2008 MLB Preview: Top of the NL East

Ryan Howard, David Wright, John Smoltz

Explanation of ratings system and other team previews here

I decided to change it up a little bit for the last 3 teams of MLB Preview – The Mets, Braves and Phillies. Since this is a Philly blog, people are most interested in how these 3 teams stack up in what should be one of the closest division races in baseball. What I’m going to do is rank their players, not by position, but by “best hitter vs. best hitter,” “2nd best hitter vs. 2nd best hitter,” etc… Then, at the end, I plan to come to some sort of logical and meaningful conclusion.

Best Hitter

  1. Ryan Howard, Phillies
  2. David Wright, Mets
  3. Chipper Jones, Braves

Comment: Howard and Wright are neck and neck, but the way Howard has been hitting this spring, I expect we will see the 2006 version of Howard.

2nd Best

  1. Mark Teixeira, Braves
  2. Chase Utley, Phillies
  3. Carlos Beltran, Mets

Comment: How well did Teixeira play after coming over the Braves? Well, if he hits at the rate he did in his 56 games for the team, he will hit .317 with 51 HR and 168 RBI over a full season. Wow.

3rd Best

  1. Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
  2. Jose Reyes, Mets
  3. Jeff Francouer, Braves

Comment: I’m going to give the reigning NL MVP the benefit of the doubt, but I could see him having a slightly disappointing season this year.

4th Best

  1. Brian McCann, Braves
  2. Pat Burrell, Phillies
  3. Carlos Delgado, Mets

Comment: McCann is due for a breakout year, we know what we will get from Burrell (.270, 30 HR, 95 RBI) and Delgado has a lot of injuries to recover from before he’s going to be a productive hitter.

5th Best

  1. Ryan Church, Mets
  2. Matt Diaz, Braves
  3. Geoff Jenkins, Phillies

Comment: I actually like the acquisition of Church for the Mets (though they might regret losing Lastings Milledge in the long run). Church’s 43 doubles in 470 ABs last year is very impressive.

6th Best

  1. Kelly Johnson, Braves
  2. Shane Victorino, Phillies
  3. Moises Alou, Mets

Comment: Johnson was way under the radar with the season he had last year. He had a .832 OPS at second base, which is great for that position. Victorino and his SBs are not far behind him though and Alou might have been in first if I didn’t think he will be hurt all year.

7th Best

  1. Yunel Escobar, Braves
  2. Pedro Feliz, Phillies
  3. Luis Castillo, Mets

Comment: Escobar is good enough that the Braves had no problems giving up all-star shortstop Edgar Renteria in the offseason. He hit .326 in 319 ABs last year. He is not a power hitter, but could get 40+ doubles this year.

8th Best

  1. Carlos Ruiz, Phillies
  2. Mark Kotsay, Braves
  3. Brian Schneider, Mets

Comment: Ruiz is far and away the best of this bunch – it’ll be interesting to see what he will do this year with the starting spot all to himself.

Bench

  1. Phillies (Chris Coste, Greg Dobbs, Jayson Werth, So Taguchi)
  2. Mets (Ramon Castro, Marlon Anderson, Endy Chavez, Damion Easley)
  3. Braves (Ruben Gotay, Brayan Pena, Martin Prado, Gregor Blanco)

Comment: Both the Mets and Phillies have great benches – I give the edge to the Phillies because their 4 players drove in 156 runs last year, vs. 99 for the Mets guys.

1st Starter

  1. Johan Santana, Mets
  2. Brett Myers, Phillies
  3. John Smoltz, Braves

Comment: Santana is obvious – but I chose Myers over Smoltz because Smoltz is starting the year on the DL and at 40, he might be slowing down. Also, Myers has looked phenomenal in the spring.

2nd Starter

  1. Cole Hamels, Phillies
  2. Tim Hudson, Braves
  3. Pedro Martinez, Mets

Comment: Word is that Pedro has looked great this spring. Considering he’s pitched 160 innings total the last 2 years, I’ll believe it when I see it.

3rd Starter

  1. John Maine, Mets
  2. Tom Glavine, Braves
  3. Jamie Moyer, Phillies

Comment: There is a huge gap here between Maine and the two old lefties. As much as I love Jamie Moyer, I see him having another year flirting with a 5.00 ERA.

4th Starter

  1. Oliver Perez, Mets
  2. Jair Jurrjens, Braves
  3. Kyle Kendrick, Phillies

Comment: Phillies fans don’t think much of Perez because he was always wild when he pitched against us, but he actually finished the year 9th in the NL in ERA. As for Kendrick, I believe he will be in the minor leagues by mid-May.

5th Starter

  1. Orlando Hernandez, Mets
  2. Adam Eaton, Phillies
  3. Mike Hampton, Braves

Comment: I think Kris Benson will probably take this spot when he’s ready – but I have to think Eaton can’t be AS bad as he was last year. As for Hampton, I don’t think he’ll be able to stay healthy, hence his spot at the bottom.

Closer

  1. Billy Wagner, Mets
  2. Rafael Soriano, Braves
  3. Brad Lidge, Philies

Comment: I hate Billy Wagner. He’s a liar and a baby. That’s my comment.

Set-Up Man

  1. Peter Moylan, Braves
  2. Tom Gordon, Phillies
  3. Aaron Heilman, Mets

Comment: Peter who? Moylan had 1.80 ERA last year for the Braves over 90.1 IP, while Heilman had SEVEN losses, which is entirely too many for a reliever.

7th Inning Man

  1. J.C. Romero, Phillies
  2. Manny Acosta, Braves
  3. Pedro Feliciano, Mets

Comment: If Romero can keep his walks down, he can be dominant, as he showed down the stretch for the Phils last year. The Phillies bet $12 million in the offseason that he can.

Rest of Bullpen

  1. Mets (Joe Smith, Scott Schoenweis, Jorge Sosa)
  2. Phillies (Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin, Clay Condrey)
  3. Braves (Blaine Boyer, Chris Resop, Wil Ohman)

Comment: All three of these teams could use some improvement here. Ryan Madson has looked really good in the spring for the Phillies, and it would be a huge boost to the team if he can stay healthy and effective for the entire year.

OVERALL

Let’s go ahead and assign some arbitrary numbers to these rankings and see what we come up with. For the line-ups, bullpen and bench I’ll award 3 points for each 1st place, 2 for 2nd and 1 for 3rd. Since the starting rotation is only 5 players and is extremely important, we’ll award 6 points for each 1st, 4 for 2nd and 2 for 3rd. Here’s what we come up with for that.

Line-Up

T-1. Phillies, 18 points
T-1. Braves, 18 points
    3. Mets, 12 points

Starting Rotation

  1. Mets, 26 points
  2. Phillies, 18 points
  3. Braves, 16 points

Bullpen/Bench

  1. Phillies, 11 points
  2. Mets, 10 points
  3. Braves, 9 points

Overall

  1. Mets, 48 points
  2. Phillies, 47 points
  3. Braves, 43 points

MEANINGFUL CONCLUSIONS

Braves- 3rd Place. I don’t really understand the obsession with the Braves resurgence this year (most of the ESPN analysts have picked them 2nd). They will have an improved line-up even w/o Andruw Jones, and their starting rotation is full of some good names (Smoltz, Glavine, Hudson, Hampton) but Tom Glavine’s last appearance on the mound was the biggest choke of his career, Smoltz is already on the DL and Hampton hasn’t been healthy since 2005.

Phillies- 2nd Place. The Phils have the best offense in the National League and that alone will win them a lot of games. However, 3 through 5 in their rotation absolutely terrifies me. I still can’t understand how Kyle Lohse ended up with the Cardinals for 4.5 million and we couldn’t pony up 7-8 million for one season. A lot also hinges on Brad Lidge coming back healthy, which it looks like he will. Regardless of the question marks, the Phillies have no holes in their line-up and a deep bench in case anyone gets hurt. I think they will win the Wild Card this year.

Mets- 1st place. It’s hard to make an argument against a team that lost the division on the last day of the season and then went out and got the best pitcher in baseball. What sets the Mets apart from the Braves and Phillies is the the combination of a true ace at the top, and depth at the bottom of their rotation. Their offense isn’t quite as good, or deep, but Jose Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran is nothing to scoff at.

2008 MLB Preview: Washington Nationals

Lastings Milledge

Explanation of ratings system and other team previews here

WASHINGTON NATIONALS

Ranks

Overall – 69 points (24th MLB, 14nd NL)
Starting Rotation – 21 points (29th MLB, 16th NL)
Line-Up – 31 points (22nd MLB, 12th NL)
Bench/Bullpen/Defense – 17 points (T-3rd MLB, T-1st NL)

Offseason Additions – Aaron Boone, Tyler Clippard, Johnny Estrada, Paul LoDuca, Rob Mackowiak, Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes
Offseason Subtractions – Tony Batista, Ryan Church, Nook Logan, Brian Schneider

Biggest Strength–  Nationals Park

First of all, kudos to the Nationals for not (yet) selling the rights to name their stadium, for making the first “green” stadium in the country, and for having possibly the coolest backdrop to an outfield, the Capital Building and Washington Monument. That being said, it’s not the stadium that will help the Nats this year, its the fact that there will be PEOPLE there. The last time the Nationals played in front of large crowds was their inagural year in 2005. Going from no crowd to a big crowd can pump a team up, and it showed, with the team starting off 52-36 before finally playing to it’s talent level later in the season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar hot start this season.

Biggest Weakness– Starting Rotation

I started writing about the lack of a big power hitter in this line-up, but when I went to look at the Nationals depth chart on espn.com, it showed Odalis Perez as their #1 starter. This has to be a misprint, right? RIGHT? Even if it isn’t – their is not a single starter on the team (Perez, Jason Bergmann, Matt Chico, John Lannan and Tim Redding) that would be in the Top 4 of a playoff contender. One or two of them will likely surprise, but it’s likely that their very good bullpen will get A LOT of work this season.

Key Player in ’08– Ryan Zimmerman

Zimmerman is the closest thing that the Nationals have to a franchise player. However, he followed his very impressive rookie campaign by taking a step back in 2007, hitting .266 with 24 HR and 91 RBI. He is primarily a doubles hitter and a phenomenal defender, but he needs to step up this season and hit for a better average and more power – the Nationals need a big threat in the middle of their line-up.

Player to Keep an Eye On– Lastings Milledge

Milledge went from being absolutely un-tradable, to being dumped for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider in the matter of a year. Did he somehow become less talented in that year – or did the Mets decide he had character issues they didn’t want to deal with? Who knows. But the bottom line is Milledge is only 22, and talent doesn’t just vanish into thin air. Milledge will get his first chance to start everyday and will have a huge chip on his shoulder to prove the Mets wrong. I wouldn’t be surprised if people look back on this trade much like the historically horrendous Victor Zambrano – Scott Kazmir swap.

2008 Outlook: 4th Place, NL East. The Nationals don’t have any big name players on their team, but they are always a tough team to face. They have one of the best bullpen’s in majors and a decent line-up. If they can ride the emotion of opening a new stadium in front of large crowds, I think they could replicate their 81-81 record of 2005. However, their rotation is too weak for them to do much more.

2008 MLB Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks

Justin Upton

Explanation of ratings system and other team previews here

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Ranks

Overall – 82 points (7th MLB, 2nd NL)
Starting Rotation – 33 points (4th MLB, 1st NL)
Line-Up – 33 points (12th MLB, 7th NL)
Bench/Bullpen/Defense – 16 points (T-5th MLB, T-3rd NL)

Offseason Additions – Dan Haren, Chad Qualls, Billy Buckner (seriously)
Offseason Subtractions – Tony Clark, Livan Hernandez, Carlos Quentin, Jose Valverde

Biggest Strength– Brandon Webb and Dan Haren

In Webb and Haren, I believe that the Diamondbacks have the best 1-2 punch in the major leagues. Both are on the right side of their primes (Webb is 28, Haren is 27), both are very reliable (Webb averaged 233 inning over the last 3 years, Haren averaged 221) and both are dominant (Webb had a 3.01 ERA last year, Haren had a 3.07). While not quite as good as Johnson/Schilling, these two will have the same affect on the team, giving them a distinct advantage in 40% of their games.

Biggest Weakness– Young Offense

The Diamondbacks won their division last year despite being OUTSCORED and having essentially the same run differential as the 76 win, 86 loss, Oakland A’s. They are loaded with talented young hitters such as Stephen Drew, Justin Upton, Conor Jackson, Mark Reynolds and Chris Young. However, they can’t count on doing it with smoke and mirrors again this year. Some of these players are going to have to step up. Picking a team to make the playoffs that has Eric Byrnes as it’s best offensive player scares me a little bit. With that said…

Key Player in ’08– Conor Jackson

You could really put any of those young guys here, but based on 2007 numbers, I’m guessing that Jackson has the best chance to break out. He was 2nd to Mark Reynolds on the team in OPS (.836) despite not striking out very much (50 Ks in 477 PA). He has decent pop and could approach 30 HR and 90-100 RBI. This will be his 3rd full year in the league, and at 25, he’s at an age and service time where many hitters make that next step. But if he doesn’t, who knows, maybe it will be…

Player to Keep an Eye On– Justin Upton

Upton was called up to big leagues last year as a teenager. At 19, he was nearly 2 years younger than anyone else in NL. At the time of his call-up, he was doing pretty well in AA. How well? Well – if you took the numbers he was putting up and extrapolate them over a normal MLB season, they would have looked like this: .309 BA, 111 Runs, 39 2B, 9 3B, 30 HR, 122 RBI, 23 SB, .955 OPS. For a 19 year old SS? That’s completely ridiculous. Upton certainly has the biggest ceiling of any of the young D-Backs, but it will likely take him awhile to get there (though the .360 he’s hitting in spring training might suggest otherwise). When he does, he will probably be the best SS in the majors. (Editors Note: He will play RF in the majors – so it will be difficult for him to be the best SS. But he’ll still be really good – you get the point)

2008 Outlook: 1st Place, NL West. I think that Diamondbacks will win about 70% of the games that Webb and Haren pitch, and that their offense, bullpen and the intangibles (defense, managing) that won them games last year will do enough to win 50% of the games they don’t. That’ll put them at about 93 wins and at the top of this division. If Stephen Drew, Mark Reynolds and the rest of the young snakes all break-out, this team will be unstoppable.

2008 MLB Preview: Colorado Rockies

Troy Tulowitzki

Explanation of ratings system and other team previews here

COLORADO ROCKIES

Ranks

Overall – 82 points (9th MLB, 3rd NL)
Starting Rotation – 31 points (12th MLB, 7th NL)
Line-Up – 36 points (6th MLB, 3rd NL)
Bench/Bullpen/Defense – 15 points (T-11th MLB, T-7th NL)

Offseason Additions – Luis Viscaino, Josh Towers, Kip Wells
Offseason Subtractions – Kaz Matsui, Jeremy Affeldt, LaTroy Hawkins

Biggest Strength– Line-Up

The Rockies have never had any trouble scoring runs, but this version will have no trouble regardless of whether they are a mile above sea level or not. They have one of the best hitters in baseball in Matt Holliday as well as 4 other guys with the potential to drive in 100 runs (Todd Helton, Troy Tulowitzki, Brad Hawpe, Garrett Atkins). A healthy Willy Taveras could score 120 runs with these guys hitting after him. The bottom of the order could use some work with Jayson Nix and Yorvit Torrealba in the 7-8 spots, but the top is good enough to carry it.

Biggest Weakness– Expectations

On the morning of September 2nd, 2007, the Colorado Rockies were 69-66, 5 1/2 games behind San Diego for the wild card. Then, they went on one of the greatest stretches of baseball in history, going 20-7, including 11 in a row, to win the wild card. In the playoffs, they won 8 straight, before losing to the Red Sox in the World Series. The question for 2008 is this – Was the first 135 or final 27 games the most indicative of the team the Rockies will be? Expectations will be that the final 27 and playoff run was the start of something bigger. The Rockies are entering a season where anything other than a repeat NL pennant will be viewed as a disappointment. It is my opinion that the Rockies caught lightning in a bottle and rode the momentum all the way to the Pennant and in 2008, the expectation of doing that for a whole season will be too much for the young players on the team.

Key Player in ’08– Ubaldo Jimenez

Jimenez has the makings of being the first dominant starting pitcher in the Rockies short history. He has an electric fastball and above average secondary pitches. However, for someone who has only pitched 89 innings in his career, he certainly has a lot of pressure on him to be that dominant pitcher this year. Could he? Certainly. But he is young pitcher who struggles with his control and pitches at Coors Field. If he defies the odds, the Rockies will have a solid top 3 (with Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook) and might be able to meet their lofty expectations.

Player to Keep an Eye On– Troy Tulowitzki

Tulowitzki catapulted himself into the upper echelon of NL shortstops in just his first year. At 23, he hit .291 with 24 HR and 99 RBI. But the most impressive thing about Tulo is his defense. He led all MLB SS in fielding percentage (.987), putouts (262), total chances (834), assists (561) and double plays turned (114). As his career goes on, he will likely be talked about in the same breath as Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel.

2008 Outlook: 3rd Place, NL West. Clearly I think that the first 135 games of the Rockies season last year is more representative of their talent level. They are a very good team that would probably make the playoffs in another division, but I see them taking a step back this year. After Jeff Francis, I don’t think their rotation has enough experience, and although I love Manny Corpas, I don’t think their bullpen will be quite as good as last year. However, with Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales getting a full year under their belt, they could both be primed to break out in 2009 – when I think the Rockies will be very dangerous.

2008 MLB Preview: San Diego Padres

Chase Headley

Explanation of ratings system and other team previews here

SAN DIEGO PADRES

Ranks

Overall – 78 points (15th MLB, 8th NL)
Starting Rotation – 33 points (5th MLB, 2nd NL)
Line-Up – 29 points (25th MLB, 14th NL)
Bench/Bullpen/Defense – 16 points (T-5th MLB, T-3rd NL)

Offseason Additions – Randy Wolf, Mark Prior, Tad Iguchi, Jim Edmonds
Offseason Subtractions – Geoff Blum, Mike Cameron, Milton Bradley, Doug Brocail, Marcus Giles

Biggest Strength– Starting Rotation

The Padres are the same type of team as the Giants (strong rotation, bad line-up), only with a slightly better rotation and slightly better line-up. Their rotation is headed by the runaway Cy Young winner in 2007 in Jake Peavy. Peavy quietly had a historic season, as he became just the 7th pitcher since 1940 to lead the NL in W, ERA and K. Chris Young, their #2 starter, was on pace for the first non-HGH enhanced sub-2.00 ERA in the NL since Pedro Martinez in 1997. He got hurt and when he came back he wasn’t quite the same, and his ERA “ballooned” to 3.12. Rounding out the rotation is future 1st ballot hall of famer Greg Maddux, former Phillie Randy Wolf and living proof of the Cubs curse, Mark Prior.

Biggest Weakness– Line-up

The Padres have a lot of holes in their line-up. Aside from Adrian Gonzalez and Khalil Greene, they are below average at almost every position. In the offseason, there were talks that they might trade for the Pirates Jason Bay, but nothing materialized. The best they could do to improve their offense was to sign the ancient Jim Edmonds, and brief Phillies fan-favorite Tadahito Iguchi. In this division, that’s not going to get it done.

Key Player in ’08– Trevor Hoffman

 The all-time saves leader has been a reliable force at the back of the Padres bullpen since 1993. However, in the 2nd half of 2007, he showed signs of finally slowing down. He had a 4.44 ERA after the all-star break and blew several saves down the stretch that ended up costing the Padres a playoff berth. The Padres have been able to counter subpar play with an excellent bullpen for years. If they can’t rely on Hoffman and the bullpen anymore, it’s going to cost them a lot of games.

Player to Keep an Eye On– Chase Headley

Headley destroyed AA pitching last year, hitting .330 with 20 HR, 38 2B and a 1.017 OPS. During spring training, he is making a huge case to be the starting LF for Padres on opening day. He is hitting .371 with a 1.156 OPS and has been the Padres best hitter all spring. Considering their desperate need for another hitter, they would be foolish not to give Headley a chance from the start.

2008 Outlook: 4th Place, NL West. The Padres have made the playoffs 2 of the last 3 years (and each of those times have been the least exciting team to watch in the playoffs), but with their division significantly improved, it might be awhile before they get back there. However, GM Kevin Towers has a knack for spotting talent and knows how to build a good team, so they might only be a couple years away from getting back on top.

2008 MLB Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

Explanation of ratings system and other team previews here

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Ranks
Overall – 69 points (25th MLB, 15th NL)
Starting Rotation – 22 points (28th MLB, 15th NL)
Line-Up – 28 points (27th MLB, 15th NL)
Bench/Bullpen/Defense – 17 points (T-3rd MLB, T-1st NL)

Offseason Additions – Troy Glaus, Kyle Lohse, Matt Clemenet
Offseason Subtractions – David Eckstein, Jim Edmonds, Troy Percival, Scott Rolen, Kip Wells

Biggest Strength– Championship Grace Period

The Cardinals are not going to be a very good team this year. But unlike many other teams who won’t be good (and many who will) Cardinals fans can still relish in the fact that they were, as recently as last year, defending World Series Champions. For those of us in Philly, we would certainly take a couple horrible years right after a championship if it meant getting a championship.

Biggest Weakness– Starting Rotation

Who knows when Chris Carpenter will be back, Mark Mulder has been a total bust since coming over from Oakland, Braden Looper was a bad reliever and not much better as a starter, Anthony Reyes had a 6.04 ERA last year and doesn’t know how to bend his brim correctly, Joel Pinero hasn’t pitched 200 inning since 2003 and Kyle Lohse is so good it took till mid-March for someone to sign him. Oh well, atleast they have…

Key Player in ’08– Adam Wainwright

Wainwright, who just got a 4-year extension, is the Cardinals best and only hope of a dominant starting pitcher. He has a nasty curveball, and was impressive last year with a 2.71 ERA after the all-star break (3rd best in the NL). At 26, he is right at the age where pitchers break out and could be a huge bright spot in the otherwise questionable Cardinals rotation.

Player to Keep an Eye On– Rick Ankiel

Everybody knows his story. One of the best left-handed pitching prospects of the decade. Tears through NL line-ups, helping lead the Cardinals to the playoffs in 2000. In the playoffs, he has a legitimate mental breakdown and can’t stop throwing wild pitches. Never recovers and quits pitching and decides to be a hitter. He then goes through the Cardinals farm system AGAIN, surprising with his hitting ability. Then, after a call-up last year hits 11 HR and drives in 39 RBI in just 47 games, during which he was accused of using HGH in the minors. This spring, he is tearing the cover off the ball, hitting .380 with a 1.026 OPS in 50 AB. The way his story has gone, I could see him hitting 40 HR this year, or I could see him hitting .050, losing his mind, and retiring into obscurity.

Outlook/Prediction– 6th Place, NL Central. It’s hard to imagine the Cardinals being as bad as I think they will be because they’ve been very good for awhile. However, they still have arguably the best hitter in the game in Albert Pujols, arguably the best uniforms in the game, and arguably the best fans in the game, so I really don’t feel too bad for them.

2008 MLB Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

Ian Snell

Explanation of ratings system and other team previews here

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Ranks

Overall – 71 points (21st MLB, 13th NL)
Starting Rotation – 27 points (20th MLB, 12th NL)
Line-Up – 33 points (14th MLB, 9th NL)
Bench/Bullpen/Defense – 11 points (29th MLB, 16th NL)

Offseason Additions – None of significance
Offseason Subtractions – None of significance

Biggest Strength– Top of the rotation

There were only 2 teams last year that could boast that they had two 25-and-under starters who pitched 200 innings with an ERA under 4.00. Those two teams? The Tampa Bay Rays (Scott Kazmir and Jamie Shields) and the Pittsburgh Pirates (Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelany). It also marked the first time since 1992 that two Pirates pitchers, regardless of age, went 200 innings at a sub-4 ERA (Doug Drabek and Randy Tomlin). Snell and Gorzelany are nearly the age where pitchers hit their prime. If they can out-do last year, the Pirates will quietly have one of the best 1-2 punches in the NL.

Biggest Weakness– History

Speaking of 1992 – that also happens to be the last time the Pirates had a WINNING RECORD. Not last time they made the playoffs or the World Series, but the last time they had 83 or more wins in a season. That’s really really depressing. At this point, it’s clear they are in the midst of yet another rebuilding cycle and while those two guys at the front of their rotation will win them a few games, it’s unlikely their 15-year streak will end in 2008.

Key Player in ’08– Jason Bay

It appears as though the new Pirates GM, Neal Huntington, is looking to start from scratch. He did nothing, and I mean nothing, in the off-season to improve the team, which in place of the usual pointless signing of a washed-up veteran, can actually be seen as an improvement. His best bet to turn around the franchise is going to be to draft well, and trade a couple of his good players while their value is high. Example 1A is Jason Bay. Bay was phenomenal in 2005 (.961 OPS) and 2006 (.928 OPS) but really regressed for some reason in 2007 (.745 OPS). At 29, a long-term deal doesn’t make sense for the Pirates so the best case scenario is that he regains his ’05-’06 form and they can trade him to a contender with deep pockets for some high-level minor league talent.

 Player to Keep an Eye On– Nate McClouth

If there is one hitter who could break-out for the Pirates this year its Nate McClouth. The 26 year old center-fielder led the team last year with a .810 OPS. However, in August and September, when he saw his ABs increase considerably he hit 10 HR with 27 RBI and 16 SB with a .947 OPS. I doubt he will be able to carry that through a whole season, but he has a chance to be a quality bat in their line-up who can also steal some bases.

Outlook/Prediction– 5th Place, NL Central. This is probably not the year that the Pirates will break the .500 barrier, but Pirates fans can take some solace in the fact that they are not the worst team in their division. Their top 2 pitchers will give them a good chance to win atleast 2 out of 5 games and their bullpen is decent enough that when they get a lead, they won’t blow too many games. However, their offense isn’t all the great and they will need a lot of career years to win any 10 runs games.