Thursday, February 28, 2008

MLB Previews: Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay Devil Rays Last season: 66-96 .407, 5th Place, 30 games behind in AL East. 2008 Outlook: Could this be the year for the youthful, talented Rays to finally put it all together? The front office made changes, notably changing the name from "Devil Rays" to just "Rays" and redesigning the team logo. The outfield is set with Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton and Rocco Baldelli roaming the open spaces, while Jonny Gomes and Cliff Floyd should share DH duties. First baseman Carlos Pena will be counted on to provide power. Matt Garza, Scott Kazmir and James Shields are the likely 1-2-3 pitchers and the bullpen will rely on Troy Percival as the primary closer. In a division with the Red Sox and Yankees, the best the Rays can hope for is to hang tough. If they finish third, they could be just a year away from serious post-season contention. A wild-card finish is a real longshot. Biggest Changes: An off-season trade with Minnesota swapped slugger Delmon Young, infielder Brendan Harris and minor leaguer Jason Pridie for shortstop Jason Bartlett, starter Matt Garza and reliever Eduardo Morlan. Rookie/Free Agent Prospects: Third baseman Evan Longoria looks like he'll start and stick at the hot corner. Best fantasy bets: Carlos Pena could have another big season after exploding for 46 homer and 121 RBI in 2007. Matt Garza or Scott Kazmir will do well, but be prepared for at least a few rough outings as the AL East is loaded. Carl Crawford has averaged 53 steals and 93 runs over the past five seasons (plus, he's a career .296 hitter), so if you're looking for speed and scores, he's your man. The sleeper may be B. J. Upton, however. He had a breakout season in '07 with 24 dingers, 82 RBI and an even .300 average. Three Excellent Links: Ghosts of Al Lang - The All Lang Team Tampa Bay Rays Gear Ten Greatest Moments in Devil Rays History Next: Cleveland Indians

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

MLB Previews: Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Orioles Last season: 69-93, .426 4th place, AL East, 27 games back. 2008 Outlook: This is a team devoid of a big bat or quality starting pitching thanks to years of mismanagement. Their best players are outfielder Nick Markakis, 3rd baseman Melvin Mora and 2nd baseman Brian Roberts. After that, the talent level is sketchy with players like Aubrey Huff, Kevin Millar and Jay Payton filling out the lineup card. Finishing above .500 would be a major accomplishment for this team that has long ago ceded away the AL East to Boston and New York. Biggest Changes: Miguel Tejada was traded to Houston in December. He was their big bat and he's gone as are the talented arm of Eric Bedard. Rookie/Free Agent Prospects: The only solid prospect is Adam Jones, who did a couple of stints with the Mariners and still has rookie status. Best fantasy bets: Maybe Roberts, for speed, but there really isn't much here. Three Excellent Links: Oriole Park at Camden Yards - photos, facts, history Frank Robinson Orioles Team Page at SI Next: Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

MLB Previews: Toronto Blue Jays

Toronto Blue Jays Last season: 83-79, 3rd place, AL East, 13 games behind Red Sox, 11 behind Yankees. 2008 Outlook: The Blue Jays confront the same outlook they seem to have every season: how to catch the Yankees and Red Sox. This season looks to be another exercise in futility for the top spot though catching the Yankees and earning a wild card is a possibility. Both the Sox and Yanks kept almost everything from 2007 intact, which means New York will still have pitching problems. The Jays will enter the season with four quality starters - Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum. If Gustavo Chacin isn't fully recovered from shoulder problems, the fifth starter spot will fall to Jesse Litsch, who had an unexpectedly nice season as rookie in 2007. The lineup could be imposing or flatline, depending on the health of center fielder Vernon Wells and 3rd baseman Scott Rolen. If both of them produce, this offense will be powerful, especially having Frank Thomas as an every day DH. He can still mash. Biggest Changes: Left side. Third baseman Troy Glaus was traded for Scott Rolen and the Cardinals also let go of scrappy shortstop David Eckstein. He fits in nicely for the Blue Jays. Left field will be a competition - and possibly a platoon situation - between Reed Johnson and Shannon Stewart, recently acquired from Oakland. Rookie/Free Agent Prospects: Adam Lind may end up being the regular left fielder, and Casey Janssen should get plenty of chances as a middle reliever/set-up man for Jeremy Accardo or B.J. Ryan, if his rehabbing is complete by opening day. Best fantasy bets: Alex Rios (.297, 24 HR, 85 RBI in 2007) has improved his HR and RBI totals in each of his four seasons. He could be a real steal in fantasy drafts. Most managers will opt for Vernon Wells, though he had a down year in 2007, but off-season shoulder surgery is supposed to have fixed that. Spring training stats may offer some indication of whether he's ready for a big year. Scott Rolen is another player to watch. He battled injuries for most of the past 3 seasons, and entering his 14th year in the majors, he may not be able to bounce back to previous form. A sure bet is #1 starter Roy Halladay, always among the leaders in wins, ERA and WHIP. 16-21 wins an ERA around 3.50 and a WHIP under 1.25 are likely numbers for the perennial All-Star. Three Excellent Links: Tornoto Star baseball page SportSpyder aggregated Blue Jays news Baseball-Almanac Toronto Team Page: Stats, Records, more Next: Baltimore Orioles

Saturday, February 23, 2008

MLB Previews: New York Yankees

New York Yankees Last season: 94 -68, AL Wild Card. Lost to Cleveland in playoffs. 2008 Outlook: Still sporting somewhat of a potent lineup, with returning regulars Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Bobby Abreu, the major question marks are at first base, DH and in the starting pitching staff. Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain are projected to be starters along with Chien-Ming Wang and aging veterans Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte. While Chamberlain will probably reprise his role as set-up man for closer Mariano Rivera, Hughes and Kennedy may have competition from Carl Pavano, who is expected to at least contend for a starting role. Pitching is not the Yankees strong suit. At first, Jason Giambi is back, but he's going to be DH-ing mostly, leaving the job open to prospect Juan Miranda, Morgan Ensberg or Shelley Duncan. It's a hole the Yankees need filled. Biggest Changes: Manager Joe Girardi takes over from Joe Torre and handling this team (to say nothing of the owner and the media) has been known to be trying. Girardi has been given a large dose of control, but meddling from the front office is about as predictable as rain in April. Girardi will have his hands full. Rookie/Free Agent Prospects: Ian Kennedy may turn out to be either a bust or a gem in the rough. The Yankees are also expecting much from Chamberlain, while Ensberg and Duncan are likely to fill in at first and DH. Both could become full-time starters. Juan Miranda, a defector from Cuba, signed in the off-season to a $2 million contract and he'll spend time on one of the Yankees' farm teams. He's another iffy prospect. Best fantasy bets: Obviously, the #1 pick in most fantasy leagues is going to be A-Rod, and you really can't fault the numbers he puts up every year. Besides Rodriguez, Posada is a very steady backstop, and Cano could be a breakout at 2nd base. If you need a closer, Mariano Rivera is a great choice, not only because he's so talented, but because with the Yanks' pitching, he's going to get plenty of opportunities. Three Excellent Links: NY Post Yankees coverage Ultimate Yankees - history, stats, bios, news Next: Toronto Blue Jays

Thursday, February 21, 2008

MLB Previews: Boston Red Sox Have All the Elements

Boston Red Sox Last season: Won AL East (96-66), beat Angels and Indians in playoffs, swept World Series over Colorado Rockies. 2008 Outlook: Should win the AL East again with relative ease, as the Yankees retool and the rest of the competition isn't much. With a solid rotation and bullpen and plenty of mashers at the plate, the Sox are serious contenders for a repeat World Series win. Biggest Changes: Sean Casey will get a little playing time at first base with Kevin Youkilis as the incumbent as David Ortiz takes his usual role as DH. Casey will get loads of pinch hit chances, though, because he's a great singles hitter with plenty of plate presence. The losses of reliever Eric Gagne and sometime starter Matt Clement won't have much impact, as neither was a major contributor last year. Look for Jacoby Ellsbury to get the nod as the starting center fielder over Coco Crisp and watch to see if Dustin Pedroia suffers a letdown after his outstanding rookie season. Julio Lugo at short is the only possible defect on this team, but if he can hit for a little better average than last season's .237, he should be fine. Rookie/Free Agent Prospects: Clay Buchholz, who threw a no-hitter in his second major league start, could be the fifth starter or better, depending on Curt Schilling's readiness. RHP David Aardsma could be a middle reliever or spot starter. Best fantasy bets: Hitters are abundant, but closers like Jonathan Papelbon are a rarity. He should be your top pick from this squad. You also should like David Ortiz because he produces year-in and year-out. Manny Ramirez turns 36, but is still productive, though injuries limited his playing time last season. Jacoby Ellsbury could be a steal especially if he does steal - bases, that is. Josh Beckett will be close to the top of everyone's list, and you'll pay a premium for him. Three Excellent Links: Over the Monster: A Boston Red Sox Blog Manny Ramirez career stats - "Being" needs just 10 more homers for 500. Boston Globe Sports Page Next: New York Yankees

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Spring in the South: Pitchers and Catchers Report

It's finally that time of year! Spring Training has begun, with pitchers and catchers reporting on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday for all of Major League Baseball teams. That means that Baseball On Deck is back for our second full season with regular, daily postings, beginning today. Google News Search for Spring Training

Roger Dodger: Clemens Isn't Believable

The bad and sad joke that was circulating yesterday is that the Republicans who heard sworn testimony from Roger Clemens and his former trainer, Brian McNamee, all sided with the real liar of the two, just as they have consistently sided with uuber-liars George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, sleazy Condoleezza Rice and other members of the truth-challenged administration. To say that the opinions from hearing members was partisan would be unfair, unpatriotic and unrealistic. Calling the position of Roger Clemens (right) - denying that he ever took steroids or HGH despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary - and the Republicans who say they believe him, absurd, would be closer to the mark. Besides the contrary testimony from McNamee, signed depositions from two teammates, Andy Pettitte and Chuck Knoblauch, indicated that they took steroids. Pettitte's affidavit also included a statement that he discussed performance-enhancers with Clemens. The weight of the evidence, and the fact that McNamee would have nothing to gain by lying, seem to indicate that Clemens is unclean, that he took steroids or HGH and that he's now lied to congress - an act that could conceivably land him in jail. Then there's the evidence from his stats. Clemens, who looked to be nearly washed up as a pitcher after the 1996 season, when he was traded from Boston to Toronto, went 21-7 and 20-6 for the so-so Blue Jays in 1997 and 1998 with an ERA for the two years combined a smashing 2.35. To baseball freaks that seemed odd because Clemens, who turned 34 in August of 1996, had suffered through four consecutive years of relative ineffectiveness. From 1993-96, Clemens was a combined 40-39 for the Red Sox, the kind of numbers that might keep him in a rotation, but not anything close to legendary. In those four years, his ERA was approaching 4.00 and in three of those years he worked less than 200 innings. It appeared that time was gaining on him. After 1996, Clemens racked up an incredible 162 wins with Toronto and then with the NY Yankees and Houston Astros. The control came back, the ERA dropped, the money and honors flowed his way. Coincidentally, those were the years - 1997-2005 - in which steroid use became rampant in Major League Baseball. Fans seem to agree with the Democrats on the panel, who backed McNamee's telling of events. A Yahoo poll posing the question, "After the Congressional hearings, do you believe Roger Clemens took performance-enhancing drugs?" out of 29248 total votes as of late Thursday morning (ET), elicited the following results: Yes: 81%; No: 19%. It looks like the Rocket is out of fuel. For the sake of the game, Clemens should have owned up to his misdeeds, but, like most overpaid, egotistic, pumped-up athletes of this generation, his ego is too big for him to admit that all his records were at least partly the result of the rejuvenative effects of steroids.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Mets, Twins Finalize Santana Deal

One of AL's best gets $137M package The New York Mets needed an extension in order to work out the details, but by Friday night, it was official: Johan Santana, who led the AL in strikeouts in 2004, 2005 and 2006, and has 983 Ks over the past four seasons, makes the move from the AL to the NL. In addition to being a stellar strikeout pitcher, Santana also lays claim to the 2004 and 2006 Cy Young awards and also led the American League in ERA in those years: 2.61 in '04 and 2.77 in '06.
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The Mets have fallen just short of greatness the past two seasons, losing the NLCS to the Cardinals in 2006, and then blowing a 7-game lead in the final 17 games to miss the playoffs last season. Whether Santana is the answer to the Mets woes will be interesting to watch in 2008. With a team loaded with talent, including Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran and David Wright, Billy Wagner and Pedro Martinez, the Mets should take the field opening day as the odds-on choice to finally capture the National League flag. Voluntary Spring Training for pitchers & catchers begins on February 14 - in just 11 days. The mandatory reporting date for all players is February 26.