Tuesday, April 6, 2010

COVER STORY - 2010 MLB Preview

2010 MLB Preview:
Catch. Pitch. Swing. Repeat.

By DeMarco Williams

Simple math says if the 2009 New York Yankees can win a World Series, the 2010 version with many of the same players should be able to add a 28th trophy, too. Of course, the calculation depends on who’s doing the figuring, right? Crunch data with somebody in St. Louis and he’ll tell you the Cardinals are the team to beat. Present the equation to a fan in Philly and you’ll get Chase Utley and Co. as the answer. Folks in Atlanta and Seattle only multiply the confusion by stating how they really, really feel like their respected number will be called this year. And while any of those factors could play a role in October, as of now, INsite’s again backing the boys from the Bronx. Sorry Texas fans, but Derek Jeter. A-Rod. Mark Teixeira. Newly-acquired ace Javier Vasquez. Folks, sometimes the math is just that darn simple.

National League

1. Philadelphia- During a recent preseason game, phenomenal Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard said he was “getting stronger and faster.” People, Howard hit 45 HRs and got 141 RBI a year ago! New ace Roy Halladay may not be stronger, but rest assured his fastball has plenty of zip to it.

2. St Louis- Guys like Skip Schumaker and Brandan Ryan, with their combined seven homers, don’t exactly leave opposing pitchers shaking in their stirrups. But the thing is, once they get past them in the order, things get very (Albert Pujols), very (Matt Holliday), very (Ryan Ludwick) scary.

3. Los Angeles- Manny Ramirez has already gone on record that this would be his last season in Dodger blue. Though we have no reason not to believe him, we can’t but think his mind will change after repeatedly seeing Matt Kemp, James Loney and Andre Ethier go deep.

4. Atlanta- So much talk has surrounded new bats (Jason Heyward) and older bodies (Tim Hudson, Chipper Jones) that a guy fitting somewhere in between, 34-year-old Troy Glaus, might actually be the X Factor to Braves manager Bobby Cox’s swan season.

5. Colorado- Quietly, the great Todd Helton had his best batting average (.325) in five seasons last year. Even more stealth is how Troy Tulowitzki moved into elite shortstop territory. What should no longer surprise baseball fans is Jim Tracy’s gritty club battling for a pennant.

6. Arizona- Looks like we were a year early with talk of the D-backs’ renewal. If pitchers Brandon Webb and Dan Harden are healthy, and unheralded sluggers Mark Reynolds and Justin Upton are hungrier, this could be a special year in the desert.

7. Chicago Cubs- The loveable losers have gone 101 years without a World Series crown. No. 102 is all but assured. However, if Aramis Ramirez is pain-free and Alfonso Soriano earns his money with the bat, the Cubbies could make a Wild Card run.

8. Florida- The scrappy Fish have a few questions at the back of the rotation (Chris Volstad? Anibal Sanchez?), but they have all the answers in the middle of the batting order (Hanley Ramirez! Jorge Cantu! Dan Uggla!).

9. San Francisco- No offense, Giants fans, but your team simply has no offense. Aubrey Huff (15 HR, 85 RBI in ‘09) and Mark DeRosa (23, 78) just aren’t enough at the plate. Back-to-back Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, however, is more than plenty on the hill.

10. Cincinnati- The Reds are like Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Sure, there’s great direction (manager Dusty Baker) and some stunning visuals (Joey Votto and Cuban sensation Aroldis Chapman), but seeing the whole production unfurl before your eyes is a bit underwhelming.

11. Milwaukee- Over the last three years, Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder has averaged 43 long balls and 120 RBI. Not bad. During that same span, the team’s averaged 84 wins. Not terrible. Milwaukee’s new No. 2 pitcher, Randy Wolf, got 32 wins in that time. Not great.

12. NY Mets- It’s bad enough these guys permanently reside in the Yankees’ shadows. That they can’t ever seem to write out a healthy lineup card –At press time, Jose Reyes was being cleared to return from a thyroid issue- is just pouring on the bad luck.

13. Washington- Here’s what you need to know about ballyhooed phenom Stephen Strasburg: 1) He throws 100 mph effortlessly; 2) He’s 6’4”, 200 pounds; 3) He’s starting the season in the Minors. Til he returns, Ryan Zimmerman leads the Nats’ modest charge to respectability.

14. Houston- The Astros have a new manager in Brad Mills, but keep many of the same on-the-field problems like a shortage of power at the plate and on the mound. A plugged-in Lance Berkman sure goes a long way to rectifying the former issue.

15. San Diego- It’s a sad state of affairs when the big story coming out of spring training surrounds a player’s (Adrian Gonzalez, in this case) potential summer trade. But really, beyond Gonzo and a few vets (namely Jon Garland), fall in Southern California looks pretty subdued.

16. Pittsburgh- Garrett Jones, a 10-year Minor Leaguer, may be the story of the Pirates. Dude comes in halfway through the ’09 campaign and finishes with 21 homers. He’s only continued the slugfest this spring. Now, if only the Pitts had eight more just like him.

American League

1. NY Yankees- While questions have surrounded the Yanks’ starting pitchers (Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes starting? Andy Pettitte retiring?), the things this team can do with a bat –No. 8 hitter Nick Swisher has had a 35-home run season!- are astounding.

2. Boston- Talk of the Red Sox being slow and old is a bit exaggerated. Yes, David Ortiz, JD Drew and the newly-acquired Mike Cameron are in their mid-to-upper 30s. But baby, you’ve got another thing coming if you think this team’s conceded the AL East crown to New York already.

3. LA Angels- The Angels are the Gwyneth Paltrow of the American League. Torii Hunter, Hideki Matsui and Co. don’t blow you away with their looks, yet something about them just grabs your attention longer than it probably should.

4. Minnesota- With $184 million and a brand-new ballpark (Target Field), all is very good in Joe Mauer’s world. If the reigning AL MVP gets 30 HR/100 RBI years from teammates Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel, the entire Twin Cities would be blissful.

5. Tampa Bay- Carl Crawford is the franchise’s career leader in doubles, triples, RBI and nearly every other meaningful offensive category. If he leaves the Rays after this season, add Tampa-area heartache to the list. Thankfully, the young squad may have just enough ingenuity for some postseason cheers before the tears.

6. Chicago White Sox- In Mark Buehrle, Jake Peavy, John Danks, the Sox clearly have the necessary starting pitching. With Mark Kotsay and Andruw Jones at DH, it’s the power situation that’s rather fuzzy.

7. Seattle- The Mariners won 85 games a year ago with a lineup that didn’t include Chone Figgins or big-game pitcher Cliff Lee. Having both, alongside the peerless Ichiro Suzuki, Jose Lopez and Ken Griffey Jr, should equal at least six or seven more victories.

8. Detroit- We’ve all but given up on the Tigers around here. Too many seasons now we’ve held out hope on Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera’s postseason quest only to be disappointed. Still, knowing that erstwhile ace Dontrelle Willis has worked his way back to the mound is reason to root for the guys.

9. Toronto- Two questions fly above the Blue Jays’ dugout: 1) Can a rehabilitated Shaun Marcum be half the ace Halladay was? 2) Can Adam Lind repeat big numbers he put in last year’s breakout season? If the answer’s yes to both, the Jays are too low on this list.

10. Texas- We all know how important staying healthy and being a little lucky is to a baseball team’s success. With the so-so Rangers especially, the two play an even bigger role now that Vladimir Guerrero is in town and Josh Hamilton is on the rebound.

11. Baltimore- When a struggling franchise’s catcher (Matt Wieters) makes the cover of Sports Illustrated, that’s something to be excited about. When a struggling franchise’s ace (Kevin Millwood) makes going .500 a goal, that’s something to be really concerned about.

12. Oakland- The A’s’ three (Kurt Suzuki), four (Jack Cust) and five (Kevin Kouzmanoff) hitters combined for just 58 bombs last year. With that kind of offensive futility, Oakland will need firepower on the mound and lots of gauze to cover the mess on the scoreboard.

13. Kansas City- Pitcher Zack Greinke had one of those seasons (16-8, 2.16 ERA, AL Cy Young) kids dream about last year. Because the Royals have so little other pitching (or offensive firepower), this campaign is going to be another nightmare.

14. Cleveland- Travis Hafner had 42 home runs in ’06. He’s knocked just 45 since. Blame injuries and poor mechanics for the drop-off. As for the precipitous drop in the Indians’ win total over the past few seasons, fault ownership, managers and overmatched players.


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