Can you feel it? That shift in the air. You woke up this morning feeling a little different, didn't you? Today had that extra bounce, that extra excitement. Call it Baseball Easter, call it the real New Year, call it whatever you like but call it great. Opening Day is here, folks! It's time for some Cardinal baseball!
May I say to those of you that are in St. Louis today, I'm envious. To be a part of an opener in St. Louis, with the pep rally, all the red-clad fans milling about, the buzz and energy, to see the Hall of Famers and the Clydesdales, that's something devoutly to be wished. One of these days, I want to make that happen!
There have been a lot of changes this offseason and there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. Can Kyle McClellan fill that fifth role? Can Kyle Lohse (who finally was touched up yesterday in a Triple-A game) keep his spring results as the games begin to count?
What can we get out of Lance Berkman? He's not concerned about his spring and he does have a point that he has reason to be confident the numbers will be there in the end, but last year did a lot to throw some doubt on that A stronger spring would have made people a bit more confident, but lousy springs sometimes presage great years. There's not a lot of correlation. (At least we hope!)
It's interesting to hear that Matt Holliday is feeling more relaxed and ready to go this year. With a year under his belt and less pressure to live up to expectations, it could be a strong April for him instead of the frustrating start last season had. It's always refreshing to hear an athlete actually acknowledge that the contract played a role and that he was trying to hard to come through. We saw what happened the rest of the year when he relaxed and played, so hopefully we'll see that from the get-go this year.
After about a week of speculation, Brian Talletsays he's ready to go today. That doesn't mean that Tony La Russa will use him, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Tallet come in around the seventh to get a lefty out. Give him a chance on Opening Day in front of the home crowd.
As the spring concludes, that means you have to find places to put the minor league prospects. Zack Cox and Shelby Miller will be teaming together at Palm Beach, while Carlos Martinez will technically be on the Quad Cities roster, but he'll actually stay in the extended spring training facilities down in Florida for a while to continue to get acclimated to the US (and to avoid pitching in the cold, I imagine). When I purchased MLB.tv yesterday, I had to take advantage of adding MiLB.tv for an extra $10 just to be able to watch these guys and the rest of the heralded prospects the Cardinals have. (Plus there are so many other names out there on other teams, especially the Royals, that it seemed like a solid move.)
So, finally, we have real games to talk about. You can see some of the statistics about today's game in the preview that's up at Baseball Reference. Chris Carpenter ties a legend today, as his fifth Cardinals opener puts him in the same sentence as that good old Arkansas boy, Dizzy Dean. You know Carp's going to be one of the Redbird legends when you can compare him to Dean and Bob Gibson in the team record books.
Here's what Carpenter has done against the Padres:
Not a lot there for those guys. Hawpe's done a little damage and he is the one that's faced Carp the most, but all in all there aren't many of those guys looking forward to opening the season with Chris Carpenter on the mound.
Carpenter will be opposed by Tim Stauffer. What's he done against this current Redbird crop?
Nobody's gone yard off of him, but there have been a lot of hits against him. Look at that top number for Albert Pujols. Two triples off of Stauffer? That's gotta be AP's all-time high against someone. Pretty sure he's not going to get another today, but I wouldn't be surprised if he removed that 0 in the HR column.
So here's the lineup that TLR will throw out there:
Nothing to argue with there. Earlier in the spring I made the case for Berkman in the two slot and Rasmus down around five, but until Berkman gets going, I think it's best the way it is. Theriot may lead off a lot of games with an out and I like Colby's chances of getting on base right now better than Berkman's. Hopefully Big Puma proves me wrong quickly--I really want him to have a big year.
Before the first pitch, you still have time to play a few games. T-56 will take your pick for a batter in MLB that will get a hit until the first game of the day kicks off, while the two YNOTs (season long and San Diego) are open until the Cardinals' first pitch.
Enjoy the holiday, folks! Go Cardinals!
EDIT: Bob from On The Outside Corner posted this on Twitter earlier this morning. Play this and see if you aren't tapping your toes and expecting some baseball!
Are you unable to get to the game tomorrow, but still plan to catch every minute of the action? Don't worry, Fox Sports Midwest has you covered. From the Cardinal Classic games in the morning to every bit of the pregame all the way to the postgame analysis, FSMW has you covered. Here's the schedule, for those of you camping out on the couch instead of outside Busch Stadium:
FOX SPORTS MIDWEST CARDINALS OPENING DAY TV SCHEDULE
FOX Sports Midwest's 18th season of St. Louis Cardinals telecasts, its first as the team's exclusive television partner, kicks off with more than 12 hours of Cardinals programming on opening day. Live coverage from Busch starts at 2 p.m. with the Cardinals Live pregame show, which includes the opening day ceremonies. The opening day game telecast of the Cardinals and San Diego Padres begins at 3 p.m. with first pitch scheduled for 3:15 p.m. Fans that can't watch the game live in the afternoon can catch a replay of the pregame, game and postgame in prime time.
FOX Sports Midwest's schedule for opening day (times Central):
11 a.m. Cardinals Classics - Best Games of 2010
11 a.m. April 9, 2010 at Milwaukee: Stavinoha's Shot
11:30 a.m. April 5, 2010 at Cincinnati: Opening Day Power Display
12 p.m. June 4, 2010 vs. Milwaukee: Waino is Bueno
12:30 p.m. April 12, 2010 vs. Houston: Grand Opening
1 p.m. Aug. 10, 2010 at Cincinnati: The Brawl
1:30 p.m. Cardinals Season Preview
2 p.m. Cardinals Live pregame show
Hosted by Pat Parris, Jim Hayes and Cal Eldred.
On-field ceremonies are scheduled to begin at approximately 2:35 and will be shown live.
3 p.m. Padres at Cardinals game telecast
Dan McLaughlin, Al Hrabosky and Rick Horton call the game.
First pitch is scheduled for 3:15 p.m.
6 p.m. Cardinals Live postgame show
7 p.m. Replay: Cardinals Live pregame show
8 p.m. Replay: Padres at Cardinals
11 p.m. Replay: Cardinals Live postgame show
FOX Sports Midwest will also have extensive coverage throughout the day at FOXSportsMidwest.com. FOX Sports Midwest is scheduled to televise 152 regular season games in 2011.
Are you going to Busch Stadium tomorrow or sometime this season? If you are, you have to eat, right? Well, there are a few new choices for food this season, according to SportService. Here's the press release, and I just might have to try one of these during the UCB event on Sunday. Happy eating!
Food Network Steak Sandwiches Coming to Concessions
In Busch Stadium
Delaware North Sportservice Expanding Food Network Offerings in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Texas, St. Louis, Milwaukee, San Diego, Baltimore and Minnesota
NEW YORK and BUFFALO, N.Y. (March 31, 2011) - Food Network and Delaware North Companies Sportservice are introducing a Food Network signature steak sandwich - plus additional steak sandwiches celebrating local flavors - in concessions at Busch Stadium as well as select Major League ballparks this season.
In St. Louis at Busch Stadium fans can savor a St. Louis-style BBQ sauce and cheddar cheese steak sandwich. In addition, The Food Network signature Red, White & Blue Steak Sandwich will be served on a French demi baguette and topped with Maytag blue cheese and sweet and spicy Peppadew-pepper mayonnaise.
It will be available at seven other ballparks: Progressive Field in Cleveland, Comerica Park in Detroit, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington in Texas, the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Miller Park in Milwaukee, Petco Park in San Diego, and Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore.
In the other seven, Sportservice will also serve a Food Network steak sandwich reflecting the tastes of that region: Cincinnati will feature steak topped with a bourbon-spiked BBQ sauce and smoked cheddar cheese. Cleveland's version with sauerkraut and Bertman's brown Polish mustard; Detroit featuring tangy banana pepper mayonnaise and feta cheese; Texas sandwich topped with a smoky charred salsa verde; St. Louis fans can savor St. Louis-style BBQ sauce and cheddar cheese; the Milwaukee sandwich doused with sharp and hoppy beer cheese; San Diego topped with spicy Kimchi and a touch of mayonnaise; and the Baltimore served with a special Old Bay-infused steak sauce. All versions will be served on a French demi baguette.
At a ninth ballpark, Target Field in Minnesota, fans will enjoy two Food Network takes on the highly-popular Kramarczuk's sausage already served by Sportservice: a smoked bratwurst with horseradish cream and a wild rice bratwurst with pickled red cabbage and beer mustard.
We can draw the curtain on the spring, as the Cardinals have left the nest, as it were, and headed home for tomorrow's Opening Day game against the Padres. Starting tomorrow, "it's only spring" gets replaced with "it's still early". Can't remember how long that lasts--I'll have to check my calendar.
Anyway, while the Cardinals lost their last game and finished under .500 for the spring, there were a lot of positives out of it. The biggest, of course, was the fact that Jaime Garciahad such a strong last start. Were the Marlins perhaps ready to wrap up their spring as well? Could be, though that didn't stop them from rallying late (more on that in a bit). No matter what the reason, it was very good to see Garcia getting out there and going six innings while allowing only one run. Things seemed to be clicking for him, so that seems like a good way for the team's X-factor to go into the season.
So things looked good for Garcia and even Jason Motte, who had been struggling this spring, had a successful outing. Everything was going well for the Redbirds, who even benefited from a Colby Rasmushome run, until Mitchell Boggsgot into the game. Boggs had a terrible end to a checkered spring, giving up the lead on a bases-loaded walk.
I'm not exactly certain of what Boggs's spring has been like, save for the back problems he had early on, and I'm not at a place where I can look them up. (Good thing this is a blog and is held to absolutely no standards, right?) However, Dave Duncan said that Boggs was the only pitcher that wasn't where he wanted them to be going into the season. Sounds like Boggs might be used sporadically or when games aren't in doubt for a while to help him get back into his best baseball shape. I'm sure the downtime with the back has hampered him somewhat.
Allen Craigled the team with a .359 average in the spring. You think this guy's ready to show what he can do in the bigs? If Lance Berkmandoesn't get a handle on his old self, Craig may find himself with a lot more playing time than he expected.
Which leads us to the last part of this post. The Post-Dispatch had some questions about the upcoming team and, in a play on Tony La Russa's slogan, they called them a hard 9. Let's take a look at them. Most of them are very subjective and we won't find out until we watch the season, but that won't stop me from offering opinions.
The offseason regimen and the weight loss made me optimistic that Berkman could return to something approaching his Houston form. So far, though, he's not shown that in the spring. It may be that he will be a slow starter and finally kick it in and there's obviously not been enough to judge him yet. That said, even a middling spring might have been more encouraging.
Talking about Freese is like stepping on a crack--you don't want to risk injury to someone you care about, whether it's your mother's back or David's ankles. So far, though, Freese is looking durable and, more than that, like the expectations fans have had of him while he was recovering were justified. With the experience of last year, I think we'll see a very nice year out of Freese. He won't hit for the average he was hitting at, but he should have more power. A .275 season with 25 home runs wouldn't be out of the question, I don't think.
For the first time since 2009, Lohse is being talked about without epithets or qualifications. Heck, even his fan club is back open for business. Lohse has been amazing this spring and it really looks like the surgery has done great things for him. I don't think he'll be as strong as his Jupiter outings show, but he can be a slightly better than league average pitcher, and when you have that as your fourth starter, you are doing pretty well.
I don't know about rebounding. Even at his heights, Skip's not the strongest second baseman. Obviously he has more value when he's hitting .300, but since it's not a powerful .300, he's got no room for slipping up. I think he hit better down the stretch last year, but I don't think we'll see another .300 season out of him. Couple that with his lack of range and issues on the defensive side and, if he stumbles, Daniel Descalso may get a lot more playing time.
5. Is team chemistry better?
That's something that can only be answered by being around the players, though the best way to have good chemistry is to win more than vice versa. Berkman seems to bring a responsible levity, as it were, to the group and if Brendan Ryan really was that much of an issue (sorry, Diamond Dolls), then it's probably best he's gone. So I'd say it's likely that it has, but a .500 season and nobody's going to be happy.
This is about the time you wish Pete Kozma had lived up to being a first round draft pick. A young, upcoming shortstop would be really good right about now. Theriot will do fine at the bat and likely get back to his Chicago numbers, but again, with a groundball pitching staff, having the middle of the diamond manned by him and Schumaker puts a lot of runners on or double plays not turned.
7. Could a long shot end up sticking with the team?
I think we've already seen that in Bryan Augenstein. He's at least stuck enough to go north with the team, which of course is no guarantee that he'll still be a St. Louis Cardinal at the end of April. Augenstein has been impressive, though, and obviously the organization saw something in him when they got him off the waiver wire, so I think he'll be around for most of the season.
8. Who's the number six starter?
I think it has to be between the two guys that lost out to Kyle McClellan this spring, Lance Lynn and Brandon Dickson. Each outing in Memphis for both of those guys is going to be like an audition. Whomever is doing better whenever a starter is needed will likely get the call.
9. What's the bullpen alignment?
Obviously Ryan Franklin has the ninth. Jason Motte still probably has the eighth, at least for a while, but may be on a short leash. Once they are comfortable with Boggs, he'll have the seventh. Trever Miller will be the go-to lefty, with Brian Tallet perhaps coming out of the pen first to face a lefty depending on the situation. Augenstein and Miguel Batista will absorb innings when a starter goes out early.
Agree? Disagree? That's what the comments and Twitter are for!
I've had a wonderful run of luck with my prognostications lately. Seems like anytime I say X, Y actually happens and fairly quickly afterwards.
Yesterday was another of those days, as Fernando Salaswas sent to Memphis and Bryan Augenstein made the team. I will admit that when the Cards plucked Augenstein from the waiver wire, I just thought he was going to be organizational fodder. I didn't expect we'd see much out of him, but apparently Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan saw a little bit more.
The deciding factor seemed to be that Augenstein has experience going multiple innings, something at Salas could do--he went two innings in yesterday's game--but maybe not as many and not as often. Rumor has it that TLR is looking at demoting Daniel Descalso for the West Coast trip next week and replacing him with Salas for that 13-man pitching staff, but it may depend on how the starters do against San Diego and Pittsburgh.
Nick Stavinoha was sent down as well. That's not a big surprise, but we'll have to see how often he catches in Memphis. You'd hate to see him take time away from Bryan Anderson and Tony Cruz down there. Could be he'll just be a fairly regular pinch-hitter down there, keeping him around in case there is an injury on the big club.
Unfortunately for those fans on the other side of Missouri, the game between the Cards and their AA squad on Springfield's home turf that was scheduled for today has been cancelled. With the weather projected to be cold and rainy, there just wasn't any reason to try to get the game in and risk injury. Plus that saves the Cardinals from swinging half their team that way on the way home to St. Louis and lets everyone be available today for the final game in Florida.
Jaime Garcia will pitch that last game, hoping to end his spring on a high note. I have a feeling the results of this one will be carefully monitored, as Garcia hasn't been effective at all this spring. Will he be able to mentally buck up and get through things? I assume this is Florida's last game as well, so it's likely he'll be facing a team that wants to get the game over with. Hopefully he can exploit that and go into the season on a little bit of a roll.
Someone who didn't end the spring well was Jake Westbrook, who gave up 11 hits and four runs in less than 5 innings yesterday. The runs are not huge, because sometimes that happens. Eleven hits, though? Westbrook is best when he is getting the ground balls that turn into ground outs. Either he wasn't getting them yesterday or the defense was not helping. Whatever the case, it's not the best of signs for him. We'll see what happens when he takes on the Padres Saturday.
Ryan Theriot would like to get to 40 steals. In a related note, I would like to win the lottery so I could retire and blog all the time. I expect that my goal is more reasonable, and I don't even play the lottery. There is not going to be a big base stealer in St. Louis while Albert Pujols is hitting third and Tony La Russa is in the dugout. I don't think it's surprising that Pujols has led the team in steals recently with less than 20. Nice to have goals, of course, but don't be disappointed if this one doesn't come to be.
RememberNick Punto? He took some batting practice yesterday and is targeting a May 1 return. With the spring play of Descalso and Matt Carpenter, I don't know that anyone is just clamoring for his return. That might change by the end of next month, though.
By the way, if you are on Twitter and you want to keep up with this weekend, when a zany group of bloggers descends on St. Louis for dinner and an invite-only event at the ballpark, follow the hashtag #ucbweekend. It's already getting slightly out of control, but with this group, that's not too surprising.
It's time to get down to it. The lasts of spring training are happening this week: Chris CarpenterandKyle McClellanhave had their last starts that don't count. Today is the last full game in Jupiter, with tomorrow being the biggest of splits for the squad, with a team in Jupiter and a team in Springfield that evening. The end is near; the beginning is on the horizon.
Which means that things are getting serious, or at least they should be. Outings take on a little more import. Which is why when Ryan Franklinblew a save Saturday against the Mets, allowing three runs in the ninth, Cardinal Nation sat up and took notice. Being that Franklin came back yesterday and threw a scoreless ninth to lock down another save, there doesn't seem to be a major cause for concern, but it still was a discordant note to have leading up to the season. The Cardinals can't afford to lose games like that very often this season.
Of course, if you want to talk about ugly, you have to talk about Jaime Garcia's spring. Garcia hasn't looked right at all in Florida, seeming to turn a bit of a corner in his last outing with three scoreless innings, only to allow ten runs (three earned) in the fourth. Garcia claims there is no physical problem, he's just having problems focusing and bouncing back. It's completely possible that the focus will be there when the season starts, but it's still a disturbing element. With the defense that is behind him, odds are there are going to be nights where a ball is going to be booted or a hit fall in that shouldn't have. How he reacts to that could be one of the major keys of this season.
Carpenter looked fairly strong in his last outing, giving up three runs in six innings but leaving with a 5-3 lead. That lead was in large part due to Albert Pujols, who had two home runs in that one. Both Carpenter and Pujols are stating how good they feel and how ready they are for the season to start. I wonder if we'll see another amazing April out of Albert as he goes into a season really healthy for the first time in a while. A strong start by these two could give the Cardinals a little bit of breathing room while some of the other teams in the Central deal with early season injuries.
This weekend, Miguel Batistaofficially earned a spot on the 2011 Cardinals, though many that follow the team expected that from the day he was signed. A Tony La Russa favorite (at least now, probably not so much when he was throwing at Tino Martinez a decade ago), he'd have had to really fall on his face to not get to go north, especially since he could be let out of his contract if he didn't make the squad.
Assuming a 12-man pitching staff (which, as Bill mentioned last night on Gateway to Baseball Heaven, is not assured; TLR is looking at taking 13 north, which would be extremely frustrating to this fan), it appears Fernando SalasandBryan Augensteinare battling for the last role. I was under the mistaken assumption that only Salas was on the 40-man, giving him just the slightest of edges, but Bob of the wonderful On The Outside Corner (which I had been lax in reading lately, as he said he'd written about this already) noted that both of them were on the 40-man. I still think the experience factor might give Salas the edge, but I wouldn't be surprised if either of them go. (Or both of them go, bumping Daniel Desclaso back to Memphis.)
Allen Craigis doing his best to not ride the Memphis shuttle again this year, putting up some strong numbers this spring. With Lance Berkman struggling at the bat right now, it'll be interesting to see how early Berkman is pulled in some games and whether Craig gets to get some extra at-bats that way. If nothing else, he should be a strong option of the bench and on off days, after getting those "new to the bigs" jitters out of the way last year.
Of course, when you talk about strong springs, you immediately jump to Kyle McClellan. McClellan finished up a spring that may have even topped Garcia's of last year, putting up four wins and a 0.78 ERA after yesterday's win against the Mets. While obviously McClellan isn't going to be able to be that dominant during the regular season, he's already done more than I expected out of him. I want to see how often he can get into the seventh inning, but other than that this move may wind up panning out.
During the NL Central preview show on Saturday, I commented how the Pujols contract situation has been fairly quiet since AP showed up in camp and had his press conference. Of course, that means that we get a new article about the situation this weekend. That said, it's a very good read. Pujols seems to be perfectly fine with whatever comes about, which being that the worst case scenario would be tens of millions of dollars per year, it's a bit understandable. I continue to think that Pujols will resign with St. Louis and that there are still a couple of surprises for folks in this whole situation.
Speaking of confidence, Jon from Redbird Dugout is taking the Cardinal Approval Ratings that I ran last month and adapting them for a more regular sampling during the season. Head over to his blog and record your preferences, then be sure to follow it through the year to see how impressions change.
Mark at RetroSimba had an amazing opportunity recently, getting to interview Cardinal legend Bill White who has a new autobiography coming out. The first part of the interview is up over here, and I encourage you to read it and go back for the next two parts as well!
The Baseball Bloggers Alliance today named writer Joe Posnanski the winner of the inaugural Writer of the Year Award, honoring the top internet writer. Posnanski, who writes for the print version of Sports Illustrated as well as maintaining his own blog and Twitter account, was the overwhelming selection from the BBA membership.
The Writer of the Year Award was created by the BBA to honor those writers who, beyond being exceptionally great at their craft, have taken to the internet in a full and vigorous fashion. Voters were instructed to take into account not only the writing abilities of the nominees but also their online presense, whether via blog or other media, as well as how they interact with their followers and fans.
"After a week where the ugly side of writing was put on display on two different occasions, it is an honor for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance to honor one of the great writers of the day. Joe Posnanski is a treasure to anyone that spends time online. Whether from reading his great blog entries or following his Twitter account, rarely a day goes by without a follower finding a gem," stated Daniel Shoptaw, founder and president of the Alliance.
Voters were allowed to vote for three of the fifteen nominees, casting a first, second and third place ballot. Those ballots were tabulated based on a 5-3-1 point scale.
Posnanski received 218 points, including 35 first place votes from the 110 ballots cast. Rob Neyer, formerly of ESPN and now at SB Nation, was second with twelve first place selections and 136 points overall. Rounding out the top three was former Boston Globe writer Peter Gammons, now working at MLB Network and MLB.com, with 134 total points and 20 first place votes. ESPN writer Buster Olney and Hardball Talk blogger Craig Calcaterra were the only other nominees to tabulate ten percent of the total vote.
The BBA is planning to honor the inaugural winner by changing the name of the award next year to the Joe Posnanski Award to fit their existing award naming scheme. The Alliance votes on postseason awards including the Willie Mays Award for top rookie in each league, the Connie Mack Award for top manager, the Goose Gossage Award for top reliever, the Walter Johnson Award for top pitcher, and the Stan Musial Award for top player.
The Baseball Bloggers Alliance was formed in the fall of 2009 to encourage cooperation and collaboration between baseball bloggers of all major league teams as well as those that follow baseball more generally. As of this writing, the organization consists of275 blogs spanning all 30 major league squads as well as general baseball writing.
The official website for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance is baseballbloggersalliance.wordpress.com. They may also be followed on Twitter with their account @baseballblogs and hashmark #BBBA. The BBA also has an app at both the Apple App Store and the Android Marketplace.
No, I'm not talking about the promotions staff, just a few things that, as the start of the season gets to us, I thought you might have interest in. (It's also possible I've been hanging out with Bill Ivie too much, but that's not important right now.) Although, if you missed it, Bill and I did talk to Terry Rodgers of the Cardinals promotions staff, so that's a great segue to all the other links I have!
As part of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, I get a lot of great stuff coming across my e-mail desk, as it were. One thing that came around this spring was Daniel over at Colorado Springs Fantasy Baseball Addict doing a "Finding Keepers" series. Great stuff all the way through, but for Cardinal fans, they might want to check out his St. Louis writeup.
Aaron over at El Maquino is trying out a game this season, loosely based on MLB's Beat The Streak. T-56 allows you to make picks when you want. Miss a couple of days? Your streak is still active as long as you've not made a wrong selection. The general rules are up at the site, so get over there and check them out, then e-mail Aaron your pick before opening day.
Speaking of games, many of my readers are familiar with the YNOT games that I've run for numerous years, the last slew of which over at CardsClubhouse. This year, we are opening it up a bit, at least at the beginning of the season. Since the Clubhouse will be undergoing some renovations soon and it may be a while before the YNOT system is back up and running, we are going to use Google forms to do it this year, which means that you don't have to be a member of CCH to play.
If you've never done YNOT, you are missing out. It's basically 10 questions about the upcoming series. You put in your picks before the first pitch of the series, then we grade them after the series and see how you did. We keep running totals and just have a lot of fun with it.
That may be all that I have at the moment, save that in five minutes Bill and I will be on Gateway to Baseball Heaven. If you are reading this after the show, feel free to head over this way and see what we talked about. I hope to get into some actual Cardinal discussion in tomorrow's post--it's been a while!
OK, we've taken a look at all the different divisions. Now let's take a guess at how October will pan out.
ALDS: Boston vs. Texas. With the wild card likely coming out of the AL East, Boston as the presumptive best AL team will face the weaker of the other two divisional champs. I think Texas can take a step back and still win the division, so let's guess it's them. Without Cliff Lee, I don't think Texas has enough to overcome the Boston juggernaut. Boston in 3.
ALDS: Minnesota vs. Tampa Bay. With the Twins not having to take on the Yankees for once, they have a much stronger chance of getting past the first round. This could be a struggle, though, as the two teams seem pretty even. Minnesota in 5.
ALCS: Boston vs. Minnesota. Again, Boston just looks to have too much for the rest of the division. Boston in 5.
NLDS: Philadelphia vs. Colorado. I like Colorado's chances to take the wild card, but not to go much farther. When the Phillies might not even have to through Cole Hamels in the series, you know they've got some aces. Philadelphia in 3.
NLDS: San Francisco vs. St. Louis. A good postseason rematch, harking back to 1987 and 2002. If the Cards had Adam Wainwright, I'd give them the edge, but they won't, so Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain would probably be enough to get them past the Birds. San Francisco in 4.
NLCS: Philadelphia vs. San Francisco. A rematch of last year, but the addition of Cliff Lee tilts the scales the other way. Philadelphia in 6.
WS: Philadelphia vs. Boston. It's what everyone has penciled in, a safe money pick, but there's a reason. Both teams look pretty great on paper, though we'll have to see how that translates to actual results. Philadelphia has better pitching, Boston has a better offense. Some close games and the bullpens might make a difference. Boston in 7.
Now, let's take wild random stabs at some of the awards.
Manager of the Year: Terry Francona (AL), Jim Tracy (NL). Francona is going to have the best team, but there won't be any other obvious candidates. Tracy will have the Rockies in a tight race with San Francisco all year and get some credit for that.
Rookie of the Year: Desmond Jennings (AL), Brandon Belt (NL). Neither of these guys will be opening day starters, but will have a Buster Posey-like impact on the races during the summer and garner lots of attention.
Cy Young Award: Francisco Liriano (AL), Cliff Lee (NL). Liriano will be back to his pre-surgery form on a winning team. Lee will continue his run of good pitching in a place where he's comfortable.
Most Valuable Player: Adrian Gonzalez (AL), Albert Pujols (NL). I think Gonzalez's move to Fenway might be a bit overrated, but even if he's close to the projections, the offseason attention will help boost him past others. As for Albert, well, he's the best player in the game and is healthy for the first time in a few years. Plus if the Cardinals do wind up winning the division, he's going to get a lot of credit for it.
Today we finish up our look around the divisions by tackling the NL West. Cardinal fans probably know less about the West than other divisions simply because their games start so late at night for us. Still, there's some awfully good baseball out that way.
1) San Francisco Giants--I don't think you can pick against them, being that they are the World Champs and they have not done anything to damage the team coming back. When you have the best rotation this side of Philadelphia with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez, you are going to be in a lot of ball games. The offense is still no great shakes, but a full year of Buster Posey and the pending arrival of Brandon Belt could fix a lot of those problems, especially if Pablo Sandoval's weight loss means that his offensive production increases. Even with Brian Wilson having some health issues, this is the team to beat.
2) Colorado Rockies--There's not a lot of talk about the Coors Field effect anymore, but that should help the Rockies somewhat. No matter where they play, though, players like Troy Tulowitski will hit. Carlos Gonzalez had some pretty extreme home/road splits last year, so if he closes those up to the good, that's just a bonus for the team. Put that offense together with a pitching staff fronted by Ubaldo Jimenez and you've got a wild-card contender at worst. If the Giants falter at all, the Rockies likely will be there to pounce.
3) San Diego Padres--The gap between second and third could be a big one in this division. Sure, the Padres were the feel good story of 2010 and, for Mike's sake, I hope they can build on last year. The fact is, though, they slipped in the second half and then traded off Adrian Gonzalez in the offseason. It'll be interesting to see if Cameron Maybin can get his career finally on track in that big ballpark or if Mat Latos can continue to develop into the ace that he looked like last year. If not, there might not be many leads for Heath Bell to save.
4) Los Angeles Dodgers--The divorce still hangs over the franchise and it puts a lot of things in limbo. This team should have the horses to stay on the fringes of the race, what with Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and James Loney in the lineup. The pitching staff has its hits (Clayton Kershaw) and its question marks (Chad Billingsley), but playing in a pitcher's park helps them out a bit. Will the '09 Jonathan Broxton or the '10 version show up? That could be the difference between them passing the Padres or staying behind them.
5) Arizona Diamondbacks--There's still a lot of work to do out in the desert. The team hopes that Justin Upton can shake off whatever affected him last year and get back on the superstar train. They traded off Mark Reynolds, so you know if nothing else strikeouts for the hitters will go down in 2011. After an offseason of trade talk, does a strong start get Stephen Drew shipped out of town? Is the team ace really Ian Kennedy, and can he prove that over the course of a season? Lots of questions, but it might be interesting to see the answers.