March 14, 2006

Frinklin & Fred Baseball Preview: NL East

1. Atlanta Braves

I picked the Phillies in 2004. I picked the Marlins in 2005. I don't have the blog to prove it, but I've basically picked against Atlanta every year since about 1997.

I give up. You win, Atlanta. Never again will I doubt the power of Schuerholz and Cox and the Joneses. This team was basically the Richmond Braves plus Smoltz and Andruw Jones last year, and they still won the damned division.

So the hell with it. I will go with Atlanta despite wondering how the pitching staff will react to losing Leo Mazzone. I will pick the Braves despite thinking that Andruw can't hit 50 homers again this season, or that Jeff Francoeur will never be the player everybody thinks he is until he starts taking walks.

Outlook: The Braves will win the division for the 15th straight year, and there isn't anything anybody can do about it.

FRED SEZ: Like Frinklin, the Braves have worn me down. Clearly, they're just winning to spite me at this point. So this year, I'm picking them, loudly and enthusiastically. Hell, I say they'll win the World Series! Reverse jinx, you say? I've never heard of it.

Also, is it just me, or does "Jeff Francoeur" sound like someone who should be playing in Montreal? I'm almost willing to support the rebirth of the Expos just to see this happen.

Frinklin Rejoins: I hate this team. I can't even express how much I do. I'm so tired of the Chop and Jimmy Carter in the stands and 3/4-quarter full stadium for the playoffs. I'd give anything to make them go away.

But they won't.

FRED REPLIES: Agreed. Shouldn't Jimmy Carter be off building houses or stabilizing a Third World country or something?

2. New York Mets

Had I not come to accept the Braves, I might well have picked these guys. I don't like everything that GM Omar Minaya has done. I think giving up Jae Seo for a couple of relievers was a mistake, and while I like X Nady, he isn't worth Mike Cameron.

This is a team going in the right place though. Carlos Beltran –who will bounce back in his second year in New York- David Wright and Jose Reyes are a nice nucleus to build around. Carlos Delgado proved he could handle both NL and a gigantic home park last year in Florida. Kaz Matsui has been a disaster, and if either Anderson Hernandez or Jeff Keppinger can catch the ball he may well be headed to the bench.

I'm not sold on the rotation. While Pedro had a very nice first year, his troublesome toe is, well… troubling. Tom Glavine is coming off a very Tom Glavine-y year (13-13, 3.53) and Steve Trachsel is still the slowest worker alive. Victor Zambrano, who is not and never was worth Scott Kazmir, and Aaron Heilman should round out the rotation.

Outlook: The Mets will compete for the Wild Card and throw a scare into Atlanta.

FRED SEZ: On paper, Frinklin's right... the Mets have the raw stuff to be a playoff team, and go toe-to-toe with Atlanta. However, as the Mets have been proving annually for about a decade running, championships aren't won on paper. To me, the Mets increasingly resemble a baseball version of the Knicks, with two notable exceptions: (1) Unlike the Knicks, it's not immediately obvious that the Mets will be bad, and (2) the Mets spend like drunken sailors because they have to compete for media attention with the Yankees, while the Knicks spend like drunken sailors because... their GM has some financial version of obsessive-compulsive disorder. He sees a massively overpaid head case, and he has to own the guy. Why Isiah Thomas is still employed in any job higher than janitor is beyond me. Oh, are we talking about baseball?

Frinklin Rejoins: While the Mets are spending like drunken sailors, I don't think the Knicks comparison is quite apt. If the Mets signed nothing but LF/DH types and forced half of them to play out of position, then it would make more sense. Of course, they did that about 15 years ago. Remember Vince Coleman in CF and Howard Johnson at short?

FRED REPLIES: Sure, I remember that. Not coincidentally, the Mets were one of the worst teams in baseball then. Ah, memories... I suppose the late-'90s Orioles are a better comparison to the Knicks, but they were going to revoke my blogger's license if I didn't make the obligatory Isiah joke.

3. Philadelphia Phillies

Missing the playoffs by one game and producing the NL Rookie of the Year wasn't enough to keep Ed Wade around as GM. He's replaced by ex-Mariner, Oriole and Blue Jay GM Pat Gillick. Gillick moves into a relatively good position. He was able to spin Jim Thome into Aaron Rowand and a couple of nice pitching prospects and open up 1B for Ryan Howard. The Phils were also players in the Manny Ramirez Derby this off-season, apparently offering Bobby Abreu.

The Phillies are wise to keep Abreu. Despite his post All-Star break slip, he's still one of the best pure hitters in the NL. Add that to Philly's young core of Howard, 2B Chase Utley and SS Jimmy Rollins, and you have a lot to work with. There are some issues on the field though. Both David Bell at third and Mike Lieberthal at catcher have slipped, and Lieberthal is at the age (34) where catchers can fall off a cliff. The Phillies are weaker on the mound than the Mets or Braves. After a rehabbed Jon Lieber and Brett Myers, Philly will run out some question marks. Cory Lidle and former Mariner Ryan Franklin practically define the term "fifth starter" and neither Gavin Floyd nor Ryan Madsen has proven themselves. Tom Gordon, who hasn't closed in years, replaces Billy Wagner at the head of an average bullpen.

Outlook: Unless Floyd or Madsen can solidify the rotation, Philadelphia won't have enough pitching to overtake New York or Atlanta.

FRED SEZ: Philly better hope they can wind up on the right side of the 11-9 scores they're going to see a lot of, because this team is turning into Colorado Rockies East. (In fairness, I'm referring to the mid-'90s Rockies, back when they were good. Or at least didn't suck.) Citizens Bank Park is certainly small enough to sustain the bombs-away approach, but in the long run, teams with great hitting and iffy pitching tend to crap out. Also, the Phillies have been underperforming expectations for a while now. I blame this on the Philly Phan Phactor. The negativity of Phils rooters poisons the team, kind of like lead in the drinking water. If I were Malcolm Gladwell, I would do a study on this and write a book that would sell a zillion copies, and use the royalties to buy a tropical island, install myself as king, and use my oceans of wealth and sickeningly well-written prose to get women to date me for a change. But then, I'm sure Malcolm Gladwell has no trouble getting women, so I have no point. What were we talking about again?

Frinklin Rejoins: I think on the days that Leiber or Myers have off, 11-9 could be wishful thinking. I can't wait to see Franklin in Citizen's Bank. He's really a rather whiney jerk who gave up longballs at a ridiculous pace in Safeco. He could be really dangerous in CBP.

And I think Gladwell (or the Freakanomics guys) could write quite a book on Philly.

FRED REPLIES: Thank you for finding the topic again.

4. Washington Nationals
It shouldn't surprise anyone that 18 months after moving to DC, the Nationals still don't have an owner and just last week settled on a stadium plan. Oh yeah, they may have to change the name too. This is actually the most stable this franchise has been in about 15 years. On the field, things aren't going so swimmingly. Jim Bowden, recognizing his team's need for offense, traded outfielders Brad Wilkerson and Termel Sledge, plus pitching prospect Armando Galarraga to Texas for electric second baseman Alfonso Soriano. Now the Nats already have a very fine second baseman by the name of Jose Vidro. Since Vidro is the superior fielder, and a team cornerstone, the plan was to move Soriano to the outfield where he most certainly belongs.

Except he won't do it. Soriano, apparently deluded enough to think himself even an adequate fielder at second, has so far refused outfield duty. It's his walk year, and Soriano knows a power/speed combo at second is worth more than a power/speed combo in left. The fact that he's well below average in the field doesn't apparently matter. Soriano also moves from a premier hitters park in Arlington to a premier pitchers park. He could be in for a rough year.

Bowden did make a nice move swapping the unnecessary Vinny Castilla to San Diego for pitcher Brian Lawrence. The idea was to open third for uberprospect Ryan Zimmerman and strengthen the rotation. Then Lawrence blew out his arm. He's out for the year.

Then Jose Guillen, the team's best returning hitter, came down with arm problems of his own. He could miss a few games, a few weeks or a few months, depending on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 137th opinion you follow.

It's not been pretty. The Nats do return a fantastic bullpen, which is undoubtedly the strength of the team. The question is how important will that be.

Outlook: The Marlins should finish last, but the Nationals will be closer to Florida then Philadelphia.

FRED SEZ: Diehard Nats fan though I am, it's hard to argue with Frinklin's analysis. We just don't have the horses to keep up with the big boys. Were it not for Jeff Loria's Travelling All-Stars and Motor Kings, we'd probably occupy the basement by a comfortable margin. That said... if some of the retread arms in the rotation can pull a Loaiza and make RFK's Yellowstone-esque dimensions work for them, and if Zimmerman breaks out, and if we find the right answer in center field, and if we can keep more than half the roster off the DL at any given time, this team could be a lot better than people realize.

Oh, and about Soriano. I see where he's on a nasty 0-fer in the World Baseball Classic, and he's fielding the ball at second like it's a live hand grenade, and I laugh my ass off. I realize that a large portion of my team's fortunes depend on him getting his head together, shutting up and having a solid year in the outfielder, and yet, in the blackest corners of my soul, I'm rooting for him to spend his run-for-the-money contract year with his whiny ass nailed to the bench. On merit.

Frinklin Rejoins: Yeah, who does play center? Is it Church, cuz I've been under the impression he was corner guy. And if Soriano refuses to play OF, what do you do with him? At $10 million, he's not an easy trade.

The good news? Ryan Zimmerman, Face of the Franchise, and my pick for Rookie of the Year.

FRED REPLIES: At this point, it's either Church or Brandon Watson in center, unless Marlon Byrd suddenly revives his career. Church is more of a corner man, yes, but he can play center. Watson is basically Willie Mays Hayes at the beginning of "Major League." Here's hoping he follows Willie's story arc during the season.

5.Florida Marlins
While it's fun to bash Jeffrey Loria for stripping this team yet again, it must be mentioned that South Florida has built two basketball arenas and a hockey-only arena in the last 15 years. He has reasons to feel unloved. The biggest question around this team is where will it end up? Vegas? Portland? San Antonio seems the frontrunner at this point. The second biggest question is what happens to Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. Both will be arbitration eligible in 2007, and it doesn't take a genius to figure out that won't happen in Florida. Both or either of these two could mean a pennant for about a half-dozen teams.

As for the actual Marlins? Well, who the hell knows? Beyond Cabrera and Willis, this is basically a Triple A team. Rookie outfielder Jeremy Hermida could be a star. So could SS Hanley Ramirez and LHP Scot Olson. Or they could suck. At this point the Fish are looking at an all-rookie outfield, plus rookies at first and short. With Pokey Reese's bizarre disappearance, 41-year old Lenny Harris is in the mix to start at second. Miguel Olivo might start at catcher. Beyond Willis and journeyman Brian Moehler, nobody –seriously, nobody- has more than a few months experience as a starter in the majors. If Joe Borowski can come back and serve as closer, he could conceivably have more major league innings than the rest of the bullpen combined.

This team is like a MVP 2005 or High Heat franchise. Did you ever do that? Pick an awful team and trade everybody, just to see how long it would be until you got good? That's what this is.

Outlook: Just live through it and hope for better days. I wonder what they'll call themselves in San Antonio? I always loved the Gunslingers name from the USFL.

FRED SEZ: I feel bad for the Marlins fan base. Last year's team was a genuinely neat and exciting team on the rise, and yet it was embraced by no one because, well, they figured this would happen. Jeff Loria is clearly King Midas in reverse (a great song, by the way), and he's bent on destroying the franchise just like he ruined Montreal. If Loria ran Wal-Mart, they'd be bankrupt within a year.

Also, I have to call foul on the San Antonio reference. As a fan who's all to aware of how fragile a team's future in town can be, it's demeaning and cruel to entertain such speculation. However, "San Antonio Scorpions" has a certain ring to it.

Frinklin Rejoins: Yeah, I'll admit to the cheap shot. I should be more sensitive, considering I have the Oakland Blackhawks, Anaheim Seahawks, Tampa Bay Mariners and Virginia Fury in my past. Hell, the Sonics nearly switched leagues back in the ABA days.

FRED REPLIES: The Virginia Fury... thank God we dodged that bullet. And now that the Nats have their stadium, I can only hope I've heard the last of the "Las Vegas Nationals" references out of my dad. Damn Yankees fans.


There are other, non-reverse-jinx-related reasons to pick Atlanta to win the division title for the 4,367th straight season (or whatever they're up to now). Each of the other teams has serious question marks. It's an open question whether the Mets' latest crazy spending spree has actually made them better. It's an open question whether, if you put the '27 Yankees in Phillies uniforms, they could finish higher than third. It's an open question whether Washington will be using me as the fifth starter by June. And it's an open question whether the Marlins can draw higher than three digits a night this year.

So, with a cosmic shrug of the shoulders, my picks:

1. Atlanta
6. Philadelphia
7. NY Mets
8. Washington
12. Miami (U. of)
16. Miami (Ohio)
18. Miami-Dade Little League All-Stars
20. Miami Sound Machine
25. Florida

Posted by Mediocre Fred at March 14, 2006 11:56 AM | TrackBack
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