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Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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United States, Pennsylvania, Wexford, Christopher Wren, English, Michael, Male, 26-30, baseball , politics.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Predictions 

I've been pretty busy at my day job as a hard-charging attorney in Western Pennsylvania over the last few days to respond to emails or scope out comments. I've been waist-deep in the middle of a jury trial and preparation for another one that kicks off next week. Don't be surprised if I am a few days late on posting my Phillies preview, as I've been blissfully unaware of basically everything else that is going on in the world at large.

As for my National League predictions ... Predictably my, well, prediction that the Braves would out-pace the Phillies and Mets was met with derision (as well as bad grammar) by Mets fans. C'est la vie. Agree with me that the Braves rotation will be better or disagree, but quit displaying your own ignorance by pretending that your opinion is the only opinion anyone is entitled to.

On the plus side, please keep reading, as your obsessive, almost stalker-esqe pursuit of me across cyberspace increases the traffic on my blog.

The Hardball Times has been posting team previews for the upcoming season and I like what they have to say. Here are ...

... The Phillies.
... The Mets.
... The Braves.
... The Nats.
... & the Fishstripes.

I just got my copy of The 33-Year Old Rookie and I've been devouring it while I ride the train into work. It's really terrific and I'll be posting a review as soon as I catch my breath. Coste did a Q&A with ESPN's Page 2 here.

Monday: Phillies Preview. Maybe.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

National League Predictions, 2008 

Last Monday I took a look at the American league. Today I look at the 2008 National League and make some predictions. Next Monday will be my official Phillies preview with all of my thoughts on the individual players themselves.

Let's talk about the N.L. Much has been made in recent years of the supposed gap in terms of talent between the American League and the National League. The deal which saw the Marlins send Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to Detroit supposedly cinched the deal. The A.L. rules. Well, I’m not so sure, and not because Johan Santana wears a Mets as opposed to a Twins uniform. There is a lot of great baseball to be played in the Senior Circuit (the N.L. began in 1876, while the A.L. started in 1901) and I think that the next World Series champion will be an N.L. team.

Okay, because we go any further I am going to define a bunch of numbers that appear in this post so that you, friendly baseball fan, won't get confused and convinced that I am talking in gibberish. Here are some stats I refer to defined with respect to hitters: Isolated Power (ISO): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage. On-Base Percentage (OBP): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances). Slugging Percentage (SLG): Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage. Power at the plate. Runs Created (RC): A stat originally created by Bill James to measure a player’s total contribution to his team’s lineup. Here is the formula: [(H + BB + HBP - CS - GIDP) times ((S * 1.125) + (D * 1.69) + (T * 3.02) + (HR * 3.73) + (.29 * (BB + HBP – IBB)) + (.492 * (SB + SF + SH)) – (.04 * K))] divided by (AB + BB + HBP + SH+ SF).

Good so far? Okay, here are the stats I refer to with respect to fielding stats: Zone Rating (ZR): Is a stat which measures a player’s defensive ability by measuring plays they should have made. Admittedly, this is a stat left open to subjective opinions. Fielding Percentage: (Putouts + Assists) / (Putouts + Assists + Errors). How often the player successfully handled the ball. Range Factor: (Putouts + Assists) * 9 / IP. Essentially measures how much a player is involved in defensive plays. Unearned Run Average (UERA): (Unearned Runs Allowed * 9) / IP. Basically how many unearned runs a defense allows.

Not too confused? Okay, here are the stats I refer to defined with respect to pitching stats: Earned Run Average (ERA): Runs Allowed * 9 / Innings Pitched = What a pitcher would give up if they hurled a nine-inning game. Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP): (((13 * HR) + (3 * BB) – (2 * K)) / IP) + League Factor. Basically a measure of how a pitcher would have done if he had an average defense behind him. Home Runs per 9 Innings (HR/9): (HR * 9) / IP. Walks per 9 Innings (BB/9): (BB * 9) / IP. Strikeouts per 9 Innings (K/9): (K * 9) / IP.

Enough with the numbers. This is going to be a great baseball season. Let’s begin our analysis with …

N.L. East
1. Atlanta Braves
2. Philadelphia Phillies (Wildcard)
3. New York Mets
4. Washington Nationals
5. Florida Marlins

The N.L. East … I’m sure most readers of my blog probably saw the order I ranked these teams at and assumed that I made a mistake. Surely Mike meant to switch #1 and #3? How can anyone in their right mind not see that the New York Mets are a lock, a shoo-in, to win the N.L. East? Might as well not even play the regular season! Just give up now and spare yourself the humiliation of defeat! … No. I looked at the numbers and came to the realization that the Atlanta Braves are the toughest team in the N.L. East, probably even the entire league. They will win the division. Quite easily, I might add. Their 2007 third-place finish was an aberration and not consistent with how well the Braves played last season. The ’07 Braves had a better runs scored / runs allowed differential (+77) than the Phillies (+71) and the Mets (+54). (Yes: the Mets probably ought to have finished third in the East instead of needing a 5-12 swan dive to blow a sure thing.) The ‘08 Braves are even better and will win 95-100 games. Why am I so confident in the Braves? Simply put, they’ve gone back to the formula that served them so well in the 1990s when Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine delivered twenty win seasons and division titles to Hotlanta. They’ve assembled the best pitching staff they’ve had in years in Atlanta with Smoltz, Glavine (returned from the Mets after a five-year stint in Queens), Tim Hudson and Chuck James. Look at how the 2008 Bill James Handbook projects the four to pitch in 2008:

Smoltz: 17-7, 3.22 ERA
Hudson: 15-9, 3.67 ERA
Glavine: 11-10, 3.99 ERA
James: 12-8, 3.86 ERA

Any team facing that rotation should weep. Added in is the problem that the Braves will have a healthy Chipper Jones (Bill James Handbook projects: 105 Runs Created in ‘08) and a full season from Mark Teixeira, who hit 17 home runs and 56 RBI in just 54 games with the Braves in ’07 (Handbook projection for 2008: 36 HR, 120 RBI, 121 Runs Created). True the Braves lost the talented defensive wiz Andruw Jones, a big reason why their pitchers did so well for so long, but they made up for it with the acquisition of Mark Kotsay from the A’s. Kotsay's .899 Zone Rating (ZR) was roughly comparable to Jones' .921, which suggests that their defense will continue to be very good. The ’08 Braves clearly improved on the ’07 squad and will be contenders … I won’t discuss the Phillies too much here – that’s what my season preview next Monday is for – but the Phillies made solid, marginal improvements to their roster by adding Brad Lidge and moving Brett Myers back into the rotation and they boast three potential MVP candidates in Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. I think the Phillies are good enough to make the playoffs, and sabremetrics guru Bill James agrees, holding the Phillies to be one of the two best teams in the National League … So why don’t I like the New York Mets? Well, for one thing they weren’t as good as they looked in 2007. As I discussed a little above, their Pythagorean win – loss record should have given them 86 wins instead of 88 and would have placed them third in the division. The question is: does the acquisition of Johan Santana alter the problems the Mets have? Absolutely not. Sure, the Mets now have a terrific starting pitcher who will contend for the Cy Young Award. However, the Mets 88 wins in 2007 were built on unexpectedly strong performances from John Maine (15-10, 3.91 ERA) and Oliver Perez (15-10, 3.56 ERA). Count on Maine and Perez to regress closer to average in 2008. Additionally, the team lost Tom Glavine, an experienced starter, to the Braves. Basically, the Mets rotation is going to consist of Maine, Perez, Santana and Pedro Martinez, provided that Pedro’s arm holds up. Good luck. Offensively the Mets have real issues on the field. Carlos Delgado is in decline after a lackluster season which saw him hit just 24 home runs and 87 RBI. Jose Reyes struggled down the stretch in ’07, so I am not sure if he’ll be in the right mental frame of mind next year. Oh, and injuries are a major issue here. With several key players in their late 30s and even 40s, they could really be done in if a key player like Carlos Beltran went down. Basically, the Mets have a few great players – Santana, David Wright, Beltran, Reyes, and maybe Pedro – surrounded by talent that ranges from average to mediocre. The Braves and Phillies have more depth than the Mets and their across-the-board strength gives them the edge in the regular season. Watch how the Mets would collapse without Beltran or Reyes in the lineup. Sure, the Mets might be tough to beat in a best-of-five – I sure wouldn’t want to face Santana and Pedro in a short series – but they don’t have the horses to go through 162 games and emerge victorious … The gap between the Mets and the Washington Nationals is enormous. The Nationals, since they moved to our nation’s capitol, have really struggled to turn things around. They’ve added a lot of hitters recently (Austin Kearns, Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes - adding quality outfielders seems to be a speciality of General Manager Jim Bowden), but their rotation is still absurdly bad. The Nationals will score a few more runs this season than they did in their dead-last 673 in 2007, but they still will allow a lot of runs. Their Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) ERA was the worst in the N.L. in 2007. Don’t expect that to improve in 2008 beyond a game or two … Speaking of not improving: the ’07 Florida Marlins were the worst defensive team in the N.L. last season (0.61 Unearned Run Average – UERA) and one of the worst pitching-wise as well (4.68 FIP, better than just the Phillies and Nationals). Take away their best hitter (Miguel Cabrera) and their best pitcher (Dontrelle Willis) and, well … There’s always 2011, Marlins fans. Sure the Marlins will reap a benefit in the long run by taking some good prospects like the Tigers Cameron Maybin, and they already have talent in Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez, but this is a 55-107 kind of team.

Other views: Click here for Baseball Prospectus' 2008 N.L. East preview. If you are interested in reading some blogs from fellow N.L. East bloggers, might I suggest ... For those interested in what Braves fans are saying, Braves Nation is a nice place to stop off at. Braves bloggers are a low-key, curiously dispassionate crew, so talking with them is pretty enjoyable. After the Mets won the N.L. East in '06 there was a glut of Mets bloggers out there on the internet. The signing of Johan Santana has evidentially prompted a new legion to hang out their shingle as well. MetsBlog is probably the best, well, Mets Blog out there, but the Mets bloggers run the risk of becoming Cubs bloggers are their worst: pathetic, ignorant, angry. In the unlikely event that you want to read about what Marlins fans are saying, scope out FishStripes. If you are into baseball in our nation's capitol, check out Nationals Power. Moving along ...

N.L. Central
1. Chicago Cubs
2. Milwaukee Brewers
3. St. Louis Cardinals
4. Cincinnati Reds
5. Houston Astros
6. Pittsburgh Pirates

The N.L. Central … As fate would have it, 2008 marks the 100th Anniversary of the Chicago Cubs last World Series title. No pressure, Cubs fans. Is this the year that the Cubs win it all? Who knows. The ’06 Cardinals, winners of just 83 regular season games, were arguably the most unlikely World Series winner in two decades. Why not the Cubbies? … The ’08 Cubs are the best team in a bad division. The N.L. Central was probably the worst in baseball last year and might be again, perhaps eclipsed only by the A.L. West. The Cubs 85 wins were good enough to win the division and get them to the playoffs for the first time since 2003. 83-85 wins could be good enough to win in 2008 once more. The Cubs have quality pitching with Carlos Zambrano, Rich Hill, Ted Lilly and former Phillie Jon Lieber on the mound – Lieber, in particular, could be a spectacular find for the Cubs – and solid bats in their lineup: Aramis Ramirez, Derek Lee, and Alfonso Soriano. The big three of Soriano, Lee and Ramirez are all capable of producing 100+ Runs Created and Lilly, Zambrano and Hill are all capable of winning twenty games. Their ERAs last season were all under 4.00 and they all notched impressive strikeout totals. The Cubs, you may not be aware, surrendered the second-fewest runs in the N.L. in 2007: just 690. The problem the Cubs have is that the team is badly built: After the big three of Soriano, Lee and Ramirez, their lineup is pretty lousy. They have nobody to set the table. A team boasting those bats shouldn’t struggle to score runs. And yet the ’07 Cubs did. Their On-Base Percentages and Slugging Percentages were under the National League average. New centerfielder Felix Pie had an OBP of .271 in 2007. Hopefully he'll improve, but the Cubs don't have players that can get on base and set the table for the Big Three. As for power: the Big Three hit 81 of the Cubs 151 home runs, or 53%, in 2007. A team this shallow in terms of depth could falter against stronger competition … Thankfully for the North Siders, the best they have to play against are the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brew Crew, led by Prince Fielder (50 Home Runs, 119 RBI, 35 Doubles), actually led the N.L. Central for most of the season before faltering in the late summer, and might compete against the Cubs once more. They return nearly the same team to the field in 2008 that they fielded in 2007. The Brewers, who led the N.L. in Isolated Power at the plate at .194, will hit a lot of home runs, but need consistent table-setters to make Prince Fielder’s solo shots into two or three-run homers (the Brewers team OBP was a below-average .329) and they need to support their pitching staff with better defense. Ben Sheets and Jeff Suppan did a surprisingly nice job for the Brewers in 2007 (Suppan: 12-12, 4.62 ERA, Sheets: 12-5, 3.82 ERA), but their team Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER, the percentage of balls put into play turned into outs) was an absurdly bad .680. Third baseman - and undeserving 2007 Rookie of the Year - Ryan Braun committed a whopping 25 errors in 2007. Wisely, the Brewers moved him to leftfield, where he could do less damage, but this is a shoddy unit. These guys are too flawed to win consistently … The St. Louis Cardinals have gone a long way from their World Series title in 2006. The ’07 Cardinals fell apart and the team appears to be in transition. Gone are Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen, mainstays of the team over the last decade. Chris Duncan (21 Home Runs, 70 RBI) and Rick Ankiel (11 Home Runs, 39 RBI in 47 games) are the new outfielders along with centerfielder Skip Schumaker. The pitching staff is a mess. Chris Carpenter is back, but I wonder about the rest of the unit. As bad as Kip Wells was last season (7-17, 5.70 ERA), Brad Looper wasn’t much better (12-12, 4.94 ERA). I wonder, as I project the Cardinals for a third-place finish, if I am giving them too much credit. If Albert Pujols (32 Home Runs, 38 Doubles, .429 OBP, 103 RBI) is healthy, the Cardinals can go .500. Without Pujols, this team will challenge the Pirates for the cellar. They need recent signee, and former Phillie, Kyle Lohse to come up big. Good luck … I think that the day Ken Griffey Jr. retires will be the happiest day in the lives of many a Cincinnati Reds fan. When Griffey joined the Reds in 2000 it seemed that they had robbed Pat Gillick and the Mariners blind. They snared Griffey for a handful of players, didn’t have to give up defensive superstar Pokey Reese and added a formidable bat to a team that won 96 games the previous year. Griffey’s career has been one continuous disaster after another. His 144 games last season was the most he played since 2000, though he still ended the season on the D.L. His numbers at the plate are still solid (.372 OBP, 30 Home Runs and 93 RBI last season), but he’s a nightmare in rightfield. Worse, his karma has thoroughly permeated the Reds organization. That is too bad, because the ’08 Reds have some talent. Aaron Harang (16-6, 3.73) and Bronson Arroyo (9-15, 4.23 ERA) are a terrific one-two punch on the mound and put up good numbers despite pitching in one of the friendliest hitters parks in baseball. Unfortunately, the rest of the Reds pitching staff is mediocre and their fielding is equally forgettable. The Reds will hit lots and lots of homers, but they need to concentrate their resources on securing quality pitching. They might lap the Cards for third, but they won’t do much better than .500 … Former Phillies GM Ed Wade is busy trying to rebuild the Houston Astros into a contender and I wish him luck. Wade has worked some decent deals thus far, shipping closer Brad Lidge to the Phillies for Michael Bourn, minor leaguer Mike Costanzo (whom he promptly redealt to the Orioles) and Geoff Geary, then dealing for Orioles third baseman Miguel Tejada. Bourn is a solid player and Wade won’t regret that part of the deal, but the acquisition of Tejada gives him two slow, declining sluggers in Tejada and Carlos Lee on his roster. The Bill James Handbook projects Tejada, age 32, to hit just 24 Home Runs, while Lee, also 32, projects better, but both players are entering the twilight of their careers. The effort to win now might cost Ed Wade in the long run. He also needs to focus on his pitching and defense more. Both were substandard in 2007, and the weakness of his pitching staff is especially compounded by the problem that they had one of the finest pitchers in baseball on the staff in 2007: Roy Oswalt, 14-7 with 3.18 ERA. My friends at Philly Sports Talk Now picked the Astros to win the Central, but I think this could be a sixth place team … Will this be the year that the Pittsburgh Pirates finally finish above .500? This is a subject that I often find myself debating as I live here in the Western Pennsylvania area and have watched the Pirates struggle through year after year of misery on the field. My guess is that the Pirates will finish below .500 for the zillionth time since they lost the 1992 NLCS to the Atlanta Braves. That’s not to say that there is hope on the horizon for the Pirates, however. The team’s investment in pitching might really start to pay dividends in the future. Tom Gorzelanny (14-10, 3.88 ERA) and Ian Snell (9-12, 3.76 ERA) were brilliant and Matt Morris, an acquisition derided by most of the media, will give them a quality third arm. If Zach Duke (3-8, 5.53 ERA) and Paul Maholm (10-15, 5.02 ERA) turn their careers around, this could be a rotation as good as any in the N.L. That said, they need improved production from their position players. Jason Bay (21 home runs, 84 RBI) and Adam LaRoche (21 home runs, 88 RBI) both struggled at the plate and Freddy Sanchez needs to draw more walks (just 32, or .049 BB/PA) to be an effective table-setter. This was a bad unit in 2007 – particularly defensively – and it is pretty much unchanged in 2008. If Bay and LaRoche hit and if Maholm and Duke improve … this could be a dark horse team. .500 is a possibility and a division title is not impossible in the topsy-turvy world of the N.L. Central.

Other views: Click here for Baseball Prospectus' 2008 N.L. Central preview. Want to read a good Pirates blog? Check out Honest Wagner. I also like Red Reporter.


N.L. West
1. Arizona Diamondbacks
2. San Diego Padres
3. Colorado Rockies
4. Los Angeles Dodgers
5. San Francisco Giants

The N.L. West … The West is Best. Team-for-team, the N.L. West is the best division in baseball, in my opinion. Any one of these teams could win the division and any team might finish dead-last and still have a .500 record. I think the Arizona Diamondbacks are the best of the bunch. With everyone yapping about how the Mets bought the pennant with Santana, everyone has ignored the fact that the D-backs have a better rotation than the Mets could hope for. Brandon Webb (18-10, 3.01 ERA), Randy "The Big Unit" Johnson and Dan Haren (15-9, 3.07 ERA) gives the D-backs three very good pitchers. This is a rotation that comes close to equaling the Braves for the best in the N.L. Yes, the D-backs starting lineup is weak. And yes, I am baffled about how they posted the best record in the N.L. despite being out-scored by 20 runs in 2007, but I like the D-backs strength on the mound and I think they’ll hit better than they did last season in 2008. This is a young team that has tasted success and wants some more … I was astonished by the San Diego Padres collapse last season: they had led the N.L. West for a good deal of the season then collapsed down the stretch not once but three times: first losing to the Diamondbacks in early September to surrender the division lead, then blowing a lead over the Brewers in the final weekend to allow the Rockies to catch up, then with Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy on the mound they still lost managed to lose. What a heart-breaking season, but the Padres offensive woes spelled their doom and will continue to haunt the team. There is a lot to like about the ’08 Padres though – any team featuring multiple Cy Young Award winners (Peavy, 19-6, 2.54 ERA and Greg Maddux, 14-11, 4.14 ERA) is going to have good pitching. Chris Young wasn’t too bad either on the mound in 2008: 9-8, with a 3.12 ERA. Peavy, Young and Maddux had three of the top seven fielding independent pitching (FIP) ERAs in the N.L. in ’08. Peavy had an astonishing 143 Pitching Runs Created, best in the N.L. (second: Brandon Webb with 129). This is a great pitching staff with a tremendous closer on the mound: Trevor Hoffman. The Padres are the ultimate pitching-and-defense oriented team: their 3.74 team FIP was the only one in the majors under 4.00 … Their .701 DER was above-average and one of the best in the N.L. Simply put, this team can prevent people from scoring runs: their 666 runs allowed was the fewest in the National League. Offensively, the Padres are pretty punchless at the plate. What surprises me about the Padres is that for a team that has such a good pitching staff and plays in such an extreme pitchers park (75 Run Factor, meaning it was 25% harder to score a run at Petco than anywhere else, and a home run factor of 71), I don’t know why the Padres don’t add more speed (just 55 stolen bases, worst in the N.L.) and better contact hitters (.322 OBP, second-worst in the N.L. after the D-backs). Surprisingly, the Padres hit with some power: their .160 isolated power at the plate was actually slightly better than the N.L. average. This team needs more speed and more table-setters. Their big off-season acquisition was to bring in a declining Jim Edmonds. Maybe Edmonds will rejuvenate his career in SD, but I think this team will fall a little short of the D-backs … What an exceptional season the Colorado Rockies had in 2007. They won 21 of 22 games to make the World Series before falling to the Red Sox. The great tragedy of the Phillies season was that they, the team of destiny, ran headlong into a team whose destiny was greater. Offensively the Rockies are fearsome. Matt Holiday would have been a deserving MVP winner if Jimmy Rollins hadn’t won. Troy Tolowitzki had one of the best seasons a Rookie has ever had. And the Rockies weren’t simple sluggers either. Holliday and Todd Helton had OBPs of .405 and .434 respectively. They even played a little small ball, leading the N.L. in 83 sacrifice hits. Defensively the Rockies are very good too. I wonder if their pitching will continue to excel. In the recent past the Rockies have seen their team ERA, which once was typically the worst in the N.L., improve to respectability. Last year’s team had a team ERA of 4.32, better than the N.L. average. The problem that I have with it is that the Rockies largely stitched it together with an assortment of spare parts here and there. Jeff Francis was great (17-9, 4.22 ERA), but the rest of the staff was a smattering of talent. Can the Rockies put things together again? I am going to say no. Third place … I feel like repeating my analysis of the Padres when I talk about the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Bill James Handbook projects Jason Schmidt, Brad Penny and Derek Lowe to go 10-6, 3.41 ERA; 12-10, 3.83 ERA; and 13-11, 3.78 ERA respectively. This is a rotation that is very strong and could be exceptional with the addition of Japanese player H Kuroda. Again, with the Padres, the Dodgers have a punchless offense that needs improvement. Perhaps free agent signee Andruw Jones will shake off his struggles last season (.222 BA) and perform well, but the Dodgers need some solid offensive firepower to move the runners around the bases. Their team .131 isolated power at the plate was the worst in the N.L. and nicely illustrates the problem teams have when they rely too heavily on timely hitting and speed to score runs. Still, the Dodgers could really surprise some people. I could even see this team in the playoffs … Finally we come to the San Francisco Giants, now entering Year 1 A.B., or After Barry. Bonds and his problematic pursuit of the home runs records has largely sucked the oxygen out of the Giants for years. They had built the team with veteran players to compliment Bonds and help him get to that elusive World Series ring, a task they nearly accomplished in 2002. Now the Giants can start to look towards their future. The thing that astonishes me is that when you look at their lineup, however, is that they have to be the oldest team in the National League. Over at shortstop is Omar Vizquel (41). Second baseman Ray Durham is 36, as are first baseman Rich Aurilla and leftfielder Dave Roberts. Rightfielder Randy Winn is 34. Catcher Bengie Molina is 33. Former Phillie Aaron Rowand is 30. Aside from third baseman Kevin Frandsen (the young pup of the group at age 26) not a single position starter is under 30. Yikes. This team is going to be bad. Last year, even with Bonds drawing intentional walks and clubbing home runs, they were still awful. The Giants scored the second-fewest runs in the N.L. and ranked fourteenth in isolated power and On-Base Percentage. In other words, they didn’t get on base and they didn’t hit for power. Defensively the Giants were pretty good and their pitching staff is the future of the team. Barry Zito has taken over as the face of the Giants turned in a solid performance (11-13, 4.53 ERA) which doesn’t really justify his contract. The real stars of the staff were Matt Cain, who went 7-16 despite posting an ERA of 3.65 (not surprisingly, he led the N.L. in tough losses with eight), and rookie Rim Lincecum, who went 7-5 with a 4.00 ERA. Like Cain, who’s eight tough losses obscure good pitching, Lincecum’s twelve no-decisions obscure good pitching too. Lincecum’s 9.22 strikeouts per nine innings was impressive and remind me a great deal of Cole Hamels. In the long run the Giants will improve, but they’ve got a ways to go and need to hope that their pitchers can win lots of 2-1 games. I think the Giants could contend, but I am skeptical. The A.B. era was something that should have begun years ago but the Giants wanted him to break the record in their uniform. Now they are paying the price.

Other views:

Click here for Baseball Prospectus' 2008 N.L. West preview. One of the best blogs on the 'Net is Geoff Young's Ducksnorts. I also like AZ Snakepit, a Diamondbacks Blog.

Playoff Race … will largely evolve into a battle between the Cubs and Brewers for the N.L. Central title, while the Diamondbacks and Braves cruise to easy wins in their races. The Phillies, Mets, Padres and Rockies will battle fiercely for the wildcard. The Rockies, and then the Mets, will falter down the stretch, making this into a two team race. The Phillies, with their superior offense, will hold off the pitching-heavy Padres for the final playoff slot …

Dark Horse team: Dodgers. Strong pitching staff might help them motor to the post-season.

NLDS:
Diamondbacks over Phillies, 3-2
Braves over Cubs, 3-1

The Phillies fall in the decisive fifth game to Brandon Webb in the heat of the Arizona desert, despite putting up a valiant battle. Meanwhile, the Braves steamroll the Cubs hitters with their rotation of pitchers.

NLCS:
Braves over Diamondbacks, 4-2. And the Braves return to the World Series for the first time since 1999 (nearly a decade!) by outlasting the D-backs. The advantage the Braves have is that they have a deeper rotation than the D-backs, who lacked the presence of Brandon Webb in the first two games of the series.

Awards:

N.L. MVP: Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies. Utley will win his first MVP award and the third for a member of the Phillies in as many years, something that hasn’t happened in the N.L. since the St. Louis Cardinals had three different winners in three years between 1942 – 1944. Why will Utley win the award? Simply put, he’s a consistent hitter who does everything well: he gets on base (.410 OBP in 2007), he hits for average (.332), he has speed (nine steals in ten tries, as well as five triples), he hits for power (48 doubles and 22 home runs in 2007 while missing a month of the season), and he plays a difficult defensive position well. He’s the best second baseman in baseball and probably the best all-around player in the National League. He had 28 Wins Shares in 2007 despite missing thirty plus games. Runners up: Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals; Ryan Howard, 1B, Phillies; and Prince Fielder, 1B, Brewers.

N.L. Cy Young: Brandon Webb, Starting Pitcher, Diamondbacks. Something that is very interesting about Brandon Webb: in the last two years he’s tossed nine complete games. Webb completed four starts in 2007 and Jake Peavy, the man who won the ’07 Cy Young from him, finished none. Webb was the second-best pitcher in the N.L. in ’07, but he’ll excel in 2008 with a better offense around him and more support in the rotation. Webb will win twenty games, post an ERA at or lower than 3.00, and will strikeout 200+ hitters again. Regardless of what Peavy does, what Webb does is more impressive because he does it at a hitters park as opposed to the cavernous pitchers domain of Petco in San Diego. Look for Santana to struggle in the early going with a sore arm. Runners up: Johan Santana, Starting Pitcher, Mets; Cole Hamels, Starting Pitcher, Phillies; John Smoltz, Starting Pitcher, Braves.

Rookie of the Year: Cameron Maybin, Outfield, Marlins. Expect the talented Mr. Maybin to get 162 games with the Marlins. Why not? These guys could field 5 or 6 rookies in their Opening Day roster.

World Series … The Atlanta Braves – yes those boring, dreary Atlanta Braves – will win their first World Series title since 1995 by defeating the Cleveland Indians once more in a dramatic, exciting series that sees arguably the two best pitching teams in the major leagues dueling for supremacy. I like the Braves in this series because they boast four terrific pitchers and are backed up by a solid collection of fielders and hitters. Call it Braves in six.

Next Monday: Phillies Preview! Read all about it!

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