Wednesday, March 31, 2010

2010 MLB Preview Extra: Atlanta Braves

Greetings fellow Braves fans (and anyone else who may read this).... I've gotten several recommendations for an extensive Braves breakdown outside of the short blurb in the MLB Preview... here's what I came up with....

Projected Lineup:
  1. Nate McLouth - CF
  2. Martin Prado - 2B
  3. Chipper Jones - 3B
  4. Troy Glaus - 1B
  5. Brian McCann - C
  6. Yunel Escobar - SS
  7. Jason Heyward - RF
  8. Matt Diaz/Melky Cabrera - LF
Okay... most Braves fans of any depth could come up with those 8... Diaz and Melky will likely platoon based upon the opposing starting pitcher, but the other 7 slots are everyday lock-ins as of now....

  • First Base - Troy Glaus is the key to the offense IMO.... he hit 27 homers in 2008 before missing all of last year with injury... and that was in the superior league (AL)... he has shown to be 100% healthy, and is certainly capable of 25-30 HR with a bottom-end projection (if healthy) in the 17-19 HR range.... His backup(s) are Eric Hinske (veteran bat, won't kill you), and Prado could play some 1B if necessary...
  • Second Base - Martin Prado will hit .300, and play good defense... he's not flashy or spectacular but he'll get the job done from a position where you don't need power... Behind him you have Omar Infante (professional utility guy who everyone loves) and either Brooks Conrad or Joe Thurston who are still vying for the last positional spot... Conrad has been killing the ball all spring and I'd bet on him making the club
  • Shortstop - Yunel Escobar is a top 10 shortstop in the Majors in my opinion... pencil him in for .300 with 15+ HR and above-average defense... can't ask for much more from your #6 hitter and he absolutely murdered opposing pitching with RISP last year... behind him is the Infante/Conrad/Prado contingent, but it would be a big loss if he went down for any length of time....
  • Third Base - Ah, Chipper... those who know me know I have never been the biggest Chipper guy... for some reason he rubs me the wrong way... that said, he's become very good defensively at 3rd, and while his batting numbers were WAY down from 2008 last year, I think he'll enjoy a decent uptick from those numbers... thinking somewhere in the neighborhood of .290-.300 avg, 20 HR, 85-90 RBI.... not old-school MVP chipper, but solid and much better than last year.... His primary backup is Hinske with all of the utility guys having the ability to play there....
  • Catcher - McCann is the 2nd best catcher in the majors behind Mauer and the best position player on the roster... he's as sure of a thing behind the plate as they come... .290-300, 20 HR, 75 RBI and good defense... love him.... David Ross is a very capable backup who seems to be locked in there, and Clint Sammons is a very solid 3rd option should he be needed
  • Left Field - Melky/Diaz.... Matt Diaz absolutely destroys LHP (.412 batting average vs. lefties last year) and basically, he's gonna hit the ball... he's a below-average fielder and fairly average against righties, making him a great platoon option to play against lefties mostly.... Melky Cabrera plays Center-field caliber defense, and is a .275-ish hitter against righties... not alot of power but he can run a little and won't kill you in the lineup... I like the platoon alot... The Braves will likely only carry 4 outfielders because Infante can play outfield as well....
  • Center Field - McLouth has been fairly woeful in Spring but has come around in the last few days... most projections I've seen have him hitting in the .260 range with 20-25 HR and 70-75 RBI... not a prototypical lead-off guy (a black mark against the Braves lineup) but he has the ability to steal 25 bases, and have an OBP in the .340-.350 range... very solid... Melky is the #1 option behind him in Center....
  • Right Field - The next Hank Aaron.... wait for it... laughter.... Jason Heyward is considered to be the #1 positional prospect in all of baseball... but he's still 20 years old... and I think we need to take a collective step back on him at least for the immediate... is he capable of hitting 25-30 HR as a rookie? Maybe... but I wouldn't rely on it... .300 hitter? Maybe... but I think .280 is more likely considering his youth... he is, by all accounts, an above-average fielder, he can run, and he has advanced plate awareness... and I love the prospect of him as the everyday RF... I really do... But my guard is up a little.... blame Francoeur if you want to... Diaz/Melky could both play right and even Infante if necessary behind him....
The Projected Rotation
  1. Derek Lowe
  2. Jair Jurrjens
  3. Tommy Hanson
  4. Tim Hudson
  5. Kenshin Kawakami
I love it... I think it's the most balanced/deepest rotation in the NL... Derek Lowe was among the unluckiest pitchers in the league last year (hilariously unlucky BABIP=batting average on balls in play, etc.) and he's due for an uptick.... Jurrjens was tremendous last year and there's nothing to suggest that he won't be again... look for an ERA in the low 3s and while he doesn't strike out alot of guys, he stays out of trouble.... Tommy Hanson is a top-5 young arm in the league and alot of people think he'll make the leap... I happen to be one of them... I see 15-17 wins and 190-200 Ks from him, electric.... Hudson is the real X-factor, but he's been tremendous in Spring, and if he can be 90% of what he used to be, this will be an electrifying group... I think he wins 15+ and returns to his late Oakland/Early ATL form.... Kawakami just needs to be solid and I think he will be... he's a big-game pitcher (beating Halladay, Hamels, etc. head-to-head last year down the stretch)... ERA in the high 3s to low 4s who will be above-average especially considering he's the 5th starter and will have less starts than the other 4.... Very excited

  • Billy Wagner (Closer)
  • Takashi Saito (Set-up man, #1 backup closer)
  • Peter Moylan (Set-up)
  • Eric O'Flaherty (LHP)
  • Scott Proctor
  • Kris Medlen (#6 starter, long reliever)
  • Craig Kimbrel
  • Jesse Chavez
I'll be honest and say the last few jobs in the bullpen are up for grabs so this will be inexact... but we do know the "big 4" jobs are in place... Billy Wagner is back to hitting 100 on the radar gun and appears totally's a huge "if" but if he's healthy, I think he saves 30-35 with a low 2s ERA... Saito is older, but very effective and has extensive closing experience if Wagner goes down for any length of time... Moylan has posted 2 sub-2.00 ERA seasons and hasn't had an ERA above 2.84 in the last 3 years... he has dominant stuff and should be effective... O'Flaherty is the #1 situational lefty and while I don't love him, he posted a 3.04 ERA last year, and was even more effective vs. LH... The rest of the bullpen is fairly unsettled which is a concern... I do like Medlen has the emergency starter/long relief guy... he has significant upside and was effective in the 2nd half last year.... To wrap the bullpen... there are injury concerns, but I don't hate the composition of the staff, and if they are at least average, the pitching is a plus for the team as a whole... and I love Wagner...

Overall Projection

Okay, all of that.... and here we are... As I picked in the larger MLB Preview... I have the Braves going 89-73 and winning the NL Wild Card.... Do I think they could challenge the Phillies? Actually, yes... but it's basically just a case of there being more question marks with Atlanta than with Philly... Overall, I'm highly excited and I feel like this is the best Braves roster since 2004 when they won 96 games and were a veritable juggernaut, but I'm trying to be wholly realistic and I think Philly has the better team when projecting the realistic range of outcomes... But of course, Go Braves

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

2010 MLB Preview Part 7: Playoffs, Awards, etc.

Greetings... Let's get right to it...

NL Awards
  • MVP - Albert Pujols, STL
  • Cy Young - Roy Halladay, PHI
  • Rookie of the Year - Aroldis Chapman, SP, CIN
  • Manager of the Year - Bobby Cox, ATL
AL Awards
  • MVP - Evan Longoria, TB
  • Cy Young - Felix Hernandez, SEA
  • Rookie of the Year - Scott Sizemore, DET
  • Manager of the Year - Ron Washington, TEX
NL Playoffs
  • Phillies over Dodgers, Braves over Cardinals
  • Phillies over Braves (That pains me, but too much 1-2 pitching)
AL Playoffs
  • Red Sox over Rangers, Yankees over White Sox
  • Red Sox over Yankees
World Series
  • Phillies over Red Sox in 6
Let the reverse jinx commence!

2010 MLB Preview Part 6: NL East

First of all.... Don't fret Braves fans... although I'm doing the normal "quick-hitter" on them for the division preview... I'll keep my word and do a more detailed version before Opening day....To the East...
  1. Philadelphia Phillies (94-68) - By far the best lineup in the National League, and easily top 3 in baseball... Utley/Howard/Rollins/Ibanez/Werth... what do you even say? Hamels should bounce back from what everyone is saying, and Roy Halladay will absolutely dominate the NL... Really the only achilles heel is the closer spot (Lidge is awful, and there isn't another real option), which will remain a concern unless Lidge turns back the clock... Also, they have Jamie Moyer penciled in the rotation... he's almost 50 years old... But Philly is the best team in the NL
  2. Atlanta Braves (89-73) - Deepest and most balanced rotation in the National League... and a bullpen, though with some risk, that is deep and talented with Wagner/Saito/Moylan with closer stuff.... Power is still the issue, but there really isn't an easy out in the lineup now that Heyward is penciled in as the right fielder, and they can platoon Diaz/Melky in left... I really like what Frank Wren has done... and 89 wins gets them the wild card...
  3. Florida Marlins (80-82) - Most people are higher on them than I am... Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco are both exceptional talents, but the rest of the staff falls off a cliff after them... they have a young lineup led by All-world SS Hanley Ramirez, but there are still questions with unproven guys like Maybin, and up-and-down guys like Uggla and Cody Ross... The bullpen is a mess as well, and I can't take them seriously as a threat to Philly and Atlanta just yet
  4. New York Mets (77-85) - Health, Pitching, and Power.... the 3 issues... Seems major, eh? Reyes and Beltran are giant question marks with health (Reyes is active now, but recent history can't be ignored), After the world-beating Johan Santana, there 2 thru 5 starters are John Maine, Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez, and Jon Niese... done and done... and without Beltran and the departed Carlos Delgado, the lack of power is striking outside of Jason Bay and David Wright (who didn't hit for power last year either)... there's talent... and it wouldn't shock me if they won 80-85 games, but I don't see it
  5. Washington Nationals (68-94) - The lineup is more potent than in past years... Guys like Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, and Nyjer Morgan are real assets with the bat... but the depth isn't there (they start Willie Harris and the corpse of Pudge Rodriguez), and the pitching is still woeful until you get to a Strasburg call-up in June... They won't be absolutely wretched... but they can't compete...
There you have it... All 6 divisions... Part 7 to come with predictions for awards and playoffs... Almost opening day...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Madness: On to the Final 4

Crazy weekend...
  • Butler topples another giant... I've been on record against this K-State team and they finally (2 rounds late) came through for me.... Butler's half-court defense was a clinic on how to shut down perimeter scoring despite having an athletic disadvantage... They made plays down the stretch and bottled up Pullen for 40 minutes... On the K-State side, props to Curtis Kelly, who I thoroughly enjoy and thought he played well each time I saw him through the tourney.... Butler is going home to the Final 4 and they have a very winnable game....
  • Kentucky folds up the tent... Goodbye to John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Patrick Patterson (and maybe Bledsoe and Orton for good measure).... they just couldn't make a jump-shot all night (4 of 32 threes for starters), and it felt like they were pressing from the jump... maybe it's youth, maybe it's just bad execution... Props to Bob Huggins (wow, I just said that) for putting together a game plan to slow them down, and Joe Mazzulla for playing the game of his life (career-high 17 after averaging 2 ppg this year)...
  • Izzo does it again... I can't overstate how ridiculous it is that Michigan State is in the Final 4 despite losing last year's Big 10 player of the year (and their best player by far) in Kalin Lucas for the year 2 games ago...factor in that 3rd guard Chris Allen is still hobbled, and they weren't the most talented team to begin with.... and you get the Izzo factor... Granted, there was some luck involved...namely their draw opening up when Kansas and Ohio State went down... but despite them being the higher seed in both of their last 2 games, they were definitely not the favorites (as Vegas would attest) in either one... For Tennessee, a valiant effort especially when you consider what they lost in January, but they couldn't make the plays at the end... Izzo...
  • And Duke saves CBS.... can you imagine the "ratings bonanza" that a Final 4 of Butler, Michigan State, West Virginia, and Baylor would've been!??!? laughter ensues... Even WITH Duke, this will feel like a letdown to some people, but behind Nolan Smith's 29, Duke was able to beat a team with better athletes, and beat them despite Kyle Singler shooting 0 for 10... 0 for 10! Duke is now the default favorite... but an imminently beatable one....
The 4 is set... Saturday will match Michigan State and Butler at 6:07, and Duke/West Virginia to follow 30 minutes after... For the picks? I'll put them up Friday....

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Madness: Sweet 16 Thursday Wrap

  • The Xavier/K-State game was one for the ages for how it went back-and-forth, double-OT, insane shot-making, etc... but it was honestly one of the worst executed games in memory on both ends (sorry for the damper)... That said, Jacob Pullen was unreal in the OTs for K-State and Jordan Crawford hit multiple 30-footers for Xavier... really entertaining battle, and despite my strong dislike for Frank Martin (K-State HC), they are into the Elite 8 and the favorite to make the final 4....
  • Somehow Butler was upstaged a bit by the theatrics of the late game... but the way they battled back from the big Syracuse run (to take a 54-50 lead with 3 minutes left) shouldn't be forgotten... gritty team.... Syracuse was its own worst nightmare with turnovers galore and the absolute refusal to give the ball to Wes Johnson down the stretch (even though he had shown to be unguardable)... Kind of shocking from a veteran team to put together a meltdown like that...
  • Kentucky/Cornell was certainly a "styles make fights" game... and there were stretches where the Big Red definitely seemed to have Kentucky flustered (even cutting the lead to 6 fairly late), but they couldn't make enough threes, and there was just enough fast break time for Wall and company to win fairly easily... The only "chalk" elite 8 matchup was set when...
  • West Virginia exploded in the 2nd half against Washington.... this was a pretty ugly game as well... both teams shot 40% from the field, neither shot even 30% from distance, and both committed over 20 turnovers (wow)... those numbers tell the story, but WV gritted another one behind their vets and a big run in the middle of the 2nd half to put it away... I'm not the biggest Huggins fan, but I like their chances against Kentucky because they actually have the athletes to stay on the floor with them
Big games Friday... check out my preview edition (from Monday) for full writeups but I like Duke, Baylor, Ohio State and I've actually flipped on a game since then... picking Northern Iowa but let's just say I'd never bet against Tom Izzo in Vegas (aka I'm clueless on that game)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

2010 MLB Preview Part 5: NL Central

Winding down a bit here... 2 more divisions (starting with this one) and a final Part 7 wrap with postseason predictions/awards/etc.... To the Central...
  1. St. Louis Cardinals (89-73) - The best 1/2 punch pitching-wise in the NL with apologies to Halladay and Hamels... Matt Holliday with a full season to murder NL pitching along with youth and professional hitters covering the lineup... The question mark is the back end of the rotation but I actually like Kyle Lohse... and really, they still have that Pujols guy... done and done
  2. Milwaukee Brewers (80-82) - Bit of a leap of faith here... they have the big boppers (Braun and Fielder), a legit stopper in the rotation (the wildly underrated Yovani Gallardo), and a professional/hall of fame closer in Trevor Hoffman... there are some issues in the back-end of the rotation (cough, Manny Parra), and a big question mark in Rickie Weeks at the top of the order... but I like them enough to be the "best of the rest" here
  3. Cincinnati Reds (79-83) - Seeing Aroldis Chapman's numbers in the Spring probably bumped them 2 wins... at any rate, Aaron Harang was the unluckiest pitcher in the majors last year statistically (too complicated for this, so trust me), and the lineup is littered with talent from the stars (Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto), to underappreciated vets (Orlando Cabrera, Scott Rolen)... and Francisco Cordero is a better-than-average late-game option.. I like this team... in another year or so, when the starting pitching catches up... they'll compete heavily
  4. Chicago Cubs (78-84) - When looking at the Cubs roster, it surprised me how down I was... they count WAY too heavily on an outfield of Soriano, Marlon Byrd, and Fukudome (yikes), and need impeccable health from Derrek Lee and Carlos Zambrano to even get to 78 wins IMO... the rotation is decent, but they are saddled with Carlos Silva's corpse (whom they had to take back for Milton Bradley), and the bullpen is still shaky at best...
  5. Houston Astros (75-87) - Lots of guys I like... lots of guys I don't.... story of the 2010 Astros... they utterly refuse to rebuild apparently, and guys like Berkman (older, injured) and Oswalt are guys I trust, but aren't at their peaks anymore most likely... Pencil Carlos Lee in for 30 and 100, and Hunter Pence is underrated... but Michael Bourn, Kaz Matsui, and Pedro Feliz? Get outta here with that.... I do love Wandy Rodriguez though... dude can pitch...
  6. Pittsburgh Pirates (69-93) - I'm dead serious when I say that the typical sports fan may not know one player on the Pirates... they have some pretty good young talent in the lineup (McCutcheon, Garrett Jones, Lastings Milledge), but too much youth, and too many holes... the pitching is fairly woeful (although I like their "Number 1" in Paul Maholm), and their closer is Octavio Dotel... you gotta be kidding me....

Pretty mediocre/bad after the Cards... surprisingly so after looking through the talent on each club... and the Pirates may not have a winning season for 17 more years.... it's a joke really.... Part 6 on the way fairly soon with my very own NL East... and for the Braves fans who have been asking... I'll still be a doing a preview like this for the East, but I'll give you your own in-depth Braves rundown in a separate column... Until then...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

2010 MLB Preview Part 4: NL West

Part 4....
  1. LA Dodgers (87-75) - This was a tight one... It came down to the progression that I see happening from Kershaw (he'll be dominant), and "rebound" years from Manny, and even a slight one from Russell Martin... The bullpen depth is good, and the rotation has high upside... and you can't sleep on a Joe Torre team...
  2. Colorado Rockies (86-76) - Really like the Rockies this year... Mostly because their pitching is quietly good... Ubaldo Jimenez is an underappreciated stud and I like De La Rosa and Cook as well... Tulowitzki may be the 3rd best shortstop in the game behind Hanley and Jeter... and professional hitters are everywhere in that lineup... the bullpen is a bit spotty, and they'll need to avoid the slow start they are suddenly accustomed to...
  3. Arizona D-Backs (82-80) - My biggest screwup last year? Picking the D-Backs to win the National League... yikes... I still really like parts of the lineup (Upton is a monster, Drew is very good, etc.) but the real question mark is Brandon Webb... Dan Haren is elite but Webb needs to be very good for them to compete... I do like Edwin Jackson coming over to the NL alot... the bullpen is a mess however, and that's the reason they land here
  4. San Francisco Giants (81-81) - Well... they can sure pitch... Lincecum/Cain/Sanchez forms a young trio of live arms, and Zito is at least steady... the issue, as always, is the power (or lack thereof)... Sandoval is a beast, but around him are steady guys with low upside and/or defense-first older veterans... I just don't see enough pop...
  5. San Diego Padres (69-93) - This is a mess of a franchise... I feel bad for Adrian Gonzalez, who is a truly elite option at 1st base, because the only other proven commodity in that lineup is David Eckstein and he's not exactly putting fear into opposing pitcher's hearts.. The rotation is young and talented (I like Clayton Richard and Kevin Correia) but their closer, Heath Bell, is on the trade market already, and they seem to have punted 2010 already... nothing to see here...
Very competitive from the top 4 here... and it wouldn't surprise me if any of them won it simply because they all have recognizable strengths followed up by injury risks and/or youth, youth, youth... Part 5 to come in the next day or so with the NL Central...

2010 MLB Preview Part 3: AL East

The heavy hitters... let's get going...
  1. Boston Red Sox (97-65) - Best rotation in the AL... no holes defensively... best bullpen in the division... I know there is no "fear of God" guy in the lineup but Youkilis, Victor Martinez, and Pedroia are monsters, and Big Papi was quietly pretty good post-all-star-break last year (16 HRs)... go along with JD Drew who won't kill you, and a potential bounceback year from Beltre, and I'm in... The key? Dice-K... if he's the guy from 2 years, they win 100 games
  2. New York Yankees (96-66) - Effectively it doesn't matter who wins the AL East because they're both getting in... the best lineup on planet Earth resides in the Bronx... you know the cast (A-Rod, Tex, Jeter, etc.) but Granderson is an all-star level guy who should improve in a good lineup, and although I remember how dreadful Vazquez was in NY the first time, he was awesome last year... Mo Rivera needs to hang on for one more dominant year but they'll be a juggernaut
  3. Tampa Bay Rays (90-72) - I wish the Rays were in another division.. I feel like they'd be a 95 win club in the AL West... very, very good and diverse lineup with speed (Crawford and Upton), power (Longoria, Pena, Burrell) and glue guys (Zobrist, Bartlett)... the pitching is where they fall behind the 2 powers... they are solid, but there isn't a dominant guy (although Price has the upside) and the bullpen is still a committee thing.... they'll compete to the end...
  4. Baltimore Orioles (75-87) - And the bottom drops out.... Baltimore has a pretty good offensive, however young they are.. the issue is the 7-9 guys (Garrett Atkins, bleh) and a pitching staff that could be nothing short of woeful... They have some young guys that could be okay, but I don't trust it, and I definitely don't trust Mike Gonzalez upon hearing he's throwing in the mid-80's...good luck with that
  5. Toronto Blue Jays (68-94) - Mediocre offense... bad pitching...bad bullpen... not a good recipe... I like guys like Aaron Hill, Adam Lind, and Edwin Encarnacion... but the rest of the lineup is sketchy, and the pitching staff has absolutely no "pencil it in" guys... they're all young and/or injury risks, and the bullpen is anchored by Kevin Gregg... Worst team in the AL....

The system is flawed a bit... the best 3 teams in the league shouldn't be in one division... but it's a classic AL East tale of haves and have-nots this year... Part 4 to come to kick off the National League...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

2010 MLB Preview Part 2: AL Central

Onto part 2... profiling the AL Central....
  1. Chicago White Sox (86-76) - They are the pick because I really like the rotation depth, and I really see break-outs and/or bouncebacks from most of (if not all of) this group: Gordon Beckham (huge), Alexei Ramirez, Alex Rios, Carlos Quentin... Bobby Jenks is dinged up and that's a concern, but I like Ozzie, and he'll have them ready to go
  2. Minnesota Twins (82-80) - I've heard everyone picking the Twins, and I actually like what they did with their offense (picking up O. Cabrera, and Thome), but they're still trotting out the Brendan Harris/Nick Punto pu pu platter at 3rd, and have a huge hole at closer now without Nathan... Liriano is probably the x-factor and while I like him to bounce back, I think they fall short
  3. Detroit Tigers (82-80) - Really like the upside of the Tigers' rotation this year because I'm very high on Porcello, and I feel like Scherzer is right there... Some serious question marks in the lineup is what sets them back, how realistic is it to rely on Austin Jackson, Scott Sizemore, Ryan Raburn, and Gerald Laird? Not very IMO...
  4. Cleveland Indians (75-87) - I like this young lineup with guys like Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera that I'm high on... there just isn't enough pitching even if they get production from Carmona and Masterson... I just don't see it... Kerry Wood going down doesn't kill them because, well, he's Kerry Wood... Still a year or 2 away
  5. Kansas City Royals (73-89) - Ah, the Royals... The funny thing is, they have alot of guys I like... Obviously Greinke is a stud, and I'm high on DeJesus, Betancourt, and Billy Butler... but you can't trot out guys like Jason Kendall and Scott Podsednik every day and be taken seriously, plus the non-Greinke starters are questionable... they could challenge Cleveland to remove themselves from the cellar, but that's it

Really another pretty average/bleh division... There's not one team here that would compete in the AL East race, and really there isn't I like to sneak up on anyone in the playoffs because of a lack of starting pitching (outside of potentially a Verlander/Porcello combo)... The real teams come in Part 3 with the AL East... stay tuned

2010 MLB Preview Part 1: AL West

Let's get right to it... I'm doing a 7 part MLB Preview... Not in the longest form, but quick hitters on every team along with projected records/order of finish by division, etc.... The first one will be the AL West...
  1. Texas Rangers (85-77) - By far the best offensive lineup in the division led by studs like Kinsler, Hamilton, and Nelson Cruz with high-upside guys like Chris Davis and Elvis Andrus... Vlad Guerrero is a big question mark, but since they can DH him everyday, that shouldn't kill them... the pitching is better and has tremendous upside with Harden and a slew of younger guys with talent... they'll also play defense up the middle with the Borbon/Andrus/Kinsler combo, and that can't be discounted
  2. Seattle Mariners (82-80) - I had them penciled in the 1 spot until I thought about the Erik Bedard/Ian Snell/Doug Fister combo in the 4 and 5 starter roles... yikes... Felix and Cliff Lee are 2 of the top 10 starters in the league and in a playoff series, that's huge, but they are counting on Griffey/Milton Bradley/Kotchman to be every day guys that bring pop, and I don't trust it... Bedard is the overall X-factor, but too many question marks to pick them
  3. Anaheim Angels (79-83) - This is a tough one... they're still the Angels and you never want to count them out... The lineup is fairly potent until you get to guys like Brandon Wood (yikes), and the rotation is average at least... but there is little upside, and I don't trust Brian Fuentes at the backend at all... Would it surprise me if Scioscia could put it together again? No... but under .500 is more likely
  4. Oakland A's (76-86) - Still trotting out a lineup of guys you don't know... it's the A's after all... but the pitching is what will make them respectable... their young studs (led by world-beater Brett Anderson) should take another step forward, and if they get ANYTHING out of Ben Sheets, it's a plus... Still not ready to really compete for the division, but the bottom won't fall out...
Overall, a very competitive and even division... no real "favorite" but with the Oakland pitching, I don't see anyone falling 15 games behind at any point... Probably the most wide-open division in the league, and a fitting start to the breakdown.... Part 2 to come with the AL Central

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Madness: 1st Weekend Wrap, Sweet 16 Preview

Greetings all... 2 parts to today... brief wrap of the Saturday/Sunday action and a quick preview of what's to come on Thursday/Friday....

First to the weekend that was..
  • Gotta lead with Kansas... I'm still shocked by that loss... All the credit to Northern Iowa for stepping up huge... but I think it's universally known that Bill Self didn't use the ridiculous athletic advantage that they have... Tough loss for Sherron Collins and company, but a huge story going forward as Northern Iowa has an exceedingly winnable sweet 16 game too... oh yeah, and half the universe had Kansas winning the title... including me... whoops
  • St. Mary's absolutely decimated Villanova inside... I'm STILL waiting on a double-team against Omar Samhan (32 points on 13-16 FG)... but Nova still would've won this game if Scottie Reynolds (and really Corey Fisher too) had a pulse... Reynolds shot 2-11... Fisher 3-13.... That'll do it... Good night Philly...
  • Butler/Murray State... The better team won... Not a whole lot to discuss here, Butler just made plays down the stretch, and have shown the ability to win the tight ones...
  • Blowouts: Tennessee over Ohio....ho-hum dominance over a paltry MAC team that got hot for 40 minutes against G-Town but was overmatched... Kentucky over Wake... I think we all knew that Kentucky would likely beat up on them... but by 30? Dino Gaudio should be ashamed lol... Washington over New Mexico... not surprised by Washington winning... but surprised by the ease in which they did it... New Mexico has talent... but wow... Syracuse over the Zags... Domination from midway through the 1st half on... Even with Onuaku out and Jackson in severe foul trouble... Rautins and Johnson were unreal... Cornell over Wisconsin... Shocker of the tourney for me... For a team to score 87 points on Wisconsin the way Cornell did was something to behold... their offensive efficiency was absolutely staggering... Duke over Cal... Better team won... The positive for Duke is that they didn't shoot the ball well from distance and still cruised... that had been a criticism of theirs....
  • Kansas State ruined my #2 upset special (BYU to the Elite 8) by holding Jimmer in check (sigh) and being more physical from the jump... Jacob Pullen put a huge question mark next to Jimmer's draft stock in the process too....
  • In what I guarantee was the least discussed game of the weekend... Baylor beat Old Dominion by 8... Basically, no one outside of Big 12 country knows and/or recognizes that Baylor is ridiculously talented, and very good.... I had them in my elite 8 and I stand by it... and Ekpe Udoh will be the closest thing Omar Samhan as seen to competition on the box...
  • Shot of the weekend? Michigan State's Corey Lucious... for the win against Maryland... Thing is, if that game went 2 trips longer, Maryland wins... they had all the momentum and Michigan State couldn't get a stop to save their lives... but Lucious covered up for all that with one dagger triple...
  • There were 3 more very good games on Sunday... West Virginia hanging on for dear life against the Missouri press (winning by 9)... Xavier outlasting Pitt despite repeatedly letting Pitt hang around late when the game should've been over (and salvaging some respect for the A-10 in the process)... and Purdue getting a gutsy effort from Chris Kramer and company to beat A&M in overtime despite a talent disadvantage... I really, really like Chris Kramer....
  • The game I watched the closest? Georgia Tech's implosion against Ohio State... Full disclosure, there are only 2 teams in the country I'd root for against Georgia Tech... Michigan and Duke... so I'd consider myself to be somewhat of a supporter of that program.... Okay, that's out of the way... I thought Paul Hewitt got manhandled yesterday... GT was clearly the more talented team (yes, I know Evan Turner was on the other side), and between their inability to run an offensive set, their blatant refusal to pound the ball inside to their "twin towers" until about the 4:00 mark of the second half, and the way their guards run around/turn the ball over as if they haven't been coached.... I can't even discuss it rationally... But when Evan Turner plays a "meh" game (9 TO's, 8-19 FG) and you still can't beat them with a significant talent edge at basically every other spot on the's an indictment... and oh yeah, I didn't mention repeatedly giving Jon Diebler open three point attempts throughout the entire 2nd half... wow... I'm done...

That took longer than I thought... To the quick-hitting Sweet 16 previews...
  • Butler/Syracuse - Interesting game IMO because Syracuse has a severe talent edge... but Butler knows how to grind, and they may be able to get Cuse to extend their zone to uncomfortable depths if they make shots from distance... I like Syracuse in the game, but don't underestimate how big of a loss Onuaku is if he can't go... Rick Jackson is very good, but the only other big that could play is the 7-foot freshman, and there is a clear drop-off there...
  • Washington/WV - The seeding wouldn't tell you this, but this is the most even game on the board for Thursday... Washington was even a vegas favorite against #3 seed N. Mexico... There is talent on both sides and veteran go-to-guys (Butler and Pondexter)... WV has the talent edge, but I really, really don't trust Bob Huggins in the tournament once we get to the point where they don't have the talent edge.. I'll pick WV, but if Washington shoots how they did against New Mexico, they'll win
  • Xavier/K-State - Xavier is a nice story... they are the East Coast Gonzaga in some ways... Conference is better than you think (though the A-10 gets more love because Temple used to be good, etc. and it was once thought to be an almost-major league)... and year-in-year-out the Musketeers are relevant come tourney time... K-State has talent everywhere, but once again (see above), I don't trust Frank Martin at all... and in fact, I like Xavier despite their youth...
  • Cornell/Kentucky - This should be fun... Cornell's offensive execution against Wisconsin was picturesque... they knocked down every open look, and ran their sets to perfection... but the Wisconsin athletes aren't near what Kentucky's are... That said, I give Cornell a real shot... Kentucky is combustible because of their youth and the hot-head (Cousins) inside... I'll pick Kentucky because I don't see Cornell shooting the way they did on Saturday...
  • Tennessee/Ohio State - I had the Vols going down in Round 1 (and they almost did), so I didn't foresee this matchup... they do have multiple athletes to throw at Evan Turner, and this should be a down-to-the-wire contest... but the better coach (Thad Matta) and the best player reside in Columbus... Ohio State is the pick
  • St. Mary's/Baylor - One thing that I haven't heard said yet... This game is being played in Houston... aka that's a huge homecourt edge for Baylor... Also, Ekpe Udoh (the Michigan transfer, aka the Ryan Mallett of basketball) is a legit defensive force who could frustrate Samhan with length and athleticism that he hasn't had to face so far... St. Mary's will execute, but I like Baylor to control the glass and win the game
  • Northern Iowa/Mich State - Raise your hand if you had this penciled in.... laughter... Should be a highly entertaining matchup... and honestly, Northern Iowa is probably the favorite here with Michigan State likely losing their best player (Lucas) for the rest of the tourney... But there's something about Tom Izzo teams in March... couple that in with a little Bill Simmons' Ewing Theory potential, and an undervalued big 10 (3 teams left).... I like Sparty
  • Purdue/Duke - Duke is the better team... let's get that out of the way... Purdue is a veteran unit who is scrappy, and has a go-to low-post scorer in Johnson... they could give Duke issues if shots aren't falling for the Blue Devils... that being said, without Robbie Hummel I think Duke is significantly better, and will be able to handle them on the defensive end... Duke by 10
And now the part where I rant.... why on EARTH are the Thursday/Friday games packed into the evening time? Once we reach the 2nd weekend, I shouldn't have to watch multiple games at once via computer or being forced to a sports bar... They should be their own entity... Drives me insane... Rant over... We'll see you on Thursday... It's madness....

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Madness: Friday Wrap/Sat Preview

Greetings... this'll be a short one as I am short on time and resource... straight in

First from Friday...
  • Upset: Cornell laid the wood... not overly shocking because that's a talented team, but in full disclosure I thought Temple had a significant edge here... Wisconsin/Cornell should be an entertaining game...
  • In case you were slow to comprehend... that was the only upset of the day.... kinda crazy (and no, #10 over #7 isn't an upset...ever)
  • Game of the Day: Michigan State outlasts New Mexico state despite blowing an 18-point lead and needing the benefits of some questionable officiating.... yikes...
  • Higher seeds take care of business overall... chalk-ish day
To Saturday...
  • I absolutely can't wait for that BYU/K-State game.... I think Frank Martin implodes and BYU wins.... Jimmer!
  • Nova/St. Mary's is intriguing because of style mismatch... Omar Samhan has no peer on Villanova and he'll have to be huge... and for Nova... let's just say Scottie Reynolds can't shoot 3 of 17 or they won't win... I still like Nova though
  • Blowout city: Tennessee over Ohio, Kentucky over Wake
  • Upset alert: Murray State/Butler (wouldn't be a significant upset IMO, but seeding says otherwise), and Washington/New Mexico (hilarious, because the #11 seed is the vegas favorite on a neutral floor over the #3)
  • Northern Iowa keeps it close... but goes down....
  • For some reason I'm overly intrigued by Baylor/ODU.... I have no idea.... literally none... I think Baylor's size and athleticism is too much... but ODU is just crafty...
Sorry for the disjointed post... Better info later

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Madness: Opening Thursday Wrap

Notes on the games from Thursday….


-Kansas struggles early but cruises…. Ho-hum

-Northern Iowa shot the ball ridiculously well… like from the tip until the dagger at the end… contested threes were nothing but water lol….. I don’t think they have a fighting chance against Kansas unless they shoot 60% from 3… but they could

-Tennessee scraps and claws past SDSU… very evenly matched game from talent standpoint, and really an underrated one based upon the timeslot it was played in… enjoyed it… and Tennessee is now a sweet 16 favorite because….

-Ohio throttles Georgetown…. Read that again… Ohio throttles… Georgetown? Whoops… This was a case of Georgetown sleepwalking through the 1st half, and by the time they woke up and started dominating the offensive end, Ohio was in a groove offensively themselves and just couldn’t be stopped… 97 points? Good gracious…. I still think it’s a fluke situation (Ohio was under .500 in a bad MAC conference this year) but wow


-Oh UTEP… The first of my sweet 16 teams to lose yesterday (though Georgetown lost later)…. Up 6 at half, and then give up 50 points in the 2nd half… a total collapse for 20 straight minutes… was painful… Butler has a 2nd half team reputation and that continues… I really like them

-Murray State over Vandy… This was pegged as a gigantic upset…. Meh, not so much… Murray State won 30 games and was less than a 5 point underdog in this game… a huge win, and a crazy buzzer-beater but Vandy was sketchy to me prior and I had them going down to UTEP in round 2

-BYU survives… Whew… that would’ve been a big blow for me, and they really could’ve lost this game multiple times, but Florida’s execution down the stretch was wretched… and BYU has Jimmer… 37 points, and an array of crafty offensive moves like no one else in the country, love him

-K-State cruises… I got nothing… North Texas is/was awful….


-Kentucky led by 25+ at half… Bledsoe hits 9 threes (?)… what else do you say? Overmatched team in ETSU gets pounded

-Wake wins at the gun… Probably the worst coaching matchup I saw yesterday and Rick Barnes should be ashamed of himself… Up 8 with 2 minutes to go in OT and they somehow blow that lead to a team with no go-to-guy… 2 of the bigger enigmas in the field, and Wake will need a much better effort to hang with Kentucky

-Washington comes all the way back… Back-and-forth all game with Washington up early, Marquette storming out 17-3 to start the 2nd half and Quincy Pondexter taking over late including the game-winner off-glass…. The Pac-10 has maybe even become under-rated (although still down this year)…. Brutal for the Big East and Marquette

-New Mexico struggles a bit (Darington Hobson’s injury didn’t help) but holds on in an uneventful battle against Montana… Anthony Johnson (of 34 2nd half points fame) did absolutely nothing for Montana….

-Old Dominion beats ND… I didn’t see a second of this game I’m ashamed to say… but I picked the upset and it seems like Luke Harangody was who I thought he was (copyright Dennis Green)….

-Baylor (Elite 8!) was engaged in a battle early and was the beneficiary of the biggest short-term meltdown of the day… Sam Houston was very much in this game until they committed FOUR turnovers in a row with about 3 minutes to go to blow the doors open….

-St. Mary’s dominated the 2nd half against Richmond…. Which thoroughly surprised me not because St. M isn’t good (they are) but because Richmond’s veteran guards absolutely disappeared… this wasn’t a typical “guardplay wins” tournament game… Omar Samhan… Omar Samhan…. Omar Samhan….

-Villanova…. Yikes… they’re somehow still in the field thanks to a late letdown by Robert Morris… but between the Reynolds/Fisher benching and Reynolds’ shooting (wow)… There are even more reservations… no front-court play at all and if they don’t make shots, they’re very, very pedestrian….

That’ll do it for now… Let’s hope that Friday is ½ as good as Thursday was… what an amazing day of hoops

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Madness: My Official Bracket

Greetings all... This is going up on Wednesday so that anyone who actually thinks I know what I'm talking about (a stretch, to be sure) can gather even more info... oh yeah, and I got tired of being asked about who I was picking.... Here we go....

  • 1st Round winners - Kansas, UNLV, Michigan State, Maryland, San Diego State, Georgetown, Georgia Tech, Ohio State
  • Sweet 16 teams - Kansas, Michigan State, Georgetown, Ohio State
  • Elite 8 - Kansas, Georgetown
  • Final 4 (Regional Champ) - Kansas
Thoughts: I really like UNLV and I wish they didn't draw Kansas in Round 2.... The Michigan State sweet 16 pick is a product of Izzo and easy matchups.... I wish I could pick Georgetown and Ohio State to both be elite 8 teams.... I almost picked Houston over Maryland, but not because Houston is good, because they aren't

  • 1st Round winners - Syracuse, Gonzaga, UTEP, Vandy, Xavier, Pitt, BYU, K-State
  • Sweet 16 - Syracuse, UTEP, Pitt, BYU
  • Elite 8 - Syracuse, BYU
  • Final 4 - Syracuse
Thoughts: I obviously love BYU because of their guards, their style of play, and matchups.... I was way down on K-State all year.... Butler/UTEP was a tough call as I like both teams and was no doubt picking either one in Round 2... I think the Gonzaga over FSU pick is a heart over mind pick.... I liked the regional layout for Syracuse because I don't feel like there is a team in the top half of the region that can play with them

  • 1st Round winners - Kentucky, Texas, Temple, Wisconsin, Washington, New Mexico, Clemson, W. Virginia
  • Sweet 16 - Kentucky, Wisconsin, New Mexico, W. Virginia
  • Elite 8 - Wisconsin, West Virginia
  • Final 4 - Wisconsin
Thoughts: Obviously this is my "shock the world" pick in Wisconsin... they have an elite coach in Bo Ryan, can control tempo, guard people, and have veteran guards that have been there.... add that in with a favorable matchup with Kentucky IMO (because of what I highlighted) and they are my pick.... I really like Temple (and even Cornell) but they were matchup victims... New Mexico is legitimately good, and if they weren't coached by Steve Alford I'd pick them to beat WV... Clemson/Missouri may be the game I care least about in the entire field....

  • 1st Round winners - Duke, Cal, Texas A&M, Purdue, Old Dominion, Baylor, Richmond, Villanova
  • Sweet 16 - Duke, A&M, Baylor, Villanova
  • Elite 8 - Duke, Baylor
  • Final 4 - Duke
Thoughts: You've heard this ad nauseum.... but Duke's regional layout is jokingly easy when you consider they aren't the overall #1 seed, and that's really the only reason I have them going this far (I'd pick teams like Georgetown and Ohio State on a neutral floor against Duke).... I love, love, love Baylor and have all year, but it does worry me a little that they've been getting trendy "sleeper" status... The Purdue backlash has gone too far....


Kansas over Syracuse
Duke over Wisconsin
Kansas over Duke 78-66

How confident am I in Kansas? Middle of the road... They are the most talented team in the country, and I'm frankly tired of betting against such teams (i.e. UNC last year) just because I hate picking the favorites.... They have a lead guard in Sherron Collins that has a ridiculous amount of experience (especially in today's climate), an elite big in Cole Aldrich, and an embarrassment of riches elsewhere... They have a very, very tough draw (for instance, if they switched places with Duke in the bracket, I'd pick them with no thought whatsoever) but Michigan State is banged up, Georgetown isn't well coached, and Ohio State is very beatable unless Turner goes for 35.....

At any rate, the spectacle of March Madness is upon us... and I, for one, can't wait... Good luck to everyone in their bracket pools, and just take it in and continue to hope that the NCAA doesn't screw it up and go to 96 teams in the future... And Oh yeah... Go Badgers (for the sake of embarrassment if they lose early)

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Madness: Initial Thoughts

Greetings.... You knew I'd be here for March Madness.... Here's a couple things to get us started...
  • No full-bracket posting until at least Wednesday... it will come...
  • I did a family tradition (thanks, Dad) and did my full bracket in about 2 minutes.... aka just using the initial instinct of what I'd go with just using what I already know and not contemplating.... I ended up with a final 4 of Kansas, Cuse, Duke and Wisconsin.... FYI
  • A word on snubs.... Florida has no business in the field.... none... and especially not as a 10-seed.... Mississippi State has a wildly similar resume, and they just beat them on a neutral floor a few days ago... and yet, I still would have gone with Virginia Tech over both of them despite their non-conference schedule... the ACC is still vastly tougher than the SEC... tough to ignore the in-conference results... basically they put the 3rd best team of these 3 in.... oh yeah, and I would've taken Illinois before Florida too
  • Seeding issues... There are alot of them.... Maryland as a 4 (too high), Gonzaga as an 8 (too low), UTEP as a 12 (too low), Florida (duh), Clemson as a 7 (too high), Notre Dame as a 6 (ludicrously high, worst seeding of all), Villanova (too high)....
  • A word on Duke... I don't have the biggest of issues with them getting a "higher" #1 seed than Syracuse... they won their league regular season and tournament, have a very impressive resume and 'Cuse stumbled down the stretch... plus, it doesn't MATTER... remember when they didn't use to release the "order" of #1's? It's irrelevant... what I will say is that Duke gets by far the easiest road and that's inexcusable... you can't realistically lineup Duke's road and Kansas's road (the overall #1) and tell me Duke's isn't wildly easier.... that needs to be done away with.... Simply look at the #2 seeds in their region's for ease... Ohio State is either best or 2nd-best #2 seed (along with WV), and Villanova is clearly the worst #2 seed by resume... how don't these flip-flop? Sigh.... hate when this stuff gets the pub leading up to the tourney
It's the most exciting sports week of the year in my opinion... wall-to-wall games from Thursday at noon til late into Sunday... Enjoy it... My bracket and thoughts will be up by the tip on Thursday