Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Stay. Just A Little Bit Longer.

Unless you are either Dave or Ben, you probably don't know who this fella in the picture is. His name is Herb Pope, and earlier this week he decided that he was ready to make the transition to the pros and declared himself eligible for the NBA Draft. Had he done this a month or two ago, it would have been hashed, re-hashed and dissected six ways from Sunday on the now defunct Setonia website. Cue the music: "Something touched me deep inside, the day Setonia died. Bye, Bye, the Setonia guys..." If you think that is what I intend to do, you are crazy. I am merely highlighting Mr. Pope as an example of everything that is wrong with college basketball these days. I know I have said it plenty of times, but kids leaving college early for the NBA destroys both the college ranks and dilutes the talent in the NBA.

Herb Pope: stalwart on the Seton Hall basketball team. After an NIT season with the Pirates, Pope has decided he is ready to go pro after only his sophomore year. His projected draft status: second round pick to undrafted. Seriously? Why would someone decide to leave college when they are clearly not ready to go to the NBA? Why don't more players stay all four years? It is honestly beyond me how stupid some of these players are. I hate to be repetitive, but the rule should be changed that players must play all four years of college basketball.

This concept of one and done players is terrible for the sport of basketball. College coaches spend a great deal of time and energy recruiting these guys only to lose them after one year, and fans don't ever really get to familiarize themselves with a team before it is time to rebuild again. As for the NBA, GMs have no idea what they are drafting after only one year of college basketball and it is basically a crap shoot. Moreover, these players have no identity when they are drafted as evidenced by the decline in the popularity of the NBA draft. Think back to the year 1992 for a moment. Let's take a look at the first few picks in the draft: Shaquille O'Neal, Christian Laettner, Alonzo Mourning, Jim Jackson, Tom Gugliotta. These guys sound familiar right? Now let's look at last year: Blake Griffin, Hasheem Thabeet, James Harden, Tyreke Evans, Jordan Hill, Demar Derozan. You probably have only heard of a few of them. Not one of them played all four years of college.

The truth is, the average NBA fan doesn't know who most of these guys are either. That is why ticket sales are lagging in the NBA and the product is considered to be fairly lousy. There are obvious exceptions to this rule (LeBron, Kobe, Durant, Carmelo) but I feel that if the players in the NBA established themselves a bit more by playing in college for 4 years, the NBA would be much richer for their experience. Fans would know more about players and GMs would have a much better idea of who they were drafting.

I couldn't be more excited for Butler to be in the Final Four this year. As a mid-major team, they stand for all that is good in college basketball. Their players probably have never thought of declaring early for the draft, and the fact that they have had four years to develop has made them that much better. This is exactly what the seniors at Butler worked so hard for and stayed at school for. They have earned their trip to the Final Four, probably something John Wall will never be able to say. If players continue to go the one and done route, look for more teams like Butler and Cornell, stocked with seniors, to advance deeper and deeper in the NCAA Tournament. However, if the NCAA or NBA decided that all players needed to play for 4 years to be eligible for the NBA, both leagues would be much better off. Stay in school kids!

Monday, March 29, 2010


Well folks, it appears that it is no longer a matter of if, but only a matter of when and where Donovan McNabb will be shipped out of town. I for one am pretty pumped. Though the Eagles have been very successful over the past 10 years with Dirty Don at the helm, he has become the embodiment of the Eagles failure to win the big one. With guys like Westbrook and Dawkins leaving the nest over the past few years, it is time to get rid of Donovan McNabb and get a fresh start at quarterback for this franchise.

It is time to turn over a new leaf ladies and germs. Donovan McNabb has been given 10 years to take this team to the promised land. The Eagles have signed key free agents like T.O. and Jevon Kearse, drafted very well, and given McNabb time to get over his constant injuries to no avail as he has not brought us a Super Bowl. 10 years on one team is quite a long time, but clearly McNabb is entering the twilight of his career on a team making a youth movement. He was given his chance to win it all, but ultimately the failure of the team falls on his shoulders. McNabb's redeeming qualities now are that he is a veteran that could help sustain a team and mentor a young quarterback. Enter the Raiders, Rams, Bills and Browns.

While I have been awfully critical of Donovan McNabb during his tenure in Philly; the passes into the ground, the constant injuries, smiling when he makes a terrible play, I also know that he is a good player. McNabb would be a great addition to a struggling team without a face to its franchise. He's still got some fire left in the furnace and could put some butts in the seats for a struggling team. He just has no value left in Philadelphia.

In Philly, it is time to start the Kolb administration. Kevin Kolb is the future of this team. He is young, talented and how do you say, Caucasian? I hate to come off as a racist, but it is a known fact that only one black quarterback has ever won the Super Bowl. Kevin Kolb is just the guy to take the Iggs and their new cast of young stars to new heights.

If the Eagles were to get a second round pick for McNabb, that would be a steal. They could use it to help improve either their secondary or either line, thus strengthening their team overall. Not to mention that the Eagles still have Michael Vick if Kevin Kolb doesn't work out or gets injured. It will be difficult to replace a guy that has been the leader of this team for 10 years, but it is a necessary move in order to move forward with the franchise. The Eagles should have everything they need to compete in place in the next few years, and I foresee no drop off in competitiveness with Kevin Kolb as the full time starter. If there is, you better believe that the other fat man who has been around for 10 years will be the next to go. I for one will be celebrating the ushering in of the Kolb administration with the adding of chocolate to milk.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

AL West Throwdown

After a flurry of sports activity last week, combined with the onslaught of tests and presentations that I have been preparing for, I was unable to give my last division preview in baseball. To all you AL West fans out there (Mareo), I apologize for the extended wait and ever building anticipation. Last year, I got a little crazy and picked the Oakland A's to win this division. Just another notch in the belt of TPLIYP's failed predictions as the Angels once again took the AL West. This year however, the landscape in the AL West has changed dramatically. The Angels lost several key players and didn't make as many additions, the Mariners really bolstered their entire team, the Rangers picked up some nice pieces for their squad and the A's dumped all the old dudes they had last year in favor of a youth movement. Trying to take all of this into account, I think the AL West will finally have a champion other than the Angels this year. I like the Seattle Mariners to take the AL West this year, bringing back memories of the Kingdome in 1995.

1. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners really upgraded their team this off season, adding the likes of Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley, Casey Kotchman and of course Cliff Lee to the club. This gives their lineup some much needed run producers (they were the worst in runs scored last year) and another top of the rotation stud to bolster a rotation already featuring King Felix. Clearly the time is now for the Mariners. Due to the weakening of the Angel Dynasty, I like the Mariners to pitch well, play great defense and score enough runs to win about 89 games and take the AL West.

KEY ADDITION: Cliff Pee. Clifford was stellar last year in the bandbox that is Citizen's Bank Park. While he returns to the more difficult AL, going to spacious Safeco Field should balance that out. He is having abdominal trouble early, but should be a solid addition to Seattle.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Erik Bedard. If Bedard can return to the way he pitched in Baltimore, the Mariners would have a very solid 1-2-3 in their rotation. That is a huge if though.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Franklin Gutierrez. Regardless of how this guy does at the plate, he should establish himself as a perennial gold glover this year.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Lots of guys on this team. The Kid of course. Chad Cordero- can the once great Nationals closer make a comeback? Maybe it would help if he didn't pull his hat quite so low. Manager Don Wakamatsu, that's fun to say.

2. Anaheim Angels of Anaheim, Los Angeles County, California
The Angels have certainly taken a step back from last year, but they should still have the talent to compete for the AL West title yet again. Their staff features Jered Weaver, Joel Pineiro, Scott Kazmir, Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana, and their lineup can still compete with Torii Hunter, Kendry Morales and Bobby Abreu. However, I feel that in losing John Lackey the Angels have sort of lost their competitive spirit. Nonetheless, manager Mike Scioscia will have these guys ready to go this year, and they will certainly not give up their AL West crown without a fight. Look for the Angels to fight all year long, but fall maybe one game short of the Mariners for the Division championship.

KEY ADDITION: Joel Pineiro. "Pinball", as Dorne calls him, had a very solid season in St. Louis last year and will try his best to fill the shoes of John Lackey. It will be interesting to see how he transitions back to the AL though, where he has had trouble in the past.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Ervin Santana. This guy can be lights out when he is healthy, but he is already complaining of the dreaded "elbow discomfort and stiffness". He could create a huge hole in the Angels rotation.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Mike Napoli. I think if the Angels give this guy enough at bats, he could hit 30 home runs. He can absolutely crush the ball. I might even DH sometimes on his off day.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Howard Kendrick. Yes, apparently he is going by the grown up name of Howard now. Maybe his game will grow up too.

3. Texas Rangers
The Rangers seem content with the same old formula of all hitting and no pitching. Though their lineup is seriously imposing, they lost Kevin Millwood and don't really have enough developed pitchers to take the reigns just yet. They are getting there though. The Rangers will probably go about .500 this year under the leadership of Ron "white lines" Washington. Can we please make that the Rangers' theme song this year?

KEY ADDITION: Vlad the Impaler. Vladdy Daddy makes a lineup featuring Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, Nelson Cruz, Josh Hamilton and Chris Davis that much more power packed. Look for this team to hit a lot of jacks this year.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: The Great Hambino. Can Josh Hamilton get over his back problems and put up another 500 foot circuit clouts at Yankee Stadium during the home run derby type year? I hope so.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Neftali Feliz. This dude throws legit 100mph and will either make a great closer or starter for the Rangers.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Ron Washington. New tv show idea: keeping up with the Washingtons.

4. Oakland A's
Gotta love the AL West. Only four teams to preview. My apologies to Tameo, but the A's burned me last year and now they shall suffer the consequences. The A's have some very intriguing young prospects, but not enough to compete for a division just yet. Look for them to keep trading for prospects for a little while until they have what they need to compete again. Until then, hard times for the A's as they lose about 90 games this year.

KEY ADDITION: Ben three Sheets to the wind. Sheets could be a solid addition to this rotation, but my guess is that the A's took a gamble on an INJURY PRONE guy in hopes that he could pitch well and maybe bring them some prospects at the trade deadline. That Billy Beane, always scheming.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Offense. Do the A's have any? Unlikely. I will use this space to promote one of my favorite players though; professional hitter Jack Cust. Modern day John Jaha. Poor man's Matt Stairs. That was one hell of a roll call right there.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Brett Anderson. This guy could be the A's building block for the future. Some filthy stuff.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Rajai Davis. Blink and you could miss the speedy "Ray Jay" Davis (as me and Mareo call him). He also pulls his socks up like a good ball player should. How the hell else is the umpire going to know where your strike zone begins? Plus it looks pretty sharp.

And so ends my preview of both the AL and NL divisions. Hopefully this year will prove a bit more fruitful than last.

Waste of (Over)Time

Instead of trying to come closer on disagreements between the owners and players unions this week, NFL representatives instead decided to waste their time coming up with a really stupid new overtime rule for playoff games in the NFL. While it may seem unfair to some that a team could conceivably never touch the ball in overtime and lose the game, this new overtime rule is not the answer at all. The NFL needs to be consistent with their rules in both the regular and post season, and this new ruling flies right in the face of that.

While in theory I agree that both teams should have a shot at scoring in overtime, I think that changing the rule in the playoffs but not in the regular season is counter-intuitive, and is not a final solution to this problem. What happens in week 17 when two teams vying for a final playoff spot go to overtime? Is that overtime not as important as an overtime in the wild card round the next week? My point is, every overtime in football is important. You can't change one thing and not change another.

Secondly, I don't understand the outcry at this rule brought about by the NFC Championship. Sure, the Vikings didn't get the ball in overtime; but as I recall, they had a chance to win the game in regulation and a too many men in the huddle penalty, followed by a massive Favre fail took the game into overtime. Just as every game is important in football, so is every possession, and the Vikings can only be mad at themselves for losing that game, not at the rules. If, as it appears, that the Saints-Vikings game was the impetus for this rule change, then the entire spirit of it is wrong.

Finally, this new overtime rule is a completely watered down version of what it should be. Let's be honest, the college football overtime rule is "where it's at" (to use the parlance of our times) and that is what the NFL should adopt. Sure the college OT rule would make the games longer, but the NFL seems ready to accept that for the playoffs, so why not the regular season too? Moreover, it would be much more exciting. Let's face it, when a college football game goes to OT, you know you are watching even if you have no clue who is playing. The NFL needs to either adopt the college OT rule or stick with what they've got. This new rule is just a weak attempt at mimicking the college rule while not admitting that the college way is indeed "the bomb."

In the next few years, I expect to see a more permanent change to the overtime rules in pro football. The NFL realized that their overtime format is lousy, but their attempt to change it was just as lousy. The NFL must be consistent in its ruling throughout the entire season, otherwise the Donovan McNabbs out there will get confused if the rules change from game to game. Every single game is important, and the NFL needs to realize that the college football overtime rule is the way to go. Don't be surprised if we see it adopted before too long, or a revert back to the old rules altogether. It just doesn't make any sense the way they have it set up now.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Earning Their Wings

It may not have been the miracle finish we all secretly hoped for yet ostensibly refused to believe, but the Mountain Hawks really did themselves proud last night against the best team in the nation. For a minute there they had us all believing in miracles, but unfortunately could not sustain their momentum. Most importantly though, Lehigh has put itself on the map in the Patriot League and has earned the respect of the college basketball community.

Going into last night's game the pundits, including myself for a while, predicted a blowout. The Mountain Hawks simply could not compete with the finely tuned athletes of Kansas, despite the fact that a Patriot League team had beaten Kansas in the tourney only 5 years ago. Writers were saying that the best case scenario for Lehigh would be to enjoy their hotel stay, or that Lehigh would only hang with Kansas for about 15 minutes. Well, I guess they all learned a thing or two.

Lehigh probably played the best game they could have last night. They tried to keep it a half court game and shot the ball very well. This was evidenced by the fact that Kansas couldn't really pull away until the very end of the game, and that Lehigh held a lead for a good portion of the first half. I think we can all say we got a great thrill when Zahir Carrington dunked over a Kansas player and just let his nuts dangle over the dude's head while he hung from the rim: a blatant sign of disrespect to the supposed class of the tournament. Kansas obviously didn't respect Lehigh's game and the Mountain Hawks were throwing it right back in their faces.

The most lasting memory from this game though, the moment in time that will be argued about by historians for years to come, is the moment that Lehigh went up by 8 and KU had to call a time out. It was fit for a novel, but nobody would have believed it. The scrappy band of misfits throwing everything they had at the stronger opponent, and for a moment, breaking through and taking the lead. Honestly, the first thing I thought of was Pickett's Charge. The 8 point lead was certainly the high water mark of Lehigh athletic achievement, and probably will be for a while, before being overtaken by the mighty Jayhawks. Can't you just picture it?

Though Lehigh ended up losing, this game will have lasting implications in the Patriot League, and in college basketball in general. The mere fact that sports writers even have to write an article about "pesky" and "stubborn" Lehigh hanging around and only losing by 16 indicates how big this game actually was. Because of this performance, I can see Lehigh gaining a big edge in the recruiting game in the Patriot League and staying atop it for years to come. Secondly, I don't think a Patriot League regular season and tournament champion will ever be given a #16 seed again. Lehigh clearly deserved better than a #16, especially when in the past 5 years the Patriot League has earned a #14, #15, #13, #9 and #14 seed. Why no love for the Mountain Hawks? Let's just say I don't think that a team like Lehigh, who wins both the regular season and tournament championship will be disrespected with a #16 seed ever again. Who knows? Had they been a #15 they might very well have won their game.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I think we can start to see that the talent gap in NCAA basketball is narrowing. Only a few highly ranked teams have really run away with games so far this year in the tournament, and many have been too close for comfort. Sooner rather than later, I believe we will see a #16 upset a #1. There are just too many good athletes out there for it not to happen.

Though Lehigh did not win last night, we as Lehigh alums can be very proud of just what played out in Oklahoma City. C.J. McCollum tore it up, Sunshine ripped some quality boards, Carrington yoked on the rim, Buchberger rained down 3's, and for one brief moment we all thought that the impossible was possible. Something tells me Lehigh will be around for years to come, and that someday a #16 seed, no doubt inspired by those pesky and stubborn Mountain Hawks, will take down a #1 and shake up the world.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

High Five!

Tiger is back! After months of solitude and time off to repair his image, Tiger Fucking Woods will be returning to the PGA Tour. This is great for the fans, but the real winner here is CBS which has rights to both the NCAA Championship and the final two rounds of the Masters. Can you say JACKPOT? Though Tiger will provide a ratings boost for professional golf, it may take him a while to get his game back for good. Tiger will need to make a few calls to Hank Haney, get a few tournaments under his belt, and get a little more color on his pasty facade before he wins a tournament this year.

Tiger Woods playing in a golf tournament is like adding another wrestler in the early stages of a Royal Rumble. What's going on is pretty cool, but the addition of the next wrestler just ups the intensity. Golf tournaments are exciting enough to watch in my opinion, but when Tiger is playing the tournament is that much more interesting and complex. No matter where he is, it is wise to keep an eye on him. Blink and you could miss something great. That is why Tiger's return is so good for golf. No matter what he does for the rest of this year, the tour is better off having him play. By the way, I am aware of the deluge of comments that my reference to the Royal Rumble could inspire from Dorne.

Though the tournaments will be much more interesting, and obviously watched by many more people, I think it might be a little while before Tiger gets his first win. I would love to get a prediction from Mr. Lyons on the subject as well. I would have liked to see Tiger come back a few tournaments before the Masters, so that he could settle his nerves before the first major of the year. Although, I suppose not much could make you nervous after having to admit your infidelities on live TV in front of the whole world. Still, its gonna be a little strange for Tiger in his first tournament back. That coupled with the fact that he will not have played in tournament conditions, nor had time to really work on his swing might detract from Tiger's game for a little while in my opinion. It could take him a month or two before he starts to look like the Tiger of old.

You can't just take months off from what you do and expect to come back and be just as good. Although Tiger Woods can probably come pretty close. Regardless, Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour at the Masters will give professional golf a much needed shot in the arm. He may not be in perfect form right away, but believe me he will get there. I'm psyched, and to quote every obnoxious fan after one of Tiger's tee shots, I just want to say; "YOU DA MAN TIGERRRRR!!!!"

Sunday, March 14, 2010

It's Gonna Be A Bloodbath

As the college basketball blog of record now, I figured I should opine on the hilarity that will be the Lehigh versus Kansas game on Thursday. Hopefully Setonia will comment on the game as well, but for now February 18th, 2010 will be known as "the day Setonia died." I think it is important for us proud Lehigh alumni to remember that six years ago we had to live with the disrespect of the tournament committee putting us in the play in game. Now we at least can enjoy the feeling of being in the actual field of 64. Just enjoy the ride Lehigh fans, because Lehigh is going to get destroyed on Thursday.

Winning the Patriot League regular season title was great. Winning the Patriot League Tournament was even better. Beating Lafayette in the title game was the cherry on top. For all of their hard work and commitment, the Lehigh men's basketball team has earned to right to be demolished by Kansas. To put it in words that Dorne can understand, Lehigh is playing checkers, Kansas is playing five different games of chess at once.

Exhibit A: who on Lehigh's squad is going to cover this man? I could honestly see Cole Aldrich going all Big Country in the Garden on Lehigh and putting up over 40 points pretty easily. There is no one on Lehigh's team that can cover him. Might we see some playing time from David "Sunshine" Safstrom? At least he is tall enough to cover Aldrich. In addition, Xavier Henry and Sherron Collins are going to run circles around our stud guard C.J. McCollum, and lock down the Mountain Hawks completely when they have the ball.

This game will probably end up being about 90-40 by the time it is over. It's like a car wreck though, you just have to watch. It can't hurt to dream though; and maybe the Mountain Hawks will just be on fire from the field and shock the world. Maybe all of the Jayhawks will come down with some terrible illness, end up in some crazy situation, or simply fall off the face of the earth ala the players on Mr. Burns' softball team. Let's think positive here. Crazier things have happened before right? Lehigh coach Brett Reed should definitely seize the opportunity to act out the tape measure scene from Hoosiers when the team gets to Oklahoma City.

While this game will most likely end up in a blowout, it is a thrill in itself to even be in the tournament this time of year. For those of us that chose academics and beer drinking over a powerhouse sports program, we can hold our heads high and be proud that the Mountain Hawks are a legit #16 seed this year. Let us hope for the best, and be prepared for the worst. Go Mountain Hawks, thrash those Gayhawks.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Center of Attention

If I could be one other person in the world, I would probably choose to be Matt Stairs. If not him though, I would probably choose Joe Mauer. Mauer is one of the greatest baseball players out there right now, had a standing offer under Bobby Bowden to play QB at Florida State, and could probably win the vote for Governor of Minnesota. Not only that, Mauer has only broken 4 or 5 bats in his whole baseball career. Shit is unreal. Because of Mauer's game, I like the Twins to win the AL Central this year. Yes sir, no more picking the Indians for this guy. The AL Central will certainly not be one of the best divisions in baseball, but the Twinkees could be a force come October.

1. Minnesota Twins
Joe Mauer has a great chance to win AL MVP again this year and lead the Twins to the playoffs again. However, unlike last year it will not just be Mauer carrying this team. The Twins have made some serious upgrades to their lineup, and their pitching should grow from last year. I like the Twins to win about 88 games and take the AL Central.

KEY ADDITION: Orlando Hudson. The O Dawg will provide a big upgrade at 2nd base in Minnesota, but so will J.J. Hardy (who I previously had listed on the Brewers, my apologies) and Jim Thome at short and DH. Also, don't forget that the Twins didn't have former MVP Justin Morneau for the entire second half last year. Needless to say this lineup is gonna be good.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Jon Rauch. Can Jon Rauch do an adequate job filling in for Joe Nathan? We shall see. Pat will be interested to know that he has an I beam tattooed on his neck. Just kidding.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Jason Kubel. I dub him Kubie, and may he have a great year at the plate for Minnesota. Not that 28 homers and 103 rbis was too shabby last year.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Delmon Young. The former #1 overall pick has yet to show fans how good he can be. Maybe this year will be the year.

2. Chicago White Sox
This team made some quality additions both last year at the deadline, and this offseason in free agency. However, their core of players is getting pretty old. I don't think they have what it takes to make the playoffs this year. If they can stay healthy though, they might surprise some people. Look for another battle down the stretch, but for the White Sox will fall just a tad short with about 85 wins.

KEY ADDITION: Juan Pierre. Pierre played really well with Manny out in L.A. last year, but then was relegated to the bench again when he returned. Now he will get another chance to shine as a starter in Chicago. He will have fans of the other A.L. Central teams saying "Fuck you Pierre" in no time.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Jake Peavy. Peavy used to be nasty, but was limited by injury last year. How will he respond to this injury and the complete transition to the A.L.? If he does well, it could be Chicago at the top of this division.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Gordon Beckham. This guy seems like a pretty cool dude, and from all indications should have a big year in the Chi. He might remind White Sox fans of a young Robin Ventura.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Bobby Jenks. Apparently this oaf has limited his pork rind intake and committed himself to becoming a good closer once again. He could be the difference between the Chi Sox and Twins taking the division.

3. Detroit Tigers
The Tigers made one of the silliest trades in all of baseball in the offseason in my opinion. Edwin Jackson had a great season for them last year and they shipped him off for Max Scherzer, Phil Coke and Mark Schlereth's son. As De'Andre Cole would say, "What Up With That?" Because of that move, I don't think their pitching will be good enough to compete, no matter how good their lineup will ever be. Look for the Tigers to put up about a .500 season, and maybe start to dump some expensive players at the deadline.

KEY ADDITION: John Damon. He is an old man now, time to start acting like one. Damon proved he can still hit and will give the Tigers a solid bat from the left side of the plate. On another note, do not google image search John Damon with safe search off.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Max Scherzer. Was this guy worth trading away Edwin Jackson for? This writer votes no.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Rick Porcello. Porcello flashed some skills last year, but ended up with an ERA near 4. Look for him to whittle that down this year and post over 15 wins.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Justin Verlander. He has looked shaky so far this spring. Can he sustain the punishment of throwing near 100mph for another season?

4. Kansas City Royals
The Royals are one team I always wish the best for. Their uniforms are awesome, and they are one of baseball's payroll underdogs. Unfortunately, it looks as if Zack Greinke might be the Royals only bright spot in the rotation again this year. The problem facing the Royals is free agency. It looked like they were developing a nice young core, but then half of them bolted as soon as they got the chance. Still though, they have a few good guys that they can build around if they can afford to keep them. Look for the Royals to make some progress this year.

KEY ADDITION: Rick Ankiel. Though his official nickname is "Ammerin Ank", I shall henceforth refer to him as "St. Anky". Kudos to you if you know the reference. He will be a nice power bat to add to the Kansas City lineup.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Luke Hochevar. Will this highly touted prospect ever live up to his hype? Greinke could definitely use his help.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Billy Butler. Reminds me of a young Pete Incaviglia. Although that would probably mean he won't ever have a breakout season.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Brian Bannister. The guy has been decent at times. Maybe he can be a decent #3 option in KC. Kauffman Stadium looks pretty cool.

5. Cleveland Indians
The Indians are in a rebuilding phase and are definitely going to struggle this year. The only recognizable name left on their team is Grady Sizemore. My how things have changed in Cleveland from only 3 years ago when they were in the ALCS. Look for them to only win about 70 games this year.

KEY ADDITION: Russell Branyan. He had a career year in Seattle last year, but will probably not repeat it. He is a solid addition to help mentor the young players though.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Fausto Carmona. He was an integral player in the 2007 ALCS team. Will he ever be good again?

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Matt Laporta. The guy the Indians got for C.C. Sabathia might be ready to show what he can do this year as a full time player.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Carlos Santana. Since this guy was traded to the Indians, his "Supernatural" play has made him the Indians top prospect. His "Evil Ways" with the bat have many thinking that he can be the next Victor Martinez. All he'll have the pitchers saying is "Oy(V)e(y) Como Va." I'm just being humorous.

There you have the AL Central in all its glory.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Feast in the East

The American League East is one of the most jam packed divisions when it comes to talented teams. The AL east has represented the American League in the World Series in each of the last three years, winning two of those series. This year appears that it should be no different as three teams in this division are completely stacked. The Yankees, Red Sox and Rays all have a legitimate shot not only to win this division, but to win the World Series as well. That being said, I'm gonna choose the Evil Empire to take the AL East this year and most likely advance all the way to the World Series.

1. New York Yankees
The World Series Champs made a few alterations to their lineup from last year, and I am scared to say that they could get even better this year. With guys like A-Rod, Teixeira, C.C. and Joba having the pressure of winning a World Series off their back, they might go out and take baseball by storm this year. Seriously, I could see A-Rod just destroying the American League this year and I don't like it. The Yanks still have a few questions though; they need to find a fifth starter, and their outfield is a bit weak. Overall, I like them to win this division and as always be a threat to win it all.

KEY ADDITION: Javier Vazquez. This guy has been a bit of a journeyman for a while, but appears to have found his stuff. If he can survive the A.L. transition, he will be a huge bonus for the Bronx Bombers. J-Roll took him deep today though.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Joba. Are we still abiding by the Joba rules here? Will he be a starter or a setup man? Can he be effective as either anymore? In my opinion, Joba was one of the most mismanaged pitchers I have ever seen. Return him to his role as a set up man and let him regain his jackass-like confidence once again.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Nick Johnson. This guy could put up some really good numbers in Yankee Stadium and with a good lineup around him.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Jesus Montero. This guy could be the future of the Yankees at catcher. He would be a solid call up if Jorge gets injured or finally falls apart.

2. Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox really overhauled their roster in the offseason, and appear to have improved. However, with that overhaul comes a lot of questions as to how players will perform in their new environment. One thing is for sure, the trio of Beckett, Lackey and Lester is as good as any. Whether the Sox new hitters are productive or not is up for debate, but their three headed monster at pitcher will definitely be good enough to get them into the playoffs. I see them winning about 90 games and taking the Wild Card.

KEY ADDITION: John Lackey. Lackey is a great competitor and will love the rivalries in the AL East. He will also give the Sox rotation, which appeared so deep last year but turned out to be so shallow, a real shot in the arm. Look for him to win at least 15 games this year.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Jon Bap-bull-bon. Pap's meltdown in the playoffs last year led to the Sox getting swept by the Angels. How will he respond this year, especially with Daniel Bard waiting in the wings to take his job?

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Clay Buchholz. According to Dean the Bartender, Buchholz put 15 pounds of beef on his slight frame this offseason. This should help his durability, add a few mph to his pitches and make him a mainstay in the Sox rotation.

KEEP AN EYE ON: The Dice Man. Daisuke had a terrible and frustrating year last year, fighting injury and ineffectiveness. Now he potentially slides in as the 5th starter with Tim Wakefield backing him up if need be. Look for Dice K to do better this year, relishing the journey he has taken.

3. Tampa Bay Rays
I have the Rays third, but they could just as easily be first in this uber-competitive division. I put them in third because they don't have the pitching like the Sawx and Yanks. What they do have is a potent lineup featuring several men in their contract years. The Rays will certainly prove troublesome for Boston and New York, but I see them falling a bit short again this year with about 85 wins. Don't be surprised if they are huge players at the trade deadline though and try to do everything they can to win now.

KEY ADDITION: Kelly Shoppach. The Rays didn't make many big signings this offseason, but Shoppach has the potential to be an offensive threat at catcher if he can every get consistent playing time.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Closer. Will it be Rafael Soriano? He has imploded in the past. Will the Rays go with a closer by committee again? This could be a big source of controversy in Tampa.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Carl Crawford. If you saw Buster Olney's offseason report, you know that this guy is working his butt off to get better. Plus, he is in a contract year. Crawford is gonna have a really good year.

KEEP AN EYE ON: David Price. He could assert himself as a real #1 this year.

4. Baltimore Orioles
It's a shame the Bodymore O's are in such a tough division because they have a good thing going here, but are doomed to finish in the lower half of the division. Their young lineup is going to get better though, and they could be one of those surprise teams that leads the division in the first half but fades away in the second. Pitching will ultimately undo the O's, but I see them winning about 75 games and building on their success for the future.

KEY ADDITION: Kevin Millwood. Thrillwood is a durable innings eater that can be the #1 starter for this squad. He will also help the youngsters develop their pitching. A great signing for Baltimore.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Starters 2-5. Can Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen and Chris Tillman compete with the big bats in the AL East? As Dean from Dean's Home Furniture would say, "I doubt it."

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Nolan Reimold. This dude was good last year, and I think he will really benefit from a full year with the big club. Look for him to go for about 25 tall jacks and 85 RBIs.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Luke Scott. This dude carries a gun, loves Jesus, hits bombs (he earned the nickname "el monstruo de cuadrangular" which translates to "The Home Run Monster" in the Venezuelan League) and has cool sunglasses. Why would you not keep an eye on him? Don't google image "Luke Scott Sunglasses" with safe search off though.

5. Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays are going to be REAL bad this year. They traded away Doc Halladay and are currently stomaching the worst contract in all of baseball. Did I mention that they are in the toughest division in baseball? The Jays don't have a leg to stand on this year and could lose 100 games in the first stages of their rebuilding process.

KEY ADDITION: Kyle Drabek. The Jays had better hope that this guy is as good as he is hyped up to be. He might be one of their starters this year.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Aaron Hill is about their only player that is not a question mark.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Ricky Romero. This guy has shown potential in the past and this year might be one of the few bright spots on an otherwise poopy team.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Adam Lind. Sophomore slump? I don't know, this team is just really boring.

That's the AL East for you. Be sure to tune in later this week when I go over the thrilling AL Central and West divisions!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

How the (NL) West Was Fun

The NL West should provide one of the most exciting division races in all of baseball. The Dodgers are the reigning champs, but have certainly taken a step back. The Rockies were last year's wild card team and look to be ready for a run at the division title this year. Meanwhile, the Giants and D'Backs have made strong additions to their squadrons and could leap frog both Colorado and L.A. this year. Forecasting this division is going to be very tough because there are four teams that could conceivably take the division. One thing I think we can be sure of though is that the Padres are going to be awful. Let's take a look at how the west was fun, shall we?

1. San Francisco Giants
The Gay Town Giants finally added some decent hitting to their amazing pitching staff and I think that this year they will finally get over the hump. Let's face it, with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Barry Zito and newcomer Madison Bumgarner the Giants will not need to score too many runs to win. With help from guys like Freddy Sanchez, Dorne's boy Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa the Giants should be able to scratch across enough runs to support that amazing staff. I see them winning about 90 games in this tough division and taking the title. It could come down to the last day though.

KEY ADDITION: Mark DeRosa. DeRosa will help solidify what was one of the worst lineups in all of baseball last year, and will give Fat Pablo Sandoval some lineup protection that he sorely needs.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Brian Wilson. Papa Dub is a bit of a basket case and can be shaky at times as a closer. He will need to keep it together if the Giants are to be successful.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner is the Giants top pitching prospect and now has a good chance to be the fifth starter. Look for him to take advantage of spacious AT&T Park (is that what its called now?) and possibly win rookie of the year.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Barry Zito. This guy has been a bust in San Fran for 3 years now, but appears to be turning it around a little bit. Perhaps this year he can find his dominance again.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks
I picked the D'Backs to win this division last year and they really screwed me over. Nonetheless, I am going to the well one more time and picking them as my wild card favorite. The D'Backs 1-2-3 of Brandon Webb, Danny Haren and Edwin Jackson is as good as any other team in baseball. Moreover, their young lineup should only get better with guys like Justin Upton, Mark Reynolds and Chris Young taking the next step in their career. The addition of Adam Laroche will also help the D'Backs middle of the order. The summation of all of these factors should lead to a wild card berth for the D'Backs in my opinion. I see them falling maybe 1 or 2 games behind the Gay Town Giants, but making the playoffs as the wild card.

KEY ADDITION: Edwin Jackson. This guy was very good for the Tigers last year, yet they decided to trade him anyway. We all know what happens to AL pitchers when they go to the NL, so look for Jackson to be a great addition to an already good rotation.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Brandon Webb. When Webb is healthy, he is one of the best pitchers in baseball. Last year he missed the entire season due to arm surgery and the team really suffered. The D'Backs success this year really hinges on Webb returning to his Cy Young form of a few years ago.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Justin Upton. Upton had a good year last year with 26 homers and 86 rib eye steaks. I see both of those numbers rising in 2010.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Conor Jackson. Co Jack missed almost the entire year last year with the obscure malady of "valley fever". He played well in the Winter League though and could really help the D'Backs with his bat again this year.

3. Colorado Rockies
The Rockies will be a good team this year, as they were last year, but I think they might fall just short of the playoffs because of their pitching. They lost Jason Marquis via free agency and will have to rely on Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis, Ubaldo Jimenez and Jorge De La Rosa if they want to make the playoffs. I think these guys are too inconsistent to take a team to the playoffs. One thing that could change it all though is their lineup. These guys are going to rake. In Coors field though, good pitching is a necessity, and I see the Rox falling just short of the playoffs with about 85 wins because their starting pitching is just not good enough.

KEY ADDITION: Jeff Francis. The Rockies didn't really sign anybody, but should be buoyed somewhat by the return of Jeff Francis, who missed all of 2009 to shoulder surgery.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Starting pitching. Will Ubaldo improve? Can Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis and Jorge De LaRosa be relied upon for a full year? We will see. I doubt it though.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Carlos Gonzalez. The Phillies could not get this guy out at all during the playoffs last year. Look for him to have a big year this year.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Chris Iannetta. Iannetta is friends with a buddy of the Schellinator, so you know he keeps good company. With Yorvit Torrealba out of the way now, Iannetta should blossom as the Rockies full time catcher.

4. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers were not able to spend a lot of money this offseason because their owner is getting cleaned out in a divorce. Because of that, I see them falling by the wayside in the NL West this year. Their pitching is nothing to write home about, and their offense has only a few bright spots. I see them only winning about 80 games and falling back to mediocrity in the NL West.

KEY ADDITION: Brad Ausmus. Ausmus was on the team in 2009. The Dodgers literally signed nobody of note this offseason. I'm just using this space as a forum to tout New Haven native Brad Ausmus.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Manny. Will Manny be any good after presumably stopping using steroids? If this team starts to play poorly, will he poison them with his attitude? He is a scary superstar.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw is now the man in L.A. He has some nasty stuff and I could see him winning over 15 games this year.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Jonathan Broxton. How will he fare after being burned by the Phils in the playoffs again? Two of my most favorite baseball memories involve John Broxton getting owned.

5. San Diego Padres
The Padres are one of the few teams that we can truly say has no shot at making the playoffs this year. Their pitching is awful, and their only good hitter is Adrian Gonzalez. I fully expect them to trade Gonzalez by the deadline and start rebuilding. Look for them to win only about 60 games this year. At least the weather is nice!

KEY ADDITION: MATT STAIRS. Fear Stairs. The Padres should probably use their entire marketing budget to promote Matt Stairs; he is the real draw here. It will also be interesting to see how many times he gets to face Broxton at the ends of games. That's probably why he signed with San Diego in the first place.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Too many to choose just one. Who will be starters 2-5 for the Fathers? Who besides Adrian Gonzalez will have a good oeffensive year? What do the Padres think they are doing?

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Matt Stairs. As long as he hits an epic blast off of someone, it will have been a banner year for Stairs.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Matt Stairs. When he hits that epic blast, it will be the only reason to watch the Padres all season.

This should be one of the most exciting and competitive division races in all of baseball. It was tough to decide how it would go down, but this is what I see happening. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Central Authority

Let us shift our focus to the NL Central now. This one seems to be a no brainer as the Cardinals appear to have a lock on this division. They have made some solid additions to their team and are hoping to build on last year's playoff appearance. Meanwhile, most of the other teams in the NL Central seem to have remained the same, or even taken a step back. Maybe Albert Pujols should just play these teams by himself. Or maybe he and a certain Coach Ditka could take on the NL Central also rans. No, no, no, thats unfair again. Here is how I like the NL Central to take shape this year.

1. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals exited the playoffs in very gutwrenching fashion last fall as a Matt Holliday error let to the demise of their season and Trey's liver. This season, the playoffs seem very much within reach again. With the nucleus of Albert Pujols, Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, this team will have no problem putting up a good record. Throw in the re-signing of Matt Holliday and you've got a very strong team; and I haven't even mention their best guy. Look for the Cards to dominate the NL Central and win over 90 games on their way to the division title.

KEY ADDITION: BRAD PENNY. Penny will be a solid addition to this rotation as the third or fourth starter. He played very well in the NL last year after signing with San Francisco (that's fun to say, Fran-CIS-co) and will only do better under Dave Duncan (I have this card somewhere), the modern day Leo Mazzone.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Third Base. Who will it be? Julio Lugo? David Freese? Felipe Lopez? Hopefully one of them can step up and fill the hot corner for the Redbirds.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Colby Rasmus. #28 is fire burning in the outfield, and has long been touted as the best prospect in the Cardinals system. Now the outfield (where he is fire burnin') situation is clear and he knows he is the man playing everyday. Look for this to boost his confidence and lead to a numbers surge. He definitely banged the girl in that video too.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Albert Pujols. No shit, right? I like his chances to take home a triple crown this year with the lineup protection he has.

2. Chicago Cubs
If the Cubs lineup can stay healthy, a big if with this man on the squadron, they can certainly produce runs with the best of them. A lineup featuring D. Lee, Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, The Riot, Marlon Byrd, Xavier Nady and Marlon Byrd looks very intimidating. Injuries raise significant concerns though. Their pitching on all fronts is another big question mark too. Can Ryan Dempster produce like he did two years ago? Who will fill in for Rich Harden's robotic arm? Can Ted Lilly live up to his potential and win 15 games? Will Big Z stay healthy and not go loco? Who will step up as the closer? Because of these pitching concerns, and health concerns in general, I look for the Cubs to be a very streaky team but ultimately fall short of the playoffs winning about 85 games tops.

KEY ADDITION: Marlon Byrd. The Cubs are hoping Marlon Byrd will bring them what Kosuke Fukudome didn't: speed, defense and hitting. With hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo coming over from Texas as well, look for Byrd to continue his sweet swinging ways in the Chi.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Alfonso Soriano. Soriano has been a victim of poor managing in Chicago, inexplicably batting leadoff, and nagging injuries. If he can stay healthy he will help this offense immensely. Can he shed the injury prone label? We shall see.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Jeff Samardzija. The former Notre Dame wideout has got sick stuff, and could become a starter or a closer for the Cubs this year.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Micah Hoffpauir. This man could slide in at first base if D(P) Lee gets injured or starts to slow. He is definitely the first baseman of the future for the Cubbies.

3. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds are definitely onto something here. Their pitching rotation has some pretty good depth with Aaron Harang Brain, Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman, Homer Bailey and Bronson Arroyo, and Coco Cordero is very solid in the pen. Their hitting is also nothing to laugh at with Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, O Dog Cabrera, Scott Rolen, Jay "All he ever does is hit home runs" Bruce, and Chris Dickerson. This is probably the best Reds team we have seen in a while. Look for them to make some strides in the NL Central and win about 80 games.

KEY ADDITION: Aroldis Chapman. Apparently this Cuban defector is pretty nasty. He will be a good addition to the Reds staff.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Jay Bruce. Can he live up to the hype, or will he disappoint again like he did last year? He probably just didn't want to be on Pat's fantasy team.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Joey Votto. Votto had a good year last year, but he could really step it up another notch this year with some more lineup protection. Look for the RBIs to get up over 100 for Joey "You can do it" Votto. His only drawback? You probably couldn't even tell.

KEEP AN EYE ON: This guy. Enough said. Also, Homer Bailey might finally step up this season.

4. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers lineup is very solid, with Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks; that is not their problem. The problem is and always has been their pitching. Who among: Randy Wolf, Jeff Suppan, Manny Parra, Yovani Gallardo and Doug Davis do you see winning more than 10 games? The pitching is just not very good. This is why I think so little of the Brew Crew. The Brewers will probably keep pace with the Reds in the battle for third place in the Central this year.

KEY ADDITION: Carlos Gomez. If this guy could raise his OBP, he could be the second coming of Jose Reyes or Juan Pierre. Regardless, he will solidify center field with his great defense and produce some runs for the big bats behind him.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Rickie Weeks. Weeks was having a great season last year before tearing a muscle in his hand and missing the rest of the year. If he can repeat what he did before getting injured, the Brewers pitching woes could be buoyed by great run support.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Yovani Gallardo. Gallardo could be the guy that wins games for the pitching staff this year, despite my skepticism before, but he has been bitten by the injury bug in the past. If he can stay healthy, he has got the stuff to win 15 games or more.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Mat Gamel. This guy has been one of the Brewers top prospects for a few years. Let's see if he can step up big as the starting 3rd baseman. He also spells his name with only one t.

5. Houston Astros
I was considering giving this spot to the Pirates just because the Astros are such a poorly run team. Ed Wade will go down in history as one of the worst GMs of all time. His strategy this off-season was to sign worthless Phillies castaways. I gave them the fifth spot though for a few reasons; they still have Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee. Other than that though the Astros are garbage. Look for them to win between 70-75 games and be players at the trade deadline.

KEY ADDITION: Matt Lindstrom. This dude throws straight gas and will be a solid closer in Houston this year. If they can ever get a lead that is.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Michael Bourn. See "Carlos Gomez".

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Wandy Rodriguez. This guy has shown some signs of being a really good pitcher over the past two years. Look for him to step in behind Roy Oswalt to make a decent 1-2 punch in the rotation. Good fuckin' luck on 3-5 though.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Lance Berkman. He could be a solid trade piece towards the middle of the season. A lot of contenders could use a bat like the Big Puma's. Koey just got excited because I said Puma.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates have been baseball's doormat since the day Barry Bonds left town. 17 years, and about 200 pounds for Barry Bonds later, it appears that they have a decent nucleus in place on offense. Their pitching is still a long way away from being any good though. The Baby Buccos will probably win about 70 games this year and will show steady improvement throughout the year.

KEY ADDITION: Octavio Dotel. The Buccos took the Nats approach and only made a few additions to improve their bullpen. Not a bad addition though as Dotel will bring stability to the pen headed by Joel Hanrahan.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Starters. Who the hell is gonna lead this team? Zach Duke and Paul Maholm are the only halfway decent starters they have, but they only totaled for 19 wins last year. Can anybody step up?

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Garrett Jones. Dude hit 21 homers last year. In 82 games. Now multiply the amount of games by two. You get the point.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Bobby Crosby. This guy was once the AL Rookie of the Year, but soon fell victim to injury and was then benched by the A's. Maybe a low pressure situation like Pittsburgh and the promise of playing everyday will help bring back some of his great promise.

The NL Central is always a bear to predict with six teams. That's how I see it going down though. I've had enough of this chickenshit bullshit.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Here Comes the Sun

Opening day is only a month away baseball fans! Since I couldn't wait any longer, the time has come to dive into the wonderful world of division predictions. Last year TPLIYP didn't fare too well in its role as fortune teller of the baseball season, but each year the work begins anew. This year we will begin by forecasting my favorite division, the National League East. It should come as no surprise to anybody that I like the Philadelphia Phillies to take this division for a fourth straight year. Let's take a look at how the rest of the division shakes out, and a few things to watch for on each team.

1. Philadelphia Phillies
The World Series runner ups come into 2010 with virtually the same team as last year. The biggest difference is of course at the head of the rotation. It is feasible that Roy Halladay could win more than 25 games this year if he stays healthy, and is an early favorite for the NL Cy Young. I think that he will make us forget about Cliff Lee pretty quickly, though Lee will certainly be missed. The real power for the Phillies is in their lineup though. It seems hard to imagine that the Phillies lineup might be better than it was last year, but its easy if you try. Placido Polanco will be a tough out at the bottom of the order and makes the Phillies entire lineup that much more dangerous. Look for the Phils to win about 95 games and be a World Series threat once again.

KEY ADDITION: Obviously it is Roy Halladay, but I would be missing out on a great chance to crack wise if I didn't mention the signing of catcher Brian Schneider, whose sliders have become a thing of legend at Starter's Riverport.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Cole Hamels. Will he be the Cole of 2008 or the Cole of 2009? This writer thinks he will be the Cole of 2008 once again. If you do not grab him early in your fantasy drafts, you might regret it.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Placido Polanco. Polly is playing in a much smaller park, with a much better lineup. Expect his numbers to improve in almost every category.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Phillippe Aumont. This dude has some nasty stuff at a very young age. The Phillies would like to season him a bit more, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him called up to the big club if the bullpen starts to falter.

2. Atlanta Braves
Last year the Braves were a sexy pick (which means they were probably picked by Dave Rattner) to win the NL East. This year, they might actually have a chance to win the NL East. With a rotation consisting of self proclaimed "mental midget" Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson (sweet lettuce) and Dill's favorite Jair Jurrjens, the staff is fairly formidable. The bullpen and the lineup are bigger question marks though; can guys like Chipper, Troy Glaus, Billy Wanger, Takashi Saito and Manny Acosta stay healthy? If so, this team could make the playoffs. If not, they could fall flat. I expect it to be somewhere in the middle, and for the Braves to win about 85 games, falling just shy of the playoffs.

KEY ADDITION: Troy Glaus. The aging slugger provides some lineup protection for Chipper and McCann and can still pick it at third. Plus, he's so strong that he can hold three bats at once!

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Timmy Hudson. Hudson was out all year last year with arm troubles. If he can stay healthy this year, he can really galvanize this staff as the ace.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Tommy Hanson. The other half of the TH arsenal, Hanson has sweet lettuce and an even sweeter set of pitches. He can step in as #2 in the rotation and let the mental midget resume his role as #3.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Jason Heyward. This guy is the #1 prospect in all of baseball. Will he be the next Chipper Jones, or the next Todd Van Poppel?

3. Florida Marlins
I had a tough time deciding whether the Braves or Marlins would finish second in this division. I put the Marlins third because I felt that their rotation was a tad weaker, and their lineup was not quite as strong. Josh Johnson and Hanley Ramirez are two of the game's best, that is for sure, but there is not much substance behind them. A lot of guys like Jorge Cantu, Dan Uggla, Anibal Sanchez and Leo Nunez who are not really star caliber and could be boom or bust. Because of those question marks, I have to put them in 3rd. Look for the 'Lins to finish at about .500.

KEY ADDITION: Derrick Turnbow/Mike MacDougal. As you can tell, the Marlins did not make many additions. These guys could be solid cogs in the bullpen though, and take over closer duties if necessary.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Ricky Nolasco. This guy can either be lights out or, if he's on my fantasy team, absolutely terrible. If he returns to his better form he could put together about 15 wins or so. Consistency is the key for this 2009 fantasy dud and target of my hatred.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Cameron "Definitely" Maybin. This guy is a five tool player and could finally put it together for the fish this year. If so, he will probably be out of Florida very soon.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Chris Coghlan. Last year's rookie of the year could also potentially have a great year this year. I guess since he was ROY last year though, it wouldn't really qualify as a "breakout" year.

4. New York Mets
This team always looks very dangerous on paper, but ends up being full of holes. Jose Reyes and D Wright make up the best left side of the infield in baseball, the yin to the Chase Utley and Ryan Howard yang on the right side. Johan Santana is also great, but what about after that? The Mets did nothing to improve their rotation, and if you can't get the ball to the great K-Rod with a lead, then what's the point of having him? Look for the Mets to have another tough year despite their enormous payroll. Proof positive that you can't just throw money at a problem. Also, Jason Bay is going to be terrible in New York. You can take that to the bank. The Citi Bank. The Mets win about 75 games this year and look to shed payroll.

KEY ADDITION: Jason Bay. Despite my previous statement, he is still their biggest addition. How many homers will he hit out of the cavernous Citi Field though? And what will be the repercussions of having to patrol a very spacious left field? At least he's an American citizen now.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Starters 2-5. John Maine, Ollie Perez, Mike Pelfrey and ____: what will they do this year? If they continue to produce like they have in the past, the Mets are in big trouble. If they can consistently perform like they have in flashes of greatness, things might not be so bad. I doubt that will happen though. Runner Up: Carlos Beltran. When will he suit up for the Mets after surgery, and will he be effective?

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Jeff Francoeur. If Frenchie can be a little more patient at the plate, he would be a very dangerous hitter.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Ike Davis. Right now, Daniel Murphy is slated to be the starting first baseman for the Mets. This is bad. Buster Olney tells me that Ike Davis might take that role over for the Mets during the season. This might be good.

5. Washington Nationals
God love the Nats. They are trying, but they are going to be the whipping boy in the NL East for some time I think. Poor Ryan Zimmerman. They might not be as bad as last year in 2010 though. A few additions to the rotation as well as some pieces added to the lineup will help a little bit. I wouldn't expect anything more than about 70 wins from them realistically though.

KEY ADDITION: Jason Marquis. Marquis proved he can be a winner pitching in Colorado. I don't see how Washington could be any tougher. He might not have as good a defense behind him though.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Chien-Ming Wang. The Nats took a flyer on a guy who had a 19 win season a few years back, but was THE worst pitcher in baseball last year. If Ching Bing Bong can find the stuff he had 3 years ago, he could be the bargain of the century for Washington. Either way, we can still look forward to the release of his auto-biography "What Went Wang".

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: John Lannan. Lannan has looked absolutely untouchable sometimes, and I think this year he could start to more consistently show that side. If so, Borst will probably be pretty happy.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Stephen Strasburg. The kid with the golden arm will no doubt be called up to the big club at some point. Whether he will be used as a starter or a reliever remains to be seen though. He and Ryan Zimmerman will probably be really chummy once he gets called up though.

There you have it. The NL East from first to worst. Like it? Lump it? Sound off!