Contenders and Pretenders

So I didn’t put up an all-lazy team…it wasn’t as fun as the all-hustle team. Oh well. We’re roughly 70 games into the season and can pretty much tell how alot of things are going to shake down. Let’s take a look at teams we think are either kidding themselves into thinking they could do some damage in late September/October or the ones that legitimately could win the whole sha-bang. Because the AL will bevdecided between the Tigers and Red Sox, lets forego the entire AL.

Arizona Diamondbacks: PRETENDERS

Pretenders? Yes. But only for this year. This team has a vicous young core in O. Hudson, Jackson, Young, Byrnes, and Tracy. Valverde has been arguably the best closer this entire year. Their top 3 of Randy’s Johnson, Brandon Webb and Livan Hernandez is not exactly chopped liver. However I don’t think this team has the experience to keep it going to the post season. Big Unit’s health is too much of a question mark, the young guns will rise and swoon, and Webb continues to develop. However, with a couple correct free agent signings in the offseason this team could legitimately take the pennant next year.

New York Mets: CONTENDERS

As much as I hate to admit it, the New York Metropolitans are for real; again. Don’t be fooled by this latest dump in the road–this team goes as Carlos Beltran goes. As soon as his quad gets healthy it’ll spring to life the entire lineup and go on a tear. I predict a monster August once Beltran and Alou get back and become fully healthy. Once they acquire Mark Buehrle it will shore up a shaky starting rotation. But don’t get your hopes up for anything from Pedro–stick a fork in him. If Heilman and Schoenweis can be the bullpen arms everybody thinks they can be, look for big things from Mets in the postseason. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to vomit on myself.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES: PRETENDERS

Ugh. Just ugh. The deepest rotation in the National League is now in shambles. Myers, Gordon, Lieber, Garcia, and Madson have all spent significant time on the DL this year (with Lieber completely finished, Garcia MAY get a few games in at the end for free agency’s sake). Pitching can’t make up its mind–either the starters suck and the bullpen is strong, or the bullpen sucks while the starter sucks. They can score runs but they also play the worst fundamental baseball I’ve ever seen. Not this year Phils fans.

Los Angeles Dodgers: CONTENDERS

Ya know, I had PRENDERS up there before I started to really think hard about this team. It’s really a shame that Jason Schmidt went down for the remainder of the season. To be able to throw a rotation of Penny-Lowe-Wolf-Schmidt at somebody in the playoffs would make for some mighty low scoring games. However, Schmidt wasn’t even pitching all that well. This squad could very easily sneak into the wild-card spot; not only that but they appear to heavily be in the hunt for Ken Griffey Jr. Another stout bat in this lineup and this team becomes a squad nobody wants to play in the post season. We’ll see how this plays out but I have a good feeling about the Dodgers.

San Deigo Padres: CONTENDERS

The best pitching in the National League bar none. Their starting rotation is just running a gauntlet of pitching destruction. Jake Peavy is leading the way for a Cy Young; Greg Maddux will always give you at least a solid 6 and invaluable tutelege for the younger pitchers; Chris Young is filthy and only getting better; David Wells will give you 7 strong innings then eat the entire spread in the clubhouse; Justin Germano is a freakin rookie who’s 5-1. You have the All-time saves leader in Hoffman as the closer. They have the best bullpen in all of baseball. However…yowch, that offense. No starter hitting over .300 (or coming all that close). If they add another bat they’re the front runner in my mind.

Milwaukee Brewers/anybody from the NL Central: PRETENDERS

It’s a damn shame somebody from this division will make the playoffs, because they all suck. I only put the Brewers because they’re going to win the division. If they make it past the first round I’ll be shocked; the only prayer they have is Princess Fielder hits 114 HR’s and finishes with 220RBI.

2007 Balls-to-the-Wall Squad

As I watched Ryan Freel get absolutely owned by Norris Hopper in the outfield last night (by the way, how about showing some props to the Hopper family? Not only does the guy qualify for the “two last names” club, but two last names of well known awesome actors–Dennis Hopper who at any time could be drunk/high/coked out of his gord, and Chuck Norris, the undisputed hilarious martial arts star and TV pitchman–bravo Mr. and Mrs. Hopper) it got me thinking, if I were to make a team of guys who just played balls to the wall hard every game, every at bat and every pitch who would it consist of? The unfortunate thing is I actually have to think about this–in no other sport is there really the mail-it-in mentality so prevalent. Regardless, I give to you by position the Balls-to-the-Wall squad for 2007.

Starting Pitcher: Roger Clemens

Is he an ego maniac? Yes. Assclown? Yup. Do I love the theory he took steroids? Absolutely. Are there any other active pitchers who are as intense as him on the mound? Not many. This is a man who early in his career would put icy hot on his nuts to piss him off on the mound–for those of you scoring at home, on a scale of 1-10 that scores fucking awesome. Not only has this guy has the stuff to bring it everytime he’s evolved with each season–early on in his career he was full blown “The Rocket”–98mph gas, beastly splitter, and a breaking ball that he could pull out if he wanted to. As he grew older he became the smarter (and richer) Rocket–still had the fastball to trip into the mid-90’s but relied on his breaking stuff more, and honed all his pitches until they were fantastic. Now he’s back for another half a season, sharpening his stuff in the minors and you’d better believe his first start he’d be prepared to throw a fastball through anyone’s numbers.

First Base: Albert Pujols

I’ll put my stamp of approval on it now–Pujols is going to go down as one of the three best hitters of all time. The guy is sick on a level we didn’t know about, and he’s only like 24 years old. He’s going to get BETTER. Sure watching him run the bases makes me giggle on the inside but there are few hitters in the league like him. Dialed in on every pitch, every pitcher, Gold Glove first basemen, and an intimidation factor maybe 3 or 4 guys in the league carry (him, Howard, Ortiz, Bonds). What he single handedly did to Brad Lidge serves as a testament to his badass-ity.

Second Base: Chase Utley

Of course I’m a huge Phillies fan, but I dare anyone to question this pick. First of all, this guy is a baseball robot. His life revolves around it. He got married in late-January, and showed up a week early to training camp in Florida with the quote “I’m just really glad to be here”….ON VALENTINE’S DAY! If that doesn’t let your wife know she takes a back seat to baseball I don’t know what does. Stories of Chase hitting in the batting cages till his hands bled as a youth are well known. This is a guy who blames nobody but himself if he comes up short. Workout fanatic, baseball fanatic, and deserving man of a spot on the Balls-to-the-Wall Squad.

Shortstop: A usually big hustle position, we have a slew of possible candidates here. David Eckstein, Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez are all very good and solid picks here. But I’m gonna have to go with Derek Jeter. Another guy I’m not too fond of but have mountains of respect for because he’s just so damn good. And getting better. Unbelievably athletic, all-the-time hustle that you’d want in a captain, and baseball sense you just can’t teach. A “real” Yankee? No…a “really” unbelievable player.

Third Base: I had to think long and hard about this one too. David Wright is a very logical choice, but seeing as he violates two of my rules to be on the Squad (must be literate and can’t have any prior arrests of statutory rape) he missed the cut. Therefore my choice is Akinori Iwamura of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, or as he was known in Japan “Japanese Lightning”. Iwamura is quickly becoming known as a player who’d rather commit on-field hari kari before dishonoring baseball. He’s hitting over .300 this year and is tearing up the basepaths–he’s been on the DL lately but not to worry, he’ll be back soon.

Left Field: Shane Victorino

When the Phillies wisely moved Bobby Abreu to the Yankees last year Shane Victorino was the man who stepped in at the outfield and took his place. Once utility outfielder but now a regular, he is becoming known league wide for his speed (tied for 2nd in the NL for steals), his defense (can track down balls at an alarming rate and has an absolute cannon of an arm), and intensity (runs over the catcher at any chance he possibly has) Victorino has quickly become a fan favorite in the blue collar Philadelphia. “Coked out Victorino” has become a new phrase in my vocabulary and with good reason…watch his face from the first inning to the last–always having fun, always going balls out and usually making noise in the game.

Centerfield: This is a tough one. A very tough one. Aaron Rowand, Jim Edmonds, Torii Hunter…all very worthy candidates. However I’m gonna have to go with Ryan Freel. He posesses a trait from all the above but puts it together in a young package and is only going to get better. Insanity of Rowand, glove of Edmonds, speed of Hunter. I think outfield walls actually fear this guy, because he sure doesn’t fear them. He’s been in the league only a handful of years but has quickly cemented himself as a team-first, who-cares-about-my-body type of outfielder with talent to match. Come to the Phillies.

Right Field: Ichiro Suzuki.

God I love Ichiro. This guy is treated as a demi-god in Japan, and with good reason. Blazing speed, bullet-proof fundamentals, howitzer of an arm (does anybody try to take 3rd base on him anymore?), ridiculous hand-eye coordination, unbelievable hitter (think the contact hitting ability of Tony Gwynn but with the wheels of Ricky Henderson), and unparalelled baseball smarts. A ridiculous fitness freak, this man WILL play into his 40’s, there’s no doubt in my mind. Every one of his teammates also says the same thing about him–he could hit for power if he wanted to but he’d rather hit for average. Last year when he realized the Mariners were out of the race for the playoffs he started hitting home runs for the fans–I’m not making this up. This could be the most complete player who has EVER played baseball.

Catcher: Ivan Rodriguez

I’m a huge fan of this guy. His hustle level is about the same with A.J. Pierzynski, but seing how Pierzynski is a total shitbrick, the edge goes to Pudge. Ridiculously talented (fantastic hitter-lifetime .303), a natural leader (wherever he goes the team immediately gets better), awesome defensively (not many guys will run on him), and one of those guys who’s just a flat out winner. Five foot nine inches of intensity and baseball sense, Pudge brings the hustle and pain in every game day in and day out. I’d kill to have this guy on my team.

Manager: Ozzie Guillen

This guy is the best. If you don’t get excited everytime you hear a sentence that starts with “Today Ozzie Guillen said” you’re probably not a fan of humor, or baseball. He apologizes to nobody, expects everything that his players have and accepts nothing less. An old-school hardass who you know in the clubhouse calls out anybody who dogs it on the field. Not an ounce of political correctness or restraint, and I love it. Ozzie come manage my team.

And there you have it, the Balls-to-the-Wall Squad for 2007. Check back in next week when we go over the Ass-Dragging squad of 2007. Till then, hooooray baseball.

The bat

Alright Philadelphia, you want moves? I got moves.

This is my quick fix solution for the Philadelphia. Stand up, step back, read and enjoy.

1)Acquire Troy Glaus. Lets face it, Toronto is preparing themselves for fire sale mode. To me, this will be the biggest hurdle to overcome (but with Gillicks close ties in Toronto it could be possible). Philadelphia has recently signed Wes Helms and committed him to be the 3b starter. Only one problem–they need power from the hot corner but aren’t getting it. You can do one of two things here-1) Deal Rowand or Helms plus prospects to the Jays or 2) just highly regarded prospects. I’d prefer to get rid of Helms; he’s a decent player but doesn’t bring the kind of clout Philly is looking for. I’d also explore dealing Madson.

2)Trade Pat Burrell. He’s healthy this year and proving he can be a power asset to a squad. This would probably be easier than one might think–he’s a streaky hitter yes but he’ll get his HR’s and RBI’s as well. Deal him for prospects, picks, whatever. As long as he and his salary are gone.

3)Sign Ichiro to a 5 year 80 million dollar deal. Time to break the piggy bank Phillies management. You see that team running away with the division? That’s the New York Mets, and they’re not exactly pinching pennies. Pay to play.

4)Sign Man-Child to a long term deal, worth roughly 18 mil a year. 6 for 110-115 sounds about right.

5)Overpay for some bullpen help. I don’t care who or what, we need it. Drop roughly 15 mil on the bullpen. That should equate to at least two solid arms.

Now, you want defense? How about an outfield of Ichiro-Rowand-Victorino. Want power? The middle of your lineup consists of Utley-Man Child-Glaus-Rollins. Want speed? Ichiro(40 steals)-Victorino(40 steals, seriously)-Rollins(20 steals). Starting pitching? Hamels-Garcia-Moyer-Eaton-Lieber/Myers. Relief? That’s where the FA signings come in. You’re looking at spending 120 mil on a lineup that would make any team wet its pants.

On a sidenote, I’d like to remind everybody to pray for a meteor to strike Shea Stadium this weekend. All for now,

The Bat

MLB Stock Report

I’m sure you’ve seen this gimmick before; sports website has rising and lowering stocks of teams/players/situations/whatever the hell they want. Well strap in because it’s happening again.

Milwaukee Brewers: UP

Not much respect was giving to the NL central at the beginning of the year (even though the reigning World Series champs were there, lollercoster). However the Brewers have proven they’re a team worth considering for a late season spoiler. They go four strong in the rotation with Suppan, Sheets, Capuano, and Dave Bush. Francisco Cordero has come out of absolutely nowhere to lead the league in saves. They have a plethora of raw young talent in Prince Fielder, Bill Hall, Rickie Weekes, JJ Hardy and Tony Gwynn Jr.

Toronto Blue Jays: DOWN

Yikes. You gotta feel for this squad because as far as opening day teams go, you had to think they were going to make some noise. However losing your ace (Halladay) big money closer (Ryan) having a banged up 3b hammer (Glaus) and some underperformers equal a season going down the crapper. Only mid-May and fire sale talks are already starting (Pat Gillick, take notice).

Roger Clemens bank account: RIDICULOUSLY UP

Alright…we all knew it was coming. I can usually gauge deals and contracts pretty well before they happen–I was exactly on the dot for Carlos Lee’s contract, very close to Soriano’s (I said 125), and even predicted Gil Meche’s contract (just kidding, no way in hell anybody could’ve guessed that). So when I was on vacation in Myrtle Beach this past weekend and my buddy told me Clemens had been signed, I told him it would go for 15-20 million, max 22. When it came through it would be pro-rated at 28 million…I just laughed. The Yankees are that stupid. Figure this…Clemens will be coming back in roughly mid to late June. Figure he plays the entire season…and the Yankees are paying him 40-45 million dollars. Just stop what you’re doing and think about that for a few minutes.

Reigning NL MVP Ryan Howard: DOWN

From pre-season it didn’t look good. Not going the opposite way, being over-aggressive at the plate, looking like he put on a few extra pounds in the off season. We all figured he just needed 10 games to gain his old form. 10 turned to 15, which turned to 20, which turned to 30, which turned to the DL. Comparing him to Ricky Vaughn from Major League 2 has become somewhat of a hobby for me. Hero last year, then all the press and endosements go his way–loses track of his conditiong and hitting. Season starts and suddenly he’s at the Mendoza line and can’t go the other way (his bread and butter last year). If Howard starts naming his swings when he gets back…we’re in serious trouble. The only possible good thing about Howard being injured is Coste being called up. F’n A Cotton, F’n A.

High Profile Pitcher Injuries: UP

Roy Halladay, King Felix, Chris Carpenter, BJ Ryan, Eric Gagne, Joel Zumaya (tear), Tom Gordon, Bob Wickman, Rich Haren, Jason Schmidt, El Duque…I mean sheesh.

Charlie Manuel’s Chromosome Count: WAY UP

My Baseball picks: UP

While on vacation in Myrtle Beach, while you could measure my BAC more accurately with a Richter Scale than a breathalyzer, I hit 18 out of 22 picks. My calling in life is apparent to me now–become an alcholic baseball bookie and live a lavish lifestyle.

SportsCenter’s new layout: DOWN

We don’t need a column of which stories are coming up in the coming minutes-the new SportsCenter layout is someone with ADD’s worst nightmare (or wet dream?). They’ve already got the bottom line there to momentarily take away my attention. What’s next? Stories they recently covered scrolling along the top and ones they’re thinking of covering next week on the left, to the point where the only real part of the screen we can see is Stephen A. Smith’s mouth construing every issue in sports into an race-related topic? SC-Less is more.

Baseball tonight: UP

Brings it everynight. Sure a team of monkeys could scroll through game highlights and I’d still love it, but the team with which they work is a great panel. Karl Ravich does an admirable job as the head-honcho anchor, handling all the appropriate announcing duties. John Kruk does a great job breaking down the game in many aspects, all with a great sense of humor. Peter Gammons continues his long reign of baseball supremecy providing outstanding insight and more baseball inside information that few can produce. Their special guest hosts are unmatched; Orel Hershiser can be found at least once or twice a week on the show, Tony Gwynn stops by every once in a while. Fernando Vina is a very smart and intelligent person, but just not cut out for TV (but its fun to watch him try). Chris Young strengthens the old addage that alot of baseball players aren’t articulate (hearing him call Chien Ming Wong “Ching Wing” has been the highlight of the year).

That’s all I got for now.

Some Thoughts Thus Far

1) First and foremost, injustice on the homefront. Chris Coste, of whom I take my namesake, the same person who in his first year in the bigs at age 33 hit .328 (led the phillies) and .356 with RISP (also leading), while hitting on a pace for 90+ RBI’s and 20+ homers has been delegated to the minors since the beginning of the season. Why? So we can watch Rod Barajas go 0-for the century and Carlos Ruiz can prove to us he should still be in AAA. Did I mention Coste plays 3b and 1b as well? The Phillies organization is showing how abso-fucking-lutely retarded they are this season, and its hurting my head. A good young core with a bench of nobody’s is a good way to have high expectations and low results. Last year during the late season push one constant was the Phils bench–Jeff Conine was obtained from the Marlins, and Chris Coste was providing a stellar bat in the bottom of the order.  This year?  Greg Dobbs, Jayson Werth, and Michael Bourne.  Ugh.

2) Dice-K falling on hard luck. After my mini-slam of Dice-K in the last entry, allow me to say this guy is a VERY capable pitcher and will be successful. In his second outing he ran into arguably the nastiest pitcher in the league (Felix) and last night ran into a very underrated and very talented young arm (Chacin). Dice went 7 strong allowing only two runs but again got credited with the L. Tough times, but if you don’t think this guy is going to win at least 15 games this year you’re out of your mind.

3) The Yankees lineup top to bottom is disgusting. I mean filthy disgusting. I absolutely hate the Yankees fanbase, but since I live in north jersey, and they’re on, I can’t help but watch. With A-Rod playing the way everybody expects him to, and Abreu added to the lineup, this team is an offensive nuclear holocaust just waiting to lay waste to pitchers. If this teams pitching EVER gets healthy and adds one more veteran starter (c’mon, I feel the Jon Lieber talk in my bones!!), they have to be considered the front runners to win it all. And K-Rod? You’re 13 million a year is waiting for you after the season is over in the Big Apple.

4) Jose Reyes is good. REALLY good. Once he learns how to read pitchers properly (haven’t seen him get a good jump yet) this guy will be unstoppable on the basepaths. Maybe not Ichiro good (45 stolen bases in 47 attempts last year), but damn close.

5) Slow starts by the big guys. Until the past two games Papi has been in a bear-like coma, Manny’s hair is in his face, Teixera forgot he’s an elite firstbasemen (YOU’RE KILLING MY FANTASY TEAM ASSHOLE!!!), Howard looks out of sorts at the plate (he’s gained weight too, NOT a good sign), Berkman is 15 points under the Mendoza Line, and Albert Pujols is sitting at 25 points below Berkman. Yikes.

6) The Nats suck (but will still take 1 of 2 games from the Phillies)

7) We should call the Mets announcers “Tom Glavine’s on-air felatio service” (Yes, I’m bitter. Leave me alone)

This Just In: The AL Cy Young Race is Over

To all the AL pitchers out there hoping for the Cy Young award I have some words for you: Give up now. In case you missed it last night or this morning on SportsCenter or Baseball tonight (if you watched either one of those there is NO WAY you missed it) Dice-K went 6 DOMINANT innings yesterday, allowing only ONE (!!!!!!!!!) run, 6 hits, and 10k’s (ZOMG h0ly sh1ts!!!). Not only that, he did it against perrenial powerhouse Kansas City Royals whom are no doubt in my mind a major league baseball team.

While the collective Boston metropolitan area woke up this morning like it was the day after Game 4 in 2004, I could only agree with them. Dice-K is no doubt the most dominant pitcher in the bigs. Santana? Carpenter? Oswalt? Are you kidding? Ninja please…they don’t throw 7 unhittable pitches or have anything in their arsenal close to anything resembling a gyroball. Who cares Ben Sheets went 9 innings and gave up one run? Or that Cole Hamels (age 23, salary 400k) threw 7 scoreless innings, with 4 hits and 8k’s? HE’S NOT THE DICE MAN BABY! OHHHH!!!

Post Script:

Excuse me if I’m not blowing my load over Dice-K just yet. Let him face the Yankees and their lineup; if he puts up the same numbers against them I’ll happily pat him on the back. Till then, IT WAS THE GOD DAMN ROYALS!!!

Post Post Script:

Mariners…ya see?

Quotes You Will Not Be Seeing Anywhere Else

“Now the fans will love me…I’m a true Yankee!”-A-Rod

“I thought like, the National League was supposed to be like, totally easy?”-Barry Zito

“I’m so excited for this season; I think we’ve got alot of potential to turn some heads and I’m happy to be a part of it.”-Chad Cordero

“Can we just look past that little HGH thing?”-Gary Matthews

“I think I’ve got a shot at the Cy Young this year.  Seriously.”-Curt Schilling

“Is an ERA of 72.00 a bad thing?”-Jose Contreras

“Although mailing it in the past 5 years has been fun, I’m gonna really commit myself this year.”-Junior Griffey

“I’m truly a fucking asshole.”-Barry Bonds

“We’re going to support our team this year.”-Florida Marlins fanbase

“Peeing on rookies? Thats disgusting.”-Greg Maddux

“I think we’ve got a good young core to help this squad.”-Bill Bavasi

The Natural Top 5

I was sitting in bed last night, winding down another wonderful day in casa de costesflaming bat, when I stumbled upon my favorite baseball movie of all time, The Natural. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING about this movie kicks ass on levels I didn’t know about until I saw it for the first time. It’d be literally impossible to list my favorite things about this film; I think wordpress doesn’t have that capacity. After a long deliberation, I present to you my top five favorite things about the movie.

5. The head-first slide the New York Knights player has to end the bottom of the 7th inning. Ozziecanseco and I were discussing this earlier, and there really is no other moment in the movie you can point to that says, “man, they really could’ve stepped up the production at this spot.” Thankfully the slide is so unbelievably bad it becomes comical. The Knights player is trying to stretch a single and comes nowhere close; he attempts a head-first slide into second but winds up face planting and probably tearing every pectoral muscle he has. If you watch closely the extra doesn’t lift his head after he’s called out–I’m pretty sure he’s A) hiding in shame B) writhing in pain C) spitting dirt out of his mouth or D) all of the above.

4. The Wardrobes. If there’s one thing I think baseball teams should do when they have “Throwback Night”, it’s force all of the fans to get in throwback mode as well. Let’s face it, the getups people wore to baseball games back in the day were downright awesome. If you weren’t wearing a three-piece with a sweet hat your ass had better be a security guard. Young kids in a hanley, suspenders, and sweet british racing caps peppered the stands everywhere. Women wore large elaborate hats with beautiful flowing dresses (but don’t show any thigh, you whore). Hell peanut vendors even wore bowties. The fact that there is rarely a scene without any male wearing a tie and fedora in it rocks.

3. Hobbs’ showdown with The Whammer. At this point we barely know who Hobbs is; all we’ve seen is some grab ass and sweet talk with Glenn Close (the only movie where she was remotely attractive; if you say Fatal Attraction take a bath with a toaster). Hobbs is enjoying knocking down milk bottles with his rocket arm, aka the only game you should waste your time at a carnival with, with the possible exception of the dunk tank. The Whammer is being a total weiner and basically saying Hobbs isn’t shit. Hobbs’ agent throws down the gauntlet to Whammer to a “contest of skill”. 3 pitches, and he has to strike out Whammer. Long story short, Hobbs pwns Whammer on 3 pitches (2 heaters and some junk), calls him out for using foul language, steals his woman, and all around makes Whammer look like a dildo. Hail Hobbs.

2. Wilford Brimley. Did he ever do better in a role than in this movie? The down-and-out manager Pop Fischer who never won the big one, sabotaged by the likes of his no good business partner “The Judge”. He plays it to perfection. Knowing that desperate times call for desperate measures (no pennant means he’s The Judge takes over control) he does everything he possibly can, ultimately hiring a hypnotist to try and snap the boys out of their losing ways (“Losing is a disease, as contagious as syphillis”). It’s a pretty generic role seen in tons of baseball movies but I dare you to find anyone who plays it better, and at the same time warn you about the dangers of diabetes.

1. The Home Run. If you don’t get goosebumps all over your body and want to jump up and down when he hits the final home run you’d better check your pulse. After he breaks his Wonderboy bat on a foul ball Hobbs is facing a 2-2 count and needs a new piece of lumber. He tells Bobby the bat boy to “pick him out a winner”, and does he ever. From the swing (perfect wrist turn, the blood stain, the angst on Redford’s face) to the trot around the bases (sparks flying, explosions everywhere, the fans and his teammates goings nuts) to Redford crossing home (teammates embracing and celebrating in a shower of sparks) everything clicks together perfectly. It’s still one of the few movies that make me tear up out of pure happiness and elation every single time I watch it.

If you haven’t seen this movie I suggest you reevaluate your life, rent it, and watch it at least three times in a row. If you’re not ready for baseball season and convinced Roy Hobbs is the best player who never was I will personally refund your money.

NL East Shaken Up: Part V – Florida Marlins

The Good:

Theres alot to be optimistic about in the Marlins organization. This team has three important aspects for building a winner–they are cheap, young, and skilled. Their starting pitching is very good and in a couple years could be the most dominant starting pitching in the majors. Ace Dontrelle Willis leads the staff, after an up and down 2006, supported by young pitchers Josh Johnson (12-7, 3.10 ERA, age 23-oopsy doodle), Anibal Sanchez (17-10, 2.83 ERA, no hitter, age 22), Scott Olsen (12-10, 4.10 ERA, age 23), and Ricky “Snacks” Nolasco (11-11, 24 years old). Their lineup proves to be young and talented as well, led by certified stud Miguel Cabrera (.339/.430/.568, .998 OPS, 26 HR, 114 RBI), Dan Uggla (.282, 27 HR’s, 90 RBI), Josh Willingham (.277 26 HR’s, 74 RBI), and speedster and reigning ROY Hanley Ramirez (.292, 51 SB). By the way, the average age of those players is 25.

The Bad:

With youth comes inconsistency, and a bad decision by management to get rid of Joe Girardi. The Marlins badly hamstrung themselves last year by getting out to an absolutely atrocious start, which ultimately proved to be their demise and finishing 4th with a record of 78-84. Joe Borowski jumped to the Indians after a solid year (36 saves). Can D-Train find his old dominant self? Will the rookies keep progressing?

The Bottom Line:

More than one player on this team smells like a sophomore slump. While the young players continue to develop, they will still make mistakes. Getting rid of Joe Girardi will prove to be a large error (Although I know one team rubbing their hands together). Look out for this squad in 2-3 years–if they find a closer, and get a bat for the bottom of the lineup, they will be a dangerous squad.

Prediction: 4th, 81-81.

This season ought to be a very interesting and exciting one for the NL East. The Mets have a lethal lineup while the Phils have lethal starting pitching, the Braves are in a mini-rebuild stage, the Marlins are going to be damn good in a few years, and the Nats are hilariously bad. In the recent weeks a mini-feud has developed between Mets and Phillies fans; actually its pretty much a one-sided feud. Mets fans are taking Jimmy Rollins’ prediction as a personal insult and have been bombarding sports talk shows, incapable of processing the fact the Phillies got better in the offseason while the Mets got worse (I live in North Jersey, at times its unbearable.) Who knows if he’s right? Whats important is there are some juices flowing and baseball is about to begin. Crack the beers, cook the hot dogs, and heckle the bullpen—Let’s play ball!

NL East Shaken Up: Part IV – Philadelphia Phillies

The Good:

As with the Mets, there is a lot on this team that is positive. Their 1-2-3-4 rivals the best in the league with Jimmy Rollins (.277, 36 SB, 25HR’s, 83 RBI), Shane Victorino (.287 BA, .346 OBP), Chase Utley (.309/.379/.527, 32 HR’s, 102 RBI, gorgeous), and reigning MVP Ryan Howard (.313/.425/.659, 58 HR’s, 149 RBI, Lennie hands). Their starting pitching had been significantly solidified this offseason, with the Phils acquiring Freddy Garcia from the White Sox for 1st rounder Gavin Floyd and prospect Gio Gonzalez, reupping Brett Myers for the next three years, resigning the real life Eddie Harris from Major League (Jamie Moyer) for the next two, and signing former Ranger and solid back end starter Adam Eaton. When healthy Tom Gordon proved he still has his stuff. Antonio Alfonseca or “El Pulpo” to you spanish folk, was signed to help bolster the bullpen with his 24 digits.

The Bad:

There are a host of questions that still sit with this team, most pressingly their bullpen. At the trade deadline last year the Phillies unloaded a large chunk of their then fairly successful bullpen, hoping to acquire assets for the rebuilding stage. What they weren’t counting on was the incredible late season surge, which ultimately was sabotaged by the lack of a bullpen. There is no defined setup man, and Tom Gordon isn’t getting any younger. Then there is Pat the Bat. Pat Burrell feels like the guy in an old company in which everybody got fired, but is still that one guy hanging around–his lack of the clutch hit adds no protection for Ryan Howard and has resulted in the Phils trying to unload him for quite some time (Burrell actually refused a trade to the Orioles last year at the trade deadline, citing he only wanted to be traded to the Yankees or Red Sox. Pardon me while I slit my wrists).

The Bottom Line:

“We’re the team to beat this year,” said Jimmy Rollins, and I have to agree with him. For the first time in many years the Phillies are the team to beat, and have the ability to fill their needs with some expendable assets in starter Cathy Bates (seriously, compare and contrast), and CF Aaron Rowand (A Scott Linebrink for Aaron Rowand trade is rumored to be ready to go). As long as the Phillies stay healthy they SHOULD win the NL East. But it’ll be close.

Prediction: 1st, 93-69