Thursday, March 31, 2005

Time to Play Ball!
By Imtiaz Mussa

Well as I sit in my room and look out the window at some random buildings, I come to the realization that I have not written a single thing for a while. I apologize for that and while you might be expecting something on Landon Donovan crawling back to MLS, I’m not going to touch it. That’s right; T-Bone Mussa is going to write about something besides soccer. But don’t worry, the Champions League quarterfinal preview is coming soon.

This is one of the best times of the year. For the past two weekends, we have all been captivated by the spectacle of March Madness. I don’t think I will ever get tired of it. And as we will determine a national champion on Monday night, earlier in the day, the national pastime will be immersed in Opening Day. Yeah, I know that the Yankees and Red Sox play on Sunday night but that’s all publicity and ratings. It’s all about Monday.

So, I’m going to be the first Jabber Jock to preview the baseball season. The order of the teams in which I preview them is my predicted order of finish. I guess I’ll say a couple of things on each, some more than others, and identify one key player to watch out for. I will not give my prediction because you will have to tune in to the Cheap Seats on Monday or Friday from 7:30-8:00 at to hear it. So here we go, American League first.

American League East
New York Yankees – I know I hate them but give credit where credit is due, they made a huge attempt to upgrade the pitching staff. Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, and Jaret Wright were all added to bolster a staff that underachieved last year. Felix Rodriguez joins the Yankee bullpen and becomes another arm that Joe Torre can tire out before October. The lineup is still really solid.
Key Player: Jason Giambi – We all know what he’s done and watched how he’s slimmed down. But he’s still a lefty hitter who calls Yankee Stadium home. He should hit 30 home runs.
The camera will be on Johnson

Boston Red Sox – I stayed up all night in London to watch every game of the World Series. I didn’t go to bed till seven in the morning the night they won it. What do the champs do for an encore? They add Edgar Renteria to make their offense better. But letting Pedro Martinez go and replacing him with David Wells, Matt Clement, and Wade Miller may not get the job done. Despite what his attitude was, he was a damn good pitcher last year. They will miss him.
Key Player: Matt Clement – People always said he had great stuff. Now playing with a team that will give him great run support, it’s time to see a rise in win totals.

Baltimore Orioles – Sammy Sosa joins a very solid lineup with Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez. They’re going to need him because their big acquisition on the pitching front was Steve Kline. Enough said.
Key Player: Rodrigo Lopez – You didn’t think Sidney Ponson would be the staff’s ace did you? Lopez has always shown signs of being a good pitcher.

Toronto Blue Jays – They replace Carlos Delgado with Shea Hillenbrand and Corey Koskie? This is Vernon Wells’ chance to take over as the centerpiece of the offense. Halladay needs to pitch like a Cy Young winner if they want any respect.
Key Player: Eric Hinske – The former Rookie of the Year has fallen off in a big way.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays – Do we have any bets on how long it will take Lou Pinella to have a nervous breakdown and resign from the job? This team is young and has the talent but playing in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox means going nowhere real fast.
Key Player: Scott Kazmir – The Devil Rays ‘stole’ him from the Mets last year. It’s time to see what he can do.

American League Central
Minnesota Twins – Any team that has Johan Santana as its ace is already in good shape. The Twins have a vastly underrated manager in Ron Gardenhire. People just don’t know how good he really is. Resigning Brad Radke to serve as the number two guy is a smart move and the Twins will have Justin Morneau hitting the ball out of the Metrodome for a full season.
Key Player: Joe Mauer – Injuries killed his rookie year last year. Adding his bat to this team puts them over the top.
The AL Cy Young Winner

Cleveland Indians – They are a young, exciting team that is on the rise. With the best hitting catcher in the game in Victor Martinez and some solid young hitters surrounding him, they will continue to turn heads. Kevin Millwood joins the pitching staff with the hope of adding a solid veteran presence. But Juan Gonzalez should not be blocking Grady Sizemore from being on this team.
Key Player: Bob Wickman – Anything resembling the old Wickman will add some stability to a shaky bullpen.

Detroit Tigers – Adding Magglio Ordonez is a huge risk but if it pans out, it is great news for the offense. The pitching staff is still pretty young and adding a fading Troy Percival and inconsistent Kyle Farnsworth might only fuel more questions. But, Pudge has inspired this team to improve and they will continue.
Key Player: Jeremy Bonderman – He is the opening day starter. It’s time for him to live up to the hype.

Chicago White Sox – The Scott Podsednik trade would make sense but they didn’t add a big bat to make up for Carlos Lee. Frank Thomas’ injury will hurt. The pitching staff has questions beyond Mark Buehrle and Freddy Garcia.
Key Player: Joe Crede – Another prospect who hasn’t quite lived up to expectations. They could sure use him now.

Kansas City Royals – They are just a terrible team. Enough said.
Key Players: John Buck/Mark Teahen – The Royals got both players from the Beltran trade. It’s time to see what they can do.

American League West
Anaheim Angels, hold up… “The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim” – Add Steve Finley, Orlando Cabrera, Paul Byrd, and rookie Dallas McPherson and you have a much better team. The pitching still has some questions but Francisco Rodriguez at the closer spot should be something special.
Key Player: Jerrod Washburn – Just think that there was a point in time when people thought he had the makings of an ace. In 2002, he went 18-6 with a 3.15 ERA.

Texas Rangers – One of last year’s most improved teams didn’t do too much to rock the boat and that may end up being a key mistake. Kenny Rogers is not getting any older and he was the team’s ace. An exciting lineup got another slugger in Richard Hidalgo.
Key Player: Chan Ho Park – His big contract is part of the reason why this team cannot go out there and acquire the help they need. Maybe he can finally pitch up to his big contract.

Seattle Mariners – In order to fix a bad offense, they bring in Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson. Ichiro is jumping for joy because he now has teammates who can drive him in. The pitching staff still has some major concerns.
Key Player: Joel Piniero – Once considered a potential ace, he fell off a cliff last year. He needs to get back into top form.
Does he miss Rick Peterson?

Oakland Athletics – Two of the big three are gone and the offense only picked up Jason Kendall? That’s all? The staff will have concerns beyond Rich Harden and Octavio Dotel may have to get ready to meet Huston Street. There is not enough power on this team.
Key Player: Barry Zito – Ever since the Cy Young winning season, his curveball has gotten flatter. The pressure is on him to be the ace.

National League East
Atlanta Braves – I hate the Braves with a passion but until they get bounced out of the top spot, I will doubt it will ever happen. They pulled off a big deal in getting Tim Hudson and acquired Dan Kolb which means John Smoltz moves back into the rotation. Starting in the outfield for the Braves is Andruw Jones, Brian Jordan, and Raul Mondesi. Julio Franco is still on the team. Enough said.
Key Player: Dan Kolb – Broke out last year to become one of the better closers in the game but that was in Milwaukee. Let’s see him do it in a situation where games will count.

New York Mets – New centerfielder Carlos Beltran hit it on the nailed when he called this team “The New Mets.” It all started with the hiring of Omar Minaya as general manager and the signing to former Boston ace Pedro Martinez. Then, as people thought the Mets were long shots to get him, it happened. As the Astros ran out of time, Minaya and Mets swooped in and signed Carlos Beltran. He will be counted on to be the face of the franchise with David Wright and Jose Reyes. Doug Mientkiewicz was added for his strong glove at first base. This is Mike Piazza’s contract year and in all likelihood, his last as a New York Met. The one big problem that this team has is the bullpen. The hope is that this team can find someone in the midst of the dozen or so relievers they invited to spring training. If now, a trade will be in the works. Willie Randolph should bring in a more aggressive philosophy on the offensive side. Look out for plenty of stolen bases.
Key Player: Kris Benson – The Mets got criticized to death for overpaying him. It’s time for him to live up to the money he has been paid. Let Anna do what she wants just as long as her husband wins ball games.

Florida Marlins – Carlos Delgado gives them their most powerful left handed bat in team history. Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo are a very formidable one, two at the top of the lineup. Al Leiter is expected to replace Carl Pavano in the rotation. He will pitch well but only go five innings per start. Guillermo Mota gets his shot at the closer’s role.
Key Player: Josh Beckett – The World Series MVP has yet to put it together for a full season. Leann Tweeden isn’t around to distract him anymore.

Philadelphia Phillies – An ageing Kenny Lofton has been brought in to hit at the top of the lineup and patrol centerfield. Why do I get the feeling he can’t do it everyday for much longer? Chase Utley has the second base position until he loses it to Polanco. Jon Lieber leaves the Yankees to become the Phillies ace. Note, this is a hitter’s park. The countdown until Gavin Floyd gets a full time spot in the rotation begins.
Key Player: Randy Wolf – He’s still looking for that girl that helped him on the Subway here in NYC but he should be searching for his form. He struggled last year.
Thome may have to carry this team.

Washington Nationals – Same team with a new location and team name. Actually I take that back. They did overpay for Vinny Castilla and Cristian Guzman. How has Livan Hernandez not been picked up by another team yet? Washington may have to move the Nationals along and hope a good team will decide to move.
Key Player: Chad Cordero – He is one of the major bright spots for this team. Cordero has great stuff but don’t expect big save totals because the Nationals stink.

National League Central
St. Louis Cardinals – The NL Champions made some changes to the team by acquiring Mark Mulder to be the team’s ace. He makes the rotation better. David Eckstein jumps on board to play shortstop in place of the departed Edgar Renteria. As long as he gets hit by pitches enough, he will score thanks to Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen, and Walker. Young Yadier Molina is the new starting catcher.
Key Player: Jason Marquis – Had a breakout year last season and with continuing concerns with Matt Morris, he needs to keep it up.

Chicago Cubs – They trade Sammy Sosa and sign Jeromy Burnitz to replace him. Mark Prior and Kerry Wood can never seem to get healthy and pitch a full season. Their closer situation is an utter mess. Yet they are deep enough to stay in the race. Carlos Zambrano is this team’s ace and Aramis Ramirez is an underrated hitter.
Key Player: Nomar Garciaparra – If Nomar can get back to his pre-injury Boston swagger, he will make the fans forget about Sammy.
They wait for Nomar to step up.

Houston Astros – Before Carlos Beltran joined the team, they were a disappointment. When they had him, they were within one game of the World Series. Now that Beltran and Jeff Kent have left, this team will have trouble driving in runs. Andy Pettitte rejoins Oswalt and Clemens in the rotation that may have to carry this team. Brad Lidge is an electrifying closer.
Key Player: Jeff Bagwell – With Berkman injured for the first part of the season, the team turns to a Killer B to pick them up. Does the ageing star have it in him to get the job done?

Pittsburgh Pirates – This team has a bunch of young, talented players in the form of last year’s rookie of the year Jason Bay, Jack Wilson, Craig Wilson, and staff ace Oliver Perez. The problem is that thanks to salary concerns, they can’t add to the team. It is a shame because these guys can play. Jose Mesa will be dealt by the deadline.
Key Player to Watch: Kip Wells – He will be counted on to be a very consistent number two behind Perez.

Milwaukee Brewers – With some rookies coming up such as JJ Hardy and eventually Prince Fielder, this team will at least be fun to watch. Ben Sheets is talking contract extension but if that fall through, he will be the big pitcher out there at the trading deadline. Mike Adams takes over as the closer for the departed Dan Kolb.
Key Player: Geoff Jenkins – Now only if this guy could stay healthy would people know how good he is.

Cincinnati Reds – The team’s new ace Eric Milton is a fly ball pitcher who will be playing his home games at the Great American Band-Box. I think I made my point. If Junior Griffey is healthy, they will have four good outfielders in him, Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, and Wily Mo Pena. Not all four will finish the season in Cincy.
Key Player: Paul Wilson – The former member of the Mets’ Generation K had a nice year with the Reds last season. He got paid and now it’s time to keep it going.

National League West
San Diego Padres – The Padres did not make any significant upgrades this past offseason except get Dave Roberts to bat leadoff. But because the other teams in this division downgraded this off-season, which is why I pick San Diego to win the division. Jake Peavy is an emerging ace and Trevor Hoffman seems to keep on going. Mark Loretta is extremely underrated.
Key Player: Brian Giles – The ageing slugger will be counted on to produce in this Padres lineup along with Nevin, Klesko, and Hernandez.
You should know who Peavy is

San Francisco Giants – This just goes to show just how bad this division really is. Despite the fact that I’m not counting on Bonds to play half the season, the Giants will still finish second. The position players are simply old and got older with the additions of Moises Alou and Omar Vizquel. Armando Benitez will be a solid closer until he gets into a high pressure situation. Jason Schmidt is a Cy Young favorite.
Key Player: Moises Alou – With Bonds out, the pressure falls on him to drive in runs. The problem is that he was dreadful outside of Wrigley.

Los Angeles Dodgers – Manager Jim Tracy has a new team to manage after last year’s NL West Champs were blown up. In an attempt to bolster the offense, LA added Jeff Kent, Jose Valentin, and paid the big money for JD Drew. Derek Lowe has been added to the rotation but as a ground ball pitcher, he was better suited for last year’s team. This one will have plenty of errors. But no team wants to be trailing heading into the ninth when Gagne will close it out.
Key Player: Odalis Perez – Inconsistent pitcher has his big contract and is being counted on to produce.

Arizona Diamondbacks – Say goodbye to Randy Johnson and Richie Sexson and say hello to Vazquez, Russ Ortiz, Shawn Green, and Troy Glaus. Anything should be better than the team that played last year. No wonder Johnson wanted to get out of there.
Key Player: Javier Vazquez - Now that he's out of the spotlight, it's possible that he can get back to the way he was in Montreal.

Colorado Rockies – There is no pitching on this team. Good luck Jeff Francis as you start your major league career. Byung-Hyun Kim is about to enter his own personal hell. As many as five rookies could be in the opening day lineup. Preston Wilson and Todd Helton will be looked to as the anchors of this team.
Key Player: Jason Jennings – To think, this guy did win Rookie of the Year while pitching at Coors Field.

And that does it for T-Bone’s MLB Preview 2005. After months of anticipation, it’s time to PLAY BALL!


Blogger David Arnott said...

T-Bone, in a few of these projections, most notably in the projections of the A's and Reds, I think you're overemphasizing comings-and-goings and neglecting the effects of young improving players. For instance, I'm not sure the A's haven't IMPROVED their offense with Bobby Crosby and Nick Swisher getting starting jobs and Jason Kendall being a huge upgrade at catcher. As for their pitching, the downgrade won't be so great because Hudson and Mulder were pretty sketchy the second half of last season. If the new guys just stay healthy, they won't be that much worse than they were last year. I'm guessing 85 wins, better than the Mariners, who haven't improved that much over last year's edition, considering that their pitching is still... off..., that neither Sexson nor Beltre will perform to past standards at SafeCo, and that they're gonna start a few players who might be worse than last season (Boone, Reese).

5:20 PM  
Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

First of all, Bobby Crosby started all of last year. And yes, Kendall was a nice addition. But it's hard to say that their offense is going to be significantly improved by one guy. That leaves pitching. The fact is that you and Ben (along with many others) are expecting guys like Herin and Street to be able to step in and pitch at the big league level right away, with all the pressure of having to carry a team. What happens if the A's go through a stretch where those kids a pitching well, but the team can't seem to score enough runs? They'll press, of course. That's exactly what happened to the Mariners last year, and we saw what all their vaunted prospects (Nageotte, Blackley, Thornton, Atchison, etc.) did...they acted like kids who hadn't been there before, which they were. If the A's are above .500 this year, I'd be astounded. Doesn't mean they were bad trades in the long term, but you can't win when 4/5ths of your rotation is basically unproven.

12:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wait? josh beckett is single?

1:07 AM  

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