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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

2010 Florida Marlins team preview

2009 Record: 87-75   .537

Run Differential: +6

Widely considered to be one of the worst teams in baseball entering the season, Florida gave everyone a great big #@$ burger to eat. No, they didn't make the playoffs but they were very close.  Hanley Ramirez continued to add to his legend by winning the batting title, rookie Chris Coughlan surprised everyone by winning Rookie of the Year award, and Josh Johnson proved he is one of the league's best pitchers.  Realistically this team should not have had post season aspirations but Fredi Gonzalez some how skippered this team to exceeding all projections. I say somehow because any team that bats a guy like Bonifacion leadoff should be punished (ask Dusty Baker how his Willy Taveras/Corey Patterson experiments have fared).  Perhaps the real surprise here is how a team with such a low payroll can continue to exceed these expectations. 

With little roster turnover what should the expectations be for this squad in 2010?

Monday, March 29, 2010

2010 Oakland Athletics team preview

2009 Record: 75-87   .463

Run Differential: -2

Everyone knew the A's were in full rebuilding mode after trading away rotation stalwarts Dan Haren, Joe Blanton, and Rich Harden in 2008. So when Billy Beane pulled the trigger to acquire Matt Holliday in the last year of his contract the baseball world was in shock.  Beane sent Carlos Gonzalez, Greg Smith, and Huston Street to Colorado in exchange for the Rockies top player.  Holliday was to be the missing piece for offense as the A's attempted to reclaim their position atop the American League West.  But like most bold moves this one failed.   Injuries and an inept offense were the main culprit but it clearly wasn't the pitching staff's fault.  Players who lost significant time due to injury were: Justin Duchscherer, Joey Devine, Eric Chavez, Mark Ellis, and Jason Giambi.  Key offensive contributors Jack Cust and Giambi proved they are now similar players--each incapable of playing defense--who can no longer be counted on to hit for average and whose power is inconsistent at best.  Matt Holliday got off to an awful start not helping matters.  By the time he got going it was too late and he was flipped to St. Louis for hot prospect Brett Wallace.  The good was found in the young pitching. Rookie Brett Anderson struck out 150 batters in 175 innings while posting a 4.06 ERA, delighting not only A's fans but also management.  After closer Joey Devine blew out his elbow in April, the closer's job was up for grabs.  Another rookie, Andrew Bailey, eventually won the job and American League Rookie of the Year honors.  The bullpen as a whole turned out to be very good giving Oakland a young, cheap, reliable portion of their squad to rely upon in 2010.
So, after last season's failure to develop into a contender, Beane would admit the team's not ready and continue the rebuilding process, right?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

2010 Arizona Diamondbacks team preview

2009 Record: 70-92   .432

Run Differential: -62

Arizona just missed the playoffs in 2008 and hoped as their young players continued to gain experience and mature that 2009 would bring the playoffs to the desert.  What the team didn't expect was a rash of injuries to some of their better players.  Once Brandon Webb went down the rotation scrambled for arms.  No one stepped up and the team really fell apart.  Conor Jackson was felled with Valley Fever and later pneumonia.  Not all was lost though.  After struggling so badly in April the team considered demoting him, Justin Upton exploded and put up a .900 OPS resulting in his name being on several MVP ballots.  Mark Reynolds also had a career year that included 44 home runs and shattered his single season strikeout record.  As well as Upton and Reynolds played last year was how disappointing Chris Young was. Long expected to be a star, Young lost his starting job.  Now the team is concerned he'll never pan out.  Rookie Gerardo Parra showed he was read for the show after receiving extended playing time and Miguel Montero finally lived upon his promise.  Clearly it was a season defined with highs and lows.

With several young players and a solid rotation there's still hops this team can compete for a playoff spot.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

2010 Seattle Mariners team preview

2009 Record: 85-77   .525

Run Differential: -52

When Seattle looked to fill it's GM vacancy after the 2008 season they went outside the box.  What followed was a flurry of moves as the roster was completely reshaped in Jack Zduriencik image.  Jack Z may be even more statistically advanced than A's GM Billy Beane and it showed as he went after the best defensive players at each position.  Trading for outfielder Franklin Gutierrez and signing Endy Chavez were the big moves made before the season.  Gutierrez had a season that Willie Mays would be proud of as he saved 25 runs more than the average center fielder.  During the season Jack Wilson, Ryan Langerhans, and Jack Hannahan were all acquired as the team cornered the market on elite defensive talent.  The best news, however, was from the performance of Felix Hernandez.  King Felix struck out 217 batters in 238 innings and posted a 2.49 ERA which earned him a second place finish in the Cy Young voting.  Ichiro got 200 hits again and Russell Branyan had a career year. Unfortunately the rest of the offense tanked and prevented this team from ever being taken seriously as a playoff contender.

The roster continued to take shape over the winter but the same questions remain.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

2010 San Francisco Giants team preview

2009 Record: 88-74   .543

Run Differential: +46

Going into 2009 San Francisco knew if they were going to make the playoffs they would have to be led by their pitching staff.  The staff didn't disappoint as Tim Lincecum won his second Cy Young Award and Matt Cain had his best season to date.  Jonathan Sanchez, plagued by inconsistency during his young career, even threw a no-hitter.  The most pleasant surprise was provided in the form of Barry Zito who reverted to his form in Oakland in the second half of the season. As the pitching staff paved the way the offense flopped.  Only Pablo Sandoval played well enough to give the team hope for the future as his .330/.387/.556 line was enough to make him an All Star in his first full season.  Edgar Renteria was brought in to stabilize the infield but hit only .250 with no power raising concerns that he might be done.  Fred Lewis failed to repeat his surprising 2008 and everyone else that got serious playing time stunk, too.  If it wasn't for their NL leading defense the Giants would have finished a distant fourth in the division as opposed to a couple of games out of the Wild Card.

Unfortunately 2010 looks more like a repeat of 2009 than a new chapter.

Monday, March 22, 2010

2010 NCAA Tournament: First weekend recap

Best games:

  1. Murray St. 66, Vanderbilt 65: This game was close throughout but a shot at the buzzer showed everyone what March Madness is all about.
  2. Wake Forest 81, Texas 80 (OT) - What makes a game great? Overtime: check.  Furious comeback: check.  Buzzer beater: check.  Basically Texas collapsed in the extra session but it still made for edge of the seat entertainment.
  3. Michigan St. 85, Maryland 83 - Four lead changes in the final minute without a single timeout taken? WOW!  How did Delvon Roe know to duck under that pass?
  4. BYU 99, Florida 92 (2OT) - Double overtime? No further explanation necessary.
  5. Purdue 65, Texas A&M 63 (OT) - An eleven point defecit erased in the second half to force OT.  If you like low scoring defensive games then this was right down your alley.  Purdue's man with the blue tongue scored the winning basket with under five seconds remaining.

Biggest upsets:
  1. Northern Iowa over Kansas: Did Kansas read any scouting reports?  I think not.  Either way, they dug themselves a hole and not even their full-court press could save them in the end. Ali Farokhmanesh's name will live forever in Cedar Falls.
  2. Ohio over Georgetown: A team that wasn't even supposed to win their Mid-Major conference tournament annihilates a good Big East squad? Don't say you weren't warned.
  3. Cornell over Wisconsin: It's not the end result that's so surprising but the means they went about it. Kentucky has their work cut out for them.
Best players:
  1. Evan Turner, Ohio St.: Nearly posted a quadruple double versus Georgia Tech (24-9-9 and 9 turnovers).
  2. John Wall, Kentucky: Has proven to be as good as the media said he was all year.
  3. Omar Samhan, Saint Mary's: One of the nation's best big men has finally gotten some national attention. His game against Villanova was just dominant (32 points on 13-16 shooting) including a block to seal the game.
Best teams:
  1. Kentucky: Made Wake Forest look like a team from the Colonial.
  2. Syracuse: Arinze Onuaku or no, this team looks as good as they have all season. 
  3. Duke: A lot of people questioned them getting a #1 seed.  A win over Purdue should put that to rest.
Underdog with the best chance to win this weekend:
  1. Northern Iowa: Knocking off the best team in the country got everyone's attention.  Now they get to play Michigan St. who's missing their best player.  Do you think Basketball Prospectus feels vindicated for listing the Panthers 17th in their championship rankings in February?
  2. Washington: For most of the season the Huskies were underperforming.  Isn't this the same team that lost in a close battle for a chance to make the Sweet 16 last season?  Until the Pac-10 Tournament the answer was no.  Now it's a resounding yes.  West Virginia could be in trouble.
  3. Saint Mary's: Baylor big man Ekpe Udoh will have his hands full with the Sand Man.  The Gaels are are facing that doesn't defend the three especially well so it's possible.

2010 Baltimore Orioles team preivew

2009 Record: 64-98   .395

Run Differential: -135

Baltimore hasn't made the playoffs since Jeffrey Maier gave Derek Jeter a home run on what would have been a flyout.  Not unlike Pittsburgh, fans have grown weary of waiting for the next playoff appearance.  Contrary to public perception, the team hasn't even been a big spender in recent offseasons.  It seems apparent that owner Peter Angelos finally realized that big spending doesn't always equal success but good drafting does.  While several players on this team are getting up there in age, the new core of players is moving into place.  Outfielders Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Nolan Reimold are young players firmly entrenched as starters.  Markakis and Jones have already made an All-Star team and last year's #1 prospect Matt Wieters is ready to make his impact felt this season.  Angelos has even opened up his pocketbook to keep his favorite players in town as evidenced by the long term deals signed last season by Brian Roberts and Markakis.  What made last season so brutal though, was the pitching.  When Brad Bergensen is the best hurler on the staff, you're giving up a lot of runs. But with the recent emphasis on better drafting, hope is on the horizon.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

2010 Detroit Tigers team preview

2009 Record: 87-77   .528

Run Differential: +53

Last year I predicted Detroit to win the AL Central Division and advance to the playoffs.  I was right--sort of. Losing in the 163rd game cost them the division crown and a chance to scare teams with their formidable top of the rotation. The fact that the Tigers made it that close surprised many.  How could a team finish ten games over .500 despite the nagging injuries and awful back of the rotation?  Great defense was the main root.  The Tigers defense up the middle was sensational and the top of their rotation really was that good.  Justin Verlander established himself as the best pitcher in the American League while Edwin Jackson finally capitalized on his full potential.  Curtis Granderson continued to be a fine player defensively and set a career high in home runs with 30.  Unfortunately, not making the playoffs cost this team a lot of revenue.  Buried behind huge contracts to Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis, and Magglio Ordonez motivated the team make separate trades involving their most popular player and a starting pitcher bubbling with potential.

In return the Tigers get younger, which is key for a team this reliant upon aging players but they likely cost themselves a chance at an American League Central division crown.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

2010 Cincinnati Reds team preview

2009 Record: 78-84   .481

Run Differential: -50

Dusty Baker lived up to his reputation last year.  Guys love playing for him and it shows because Baker excels in consistently getting players to play hard and to frequently outperform their expectations.  Where Baker's failings lie are what gets him into hot water.  Last season he batted Willy Taveras in the leadoff spot until August despite the fact he was getting on base less than 30% of the time (Taveras finished with a .285 OBP and a .560 OPS).  Once Taveras was finally relieved of his starting duties, hot prospect Drew Stubbs took his place and put up a .323 OBP--although an improvement still not what the team should be looking for.  This also reveals another one of Baker's tendencies in that he will play the veterans until they're either traded or given 500 plate appearances to show they can't get the job done.  Though Drew Stubbs isn't going to be a great leadoff hitter, he is a significantly better player than Willy Taveras. But the real issue with Dusty is working his starters too hard.  Top starter Edinson Volquez was abused down the stretch last season and for what reason?  The guy was 25 years old and in his second major league season.  Dusty had him throw 121 pitches in one game and 110+ in six of his last seven.  His ERA in those games was 5.81 showing that he was obviously wearing down.  This resulted in Volquez tearing an elbow ligament and needing Tommy John surgery.  How much longer will Dusty be allowed to use his starters at his own discretion?

Some are calling the Reds as their sleeper team for 2010 but that seems a year premature.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

2010 New York Mets team preview

2009 Record: 70-92   .432

Run Differential: -86

The Mets of 2007 and 2008 had historic collapses in September which cost them not only the division title but also a spot in the playoffs.  The 2009 Mets were determined not to let this happen they finished 22 games under .500 to spare the fans the suspense.  The season began with the team affected by the Bernie Madoff investment scandal.  Although owner Fred Wilpon denied reports that team finances would be affected, it was known he was a major investor.  Also, the brand new home stadium, CitiField, nearly changed names as the media demanded they forfeit their licensing agreement.  But really these two public relations hits were mild compared to what would happen over the course of the season.  The following starters spent significant time on the disabled list last season: Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Johan Santana, Oliver Perez, and JJ Putz.  Things were so bad GM Omar Minaya traded for Jeff Francoeur because "he's a guy who plays everyday."  The rash of injuries was so fierce the team went from being a legitimate playoff contender to having the league's worst offense.  I think that sums it up pretty well.

It seems that 2010 is picking up where 2009 left off.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Season Preview: Milwaukee Brewers

2009 Record: 80-82   .494

Run Differential: -33

When 2008 ended the Brewers had made the playoffs for the first time in over a decade.  Sure they lost in the first round but it wasn't the loss to the Phillies that hurt so bad.  It was the loss to the Yankees.  Team owner Mark Attanasio offered CC Sabathia a team record contract of over $100 million but he turned it down, instead choosing to play in New York.  What could have been a great offseason immediately caused the team to turn into turmoil.  The rotation which would have had a stout 1-2 punch became Yovanni Gallardo and four punchless guys with Brewer caps.  Rumors swirled about the club offering a contract to Henry Rowengartner but he evidently is going to stay retired as a Cub.  A revival by the ageless Trevor Hoffman was not enough to save a mediocre bullpen either.  The team had hoped to bully opponents with what appeared to be one of the league's best offenses but that too went awry.  JJ Hardy never got on track though he continued to play excellent defense.  Corey Hart continued his slide causing many to wonder if he will ever be able to revert to 2007 form.  Possibly the most crippling blow was the injury to second baseman Rickie Weeks who appeared to finally be figuring it out.  Add all this up and you get a team that finished just under .500 and well out of the playoff race.

Optimism  is not a word I've heard when discussing the Brewers in 2010, but that doesn't mean this team should be counted out.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Final Bracket Predictions: Sunday edition

Some upsets yesterday caused the bubble to change shape.  Wake Forest isn't a lock but should feel pretty good because there is some separation between themselves and the other bubble teams. If Mississippi State upsets Kentucky today there is likely only going to be one bubble spot up for grabs.  Keep your eyes on this one.

Conference Champions/Auto Bids (27):
  • Ivy: Cornell
  • America East: Vermont
  • Atlantic Sun: East Tennessee State
  • Big 12: Kansas
  • Big East: West Virginia
  • Big Sky: Montana
  • Big South: Winthrop
  • Big West: UC-Santa Barbara
  • Colonial: Old Dominion
  • Conference USA: Houston
  • Horizon: Butler
  • MAC: Ohio
  • MAAC: Siena
  • Missouri Valley: Northern Iowa
  • MEAC: Morgan State
  • Mountain West: San Diego State
  • Northeast: Robert Morris
  • Ohio Valley: Murray State
  • Pac-10: Washington
  • Patriot: Lehigh
  • Southern: Wofford
  • Southland: Sam Houston State
  • Summit: Oakland
  • Sunbelt: North Texas
  • SWAC: Arkansas-Pine Bluff
  • WAC: New Mexico State
  • WCC: Saint Mary's

Other Locks (35)
  • ACC (5): Duke, Maryland, Florida St., Clemson, Georgia Tech 
  • Atlantic 10 (3): Xavier, Temple, Richmond
  • Big 12 (6): Kansas, Texas A&M, Baylor, Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma St.
  • Big East (7): Syracuse, Villanova, Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Marquette, Louisville, Notre Dame
  • Big Ten (4): Purdue, Ohio St., Wisconsin, Michigan St.
  • Conference USA (1): UTEP
  • Mountain West (3): New Mexico, BYU, UNLV
  • Pac 10 (1): California
  • SEC (3): Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee
  • WAC (1): Utah St.
  • West Coast (1): Gonzaga
Bubble Teams In (3 teams):
  1. Wake Forest
  2. Virginia Tech
  3. Minnesota
Last Four Out:
  1. Illinois
  2. Florida
  3. Mississippi State
  4. Rhode Island

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Final Bracket Predictions: Saturday edition

Automatic Qualifiers (15)

  • Cornell (Ivy)
  • East Tennessee St. (Atlantic)
  • Montana (Big Sky)
  • Winthrop (Big South)
  • Old Dominion (Colonial)
  • Butler (Horizon)
  • Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley)
  • Siena (MAAC)
  • Robert Morris (Northeast)
  • Murray St. (Ohio Valley)
  • Lehigh (Patriot)
  • Wofford (Southern)
  • Oakland (Summit)
  • North Texas (Sun Belt)
  • Saint Mary's (West Coast)
Locks (37)
  • ACC (5): Duke, Maryland, Florida St., Clemson, Georgia Tech 
  • Atlantic 10 (3): Xavier, Temple, Richmond
  • Big 12 (7): Kansas, Kansas St., Texas A&M, Baylor, Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma St.
  • Big East (8): Syracuse, West Virginia, Villanova, Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Marquette, Louisville, Notre Dame
  • Big Ten (4): Purdue, Ohio St., Wisconsin, Michigan St.
  • Conference USA (1): UTEP
  • Mountain West (3): New Mexico, BYU, UNLV
  • Pac 10 (1): California
  • SEC (3): Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee
  • WAC (1): Utah St.
  • West Coast (1): Gonzaga
One Bid Conferences Awaiting Automatic Qualifier (7)
  • America East
  • Atlantic Sun
  • Big West
  • MAC
  • MEAC
  • Southland
  • SWAC
Bubble (6 spots left)
  • Wake Forest
  • Florida
  • San Diego St.
  • Illinois
  • Minnesota
  • Rhode Island
  • Washington
  • Virginia Tech
  • Arizona St.
  • Mississippi St.
  • Dayton
  • Seton Hall
  • Wichita St.
  • Charlotte

Thursday, March 11, 2010

2010 Cleveland Indians team preview

2009 Record: 65-97   .401

Run Differential: -88

Cleveland fans knew it was unlikely CC Sabathia would be an Indian in 2009 and were probably sick to their stomach when he signed a $120 million contract with the Yankees.  Imagine how they felt last October when their top two former starters (Sabathia and Cliff Lee) faced each other in Game 1 of the World Series.  Such is life in Cleveland where payroll constraints now dominate roster construction in a way fans never thought possible.  What makes these two trades more sickening is that it doesn't appear as if any big time prospects were acquired for these Cy Young winners.  Aside from trading Lee, the team traded star catcher Victor Martinez and valuable utility man Mark DeRosa.  Unfortunately, the early takes on these trades are similar to those of Lee and Sabathia.  Manager Eric Wedge was also fired after consistently underperforming and mismanaging the team in critical situations.  Fausto Carmona struggled mightily and the rest of the rotation was just awful.  After just missing the World Series in 2007, Cleveland finished 2009 with the worst record in the American League.

Now Cleveland has turned the page and hopes to have the pieces necessary to begin their next mini-dynasty in the American League Central.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

2010 Washington Nationals team preview

2009 Record: 59-103   .364

Run Differential: -164

2009 could not end soon enough for the Nationals and their fans.  Aside from having the worst record in the league, the team had a public relations nightmare in the front office.  Fantasy owner/GM Jim Bowden resigned after being linked to a bonus shaving scandal in Latin America and top scout Jose Rijo was fired for the same offense.  Manager Manny Acta served as the scapegoat and was fired in July after the team had managed to win 26 games in 87 tries.  Although Jim Riggleman had better luck in the second half, the team still had the worst rotation in baseball and the bullpen was constantly changing in an effort to find someone who could get three outs.  At times a  poor pitching staff can be offset by a good offense and that seemed to be the plan for the Nationals going into the season.  Unfortunately only the core players in Adam Dunn, Nick Johnson, Ryan Zimmerman, and Josh Willingham performed to their standards.  Highly regarded second year catcher Jesus Flores tore his labrum and missed nearly the entire season causing the team to suffer with Josh Bard and Wil Nieves behind the dish.  This change alone probably cost the team three or four games.  Christian Guzman, fresh off his shiny new two year extension, reverted to the Guzman of old (no power, no walks), and Elijah Dukes regressed completely.  What should have been one of the league's best offenses ended up being mediocre.

This season arrives with similar expectations as last: an above average offense and improved defense look to carry a mediocre pitching staff in the team's first quest to finish with a winning record.

Monday, March 8, 2010

2010 Houston Astros team preview

2009 Record: 74-88   .463

Run Differential: -127

Houston is a team whose demise I've been predicting for three seasons now.  With an aging roster full of overpaid former stars, a pathetic minor league system, and a meddling owner, the Astros continue to exceed my expectations.  Somehow they just missed making the playoffs in 2008, causing many media outlets and the owner to believe they were on the brink of rebounding as a contender.  Last season should have removed all optimism.  There are two culprits which have caused Houston's fall as the dominant team in the division.  First, is their inexcusable effort in past drafts.  2009 marked the first time they paid over slot recommendation for a pick in years.  In fact, this draft strategy has prevented them from signing several high draft picks.  When your highest drafted player to sign is a fifth rounder as was the case in 2008, your franchise's future as a playoff contender is greatly compromised.  The other culprit is as simple as roster construction. Perhaps owner Drayton McLane feels his hands are tied with an already high payroll but after perusing his free agent signings the last couple of seasons, there's clearly a lack of ingenuity.  When Darin Erstad and Jason Michaels are signed to play significant roles on your club, too much pressure is placed on the starters to not only perform but to play every day.  It also means Dallas Cowboy playoff games are the highlight your offseason.

2010 seems to arrive with the realization that changes need to be made for Houston to become competitive once again.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

2010 Toronto Blue Jays team preview

2009 Record: 75-87   .463

Run Differential: +27

Toronto was better last season than their record shows as they finished the season by scoring 27 more runs than they allowed.  Usually this would lead to a record of three or four games above .500 not twelve under.  Aaron Hill and Adam Lind had breakout years but even that was not enough to offset the numerous injuries that befell the team's rotation.  Still, by playing in the American League East, no one took the team seriously including the team itself.  The team's best player and arguably the best pitcher in baseball, Roy Halladay, was dangled on the trading block before being pulled back in late July.  Once the season ended, GM JP Ricciardi was fired and Halladay was shipped to Philadelphia in a three team trade signaling a major rebuild.

After the dust had settled, new GM Alex Anthopoulos came away with P Kyle Drabek and 1B Brett Wallace as prizes.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

2010 San Diego Padres team preview

2009 Record: 75-87   .463

Run Differential: -131

Before the season even began in 2009, the Padres seemed resigned to last place.  New ownership had moved in and lacked the financial resources to devote big bucks to the club right away causing Trevor Hoffman to leave via free agency and Jake Peavy to be placed on the trading block.  In fact, with numerous trade rumors swirling around their best player, it seemed they were begging someone to take him away.  Although the team exceeded many expectations and avoided last place, more roster changes were made. Scott Hairston, the team's second best hitter, was shipped to Oakland for prospects though he was re-acquired over the winter.  At the trading deadline Jake Peavy was traded to the White Sox for four pitching prospects arousing suspicions that the club was looking for quantity over quality.  Kevin Kouzmanoff was also traded to Oakland allowing Chase Headley to finally move to his natural position. New GM Jed Hoyer reportedly blew away the field in his interview which is good because he was probably the best GM candidate.  Judging by the low payroll and dearth of talent at all levels, he has his work cut out for him.

Expectations for 2010 should not be different than those of 2009. 

Ram Remodeling

Unless any future trades take place, the St. Louis roster is pretty much set to be built through the draft. The NFL free agency player shuffling is fully underway and the Rams have been pretty quiet thus far. Only backup quarterback A.J. Feeley has been brought in. Special teams player Craig Dahl was also recently given a new deal.

A quick glance at the Rams current roster reveals a ton of question marks. Many of the players listed are probably not even known by the casual football fan. I am all for having a few diamond-in-the-rough type players on the roster, but this team seems to rely on too many of these type of players to have significant roles.

The obvious conversation about the Rams regards the top pick in the draft. This team has a ton of needs. They are in need of talent at virtually every position.

I like head coach Steve Spagnuolo. I do not know however if he is best suited as a position coach or not. He has not had enough time to be fairly judged. He walked into a very difficult situation. In all honesty, with new ownership, he might not get a full chance to improve the team.

The new ownership topic definitely correlates to what player the Rams select in the first round. I have heard the ownership expects the team to win now or coaching changes will occur. Thus taking DT Ndamukong Suh makes more sense because a quarterback will take more time to develop. This situation negates the luxury that drafting a quarterback provides. Usually selecting a QB allows a coaching staff at least two or three years to develop the guy at the all-important position.

This team is quite interesting. Their roster building strategy of acquiring talent in the trenches is really what I favor. Oddly though, these players have not panned out as a whole. Some potential is still there.

On the defensive line, tackle Adam Carriker is coming into his third year as a pro. I think he can still come on strong but think he could be more of a physical specimen than an impact player. Defensive end Chris Long, their top pick from two years ago has a total of nine sacks in two years. He would definitely improve with help along the line. Veteran d ends James Hall and Leonard Little were released but I could see one returning possibly. In all actuality they simply need to be replaced by some young guys. Suh would be a great addition inside but the team has far too many needs to make him the obvious choice.

The linebacker core has a solid leader for the future. James Laurinaitis continued to do what he did at Ohio State, make a ton of tackles. He also had a couple sacks, and was involved in some turnovers which was a plus. Two outside linebackers with potential are needed. Actually some veteran linebacker additions would be helpful as well, to make a few plays and provide some leadership.

The secondary needs major changes, especially at cornerback. Simply put, they need a ton of new players back there. A few sleepers could emerge from this group but they cannot just expect these guys to all pan out.

On offense, Jason Brown got a ton of money to come in and play center. They need to build around him. The top pick from a year ago, Jason Smith, only started five games because of injury and needs to make major progress this year. Tackle Alex Barron is basically okay. The rest of the group has just a little bit of potential. John Greco could be a solid guard.

The WR core is full of average players. Donnie Avery has shown flashes but must get off press coverage better. He receives so much attention from defenses it is hard for him to make plays consistently. The other guys are sleepers at best. Keenan Burton is running out of time but could maybe get it together. Laurent Robinson is also in this category. Brooks Foster failed to make an impact as a rookie on a team that had no depth. Maybe this year he will make strides. The tight end depth chart is almost non-existent at this point. Randy McMichael and recently signed Derek Fine were both released.

The running back position became cloudy as well when Steven Jackson got himself in trouble. He is an elite talent but who knows what the future holds. A third-down back is needed as well.

The QB position needs major changes. They should really invest in a QB now, whether it be by trade or draft. The only negative will be the amount of money it will take to get one, but it must be done to compete. Feeley and Kyle Boller if he returns are short-term answers at best. Bulger is a back-up at this point. If they happen to like either Sam Bradford or Jimmy Clausen, I think they should go ahead and go for it. They have the chance to select the best QB available so they might as well take one. Though these two might not rate as high as other QBs in previous years.

Overall this team has more holes than maybe any team in the league. They must add tons of depth and talent to compete. Sadly this coaching staff might not have the time to do so. Hey the kicker Josh Brown is solid!

Friday, March 5, 2010

2010 Pittsburgh Pirates season preview

2009 Record: 62-99   .385
Run differential: -132
Seventeen.  That’s the number of consecutive losing seasons the Pirates have put up since narrowly missing the World Series in 1992.  It appeared a .500 record was achievable when the club was just a few games under in early June.  To his credit, GM Neal Huntington realized a .500 record in one season would not lead them to greater things in the future. Consequently the remaining big names on the roster were shipped off. First was All-Star Nate McLouth to Atlanta even though he had just signed an extension the previous season to become the face of the franchise.  Also traded were Jack Wilson, Ian Snell, Nyjer Morgan, Adam LaRoche, and Freddy Sanchez.  These trades left Ryan Doumit as the only remaining starter from 2008 opening day and resulted in a flurry of prospects that the organization believes will be key components to the next competitive Pirate team as they rebuild. But perhaps the most promising sign was their continued focus of signing amateur talent.  Although their draft received mixed reviews, the team consistently paid over slot for its picks despite their previous history and the commissioner’s office recommendations not to do so.  Five million dollars was also devoted to opening the franchise’s new academy in the DR.
There’s hope for 2010 though. 

Thursday, March 4, 2010

My NASCAR is Stuck on Repeat

 So, a quick recap of last week's race(s) at Vegas...everyone did almost exactly the same as they did at California the week before...
  • Danica crashed in the Nationwide race on Saturday and finished in the mid-30s.
  • Jimmie Johnson made a late move to take the lead and win the Sprint Cup Race on Sunday.
  • Kevin Harvick ran strong but finished second to Jimmie Johnson.
  • Juan Pablo looks strong, but bad luck ends his day early (engine at CA, wreck at NV).
  • Joey Logano with another solid finish looks well groomed to Chase in just his 2nd full season.
The big difference was that Jeff Gordon dominated most of the race...something that hasn't happened in a while for the Rainbow Warrior.

Look for a whole lot of the same action again this week as racing finally returns to its home stomping grounds in the Southeast at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The shape and banking of the track make it very similar -if not a little faster- than Las Vegas.

All these repeat performances have Richard Childress Racing all over the top of the standings with Kevin Harvick in 1st, Clint Bowyer in 2nd, and Jeff Burton in 7th. Jack Roush's Fords have been pretty consistent as well with Matt Kenseth 4th, Greg Biffle 6th, and Carl Edwards 10th. Lastly, Jimmie Johnson's consecutive wins have climbed him 30 spots to 5th after his rough start at Daytona. Meanwhile teammate Mark Martin has converted from the bipolar 2009 season (5 wins, 4 DNFs) to a model of consistency so far in 2010 (finished 12th, 4th, 4th) and he sits 3rd overall.

So after the smoke clears and another 500 miles are run, expect to see more of the same this week. I will of course still watch because the Sprint Cup takes its first weekend off after this. But things will be much more entertaining when NASCAR returns in 2 weeks to Bristol, TN. Saturday night short-track racing in Tennessee might not reach the same speeds we'll see in Atlanta (110 mph vs. 200+), but there will be more fenders bumping, more tempers flaring, more cautions waiving, and more drama building...this I promise you.

Week 4 Power Rankings [Sprint Cup Standing]:
1. Jimmie Johnson [5] - Let's keep this short and sweet. Unless this team hits a run of bad luck, he will be here all season.
2. Kevin Harvick [1] - Led laps in all 3 races, and was racing for the win at the end of each. He's showing why he's the leader of RCR with an average finish in the Top 5.
3. Mark Martin [3] - This kind of consistency in last year's Chase, and he could have thwarted Jimmie Johnson's record 4th consecutive title.
4. Tony Stewart [11] - Perhaps a bit overhyped to start the year. Everyone knows that "Smoke" gets real hot when the weather does too. Even if he slips a few more spots before May/June, watch for a big comeback in the Summer.
5. Clint Bowyer [2] - One of NASCAR's new "good-old-boys". Bowyer races clean and his team is fast. If he had a little more killer instinct, he might be a legitimate title contender.
6. Matt Kenseth [4] - Okay, so I move Kenseth from not on my board to 6th. It's still early, I'm allowed. More importantly, can Kenseth stay here? He started great last year and faded to miss the Chase.
7. Greg Biffle [6] - Biffle hasn't started races very well this year, but he's finished all 3 in the Top 10. Atlanta should keep him in check one more week.
8. Joey Logano [8] - This kid is growing up fast. He lucked into a win in 2009, but don't be surprised if he does it the right way in 2010...and soon!
9. Scott Speed [16] - Like Logano, he's in just his 2nd full season in Sprint Cup. He's led laps in the first 3 races. His finishes aren't quite up to par yet, but leading in every race is probably the shock of the season thus far.
10. Juan Pablo Montoya [27] - Bad luck has put a strong racer in this position. The only reason he's in this spot and not Kyle Busch is because Busch is holding 12th spot without making any noise...pick a fight already! Otherwise, Montoya stays one more week.

2010 Kansas City Royals team preview

  2009 Record: 65-97   .401
Run differential: -156
Spring training of 2009 was filled with optimism for Kansas City fans, as it appeared the AL Central was moving backwards which would allow the Royals to catch up.  Expected improvements from young players and GM Dayton Moore’s penchant for building a bullpen seemed to back up this theory. Unfortunately the Royals were downright awful and narrowly avoided 100 losses.  In the winter Moore traded one of his most effective relievers in 2008 for likely non-tender Mike Jacobs and his career .318 OBP.  Not only did Jacobs fail to hit, but his defense at first base was so bad Billy Butler became the full time starter while Jacobs DH’d .  Compounding this trade was the fact that the acquisition of Jacobs blocked one of the better prospects in the system, Kila Ka’ahue.  If this wasn’t bad enough, Moore traded for the worst starting infielders in the majors in August (SS Yuniesky Betancourt) and allowed Trey Hillman to find regular at- bats for Willie Bloomquist and his .655 OPS. Fan outrage called Moore out for his ineptitude leading to a tirade about trusting the process that may never die.  Injuries to Alex Gordon, Mike Aviles, and Coco Crisp also played a part in driving this team to the cellar.

2010 seems to arrive with tempered expectations.