The rivers are swollen with rain, drinking well water is being discouraged, it is gray, dreary and in the 50s, it must be time for baseball! Moving to the area of my favorite team should excite me since I will get to see virtually all of their games and will make a trip or two to their ballpark, but then I remember my favorite team is the Mets and the excitement dulls rather quickly. Nothing fancy here, we predict the order of finish for the 3 divisions of the NL (AL tomorrow). Our resident Braves fan and former Turner Field intern Beck sent us this clip from the Braves 9-6 Spring Training win over the Yankees yesterday. Unfortunately the internet fascists over at the worldwide leader made this clip unsharable so the link is the best we could do. You will notice a few things in the video; Bobby Cox taking issue with a call (shocking I know), the general malaise of players who already know they are making the squad, and young Pat Venditte. Pat is an ambidextrous pitcher. He wears a six-fingered glove and gave up two hits and a walk. The sportscasters doing the highlight in the videoclip toss in an amphibious reference at the end. Anytime a reference to our namesake is tossed out there, we feel it deserves attention (which makes me wonder if the NC State fans that swooped in to bitch me out got the reference to our blog name since Charles Shackleford went there). That was a really roundabout way to throw in an amphibious reference but I was not about to let Beck's effort go to waste. Predictions after the break.
[teams listed in order of predicted finish, how off was I last year? see here]
1. Phillies: The Phils have to be considered the front-runners in the NL. While they bid goodbye to their postseason horse Lee, they welcomed Halladay with open arms. That said, I give Roy two bad outings before the fans boo this man. The youthful generation of Philly fans feel they have a reputation and divine right to boo anything and anyone in their city when it comes to sports. "We're the city that booed Santa Claus!" Yeah, that's not a badge of honor. So now anytime anything bad happens, you can hear the crecendo rising from "should we boo this?" to "oh right, we boo everything." That said I see no reason Roy will not continue his incredible mound performances. A lot will be made of his never having pitched in the playoffs, but the way Roy tediously prepares for his outings, I don't think it will matter. Word is his work ethic has rubbed on off on the rest of the rotation. If that is the case lookout. The offense will be just as potent as last year and I like the Polanco addition by subtraction of Feliz. The bullpen could be a question with Lidge recovering from injury, but even then it is still strong. Hard to find a weakness for this team, I think they roll easy in this division.
2. Braves: It's the last hurrah for Bobby Cox. I can't say I will be sad to see him go. The scarlet-faced curmudgeon did have an impressive run thankfully for him and the team they triumphed in '95 or it would be a more dubious distinction to win all those consecutive division titles. I don't think it gives the team extra incentive to do well. Hudson and the arrival of Billy Wagner as the closer have people talking but the big story is Jason Heyward. Media members are struggling for comparisons; I've heard everything from Ryan Howard to Griffey but in bodysize he appears in between the two. He might turn out to be a Dave Winfield type but...actually let's just sit back and wait. The Bravos are having him start for day 1 which starts his FA clock a year early, but it seems they want instant results. The Braves play well in the first half of the season, but fade from the NL title race by August.
3. Marlins: Hanley Ramirez is on the short list for best offensive players in the NL. Most people have him tucked behind Pujols and Utley. The Marlins have just acquired Nate Robertson from the Tigers in their annual "look we made a trade for a player and that means we are trying" exercise. The Fish are competitive once again but not enough for the playoffs.
4. Nationals: The Pirates might have the Nats beat for state of the art stadium that sits mostly empty (there were six teams lower in attendance though!), but the good thing about being at rock-bottom is that any improvement is seen as a giant leap forward. When Stephen Strasburg is called up it will bolster attention, attendance, and maybe the Nationals play. With him and Zimmerman the Nats have the faces of the a franchise, but now they need to win...and spell correctly.
5. Metropolitans: What joy it gives me to bestow the basement prediction on my beloved Amazins. People that know are aware I am a pessimist, so while even the most cock-eyed optimist struggles to see the Mets fielding a winning team this year it is easy to believe it will not happen. The pitching behind Santana was never addressed, Beltran won't be back until May or June, and Reyes luckily will be back sooner but is a question mark even if fully healthy. The Bay signing was mandatory, and despite all the criticisms that can be hurled toward the team I will defend the move and even the contract. I am merely going to sit back and watch the team blow leads, make hideous errors, fail to hit HRs in their own park, and Johan to break down. Then when the smoke clears hopefully Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel will be gone and the team can start from scratch....again.
1. Cardinals: I have no insider info basis for this but when Matt Holliday strode to the plate in Busch Stadium for his first plate appearance as a Cardinal last year, the welcome he got told me he was re-signing. If you are a player who appreciates the fan relationship (probably not a lot of those out there) you cannot argue that St. Louis is one of the best. The fans are knowledgeable, forgiving, and passionate but not insane. The central could end up looking like a jumbled mess from any of the predicted orders of finishes out there, but I think with Carpenter and Wainwright anchoring the rotation and Pujols and Holliday anchoring the line-up, there is enough anchorage to get the Cards to hold ground where they left off last year.
2. Brewers: I view the Brewers this year, not enough to overtake the Cards, but their lineup has just as much pop as ever. Ryan Braun could really take another step in becoming an all-out superstar this year. He is great at the plate and his defense has been solid since moving to the outfield. I'm not sure Randy Wolf is the answer the pitching staff needed, but Ken Macha has the experience with the A's as underdogs to put together a good run.
3. Reds: Ok, I just got directed to a link for the trailer for the movie, The Expendables. I completely am derailed from baseball. Holy smokeless tobacco in a firecrotch that movie can only be awesome. So, the Reds, um, I was picking them to edge out the Cubs for 3rd place in the division but completely lost my sense of thought.
4. Cubs: I won't bother to pile on the Cubs by referring to goats, curses or foul balls that preceded a booted double play ball, but I will say the Cubs will struggle in my opinion. That is how we all want it right? Not Milton Bradley, Sammy Sosa cheating/leaving the clubhouse early Cubs. We want injury riddled, choking down the stretch Cubs. I think we get them this year. Pinella entered a situation where groundwork was set and he was able to steer them in the right direction. The wheels have since fallen off, Chicago had their chances but I don't think you can say this current incarnation is a title contender.
5. Astros: Quick, name the manager of the Astros. You have no idea do you? It's not surprising. Brad Mills takes over the struggling Houston team, coming from coaching the bench for the Red Sox. While many sabermetricians claim that the manager is merely a vacuous conduit for a team's success, I think the man in charge does have vital influence on a team's outcome. This team however did not really improve itself over the offseason. Brett Meyers adds punch (see what I did there) in the rotation but overall the team will struggle like it did last year.
6. Pirates: The Pirates are a baseball enigma. Ever since Sid Bream slid across home in 1992 the team has not crawled above .500. The immensity of their losing ways is overshadowed only by the indifference of baseball and their own city. With the Steelers always getting top billing and Crosby winning on the ice, outside the most devout Pirate fans I don't think many people care if the Pirates ever win again.
1. Rockies: It is time to remove the "Can you believe this team is good?" tag for Colorado. They were a surprise, then they backed up their success, albeit in dramatic fashion. I'm amazed guys like Troy Tulowitzki are not mentioned more often since they clearly have great impacts on how their team performs. Tulo is in the bracket of stars who get very little publicity outside of baseball circles. With pitching becoming healthy again I think the Rockies will continue their success.
2. Dodgers: The Dodgers seem the easy choice for the division because they have a lot of talent, but all has not been well for the organization. It starts at the top with owner Frank McCourt involved in his bitter divorce. As we all know with any bitter divorce it is the children who suffer. The talent of Ethier, Loney, Man-Ram, Kemp, and Martin is great, but not enough. Kershaw is the supposed future in the rotation but he is not the first in the rotation right now, that belongs to Vincente Padilla. The Dodgers win a lot of games this year but Torre is better at steering a smooth-sailing ship than navigating rapids, however mild they may be.
3. Giants: The 88 wins the Giants had last year were a surprise to many, but the pitching duo of Lincecum and Cain is hard to top. The story should be the same this year for the Giants who will have great pitching but struggle on offense behind Kung Fu Panda. The additions of DeRosa and Huff are supposed to bolster the Sandoval-led line-up but no one is holding their breath no that one.
4. Diamondbacks: The D-backs won't be as bad as their 70 win performance last year, but they are not climbing over any humps either. Having Brandon Webb back helps of course, but health is a concern and so is performance after surgery. The young trio of Reynolds, Upton, and Drew is fun to watch and will help them hover around that .500 mark.
5. Padres: San Diego is not a team that is striving for year after year excellence which is not all that different for a majority of teams in MLB. The Padres just happen to have it being thrown in their face at the moment. The team is pretty much waiting until the season floats away in July to unload Adrian Gonzalez and all the riches his trade will bring. There is a new front office and they want to start getting the pieces they want and implementing their plan for the Fathers to get competitive. Unfortunately for Padre fans that means suffering through this year, but hey look, they lowered beer prices!
Phillies over Brewers(Wild Card winners)
Cardinals over Rockies
Phillies over Cardinals