Thursday, April 30, 2009

NHL Playoffs- Second Round Predictions

I did pretty well in the first round. The Sharks let me down (AGAIN) and I missed on one upset in the Blues who got swept, but here goes my thoughts on round two.

Eastern Conference

1. Boston Bruins vs 6 Carolina Hurricanes- What a thrilling finish to game 7 of the Carolina-New Jersey series. This was a great series all the way around. Goaltending will be huge in this one. Thomas was the better goalie during the season, but Ward may be the better post-season guy. I expect Ward to steal a couple games here, but when it comes down to it, the Bruins have more firepower and their blue line is a lot better. Special teams is always a key and I give Boston the edge here. My pick is Bruins in 6.

2 Washington Capitals vs 4. Pittsburgh Penguins.- Will the long layoff hurt the Pens? Can the Caps carry their game 7 momentum into this series. A lot of questions, but one answer I know is that this is the series the NHL wants. The leagues 3 best players in the same series. The rivalry that exists between Ovechkin and Crosby (and Malkin). This is as close as a ratings getter that the NHL can ask for. Now if in Pittsburgh if we could only get all the games off FSN Pittsburgh and onto Versus and NBC. This series deserves better than below average coverage.

The Caps dominated the Pens during the regular season, but that was a different team. Give the Pens the edge in net. Varlamov is a great story, but Fluery is huge in big games. The talent level between the teams is about even. Two things must happen for the Pens to win the series. First, they have to get scoring from their top 4 forwards. No matter the combination of Kunitz, Guerin, Fedotenko, Sykora and Satan, they have to produce. Take away Guerin's game 2 performance and this group has given the team next to nothing.

The other battle the Pens must win is the special teams. They must neutralize the Caps dangerous power play, I don't think they will have a problem there, but they must get their own power play straightened out. The need to score with the man advantage to win the series. I feel they will address the problems. My pick is penguins in 6.

Western Conference

1. Detroit Red Wings vs. 8 Anaheim Ducks- This will be a good series, so throw the seeds out. Both teams have been on a roll. I give the Ducks the edge on the blue line and in net. They have cup experience and if the youngster Hiller plays the way he did against the Sharks, then he can extend the series. On the other hand I give the defending champs the edge with their forwards and special teams. I feel this series could be great and would not be surprised if Anaheim pulls the upset. However, my pick is Red Wings in 7.

3. Vancouver Canucks vs 4. Chicago Blackhawks- After being the first team to wrap up a series, the Canucks haven't played in almost 2 weeks. They have to have some rust on them. I give the Canucks the advantage at every position except forwards. I really like the Blackhawks youth and talent there. The combination of youth, speed and the Canucks long layoff will be the difference. The smart pick is to take Vancouver, but I'm going with the Blackhawks in 6.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bucs Notebook- A Winning April

With April almost winding down, one thing is assured, the Pittsburgh Pirates will have a winning month of April. yeah, I know its early, but it's worth noting because it doesn't happen often. Taking a look at this team, even with three of their best players injured, these guys aren't so bad.

After losing Ryan Doumit and Jack Wilson to the disabled list and Nate McClouth to an injury, all the Pirates did was take 5 of 6 from two first place teams in the Marlins and Padres. I know that's not the same as beating maybe the Phillies, Mets or Dodgers, but this same Bucco team a year ago would have been lucky to split the 6 games.

Now if they could only find out a way to beat the Brewers and Cubs, then we may have something bigger to talk about.

Bucco's Notes
- The starting pitching has been excellent. Maholm, Duke, Snell and Ohlendorf have given quality starts almost every time out. Karstens got roughed up a bit last night, but if he can win 10 games, then the pitching should be fine.

- Other than last night, the bullpen has been even better. The Bucs have the best team ERA in the majors and the bullpen has been good. What I like most is the development of Evan Meek and Jessie Chavez. It has been a really long time since the Bucs have had a couple power arms like these guys in the pen. Once they learn a bit more, the pen could become a strength for the team.

- The Laroche brothers. It's April and Adam is hitting .300 with 5HR and 14 RBI, leading the team in both homers and RBI's. Andy on the other hand has rebounded with an 11 game hit streak after opening the season without a hit for the first two weeks. He is suddenly hitting a respectable .263. The key has been that Russell has kept him in the lineup everyday.

- The catching position suddenly isn't that bad. Jason Jaramillo and Robinson Diaz will do just fine until Doumit heals up.

-Freddy Sanchez may be healthy again. He's swinging the stick pretty well. I feel having Nyjer Morgan on base so much has helped Sanchez a ton. Sanchez hits the ball the other way better than anyone on the team. He has taken advantage of teams having to hold Morgan on.

- Speaking of Morgan, having a good leadoff hitter is very important to teams and as long as he keeps getting on base at this rate, the Pirates can score some runs without the threat of the long ball. I used to bash him in the past, but he has won me over.

Pens Notebook- Pens Drop Interim Label from Dan Bylsma

After dispatching of the Flyers in 6 games (like I said), the Pens are waiting to see who their second round opponent will be. While being idle for a few days, the team stayed in the news today by removing the interim label on head coach Dan Bylsma. Was this the right move ? Absolutely. Is the timing right? Absolutely.

All Bylsma has done is take a team that was dead in the water and lead them to the second round of the playoffs. If the coaching change wasn't made, the Pens very well could have missed the playoffs all together. His very impressive record of 22-5-4 (including playoffs) should be all the convincing the Pens needed to offer him the full-time job.

However, what if the Pens blew the 3-1 series lead to the Flyers? It's very odd to see a coach make lineup changes with a commanding series lead. If everything backfired and the Pens would have dropped the series, do you think the Pens would have given him the job?

Other Notes
- Defensemen Sergei Gonchar is second among all players in the playoff in ice time per game. His injury may have been a blessing as his legs should be very fresh.

- Don't overlook the job that Sidney Crosby did in the face off circle against the Flyers. Winning nearly 64% of his draws, Crosby has shown just how much he has worked on every aspect of his already dominant game.

- Evgeni Malkin leads the team in scoring with 9pts, followed by Crosby with 8 and Gonchar with 5.

- One guy that won't get talked about enough is Tyler Kennedy. I thought he played much better than the 3 pts he accumulated. Kennedy also had 2 game winning goals in the series.

-Finally, talk all the trash on him that you want, but the reason the Pens are advancing is the play of Marc-Andre Fluery. Outside of game 5 he was tremendous. After the 3 goals in game 6, if Fluery doesn't shut the door, the Pens probably lose the game.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Bucs Lose Doumit for 10 Weeks

Just when things started going good, the Pirates suffered a major loss that just may be too difficult to replace. Catcher and cleanup hitter Ryan Doumit will be lost for 8-10 weeks after suffering a right wrist injury in Sunday's loss to the Braves.

Doumit will have surgery and the timing couldn't be worse. Here is a guy that just can't seem to stay healthy no matter how hard he tries. I have always been very critical of Doumit behind the plate, but he was starting to win me over. Not only will they miss his bat in the middle of the order, but he has become a true leader of the team and that is hard to replace for a team that hasn't won forever. He has done a great job with the pitching staff and Bucco fans can only hope the replacements can do the job for him.

The immediate replacements will be a platoon of youngsters Jason Jaramillo and Robinson Diaz. The problem being is at face value, Jaramillo can catch but can't hit and Diaz can hit but can't catch. If the position turns out to be a weakness, I would expect Neil Hunnington to look to acquire a catcher for the short term.

With the injury, Dave Littlefield's presence has lured its ugly head over the team one more time. This wouldn't be a major problem if the Littlefield regime would have drafted Matt Wieters. Yes, that same Wieters that has drawn comparisons to Johnny Bench and Mike Piazza. Yes, that same Wieters that was the 2008 Minor League Player of the Year. That same Wieters that should have been there to call up to make his major league debut on Tuesday. Yes , that same guy.

I would say, that knowing the Pirates, that they would offer Baltimore a sweet deal to acquire Greg Zaun, just so Baltimore can get Wieters to the big leagues quicker, but Neil Hunnington is much better at his job than his predecessor.

Jaramillo and Diaz will do just fine. They won't replace Doumit's bat, but it's not like Doumit was a 30 plus homer guy anyway. The concern is that when he comes back can he be the middle of the order hitter that he was pencilled in every game.

What do we need a Matt Witers for anyway? If we drafted Wieters, how in the world would the Bucs be able to replace Daniel Moskos? I mean seriously, who would be the number four starter in Lynchburg for the next five years.

A Look at the New Yankee Stadium

What on earth is going on at the New Coors Field......err I mean the New Yankee Stadium? It was a great opening, getting to see 47 legends of past Yankee years join for the opening ceremonies. They had the original home plate and pitching rubber from the first game at Yankee Stadium. The bat Babe Ruth used to hit the first home run at the original Yankee Stadium was placed at home plate when Derek Jeter became the first Yankee to step to the plate in the new building. Everything was perfect. Then all hell broke loose.

The ball started jumping out of the yard at a record pace. Twenty home runs in four games? That's not normal even in a beer league slow pitch softball game. A couple routine fly balls turned into homers for both teams. Jeter even won a game when he got jammed and hit a fly ball that carried over the right field fence.

So what's the problem? Is it the stadium? The stadium has the exact same dimensions, but obviously the jet streams come in from a different direction. Fourteen of the twenty dingers went to right field. The right field still has the same short porch, but it was made to look easy in the opening series against the Indians. If you think it's bad now, just wait til it gets warmer and the ball starts to carry better. If it is the stadium, what kind of effect will that have on upcoming off seasons? I can't imagine many pitchers wanting to come to New York if it will inflate their ERA, no matter what the price tag is.

If you aren't convinced in the stadium, could it be the Yankees pitching? Well that definitely has something to do with it. Chin Meng-Wang has been awful, but he has been the same awful pitcher on the road as well. Other Yankee pitchers have given up the long ball so get off Wang's back for the moment. Although one would thing he would have success pitching in between Sabathia and Burnett. Putting the ground ball machine in between two power pitchers should benefit Wang once he figures things out.

Or this could all just be a coincidence. One bad series. Things weren't so bad for the men in pinstripes. They split the series Some guys will love the ball park. I feel it's perfect for a guy like Mark Texierra and Jorge Posada is taking ownership of the place after hitting a couple dingers himself.

Look, it is what it is. They are gonna have to play in the ball park all season, so everyone must adjust. That includes not only the hitters and pitchers, but the fans as well. Get ready to see a lot of football type scores in the New Yankee Stadium. If the pitchers can start keeping a majority of balls in the ball park (as I'm writing this, light hitting Kurt Susuki just went yard for Oakland. His first HR since last August), then the Yanks will be fine. It will be interesting to see how the park plays in August and September. It could be a blessing to the Yanks that the first series with the Red Sox is in Fenway instead of the Bronx this weekend. Otherwise, the scores would look more like a video game instead of a baseball game.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Look At The Pirates First Two Weeks

Let's take a look at the Bucco's first 2 weeks of the season. If you are a real baseball fan and not one of these guys predicting the Bucs to win the World Series, then you have to be happy. If you are a real baseball fan and not one of these guys that rip the organization; despite not knowing ten players in the organization, then you have to be real happy. I'm not saying the Pirates organization never deserves criticism, but this isn't one of those times.

The Pirates will likely be under .500 for a record seventeenth season and the first couple weeks of the season have offered up the proof, but it has also provided some glimpses that things may turn around. The last thing I wanted to have this season was HOPE, I'd prefer that Neil Hunnington stick to his plan and try to build a winner, but there is a glimpse of hope.

Reason number one the Bucs will struggle is the inconsistencies of the offense. They are a very light hitting team with very little power. Those types of teams struggle at times. It is very hard to manufacture runs every game, without the threat of the long ball. Taking a look at the first 12 games, this shows up a lot. The Bucs opened the season with an 11 hit attack in a win and then followed it up with only 5 hits in a loss. This trend pops up often so far: 17 in a win, then 1 in a loss, then 12 in a win , then 3 in a loss, then 14 in a win. Granted it's only 2 weeks, but this is something that could keep going for a while. Only ten homers through twelve games isn't awful, but mostly they have all come in wins.

Flip the coin and the Bucs have shown they can hit the ball at times. Nyjer Morgan has been a surprise at the top of the order. If he can continue to get on and use his legs, the Bucs don't need the long ball. Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson are off to decent starts and you can boo them all you want, but the Laroche brothers aren't doing that bad. Before the Braves series, Adam was swinging the bat well and after an awful start, Andy has picked it up. Keep him in the lineup and he should be fine. The bench is better and so is the team.

On the hill, what can you say about Paul Maholm except he has been terrific. He has always had guts on the mound, but credit new pitching coach Joe Kerrigan with making him more efficient. He's not flashy. He just pitches to contact and gets batters out. We have also seen Ian Snell, Zach Duke and Ross Ohlendorf give good outings. If those 3 can give the team quality starts every 2 out of 3 starts, then the rotation won't be that bad. That's a big IF though. We will know that answer at the end of May.

The weakness of this team is the bullpen, but even they haven't been that bad. Look, if I would have told you the Pirates would have the best ERA in the majors after 12 games, then you would have laughed. It's a very small sample, but it shows that they are doing something right. Kerrigan has had an impact, These guys are throwing inside more and getting people out. Can it continue? Probably no, but why not? If the Cubs and Cardinals don't pull away from the pack in the NL Central, then there is a chance that the Bucs can hang around.

One thing other than wins and losses that has impressed me the most, is the leadership that has suddenly shown up on this team. Maholm and Ryan Doumitt has taken on a leadership role that just hasn't been there lately.

There are way too many IF'S and too many questions in my mind for this team to compete this year, but I definitely thinks things are headed in the right direction. They do have some talent in the farm system and if Hunnington sticks to his guns and continues to add to it, we soon may see the light at the end of the tunnel.

So next time that you decide to take the easy route and bash the Pirates, try taking the time to actually watch them and maybe you will like what you see.

Penguins Playoff Notes- Petr Sykora, Where Have You Been?

Relax. Don't jump off a bridge just yet. The Penguins weren't going to win every playoff game. After winning the first two of the series, the Pens were dominated on Sunday by the Flyers. What went wrong? A lot, but it's all correctable.

As I noted before, the team that wins the special teams battle, will win the series. The Penguins must fix the power play. I know they have scored a power play goal every game, but they need more.The Pens have converted on 4 of 20 attempts in the series so far. Now 20% isn't terrible, but the Pens power play unit can be better. Three times so far, the Guins have taken penalties while on the power play and the killer was a short handed goal allowed. Your not gonna win many road games like that,.

On the other hand, the Penguins penalty kill has done fine. The Flyers have also scored a power play goal in each game, but are only converting at a 3 for 14 rate. The PK Unit must continue to play well, because the Flyers power play is very good and will score goals.

Matchups were a bit of a problem in game 3. The home team gets the last change, so Dan Bylsma will have to find creative ways to get Crosby and Malkin freed up from Richards and Carter. Also Bylsma shouldn't change much. The physical play has been there, but the Pens have to be careful not to burn all their emotion too early in the game. After the first ten minutes of play, the Pens were chasing the play, the rest of the game. When the Pens win, they dictate the play, they don't chase it.

Goaltending is not an issue, but the play in front of him is. For one of the first times in the Bylsma era, the pens made it very hard for Marc-Andre Fluery. Could he have made a couple of saves to prevent goals? Probably, but the Flyers were camped in the crease for most of the game. Their scoring opportunities came very easy. At the other end of the ice, just the opposite has been true. Games tow and three, the pens didn't make Biron work nearly enough. No traffic in front of him, no second chances. If the Pens up the intensity in front of the net at both ends, then they will be playing for a while.

The final piece that needs to get going is Petr Sykora. Now I love Petr, but the fact is that if he isn't scoring goals, then he isn't giving the team much. Now i know Sykora has been banged up, but he has to put up numbers. The second line wingers have not been producing, so in game 4 Petr Sykora will step up and score a big gaol and send the Pens home with a 3-1 series lead.

Like I said, no worries. Don't jump off that bridge just yet.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

NHL :Playoffs Predictions

Well at the beginning of the season, I said the San Jose Sharks would hoist the Stanley Cup by defeating the Washington Capitals. I am gonna stay with that choice, but in this post I will breakdown the first round match ups.


1. Boston Bruins vs. 8. Montreal Canadians. (Boston won season series 5-1)- Long storied rivalry, but the Bruins should have no problem with the Habs. My pick Boston in 5.

2. Washington Capitals vs. New York Rangers (Washington won season series 3-1) The Caps power play vs the Rangers penalty kill is what this series could boil down to. The Rangers should do fine in this area. Also Henrik Lundquist is capable of stealing a series by himself and he should keep the Rangers in it. I like the Rangers to push it to 7 games but in the end, Ovechkin and the Caps are the better team. My pick is the Caps in 7.

3. New Jersey Devils vs. 6. Carolina Hurricanes (Carolina won season series 3-1)- The Devils have been reeling as of late, while the Canes have possibly been the best team in the NHL down the stretch. The Devils have Broduer, but the Canes can match the play in the net with Cam Ward. The Canes have been great since Feb. 15, netting 38 points. Only the Pens (40) have more in the East in that time. My pick is the Canes in 6.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 5. Philadelphia Flyers (Pittsburgh won season series 4-2)- These two teams know each other oh, so well. No surprises here between the two. It's going to be physical. A series like this can take a toll on a team so if the Pens want to make a run, they better make it a short series. I like Marc-Andre Fluery over Marty Biron in this series. Similar to last season, I expect Fluery to carry the Pens on a long post season march. The key for the Pens will be to limit the Flyers potent power play. I think they will, because their penalty kill has been tremendous under Dan Bylsma. Expect Sid Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to get hit alot, but the Stall-Kennedy-Cooke line which has been awesome, will score some big, timely goals. No team has been better than the Pens since mid February. My pick is the Pens in 6.


1. San Jose Sharks vs 8. Anaheim Ducks (San Jose won season series 4-2)- I pick the Sharks to win every year, and this could be the year. The Sharks are getting healthy at the right time and Evegeni Nabokov got a little rest this season, as he didn't have to play 75 plus games. The Ducks shouldn't pose a threat. My pick is San Jose in 5.

2. Detroit Red Wings vs 7. Columbus Blue Jackets (Season Series tied 3-3)- I had Columbus pegged to defeat Vancouver, but the late surge by St. Louis drops the Blue Jackets to the 7 seed. I just don't like this match up as much for them. The one thing they have is better goaltending. Mason can steal this series for them. In the end, I think Columbus will push the defending champs to a game 7, but the playoff experience of the Red Wings will eventually win out. My pick is Detroit in 7.

3. Vancouver Canucks vs. 6. St. Louis Blues (season series tied 2-2)- Vancouver has great goaltending and it should be enough to carry them to victory. The Blues are a gritty bunch though and won't go down without a fight. St. Louis has been playing playoff hockey for over a month now and I think that will help. Since they have been playing well lately, I'm going with the upset in this one. My pick is St. Louis in 7.

4. Chicago Blackhawks vs. 5. Calgary Flames (Chicago won season series 4-0)- Chicago has so much young talent and is such a fun team to watch. I planned on picking Calgary here, but this isn't a good match up for them. The Hawks have handled them pretty easy. Calgary's late season additions were supposed to help on a playoff run, but I don't think they get past the first round. The only worry for Chicago is on how their youngster handle their first playoff series. My pick is Chicago in 6.

Friday, April 3, 2009

NL AWARDS Predictions

Here is how the National league will shape up

East- Mets
Central- Cubs
West- Dodgers
Wild Card- Phillies

NL Champ- Phillies

Nl MVP- Ryan Braun
NL CY Young- Chad Billingsly (It's a reach)
NL Rookie of the year- Cameron Maybin (Note If Andrew McCutchen is up by mid May and plays everyday the choice is him)
NL Manager of the Year- Joe Torre

World Series- Phillies win back to back titles this time over Boston

NL WEST Preview

One last division to look at. Today an NL West breakdown. I think this will be a very competitive race.

Predicted Order of Finish

1. Los Angeles Dodgers- I like these guys to win it. Great manager in Joe Torre. So much young talent. Manny being Manny, takes the pressure off the young guys to produce. The Dodgers have a potential all-star at almost every position. Loney, Martin, Kemp and Eithier are all young guys who will produce. Don't overlook the resigning of Furcal and Blake as they help round out a very good Dodgers lineup.

The staff is good, but not great. Billingsly is on the verge of stardom and Kuroda will be effective. Youngster Clayton Kershaw has awesome stuff. The bullpen is also very good, as John Broxton becomes the hammer at the back end of the pen. Top to bottom this is a very good team and could win the pennant. Only problem is will Manny be motivated enough to play? If the answer is yes, then this team will be very good.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks- Another team I like a ton. Great young talent everywhere. Justin Upton will the the next star, if he can cut down on the strikeouts. Striking out is a problem for the whole team, as they have a bunch of free swingers. They have a good balance of power and speed though and the on base percentage should improve.

The D'Backs have a very good staff. I put Haren and Webb up against any one-two punch in the game. The Garland signing should work out and they have a good young arm in Scherzer. A big question mark in the bullpen. Can Chad Qualls hold down the closers role effectively? If the answer is yes, it wouldn't surprise me if they won the division.

3. San Francisco Giants- The Giants could be the most improved team in baseball. They will be better offensively with youngsters Ishigawa and Sandoval. Both have some pop and will drive in runs. A couple good on base guys at the top of the order in Renteria and Winn and the G-Men should do fine offensively. Rookie catcher Buster Posey is on a fast track to possibly get called up this season, so they have a chip to possibly deal in Benji Molina.

The pitching staff will be surprisingly good. Reigning Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum anchors a staff with some live arms. Matt Cain and Jonathen Sanchez each will win double digits, while the Randy Johnson signing could pan out. I know he's 75 years old, but he seems to do well on the west coast and he may have one good season left.

4. Colorado Rockies- I don't see much chance with these guys. The staff isn't that good and with Jeff Francis out, they're just isn't a replacement. Ulbado Jimenez will emerge as a staff ace, but other than that, I don't see much hope. Offensively, the Matt Holliday trade netted them some arms, but left a huge hole in the middle of the lineup. Garrett Atkins will fill that for most of the season, but once the Rocks are out of contention, he could be wearing a different uniform after the trade deadline. One youngster to keep an eye on is Dexter Fowler. The Rockies will have to create an everyday job in the outfield for him.

5. San Diego Padres- This team has committed to a youth movement and they have some pieces in place, but they won't be very good. Who knows where the Jake Peavy saga is at this point, but with new ownership in place he may be staying put. My guess is that he gets dealt along with Brian Giles, leaving this team with not much. It's gonna be a long season in San Diego.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Today a look at how the NL Central will shape up

1. Chicago Cubs- This should be a no brainer. This could be the year of the Cubs. The pitching should carry this team. Health is a big issue though. Can Zambrano and Harden stay healthy all season? If so, then the starting 5 is one of the best in the league. I like Pinella naming Gregg the closer over Marmol to start the season as well.

Offensively, the Cubs should be fine. if Bradley plays 135 games in the outfield then it will turn out to be a good signing. The need good seasons from all of their parts. Lee isn't getting any younger, but the Cubs have enough young parts to win. The only true weakness I see in the lineup is the lack of a true lead off hitter. If they can acquire one that allows Soriano to bat third and drive in more runs. Either way, the Cubs are the class of this division.

2. Cincinnati Reds- This may be a reach, but I like the talent the Reds put on the field. Offensively, they are talented. Votto, Phillips and Bruce should all have big years. I also like the Ramon Hernandez acquisition. They strike out a ton as a team, which is a problem. A couple keys to the team could be Willy Taveres and Edwin Encarnacion. They need to get on base more often. Especially Taveres, to utilize his speed. You can't steal first base. I do like Chris Dickerson, as he should get most of the at bats in left.

Pitching could either be a pleasant surprise or awfully inconsistent. I am betting that it will be good. Aaron Harang having a bounce back season could be huge for Dusty Baker's squad. If Harang bounces back and Volquez pitches the way he did the first half of the season, then the Reds could have a good season. Jonnie Cueto probably has the best stuff on the team and will need to also pitch well for the Reds to hang in the Wild Card mix. The back end of the bullpen is decent with Cordero, but the rest of the pen could be a concern.

3. Milwaukee Brewers- They lost alot in the off season, but Ken Macha's group is still talented. After the Cubs, the rest of the teams can finish anywhere from second to fifth. They're really isn't much separating them. They are very talented at every position and will have no problem scoring runs. On the hill, Gallardo and Parra will surprise and have good years. The staff as a whole isn't that good, but they have a couple innings eaters in Suppan and Looper and will still be competitive.

4. St Louis Cardinals- It is hard for me to put a Tony Larussa led team with Albert Puljos on it fourth, but that is where they could wind up. There are way too many questions with the pitching staff and the bullpen to figure out. It just seems like a steep hill to climb, but Larussa has won with worse. Adam Wainwright has great stuff, but hasn't been healthy for a whole season. Kyle Loshe is, well Kyle Loshe. Then you have to hope Chris Carpenter comes back. The bullpen has a bunch of guys that are young and untested.

The Cards will score as always. I don't know if I like them defensively though. They do have extra outfielders though. Colby Rasmus will be playing everyday by mid-season so expect a guy like Ryan Ludwick or Chris Duncan to get dealt for an arm.

5. Houston Astros- Cecil Cooper's team is also good at every position. Berkman and Lee provide a solid middle of the order. Will Tejada be a distraction to this team? Once the Astros fall out of contention, I expect them to shop him around. While the offense will be good, the pitching will not. I like Oswalt and Rodriguez at the top of the rotation, but the rest isn't that good. They will be counting on Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz for innings, something they probably won't give. Valverde is solid in the ninth, but like many teams, getting to him will be the problem.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates- As easy as it was to predict the Cubs to win the division, it's just as easy to predict the Bucs last. I don't think they will be the worst team in baseball, but they have their work cut out for them. The team on the field in May will not be the team on the field in July. There is cause for excitement in the future, just not this season.

The pitching will be bad. I think Maholm and possibly Snell will be fine. Ohlendorff will give you glimpses that he can pitch at this level, but I have no faith in Zach Duke to get outs. The bullpen will be hit or miss all season.

So many question marks on offense. In a perfect world, everyone will have good seasons and the Bucs will contend, but it's not a perfect world. Can Andy Laroche play third everyday? Can Adam hit enough in April and May? Will Freddy rebound? Will Jack be here at the end of the season? Can Morgan bat lead off? Can Moss replace Bay? Unfortunately, the answer will probably be NO to most if not all of those questions.

As a Bucco fan I would be very encouraged by the spring. McCutchen, Alvarez, Ford, Bixler,and Tabata all gave you reason to get excited. Hopefully next season when I write this, the Bucs won't be a lock for the bottom of the division.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Portland Trail Blazers- Did They Get It Wrong Again?

I haven't gotten around to writing enough NBA on the blog, so here's something interesting. Do you think when the Portland Trail Blazers watch Kevin Durant play they cringe? Do they think-Oh no, not again? What I am referring to is the 1983 NBA Draft when the Blazers promptly selected Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan. Well we all know how that one worked out.

Let's look at the latest chapter. The 2007 NBA Draft where the Blazers, faced with a choice of Kevin Durant or Greg Oden, both leaving after fantastic freshmen season, as the #1 overall selection. The Blazers went with Oden, and let the debate begin.

Nearly two seasons after the selection of Oden, it looks like the curse of Sam Bowie is looking down on the Blazers. Oden missed all of 2008 and this season, Oden is averaging only 8.9 points, only 7 rebounds and 1 block per game. He has often looked like a stiff out there and fouls out of a ton of games. He is a very fragile guy, getting hurt often.

Durant on the other hand, averaged 20.3 ppg in 2008, a season he won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award. This season he has been even better, averaging 25.9 ppg. His rebounds and block totals are nearly identical to Oden. He looks like a superstar for the next decade, while Oden looks like he shouldn't be starting for most teams.

I like the Blazers young talent alot, but how can the same thing happen to the same franchise twice. That is so unlucky. I'm not comparing Durant to Jordan by any means, but imagine how talented the Blazers would be with Durant instead of Oden. The jury is still out, but Durant is making it look like Portland botched this one also.

NL EAST Preview

I spent last week breaking down the American League. This week I will break down the National League, starting with the east.

Projected order of finish

1. New York Mets- The Mets won't collapse this season. G.M. Omar Minaya went out and fixed the teams real weakness, the bullpen. Adding K-Rod and Putz will make a difference. After Johan Santana, the rotation isn't great, but will give them innings. With the improved bullpen, I think the starters won't have to pitch deep into games and that will make a difference. I am also predicting that Minaya will acquire the best arm available at the deadline, likely to be Roy Halladay.

Offensively the Mets have a nice balance of power and speed and scoring runs shouldn't be a problem. Delgado will be the player he was post all-star break last season and Wright and Reyes, already young superstars will be even better. Carlos Beltran is healthy and will have an MVP like season. 2009 will be the season the Mets win the East.

2. Phiiladelphia Phillies- Picking the Mets to win the East is no knock on the Phillies. I like them to win the Wild Card. I mean the Mets can't possibly tank it 3 Septembers in a row. Can they? The Phils are like the Mets offensively, with power and speed, but better at both. The Phils are also alot better defensively than their rivals. The only move the world champs made in the off season was to replace Burrell with Ibanez, an upgrade.

The Phils will need some right hand power, but I just don't know where they would play. The staff is good and the bullpen is strong. The Phils will be playing in October again. One guy that could make a difference as a fifth starter is Carlos Carrasco. Keep an eye on him. He should be up this season.

3.Atlanta Braves- Here is a team I like alot to bounce back. I don't have them higher because I think the Phils and the Mets will be real good. The Bravos fixed their rotation adding 3 new starters. Lowe and Vazquez will give the Braves innings, which they didn't get a season ago. The question with the staff will be the bullpen and can a guy like Mike Gonzalez stay healthy for an entire season to anchor the back end of the pen.

Bobby Cox is a winner. Chipper Jones is a winner. Everyone else is young and unproven. Escobar, Kotchman, Francorer and McCann are good young players. The Braves are good in their farm also. Look for Jordan Schaffer to come up and win the center field job and Tommy Hanson to find his way into the Braves rotation by the all-star break.

4. Florida Marlins- I like this team because they always find ways to hang in the race. They have a superstar in Hanley Ramirez and an up incoming star in Cameron Maybin. They are an aggressive team and will run alot.

The best part of this team is a good young rotation. No household names, but some good arms. Nolasco, Johnson, Sanchez, Miller and Volstad all throw hard and can get people out. They will keep the fish in alot of games, but the division is too tough for the Marlins to win.

5. Washington Nationals- This is one of the few teams in the bigs that have no chance. They did add Adam Dunn which should give them some pop and Ryan Zimmerman will be healthy. The outfield could be surprisingly good with Dunn, Dukes and Milledge, but that's about it for Washington.

Some arms are on the way. Jordan Zimmerman should break camp with the big club and fit nicely into a bad rotation. Also Washington has the first pick in the draft and if they don't get scared away from the Scott Boras price tag, San Diego St right hander Steven Strausberg and his 102 MPH fastball is considered big league ready.

John Calipari to Kentucky

The Kentucky Wildcats didn't go long without a head coach as they inked John Calapari to an 8 year 31.65 million dollar deal, making him the NCAA's highest paid head coach. This is something I go back and forth with all of the time. Is it right for a coach to just get up and leave his contract. Everyone bitched up a storm when Rich Rodriguez took the Michigan job, but I'm here to defend the two.

Coaches get into coaching to land that dream job and win a title. Michigan is one of those jobs in Rodriguez case. No knock on West Virginia, but that is a rich and storied program in Michigan. Michigan will always be Michigan and WVU will always be WVU. It's no knock on the program, but Michigan is a dream job for a coach.

The same goes for Calipari and the Kentucky job. It's Kentucky basketball. He had to take the job. I have no problem with it. It just happens so much that the NCAA has to regulate it somehow.

You can say it's not fair to the kids, but when the kids leave after 1 or 2 seasons, is that fair to the coach? Not at all. Calapari had landed 3 of the top 6 recruits in the nation while at Memphis. It is likely they all will follow him to Kentucky. If a player decided to transfer, he would have to sit out a year. Should the same apply to recruits? Should the same apply to coaches? The Memphis program will never be the same, while the Kentucky program just got revitalized.

I do feel bad in both cases for the kids that commit to a coach that suddenly hasn't committed to them, but only so much. They still have a free athletic scholarship and have a chance at a free education. The only rule I would consider implementing if I were the NCAA, would be to allow certain kids to transfer after a coaching change and waive the mandatory one year period to play. I would have this be a case by case situation though. With Rodriguez going to Michigan, I would have been more inclined to allow this because his offense doesn't suit every player.

With the Calipari situation I would be less inclined though. For all these guys that will play pro basketball, it won't be the first, nor will it be the last time they will go through a coaching change. It's life. deal with it.

Don't hate Calipari for taking the job. There are only so many Kentucky's out there. I applauded Ben Howland for taking the UCLA job and I do the same to Cal. The kids likely would have left him first anyway.