Archive for March, 2008

Same Old Story For Phils With 11-6 Loss

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Mon, March 31, 2008 06:04 PM Comments: 31

What did we say was the Phillies biggest concern heading into the offseason?

I seem to forget …

Oh yes! Pitching!

The Phillies didn’t get it against the Nationals today, losing 11-6. Brett Myers looked mindless, giving up four runs while walking two and hitting two batters. Ryan Madson surrendered a two-run home run.

Despite the bad beginning, the Phillies were able to keep the game close. A first inning run was manufactured by a Jimmy Rollins double, a Shane Victorino sacrifice bunt and a Chase Utley sacrifice fly. Then home runs by Utley and Rollins pulled it to a tie.

But Tom Gordon entered our lives.

He gave up five earned while only getting two outs. He was horrible. Absolutely horrible. Yes, defense did no favors, as Rollins committed two blunders, but Gordon was not good at all. Clearly, he’s not supposed to be pitching in high-pressure situations. Example No. 1 the Phillies did not own up on their offseason concerns.


Gameday: Phillies (0-0) Vs. Nationals (1-0)

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Mon, March 31, 2008 01:00 PM Comments: 7

Happy Opening Day! The Phillies start their 2008 campaign with an opening series with the Washington Nationals, who won last night against the Atlanta Braves in the walk-off debut of their new park, Nationals Park.

Phillies: Brett Myers (0-0), 0.00 ERA
Nationals: Matt Chico (0-0), 0.00 ERA

Gametime: 3:05 p.m.
Weather: 52 degrees, light showers

Lineup: Rollins/Victorino/Utley/Howard/Burrell/Feliz/Werth/Ruiz/Myers

MLB Gameday Audio
MLB Gameday

Your gameday beer: Opening Day in Philadelphia? Go with the classic: Yuengling Traditional Lager. Smoother than the mass lagers; as Philadelphian as beers get.

Go Phillies!


Phlogger Roundtable 1: 2008 Season Preview

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Mon, March 31, 2008 10:00 AM Comments: 8

Over the weekend I gathered together some of the best Phillies fan bloggers (Phloggers) on the internet for a roundtable discussion about the 2008 Phils. It’s a long, winding read, but we touched on a lot of good things, including potential busts, if Pedro Feliz was the right route to take, the effectiveness of Charlie Manuel and, of course, our predicted result of the season.

The Phloggers involved are:
Enrico Campitelli: The 700 Level
Erik Grissom: Phillies Flow
Bill Baer: Crashburn Alley
GM Carson: We Should Be GMs
Tom Goyne: Balls, Sticks, & Stuff
Tim Malcolm: Phillies Nation

Hopefully we’ll do a few of these this season and beyond; if any regular Phlogger is interested in taking part, let me know.

Phlogger Roundtable 1: 2008 Season Preview

So, why the hell are most of us — bloggers, reporters, analysts, everyone and their mother — so pessimistic with this year’s Phillies team?

Campitelli: In terms of fans being pessimistic, I believe it’s because most of us don’t know how to act coming off of a division championship. We’re not used to having to defend our division. We grew accustomed to being the underdog of sorts, chasing the Braves for years. I think the fans will settle down after about 15 games or so and gain some confidence. Unless of course they play they’re usual April style of crappy baseball.

Grissom: I think you’ve gotta chalk it up to some combination of peer pressure and past experience. Seriously, though, I think most people know the Phillies are pretty good overall. You can only say
wow-aren’t-Chase-Utley-and-Ryan-Howard-and-Jimmy-Rollins really-fantastic so many times before you have to look for holes. Given the pitching they aren’t hard to find. I think many fans are exceptionally frustrated by the perception that the Phils have this amazing nucleus of players but seem unwilling to make the payroll commitment to make the team a legitimate World Series contender.

Baer: We saw last year what somewhat blind optimism about the pitching staff can lead to. We thought, going into the season with six potential starting pitchers, that that’d be the least of our worries. Instead, we watched Jon Lieber and Freddy Garcia struggle before finally landing on the D.L, Brett Myers get lit up in two of his three starts before being transferred to the bullpen for emergency reasons, and Adam Eaton, of course, defy any optimistic expectations.

The pessimism most of us have is somewhat a defense mechanism. We know it can go wrong, and if Murphy’s Law holds any water, it will. Pitchers of Kyle Kendrick’s ilk — ground ball reliant, low strikeout rates — tend not to have sustained levels of success year in and year out. We know what we’re going to get from Eaton and it’s not pretty. Cole Hamels has a chronic injury problem. Jamie Moyer is old. You could say that Brett Myers is the only sure thing in the Phillies’ rotation, but then again, he is moving back from the bullpen to the rotation (his spring training performances point to this being a non-issue, however).

We know the Phillies will hit, but no one knows if they’ll pitch.

Carson: Pitching, both starting and relief. Relief — Brad Lidge is an enigma; a pitcher with great stuff but coming off an injury with a bit of a sensitive side. Tom Gordon is hurt and can’t snap off his great curveball, at least not with consistency. JC Romero will likely return to Earth’s atmosphere this season. Ryan Madson has ability, but finds a way to muck it up. The rest of the bullpen is garbage … literally. Starting — Brett Myers is a hothead, and Cole Hamels isn’t what I would call a “tough guy,” but nonetheless they are a good 1-2 at the top. Jamie Moyer is the oldest pitcher in baseball and finds a way to get it done, but the law of averages is bound to catch up sometime. Kyle Kendrick was awesome last season, without him no playoffs, but I think he’s going to get rocked this season. Finally, Adam Eaton, simply put — he sucks, I hate him.

Malcolm: Yeah, it comes down to pitching. And we were told — and we knew — that the Phils needed to fix the pitching staff in the offseason. So they got Brad Lidge. That was it. No other additions. This year we’re running with a broken Tom Gordon, an iffy JC Romero and a bunch of castoffs. How can we be optimistic about that.

And as everyone says, it’s a shame, because we know the offense is very, very good.

Goyne: I would agree with Bill that part of it is a defense mechanism. You protect yourself or prepare yourself for the worst.

Having said that, I am actually fairly optimistic about the team. Yes, the pitching staff looks to be a shambles, but it was a shambles last year, and still, the team found a way to win. I refuse to look at a glass half empty when it has Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard swimming in it.

Baer: It’s a shame the Phillies’ pitching is so questionable because they had ample opportunity to improve it and passed. I’ve personally gone off ad nauseam about the non-signing of Kyle Lohse. I completely understand balking at his initial contract demands (in the ballpark of Carlos Silva’s 4-year/$48 million deal), but as the winter grew older, his demands grew thinner. He could have been had for less than what Adam Eaton got — 3 years, $24.5 million — and the Phillies still passed. Lohse ended up signing with the St. Louis Cardinals for one year and just over $4 million.

Relief pitcher Aaron Fultz was also recently released by the Cleveland Indians, and, oddly enough, signed to a Minor League deal by the Detroit Tigers. Take a look at Fultz’s last few seasons: pretty good, no? He is a former Phil, and both of his seasons in red pinstripes were above average. In fact, in two out of the last three seasons, he’s been a very effective left-handed reliever. The Phillies’ bullpen is no sure thing with Brad Lidge starting the season on the D.L., Tom Gordon being old and unreliable and injury prone, Ryan Madson rebounding from a season in which he was on the D.L. twice, and J.C. Romero, who walks too many batters to be comfortable with.

So of the big five players (Myers, Hamels, Howard, Utley, Rollins), who is most important to the Phils’ success?

Baer: Since the Phillies’ offense is so great, you can take any one player out and the offense will still be above-average. So, I’d go with starting pitching, and that’s Cole Hamels’ territory.

Rarely can one player truly make or break a team, but Cole Hamels is one of them. Despite Brett Myers starting on Opening Day, Hamels is the ace of the staff, the dominant left-hander with a propensity for the strikeout. Remove Hamels from the team and you have a roster that’s really no better than the St. Louis Cardinals, despite the star power of Rollins, Utley, Howard, Burrell, Myers, and others.

It will be painful for us Phans if Hamels has any extended stints on the D.L. this year.

Malcolm: I’ll actually go the other way with pitching, and say Brett Myers is most integral to this team’s success. He strikes me as more a team leader, the vocal one who took over the clubhouse after Aaron Rowand left. In many ways, Myers personifies the team itself — tough, volatile, grimy, a horse.

Take Hamels out of the rotation, and obviously, you’re in trouble. But take Myers out, and you not only lose good numbers and innings, but you get rid of someone who has a large influence on the team as a whole.

Baer: While I personally assign little credence to intangibles like leadership while still recognizing that they do exist in some small way, your points about Myers are valid. As a fan, he is the most likable player on the roster, despite his past transgressions (and I wrote an article not too long ago asking people to forgive him): he’s a great pitcher, he’s funny, he places a lot of emotional stock in the team’s success and failure, and he’s loyal. He exemplifies everything you’d want in a teammate.

Goyne: I would agree, it’s Myers. As Bill said [keep quoting him don’t I?], one of Rollins or Utley or Howard can go down and the offense will still score runs. As for Hamels, he can go on the DL for a small stretch and you are OK, happened last year. But Myers looks primed to eat innings and keep hitters off balance. If he goes down, all those innings are going to go to somebody else not nearly as good.

Carson: Believe it or not, Ryan Howard, because he’s the cog in the middle of the league’s best offense, and if the 2008 Phillies are going to win, they are going to need plenty of offense.

Campitelli: I’m kind of a belief that an everyday guy has more value than a guy you see once every five. I’d have to say Rollins, mostly because he’s the top of the order guy and jump starts everything they do offensively. As Jimmy goes …

Grissom: I would have to go with Rollins. We’ve already seen the rest of the group go down and the Phils made it through okay. Gillick has been fantastic about adding playing during the season but, with all due respect to Freddy Galvis’ defensive wizardry, the Phils have just about nada organizationally at short. The dropoff from Rollins to Bruntlett or Woodward would be noticeable. So would the dropoff from Utley or Howard to anyone, but I think that Rollins adds a leadership element that would be nearly impossible to replace.

Back to Bill’s point about Myers being likable and a leader, Aaron Rowand was obviously that player last year. How much will the Phillies miss him — if at all — this season?

Goyne: I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that the Phillies offense will suffer without him. Look, the Phillies offense would have suffered WITH him because there is no way he was going to put up the type of numbers in 2008 as he did in ‘07. He had a career year. Defensively, there is a lot of reason to think Victorino will be just as good, and probably better. As for the clubhouse/chemistry/intangibles factor, he’ll probably be missed to a certain degree, but then again, Utley and Rollins can probably control the clubhouse just as well.

Grissom: Everyone talks about how much the Phils are going to miss Rowand. I’m pretty sure they’re going to miss him on the field. Victorino doesn’t belong in right field and I’m pretty sure he can handle center defensively, so that’s where he needs to play if he’s going to be a regular. But he’s not going to slug .515, he’s not going to hit 27 home runs and he’s not going to hit 45 doubles. The Phils look like they’re going to have to try to make up that difference with Feliz replacing Nunez and his ‘07 cohorts at third and hoping that Jenkins/Werth out-hit last year’s right fielders led by Werth and Victorino. I don’t think it’s going to happen even with 20 or 25 bombs from Feliz. I expect the Phils will score less runs in ‘08 than in ‘07 and the loss of Rowand will be the primary reason why.

Baer: I personally was never a fan of Rowand’s despite his amazing face-plant into the center field wall at Citizens Bank Park. I’ve always found him overrated, but I can’t speak from a first-person perspective about his intangibles. There’s no question he can be good and even great but it’s a matter of what you can reasonably expect from him. As great as his ‘07 season was, his ‘06 season was just as bad. His ‘05 season was comparably bad, and ‘04 was comparably as good as ‘07. So you really don’t know with him — it’s a coin flip.

Defensive metrics agree in some parts and disagree on others about his prowess in center field. If The Hardball Times’ Zone Rating — Revised Zone Rating — has any credence, he ranked 15th out of 17 qualified CF in all of baseball. So, he’s not all that and a bag of chips defensively, either.

Replacing his defense in center field with Victorino should be a step up, and replacing his offense with the right field platoon of Jayson Werth (vs. LH) and Geoff Jenkins (vs. RH) should net about a push. I say that Rowand’s offense is being replaced by those two since Victorino is moving from right field to center — you’re not losing his production.

And considering what he was signed for by the Giants — 5 years, $60 million — the Phillies should be grateful that he demanded so much and helped them avoid an albatross of a contract. He will undoubtedly underperform that contract.

Malcolm: I’m with you — I really don’t think Rowand’s loss means anything at all. Maybe we lose a little aggression in the outfield, but it’s not as if aggression wasn’t this team’s weak suit. There’s plenty of leaders and “dirt dogs” on this team. Offensively he should slide this year; I actually think his penchant for injury would’ve been horribly negative for the Phils success.

Carson: They will miss him, and I don’t think how much can truly be calculated. However, Shane Victorino will do a fine job filling Fence-Face’s void in centerfield and others will step up in the clubhouse. *Note- I predict Rowand never comes close to his ’07 season totals again in his career.

So we’re mostly in agreement that losing Rowand wasn’t a big deal. Was any loss a big deal?

Carson: No-Hit Nunez was a big deal, a big deal in that Manuel won’t be tempted to overuse him. I know Eric Bruntlett isn’t the second coming of Tony Phillips, but he’s vastly better than Nunez who was a complete waste offensively in every aspect.

Goyne: Losing Lohse [say that fast three times] could be, but only time will tell in that regard.

Baer: Tadahito Iguchi could be, but his loss is mitigated by the fact that he was unwilling to play third base, and that’s the only place he would’ve been valuable to the Phillies. The Phillies signed Pedro Feliz, whose defense is spectacular, but his offense is absolutely awful. Fans are wowed by his HR and RBI but they’re empty. He struggles to reach base at a .300 clip, and .330-.345 is around league average. Iguchi wouldn’t have been anything special on either side, but overall, he probably would have been worth an extra win or two. I haven’t studied the numbers closely enough to state that definitively, so that’s just a guess.

Lohse is definitely a bad loss. Considering my previous rant, I’m surprised at myself for not thinking of that.

Goyne: Don’t misunderstand me, I think Feliz is overrated offensively a bit too, but when you say his HR and RBI totals are empty, I can’t help but paraphrase Buddy Ryan… So what you are saying is all Feliz does is produce runs?

Baer: Let me put it this way: In the last four seasons, Feliz has played regularly and been given 500+ AB in each of them, and his OPS+ in each season are 100, 85, 79, and 81. A 100 OPS+ is league average and, obviously, anything below it is below average. Feliz is the Adam Eaton of our lineup (Feliz: career average 84 OPS+; Eaton: career average 88 ERA+).

Goyne: I know what you mean Bill, believe me, OPS+ is my favorite quick stat. The way I think of it, Feliz is good for the last gasp homer. In other words, Utley leads off an inning and got on base, Howard struck out, Burrell pops out, and then Feliz manages to somehow run his bat into a ball and it’s a two run homer. We lament a lot of stranded runners as Phillies fans and with Feliz in the lineup as opposed to Abe Nunez, we won’t do it quite as much.

Baer: Well, if he’s not reaching base in any way (be it a walk, HBP, single, HR, etc.) it’s highly unlikely he’ll be useful for those “last gasp” HR. More than 7 times out of 10, he’ll fail in that spot.

Of course, he IS better than Abe Nunez, but it’s not like Nunez was our other option: he was gone via free agency anyway. We had Dobbs and Helms who would’ve combined to put up better production.

Goyne: I guess we’ll agree to disagree. He is not nearly as good with a bat as people think, but I don’t think he is quite as bad as this either. Another thing in his favor is that with the Giants, there was a lot of pressure on him to hit. He was often their best bat after Barry Bonds. In Philly, he is a bit part.

Malcolm: I don’t exactly think Dobbs and Helms would’ve combined for “better” production — Dobbs would get a nice hit here and there; Helms maybe would’ve improved with a few more homers and singles. Feliz is a good combination of the two hitters, but you’re both right that he’ll more than likely flail into oblivion.

Baer: Feliz has drawn no walks in all of spring training. I’m hoping that’s a mirage and not an indication of things to come.

Helms is better than what last year’s statistics show, and he and Dobbs combined would’ve been a good 40-50 points higher in OBP and relatively equal SLG. Defensively, they’d have been a notch or two under Feliz but still enough to garner the Phillies a net win or two (again, these are guesstimates, I’ll research my claims more heavily later).

Grissom: I would echo what Bill and Tom said about Lohse. After Hamels and Myers at the top of the Phils’ rotation there’s a lot to worry about. If you’re at your payroll limit you’re at your payroll limit, but it’s really unfortunate that the Phils lost out on Lohse for such a relatively small amount of money.

Malcolm: You know what — my biggest loss is also a starter, but it’s one nobody has thought about: Jon Lieber. Don’t chuckle, but Lieber was good for 10 wins and an ERA of, at the most, 4.50. I can’t think Kyle Lohse is going to be that effective, mainly because he just hasn’t had the experience and he doesn’t have any out pitches. Lieber — while not great on finesse — was a dead control pitcher who got outs. He was usually good for at least five innings. Slide him into the five hole and suddenly Adam Eaton and Chad Durbin can concentrate on helping the bullpen. Or Kyle Kendrick isn’t as integral to the rotation.

Goyne: I beg to differ, the only thing that Lieber was good for ten of was ten buttons bursting on his jersey.

Malcolm: (And ten of the donuts being stolen from the Dunkin’ Donuts box.)

Going back to Kyle Kendrick, he’s the one Phillie a lot of pundits are saying will bust in 2008. In fact, at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kendrick himself is waiting for the bust. You can say Kendrick here — who is the biggest potential bust on this team?

Campitelli: Unless one of the bigger name guys go down with an injury and misses significant time, I think you have to go with Kendrick here. He came out of nowhere to be an amazingly pleasant surprise in 2007 and now the Phillies are expecting him to repeat the effort. It’s a tall order for the youngster.

Carson: He’s only a sophomore with less than 30 MLB starts, so I won’t call him a bust or “biggest bust” at least. I love Jimmy Rollins, but after last season’s amazing run and stats, I think he has the most potential for a big letdown — .270s 15-20 HR.

Goyne: I tend to think Kendrick will be fine. He is a groundball inducing machine and the Phillies infield defense is almost tailor made for that. To me, the biggest bust could be Cole Hamels. He is the player with the most upside that has the greatest risk of injury.

Grissom: I’d go with two guys at the back of the pen in Lidge and Gordon. I’d be stunned if Gordon excels as the closer before Lidge returns — I think it’s just too much to ask of him given his age and his recent injury problems. Hopefully Lidge is healthy enough to contribute soon, but Citizens Bank Park is a tough place to pitch, even for a guy who is healthy. Someone, whether it’s Lidge, Gordon, Madson, or a guy not yet on the team, needs to pitch well enough in the closer role to keep Myers in the rotation.

Malcolm: I’m going into left field (actually, center field) and say Shane Victorino. Maybe he doesn’t hit too well and strikes out more, putting up a .260 average. Maybe he gets caught stealing a lot more. Plus, you talk about risk to injury, Victorino is clearly a favorite in that respect. He’s not the greatest hitter; there’s a good chance he’ll be as streaky as he has been. Remember, Vic sat out a good portion during the end of last season, and not just because of injury.

Baer: If the last two seasons are any indication, Victorino is a bit below-average offensively (91 and 94 OPS+ in ’06 and ’07, respectively). His OBP is right around league average and his SLG is about 30-40 points under. His range in center field coupled with his Francoeur-esque arm should make him a net positive gain for the Phillies. As for his base-stealing, as long as Davey Lopes is around to cut him off from any bad habits, he should be a 90% base stealer again (37-for-41, 90.2% last season).

Goyne: I can see those things potentially happening, Tim, but this brings us to one of the Phillies’ strengths: depth. Lets say Victorino takes a nose dive in terms of production or has a very serious injury. The Phillies simply move Jayson Werth to CF, play Geoff Jenkins in RF, and while it isn’t ideal, it isn’t a catastrophic drop-off.

Baer: Great point! Werth doesn’t have the speed of Victorino, but he does have a great arm. He wouldn’t be statue-esque in center like Pat Burrell seems to be in left field.

The Phillies also acquired So Taguchi to spell Victorino in center field because Charlie Manuel thinks he’ll need to sit Shane every now and then. Dobbs can play the corner outfield spots, and they have a few guys they can call up if they need to: Chris Snelling, T.J. Bohn, and Greg Golson.

Malcolm: The way Jayson Werth has been hitting (or hasn’t been hitting) makes me uncomfortable about the Phillies outfield depth. Plus I wouldn’t like relying on Geoff Jenkins each night. Plus you have Pat Burrell exiting a game after seven innings. Suddenly you have no outfield bats on the bench (unless, say, Chris Snelling is around — is that so great?).

I wouldn’t say a Victorino injury or bust would be damning to the team, but I feel we may be very underwhelmed by his offensive output in 2008 (though his defense and arm is still very top-notch).

Goyne: Golson in ‘08 could be better than Michael Bourn in ‘07. [Of course, he might also be worse than Chris Roberson...].

Malcolm: I can’t see Golson making the club unless it’s September 1. Brandon Watson is more of a possibility.

Baer: Well, if Shane goes down, I think Manuel is smart enough not to make moves like taking Burrell out after 7 innings. Ideally, you want Geoff Jenkins to only hit against right-handed pitchers (check his RH/LH splits), but he’s a seasoned veteran who can handle the task if he’s asked to.

I wouldn’t base too much off of spring training performances. Jimmy Rollins has been dreadful, as has Chase Utley, but you don’t expect them to reflect their spring training numbers.

Malcolm: Bill, you really just mentioned Charlie Manuel and the word “smart” in the same sentence? Especially when talking about in-game changes?!

Baer: Yes, Charlie Manuel is highly underrated as a manager. I was his biggest critic his first two seasons (he had forgotten about the double-switch until about halfway through his first season with the Phils!), but he does know how to manage a baseball team.

As a hitting guru, he has been partially responsible for the success of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Pat Burrell, among others. Of course, hitting coach Milt Thompson also deserves due praise as well.

I do disagree with forcing Burrell out of the game early, but I can’t help but think that doing so may have aided his great second-half production.

And you can’t argue that the light attitude he has is detrimental to the team given how much praise has been heaped upon him from players like Jimmy Rollins. He can also be a disciplinarian when he thinks he needs to be: see Shane Victorino early in spring training.

Goyne: Also notice that after he started to get a bit perturbed in spring training, they rattled off a few wins. He has a history of doing that in the regular season too. Somehow, he knows how to push the right buttons at times.

OK, final question. It’s November 1, 2008, and we’re writing a post about the Phillies, looking back at the season. What are we writing about?

Goyne: In general, we are probably writing about who will take over for Pat Gillick after he retires. Ruben Amaro? Brian Cashman? If we are looking back on the season, I predict we’ll be talking about another exciting year that came down to the very last day [even at this late date I am hesitant to make any other predictions].

Baer: Ah, right, I completely forgot about that. Excellent, excellent point about Gillick’s successor. All signs seem to point to Amaro, but you never know.

[I'll be] nervously awaiting the verdict on Burrell’s future with the Phillies. He’s a free agent after the season and he’s indicated that he really enjoys playing in Philadelphia, but the Phillies’ upper management may not feel he’s worth keeping around anymore.

Like him or not, Burrell is an astoundingly consistent and productive hitter. Sure, he has his cold streaks (like an entire half of last season), but when all is said and done, he’s good for a .400-ish OBP and a .500-ish SLG. You are just not going to find that kind of production laying around on the cheap.

It’s sad, in a way, because financially, it might be prudent to say goodbye to him, since Ryan Howard will either be getting another raise or signed to a long-term deal. If they sign Burrell, they may tie themselves up and be unable to upgrade the pitching staff.

So, it’ll be interesting to see how the Phillies’ front office handles that.

Malcolm: Taking the high road, Tom; not a bad idea. I say we’re writing about how the season came down to the final week, but pitching fell apart too many times and a late surge wasn’t enough to get the Wild Card. We’re also writing about the GM search, which I think won’t be a search — Amaro is the successor.

As for Burrell, I wouldn’t mind hanging onto him, but for the front office’s best interest, if they’re that stingy, they should let him walk. Maybe it makes it easier to sign Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard. (Though probably not.)

Goyne: I’m skeptical on Burrell’s return. He will be taking a pay cut no matter who he plays for and for some reason, when that is expected, the player rarely returns to the team.

Carson: [I'll write about] how glad I am that Pat Gillick is no longer the GM, so he can get some pitching to accompany a prolific offense. Unfortunately, his lapdog Ruben Amaro may then be at the helm guiding the reigns.

Grissom: When the season ends I think we might be disappointed but we won’t be unsatisfied. It’s a hugely likeable group — if they don’t add a lot of pitching during the season it’s going to end sadly, but I think we’re going to feel like Charlie Manuel got everything out of them that he could.

Campitelli: [We’ll write about] how much fun the parade down Broad Street was OR how much fun we had watching them come up just a little bit short and if only we had a little more pitching. But yeah, it should be fun.


Major Media Outlets Love Braves, Not Phils

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Sun, March 30, 2008 04:45 PM Comments: 7

Before spring bloomed in baseball land, you could say the Phillies and Mets were the top draws in the NL East. But something happened, maybe two weeks into spring: The Braves became the chic pick.

Looking at predictions from major national media outlets, the Phillies are being cast to third place in the NL East, while the Braves are on many lists not just to win the East, but the National League. Call it true support of a dark horse, trying to look smart, whatever. The Braves will be good, I think, but good enough to win the NL?

Outlets with the Phillies in 1st, NL East:
ESPN: Eric Karabell (fantasy)
ESPN: Sean McAdam (contributing; Boston-based)
Sportsline: Scott Miller

Outlets with Phillies winning Wild Card:
ESPN: Tim Kurkijan
ESPN: Enrique Rojas (Deportes)
ESPN: Bob Klapsich (contributor)
ESPN: Nate Ravitz (fantasy)
Fox Sports: Ken Rosenthal
The Sporting News

Only Lindy’s has the Phillies in the World Series, losing to the Detroit Tigers. Meanwhile, a slew of writers have the Braves in the Series, including Jayson Stark and Rosenthal, who like the Braves enough as World Series champions. Another note: Johan Santana is far and away the favorite to win the NL Cy Young.

You can’t get worked up over predictions, especially because they usually never come true. But clearly, the Braves mix of youth and experience has piqued the sportswriting world. Most predictors say the same thing about the Phillies when delivering their prognostications: Not enough pitching.



Ryan Howard Will Win MVP … And Other Player Predictions

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Sun, March 30, 2008 04:20 PM Comments: 4

So I have the Phillies finishing in third place with an 85-77 record. Oh well. That doesn’t mean the Phillies won’t have a successful season from a player-to-player standpoint.

I’ve pulled out some (note: positive) things I think could happen this year for Phillies players.

Ryan Howard will win NL MVP
Though the Phils might miss out on the playoffs, Howard will certainly grab the gold ring for a second time in three years. Voters will be unable to disregard 61 HR, 139 RBI and a .317 AVG from the big fellow, who will drop his career-best season. Watch him get out to an early lead in the dingers category, then heat back up around mid-summer. In the end, another $10MM raise wouldn’t be out of the question.

Shane Victorino will steal 50 bases
I would say he would win the stolen base title, but that’s if Jose Reyes injures himself this season. Vic is a smart runner, and with or without Davy Lopes at first base (get well soon, Davey), he’ll swipe 53 bags while being caught 11 times.

Pat Burrell will hit 40 home runs
Not far fetched by any means. It’s Burrell’s contract year, which means he’ll be on the warpath for a fat contract from an AL team seeking a DH. He hit 37 back in 2002, probably the last time he was completely healthy. Supposedly he’s healthy now, and he can see better. Ring it up, kids: Burrell is joining the Big Man in the Phillie Forty Club.

Pedro Feliz will not make the most outs in baseball
Juan Pierre will. Feliz will have his most patient year yet (not really patient, but for him it’ll be a feat) as he bats in the safer, more luxurious No. 6 or 7 hole throughout the season. The pressure put on him to be a power source in San Francisco is gone. Now that he can mostly concentrate on defense and getting on base, he’ll have a good season. Not great. Good.

Cole Hamels will win 20 games and record 200 strikeouts
Again, not far fetched by any means. Is he a Cy Young? Maybe. But a lot of great candidates abound in the NL, so the race will be tough. Hamels has the offense to get him 20 wins, so hopefully they don’t slack off during his starts (because they know they don’t need to score a lot). The strikeouts — if he stays healthy all year, he’s a lock.

Brett Myers will make the All-Star team and record 17 wins
Finally, I believe this is Myers’ career year. If it is, this team may not be an 85-win team, but a 90-win team. The pressure is off him to be The Man, and he’ll smoothly end losing streaks and light fuses as the No. 2 guy posing as ace. His dirty-dog style and intensity is necessary for a top-flight pitcher — if he doesn’t have finesse. Myers is ready for the spotlight.

James Happ will win 10 games
A mid-season call-up, Happ will win a string of games in the summer months to make his name known. He’ll be an integral part of the Phillies success. Of course, that’s if Adam Eaton and Kris Benson don’t work out, Chad Durbin doesn’t offer solace, and Kyle Kendrick comes unglued. That can easily all happen.

Brad Lidge will save 40 games and be Rolaids Relief Man of the Year
I don’t know if anyone has ever made the Rolaids prediction, but I will. Lidge could be an atomic bomb for the Phils … or he could be a pot of gold. I’ll hope for the latter and say he provides the boost the Phils need to win the NL East. (Of course, in my 85-win land, he struggles to remain healthy and effective all season, leading to a situation where Fabio Castro is closing games.)

Yes, anything can happen this year.


Odds And Ends: “Christmas Eve” Version

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Sun, March 30, 2008 01:49 PM Comments: 0

Some odds and ends on this Christmas Eve-like day:

The Phils were rumored to be trading for him, but it fell through. Now he could be swept up easier. I don’t really love the idea of him, though.

A quick summation of that move: The Tigers needed bullpen help. They got a guy who will get lefties out in the 6th inning. See that, Phils?

Ah, hear that, Phils brass? That’s the sound of your biggest slugger smirking with unhappy sarcasm.

  • There’s a rumor rumbling that the Phillies are close to trading future considerations for Texas pitcher Robinson Tejeda.

The right-hander was 5-9 with a 6.61 ERA in 19 games last year for the Rangers. As you remember, he started 13 games for the Phils in 2005, going a respectable 4-3 with a nice 3.57 ERA (his WHIP, however, was a more telling 1.377). He was originally dealt to Texas with Jake Blalock for David Dellucci. If this is true, Tejeda would likely be the fifth starter, and Adam Eaton would become mop-up guy.

  • Tonight, myself and a few Phillies bloggers will be doing a Phlogger Roundtable.

I’ll have the discussion on PN later tonight.

He also has the Phils going 85-77.

  • Also, to you readers who want me to be more optimistic, right now I’m more feeling 89 wins. But I’ll stick with 85 for now.

This team tortures me.


Why I Can’t Come To Terms With This Phillies Team

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Sun, March 30, 2008 02:51 AM Comments: 6

In yesterday’s preview of the NL East, I wrote the Phillies were going to win 85 games in 2008.

That’s the pessimistic prediction.

The Phillies lay somewhere between 85 and 100 wins; yes, Jimmy Rollins, your 100-win forecast isn’t totally ridiculous. I could just put the Phils in the middle — at 92 wins — and call it a day, but that would be unfair to all of you readers. And it would be unfair to me, because I have no idea what to think about this team. I’ve covered them — I say it loose enough to forgive the newspaper and online beat writers who get paid for this, and loose enough to forgive my fellow fan bloggers out there — since November here, and I’ve followed them more than ever since last season opened. I’ve seen the trends, I can almost predict everything that happens.

But something happened last year — sometime around September 15 — the Phillies stopped being predictable.

Last year’s Phillies would’ve made the valiant push. They would’ve reached as close as a game back, but the Mets would’ve taken care of the Nationals and Marlins. Moreover, the Phils would’ve lost that 13-11 game against the Cardinals (you know, the one where they had a big lead and the bad half of the bullpen almost gave it all away?); they would’ve found a way to lose that night game against the Braves — maybe Antonio Alfonseca would’ve let a couple hits by; and they would’ve been three back going into September 30, and they would’ve lost a heartless game to the Nationals. They would’ve been 86-76. Again.

Somehow that didn’t happen. Somehow they pulled out that Cardinal game, they won on a flurry against the Braves, and Brett Myers leaped in the air after throwing a picturesque curveball to Wily Mo Pena. Somehow they took the crown.

Here’s what happened for them to do it: Kyle Kendrick appeared and threw quality start after quality start; Kyle Lohse kept the team in games down the stretch; Tadahito Iguchi came from heaven to keep them at bay when Chase Utley went down; JC Romero became the best setup man in baseball for two months; Tom Gordon didn’t get injured; Jimmy Rollins socked a bunch of triples and ran on speed pills; Jayson Werth became a deadly hitter and fleet-footed pinch man; Michael Bourn got a chance to steal a load of bags; the rotation somehow held together when Cole Hamels missed three starts; JD Durbin became an impossible stopgap; Ryan Howard pulled it together to swat homers late in the season; and oh yeah, Pat Burrell became the best hitter in Major League Baseball for an entire half of the season.

How the hell can all that happen again?

It can’t. It won’t. And sadly, the front office didn’t do enough to make all that unnecessary. They said the main concern was pitching, pitching, pitching: They grabbed Brad Lidge and moved Brett Myers to the rotation. Good. They re-signed JC Romero (for too much buck). OK. Then what? Tim Lahay? Travis Blackley? Rule V picks? No David Riske. No Ron Mahay. Not even an effort. They low-balled Hiroki Kuroda, most likely. Fine they didn’t get Kyle Lohse back, but no attempts to get anything else. The pitching staff entering 2008 is the same as the one that left 2007, only Brad Lidge is Kyle Lohse. An upgrade, yes, but —

How can we expect another drop-dead performance by Romero? And Gordon’s a year older and a few high fastballs from a 6.00 ERA. Ryan Madson is a good arm; he’s solid, but he’ll get overworked because of Romero, Lidge and Gordon. Mark my words: Ryan Madson will be considerably hurt by July.

Then there’s a questionable rotation. Brett Myers has been nothing short of ace-worthy since moving back to the rotation, and it’s pretty certain Cole Hamels will have another solid season (then again, he’s never played a full one, and this spring wasn’t completely a good one). But Kyle Kendrick hasn’t shown any indication he’ll go the full ride without letting up hit after hit. Jamie Moyer, at 45, will be figured out just as much as Kendrick. He may get over five innings … I don’t know … four times this season. That isn’t enough. Forget the fifth starter mess — while that’s not a big concern, I know what’s going to happen: Either JA Happ or Drew Carpenter get overthrown into the role by July, or Eaton stinks it up with a 5.50 ERA, or they grab some waiver special to stem the tide. It’s Myers and Hamels and pray, just pray things work.

For all that, though, it’s very possible Kendrick settles into a groove and becomes Brandon Webb-lite. It’s very possible Moyer’s starts are quick and he can get into the sixth inning. It’s very possible Eaton has waves of good stars complementing his bad ones, en route to a 4.80 ERA or something. It’s not entirely hard to imagine. But I see more games getting out of hand after Kendrick, Moyer and Eaton exit and Tim Lahay and Clay Condrey enter. And this offense will not be able to rebound.

It’s a damn shame, too, because this offense is unreal. Ryan Howard is primed for a 60-HR season. The line might read 61 HR, 141 RBI, .315 and a surefire MVP. And Chase Utley will be the same old top 2B he is. Pat Burrell should smoke through a good first half, maybe wilting at the turn, but still put up his 29 HR, 102 RBI, .258 line. Shane Victorino is a star in the making, and he’ll swipe at least 40 while making probably 25 diving stops. I don’t expect much from Geoff Jenkins or Pedro Feliz or Jayson Werth or Greg Dobbs, but if they can each put together 15 HR, 40 RBI, .265 seasons, it’ll be enough.

By the way, Carlos Ruiz is going to have a career season. So Jenkins, Werth, Dobbs and Feliz won’t be big concerns.

Then there’s Jimmy. I can’t think he’ll duplicate last year’s gold mine of a season — and he could very well match it enough — and it sucks, because his production is what matters. If he’s not on base, Victorino swings for the fences and Utley and Howard are looking at lots of 1-run home runs and doubles left on base. Moreover, I don’t know why, but an injury keeps looking me in the eye. This is the year — if any — that Jimmy loses considerable time. I don’t know why I think so, but it’s coming. And once he goes down, there goes the offense. We could put up with losing Howard and Utley, but who’s backing Jimmy? Eric Bruntlett? Chris Woodward? Good freaking luck. I don’t know why, but I see it.

Then again — and this is why the 100-win mark is still doable — Rollins has another great year and the rest of the offense follows suit. The offense should win this team 50 games if it’s like last year’s, which is very possible. I think — especially if Jimmy goes down — they win 43 or 44. Can the pitching staff win more than that? I really can’t think so.

That’s what it comes down to: pitching. It always does. Last year’s team played on fire, and the reason they ultimately won was because the bullpen locked it down in September. If it happens a second-consecutive year, I’ll eat my words and we’ll win the division, but like I’ve said, I’ve seen the trends, I know this team. I just don’t see another victory.

At best, this team remains healthy, the bullpen gives a yeoman’s effort, the rotation stays together and the Phillies win 98 games. They cruise into the NLDS and blow away the Dodgers, then win a hard-fought NLCS with the Mets. (That seems to be destiny, right?) Then they win the Series — a 4-2 clip over the Indians. That’s best case. Worst case is what I wrote yesterday — third place, 85 wins, welcome Carlos Carrasco to the rotation and Scott Mathieson to the eighth inning.

I could amend my 85 wins and say this team wins 89 and the Wild Card. I was close to doing that yesterday; I fought valiantly to write it, but I couldn’t. The Braves are too balanced and the Mets just seem so destined to take the East. I’ll say this — of these three teams contending in the East, each has the potential to win at least 95 games, and each has the potential to win at most 85 games. Two will do it. I know that. Three days ago I was thinking Phillies and Braves; yesterday I was wrestling with Mets and Phillies; now I’m going Mets and Braves. For now, that’s my prediction.

I hope I’m wrong, and I hope this team wins 95, 100 games. I really hope.

All I know is — with everything I wrote — we know nothing. It’s a long season, and may the baseball gods be with us again. Strap in and enjoy the ride, fans.


2008 Season Preview: National League East

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Sat, March 29, 2008 05:15 PM Comments: 9

And now, the NL East.

NL East

1. New York Mets
It’s sad to report, but I’m picking the Mets to win the East. The offense isn’t fantastic, but it’ll suffice. Jose Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran comprise one of the top-3 trios in baseball. Behind them are a hodgepodge, including injured Moises Alou, light-swinging Brian Schneider, the OK Ryan Church and old Carlos Delgado. The supporting cast will lose them some games, but they’ll make them up with a great pitching staff. It’s Johan’s time in the NL, and he’ll be electric. I’m not counting too much on Pedro Martinez, but John Maine is enough of a No. 2 to give them huge numbers. Oliver Perez carries the back end with Orlando Hernandez and — soon — Mike Pelfrey. The difference is the bullpen: Billy Wagner might not be the greatest closer, but Pedro Feliciano and Aaron Heilman are as good as setup men get. Joe Smith is one to watch. There’s not much depth beyond the MLB club, but make no mistake: The Mets are determined to win this year above any. It is their year to take the East again.
Predicted Finish: 92-70

2. Atlanta Braves
Ouch, heh? Let’s see — a very offense top to bottom. Mark Teixeira is a beast, and he’s got Brian McCann and Jeff Franceour to help. Add young Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar and you’ve got a strong, formidable order. They’ll score runs. They can field too, like hell. The staff is old, but count on Tim Hudson to carry the weight while John Smoltz pitches in a solid final season. I don’t expect great things from Mike Hampton or even Tom Glavine, but their staff is as good as the Phils’ right now. The bullpen is strong with Rafael Soriano leading the charge, but injuries will wear them out. Still, they’re a hair better than the Phillies and will take the Wild Card.
Predicted Finish: 88-74

3. Philadelphia Phillies
Make no mistake, this is the pessimistic prediction, and I’m feeling very pessimistic. Optimistically, the lineup is amazing, the starting pitching doesn’t fall apart and the bullpen remains doable. If these things happen, this could be a 95-100 win team. But here’s the truth: Jamie Moyer is effective until the fifth inning; Kyle Kendrick will be worse, and maybe a lot worse; the fifth starter isn’t in the organization; Tom Gordon is not a good setup man; Ryan Madson and JC Romero will get overworked; there is no middle relief. And that’s just the pitching. The offense will be awesome, as Chase Utley and Ryan Howard will get theirs. Expect a let down from Jimmy Rollins — maybe an injury. Carlos Ruiz is a star catcher in the making, and Pat Burrell might deliver the goods in his contract year, but Jayson Werth, Pedro Feliz and Geoff Jenkins aren’t primed to take the baton. It’s a top-3 NL offense, but a bottom-3 NL staff. Chances are they’ll be dead by June, make their run and come up a few games short. But I really hope I’m wrong.
Predicted Finish: 85-77

4. Washington Nationals
It’s a good young team, but in no way are they ready. The offense is led by Ryan Zimmerman, who you’d think he’s 30 with his service time (he’s 23), and he’s primed for a tremendous year in Nationals Park. He’s backed by Nick Johnson, who’s probably been in the league for 15 years. The outfield is stacked with young troublemaker Elijah Dukes and crazy Lastings Milledge, and they’ll both be nice additions. Austin Kearns remains an enigma of hitting. Paul LoDuca gives relatively nothing to the team, and it won’t matter — the pitching staff is nothing. It’s led by Odalis Perez until Shawn Hill returns. Both won’t be lights out. There’s also Jason Bergmann and Matt Chico. The bullpen has standout Joel Hanrahan and a nice back end, led by closer Chad Cordero. But it’s not quite enough offense and no starting pitching. They’ll be a nice story; maybe even hitting .500, but I can’t say they will.
Predicted Finish: 75-87

5. Florida Marlins
Another good, young team, but they’re a year well behind Washington. They lost Miguel Cabrera, so it’s now the Hanley Ramirez show. Josh Willingham will drive him in with homers, and Dan Uggla will do the same with doubles. Cameron Maybin is close to joining the squad, and will be a nice fit when he does. The pitching staff is led by Mark Hendrickson — yes, the Mark Hendrickson — and has a bunch of young guys, including hopeful star Scott Olsen. Andrew Miller is also a nice arm. The bullpen has some good throwers, but they’re primed for a setback. Kevin Gregg won’t get many chances to save games, so he could be a bad play in the ninth. Still a year from making big noise, but then again, they are the Marlins — two titles in 15 years says something, right?
Predicted Finish: 63-99

Tomorrow I’ll have a more in depth preview of the Phillies, and I’ll tell you why I’m still on the fence about these guys.


2008 Season Preview: National League West

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Sat, March 29, 2008 02:10 PM Comments: 0

Expect everyone to be competitive in the NL West every year, well, except one team. Last year it was the Giants, and this year looks to be the same. Sadly.

The NL Champions came out of the division, but nobody figured it in July. The Rockies seemed dead in the water, but made a valiant comeback to take the Wild Card. Then they swept our Phillies, took down the Diamondbacks and grabbed the pennant before falling hard to the mighty Red Sox. Around them were good teams, but teams not good enough to win big games. This year, they won’t be as good. Any of them.

NL West

1. Los Angeles Dodgers
Don’t sleep on the Dodgers. It’s a slick-hitting offense and a hot pitching staff. That leads to wins in the National League. Start with the foundation, Russell Martin. Add to him Andruw Jones — who will bounce back for a solid season — and James Loney — who’s ready to break out, and you have a solid middle of the order. Juan Pierre isn’t a great leadoff guy, but somehow he’ll score runs. Youngsters Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier will become stalwarts as regulars. A good rotation starts with Brad Penny and continues with the forever-young Derek Lowe and Chad Billingsley. Hiroki Kuroda isn’t a stud, but he’s good for 12 wins and a 4.00 ERA. The back end of the bullpen, with closer Takashi Saito and setup man Johnathan Broxton, is maybe the best in the National League. Strong pitching will lead the Dodgers into contention, and enough offense makes them the division’s best.
Predicted Finish: 90-72

2. Arizona Diamondbacks
Like the Dodgers, they’ll win with pitching; the problem is, their hitting is worse off than the Blue boys. Eric Byrnes is the leader of the offense, but his 1988-type numbers won’t suffice anymore. He will run, though. Luckil, Chris Young will glide into the leadoff spot with nice power and speed. Connor Jackson is also a nice player, and should get his hits in the middle of the lineup. Will Justin Upton and Stephen Drew combine to add young depth to the offense? They will, but not enough. The pitching is strong — Dan Haren and Brandon Webb form a hot 1-2. Randy Johnson is hoping to bounce back, but the rotation was delivered a swift blow when Doug Davis was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The bullpen is good — Brandon Lyon hopes to ease into the closer role, while Tony Pena and Chad Qualls form a nice backup plan. Like I said, pitching is an obvious strength, but can they win with more young, light hitting players than the Dodgers?
Predicted Finish: 87-75

3. Colorado Rockies
Forget the old Coors Field jokes — this team can pitch. And they can hit. But are they the Wild Card, NL Champion of 2007? Meh. Start with Matt Holliday, an all-world talent who will bash. Todd Helton is still steady, but expect a let down. Garrett Atkins and Brad Hawpe are both good hitters and will produce. Troy Tulowitzki will try and expand on a record-breaking rookie season. Expect a slump, but nothing mammoth. Willy Taveras isn’t my choice for leadoff hitter of a defending NL champion. 15-year-old-lookalike Jeff Francis leads a rotation with some uncertainties. Kip Wells? Mark Redman? At least Ubaldo Jiminez is a nice young arm. Manny Corpas pitched out of his mind down the stretch as new closer; he’ll likely ascend to the top of the line this season. But it’s a mixed bag — they played over the heads to finish 2007. Are they a .500 team or an NL champ? Probably closer to the former.
Predicted Finish: 82-80

4. San Diego Padres
Adrian Gonzalez is the hot bat in a lineup of nothingness. Kevin Kouzmanoff offers hope, but Khalil Greene, 30-home run threat? Don’t think so. Is Tadahito Iguchi a starter on a contending team? He did well for a month with the Phils, but for 162? Too man questions, obviously. The pitching is there. Jake Peavy is the best starter in baseball, quite frankly, and Chris Young is great when healthy. The bullpen is also nice, but age, age, age will dictate all. Trevor Hoffman is going to lose it, it’s evident. The rotation also features Greg Maddux and Randy Wolf. One is old, one is always hurt. Can they combine for 22 wins? And Justin Germano is ready to get going in the rotation, but he faltered in the second half. There’s hope in San Diego, but the offense is too bad, and the pitching is too questionable. Watch for a bad year out in the sands.
Predicted Finsh: 78-84

5. San Francisco Giants
Welcome to post-Barry San Francisco, not a nice place to live. Your new Bonds? Aaron Rowand. He’ll hit 20 homers and hand in a .280 clip, as long as he’s healthy. But really, what can you expect? Ray Durham is also a big feature of the offense. Seriously. Randy Winn, Bengie Molina. I mean, come on. Brian Roberts has fantasy value, though. The pitching staff includes a lot of young promise, including Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. Barry Zito looks to regain his 2003 form. The closer is Brian Wilson — lying in bed. Yes, pitching is OK, but there’s no way they’re winning with that offense. Forget it, San Fran — it’s 100 losses or bust.
Predicted Finish: 61-101


2008 Season Preview: National League Central

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Sat, March 29, 2008 12:08 PM Comments: 0

Last season, the NL Central was horrendous. In 2006, the season was horrendous. To be blunt, the NL Central is not a good division.

To be fair, the Cubs and Brewers had records over .500, but the division still holds the Cardinals, Astros, Reds and Pirates. Can any of these teams jump the .500 barrier and make the Central a competitive, quality league?

NL Central

1. Chicago Cubs
Kosuke Fukudome joins a middle-of-the-road order with the ever-dangerous Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez and Derek Lee. Around them are questions including the young Geovany Soto and Felix Pie, and the fast but powerless Ryan Theriot. They should hit their share, but it’ll come in waves. The pitching is a strength, led by longtime ace Carlos Zambrano and lefties Rich Hill and Ted Lilly. Ryan Dempster is new to the rotation, and it’s uncertain how he’ll perform — ballpark him with 9 wins and a 4.80 ERA. Kerry Wood is the new closer, but Carlos Marmol is right behind him (and might take over at some point). Injuries remain an issue, but in the Central, the Cubs have the right horses to take it.
Predicted Finish: 89-73

2. Cincinnati Reds
Every few years, the Reds make a run at the throne, but don’t quite make it. This year is that year, but promise holds for the future. The offense is big and brawny, with Adam Dunn leading the charge. Ken Griffey Jr. still has the juice to hit 25 homers, especially in that ballpark. Added to the fray this year is Joey Votto, a standout hitter who should club 25-30. Brandon Phillips had a breakout year as one of the top 2B in baseball. Aaron Harang is a true ace, but after him there’s a crapshoot. Bronson Arroyo will reach 10 wins and maybe a 4.00 ERA. The rest of the rotation will be messed with throughout the year. The bullpen is stacked with names, but what will they give them? Francisco Cordero is nice, and Jared Burton will be a hot play in the setup role. They’re a good looking team and should stay in the race until September 1. Then, who knows?
Predicted Finish: 83-79

3. Milwaukee Brewers
Last season was a joyous one until September, as a slick-hitting offense rallied a city. Ryan Braun was unbelievable — a full season would’ve had him around 55 HR and 150 RBI with a .340 clip — but can he duplicate? I say it’s a small slip backwards. Prince Fielder is the centerpiece, and he should knock around 50 dingers. JJ Hardy played out of his mind last year and will likely get close to 20 HR again. It’s a nice lineup, full of power, speed and contact hitting. Expect them to be just as good in 2008. The pitching, however, is mediocre. Ben Sheets will try to stay healthy — if he does, expect 16 wins and a 3.70 ERA. After him it’s Jeff Suppan and the injured Yovani Gallardo, who is a stunning youngster. The bullpen is the weakness with new closer Eric Gagne and setup man Derrick Turnbow, both known for their blow ups. They say bad pitching will waste a good Phillies team — no, bad pitching will waste a good Brewers team.
Predicted Finish: 81-81

4. Saint Louis Cardinals
Oh how the mighty have fallen. The Cards have removed the heroes of 2006 and have replaced them with a one-hit wonder (Rick Ankiel), a has-been (Troy Glaus) and a defensive-minded squib hitter (Cesar Izturis). The real problem, however, is Albert Pujols’ impending season-ending surgery. He’ll undergo it at some point this year, ending the dream for good. Chris Duncan will hope to erase any problems, but he can’t do it alone. The pitching is hanging on Adam Wainwright to develop into an ace and Chris Carpenter to return mid-season. Kyle Lohse should give 11 wins and a 5.02 ERA to the effort. The bullpen isn’t bad, with Ryan Franklin setting up Jason Isringhausen. Injuries should show this team’s real side, but the fans will continue to show and cheer.
Predicted Finish: 76-86

5. Houston Astros
Ed Wade came into Houston and turned the team upside down. Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman remain, but now have Miguel Tejada, who despite the drug problems, should settle into the lineup nicely as a third option. Hunter Pence is a future star, but won’t duplicate 2007. Michael Bourn — our favorite role player from the division champs — will lead off the team and patrol the hill in center. A tall order for Bourn; I hope he succeeds. The rotation is Roy Oswalt and pray for excessive heat. Brandon Backe and Wandy Rodriguez won’t give you much more than what they have the past few years. The bullpen is weak outside of new closer Jose Valverde, the one good move Wade made this offseason. Offense will win games, but pitching will lose more.
Predicted Finish: 71-91

6. Pittsburgh Pirates
Oh look, the Buccos in last place! And why not? The offense has Jason Bay, but who else — Adam LaRoche? Jack Wilson? Nate McLouth? Freddy Sanchez? It’s not looking pretty in the ‘burgh. They have a slew of nice hitting prospects, including Steven Pearce, but they won’t see time yet. That’s a shame — it’s time to rebuild. The pitching staff isn’t much better, but there’s always promise in Ian Snell, Zach Duke and Tom Gorzelanny. Toegther they’ll put up nice ERAs, but not nice win-loss records. Damaso Marte is the stud in a mediocre bullpen. Maybe the pitching staff will boost this team to fourth or fifth place, but it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock ‘n’ roll.
Predicted Finish: 65-97

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