NFL Draft Preview 2010

Happy Draft Eve!

1. St. Louis Rams – Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma

With the departure of Marc Bulger, and even Kyle Boller too, it seems the Rams are thinking quarterback. Kyle Boller has been nothing short of a disaster since entering the league and Keith Null, who they drafted just this past season, threw nine picks in four games. Of course in this situation, you can’t really blame either of them considering they were spending more time on their backs than on their feet. Usually, for the skill players to be successful, you need men in the trenches who can control the line of scrimmage. Will someone please inform Rams GM Billy Devaney of that? The Rams are clearly lacking linemen on both sides of the field and passing on the likes of Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy may be foolish. Both are more than good enough to anchor a defense that already boasts former 2nd overall pick Chris Long. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State OT Russell Okung also has the potential to be a force for the next 10 years, but the Rams will select an injury-prone Sam Bradford to be thrown out into a war zone with no troops or protection. Not exactly the best thing to do to develop a young quarterback… Just ask Marc Bulger, who found out first hand after being sacked 71 times in 27 games from 2007 to 2008. He would have been sacked even more in 2009, but he could only manage playing in nine games due to hitting the turf way too many times.

2.Detroit Lions – Ndamakong Suh, DT, Nebraska

Jim Schwartz is a defensive guy and he will clearly not settle for another season as the worst defense in the NFL. Last season, they gave up 392 yards a game and 30.9 points – both the worst. Ndamakong Suh is a can’t miss pick that would bolster an ever improving defensive line that already added Kyle Vanden Bosch this offseason. This is the easiest pick in the draft. Select the best player in the draft with the second overall pick.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma

This may be a best player on the board scenario for the Bucs. Clearly they could use a receiver to help their young QB Josh Freeman, but it’s too early for this type of a pick. Gerald McCoy will be available to solidify the interior line for years to come. He’s an excellent run stopper and he’s actually ranked the top prospect by Scouts Inc. He’s also quicker than Suh, so there’s been some speculation he may even be drafted before Suh because his style of play translates better to the NFL. I personally am a Suh fan. The guy is larger than life and can plow through anyone, but with that said, McCoy is still a great pick for the Bucs. They will hope he will be the second coming of Warren Sapp.

4. Washington Redskins – Russell Okung, OT, Oklahoma State

Donovan McNabb has asked the Redskins, and according to his agent, has been assured they will add an offensive tackle to protect his blindside. Russell Okung makes the most sense here, but it may also be possible for Mike Shanahan to sign Flozell Adams before the draft and spend this pick on another need. Last season, the Redskins started four different players at right guard throughout the season, so they could trade down to the middle of the first round, gain extra picks and add a guard if they decided Adams is fit and motivated enough to protect McNabb.

5. Kansas City Chiefs – Trent Williams, OT, Oklahoma

Matt Cassel will be praying that the Chiefs add an offensive tackle. He was sacked 42 times last season and may have taken more of a beating than anyone throughout the course of the 2009 season. The question is do they take Iowa OT Bryan Bulaga or Oklahoma’s Trent Williams? Since Williams is more agile, the Chiefs will select him over Bulaga, who underwhelmed some scouts at the combine with his strength and short arms.

6. Seattle Seahawks – Bryan Bulaga, OT, Iowa

It’s the first pick of the Pete Carroll era and there are plenty of needs to fill in Seattle. The most glaring need, however, is offensive tackle. The Seahawks will desperately need to replace Walter Jones and will have a couple of options. Bryan Bulaga, who never gave up a sack his entire collegiate career is still available, but Maryland’s 6″7′ 310lb Bruce Campbell, who ran a 4.8 at the combine, is also available. Campbell may be a bit of a stretch considering he didn’t perform anywhere near his capabilities in a mediocre conference, but his potential and speed – two things Carroll absolutely loves – may tempt him to take a chance with this pick. I’m in favor of the proven commodity in Bulaga for this pick.

7. Cleveland Browns – Eric Berry, S, Tennessee

The Browns will hope the combination of Jake Delhomme and Senaca Wallace can get them through the next few seasons, so they won’t be drafting a quarterback this high. If they can draft Colt McCoy in the second round or even Tony Pike in the third, I see them both as viable value picks who will be willing to sit and learn for a couple of seasons. With this pick the Browns can probably go two ways. Either take WR Dez Bryant or take S Eric Berry. Mike Holmgren may be torn here considering Jake Delhomme without any valid receivers could be a disaster, but I think he picks the best player available in Eric Berry. Berry would also fill a major hole in their passing defense, which gave up 245 yards a game last season. (third worst)

8. Oakland Raiders – Bruce Campbell, OT, Maryland

It’s time for everybody’s favorite pick of the draft. Do the Raiders select the most pro-ready quarterback Jimmy Clausen, or do they go in another direction? This is a scary pick for Raider fans because if recent draft history means anything, Al Davis will jump on the opportunity to draft the fastest player in any position. OT Bruce Campbell from Maryland, who ran a 4.8 fits that mold, yet he underperformed throughout his entire career at Maryland, much like last year’s first round pick Darrius Heyward-Bey.

9. Buffalo Bills – Anthony Davis, OT, Rutgers

This is the last chance for Jimmy Clausen to get drafted in the top 10, otherwise he may take a free fall like his predecessor Brady Quinn. He probably won’t drop as far as Quinn, but I think the Bills may try Trent Edwards out one more time. I know Edwards was benched in 2009, but he did have injury problems and many experts were impressed with his accuracy just a year earlier. In 2008, he completed 65 percent of his passes and he’s still only 26. In this spot, the Bills should probably trade down because OT is their most pressing need, and the three best have already been selected, but if they can’t they’ll take OT Anthony Davis, who was dominant in college and has the body to be an amazing NFL tackle.

10. Jacksonville Jaguars – Derrick Morgan, DE, Georgia Tech

There’s no way the Jaguars will take Tim Tebow! No way! Don’t even think about it! Nothing against Tebow, but he’s clearly not a better passing quarterback than Clausen, who is still on the board. They’ll take Derrick Morgan to establish any semblance of a pass rush they can get. The Jaguars only recorded a measly 14 total team sacks last season, which Elvis Dumervil (17) and Jared Allen (14.5) singlehandedly outperformed. Meanwhile, Morgan had 12 sacks of his own in route to becoming the ACC defensive player of the year, so it seems logical for Jack Del Rio to improve his defensive line.

11. Denver Broncos – Rolando McClain, ILB, Alabama

The Broncos could potentially pick Dez Bryant, but McClain is more of a sure thing. He put up big numbers throughout his three years at Alabama. The linebacking corp may be one of the best in the NFL if they select him. They already have Elvis Dumervil and D.J. Williams, so McClain would make this a full throttle pressure defense.

12. Miami Dolphins – Dan Williams, DT, Tennessee

The Dolphins finally got the legitimate receiver they’ve been without for years in Brandon Marshall, so Dez Bryant’s drop continues. They take 327 lbs of brute strength in Dan Williams. Williams will be a solid player who will probably fill in for the suspended Jason Ferguson immediately. Ferguson will miss the first eight games for violating the league’s substance abuse problem.

13. San Francisco 49ers – Earl Thomas, CB, Texas

The 49ers take their chances hoping to get Clausen with their 17th overall pick. The only team who may remotely want Clausen is the Seahawks, but Matt Hasselback is still around and Pete Carroll just traded for Charlie Whitehurst, who he loves, so it seems like a safe bet. Earl Thomas will give the 49ers what they hope to be a second shutdown corner. He’s only 5″10′, so that may be a concern to some, but plenty of short NFL cornerbacks, like Asante Samuel, have performed well.

14. Seattle Seahawks – C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson

Now that Carroll added a huge OT, he can draft his running back to run behind him. C.J. Spiller should get instant playing time in Seattle because he’s so versatile. He’ll easily be returning punts, but the question is: does he have the size and strength to be an every down back? Reggie Bush is an inch taller than Spiller and also carries five pounds more, so Spiller may have his work cut out for him.

15. New York Giants – Jerry Hughes, OLB, TCU

The Giants will look to repair the embarrassing defense from a season ago that gave up 26.7 points a game. (3rd worst only to Detroit and St. Louis – both of whom shouldn’t even count) With Sergio Kindle and Brandon Graham still on the board, some may doubt this pick, but Hughes is for real. I saw him on a consistent basis wreaking havoc on the Mountain West. I also feel like he’s more of a prototypical 4-3 OLB than the other two. In fact, I would make a case that Kindle and Graham would both fit well in a system like New England’s because of their lateral quickness.

16. Tennessee Titans – Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, South Florida

With the loss of Kyle Vanden Bosch, it’s clear that the Titans need to address their DE issue. They’ll select Jason Pierre-Paul because of his size and the fact that he looks the part on paper. The problem is, he had less than an impressive time at the combine in pretty much every facet of the game. It may be wise to trade down here and pick up Carlos Dunlap later to get the total value out of this pick.

17. San Francisco 49ers – Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame

Don’t look now, but it appears the 49ers are only one piece away offensively from being a good team and with the pick of Jimmy Clausen, they thrust themselves into the driver’s seat of an incredibly bad NFC West. Clausen may start from day one, it’s not like Alex Smith or David Carr scare anybody – and with Carr and Smith – there’s two former first overall picks who fell flat on their faces and can advise Clausen what not to do.

18. Pittsburgh Steelers – Maurkice Pouncey, C, Florida

Nobody’s been sacked more than Ben Roethlisberger during the past three years. He’s been unceremoniously dumped on his keister 143 times, so the Steelers will look to find him protection for whenever Roethlisberger gets cleared to play by the Comish. Rimington Award winner Maurkice Pouncey should serve that role adequately.

19. Atlanta Falcons – Sergio Kindle, OLB, Texas

The Falcons lack depth at OLB and have their choice of the second OLB selected in the draft. They’ll take Sergio Kindle because he’s a very athletic pass rushing linebacker who could wreak havoc on the outside. One drawback for the Falcons selecting him would be he translates better as a 3-4 OLB, but aside from maybe drafting a DE, the Falcons really have no other glaring needs. That’s the added bonus with drafting Kindle, if OLB doesn’t work out, he can also play DE.

20. Houston Texans – Joe Haden, CB, Florida

You always hate to be the 20th overall pick in the draft because that means you were the best team not to make the playoffs. The Texans will gladly add Joe Haden to their pass defense, which allowed 63 percent of the passes they faced to be completed in 2009. Many draft pundits rank Haden as the best CB, so getting him at 20 would be a steal.

21. Cincinnati Bengals – Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State

It figures Todd McShay would make this pick. I hate to agree with him, but I do think it’s what the Bengals will do. They could use a tight end or a safety, but Bryant will be too tempting to pass up on. Carson Palmer will want to have another target after having his worst passing performance as a pro last season, even though his team made the playoffs.

22. New England Patriots – Brandon Graham, OLB, Michigan

Bill Belichick will be gritting his teeth that Sergio Kindle has already been take. He seemed like the perfect fit for New England’s 3-4 defense, but Belichick will settle on Brandon Graham. Graham is another hybrid OLB/DE who recorded 26 TFL his senior year at Michigan, the most in the nation. One concern may be his ability to drop in pass coverage since he was a DE at the collegiate level.

23. Green Bay Packers – Mike Iupati, OG, Idaho

It looks very strange to see a player from Idaho projected to be taken in the first round, but Mike Iupati is the real deal. He has the size at 6″5′ 331 lbs to be a dominant lineman. I can’t wait to hear what Mark Schlereth is going to say about his beloved Idaho. He reps his former school like none other, and he has to be especially happy that Iupati is an offensive lineman like himself. Iupati will pray that he has the type of career Schlereth, a former 10th round draft pick, (only seven rounds exist now) put together.

24. Philadelphia Eagles – Taylor Mays, S, USC

The Eagles are still looking to replace Brian Dawkins and Taylor Mays may be that man. He’s definitely a hard-hitting, intimidating presence in the secondary, but his coverage is lackluster. He lets people get past him, he lets people catch the ball in front of him, he plays too loose in pass coverage. That may be because he played in one of the worst cover two defensive schemes known to man at USC, but it may be a problem far worse – that Mays just isn’t capable of reading the passing routes at this point in his career.

25. Baltimore Ravens – Everson Griffen, DE, USC

The Ravens added Anquan Boldin before the draft, which was their most pressing need, as usual. They’ll look for the best possible player available and conclude Everson Griffen is that man. Some people feel his lack of discipline may hinder his abilities and allow offensive linemen to blow him off the ball, but I think he will be more than focused once he reaches the NFL. He has the talent, size and speed to be successful, and don’t just take my word for it, Rex Ryan compared him to Terrell Suggs and Adalius Thomas.

26. Arizona Cardinals – Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma

With the departure of Anquan Boldin, the Cardinals will relish the opportunity to draft Jermaine Gresham as a reliable check down target for Matt Leinart. Leinart will clearly have his hands full, but the team still features the best WR in the game, Larry Fitzgerald, while Steve Breaston and Early Doucet also emerged as potential deep threats. Even though Kurt Warner retired, this team is in by far the worst division in football and has a chance to make the playoffs for the third consecutive season.

27. Dallas Cowboys – Charles Brown, OT, USC

Many of the top tier OTs are gone, but Jerry Jones selects Charles Brown to take the place of the departed Flozell Adams. Brown is a huge OT that should be able to open holes for the run game. Another position the Cowboys need to address is safety, but protecting Tony Romo is priority #1.

28. San Diego Chargers – Ryan Matthews, RB, Fresno State

This makes a lot of sense. Darren Sproles isn’t going to be carrying the load for the Chargers, so they pick one of the toughest runners in the draft. Ryan Matthews has the strength to break through tackles at will, part of the reason that allowed him to accumulate a nation-best 151 yards per game. What’s great about Matthews is he’s not just pure brute force, but he also runs a 4.37 and makes sharp, decisive cuts on the field.

29. New York Jets – Jared Odrick, DT, Penn State

The signing of Jason Taylor allows the Jets flexibility with this pick. They no longer have to draft a DE and may even look to trade down for a couple second round picks. If they stay put, they will probably look for an anchor up front on their top-ranked defense. Jared Odrick is considered the third best DT by most and would fit in well with Rex Ryan’s defensive scheme because he’s a high energy guy who thrives at stopping the run.

30. Minnesota Vikings – Kareem Jackson, CB, Alabama

The Vikings have the option to draft either Alabama’s Kareem Jackson or Boise State’s Kyle Wilson. Many experts rate Wilson and even Devin McCourty from Rutgers ahead of Jackson, but I think it would be too hard to pass up on a player who contributed to a national championship over two players who faced inferior competition. Jackson is a physical corner, who can lock up receivers in press coverage as well as anyone, which is an added bonus of drafting him.

31. Indianapolis Colts – Brian Price, DT, UCLA

The Colts have been one of the best teams in recent years at getting the most value out of their picks. Selecting Brian Price should be no different. Price has the ability to plug a hole and was really the sole spark to UCLA’s defense last season. He should savor the opportunity to learn from an all-pro defensive lineman like Dwight Freeney.

32. New Orleans Saints – Sean Weatherspoon, OLB, Missouri

Sean Weatherspoon is last, but not least for the first day of the draft. That sounds weird, doesn’t it? Only 32 picks the first day. I used to love sitting on the couch all Saturday watching the first three rounds of the draft. People would ask me, don’t you have a life? And I’d promptly answer, yeah, this is it. I’m really not fond of the new process, especially in the west coast where people will still be at work, but I’ll see how it plays out this weekend. I do know that all this extra time, should allow even more trades to occur, which may make the draft more exciting on Friday night. (or afternoon if you’re in the west like me) But back to Weatherspoon, the Saints clearly don’t need help with their top-ranked offense, so they will address OLB. Weatherspoon led Missouri in tackles three seasons, so the Saints know he’ll have a knack for finding the ball carrier.

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MLB Preview 2010: NL West



LOS ANGELES DODGERS

The whole fifth starter fiasco may still be a bit unnerving for Dodger fans, but for now, Ramon Ortiz has claimed the role. He’s played great in spring training striking out 19 batters in 14 innings while having a microscopic 1.29 ERA. The question is will he be able to maintain this during the regular season? Ortiz hasn’t thrown in the big leagues since 2007 because of his immense struggles, but if he can just eat up innings and keep the bullpen rested, that may be all that’s asked of him. The Dodgers return the best pitching staff statistically from 2009. They were first in team ERA (3.41) and opponent’s BA. (.233)

With the departure of Orlando Hudson, another spot to be claimed is the second base job. The Dodgers signed Jamey Carroll in the offseason, resigned Ronnie Belliard, but it’s the youthful Blake DeWitt who Joe Torre most wants to see in his Opening Day lineup. DeWitt has excelled with the bat going .371 in spring training, but it’s his defense that looks a bit rusty. He hasn’t played second base in a while and it seems it’s taking him a little bit of time to re-teach himself the position he’s only played sparingly the past few years. Otherwise, the lineup looks great. Andre Eithier, Matt Kemp and James Loney combined to hit 297 RBI last season, and with a refocused Manny Ramirez, there’s no telling how many RBI’s this team will belt in 2010.

Prediction: 1st NL West – This is virtually the same exact team that made it to the NLCS last season. Even though they haven’t added anything, they still have one of the best two lineups in the NL and more than adequate pitching. The McCourt’s divorce will have no effect on how the players play. Do you think Manny cares about McCourt’s divorce?

COLORADO ROCKIES

The Rockies will be forced to cope without their closer Huston Street for the beginning of the season, but if any team can overcome adversity, it’s the Rockies. The Rockies were nine games under .500 after May last year, plus Manager Clint Hurdle was fired, but they finished an amazing 72-41 to claim the wildcard spot.

Colorado will welcome back Jeff Francis, who was really stepping up into their ace before his shoulder injury. Francis will be joined by the reliable veteran workhorse Aaron Cook and his nasty sinker, along with Ubaldo Jimenez, who has become a certifiable ace. He ranked sixth in the NL with 198 strikeouts and 218 IP, and tied for fourth in quality starts with 24.

The offense is always stereotypically a long ball offense due in part to their high altitude, but the Rockies underrated speed and base running also allows them to put up huge offensive numbers. Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gonzalez, Clint Barmes and even Troy Tulowitzki are all capable base stealers who helped contribute to their 804 runs in 2009, which was 2nd in the NL.

Prediction: 2nd NL West – Rocktober should be sweeping the nation for the third time in four seasons. The team shows youthful exuberance and can manufacture runs as well as anyone in the league with the perfect blend of power and speed. Another added bonus for the next few years is Todd Helton’s decision to restructure his contract. He will defer $13.1 million until 2014 so that the Rockies can try to resign their younger talent to multi-year deals.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum leads the Giants with a much larger paycheck this season. His 261 strikeouts led the NL last season and helped contribute to an MLB best 1,302 team strikeouts. Barry Zito will look to build upon his solid second half in 2009. Even though he had a 2.83 ERA in the second half, he may never be able to live down that ridiculous $126 million contract considering how poorly he’s played for the Giants (4.56 ERA, 31-43).

The offense was clearly the weak part of the team last season, and the Giants tried to upgrade it a bit in the offseason. They added Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa to aid Kung Fu Panda. Even with these additions, catching up to the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Colorado Rockies may prove to be too difficult a task.

Prediction: 3rd NL West – I’ve seen many people predicting the Giants to make the playoffs and Bruce Bochy as manager of the year, but I don’t see them finishing any better than the 88 wins they posted last season. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are great, but the rest of the staff is inconsistent.

SAN DIEGO PADRES

Here’s the exciting news: the Friars are the youngest team in baseball averaging only 26 years of age. This could be the team of the future, and last season they showed some signs of life. The Friars went 12 games over .500 (37-25) from July 27 until the end of the season. During the streak, Padre pitching stepped up including 22-year-old Mat Latos, Kevin Correia (who had a 1.25 ERA and 3-0 record in September) and Clayton Richard who had his best month in September too, going 2-1 with a 3.12 ERA. Joining the staff will be veteran Jon Garland along with Chris Young who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury. This is a team that legitimately has a chance to surprise people although it may be hard in an absolutely loaded NL West that has three teams coming off 88 win seasons or better.

Here’s the troubling news: Will Venable, Kyle Blanks, Nick Hundley and Everth Cabrera have all played fewer than 140 career games. The team is very inexperienced, and all signs point to Adrian Gonzalez becoming trade bait in an attempt to get even younger. Padre hitters will be excited for a new season because the 09 campaign was absolutely dreadful. The influx of talented young pitchers can only do so much especially if the team hits .242 again, which was the worst in the majors. These terrible batting woes could actually create major confidence troubles for pitchers who would be forced to pitch near flawless gems every time they take the hill.

Prediction: 4th NL West – The Padres will be getting experience on the fly. If they trade Gonzalez, and potentially Heath Bell, the Friars could develop their identity into something like the O’s in the AL – a quick upcoming team on the rise. The fact that Dick Enberg will be calling the games is amazing! Oh my!

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Ace Brandon Webb feeling “stagnant” is not exactly the news Diamondback fans wanted to hear entering the 2010 season. Webb will start the season on the DL and the Dbacks will have to try to bring him back slowly. Webb is naturally a workhorse who logs 200 innings at ease when healthy, but he hasn’t been healthy since 2008. The Dbacks will have to monitor his rehab closely and keep him on a pitch count when he returns so they can protect his arm for the future.

Dan Haren will have to carry the load for the second consecutive season. He did an admirable job last year with a 1.00 WHIP (best in MLB), 229.1 IP (7th in MLB), 223 strikeouts (6th in MLB) and a 3.14 ERA (16th in MLB). At least this year he has an iota of help, while he eagerly awaits the return of Webb. Edwin Jackson, who effortlessly reaches 95 mph on the gun, was acquired from the Tigers. Jackson also eclipsed 200 innings last season with a solid 3.62 ERA. Another pitcher who is slated to start for the Dbacks is…shh don’t tell Red Sox fans… Billy Buckner. (no relation to Bill Buckner)

Justin Upton will be making $51.25 million over the next six years. The 22-year-old, who draws similarities to a young Vladimir Guerrero, has already become the face of a franchise. That will happen when you hit .300 with 26 homers and 86 RBI. The addition of Adam LaRoche should protect Upton and especially help Conor Jackson, not just in the lineup but also in the field. Jackson will be allowed to relocate from first base to his more natural left field position.

Prediction: 5th NL West – The NL West will be as tough as any division and the Dbacks just don’t have enough.

LINKS TO PREVIEWS OF OTHER DIVISIONS:

NL CENTRAL
NL EAST
AL WEST
AL CENTRAL
AL EAST

MLB Preview 2010: NL Central


ST LOUIS CARDINALS


Most people are blindly picking the Cards as NL Central champions, but they may have their hands full if they’re looking to repeat in the Central this year. Of course Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday will be the greatest 3-4 combination in the game. Holliday quickly found himself back in his comfort zone in the NL after leaving for the A’s for only 93 games. In Holliday’s 63 games with the Cards, he hit 55 RBI and posted a .353 BA. Meanwhile, Pujols led the league in homers. Ryan Ludwick will also contribute extra power, but after them, the lineup is quite barren. This could pose a major problem throughout the course of the season if none of the young players step up.

Another problem the Cards could face is being forced to rely on youngster Kyle McClellan, who has only pitched in relief in his MLB career, and a consistently terrible Brad Penny every fifth day. McClellan shows more promise because he’s only 25 and had a solid 3.38 ERA in 09, but will he have the stamina to last six innings a game? On the other hand, Penny may have the stamina to last six, but he often gets knocked out of the game earlier. Last season he gave up at least five runs seven times and was knocked out of the game before the sixth inning 12 times. They will gladly hide behind the two Cy Young caliber pitchers in Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright.

Prediction: 1st NL Central – The Cards are still the pick to win the central, but a very reluctant one at that. My problem is that the team’s centered on five exceptional players, and 20 average players, but something tells me Tony La Russa will have the Cards playing in October.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

It was clear the Brew Crew needed to add pitching after last season. Ace Yovani Gallardo will enjoy two new additions to his staff in 2010. Randy Wolf and Doug Davis were both signed to solidify the rotation. Wolf is coming off his best season (3.23 ERA), while Davis had his best ERA (4.12) since 2005.

Wolf and Davis will enjoy an amazing offense led by Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. Fielder tied Ryan Howard for the most RBI in the league with 141, while finishing second to Albert Pujols in homers with 46. Braun added 32 homers and 114 RBI. The club also gets back Rickie Weeks who only played 37 games last season due to a wrist injury and has added 15-20 pounds of muscle in the offseason. He and Carlos Gomez will pose a legitimate threat on the bases. The Brewers also believe they’ve found a new shortstop for years to come. Alcides Escobar has great athleticism and speed and hits for average. The 23-year-old could develop into a great leadoff hitter.

Prediction: 2nd NL Central – No one is talking about the Brewers pitching improvements. The top three are all good pitchers and the lineup should be one of the more feared lineups in the NL. This team really could challenge the Cards for the central.

CHICAGO CUBS


Marlon Byrd’s 09 got him handsomely rewarded by the Cubs, but he’s yet another right-handed hitter in a lineup that so direly needs a lefty. Another interesting right-handed addition will be Xavier Nady. He’s capable of putting up great numbers if he’s healthy. He can relate with two of the Cubs stars, Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez, who are also injury prone. Staying injury-free will be the toughest task for Lou Piniella’s club. Another key will be if Geovany Soto erases his epic sophomore slump from his memory, and gets back to seeing the ball the way he saw it in 2008.

Carlos Marmol steps into the closer role. He’s got the movement on his pitches to be effective, in fact, he struckout 93 batters in just 74 innings last season, but the major concern with him has always been his lack of control. In those same 74 innings, he walked 65 batters, which is unacceptable. A closer who gives one hitter a free pass every ninth inning will wear the team down. The starting rotation should give Marmol many save opportunities this season. Last year’s entire staff that recorded the second most quality starts in MLB (94) returns. Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster will relish the opportunity to get back to the playoffs after the disappointing sweep they received by the Dodgers in 2008.

Prediction: 3rd NL Central – I know this is fragile territory. I will be brief. Too many injuries and too may aging players while the Reds and Brewers are getting better. Here’s some good news Cubbie fans: At least Bobby Valentine predicted you would win the central.

CINCINNATI REDS

The Reds upgraded with signings of Aroldis Chapman and Orlando Cabrera in the offseason. Signing Chapman, an unproven commodity, to a $30 million contract for a team that usually doesn’t spend the big bucks may be a bit reckless, but they’re looking to make a splash in ticket sales and potentially the standings. Who could blame them? Chapman is a lefty who has been clocked at over 100 mph on the gun. That’s insane. The rest of the staff is also surprisingly good even without Edinson Volquez, who will be out at least until August with an elbow injury. Homer Bailey has potential ace stuff with mid 90s heat and a crazy curveball. Johnny Cueto also has the opportunity to be a fixture in the Reds rotation for many years to come. His wide array of pitches allows him to be very successful in working the hitters. Finally, Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang are seasoned veterans, so the pitching staff may surprise people. The staff should be able to keep the Reds in the NL Central hunt.

The Reds must think they have a real chance of going to the playoffs. They signed Orlando Cabrera. Here’s a simple algebraic equation for Cabrera for those of you who don’t know about him: Cabrera + any team=playoffs. He’s made it every year since 2004 with four different teams! The Reds will hope that equation translates to the NL, where Cabrera has yet to test it. Cabrera’s winning attitude should help the young nucleus of Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce and Joey Votto learn what it takes to be a playoff caliber team.

Prediction: 4th NL Central – I’m not sure how all the young guys will mesh with some of the older guys. I’m also not sure whether the team is ready to contend this season, but this could be a dangerous team if they play the way they are capable of playing.

HOUSTON ASTROS

The Astros really have a weird mixture of pitchers. They start with Roy Oswalt’s pinpoint control and Wandy Rodriguez’s great off-speed arsenal, but lose any semblance of relevance after these two. At least Bud Norris has one thing in common with the top two pitchers on the staff – he’s also undersized. The Astros will be forced to rely on Norris, who has only made 10 career starts with a below average 4.53 ERA, Brett Myers, who tends to let his emotions rattle him, and 38-year-old career journeyman Brian Moehler, who doesn’t exactly blow any hitters away.

The same weird mixture could be said about the lineup. Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman, Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn should all play well, while the rest of the lineup features fading veterans and rookies who may play subpar. Even a couple of the good Astros come with baggage. Bourn has great speed and led the NL with 61 stolen bases last season, but also had the dubious honor of leading the NL in strikeouts as a leadoff hitter. The Astros would like to see him to counter last season’s 140 whiffs by making more contact on the ground this year. Meanwhile Berkman is coming off injury and his worst season as a pro.

Prediction: 5th NL Central – I’m sorry, but any time I see anything about the Astros, the snooze button goes on. They’re just a pedestrian team. Is there really anything to be excited about for this team?

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

It’s now time that we get to the Buccos, those lovable losers out in that beautiful park in Pittsburgh. It seems like this team’s only reason for existence continues to be as a major league farm system that will allow contenders the opportunity to evaluate players in the majors. The list of Pirates who have made it to the real show is uncanny.

At least this season, there is a glimmer of hope with the young core of Steve Pearce, Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones. And there is nowhere to go, but up. The Pirates recorded a league-worst 636 runs last season, and they can’t possibly finish in last for the second consecutive year. Pirate fans are hoping that’s the case, but the pitching staff probably won’t help matters. Any time players have to be on the field for ungodly amounts of time like the Pirates will this year, they get tired, bored and unattached.

The pitching staff logged the second fewest strikeouts in the league last season with 919, and tied for third worst in batting average against at .276. This causes fielders to get a little drowsy and dose off. Unfortunately for them, they lost one of their best pitchers Ian Snell, and will have three starters this season who only have started 34 games or less in the past. The Pirates will add to one record this season though. They will extend their consecutive seasons with a losing record to 18 years, but who could blame them when their entire 2010 payroll makes $2 million less than Alex Rodriguez.

Prediction: 6th NL Central – They can take some solace in knowing that they’re probably the best quadruple A team out there. They’re definitely better than the Nats…

LINKS TO OTHER DIVISION PREVIEWS:

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NL EAST
AL WEST
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AL EAST

MLB Preview 2010: NL East



PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Cole Hamels’ postseason meltdown has some in Philly worried, but he’s still only 26 and with all the time off to rest and refocus, he will regain his form. Last season he had 168 strikeouts to only 43 walks, so he was still dominant in that sense. Roy Halladay joins the staff and boasts an even better strikeout to walk ratio than Hamels. He threw 5.94 strikeouts to walks last season. This year, he may become even better because he’s moving from the AL East to the NL. 17 wins on an awful Jays team was impressive, but imagine what he’ll do now – he doesn’t have to face the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays 54 times, he won’t have to face a DH any longer and he doesn’t even have to face the best lineup in the NL either because he’s on the Phillies! These factors could add for a scary season for Halladay. He should be a lock for 20 wins. Another valuable thing about Halladay is he finishes games in an era where it’s very rare to do so. He had a league best nine complete games last season, and with no DH to face, that number should only increase this season.

The lineup will once again be brutal for opposing pitchers. Is there anybody in the starting lineup who doesn’t have the capability to hit at least 20 homers? Even Jimmy Rollins belted 21 last season. They also had four hitters who had more than 90 RBI and 30 homers including Ryan Howard’s MLB best 141 RBI. Although the power is why most people think the offense is so great, they also have speed on the base paths too. The Phillies were second the NL with 119 stolen bases, while having an 81 percent success rate when they attempted to steal – the best in MLB.

Prediction: 1st NL East – The best team in the NL got even better by acquiring Roy Halladay in the offseason. It would be ridiculous to pick anyone but them to win the east, and for that matter, to represent the NL in the World Series.

NEW YORK METS

The 2009 season turned out to be an absolute nightmare for the Mets. Players like Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado and David Wright contributed to a combined 1,451 days on the DL and $43.7 million lost due to injuries. The same murky cloud is starting to set in this season. Beltran will miss three to four months because of a right knee surgery, while Reyes starts the season with a thyroid injury.

If the team is healthy, on paper they have one of the best lineups in baseball. Any team would have trouble matching up against Wright, Reyes, Beltran and Jason Bay. They will also enjoy a shorter fence in center field this year. The fence will be cut down from 16 feet to eight feet. Mets hitters will take any variation to this gigantic field especially considering they hit the fewest homers in the majors last season with only 95. Wright has added muscle in the offseason to compensate for the large dimensions.

Pitching is what will hurt the Mets. They’re still on the hook for that three year $36 million contract they gave Oliver Perez for some unknown reason. Perez has major control issues, and just getting out of the first inning is usually a big problem for him. He walked 105 hitters in his last full season in 2008, which was the most in the league. Last year wasn’t much better. Perez nearly had an equal walk to strikeout ratio with 58 free passes and only 62 strikeouts, not to mention that abysmal 6.82 ERA. Meanwhile, John Maine is an average middle of the rotation guy, but his problem is his longevity. His stuff really drops off after the fifth inning, which can be devastating to the bullpen over time considering they always have to be ready to pitch four innings when Maine takes the mound. Mike Pelfrey is also an average middle of the rotation guy, but he and Maine are the second and third starters on this team. It may be hard to entrust a guy who had a 5.03 ERA last season as their second best starter, but when it comes down to it, they have no other options. At least they do have a phenomenal ace, but Johan Santana, much like the Mets everyday players, is susceptible to injuries too.

Prediction: 2nd NL East – The second-place finish and potential wildcard spot would give joy to fans for New York’s other team. There’s no reason they can’t do it if they stay healthy. Their talented offense should be able to compensate for their lackluster pitching.

FLORIDA MARLINS

The Fish decided to do a rare thing this offseason. They paid three players. They avoided arbitration with Dan Uggla, resigned Jorge Cantu for $6 million and resigned Josh Johnson to a four-year $39 million deal. As the Marlins get closer to having their own SOTA facility, it seems ownership is willing to spend more money. There has to be excitement for the team filling the new stadium and with Johnson and Hanley Ramirez signed to long-term deals, that is exactly what they’ve done. The 2010 payroll should reach about $45 million, which is the most the team has paid in five seasons, and $10 million more than they spent last season. Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter still combine to make more than the entire Marlin team, but at least ownership is headed in the right direction.

Even though they have signed a few players, the Marlins will remain a scouting and development organization until further notice. The team has brought up Miguel Cabrera, Josh Beckett, Edgar Rentaria, Luis Castillo, Kevin Millar, last season’s rookie of the year Chris Coghlan and even Adrian Gonzalez, who started his career in the Marlins farm system. In 2010, fish scouts may strike gold again with Mike Stanton. He hit 28 homers and 92 RBI in the minors last season and looks to be on the right path in Spring Training. One thing’s for certain, if they do make the postseason, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with – they are a perfect 2 for 2 when they reach October – two trips, two World Series rings.

Prediction: 3rd NL East – Hanley Ramirez is an absolute five-tool gem. He once again will have the Marlins in the thick of the playoff race. If they want to stay in the race, they’ll have to play better defense and cut down on errors. They had 106 last season, which was the third most in the NL to the Dbacks and Nats, two teams that were a combined 59 games out of first and nowhere remotely close to contention.

ATLANTA BRAVES

Bobby Cox leads the Braves for one final season. He will try to hoist one more NL East crown, which he’s been without since 2006. It won’t be easy because the defending NL Champion Phillies, Mets and Marlins all figure to be above .500 caliber teams. Another difficult obstacle for the Braves will be relying on major question marks like Troy Glaus, Billy Wagner and Tim Hudson. They’re all aging ball players coming off injuries who would create holes in Atlanta should they not be 100 percent.

It’s only Spring Training, but Nate McClouth is 1-25 with 10 strikeouts. That’s not exactly what you’re looking for in a leadoff hitter! Jason Heyward looks like the real deal. The top-ranked prospect in Baseball America has nine hits in 20 at bats, and has even logged seven walks. This shows that he’s not only a masher, but also has great plate discipline too. Heyward will be a major improvement for the outfield.

Prediction: 4th NL East – If the Braves finished fourth, they would be the best fourth-place team in baseball. They probably will find themselves teetering around the .500 mark for much of the season as they did last year. They just don’t have enough firepower to compete with the Phillies or even the Mets.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS

Will Stephen Strasburg live up to all the hype? Will he earn his record rookie contract? We’ll have to wait for a little while to find out because he’s going to start in the minors, but all signs point to Strasburg dominating the majors just like he did in college. It’s not too often a hitter sees a 102-103 mph fastball and that’s what made “K”burg famous – he averaged 1.8 strikeouts per inning in his last year at SDSU. Adam Dunn and his 177 strikeouts from last season will be happy to avoid a pitcher like that, and I think Dbacks slugger Mark Reynolds already struck out against “K”burg twice. He struck out 204 times in 2008 which was the major league record until he broke his own record with 223 strikeouts last season.

John Lannan should also become a staple of the Nats rotation. The lefty had a solid 3.88 ERA last season and will start this season as the #2 starter. The staff as a unit is very young with the exception of Jason Marquis, who I’m not quite sure is worth the $15 million he’s getting over the next two years for an absolutely abysmal franchise that won’t be going anywhere in that time.

The Pudge signing also had that effect. I was just waiting for Ashton Kutcher to jump out of a bush and yell “You’ve Been Punked”. The 38-year-old is showing absolutely no signs of getting any younger and his .249 BA will kill a whole lot of rallies – assuming the Nats can start some. I can’t imagine what Ryan Zimmerman was thinking when he signed a five-year deal with the Nats at the beginning of last season. I know the contract said $45 million, but plenty of other teams could have afforded that…

Prediction: 5th NL East – Ugly, ugly season for the “Natinals” last year. Let’s pray, for their sake, they win more than 59 this season.

LINKS TO OTHER DIVISION PREVIEWS:

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AL EAST

MLB Preview 2010: AL West


LOS ANGELES ANGELS

Reigning manager of the year Mike Scioscia may have his most difficult season ahead of him in years. Scioscia’s bunch looks a little different this year without Vladimir Guerrero, John Lackey and Chone Figgins. They had all been staples of a team that made the playoffs five of the six years they were together. Hideki Matsui replaces Guerrero, while Joel Pinero joins the rotation after his best season as a pro. Halo fans should also take solace in knowing Fernando Rodney is joining the bullpen. He draws many comparisons to former closer K-Rod with his nasty heater, filthy off speed pitches and, at times, questionable control. Rodney will be a great setup man, and possibly even a great closer should Brian Fuentes and his awkward motion falter.

The Halos will need great pitching out of Ervin Santana if they want to lock up the AL West again. The good news for them is it seems Santana pitches better in even years than odd years. He recorded 16 wins in 2004 and 2006 compared to only 15 total wins in 2005 and 2007. Joe Saunders, who has quietly won 33 games in the past two seasons, will also need to continue improving for the Halos if they want to reach their ultimate goal of making it back to the World Series.

Prediction: 1st AL West – Out of sheer respect for Mike Scioscia, I give the Halos the nod to repeat as the champs of the west. They have enough returning pieces, and the belief that they’re capable of winning a World Series after finally beating the Red Sox, their postseason nemesis, last season.

SEATTLE MARINERS

Pop quiz! Which Mariner hasn’t made an error in his past 185 games and 1,584 chances? It’s new first baseman Casey Kotchman. He reunites with his former Angel teammate Chone Figgins in Seattle’s new look infield. While these two players will solidify the defense, the offense is still quite a scare. It will be up to Milton Bradley to anchor the bats, and that’s never a good or shall I say reliable thing, just ask the Cubs or the Padres. Aside from him, there’s really no pop in the lineup at all. Figgins and Ichiro Suzuki will each have to reach close to a .400 OBP and steal 40 bases if they want to be a contender in the AL West. Ichiro had a .385 OBP and Figgins had a .395 OBP last season, so it may be possible.

The Mariners also will pray Ken Griffey Jr. plays like it’s 2000 and not 2010. He showed a glimmer of life only once this entire spring by hitting a walk-off grand slam to beat the Reds, which he had never done before in his career. Aside from that, he hit a dreadful .152.

The good news is they have a 1-2 pitching combination of Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee, among the best in baseball. The two rank among the top in virtually every category, but maybe the most impressive stat is their ability to single handedly keep their team in games. Hernandez led the majors with 29 quality starts, while Lee recorded 24 of his own last season.

Prediction: 2nd AL West – I give the Mariners a second-place finish with some hesitation, but can easily justify it by knowing their offense just isn’t up to par with the Angels or Rangers.

TEXAS RANGERS

Vladimir Guerrero, the man who always seemed to put a dagger in the heart of the Rangers, joins the team as another power bat to an already sterling lineup that includes Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Ian Kinsler. Another new face for the Rangers is probable leadoff man Julio Borbon. In his short 46-game stint last season, Borbon stole 19 bases, while batting .312. Although the team’s identity will remain as sluggers, Borbon along with Elvis Andrus and Kinsler are rabbits on the bases who will give the team even more scoring opportunities.

Another masher who will relish the opportunity to hit them in is Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Saltalamacchia wants to be the everyday catcher and thought he wasn’t getting enough swings this spring, so what was the answer from the Ranger brain trust? Allow him to leadoff in the first six innings of a “B” game. He went 2-for-6. You’ve got to love spring training!

The pitching, as usual, is questionable. The always injury prone Rich Harden joins the staff as the new ace. If he’s healthy, his slider is still capable of making anyone look foolish, but he’s only remained healthy for an entire season once in his career in 2004. The rest of the staff is very young and unproven. Scott Feldman had a good year last season, but that’s the only season he didn’t bounce around from the minors to the majors. The rotation also includes two 23-year-olds Derek Holland and Tommy Hunter.

Prediction: 3rd AL West – I don’t think Ron Washington’s positive cocaine test will affect the players’ on-field performance, but I just can’t see how the players will take Washington seriously when he offers them advice. I’m also skeptical about their pitching, but what else is new?

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

According to Rickey Henderson the A’s have a player who’s going to steal 75 bases. Rajai Davis, who stole 41 last season, will try not to make a liar out of Henderson. He may be the only bright spot in a lineup that finished last in the AL in slugging percentage and home runs last season. At least they signed Coco Crisp in the offseason to increase those power numbers…

The A’s will look for help from two starters who are returning from major injuries. Ben Sheets (elbow) hasn’t played since 2008 and his Spring Training numbers haven’t been a good harbinger of things to come. Sheets has lasted only 4.1 innings in three starts, but what’s worse than that is his gargantuan 31.15 ERA in those starts. Justin Duchscherer (elbow) also hasn’t pitched since 2008 and is slowly working his way back in minor league games.

Prediction: 4th AL West – I think Billy Beane has finally outdone himself. His moves have become more and more like he’s firing shots in the dark with no more purpose and Moneyball may officially be dead.

LINKS TO PREVIEWS OF OTHER DIVISIONS:

NL WEST
NL CENTRAL
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AL EAST

MLB Preview 2010: AL Central

MINNESOTA TWINS

Even though the Twins lose Joe Nathan for the season, they still have a legitimate chance to repeat as AL Central champions. 6”11’ Jon Rauch, a former closer for the Nats, or setup man Matt Guerrier will be asked to take over the job and should fill in adequately. Guerrier may emerge as the favorite considering he had a minuscule 2.33 ERA and led the majors with 33 holds last season.

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you; the Twins are finally spending money. It must feel refreshing to Twins fans everywhere to be transitioning from a small market team to the upper middle class of baseball. First they fund the brand new Target Field. Secondly, Twins fans need not fret any further about the Joe Mauer contract situation. They signed the reigning MVP to a brand new eight-year $184 million contract. On offense there’s nothing the team can’t do. The M&M boys (Mauer and Justin Morneau) will continue their dominance as usual. What may surprise some is the two other emerging power hitters in the Minnesota lineup. Jason Kubel had 28 home runs and 103 RBI and Michael Cuddyer added 32 home runs and 94 RBI. Throw in Denard Span’s speed and Orlando Hudson’s intangibles and this will be one of the most feared lineups in baseball.

Prediction: 1st AL Central – This could be the best team in the central for years to come with the signing of Mauer. The franchise finally showed a commitment to winning by raising their payroll about $30 million to a franchise record $95 million. It must be nice to have the $50 million extra revenue that Target Field will provide to be able to pay players for the first time.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Ozzie’s bunch has the pitching. Jake Peavy brings a wide arsenal of pitches to the table. Mark Buehrle will continue to eat up innings and lead the staff. John Danks is an emerging pitcher and a 20 pound lighter Bobby Jenks will look to solidify victories at the end of games. The pitching staff will keep them in the hunt for the AL Central crown all season.

The huge question lies with the offense. The White Sox added three starters in the offseason to jumpstart the offense beginning with leadoff hitter Juan Pierre. No one faced a tougher situation than Pierre faced last season. He was forced into the role of a fourth outfielder after winning a player of the month award in the same season. He didn’t complain. He didn’t create any problems for the Dodgers, and that’s quite impressive given today’s stereotypical athlete. His plate discipline will allow the lineup to see extra pitches, while his ability to get on base (.365 in 09) and steal bases (30 in 09) will give the middle of the lineup a lot more chances at RBI opportunities. The White Sox also added Mark Teahan and Mark Kotsay.

Prediction: 2nd AL Central – The Peavy-Buehrle combo makes me think they have a chance especially with the Twins losing Joe Nathan for the season.

DETROIT TIGERS

Since 2006, four of the five teams in the AL Central have won the division and this season figures to go down to the wire too. It will be interesting to see how the team can recover from losing Game 163 and one of their leaders Curtis Granderson. Johnny Damon will try to fill the void. He’s coming off his best power season yet and hits .363 at Comerica Park in his career. Other than Damon and Miguel Cabrera the offense is quite worrisome. Magglio Ordonez only hit nine home runs and 50 RBI last year, while Brandon Inge, Carlos Guillen, Gerald Laird and Adam Everett all struggled mightily. Guillen’s .242 BA was the best among those four.

The Tigers have a new closer in Jose Valverde. He may be exactly what the team needs to lock down wins. Detroit blew 24 saves last year, while Valverde had a 2.33 ERA and has converted on 87 percent of his save opportunities in his career. The Tigers will still be a contender, and even though they dealt Edwin Jackson and Granderson, they’re building for the future. Max Scherzer and Austin Jackson should be successful for many years to come.

Prediction: 3rd AL Central – This team needs to show me something! Blowing a playoff shot last season was embarrassing, and the team needs to show a little bit of heart this year. Their problem is that they have no true direction. They have an influx of young players trying to gain experience, and also have many struggling veterans trying to regain their rhythm.

CLEVELAND INDIANS

It seems like 2007 was a decade ago for Indian fans. The once promising franchise that boasted a C.C. Sabathia-Cliff Lee one-two punch (along with an overachieving Fausto Carmona) looked to be headed for years of greatness. Travis Hafner was one of the best power hitters in baseball, Grady Sizemore was an emerging stud and Casey Blake and his super manly beard was leading the youthful team. They were only one game away from the World Series. What a difference three years makes.

Now, Jake Westbrook is the ace of the staff. He hasn’t pitched since 2008, and he’ll still never live down that amazing opening day start in 07 when he gave up seven earned runs to the White Sox, yet his team still won in spite of him. He’s a decent middle of the rotation sinker ball pitcher, but #1 starter??? Uh-oh! A true #1 needs to have a definitive strikeout pitch; he needs to be a shutdown guy who refuses to let his team lose. Westbrook relies heavily on his defense that will include many unproven commodities this year. Luis Valbuena better have amazing range because new acquisition Russell Branyan is like a gargantuan rock cemented three feet away from first base that is incapable of moving. #2 starter Fausto Carmona is also a groundball pitcher who needs a superb defense behind him. The young Tribe will have to improve on last season’s 97 errors (12th most in MLB) if they want to have any chance of contending for the wide open AL Central crown. The problem is they lost a whole slew of players through trades including Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, Mark DeRosa, Ryan Garko, Carl Pavano, Rafael Betancourt and even Ben Francisco. We’ll see how some of the young guys fill in. Catcher Lou Marson, Left Fielder Matt LaPorta and Second Baseman Luis Valbuena are all youngsters who have been acquired over the past two years and will start in Cleveland this season. They’ve only combined to play 151 career games.

The good news for this team is Justin Masterson has a chance to develop into a great pitcher. He’s only 24 and he’s already shown overpowering stuff at times. His arm angle can be difficult for many right handers to pick up. Grady Sizemore will also be a bright spot for the Tribe, but that is a given. There’s nothing he can’t do. Indian fans can take some solace in knowing they’ll have him through 2011 with a club option that has to be taken for 2012.

Prediction: 4th AL Central – The Tribe is in trouble. They’re far too inexperienced to be dealing with teams like the Twins, White Sox and Tigers on a daily basis.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Many people will latch on to Zack Greinke and his nasty 65 mph curveball when talking about the Royals. We know about his gaudy stats on a team that couldn’t give him any run support, but what about the rest of the team?

Well… first there’s Jason Kendall making $6 million over two years. WOW. REALLY? The only reason you could ever pay this guy is if you think he’s going to bring fans and that’s definitely not the case. Fans want to see someone who can make the ball fly and Kendall’s 11 total home runs since 2005 isn’t exactly going to sell tickets. Nobody cares about a guy who is only good for catching the pitcher’s balls. That’s the job description of a catcher. Sure, you could argue he’ll do wonders for the pitching staff, but at what costs? Don’t you have any upcoming catchers who need to gain experience? And what’s worse? Kendall’s “superb” catching skills led the Brewers to a 4.83 team ERA last year, fourth worst in the majors. Surely if he was really such a great game caller behind the plate, he could have done better than that – now he has the Royals, a far inferior team.

That’s the disappointing thing for Royal fans (if there are any out there), management has no direction. They also signed two 30+ year-olds Scott Podsednik and Rick Ankiel, while they’re still on the hook for the $12 million owed to Mr. Jose Guillen. This is the problem. They compound not spending money with stupid moves and then set back their franchise a quarter of a century. The Royals haven’t sniffed the playoffs since 1985 and that streak will continue in the foreseeable future. They need a new GM, one who can spot talent. They need a better farm system, one that can develop young talent. They need a better owner, one who’s willing to spend money on good players to be competitive. But until then – they’ll just be the same old Royals.

Prediction: 5th AL Central – The Royals have two things going for them: they have Zack Greinke, and at least they’re not the Nats.

Oh those Royals… Royals backup outfielder hit for the cycle on March 19 in the first four innings of a spring training game. The career .227 hitter hit a triple in the first, double in the second, single in the third, home run in the fourth and added a single in the fifth just for the heck of it. Unfortunately for him, it wasn’t good enough to even stay a hitter. Anderson will pursue a pitching career in the minors this season.

LINKS TO OTHER DIVISION PREVIEWS:

NL WEST
NL CENTRAL
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AL EAST

MLB Preview 2010: AL East

BOSTON RED SOX

The Red Sox are amid a major change in 2010. They bring a new philosophy to camp. Out with the old mashers and in with the five newly acquired gold gloves. They spent as much money as anyone this offseason ($120.5 million) in an attempt to solidify their defense. It makes sense considering their pitching staff. Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and John Lackey all have the ability to be an ace for just about any team. They accumulated 563 total strikeouts last season, averaged 197.5 innings pitched and won 43 games. Throw in the youngster Clay Buchholz’s filthy stuff and the veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield and you have the best pitching staff in the league. And that’s even without a rehabbing Daisuke Matsuzaka who will start the season on the DL. This staff goes six deep, which may be too much because one of these guys won’t even get a starting nod. The big question remains if either Matsuzaka or Wakefield would be willing to transition to the bullpen.

Lester is the rare left-handed fireballer. He consistently tops 97 mph on the radar gun and left-handed hitters cower in the batter’s box when they see him on the mound. (.235 BA against him the past three seasons) Beckett has enormous heat on his fastball too. He supplements it with a nasty 12-6 curve and even adds a quite formidable changeup to the mix too. Since Beckett’s first season in Boston when he had a career-high 5.01 ERA, he has reworked his stance on the mound from the first base side to the middle of the mound. That allowed him to rediscover the success he was accustomed to in previous years with the Marlins.

The newest $82.5 million addition to the rotation, Lackey, uses a great curveball as his strikeout pitch, but more importantly than that, he pitches with a plan and generally executes that plan well. Lackey’s plan usually involves hurling fastballs down and away the first time through the lineup so he can come back to his off speed pitches the second time to keep the hitters off balance. He knows he has a great defense behind him that will make plays, so he won’t go for too much, he’ll just try to get the batter out the easiest way possible. He’s really a smart pitcher, so when his plan doesn’t go perfectly, he’s still valuable because he’s able to make adjustments throughout games.

Buchholz has potential ace stuff, but he really needs to focus on cutting down the walks and increasing his longevity. Buchholz only averages just more than five innings per game in his career.
Matsuzaka’s gyro ball hasn’t been as effective as in Japan, but as long as Matsuzaka can eat up innings and hold the fourth starter role, he should be okay. He should really benefit from the signing of Lackey since all eyes will shift away from him for the first time and onto Lackey.

Marco Scutaro signed a two-year $12.5 million deal. The most he previously made in a season was $1.55 million, so he is making a little more than four times his previous high salary. It seems a bit much for a career utility guy who pretty much had to fight his way onto every team he’s made, but the Nation will welcome him immediately, if for no other reason, because he hit that mammoth walk-off home run off Mariano Rivera in 2007.

Mike Cameron will enjoy an even healthier contract of two years and $15.5 million. It’s no secret Cameron comes to Boston to shrink the outfield. He’s made his living off chasing down fly balls, but he’s actually had 20+ homers and 70+ RBI each of the past four years. He will likely bat late in the lineup, but his base stealing ability is also a key for the new Red Sox. The question is whether those 37-year-old legs will hold up, especially considering he only stole seven bases all of last year, which was his fewest in any season he played at least 30 games.

If it wasn’t clear by signing Scutaro and Cameron, the Red Sox revealed their new progression even further when they signed Adrian Beltre to $10 million. Really??? I know he’s a two-time gold glove winner, but he was nothing short of a disaster in Seattle with the bat and last season was his worst, with only eight home runs and 44 RBI, not to mention that he didn’t even win a gold glove last season. Theo, I know you have the cash to spend, but don’t just spend it because you have it, spend it because you need the player.

Prediction: 1st AL East – The Red Sox are on the three-year plan. World championships in 2004, 2007 and now 2010.

NEW YORK YANKEES

The Yanks lose Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Melky Cabrera, but will reload with Nick Johnson and Curtis Granderson. Johnson should be the ideal fit at the #2 spot in the lineup because he’s everything a #2 hitter should be. He’s fresh off a .426 OBP in 09 that was third best in the majors. He also works the count. He finished third best in pitches per plate appearance with 4.38. Meanwhile, Granderson’s numbers are pretty comparable to Matsui’s from last season, plus he will give them another base stealer and a great outfield glove.

One drawback for the pinstripes could be their limited depth. It seems as though Randy Winn will backup every outfielder, while Ramiro Pena will backup every infielder. Joe Giradi will pray for an injury-free season, but with an aging starting lineup averaging 31 years old, injuries may be inevitable at some point.

Paying Javier Vazquez $11.5 million was a little perplexing. Even though he’s coming off his best season, the first time in the Bronx clearly didn’t treat him well, not to mention he’s really adept to giving up the long ball, which is an even bigger hindrance when you have a ballpark where the ball flies freely. (237 HR in Yankee Stadium, which was the most in 2009 by 22 HR) Vazquez gave up a home run in four of his five spring training starts, and who was the only team not to hit a home run off him? The Nats of course. But all will be forgiven if he pitches well in the postseason. The problem is he’s proven to be a poor postseason pitcher throughout his career. He’s got a 10.34 ERA and has given up six home runs in 15.2 postseason innings.

Prediction: 2nd AL East – They take the wildcard, but won’t be hungry enough to repeat.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

The entire roster that won 84 games last season returns with a new legitimate closer Rafael Soriano to bolster their chances of winning. The Rays hope the signing of Soriano will have a direct correlation with less blown saves. They blew 22 last season. The Rays will also hope David Price reaches his potential, and for him to do so, he needs to work on his command.

Clearly power hitters like Evan Longoria (33 HR, 113 RBI) and Carlos Pena (39 HR, 100 RBI) enjoy having teammates like Jason Bartlett and Ben Zobrist in their lineup because they’re always occupying bases. Bartlett quietly put together a great season hitting .320 (tied for 12th in MLB), while Zobrist had a .405 OBP, good for 4th in the AL. The Rays will need better seasons out of B.J. Upton and Dioner Navarro if they want to contend with the Red Sox and Yankees. Navarro hit 77 points worse in 09 than he did in 08, while Upton saw his average drop 32 points. He’s also seen his power numbers that got him paid in 07 plummet. He hit 24 home runs in 07, but has 20 total home runs over the past two seasons. Another disparaging thing about Upton is he really doesn’t have a great eye at the plate, which is a necessity for a leadoff hitter. Last season, Upton tied for the second most strikeouts in the AL out of the first position with 114, but he did that in 406 at bats, while the man he tied, Chone Figgins, did that in 615 at bats and Curtis Granderson (the leadoff strikeout champion) did it in 535 at bats!

Prediction: 3rd AL East – 84 wins was seen as underachieving, but even if they end up with about 88-90 wins this year, they still won’t make the playoffs. Boston and New York should each get 95+ and have much better pitching staffs than the Rays.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

The Orioles should be one of the most fun teams to watch this year. The team is very young and plays all out. With the addition of Kevin Millwood as the ace and Mike Gonzalez as the closer, the Orioles will pray they improve upon their league-worst 5.15 ERA in 2009. Of course it’s never easy when your team faces the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays 54 times a season. The Orioles went 15-39 against those division rivals in 2009, while they fared much better against the AL Central (17-20). The proposed realignment for the O’s can’t come soon enough.

On offense, two legitimate all-stars, Nick Markakis and Adam Jones, lead the group. Markakis has averaged 20 home runs and 100 RBI over the past three seasons, while Jones will also pose a power threat – he hit 19 homers and 70 RBI in just 119 games last season. The additions of Miguel Tejada and Garrett Atkins also give the team extra pop, while 23-year-old stud catcher Matt Wieters will impose his will on the league in his first full season. The team should be great in the future assuming they can keep all of their pieces together and develop a few more pitchers, but in the present, they will hope to get as far away from the Red Sox and Yankees as possible. Maybe they could even go to the NL. They were 11-7 against NL teams last year…

Prediction: 4th AL East – They will be exciting to watch. They’re definitely a bandwagon to jump on because they will be a team to be reckoned with in the future.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

The Jays have the misfortune of being in the loaded AL East. Any finish above fourth would be a miracle considering the pitching staff. Shaun Marcum is the “veteran” of the staff with only 64 career starts, while the other four starters have all made less than 30 career starts.

The Jays will be praying for Vernon Wells to return to prominence. Otherwise, the Rogers Communications ownership group will be dealing with a large hole in their pockets. They’re paying him a whopping $12.5 million this year, a ridiculous $23 million the following year and $21 million more the next three years after that. This is a type of contract that could set back a franchise for years.

Prediction: 5th NL East – The Jays will be in definite rebuilding mode after giving up Roy Halladay. At least they still have Aaron Hill and Adam Lind to drive in runs and create a minimal amount of excitement about the 2010 season.

LINKS TO OTHER DIVISION PREVIEWS:

NL WEST
NL CENTRAL
NL EAST
AL WEST
AL CENTRAL