2012 MLB Team Preview: Atlanta Braves

Atlanta Braves

2011—89-73

Key Additions— None

Key Losses——-Derek Lowe, Alex Gonzalez

Lineup—I expect this offense to be about what they were last year when they won 89 games and really fell on their face to lose out on the playoffs. The outfield starts with Jason Heyward. He really struggled last year but you have to hope he can put it behind him and learn from it. He will be a big key to this offense. I really like Michael Bourn. Although I would like him to get on base more, when he gets on he steals and sets up runs. That is a great guy to have at the top of the lineup. LF is split, with Eric Hinske getting time and Martin Prado filling in at times as well. Although I don’t believe Gonzalez is a huge loss, I still believe he was better than what they will have at that position this year. Prado and Chipper Jones, in his last year, will man 3b. For one I hope Chipper can contribute one last time for this team. It is refreshing to see a player spend his whole career with 1 team. The right side of the infield has a chance to be very good for this team. Dan Uggla has a monster power year last year, but needs to bring his average up. Freddie Freeman was pretty solid, and they hope he can get better. Brian McCann offensively is one of the best in the game, so you can expect him to continue to produce. Although they did not make a splash on offense, I do think this offense if Heyward can emerge is plenty good enough to win the division.

Pitching—Health, Health, Health. I know I have said it a few times, but this is what this staff is all about. When you have youngsters who need to prove they can stay healthy and a veteran in Tim Hudson who is out for the first few weeks, you have to question the ability to get through 162 games. However, the depth they have built will help them accomplish that. Considering all of the trade rumors around Jair Jurrjens, he is expected to anchor this rotation. With Tommy Hanson and Brandon Beachy lining up behind him, that is powers arms at the front of this rotation. With Hudson out to start the year, that leave youngsters to fill in at the back end. But to be clear, very good youngsters at that. Mike Minor, Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran all have great arms and potential, and expect to fit in the Braves plan for a long time. This bullpen was lights out last year, and although they return many of the same guys I have concerns that the work load put on them last year will come back to haunt them. I hope I am wrong, because they are fun to watch with Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters coming in to close it out. As a pitching staff as a whole though, they are definitely capable of winning this division.

Outlook—With a few breaks going their way, I think we are going to see the Braves in a very similar position as last year, battling it out for a playoff spot. However, this relies on Heyward stepping it up a notch, some of their veterans staying healthy, and the youngsters in the staff and bullpen maintaining the numbers that they had last year. All in all though, I really like not only what this team looks like for this year, but also into the future. And although I was never a huge Chipper Jones fan, I would love to see him go out on a positive note.

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2012 MLB Team Preview: Kansas City Royals

Kansas City Royals

2011—71-91

Key Additions— Jonathan Broxton, Jonathan Sanchez

Key Losses——-Melky Cabrera

Lineup—This lineup is full of youngsters. Some have proven to be very good hitters, while others are still trying to prove they belong in the big leagues. Alex Gordon in LF is turning into one of the best young players into the game, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the All Star team this year. He is something special and I hope he will be a Royal for a long time. By dealing Cabrera they opened the door for Lorenzo Cain, who will be given the full time CF job. While he is great defensively, I am not sure if will produce much offense. Jeff Francoeur had a nice bounce back year last year, and is expected to man RF. The infield is young and inexperienced and could go either way. Mike Moustakas will play 3b, and although he got some time last year is expected to get his first full season under his belt. Alcides Escobar and Chris Getz are above average defensively, but lack much offense from the middle. When you factor in Cain in CF, these 2 guys up the middle and the injury to Salvador Perez, they are as light hitting up the middle as anyone. Eric Hosmer should be a good hitter at 1b, and they are really relying on Billy Butler to provide a middle of the order bat from their DH. This lineup is definitely capable of the numbers, and will be fun to see how these young guys develop.

Pitching—As many top prospects as they have in this lineup, you would think they would have at least 1 or 2 in this rotation, but that is not the case. They have really scrapped together this starting rotation. Luke Hochevar will be leading the rotation, although he finished last year with a 4.68 ERA. They re-signed Bruce Chen to be their #2, and considering he pitched in the last game at old Riverfront stadium, that should say a lot about this signing. The acquisition of Sanchez was a solid one. He isn’t as impressive as some of the other pitchers that were moved this year, but will provide stability in the rotation. Luis Mendoza and Danny Duffy(great name) will fill the back 2 spots of the rotation. Obviously, the back end of this rotation is not as solid as you would like. The bullpen took a huge hit with the injury to Joakim Soria. Their ability to really shorten games would have been a big key, with set up men Aaron Crowe and Jonathan Broxton. Now they will move one to the closer role and have less depth. With a rotation as young as they have, this injury is a very important loss.

Outlook—Once again, the Royals are being seen in the media as sleeper picks. Last year they were viewed the same way, although I did not buy into it. They may improve this year, mainly because they are no longer the worst team in their division, but I don’t expect them to be too big of factors in the dog days of summer. Yes this team is still building, but until they can build on their pitching, they will struggle to be competitive.

2012 MLB Team Preview: San Diego Padres

San Diego Padres

2011—71-91

Key Additions— Huston Street, Carlos Quentin, Reds Farm System

Key Losses——-Mat Latos, Heath Bell,

Lineup—Considering they play in a very large ballpark, this lineup may end up scoring the least runs in the league. I really don’t see who is a constant who is going to provide the stability in this offense. They gave Cameron Maybin a nice contract, and his defense is great, but he is still a below average hitter. Will Venable will hold on the right field spot, and Jesus Guzman seems to be the front runner to start in LF. The hope is Carlos Quentin can get healthy and provide that middle of the order bat in the outfield. I was and still am very high on Yonder Alonso while he was with the Reds, and look forward to seeing how he produces for this team. To me, the rest of the infield is very average at best, with Jason Bartlett playing SS, Orlando Hudson at 2b, and Chase Headley at 3b. Nick Hundley has a chance to be an above average catcher if he can play 140 games, but if not they have Yasmani Grandal who is another player they got from the Reds. While I think this offense can be good in a few years, this year is going to be a struggle.

Pitching—There are some good arms on this team that I expect to have pretty solid years for the Padres. Honestly, it is hard to tell the true numbers with the park, but they should have some guys that have solid numbers at the end. I really like how they got Edinson Volquez in the Mat Latos trade, and if he has a bounce back year they could either look to extend him or deal him for some more pieces in the future. Cory Luebke will finally get the chance to stay in the rotation and has the ability to be a #2 or 3 pitcher for this team. Tim Stauffer and Clayton Richard both produced pretty good numbers last year, and should do the same if they can go 200 innings. The bullpen has been the strength in the past, but with the loss of Bell to the Marlins they will struggle at times. Yes they did pick up Huston Street, but all in all this bullpen is a long ways from where they were a few years ago.

Outlook—All in all, this is another team with a plan. I like the deals they made in the offseason, and love what they got in return with the Reds. They potentially got 2 future middle of the order bats as well as a chip in Volquez that could prove very valuable. But for this season, this team will really struggle to score runs no matter how productive this staff is. Taking into account the quality of the pitching staff in the NL West, be prepared for some low scoring games in San Diego this year.

2012 MLB Team Preview: Washington Nationals

Washington Nationals

2011—80-81

Key Additions— Edwin Jackson, Brad Lidge, Gio Gonzalez

Key Losses——-None

Lineup—This lineup remains virtually intact from what they had last year, when if it wasn’t for a cancelled game they may have finished at .500. They signed Jayson Werth, which was by all accounts a bad signing, but you have to think he is going to have somewhat of a bounce back year. Roger Bernadina will be given the full time job in center, more for his defense than anything. Michael Morse could be a big key to this offense. If he can duplicate his .303 average and 31 HR, that will go a long way to help this offense. The infield is once again flanked by Ryan Zimmerman. Health will be the key, as he will be a huge factor in this lineup. As for the rest of the infield they are all light hitting, which will limit the total potential of this lineup. Wilson Ramos has the potential to be a nice bat, but the jury is still out on him. All in all, although they really didn’t do anything to improve this offense, with a full season of Ryan Zimmerman as well as a bounce back year from Werth, I would expect this offense to be improved.

Pitching—As little as they did to improve their offense, the pitching staff is a different story. Realistically, you could sit back and say that they have 4 new and better starters than what they had a year ago. The return of Stephen Strasburg will be exciting not only for the Nationals fan base but also for all of baseball. The hope is he will return stronger to lead this rotation. Going out and getting Gio Gonzalez is a very solid contribution. Even if he is just an average pitcher, the innings he will provide will be a key to this rotation. Same can be said for Edwin Jackson. I know he wanted a long term deal, but took a 1 year deal to prove worth and value going into next year. He will provide stability and innings as well. The big key to this rotation may just be Jordan Zimmerman. He has the ability to be a frond end starter, and going along with the other 3 makes up a very solid front 4. The bullpen appears to have taken a hit with Drew Storen likely starting the year on the DL. However, this appears to be a short term injury. In the meantime they have some options with Brad Lidge and Tyler Clippard. But ultimately this bullpen may rely on the ability of the staff to get through a lot of innings.

Outlook—Before I begin my research on this team, I honestly was not in the mindset that this team was ready to be a contender. But after this preview, I really like what they did. When you look at some of the other teams, the time is now for this team to win. Although they may still be a year removed as Zimmerman tries to establish himself and Strasburg battles back from injury, this is definitely a team with a plan. Things are looking up in Washington, and fans should be excited for the future.

2012 MLB Team Preview: Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

2011—90-72

Key Additions—Andrew Bailey

Key Losses——-Theo Epstein, Marco Scutaro, Jonathan Papelbon, Jason Varitek, JD Drew, Tim Wakefield

Lineup—I wonder when the last time you go into the season and say that without a doubt the Boston Red Sox came out of the offseason worse than when they entered. It all starts with the lineup. You could make an argument that they downgraded at SS, LF (while Crawford is out) and RF. Taking a step back, the loss of Varitek hurts in the leadership front. And they will not get much production out of this spot. Adrian Gonzalez is still a stud, and Dustin Pedroia will still put up his numbers. Don’t expect much from the SS position no matter who plays there, which is why the Marco Scutaro deal was such a head scratcher. I like Youk, but not completely sure he can stay healthy. Jacob Ellsbury is hoping to continue off the year he built last year, but as I mentioned not having Carl Crawford hurts, and even though JD Drew never panned out as expected, replacing him with Cody Ross is not an upgrade. Honestly, I really shake my head at this offense and where they are at entering the season.

Pitching—The rotation is hands down the strength of this team, as long as their key men can stay healthy. Josh Beckett and Jon Lester lead this staff along with Clay Buckholz. Becket and Lester have had problems staying healthy in the past few seasons, but are big producers when healthy. Buckholz is another one of those guys that has had an issue staying healthy. He is a stud when he is pitching, but keeping him on the mound is key. Considering that John Lackey and Dice-K are either out for the year or the majority of the year, they will rely on Daniel Bard and possibly Alfredo Alceves. On potential they have a chance to be really good, but I just don’t have faith they can stay healthy to do that. As for the bullpen this is the other area where I shake my head at what they did. They basically traded out Jonathan Papelbon for Andrew Bailey. While I like Bailey, I just don’t understand how you can settle for that. With the concern in the rotation, I expect this bullpen to be used quite a bit and therefore get beat up later in the year. Can this staff be good, absolutely, but a lot of ifs on guys being able to stay healthy?

Outlook—It may appear as if I am really down on this team, but it isn’t so much in believing in their talent as it is utter surprise that they are willing to rely on the players they have. I just can’t understand some of the moves they make, but will say that if the chips fall right and this rotation can stay healthy, and Carl Crawford can return to form, they can win a lot of games. But my gut is that this just won’t happen. And considering the strength of this division, it may be another sad October in Boston.

2012 MLB Team Preview: Chicago Cubs

Chicago Cubs

2011—71-91

Key Additions—David DeJesus, Chris Volstad, Theo Epstein

Key Losses——-Sean Marshall, Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Pena

Lineup—When you lose both your corner infielders who were middle of the order type of bats last year, and basically try to replace them by signing David DeJesus, who batted .240 with 10 HR in 2011, that will not get the job done. But essentially that is what the Cubs did. They were not a very good offense last year, and only got worse. Let’s start with the outfield, where DeJesus will man right field. Add him to Marlon Byrd and the vastly overpaid Alfonso Soriano, who amazingly has 3 years and 54 million left on that deal, and Dave Sveum has got to wonder what he has took over. The bright spot may be youngster Starlin Castro, who is a star in the making. The problem is he is not surrounded by an infield that will help him. Ian Stewart will get the majority of the starts at 3b and Darwin Barney at 2b. Neither of those adds too much excitement about their bats. The 1b position will not provide much, until Anthony Rizzo gets the call, and the Cubs hope he will turn into the hitter they think he can be. Geovany Soto will once again try to emulate what he did his rookie year, but so far he has not been able to do so. All in all, in what I think will be a competitive NL Central, this offense will be shut down time and time again.

Pitching—The pitching staff has some old and some new faces going into 2012. Matt Garza is still around, although I am not sure for how long. Like the #2 man in this rotation, Ryan Dempster, both of these players have much more value on other teams. I think without a doubt 1 if not both of these guys are dealt before the trade deadline to try to help this team build out for the future. They do have some depth, as they have guys like Paul Maholm, Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood and Chris Volstad vying for 3 spots. That is a good solid core of starters, who should provide innings and allow for the Cubs to deal one of their front end starters. Their bullpen remains anchored by Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood. Wood apparently loves the Cubs, because with offers from other teams there was no reason to come back. As for Marmol, there are rumors circulating around him and I expect him to also be dealt as the house cleaning continues. Once that happens, this bullpen will be in complete shambles.

Outlook—I know Cubs fans don’t want to hear it, but the next few seasons in Chicago will be all about trying to win in 2015. They are still hamstrung by the Soriano contract, and have very few parts to make a run at a division title. But they are on the right path with the additional of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. I fully believe these guys know what it takes to win a title, and will ultimately bring that elusive title to the north side of Chicago. But for the next few years, when teams like the Reds/Brewers/Cards are making a run at the division, the Cubs will be wallowing near the cellar of the division.

2012 MLB Team Preview: Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee Brewers

2011—96-66

Key Additions—Aramis Ramirez

Key Losses——-Prince Fielder

Lineup—What a break this team caught when reigning MVP somehow had his suspension overturned. He is the centerpiece to this offense, and having him for a whole 162 game schedule is a huge plus for this team. If the Brewers would have had to replace Fielder and then have Braun miss 50 games that would have put a huge hit to this team’s chances. As it stands now, their offense, while not as good as last year, should be ok. As I mentioned Braun will be back anchoring this lineup. Corey Hart in RF is a nice hitter who helps with the middle of the lineup. Nyjer Morgan had a nice year last year, but I expect him to take a step back. If healthy I expect Carlos Gomez to regain his starting spot. The infield is hoping that newcomer Ramirez is able to offset the loss of Fielder. He takes over for Casey McGehee, who was dealt for Jose Veras. Alex Gonzalez adds veteran leadership up the middle, but is light hitting at this point in his career. Rickie Weeks is an above average 2b, but only if he stays healthy. That is the key with him. They are going to struggle at first base, so don’t expect much out of that position. All in all, this offense should put up decent numbers, much better than what it looked like 6 weeks ago.

Pitching—The Brewers went for broke last year with the acquisition of Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, and it paid off with a playoff berth. The nice thing for the Brew Crew is these guys are back and help anchor a solid top 3 of the rotation. Along with Greinke and Marcum they will slide in Yovani Gallardo to be the ace of the staff. Those 3, if they can stay healthy, are a solid foundation to build a pitching staff. Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson will fill in the 4-5 holes for this team. While they won’t blow you away with their stuff, last year they combined for almost 400 IP and a 4.00 ERA, and I can assure you if the Brewers can get that again they would be thrilled. As I mentioned they added Veras to help bolster the bullpen, and along with Francisco Rodriguez, who at 8 million this year is an expensive set up man, and John Axford at closer, will be a very good back end of the pen. All in all, as long as the front end of this rotation can stay healthy, they will carry this team a long way towards another year in contention.

Outlook—Ultimately, as I mentioned this team got a huge break with Braun having his suspension overturned. With the Cardinals always being in contention, the Reds going for broke over the next year or 2, and some other teams in the NL improving; those 50 games could have put this team in a big hole. But he is good to go, so I expect the Brewers to remain right in the hunt in a competitive NL Central. Do they have enough to push their way past the other 2 teams, I am not sure, as I still think this team has some holes, but I do expect Miller Park to be hosting some exciting baseball in September.