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April 2005

Baseball picksApril 1, 2005

Here Comes Baseball

The weather is changing and the basketball is getting exciting… must be baseball season once again. Baseball is entering an interesting time period as steroid use has been exposed. Believe me, it has been rampant throughout MLB Clubhouses for years and it will be interesting to see how it affects some of the players, particularly the long ball and relief pitching. Some teams, like the Mets, Diamondbacks and Yankees made huge moves in the off-season to bolster their clubs. Guys, Wunderdog is chomping at the bit for this baseball season. It is truly time to start thinking baseball. 2004 ended on a 130-89 run on picks. Again, this will be a huge year for us on the diamond. Don’t miss it.

Jump to:
Biggest Off-season Winners
Award Winners
League Champions
Surprise Teams

Biggest Off-season Winners

New York Yankees
Randy Johnson (Trade)
Carl Pavano (FA)
Tony Womack (FA)
Mike Stanton (Trade)

New York Mets
Carlos Beltran (FA)
Pedro Martinez (FA)

Atlanta Braves
Tim Hudson (FA)
Dan Kolb (FA)
Raul Mondesi (FA)

Baltimore Orioles
Sammy Sosa (Trade)
Steve Kline (FA)
Steve Reed (FA)
Chris Gomez (FA)

Florida Marlins
Carlos Delgado (FA)
Al Leiter (FA)
Antonio Alfonseca (FA)

Arizona Diamondbacks
Shawn Green (Trade)
Jose Cruz Jr. (Trade)
Troy Glaus (FA)
Russ Ortiz (FA)
Javier Vazquez (Trade)
Shawn Estes (FA)
Royce Clayton (FA)
Jose Jimenez (FA)

Award Winners

AL Cy Young – Randy Johnson, RHP, New York Yankees
This is ridiculous. The Unit in pinstripes. He was great last year, although his numbers did not show it, because he pitched for the worst team in the league. He still had 290 strikeouts and a 2.60 ERA last year under those circumstances. God blessed him and sent him to the Yanks where he may win 30 games. You read that right….30 games.

NL Cy Young – Jason Schmidt, RHP – San Francisco Giants
If the Giants do contend, it will be behind the right arm of Schmidt. He was unhittable at times last season and should keep it going. Losing Bonds will not affect the Giants defense, it will probably help it so Schmidt should thrive. He rarely gives up many runs and should put himself in the range of 18-22 wins once again.

AL MVP – Alex Rodriguez, 3B, New York Yankees
Something tells us Alex is about ready to explode. He struggled adjusting to the Big City last season, but still put up very respectable numbers. Expect him to have a huge summer and lead the Yankees to the American League Pennant.

AL Rookie of the Year – Nick Swisher – OF – Oakland A’s
The next in a long line of great young players produced by Billy Beane’s farm system. Swisher was a first round pick in 2002, and hit 29 home runs last season in Triple A. Beane let Dye go because he loves Swisher’s stick and high ceiling. Swisher was one of the centerpieces in the book Money Ball.

NL MVP – Albert Pujols, 1B – St. Louis Cardinals
Pujols is a monster, and he is becoming one of the best defensive first baseman in the game. If this lineup can stay healthy, it will be scary good. Pujols is now protected from all sides with Walker and Edmonds so his numbers may improve from his big season last summer.

League Champions

AL East Champions – New York Yankees
Adding the Big Unit and Pavano sent a message around the league that the Yankees, more importantly Steinbrenner, do not plan on the letting the Red Sox relive last season in 2005-2006. This team is the most stacked we have ever seen. Again, they must stay healthy, but there will be no complacency this time around. This team could win 125 games, and we are not blowing smoke. Expect a lot of 3-1 and 4-1 lines here. Full AL East Preview

AL Central Champions – Minnesota Twins

The Twins should win this division, but they’ll be banking on a lot of rookies to get it done offensively, specifically Joe Mauer. If Mauer is as advertised this season, and able to avoid the injuries which have cost some professional seasons, this team will rule the Central. They’ll also trot out youngsters in Cuddyer, Mourneau, and Rivas. The outfield is stacked once again with Torii Hunter, Shannon Stewart and Jaque Jones. Some of those young kids will have the opportunity to drive in a ton of runs. The pitching staff is deep once again and returns Santana, Radke and closer Joe Nathan. If the Twins falter, the door will open for another young but talented team in the Indians. Full AL Central Preview

AL West  – Anaheim Angels
Hard to go against a team with a lineup like this one. You have to wonder what could have happened one year ago had Troy Glaus not gone out with an injury. Vlad Guerrero and Garret Anderson are back to lead the attack, and the addition of Orlando Cabrera will bolster the defense. Much of the offensive success here will depend on whether or not Chone Figgins can duplicate the season he had last year. He did a great job setting the table for the big bats and scored a ton of runs. The suspect side here is the pitching. I still see their rotation as average, and they’ll depend on Esteban Yan as the set-up man to closer Francisco Rodriguez. As long as Rodriguez throws his fast ball for strikes, he’ll be fine. We see LA winning the West this year, as there is too much youth in Oakland right now.

AL Wildcard – Boston Red Sox
The feel good story of last year (unless you're a Yankee fan) was obviously the Sox. Gone are Pedro, Lowe, and Cabrera, who all had a major hand in their Series victory run last October. They have added some nice players though, and should challenge once again. Renteria may be an upgrade over Cabrera and Garciaparra, while Matt Clement will try to discover his form that made him a #1 draft pick years ago. The offense will score runs once again, but the bullpen is what will keep them from contending with the Yankees.

NL East Champions – Atlanta Braves
The Mets made the most noise in the NL East this Off-season, completely overhauling their roster, but they still do not have the arms nor the defense to win the division. The East should once again go to the Atlanta Braves, who have a great starting rotation once again. Smoltz moved back from the bullpen and Tim Hudson came over from the A’s. I remain miffed that the Braves let JD Drew go in free agency, but they still have a very potent offense led by Chipper and Andruw. Brian Jordan is back but he’ll get hurt pretty soon we’re sure. Dan Kolb, acquired from the Brewers will be relied on to close which should be interesting. Full NL East Preview

NL Central Champions – St. Louis Cardinals
This lineup is simply ridiculous. Pujols leads the way but Walker, Edmonds, Rolen and Sanders are no pushovers. This is nightmare for opposing pitchers. The Cardinals lost in the World Series last season due to their pitching staff’s inability to keep the games close with the Red Sox. Mark Mulder was brought over from the A’s to bloster the rotation. He takes Woody Williams spot and should make a huge difference. There just is not a team in the Central that can contend with the Cards. Full NL Central Preview

NL West Champions – San Diego Padres
Barry Bonds is a soft, guilty idiot. His injury leaves the door to the NL West wide open. Either Bonds is attempting to clear his body of the Clear, or his body cannot heal as quickly without its fix. Either way, his whining makes him look awful. The Giants will be relying on some young players on their pitching staff to come through. San Diego appears to have the best all around squad heading into the season. Jake Peavy is back as is Adam Eaton. Hoffman will be back to his old self in his second year after injuring his arm. If Ryan Klesko can have a better season than he did one year ago, this team will be very dangerous. Khalil Greene will improve on last year. The Padres are now legit once again. Full NL West Preview

NL Wildcard – Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies finally got rid of Larry Bowa and it should pay dividends as his players did not enjoy playing for him to say the least. Billy Wagner appears healthy. His presence will be big for the Phillies. Also expect Kenny Lofton to reinvent himself this season playing everyday once again in Philly. Burrell will prove that last year was a fluke and return to form, and Abreu is one of the top five hitters in the game right now. The question with the Phillies lies in the starting rotation where they’ll depend on Jon Leiber as their ace. He’ll be fine and so will the Phillies. They’re my early pick for the NL Wildcard. Other teams who will contend are the Dodgers, Astros and Giants.


Surprise Teams

Cleveland Indians
Cleveland could easily win the Central this season. They essentially held a fire sale three years ago very similar to the Marlins. They got a bunch of great young talent in return and it is staring to grow up. Catcher Victor Martinez, shortstop Johnny Peralta, and outfielder Coco Crisp are all tremendous young talents who will end up being one of the best at their respective positions. Milwood was added to the rotation and Juan Gonzalez was added to the middle of the lineup. This will be a fun team. If the health holds up, they’ll definitely contend for the Wildcard and could overrun the Twins in the Central.

Detroit Tigers
The Tigers keep adding quality and are no longer a laughing stock. They’ll need the young staff to come of age, but Bonderman, Maroth and Johnson are a formidable 1-3 in the rotation. They added Magglio Ordonez in the outfield. If he is recovered and kind find the form which made him an offensive juggernaut with the White Sox, this lineup will be very, very dangerous. Young is back and healthy and Pudge is back too. They overspent for Percival, and it will be interesting to see what he has left in the tank.

Washington Nationals
This may be a little early but at this point I really like the young team in the District of Columbia. Nick Johnson missed just about all of last year, and they’ll need him. Johnson is a clone of Todd Helton is Colorado. They added Guzman, Guillen and Castilla in the Off-season which will help in terms of veteran leadership. The staff remains solid, and always has been. The lack of pitching and offense has killed them in the past. This will be another entertaining team throughout the season.

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Baseball picksApril 1, 2005

Once again, very little changes this postseason as the Yankees, Angels, Red Sox, Astros, Cardinals, and Braves are back for little more October drama. The newbies, kind of, are the White Sox and Padres, though no one is surprised that these teams are here. The Padres are the worst in the bunch and face an enormous task against St. Louis in the first round. Payrolls and the ability to spend still dominate the sport which aids these clubs immensely.

There are some interesting match-ups as we head into the first round. The Angels won the season series over the Yankees and have the superior pitching here as well.  They’ll need Vlad to have a monster postseason to get by the Yanks, but we think he does it.  The most intriguing first round match-up is the Astros and Braves, and it should be a great series. We do not expect the Red Sox and Yankees to meet in the ALCS, as both of these teams have some serious chinks in their collective armour.

Best Starters
This one has to go to the Astros who boast the Rocket man, Oswalt, and Pettite, which is lethal in a five game series.  The problem with the Astros has been their inability to produce runs when it matters, while Atlanta is one of the most clutch teams in this playoff, and has many seasoned veterans who know how to win in the postseason. The Yankees seem to have fortified their rotation heading into the postseason, and the addition of Chacon has certainly helped and will prove huge should they get by the Angels. The Cards are somewhat Jeckyll and Hyde right now…see Matt Morris.

Best Bullpen
Hard to say here as they are all pretty formidable, that is why they have reached this juncture. The Yankees and Sox may have the shakiest pens of the bunch which will come into play, but it looks like the Angels, Astros, and Braves with the resurgence of Farnsworth are all pretty tough. The Cardinals continue to have a pretty solid staff all around but are vulnerable in spots.

Best Lineup
The Yankees and Red Sox are tied here, with a slight edge going to the Yankees. The problem with these line-ups is that they are too dependent on the long ball, and lineups that can produce runs often thrive the most this team of year. That being said, who can argue with AROD, Jeter, Giambi, and crew? On the other hand, you cannot dis Ortiz, Damon, Manny and Varitek. The Cardinals are the most potent in the NL but the Braves are not that far behind in terms of production 1-8.

Best Defense
Well, you have to like the Red Sox here with Renteria, Varitek, and Damon up the middle. We’ll, however, go with the Braves, who boast the best defensive center fielder in the game and a stellar duo up the middle as well with Furcal and Giles.  Chipper is very good at third, while LaRoche, Francoeur, and Langerhans have all been above average as well.

Very hard to predict the outcome of the MLB playoffs at this juncture as a lot of luck comes into play in baseball. Take this for what it's worth but we think that in the AL, the Angels will get by the Yankees and then beat the Red Sox to advance to the Series. In the NL, we like St. Louis to beat Atlanta in seven and go on to win the 2005 World Series.

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Baseball picksApril 1, 2005

National League West

Arizona Diamondbacks

To test his surgically repaired right elbow during batting practice, the Diamondbacks threw Luis Gonzalez pitches on the outside corner, and the veteran had no trouble hitting them. Last season as his elbow worsened, Gonzalez had trouble getting his lead arm out to reach balls away from him.

RHP Javier Vazquez believes his drop in velocity during the second half of last season was because he dropped his arm angle and was pushing the ball as he tired. That also affected his command.

The D-backs are still working with RHP Jose Valverde on his mechanics. The club would like him to stride a little further and finish off his pitches better. Right now, he doesn’t use his back leg to drive the ball and that puts more strain on his arm.

SOFT SPOT: The Diamondbacks still lack a true leadoff hitter. By default the club will try 2B Craig Counsell in that spot. Counsell isn’t a speedster and he hit just .241 last year, which is not ideal for a leadoff guy. However, Counsell is a heady player, who will work counts deep, which should help other hitters. On the bases, he knows when to take the extra base and can pick his spots for steals. The D-backs could also try Jose Cruz Jr. in that role as he has hit there during his career.

Colorado Rockies

Second-year 2B Aaron Miles and rookie SS Clint Barmes will go into camp as the expected middle infield combo, and they will be given a chance to develop cohesion. But neither can get too comfortable. IFs Desi Relaford and Luis Gonzalez are considered capable of starting.

Rookie C J.D. Closser will have intense work in camp with bench coach Jamie Quirk, a former catcher. Closser had six passed balls and watched 15 wild pitches go by in 32 games last season.

SOFT SPOT: The lack of a closer is well documented, but there’s the matter of the young lineup getting leads worth protecting. 1B Todd Helton is a force at No. 3, but the team faces many offensive questions: Will Miles, who hits for average but had a low on-base percentage for a leadoff guy, and Barmes give Helton RBI opportunities? Can CF Preston Wilson rebound from last year’s knee injury, regain his N.L. RBI champion form of 2003 and avoid strikeouts enough to protect Helton from the cleanup spot? Can new RF Dustan Mohr realize his potential? Will the young bottom of the order produce?

Los Angeles Dodgers

Among the questions the Dodgers face entering spring training is one not so obvious and tricky to predict — who will be the clubhouse leader? Last year it was the respected Robin Ventura, but he’s retired. Adrian Beltre, the best offensive player, left as a free agent. So did the most vocal, Jose Lima, and the highest-paid, Shawn Green. Paul Lo Duca, the one-time player representative and hard-nosed field general, was traded in July. One possibility is Eric Gagne.

When J.D. Drew signed, he said he wanted to play center field, even though the Dodgers already have a centerfielder in Milton Bradley. When Steve Finley was acquired last summer, Bradley made room for him by switching to right. Bradley said last week he’s more comfortable in center, but he’ll play wherever manager Jim Tracy tells him to play. Tracy said he will move a lot of outfielders around in the spring.

SOFT SPOT: From the organization that has squatted Roy Campanella, John Roseboro, Mike Scioscia, Mike Piazza, Charles Johnson and Paul Lo Duca behind the plate, the Dodgers enter this spring training with David Ross and Paul Bako contending for the starting catching job, with all eyes on former Yankee prospect Dioner Navarro, who can steal the job if he’s ready. Navarro was the player that the Shawn Green trade was keyed to, so general manager Paul DePodesta is convinced Navarro has the tools. The only question is when. Ross seeks to regain the power he had in his rookie season and somehow lost last year. Bako is a defensive specialist.

San Diego Padres

Ryan Klesko hit nine homers last season, his fewest in 12 years and 19 off his career average. The outfielder had surgery on his right shoulder in September 2003 and entered last season still rehabbing. A full offseason of weight training should help Klesko’s power numbers return to more normal levels.

Brian Lawrence will fly under the radar this season with fellow righthanders Woody Williams and Jake Peavy holding down the top of the rotation. That’s good for Lawrence, who won a career-high 15 games last season. A slow starter, Lawrence struggled in spring training a year ago but rebounded in the regular season with good command of both his sinker and slider, two pitches he must have to pitch effectively.

SOFT SPOT: The Padres looked to improve the bench and added Eric Young, Geoff Blum and Mark Sweeney. Xavier Nady is the fourth outfielder and Miguel Ojeda is the backup catcher. Although Young can back up second in the event that Mark Loretta suffers an injury, there is no pure reserve shortstop. Nady replaces veteran Terrence Long in the outfield but must show he can hit consistently beyond Class AAA. Sweeney is a big league pinch hitter, but he provides minimal depth as an extra fielder. The key is to rest the starters, none of whom is fighting for a job, and get to opening day healthy.

San Francisco Giants

RHP Jesse Foppert had expected up-and-down performances during winter ball after returning from Tommy John surgery that he underwent in 2003. Foppert needed to get command of his breaking ball while developing arm strength for 2005. Whether he begins the season in the Giants’ bullpen or as a minor league starter hinges on whether 11 or 12 pitchers are retained and how incumbents fare.

How RHP Brad Hennessey fits on the staff also remains unclear. He jumped from Class A to the Giants for emergency duty but in 2005 needs to improve location and reduce opponents’ batting average amidst fierce staff competition. A full year at Class AAA Fresno for more seasoning seems likely.

SOFT SPOT: With the starting lineup’s average age at 36 years, chronic injuries — especially Barry Bonds’ back and knees, Marquis Grissom’s leg, Ray Durham’s overall health — could be problematic this spring and beyond and severely impact the club. Durham has lost considerable time the past two seasons but reportedly increased his offseason workouts to forestall injuries. Bonds’ winter surgeries on both knees will limit spring duties until about mid-March. Although the bench is strong, any position players going on the disabled list will force minor league players such as Todd Linden, Tony Torcato and Jason Ellison to contribute on a daily basis, which is something they haven’t done.

Full 2005 Baseball Preview

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Baseball picksApril 1, 2005

National League East

Atlanta Braves
RF Raul Mondesi impressed many of his new teammates when he reported to camp in excellent physical shape. This seems to be a sign that he’s mentally prepared to revitalize a career that has been spiraling downward for the past few years. If the 34-year-old outfielder is unable to right himself in the Braves clubhouse, his major league career will likely be over.

1B Adam LaRoche added 12 pounds of muscle during the offseason and feels he’s regained some of the strength he lost after separating his shoulder last May.

3B Chipper Jones says his troublesome hamstring got healthy with rest during the offseason.

SOFT SPOT: Although Julio Franco will once again be around, the Braves could possibly find themselves very green on their bench. The 46-year-old Franco was one of the game’s best pinch hitters last year. But age obviously has to be a concern regarding him every season. Other late-inning options to come off the bench will be youngsters Nick Green and Ryan Langerhans. Brian Jordan, who may platoon in left field with Langerhans, could be a good pinch hitter. But his health is another of the many concerns regarding the Braves bench.

Florida Marlins

RHP Jim Mecir, who turns 35 in May, considered retiring after he struggled at times last season with the A’s. But after his body felt better late in the year, he decided to pitch at least one more year. Mecir enters his 12th season, and first in the National League. With the Marlins, Mecir will be a one or less inning pitcher. Even if he faces one batter in an inning, his body is at the point where he isn’t comfortable returning for the next inning. Because he throws a screwball, Mecir could at times take on the role of a situational lefty.

To get his arm speed back up, RHP Tim Spooneybarger is working on an assortment of long-toss drills designed to accelerate his motion. After missing all of 2004 as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, Spooneybarger is being brought back slowly. He is expected to be a factor in the back end of the bullpen, but he may open the year at Class AAA Albuquerque to get his timing back.

The batting order is shaping up to feature speedsters, CF Juan Pierre and 2B Luis Castillo, as batting first and second. But that isn’t a given on a regular basis. C Paul Lo Duca, who puts the ball in play and has more pop than Castillo, also is suited to bat second. If the Marlins do that on occasion, Castillo could drop to seventh, which would give speed and a proven .300 hitter to the bottom of the order.

SOFT SPOT: A void was created backing up C Paul Lo Duca after dependable veteran C Mike Redmond signed with the Twins. Lo Duca has a history of wearing down, and that is a concern in steamy South Florida. Non-roster invitee Mike DiFelice has the most MLB experience, but his big league opportunities were minimal last year. Still, because he has the reputation of being solid defensively, he likely has the inside edge over more inexperienced Matt Treanor and Josh Willingham, a converted infielder who has caught two seasons. Treanor spent 11 seasons in the minor leagues before getting a backup role last year. Offensively, Willingham has a terrific upside, but he isn’t ready defensively to handle hard-throwers such as Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett. Lo Duca is situated to log a bunch of innings, which means he again may tire down the stretch.

New York Mets

Pedro Martinez stunned the Mets by arriving nine days earlier than the scheduled report date for pitchers and catchers. He spent that week working out and throwing with rookies and minor leaguers, which validates management’s claims that he will be a positive influence in the clubhouse. Martinez is in the best shape he’s been in for several years and has looked sharp during his early bullpen sessions.

Cuban pitcher Alay Soler will arrive late to camp because of visa problems. Though he established residency in the Dominican Republic, he’s been having issues with immigration officials and his agent about paperwork needed to gain entry into the United States.

Though last year’s top draft pick Phil Humber is in camp, don’t expect him to stay. He’ll get a taste of what camp is like before being sent back to the minor league side once cut downs begin next month.

SOFT SPOT: The bridge to Braden Looper and the long relief remains an Achilles heel, and based on the laundry list of non-roster invitees in camp, it doesn’t figure to get much better any time soon. The list of available free agents was thin this winter and Omar Minaya, who has shown a willingness to spend, couldn’t find anyone to throw any serious cash at. So, he’s hoping Scott Strickland returns from Tommy John surgery or that Roberto Hernandez can find some movement on his 95-mph fastball. Unheralded Heath Bell may be an option if manager Willie Randolph keeps an open mind about giving a bullpen spot to a rookie.

Philadelphia Phillies

LF Pat Burrell insists his left wrist is fine, despite reports that he was experiencing discomfort in the offseason. He’s been taking batting practice since early February without pain, though he’ll tape his wrist as a precaution. The situation bears watching because Burrell passed on having surgery in the offseason.

1B Jim Thome said he’s fully recovered from the many nagging injuries that affected him last season, especially his broken right middle finger. 1B Ryan Howard, blocked at first base by Thome, will play some left field this spring.

SOFT SPOT: After another frustrating year of leaving too many runners on base, the Phillies will concentrate on improvement this spring. Hitting coach Milt Thompson will emphasize using the center of the field, and many of the drills will serve as a reminder. Thompson wants to see the batters become less pull-oriented and concentrate on smacking line drives, a baseball constant.

Washington Nationals

One thing RHP Chad Cordero plans to stop doing is going for strikeouts so often. At times last year, Cordero would reach 0-2 on hitters but then have trouble putting them away. He would often find himself in a 3-2 hole. This year Cordero said he plans to reduce his pitch count and force the hitters to hit groundballs.

The Nationals acquired OF Alex Escobar from the White Sox in exchange for OF Jerry Owens last week. Escobar, once the top prospect in the Mets’ organization, played in 46 games for Cleveland in 2004, but his season was cut short by a stress fracture in his right foot. He said he is healthy and should be ready to play when the exhibition season starts.

2B Jose Vidro, who has been in camp since Feb. 1, said that his right knee is getting better. He is already running on the treadmill and taking infield drills. On Sept. 8, Vidro had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.

SOFT SPOT: For two consecutive seasons, manager Frank Robinson often complained about his bench and said it was overloaded with lefthanded hitters, too often leading to matchup problems in the late innings. Robinson also didn’t like the fact that he had to rely on young pinch hitters late in games, and that he prefers veterans with some power. To fix the issue, interim G.M. Jim Bowden acquired some righthanded hitters who could be on the bench this year. Bowden picked up veterans Wil Cordero, Alex Arias, J.J. Davis, Jeffrey Hammonds and Escobar. All are capable of hitting for power and are accustomed to being bench players. All of these players could be given opportunities to revive or kick start their careers.

Full 2005 Baseball Preview

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Baseball picksApril 1, 2005

2005 MLB Baseball NL CENTRAL Preview
National League Central

Chicago Cubs

Manager Dusty Baker isn't sure where he'll play OF Jerry Hairston Jr. simply because he doesn't know much about him. Hairston, acquired in the Sammy Sosa deal, could be a rover and get 100-plus starts this season rotating among all three outfield positions.

Cuban LHP Raul Valdez won't be able to resume throwing until April after injuring his left thumb fielding a comebacker one week before camp started.

LHP Glendon Rusch could end up back in the bullpen if needed. Rusch was a swingman last year, and the Cubs may use RHP Sergio Mitre as the fifth starter.

SOFT SPOT: The Cubs will need six weeks to determine who the closer is. RHP Joe Borowski might reclaim the job. He rehabbed six to seven hours a day, which resulted in a 15-pound weight loss, to get his right shoulder stronger. He's got the pop back in his fastball in early workouts. RHP LaTroy Hawkins should be more familiar with the N.L. hitters this season but would prefer the setup role. RHP Ryan Dempster could be the surprise but needs to show his durability after having Tommy John surgery in 2003. All Baker will say is he has a plan.

Cincinnati Reds

Adam Dunn showed up early at spring training in order to get some work in with hitting coach Chris Chambliss.

Even though Eric Milton is probably the Reds ace of the future, he isn't expecting to get the start on opening day. One reason is that he considers Paul Wilson the ace of the staff after the season he had last year, plus it sets the Reds up righthander, lefthander, righthander with Milton in the middle of Wilson and Ortiz.

Look for Rob Stratton to open some eyes this spring. At 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, the medical staff said he's the strongest player they've ever tested – and that includes Adam Dunn and Wily Mo Pena.

SOFT SPOT: Despite all of their offseason additions, the Reds' biggest weakness will be defense up the middle. Catcher Jason LaRue led all of baseball in passed balls last season, D'Angelo Jimenez doesn't have great range at second, Rich Aurilia lacks the range he once did at shortstop, Felipe Lopez is talented but unreliable at short and Ken Griffey Jr. isn't the same player that won 10 straight Gold Gloves. Unfortunately, the Reds can't do much to fix the physical attributes of their current roster, but they'll have to focus on making the routine plays this spring in order minimize the number of outs they give away.

Houston Astros

Manager Phil Garner would lean toward slotting Jeff Bagwell into the cleanup spot while Lance Berkman is out with an injury, but Garner is not locked into a specific plan yet. Jason Lane and Morgan Ensberg are also candidates to bat fourth, but Garner said he'll "lean toward" Bagwell until he sees the others perform during spring training. Garner said he will also consider using a singles/doubles hitter for the four spot, and Bagwell, normally the No. 3 hitter, is one of the tops on the team in terms of on-base percentage.

Raul Chavez will likely receive more playing time than a typical backup catcher, although Brad Ausmus is still considered the No. 1 backstop. Ausmus is not much of a presence offensively, and Garner will likely add a start or two per week to Chavez's schedule in addition to pairing him exclusively with Roy Oswalt.

SOFT SPOT: The Astros have had three true center fielders in the last 13 years: Steve Finley, Carl Everett and Carlos Beltran. Again in 2005, the club will likely have to use a corner outfielder to play center, namely, Jason Lane. CF prospect Willy Taveras has a chance to make the team, but ideally, the Astros would like the 23-year-old to spend a full season at Class AAA. Non-roster invite Barry Wesson isn't generating much attention, but as one of only two true center fielders the Astros have in camp, Wesson, a former Astros farmhand who spent the last two seasons in the Angels' organization, may have a chance to make the team out of spring training. Wesson doesn't put up the offensive numbers the Astros have been seeking this offseason, but he's solid defensively and will likely contend for the fifth outfielder's position.

Milwaukee Brewers

The key to the success of the team's rotation might not be No. 1 Ben Sheets and No. 2 Doug Davis, but RHP Victor Santos. After bouncing between the starting ranks and bullpens in Detroit and Colorado, Santos settled in last season and won nine of his first 12 decisions. But he faded in the second half and won only two of his next 11 decisions. Santos had never started more than seven games in the majors and attributed the fade to simple arm fatigue. He'll have to be more durable this year.

If G.M. Doug Melvin makes any more moves before the start of the season, look for him to add a veteran utility infielder. One candidate to fill that role is former All-Star Jeff Cirillo, who played exclusively at 3B during his first tenure with the team. Since then, Cirillo has seen action at 1B and 2B. To win a job, he needs to rediscover the once-sweet swing that made him the franchise's all-time batting average leader.

SOFT SPOT: With the departure of RHPs Dan Kolb and Luis Vizcaino, the back end of the bullpen is a question mark. Mike Adams, who is coming off a breakthrough season as a rookie, will get a chance to win the closer's job, but veteran Ricky Bottalico might make a run at the job. Bottalico does not throw as hard as he once did, but he throws four pitches for strikes and showed last season that he still has the know-how to induce outs when he needs them. The team also acquired RHP Justin Lehr in an offseason trade with Oakland to bolster an area that has been a relative strength in recent seasons.

Pittsburgh Pirates

In recent years the Pirates have made a habit of filling out their roster by signing veteran free agents after the start of spring training. Although the free agent well ran dry early this year, G.M. Dave Littlefield will continue to look for ways to upgrade his team before the start of the season. Littlefield has contacted several clubs in the hopes of dealing for an additional power bat and bottom-of-the-rotation starting pitcher.

All-Star shortstop Jack Wilson has regained much of the weight that he lost after undergoing an emergency appendectomy in December. However, Wilson's conditioning is far behind what it would typically be at this time of year. The team has set a March 15 target date for Wilson's return to game action. Wilson is confident that he'll be back on the field at least a week before that.

SOFT SPOT: With Jason Kendall now playing in Oakland, the team will turn over the catching duties to aging veteran Benito Santiago and second-year player Humberto Cota. Santiago, who will turn 40 in March, must show that he is healthy after missing most of the 2004 season because of a broken left hand. Cota, who has just 108 career at-bats, will be given the opportunity to prove that he can be an everyday big league catcher. Neil Walker, the team's No. 1 pick in the 2004 draft, is considered an outstanding prospect, but he is probably at least two years away from competing for a big league job.

St. Louis Cardinals

RHP Julian Tavarez pitched as a starter for the Dominican team in the Caribbean World Series and showed no ill effects from the broken hand he sustained in the National League Championship Series. Tavarez pitched for a while with the injury, but he had to rest for a significant amount of time after the World Series ended.
RHP Jason Isringhausen has begun throwing off a mound and continues his encouraging progress in his recovery from offseason hip surgery. He is expected to be fully ready for the season, though the team will be cautious with him.

The Cards have some interest in adding a middle infielder, perhaps even one who could fit in at second base for more than the short term. However, such an acquisition would almost certainly need to be young and inexpensive, preferably a player not yet arbitration-eligible.

SOFT SPOT: Two valuable righthanders (Kiko Calero and Dan Haren) have been removed from the bullpen, as has one critical lefthander (Steve Kline). Getting from the starters to closer Jason Isringhausen will be a concern in the early going. The Cards will take long looks at in-house options such as Cal Eldred and Al Reyes from the right side, and if they don't work out, St. Louis might look at the trade market. As the season goes on, promising prospects such as Adam Wainwright and Anthony Reyes could play themselves into bullpen consideration, the way Haren did late last year. Still, the late-inning setup pairing of Julian Tavarez and Ray King should be effective again.

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Baseball picksApril 1, 2005

2005 MLB Baseball AL WEST Preview
American League West

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

CHANGES THAT FIT: Getting veteran Steve Finley to sign a two-year deal could be a stroke of genius. Finley is a Gold Glove center fielder who allows LF Garret Anderson to return to the position he’s most comfortable in. Finley also is willing to play Mike Scioscia’s brand of situational offense and will provide the pop the team lost when it traded Jose Guillen. RHP Paul Byrd will step in and give the Angels stability on the back end of the starting rotation that it didn’t have with RHP Aaron Sele or RHP Ramon Ortiz last year. Byrd works quickly and is pitch-efficient, something the other Angels starters need to observe and try to emulate.


CHANGE THAT DOESN’T FIT: Letting closer Troy Percival and 3B Troy Glaus walk to free agency were huge gambles that might not pay off the way the Angels expect them to. RHP Francisco Rodriguez has the stuff to be a great closer, but he doesn’t have anywhere near the maturity or mound smarts of Percival. The Angels might have to wait out his growing pains, which is something that could hurt them from time to time in crucial situations. The same goes for new 3B Dallas McPherson, who has the potential to be a slugger like Glaus but is a defensive project and strikes out too much.


TO-DO LIST: The Angels need to take spring training to make sure RHP Bartolo Colon is in better condition than he was last year, when he staggered out of the gate and cost the team game after game while he was finding his old form. The Angels also need to firm up their designated hitter role. They can choose between Robb Quinlan, Juan Rivera and perhaps even switch-hitting wild card Kendry Morales for the job, but they’d prefer to have it settled for opening day

Oakland Athletics

Expect RHP Joe Blanton and LHP Dan Meyer to be a part of Oakland’s starting rotation this year, but don’t expect to see both of them in the big leagues right away. The A’s have a cost-saving history of keeping their top prospects in the minors early in the season to prevent their service-time clocks from starting. In short, it extends the time the team controls a player before the arbitration stage of his career kicks in.


Manager Ken Macha and his staff will put an emphasis on bat control this spring, particularly with two strikes, in hopes of putting more runners in motion.


If OFs Charles Thomas and Bobby Kielty have big springs, the A’s could move Eric Byrnes and his $2 million salary; Thomas and Kielty will make slightly more than half of that combined, and G.M. Billy Beane likes to have some extra cash on hand for the trade deadline.


The A’s of recent vintage have been short on righthanded power, and the departure of Jermaine Dye puts this year’s club at a particular disadvantage. That’s good news for Keith Ginter, who hit 19 homers in 113 games with the Brewers last season. Ginter will battle Mark Ellis for the starting job at second base, but Ellis missed all of 2004 with a shoulder injury, and the A’s are hoping Ginter can develop into a middle-of-the-order threat from the right side.


Seattle Mariners

The time has come for young catcher Miguel Olivo to take his stance behind home plate and assume command of the pitching staff. Olivo spent much of the offseason working with minor league catching coach Roger Hansen, and the results of their sessions in Arizona and Seattle could show up as early as the Cactus League season. Virtually everyone in the organization believes Olivo has the potential to become an All-Star catcher. It’s now up to Olivo to show that the front office isn’t dealing in blind faith.


Lefthanded closer Eddie Guardado has been given a clean bill of health for spring training, but with a small tear in his left rotator cuff, new manager Mike Hargrove will err on the side of caution this spring. It is unlikely that Guardado will pitch three consecutive games, something he would do at least once leading into the regular season.


There will be nine pitchers competing for five starting rotation spots this spring, and none of them won more than nine games at the MLB level last season. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the competition could be furious. Among the goals Hargrove has this spring, he said putting together a solid rotation is one of the top priorities. Righthander Gil Meche, a former first-round draft choice, has the kind of stuff to be No. 1 on the staff, and his confidence is high following a superb second half last season. Ryan Franklin, another righthander, could become a big winner with some offensive support. And righthander Joel Pineiro is a star waiting to happen.

Texas Rangers

The offseason signing of veteran catcher Sandy Alomar gives the Rangers improved depth at a demanding position. With Rod Barajas, Alomar and Gerald Laird cast as the top three catchers in the organization, Texas won’t be in a vulnerable spot offensively if one of the catchers gets injured. Last year, when Laird missed significant time because of a thumb injury, Texas had to go with light-hitting Ken Huckaby as the No. 2 catcher.


Rangers’ pitchers should take comfort in the notion that not many baserunners will try to go first-to-third or second to home on hits to right field, thanks to Richard Hidalgo’s plus arm. That could inspire an aggressive brand of pitching.


The Rangers have many questions regarding the starting rotation. Kenny Rogers and Ryan Drese worked over 200 innings last year, but nobody else on the staff reached 105 innings. Veteran Pedro Astacio, who has been signed to an incentive-laden contract, could be a difference maker if he stays healthy and shows the form that once made him a standout for the Colorado Rockies. The Rangers also need to see a significant return on the free agent investment they made in Chan Ho Park following the 2001 season. If Astacio and Park perform well to go with Rogers and Drese, the Rangers would have the makings of a solid rotation. If not, they could be in for another trial-and-error approach with regards to the starting rotation.

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