National League team-by-team capsules
April 4, 2009
2008: 92-70, first place, World Series champions.
Manager: Charlie Manuel (fifth season).
He’s Here: LF Raul Ibanez, RHP Chan Ho Park, LHP Jack Taschner, INF Miguel Cairo, RHP Gary Majewski, RHP Manny Ayala.
He’s Outta Here: LF Pat Burrell, OF Geoff Jenkins, RHP Adam Eaton, OF So Taguchi, OF Greg Golson, RHP Tom Gordon, RHP Rudy Seanez.
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Projected Lineup: SS Jimmy Rollins (.277, 11 HRs, 59 RBIs, 47 steals), CF Shane Victorino (.293, 14, 58, 36 SB), 2B Chase Utley (.292, 33, 104), 1B Ryan Howard (.251, 48, 146), LF Raul Ibanez (.293, 23, 110 with Seattle), RF Jayson Werth (.273, 24, 67, 20 SB), 3B Pedro Feliz (.249, 14, 58), C Carlos Ruiz (.219, 4, 31).
Rotation: LH Cole Hamels (14-10, 3.09 ERA, 196 Ks, staff-high 227 1-3 innings), RH Brett Myers (10-13, 4.55), LH Jamie Moyer (16-7, 3.71), RH Joe Blanton (5-12, 4.96 ERA with Oakland, 4-0, 4.20 ERA with Phillies), RH Chan Ho Park (4-4, 3.40 in 54 games/5 starts with Dodgers).
Key Relievers: RH Brad Lidge (2-0, 1.95, 48/48 saves including postseason), RH Ryan Madson (4-2, 3.05 in 76 games), LH J.C. Romero (4-4, 2.75 in 81 games), LH Scott Eyre (2-0, 7.15 in 19 games with Cubs; 3-0, 1.88 in 19 games with Phillies), RH Chad Durbin (5-4, 2.87 in 71 games), RH Clay Condrey (3-4, 3.26), LH Jack Taschner (3-2, 4.88 in 67 games with Giants).
Hot Spots: Fifth starter and bench. Park beat out Kyle Kendrick, J.A. Happ and top prospect Carlos Carrasco for the final spot in the rotation. The former All-Star had an outstanding spring after signing a one-year deal. He had success pitching out of the bullpen with the Dodgers last season, giving the Phillies versatility if they want to make a switch. But Park wanted a chance to start, and now he has it. If he falters, Kendrick and Happ provide insurance. Kendrick won 21 games for Philadelphia over the last two seasons and entered camp as the favorite to win the No. 5 job despite being left off the 2008 postseason roster. But he had more troubles in spring training and was sent to the minors. Happ showed promise during a brief stint in the majors last season and earned a spot on the postseason roster as a reliever. His future is in the rotation, and he pitched well this spring. Carrasco might need another season in the minors. The versatile Cairo could give the Phillies a much-needed righty bat off the bench. The surprising release of Jenkins opened up a spot for Cairo, who outperformed veteran Marcus Giles in camp.
Stat Sheet: The Phillies finished second in the NL in runs with 762 and led with 214 homers, but only hit .255. Ibanez should help raise the overall average as will having Utley, Rollins and Feliz healthy. The bullpen had an NL-best 3.19 ERA last season.
Bottom Line: The Phillies have the ingredients to be a postseason contender for several seasons. They have a nucleus of young players who are locked in with long-term contracts. Since spring training opened, everyone from the players to the coaches stressed the importance of not looking back on last year’s success and moving forward. Capturing the second World Series title in franchise history and first since 1980 only made the Phillies want to do it again. No NL team has won consecutive championships since the Reds in the mid-1970s. With almost every starter returning, the Phillies have a chance to do it. Ibanez replaces the departed Burrell, and Park adds to an already deep pitching staff. Having Rollins, Utley and Feliz healthy and Hamels and Howard satisfied ” both got multiyear deals in the offseason ” only helps. Hamels had minor elbow problems in spring training, but should be fine. If not, he’s irreplaceable. Lidge is also a huge key, coming off a perfect season. Romero is suspended for the first 50 games following a positive drug test caused by a supplement. The division got better, so the Phillies need a strong start to avoid needing a late comeback to surpass the New York Mets as they’ve done the last two years.
New York Mets
2008: 89-73, second place.
Manager: Jerry Manuel (first full season).
He’s Here: RHP Francisco Rodriguez, RHP J.J. Putz, RHP Livan Hernandez, RHP Sean Green, OF Jeremy Reed, INF Alex Cora, RHP Darren O’Day, RHP Tim Redding, RHP Freddy Garcia, OF Bobby Kielty, RHP Elmer Dessens, OF Cory Sullivan.
He’s Outta Here: RHP Pedro Martinez, RHP Joe Smith, RHP Aaron Heilman, RHP Duaner Sanchez, LHP Scott Schoeneweis, OF Endy Chavez, 2B Damion Easley, RHP Luis Ayala, LF Moises Alou, RHP Claudio Vargas, LHP Ricardo Rincon, RHP Tony Armas Jr., RHP Matt Wise, OF Trot Nixon, RHP Orlando Hernandez.
Projected Lineup: SS Jose Reyes (.297, 16 HRs, 68 RBIs, 56 SBs, 113 runs, NL-best 204 hits, major league-leading 19 3Bs, .358 OBP, 17 errors), LF Daniel Murphy (.313, 2, 17, .397 OBP in 49 games and 131 ABs after August call-up), 3B David Wright (.302, 33, 124, 42 2Bs, 115 runs, 15 SBs, .534 SLG), 1B Carlos Delgado (.271, 38, 115, .518 SLG), CF Carlos Beltran (.284, 27, 112, 40 2Bs, 25 SBs, 116 runs, .500 SLG), RF Ryan Church (.276, 12, 49 in 90 games), C Brian Schneider (.257, 9, 38 in 110 games), 2B Luis Castillo (.245, 3, 28, 17 SBs, 11 extra-base hits in 87 games).
Rotation: LH Johan Santana (16-7, major league-best 2.53 ERA, 206 Ks, NL-high 234 1-3 IP in 34 starts), RH Mike Pelfrey (13-11, 3.72, 200 2-3 IP, 12 homers allowed in 32 starts), LH Oliver Perez (10-7, 4.22, 180 Ks, 194 IP in 34 starts), RH John Maine (10-8, 4.18 in 25 starts), RH Livan Hernandez (13-11, 6.05, 180 IP in 31 starts with Minnesota and Colorado).
Key Relievers: RH Francisco Rodriguez (2-3, 2.24, major league-record 62/69 saves, 77 Ks, 34 BBs, 68 1-3 IP in 76 games with Angels), RH J.J. Putz (6-5, 3.88, 15/23 saves in 47 games with Mariners), LH Pedro Feliciano (3-4, 4.05, 2 saves in major league-high 86 appearances), RH Sean Green (4-5, 4.67, 1 save in 72 games with Mariners), RH Brian Stokes (1-0, 3.51, 1 save in 24 games), RH Bobby Parnell (0-0, 5.40 in 6 big league relief outings; 12-8 combined as starter at Double-A and Triple-A), RH Darren O’Day (0-1, 4.57 in 30 games with Angels).
Hot Spots: Second base and No. 5 starter. The Mets desperately want Castillo to rebound from a poor year and regain his old form on offense and defense. He was bothered by nagging injuries and nightly boos last season, the first of his $25 million, four-year contract. But he looked better this spring, with more life in his legs. Manuel made a concerted effort to get Castillo going, giving him chances to bat leadoff early in camp. Though he’s a slap hitter with little pop, Castillo is patient at the plate and has been able to get on base consistently throughout most of his career. If he slumps again, the bottom of the lineup could be awfully weak. Hernandez was signed to a minor league contract at the beginning of camp and he won the final spot in the rotation. While he pitched effectively, his competition didn’t. Garcia struggled mightily, Redding got hurt and 22-year-old prospect Jonathon Niese was optioned to the minors for more seasoning. But it’s hard to say how much Hernandez has left in his durable right arm as he enters his 14th major league campaign. He gave up a whopping 257 hits last year.
Stat Sheet: Frustrated Mets fans know all the ugly bullpen numbers by now: New York had 29 blown saves in 72 chances last season, including an NL-high 16 after the All-Star break. The team’s 4.25 bullpen ERA ranked 13th in the National League. And if all games ended after the sixth or seventh inning, the Mets would have won the NL East by a wide margin. Instead, the bullpen meltdown led to their second straight September collapse ” both began with 17 games remaining. So with All-Star closer Billy Wagner expected to miss the 2009 season following elbow surgery, the Mets overhauled their relief corps, highlighted by the additions of Rodriguez and Putz. … Out of baseball from 2004-05, Fernando Tatis became quite a comeback story last year. Called up from the minors in May, he batted .297 with 11 homers and 47 RBIs in 92 games before separating his shoulder in September. This season, Manuel envisions the 34-year-old Tatis as a super sub who can spell Church, Murphy and even Delgado against left-handed pitching. He might give Wright an occasional rest at third, too.
Bottom Line: The Mets were called “choke artists” by Philadelphia ace Cole Hamels during the offseason. The only strong response would be a playoff berth. New York spent the winter in pursuit of pitching and landed K-Rod with a $37 million, three-year contract. Putz was an All-Star closer himself with Seattle in 2007 but says he’s fine with his setup role in New York. Barring injuries, the back of the bullpen should be a major strength, though the Mets declined to upgrade the offense for their first season in $800 million Citi Field. Keep an eye on Church, who struggled to come back from his second concussion last year. Delgado was inept until late June last year and then unstoppable the rest of the way. Which player will he be this season? The rotation looks fine on paper, but Maine is coming off September surgery to shave a bone spur in his pitching shoulder and struggled to get comfortable on the mound this spring. Perez was re-signed for $36 million over three years, but he’s often erratic and his conditioning became an issue when he returned to camp from the World Baseball Classic. The club is looking for continued growth from Pelfrey, pushed past 200 innings in his first full major league season. Santana was brilliant during his first year in New York, and then he had arthroscopic surgery Oct. 1 on torn cartilage in his left knee. Tightness in his pitching elbow caused a scare early this spring but he’s set to start the season opener. Manuel went 55-38 after Willie Randolph was fired in June, good enough to keep the job. The Mets think they have what it takes to finally hold off the Phillies this time, but they’ll have to prove it ” to themselves and everyone else.
2008: 84-77, third place.
Manager: Fredi Gonzalez (third season).
He’s Here: INF Emilio Bonifacio, RHP Leo Nunez, RHP Scott Proctor, C Ronny Paulino, RHP Hayden Penn.
He’s Outta Here: LHP Scott Olsen, RHP Kevin Gregg, OF Josh Willingham, 1B Mike Jacobs, RHP Sergio Mitre, RHP Eulogio De La Cruz, INF Robert Andino.
Projected Lineup: 3B Emilio Bonifacio (.243, 0 HRs, 14 RBIs, 5 triples in 49 games, 169 ABs with Arizona and Washington), CF Cameron Maybin (.277, 13, 49 at Double-A Carolina; 16-for-32 with Marlins), SS Hanley Ramirez (.301, 33, 67, 35 SBs, .400 OBP, .540 slugging percentage), 1B Jorge Cantu (.277, 29, 95), 2B Dan Uggla (.260, 32, 92, 171 Ks), LF Jeremy Hermida (.249, 17, 61), RF Cody Ross (.260, 22, 73), C John Baker (.299, 5, 32 in 61 games).
Rotation: RH Ricky Nolasco (15-8, 3.52 ERA, 186 SO, 42 BB in 212 1-3 IP), RH Josh Johnson (7-1, 3.61 in 14 starts), RH Chris Volstad (6-4, 2.88 in 15 G), RH Anibal Sanchez (2-5, 5.57 in 10 starts), LH Andrew Miller (6-10, 5.89).
Key Relievers: RH Matt Lindstrom (3-3, 3.14 ERA, 5/6 saves in 66 games), RH Scott Proctor (2-0, 6.05 in 41 games for Dodgers), RH Leo Nunez (4-1, 2.98 in 45 games for Royals), LH Renyel Pinto (2-5, 4.45 in 67 games), RH Logan Kensing (3-1, 4.23 in 48 games).
Hot Spots: First base and catcher. The Marlins traded Jacobs and hoped rookie Gaby Sanchez would claim the first base job, but he struggled in spring training and will begin the season in the minors. The Marlins have moved Cantu from 3B to 1B and will start the weak-hitting, slick-fielding Bonifacio at 3B, even though he has more experience at 2B. The Marlins decided against signing Ivan Rodriguez to catch and instead gave the job to Baker, who hit .299 in 61 games last year as a 28-year-old rookie. Paulino is the new backup.
Stat Sheet: The Marlins finished third-worst in the majors in fielding last year with 117 errors and allowed 60 unearned runs. General manager Larry Beinfest has emphasized the need for improvement, and he was outspoken in his criticism when the Marlins committed four errors in their first spring training game. Shuffling in the infield might help. Cantu is better at 1B than 3B and a defensive upgrade over the departed Jacobs (11 errors), while Bonifacio is an improvement over Cantu (20 errors) at 3B. Also likely to help is the addition of speedy rookie CF Maybin, and the move by defense-challenged Hermida from RF to LF. Improvement is needed up the middle from Ramirez (22 errors) and Uggla (13 errors).
Bottom Line: This year is already a success for the Marlins, who finally sealed a deal for the new ballpark they pursued for more than a decade. The stadium is scheduled to open in 2012, and the Marlins say it will mean higher revenue and more spending on players. But for now, the Marlins’ payroll remains the lowest in the majors at less than $35 million, and the offseason departures of Olsen, Gregg, Willingham and Jacobs were cost-cutting moves. The overachieving Marlins have lots of young pitching talent, but the perennial payroll purges make it tough for them contend, and they probably won’t be able to keep up with the Mets and Phillies in the NL East.
2008: 72-90, fourth place.
Manager: Bobby Cox (20th season of current tenure, 24th with Braves overall).
He’s Here: RHP Derek Lowe, RHP Javier Vazquez, RHP Kenshin Kawakami, OF Garret Anderson, C David Ross.
He’s Outta Here: RHP John Smoltz, LHP Mike Hampton, LHP Chuck James, OF Josh Anderson, C Corky Miller.
Projected Lineup: CF Jordan Schafer (.269, 10 HRs, 51 RBIs, 12 SBs in 84 games at Double-A Mississippi) or Gregor Blanco (.251, 1, 38, 13 SBs), SS Yunel Escobar (.288, 10, 60), 3B Chipper Jones (career-best .364, 22, 75), C Brian McCann (.301, 23, 87), LF Garret Anderson (.293, 15, 84 with Angels), RF Jeff Francoeur (.239, 11, 71), 2B Kelly Johnson (.287, 12, 69), 1B Casey Kotchman (.272, 14, 74 with Angels and Braves).
Rotation: RH Derek Lowe (14-11, 3.92 ERA, 147 Ks with Dodgers), RH Jair Jurrjens (13-10, 3.68), RH Kenshin Kawakami (9-5, 2.30 with Chunichi Dragons in Japan), RH Javier Vazquez (12-16, 4.67, 200 Ks with White Sox), LH Tom Glavine (2-4, 5.54 in 13 games).
Key Relievers: LH Mike Gonzalez (0-3, 4.28 ERA, 14/16 saves), RH Rafael Soriano (0-1, 2.57, 3 saves), RH Jorge Campillo (8-7, 3.91 in 39 games, 25 starts), RH Manny Acosta (3-5, 3.57), LH Boone Logan (2-3, 5.95 with White Sox).
Hot Spots: Outfield and No. 5 starter. The trade of Josh Anderson to Detroit late in spring training helped clear the way in center field for Schafer, a touted prospect who has never played above Double-A. Blanco is the other option in center if Atlanta decides the 22-year-old Schafer needs more seasoning in the minors. He was suspended 50 games last year for violating the minor league drug policy. Schafer, who would add speed and power to the lineup, impressed Cox with his defense this spring and is viewed as the long-term starter. Cox hasn’t said how he plans to distribute playing time in left between Garret Anderson, Matt Diaz and possibly Blanco. The key to the lineup is Francoeur’s ability to rebound from a dismal 2008 season, when he hit only two homers after the All-Star break. He drove in 100 runs in 2006 and 2007, and his power is needed to boost the middle of the lineup, especially when McCann is given a day off. Glavine, returning from elbow surgery, needs to remain healthy to hold off 22-year-old Tommy Hanson, who hasn’t pitched above Double-A but has proved this spring that his MVP showing in the Arizona Fall League was no fluke.
Stat Sheet: The Braves were last in the major leagues a year ago with only 27 homers from their outfielders, according to STATS, Inc. Overall, the Braves were 23rd with 130 homers. … Kotchman hit only .237 with two homers and 23 RBIs in 43 games with Atlanta after he was acquired from the Angels at the trade deadline. … Atlanta revamped its rotation with Lowe, Vazquez and Kawakami after its starting pitchers ranked 27th in innings pitched. Braves relievers threw 554 1-3 innings, more than every other team except Texas and Pittsburgh, according to STATS. … Jones, 36, hasn’t played in 140 games since 2003.
Bottom Line: The Braves were burned in 2008 by depending too heavily on aging or fragile starters such as Smoltz, Hampton and Glavine. It would have been more difficult to predict Tim Hudson’s season-ending elbow ligament replacement surgery. Hudson could miss most or all of 2009, forcing GM Frank Wren to reconstruct the rotation and take a public relations hit by not matching Boston’s contract offer for Smoltz. The new ace is Lowe, and the Braves are counting on Vazquez and Kawakami to contribute 200 innings and double-digit wins to help take pressure off Jurrjens, who is coming off a strong rookie season. If Garret Anderson and Francoeur provide more power in the outfield, Jones avoids major injuries and Schafer can handle the job in center, the Braves could be much more competitive. But after their first 90-loss season since 1990, they might still have difficulty keeping pace with the Phillies and Mets in the NL East.
2008: 59-102, fifth place.
Manager: Manny Acta (third season).
He’s Here: OF-1B Adam Dunn, RHP Daniel Cabrera, LHP Scott Olsen, OF Josh Willingham, LHP Joe Beimel, RHP Julian Tavarez, RHP Jordan Zimmermann.
He’s Outta Here: GM Jim Bowden, RHP Tim Redding, LHP Odalis Perez, RHP Shawn Hill, OF Wily Mo Pena, 2B Emilio Bonifacio, INF Aaron Boone, LHP Charlie Manning.
Projected Lineup: CF Lastings Milledge (.268, 14 HRs, 61 RBIs, 24 SB), SS Cristian Guzman (.316, 9, 55), 3B Ryan Zimmerman (.283, 14, 51 in 106 games), LF Adam Dunn (.236, 40, 100, 164 Ks, NL-high 122 walks with Reds and Diamondbacks), RF Elijah Dukes (.264, 13, 44) or Austin Kearns (.217, 7, 32 in 86 games), 1B Nick Johnson (.220, 5, 20 in 38 games), C Jesus Flores (.256, 8, 59), 2B Ronnie Belliard (.287, 11, 46).
Rotation: LH John Lannan (9-15, 3.91 ERA), LH Scott Olsen (8-11, 4.20, 201 2-3 innings with Marlins), RH Daniel Cabrera (8-10, 5.25 with Orioles), RH Shairon Martis (1-3, 5.66), RH Jordan Zimmermann (10-3, 2.89 with Double-A Harrisburg and Class-A Potomac).
Key Relievers: RH Joel Hanrahan (6-3, 3.95 ERA, 9/13 saves in 69 games), LH Joe Beimel (5-1, 2.02 in 71 games with Dodgers), RH Jesus Colome (2-2, 4.31 in 61 games), RH Julian Tavarez (1-5, 5.10 in 52 games with Red Sox, Brewers and Braves), RH Saul Rivera (5-6, 3.96 in 76 games), RH Garrett Mock (1-3, 4.17 in 26 games), LH Mike Hinckley (0-0, 0.00 in 14 games), RH Jason Bergmann (2-11, 5.09 in 30 games, 22 starts).
Hot Spots: Outfield and bullpen. Even after Pena was released late in spring training, the outfield is crowded. Willingham and Kearns, both coming off injury-hampered seasons, could wind up platooning or on the bench. The bullpen, once a strength, is mainly filled with untested players, with the exception of eighth-inning setup man Beimel.
Stat Sheet: Last season, the Nationals ranked 28th in the major leagues in runs (641) and homers (117), and tied for 26th in batting average (.251). They also ranked 28th in homers allowed (190) and 24th in team ERA (4.66). As for defense? Only one team made more errors than Washington’s 123 or had a worse fielding percentage than its .980.
Bottom Line: Hard to imagine a team making so much news coming off a season in which it had the worst record in the major leagues. Unfortunately for the Nationals, the biggest headline was Bowden’s resignation. He quit during spring training under the cloud of an investigation into skimming of Latin American prospects’ signing bonuses ” and a few days after special assistant Jose Rijo was fired by the team. Oh, and that happened shortly after the Nationals acknowledged their much-hyped, top Dominican prospect ” a shortstop they gave a $1.4 million signing bonus ” had lied about his age and name and was no longer to be considered such a top prospect, given that he is 23 and not 19. All that aside, on the field, the Nationals made only one significant move to improve the roster: adding much-needed power ” along with a ton of strikeouts and iffy defense ” by signing Dunn.
2008: 97-64, first place.
Manager: Lou Piniella (third season).
He’s Here: OF Milton Bradley, RHP Kevin Gregg, RHP Aaron Heilman, RHP Luiz Vizcaino, INF Aaron Miles, OF Joey Gathright.
He’s Outta Here: RHP Kerry Wood, INF Mark DeRosa, RHP Jason Marquis, C Henry Blanco, OF Felix Pie, LHP Rich Hill, INF Ronny Cedeno, RHP Michael Wuertz, RHP Bobby Howry, INF-OF Daryle Ward.
Projected Lineup: LF Alfonso Soriano (.280, 29 HRs, 75 RBIs, 19 SB in 109 games), CF Kosuke Fukudome (.257, 10, 58), 1B Derrek Lee (.291, 20, 90, 27 GIDP), RF Milton Bradley (.321, 22, 77, .436 OBP with Texas), 3B Aramis Ramirez (.289, 27, 111), 2B Mike Fontenot (.305, 9, 40), C Geovany Soto (.285, 23, 86), SS Ryan Theriot (.307, 1, 38, 22 SBs).
Rotation: RH Carlos Zambrano (14-6, 3.91 ERA), RH Ryan Dempster (17-6, 2.96, 206 2-3 IP), LH Ted Lilly (17-9, 4.09, 204 2-3 IP), RH Rich Harden (5-1, 1.77 in 12 starts for Chicago; 5-1, 2.34 in 13 starts for Oakland), LH Sean Marshall (3-5, 3.86 in 34 games, 7 starts).
Key Relievers: RH Kevin Gregg (7-8, 3.41, 29/38 saves for Florida), RH Carlos Marmol (2-4, 2.68, 7 saves, 114 Ks in 87 1-3 IP, .135 opponents batting average), RH Aaron Heilman (3-8, 5.21 for Mets), LH Neal Cotts (0-2, 4.29), RH Jeff Samardzija (1-0, 2.28 in 26 games), RH Luis Vizcaino (1-2, 5.28 with Colorado).
Hot Spots: Outfield, second base and closer. The Cubs think they solved their right field situation by signing Bradley, who has a history of injuries and volatile behavior. But will Fukudome, who struggled mightily in the second half last season, be able to handle center? Reed Johnson is an option there. Fontenot got the second base job over Miles, who will be a backup at shortstop, second and third. Marshall won the fifth starter’s spot and Gregg beat out Marmol for the closer role. Marmol said he was disappointed, but he returns to the setup role in which he excelled last season.
Stat Sheet: Lee put up solid numbers last season but struggled in the second half. He hit .266 after the All-Star break with just five homers and 34 RBIs. Fukudome made the All-Star team but also dropped off big-time after the break, batting only .217. It’s the playoffs that give Chicago’s sluggers the most trouble, however. Ramirez is 2-for-23 in first-round sweeps the past two seasons and Soriano is 3-for-28.
Bottom Line: The Cubs won’t have to hear about it being 100 years since their last World Series winner anymore. Now, it’s going on 101. They won an NL-best 97 games last season, only to flame out against the Dodgers ” the Cubs have been swept in the first round of the playoffs for the second consecutive year. Assuming everyone stays healthy, a deep rotation makes Chicago the division favorite again. The Cubs must replace DeRosa’s versatility and Wood’s ninth-inning success. They also need Bradley to remain poised and healthy. More power from Lee and a healthy Soriano are also keys. If Fukudome struggles again, look for Johnson to move in as the everyday center fielder. Piniella lost patience with Fukudome near the end of the season and in the playoffs a year ago. The Cubs should also have another big change at some point this season when the team’s sale to the Ricketts family from Tribune Co. is finally completed.
2008: 90-72, second place, wild card.
Manager: Ken Macha (first season).
He’s Here: RHP Trevor Hoffman, RHP Jorge Julio, RHP Braden Looper, OF Chris Duffy, 3B Casey McGehee.
He’s Outta Here: LHP CC Sabathia, RHP Ben Sheets, RHP Eric Gagne, RHP Guillermo Mota, LHP Brian Shouse, RHP Salomon Torres, 3B Russell Branyan, 2B Ray Durham, OF Gabe Kapler, INF Mike Lamb.
Projected Lineup: 2B Rickie Weeks (.234, 15 HRs, 46 RBIs, 19 SB), SS J.J. Hardy (.283, 24, 74), LF Ryan Braun (.285, 37, 106, 14 SB), 1B Prince Fielder (.276, 34, 102), RF Corey Hart (.268, 20, 91, 23 SB), CF Mike Cameron (.243, 25, 70, 17 SB), 3B Bill Hall (.225, 15, 55), C Jason Kendall (.246, 2, 49).
Rotation: RH Jeff Suppan (10-10, 4.96 ERA in 31 starts), RH Yovani Gallardo (0-0, 1.88 in 4 starts; 9-5, 3.67 ERA as rookie in 2007), LH Manny Parra (10-8, 4.39 in 32 games, 29 starts), RH Braden Looper (12-14, 4.16 in 33 starts with St. Louis), RH Dave Bush (9-10, 4.18 in 31 games, 29 starts).
Key Relievers: RH Trevor Hoffman (3-6, 3.77, 30/34 saves with Padres; will begin season on disabled list), RH Carlos Villanueva (2-2, 2.12 in 38 relief appearances), LH Mitch Stetter (3-1, 3.20 in 30 appearances).
Hot Spots: Pitching. Hoffman, already injured, is the projected closer and the five starters seemed locked from the beginning of spring training. But there’s a whole new group of faces in the bullpen, which lost its four most-used relievers from last season (Torres, Shouse, Mota and Gagne). Villanueva’s switch to the bullpen after nine lackluster starts was so good that he’ll likely work the ninth inning while Hoffman is out and the eighth inning when Hoffman returns. The starting rotation is much thinner than last season due to the departures of Sabathia and Sheets. Gallardo must stay healthy after a torn knee ligament kept him out of all but four starts last year and Parra must maintain his confidence after faltering during last year’s postseason run, which left him demoted to the bullpen. Suppan and Looper provide the veteran experience, but the most consistent starter last year when it counted was Bush, who has excellent command. He lowered his ERA nearly a full point last year.
Stat Sheet: The Brewers like to hit. They also tend to swing through a lot of pitches. New batting coach Dale Sveum, who briefly became interim manager when Ned Yost was fired last September, must do something that neither Butch Wynegar nor Jim Skaalen could do: lower Milwaukee’s strikeout numbers. Six players had more than 100 Ks, while Hardy had 98. Only Kendall managed any type of plate discipline. The team also finished 25th in the majors in batting average, relying way too much on Braun or Fielder to hit big homers.
Bottom Line: Last year’s playoff berth was Milwaukee’s first since 1982. But getting back will be challenging after losing most of its bullpen along with the top two starters ” Sabathia and Sheets. The replacements? Hoffman and hope that a paper-thin starting staff stays healthy. The Brewers already are not off to a great start. Looper was sidelined for a chunk of the spring with an injury to his side, and the 41-year-old Hoffman is on the 15-day disabled list with an oblique injury that will keep him out until mid-April. Hoffman will make $6 million in his first summer away from San Diego in 16 years, but will he get a chance to hear his entrance song, AC/DC’s “Hells Bells”? Until he returns, Villanueva is the most likely candidate to fill in as closer. Good thing for Macha that the Brewers’ potent offense remains virtually intact. Macha is already expecting Hall to return to form at third after offseason eye surgery and a conditioning program that helped him shed weight. Fielder has lost weight, too, while Braun continues his progression as one of the game’s best young sluggers.
2008: 86-75, third place.
Manager: Cecil Cooper (second full season).
He’s Here: C Ivan Rodriguez, LHP Mike Hampton, OF Jason Michaels, INF Jeff Keppinger.
He’s Outta Here: 3B Ty Wigginton, LHP Randy Wolf, C Brad Ausmus, INF Mark Loretta.
Projected Lineup: CF Michael Bourn (.229, 5 HRs, 29 RBIs, 41 SB), 2B Kaz Matsui (.293, 6, 33, 26 2Bs, 20 SB), 1B Lance Berkman (.312, 29, 106, 114 runs, 46 2Bs), LF Carlos Lee (.314, 28, 100), SS Miguel Tejada (.283, 13, 66), RF Hunter Pence (.269, 25, 83, 34 2Bs), 3B Geoff Blum (.240, 14, 53), C Ivan Rodriguez (.276, 7, 35 with Tigers and Yankees).
Rotation: RH Roy Oswalt (17-10, 3.54 ERA, staff-high 208 2-3 IP), LH Wandy Rodriguez (9-7, 3.54), LH Mike Hampton (3-4, 4.85 with Braves; hasn’t pitched full season since 2004), RH Brian Moehler (11-8, 4.56), RH Brandon Backe (9-14, 6.05) or RH Russ Ortiz (2-3, 5.51 in 2007 with Giants; missed 2008 with injury) or RH Jose Capellan (0-0, 4.50 in 1 relief appearance with Rockies).
Key Relievers: RH Jose Valverde (6-3, 3.38 ERA, NL-high 44 saves), RH Doug Brocail (7-5, 3.93 in 72 games), RH LaTroy Hawkins (3-1, 3.92 in 57 games with Yankees and Astros), RH Geoff Geary (2-3, 2.53 in 55 games), LH Wesley Wright (4-3, 5.01 in 71 games).
Hot Spots: Rotation and catcher. Oswalt is a legitimate ace, but the starting rotation is a question mark behind him. Wandy Rodriguez has won nine games in each of the last three seasons. The Astros are counting on Hampton to start 30-33 games even though he missed 2006-07 and made only 13 starts last year because of injuries. Moehler was solid in July and August but tailed off late and lost three of his final five starts. Backe will begin the season on the disabled list with strained muscles in his left side. Houston is hoping Ortiz can be useful, but the one-time All-Star missed last season with an arm injury. The Astros added Pudge Rodriguez during spring training to upgrade at catcher. He played very well for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, but it’s unclear if the 14-time All-Star and 13-time Gold Glove winner can still be an everyday player at 37. If not, Houston will be left with Humberto Quintero or J.R. Towles, who batted .226 and .137, respectively, last season.
Stat Sheet: The Astros had the fewest errors in the majors last season with 67 and the best fielding percentage at .989. But they didn’t make the playoffs thanks in part to ranking 22nd in runs with 712 and 20th with a .737 on-base percentage.
Bottom Line: The Astros got off to a terrible start last season but posted the best second-half record in the National League and charged back into the wild-card race. Their path to the postseason was derailed, in part, by Hurricane Ike, which forced the team to play a pair of home games against the Chicago Cubs in Milwaukee. Lee missed the stretch drive with a broken finger but has recovered from that injury. This year, Houston was awfully sloppy early in spring training. The Astros opened 1-16-3 in Grapefruit League play, going winless in 19 straight games while several stars were banged-up or away at the World Baseball Classic. Still, the shoddy performance day after day bothered Cooper before his club set off on a winning streak. The rotation is a major concern besides Oswalt. The middle of the lineup is experienced and dangerous, though the 34-year-old Tejada could be on the decline. The former AL MVP had a trying offseason, too. Tejada was sentenced to one year of probation for misleading Congress about the use of performance-enhancing drugs. In February, he pleaded guilty to withholding information when questioned by a House committee’s investigators in August 2005 about an ex-teammate’s use of steroids and human growth hormone. He also acknowledged he bought HGH while playing for Oakland, but said he threw the drugs away without using them. Prosecutors said they have no evidence to contradict that. The Astros hope to get more out of the oft-injured Matsui in his second year with the team. He missed 65 games in 2008. For the offense to really click, Bourn must improve on his paltry .288 on-base percentage so his blazing speed is more of a factor. The bullpen could be a strength with the return of Valverde and Brocail.
St. Louis Cardinals
2008: 86-76, fourth place.
Manager: Tony La Russa (14th season).
He’s Here: SS Khalil Greene, LHP Trever Miller, LHP Dennys Reyes, OF Colby Rasmus.
He’s Outta Here: RHP Braden Looper, LHP Mark Mulder, RHP Jason Isringhausen, LHP Randy Flores, LHP Ron Villone, INF Felipe Lopez, SS Cesar Izturis, INF Aaron Miles.
Projected Lineup: 2B Skip Schumaker (.302, 8, 46), CF Rick Ankiel (.264, 25, 71), 1B Albert Pujols (.357, 37, 116, 2nd NL MVP), RF Ryan Ludwick (.299, 37, 113), LF Chris Duncan (.248, 6, 27 in 222 at-bats) or Colby Rasmus, (.251, 11, 36, 15 SB at Triple-A Memphis in 90 games), SS Khalil Greene (.213, 10, 35 for Padres), C Yadier Molina (.304, 7, 56, 1st Gold Glove), pitcher batting 8th, 3B David Freese (.306, 26, 91 for Triple-A Memphis) or Joe Mather (.241, 8, 18 in 133 at-bats).
Rotation: RH Adam Wainwright (11-3, 3.20, limited to 20 starts by finger injury), RH Kyle Lohse (15-6, 3.78), RH Todd Wellemeyer (13-9, 3.71), RH Chris Carpenter (0-1, 1.76 in 15 1-3 innings due to elbow, shoulder injuries), RH Joel Pineiro (7-7, 5.15).
Key Relievers: RH Jason Motte (0-0, 0.82 in 11 games, 110 Ks in 66 2-3 innings at Triple-A Memphis), RH Ryan Franklin (6-6, 3.55, 17/24 saves), LH Trever Miller (2-0, 4.15 for Rays), LH Dennys Reyes (3-0, 2.33, 75 games for Twins).
Hot Spots: Third base, outfield and closer. 3B Troy Glaus (.270, 27, 99) had arthroscopic shoulder surgery in January and is expected to miss at least the first two months of the season following a setback in his rehabilitation. That leaves a hole in the lineup that Cardinals will attempt to fill with Freese, acquired from Padres in a deal for Jim Edmonds, and utilityman Mather. Four with starting credentials will rotate in the outfield, with 2005 first-round pick Rasmus set to make debut and power bat Duncan recovered from neck surgery that ended 2008 season in July. Ludwick was an All-Star and enjoyed breakout year at age 30, while Ankiel was limited to 120 games by sports hernia. Motte, with fastball in upper 90s (mph), will get a chance to close games. Fellow hard-throwing prospect Chris Perez is set to start season at Triple-A.
Stat Sheet: Pujols has begun his career with seven 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons, more than any player in history. He lacked one run for a seventh straight 100-run season and one walk to hit the century mark in that category for the first time. Ludwick is one of only three players to hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs while totaling 750 or fewer at-bats in prior seasons, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Bottom Line: After two so-so years following their improbable 2006 World Series triumph, the Cardinals have the look of a contender again with one big if ” the oft-injured Carpenter must prove he can rebound over the long haul from injuries that have cost him most of the last two seasons. The right-hander was a combined 51-18 from 2004-06, winning the NL Cy Young Award in ’05, but totaled 21 innings in ’07 and ’08 after reconstructive elbow surgery and related shoulder woes. The Cardinals don’t have Carpenter making his first start until the fourth game of the season due to uncertainty about his health. They prepared reliever Kyle McClellan to start in spring training just in case. Carpenter has had a dominant spring, giving the Cardinals reason for optimism in a rotation that could be one of the NL’s best. St. Louis must tread water until Glaus gets back from surgery delayed until January while doctors exhausted rehab options, and hope for a rebound year from Greene, acquired from the Padres after a career-worst season that ended early with a broken left hand after he punched a wall near the dugout.
2008: 74-88, fifth place.
Manager: Dusty Baker (second season).
He’s Here: C Ramon Hernandez, CF Willy Taveras, OF Jonny Gomes, LHP Arthur Rhodes, SS Alex Gonzalez.
He’s Outta Here: OF Corey Patterson, OF Ryan Freel, INF Jeff Keppinger, LHP Jeremy Affeldt, LHP Kent Mercker, RHP Gary Majewski, RHP Matt Belisle, RHP Josh Fogg, C Paul Bako, C Javier Valentin.
Projected Lineup: CF Willy Taveras (.251, 1 HR, 26 RBIs, major league-high 68 steals, .308 on-base percentage with Colorado), LF Chris Dickerson (.304, 6, 15), 1B Joey Votto (.297, 24, 84), 2B Brandon Phillips (.261, 21, 78), RF Jay Bruce (.254, 21, 52), 3B Edwin Encarnacion (.251, 21, 68), SS Alex Gonzalez (missed last season with knee injury), C Ramon Hernandez (.257, 16, 55).
Rotation: RH Aaron Harang (6-17, 4.78 ERA), RH Edinson Volquez (17-6, 3.21, 206 Ks), RH Bronson Arroyo (15-11, 4.77), RH Johnny Cueto (9-14, 4.81), RH Micah Owings (6-9, 5.93 with Arizona).
Key Relievers: RH Francisco Cordero (5-4, 3.33, 34/40 saves), RH David Weathers (4-6, 3.25), LH Arthur Rhodes (4-1, 2.04), LH Bill Bray (2-2, 2.87), RH Mike Lincoln (2-5, 4.48).
Hot Spots: Shortstop and left field. Gonzalez was cleared to practice at the start of spring training, appearing fully recovered from a compression fracture in his left knee, but Baker was cautious not to play him too much early in camp. Gonzalez then strained his right hamstring while beating out an infield hit on March 23. If he has another injury-marred season, the Reds will have to make due with a cast of reserves, including Jerry Hairston Jr. Baker is likely to platoon in left field ” Adam Dunn’s old spot ” with Dickerson and Gomes initially.
Stat Sheet: After more than a decade of trying to assemble a dependable rotation, the Reds finally succeeded last year. They had four pitchers make at least 25 starts and finish with an ERA below 5.00 (Harang 29 starts/4.78, Volquez 32/3.21, Arroyo 34/4.77 and Cueto 31/4.81) for the first time since 1992, when Jose Rijo, Tim Belcher, Chris Hammond and Greg Swindell did it. The Reds will be leaning heavily on that same rotation this season, with the everyday lineup in transition.
Bottom Line: By trading Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr. last season, the Reds set themselves on a new course, building around a nucleus of young players including Bruce, Votto and Phillips. Bruce and Votto were the only set of rookies in the majors to hit at least 21 homers apiece last season. How fast they mature will be the prime focus this season. The rotation could keep the Reds competitive, but they’ve got a ways to go before they emerge from their rut of eight straight losing seasons.
2008: 67-95, sixth place.
Manager: John Russell (second season).
He’s Here: INF Ramon Vazquez, INF-OF Eric Hinske, OF Craig Monroe, C Jason Jaramillo, LHP Donnie Veal.
He’s Outta Here: INF Doug Mientkiewicz, OF Jason Michaels, INF Chris Gomez, C Ronny Paulino, RHP John Van Benschoten.
Projected Lineup: LF Nyjer Morgan (.294, 0 HRs, 7 RBIs in 160 ABs, .347 from Aug. 19-end of season), 2B Freddy Sanchez (.271, 9, 52, .346 after All-Star break), CF Nate McLouth (.276, 26, 94, 46 2Bs, led NL CFs with .997 fielding percentage), C Ryan Doumit (.318, 15, 69 in 431 ABs, NL-best .407 with RISP), 1B Adam LaRoche (.270, 25, 85), RF Brandon Moss (.246, 8, 34, in 79 games with Red Sox and Pirates), 3B Andy LaRoche (.166, 5, 18 in 76 games with Dodgers and Pirates), SS Jack Wilson (.272, 1, 22 in career-low 87 games, hit 11 fewer HRs than in 2007).
Rotation: LH Paul Maholm (9-9, 3.71 ERA, first pitcher since 1890 to lead Pirates in wins with fewer than 10), RH Ian Snell (7-12, 5.42, 3.68 ERA in last 8 starts), LH Zach Duke (5-14, 4.82, 230 hits allowed in 185 IP), RH Ross Ohlendorf (1-4, 6.46 in 62 2-3 IP with Yankees and Pirates, 1 of club-record 26 pitchers to make at least 1 start for Pirates), RH Jeff Karstens (2-6, 4.03 in 9 games).
Key Relievers: RH Matt Capps (2-3, 3.02, 21/26 saves, no walks in last 19 games), LH John Grabow (6-3, 2.84 in 74 games, opposing batters hit .215), RH Tyler Yates (6-3, 4.66), RH Craig Hansen (2-7, 6.22, 43 walks, 32 Ks in 46 1-3 IP with Red Sox and Pirates).
Hot Spots: Left field and third base. Morgan has tentative hold on LF job, but needs to get on base early and often so he can use his speed to retain job; otherwise, Monroe or Hinske will slide into lineup. Hinske (20 HRs with Tampa Bay) is a power upgrade from last season’s top bat off the bench, Doug Mientkiewicz (2 HRs in 285 ABs). At 3B, Andy LaRoche ” Adam’s little brother and once the Dodgers’ No. 2 prospect ” needs to carry strong spring into the season to shake off terrible debut with Pirates (.152 in 49 games). He can’t help but be looking over his shoulder ” on the way is 3B prospect Pedro Alvarez, the No. 2 overall pick in the June draft. Alvarez flashed an electric bat during short but memorable spring training stay in Bradenton; the only question is how long the Pirates will keep him in the minors.
Stat Sheet: All those awful ERAs ” Pirates’ 5.10 ERA was third-worst in club history and their worst in 55 years ” illustrate why they endured major league record-tying 16th consecutive losing season. They’ve lost 94 or more each of last four seasons. Unless the pitching improves considerably and new pitching coach Joe Kerrigan finds some reliable arms for the bullpen, record-setting No. 17 looks to be inevitable.
Bottom Line: Pirates won’t say so, but 2009 is all about setting the stage for 2010, when hope might start arriving in Alvarez, OF Jose Tabata and OF Andrew McCutchen ” two former first-round picks (Alvarez and McCutchen) and a first-round quality talent (Tabata). The question is whether the Pirates will give in to temptation and rush one, two or all three to the majors before then. Remarkably, the Pirates still haven’t had a winning record since PNC Park opened in 2001 or drawn more than 1.86 million fans since their first season there. The payroll remains among the majors’ lowest, but the Pirates have locked up McLouth, Doumit, Snell and Maholm with multiyear deals. Now, some of that pitching depth they picked up from the Yankees and Red Sox last season needs to show up, the starting staff must settle in (can Tom Gorzelanny, the 14-game winner of 2007, regain his mechanics in Triple-A?) and some power must be found (possibly from Hinske or Moss) for the Pirates to improve significantly this season.
Los Angeles Dodgers
2008: 84-78, first place.
Manager: Joe Torre (second season).
He’s Here: C Brad Ausmus, INF Mark Loretta, RHP Guillermo Mota, RHP Claudio Vargas, LHP Randy Wolf, 1B Doug Mientkiewicz, LHP Will Ohman.
He’s Outta Here: RHP Derek Lowe, 2B Jeff Kent, OF Andruw Jones, RHP Greg Maddux, RHP Chan Ho Park, RHP Brad Penny, INF Nomar Garciaparra, RHP Scott Proctor, RHP Takashi Saito, LHP Joe Beimel, INF Angel Berroa.
Projected Lineup: SS Rafael Furcal (.357, 5 HRs, 16 RBIs in 36 games), 2B Orlando Hudson (.305, 8, 41 in 107 games with Arizona), LF Manny Ramirez (.396, 17, 53 in 53 games with Dodgers after trade from Boston; .332, 37, 121 overall), RF Andre Ethier (.305, 20, 77), 1B James Loney (.289, 13, 90), CF Matt Kemp (.290, 18, 76), C Russell Martin (.280, 13, 69), 3B Casey Blake (.251, 10, 23 in 58 games with Dodgers after trade from Cleveland; .274, 21, 81 overall).
Rotation: RH Hiroki Kuroda (9-10, 3.73 ERA), RH Chad Billingsley (16-10, 3.14), LH Randy Wolf (12-12, 4.30 with Houston), LH Clayton Kershaw (5-5, 4.26), RH James McDonald (0-0, 0.00 in 4 relief appearances with Dodgers; 7-4, 3.26 at Double-A and Triple-A). RH Jason Schmidt (recovering from shoulder surgery, didn’t pitch last year) won’t be ready to start season.
Key Relievers: RH Jonathan Broxton (3-5, 3.13, 14/22 saves), RH Guillermo Mota (5-6, 4.11 with Milwaukee), LH Hong-Chih Kuo (5-3, 2.14), RH Cory Wade (2-1, 2.27), RH Jeff Weaver (didn’t play last season).
Hot Spots: Starting pitching and the bullpen. At 24, Billingsley has yet to prove he can be the replacement ace on a staff that lost veterans Lowe and Penny. Billingsley was pounded while losing twice to Philadelphia in the NL championship series. Kuroda was impressive last season when he wasn’t plagued with injuries and inconsistency. Wolf is 32 and has been slowed by injuries throughout his career. At 21, the talented Kershaw remains unproven. Broxton moves into the closer role with Saito’s departure. The Dodgers have built a reputation for stellar pitching, including an NL-leading 3.69 ERA last season, but this staff is suspect.
Stat Sheet: The Dodgers were fifth in the NL with a .265 batting average last season. Having Ramirez, who was fighting a tight left hamstring in spring training, for an entire season should provide a boost.
Bottom Line: The lineup appears solid if the Dodgers can stay healthy. Hudson and Furcal, both speedy switch-hitters who lost time to injuries last season, will set the table for Ramirez. He had 74 hits, 35 walks and 36 runs in 53 regular-season games with the Dodgers last year, leading their late charge to a division title and the NL championship series. Ramirez was even more potent in the postseason, hitting .520 with four homers, 10 RBIs, nine runs and 11 walks in eight playoff games. Aside from Ramirez, the Dodgers have remade their roster with younger and cheaper players. Schmidt, who has undergone two shoulder operations, is in the final season of a $47 million, three-year contract. He is 1-4 in six starts, with the last coming in June 2007. Ausmus, a 40-year-old veteran, and Loretta, who can play first, second or third base, won’t be starters but should provide depth.
2008: 82-80, second place.
Manager: Bob Melvin (fifth season).
He’s Here: 2B Felipe Lopez, RHP Jon Garland, LHP Scott Schoeneweis, RHP Tom Gordon.
He’s Outta Here: 2B Orlando Hudson, LHP Randy Johnson, 1B Adam Dunn, RHP Brandon Lyon, RHP Juan Cruz, RHP Brandon Medders, RHP Dustin Nippert.
Projected Lineup: 2B Felipe Lopez (.234, 2 HRs, 25 RBIs in 100 games with Washington; .385, 4 HRs, 21 RBIs in 43 games with St. Louis), CF Chris Young (.248, 22, 85, 42 2Bs, 7 3Bs), SS Stephen Drew (.291, 21, 67, 44 2Bs, 11 3Bs), LF Conor Jackson (.300, 12, 75, 31 2Bs), 1B Chad Tracy (.267, 8, 39 in 88 games), RF Justin Upton (.250, 15, 42 in 108 games), 3B Mark Reynolds (.239, 28, 97, MLB-record 204 Ks, MLB-leading 35 errors), C Chris Snyder (.237, 16, 64).
Rotation: RH Brandon Webb (22-7, 3.30 ERA, 183 Ks, led NL in wins), RH Dan Haren (16-8, 3.33, 206 Ks), LH Doug Davis (6-8, 4.32 in 26 starts), RH Jon Garland (14-8, 4.90 for Los Angeles Angels), RH Max Scherzer (0-4, 3.05, 66 Ks in 56 innings; 1-1, 2.72, 79 Ks in 53 innings for Triple-A Tucson).
Key Relievers: RH Chad Qualls (4-8, 2.81, 9 saves), RH Tony Pena (3-2, 4.33), RH Jon Rauch (0-6, 6.56 with Arizona; 4-2, 2.98 with Washington), LH Scott Schoeneweis (2-6, 3.34 with Mets), RH Tom Gordon (5-4, 5.16 with Philadelphia).
Hot Spots: The bullpen and outfield. Qualls inherited the closer’s job after Lyon’s meltdown last season and is being counted on for some stability, but the rest of the bullpen is a big question mark. Pena and Rauch are the likely setup men. Pena is loaded with talent but wasn’t as sharp last season as he was in 2007, and Rauch has struggled since his arrival in Arizona. Schoeneweis is the new left-handed specialist, and Gordon has had health issues that kept him out most of the spring. A handful of pitchers were vying for the other bullpen jobs. Suffice it to say the strong rotation needs to put in some long innings. There’s a crowd in the outfield, with Eric Byrnes back and healthy and looking for playing time in a lineup that’s set with Jackson in left, Young in center and Upton in right. The scrappy Byrnes, in the second season of a three-year, $30 million contract, won’t like sitting on the bench, and the plan is for him to fill in at all three positions.
Stat Sheet: The Diamondbacks were in first place for the first 140 games last season before fading down the stretch. The collapse accelerated when Arizona was swept in three games at San Francisco and then Los Angeles. Run production was a big problem. In the last 23 games of the season, as the Dodgers pulled away, the Diamondbacks scored three or fewer runs 14 times.
Bottom Line: Arizona is counting on its strong rotation, led by the 1-2 punch of Webb and Haren and the offseason addition of Garland, to keep it in the hunt for the division title. The team is counting on another strong season from Jackson and expects Drew to pick up where he left off in a big second half. The Diamondbacks are seeking better offensive production from the multitalented Young. Obviously, the team wants a cutdown in strikeouts by power-hitting Reynolds. Melvin says he also is anxious to see what the 21-year-old Upton can do with a full season in the majors. The departure of Hudson, a Gold Glove second baseman, hurts the defense, although the Diamondbacks hope Lopez can give them a solid leadoff hitter. The biggest question is the bullpen, where Qualls is the closer almost by default. Rauch and Pena loom large in how successful the team can be. Otherwise, the Diamondbacks need a lot of long innings from their starters to stay in the race.
2008: 74-88, third place.
Manager: Clint Hurdle (eighth season).
He’s Here: RHP Jason Marquis, RHP Huston Street, LHP Alan Embree, OF Carlos Gonzalez, LHP Greg Smith, OF Matt Murton.
He’s Outta Here: OF Matt Holliday, LHP Brian Fuentes, OF Willy Taveras, OF Cory Sullivan, RHP Matt Herges, RHP Luis Vizcaino.
Projected Lineup: CF Ryan Spilborghs (.313, 6 HRs, 36 RBIs), SS Troy Tulowitzki (.263, 8, 46 in 101 games), 1B Todd Helton (.264, 7, 29 in 83 games), 3B Garrett Atkins (.286, 21, 99), RF Brad Hawpe (.283, 25, 85), C Chris Iannetta (.264, 18, 65), LF Seth Smith (.259, 4, 15 in 67 games; .323, 10, 53 at Triple-A Colorado Springs), 2B Clint Barmes (.290, 11, 44).
Rotation: RH Aaron Cook (16-9, 3.96 ERA, career high in wins), RH Ubaldo Jimenez (12-12, 3.99, staff-high 172 Ks), LH Franklin Morales (1-2, 6.39 in 5 starts with Colorado; 10-5, 5.47 in 21 starts at Triple-A), RH Jason Marquis (11-9, 4.53 with Cubs), LH Jorge De La Rosa (10-8, 4.92).
Key Relievers: RH Manuel Corpas (3-4, 4.52, 4/13 saves), RH Huston Street (7-5, 3.73, 18/25 saves with Oakland), RH Taylor Buchholz (6-6, 2.17), RH Ryan Speier (2-1, 4.06), LH Alan Embree (2-5, 4.96 with Oakland), RH Jason Grilli (3-2, 2.93 with Colorado; 0-1, 3.29 with Detroit).
Hot Spots: Left field, rotation and closer. Seth Smith should get the first shot at replacing All-Star Holliday in left, but Ian Stewart could see time there as well. Gonzalez, part of the deal that sent Holliday to Oakland, figured to be in the mix but was recently optioned to Triple-A. With lefty Jeff Francis out after season-ending shoulder surgery, the Rockies are looking for another arm to bolster the rotation. Cook and Jimenez are solid starters and Marquis is an innings eater. But after that the Rockies are thin. Greg Smith, also acquired from Oakland in the Holliday deal, had a 4.16 ERA in 32 starts for the A’s last year. But he struggled with shoulder trouble and the flu this spring before getting sent to the minors. Veteran lefty Glendon Rusch, brought to camp on a minor league contract, is a potential fill-in at the back of the rotation. Corpas has his scintillating slider back after dropping more than 20 pounds in the offseason and could emerge as a reliable closer again. Street is making a strong push as well.
Stat Sheet: The Rockies finished a franchise-low sixth in the NL in batting last season, hitting just .263 as a team. Colorado also hit .256 with runners in scoring position, another record team low. The squad stranded 1,207 runners, one of the highest marks in the NL. The Rockies turned in a 4.77 ERA to finish next-to-last in the NL. Still, that was the third-best staff ERA in team history. Cook was consistent all season, winning a career-high 16 games and making his first All-Star team.
Bottom Line: The Rockies fizzled in their attempt to defend the NL crown, stumbling to their seventh losing season in eight years. The offseason was tumultuous as Colorado traded Holliday, lost closer Fuentes to free agency and added five new coaches to the staff, including former Colorado skipper Don Baylor as hitting instructor. For Rocktober to happen again, Colorado needs Helton’s back to hold up for an entire season, Tulowitzki to avoid prolonged slumps and injuries, and Jimenez to step up. Someone also must emerge in left field to ease the loss of Holliday, and Corpas or Street needs to grab the closer’s role and remain steady.
San Francisco Giants
2008: 72-90, fourth place.
Manager: Bruce Bochy (third season).
He’s Here: LHP Randy Johnson, SS Edgar Renteria, INF Juan Uribe, LHP Jeremy Affeldt, RHP Bob Howry.
He’s Outta Here: SS Omar Vizquel, RHP Tyler Walker, RHP Kevin Correia, RHP Brad Hennessey, LHP Jack Taschner, 1B Daniel Ortmeier.
Projected Lineup: RF Randy Winn (.306, 10 HRs, 64 RBIs, 25 SB), SS Edgar Renteria (.270, 10, 55), 3B Pablo Sandoval (.345, 3, 24 in 41 games), C Bengie Molina (.292, 16, 95), CF Aaron Rowand (.271, 13, 70), LF Fred Lewis (.282, 9, 40), 1B Travis Ishikawa (.274, 3, 15 in 33 games), 2B Emmanuel Burriss (.283, 1, 18, 13 SBs in 95 games).
Rotation: RH Tim Lincecum (18-5, 2.62 ERA, ML-leading 265 Ks, Cy Young winner), LH Randy Johnson (11-10, 3.91, 173 Ks in 184 IP with Arizona), RH Matt Cain (8-14, 3.76, 186 Ks), LH Barry Zito (10-17, 5.15, career-low 120 Ks for full season), LH Jonathan Sanchez (9-12, 5.01, 157 Ks).
Key Relievers: RH Brian Wilson (3-2, 4.62 ERA, 41/47 saves, 67 Ks in 62 1-3 IP), RH Bob Howry (7-5, 5.35, 59 Ks with Cubs), LH Jeremy Affeldt (1-1, 3.33, 80 Ks in 78 1-3 IP).
Hot Spots: The late innings. With his everyday lineup and rotation set, Bochy hopes his starting pitchers will allow the Giants to carry just six relievers, opening a spot for another bat on a team that could sorely use it. Lincecum and Cain both went deep into most games last season, and the 45-year-old Johnson has a history of stamina. Zito’s durability has never been questioned, but everything else about the $126 million left-hander is still in doubt. With only three relievers (Wilson, Howry and Affeldt) standing out among an otherwise unimpressive group, Bochy hopes the Giants’ investment in starters will pay off.
Stat Sheet: Johnson is five wins shy of becoming the 24th pitcher in major league history with 300. Thanks to a late-season drought last year with Arizona, he’ll have a chance to do it in his native Bay Area. Johnson won just one of his final eight starts in 2008 after winning his 294th game Aug. 12. He still pitched fairly well during that stretch, yielding more than three earned runs just twice. He also had a 13-strikeout performance against Florida, and he made his Diamondbacks farewell with a two-hitter against Colorado. His impressive numbers when healthy persuaded the Giants to sign him to an $8 million, one-year contract laden with performance bonuses.
Bottom Line: The Giants lost their identity last spring when Barry Bonds faded away, and they haven’t really developed a new one in the 12 months since. The emergence of Lincecum was an improbable pleasure, but it’s too early to tie the franchise to a skinny 24-year-old. Johnson’s quest for 300 wins will be an entertainment early on, as will Zito’s latest attempt at a career resurrection. But to contend in the NL West, the Giants must find a way to score consistently with a lineup led by Molina’s 16 homers last season. After GM Brian Sabean did surprisingly little offseason tinkering with an offense still featuring mostly familiar faces, it’s tough to imagine where they’ll get more punch. Unless Sandoval, the Giants’ latest young phenom, somehow arrives with the same success as Lincecum, San Francisco is hoping to get better results from largely the same cast that won 72 games last season.
San Diego Padres
2008: 63-99, fifth place.
Manager: Bud Black (third season).
He’s Here: 2B David Eckstein, C Henry Blanco, OF Cliff Floyd, RHP Shawn Hill, RHP Eulogio De La Cruz, RHP Edward Mujica.
He’s Outta Here: RHP Trevor Hoffman, C Josh Bard, C Michael Barrett, SS Khalil Greene, LHP Shawn Estes, RHP Dirk Hayhurst, RHP Clay Hensley, LHP Justin Hampson, RHP Charlie Haeger.
Projected Lineup: CF Jody Gerut (.296, 14 HRs, 43 RBIs), 2B David Eckstein (.277, 1, 23 with Toronto; .301, 1, 4 with Arizona), RF Brian Giles (.306, 12, 63, .398 on-base percentage), 1B Adrian Gonzalez (.279, 36, 119), 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff (.260, 23, 84), LF Chase Headley (.269, 9, 38), C Nick Hundley (.237, 5, 24), SS Luis Rodriguez (.287, 0, 12).
Rotation: RH Jake Peavy (10-11, 2.85 ERA, 166 Ks), RH Chris Young (7-6, 3.96), RH Cha Seung Baek (6-9, 4.62), RH Kevin Correia (3-8, 6.05 with San Francisco), RH Shawn Hill (1-5, 5.83, 12 starts for Washington) or LH Cesar Ramos (9-11, 5.29 with Triple-A Portland) or RH Walter Silva (7-8, 4.21 with Monterrey, Mexico).
Key Relievers: RH Heath Bell (6-6, 3.58, 0 saves), RH Cla Meredith (0-3, 4.09), RH Duaner Sanchez (5-1, 4.32 with Mets), RH Edwin Moreno (5-6, 4.35, 18 saves at Triple-A Portland), LH Arturo Lopez (0-3, 13.14 with Triple-A Portland; 9-3, 3.45 with Mexico City).
Hot Spots: Starting rotation, bullpen, middle infield. The Padres went into camp with two spots open in the rotation behind Peavy, Young and Baek, who could miss the start of the season because of a strained right forearm. Lack of depth forced GM Kevin Towers to do some shopping during spring training, and he might do some more before opening day. Eckstein was signed to an $850,000, one-year deal to play 2B, which he says is his natural position, and Rodriguez, who has never played more than 79 games in a season, is the incumbent at SS after Greene was traded to St. Louis. The bullpen has been shaky during spring games, and it didn’t help that Mark Worrell, obtained from the Cardinals in the Greene deal, had elbow surgery. Bell, who has two career saves, takes over for all-time saves leader Hoffman, who signed with Milwaukee after the Padres pulled their contract offer off the table.
Stat Sheet: Hoffman amassed all but two of his 554 career saves with the Padres before the sides acrimoniously parted ways in the offseason, with Hoffman signing with Milwaukee for approximately the same amount of money he made last year. Bell is big, durable, hard-throwing and appears to be up to the unenviable job of replacing an icon.
Bottom Line: Although the Padres don’t think so, they could be worse than last year’s 99-loss team, which could make for a long summer. Jeff Moorad, the former agent and Diamondbacks executive, just closed a deal to buy the club from John Moores, and how that affects the on-field performance remains to be seen. Most fans aren’t overly optimistic that the Padres will be able to break out of the basement of the relatively weak NL West.