Capital Hill

April 30, 2007

The best performance of the week goes to one Mr. Shawn Hill. What began as a hot start has turned into a legitimate possibility of a bona fide major league pitcher, the best on the team. Especially with Patterson still not fully recovered. Or properly coiffed. Have you seen that guy’s hair? Anyway, back to Hill, who had a terrific outing Thursday night, outdueling Cole Hamels. Hamels is the pitcher of the future for the Phillies, just as, it appears, that Hill may be the pitcher of the future for the Nats. But on Thursday it seemed that Hill and his sinker were most certainly of the present. For those of you who missed it, take it from Nats first baseman and butcher’s tool Da Meat Hook:

A couple of batters that actually reached first base were talking about how nasty he was, and how they didn’t want to face him

But don’t just listen to the guys on the field. On TNR we like actual proof, so let’s look at Hill’s line from Thursday night:8.0 IP, 2 ER, 4 H, 2 BB, 3 K. A superb night for a pitcher with 14 Shawn Hill and his magic floating ball trickmajor league starts, although not completely surprising as Hill brought his season ERA down to 2.76, and has yet to give up more than 2 ER in any start this season. Keep this up and he’ll have some wins by the end of the year. The low strikeout numbers are completely expected from Hill, who is more Chien-Ming Wang than Brandon Webb as a sinkerballer than gets people to ground out, but doesn’t strike out many. He also did this all with only 99 pitches, fairly economical to get to the 9th inning. What’s nice about a groundball pitcher like Hill is that, since he doesn’t need to take the time to get to 3 strikes, he can have some very quick innings. Which means when he’s pitching well, he’ll pitch many innings and rest the beleaguered bullpen. The Nats bullpen has struggled a bit of late, and it is not because of lack of talent, it is because they need more days off. That excuse never seems to fly at the office. Anyway, the most impressive part about Hill was his attitude. He went out with an injury in his non-pitching shoulder, pitched through pain, and proceeded to express his disappointment for walking the leadoff batter in the NINTH INNING. This guy wants to win, and Washington needs more pitchers with that attitude. Top drawer, excellent, first-rate, thoroughly capital.

Nice to see that in addition to Hill’s strong outing, Matt Chico was able to grab a win in a well pitched outing on Friday night against the Mets. Chico went into the 6th inning and gave up only 2 ER against the Mets. The 9 hits he gave up were a bit scary, but he got out of jams and allowed for the win. Even more surprising was Jerome Williams coming back from a 9 ER outing to shut the Mets out through 6 innings, giving up only one hit and (not suprisingly) walking 5. The Nationals couldn’t score much against Glavine and they ended up losing 6-2, but Cordero blew a save opportunity (it happens) and Williams got robbed of a win after a very good start. Unfortunately he was put on the DL after the game. It doesn’t seem too serious, but if he was gonna miss a start anyway, might as well make the roster move to have a bigger bullpen.

Finally, to finish the weekend series, Bergmann pitched exceptionally well again. Only giving up 3 walks and 2 hits, striking out 6. He fell victim to the team STILL not hitting with runners in scoring position. That will even out over the course of the season but it is rough to watch them leaving runners on over and over again. Zimmerman left 5 guys on, Church got up with the bases loaded and had a chance to break the game open, but couldn’t get it done. In fact, Saturday and Sunday, the Nats had 21 LOB. So for Bergmann, 7 IP, 1 ER, 6 Ks qualifies him for the hard luck loss of the week. Congrats for beating out Williams!

What if the Nats just don’t return their phone calls?

Something very important to look for in the coming week: both Guzman and Logan are coming off of the DL. Church has proved he can field pretty well in center, and he is hitting better than anyone else on the team with the highest average, most HRs and best slugging. Snelling isn’t hitting well, so it is not unreasonable to think Logan could hit similarly. Moving Church to left and sitting Snelling to make room for Logan would be preferable to sitting Church, but in terms of building a team for the future, Snelling has much higher potential than Logan, and has shown some flashes of power and patience, two things Logan has none of.

It is no secret how TNR feels about Guzman. The Belliard/Lopez combo has been fielding well, if not spectacularly, and Belliard, as pointed out last week, was hitting poorly. But he is up to batting .309/.343/.392. Still not great, but much better. And his hitting poorly is about what can best be expected from Guzman, and most likely better than anything that Guzman will do.

Aren’t we still missing the team’s best offensive player? Oh yeah…

According to Baseball Prospectus’ Under the Knife this week, Nick Johnson is doing better:

Nick Johnson is finally making some progress from last season’s horrendous leg injury. The Nats say he’s running and doing agility work, something that puts him on track for a June return. Sources tell me “it’s coming in leaps and bounds now,” and that “he’s actually ahead of schedule.”

Wonderful news. No matter how well Dmitri Young is hitting, getting that OBP and power back in the lineup is crucial to the Nats squeezing out some more victories. Put it this way, right now Young is the team’s third best offensive player, behind Church and Kearns, batting .250/.356/.443… last season Johnson hit .290/.428/.520. And speaking of Dmitri Young, didn’t we say something last week about possible trades? Oh well, Wil Carrol said the same thing. Since his article came out only 1 day after the Nationals Review post, we’ll assume he wasn’t copying us:

The nice start from Dmitri Young complicates things a bit. There’s really no need to rush Johnson, though getting him back is an obvious plus for the organization. June is actually about the time that the organization will be gearing up its trading machine, making the timing pretty convenient.

Hooray to the prescience of TNR for posting that last week. Makes us look smart. Later in the season when talking about possible free agent pitchers for the Nats to sign for ’08, you may notice some bitterness when discussing how great Buehrle could be. That’s because the part of post talking about Buehrle was already written before the no-hitter and it won’t be posted for quite a while, making TNR look like a bandwagon jumper rather than foresighted geniuses. Wait weren’t we talking about Nick Johnson? Oh yeah, it’s nice to hear that Nick’s getting better and we wish him a speedy recovery for his own sake, and a speedy entrance back into the lineup for the Nats sake.

And finally

On a personal note, I was at a baseball game on Sunday afternoon and was shocked to hear, when we thought we were all standing up to hear the national anthem, that we were first to have a moment of silence to mourn the death of Josh Hancock. There were several audible gasps in the crowd when it was announced he had died in a car accident that morning, at the age of 29. It seemed nobody in the crowd, myself included, had heard the news yet. My heart goes out to his family and to the Cardinals family, especially guys like Isringhausen, Rolen, Pujols and Edmonds, who have had the unfortunate distinction of dealing with the unexpected losses of two teammates in 5 years.


A quick diversion

April 26, 2007

TNR (the new abbreviation for The Nationals Review… oh that’s great, it’s being used from now on) has a fellow blogger/close friend/blog-title-copier who writes The Orioles Review. Today he has a thoroughly entertaining post discussing how much he hates the Red Sox, more than even the Yankees.

Nats back in last

April 23, 2007

Since last week’s discussion wasn’t really about the Nationals per se, we have some 2 weeks of play to discuss here. The most important thing is that the Nats have found a way to score some runs. Ok, the most important thing is that they have won 5 games over the last 2 weeks, putting them on a pace to lose just under 100 games. With the way the team has played so far, keeping the losses in the double digits would be something of a miracle. But the run scoring part is nice because we wrote on this page that they could put some runs together with the lineup that they’re using.

The Bats

The players that are hitting really well right now are some of those who were expected, and some that are surprises. Ryan Church is batting .299/.373/.552 which is incredible for a CF. Belliard is hitting less impressively at .284/.314/.358. This is about what could be expected from a hot Christian Guzman. No walks, almost no power, but a decent average. The difference is Belliard usually has an OBP about .050 higher than his BA, and he rarely has slugged under .400. So right now, with a poor start, Belliard is what Guzman could be. On the other hand, Belliard has room for improvement. Lopez (.308/.368/.348), and Kearns (.261/.346/.377) have hit alright, but they haven’t seen any power yet. This is troubling because without extra base hits and HRs, especially for Kearns, the Nationals are having problems stringing together enough singles to score more than a run or two. Zimmerman(.231/.277/.301) has started out very slowly. These guys are the heart of the order, more is expected of them, and more will probably be delivered. Chris Snelling, on the other hand, has started out strong. Hitting .231/.388/.385, he appears patient, but (it’s a theme!) needs to hit with more power. He has 1 of each kind of extra-base hit, a few more doubles or HRs would be nice to see in order to figure out what we can really expect from him. Also, he started out so poor that his numbers are a bit skewed. Removing week 1, where he went 1 for 8, he has since hit .265/.375/.441. While it’s a small sample size, Snelling is actually hitting. Remember, it is early, but hot starts are important to keep guys like Logan and Guzman on the bench. It is Belliard’s job, not Lopez’s, to convince Acta that Guzman must stay out of the lineup. Lopez is too talented to sit, Belliard is the borderline guy, so he has to hit even better.

Young in VT hatFinally, Dmitri Young is (again, as we suggested) using his bat to show that he’s a better option that a slick-fielding type at that position, batting an impressive .290/.408/.500. If he could keep this up, the Nationals would probably still want Nick Johnson in the lineup, and wisely so. Johnson is younger, a better fielder, and over the course of a whole season, a better hitter. People may doubt Johnson’s ability to stay healthy, but he was great all of 2006 until his collision. The collision wasn’t normal, it was a freak occurance, it’s not like Nick tweaked a hammy running to second. Anyway, this means that Young is trade bait, and if he can keep swinging, the Nats could get some young pitching from a team that is desperate for a first base bat to make the playoffs (Yankees? Angels? Giants? Tigers?)

The arms

Not surprisingly, the pitching staff has had its ups and downs. Shawn Hill has been downright impressive 2.98 ERA in 18.9 innings. His injury looks minor, and good thing, because they need him. Bergmann has looked good, and there has been a mixed bag besides that. Rauch hasn’t looked great, but he isn’t walking people. Same with Jerome Williams, Ryan Wagner and Chad Cordero. The rest of the bullpen and pitching staff has had issues giving up too many walks and not striking out many people. Take out Hill and Rauch, and the team gives up as many walks as strikeouts, which is very bad. To put this in perspective, last season the Nats ranked 12th in the NL in giving up walks (the higher the ranking, the less walks) and 15th in striking out players (the more the better, of course). Even with these atrocious numbers, they didn’t approach a 1/1 K/BB ratio, in order to better understand what this means, take a look at what teams did in 2006:

K/BB Ratio ‘06

The numbers aren’t exact, and there are exceptions like the Brewers, both color Sox, and the A’s, but for the most part, the better ERA teams have the best K/BB ratios. One thing that happened in both leagues was that the team with the worst ratio had the worst ERA. The point of this? To emphasize that without throwing strikes and getting strikeouts, this pitching staff is in trouble and will remain at the bottom of the league.

What up with Patterson

Patterson hasn’t picked it up yet and that is worrisome. His location is off and that is worrisome. But he can’t throw above 89 mph right now, and that is downright scary. As a guy that used to hit 95 on the radar gun, 89 is pitifully slow. He used to get by on this 95 mph fastball with good movement, and a biting curveball. Neither seems to be working right now, and while plenty of pitchers came back from injury and turned from a “thrower” into a “pitcher” that isn’t what you want to see out of Pats. There is just no telling if he is crafty enough to get by with a 89 mph fastball. Thankfully, nobody thinks the Nats are going to win the division this year so he has some time to work it out. But he needs to work this out, even if it’s on the mound, at some point before the end of the summer. If he waits until September to start pitching well, questions will remain and the Nationals, who plan on starting to win a few games once they get to their new stadium, need to know what they can get out of him.

A Few Non-Nats Notes
Everyone has been talking about Alex Rodriguez, and there isn’t much to add to the discussion, except this. At this point in the season, A-Rod has 7 RBIs in the 9th inning. In 2006, during the entire season, he had 5. That’s right, he has more 9th inning RBIs in 2007 than he had in all of 2006. Watching his approach to the plate, his attitude, and his new shortened swing, he impressive. While it’s still highly unlikely, how popular would A-Rod become among the majority of baseball fans if he were to take the tainted single season HR record from Bonds? A non-juicy HR record would be nice.

Finally, a pretty interesting article in the New York Times about the difference between the AL and the NL. Perhaps the most interesting part:

a typical A.L. hitter moving to the N.L. can expect to gain about 10 points of batting average and on-base percentage and 20 points of slugging percentage. A.L. pitchers switching leagues will usually have their earned run averages decrease because of the absence of the designated hitter in the N.L… that the E.R.A. of an A.L. pitcher switching leagues is likely to drop by 0.25 runs more than can be accounted for by the D.H.

Pretty interesting, although it may be more interesting to see how much the ballparks have to do with this as well.

What does opening day mean for a pitcher?

April 16, 2007

Before we get into this week’s topic there is something worth mentioning about the Nats last week. They scored 6 runs… in one game! This shouldn’t be such a shocker but with the way they’ve played up until now, it is. This game had 3 HRs from Nationals players and it just goes to show, it’s alot easier to just hit a HR than try to tack together single after single. Even statheads realize this… it’s why they place emphasis on power and HRs. It’s why singles hitters are less impressive on the funny VORP-type stats than power hitters who can hit for some average. The Nats do have some seriously good hitters. Lopez, Kearns, Zimmerman, Church and even Young can all hit. But unless they get a real power source (Zimmerman will not be that, Church could be, but probably isn’t) they are going to have more 2/3 run games and less 6 run games. The combination of Zimmerman, Church, Kearns and a healthy Nick Johnson provides them a good combination of 20+ HR guys. But when one of them goes down, it goes to show why it would be nice to just have a 40 HR guy. The HR is the great differentiator between today’s high scoring games and yesterday’s pitchers duels. The Nats may have everything they need to score runs except a monster HR guy. Eventually on these pages, we will discuss who the Nats should spend their money on in the offseason. No doubt the decision has been made here that one of those guys should be able to jog around the bases more than most players.

On to the pitching

On opening day around the league pitchers who were supposed to be good got shelled. Schilling looked overweight and overmatched, Patterson wasn’t throwing correctly, Pavano got bombed, Contreras looked like the Contreras that used to be on the Yankees, Webb looked nothing like the reigning Cy Young winner. Bad performances by Bedard, Lowe, and Kazmir and the list goes on. So what happened? Well, it turns out, quite a few of these pitchers didn’t forget how to work their arms, and they recovered in time for their next start. Others, like Harang and Meche had a great start in game 1 and then looked rather hittable for their next appearance.

Below is a list of all opening day starters, and how they performed in terms of IP and ER over their first 2 starts (Carpenter is excluded because he has yet to make a second start and will not for a while). They are ranked in order of the size of the change in number ER given up between start 1 and start 2. If the number is negative there, it means they gave up less ER in their second start. Additionally, we have listed in the last column the number of quality starts (QS) they have had over these 2 games. A QS is when the pitcher throws for 6 or more innings, and gives up 3 ER or less.

Opening Day Pitcher Stats

We can see that over these 2 starts, 13 of these pitchers had a swing of 3 ER or more (those arBen Sheetse the names in bold). Highlighted are those pitchers who had no quality starts over their first 2 outings. For everyone who panicked about their #1 starter, their fears were alleviated on the next start. Unless those people happen to be Washington (dang), San Fransisco, or Tampa Bay fans. Also many people who bragged about their #1 starter saw guys like Harang, Meche and even Sheets and Myers looking rather pedestrian in the next start.

It really shows that the beginning of the season is only the beginning, and it also reinforces the fact that pitchers often take longer to get up to full strength. Only 6 pitchers of the 29 listed gave up more than 1 additional ER in their second start compared with their first, while most stayed within 1 or improved by more than 1 ER. But most of all, it shows that it is a long season, and much has yet to be played out.

So after 2 starts, are any of these guys winning the Cy Young?

Forgetting about a good pitcher, and thinking about a great pitcher, what have the eventual Cy Young winners done in their opening weeks? Looking out over the last 12 years (since the strike season), the Cy Young winners have had some rocky starts as well. Since the 1994 strike season, there have been 24 Cy Young winners, 23 of them starters. Of these 23 starters, only 3 of them did not have quality starts in either of their first two appearances. Of those 3, 2 were Johan Santana, and 1 was Greg Maddux.
Cy Young Winner QS

In 2004, Santana led the league in strikeouts, ERA, and had 20 wins (to finish second). In 2006, he led the league in all 3. In 1995, Maddux led the league in wins, ERA, and was 3rd in strikeouts. In other words, if you want to win the award and you don’t start strong, you Hentgenbetter finish really really strong.

What does this all mean? Less than half of these award winners had both of their first 2 starts as QS. So although that helps, it’s not necessary. Dominance over the year is much more important that a hot start. The total number of ER given up over these first 2 games isn’t incredibly important either, as 6 of the winners gave up more than 5, with 4 more guys giving up exactly 5 ER. In fact, no pitcher this season has given up as many ER is his first 2 starts as Randy Johnson did in 2001 when he won the award. Finally, in response to Brian’s comment, we added the Wins and Losses for the Cy Young winners over the first two games of the season. 10 of the pitchers had 2 wins, which is close to half, while only 1 had 2 losses. So winning those first 2 games is not a requirement, but it does help, while a couple of losses at the beginning of the season will probably hurt your chances of winning the award.

Basically, if a player doesn’t have a QS in one of their first 2 games, they better be someone that can win 2 out of the 3 pitching triple crown categories. We can look at the starters so far this season and see that Patterson, Zito, and Kazmir have greatly decreased their chances of winning the award by not having a QS. Zito and Patterson have both started out 0-2, so you might as well not bet on them winning the award. Kazmir could still finish towards the tops in Ks (at least, they are strikeout pitchers when pitching well) so he still has a chance, but again, his first 2 starts indicate that he is pretty much out of the running already. And pitching in TB means he could lose too many great starts to a terrible bullpen. Haren is an interesting case because he is 0-2, with 2 QS. Nobody who has won the award over the last 12 years has done that. But it is relatively unusual, although with the A’s run production there could be quite a few losses despite a QS. One final point to remember – these are only the opening day starters – other guys are allowed to win the award, too. Right now Brad Penny, Josh Beckett, and CC Sabathia are all 3-0, all pitching with low ERAs (0.89, 1.50, 2.14 respectively), and all have shown enough talent in the past to take this award, while none of them started on opening day. Then again, maybe Shawn Hill will finish the season with his current 2.89 ERA and win it. Because it’s early, and you never know.

Notes from week one

April 9, 2007

The first week of the season was uninspiring. In case you missed it, here’s how it played out:

Game 1 (4/2): John Patterson was shelled in his first outing and all over the internet (ESPN, cnnsi, etc etc) the thoughts are the same: If Patterson isn’t any good, then the Nats might as well not even play this year. Well, don’t jump to any conclusions just yet. Patterson’s mechanics were off, and he realized this thanks to a visit from Don Sutton. There was nothing good about Patterson’s outing, except for the fact that he thinks he can fix it. Additionally, one day does not a season make – Carlos Zambrano and Curt Schilling also got shelled on opening day, and only one of these 3 pitchers are fat and old. Meanwhile, Logan and Guzman got hurt and went to the DL. While this hurts their depth, and the last thing anyone wants to see is injuries, the sooner the Nationals figure out that Guzman should not be part of their future, the better.

Game 2 (4/3): The bats were quiet again for the second day, but the gloves were making all kinds of noise, none of it good. Shawn Hill was not hit terribly hard, but he let a few errors get the best of him. While it’s not his fault that Wilson messed up a double play or Young missed a grounder, experienced pitchers need to put it behind them and get outs. Hill was able to do that later in the game, he’ll be good when he can do that immediately. He’s a groundball pitcher, and he’s going to see errors when he pitches. Casto got his first major league hit, congrats. Zimmerman is hitting so far, even if the rest of the team isn’t, as is Dmitri Young (good thing, because he’s not there for his glove).

Game 3 (4/4): It started out just as bad as the other games. While Matt Chico had a strong first inning, he still got shelled early. But this time the bullpen held out, and that was necessary for the win. The bullpen gave this team a chance to win. In the 9th inning, down by 2 runs, Belliard led off with a double, Fick knocked him in with a single, Lopez bunted to move Fick over, Casto knocked him in, Zimmerman singled, Kearns walked, and Dmitri Young did exactly what he needed to do – hit the ball deep enough to score the man on third. The real question is – how would that game have turned out if Nook Logan or Christian Guzman got up to bat in the comeback 9th? Someone with an OBP yay! a win!of less than .300 in an inning like that means a loss not a win (although no problems if Logan came in to run for Fick after he hit his single). It also shows you how important it his to have versatile players like Fick who can hit moderately well, even if it’s not enough to start. Fick came in to field in the 8th when they did a double switch and got inserted in the on-deck spot. This kind of comeback doesn’t happen if the bullpen doesn’t hold the Marlins, and it rarely happens when guys who can’t get on base come to bat. Also notice who played today? This lineup, that scored enough runs to outlive a poor start by Chico, uses all the same players we suggested (other than Casto over Snelling, something we have no problem with).

Game 4 (4/5): Another poor outing by the starting pitcher saved by another strong outing by the bullpen. One thing is for sure, if this keeps up… it can’t keep up. The bullpen will tire out too quickly if they need to be used at this rate, somebody needs to step up and throw 6 or 7 innings once in a while. And that needs to be Patterson or Hill. Because there isn’t really anybody else who can. Other than that the game was a combination of not enough hits at the right time, and only one real threat to actually mount a comeback. The Nationals can’t keep spotting teams 4-0 or bigger leads. They’re going to have enough trouble winning without doing that.

Game 5 (4/6) : Jerome Williams, despite a not-so-impressive spring, pitched well early on Friday night. He wasn’t great, he wasn’t awful… errors and some near-errors did the Nats in. Hitters #2-5 went hitless, and Church, who should probably never bat behind Schneider, hit his second home run of the season.

Game 6 (4/7) : Patterson again didn’t last as long as he should. He got lit up in the first inning, then proceeded to look good after that, but he only lasted 5 in total. He wasn’t awful though, as he did pitch well after the first. Don’t panic yet, remember that Patterson is still recovering from shoulder surgery. He isn’t 100%, no matter how healthy he is, because this week was the first time he threw in real game situations. He should come around and look much more impressive down the road. Of course, the sooner it happens, the less likelihood of the bullpen having a mutiny. The team actually got some hits today, and the offense doesn’t look as anemic as the scoreboard might suggest. The lineup of Lopez, Casto, Zimmerman, Young, Kearns, Church, Belliard and Schneider (in that order) is probably the best one that can be thrown out there. It didn’t do fans any favors by not scoring, but Acta seems to know what he’s doing. Let’s just hope this lineup starts scoring soon so it is harder to put Guzman or Logan back in when they are ready.

Game 7 (4/8) – In a most surprising development… the Nats lost today. Hill is termed “hard luck loser” for this game as he had a very good outing, 2 runs in 6 2/3 innings. It’s impressive and in perspective of the whole week, it’s borderline miraculous. The middle of the order hit a little bit, but never around the same time, and the rest of the team didn’t.

Kearns was quoted saying “I laugh at people who press the panic button after the first week.” It is an appropriate quote for many reasons. Firstly, the Nats ARE hitting, just not with runners in scoring position (this is a combination of many factors, but they aren’t bringing AAA bats up there, it will work itself out). For everything that has gone bad, the heart of the lineup is hitting, as Lopez, Zimmerman, Kearns, Church, Belliard and Young are all around the .300 (or better) mark for the first week. Hill looks like a legit starter, Patterson looked better from one game to the next, and Jerome Williams may not be awful. All in all, it was a bad week allowing the Nats-haters to say I told you so. But if people around you are panicking at this point in the season, you should laugh at them, just like Austin Kearns.

Observations from Around the League

April 3, 2007

As the season kicks off today, a little look around the REST of the league, based solely on emotion and personal opinion, without all the fancy stat talk…

The Red Sox are the popular choice to win the AL East because of the “depth” of their pitching staff. But Schilling is 40 this year, he’ll step it up when they need him, but he isn’t going to have Ace-like numbers all year. Clement is just not as good as everyone thinks. Beckett can be good, but last year was the first time he pitched over 200 innings, and he had an ERA over 5. Dice-K is going to be their best pitcher, but he won’t be the superstar that everyone is expecting. And right now they have Julian Tavarez (a non-starter) as their 5th starter. Will they win alot of games? Yes. But they do not have the pitching staff that everyone thinks they have.

Everyone is predicting that the Yankees won’t be very good this year because they don’t have a pitching staff… Mussina is too old to be effective, Pettitte isn’t what he was in 1998, Wang won’t be as good as he was last year, Pavano will be hurt, etc etc. Mussina is coming off a great year, and is 2 years younger than Schilling. Wang doesn’t need to be as good to run off 15+ wins. Pettitte has been up and down all career, he can still have a sub-4.00 ERA, and even if he doesn’t, he’ll win games. Between Pavano (who is average or slightly above when healthy) and Igawa (who everyone is poo-pooing just because he’s not Dice-K, but he’s looked impressive so far) they should be ok there. If not, they can bring up 2 extremely talented rookies in Hughes and Sanchez (who everyone is forgetting about) and 2 young guys that can be and were last season effective back-of-the-rotation guys in Karstens and Rasner. This isn’t the best staff in the league, but it’s not nearly as hurting as everyone seems to think.

The Orioles will be better than people realize. Bedard has the potential to be great, Loewen has the potential to be very good, and Cabrera… will continue to have too many control problems to be anything worthwhile. Their lineup is better, as usual, than people realize. Huff is going to have the kind of season he used to have before TB decided to play him at 15 different positions a week. And their bullpen won’t allow everyone back into every single game.

Tampa Bay is going to hit the ball everywhere. They may have the best OF in the game by the end of the year, and are going to score many runs. They are going to give up lots more runs, though.

Toronto still doesn’t have enough pitching, although Halladay is one of the best in the league. And a note to Roy Halladay… blond people with beards look funny to most people we’ve polled. Unless they are an Allman Brother or a Viking (Norseman, not Minnesotan).

Detroit isn’t going to have the same effectiveness from their starters that they had last year. And when is IRod going to be used up? But Sheffield we be a monster hitter again.

The White Sox pitching staff is only mediocre right now. And Erstad could give Guzman a run for his money as the lowest VORP (highest negative, actually) in the league.

The Twins are planning on having Sidney Ponson as their fourth starter, not even fifth. Hilarious!

Cleveland is a mystery. Can they pitch well enough to get to the playoffs?

The Angels aren’t ready to be great. They’re young, they have fire and talent, etc, etc. But they are going to have a tough time taking the division. And if they do, they aren’t winning many playoff games.

This is the year Harden stays healthy and wins the Johan Santana award… er, the AL Cy Young. The A’s will win the west on his back. Then he will develop a sore back, and they will lose. Also, Chavez figured out why he gets tendinitis in his forearms, so unlike last season where he played hurt for 3 months, he may stay relatively healthy.

People forget how good Felix Rodriguez is supposed to be. Seattle will have an ace in him this season, it’s the rest of the team that has issues.

There is nobody in Texas that inspires outside of their infield. And the Sammy Sosa saga will be interesting to watch. Nobody’s drafting him in fantasy, will everyone have picked him up by June?

The Cubs are alright, but that pitching staff needs another top starter to be great. In the meantime, they may have enough hitting to win the habitually crazy NL Central.

The Brewers are finally ready to win the central. They have hitters, pitchers, and a bullpen now. Ok, every team does, but theirs are very good. If Sheets can pitch 200 innings, they will be a legitimate contender in the NL and should take the division.

Has there ever been a reigning World Series champion less inspiring than the Cardinals? But Kip Wells could be a surprise this year, and if Reyes and Wainwright can do something, they’ll have a chance. But Braden Looper as a fifth starter? Who knew?

The Astros need Oswalt to start 50 games this year in order to make the playoffs. And Clemens needs to rejoin them yesterday.

Arroyo and Harang won’t be as good as they were last season. Cincinnati is a contender in the weak NL central, but they don’t have enough parts yet. Homer Bailey is going to be great, but not in 2007. And Ryan Freel is the most underrated leadoff hitter in baseball.

The Pirates will be the team with the most improved record from 06 to 07. With some surprisingly good hitting in the middle of the lineup.

Arizona is a popular pick to win the west. That pitching staff could be great, and they have a slew of young talent, so it’s possible.

The Dodgers have to figure out how to use the great young players they already have. Juan Pierre in leadoff is like Nook Logan in leadoff with about one more hit every 10 days. Furcal is pretty underrated, though. They’re a pretty popular pick in the West right now.

San Diego may sneak up on teams. That staff could be scary. Maddux, Wells, Chris Young, and Peavy in that park is going to be fun to watch. They are still going to have trouble scoring runs, but not as much as last season.

Colorado‘s pitching staff is scary, too. If you are a Colorado fan, that is. It’s not Washington Nationals-scary, but it has quite a few holes.

The NL East was already profiled 2 weeks ago…