Sunday, March 30, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: Washington Nationals

A look back: The Nationals weren't really good last year, but their goal was more development and finding pieces. That's something they have done fairly well on one side of the ball. But since they're stuck in a division with two and possibly three of the stronger teams in the National League, it's not really going to get much better for a little while.

Positives on the field: If you look at the lineup, this simply shouldn't be a fourth-place team. There are few weak links 1-8 in the Nats' lineup. Austin Kearns, Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes could be a solid outfield, Ronnie Belliard, Nick Johnson and Ryan Zimmerman are strong in the infield, and Paul Lo Duca is a fine catcher. If that talent comes together, the Nationals could do a lot of damage on offense.

The bullpen should be solid as well, anchored by Jon Rauch and Chad Cordero. Cordero needs to rediscover his form from the first year in Washington, however. If he can do that, seven innings might be all opponents get to try to beat the Nationals.

Positives off the field: Nationals Park gives Washington a glittering new home. Truthfully, I will miss RFK Stadium, which I loved, but the new park should be a big plus for this team.

Negatives on the field: You get to the rotation, and you realize why this team was picked fourth or fifth. Some of these players might make it eventually, like Matt Chico, Shawn Hill and Jason Bergmann, but as my colleague Joe Conroy from the Potomac News points out in this story, the Nats have young arms like John Lannan at Columbus who could benefit by pitching in the majors for a team that isn't likely to contend. It's a good argument, and I have to say that I tend to agree, using my Jays (as usual) as an example.

Last year, Toronto forced Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum into the rotation. Now both pitchers are viewed as strong pieces and make the Jays' rotation one of the strongest around. What do the Nats have to lose?

Outlook: The stadium is what matters this season for the Nats. Enjoy it while the good feeling lasts, because the team needs to start competing next year. With the Marlins' new park coming in 2010, Florida won't be a pushover (OK, they'll be Miami by then, I know) any longer, and the Nats won't be able to wait any longer. Three strong teams in the division is enough.

Projected finish: 4th in NL East. Season opener is in about 15 minutes against Atlanta at Nationals Park.

Spring base: Space Coast Stadium, Viera, Fla. The team played on the east coast of Florida.

Fan of the team?: Read Joe's story, and then check out Federal Baseball, the Nationals fan community.

Come back later: The road trip is done, enjoy baseball, and other topics now that the series is over.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Nickelback.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: Philadelphia Phillies

A look back: Thanks to some help from the Mets, the Phillies returned to the playoffs for the first time since the 1993 World Series (hint, hint, Toronto), although the 2007 postseason was much less productive for the Phils, as the Rockies took just three games to end Philadelphia's run. But the Phillies return the important pieces, and should be in great shape to take another shot at the playoffs.

Positives on the field: The infield. Seriously, Philadelphia's heart and soul comes from its infield trio of Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard. These are three of the best players in the game today, all excellent hitters. When Pedro Feliz, a 20-home run guy in a park that isn't exactly a home run haven is your weakest infielder, it's a good sign. That doesn't even include the power of Pat Burrell, who turned it on at the end of the season last year, finally winning Philly approval.

On the pitching side, Brett Myers returns to team with Cole Hamels as the anchors of the Phillies' staff. Jamie Moyer still finds a way to get hitters out, and assuming Kyle Kendrick isn't traded to Japan, he and Adam Eaton will take the final two spots, giving Philly a solid rotation. There aren't too many weaknesses here.

Negatives on the field: But one of them is the bullpen. The Phillies are putting a lot of faith in Brad Lidge, who went from Lights-Out to Lights-Up with one swing from Albert Pujols. The last time the Phillies added a closer from the Astros, he tore apart their clubhouse with his claims that the Phillies had no chance to make the playoffs, then headed to the rival Mets. (For the record, it's Billy Wagner.) If Lidge blows up again, the Phillies might have no chance this year, unless Tom Gordon gets the job done or Myers returns as the closer.

The Phils also cannot afford to bury themselves with a bad April again. For reasons unknown, Philadelphia forgets that spring training ends in March, not April. A slow start would open the door for the Mets to open a big lead. The Phillies can't count on the Mets choking again.

Outlook: The time is now for the Phillies. All the pieces are in place for them to make a run at the pennant and the World Series crown. They have playoff experience now, they have a talented ball club and they play in the National League. Of course, nothing is a lock, but if Philly can start the season well for once, it's the Phillies' race to lose.

Projected finish: 1st in NL East, defeat Cubs in NLDS, defeat Mets in NLCS, lose to Tigers in World Series. Season opener is March 31 against Washington at Citizens Bank Park.

Spring base: Bright House Networks Field, Clearwater, Fla. The team plays its games on the west coast of Florida in the Tampa Bay area.

Fan of the team?: Check out The Good Phight, the Phillies blog.

Come back tomorrow: OK, I know I was supposed to do this in 30 days. But the season starts tomorrow, so I'll stretch it one more day. The road trip finishes at the gorgeous new Nationals Park in Washington, where the season begins at night.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Bon Jovi.

Friday, March 28, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: New York Mets

A look back: What a choke job. After having the division all but sealed, the Mets coughed it up to the Phillies on the last day of the season to surrender the playoffs after coming within one game of the World Series the year before. To fix that problem, the Mets turned to Johan Santana, one of the best pitchers in baseball.

Positives on the field: When healthy, the rotation is one of the best in the game. Santana is as dominant as any ace there is, Pedro Martinez is still dependable when he gets a chance to pitch and John Maine blossomed into a strong hurler. With Billy Wagner anchoring the bullpen and the return of Duaner Sanchez as a possible setup man, if Aaron Heilman doesn't hold the role, the Mets will have pitching as a strength.

On the other side of the ball, how the Mets look depends on where you look. On the left side of the diamond, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better pair than Jose Reyes and David Wright at shortstop and third base respectively. Elsewhere, there are questions, but these two will continue to be strong for years to come.

Positives off the field: The Mets will move into CitiField next year, ending the run at Shea Stadium. Shea isn't an awful stadium, but it's not historic either. The Mets don't need to capture it in their new park other than the Big Apple, and they aren't going to.

Negatives on the field: As good as the left side is, the right side is shaky. Carlos Delgado is aging and injured (and a prick, but that's neither here nor there), Luis Castillo is recovering from surgery, Ryan Church is the right fielder, the list continues at positions manned by players not named Reyes and Wright. Ultimately, the Mets' shakiness outside of their two big stars will likely be their undoing.

Outlook: The Mets shouldn't choke away the playoffs this time around. But they might still be looking up at the Phillies when all is said and done. Philadelphia looks to be a more complete team, and the Mets are missing something. That something is probably either leadership or all-around talent in the lineup.

Projected finish: 2nd in NL East, beat Diamondbacks in NLDS, lose to Phillies in NLCS. Season opener is March 31 against Florida at Dolphin Stadium. Mets home opener is April 8 against Philadelphia at Shea Stadium.

Spring base: Tradition Field, Port St. Lucie, Fla. The team plays its games on the east coast of Florida.

Fan of the team?: Check out Amazin Avenue, the Mets fan community.

Come back tomorrow: The road trip continues with the short trip down I-95 and a visit to the cheesesteak capital of the world, Philadelphia and the Phillies.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Eric Prydz.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: Atlanta Braves

A look back: The Braves have now missed the playoffs two years running, causing shock to fans in Atlanta, who had forgotten that baseball season does not start in September. But while Atlanta has improved and is far ahead of the Nationals and Marlins, the Braves might have become the NL East's Toronto Blue Jays, a good to very good team that is stuck behind two better ones.

Positives on the field: Atlanta has some good pieces in its rotation. John Smoltz is still dependable when healthy, and there are no questions about Tim Hudson's quality either. If the Braves' rotation stays healthy, it's certain to be a strength. The bullpen is also solid, and will become more solid when Mike Gonzalez gets healthy.

On the hitting side, the corners of Chipper Jones and Mark Teixiera are both strong offensive pieces, and Jeff Francouer has developed nicely in right field. There are plenty of reasons for the Braves to be optimistic.

Negatives off the field: Atlanta pulled its AAA franchise out of Richmond for Gwinnett, effective 2009. I understand why they left, but Gwinnett? Sure, it's just a bus ride for rehab, but why would Atlanta baseball fans come see the AAA team when they don't see the parent club?

Negatives on the field: Boy, is the Atlanta rotation ancient. At 33, Hudson is going to be the second-youngest on the rotation if Mike Hampton makes it. On most teams, Hudson would be the old man. Instead, Atlanta counts on 40-year old Smoltz and 42-year old Tom Glavine. If they're still going strong and still healthy, it's not a problem. But these pitchers could easily break down, and would take Atlanta's season with them.

Plus, Atlanta doesn't have strength in the outfield other than Francouer. Mark Kotsay and Matt Diaz aren't going to provide enough offense. Chipper is an injury risk, and if he gets hurt and/or Teixiera struggles, the Braves won't score.

Outlook: The more I think about this team, the more I see a National League version of my Blue Jays. Deep rotation, potential to score, stuck behind more talented teams, several question marks. As you'd expect a National League version of an American League team to be, expect the Braves to be 5-10 games worse than the Jays. And just as 90 wins probably won't get Toronto anywhere, 85 won't cut it for the Braves.

Projected finish: 3rd in NL East. Season opener is March 30 against Washington at Nationals Park. Braves home opener is March 31 against Pittsburgh at Turner Field.

Spring base: Cracker Jack Stadium, Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The team plays its games in central Florida and on both coasts of the state.

Fan of the team?: Check out Talking Chop, the Braves fan community.

Come back tomorrow: The road trip comes towards the end as it heads to New York's borough of Queens and visits the Mets.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Clay Walker.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: Florida Marlins

A look back: The Marlins were predictable non-factors after the removal of Joe Girardi as manager last year. Not to say Fredi Gonzalez was bad as the manager, because he wasn't. But the Florida Fish simply were not as good a team as they were under Girardi. Plus, the Marlins' defense was atrocious last year. If that remains the case, the Florida fans (the few, the ashamed) will really have to be alert at all times.

Positives on the field: You have to love the Marlins' keystone combo of Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla. These two are easily the best players the Marlins still have now that Miguel Cabrera is in Detroit. There is a bit of other talent on the roster, notably Josh Willingham, Jeremy Hermida and Mike Jacobs. But overall, it's too young to really compete.

On the pitching side, Florida should have had better pitching than it did last year, but the young pitchers who showed so much promise regressed last year. Which season was the more telling? If it was the year under Girardi, the Marlins could surprise. If not, the Fish are in deep trouble, especially if Andrew Miller isn't ready to contribute.

Positives off the field: The Marlins finally got the ballpark figured out. They'll become the Miami Marlins upon completion. The only downside is that it robs me of the term "Florida Fish".

Negatives on the field: The Marlins are painfully young. The Marlins are always young. As such, they are never old enough to realistically compete with the better teams in baseball. There is too much of a question with too many areas. Well, there is one that isn't: The rotation is a weakness. Mark Hendrickson should never be in the top half of a major league rotation. Florida's young pitchers must prove last year was the fluke if the Marlins are going to do anything.

Outlook: How does this team have two World Series wins already? It makes absolutely no sense. But if the Marlins' past is an indication, I am badly underestimating Florida. This is the year before the Marlins are scheduled to win their third World Series. If the schedule holds up, Florida will compete. But that's a risk I'm willing to take.

Projected finish: 5th in NL East. Season opener is March 31 against New York at Dolphin Stadium.

Spring base: Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter, Fla. The team shares the stadium with the St. Louis Cardinals and plays on the east coast of Florida.

Fan of the team?: Check out Fish Stripes, the Marlins fan community.

Come back tomorrow: The road trip deviates from the pattern slightly to head up to Atlanta and the Braves, who have now missed the playoffs two years running.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Brooks and Dunn.

David Stern is a disgrace

As a lot of people know, it is almost a done deal that the Seattle SuperSonics will leave the Emerald City and move to Oklahoma City as soon as possible. NBA commissioner David Stern has said that he will recommend the league allow the Sonics to leave Seattle for OKC at the end of the season.

This is precisely why David Stern is the worst commissioner in sports today. The Sonics have called Seattle home for 40 years. It was one of the teams added in one of the first waves of expansion in NBA history. Stern should be fighting this move tooth and nail. But instead of that, he is rejecting reasonable proposals to renovate Key Arena until the city can afford to build a suitable new arena. Every idea that comes up, he shoots down while claiming the Sonics should be in Oklahoma City. This is the thanks Seattle gets for 40 years of support? The league commissioner abandons the city in favor of Oklahoma City, a city that is only on the radar of the NBA because of its support of the New Orleans Hornets after Hurricane Katrina?

For starters, why would Stern even allow Clay Bennett to buy the Sonics in the first place? It was clear from the beginning that Bennett had purchased the team just so he could move it. Every arena proposal he floated was designed to be rejected, so that he could honestly claim he had given the city a chance to save its team. It was a con job, nothing more. No matter what Bennett says, no matter how many proposals to buy the team he rejects, no matter how much the NBA fines Aubrey McLendon for telling the truth ($250K) and no matter how many proposals he floated that were totally unfair to Seattle, he always intended for the Sonics to move. What would have happened if the city had agreed? What would Bennett have done?

And Stern? Why has he contradicted himself multiple times throughout this ordeal? He originally asked Seattle to come up with $300 million in renovations for KeyArena in 2006. Now the city has done exactly that, and Stern says that the proposal is inadequate to serve the Sonics. That is a complete lie. It is inadequate only because Bennett says it is. $300 million will go a long way toward making KeyArena viable for the Sonics to make money off of it. But Stern's mind is made up. Only something that helps his buddy Bennett get a team in Oklahoma City will be adequate. Seattle could probably accept Bennett's original proposal at this point and be told no deal.

Stern could actually learn a thing or two from his former understudy Gary Bettman, commissioner of the NHL. Recently, everyone wanted to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins when they went up for sale. Gary Bettman didn't let it happen, demanding that all options in Pittsburgh be exhausted before relocation could be considered. He did the same for Nashville when Jim Balsillie bought the Predators. Stern, by contrast, refused to do anything to help the Sonics, instead working as a puppet for Bennett. He knew as everyone else did that the arena proposal was set up to fail, but he did nothing to stop Bennett. Now he claims it is too late to save the team. To steal a line from Taylor Swift, Mr. Stern, you could have helped if you had wanted to, but no one notices until it is too late to do anything.

David Stern has made a lot of mistakes as the leader of the NBA. The Tim Donaghy scandal appeared to be the worst, but Stern's betrayal of Seattle is a close second at worst. There is no excuse whatsoever for what he has done. The city of Seattle deserved better, and if I were an NBA owner, I would vote no on Seattle's relocation without question.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Taylor Swift.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: Chicago Cubs

A look back: The Cubs came up big with an NL Central crown and a spot in the playoffs in 2007. But it quickly came to an end when Chicago went three and out in the playoffs at the hands of the Diamondbacks. To correct the problem, the Cubs have added a few more pieces, and might not be quite done making additions.

Positives on the field: The Cubs can definitely score, and they have built themselves a nice lineup from top to bottom. If Chicago could pry Brian Roberts loose from Baltimore, they would become an even stronger force offensively. If not, the Cubs already have Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano to drive in runs, and will get the table set by Ryan Theriot, new acquisition Reed Johnson and Kosuke Fukudome. On the offensive side, there is already a lot to like about the Cubs in 2008.

The pitching rotation looks solid as well, led by Carlos Zambrano and Ted Lilly, both of whom looked strong last year, save for an awful stretch by Zambrano which gave Cub fans every right to boo him (quit whining, Zambrano). The bullpen tries for addition by subtraction by getting Ryan Dempster out of it and allowing Kerry Wood the chance to close. It will be an interesting situation for the Cubs.

Negatives off the field: Sam Zell is a prick who wants to sell the naming rights to Wrigley Field. This needs to not happen. Wrigley should never have a corporate name, it is far too historic.

Negatives on the field: Behind Lilly and Zambrano, Chicago's rotation is very questionable. Dempster has been poor in the bullpen and might not be better as a starter. Jason Marquis is inconsistent. Sean Marshall and Rich Hill are also questionable. Jon Lieber should be solid, but will solid be enough for the Cubs to keep opposing bats quiet?

Also, the bullpen is a question mark. It could be great, or it could blow up with players adjusting to new roles. Kerry Wood started as a rotation ace, not a bullpen ace. How will Carlos Marmol and Bob Howry adjust to their roles as setup men this season? For Howry, it shouldn't be much of an adjustment, but Marmol closed last year, and that could make it tougher for him.

Outlook: The Cubs are not a championship team at this point. Sorry, Chicago fans, but you will likely reach a full century without a title. But the Cubs should repeat as NL Central champions, something they haven't done in almost as long. That is progress.

Projected finish: 1st in NL Central, lose to Phillies in NLDS. Season opener is March 31 against Milwaukee at Wrigley Field.

Spring base: HoHoKam Park, Mesa, Ariz. The team plays its games in Phoenix and Tucson.

Fan of the team?: Check out Bleed Cubbie Blue, the Cubs fan community.

Come back tomorrow: The road trip heads from some of the most loyal fans in baseball to the most invisible fans in baseball, those of the Florida Marlins, who have somehow won two World Series already in 15 years.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Embassy.

Monday, March 24, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: St. Louis Cardinals

A look back: The Cardinals kept alive the streak of failing to reach the World Series after winning it all in the previous season. In fact, the Cards missed the playoffs entirely, ending their own streak and extending the streak of defending champions not winning a game in the playoffs last year. The streak is intact since 2001, or every year in this millennium. See Boston for details. But the Cards struggled because of injuries to key pitchers, which made things difficult for both the rotation and the bullpen. If the injury bug doesn't hit and the pitchers who are still hurt come back strong, the Cards are easily contenders. If the reverse is true, the Cards will have little chance to compete.

Positives on the field: The Cards have built a solid batting order that actually stands a chance of putting balls out at spacious Busch Stadium. Chris Duncan, Rick Ankiel, Troy Glaus and some guy named Albert Pujols are all excellent hitters who are capable of putting runs on the board. If the Cardinals' other hitters can get on, and with Tony LaRussa still calling the shots, there's no reason to believe they won't, St. Louis could have a solid offense.

On the pitching side, Jason Isringhausen doesn't take the most direct route, but he gets the job done. The rotation is led by ace of the future Adam Wainwright, who could give St. Louis an unbelievable staff if the other pitchers ever get off the DL. With only Braden Looper and Kyle Lohse joining him as quality pitchers in the rotation for now, the rotation is merely average.

Negatives on the field: The Cardinals' injury history puts them in the unique position of having to play catch-up from the beginning of the year. St. Louis doesn't have the rotation right now to compete with the better teams in the National League, but if Mark Mulder, Matt Clement and Chris Carpenter come back strong from injuries, they immediately have one of the strongest around. But that's a big if, and the Cards might not be able to afford waiting in terms of 2008's chances.

On the other side, how badly is Pujols hurt? He's not showing any ill effects right now, but if his injury flares up during the season, the Cardinals lose a big chunk of their offense. The same applies to Troy Glaus and his heels. If the turf in Toronto was the problem, he's fine, St. Louis plays on grass. If there was a different problem, he's in trouble.

Outlook: The Cardinals will become a strong team, but they won't become that strong team until about July or August. That might be enough to finish them if the Cubs or Brewers get off to a hot start. St. Louis might have to connect with their inner Rockies to return to the playoff.

Projected finish: 2nd in NL Central. Season opener is March 31 against Colorado at Busch Stadium.

Spring base: Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter, Fla. The team plays on the east coast of Florida and shares the stadium with the Florida Marlins.

Fan of the team?: Check out Viva El Birdos, the Cardinals fan community.

Come back tomorrow: The road trip heads to the North Side of Chicago and the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Phil Stacey.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: Milwaukee Brewers

A look back: The Brewers had the expectations last season, but weren't able to do anything with them, as they watched the Cubs pass them en route to the NL Central title. This time around, Milwaukee's pitching staff isn't nearly as hyped, which means the Brew Crew will either perform better with less expectations, or just isn't going to be that good. Whatever the situation, Milwaukee will only go as far as the rotation and Prince Fielder's bat can take them.

Positives on the field: The batting order is solid, if the top half can pick it up. Rickie Weeks has tremendous potential, and if he and J.J. Hardy produce at the top, the Brewers will score a lot of runs with Ryan Braun, Fielder and Corey Hart contributing. When Bill Hall, a player with a fair amount of power, hits seventh in a National League lineup, that's a pretty potent offense waiting to explode.

The pitching has the potential to be rock-solid as well, led by Ben Sheers and Yovani Gallardo at the top and followed by several other capable arms. Eric Gagne moves into the closer role vacated by Francisco Cordero, and Derrick Turnbow is proving effective as a setup man. If the Brewers stay healthy, the pitching could be a strength.

Negatives on the field: The Brewers never stay healthy. Sheets is now trailing only Mark Prior in career simulated victories. Gallardo and Chris Capuano are already hurt, damaging Milwaukee's chances of having a rotation that can land this club in the race. Chicago will score runs just as well as the Brewers and once their pitching is healthy, St. Louis will keep scores down. To beat the Cubs and Cardinals, Milwaukee needs its pitching to match its hitting.

There are also questions surrounding Weeks, Gagne and Fielder. Nobody questions Fielder's talent, but how will his off-season tantrum worthy of Drew Rosenhaus affect him? Gagne was strong for Texas as a closer, then became a gas can in Fenway Park, almost costing Boston a title. As for Weeks, when will he ever step up and prove his potential that has been discussed for so long?

Outlook: Milwaukee has enough pieces in place to contend, but like last year, probably not enough pieces to win. The Brewers will be a strong favorite if they could ever get everyone healthy at once, but that doesn't appear to be happening any time soon.

Projected finish: 3rd in NL Central. Season opener is March 31 against Chicago at Wrigley Field. Brewers home opener is April 4 against San Francisco at Miller Park

Spring base: Maryvale Baseball Park, Phoenix. The team plays its games in both Phoenix and Tucson.

Fan of the team?: Check out Brew Crew Ball, the Brewers fan community.

Come back tomorrow: The road trip heads to Missouri and baseball heaven, also known as St. Louis and the 2006 World Champion Cardinals.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Eric Heatherly.

30 Teams in 30 Days: Cincinnati Reds

A look back: The Reds had a rough time in 2007, finishing at 72-90 and in 5th place. But Cincinnati was only one game away from moving into fourth with Houston. This year, the Reds should have enough to overtake the Astros and take another step towards relevance.

Positives on the field: The Reds have some very good pitching and outfield possibilities. Everyone who knows about prospects has heard of Jay Bruce, but Cincinnati has other talent too that is already in the majors, notably Corey Patterson, who the Reds signed as a possible stopgap until Bruce is ready after starting in AAA at Louisville. Edwin Encarnacion and Joey Votto are prospects in the infield (on the corners) to keep an eye on, and Brandon Phillips is an emerging star at second base. The Reds have a young lineup that could become a threat once it comes together. That time is likely not this year, but could be soon.

The pitching also has a good amount of potential. Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo are known by nearly everyone, but like their hitting counterparts, Cincinnati has a few promising prospects who could give the Reds the strong staff they have not have in years in Johnny Cueto and Edison Volquez, to say nothing of Homer Bailey. The bullpen also looks promising now that David Weathers has been moved out of the closer role and Francisco Cordero takes over.

Negatives on the field: The Reds are still very young. With this team, that breeds two concerns: How will the hitters produce against good major league pitching, and what will be the impact of Dusty Baker managing the Reds? Remember, Baker is considered in Chicago to be the guy who ruined Mark Prior's arm when he pitched for the Cubs. With Cueto, Volquez and Bailey in the mix, what will the result be? Cincinnati, conscious of this, elected to sign the Dragon Slayer, Josh Fogg. But if he cannot make the team, the Reds will have no choice but to hope they avoid wrecking more than one season.

On the hitting side, Adam Dunn still strikes out a lot, and Ken Griffey Jr. is now 39. How much does he have left in the tank on the verge of hitting four decades?

Outlook: The NL Central, like its AL counterpart, is a two-tiered division. Here, the division is split into teams who are contenders for the title and teams who are not. The Reds fall into that second tier, but they should be the best in that tier. If the Reds can keep their talent together, they could become a solid team in a few years, and in the NL Central, that is all you need to be.

Projected finish: 4th in NL Central. Season opener is March 31 against Arizona at Great American Ball Park.

Spring base: Ed Smith Stadium, Sarasota, Fla. The team plays its games on the west coast of Florida, and occasionally meets central Florida teams. The Reds are in talks to leave Florida and join the Cleveland Indians in Goodyear, Ariz. for 2009.

Fan of the team?: Check out Red Reporter, the Reds fan community.

Come back later today: The road trip springs for a direct flight and heads to the land of cheese and beer, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This foils my plan to hit close cities on the same day, but luckily the East clusters together nicely.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Earshot.

Friday, March 21, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: Pittsburgh Pirates

A look back: As usual, the Pirates were pretty much irrelevant during the season, finishing well out of the race in the awful NL Central and not contributing in any area that would give Pittsburgh fans (the few there are remaining) any hope that things would be different for next season. But have hope, Pittsburgh. Things might indeed be different. No, you didn't improve, but as I said yesterday, Houston got worse.

Positives on the field: The Pirates actually have a couple decent pieces, led by outfielder Jason Bay. Bay might very well be the best outfielder that nobody ever sees because of his position in baseball purgatory. (well, one of the areas of baseball purgatory.) But he's not the only decent player Pittsburgh has. Adam LaRoche, Xavier Nady and Freddy Sanchez are decent players, guys who would fill nice roles on contending teams. On Pittsburgh, they're out of place, because they aren't guys you can build around. But at least the Pirates have something not horrible to offer at the deadline.

On the mound, the Pirates have Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny and Zach Duke in the rotation, three guys who could become stars if placed in the right situation. Again, that situation isn't Pittsburgh. (Headline in the Post-Gazette's preview you won't see: Pirate baseball: Right talent, right time, wrong city and team.) But their pitching will keep them in some games, and unlike San Francisco, the Pirates have enough offense to turn the occasional quality start into surprising victory. When they do, Matt Capps should be able to hold it down.

Positives off the field: The Pirates finally put in lights at McKechnie Field, their spring training home. Hallelujah. Spring games belong in the day, but there should be one or two at night for fans who are too dedicated to their jobs to take a day off.

Negatives on the field: The Pirates haven't been relevant in HOW long? Here's how long: The last time Pittsburgh made the playoffs, America's college seniors were in first grade. It has been 15 seasons since the Pirates came one game away from the World Series in the 1992 NLCS. To put it another way, Barry Bonds was still normal-looking then.

Plus, the Pirates just aren't talented enough to compete, even in the still weak-Central. They're a young team that would just love to be on the right side of .500. Sooner or later, it has to work, or they'll waste even more young talent.

Outlook: This is the time for the move out of the basement. There isn't much to be optimistic about for 2008, and considering the front office in place, there isn't much to be optimistic about period. So why am I picking the Pirates to improve? I like their pitching more than Houston's.

Projected finish: 5th in NL Central. Season opener is March 31 against Atlanta at Turner Field. Pirates home opener is September 7 against Chicago at PNC Park.

Spring base: McKechnie Field, Bradenton, Fla. The team plays its games on the west coast of Florida, with an occasional venture to central Florida.

Fan of the team?: Check out Bucs Dugout, the Pirates fan community.

Come back tomorrow: The road trip heads to southwestern Ohio and the land of cheese coneys, as we visit the Cincinnati Reds, the oldest team in baseball.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Jennifer Hanson.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: Houston Astros

A look back: The Astros fell off from where they've previously been, and the new look team doesn't bear much resemblance to the previous incarnations. Phil Garner is no longer the manager, Tim Purpura is no longer the GM and the Astros are now looking more like a second-division team. In fact, they could fall a lot further than that. Behind Pittsburgh? It's actually become a reality, and the Astros will have to make sure the Central's cellar doesn't swallow them up.

Positives on the field: Roy Oswalt is still one of the best starting pitchers in baseball, but there's a drop-off after him. Still, Oswalt is a very nice ace to have, giving Houston a streak stopper once every five days should it become necessary to have. Jose Valverde could provide a nice niche in the closer role if he becomes more dependable than Brad Lidge was AP (after Pujols)

On the hitting side, Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee are both dependable power hitters, giving the Astros the ability to get runs home if they can get men on base.

Negatives on the field: The drop-off is pretty pronounced after Oswalt. Wandy Rodriguez is not a No. 2 starter. I'm sorry, he's just not. Behind him, Woody Williams and Brandon Backe aren't anything special. Unless you've got to face Oswalt, Astro pitching scares nobody. That includes Valverde, who could easily become another Brad Lidge, a gas can who just had one good year.

Elsewhere, why would the Astros trade for Miguel Tejada? Houston needs to rebuild, not take on a huge salary that they would be paying too much for. Tejada is overrated and overpaid, and the Astros will learn that the hard way.

Outlook: Houston just doesn't look like it's got anything special. The Astros' moves made no sense, as Houston acted like they're a contender by grabbing a closer and a former All-Star shortstop, when the proper course of action is to go with youth to rebuild the team. That type of foolish thinking usually comes back to bite a team when they're faced with the reality of the regular season.

Projected finish: 6th in NL Central. Season opener is march 31 against San Diego at Petco Park. Astros home opener is April 7 against St. Louis at Minute Maid Park.

Spring base: Osceola County Stadium, Kissimmee, Fla. The Astros play most of their games against teams in central Florida and on both coasts.

Fan of the team?: Check out Crawfish Boxes, the Astros fan community.

Come back tomorrow: The road trip heads to the bridges of Pittsburgh, specifically the Roberto Clemente Bridge and PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Funeral for a Friend.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Series: 30 teams in 30 days

The series is taking a short break so I don't fail History of Ireland. It will return tomorrow with the Astros.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

NCAA Tournament Picks...mascot style

Because I have that kind of time, I will take a look at what the picks would be if you chose the NCAA strictly on mascots, like several women (who always seem to win) do. My bracket will come Thursday, so my picks cannot be stolen. Here goes, starting with the East Regional.

1 North Carolina vs. 16 Coppin State or Mount St. Mary's
The Tar Heels can cause people to stick once touched. An Eagle could fly away from a Tar Heel, and a Mountaineer can avoid it, but UNC has a ram as well. The ram gives the Heels the edge.

8 Indiana vs. 9 Arkansas
What is a Hoosier? Nobody is quite sure. Wikipedia says it's a resident of Indiana. I'll take a wild hog over a guy from Indiana.

5 Notre Dame vs. 12 George Mason
Both Fighting Irish and Patriots are tough SOB's. But there's one difference: The Patriots were successful in one try against the British. The Irish took much longer and more than one rebellion to gain independence. The edge goes to the Patriots.

4 Washington State vs. 13 Winthrop
An Eagle can avoid a Cougar for a while by flying high, but sooner or later, he must take a rest. That takes place in a tree. Cougars can climb trees.

6 Oklahoma vs. 11 Saint Josephs
Sooners are settlers of the prarie. Hawks are fierce birds of prey. A hawk is more deadly than a settler.

3 Louisville vs. 14 Boise State
Cardinals are tough birds. But what chance does a bird have against a rampaging horse?

7 Butler vs. 10 South Alabama
Bulldogs are feisty and tough. But Jaguars are huge cats, and supposed to be feared. Simply put, there is a reason the Mayans worshipped the cat.

2 Tennessee vs. 15 American
All an Eagle can do is fly away from the Volunteer. The Eagle can't do much damage to the guy, and when the Volunteer fires, he has to kill an endangered species to do it, but he survives.

Round 2

1 North Carolina vs. 9 Arkansas
The ram was enough to get by an eagle. It will not save the Tar Heels against a wild pig. Were the name the Tar Pits, the pig is screwed, but Heels are not big enough.

12 George Mason vs. 4 Washington State
The Patriot may have been a tough SOB, but if he meets a Cougar, he is only tough to digest.

11 Saint Josephs vs. 14 Boise State
See Louisville. What chance does a bird have against a rampaging horse?

10 South Alabama vs. 2 Tennessee
This matchup depends on the preparedness of the Volunteer. If he is ready to fire and a good shot, he can win. The feeling is that he becomes lunch.

Sweet 16

9 Arkansas vs 4 Washington State
The Cougar and Razorback are both things you do not want to come up against in the wild. But the Cougar is more powerful and causes more fear, so the pig becomes bacon.

14 Boise State vs. 10 South Alabama
The Bronco can run, but the Jaguar has teeth and likes the taste of horse meat. The Bronco cannot hurt the Jaguar, and cannot run a Statue of Liberty.

Regional final

4 Washington State vs. 10 South Alabama

Who wins between a Cougar and a Jaguar? The Jaguar is the king, and the Cougar puts up a fight, but the Jaguar has enough to claim the crown in the East.

The South is up next.

1 Memphis vs 16 Texas-Arlington

A Tiger against a Maverick. A Maverick is some type of cowboy. Cowboys don't have experience with Tigers. Memphis wins.

8 Mississippi State vs. 9 Oregon

A Bulldog has teeth. As learned from the movie The Mighty Ducks, a Duck does not, so the Bulldog eats the Duck.

5 Michigan State vs. 12 Temple

A Spartan is a fierce soldier. An Owl is a nocturnal bird who is devoid of an ability to attack. You tell me who wins.

4 Pittsburgh vs. 13 Oral Roberts

A Panther can certainly eat a Golden Eagle once the Eagle stops to rest after a long flight. I've never seen a Golden Eagle, but I would bet it's no different from a regular eagle besides its color.

6 Marquette vs. 11 Kentucky
Another Cat vs. Golden Eagle matchup. If a Panther can eat a Golden Eagle, a Wildcat certainly can do the same.

3 Stanford vs. 14 Cornell
Cardinal vs. Red. It's a battle of colors. Cardinal is a better shade of red.

7 Miami vs. 10 St. Mary's
This is the type of Gael who has something to do with a church. Even if it was the storm, a Hurricane is more powerful.

2 Texas vs. 15 Austin Peay
A Longhorn can skewer a Governor. The Governor would have one chance, that being if he ordered the Longhorn slaughtered. But the Longhorn is pretty powerful, and can avoid capture.

Second round

1 Memphis vs. 8 Mississippi State
A Tiger is stronger than a Bulldog, and can rip it to pieces. That's the third cat over a dog. The dogs just aren't powerful enough.

5 Michigan State vs. 4 Pittsburgh
A Spartan could kill a Panther with its sword. A Panther can tear open the Spartan's body. The Panther is quicker, and gets the nod (and meal)

11 Kentucky vs. 3 Stanford
A Wildcat is much better than a color. Want to give Stanford the bird? Might as well give Kentucky lunch.

7 Miami vs. 2 Texas
A Longhorn is powerful. But as powerful as it is, it cannot attack a force of wind.

Sweet 16

1 Memphis vs. 4 Pittsburgh
A Tiger is a little higher in the animal kingdom than a Panther. The Tiger claws its way past a worthy foe.

11 Kentucky vs. 7 Miami
The Wildcat is a fierce fighter. But there is no way it can attack a storm. Miami may be an unstoppable force.

Regional final

1 Memphis vs. 7 Miami
This is tough for the Hurricane, because the Tiger has the jungle to hide itself in. But in a rain forest, the Hurricane will not weaken for lack of water to gain strength. The Hurricane wins.

Midwest Region

1 Kansas vs. 16 Portland State
A Viking is a fighter of the north. A Jayhawk is a mythical bird that steals eggs. The 16 seed strikes a victory.

8 UNLV vs 9 Kent State
A Flash of gold is not really threatening. In fact, for a Running Rebel from Las Vegas, it's a common sight. The Rebel wins.

5 Clemson vs 12 Villanova
The Tiger and the Wildcat, who emerges? I'll give it to the Tiger, but not by much.

4 Vanderbilt vs 13 Siena
A Commodore is a naval man. A Saint has the power of God. The Saint can ask God to send a storm to sink the Commodore's ship.

6 USC vs. 11 Kansas State
A Trojan is a warrior, but a Wildcat can handle a Trojan if he is not quick enough. Usually, he is not.

3 Wisconsin vs. 14 CS-Fullerton
Denzel Washington was wrong, Titans were NOT greater than the gods. They also have problems with rabid Badgers.

7 Gonzaga vs. 10 Davidson
You should know how this works by now. Bulldogs do not beat Wildcats.

2 Georgetown vs. 15 UMBC
A Hoya is actually a Greek word, but a Bulldog is used. Fine. A bulldog trumps a Retriever.

Second round

16 Portland State vs. 8 UNLV
A Rebel can run from a Viking even if he gets ready to attack. The Rebel is not a bad fighter either.

5 Clemson vs. 13 Siena
A Saint can get away with asking God to sink a boat one time, but Scripture says not to put the Lord to the test. The Saint gets his comeuppance for violating Scripture as the Tiger mauls him.

11 Kansas State vs. 3 Wisconsin
The Wildcat will fight hard, but has little chance with the Badger.

10 Davidson vs. 2 Georgetown
Wildcats beat Bulldogs. Next.

Sweet 16

8 UNLV vs. 5 Clemson
The Tiger gets lunch again as the Rebel cannot outrun it.

3 Wisconsin vs. 10 Davidson
A Wildcat again faces the Badger. The Badger wins again.

Regional final

5 Clemson vs. 3 Wisconsin
The Badger gets another cat to attack. The Badger marches on.

West Region

1 UCLA vs. 16 Mississippi Valley State
A Delta Devil only has power in the Mississippi River. The matchup is in Anaheim, so the Bruin survives.

8 BYU vs. 9 Texas A&M
The Cougar can tear up a guy interested in agriculture.

5 Drake vs. 12 Western Kentucky
A Hilltopper can climb mountains. A Bulldog cannot.

4 Connecticut vs. 13 San Diego
Toreros kill bulls, not Huskies. But a Husky is devoid of horns, so the edge goes to the bull-killer.

6 Purdue vs. 11 Baylor
A Boilermaker builds train parts and other mechanical thing. A Bear would tear him to pieces.

3 Xavier vs. 14 Georgia
A Musketeer can easily shoot a Bulldog.

7 West Virginia vs. 10 Arizona
Mountaineers can avoid Wildcats for a brief time by climbing the mountain. But sooner or later, the Wildcat climbs and tears apart the Mountaineer.

2 Duke vs. 15 Belmont
A Bruin is very powerful, but a Blue Devil has power no matter where he's at. The mystical force allows him to triumph.

Second round

1 UCLA vs. 8 BYU
A Bruin has a little more power than a Cougar.

12 Western Kentucky vs. 13 San Diego
The Hilltopper is far less bloodthirsty than the Torero.

11 Baylor vs. 3 Xavier
Musketeers can shoot Bears just as easily as Bulldogs.

10 Arizona vs. 2 Duke
The Blue Devil can make life hell for the Wildcat.

Sweet 16

1 UCLA vs. 13 San Diego
The Torero has never come up against an animal like the Bruin.

2 Duke vs. 3 Xavier
The Blue Devil can certainly avoid a musket, taking away the Musketeer's one powerful weapon.

Regional final

1 UCLA vs. 2 Duke
The Bruin survived a Delta Devil, but can't survive a Blue Devil with no geographic restriction.

Final Four

10 South Alabama vs. 3 Wisconsin
The Badger has had a nice run, but the Jaguar is the king for a reason, and tears apart the Badger.

7 Miami vs. 2 Duke
The Hurricane has been outstanding, but the wind storm has no power in hell.

National Championship

10 South Alabama vs. 2 Duke
Once again, the mystical power of the Blue Devil is enough, as the Jaguar suffers in hell.

So you get Duke beating a team from the Sun Belt. This is why the mascot strategy tends not to make sense. But it usually works for some reason. Who knows?

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Diamond Rio.

30 Teams in 30 Days: Arizona Diamondbacks

A look back: The Diamondbacks took everyone by surprise and found a way to get to the playoffs as the National League West champions. That comes mainly off the strength of young hitting and good pitching. If the D-Backs can keep their players healthy and avoiding a slump after big years, they are the team to beat in the NL West.

Positives on the field: Arizona got to where it is based mostly on the strength of Brandon Webb's strong arm. But the Diamondbacks weren't a one-man staff last year, and won't be this year. The addition of Dan Haren ensures that Arizona will have two very good options at the top of the lineup. Randy Johnson is old, but as a #3 pitcher, he's nice to have around, and has come a long way from the kid who used to blow up trash cans in Seattle in the early 1990's. Doug Davis and Micah Owings are capable in the back end of the rotation, making it a big Arizona strength.

On the other side, the hitters are young and talented. Chris Young and Eric Byrnes are both very quick, and the D-Backs' non-speed guys have a lot of potential. If their potential is on display, the Diamondbacks are going to be a serious contender.

Negatives on the field: The hitters didn't quite live up to their potential last year. Conor Jackson didn't produce much in the way of power, Stephen Drew had a very weak year, Mark Reynolds had trouble adjusting to not swinging at the first pitch, the list continues. The Diamondbacks were outscored by 10 runs by their opponents last year. That suggests that opponents managed to bunch their runs into games where Arizona had trouble scoring, or that the pitching made up for the hitting's struggles. Most likely it is the latter.

On the pitching side, Jose Valverde is very replaceable, but can Brandon Lyon be the guy who does replace him? If he is, there is likely an improvement from Valverde, who got saves but only had one really strong year in the role. If he's not, the D-Backs will regret losing Valverde.

Outlook: With so many young players, the Diamondbacks are a difficult team to try to predict. But one must be made, and the feeling here is that the expectations that exist now will not hamper the team as it tries to go two steps further than it did last year. Only the Diamondbacks' lack of offense if it short-circuits again will be responsible for that.

Projected finish: 1st in NL West, lose to Mets in NLDS. Season opener is March 31 against Cincinnati at Great American Ball Park. Diamondbacks home opener is April 7 against Los Angeles at Chase Field.

Spring base: Tucson Electric Park, Tucson, Ariz. The team shares the stadium with the Chicago White Sox, and plays games in both Tucson and Phoenix.

Fan of the team? Check out AZ Snake Pit, the Diamondbacks fan community.

Come back tomorrow: The road trip heads down I-10 to Houston and takes a visit to the Houston Astros, who are actually just two years removed from the World Series.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Rise Against.

Monday, March 17, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: Colorado Rockies

A look back: Somehow, the Colorado Rockies won 21 of 22 games to finish the year as the 2007 National League champions. This leads to an interesting stat: The Rockies did not lose a playoff game to a National League team. By the same token, though, they have never won a playoff game against an American League team, a distinction shared with the Houston Astros. Can Colorado avoid the sophomore slump after breakout years from several young stars?

Positives on the field: The Rockies finally figured out how to put a complete team together last season, building homegrown talent at the major positions and watching it develop. Matt Holliday and Troy Tulowitzki were the team's brightest stars last season, with Holliday, who should have been the MVP, and Tulowitzki coming close to nosing out Ryan Braun for the Rookie of the Year award. Todd Helton had enough left to get the Rockies to the playoffs after spending his career watching other stars flourish in other locations. Garrett Atkins developed into a fine third baseman, and the Rockies had a good year from Brad Hawpe. Colorado returns a lot from last year.

On the pitching side, the humidor is working to combat Denver's thin air. For the first time in recent memory, Coors Field was not a graveyard for promising pitchers. Brian Fuentes came apart, but Manny Corpas proved capable of filling the role as the Rockies' closer. Outside of Jeff Francis, there isn't a ton of talent on the Rockies' staff, but there's enough to get by.

Negatives on the field: How will Colorado handle success? The 2007 season was the first time since 1995 the Rockies were in the playoffs, and other than those two seasons, the Rockies had never been relevant at all outside of Denver. Can Clint Hurdle keep the team hungry after last year? Also, can the team avoid burying itself? Remember, this was a team left for dead that somehow managed to pull it all together when it mattered. If the Rockies don't play contending ball all year long, they might not be so lucky this year.

On the field itself, how will the loss of Kaz Matsui impact the Rockies? Clint Barmes is trying to win the job among a list of contenders that includes Marcus Giles, but Matsui was key for the Rockies last season, and how they replace him makes a lot of difference.

Outlook: We'll never know if Colorado was a truly great team, a good team that was developing, or just a lucky team that caught lightning in a bottle over the course of 3 1/2 weeks. But the 2008 season should provide some insight into that. The feeling here is that Colorado was a combination of the last two. The Rockies were good, no question about it, but not quite as good as they were in the final stretch. This is when they either prove themselves as a true contender or simply become another team.

Projected finish: 2nd in NL West, no postseason. Season opener is March 31 against St. Louis at Busch Stadium. Rockies home opener is April 4 against Arizona at Coors Field.

Spring base: Hi Corbett Field, Tucson, Ariz. The team plays its games in Phoenix and Tucson.

Fan of the team?: Check out Purple Row, the Rockies fan community.

Come back tomorrow: The road trip heads to the desert southwest, taking a look at the young NL West champions of a year ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Steven Chaitman.

Editor's note: As Tim Kanak pointed out, Matt Holliday was NOT the MVP. The award went to Jimmy Rollins. I meant he SHOULD have been the MVP, and the change has been made. Apologies. I need to get out of the NL West, that's two errors in one division.

Edit the second: The Rockies have lost a playoff series before. I completely forgot that the Rockies ran into the Braves in 1995 and if they didn't reach the series, obviously lost to a National League team. The NL West is not the problem for me, the problem is the thin air of Denver.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: San Diego Padres

So I just realized that the Giants preview was labeled as the Padres for two days. Sorry for the error. THESE are the Padres.

A look back: San Diego was so close to making the playoffs, coming up just short against the Colorado Rockies in the one-game playoff the teams played to determine who would become the wild card. With that being the case, the Padres have to be considered a team that could easily challenge for a playoff spot. But has San Diego built its team too well for its own park? The Padres are once again good pitching, no hitting in Petco Park, an extreme pitcher's haven.

Positives on the field: The rotation is very strong. Jake Peavy and Chris Young are both quality starters, and Greg Maddux is still strong in his later years as a No. 3 pitcher. That leaves Randy Wolf as a No. 4 guy, not bad at all. The No. 5 would be Mark Prior if he could ever stay healthy. When the Padres have a lead, they can hand it to Trevor Hoffman, the career leader in saves. On top of that, Petco Park is a dream for pitchers, and confidence soars when a pitcher gets used to watching his mistakes land in the glove of his outfielders.

Negatives on the field: The Padres lack the bats that are necessary to go any deeper than making the playoffs, even in the National League. Brian Giles's and Jim Edmonds's best years are behind them, Tad Iguchi is not a fantastic option at second base, and although Khalil Greene and Adrian Gonzalez are fine power hitters, the dimensions of Petco hurt the hitters as much as they help the pitchers. If they get into a hole, one swing can't bring San Diego back into a game. The outfield is a huge question mark, although the infield looks acceptable.

Outlook: San Diego can keep runs off the board, but can they put them on the board? That might be the difference in an NL West race with little room to separate first place from the abyss above the Giants. If the Padres don't have the hitting, the pitching will have to overcompensate to make up for the slack. Anything less, and the Padres might not get that extra game to try to make the playoffs ahead of Arizona and Colorado.

Projected finish: 3rd in NL West. Season opener is March 31 against Houston at Petco Park.

Spring base: Peoria Sports Complex, Peoria, Ariz. The team plays its games in Phoenix and Tucson, sharing the stadium with the Seattle Mariners.

Fan of the team?: Check out Gaslamp Ball, the Padres fan community.

Come back tomorrow: The road trip heads into the mountains and visits the National League champions, the...Colorado Rockies? Okay, whatever.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Brian McComas.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

30 teams in 30 days: Los Angeles Dodgers

A look back: What began as a season of promise wound up in ashes for the Los Angeles Dodgers, which ended up costing Grady Little his job. But at least this time, he wasn't unfairly blamed for an out his ace pitcher couldn't get in a big game. (Did I mention how much I hate Boston fans?) In steps Joe Torre, who returns to the National League 13 years after getting fired in St. Louis. Will he be able to adjust to the nuances that are National League baseball? With Arizona and Colorado looking strong, it might not matter this year.

Positives on the field: The Dodgers will be quick at the top of their lineup. Juan Pierre and Rafael Furcal are both strong on the basepaths, able to get runs manufactured if they get on base. Los Angeles has some power backing up the speed in Jeff Kent, Andruw Jones and James Loney, and Russell Martin is a fine young catcher.

The pitching is also strong, with Brad Penny anchoring the rotation and Takashi Saito combining with Jonathan Broxton for a nasty late-inning combination. The Dodgers do have several strengths on paper, and look like a candidate to win the NL West on the surface.

Negatives off the field: The Dodgers are leaving Vero Beach. It had to happen with the fan base so far from Florida, but it's still a shame.

Negatives on the field: The Dodgers blew up last year, dividing the clubhouse between veterans and young players. Little couldn't keep tempers in check, and as a result, he's gone. Can Torre succeed where Little failed? It won't be easy, especially as he tries to adjust to winning without George Steinbrenner's millions backing him up. Torre hasn't won anywhere but the Bronx, and that will be interesting to see if that continues.

Outlook: The Dodgers have the potential to do a lot, but they don't seem to have the intangibles. On paper, this should be a team that pushes for the NL West title with Arizona. But games aren't played on paper, and the Dodgers struggle with actually playing the game. That's why Los Angeles has yet to win a playoff game in my lifetime (since 1988).

Projected finish: 4th in NL West. Season opener is March 31 against San Francisco at Dodger Stadium.

Spring base: Holman Stadium, Vero Beach, Fla. The team played its games on the East Coast of Florida. The Dodgers sent a split squad to China, and will move their base to Arizona on Thursday. The move becomes permanent with Thursday's move.

Fan of the team?: Check out True Blue LA, the Dodgers fan community.

Come back tomorrow: The road trip heads even further down I-5 (and will have now traveled all of it) and stops in San Diego, home of the Padres, the team that came closest to making the playoffs without getting in.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Cartel.

Friday, March 14, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: San Francisco Giants

Apologies for the delay. Today was ACC Friday, which ranks right up there with St. Patrick's Day as far as unofficial holidays go. In fact, in my view, it's even bigger, but that's because I'm not Irish. So that's why today's post comes late. Plus, it's the Giants. Is anyone upset? Here goes:

A look back: Barry Bonds* finally passed Hank Aaron, and America yawned. Seriously, I watched the thing because ESPN cut live to it while SportsCenter was on, and I could not have cared less. When Bonds*' shot landed, my first reaction was, "Oh yeah, that one was to pass Hank Aaron." My second reaction was to wonder what was on ESPN2. Because of what I knew, I felt absolutely nothing when Bonds* passed Aaron. That was the biggest negative for the Giants in a year that was full of them.

Positives on the field: Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain both blossomed into solid pitchers last year, making the Giants at least watchable when the other team was hitting. If Barry Zito can earn his paycheck and Noah Lowry can complement them well, San Francisco can at least pitch fairly well.

In terms of everyday,...still working....I'll come up with something...Omar Vizquel still plays good defense? Nope, he's injured. I give up, I'll go with Bengie Molina playing decent defense. And they rejected trading for Alexis Rios? How will the Giants score? McCovey Cove will likely go devoid of balls this year.

Oh wait, I got one! Barry Bonds is no longer a San Francisco Giant. Man, I made that harder than necessary.

Negatives on the field: Just about everything else. When I look at the Giants' roster, I am reminded of Major League. I've never heard of half of these guys, and the ones I do know are way past their prime. Hopefully the Giants remembered to cross off the dead guy. But seriously, the Giants have in their projected lineup two players who are either not already at least 34 or not turning 34 during the season. The Giants are an old, bad team.

The bullpen isn't experienced. The closer is the title of a Barenaked Ladies song (Brian Wilson), and I'm not familiar with the bridge to him. This will get ugly fast.

Outlook: It isn't a good thing when rival scouts tell The Sporting News that quite simply, the Giants are dead in the water. Nobody sees them as a threat, and with good reason. This is likely to be the worst team in baseball in 2008, unless the starters simply become unhittable. Even then, the Giants would lose several games 1-0.

Projected finish: 5th in NL West. Season opener is March 31 at Dodger Stadium against Los Angeles. Giants home opener is April 7 at AT&T Park against San Diego

Spring base: Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale, Ariz, AKA Pedro Gomez's spring home. The team plays its games in the Phoenix and Tucson areas.

Fan of the team?: You have my pity. But check out McCovey Chronicles, the Giants fan community.

Come back tomorrow: The road trip heads further down I-5 for a visit to the original team on the West Coast, the Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy the Barenaked Ladies.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: Seattle Mariners

A look back: All year long, Seattle transformed itself into a threat to make the playoffs out of the American League, eventually coming six games shy of doing so. To rectify that situation, the Mariners added Baltimore ace Erik Bedard to an already strong pitching staff in a park that rewards pitching to the extreme. Add in 19 games each against Texas and Oakland, a pair of bottom feeders, and the Mariners can realistically dethrone the Angels in the AL West.

Positives on the field: Ichiro and the aces. Ichiro Suzuki is one of the top leadoff men in the American League, and certainly tops in the AL West (only Cleveland's Grady Sizemore is really in the conversation), giving Seattle a huge edge. But the order doesn't stop with Suzuki. Raul IbaƱez provides power in the cleanup spot, with several guys in the lineup having either potential for power, swings tailor-made for Safeco Field (Brad Wilkerson comes to mind) or both.

On the pitching side, Seattle has a pair of studs in Bedard and Felix Hernandez, and a bullpen with a lights-out closer named J.J. Putz. Jarrod Washburn, Miguel Batista and Carlos Silva are all serviceable in their roles. With as much an edge as Safeco provides its pitchers, that only helps confidence. Confidence breeds wins.

Negatives on the field: Seattle's order has too many spots that can turn into weaknesses if the hitters can't get on base. Suzuki is a given, but guys like Richie Sexson will have to rediscover their power or they're going to have to use Safeco's dimensions to the advantages they were meant to be used for.

The bullpen is solid at the end, even fantastic, but there isn't a great bridge to Putz. That will have to be discovered or Seattle's starters or hitters (or both) will have a lot of pressure to build leads so Putz has a chance to save them.

Outlook: It's Seattle's time. The Mariners have been building towards this for a while, and they are now ready to take the next step and return to the playoffs. The Angels won't go down easily, but Seattle finally has the pieces in place to unseat Los Angeheim and take the American League West crown.

Projected finish: 1st in AL West, lose to Tigers in ALDS. Season opener is March 31 at Safeco Field against Texas.

Spring base: Peoria Sports Complex, Peoria, Ariz. The team plays its games in Phoenix and Tucson, sharing the stadium with the San Diego Padres.

Fan of the team?: Check out Lookout Landing, a Mariners fan community.

Come back tomorrow: Who needs a DH? Well, actually, the next team might wish they could use one. The road trip returns to the Bay Area to open the tour of the National League with the San Francisco Giants.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Rick Trevino.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: Angels of Los Angeheim

A look back: As they tend to do, the Angels dominated the AL West enough for the first five months to win the division, despite the improvement of the Seattle Mariners last year. But injuries caught up with Los Angeheim, and few people besides my ex-girlfriend even remember the Angels were in the postseason after Boston easily dispatched them in three games. Simply put, the Angels couldn't hit in the postseason. If they're going to go anywhere in October, they'll need to stay healthy. But they've got to get out of September alive first, no longer an easy task.

Positives on the field: Who plays outfield? It's a problem Mike Scioscia is more than happy to have. He can put Vladimir Guerrero, Torii Hunter, Garret Anderson, Gary Matthews Jr. and even super-utility man Chone Figgins on the grass and still be confident in their production. Los Angeheim has a balanced lineup that will play both sides of the ball well. That's an ingredient you need to become a good team. Other than shortstop, where Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis fight for the job, there isn't really much of a weak spot, although Casey Kotchman leaves a bit to be desired in terms of power at first base. But with the Angels' sluggers, that isn't a big deal.

On the pitching side, Los Angeheim is lights-out from the bullpen with Francisco Rodriguez anchoring the ninth inning. The rotation is solid but devoid of stars. Outside of K-Rod and the outfield, that tends to be how the Angels operate, and it's a reason that they've been good enough for years. Los Angeheim has just enough stars to be a good to great team, but not so many that the chemistry is sacrificed.

Negatives off the field: The Angels still have that stupid Los Angeles moniker in their name. As such, I continue to call them Los Angeheim.

Negatives on the field: Kelvim Escobar's hurt. That could damage the Angels' solid rotation, which was strengthened with the addition of Jon Garland. Ervin Santana has struggled in the past, and if he continues, the Angels will flounder every fifth day until the return of Escobar. Scot Shields struggled in the bullpen last year, and if that continues, Los Angeheim loses one of its biggest strengths unless Justin Speier becomes a lights-out setup man. The Angels have solid Plan B's, but they're just that, Plan B's.

On the hitting side, if the four Angels in the outfield can't put aside their egos for one to play DH every so often, the chemistry could easily crash. Those four are the team leaders, and if they let individual glory come first, the Angels are in trouble.

Outlook: The Angels will be a good team yet again. But is it going to be enough in a division where Seattle looks just as strong with even better pitching? Los Angeheim will need every bit of veteran experience and talent that it has if it is to hold off the Mariners' young guns. It is likely only one team comes out of the AL West, making the race possibly one of the best in baseball.

Projected finish: 2nd in AL West, no postseason. Season opener is March 31 at the Metrodome against Minnesota. Angels home opener is April 4 at Angel Stadium of Anaheim against Texas.

Spring base: Tempe Diablo Stadium, Tempe, Ariz. The team plays games throughout the Phoenix and Tucson areas.

Fan of the team?: Check out Halos Heaven, the Angels fan community.

Come back tomorrow: The road trip heads to the Pacific Northwest, where the Seattle Mariners hope to dethrone the Angels as AL West champions.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy No More Kings.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: Oakland Athletics

A look back: The Athletics just weren't the same team they had been in previous years, finishing just one game ahead of Texas in the AL West. But those could be attributed to injuries and players having rough years. Now, Dan Haren is in Arizona, Nick Swisher is in Chicago, and the A's are in a world of trouble with a roster of kids. It's rebuilding time in the Bay Area. More on the Giants' disaster later.

Positives on the field: Jack Cust was a pleasant surprise last year, and it seems that Oakland has one every season. The problem is who it's going to be. If I had to guess, I'd say it's their young right fielder, Travis Buck, one of the few A's who approached .300 last season. He's young, but could produce. But I'll be honest, I have no clue.

The pitching could be solid if Rich Harden could ever stay healthy. He's a solid ace when he's got all his parts working together. Outside of him, the A's have some young guys who could be decent. Chad Gaudin was a decent pitcher last year, as was Joe Blanton. The bullpen is rock-solid if Huston Street can stay healthy.

Negatives on the field: Harden can't stay healthy. He's only thrown triple-digit innings twice in five years. Those are awful numbers for a guy who's supposed to be the man who stops a losing streak every five days when necessary. In the lineup, the A's look like an old Florida Marlins lineup. So much potential is there, but will it shine in the majors?

Outlook: Oakland is not attempting to win this year. The A's have a young team that could probably be better served with another season in Sacramento for most of the players. But that's what Billy Beane does, he tries to win through unconventional means. If the A's don't get broken up again due to high costs in a few years, they could move back into the top half of the American League by 2010. But for 2008, they'll be looking up at both Seattle and Los Angeheim from almost day one.

Projected finish: 3rd in AL West. Season opener is March 25 in Tokyo, Japan against the Red Sox. Athletics home opener is April 1 at McAfee Coliseum against Boston.

Spring base: Phoenix Municipal Stadium, downtown Phoenix. The team plays its games in both Phoenix and Tucson.

Fan of the team?: Check out Athletics Nation, an Athletics fan community.

Come back tomorrow: The road trip heads down I-5 to Anaheim, and pays a visit to the team with the identity crisis, the Angels of Los Angeheim.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Rob Thomas.

Monday, March 10, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: Texas Rangers

A look back: Texas had a rough start to their year, dropping a three-game set to Los Angeheim. The Rangers never recovered, and never managed to get even one game above .500 during the 2007 season. With a lousy pitching staff in a good hitter’s park, expect more of the same for the Rangers in 2008.

Positives on the field: In truth, there aren’t many. The Rangers do have some decent hitters, led by Michael Young and Hank Blalock. But with Mark Teixiera in Atlanta now, the Rangers’ lineup is nothing special overall. What kind of American League team has Frank Catalnotto as their designated hitter? Don’t get me wrong, I love Cat, he’s a good average hitter. But when your DH hits ninth, it’s not good.

The pitching is okay, not good. Kevin Millwood is Texas’s “ace”, Vincente Padilla is decent but not stellar. The Rangers’ bullpen has some good pieces with C.J. Wilson possibly serving as the closer, and Eddie Guardado waiting in the wings if he falters.

Negatives on the field: Ugh. Texas has little to like in either its lineup or its rotation. The Rangers never have any pitching, partially because Texas places value on hitting and partially because Rangers Ballpark is a hitter’s paradise. As usually happens, the result is many defeats. It’s a poor combination.

The batting order really falls off after Milton Bradley, with Marlon Byrd, Ben Broussard and Jarrod Saltamacchia ahead of Catalanotto. These guys won’t scare anyone with their hitters, and they won’t improve their standings from a year ago.

Outlook: The Rangers play in a two-tiered division. Unfortunately, the Rangers are in the bottom tier and are the worse team of the two in that tier. That makes things rather difficult for Texas. Luckily for Dallas-Fort Worth residents, because of the Mavericks’ and Stars’ success, they only have to pretend to care in July, when the NBA and NHL seasons are over and the Cowboys are still a month from camp.

Projected finish: 4th in AL West. Season opener is March 31 at Safeco Field against Seattle. Rangers home opener is April 8 against Baltimore at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

Spring base: Surprise Stadium, Surprise, Ariz. The team shares the complex with the Kansas City Royals, but has its own field. The Rangers play games in both Phoenix and Tucson areas.

(Editor’s note: Seriously, I feel sorry for the good people of Surprise. They have two baseball teams in the spring, but they’re the Royals and Rangers. Does that still count as spring training?)

Fan of the team?: Check out Lone Star Ball, a Rangers fan community.

Come back tomorrow: The road trip reaches the West Coast and visits the home of Moneyball, the Bay Area and the Oakland Athletics.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy The Lost Trailers

Sunday, March 9, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: Detroit Tigers

A look back: The Tigers came up short last year after winning the American League a season ago. So Detroit went out and grabbed two of Florida’s three remaining stars, Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera (the third is Hanley Ramirez). That’s given the Tigers as good a lineup as there is in baseball and another talented arm to add to an already strong rotation.

Positives on the field: Detroit’s lineup is scary. Seriously, go through it and attempt to find a guy you would be eager to face. If they’re all healthy, only Jacque Jones or Marcus Thames (maybe) fits the description. The Tigers will score runs, and lots of them.

In the rotation, Justin Verlander is outstanding, and has a lot of potential backing him up in Kenny Rogers, Nate Robertson, Jeremy Bonderman and Willis. There aren’t too many weaknesses in the Motor City.

Negatives on the field: The one weakness, though, could be a big flaw: the bullpen. Todd Jones frightens nobody as a closer, and Joel Zumaya won’t be back until about midway through the season. If Zumaya can throw gas when he returns, the Tigers’ bullpen will be strong enough to neutralize the weakness. But if he struggles, Detroit’s dreams could be derailed.

There’s also the question of how well Willis adjusts to American League hitters. His ERA wasn’t great in Florida, where the hitters aren’t quite as dominant and a pitcher is an out 9/10 times. He could easily flame out in Detroit, which would really hurt if Bonderman can’t bounce back.

Outlook: If Jones can simply get the job done at the end, Detroit has all the pieces in place to win the World Series. At a minimum, the Tigers will be in a fight for the playoffs. A slip can easily throw the division to Cleveland, who is about as talented as Detroit overall, but the Tigers are miles ahead of the other three teams in the AL Central, so anything worse than second would mean a disaster for Detroit.

Projected finish: 1st in AL Central, defeat Mariners in ALDS, defeat Indians in ALCS, defeat Phillies in World Series. Tigers opener is March 31 at Comerica Park against Kansas City.

Spring base: Joker Marchant Stadium, Lakeland, Fla. The team tends to play games on the west coast and in the central part of Florida.

Fan of the team?: Check out Bless You Boys, a Tigers fan community.

Come back tomorrow: The road trip heats up with a visit to the Metroplex to check out the Texas Rangers.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Fastball.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: Cleveland Indians

A look back: Cleveland came very close to a World Series last season, finishing one win away after holding a 3-1 lead on Boston in the ALCS. After its young talent had disappointed the year before under the weight of expectations, the Tribe took off, taking the AL Central and defeating the Yankees in the ALDS behind the pitching of C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona. The Indians didn’t improve in the offseason, but they’ve got enough to make a strong run.

Positives on the field: Cleveland’s pocket aces of Sabathia and Carmona are the best 1-2 punch in baseball for a rotation. The two combined to win 38 games last year and were very good at keeping runs off the board while doing it. On the other side, Rafael Betancourt was nearly unhittable as the setup man, giving Cleveland a great bridge to Joe Borowski, the AL save leader.

The Indians’ young top of the lineup, Grady Sizemore, continued to show why he is one of the best, and Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez are both excellent hitters. Cleveland is young and very talented, and could be great for years if they can keep it all together.

Positives off the field: The Indians are leaving Winter Haven for Goodyear, Ariz. next season in spring training. It sucks that the Tribe is leaving Florida, but to be honest, Chain of Lakes Park is a dump.

Negatives off the field: Jacobs Field is now Progressive Field. That is lame.

Negatives on the field: How will the Tribe react to the loss at the hands of the Red Sox last year? That was a devastating way to go out, and if it lingers in the back of Cleveland’s mind, it will become more devastating.

As good as Borowski was in the save category, he was hardly dominant. Will he continue to tightrope out of danger? If not, Cleveland may have to make Betancourt the closer and move Masahide Kobayashi (not the hot-dog eating champion) to the setup role.

Outlook: Cleveland is a cut above the bottom tier of the AL Central, but maybe not good enough to match Detroit. But the Indians have great starting pitching and a dependable bullpen outside Borowski, the ingredients you need to have to become a great baseball team. Because of that, I say the Tribe gets its revenge on the Sox.

Projected finish: 2nd in AL Central, defeat Red Sox in ALDS, lose to Tigers in ALCS. Indians opener is March 31 at Progressive Field against Chicago.

Spring base: Chain of Lakes Park, Winter Haven, Fla. The team plays mainly against the central and western Florida teams. The Indians will move to Arizona in 2009.

Fan of the team?: Check out Let's Go Tribe, the Indians fan community.

Come back tomorrow: The road trip heads north to the Motor City and visits the 2006 AL Champion Detroit Tigers.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy John Anderson.

Friday, March 7, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: Kansas City Royals

A look back: The Royals again finished last, but Kansas City was an improved team in 2007. With a new manager in Trey Hillman and some young talent possibly reaching maturity, Kansas City could make a move if Chicago and Minnesota aren’t careful. Third place for the Royals? Don’t laugh, it could really happen this year.

Positives on the field: Kansas City’s got some pieces in place to be a competitive team once it matures. Alex Gordon and Billy Butler are young and talented, John Buck looks like a decent catcher and Jose Guillen has had success elsewhere before coming to KC. With the AL Central divided into haves (Detroit and Cleveland) and have-nots (the other three), they have the right environment to learn.

The Royals should have better pitching than you would think. Gil Meche was overpaid but solid last season, Brian Bannister and Zack Greinke should be ready to contribute and the Royals have several pitchers in camp to try to fill spots. Brian Lawrence could help if he’s healthy, as could Mike Maroth. With as many options as KC has, someone should step up.

Negatives on the field: KC is still very young. Butler and Gordon could easily deal with some growing pains to impede the progress they have made. If that happens, it’s going to be last place again for the Royals. Kansas City’s not talented enough in other areas to succeed if their young stars aren’t stars.

The bullpen is a big question. Joakim Soria was promising a season ago, but the Royals’ bridge between him and their starters is shaky at best. Kansas City will have to cultivate some solid middle relievers in order to avoid overworking its young starters.

Outlook: This is not as much an endorsement of the Royals as it is a thought of how the bottom three teams are very evenly matched. So why not Kansas City for third? It isn’t any less likely to happen than Chicago or Minnesota, so I’ll gamble.

Prediction: 3rd in AL Central. Season opener is March 31 against Detroit at Comerica Park. Royals home opener is April 8 at Kauffman Stadium against New York.

Spring base: Surprise Stadium, Surprise, Ariz. The team shares the complex with the Texas Rangers, but has its own field. The Royals play games in both Phoenix and Tucson areas.

Fan of the team?: Check out Royals Review, a Royals fan community.

Come back tomorrow: The road trip heads to the team that came a win away from the AL pennant, the Cleveland Indians.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Lucky Boys Confusion.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: Minnesota Twins

A look back: The Twins entered 2007 as the defending AL Central champions, but the loss of Francisco Liriano and Joe Mauer helped derail any chance of a repeat. Minnesota wound up with a losing record and finished third in the AL Central. This year, there is no Johan Santana or Carlos Silva in the rotation, and no Torii Hunter in center field. Instead, the Twins will have to hope Liriano is healthy and that their well-stocked farm system has prepared its young players well enough for life in the AL Central.

Positives on the field: In Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer, the Twins have a pair of young stars who should solidify first base and catcher as long as they're playing in Minneapolis. When healthy, Liriano proved just as good as Santana in 2006, and if that wasn't a fluke, he'll be a solid ace. The Twins' bullpen is as good as any in baseball, Joe Nathan is an outstanding closer, and Pat Neshek was almost unhittable as a setup man. If the game gets through seven and the Twins have the lead, that's usually the end.

Positives off the field: The Twins have a new ballpark in the works. Fans of the team have desired an open-air park for years, and they'll have one in 2010.

Negatives on the field: The Twins' offense won't scare anyone outside of the 3-4-5 spots. Delmon Young is talented but is exactly what his name implies. The same applies to Carlos Gomez. Nick Punto has a balsa bat, Mike Lamb struggles against right-handers and Adam Everett is Punto with less speed and better defense. The Twins have several holes in the lineup that a pitcher can breathe somewhat easy against compared to most AL lineups.

The rotation is very young, besides Livan Hernandez. Boof Bonser is still more famous for his name than any of his pitches, Kevin Slowey may be taking a fast car (knew I could work in that Amanda Wilkinson reference somehow) to Rochester when the Twins break camp and Liriano has had arm problems in the past. If he comes back strong, he will team with Scott Baker and Hernandez to provide a decent top of the rotation, but that's a big if, since he hasn't been an ace before.

Outlook: The Twins are building for the future. That's what they do best. Minnesota would be the American League's version of the Florida Marlins, except the Twins develop their own talent rather than hold fire sales and remain competitive while doing so. But staying competitive will be difficult with this group. Minnesota is in position to be a strong team very soon, but will struggle in 2008.

Projected finish: 4th in AL Central. Season opener is March 31 at the Metrodome against Los Angeheim.

Spring base: Bill Hammond Stadium, Fort Myers, Fla. Like the Red Sox, who also train in Fort Myers at another complex, the Twins play all over the state during the spring.

Fan of the team?: Check out Twinkie Town, a Twins fan community.

Come back tomorrow: The road trip goes down I-35 to western Missouri, and stops in the City of Fountains for a visit to the Kansas City Royals.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Keane.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: Chicago White Sox

A look back: The season started well enough for the White Sox, with Mark Buehrle firing a no-hitter in April and Bobby Jenks tying the American League record for consecutive batters retired. That was all the positives on the South Side last year, as the White Sox finished fourth in the AL Central, just two years after winning the World Series. The division isn’t getting any easier, and the Pale Hose isn’t getting any better. It might be a long year for the Sox.

Positives on the field: The White Sox have some solid hitters that can mash the ball when they get a chance. Jim Thome, Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye and Nick Swisher were all good for 20 or more home runs a season ago. In the American League, offense rules, and the White Sox certainly have enough of it to compete.

On the pitching side, Buerhle and Jenks return to anchor each end of the game. Jenks will have help from Octavio Dotel and Scott Linebrink, who should give Chicago a bullpen that can hold on to any lead its power hitters give them. The White Sox are dangerous if the bullpen can make it a six or seven-inning game most nights.

Positives off the field: Sam Zell doesn’t own the White Sox. What can I say, baseball tradition is important to me.

Negatives off the field: Ken Harrelson is still employed by the White Sox as a broadcaster. There aren’t too many people who could do worse than him. Plus, Ozzie Guillen and Jay Mariotti might fight again. Actually, that might be positive.

Negatives on the field: The White Sox can’t pitch that well, other than Buerhle. Jon Garland is gone, John Danks is very young and likely a year away and I wouldn’t trust Javier Vazquez and Jose Contreras as high-end starters on any major league team. Basically, outside of Buerhle, there’s not a starter the White Sox have that I’d want in 2008.

The Sox can’t hit for average all that well either. Orlando Cabrera is decent, but the rest of the order is all power, no average. That means the Sox will either score runs in bunches or get shut out. There will be no in-between. Plus, the power hitters are starting to age. Thome is 37, Dye is 34 and happy 32nd birthday, Paul Konerko. (Seriously, today’s his birthday.) If they drop off due to age, the White Sox will come apart in a hurry.

Outlook: Chicago can score, but the Sox don’t look like they can prevent scoring. The bullpen should be ready to hold leads, but they will be useless if the White Sox starters can’t pitch well enough to get those leads in the first place. Expect the White Sox to play a lot of slugfests this season, never a good sign. The South Siders have lost a lot of ground, and didn’t have much to begin with.

Projected finish: 5th in AL Central. Season opener is March 31 at Progressive Field against Cleveland. White Sox home opener is April 7 at U.S. Cellular Field against Minnesota.

Spring base: Tucson Electric Park, Tucson, Ariz. The team shares the stadium with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and plays games in both Tucson and Phoenix. The White Sox are actively looking to move their base to Glendale, a Phoenix suburb.

Fan of the team?: Check out South Side Sox, a White Sox fan community.

Come back tomorrow: The road trip heads further northwest to the Twin Cities and visits the 2006 AL Central champion Minnesota Twins.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Sugarland.