Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Looking Ahead to 2010

Before I begin, I would like everyone to meet the newest Cub fan in the family, Beau.

I was hoping a solid season by the Chicago Bears would ease the pain of watching the car wreck that was the 2009 Chicago Cubs. I even picked Jay Cutler as my starting quarterback in Fantasy Football. No such luck (although, somehow I ended up with the third place trophy for the fantasy league). So now, as I watch the rumors come and go, I begin to wonder about how next season's Cubs are going to fare.

In 2009, it seemed to be one disaster after another. Every starting pitcher spent time on the disabled list, Geovanny Soto suffered the "sophomore slump," Aramis Ramirez separated his shoulder and was out for two months, and Alfonso Soriano had every problem imaginable. Then there were Jim Hendry's acquisitions: Milton Bradley was an expensive bust, Kevin Gregg couldn't hack it as the closer, and the Aarons (Heilman and Miles) were just plain bad. Now, everyone acquired for 2009 will not be a Cub in 2010.

The Shopping List for 2010

The start of the offseason began to look eerily similar to the one five years ago when the biggest item on the "to-do" list was getting rid of an overpaid tumor. To Hendry's credit, he was unable to unload Bradley without paying any of the salary. He even got money back in the deal. The bad side of the deal was that the Cubs ended up with Carlos Silva, whose abominable numbers in Seattle do not have me jumping for joy. I guess all we can do is hope he can regain his form from his time with Minnesota.

Right now, the Cubs are looking for a center fielder, bullpen help, and possibly another starter (especially with Ted Lilly out for the first month). The Cubs lost out on Matt Capps, who would have been a good setup man for Carlos Marmol. They lost out on Curtis Granderson, the best center fielder available on the free agent or trade market. They lost out on getting Roy Halladay. They are not going to spend the money it would take to bring in Johnny Damon. There's nobody left in the FA pool of starting pitchers who are worth the money, either. It appears to be down to Scott Podsednik and Marlon Byrd for the center field opening (I refuse to mention Rick Ankiel as I pray that one does not happen). And the bullpen will probably be filled out during spring training competition.

Is the Window Beginning to Close?

The contracts for Derrek Lee and Ted Lilly end after 2010. Aramis Ramirez has a player option at the end of the year. Will the Cubs resign any or all of them (assuming Ramirez declines the option)? Looking at next season's potential free agent crop, I'm not too impressed with what's available, at least at the hot corners. (Yes, I know Albert Pujols has an option, but that will get picked up). As far as pitchers go, Cliff Lee, Brandon Webb, and Josh Beckett could all be available if they do not sign extensions with their current teams. But it would be quite expensive to get any of those guys.

Looking at the Cubs' minor league hotshots, Josh Vitters and Starlin Castro seem to be a couple of standouts. Vitters could be a replacement at third if/when Ramirez leaves. I'm not sure who the eventual first baseman of the future will be (I though possibly Jake Fox, but that's not happening). I'm sure it's a dream to think the Cubs will have any shot at nabbing Pujols, should he even reach free agency after 2011.

The Cubs will have Zambrano, Dempster, and Wells for a few more years. Soto, Theriot, Marmol, and Soriano are going to be here for several more years as well. Where is this team going? Will the underachievers from 2009 get back to form to make it work in 2010? Will the holes be filled with the right people this time (it can't be worse than last years newbies, can it)? So many questions to answer before the season, but I'm just going to focus on one thing:

Pitchers and catchers report in a month and a half!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Oh What a Lousy Season

The Cubs just completed a sweep of the Pirates. Ho hum. They just finished a 4-2 road trip. Ho hum.

At the beginning of the season, I predicted the Cubs would three-peat in the NL Central. I was wrong. MANY people were wrong. The underachievements of the 2009 Chicago Cubs are too long to get into, and while they are not officially eliminated just yet, I'm not seeing a 20-4 finish that would likely be needed to even consider landing a playoff spot. It has been a sad season, and even though many self obsessed, arrogant Cardinal fans are laying claim to the Cubs' bad season (not to mention the Cardinals great season), it was the lack of production from the offense and the wrong call at closer that doomed this team.

Alfonso Soriano had the worst season of his career. Geovany Soto fell victim to the "sophomore slump." Mike Fontenot is not an every day player. Closing games for the Cubs is different than closing games for the Marlins. Milton Bradley - do I even need to go there? These guys just could not get it done this year. So what were the high points? I mean, this team is still likely to finish above .500 for the third straight season, so some things went well, right? Let's see ...

Derrek Lee It looks like the power is back. Lee has carried this offense all season. Unfortunately he had little support. With Aramis Ramirez going down with a two-month injury, nobody else stepped up to help Lee. He will finish with great numbers this year and is truly the team's MVP this season.

Starting Pitching Currently ranked fifth in the National League, the Cubs pitching staff has been very good this year - with the exception of the disasterous Kevin Gregg experiment. Rich Harden's arm held up, Randy Wells is a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate, Ted Lilly had another strong season, Carlos Marmol has taken hold of the closer's role for the next several years (likely), and the addition of John Grabow gave the team a true late inning lefty. Pitching was stellar this season.

Jake Fox We knew he could hit. But how was he to get any playing time when he is blocked at every position he knows? The Cubs blew it by not having Fox paractice at third while at Iowa IMMEDIATELY after Ramirez went down. After working his ass off, Fox eventually became the everyday third baseman until A-Ram returned. The guy has some SICK power, but again, going forward, how can Lou get him in the lineup every day? With Soriano out (likely for the year), I hope he gets put out there every game going forward (no offense to Bobby Scales and Sam Fuld).

Looking at next season, there are many things that CAN be done to attempt to right the ship, but WILL anything be done? Will Jim Hendry try and deal one of his high priced veterans? Will re-signing Rich Harden be the top priority? (Personally, I hope they try and bring him back.) As far as the other free agents go, Grabow and Reed Johnson should be retained if possible. I believe the Cubs have control over Jeff Stevens, Koyie Hill and Aaron Heilman next year, unless they are non-tendered. With the exception of Heilman, I think all should be brought back in 2010. Heilman needs to go, and Gregg, another free agent, should be uncerimoniously shown the door.

There is also the players set to leave after 2010 (Lee, Lilly, Ramirez - should he opt out). Will they be extended? I don't want to see D-Lee go. He still has several good years left, as does A-Ram. Lilly has been the Cubs' best pitcher over the last three years, but he's no spring chicken anymore. In any event, I think extensions to all three should be attempted in the off-season. I also think it's time to put Soriano back at second base and give Fox the opportunity in left field. Let's face it, folks, Fonzie's contract makes him untradeable, and if this is how to add Fox's bat to the lineup, I say why not try it.

All I can hope for now is that the Cardinals fail in the playoffs. I just don't think I could handle the already swollen heads of Cardinal fans getting even bigger with another World Championship. I do like the idea of Albert Pujols becoming a free agent after 2011, though. Can anyone else see Big Albert in blue pinstripes???

Sunday, May 24, 2009

This ... Team ... SUCKS!

I may retract this later. But for now, this is my stance on the embarassingly pathetic offense that the Cubs have shown lately.

Aramis Ramirez is being missed more than anyone could have imagined. Scoring a total of three runs in the first five games of a road trip is something I wouldn't expect even from baseball's worst team (which right now is the Cubs). Averages are below .200. The hitters are making Cy Young contenders out of rookies with ERAs near 6.00. PATHETIC!

So, what does Pinella do to get them going? Might I suggest a taser? Or perhaps bringing up every AAA hitter who is doing well and either disabling or sending down the gross underachievers? Would that stir up these guys? Probably not, seeing as they will still be getting paid. PATHETIC!

It's too bad to see this much good pitching continue to go to waste because the offense refuses to do their jobs. PATHETIC!

I hope this week long vacation they took was worth it. Because they've sucked the life out of this ballclub and seriously make me wonder if they will win 40 games this year. They just don't seem to care anymore. I guess royally screwing with a 97-win team wasn't the smartest of moves, eh Mr. Hendry? PATHETIC!

Today, Ted Lilly not only sets out to pitch a perfect game, but he also knows he will probably have to hit a home run if he wants to get a win. PATHETIC!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Cubs Begin Season with *OUCH* 9-8 Record

Milton Bradley. Aramis Ramirez. Carlos Marmol. Derrek Lee.

Four big time pieces to the 2009 Cubs team. Four necessary pieces to the Cubs' chances of winning the NL Central for the third year in a row. Each one is hurt, but not hurt enough to warrant a stint on the disabled list. Now the Cubs are trying to get through a stretch of games with a shortened bench and bullpen. Injuries are part of the game, but this is somewhat puzzling.

If one of them needed to go on the DL, the Cubs could call up someone from AAA (preferably Jake Fox who is hitting nearly .500 right now). However, all of the injuries seem to be of the 3-5 day stretch (except for Bradley who is available in a pinch hitting capacity). Putting someone on the DL only to find out that they are good to go a few days later would not be good. So Lou Pinella has decided to ride this stretch out as long as he can. Let's hope it works.

The Cardinals are 13-6 to start the season. Get out the World Series banners. Someone please tell Cardinal fans that the season runs through September. If I recall correctly, April 2008 was also dominated by St. Louis, so let's not surrender the crown just yet.

If nothing else, the Cardinals have given the Cubs enough fits to last all season. They are now 3-3 against their #1 rivals, having avoided the sweep in St. Louis by bringing out the big bats for the first time in nearly a week. Fukudome has been outstanding so far, and I'm cautiously optimistic that he'll continue to be productive as the season wears on. He had 10 home runs all of last year and already has four in the month of April. That, my friends, is a good sign.

The offensive woes that the Cubs experienced during the four-game losing streak concerned me a bit, although every team will go through it. I just wish that someone would tell Mr. Soriano that if a pitcher makes you swing and miss at two straight breaking balls in the dirt, that a third (and possibly fourth) is probably coming. At least the "experiment" with having him bat down in the lineup is over. The people who complain and criticize Pinella for batting him leadoff are obviously not Cub fans. His production at the top of the lineup is needed. I don't care if he doesn't meet the prototypical definition of a leadoff hitter. Who the hell really cares??? If batting him leadoff is what is best for the team, then bat the guy leadoff! Plus, his legs are the best they've been since he's been a Cub, so it looks like the base stealing part of his game may be creeping back.

Some Little Tidbits:
Are the Pittsburgh Pirates really in second place with the best pitching ERA in baseball????? Are the Toronto Blue Jays really the best team in the AL East right now??? At least the Washington Nationals are doing what I expected!

Note to David Patton: When you load the bases for Albert Pujols and then throw him a first pitch fastball right down the middle of the plate, he might just hit it out of the country. Food for thought.

I guess Luis Vizcaino learned the hard way not to be late for games and then "half-ass" it when you're on the mound.

Why do I get the feeling that Soriano will see time at second base at some point this year?

Game winning home runs are so fun to watch.

In any event, it's still April - but not for much longer.

Just my opinion.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I Respect the Fans ... I Don't Respect the Haters

The rivalry between the Cubs and Cardinals goes back long before I was born. For the most part, it is a fun way to enjoy baseball, especially for the followers of each team. The heckling can be fun, and living in Springfield, IL, you see an almost 50-50 split between fans of the two teams. Seeing as we don't even have a minor league affiliate anymore (come on you lazy-ass Springfield bums, support a team!), we look at the two teams closest to us (nobody cares about the White Sox). Most Cardinal fans I know can take some good-natured ribbing, and understand that the Cardinals are not the Gods of Baseball. Most Cub fans I know love how well they have played over the last two seasons, but know that the Cubs are hardly a lock to win the World Series this year.

I respect most Cardinal fans who just like to poke a little fun here and there, then can take it in return when their team looks lousy. Here is what I cannot stand - Cub haters. These are not fans of any one particular team. Many select a rival of the Cubs in order to hate on Chicago. And for what? Does it make them feel superior? I know a few Cardinal fans who predict World Championships every year. I know Cardinal fans who tout the 2006 Cardinals - you know, the team of 83 wins who became the worst team to ever win a World Series - as the Greatest Team Ever. I know people who actually said that Anthony Reyes was a better pitcher than Carlos Zambrano because Reyes won a game in the Series. Really??? Love your team, but come on. Don't let your ignorant arrogance cloud that thing known as common sense.

I like to watch the internet stories in baseball, specifically the ones on the Cubs and Cardinals. I will post on the comments boards, especially the Springfield newspaper board. There are several regulars to the baseball stories, many of whom are fans of one team who heckle the other. I do that, and it's supposed to be in good fun. Unfortunately there are a few bad apples on both sides who try to ruin it for everyone else. While I do notice a couple of loud-mouthed Cubs fans who post often, the arrogance of several of the Cardinal fans on that board gets to a point, at times, where it is so laughable, I can't help but "point it out" so to speak.

PLEASE NOTE: these are serious posts from Cardinal fans. One such recent post suggested that the Cy Young in the National League would come down to Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse and Adam Wainwright. Albert Pujols has already been crowned 2009 MVP. One post stated "Will this team ever lose another game? This is scary!" Another hater said the Cubs would win no more than 70 games and be out of the playoff race by June 15. Come on. I can understand trying to be funny, but these goofs post stuff like this all the time. Some Cardinal fans are predicting a World Series championship because of their recent 5-game winning streak. Oh well. They will keep up the tradition of "Cardinal Arrogance", and I will keep responding as I see fit. But I won't slam anyone because of what team they choose to root for. Unless they are bandwagon fans, but those people don't even count.

The bottom line is this: every team will win at least 60 (well, maybe not Washington) and they will lose at least 60 (yes, Cardinal fans, your team WILL LOSE at least 60 games this year). What the teams do with the other 42 games will determine their fate this season.

Just my opinion.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Looking Back and Looking Forward ...

Disappointment, thy name is Cub Fan.

A number of generations too long to count has come and gone since the Cubs last won a World Series. And while I won't go over everything that has happened in the past 100 years since the last Cub championship (I'm sure enough of the haters have compiled lists over the years), I must say that from my own experience, I've let myself become such a die-hard fan, that I truly live for how the Cubs are going to do from one season to the next. But this wasn't always the way.

I have been a Cubs fan since before I can remember, but my best memory early on was getting to watch Game 1 of the 1984 NLCS in my Fourth Grade classroom. While I was only nine years old at the time, the sight of watching that team fail to win one of their last three playoff games hurt. Boy, if I had only known the ride I was going to go on as a fan of this team!

I was as into baseball as the next kid, which was to say, casually with added interest when the team did well (such as 1989). After the 1994 strike, I lost quite a bit of interest. I still watched the occasional game, but it just wasn't as big as it had been. Actually, pro wrestling had become my number one sport (okay, sports entertainment). Then came the wonderful season of 1998. The homerun chase. The Rookie of the Year with his 20-strikeout game. The unlikely run at the Wild Card. And the improbable win in a one-game playoff to seal the first playoff spot in nine years. Baseball was back, and I was loving it.

Then I came back to Earth. Why? 1999. Another season to forget. And that was followed by an even worse season in 2000. In 2001, the Cubs seemed destined to get back to the playoffs, but a second half implosion left them with a respectable 88 wins but a third place finish in the division. Then there was another sad season in 2002.

Then something happened.

The calendar turned to 2003. The Cubs got a new General Manager, Jim Hendry and a new on the field manager, Dusty Baker. Their young pitchers began to develop. They traded away bad contracts and got back quality in return. They started winning ballgames. their new GM began looking for top notch players to be had for bargain basement prices. Before you knew it, the Cubs had gone from 67 wins to 88 and a division championship. But this was not the underdog squad of 1998 who never really had a chance. This was a team with the best rotation in the league. They were winning. they won a playoff series for the first time since 1908. they were up 3-1 in the NLCS. Then the disappointment came back. Three straight losses, including two at home with their co-aces on the mound sealed their fate.

What may have been even more disappointing was that the 2004 team was far better than that team of guys who were five outs away from a World Series the season before. Greg Maddux was back. Cub killer Derrek Lee was now their first baseman. They nabbed Nomar Garciaparra at the trade deadline. But with only a week to go and a comfortable Wild Card lead intact, it happened again. Disappointment. A team that won 89 games finished in third place.

The disappointment continued in 2005, despite the positives. Garciaparra resigned with the team. Lee was the NL batting champion (and was snubbed in the MVP voting). Mark Prior was healthy for all but a month of the season and won 11 games. Ryan Dempster made a successful transformation to the closer role. But the team won only 78 games. And then it got even worse. Hendry failed to acquire any pitchers, instead sticking with injury-prone Kerry Wood and Prior. Both had short, forgettable seasons. Carlos Zambrano pitched like an ace, but that was the only positive thing in an otherwise miserable season of 2006. By the end of that season it wasn't disappointment anymore. It was disgust. Hendry decided it was time for some changes.

Heading into the 2007 season, Baker was replaced by Lou Pinella. Wood was resigned and would pitch only out of the bullpen. Prior was optioned to AAA, never to be heard from again. And the Cubs went on a spending spree. Acquired were the top offensive free agent, Alfonso Soriano, one of the best left handed starting pitchers on the market, Ted Lilly, the versatile Mark DeRosa and Cardinal castoff Jason Marquis. Aramis Ramirez and Zambrano were extended for several more years. The result? An 85 win team who would win the division but get swept out of the playoffs. There was the disappointment again, but with hope for the future. This team was good, and they were only going to get better. And in 2008, the team won 97 games and gave this guy the greatest experience as a Cub fan ever. Clinching at home against the Cardinals (with Jim Edmonds catching the final out, no less) was sweet.

But then, in the blink of an eye, it was gone again. The best team in the National League looked like little leaguers for three straight games. Bad offense. Bad defense. Mediocre pitching. What the hell happened? And how do you improve in the offseason? I've heard plenty from the haters.

Honestly, I don't care what the Cub haters think. Many are faceless losers who have way too much time on their hands and post anonymous garbage on Cub articles. I've seen some who think the Cubs will win less than 70 games and be out of it by mid-June. How pathetic. Personally, I like debating with the realistic fans of other teams. Unfortunately I know too many arrogant Cardinal fans who can't come up with any new material, so they keep rambling on about 100 years. Or criminal White Sox fans who threaten physical harm to Cub fans just for being Cub fans (and perhaps because we use complete sentences). No wonder that field is called "The Cell".

Well, 2009 is finally here and the regular season is upon us. The Cubs didn't snag San Diego ace Jake Peavy, but who cares right now. They unloaded Marquis and DeRosa (which I still don't understand or like) and made the call not to resign Wood. They became a more balanced team with what appears to be a ton of depth all around, except at third base. They are heavily favored to win the division again. Of course, they were favored to go to the World Series in 2004, so I make no other predictions than to say that this team will take the NL Central again in 2009. After that, we'll just have to wait and see. I intend to enjoy this season as I try to do every year. And I hope to get many chances to stick it in the faces of all the haters, especially those who don't even claim a team. Of course, most of them will crawl under a rock and hide if the Cubs start to run away with things.

Disappointment in 2009? I sure hope not.

Just my opinion.

Friday, April 3, 2009

My AL West Prediction

Why is it that the NL Central has six teams while the AL West has only four? I don't expect an answer, just wanted to point out how ridiculous it is that all divisions are not the same. Anywho, the last prediction I want to make is in the small American League West. Honestly, though, these are all just guesses at this point, so who knows.


4. Seattle Mariners - A full, healthy year from Erik Bedard could make this team good, but there are too many holes for this team to seriously contend this season. Ichiro is still the best leadoff man in baseball, but he has a very weak supporting cast around him. Felix Hernandez is a solid rotation ace, but Carlos Silva is overrated and overpaid, and Brandon Morrow, who bounced around from the rotation to the bullpen, will get the call at closer. This is not a good formula to compete, even in the smallest division in baseball.

3. Texas Rangers - This team will hit, guaranteed. With Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Michael Young and the highly touted Chris Davis, scoring runs will not be the problem. Three of the five guys in the projected rotation had ERA's of over 5.00 in 2008, and the Rangers' top two pitchers are Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla, who have really struggled. Frank Francisco, with five career saves to his name, is their closer, and while he has a high strikeout rate, he lacks much big game experience. Their offense, however, should keep them out of the division cellar.

2. Oakland A's - Here is one of the more improved teams in the American League. Trading for Matt Holliday and adding Jason Giambi, Orlando Cabrera and Nomar Garciaparra will give the offense a huge boost. But, trading away Rich Harden and Joe Blanton midway through last season left some big holes in that rotation whish will have to be filled by a number of young, inexperienced guys. Joey Devine could thrive as the closer if he can continue what he started last season (49 Ks in 45.2 innings and a 0.59 ERA), but the key will be getting him the ball with the lead.

1. Los Angeles Angels - This team is not as deep and dangerous as 2008. This team will not win the division by 21 games in 2009. But that doesn't matter, because they will still win the division. The Angels, while losing their dominant closer Francisco Rodriguez to free agency, have added Brian Fuentes to finish games. Jon Garland is gone, but the pitching is still pretty deep, although ace John Lackey has been having some arm issues this spring. Bobby Abreu was added to the outfield, and the rest of the offense, while aging, is still solid enough to keep Oakland at bay.

Just my opinion.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

My AL Central Prediction

Continuing with my predictions on the various divisions in baseball, it's time to look at one of the more balanced divisions in baseball, the American League Central.


5. Detroit Tigers - What happened to the dominating lineup that was supposed to win the AL Pennant in 2008? Last year's mega-trade that brought Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to Detroit was supposed to get the Tigers back to the World Series, but instead the team began with an 0-7 record and never really took off, losing 88 games and finishing in last place in the division. Don't look for this team to move out of this spot, even in one of baseball's weaker divisions. The starting rotation is in shambles, and injuries have forced them to go with Brandon Lyon as closer. The offense is decent. Cabrera will continue to dominate pitchers and Maglio Ordonez still has something left in the tank, but overall, this team does not look to have improved enough to get them back to a .500 team.

4. Kansas City Royals - This team wants to win. And who knows, they could surprise a lot of people. This offseason, the Royals added relievers Juan Cruz and Kyle Farnsworth and traded for speedster Coco Crisp and power hitting first baseman Mike Jacobs. The rotation is very good and probably a bit underrated, and Joakim Soria is one of the best closers in the league. All in all, this team could push the .500 mark and possibly even third place this year if everyone plays up to potential, but I don't see them as having the depth to be this season's Tampa Bay Rays.

3. Chicago White Sox - While Sox fans may hurl beer bottles at me for this prediction, I think this team did not improve from last season's division championship team. Gone are innings eater Javier Vazquez and outfielder Nick Swisher. Jim Thome and Paul Konerko are still producing but are beginning to show their ages as each of their numbers have declined over the past three seasons. There will also be several rookies getting starting jobs. On the plus side, Carlos Quentin is just getting started, Jermaine Dye still produces at a high level, and Bobby Jenks is a lights-out closer. Mark Buehrle will eat innings, and both John Danks and Gavin Floyd are coming off of stellar seasons. They should contend in what looks (on paper) to be a three team race, but they are an injury away from having some serious problems.

2. Minnesota Twins - They traded Johan Santana to the Mets before last season started and went on to miss the playoffs by a single game. How does this team continue to do this? In any event, this year's Twins may come back to Earth a bit, but they are still solid contenders in this division. The team added Joe Crede, who they felt was worth the risk even though he has been injured in recent years. Their rotation of virtual unknowns are producing, and Francisco Liriano could become another Santana if he can stay healthy. Joe Nathan is an incredible closer (there's a lot of that in this division), and the offense is led by Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and Carlos Gomez. this team is good, but health concerns could determine where the Twins ultimately end up at season's end.

1. Cleveland Indians - The Indians improved this offseason by snatching Kerry Wood and Mark DeRosa, they have a potential 40-40 guy in Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez is one of the better hitting catchers in baseball, and the pitching staff (despite having Carl Pavano and Anthony Reyes) looks pretty solid as well. Travis Hafner needs to stay healthy (as does Wood) for this team to make it to the postseason, but if health is not a concern, this starting staff has the right tools to take this division.

Just my opinion.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

My AL East Prediction

While I am not a strict follower of the American League, I do still like to pretend I know what's going to happen, especially with all of the fantasy teams I have joined this year (six leagues so far). Therefore, I will continue with my division predictions and head to the AL, starting off with what should obviously be the toughest division in baseball, the AL East.


5. Baltimore Orioles - Oh, for the love of Cal Ripkin, will this team ever return to its glory days? Methinks it won't be in 2009. Cub castoffs Felix Pie and Rich Hill will not provide much of a difference for a team that has to contend with two of the biggest spenders in baseball. The newly-extended Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts are good cornerstones, so upper management must have convinced them that at some point they are going to try and actually win a few. But I can't see them avoiding another 90+ loss year.

4. Toronto Blue Jays - This team finished 2006 in second place, then fell to third in 2007 and finally planted themselves in the fourth place spot last year which is where I see them staying put again in 2009. Gone is staff co-ace A.J. Burnett, which will hurt. Roy Halladay will still dominate, and B.J. Ryan (if healthy) is a very effective closer. Alex Rios and Lyle Overbay are better than average and will do well, Vernon Wells is GROSSLY overpaid and not earning his keep, and the rest of this staff boasts players who don't exactly stand out as difference makers.

3. Tampa Bay Rays - Last season's Cinderella story will come back to Earth - at least a little bit. The team that produced 97 wins last season will have more competition from the two Superpowers of the division, and nobody will be taking the Rays lightly after what they pulled off last year. Pitching will continue to be a strong point, with starters James Shields and Scott Kazmir leading the rotation, although closer Troy Percival's health will continue to be a question mark. Offensively, Tampa Bay added Pat Burrell to be the primary DH, and his power numbers will be welcome. Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena are all back and should provide good core offense. But as good as the defending AL Champions look, I truly feel they will end up a game or two out of second place (as well as a Wild Card spot).

2. New York Yankees (WILD CARD) - I have never been a fan of the Yankees, and I never will be. But you have to give them credit for seizing the opportunity to fill every hole they had coming into this season. CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett give them one of the best rotations in the league, and Mark Teixeira will provide more offensive and defensive production than Jason Giambi. Derek Jeter is still solid, Hideki Matsui is back and ready to be the primary DH, and Johnny Damon and Xavier Nady will be better than average in the outfield. This would have been a tougher call, however the team's best (okay, the team's highest paid) player, Alex Rodriguez, is out for several weeks, and that will hurt, no matter what you think of the guy.

1. Boston Red Sox - Losing Manny Ramirez isn't what kept the Sox from winning the AL pennant last year. It probably helped get them further. From all the reports, Manny had become a cancer in the clubhouse, and his replacement, Jason Bay, can more than make up the offensive power the team lost with Manny. The Sox also boast one of the most formidable rotations in baseball with Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Daisuke Matsuzaka leading the way. Bay, along with reining AL MVP Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz will lead a potent offense. They do have the overrated, overpaid J.D. (or is it D.L.) Drew, but that won't keep them from taking this extremely tough division in 2009.

Just my opinion.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Gregg Scores Upset; Hill wins Backup Job

Darn. I have Carlos Marmol on one of my fantasy teams.

It looks like Kevin Gregg has been anointed the Cubs' 2009 closer, besting the heavily-favored (and from I'm reading, heavily disappointed) Marmol. It's hard to dispute Lou Pinella's call on this one. In nine appearances, Gregg has given up no runs, four hits, and has struck out 10. You really couldn't have asked him to do much better. Marmol, on the other hand, has a 4.50 ERA and has hit five batters, something that is being blamed at least partially on the dry Arizona heat, which keeps his filthy slider from moving like it should.

I do like Marmol and see him as the Cubs' closer in the future. Gregg is signed for this year only, and if he's effective, the Cubs will probably not try to retain him at a heavily inflated price, given that they will still have Marmol in-house. Marmol will get his chances to make a difference. This guy has a special talent, and his contribution was enormous last season. Putting him in the setup role again this season gives the Cubs one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball. Besides, if for some reason Gregg can't seem to handle the pressures of closing games at Wrigley, Marmol is only a bullpen call away.

It seems that the amazing story of Koyie Hill will play to fruition, as the man who had his fingers severed in a horrific table saw accident is now officially the Cubs' backup catcher. Chicago just released veteran Paul Bako and are going with Hill, a move that from all accounts is exactly what the fans wanted to see. No disrespect to Bako. He is a seasoned pro, but I thought Hill would be the better selection from the start and questioned the signing of Bako to begin with.

So, with those questions answered, the only ones that remain involve the remaining bullpen spots. Aaron Heilman, Luis Vizcaino, and Neal Cotts appear to be set along with Marmol and Gregg, leaving two spots open. Chad Gaudin, Angel Guzman, Chad Fox, Jeff Samardzija and David Patton are the guys vying for those spots, and if I had my way, I'd go with Fox and Patton. Gaudin has been Gaud-awful (10.54 ERA) as has Guzman (8.71 ERA). Samardzija looked a little sharper today, but should go to AAA Iowa to fine tune some things. Fox could also go to Iowa, since he is on a Minor League deal and currently is not on the 40-man roster, but he has ben pretty effective so far (nine strikeouts in 10 innings and a 2.70 ERA). Patton, the Rule-5 pick who has never played above Class-A ball, has been outstanding (12 strikeouts in 10.2 innings and a 0.84 ERA). You'd hate to see the Cubs give him back if he's the real deal.

Just my opinion.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

My NL West Prediction

Continuing on with my predictions of who going to finish where and why, it's time to finish up on the National League and go over what I think will happen in what I believe will be the weakest division in the NL, the National League West.


5. San Diego Padres - As bad as the team from our nation's capital is going to be, I still can't see any team being worse than the Padres. My best friend lives in San Diego and is a Padre fan, and I feel for her. I really do. Last year, this team was one loss shy of 100 for the season. And what did they do this off-season? They traded their over-priced shortstop (Khalil Greene) and spent the better part of the winter meetings trying to unload their ace pitcher (Jake Peavy). They are slashing payroll, and they have just found a new owner. I think 110 losses isn't out of the question this season.

4. Colorado Rockies - I think the 2007 postseason run was nothing more than a fluke for these guys. Last year the Rockies finished with a 74-88 record, which is about where I would put them in 2009, if not worse. They traded their best hitter (Matt Holliday), and their ace, Jeff Francis, is out for the season. They do still have some pop in their lineup, but the back end of the rotation is very weak.

3. San Francisco Giants - This team has the best starting rotation in the division, but because they did not go out and add an impact bat, I cannot see them being more than a .500 team. Tim Lincecum is great, and Randy Johnson still has some stuff left in the tank, but Bengie Molina is the cleanup hitter, and that just won't cut it. Fred Lewis is quick, and Aaron Rowand is dependable, but the Giants overpaid for an aging Edgar Renteria and will have a ton of inexperience at the other infield positions. Still, this starting staff will be enough to win a number of games, but this team needs to add a power hitter by the trade deadline, or they will be going nowhere but home at season's end.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks - The D-Backs, much like the Giants, boast a strong starting rotation that includes possibly the best 1-2 punch in baseball, Brandon Webb and Dan Heren. They added Jon Garland to the mix, and their offense, while not the strongest, is better than San Francisco. but like the Giants, they lack that true impact player on offense. Mark Reynolds can hit, but this team needs guys like Chris Young and Justin Upton to step it up if they are going to take the division in 2009.

1. Los Angeles Dodgers - This is the best all-around team in the west. After Manny Ramirez re-signed with the Dodgers, fans began making postseason plans. Any why not? No other team's offense in this division comes close to matching what the Dodgers will bring. Along with Ramirez, Los Angeles has Russell Martin, James Loney, and Matt Kemp to go along with their other new addition, Orlando Hudson. The rotation is not as strong, having lost both Derek Lowe and Brad Penny to free agency, but the offense will make up for their shortcomings. I give them anywhere from 85-87 wins, which should put them in front by a few games at the end of the season.

Just my opinion.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

My NL East Prediction

My last article on the NL Central has my mind going about the other divisions in baseball. Who else do I think will make the playoffs? Who is going to tank? Who could be a big surprise a-la the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays? Well, I have tried to follow all of the offseason moves (trades, FA signings, injuries, etc.) and with that, I think I can make a pretty good prediction on what we are going to see this year in each division. Injuries aside (they just can't be predicted, folks) I am going to cover the rest of baseball. Today, my picks in the National League East.


5. Washington Nationals - Nothing groundbreaking or shocking here. The Nats did add Adam Dunn and Scott Olson, but they are far from a team that will compete in this division, and nobody can explain to me any way they can.

4. Florida Marlins - The penny-pinching Marlins always seem to find themselves in contention until late in the season. Remember, they won the World Series in 1997, then again six years later in 2003. Well, it's again six years later, but I just don't see them getting over the hump this year. Their rotation is solid with Ricky Nolasco, Josh Johnson, Chris Volstad and Anibal Sanchez. Their offense touts Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla, one of the best middle infield combinations in baseball. But they are again counting on contributions from a number of rookies and other young, inexperienced players. Not to mention, they traded their closer Kevin Gregg and will now lean on Matt Lindstrom who has five career saves. They'll contend, and they may even end up over .500, but a trip to the postseason is unlikely.

3. Atlanta Braves - The Braves are trying to get back to their glory days and are doing it the same way they did it in the 90's: pitching. This team has greatly improved their starting rotation, adding Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez, Kenshin Kawakami and a healthy Tom Glavine. Chipper Jones isn't getting any younger, but he's still a force, and this offense also has solid players like Kelly Johnson, Brian McCann, Casey Kotchman and Garret Anderson among others. Their bullpen, however, is where it gets tricky. Mike Gonzalez is a serviceable closer, but his spring has been shaky, as has many others in the Braves' projected opening day roster. This team may contend, but it could come down to whether or not the pen can close out games on a regular basis.

2. Philadelphia Phillies - Here is my Wild Card pick. Their offense in potent, with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley (who looks to be ready by opening day), Jimmy Rollins and Jayson Werth. They added Raul Ibanez to replace Pat Burrell and will have virtually the same pitching staff that took them to the 2008 World Championship. But there is one big question. While Cole Hamels is a bonafide ace, there are health concerns entering the season. If he is lost for a period of time, it's up to a more mediocre group (Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton) to pick up the slack. Now, Brad Lidge is lights-out again, and the rest of the bullpen also looks solid. Add it all up, and I can see another post-season appearance for the Phillies - as long as Hamels is not out for too long, if at all.

1. New York Mets - Yes, after two consecutive seasons of last-second flops, I think the Mets are going to be the team to beat in the NL East in 2009. Let's look at why they lost last year. Billy Wagner, while far from his best days, was injured. The bullpen couldn't do anything right last September. Just a couple more games held by the bullpen would have gotten New York into the playoffs. Well, they went out and fixed that problem. Signing saves monster Francisco Rodriguez and trading for former all-star closer J.J. Putz has boosted the Mets right back to the top, in my opinion. Carlos Beltran, David Wright, Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado lead an impressive offensive attack that could mask any rotation questions this team has. Johan Santana is one of the best in the game, and while there are no other "superstar" names in the rotation, they can all win games, especially with the pop in the everyday lineup.

Just my opinion.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

My NL Central Prediction

Opening day is right around the corner! The ridiculous World Baseball Classic has forced Major League Baseball to extend Spring Training to a painfully long period of time equal to about a quarter of a full season. Here's to hoping that there are no ill effects from all of this.

As I look at the central division in the National League, I can't help but predict what I think will happen. Teams are dwindling down to a point where roster spots are becoming pretty clear. After looking at what each team brings to the table, here is my "unofficial official" prediction of what the NL Central will look like at the end:

1. Chicago Cubs
2. St. Louis Cardinals
3. Cincinnati Reds
4. Milwaukee Brewers
5. Houston Astros
6. Pittsburgh Pirates

Now, you may think I am being a "Cub homer" by predicting another first place finish, but that's not it. They simply have the best team on paper by a wide margin. Barring multiple injuries (which we know can happen as it did in 2004 and 2006) the Cubs should repeat as division champions. I go NO FURTHER than that in my predictions. The Cubs need to prove they can handle postseason pressure before I will predict anything else. Now I'm not saying that they will make the playoffs and then be a one-and-done team again. You Cardinal, White Sox and Brewer homers can "predict" that all you want, but we all know it's a brand new season once the playoffs begin, and the Cubs aren't cursed to lose as you would like to believe. Still, though, I will give my reasons for each of these picks.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates - I don't think anyone is predicting anything other than a last place finish for the hapless Pirates. Frankly, its a good thing that town has the Steelers because it's a lost cause when it comes to baseball. In 2008, the Pirates finished with a 67-95 record, third worst in the National League, and did little to improve their team for 2009. Matt Capps is a serviceable closer, but how often will he get the ball with the game on the line? Their pitching staff is very weak, although Paul Maholm is a workhorse who had a very respectable 3.71 ERA last year in 31 starts. After that, it's guys like Ian Snell and Zach Duke who can't seem to put anything together. Their offense boasts solid hitters Nate McLouth and Ryan Doumit but very little else.

5. Houston Astros - Oh how the mighty have fallen. In 2004, the Astros were within a game of the World Series. In 2005, they won the NL pennant. In 2006, they barely missed a third straight postseason appearance. Now look at this team. What do they have? Well, they do have a very potent offense that touts Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, Hunter Pence, and now Ivan Rodriguez. Where they lack is in the pitching. Roy Oswalt is an ace, no doubt about it. After that, though, it doesn't look good. Their projected number two starter is Wandy Rodriguez, who is stellar at Minute Maid Park but lousy on the road. Brandon Backe, who I personally thought had a great career ahead of him after seeing his 2004 and 2005 playoff performances, had a 6.05 ERA in 2008 in 31 starts. Mike Hampton looks to be penciled in for the rotation, but he hasn't played anything close to a full season since 2004 when he started 29 games for Atlanta. It's not looking good in the state of Texas.

4. Milwaukee Brewers - Yes, I believe last year's NL Wild Card representative will fall and fall hard. Why? The two biggest reasons this team made the postseason are gone: CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets. They have been replaced by Braden Looper and Yovanni Gallardo (who did pitch last year, but only four games due to injury). Gallardo has the stuff to be very good, but after that, the starters are very mediocre at bast. Jeff Suppan followed his successful run in St. Louis with two disappointing seasons in a Brewer uniform. Looper, Dave Bush and Manny Parra will all win some games, but none are overwhelming. Now, on the offensive side, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun would make any team better. Add Corey Hart and J.J. Hardy to the emix, and you have a pretty good offensive club. But like the Astros, this pitching staff is going to be tested, and the history of the individuals in that starting staff is not favorable.

3. Cincinnati Reds - This is where I may get burned come season's end. Some are saying that this year's Reds are going to be like last year's Rays. I don't think they are there just yet. This is a much improved team, and while they finished 2008 with a 74-88 record last season, Aaron Harang had an awful year. Turn his numbers around, and this is an over-.500 club. If he bounces back, and the rest of the staff (Bronson Arroyo, Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto) continue to produce, this team will be tough to score runs off. Where it gets a bit tricky is the offense. The Reds added speedster Willy Taveras to lead off, but Taveras had a dismal .308 OBP last season. He has to get on base in order to make a difference. Joey Votto and Jay Bruce are leading the offensive charge, but will sophomore slumps hit either player? After that, there isn't anything to really write home about. This team will need to win a lot of low scoring games to be able to contend, but they have the starting staff that might be able to do that.

2. St. Louis Cardinals - Yes, Cardinal fans, I truly believe that the Redbirds are the second best team in the National League Central. Any team with Albert Pujols should contend, but the Cardinals of the past two seasons have not been serious threats after September 1. Perhaps the loss of Chris Carpenter was part of the problem, although it was the bullpen who blew more than 30 saves last year. The Cardinals rotation is hoping for a repeat in the performances of Todd Wellemeyer and Kyle Lohse while praying that the health of Carpenter and Adam Wainwright (who I personally think is the best pitcher on that staff) holds up for an entire season. If that happens, this team will win ballgames. But what about the bullpen? Chris Perez and Jason Motte are expected to be late inning saviors, and nobody knows how they will turn out. The offense, aside from Pujols, is also solid. Ryan Ludwick is coming off a great season, and Rick Ankiel is a Scott Boras client in his contract year. I predict 40 homers and a near .300 average from Ankiel given those circumstances! Troy Glaus should come back by May and provide more power, and Colby Rasmus will have a chance to show what he's made of.

1. Chicago Cubs - That's right, they are the best team, and I'm not being biased here. Cardinal fans have even (begrudgingly) admitted that this division is the Cubs' to lose. The pitching staff (even without the addition of Jake Peavy) is one, if not THE best in the National League. Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg will provide a great 1-2 punch at the end of the bullpen. The offense is extremely balanced, especially wiht the addition of Milton "can I stay healthy for a full season" Bradley and Mike Fontenot, who will be the starting second baseman. The Cubs are the team to beat, folks. And they have the depth to handle a hiccup or two throughout the season. Not to mention, the July 31 trade deadline has resulted in some of GM Jim Hendry's best work, so who knows what will be available this year.

Just my opinion.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The (almost) 2009 Chicago Cubs

With Spring Training in full gear, the Cubs upcoming lineup is becoming a bit clearer, with only a few question marks here and there. Lou Pinella has stated that he will be giving his regulars more rest to make sure they are fresh for the stretch run, so that will give opportunities to some of the other guys to show the boss that they belong. In this blog, I will take a look at each position, the starters and the backups, and see if I can make some sense out of what the Cubs have and still need to do before opening day.

Starter: Derrick Lee - While D-Lee will probably never match his 2005 numbers, he is still a lock to hit 20-25 home runs, drive in 90 runs, and produce a .360 OBP. I’ll take that from the first base position every year, especially with the supporting offense this team touts. Lee also still provides gold glove caliber defense and is a team leader in the clubhouse. Backup: Micah Hoffpauir – A younger version of Daryle Ward, Hoffpauir can earn playing time by producing as a backup to Lee and a solid left handed bat off the bench. He can also play the corner outfield spots, but don’t expect him to ever be Soriano’s defensive replacement.

Starter: Aaron Miles/Mike Fontenot – This is the one spot where the starter’s role is still up in the air. While Lou Pinella has given a tentative lineup that includes Miles, expect Fontenot to battle for that spot all throughout the spring. As of right now, both Miles and Fontenot are the projected backups for shortstop and third base respectively, so both should see quite a bit of playing time, unless Jim Hendry goes out and gets another utility infielder to help. Backup: the one who doesn’t start (also, Soriano can sub in an emergency).

Starter: Ryan Theriot – This guy’s not going anywhere. After posting a .307 average with a .387 OBP in 2008, I think the Cubs have their answer at this position for a number of years to come. He will never hit for power, but how many shortstops actually do? Hanley Ramirez is not available, so there’s no question that Theriot is the right man for the job. As long as he doesn’t run out of gas come September, he should be okay. Backup: Miles.

Starter: Aramis Ramirez – A mainstay since 2003, Ramirez is signed through 2012. His 2008 numbers were still impressive, and I expect another 25-30 homer season with 100+ RBIs and a .285 average. A-Ram may be moved down to the fifth spot in the order which may provide for even more RBI opportunities, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him top 120 if he stays healthy. He will get some time off, though, but his numbers shouldn’t suffer. Backup: Fontenot (yikes!) - I’m not sure I like this option, but as of now, there is no other choice.

Starter: Alfonso Soriano – Oh, please let this guy have a full, healthy season! Soriano missed 53 games last season but still led the team in home runs (29). What would happen if he made it through all of 2009 injury free? I’m foaming at the mouth just thinking of the possibility. He will never be a 40-40 guy again, but when he is on, he carries an offense on his shoulders. He has shown that in both of his Cub seasons. Defense is not his specialty, but he has a cannon for an arm, and can throw out base runners wherever they are headed. Backup: Hoffpauir, Reed Johnson and Joey Gathright – The outfield depth is very apparent, and when Pinella needs a late inning defensive replacement, he’s got Johnson and Gathright to turn to. How well the backups perform will ultimately determine how much playing time they get. I do, however, expect Johnson to get the most playing time, as he is considered the fourth outfielder who can sub at any of the three positions.

Starter: Kosuke Fukudome – As I have stated before, I am willing to see how this season plays out for Fukudome before labeling him a bust. He will play in the World Baseball Classic, and hopefully that will get his confidence back to where it needs to be. Defensively, he’s one of the best in all of the National League, but he needs to get it together at the plate if he wants to stay in the lineup. I think he can adjust and will have an improved offensive season, even if he hovers around the .275 mark. He is not going to be a power bat, and anyone who thinks he should obviously knew nothing about him when the Cubs signed him last season. Backup: Johnson, Gathright – Johnson is projected in an almost platoon role with Fukudome, again, depending on how the Japanese star fares in his second season.

Starter: Milton Bradley – Why Bradley, who has played more games in center field, is projected to take over in what is probably the most difficult right field in Wrigley Field is beyond me. Why not have Fukudome in right and Bradley in center? Perhaps Pinella is going to look at this and determine who belongs where before opening day. With Lou, anything’s possible. My main concern is the health of Bradley. We know that when healthy, his bat is lethal, and his defensive skills are not the worst out there (Adam Dunn and Bobby Abreu would have been brutal). Backup: Hoffpauir, Johnson and Gathright.

Starter: Geovany Soto – Last year’s National League Rookie of the Year will be tested in his second full season with the Cubs. Pinella has warned Soto that the league will adjust to him, and it is now up to Soto to adjust to the league if he wants to keep up. Last year he handled the pitching staff like a veteran, which helps him greatly going into this season. Losing his mentor, Henry Blanco, will hopefully not be a factor. Backup: Paul Bako or Koyie Hill – This one is a bit of a conundrum. Why not bring back Blanco? His leadership and guidance was something that is not easily replaced. Who cares if Bako is left handed? It doesn’t sound like he is even guaranteed to be the backup. If Hill outperforms him, he’s the one who’s in. I’m guessing that Bako signed a minor league deal, thus giving the Cubs the option of sending him to Iowa if Hill beats him out for the spot.

Starters: Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly, Rich Harden and Sean Marshall – Even without the addition of a certain San Diego import, this is one of the best rotations (on paper) in the National League. While Marshall hasn’t officially earned the fifth spot yet, I can’t imagine him not getting it unless he just doesn’t perform well in the spring (or gets injured). There are question marks about Zambrano’s shoulder, given how last year ended. Harden is penciled in for 25 starts (although he hopes to get 30). Can Dempster come close to repeating his 2008 regular season performance? You can pretty much count on Ted Lilly giving you innings and wins, even if his ERA hovers around 4.00. Overall, I think they’re looking good. Backups: Jeff Samardzija, Aaron Heilman, Chad Gaudin - The question now would be who spells Harden if he needs extended rest? Who is first to take over if an injury pops up? The Cubs do have depth and will be stretching several others out. Samardzija could start in Iowa just because of the bullpen depth, but also to keep him extended for when a spot start is needed. Gaudin started 34 games for the A’s in 2007, so it would not be a stretch for him to go back to that role. Heilman wants to be a starter, but he may be better served in the bullpen. Mitch Atkins and Randy Wells are starts in waiting, but I don’t expect to see them much, if at all, in 2009.

Obviously there are not starters and backups when it comes to relievers. As it stands, the Cubs will have a 1-2 punch at the end of their bullpen in Kevin Gregg and Carlos Marmol, with the closer to be determined during Spring Training. I fell Marmol is the closer of the future while Gregg will be a one year pickup. The Cubs do need to determine another late inning reliever. Newcomers Heilman and Luis Vizcaino could fill that role if one has an effective spring. Samardzija is a possibility, but I truly do not believe this will be his role this season (but I could be wrong). Neal Cotts is the primary left handed reliever and could be the only one if Marshall gets into the rotation. Mike Stanton, who is not on the 40-man roster, is at camp, and being left handed could give him a slight edge. I believe Gaudin will be the swingman/long reliever. Angel Guzman, Jose Ascanio and Kevin Hart are long shots, as are David Patton, the Rule 5 draft pick, and Jeff Stevens, one of the three pitchers acquired in the Mark DeRosa trade.

The biggest question mark for me right now is infield depth. By trading DeRosa and Ronny Cedeno, the Cubs are taking a huge risk should Ramirez get injured. Can Fontenot really handle third base? Could the Cubs perhaps benefit more from trying to get someone like Nomar Garciaparra who could backup all infield spots? Sure, Soriano could be used at second base if needed, but losing DeRosa created a big hole on this ballclub. Josh Vitters is a third baseman and the team’s highest ranking prospect, but it doesn’t look as if he is ready to make the jump right now.

The backup catcher spot is not decided, and the bullpen roles need to be solidified, but that’s what Spring Training is for. Let’s see who brings what to the table, and those spots will work themselves out. All in all, I like what this club brings to the table, especially given what the rest of the NL Central is bringing to their camps. The Cardinals are good but have several question marks, the Brewers lost their top two starters, the Astros did little to improve, the Reds have good starting pitching but not much else, and the Pirates are the Pirates.

Let the games begin!