Rob Iracane: March 2010 Archives

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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.

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Attention New York area commuters who choose to torture themselves by listening to sports talk radio: you're in for quite a treat! Bloviating marble-mouthed radio host Mike Francesa must be lonely ever since his caffeine-addled partner Chris Russo left for greener pastures a few years back. How else could one possibly explain the invitation Francesa extended to disgraced former Mets GM and disgraced former ESPN "baseball analyst" Steve Phillips?

Francesa hosts the "Mike'd Up: Francesa on the FAN" show from 1 to 6:20 weekdays on WFAN (660 AM) in New York.

Francesa talked about having Phillips in the studio for weekly segments this season during his show on Monday.

Phillips hasn't had much work since being fired by ESPN for embarrassing himself with an intracompany extramarital affair, or what they call "team building" in Bristol. But hey, he'll get the opportunity to telephone a sports talk show once a week and give his expert opinions on a team he wasn't smart enough to run properly, so good for him.

Let it be known: I do not dislike Steve Phillips because he cheated on his wife. I do not dislike Steve Phillips for committing adultery with a mannish young rectangle-shaped girl. I do not even dislike Steve Phillips for salting the fields of the Mets farm system and setting the organization back 20 years. Heck, I hate the Mets! Good on ya, Steve!

Rather, I dislike Steve Phillips for spending years spewing his opinions on ESPN and getting paid actual money to portray general managers in fake news conferences despite his ineffectiveness as an actual baseball executive. I dislike him for making Joe Morgan seem forward-thinking and open-minded in comparison. I dislike him for his well-coiffed shockingly white head of hair and his (occasional) neatly-groomed facial hair. I dislike him for being right about Cliff Lee.

But mostly, I dislike Steve Phillips for setting a precedent that failed general managers can become talking heads in the media, thus giving birth to Jim Bowden on my satellite radio. Yecch.

(we owe a 2 liter bottle of ginger ale to the good people at BBTF Newsblog)

In this vintage McDonald's commercial from the early eighties, Ronald McDonald, Grimace, the Hamburglar, the Fry Guys, Birdie, and some creepy dude called The Professor play a bastardized version of baseball before giving up and heading over to Mickey D's for assorted fried and processed chicken parts. The characters are quite creepy; no wonder my entire generation has grown up to become horrified by clowns and large purple things.

In this fraudulent excuse for 'baseball', The Professor uses a non-regulation bat that totally ruins the game, so obviously this commercial is an allegory for the upcoming steroids drama that haunted baseball for years.

To wit:


For a second, non-embeddable commercial where Ronald McDonald actually plays with his food, check out this clip featuring the McNuggets and a ton of bad baseball puns.

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A Bucks County, PA jury acquitted infamous female Phillies fan Susan Finkelstein of the prostitution charges against her, but dealt her a crushing blow by finding her guilty of attempted prostitution, a charge that carries a hefty fine and a slap on the wrist.

Back in October, Finkelstein posted a salacious ad on Craigslist promising sexual favors in return for Phillies World Series tickets.

Local police in Bensalem noticed the ad and set up an undercover meeting with Finkelstein where they say Finkelstein referred to herself as a "whore" willing to do almost anything for those precious tickets.

They arrested her, but she still made it to the World Series thanks to a wacky radio stunt, giving up just her pride and not her special gift.

Take it, Suzie:

"I'm obviously disappointed that it didn't come out with both counts not guilty," she said. "I honestly believe it should have gone that way, but there are disappointments in life."

As a Phillies fan, Susan must be used to the many, many disappointments in life, such as losing a World Series, or expecting positive things from Brad Lidge.

In other hooker news, a Braves minor leaguer has been arrested in a massive prostitution sting in Florida as he was participating in spring training:

Atlanta Braves minor league player Deunte Heath is out on bond following his arrest Thursday night near the Braves spring training home in Kissimmee, Fla., Channel 2 Action Sports anchor Zach Klein confirmed.

Heath is facing prostitution charges after allegedly responding to an ad on a classifieds Web site. He was arrested during an undercover sting operation at a Kissimmee townhouse.

Heath offered to pay a whopping $75 in exchange for sexy time, which is equivalent to three whole days of per diem pay. That's a lot of ramen noodles and hot sauce packets to consume just to save up for makin' whoopee.

Dude's a professional baseball player and he's surfing Craigslist for escorts? Don't guys become professional athletes so they don't have to pay for sex anymore? Can't any baseball player, regardless of what level they play on, just cruise a shady Orlando bar and pick up any random skank for free? Isn't this what our Founding Fathers promised us, right alongside the freedom to opt out of health insurance?

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Dodgers owner Frank McCourt obviously doesn't have enough on his plate right now: while going through a nasty divorce and wrangling over team ownership with his politically-aspiring nutso wife, he decides now would be a great time to bring up building an NFL stadium smack dab in the middle of the Dodger Stadium parking lots.

"There's no question L.A. should have an NFL franchise," he said. "It's probably the worst-kept secret in Los Angeles that the NFL would love to be at Chavez Ravine. Other than that, I can't comment right now."

Thing is, Chavez Ravine is not exactly the easiest place to access if you don't have a car. The phrases "public transportation" and "Dodger Stadium" go together about as well as "Bill Plaschke" and "rational thought". You simply cannot get to Dodger Stadium without a car. The parking lots are vast but actually getting there and getting out of there are impossible because of the poor access. Why do you think the stadium fills up late and empties out early?

Taking away parking won't necessarily make anything worse but it can't make it any better. I'm no transportation engineer (although I wanted to be when I watched the movie Singles) but the whole idea doesn't add up. How will they replace those precious acres of parking spots? With difficult to navigate parking garages? Flying cars? A monorail?

Sure, L.A. should have a pro football team. But they've been there, done that. Los Angeles has tried NFL football in Memorial Coliseum and in nearby Anaheim for decades, but the teams left. They even met with McCourt five years ago and what came of that? Nothing. Rumor has it that Paul Tagliabue wanted to put a stadium on top of the Hollywood sign.

Still, I fear the day someone plops a bloated football stadium next door to what is actually a nice, quiet ballpark to visit. Yes, even with all those annoying Dodgers fans.

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For most of us, a delightful surprise on a Tuesday morning would be a phone call announcing a bank error in our favor, or an email announcing that our favorite hipster band was coming to town, or opening our car's glovebox to find a perfectly edible Snickers bar we had forgotten about three weeks ago.

It's the little things in life that normal human beings can appreciate.

For former slugger and current steroids gadabout Jose Canseco, however, a delightful surprise on a Tuesday morning is learning that FBI agents are on their way to his house to deliver him a subpoena, and then breaking out his Twitter-enabled mobile device to alert his thousands of enrapt followers of his exciting news:

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OMG, no way Jose! How exciting for you! A chance for you to be relevant again, so soon after last year's massive press conference and book tour! Jose Canseco, having exhausted his baseball skills and embarrassed himself out of professional fighting now craves the media spotlight like a moth to the flame. He's got nothing left in his tank except to be an outspoken loudmouth.

In the past, Canseco actually defended Roger Clemens, telling a Congressional committee that he had no knowledge of Clemens ever using steroids or HGH. He wrote two dumb books and never pointed a finger at his former teammate, despite seemingly throwing every other pro athlete under the bus. I guess Mark McGwire once left the toilet seat up or something.

So, what's this subpoena nonsense all about, Alfie?

"One possibility is the prosecutors want to see if he will stick to his story in the grand jury," said Daniel C. Richman, a professor at Columbia Law School and a former federal prosecutor, referring to Canseco's defense of Clemens in both the affidavit and in statements that Canseco later made to federal investigators in April 2008

"Another possibility is that there are some details of his account that help the investigation even if he doesn't have direct knowledge about Clemens's alleged use," Richman said of Canseco. "He could have pieces that help fill in the picture."

Someone will have the unenviable task of informing Jose that these proceedings will not be televised or even liveblogged by Matt Sussman. No, just like your grand jury testimony (which was probably just as delusional as his daydreams), this is a purely closed-doors questioning. There won't even be cameras and reporters on the steps of the courthouse.

Alas, we common folk will have to rely on Jose's Twitter account to provide us with all the juicy details. Thank goodness boneheaded athletes discovered social media.

Hooray for progress! The United States House of Representatives passed H.R. Bill 3590 last night ensuring that every peanut vendor in baseball will be afforded an opportunity to purchase affordable health care, no matter how many pre-existing peanut allergies they have. But hey, the MLB folk that we follow on Twitter have their own opinions on Obamacare and aren't afraid to make them known.

Here is a small selection of the past week in tweets by some of our favorite players, managers, and 'other' folks:

The always out-spoken C.J. Wilson registers his complaints about Madame Speaker and somehow manages to construct an actual baseball joke:


Jason Grilli doesn't need Obamacare; he's got the Players Union/Cleveland Indians insurance plan to cover all his medical needs. Thank goodness, that knee injury looks pretty bad!


Red Sox catcher Dusty Brown doesn't need discounts in the prices of prescription medication; he prefers to get his meds over the counter:


Gadabout and gourmand Keith Law capitalizes on the health care debate to ensure that Congress tacks on some pork that'll help out aging ballplayers in the Senior Circuit:


Yankees blogger Jason Rosenberg agrees with Keith's ideas about the Demmycrats slipping in some progressive legislation for the world of baseball:


Aussie Ryan Rowland-Smith comes from a place where everyone gets health insurance and is sick and tired of all this nonsensical television coverage of the health care debates:


Wow, it seems like everyone has an opinion about the health care debates. But, one might ask, what does Ozzie Guillen think about all of this?


Uh, I don't think that's in the bill, Oz.



In the spirit of such famous baseball player/surrealist duos as Ted Williams and Rene Magritte, Frankie Frisch and Joan Miró, and Bob Gibson and Marcel Duchamp comes this ad for Braniff Airlines starring former Yankees pitcher Whitey Ford and famed Catalan artist Salvador Dalí. Because when you want to choose an airline, you want to take advice from a highly imaginative, bizarre and quirky character, and also Salvador Dalí.

I shuddered so much at Whitey's last line in this ad that I wished I had a pretzel to throw at him.

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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.

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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.
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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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News out of the Heyman Hole indicates that Rangers manager Ron Washington tested positive for cocaine in July 2009. He has been tested with increased frequency since then and has tested negative every time.

Interesting news, yes, but even more noteworthy is that team ownership did not fire him on the spot; they accepted his apology and retained him as manager of the improving team. Here's Ron explaining why he came clean (even if it was at the last possible moment):

Washington took the unusual step of calling the commissioner's office shortly after he was tested following the 2009 All-Star break to warn it that he might fail the test. Washington told the commissioner's office and his Rangers bosses about his cocaine use before the test results were known, and the team decided not to fire him after the test did come back positive.

"It was the right thing to do,'' Washington said of his decision to come forward. "I couldn't deal with the result to come back positive and be a shock to those who've shown faith in me.''

Some questions I'd like to be answered:

  • Does this explain why former drug addict Josh Hamilton wore that awesome Ron Washington tee last year?

  • Does this explain why Washington and notable straight-edge weirdo C.J. Wilson don't get along?

  • Which teams would have fired their manager had he tested positive for coke? Or tested positive for something worse?

  • Didn't George W. Bush sell the team years ago?

  • How will the reactionary Richard Justices and the Mike Lupicas of the world react to this news?

Most importantly, how long before a baseball blogger photoshops a trail of cocaine emerging from Washington's left nostril, in the style of that dweeb Perez Hilton?

I salute Mr. Washington for admitting his problems in an upfront manner and I salute the Rangers for keeping him as manager. Cocaine is a bad thing and you kids should just say no, yada yada, but let us not crucify a man for such a mistake.



Notable Irish tenor Ronan Tynan, who was banned from Yankee Stadium because of some off-color remarks about the Jews, has made the expected move and turned over his bald dome and throaty voice to the Boston side. The man who looks like a potato soaked in beer sang his trademark "God Bless America" at the end of the annual South Boston political St Patrick's Day breakfast/wankfest and donned a Red Sox jersey at the behest of one of the hosts.

Will this mean that Tynan will show up for Opening Day in Fenway to sing his signature schmaltz during the seventh-inning stretch? Probably, but it's doubtful the team that cast him off will care. We've still got the disembodied voice of Kate Smith! She's far too dead to make anti-Semitic jokes (anymore)!

Speaking of the Irish, my favorite part about the St. Patrick's Day season is my annual corned beef and cabbage dinner. It's the one time each year I eat Irish food so I can be thankful that I'm Italian and that I have a far better cuisine to draw from over the remaining 364 days.

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Hey, did you hear the big news? The Phillies are trading their big slugger Ryan Howard back where he come from, sending him to his hometown of St. Louis in exchange for The Greatest Baseball Player of Our Time: Albert Pujols. Howard for Pujols? Sounds like a win-win-win situation! (the extra 'win' is for Big Ink, who are reaping the rewards for so many column inches wasted on this topic).

But nay, this is just a rumour, and we all know where rumours come from. That's right, exploded from the desk of Buster Olney or one of his chatty cohorts. At least Olney spells out the improbability of such a trade right up front in his ESPN.com piece:

It's the sort of thing that is much more likely to happen in fantasy baseball than in real life, but according to sources, an idea has been kicked around the Phillies' organization internally, with discussions about proposing a swap of slugger Ryan Howard for St. Louis superstar Albert Pujols.

It's not fully clear whether the Phillies actually have approached the Cardinals with the idea, and even if St. Louis were to seriously consider such an offer, executives with the Cardinals would have to swallow very hard before dealing Pujols, a player widely regarded as the best in the sport.

Oh, okay, we're just losing our friggin' minds talking about an idea that was kicked around the organization, not an actual TRADE THAT MIGHT HAPPEN COPYRIGHT BUSTER OLNEY. And Amaro denied that such a discussion has even happened, making this a BASEBALL NON-STORY THAT IMPELS A WALKOFF WALK LISTICLE COPYRIGHT LIAKOS AND IRACANE.

Without further adieu ado, here are several more ideas that have been kicked around the Phillies organization:

  • "What if we installed moving fences that slid in 200 feet when the Phillies are at bat."

  • "We should do a blind taste test between Papa John's and Dominos. Thin crust? Are you nuts?"

  • "Let's give the shortstop a mitt that is 10 feet wide."

  • "I should start dating a movie star."

  • "We can save money if we only get the Phanatic costume dry-cleaned twice a year instead of monthly."

  • "Five simple words: osso buco on a stick. We'll revolutionize concessions!"

  • "It's not too late to get back Feliz and Myers from Eddie Wade. Or Bourn. Or Geary. Or Coste and Michaels. Or my stack of Sinatra 45s."

  • "Hey remember when everyone said we'd have flying car... wait where are you all going? I've got other pop culture jokes!"

  • "Let's write a new clause into Cole Hamels contract that forbids him from being photographed in bed for money."

Well, not all the ideas being bounced around the think tank in Clearwater are necessarily bad ones.

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You can take your Nomar tributes and stick 'em where the sun don't shine, Red Sox fans. Other, more interesting people are retiring, too. Former Indians, Pirates, and Padres outfielder Brian Giles has called it a career after failing to impress the Dodgers or make his balky knee work right in Spring Training. Giles leaves the game with a career OBP of .400, good enough for 59th place all-time.

Giles' poor 2009 outing (.191/.277/.271 in 61 games) is fresh in our memories but let us not forget his 137 OPS+ at the age of 37 just the year before. Sometimes when 'old man skills' show up, they don't gradually ease their way in. In Giles' case, they burst right through the bar door and beat the productive career right out of him.

Fella is hanging up his hat after 15 years of making highlight-worthy catches, drawing walks by the boatload, and devoting countless hours to personal care. From his 2002 ESPN the Magazine interview with Dan Patrick:

DP: Best tan in baseball.

BG: Me or Jason Kendall. He's started on my tanning program. In fact, we just got back from the salon. We got our tips frosted, then we went for a couple of rounds in the tanning bed.

DP: I can just picture it.

BG: Don't knock it. We have a lot of fun. Our big thing is, after they get the foil in our hair for the frost, we sit under the dryers and gab.

DP: Like old ladies?

BG: Sure. Cracks us up.

One other tidbit from that interview: Giles mentions that his ideal post-career job would be either 'chef' or 'meteorologist'. Good choices, indeed, but I wouldn't be surprised if MTV announces in the coming weeks that Brian was joining the next season of "Jersey Shore".


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Web Redemption - Phillies Fan
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Last night on the Comedy Central "let's collect hilarious clips from the web and make snarky comments about them" show Tosh.0, comedian and host Daniel Tosh presented a video clip featuring that little Phillies fan who threw back her dad's foul ball. It's part of an ongoing series called "Web Redemption" in which Tosh and his people give the stars of infamous web videos a chance to make up for their embarrassing missteps.

Maybe one day, Tosh will have me on the show to redeem myself for a humiliating Bon Jovi karaoke video. Maybe.

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True, the Corey Haim Watch doesn't evoke the same wistful memories as the Corey Patterson Watch, but that doesn't mean we can't re-run the above photo in a timely manner. Corey Haim dead at 38.



To a Cubs fan, hearing Harry Caray's voice evokes memories of summertime baseball, not unlike Marcel Proust eating a Madeleine and remembering that he left the oven on back en sa cuisine. To any baseball fan, actually, hearing the disembodied voice of the late Harry Caray stimulates all our senses: we can already feel the warm breeze in the ballparks, smell the peanuts roasting in the concourse, and taste the hot dogs.

Well, maybe the reason I can taste the hot dog is that I ate one on Saturday and it's still repeating on me. But you get the idea. Baseball's on its way!

(We owe French pastry to 'Duk and waxpaperbeercup.)

Professional baseball players get hungry, too, and when they're at their home away from home each spring, they tend to switch from a clubhouse 'gatherer' to a vittles 'hunter'. Some find a single restaurant and stick to it unfailingly for weeks. Others wander the grocery store aisles stalking protein bars. Join me now as we examine the peculiar species as it roams the deserts of Arizona and the swamplands of Florida, sending out 140-charactered electronic dispatches in search of its next meal:

Mark Teahen (or his dog, I'm still not sure who is supposed to be writing these tweets) is pissed that someone ran over his old lady's foot at the Piggly Wiggly. Seriously though, a size 11? You know what they say about chicks with big feet.



Chris Coghlan cares not for your neighborhood rules and regulations. If he wants to char some meats with his Jesus freak friends, he'll do it, consarnit! (Oddly enough, Chris neglected to use multiple exclamation marks in this Tweet)



Either Matt Antonelli's per diem can't cover a $9 burrito on a regular basis or his insides are rejecting the hellish nightmare a constant barrage of pork shoulder, spicy salsa, and pinto beans brings. I guess I just feel bad for Matt's roommate.



Australian import Ryan Rowland-Smith isn't one of those Crocodile Dundee Aussies who sells out and does the whole "that's not a knife" game. Nope, he's more like one of those self-hating Aussies like Heath Ledger that hides his shame behind either hard drugs or a Bloomin' Onion.



Brad Ziegler is either a man after a quality hamburger or trying to get on the board in the Colonel's Scarfing Scribe contest. As an aside, is there any worse compound word in the English language than "lunchmeat"? Can't we all just agree to call them "cold cuts"?



Hippie doofus C.J. Wilson refuses to put any of that processed garbage in his body, maaaaaannnn. No sir, he'll shop at the local crunchy health food store, waste his hard-earned dough, and buy 100% completely natural garbage. Then he'll insult the rest of the clientele. Because he is a horse's patoot.



Either John Baker is referring to Leftovers Cafe, a popular dirty spoon joint in Jupiter, Fla or he's following in the footsteps of Bruce Bochy Bud Black and is embracing the freegan movement.



I don't know who Angels pitcher Rich Thompson is but he seems to enjoy hoagies and grinders made by a former teen tennis sensation. I wonder if that sub shop substitutes oregano with marijuana.



Manic manager Ozzie Guillen has a much more fancy palate than these young, inexperienced, boring ballplayers. When Ozzie's stuck in the middle of a desert for three weeks, he'll do the only thing that makes sense: track down some raw fish.



Lol yessss, indeed.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.