Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Division Preview Series Part Five: AL Central

Spring Training is winding down! The start of the season is less than a week away! So, here's the penultimate division preview in my six part series: the AL Central, but I'm gonna keep it a bit shorter, saving my effort for two things. The first is an awesome paper I'm gearing up to write about Frankenstein and "The Dark Knight;" the second is my AL East preview, which will be much more detailed than this one.

1. Cleveland Indians The Indians had a bit of a hiccup in '08, but I think they can rebound to win this division. I don't think Travis Hafner is as bad as he was in '08, and the same goes for Fausto Carmona (even though Carmona is definitely not as good as he was in '07). Cliff Lee most likely won't repeat his Cy Young performance from last year, but even a slight regression wouldn't kill the Indians. The addition of Kerry Wood is a decent one as well, but it could be offset by the addition of one Carl Pavano.

Player to Watch: Grady Sizemore. Grady is probably the best CF in baseball right now, but somehow, I feel he's a slightly under-appreciated. Ken Rosenthal predicted him to win MVP the other day, though, so maybe I'm the one not paying attention.

2. Minnesota Twins The Twins have good young pitching and the best catcher in baseball and the should-have-been-MVP-in-2008: Joe Mauer. With a little more offense, the Twins could challenge the Indians for the division, but I don't think they can muster the runs.

Player to Watch: Delmon Young. Delmon's a solid young player, but his power has yet to show up. If it does in '09, that'll be a huge shot in the arm for the Twinkies and could push them over the edge.

3. Chicago White Sox Maybe it's just my irrational hatred for Ozzie Guillen, but I'm just not high on this team. The offense will probably be there with Konerko, Dye, Thome, and Quentin, but there's no good pitching in Chicago.

Player to Watch: Carlos Quentin. Carlos busted onto the scene in '08 and probably would've won MVP if not for a season ending wrist injury. Was this for real? Who knows?

4. Kansas City Royals Once again, the Royals won't finish in the cellar in '09. Their offense is shoddy, but with Zach Greinke and Gil Meche in the rotation and Joakim Soria out of the 'pen, they've actually got some decent pitching. They may not be great, but they're probably better than what the Tigers can muster up.

Player to Watch: Just for fun, I'm gonna say Kyle Farnsworth. The Royals signed him to a 2 year, $9.25 million deal. This deal is just awful for the Royals, but it could be decent if Farnswoth pitches like he did for the Yankees in the first half of '08. Maybe. Probably not. Have fun with Krazy Kyle, KC.

5. Detroit Tigers This team's just a mess. They might be able to score some runs with Miggy Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez, and Curtis Granderson, but there's no way they can prevent runs The Matt Joyce/Edwin Jackson trade was not a good one for the Tigers, IMO, and with Joel Zumaya starting the year on the DL, the 'pen might be in trouble, too.

Player to Watch: Justin Verlander. The hard throwing right-hander took negative turns in K/9, BB/9, K/BB, ERA, WHIP, and FIP. Yikes. Can he regain his '06-'07 form, when he finished 7th and 5th in the Cy Young voting and a Rookie of the Year award in '06? We'll see. if not, the Tigers will be in for another celler-dwelilng season. Sorry, Michigan.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Poll Results!

I've had some of my polls up for a long time, and they're due to expire tomorrow so I thought I'd write up the results.

The first question: Who should start in CF--Brett, Melky, or someone else? The results from your responses were pretty clear: start Brett! He got 33 votes, good for 73% of the vote. It seems as if General Joe has listened, naming Gardner the starting center fielder.

The next, and most important question, was on how far the Yankees would go in 2009. 60% of you have dreams of a 27th World Championship for the Bronx Bombers this year. I hope you're all right. 18% thought a World Series berth was in the cards while 7%, 8 votes, thought the Yankees would miss the playoffs altogether. Somewhat surprisingly, this got more votes than the Yankees exiting after the ALDS, which got only 4 votes, 3%.

Next was the question of who would have a better year: Tex or A-Rod? In the beginning of this question's existence, A-Rod was winning by a landslide. However, with all the injury news, it started to even out a bit and ended up 57-32 (64%-35%) in A-Rod's favor. Despite those results, it seems apparent that Teixeira will have the better season.

Last but not least is the pitching version of the previous question: who'll have a better year: CC or A.J.? This was the most lopsided question, with CC taking 86% of the vote.

So, we'll re-visit this post later in the year to see how close we all were on our "predictions." Have a good one, everybody and GO HUSKIES!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Division Preview Series Part Four: AL West

We're in the swing of things in terms of March Madness and the Huskies are DOMINATING and Opening Day is creeping ever closer! So, here's part four of six of my division preview series...the AL West!

1.Oakland Athletics The A's will end the Angels two year reign on top of the AL West in 2009. There are usually two choices in life: go big or go home. In this offseason, Billy Beane chose to go big. He traded for Matt Holliday, he brought Jason Giambi back home (WE'LL MISS YOU, BIG G!), and he also brought in Orlando Cabrera along with NOMAAAAAAAH. Offense was a big problem for the A's last season (14th in BA, 13th in OBP, and 14th in SLG), but Giambi and Holliday should help that. A 3-4-5 combination of Giambi-Holliaday-Cust could be the absolute best in the division. Oakland had a collection of no names on their pitching staff but still finished fourth in the AL in ERA and 9th in the Majors in FIP. Oakland's pitching may not be a shining star, but it is by no mean a black hole. With their improved offense, they should be able to overtake the Angels for the AL West title in 2009.

Player to Watch: Matt Holliday. Holliday came over in a trade with the Rockies. Holliday has a reputation for not hitting well away from Coors Field. He is going from a park that had a park factor of 105 last year to one that had a park factor of 97 last year. Holliday is a free agent next offseason and if he performs well outside of Coors for a whole season, he will get himself a huge deal with another AL team (maybe the Yankees? More on that at another time). If not, he could go back to the NL. No player is going to be under a bigger microscope than Matt Holliday this season.

2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Aside from not having an unpretentious name, the Angels don't have much offense. Of course, Vlad is solid and they did add Bobby Abreu, but Abreu is in his decline phase. They have no power at the corner infield positions and even with the added "bonus" of Torii Hunter, the Angels offense won't be able to score enough runs. If, however, Mike Napoli can get some more PAs, he adds significant pop to the lineup. They're due for a big time pythag record correction this year as well. They were 100-62 in '08 despite having a phythag record of 88-74. Compare that to the '07 Mariners who had a record of 88-74, despite a pythag record of 79-83 (61-101 in '08 with a PR of 67-95)and the '07 D-Backs (90-72, PR: 99-83; 82-80 in '09 with an exactly similar PR.). I would expect a similar correction for the '09 Angels, despite their strong pitching staff. I don't expect the loss of K-Rod to hurt them all that much, but there just won't be enough runs to support the staff.

Player to Watch: Ervin Santana. Ervin rebounded nicely from an incredibly rough 2007 to have a very good 2008. He improved his K/BB from 2.17 to an ridiculous 4.55 and decreased his FIP from 5.13 to 3.30. Was 2008 fluky? Perhaps. But, it could just be the progression of a young, budding pitcher. Is Ervin as bad as he was in 2007? Definitely not. Is he as good as he was in '08? Probably not, but he's somewhere in the middle, and that's not bad at all.

3. Texas Rangers This team is the opposite of the Angels. All hit and no pitch. They were poised to sign Ben Sheets to correct that, but we all know how that turned out. Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler will anchor the offense that might take a hit after losing its best hitter in Milton Bradley. Hank Blalock is a consistent presence at third base, and he will have a new compliment at the opposite corner in budding youngster Chris Davis. Taylor Teagarden had a good in his brief 47 ABs and he could be a contender for AL Rookie of the Year. Texas led the AL in runs scored with 901 last year, but they also gave up 967. I see no way that Texas can improve on that disparity and with improved offense in Oakland and solid pitching in Los Angeles, there's no way the Rangers can keep up.

Player to Watch: Nelson Cruz. Cruz put up a line of .330/.421/.609 in 115 ABs last year and CHONE projects him to do .271/.374/.495 this season. If Cruz can do that, he could be a nice compliment to Josh Hamilton in the outfield and would be able to fill at least part of the gap left by Milton Bradley's departure to the Cubs.

4. Seattle Mariners There really isn't much to be excited about in the Emerald City. King Felix is great and Ichiro is still solid, but their essentially alone. Erik Bedard was good in his 15 games last season, but health is always an issue with him. The team has also lost Raul Ibanez to the Phillies and they didn't do anything to plug that hole. Adding Ken Griffey is great for nostalgia's sake, but it does nothing in terms of baseball. They played a few games below their pythag record last year, so there could be an improvement but that is unlikely. There is no one who can hit well and unless Bedard is healthy, the M's really only have one good starter.

Player to Watch: Erik Bedard. If Bedard is healthy, he and Felix Hernandez could be a great one-two punch, but if not, the M's rotation is essentially punch-less.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Check back next time for the AL Central

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Division Preview Series Part Three: NL East

Alright, I just made my own meatballs and made a sandwich out of them for lunch so now it's time for blogging. This is the third part in my division preview series: the National League East.

1.Philadelphia Phillies I like the Phils to repeat as division champs. The defending World Series champs have some question marks in terms of pitching, but I think they can out-hit the rest of the division to make up for those possible deficiencies. What are those question marks? I think the rotation is rather iffy after the wonderful and dreamy Cole Hamels. Brett Myers is Philadelphia's answer to Oliver Perez, Jamie Moyer is old and though he had a solid year last year, I don't think we can count on that again. The bullpen is also a question mark in my mind. Brad Lidge is definitely solid, but missing JC Romero for 50 games will hurt and Ryan Madson was the only one of the bunch who didn't pitch over his head last year. The lineup will take a hit without Pat Burrell, but (questionable) acquisition Raul Ibanez could see an improvement due to moving to a hitter's park. The middle infield combination the Phillies have could be the best overall in all of baseball--both Rollins and Utley are good fielders and very good hitters, especially considering their positions. Ryan Howard looks to be in a decline, but he's still a good hitter and should still flourish in that small park. The third base situation will be interesting this year and could be solved by a platoon--Feliz vs. lefties and Dobbs vs. righties. Anyway, the Phillies potent offense should be able to fend off the division foes.

Player to Watch: Cole Hamels. Last year, the lanky lefty established himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball and the fact that he didn't receive any Cy Young votes is sickening. Look for him to continue his stellar rise to the top of the N.L. pitching ranks.

2.New York Mets The Mets will once again finish in second in the NL East, but this year, they'll snag the NL's Wild Card berth. They could probably win the two other divisions in the NL, but I don't think they can outhit the Phillies. Their rotation is also a much bigger question than Philadelphia's. After Johan Santana, it gets pretty thin. Oliver Perez is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in baseball form, John Maine is coming off an injury and his ERA/WHIP have both moved in the wrong direction the last three seasons. Mike Pelfrey has some promise, but a shaky K/BB last year (1.72) and a huge innings increase are indicators of possible struggles to come. The Mets did, however, do one thing right this offseason: they improved their unreliable bullpen by acquiring J.J. Putz in a trade with the Mariners and signing Francisco Rodriguez to sure up the back end. These are good moves, but with a shaky starting rotation, will an improved bullpen really matter? The Mets also didn't do enough to bolster their lineup. Bernie Madoff must've really screwed the Wilpons because their absence from the Manny Ramirez sweepstakes if he didn't would've been inexcusable. They're left side of the infield is good in terms of offense (David Wright will go down as the best position player in Mets history. Book it.) and Carlos Delgado is reliable, but without a second big bat in the outfield, I don't think the Mets can keep up with Phils and their run scoring.

Player to Watch: Francisco Rodriguez. K-Rod, possibly the most overrated pitcher in all of baseball, is joining a new team and a new league. Despite setting a new record in saves, Rodriguez is coming off his second worst K/9 year (2003), his worst K/BB year, and his second worst FIP year (2003). While he's an improvement over the injured Billy Wagner, I don't think Rodriguez is going to be the savior Mets fans are hoping for.

3.Atlanta Braves If the Braves had added another good bat (Adam Dunn rather than Garrett Anderson), I would've picked them to win the division. With Javier Vasquez, new addition Derek Lowe, and young up and comer Jair Jurrjens, the Braves have the best starting rotation in the NL East. However, they just don't have the offense to keep up with the Mets and Phillies. Chipper Jones is probably the best switch hitter since Mickey Mantle, but he just can't stay healthy. His only real offensive compliment is Brian McCann and the two of them will not be able to carry the team to anything more than a third place finish. Their pitching will keep them in the race, but the Braves will not be able to score enough runs to make the playoffs.

Player to Watch: Jeff Francoeur. His power has been dipping every year since his third place ROY finish in 2005 and he still isn't able to take a walk (career OBP: .312). After an embarrassing demotion to the minors last year, Francoeur needs a bounce back in a big way. If he can hit like he did in '05 (or even '07) the Braves might make the race for the NL East a little closer. If not...well, there'll be another playoff-less year in Atlanta.

4.Florida Marlins The Marlins were a surprising third place finisher in the NL East in '08, but this year, I don't think they'll quite get there. In Miami, there just isn't enough on either side of the ball--Ramirez and Uggla are great hitters but that's about it. The pitching after Ricky Nolasco isn't enough either. Fourth place is all the Marlins will muster in '09.

Player to Watch: Ricky Nolasco and Cameron Maybin. After the All-Star break, Nolasco posted a 3.12 ERA in 109.2 innings while striking out 113 and walking only 13. This guy's gonna turn some heads this year. As for Maybin, I was in attendance at Yankee Stadium when he hit his first career homer against Roger Clemens so I've got an attachment to Maybin...sort of. Anyway, he's a highly touted prospect who came over in the Miguel Cabrera deal with Detroit and should get some serious Rookie of the Year consideration in the National League. While Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla turned the heads of fans towards Miami, Nolasco and Maybin will have them looking twice.

5. Washington Nationals What can I say about this team? They signed Adam Dunn, so that makes them an instant favorite in my book, but aside from that...I don't know what they can do aside from finish in last place. There isn't much offense and there isn't much pitching. Good luck, Washington. You'll need it.

Player to Watch: Adam Dunn and Elijah Dukes. Dunn is moving to a new stadium and a new division, so we'll have to see if he can continue his streak of 40+ homers. Elijah Dukes projects to go .263/.373/.462 via CHONE. If he can do that, the Nats will have a star in the making.

Next: The AL West.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Little Bit of Everything

Spring Training NotesFirst off, I watched my second Spring Training game today as the Yankees defeated the Astros, 3-1. The best part of this game was definitely A.J. Burnett's four spectacular innings of work to start the ball game. He pitched a perfect four frames while striking out three. What was most impressive and encouraging about the performance was with how little effort Burnett seemed to be throwing, despite radar gun readings that had his fastball sitting at 93-96. His accuracy was incredible as he worked the corners deftly and his breaking ball looked as sharp as it would in mid-season.

At the plate today, the Yankees didn't do too much. Johnny Damon's laser of a home run was really the only highlight. The other half of the split squad game, the one I wish was televised, was much more offensive minded. Both Austin Jackson and Jesus Montero hit home runs, the latter's being a grand slam. Every Yankee fan ought to keep a sharp eye on these two, as they are a huge part of the future of the New York Yankees.

In other ST news, Robinson Cano and Damaso Marte returned from the WBC with injuries that appear to be minor, but I'm cautious, as I am with any Yankee injury. Is the WBC to blame? Probably not wholly, but I still don't like the tournament for a variety of reasons. The first is that it simply takes away time players should have with their club teams. Second is that it's far too early for a playoff-like atmosphere. Third, I just don't like it when sports have to act as a veil for petty nationalism--this applies to the Olympics as well. If it's really all about the sport, why do the teams have to be national ones? If I had my way, I'd eliminate the WBC altogether. Despite that, though, I realize it's here to stay and is a good concept. Changes, however, should be made.

The timing is not one of those changes, despite the fact that it is poor. However, March is the lesser of a multitude of timing evils. Putting it mid-season would be moronic, as would putting it post-playoffs. What I would change is the teams. Instead of the teams being countries, they would be the winners of that country's league, meaning this year the US would've sent the Phillies to the WBC, Japan would've sent NPB's champion, and so on. I think this would give the world a much stronger idea of who baseball's best country is. Of course, there are pitfalls to this solution as well. Do we really think the Italian league champs would stand a chance against the Phillies? The teams also change year to year, what with free agent acquisitions and trades and what not, but whatever. It's still more entertaining to me than watching petty nationalism played out on a baseball field. This also may hurt the team's chances to mix younger players into the Spring Training fold due to the season-like atmosphere, but they could probably find time against the lesser teams. This idea isn't much better than the current WBC, but I think it's still an improvement. Either way, the WBC sucks.

UConn Basketball Six fuckin' overtimes. I stayed up for the whole damn thing and they lost. I was furious. I hate Syracuse. Jim Boehiem's alright but the players and the team itself, forget 'em. There is no one in college basketball I hate more than Eric Devendorf and his little eyebrow-pencil looking beard. Anyway, I don't think this hurts UConn's chances at a one or two seed in the Big Dance, but I'm still weary of the team. Losing Dyson really hurt and I think other teams have figured out how to attack Hasheem Thabeet: go right at him and try to out muscle him. UConn has the talent to make it all the way to the Final Four but they do have weaknesses, mostly three point shooting and free-throw shooting as well. If they are going to make a long tourney run, Thabeet will have to toughen up a bit, Adrien will have to regain his scoring form from early in the season, AJ Price will need to keep up the hot three point shooting, and Kemba Walker will have to be, well, Kemba walker. I've said it before and I'll say it again, in 2-3 years, Kemba will be a Player of the Year candidate.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Division Preview Series Part Two: NL Central

Okay time for part two of my MLB division previews and predictions. This one brings us to the NL Central.

1. Chicago Cubs The Cubs really should win this division running away. They were the best team in the division last year and and adding Milton Bradley is a plus--if he can stay healthy, but more on that later. Mr. Bradley adds to an already solid hitting core of Alfonso Soriano, Derek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, and Geovany Soto. They dd lose Kerry Wood to the Indians but the addition of Kevin Gregg is a good one and he will anchor the bullpen, along with the impressive Carlos Marmol.

Player to Watch: Milton Bradley. Bradley was the best hitter the Rangers had last year (his home/away splits weren't awful either), but was hurt...again. I like the signing of Bradley for 3/30 but his health is an obvious question. He's only played 100+ games three times in his career so he could leave some Chicago residents disappointed. However, if he's healthy, look for Bradley to mash. He's got great talent and is moving from one good hitter's park to another.

2. St. Louis Cardinals I've got the Cards finishing second to the Cubs, but by a large margin. The offense is pretty much there with Pujols (best player in baseball. Period.) and Glaus, but it has some questions, IMO. Is Ryan Ludwick for real? Can Rick Ankiel get some plate discipline/stay healthy? As for their pitching...meh. Adam Wainwright is solid but he only pitched 20 games. If Wellemeyer and Lohse can repeat what they did last year, they might be able to make it closer with the Cubs.

Player(s) to Watch: Albert Pujols is one. He's one of those guys that I'm gonna be harping on when I'm 87, telling my grandkids that no one could hit the ball like King Albert. In non obvious land, Ryan Ludwick will be another to watch. Ludwick raked last year but is it a case of late blooming or just a fluke?

3. Cincinnati Reds I like the Reds to finish third, but they could challenge the Cardinals for the second spot with solid pitching. Edinson Volquez is a stud, Johnny Cueto has a year of ML pitching under his belt and is incredibly talented, it's doubtful that Aaron Harang is as bad as he was in 2008, and Bronson Arroyo should be better than he was in '08 as well. Their offense is pretty crappy, though. Joey Votto and Edwin Encarnacion provide good offense on the corner infield spots, but after that...not so much. Ramon Hernandez is decent behind the plate but nothing too special, and the middle infield probably won't produce much, either. Jay Bruce will be the best offensive player on a team that will miss my boy Adam Dunn's bat, no matter how much Dusty Baker hates walks.

Player to Watch: Jay Bruce. I told some fellow fans at the June 20th game who had not heard of Jay Bruce that he could be one of the best players in baseball in five years. This year is the first step towards that. Bruce has 30 homer power and 2009 will probably be the first of his many trips to the All-Star game.

4. Milwaukee Brewers The Brewers have no starting pitching and not much offense after Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. The off-season hurt the Brew Crew the most, as they lost both CC Sabathia (woo!) and Ben Sheets, their two best pitchers. Yovani Gallardo is great, but he's not Sabathia or Sheets and I don't think he can hold down the rotation by himself.

Player to Watch: Yovani Gallardo. This young guy is a stud and should, despite being on what projects to be a bad team, get some awards consideration. Coming off an injury and a shaky playoff performance, look for Gallardo to bounce back and become a dominant starter.

5. Houston Astros At the plate, they've got (the incredibly underrated) Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee. On the hill, they've got Roy Oswalt. Things are not too bright in Houston.

Player to Watch: Lance Berkman. Berkman has a career line of .302/.413/.560 and has finished in the top 5 of MVP voting in 4 different seasons, yet he is rarely mentioned as one of the top players in the game. He is definitely the second best second baseman in baseball, right behind Pujols and right ahead of Mark Teixeira.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates I'm not gonna lie--I do not know much about this team, but there really is not much to say about them. The only thing they can do is hope for lightning in a bottle and pull a D-Rays. Ryan Doumit and Mike Francesa's favorite, Nate McLouth are probably the lone bright spots in Pittsburgh, who will once again finish in the cellar.

Player to Watch: Andy LaRoche. Once considered a top prospect, LaRoche has essentially fallen off the face of the earth. It'll be interesting to see if he can start to develop into the player everyone once thought he would be.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Lineup, Sans A-Rod

Hey everybody. It was a stressful week last week, what with a full load for school and the A-Rod mess, so I'm glad to be on Spring Break!

Anyway, A-Rod had his surgery today and is already rehabbing. Regardless of that, he'll still miss 6-9 weeks of action. I've already detailed how I'd design the lineup with A-Rod, now I'll give my take for the lineup without A-Rod.

The likely replacement for Alex Rodriguez is Cody Ransom, so I'll plug him into this lineup. I'm also assuming that Nick Swisher will win the starting right field job, because, well, I'm the President of the Nick Swisher fan club and that Brett "Slugger" Gardner will be the starting centerfielder.

vs. RHP

1. Damon, LF
2. Jeter, SS
3. Swisher, RF
4. Teixeira, 1B
5. Matsui, DH
6. Posada, C
7. Cano, 2B
8. Ransom, 3B
9. Gardner, CF

The top two are obvious. Damon and Jeter are going to bat 1/2 no matter who's pitching, no matter who else is injured, whatever. I wish Girardi would swap the two of them, but Damon/Jeter is fine with me. Swisher batting third is iffy considering his down year last year, but I think he could be a good 3 hitter for the Yanks. He's incredibly patient and has some good pop. It's the former that would be good for the three whole--he could provide a hell of a lot of RBI chances for Tex batting in the cleanup spot. Some people have been suggesting Cano at the top of the order but until he learns some patience, I don't want him up that high, regardless of the pop in his bat. Ransom really ain't a great hitter, so sticking him in the eighth spot makes sense. I just hope he can hit at replacement level for the month that Rodriguez is on the DL. Gardner's potential on base and stealing skills profile him at the top of the order, but until his skills show up, he's better suited at the bottom of the order as a "second leadoff" type of guy.

vs. LHP

1. Damon, DH
2. Jeter, SS
3. Swisher, RF
4. Teixeira, 1B
5. Nady, LF
6. Posada, C
7. Cano, 2B
8. Ransom, 3B
9. Gardner, CF

Nady should be the DH vs. lefties. He hits them better than Hideki Matsui and playing him against lefties gives Matsui time off to rest his knees. I'd like to hit Posada over Nady because of his superior skills all around, but Nady hits lefties just as well as Jorge. The rest of the lineup is the same so no explanation needed there.

Anyway, that's it for now. I'll be back later this week for the second installment of my Division Preview Series with the NL Central. Have a good one and get better soon, Alex!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Division Preview Series Part One: NL West

Hey everyone! With Spring Training started, I'm gonna put up my division previews and predictions. I'm gonna do this at least once a week, starting tonight with the NL West and ending with the AL East. So, without further ado....

1. LA Dodgers: Officially getting Manny Ramirez back pushes the Dodgers over the edge. Though they lost Derek Lowe, they brought in the aforementioned Manny, along with Orlando Hudson and Randy Wolf. Takashi Saito is also out, but young flamethrower Jonathan Broxton can easily fill his role as the closer. Chad Billingsley will anchor the rotation, along with youngster Clayton Kershaw. Though a pitching edge could be given to the Giants, the Dodgers will surely have the edge on offense with Manny, Matt Kemp, James Loney, Russell Martin, and Andre Ethier.

Player to Watch: Clayton Kershaw. Despite giving up a few too many hits and walks (9.11 H/9 and 4.35 BB/9), the young lefty put up a very good 8.36 K/9. Kershaw was only twenty years old last year and those are pretty damn good numbers considering his age. The spotlight will be on him big time this year, as he'll have to be the team's #2 to Billingsley.

2. SF Giants: Coming in second place in the relatively weak NL West will be the Giants. The Giants are going to do this with pitching, not hitting. Their hitting is incredibly weak, but their pitching is surprisingly strong. They've got defending Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, the very solid Matt Cain, young Jonathan Sanchez, soon-to-be-300 game-winner Randy Johnson, and...Barry Zito. That's a great rotation and they would win this division if they had just a slightly better lineup.

Player to Watch: Jonathan Sanchez. Though he still didn't put up great numbers last year (5.01 ERA, 1.449 WHIP), Sanchez has 252 strikeouts in 250 innings of MLB ball and the ERA and WHIP tallies were improvements on his '07 numbers. With a high strikeout rate like that, I'd say this is the year Sanchez catches on and shows big time improvement.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks: The young up and comers will only mange to come up to third in 2009. After the overlooked Haren and the overrated Webb, I'm just not sure if their pitching can do it. Can Scherzer, Davis, and Garland complement them well enough? They've also got bullpen concerns after losing Juan Cruz, but Chad Qualls could pick up the slack. The lineup is powerful but they've got too many strikeouts without enough walks.

Player to Watch: Justin Upton. It's going to be fun to watch his continuing development at such a young age. He and I graduated high school in the same year ('05). Yikes.

4. Colorado Rockies: The team I thought would win the division in '08 will probably finish fourth this year. They lose their best player in Matt Holliday, Todd Helton is a year older, Garrett Atkins has been in a steady decline, and Jeff Francis is out for the year. However, giving Ryan Spilborghs a chance to have a full time job in center will help them, as it takes away PAs from the now gone Wily Taveras, and Brad Hawpe is usually reliable. On the pitching side, there isn't too much to get excited for. The Rockies will have to hope for improvement from Ubaldo Jimenez, who will now be the team ace. Getting Huston Street in the bullpen could help, along with more development from Manny Corpas.

Player to Watch: Dexter Fowler. A member of the US's bronze medal winning baseball team, Fowler is a bright spot for the Rockies' future as he could be a contender for NL Rookie of the Year.

5. San Diego Padres: Adrian Gonzalez is their lone bright spot offensively, now that Brian Giles has lost pretty much all of his power. Despite all the rumors of being traded, Jake Peavy should still produce at a high level and a healthy Chris Young will help the rotation, but it won't be nearly enough to make the Padres even decent. This last place thing could be a multi-year theme for the Padres.

Player to Watch: Adrian Gonzalez. If this guy played in an even halfway decent hitter's park, he'd be a household name. Sadly, he's stuck in the cavernous PETCO Park and could forever be underappreciated.

Well, that's my prediction for the NL West. We'll see come October, right?