Thursday, March 31, 2011

MLB Preview

Earlier than normal and without the National Championship game as the finale of the day, the 2011 MLB season begins today. This season begins off the heels of an offseason which was crazier than expected. Particularly, the moves by the Red Sox and Cliff Lee and Zack Greinke moving were the biggest stories. However, the hot stove has been turned off and its back to diamond where every team (yes, even the Pirates) are in first place on Opening Day, and despite the bad weather here in NYC, you can feel grass is about to grow and spring is coming. It's also time for another preview post (I know it seems like all I do are preview posts anymore) so let's get to it before the first pitch.

We begin in the reigning toughest division in baseball, and the likely toughest for the rest of time in the AL East. You know a division is tough when the fifth-place team can realistically win another division. Baltimore and Toronto are interesting because they are up-and-coming; both teams can hit well and they have young pitching that if they reach potential, could win about 85-90 games. Even that, however, wouldn't mean the playoffs for both. Tampa lost Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano and many others, but they still have Evan Longoria and David Price and with good years from Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon and B.J. Upton, they can easily go back to the playoffs. However, I don't believe their bullpen without Soriano and Joaquin Benoit can establish themselves good enough to pass the Yankees and Red Sox. Both teams will make the playoffs, Josh Beckett would be the key if the Red Sox win the division or the Yankees. If Beckett's can bounce back to his best, then the Red Sox advantage in the rotation is pronounced over the Yankees. If not, then the rotations are a wash, with maybe a slight edge for Boston. I think the Red Sox win it, only because the Yankees might struggle early with the rotation and whatever trade they make won't swing the division, but solidify the wild card.

The AL Central once again has Minnesota, Detroit and Chicago as their contenders as Cleveland and Kansas City continue the rebuild. The Royals are really close to being a good team, as their best in baseball farm system continues to grow up. It won't be this year they compete for the playoffs, but in 2012 or 2013, they will. I think they hold off the Indians in the battle for last place, as Cleveland is a little behind the rebuild than the Royals (meaning Orlando Cabrera is traded to a contender by July 31). As for the contenders, I'm not sold on either the Tigers or White Sox to overtake the Twins. Chicago always seems to wear down over the year under Ozzie Guillen's managing, while the Tigers don't seem to have the rotation capable of winning the division. I know the Twins lost some major bullpen guys, but if Joe Nathan comes back to his All-Star form, that negates the loss. It also helps to have Justin Morneau back in the lineup, hopefully he can have a season which he's healthy enough for the playoffs, would be important if it's the Yankees they play again.

Last year was a change for the AL West as the Angels went by the wayside and the Rangers won the division and the league. This year, both team look to stagnate a little, opening the door for a surprise winner. Even though the Mariners seem to do good in odd numbered years, they won't win this year. They could settle for another Cy Young for King Felix (better than training him). I look to Oakland as the best team in the West as they have the best rotation (and had it last year) and with Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui signing there, they have a better offense (of course, who knows with that ballpark). Anaheim is lacking in both offense and pitching to compete, despite Mike Scioscia's ability to manage. As for Texas, they will compete with Oakland to the end, but I must say, not getting Cliff Lee to resign is the difference for this team.

On to the NL, starting in the East where the Philly Phour reside. Despite the early season injuries, the Phillies really shouldn't miss the playoffs; if they do, it's an embarrassment. Speaking of embarrassment, the Mets should be the worst team in the division. I don't see how they pitch well, even in Citi Field, which will also negate the offense. Washington will be fourth, but they won't be any good until we know how Stephen Strasburg responds to Tommy John surgery, as well as when Bryce Harper moves to the majors. Florida is probably a year away from being a legitimate contender as the pitching behind Josh Johnson continues to develop more consistency and the lineup does as well, probably a good year in the new ballpark for them in 2012. The Braves will win the wild card as they are improved from last year. The pitching is still there (unless Derek Lowe comes back down) and more importantly, they will hit better with Dan Uggla and potential Rookie of the Year Freddie Freeman.

Probably the division that has the most potential contenders is the NL Central with Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Chicago and yes, St. Louis who can realistically win. I always think the Cards can compete because of Tony La Russa, Dave Duncan and Albert Pujols (even with the impending free agency). The Cubs are improved with Matt Garza and hope to have a motivated Carlos Pena who's on a one-year deal. Add Starlin Castro, Aramis Ramirez and Marlon Byrd and the lineup is good. Still think they fall short of the division, trailing both the Brewers and Reds. The Reds still have the balanced offense from last year and a dominant bullpen with Aroldis Chapman and Francisco Cordero at the back end. The Brewers offense is better than Cincy's and with Greinke and Shaun Marcum, they should have enough to win the division (and they better, they put too much into this season). No need to discuss the Astros or the Pirates, both will struggle, though Houston's closer to contention because of pitching.

Last but not least, the division of the defending World Series winners, the Giants. The division won't be as difficult now that the Padres traded Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox, and will suffer a bad year because of it, though it might not be too long a dip. The Diamondbacks are still on the long road of rebuilding since the pitching is still porous and they still don't hit with any consistency, though they do have building blocks. The Dodgers are interesting with a solid rotation and a nice lineup, but they don't have the hitting Colorado has or the pitching San Francisco has as well. The Rockies are the contender in the division, but will need more pitching than Ubaldo Jimenez to overtake the Giants. San Francisco will struggle early, but the injuries they have seem short-term and they should tread water until healthy, then win the end.

World Series Pick: Braves over A's

MVP's: Ryan Braun and Robinson Cano

Cy Young's: Roy Halladay and Jon Lester

Rookies of the Year: Freddie Freeman and Jeremy Hellickson

Managers of the Year: Ron Roenicke and Bob Geren

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

NCAA Tourney Preview

Figured I'd put my entire preview in one post, I'll go through each region, giving you which teams are better than thought, which are worse and picks for the Final Four and Championship. One things for sure, this field is probably as hard as I can remember, only one team I felt any confidence in going to Houston. Maybe that means I'll win big, when if I had all the confidence in my Final Four, I'd probably lose it by Friday. Anyway, here's the regions.

East Region

This is with the West as the toughest region, a little more because of the name schools North Carolina, Syracuse and Kentucky are playing like their reputation, making it harder for number 1 overall Ohio St. Doesn't help that Washington, Xavier, West Virginia and George Mason play here too.

-Potential Cinderella: We have two, Marquette and Washington. The Huskies have Isaiah Thomas, who's capable of starting a long tourney run, while Marquette is one of the better coached teams in the Big Dance.

-Potential Pumpkin: North Carolina. I know they won the ACC and have Harrison Barnes, but they scared me in the ACC Tourney by trailing big in every game. Also, this year seems too soon for a Final Four Tar Heel team.

-Picks: OSU, Kentucky, Syracuse and Washington in Sweet 16. Kentucky and Cuse in Elite 8 and the Wildcats to win region. No one is picking Kentucky and I like how they're playing now. Plus, the early struggles I think will help them at this of year.

West Region

This is the other tough region, talent-wise, the top 4 seeds can each make the Final Four. Kyrie Irving will be back for Duke, Duke haters can only hope he doesn't transition seamlessly back into the flow for the Blue Devils, or you're looking at back-to-back titles.

-Potential Cinderella: This bracket is full of Cinderellas, as Oakland, Temple and Missouri all could outperform their seed; at least are the trending upset picks. Missouri gets that moniker because of Mike Anderson's pressure style, Oakland also plays uptempo and has an NBA-caliber big and Temple plays well in the halfcourt. Other possible Cinderella; Bucknell catching a tired UConn squad.

-Potential Pumpkin: UConn only because they are spent from the Big East Tourney (though it would have to be Kemba Walker who's spent), but Texas is a team I never like in the NCAA's. Rick Barnes is someone you should always pick against in the tournament; hell he couldn't even get the Longhorns to the Sweet 16 when Kevin Durant was playing there.

-Picks: Duke, Arizona, UConn and San Diego State reach Sweet 16 (Zona after beating Oakland in the "third round"). Duke and UConn face in the Elite 8 with Kemba taking the Huskies to the Final Four. Now don't sleep tomorrow against Bucknell.

Southwest Region

This bracket seems like it should go to Kansas. It's not too weak like we'll see in the Southwest, as Notre Dame, Purdue and Louisville are legitimately good. The Jayhawks, of course, will try to right the wrongs of last year's first round exit.

-Potential Cinderella: Richmond is good and can advance far, both VCU and Georgetown can outperform their seed. The Hoyas in particular are a potential Final Four team if Chris Wright is healed from his hand injury. Otherwise, they will be one and done.

-Potential Pumpkin: We outlined Georgetown, but Vanderbilt also stands to be an early loser. They probably are the most nondescript five seed that I can remember.

-Picks: Richmond gets the upset over Vandy, loses to Louisville in the second round (calling it third round before was sarcasm, we'll call the rounds correctly from now on). Louisville is joined by Kansas, ND and Purdue; with a Kansas/Purdue Elite 8 and Kansas heads to Houston.

Southeast Region

A horror show of a region that includes the worst 2 seed, the worst 3 and a 4 who lost their last game 36-33. All signs point to Pitt cleaning up this region, but if you know the history with the Pitt Panthers, you know that you can't make that assumption.

-Potential Cinderella: There are Cinderellas everywhere; Utah St, Belmont and Gonzaga as first round potential upset winners, with St. John's, UCLA and Michigan St as potential surprise Sweet 16's at the very least. Even Old Dominion is getting upset talk, the only 8/9 seed who's I think is getting that talk this year.

-Potential Pumpkin: Also littered, as Florida was overseeded at a 2 (unless you tell my Al Horford is coming back). BYU would have been the potential Final Four team, until they threw Brandon Davies off the team, now it's up to Jimmer to carry the Cougars as far as he can. Meanwhile, both Wisconsin and Kansas State are capable of losing early, the shame is the Wildcats probably could go far like last year, but get a tough draw in Utah State.

-Picks: I have Utah State over Belmont to go to the Sweet 16, joining Pitt, BYU and UCLA. Then the Panthers head to the Final Four with a win over the Bruins.

Final Four

UConn over Kentucky
Kansas over Pitt


Kansas over UConn

If you're interested in my entire bracket, click here.