Thursday, August 10, 2006

Not to sound smug, but I knew in spring training that...

by Scott Silversten

Not to sound smug, but I knew in spring training that:

* The Tigers would be baseball's best regular-season team. It was obvious that starting pitchers Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson and Justin Verlander were on the verge of breaking out, that Marcus Thames would become a household (at least in my household) name and that Jim Leyland was a managerial genius no matter how long he had been away from the dugout.

* Jim Thome and Nomar Garciaparra were clearly not finished as superstars. Currently the leading candidates for their respective league's Comeback Player of the Year awards, two of baseball's perceived gentlemen are having superb seasons and are big reasons while the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers are in the playoff chase.

* Cincinnati's pitching was underrated. It was assumed the Reds would score runs, and while there isn't a lights-out starter on the team, newcomer Bronson Arroyo, Adam Harang and Eric Milton have done just enough to keep the team in the thick of the National League wild card race, and within shouting distance of NL Central leader St. Louis. What was considered by many the NL's worst staff was able to hang on until general manager Wayne Krivsky gave a downtrodden bullpen a summer revamping with the acquisitions of Gary Majewski, Bill Bray and Ryan Franklin.

* The Atlanta Braves would suffer after the departure of pitching coach Leo Mazzone, who would not provide much help to the Baltimore Orioles staff. Atlanta's division title in 2005 was clearly accomplished with smoke and mirrors (not to mention a ridiculous amount of rookies), and the Baltimore pitchers just have too many games in the bandbox that is Camden Yards.

* Tony Pena was the best acquisition the New York Yankees made during the off-season. Those who only pay attention to numbers probably have not noticed how great a defensive catcher Posada has been this season, and the addition to the coaching staff of Pena, one of the great receivers of the last 25 years, is the reason. Posada is having a tremendous all-around season, and has become the Yankees' most indispensable player

* The weakest link on the New York Mets would be Billy Wagner. A dominant closer is much more valuable in October then they are over the course of 162 games, when even the best have their off nights. It is in the postseason where one loss can be devastating, and while Wagner's statistics are right where they should be, he is clearly shaky and seems to find himself allowing two baserunners each night. When Wagner comes in for that first big opportunity in the Division Series, there are bound to be plenty of sweaty palms in Flushing.

* Barry Bonds would be an afterthought by mid-August thanks to his aging body, the San Francisco Giants' pathetic 0-6 July road trip through Washington and Pittsburgh, and a pasty, bicycle-riding Mennonite who would knock the slugger off the front pages off newspapers from the Jersey Shore to the East Bay.

* Coors Field would be a pitcher's park. During their most recent 10-game home stand, the Rockies participated in games that averaged only 5.6 runs per contest, a number that would have be even lower if not for a 9-8 victory over San Diego. Question: Why do people constantly wonder if baseballs are juiced, but no one raises a stink that balls at Coors are stored in a humidor to take some of the juice out? Isn't it essentially the same thing?

* Cleveland designated hitter Travis Hafner would belt five grand slams (one shy of the major league record for a season), but the Indians would be eliminated from the AL Central race long before the Cleveland Browns suffered their first major injury of the season on July 27 (center Le Charles Bentley is out for the season with a torn knee ligament).

* The White Sox starting pitchers, so dominant last October, would be the team's biggest issue heading into the stretch drive. With Jose Contreras having suddenly lost four of his last five starts, the remainder of the rotation (Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland and Javier Vazquez) have ERAs hovering around 5.00 and many are questioning the White Sox ability toreach the postseason, let alone defend their world championship.

If I knew all this, how come you didn't?

Scott Silversten's column, "Age of Reason", appears Thursdays

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