Thursday, March 20, 2008

The NL Central: Letters of the NL Central

This week's preview of the NL Central comes courtesy once again of Yankee Mike, who analyzes the strengths and weaknesses (mostly weaknesses) of the National League's most interesting division in letter form.

Pittsburgh Pirates: 65-70 wins

Dear Pirates season ticket holder,

It is that time of year again: time to break out the checkbook and renew your season tickets to your Pittsburg Pirates. Look what you have to be excited about: You get to follow the Pirate lottery, and see who we decide to trade by midseason. (Jack Wilson and Jason Bay both have value). Also, look how we improved this offseason. We didn’t didn’t decide to sign any random veterans this offseason, which opens space for Nyjer Morgan, Nate McLouth and Jose Bautista to play and maybe have some success. The top of our rotation is solid enough with Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny, and while you’ve never heard of either of them, trust us, they are pretty good. Our bullpen also isn’t totally terrible with Damaso Marte, John Grabow, and a few other guys no one has heard of but somehow manage to get the job done. It’s true that we might struggle to score runs - Bay’s help in the middle of the order is Adam LaRoche and Xavier Nady, after all, and the top and bottom of the order doesn’t get much better - but hitting a baseball is hard, and our players try their best. Also, remember not to panic, things will get better, even though we rank as one of the 5 worst farm systems in baseball.

Assuming our new GM isn’t a moron, and our owner will spend some money, it may seem like we’re a few years from being relevant. Maybe we won’t contend at all this year, which will give us an excuse to blow up the team and rebuild. For our long term potential of success we ask our fan base to not hope for a .500 record through our first 50 games to take away all temptation of trading for veterans. Take heart Pittsburg fans, the Steelers training camp is only a few months away, but until then, spend some time at the ballpark with us, your Pittsburg Basement Dwellers…I mean Pirates.


The Pirates Sales Staff

St. Louis Cardinals: 70-74 wins

Dear every player, fan and employee associated with the St, Louis Cardinals,

I am writing to inform you your bill is passed due and now is the time for collection. Because you won the World Series two years ago as an 84 win team, you have thrown the scales out of balance and now it is time to return things to order. Consequently, we have decided to take the following actions:

  1. Your best player (Albert Pujols) now has an elbow injury that will sideline him for the year if operated on, and although he says he can play, currently cannot extend one of his arms fully.

  2. Your best pitcher (Chris Carpenter) underwent Tommy John surgery last July and is out until at least midseason, and possibly will not return until 2009. Your second best pitcher (Mark Mulder) has not even begun to throw batting practice yet, and has not faced a live hitter since last July.

  3. We have decided to have your middle infield consist of Adam Kennedy and Caesar Izturis. Enjoy the combined .250 BA, 50 RBI and eight home runs.

  4. We have decided to saddle you with the following outfielders: Rick Ankiel, Skip Schumaker, Ryan Ludwick , Scott Spiezio, Josh Phelps and Colby Rasmus (who will be a fabulous player in a few years). Please pick three to man your starting outfield spots.

  5. With Mulder and Carpenter out, we have decided to grant you Braden Looper, Kyle Lohse, Joel Piniero, Anthony Reyes, and Brad Thompson to fill out your starting rotation. Enjoy the quality pitching.
To show that we are not all bad, we did grant you Albert Pujols, Adam Wainwright, and Colby Rasmus, who will provide entertainment. Plus, we removed Scott Rolen from town, removing LaRussa’s temptations to go out drinking and driving. Enjoy Troy Glaus and all of those DL trips!



Houston Astros: 72-76 wins

Letter to a therapist:


Lately I have been feeling very conflicted, like two different parts of my brain (one smart, one stupid) are fighting for control. I don’t know what I’m doing anymore (and no one else has been able to figure it out either). Here’s what’s happened:

First, I traded some middle of the road prospects for Miguel Tejada. This should be a good move for me, as Tejada should put up huge numbers in Minute Maid Park, although reports out of Spring Training thus far suggest that he has about as much range at short as Robin and might not be able to play a full season at the position.

Next, the dumb side of my brain kicked in, and I let Adam Everett go after the Tejada deal instead of keeping him as insurance in case Tejada can’t play short. Then my smart side kicked back in, and I traded Brad Lidge and his Pujols-battered psyche for a centerfielder - but then I followed that deal up by signing another centerfielder (Darin Erstad) even though we have nowhere to put him. Then the smart side put together a lineup that may actually score some runs, with Tejada, Berkman, and Carlos Lee providing power in the middle, and possible contributions from Wiggington and Hunter Pence. True, Kaz Matsui probably won’t hit outside of Coors field, and no one seems to know what Michael Bourn will do, but we’re in the National League; we could do worse.

Unfortunately, the bad side of my brain took over building the pitching staff: I have an ace (Oswalt), a third or fourth starter (Wandy Rodriguez) and three fifth starters (Backe, Williams, and Chacon), which adds up, at best, to a mediocre rotation. Our bullpen isn’t much better: we have Doug Brocail as the top setup guym but the rest of the bullpen had WHIPs last year of 1.44, 1.40, 1.38 and 1.64. I did sign Jose Valverde at the back of the bullpen as the closer, but I’m pretty sure the warring sides of my brain have messed up my team’s chances of competing until I can work this problem out. Please help.


Ed Wade, Astros GM

Cincinnati Reds: 81 wins with upside

Dear Mr. Dusty Baker, Manager, Cincinnati Reds,

We realize you have been in the Major Leagues a long time, and successfully managed to ride Barry Bonds to a World Series. However, we feel that we must make the following points about handling the Reds this year:
  1. Veteran players are not always better. You have Joey Vatto, Jay Bruce, Homer Bailey, and Johnny Cueto all sitting there, ready to play, get some Major League experience and give you some serious upside potential. I’m sorry, Corey Patterson and his .304 OBP is not the solution to your lead off troubles, nor is 38 year old Scott Hatteburg the correct answer at first base. Please, please, please play the kids and see what happens.

  2. You need more than 2 starters to win over the course of a season. Yes, Aaron Harang is one of the best pitchers no one knows about, and Bronson Arroyo does a good job in the National League. As much talent as Bailey and Cueto have, asking them to be a combined reliable number 3 starter is a stretch, which leaves you with Matt Belisle and his 1.44 WHIP and 5+ ERA. We’re sorry, that isn’t going to get it done.

  3. Yes, Francisco Cordero is a solid closer, but getting him the ball are the likes of David Weathers, Bill Bray, Mike Stanton, and Gary Majewski; not exactly a shut down bullpen. Remind us again why you spent 46 million dollars on Cordero when your team will never hold a lead to hand him the ball?

  4. We hope you’re feeling blessed, because you will have to outslug people to win, and to do so you need a healthy Griffey Junior, a repeat year from Brandon Phillips, and improvement from Edwin Encarnacion. You’ll also need to actually play Joey Votto and realize that Corey Patterson is a black hole at the top of your lineup.
Please sir, we beseech you: do not fall into the veteran trap; go for the youth!


The Concerned Fans in Cincinnati

Milwaukee Brewers: 85 – 90 wins

Dear Magic Eightball,

Please grant me the answers to the following question, so that I may know my beloved Brewers will do this season.
  1. How many starts will Ben Sheets make? If he makes 30 starts, the rotation with Jeff Suppan, Yovani Gallardo, Save Bush and Carlos Villanueva looks pretty good. With Sheets on the DL it looks slightly more ordinary.

  2. How good will the bullpen be? On paper, it is one of the better bullpens in baseball. Eric Gagne, David Riske, Derrek Turnbow (when he throws strikes), Salmon Torres, and Guillermo Mota all have histories of success, but bullpens vary wildly from year to year. How will this group perform?

  3. Which of the young guns will take a giant leap forward? Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, and Ryan Braun all have shown some serious offensive potential, and if they continue to build on that success, this could be a very dangerous lineup, especially since JJ Hardy, Bill Hall, and Mike Cameron fill out the other slots in the order nicely.

  4. Which will be higher, the combined batting average of Tony Gwynn, Jr. and Prince Fielder, or the combined weight of their fathers, Cecil and Tony Gwynn, Sr.? Not really a baseball question, but one that Vegas should definitely take bets on.

  5. Who will win the most sausage races: the bratwurst, the polish sausage, the Italian sausage, the hot dog or the chorizo? Will the hot dog be able to defend his 2007 title? Inquiring minds and odds makers need to know.

Bernie Brewer, Brewers Team Mascot

Chicago Cubs: Beyond winning and losing

Dear Baseball Gods,

We realize you are very busy this time of year, but please, hear our impassioned plea. We have been suffering for 100 years since our last championship, and now they are trying to rename our beloved Wrigley field to something like the Maxi Tampon Center or something. The ownership has finally done the right thing, adding Kyusoke Fukodome to fill the void that was right field. Derek Lee and Aramis Ramirez on the corners of the infield can both hit, and Alfonso Soriano has more talent than most people could wish for. Carlos Zambrano anchors a good a rotation with Rich Hill, Ted Lilly, John Lieber and Ryan Dempster, giving us easily the deepest rotation in the NL Central and maybe the best top to bottom of any National League team not named the Padres. Even the bullpen could be good, assuming you in your wisdom prevent Kerry Wood’s arm from falling off and keep Bob Howry and Carlos Marmol anywhere close to what they were last year.

Please also grant Lou Pinella the wisdom not to hit Soriano and Theriot one and two ahead of Lee and Ramirez, so the middle of the order actually has guys on base when they come to bat. Finally, please give the Orioles the wisdom to realize that they’re beyond terrible this year, and trade us Brian Roberts so we don’t have to rely on Mark “Definition of Average Player” DeRosa.

We have endured 100 years of losing and the Curse of the Billy Goat; we watched Bartman tip that ball, and we suffered as Mark Prior and Kerry Wood get hurt year after year. We watched in 1984 and 1989 as we blew leads in the NLCS and we watched last year as the Diamondbacks swept us out of the playoffs. On paper, we have the best team in the NL Central; please in your wisdom let the standings reflect that statistical truth at the end of the season.


Every person in Chicago, minus all those stupid White Sox fans