Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Baseball Preview Part II: AL West Preview

Sorry for the delay...Part II ushers in the beginning of our divisional previews in which each of us make our predictions for the final standings in each MLB division with a brief run down of why said pick was made...without further adieu, the AL WEST:

1. Angels
2. Athletics
3. Mariners
4. Rangers

My guess is that the Angels will represent the West in the playoffs and there won’t be a Wild Card coming out of this division. When you do a breakdown of the teams, this is the easiest division in the AL, and possibly all of baseball, to predict,.

1. Angels
Bill Simmons’ man crush, Howie Kendrick…and the #1 rated “Guy who sounds like he played in the 1910s” just by his name…”and another hum digger from Howie Kendrick. Golly, he’s hotter than a kettle of coals. Someone tell Pulitzer and Hurst we think they got em, do they got em…NO!!!” (sorry, that ran a little long and I inserted a “Newsies” lyric that really didn’t flow, but “not flowing” is how I write, phew, is in the bigs for a full year in ’07 and will solidify an already stout hitting lineup. Vlad’s coming off one of his worst years and will undoubtedly improve. The addition of Gary Matthews will pay dividends on defense, which is all they can expect since there’s no way that he’ll duplicate his roid-enhanced ‘06 numbers (I can’t wait to see him go 3 rounds too early in the upcoming fantasy draft). Chone Figgins is one of the most versatile weapons in baseball AND has one of the most confusing names.
1992's winner of the "Flamboylantly FABULOUS Movie Poster of the Year" award

Defense: Another year for Ervin Santana who continues to improve every year. Lackey, Escobar, and Weaver will be solid and don’t forget about Bartolo Colon who’s slated to return in April from injury. Guy was the 2005 Cy Young for pity’s sake. They still have the best closer in the division with K-Rod (I’m not sold on Gagne in Texas) and a great setup man in Scot “Deflector” Shields.

2. Athletics
Hitting: I know this team is going to find ways to keep the division close, but their hitting is weak…WEAK I SAY. Piazza isn’t going to put up the numbers Frank Thomas did last year at DH, Kendall will continue to hit 3 HRs/year, Chavez will continue to be overrated, and they have Mark Ellis slated to start at second. The outfield of Swisher, Kotsay, and Milton Bradley scares me about as much as a poodle drowning in milk. This team’s going to have to rely on their pitching to get the job done…

Defense: They’ll still be one of the best defenses in the field, good thing since the pitching staff has only gotten worse since ’06 with the departure of Zito. Even though I hated him, his numbers didn’t lie. A lot depends on Rich Harden (I won’t go there with the obvious nickname) and if he can live up to his potential…personally I think he’s the next Mark Prior. Danny Haren is solid and the A’s always have a starter step up. Plus, their bullpen will keep them in games.

3. Mariners
Hitting: I like this team and they made some moves in the off-season. While I disagree with Vidro as a DH since he’s an average hitter at best, I love the addition of Jose Guillen. The big question is the corners, Beltre and Sexson. Seattle has relied on these yutzes and they’ve both produced like REM since signing that huge contract with Warner Brothers. I do like Ichiro (doy), Lopez at second, and Johjima proved he has the sand to play in the bigs. The offense has a high ceiling and a medium basement because they’ll do damage with Ichiro, Guillen, and Lopez even if Beltre and Sexon continue to be a couple of blowhards.
All kidding aside, Stanicek is right, the boys of REM are rock legends and congrats on their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this Monday night in NY.

Defense: OK, you know you’re in trouble when the bullpen adds Chris Reitsma. Putz was actually great last year and will probably be a closer that gets overpaid in an upcoming off-season’s (I’m still peeved that Stanicek grabbed this guy in our fantasy league 5 minutes before I did). King Felix will improve and the addition of Jarrod Washbun as their #2 adds the stability that only an 8-14 pitcher can (gyyyyyosh). A lot will depend on Horatio Ramirez getting healthy and if Miguel Batista can get back to his Cy-Young contending ways. Man, this pitching staff wreaks.

4. Rangers

Hitting: One word. Sosa. As Guster says, the guy’s a one-man wrecking machine. Back to reality…Teixeira has to improve from ’06, right? You know what you’re getting out of Michael Young. Another stellar outfield of Brad Wilkerson, Kenny Lofton, N. Cruz (I had no clue who this guy was, had to click on his name, and found out it was Nelson. Needless to say, I was disappointed in Nelson being his first name. I was hoping of something more along the lines of Niagra or Narthul). Texas used to try and out-score everyone…now I’m not convinced they can even do that. Gonna be another long year.
Steroid pain can hit you like a blow to the head

Defense: One word. Koronka. Actually, he’s not horrible for a 5th starter. The problem is having Vicente Padilla as the #2 and Brandon McCarthy (who’s still 2 years away from being reliable) as your #3. Back that up with a questionable bullpen, and you’ve got the making of a horrific season.

1) Angels
2) Athletics
3) Rangers
4) Mariners

It t’aint no secret that baseball is my love, my passion, the cat’s pajamas, the creamy middle in the chocolate cocoon of a Cadbury egg, the reason to wake up in the morning, and so on and so forth. But even baseball can’t warm the cockles of my heart to sports on the West Coast. I am an unabashed supporter of West Coast bias....a liberal and civil rights supporter in every other respect...I support the internment of all West Coast sporting squads and the deportation of its owners and managers. I can’t fully explain it – I suppose it has something to do with the fact that they REFUSE to play their games at a decent hour...come on, 10:30? Who wants to watch a game at 10:30? Maybe it’s the fact that all the celebrities refuse to watch anything but Laker basketball...LAKER basketball?! The only more boring than a West Coast sporting event is an NBA West Coast sporting event. To me events like the 2002 World Series didn’t even exist – once the Championship games were over I tuned out and in a regrettable moment of impulse became a fan of Scottish sheep-dog herding for a week...Go Spaniels! However, my unbridled hate for all things sports on the Wrong Coast will not stop me from providing you with a thorough and entertaining preview of the AL and NL West without further adieu...
Now THAT'S herd-tertainment!

1) Anaheim Los Angeles California Angels of Greater Orange County:

The division begins and pretty much ends here – Billy Beane be damned. The Angels have a good blend of established veterans and up and coming younger type rookie guys.
Lineup: One must question the multi-contract given to HGH-filled, one year wonder Gary Matthews, Jr. My hatred of Matthews of course stems from the fact that the O’s poured their heart and soul into that guy and only received a handful of bunt singles and a steroid probe in return. But still – one year does not a career make and relying on this guy is like relying on Michael Hammond to plan ahead and bring beer to an informal get together. But all is not lost with the Angels – they still have Vlad, whom my esteemed colleague seems to think had a Podsednik-esque year but in fact turned in a season almost exactly on par with past years. I will note that his numbers did trend down somewhat and that could be a concern...Vlad may be on his way out and may not crank 40+ again...but fear not Angel fans I think there’s juice left in that funky swing yet. And yes I do realize that the chances of an actual Angels fan reading this are equal to or less than the chances of LOST introducing its new character Skippy, the lovable rapscallion that always seems to stick his nose where it doesn’t belong, this season.

Pitching: This is a big time strength for the ‘gels (as no one calls them). At some point over the past three years John Lackey went from fringe fantasy starter that was picked up and dropped more in fantasy leagues than a dollar bill smeared with melted chocolate on the down-facing bona fide solid stud. Youngsters Santana and Weaver look to get even better...though Weaver seems like a Tommy John blowout waiting to happen, why? No idea...just watch. Follow those kids up with journeyman Kelvim Escobar and 458 pound former Cy Young winner Bartolo Colon (once he recovers from injury) and you got yourself a staff. Closing things out is one in a long line of unfortunate nicknames spawned in the aftermath of Alex of the best in the game. Add everything up and if the Angels don’t win this division I will light my Entertainment Weekly Issue #345 featuring the cast of Everybody Loves Raymond on the cover...on fire.

2) Oakland A’s

Alright so I went waaaay too long on my Angels preview so from here on out we cut the fat and get to the skinny...
Lineup: Pitching and Hitting, this is a Billy Beane team through and through. Who are these guys? How are they going to score more than a run a game? Can Jason Kendall look more like a serial killer? But you know what? They are going to be good...just not wild card good...because they always are. I do think that Piazza is going to have a strong year, maybe not quite on the Frank Thomas level – but good – he’s out of that national park of a stadium in San Diego and he doesn’t have to catch anymore, I’m thinking .300, 25 HR, 100RBI.

Pitching: Zito, Mulder, and Hudson have moved on to suck royally in other places. Seriously, what happened to those bums (I realize that Zito hasn’t started to suck yet, but he will, especially now that he’s fraternizing with Bonds)? A new crop of bright-eyed youngsters have grabbed the torch of “Rock the AL West for three years, hit free agency, sell my soul to Beelzebub and Scott Boras and then tank the rest of my career while getting tore the F up by the major market medias”. Still the rotation is solid with Harden (who every analyst says pitches like Jesus would if he could stay healthy...Harden that is, not Jesus), Haren and Blanton. Huston Street returns to close out games and take the fun name to call out at fantasy drafts title.

3) Texas Rangers

Lineup: Call me crazy but this is the team that I think could make a run at some big things this year. The lineup is more schizophrenic than the guy on the street in front of the newsstand that spends the day laughing at his juice box...but still, if Tex finds the power, Kinsler continues to develop and Blalock finds his stroke – they will score runs. And oh...I haven’t even gotten to Sammy....the kid is raking, RAKING in Spring Training. And it would be JUST like the Gods of baseball to have me suffer through Sammy’s season in Baltimore bringing plagues of locusts, steroid probes, and boiling seas of blood, only to return and win Comeback Player of the Year with Texas. So mark it down – Sammy = Comeback Player of the Year.

Pitching: Always a sore spot with the Rangers (“the Rockies of the AL” is what my gun-toting, semi-crazed, one armed Vietnam veteran neighbor in Augusta used to call them)...but they bring in Gagne to close things out, steal Brandon McCarthy away from the White Sox (another causality of Ozzie Guillen’s “berate them on national television for missing the corner of the plate once and then disparage them with homophobic slurs” style of managing) to add to solid starters Millwood and Padilla and I think they might have enough to contend in this “creamsicle on an August day in Savannah”-soft division
Move over Jason Kendall...Padilla is the newest serial killer on the block. I won't sleep tonight

4) Seattle Mariners
Lineup: Oye. This is a train wreck of a team, so let’s spend no time on them....the lineup is weak, and then they invest in Jose “I’m a .280, 5 HR DH” Vidro. The M’s show little to no signs of any dynamic improvement over last year in which they ranked second to last in the American League in runs scored (beating only the D-Rays).

Pitching: Again, a team that was middle of the pack in team ERA last year turns to Jeff Weaver, Horacio Ramirez and Miguel Batista to save them? (I should note that Pasqua whiffed in saying Washburn was an addition, he was in Seattle last wonder he lost in fantasy baseball) AND they are relying on a 20 year old with a 4.50 ERA as their staff ace? AND their closer is...alright I straight up worship their closer, JJ Putz struck out 104 in 78 innings last year, walked only 13 and scored 36 saves with a 2.30. The guy had a terrific year. Overall though – Mariners are on a one way train to Last-ville.

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