Thursday, March 31, 2011
Considering my penthouse view of the Cincinnati Opening Day parade (kind of cool to watch it from above), it’s good to see baseball’s back in action. Although considering it was snowing yesterday here, it doesn’t feel like baseball season. So for all you people who skipped out of work in order to catch a parade, a game, or just lounge around all day drinking beer and watching America’s pastime, here we go.
AL East: Boston Red Sox - Ya know, for a team that prided themselves on NOT being the Yankees for eleventy billion years, the Red Sox sure have started doing a pretty good annual impersonation of the Bronx Bombers. Back in 2004, when the Sox finally won the title, I was pretty happy for them and my good friend JShy, a lifelong Sox fan. And that's even with the fact that they beat my Cards in the Series. But now they're just as, if not more so, annoying than the Yanks. But sadly, I can't see any team taking them down this year in the AL East. The Jays and O's are a few years away from contending, the Rays don't have the firepower, and the Yanks just don't seem to be on the Sox' level. The lineup is the best in baseball, and the pitching staff is loaded, both with starters and relievers. If they can stay healthy, they're going to win 100 games.
AL Central: Chicago White Sox - It kills be to pick this team, because I can already hear my college buddy Fetta calling me to tell me what a genius I am for picking his team to win the division. As much as I don't want to pick them, I don't see anyone else stepping up and taking the crown. The Royals and Indians suck. The Twins did nothing to improve in the offseason and who knows if Mauer and Morneau will ever stay healthy. The Tigers don't have enough firepower to supplement Mr. Alcy Miguel Cabrera. I really like the moves the Pale Hose pulled in the offseason, especially the signing of Adam Dunn. He could hit 50 HR's in US Cellular Field, but you know he's good for at least 40. The staff is deep, and if Jake Peavy can stay healthy, this team is going to make a deep October run.
AL West: Oakland A's - Some, if not all of you, are going to think I'm crazy for this pick. But I don't care, I have Tiger Blood running through my veins. In my big splash pick of the year, I like the A's to be this year's San Francisco Giants. Their rotation reminds me a lot of the Giants, with Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, and Dallas Braden all having the capability of holding teams to one or two runs on a more than regular basis. With Brian Fuentes taking the closer role, this pitching staff is one of the best in baseball, and will be for sometime. The lineup is not imposing, but they can manufacture runs and play small ball with the best of 'em. Look for a lot of 3-1, 2-0, 2-1 victories this season as the A's overtake the Rangers for the AL West title.
NL East: Philadelphia Phillies - I really wanted to pick the Braves here because everybody and their mother is picking the Phils, but I just can't. The Phillies have a loaded lineup, and a once in a lifetime starting rotation. The usual suspects are back in the field for the Phils with Rollins, Ibanez, and Howard. With the Roys (Halladay and Oswalt), Cliff Lee, and the best fourth starter in baseball, Cole Hamels, how is anyone going to stop this team except God himself by inflicting injuries. *** Writers note: God, I'm okay if you make that happen, and would prefer if it did while one of them was slamming a Geno's cheesesteak *** Some are worried about injuries to Brad Lidge and Chase Utley, but something tells me this team will be just fine beginning in about mid-May.
NL Central: Milwaukee Brewers - If Wainwright doesn't go down for the season, I'm picking the Cards here (Hear me sighing? You should). The Brewers made some great moves in the offseason. I'm not too worried about the injury to Zach Greinke, who should be back early in the season. Either way, Shawn Marcum, Yovani Gallardo, and Randy Wolf should be able to weather the storm until that happens. With bash brothers Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun leading a solid lineup, I like the Brew Crew to edge out the Cincinnati Redlegs in a close division race.
NL West: Colorado Rockies - Toughest call here, as I don't think that the loser of this division gets the Wild Card. The pitching staff isn't that solid behind Ubaldo Jimenez, but pitching becomes super important in the playoffs. Runs however, can get you to the playoffs, and the Rockies can hit. The lineup in run-friendly Coors Field is impressive with franchise face Todd Helton and MVP candidates Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. I think the Giants suffer a hangover year after the World Series title and the Rockies edge them out in yet another close race. No other NL West team comes close to challenging for the title.
AL Wildcard: Texas Rangers - I really think losing Cliff Lee to the Phillies and Vlad Guerrero to the O's hurts this team, but not enough to push them out of the playoffs. They still have the firepower in the lineup with Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus. And the staff is still strong behind the arms of C.J. Wilson, Derek Holland, and Neftali Feliz. If Brandon Webb returns to Cy Young form, expect the Rangers to win the division. But I don't think that's going to happen, so the Rangers will settle into the Wild Card, edging out the Yanks and the Twins in an EXTREMELY close race.
NL Wildcard: Cincinnati Reds - Tough call here between the Reds and Braves. I literally flipped a coin, and since the parade is going on and I live in Cincinnati, I decided to give it to the Reds. Their lineup was the most potent in baseball last year, and the pitching staff is deep. Their starters are injury plagued for the beginning of the season, but they have about 17 starters on the roster. I don't expect either Joey Votto or Johnny Gomes to repeat their numbers for last year, but I think Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs have breakout seasons. They won't repeat the division, but this team is primed to contend for NL Central titles for years to come.
ALDS: Red Sox over Rangers; White Sox. The Red Sox overwhelm the Rangers with their arms and their bats and coast to a sweep. The White Sox edge out the A's in a low-scoring, tense series that goes five games.
NLDS: Reds over Rockies; Phillies over Brew Crew. The Reds and Rockies duke it out in a high scoring slugfest, but the Reds pitching staff shuts down the Rockies in Game 5. The Phillies' bats get to the Crew's pitchers, and the Phillies' arms shut the Crew's bats down, as the Phils coast to a sweep.
ALCS: White Sox over Red Sox. The Red Sox pitchers just can't get it done, and the White Sox pitchers rise to the occasion, shutting down the Red Sox bats in the last two games of a very close six game series.
NLCS: Phillies over Reds. Anyone remember what happened last year? Roy Halladay threw a no-hitter in Game 1 and the Reds were shut out again in Game 3 as they got manhandled by the Phillies. Expect a repeat performance as the Reds need to find another team to play in the postseason.
World Series: Phillies over White Sox. In a closer than you think series, the Phillies pitching staff just overpowers the White Sox in Games 6 and 7 to take home their second World Series title in four years and continue their dominance over the rest of the National League.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Manager: Bruce Bochy
Last Year: 92-70
Offseason losses: Jose Guillen, OF (FA); Fred Lewis, OF (Cincinnati); Chris Ray, RHP (FA); Edgar Renteria, SS (Cincinnati); Juan Uribe, SS (Los Angeles Dodgers); Eugenio Velez, OF (FA).
Offseason additions: Miguel Tejada, SS (San Diego)
Best offseason move: Miguel Tejada coming over to replace Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria at SS is a good move for San Francisco. He’s a veteran presence with some power still left in his bat. While only playing 58 games at SS last year (93 at 3B, 4 as DH), he’ll return to regular infield duty.
Worst offseason move: Not figuring out what to do with Aaron Rowand. Andres Torres emerged last year and has the CF duties locked down. Pat Burrell figures to start in left field, leaving Rowand as a $10M per year insurance policy. While he figures to get a few starts here and there, that’s quite a hefty price to pay for a bench player.
Pitching: Other than some issues in middle relief, the Giants have a tremendous pitching staff. Led by aces Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, along with Madison Burngarner (all former 1st round draft picks), and fireball closer Brian Wilson, who unfortunately will begin the year on the DL, the Giants shouldn’t have much trouble getting production from this staff. Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito round out the starting rotation. Jeremy Affeldt, Gueillermo Mota, Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo, Ramon Ramirez, and Santiago Casilla head up the bullpen.
Lineup: Aubrey Huff and Pablo Sandoval are the only returning starters from opening day in 2010. GM Brian Sabean figures to make a few more moves to add potent hitting to the lineup, so don’t be concerned that the Giants were only 17th in runs scored and 15th and team batting average last year. Buster Posey came on like gangbusters behind the plate, and Huff and Sandoval have 1B and 3B covered respectively. Burrell, Torres, and mid-season pickup Cody Ross will patrol the outfield. Miguel Tejada and Freddy Sanchez will field up the middle at SS and 2B.
Biggest question this year: A simple one here, do the Giants have what it takes to repeat as World Series Champs? I’d like to think they can. They certainly have the starting rotation to make it back to the postseason. If they can figure out how to get from the starting rotation to closer Brian Wilson, once he returns, they’ll be in good shape there. I wouldn’t count on GM Sabean to stand pat on his every-day lineup either, and I expect another bat or two will find their way to San Francisco at some point during the season.
Outlook: The Giants have an outstanding starting rotation (1st in ERA, saves, and opponents BA, .236) and they were in the middle of the pack in just about every offensive category, save for stolen bases. If the Giants can add some more power to go with Buster Posey, Aubrey Huff, and Cody Ross, they could certainly repeat again. You’d like to see them with a little more speed so Bruce Bochy can manufacture more runs. All things considered, to me, it seems like the Philadelphia Phillies will once again be the main competition facing the Giants on the road back to the World Series.
Predicted finish this year: 1st N.L. West
Team: Colorado Rockies
Manager: Jim Tracy
Last Year: 83-79
Offseason losses: Clint Barmes, 2B (trade, Houston); Joe Beimel, LHP (FA); Manny Corpas, RHP (released); Manny Celcarmen, RHP (FA); Ocavtio Dotel, RHP (FA); jeff Francis, LHP (FA); Jason Giambi, 1B (FA); Melvin Mora, 3B (Arizona); Miguel Olivo, C (trade, Toronto); Jay Payton, OF (FA); Paul Phillips, C (Cleveland).
Offseason additions: Matt Lidstrom, RHP (trade, Houston); Jose Lopez, 3B (trade, Seattle), Jose Morales, C (trade, Minnesota); Felipe Paulino, RHP (trade, Houston); Ty Wiggington, 1B (Baltimore).
Best offseason move: Acquiring 1B Ty Wiggington from the Orioles was a solid move for the Rockies. While he’ll be used in a utility role, thanks to Todd Helton’s presence at first base, Wiggington gives the Rockies a right handed bat in a lineup that’s filled with lefty’s. He should get a few starts at 1B to spell Helton, and he should get plenty of opportunities to pinch hit and play some at 3B.
Worst offseason move: Trading 2B Clint Barmes to Houston. The Rockies couldn’t workout a new deal with Barmes, so they sent him packing to the Astros. They’ll miss his dependable glove at 2B. Taking over will be Jose Lopez, who batted .239 for the Mariners last season, knocking in 58 runs. While his offensive production is similar to Barmes’, it remains to be seen if he’ll have the same defensive prowess, something the Rockies pitching staff is reliant on.
Pitching: Speaking of pitching, the Rockies have some very talented arms. Ubaldo Jimenez, Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin, Aaron Cook, and Jason Hammel give the Rockies 5 solid starting pitchers. Felipe Paulino and Esmil Rogers give the Rockies some options as emergency starters and solid long-relief options in the pen. Matt Lidstrom can provide a closing role if Huston Street is injured again. Rafael Betancourt, Matt Belisle, Franklin Morales, and Matt Reynolds round out the bullpen.
Lineup: The Rockies have a lot of homegrown talent in their every-day lineup to go with their two stars, Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, who is one of the homegrown guys. Going with Tulowitzki are C Chris Iannetta, 3B Ian Stewart, RF Seth Smith, 1B Todd Helton, and CF Dexter Fowler. Gonzalez and Tulowitzki, along with Todd Helton, will carry the Rockies offense at the Coors Field launching pad.
Biggest question this year: Can the Rockies put it all together? If the pitching staff stays healthy, and the key starters don’t have injuries, I expect the Rockies to make a strong run at the N.L. wild-card spot. While I don’t think they have all the pieces to keep pace with the Giants, especially with a rebuilt bullpen, they can certainly over take San Diego and Los Angeles in the N.L. West.
Outlook: Ubaldo Jimenez gives the Rockies a bonafide ace, and if he can keep up his consistency over the whole season, not just half, he’ll be in Cy Young contention. Keep Jorge De La Rosa was a good move. If the Rockies can continue to get production out of Todd Helton and Carlos Gonzalez in addition to keep Troy Tulowitzki healthy, why have the potential to make some serious noise out west.
Predicted finish this year: 2nd N.L. West
Team: Los Angeles Dodgers
Manager: Don Mattingly
Last Year: 80-82
Offseason losses: Brad Ausmus, C (retired); Reed Johnson, OF (FA); Russell Martin C, (New York Yankees); Scott Podsednik, OF (FA); George Sherrill, LHP (Atlanta); Ryan Theriot 2B (trade, St. Louis); Jeff Weaver, RHP (FA).
Offseason additions: Jon Garland, RHP (San Diego); Matt Guerrier, RHP (Minnesota); Tony Gwynn, OF (San Diego); Blake Hawksworth, RHP (trade, St. Louis); Dioner Navarro, C (Tampa Bay); Juan Uribe, 2B (San Francisco).
Best offseason move: Signing John Garland away from division rival San Diego. The addition of Garland, along with re-signing some of their own pitchers, gives the Dodgers a solid starting rotation. Garland is a veteran right-hander that won 14 games, pitched 200 innings, and tossed 136 strikeouts in 2010. His addition gives the Dodgers another solid starter.
Worst offseason move: Losing C Russell Martin hurts. He handled their pitching staff pretty well, and it will be tough for Rod Barajas to replicate that performance. Martin’s bat won’t be missed all that much, but his defense and ability to call a game will be.
Pitching: The Dodgers have a starting rotation that’s in that upper tier with Philadelphia and San Francisco. Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda, and Jon Garland give them an excellent 1-5 staff. Kershaw and Lilly give them two lefties with good stuff. Jonathan Broxton has big-time closer stuff, and he’ll have to respond well to new manager Don Mattingly. Hong-Chih Kuo gives them another option to close if needed. Matt Gurrier was a great pickup from Minnesota - he’s had at least 70 appearances in 4 straight seasons. Vincete Padilla, Carlos Monasterios, Kenley Jansen, Ronald Belisario, and Ramon Troncoso round out the bullpen.
Lineup: Adding Juan Uribe at 2B is a nice addition. The Dodgers still have plenty of hitters to go with him. RF Andre Either is one of the best players you’ve never heard about. He’s joined in the outfield by Matt Kemp and John Gibbons. Casey Blake and Rafael Furcal man the left side of the infield and veteran Rod Barajas takes over for Russell Martin behind the plate. Tony Gwynn Jr, and a C Dioner Navarro provide some depth for the Dodgers.
Biggest question this year: How will Don Mattingly be as a manager? It’s always tough for first-time managers, and it will be no different for Mattingly. The Dodgers have win-now expectations, and rightfully so with their pitching. Mattingly will be under some pressure to produce a team that betters last year’s 80-82 record. The Dodgers should, and I emphasize “should”, be able to give the Giants a run in the N.L. West, but I don’t think that will come to fruition.
Outlook: With a solid pitching staff and decent batting order, the Dodgers have potential. But when you mix in a new manager and take away a catcher who knew that starting lineup, you get some issues. The Dodgers have the pieces, but it remains to be seen how they’ll all be put together. I think the Dodgers will be better than last year’s team record-wise, but I’m not sure they’ll have what it takes to overtake not only San Francisco, but Colorado as well.
Predicted finish this year: 3rd N.L. West
Team: San Diego Padres
Manager: Bud Black
Last Year: 90-72
Offseason losses: Kevin Corriea, RHP (Pittsburgh); David Eckstein, 2B (FA); Jon Garland, RHP (Los Angeles Dodgers); Adrian Gonzalez, 1B (trade Boston); Tony Gwynn Jr, OF (Los Angeles Dodgers); Jerry Hairston, SS (FA); Scott Hairston, OF (FA); Edward Mujica, RHP (Florida); Matt Stairs, OF (Washington); Miguel Tejada, SS (San Francisco); Yorvit Torrealba, C (Texas); Chris Young, RHP (FA); Ryan Webb, RHP (trade, Florida); Adam Russell, RHP (trade, Tampa Bay); Cesar Ramos, LHP (trade, Tampa Bay).
Offseason additions: Jason Bartlett, SS (trade, Tampa Bay); Aaron Harang, RHP (Cincinnati); Jarrett Hoffpauir, 3B (Toronto); Orlando Hudson, 2B (Minnesota); Rob Johnson, C (Seattle); Cameron Maybin, OF (Florida); Dustin Moeseley, RHP (New York Yankees); Eric Patterson, OF (trade, Boston); Brad Hawpe, 1B (Tampa Bay).
Best offseason move: Acquiring former Marlins CF Cameron Maybin. The 23 year old outfield has tons of talent, but he’s already had two prior teams - Detroit and Florida. The hope is that Maybin will do for San Diego what Carlos Gonzalez did for the Rockies a year ago. He’ll have to improve a lot upon his .234 average from 2010 to do that.
Worst offseason move: Losing 1B Adrian Gonzalez. I shouldn’t really have to explain this one, but losing his .298 average, 31 HR and 101 RBI definitely hurts the Padres. To make matters worse, there’s really no talent at all to replace him in the lineup. Even if everyone were to peak this season offensively, the Padres will still have a tough, tough time replacing his production.
Pitching: Mat Latos is the ace here, and he’ll be relied upon more heavily this year with losing Kevin Correia and John Garland out of the starting rotation. Aaron Harang comes over from the Reds, but he’s been a shell of himself since making the All-Star game a few years back. He’ll eat up innings, but won’t do much else. Clayton Richard, Tim Stauffer, and Cory Luebke round out the starting rotation. Heath Bell is back as closer, but a ton of bullpen depth is gone from last year. Luke Gregerson, Mike Adams, Dustin Moseley, Joe Thatcher, and Ernesto Frieri will try to pick up the slack in the pen.
Lineup: Again, losing Gonzalez hurts. Replacing him at first will be Brad Hawpe. Orlando Hudson at 2B, Jason Bartlett at SS, and Chase Headley round out the infield. Nick Hundley will be the man behind the plate. Joining CF Cameron Maybin in the outfield will be Ryan Ludwick and Will Venable. Even with Gonzalez last year, the Padres were pretty woeful when up to bat. They finished 28th in team average with a .246 clip. But, when they did get on, they could manufacture runs and were 6th in stolen bases with 126. Look for Bud Black to try to squeeze out every run he possibly can from this lineup. They’ll need them.
Biggest question this year: How do the Padres overcome all of the changes from last year? Losing your top offensive player, two starting pitchers, and most of your bullpen depth is a lot to overcome. The Padres were one of the surprise teams in baseball last year. It’d be an even bigger surprise if they played as well this year. Bud Black will have to be Manager of the Year again to keep the Padres in the wild-card race. They simply don’t seem to have the components to get the job done.
Outlook: This year looks pretty grim for the Padres. They lost a lot of key parts to last year’s team. They play in a pitcher’s park, which hopefully takes out some of the sting from losing Gonzalez’s offensive production. They’re banking an awful lot on CF Cameron Maybin, who just hasn’t been what the Tigers envisioned he could be when they used a 1st round pick on him . That said, they can at least thank the Diamondbacks for not finishing last…I think.
Predicted finish this year: 4th N.L. West
Team: Arizona Diamondbacks
Manager: Kirk Gibson
Last Year: 65-97
Offseason losses: Kris Benson, RHP (FA); Blaine Boyer, RHP (FA); D.J. Carrasco, RHP (New York Mets); Ryan Church, OF (FA); Mike Hampton, LHP (FA); Aaron Heilman, RHP (FA); Adam LaRoche, 1B (FA); Rodrigo Lopez, RHP (FA); Augie Ojeda, 2B (FA); Mark Reynolds 3B (trade, Baltimore); Rusty Ryal, OF (released); Brandon Webb, RHP (Texas).
Offseason additions: Henry Blanco, C (New York Mets); Geoff Blum, 1B Houston); Zach Duke, LHP (trade, Pittsburgh); David Hernandez, RHP (trade, Baltimore); Kam Mickolio, RHP (trade, Baltimore); Juan Miranda, 1B (trade, New York Yankees); Melvin Mora, 3B (Colorado); Xavier Nady, OF (Chicago Cubs); J.J. Putz, RHP (Chicago White Sox).
Best offseason move: Signing J.J. Putz. Puts gives the D-Backs a solid closer to hopefully end Arizona’s run of 4 closers in 4 years. Putz was the setup man for the White Sox last year, and struck out 65 in 64 innings. Putz did have 76 saves in the 2006 and 2007 seasons. He should solidify, or will at least attempt to, the D-Backs bullpen.
Worst offseason move: Not re-signing Brandon Webb. Webb signed with the Rangers and takes with him one of the most talented arms on the D-Backs staff. Granted, he’s missed two season with shoulder surgery, he might have been another big piece to the puzzle of getting the D-Backs out of the N.L. West cellar. The former Cy Young award winner could’ve helped the starting rotation, but GM Kevin Towers is banking that he won’t be missed.
Pitching: Losing Webb aside, the D-Backs starting rotation will consist of Joe Saunders, Daniel Hudson, Ian Kennedy, Barry Enright, and Zach Duke. Putz will take over the closer’s role allowing Jose Gutierrez to take over the setup role, which he’ll be more comfortable with. David Hernandez, Kam Mickolio, Sam Dernel, Esmerling Vasquez, and Joe Patterson should round out the bullpen. Patterson, is one of the few lefties in the pen.
Lineup: The D-Backs will rely on young star Justin Upton again in RF, and he’s got a lot of new help this year. Chris Young and Xavier Nady will round out the outfield with Upton. Brandon Allen, Kelly Johnson, Stephen Drew, and Melvin Mora will take the infield spots from first to third and Miguel Montero will be the man behind the plate. The D-Backs were 6th in homers last year with 180 and ranged from 10-20 in most major offensive categories. Stolen bases were low with only 86 last year.
Biggest Question this year: How will Kirk Gibson do in his first full year as manager? Coming from an interim role last year, Gibson will have some experienced coaches alongside him in the dugout. Don Baylor, Charles Nagy, Matt Williams, Eric Young, and Alan Trammell bring a wealth of experience. GM Kevin Towers comes over from San Diego, and has rebuilt the D-Backs bullpen, but not to the same quality that he had with the Padres.
Outlook: This could be the year the D-Backs finally climb back out of the cellar. They have some decent pitching, both in the starting rotation and in the bullpen, but they’ll have to put it all together with their lineup, which will be considerably different form last year’s squad. I have a feeling this team could sneak up on a few people, and I imagine they might be a lot like Houston was last year. A team that’s tough, plays you tough, and will be one that you won’t want to see down the stretch.
Predicted finish this year: 5th N.L. West
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Manager: Dusty Baker
Last year: 91-71
Offseason losses: Willie Bloomquist, OF (FA); Orlando Cabrera, SS (FA); Jim Edmonds, OF (FA); Aaron Harang, RHP (San Diego); Mike Lincoln, RHP (FA); Corky Miller, C (FA); Laynce Nix, OF (FA); Arthur Rhodes, LHP (Texas); Russ Springer, RHP (FA).
Offseason additions: Dontrelle Willis, LHP (Arizona); Fred Lewis, OF (San Francisco); Edgar Renteria, SS (San Francisco)
Best Offseason Move: The Reds best offseason move was retaining their key players. They extended reigning N.L. MVP Joey Votto prior to arbitration (3 years, $38M), RF Jay Bruce (6 years, $51M), pitcher Johnny Cueto (4 years, $26M), (2 years, $23.5M). In doing so, the Reds keep Votto at first base, teamed with right fielder Jay Bruce, and get to keep two of their inning-eater pitchers in Cueto (185.2 IP) and Arroyo (215.2 IP).
Worst Offseason Move: Not getting another bat. The Reds added experienced veteran SS Edgar Renteria for depth purposes, as well as quick, young OF Fred Lewis, but the Reds failed to to get another big bat in the lineup. There’s no guarantee they come out guns blazing like they did last year, especially with guys like 3B Scott Rolen and LF Jonny Gomes who both petered out as the year went on. CF Drew Stubbs and RF Jay Bruce were anything but consistent throughout the whole season.
Pitching: The Reds have plenty of talented young arms to go with solid veteran and staff leader Bronson Arroyo. Two starters, Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey will start the year on the 15-day DL, and Mike Leake and Sam LeCure, both of whom started games last year, will be temporary fill-ins before shifting back to the bullpen. The Reds are deep with veteran closer Francisco Cordero and have two excellent setup men in Nick Massett and Cuban-fireballer Aroldis Champan. There have been whispers that the Reds may try to move one or more of their starters to allow Chapman to eventually ease his way into the 5th spot in the rotation.
Lineup: The Reds return every starter from the 2010 Central Division Champion lineup except SS Orlando Cabrera. Paul Janish will likely take over the reins there, and won’t have much of a drop-off in fielding. Their infield, consisting of Votto, 2B Brandon Phillips, Janish, and Rolen is very good. Bruce and Stubbs both have good arms in the outfield, but are prone to misreading balls on occasion. Jonny Gomes is only slightly better than Adam Dunn once was in LF, but he brings some pop to the batting order. Expect to see plenty of Edgar Renteria and Miguel Cairo spelling Janish and Rolen on the left side of the infield. Hot prospect Yonder Alonso seems like a lost man and could be trade bait, but the Cincy faithful should fully expect to see young C Devin Mesoraco taking over one spot in the rotation between Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan by midseason.
Biggest question this season: Consistency will be the biggest question facing the Reds this year. Their starting rotation is already down two starters to start the year and MVP Joey Votto had a sluggish spring. There’s no guarantee that Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs carry over their season ending hitting surges, and they’ll be hard-pressed to get the same production out of Scott Rolen and Jonny Gomes. Brandon Phillips should be fully recovered from his broken hand, but there are those who question if he’s started the downward slop of his career.
Outlook: All things considered, the Reds pitching staff is one of, if not the deepest in baseball and the young arms of Travis Wood, Johnny Cueto, and Homer Bailey should be even better this year. Edinson Volquez seems to have recaptured his stuff after coming off Tommy-John surgery, and the bullpen, which struggled some in the spring, is very deep. If they can keep hitting in the friendly confines of Great American Ball Park, they’ll be the favorites in the Central again, but it’s tough to envision them making much noise in the postseason; at least this year.
Predicted finish this year: 1st N.L. Central
***Thanks to guest blogger Jamie McCourt for contributing the Milwaukee Brewers preview***
Team: Milwaukee Brewers
Coach: Ron Roenicke (1st year)
Last year: 77-85
Offseason losses: Lorenzo Cain (trade), Alcides Escobar (trade), Joe Inglett (free agent), Jim Edmonds (free agent), Gregg Zaun (free agent), Carlos Villanueva (free agent), Dave Bush (free agent), Trevor Hoffman (retirement), Chris Capuano (free agent), Jody Gerut (free agent)
Offseason additions: Shaun Marcum (trade), Zach Greinke (trade), Yunieski Betancourt (trade), Takashi Saito (free agent), Mark Kotsay (free agent), Sean Green (free agent)
Best Offseason Move: Zach Greinke may seem like the big prize, but the saaviest move was acquiring Shaun Marcum from the Toronto Blue Jays for 2008 first round draft pick Brett Lawrie. While he may have been considered a top three in the Brewers' system, he seemed to be a man without a position. The Brewers have already had to address this issue with Ryan Braun and now face the same issue with Mat Gamel. Lawrie was a relatively small price for a pitcher that is under team control for two more years, had a 3.45 ERA pitching in the AL East last year, hails from the Midwest and is open to an extension to stay in the area.
Worst Offseason Move: As mentioned before, the Grienke was the big prize, but he came at an enormous price. Starting tookie shortstop and glove phenom Alcides Escobar, young centerfielder Lorenzo Cain and top two pitching prospects Jeremy Jefress and Jake Odorizzi were the king's ransom it took to land the former Cy Young winner. The Brewers also took back Yunieski Betancourt, who some believe is the worst everyday player in the majors. If Greinke leads Milwaukee to the playoffs, it is well worth it. If not, the effects of the deal will be felt for years.
Pitching: When everyone is healthy, the starting rotation should jump from one of the worst five to one of the best five in the NL. Gallardo can slot into the #2 spot behind Greinke where he fits better than at the top. Marcum becomes possibly the best #3 in the division and Randy Wolf moves from #2 into the back half with Chris Narveson. The addition of Takashi Saito should bring some experience to an otherwise young bullpen with surprise anchor (and the best mustache in baseball) John Axford. This group was above average already last season and only fell off when innings mounted from poor starter production.
Lineup: There is plenty of production in this lineup that scored the fourth most runs last year and returns mostly in tact. Three 100+ RBI producers return, and Prince Fielder isn't even one of them (only 83 RBI last year). Unfortunately, the lineup is pretty thin behind Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks and Casey McGehee. Betancourt, Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy all posted OBP numbers of .300 or below. Fortunately, the Brewers starting rotation may carry the best bats in the NL to boost the bottom of the lineup.
Biggest question this season: While health has been a major issue this spring headlined by a cracked rib for Greinke (playing basketball), the elephant in the room is defense. Gomez is a strong centerfielder and that's probably the only reason his bat stays in the lineup. Braun is a converted 3B in left and Corey Hart has never been described as strong defensively in left. Prince Fielder and Casey McGehee have strong gloves but limited range on the corners to say the least. Weeks doesn't get to as many balls as you might expect and sometimes botches the easy play and Betancourt had the worst UZR of any infielder last season at -10. Expect a hearty dose of the sure-gloved veteran Craig Counsell at the end of games.
Outlook: The pieces are certainly all there to contend in an NL Central that may be a bit down. If early season health concerns and a suspect defense can be overcome, then lookout for this group. New manager Ron Roenicke is getting rave reviews out of Arizona and promises to be even more aggressive with this high octane offense. When this team is firing on all cylinders, it has the pieces to contend with anyone.
Predicted finish this year: 2nd NL Central
Team: St. Louis Cardinals
Manager: Tony La Russa
Last Year: 86-76
Offseason losses: Pedro Feliz, 3B (FA); Blake Hawksworth, RHP (trade, Los Angeles Dodgers); Jason LaRue, C (retired); Mike MacDougal, RHP (FA); Joe Mather, OF (Atlanta); Aaron Miles, 3B (FA); Brad Penny, RHP (FA); Dennys Reyes, LHP (FA); Brendan Ryan, SS (trade, Seattle); Jeff Suppan, RHP (FA); Randy Winn, OF (FA).
Offseason additions: Lance Berkman, RF (New York Yankees); Gerald Laird, C (Detroit); Brian Tallet, LHP (Toronto); Raul valdes, RHP (New York Mets).
Best offseason move: The Cardinals signed a pair of solid free agents in RF Lance Berkman and SS Ryan Theriot to solidify their starting lineup. The Cardinals, with the addition of Berkman’s bat, have a powerful lineup, but must deal with consistency issues. Late last year they had stretches of fantastic output followed by stagnant offense, as evidenced in a horrendous five week stretch which saw St. Louis win just two series in August and September.
Worst offseason move: I don’t think there’s any question about this – in fact it might be one of the worst moves by any MLB club from this offseason, but not re-signing 1B Albert Pujols will bring about questions all year long. While Pujols, a consummate pro, has all the cards, so to speak, in this scenario – he can veto any trade scenario, and will become a free agent after this season. While I have a hard time imagining him in any other uniform, it’s certainly telling that the two sides couldn’t work out a deal prior to this year, thus putting the Cardinals long-term outlook in jeopardy.
Pitching: For my money, Adam Wainwright is the best pitcher in the N.L. not named Roy Halladay, and losing him for the season to a right elbow injury will cost St. Louis dearly. Keeping Jake Westbrook, along with Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, and Kyle Lohse still give the Cardinals a potent starting rotation, even without Wainwright. That said, a lot will be riding on guys like Garcia and Lohse to improve upon their performance from last year. Kyle McClellan will take the open spot in the starting rotation. Closer Ryan Franklin is a clubhouse leader and will help mentor a young bullpen consisting of Mitchell Boggs, Trever Miller, Jason Motte, Brian Tallet, and Brian Augenstein.
Lineup: The Cardinals have plenty of firepower in the lineup with Albert Pujols, LF Matt Holliday, Berkman, and CF Colby Rasmus. 3B David Freese looked solid in 70 games last year, batting .296, and the keystone combination of Ryan Theriot and Skip Schumaker gives the Cardinals solid defense up the middle, but the team could stand to improve upon last year’s .984 fielding percentage.
Biggest question this season: Will St. Louis be able to manufacture enough runs to overcome the loss of ace Adam Wainwright? The Cardinals certainly have the bats to hit the long ball, 150 HRs in 2010, and they were 9th in the MLB in team batting with a team average of .263. However, the team was 14th in runs scored (736), 15th in RBIs (689), and 22nd in stolen bases (79). Tony La Russa will have to find ways to get more offensive production for the Cardinals to make a move in the Central.
Outlook: The Cardinals with Adam Wainwright can contend with anyone, and if not for his injury, I think I’d have a very tough time not picking them to win the division. That said, with such inconsistent offensive production at the end of the 2010 season, and a young bullpen, I think they’ll struggle to maintain their lofty standards this year. However, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they won the division, they just have that kind of talent; it just needs to be more consistent.
Predicted finish this year: 3rd N.L. Central
Team: Chicago Cubs
Manager: Mike Quade
Last Year: 75-87
Offseason losses: Micah Hoffpauir, 1B (released); Xavier Nady, 1B (Arizona
Offseason additions: Carlos Pena, 1B (Tampa Bay); Kerry Wood, RHP (New York Yankees); Matt Garza, RHP (Tampa Bay).
Best offseason move: The Cubs signed 1B Carlos Pena away from the Rays to succeed Derrek Lee. Pena, 32, most prove he hasn’t lost his touch at the plate, and the Cubs are eager to see if he can add a 4th season of 100+ RBI (despite never having 500 at bats in a season). However, Pena’s production slipped last year as he managed only 84 RBI.
Worst offseason move: The Matt Garza trade. While Garza himself will make the Cubs better, they have an aging lineup as it is, and just traded away OF Sam Fuld, and 4 minor league prospects - but the Cubs aren’t exactly a “win now” type of contender. Gone are RHP Chris Archer, SS Hak-Ju Lee, IF Robinson Chirinos, and OF Brandon Guyer. According to the Baseball America rankings, the Cubs are sending over 3 of their top 10 minor league prospects in exchange for Garza.
Pitching: As mentioned, losing Silva hurts. Garza and Zambrano head up a rotation along with Ryan Dempster, Randy Wells, and Tom Gorzelanny, which sounds alright. However, the pitching in the Friendly Confines wasn’t great last year coming in 21st in the Majors in ERA (4.18), 23rd in wins (75), and tied for 13th in saves (40). The bullpen gets former ace Kerry Wood back from the Yankees as a setup man for up and coming closer Carlos Marmol, who has great stuff, but is inconsistent. Sean Marshall, John Grabow, James Russell, and Andrew Cashner round out the cast of usual relievers.
Lineup: Carlos Pena is the only major addition to the every day lineup. 3B Aramis Ramirez needs a strong rebound season. He’ll team with SS Starlin Castro on the left side of the infield. Alfonso Soriano remains in left, with CF Marlon Byrd and Kosuke Fukudome rounding out the outfield. Those three are able to drive in runs, but all struggled at times in 2010. Geovany Soto returns behind the plate and Blake DeWitt will take over duties at 2B. Offensively, the Cubs didn’t post a statistic lower than 16th in the Majors except for runners left on base. They were 16th in average (.257), 18th in runs (685), and tied for 29th and stolen bases (55), so they’ll be hard-pressed to manufacture runs.
Biggest question this year: With only two significant roster changes, are the Cubs really in a position to get better in 2011? Injuries and inconsistency have riddled players in the Cubs lineup over the past few seasons after winning 97 games in 2008, Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano in particular. Marlon Byrd and Starlin Castro give the Cubs some reasons for hope, but they didn’t do much to improve upon their pitching, outside of the Garza trade, so it’ll be a tough task for new manager Mike Quade to keep the team together and headed in the right direction this year.
Outlook: The Cubs seem to have a lot more questions than answers heading into 2011. They’ve been in a general funk the past two season dipping to 83 and 75 wins, dugout brawls, and struggling to manufacture runs. Ownership questions tend to swirl around Wrigley along with the wind, and an older team gave up a lot of young talent to acquire Matt Garza. Perhaps Quade can add some stability to the clubhouse, but Cubs fans will have to keep waiting to contend for the Central Division crown.
Predicted finish this year: 4th N.L. Central
Team: Houston Astros
Manager: Brad Mills
Last Year: 76-86
Offseason losses: Geoff Blum, 1B (Arizona); Tim Byrdak, LHP (FA); Gustavo Chacin, LHP (FA); Matt Lidstrom, RHP (trade, Colorado); Brian Moehler, RHP (FA); Felipe Paulino, RHP (trade, Colorado).
Offseason additions: Clint Barmes, 2B (trade, Colorado); Bill Hall, 2B (Boston); Ryan Rowland-Smith, LHP (Seattle)
Best offseason move: Uh…tough to find the “best” move for a team that hardly made any moves this offseason. In fact, their best moves may have come last year in the form of cutting payroll by trading P Roy Oswalt to Philadelphia and 1B Lance Berkman to the Yankees (now with St. Louis). They were unable to move LF Carlos Lee, who is due $18.5M in each of the next two seasons…I’m not sure Bill Hall and Clint Barmes, their main additions, can overcome all that.
Worst offseason move: Not trading Carlos Lee. With the Astros ownership in doubt, declining attendance and a deplete roster, holding onto the veteran Lee will only tighten the teams checkbook even further. The Astros don’t have a lot to work with talent-wise outside of Lee and fellow outfield mates RF Hunter Pence, and CF Michael Bourn, so not moving Lee for prospects hurts the team now, and in the long-run.
Pitching: The Astros offense struggled mightily last year and as a result, the pitching did as well. Wandy Rodriguez is the ace of the staff. He’s got good stuff and is really tough to hit at times. Brett Myers, Bud Norris, J.A. Happ, and Nelson Figueroa round out the starting rotation. The staff compiled a 4.09 team ERA in 2010, and was only 20th in opponents BA, allowing teams to hit .261 off them. Trading Matt Lidstrom leaves Brandon Lyon alone in the closer’s role. Wilton Lopez is probably the next best option in the pen as he averaged 6.72 strikeouts per 9 innings to go with a 1.06 WHIP. Mark Melancon, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Jeff Fulchino and Alberto Arias round out the bullpen staff.
Lineup: The Astros are expecting big things from 1B Brett Wallace - which is a lot to ask. Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence will provide the power and Michael Bourn is a dangerous leadoff hitter. Bill Hall will play 2B, moving Clint Barmes to SS, where he started 47 games in 2010. 3B Chris Johnson rounds out the infield and Jason Castro will be the man behind the plate. The Astros offense was anemic at best in 2010, posting a 27th ranked .247 batting average, 28th with 611 runs scored and 29th in Hrs with 108. Most of those numbers come from their awful start to the season. In fact, their 40-33 record after the All-Star Game was 4th in the National League behind only division winners Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Cincinnati.
Biggest question this year: Ownership. Chairman Drayton McLane confirmed he was seeking a buyer for the franchise. The team isn’t competitive, and average attendance has dropped the past two years. The Astros have a struggling developmental system, and still owe big money to Carlos Lee, who may end up playing 1B when all is said and done this year. But the question is, who will buy the team and will they do it this year?
Outlook: The Astros second-half surge got them a 4th place finish in the Central last year. Major kudos go to Manager Brad Mills for holding them together and making them a major pain to play against down the stretch. However, 4th place is a far cry from their run of finishing 1st or 2nd in the Central 12 times from 1994-2006. With a very average pitching staff and not enough firepower to go with their three outfielders it’s going to be another long season in Houston. If Mills gets this team to put forth a similar effort to what they displayed down the stretch last year, they’ll definitely be a spoiler team late in the season.
Predicted finish this year: 5th N.L. Central
Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
Manager: Clint Hurdle
Last Year: 57-105
Offseason losses: Brian Burres, LHP (FA); Zach Duke, LHP (trade, Arizona); Andy LaRoche, 3B (FA); Lastings Milledge, OF (FA); Chan Ho Park, RHP (Japan); Delwyn Young, OF (FA).
Offseason additions: Garrett Atkins, 1B (Baltimore); Matt Diaz, OF (Atlanta); Josh Fields, 3B (Kansas City); Andy Marte, 3B (Cleveland); Fernando Nieve, RHP (New York Mets); Scott Olsen, LHP (Washington); Lyle Overbay, 1B (Toronto); Kevin Correia, RHP (San Diego).
Best offseason move: Adding 1B Lyle Overbay. While his .243 average, 20 HR and 67 RBI may not seem like much on the surface, he’ll definitely help improve the Pirates defense. He’ll be able to save many of the errant throws he’ll be expected to face this season. He’s also a veteran presence on a pretty young team.
Worst offseason move: The Pirates added Kevin Correia to their starting rotation, which isn’t all that bad. However, not improving their bullpen will prove to be their undoing in 2011, and won’t let them climb out of the N.L. Central cellar. Outside of closer Joel Hanrahan, there’s little to get excited about. Pittsburgh will need to continue to upgrade their pitching staff to give them some hope for the future.
Pitching: The starting rotation for the Pirates has improved over the year. Paul Maholm, Ross Ohlendorf, Charlie Morton, James McDonald, and Kevin Correia give them something to work with. They finished dead last in every major pitching category in 2010, but that should improve this year, and with better defense. The bullpen is the biggest question mark. Outside of Hanrahan, Evan Meek, Chris Resop, Scott Olsen, and Rudy Owens leave a lot to be desired.
Lineup: CF Andrew McCutchen might be able to back up the claim that he’s the best prospect to come through the Pittsburgh system since Barry Bonds. He’s joined by Garrett Jones and Jose Tabata in the outfield. 1B Lyle Overbay is joined is joined by Neil Walker, Ronny Cedeno and Pedro Alvarez in the infield. Chris Snyder returns behind the plate. Both Tabata and Walker hit over .300 after the All-Star break last year. They’ll have opportunities to help spark the offense along with McCutchen who hit .286 with 56 RBI and 33 stolen bases.
Biggest questions this year: Will this be the year they get out of the cellar? While Houston finished on a hot streak after the All-Star break last year, they’ll be hard-pressed to repeat it all season long. Pittsburgh is definitely improved from their 57-105 team in 2010, but is it enough to catch someone. They’ve got talented young players, and if they get some overachievers in the pitching department, it’s not entirely out of the question.
Outlook: While the Pirates certainly aren’t going to challenge for a division crown any time soon, they could challenge to get out of the cellar, provided their pitching and defense improves. A lot. If they can keep their young talent in place and improve their pitching, the light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t seem too terribly far away.
Predicted finish this year: 6th N.L. Central
Monday, March 28, 2011
Dayton’s Next Coach
So Flyer Fans, Brian Gregory is finally gone. We’ve been thinking that this would come for some time, and many of us this season finally were fed up with BG and his so-called “system.” BG’s supporters often pointed to our fantastic record against the Big East and multiple 20 win seasons. However, during his tenure the team struggled to break .500 in the A-10, made only two NCAA tournaments (one with Oliver Purnell’s team), and failed to make the NIT a few times. While I don’t feel that UD’s fans expect to win National Championships, they do expect to challenge for A-10 titles, compete with X and Temple, and make the NCAA’s on a regular basis. So after years of watching the weave offense stumble around the perimeter, seeing a lack of inside post presence, and point guards who have no shooting capabilities whatsoever, UD has the opportunity to hit the reset button. Who will we get?
Wishful Thinking – Not A Chance
Anthony Grant, Alabama Head Coach – If this was two years ago, Grant would be the clear front runner for the UD job. But UD headed to the second round of the NCAA’s that year and Grant took the job at Alabama after leading VCU to three straight CAA titles. Grant starred at Dayton, taking them to the Elite Eight as a player. But after taking Alabama to a 12-4 SEC record this year and the semifinals of the NIT tournament, he has the program on the rise. You’re telling me he’s going to leave a BCS program on the rise to rebuild his alma mater that he hasn’t had relations with since 1987? Please. Not a chance he leaves Bama to come home.
Shaka Smart, VCU Head Coach – Many people want Smart or Larranaga to leave their posts at CAA institutions. But tell me, why would they? The CAA has sent two teams to the Final Four in the last five years and has been receiving multiple bids regularly. How exactly is the A-10 a step up from the CAA? Reputation only. Some UD fans point to Smart’s experience at Dayton, but he was only the Director of Basketball Operations for three years. That doesn’t scream “I have a love in my heart for Dayton” to me. He’s not going to leave a school with five years of established success and a Final Four appearance to rebuild a program that’s had a less successful run.
Jim Larranaga, George Mason Head Coach – Larranaga stayed at George Mason after leading them to a Final Four in 2006. It seems he wants to stay there forever. Why would he leave for Dayton when he’s had more success at George Mason over the past five years than Dayton’s had in the last twenty?
Could Work, But Do We Want Him?
Billy Schmidt, UD Assistant Coach – Pros: Keeping Schmidt may keep UD’s top two recruits (LaDontae Henson and Percy Gibson) from leaving, great recruiter, keeps stability in the UD program. Cons: Served under BG for the last few years, keeps stability in the UD program. My thoughts tend to waver on the side that just because he served under BG gives no indication that he will run the program like BG. He was an employee, not the boss. Xavier and Butler have had success churning through top assistants when head coaches leave, so why can’t UD do the same? If Schmidt will just run the damn weave offense and keep the program middling for A-10 respect, I don’t want him. But if he changes the attitude that comes with being a Flyer, keeps recruiting hard, implants a real offense into the system, and keeps the defensive mentality that BG instilled in the program, he may be our guy.
Pat Knight, Ex-Texas Tech Head Coach – I actually tend to think that this could be a great hire. Pat was under a massive amount of pressure by stepping into a BCS program by following in his father’s shadow. No one wants that kind of pressure. He has a 50-61 head coaching record, but Texas Tech is a traditional bottom dweller in the Big 12 (with the exception of his dad’s years at the helm). Maybe he needs a fresh start, and where better than in his home area of the Midwest, and has to have great recruiting ties to the area. UD needs a fresh start, and so does Pat Knight. It could be a match made in heaven.
Love The Idea, But Probably Not Happening
Paul Hewitt, Ex-Georgia Tech Coach. I know, I know, the ol’ coaches swap. But look at it. Hewitt wore out his welcome at Georgia Tech, but he had limited success there taking the team to the 2004 NCAA Championship game. Coaching the tough ACC, Hewitt never seemed to work out long-term, but I like his style of coaching for our program. He runs a high octane offense with an emphasis on guard play, and loves to press. That style of play suits our players’ skill sets, and may help to ease the transition into the future. I would like to see him get a shot, but I don’t know if UD wants to hire the guy BG is following.
Bruce Pearl, Ex-Tennessee Coach – Some people are skeptical of coaches with troubled pasts, but I believe in second chances. Pearl is obviously a fantastic coach, bringing a Tennessee program from obscurity in the SEC into an annual national title contender. For me, the problem hinges on whether Pearl’s transgressions could result in discipline for Dayton (ala the Kelvin Sampson situation at Indiana). If so, I don’t want him. If not, I say give the guy a chance to build back his reputation by bringing some national attention to the UD program. But something tells me that UD’s priority on bringing in upstanding players and coaches will prevent this from going anywhere.
Rick Byrd, Belmont Head Coach – Belmont’s had some success the last few years under Rick Byrd’s helm, with four NCAA appearances in the last six years. He runs a high-octane offense that shoots a lot of threes, so Chris Johnson, Paul Williams, Josh Parker, and Kevin Dillard will love playing for him. But he’s not leaving Belmont. He’s 57 years old, and has been at Belmont since 1986. He grew up in Tennessee, and I just don’t see any reason (other than his and UD’s religious affiliations) for him to uproot after all that time.
Hate The Idea, And I’ll Be Pissed If It Happens
Bobby Knight, ESPN Analyst – Look, a lot of Flyer fans are pushing Bobby Knight, but why? Sure, he’s one of the greatest coaches of all time, but he would be a temporary solution. He’s too old. And what’s his incentive? UD is a great place to play and coach, but why would a guy with the resume of Bobby come to take over a rebuilding process? He won’t. So forget about it Flyer Fans, Bobby Knight will not be coaching the Red and Blue next year.
The Stop-Gap Solutions – Gone in Three Years
Jeff Capel, Ex-Oklahoma Head Coach – Fired after two consecutive losing seasons at Oklahoma, Capel may be a fantastic solution to the UD coaching quandary. He took Oklahoma to 2 NCAA appearances and an Elite Eight after a successful run at VCU (3rd coach on this list with VCU experience). He has a 61.4 winning percentage, but considering Capel’s reputation as one of the hottest names out there, any semblance of success at UD could see him leave for greener pastures. It’s obvious he can recruit, having gotten Blake Griffin to play for him, as well as McDonald’s All-American Willie Warren. While Capel may be a hot name that could bring short term success to Dayton, the question is whether we want a Mark Few/Brad Stevens long term solution.
Sydney Johnson, Princeton Head Coach – Having coached at Princeton since 2007, a step up to the Atlantic 10 seems to be a logical next move for the coach. I question his desire to leave the East Coast as he grew up in Baltimore, played at Princeton, and assisted at Georgetown. He took the Tigers from a 6-23 record to a 25-7 team that almost beat Final Four participant Kentucky in this year’s NCAA’s. He runs the always dangerous Princeton offense, and the back door cuts and slick passes could fit the athletic, jumping Flyers we have left on board. I like this hire, but if he takes the move to the Midwest he’ll probably be gone within a few years to a BCS program.
Realistic Candidates, And May Stay Awhile
Blaine Taylor, Old Dominion Head Coach – This guy has an established reputation as a solid coach at the NCAA level, taking ODU to a 215-110 record over the past 10 seasons. He only makes $212,000 at ODU, so UD could offer him a substantial increase in salary. Seeing ODU play a few times this year, I really like the hard nosed, defensive type of basketball that they play, and would love to see UD transition to that type of play. But since he’s 52 and has been at ODU for 10 years, there has to be concerns over whether or not he would leave a very comfortable situation.
Dan Hurley, Wagner Head Coach – Bear with me here. This could be the golden ticket hire to success that UD is looking for. Hurley made the jump to D1 last year at Wagner College, and led the team to a 13-17 record. But looking a little deeper, some things stand out. Dan is the son of legendary high school coach Bob Hurley, and is the brother of NCAA legend Bobby Hurley, who coincidentally serves as Dan’s assistant coach. Having Bobby Hurley on your staff helps with notoriety and recruiting, and Dan obviously knows the X’s and O’s of college basketball with a pedigree like his. Dan is a young coach with a long career ahead of him, and if his background is any indication, loyalty is something that he holds near and dear to his heart. If UD could pry him away, Hurley may be a great hire now and well into the future.
Dark Horse Candidate
Steve Wojciechowski, Duke Assistant Coach – I hated this guy when he played for Duke, but I think he could be a hell of a coach. He’s studied under Coach K for 11 years now, and seems to be the frontrunner to take over the Duke program after Coach K retires. But in the off chance that Wojo wants to take a head coaching job and then wait for the Duke job to open, why not Dayton? He was intense as a player, and likely is as a head coach and recruiter. I would love to see this guy on Dayton’s sideline, even if it would be temporary until Coach K’s retirement. Tim Wabler would serve well to see if he would even interview.
Damon Goodwin, Capital University Head Coach – While Goodwin played at UD and has ties to the Dayton program, I don’t want to see UD hire a Division III head coach to helm to Flyers. His record is impressive, but if UD hires him, the program could be in for a rough few years.
I have no clue. Many of these people are great selections, and I think the best option listed above is Anthony Grant. But since I don’t believe he’s coming, I think that the most sense for right now as a realistic option may be Jeff Capel. If not him, then I’d love to see UD give Pat Knight a shot to start a program from scratch outside of his father’s shadow. Here’s hoping that UD makes a good hire and gets the program back on the right track.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Team: Philadelphia Phillies
Manager: Charlie Manuel
Last year: 97-65
Offseason losses: Gregg Dobbs, 3B (FA); Chad Durbin, RHP (FA); Jamie Moyer, LHP (FA); Mike Sweeney, 1B (OF); Jayson Werth, OF (Washington); Pedro Feliz, 3B (FA); Chan Ho Park, RHP (Japan)
Offseason additions: Cliff Lee, LHP (Texas); Jeff Larish, 1B (Oakland)
Best Offseason Move: Signing Cliff Lee, hands down. The Phillies already had a fantastic pitching rotation with Roy Hallady, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt. Lee’s signing nullifies the loss of Jamie Moyer, and gives Philadelphia by far the best rotation not only in the National League, but in all of baseball.
Worst Offseason Move: Ryan Howard’s contract. Howard, 31, signed a 5-year, $125M extension with a club option for 2017 with a $10M buyout. Coupled with Lee’s deal, and Howard already battling age and being on the “downside” of his career, really makes you scratch your head. The Phillies will have success in the short-term, but contracts like this will sink the Phillies in the long-run.
Pitching: The Phillies have the best rotation in baseball, by far. Their projected starting rotation of Roy Hallady, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, and Joe Blanton sounds like an All-Star game lineup. Hamels would be a #1 starter on some teams, and the rotation provides a good balance with two lefties, Lee and Hamels, at the 2 and 4 spots of the rotation. Their bullpen is solid Brad Lidge (on 15 day DL), former White Sox ace Jose Contreras, Danys Baez, and Ryan Madison. With such a good starting rotation able to go deep in games, and a potent lineup, the Phillies are in great shape even if their bullpen struggles.
Lineup: Losing Jayson Werth will hurt some, but the Phillies still have plenty of firepower, albeit somewhat declining (meaning getting up their in age) firepower. Jimmy Rollins has really slowed over the past two years, and Chase Utley has had hip issues, but they combine with Ryan Howard, Shane Victorinio, Raul Ibanez, Placido Palanco, and Carlos Ruiz to form a pretty potent lineup. Dominic Brown, a poor man’s Jason Heyward, replaces Jayson Werth in right field.
Biggest question this season: How healthy will they be, and will some of their stars return to form? Palanco, Rollins, and Utley all missed time last year with injuries, and Rollins has really looked off the past two seasons. Some of their stars are older, and they’re starting to drop off. However, if the Phillies can stay healthy, they’re certainly a World Series contender.
Outlook: With baseball’s best pitching staff and a lineup full of solid bats, and some good base runners, the Phillies are one of baseball’s premiere teams and have a very, very god chance at representing the National League in the World Series again in 2011.
Predicted finish this year: 1st N.L. East
Team: Atlanta Braves
Coach: Fredi Gonzalez
Last year: 91-71
Offseason losses: Rick Ankiel, OF (Washington); Melky Cabrera, OF (Kansas City); Matt Diaz, OF (Pittsburgh); Michael Dunn, LHP (trade, Florida); Kyle Farnsworth, RHP (FA); Troy Glaus, 1B (FA); Omar Infante, 3B (trade, Florida); Derrek Lee, 1B (Baltimore); Takashi Saito, RHP (released); Billy Wagner, LHP (retired).
Offseason additions: Scott Linebrink, LHP (trade, Chicago White Sox); George Sherrill, LHP (Los Angeles Dodgers); Dan Uggla, 2B (trade, Florida).
Best Offseason Move: Trading for Marlins 2B Dan Uggla. While not the typical Braves type of player, the free-swinging, lead-gloved Uggla will step in at the right side of the keystone for Fredi Gonzalez’s Braves. Uggla provides some power later in the lineup with Jason Heyward, currently batting 5th and 6th, Uggla can provide you with 30-40 HRs and over 100 RBIs. While his glove isn’t the best, it’s improved over the past few seasons under Gonzalez’s tutelage in South Florida. It’d better to continue the upward climbs as the Braves totaled 126 errors, one off the Major League lead shared by the Pirates and Nationals at 127.
Worst Offseason Move: Tough to come up with a worst move, as the Braves are a club that looks like it’s more of a mash-up of players, but losing Bobby Cox to retirement definitely hurts. Fredi Gonzalez, a former 3rd base coach for Atlanta under Cox, comes back from the division rival Marlins to take over the reins. I think Atlanta will be hard-pressed to make a return trip to the postseason this year, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Marlins kept within striking distance of the Braves for second place in the division. Gonzalez has some awfully big shoes to fill.
Pitching: Losing Billy Wagner’s 422 career saves to retirement leaves them with a hole at the back of the bullpen. Craig Krimbel, a junior college ranks, is a hard-throwing, side-arm pitcher who will have the first crack at replacing Wagner. The Braves junior college scouting has also landed them talents Tommy Hanson, their current #2 starter, Kris Medlen, and fellow bullpen mate Jonny Venters. Krimbel could be a nice find for them. The starting rotation went 59-52 last season with a 3.80 unit ERA, and will be led by Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson. Keep an eye on lefty prospect Mike Minor. He’ll be their #5 and will look to improve off some middling results from late last season.
Lineup: The Braves certainly have some good, young talent in Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, and All-Star Brian McCann. Martin Prado shifts out to left field, but could see some action at 3rd base on occasion to save Chipper Jones, who is having an excellent spring. The sure-handed Alex Gonzalez at shortstop helps take some of the pressure of Uggla up the middle. The Braves should have plenty of pop in the middle of the order with McCann, Jones, Uggla, and Heyward taking up spots 3 through 6 in the order.
Biggest question this season: How does Fredi Gonzalez do at the helm? Bobby Cox’s teams won 14 division titles and more than 2,500 games. Gonzalez’s Marlins…well not so much. Gonzalez does know Cox’s style, having been a 3rd base coach for Atlanta prior to his tenure with the Marlins. He’ll definitely preach defense and his unit must improve in that aspect of the game. The same can be said with the starting rotation as well.
Outlook: All in all, it will be tough for the Braves to match last season’s 91 wins, much less try and compete with the outstanding roster the Phillies have put together. That said, the Braves could definitely contend for the wild-card this year, but teams like St. Louis, Milwaukee, Colorado, and even the Marlins, might have something to say about that.
Predicted finish this year: 2nd N.L. East
Team: Florida Marlins
Manager: Edwin Rodriguez
Last Year: 80-82
Offseason losses: Cameron Maybin, OF (trade, San Diego); Andrw Miller, LHP (trade, Boston); Will Ohman, LHP (FA); Ronny Paulino, C (New York Mets); Jorge Sosa, RHP (FA); Chad Tracy, 3B (FA); Dan Uggla, 2B (trade, Atlanta), Jose Veras, RHP (FA).
Offseason additions: John Buck, C (Toronto); Randy Choate, LHP (Tampa Bay); Michael Dunn, LHP (trade, Atlanta); Omar Infante, 3B (trade, Atlanta); Edward Mujica, RHP (trade, San Diego); Javier Vazquez, RHP (New York Yankees); Ryan Webb, RHP (trade, San Diego); Dustin Richardson, LHP (trade, Boston).
Best Offseason Move: Signing C John Buck. The Marlins haven’t had a productive catcher since the days of Charles Johnson, and they toiled with Ronny Paulino, Miguel Olivo, John Baker, and Matt Treanor over the past 5 seasons. Buck, who enjoyed a breakout 20 HR campaign for the Blue Jays last year, should help stabilize a shaky rotation, and help the development of ace Josh Johnson. The Marlins signing Javier Vazquez to a one-year deal getting him away from the Yankees could be a very underrated offseason move, especially with coupling him with Johnson and the recently extended Ricky Nolasko.
Worst Offseason Move: It’s hard to really pinpoint a move really bad move from a team that underachieved in 2010, especially from a pitching standpoint, but I’ll say trading OF Cameron Maybin to San Diego hurts the Marlins defensively. 2009 Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan, returning from knee surgery, will get first crack replacing Maybin in center. A lot of people question Coghlan’s athleticism, and he’s got to play center in the cavernous Sun Life Stadium outfield, at least for one more season, along with Logan Morrison and rookie phenom Mike Stanton.
Pitching: The Marlins should have an upgraded starting rotation this year with the addition of C Joe Buck; he’ll really help to stabilize the staff, especially working with NL ERA champion Josh Johnson and closer Leo Nunez. Extending Ricky Nolasko and adding Javier Vazquez should help the middle of the Marlins’ rotation and Anabel Sanchez and Chris Volstad round at the all right-handed rotation. Nunez will look to regain his closer role that he lost to setup man Clay Hensley late last season. Newcomers Randy Choate and Edwin Mujica should help the young arms of Ryan Webb, Michael Dunn, and Dustin Richardson.
Lineup: Trading Dan Uggla takes a bat out of the middle of the order, but Hanley Ramirez remains the main man in Miami. Rookie Mike Stanton blasted 22 homers after a June call-up and should help provide some punch. It’s risky counting on Buck to hit 20 HRs again this year, but he batted .281 last year. Gaby Sanchez is a solid producer and Omar Infante should help defensively as he takes over for Uggla at second base. This group will need big years from Ramirez, Sanchez, and Staton this year to make a serious run at the wild-card.
Biggest Question this season: Will Edwin Rodriguez survive 2011? After taking over for Fredi Sanchez last year, Rodriguez was awarded with a one-year deal. The Marlins certainly have some talented young arms on the pitching staff, and one of baseball’s brightest stars in Hanley Ramirez, if Rodriguez can get along with him better than Fredi Gonzalez did. Will Rodriguez be able to coax enough production out of his role players and young pitching to keep the Marlins in contention into the dog days of summer? We’ll see, but I think he’ll be around when the Marlins open their shiny new stadium in Little Havana in 2012.
Outlook: While it will be very tough to keep up with the Phillies, I think the Marlins could make some noise in the wild-card race. I think their pitching staff, their bullpen in particular, is still too young to make a serious run at the postseason, but I certainly view Florida as a team on the rise.
Predicted finish this year: 3rd N.L. East
Team: New York Mets
Manager: Terry Collins
Last Year: 79-83
Offseason losses: Joaquin Arias, 2B (Kansas City); Henry Blanco, C (Arizona); Chris Carter, OF (FA); Elmer Dessens, RHP (FA); Kelvim Escobar, RHP (FA); Pedro Feliciano, LHP (New York Yankees); Sean Green, RHP (Milwaukee); John Maine, RHP (FA); Hisanori Takahashi, LHP (LA Angels); Fernando Tatis, 1B (FA).
Offseason additions: D.J. Carrasco, RHP (Arizona); Ronny Paulino, C (Florida).
Best Offseason Move: Hiring new GM Sandy Alderson away from Oakland was a big time move for the Mets. In the wake of the financial scandal and year’s of wasted payroll from Omar Minaya’s teams, Alderson is a great hire. Just look at his resume. Alderson’s a former Marine with degreees from Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School; he gave Tony La Russa a second shot at managing, moved Dennis Eckersley to the closer role, built a mini-dynasty in Oakland with the “Bash Brothers” and launched the “Moneyball” revolution. He’s also served in the commissioner’s office where he helped to clean up scouting in the Dominican Republic.
Worst Offseason Move: The Mets cleaned house while only bringing in two new players in Carrasco and Paulino. They didn’t add another big bat (obviously they have financial issues - $134.2M is on the payroll in 2011) but they hit just .249 as a team in 2010 and only 3 teams in the NL – Houston, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh – hit fewer home runs than the Mets did. Injuries to Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran (who has only played in 145 games the past two years) were big contributions to the power outage.
Pitching: The Mets have a lot of questions here as former ace Johan Santana won’t return from shoulder surgery until midseason, and who knows how he’ll respond when he does. I don’t think he’s an ace any more. The starting rotation includes Mike Pelfrey, Jonathon Niese, knuckle-baller R.A. Dickey, and Dillon Gee. Francisco Rodriguez isn’t as once dominant as he once was, but D.J. Carrasco should help in the pen. The Mets did lose top left-hander Pedro Feliciano to the crosstown rival Yankees and Hisanori Takahashi left for the Angels. The Mets are in need of some serious pitching help both in the starting rotation and in the pen.
Lineup: The news gets a little better here as a Jason Bay should be healthy after suffering from post-concussion syndrome last year. Youngster Ruben Tejada will be entrenched at second along with a healthy Jose Reyes. David Wright is still an All-Star candidate at third having popped 29 HR and 103 RBI’s last year. Production from Beltran, Ike Davis, and Fernando Martinez will help the Mets out. Ronny Paulino, who came over from Florida, and Josh Thole will rotate behind the plate. The Mets do need an upgrade in RF to replace Jeff Francouer, as Fernando Martinez is slated to start there.
Biggest question this season: With so many failed investments ($56M will come off the books after this year from Carlos Beltran, Francisco Rodriguez, Oliver Perez, and Luis Castillo), will the Mets go “Moneyball” and try and trade 3B David Wright and SS Jose Reyes? GM Sandy Alderson said, “I, by no means, am looking beyond 2011. Our job here is to put the best possible team on the field…we should have every chance to be competitive.” It’s interesting as with such a lack of pitching and question marks throughout the team, moving Wright and Reyes would certainly spell doom for the Mets this year, but they’d garner a bevy of young talent for the future, with an already promising farm system. Terry Collins, the new manager, was the former minor league coordinator, so he’s got first-hand knowledge of what he’ll have to work with.
Outlook: The Mets have gone downhill since Carlos Beltran struck out to end the NLCS in 2006. From Omar Minaya giving bad contracts to so many players, to injuries, to altercations outside the dugouts, to the financial issues facing the Mets, there’s not much optimism in Queens this year, outside of Wright and a healthy Reyes. It’ll be interesting to see how they fare until Johan Santana returns, but the immediate future doesn’t look good.
Predicted finish this year: 4th N.L. East
Team: Washington Nationals
Manager: Jim Riggleman
Last Year: 69-93
Offseason losses: Miguel Batista, RHP (FA); Adam Dunn, 1B (Chicago White Sox); Willie Harris, OF (FA); Adam Kennedy, 2B (FA); Kevin Mench, OF (FA); Will Nieves, C (Milwaukee); Scott Olsen, LHP (Pittsburgh); Joel Peralta, RHP (Tampa Bay); Tyler Walker, RHP (released); Josh Willingham, OF (trade, Oakland).
Offseason additions: Rick Ankiel, OF (Atlanta); Chad Gaudin, RHP (New York Yankees); Matt Stairs, OF (trade, San Diego); Jayson Werth, OF (Philadelphia); Tim Wood, RHP (Florida).
Best Offseason move: Signing RF Jayson Werth. The Nats get a big bat to replace the departed Adam Dunn. Werth provided 28 HR and 85 RBIs for the Phillies last year, and gives the Nationals another “star” in the lineup to go with third baseman Ryan Zimmerman until Bryce Harper makes it up to the bigs.
Worst Offseason move: Signing RF Jayson Werth. The Nats gave Werth a monster contract, $126M over 7 years, but will he really provide that much of an immediate impact? He goes from a very friendly hitters’ park to one that’s pretty neutral. There’s not much else within the Nats batting order to help him, other than Zimmerman, as opposed to the murderer’s row that Philadelphia had. If the Nats don’t progress some, there will be a lot of questions aimed in Werth’s direction, so they had better hope they’re getting all that they paid for.
Pitching: Stephen Strasburg was phenomenal last year until his season was cut short by an injury that forced Tommy John surgery. He could be back late in the 2011 season, and many think he’ll be just fine with a careful recovery. Until then, the Nats rotation will consist of veteran Livan Hernandez, John Lannan, Jason Marquis, Jordan Zimmermann, and J.D. Martin. The closer role is up for grabs and young arms like Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen, and Sean Burnett all have a shot at it. Craig Stammen can provide long relief or pinch-start, and the Nats took a flier on Chin-Mieng Wang, a two-time 19 game winner for the Yankees, coming off injury.
Lineup: Werth and Zimmerman are the stars here, but the Nats lost some feisty-ness in trading Nyjer Morgan to the Brewers for cash considerations and prospect Cutter Dykstra – son of Lenny Dykstra. Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez is still somehow calling games in the majors, but he’s a shell of his former All-Star self at this point in his career. Ian Desmond is an intriguing player, but the Nats are still short a few bats. Bryce Harper, likely to start the year in A ball, could be a late season call up if he progresses the way many people think he will. There’s some things to build upon in the lineup, but it leaves a lot to be desired to contend in 2011.
Biggest question this season: How long will it take the Nats to be competitive? Jim Riggleman is a good manager to have for this bunch, and while they’ll likely steal some games and improve upon last year’s 69 wins, they’re still not ready. They have some pieces in Werth, Zimmerman, and Desmond, and Strasburg will certainly help when he returns, but that might not be until 2012. Phenom Bryce Harper is in the minors, but should have a meteoric rise to the bigs. All things considered, I’m not sure how long it will take, or if the Nats will be able to keep some of their premiere players, until they’re ready to make a serious run.
Outlook: I think the Nationals will certainly win more games than last year, but they’re a team for the future with Strasburg on the shelf and still needing more pieces to come together. They’ve got a talented farm system with the previously mentioned Bryce Harper, 2B Danny Espinosa, and C Wilson Ramos, but 2011 won’t be their year.
Predicted finish this year: 5th N.L. East
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Big Papa of the Southwest: Notre Dame (2). Similar to Jamie Dixon, I think this is Mike Brey’s year to get to the Final Four. With five senior starters, Notre Dame possesses something rarely found in current college teams: experience playing together. Ben Hansbrough has really elevated his game and mans the point; he also probably wants to add a championship ring to the family trophy case. This team shoots the ball exceptionally well, and never seems to get caught up in the moment of games. My only concern is getting caught up against an exceptionally athletic team such as Kansas. But I think this team’s headed to Houston.
If not the favorite, then: Kansas (1). Kansas has been the steady as she goes team all year, although they’ve dealt with plenty of issues. Josh Selby hasn’t been all that and a bag of chips, but he’s still a contributor. Kansas is a deep, deep team, and is the best field goal percentage team in the country at 51.4%. They like to push the ball and have shown that they lead a very balanced attack with six players averaging over 8 points per game. I don’t think this team has a problem getting to the Elite Eight, and if they can get past Notre Dame I like them to go all the way to the title.
Watch Out Now: Richmond (12). After watching Richmond run through the A-10 tournament, I really like them to win at least one, maybe two games in this year’s tournament. Upsets are about teams that can shoot the three and stay hot, and Richmond has the ability to do both. They have six guys on the roster that shoot 39% or better, so if the shots are dropping they’re going to do some damage. They take care of the basketball, and Kevin Anderson and Justin Harper are two guys who I would not want to defend. Their problem will be if they run into a team that just dominates inside, as Richmond lacks the bodies to bang the boards. Look for them to run a lot of entry passes to Dan Geriot that immediately get kicked out for open looks from behind the arc.
Most Likely First Round Upset: USC (11) over Georgetown (6). If USC doesn’t get by VCU, I’d take Richmond over Vandy here. But for posterity’s sake, let’s assume USC wins tonight. I like USC’s Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson to neutralize a big Georgetown front line. And if that happens, I’m not confident enough in Chris Wright’s recovery from a hand injury to overcome what I believe is an underrated USC team possessing exceptional ball control and stellar defense.
Southwest Man-Beast: JaJuan Johnson, Purdue. Garnering First Team All-American honors along with Kemba Walker, Jimmer, Sullinger, and Nolan Smith, the center has really stepped up his game after Robbie Hummel went down with a second torn ACL before the season. The senior has averaged over 20 points and 8 rebounds a game, and his presence on the inside frees up the perimeter for Purdue’s other players. He is an efficient player, shooting 49.6% from the field while committing only 1.7 turnovers a game. Watch this guy lead Purdue to a Sweet 16 run, and then watch him develop in the NBA into the future.
Who the &#*@ is This Guy, and Why is He Awesome: Justin Harper and Kevin Anderson, Richmond. Tie. If you want an NBA prospect, check out Justin Harper. A 6-10 swingman, Harper will be playing at the next level. He uses his height to grab 7 boards and block 1.3 shots a game. But he can also slash toward the hoop, and draining threes at a 46.5% rate this season. He’s a complete player, shooting 54.3% from the field but also serving as a vital defender to a Richmond team I like to make a run. If you want a fun player to watch, pay attention to Kevin Anderson, last season’s Atlantic 10 player of the year. He’s a quick little 6 foot guard, averaging 16.5 points a game. He can fill it up in a hurry from deep, and has quick hands on D to swipe and start the fast break.
Picks: Kansas over Boston, UNLV over Illinois, Richmond over Vandy, Louisville over Morehead St., USC over Georgetown, Purdue over St. Peter's, Texas A&M over Florida State, ND over Akron.
Kansas over UNLV, Richmond over L-ville, Purdue over USC, ND over Texas A&M
Kansas over Richmond, ND over Purdue
ND over Kansas
FINAL FOUR PICKS:
Ohio State over Texas, Pitt over ND
Championship: Pitt over Ohio State, 71-67
Big Papa of the Southeast: Pitt (1). I’m really big on Pitt’s chance this year. Jamie Dixon’s teams have been knocking on the Final Four’s door for years, and I believe this is finally the time. The draw is great, with a horrible 2-seed in Florida, one-man wonder BYU, injured St. John’s and Wisconsin, and inconsistent Kansas State. This smells like a recipe for Pitt’s first Final Four run since World War II. Pitt is the most battle tested team in the tournament after taking control of the Big East regular season. They are a stellar defensive team, holding opponents to 39.8% shooting, and are 7th in the country in rebounding. Look for Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker to push the Panthers deep into the tourney and come out of the weak Southeast region.
If not the favorite, then: Kansas State (5). At the beginning of the season, the Jacob Pullen led Wildcats were the sexy pick to make a push toward the Final Four after last year’s thrilling Elite Eight run. I remember watching that Sweet 16 game against Xavier that went to 2OT and being glued to my seat at a bar in NYC. But in January, there was question whether this team could even make the tournament after losing 5 of 8. But once January passed us by, the purple and silver have gone on to win 8 of 10 games and seems to be coming into full gear at the right time. Many are picking them to lose to Utah St., but I like Pullen and scary as hell coach Frank Martin to take this team to a Sweet 16 matchup against Pitt. If they can get by Pitt, we’re going to see them in Houston.
Don't Sleep on These Guys: Michigan State (10). You’re sitting there thinking, huh? Why? I’m glad you asked. This team has been an underachieving bunch. But if there’s one thing Tom Izzo knows how to do, that’s preparing teams for NCAA tournaments. Need any evidence? Final Four appearances: 1999, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2010. And if floor general Draymond Green gets the ball in Kalin Lucas’ hands, expect some fireworks. Lucas is one of the most clutch players in this tournament, and with the exception of Jimmer I don’t think there’s a player I’d rather have in the Southeast bracket. Watch for MSU to blow by UCLA, upset Florida, and then possibly take out an injury riddled BYU or St. John’s to make a run toward a shot at the Final Four against Pitt.
Who'll Get Blown Up: Belmont (13) over Wisconsin (4). Since I already said I think MSU will take out UCLA, I’ll take this game. I literally can’t think of a worse course of events for Wisconsin. You lose 36-33 against Penn State, have star forward Mike Bruesewitz go down with a knee injury, and then draw sharpshooting, piping red-hot Belmont in the first round? Wisconsin attempts to slow the game down to a boring ass pace. If the Badgers get down away from their house, they don’t come back. Case in point? The loss at Ohio State in the regular season finale. Belmont loves to shoot the three, and hasn’t lost since January. Doesn’t it always seem like Wisconsin underachieves in the tournament? Bo Ryan needs to make a run to establish himself as one of the game’s great coaches, but I don’t see it happening this year.
Southeast Man-Beast: Jimmer, BYU. He’s so good I’m calling him by first name only. This guy has been the toast of college bball all freaking year. BYU’s Final Four hopes fall all on JImmer with the dismissal of Brandon Davies for doing the nasty with his girlfriend. If Jimmer wasn’t Mormon, he’d probably be getting laid all the freaking time with smooth moves and charming personality. Jimmer can do it all, and is a blast to watch. You have to guard him straight up once he gets on his half of the court for fear of launching a deep three, and if you play him too close his fundamentally sound skills can take the rock to the rack. Just enjoy the Jimmer ride while it lasts, which I don’t feel will be very long.Who the #&$* is This Guy, and Why Is He Awesome: Frank Hassell, Old Dominion. Shelvin Mack could’ve gotten the nod here, but he got plenty of pub with Butler’s run to the final last year. Hassell has been the force in the middle behind Old Dominion’s stellar season. Frank the Tank as he’s called, Hassell is a 6-9, 255 lb. specimen averaging 15 points and 9.6 rebounds a game this season. He can bang with the big boys down low, and has great finishing skills around the hoop. His ability to grab boards has been the main reason for ODU rising to #1 in rebounding in the NCAA, so I recommended watching this future NBA player for at least one game in the tournament.