Tuesday, March 29, 2011

2011 MLB Predictions

Based off of all of my previews, and my outside analysis, these are my picks for all the major awards and the champions for the 2011 season.

NL East: 1. PHI 95-67 2. ATL 89-73 3. FLA 82-80 4. NYM 76-86 5. WSH 69-93
NL Central: 1. MIL 88-74 2. CIN 85-77 3. STL 83-79 4. CHC 80-82 5. HOU 71-91 6. PIT 65-97
NL West: 1. SF 91-71 2. COL 87-75 3. LAD 84-78 4. SD 75-87 5. ARZ 68-94
AL East: 1. BOS 97-65 2. NYY 91-71 3. TB 85-77 4. TOR 82-80 5. BAL 76-86
AL Central: 1. CHW 86-76 2. DET 82-78 3. MIN 81-81 4. KC 70-92 5. 66-96
AL West: 1. TEX 90-72 2. OAK 88-74 3. LAA 83-79 4. SEA 67-95

Playoffs: NLDS: PHI over MIL in 4
                           SF over ATL in 4

              ALDS: BOS over CHW in 3
                          TEX over NYY in 5

              NLCS: SF over PHI in 6
                          BOS over TEX in 6

2011 World Series:  BOS over SF in 6


MVP:  NL-- Albert Pujols   AL-- Adrian Gonzalez
Cy Young: NL-- Cliff Lee  AL-- Jon Lester
R.O.Y:  NL-- Aroldis Chapman AL- Dustin Ackley
M.O.Y:  NL-- Ron Roenicke  AL-- Terry Francona

MLB 30 in 30: San Francisco Giants

The final team preview is fittingly the World Champion Giants. They have everyone gunning for them, and to be certain, they are the team to beat in the entire league. Will they be able to repeat?

What they Have: They still have the pitching that took them to a title last year. Maybe only the Phillies have a better rotation than the Giants do. Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner and Sanchez are a formidable group of 4, and Barry Zito isn't terrible, but still has quite the contract to live up to. The bullpen is still the best in all of baseball, lead by enigmatic closer Brian Wilson, who will spend time on the DL to start the season. Behind him, Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo and Ramon Ramirez headline a very good bullpen, which is one of the many strengths of this amazing pitching staff who finished first in all the major categories sans wins. Offensively the only major change from last season was World Series MVP Edgar Renteria going to the Reds, and he's now been replaced by Miguel Tejada. He's not a bad replacement, and should fit in nicely to the Giants lineup featuring predominantly situational hitting. They still have C Buster Posey, 3B Pablo Sandoval and others to keep the lineup in tune with the pitching.

What they Don't Have: Not much, as the World Champions shouldn't have many deficiencies. The hitting is as it was last season is suspect, but the Giants won without a great hitting lineup last year anyway. The major issue is injuries, and aside from Brian Wilson, there are no major injuries to speak of as of now.

Any Help Coming? 1B Brandon Belt has risen unexpectedly to the top of the Giants farm system, and can hit and field with ease. RHP Zach Wheeler has 2 plus pitches, and has good maturity on the mound. OF Gary Brown  has amazing speed for the outfield, and can hit too.

Outlook: There is no reason to suspect why they can't repeat as NL West champions, and challenge the Phillies for the NL crown, and the best of the AL for the World Series. The makeup of this team is exactly the same as it was last season, and if it worked then, why can't it work now?

Monday, March 28, 2011

MLB 30 in 30: Boston Red Sox

No team improved itself more than the Boston Red Sox did this offseason. The acquisitions they made were huge, and it immediately vaulted them to the top of the MLB totem pole. The question is now, can they and will they live up to expectations?

What they Have: The best lineup in the AL, with the 2 major acquisitions. LF Carl Crawford is the mobile defender the Red Sox have lacked for the past few years, and he'll help not only defensively, but offensively on the base paths. The Red Sox tied for 25th in the league in steals, and that should surely improve. 1B Adrian Gonzalez was able to hit 31 homers when playing in San Diego, so imagine what he could do hitting at Fenway Park half of the year. The rest of the lineup is no slouch either. CF Jacoby Ellsbury should recover well from the slew of injuries he had last season, and so should 2B Dustin Pedroia. Kevin Youkilis moves from the right corner of the infield to the left, and Marco Scutaro is still a reliable shortstop. David Ortiz can still hit 30 home runs, as was proven last season. Pitching wise, the team is no slouch either. Jon Lester is a Cy Young candidate year in and year out, and Clay Buchholz is nearly there as well. John Lackey should bounce back from a sub-par year last year as well. The questions surround Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka. In the bullpen, the Red Sox acquired Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler in order to sure up a problem area from last season. Daniel Bard is a flamethrower that could take over the closer role if Jonathan Papelbon slips up.

What they Don't Have: They don't have too many holes, but there are a few. The catching position is worse than last year offensively with the loss of Victor Martinez, but the Red Sox have a capable catcher in Jarrdo Saltalamacchia. The rotation is very good, but Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka need to pick up more slack in the rotation and have better years. And Jonathan Papelbon will need to have a much better year in order to hold onto the closer role.

Any Help Coming? SS Jose Iglesias is not going to start the year at the major league level, but he's very close to it. He can become a gold glove defender, and while offensively he isn't quite there just yet, his defense is the big factor.  RHP Anthony Ranaudo is a good pitcher with 3 plus pitches and a great feel for pitching too. Southpaw Felix Doubront was the organizations minor league pitcher of the year for 2010, and could fill any hole that opens up on the pitching staff.

Outlook: Just like the Phillies, it's World Series or bust. They have the best lineup in the AL, and although the pitching may not be as good as some other teams in the AL, they are no slouch. This deadly combination means they could win over 100 games this year, and be the favorite to represent the AL in the fall classic.

MLB 30 in 30: Philadelphia Phillies

The 4 time NL East champions come into 2011 with high hopes (no pun intended), and high expectations. They've assembled maybe the best rotation since the 1997 Braves, and still have the offense to boot, but will the result be different?

What they Have: The rotation is obvious and needs no introduction. Whatever nickname you want to give this staff, they are still the best in baseball. Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, and Hamels are all number 1 starters on almost any team, and in Philly, they could be truly in any order. Joe Blanton helps round out the rotation, and he's no slouch in the 5th slot either. The rotation will be asked to do more this year than in any other year, though. Offensively, the Phillies do have plenty of offensive firepower in the usual places. Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino, Raul Ibanez, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins are all mainstays in this powerful lineup. Add in guys like Placido Polanco and Carlos Ruiz, and this lineup 1-9 is as formidable as any in baseball. The bullpen has good pitching too, lead by closer Brad Lidge. Ryan Madson is a very good set-up man, and is even a decent closer, and that should help with Lidge having injury troubles. Jose Contreras became a very good reliever last season, and he'll see even more action this year. There are other guys that can help out the middle relief, like Vance Worley and J.C Romero. From top to bottom, this is an impressive team.

What they Don't Have: Despite all the ringing endorsements of this team, there are still some issues to be found. One is the injuries that popped up big time during spring training. Chase Utley could be out for an extended period of time, and so could closer Brad Lidge. Roy Oswalt, Placido Polanco, and Domonic Brown have all had injury problems, so that could prevent the Phillies from starting out fast. Also, age is a problem, as the average age among the 7 regulars is 32.9 years old, and depth is a slight issue. And, there is no true replacement yet for Jayson Werth, whose right-handed power bat will be missed.

Any Help Coming? OF Domonic Brown has seen major league action last season, and it didn't go too well. Even so, he is still one of the best hitting prospects in quite some time, and is destined to be a 30/30 guy at some point. 1B Jonathan Singleton is a plus defender, and can hit well and has good maturity for an 18 year old. RHP Trevor May is a polished 20 yeard old prospect in Lakewood, and has 3 good plus pitches.

Outlook: Basically, World Series or bust. There would be few excuses if this team did not win a 5th straight NL East crown, and anything beyond that. The rotation is scary, and as long as they hold up, they will be awfully tough to beat. The offense is a bigger question now due to the injuries, and as long as they stay healthy, they will be the favorite to win it all.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Source Tells Me...

...that the word "source" is useless nowadays. What good does that tell us if a "source" told you something? That may mean absolutely nothing, or you're trying to prove you have a little more inside knowledge then us normal people. Is it helpful? Sure, sometimes it is, but most of the time you don't need a "source" to tell us this breaking news. So, why do we use it then all the time?

Dictionary.com defines "source" in this context as any thing or place from which something comes, arises, or is obtained; origin, or something or someone supplying information. In sports, sources are usually people or places where you go to get inside information about trades, acquisitions, or stuff that you can't get anywhere else. With the new breed of bloggers claiming to have "sources" now, the word means a lot less than it used to. The insiders at places like ESPN and TSN who have "sources" may actually have them, but what good does it tell us that a "source" told you this? Does this make it anymore than a glorified rumor?

When Woodward and Bernstein used the source "Deep Throat" in order to uncover more information about Watergate, it truly brought the word to prominence in investigative reporting, and then that trickled into sports, where not it seems that everyone has a "source" claiming they have the inside knowledge. We put our trust in these people because they give credence to the unfounded rumors that spread around the internet like wildfire. But in all honesty, a "source" is a secret code for telling us all, that "we're better than you because we have 'sources'".

I'm not saying that this is a bad thing, because it really isn't. But I don't understand how much faith we put in people with "sources" when many of them claim to have them, but none of the stuff they report ever happens (hockey fans know this well). ESPN Insider is a just another glorified waste of cash to tell you stuff that "sources" may have reported. It has watered down the definition of "source" and that makes people who tell you that they have "sources" less credible.

In the world of sports, "sources" won't ever go away, and we all wished we had one or two at some point to give us good rumors. But we bander around the word so much that it means next to nothing now, and in the internet age we're now in, does it really matter that you have "sources" anymore?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

MLB 30 in 30: New York Mets

It's been 4 years since the Mets won the NL East and were 1 game away from the World Series, but it feels much longer than that for Mets fans (including me). A disastrous 2 year stretch has brought plenty of new faces and sweeping changes, but does that mean the Mets will compete in 2011?

What they Have: Despite all that you might have heard, the Mets still have good players. 3B David Wright and SS Jose Reyes are still the cornerstones of the team, despite their age increases. They can still bring offense to a lineup that will drastically need it. 1B Ike Davis burst onto the scene last year, as has proven to be a steady starter at that position. And Angel Pagan played well in the outfield last season for the Mets, and with the injuries to Carlos Beltran and Jason Bay, he may end up starting in the outfield anyway. Pitching wise, since Johan Santana is on the shelf until July at the earliest, guys like Mike Pelfrey and Jonathon Niese will have to step up. They each had decent 2010 campaigns but the big shocker was in R.A Dickey. If he can keep the knuckleball going, he'll hold down the third spot in the rotation.

What they Don't Have: A lot. 2B is still undecided, although it looks more and more likely that Brad Emaus will end up the opening day starter. He's never taken a MLB at-bat, but he has impressed in spring training. The outfield is very questionable, with Carlos Beltran and Jason Bay still having many injury issues. The C position will go to Josh Thole by default due to the troubles with Ronny Paulino, and he can hit, but he's a defensive liability. The bullpen itself is a question mark, with K-Rod coming back from his tumultuous last season, and the rest of the pen featuring guys that have either pitched badly, or are unproven. The same goes with the rotation.

Any Help Coming? The Mets aren't loaded in the farm system either, but there are a few bright spots. RHP Matt Harvey was the 1st round pick last season, and has a good combo of power curve and fastball. OF Fernando Martinez has seen MLB action, but has done little to nothing. He's still a great hitting prospect, but needs time for seasoning. SS Wilmer Flores is a good natural hitter, and likely will change to a corner infield position at some point.

Outlook: Mets fans will tell you 2011 is just a formality, and there are no reasons why you shouldn't agree. This is a rebuild, and this will be the tough year. GM Sandy Alderson knows what he's doing, and new manager Terry Collins will have to hold down the ship. Next year, loads of salary come off the books, so next year will be the big year for the new look Mets. The ownership issues aside, this will be a tough year in Queens.

MLB 30 in 30: Texas Rangers

The AL Champs from last year still have plenty of that balance offensively, defensively and in the pitching staff, to win the AL West once again. But will the loss of Cliff Lee really hurt this team?

What they Have: They still have the AL MVP from last year in LF Josh Hamilton, and there is no reason to think that he won't have a similar season this time around. There is really no change in the starting offensive look from last season, sans C, where Yorvit Torrealba takes over for Bengie Molina. He's a better defensive catcher, and that should help out the Rangers plenty. The offensive lineup is as good as any in baseball overall and there are still all the offensive pieces to help the Rangers win again. Pitching wise, they did lose Cliff Lee to the Phillies, but they still have 3/4 of the rotation from the World Series. C.J Wilson will lead off the rotation, and is followed by Colby Lewis, and Tommy Hunter, who will miss the first month of the season due to injury concerns. Derek Holland and Scott Feldman will fill out the back end of the rotation. They still have one of the best rotations in the AL, but the loss of Cliff Lee obviously hurts. The bullpen is still very good as well, with closer Neftali Feliz leading a bullpen that was fourth in the league in saves. The rest of the pen has guys like Darren O'Day, veteran Darren Oliver and Alexi Ogando. The bullpen fills out a great overall pitching staff.

What they Don't Have: They are really deep with talent, so there aren't many problems with this team. The C position is not as strong as it could be, and the rotation has some very high expectations to live up to, but other than that this team just needs to stay healthy in order to win again.

Any Help Coming? What really should scare other teams is the depth of the farm system. The best prospect is Southpaw Martin Perez, who has drawn Johan Santana comparisons. He still has some issues, but remains one of the better pitching prospects in baseball. RHP Tanner Scheppers has thrown in the bullpen before, but has a high ceiling as a starter. He has a complete set of plus pitchers, and a good delivery too. SS Jurickson Profar is the youngest player in the Northwest League, but has great defensive skills, athleticism, and maturity.

Outlook: There is no reason that this team should not repeat as AL West Champions. They have the complete team, minus a few people from last season, and they still have the depth across the roster to make the World Series again. They are Boston's biggest test in the AL.

MLB 30 in 30: Atlanta Braves

With a new manager in town, Fredi Gonzalez, you might think that the Braves will have some problems transitioning.  But, due to the fact that he was Bobby Cox's 3B coach for 4 years, he should have no trouble with the Braves. Also, the fact that he has a very good team should help too.

What they Have: They have a good young lineup, with some new pieces added in.  The major acquisition was of 2B Dan Uggla. He may not seem like he fits the Braves mold, but with the fact that he's playing with Fredi Gonzalez should help. He's a worker every day, and that should help out the Braves. The big pieces still remain with RF Jason Heyward, C Brian McCann, and 3B Chipper Jones, who decided to come back after his injury in August last year. Pitching wise, the rotation is as good as almost any in baseball, lead by Derek Lowe. The young guys also have a place in the rotation, with Tommy Hanson, and Mike Minor. The rest of the rotation is composed of Tim Hudson, and Jair Jurrjens. The bullpen lost closer Billy Wagner to retirement, but has young flamethrower Craig Kimbrel as the incumbent closer. If troubles arise, Scott Linebrink and George Sherrill can close if needed.

What they Don't Have: They had some major defensive issues last season, as they had 126 errors, only one off the high set by Pittsburgh and Washington. Dan Uggla is a better defender, even though his defensive abilities have been defined only by the 2008 all-star game. There are some players that need to step up in order for the Braves to be successful, like prized prospect 1B Freddie Freeman, who has to replace Troy Glaus, and the Braves need offense from guys like CF Nate McLouth and LF Martin Prado. The rotation is good, but the bullpen has questions when the incumbent closer is a rookie that saw limited action last year.

Any Help Coming? RHP Julio Teheran may be one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. He has 3 potential plus pitches, and a mid 90's fastball.  The other major prospect not yet projected to be on the major league roster is RHP Randall Delgado.  He's still a raw talent, but has the stuff and will to become a very good pitcher for the Braves.

Outlook: Some see this team as having some problems, but Atlanta has a great chance to hop over the Phillies in the NL East. If they can get the offense they need from the role playing guys, and get better defense all around, they may very well win the NL East. If not, they'll surely be a wild card favorite.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

MLB 30 in 30: Los Angeles Dodgers

This is one of those teams that has differing opinions about them. They came off back-to-back NLCS appearances to finish fourth in the NL West last season. They made plenty of offseason moves, but will that be enough for the Dodgers to reclaim the NL West crown?

What they Have: The rotation saw plenty of newcomers this offseason, as is customary of a Ned Colleti team. In season acquisition Ted Lilly was resigned, as was Hiroki Kuroda. Those 2 pitchers are the key for the Dodgers to have success this season. They both had average to sub-par seasons in 2010, and for the Dodgers to compete with the likes of San Francisco and Colorado, they'll need great pitching from the middle of the rotation. They also acquired Jon Garland from San Diego. The bullpen is lead by Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley, of whom the former could be a Cy Young winner this season. In the bullpen, the Dodgers got Matt Guerrier from Minnesota to help stabilize a shaky bullpen from last season. It's loaded with good pitching that did get bogged down at times last year. Closer Jonathan Broxton is a perfect example of this, and if he can regain form, the Dodgers will have the bullpen that they did in 2008 and 2009. Offensively, the Dodgers are lead by CF Matt Kemp, as he lead the Dodgers in almost every offensive category last season. RF Andre Ethier is a key player, along with 1B James Loney, and the new 2B Juan Uribe from the World Champion Giants. The rest of the lineup is supplemented with a good group of veterans who can help balance the lineup.

What they Don't Have: The bullpen still has the question marks from last season though. The team needs Jonathan Broxton as mentioned before to step up. Hong-Chih Kuo is a good pitcher otherwise, but he may not do too well with a heavy workload.  The rest of the bullpen had problems last season, but the additions of Matt Guerrier and Blake Hawksworth should help stabilize the pen. They do have an overflow of good pitchers for the bullpen, so the choices will be difficult. Offensively, they'll need more production from guys like Andre Ethier and James Loney in order to succeed, because there is no scary offensive threat on this team.

Any Help Coming? RHP Kenley Jansen burst onto the scene last season after being a sub-par minor league catcher. He pitched really well because of his maturity on the mound and his raw talent. He'll see action in the bullpen to start the season.  SS Dee Gordon (son of former closer Tom "Flash" Gordon) is one of the fastest guys in pro baseball and has plus defensive tools all around.  RHP Allen Webster is a very polished prospect, with good stuff and good maturity.

Outlook: The team has what it takes to challenge the Giants for the NL West, and otherwise enter the Wild Card race too. They don't have very much in terms of offense, but they do have a good rotation and a bullpen with promise. The big question is how will new manager Don Mattingly hold the team together? If he does a good job, look for the Dodgers to be in all the playoff hunts in the NL.

MLB 30 in 30: Detroit Tigers

The Tigers haven't made the playoffs since thier World Series appearance in 2006. They have been up and down since then., and now that they have made plenty of moves this offseason, they should be right back in the AL Central conversation.

What they Have: They have offense in spades. It starts with the re-signing of RF Magglio Ordonez, who batted .303 last season. They also re-upped with 3B Brandon Inge and SS Jhonny Peralta, to give themselves a steady left side of the infield. 1B Miguel Cabrera is coming off a career year in which he finished second to Josh Hamilton in AL MVP voting. Despite his offseason issues, he'll still be the impressive offensive force he was last year. The major offseason move was signing C Victor Martinez. He's not known for his defense, but that's not why the Tigers went after him. Martinez may be one of the best hitting catchers in baseball, and he and Cabrera will form a nice 1-2 punch in the middle of the order. The rest of the outfield is young, with CF Austin Jackson and LF Brennan Boesch bursting onto the scene. Pitching wise, the Tigers have a good rotation which underperformed last year. Justin Verlander is a Cy Young candidate every season, and Max Scherzer can come into his own this season. Rick Porcello is a flamethrower, and Armando Galarraga and Phil Coke aren't terrible either. The bullpen got a boost when the Tigers acquired reliever Joaquin Benoit from Tampa Bay. He'll help stabilize a bullpen that had some issues closing out games last season.

What they Don't Have: Their offense is pretty much centered on how Miguel Cabrera performs, and that isn't a very good thing. Adding Victor Martinez offers some protection for Cabrera, it may not be totally enough for Detroit. The rotation behind Verlander has some question marks, and with the youth and the up and down nature of the rotation last year, the Tigers may need another arm in the rotation. The bullpen needs to stay healthy in order to preserve the rotation, and if that happens, the bullpen may become one of the best in baseball very quickly

Any Help Coming? RHP Jacob Turner has drawn Rick Porcello comparisons, and has the flamethrowing ability to boot. He's a ways away from the big club, but could start in AA as a 19 year old. LHP Andy Oliver is a good prospect, but there are some questions about his stuff, and they need to be addressed in order for him to claim a spot in the rotation if necessary. 3B Nick Castellanos has some amazing power potential, and has a good frame for it at 6-4.

Outlook: They will challenge the White Sox and Twins for the division crown this season. They have a good lineup, decent rotation, and a bullpen with promise. There are subtle holes that need to be filled, but if all goes well, this team could be playing deep into October.

Monday, March 21, 2011

MLB 30 in 30: Pittsburgh Pirates

The definition of futility in sports. The Pittsburgh Pirates. They haven't made the playoffs since before Bill Clinton was inaugurated. It's been awhile, and rebuild after rebuild has failed. Will things finally end up turning around for this franchise?

What they Have: Not much, anywhere really. There are a few bright spots on this team, one including 3B Pedro Alvarez. He hit 16 homers in 95 games last year, and has still not really come into his own yet. When he does, he'll be a good piece in the lineup. Other nice young pieces the Pirates have are CF Andrew McCutchen and RF Garrett Jones. These two combined for 37 homers last season, and McCutchen has the speed to boot. These 3 players are really the backstop for the franchise. Pitching wise, there isn't much to cheer about. They have some good pitchers like Paul Maholm and Kevin Correia, but not much else. The bullpen is not good sans Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek.

What they Don't Have: Everything else. They have no depth at the catching position, and 75% of the infield is composed of journeymen veterans who are not the answer for the Pirates. In LF, Jose Tabata didn't perform very well last season. Pitching wise, there is nowhere to go but up for a team that finished dead last in every pitching category. The rotation isn't very good, and there isn't much youth to draw from. Charlie Morton had a horrific 2010 season, and James McDonald isn't very good either. Behind Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek, there isn't much in the bullpen.

Any Help Coming? On a team like Pittsburgh, with all the futility, you'd expect the team to be brimming with great young prospects. With the Pirates, not so much. But, there are some bright spots. RHP James Taillon is one of the most regarded pitching prospects in quite some time. He's young, and has great command for his age and style. RHP Stetson Allie has made some huge strides and has become a better projected starter than a reliever. Southpaw Rudy Owens may even see the starting rotation out of spring training. He has great command, and has some good plus pitches too. The best non-pitching prospect is C Tony Sanchez has good tools both offensively and defensively, and could end up being the everyday catcher by season's end.

Outlook: About as bleak as the last 18 seasons have been. This team could be on its way, but poor drafting has set it back numerous times. New manager Clint Hurdle may inject a new tradition into the clubhouse, but there is a lot to be done on the banks of the 3 rivers.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Headshot to the NHL

If the NFL has had the most publicized concussion issues, then the NHL isn't too far behind. But what these two leagues share in problems, they differ in discipline. The NFL may have been too hard on guys like James Harrison, but if he was playing in today's NHL, he may have only been suspended for a few games. The NHL wants to be tougher on concussions and headshots, but how can you be when someone broke their neck, and the hitter wasn't suspended? It's not a double standard,  because there is no standard.

The NHL's biggest star hasn't played since January due to concussions. There were no suspensions handed out at all, and not only have the Penguins suffered, but so has the league. So has begun the ever intensified debate of headshots. The Penguins have centered this debate, with Mario Lemieux's comments about eliminating headshots, while they have Matt Cooke, who may be the league's most infamous instigator. Just today, Cooke elbowed Ryan McDonagh, and who knows how many games he'll get, but he's a repeat offender that should get at least 10 games. The Penguins were involved in a now famous brawl with the Islanders back in February where Trevor Gillies, an Islanders instigator, got a 10 game suspension. If the league wants to eliminate headshots, they must suspend Cooke for many more than 10 games. Gillies had no prior offenses, and he got slapped with 10 games. Cooke seemingly has a dirty hit every night, and has basically escaped everything the league could have thrown at him. Why? Every hockey fan asks this question, and all we get are empty promises.

The NHL wants to eliminate this kind of hit, yet lets Zdeno Chara, who broke Max Pacioretty's neck, off with nothing so much as a fine and public ridicule. How can the league let this slide? Somebody will eventually die from their injuries on the ice, and Colin Campbell and Gary Bettman will bear the blame. These blindside hits have no place in the NHL, and for no fault of anyone, the worst punishment any of the players get is an ejection plus a 5 minute major. After the game, nothing happens and everyone moves on like nothing happened. Except somebody got concussed. And with the studies showing all of the brain injuries related to headshots, this is a serious problem, and nothing is being done about it.

Many say that the face of the game will change because of this, that we won't see old time hockey any more. But, I'll sacrifice old time hockey not to see someone die on the ice surface. In order for this not to happen, and no one to lose any more star players, the league needs to suspend these players who go after other players who are defenseless. It doesn't matter if the players have high tech helmets, or the stanchions aren't padded anymore, concussions will happen because this is the nature of the game.

In America, the most publicized concussion issues come from the NFL. The NFL disciplines players, sometimes maybe too hard, and the same problems arise when these hits happen. Do we have to sit by and watch 2 of the best sports on the planet die a slow death due to concussions? No, but the NFL has sent a message about what needs to happen in order to eliminate these injuries. The NHL hasn't done that. Gary Bettman and Colin Campbell need to send a message, and the way to do that is through suspending the violators of the rules, and not just giving them paltry majors and game misconducts.

When youth hockey registration in Canada goes down, you know something is wrong. And it all goes back to the safety of the game. If the NHL and hockey organizations crack down on these hits, maybe this issue will die down. But, the major problem is finding a happy medium, and the only way to get there is to suspend guys like Matt Cooke, Zdeno Chara and Douglass Murray for these hits. It has to be done.

There needs to be steps taken. The NHL hasn't taken them.

Writers Note: The day after this was written, Matt Cooke received a suspension for the rest of the regular season, plus the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

MLB 30 in 30: Chicago White Sox

This may be the most interesting teams in baseball. They sometimes frustrate everyone, but other times they can surprise you. See 2005 for a perfect example of that. Now, the White Sox are going all in for the next few years, and they have the team to win now. But will they?

What they Have:  They have a very good mix of youth and veterans on this team. The major jobs done by GM Kenny Williams this offseason were re-signing 1B Paul Konerko, and picking up DH Adam Dunn, who should thrive without having to be an everyday 1B. In the outfield, the White Sox still have LF Juan Pierre who will lead off, CF Alex Rios and RF Carlos Quentin, so scoring runs for this team will not be the problem. The youth offensively consists right now of 2B Gordon Beckham and 3B Brent Morel. They both saw action last year and are the future of this team. Pitching wise, the White Sox may have one of the best rotations in the AL. Lead by Mark Buehrle, the team ERA was 18th in the majors last season, but that should change with a nice rotation. Gavin Floyd, John Danks and Edwin Jackson (who last year threw a no-hitter) fill out the rotation. In the bullpen, the White Sox did lose closer Bobby Jenks to free agency plus J.J Putz and Scott Linebrink to free agency and trades, the bullpen is still very good. Jesse Crain was acquired from Minnesota, and they still have Matt Thornton. The wild card for this team is young standout pitcher Chris Sale, who may end up in the bullpen or the starting rotation.

What they Don't Have: The farm system other than really the top 2 prospects is thin, so not much help is coming down the pipeline. The age factor for this team may also prove to be a challenge. But the biggest question mark surrounding this team is Jake Peavy. He has well known injury issues, and they have persisted throughout spring training in Arizona. His health and status in the rotation may dramatically change the way the White Sox pitching staff looks by opening day, so his status remains a key for the White Sox season.

Any Help Coming? Southpaw Chris Sale is the organization's best prospect, and he did pitched well with the big club last year, saving 4 games and collecting a 1.93 ERA. He may see action as closer, or could end up being the fifth starter, and it all really depends on Jake Peavy. He has 3 plus pitches and a fastball that can reach 100 mph. The second best prospect is INF Dayan Viciedo. He can play either 1B or 3B, but he has enormous power potential. He has 5 homers in a stint with the big club last year, and projects to be a big middle of the order threat. RPH Gregory Infante is a good bullpen prospect and has a fastball that can reach 103 mph reportedly.

Outlook: This is the most complete team in the AL Central as of now, and they are the odds on favorite to win the division. They have a few issues, but they honestly are minor in nature. This team may have improved itself just as much as Boston has, and this team has high expectations for this year, which are likely to be met.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

MLB 30 in 30: Washington Nationals

If you think that the Pirates are the longest suffering franchise in terms of playoff appearances, think again. The Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals franchise hasn't made the playoffs in 29 seasons, and it could be going on 30, unless something changes. But will that change come in a very tough NL East?

What they Have: Of course, the major offseason move was acquiring RF Jayson Werth from Philadelphia. He'll add some power that was lost when Adam Dunn went to the White Sox. Due to the nature of the contract he signed, he'll have to live up to some extreme expectations, and it doesn't help that the Nats don't have half of the lineup that the Phillies did. There are other good offensive pieces on this team, lead by underrated 3B Ryan Zimmerman, and SS Ian Desmond, who could be a breakout player this year. The Nats still have C Ivan Rodriguez, who is still very dependable behind the plate.  Other offensive pieces of note are CF Nyjer Morgan, more known for his antics than his hitting or defense, 2B Danny Espinose, and LF Roger Bernadina. Pitching will suffer without Steven Strasburg, but there still are some good arms in the rotation. Livan Hernandez is the frontman, and behind him, the Nats have John Lannan, Jason Marquis, and promising young pitcher Jordan Zimmerman. The bullpen also has some budding talent in closer Drew Storen, and behind him, the Nats do have Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, Craig Stammen, and others.

What they Don't Have: Around some of the promise and good talent, there isn't much.  Ivan Rodriguez is almost 40,  and Nyjer Morgan did go off his rocker at the end of last season. 1B Michael Morse is a converted outfielder to 1B, and no one knows how he'll do. The pitching rotation has journeymen veterans, and they aren't the best pieces to build a rotation around. There are other guys that can be solid role players, but they don't have enough to lead the Nats to the playoffs.

Any Help Coming? RF Bryce Harper needs no introduction. As the most acclaimed prospect in quite some time, he'll be watched closely by many around baseball, but he's a ways away from the majors. C Wilson Ramos was acquired in the Matt Capps trade to Minnesota. He has great defensive catching tools, and some good offensive prowess too. He'll likely be starting later this year. LHP Sammy Solis  has 3 plus pitches, and deceptive delivery, and is another interesting prospect for Washington.

Outlook: Besides Werth and Zimmerman, this team is not very good. They have talent coming, but not much at the major league level. There are many holes on this team, and in the NL East, that's not going to help them compete for the playoffs. 30 years without making the playoffs is very likely, it seems.

MLB 30 in 30: Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays were the major surprise in 2008, and many thought they'd be in for a sustained run. But after 3 years, payroll shedding has forced the team back. They, as always, have an abundant farm system to cultivate from. but do they have enough at the big club to compete this year?

What they Have: Despite losing Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, and Jason Bartlett this offseason, they still have a good core of young players. They still have major players in 3B Evan Longoria and CF B.J Upton, and they'll need to be the offensive backstops for this new look lineup. They still have good players in RF Ben Zobrist, and C John Jaso. The lineup is not as strong as it was last year, even though they still have weapons. The pitching rotation took a hit with the loss of Matt Garza, they still have AL Cy Young candidate David Price, veteran James Shields, young talents Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis, and prized prospect Jeremy Hellickson, who will likely be in the rotation due to Garza's departure. Offense was never really the strength of this team, as much as it was the starting rotation, and it still can compete with the best in the AL. LF Desmond Jennings is one of the other prized prospects in the Rays organization, and he'll have to replace Carl Crawford in left. He is very similar to Crawford with his gamebreaking speed and base stealing ability. He has some power too. Don't forget abotu Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, who will provide good veteran leadership for the team. Manny will be the DH, and Damon will likely split time in the outfield with Desmond Jennings.

What they Don't Have: If any area of this team was completely decimated, it was the bullpen. The list of pitchers they lost was lead by Rafael Soriano, and essentially the whole unit was lost. The only remaining pitcher is J.P Howell, and he is good, but nowhere near as good as guys like Joaquin Benoit and Dan Wheeler. Andy Sonnanstine will move from rotation duty to the bullpen, and he did look better in the bullpen than in the rotation last season. Offensively, there are still some issues, with guys like 1B Dan Johnson, 2B Sean Rodriguez, and SS Reid Brignac having to really step up in order to replace the offense that the Rays lost.

Any Help Coming? Due to the many departures in the offseason, 2 of the 3 major prospects are now likely opening day big club members. The Rays still have an impressive farm system without them. LHP Matt Moore has lead the minors in strikeouts in each of the last 2 seasons, and has 3 quality pitches in his arsenal. RHP Chirs Archer was acquired in the Matt Garza trade, and last year he was the Cubs minor league player of the year. He has some issues to work on, but the Rays organization should help tweak his command. Also acquired from the Cubs was Korean SS Hak-Ju Lee and he has outstanding defensive tools, while still needing to work on his offensive approach.

Outlook: This year can be called a "retooling year" for Tampa. With all of the losses in the offseason, they don't have the club that was one of the best in baseball the last 3 seasons. But the Rays are patient, and someone may break out that gives the Rays a chance to compete in the AL East and defend their crown, even though it's not very likely.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

MLB 30 in 30: St. Louis Cardinals

A year removed from missing the playoffs, the Cardinals had very high hopes for this season. Then, they got hit with the double whammy. First, Albert Pujols is still not exteneded past this season. And now Adam Wainwright is done for the season before it begins. So, will the Cards have enough?

What they Have: They still have Albert Pujols, contract or no, who is the best player in the game right now. He'll still do what he's always done, even with the contract shadow looming over him. Around him, the Cards have other pieces like LF Matt Holliday, new SS Ryan Theriot, and CF Colby Rasmus. These guys plus the rest of the lineup is as good as you can get in the NL, but the new guys like Lance Berkman and Ryan Theriot will have to contribute. Pitching wise, behind Wainwright the Cards still have Chris Carpenter, who is a Cy Young candidate every year. They have Jake Westbrook, who came over from the Padres last July, and he's been good enough. And, they have good young pitcher in Jaime Garcia, who finished third in NL Rookie of the Year balloting despite not playing at all in September. The 2 guys behind the top 3 are still up in the air, but look for Kyle Lohse and others to fill out the rotation. The bullpen is good, lead by closer Ryan Franklin, who is one of the best in the game. Behind him, the Cards have Mitchell Boggs, Trever Miller and others who fill out a solid rotation.

What they Don't Have: Defense. Lance Berkman is at the end of his career, and Ryan Theriot isn't quite Brendan Ryan at SS. Colby Rasmus will likely have to carry the defensive load in the outfield. And, also look to the back end of the rotation to be a sore spot with the hole left voided by Adam Wainwright. Who will get that spot remains to be seen, but he'll have to hold up in order for the Cards to be in a sound position in the division. The rest of the team is good, but watch out for the shadow of the Pujols contract talks to maybe play a role this season.

Any Help Coming? RHP Shelby Miller may be one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. He has 3 great pitches, and has great velocity too. 3B Zack Cox is an interesting prospect, because he is a well polished hitter, and was maybe the best coming out of college last season. He's also a great defender. RHP Seth Blair is a developing pitcher with some great potential plus pitches like a slider and sinker.

Outlook: They were the favorite in the division until Wainwright's injury. Now, they may be second behind the Reds. They'll need some help at the back end of the rotation and great offense from the new guys and mainstays in order to win the division. The loss of Wainwright may be the sole reason why the Cardinals don't win the NL Central.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

MLB 30 in 30: Chicago Cubs

The Cubs have been an interesting team. They made the playoffs in 2007 and 2008, only to make quick exits. And with an aging lineup and high payroll, things weren't looking too bright for this team. Then, along came Mike Quade, and things became brighter. Now, with some fresh faces, can the Cubs return to the playoffs, or better yet for Cubbie fans, end the 102 year drought?

What they Have: They did make some nice acquisitions in the offseason. One was 1B Carlos Pena, from Tampa Bay. He is getting older, and may be in decline, but he still has the potential to put up impressive numbers. The rest of the infield is decent, with 2B Blake DeWitt, SS Starlin Castro, and 3B Aramis Ramirez. Together, they can put up some nice offensive numbers, despite Ramirez's injury issues of the past few seasons. The outfield is the best part of this team. Alfonso Soriano may be older, but he can still hit with the best, and the Cubs also have CF Marlon Byrd, and RF Kosuke Fukudome. The offense overall is a good unit, with some age and injury problems mixed in. The rotation got a boost with the acquisition of Matt Garza from Tampa Bay. He may become the clear anchor for the rotation, and that will help a Cubs rotation that struggled plenty last season. Carlos Zambrano is still a good pitcher, but his anger problems may overshadow that. Ryan Dempster is good, but inconsistent. Randy Wells and Carlos Silva fill out the rest of the rotation. The bullpen is also decent, with closer Carlos Marmol, and the return of former Cub Kerry Wood to the team. Young pitcher Andrew Cashner will help the bullpen, along with Sean Marshall and others.

What they Don't Have: They aren't the youngest team in baseball, and even with some youth coming along, they aren't getting younger. Add together the youth that was shipped to Tampa, the team is getting older with little relief in sight. Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez had injury problems, and the pitching rotation behind Matt Garza is inconsistent at best. The Cubs will need an injury free season for most of their key guys, and help from the troublesome rotation in order to succeed. Blake DeWitt is likely not the answer at 2B, and Geovanny Soto isn't the best catcher either.

Any Help Coming? The best prospect in the Cubs system was RHP Chris Archer, but he was shipped to Tampa. Behind him, there is some talent left, like in OF Brett Jackson. He is a 5 tool athlete, and he can hit for power too. RHP Chris Carpenter (No relation to the Cardinals Chris Carpenter), is a flamethrower, and could become a good reliever at the major league level. RHP Trey McNutt is the other interesting prospect for the Cubs, and has good primary pitches in his fastball and slider, but needs work with his other pitches.

Outlook? Decent. With the NL Central as competitive as it is, the Cubs have a chance to threaten the Reds for the NL Central crown. But, the age factor isn't in their favor, and the starting rotation may still be a bit too inconsistent. Mike Quade is a fantastic manager, and he did a great job with the Cubs last season. He'll need to do that again for the Cubs to make the playoffs.

MLB 30 in 30: Oakland Athletics

Since their last playoff appearance in 2006, the A's have missed the playoffs in 4 straight years, and they haven't had a winning record since then either. With a similar formula to their Bay Area counterparts, they hope to challenge the Rangers in the AL West. But do they have enough offense?

What they Have: Pitching, and they have it in spades. The A's had a team 3.56 ERA last season, which was the best in baseball, despite having an average rotation age of slightly less than 24. Injuries did catch up with them towards the end of last season, but it didn't matter. The rotation is dynamite with All-Star Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, and southpaw Gio Gonzalez. Don't forget Dallas Braden, who threw the mother's day perfect game last season, and newly acquired Brandon McCarthy, who will help to round out the rotation. There is no reason why this starting rotation cannot duplicate last seasons success. In the bullpen, the A's have 2009 AL Rookie of the year Andrew Bailey at closer, who despite some elbow problems this spring, will still be one of the most underrated closers in baseball. Rounding out the bullpen are Michael Wurtz, Craig Breslow, and Brad Zeigler, all of whom factor in a great bullpen for the A's. The pitching for the A's has never truly been a problem. It's the offense that has been.
What they Don't Have: Much of any offense. The best offensive player is C Kurt Suzuki, who is consistent, but will never go for too much power. SS Cliff Pennington is coming off a shoulder injury, and new 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff had back troubles towards the end of last year. Notice a theme here? The outfield too had its fair share of injuries. Coco Crisp, Ryan Sweeney, and David DeJesus all missed time due to injuries last season. And, Kurt Suzuki and 2B Mark Ellis had time on the DL. So, not only do the A's have trouble hitting the ball, they can't stay healthy either. Not the best combination for any team, even a team with the great pitching that the A's have.

Any Help Coming? 1B/OF Chris Carter (Not related to the Mets Chris Carter) is one of the best power hitting prospects in baseball. He played a lot of LF when he played with the A's last season, and he could see some time as a DH this season. He may end up being an everyday player due to the A's lack of offense. OF Michael Choice also is a good power hitting prospect and has great defensive tools as well. SS Grant Green has some more great offensive tools, but lacks the defensive polish as of right now.

Outlook? Well, if they had the same kind of offense as they do pitching, they'd be awfully tough to beat. But because they don't, the A's may be mired at .500 again. This team can get hot due to its pitching, and they will challenge the Rangers and Angels in this division. But, with their complete lack of any offensive firepower, they may not be competing for very long.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Madness of Gus Johnson

I love Gus Johnson. I mean, who possibly can't? His emotion is unparalleled by anyone in sports, and in a stark contrast to blasé guys like Jim Nantz, or Joe Buck. And what better place to listen to his emotion that sometimes is too over-the-top than in March Madness, where emotion reigns supreme. So, this is the top 5 Gus Johnson moments from college basketball, ever. And that is pure.

5. How about a buzzer beater for you? Doesn't matter if the game is bad, Gus wants to make it exciting for you.

4. "The Slipper still fits!" That's all you need to know.

3. I know the script is flipped for this year, but Illinois was close to going undefeated. Only Gus can do that.

2. What about a 1 seed surviving an upset?

1. Maybe the best game in recent March Madness history, and we were lucky to have Gus call it. "Heartbreak City"!

Gus Johnson is calling games in Cleveland this year for the regionals. You know what to do by now.

MLB 30 in 30: Baltimore Orioles

After Dave Trembley didn't quite pan out for the Orioles, they brought in Buck Showalter. And oh what a difference that made. The O's went 57-34 with Buck, and the Orioles are hoping for the same kind of success in 2011. But, will the tough division be the biggest detriment?

What they Have: They have a good young core of players. The youth is exemplified in both the rotation and starting lineup.  The lineup is lead by C Matt Wieters, who although highly touted, had some struggles last season and needs to regain form.  Also, the outfield has 2 great young talents in RF Nick Markakis and CF Adam Jones, who both had struggles last year but can hit and defend really well. Look for DH Luke Scott to hit plenty also. 75% of the projected starting infield is new, lead by 3B Mark Reynolds from Arizona. He strikes out a ton, but can hit plenty of homers, and being in a hitter's park helps. SS J.J Hardy came over from Minnesota, and if he can stay healthy, he can be a good clubhouse leader for this young team. And finally, 1B Derrek Lee came over from Atlanta and he'll be the incumbent at 1B. The lineup has more veterans than young guys, but that's not the case with the rotation. Jeremy Guthrie leads the rotation, but he's not the focus. The focus is on guys like Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Brad Bergesen, and Chris Tillman. All of those guys are the group that will comprise the Orioles rotation of the future. All of them are young, but all have very high ceilings. The bullpen has some bright spots, lead by closer Koji Uehara, and also some youth is thrown in with guys like prospect Zach Britton, and Jeremy Accardo, newly acquired from the Blue Jays.

What they Don't Have: The bullpen isn't very good. The staff has good pitchers, but the Orioles pen was a major problem this year, and it doesn't look to be too much better this time around. The issue with the 'pen is that they may not hold leads for the young guys, and that can hurt the young pitchers confidence. Also, the lineup has good talent, but many guys like Nick Markakis and Adam Jones are coming off sub-par years, and they need to hit well in order for the O's to at least make some noise in the AL East.

Any Help Coming? SS Manny Machado is a great young prospect for the O'S, and he could be a big power hitting SS, a la Hanley Ramirez. OF Xavier Avery has plenty of speed, but added some power to the mix, and he could be an all around great outfielder. 2B L.J Hoes has good power potential, but doesn't quite have Avery's speed.

Outlook: Bright. But this year may not be so bright. The Orioles have a good batch of young talent at the major league level, and soon more will be coming. The division they play in won't help any, but this team has the talent to be successful down the road, and maybe make some noise this season.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

MLB 30 in 30: Seattle Mariners

Last year, this team had very high expectations. But, the team floundered quickly and is now one of the worst in baseball. Does this team have any bright spots for hope in 2011?

What they Have: They do have 2 players that are of course the Mariners backbones. Ichiro is still a great hitter as he's been for awhile, and there is no reason why that shouldn't continue. And, they have the AL Cy Young winner from last year Felix Hernandez, and he will continue to be the ace of the weak pitching staff. The Mariners made some moves to help the offense this offseason, which was 30th in nearly every offensive category. They added DH Jack Cust from Oakland, and now he can focus only on hitting, because he is a pretty bad defender. He strikes out a lot, but can still hit with some re-tooling. The Mariners also added C Miguel Olivo, who can add some power to the lineup and some veteran leadership. They also traded for 2B Brendan Ryan from St. Louis who can fill a hole in the lineup until prized prospect Dustin Ackley is ready. The rest of the lineup is filled with veterans who have struggled. The pitching rotation behind King Felix is shaky, but does have some talent. The same goes with the bullpen behind the improving closer David Aardsma.

What they Don't Have: Offense. There is no power hitter in the lineup, and the M's have hitters that haven't had success for awhile.LF Milton Bradley is still a fire-starter, and CF Franklin Gutierrez is not a great offensive player as much as he is a good defender. 3B Chone Figgins is back to his natural position, and he should show some improvement, but he still has had too many offensive problems. 1B Justin Smoak is young, but still unpolished and will likely start the year at 1B. The rotation has too many questions behind King Felix, and none of the pitchers look to answer those questions. Doug Fister, Erik Bedard, Jason Vargas, and Michael Pineda round out the rotation, and none of those guys look like they will answer the call. The bullpen behind David Aardsma is also problematic, and they'll need guys like Brandon League, Garrett Olson, and Shawn Kelley to step up.

Any Help Coming? 2B Dustin Ackley is one of baseball's best prospects and despite some fielding issues, is still one of the best hitting prospects around. Michael Pineda will likely start the season at the 5th starter, and he's a flamethrower similar to Aroldis Chapman. SS Nick Franklin has some great offensive power and good defensive tools as well. OF Michael Saunders will also start the year with the big club, and needs to prove his worth from the Cliff Lee trade.

Outlook? Very bad. They have almost no offense, despite having good defensive players. They have too many questions in both the rotation and bullpen, and there are just too many questions surrounding this team to be competitive in the AL West. New manager Eric Wedge has a lot on his plate in his first season as Mariners skipper. No improvement is in the immediate future.

MLB 30 in 30: Houston Astros

What once was a team that made it to back-to-back NLCS' and won the pennant in 2005 is now a team in turmoil. Needing new ownership and a new direction, the team's fans have been disillusioned. Will the team surprise anyone?

What they Have: They do have some good players on the roster. The outfield is clearly the best asset of this team, with RF Hunter Pence, CF Michael Bourn, and LF Carlos Lee. They combined for most of the offense last year despite Lee having an off season. They did acquire 2 decent veterans for the infield to offset the youth at the corners in SS Clint Barmes and 2B Bill Hall. They'll try to offset the youth in 1B Brett Wallace and 3B Chris Johnson. The younger guys had a chance to upstage past veterans and they did, and Chris Johnson performed enough to make Pedro Feliz a trade piece. Wallace though is still a question mark. The pitching rotation is decent, and despite not having a true number 1 starter for the first time in 11 seasons, they still have talent. Wandy Rodriguez and and Brett Myers are the top 2 starters, and did combine for 25 wins last season. Behind them, J.A Happ, Bud Norris, and Nelson Figueroa are the other starters. Happ is underrated, but the other 2 are question marks. The bullpen has problems with no defined closer, since Matt Lindstrom was traded to Colorado. Brandon Lyon is the incumbent.

What they Don't Have: Experience all around. The bullpen is where the problem is very noticeable. Wilton Lopez, Alberto Arias, Jeff Fulchino are just some of the pitchers that make up the Astros questionable pen. The rotation is young, and doesn't have a true number 1 starter, and that could make for some problems. And in the field, the youthful C Jason Castro will likely start the season. He is raw, and needs to be a good power hitter for the Astros in order to help the lineup, and there are doubts as to whether he will. Brett Wallace has a lot of pressure being the incumbent 1B, and there are also questions to whether he'll have success at that.

Any Help Coming? The farm system has been ignored for awhile, but there are some bright spots still there. RHP Jordan Lyles had a heavy workload in AA, and that doesn't help when he's only 19. But he has 3 plus pitches, and has a chance to become the 5th starter. OF Ariel Ovando has huge power potential, but is very far away from being a major leaguer. SS Jonathan Villar was the main piece in the Roy Oswalt trade, and has great defensive tools, although needing some polish at the plate.

Outlook? Not promising. Skipper Brad Mills kept the team together when the going was tough last season, and he'll likely have to do the same thing this year. This team is a little better than many will give them credit for, but still doesn't have enough to fully compete in the NL Central this season. GM Ed Wade will suffer, and so will the dwindling fan base.

Friday, March 11, 2011

MLB 30 in 30: New York Yankees

After the Yankees were left in the dark by both Carl Crawford and Cliff Lee, many wonder whether the Yankees have enough to compete fully for a World Series berth out of the AL. They still have loads of talent, but this year's team may actually be worse than last year's. Do they have enough?

What they Have: Despite not picking up Carl Crawford, they still have a good outfield. Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, and Brett Gardner are the not the most formidable trio of outfielders, but they aren't the worst either. They'll end up being the guys that lead off the offense for the Yankees, or bat late in the order. The infield is the same as last season, which means it's still one of the best in baseball. Derek Jeter of course had his fair share of struggles last season, but he shouldn't have too many of those this season. What is new, is the catcher. Russell Martin came over from the Dodgers to help sure up the catcher position voided by Jorge Posada as he moved to full time DH. Up and down, the Yankees still have a lineup that can compete with the best in baseball, if not beat them. The sore spot is as it was last season: pitching. C.C Sabathia and Phil Hughes are still the top 2 guys for sure, and they pitched the best out of anyone on the Yankees staff not named Riviera last season. The major questions lie behind them of course. And also in the bullpen, they picked up Pedro Feliciano from the Mets to help out Joba Chamberlain and the other returning pitchers. And, they still have the Sandman, who is the best closer of all time.

What they Don't Have: The pitching behind Hughes and Sabathia. A.J Burnett is still the key to the entire starting rotation. If he pitches like he did in 2009, the Yankees will be right back at where they were in 2009, which is atop the AL East, in the World Series. If not, then the Yankees will be set back by miles. With Andy Pettitte retiring, there are even more holes behind him. Ivan Nova looks like he'll be in the starting rotation, but for the 5th spot it's truly an open competition between guys like Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, and maybe even Mark Prior. The hole there leaves the Yankees in a tough spot competing with teams like the Red Sox, White Sox, and Rangers who have the pitching to fight off the Yankees offense. Also, the bullpen behind Joba, Mariano, and Pedro is only OK, but the major concern is the rotation behind the top 2 starters.

Any Help Coming? The Yankees have 2 prime catching prospects waiting in the wings if the spot doesn't go well this season. Gary Sanchez has almost every tool needed to be a fantastic catcher, sans being a fast runner. And Jesus Montero has been compared to Mike Piazza, the best hitting catcher of all time. He doesn't have many defensive tools though, which is holding him back. Dellin Betances is a huge RHP with 3 plus pitches, but injuries have slowed his development.

 Outlook: They have the offense and bullpen like the Yankees should have. The problem is that they don't have the pitching, that the Yankees should have. How they fix that issue will be the question of the season for this team. If the pitching is as big of a problem as it was last year, be prepared to see Brian Cashman make a move for another starting pitcher. If the rotation has success, then the Yankees will have success and challenge Boston. If not, it may be a troubling year for the Bronx Bombers.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

MLB 30 in 30: Milwaukee Brewers

This is one of those teams where you can never deem if they are a seller or a buyer. This year, they were clearly buyers. Now with an improved rotation, they may finally be ready to truly compete for their first division title since 1982.

What they Have: They finally have a rotation that can make Brewers fans happy. The major acquisition of course was Zack Greinke. Besides his down 2010 season, he can still be a great number 1 starter for Milwaukee and also potentially get back into the NL Cy Young discussion. Shawn Marcum is the other major newcomer in this revamped rotation, and he's coming off a decent season with Toronto, but is brimming with talent, and has good stuff to boot. The rest of the rotation is a good combination, with Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf, and Chris Narveson. The bullpen also got a bit of a boost with the addition of veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins, who can help the newly appointed closer John Axford. Takashi Saito can also help the younger arms in the pen, Zach Braddock, Kameron Loe, and Manny Parra. Offensively, the Brewers may be as good as any team in baseball. Lead by 1B Prince Fielder, the offense last year was in the top 10 in the majors in every offensive category sans 3. LF Ryan Braun, 3B Casey McGehee, and RF Corey Hart lead along with Fielder the rest of the offensive charge. They do have some sore spots, but offensively they can compete with the likes of the Phillies and Reds for the best offense in the NL.

What they Don't Have: The bullpen is still a sore spot, as behind Axford and Hawkins the Brewers have converted starters with not that much bullpen experience. Their maturation as relievers is key to the Brewers success. Also, the SS and C positions aren't that good. Yuniesky Bentancourt is not a bad SS, but doesn't quite have the offensive pop that the Brewers may like. The catching position is one to watch, with up to 3 guys, Jonathan Lucroy, Wil Nieves, and George Kottaras competing for the every day role. None are fantastic offensively, but none ar terrible at it either. The major problem the Brewers have is defense. They may have offensive powerhouses, but their D could be their undoing. The infield is erratic defensively, and the outfield isn't much better.

Any Help Coming? When you make trades like the Brewers did, the farm system will take a hit. In Milwaukee's case, it's a major hit. The top 3 prospects from last season have moved on, so now the best prospect is a potential set-up man. RHP Mark Rogers is injury prone, which could make him destined for bullpen duty at best, a la Aroldis Chapman last season. RHP Willy Peralta has good stuff, but has been fast tracked by Milwaukee. The best non-pitching prospect is OF Kentrail Davis, and he has raw offensive talent, but needs a good amount of polish before he can play in the majors.

Outlook: Good. They have enough pitching and offense to compete this season. The bullpen is still a sore spot, and will Zack Greinke be able to recover from his spring training injuries? They are not very good defensively and there are other teams in the NL Central that are more well rounded. But this team will compete for a division crown this season.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

MLB 30 in 30: Arizona Diamondbacks

Kevin Towers was passed over by the D'Backs in 2005 for the GM role. And in 2010 it came around full circle. Just 3 years after Arizona won the NL West, they finished in the division's basement. Now, with Towers on hand, Arizona feels that it will have the same success that Towers had when he was with San Diego. It may take some time though.

What they Have: They do have a good young nucleus from the prior regime. RF Justin Upton may be the best player in that core group. B.J Upton's brother can hit, steal bases, and play defense, just as well as B.J can. Even though he had a down year last year, he can get back to form and become a good lead off man for Arizona.  CF Chris Young (not related to the Mets pitcher) had the most homers of anyone currently on the Diamondbacks roster last season, and he is also one of the focal points of the young core. Also, SS Stephen Drew, 2B Kelly Johnson, and C Miguel Montero form the rest of that young core. The starting rotation has some good pitchers, lead by former LA Angel Joe Saunders, who despite having a bad season can be a good 1st starter for the D'Backs. Also around are Ian Kennedy and Zach Duke, both former Pittsburgh Pirates. They along with the younger talent in Daniel Hudson and Barry Enright form the rest of the rotation. The bullpen was the major focus for Kevin Towers this offseason, and while not the best bullpen ever, it's not as a bad as last year. He rolled the dice on closer J.J Putz, who needs to regain his Seattle form in order to stabilize the back end of the bullpen. Juan Gutierrez is now in his more comfortable 8th inning role as a result. These veterans can help the younger pitchers in the bullpen.

What they Don't Have: Aside from the young core, which by the way set a major league single season record for strikeouts, they have either unproven players like 1B Brandon Allen, or journeymen like 3B Melvin Mora and LF Xavier Nady. These guys aren't bad, but they aren't the answer for this team in the short term. Otherwise, the youth is unproven and needs time for polishing before they can truly assume their major league roles. Guys like former Yankee prospect Juan Miranda will fight Brandon Allen for 1B duties, and he's just as unproven as Allen is. Also, the starting rotation doesn't have a true first starter, as Joe Saunders is naturally a second or third starter. The rest of the rotation isn't quite good enough to compete either. Finally, the bullpen is young and needs time to mature, and with the gamble on J.J Putz, it may not happen this year.

Any Help Coming? Arizona has good prospects coming up. RHP Jarrod Parker is a great prospect with a high 90's fastball and plus slider and changeup, but will need time to recover further from Tommy John Surgery. Tyler Skaggs is a southpaw prospect who is young and raw, but has great stuff. 3B Matt Davidson is the best offensive prospect and can hit as well as play defense very well. He'll team up with 3B Bobby Borchering before long. These guys all need time in the minors for more seasoning though.

Outlook: Not the best of prospects this year for the D'Backs, but the future looks bright with Kevin Towers and new manager Kirk Gibson at the helm. Towers knows how to build an organization, and can do it right, but for Arizona fans it may take a bit more time before successful baseball returns to the desert.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

MLB 30 in 30: Cleveland Indians

Remember 2007? It was a good year for Cleveland sports. The Cavs were in the NBA Finals, and the Indians were one game away from the World Series. Now? They both aren't very good, and they both share a similar destiny. No end to the troubles in sight.

What they Have: They have young talent in C Carlos Santana, who despite his horrific injury at the end of last season, can still be the Indians backstop for years to come. Also starting is once prized 1B Matt LaPorta, who has some work to do but can still become a great 1B in the future. Shin-Soo Choo is the Indians best player as of right now, and he can hit as well as field very well for this team. One problem could be though that he wants to be moved to a competitor, so he may not be with Cleveland all year. Once stars CF Grady Sizemore, and DH Travis Hafner have fallen off significantly since the ALCS run in 2007, and will need to recoup some of that production in order for the Tribe to be competitive.  Pitching wise, the Indians have some good pitching, lead by Fausto Carmona, who will need to recover from a slightly subpar season last year. Also in the rotation are the former Red Sock Justin Masterson, Carlos Carrasco who was acquired in the Cliff Lee trade in 2009, and Mitch Talbot.

What they Don't Have: A lot. First is a completely full stable of healthy players. Some of the big players like Santana and Hafner couldn't stay healthy last season, and will have to in order for the team to succeed. Also, some positions don't have the full-time players the Indians need to be successful like 2B Luis Valbuena, 3B Jayson Nix, SS Asdrubal Cabrera, and LF Michael Brantley. They'll need to play major roles in order for the Indians to win more than 69 games this season. Their bullpen is pretty bad, even though Chris Perez did a nice job of closing by the end of last season. They were near the bottom in every pitching category, and will need tons of help to improve that.

Any Help Coming? With a team like the Indians, the farm system must be great, right? In the Indians case, it is. The best prospect is southpaw Drew Pomeranz, who can possibly see major league action by the end of this season. He has good stuff and velocity. 3B Lonnie Chisenhall can pretty much do everything well except hit for power, and that will come soon. He may make the team out of spring training. 2B Jason Kipnis will also be an important part of the Indians future infield, he can really hit, and has made a smooth transition from outfielder to 2B.

Outlook: Not good. This is a full-scale rebuild so it will take some time for this team to be good. The future looks bright, but the present doesn't. This could be another basement year for another Cleveland team. Poor Cleveland.

Monday, March 7, 2011

MLB 30 in 30: Toronto Blue Jays

Has this team seemed like it was stuck in neutral since 1993? Well, that's because they have been. They haven't made the playoffs since the back-to-back World Series, and in the toughest division in baseball, it's pretty hard to catch a break. Will this year be the year?

What they Have: Their rotation is young, but could be one of the best in baseball in short order. Lead by Ricky Romero, who had a 3.73 ERA last season, they'll look to improve on their 23rd ranked team ERA. Also, Brandon Morrow and Jesse Litch are the veterans in the group and will have to pull some slack. The 2 wild cards are the young guys, Kyle Drabek, acquired in the Roy Halladay trade, and Brett Cecil. Drabek didn't look too good at the end of last season, but now with major league experience, that should change. Cecil pitched well last season, and he should continue that pace. On the offensive side, there are some bright spots in an otherwise bleak line up. Of course, there is last year's home run king, Jose Bautista at 3B. One can wonder whether he'll keep up last year's pace, and that seems doubtful, but he will provide a good force in the lineup. The guys that will have to pick up the slack are Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera, acquired in the Vernon Wells trade. There are other guys in the lineup that could provide some spark, like DH Adam Lind,  2B Aaron Hill, and RF Travis Snider, but they don't strike fear in an opponent. The bullpen is OK, lead by Octavio Dotel who did close a bit for Pittsburgh last season before being traded. Jason Frasor will probably assume the closer role, and those 2 will have to pick up the slack for the rest of an unproven bullpen.

What they Don't Have: Besides Jose Bautista and the rotation, the rest of the guys on the Jays are either unproven, or just not enough to solve problems for this team. OF Rajai Davis, SS Yunel Escobar, and 1B Edwin Encarnacion are more "guys to fill in holes before the prospects get up to the big league level" kind of players, and guys like Aaron Hill and Adam Lind have to up their production to help the lineup. Juan Rivera will have to shoulder the outfield offensive load, and Mike Napoli may not be enough offensively at catcher. The bullpen is mainly unproven guys, and that could hurt their very good starting rotation.

Any Help Coming? Besides Kyle Drabek, remember C J.P Arencibia from last year? His debut was pretty spectacular, going 4 for 5 with 2 homers, but faded after that. He has great power, but defensively he may be lacking a bit. 2B Brett Lawrie is another interesting case, as the Jays traded for him when they shipped Shawn Marcum to Milwaukee. He has great offensive potential, but also lacks defensive polish. SS Adeiny Hechavarria is a quickly improving Cuban prospect that has great defensive skills, but offense needs some polish.

Outlook: They're still building for the future. The rotation is there now, but the rest of the team may still need 2-3 more years. Alex Anthopoulos has wanted every player in the starting lineup to be a potential all-star, and every pitcher in the rotation to be better than a 3rd starter. He also wants to compete every year, and while they may for a bit, the Red Sox and Yankees are where the Jays want to be, now.

MLB 30 in 30: Minnesota Twins

The AL Central champions from last season come in with a new look for 2011. With the Twins, the more things change, the more the stay the same. But is that a good thing?

What they Have: They still have Joe Mauer, and that's not a bad thing. Even though his homerun totals were down from 2009, he still hit a brisk .327. He will lead the offense also helped by the return of 1B Justin Morneau from concussion. The question is, how long will it take for him to return to form? That's one of the major questions surrounding the Twins early on. Also, they have good returning players in 3B Danny Valencia, who hit .311 last season, and also the entire outfield returns from last season, and that's not a bad thing. They do have to replace Orlando Hudson at 2B, and J.J Hardy at SS. The pitching rotation is led by Francisco Liriano, and he did pitch well last year with a 3.62 ERA. The rest of the rotation is returning, sans Carl Pavano, and they are good, but not great. The bullpen will be helped by the return of Joe Nathan, and the Twins All-Star closer will surely help Matt Capps and the rest of the bullpen. Even though the rest of the pen is mostly new, the 2 guys at the top will be enough to lead them.

What they Don't Have: They don't have proven 2B or SS. Alexi Casilla will try to replace Orlando Hudson at 2B, and he still needs to prove that he's the every day starter at 2B. He did hit .276 last year, and he is also a decent fielder, but it remains to be seen whether he'll be a good everyday starter. At SS, the Twins acquired Tsuyoshi Nishioka from Japan, and he did hit .346 with the Chiba Lotte Marines last year in Japan. He's 26, and can hit from both sides of the plate. He's a good match with the Twins due to his speed, but he's again unproven. The rest of Minnesota's starting rotation behind Liriano was inconsistent, and they'll have to be better in order for Minnesota to compete this season. Brian Duensing was statistically the best, as he did throw out of the bullpen for the first part of last season, and he'll need to continue the pace this season. Jose Mijares, Pat Neshek, and Glen Perkins will have to pick up the slack at the back-end of the bullpen.

Any Help Coming? The best prospect for the Twins is a right-handed pitcher, Kyle Gibson. Due to a stress fracture in his right forearm, he still remains a big risk for the Twins, and no one knows yet how he'll turn out. Behind him is OF Aaron Hicks, and he has the raw talent to match the best prospects in baseball. He still needs refinement on all his tools to be a good major leaguer. 3B Miguel Sano is a big investment for the Twins, and he's very agile and has huge power potential despite his size. He's just making his conversion from SS to 3B though.

Outlook: There's a bit too much changeover from last season in order for the Twins to be the favorite to win the AL Central. They are still a good team, and the return of Nathan and Morneau will help. They will compete for most of the season for the division title, but the turnover may be too much for them to win the division.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

MLB 30 in 30: San Diego Padres

Last year, San Diego may have been baseball's biggest surprise. A team comprised of Adrian Gonzalez and journeymen finished 1 game behind the Giants for the NL West. But this year, Adrian Gonzalez is now in Boston, so the Padres are comprised of journeymen. And that's about it.

What they Have: Good pitching. All around, their rotation is very good. Lead by Mat Latos, the rotation can go toe to toe with many of the better rotations in baseball. The team ERA was 3.39, 2nd in the majors. Also coming in is Aaron Harang from Cincinnati, who despite his struggles, can be a very decent 2nd starter. Clayton Richard, Tim Stauffer, and Cory Leubke round out the rotation, all of whom can ptich well, but are inconsistent. Their bullpen is also top notch, lead by closer Heath Bell. He had 47 saves last season and spearheaded a very good bullpen. Despite some losses, the team retains Luke Gregerson and Mike Adams. The rest of the bullpen is new for this season. Offensively, they do have some good players, lead by new SS Jason Bartlett. He and 3B Chase Headley lead a good left side of the infield. Other than that, there isn't much offensively.

What they Don't Have: Offense. Adrian Gonzalez cannot be replaced, and surely not by Brad Hawpe. 2B Orlando Hudson is OK, but not great offensively. The outfield is filled with journeymen, two of which are Ryan Ludwick, and Cameron Maybin, acquired from Florida in the offseason. He hasn't been successful in either Detroit or Florida, so maybe a change in scenery will help him. Overall, for an offense that finished near the bottom in every offensive category, and that was with Adrian Gonzalez, this year could set new lows for offensive outputs due to the park they play in.

Any Help Coming? Yes, but the top 3 prospects are pitchers. Casey Kelly is a new piece coming over from Boston, and he has all the tools to be a great pitcher in the majors, and the right-hander could be up to the big club by season's end. Simon Castro still has some inconsistent pitches but will be a great addition to the rotation if he makes it there. The best non-pitching prospect is OF Jeff Decker, who despite his small frame can really become a good hitter. 1B Anthony Rizzo has a good story to tell when he reaches the majors. The successor to Gonzalez recovered from cancer in 2008.

Outlook: Not good. Despite a very good overall pitching staff, their offense is anemic. And it doesn't help that PETCO Park is the ultimate pitchers park. The Padres success last year was a shock to everyone. If they have the same this year, it will be even more shocking.

The Jets Meter?

Now, I'm all for a team to return to Winnipeg. They shouldn't have left in the first place, but due to the economics of 1995-1996, they had to. The rumors have been swirling up a tornado since the Phoenix Coyotes ownership saga has hit the mainstream, and they are more fervent now than ever with 2 teams potentially up for relocation. And now, TSN, Canada's equivalent of ESPN has a "Jets Meter" on their NHL page. I have one question: aren't these organizations supposed to be unbiased?

I am a die-hard Florida Panthers fan. I believe that hockey can work in the South. But if you know anything about the history of the Panthers, you know that they've missed the playoffs for the last 9 seasons, about to be 10. They've been horribly mismanaged for those 10 years, and the team and its fan base has suffered. But, the die-hards are there, and they are no different than the die-hards in Toronto, New York, or Montreal. The same is true in Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and Phoenix. The problem with these teams is the mismanagement, and that's why the teams have ownership issues and struggle all the time. This is how we ended up in this situation.

But, when a network that should be neutral is openly rooting for the return of the Jets that is where bias comes into play, and becomes favoritism. Let the fan sites deal with that issue. Not TSN. Some people may quietly root for the return of the Jets in that network, but don't do it openly. They've never supported hockey in the south, all just so more teams can come to Canada. Even though I think more teams in Canada is a great idea for the NHL that is something for the league to decide, not TSN. Let the fans be fans and the journalists be journalists.

When you become a sports journalist, or in my case try to, you're taught to be unbiased, and not cheer anyone: even the teams you grew up rooting for. Most of the people at TSN are in the top class of journalists. People like Bob McKenzie, Darren Dreger, Jay Onrait, are the best on either side of the border. And I know I'm missing a few, but bear with me. I don't know whose idea the "Jets Meter" was, but it was a not a good one. It would be like ESPN having a "Kings to Anaheim" meter on ESPN LA; it just doesn't work with the class of journalism.

The Jets may return to Winnipeg this off season, and I wouldn't complain about it. But, I do think TSN is out-of-line to openly root for something when they should be unbiased. TSN is a great network-- sometimes I think they're much better than ESPN-- but ESPN never openly roots for teams to succeed. You can pick up on the signs, but they never do something like what TSN is doing now. This is coming from all of the die-hards from the southern teams. Just because we may be vulnerable, doesn't mean you can just pick the team up and move it where you please just because the team is bad. There are many reasons why these teams have failed, and when they win, they're supported like every other team.

Sports Journalism needs to be unbiased, and TSN crossed the line.

Friday, March 4, 2011

MLB 30 in 30: Florida Marlins

The Florida Marlins have made 2 playoff appearances in their history. They won the World Series both times. But, 2003 seems like a long time ago, as they've been rebuilding since then. Now, prospects seem to be looking up for the organization with a new stadium coming next year. Question is: Will the Marlins have enough to compete this year?

What they Have: Hanley Ramirez, who may be the most talented player in baseball this side of Albert Pujols. He is the Marlins franchise after the team threw its most expensive contract in team history at him. Now, compliment him with standout RF Mike Stanton, and CF Chris Coghlan, the Marlins have a good young core that has already paid dividends. Other good pieces the Marlins have include LF Logan Morrison, whose coming off a year in which he batted .283, 1B Gaby Sanchez who had 19 HR's and 85 RBI's, and catcher John Buck, whom the Marlins acquired from the Jays in free agency. This is a solid lineup up and down, and can compete with the likes of other potential wild card teams in the NL. The starting rotation is also solid. Josh Johnson is the ace, and he's coming off a year when he had 2.30 ERA . Also, Ricky Nolasco, Chris Volstad and Anibal Sanchez all return. The wild card in this is newly acquired Javier Vazquez, off his poor year with the Yankees. Will he pitch like he did in 2009 with the Braves, or more like in 2010? In the bullpen, the closer is Leo Nunez, and he will lead a bullpen that is a question mark.

What they Don't Have: They don't have any major deficiencies, but their bullpen is a bit of a sore spot. Behind Leo Nunez, the rest of the pen is filled with journeymen relievers, who are good, but may not be enough to cure a bullpen that did have problems last season. Also look to Omar Infante to be a potential worry spot too. He may be at 2B or 3B depending on the process of top prospect Matt Dominguez, which may limit his effectiveness. There aren't major problems on this team, but the biggest question is do they have enough everywhere across the team?

Any Help Coming? 3B Matt Dominguez is the star prospect, and he likely will start the year at third, unless he has a terrible spring training. He has the defensive tools, but offensively he still is a bit raw, and may take another year to polish his hitting. He may end up splitting time between AAA and the majors. Also, Brad Hand is a promising RHP and will see AAA action this season. Ozzie Martinez has been exclusively a SS for some time, but will switch to 2B if he sees major league action this season, which is a possibility.

Outlook: They are really a team in limbo. They aren't one of the worst teams in the league, yet they may not have enough all around to compete for a Wild Card spot. It doesn't help that they play in the NL East either.  They have good pieces and young talent abounding, but it remains to be seen whether they can tie it together to create a good team. They have the chops to compete for a Wild Card, but in a tough NL, with their overall lineup and pitching, it remains a mystery whether that will come to fruition. Maybe they want to save it for the new park.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

MLB 30 in 30: Kansas City Royals

Yes, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been bad. But the Royals have arguably been much worse for a longer period of time. They haven't made the playoffs since they won the World Series in 1985, and haven't had a winning season since 1993. The future looks bright for this team, but the present... not so much.

What they Have: Not very much. In the Zack Greinke trade, they acquired 4 good young talents from Milwaukee, including the projected starting SS, Alcides Escobar. He was not the best offensive player last year (he only batted .235), but has great defensive tools. The projected starting CF Lorenzo Cain was also acquired by the Royals from Milwaukee, and in his 43 games he batted .306. Not too shabby. Also, 3B Mike Aviles can potentially produce some big numbers for the offense that was 20th in the majors in runs, along with DH Billy Butler, who can provide some spark. Thanks also to Joakim Soria, the Royals ace closer, they were able to pick up 43 of their 67 wins through his saves. But beyond that, the Royals don't have much.

What they Don't Have: Impact players everywhere else. Their starting corner outfielders are Jeff Francouer and Melky Cabrera, and that's not a great combination. Chris Getz, Wilson Betemit, and Jason Kendall, fill out the rest of the projected batting order, and I'm not sure that strikes much fear in the minds of opponents. Overall, these guys could end up dragging down the lineup more than helping it. But what really let the Royals down last year was pitching. Their team ERA was 4.97, second worst in baseball. And that was with Zack Greinke. Gil Meche heads the rotation, after last season not winning one game. The rest of the rotation is a lot of who's who of pitchers you've never heard of before, and likely won't contribute much. One guy to watch though is John Lamb, one of the Royals best prospects. He was promoted late in the year to AA, and could provide some boost to the rotation. The bullpen aside from Joakim Soria is also pretty bad.

Any Help Coming? The brightside for teams like the Royals is that they have an opportunity to see a lot of their young talent at the major league level early. Eric Hosmer, the first round pick from 2008, tore through both A and AA, and he could be seeing major league action by September. 3B Mike Moustakas also projects to maybe see major league action at the end of the year. Jake Odorizzi was acquired in the Milwaukee trade, and the Brewers former best prospect figures also to maybe see action by the end of the year.

Outlook: Well, do I have to say it? Royals fans know this year will be tough, but with the abundance of young talent coming, the future looks bright. That doesn't mean that the present will be pleasant to sit through though.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

MLB 30 in 30: Cincinnati Reds

Last year the Reds were one of the league's pleasant surprises. After years of futility, the Reds won their first division title since 1995 and had their first winning record since 2000. Despite their quick exit from the playoffs, this is a team on the rise. But, in maybe the most competitive and open division in baseball, do the Reds have enough to repeat?

What they Have: Youth, and they have it in spades. From the NL MVP Joey Votto, to their pitching rotation, their youth movement is in full swing. Their offense while defined by Joey Votto's successes, they do have other weapons. Jay Bruce proved to be a good hitter in RF last year, and if it weren't for injuries, Brandon Phillips would have been a 30 and 30 guy. Through the abundance of youth, veteran leadership is present in 3B Scott Rolen. If it weren't for injuries, he may have been the NL MVP. Overall, the offense is their best asset, as they come into this year after last year leading the majors in runs, home runs, and average. Their starting rotation is once again primed to be one of the best in baseball. Lead by Edinson Volquez, the rotation last season had a better winning percentage, .564, than anyone else in the majors sans Philadelphia. Bronson Arroyo was one of the keys to the rotation, and he returns off a 17-10 season in which he won a gold glove. The rest of the rotation is young and shows promise, with Johnny Cueto, Travis Wood, Homer Bailey, and Mike Leake who will probably switch between the bullpen and rotation after he broke onto the scene last season.

What they Don't Have: Their bullpen is not very good. Despite the presence of flamethrower Aroldis Chapman, their bullpen struggled some at the end of last season, and with the loss of Arthur Rhodes to free agency, they may struggle even more. Closer Francisco Cordero became more vulnerable despite saving 40 last season, throwing Reds fans for many a loop. Nick Masset and Bill Bray fill out the bullpen, and their presence may stabilize the trouble area for the Reds.

Any Help Coming? Of course, Aroldis Chapman is still the Reds prized prospect, despite pitching in the bullpen last year. His velocity is amazing, but still his command is a bit raw, so look for the Reds to treat Chapman with care as they did last season. Billy Hamilton is a SS prospect who has great defensive tools while being one of the fastest guys in Class A. He likely won't see major league action this season, but he could be on the way soon.

Outlook: They will be competing with the Brewers, Cardinals, and Cubs for the NL Central title this season. Their offense may be the best in baseball, and with their rotation protecting them, they'll win north of 90 again, if they stay healthy. the bullpen is a question mark, along with depth, but those a minor issues when you have the NL MVP and a good accompanying cast.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

MLB 30 in 30: Colorado Rockies

The Rockies September surge tailed off at the end of the month, and they fell out of the playoff race quickly. With the commitment to the current team in place, do the Rockies have enough to overtake the World Champions in the NL West?

What they Have: The homegrown talent that makes an organization. The major off season move was resigning Troy Tulowitzki. He's of course one of their biggest offensive weapons, and don't forget the near NL MVP Carlos Gonzalez. Throughout the lineup, the homegrown aspect reigns supreme in guys like 3B Ian Stewart,  CF Dexter Fowler, and 1B Todd Helton. The lineup up and down has the power potential, the park they play in notwithstanding. Due to the departure of Clint Barmes to Houston, the Rockies signed 2B Jose Lopez to fill the void. He may not be the best, but he'll certainly fill the void well enough. They were in the top 10 in the league in almost every hitting category, and their offense will no doubt be the backstop to their success. Their pitching rotation is spearheaded by Ubaldo Jimenez, who will try to get back some of the momentum of the first half of last year. He may not be the best number 1 starter, but he'll definitely get a sizable amount of wins. Also in the rotation are Jorge De La Rosa, Aaron Cook, and Jason Hammel. They may not be the best rotation the Rockies have had, but certainly not the worst. Their bullpen also got better with the addition of Matt Lindstrom from Houston, to back up Huston Street at the closer position. Rafael Betancourt and Matt Reynolds are the other major players in a good Rockies bullpen.

What they Don't Have: They don't have much depth behind their starters. Chris Ianetta is a good catcher, but not what the Rockies may hope for him to be. Behind the stars, there isn't much there. Ryan Spilborghs and Eric Young Jr. are the backups in the outfield, and if one of the Rockies star outfielders is injured, then they may be in some trouble. They got rid of a lot of depth in the bullpen, and also at the catcher position. Behind Ianetta, there isn't much immediate help, and with the pressure on Ianetta, the catcher position seems to be a sore spot for this team.

Any Help Coming? Wilin Rosario may be the answer to the Rockies catching problems. He is the catcher of the future, and if he didn't tear his ACL in early August of last year, he may be the opening day starter. He has great offensive potential to back up the good defensive catcher side. Tyler Matzek is the Rockies best overall prospect, and the Southpaw probably won't see much action near the major league level this year because he is still a raw talent.

Outlook: Promising. If they can stay healthy, this team will no doubt challenge the Giants in the NL West and compete for the NL Wild Card. Their offensive firepower is nothing to gawk at, and their pitching while not the best, will be enough to keep them in most games. You have to wonder though whether their lack of depth at some key positions, and the hole at catcher will be too much to overcome if disaster strikes. Dan O'Dowd and Jim Tracy have done a good job keeping the team together, and they will be a factor in the NL playoff chases.