Nats Release John Patterson

According to MLB.com, the Washington Nationals released SP John Patterson on Thursday, citing the right-hander’s “lack of performance.” This is a pretty surprising move by the Nationals, as Patterson was penciled in to be the team’s number one starter. After a solid 2005, in which he posted a 3.13 ERA and pitching 198.1 innings, Patterson, a former #5 overall pick, missed significant time due to forearm soreness and made only 15 starts in the past two years. It seemed like Patterson was finally poised to make his return, which makes his release that much more shocking.

Patterson is coming off a spring start against Baltimore in which he have up six runs in four innings, but entered the game with a 1.80 ERA in two previous spring games. There must be something going on behind the scenes here, because you don’t just cut your #1 starter after one poor outing. Granted, it’s been a long road back for Patterson and his stuff probably isn’t electric, but the Nats really don’t have a lot of solid options in the rotation to replace him. Patterson just turned 30, so he’s no spring chicken, but not over the hill either. It’s doubtful that he would ever return to his 2005 form, but it’s hard to believe that he has nothing to offer this pitching staff. The only explanation here is that Washington’s patience just ran out, but one way or another, this is a surprisingly sudden move.

UPDATE: The Washington Post’s Nationals blog and the slots online blog have some inside scoop on the situation and spoke to Patterson after he got the news. Patterson basically feels that he wasn’t progressing fast enough to satisfy management, which resulted in his unceremonious firing. Patterson was penciled in to start the second game of the season prior to being released.

Northeast Bias Continues

Every once in a while if we notice a situation where this Northeast bias is being exhibited, we will make a brief post to show you everything thats wrong with this baseball world of ours. This is a image from ESPN.com and as you can see the headlines are made almost entirely out of Northeast teams. I know we all really wanted to know the Yankees are excited to play Virginia Tech, thats much more entertaining than some news of actual importance.

I will also take this as a chance to tell you what we got on the agenda here at NBB. We will continue with our Divisional Previews in this order: NL West, AL West, AL Central, AL East. We will also be doing another podcast this week, including a interview with Baseball America’s Jim Callis. The first NBB Power Rankings will come out right before the regular season starts and will continue on a weekly basis after that point. There will be much, much more other things, but I just wanted to give you guys a taste.

NBB Division Preview: NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks
2007 Finish: 1st in West
NBB Prediction: 1st in West
Arizona rode strong pitching to the NLCS in 2007, but their lack of offensive firepower earned them a sweep at the hands of the surging Colorado Rockies. The Dbacks made a few smart moves in the offseason and are hoping that further development of their young players will get them back to October.

On the Mound
Brandon Webb is quite simply one of the best aces in baseball. He might be the best sinkerball pitcher in the majors, coming in second to Tim Hudson in ground balls with 431, along with a groundball/flyball ratio of 3.34, good for third in the bigs last year. Webb has also shown the ability to go the distance, logging at least 229 innings each year since 2005, with 9 complete games in the past two years. He brought down his ERA and bumped up his strikeouts in 2007, and seems to really be hitting his stride as a starter. Arizona traded for Dan Haren to give Webb a dominating #2, a move which Tim Dierkes of MLBTR praised in our podcast interview. Haren became a star in Oakland and now returns to the NL, where he will no doubt baffle hitters and may top 200 strikeouts. An ace on most other staffs, Haren may be the best #2 in baseball. Randy Johnson appears ready to return from offseason back surgery, and his performance this year could vault Arizona to the top. Nobody is expecting his Cy Young form, but the Big Unit can still bring it. Prior to getting injured last year, Johnson went 4-0 with a 2.04 ERA, 51 Ks and just 5 BBs over the course of six games. Those stretches will never be consistent all year, but Johnson can still be a dominating starter if he can stay healthy. After Johnson, Arizona’s rotation is rounded out by Doug Davis and Micah Owings, who should be plenty serviceable as a 4-5. Davis will give you close to 200 innings with an ERA in the 4’s, and Owings is worth a start just for his bat alone. Expect Davis to turn in a typical performance and Owings to improve on his rookie year.

The Dbacks traded away closer Jose Valverde to Houston after he led the majors in saves last year. Arizona may have been selling high on Valverde, but now they have some questions at the top of their bullpen. Brandon Lyon has been named the closer for the time being after a good 2007 in relief, with an ERA of 2.68, as well as throwing six scoreless innings in the postseason. It remains to be seen how Lyon will adjust to the role, however. He notched 14 saves in a stretch as Arizona’s closer in 2005, but also had a 6.44 ERA that year. Lyon was also 0/7 in save opportunities in 2006, so he may have a steep learning curve as the full-time closer. Arizona has other options, including Chad Qualls, acquired from Houston in the Valverde trade. Qualls has been one of Houston’s better relievers in recent years and served as their closer when Brad Lidge imploded. Tony Pena certainly has the chops to fill the role as well, although he has little experience closing games. It will be interesting to see if Arizona will find a closer within or will need to seek a trade around midseason. Aside from the closer situation, the Dbacks’ pen is filled out by several solid arms, including Juan Cruz and Doug Slaten, and should be pretty dependable as a whole this season.

At the Plate
Arizona has a ton of youth in the field, with Eric Byrnes and Orlando Hudson as the elder statesmen of the team. There’s a ton of raw talent and potential here, and 2008 may be the year it truly comes to fruition. Chris Young burst onto the scene last year, becoming the first rookie to hit 30 homers and steal 25 bags. His OBP last year was very low for a leadoff hitter, at .295, and he struck out 141 times, so he will need to work on his plate discipline to be a more valuable leadoff man for his team. Considering that 25 of his 32 homers last year were solo shots, Arizona may be well-served to move Young back in the lineup, especially with a guy like Hudson in the two spot with a .376 OBP. Hudson, a Gold Glove second basemen for the past three years, should have a solid season, especially considering he is in a contract year. Byrnes had a career year in 2007, with an .813 OPS, 21 HR, 103 R and 50 SB(!). He should put up similar numbers in ’08, along with his usual dip after the All-Star break.

The remainder of the lineup is comprised of youngsters that have yet to make a major splash in the Big Show. Last year, third baseman Mark Reynolds swatted 17 homers and got on base at a .349 clip, but struck out 129 times in just 366 at-bats. Conor Jackson showed more patience in ’07, with a .368 OBP, 15 homers and just 50 strikeouts. Both of these guys could develop into solid power hitters in the middle of the lineup. Shortstop Stephen Drew was a highly-touted prospect, but turned in a disappointing 2007 in his first full season. Drew turned in a .683 OPS and struck out 100 times last year, but should bounce back and hit a lot closer to his clip as a call-up in 2006. Justin Upton, Arizona’s #1 prospect, showed promise when called up last August, but quickly dropped off and began flirting with Mr. Mendoza. Now entering his first full season, expect Upton to show some decent batting and great speed. His strikeout numbers will be high, but his ability to steal bags and stretch out extra base hits will make him a valuable asset in 2008. Chris Snyder will log the most innings behind the plate this year, and should be a decent hitter in the eight spot. Miguel Montero, another top prospect, is waiting in the wings for the catcher spot, but won’t likely see the field in the first half of the year. All in all, Arizona’s young hitters need some refinement, as they usually swing for the fences and strikeout at a high clip. With this many youngsters starting, it’s highly unlikely that they all will improve, but if two or three emerge, especially Upton, Arizona’s artillery will be much improved this October.

Los Angeles Dodgers
2007 Finish: 4th in West
NBB Prediction: 2nd in West
The Dodgers will be a very interesting team to watch this season and is really the wild card of the division. The team has shored up some weak areas and with Joe Torre at the helm, L.A. has a great chance to make a run in the NL West.

On the Mound
The Dodgers’ starting rotation suffered from some inconsistency on the back end last year, but should now be a bit more solid from top to bottom. Brad Penny is a top-notch ace and should have no problem making 200 innings again this year. Penny is by no means a strikeout artist, but he is a workhorse that consistently turns in solid performances. He had 26 quality starts last year and only took four losses, so it’s clear that he can keep his team in games. Derek Lowe is a nice complement as the #2 starter, and is just as dependable as Penny. Lowe has thrown around 200 innings each year since 2001 and has turned in sub-4 ERAs since coming to the NL in 2005. Lowe’s effectiveness is mainly due to his great sinker, which gave him a groundball ratio of 3.88 last year. Again, Lowe is not a flashy hurler, but should be pretty consistent again this season. The flash comes from #3 starter Chad Billingsley, who had a solid year in 2007. Billingsley racked up 141 strikeouts in 147 innings, and could certainly top 200 Ks if his workload increases. Expect Billingsley to continue progressing and to post an ERA in the low 3s.

The Dodgers imported Japanese righthander Hiroki Kuroda in the offseason, and his performance could strongly contribute to a stretch run. He has pretty solid Japanese numbers in 2006 posted a 1.85 ERA, which was the best in the Japan’s Central League. Kuroda is known to have great control and shows a lot of potential for success in the Major Leagues. He will surely face an adjustment to MLB hitters, but once he gets his bearings, Kuroda should be an exceptional #4 starter. Jason Schmidt had a disappointing first season in L.A. last year, getting shut down early and having shoulder surgery last June. He’s on track to return a month or two into the season, and the Dodgers have a few options to fill the fifth spot in the interim. Esteban Loaiza was acquired last year from Oakland and was fairly disappointing in five starts. E-Lo battled injuries, but is ready to go now and is having a pretty decent spring. He will probably fill in the five spot for the time being, as it seems doubtful that Chan Ho Park has a chance. Park has been a walking disaster since leaving the Dodgers in 2002 and despite a pretty good spring, it’s very hard to consider him a solid option, even as a #5. Once Schmidt returns, his ability to contribute will likely determine if the Dodgers will be for real in 2008.

L.A.’s bullpen should be pretty solid once again this year. Takashi Saito might be the most underappreciated closers in baseball, as he’s been outstanding over the past two years with little to no fanfare. Saito dropped his ERA last year to a ridiculous 1.40, coupled with 39 saves in 43 chances. He may now be 38 years old, Saito will continue to slam the door shut in the ninth this year. The Dodgers have one of the best setup men in the game in Jonathan Broxton, who will certainly be in line to take the closer’s role in the event of Saito’s injury or departure. Opposing hitters batted just .225 against Broxton last year, as the righty turned in a 2.85 ERA. Broxton-Saito is as shut-down as it gets. Throw Scott Proctor and Joe Beimel into the mix, and the Dodgers can significantly shortened close games. Their quality bullpen may be the Dodgers’ strongest asset in the coming season.

At the Plate
Los Angeles’ lineup exhibits an interesting mix of youth and experience, with some fresh faces providing a spark to complement the veterans. The biggest addition of the offseason was free agent CF Andruw Jones, who is hoping to rebound from a disappointing 2007. Jones, a perennial Gold Glover since 1998, hit .222/.311/.413 last year, all career lows since his rookie year. Whatever the cause for his downturn, last year seems to be an aberration and Jones should get things back in gear this season. He’s never hit for average, but that is of little importance, as Jones has a solid career OPS of .839. Hitting in the four spot, Jones should hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs with ease this year. Leading off will be Juan Pierre, who will shift over to left field. Speedy Pierre has seen his on-base percentage dip in recent years, but his ability to swipe 50-60 bases makes him a decent option at the top of the order. Rafael Furcal is another hitter looking to rebound from a down year and should see a modest bump in his numbers, complementing Pierre as a second leadoff hitter. Veteran 2B Jeff Kent may be getting up in years, but he is still a very solid contributor to the Dodgers’ offense. Last year, Kent hit .302/.375/.500 with 20 homers, a very solid line for a 40 year-old. He’ll get banged up and miss some time for sure, but as long as he can get close to 500 at-bats, Kent should continue his strong production.

First baseman James Loney got a midseason call-up in 2007 and did not disappoint. Loney turned in a .919 OPS and showed 30-home-run potential, which raised expectations for the lefty this year. Loney could very well become the best hitter in the Dodgers’ lineup this season, which is pretty amazing, considering he is only 23 years old. Catcher Russell Martin has emerged as arguably the best hitting backstop in the NL and certainly one of the best in the Majors. Expect another solid campaign from Martin in 2008. There seems to be a possibility of a platoon in right field between Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, but Kemp has superior numbers and should get the job. Kemp is yet another young player that can contribute heavily to the bottom half of the lineup. Prospect Andy LaRoche was expected to start this year at third base, but will be out until at least May with a thumb injury. The job would default to Nomar Garciaparra, but Nomar broke a bone in his hand and will miss the first month of the season. It seems like nobody wants to play the hot corner for the Dodgers, but Tony Abreu would be in line to take over in the interim. There has been talk of potential trades for a third baseman, but Abreu seems a decent enough hitter to hold down the eight spot until Nomar or LaRoche can return. Despite the injury situation at third base, L.A. has a very solid lineup from top to bottom and should have no problem scoring runs this year.

Colorado Rockies
2007 Finish: 2nd in West
NBB Prediction: 3rd in West
The Rockies rode an unprecedented hot streak to the World Series last year, but ultimately were no match for the Red Sox, who make quick work of their NL opponent. Colorado will return most of last year’s roster, but they won’t be able to count on a late-season surge to get them into the postseason.

On the Mound
Colorado’s rotation should be decent again this year, but probably won’t blow anyone away after Jeff Francis. Francis, a former ninth overall draft pick, had a career season last year and should continue to pitch solidly in 2008. Expect him to log 200 innings and post an ERA in the low 4s (which is good for Coors Field). Aaron Cook fills the two spot in the rotation and should be pretty average again this year. Cook has a pretty good groundball ratio, in the mid-2s, which is the main reason for his effectiveness in that ballpark. Cook should be able to eat innings and keep Colorado in some games this year. Ubaldo Jimenez is the #3 starter after a decent year on 15 starts in 2007. Jimenez showed pretty great stuff and posted 68 strikeouts (4.5 per start), but at times struggles with his command and tends to walk a lot of batters. If he can improve his control and get the walks down, Jimenez could eventually become the ace of this staff. As for 2008, he will be an above-average #3 for the Rockies and should post an ERA in the mid-4s.

The last two rotation spots have been open for competition this spring, with Franklin Morales, Kip Wells, Mark Redman, and Josh Towers vying for a starting job. Morales put up a 3.43 ERA in eight starts last year, and should slot in as the #4. Wells and Redman, both signed to minor league deals in the offseason, are both pretty terrible. Towers isn’t much better, so whoever fills the five spot will end up getting rocked in Colorado. Jason Hirsh showed some potential last year, but will begin the season on the DL with shoulder inflammation. The best case scenario is probably for Wells to fill the five hole until Hirsh can return, as 26-year-old Hirsh will be a better option and could have a pretty good future in Colorado. The remaining guys will likely fall into the back end of the bullpen.

Manny Corpas took strongly to the closer role last year when Brian Fuentes struggled, and Corpas has held the job ever since. Corpas was very effective shutting down hitters in 2007 and should do more of the same in ’08. Although he turned in the lowest relief ERA in Rockies history (2.08), Corpas is still young and is entering his third year in the bigs. He should be solid, but in case he runs into trouble, Fuentes could step in from the setup role, but either way, the two make a solid 8-9 tandem. Journeyman Luis Vizcaino joins the middle of the pen and will be pretty useful in keeping games from getting out of hand. Matt Herges had a resurgent 2007, but will probably have a hard time turning in another career season at the age of 38. Nevertheless, he should be dependable enough in middle relief. Some other decent arms will fill out the rest of the pen, which should be a pretty strong point for the Rockies in 2008.

At the Plate
Offense will be Colorado’s strong point once again this year, with all their big sluggers returning. Matt Holliday, who should have won last year’s MVP award, will return as one of the best hitters in baseball. Last year he hit an otherworldly .340/.405/.607 and was the heart and soul of this ballclub. While it’s hard to imagine Holliday can improve upon these numbers, he’ll certainly be able to sustain them this season and will be unstoppable at the plate. Garrett Atkins saw his numbers dip last year with a frustrating first half, but came back strong after the break, improving his OPS from .776 to .931. Atkins will be one of the best hitting third basemen in the game once again and should be good for 30 homers and 100 RBI this year. Todd Helton and his mountain-man goatee will be back and great as ever. Helton’s slugging numbers have dropped in the past few years from the .600 range to the high-.400s, but he’s had an OBP well-above .400 for every year since 2000, which is nothing short of amazing. Don’t expect that streak to end this year, or his outstanding defense at first base. Lefty slugger Brad Hawpe will continue to be productive this year, and an OPS above .900 with 30 HR and 100 RBI should be automatic.

Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki burst onto the scene last year and established himself as one of the baseball’s best young players, getting edged out by Ryan Braun for the NL Rookie of the Year (a move that completely ignored Tulo’s solid defense, whereas Braun was a sieve at third base). With a long-term deal locked up, expect Tulowitzki to amp things up even further, cut down his strikeouts (130 last year) and start getting on base at an even higher clip. Willy Taveras will lead off again this year and could score 100 runs if he can turn in a whole season. His OBP (.367 last year) and 30-steal potential make Taveras a great leadoff man for the Rockies. Catcher Yorvit Torrealba is back again, despite an unsuccessful try at free agency. Torrealba will be decent enough as catchers go, and will likely get more time this year than Chris Iannetta. Kaz Matsui provided a spark last year, but has moved on to Houston and will need to be replaced at second. Prospect Ian Stewart has competed for the spot this spring, but it seems likely that Jayson Nix will be there on opening day. Nix should be serviceable at the bottom of the lineup. Marcus Giles will be around as a reserve as well, but probably won’t figure into the mix much this year. Simply put, Colorado has the best lineup in the West, a strength will fuel this team all year.

San Diego Padres
2007 Finish: 3rd in West
NBB Prediction: 4th in West
Last year, the Padres just barely missed out on the postseason with a thrilling tie-breaker game against the Rockies. Despite baseball’s best pitching staff and a solid bullpen, San Diego finished in the bottom third in most offensive categories in 2007.

On the Mound
San Diego led the majors last season in ERA (3.70) and shutouts (20), in addition to finishing third in batting average against (.250) and tying for third in quality starts (90). The core of their staff will return this year and we can expect more of the same quality pitching. Little needs to be said about last year’s Cy Young winner, Jake Peavy. He may not be able to keep his ERA in the 2.50 realm, but he will definitely turn in his fourth straight 200+ strikeout season and will give the Padres a darn good chance to win every time he takes the hill. Chris Young had a solid 2007, although he did miss some time due to injury and ended up fading towards the end of the season. Nevertheless, Young has improved every year and should continue to do so in 2008. He should be able to top 200 innings with an ERA in the low 3’s and will complement Peavy very well as a 1-2 punch. The third rotation spot will be filled once again by Greg “Methuselah” Maddux, who will be as dependable a starter as you can get. Last year, the control master made all his starts had a ridiculously low 25 walks in 198 innings. He won’t rack up the strikeouts, but Maddux will keep his club in games, which is all the Padres need out of their #3 starter.

The four and five spots in the rotation are a little flexible, with some options down the line. The Padres signed Randy Wolf in the offseason, and he should slot in at #4 to start the season. Wolf, however, has been on a steady decline since 2003 with the Phillies and has thrown just 376 innings in the past four seasons. He has certainly had his share of injuries, but should be a serviceable fourth starter when healthy. Justin Germano is likely to be the #5 starter and should be fairly average in that role. Should the back end of the staff run into trouble–injury or otherwise–there are a few interesting options available. Damage case Make Prior was signed in the offseason, and is projected to be ready around midseason. There’s some upside here, but it’s hard to get your hopes up too much–Prior is starting the year on the DL for the fifth straight season. Clay Hensley, who had shoulder surgery in the offseason, could also be ready to go by midseason and may make his way to the rotation, but that’s far from a lock.

Pitching strength pours over to the bullpen as well, where the Padres are as solid as any team in the bigs. Trevor Hoffman, despite his miscues in some big games, is as trusty a closer as you can get and should tow the line this year. Hoffman is getting up in age, so you can expect a slight decline in his numbers, but he’ll get the job done in the ninth. Setup men Heath Bell and Cla Meredith will be shut-down once again, and the bullpen will be filled out by Justin Hampson, Kevin Cameron and Joe Thatcher, all guys with sub-3 ERAs. Some of the guys trying to make the rotation may end up in the pen, but one way or the other, we can expect San Diego relievers to be very solid this year.

At the Plate
You may have heard the rumor that the Padres can’t hit, and the team has done little to dispel it. Last year they had the 25th overall OPS in the majors, and were dead last in the same category at PETCO Park. It’s hard to imagine that will change much this year, as there haven’t been many changes on the offensive side. Brian Giles will be rehabbed and ready to go in the leadoff spot, and although his on-base percentage has declined in recent years, it was still a respectable .361 last year. His power is down considerably and his days of hitting 20 homers are long gone, but his role will be primarily setting the table. Brother Marcus has moved on to Colorado and will be replaced at second by Tadahito Iguchi. Iguchi showed some promise when he came up with the White Sox, but hasn’t progressed very much since then. He should get on base at about a .350 clip and nab 10-20 bases, but won’t blow anybody away this year. Adrian Gonzalez is the true gem here and has progressed nicely since coming to San Diego. He had a career year in 2007, with 30 homers, 100 RBI, and 101 runs scored, which should serve as a nice benchmark for the first baseman’s next few years. His strikeout numbers have jumped up to 140, but Gonzalez still had a decent 65 walks last year, and should continue to refine his plate discipline in the near future. Shortstop Khalil Greene, fresh off a two-year, $11MM contract signing, will bat cleanup and should be a decent slugger. Greene is by no means a disciplined all-around hitter, as last year he hit .254/.291/.468 with 128 strikeouts and just 32 walks, but he smacked 29 homers with 97 RBI and should serve as a good slugger for the four spot.

Jim Edmonds was signed to fill the hole left by Mike Cameron, and should provide pretty similar numbers and defense. The problem, of course, is Edmonds’ age and propensity for injury, which makes him a risky pickup. In fact, he has already strained his right calf, which might keep him out for the first few weeks of the season. Scott Hairston should be able to fill in at center field, and would be fairly average in the lineup. It will certainly be interesting to see how Kevin Kouzmanoff develops in his second year as a starter. After struggling in the first half of 2007, Kooz turned it on after the All-Star break, to the tune of an .890 OPS. Prospect Chase Headley will make the transition from third base to left field, and his bat, as well as Edmonds’ injury, should help him start in left on opening day. Michael Barrett will split time with Josh Bard behind the plate, but don’t expect either to impress with the bat. Barrett had a down year in 2007 and may rebound, but his good years were only slightly above average for a catcher. San Diego won’t break any batting records this year, but if they can eek out a little more offense than last season, the pitching should be good enough to keep them in the division race.

San Fransisco Giants
2007 Finish: 5th in West
NBB Prediction: 5th in West
The only thing the Giants can expect to win this year is the shuffleboard tournament at the local seniors’ center. San Fran will compete with the Mets for the oldest team out there, but now that the Barry drama is over, this club can start looking to the future. Just not this year.

On the Mound
Starting pitching is the Giants’ strongest area, with some solid young hurlers that can give the team hope. There is still some upside with Barry Zito, who had a letdown 2007 in his first season with San Fransisco. You’re supposed to subtract one point from your ERA when you switch to the NL, not add to it, but last year could be written off as just a tough adjustment if he can turn things around. Zito should improve his ERA to the mid-3s this year and post around 150 strikeouts, making him a decent ace for the Giants. Number two starter Matt Cain had a very solid, but very unlucky 2007, as he got terrible run support all year. Cain took 16 losses, despite pitching well late into games and posting a 3.65 ERA, with a .235 BAA. Cain shows great promise and should continue to develop into a great pitcher, which will start with another strong year in ’08. Tim Lincecum, currently in the number three spot, will eventually be the ace of this staff. Last year, he showed tremendous potential, displaying filthy rotten stuff and the poise of an elite starter. This year he will surely top 200 strikeouts and keep opposing hitters in the low .220s against him. Kevin Correia should fill the fourth spot this year, and should be decent in that role. He posted a 4.20 ERA last year out of the bullpen, but showed promise with a 2.54 ERA in eight starts. Expect a low-4 ERA from Correia, who should be more than serviceable as a #4. Noah Lowry will miss the first few months after having forearm surgery, which is a shame considering he had a solid year in ’07. Jonathan Sanchez will take his place in the five spot and won’t blow anybody away, but they could probably do worse. Sanchez will keep the spot warm for Lowry, whose return would made this Giants rotation pretty solid from top to bottom.

The bullpen should be good enough this year, with Brian Wilson named to the closer’s role. Wilson did a solid job of closing last year and will be pretty dependable again this season. Brad Hennessey and Tyler Walker will be setup men, and also could potentially step in as the closer if needed. Some other decent arms will round out the pen, which should be slightly above average as a unit.

At the Plate
Ah, the offense. ‘Offense’ will not be a word associated with the Giants this year (at least not ‘good offense’). The lineup is very old and very pedestrian. The team added Aaron Rowand in the offseason, which is a decent pickup, but Rowand won’t put up the same numbers he did last year in Philly. He won’t reach .300/.375/.525 again, but will still probably be the best hitter in this lineup. Therein lies the problem. He’ll be surrounded by Omar Vizquel, Randy Winn, and Bengie Molina, and while Winn is still fairly solid, these guys’ best days are behind them. Viquel be out until at least April from knee surgery, and will be replaced by Brian Bocock. Thrilled yet?

Rajai Davis will probably win some playing time in the outfield and is modeled to be a great leadoff hitter. Last year, he had a .361 OBP and showed some great speed with 22 steals. Rich Aurilia is penciled in at third base, with second going to Ray Durham. Yes, these guys are still playing. Durham got on base at a paltry .295 last year and slugged .343, while Aurilia played in 99 games. That’s about all you can say here. First base was supposed to go to Dan Ortmeier, but he hasn’t shown that he is ready in spring training thus far. The club will probably shift Aurilia over to first, and pursued some trade options at third, including Joe Crede. The Giants just picked up Jose Castillo, however, a day after he was waived by Florida on March 21. It now seems likely that Aurilia could play first with Castillo at third. Castillo has career numbers of .256/.297/.380. It’s no surprise that many expect the Giants to have the worst offense in baseball this year.

Season Outlook

The NL West will have the tightest race in baseball this year, with four evenly-matched teams that could easily reach the top (as well as the Wild Card, for that matter). Arizona has to be the favorite here, as they won it last year and have the best 1-2 in Webb and Haren, but they could be in trouble if their young hitters don’t come around. Los Angeles has the best balance of solid pitching and hitting, plus the addition of Joe Torre could certainly help them take this division. They will need to stay healthy, however, which may be easier said than done. Colorado will need to be more consistent this year, as another stretch run is isn’t going to happen, but they have the best lineup here, and good enough pitching to get them through. San Diego boasts the best rotation and bullpen, but also the weakest lineup, so they will need the make the best of every run they score this year to get to the post. It’s not hard to see any of these teams winning the division, which will probably come right down to the wire. San Fransisco will have a pretty rough year, but now that the Bonds Era is behind them, they can start building for the future and should be able to field a solid team in the next few years.

Let the Games Begin

Today is Opening Day (at least for 26 Major League teams) and all the drama of America’s pastime begins anew. Ryan Zimmerman started the season with a bang, blasting a walk-off home run to win the first game at Nationals Park. If that 2-out, bottom-of-the-ninth shot is any indication, this season will be a very exciting one to behold.

We’ll take this opportunity to offer our predictions for this year’s superlatives:

AL MVP
Wilson: Miguel Cabrera
Bishoff: Miguel Cabrera

NL MVP
Wilson: Mark Teixiera
Bishoff: Ryan Howard

AL Cy Young
Wilson: C.C. Sabathia
Bishoff: Erik Bedard

NL Cy Young
Wilson: Brandon Webb
Bishoff: Carlos Zambrano

AL Rookie of the Year
Wilson: Joba Chamberlain
Bishoff: Evan Longoria

NL Rookie of the Year
Wilson: Jay Bruce
Bishoff: Johnny Cueto
Posted by Matt Wilson at 9:53 AM 1 comments
Labels: Brandon Webb, C.C. Sabathia, Carlos Zambrano, Cy Young, Erik Bedard, Evan Longoria, Jay Bruce, Joba Chamberlain, johnny cueto, Mark Teixiera, Miguel Cabrera, MVP, Rookie of the Year, Ryan Howard
NBB Division Preview: AL Central
Detroit Tigers
2007 Finish: 2nd in Central
NBB Prediction: 1st in Central

The Tigers may have done more than any team in baseball to prepare themselves for a title run this season, and is was mostly all due to the blockbuster trade with the Marlins. Their offense should carry them all season long.

On the Mound
Justin Verlander leads this pitching staff once again, and will look to build on his success from the past two seasons. One interesting thing that stuck out for me while looking at his numbers, is how much better of a strikeout pitcher he became last season. He went from being a .66 K/IP pitcher to a .91 K/IP pitcher, while his walk rates stayed about the same. This can also be seen as going from 6 K/9 to 8.19 K/9. This is evidence of him maturing as a pitcher. If he continues his upward trend, he can become one of the best strikeout guys in the league. Bonderman slates in as the #2 and he really isn’t that impressive for a #2. Even if he goes back to his 2006 numbers, he is still nothing to brag to division rivals about. They really will need him to step up this season if they are going to be legitimate World Series contenders. Dontrelle Willis will have the opportunity to not be the #1 for the first time in a long time. Being out of that spotlight should help D-train focus on his pitching. Expect a better year out of him this season than last, but don’t go expecting the 2005 version. Kenny Rogers will be back for the Tigers this season, after being out for most of 2007 with injuries. He isn’t young, but if he is serviceable the Tigers will take it. He isn’t going to strike anyone out, but he shouldn’t give up too many runs, and can be a solid contributor in the back of the rotation. The rotation will be filled out by Nate Robertson. Nate is a dependable #5 starter who should eat somewhere close to 200 innings, which is all you can want from a #5. The Tigers bullpen isn’t anything great, at least without Zumaya and Rodney, who are out with injuries. Todd Jones may be the least dependable closer in baseball and the supporting staff isn’t that supportive. The bullpen could be the Achilles heel for this team. If Zumaya has discovered Rock Band, Tigers fans are hoping he likes to sing, as they need him in the pen.

At the Plate
Just thinking about this offense alone may cause bed-wetting from opposing AL Central pitchers. This is the most potent offense in all of baseball, and it’s not even close in my eyes. By adding Miguel Cabrera to this lineup, you are adding one of the top-5 hitters in baseball to one of the best lineups in baseball already. M-Cab will give you a 30+ homerun season, and in the middle of this lineup he should see even better pitches than in previous years. I would not be surprised to see him hit 40+ homers this season, while getting on-base at a .450 clip. That is not only saying a lot about him, but also about the hitters around him. When you have proven hitters like Magglio Ordonez, Gary Sheffield, and Ozzie Guillen surrounding him, they are bound to light up the scoreboard. That isn’t even considering hitters like Placido Polanco who is going to give you a .800 OPS from the second base position. Did we mention they have Curtis Granderson as well. He may be starting the season on the DL, but once he gets back, they have a guy who 20+ homeruns, doubles, triples, and stolen bases last season. This team should score more runs than any other team in baseball, and that alone will make them contenders come October.

Cleveland Indians
2007 Finish: 1st in Central
NBB Prediction: 2nd in Central
Last season the Indians did their best impression of a World Series team, but fell short in the ALCS. They hope they can retain their division title from last season, but it will be a tough battle to keep it.

On the Mound
If the Indians are going to win the division, they are going to have to do it from the pitching mound. They are stronger than the Tigers in this regard, but they will need the back of the pen to improve from last season. Not much you can say about C.C. Sabathia, except for the guy is a gamer. He brings it every night and with an exciting mound presence. He was excellent for them last year, and they will need a repeat performance this year. Fausto Carmona really came out of nowhere last year to become one of the most integral players on the team. He finished with a outstanding ERA of 3.06 and was one win away from being a 20 game winner. This guy has the tools to be a #1, but has the luxury of being a #2. Compared to the 1-2 punch of the Tigers, you gotta think these two would win every day of the week. Jake Westbrook slots in as a solid #3 who can eat 200+ innings. The Indians will need improvement from Paul Byrd and Cliff Lee in the back of the rotation. Neither of these guys pitched particularly well in the regular season last, and both will need to this year if they plan on taking the division. The Indians bullpen is very good, outside of closer Joe Borowski, who really isn’t too impressive.

At the Plate
The Indians lineup is not as good as the Tigers, but it is still a respectable one. The success of this lineup may result to the success of Travis Hafner. Pronk had a down year as his OBP dipped below .400 for the first time in 4 years. If he can return to his old 30+ homerun/.420 OBP form, he will make this Indians offense much more formidable. Victor Martinez has been a rock behind the plate, and should be a lock for 20+ homeruns and a .370 OBP. Grady Sizemore is turning into one of the best all-around centerfielders in the league. He can do it with his glove and his bat. Look for Mr. Sizemore to join the 30 HR/ 30 SB club this season. Adding in Garko, Perralta, and Blake, you find yourself a team with 6 players with the potential to hit 20+ homeruns. It will be interesting to see how Asdrubal Cabrera performs in his first full season as a starter at the MLB-level. Also, keep an eye out in left field to see who is getting the majority of the starts between David Dellucci and Jason Michaels. In all this offense should be competitive, but they don’t have the firepower to keep up with the bats up in Michigan.

Chicago White Sox
2007 Finish: 4th in Central
NBB Prediction: 3rd in Central
The White Sox made some moves in the offseason to prepare themselves for a playoff run, but I think it was foolish. They aren’t close to being a playoff team, and I think as the season plays out it will become evident.

On the Mound
Their rotation is mediocre, but has some potential. Vazquez has been one of the most reliable pitchers in baseball over the last seven years. You know you are going to get an ERA around fourand 200 innings. He is backed up by Mark Buehrle, who like Vazquez, has been a pretty dependable pitcher. He is going to give you 200 innings, and most likely an ERA below four. After these two guys is where the rotation starts to get a little dicey. Gavin Floyd is slotted as their #3, but he shouldn’t even be a #5. He has done nothing to prove he belongs at the MLB level thus far. Jose Contreras has shown in the past that he has the talent to be succesful, but has not been able to find it over the last two seasons. If he continues his poor performance this season, I wouldn’t expect him to make it to the end of the year. Danks is still young and still has time to bloom as a starter. He only has one year at the MLB level and will have the opportunity to prove himself this season. Their bullpen should be ok. Bobby Jenks is a solid closer and Dotel and Linebrink are good support. After these guys, the bullpen starts to get a little murky.

At the Plate
This White Sox lineup should be able to score some runs, as they will be lead by veteran 1B Paul Konerko. Konerko is gonna give you 30 homeruns every year. Nick Swisher will look to make the White Sox smart for trading to get him. He is a on base machine and he can hit for power. He will be a nice addition to this lineup. Jim Thome will be the DH and will be another power source for this team. He has the ability to crack 40 homers, and will be ready to knock in Swisher once he is on base. The key to the Sox offense this year may be the performance of Jermaine Dye. He still hit for power last season, but that is about all he did. If he can strikeout less and walk more, he will make this offense much, much better. Orlando Cabrera was brought in from the Angels to play shortstop for the Sox, and will add some offense. He will add some speed on the base paths, and also gets on base at a decent clip. This moves Juan Uribe over to second base. He should play good defense there and give some power. Pierzynski is behind the plate, and he won’t provide much other than a bad haircut, a little power, and some good quotes. Joe Crede will start at third base, but isn’t that impressive of a hitter. He has also been swirled in trade rumors, and may be the first man to go on this team.

Minnesota Twins
2007 Finish: 3rd in Central
NBB Prediction: 4th in Central
This team may the most sleeper potential of any team in the AL, but it would require for a lot of things to go right. Twins fans had to see two pitchers leave, in Garza and Santana, who they thought would be staples of their rotation for years to come.

On the Mound
Losing a pitcher like Santana is never easy for a pitching staff, but it was something the Twins management felt needed to be done. Liriano is expected to become the eventual ace of this staff, but his arm isn’t fully ready and he will begin the season in the minors. This leaves the team with Livan Hernandez as their #1, which really isn’t saying too much. Like the rest of their opening day rotation, he isn’t more than a back of the rotation starter. He is followed up by Boof Bonser who has the potential to be a #3 type starter, but isn’t there yet and is definitely being over-slotted as a #2. Kevin Slowey has yet to pitch to his potential, but the Twins fans are hoping that this is the time. Scott Baker may end up being the best pitcher of the staff by seasons end. He has plenty of ability, and should be able to build on a solid year last season. The Twins should once again have one of the best bullpens in all of baseball. Joe Nathan is a great way to start things off as a closer, and Neshek, Guerrier, and Rincon are as dependable as they come. The Twins have a large amount of young pitchers in the rotation, who could all wind up with stellar seasons, but there are most likely too many question marks for this to happen.

At the Plate
While the Twins traded away Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett, they did get back a hitting 2B in Harris and a future star in Delmon Young. Delmon may have finished 2nd in the ROY voting last season, but his numbers were not impressive at all. He needs to fix his plate presence and learn to take a pitch or two. Until this happens, he will never become the player he is capable of being. Justin Morneau is a beast over at first base and Joe Mauer has proven himself to be one of the best catchers in all of baseball. Michael Cuddyer is solid out in right field. With Cuddyer and Young in the same outfield, teams should basically never be trying to get that extra-base on the base paths. Outside of the guys previously mentioned, there aren’t really any other good hitters. Lamb and Everett are like walking through an offensive graveyard on the left side of the infield. Carlos Gomez also isn’t too valuable out in center, especially when you consider who is replacing. They should be alright offensively though, since they have players like Nick Punto coming off the bench…oh wait. This team will really need career years from nearly every player if they plan on playing after the regular season.

Kansas City Royals
2007 Finish: 5th in Central
NBB Prediction: 5th in Central
This might be the most boring team in baseball to watch this year. Not because they will be horrendous, but rather due to their offense or lack thereof. They should boast one of the best pitching staffs in the Central, but don’t have any O to back it up.

On the Mound
The Royals rotation is by far their biggest strength. They have some quality pitching and it is a shame that they do not have any bats to help them out. Gil Meche may not be the best #1 in the league, but he is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. A bright point for Royals fans should be seeing his total innings pitched continually rise over the last four years, where last year he pitched 216 innings. He is backed up by Brian Bannister, who is turning into one of the better pitchers in the division. He will look to carry over his success from last season into an even better performance this year. Zack Grienke slots in as the #3 and he is quite the interesting pitcher to follow. He has some of the best raw stuff of any pitcher in all of baseball, but has never really seemed to put his mental game together. He made improvements last season and will look to build on that for this year. If he can ever live up to his abilities broadcasted in MVP Baseball 2005, he will win the Cy Young year after year. John Bale comes in as sort of a journeyman who has never really gotten a shot in the big leagues, despite putting up decent numbers in his limited opportunities. He will most likely get rocked, but it is always fun to root for a veteran like Bale. He turns 34 in May and to this date only has 118 innings at the major league level. Brett Tomko will round out this rotation. Tomko is nothing more than a 6th starter, who is being placed as a 5th. Do not expect much out of him, as he probably won’t be in the rotation by seasons end. The Royals bullpen should also be a strong point for this team. Joakim Soria displayed his abilities as an outstanding closer last season. The team also beefed up the pen by signing veteran Ron Mahay. Gobble and Nunez should also be positive contributors, outside of these guys though they are not as comfortable.

At the Plate
This has been the one part of the Central preview I have been dreading writing, since it will be so painful to type. Jose Guillen was brought in this offseason, after a great season with the Mariners before getting injured. If he can return to his form prior to his injury, the team will have at least one live bat that they can count on. Sophmore slugger Alex Gordon will look to pick up where he left off in the second half of 2007. He was horrendous for the first half of the year, but managed to show a little power towards the end. There will also be a lot less pressure and media spotlight, as last year he was followed all year long as the “next George Brett”. Mark Teahen will start out the season in left field, and he will give you a reliable bat. We would like to see him find some more power this season like he did in 2006, as his slugging went from .517 in 2006 to .410 in 2007. The real only other players on this team that has proven to hit for power is catcher John Buck. Buck won’t get on base too much, but he will give the team an occasional stroke of power. Mark Grudzielanek will get on base at a decent clip, but that is about all he is going to contribute to the team. Pena will be a offensive hole at second base, much like Gload over at first. DeJesus will give you league average numbers out in center, but isn’t anything too impressive.

Season Outlook
This should be a good race up top between the Tigers and Indians, but after that there really isn’t too much to watch. The Tigers should take the division as long as their pitching is adequate. The Indians are much closer than many expect and could take the division, especially if Pronk delivers with a big year. The White Sox will finish in third. They will hit a lot of homeruns, and the back part of the rotation will give them all back. The Twins are going to go through some growing pains, but are setting the foundations for a good few years. The Royals pitching is there, but the hitting isn’t even close. If they can somehow acquire a couple good hitters this team could go up as high as third place.
Posted by Matt Bishoff at 9:30 AM 0 comments
Labels: AL Central, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins
JP Flowin to the Bench
Every time I hear Juan Pierre’s name I think of this video. Unfortunately for him, this time his name was brought up in sour news. The Dodgers have decided to start Andre Ethier over him. I do not think that one of these players is marginally better than the other, but it is just more of what the team needs. JP is going to give you speed on the bases and in the outfield, but also one of the weakest throwing arms in the league. I mainly just used this post as an excuse to post this video, but I think this is a good move for the Dodgers depending on how Ethier is used.

Bish on XM Radio

I will be interviewed on MLB Home Plate on XM Radio Channel 175with Jeff Joyce this Saturday at 6:05pm. I’ll be on for about 15 minutes and will be chatting about current storylines with the Rays. If you have XM tune in and check it out.

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