1) You Can't Win 'Em All: I know this is the flimsiest piece of information I can use to support my case, but you cannot win forever. The Braves will lose, and every year they look like they are closer towards a spot below first place. Last year they saved their butts with JD Drew's spectacular year and they'll need someone to step up big time to be in the top spot at season's end. Since MLB broke the teams into three divisions, this division has not been so evenly matched and wide open with four teams that have a very real possibility to finish first. The law of averages says so....the Braves will lose. Besides, their streak of first place finishes is one the biggest shams in all of baseball. The last time they did not win the division there was a youngster names Pedro Martinez in the NL East. Coincidence? I think not.
2) Too Much Emphasis on Smoltz: The Braves have a deep staff, but it's debatable whether it's better than the Marlins or the Mets staff. A large part of their season hinges on the idea that Smoltz will make a smooth transition back into a starter at the age of 37. He may, but probably will have trouble adjusting and going into the fifth and sixth innings for while. He has not been a full time starter since 1999 and has not topped 200 innings since 1997. All of sudden after missing 2000, and pitching 59, 80.1, 64.1, and 81.2 innings he'll be a workhorse, stay healthy, and be the dominant #2 the Braves are looking for? I do not think the Braves even think that, they are just hoping for the best. It is a huge gamble. If they lose him because they moved him to the rotation, it's a big loss all around. They downgraded at closer and lost him as a starter.
3) The Game Does Not End in the Eighth: Their closer has been as good as any over the last two years, but he has not been doing so by making the hitters miss. Danny Kolb is good and has turned a corner over the past two seasons, but his K/9 was more than cut in half in 2004 to 3.30 and this K/BB was 1.40. The bottom line is that he is no John Smoltz. His workload has been relatively light with the most innings he's every pitched being 57.1 innings. He's going to be called upon more and he'll have to prove he can handle the workload. Smoltz was out there for 80+ innings in two of the last four years, including 2004, and he pitched more than one inning 20 times. Kolb did it exactly once las season. Can he stand up to the increased workload? The Braves pen is not a very strong one and his number will be called on for long times and more often. I think they will end up missing Smoltzie closing games a little bit.
4) Something Left to be Desired: Brian Jordan has played 127 games in the last two seasons and played 128 games in 2002. Although he has historically been a Met killer in the past, he turns 38 in March and seems to be on his last leg. How much can they realistically expect out of him is beyond me. My guess is not much but they are probably looking forward to him being a 4th outfielder if Andy Marte can have a huge spring, but if it does not happen, the Braves are in trouble. As for Mondesi, he has not been a feared hitting since 1999. I see no reason why he'll start now and he may contribute a .260/.330/.450 with 25 homers and 80 RBIs at best which will just not cut the loss of JD Drew. The Braves need LaRoche and Marte to step up big time this season if they are to have hopes of taking the division yet again.
5) Star in Decline: Chipper was not the chipper of old in 2004. After hitting at least .300/26 homers/100 RBIs from 1998 through 2003, Chipper posted and all time career worst batting average and failed to top 100 RBIs for the first time sine 1995. He's still only turns 33 in April, but has some nagging injuries that has his 2005 position up in the air. Andy Marte may push in into the outfield if Jordan and Mondesi are just not cutting it, but the Braves do have flexibility. However, much like the Mets relied on Piazza for three years to many, the Braves could be headed for a similar stretch of years. He needs to produce like the Chipper of 1998 through 2003 if the Braves are going to survive the loss of JD Drew, but it seems like they will be missing that menacing bat they have had throughout this entire sham of run. * * *Jayson Stark's new Rumblings has plenty of good tidbits.
Those Ugueth Urbina-to-the-Mets trade rumors continue to percolate. But don't bet your favorite copy of the Jesse Orosco Story on it. For one thing, clubs that have talked with the Mets say their preference is to trade for a left-handed reliever. Second, that Urbina deal only works for the Tigers if Mike Cameron is involved -- which appears highly dubious. Third, one scout says Urbina's early spring velocity had dipped to 84 mph and below -- which would scare off the Mets (or anyone else). But the Tigers say he was 87 to 90. So someone needs to change batteries in his gun.
One fun game we've been playing this spring is asking GMs, managers and coaches to compare the Yankees lineup to the Red Sox lineup, position by position. The Yankees have the bigger names. But after a half-dozen surveys, we've only had one panelist rate the Yankees as good as even (4-4, with one spot even). Everyone else has given the Red Sox the edge at between five and seven positions. The only Yankees to win in every poll: A-Rod (over Bill Mueller) at third and Gary Sheffield (over Trot Nixon) in right.
It should be another great summer for these two teams to have a dogfight. I think the Yankees staff may look better on paper, the Boston staff will be better when the rubber hits the road. Clement will be big, Theo's acquisition of Miller will prove to be genius, and Bronson's second half was strong enough to make him a solid, solid, #5 guy and as good as any in the league.
Speaking of the Astros, here's a spring project that ought to scare a few hundred National League hitters: Brad Lidge is trying to resurrect the circle changeup he used to throw as a starter in the minor leagues.
A new wrinkle in Lidge's repertoire?
"I just want to add another element, so guys can't just look for fast stuff," Lidge said. "There were times last year when guys were speeding up their bats because everything was essentially the same speed. So I felt like, if I had a pitch that was 10 mph slower than my slider, I could slow up those bats."
If Lidge gets any more unhittable -- after a season in which he punched out 157 hitters in only 94 2/3 innings -- there wouldn't even be a point in having hitters take a bat to home plate.
Stark's right, no need for a bat if that happens. Lidge is the definition of nasty. It's hard to fathom any team that will have had so much domination in the closer's role for so long. If Lidge can stay healthy, and at least finish his six years with the Astros, they'll of had twelve years nastiness. They'll probably hold on to him for longer, most likely, but the run they are in the midst of is just nuts.
It's been very fashionable to dump on Victor Zambrano, the guy the Mets traded much-ballyhooed Scott Kazmir for last July. But Zambrano's former manager, Lou Piniella, still casually refers to Zambrano as "our best pitcher" last year.
Obviously, being the Devil Rays' best pitcher isn't quite the same thing as being the Yankees' best pitcher. But Piniella says of Zambrano: "He can beat the good teams and he can beat the bad teams. The only thing that can hold him back is him."
I think we all knew this one.
"Yeah, I talked to Mulder," Hudson chuckles. "I told him I was going to turn his stuff around if he comes in there. I told him, 'If we ever face each other, whatever you give me, I'm giving you back. You start breaking out some nasty stuff, I'm going to return the favor. Obviously, if there are men on base, we've got to pitch like we normally do. But if nobody's on? I'm going to be expecting some heaters away. Don't try and bruise my hands up.' ...
"And I told Zito, 'If you throw that weak curve ball in there, I'm gonna whack it. I'll tell you that.' "
I'm betting Hudson out hits Mike Hampton in 2005. Glavine needs more dental work:
"The bone graft was more painful than the accident," Glavine said. "And the drilling's probably not going to be fun. So I want to wait until after the season, probably October, to get it done. Or hopefully November."
I like the hopefully November addition, but I'd like a bit more conviction. Maybe, I'll get my pearly whites fixed in November since I plan to be busy in October.
Beltran gets his first taste of the boo birds.
The Mets' center fielder could smile. The sting of the two fly balls he didn't catch in the fourth inning had diminished by the time he dressed for the 90-minute return trip to Port St. Lucie. So, too, had the sting of the boos that greeted him when he led off the top of the fifth.
The fans weren't necessarily intolerant of his defensive miscues. But it's Spring Training for them, too. And as Graig Nettles said in Fort Lauderdale Stadium 26 years ago when the Yankees played here: "They have to get their boo lungs in shape."
That quote by Nettles may be my new favorite quote.
From the NY Daily News:
Mike Cameron (wrist) may face pitching for the first time today or tomorrow, Willie Randolph said. Doing so is the final step before playing in a Grapefruit League game.
Looks like Cammy may be ready for opening day after all.
Also from the NY Daily News:
The Mets' brain trust isn't in love with the cuisine served at Fort Lauderdale Stadium. The contingent, including principal owner Fred Wilpon, GM Omar Minaya and deputies Tony Bernazard, John Ricco and Sandy Johnson, walked into the Orioles' lunch room and learned the salad bar no longer was offered. Faced with a choice of hot dogs, hamburgers or roast beef, the entire contingent abruptly left. What do you want for $4?
Too good for some hot dogs?
Rules a plenty.
Hair and mustaches are to be kept neat. No beards. Earrings are NOT permitted while you are in uniform.
Cliffy's ice will not be making an appearance in any games this season. I still think it's convenient that mustaches are OK, huh Willie?
No one can drink in the clubhouse, except Willie.
When the Mets travel to Arizona and it is near 100 degrees, no one can wear shorts, but Willie.
Curfew is 1 AM after day games and everyone on the team gets a .50 cent allowance if they do their chores, except people named Willie, who can pull and all nighter and are exempt from chores.
A great pitching match up today between two of the top lefties in college baseball. Tulane's Brian Bogusevic (3-0, 0.90 ERA) will face off against Cal State Fullerton's Ricky Romero (4-0, 1.92 ERA).