Apr 04

NL West race shapes up as Rockies-Dodgers dogfight


US Presswire
Ubaldo Jimenez, 26, is coming off a banner 2009 season for the Rockies, while Jeff Francis is back on the disabled list after a setback in his attempt to return to game action for the first time since September 12, 2008.

First, here are the 25-man Opening Day rosters (along with a few names of players lurking underneath) for the five National League West teams, followed by some thoughts on the division.

Arizona Colorado Los Angeles San Diego San Francisco
SP Dan Haren Ubaldo Jimenez Clayton Kershaw Chris Young Tim Lincecum
SP Edwin Jackson Aaron Cook Chad Billingsley Jon Garland Matt Cain
SP Ian Kennedy Jorge De La Rosa Hiroki Kuroda Kevin Correia Barry Zito
SP Rodrigo Lopez Jason Hammel Vicente Padilla Clayton Richard Jonathan Sanchez
SP/RP Jordan Norberto Greg Smith Charlie Haeger Mat Latos Todd Wellemeyer
RP Chad Qualls Franklin Morales Jonathan Broxton Heath Bell Brian Wilson
RP Juan Gutierrez Rafael Betancourt George Sherrill Mike Adams Jeremy Affeldt
RP Bob Howry Manuel Corpas Ramon Troncoso Luke Gregerson Sergio Romo
RP Aaron Heilman Matt Daley Jeff Weaver Edward Mujica Guillermo Mota
RP Esmerling Vasquez Matt Belisle Carlos Monasterios Tim Stauffer Dan Runzler
RP Leo Rosales Randy Flores Ramon Ortiz Sean Gallagher Brandon Medders
RP Blaine Boyer Esmil Rogers Russ Ortiz Cesar Ramos Waldis Joaquin
Bench Chris Snyder Miguel Olivo Brad Ausmus Yorvit Torrealba Eli Whiteside
Bench Gerardo Parra Melvin Mora Jamey Carroll Jerry Hairston, Jr. Nate Schierholtz
Bench Rusty Ryal Ryan Spilborghs Ronnie Belliard Scott Hairston Andres Torres
Bench Tony Abreu Jason Giambi Garret Anderson Matt Stairs Travis Ishikawa
Bench Augie Ojeda Seth Smith Reed Johnson Oscar Salazar Eugenio Velez
C Miguel Montero Chris Iannetta Russell Martin Nick Hundley Bengie Molina
1B Adam LaRoche Todd Helton James Loney Adrian Gonzalez Aubrey Huff
2B Kelly Johnson Clint Barmes Blake DeWitt David Eckstein Juan Uribe
SS Stephen Drew Troy Tulowitzki Rafael Furcal Everth Cabrera Edgar Renteria
3B Mark Reynolds Ian Stewart Casey Blake Chase Headley Pablo Sandoval
LF Conor Jackson Carlos Gonzalez Manny Ramirez Kyle Blanks Mark DeRosa
CF Chris Young Dexter Fowler Matt Kemp Tony Gwynn, Jr. Aaron Rowand
RF Justin Upton Brad Hawpe Andre Ethier Will Venable John Bowker
DL/Minors Brandon Webb Huston Street Hong-Chih Kuo Joe Thatcher Freddy Sanchez
DL/Minors Clay Zavada Jeff Francis Ronald Belisario* Adam Russell Fred Lewis
DL/Minors Billy Buckner Greg Reynolds James McDonald Chris Stewart Emmanuel Burriss
DL/Minors Ryan Roberts Taylor Buchholz Xavier Paul Wade LeBlanc Madison Bumgarner
DL/Minors Zach Kroenke Eric Young, Jr. Scott Elbert Chris Denorfia Buster Posey

When compelled to do so by ESPN.com, I picked the Dodgers to win the NL West, but not with any conviction. I definitely respect the talent in Colorado – shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, for one, has become an MVP candidate at age 25 – and feel that, at a minimum, the difference between the two teams is small enough at this point that either team makes sense as a favorite.

In my darker moments, I can envision an everything-goes-wrong scenario for the Dodgers that condemns them to a repeat of the 2005 nightmare. (Yes, I can get that dark.) But you could dream up doomsday scenarios for any team.

The return of Colorado pitcher Jeff Francis to the disabled list this weekend was yet another reminder that McCourts or not, just because the Dodgers have problems doesn’t mean other teams won’t have them too. Colorado begins the coming season without its top reliever (Huston Street) and someone who was formerly their top starter. The Rockies obviously aren’t dependent on Francis, whose last good year was 2007 and who sat out in 2009 when Colorado won 92 games. But his absence is another sign that the Rockies won’t be immune to depth issues. Both the Dodgers and Rockies have the talent to win the NL West, but both need things to go right.

By comparison, however, Arizona, San Diego and San Francisco need many more things to go right.

A year ago at this time, it was easy to find predictions that the Giants would finish in last place because of their poor hitting, but I didn’t see such a dire result happening with the strong pitching they had. Now, San Francisco is, for those who don’t believe in Colorado, a trendy pick to win the division. Considering the Giants have hardly improved their offense in the past 12 months, I’m not seeing this happening either. The Giants surely have the ability to stay in almost any game they play – although the strength of a rotation that has the once-great Barry Zito and the inconsistent Jonathan Sanchez has probably been overrated by those who judge entire pitching staffs by their aces – but San Francisco still lacks a lineup that makes me think they can score sufficiently. I might even rather suffer through the indignity of Vicente Padilla as an Opening Day starter than get worked up over the John Bowker vs. Nate Schierholz Spring Training battle to start in right field for San Francisco. You have to love Pablo Sandoval and pay a healthy respect to some of the others (including minor-league catcher Buster Posey), but this still looks like a third-place team on paper.

Ed Andrieski/AP
Edwin Jackson had a 5.45 ERA in the final two months of 2009.

The Diamondbacks are led by the one player who might make Matt Kemp fans jealous – 22-year-old rightfielder Justin Upton – but the state of Arizona’s starting pitching should make Dodger supporters feel more secure about theirs. After Dan Haren, Arizona has Edwin Jackson (a sentimental favorite of mine whose 2009 second-half resembled Chad Billingsley’s), Ian Kennedy (6.03 career ERA in 59 2/3 career innings) and Rodrigo Lopez (5.49 ERA in 298 1/3 innings since 2006) – before they even get to figuring out who will fill out their rotation. A first-rate second-half comeback from Brandon Webb could turbo-boost the Diamondbacks, but it’s hardly anything to feel certain about. Though there are some great players in Arizona, I see a team as likely to return to last place as it is to ascend to first.

San Diego is a fairly universal choice for last place, and though it’s not set in stone, I don’t see enough in the organization right now to be the one to make the case otherwise. I’ll just expect that no matter where they are in the standings, they’ll give the Dodgers problems.

Anything can happen in 2010, but if Fate doesn’t get crazy, there’s a two-team race in the NL West between the Dodgers and Rockies. Neither team should feel insecure or overconfident; both should gear up for a wall-to-wall battle.

Mar 26

Hong-Chih Kuo closer to the disabled list


Mark Duncan/AP
Hong-Chih Kuo, shown here March 2, last pitched in a game for the Dodgers on March 19.

Another spot in the bullpen is on the verge of opening with the news from Dodger manager Joe Torre that reliever Hong-Chih Kuo has been shut down and likely will be on the disabled list when Opening Day comes, according to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

With Ronald Belisario AWOL, that leaves a core of four starters (Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda and Vicente Padilla) and three relievers (Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill, Ramon Troncoso) and either four or five open spots on the pitching staff. If nothing else, Carlos Monasterios is pretty much a lock at this point to make the team.

* * *

Russell Martin will rest Saturday after a busy Friday in which he caught six innings, batted six times and scored from first on a double (in a minor-league game).

* * *

Giants pitcherum Tim Lincecum is also playing catchup, writes Chris Haft of MLB.com.

… Lincecum allowed only one run in four innings in the Giants’ 5-3 Cactus League victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Friday, but allowed six hits and walked two — though he did strike out seven.

The Giants ace said afterward that he’s “85 percent sure with my body of what I’m doing out there and confidence-wise. Hopefully that last tuneup job will help.” He admitted that he’s progressing “a little slower than I wanted to.”

Lincecum’s final exhibition outing before he starts the April 5 regular-season opener at Houston won’t be a high-profile appearance. Though his next scheduled turn would arrive next Wednesday, when the Giants play their Cactus League finale against the Los Angeles Dodgers, he’s virtually certain to pitch a Minor League exhibition or intrasquad game instead.

This would serve a dual purpose. It would prevent the Dodgers from getting a studied look at Lincecum before the regular season, and it would enable the two-time National League Cy Young Award winner to address his pitching flaws in a relaxed atmosphere. …

* * *

On weekends, my 5-year-old son sleeps in a sleeping bag on the floor of my 7-year-old daughter’s room. Tonight, my daughter wanted to switch. Because of the way they were behaving before bedtime, I declined her request.

Later, my daughter went up to my son:
D: “I envy you.”
S: “What does that spell?”
D: “I envy you.”
S: “WHAT DOES THAT SPELL?!”

Mar 26

Ronald Belisario: What happened?


Kirby Lee/US Presswire
Ronald Belisario pitching in Game 2 of the 2009 National League Championship Series.

Ronald Belisario has been ruled out for the Opening Day roster by Joe Torre, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Most of what I read about Belisario chides him for blowing this opportunity and letting down the Dodgers and their fans. But absent a rational explanation for what has happened, I still can’t help thinking that the bigger issue is a serious problem that we should be concerned with instead of critical of.

That might make me sound soft, and if he’s being a flake just to be a flake, I’ll adjust my reaction accordingly. But I’m just having trouble imagining why Belisario would willfully self-sabotage. Right now, I’m still in the position of hoping Belisario makes it back, mentally as well as internationally.

* * *

  • I’m scheduled to be a guest on KSPN 710 AM at 1:40 p.m., interviewed by Andrew Siciliano and Mychal Thompson. (That link will also take you to Molly Knight’s interview with the pair from Thursday.
  • In case you missed it, Ronnie Belliard made weight and is now an official 2010 Dodger, reports Dylan Hernandez of the Times.
  • Ben Badler of Baseball America joins the groundswell of praise for prospect Allen Webster, a fave of Dodger Thoughts and Maple Street Press Annual prospect expert CanuckDodger.
  • Steven Goldman, writing at ESPN’s TMI blog, wonders if the failure of Joba Chamberlain to make the Yankee starting rotation will represent a tipping point for over-protecting young arms.
  • Forty years ago today: “Next Stop for Steve Garvey Is Third Base at Dodger Stadium” (via the Daily Mirror).
  • The Pawnee Parks and Recreation Summer Catalog is a must-peruse.
Mar 13

For comparison: The New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks No. 5 starter competition

Even the richest team in baseball, the defending World Series champion New York Yankees, has doubts concerning its No. 5 starter.

It’s not for a lack of possibilities. The Yankees’ No. 5 starter competition nominally offers Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Sergio Mitre, Alfredo Aceves and Chad Gaudin, though the main contenders are probably Hughes and Chamberlain. Not one of the them offers a reliable starter’s resume.

Hughes posted a 3.03 ERA last season – but like the Dodgers’ James McDonald, he did much better as a reliever. Hughes only started seven games in 2009 and had a 5.45 ERA before going to the bullpen for good at the end of May.

Chamberlain, the 24-year-old who began his career with such domination as a reliever, started 31 games in 2009 but with a 4.75 ERA. Mitre, 29, had a 6.79 ERA in 51 2/3 innings in 2009. Gaudin, 27 this month, had a 4.76 ERA in 25 starts a year ago, averaging 5 1/3 innings per start. Aceves, 27, has a 3.24 ERA in 114 career innings, but relieved in 42 of 43 appearances in ’09.

Ben Shpigel of the New York Times writes that Yankees manager Joe Girardi hasn’t focusing on Spring Training results yet but will do so soon.

At Pinstriped Bible on Friday, Steven Goldman hosted a roundtable on the subject with Cliff Corcoran of Bronx Banter and Jay Jaffe of Baseball Prospectus and the Futility Infielder, offering thoughtful analysis before remembering that no April decision on the No. 5 starter will be etched in stone. (Earlier this month, Corcoran previewed the competition here.)

Does it matter? Eric Karabell of ESPN.com writes that the Yankees’ No. 5 starters in 2009 – Chien-Ming Wang, Hughes, Mitre, Gaudin and Aceves – had a 6.92 ERA in 35 starts (147 innings, 4 1/3 innings per start). Obviously, it helps if the rest of your team is strong enough to overcome this weakness.

And just to show that nothing’s even guaranteed at the top of the Yankee rotation, Scott Randall of ESPN.com’s TMI blog notes that the past five innings leaders of World Series champions — Curt Schilling, Mark Buehrle, Chris Carpenter, Josh Beckett and Cole Hamels, have struggled the following year.

Previously on Dodger Thoughts: “For comparison: The St. Louis Cardinals No. 5 starter competition”

* * *

Meanwhile, it’s not all peaches and cream with the Dodgers’ National League West rival Arizona.

Arizona has been counting on the return of Brandon Webb to health, but that appears to be delayed, writes Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. Kris Benson, the 35-year-old with an 8.46 ERA in 22 1/3 innings since 2006, worked out for the Diamondbacks, Piecoro notes, indicating the depth of their search for more depth.

AZ Snakepit predicts Billy Buckner (6.40 ERA last season) will be the No. 5 starter for Arizona, then goes on to discuss the Diamondbacks’ unattractive candidates for the rotation – behind Dan Haren, Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy (6.03 career ERA) – should Webb not make it to Opening Day.

* * *

Things are even a bit testy with the ballyhooed San Francisco Giant rotation, though it might well be much ado about nothing. Amid ongoing concerns about his build and some reports of diminished speed in his fastball, some people are worried about Tim Lincecum — much to Lincecum’s annoyance, as Rob Neyer of ESPN.com notes.

Linceum had a 7.56 ERA after two starts in 2009, then a 2.28 ERA with 251 strikeouts in 217 innings the rest of the way. Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News is among those telling Lincecum’s fans not to jump off any bridges — though Baggarly adds that prospect Madison Baumgartner might not make the Opening Day roster for San Francisco.

Apparently, no one’s so desperate that they’re leaping after the guys on Ben Nicholson-Smith’s list at MLB Trade Rumors, led by Braden Looper, a 14-game winner, 39-homer allower in 2009 whose best offer might be a minor-league deal from the Dodgers, and Jarrod Washburn. John Smoltz and Pedro Martinez look like they’ll be part of this year’s partial season gang.

* * *

Jake Peavy is looking good so far – but that’s not for the Dodgers to worry about anymore.

* * *

In passing, Matt Eddy of Baseball America has an interesting article on player development and the use of minor-league options.

Mar 07

For comparison: The St. Louis Cardinals No. 5 starter competition

Want a peek at another pennant contender’s No. 5 starter competition? Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a snapshot of who’s giving it a go for the St. Louis Cardinals:

  • 2009 reliever Kyle McClellan (no career major-league starts)
  • Veteran Rich Hill (who has 77 1/3 innings and a 6.87 ERA the past two seasons)
  • 22-year-old rookie Lance Lynn (2.92 ERA in AA in 2009)
  • and 23-year-old Jaime Garcia (37 2/3 minor-league innings last year, following surgery).

And that’s with mystery factor Brad Penny as your No. 4 starter.

Add comparisons: Cardinals closer Ryan Franklin (1.92 ERA, 74 baserunners in 61 innings) is moving on from his own end-of-season disappointment, writes Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch. Franklin, however, turned 37 Friday and is more than 11 years older than Jonathan Broxton.