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2010 Previews

Atlanta Braves Preview

Posted by Michael Baumann, Sun, April 04, 2010 12:01 PM Comments: 16

Atlanta Braves (86-76, third place in the NL East in 2009)

Happy Easter, everyone, Christ is Risen, and so are the Braves.

I hate this team. I know those Phillies fans who only started following baseball in 2007 think the Mets are the Phillies’ biggest rivals, but for those of us who came of age during the 1990s, there will always be a special dark place in our hearts for the Braves. The 1990s Braves were clean, boring, methodical, reeked of Southern passive-aggressiveness, and ruthlessly dominant. Of course, since 2005, the tables have turned somewhat, with the Braves missing the playoffs each of the past four seasons and the Phillies winning three division titles, two pennants, and a World Series.

While the Braves stumbled through a purgatory of mediocrity for four years, they seem to have figured things out and are being tipped by many pundits to give the Phillies the strongest challenge for the division title.

2010 Season

Since the departure of most of the stalwarts from the 1990s dynasty, the Braves’ greatest strength has been local scouting. They’ve studied and gobbled up high school prospects from Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida, and it’s paid off quite well. That process netted Brian McCann, one of the top three hitting catchers in baseball, world-beating outfield prospect Jason Heyward, and other assets who were traded later, including Jeff Francoeur and Adam Wainwright.

The Braves also were able to make the most of their Caribbean scouting department, bringing in Phillie-killer Jair Jurrjens from the Netherlands Antilles and Yunel Escobar (who, depending on how Jimmy Rollins and Jose Reyes do this year, might be the second-best shortstop in the division) from Cuba. Martin Prado is a solid average guy who plays multiple positions.

The Braves, with Heyward, Matt Diaz, Nate McLouth, and Melky Cabrera, have tremendous outfield depth, and a formidable starting rotation. While no Atlanta pitcher is quite up to the standards of Roy Halladay, they legitimately go four or five deep with reliable, quality starting pitchers.

I predict Atlanta’s return to the playoffs this season, but as the wild card team. In Bobby Cox’s last year, the organization has given him one more shot at a World Series title.

Prediction: 90-72

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Washington Nationals Preview

Posted by Amanda Orr, Sat, April 03, 2010 10:30 AM Comments: 8

Washington Nationals (59-103, last place in NL East)

There were not many positives for the Washington Nationals in 2009.  Their below average offense and pitching resulted in the worst record in baseball. 

Manny Acta managed 87 games before getting the boot.  Jesus Flores, Christian Guzman and others suffered injuries.  Adam Dunn looked lost in the outfield. The woes were endless.  Heck, they couldn’t even spell their name right.

The one bright spot for the Nationals was Ryan Zimmerman, who earned a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger in 2009.  The 24-year old third baseman batted .292 with an .888 on-base plus slugging percentage.

Although it was very painful to watch the Nationals last season, there is reason to believe that the Nationals won’t be as terrible as they were in the past.

The 2010 Season

It’s so easy to write off the Nationals.  They aren’t going to contend this year, and perhaps not for a few more.  However, the Nationals always seem to be that pesky team that doesn’t quit and gives up a good fight — at least it seems that way when the play the Phillies.

The Nationals are young, but they added a veteran presence.  The Nationals signed Jason Marquis, Ivan Rodriguez, Chein-Ming Wang, and Adam Kennedy.  While none of these moves are hugely significant, they could change the vibe of the clubhouse, which no longer include Lastings Milledge or Elijiah Dukes.

The new veterans could certainly help out some of the younger and talented players.  Ian Desmond has a lot of potential, and earned the starting shortstop job this spring.  In addition, the speedy centerfielder  Nyjer Morgan is capable of stealing 50 bases, or more.

Although Stephen Strasburg did not break camp, there’s a great chance that he could be in the Nationals’ starting rotation by June.  Strasburg impressed this spring, and many said that they’ve never seen the ball explode out of a pitcher’s hand like Strasburg.

As of now, the Nationals’ one-two punch is Jason Marquis and John Lannan, who has improved throughout his career.

While Strasburg is the organization’s biggest pitching prospect, Drew Storen should not be overlooked.  The reliever has closer potential and could be called up this season. 

For now, the Nationals will go with Matt Capps as their closer, who will attempt to rebound from a poor season with the Pirates.

The Nationals aren’t ready for contention this year, but may in about two or three years.  And if they draft Bryce Harper in this year’s draft — look out!

Prediction: 69-93

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Florida Marlins Preview

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, April 02, 2010 02:10 PM Comments: 20

Florida Marlins: (87-75, second place in the N.L. East in 2009)

The Florida Marlins are truly an amazing team. They’ve got a cycle going: start out with a crap team, draft and scout well, make a few shrewd trades, win a World Series, sell everyone off, and repeat. So far, it’s worked about once every five to seven years.

In 2009, the Marlins won 87 games with a combined team salary of roughly $34.5 million, according to Cot’s Contracts. That means they paid about $397,000 per win. It’s about the cost of a house in the suburbs, but it’s far better than the Phillies’ ratio (93 wins, $127.9 million payroll, $1.375 million per win) or the World Champion Yankees (103 wins, $206.8 million payroll, $2.01 million per win). Now, I’m sure that while Marlins fans (if there are any) are proud that their team paid about 1/8 as much per win as the Yankees, they’d much rather overspend for a World Series title.

But there is something to be said for being able to scare the bejeezus out of the Phillies, Mets, and Braves every year with a bunch of homegrown prospects and reclamation projects. Their scouting department does an excellent job and Fredi Gonzalez, while I think he’s a self-important, tyrannical prick, is an excellent manager who now has won more games than any other manager in team history. While I don’t think anyone in his right mind would pick the Marlins to win the division outright, you’d have to be an idiot to underestimate them.

2010 Preview

We know that Hanley Ramirez is probably the best position player in the National League not named Pujols. We know that Dan Uggla and Jorge Cantu will hit some and play terrible defense. Apart from that, the Marlins just have a slew of young players, enough that if Andrew Miller or Cameron Maybin doesn’t work out, they don’t really care.

Look for the Marlins to pitch very well. Josh Johnson might turn out to be the third-best starting pitcher in the division, and is an intimidating presence on the mound at a massive 6-foot-7, 250 pounds. He rode a mid-90s fastball and a hammer slider to a 3.03 FIP and 15 wins last year, good enough results that when MLB ordered the Marlins to go spend some money, they spent it locking up Johnson to a contract extension. He and Hanley Ramirez are the only Marlins signed beyond this year.

Another Marlin pitcher to watch out for is Ricky Nolasco. Think of him as a right-handed Cliff Lee–he was quite good in 2008 but went to the minors in 2009. He straightened out his mechanics and came back up to the majors with his problems fixed. In September and October, he struck out more than 11 batters every 9 innings, a staggering total for a starting pitcher. Look for Nolasco’s 2008-09-10 to be a less-dramatic version of Lee’s 2006-07-08 seasons.

Beyond Johnson and Nolasco, they have the team’s highest-paid player, Nate Robertson, acquired from the Tigers this spring. Of course, the Tigers are paying $9.6 million of his $10 million salary. Beyond him stand a collection of young pitchers, ranging from former No. 6 overall pick Miller (6-foot-7) to Chris Volstad (6-foot-8) to Anibal Sanchez, who’s only 6-foot but threw a no-hitter once. If this season goes south, look for the Marlins to loan their starting rotation to the Heat next year.

If you don’t know the Marlins by now, you will never never never know them–they’re going to be a young, exciting team that finishes a few games over .500 and scares the crap out of the Phillies in September. With the ascendancy of the Braves, the Phillies have a bigger chaser in their rearview mirror, but don’t sleep on the Fish, or your playoff hopes might sleep with them.

Prediction: 86-76

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San Diego Padres Preview

Posted by Michael Baumann, Sat, March 27, 2010 10:19 AM Comments: 7

San Diego Padres: (75-87, 4th Place in the NL West in 2009)

Look back to about mid-September 2007. The Phillies, mired in a 13-year playoff drought, were still trailing the defending division champion Mets, and 3,000 miles away, the San Diego Padres, coming off two straight division titles of their own, had a comfortable division lead over the Colorado Rockies and, if that didn’t work out, over the Brewers in the Wild Card. The Padres had two top-line starting pitchers, one of whom, Jake Peavy, was one of the top two or three in baseball. Their bullpen, led by all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman, featured a young Heath Bell and a host of young, effective relievers. Life was good. Then you know what happened next. The Phillies overtook the Mets and kept going all the way to the top of the National League. The Padres, on the other hand, went into a tailspin, famously losing in the last weekend of the season to the Brewers, then to the Rockies in a 13-inning one-game playoff that must be the single least entertaining extra-inning playoff game in history.

They’ve never been the same. Milton Bradley and Khalil Greene went crazy and are now gone. Greg Maddux and David Wells have retired, and Brian Giles might as well have. Peavy’s gone, as is Kevin Kouzmanoff. From that those 2005-07 Padres teams, the only real contributors who are still around are Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell.

The Padres have lived a truly bizarre and (I’d speculate) cursed existence. Only two World Series appearances in their 41-season history, neither of which were even competitive. Worst uniforms in baseball. Gimmick ballpark. They parlayed some of the best years of Tony Gwynn, Kevin Brown, Rickey Henderson, and others into a long series of disappointments. The 2005 edition of the Padres holds the dubious distinction of the worst playoff team ever. They’re the only team to never have had a player thrown a no-hitter or hit for the cycle.

In 2009, Adrian Gonzalez was the only above-average position player, leading the team in batting average, home runs, walks, hits, runs, OBP, slugging percentage, RBI, and total bases. No one else had an OPS+ above 105. Tim Stauffer, with only 73 IP, posted a 104 ERA+. No other Padres starting pitcher put up even a league-average ERA. The Padres, in 2009, were a team that couldn’t hit or pitch. Bad as they were, it’s a miracle they weren’t worse.

2010 Season

The Padres are really the only team in the division without any reason to be optimistic. The Dodgers and Rockies can expect to contend for the pennant this season, and the D-Backs and Giants have enough exciting young players to give the fans hope to contend soon. The Padres? Well, they’ve got a great closer, Heath Bell, who might get traded. They’ve got one of the best first basemen in the game, Adrian Gonzalez, who might get traded, though I’m not quite sure why everyone’s assuming he’s going to get traded to the Red Sox.

Everth Cabrera’s a solid player, putting up a near-league-average OPS at shortstop in 2009, and at only age 22. Another young player, Kyle Blanks, is expected to put up huge power numbers if the Padres can ever find somewhere to hide him defensively. Scott Hairston hit for some power and, like his brother, can play multiple positions. The Padres als0 have a slew of low-minors prospects who might be worth something down the road, including a personal favorite of mine, a fire hydrant-shaped 20-year-old outfielder named Jaff Decker.

But this is a team that, in all likelihood, is set to bottom out in 2010 and remain irrelevant for the foreseeable future. Until then, the good folks in San Diego will just have to keep the faith.

Prediction: 63-99

Phillies Nation’s Season Previews Will Resume with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

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San Francisco Giants Preview

Posted by Nick "Beerman" Staskin, Thu, March 25, 2010 08:39 AM Comments: 11

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS: (88-74 THIRD PLACE, NL WEST in 2009)

Last season, the San Francisco Giants put together their first winning season since 2004, posting an 88-74 record. Unfortunately for them, that was only good enough for third in the suddenly deep National League West.

With the reigning back-to-back Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum heading the front of a very deep rotation, the Giants could be poised to challenge the Dodgers and Rockies atop the West.

The emergence of the “Kung Fu Panda,” Pablo Sandoval made the Giants more than just a one trick pony. Sandoval hit .330 with 25 HR and 90 RBI to finally put a bat in a lineup that has needed one for a very long time. Former Philadelphia fan favorite Aaron Rowand helped contribute to the lineup, but has failed to show the offensive prowess that earned him his big deal in San Francisco.

2010 SEASON

Matt Cain provides a solid number two that could anchor many staffs in MLB. Coming off a 14-8 season with a 2.89 ERA, imagine if he continues to improve? Behind Cain are Barry Zito, off a rebound season of his own, Jonathan Sanchez, who threw a no-hitter last year, and newly acquired Todd Wellemeyer.

If Zito continues his comeback, the Giants have a top four that goes further than almost anybody in the National League, our Phillies included.

The signing of Mark DeRosa should add a little more pop to SF’s improving lineup as well as some depth as there isn’t a position that he can’t field.

There are a lot of ifs that come with the Giants, including closer Brian Wilson, but what it really comes down to is –  they’ll go as far as Lincecum, Cain and Sandoval can take them.

PREDICTION: 87-75

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