2008 MLB Preview: Minnesota Twins

Explanation of ratings system and other team previews here

MINNESOTA TWINS

Ranks

Overall – 71 points (23rd MLB, 10th AL)
Starting Rotation – 23 points (26th MLB, 12th AL)
Line-Up – 32 points (18th MLB, 8th AL)
Bench/Bullpen/Defense – 16 points (T-5th MLB, T-3rd AL)

Offseason Additions – Delmon Young, Carlos Gomez, Livan Hernandez, Brendan Harris
Offseason Subtractions – Johan Santana, Torii Hunter, Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett

Biggest Strength– Young hitters

The Twins have an impressive core of young hitters. Justin Morneau, 26, already has an AL MVP to his credit. Joe Mauer, 24, will be the best catcher in the majors as soon as he can stay healthy. Delmon Young, 22, could very well be the next Manny Ramirez…if he stops throwing bats at umpires. Carlos Gomez, 22, was apparently good enough to be the main piece in a trade for the world’s best pitcher – now he has to prove it. Throw in the talented Jason Kubel and kind-of young Micheal Cuddyer (28 years old) and the Twins have a bunch of good young bats to keep an eye on.

Biggest Weakness– Starting Pitching

The Twins traded 2 of their 3 best pitchers last year (Johan Santana and Matt Garza). They lost their 3rd best starter via free agency. Their best pitcher this year could be dominant, or injured all year (see below). They did get a couple decent pitchers in Santana deal – but for ’08, they are going to rely on a bunch young guys (including a guy named “Boof”), and Livan Freakin’ Hernandez to carry the load.

Key Player in ’08– Francisco Liriano

The most important “young guy” mentioned above is clearly Francisco Liriano. Liriano exploded onto the scene 2 years ago, going 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA and 144 K’s in 121 IP – all at age 22. He is the type of pitcher that when you watch him, you can’t help but laugh, because the hitters just look so helpless trying to make contact. Last year, he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. Hopefully he will make a full recovery this year, and look a lot like that pitcher suiting up in Queens these days.  

Player to Keep an Eye On– Delmon Young

When I said Delmon Young has a chance to be the next Manny Ramirez, I wasn’t really over-stating his talent. Actually, he could be more like Manny Ramirez, with Vladimir Guerrero’s arm in the outfield. He has dominated every level since he hit .320 with 25 HR and 115 RBI in 131 games as an 18-year in single-A ball. Last year, his first full year in the league, he had 93 RBI, 38 2B and 13 HR, at age 21. The Rays traded him because of his questionable talent (and because they got a damn good pitcher in return), but if Young can put it all together, he, Morneau and Mauer could really terrorize the AL Central.

Outlook/Prediction– 4th Place, AL Central. As I said in my White Sox preview, I really had a hard time deciding who should finish 3rd in this division. I love the Twins, and it pains me that their fanbase had to go through losing Santana and Hunter in the same offseason, so I would like to pick them 3rd. However, there are too many question marks in their rotation for this season. As for the future, I would feel a lot more comfortable with the old GM. As for the new one, when your first move is to trade the best pitcher in baseball for 50 cents on the dollar – you aren’t off to a very good start.

Advertisements

Sixers Craziness: The Door is Open for the 6th Seed

Wachovia Center

You know there is professional team playing basketball in Philadelphia, right?  So what the hell are those Philadelphia 76ers doing these days?  They’re playing for the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs right now – WAKE UP, Philly!

I was at the Orlando Magic bashing last night, and the turnout at the Wachovia Center was underwhelming to the say the least.  People, this is a legit playoff team playing solid team ball and giving 110% effort right now.  They have won 7 games in a row at home and 8 of their last 10.  They are sitting in 7th place in the East and only a game and half behind Washington for the 6th spot.  I think it’s about time we act like there is a pro basketball franchise in our city who hasn’t packed it in, like the team in Memphis, and show some damn support.  I must admit I have been a fair-weather Sixers fan myself lately, but no more.  Here is what ESPN thought pre-season about the Sixers:

You can make the case, in Philly’s first full season AAI (After Allen Iverson), that this is the only team in the East with zero hope of reaching the playoffs. Even if Larry Brown ends up taking this job back from Mo Cheeks.

OUCH!  But that is exactly why we need to support our overachieving team.  The Sixers are playing old school NBA basketball, a la the early ’80s.  Meaning, they play almost like there is no three-point line out there.  The Sixers are last in 3pt attempts (11.1 per game) and 3pt% (31%).  They win by rebounding hard especially on the offensive end, creating turnovers and running the break.  When they have to play in the half-court their offense consists of screening to create mid-range shots and opportunistic post-ups when mismatches are recognized (A. Miller destroying hometown standout Jameer Nelson).   The team philosophy, young developing players and some wins in the mix makes for a very entertaining basketball team to watch.

Here’s the kicker, with Caron Butler out indefinitely with a hip injury the time is now for the Sixers to snatch up the 6th playoff spot.  And that would open the door for some potential craziness come playoff time.

We all agree our guys have no chance against either Detroit or Boston.  But the Orlando Magic is another story.  Call me crazy or overly optimistic (I’ll take no offense I promise), but I think the Sixers have the ability to shock Orlando in the first round, here’s why:

  • Match-ups
    • Andre Miller vs. Jameer Nelson: Miller is averaging 24.7ppg and 8.7apg vs. Orlando whereas Nelson is only at 7.7ppg and 3.7apg – BIG advantage Sixers
    • Willie Green vs. Maurice Evans: Willie shines against the Magic putting up 19.7ppg, 58% fgs and 40% 3pt – BIG advantage Sixers
    • Andre Iguodala vs. Rashard Lewis: These guys’ numbers against each other are eerily similar in every statistically category – push
    • Thaddeus Young vs. Hedo Turkoglu: Clearly Hedo is the more developed and offensively-used player in this match-up so the numbers are lopsided.  The key for the Sixers is can Young force Hedo into taking tough, contested shots? – advantage Magic
    • Samuel Dalembert vs. Dwight Howard: Slamming Sammy D is no match for Superman by himself.  The key for the Sixers is to double-team the crap out of Howard with Willie Green forcing either Evans or Bogans to consistently make jumpers. – advantage Magic
    • Sixers Bench vs. Magic Bench: More specifically, Lou Williams, Reggie Evans, Rodney Carney, Jason Smith, Calvin Booth and Kevin Ollie vs. Keith Bogans, Keyon Dooling, Carlos Arroyo, Adonal Foyle and Brian Cook.  Sixers bench plays more minutes and I give them the edge simply because Lou Williams is better than any Magic bench player.  Plus these team stats – advantage Sixers
  • Youth and inexperience – Both teams are young and lack real playoff experience among their top players.  Hedo has to be the leader in the playoffs since he is the most impactful player with postseason experience.  But I think the Sixers advantage comes again in Andre Miller at the point bringing a level of experience that Orlando cannot match with their floor general Nelson.  Miller will be able to control the game and lead the younger Sixers in the postseason better than Jameer can.  I expect both Carlos Arroyo and Kevin Ollie to play more in the playoffs being more experienced guards.
  • Dwight Howard is a beast… but may not ready to lead a team in the playoffs.  He often shows his youth in games when the defense plays physical against him, double-teaming guards rake at the ball and the refs don’t give him every touch foul.  That game description is exactly what the playoffs will be like.  Wednesday was a perfect example of that.  I witnessed first hand how he gets very frustrated, complains to the refs when he isn’t getting the calls he seems to expect and becomes much less aggressive and less effective on offense.  Further, if he doesn’t make free throws in the playoffs fouling him becomes a viable strategy in close games anyway.

Ultimately what it will come down to is can the Sixers play with the same energy and offensive effectiveness on the road as they do at home.  For me this is the biggest question mark and the likely determining factor in whether they can turn my potential upset prediction into reality.  Sure makes for an exciting and truly unexpected stretch run for that pro basketball team we have in Philadelphia.

2008 MLB Preview: Chicago White Sox

Explanation of ratings system and other team previews here

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Ranks

Overall – 71 points (22nd MLB, 9th AL)
Starting Rotation – 26 points (23rd MLB, 10th AL)
Line-Up – 32 points (15th MLB, 6th AL)
Bench/Bullpen/Defense – 13 points (T-23rd MLB, T-10th AL)

Offseason Additions – Nick Swisher, Orlando Cabrera, Scott Linebrink, Octavio Dotel
Offseason Subtractions – Jon Garland, Scott Podsednik

Biggest Strength– Line-up

I was surprised that the White Sox chose to shore up their offense instead of their pitching in the off-season, but the result is a pretty solid offensive attack. Thome, Konerko, Dye and Swisher will all provide some pop (assuming Dye HAS to play better than he did last year and this ISN’T the year that Thome falls off the map). The additions of Orlando Cabrera and Carlos Quentin will also upgrade the offense.  

Biggest Weakness– Starting Pitching

Unfortunately, the reason I picked their line-up as their biggest strength is because none of the other parts of the were really options. It’s hard to believe that just a couple years ago, the White Sox staff put together arguable the most dominating post-season ever on route to their World Championship. Buerhle and Vasquez are a solid top-2 but after them, well, whenever you have Gavin Floyd in your rotation, you lose a lot of points.

Key Player in ’08– Jose Contreras

I personally thought that the Jon Garland for Orlando Cabrera deal was horrendous for this team. You just don’t trade a solid pitcher under 30 for a 30-something SS, regardless of how well he played last year. The trade of Garland means, as I said before, that there is a huge drop-off after the 1-2 starters. I personally think that Contreras’ 5.57 ERA last year is a sign of things to come, not an off-year. He has to prove me wrong for the Sox to even sniff the playoff race.

Player to Keep an Eye On– Scott Linebrink

This is a player to keep an eye on because I think it will be funny when the Sox fans start saying “we signed this guy for how many years?” by mid-season. Don’t get me wrong, Linebrink is a good reliever, but he has been deteriorating the last 3 years and really pitched awful down the stretch for Milwaukee. I see no reason why he won’t keep deteriorating for the next FOUR years and 19 million the Sox signed him for.

Outlook/Prediction– 3rd Place, AL Central. It was really really hard to choose between the White Sox and the Twins for 3rd place in the AL Central. In my rating system, they came out with the same exact score and I’ve gone back and forth on who is better. I’m choosing the White Sox because I think they have less question marks than the Twins, particularly in the starting rotation. I also think that Nick Swisher is gonna have a real good, “screw you for trading me Billy Beane” year and that Konerko and Dye will bounce back from off years, giving the Sox a fighter’s chance every night.

2008 MLB Preview: Detroit Tigers

Explanation of ratings system and other team previews here

DETROIT TIGERS

Ranks

Overall – 86 points (2nd MLB, 2nd AL)
Starting Rotation – 33 points (7th MLB, 5th AL)
Line-Up – 39 points (1st MLB, 1st AL)
Bench/Bullpen/Defense – 14 points (T-18th MLB, T-8th AL)

Offseason Additions – Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis, Edgar Renteria, Jacque Jones
Offseason Subtractions – Sean Casey, Chad Durbin, Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller

Biggest Strength– Line-up

The Tigers sport the best line-up in the majors, and like many Yankees teams of years past, they will likely win 95+ games just by outhitting everyone. 5 of the 9 players in their line-up were all-stars last year, and 2 that weren’t (Renteria and Curtis Granderson) very well could have been. They have to great hitters and baserunners at the top in Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco followed by 2 legit MVP candidates in Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera. Following them are two guys that are threats to put up 100 RBI (Carlos Guillen and Gary Sheffield) and even at 7-8 you have to deal with professional hitters Edgar Renteria and Ivan Rodriguez. The only hole in the line-up is Jacque Jones at #9, but they could really just take an out there every time and still put up 5 runs a game.

Biggest Weakness– Bullpen

Any team that has Todd Jones as their closer concerns me. Added to that, the 2 arms that made them dominant in 2006, Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney, have both had health issues in the past year. If they can get healthy, and Zumaya is throwing 103 MPH heat again, this team will be very tough to deal with come playoff time.

Key Player in ’08– Jeremy Bonderman

Bonderman seemed destined for big things after his 2006 season, but things fell apart last year and he finished the year with a 5.01 ERA. The Tigers despirately need Bonderman to pitch in the #2 spot behind Justin Verlander and show the stuff that he did 2 years ago. He is only 25, and has already logged 923 innings in his career. My guess is that last year was a cause of fatigue, and that hopefully, for the Tigers sake, he worked real hard in the offseason to make sure it didn’t happen again.  

Player to Keep an Eye On– Dontrelle Willis

For all the publicity he gets because of his great personality and funky wind-up, Willis was awful in 2007. He had by far the worst year of his career and posted a 5.17 ERA in the very weak National League. However, Willis thrives on energy, and if you saw the hundreds of people that attended Marlins’ games last year, you have to think it was hard for him (or anyone) to get pumped up for games. It will be interesting to see if the year he had last year was a result of his surroundings, or his stuff deteriorating.  

Outlook/Prediction– 1st Place, AL Central. As I said before, the offense on this team will lead them to the playoffs one way or the other. Adding one of the top-5 hitters in the league in Miguel Cabrera to an already potent line-up must have Tigers’ fans dying for opening day. Justin Verlander is a stud at the top of their rotation, and could very well win the Cy Young this year. If this teams wants to bring home the World Series trophy, they will need comeback years from Bonderman and Willis (both possible) and solid work out of their bullpen. They are among a handful of teams I may pick to win it all.

2008 MLB Preview: Baltimore Orioles

Explanation of ratings system and other team previews here

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Ranks

Overall – 61 points (30th MLB, 14th AL)
Starting Rotation – 23 points (27th MLB, 14th AL)
Line-Up – 28 points (T-28th MLB, 13th AL)
Bench/Bullpen/Defense – 10 points (30th MLB, 14th AL)

Offseason Addtions – Adam Jones
Offseason Subtractions – Eric Bedard, Miguel Tejada

Biggest Strength– Camden Yards

                The Orioles beautiful ballpark is really the only thing that is going to get people to go to games this year. The Orioles celebrated their 93-loss season by trading away their best pitcher (Eric Bedard) and the face of their franchise (Miguel Tejada). Granted they got a good number of prospects for Bedard and Tejada was named in the Mitchell Report the day after he was traded (excellent work Ed Wade!), but the team does not have a lot of good players left over and considering the teams in their division, they might reach 100 losses this year.

Biggest Weakness– Starting Rotation

                Bedard was an elite pitcher, one of the best in the AL. The rotation he leaves behind is a compilation of #4 and #5 starters. Daniel Cabrera has had a couple years now to reach his potential and I don’t think he’s going to. Adam Loewen and Jeremy Guthrie have potential, but the AL East is a real hard place to 

Key Player in ’08 – Adam Loewen

                If this team wants to be slightly competitive this year, they need one of their pitchers to step into Bedard’s role and give them a chance to win once every 5 days. Loewen has the best chance to be that guy. At 23, he has only pitched 142 innings, but he has all tools to be a 2nd or 3rd starter. He has a good strikeout rate for a lefty, but will need to grow-up fast to fill Bedard’s spot in the rotation. 

Player to Keep an Eye On – Adam Jones

                The prize catch in the Eric Bedard deal, Jones is an elite, 5-tool prospect who most scouts agree will have a quick rise to superstardom.  He will probably get a chance to show off those skills right away and will give the Orioles fans something to hope for in the future. 

Outlook/Prediction – 5th place, AL East. As I previously said, the Orioles will be one of the worst teams in the league this year. However, they did get good value back for both Tejada and Bedard and could see some of those players contribute in a couple years. Unfortunetely, their line-up is full of washed-up veterans (Kevin Millar, Aubrey Huff, Melvin Mora, Ramon Hernandez) so there will be A LOT of holes to fill. Along with Jones, it will be interesting to watch the progress of Nick Markakis, the other part of the Orioles outfield of the future. Markakis had an overlooked season in 2007. At age 23, he his .300 with 23 HR, 43 2B, 112 RBI and 18 SB.

2008 MLB Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

Explanation of ratings system and other team previews here

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Ranks

Overall – 80 points (13th MLB, 7th AL)
Starting Rotation – 31 points (12th MLB, 7th AL)
Line-Up – 31 points (22nd MLB, 10th AL)
Bench/Bullpen/Defense – 18 points (2nd MLB, 2nd AL)

Offseason Additions – Scott Rolen, David Eckstein, Rod Barajas, Marco Scutaro
Offseason Subtractions – Troy Glaus, Josh Towers

Biggest Strength– Players you’ve never heard of

If the Blue Jays stay healthy, they are a real good team. If they are in the NL, they are a playoff team. But you would never know it because all of the media attention in their division goes to the Sox and the Yanks. When studying their roster, I found out a lot of players I just figured weren’t any good, were actually pretty decent. They have a pretty deep rotation, with a 3 pitchers any team would want at the bottom of their rotation in Dustin McGowan (25 years old, 4.08 ERA in 169.2 IP), Shaun Marcum (26, 4.13 ERA in 159 IP) and Jesse Litsch (22, 3.81 ERA in 111 IP). On the offensive side, Aaron Hill has become one of the best young 2B in the league, going for 78 RBI and 47 doubles at age 25.

Biggest Weakness– Health

If you told me that the 2 pitchers at the top of their rotation, Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett, as well as their dominant closer, B.J. Ryan, and their best hitter last year, Frank Thomas, would be healthy the entire year, I would pick this team to make the playoffs. Unfortunately, I just don’t see that happening. Burnett has only pitched 200 innings once since 2002, Ryan missed all but 4.1 innings in 2007, Frank Thomas can barely walk, and while Halladay has been healthy the last 2 seasons, his prior injury history leaves a lot to be desired. This team reminds of the Phillies of the last 5 years who have had the talent but just haven’t been able to put together an injury-free season.

Key Player in ’08 – Vernon Wells

After the Blue Jays rewarded Wells with a 7 year, 126 million dollar contract, he rewarded them with the worst season of his career (.245 BA, 16 HR, 80 RBI, .706 OPS). It is imperative for the Blue Jays that he comes back to form and proves to be a force in the middle of their line-up. I like their pitching, but they cannot rely on Frank Thomas to carry the offense again.

Player to Keep an Eye On – Scott Rolen

One of the strangest trades of the offseason had the Blue Jays and Cardinals swapping 3rd basement who seemed like they would never be healthy again. Personally, I think the Jays got the better of the deal because Glaus did PED’s and usually those players don’t make miraculous comebacks once they start downhill. Rolen, on the other hand, can be a top 3rd basemen, offensively and defensively, when healthy. He COULD be healthy this year, and if he is, he could help make this a very dangerous team.

Outlook/Prediction – 3rd Place, AL East. If there is a team in the AL that is going to come out and surprise, I believe it will be the Blue Jays. They have a deep rotation, good bullpen, and solid line-up (I didn’t even mention their best player, Alex Rios). However, they need a lot of things to go right – no injuries, young pitchers pitching well, and Thomas, Rolen and Wells having good years. If all this happens, they have the talent to make the playoffs. Unfortunately, as a Phillies fan, I know that regardless of how a team looks like on paper, things don’t always go right, and as long as the Red Sox and Yankees are around, this team seems doomed to have things go wrong.

Tennessee beats Memphis: Random Thoughts & Observations

No. 1 Memphis hosts No. 2 Tennessee

Tennessee beats Memphis in a great game that without a doubt lived up to all the hype leading up to tonight. Since I have no ties with either team I figured I’d leave some random thoughts I had while watching the game.

  1. Both teams played out of character (to start) – Memphis started the game shooting out of their minds from behind the arc. No one, including John Calipari, could have predicted his team would shoot 7-11 early on in the first half playing at a feverish pace. Memphis did come back to earth shooting a dismal 1-16 the rest of the game. On the other side Tennessee flat out dominated the boards especially on the offensive end. 46-31 on the boards for the Vols and 17 offensive rebounds. That is what kept them in the game during the hot-shooting first half by Memphis.
  2. Calipari bad game managment – In the second half Memphis was down to only 1 time out with over 8 and a half minutes left in the game. He is normally very good at managing this aspect of the game but must have felt he needed to use them to keep the game under control while Memphis was down. Bigger issue was with 26-seconds left, Memphis with the ball down one Coach Cal chose not to use that last time-out. That possession led to a forced shot by Antonio Anderson. Not Rose or Douglas-Roberts. Big mistake. That was the situation for some great coaching.
  3. Derrick Rose – To take a line for Dicky V. “Mr. Rose was awesome, baby, with a capital A.” Rose had his standout game on the biggest stage of the season. He clearly showed why he is regarded as one of the 5 best freshman in the country and a sure lottery pick. In this game he displayed a strong mid-range game hitting numerous pull-up jumpers down the stretch in the second half.
  4. Chris Lofton – BOOOOOO, it’s one thing to have a bad game shooting the ball, it is a completely different problem when you can’t even get a shot and you’re supposed to be the best player on the team. Is it just me or did he look slow, uncomfortable and flat out not very good? He has no handle and is unable to create his own shot against quick defender who are taller than he is. His first field goal didn’t come until midway through the second half. He spent the entire game either jacking up terrible shots with guys right in his grill or standing around while guys like J.P. Prince and Wayne Chism stepped up.
  5. Did Joey Dorsey play? – Memphis was supposed to have the advantage inside led by Dorsey. He was a complete non-factor, a major reason Tennessee won the rebounding battle by an unexpectedly large margin. 6 rebounds, 4 fouls and 1 point simply isn’t good enough from your starting center to beat good teams. Dorsey will have to be much more consistent come tournament time for the Tigers to finally get past the Elite 8.
  6. It’s about damn time – A coach with a 3-point lead fouls on purpose to eliminate the chance of a desperation three going down. This is an especially great strategy against a team who has proven they are allergic to the charity strip.
  7. Achilles Heel – 8 of 16 from the line for Memphis (Rose’s intention miss doesn’t count). Bad free throw shooting finally caught up to the Tigers in a close game verse a good team. When I played ball the first thing my coach would say after a close loss was “We missed x number of free throws, that was the difference in the game.” With so much parity in college basketball, Memphis won’t come close to a Final Four if they continue to shoot like that from the line.