3/31/10

Season Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

It occurred to us as we were working through this list in alphabetical order that while 'St. Louis' appears after 'Seattle,' the actual name of the team - i.e. 'Saint Louis' - does not. We apologize to offended Cards fans, and blame WikiAnswers for you.

ANYWAY, 4 days left til Opening Day. You know the drill by now: breakdowns of lineup, rotation, bullpen, and a predicted record plus beer so that Pittsburgh fans can drink in appropriate style. Let's hop to the St. Louis Cardinals.


Lineup: Albert Pujols is the best player in baseball and Matt Holliday is here to provide lineup protection, however false the notion may be. Or perhaps Pujols is Holliday's protection. Either way, two great hitters in the middle of the lineup here, and Colby Rasmus is, in our not-so-humble opinion, ready to break out this year. Beyond them, there're a few quality guys, but it's not exactly an imposing group of hitters the Cards will be rolling out. David Freese isn't a bad player, but he is a rookie, and his pedigree isn't great. Brendan Ryan is a great gloveman, but not so much of a hitter - you know, the proverbial all-glove, no-stick shortstop. Skip Schumaker had a bit of a rough transition to second base last season, but if the team intends on having him start there, they could certainly do worse - and Felipe Lopez is a wonderful insurance policy for all three of the above guys, though his glove may not play at short. Yadier Molina is by all accounts a marvelous defensive catcher, and he's started to come around some with the bat; hopefully for the Cardinals, he'll be more Bengie than Jose with the stick. Not that either are great, but still. And Ryan Ludwick, who broke out at age 29 and promptly faded back into mediocrity, has the right field job for better or worse.

Rotation: Like with the lineup, there's two stars that lead this group and somewhat useful talent that follows them. Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright were in the Cy Young conversation last season, and if Carpenter stays healthy, they could very well repeat the feat. Beyond them, Brad Penny will try to regain his fastball and perhaps benefit from Dave Duncan's tutelage as the #3 guy, and Kyle Lohse and Jaime Garcia bring up the rear. Neither of them are particularly good. Well, Garcia might become good, but he's a rookie, so our expectations are tempered.

Bullpen: Ryan Franklin was named the closer last year, and managed a 1.92 ERA...which sort of pales when compared to his 3.31 FIP and 4.27 xFIP. What we're saying is, he got lucky, and to expect the same kind of season from him is perhaps unwise. Kyle McClellan, who had been in the running for the 5th starter job, had a decent season last year, as did Blake Hawksworth, Trever Miller and lefty Dennys Reyes. So on the whole, this looks like a good unit - but a repeat of the success they all had is unlikely. Expect a good-not-great performance this season.

Overall: The Cardinals will go as far as their four stars take them. If Albert Pujols keeps up his march to Cooperstown, Matt Holliday regresses only slightly from last season, and Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter stay healthy, then they're a formidable squad - particularly if Colby Rasmus and - to a lesser extent - Yadier Molina take steps forward. They're not a great team, but in the weak NL Central, that doesn't matter - they're the clear favorites here.

Predicted Record: 86-76, 1st place NL Central

Beer: Stone Face Ale. Brewed by Anheuser-Busch (a St. Louis-based company, of course), it often gets lost in the sea of its Budweiser, Bud Light, Michelob, O'Doul's, and Natural Light/Ice (we kid) kin. But Anheuser-Busch has some quality, lesser-known brews. The analogy here? Colby Rasmus:Albert Pujols et al:: Stone Face:Budweiser (viz the King of Beers, not, y'know, actually good. Take the nickname as gospel here). So henceforth, Colby Rasmus shall be known as Stone Face. And we don't care if doesn't catch on anywhere else.

Season Preview: Seattle Mariners

Well we've got 4 days - yes we're constantly making mistakes with our timeline. We don't know why - left until Opening Day, which means it's season preview time. We'll be running it down team by team, with an added new wrinkle this time around: the beer of choice for fans of the team to enjoy whilst watching their team take the field! Nothing like that to help get you through a baseball season, especially if you're from Pittsburgh. Up next: the Seattle Mariners.


Lineup: The lineup tends to get glossed over when talking about the Mariners, partly because they seem to acquire position players with an emphasis on defensive ability and partly because the lineup isn't actually all that good. The additions of Chone Figgins and Milton Bradley should make the biggest difference, as there are now three legitimate hitters in the lineup - if Bradley stays healthy, that is. And the third, of course, is Ichiro, who gets far less credit than a man of his exploits and abilities is due. Browse U.S.S. Mariner some time for a better idea. Franklin 'Death to Flying Things' Gutierrez is the superlative glove in center field, and guys like Eric Byrnes and Ryan Langerhans (whom we hate irrationally) will share time with Bradley in left - though ideally Bradley will operate mostly from the DH position. Around the infield, Jose Lopez and Figgins have swapped positions, with Lopez handling hot corner duties and Figgins manning the keystone - a move we don't care for, particularly because Lopez's bat plays much better at second than at third, and his defense is marginal at best both places. Jack Wilson plays a great short, but he's not all that much of  a hitter - good enough for a shortstop, we suppose, though they shouldn't be counting on him for even 150 games anyway. Casey Kotchman rounds out the infield, and he seems to be one of the first basemen in the league with little in the way of power but a decent glove to make him an acceptable option, if not the ideal choice. Rob Johnson and Adam Moore are the catchers; Moore is a pretty good prospect, but whether he'll get the playing time remains to be seen (Johnson is currently listed first on the team's depth chart).


Rotation: The addition of Cliff Lee gives the M's a 1-2 to rival any in the league, as Clifton and Felix are both established aces at this point - albeit having taken greatly different ways of getting there. Lee is currently suffering from a strained oblique that is suffering to make him miss significant time, though, so they could be weakened in the first month of the season. If that's the case - especially combined with Erik Bedard's late return from surgery - then the Mariners are all of a sudden relying heavily on Ryan Rowland-Smith, whose Twitter account is a relative treat), Ian Snell, Doug Fister, and one or both of Luke French and Jason Vargas. Rowland-Smith isn't terrible (4.28 career FIP), but Snell, who can't strike people out anymore (or, for that matter, throw a strike; 5.15 BB/9 last season, 4.12 for the career) is, and Fister, beyond the obvious benefits of a giggle-worthy name and good control, isn't someone we would want in the regular rotation. French, who apparently learned how to strike people out in 2008 (relatively so; 7.93 K/9 isn't impressive in its own right, but it is a full two ticks up from his previous norms) doesn't project to be much better than a guy who hopes to post a sub-5.00 FIP, and Vargas, despite a good 73 innings with the Marlins in 2005, has been sub-replacement level since. So, yeah, there could be trouble if Lee and Bedard don't contribute substantially.


Bullpen: This unit is going to rely heavily on David Aardsma and Mark Lowe to repeat or build upon his banner 2009 season, because the guys sharing the 'pen with them aren't exactly 'reliable' (and yes we realize it's odd to call two guys with career-best seasons last year 'reliable.'). Brandon League's not bad, but if you'd like an irrelevant fun fact, his FIP and ERA haven't been closer than a run apart since 2006. Shawn Kelly and Sean ('the Pitching Tomato,' if only he were redheaded) White both are projected to hover around a 4.00 FIP. Garrett Olson, on the other hand, is terrible, and rookie Kanekoa Texeira (who needs to get together with Mark Teixeira and determine which way the name is to be spelled, for all of our benefit) is projected to do poorly this season despite a pretty fantastic minor league career. So it's not exactly an inspiring cast, but, hey, they're relievers. They could just as easily lead the league in FIP as be a complete bunch of flamers (I couldn't find the clip, but if you don't recognize the Arrested Development joke, then just go watch the whole series and get familiar).


Overall: The Mariners have perhaps somewhat inflated expectations given that they're the darlings of the sabersphere. There's a lot to like about this team, true, but they still don't have what you'd call a potent lineup, the rotation could easily end in injury-related shambles, and the bullpen doesn't have a lot of big arms that you'd feel comfortable calling on in tight games. But they can still field the ball, and unless some of their premier guys see one of those season-by-season fluctuations that can occur in defensive play, that should remain their calling card - and in spacious Safeco, that's not entirely a bad thing. 


Predicted Record: 86-76, 1st place AL West. But we're very uncomfortable with that choice.


Beer: Fat Tire. A recent hot favorite in the American market, people who buy Fat Tire have lofty expectations. And it is very good. But it's not the superlative brew that people expect all the time. With the holes in the Mariners team, it's possible that they end up like a big glass of Fat Tire - delightful but not a life changer.

3/29/10

Season Preview: San Francisco Giants

Well we've got 7 days ONE WEEK left until Opening Day, which means it's season preview time. We'll be running it down team by team, with an added new wrinkle this time around: the beer of choice for fans of the team to enjoy whilst watching their team take the field! Nothing like that to help get you through a baseball season, especially if you're from Pittsburgh. Up next: the San Francisco Giants.


Lineup: The lineup is, how do you say...weak. Pablo Sandoval is literally the only guy we feel comfortable saying will be good. For most of the rest, league average is a dream, not a possibility, and for some even that dream went by the wayside years ago. Edgar Renteria is probably one of the worst shortstops in the league at this point, and his double play partner Freddy Sanchez is a former batting title champ whose one saving grace is a decent batting average. Unfortunately, he's got no plate discipline or power to accompany it. Rounding out the infield is Aubrey Huff, who was once very good, but now...is not. And the outfield is similarly comme on dit disadvantaged in terms of talent; Mark DeRosa is a fine utility player, but not an everyday left fielder. Aaron Rowand cashed in big time on one great season, and is now firmly mired in mediocrity. And Nate Schierholtz once held promise, but he's not a starting MLB RF. Eugenio Velez and Fred Lewis back up that trio, though, so at least there's decent depth. We would argue for DeRosa to play second and have Velez or Lewis take over in left, but then we're not paid the big bucks to make such decisions. However, it gives us hope that we could one day be paid to do so to see that the team resigned Bengie Molina instead of letting Buster Posey do a fairly passable Matt Wieters impression. Dumb, dumb choice. 


Rotation: The rotation is the strongest part of this team, by far. 2-time defending Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum heads up this group, and he's certainly an ace in any sense of the word. Matt Cain is another very good young starter, and is a solid bet for a well-above average performance this year. Barry Zito has been disappointing considering the money thrown his way, but he  made a marked improvement last year, and if you don't consider the exorbitant amount of money they'll be paying him, he makes for a fine third starter. Jonathan Sanchez is one of our favorite candidates to break out this year; the lefty has filthy stuff and showed great promise in the second half of 2009. He could have Randy Johnson-esque strikeout numbers if all breaks right for him. And then Todd Wellemeyer and top prospect Madison Bumgarner - who's lost a considerable amount of sheen due to a serious and disquieting drop in velocity - will battle it out for the fifth spot, though we'd like to see Wellemeyer take the job and Bumgarner try to prove that he can work without elite velo in the minors. Even we can't believe that we just advocated choosing against the young gun. Let's move on.


Bullpen: There's decent pieces to be had here. Closer Brian Wilson has become quite proficient at striking fellas out, and Jeremy Affeldt is coming off a career year - albeit one he's unlikely to repeat. Brandon Medders should be a real asset as well. However, there's a lot of dross beyond them; Sergio Romo, Guillermo Mota, and Santiago Casilla are unlikely to contribute much, and any other spots will be a veritable revolving door of marginal talent. If and when Bumgarner gets the call, though, Wellemeyer will make a nice long man to help eat up some of these innings.


Overall: There's not a whole lot to like about the Giants, but they sure can pitch, and Pablo Sandoval is an exciting guy to have installed in the 3-hole. Unfortunately, they can't really hit or defend, and the bullpen depth is very weak. Having one major strength may have been enough to compete in the NL West just a scant few seasons ago, but not anymore. 


Predicted Record: 82-80, 4th place NL West


Beer: Cuddly Panda Porter. As you probably know, Pablo Sandoval's nickname is Kung Fu Panda. Never mind how Dreamworks feels about it; it's going to stick. Now, Cuddly Panda is sort of the opposite of Kung Fu Panda, though we would argue that any panda is fairly cuddly. But the Cuddly moniker sort of fits this team, who should be overall pretty punchless - except for the Panda in the middle of the lineup. 

3/28/10

Season Preview: San Diego Padres

Well we've got 8 days left until Opening Day, which means it's season preview time. We'll be running it down team by team, with an added new wrinkle this time around: the beer of choice for fans of the team to enjoy whilst watching their team take the field! Nothing like that to help get you through a baseball season, especially if you're from Pittsburgh. Up next: the San Diego Padres


Lineup: This group is on par with only the Royals in terms of how impotent they are. Adrian Gonzalez is the star here, but as an affordable guy with a big bat, he's a near-certainty to be traded at some point this season. Kyle Blanks, he of the 6'9'', 300-lb frame and 'fro to match, is an up-and-comer, though he'll have to exceed expectations with the bat in order to make up for his poor left field defense. Defense isn't a problem for the speed shortstop Everth Cabrera, who far exceeded expectations last season and, though he's due for regression, could be one of the best hitters on the team. Which isn't all that much of a compliment. Cabrera's double play parter is David Eckstein, and for the first time in the history of this site, we're being serious when we invoke his name. Chase Headley rounds out the infield, but his prospect star has tumbled off a cliff and he now looks like a below-average contributor. The same can be said of Scott Hairston, who had a promising 2008 with the Padres, but then struggled enormously last season and is now not assured of a job; he'll be competing with Tony Gwynn, Jr. for the CF spot. And really, the Pads might be better off bringing back Papa Gwynn for that job. Wil Venable will man the right field spot, and the best thing we can say about him is that he'll be better than Brian Giles was - though Giles was the worst player in the National League last season, so take that for what it's worth. Oh, and Yorvit Torrealba is catching. So it's neat that the Pads have not only the real David Eckstein, but also the catching version of the same. Commitment to Grit-ment, that!


Rotation: For all the possible upside in this group, they're sort of astoundingly boring. Jon Garland is the nominal ace, but he's never been anything more than a league-average innings eater at best. Chris Young, the softest-tossing 6'10'' guy ever, hasn't been the same since Albert Pujols rearranged his face with a line drive, but was a solid complement to since-departed ace Jake Peavy a few seasons ago. Kevin Correia seems to have settled down from his wild (~4 BB/9) days with the Giants, and shouldn't be much worse than a 4.30 FIP guy, so he's a solid choice for the third starter. And then it gets interesting, as prospects abound to fill out the back two rotation spots. Mat Latos is an ace in the making, and tossed a decent 50 innings in the bigs last year, but the Padres are considering starting him in AAA because guys like Tim Stauffer and Sean Gallagher are having decent Spring Trainings. Yes, seriously. Aren't we past using Spring Training as a meaningful indicator of peoples' performance? Beyond that trio, there's also prospects Aaron Poreda, Clayton Richard, and Wade LeBlanc to consider. So there's a lot of depth here, but most of it is either established as fringe-MLB quality or probably a bit too raw to really make an impression this season.


Bullpen: Heath Bell is a great end-game option, which means that he should probably be traded along with Adrian Gonzalez and bring back a decent piece or two. Mike Adams was superb last season, posting a 0.45 ERA and a good strikeout rate, so we'd imagine he's next in line for Bell's job. Luke Gregorson, Edward Mujica, and Adam Russell all posted 9+ K rates, though (except for Gregorson) in small sample sizes...which is always the case with relievers anyway. Joe Thatcher, like the rest, was shockingly effective  at preventing earned runs and missing bats. Basically, there's a lot more quality here than we'd expect from a team like the Padres. 


Overall: It's good to have at least one team strength, but if you have to pick, you don't want it to be the bullpen. Especially when your offense is as bad as  the one San Diego will be running out there - a unit that will be even further hampered by Petco Park's spacious dimensions (so if you're wondering, no, it's not possible to preview the Padres without mentioning Petco). The starting pitching could be around league average if the prospects pan out and the old guys don't pitch themselves into mediocrity, so as long as they can eke out some runs, they could offer the 'pen a few leads to protect here and there. Like the A's, they're going to have to win a lot of 2-1 games.


Predicted Record: 65-97, 5th place NL West


Beer: Blue Moon. A pleasant witbier with enough character to complement Petco's famous fish tacos. Throw an orange in it and you've got a wheaty beer with enough sweetness to make it ideal for SoCal baseball. 

Season Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

Well we've got 9 days left until Opening Day, which means it's season preview time. We'll be running it down team by team, with an added new wrinkle this time around: the beer of choice for fans of the team to enjoy whilst watching their team take the field! Nothing like that to help get you through a baseball season, especially if you're from Pittsburgh. Speaking of....ladies and gentlemen, your Pittsburgh Pirates.


Lineup: There's modest promise here, and it all stems from Andrew McCutchen. The young CF is a star in the making, and anchors a lineup that's filled out with a collection of fallen prospects and league-average players. Of the former group, Jeff Clement, Andy LaRoche and Lastings Milledge will fill in the infield corners and left field - and that's not a bad thing. All three are still coming into their own, just reaching the age where they could record career-best seasons. Then again...they probably won't. As for the rest, Ryan Doumit is a solid catcher, Aki Iwamura is league average personified, and Garrett Jones, despite a mammoth season next year, figures to be nothing special. And at shortstop, the Pirates don't really have a viable option; it's between Ronny Cedeno and Bobby Crosby, neither of whom are going to really even approach league average. So it's not a bad group overall, and if the young'ns take a step forward, they could actually be  a bit intriguing.


Rotation: Unfortunately, the pitching won't help make up for it. Zach Duke (the leader in games started for the Pirates in this decade, shockingly) is your 'ace,' but he's...well, he's not so good. Paul Maholm is a starter in the same mold, but has at least some bright spots...though those have been offset by an inability to strike people out. Ross Ohlendorf is tall and from Princeton....but isn't a guy you want as your 3 starter. Kevin Hart...Daniel 'The Lesser' McCutchen (for his sake, we kind of hope that one doesn't catch on)...Charlie Morton....yeah, the back end doesn't look a whole lot better. Morton at least has some promise, and could well be a solid back-end guy, but when that's the highest praise that you can offer a starter in this group, then that's not saying too much.


Bullpen: They let Matt Capps depart, which was a wise move financially, but a poor move in terms of present talent. Octavio Dotel is not a bad late-game option, but with his health history, he's not someone you want to rely on as your closer. Brendan Donnelly was good in limited action lats season, but he's not been truly effective for a couple of years now. D.J. Carrasco did yeoman's work, tossing 92 innings of pretty decent ball, and should be in line for a couple spot starts and will be an effective long reliever. Beyond that, there's a lot of castoffs fighting for a few spots. Expect to see a lot of different people coming out of the Pirate 'pen this season, but don't expect greatness. Neal Cotts is here, though, which is kind of neat.


Overall: They're definitely making strides, as there is some legitimate promise here. However, they're still the Pirates, and they're still terrible. They'll benefit somewhat from a weak division, but this team is simply not set up to win - not now, and not in the near future. GM Neal Huntington is doing the best he can with limited options, but there simply isn't much to build around unless the former prospects find a mid-career surge. With limited options in the minor leagues, and no real trade bait, the Pirates have a big hill to climb. Still.


Predicted Record: 66-96, 6th place NL Central


Beer: Steel Reserve 211. This was one of the first matches we made when considering doing the beer previews, though to be honest, at the time we thought it was called Steel City Reserve. So basically this whole series was founded on a case of mistaken identity. But whatever; Steel Reserve, despite being brewed in California (we thought Pittsburgh - Steel City), is a cheap beer that is meant to make you incapable of even menial tasks. The Pittsburgh Pirates have a low salary and are incapable of the menial task of winning baseball games. QED.

3/26/10

Season Preview: Philadelphia Phillies

Well we've got 10 (we just realized that we've been counting down til April 5th. Because we're nothing if not attentive.) days left until Opening Day, which means it's season preview time. We'll be running it down team by team, with an added new wrinkle this time around: the beer of choice for fans of the team to enjoy whilst watching their team take the field! Nothing like that to help get you through a baseball season, especially if you're from Pittsburgh. Up next: the Philadelphia Phillies.


Lineup: The Phillies can hit the ball. That's this lineup summed up very briefly. Chase Utley is one of the best players in baseball, Ryan Howard is the premier power bat in the league, and Jayson Werth  has been one of the most productive outfielders in the league in the past few years (no word how his new beard will affect his play). Jimmy Rollins used to be in the this discussion before his abysmal 2009 season, but it's not out of the question to think that he will rebound this year. Shane Victorino has made his case to be included in the group of elite hitters from this lineup, and should continue to improve. Beyond that group, Raul Ibanez is a decent enough hitter for left field, and you could do worse than to have Placido Polanco at third. Carlos Ruiz - CHOOCH! - will be the backstop for this squad, and while he's not much with the bat, he's shown quite a bit of flair with the glove. Basically, this team will get their runs - as long as their key contributors stay healthy. Because like the Yankees, there is not a lot of depth to be had here.


Rotation: They did improve by swapping Cliff Lee for  Roy Halladay (ignoring all the other parts of the deal), but we're not so sure how good this group is going to be. Halladay and Hamels are a legitimate star-caliber 1/2, but to say that we have doubts about Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ, Kyle Kendrick, and Jamie Moyer is to put it lightly. Blanton showed an uptick in his strikeout rate recently, but we're not really buying it as he benefited from luck last season. Speaking of luck, Happ was extraordinarily lucky in 2009, and will be lucky to post a sub-4.50 FIP this season. Kendrick flat out doesn't have the skills to be in an MLB rotation, and Moyer, while he does have that veteran presence journalists love to write about, is in the same boat. 


Bullpen: This is something of a weak spot. Brad Lidge - he of the perfect season in 2008 (saves-wise, which take from that what you will) - was historically awful last season, and has a lot to prove in 2010. Ryan Madson was often Lidge's relief (which never bodes well when you're talking about, y'know, a relief corps), but he's not exactly the kind of pitcher you entrust with significant amounts of high leverage appearances. But then the same could be said about Danys Baez, J.C. Romero, Chad Durbin, Mike Zagurski, David Herndon and Antonio Bastardo. And in case you're wondering, no, that does not bode well for the Phitins.


Overall: The Phils can hit the cover off the ball, and their 1/2 starters are hard to beat. Beyond that, though, you're talking about a very flawed squad. A lot is going to have to go right for them to be the dominant team that we've seen in recent years, but even without that, they should be talented enough to win the division. If, however, either Halladay or Hamels (and we simply cannot wait for the silly double-H merchandise to be printed up) falters or gets injured, then this team could be in some real trouble.


Predicted Record: 91-71, 1st place NL East


Beer: Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout. A potent lineup, the Phillies are equal to the 9% ABV that we see from (Slammin') Sammy Smith's powerful brew. Plus, Smith's is one of, if not the, best Imperial Stout out there - and the same can be said of the Phillies. It's not an inspired choice, to be sure, but hopefully it's heavy enough to keep Philly fans' mouths shut so they can appreciate - instead of complain about - a great team.

3/25/10

Season Preview: Oakland Athletics

Well we've got 11 days left until Opening Day, which means it's season preview time. We'll be running it down team by team, with an added new wrinkle this time around: the beer of choice for fans of the team to enjoy whilst watching their team take the field! Nothing like that to help get you through a baseball season, especially if you're from Pittsburgh. Up next: the Oakland Athletics.


Lineup: Well, at least we're getting the worst part of this team out of the way. Put simply, there are not likely to be more than two or three above-average hitters on this team. Not star-level, just...above-average. Jack Cust, one of the patron saints of the Three True Outcomes, will lead the charge...if he can prove that last season's dropoff was an isolated event. Daric Barton retains some promise as the team's first baseman, but he's done little in his major league career to date. Kurt Suzuki is a very solid catcher, but he's still being judged relative to other catchers' hitting ability (viz he's not likely to perform at the league average for all hitters). Kevin Kouzmanoff is a fallen prospect, who escaped the frying pan of Petco Park only to find himself in the fiery Oakland Coliseum. We don't have high hopes for him, is what we're saying. Mark Ellis was a very good second baseman a few seasons ago, but he can't stay healthy, and isn't all that productive anymore. Rajai Davis, Ryan Sweeney, and Coco Crisp aren't great shakes with the bat (Davis being a possible exception; he also has extraordinary speed), but they are excellent defenders, which will help this team compete the only way they'll be able to: preventing runs. Before we move on, though, pour one out for Zombie Eric Chavez. Yes, he's still on this team. 


Rotation: There's some definite promise to be had here, which is good, because like we said, this team is only going to win if they can prevent runs. Free agent acquisition and nominal ace Ben Sheets has had what could charitably be called a horrendous Spring Training, even failing to retire a single batter in one outing, but if he can stay healthy (he can't) then we still have faith in his impeccable control and strikeout stuff. But the pitcher we're most excited about on this team is Brett Anderson. Last season, he posted a 3.69 FIP and 3:1 K:BB ratio...as a rookie. He might be the best pitcher on this team already. Dallas Braden found success as well, albeit in 22 starts, and so should give this team at least three productive starters. Trevor Cahill, who like Anderson came into last season with an excellent pedigree, but struggled in his debut year, with a pedestrian 4.63 K/9 and a 5.33 FIP. He will have to improve if he's going to help this team. Justin Duchscherer has the inside track for the fifth spot here, and as a guy who led the league in ERA just a couple seasons ago, has some promise if he can stay healthy (he can't, either). Josh Outman, Gio Gonzalez, and Vin Mazzaro make this one of the deeper pitching staffs in baseball, so they shouldn't have too much of a dropoff if (when) Sheets and Duchscherer miss some time. 


Bullpen: Despite the high marks that the rotation earns, the bullpen is even better. Andrew Bailey, last season's RoY, was superb, posting a near-10 K's per 9 to go along with a 2.56 FIP. Brad Ziegler is a groundballing fiend who earned notoriety for tossing 38 consecutive innings to begin his Oakland career, and Michael Wuertz has a flat-out unhittable slider that led him to strike out 12 per 9. Those three form one of, if not the most, formidable back ends of a 'pen that you'll see anywhere. Plus, there's Joey Devine, who was coming into his own before missing last season with Tommy John surgery. This is a group that can really shorten up games. 


Overall: If the A's are going to compete in a loaded AL West, they're going to have to win a lot of 2-1 games. Fortunately, they've got the pitching - and the offense! - to do just that. Health will be a big question mark here, though, as Sheets and Duchscherer are just as likely to miss the entire season as they are to post sub-3.00 ERAs. The A's do have depth all over the place and will play some excellent defense, so there's contingencies in place, but we see this team ending up like the Mariners last year - posting a big enough turnaround to get noticed, but not enough to sneak into the playoffs. They'll pitch and defend with the best of them, but they just don't have the hitters yet.


Predicted Record: 76-86, 4th place AL West


Beer: Sam Adams Light. We hate to dip back into the Sam Adams catalog, but as light beers go, it's very flavorful. Plus, it's 4% ABV, a perfect analog for a team that'll be happy to score 4 runs per game. Light impact, but decidedly enjoyable (see e.g. the young pitchers and Rajai Davis): that sounds like the A's to us. 

3/24/10

Season Preview: New York Yankees

Well we've got 12 days left until Opening Day, which means it's season preview time. We'll be running it down team by team, with an added new wrinkle this time around: the beer of choice for fans of the team to enjoy whilst watching their team take the field! Nothing like that to help get you through a baseball season, especially if you're from Pittsburgh. Up next: the New York Yankees.


Lineup: Stacked. Future HOFers Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter make up the most famous left side of an infield in baseball, Mark Teixeira is a switch-hitting force to be reckoned with, Robinson Cano is one of the better second basemen going, and Jorge Posada has an outstanding bat for a catcher. In the outfield, Curtis Granderson figures to showcase excellent defense and hope to bounce back from a disappointing 2009 season - and Yankee Stadium's short porch in right should help that happen. He is flanked by the speedy Brett Gardner, whose defense figures to be well above average in left field, and Nick Swisher, whose eye at the plate and modest power makes him a suitable option. Nick Johnson will serve as the DH, and if that limited role helps him turn in a healthy season, then he should bring a near-.400 OBP to the bottom of this lineup. Basically, there are no real holes 1-9. The lineup was the best in baseball last season, and the addition of Granderson should help cover any regression from guys like Rodriguez, Jeter, and Posada. A bit of caution, though: this team is paper-thin. There is no depth to be had anywhere, and should one of the regulars suffer a serious injury, they'll likely have to make a midseason acquisition. 


Rotation: Stacked. CC Sabathia heads up a rotation that also includes formidable arms in A.J. Burnett (who finally stayed healthy in a non-contract year) and Javier Vazquez (who had a case for the NL Cy Young last season). The ageless Andy Pettitte is back for another run, and is a fairly safe bet to provide league average production, as he has done over and over again throughout his career. The 5th spot is up for grabs right now, but for our money, the job should go to Phil Hughes. Joba Chamberlain, for all the attention afforded him, has not actually been a very good pitcher, and Hughes has a significant amount of promise - certainly more than Chamberlain. So 1-5, they should be about as good as anyone else. But again: No. Depth. There's no other starter on the roster whom you'd like to give the ball to for more than a spot start or two.


Bullpen: Aaaand...stacked. 3/3! Mariano Rivera is the best reliever of the saves era, and regardless of which of Hughes and Chamberlain the Yanks decide to use in a setup capacity, they'll have another lockdown option in the 8th (Chamberlain has been significantly better in relief than while starting). David Robertson is one of the best strikeout relievers going, and Alfredo Aceves, while not exactly a relief ace, is pretty solid. Oh, and Damaso Marte is left-handed. Sergio Mitre, Boone Logan, and Mark Melancoan suck, though. 


Overall: For a juggernaut team - which they are, make no mistake about it - the Yankees are ill-equipped to handle a major injury. The punchless Ramiro Pena backs up 2nd and 3rd base as well as shortstop, and starting Nicks Johnson and Swisher back up 1st. Francisco Cervelli is the backup catcher, and Randy Winn is the fourth outfielder. Which is to say: they've got nobody good on the bench. And their best hope for a spot starter, since releasing Chad Gaudin, is Sergio Mitre. Who is awful. They can overcome these problems for awhile with the sheer amount of talent they have, but in the loaded AL East, they can't afford to throw too many PAs or IP at replacement level players.


Predicted Record: 94-68, 1st place AL East


Beer: Westvleteren 12. Any of the three will do, but 12 is the most expensive and most potent. Plus, it's widely regarded as one of, if not the, best beers in the world and carries no label - like the Yankees having no name on the back of the jerseys. The fun part about Westvleteren, as quoted from Wikipedia, is:


"Buyers were originally limited to ten 24-bottle crates of the beer per car, but as the beer increased in popularity, this was first reduced to five, then to two. For the Westvleteren 12 in 2009, it was limited to one case. When making an order now, the type and quantity of beer for sale are revealed. Sales are limited to one order a month per person per license plate and phone number. Also, the beer must be reserved on their "beerphone" (+32 (0)70 21 00 45) beforehand. The monks will never sell you any beer if you just drive up to the abbey hoping to get some. The reason for this is to eliminate commercial reselling, and hence give all visitors a chance to buy some."


That's right - it only comes in small quantities. Just like the Yankee players, there's a limited amount of goodness to be had. Perfect fit!

3/23/10

Season Preview: New York Mets

Well we've got 13 days left until Opening Day, which means it's season preview time. We'll be running it down team by team, with an added new wrinkle this time around: the beer of choice for fans of the team to enjoy whilst watching their team take the field! Nothing like that to help get you through a baseball season, especially if you're from Pittsburgh. Up next: the New York Mets.


Lineup: Without Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes, who will miss significant time in the beginning of the season, there are three worthwhile hitters on this team: David Wright, Jason Bay, and Angel Pagan. And Pagan is somewhat of a stretch. Yeah, Jeff Francoeur was good for half a season after the Braves traded him here, but the guy is dragging around a .311 career OBP. So that bodes well. Luis Castillo was washed up seasons ago, and Alex Cora isn't washed up only because he was never good to begin with. Daniel Murphy might be a serviceable hitter, but not as a first baseman,  and the catching group is a mess. They have six potential backstops right now, and show no plans to play the only one with any promise (Josh Thole). Plus, there's no guarantee that David Wright returns to form or that Carlos Beltran can rebound from his injury, and they have no depth in the event that their team turns into a cavalcade of wounded like it did last season. 


Rotation: Johan Santana and then...nothing good. A pair of rose-colored glasses might tell you that John Maine is a capable starter, but he's shown little ability to stay healthy and isn't exactly a top-of-the-rotation guy when he is. He can be league average, though, which makes him better than Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez, to say nothing of Fernando Nieve, Jon Niese, or Nelson Figueroa. There's precious little to like here, and the worst part is that this was the case last season, too - and management did nothing to address the issue. Not that we're necessarily complaining, because it is going to be tons of fun watching them getting blown out of games.


Bullpen: Francisco Rodriguez was supposed to be the late-game savior after bullpen woes submarined the team in 2007 and 2008. He was not. He's been trending downward for years now, but the Mets were blinded by the saves record and are locked in to paying him big money the next two seasons in order to be a fairly average reliever. Good times! But let's be somewhat kind to GM Omar Minaya: Kiko Calero was a marvelous addition, particularly on a minor league deal. If he can avoid injury - which might as well be called the Calero Caveat* - then he might well be the best reliever on this team. Though that's not necessarily the most ringing endorsement...how much trust would you have in a relief corps that prominently features rookie Japanese import Ryota Igarashi, Bobby Parnell, Pedro Feliciano's corpse, Sean Green, and Elmer Dessens? Kelvim Escobar would've been a good addition as well, but he's already dealing with shoulder soreness and in no way should be counted on for significant innings this season.


*Kiko Kaveat? Calerveat? Kikoveat? The Notorious K.C.C.?


Overall: The Mets were hamstrung last season by a plethora of injuries, and stumbled to a 70-win season that was, to say the least, unforeseen. The nice thing about last season - and the minor upgrades that were made to a deeply flawed team - is that people won't be surprised when the Mets fall flat this year.


Predicted Record: 74-88, 4th place NL East


Beer: Dos Equis. Because Omar Minaya might be the most interesting GM in the world. Nothing is impossible when Mr. Minaya is in charge. Be in the top 5 in payroll, and have a right fielder with a .311 OBP? Sure! Hand out utterly inexplicable deals to Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez? Why not! Sign up every middling player who's ever tried on catcher's gear? Absolutely! Alienate one of the team's best players to the point where he gets major surgery without the team's consent? You bet! Nothing is out of the realm of possibility with this guy. And his willful ignorance of things like advanced metrics and the finer points of, y'know, assembling a pitching staff, will drive Mets fans to drink plenty.  

3/22/10

Season Preview: Minnesota Twins

Well we've got 14 days left until Opening Day, which means it's season preview time. We'll be running it down team by team, with an added new wrinkle this time around: the beer of choice for fans of the team to enjoy whilst watching their team take the field! Nothing like that to help get you through a baseball season, especially if you're from Pittsburgh. Up next: the Minnesota Twins.


Lineup: Given the news from today, this is a pretty opportune time to be writing about the Twins' lineup. Joe Mauer, the newest Twinkie to sign a big extension, is the foundation of a pretty solid group that also includes former MVP (however undeserved be the honor) and current Canadian Justin Morneau and a troika of solid hitters in CF Denard Span, RF Michael Cuddyer, and DH Jason Kubel. The team looks to be much improved up the middle by virtue of a couple of solid free agent acquisitions in SS J.J. Hardy and 2B Orlando Hudson, who should both be at least average offensively and provide some solid glovework, and while Brendan Harris isn't exactly a good option at the hot corner, he should be fairly adequate. LF Delmon Young is the big question mark here; the talented prospect has been a dud so far, but is only 24 and so still has a chance to make good on the hype. Unfortunately for his development, he's out of minor league options, which means that he's been learning pitch recognition and plate discipline on the fly at the major league level; if he doesn't take steps forward in those departments this year, then he's just going to be a warm body with a big arm. And that does not a good left fielder make.


Rotation: Francisco Liriano has looked extremely sharp in winter ball and Spring Training, which means that he could potentially give this group the ace that it needs. Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn and Carl Pavano aren't exactly a killer group - they're each cast in the 3rd/4th starter mold, as none have a propensity for strikeouts (Liriano's 8.03 K/9 led the team) and get by almost entirely on good control (Baker's 2.16 BB/9 was the highest among the projected group of starters) - but they should be able to keep this team hovering around average, which with their lineup and division should be enough to keep them in contention all season. This portion of the preview was so short in large part because we contend that Baker, Slowey and Blackburn (besides sounding like a law firm) are all entirely indistinguishable from one another and may in fact be the same person. They even look alike (particularly Blackburn and Baker). 


Bullpen: Joe Nathan's pending Tommy John surgery isn't a death blow for this group, but it certainly complicates things. The team hasn't announced an official closer - which for our sanity they'd best just go with a committee, like teams should - but the favorites seem to be Jon Rauch (not because he's good, but because he's been A Closer), Matt Guerrier (who was good last season, but we don't think it's sustainable success; see e.g. 5.5 K/9 and a home run rate over 1), and Pat Neshek (who is good, but is probably seen as too goofy to actually win the job; see e.g. his blog and delivery).  Clay Condrey and Jose Mijares both had success last season, so if they can repeat their 2009 seasons and Guerrier doesn't blow up (far from a sure thing) then hopefully they can keep Jesse Crain away from the mound often enough to not blow too many leads. Overall, though, a much less talented group without Joe Nathan. That's the kind of incisive analysis that makes us the 18,488,136th most popular site on the internet. Pop champagne!


Overall: The pitching worries us, particularly if Francisco Liriano's possible return to form is a mirage. The Twins were below average in FIP last season, and need to see some improvement if they want to be strong contenders - particularly with a weakened bullpen. However, the lineup should be good enough to carry this team to a division title. 


Predicted Record: 87-75, 1st place AL Central


Beer: Molson Canadian Lager. As the name very subtly implies, this is a Canadian brew, which is obviously inspired by the presence of Justin Morneau. But there are other reasons. Molson partnered with Coors in 2005 to create Molson Coors, which is the fifth-largest beer company in the world and lending an American tinge to the beer (they had to cease their Joe Canada commercials). The Twins analog for this is that they have now tabbed All-American Joe Mauer to be its drink-stirring straw rather than Morneau. Also, Labatt, another Canadian brewery, joined InBev which is the largest beer company in the world. So despite their efforts to keep up by throwing their hats in with an international conglomerate - see e.g. giving Mauer $184MM - they still aren't in the league of the big boys (the Yankees/Red Sox). Plus it's more expensive than it probably should be, which is what fans at domeless Target Field will be thinking about their ticket prices when they're being assaulted by the infamous Minnesota mosquitoes during summer games. 

3/21/10

Season Preview: Milwaukee Brewers

Well we've got 15 days left until Opening Day, which means it's season preview time. We'll be running it down team by team, with an added new wrinkle this time around: the beer of choice for fans of the team to enjoy whilst watching their team take the field! Nothing like that to help get you through a baseball season, especially if you're from Pittsburgh. Up next: the Milwaukee Brewers


Lineup: This should be the best lineup in the division. Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder make this merry-go-round move, but the speedy Carlos Gomez and (we think) ready to (finally!) break out Rickie Weeks will be superb complementary pieces. Corey Hart had a down year last season, but if he makes one simple fix (swing more! His in-the-strike-zone swing percentage dipped 8% from 2008-2009 and his overall swing percentage dipped from 54% to 46%) then he should rebound to his above-average past. Casey McGehee, despite the goofy spelling of his last name, was a good contributor last season, and should be a serviceable stopgap for prospect Mat Gamel. And speaking of prospects, SS Alcides Escobar is a wizard with the glove and should be able to hit for some decent average this season. Gregg Zaun is the only distinct negative here, but he's a catcher, and there aren't a lot of teams who can count on having a reliable hitter behind the dish, so that doesn't concern us too much.


Rotation: What does concern us is the pitching. Yovani Gallardo is a stud, and the unquestioned ace of what is, unfortunately, an extremely mediocre staff. Randy Wolf was a nice free agent signing, but right now, he looks like their second-best starter...and that's not a recipe for contention. Doug Davis and Jeff Suppan (whom we always confuse, despite their being altogether dissimilar save for a distinct tendency towards 'average') will man the 3 and 4 spots here, and the 5th spot will likely go to Manny Parra or Dave Bush. Honestly, we'd rather see them admit the mistake that was the Suppan signing and send him to the bullpen and use both Parra and Bush as full-time starters, but the likelihood of a middle-market team like the Brewers admitting a sunk cost on an investment (however ill-advised) as expensive as Suppan is extremely slim. So they've got six nominal starters, but no one to be especially excited for.


Bullpen: The same is true of the bullpen. Trevor Hoffman continues to break his own all-time saves record with every game he closes out, but he's 43. And that, if you're unclear, is never, ever a good thing for a professional athlete. LaTroy Hawkins is the setup man here, which let's just move on before we start laughing too hard to finish this; Carlos Villanueva (whom we still feel should be a starter for a team with enormous rotation deficiencies viz the Brew Crew) is a potent arm in the 'pen, and you could do worse than Todd Coffey. But David Riske and Schott Schoeneweis are has-beens, and unless Claudio Vargas proves that 2009 wasn't a fluke, there are not a lot of reliable options here. 


Overall: This team can hit with the best of them, but the pitching is lacking save for a few (ok, very few) bright spots. Yovani Gallardo, Carlos Villanueva, Claudio Vargas, and maybe Randy Wolf are the only really reliable arms here, which won't be enough to compensate for the impressive lineup that the latter-day Harvey's Wallbangers will be trotting out. 


Predicted Record: 77-85, 4th place NL Central


Beer: Miller High Life. Yeah, it's cheap and not, like, a good beer. But when it's ice cold (like the early season in Milwaukee) then it's an enormously refreshing brew (which is key come the humid Milwaukee winters). Plus, y'know, Miller sponsors their park, so there's that. And all of that was a prelude to the fact that this franchise probably won't have the money to retain the wonderfully talented - but prohibitively expensive - core of Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, and Yovani Gallardo. So...um...at least the beer is cheap!

Season Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers

Well we've got 15 days left until Opening Day, which means it's season preview time. We'll be running it down team by team, with an added new wrinkle this time around: the beer of choice for fans of the team to enjoy whilst watching their team take the field! Nothing like that to help get you through a baseball season, especially if you're from Pittsburgh. Up next: the Los Angeles Dodgers.


Lineup: We're not entirely sure what to make of this group. On the one hand, Matt Kemp is one of the best outfielders in the business, and Andre Ethier has made big strides. Manny Ramirez rounds out this outfield, and while he's the big name, there are questions as to whether he can improve his performance after a lackluster end to the 2009 season. And this is where we get to the question marks: Rafael Furcal has been up-and-down as the shortstop for this squad; when healthy, he's been generally good, but that's hardly a sure thing at this point. Blake DeWitt is probably better than most second basemen, but he's in a competition with Ronnie Belliard, whom Joe Torre inexplicably saw fit to gift the postseason keystone job over Orlando Hudson - who's now a Twin. James Loney is probably an average first baseman, but is that good enough? Casey Blake is certainly in the decline phase of his career, and probably isn't the sort of guy you want manning the hot corner all season long; are they really comfortable with having Jamey Carroll be his backup? And, perhaps most importantly, what happened to Russell Martin? Martin had been one of the better catchers in the league before a shockingly precipitous decline last season - can he return to form, or is he a replacement-level player at this point? If the questions don't answer themselves in a good way - and make no mistake, they very well might do so - then this team could be headed for a bad decline.


Rotation: But it's not all doom and gloom in Chavez Ravine! Clayton Kershaw is one of the best young pitchers in baseball, and only figures to improve. Chad Billingsley has been an excellent #2 starter, and Hiroki Kuroda has performed admirably when healthy. And then...well, it gets kind of ugly. Vicente Padilla? Eric Stults? Those are not 4 and 5 guys. Charlie Haeger, the knuckleballer, deserves a shot at the rotation in our minds, and not just because we have a soft spot for knuckleballers; Haeger has demonstrated better control than most pitchers of his ilk, and, hell, why not give him a shot? Because after him, you're looking at guys like Ramon and Russ Ortiz, either of whom might well be the worst pitchers in MLB at this point, and Josh Towers, who besides being the only pitcher to wear a single digit number (you can read why here) is one of the few pitchers in competition for that lofty title held by the Ortizes. You know, this might actually be all doom and gloom for the Dodgers.


Bullpen: Ah, but then the bullpen. This is a very solid group. Jon Broxton is one of the better closers in the game, with a triple-digit heater and solid control to boot. George Sherrill is an excellent lefty arm, and Ramon Troncoso and Hong-Chi Kuo are two of the better late-inning options you could ask for. Plus, James McDonald and Ronald Bellisario gave them great years last season, and Jeff Weaver provides some innings-eating flexibility. It's odd for a division contender's biggest strength to be their bullpen, but, well, here you are.


Overall: A lot has to go right for the Dodgers to even approach last season's lofty win total (95). And it's odd that we feel that way, since very little has really changed here. But we're not especially confident in the lineup's ability to come together and be a force, nor their ability to overcome a breathtaking dearth of depth in the rotation. Their bullpen should be solid again, but we're extremely loath to rely on relievers repeating good performances, and it certainly shouldn't be the brightest spot on a team that has designs on a division title. 


Predicted Record: 87-75, 2nd place NL West


Beer: Anchor's Summer Beer. An American Pale Wheat Ale, it's a bit lacking in body, but has plenty of sweet taste. In this case, the sweet taste is Matt Kemp, Manny Ramirez and Andre Ethier forming a formidable lineup core and Clayton Kershaw and Jon Broxton shutting down opposing hitters. And...well, the 'lacking in body' is somewhat self-explanatory, no?

3/18/10

Season Preview: Los Angeles Angels

Well we've got 17 days left until Opening Day, which means it's season preview time. We'll be running it down team by team, with an added new wrinkle this time around: the beer of choice for fans of the team to enjoy whilst watching their team take the field! Nothing like that to help get you through a baseball season, especially if you're from Pittsburgh. Up next: the Los Angeles Angels.


Lineup: This is a pretty solid group. There are three major question marks by our estimate: Juan Rivera, Brandon Wood, and Hideki Matsui. Rivera struggled to recover from a broken leg a few seasons ago, and hasn't been the same hitter since; Wood has been one of the preeminent AAA sluggers for years now and is finally getting a starting shot, and Matsui, even as a DH, has done little to prove that he can be healthy for a full season. As for the rest, the Angels are stronger up the middle than most teams, with the bats of Mike Napoli, Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick, and Torii Hunter all above average for their respective positions. Cuban defector Kendry Morales broke out last season putting up MVP-caliber numbers, and should remain a middle-of-the-order force, and Bobby Abreu can probably be counted on for a nice OBP and some steals if he's got anything left in his legs. Reggie Willits is a nice fourth outfielder who can step in for either Abreu or Rivera if they underperform; Willits has plus speed and knows how to take a walk.


Rotation: There's nothing wrong with the rotation, per se. There's just not much in the way of clear greatness or depth. Jered Weaver is the nominal ace, and he's very good, but he's not exactly the sort of bro you want being your #1 starter. Scott Kazmir showed signs of regaining his 2006 form after being traded to Los Angeles, and if he can find his slider again, he could be a force...but we don't count on that. Joel Pineiro, the guy they signed ostensibly to replace departed ace John Lackey, showed that he can burn worms with the best of them last season, and is super stingy with the walks. He might suffer a bit coming over to the AL, but he should be comfortably above average nonetheless. Ervin Santana has been a mystery for years now, boasting bizarre splits - if he pitches at home, at night, he's flat-out dominant, but put him on the road during the day and he's back of the rotation fodder - but he'll be 27 and is only one year removed from garnering minor Cy Young consideration. Then there's Joe Saunders, whom we have no faith in (strikes out too few, walks too many). That's it. Five guys. And, no, none of the trio of Sean O'Sullivan, Matt Palmer, or Jose Ortega count as actual depth here. 


Bullpen: The Angels let Francisco Rodriguez walk before last season and replaced him with Brian Fuentes. Which was an unmitigated disaster. Fuentes was awful yet somehow, some way, managed to compile a league-leading save total. Oh, wait, we know why: it's because being The Closer and getting Saves has little-to-no bearing on your actual talent. Silly us. Anyway, they signed Fernando Rodney - somehow extracting him from the Metrodome mound - to be the setup man, but Rodney's not very good either. So you've got two Closers at the back end of the 'pen, but neither are very good. They do have Scot Shields, who's very good and one of the most consistent relievers we've ever seen, but he lost the 2009 season with arm and knee troubles, and is hardly a sure thing at this point. Beyond him, guys like Jason Bulger and Kevin Jepsen are decent enough, we suppose. And they have another Francisco Rodriguez coming up! So that's exciting! All told, though, this is a pretty weak group.


Overall: If this team stays healthy, they could be contenders in a suddenly-stacked AL West. They can hit from top to bottom, with depth up the middle and in the outfield, and their five starters should at least keep them in games, if not outright win them. But if any of the starters go down with an injury - or Joel Pineiro regresses, and Ervin Santana fails to improve - then there's going to be serious trouble on the pitching side. This team isn't tremendous in the field, and will need their pitchers to be sharp in order to build safe enough leads for the shaky bullpen to hold. Can they do so? Sure. After all, the Angels have been outperforming expectations for years, now. It's some weird sort of voodoo they've got, or something. But we think this is the year it stops.


Predicted Record: 86-76, 2nd place AL West


Beer: Stone's Arrogant Bastard Ale. Not that Mike Scioscia or Tony Reagins are bastards, mind you, but it takes a certain arrogance to run this team the way that the Angels do. Scioscia has them stealing bases like it's their job (it kind of is), and Reagins has carried on the Bill Stoneman-bred tradition of keeping the team's prospects close to the vest, as if to say 'our guys are better than yours.' Arrogant? Sure. Has it worked, year after year? You bet. Excellent team, excellent beer.

3/17/10

Season Preview: Kansas City Royals

Well we've got 18 days left until Opening Day, which means it's season preview time. We'll be running it down team by team, with an added new wrinkle this time around: the beer of choice for fans of the team to enjoy whilst watching their team take the field! Nothing like that to help get you through a baseball season, especially if you're from Pittsburgh. Up next: the Kansas City Royals.


Lineup: Billy Butler and average-to-poor hitters. Not a catchy band name, and not a good recipe for an MLB lineup, either. Alex Gordon might still have some talent that he's not shown, Alberto Callaspo might have decent OBP for a second baseman and David DeJesus could be worse, but there is nothing here after that. NL pitchers figured out Rick Ankiel to the tune of a sub-.300 OBP. Jason Kendall hasn't been a viable catcher since 2004. Scott Podsednik had a fluky 2009 that saw him post a career-high OBP, but we doubt that he repeats it. Josh Fields has shown nothing in his time in the majors, and Yuniesky Betancourt is, literally, the worst hitter (non-pitching category, though we'd take Micah Owings, Dontrelle Willis, and Carlos Zambrano over him in a heartbeat) in baseball. Good times!


Rotation: Zack Greinke is probably the odds-on favorite to repeat the AL Cy Young because of how utterly dominant he was last season. After that, you have what's left of Gil Meche after arm and back injuries, the no-strikeout-plenty-walk Kyle Davies, the wildly inconsistent Luke Hochevar, and sabersphere fave Brian Bannister - preferred more for his approach than his actual results. On the bright side, they might make Kyle Farnsworth a starter, which is reason enough for us to buy MLB.tv right there. Because we like making fun of Kyle Farnsworth.


Bullpen: There are two good arms here. Well, one great one and one very good one, to be fair. Joakim Soria - the Mexicutioner - is one of the best in baseball at what he does, and Juan Cruz can miss bats with the best of them. Beyond that...detritus. Phil Humber was a prospect for the Mets once upon a time, but he's not even a sure bet to break camp. Who else would you trust to throw plenty of innings here, Matt Herges? Roman Colon? Bryan Bullington? Josh Rupe? The corpse of Jorge Campillo? No thanks.


Overall: The bright spots - Billy Butler, Zack Greinke, maybe Alex Gordon and David DeJesus, plus prospects Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas - are definitely pieces to build around...but Dayton Moore has surrounded this fondation with trash. They can't hit, they can't field, they can't pitch, they can't run bases...but they sure can finish in last place!


Predicted Record: 62-100, 5th place AL Central


Beer: Negra Modelo. A dunkel, the dark-yet-caramel flavor pairs nicely with barbecue. And considering the state of the Royals, it may be best to watch them over a plate of KC BBQ at a bar than in person. That way you get some enjoyment out of it. Except on days when Kyle Farnsworth is pitching. Get bleacher seats for those fiestas!

3/16/10

Season Preview: Houston Astros

Well we've got 19 days left until Opening Day, which means it's season preview time. We'll be running it down team by team, with an added new wrinkle this time around: the beer of choice for fans of the team to enjoy whilst watching their team take the field! Nothing like that to help get you through a baseball season, especially if you're from Pittsburgh. Up next: the Houston Astros.


Lineup: Things could get ugly here. Carlos Lee is still decent, but he's clearly on the decline phase of his career. Lance Berkman could have a Hall of Fame case if he hangs around for a few more years - and his production isn't exactly slowing - but he's had injury woes of late, which are only exacerbated by his recent knee surgery that will likely make him miss opening day. Hunter Pence is the only guy outside of those two whom we feel comfortable describing as "above-average," and that's a problem. Up the middle, CF Michael Bourn is fast, which is nice, but Kaz Matsui and Tommy Manzella (Tulane!) are one of the weakest-hitting double play combos in MLB, and J.R. Towles, while once a shining prospect behind the plate, hasn't done much in somewhat limited PAs at the big-league level. Pedro Feliz is a horrendous hitter - which surprised us, but consider (1) that his OPS has decreased every year since the high-water mark in 1999 (.793) and was nearly 100 points lower last season (.694) and (2) that his career OBP is .293 - and hasn't been great shakes with the glove of late, which used to be his calling card. To make matters worse, this team is paper thin at all positions; Jason Michaels is the primary backup at all three outfield spots, Jeff Keppinger is next in line at SS and 2B, and Geoff Blum would get the call if either Feliz or Berkman go down. Yikes.


Rotation: Well, there's at least some hope to be had here. Not much, mind you, but some. Roy Oswalt seems to have been wearing down over the past few seasons, and isn't much above-average at this point even if he can stay healthy. Wandy Rodriguez is the real ace here, as he put together an excellent season last year and is young enough to keep improving...but we don't think we can handle one of the better pitchers in the division being named 'Wandy.' Behind him is Brett Myers, who has, if nothing else, a big name and a World Series ring, and Felipe Paulino and Bud Norris, a couple of young strikeout maestros with the potential for a big 2010. But, again, depth is a problem; Brian Moehler is listed at the 6th starter. Guhhh.


Bullpen: Matt Lindstrom can get K's with the best of them, and Brandon Lyon will do his best to justify his outlandish $15MM contract. He won't justify it, of course, because he's not very good, but he'll at least try. We assume. Bridging the gap to those 8th and 9th innings are...Jesse Fulchino? Tim Byrdak? Alberto Arias? Chris Sampson? Our eyes!


Overall: The fact that we ended the preceding paragraphs with 'Yikes,' 'Guhhh,' and 'Our eyes!' should tell you a lot about the overall outlook of this team. The only way that they avoid being utter laughingstocks is if every single starter is healthy for the entire season. Which surely happens all the time, right?


Predicted Record: 70-92, 5th place NL Central. Hmm. Apparently it doesn't happen all the time.


Beer: Lone Star. Calling itself 'The National Beer of Texas,' Lone Star is for the deluded Texan who (a) counts Texas as a nation and (b) thinks the Astros have a shot. So...Ed Wade.

3/15/10

Season Preview: Florida Marlins

Well we've got 20 days left until Opening Day, which means it's season preview time. We'll be running it down team by team, with an added new wrinkle this time around: the beer of choice for fans of the team to enjoy whilst watching their team take the field! Nothing like that to help get you through a baseball season, especially if you're from Pittsburgh. Up next: the Florida Marlins.


Lineup: A lot depends on three youngsters. Chris Coghlan was the RoY last year, but his inflated numbers benefited from a high BABIP and an surprising - and probably fluky - uptick in power. Cameron Maybin has been tabbed as a top prospect for years now, and may be running out of chances to hold down the CF job for a full season - particularly if he can't stop getting hurt. And Gaby Sanchez was underwhelming in limited duty last season, but has the potential to grow into an above-average first baseman. If Coghlan can repeat his season and Maybin and Sanchez can realize their potential, then this team should be able to hit well enough to compete. SS Hanley Ramirez is one of the top 5 players in the league, Dan Uggla has mammoth power for a second baseman, and while Jorge Cantu isn't 'good,' per se, he should be good for about 25 tater tots. We don't like RF Cody Ross or C John Baker. Sorry, fellas. 


Rotation: Josh Johnson is the deserving ace here, but Ricky Nolasco is a diamond in the rough. His FIP was significantly better than his ERA last season, and in 2008 he had a flat-out dominant stretch where he showed impeccable control and strikeout stuff - we'd equate it to a Ben Sheets-style of dominance. Beyond that 1-2, we have a collection of talented question marks: Anibal Sanchez can't stay healthy, 23-year old Sean West has command issues and is a bit too hittable, Chris Volstad has injury issues but can induce groundballs in his sleep, Rick VandenHurk has a big arm but has problematic struggles with the gopher ball, and Andrew Miller is fast ruining his top prospect status with a combined inability to stay healthy and refrain from walking batters. But all in all, having five talented guys to fill out the back three spots of a rotation that's headed by two excellent hurlers isn't a bad problem to have.


Bullpen: Leo Nunez is the closer here,  but as it has been since the departure of the erstwhile Kevin Gregg, the job is nominal only. He doesn't strike out enough people to justify all the walks he gives up, and his flyball tendencies are worrisome for a late-inning, high-leverage reliever. Dan Meyer used to be a prospect, but in his 100 MLB innings since 2004, he's got an ERA of 5.09 and a sub-2.00 K:BB ratio, neither of which bode well. Renyel Pinto is the rare lefty who strikes out plenny gentlemen, but his control issues are more pronounced than any of the guys mentioned before. Burke Badenhop and Taylor Tankersley are no great shakes either, and we guess what we're saying is that there's not a lot of talent here.


Overall: A lot needs to go right if the Marlins are going to repeat their 2009 season that saw them in divisional competition. The lineup is top-heavy, with the potential for a fairly massive dropoff if the youngsters don't pan out, and the same can be said of the rotation. The team wishes the same could be said of the bullpen, where there just are not enough reliable arms to go around. The Marlins seem to be perpetually rebuilding, but this season finds them static and probably regressing.


Predicted Record: 79-82, 3rd place NL East


Beer: Land Shark Lager would've been the easy choice, but alas, Jimmy Buffett's tropical brew company no longer holds the rights to the Marlins' stadium. Instead, we're going with Abita Christmas Ale. The recipe is different every year, much like the way the Marlins have a lot of roster turnover every year. And even though there are years when the team is terrible, there's usually something to like here, by virtue of all the youngsters they run out there all the time. Which is like Christmas: even if it's not a great one, it's still Christmas. And sometimes you have a really great one - see e.g. the two World Series titles this team has brought in. Like Marlins players, Christmas Ale is a beer that you're not supposed to get too attached to, but rather embrace the changes every year and anticipate it being really, really great one year.

3/14/10

Season Preview: Detroit Tigers

Well we've got 21 days left until Opening Day, which means it's season preview time. We'll be running it down team by team, with an added new wrinkle this time around: the beer of choice for fans of the team to enjoy whilst watching their team take the field! Nothing like that to help get you through a baseball season, especially if you're from Pittsburgh. Up next: the Detroit Tigers


Lineup: We don't see this group being especially good. Miguel Cabrera is the star here, but he doesn't have much in the way of support. Johnny Damon is the big name addition, but he's only a 3 WAR player, and unless Austin Jackson starts to develop in a hurry, the Damon-Jackson-Magglio Ordonez outfield doesn't pose too much of a threat. Rookie Scott Sizemore will start the season at second base, and has drawn comparisons to Dustin Pedroia, but we wouldn't expect too much out of the first-year guy. Adam Everett, his double-play partner, is one of the best in the business with the glove, but is a very weak hitter. Brandon Inge is reportedly healthy for the first time in years, but he's also getting pretty old and doesn't bring much to the table hitting-wise considering that he's a third baseman. Carlos Guillen is in a similar situation as Inge, as he struggled with injuries last season and needs to return to form - which he may be able to do as a full-time DH. And Gerald Laird is a waste of ABs at catcher.


Rotation: Justin Verlander is a Cy Young-level guy, Rick Porcello had a solid rookie season and should figure to improve, and Max Scherzer is a high-ceiling fireballer who we think is a bit underrated by most. Beyond those three, you're looking at an array of marginal talent and injury risks. Jeremy Bonderman is getting what is probably his last chance to prove that his career hasn't been ruined by a litany of arm and nerve injuries, Armando Galarraga got by on luck for awhile, and in Dontrelle Willis and and Nate Robertson, the team has two lefties with embarrassing contracts.  You could do worse than to have three good starters, but if this team has any aspirations beyond divisional competition, they're going to need to get somebody good.


Bullpen: One of the worst units in the league last year, the team hopes that the addition of former Houston closer Jose Valverde and the return of Joel Zumaya will provide a boost this year. But beyond those two, and Daniel Schlereth, many of the same faces remain, including Fu-Te Ni, the man with the shortest last name in baseball history. So that's neat. Anyway, this is a fairly average unit overall we'd say. But then it's just about impossible to project bullpens.


Overall: If this were a younger team, there'd be a lot to like about their chances for the future.  There's talent to be had all around, particularly in the youthful core of Verlander, Porcello, Scherzer, Cabrera, Jackson and Sizemore, but the other pieces don't really fit. Damon and Ordonez are both gone after the season, they don't have a viable catcher, and there's not much coming up in the system. 2010 may be their last chance to compete for awhile, but the chances of that happening don't look too great.


Predicted Record: 83-79, 2nd place AL Central


Beer: Heineken. Overpriced because of the foreign flavor - reminiscent of the Magglio Ordonez situation, where the Tigers had a chance to hold him to less than 540 ABs and save themselves $18MM. They didn't, and instead are stuck paying his bloated salary for this season, like the guy who just can't help himself for shelling out for Heiny.

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