2011 MLB Team Preview – San Diego Padres

Key Additions—Orlando Hudson, Jason Bartlett, Cameron Maybin, Brad Hawpe

Key Losses—Adrian Gonzalez, Miguel Tejada

Lineup—The loss of A-Gon obviously puts a huge strain on the rest of the lineup. Although the Padres did very well in the players they got back from the trade, you still have a very big hole to fill when you lose a player like Gonzalez. I do like that they signed Brad Hawpe to fill that hole, although he is nowhere close to being the player that they had. I also like what they did in the rest of the infield, adding Hudson and Bartlett to go along with youngster Chase Headley. They are taking a chance that one time top prospect Cameron Maybin can finally flourish, but he is going to track down a lot of balls in CF. Ryan Ludwick is a solid LF, but I am concerned with what they will get from Will Venable in RF. The nice thing about this team is they have some pitching depth which should be a bonus if they want to enhance their lineup at some point in the season.

Rotation—This rotation is led by Mat Latos, who is quickly becoming a go-to pitcher in this league. He should spearhead this rotation and be near the top of the Cy Young voting at season’s end. Following him are 2 young arms who should perform fairly well. Clayton Richard and Tim Stauffer have both showed some promised and should continue to approve. I really like the move to go out and sign Aaron Harang. Harang returns home to San Diego, and should really benefit from Petco Park. I expect him to put up pretty solid numbers this year. The last spot should go to Cory Luebke, a former sandwich pick it is time to see what he can do. This rotation performed well last year, and should again be able to keep this team in the division race.

Bullpen–Despite all of the banter, Heath Bell is still a Padre and leads this bullpen. He should get plenty of save opportunities and should be one of the top closers in the game. They added some depth by signing Chad Qualls, and should have a fairly good bullpen. The one thing to watch is if anyone emerges throughout the year which would make Bell expendable.

Impact Rookie—Cory Luebke, LHP. While he won’t blow it by you with his fastball that sits in the high 80’s and can touch 92, Luebke is a strike thrower who will go to his slider and change up in any count. If he can get 26 starts and 160 innings, he could win 10 games with good peripherals in that park.

Outlook—In a division that I think is up for grabs, I give the Padres a good chance of at least contending into September. I like what they did with their lineup, although I still think they are going to have a tough time scoring runs, and their rotation has the chance to be pretty good. With the emergence of more young players, this is a team on the rise.

Brad Koesters, MLB Correspondent

NL West Preview:

Arizona Diamondbacks

Colorado Rockies

Los Angeles Dodgers

San Diego Padres

San Francisco Giants

2011 MLB Team Preview – Los Angeles Dodgers

Key Additions—-Juan Uribe, Jon Garland, Marcus Thames

Key Losses—George Sherrill, Ryan Theriot, Scott Podsednik

Lineup—After a few years, the Manny Ramirez experiment is over in LA. Replacing him in LF is Marcus Thames, who finally should get a full time job to show what he can do. The other 2 outfield spots are good young players in Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. Both of these guys have shown flashes of excellence at the major league level and have the potential to be very good major league players. If they can put it together at the same time this outfield could be very dangerous. James Loney has provided a solid bat at 1b, and should be a stalwart in the middle of this lineup. A big question is what this team can get from Rafael Furcal, who is still quite dangerous when healthy, however at his age is rarely healthy for a full season. Casey Blake provides a solid bat and good leadership at 3b and the addition of Juan Uribe bolsters the 2b position. I like how this lineup is put together, and think it should be good enough to contend in the division.

Rotation—I really like how the Dodgers put together this rotation. At the top Clayton Kershaw is quickly turning into the ace of the staff. He has the ability to shut down opposing teams, and go late into games. Chad Billingsley is a big question mark. When on, he is very good, but he is very inconsistent. What he gives the Dodgers may go a long way in not only determining this season, but also his future with the organization. Hiroki Kuroda has good stuff, and provides you a solid option in the middle of the rotation. I really like that they have 2 veterans in Ted Lilly and Jon Garland in this rotation. Both our guys that will give you innings and solid outings, and should put up good numbers as well. Outside of Kershaw this isn’t a dominating staff, but a very deep and winning rotation.

Bullpen—As with most teams, the bullpen could be a real issue for this team. Jonathan Broxton has the ability to be a lockdown closer, and has proven he can do it in the past. But can he do it again and become consistent. That is a huge question mark over this bullpen and team. The rest of the pen leaves something to be desired, but I don’t see it being as large of an issue because of the starting staff’s ability to go deep into games. They do have some good arms to bridge that path, but the key to this bullpen will be what they get from Broxton.

Impact Rookie—Kenley Jansen, RHP. Many of you will remember Jansen for wowing the World with his arm in the 2009 WBC as the catcher for the Netherlands team. Problem is, he couldn’t hit a lick. Converted to pitcher, Jansen’s mid 90’s fastball allowed him to reach the major leagues just a year later. Jansen will be a major part of this team as a set up man and possible replacement for Broxton if he falters again.

Outlook—This team had a very disappointing 2010, but I think they have all of the pieces in place to get back to winning and competing in 2011. I really like the depth of this rotation from top to bottom, and think that with a little luck can have a pretty impressive lineup. Can they compete with the Rockies and Giants, that is to be determined, but I think this team has a chance to be there until the end.

Brad Koesters, MLB Correspondent

NL West Preview:

Arizona Diamondbacks

Colorado Rockies

Los Angeles Dodgers

San Diego Padres

San Francisco Giants

2011 MLB Team Preview – Pittsburgh Pirates

Key Additions—Chris Snyder, Lyle Overbay

Key Losses—Octavio Dotel, Zack Duke

Lineup—Andrew McCutcheon is turning into a real superstar and will continue to develop into the leader of this team. He has all of the skills to be an all-star, and is without a doubt a 5 tool player. With Jose Tabata in LF and Garret Jones in RF, this outfield is at least good enough to put up some runs. The hope is that the infield will be led by 3B Pedro Alvarez, who showed signs of being a good player last year. It will be fun to see what he can do with a full season to work with. Lyle Overbay was a nice pick-up, as to me he has always been a bit undervalued as a 1B. He won’t put up great numbers, but year after year is fairly solid. Neil Walker showed that he can play and hit at 2B. Although this lineup is not near good enough to compete, they are making strides, and have a few pieces in McCutcheon, Alvarez, and Walker to get fans in Pittsburgh excited.

Rotation—The pitching staff is where this team gets scary. And I don’t mean scary in a good way. John McDonald is a nice young pitcher, but to have him as the ace of your staff is not going to help you get back to over .500. When looking at the rest of the staff you are basically looking at guys who wouldn’t be locked in on most teams in the 5 hole, and they are filling the early slots behind McDonald. Really, I am not sure any of these pitchers would even make the rotation for the Reds or Brewers in the division, which is not a good thing for the 2011 Pirates. With guys like Paul Maholm, Kevin Correia, Ross Ohlendorf, and Charlie Morton, this reads more like a list of guys battling for a spot in spring training. It is going to be a rough year for this rotation in Pittsburgh.

Bullpen—Unfortunately for the Buccos fans, this isn’t any better of an outlook than the rotation. Joel Hanrahan is a good 7th inning man, not a closer. However he will be thrust into that role with the hopes that he will be able to get the job done. Although Evan Meek was an all star last year, he is not a closer type, and I expect him to regress a bit. With the combination of the rotation arms and this bullpen, I expect the Pirates to have one of the worst overall staffs in the big leagues.

Impact Rookie—Bryan Morris, RHP. After the prospect graduation of Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, and Neil Walker last year, the Pirates system is thin at the upper levels. Morris came to Pittsburgh in the Jason Bay trade of 2008. Morris will head the AAA Indianapolis staff to start the season but should finish it in Pittsburgh.

Outlook—There is a big part of me that would love to see the Buccos become relevant again, and would like to at least see them be competitive. I do think, for the first time in a while, the do have some good young talent that would be worth checking out. But they are still a few years away, mainly on the pitching side. Hopefully their youngsters can continue to develop, and they can find ways to win games, but I am afraid in this division the Pirates are in for another last place finish.

Brad Koesters, MLB Correspondent

NL Central Preview:

Chicago Cubs

Cincinnati Reds

Houston Astros

Milwaukee Brewers

Pittsburgh Pirates

St. Louis Cardinals

2011 MLB Team Preview – Houston Astros

Key Additions—Clint Barmes, Bill Hall

Key Losses—Matt Lindstrom

Lineup—With the trade of Lance Berkman last season, this team has finally cut ties with the killer B’s of the past. So where does that leave them? I love their CF/RF combination of Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence. Pence is as underrated of a player out there, as he doesn’t look smooth but he can flat out play, both on offense and defense. And Bourn is a speedster which is much needed in the spacious outfield of Minute Maid Park. Carlos Lee still has a potent bat in LF, although I am sure the Astros would love to get rid of that salary. The revamped middle infield of Bill Hall and Clint Barmes is an upgrade over the past few years, and should provide some pop. I am not sold that they can be even average defensively though. The corners are a big question mark. It will be interesting to see what this team can get out of once highly touted prospect Brett Wallace. With some speed at the top of the lineup and some guys who have the ability to knock in runs, this team at the very least should be okay offensively.

Rotation—The Astros begin their first full year without Roy Oswalt. I am still dumbfounded that the top player that the Astros got back in return for their perennial ace was at best a #3 starter. Wandy Rodriguez has really developed into a pretty good pitcher, and leads this rotation. It will be interesting to see if Brett Myers can put together another solid year and provide this team with a solid 1-2 punch. JA Happ needs to develop into that #3 starter, but I am not sure he is any better than a 4-5. If he can progress then the Astros at the very least have a solid staff at the top. Even at the back end of the rotation this team has guys who have proven at times they can pitch at this level. Bud Norris and Nelson Figueroa are pretty solid back of the rotation guys who at times have shown flashes they could be better than 4-5 starters. Honestly, if a few things fall the Astros way, this rotation is plenty good to at least put a scare into some of the top teams in this division.

Bullpen—This bullpen is going to be the biggest hole in this team. Brandon Lyon at closer at least provides stability, but I think that has more to do with no one else having the ability to assume the role instead of Lyon being a good closer. There really are no other arms at this point that you look at in this pen that scare you. I have a feeling that outside of Lyon at the back end of games, there is going to be a revolving door of arms in this pen.

Impact Rookie—Jordan Lyles, RHP. Though I think Nelson Figueroa will likely win the #5 spot in the rotation, Lyles as the system’s best prospect deserves to be mentioned in the discussion. The righty has more polish than filth but his poise is a great asset for a 20 year old. If he doesn’t win a big league job, he’ll start the season in the AAA rotation and should be the first arm called up to Houston.

Outlook—In what appears to be a transition year in Houston, their first full year with Oswalt and Berkman, I think this team will be able to improve from last year. Their offense has a good mix of speed and power, and their rotation, although not having that shut down ace, has very good depth. I still think this team is a year or 2 away from being serious contenders, and still have a few players they would love to move, I do think they will prove to be much improved and at least a small threat in the division.

Brad Koesters, MLB Correspondent

NL Central Preview:

Chicago Cubs

Cincinnati Reds

Houston Astros

Milwaukee Brewers

Pittsburgh Pirates

St. Louis Cardinals

2011 MLB Team Preview – Chicago Cubs

Key Additions—Matt Garza, Carlos Pena

Key Losses—Derek Lee, Ryan Theriot

Lineup—While many will point to the addition of Carlos Pena as a big boost to their lineup, I just don’t see that big of an upgrade over Derek Lee. Remember, Pena hit below .200 last year, and although he had good power numbers, that is just an awful batting average. Unless he comes back strong, he isn’t the middle of the order bat that the Cubs need. A big key to this offense though will be Aramis Ramirez. When he is on, he is a very good stick, but he needs to start producing again. The outfield is well below average. Alfonso Soriano is aging, awful in left field, and his bat just isn’t what it used to be. And he has 4 yrs and 72 million left on that deal. Marlon Byrd and Koseke Fukudome are both subpar outfielders. The middle of the lineup is young but has a chance to be pretty good. I like Starling Castro, and Blake DeWitt provides a relatively good stick for 2b. They can only hope that Geovanny Soto returns to his rookie of the year form. All in year, compared with some of the other lineups in this division, they won’t be able to stack up enough to compete.

Rotation—I love the addition of Matt Garza. Sure, moving over from the American League will likely grow his ERA, but he is a guy you can count on to give you tons of innings and provide good starts the majority of his outings. What a great move acquiring him. He will fill one of the top of the rotation spots along with Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano. Dempster has become a pretty solid starter, and Zambrano is very good when his head is on straight. Unfortunately for Cubs fans, that isn’t too often. He is also owed a ton of money, so Cubs fans need to hope he finds his stuff and attitude back. The back end of the rotation with Randy Wells and Carlos Silva is good enough to win some guys, and actually help this rotation be pretty steady. While I don’t think they are the best rotation in the division, I do like what they have done here.

Bullpen—For some reason, I think this bullpen has the potential to be pretty good. They have a good mix of lefty/righties in that pen, with John Grabow and Sean Marshall from the left side, and Jeff Samardzija, Kerry Wood, and Carlos Marmol from the right side. Marmol asserted himself as a very good closer last year, and as long as he can keep his walks down he will continue to get the job done. And although Kerry Wood often gets a bad rap, he will slide in nicely in that 8th inning roles. With those lefties I mentioned, they also have the ability to match up with other teams, which is a nice bonus to have. All in all I think this is a pretty solid pen.

Impact Rookie—Jay Jackson, RHP. A two way star at Furman, the fireballing Jackson has 4 pitches, the best of which is a mid 90’s fastball. Though he regressed slightly last year, he made 25 starts for AAA Iowa and could be an early call up should they need an arm whether it be in the bullpen or the rotation.

Outlook—I like what the Cubs did in the offseason, but I can’t help but think about how this team is handcuffed with a few salaries. Having over 36 millions committed to Zambrano and Soriano over the next few years is tough to overcome unless they really turn it around. As much as I like their pitching staff overall, I just don’t think their lineup can compete with the other teams in this division. Fact is, it will be another season of waiting for Cubs fans.

Brad Koesters, MLB Correspondent

NL Central Preview:

Chicago Cubs

Cincinnati Reds

Houston Astros

Milwaukee Brewers

Pittsburgh Pirates

St. Louis Cardinals


2011 MLB Team Preview – Washington Nationals

Key Additions—Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche

Key Losses—Adam Dunn, Willie Harris

Lineup—The addition of Werth in the middle of the lineup turned a lot of heads this winter, but did it make them better? It depends on the way you look at it. On one hand, after the loss of Dunn, something needed to be done, so grabbing Werth was a good move. I like the set of talents he gives to a team and the leadership he is capable of. I will be interested to see what kind of player he is now that he has the pressure of needing to be one of the main guns. Plus, how will he respond on a team that isn’t one of the best. The loss of Dunn obviously hurts, so who will pick up that slack? Ryan Zimmerman is a perennial all star and will continue to perform as a hitter. Ian Desmond struggled a bit as a rookie, but the Nationals expect him to improve. The addition of Adam LaRoche does provide some left handed pop that was much needed in this lineup. Ivan Rodriguez is aging, and at this point pretty much an average catcher. While the outfield of Werth, Roger Bernadina, and Nyjer Morgan will not hit the ball out of the park, they are great defensively and have the ability to steal a lot of bags. If nothing else, they will put a lot of pressure on opposing pitchers when they get on. If those 2 can set the table for the middle of the order, I think this lineup has a chance to be pretty solid.

Rotation—Obviously, the loss of Stephen Strasburg was a very big blow. Not too often do you have a young ace like that, but they will need to go on with what they have. The return of Jordan Zimmerman will give Nats fans a glimpse into one of the future arms in this rotation. However, the rest of the rotation is not exactly world beaters. Livan Hernandez is consistent, and you know what you are going to get from him. A big question mark is what Jason Marquis you will get, the one that was an all star in 2009 or the one that was terrible in 2010. If he can get back to 2009 form they will win some games for him. However, all in all, unless Zimmerman becomes a beast, this rotation will have a hard time competing in this division.

Bullpen—I am a big fan of Drew Storen, although I am not completely sure what kind of closer he will ultimately become. Even if he turns into a big time closer, this bullpen is still going to have some issues. Their rotation, with aging guys like Hernandez and a guy like Zimmerman who they will likely be careful with in innings, will not go deep into games. This means they are going to need a strong 6-7-8 inning guys to bridge the gap to get to Storen. They just don’t have it. This bullpen will be eaten alive by teams in those innings before they can get to Storen.

Impact Rookie—Danny Espinosa, 2B/SS. Espinosa hit 28 HR and stole 25 bags between the Minors and Majors last season and looks to be the favorite to lock up the second base job in Washington. Espinosa hopes to join the line of recent Long Beach State Dirtbag shortstops to have immediate MLB success that includes Troy Tulowitzki and Evan Longoria.

Outlook—I really like what this team is building. Sure they spent a lot of money on Werth, but he is the type of player to me you give good money too. He is good defensively, and doesn’t completely rely on the home run. He can still hit for average and do the little things that help teams win. And when Strasburg returns, and if Zimmerman can stay healthy, they have the makings of a nice 1-2 punch in that rotation. Bryce Harper could possibly join this team within a year or 2, and if he can be another middle of the lineup bat they could be something special. They are not going to win this year, but you have to be excited to see what the Nats are building.

NL East Preview:

Atlanta Braves

Florida Marlins

New York Mets

Philadelphia Phillies

Washington Nationals

2011 MLB Team Preview – Philadelphia Phillies

Key Additions—Cliff Lee

Key Losses—Jayson Werth, Jaime Moyer, Pedro Feliz

Lineup—Everyone wants to point to how good this rotation is going to be, but the signing of Lee took anyway any budget that was needed to improve this lineup. The loss of Werth, who provided a very good right handed bat in the middle of this lineup, will prove to be a very big loss. Not only was he a bat they needed, but was also a very good defender. Yes, they are solid at 3-4 with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, but no one knows how healthy Utley is going to be. And although he posts great home runs numbers, Howard is not an all around great hitter. A big concern has to be Jimmy Rollins, who is aging and has posted 2 straight subpar years. His OBP last year was .320, which for a leadoff hitter just isn’t very good. I still like Shane Victorino, but his other 2 outfield mates in Raul Ibanez and Domonic Brown are either aging or unproven. Actually, Brown really struggled last year when he got the chance, so you have no idea what to expect from him. The more I look at this lineup, the more I just don’t like it. Good pitchers will be able to shut them down, and late in games good left handed relievers will be able to get it done. As much excitement that was built up with the signing of Lee, I think we are going to find out quickly that this lineup will cause this team to lose games.

Rotation—Flat out, this rotation is the best in baseball. I am actually going to start on the back end, where you have a guy like Joe Blanton (if they keep him) as your #5. While other teams are throwing out young guys or trying to find magic in a veteran, they have a guy who will get you 10-13 wins. Not bad. Now to the top of this rotation. Roy Halladay, though aging, will likely be a CY Young contender again. He has filthy stuff and will lead this rotation. Signing Cliff Lee gives them another lefty and another pitcher who will pitch deep in games. Roy Oswalt will give you innings and put up a nice year. Cole Hamels, I believe, will be the biggest benefit of Lee. He will learn from him, and I expect a huge year from Hamels. Just think, in the past if you went into a 3 game series where one of the games was against any of their first 4, you never expected to win that game. Now in a 3 game series you are going to have to face at least 2 of these guys. That is going to be tough.

Bullpen—This is another area I am concerned about with this team, but with that rotation I just don’t think they will need to be used as much as other bullpens. Any of their 5 guys could go deep into games, but you almost expect the first 4 to give you 7-8 each time out. The big question is what Brad Lidge are you going to get? He was pretty good after the all-star break last year, but he hasn’t been all that consistent for the past 2 years. If he could return to good form, he should rack up a lot of saves, as I think the Phils will be playing a lot of 3-2 or 2-1 ball games. They do have setup guys who have gotten it done in the past, so I am not too worried about them, but I don’t see them being used much. I really think, more than any other team, this bullpen will be judged by the closer position.

Impact Rookie—Domonic Brown, RF. Brown is currently shut down with a broken hamate bone but the dynamic right fielder will still have a significant impact on this team. When he returns from this injury, expect his power numbers to take a dive for the entire season but perhaps it can make him a more patient hitter. When healthy, Brown has true 5-tool potential, but he is years away from filling Werth’s shoes.

Outlook—It is going to be hard to pick against the Phillies this year, but I don’t think the conversations about them winning 110 games are warranted. Sure, their staff is outstanding and capable of winning plenty of games, but the signing of Lee was done while hurting the lineup. At times last year they went through long stretches of mediocrity, and I expect more of the same this year. Despite how much I dislike this lineup, this team is still the team to beat in the National League East. I am just not sure anyone can overcome that starting staff.

Brad Koesters, MLB Correspondent



NL East Preview:

Atlanta Braves

Florida Marlins

New York Mets

Philadelphia Phillies

Washington Nationals