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Posted on: June 18, 2008 4:24 pm
 

"At the Dish" Imploding Indians, Tanking Tigers

The Indians and Tigers awakened this morning perhaps heading in different directions. Sure, Detroit has been hot for two weeks and Cleveland has not.

But they awoke dead even in the AL Central, tied for third at a very disappointing 33-38. I'm sure neither team is sending members on the opposing side "Get Well Soon" cards. Those are likely arriving only from immediate family members. There is no crying in baseball. Not much sympathy either.

The two teams are having similar problems. Start with pitching. Justin Verlander and C.C. Sabathia (the former considered a Cy Young Award contender and the latter the defending Cy Young Award winner) have had some outstanding moments. But collectively, Verlander at 3-9, 4.55 and Sabathia at 5-8, 4.26 are not headed for that prize. At least not this season.

Each team has lost two pitchers in their respective rotations for all or a large chunk of the remainder of the season.

For the Tribe, Fausto Carmona (19-7 in 2007) is a week or two away from a return and may be ready to return to form. He went 4-2, 3.10 prior to his strained hip. They are not so lucky with Jake Westbrook, on his way to Tommy John elbow surgery and done for 2008.

The Tigers have lost Jeremy Bonderman for the season to blood clot surgery. He is fortunate to be alive and with any luck will return next spring. Dontrelle Willis is buying the spreads for players in the bushes Lakeland (Class A) off his multi-million dollar contract, and he's hopeful that his career that has careened off the rails, will somehow get back on track. I wish him all the best, he's a stand up guy and a class act. Still he may be all done, another victim of Steve Blass/Rick Ankiel syndrome. In short, unable to throw a ball at on the Jersey boardwalk with any reasonable certainty that it will land in the ocean.

Each club has had one pleasant rotation surprise.

Cleveland has the bigger package with the resurgent Cliff Lee and Detroit the smaller package in Kenny Rogers. Lee (10-1, 2.55) has been as effective as any pitcher in baseball all season.

Rogers (5-4, 4.36) is a "feel" pitcher and must be comfortable to succeed. Kenny looked like he might finally be done at age 43 until recently. He's not going to overpower many hitters Recovering from blood clot surgery of his own in 2007, he appears to just now be getting that "feel" back. He has pitched at least seven innings in five straight starts, and has not allowed more than two runs in any of them. Sadly, run support has not been there for "The Gambler". A string of four straight no decisions ended in San Francisco last night with a 5-1 Tigers win.

Great segue to my main point. Where's the hitting?

Let's examine team stats.

I say hitting is the larger problem so far for each ballclub.

It simply is not pitching. I tried but could not come up with team pitching stats up to the point of last year's All Star break. But here's the comparison of team ERAs through last night's games and at the close of last season.

Indians 2007 season 4.05. So far this season 4.16.

Tigers 2007 season 4.57. So far this season 4.59.

The two teams record as stated earlier are dead even this year. Last year on this date, the Indians were 41-28 and the Tigers 40-29.

Detroit was 52-34 and Cleveland 52-36 at the All Star break last year. So Detroit had played 86 games and Cleveland 88 by that reference point. Each have played 71 so far this season. As of this morning then, the Tigers had played 81% of the number of games as at last season's break and the Indians had played 83%. The run production numbers I'll cite team wide for last year will be reduced based on that percentage of total games played so far this year with the number of games each had played by last year's All Star break. This year's numbers are actual.

Here we go.

Indians 2007 vs. 2008

Runs: 380/322 (-58)
Runs per game: 5.35, 4.54 (down .81/game)
HR: 88/67(down 24%)
Batting average: .272/.246 (down .026)
OBP: .350/.317 (down .033)
SLG %: .442/.376 (down a whopping .066)

Tigers 2007 vs. 2008

Runs: 424/339 (-85)
Runs per game: 5.95/4.77 (down a whopping 1.17/game)
HR: 85/74 (down 13%)
Batting average: .290/.266 (down .024)
OBP: .352/.338 (down .014)
SLG%: .473/.424 (down .049)

I don't have OPS numbers or batting averages with runners in scoring position statistics. I think what I have cited above will suffice though. Don't you?

Pictured below are some of the guys that must pick it up, with the biggest culprits appearing first. By no means are they the only ones. Some will not be able to pick it up any time soon or at all because of injuries. I could go on and on, and I have some stats that appear next to each, but I have said enough.

Travis Hafner
2007 All Star Break 49 R, 14 HR, 57 RBI, .262BA, .397 OBP, .452 SLG
Today 16 R, 4 HR, 22 RBI, .217BA, .326 OBP, .350 SLG
"Is it physical problems, in his head, or what? Where's "Pronk"?"


Victor Martinez
2007 All Star Break 44R, 16 HR, 68 RBI, .324 BA, .382 OBP, .553 SLG
Today 17R, 0 HR, 21 RBI, .278 BA, ..332 OBP, .333 SLG
Out until at least All Star break, arthroscopic elbow "cleanup"
"O HR! When did V-Mart turn into Jason Kendall?"

Miguel Cabrera
2007 Season (with Marlins) 91R, 34 HR, 119 RBI, .320 BA, .401 OBP, .565 SLG
Today 34R, 10 HR, 42 RBI, .284 BA, .356 OBP, .471 SLG
"Coming around but will have to get real hot to approach '07 numbers. May get close though as he gets more acclimated."


Gary Sheffield
2007 Season 107R, 25 HR, 75 RBI, .265 BA, .378 OBP, .462 SLG
Today 18 R, 3 HR, 12 RBI, .213 BA, .344 OBP, .341 SLG
"And most of the 2007 production included nearly nothing after injury in late July. Team hasn't been the same since. Rushed back too quickly from bum shoulder. Says he's feeling better and may be back soon. Could be, but also could be through."

Magglio Ordonez
2007 Season 117R, 28 HR, 139 RBI, .363 BA, .434 OBP, .595 SLG
Today 40 R, 10 HR, 42 RBI, .302, .376 OBP, .459 SLG
"It almost isn't fair. He's still having a productive year but set the bar so high last year. Still, even though last year was a career year, he put up similar production numbers in multiple seasons in Chicago, so who knows?"
Posted on: June 16, 2008 1:21 pm
 

Cards-Tigers...Will the Real Contender stand up?

The St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Detroit Tigers in game 5 of the 2006 World Series to surprise many observers and win the championship of MLB for that year.

That team had stumbled through September, crawling into the playoffs at 83-79. It was widely accepted by most baseball observers that the Padres would certainly put them out in the division series. But the Cardinals had different ideas, defeating San Diego in four games (best of five).

Now the team with the best record in the National League lurked in the NLCS. Surely the 2006 Mets' juggernaut would quickly quell the St. Louis uprising. And it appeared headed exactly that way when Tom Glavine and two relievers shut the Cards out in game one, then held a 6-4 lead in game two after six innings at Shea. Then Scott Spiezio tripled in two to tie it at 6 in the top of the seventh. Billy Wagner got rocked in the top of the ninth by a So Taguchi home run, then the Cards tacked on two more and we had a brand new series heading to St. Louis.

It wasn't easy and it wasn't always pretty following that rousing win. But ultimately the Cardinals would shock all observers and again bitterly disappoint the Met faithful by again winning at Shea in game seven, thanks to a Yadier Molina two-run shot in the top of the ninth.

Now the overachievers packed their bags and headed to Detroit, where the red hot Tigers had waited close to a week for the NL to play out. These Tigers had won seven straight games over the Yankees and Athletics following an opening ALDS loss in the Bronx.

Cards in 5 games. Wow! Where did that come from?

Observers like myself in Motown are still trying to figure that out. Just like the faithful at Shea are reeling from that NLCS loss. Since these two series, the Mets and Tigers have been arguably the biggest underachievers in baseball. And not even very arguably. Go ahead. Present your argument as to a bigger underachiever than either of these two clubs since that postseason. Make my day. Do you feel lucky punk? Well do ya?

Pundits and prognosticators expected lofty achievements from both in 2007 and 2008. Granted, the Tigers have showed a pulse in the just concluded home stand.

But c'mon. A pulse? This team was picked by Sports Illustrated to take all the marbles this year. Even with the excellent three series just concluded, the Tigers are still five under .500 (32-37) after reeling off eight wins in nine contests. Don't bother doing the math (particularly if you are in the "D") to see what the Tigers record was before this awakening.

Chin up though Tigers fans. This story is to be continued. The "strongest division in baseball" is now arguably the weakest (along with the other "strongest division in baseball", the sorry NL West). So now the Tigers are only six games out of first place in this upside down world of "Baseball '08".

Enough about them. We are focusing on the Cardinals. Given up for dead before the 2006 post season. Given up for dead before the '07 season. Not even on the radar screen during this spring.

Now the Cardinals are flying high at 42-29 and trail the Cubs by 3.5 games in the "weakest division in baseball"; err, now better known as the strongest division in baseball. And although the Cubs have played outstanding baseball all year, they have to be at least peeking over their shoulders at St. Louis. You know how battles always wind up between these two. The "little brother" (Cubs) always get a butt whipping from big brother (Cardinals).

Who knows though? That was the way it always was with that other huge rivalry involving big and little brother until the Red Sox changed everything in 2004. And at first glance, one is compelled to believe that Tony LaRussa has this team cobbled together with chicken wire and duct tape. Big breakthroughs in 2004 (Red Sox) and 2005 (White Sox). Could the Cubbies possibly make it 1-100 and win it all this year?


Tony LaRussa



Remember something that is very important here. Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds weren't the biggest guns for the Cards in that Met series in 2006. Yadier Molina and So Taguchi were. They still have Yadier. They also have a fundamentally excellent team. The Cardinals have excellent defense. The team lead MLB in assists, indicative of good range. It ranks 7th in fielding percentage with only 37 in 71 games. They are not in the AL with the Tigers but compare for a moment. Detroit has 93 fewer assists and ten more errors. Not to mention half the club playing out of position. At shortstop the Cardinals have Adam Kennedy with outstanding range. The Tigers have former Cardinal standout Edgar Renteria. Renteria had great range. Only that was in 1998, not 2008 where he has become somewhat of a statue at the position. Back to the Cardinals division, the Cubs have OK defense but not as solid overall as the Cardinals.

St. Louis is very resilient. After the Phillies handed them a shellacking for the ages Saturday (20-2), the Cardinals responded with a come from behind 7-6 win Sunday. They may be hurting for a while with "Phat" Albert Pujols out. Yet if they can tread water for the approximate three weeks before he returns, I have a feeling that they'll be all right. They could use a productive Chris Duncan, who was just recalled from AAA Memphis to pick up the slack for Albert. Career farmhand Ryan Ludwick has been phenomenal all year and makes the meat of the order quite formidable. Can he keep it up? Troy Glaus was not hitting for any power until ripping 6 home runs in this month alone. Rick Ankiel is hitting for power, if not average.







Ludwick Pujols Glaus Ankiel Duncan

Pitching? Jason Isringhausen is a key. He believes that he was tipping his pitches (the curve particularly) and that he will be back to his old self soon. That would be a good thing as Ryan Franklin has cooled following an excellent stint as the closer. Adam Wainwright is the real deal as a starter, and Todd Wellemeyer looked good in May (NL Pitcher of the Month) but has been getting lit up lately (started the 20-2 debacle). The team has gotten more than it could have hoped from career journeymen Braden Looper and Kyle Lohse. Continued overachievement here is a key. and the team could really use a good "bridge" guy to get to the closer in the 7th and 8th innings.



Adam Todd Ryan


Summing it up, there are holes as there are on every team in baseball but this team is a bonafide contender as Tony LaRussa has worked magic with what appeared to be a team that would not get very far.

Fans in the Gateway City have something worth rooting for. Down the road we will see how much they will miss former GM Walt Jocketty, who now toils for the division rival Reds.
Category: MLB
Tags: Cardinals, Tigers
 
Posted on: May 8, 2008 12:07 pm
 

Who's on First? Third? Can anyone pitch?

http://www.phoenix5.org/humor/WhoOn
FirstTEXT.html

The link above is for the priceless routine by Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First?".

Here is a snippet of it with the current Tigers' scenario plugged in...

Abbott: Well, Costello, I'm going to Detroit with you. Jim Leyland, the Tigers' manager, gave me a job as coach for as long as you're on the team.

Costello: Look Abbott, if you're the coach, you must know all the players.

Abbott: I certainly do.

Costello: Well you know I've never met the guys. So you'll have to tell me their names, and then I'll know who's playing on the team.

Abbott: Oh, I'll tell you their names, but you know it seems to me they give these ball players now-a-days very peculiar names.

Costello: You mean funny names?

Abbott: Strange names,..like "Miggy" Cabrera...

Costello: And his countryman Guillen.

Abbott: Guillen?...

Costello: Yes, Carlos. And this displaced one...Inge.

Abbott: Inge?

Costello: Brandon 'freaking Inge...

Abbott: Brandon 'freaking Inge huh? Well, let's see, we have on the bags, Who's on first, What's on second, I Don't Know is on third...

Costello: That's what I want to find out.

Abbott: I say Who's on first, What's on second, I Don't Know's on third.

Costello: Are you the manager?

Abbott: Yes.

Costello: You gonna be the coach too?

Abbott: Yes.

Costello: And you don't know the fellows' names.

Abbott: Well I should.

Costello: Well then who's on first?

Abbott: Yes.

Costello: I mean the fellow's name.

Abbott: Who.

Costello: The guy on first.

It would be a whole lot more fun and it would definitely be funnier though, if the team was not 15-20 when we woke this morning.

State of the Tigers...

  • Hitting - Well, it's like our spring weather in the Midwest. Hit or miss. But since Sunday's first inning, all misses. Until last night's 10-9 victory that mercifully ended the latest skid, this time at 5 losses. Cases in point...

Six runs Sunday against Boof Bonser to start the game off. 65 pitches thrown in total. In one inning!

Next eight innings. Zero runs. After tiring Bonser out to near exhaustion in one inning, he gets a second wind, and lasts through six innings total. The Twins come back to win 7-6 for a series sweep.

Monday night against Daisuke Matsuzaka. Eight walks off Matsuzaka. Ten walks total for the game. They push across a measly three runs total and go down 5-3.

Tuesday Tim Wakefield knuckles down on a two hit gem. Put the boys to bed at 7:05 with no milk or cookies...they didn't deserve any!

Finally, Tigers 10, Red Sox 9 last night. Feast or famine.

  • Fielding- Nothing is all that notable since the "big switch" of Guillen and Cabrera except that the team continues to have issues with a transplanted from DH left fielder in Gary Sheffield (very brittle and not getting any younger), a catcher in Ivan Rodriguez who is losing his once great reflexes by the day (check his passed balls last year and this year...his throwing arm remains above average), and two players on the infield corners who are strictly neophytes at their new positions.

 

  • Pitching - Well, the bullpen was performing well before getting lt up like pre- Fourth of July Chinese exploding shells in the five game skid. And to think Jason Grilli was off in Colorado rounding into shape for the Rockies while this was all playing out! Francisco Cruceta is finally over his visa problems and is up with the big club. Denny Bautista, who started hot before gradually increasing his average pitch counts per inning almost exponentially , 3 pitches his first outing, 9 the next, 81 the next , 6,436 the next (ahh, you get it). All these pitches with an increase in walks to match. Off to the DL he goes. The starters are averaging one quality start every other week. The only one to show anything at all in his last couple of outings is old Kenny Rogers. Even Armando Gallaraga got lit up last night. Jack Morris believes that Justin Verlander's arm is hurt. Something sure is wrong because the young wunderkind is 1-5 and when he hits the sixth or seventh inning it's like he is slamming into the wall at 200 MPH at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Otherwise, everything is wonderful here in Tigertown. The Pistons and Red Wings are pushing deep into the playoffs and the Lions' just drafted a half-dozen new busts. If you don't care for hockey, basketball or football, laugh at Who's on First.

If we are talking baseball around here, it may be all that we have to smile, or laugh about the way this spring has gone as we forge into summer.

Category: MLB
Tags: Tigers
 
Posted on: April 21, 2008 12:41 pm
 

The "Game" is never played on paper...

6-13.

OUCH!

Even with all my years of experience following baseball, it seems that I cannot learn that lesson.

The "Game" is never played on paper...

It is even more likely for a fan to fall all over in mad love with his or her hometown ballclub when you have a couple of big deals in the off-season and your team is coming off a couple of succesful seasons.

This doesn't mean that the Tigers will not recover but this is not the kind of start that you ever want or expect from a title contender.

Oh, and if Sports Illustrarted never picks us to even win a division again, let alone the World Series, I'll be fine with that.

NOW LETS GO TIGERS!

Category: MLB
Posted on: April 4, 2008 5:19 pm
 

Can we get a "Do Over"?

Thoughts while I am seeking someone to "Talk me off the Ledge..."

What on Earth is going on here?

The mighty (?) Tigers are the only team in major league baseball without a victory.

I know it's only 0-4 but we waited all winter for this?

I was at the opener and enjoyed it a lot. Never mind that I have personally attended five straight losses. It was an exciting ballgame.

The team followed this effort with two sleepwalking losses that wound up a stunning three game sweep at the hands of the Royals. I am not going to denigrate them. Hell, they swept us at home to end the 2006 season, costing us a division championship that we still have not won since1987.

And they do have some excellent young pitchers. The pen between Yoakim Soria closing and Edwin Nunez setting up looks excellent. Everybody talks about Gil Meche but I think Brian Bannister is the diamond of this emerging big three. All he did was stuff the Bengals bats where, er well, you know where - in game two. Zero runs and three hits in seven sterling innings. If Zach Grienke can maintain his composure, he makes it a very solid group. And I'd say he did Thursday. He stuffed the Tigers ba-t-s ...err I have said enough...HAD enough already!

I'm not here to wax poetically about the Royals starting pitchers!

Jim Leyland summed it up perfectly following the 4-1 loss yesterday.

"We stunk."

All told, the team went 2-22 in the series against Kansas City with runners in scoring position. Of course, most of this was in game one because they had only a few runners in scoring position the last two games in the series, and but one Thursday.

They went scoreless for eighteen innings consecutively.  This is the club that many pegged to challenge the 1,000 runs scored barrier! They may eventually make it but I'm ready to see them start scoring.

Well, they did today. But they id soething else even better. Something that you don't like your home team to do better...

The White Sox beat the Tigers 8-5 and made it 0-4 and the Stranders, who left another dozen men on base in the first four innings!

For those who don't feel like doing the math, they were perfect here! The maximum number or runners you can leave on base in four innings is...ready for this?

TWELVE!

Gary Sheffield has a torn tendon in his ring finger and could be out for weeks.

Miguel Cabrera has a strained quad.

Curtis Granderson is at least two or three weeks away from returning.

Jason Grilli is still starting bigger fires than they had out in San Diego last fall.

I know. I know.

I know it's only four games in.

But still, can we get a do over, or something.

Somebody, somewhere, anywhere (even Cleveland), find me a silver lining in this swiling mass of gray and black.

And do me a favor.

Talk me off the ledge. It's still really damp and cold out here in Motown...Maybe Miss America can do something...I need your sweet smile honey. Come on back to the ballpark. And coach Mr. Grilli on how not to be such a gas can if you can, dear.

 

 

Category: MLB
Tags: Tigers
 
Posted on: April 1, 2008 12:25 pm
 

Miss America BOOTS "Kwame and The Guv" out

Young, talented, and beautiful Kirsten Haglund, a.k.a. "Miss America" from Farmington Hills, Michigan did double duty at the Tigers' home opener yesterday. Make that triple duty.

Act I. She sung the national anthem before the game. Beautifully done.

Then she reared back and fired the "first pitch" to Pudge Rodriguez. High hard one! Strike at the letters. She was so excited that she was jumping up and down waving her arms wildly.

Act II signed, sealed and delivered.

Incredibly, the tiara didn't budge? Super glue? Gorilla glue? Hell, she was so smoking...it probably didn't have any glue holding it up there at all! She could have probably stepped on the conveyor at a car wash and put herself through and the tiara would still be sitting there when she got through. Only it would be a little bit shinier with the hot wax...

Act III. Seventh inning stretch. Royals leading 4-3. She strolls out to the front iof the plate and sings "God Bl;ess America".

The gray, yet surprisingly mild day was wildly celebrated here in grimy, pothole filled Motown, even though the local nine lost in eleven to the Royals. The new guy (Miguel Cabrera) belted one out in left to make it 3-0 in the fifth. Former third baseman, now super sub Brandon Inge made a perfect throw from center in the eleventh inning to nail a Royal trying to score the go-ahead run.

Unfortunately that was followed by a Texas leaguer off the bat of Tony Pena Jr. that dropped in front of Brandon. This time he tried to barehand it and in his haste to hurry the relay, it slipped off his hand and the game slipped away from the Tigers.

But it will go down in my attendance sitting comfortably in the third row of the right field upper deck as a great memory.

The day Miss America arrived and none of the greaseball politicians were anywhere in sight. Now, as long as Kwame doesn't have Kirsten's cell number.

You can never be sure that he will not get that trigger finger engaged...

STOP HIM before he texts again!!!

 

 

Category: MLB
Posted on: March 7, 2008 2:04 pm
 

Fantasy Powerhouse?

Musings from the public library on a day off...

I signed up in an autodraft league with a couple colleagues from CBS (ksudodgers and brony). You set draft priorities by position and hers's what I came up with. Ksudodgers and I just swung a major trade. I swapped Vernon Wells, Chase Utley and Jon Garland for Justin Verlander, Grady Sizemore and Ian Kinsler. It's nice to actually find a realistic trading partner, we swapped proposals and I feel we each got solid value.

I think my team could be a powerhouse (don't we all think that in March?)

Here is my current roster:

Starters

C Brian McCann

1B Ryan Howard

2B Ian Kinsler

SS Hanley Ramirez

3B Garrett Atkins

CF Grady Sizemore

RF Ichiro Suzuki

LF Josh Willingham

Utility Kevin Youkilis

Reserves

2B Jeff Kent

C Ryan Doumit

OF Jermaine Dye

DH Gary Sheffield (must make 5 non DH starts before ineup eligible, that's why I got him off waivers)

Starting Pitchers 

Justin Verlander

Cole Hamels

Roy Halladay

Joe Blanton

Relievers

Francisco Cordero

Jason Isinghausen

Brad Lidge

Reserve Pitchers

Gil Meche

Jamie Walker

What do you think guys?

 

Category: MLB
Posted on: February 28, 2008 7:47 pm
 

AL Preview Take 2

Faces in new places all around the American League






Bedard Hunter Rolen Garland O. Cabrera M. Cabrera Swisher Hunter Eckstein Renteria Willis

Pictured above are most of the major players that either came over to the American League this off season from the National League or are new to their teams for this season. Just so that I am not leaving anybody out, not pictured are Josh Hamilton of Texas (from Cincinnati), Jose Guillen of Kansas City (via Seattle), Matt Garza of Tampa Bay (from Minnesota for Delmon Young pictured above), Emil Brown of Oakland (via Kansas City) and, of potential significance Bartolo Colon of Boston (via Los Angeles Angels). Colon was let go because the Angels have a deep rotation and he has struggled to regain velocity on his fastball following last season's injuries. Word is that he is up to near 88MPH and he represents a can't lose opportunity for Boston to literally get "something for nothing" if he can remain healthy and recover a little more velocity on his heater.

So how are things going to shake out? The first impulse is to go with the defending champion. Boston certainly has an imposing team and has to figure in the first breath of discussion. The last time a team repeated in the American League is New York in 2000-2001. It is indeed a tall order. There are a number of very good teams in the running every season.

Recently, teams that have advanced to the World Series in the AL have returned with a bunch of fatigued arms on the pitching staff. This seems to be the current flavor. It happened to some degree to New York in 2004 after losing to the Marlins in 2003, as well as to Boston in 2005 after finally breaking the curse against the Cardinals the previous year.

It definitely plagued the two most recent winners of the AL flag. Chicago's pitching crumbled like a house with a water logged foundation in 2006 and Detroit experienced similar results last year with a much younger staff.
So, I think that there is something worth monitoring in this trend. Also, it is so competitive and so difficult just to simply qualify for the playoffs but then to win two rounds to get in the World Series...well, you see where I am going. The odds are definitely stacked against you no matter how good a club you show up to spring training with.

So, who emerges into the World Series this year? I like Cleveland's chances better than anyone. Number one, they came painfully close last season. Number two, they will have a better offense than they had in 2007. Why? Nobody had even close to a career best season. Grady Sizemore had a solid season, yet fell to .277. Travis Hafner (above) had good power numbers but they paled compared to 2006. He too, fell from over .300 all the way to .266. It looked like he was back in business with a hot September after a very difficult summer at the dish, yet turned cold as ice in the postseason.

Finally, the biggest concern they had (have?) is closer. Joe Borowski competed all season with Detroit's Todd Jones as the least valuable closer with the highest number of saves. They both had more ups and downs than one experiences on the Gemini (the famous roller coaster at Cedar Point, slightly over halfway to Cleveland from Detroit). The biggest acquisition in a relatively uneventful off season for the Tribe was Japanese import Masahide Kobayashi (no relation to the hot dog eating champion). He's a little long in the tooth (33 years) and was only 2-7, 3.61 with Chiba Lotte in Japan. But he did post 27 saves and has over 200 saves in his career in Japan. So he provides an alternative should Borowski continue to wobble and eventually fall down.

C.C. Sabathia (above right) is in his "walk year". Will he succumb to pressure of having to excel for potential suitors at season's end? Or will he rise to the occasion with a career year? Keep him running in the outfield Eric Wedge...

Tigers fans...I know you are lining up to give me a whipping. Just because I don't pick my favorite team to win it does not mean I have any less love for them. And I also feel that any of the first six teams I list could win it, possibly seven.

The List:

1. Indians

Their lineup is close to as explosive as any except for possibly Detroit. The starting pitching is healthier and better overall and have two aces to Detroit's one. Fausto Carmona may not fare quite as well now that he is better known to A.L. hitters, but he'll do fine. Very solid middle relief and an additional possibility at closer. Key player: P C.C. Sabathia.

2. Red Sox

Gotta like the fact that they are replenishing with young, homegrown talent. Jacoby Ellsbury was great down the stretch and post season. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz (no hitter) offer pitching hope. Rotation may suffer fatigue, in fact Tim Wakefield is a bigger question every year and Curt Schilling is already down. Daisuke Matsuzaka must at least equal his audition year. Hideki Okajima overall was very impressive but wore down in second half. See a pattern here? Is Manny Ramirez wearing down too? He's in great shape and seems content but had his worst season offensively in over a decade. Key player: LF Manny Ramirez.

3. Angels

Why sign Torii Hunter when your outfield is full? Well, the plan in LA is to rest an outfielder in every game as the DH. I see Hunter and Gary Matthews playing most in the field, with Vladimir Guerrero and Garret Anderson getting the most rest. Jon Garland's acquisition looks better every day with Kelvin Escobar battling a sore shoulder. The guy will eat innings and fare much better than he did in the launching pad known as "Cape U.S. Cellular Field". If Erick Aybar is ready as advertised, it will make up for the loss of SS Orlando Cabrera. Good team speed and defense, good setup men in the bullpen and a solid albeit very disgruntled closer makes for a very good team. They are short only in home run power. Key player: SS Erick Aybar.

4. Yankees

Most regulars, the closer and the members of the rotation are another year closer to their inevitable end as major leaguers, but a change at manager will shake things up. Still lots of hitting, but defense is not strong overall, there is some team speed but it is slowing with the exception of Melky Cabrera. The Bombers are able to squeeze one more year of decent production out of Jason Giambi, Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina and may yet get a few out of Mariano Rivera.Chien Mien-Wang consistent if underwhelming at the top of the rotation. Leave Joba at set up as Kyle Farnsworth has been awful and LaTroy Hawkins may not flourish in the Big Apple.There's a lot of young pitching with Joba Chamberlain and Philip Hughes already in the show and more to follow. Their development will be the recipe for them to edge Detroit for the wild card. Key player: P Philip Hughes.

5. Tigers

The team with the majors best ERA in 2006 has turned into "Team Offense" in only a single year. In fact the everyday lineup may be the best in the game today. Unfortunately, after young stud Justin Verlander, how the pitching has turned into a weave of cheesecloth in such a short time. Joel Zumaya is out until mid summer, Kenny Rogers appeared in only 11 games in '07 and he turned 43, Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson broke down physically following the pennant win. Dontrelle Willis will help but not if he is last year's model. Todd Jones returns as "The Great Wallenda" at closer. Most unsettling right now is that Fernando Rodney, who suffered from tendinitis among other maladies last year, has tendinitis again, and already. Key Player: P Dontrelle Willis.


6. Mariners

Adding Erik Bedard to the top of the rotation could be huge, much as they hated to lose Adam Jones. Brad Wilkerson (from Texas) adds another bat to replace Jose Guillen. Bedard turns a so-so rotation into a good one, especially if this is the year young Felix Hernandez blossoms. J.J. Putz is right up there with Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Rodriguez and maybe Joe Nathan at the top of the AL closer cast, if not the best. Somebody other than Brandon Morrow must step up as a setup man.They need Adrian Beltre to hit like last year, or better...not like the previous model in Seattle has. They also need a rebound from Jose Lopez and a big one from Richie Sexson. Ichiro remains perhaps the best all-around outfielder in the game. Key player: 1B Richie Sexson.

7. Blue Jays

They need to petition to get out of the East Division and they need much better health. They brought in scrappy SS David Eckstein from the Cardinals and that will definitely add some needed spark. then they swapped broken down 3B with the same Cardinals, netting Scott Rolen for Troy Glaus. A change of scenery may do both a world of good, Rolen in particular. If A.J. Burnett doesn't blow out again, he almost cancels out the other former Marlins ace and current Red Sox P Josh Beckett. Oh, but that's a big if. Roy Halladay is a horse and both Dustin McGowan and Shawn Marcum are coming around fast. They need a LH starter though as these guys are all RH's. Jeremy Accardo did a great job while B.J. Ryan was out and would be a great setup if Ryan gets back at closer sometime later in the year. Can Vernon Wells recover? Whether he does or not, Alex Rios is now the biggest bat. Talent in many areas, but too many question marks.
Key player: CF Vernon Wells

8. Twins

No more Johan Santana. No more Torii Hunter. Francisco Liriano is penciled in as the new ace after missing the entire 2007 season following elbow surgery. On the bright side Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and newcomer Delmon Young along with underrated Michael Cuddyer produce more offense in the middle of the lineup than they are used to and Joe Nathan is a great closer. That is if he stays and if there is anything left to close. Boof Bonser still has a lot of upside on the hill and if Carlos Gomez can play CF, at least it isn't a total loss losing Johan. Somehow I always feel this team and its manager Ron Gardenhire will overachieve. It's just that this used to mean a division title. Now it means placing 8th out of 14, if they are lucky. Key player: P Francisco Liriano.

9. White Sox

This looks like a team that may approach or surpass 200 home runs only to have its numbers 3,4 and 5 starters and everyone in the bullpen not named Bobby Jenks make all that power not matter. This collection of everyday players is slow, except for Jerry Owens in OF - and except for Joe Crede at third (if he's healthy and still on the club) and newcomer Cabrera at SS also is lacking big time on defense. Key player: Setup P Octavio Dotel

10. Rays
This is the highest spot yet for them. Out of the cellar in the East for only the second time. Matt Garza will help the rotation with Jamie Shields, but Scott Kazmir is hurting yet again. Jason Bartlett helps at SS a lot. Rocco Baldelli must get healthy in the OF finally. Carlos Pena will not hit like '07 but will still put together a solid season. Too many holes but they are getting better. Closer will be interesting. Is Troy Percival back? Key player: P Troy Percival.

































I hate to do it like this but this ridiculous PC/ website is giving me a font that is so small next to teams 11, 12, 13 and 14 that it's not even readable!

11. Royals

Based on the young trio of starters Gil Meche, Brian Bannister and Zach Grienke, they have potential for a better finish. Bannister is mature beyond his years. Joakim Soria is a bit of a question at closer and the team still lacks offense. Jose Guillen will help, if he does not disrupt the clubhouse. Alex Gordon may grow in year two and Billy Butler may become a productive batter but there is not anything in this lineup that will scare many pitchers.

12. A's

The rebuilding begins. Billy Beane may have finally let a young star hurler go too early this time in Danny Haren. Emil Brown comes over from KC to man an outfield that needs a few men. In fact this whole team needs someone to step up. Will Rich Harden ever put in a full year, or even half, on the mound? I'll buy a scorecard sometime and get back to you next year. This is a team going nowhere, in fact could finish 14th instead of 12th.

13. Rangers

I put them behind the A's based on serial ineptitude. They have a couple of decent everyday players but all I have to tell you here is Kevin Millwood is at the top of the rotation (if there is a top in this rotation) and the immortal C.J. Wilson is the closer. Wilson actually pitched well, racking up 22 saves so I'll get off his back. The bullpen is the least of this team's problems. Nolan Ryan comes from the Astros to serve as the club president. He should consider toeing the rubber until he is able to find a pitcher or two...

14. Orioles

I like Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts. Jeremy Guthrie looked good in his rookie year. Otherwise mama said if you can't say something nice...shaddup! Seriously, Peter Angelos has deep enough pockets that if he can get out of the way and allow Andy McPhail to do what Dave Dombrowski did in Detroit (trade players like Bedard where he got four prospects...that is trade people like Bedard and maybe soon Markakis and Roberts for quantities of prospects) this team could be a force...by 2010.

Category: MLB
Tags: AL Preview
 
 
 
 
 
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