Baseball 2012: The Middle of the Road

27 Mar

This is day two of my weeklong baseball preview, written for me and the three of my friends who like baseball. Hi, guys!

In this installment, we learn about promising young first basemen named Hosmer and Belt, we really let Dusty Baker have it for being bad at his job, and we unveil our first big surprise of the preview, with a top contender of some writers showing up at number 11. Ooooh, controversy generating readership.

Tomorrow we get to the big boppers, the true contenders, the title candidates. I do think two of today’s teams make the playoffs, but they don’t stick around too long. Sort of like this big of blog post, because I’m done writing it now.

20: Seattle Mariners

Projected record: 70-92 (third in AL West, 28 games back)

What I said last year: “It starts with Pineda, but there’s a ways to go.”

What I say this year: I guess it doesn’t start with Pineda anymore. I’m intrigued by the Pineda-Montero trade, as the Mariners need some new bats as much as anyone ever, but then they go and say that Chone “Call me Taylor Hicks because I’ve never had a hit” Figgins is their leadoff hitter, and my eyes go all crossy. (See me sneaking in American Idol humor there? I cross demographics!)

Lame tweet from guy who likes puns too much: Jesus, take the wheel! Wait, this doesn’t work without a pronunciation guide. Hay-soos, take the wheel! #PhoneticsTweet

Make-or-break player: The Smoak Monster. Clearly. He’s been massively disappointing so far, but he’s always had reasons for it. He’s going to run out of rope soon, though, and it’s time to put up or shut up.

Relevant link: There is no specific thing on this site I’m trying to show you, but seriously, check out Lookout Landing. Also, @LookoutLanding? Tremendous Twitter follow. Much with the funniness.

19: Colorado Rockies

Projected record: 80-82 (third in NL West, 5 games back)

What I said last year: “Gonzalez is bound to drop off from last year. Still great, but not Triple Crown great. And Ubaldo isn’t as good as his numbers indicated.”

What I say this year: Well, the things I said last year were right. The team did slightly better than I expected, but there was just too much riding on their top three. This year, the talent is spread out a bit more — Dexter Fowler, Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge de la Rosa, Rafael Betancourt. Unfortunately, there’s too many problems and too much mediocrity, particularly among the young starting pitchers, to predict too much out of them.

Lame tweet from guy who likes puns too much: Their big offseason acquisition was a Twins castoff? That makes their situation seem rather Cud-DIRE! #IveUsedThisJokeBefore

Make-or-break player: If Jorge de la Rosa can actually come back from his Tommy John-necessitating ligament tear, that can go a long way to elevating the Rockies back into serious contention. He had a good year starting last year before his injury; Colorado has to hope he can do that again. I have my doubts.

Relevant link: These are jokes. It says so right at the top of the page.

18: Cleveland Indians

Projected record: 80-82 (third in AL Central, 8 games back)

What I said last year: “No team in baseball has a bigger gap between best (Choo) and second-best player.”

What I say this year: Their big offseason acquisition was Derek Lowe. Yes, that Derek Lowe. Why are they a trendy sleeper pick again? Asdrubal Cabrera had a career year, and Casey Kotchman (the other big new guy) isn’t exactly on the same level as the Tigers’ fancy new first baseman. Grady Sizemore might be the saddest situation in years — his body just can’t maintain his talent. And I want to have faith in Shin-Soo Choo, but last year was ridiculously disappointing.

Lame tweet from guy who likes puns too much: Hey! Easy pun! I like Carlos Santana because he’s just so smooth! #TheyShouldDraftRobThomas

Make-or-break player: In all seriousness, Carlos Santana needs to be Cleveland’s best player this year. All the talent is there, and he might be the most patient hitter around, but he needs to take just one more step.

Relevant link: Indians fans are some smart ones, y’all. /index?qid=20090411195618AA3hebj

17: Milwaukee Brewers

Projected record: 81-81 (third in NL Central, 5 games back)

What I said last year: “Greinke might only be the third-best pitcher on the staff, which says more about the Marcum and Gallardo than it does about him.”

What I say this year: I said they’d win the World Series last year. They did not, though they did better than most experts’ World Series picks (like the Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies), so I’m counting that as a win. This year, they might be in trouble. Norichi Aoki won’t be able to replace Prince Fielder’s numbers.

Lame tweet from guy who likes puns too much: Now we know where Ryan got all that #Braun!!! Too bad he got no brains! #PEDjoke (This pun-loving guy also doesn’t keep up with sports news)

Make-or-break player: I don’t think Aramis Ramirez is going to be any great shakes in Milwaukee. It’s a worse park for him, and if he turns out to be more 2010 Aramis than 2011 Aramis, the Brewers might be in trouble. Their fate this year is going to rest strongly on Ramirez’s shoulders. And he’s gotta be a better fielder than Casey frickin’ McGehee. Doesn’t he?

Relevant link: Brewers fans don’t even care about the Brewers. They care about the Cubs not winning. Yup, that’s the Brewers.

16: San Francisco Giants

Projected record: 81-81 (second in NL West, 4 games back)

What I said last year: “They needed every ounce of stout pitching they got last year.”

What I say this year: This isn’t hard, guys. You have to hit the ball to win games. Maybe pitching wins championships, but not even Walter Johnson could win EVERY game 1-0. Buster Posey’s return, Pablo Sandoval’s rejuvenation and Brandon Belt eventually getting playing time (GIVE HIM PLAYING TIME, BOCHY) will help, but man is there a lot of work to do.

Lame tweet from guy who likes puns too much: Every time Wilson has a save opportunity, it’s a close SHAVE. #CuzHeDoesntEverShave

Make-or-break player: The more surprising player in baseball in the past few years was 2011’s Ryan Vogelsong, coming out of nowhere to have a heck of a year. His underlying numbers weren’t as good as his hype, in part because he faded down the stretch, but following known rotational quantities Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, he’ll need to repeat last year to win many games.

Relevant link: “Usually a stand-up triple.” You guys, this is Ryan Theriot’s question. I’m sure of it.

15: Kansas City Royals

Projected record: 85-77 (second in AL Central, 3 games back)

What I said last year: “Can we call up Hosmer yet? Pretty, pretty please? I mean, pretty please?”

What I say this year: Nailed it! Hosmer is the real deal, y’all. The Royals have a real chance to be something — probably not this year, but in 2013 or 2014? They might be the new Rangers. The position players are already arriving, and the pitching reinforcements aren’t far away. Plus, that Cabrera-for-Sanchez deal? Genius.

Lame tweet from guy who likes puns too much: I bet the Royals sure hope Lorenzo CAIN is ABLE!!! #BiblePun

Make-or-break player: Luke Hochevar. For them to be as good as I project this year, the former #1 overall pick really needs to pitch like one. He hasn’t actually been awful, but there’s a lot of room for improvement.

Relevant link: Two things here: One – For those DROOLING over the Royals! Two – There are two generations of Royals fans?

14: Atlanta Braves

Projected record: 83-79 (fourth in NL East, 12 games back)

What I said last year: “Heyward might have a sophomore slump, and who knows how Chipper will hold up.”

What I say this year: You know what concerns me about the Braves? Go to espn.com, pull up team rosters and look at depth charts. Most teams have 2-3-4 guys at every position, some going even deeper. There’s some players listed at multiple spots, sure, but the Braves? Their only real backups are Jack Wilson and Eric freakin’ Hinske. Their backup third baseman is their starting left fielder, and Chipper Jones is already achy. Do YOU want to rely on Jack Wilson and Eric Hinske if a starter goes down? I don’t. This team just doesn’t have any kind of bench to withstand any injuries. If they can stay fully healthy, though? They could win 100.

Lame tweet from guy who likes puns too much: Sample short conversation involving outfielder Jason: “Hey.” “Word.” #TheDevilWearsPrado #ThatsTWOPuns

Make-or-break player: There were a few players I nabbed for every one of my playoff teams last year. Gordon Beckham. Colby Rasmus. Francisco Liriano. Ryan Franklin. Craig Kimbrel. I made the money in zero leagues, and now you see why. Kimbrel was the only one of those picks that I really succeeded on, but I knocked that one out of the park. He’s the consensus #1 closer this year, but he and Jonny Venters will need to stave off the arm fatigue that might come from pitching 100,000 games last year.

Relevant link: I’m pretty sure this is just this guy’s way of telling his bosses he really has to pee.

13: Arizona Diamondbacks

Projected record: 85-77 (first in NL West)

What I said last year: “Give it a year or two, and that pitching staff is going to do something.”

What I say this year: By “a year or two,” I think I meant “pretty much now.” Ian Kennedy was nowhere near as good as his record looked last year, but he was still good enough to be considered upper-tier. He can be the best pitcher on a World Series staff. Daniel Hudson and Trevor Cahill would be rough as a team’s 1-2, but as a 2-3 they’re pretty stout. If I trusted the Chris Youngs and Jason Kubels of the world a little more, I might move the D-Backs to the top ten, but they’ll have to be content with the prediction of a division title.

Lame tweet from guy who likes puns too much: If Billy Joel wrote a song about their right fielder, it’d be “Upton Boy”! #NotAGreatPun #ThoughtAPlayOnPutzWouldBeTooEasy

Make-or-break player: Stephen Drew has been, like, baseball’s eleventh best shortstop for what seems like a decade, which is interesting, since he debuted in July 2006. He’s always been decent-and-ALMOST-good, but never the piece a team can build around. He’ll be 29 this season, so it’s really his last chance to climb that last hurdle and be a championship-caliber shortstop.

Relevant link: These are “fun facts” and “interesting questions.” It makes me wonder what the “not-fun facts” and “boring questions” would be.

12: Cincinnati Reds

Projected record: 84-78 (second in NL Central, 2 games back)

What I said last year: “I’ve been high on them for a couple of years.”

What I say this year: The Reds had better hope I’m short-changing them a little this year, because the countdown to “Goodbye Joey Votto” has started. I don’t see any way he resigns with the team when his contract expires after next season, so they need to get all they can out of him while they can. I like this offense, but I just don’t trust the starting rotation. Johnny Cueto should be fine, but Mat Latos (“Fly Ball Pitcher Goes To The Reds” is the title of the saddest book ever to be written) is likely to suffer a post-Petco depression, Bronson Arroyo might be done, and how many chances do we need to give Homer Bailey?

Lame tweet from guy who likes puns too much: He’s 36 now? Wow, Scott just keeps ROLEN along! #CantThinkOfAGoodHashtag

Make-or-break player: He’s not a player. Not anymore, anyway. But Dusty Baker really needs to learn how to get out of his team’s way. His newest “young guy” vendetta seems to be against giving Chris Heisey regular playing time, for no reason at all. The Reds could easily contend, but if Ryan Ludwick — who is a fine ballplayer, but not Chris Heisey — gets the starting job, it will mean Dusty has struck again.

Relevant link: Someone made a whole page of these great Chris Sabo quotes. These were what was notable. I can’t believe great quotes like “What time is it?” and “I miss ‘Perfect Strangers’” didn’t make the cut.

11: Philadelphia Phillies

Projected record: 85-77 (third in NL East, 10 games back)

What I said last year: “The pitching is fricking ridiculous, of course, but the team’s not unbeatable.”

What I say this year: Surprised? Yeah, they’re lower on the list than most have them. But new year, same story: Love the pitching, hate the offense. Ryan Howard’s contract (heretofore known as WORST THING EVER) is just starting, and they just signed Jonathan Papelbon to an also-stupid deal (heretofore known as OTHER WORST THING EVER). Utley, Rollins, Polanco? That’s a lot of hip replacements just waiting to be exist. Working in the Phillies favor is an insanely easy early schedule (lots of Padres, Mets, Cubs, Astros early on). If they can get a hot start, that can do a lot going forward. But with all that age, they’ll need all the help they can get.

Lame tweet from guy who likes puns too much: Pence keeps accumulating stats, huh? He must be a Hunter AND a gatherer! #CouldveUsedThisForToriiToo

Make-or-break player: The ungodly amalgam known as Jimty Wigginthome, I suppose. This hybrid ballplayer will be spending entirely too much time at first base as Philly awaits Howard’s return from injury, and Wigginton and Thome will have a lot to say about whether that return ultimately means much. (Howard’s inability to hit left-handers is a wholly separate worry.)

Relevant link: I’m putting it here, mainly because of the Shane Victorino-ness of it all, but if you aren’t reading Jon Bois’ (@jon_bois) stuff, you aren’t as smart as you need to be to be my friend.

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