Wednesday

Baseball Notes: D'back Debut, Cameron Arrives & Peek at the Picks

Hello again everybody...

It's back to baseball today. Last night we had a historic Major League Debut I'll tell you about. Then I'll talk about Mike Cameron returning from suspension to make his fist start for the Brewers. Lastly, I'll take a look at my picks versus the current Major League Standings.

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Onward...

Last night was the Major League Debut for Diamondbacks rookie Max Scherzer. Scherzer has been a highly touted prospect in the Arizona system for a while and has been projected as a top-level starting pitcher. In fact, his promotion to the Bigs wasn't planned for this early in the season. But he was pitching SO well at Triple-A Tuscon that the club was nearly forced to bring him up and at least have him in their bullpen.

So last night, starter Edgar Gonzalez got knocked out of the game after only 2 2/3 innings giving Manager Bob Melvin the opportunity to give Scherzer his first opportunity to pitch, and boy did he ever. Here's his line:

Max Scherzer 4.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 0 HR, 0.00 ERA

To translate, 4 1/3 innings equals 13 batters. He struck out over half of them. And not a one of them reached base. That's the longest a pitcher making his Major League debut has gone without surrendering a baserunner since I believe 1956. Quite impressive.

Now the speculation will begin. How long does Melvin leave Scherzer in the bullpen. Gonzalez has been far from lights-out early in the year and there's going to be those among Snake Nation that are going to be calling for Gonzalez and Scherzer's roles to be reversed.

Here's the trick. As impressive as Scherzer was in his debut, remember that the advance scouts were only getting their first look at him. It's often said in Baseball that you're not really competing against the other team as much as you're competing against their scouts. No player is perfect when they reach the majors. They have patterns and weaknesses that scouts will pick up on and work with their respective clubs to take advantage.

Remember the hot start P Johnny Cueto got off to for the Reds. Until the scouts figured out some of his patterns and teams started hitting him. Remember the energetic start from OF Carlos Gomez for the Twins. Until scouts found the cannonball-sized holes in his swing and he started striking out every other at-bat (and sometimes more often than that).

The point is ballplayers have to constantly be making adjustments. Countering what opposing teams are trying to do to them. And that's especially difficult for a kid who's just trying to get used all the craziness associated with being in the Big Leagues in the first place. So Melvin may best served by letting Scherzer pitch a few more times out of the pen to get used to Big League life before moving him into the rotation.

(Ed.'s Note: As I watched the Diamondback game I taped earlier Wednesday, it was announced that Max Scherzer will be making his first Major League start Monday against the Phillies. So much for being patient with the kid! Looks like my reverse-prognostication skills come to the fore once again!)

Next up, Mike Cameron finally made his first start for the Milwaukee Brewers last night. And quite the start it was. Cameron went 3 for 5 with 2 RBI and 2 runs scored, hitting out of the 2-hole. Here's what I wrote about Cameron in my Season Preview:

Milwaukee's biggest loss in the off-season was Geoff Jenkins. That's a lot of offense to lose, but they also lost a huge number of strikeouts, so maybe it's almost a wash. Replacing him in the lineup and taking over center field is Mike Cameron. I'll give you a moment to digest that. Mike Cameron. Oof. This is, of course, assuming he's healthy enough to play most of the season. The plus of this move is that it allows Bill Hall to return to 3rd base where he's better suited.

It's only one game, but so far Cameron's clearly exceeding my expectations. But don't get too excited just yet Brewer fans. Let's see how long he holds up. Remember this is a 35-year-old outfielder coming off a 25-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. I don't know what the guy was on, but if it was a form of steroid, then there are all sorts of questions in my mind as to how long he'll be able to hold up physically.

Oh and did I mention you STILL haven't cut Eric Gagne yet?! You're still off my list Brewer fans... you're still off my list!

Finally, it's time for my weekly look at my Pre-Season Picks versus the current Major League Standings.

NL East: Florida Marlins (Dan's Pick: NY Mets, 1/2 Game Back)
How about those scrappy Marlins?! They're pitching far over their heads and their defense has been above average. And when you combine those two traits in any team, they're going to have a chance to win some games. But the Mets and Phillies are hot on their heels and I have to think it's just a matter of time til the Marlins are overtaken.

NL Central: Chicago Cubs/St. Louis Cardinals (DP: Cubs)
The Cardinals are easily the surprise of the division so far. It looks like this one could be a dog-fight all year long. Sorry Brewer Fans, I know you're only a game back, but until you dump that dead weight from your bullpen, you're still a small pup trying to run in the tall grass!

NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks (DP: D'backs)
This one might be over by the All-Star break. The Snakes have the best record in Baseball and everybody else in the division is .500 or worse. Arizona shows no signs of letting up any time soon. And unless LA manages to catch fire, I'm not seeing much that would scare them.

AL East: Boston Red Sox/Baltimore Orioles (DP: Red Sox)
Remember what I said about pitching and defense as relates to the Marlins? Ditto for the Orioles. I thought trading away their best pitcher would make their staff worse, but so far, they're hanging tough. But in that murderous division, I'm not sure they can keep it up for long. Oh, and "God I hate the Red Sox"!

AL Central: Chicago White Sox (DP: Detroit Tigers, 3 GB)
Only 3 games? Doesn't it feel like the Tigers should be at least 6 games out? But they're not. Part of that is the fact that the teams in the Central are tightly bunched in terms of talent. And part of that is that nobody else is really that good. I don't think the Tigers are out of this by any means. But they need to get their pitching untracked in a hurry.

AL West: LA Angels/Oakland A's (DP: Seattle Mariners, 3 1/2 GB)
This may be the only pick where I think I might be already cooked. I've said it before, I wanted to pick the Angels to start, but their pitching injuries scared me off. But what was left of their staff has picked up more than their share of slack and the Angels have barely skipped a beat. The A's? Not going to last. Nice start boys. See you near the bottom of the division by July.

That's all for today folks. Back at you tomorrow with the official Derby Posts and final picks for the race on Saturday. Then Friday I'll have more Baseball goodness and another installment of the DFTU!

Tuesday

Kentucky Derby Notes: Say What?!, Post Draw Tomorrow & Horses I Like So Far

Hello again everybody...

I promised it yesterday, and now I'm delivering a brand new Notes column. I had plenty of guesses yesterday as to what I might be writing about: "The Beautiful Sport" (Soccer, Futbol, Football, whatever you want to call it), Lacrosse (either the indoor or college variety), or even Arena Football (who'd have guessed that would still be around?).

But none of those are correct. Instead, I'm going to be filling you in on "The Sport of Kings", Thoroughbred Horse Racing. Specifically the Triple Crown Races. Now I may not be able to convert many of you into Horse Racing fans, but I figure by filling you in with a little info, I can get a few of you to tune in Saturday, May 3 at around 5pm to check out "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports". So before you roll your eyes and close the blog, take a moment to check out what I'm bringing and see if maybe I can't convince you to tune in!

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Today I'm starting my coverage of the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby. First a quick historical sketch.

The Derby is the Grandaddy of all horse races for several reasons. One, it's the first major American race of the season. It always occurs the first Saturday in May, so it's become the second major sporting indicator of Spring (after opening day in Baseball). Two, it's the beginning of the Triple Crown stretch which includes the Preakness Stakes (May 17th) and the Belmont Stakes (June 7th). A maximum of 20 horses travel to Louisville, Kentucky, to compete for the chance to go down in history as a Triple Crown Champion.

Only 11 horses have been able to complete the Triple Crown trifecta in the 125 years of the 3 events. The last being Affirmed in 1978. So it's been 29 years since we've last had a Triple Crown winner and those of us who enjoy the sport dearly hope to not make it an even 30 this year.

So with that, I'm going to preview a handfull of horses who's past performances I like going into the 2008 Derby. An important note to remember is that the Post Draw (the selection of where horses will go into the starting gate) occurs tomorrow and will have big impact on who my final picks are going to be.

That being said, here are a few notes on horses I like so far:

Big Brown, winner of the Florida Derby (which is the video I've embedded below - BB actually started from the 12-hole in this race. Watch him get to the front and then pull away down the stretch. That's going to be much easier from an inside post in the Derby, and nearly impossible if he gets stuck with 15-20), is probably going to be the betting favorite when all is said and done. He's got the best speed numbers and is a front runner, so he will need a post close to the inside to enable him to get out front early. If he gets a post position of 1 thru 7, then I'm making him my horse to win.






Gayego, winner of the Arkansas Derby, is a stalker, meaning he'll want to be just off the pace for the bulk of the race and then make a charge down the backstretch. He's got the numbers to hang with Big Brown, so if he gets the right draw (say 5-10 somewhere), he'll have a good shot.

Colonel John, winner of the Santa Anita Derby, is a closer, meaning that he'll be hanging back in the pack and hoping the speed horses burn themselves out, so he can make a late rally for the win. The trick with him is that all of his races have come on synthetic tracks, so there's some question as to how he'll do on dirt. Generally horses do better going from synthetic to dirt, versus dirt to synthetic. But that's no gurantee that he'll do well at Churchill. So far his workouts leading up to the Derby have all been solid, so it would appear he can handle the dirt just fine, but you just don't know for sure until the race is run.

Adriano, winner of the Lanes End Stakes, is another closer. He's the longest shot of the group, in part because his trainer has been moving him between surfaces. This horse has run turf, synthetic, and dirt. The bad news is that his worst performance came on dirt. The good news is that Edgar Prado (won the Derby with Barbaro) came off of another Derby horse (Monba) specifically to get onto this horse.

Eight Belles, is the only Filly who may run in the race. I include her mostly for my mom, who was a huge Rags to Riches (2007 Belmont Stakes Champion) booster. I say she "may run" because her Owner and Trainer have decided to enter her in the Derby and the Kentucky Oaks, which is the major event for Fillies on Derby weekend. So they're going to wait and see what post she draws in the Derby. If they like her draw in the Derby, they'll run her there. If not, then she'll be the runaway favorite in the Oaks. So tomorrow's a huge day for her and handicappers who have to account for her.

One other name you'll hear a lot of, but I'm discounting, is Pyro. He was one of the favorites coming into the Prep season, but laid a huge egg in the Bluegrass Stakes and finished in the back of the pack. So the question for fans is whether that effort was a result of the horse not liking the synthetic track at Lexington, or whether he wasn't in the right physical shape. Either way, horses don't usually have lousy prep races and then come back to win the Derby, so I'm going to throw him out of my exotic bets.

So that's it for today. The Derby Post Draw is on ESPN2 Wednesday at 4pm CST. I'll be checking it out and have an update on the posts for you on Thursday!


Monday

Baseball Notes: Webb/Peavy, New Type of Post Tomorrow & DFTU

Hello again everybody...

It was a fun weekend in the world of Baseball, including a game that was nearly the definition of my favorite kind of game. I'm also going to introduce a new Notes column tomorrow that I'd like to tell you about. And finally, I'll bring you up to date with my favorite teams.

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Let us away...

In Friday's post I pointed out a few weekend pitching match-ups that I thought would be worth look at. And foremost amongst them was Brandon Webb (Arz) vs. Jake Peavy (SDP) Sunday afternoon. Now it's not a stretch to say that a match-up of the last 2 NL Cy Young Award winners would be a good game, but funny things can happen in Baseball when you least expect them. As it was, it turned out to be a 2-1 Diamondback win and a solid pitchers-duel.

Here are the pitching lines:

IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA
Brandon Webb (W,6-0) 6 5 1 0 4 5 0 1.98

IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA
Jake Peavy (L,3-1) 7 4 2 2 3 9 1 2.09

Peavy made one mistake that he got caught on, and that cost him the game. And it cost him the game because Brandon Webb was able to scatter 5 hits and overcome walking 4 different batters. So it wasn't that both pitchers were unhittable, but both were able to work out of jams multiple times.

These are exactly the kinds of games I enjoy most. They move at a quick pace - the time of Sundays game was 2 1/2 hours. Each At-Bat becomes progressively more critical to a team's chances since runs are so scarce. And most importantly, these games highlight the artistry of baseball. The pitchers throw a lot of strikes, making the batters put the ball in play and relying on the defense to make the kinds of athletic plays that highlight the top of SportsCenter.

Others may disagree, but give me a good pitchers-duel any day of the week!

Ed.'s Note: You may recall last week when I talked about Barry Zito's struggles and how the poor schmuck never stood a chance when he matched up against Brandon Webb. Well, he also apparently stood no chance yesterday against Reds rookie Edison Volquez, giving up 6 runs in the 1st innning. As of 7pm Monday night, ESPN's Buster Olney is reporting that Zito will be moved to the bullpen. Is this the worst major contract bust in MLB history? I sure can't think of one that's worse. Oof.

Next, a quick note on the Poll. Thanks to all who have voted. If you haven't looked lately, check out not only the poll, but also the comments folks have left at the bottom of Friday's post. But I still need more of you to chime in. Come on people! We can't have a 3-way tie for 1st place! Make a pick! You don't even have to defend it (unless you're going to vote other... then you're on the hook for telling us why!)

Thirdly, I'm going to introduce a new column tomorrow. So far, the blog has been completely centered on Baseball. I certainly don't have any desire to lessen my focus on my favorite sport, but since I've titled this blog, "The Sports Take", I also feel like I need to stretch out a touch when an appropriate opportunity presents itself.

For instance, the folks that were getting my "College Football Picks" emails this past fall, will be happy to know that I fully intend to bring those back in blog-form for this coming season. I can't make any promises about "Team of Destiny" talk, but who knows? Maybe somebody will step up and take another run at History.

So please check back tomorrow for yet more new material! (Thought I was going to tell you what I'm going to write about didn't you? Nope. You'll have to tune in tomorrow! Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!)

Finally, it's time for everybody's favorite segment, "Dan's Favorite Teams Update"!

Minnesota Twins: It was an ugly road-trip for the Twins, who dropped to 11-14 after a 10-0 loss to the Rangers on Sunday. Dropping 2 of 3 against Oakland and Texas was certainly not what Twins fans had in mind ahead of this trip.

And perhaps the most depressing part was the shellacking that Livan Hernandez took on Sunday. The veteran right-hander had been a rock for the Twins coming into that start, but he was only able to last 2 2/3 Innings on Sunday giving up 7 runs on 9 hits. Maybe it wasn't Liriano's fault. Maybe there was something wrong with the food on the plane. Yeesh, those are some ugly numbers.

The one saving grace from the weekend was the debut of Bobby Korecky who was called up when Francisco Liriano was sent to Rochester. Korecky pitched on Saturday and Sunday for a total of 2 2/3 Innings giving up only 1 Run on 2 hits. Not a bad start for the kid. And as evidenced this weekend, the Twins are going to need all the bullpen help they can get!

And in a quick update on CF Carlos Gomez. It looks like his calf-strain wasn't as bad as I feared on Friday night. He was held of of both Saturday's and Sunday's games against Texas, but it doesn't look like he's headed for the DL. The off-day today will make 3 straight days of rest, which could have Carlos back in the lineup Tuesday night.

The Twins open a 2-game set with the White Sox on Tuesday night, before welcoming in the Tigers over the weekend.

Arizona Diamondbacks: And the train keeps on a'rollin. Another weekend and another series victory for the Snakes brings them to a record of 18-7. That's still the best record in Baseball.

The D'backs took 2 of 3 from San Diego on the road over the weekend. And the one game that Arizona lost was a 13-inning affair. The Diamondbacks offense is cooling off a touch, but still leading the league in most categories, including Runs (148), RBI (142) and Slugging Percentage (.465).

Their pitching is still red-hot too. Brandon Webb leads the league with a 6-0 record. And as a team, they lead the league in Earned Run Average (3.04) and Opponents Batting Average (.218). Brandon Lyon has seemed to settle into his role as a closer and not enough good things can be said about the jobs Juan Cruz and Chad Qualls are doing in the late innings. The bullpen is setting up nicely, and if that remains the case, this ballclub is very short on weak spots.

The D'backs host Houston tonight for the first of three before hosting the Mets over the weekend, which should include Arizona's first look at Johan Santana in a Mets uniform!

That's all for today. Remember to come back tomorrow for the new column!

Friday

Baseball Notes: New Poll, Big Hurt Watch & DTFU

Hello again everybody...

Thank God it's Friday. The end of another work week (well for most of us - sorry Josh). And the beginning of another perfect weather weekend here in Minnesota. (what? 40's and a rain/snow mix? I'm going back to Phoenix!)

Today I've got info on my new poll, my opinion on the "Big Hurt Watch" being over, a quick check on my preseason picks and the ever-popular DFTU.

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So I've got a new poll up. First off, I wanted to break down the results of the last poll. 13 of 15 people who voted agreed with me that Barry Bonds is more trouble than he's worth and would not want him on their team. 2 people voted in favor of signing Bonds, but I happen to know that one of them was doing so just to be a contrarian. Which is okay with me, since I do the same things more days than not with the WCCORadio.com poll. For those of you wondering, that individual's name is Jack and his last name rhymes with Rice. Thanks for reading Jack-o! I have no idea who the other person was, but I have my suspicions.

So as to the new poll. Before I get a bunch of flack for whom I picked as options, let me explain. I put the poll up on Thursday the 24th. And as of that day, the Dbacks, Cubs and Red Sox had the best records in the league. Then I added the Tigers since they were my preseason pick for the World Series and I'm not giving up on them just because they had a poor April. For the sake of those of you die-hard Brewer/Twins/Mariners/Cardinals/etc. fans who can't vote objectively, I included the "Other" option. All I ask is that if you're going to vote "other" have the guts to tack a comment onto this post and tell us all who you're voting for and why! Come on people, take a stand!

Next up, I wanted to talk about the end of the "Frank Thomas Watch". I can't provide any direct evidence, but based on the circumstantial evidence, apparently Twins G.M. Billy Smith is an avid reader of "The Sports Take".

Fortunately for all of us who call ourselves Twins fans, the Big Hurt signed with the Okland A's. And to drive the point home, he started for the A's on Thursday against the Twins and promptly went 0-3 with 2 walks and a run-scored. Unfortunately for the Twins, they have 2 more series with Oakland later in the year, so there'll be plenty more chances for the Hurt to kill them.

That being said, this signing officially kills any chance the A's had to be successful. And given my pre-season rankings, I didn't think they had much of one. Sure you might argue that the A's made the playoffs two years ago with Frank as a part of their team. In fact he hit 2 Home Runs off of Johan Santana in Game 1 and was fairly directly responsible for the A's sweep in that series. Ah, but that was Frank in "resurrecting his career" mode. This year, it's Frank in "the man is trying to keep me down" mode. Good luck with that Oakland fans!

Next up, it's a quick check of my pre-season picks. Leaders are current as of all games played Thursday 4/24.

AL East: Boston Red Sox (Dan's Pick: Boston)

AL Central: Chicaco White Sox (DP: Detroit Tigers - 3 Games Back)

AL West: L.A. Angels/Oakland A's (DP: Seattle Mariners - 3GB)

NL East: Florida Marlins (DP: New York Mets - 1.5GB)

NL Central: Chicago Cubs (DP: Chicago)

NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks (DP: Arizona)

So far 3 of 6 feels pretty good. I'm still scratching my head over Florida leading the NL East, but I really think that it's only a matter of time before the Mets and the Phils get things together and send the Marlins packing towards the bottom of the division. But you have to admire Florida for hanging in there this long!

As for my World Champion pick, the Tigers are finally starting to get things going. Amazing what a trip to Texas will do for a club. I only hope the same holds true for the Twins as they head to Arlington this weekend. Perhaps more important to the Tigers than the Rangers horrific pitching (though you can't discount that), was the return of Curtis Granderson. Granderson got hurt right at the end of Spring Training causing Jim Leyland to have to shuffle his line-up right from the get-go. But now with Curtis back roaming Center Field, the rest of the Tiger line-up gets slotted back where they belong, and you can't argue with the results so far. In the two games with Granderson in the line-up, the Tigers have scored 27 runs. Granted, they scored 10 in the game before Curtis returned, but I say my point still holds!

Finally it's time for everybody's favorite segment: Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Minnesota Twins: The Twins have dropped to 10-12. You'll recall all my sudden enthusiasm over the potential of the Twins starting rotation? Perhaps I need to re-evaluate. Francisco Lirano got lit up like a Chinese Olympic Torch yesterday. It pains me to print this line, but it's so bad, I have to do it: 0.2IP, 5H, 6ER, 3BB with no K's. That, my dear readers, isn't just "Bowling Shoe" ugly, that's the "10-year-old Bowling Shoe with the seams coming undone that they don't even bother spraying that disinfectant in anymore" ugly.

In all seriousness, it's time for the Twins brass to admit that the kid wasn't ready to be brought back up to the bigs. Go ahead and send him back to Rochester and let him re-gain his control and confidence against competition he can dominate. It simply isn't working up here and you can't afford to let him "work it out" at this level. Hand him a plane ticket, assure him that he'll be back just as soon as he gets his stuff together, and let's move on.

Ed.'s Note: Just saw on the AP Wire that the Twins have sent Liriano to Rochester. To fill his spot, they brought up Bobby Korecky (2-1, 0.68, 5 saves)who'd been closing games for Rochester. Assuming Korecky goes into the bullpen that would most likely indicate that right-hander Brian Bass will be filling Liriano's spot in the rotation

Ed.'s Note 2: While we're handing out trips to and from Rochester, somebody get Denard Span a ticket to Texas. Carlos Gomez just left Friday night's game with what appeared to be a lower-leg injury. A strained calf perhaps? Not good...

As mentioned earlier, the Twins head to Texas for a 3-game "Will Texas Manager Ron Washington get fired while we're in town" set. Hopefully that'll get them back to .500 or so. Next week they return home for series with the White Sox and Tigers... oof.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The Diamondbacks still lead the NL West at 16-6. They're coming off a 2-game split with the Dodgers. Dan Haren struggled on Wednesday night. Haren's at his best when his stuff is sinking and he's keeping the ball down in the zone. Wednesday night not only was he not down in the zone, I'm not sure he could've found the zone with a compass and an explorer's map. Short version: he had control issues. But your starter isn't going to have his best stuff every night, so here's to hoping that was an anomaly and Haren will be back to his solid-self in his next start.

I can't believe I didn't mention it earlier in the week, but kudos go to 1B Connor Jackson (.368-3-19), last week's NL Player of the Week. There were some eyebrows raised when the Dbacks allowed Tony Clark to sign with the Padres and handed the full-time job directly to Connor, but so far, the kid's proving management made the right call.

In other D'backs news, C Miguel Montero came off the DL and formed the third-leg of the Arizona Catching triad with Chris Snyder and Robbie Hammock. Carrying 3 catchers is a rarity these days, but Manager Bob Melvin says he wants to use Montero as a pinch-hitter more often (Miggy hit over .300 as a PH last year, with 3 PH-HR's). Carrying a 3rd catcher protects the Diamondbacks in case one of them gets hurt in the middle of a game.

The Snakes open a 3-game series on the road against the Padres tonight before returning home to face the Astros.

Before I go, I wanted to highlight a few pitching match ups to keep an eye on this weekend:

Tonight - LAA vs. Det: Ervin Santana (3-0, 2.67) vs. Nate Robertson (0-2, 7.48). Robertsons numbers don't look great, but he's going to have to get it turned around if the Tigers want to compete. It won't be easy against the other Santana.

Fla vs. Mil: Scott Olson (3-0, 2.60) vs. Yovani Gallardo (0-0, 1.29). Another chance for Gallardo to show why he's so highly touted by Brewer Nation.

Saturday - Atl vs. NYM: Tim Hudson (3-1, 2.93) vs. John Maine (1-2, 3.57). A classic NL East battle. Both starters coming off of solid outings.

Oak vs. Sea: Justin Duchscherer (1-0, 1.80) vs. Eric Bedard (1-0, 9.27) Bedard's coming back from the DL and the Mariners need him to be good. They also need to take advantage of an opportunity to beat a team who's ahead of them in the standings.

Sunday - NYY vs. Cle: Chien-Ming Wang (4-0, 3.94) vs. C.C. Sabathia (1-3, 10.13). Sabathia's numbers suck, but he finally got off the schneid in his last start. He needs another good one against a tough team if the Indians are going to get things turned around.

Arz vs. SDP: Brandon Webb (5-0, 2.31) vs. Jake Peavy (3-0, 2.00). This match-up of former Cy Yong winners is also a preview of this year's Cy Young race. If you like pitching duels at all, you'll want to catch this game.

That's all for today, have a great weekend!

Wednesday

Baseball Notes: Hot/Not Pitchers, a Pair of Rants & DFTU

Hello again everybody!

A happy Wednesday to you all. Today I'm going to talk about some Undefeated and Winless pitchers that hit the bump last night, a milestone for a future Hall of Famer and I've got a couple of short rants on the NL Central. Plus there's the always-popular DFTU. So without further ado...

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There were 4 pitchers headed to the hill with undefeated records last night: Brandon Webb, Livan Hernandez, John Smoltz and Chien-Ming Wang. And there were a couple of notable pitchers trying to dig their way out of 0-3 starts.

Brandon Webb (6IP, 9H, 3ER, 2BB, 7K) not only pitched the Diamondbacks to their 15th win of the season (his 5th), but it was his 4th Inning, 2-run double that gave his team the lead. That's one of the beauties of National League baseball, the pitcher is actually a complete player. And it's a huge advantage to a team when a pitcher isn't an automatic out.

Chien-Ming Wang (6IP, 10H, 3ER, 2BB, 5K) also got his club a win last night. Wang hasn't been spectacular this year, but he's been good enough to get to 4-0. And without him, the Yankees mediocre start would have the Bronx in an even greater state of panic. Has anybody checked to make sure that George Steinbrenner is still actually alive? Seems to me Hank is doing a bang-up job channeling his dad's famous erratic nature.

Livan Hernandez (6IP, 7H, 4ER, 2BB, 3K) pitched well enough for his team to win, but came away with a No-Decision. Hernandez has been an absolute anchor for the Twins pitching staff. Suddenly Twins fans are starting to believe that if Liriano can regain even *some* of his rookie-form, they might actually have a rotation worth talking about.

Finally there was John Smoltz, who was the only one of the 4 to fall from the ranks of the undefeated starters. That circumstance was overshadowed by the future Hall of Famer adding another milestone to his resume by reaching the 3000 career strikeout plateau. That's a mere 1400+ more than the career total for Doyle Alexander, who was the pitcher the Detroit Tigers received in the trade with Atlanta 21 years ago. When you think of the pitchers that Atlanta had in the 90's: Glavine, Smoltz and Maddux, how many teams could say that they had 3 future Hall of Famers pitching for them at the same time? Amazing stuff.

Trying to pitch their way out of rough starts were C.C. Sabathia and Justin Verlander.

There's been a lot of talk this year about whether C.C.'s rough start was a product of his contract situation. This is where the business of baseball gets to be kind of a pain. C.C. wants to stay in Cleveland. And you'd have to think that Cleveland wants to keep him. But for some reason Indian management and Sabathia's agent haven't been able to get together on an extension. And now in the meantime, Cleveland's signed Fausto Carmona to a long-term deal. So you have to think that's been a distraction for C.C. as well. Last night, though, may have been just the thing to get C.C. over the hump. The Tribe took an 8-0 lead over the Royals after 4 Innings and never looked back. Sabathia went 6 shut-out Innings, giving up only 4 hits and striking out 11. That's the C.C. we remember from last year.

Justin Verlander has been struggling just as much as Sabathia, if not for the same reasons. Verlander was supposed to be the rock of the best rotation in the league on paper. I think those expectations weighed especially heavy on him and the rough start the Tigers got off to just made it all the tougher. In much the same fashion as the Indians, the Tigers got off to a 7-0 lead over the Rangers after only 3 Innings which allowed Verlander to relax and concentrate on making pitches. Verlander lasted 6 Innings, scattering 6 hits and surrendering only 1 run. Not a dominant performance like Sabathia's, but it'll be interesting to see if this is the start of the Tigers getting their season turned around.

Next I've got a couple of rants to get off my chest. I'll try to keep them short and sweet.

First of all, I give you the Chicago Cubs. The Fuzzie Cubbies. The Lovable-Losers. Yes, it's been 100 years since they last appeared in the World Series. But if I hear one more set of announcers treat this like the most unbelievable stat in the history of stats, I may have to vomit.

The only difference between last year's "99 Years of Futility" and this year's "100" is the roundness of the number. That's it.

And yet we've already been inundated with video package after video package detailing black cats, Steve Bartmans and all manner of Cub-lore. Please. Stop. It's enough. We get it. The Cubs have been bad for a very long time. Enough. Don't make me start rooting against them just be contrarian. I'm begging you National Media. I'm literally begging you.

Next I have to once again come back to Eric Gagne and the Milwaukee Brewers. It's not that I want to keep beating a dead horse, but Gagne blew yet another save opportunity last night. Heavy-G is now 6 out of 10 in save opportunities on the season.

So that's it. I've had it. I'm sorry Brewers fans, but until somebody finds the courage to admit that dropping $10 million on this clown was a colossal error and either designate this guy for assignment or just flat cut him loose, I have to officially remove the Crew from my list of potential contenders.

That's right Keg-heads. You're officially in "Contender Purgatory". I don't want to do it, but I can't keep watching you give yourselves ulcers every time Gags lumbers out of the bullpen to try and cling to a slim lead. It's tough love folks. Somebody has to be honest with you. And at the risk of having some of you turn and start rooting for the Twins to sign Frank Thomas, I have to do it!

Rants Fin.

Finally it's time for everybody's favorite segment, Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Minnesota Twins: As mentioned earlier, the Twins won the opener of their road trip in Oakland last night. Hernandez pitched well. The offense came through with Craig Monroe falling a triple short of the cycle and Jason Kuble getting the game-winning RBI in the 8th. And Joe Nathan converted his 7th Save opportunity in 7 attempts. (You see Brewer fans? This is how a closer's supposed to work!)

The Twins have 2 more with Oakland before heading to Texas for the weekend. Tonight it's Boof Bonser (1-3, 4.70) headed to the mound to take on Chad Gaudin (1-1, 4.76) for the A's.

Arizona Diamondbacks: I'm going to try and keep my enthusiasm for the Dbacks start under control. After all, playing the Giants is almost like scrimmaging your AAA team. Brandon Webb moved to 5-0 on the season and beat Barry Zito for the second time this year. Which at this point is kind of like beating your kid brother. There's a certain satisfaction in it, but you know the poor schmuck never really stood a chance. (I'm not talking about *my* little brother of course. Yeah, of course.) Chris Snyder has officially broken out of his season-opening slump and came through with a pair of RBI. But as mentioned earlier, the big blow came from Webb. Not the Pitcher Webb, the Hitter Webb. Brandon smoked a 2-RBI double in the 4th to give his club the lead for good.

The Dbacks head to La-La land tonight to open up 2 against the Dodgers. For you Arizona readers, be sure to check out tonight's match-up. Dan Haren (3-0, 1.80) takes the hill for the Snakes versus Derrick Lowe (1-1, 2.59) for the Dodgers. Then it's off to San Diego for the weekend.

That's all for today folks. I'll be back on Friday with more rants and ravings for your reading pleasure. Until then, chant it with me, "RE-LEASE GAGS! RE-LEASE GAGS! RE-LEASE..." well you get the idea.

Monday

4-27-08 - Baseball Notes: Frank Thomas, Dan's a Pimp? & DFTU

Happy Monday to you all...

Welcome to another edition of my Baseball Notes.

It was an interesting weekend in Major League Baseball. A big name was cut loose. The longest hitting streak of the year was ended. And there were some interesting match-ups and series outcomes. Let's take a look...

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First, probably the biggest news of the weekend was Frank Thomas' release from Toronto. Frank got off to his usual slow spring start (although the power numbers weren't awful - .167-3-11), so Manager John Gibbons decided to give Frank a day off. Frank responded by going on a rant in the media about the club deliberately benching him so that he wouldn't meet incentive clauses in his contract. Sound familiar? He did the same thing in Chicago. The next day, Frank was released. Well GM J.P. Riccardi referred to it as a "mutual decision". Sure. Whatever.

I applaud the Blue Jays for cutting bait with a under-performing, cancerous player, but now the question becomes, where will Frank land? There have already been cries from some Twins fans to bring the Big Hurt to Minnesota. I couldn't be more against this idea. So in that vein, the following is my open letter to Twins G.M. Billy Smith:

Mr. Smith:

Congratulations on the series victory over Cleveland. I was one of many Twins fans with strong concerns about your starting pitching staff. But giving up only 5 runs over 3 games against one of the better lineups in the league is reason for some optimism.

But I'm concerned that some optimism could lead to a potentially disastrous decision. I'm speaking of the signing of Frank Thomas. I can't possibly urge you strongly enough to NOT sign him.

I know that you're fairly content with platooning Jason Kubel and Craig Monroe in your DH spot. But I also know that on some level you have to be tempted to put another big stick in the middle of your lineup to offer some protection to Justin Morneau.

Frank Thomas should NOT be that guy. And for that matter, you can consider my comments as echoes of my feelings for Barry Bonds.

You have a young ball club with a lot of easily-influenced, inexperienced players. Frank has a well-earned reputation for being a clubhouse cancer. And what you lack is a strong veteran presence with enough gravitas (read: Torii Hunter) to counter-act the baggage that Frank would surely bring with him.

Someone else in the AL will surely overpay to put Frank in their lineup. You should allow that to happen and then rest comfortably in the knowledge that that's one team you don't have to worry about gelling together and grinding out wins against you. Frank's presence simply won't allow it.

Please take my advice to heart. Most Twins fans have accepted that you're building towards the new Ballpark in 2010. Don't torpedo the process with a panic signing like this.

Sincerely,

Dan Cook
Lifelong Twins Fan


You folks have no idea how much I hope that works!

Lot's of great baseball this past weekend. I'll mention some of it in the "Dans Favorite Teams Update (DFTU)" a little later, but I wanted to mention one game in particular.

I'd been hearing rumblings all spring from some of my Brewer Fan friends about a youngster named Yovani Gallardo (yoh-VAH-nee gai-YAR-doh). Sunday was my first opportunity to check him out as he took the mound against the Reds. Here's his line:

Pitchers IP H R ER BB SO HR PC-Str ERA
Y Gallardo 7.0 4 1 1 3 4 1 112-68 1.29

Not too shabby to say the least. Didn't look to me like he had sick stuff. But he was especially good at getting himself out of trouble. He'll want to work on improving that Strike/Ball ratio for sure, but for a first start of the year, he gave the Brewers a solid chance to win, and that's all you can ask.

Unfortunately for the Brewers, Eric Gagne gacked another game up and they lost. Will you people PLEASE start writing Doug Melvin and get this clown released already?! Please! How can you prove my NL Central pick wrong with this goat in your bullpen?! Come on Crew fans... pick a side!

Next, I'd like to do some pimping - no Mom, not THAT kind of pimping. For those of you with iPods (or without for that matter, but I don't know specifically how it works without one) you should check out a couple of Podcasts that I'm a big fan of.

First off, if you can't get enough baseball, check out ESPN's "Baseball Today" podcast (the audio, not video version - there's a difference). Hosted by ESPN fantasy baseball guru Eric Karibell and ESPN.com special writer Peter Pasquarelli they cover all the latest news in big-league baseball. Maybe that's more baseball than most people could handle, but I encourage you to at least check out the April 17th version, say about the 13:30 mark. There you'll find a special guest appearance by yours truly! Okay, it's only via email, but hey, they mention my name! My Internet fame is spreading by the day!

(end shameless self-promotion... but seriously, check it out!)

The other Podcast I'm completely addicted to is also an ESPN.com offering, "The BS Report with Bill Simmons". If you've ever read any of the Sports Guy's columns on Page 2 of ESPN.com, the podcast is a logical extension. Bill's honestly one of the funniest, most creative writers out there and his podcasts are equally as entertaining. I highly recommend checking it out.

Finally it's time for everybody's favorite segment: Dan's Favorite Teams Update (DFTU)!

Minnesota Twins: After losing 4 out of 5, the Twins responded by taking 2 out of 3 at home versus the Cleveland Indians over the weekend. Nick Blackburn and Scott Baker both had strong outings versus the Tribe. Baker didn't get a win out of it, but he put his club in a position to win, and as I mentioned earlier, that's as much as you can ask for, especially from a young pitcher. The one game the Twins lost in that series was the second start of the season for Francisco Liriano. He certainly looked better than in his first outing, but it's equally clear that he's got a ways to go before he comes close to the dominant form he displayed in 2006.

The Twins' offense still hasn't gotten untracked, but then again, Michael Cuddyer is still on the DL and it doesn't look like he'll be back til maybe the end of the week. Hopefully he'll give the middle of the order a little boost.

The Twins have today off and are headed out west for a mini-West Coast swing. 3 games in Oakland followed by 3 in Texas. Always nice to visit Arlington when it's not in the middle of the summer sweltering season. Both teams are beatable, so it'll be interesting to see how the Twins fare on this road-trip.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The Dbacks also took 2 out of 3 in their weekend series with the Padres. Dan Haren picked up the win Friday night. Edgar Gonzalez gave his club a Quality Start on Saturday. Randy Johnson pitched 5 solid innings on Sunday before getting shelled in the 6th. Johnson's still building up his stamina after limited work in Spring Training, so Manager Bob Melvin is going to have to be very careful with how long he leaves the veteran lefty out there. It really looked like Randy was out of gas in the 6th. Most of his pitches were up in the strike zone and weren't moving much at all. That, my friends, is a recipe for a crooked number.

But the offense is still red-hot. Even in the Sunday game, Arizona put together something of a comeback, getting the deficit down to 6-4 before the bullpen was unable to hold it.

And speaking of offense, you'll recall when I mentioned last week that at some point Justin Upton would start hitting 3rd? Well I didn't realize it was going to be as soon as Sunday. Now J-Up hitting in the 3-hole had a lot to do with CF and usual Lead-Off hitter Chris Young having the day off. With that, Melvin slid his normal 2 and 3 hitters up to the 1 and 2 spots and dropped Upton into the 3-hole. How did Justin respond? 1-4 with 2 K's. Not as hot a performance as he had been having, but it's only one game.

One more offensive note: Eric Byrnes' 14-game hitting streak was snapped on Sunday. And as usually seems to be the case, he was standing in the On-Deck circle in the bottom of the ninth when the game ended. So close! But at least he can now shave that pathetic mustache he'd been growing while the streak was alive. I'm all for athletes with colorful personalities - and Byrnes definitely fits that mold - but that's no excuse for bad facial hair!

The Dbacks play 2 more at home starting tonight versus the Giants, then head on the road for 3 against the Dodgers and 3 more against the Padres.

That's all I've got for today. Hope you liked the update I made to the blog, including the "Read More..." links on the front page. Seems like it cleaned things up a bit. As always, any suggestions for improvements you might have are more than welcome.

Have a good start to your week. If you behave yourselves, I might try to cobble something together for Wednesday! If not, please check back Friday for my weekly wrap-up!

Friday

Baseball Notes: How are Dan's Picks doing? & DFTU

Hello again everybody...

We're another full week into the baseball season and things are as muddled as ever.

The American league is a complete mess. There's no doubt that the Tigers are the biggest disappointment in the league so far in 2008 (though I'd argue the Indians aren't far behind). But it seems nobody else wants to take advantage of the favorites' rough starts.

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The Chicago White Sox have the best record in the AL so far at 9-6. The White Sox?! Really? I give them full credit for their good start, but I don't trust them. It still seems like there are lot of question marks with their pitching. And of course, they're just one racial slur-ridden Ozzie Guillen melt-down away from being in 10 different kinds of trouble.

The Red Sox (god I hate them) are leading in the East. But David Ortiz's knee still seems pretty balky. And I don't trust Josh Beckett to not get hurt from being out of shape either. Let's be honest, if it wasn't for a torrid start for Manny Ramirez (.343-5-18), Boston would be scratching their collective heads much the same way most of the rest of the league is.

I'm already regretting my pick in the AL West. I *really* wanted to pick the Angels to win that division, but I got scared out of it by the injuries to their starting rotation. But now with Eric Bedard on the DL for Seattle, those two teams are in the same boat rotation-wise. And if we say their rotations are equal, there's no question that the Angels are the better offensive team. Torii Hunter's off to a solid start (.295-4-8), though it's not quite as spectacular as I thought he might have. If he maintains those numbers over the course of the season though, he'll have earned that big-money contract easily.

The National League is by far more interesting to me at the moment.

Your Florida Marlins are leading the NL East at 9-6. I have no idea how this happened. Okay, so Hanley Ramirez (.373-3-11) is off to a great start, but one man does not a division leader make. I'd love to give the Marlins all the credit, but I think their division leadership is as much of a product of mediocre starts for the Mets and Phillies as it is anything else.

The Mets are still in 2nd place in the division, but are still waiting for Johan Santana to adjust to pitching in the National League. 1-2, 3.05 isn't precisely what they were banking on when they signed him to a record contract. The ERA isn't awful though and it's not like the Mets have been tearing the cover off the ball either. A big series is looming this weekend between the Mets and the Phillies. It'll be interesting to see the impact that has on the division.

In the Central, the St. Louis Cardinals have the 2nd best record in baseball. If this is how Albert Pujols (.365-3-10) is going to play with a bum elbow, then he might want to look into tearing a tendon in the other one as well! Truth is there's not much the Cardinals aren't doing well right now. They lead the NL in Batting Average and On Base Percentage. And their pitching staff has really stepped up. Jason Isringhausen is 6 out of 7 in Save Opportunities. And as many questions as their starters had coming into the season, Braden Looper is 3-0. Kyle Lohse has a 1.48 ERA. And Todd Wellemeyer has 10 K's per 9 IP so far this season. In other words, opposing lineups aren't getting much of a break.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't include a quick paragraph for you Brewer fans. Tied for 2nd in the Central with the Cubs, the Crew is still in pretty good position. Jason Kendall leads the squad with a .341 Batting Average, but he still can't throw anybody out. Ben Sheets (2-0, 1.17) has been outstanding early on in the year. Though apparently the Brewers are slightly concerned about their depth as evidenced by the signing of Jeff Weaver to a minor league contract. Eric Gagne... Jeff Weaver... So is the strategy to sign every head-case, washed-up veteran pitcher on the market? I think Sidney Ponson is available from the Rangers for the right price. Give him a call!

Oh and for you Brewer fans, make sure to check out the game on Saturday. It's your second chance to get a good look at Johnny Cueto for the Reds. If you didn't see him the first time he took the bump against the Brewers, you'll see why I was so impressed by him earlier in the year!

The NL West is headed by the best team in baseball, the Arizona Diamondbacks. More on them later. The disappointment for me in this division is the Dodgers. I knew it'd be something of a transition year for Joe Torre and his charges. And there's certainly a lot of time for him to get it together and headed in the right direction. But so far they've been very mediocre and have slipped behind the Padres to 3rd in the division.

So to summarize, I'm still behind in my picks, but they're certainly in much better shape than they were in my last post!

Now it's time for everybody's favorite segment, Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 7-9 and still hovering around the .500 mark. The bullpen has been scary bad over the last week. Pat Neshek and Jesse Crain blew back-to-back games versus the Tigers. And this was supposed to be the strength of the ballclub! On the plus-side it appears that Joe Mauer (.296-0-9) has finally broken out of his slump. And Justin Morneau (.255-4-13) is steadily improving his power numbers. Michael Cuddyer is still on the DL with his finger injury, but should be back relatively soon.

Livan Hernandez (3-0, 3.00) has been an outstanding addition to the staff and has taken a lot of pressure off of the Boof Bonsers and Scot Bakers of the world. Now if Francisco Liriano can regain some of his past form, the Twins might actually have something with their starters.

A big series this weekend at the Dome versus Cleveland will tell you a lot about where this club is at. Next week it's out west for series against Oakland and Texas.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs have kept their hot start going en route to a 11-4 record. Where do I start with the superlatives for this club? Brandon Webb (4-0, 1.86) leads the league in wins and is tied for 4th in strikeouts (22). And what's scary is he's gotten better every start. Dan Haren (2-0, 2.50) isn't far behind. And with Randy Johnson rejoining the rotation and Micha Owings taking a step forward, the D'backs are set up nicely in terms of starting pitching. The bullpen's been a little shaky. Brandon Lyon (1-1, 6.00) is only 3 out of 5 in converting Save Opportunities and has made the ones he *has* converted adventurous to say the least. They'll have to shore the back end of that bullpen up to keep this roll going.

On the offensive side, Justin Upton (.351-5-12) has made a quantum leap in his progress early on. I got a chance to see his older brother B.J. play with the Rays in town against the Twins the past couple of nights and honestly? I'd rather have Justin at this point. It's rare to see a guy who's that young, with that much talent be that patient. He's been hitting 6th in a very potent lineup. And while you don't want to mess with success, Justin's got all the makings of a solid #3 hitter. Don't be surprised if he ends up near there before the end of the year.

Mark Reynolds (.269-5-15) still leads the team in RBI and is tied with Upton for the team lead in HRs. He took a nasty looking spill in San Francisco this week, banging his head on a railing which actually turned out to be a blessing, since the other option was face-planting on the concrete. That may have affected his play slightly, but he only missed one game, so apparently it's not too serious.

Update: I just heard a crazy stat. The D'backs lead the Padres 7-0 in the 6th as I write this. And at this point Arizona has officially outscored their opponents 100-53. Almost two times as many runs as the opposition! Wow.

Lots of NL West action for the D'backs coming up. This weekend they kick off a 5-game homestand against the Padres, followed by the Giants. Then they hit the road against the Dodgers and the Padres again.

That's all for today. I'm off to watch the Cubs hosting the Pirates... I mean run the Jack Rice show! Have a fun and safe weekend!

Thursday

New Blog!

Hi everybody!

I've decided to turn the emails I was sending out to a select group of friends into a public blog.

This is my first attempt at anything like this, so any and all thoughts and feedback are thoroughly appreciated.

Take a chance to check out my preview of the 2008 MLB season and the Notes columns that follow. Generally I post on Fridays, but I hope with the new format to post a little more often than once a week.

Thanks for reading!

Baseball Notes: Phoenix Trip, Picks Update & DFTU


(ed. Note - Originally written 14 April, 2008)

Hello again everybody...

It's Monday and I'm fresh off of four fabulous days in sunny Phoenix, AZ.

Included in that trip were two ventures to Chase Field to see the Diamondbacks take apart the Colorado Rockies.

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Friday night was a masterful performance by Brandon Webb under the clear Phoenix night sky. A decent fireworks show capped off an Arizona win. Saturday was a more workman-like performance by Dan Haren, but a good result all the same.

The games were more suited to my Dad's taste in baseball (blowouts by the home team) than mine (low-scoring, fast-paced picthers duels), but neither game ran over 3 hours and there weren't a ton of walks or pitching changes to bog things down. Plus the fine folks at Chase Field have a multitude of ways to keep the patrons distracted during breaks in the action (helloooooo Rallybacks girls!)

Needless to say, a good time was had by all. Evidenced by the picture which I've attached for your perusal.

Due to my vacation, I haven't been able to see as many other teams as I'd like. But checking out the standings I see my picks are doing quite well (insert sarcastic eye roll here). The Yankees in last place in the AL East?! The Tigers off to a 2-10 start with no signs of a turnaround anywhere to be seen? The Florida Marlins leading the NL East? About the only thing I've gotten right so far is the Arizona Diamondbacks leading the NL West.

Not to fear however. The beauty of baseball is that it's a long season. Lots can happen and lots can change. Stay tuned!

And now for everybody's favorite segment, "Dan's Favorite Teams Updates"!!!

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are treading water at 6-6 after a couple of weeks. Coming off a 2-1 series win over the Royals, the Twins head to Detroit for what was supposed to be a tough challenge, but now looks like an opportunity to improve on their 3-2 road record. I have to think the Tigers are going to turn the corner at some point, but I don't know if it'll be this weekend. Apparently Jim Leyland took his team to task after yesterday's 11-0 shellacking with some quite colorful language, so we'll see if that lights a fire under his charges.

Francisco Liriano made his first start for the Twins since September of 2006 yesterday, but his performance didn't inspire a lot of hope. He's still struggling to control his fastball and coming off of Tommy John surgery, he's lost some velocity on his slider as well.

Pitching still isn't this clubs biggest problem though. Getting its big bats off the schneid is. Justin Morneau is finally starting to warm up a bit. But Joe Mauer is mired in a slump and Michael Cuddyer is still on the DL with a finger injury. I have my doubts as to whether the starting pitching is going to hold up, so their offense had better get it going soon.

Arizona Diamondbacks: What can I say? Best record in the bigs. The starting pitching has been solid, although Doug Davis is out for a bit now after his thyroid cancer operation. But as Doug's absence closes a door, Randy Johnson's return from the DL opens a window. RJ starts tonight against the Giants, so we'll see how he blends back in. Brandon Lyon has been admittedly shaky as the closer, but there are enough quality arms in the bullpen, that if he continues to falter, they'll have other options.

The big surprise of course has been the offense. Justin Upton and Mark Reynolds are off to smoking-hot starts, tied for the league lead in Home Runs (5) with Reynolds leading the league in RBI (15). Chris Young, Orlando Hudson, Eric Byrnes and Connor Jackson are all off to plus starts as well. Put it this way, right now the Dbacks lead the NL in: Runs, Home Runs, Total Bases, Runs Batted In, Batting Average, On Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage and OPS (On-base Plus Slugging). Not a bad list...

The Dbacks kick off a 3-game set with the Giants tonight in San Francisco before returning home to face the Padres and the Giants at Chase Field.

Well that's all for today folks. Hope you all had a good weekend.

Baseball Notes: Extra Innings, Friday Post Script & Interesting Stat

(ed. Note - Originally written 7 April, 2008)

Hey folks...

I'm posting a special edition of the baseball notes because I remembered some stuff that I meant to include Friday and didn't... plus a couple of updates.

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First of all, I want to thank all those folks who so generously offered to help with my MLB Extra Innings package. As it turns out your donations won't be necessary as I've found another source of funding. Thanks to my good friend Josh who pointed out to me that I had a nice little chunk of money in my online poker account not doing a whole lot. So a few clicks later, a check is on it's way to me for exactly the amount necessary to provide me (and by extension you all) with all the baseball coverage a person could ask for! Thanks again Josh... I owe you a dinner!

Secondly, I meant to mention a note last Friday about Kerry Wood. Have you seen this guy yet this year? (I know you Brewer fans have) I was playing with hypotheticals when I put him in my original steroid discussion, but oh my. The guy lost like 30 pounds this offseason! In my opinion, there's only one reason a guy loses that much weight in baseball. He saw what was happening to his buddy Roger, he saw that Mitchell Report and he got off the stuff toot sweet! I don't know if it was steroids or HGH, but his weight loss doesn't leave much doubt that it was one of the two in my mind. Sad.

Thirdly, I saw a statistic over the weekend that blew me away. At one point on Sunday, Twins starters had pitched a total of 43 innings. That in and of itself isn't remarkable. But over those 43 innings, they gave up exactly 1 walk. That's outstanding. Now obviously that's not something you'd expect to remain a constant average, but it does give Twins fans a glimmer of hope since the starting rotation was supposed to be this team's weak point.

I'm not ready to change my thoughts on where the Twins will finish just yet... but I'll admit to feeling marginally better about their chances.

Baseball Notes: Reds Rookie, Don't Kill Me Crew! & DFTU

(ed. note - Originally written 4 April, 2008)

Hello all...

Welcome to my "This Week in Baseball Notes" column. I'm going to try and make this as regular a bit as I can. We'll see. Baseball season is a long affair.

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First off, what really inspired me to write today was the performance of a rookie pitcher yesterday afternoon. I doubt many of you caught the Diamondbacks/Reds tilt (*see sidebar), but maybe you saw the highlights on SportsCenter.

*The* highlight of the game was the Major League debut of Johnny Cueto (KWAY-toh). The kid's 5-10, 190 pounds soaking wet, but his fastball hit 95 on a regular basis with his change-up and slider clocking in the mid-80s. Sound like a familiar combination of pitches? (See Santana, Johan)

It was something to watch. His control was solid and even when he was wild, he was effectively wild. Now I'm not going to claim that the D-backs are an offensive force by any stretch, but they had no shot against him. Justin Upton got the 1 meaty fastball that Cueto threw all afternoon and managed to yank it to Left for a home run. But other than that, Cueto was as dominant as you can be.

Keep an eye out for him, especially you Brewer fans! He could be something special.

(*Sidebar*: If those of you with cable/satellite haven't noticed, the MLB Extra Innings package has been in "free preview" mode this week. And just like any good addictive substance, the taste has been enough to nearly get me hooked. I'm thiiiiiiiiiiissss close to dropping the $160 on the full-season package. I'm imagining checking the pitching probables on a day-in, day-out basis and being able to check out nearly any game I want! Oh my. Oh, and by the way, if any of you would care to donate to the "Give Dan the Baseball Coverage He so Richly Deserves Fund", email me and I'll send you my home address so you can mail a check. Really, any amount will do!)

Speaking of Brewer fans, I'm getting killed over my NL Central picks. So let me just say this... I hope I was wrong. I hope that Ben Sheets stays healthy all year and this Gallardo kid I hear about is the next coming of Walter Johnson. I hope that Gagne finds some of the good HGH and regains his dominant form. I hope they kill the Cubs.

I just don't think it's going to happen. Sorry folks, but that's my opinion. We'll see how it goes. So far, so good for the Crew. They're 2-1, with all 3 games against the Cubs. Good luck Crew fans!

And how about your Washington Nationals?! 3-1 and on top of the NL East. Not a bad way to start the years.

Speaking of surprising starts, did anybody see the Kansas City Royals getting out of the gate with three straight wins over the Detroit Tigers *in* Detroit? Go ahead, raise your hands if you did... oh wait, the straight-jacket is probably stopping you. Never mind. That's right fans, the only undefeated team in the bigs? Your Kansas City Royals!

Who said baseball is predictable?

And now it's time for what *will* be everybody's favorite segment: The "Dan's Favorite Teams" update!

Minnesota Twins: The boys in blue started out 1-3 against the Los Angeles Angels. Livan Hernandez was his serviceable self on Opening Night and got the Twins their only win of the series. They were at least competitive on Thursday, and the Angels are an above-average club, so no panicking yet Twins fans! Kevin Slowey left Thursday's game with a strained biceps muscle to be re-evaluated later today. Doesn't sound like that's going to get Liriano up here any faster though. So an already thin pitching staff just got a little thinner. Up next? The Kansas City Royals. Fresh off a sweep of the Tigers... oof.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The Snakes opened up with a 3-game set in Cincinnati. After a solid opener from Brandon Webb (who's #17 I'm wearing as I write this), the 'Backs lost the 2nd game on a walk-off Home Run and ran into the Cueto Machine in the rubber game. #3 starter Doug Davis has been diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer. I know from familial experience that this is a VERY treatable form of Cancer and it's entirely possible that Davis will return to pitch this season. He's even making his first 2 starts of the year to try and help bridge the gap until Randy Johnson is ready to go. Good luck Doug! Up Next? The Colorado Rockies. A rematch of last years NLCS. Should be fun to watch.

That's it for today. Hope to be back at you next week. As always, your responses are welcome and encouraged. Take care!

4-17-08: 2008 MLB Preview

(ed. note - originally written 28 March, 2008)

Hello again everybody... (copyright Herb Carneal)

Being as it's my favorite time of year - the weekend where Spring Training wraps up and the regular season is about to begin (I'm trying to pretend those games in Japan didn't really happen) - I thought I'd take some time to break down the 6 Major League Baseball divisions and give you, my faithful friends some insight to how this season's going to go down....

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I'm not going to bother predicting records. Anyone who tells you they can guess how 162 games are going to break down into wins and losses is lying.

"No Jim, I really think the Angels are going to go 95-67, not 98-64!" Please...

No, instead I'll break down what I think will be the final standings of each division and then give you Division Winners, Wild Card Winners and how I think the Playoffs will go...

What do you say we start with the Senior Circuit? Sure? Why not... Let us away...

NL East

1. New York Mets - Yes the Mets choked down the stretch last year. But what they lacked during that time was a genuine stopper. Enter Johan Santana.

The Mets clearly made the biggest single move of the off season acquiring the best pitcher in baseball for a sack of batting practice balls and a couple of fungo bats.

Santana allows the rest of the starters to be slotted in better positions. The bullpen is still solid, anchored by Billy Wagner. And what more do you need to say about a lineup that features Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Carlos Delgado?

Barring injuries, I think the Mets are a solid #1 in the East.

2. Philadelphia Phillies - The Fightin' Phils caught the Mets down the stretch last year, but won't be able to repeat the feat.

There's no doubt the Phils have a solid lineup. Although I wonder if all the drama with Ryan Howard's arbitration saga will have an effect on his performance this year. None the less, there are those speculating that the Phils could be the first team to have 3 straight MVPs (Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, and maybe Chase Utley?) since the Yankees did it with Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle and Elston Howard. And I'm not going to argue that it isn't possible.

But when I look at their rotation, I'm not exactly impressed. And when you feature J.C. Romero (or as I like to call him the "Human Gas Can") as a significant part of your bullpen, you've got some nervous late innings ahead of you.

Look for Philly to have a solid record, but finish second to the Mets.

3. Atlanta Braves - The Braves are one of those tweener teams. They have some very promising young talent along with some grizzled veterans who are about to close the book. This may sound like a good formula, but I think you'd like your young talent a *little* less green and your veterans a *little* less grizzled.

John Smoltz leads the way for their rotation, followed closely by Tim Hudson and a returning Tom Glavine. Not bad. And in fact there are a lot of teams who'd love to have a front 3 that good. But Smoltz has had some injury issues and Glavine is putting the finishing touches on what should be a Hall of Fame career, so I'm not 100% sold on their rotation.

Their bullpen is exceedingly green which worries me. And their lineup is a mixed bag. I loved their trade for Texieria last year and I think he's due for a big season. And certainly I like any lineup with Chipper Jones (assuming he stays healthy) and Jeff Francouer in it. But the Braves are trying to replace Andruw Jones in center (Mark Kotsay... really? really...). And you can basically paint the entire middle of their field with a giant question mark.

The Braves could surprise some folks, but I like them for a solid 3rd place finish in the division.

4. Washington Nationals - New digs for the Nats this year. No, that probably won't have much, if any effect on their record, but I like to mention it because it puts me in mind of April 2010 when the Twins open their new outdoor park.

I kind of like the Nats' lineup in that, "Hey, I recognize more of these names than I thought. Maybe they'll be good!" kind of way. I like their corner outfielders (Elijah Dukes and Austin Kearns). Ryan Zimmerman is a budding star at 3rd. And picking up Paul LoDuca as their catcher is going to be a big plus for their pitching staff.

Now the bad news. Their rotation is Odalis Perez and 4 nameless guys. And I won't even get started on how scary their bullpen is... and not scary in the good way.

Washington will win some games they shouldn't, and maybe even put together a teaser winning streak over the course of the summer, but ultimately, they'll finish 4th in the division.

5. Florida Marlins - The Marlins cut salary again this off-season... This is a recording. Of course given the Marlins history, that might mean they're only a year or two away from winning the World Series.

Has there ever been a team who's history has been more of a roller-coaster than the Marlins? Truly odd.

In any case, this year's going to truly be a valley. They traded away their best starter (Dontrelle Willis) and their best slugger (Miguel Cabrerra) and their biggest addition was a rapidly-aging Luis Gonzalez. I don't know how much more clearly the Marlins' chances could be laid out for you.

They'll be in the running for the worst record in the league and be low man on the totem pole for the NL East.

NL Central

1. Chicago Cubs - This has to be the year for the Cubbies, doesn't it? Doesn't it?! Well maybe not the year they ditch the curse, but they're my pick to win the central. And really win it quite handily.

Carlos Zambrano anchors a fairly solid rotation. And Kerry Wood shifts to the closer role in what hopefully will be a career resurgence for him.

Incidentally, does anybody else wonder whether Kerry visited his idol Roger Clemens' doctor at some point over the course of his career? See, that's the really crappy thing about all this steroids business. It's become a bad game of "6-degrees of Kevin Bacon"! This guy over here used drugs and had his body break down on him, so what about this other guy who had his body break down? He knew the first guy too, so clearly he must be guilty! Dammit. I promised myself I was going to stay away from that rant.

Oh well. Moving on. If Derek Lee's back to being 100% healthy you have to love the corners on this team. Lee and Aramis Ramierez form a nice infield corner duo. Alfonso Soriano is another health question, but seems to have recovered from all his leg problems and his production when healthy is above reproach. And joining Soriano in the Cubs outfield is my new favorite name in baseball: Kosuke Fukudome (koh-SOO-kay FOO-koo-DOH-may). Say it with me: Fukudome. Rolls right off the tongue doesn't it? Fukudome isn't quite Ichiro. Hell, he's not quite Hideki Matsui. But he's an upgrade over Jacque Jones, no doubt.

Bottom line, I like the Cubs to win the Central by at least 5 games.

2. Milwaukee Brewers - The Crew got off to a great start last year but faded down the stretch. I was *this* close to actually predicting they'd finish 3rd in the division this year behind St. Louis, but Albert Pujols' health scares the dickens out of me. More on that later.

Milwaukee's biggest loss in the off-season was Geoff Jenkins. That's a lot of offense to lose, but they also lost a huge number of strikeouts, so maybe it's almost a wash. Replacing him in the lineup and taking over center field is Mike Cameron. I'll give you a moment to digest that. Mike Cameron. Oof. This is, of course, assuming he's healthy enough to play most of the season. The plus of this move is that it allows Bill Hall to return to 3rd base where he's better suited.

The other big Brewer off-season signing? Eric Gagne. The poster-boy for steroid-ridden relief pitchers. Wonderful. Apparently the Milwaukee execs haven't seen him utterly fail at his last two stops in Texas and Boston. Or maybe it's just the American League that had him befuddled? Nah. He just sucks. Have fun with this guy Brewer fans! As for the rest of the Brewer bullpen, Derrick Turnbow is still there and still in dire need of haircut. And along with David Riske, Salomon Torres and Guillermo Mota, this group really should be okay. Well, as long as somebody comes to their senses and ships Gagne out.

Ben Sheets is your number one starter... for as long as his body holds up. Somebody can correct me if I'm wrong, but has this guy had a year in his career where he *wasn't* on the DL at some point? Jeff Suppan and Dave Bush form an okay 1-2-3 staff, but if/when Sheets goes down again, Milwaukee may be in all kinds of trouble.

Unfortunately, it's another teaser year for Brewer fans. Hang in there Crew members! You'll make the playoffs one day!

3. St. Louis Cardinals - I'd have made the Cardinals my 2nd pick in the Central, except I fear for Albert Pujols' elbow. The man's playing with a torn ligament in his elbow. Not strained, not frayed, it's actually torn. And he thinks he's going to play 130 games? Not likely. And if you take him out of their lineup, the Cards become extremely ordinary.

An off-season trade sending Scott Rolen to the Blue Jays for Troy Glaus is probably a wash. Rolen's clearly the better player, but he's also a total head-case and Tony LaRussa just couldn't stand him any more.

The St. Louis rotation is injury riddled. Mulder? Carpenter? Clement? All dinged up. Let's put it this way, they signed Kyle Lohse. That should strike fear in Redbirds fans everywhere.

Jason Isringhausen looks like he might be ready to regain his dominant closer form. Along with Ryan Franklin and Russ Springer, they form the nucleus of what could be a decent bullpen.

If Pujols makes it through the season, the Cards could take a lot of people by surprise. But I can't justify ranking them higher than 3rd in the Central.

4. Houston Astros - I've got to be honest, from here on out in this division, it becomes the lesser of 3 evils. I don't like any of the next three clubs, so in doing my rankings it becomes a matter of "Who sucks the least?"

Enter, the Houston Astros.

I don't mind their pitching so much. Roy Oswalt's a solid starter and the Stros managed to pry Jose Valverde away from the D'backs to anchor their bullpen. The starters get a little sketchy after Oswalt, but I don't think pitching's going to be their problem.

Offensively, I think this club's ready to collapse. Yes, they have Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman for some pop. But after that? Ty Wiggington? Mark Loretta?? And count me amongst the folks who think Miguel Tejada is done. (See my earlier steroid rant)

These are nearly the same guys who got Phil Garner fired. I'm not sure Cecil Cooper's fate will be much better.

5. Cincinnati Reds - I *really* wanted to like the Reds. Their GM, Wayne Krivsky, is a former Twins exec and as such, I'd like to see him be successful. But as I look at their depth chart, I'm not seeing much to like.

Junior Griffey anchors their lineup, but there are always injury concerns with him. Adam Dunn hit 40 homers last year, but strikes out a ton. And as you look across their infield? Outside of Brandon Phillips at 2nd the best you can call any of them is "serviceable". Not confidence inspiring.

Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo aren't a bad 1-2 in their rotation, but after that the drop off is precipitous. The bullpen features Francisco Cordero at the back end and Jeremy Affeldt up front. Not terrible. And Kent Mercker's still in the league. Anyone else's eyebrows just shoot up? Mine did.

There are some pieces here, but not nearly enough for a contender. Dusty Baker will get every ounce out of them that's possible, but I unfortunately it may be a long season for more than just his toothpick!

5. Pittsburgh Pirates - This will be the most common preview pick in America outside picking the Marlins 5th in the East.

I'll start out by saying that I love Jason Bay and Jack Wilson in their lineup. But after that, there's very little on this team to love.

They do seem to be trying to collect as many early-2000's Twins as possible. Luis Rivas is their starter at 2nd and Dougie-Baseball (Mientkiewicz) is backing up Adam LaRoche at 1st. Maybe a trade for Cristian Guzman isn't far off?

Matt Morris is the only starter I even recognize and Damaso Marte fills that same roll in their bullpen.

No reason to belabor this. The Bucs will suck. And yes, that rhyme was intentional. Sorry about that.

NL West

1. Arizona Diamondbacks - I've officially adopted the D'backs as my "other favorite team" for 2008. Mostly I've done this because I think the Twins are likely to suck and I don't think I can handle 6 months of awful pitching without some other team to counter-balance it. So call me biased if you like, but I'm picking Arizona to win the west.

Arizona returns nearly all the pieces from their LCS run last year (Valverde to Houston being the exception. And they made what could turn out to be the best trade of this off-season bringing in Danny Haren from the A's. Brandon Webb followed by Danny Haren in your rotation? Sprinkle in some Micha Owings and Randy Johnson? Yes please!

Offense was the Snakes biggest liability last year and it looks like they're counting on their youngsters gaining experience to improve it. Justin Upton, Stephen Drew and Conor Jackson all have another year under their belts and will be looking to improve on their performance for last year.

Brandon Lyon now anchors an otherwise solid bullpen. If he can produce on nearly the same level as Valverde did last year, the pitching on this team should be enough to overwhelm their lack of offensive production.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers - 3 names. Joe Torre, Joe Torre and Joe Torre. I'm not suggesting that he didn't enjoy a wealth of talent in New York, but his ability to bring calm and stability to a franchise should not be under-rated.

And there are plenty of heads on this team that could use some straightening. Andruw Jones is trying to kick-start his career. Nomar Garciaparra's trying to save his. And if Torre can get Derrick Lowe back on track, then along with Brad Penny, the Dodgers might have a 1-2 combination to rival the Diamondbacks.

But as good as Torre is, I'm not sure he's going to be able to fix all the leaks on this ship, which will leave the Dodgers *just* short of a division title.

3. Colorado Rockies - I was rooting as hard for the Rocks in last years playoffs as any native Coloradoan. But let's be honest, they played WAY above their heads for the last month of the season. Time for a reality check.

Todd Helton? You're a wonderful player and the face of the franchise. But that was your shot. Thanks for playing.

Matt Holiday and Troy Tulowitzki (also on my All-Star baseball name team) are excellent players on an otherwise mediocre team.

The Rockies suffer a common problem with their rotation. They have an excess of 3- and 4-guys but a complete dearth of 1-and 2-guys. They patched it together last year. I can't see them doing that two years in a row.

As for their bullpen? Well they let LaTroy Hawkins get away to the Yankees and actually got worse. This is not a good sign.

The NL West might actually be my favorite division in the bigs... but the Rocks are no better than 4th.

4. San Diego Padres - Yet another example of a team with decent pitching and little offense. Jake Peavy is a bona fide ace. And Chris Young and Greg Maddux are no slouches in the 2 & 3 spots.

But after that this team gets very shaky. Yes Trevor Hoffman is a future Hall of Famer in the bullpen. But the experience of blowing two *huge* games at the end of last year including the play-in game with Colorado has to have him wondering if he's nearing the end, doesn't it?

And if we can agree that Brian Giles is officially on the back-side of his career, then outside of Kalil Green, the Pads' lineup isn't inspiring much in the way of fear for opposing pitchers.

Looks like this year is the proverbial "2-steps back" to last year's "1-step forward" for the Padres.

5. San Francisco Giants - First off, let me offer a standing ovation to the Giants for making the decision to wipe any and all references to Barry Bonds from the face of their ballpark. Kudos Gigantes!

That being said, they're still going to suck this year. Clearly the Barry Zito contract was a mistake. And with baseball contracts being guaranteed, it's a mistake for which the Giants will be paying for a long time. And sadly for Frisco fans, the rotation only gets worse after Barry.

As much as I despise Bonds, taking him out of their lineup is a significant hit. They've got a lot of serviceable guys, but nobody to protect them. Translation? This team is not going to score a lot of runs.

Bad starters... mediocre lineup... questionable bullpen. Well they won't quite be the Marlins and Pirates, but they won't be far better.

And with that, we're on to the American League!

AL East

1. Boston Red Sox - Anyone who knows me knows how much it pains me personally to put the Sawx in this spot. I'm not *so* cold hearted that I'd actually root for a team plane to plummet to the earth somewhere over unpopulated Kansas. But if that team was the Red Sox? I'd get over it pretty quickly.

Yeah, I know, I'm going to hell. I might as well work on my place in line.

The only thing that could spare me the pain of another Red Sox World Series run is their pitching. Schilling's still hurt. And Josh Beckett is opening the season on the DL. That makes Daisuke Matsuzaka your number one starter. Not World Series material. But Beckett at least will likely be back and the offense should pick up in the meantime.

As for the offense? Papi, Man-Ram, Ellsbury, Youklis, Damon, yadda, yadda, yadda. They're good and I hate it.

Papplebon is back as the most over-dramatic closer in the league. The rest of the bullpen will be fine.

God, I'm getting depressed just writing this. Boston will be good, okay?! Can I move on now?

2. New York Yankees - I never thought I'd be rooting for the Yankees as I grew up, but as my distaste for the Sox grew over time I found myself appreciating the Bombers more and more. But I think they're going to take a step back and miss the playoffs this year.

I'm obviously not a fan of the Yanks letting Joe Torre go. And I'm even less of a fan of the fact that they didn't make a deal to bring in Johan Santana.

Seriously... How the hell is Santana not a Yankee?! I keep thinking this is a bad dream and I'll wake up and Phil Hughes and Melky Cabrerra will be Twins. Damn you Hank Steinbrenner! Damn you!

The Yankees still have all kinds of hitting and not enough pitching. Making the lack of a Santana deal all the more mystifying. And Jason Giambi is still their First Baseman. How did that happen?

Mariano Rivera is yet another year older. And now he's got LaTroy Hawkins setting him up. I'm sure that'll work out well (read with a *very* snarky tone). Seriously, he gets my vote for "most likely to climb into the stands and get into a fistfight with a fan" this year.

If the Blue Jays were a little better, I might pick them to sneak past the Yanks this year. That's how bad I think it is.

God I hate the Red Sox.

3. Toronto Blue Jays - You have to kind of feel sorry for Toronto. There's plenty of talent on this club, but they're mired in the same division as the two 800-pound gorillas of baseball.

Roy Halladay as as solid an Ace as you could ask for. And if A.J. Burnett could ever find himself that's a potentially lethal 1-2 punch. Alas, A.J.'s been a shadow of his Florida-self since he became a Canuck. And with a less than stellar bullpen, their starting pitching is going to have to be top notch if they want to surprise people.

The offense once again is what going to carry this team. Frank Thomas, Alex Rios and Vernon Wells are the core of their lineup. Not a bad core at all. David Eckstein is a little light in the bat, but I love his defense at short. And Lyle Overbay at first is no slouch. Add to that Marco Scutaro at third with Shannon Stewart and Matt Stairs backing up in the outfield (what is this, Oakland East?!) and you have a potent offensive unit.

If they can find a way to pick up some pitching prior to the trade deadline, they might be able to sneak past the Yanks, but then again *everybody's* looking for pitching, so I'm going to pick them for 3rd place.

God I hate the Red Sox.

4. Tampa Bay Rays - That's right. No more "Devil" in Tampa. Of all the concerns the fine folks in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area have baseball-wise, you'd think the moniker would be low on the list. But apparently it's also the easiest to change, so there you go.

The Twins dealt Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett to the Rays in the off-season both of which are nice additions. Scott Kazmir's a bit dinged or I'd really start to like their starting pitching. Looks like he'll be back early in April though, so the Rays may have a little something there.

They gave up some offense in the off-season, sending Delmon Young to the Twins and Elijah Dukes to the Nationals. But they still have Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton and Cliff Floyd in the outfield and Carlos Pena now with Bartlett in the infield.

Signing Troy Percival for their bullpen doesn't make a ton of sense to me. Signing a guy who's trying to re-start his career on a team that's trying to push their youth? Doesn't jive in my mind, but I'm not a baseball GM for a reason.

But maybe the Rays can take heart in not occupying the cellar in the East yet again!

God I hate the Red Sox.

5. Baltimore Orioles - What a mess. Count me amongst those who say this team will never get back into contention until Peter Angelos sells the team or shuffles off this mortal coil.

Gone are SS Miguel Tejada and P Eric Bedard. Arriving is... no one of note. Kevin Millar and Brian Roberts can still hit, but the rest of the lineup is a mess.

Daniel Cabrera has shown some flashes of brilliance, but has been erratic at best and is still slotted in the 2-spot. The rest of their rotation? Yeesh. And don't get me started on their bullpen. It's just not pretty.

The city of Baltimore deserves better. Like a trip to go see the Nationals. Hey, at least it's a new ballpark!

Did I mention I hate the Red Sox?

AL Central

1. Detroit Tigers
- The Tigers were something of a disappointment last year, but boy did they ever have an off-season. It cost them some prospects, but bringing in Miguel Cabrerra and Dontrelle Willis was huge.

Slot Dontrelle behind Verlander and Bonderman, with Robertson and Rogers and you have probably the best starting 5 in the league.

Adding Cabrerra to a lineup which already includes Pudge, Magglio, Sheffield and Guillen, not to mention the additions of Jacque Jones and Edgar Renteria, and you start to wonder how the hell anybody's going to beat this club.

The answer is the bullpen. Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney are both dinged. Todd Jones is your closer. Not exactly dominant. So if teams can manage to get their starters out of the game early, they've got a shot to win.

Look for the Tigers to be very active looking for bullpen help around the deadline (Joe Nathan anyone?). But even without that help, I think they're good enough to win the Central.

2. Cleveland Indians - The Tribe were one game away from the World Series last year. And I don't even have them winning the division this year. Why? Well Detroit's off-season was just that good for one thing. And Cleveland's off-season was just that mediocre for another. Basically the Indians stood pat.

Sabathia, Carmona and Westbrook form a nice top of the rotation. Sabathia's in a contract year, so you'd assume he'd step it up a notch. But contract years are always tricky. It's hard to say whether a guy will play his tail off, or sulk because he hasn't gotten what he thinks he deserves. As long as Carmona continues to mature and Westbrook holds steady the rotation should be okay.

Travis Hafner had a sub-standard year last year. How he responds this season will go a long way towards determining how good the Indians' lineup will be. Grady Sizemore is still on the cusp of being a superstar. And along with Victor Martinez and Jhonny Perralta the Tribe has a potent lineup no doubt.

Their bullpen has a few question marks. I've never really been sold on Borowski. Betancourt's solid though. As a whole the unit's not bad, but not great.

It's not impossible that the Indians could repeat as division champs. But Detroit would have to stumble mightily.

3. Chicago White Sox - The Whities didn't change things up much during the off-season either. Unless you count shipping out Jon Garland and bringing in Nick Swisher.

They still have a lot of potency on offense. Thome, Dye, Konerko and Pierzynski can all knock the ball around pretty well. Swisher isn't bad offensively either, though his addition helps their defense more than anything.

The rotation took a hit losing Garland but Vasquez and Beurhle can still throw it pretty reliably. Their bullpen is filled with potential, but it has a lot of question marks too. Jenks struggled some last year. MacDougal seems like he should dominate, but his brain seems to break far too often for comfort.

I think Detroit and Cleveland are the class of the division by far, while Chicago fills that secondary tier. They're not terrible, but I don' t think they have enough to stay with the top two either.

And then there's always the possibility that the Sox will go on an extended losing streak sometime over the summer which will cause Ozzie Guillen to lose his tenuous grip on sanity and shout a bunch of epithets at a group of reporters and finally get his ass fired. That could be entertaining.

4. Minnesota Twins - So let's see. You trade the best pitcher in baseball and get neither an established Major Leaguer *nor* the other teams best prospect. What?! Huh?! How the hell does that happen?! Obviously I'm not optimistic about my favorite team's chances.

There are those who would say they've upgraded their lineup. I'm not sure that's the case. I like Delmon Young's potential. And he does fill the gaping hole they've had in left field the last few years. Of course if he strikes out too much, the umpires might want to start wearing extra protection. The other new editions came in the form of the Houston Astros left side of the infield. 3B Mike Lamb has some pop, but doesn't hit for average. SS Adam Everett is a defensive stalwart, but can't hit water falling off a boat. Seriously, if he'd been aboard the Titanic, he'd have come out of it bone-dry. Craig Monroe should help fill the DH gap. Whether Jason Kuble can match his solid second half remains to be seen.

The Twins starting pitching was flat out decimated. Santana is gone to the Mets and Carlos Silva's gone to the Mariners. That leaves newcomer Livan Hernandez as your number 1 starter. I can't believe I just typed that sentence. Why am I alive?! Scott Baker had a nice year last year, but is starting this season with some shoulder soreness. After that it's Boof Bonser, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn. Francisco Lirano's been okay, but they decided to leave him in Florida and let him continue his rehab at a slow pace until there sure he's ready. Or until they panic because they win 3 games in April. Whichever comes first. God am I bitter...

The bullpen is probably the best part of the squad. Joe Nathan's locked into a new 4-year deal. Which will hopefully make him attractive trade bait come deadline time. I only pray they can avoid a similar situation as the Santana debacle. Jesse Crain and Juan Rincon are there as the set-up men, with Dennis Reyes as your left-handed specialist. Matt Gurrier in long relief has been solid as well.

Maybe the starters will surprise me. Maybe they'll be average instead of awful and get deep enough to allow the bullpen to work their magic. Or maybe the Twins will need 6 runs a game to even be competitive and they'll win like 75 games. Wait, I said I wouldn't predict records... bad me.

5. Kansas City Royals - How does everyone feel about that 5-year Gil Meche contract now? Oh my...

Meche is serviceable, but $11 million per? I don't think so. Beyond him, the rotation is sparse to say the least.

The Royals slightly improved their offense by adding Jose Guillen. Of course, that's assuming he doesn't go completely insane and get a 20-game suspension for ripping the head off a bird that lands in the outfield or something. Admit it, that's closer to being possible than any of us would like to believe!

The KC bullpen is another hodge-podge of stiffs that nobody else wanted. Not good.

I've heard some really despondent Twins fans say that the Royals might put the Twins in the cellar. I seriously doubt that'll be the case. But if it does, you'll find me on the nearest window ledge contemplating the meaning of life and concrete.

AL West

1. Seattle Mariners
- I really wanted to pick the Angels to win the division because I'm convinced Torii Hunter's going to have a monster year. Unfortunately their pitching's been decimated in Spring Training, so that moves the Mariners to the top spot.

With the Angels injuries, Seattle now has clearly the best rotation in the division. They made a strong move acquiring Erik Bedard in the offseason to be thier Ace. That takes a ton of pressure off the youngster Felix Hernandez and allows him to slot in as their number 2. The back end of their rotation with Batista, Washburn and Silva is a little shaky, but not bad by any stretch.

Ichiro again leads the lineup. Brad Wilkerson and Raul Ibanez form a nice outfield tandem with him. Richie Sexon has a ton of power at first and if Adrian Beltre can approach his form of a few years ago, the Mariners have an above average lineup.

Their bullpen is led by closer J.J. Putz. The guys in front of him aren't rock solid, but worth the "serviceable" tag. John McLaren will have to sort out who's going to be his set-up and middle relief, but they've got the talent to back up a good starting staff.

I don't think the Mariners will run away and hide. But without some serious pitching help to the Angels, I think the Mariners are your division champion.

2. Los Angeles Angels - No way I'm adding the "of Anaheim" tag. What a bunch of dreck.

The Angels get my vote for "best outfield in baseball". Torii Hunter was the big addition. His presence shifts Gary Matthews, Jr. to Left and that leaves Vlad Guerrero in Right. Damn. I'm impressed just typing that! As I said earlier, I expect Torii to have a huge year in that lineup. Something like .285, 35 and 115. God bless him. I'd have been thrilled if the Twins could've found a way to keep him, but I'm happy he set his family up with that monster contract.

Their infield doesn't sport any real superstars, though Chone Figgins is a nice player. All in all, their lineup is solid. That's certainly not where they'll struggle this year.

Starting pitching is going to be the problem. John Lackey is out til at least mid-May with a triceps injury. And Kelvim Escobar has shoulder problem which, if he gets the surgery he wants to get, will end his season before it ever starts. That leaves Jarrod Weaver as their number 1 starter. The kid's got a ton of talent, but he's awfully young for that much responsibility. Behind him comes John Garland, who's not a bad number 2. After that the drop off is marked. If Lackey's injury isn't as bad as feared and he can get back in there, the Angels may have something. If not, this may be a near-miss season for the Halos.

Francisco Rodriguez, Justin Spier and Darren Oliver form a decent nucleus for the bullpen. And if Scott Shields can get healthy, then the Angles have a shot.

Do you see a pattern here? A lot of "If/Thens". Too many for me to pick them to win the division.

3. Oakland Athetics - You've got to give Billy Beane a ton of credit for his ability to manage a less than average budget and keep the A's as competitive as they've been. That being said they traded away Danny Haren and let Nick Swisher go to Chicago. In return? I have no idea...

They're down to Joe Blanton and Rich Harden to lead their starting rotation. Not terrible certainly, but far from experienced, and they get nothing but greener after that.

The line up is sorely lacking in power. I love the middle of their infield with Bobby Crosby and Mark Ellis, but outside of that, it's difficult to know what to make of this club.

Huston Street is a nice closer. And with Keith Foulke in the fold, they've got some depth in the bullpen. But you have to wonder whether their starting pitching will be good enough to set up the bullpen to finish games.

Never count out the A's making a late season charge, but I don't think they have enough to overcome the Mariners and the Angels.

4. Texas Rangers - Milton Bradley in the August Texas heat? Oh yeah, this can't miss.

Well at least he's only their DH. Which is surprising because it's not like Texas has any major stars in the outfield.

I like their infield a lot. Hank Blalock was the guy I was hoping the Twins would trade Torii Hunter for. Oh well. Ian Kinsler is a strong second baseman. Michael Young's been nothing short of great at short. And Ben Broussard is certainly serviceable at first. He's no Texieria of course, but that's to be expected.

Pitching will once again be Texas' Achilles heel. Kevin Millwood leads their rotation. If he can stay healthy, he can be a nice anchor. But he's shown no proclivity towards doing that. After him it gets awfully thin. They do have a guy by the name of Luis Mendoza. So at least we have a chance to create a second definition for the "Mendoza Line". Feel free to submit your suggestions.

The bullpen's a complete mess. C.J. Wilson's their closer. He had exactly 12 saves last year. Which may not matter considering the fact that their starters are so bad. Easy Eddie Guardado joins the Rangers bullpen this year. For Eddie's sake, I hope the Texas DL is more comfortable than Seattle's was.

I'd love to say that Texas has some potential since they train in the Phoenix suburb where my folks now reside. I feel a sort of family attachment. Of course, they share that facility with the Royals and I didn't give them any love either. Oh well. At least they can't finish 5th!


So there's your division by division break down. Now let's look at the playoff picture.

NL East: NY Mets, NL Central: Chicago Cubs, NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks, NL Wildcard: Los Angeles Dodgers

AL East: Boston Red Sox (whom I hate), AL Central: Detroit Tigers, AL West: Seattle Mariners, AL Wildcard: Cleveland Indians

In the NL I've got the Mets over the Dodgers, the Diamondbacks over the Cubs with the Diamondbacks beating the Mets in the NLCS.

In the AL I've got the Tigers over the Mariners and the Red Sox (whom I hate) over the Indians with the Tigers beating the Red Sox (whom I hate) in the ALCS.

That gives you a Detroit vs. Arizona World Series. Once again the AL will prevail in the All-Star game, giving Detroit home-field advantage in the World Series.

So I'll give the edge to the Tigers in the Series. They beat the Diamondbacks in 5 games.

So there you have it. Hope you enjoyed the preview. Hell, I just hope you actually made it through the whole thing!

Check back in September/October to see how I did!