Sunday, April 26, 2009

All-Star Teams for April

I think that it is crazy that the All-Star ballots are already out there. There is no way to be able to choose the best players of the first half this early. I’ll vote, but I think that it’s just completely lame for the MLB to do this and to almost make sure that nobody that’s not a big name is starting.

Also, Michael Young is on pace to hit just over 50 home runs this year. I’m sure it won’t happen, but that’s a pretty good pace.

Since the All-Star ballots are available, this week I decided to determine who should be in the All-Star game, based purely on how they’re doing so far this season (they have to be on the ballot). The AL stats are as of April 25th and the NL stats are as of April 26th.



1B: Carlos Pena, TB (.254 AVG, 8 HR, 21 RBI): Even though he is only batting .254, his power numbers make up for that, as he leads the majors in home runs with 8, and he also has 21 RBI’s.

2B: Ian Kinsler, TEX (.382 AVG, 5 HR, 17 RBI): Aaron Hill has 1 more RBI than Kinsler….But Kinsler has a higher batting average and 6 more stolen bases. They are probably the top two second basemen in the AL so far.

SS: Derek Jeter, NYY (.290 AVG, 4 HR, 11 RBI): He is tied for the lead in AL shortstops in both home runs and RBI’s, but has a higher batting average than Marco Scutaro, the one who he is tied with in both those categories.

3B: Evan Longoria, TB (.377 AVG, 5 HR, 16 RBI): Evan has a great batting average, a lot of home runs, and 16 RBI’s. He has the highest batting average of the AL third basemen, and he is tied for the most RBI’s of the AL third basemen.

C: Victor Martinez, CLE (.386 AVG, 5 HR, 9 RBI): Martinez is in the top 5 in the major leagues in batting average. He has the most home runs of AL catchers. And, he should be an All-Star starter, in my opinion.

OF: Nelson Cruz, TEX (.295 AVG, 6 HR, 15 RBI): Nelson is 3rd in AL outfielders in RBI’s, and he is tied for 2nd in AL outfielders in home runs. And out of the three people that are ahead of him in those categories, only one of them has a better batting average.

OF: Carlos Quentin, CWS (.250 AVG, 7 HR, 14 RBI): If it weren’t for his awful batting average, he would be a no-brainer to start, but with it, he just barely edges out Nick Markakis of the Orioles for that start.

OF: Grady Sizemore, CLE (.271 AVG, 6 HR, 18 RBI): Grady Sizemore has great power numbers, and even though his batting average is kind of low, his 6 home runs and 18 RBI’s more than make up for that.

SP: Zach Grienke, KC (4-0, 0.00 ERA, 36 K): He is tied for the major league lead in wins. He is 2nd in the major leagues in strikeouts. He leads the major leagues in ERA. He has not allowed an earned run the whole year, and that’s pretty amazing. He is the obvious choice here.

1B: Kevin Youkilis, BOS (.433 AVG, 5 HR, 13 RBI)
Miguel Cabrera, DET (.410 AVG, 4 HR, 13 RBI)
2B: Aaron Hill, TOR (.373 AVG, 5 HR, 18 RBI)
Robinson Cano, NYY (.354 AVG, 3 HR, 10 RBI)
SS: Jason Bartlett, TB (.390 AVG, 2 HR, 5 RBI)
3B: Brandon Inge, DET (.304 AVG, 6 HR, 15 RBI)
Michael Young, TEX (.308 AVG, 5 HR, 11 RBI)
C: Jorge Posada, NYY (.283 AVG, 3 HR, 12 RBI)
OF: Nick Markakis, BAL (.385 AVG, 2 HR, 19 RBI)
Torii Hunter, LAA (.327 AVG, 6 HR, 11 RBI)
Adam Jones, BAL (.333 AVG, 2 HR, 12 RBI)
Jason Bay, BOS (.288 AVG, 4 HR, 13 RBI)
P: Jon Danks, CWS (2-0, 0.95 ERA, 16 K)
Jarrod Washburn, SEA (3-0, 1.71 ERA, 17 K)
Glenn Perkins, MIN (1-1, 1.50 ERA, 12 K)
Armando Galarraga, DET (2-0, 1.96 ERA, 17 K)
Andrew Bailey, OAK (2-0, 0.79 ERA, 13 K)
Erik Bedard, SEA (2-1, 2.08 ERA, 29 K)
Joakim Soria, KC (1.80 ERA, 5 SV)
Brandon Morrow, SEA (4.05 ERA, 5 SV)
Jonathon Papelbon, BOS (1.23 ERA, 4 SV)
Frank Francisco, TEX (0.00 ERA, 3 SV)
Mariano Rivera, NYY (2.16 ERA, 4 SV)

Players per Team:
Texas Rangers – 4
New York Yankees – 4
Tampa Bay Rays – 3
Boston Red Sox – 3
Detroit Tigers – 3
Seattle Mariners – 3
Cleveland Indians – 2
Chicago White Sox – 2
Kansas City Royals – 2
Baltimore Orioles – 2
Toronto Blue Jays – 1
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – 1
Minnesota Twins – 1
Oakland Athletics – 1



1B: Albert Pujols, STL (.348 AVG, 7 HR, 25 RBI): Even with Albert leading all NL first basemen in both home runs and RBI’s, that’s still not it. He leads all NL first basemen in stolen bases also, with three. He has been dominant this year and should be a starter.

2B: Chase Utley, PHI (.322 AVG, 5 HR, 14 RBI): Even though Dan Uggla has two more RBI’s than Utley, he is only hitting .213 compared to Chase Utley’s .322. That’s too big of a difference.

SS: Ryan Theriot, CHC (.344 AVG, 0 HR, 6 RBI): Ryan has a very good batting average, the highest among all NL shortstops (on the ballot) and even though his power numbers aren’t that good, nobody has good power numbers at that position in the NL, so that’s not a big problem.

3B: Aramis Ramirez, CHC (.358 AVG, 3 HR, 14 RBI): Ramirez leads NL third basemen in batting average and RBI’s and the only person who has hit more home runs than him has a .228 batting average. There is almost no competition, so he is the obvious choice.

C: Bengie Molina, SF (.328 AVG, 3 HR, 13 RBI): He has the best power numbers of all NL catchers, and he has one of the best batting averages, also. His brother, Yadier Molina, is the only one who gave him in competition, and, in my opinion, he isn’t playing as well as Bengie.

OF: Ryan Ludwick, STL (.356 AVG, 5 HR, 19 RBI): Ryan has good power numbers and a good batting average. He is one of the top players in the major leagues in home runs, and has a good amount of RBI’s. That should get you in.

OF: Andre Ethier, LAD (.308 AVG, 5 HR, 20 RBI): Andre is hitting over .300, and he has great power numbers. Even though the outfield has about 10 all-stars in it, he is one of the top ones.

OF: Ryan Braun, MIL (.359 AVG, 4 HR, 13 RBI): Ryan is hitting over .300, has 13 RBI’s, and 4 HR’s. The power numbers are decent, but his average is what got him a starting job on my NL All-Star team.

SP: Johan Santana, NYM (3-1, 0.70 ERA, 37 K): Even though Johan has a loss, he leads all of baseball in strikeouts, has an ERA under 1.00, and still has three wins. Even though Chad Billingsley is 4-0, he is 2nd to Santana.

1B: Joey Votto, CIN (.358 AVG, 3 HR, 16 RBI)
Adrian Gonzalez, SD (.306 AVG, 6 HR, 13 RBI)
2B: Orlando Hudson, LAD (.370 AVG, 2 HR, 8 RBI)
SS: Hanley Ramirez, FLA (.292 AVG, 2 HR, 11 RBI)
3B: Chipper Jones, ATL (.298 AVG, 2 HR, 8 RBI)
C: Yadier Molina, STL (.333 AVG, 1 HR, 10 RBI)
Jeff Baker, FLA (.306 AVG, 1 HR, 9 RBI)
OF: Carlos Beltran, NYM (.415 AVG, 2 HR, 14 RBI)
Kosuke Fukudome, CHC (.345 AVG, 3 HR, 10 RBI)
Brad Hawpe, COL (.308 AVG, 2 HR, 13 RBI)
Adam Dunn, WSH (.302 AVG, 4 HR, 12 RBI)
P: Chad Billingsley, LAD (4-0, 2.05 ERA, 26 K)
Paul Maholm, PIT (3-0, 2.03 ERA, 10 K)
Wandy Rodriguez, HOU (1-2, 1.80 ERA, 22 K)
Jair Jurrjens, ATL (2-1, 1.42 ERA, 14 K)
Dan Haren, ARI (1-3, 1.38 ERA, 26 K)
Aaron Harang, CIN (2-2, 2.00 ERA, 19 K)
Heath Bell, SD (0.00 ERA, 7 SV)
Jonathon Broxton, LAD (0.96 ERA, 6 SV)
Francisco Cordero, CIN (1.29 ERA, 6 SV)
Matt Capps, PIT (1.42 ERA, 5 SV)
Ryan Franklin, STL (0.00 ERA, 5 SV)
Brian Wilson, SF (1.17 ERA, 3 SV)

Players per Team:
Los Angeles Dodgers – 4
St. Louis Cardinals – 4
Chicago Cubs – 3
Cincinnati Reds – 3
San Francisco Giants – 2
New York Mets – 2
San Diego Padres – 2
Florida Marlins – 2
Atlanta Braves – 2
Pittsburgh Pirates – 2
Philadelphia Phillies – 1
Milwaukee Brewers – 1
Washington Nationals – 1
Houston Astros – 1
Arizona Diamondbacks – 1
Colorado Rockies – 1

Results of last week’s poll:
Which of my playoff teams do you think has the best shot at winning the World Series?
Rangers – 35%
Rays – 21%
Cubs – 14%
Marlins – 10%
Yankees – 7%
Twins – 3%
Giants – 3%
Phillies – 3%

Come back next week for my April Awards.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Tim Murphy Interview

A couple of weeks ago, I interviewed Rangers pitching prospect Tim Murphy. Tim began his pro career in 2008 after being drafted by the Rangers. After a successful year, with time spent in both Spokane and Clinton, Tim opened this season in Bakersfield. I spoke with him as he was wrapping up spring training in Arizona.

Me: Do you enjoy hitting or pitching more?

Tim: It’s tough to say. I grew up as a hitter and I consider myself to be an athletic guy. I got drafted out of high school as an outfielder by the Angels and, once I got to UCLA, I didn’t pitch during my freshman year. But it turned out that pitching was going to be my future and that’s where I ended up today. It’s tough to say. They’re two totally different sides of the game and I enjoy doing them both. But realistically, my future’s on the mound so I’m going to stick with that and that’s where I’m at right now.

Me: Do you prefer starting or relieving?

Tim: I’ve had the privilege to do both. At UCLA, I was fortunate enough to be a starter my sophomore year and going into my junior year. But also in midweek games I had the opportunity to close some weeks. They’re totally different mindsets in my opinion and if I had it my way I’d like to stay as a starter. Either way’s fine with me but I’d prefer starting over relieving.

Me: Did you enjoy playing football or baseball more?

Tim: Definitely baseball. I grew up playing all different sports – basketball, soccer, hockey - you name it, I probably played it. Football was fun for me but it was more something to pass time. It was something I enjoyed and I was somewhat successful at it, but baseball was one of the things I’ve played since I was five years old. It’s my true love and I definitely have more of a passion for baseball than I ever had for football or any other sport. It’s stuck with me since and I still love going out there every day and playing the game.

Me: What position did you play in football?

Tim: My freshman year in high school I played quarterback, and then my sophomore year I got called up to varsity and they were looking at me as a quarterback. But we had a couple of older guys who ended up stepping up. I was converted to defensive back and ended up playing safety. I played safety my sophomore and junior year. I also played a little wide receiver my junior year. I ended up giving up football my senior year so I could concentrate on baseball. I felt like that’s where my future was and I really didn’t want to jeopardize anything with an injury or anything like that. I knew baseball was my future and it wasn’t going to be football, so I ended up sticking with baseball and it got me here today so I can’t complain.

Me: What was your reasoning for not signing with the Angels when they drafted you in 2005 as an outfielder out of Rancho Buena Vista High School?

Tim: There were a couple of different reasons. Obviously I had committed to UCLA and I had an opportunity there to go with a pretty successful coach who had a pretty good background with developing players in the past. There were a couple of different situations that went into it. The situation obviously wasn’t right. The Angels had a couple of guys they had to sign before me before they could offer me money, since they had drafted me in the later rounds. It was going to take above slot money to sign me and take me away from my commitment to UCLA. So that was probably one of the main factors, which was that everything didn’t really line up at the time. If it had, I could have been with the Angels today. But the way I look at it is that everything happens for a reason. I couldn’t see myself as a professional hitter. I don’t know if I ever would have made it to the big leagues as a hitter. Pitching’s kind of where everything worked out. Definitely I feel like I can be a successful pitcher and I have the chance to make it to the big leagues and hopefully have a very successful career and a long one as well.

Me: Well I’m glad you’re here and not with the Angels.

Tim: Yeah me too. Actually I’ve been very happy with the Texas Rangers organization. They’ve been really good to me so far and I couldn’t ask for anything more. I could be with other teams that are going to the free agency market but the Rangers are promoting guys from within. There’s definitely an opportunity here for homegrown talent and they’ve proven that with their track record the last few years. I definitely feel with the Rangers that there’s a pretty good opportunity here in front of me.

Me: Which stat means more to you: having the lowest ERA on UCLA, or having the fourth lowest ERA in the whole Pac-10 conference?

Tim: That’s a tough one. Obviously you want to be in a class by yourself as a leader on the field and obviously you want to start with your own team first. That’s what you look at on an individual basis. Individual statistics are good and are something that comes along with team success. Without the team I wouldn’t have had the lowest ERA with UCLA. There’re a lot of things that go into that. But the Pac-10 is a highly touted conference and there are a lot of guys that have come out of that conference and have had successful major league careers. I didn’t even know that I had the fourth lowest ERA until you told me just now. So that’s a tough one but I’d probably go with the Pac-10 on that one because it’s kind of a nice individual honor. But like I said, it goes into the team success as well. Guys have to play behind you with defense and you have to get run support, so it wasn’t all on my own but I guess I did have a little bit to do with it.

Me: So, do you not ever pay attention to your stats?

Tim: There are different stats you look at so you can see where you’re at in the season and what you need to work on. But the stats that are more important to me are ball-to-strike ratios. After a certain outing I’ll go back and look at our pitch chart to see how many first-pitch strikes I threw, how many guys I threw strikes to on the first 2 out of 3 pitches, quality pitches, fly balls, ground balls. Those are the stats I pay more attention to. The other stats are ones that you might look back on at the end of the season and take some pride in but during the season you don’t really focus too much on ERA or strikeouts. Those things kind of just happen but if you take care of the prime ones that people don’t look at so much that don’t show up in the box scores, then the ones that do show up in the box scores take care of themselves.

Me: Was it frustrating for you to go 5-6 even though you had the team’s lowest ERA in 2008?

Tim: Yeah, I guess you could say that. Obviously you’d like to have more wins. You always feel like you could do better. But like I said earlier, the Pac-10 was a difficult conference. I was throwing against people that were just as good or even better than me. It comes with the territory. I tried to go out there every Friday night and give my team a chance to win and sometimes you fall on the short end of the stick. That’s baseball. It’s a really weird game. You never know what’s going to happen. We had guys with higher ERAs who had pretty successful seasons. I guess you could say it’s disappointing, but in the long run it really didn’t matter too much. We ended up making the playoffs and had a pretty good run. We fell a little bit short and didn’t meet our main goal, which was obviously a national championship for UCLA, but you can’t look too far into that in my eyes.

Me: What 2008 accomplishment means more to you: leading the Pac-10 in strikeouts with 111 or being named Pac-10 Pitcher of the Week three times?

Tim: Probably in the long run I’d have to say leading the Pac-10 in strikeouts. It’s a tough one to say, too, because the Pac-10 pitcher of the week honors go with the team. You can go out and throw a shutout, but the team still has to put up that one run and play defense behind you, so I feel like the Pac-10 ones are not so individually based. But definitely the Pac-10 strikeout leader I can look back on 40 to 50 years from now and tell my grandchildren that I led the Pac-10 in strikeouts in 2008. I think that’s something that I’ll cherish a little bit more once my baseball career is over and I look back on things. That’s probably something that I’ll remember forever.

Me: As a pitcher, as the season goes along, would you rather throw more strikeouts or less walks?

Tim: Obviously less walks. At any level of the game, you can’t give away free bases. Once you start giving away free bases, that’s when bad things start to happen. If I had zero strikeouts and zero walks in a game versus seven strikeouts and three walks in a game, I’d take the zero and zero, just for the fact that there are other ways to get a guy out than strikeouts and you can’t strike a guy out on one pitch. Strikeouts can lead to high pitch counts. I’d definitely take the fewer walks than strikeouts.

Me: When your coach at UCLA, John Savage, had you throw 144 pitches in an 8-0 win, what were some of the thoughts that went through your head?

Tim: If I remember correctly, that was against Berkeley, and we were a bubble team going to the playoffs. We weren’t a shoe-in for the playoffs yet, so, if I remember correctly, it was a game up there that we kind of needed to win and it was late in the season. It was the last start of the regular season for me and pitch count by then is individual based. People talk about 100 pitches being the highest that someone can go, but it’s something that Nolan Ryan’s gone into here with the Rangers in that it’s kind of individually based. You have to push your limits, I feel, and some guys are capable of doing that. And if you can, then why not? I think our pitch counts here this year with the Rangers are going to get more stretched out. If I remember correctly, I threw those 144 pitches and then came back the next Friday and had a pretty successful game against Virginia. So it’s all individually based in my opinion. If a guy can handle it then a guy can handle it. It didn’t have any negative effect on me and it was a big game for UCLA to get us into the playoffs. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do. It’s one of those things I did for the team. We made it to the regionals and it didn’t have any long-lasting effects on me.

Me: What adjustments did you make between 2007 and 2008 that helped you lower your ERA from 5.68 to 3.34 and lower your opponent’s batting average from .278 to .227?

Tim: 2007 was really my first full year of pitching, especially at a higher level. I pitched a little bit in high school. I was still pretty new to pitching in 2007. I was a guy who had a decent arm that was more of a thrower than a pitcher. I feel like probably the biggest difference between 2007 and 2008 was that I made the transition into a pitcher, refined my command with fastballs, my curveball got a little better, experience, all sorts of stuff contributed to the switch between the two seasons. It was more experience and being out there more and more. Like anything else in life, the more and more you do something the better and better you’ll become at it in my opinion.

Me: In both ’07 and ’08 you allowed more unearned runs than earned runs. What were your first thoughts whenever one of your teammates would make an error behind you?

Tim: Everyone makes mistakes. Physical errors are going to happen. Guys are going to bobble a ground ball or drop a fly ball. It’s the mental errors that will get to you. But if a guy makes an error behind you, that’s going to happen. It’s no different than me leaving an 0-2 pitch over the middle of the plate that wasn’t supposed to be there and the guy hits a home run. You don’t have eight guys behind you bickering at you when you make a mistake on the mound, so if a guy makes an error behind you, you’ve got to go on and pick him up. If anything, you want to get the next ball right back to him. You want to give him another chance. You want him to be able to redeem himself. He feels just as bad. It’s not like he did it intentionally. You need to move on to the next guy, take it one pitch at a time, clear your mind and go to the next pitch - challenge the next guy even more. I never have a negative feeling towards a player when an error happens or anything like that.

Me: Did you notice a big difference when you got to the minor leagues in the defense behind you?

Tim: The biggest difference I noticed from college to professional baseball is that, especially in the lower levels, guys are a little bit more raw. In college, you see guys that are a little more average across the board with everything they do. Once I got to pro ball, you could make some mistakes and get away with them and then make another mistake and the guy hits a 500-foot home run. That’s probably the biggest difference. And then obviously everyone here got drafted for a reason so most of the guys have some tools. You see guys with more ability here in pro ball. They might not be as consistent with their ability yet but that’s part of the minor leagues and developing, as opposed to college where you see more guys with average tools who make the routine plays and not make the spectacular ones. Up here in the minors, you’ll see some guys make some unbelievable plays that you’re awed by and then see them boot or misplay a ball on a play that they should make. That’s probably the biggest difference – it’s a little more up-and-down in the minor leagues and it was a little more even-keeled in college ball.

Me: Who are your three favorite teammates since you joined the Rangers organization and why?

Tim: I’d probably have to say Matt West. He was my roommate in Spokane and he was one of the first guys I met with the Rangers. He had been with the Rangers a year, so he kind of showed me the ropes of professional baseball, some of the little things I didn’t know. He was my roomie so I spent a lot of time with him in Spokane. Another guy would probably be Corey Young. We hit it off. He has some of the same interests as me. He’s from New Jersey but you’d never know it. You’d think he was a California kid. We clicked right away. The third guy would probably be Corey Ragsdale. He’s an older guy. I met him later in the year in Spokane when he got transitioned from shortstop to the mound. When he came down, he kind of gave me a new perspective on baseball. Well, not just in baseball. He’s a more mature guy and we had some heart-to-heart talks. I felt like he helped me grow up a little bit, I guess would be the best way to describe it. I feel I’d have to attribute some of my success in Spokane to him and some of the talks we had and trying to get more out of my ability.

Me: Who are the three toughest hitters you’ve faced and why?

Tim: Probably the toughest guy, and he was left-handed too, was Brett Wallace. He probably has a shot at being in the big leagues this year. He was just one of those guys that I always had trouble with in college. Two other guys? I don’t know. It’s tough to say. I wouldn’t consider myself an average pitcher. I kind of do things a little bit differently. I kind of still have a position player’s mentality. I really don’t remember too much.

Me: Well, that’s a good sign if you can’t think of tough hitters.

Tim: Yeah, I only remember certain things. It’s weird. Like, I’ll remember how to pitch certain guys, or a weakness, or I’ll remember how a guy’s really fast and liable to bunt anytime during a game, or that sort of thing. But hitters-wise, you could say that if a guy has success off of me or I have a bad outing, it’s one of those things where I just want to move on to the next start as soon as possible. You just kind of forget about those negative moments. You take them and learn from them but you don’t dwell on them. That’s the biggest reason why I don’t remember the toughest hitters. Like I said, Brett was my toughest guy.

Me: What is your best pitch and how was it developed?

Tim: I’d have to say that it’s definitely going to have to be my fastball. I live off my fastball. Anyone you ask, a scout or anyone in the organization, the fastball is my number one pitch and I think it should be for every single pitcher. You have to have a fastball and you have to establish it early in the game. If you don’t have a fastball then, in my eyes, you’re going up the creek the wrong way. Probably the thing I’ve developed the most is being able to locate it better and have better command. Going into this year, I’ve been trying to keep the ball down, especially out here in spring training, and it’s something that I’ll carry over into the season. I’ve had pretty good success out here so far in spring training. I’ve been able to refine my command of that and I’ve been able to put it where I want more often.

Me: What’s been the best game so far of your professional career and why?

Tim: I don’t know about best game but the most memorable game came up in Washington. There was a promotion called ‘10 K’s for $10,000’, so if the whole Spokane pitching staff combined had 10 strikeouts in 9 innings, then one of the fans would win $10,000. Matt Matt Nevarez started the game and I think he went around 4 innings with 6 strikeouts, and I came in around the 5th and got one strikeout that inning. By the end of my outing, I had about 2 or 3 innings and I got that 10th strikeout. So, I think in the 7th inning, we had 10 combined strikeouts and we actually won a fan $10,000. So that was probably the most memorable moment just because it was something cool and probably something I’ll never see again.

Me: That must have been fun for the fan.

Tim: Yeah, I’m sure they were pretty happy. I don’t know too many people who wouldn’t take $10,000.

Me: What was your favorite team growing up?

Tim: I grew up in San Diego, so obviously the Padres. It was the Padres and then my favorite player growing up was Steve Finley. He kind of bounced around from team to team, so I followed whatever team he was on pretty closely. But I followed the Padres most as a kid.

Me: I went to Petco Park the year it opened. I guess you’ve been to Petco, right?

Tim: Oh yeah, I’ve been to Petco for many games. My dad’s a firefighter so he goes in every year and gets a season ticket package and splits it with the others. They each get about five games apiece. My parents have had season tickets there for the last four or five years. So I definitely got my fair share of games in. It still looks brand new and it’s probably the most clean stadium I’ve ever been in. It’s a pretty nice place.

Me: It’s much nicer than Jack Murphy.

Tim: Yeah, way better than Qualcomm.

Me: What sports did you play growing up and which were you best at?

Tim: I started playing baseball when I was 5. I played t-ball every year and never skipped a year on that. I played soccer for 2-3 years. I played hockey for a year or a year and a half. I played basketball in middle school for a year. Then it was on to football in high school. I really like football. It was really fun to me. It’s a lot more of an athletic game. You can be a good athlete and you can get away with a lot in that sport, as opposed to baseball where I feel you need to be athletic but there’s a lot of stuff that goes on behind the scenes, especially mentally. I feel like I was probably the best at baseball. I’m still playing baseball now so I can’t say I wasn’t the best at baseball.

Me: What’s the worst injury you’ve ever had to deal with?

Tim: Hands-down it was when I broke my jaw my junior year of high school. I got hit by a baseball and broke my jaw in two spots. I think it was 2 or 3 weeks before the season and I had to have it wired shut for six weeks. It was definitely, easily, without a doubt the worst injury I’ve had. I ended up losing 17 pounds from it. I couldn’t eat. The thing I survived on was taking hot pockets and putting them in a blender and adding either chicken or beef broth to liquefy them even more and then I’d suck them down with a straw because I couldn’t chew or move my jaw. It’s something I’ll never forget and hopefully never have to go through again. I hope no one has to go through that actually.

Me: That must have hurt.

Tim: Yeah, it was pretty painful too. The initial contact and injury didn’t hurt. But the surgery and the first week were unbearable. You wanted to rip the wires and metal out of your mouth but it was just something you had to go through.

Me: What are your hobbies?

Tim: I like movies and hanging out with my friends during the offseason. I go to the beach a lot. Those are probably my biggest hobbies. I love the beach. You’ll always find me at the beach during the offseason. I don’t think I’ll ever move from southern California. It’s probably somewhere I’ll always be during the offseason.

Me: Well, that’s all the questions I have. Thank you so much for doing the interview.

Tim: No worries. If you ever have any other questions or ever need anything, just give me a call. It was good hearing from you again.

I would like to thank Tim for taking so much time to talk with me for this interview and wish him the best of luck in Bakersfield this season. We should be seeing him in Frisco soon. I got to meet Tim in January at the Rangers Winter awards ceremony. Tim sat at our table for dinner. I also talked with him a few times in Surprise in March when I was up there for spring training. Tim is a great guy and always very friendly. I really appreciate him taking time out of his schedule for this interview.

Come back next week for numbers 36-40 on my Top 50 All-Time Rangers List.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

AL Season Predictions and Playoff Predictions

This past week I went to Opening Day and got to see the Rangers light Cliff Lee up and Kevin Millwood shut the Indians down. The Rangers’ new ribbon scoreboards and out-of-town scoreboard look very nice. They’re big improvements that have been needed for a while. They make the ballpark look much more modern. I also like the new brick wall that lines the infield and the fact that they replaced the cupholder at our seats that’s been missing for two years. It was a great day. The weather was great, the game was great, and we really didn’t have any problems dealing with the big crowds. It was also good seeing and talking to usher Ron, who’s a very nice guy.

I would like to congratulate Jeff Zimmerman for his minor league deal with the Mariners and wish him good luck. I’m looking forward to seeing him back in the majors.

This week I will provide my AL season predictions. I will predict the standings and the awards, plus the playoffs. Records in parentheses are as of April 11.

AL East:
1. Tampa Bay Rays (2-3) – The Rays made it to the World Series last year as a young team, and now they’re just one year older and one year better. They have a really good line-up with Carlos Pena, Evan Longoria, and Pat Burrell taking up the middle and Carl Crawford starting it off. The Rays also have great defense, as only three American League teams made less errors than the Tampa Bay Rays last year. They have great pitching with James Shields, Scott Kazmir, and Matt Garza as the 1-2-3 guys, when Garza would be the #2 guy in most places, and in some, the #1, and Kazmir would be the #1 starter for many teams. Andy Sonnanstine went 13-9 last year and is their #4 starter. In my opinion, they have the best team because they can run (they had the most stolen bases out of anyone last year), they can hit for power (they had the 5th most home runs in the AL last year, they even have a back-up who hit 10 home runs last year), they can field, and they can pitch (they had the 3rd lowest ERA in the majors last year).

2. New York Yankees (3-2) (my wild card winner) – The Yankees rotation has injury issues. Chein-Ming Wang was out most of last season due to injury, AJ Burnett is incredibly injury-prone, and CC Sabathia has had oblique problems in the past. Pettitte had a 4.54 ERA last year and Joba Chamberlain only pitched past the 6th inning three times last year and only finished seven innings once. They have a very good top of the rotation when healthy, but I don’t think they’ll be healthy very long and I think that they will struggle because of that. They have a decent offense, but it doesn’t have much depth (at the moment) with Cody Ransom at third (for now), Brett Gardner at center, and almost nobody on the bench that could step up and be a solid starter. They also have a tough schedule the second half of the season, as they play playoff teams (from last year) 9 times starting July 27th. I think the Yankees can afford to lose one of their top three pitchers due to injury and still be the Wild Card, but if they lose two or three, I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs.

3. Boston Red Sox (2-3) – The Red Sox went to the ALCS last year, but I don’t think they will do it this year. They depend too much on David Ortiz, even though he only hit .264 last year in the regular season, and .186 in the playoffs last year. Mike Lowell is injury-prone and Jason Varitek is not very good. Jed Lowrie only hit .258 last season and he is their starting shortstop. Youkilis, Pedroia, Bay, and Ellsbury are all good, but JD Drew almost surely will get injured soon (probably very soon), and then they’ll lose him again. Beckett and Lester are a good 1-2 punch, but Beckett is injury-prone, and after that it’s too inconsistent. Dice-K is usually good, but he has a few too many bad outings to be an ace, and he has very high pitch counts, so he doesn’t go very far into the games. Wakefield went 10-11 last year and then Brad Penny is coming off an injury and might have some issues. I think in most divisions they would be in 1st, but in this one I think they are in 3rd.

4. Toronto Blue Jays (5-1) – The Blue Jays have a very good team, but it’s not as good as the Rays, Yankees, or Red Sox. Lyle Overbay, Aaron Hill, Marco Scutaro, and Scott Rolen (Blue Jays infield) don’t match Carlos Pena, Akinori Iwamura, Jason Bartlett, and Evan Longoria (Rays infield), or Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, and soon-to-be A-ROD (Yankees infield), or Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jed Lowrie, and Mike Lowell (Red Sox infield). But the Blue Jays outfield has a very good upside with Alex Rios, Vernon Wells, and Travis Snider. They each have 30-home run potential. Roy Halladay is a workhorse and has pitched at least 220 innings each of the last three seasons. Jesse Litsch had a 3.58 ERA last year to go along with 13 wins and he is pretty good. David Purcey is in his second big league season this year, and he should do better this year. Both of the 4-5 starters are rookies this year, and so I think that that will also hold the Blue Jays back and that it will make them pretty easily the 4th place team instead of the 2nd or 3rd.

5. Baltimore Orioles (4-1) – The Orioles have one good starter, Jeremy Guthrie. He had a 3.63 ERA last year even though he only had a 10-12 record. Their second pitcher is a rookie. Their second pitcher. That pretty much sums up the rest of the rotation, a pitching staff that had the second worst ERA in the AL last year. Aubrey Huff is good at first base, though, as he hit .304 with 32 HR’s and 108 RBI’s last year and Brian Roberts covers second, so that position’s covered. Melvin Mora had a big improvement last year from 2007 as he hit .285 with 23 HR’s and 104 RBI’s, and he’s a pretty good third baseman. Nick Markakis in right is the face of the franchise, as he deserves to be. Last year he hit .306 with 20 HR’s and 87 RBI’s, and it was a down year power-number-wise. That’s really saying something. Speedy center fielder Adam Jones is a very good center fielder and is a pretty good hitter, but after those five players, there’s not much, and so I think that they will be last in the division.

AL Central:
1. Minnesota Twins (3-3) – This depends on how long it takes Joe Mauer to get back from his injury. Mike Redmond is just not the same as the 2006 AL Batting Champion Joe Mauer. Justin Morneau can make up for him and keep them in contention for a little bit, but he can’t do it for too long. They will need their rotation to really do well until he can come back. Francisco Liriano is incredible and I think he’ll improve on his 3.20 career ERA. After him, they’ve got solid young pitchers that can get the job done. I think that the Twins will be the team with the worst record that makes the playoffs.

2. Chicago White Sox (2-3) – The White Sox are an old team that keeps getting older. Jose Contreras, Bartolo Colon, Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko, and AJ Pierzynski are all old in baseball terms. Josh Fields is a work-in-progress after having just 32 at-bats last year. Chris Gentz is a rookie and will probably go through some growing pains and Carlos Quentin is coming back from injury. The White Sox are a good team, but they have too many question marks to win the division.

3. Kansas City Royals (2-3) – The Royals are a very underrated team. They have good pitching with Gil Meche and Zach Grienke at the top of the rotation. Kyle Davies, who had a great Spring Training, is the #3 guy, and Sidney Ponson and Horacio Ramirez finish off the rotation. Mike Jacobs and Alex Gordon can hit for power and Mike Aviles, Coco Crisp, and David DeJesus all can have good batting averages. When Jose Guillen gets back, he’ll just bring more power into the line-up, and if the Royals can get a lead into the late innings, they probably won’t lose it with Joakim Soria as their closer. He saved 42 games last year for the Royals. Don’t be surprised if they make the playoffs this year.

4. Cleveland Indians (0-5) – Here’s the Indians rotation:
1. Cliff Lee (who had a 12.46 ERA in 21.2 Spring Training innings this year)
2. Fausto Carmona (who had a 5.44 ERA last year)
3. Carl Pavano (who allowed 9 runs against the Rangers in 1 IP in his first start this year)
4. Scott Lewis (who only pitched 24 innings last year)
5. Anthony Reyes (who had a 6.04 ERA in 2007)
If Cliff Lee pitches like he did in Spring Training this year, then the Indians’ rotation has two #5 starters and three minor leaguers. That is not good at all. Even if Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, and Victor Martinez all hit 40 home runs this year, they still probably wouldn’t win the division with that rotation. You just can’t do that.

5. Detroit Tigers (3-3) – The Tigers have a bunch of over-paid, under-achieving players. Justin Verlander and Armando Galarraga are the only pitchers you can count on, and that’s not enough. They should have a good offense, but even if they do, if they have another 4.90 ERA like last year, that’s not going to do a whole lot of good. And with Francisco Rodney being their closer, you don’t have much faith in the bullpen, either. I think that they either are in 4th or 5th place, but I don’t see them being anywhere else.

AL West:
1. Texas Rangers (3-2) – They’re wearing red. The last time that happened they made the playoffs three out of four years. Chris Davis, Nelson Cruz, and Josh Hamilton all have 30 home-run power, maybe even 40. Michael Young is one of the best third basemen in baseball and Elvis Andrus is speedy, and a great defensive player. It will be nice to have Andrus’ speed on the basepaths this year, as he had 54 stolen bases in Frisco last year. Ian Kinsler is one of the best lead-off hitters in baseball, as he hit .319 last year with 18 HR’s and 71 RBI’s. Salty should also make a big improvement this year, and even if he doesn’t, they’ve got Taylor Teagarden right there to take his place. David Murphy and Marlon Byrd are a pretty good platoon, as they combined for 25 HR’s and 127 RBI’s last year and neither one of them hit below .275. Both Millwood and Padilla are in contract years this season and last time that happened, Millwood was the AL ERA Champion, and Padilla went 15-10 and pitched 200 innings. Once they replace Kris Benson with Scott Feldman, they’ll have a consistently good starting pitcher in Feldman. Brandon McCarthy looked good in Spring Training and Matt Harrison won 9 games in just 15 appearances last year and will hopefully just get better. If the starters can get you into the 8th with the lead, then it’s pretty much as good as a win, with CJ there to shut down whoever comes up in the 8th and Frankie Francisco there to get the save in the 9th.

2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (2-3) – The Angels could have some serious problems this year, as John Lackey, Ervin Santana, and Kelvim Escobar, their three top pitchers are injured. And, sadly, Nick Adenhart is gone, leaving an empty spot in the rotation. For now, they have Joe Saunders at the #1 spot, which isn’t bad, but after that they have Jered Weaver at #2, and he took a step backwards last season with his 4.33 ERA. Dustin Moseley had a 6.79 ERA last year, and yet somehow he is third in the rotation. Shane Loux is next and he’s in his rookie season, so he could have some issues this year. The outfield is very old, with 35-year-old Bobby Abreu, 33-year-old Torii Hunter, and 34-year-old Vladimir Guerrero, and they are all past their prime. Juan Rivera is their DH, despite only hitting .246 last year in 256 at-bats. His OBP was only .282. Kendry Morales, the Angels’ starting first baseman, hit .213 in 61 at-bats last year, and in the year with his most at-bats, 2006, he only hit .234 in his 197 AB’s. Howie Kendrick is good at second, but this will be his first year as a full-time starter, and he has no power whatsoever, and he barely takes any walks, as he only has 31 career walks and 968 career at-bats. Erick Aybar is also in his first full-time starting job and he will be their starting shortstop even though he only hit .277 with a .314 OBP along with only 3 HR’s and 39 RBI’s in 346 AB’s last season. 31-year-old third baseman Chone Figgins had a big decline last year and hit only .276 with 1 HR and 22 RBI’s in 453 at-bats. From 2007, Figgins’ only numbers that went up were games (by 1), at-bats (by 11), walks (by 11), and caught stealing (by 1, even though he had 6 less attempts than ’07). Mike Napoli has good power from behind the plate (20 HR’s and 49 RBI’s in just 227 at-bats last year), but he strikes out too many times, as he struck out 70 times last year, which equaled just about 31% of his at-bats. Their bullpen isn’t as good anymore, either, as Brian Fuentes just doesn’t match K-Rod, although he is still good. I think that the Angels will need some serious trade deadline help to get into the playoffs this year.

3. Oakland Athletics (2-3) – Last year the A’s scored the least amount of runs in the AL by 15 and had the worst batting average in all of baseball (.242). Their starting first baseman (Jason Giambi) had a .247 average last year, the 2B (Mark Ellis) had a .233 average, the 3B (Eric Chavez) hit .247, the SS (Orlando Cabrera) hit .281, the three outfielders (Matt Holliday, Ryan Sweeney, and Travis Buck) hit .321, .286, and .226, the DH (Jack Cust) hit .231, and the catcher (Kurt Suzuki) hit .271. The A’s have only one starter that hit .300 last year (Matt Holliday), and then nobody else even hit .290. That’s not enough offense. Their #1 starter (while Justin Duchscherer is injured), Dallas Braden, has only 150 innings of major league experience. The #2 starter has 5 innings of major league experience, the #3 starter has 238.1 innings of major league experience, the #4 starter has 6 innings of major league experience, and the #5 starter has 30 innings of major league experience. The pitcher with the most major league experience has less innings pitched in his career than Roy Halladay had last year. This team will be good, but it will take a couple years to get all of the pitchers developed.

4. Seattle Mariners (4-2) – Here are the Mariner players that had good years last year: Felix Hernandez and Jose Lopez. Here are the Mariner players I think will have good seasons this year: Felix Hernandez and Jose Lopez. And possibly Erik Bedard. Here are the players on this team that would be starters for the Rangers: Felix Hernandez and Erik Bedard. That pretty much sums up their whole team. Not very good. Last year the only AL team that scored less runs than the Mariners was the A’s. Last year the Mariners had the fourth highest ERA in the AL. They can’t hit and they can’t pitch. That’s not a very good combination.

AL Awards:
AL MVP: Josh Hamilton, TEX – If the Rangers win the division (like I think they will), I think that he will be the obvious choice, especially if he hits 40 HR’s and gets 125 RBI’s (like I think he will).

Cy Young Award: Kyle Davies, KC – Kyle had a great Spring Training and I don’t think he will stop. He has had the potential for a while, but I think that this will be the year that he breaks through.

Rookie of the Year: Elvis Andrus, TEX – He can run, he can field, he can hit. There isn’t too much competition this year that are starters at the beginning of the year, so I think that will help him win.


AL Round 1:

Minnesota Twins over New York Yankees:
I think that the injury bug will hit the Yankees hard and the Twins will be able to take advantage of it. The Yankees are an older team and will be tiring towards the end of the season, while the Twins are a younger team and should still have plenty of energy for the playoffs.

Tampa Bay Rays over Texas Rangers:
Pitching wins championships. The Rays have the better pitching here, although by 2010 it will be different, but for this year, it’s the Rays.

NL Round 1:

Florida Marlins over Chicago Cubs:
I think that this will be the pattern in the series: Emilio Bonifacio using his speed to get into scoring position, Hanley Ramirez driving him in. I think the Cubs need to go into the playoffs hot if they are going to win this series.

Philadelphia Phillies over San Francisco Giants:
The Phillies have much more playoff experience than the Giants, and I think that will pay off. The Giants don’t have much offense, and Randy Johnson would be the only pitcher in the playoff rotation with playoff experience, and if he was in his prime, they might still have a chance, but Randy Johnson is not in his prime, so I just don’t see it.


Tampa Bay Rays over Minnesota Twins:
The Rays have a deeper rotation than the Twins, even though Liriano might be better than all three of them. But the Twins will need some trade deadline help to make it to the World Series, in my opinion.


Florida Marlins over Philadelphia Phillies:
They will both know each other pretty well from being in the same division and I think that will help the Marlins more than the Phillies. If Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez return to form after injuries, which I think they will, the Marlins will have the better rotation and I would give them the edge in the series.

World Series:

Florida Marlins over Tampa Bay Rays:
I think that it will be a terrific pitching match-up in every single game of this all-Florida World Series, and the games would most likely all be low-scoring. I think that the Marlins will be able to put together a very good offensive output, though, if they could go into the series with a hot Hanley Ramirez and a hot Dan Uggla. If they can get that, then I think they will win the series.

Results of last week’s poll:
Who do you think will win the NL East?
Phillies – 37%
Mets – 25%
Braves – 18%
Marlins – 12%
Nationals – 6%

Come back next week for an interview with Rangers pitching prospect Tim Murphy.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

NL Season Predictions

The season is finally here. I saw my last game of spring training Friday night when the Rangers played the Royals at the Frisco RoughRiders’ ballpark. This was the fourth year they’ve played a spring training game there and it’s always a great experience. The ballpark was packed, the Rangers won, and Brandon McCarthy looked sharp. Also, I managed to get Omar Vizquel’s autograph before the game. You may remember that he was one of three players I needed an autograph from at spring training that I wasn’t able to get when I went to Surprise. That leaves me needing just Casey Daigle and Joe Torres. Torres will probably start the season in Frisco, so he should be easy to get, but the Rangers released Daigle last week. Anyway, now I’m ready for the season to begin. I’ll be at Opening Day tomorrow and can’t wait.

This week I will do my NL season predictions. I will predict the standings and the awards.


NL East:
1. Philadelphia Phillies – The Phillies have only two weaknesses, third base (Pedro Feliz) and catcher (Carlos Ruiz), which is less than the other teams in the division. They’ve got a strong rotation with Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, and Joe Blanton in the 1-4 spots. The opposing pitchers have to deal with Jimmy Rollins, then Jayson Werth, then Chase Utley, then Ryan Howard, then Raul Ibanez, and then Shane Victorino before getting to the bottom three spots of the lineup. The bullpen is solid with Brad Lidge as the closer, Ryan Madson, and, once he gets back from his suspension, J.C. Romero. The Phillies also had the 5th least amount of errors in the NL last year and I don’t see that changing.

2. Florida Marlins (wild card winner) – The Marlins’ infield is very, very good with Dan Uggla, one of the better second basemen in baseball, and Hanley Ramirez, who is very powerful, along with 40-steal capability speed, and great defense. He is a five-tool pitcher. They also have Jorge Cantu who picked his game up last year and hit 29 HR’s and 95 RBI’s. Jeremy Hermida in the outfield hit 17 home runs in just 142 games last year. In center field they have Cameron Maybin, a speedy prospect who is 9-for-9 in stolen base attempts in his career and last year went 16-for-32 at the plate. Their rotation also has a chance to be one of the best in baseball. It has Ricky Nolasco, who went 15-8 with a 3.52 ERA last year, and a healthy Josh Johnson, who went 12-7 with a 3.10 ERA in 2006 when he was healthy and then after coming back from an injury last season went 7-1 with a 3.61 ERA, in the 1-2 spots. They also have Chris Volstad, who went 6-4 with a 2.88 ERA in his first season in the majors in the number 3 spot, even though in some rotations he would be either the 1 or 2 starter. They finally have a healthy Anibal Sanchez back in the rotation, and the last time they had that, he went 10-3 with a 2.83 ERA (2006). He could be amazing this year if he stays healthy. Andrew Miller is the only weak spot in the rotation, as he went 6-10 with a 5.87 ERA last year. The Marlins’ rotation may be the best in baseball if healthy and I think that will carry them into the playoffs as the wild card.

3. New York Mets – While the Mets fixed their bullpen by getting JJ Putz and Francisco Rodriguez this offseason, their rotation after Johan Santana is not very good. Their #2 pitcher is Mike Pelfrey, who had a WHIP of 1.36 last year, not as good as you want your #2 starter to have. Oliver Perez has mental lapses, and Livan Hernandez had a 5.48 ERA last year with the Twins. John Maine allowed over 1 home run per 9 innings. Their offense is very good, but it’s hard to consistently win when you can count on a good pitching performance only one out of every five days.

4. Atlanta Braves – The Braves’ infield should be one of the best parts of the team with Chipper Jones at 3rd, Yunel Escobar at shortstop, Kelly Johnson at 2nd, and Casey Kotchman at 3rd. But the outfield is not very good, as Garrett Anderson’s skills are diminishing, Jeff Francoeur hit only .239 last year, and Jordan Schafer is a rookie with no major league experience at all. Derek Lowe (14-11, 3.24) and Jair Jurrjens (13-10, 3.68) are good 1-2 pitchers, but the number three pitcher, Javier Vazquez, went 12-16 with a 4.67 ERA last year. After that, the rotation is not very good at all. They have a playoff-worthy infield, but nothing else comes close to matching that.

5. Washington Nationals – The Nationals have holes in CF, 2B, C, SP, RP, closer, and, if last year is any indication, RF, possibly along with 1B and 3B if Nick Johnson and Ryan Zimmerman can’t come back from injury. John Lannan, Adam Dunn, and Christian Guzman are the only players who do not have big question marks. That will not win you a lot of games, and the Nationals will suffer because of it.

NL Central:
1. Chicago Cubs – First off, the Cubs had three 14-game winners last year (three more than the Rangers) and then Rich Harden. That is a pretty good starting rotation and I expect it to dominate. They have a great bullpen, too, with Jeff Samardzija, Aaron Heilman, and two closers in Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg. And then here’s their line-up:
1. Alfonso Soriano
2. Mike Fontenot
3. Derrek Lee
4. Milton Bradley
5. Aramis Ramirez
6. Kosuke Fukudome/Reed Johnson
7. Geovany Soto
8. Ryan Theriot
9. Pitcher
That is pretty good. Soriano, Lee, Bradley, and Ramirez can all be clean-up hitters, and they’re all on one team. It is a pretty weak division and I think there is no doubt they will win it.

2. Cincinnati Reds – The Reds are a young, up-and-coming team, and even though I think they’ll be just under .500, I think the other teams will be under .500, too. If Aaron Harang can come back and be in his 2007 form, when he went 16-6 with a 3.73 ERA in 231.2 innings, then they’ll have a pretty solid rotation with him, Edinson Volquez, Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto (really good prospect), and either Micah Owings or Homer Bailey (really good prospect). Every single one of them is capable of having an ERA under 4.00 if Cueto and Bailey can put it together and Arroyo can pitch like he did in 2006, when he had a 3.29 ERA. Joey Votto (.297 AVG, 24 HR, 84 RBI in rookie season last year), Brandon Phillips (.261 AVG, 21 HR, 78 RBI last season), and Jay Bruce (.254, 21 HR, 52 RBI in just 108 games in his rookie year last season) should all just get better. This offseason they traded for catcher Ramon Hernandez, who hit 15 home runs and 65 RBI’s last year. If Edwin Encarnacion can combine his past two seasons (had a .289 AVG and 76 RBI’s in ’07 and hit 26 HR’s in ’08) then he’ll be a very good player for the Reds. They also got Willy Tavares this off-season and Willy will add some speed, as he had 68 stolen bases last year and got caught only seven times. Alex Gonzalez will be healthy this year, so the Reds will have a better shortstop.

3. St. Louis Cardinals – Although both Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lohse are both good pitchers, the Cardinals just don’t have the depth in their rotation that Cincinnati has. The pitching depends way too much on Chris Carpenter, and that won’t work out very well when he gets injured again. Their infield is very weak other than Albert Pujols, as they have Skip Schumaker at second, Khalil Greene at short, and David Freese at third. They don’t have much depth at the catcher position, either, as Jason LaRue is their back-up. If Ankiel, Duncan, and Ludwick can play as well as last year (or, for Duncan, ’07), then they’ll have a pretty good outfield, but outfield won’t win you a division that has the Cubs in it.

4. Milwaukee Brewers – The Brewers have a terrible rotation, but somehow it is still better than Houston’s and Pittsburgh’s. Their #1 starter is Jeff Suppan, and even though that doesn’t match Roy Oswalt, I think that Yovani Gallardo will have a big year and really break through. Yovani had a 1.88 ERA in 24 innings last year after going 9-5 with a 3.67 ERA in 110.1 IP in 2007. Even if he doesn’t break through this year, they have Prince Fielder, Corey Hart, Ryan Braun, and JJ Hardy who can make up for that. They went out and signed Trevor Hoffman to close for them and once he gets off the DL he’ll be able to do that. Even though he’s not as good as he used to be, he’s still okay, not great, but okay, so he won’t blow too many saves.

5. Houston Astros – The Astros have the worst farm system in all of baseball. And one of the worst teams in all of baseball. And one of the worst rotations in baseball after Roy Oswalt. Their number 2 pitcher is Wandy Rodriguez. The Houston Astros’ #3 pitcher is Mike Hampton, who’s basically a guy to fill up the DL. Brandon Backe will probably take the #3 spot once he gets back from injury and when Mike Hampton goes out for the year with an injury. Their rotation finishes out with Brian Moehler and Russ Ortiz. They have a good middle of the lineup, though, with Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman, Hunter Pence, and Miguel Tejada. But they also have Michael Bourn starting, Geoff Blum starting, and Pudge starting. That is not a good enough team, even in this terrible division.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates – Here are the Pirates’ holes: SP, C, 1B, SS, 3B, LF, RF, and RP. That leaves 2B, CF, and closer. Those three spots won’t win you a whole lot of games. Ian Snell went 7-12 with a 5.42 ERA last year and he’s the Pirates second starter in the rotation. Zach Duke went 5-14 last year and had a 4.82 ERA. Ross Ohlendorf went 0-3 with a 6.35 ERA in only 22.2 innings last year and yet somehow he’s on the team. Jeff Karstens went 2-6 last year and he’s also in the rotation. And your closer can’t save a whole lot of games when you’re always losing. The Pirates are a sad franchise that will be sad again this year.

NL West:
1. San Francisco Giants – The Giants have the best rotation in the division, possibly the best in baseball. They have NL Cy Young Tim Lincecum to start it off, followed by Randy Johnson who pitched great for the Diamondbacks after his injury last year and is only 5 wins away from 300 career wins. Matt Cain is 3rd and he has had an ERA under 3.80 and over 200 IP in both of the last two seasons. He would be a #1 starter for some teams. Barry Zito is 4th and he only allowed 12 earned runs in 34.1 innings to end 2008, so he might (although probably not) get back to form this year. Jonathon Sanchez is the number five starter and even though he hasn’t pitched very well so far in his career, he definitely has the stuff to do so. But their offense is terrible with Travis Ishikawa at first, Emmanuel Burriss at second, Pablo Sandoval at third, and Fred Lewis in left. Their best hitters are Randy Winn, Aaron Rowand, Bengie Molina, and Edgar Renteria. Even though they won’t score many runs, their starting pitching will make up for that. And I also think that they will get some offensive help at the trade deadline.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers – The Dodgers’ pitching will be terrible this year, as they lost Derek Lowe and Brad Penny this offseason. Now their #1 starter is Hiroki Kuroda, a pitcher who went 9-10 and only threw 183.1 innings last year. Randy Wolf is behind him, and even though he pitched well in Houston after being traded, before the trade he went 6-10 with a 4.74 ERA in pitcher-friendly Petco Park (Padres), so the Dodgers’ pitcher-friendly park might not make a difference. Chad Billingsley should be good from the #3 spot and Clayton Kershaw could pitch amazingly, but that’s only two of the five pitchers, not four (or maybe five if Zito does well) out of five like the Giants. The Dodgers can definitely hit with Manny, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Casey Blake, Rafael Furcal, Orlando Hudson, James Loney, and Russell Martin, and that’s every spot but the pitcher’s spot. But even with this offense, they’re going to need to have some good pitching performances to win the division.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks – The D’Backs have a good 1-2 punch in the front-end of the rotation and both Doug Davis and Jon Garland can be solid, but I just don’t see them beating out the Dodgers or the Giants. Mark Reynolds, their starting 3rd baseman, struck out 204 times last year, Felipe Lopez is their starting 2nd baseman, Chad Tracy is their starting 1st baseman, Chris Snyder is their starting catcher, and Chad Qualls is their closer. They have plenty of strong spots, but too many gaping holes, especially at the closer spot, to win the division and make the playoffs.

4. Colorado Rockies – The Rockies are no longer a good team. I think Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez will be very good, but after them the rotation really doesn’t have much. And in their hitter-friendly ballpark, they don’t have the power to take advantage of that. Garrett Atkins is their only power hitter. The Rockies really don’t have a chance at winning this division.

5. San Diego Padres – The Padres start the rotation off well with Jake Peavy (10-11, 2.85 ERA) and Chris Young (7-6, 3.96 ERA), but then it drops off after that with Cha Seung Baek (6-9, 4.62 ERA), Walter Silva (rookie), and Kevin Correia (3-8, 6.05). Their good hitter is Adrian Gonzalez, which is not anywhere near enough, especially when Heath Bell is your closer. They are almost surely in last place.

NL Awards:
MVP: Ryan Howard, PHI: Ryan finished off last year strong and had a great spring. He led the majors this spring in home runs with 10, two more than anybody else, and he was third in RBI’s with 24 only behind Josh Hamilton and Micah Hoffpauir. He will start off the year hot and I don’t think he will cool off.

Cy Young: Cole Hamels, PHI: Cole is just one year older, one year more mature, and one year better. He has great stuff, good speed, and has a good defense behind him. He will dominate all year and I think he will be the obvious Cy Young award winner.

Rookie of the Year: Chris Dickerson, CIN: Chris will be starting in left field for the Reds this year and I think he will do well. Last year in just 102 at-bats and 31 games, he hit .304 with 6 HR’s, 15 RBI’s, and a .413 OBP, and I think those numbers will just go up.

Manager of the Year: Fredi Gonzalez, FLA: If the Marlins make the playoffs, which I think will happen, he’s the obvious winner in my opinion.

Results of last week’s poll:
Who do you think will win the AL East?
Red Sox – 43%
Rays – 31%
Yankees – 18%
Orioles – 6%
Blue Jays – 0%

Come back next week for my AL predictions and my playoff predictions. And, the week after that, I’ll be posting an interview with Rangers pitching prospect Tim Murphy.