening Day. If fans are lucky, he'll be in full form by the Day After Opening Day, but without The Big Puma, the 'Stros offense rests firmly on Hunter Pence. Poor, misdirected Hunter Pence.

  • Leadoff man Michael Bourn will probably regress to a not-very-good on base percentage. Fella overachieved and posted a heady .366 BABIP in '09 to accompany his career-high .354 OBP; chances are he'll revert to his career average of .327. Pair him with Kaz Matsui and the big bats won't have as many runners to drive in.

  • New manager and former Red Sox bench coach Brad Mills' resumé is about as impressive as former Astros manager Cecil Cooper, in that they both batted left-handed as players and have never been in my kitchen.

Predictions: 74-88 record. Carlos Lee's daily diet of four steaks and two pounds of spare ribs cause him to have coronary bypass surgery by July. Brett Myers goes 1-0 with a 8.27 ERA against his former team and 5-16 with a 2.83 ERA against the rest of the league; considers his season a miserable success. Team hosts "Jesus Day" on September 29th where every fan dressed in a robe, beard and sandals wins the right to ride a burro around the warning track after the game.

5. Milwaukee Brewers

The Good:

  • Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are monsters. Perhaps the best 3-4 hitter combination in baseball, these two gents could combine to smack 100 homers and drive in 300 runs...if only the Brewers could afford to surround them with talent. Instead, surrounding them in the lineup with Gregg Zaun and Jim Edmonds is like wrapping a Christmas present in rotten garbage.

  • They have the coziest relationship between fans and ownership around. Brewers ownership has provided many, many ticket discounts and deals for Milwaukee fans, who will continue to show up to games despite a mediocre 2009 season. These folks tailgate like champions and aren't afraid to tell you about it.

  • Yovani Gallardo is ready for his closeup. Yo Guy is finally healthy, has a full solid season to build on, and wants the ball for Opening Day. Cy Young worthy? Probably not. But it will be a relief for Brewers fans to see Yo Guy on the mound in the first game instead of last year's choice, Jeff Suppan.

The Bad:

  • Speaking of Soup, here is the rest of the Brewers rotation: Jeff Suppan. Randy Wolf. Manny Parra. Dave Bush. I'm no expert on evaluating pitching talent, or projecting pitching performance, but even I know a group of stinkers when I sees 'em. This stinks. Like your uncle's cranberry, mint, and tangerine dressing.

  • Rickie Weeks misses J.J. Hardy like a fat kid at fat camp misses fat cake. The Brewers traded Hardy to the Twins and will replace him at short with rookie Alcides Escobar. Weeks says he'll "hurt a little because he and Hardy were close and that they've talked during spring training." Stop snickering! Separation anxiety is no laughing matter.

  • Did I mention I don't care for Gregg Zaun?

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Predictions: 76-86 record. Team sells record 3.3 million tickets, sells record 23.4 million beers, and spends a record $59.25 million cleaning the ballpark bathrooms. Corey Hart gets traded to the Diamondbacks mid-season for a octabong to be named later. Trevor Hoffman saves 8 games and retires in August to pursue a career harassing John Smoltz via email.

3. (tie) Pittsburgh Pirates

The Good:

  • The patron saint of my heart: Andrew McCutchen. Sure, he lost the NL ROY award to Jesus freak Chris Coghlan but young Andrew's name will be on the backs of many a shirsey in Pittsburgh this summer. For good reason, too: he's got 30-30 potential and could just as easily fill the #3 slot in the lineup as he could lead off.

  • They've got three good young pitchers. Maybe they're all fourth starter quality on a contender, but Zach Duke, Paul Maholm, and Charlie Morton all possess the stuff to earn their keep and maybe, just maybe, turn the Pirates around in 2010. Don't sleep on Ross Ohlendorf, either. Seriously, don't sleep on him, the WoW office has a day bed if you're tired.

  • Rinku and Dinesh are quietly kicking ass, taking names.

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The Bad:

  • After McCutchen and power-bat Garrett Jones, the Pirates offense consists of cast-offs and question marks. Big things are/were forecast for Jeff Clement, Lastings Milledge, Jose Tabata, and Andy LaRoche, all former Top 100 Prospects. It's going to take a miracle for each of these gentlemen to get their act together simultaneously. But even if that gets delayed until 2011, it's not such a bad thing.

  • Their biggest offseason acquisition was Aki Iwamura. He's an above-average fielder and he'll slot in nicely to the second position in the batting order. But really, Pittsburgh is going to need marked improvements from members of their weak 2009 offense to contend.

  • There exists a myth among certain Pirates fans that ownership is purposely being non-competitive to save money. While the Pirates may have made some questionable moves in their not-too-distant past, there is no question that the current team management is making money-saving moves in order to build a contender from the bottom up, in the same model as the Rays. Yes, Pittsburgh cannot afford to hang with the Bostons and New Yorks and Los Angelesesses of the world, but they can afford to be smart and lock up young talent.

Predictions: 81-81 record. Team rejoices at the first non-losing season since Jim Leyland's butts littered the home dugout at Three Rivers. The Pirates final home date sells out in anticipation of possible .500 record, marking just the third sell out of the year (Opening Day and HEIST). Pirates sign Elijah Dukes next week, release him in May, and re-sign him in July only to trade him to the Mets for a PTBNL. Manager John Russell learns how to quilt.

3. (tie) Chicago Cubs

The Good:

  • Hey, Wrigley Field is a fun place to visit and drink! Sometimes they play baseball there, too.

  • Ryan Theriot has all the makings of a honest-to-goodness leadoff hitter. His OBP tumbled a bit to .343 last season but could easily bring that back up if he stops hacking at pitches outside the strike zone and gets his patience back. Walks good, strikeouts bad, Ryan.

  • Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, and Ryan Dempster are a tidy trio of starters. They can strike batters out and could easily each win 15 games (if healthy). They're no Carpenter/Wainwright, but they're capable enough of pushing a team towards a Wild Card.

The Bad:

  • Carlos Silva might be the fifth starter. Give this man 90 innings in Wrigley Field and he might give up 30 home runs. Fella rarely walks a batter, but he also rarely strikes 'em out. Silva is a one true outcome kind of guy: homers, homers, and more homers.

  • Wow, is this offense getting old and crusty. First baseman Derrek Lee and the entire starting outfield are on the wrong side of 30, with Fontenot and Theriot one year away. Time is a bitch, and this group makes the typically elderly Red Sox look like a bunch of whippersnappers.

  • No manager is more on the verge of coronary failure than Lou Piniella. I'm not saying he'll have a heart attack in the dugout, but I'm not saying that he won't, either.

    piniella.jpg

Predictions: 81-81 record. Odd, isn't it? Were the Cubs and Pirates to both finish with a cousin-kissin' .500 record, we'd have two completely divergent opinions on the concept of a 50-50 split. In Pittsburgh, fans would finally feel a sense of accomplishment, having put an end to nearly two decades of losing. In Chicago, fans would riot knowing that nearly $150 million in payroll couldn't even produce a Wild Card contender, let alone a division winner. Quite the dichotomy, eh?

2. Cincinnati Reds

The Good:

  • Aroldis Chapman has a sinking two-seamer, a 102 MPH fastball, and a wicked good ropa vieja recipe that will make every Cincinnatian forget about Skyline chili. The Cuban emigre may not break camp with the Reds but the tall lefty could whiz through the minors and make his big league debut this year.

  • Joey Votto is the Canadian equivalent of Albert Pujols. He may not have all the bells and whistles but he comes with government-sponsored healthcare and his own hockey sweater. Fella missed 30 games last year due to depression and/or dizziness, which is sad. Let us project a full season of powerful contributions from Votto, because frankly, we like him.

  • Willy Taveras is gone, daddy, gone.

The Bad:

  • Unlike Votto, I am not going to project that the Reds will get a full season out of third baseman Scott Rolen. Probably because he's still trying to get through "The Jungle". Outside of Votto and Brandon Phillips, the Reds have little depth in the infield. Remember, they voluntarily employ Aaron Miles.

  • Edinson Volquez is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto are so young and dainty, I shudder to think of the kind of damage that could be wrought by mismanagement of these fellas. Poor Dusty gets a bad rap for hurting pitchers' arms; he wouldn't be able to do all that damage if he had some higher-ups putting innings limits/pitch count limits on them. Dusty's not a bad leader of men, he's just bad at strategy. You can mitigate the strategy part.
    dusty2.jpg

Predictions: 83-79 record. Bronson Arroyo's band opens for Christopher Cross and UB40 at the Five Thirds Arena. Catchers Ryan Hanigan and Ramon Hernandez post identical .270/.338/.397 lines in exactly 352 plate appearances each and both change their name to Frank after the season ends. Reds build on their 2010 success by signing eleven free agents and then losing 100 games in 2011.

1. St. Louis Cardinals

The Good:

  • They are the 'haves' in a division bogged down with 'have-nots'. They have Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwight, Albert Pujols, and Matt Holliday, all of whom stand head and shoulders above any of their counterparts in the division.

  • Colby Rasmus will have a full season in center field to prove his worth. The youngster is ripe for a breakout year and hitting ahead of Pujols and Holliday in the lineup should help out his offense. Defensively, it's at least better than putting Rick Ankiel out there.

  • Tony La Russa is an evil genius. He may come off like a dithering Italian animal rights activist, but he's secretly calculating ways to double switch your ass back to the stone age. Plus c'mon, take a look at the rest of the managers in this division. La Russa would eat them for breakfast but they're not made of tofu.

The Bad:

  • It's almost a guarantee that they are going to trade Albert Pujols for Ryan Howard. I mean, it's a given at this point. The trade just makes too much sense to not pull the trigger. A slam dunk. Yep.

  • Offensive question marks at third base (David Freese) and shortstop (Brendan Ryan). Neither of these gents is going to win a Silver Slugger award, but Ryan is there for his glove and Freese is just a kid with a funny name.

Predictions: 92-70 record. A division title and a chance to win the National League pennant, which they don't. Pujols wins the MVP. Keith Law leaves Carpenter and Wainwright off his Cy Young ballot and causes the city council of St. Louis to publicly denounce home cooking and novels. Skip Schumaker hits five triples in one game and refuses to donate his spikes to the hall of fame, saying they are "forged by Satan" and "impossible to pry off his feet".

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That's Why They Play The Games: 2010 AL Central

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Oscar season is officially over, which it means it's finally time for us to turn our gaze towards the Walkoff Walk annual divisional previews. Do yourself a favor and look back at 2008 and 2009's versions for a chance to wander down the hallways of silly predictions and hack jokemaking.

Previously, Rob checked out the exciting National League West. Today, we flip back to the AL to run down the flyover states where people eat a lot of potatoes.

Even if you were in a coma for the whole 2009 season, (I'm looking at you, BJ Upton) last year's AL Central standings has an anomaly that's impossible to overlook. The Twins and Tigers played 163 games. And that only happened after the Tigers blew a 7 game lead in the final month of the season. The champion Twins pretty much stood pat, using their offseason to lock up Joe Mauer and Nick Blackburn, while the White Sox and Tigers did some significant dealing. And the Royals got Rick Ankiel. At least Indians fans are optimistic! Even more so than last year when Rob picked them to win the division. To the picks!

5. Kansas City Royals

The Good:

  • Reigning AL Cy Young winner and most popular player in baseball Zach Greinke is geared up for another big season, the second of a five year deal. Despite a down year in 2009, #2 starter Gil Meche has done a mostly admirable job in KC.

  • Billy Butler lived up to some expectations last season and is as legitimate a run producer as other more highly touted divisional infielders like Justin Morneau or Miguel Cabrera.

  • Joakim Soria.

  • Despite being something of a major league reclamation project for '07 and '08, Scott Podsednik actually represents an upgrade at leadoff over last season's injury necessitated twosome of Coco Crisp and Willie Bloomquist. Wait, maybe this should be in the bad column.

The Bad:

  • Rick Ankiel fell off an offensive cliff last year and is projected to hit 2nd. Alex Gordon spent most of last year injured and is starting this season off with a broken thumb. Couple that with Jose Guillen still getting a huge share of the at bats in the 5 spot and it's hard to see where any production outside of Butler is going to come from.

  • Infield defense.

  • Brian Bannister is now coming off of two disappointing seasons and along with the underwhelming Ho Shaver and Kyle Davies round out the staff. Not enough arms.

Predictions: 60-102 record, Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes remake "Love Lift Us Up" as "Back In The Basement Where We Belong." It becomes the 7th inning Jam O' the Year at Kauffman.

4. Cleveland Indians

The Good:

  • Coming off of career years, Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin Soo Choo fit nicely with Grady "Teacup" Sizemore at the top of the order.

  • Indians people are chomping at the bit to get Matt LaPorta some at bats. He's a Florida alum, I am rooting for abject failure, but by all accounts he's a natural hitter and decent fielder so I'm probably out of luck.

  • Kerry Wood entering his 3rd season as a viable major league closer. He's averaged over 10/K per game since moving to the back end.

The Bad:

  • Eesh, that rotation. Westbrook, Carmona, Masterson, Laffey and something named Mitch Talbot. At least Westbrook is in the last year of a terrible contract.

  • Travis Hafner nee Travis Hafner is shouldering the burden for a full season in the cleanup spot. He showed flashes of his old self in limited AB last season, but how much has he really lost? This actually belongs somewhere between the good and bad.

Predictions: 69-93 record, Hot prospect catcher "Lou Marson" turns out to be an 82 year old nymphomaniac chainsmoking woman.

3. Chicago White Sox

The Good:

  • Jake Peavy is on the Southside. What seems like it was a 25 year struggle for the Good Ol' Boy to escape from San Diego lands him as the 1a starter with Mark Beurhle. Formidable top of the rotation.

  • A full season from 2B Gordon Beckham should produce some big numbers at the plate.

The Bad:

  • Too much riding on Alex Rios and Juan Pierre both in the outfield and in the top half of the order. Rios's had a .296 OBP in 2009 and Pierre had a feel good season in LA but getting an entire's season of ABs in the leadoff spot could make Chicago fans forget that quickly.

  • Defense up the middle from from Beckham and Alexei Ramirez is error prone and not all that rangey.

  • Carlos Quentin is now one and a third injury riddled seasons removed from proving that his MVPish season in '08 was no fluke.

Predictions: 77-85 record, Ozzie Guillen leaves his wife and moves in with his mistress, a 450 pound lion. Gavin Floyd buys a pogo stick.

2. Minnesota Twins

The Good:

  • Boy, that Joe Mauer aint too shabby. Morneau, Kubel and Cuddyer also have their moments. We have yet to know anything about park factor at Target Field, but a nearly identical lineup produced the most runs in the division last year and 4th overall in the AL.

  • Francisco Liriano is healthy and out of minor league options. 200 innings out of him could significantly boost this rotation.

  • Ron Gardenhire looks like this.

The Bad:

  • Baker, Pavano, and Slowey all gave up around 10 hits per game last year. This doesn't bode well for new 2B Orlando Hudson.

  • Joe Nathan is hurt!

  • Without a significant contribution from Liriano that puts 50's country star Glen Perkins back in the rotation. Not optimal.

Predictions: 82-80 record, JJ Hardy cries himself to sleep each night because he misses the tropical climate of Milwaukee, Delmon Young puts out a record of droney shoegaze on Drag City.

1. Detroit Tigers

The Good:

  • You'll notice that the Tigers are the only team in the division that didn't land in the bottom five of last year's UZR ratings (The Royals were 30th, the Twins 28th, the White Sox 27th, and the Indians 26th). The Tigers were 5th and that ranking wouldn't have suffered dramatically without Curtis Granderson's 1.6.

  • Granderson's replacement in CF, Austin Jackson, has tremendous potential and along with 2B Scott Sizemore could make up the best rookie tandem in the league.
  • Verlander is a near ace, Rick Porcello is emerging as one and with the young Max Scherzer on board, there is enough upside (shoot me) to this rotation to potentially smooth over the bad old times of last year's Dontrelle Willis debacle, and non-seasons from Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson.

  • There are still plenty of home runs in the dusty old bats of Damon, Guillen, and Cabrera (who isn't even old). And possibly Tilde.

The Bad:

  • Robertson and Bonderman are penciled into the rotation again. Drastic improvement is needed.

  • A long losing streak, a wave of tough injuries or other varied misfortunes could really send Smilin' Jim Leyland packing for retirement midseason. After last year's collapse I imagine his last working, coffee colored nerve to be near extinction.

Predictions: 84-78 record, Gerald Laird takes his pants off in the DMV claiming that his vision is fine but his butt needs glasses.

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Spring training games are officially underway, which it means it's time for our annual divisional previews. Feel free to look back at 2008 and 2009 to reminisce about bad predictions and worse jokes, and to determine how little you should trust us.

Previously, Kris looked at the American League West. Today, we flop leagues and check out the Senior Circuit.

The National League West forgives you if you have trouble remembering their last World Series win. Since the Wild Card era began in 1995, the NL West has produced just one champ, the 2001 Diamondbacks, and three other pennant winners.

In fact, if you look at the three California teams in the NL, they've produced only five World Series winners since West Coast baseball started in 1957: all by the Dodgers. So much for manifest destiny. But there's one thing this division does well: win Wild Cards. Three of the last four NL Wild Card teams have emerged from the West, partly due to the Rockies late season successes and partly because of the Mets inability to win September games.

What does this all mean? Absolutely nothing. On with the irrational predictions!

5. San Diego Padres

The Good:

  • They won't give up too many tater tots at home. Petco has ranked near the very bottom among ballparks when it comes to runs scored for its entire existence and only once (in 2006) did the park not come up at the bottom for homers hit. It's the ultimate pitchers park, and possibly part of the reason Jon Garland took a one year deal to be a Padre.

  • They can close out wins. Shutdown closer Heath Bell is full of strikeouts and, again, he won't be giving up the home runs at home. Fella is real telegenic and will do yeoman's work to save 40 wins for a team not expected to win 80. Plus, Heath is a real snappy dresser:

    heathbellpants.jpg

The Bad:

  • They probably won't hit too many tater tots at home either. Sure, the Padres can pencil power hitters Adrian Gonzalez and Kyle Blanks into the lineup every day (at least until Gonzalez gets traded) but no one else in that lineup strikes fear into the hearts of men. Well, maybe professional pinch hitter and newly slimmed-down Matt Stairs, but still: this team employs David Eckstein.

  • The Petco outfield needs athletic outfielders. With a 295-lb Kyle Blanks slated to be the Opening Day left fielder, the Padres are sacrificing range for the dude's big bat. In an ideal world, Blanks would play first base but that won't happen until Gonzalez gets traded. Perhaps the Padres best fielder is Scott Hairston but he's going to spend too many days trying to pry that World Series ring out of his brother Jerry Junior's grasp.

  • Yorvit! (whose name must always be accompanied with the exclamation mark) is simply too fabulous to be a backup catcher.

Predictions: 69-93 record. Gonzalez gets traded to the Cubs in June for Derrek Lee, twenty-five prospects and Ron Santo's therapist. Manager Bruce Bochy Bud Black leaves the team in mid-May to open an organic freegan bistro in Salinas that serves table scraps gathered from local Panera dumpsters. Tony Gwynn Jr. changes name to Tone Gwynne.

3. (tie) San Francisco Giants

The Good:

  • Oh that starting rotation! Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain head up a five-headed monster that would make Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale shit terra cotta pots. Despite the heady contract tied around Barry Zito's tattooed neck, he's actually not bad. Fourth starter Jonathan Sanchez threw a consarned no-hitter last year. And if it's in the tea leaves, stud pitcher Madison "Bum-Bum" Bumgarner will enter the rotation sometime this spring to turn heads and make pitching starved teams do a wolf whistle.

  • There is going to be a mini-Walkoff Walk Heist at AT&T Park this summer. It's a proven fact: the home team never loses during Walkoff Walk Heists.

  • Pablo Sandoval may improve his on-base percentage to match up with his ability to collect extra base hits. Unfortunately, the OBP increase will mainly derive from the opposing pitchers' desire to pitch around Kung Fu Panda. Because...

The Bad:

  • The Giants have no offense of which to speak. Their lineup stinks, and its old, and its overpaid, and it makes Wilie Mays cry to think that this team will struggle to score 600 runs in 2010. You cannot build a proper MLB team using spare parts like Aubrey Huff, Mark Derosa, and Freddy Sanchez, while re-signing Bengie Molina to block Buster Posey. There is literally nothing of value in this lineup, and it pains me to call an offense that scored just 657 runs in 2009 "worsening".

  • Brian Wilson is really, really, really, ridiculously hungry.

  • Tim Lincecum, like every human ever, looks ridiculous in a Snuggie:

    lincecumsnuggie.jpg

Predictions: 81-81 record. General manager Brian Sabean considers his off-season moves to be dramatically great successes and dubs himself Crown Prince of San Mateo County, only to lose the title on a technicality when Eugenio Velez produces the proper documentation. Lincecum wins third straight Cy Young Award despite amassing a 11-12 record thanks to a record low 1.08 runs of support per game. Barry Zito abides.

3. (tie) Los Angeles Dodgers

The Good:

  • Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier are studs. Entering his age 25 season, Kemp has the potential to knock 30 homers and steal 30 bases, and maybe even snag some MVP support. That is, unless Ethier hogs it all with his walkoff magic: fella hit four walkoff home runs in 2009 and six walkoff hits overall. Pick up the walkoff walk in 2010 and we'll send you a cooler full of Maine shrimp, Andre.

  • Russell Martin will probably not wear his mother's name on the back of his jersey this year. If the Canuck catcher can rebound his OPS+ over 100 again, the Dodgers will reap the benefits of having an above average hitter at every position. Except second base, because Ronnie Belliard is a bum.

  • Manny Ramirez is nothing if he's not a constant source of entertainment. Sum Poosie, indeed.

The Bad:

  • They didn't get make a big splash in the free agent market. Past Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw, their starting rotation is sketchy at best: Vicente Padilla doesn't exactly inspire anything except a shrug for a team with lofty annual expectations. Dodgers Stadium may be a pitchers park, but it ain't no Petco.

  • They won't have Juan Pierre to push around anymore. If, by some bizarre twist of fate, Manny Ramirez joins the circus and can no longer play left, the Dodgers must choose from a pool of Reed Johnson, Xavier Paul, and newly signed Garret Anderson to fill his shoes. Yes, this is a huge if, but would you really be that surprised if Manny joined the circus?

  • The team can't hit the postgame buffet spread until Tommy Lasorda has sampled all the food. And then has had seconds. And then has made inappropriate comments about the waitress.

    lasordachef.jpg

Predictions: 81-81 record. The Germans invent a word to describe the feeling one gets when one's favorite team and most hated rival finish tied with a perfectly mediocre .500 record. Reed Johnson plays all nine positions in a late September game, then manages the eighth inning after Joe Torre gets ejected, then sells peanuts in the ninth to earn some extra dough to cover his Webkinz habit. Jonathan Broxton changes his last name to Papelbroxton.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks

The Good:

  • New rotation acquisition Edwin Jackson eats innings well enough to allow his former manager Jim Leyland to take a break:

    "Leyland joked with (D-Backs manager A.J.) Hinch that he can insert Jackson into the rotation, go have a smoke and return six or seven innings later."

    Can you blame him? Leyland needed all the relaxation he could get with that horrid Tigers bullpen under his command. Hinch also has Will Carroll's favorite Cy Young candidate Danny Haren and shell of his former self Brandon Webb at his disposal. If the D-Backs catch a break and Ian Kennedy pans out, they've got something.

  • Justin Upton is ready to break out. Expect 30 homers, 100 RBI, and some top of the lineup fun from a dude who won't even turn 23 until August. Put three-true-outcomes guy Mark Reynolds behind him and you'd expect Upton will feast on fastballs.

  • Chad Qualls is a worthwhile closer, but the reliever whose poster we all want to hang in our bedrooms is Clay Zavada. Maintain that moustache, sir, and you'll strikeout batters with your swagger alone.

The Bad:

  • We still have no idea who A.J. Hinch is. I'm almost convinced he doesn't really exist and is merely a hologram projected onto the field by a devious Josh Byrnes. Either that or it's Eric Byrnes in disguise. There's gotta be a Byrnes behind it.

  • They imported an underperforming infield duo from the Braves. First baseman Adam La Roche had a decent 2009 but second baseman Kelly Johnson looks to rebound from disappointing season in Atlanta. Can't blame him, really. You'd have a disappointing season, too, if you just realized you had a girl's name.

  • Brandon Webb may never get his sinkerball back. Fella had shoulder surgery last summer to clean out his rotator cuff and labrum; I'm no Doctor Andrews but that doesn't sound like a pleasant experience to me. One time I saw one of them medical shows on Discovery Health where they scoped out some dude's knee and I passed out for three hours only to wake up in my bathtub missing a kidney. True story.

Predictions: 84-78 record. Team enters September in first place with an 84-55 record and then loses 23 straight games to close out the season. Nobody in Arizona notices. Augie Ojeda and Tony Abreu become the first pair of teammates to get married. Nobody in Arizona notices.

1. Colorado Rockies

The Good:

  • Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez want to set your table. Both of these dudes could score 100 runs batting in front of Todd Helton and a resurgent Troy Tulowitzki. If Fowler and CarGon can both maintain an OBP of .350 or better, my basic knowledge of probability tells me that Todd Helton will have approximately 957 plate appearances with men in scoring position this season, and should get at least 839 RBI.

  • Chris Iannetta, the pride of Providence, Rhode Island, emerges as the best hitting catcher in the National League. You simply cannot go wrong with an Italian-American dude whose last name starts with the letter "I".

  • The Rockies need two things to win games in Coors Field: a good-fielding outfield and pitchers who can strike dudes out. Jorge de la Rosa and Ubaldo Jimenez can handle the strikeouts. If they keep their walk and homer totals down, they can be the best one-two punch in the division. The bullpen, led by Huston Street, will also strike out many gentlemen.

The Bad:

  • Other starters Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook cannot strike dudes out. They'll need to count on inducing groundballs, a skill that asks a great deal from the infielders behind 'em, and also a bit of luck.

  • Jim Tracy is a bum. This is his team now and he won't have the honeymoon period of an interim manager to fall back on in 2010. Roxtober is a cute idea, but if one's team is foundering in late May, there are no kitschy words to save one's job.

  • Brad Hawpe couldn't field his way out of a soggy paper grocery bag. Remember this familiar sight at the NLDS last year? Brad Hawpe mishandled more balls than an arthritic hooker in that series against the Phillies; in a yooge ballpark like Coors Field, you simply cannot afford to have such a liability game after game. But hey, fella's got a bat and that's why Baby Jesus invented the late inning defensive replacement.

    hawpeoopsie.jpg

Predictions: 89-73 record. A hideous purple and black NL West Division Title banner to hang from the upper deck in Coors. Team gets swept 3-0 in the NLDS. Troy Tulowitzki finishes second in the MVP voting. Clint Barmes nearly executes the unassisted triple play but gets distracted when an adorable puppy dog runs on the field.

That's Why They Play The Games: 2010 AL West

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It's almost go time, which it means it's time for our annual divisional previews. Feel free to look back at 2008 and 2009 to figure out how much stock you should actually put in these.

Last year's AL West race was, once again, about as exciting as listening to your coworker tell you what she did this weekend. The Angels won, your coworker and "the boy" just stayed in and chilled on Sunday. Watched a movie. The Rangers kind of made it interesting for a minute before they dropped completely out of even Wild Card contention, your coworker thought about going to that cool flea market but they hardly get the time to sit around and veg like that you know? Sometimes you just need it. She says all this as you remember that she said the exact same thing about spending last Sunday in front of the TV. Weren't the Angels supposed to regress or something? Dammit, I'm going on break.

But this year should be different. The Rangers and the Mariners are both ascendant and the Angels will almost certainly be in the running for awhile. They always are. I think this may be one of the most exciting races of the year.

4. Oakland A's

The Good:

  • The young pitching staff gets a nominal leader in free agent acquision Ben Sheets. Yes, Sheets hasn't exactly pitched in the recent past but impressed teams in offseason workouts and is tailor made for the imaginary role of veteran/teacher that people like to write about so much.

  • The rest of that staff containts two good left handers in Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden and possibly another emerging southpaw, Gio Gonzalez. Who you can watch get a haircut here:



  • OF Rajai Davis had a quiet breakout season in 2009, getting on base at a .360 clip and stealing 41 bases. He'll be moving to the top of the order (ahead of new CF Coco Crisp) and you can expect that SB total to rise. He could be the league leader.

The Bad:

  • The A's sat in the bottom half of the AL in runs scored and primary offensive additions Kevin Kouzmanoff and Crisp won't do a lot to signifcantly increase that number. They'll be relying on significant improvement from the rotation to up their win total. With the injury histories of both Sheets and Justin Duscherer, that's a can miss proposition.

Predictions: 77-85 record, Eric Chavez plays a total of 6 games and wears a catheter in each one. Bob Geren eats his weight in rocks and sticks.

3. Anaheim Angels

The Good:

  • Even with the departure of 3B Chone Figgins, their infield is one of the most talented in baseball. Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick, Brandon Wood and Kendry Morales all put up career years at the plate in 2009 and were all on the plus side in UZR.

  • The additions of Brian Stokes and Fernando Rodney should shore up the pen and bring it closer to the level of its mid decade heyday.

The Bad:

  • The Angels lost John Lackey to free agency and didn't do anything to replace him in the rotation. The rotation of Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana, Scott Kazmir and Joel Pineiro shouldn't strike fear in the hearts of anyone else in the division. Spring training optimism notwithstanding.

Predictions: 83-79 record, Mike Napoli grows a transcendent coke nail.

2. Texas Rangers

The Good:

  • Last year's team allowed an astonishing 250 fewer runs than the 2008 incarnation. 2010 may lower it yet again. The addition of Rich Harden and the maturation of the accountanty named Scott Feldman should make the rotation even better. Elvis Andrus at short helps too.

  • Count healthy Josh Hamilton, healthy Vlad Guerrero and healthy Ian Kinsler as one of the more powerful cores in the league and certainly the division.

The Bad:
  • The Rangers faded hard down the stretch and Dallas News writer/Cheeseburger Enthusiast Evan Grant has a great look at the challenges facing this offense besides potential injury. Better plate appearances are crucial to getting this team over the hump and into the playoffs, but you're not exactly dealing with malleable rookies here.

Predictions: 92-70 record, Frank Francisco goes on Antiques Roadshow to get his toothbrush appraised, The Marriage Ref gets canceled.

1. The Seattle Mariners

The Good:

  • Most people are in agreement that Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee are the best 1-2 in all of baseball. Teams with the best 1-2 in all of baseball usually fair pretty well.

  • Chone Figgins, Casey Kotchman and Jack Wilson are all additions that bolster the defense and a healthy Milton Bradley could make up for some of the power lost when Russell Branyan departed.

  • The Bad:

  • Despite the aforementioned defensive upgrades it comes as something of a wash after losing Mike Cameron (in 2003) and Adrian Beltre.

Predictions: 94-68 record, Jack Zduriencik (Daddy Warbucks) dons a toupee made out of empty soup cans for entire second half of season.

March 2010: Monthly Archives