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Philadelphia Phillies Opening Day Overview

Philadelphia Phillies Opening Day Overview

Manager: Charlie Manuel             GM: Ruben Amaro

  Lineup:
1 CF Shane Victorino
2 3B Placido Polanco
3 SS Jimmy Rollins
4 1B Ryan Howard
5 LF Raul Ibanez
6 RF Ben Francisco
7 C Carlos Ruiz
8 2B Wilson Valdez/Chase Utley(DL)
9 Pitcher

 

This Phillies lineup will change when Utley and possibly, Dominic Brown, get healthy. Victorino starts in the leadoff spot this year. Between Victorino and Rollins, Victorino is the more patient hitter, drawing more walks. That’s not really saying much however. After hitting .280 or better for his entire career, Victorino fell to under .260 and his ability to bounce back and get on base more is going to be critical to this lineups success. Although he had a career high with 18 HRs, Victorino’s value to the Phillies offensively is getting on base and running. He has to do that hitting leadoff.

Polanco bats second for now with Utley out. He might drop later if Rollins moves up when Utley returns. Polanco does almost everything that you look for out of a #2 hole hitter. He puts the bat on the ball and moves runners over when given the opportunity. As a career .300 hitter, his ability to get on base at the top of the order will give Rollins and Howard more RBI opportunities. Despite being 35, Polanco hasn’t show any sign of slowing down yet. The Phils hope he doesn’t show any this season.

Rollins is coming off an injury riddled season where it seemed like every time he returned, he would hurt his legs again. At 32, Rollins isn’t getting any more durable and while his impact on the lineup while healthy is huge; he hasn’t played at an all star level since his 2007 MVP season. With him entering his final season on his contract, the Phils have to hope that Rollins puts together a top notch contract driven performance. If not, the Phils offense will stagnate and the heralded pitching staff will have to carry them back to the postseason.

The last time we saw Howard, he was standing at home plate after taking strike three for the final out of the NLCS. Last season, Howard was rewarded with a huge contract extension for Pujols’ money. Last year marked the first time that Howard played in at least 140 games that he did not hit over 40 HRs. Howard’s dropoff was due to an ankle injury in the summer, but he also started walking and striking out less. If he can improve his walks and continue to cut down on strikeouts, then Howard might be able to limit the amount of annual deterioration in his numbers. With Utley out for a few months or more, Howard is going to be heavily relied upon to deliver big numbers this year. He’s going to have to do that to avoid the Philly boos.

Ibanez will be 39 in June and the Phillies will need him to hold off Father Time for just one more season (his contract expires after the season). He’s hit steady in the .275 area during both seasons for the Phillies and, with the exception of his hot start in 2009, has been a decent source of power. The Phillies hope that he’ll be good for another 55-60 extra base hits and drive in 80-90 runs hitting behind Howard.

Francisco takes over for Jayson Werth with Dominic Brown out for the first month or so with a broken hand. Francisco has decent power and might be able to top 20 HRs if he gets 450 ABs. If he does prove to be an everyday player, Manuel might consider switching him in the order with Ibanez to break up the run of left handed hitters. Ross Gload might get an opportunity in the first month or so to share at-bats against righties and then Brown will probably be given an opportunity to at least platoon with Francisco when he returns in May.

Ruiz is just steady behind the plate and at the plate hitting. At the plate, he improved his OBP to .400 last season while hitting over .300. With the injury issues and general drops in production by the big bats, Ruiz will be counted on for above average numbers again.

Valdez filled in well in the field for Rollins last season at short. This year he starts for Utley at second. The Phils could use Valdez to hit better than .258 with no power and walks if they don’t want to go with a 7-man lineup. A bad start offensively by the Phils and Valdez could lead them to reinitiate talks with the Rangers regarding Michael Young.

  Starting Pitching
1 RHP Roy Halladay
2 LHP Cliff Lee
3 RHP Roy Oswalt
4 LHP Cole Hamels
5 RHP Joe Blanton

 

This is where the Phils bread is buttered. Halladay did it all last season with the perfect game and playoff opening no hitter. He’ll be counted on to win 18-20 again this season. His 250 IP was the second most of his career in the regular season, but he surpassed his 2003 total of 266 when including his playoff innings. This is concerning because Halladay’s 2004 season was cut short with shoulder fatigue and the Phils can’t have that repeat itself this year. Limiting Halladay’s innings needs to be a priority despite his apparent dominance almost every time out.

Lee returns to the Phils after spurning the Yankees. One thing that needs to be cleared up is that Lee will receive MORE from the Phillies than was offered by any other team in the winter. The difference between Lee’s offer from the Yankees was only one more year at $13M total which is much less than the $24M annually that Lee will average throughout his five year contract. Lee was bothered by a bad back in Texas last year and the Phillies need to be careful early in the season since Lee’s workload over the past three seasons has been extensive. As long as he’s healthy, the Phils should be expecting similar results from Lee that they want from Halladay. 18-20 wins along with 220+ IP.

Oswalt is the #3 starter in Philly. How scary is that? He was great in his 12 regular season starts posting a sub 2.00 ERA after coming to the Phils. It’s not out of the question that Oswalt and not the three other guys might have the best season this year. For starters, at the beginning of the season Oswalt will be matched up against #3 or #4 starter, rarely seeing an opposing ace. He’ll also benefit from pitching an entire season with the Phillies lineup.  As long as his back problems don’t flare up, Oswalt should be with Hallday and Lee going for 18-20 wins.

Hamels is the only pitcher on this team with a World Series MVP. Not bad for a fourth starter. He bounced back really well from an off year in 2009. He pitched a complete game shutout against the Reds in the NLDS after struggling in the 2009 playoffs. With matchups coming against rookies and veteran innings eaters, Hamels is poised to become a big winner this season. There’s no reason that Hamels can’t win 18-20 like the other pitchers with the matchups that he’s going to get. He just has to continue to pitch like he did in the second half of last season when he posted a 2.23 ERA.

Blanton is the black sheep of this incredible staff. Just kidding. Blanton is a solid, but not spectacular as he was a victim of some bad luck on balls in play last season. Getting a start every five days should give Blanton a chance at 180 IP and he can win 12-14 games if he keeps his ERA near or under 4.00. But if he’s pitching well, Amaro might be able to trade Blanton and his $8M/yr contract for some salary relief and maybe a utility player.  Mike Stutes, who was a final cut, might be the one to get the call should Blanton be moved.

  Bullpen
CL RHP Brad Lidge(DL)
SET RHP Ryan Madson
  RHP Jose Contreras
  LHP JC Romero
  RHP Danys Baez
  LHP Antonio Bastardo
  RHP David Herndon/RHP Kyle Kendrick

 

Lidge is hurt again as he begins the season on the DL with shoulder issues. He’s expected to be out until the end of May. The Phillies will have to have Lidge healthy or they’ll need to trade for a high quality replacement if they wish to return to the World Series. Considering Lidge’s age and recent durability issues, it’s more likely that Amaro is going to need to make a deal.

Madson was fantastic during the second half of last season as Manuel seemingly turned to him every game for a scoreless 8th inning. It’s that trust in Madson’s performance that has him remaining in the 8th inning role with Lidge on the DL. The Phils might want to ration his use as he pitched in 35 games after August 1st.

Contreras will close for the Phils with Lidge out until the end of May. If he can replicate his performance of last season, the Phillies late innings should be in good hands with him and Madson. If not, then Manuel will have to find a stopgap on the roster or Amaro will have to expand the payroll even more to get a reliable closer.

Romero and Bastardo will provide the left handed situational matchups and Baez, Herndon and Kendrick will work long relief and when they’re behind. Kendrick is also a candidate for the #5 spot in the rotation if there’s an injury or if Blanton is traded.

  Farm Prospects who could help in 2011
1 OF Dominic Brown
2 RHP Vance Worley
3 RHP Mike Stutes

 

Brown was expected to start this year in RF. His broken hand has delayed that and he will most likely platoon with Francisco when he returns in May. Worley pitched well in AA last year, average in AAA, and did a solid job in 13 innings in Philly. He seems to be similar to Kendrick so he could be a candidate to be moved if the Phillies make a trade. Stutes was in the final cuts of spring and could be brought up to provide relief or start if Blanton is traded or there’s an injury.

Three Questions:

1. Will the Phillies lineup get healthy?

  • It seemed like the lineup was never settled last season with all of Rollins’ injuries and the rest of the hitters seemed out of sync without him setting the table. Utley is on the DL to start this season and he’s simply been the best 2B in baseball over the past half decade. It’s going to be difficult, even with their pitching, to win without Utley’s power bat. Rookie Dominic Brown is out until May and it remains to be seen if the rest of the 30 years old and older lineup will remain healthy for the season. Only Francisco and Brown RF platoon begins the season at under 30 years old. With no everyday prospects at AAA, Amaro will need to look elsewhere if there are any major injuries.

2. Can the Phillies close games without making a trade?

  • Brad Lidge has been injured or ineffective both seasons since his incomparable 2008 season when he didn’t blow a save and the Phillies were champs. Contreras pitched well last season fililng in for Lidge and Lidge was able to pitch really well after the July 31st trade deadline. With another arm injury for Lidge, can Amaro afford to go into the late season and playoffs hoping that Lidge stays healthy and/or Contreras fills in like an all star? It would be a shame if this season was lost because the Phillies couldn’t close out games.  

3. Will the Phillies be adversely affected by the expectations and potential distractions?

  • The expectations are sky high in Philly and almost everywhere else because of the rotation. But if the lineup struggles and the pitching is only good, but not great, this team could struggle at times. Other issues facing the Phillies are expiring contracts for Rollins, Oswalt (mutual option), Hamels (one more arbitration year), and Ryan Madson. Also, the potential is there for the fans to ride Ryan Howard if the big man gets off to a slow start. They don’t forget his final at-bat and will let him know loudly that he’s not worth his enormous contract if he struggles.

 

Projection

Even with the opening day problems, it’s difficult to believe that the Phillies won’t be playing playoff baseball in October. The question then becomes can they overcome a possible rematch with the Giants pitchers and get enough offense to make their pitching stand up? The view here is that Amaro is going to have to make a couple of trades to solidify the lineup and the back of the bullpen. Ibanez could really use a platoon partner and a good power right handed bat to team with Ibanez would also give Manuel a pinch hitter off the bench against righties. Closer could also be a must get position. If Francisco Rodriguez is pitching well for the Mets, would they be willing to take on his contract which includes a vesting option if he completes 55 games? Another good closer would be a lot more costly to the depleted farm system than the expensive K-Rod. That’s a question that Amaro needs to answer if the Phils are to be champions again.

New York Yankees Opening Day Overview

New York Yankees Opening Day Overview

Manager: Joe Girardi      GM: Brian Cashman

  Lineup:
1 LF Brett Gardner
2 SS Derek Jeter
3 1B Mark Teixeira
4 3B Alex Rodriguez
5 2B Robinson Cano
6 RF Nick Swisher
7 DH Jorge Posada
8 CF Curtis Granderson
9 C Russell Martin

 

Gardner will bat leadoff after an up and down 2010. If he can play more like he did in the first half before some nagging injuries affecting him, then Gardner could be a very good leadoff hitter if his OBP is close to .400.

Jeter had the worst year of his career last year at 36. Was it an aberration or the beginning of the end for the Captain? It’s hard to believe that Jeter might be done as an above average player but he’s at the age where that happens, especially with middle infielders. If last year’s numbers are more of what’s to come, then the Yankees are going to need to find a palatable way to ease Jeter down in the order or their offense will suffer.

Teixeira had the worst year since his rookie season last year. Although he had a down year, it was still pretty good and as long as he improves incrementally, the Yankees should be fine. He should be good for 30+ HR, 100 RBI, 100 Runs, and hit at least .270.

Rodriguez is getting a lot of spring hype about a potential MVP run. He had a very similar season to Texeira last year. He had been incredibly durable until 2008, playing in at least 140 games every year but one from 1996-2007. Over the past three seasons, A-Rod has failed to play 140 games in a season. While he’s still hitting well, there’s been a steady drop off since his 2007 MVP season. The last few years were still solid years for a #4 hitter, but if the Yankees want to return to the playoffs then A-Rod needs to get back to his 2008 numbers (35 HR, 103 RBI, .302).

Cano has become the best player on the Yankees. He was the pick for MVP by many in the media, finishing third. Barring injury, Cano should be good again for his 25+ HR, 100 RBI, and hit over .300. Depending on how his older teammates fare, Cano could be moved up in the order if Texeira or A-Rod were to drop off from their typical production levels. Cano would make a great #3 hitter.

Swisher gets rewarded for his best season by getting dropped down to #6 and a run producing spot in the order. That probably as much a result of his better slugging as it is of his more aggressive nature at the plate. Despit increasing his average from .249 to .288, Swisher’s OBP dropped .012 points. He’s another Yankee who is now on the other side of 30 so it might be a little too much to expect any improvement from Swisher.

Posada is going to start the season as the DH. Whether he remains in that spot will depend on how he hits, because if his numbers continue to deteriorate, then Girardi will have no choice but to sit him. If he does sit, that will open a spot for the Yankees to go and acquire a bat (Carlos Lee?).

Granderson isn’t the same hitter that was the most exciting extra base hitter in the league a few years ago. For the second consecutive season, the Grandy man hit under .250 and his OPS was under .800 for the first time since his first full season of 2006. He also enters the season with a strained oblique and nobody knows when that might get better, if it will. Since Gardner can play CF, finding a replacement wouldn’t be as difficult. But with more than a few of the Yankees facing aging/deterioration of skills, the Yanks don’t need to be looking for help here as well.

Martin comes over from the Dodgers after hitting .250 or worse in the past two seasons. Despite being only 28, Martin’s production has really dropped off from his all star seasons a few years back. With three of their top prospects being catchers, their might not be much patience for subpar production out of Martin. Especially if the rest of the lineup is struggling. Jesus Montero has a big bat and is the future. With that in mind, Martin might be the backup by Memorial Day.

  Starting Pitching
1 LHP CC Sabathia
2 RHP Philip Hughes
3 RHP AJ Burnett
4 RHP Ivan Nova
5 RHP Freddy Garcia/RHP Kevin Millwood

 

You can’t do much better for an ace than Sabathia. He’s won Cy Young Awards and a championship. He’s also got an opt-out clause in his contract following this season. The price of CC could be going up. There’s really no reason to not expect another run at 20 wins, 230 IP, and an ERA around 3.00. Girardi won’t have problems sleeping the night before he pitches.

Hughes had a great start to last season, but trailed off after the weather got warmer. He’s going to need to be better if the Yankees have any hope of winning the AL East. Hughes doesn’t have to be great, just pitch consistently with a sub 4.00 ERA. That should get him 15+ wins.

Burnett has three more years left in the Bronx. Whether the Yankees left him pitch until then remains to be seen. Burnett is the classic case of overwhelming talent minus a knowhow of how to pitch and durability issues. These were all known before the Yankees gave him the 5 year contract. What they need from him is a low 4.00 ERA and to go to the mound every five days. That should be enough to win 12-14 games if the offense is solid. If he pitches like last season, he might find himself in the bullpen by July.

Nova pitched well enough last season and in the spring to win the #4 starters job. With Bartolo Colon and Kevin Millwood waiting in the wings, Nova can’t afford to start slowly since he’s not going to be paid like Burnett. If he can give the Yanks a sub 4.00 ERA and 6 innings per start, Girardi would be ecstatic and Nova would probably get 13-14 wins.

Garcia pitched last season for the White Sox and was better than AJ Burnett. Now that wouldn’t be good enough to keep him in the rotation, but if he can get that ERA into the low 4’s, then that should be good enough to keep him in the rotation. A slow start will most likely mean a quick hook as Colon and Millwood wait their turn.

  Bullpen
CL RHP Mariano Rivera
SET RHP Rafael Soriano
  RHP David Robertson
  RHP Joba Chamberlain
  LHP Boone Logan
  RHP Bartolo Colon
  RHP Luis Ayala/LHP Pedro Feliciano (DL)

 

Is this the year that Mariano finally starts slowing down? That prediction isn’t coming here. Until further notice, there’s nothing to worry about the greatest closer of all time. Period. He arguably the best pitcher, starter or reliever, of his generation and it’s amazing that he’s never won a MVP or Cy Young Award. Truly a crime.  

Soriano comes over from the Rays where he was really good as the closer last year. If this is Rivera’s last season, then Soriano will slide into that spot. He should be more than capable of replacing Kerry Wood, who pitched great after coming over last season. The Yanks are in good hands if they take a lead to the 8th inning. There might not be a better pair in baseball.

Robertson has a lot of potential, but control and consistency have held him back. The Yankees would like to groom him for that 8th inning role when Rivera retires so he’ll be given an opportunity to work on his issues in the 7th inning and when the team is trailing late.

Chamberlain has had a lot of hype, but the time has come for the Yankees to move him so he can get a fresh start as a rotation guy. He could be the centerpiece of a potential deal to get a 3 or 4 starter or a bat if the offense struggles.

Lefties Logan and Feliciano will provide situational relief against lefties (think Crawford, Gonzalez, and Ortiz) and not much else.

Colon pitched well in spring after not pitching last year. The confidence that Girardi showed by carrying him on the 25 man roster lends credibility to the potential of Colon joining the rotation eventually.

  Farm Prospects who could help in 2011
1 C Jesus Montero
2 RHP Hector Noesi
3 SS/3B Eduardo Nunez

 

If this was for all levels of the organization, then it might be catcher 1-2-3. Nobody has organizational catching depth like the Yankees. Montero will get the first call and it was Cashman’s unwillingness to include Montero in a potential deal for Cliff Lee that made the Mariners turn elsewhere. Montero has to be the first hitter looked to if the Yanks offense struggles early. Noesi came back from Tommy John surgery in 2008 and moved from high A to AAA last season. He could be a candidate for the rotation later in the summer if the Yankees are out of contention. Nunez was set to take over for Jeter had he left. He’s going to work on his outfield skills in order to be a utility man at the majors.

Three Questions:

1. Will the Yankees get any good starting pitching after CC Sabathia?

  • Hughes pitched well in April last season but was ordinary after. Burnett hasn’t figured things out in the Bronx, pitching as poorly as he has in his career. He’s looked like a modern day Ed Whitson. Nova is a prospect with promise, but will the Yankees show the necessary patience that is needed with young pitchers? Garcia is essentially the first piece of a three-headed retread monster with Bartolo Colon and Kevin Millwood. Each will probably get a few starts to show what they have left.

2. Will the Yankees hitters’ production continue to deteriorate?

  • Last season, Jeter, Teixeira, A-Rod, and Posada’s numbers all dropped some as they are getting up there in age. Will the production continue to decrease and how does Girardi alter the lineup to deal with this situation? Would Jeter be willing to bat 8 or 9 if he’s only a .270 hitter now? Could A-Rod or Texeira bat 5th and let Cano hit in the #3 hole? Will Granderson rediscover the hitting prowess that he showed in Detroit a few years ago? There’s a lot of questions for aging stars.  

3. Will the Yankees be willing to trade their top prospects to ensure another run at the postseason?

  • It’s almost an impossibility that the Yankees can win the AL East or even make the playoffs with the current roster that they have. They are going to have to make a deal for a starter and maybe even a right handed bat. They could call Houston and get both. Brett Myers and Carlos Lee would fit well on the Yankees and they could probably get the Astros to eat much of Lee’s remaining contract (2 yrs @$18M/yr). Otherwise, they might have to deal prospects to get front line talent and they didn’t want to do that last year.

 

Projection

The Yankees are facing aging issues and have problems in their starting rotation. Although they still have enormous talent, much of it is centered on home run power and their aging everyday players don’t play great defense. In any normal season, the Yanks probably would be a safe selection for the AL Wildcard, but this season might find all five of the AL East teams with records over .500. Think about that. If all five teams have winning records and they play each other 18 times each, then it could really bunch each team together in the 81-87 win area. It’s going to take at least 90 wins to get the Wildcard and it’s difficult to see how the Yankees get there right now.

MLB Predictions

March 31, 2011 1 comment

ere’s a quick look at my predictions for the upcoming baseball season:

AL East – Boston Red Sox

AL Central – Minnesota Twins

AL West – Oakland Athletics

AL Wildcard – Chicago White Sox

NL East – Philadelphia Phillies

NL Central – Milwaukee Brewers

NL West – San Francisco Giants

NL Wildcard – Colorado Rockies

AL Champion – Chicago White Sox

NL Champion – Philadelphia Phillies

World Series Champ – Chicago White Sox

AL MVP – Joe Mauer

AL Cy Young – CC Sabathia

NL MVP – Troy Tulowitzki

NL Cy Young – Cliff Lee

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Atlanta Braves Opening Day Overview

Atlanta Braves Opening Day Overview

Manager: Fredi Gonzalez             GM: Frank Wren

  Lineup:
1 LF Martin Prado
2 CF Nate McLouth
3 3B Chipper Jones
4 C Brian McCann
5 2B Dan Uggla
6 RF Jason Heyward
7 SS Alex Gonzalez
8 1B Freddie Freeman
9 Pitcher

 

Prado moves his steady .300 bat to LF this season and he’ll also leadoff, where he’s been at his best over his career. Despite lacking the usual power for a LF, Prado should continue to display his doubles power and hit over .300.

McLouth was so bad last year that he was sent to AAA for 6 weeks. After hitting under .200 last year, his career average is at .252. He’s going to have to outperform that by a lot if he’s going to remain in the #2 hole or even in the lineup. If he does struggle, the rest of the lineup will determine if Wren needs to go out and make a deal for a replacement.

Chipper is back after tearing his ACL last summer and its going to be interesting to see what he has left at 39. The surefire hall of famer hasn’t hit like a #3 hole hitter since his uncharacteristic .364 average season in 2008. He’s at the stage of his career where he should be a DH (wrong league) or at 1B. While his OBP is still very good, the Braves need him to drive in runs where they have him in the order. If his OBP is still good, maybe they’ll move him up to the #2 hole if McLouth struggles.

McCann is an all star at the plate in his prime at 27. The only problem with McCann is that he’s not a typical #4 hitter, but more of a #3 hitter since he lacks 30+ HR power but has a good OBP. The biggest worry the Braves have to have is the position that McCann plays and the higher potential for injury. Losing McCann for an extended period of time could cripple an already questionable lineup.

Uggla turned his career year into a trade to the Braves and a big contract. He hit well above his career average last season at .287 and moving from one pitchers park to another shouldn’t help him much. Assuming he remains consistent, Uggla should provide the Braves with 30+ HR, 90+ RBI, and about a .260 average. If there are problems above him in the lineup, he could end up in the #4 hole before the end of the season.

Heyward was the first half ROY before Posey showed up in SF. At 21, the future is scary good for him. He already shows great patience at the plate as he walked 91 times. It shouldn’t be too unreasonable to expect him to increase his numbers to 25 HR, 90 RBI, and hit over .290.

Gonzalez’ numbers last year were propped up by his time in Toronto. He’s not going to be a major contributor offensively and if others in the lineup struggle as well, SS could be a position the Braves look to upgrade during the season. He can probably hold onto the job all season if he hits .260 or so with some pop.

Freeman is the latest Braves phenom to reach the big leagues. He’s similar production-wise to Heyward and the Braves are going to need that to contend this season. Eric Hinske waits on the bench just in case Freeman struggles in his rookie season.

  Starting Pitching
1 RHP Derek Lowe
2 RHP Tommy Hanson
3 RHP Tim Hudson
4 RHP Jair Jurrjens
5 RHP Brandon Beachy

 

The Braves rotation is solid, but Lowe and Hudson are entering the stages of their careers where it can suddenly disappear. Lowe was great down the stretch last season, but was ordinary enough the rest of the season to finish with a 4.00 ERA. Unless their lineup outperforms expectations, its going to be difficult for Lowe to win 16 again if he doesn’t improve on his ERA.

Hanson is the next generation and he threw for over 200 innings for the first time in his career. If he can handle the workload, Hanson could be ready to step into the “ace” role this season and become a 16-18 game winner. He was the recipient of bad run support last season and this year shouldn’t be any different.

Hudson pitched his first full season since coming back from Tommy John surgery and was very good. His ERA was under 3.00 and he won 17 games. For the Braves to contend this season, he’s going to have to replicate those numbers. He’ll be 36 in July, but pitchers tend to get a second wind after getting the TJ surgery.

Jurrjens seemed to have everything wrong with him physically last season. Assuming he’s alright, Jurrjens should win 14-16 games and have a low 3.00 ERA.

Beachy is top prospect that pitched great at AA last season and finished with the Braves. With high expectations for the Braves don’t be surprised if Beachy gets sent down if he doesn’t pitch very well. He’s going to need a sub 4.00 ERA to remain in Atlanta if the Braves are to contend with their current lineup. There are other top prospects that the Braves can turn to if Beachy struggles.

  Bullpen
CL LHP Jonny Venters/RHP Craig Kimbrel
SET RHP Peter Moylan
  RHP Scott Linebrink
  LHP Eric O’Flaherty
  LHP George Sherrill
  RHP Cristhian Martinez

 

The Braves bullpen should be interesting without the retired Billy Wagner, who was outstanding last season. The plan to start the season is to go with a two-headed committee approach. Venters and Kimbrel will both close based on matchups. Eventually Fredi Gonzalez is going to need to establish a leading man in his bullpen to make this work.

Venters brings lots of heat from the left side and Kimbrel brings it from the right. In 20 innings, Kimbrel struck out 40 batters. Think about that. But he also walked 16. If he can harness his stuff somewhat, he could be a modern day Rob Dibble. But even Cincinnati’s Nasty Boys were slotted into roles in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings. These guys will need that too.

Linebrink and Sherrill are veterans who might be able to close if the youngsters have problems. Sherrill was a closer with Baltimore before going to the Dodgers in 2009.

  Farm Prospects who could help in 2011
1 LHP Mike Minor
2 RHP Julio Teheran
3 RHP Erik Cordier

 

The Braves have some of their best prospects already on the major league roster. Minor is a major league ready lefty who could step into the bullpen or the rotations if there are injuries or Beachy struggles. Teheran is the Braves top prospect but isn’t expected to make it earlier than late in the season. A dominating performance at AAA could change that timeline. Cordier is another prospect who could contribute later in the season. Both Minor and Cordier could be dangled in trade offers to improve the offense if it struggles. The farm doesn’t have any hitters who can help right now.

Three Questions:

1. How good of a manager was Bobby Cox and how many wins will his departure cost the team?

  • Nobody has asked this question yet as everybody seems to think that the transition to Fredi Gonzalez should be seamless. If so, what is the true value of a major league manager then? Especially one as successful as Cox? It will be difficult to accept that losing Cox doesn’t cost the Braves at least a few games in the standings this season.

2. How do the Braves replace Billy Wagner?

  • Wagner literally retired at the top of his game. He was incredible last season and the Braves have exclusive rights to resign him if he determines that he wants to return. They might need him because they are going with an inexperienced committee of Venters and Kimbrel. Both have electric stuff, both uncertainty surrounding their roles could hurt their performance.

3. Is this the lineup the Braves are going to trot out all season?

  • Going over the lineup for this preview has really uncovered some major weaknesses on this team. Yes, Uggla, Heyward, and McCann will all be solid run producers. But only Prado at the top of the order is somebody that Gonzalez can feel comfortable with. McLouth seems destined for the #7 or #8 spot in the order, if not the bench. Can Chipper stay healthy at 39 and perform like a good #3 hitter? Gonzalez was mediocre after coming over and Freeman is a rookie. The bench doesn’t have any depth that can be tapped to play every day.

 

Projection

The Braves are the NL East’s version of the Dodgers. Except their lineup might be a little worse and they don’t have any AAA hitting prospects. The good news is that they’re loaded with pitching and Frank Wren is going to have to dip into some of those young arms to bring a bat or two into the mix. Especially if Freeman struggles or there are injuries to one of their run producers. Expect the Braves to make the right moves and remain over .500. But winning 90 games and the division is too much to ask for a team in transition like this unless Jason Heyward wins the MVP.

Colorado Rockies Opening Day Overview

Colorado Rockies Opening Day Overview

Manager: Jim Tracy         GM: Dan O’Dowd

Lineup:
CF Dexter Fowler
RF Seth Smith/Ryan Spilborghs
LF Carlos Gonzalez
SS Troy Tulowitzki
1B Todd Helton
3B Ian Stewart/Ty Wigginton
2B Jose Lopez
C Chris Iannetta
Pitcher

 

Fowler is the catalyst to this high powered offense and the Rockies will need him to utilize his base stealing abilities more, especially on the road where the offense sometimes stagnates. He also needs to improve his OBP for this offense to reach their potential.

Smith and Spilborghs will probably platoon again unless Smith doesn’t get his average back over .270. The Rockies need Smith to hit like 2009 and Spilborghs to hit like last year. If it’s reversed, they might have to turn to Eric Young or Wily Tavares and move CarGo to RF.

CarGo was phenomenal last season finishing 3rd in the MVP voting. He got a new $80M contract over 7 seasons and will earn every penny if he continues to hit the way he did last year.

Tulowitzki is the game’s best shortstop and might be the best player in the game as long as he’s healthy. The Rockies will need Tulo to remain healthy and if he does, he has a chance to produce numbers only seen at SS by A-Rod in Texas.

Two of the last three seasons have been mediocre for Helton. He’s going to need to produce if he is to continue hitting in a run producing spot in the order. This could be a position where Wigginton gets some at bats if Helton struggles again. Jason Giambi is around as well if Helton gets hurt and they want a lefty bat in there.

Stewart might start the season on the DL and needs to improve his average this season if he’s to convince O’Dowd and Tracy that he’s the long term answer at 3B. Wigginton should provide a solid glove and a steady bat at 3B or any other position he plays.

Lopez comes over from Seattle and could have a great year if he gets back to his 2009 form. Remember, Safeco might be the best pitching park in the AL and he’s now hitting in Coors. He could be a major surprise.

Iannetta needs to start hitting at least .250 to justify his place in the lineup. Top catching prospect Wilin Rosario isn’t expected to arrive until next year, but could be called upon if Iannetta continues to struggle andhe convinces management that he can outperform Iannetta with his production in AAA.

The Rockies really struggled to hit on the road, with their worst run production in almost a decade. The top of the lineup talent is great, but they might need to add a corner infield bat if Helton and/or Stewart struggles. The ability of Iannetta and Lopez to bounce back and for Lopez to adjust to the NL will play a critical role in the Rockies offensive success.

  Pitching Staff
1 RHP – Ubaldo Jimenez
2 LHP – Jorge De La Rosa
3 RHP – Jhoulys Chacin
4 RHP – Jason Hammel
5 RHP – Esmil Rogers/RHP – Aaron Cook

 

Jimenez was unbelievable before the break last year, but struggled right after the break and then finished strong. As long as he’s pitching well, this team should be in the hunt for the postseason.

De La Rosa got a nice contract, but is going to need to stay healthy and produce like he did in 2009 to justify the money. His 185 innings in 2009 is over 50 more than any other season.

Chacin had a great debut season and might be the second best starter the Rockies have. He’ll need to do it for 10-12 more starts than last season and improve his walk ratio. But most pitchers usually improve their control as they gain experience and become more comfortable pitching to big league hitters.

Hammel was very similar last year to 2009 and will be counted upon to provide those 175+ innings again this season. He’ll need to keep his ERA around 4.50 or better to be effective.

Cook is out until at least May and he’ll need to improve his K-BB ratio if he’s to be counted on for quality innings. Rogers gets a chance to prove himself over the first month or so of the season and pitch much better than last season. A couple of starts pitching like his over 6 ERA from last year and the Rockies could turn to Felipe Paulino who was with Houston last year.

  Bullpen
CL RHP – Huston Street
SET RHP – Rafael Betancourt
  RHP – Matt Belisle
  RHP – Matt Lindstrom
  LHP – Matt Reynolds
  LHP – Franklin Morales
  RHP – Felipe Paulino

 

Street was the victim of injuries from the start last season and the inability of the bullpen to consistently close out games hurt them in the first half of the season. He is expected to be fully healthy and the last inning situations should be better this season for the Rockies.

Betancourt doesn’t mess around as he comes right at hitters with strikes. That’s a great trait to have pitching at Coors and the Rockies have as good as a setup guy as they’ve had.

Belisle pitched well last season and a similar showing would be great. Lindstrom has closed with Florida and Houston and throws hard. His problem can be control which could be a major issue in Coors.

Morales started last year as the fill-in closer for Street and then spent over a month in AAA to work on control issues.

  Farm Prospects who could help in 2011
1 LHP Rex Brothers
2 LHP Christian Friedrich
3 C Wilin Rosario

 

The pickings are slim for the Rockies as far as major league readiness goes. Brothers could be a future closer but still needs some AAA seasoning before getting called up. Friedrich is a starter who struggled a little in AA last year and has battled health issues. Rosario tore his ACL last summer but has a good bat and might get a chance later this summer if Iannetta continues to struggle at the plate.

Three Questions:

1. Can the Rockies get improved production from the group of Helton, Smith, Stewart, and Iannetta?

  • They need to get better numbers from at least 2, if not 3 of these four. Helton and Iannetta especially need to outperform last season’s numbers for the Rockies to overcome the weak part of their rotation.

2. After Ubaldo, will the Rockies starters pitch well?

  • Steady improvement by Chacin and a full season from De La Rosa will be huge for the Rockies this season. They can’t afford to be in the bullpen in the sixth inning every game if they want to be in contention in September. Rogers, filling in for Cook, could wreak havoc on the pen early in the season if he’s not effective.

3. Can their bullpen be as good as it looks on paper?

  • Street is a very good closer and should have a great year if he stays healthy. Betancourt gives them a solid arm for the 8th inning and those two can make it a 7 inning game for Jim Tracy if they’re consistently effective at the back end of games. That would leave the rest of the bullpen to take care of the 7th inning and earlier.

 

Projection

The Rockies should be contending all season. One thing that hurts them is their lack of high level farm talent. With their best prospects appearing to be a few years away, they might not have talent to either plug in the lineup in case of injury or be able to make an impact trade if necessary. If their Chacin and De La Rosa can stay healthy and continue to get better, then the Rockies can push 90 wins for the season.

Los Angeles Dodgers Opening Day Overview

Los Angeles Dodgers Opening Day Overview

Manager: Don Mattingly               GM: Ned Colletti

  Lineup:
1 SS Rafael Furcal
2 LF Tony Gwynn/Marcus Thames
3 RF Andre Ethier
4 CF Matt Kemp
5 1B James Loney
6 3B Juan Uribe
7 C Rod Barajas
8 2B Jamey Carroll
9 Pitcher

 

When healthy, Furcal is one of the game’s most dynamic leadoff hitters. He’s able to hit for power and he’s always a threat to steal. If they can get Furcal healthy enough to play as much as he did in 2009 at last year’s production level, that would make the Dodgers a favorite in the NL West.

Gwynn will start opening day with Jay Gibbons out and Thames will take over against lefties. Unless these two outperform their historical numbers, Mattingly will probably need to drop them down to the bottom of the order.

Ethier suffered from a broken finger last season and ruined his hot start. If he can get back to 2009 and pre-injury 2010 levels, they have one of the best #3 hitters in the league.

Kemp is the annual enigma in the Dodgers lineup. He appeared on the verge of superstardom and then hit below .250 last year. The top end for Kemp is an average approaching .300 and 30/30 numbers. In a lineup without many big bats, Kemp has to step up and contribute at an all star level.

Loney is a decent player whose numbers look a lot like his manager’s did after Donny Baseball’s prime. Casey Blake could be a viable replacement or platoon partner for Loney when he returns from injury.

Uribe is a great pickup for a team that needs intangible players. He can play each infield position and he’s a solid hitter who comes through in the clutch. His flexibility should allow Mattingly to shift players in and out of the lineup at different positions while keeping Uribe in it.

Barajas was decent for the Dodgers after coming over from the Mets. He can contribute 12-15 HR’s and struggle to hit .250 while playing solid defense if he plays every day. More likely is that Dioner Navarro will eventually take over as he’s almost a decade younger. Navarro was good for the Rays when they went to the World Series in 2008, but struggled the past two seasons.

Carroll will get the start but can’t be the realistic solution for the season at second. Former prized prospect Ivan DeJesus will probably get a few starts in April and should have a realistic chance of wrestling the job away from Carroll. If not, then Uribe will move over to second when Blake returns.

  Starting Pitching
1 LHP Clayton Kershaw
2 RHP Chad Billingsley
3 LHP Ted Lilly
4 RHP Hiroki Kuroda
5 RHP Jon Garland/RHP Vicente Padilla

 

As usual the Dodgers have one of the best rotations in the NL. Kershaw leads the way and could be on the verge of his breakout, Cy Young-type season. He reached 200 innings for the first time last year and if he continues to stay healthy, that extended work should serve him well as he develops into one of the best in baseball.

Billingsley just signed a contract extension that will keep him in LA for the next 4-5 seasons, depending on his contract option. He hasn’t pitched as well as he did in 2008 when he appeared to be the future right handed ace of this staff. If he can get back to the 2008 level, the Dodgers could have a comparable 1-2 punch to the best teams in the NL, the Giants and Phillies. That’s the potential upside, can Billingsley help the Dodgers get there?

Lilly is a solid veteran who “knows how to pitch”. Bad clichés aside, Lilly is a steady #3 starter who can pitch 200 innings and win 13-14 games with an upside of 17 or so if things go well.

Kuroda is sort of a right handed version of Lilly. He should be able to approach 200 innings and win 13-14 games with an upside of more based on the offense and luck.

Garland is as good as it gets as #5 starters go. He pitched well for the Dodgers in a few months of work in 2009 and continued to do well last year in San Diego. He should be good for 180-200 innings based on use and win 12+ games.

  Bullpen
CL RHP Jonathan Broxton
SET LHP Hong-Chih Kuo
  RHP Matt Guerrier
  RHP Kenley Jansen
  RHP Blake Hawksworth
  RHP Lance Cormier

 

Broxton might be the key to the Dodgers season. Former manager Joe Torre didn’t have full confidence in Broxton and it seemed to affect the big right hander’s performance.  On a team that will rely heavily on their pitching, Broxton has to get back to his “light-out” performance of 2008 and 2009 when he was unhittable at times. The 9th inning has to be secure for the Dodgers to win the NL West.

Kuo was dominating last season and should provide the Dodgers a potential to shorten the game by making the 8th and 9th innings secure with Broxton. The only issue with Kuo is injuries and the Dodgers reluctance to use him in back-to-back games.

Guerrier comes over from the Twins and has been really good the past two seasons. If he can continue his productive work in the NL, then he could be the 8th inning setup man when Kuo isn’t available or matchups present themselves.

Jansen has a great arm and it showed during his debut last year. He has huge upside and could work his way into that 8th inning mix and possibly a right handed closer’s spot if Broxton fails and Kuo takes over.

The rest of the bullpen has Cormier and Hawksworth coming over from the Rays and Cards. Both will provide depth and will share long relief duties with Padilla when he returns from injury.

  Farm Prospects who could help in 2011
1 OF Trayvon Robinson
2 LHP Scott Elbert
3 RHP Josh Lindblom

 

Robinson might be the only everyday player at AAA who could make it up during the season and contribute. He is the heir apparent to Kemp in CF if Kemp leaves. Otherwise he could get time in LF if they lack everyday stability there. Elbert has been up and down and will start in AAA this year. He’s got talent, but apparently has attitude issues. Lindblom has pitched better after returning to relief and could get the call if another arm is needed during the summer.

Three Questions:

1. Can Furcal, Ethier, and Kemp lead the way offensively?

  • If these three players can play at an all star level, the Dodgers have a good chance at winning the NL West. Furcal is an elite leadoff hitter when healthy, which is rare for him. Ethier and Kemp can provide solid run production in the middle of the order and should be able to exceed 60 HR’s and 200 RBI’s. That’s the formula for a successful managing debut for Mattingly.

2. Can Jonathan Broxton regain his dominating form?

  • An elite closer can do wonders for a playoff contender. If Broxton can be that guy, then the Dodgers can shorten the games and really make it difficult on opposition pitchers to shut down the Dodgers lineup. Broxton has shown that he can be that guy and needs to be that stabilizing influence at the end of games.

3. Will the Dodgers improve the “dead” spots in their lineup?

  • One glance at the lineup shows more than one or two holes. Assuming good health and performance out of Furcal, Ethier, and Kemp, they need to find a 2-hole hitter as well as consistency out of the hitters behind Kemp. With a solid farm system, the Dodgers conceivably could make a deal or two to strengthen the lineup, but the pending ownership divorce might put any upgrades on hold.

 

Projection

The Dodgers break spring with a sure contender in the NL West. The pitching is outstanding and could carry them for most of the season. But eventually they will have to upgrade the average, at best lineup and that will require stability and commitment from ownership. If Colletti is allowed to spend money in July and upgrade LF and either 2B or 3B (Uribe can play either), then the Dodgers have a very good chance at getting to 90 wins and making the playoffs.

San Francisco Giants Opening Day Overview

San Francisco Giants Opening Day Overview

Manager: Bruce Bochy  GM: Brian Sabean

  Lineup:
1 CF Andres Torres
2 2B Freddy Sanchez
3 RF/1B Aubrey Huff
4 C Buster Posey
5 LF Pat Burrell
6 SS Miguel Tejada
7 1B Brandon Belt/RF Cody Ross
8 3B Pablo Sandoval
9 Pitcher

 

I admit some of this lineup is a guess, but an educated one. The only everyday players appear to be Sanchez, Huff, Posey, Tejada, and Sandoval. The rest will be a mix of platoons and keeping a deep roster active.

Torres was a breakout performer for the champs last season as he played really well in his first full season at 32 years old. If he can replicate last year, the Giants are in good shape. Assuming that he is somewhat of an anomaly, then the Giants will need to find somebody to play with him or replace him. Cody Ross is also a possibility to get a decent amount of at bats in center.

Sanchez is getting older and multiple surgeries in the last year or so is going to take its toll on him. He’s a solid player when healthy as he is a traditional 2-hole hitter who can take pitches, put the ball in play, and move runners over. He could benefit from the major depth on the bench as DeRosa could see action once or twice a week at 2B.

Huff is an underappreciated borderline all star player. His numbers might not be quite as good but they’ll be solid whether he plays 1B or in the OF.

Posey is a potential hall of fame player. As a catcher, he’s at least a once in a decade type of player and does almost everything well at the plate. Based on last year’s performance, there’s no reason why he can’t repeat and incrementally improve his numbers this year playing a full season.

Burrell will be one of a number of players who gets to see action. He’ll probably get more at bats than most of the others and that’s why he’s here. He had his best production last year since the middle of the last decade with the Phillies after being picked up on waivers from the Rays in June. Bochy should plan on a little less production but Burrell should still be a powerful presence in the middle of the order.

Tejada was solid with the Padres after coming over from the Orioles, but the Giants will need to be actively looking for another solution at SS. The Giants are going to miss the clutch Juan Uribe who went to the Dodgers. The good news is that the Giants have a lot of talent both on the bench and in the minors to potentially deal for another SS.

Belt should the leading candidate for ROY if he gets the opportunity to play every day. A reasonable expectation for Belt as a rookie would be 120 games, 18-22 HRs, 65-75 RBIs, and a.280+ average. Expect him to be hitting in the 3-4-5 spots more often as the season goes along. Ross will share time with Belt, Torres, Huff, and Burrell.

Sandoval looks great after losing a bunch of weight in the offseason. He even looks like a plus fielder at 3B now. The Giants should expect him to bounce back with a very good season and at least 20 HRs, 90 RBIs and a .300 or better average.

  Starting Pitching
1 RHP Tim Lincecum
2 RHP Matt Cain
3 LHP Jonathan Sanchez
4 LHP Madison Bumgarner
5 LHP Barry Zito

 

This might be the best starting staff in baseball next to the group in Philly. Lincecum should be at least a half run better with his ERA this season and the underrated lineup could get him his first 20-win season. The only question with Lincecum is how will the added postseason innings affect his performance this season? Bochy might limit his innings in April and May if this is a concern to him as well.

Cain looked great in the postseason last year and could be in line for a career high in wins as well. Cain might be better equipped physically to handle added early season work than Lincecum coming off the long postseason run last year. Expect an all star type year out of Cain.

Sanchez is a pretty solid, but not great starter. He pitched over 50 innings more than any other season last year and it will be interesting to see how he responds. He’s like Lincecum in that Bochy might want to limit his early season innings to avoid any fatigue problems.

Bumgarner is a future top of the rotation guy and his development could really turn this staff into an elite one, if it’s not already. He also pitched a lot last season falling just short of 200 innings between AAA and the majors before his October work. He doesn’t turn 22 until August so Bochy and the Giants might be extra careful monitoring his early season work. Even with limited innings, he should be able to win 12-14 games if he continues to pitch like he did last season.

Zito is the lightning rod of the rotation due to his contract but he had a solid, back of the rotation ERA last season for the second year in a row. He was left off the postseason roster and could be relied upon early in the season to eat lots of innings to keep the bullpen relatively fresh. With all of the pitching talent around Zito, it will be interesting to see if he begins to relax more and improve his performance. The improved lineup could also help as pitchers usually pitch more effectively with the lead.

  Bullpen
CL RHP Brian Wilson
SET RHP Sergio Romo
  LHP Jeremy Affeldt
  RHP Santiago Casilla
  LHP Javier Lopez
  RHP Ramon Ramirez
  LHP Dan Runzler

 

Wilson was ridiculous last season and it seems that the crazier he gets, the better he pitches. Alter egos don’t always work, but Wilson’s seem to be effective. The best part about Wilson is the ability for Bochy to go to him in the 8th inning and have him get 4 or 5 outs to close out games. In an era where closers are pampered types who come into the 9th inning only with the bases empty, Wilson has shown an ability to be very effective coming into trouble spots in the 8th inning and getting the job done. He should return to form when he gets back in a few weeks.

Romo and Affeldt will theoretically handle the 8th inning as a setup “platoon” out of the pen. Romo is a very effective setup guy who brings the power and control that all managers look for in an 8th inning guy.

Affeldt took a little step back last season but was really good in Game 6 against the Phillies and his 2 perfect innings in that game might have been the difference in them going on to win the World Series. He’s a solid situational lefty who can setup in the 8th inning as well.

Casilla and Lopez are the 7th inning combo used by Bochy and they’re pretty effective as well. Lopez seemingly pitched every middle relief at bat to the Phillies left handed hitters during the NLCS and was good.

Ramirez was another solid contributor and Runzler is a hard throwing 26 year old lefty who needs better control.

  Farm Prospects who could help in 2011
1 SS – Brandon Crawford
2 3B – Conor Gillaspie
3 RHP – Henry Sosa

 

Brandon Belt is the class of the farm system but he made the big club. Crawford could get a look at SS in the middle of the season if Tejada doesn’t hit well. Gillaspie could be a potential major league ready trade piece that could bring in any needed pieces or a possible injury replacement for Sandoval if needed. Sosa has a live arm and is getting older so the Giants might want to give him a look when they have a pitcher go on the DL.

Three Questions:

1. Can the Giants offense continue to use those special mirrors?

  • It seemed like the Giants got every timely hit during last year’s magical postseason run. The lineup should be better this season but is still relying on contributions of role players like Torres, Burrell, Ross, a potentially washed up veteran, Tejada, and a rookie (Belt). If more than a few of these guys fall off, Bochy and Sabean will be scrambling to find productive pieces to fill in.

2. How will the extra month of taxing work affect the pitching staff?

  • As good as the timely hitting was, the pitching staff was the key to the Giants championship. With an extra 4 or 5 starts for each starter and extra work for the bullpen, how will the increased workload affect them as the season goes on? Will Bochy have to manage the staff differently with this in mind and could one of the young starters go down with an arm injury as a result? A healthy Giants staff showing no ill effects from last year makes the Giants the favorite in the NL West.

3. How will the Giants and Buster Posey perform after their breakout party last year?

  • Posey was the NL ROY and looks to be a once in a generation type of player. Will he suffer from any sophomore slump? If he doesn’t the lineup should be at least average. Posey and the rest of the team will have to deal with increased expectations that come with being champions and all of the other off field distractions that come along with it.

 

Projection

Due to exceptional starting pitching, the Giants should be a minimum 85 win team. If they can get average to above average offense, then their win total should exceed 90 wins and they should make a return to the postseason. After that, as we all know, anything can happen.