Monday, March 29, 2010

The NL West is actually the NL Best

Often times, I hear people talk down on the Dodgers by saying that they play in a weak division, and that any team could win there. Now let's be honest, I do not like very many of the teams in the NL West, and I loathe the Giants. But teams deserve credit where credit is due, NL West rivals included.

Readers, this is why the NL West is not only the best division in the NL, but also the second best division in Baseball (behind the AL East obviously). I judge through strength of individual teams, and the amount of competition for the top spot. I believe most people can agree that the AL East is better, and that both Leagues' Central Divisions are worse, as the AL Central is weak (even though the competition is strong), and the NL Central is the Cardinals and a bunch of average teams behind them.

That leaves the AL West, and the NL East.

First, let me explain why the NL West is stronger than people think. In school, I am in a Latin class, and I am absolutely sure that in this class, one of the lines translated to: "...and the Los Angeles Dodgers were kicked out of the MOBL (Mt. Olympus Baseball League) for being too good..." Yeah, obviously the Dodgers are a solid team. Their hitting is great, their starting pitching can get the job done (please read this post for more), and their bullpen was among the best in the league. As a fan, I will tell you that no team is better, regardless of the score to any game or series.
The Rockies are also very good. They are young, have similar pitching to the Dodgers, and where they are weaker in the Bullpen, they are stronger in their hitting.
The Giants (and it pains me to admit it) have one of the best Starting Rotations in the MLB (although should Lincecum or even Cain go down, their season will follow) and their offense is a bit better. They do not look like Division winners, but they will certainly be in the hunt for a Wild Card Spot, and with their pitching, they would be incredibly dangerous in the Playoffs.
The Diamondbacks appear to be a bad team for most, but one has to look at what they've done this offseason to remedy that situation. First, their true Ace, Brandon Webb will be returning from injury. Second, they made their rotation stronger by adding All-Star Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy. Third, they made their hitting stronger by adding 1B Adam LaRoche, and 2B Kelly Johnson. Fourth, they have a budding Superstar in Justin Upton who had a great season last year, and Mark Reynolds is in his prime. On paper at least, they appear to be a team that I think will do better than the Giants this year.
And the Padres, well, they are certainly the JV team of this Division. I really am not sure what I can say to defend the Padres, except their record last year was 75-87, which I believe they can repeat. For the worst team in a division, that's certainly not bad at all.

In the AL West, it is conceivable that 90 wins can take the Division Crown, as the Angels regressed with the losses of John Lackey, Chone Figgins, and Vladdy (although Hideki Matsui an Joel Pineiro make it sting a bit less), and the Mariners and Rangers did not make enough moves to secure the Division. As such, each team could be called "Good", but none of them could be called "Great". The fact that it's hard to pick a winner of those three teams this year says to me that the competition will be strong, but the teams themselves will not be. To put it into perspective, the Rockies won 92 games last year and finished second in the NL West, but I don't believe any of those three teams will not need to win that many games to win their division.

In the NL East, you have 5 teams that could each be put into a separate "Tier" if you will.
Phillies - Really Dominant team that are favorites to win.
Braves - Great Pitching, Good, but not good enough Hitting.
Marlins - Good Pitching, Good Hitting.
Nationals - Average Pitching, Average Hitting, Developing in all aspects but looking like they will make progress.
Mets - Get my GM and Manager out of here! (That is also my projection for how the Division race will turn out)
While the NL East looks similar the NL West, one must remember which division fielded the Wild Card Team (West), and look at how deep the division is. Sure, the Phillies are great, but the Mets and Nationals are certainly not, and I don't think it's conceivable that their could be a potential 4-team division race like in the NL West. The Braves and Marlins just don't seem strong enough to push the Phillies out of first.

Look, people are always welcome to their opinions, and it's not possible for this post to convince all of the nay-sayers. But before you go around trumpeting that the Dodgers are preying on a bad division, take a look around some of the other divisions in the league. I really do believe that it's foolish to say any division (Again, besides the AL East) is stronger than the NL West. No other division exhibits both the Quality of Teams and Quality of Competition that the NL West does. Therefore, it simply must be considered the NL Best.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why Aren't Dodgers-Detractors Also Rockies-Detractors?

It might already be getting old to say it on this blog, but here it is again: the folks who have endlessly criticized the Dodgers this off-season have been harsh and biased.  Here is a list of the complaints, once again:

1.  The Dodgers don't have an ace.
2.  They lost Randy Wolf and didn't get anyone to replace him, so they're down a starter from last year.
3.  Related to this, they don't have a true fifth starter.
4.  They didn't make any big off-season moves to make themselves better.

So the constant prediction I hear is that the Giants, and even more likely, the Rockies will win the division this season.  And that's certainly not out of the question.  The Rockies are good and almost gave the Dodgers a run at it last year.

But then I saw this offseason-in-review piece on the Rockies and I thought to myself, "Weird- they have a lot of the same problems as the Dodgers, but no one seems to mention it." Let's mirror the above list with the Rockies:

1.  The Rockies don't have an ace, except maybe Ubaldo.
2.  They lost Jason Marquis and didn't get anyone to replace him, although they'll have Jeff Francis back.
3.  The Rockies do have five starters at this point, so it appears that this is in their favor.
4.  The Rockies didn't make any big off-season moves to make themselves better.

Each team really did two things this off-season: held on to strong bullpens (Rockies re-signed Betancourt and extended Huston Street, who, you may remember, was horrendous in the playoffs) and solidified the bench (added Melvin Mora and retained Jason Giambi).

So let's compare: the Dodgers and Rockies both have young, unproven #1 starters (Kershaw/Ubaldo) with incredible stuff and live arms but who haven't yet put in a full, ace-quality season.  Both lost starters who gave them over 200 quality innings (Wolf: 214.1 IP, 11-7, 3.23 ERA/Marquis: 216 IP, 15-13, 4.04 ERA).  Both have highly questionable fifth starter situations (the Dodgers have a committee of possibilities; Francis didn't throw a single pitch in 2009, was 4-10 with a 5.01 ERA in '08, and even in '07 when he was 17-9, his ERA was 4.22).  Neither team had a major off-season addition.

Even the situation with the starters in general is remarkably similar: both have a pair of hard-throwing, great stuff guys to front the rotation (Kershaw & Bills vs. Ubaldo & de la Rosa) with at least one veteran behind them (Kuroda & the Fish vs. Aaron Cook and Jason Hammel) and questions for the fifth starter.  Both have young, powerful lineups with veteran presence in the middle that had excellent seasons last year.  Both have good back ends of the bullpen (though Street and Betancourt both have more checkered histories, partly with health, than do Broxton and Sherrill).  Both have managers that have proven they can make things happen with their teams.

I'd still give the Dodgers the overall edge, even if it's slight.  That's how it went last year and there isn't a great reason to think it will be any different this year.

Which leads me to a final thesis: I can only assume that the primary reason that people say that the Dodgers will not win the division this year is because of the McCourt divorce mess.  And it is a mess, but it isn't a reason to think that the Dodgers suddenly are going to collapse.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Warning: Dragons About to be Unleashed in Washington

Any true fan of Football would recognize that Quarterback. His name is Rex Grossman, better known as Rax Grissman or Sexy Rexy, take your pick. He's never been afraid to chuck the football as far as he can into Triple Coverage, and he's known for unleashing the dragon with every throw. And now he's taking his abilities to the Washington Redskins. If I lived anywhere near the D.C. area, I'd beware of Dragons being unleashed. Not only by Rex here, but also by Jason Campbell.

In all seriousness though, this is a solid move for the Redskins, they have a solid backup and possible competition for Campbell. I just love making any Rex Grossman joke I can.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

So Your'e Worried about the Dodgers' Pitching? Don't Be.

Here is the knock on the Dodgers that I hear from every baseball talking head/every one of my Dodger-hating friends: the Dodgers don't have a fifth starter or an ace.

I'm not concerned at all about the fifth starter.  I'm only slightly concerned about the ace.  Here's why:


Nobody has a fifth starter.  And by nobody, I mean the Cardinals and Phillies, who are clearly the other two best teams in the NL.

The Phillies: The Phillies rotation as it stands right now is Halladay, Hamels, Blanton, and Happ.  GM Ruben Amaro has said that the fifth starter's spot is 47-year-old Jamie Moyer's (2009 line 12-10, 4.94 ERA, 162 IP, 25 GS) to lose. The backup plans, with last year's stats in parentheses are Antonio Bastardo (2-3, 6.56 ERA, 23.2 IP, 5 GS), Jose Contreras (87 years old, 6-13, 4.92 ERA, 131.2 IP, 23 GS), Kyle Kendrick (3-1, 3.42 ERA, 26.1 IP, 2 GS, and in 2008 he was 11-9, 5.49 ERA, 155.2 IP, 30 GS), and Drew Carpenter (1 career major league start).  Not an especially compelling group.

The Cardinals: The Cardinals, who by the way have already scratched Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday for a spring training game (with lower back soreness and ribcage soreness, respectively, both of which are places that can really nag pro ballplayers), are lined up with Carpenter, Wainright, Kyle Lohse, and Brad Penny.  Jon Weisman broke down the fifth starter candidates like this:

- 2009 reliever Kyle McClellan (no career major-league starts)
- Veteran Rich Hill (who has 77 1/3 innings and a 6.87 ERA the past two seasons)
- 22-year-old rookie Lance Lynn (2.92 ERA in AA in 2009)
- 23-year-old Jaime Garcia (37 2/3 minor-league innings last year, following surgery).

With Dave Duncan as a pitching coach anything is possible, but still, this is also not an impressive bunch.

The Dodgers: The Dodgers, by contrast, have stalked up on candidates for the role- an approach that they have taken almost every year for the last decade or so.  Make sure there are four starters (this year it's Kershaw, Billingsley, Kuroda, and Padilla), then invite about ten has-beens and rookies to camp and see what happens.  And frankly, it has worked.  The young candidates include knuckleballer Charlie Haeger, Eric Stults, Josh Lindblom, James MacDonald, and Carlos Monasterios.  The has-beens include Jeff Weaver (though he's basically locked in as the swingman), Russ Ortiz, Ramon Ortiz, and Josh Towers.

Not that any of those guys are going to scare you, but most of them have had at least a cup of coffee in the bigs, and some of them have had genuine success- even if it was 4 or 5 years ago.  It's not that this group is necessarily better than the Phils' or the Cards' groups, but frankly, they probably are, and they're at least not worse.  In short, this just isn't a cause for concern.


It is impossible to argue that the Dodgers have a proven ace.  But it is possible to argue that they have at least one budding one, maybe two.  Clayton Kershaw last year quietly had the same ERA as Roy Halladay (2.79) and hitters hit for a significantly lower average against him (.200 vs. .256).  Is Kershaw better than Halladay? Of course not.  Halladay through 60 more innings than Kershaw, won more games, and did it all in the AL East.  I'm not arguing that.  But Kershaw will be 22 when the season starts and has already turned in a season with an ERA under 3.00.  The guy is as impressive as they come, especially at that age.

On top of that, Chad Billingsley looked for the first month and a half last year like a Cy Young candidate.  His second half struggles are well-known, but let's not forget that he is also only 25 with a career ERA of 3.55.  Even last year his ERA ended at 4.03.  In 2008 he was 16-10 with a 3.14 ERA, and the Dodgers attribute his second-half slide last year to a hamstring injury.  Is he the next Chris Carpenter?  Maybe not.  But one bad half is no reason to panic.

Compare the Phils' and Cards' first four starters again, with 2009 stats in parentheses.

Dodgers: Kershaw (8-8, 2.79 ERA, 171 IP), Billingsley (12-11, 4.03 ERA, 196.1 IP), Padilla (w/ TEX: 8-6, 4.92 ERA, 108 IP; w/ LAD: 4-0, 3.20 ERA, 39.1 IP), Kuroda (8-7, 3.76 ERA, 117.1 IP).
Phillies: Halladay (17-10, 2.79 ERA, 239 IP), Hamels (10-11, 4.32 ERA, 193.2 IP), Blanton (12-8, 4.05 ERA, 195.1 IP), Happ (12-4, 2.93 ERA, 166 IP).
Cardinals: Carpenter (17-4, 2.24 ERA, 192.2 IP), Wainwright (19-8, 2.63 ERA, 233 IP), Lohse (6-10, 4.74 ERA, 117.2 IP), Penny (11-9, 4.88 ERA, 173.1 IP).

Put it all together and you get this: the Cards clearly have the best 1-2 of the group if not in all of baseball.  But their rotation falls off a ton after that.  Carpenter hadn't had a healthy season for two years leading up to last year, Lohse is 31 and has had only one year with an ERA under 4.00 (2008- 3.78), and Brad Penny is fat, no one likes him, and he was awful for most of last year.

The Phils' rotation is curious: Halladay will be amazing and Blanton should be solid, but who knows what Hamels has this year, Happ has only one season under his belt, and Moyer is 47.  They should be a good group of course, but there are questions.

And of course, the Dodgers have questions too, but my point really is to show that the rotation is far from awful and potentially very good.  On top of that the Dodgers had the best bullpen in the NL last year and figure to be right in there again.

So fret not, Dodgers fan.  The rotation should be fine.  Will it be stellar?  That's a hard call.  But it shouldn't be bad- or certainly not as bad as the baseball doomsday prophets make it out to be.

T.O. + Ochocinco = Sports Euphoria

So the rumor is that Terrell Owens will sign with the Bengals, therefore bringing together the NFL's ultimate wide receiver entertainment duo.  Pop quiz: who are the two craziest, most ridiculous, most entertaining wide receivers in the last twenty years of NFL football?  If you said Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, you'd be correct.

Which is why as a fan of sports-as-entertainment, I desperately hope that this deal happens.  Frankly, from a football perspective, the move makes a bit of sense.  Carson Palmer will throw the ball 40 times a game anyway, so having the two greediest receivers in the league shouldn't be a problem.  And despite being such a pass-heavy offense, the Bengals were hurt by their lack of capable receivers last year, especially after Chris Henry died.  Ochocinco isn't enough on his own, and Ryan Fitzpatrick's reliance on T.O. last season made it clear that Owens still has some gas in the tank.

But really, who cares?  The only thing that really matters here is that Owens and Ochocinco are going to combine to make the Bengals into the Harlem Globetrotters of the NFL- only mean.  I think I also read somewhere that Cincinnati is looking into signing Pacman Jones, Keyshawn Johnson and Latrell Sprewell.

The last couple of seasons has seen the Bengals trying to clean up their image.  Signing T.O. would be Marvin Lewis & co. saying, "Screw it- let's just put fans in the seats and boost the t.v. ratings."  And I offer a hearty amen.  This is Britney Spears touring with Lady Gaga.  It's Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura on the same presidential ticket.  On the basis of pure insanity/entertainment value, you can't draw it up any better.

Scratch that: I just thought of one way.  Picture Roger Goodell at the podium speaking these words: "With the 21st pick of the 2010 NFL draft, the Cincinnati Bengals select: Tim Tebow."  Now that's a reality show that I'd watch.