Tuesday, August 11, 2009

NL Power Poll

Except for Seattle, who I'd move ahead of Toronto, I'm still satisfied with my AL Power Poll from last week. Now it's time for the NL Power Poll, which will be much harder. The reason being, the National League is much wider than the AL is this year. Joel Sherman in his Hardball blog wrote about eight teams with a legitimate chance to win this year. So let's get started.

16. Pittsburgh- '51-'55 Pirates: In Rob Neyer's "Big Book Of Baseball Lineups", he wrote about the Branch Rickey years which the Pirates were horrible and they traded players like Ralph Kiner and Gus Bell. However, he does make the point that the Pirates would eventually win the World Series five years after Rickey was let go in 1955, since eventually a lot of his players would succeed on the major league level. What does this have to do with the '09 Pirates? Well, Pittsburgh you have to believe will become successful again. They finally went into full-scale rebuild mode, instead of just wait until one player becomes expensive, then trade him, trade another the next year and so on. Getting rid of all your veterans have made some people mad about the Pirates, but I think they should gut the team and bring in as many young players as possible and hope they build a winner.

15. Washington- '95 Twins: Best example for this years Nats is a forgettable Minnesota team who played poor despite still having Chuck Knoblauch and Kirby Puckett hitting, and Brad Radke and Scott Erickson pitching. Also, because of the Twins respectable 37-44 record after July 4th. The Nationals have also started to play better since All-Star break, winning eight in a row before losing to Tommy Hanson and the Braves Tuesday night. The problem with the Nationals is that unless Stephen Strasburg is real deal, they won't be good for many years. It's a shame that Ryan Zimmerman's prime will be wasted with the Nats.

14. Cincinnati- '04 Mets: Only reason I compare these Reds with these Mets is the fact that the Reds picked up Scott Rolen when every indication is that they should sell. Of course, they didn't give up a player of Scott Kazmir's caliber like the Mets did and can't overturn this mistake by spending their way to a pennant. This season has really become a lost year for the Reds as they were a sleeper pick for most of the experts. However, all the good pitching of a year ago (Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto) has gone down and Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo are now wildly overpaid. The Rolen trade, Cincinnati believes make them better for 2010 in a seeming desperate attempt to contend but I think they are another one who should of tried to gut the payroll but now is in the no-man's land of baseball.

13. San Diego- '93 Padres: This Padres team is a lot like the one from 1993 when they tore apart their team, particular their trades of Gary Sheffield (though it netted them Trevor Hoffman) and Fred McGriff. While not in the single-season aspect, they have over the past couple years since the loss to the Rockies in the one-game playoff have gutted the team with the exception of Adrian Gonzalez, the Tony Gwynn of this generation for Padres fans. Trading Jake Peavy gave them four players, including a good starter in Clayton Richard and they passed the closer baton to Heath Bell from Hoffman. For some reason, I do think San Diego will successfully rebuild and in a few years they will win the NL West again. Why? Because the NL West has someone else win every few years.

12. New York- '01 Red Sox: I resisted using the '02 Mets because they weren't injured enough which led me to the 2001 Red Sox. They lost both Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez for long stretches in that season. The main difference was Manny Ramirez had a Manny-like season while David Wright lost his power. They also both had lesser rotations (with the exception of Johan Santana) and plenty of older players playing old. Anything else you want to know about the Red Sox in 2001, just read Bill Simmons two-part review using The Godfather quotes. As for the Mets season, just read my column about the Omar Minaya-Adam Rubin mess. More about the Mets, they can be saved next season if Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes can heal. If not, they should unload Reyes and try to rebuild.

11. Arizona- '08 Giants: Last year's San Francisco team had transferred to this year's Diamondbacks as the Snakes have one great starter, weak pitching staff for the rest and a lesser offense. The key difference is that Arizona has Mark Reynolds and Justin Upton who are their only power on the club and Brandon Webb is injured, while Matt Cain just wasn't as good last year. Actually, when Webb returns from injury next season, Arizona will be set to compete again in 2010, especially if the Giants maintain their impotent offense and the Dodgers come down a bit. They also could see the offense improve with more experience for Miguel Montero and Gerardo Parra.

10. Milwaukee- '97 Padres: I'm sure nobody remember this Padres team, not even San Diego fans. This team was surrounded by the Padres two playoff appearances in the 90s. However, I do feel this example is apropos since they had good hitters but poor pitchers in the following season of a playoff appearance. Of course, I don't remember Ken Caminiti calling out their management and pitchers like Ryan Braun did when he wanted to get another pitcher and I definitely don't remember Tony Gwynn trying to get into the Dodgers clubhouse for a fight, like Prince Fielder did last week. The fact is, this team is continuing to implode this season, but to be fair, the future still is bright. If they get another pitcher in the offseason to go along with Yovani Gallardo, they would be back in the playoffs in 2010.

9. Houston- '83 Royals: Here's another team that no one remembers but I chose the Royals because this was in the middle of an era of success and 1983 was a rare down year for those Royals. The hitting was still good (even the last good season from Willie Mays Aikens), but the pitching was older and not as effective. Sounds like the Astros this year, except they aren't in a division with a runaway winner like Kansas City was that season. The Astros usually play better than expected; I for one picked them for fifth before the season started. However, with Drayton Mclaine not willing or able to add payroll, Houston had no chance to improve prior to the trade deadline and competing for playoff spot doesn't allow him to trade guys like Miguel Tejada. What ends up happening is a no-man's land that no one likes because they won't go full bore for a title or rebuild for a new contender.

8. Chicago- '08 Yankees: I haven't really thought about it, but the similarites between the Yankees last year and this year's Cubs are there. Both were among the favorites to win the World Series, both had loaded lineups who have underachieved and both have had pitching problems (Yankees starters; Cubs bullpen). The key loss for the Cubs has been Mark DeRosa and replacing him with Milton Bradley has crashed and burned for them. Down years by Alfonso Soriano and Geovany Soto have hurt, along with Aramis Ramirez being hurt this year. Derrick Lee is the singular reason the Cubs have stayed alive, and maybe they can make the playoffs if their hitters start hitting and their rotation stays healthy. However, with an improved Cardinals team to deal with and trouble beating good teams, chances are the Cubs drought continues for another year.

7. San Francisco- '88 Dodgers: I know it's blasphemous for a Giants team to be compared to a Dodgers one, but San Francisco is following the L.A. playbook from 1988. The Dodgers had one hitter carry a poor hitting team (Kirk Gibson) which the Giants have as well in Pablo Sandoval. Tim Lincecum has been the Giants' Orel Hershiser; though the Dodgers didn't have a number two starter the likes of Matt Cain. If this team can get any extra hitting, they will win the wildcard, but that is unlikely. This is a team that could do damage in the playoffs with that staff, but need to get there first, and I just don't see that happening.

6. Florida- '99 Red Sox: To be fair, this year's Marlins are the poor men to that '99 Red Sox team. While Hanley Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra compare as great hitting shortstops, Josh Johnson isn't in the class Pedro Martinez was back in 1999. Pedro was untouchable, like Greg Maddux in 1994, Ron Guidry in 1978 and Dwight Gooden in 1985. Josh Johnson isn't having that kind of year, but 11-2 with a 2.92 ERA is very impressive and the Marlins can be sure that they will win whenever he starts, it seems. Both lineups hit just enough to avoid their shortstops as the lone hitting threat, but not enough to be consistently good enough to win. Their pitching staff outside of Johnson is poorous, like the Red Sox in 1999 except for Bret Saberhagen. They keep winning, but I don't see how they make the playoffs when they allow more runs then they score. Run differential for the Marlins is -1 and it catches up to you when September rolls around; that's why the Mariners won't win and neither will Florida.

5. Colorado- '03 Marlins: I was going to compare this year's Marlins to the '03 team, but going over the Rockies, I saw that they have a better comparison to Florida. They have been spurred by a managerial change when Clint Hurdle was fired for Jim Tracy, the hitting is very similar and so is the pitching aside from higher ERA's. Also, the Rockies rotation is a little older than the Marlins were in 2003, as Dontrelle Willis and Josh Beckett were mainstays that season. As for the lineups, Pudge Rodriguez led their lineup much like Todd Helton is doing this season, while Brad Hawpe and Troy Tulowitzki have provided the power of a Mike Lowell and Derrick Lee. Add the speed of Dexter Fowler to Juan Pierre and you have very similar teams.

Now I thought before the year the Rockies wouldn't compete again, especially after trading away Matt Holliday. However, this team has been on a roll since Tracy assumed the job of manager and it's hard for me to see Colorado fall apart. Ultimately, I think this team will fall short of the playoffs because the pitching is beatable and the lineup hasn't hit like a typical Rockies team. I also don't believe you get to make another surprising run to a World Series more than once in a decade. The Astros had a great run in 2005 and I can't believe they would do it again for many years. It's one thing for a favored team like the Yankees in 1978, 2005 and 2007 reaching the playoffs from behind or the Braves in 1993; they corrected themselves after an underachieving start. The Rockies weren't picked, started slow, and have picked it up, I think they will have another slump before it ends.

4. Atlanta- '05 Indians: Just like that Cleveland team, the Braves have returned to contention with the help of a good rotation and enough hitting. At least the Braves aren't dealing with loaded Yankees, Red Sox and White Sox teams the Indians did. Tommy Hanson has been a revelation and the rest of the pitching staff is as good as any in the National League (and I include the Giants). Javy Vazquez continues to prove the perfect National League pitcher, Jair Jurrjens continues to make the Tigers rue the day they traded him for Edgar Renteria and Derek Lowe has turned around an off year in the past month and a half. Rafael Soriano has thrived in the closer spot and they have been led at the plate by Brian McCann, Yunel Escobar and Chipper Jones.

The biggest problem the Braves have is that the lineup hasn't really been healthy all year and an injury could derail them. Plus, having the Phillies in their division leaves only the wild card left to grab. However, I think there is a flaw on the Giants and Rockies that isn't as noticable on the Braves and this team return to playoffs, maybe for the last time for Bobby Cox. And this won't be the last you hear of the Braves as there is some youth on this team that will contend for a few years, though not the 14 year run that Atlanta had before.

3. Los Angeles- '02 Giants: Since I compared the Giants to the Dodgers, it's fitting to compare the Dodgers to a San Francisco World Series team. The rotations for both aren't that deep, the lineups are good, but depend on one guy to succeed who has a steroid past. I guess the biggest difference is that Barry Bonds played a full year, while Manny Ramirez was suspended 50 games for failing a drug test. They even both have Jason Schmidt as a starter, though the Dodgers just got him back from a two year injury. The only difference between the bullpens is age, but Jonathan Broxton is a good closer and George Sherrill strengths a strong unit that Joe Torre tends to overuse.

After the great start, the Dodgers have started to slow down and the Rockies and Giants are now on the Dodgers heels. A lead of nine games has been reduced to 5.5. However, I still think the talent level in the lineup is the best in the division and the rotation led by Clayton Kershaw and Randy Wolf is solid enough with their lineup. The key will be Chad Billingsley because if his hamstring keeps him out for an extended period of time, the Dodgers could be in trouble, since the rotation is quietly thin. That was why they should have tried to get Roy Halladay, even if the Jays wanted Billingsley. Also consider, Torre has been there many times before and can motivate his guys to play the way they should play.

2. St. Louis- '93 Braves and '89 Athletics: This was the toughest team to compare because I couldn't find a midseason hitter pickup that will have the impact that Matt Holliday has had except for Fred McGriff. The '89 A's also made a big midseason pickup as they traded for Rickey Henderson and that led to a World Series win. Both teams, however, didn't only have one source of hitting that the Cardinals had with Albert Pujols. The Holliday acquisition has now turned the Cardinals from a possible playoff team to a slam dunk.

The key for the Cardinals is that Chris Carpenter is back and pitching like the Cy Young winner he once was. Adam Wainwright and Joel Piniero have pitched just as well and they have as good a rotation as anyone in baseball for the playoffs. The Holliday trade, along with the Mark DeRosa pickup and Ryan Ludwick starting to hit like he did last year, has made the Cardinals lineup a strong one and now teams must think before they decide to walk Pujols or not. Finally, Ryan Franklin has been great as closer and the rest of the bullpen have proven a strength. This team is certainly a contender for a World Series and I think are better than the Dodgers now, but the Phillies seem to be ahead of everyone.

1. Philadelphia- '93 Blue Jays: I know I already used the '93 Jays with the Yankees, but to be fair, the team fits the Phillies more. Terrific hitting team improves offense after winning a championship, while strengthing their rotation; that's this year's Phillies. Actually, these Yankees remind me more of the teams from 2002-04 when they still had the championship aura, but was starting not to win. Philly is now even better following a championship and that is discerning for the entire National League.

The trade for Cliff Lee already has CC Sabathia-in-Milwaukee potential after his 3-0 start with a 1.12 ERA. There are no longer any lineup questions as Jimmy Rollins has hit better in the past month and a half and Raul Ibanez has proved an upgrade over Pat Burrell. The pitching depth is there as Pedro Martinez can be effective as a fourth starter in a playoff series and Joe Blanton has been consistent as of late, making only quality starts since July began. Two huge concerns for the Phils. Can Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge return to 2008 form and can the Phillies win if they don't. I think they can win if Hamels doesn't pitch as well because of the addition of Lee, but they need to replace Lidge if he can't improve. They have Ryan Madson who could take over as closer if they need to and they might. The best thing about the Phillies, their offense will slug it's way out of trouble and their clutch, which is very important in baseball. This team is the favorite and should repeat as world champions.

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