Notre Dame’s Occasional Recruiting Disadvantage

This recruit, Kenneth Page, was down to Clemson, Notre Dame and UNC. Who did he choose? Well – I’m guessing whoever gave him that $10,000 cash (hint: It wasn’t Notre Dame)

Kenneth Page Cash Money

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: Los Angeles Dodgers

Jonathan Broxton

Explanation of ratings system and other team previews here

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Ranks

Overall – 79 points (14th MLB, 7th NL)
Starting Rotation – 32 points (10th MLB, 5th NL)
Line-Up – 32 points (16th MLB, 10th NL)
Bench/Bullpen/Defense – 15 points (T-11th MLB, T-7th NL)

Offseason Additions – Andruw Jones, Hiroki Kuroda
Offseason Subtractions – Mark Hendrickson, Randy Wolf, Luis Gonzalez

Biggest Strength– Bullpen

Joe Torre will have to get used to a lot of things moving from NY to LA, but sweating out the 8th and 9th innings will not be one of them. Both their 8th inning (Jonathan Broxton) and 9th inning (Takashi Saiko) guys have dominant stuff, each averaging over 10 K per 9 innings pitched. Saiko established himself as a premier closer with a 1.40 ERA, 39 Saves and 78 K in 64.1 IP. Broxton was unbelievable, falling only 1 strikeout short of 100 for the season. Before they get to these 2, the Dodgers have several reliable guys in Scott Proctor (3.38 ERA after coming over from NYY), Joe Beimel (3.88 ERA in 67.1 IP) and Rudy Seanez (3.79 ERA in 76 IP).

Biggest Weakness– Lack of Power

The Dodgers were 2nd to last in the NL in HR’s last year to only the Washington Nationals, who played in a gigantic ballpark. Their team leader in HR was Jeff Kent, with 20. Their RBI leader was Russell Martin, with 87. To try to solve this problem, they signed Andruw Jones in the offseason, who has hit 50 HR in the past, but had a seriously off year last year with 26 HR and 94 RBI, which still would have led the Dodgers. Jones is only 30, even though he has been in the league since 1996, and should provide the Dodgers with a little more pop this season. If they can get some improved power numbers from their young players (Russell Martin, James Loney, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier), they should be OK, but for now, it’s an area of concern.

Key Player in ’08– Chad Billingsley

Billingsley has all the makings of leaping up into the elite level of pitchers this year. At 23, he pitched very well last year, going 12-5 with a 3.31 ERA and 141 K in 147 IP. If he is able to improve his control and keep his walks down, there is no reason why he shouldn’t be an All-Star. The Dodgers staff is good, but lacks a true ace. If Billingsley can fill the role that Brandon Webb and Jake Peavy already occupy in the NL West, the Dodgers will make a serious playoff push.

Player to Keep an Eye On– Matt Kemp

Of all the Dodgers young players, it appears that Kemp has the best chance of breaking out in 2008. Like Billingsley, he is 23 and was very impressive during his time in the big leagues last year. In 292 ABs, he hit .342 with 10 HR, 42 RBI and 10 SB. His high batting average was not a fluke. After his 20th birthday, he hit .325 in the minor leagues. Just from looking at the numbers, he looks like Bobby Abreu without the walks. He will hit for average and hit a decent amount of doubles and steal some bases and hit about 20 HR without trying to hit them.

2008 Outlook: 2nd Place, NL West. The Dodgers are an intriguing team to me. If Joe Torre provides some focus, Billingsley steps up, Andruw Jones plays like he did 2 years ago, and Hiroki Kuroda proves to be a solid compliment to Lowe, Billingsley and Penny, this team can absolutely win the Division and even win the Pennant. However, I’m not sold that their offense will have the firepower to get them there. Jeff Kent is running on fumes, Juan Pierre and Rafael Furcal have trouble getting on base at the top of the line-up, and they are relying on a lot of unproven young players. Either way, expect them to be in the playoff picture for the entire season.

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.

Villanova’s Comeback Keeps Big 5 Alive in NCAA Tourney

Scottie Reynolds drives to the hoop against Clemson in first round of the NCAA tournamentIronically, the last Philadelphia school to get in the 2008 NCAA tournament is now the only team to survive the opening round.  Villanova beat Clemson 75-69 in one of the last games of the night – and it was a great one.

Villanova struggled to handle Clemson’s relentless pressure in the first half committing the bulk of their 19 turnovers in the opening 20-minutes.  That helped the Tigers get up on Nova by as much as 18 and took a 12-point lead into the half.  The Wildcats are no strangers to halftime deficits, trailing at the half in 15 of their 33 games this season.  But Nova has Jay Wright, the “King of the 2nd Half Adjustments.”  He has been able to make the right changes and motivate his guys to come out focused in the second half to finish the game strong.  In those 15 game where Villanova trailed they have come back to win 6 times (40%).  And they did just that against Clemson.

Keys to the Second Half Comeback

  • Handling the pressure down the stretch.  Nova settled down, limited their turnovers and was able to break the press for scores in the 2nd half. 
  • Solid defense and rebounding.  The Wildcats held Clemson to 30 points in the second half on 7-29 from the field and out rebounded the very athletic Clemson Tigers 31-28.
  • Scottie Reynolds – No matter how much we hate his often erratic play and questionable shot selection this guy is the leader on Villanova and he showed it last night.  Reynolds scored 21 points shooting 7-12 from the field and was the catalyst for the comeback.
  • Free throws – The numbers say it all: Nova shot a fantastic 24-29 from the line while Clemson’s Achilles heel hurt them again only shooting 14-23.  You can’t win in the hyper-competitive NCAA tournament shooting that poorly from the line.

With #13 Siena upsetting #4 Vanderbilt, Nova is in a good position to reach the Sweet 16.  This coming after all the speculation Nova wouldn’t even get in the tournament this year.  But please don’t think I am overlooking Siena, they scare me a little bit.  The Vandy isn’t even the best team they beat this season.  Siena beat Stanford by 12 early in the year.  But it looks like Nova will finally face a team they are a little bigger than inside.  Siena’s tallest starter is only 6’7 and they only bring in a 6’9 kid for minor minutes. 

NOTE: The last time Villanova played Siena was in the NIT tournament in 02′ – 03′.  They lost in that first round game 74-59.

I heard by far the best Scottie Reynolds play-by-play quote ever last night:  “All these baskets are coming Reynolds wrapped.”  Love that!