When I just glance at the Cubs lineup, I feel somewhat impressed that it is a good lineup. Upon a further look, I don't know how I feel about it. Obviously, this statement is not true because some guys hit well, but I feel like every single Cubs regular has a bad season last year. Alfonso Soriano's numbers continue to trend downward and he is still a slight mess out there in left field, while Geovany "I got Rookie of the Year over Jair Jurrjens which pisses Ben off" Soto had a terrible year last year and Aramis Ramirez was injured. Basically, last year was a lost year for the Cubs and their offense. In response the front office didn't really do anything but bring in depth and get rid of Milton Bradley. This Cubs lineup has the feel of either "we are going to blow this up and start over" or "this is the year these guys click and the Cubs can make the World Series." I don't think there is an in-between. Lou Piniella will either get a contract extension or just basically quit on this team. I am not 100% sure which way this season will go honestly. Fukudome and Soriano (though he did have injuries last year) are not playing at a high level, so it either means Xavier Nady has a chance to step up or Marlon Byrd is the best outfielder on the roster. If someone forced to me to lean one way (which I guess is what a preview is all about), I feel like there is going to be a blowup of the roster in Chicago. I don't think this team can get it done in the NL Central.
Now here is a positive aspect of this team. The Cubs got great pitching last year and due to injuries and effectiveness were not able to take advantage of this. The question I have is whether the Cubs can pitch as well as they did last year? We pretty much know what we are getting from Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly may have a good year but he did have offseason surgery, while Dempster and Wells I look to see have good seasons again. The 5th starter spot seems to be Tom Gorzelanny, Carlos Silva, and possibly Sean Marshall's to fight over. It's good to have choices and one of those guys is bound to step up and take the spot. The odds in my mind are that Gorzelanny will win that spot and anything Carlos Silva does will be gravy. The Cubs pitching was good last year and I don't know if this staff can pitch the same way this year. I, along with other Cubs fans, have been greatly disappointed in Zambrano's performance compared to how well I feel like he should be pitching. I just thought he would have put it all together into a couple great seasons by now. I have a hard time feeling good about a 34 year old coming off surgery in Ted Lilly and I don't know if they will get 2008 Ryan Dempster or 2009 Ryan Dempster. It wouldn't shock me to see Randy Wells end up being one of the better pitchers on this staff.
I don't know if this will definitely be a weak link for the Cubs, but I don't know if it will be a strong point either. Carlos Marmol wasn't quite what the team was expecting last year as the closer but maybe he will improve this year...or maybe he will lose the closing job. Who knows? Closers can be unpredictable like that. I like the combination of Angel Guzman and John Grabow as the set up guys to Marmol and I hope the Cubs can count on Jeff Samardzija this year, but other than I am not getting too excited about these guys. I feel like it is a solid bullpen but not necessarily the best in MLB or anything.
What I Like
I like the fact the Cubs aren't willing to give up on the team they built which was competitive just two seasons ago. I guess that is a good thing, but can also be seen as a bad thing if the Cubs start tanking again this year. Really injuries didn't do the Cubs a whole hell of a lot of good last year and I blame injuries and general ineffectiveness for a lot of the team's problems. I like the rotation the Cubs put out on the field and I think it is definitely a rotation that can win the NL Central if they pitch as well as they did last year...which I am not sure can happen. As bad as last year was for the Cubs, they were only 7.5 games out of winning the NL Central, so it is hard for me to predict a terrible year for them based upon knowing that. There aren't that many other teams, outside of St. Louis, that gets me too excited when discussing the NL Central so I can see with a strong rotation and decent health in the lineup the Cubs having a good season.
What I Don't Like
On NBCSports.com the preview for the Cubs under "Breakout candidates" says "None" and that pretty much sums up my feelings about the team as well. I mentioned the way they have their roster set up, I feel it will either be a competitive playoff team or be a team that gets blown up. I have read a lot of opinions saying the Cubs are going to go to the "blow it up" side, which obviously leads me to believe they will do well this year since people are idiots at predicting things generally. I know this team is different from last year's team, but it doesn't feel that different to me. I ask myself what will be different for the Cubs that will cause them to have success this year, assuming the pitching takes a step down, can the offense go a step up? I am not sure it can honestly. I like Lee and Ramirez, but I am disturbed by Soriano's fall to just being a decent player and I don't know who else is going to step up in that lineup.
For me, there is just a stink about the Cubs this year. Maybe I don't know enough about the team but I just feel like this is a similar team, with small changes of course, as last year's Cubs team. I don't think the players like Piniella and it wasn't just Milton Bradley that was the problem. It is not like they are playing in the AL East where they have to compete with powerhouse teams, so the Cubs should (in theory) have a good shot at winning the division on paper regardless of some problems. I don't like this team that much this year based on the lineup, the fact I do have some questions about the bullpen and the shit smell I just get from this team. Like I said, I think this season will go one of two ways and the Cubs will either blow it up or go far. I am going to go on record as saying they are going to blow it up...assuming Jim Hendry has the balls to do that. I bought high on this team last year and I am not doing it again.
Last year: 83-78
This year: 77-85
Chicago White Sox
Oh the Chicago White Sox...one of the most entertaining in baseball simply because their manager Ozzie Guillen makes it so. This is the "other" Chicago team that plays baseball. Last year was a sort of "what the hell happened" year for the White Sox in my mind. They traded for Alex Rios and Jake Peavy but it was pretty obvious they didn't trade for them with last year in mind, but for this year as the focus. As far as Rios goes, if people thought he needed a change of scenery then that may be wrong. He actually hit worse in Chicago than he did in Toronto. I have no idea what the hell happened to him. Apparently if you sign a long-term contract with the Toronto Blue Jays your career numbers will immediately begin to decline. I will say this lineup is interesting to say the least. Out machine Juan Pierre is playing left field and Rios is in centerfield. Not impressive on paper. If Carlos Quentin is able to bounce back this year, then that will significantly make the outfield look better. If Quentin doesn't come back to his 2008 form I am going to wonder a little bit where the power in the lineup is supposed to come from, though it wouldn't shock me if Gordon Beckham decided to pop 30 home runs this year...so maybe he can provide some of the needed power. It's a solid lineup with a lot of questions for me, like Mark Teahen at third base, Juan Pierre in left field and Rios in center field. I feel like Pierre should be the 4th OF, so Kenny Williams needs to find a way to make that happen.
I do like the White Sox pitching. Of course I am sucker for young pitching like they have in Danks and Floyd (he's sort of young). I don't know how I feel about Jake Peavy to be honest. The trade has already been made and he looked great in his 3 starts with the White Sox last year, but traditionally he hasn't been quite the pitcher away from Petco Park that he was playing in Petco Park. I do really like the starting rotation and every magazine or preview I have seen has Freddy Garcia as the 5th starter. I would bet $100 it takes less than a month for Dan Hudson to take that spot from him. Hudson is going to be a good pitcher and he showed a little bit of what he could do last year. If he pitches like I believe he is capable of pitching then this White Sox rotation is going to look even better. This is a good rotation and is the strength of this team.
I really like the bullpen the White Sox have put together. Jenks, Linebrink (though he was a little off last year), Thornton, Putz, and Pena are good choices coming out of the bullpen. If I am being picky I would ask where a capable long reliever is for the White Sox, but they may not require too much of a long reliever if the rotation pitches like it is capable of pitching. This is a bullpen that is not going to give up leads and will keep the White Sox in close games. Even if by some marvel Freddy Garcia ends up pitching the full year in the rotation, Dan Hudson can be the long reliever for the White Sox, otherwise that job goes to Garcia. There, I have answered my own problem area for the White Sox.
What I Like
I really, really like the bench players for the White Sox. I like the fact some of the question marks in the lineup have guys with some ability behind them. I like the chance the White Sox took on Andruw Jones and Mark Kotsay can play multiple positions in the outfield and first base. I do wish the White Sox had given Tyler Flowers a chance to be the backup to AJ Pierzynski but it didn't happen. Even though I don't think he should be in the Hall of Fame, there are much worse players who are also coaches available than Omar Vizquel and Jayson Nix can provide more backup in the infield. So if Rios/Pierre stinks I feel like the White Sox have other options in those outfield spots and if Teahen starts to look terrible, the White Sox could always turn to Dayan Viciedo, assuming he can stay in shape, and makes the White Sox opening day roster. I like the choices the White Sox have in the lineup and I of course really like the pitching rotation of the White Sox.
What I Don't Like
I have no preconceived notions before I go into previewing each of these teams for the 2010 year. I just do some research on each team and talk about what I don't and do like about them. That being said, I don't hate a lot of things about this White Sox team. Yes, they have questions in the lineup, but the White Sox can also platoon Pierre, Jones, Kotsay, Nix in some fashion in the outfield if it comes down to it. The DH spot has a lot of candidates there as well. Being picky, I like the White Sox depth but it worries me Danks gave up double the amount of homeruns in 2009 that he gave up in 2008. His walks were up, while his strikeouts were down too. Gavin Floyd actually had better numbers last year compared to his 2008 17-8 record, which means he obviously got worse run support, isn't as good as his 2008 numbers suggest, or was just an unlucky pitcher. If those guys bounce back this year, this is going to be a great rotation and the bullpen is fairly impressive as well. What I don't like is the fact the White Sox have taken chances on players like Pierre, Rios, and Teahen and I am not 100% confident those are going to pay off. The offense could struggle at times I think.
I like the White Sox for 2010. I think they will solve the lineup issues I have in regard to the outfield and I think the rotation is going to be solid from starter #1-#5. What scares me is if Carlos Quentin doesn't hit well and Gordon Beckham has a little bit of a sophomore slump (it is sort of a sophomore year for him, maybe a "second semester freshman" slump is better wording). Other than Konerko, I don't know exactly where the hitting is going to come from if both of those guys struggle. I see hitting as this team's problem, but I do think they will find a way to solve that problem with the guys on the roster. For this year, I am buying on the White Sox because they have great pitching, a great bullpen, and will figure out the potential offensive problems as the season goes along.
Last year: 79-83
This year: 89-73
There are certain times when I am doing these previews that I think I may offend fans of the teams I am previewing. For some reason, I think the Reds might be one of those teams, so I will try to tread relatively lightly. Some people may be a little nervous about Jay Bruce's numbers from last year but I am not one of those people. He is currently 22 years old, cut down on strikeouts and is currently 22 years old. He is also currently 22 years old so I am not worried about him at all. I like this Reds offense pretty well. I don't think it is quite the offense it needs to be to win the Reds a division title nor do I believe the lineup doesn't have holes. Any lineup built around Bruce, Votto, and Brandon Phillips is going to be a pretty good lineup. For me, the Reds offense is a step below being good enough to win the division. It's too much of a mixture of "hoping young guys take a big leap and veterans who need to have a have a good year" to compete in the NL Central. That combination also makes the Reds a team that few teams are going to want to play, combined with their pitching.
The good news for the Reds is they haven't lost any players of importance in the offseason, but the bad news is they have young pitchers on their active roster who still have their arms attached and Dusty Baker is the manager of the team. So Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, and Edinson Volquez watch out, you may average 135 pitches per start. My biggest question for the Reds is I wonder which pitcher is going to the bullpen? I am pretty sure you don't pay $30 million to Aroldis Chapman for him to be a long reliever or go down to the minor leagues or at least I hope not. So which pitcher goes? Not Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez, or Bronson Arroyo. I don't know what kind of trade market is available for Aaron Harang and I don't know if putting him in the bullpen is the best move either. So that leaves Homer Bailey to either go to the bullpen or go down to the minors. Unless the Reds are planning on having a 6 man rotation, someone will have to go to the pen or the minors, though given Dusty Baker's tendency to overwork pitchers a 6 man staff might not be a bad option. I am going to be interested to see what the Reds do. This is a good pitching staff and if I were the Reds, I would try to trade Arroyo or Harang and see what the market is for them. Overall, assuming Edinson Volquez comes back healthy this is going to be a good pitching staff and I am excited to see how Cueto, Volquez, Bailey and Chapman pitch this year.
Francisco Cordero was pretty good last year as the Reds closer. I still question why they spent so much money on a closer when they are a team that had other needs, but this isn't my team to compile or pay, just to judge in this preview. It is going to take a lot to convince me Arthur Rhodes isn't on some PED because he is too old to be pitching as well as he is and Nick Masset is a good right handed set up guy. I do have questions about the other slots of the Reds bullpen, with little confidence in any of these guys outside of Danny Herrera. Possibly the Reds should look into converting Micah Owings into an everyday player and teach him to catch. That would get Ramon Hernandez out of there and improve their offense. For me, the rotation, bullpen, and lineup have "wait until 2011" written all over it, at which point I think this is going to be a good team.
What I Like
I like the potential of the Reds lineup, I like the potential of the Reds pitching staff and I like that this team isn't great, but is good enough to make me not want to play them in a game of importance. I don't know if that counts for something. I have a feeling this is the year Jay Bruce "gets it" and starts to become the hitter we all know he will be. Edinson Volquez is going to be a great (seemingly) addition to the pitching staff if he is healthy and I am very interested to see what gets done about the surplus of arms in the starting rotation. I feel like the bench is pretty weak at this point and they are relying on guys like Balentien, Janish, and Sutton who are relatively young and inexperienced in the major leagues. This is the first year in a while I have looked at the Reds and thought, "if this goes right and if this goes right, I see them having a shot at winning the division."
What I Don't Like
I don't know how I feel about the Orlando Cabrera signing. It was a good deal but he is a veteran on the downside of his career and I am not sure how that fits into this team long-term. I also am not sure what the plan with the 6 starting pitchers currently is. Having options like that is a good thing, but it also brings questions to my mind as to whether the Reds can properly allocate all of those resources they have in the rotation. I like the back-end of the bullpen and I think if the lineup can stay healthy (which has been a minor issue) the team is going to be pretty good this year.
I feel like this is the year the Reds start to play well and this will make them the favorite in the NL Central going into 2011. Even with Votto, Bruce, and Phillips, I am not sure the Reds lineup has enough firepower to compete in the NL Central. Throw in the uncertainty in exactly what we will get from some of the pitchers in the rotation and I think, as I have said they will be the official National League "team no one wants to play" for this year. I just don't think they will have enough (Joe Morgan alert!) consistency to win the NL Central.
Last year: 78-84
This year: 82-80
The Cleveland Indians. Now this is a fairly tortured team, not that Bill Simmons was asking, but I am telling. It feels like the Indians start over every few years and then are forced to watch their best players do well with new teams once the team becomes good. Last year it took the cake when ex-Indians Lee and Sabathia met up in Game 1 of the World Series. The entire Indians fan base probably gave up at that point. This year one of their most promising and productive outfielders, Shin-Soo Choo may end up having to do mandatory service in the South Korean Army and it is a big deal over there, so he probably can't get out of it, even if he wanted to. I will just pretend he is playing the full season for the Indians this year in my preview. The loss of Choo would be pretty big for the Indians though. Just looking at this roster, it has a bunch of players with promise, but not players that are necessarily going to reach that promise this year. Other than Sizemore, Choo, Cabrera, and Hafner there just isn't much (realized) talent on this team. The lineup will only get better though if the Indians let the young guys like Brantley, LaPorta, and Marson take their hacks and learn to play in the big leagues. The lineup isn't much to look at but there is some talent there, just talent that hasn't matured yet. At least Indians fans know they sell away their players, but they also tend to get talent in return...which will eventually be sold away. The best thing this team can do is play the young guys as much as possible now and let them learn to be hitters in the big leagues and I think the team will do that.
This is where it gets a little bit dicey. Just a couple of seasons ago, Jake Westbrook was starting Game 3 of the ALDS in New York, and that is when Cliff Lee wasn't in the rotation because he was struggling. So he was essentially the 3rd starter. Now he is the ace of the staff, not by skill, but by default. Of course he hasn't pitched since June 2008 because he is coming off Tommy John surgery. Nobody knows what the hell happened to Fausto Carmona and there is a slight chance Justin Masterson may be the best pitcher on the staff. The rest of the rotation is a lethal combination of "not very good" and "too inexperienced in the majors at this point." Even if the Indians had a great lineup, this pitching staff is in no way a quality pitching staff at this point. Again, it is full of young guys and guys with potential so the Indians are going to let these guys work the kinks out. I have a feeling if Westbrook has a good first half of the season he will be wearing a new uniform come late July.
Now here is a group I really like for the Indians. Kerry Wood is a quality (if not inconsistent) closer, which means he is also trade bait and if the Indians happen to get a lead I think Joe Smith can held hold it. I also think the Perez twins (Rafael and Chris) should have a quality performances this year (the opposite of how they performed last year) and it wouldn't shock me if Jensen Lewis bounced back as well. If the Indians get a lead, I feel like this bullpen has a decent chance of holding that lead. At least they have live arms here, which I feel like usually isn't the case for teams that are not very good. Maybe the bar has been lowered for the Indians based on their pitching staff and parts of their lineup, but I feel decent about this bullpen. If they get a lead, they may be able to hold it.
What I Like
I like the way the Indians go about rebuilding their team. I like they don't hold back young guys and let them play and get some experience at the major league level. Of course once these guys get too expensive they have to trade these guys away sometimes, but let's not think about that right now. If Choo has to serve his time in the South Korean military then that will be a big hit to the lineup, but overall I don't think the lineup is strong top-to-bottom, yet I overall I think it will be an interesting lineup to follow this year. They don't have a whole lot of depth on the bench, but the guys they do have Mike Redmond and Shelley Duncan who have experience in the majors. They may not be good players, but at least there are a few veterans on the roster. I like that Carlos Santana could be a major league catcher at some point in the near future and the Indians don't have to force him up to the majors because they have Marson there now. I also like the bullpen. Even though many of those guys struggled last year, these same guys have the potential to pitch very well out of the pen. Other than that, there isn't too much I like at this point.
What I Don't Like
I don't like the rotation and I don't like how there are not that many proven major league baseball players on the roster. It is hard to knock the Indians for this simply because that is part of their plan they have had to execute. They had to trade away good pitchers and other hitters in exchange for prospects. Just because I understand it doesn't mean I have to like it. I think young teams like the Indians are interesting to watch because you either see a team that is not good but has promising players on the roster. So we get flashes of what some of those players can do, which is exciting for a person like me who loves seeing prospects develop. Just from looking at the roster and pitching rotation it doesn't look like this team will be that great this year, but who knows, maybe guys like Laffey and Sowers will pitch well this year and surprise everyone. I wouldn't bet the house or any other valuable possession on this, but it could happen.
I am excited to watch LaPorta play everyday and see what some of the young guys on the Indians roster are able to do. I don't think they are going to be very good, but it will still be interesting this year. If I were an Indians fan, I would be incredibly frustrated with how I feel the team is starting over and trading great players for prospects time and time again. The front office and management always seem to make the Indians competitive at some point down the line and I think it will happen again. Just not this year. They do get to play Kansas City this year, so that's good news.
Last year: 65-97
This year: 68-94
Next week I will have 4 more teams to preview.