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Texas Rangers 2011 Season Preview

The long wait is finally over. The Texas Rangers will finally be flying a pennant in their ballpark following their first ever American League title.

The Rangers fell short in the World Series against the San Francisco Giants, but that can’t dampen the enthusiasm following their sensational 2010 campaign, and most observers seem to feel they’re bound to be in the 2011 pennant mix as well.

I’m not so sure.

I’m not calling for the Rangers to tumble back to mediocrity this year, but I just cannot see them enjoying the same level of success that we all just witnessed. I’ve got serious concerns about the pitching, and if the arms can’t deliver a similar showing to what took place in 2010, the offense alone won’t be enough to carry this team back to the playoffs.

Obviously, the loss of Cliff Lee to the Phillies as a free agent is huge. Lee’s numbers with the Rangers were actually very ordinary. He won just four of his 10 decisions, and his ERA was barely below 4.00.

Of course, Lee was amazing throughout the American League playoffs and it’s unlikely the Rangers would have made it to the World Series without him. But just the mere presence of Lee was a huge psychological boost for the entire staff, and his absence is undoubtedly going to be severely felt.

C.J. Wilson will now have to shoulder the load as the Texas ace. Wilson was an absolute revelation for the Rangers in ’10, emerging from the bullpen to win 15 games with solid across the board numbers.

Wilson’s stuff is good enough to call for an encore performance. But he’ll also be facing the added pressure of being counted on as the staff ace, and it’s important to note that Wilson threw nearly as many innings last year as he had in the previous four seasons pitching out of the pen.

Colby Lewis was another very pleasant surprise, and he was better than his 12-13 record would indicate. Lewis is in great shape as camp gets under way, having dropped 15 pounds during the offseason. He’s a real bulldog, and I can easily see him eclipsing last year’s numbers. Tommy Hunter doesn’t have great stuff, but it’s tough to knock his results.

The back end of the projected rotation is very shaky. Anything good the Rangers get from Brandon Webb is gravy. Webb has been out for virtually two entire seasons, and he may well be merely a shell of what he was in his days as the ace of the Diamondbacks.

Derek Holland has yet to prove he can cut it at the big league level. Dave Bush is also on hand, but if the Rangers have to plug him into the rotation on a regular basis, it’s not a good sign.

The bullpen looks strong. Neftali Feliz has starter stuff, but he’s been so good as a closer that there’s little point in moving him. Texas has a deep array of arms in front of Feliz, and they should once again prove to be very tough in late-game situations when they have a lead.

The lineup is loaded. I expect that 2B Ian Kinsler will be moved back to the spot he’s best suited for, which is leadoff hitter. If Michael Young remains a Ranger, he’s a solid No. 2, and a healthy Josh Hamilton is downright scary hitting third.

Vladimir Guerrero is now in Baltimore, but the Rangers are excited about the arrival of 3B Adrian Beltre, and he has the potential to be a dynamic cleanup hitter. Nelson Cruz needs to avoid those pesky hamstring issues, but the RF is a monster producer when he’s right.

The sixth and seventh spots will be manned by Mitch Moreland, Mike Napoli and Yorvit Torrealba, depending on who’s pitching for the opposition. The bottom of the order should feature CF Julio Borbon and SS Elvis Andrus.

As usual, there’s no set role for OF David Murphy, but he always seems to find his way into the lineup for 450 or more plate appearances.

Despite what is clearly an extremely impressive arsenal, I can still foresee some issues with the Texas offense. Hamilton is the ultimate stud, but he’s missed lots of games the last couple of seasons.

Beltre has never put together back-to-back big years, and his two top-of-the-chart seasons were both when he was entering free agency. Borbon has yet to show he’s capable of being the everyday CF.

Then there’s the situation with Michael Young. He’s clearly not happy with his situation in Texas. While Young is the consummate pro, he does not appear to be relishing the idea of being a DH/utility player, and this looms as a potential headache until the situation is somehow resolved.


This wraps up my AL West previews, so it’s time to make predictions on the pecking order. I can see this division being up for grabs right into the final week of the season.

I’m not sold on the Angels and feel they did a lousy job of adding pieces in the offseason. Nevertheless, they own a dynamite rotation, and Mike Scioscia is as good as it gets in the dugout. If the bullpen doesn’t melt down (a definite possibility), I like the Halos to squeeze out the win.

I’m going with Oakland to finish second. The A’s have the best pitching in the AL West when the pen is factored in. But there’s still not much pop in the lineup, and one key injury to the staff would be a major problem.

I’ll go out on a limb somewhat and tab Texas to drop to third place, although they could easily repeat as division champs. Call it a gut feeling. Everything went right for this team last year, and that doesn’t always happen the next time around.

Seattle is clearly the weakest team in the AL West, and I’d be very surprised if they finish anywhere other than last place. But I like the direction of the franchise, and the Mariners at least have some legitimate hope for the future.


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Dave Cokin’s Hardcore Baseball: 2011 Seattle Mariners Preview

There’s no place to go but up. That’s the good news for the Seattle Mariners. Things can’t get any worse than they were in 2010, a season in which the Mariners bottomed out completely. Aside from Felix Hernandez winning the Cy Young Award and Ichiro Suzuki setting a new standard with his 10th straight 200-hit season, this team was a disaster. The Mariners were beyond inept offensively, and there’s every chance they’ll be just as miserable in 2011.

Felix Hernandez was amazing for the M’s, and may well have been the best 13-12 pitcher I’ve ever seen. The fact that he won the American League Cy Young Award with such an ordinary record speaks volumes about how dominating he was. King Felix pitched well enough to win 20 games, but the lack of run support was simply ridiculous. Hernandez was saddled with a league-low 3.1 runs per game of offense.

So despite leading the league in innings, ERA, opponent batting average, opponent OPS and quality starts, Hernandez had trouble registering wins. Note he was also second in strikeouts and third in complete games, narrowly missing winning those categories as well. All in all, an absolutely superb season for King Felix, and kudos to the Cy Young voters for looking past the ordinary W/L record.

Ichiro Suzuki is now 37 years old, but nothing seems to have changed for the future Hall of Fame outfielder. Ichiro posted his usual outstanding numbers, and he quelled any thoughts that he might be slowing down by stealing 42 bases. There’s nothing to indicate this season will be anything other than more of the same for Ichiro.

The Mariners are hoping a couple of other players can produce dividends this season to somehow spark an offense that was almost too feeble for words. Chone Figgins suffered through a terrible 2010 season, and I’m not at all sure he’ll be much better in 2011. Figgins was an ideal leadoff hitter with the Angels. But that spot isn’t open in Seattle with Ichiro on hand, and I don’t see him as a good fit batting second.

Seattle will likely feature Frankie Gutierrez, Jack Cust and Justin Smoak as their middle of order. That’s about as weak as it gets at the big league level. Gutierrez is an excellent defender and an okay hitter, but he’s totally ill-suited to hit third.

Cust is still useful thanks to his ability to get on base in spite of a low BA, but his power appears to be declining. As a platoon DH hitting lower in the order, Cust might be acceptable at best. Hitting cleanup on a nearly everyday basis, Cust is a major liability.

Smoak struggled mightily in his initial tour of big league duty with the Rangers. He did even worse after arriving via trade in Seattle and eventually got sent to Tacoma. But Smoak did show his potential after a late-season recall, and hit very well over the last ten games of the season. No question Smoak has a chance to be a very productive big league hitter, but lots of questions remain as to whether he’s ready to produce this soon as an everyday player in the middle of the lineup.

Miguel Olivo is the new backstop for the Mariners, and he’s coming off his best offensive season with career highs in several categories. But those stats were accrued playing for the Rockies. The only thing Coors Field and Safeco have in common is that they’re both baseball stadiums. I don’t see any chance Olivo comes close to duplicating last year’s numbers. He slumped badly after the All-Star break last season, and Olivo’s career OBP is a brutal .283.

The early-season middle infield duties figure to be shared by Jack Wilson, Brendan Ryan, Josh Wilson and Adam Kennedy. Jack Wilson has the great glove, but he can’t hit and he also can’t stay healthy. Ryan will likely open the season at 2B, and he’s also a superb defender who offers little offense. Josh Wilson is another weak bat with an okay glove and he’s strictly utility filler.

Kennedy enjoyed a rebirth in an outstanding 2009 campaign with the A’s, but went back into decline with the Nationals last season. He shouldn’t be more than a spare part at this point, but could end up getting regular AB with the Mariners.

The pitching is pedestrian at best once we’re done extolling the virtues of Hernandez. Jason Vargas won nine games in his best big league season, and that was with the benefit of a great deal of luck. Vargas gives up way too many fly balls, and even at spacious Safeco his home runs allowed were absurdly low in 2010. Doug Fister was an early season surprise for the Mariners, but he eventually regressed to his norm, which is strictly back of the rotation level.

Luke French doesn’t profile as a pitcher who should be in a big league rotation, but he is in Seattle. Erik Bedard has never been able to stay healthy, so despite his talent, he can’t be relied upon to give the Mariners regular turns.

The bullpen is dicey at best. David Aardsma is the established closer, but he could start the season on the DL as he recovers from hip surgery. Brandon League had okay base stats last season, but his peripheral numbers were not good. He’s adequate at best as the setup man, and I don’t like him as the closer if Aardsma remains out for any extended period. The rest of the bullpen is comprised of castoffs who are either unproven or in decline, so this is yet another area of concern for the Mariners.

Seattle does have a few prospects worth talking about. Dustin Ackley needs a little more minor league seasoning, and he has yet to produce much from a power standpoint. But Ackley is a legit bat and I’d be stunned if he’s not this team’s starting 2B by mid-season. Power pitching Michael Pineda could probably use another dozen or so starts at AAA, but don’t be shocked if he’s with the big club from the outset due to the lack of quality arms on the current big league roster. Nick Franklin is progressing nicely and profiles as the future shortstop for the Mariners, but he’s still a year or two away.

The Mariners were a winning team in 2009, but this was correctly regarded as a major fluke by most statistical analysts, as their run differential suggested they were just plain lucky. What we saw in 2010 from the Mariners was a more accurate reflection of their overall lack of talent. There’s more of the same in store this season. Seattle has little hope of escaping the AL West cellar, and they’re likely to endure another campaign with 100 or more losses.

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All-Star Lunacy: Baseball Completes the Brain-Fart Trifecta

I like Omar Infante .

He’s never been confused with a superstar, but the 28-year old jack of all trades has carved out a nice niche for himself as a solid utility player with the Atlanta Braves.

Infante was a starting middle infielder for the better part of two seasons with the Detroit Tigers back in 2004-05.

In fact, Infante had a pretty fair campaign back in ’04, hitting .264 with 16 HR in the one and only season in which he recorded 500 AB.

But for the past several years, Infante has worn the tag of utility man, logging most of his appearances at 2B/SS, but also getting playing time almost everyplace else.

Infante has been the consummate plug-in, able to hold his own defensively wherever he is inserted while not killing his team with empty at-bats.

In other words, he’s been one of those mostly anonymous types who draws little attention but it very good at his job.

Now, suddenly and without any warning, Omar Infante has been thrust into baseball’s national spotlight. Infante somehow ended up with a spot on the 2010 National League All-Star team.

While I’m sure this is an incredible thrill for Infante, and I’m happy for his good fortune, he’s now the punchline in what might well be the biggest joke of a snub in All-Star history.

That’s because, for all intents and purposes, Infante was given the roster spot that should have been earmarked for Joey Votto .

The omission of Votto from the All-Star team goes beyond residence in the snub category. It’s downright mind-boggling.

Votto is having a monster campaign, and is an obvious contender for first-half MVP recognition as he’s led the surprising Reds to the top spot in the NL Central Division.

Take a quick look at the numbers of both Infante and Votto and decide for yourself which player is more deserving of playing in this year’s Mid-Summer Classic (and I use that term very loosely).

Infante is hitting .305, with one HR and 22 RBI while scoring 23 runs for the Braves. Votto, meanwhile, is at .316, scoring 56 runs, knocking out 21 bombs and driving home 59 runners.

That is, to put it as mildly as possible, a total blowout in favor of Votto.

Yet Votto now has to hope the fans vote him in as what amounts to the NL wild card, as he apparently wasn’t good enough for Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel to name as an alternate.

When I first found out that Infante had made the All-Star team, I honestly thought someone had screwed up and that this was some sort of weird typo.

When I learned shortly thereafter that Votto had been left off the team, I was utterly dumbfounded.

I’ve seen some controversial omissions over the years, but this one is the topper of all time. What makes it even more insane is the fact that a utility infielder evidently got his spot.

I was still trying in vain to figure this whole thing out when I discovered the apparent reason Infante ended up an All-Star.

Evidently, MLB, in its latest stroke of genius, suggested that it might be a great idea to use one of the roster spots in each league to reward a utility player.

If this is actually the case, it’s very possibly the most moronic idea yet conceived by the dimwits that run this game.

It’s bad enough that Major League Baseball is still operating in the dark ages as far as implementing instant replay to correct calls is concerned.

It’s even more ridiculous that the All-Star game, an exhibition contest both by design and implementation, decides home-field advantage for the World Series.

Now, perhaps to complete the Brain-Fart Trifecta, someone in charge decided that those unsung utility guys deserved a little more recognition.

To Whom It May Concern in MLB’s Executive Offices: It’s called the All-Star game for a good reason. It’s supposed to be ALL STARS, or at least as close to that as is possible with the roster rules in their present form.

Utility players are not stars. In fact, they’re basically not good enough to start on their own teams. That’s why they’re called utility players.

And Omar Infante, while being a quality veteran and a valuable member of the Atlanta Braves, has absolutely no business whatsoever even being considered for a roster spot on any Major League All-Star team.

I love the game of baseball, and always will. But that hasn’t stopped me from having to shake my head in amazement at some of the just plain stupid decisions made by the game’s administrators on a far-too-frequent basis.

Sad to say, this latest example of their expertise in how to screw things up beyond all rational reason indicates that’s not about to change.
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Fantasy Friday: Scouring The Scrap Heap For Big Bargains

Take a look at the teams that win championships in baseball, basketball, football and hockey. Sure, they’re all blessed with star talent. But dig a little deeper and you’ll readily see that these teams also have solid role players. They may not get much publicity, but without their presence there aren’t any titles.

It’s like that in fantasy baseball as well. Obviously, you likely aren’t winning your league if you’re not getting strong performances from your best players. But the fact is that virtually every team has at least a handful of stars.

What separates the contenders from the rest of the teams is the ability to fill the back end of the roster with quality talent that’s largely being ignored by the masses.

It never ceases to amaze me how many players with a real ability to contribute are mired deep in the free agent pool in most leagues. That’s why I’m constantly patrolling those deep waters looking for that one player or two I can plug into my lineup, and believe me, they’re out there.

All you have to do is be willing to dig a little to stumble on that buried treasure.

Here’s a rundown of 10 players who are currently owned in less than 10 percent of all Yahoo leagues. If you’re in need of quality depth, or perhaps hoping to find a decent replacement for a currently injured player, you should find an able body or two on this list.

Coco Crisp : Owned in only nine percent of the leagues, Crisp is a definite injury risk, as he’s had all kinds of trouble staying on the field. But Coco is finally back in action for the A’s and he’s been on a tear. Crisp can hit for an okay average, but more importantly, he’s hitting leadoff, which translates into lots of chances to score runs. Make no mistake, runs are the most ignored category in every 5×5 league I’ve ever played in. Crisp will also steal some bases for the A’s, and there’s simply no reason for him to be this largely unowned.

Russell Branyan : I tabbed Branyan as a bargain earlier in the week, right after he was dealt back to the Mariners. He won’t help your team BA and he has no speed. But with power suddenly much more scarce than it has been for several years, Branyan’s ability to hit it deep and drive in runs makes him an end of the roster steal.

Tyler Colvin : Colvin has been a pleasant surprise for the Cubs, and he’s now getting chance to start on a regular basis. The batting average may not hold up, but Colvin is hitting leadoff and has power. His runs scored should rise if some of the guys behind him in the order begin to produce. At worst, Colvin has value as a spare OF, particularly in view of his ability to produce against both lefty and righty pitchers.

Neil Walker : Walker has been sidelined with a concussion, but is expected back shortly. Labeled as a bust prior to this season, the light evidently went on for Walker and he’s been rock solid since being recalled by the Pirates. Walker also has 2B/3B eligibility, which increases his value even more. Looking at a bevy of players at these positions who are owned in a far greater percentage of leagues, there’s little reason for Walker to be gathering moss in the free agent pool.

Seth Smith : Okay, Smith is probably never going to be an everyday player for the Rockies. His splits are dramatic, and he’s basically useless against lefties. But if you’re looking for an extra outfielder that can be platooned when he’s at home against right-handed pitching, Smith needs to be on your radar screen. He’s hitting .304 with 11 bombs in just 158 AB against righties this season. That should rate Smith more than a five percent ownership rate, even if he’s not playing all that much. Great reserve stash for leagues with daily lineup flexibility.

Fred Lewis : Lewis has flourished since joining the Bluejays. He won’t deliver much power production, but again, this is a guy who will be hitting leadoff, and that means plenty of runs scored. Lewis can also steal you some bases. The fact that Toronto decided to farm out Edwin Encarnacion recently means Lewis is going to be starting most of the time for Toronto makes him a player worth tracking. Lewis is owned in only five percent of all Yahoo leagues. Curiously, Encarnacion is owned in just about the same number of those leagues, despit the fact he’s playing in Las Vegas.

Pat Burrell : I grabbed Burrell the same day he was signed by the Giants. He’s hit .333 for San Francisco, with five homers in 69 AB since his arrival. He’s also scored 10 runs and driven in 11 for the Giants. With numbers like those, and considering that defense doesn’t count in fantasy baseball, it’s incomprehensible how Burrell is being ignored to this extent. Burrell won’t maintain the fat batting average, but he’s entirely capable of smashing 15 homers the rest of the way. Yet, he’s unowned in a staggering 96 percent of the leagues right now.

Jose Tabata : Once more, a regular who is hitting leadoff, and this one is a base stealer to boot. Tabata is still raw and he’ll be a bit of a liability in BA and power. But if you need that spare OF to plug in a couple of times per week, Tabata is worth a flier. He’s worth more than that in deep keeper leagues.

Roger Bernadina : Bernadina is no star, but he’s not a lineup liability, either. Decent BA, he’ll steal a base here and there and he might even pop one over the fence now and then. I’m not suggesting he’s going to catapult your team to contending status, but Bernadina is worth more than a lad of OF’s who are owned in far more than only two percent of all leagues.

Felix Pie : Pie is still on the DL, but is expected to be activated very shortly. He’s projected to be the regular LF for the Orioles and hitting leadoff. Pie is probably never going to approach the monster hype that was heaped upon him as a Cubs prospect. But I saw enough from Pie last season to project him as an okay regular on a lesser team like the Orioles. And as he’s still only 25-years-old, perhaps he could ascend beyond that level if he stay healthy and play every day. Since he’s presently owned in only one percent of all leagues, he’s worth of a speculative pickup.
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Texas Rangers Fill Void in Deal with San Francisco Giants

It’s hardly a blockbuster deal, but the Texas Rangers just took a significant step toward taking control of the AL West. The Rangers have obtained veteran catcher Benjie Molina from the Giants, sending reliever Chris Ray to San Francisco along with a player to be named later. Assuming that the still to be determined player is of little significance, this shapes up as a trade that makes sense for both teams.

Molina has struggled this year for the Giants. He started the season in okay form, but the 35-year-old senior member of baseball’s first family of catchers has hit below .200 over the last six weeks and his importance to the Giants was decreasing by the day.

San Francisco needs to get mega-prospect Buster Posey behind the plate on a regular basis, with an adequate backup in Eli Whiteside . On a team that lacks big power, Molina’s base-clogging tendencies were becoming a liability.

I thought bringing Molina back for one more season made some sense given his experience working with the Giants pitching staff, but if San Francisco is going to make a run at the NL West title, they need to generate more offense, and Molina was coming up way short on that count.

I’m also of the belief, however, that acquiring Molina is a meaningful score for the Rangers. He’ll fit in well with this team offensively, hitting toward the bottom of the order, and the move to a hitter’s haven should spark Molina’s bat. He also helps fill the most pressing need in the everyday Texas lineup.

While Matt Treanor has hit reasonably well lately, he’s still a .233 lifetime batter and his best role is as a backup who can give the Rangers a couple of starts each week. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is in AAA trying to resurrect his career after falling prey to a bad case of the dreaded yips.

Defensively suspect Max Ramirez is simply not producing enough offense to justify big league playing time. Former high-end prospect Taylor Teagarden is basically off the screen completely, and is now struggling to hit AA pitching.

Molina should solve the problems behind the dish. He’s clearly an upgrade with the bat, and Molina has always shown an ability to work well with young pitchers.

The Rangers should not miss Ray very much. He wasn’t doing a bad job for Texas, but they’ve got lots of arms to fill the necessary innings. Ray’s role with the Rangers wasn’t especially crucial to their success. He figures to be of similar use to the Giants filling one of the final two spots in their pen.

I don’t see this as the type of deal where there has to be a winner and a loser. I probably favor the Rangers by a bit, mainly because they filled a void on the cheap and it cost them very little to do so. But it’s not like the Giants were going to garner an important commodity for Molina at this point, and in fact, from their perspective, this could be addition by subtraction.

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MLB Midseason Breakdown: Second Half Winners and Losers

We’re virtually at the midway point of the 2010 Major League Baseball season, so there’s no better time to assess the divisional races as they’re currently stacked up.

It’s already clear that barring something completely unforeseen, we’re in for at least a few divisional battles destined to go right to the wire.

But I’m also of the belief that there are three races that have a decent shot at turning into runaways where there won’t be a great deal of suspense come September. Here’s my rundown of what I expect to take place between now and the end of the regular season.

AL East

The Red Sox have managed to overcome a terrible start and have gotten themselves right into the thick of an outstanding three-team scrap. But when the dust settles, much to my chagrin as a Boston fan, I still have the Red Sox coming up a bit short and missing the playoffs.

The injuries plaguing the Sox are definitely a concern. Beyond that, I see the Yankees and Rays in a dogfight with the New Yorkers finishing on top by about four games. The Rays have loads of depth and could get a significant boost from a couple of prospects who seem about ready.

But the Yankees are still the team most likely to add the key player if needed, and they also have a couple of notorious second-half studs who figure to put up serious numbers. The Blue Jays are a solid squad, but they’re simply not good enough to hang with the Big Three, and the Orioles are simply hopeless.

AL Central

The Twins and Tigers are basically in a dead heat right now, and the recent tear by the White Sox indicates a possible three-team duel. Don’t expect that to be the case much longer.

Minnesota is the only team in this sector with a positive run differential, and that’s the key indicator that tells me they will eventually pull away and win this division convincingly. The Tigers will be a respectable second and should hold off the Chisox for runner-up honors.

Ironically, the double digit win streak by the White Sox may actually be bad news for them in the long run. I was quite sure they would be dealing some quality veterans for needed prospects, but they’re now in the race and not as likely to be in a dealing mode. The Royals should avoid the cellar, as aside from hapless Baltimore, the Indians are the worst team in the league.

AL West

Mike Scioscia is a great manager and he might find a way to keep the Angels in the hunt. But on paper, I give a substantial edge to Texas and I’m more of the belief that the Rangers could actually pull away and win this division in somewhat of a romp. The Halos just have too many holes in the lineup and I don’t like their bullpen at all.

Oakland is capable of finishing right around .500 and while I have them finishing third, I would not be shocked if they sneak past the Angels. Forget about the Mariners. They were a fraud last season, and reality has reared its ugly head for them this season.

NL East

Dynamite race on tap here. The Phillies are the two-time defending NL Champs, but I’ll go out on a limb and call them on the outside looking in at the finish line. I really liked the Braves coming into the season, and that opinion has been substantiated.

I believe Atlanta will win the division, and it’s not just on the obvious intangibles with the pending retirements of Bobby Cox, Billy Wagner, and perhaps Chipper Jones. A deep and talented rotation, a solid bullpen, and an offense that is better than most thought it would be are all key factors.

The surprise team to me is the Mets. I thought their pitching would be a killer prior to the season. But it’s not that bad and I’m still of the thought that Johan Santana will get stronger in the second half. If Carlos Beltran can contribute anything meaningful upon his return, I’m calling for the Mets to sneak past Philly and claim the Wild Card.

The Marlins are okay despite their upper management issues, but they’re likely fourth best in this group. The Nationals are still full of holes, but at least their future is brightening.

NL Central

The Cardinals are getting some heat from the Reds, but I don’t see that continuing. The Redbirds are clearly the class of the division, and I like them to win this race by close to double digits. The Reds, however, should at least manage to post a winning record and there are some real positive signs for 2011. I have the Brewers edging the Cubs for third place, with the Astros and Pirates both way back.

NL West

Toughest division to call for me. But at the finish line, I like the Rockies to get the job done. Don’t underestimate the significance of their high altitude home field advantage. That thin air is hell on tired legs late in the season, and it’s no coincidence that Colorado has been a big second half producer in each of their two recent playoff runs.

I don’t think the Padres are going away, and they remain an underrated entry. In fact, I would not be shocked to see them as the Wild Card, and I’m only picking against them because they lack big game experience. But that pitching staff is terrific, most notably the lock down bullpen.

The Giants ought to be right there as well when looking at their roster. But there’s just something missing on this team. It’s called fire. They don’t have any. More than almost any team, the Giants need to acquire a sparkplug who can get this team’s engine revved up. But as they stack up right now, I have the Giants just missing.

I see the Dodgers fading to a fourth-place finish that’s very real. Arizona will be way back in the basement, and from what I can see, the Diamondbacks will be residing there for quite some time.

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Matt Kemp: Could Los Angeles’ Five-Tool Superstar Be on the Move?

Matt Kemp is the total package. He’s a legitimate five-tool player, he’s only 25 years old, and coming into this season, Kemp had to be on the short list of potential NL MVP candidates not named Albert Pujols .

Make no mistake, this was no big-market hype job. Kemp was one of the best players in the game last year and the prevailing thought from nearly everyone was that the best was yet to come.

So just what in the wide, wide world of sports is going on with Kemp now riding the bench for the Dodgers as a healthy scratch?

Kemp didn’t get the start in Sunday’s nationally televised interleague finale against the Yankees. He sat again on Monday as LA opened a crucial series with the rival Giants in San Francisco. And he might just be sitting again on Tuesday as the set with the Giants continues.

I don’t think there’s any question that skipper Joe Torre is trying to send a strong message to Kemp. Fact is, Kemp is playing at a level far below his capabilities and he’s actually been getting worse as the season progresses.

It’s not just the disappointing numbers, although that’s a good place to start. Kemp is hitting a meager .258. He has managed 12 HR and 10 SB, so it’s not as though he’s been totally invisible. But his plate discipline has not been all that good, and the rest of Kemp’s game has been just plain lousy. Defensive blunders, baserunning gaffes, and worst of all, what seems to be a very nonchalant attitude.

I could be off the mark on that last count. Kemp is one of those remarkably gifted athletes who is so talented he can actually make difficult plays look easy. He’s got that rare ability to simply glide at top speed.

But in viewing most of the Dodger games this season, my take on Kemp is that he just seems to not have a whole lot of focus. That is apparently not a unique viewpoint. It sure seems like his manager might just be feeling the same way.

Kemp has been miserable in June. For the month, he’s hitting a woeful .196 while playing a very inadequate center field. The low point came on the bases last Wednesday, when he was picked off second base in a crucial situation against the Angels. Torre was none too pleased about it. When Kemp followed that blunder up with eight whiffs in 12 AB over the next three games, the manager decided to give his struggling CF a night off on Sunday.

But getting another night off on Monday was another story. Kemp has pretty much owned Barry Zito , the Monday night starter for the Giants. No offense intended to replacement Reed Johnson , particularly given his ability to damage southpaws, but there were plenty of raised eyebrows when Kemp ended up relaxing in the dugout in what was a pretty big game for the Dodgers.

I’m not about to go off the deep end and suggest Kemp is suddenly on the trading block. It’s way too soon for that speculation. Yet, at the same time, I can’t simply dismiss the possibility.

Kemp is due the majority of his two-year, roughly $11 million in 2011. Assuming he gets his game together, Kemp will cost a boatload of bucks once this contract expires, and we all know the Dodgers are no longer among baseball’s big spenders. The organization isn’t barren of big time prospects, but it’s not exactly loaded with blue chippers, either.

The fact is Kemp is the best trade piece the Dodgers own at this time, and I’m not sure management is all that enamored with the fact Kemp has developed what is clearly being perceived as a Hollywood personality.

If I were to set odds on whether or not Kemp will be dealt this season, I would make the “won’t go” a substantial favorite. Despite his recent slump and questions about his focus and mindset, Kemp is an absolute stud.

Dealing players with his already established track record along with a seemingly unlimited ceiling is simply not smart, and I can’t imagine the Dodgers would overreact and send him packing.

But then again, I didn’t envision the Dodgers refusing to even try and improve themselves this winter. Nor did I expect them to, in all likelihood, waste their first-round draft choice on a player almost certain to be heading off to college to play football. In other words, stay tuned for details on this one

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Carlos Zambrano Aftermath, Boston Red Sox Injury Woes, Fantasy Grab of the Week

Lots to cover in today’s blog, starting with the dysfunctional dugout of the Chicago Cubs, where Carlos Zambrano has made a spectacle of himself several times over the years. He’s ranted and raved, smashed a Gatorade machine, thrown gloves, bats and balls, left games prior to their conclusion, and generally been the proverbial ticking time bomb. In the past, his blowups have been mostly amusing.

My personal favorite was the time he attempted to throw the umpire out of the game after being ejected himself for arguing a close call at home plate. The prior low point was the fistfight with former Cubs catcher Michael Barrett.

But Zambrano went way over the line on Friday when he had a complete meltdown following a rough opening inning against the White Sox. Zambrano stormed into the dugout, yelling at no one in particular, and at first glance it appeared to be little more than another in a long line of emotional outbursts by the Z-Man. But within seconds, Zambrano focused his attention on Derrek Lee.

Lee had been unable to flag down a hard ground ball by Juan Pierre leading off the bottom of the first inning, and Zambrano was apparently none too pleased about it. Whether or not Zambrano was directly accusing Lee of loafing remains unclear. But the video evidence shows Lee and Zambrano having to be separated, at which point Zambrano was banished to the clubhouse and removed from the game.

I was virtually certain that the standard mea culpa from Zambrano would be forthcoming, and that this would simply be chalked up as the latest in a long series of wild incidents involving the volatile pitcher.

That is evidently not going to be the case, as an unnamed source close to Zambrano has told the Chicago Sun-Times that Zambrano feels his actions are being “completely misunderstood” and that Lee is to blame for confronting him.

Zambrano is apparently unaware that they have this new contraption called a camera and that there’s actually a video of the entire incident. It’s crystal clear that while Zambrano’s tantrum began with him storming back and forth and screaming at no specific individual, he focused his verbal wrath on Lee in a matter of seconds.

According to the anonymous source, Zambrano was simply trying to “pump the team up” and that Lee “took it personal.” Ya think? Considering that Zambrano was yelling right into Lee’s face, taking it personally doesn’t seem to be an unreasonable reaction.

If Zambrano is trying to spin this into something where he was just trying to rev up the team, his teammates are clearly not buying it. Alfonso Soriano told the Sun-Times “that’s not the way we see it” and added that “if he explains, maybe we can see it the way his friend sees it.”

Another unnamed Cub was less diplomatic, stating that “anybody who believes (Zambrano’s version) must be smoking something.” When queried as to whether the team would accept an apology from Zambrano, Soriano said he didn’t know.

By the way, whatever chance to extinguish the fire while it was still blazing was wiped out on Friday evening when the unrepentant Zambrano decided to go ahead with his dinner plans. He went out with White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. Make no mistake, this is not something that is sitting at all well with Zambrano’s teammates.

It’s not the idea of dining with the “enemy” as that mindset doesn’t exist anymore. But this was a time when Zambrano needed to be reaching out to his own clubhouse family, and instead he lived up to his selfish reputation by refusing to change his plans.

The Cubs have a real problem here. The situation with Zambrano might be beyond repair, especially when factoring in his lengthy history of boorish behavior. When Manny Ramirez went past the point of no return with the Red Sox in the summer of 2008, Boston was able to work a deal, and even though they basically had to pay the Dodgers to take him off their hands, they were also able to land a front line player in a three-team swap that landed them Jason Bay.

The difference is that for all his foibles, Manny could still rake with the best and that production compensated for the baggage that would surely accompany Ramirez wherever he landed. That’s not the case with Zambrano. He’s no more than a marginal starting pitcher these days, and his career path indicates he’s unlikely to ever be more than that down the road. Thus, the Cubs may well be stuck with either finding a way to get some use out of Zambrano or simply releasing him and eating his monstrous contract.

I don’t think there’s any question that the best move for the Cubs is to dump Zambrano and pay the piper to the tune of roughly $45 million. But that would leave GM Jim Hendry in a really vulnerable position as far as his job security is concerned.

Don’t forget, Hendry already put himself on some thin ice last year with the insane signing and subsequent disaster involving Milton Bradley. Cutting Zambrano would be admitting to making another major error in judgment, and that could cost Hendry his job.


The Red Sox won the battle this weekend, but it’s conceivable that they may have also lost the 2010 war in spite of winning two out of three against the Giants. Talk about carnage! Dustin Pedroia had five hits, including three homers, in Thursday’s wild win against the Rockies. On Friday, he fouled a ball off his foot, broke a bone, and he’s gone for the next month. Clay Buchholz, who has been pitching outstanding ball, hurt himself running the bases on Saturday and hyperextended a knee.

Fortunately, this injury doesn’t appear serious and Buchholz may not miss much action. But the Red Sox took another potential big hit on Sunday when Victor Martinez evidently took one too many foul tips off his catching hand, suffering a fracture in the process.

The silver lining in this latest cloud is that the Red Sox have not yet determined whether V-Mart will need a DL stint, so it’s possible that the injury isn’t terribly serious. Nevertheless, with Josh Beckett and Jacoby Ellsbury, along with backups Jeremy Hermida and Mike Lowell on the shelf already, my guess is that Theo Epstein may be looking to deal for depth sooner than later.


Fantasy Grab of the Week: Every Monday, I’ll focus on one player who is currently owned in less than 10% of all Yahoo leagues. Catching lightning in a bottle can win championships, and if you can get there by snaring a player for a small investment, it’s definitely worth a minimal gamble. This week’s grab is Russell Branyan who was dealt back the Seattle Mariners this weekend.

The Cleveland Indians are dumping veteran talent, so Branyan heads right back to the team that he enjoyed a career year with in 2009. Branyan will hit in the middle of the Mariners lineup, so he’ll have a good chance to put up some serious production category numbers again. Ideally, you’ll want to platoon Branyan in leagues where daily lineup changes are allowed, as he’s a BA liability against lefties.

But even in weekly leagues, the HR/RBI potential owned by Branyan makes him a solid addition. Check the free agent pool in your league and buy Branyan if he’s available.


I managed another winning week with my baseball selections, and June turned out to be a very profitable month. I’ve got a guaranteed profit for anyone buying my July baseball package.

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