30 April, 2006

Savour the moment

Tottenham Hotspur 1, Bolton Wanderers 0

It gets better, but it's probably the time to savour the moment before the final week of the Premier League season.

Let's recap. 2005-6 will be, not matter what happens now, Tottenham's highest ever Premier League placing. It's their best finish in the top division in 16 years, way back in pre-Premier League days.

Aaron Lennon, Spurs young winger and today's hero, has sparkled this season. Michael Carrick is developing into a midfield general. Robbie Keane seems reborn, has led the line and been top scorer. Mido inherits the fan favourite title though his Spurs future is in doubt. Paul Robinson is England No.1 goalkeeper. Ledley King and Michael Dawson grow in stature every game.

Europe, here we come. Tottenham have not appeared in a European club competition since the UEFA Cup back in 1999-2000 (qualifying thanks to a League Cup victory) when Spurs limped out of the second round thanks to a last minute own goal by Stephen Carr. Arsenal's boasting aside, Tottenham have the best record of any London side in European competition with a Cup Winners' Cup win, 2 UEFA Cup wins, a UEFA final appearance and a European Cup semi-final. Next season's first European match will mark the club's 100th game in all competitions.

The question remains whether that's a Champions League appearance or the second tier UEFA Cup. To add flavour to the question, it rests as much upon what Arsenal do in the next three weeks as what more Spurs can achieve.

After today's 1-0 win over a dogged Bolton side, Tottenham can wrap up 4th place with a win at West Ham next Sunday. Or, Arsenal can hand that finish to Spurs by dropping points at Sunderland (Monday) or Manchester City (Thursday).

But, Arsenal can still sneak in the back door by winning the European Cup final against Barcelona on 17 May. Tottenham have already claimed that they should get the right to entry no matter what Arsenal do.

Whatever happens, Donutball salutes Martin Jol who has taken Spurs from the depths of early last season when Frenchman Jacques Santini resigned. Jol has fashioned an attractive, yet resilient team, in the true fashion of the great Spurs sides.

When was it better? FA Cup wins in the 80s? Gazza's semi-final goal against Arsenal?

Donutball picks the first leg of second round UEFA Cup at White Hart Lane. Standing on The Shelf, we were enthralled by a brilliant first half performance by Glenn Hoddle pulling the strings and guiding the home side to a 4-0 lead. Second half, the great Johann Cruyff in his final season more or less said, what Hoddle can do I can do also. Cryuff matched Hoddle pass for pass and brought Feyenoord back to 4-2. Despite Tottenham's grasp on the tie being in danger, the crowd applauded both maestros off the field. Spurs did manage a 2-0 win in the away leg to progress and eventually won the final on a memorable May evening with this author again on The Shelf.

Give that man a donut

It's probably too easy nominating Luiz Felipe Scolari.

"Big Phil" had the gumption late last week to turn a 100% pay rise to come coach England's national football team in succession to Sven Goran Eriksson.

"I don't want anything more to do with England because in the space of two days my life has been invaded and my privacy has been disrupted. As I speak, there are still 20 reporters outside my home. If that's part of another culture, it's not a culture I'm used to."

Ouch! Well, Phil's got a point. Taking the England job is the equivalent of becoming the tabloid press's punching bag. Win, lose or draw - you will be vilified.

How Eriksson has resisted punching out the lights of journalists is beyond Donutball. He's had his private life scrutinsied beyond belief. Donutball believes he perhaps should have resisted the temptation of an affair with a secretary at the Football Association headquarters. But, then again, that's his personal matter. If he can guide an over-paid, inflated England side anywhere near the semi-finals of this year's World Cup, he deserves an honorary knighthood.

Not only has the handling of Sven's replacement been a shambles, Donutball thinks this is all a bit premature. What's the haste? Why not wait until the World Cup is over in July. There'll be plenty of coaches chasing jobs after the tournament. Scolari, of course, is under contract as coach of Portugal. England may well rue their ineptitude, especially as the World Cup quarter-finals could throw up an England-Portugal match-up.

As for Phil, he would not be our choice. And, it's nothing to do with being a Johnny Foreigner. Yes, he's won a World Cup with Brazil and not many coaches can claim that. We feel he's probably not suited to dealing with players of limited talent - we're looking at you Gary Neville - that litter the English scene. That said, his unusual approach is refreshing. It remains to be seen if he could mould a competitive English side.

None of the current English candidates inspire confidence.

Steve McLaren, the new favourite (again): won a League Cup with Middlesbrough. Excellent No.2 at Man United and England. But, probably an excellent No.2. Also, recently had an affair so his personal life will be tabloid fodder.

Sam Allardyce: ugly manager of Bolton, who play ugly football. Never had to handle prima donna England internationals, just El Hadji "Spit the Dog" Diouf. Won nothing - particularly not beauty contests.

Alan Curbishley: won nothing with Charlton. Another small overachieving club candidate.

Martin O'Neill: an Ulsterman (that's not English), but at least he's experienced driving up and down the M1. Too excitable for our liking and as Celtic manager only had to beat Rangers a couple of times a season. Otherwise, UEFA Cup runner-up was the only highlight of his tenure in Scotland.

We're struggling for other candidates. For the time, we'd suggest eating crow and offering Sven another 2 years.

DonutBut, we also suspect that Big Phil might be stringing the English FA along. Once the World Cup is out of way, he might come knocking on their door.

In the meantime, Big Phil. Here's your donut.

27 April, 2006

Everyone's a 'Boro fan

For tonight, at least, if you care about English football you should be a Middlesbrough fan.

Yes, there is another English team in a European final. Middlesbrough, somehow, scratched their way into the UEFA Cup final in Eindhoven in a couple of weeks time.

'Boro trailed 1-0 from the first game in the two-legged semi-final. Add to that, they lost a heartbreaker of a semi-final on Sunday in the English FA Cup. And, breaking news over the past 24 hours, their manager Steve McLaren appears to have been passed over for the English national team coach position, beaten by a mad Brazilian.

To get to this stage Middlesbrough had already pulled off one remarkable comeback against Basel, winning 4-1 to wipe out a 2-0 defeat in the first leg. Tonight, they made it even more dramatic spotting Steaua Bucharest a 2-0 lead after just 23 minutes.

That, it seems, was all part of the masterplan. Massimo "pasta the ball" Maccarone got one back in the 32nd minute. But, at half-time it still looked a daunting task. Three clear goals needed against an uncompromising opponent with the ability to break from defence and score themselves.

Yet, for virtually the entire 45 minutes of the second half 'Boro poured forward. First, Mark Viduka headed home as Steaua's Portuguese goalie came from a cross he had no right to claim. From Stuart Downing's saved cross shot, Chris Riggott levelled the aggregate score (Middlesbrough trailing on away goals).

Then, with just a minute left, the dangerous Downing received the ball on the left as Steaua failed to clear properly. The England prospect beat a man before sending a swerving cross into the penalty area. On my TV time froze for a second (dodgy digital), before the oft-crticised Maccarone outmuscled the defender to head the winner. A couple of close shaves survived in the 4 minutes of added time, 'Boro had won in unbelievable fashion.

Phil who?

23 April, 2006

Arsene Wenger's guide dog goes "woof!"

Woolwich Arsenal 1, Tottenham Hotspur 1
Well done Anthony.

Donutball wants to accentuate the positive. Tottenham outplayed illustrious neighbours and Champions League (tm) semi-finalists for much of this tense battle for fourth place. Aaron Lennon and Michael Carrick shared honours as men of the match. Robbie Keane scored his 16th goal of the season. Paul Robinson was a rock in goal but could do nothing about Thierry Henry's inspired equaliser.

Most importantly, Spurs have secured a place in European club football next season. Right now they are guaranteed a UEFA Cup berth. The last two weeks of the season will determine whether they can claim a Champions League place. Two wins from two matches or Arsenal dropping points will secure 4th place and (potentially) that lucrative Champions League entry.

But, there were negatives. Injuries: Tainio has picked up another knock; Ledley King and Jermaine Jenas might miss the last two games. Definitely missing for the Bolton and West Ham matches is Edgar Davids who picked up a needless red card. Harsh in our view, but we would say that.

The biggest downer is the sour grapes from Arsenal manager Arsene "I did not see the incident (in which my player garotted an opponent then drank his blood)" Wenger. For those who missed the match, in the 66th minute Tottenham attacked. Two Arsenal players fell over and the ball broke to Michael Carrick. Players from both sides momentarily froze. As both Arsenal men recovered to get up, Carrick played on. Davids broke down the left, slotted a cross to Robbie Keane. Wun-nil!

Arsenal, or at least mental midget Jens "Oliver Kahn sucks" Lehmann, went beserk (for which he should have been booked) believing Spurs took advantage of a couple of injured players. Wenger confronted Spurs' coach Martin Jol whom the Frenchman believed encouraged his players to take that advantage.

Their first goal was a disgrace. They lie when they say they didn't see it.

Well, let's deal with this step-by-step.

The current Laws of the Game (pdf file) state:

The referee:
- stops the match if, in his opinion, a player is seriously injured and
ensures that he is removed from the field of play. An injured player
may only return to the fi eld of play after the match has restarted
- allows play to continue until the ball is out of play if a player is, in
his opinion, only slightly injured
- ensures that any player bleeding from a wound leaves the field
of play. The player may only return on receiving a signal from the
referee, who must be satisfied that the bleeding has stopped

Under the laws of the game, there is no obligation for a player to put the ball out of play if a teammate or opponent is injured. It follows from the above extract, that if the referee believes a player is seriously hurt, he will stop the game.

Now, in recent years players have got into the habit of knocking the ball out of play if there's an injury. It's claimed that this is good sportmanship. If that is the case, is feigning an injury, conning the referee or pushing a player off the pitch who has just received a red card considered good sportsmanship? Yet, these things happen as often if not more than the alleged fair play action of stopping play to let the medics come on the pitch. Increasingly, players are going down injured knowing (or at least assuming) that an opponent will put the ball out of play.

I'm with Wigan manager Paul Jewell, who thinks players should get on with the game and leave it to the referee to decide whether play should stop. In rugby league and Aussie rules, players can often taken treatment whilst play continues. That probably wouldn't work for soccer, but FIFA should look at how "fake" injuries are being used to disrupt play. (Just to add, that I have no idea how badly injured the Arsenal players were in Saturday's key incident or whether they were seeking to gain an advantage.)

On Saturday, Carrick hesitated. He saw both Arsenal players start to recover and get back to their feet. The referee indicated with a hand gesture that he saw the players on the ground but getting up and saw that there was no blood or serious injury.

Donutball concludes that Carrick and his teammates did no wrong.

As to Wenger assertion that Jol was taking advantage, tapes shown on BBC last night indicated fairly clearly that Jol did not see the incident, or if he did he didn't realise that two players may have been taken out of the game (which they weren't). Jol says he was encouraging Edgar Davids to get onside.

Wenger claiming that Jol and the Spurs staff lied is preposturous and showers little credit on the man. Whilst respecting what Wenger has done for Arsenal, creating an attractive side that's won trophies with style, he has also presided over a side that has had constant battles on and off the pitch with Manchester United and (though this year is an exception) been top or near in yellow and red cards season after season.

If Wenger is so concerned about sportsmanship, why does he tolerate the incessant diving cheating of Pires, Reyes, Ljungberg and Bergkamp? That's gamesmanship.

But, I forgot, Wenger never sees the incidents when his players transgress. Well, perhaps yesterday his guide dog barked and the master took notice.

Now lose 2-0 to Villareal you bad sports.

Alexander Smit Disptaches: St George's Day edition

Back out in the frozen Midwest, Donutball's adopted Minor leaguer, Dutchman Alexander Smit, had a couple of outings this week. Smit lowered his ERA to 5.63 with two better performances.

He closed out Beloit's 8-2 win against Peoria 19 April with an inning of scoreless work. Smit gave up an infield hit, picked up a srike out and otherwise kept the ball in the infield.

The next night, Smit put in another scoreless effort as he wnet 2 innings allowing 2 hits and a walk. Smit earned his first win of the season as the Snappers posted a 7 spot in the 7th to come from behind 9-7.


21 April, 2006

MLB debut - Taylor Buchholz

Baby faced Houston hurler Taylor Buchholz debuted 7 April in relief of Brandon Backe as the Astros downed the Washington Nationals 6-1 at Corporate Larceny Field.

Pennsylvania native Buchholz came over the 'Stros in the Billy Wagner deal back in November 2003. Health problems retarded his progress when he arrived from the Phillies, but Houston were still high on his stuff and particularly his hard breaking curve ball. Buchholz's curve complements a 91-95mph heater though indications that injuries may have taken away some of the zip. Control, once a trademark, has gone south. He's also hittable and prone to the long ball allowing 1.7 per 9 innings at Round Rock in 2005.

Houston hopes his injury woes are behind him and he's been able to latch on with the big club this season earning the fifth spot in the starting rotation. (I wonder if he's keeping the Rocket's seat warm.)

Against the banjo hitting Nats, Buchholz came out of the bullpen as the schedule meant his first start wasn't due until at least 11 April. He worked 2 1/3 scoreless innings, yielding just one hit - a 9th inning single to Marlon Byrd. He struck out one, throwing 35 pitches, 25 for strikes.

With Backe going on the DL shortly after this game, the load on Buchholz's young shoulders looks set to increase.

Baseball Cube

MLB debut - Sean Marshall

Warning! Cubs' pitching prospect! Alert the surgeons!

Sean Marshall made his debut 9 April in the Cubbies 8-4 victory over keen rival St Louis behind Michael Barrett's 8th inning grand slam.

Marshall started and pitched 4.1 innings conceding 4 hits, 4 runs and a walk. The lefthander struck out two. He left with a 3-2 lead and the bases loaded in the fifth, but had a no decision. Up until the 5th, Marshall looked strong:

The 23-year-old Marshall, who had never pitched above Double-A, started the game by retiring David Eckstein and Juan Encarnacion on grounders. He then walked Pujols and Rolen hit a 3-2 pitch to left for his second homer.

Marshall retired 10 of the next 11 batters before running into trouble in the fifth.

"He showed me a lot today," Barrett said.
Michael Wuertz, making his first appearance this season, relieved and allowed a two-out, two-run single to Pujols that put the Cardinals ahead.

Sean was a 6th round pick out of Virginia Commonwealth University. His twin brother Brian was a fifth round pick by the Red Sox, but seems to have got lost in their system. (Well, Donutball can't find him.)

Sean throws a nasty sinker which tops out at 95mph and his curve is a plus pitch. He has still to develop a Major League slider and needs to work on setting up hitters. Good stuff helped him get an early promotion to AA in just his second pro season. Marshall suffered a finger tendon injury in 2004, but bounced back in 2005 despite a shoulder injury to help him get a serious shot at making the depleted Cubs rotation. And, here he is!

Stretcher, please!

Baseball Cube

MLB debut - Brian "Nat Killer" Bannister

Mets' righthanded starting pitcher, Brian Bannister, is all too familiar to Nats' fans. The 25 year old pitched 5 1/3 innings of no-hit ball in his MLB debut at Shea on 5 April before Jose Guillen hit a double. Bannister struggled through the rest of the start, but his 6 inning performance stymied Washington. Bannister allowed 2 hits, 3 runs, while walking and striking out four. Nick Johnson thumped a homer of Bannister as he tired in the 6th. The rookie got a no decision as Ryan "Dutch" Zimmerman tied it up in the 9th off Billy Wagner. The Nats then posted a 5 spot in the 10th to eventually 9-5.

Bannister got his first MLB decision - a win - in his second start, this time at RFK as he beat the Nats 7-1 on 11 April.

DadBrian is son of former Major League pitcher Floyd Bannister, who was the nation's number one draft pick back in 1976 and pitched 15 years mostly in the junior circuit. Bannister senior's best season was 1983 with the Chicago White Sox when he went 16-10 with an ERA of 3.35 as he helped the LaRussa led Sox into the playoffs. He retired with a losing record (134-143), but his ERA of 4.06 was +2% of the league average.

Bannister the younger has a mediocre fastball, serviceable change and curve. From early outings, he seems to have inherited pitching nous. He comes with a reputation as a soft tossing pitcher - sort of a righty version of Jamie Moyer, only with a fastball. His Minor League numbers don't leap off the page, but his stock has risen year-on-year, which is a good sign of a late developing hurler who knows how to use limited talent to get results. The Mets are happy with Brain holding up the backend of the rotation.

Baseball Cube

20 April, 2006

Vote for your favourite Donutball feature

Over there. In the right hand margin. The teal coloured box. Click a radio button. Anyone will do.

Thank you!

N.B. - some browsers continue to refuse to show our lovely banner. Sorry for this, but our technical experts are baffled. We'll aim to rectify this hitch as soon as we can find the manual for this Blogger thing.

The alternative explanation is that we're waiting for MLB to announce the Washington Nationals owner. A national disgrace.

MLB debut - Sendy Rleal

All Sendy Rleal has done in his short pitching career is throw strikes, but like Henny Youngman he gets no respect.

Beefs. Rleal is too old - 25 - to be considered a prospect. The Dominican lacks stamina. He's one-dimensional. He's not a real pitcher just a converted shortstop. No control. Not pitched above AA - two full seasons there no less.

On the other hand, Rleal has solid fastball and slider. He has been increasingly dominant especially since converting to relief full time. He eats up righties.

Baltimore gave him a shot this Spring after posting good numbers in Florida. Rleal got an early opportunity to show his worth at the Major League level.

He entered Baltimore's 5 April game against Tampa at the beginning of 9th with the game safely sewn up. In one inning he gave up a leadoff double to Josh Paul, but retired the rest of the side in order.

Rleal might not be the second coming of Armando Benitez. Then again, O's fans might feel grateful for that. Sendy could just pan out to be a valuable short man out of the pen: possibly even a ROOGY.

Baseball Cube

MLB debut - Ricky Nolasco

Minute Maid Park in Houston ... some of these naming rights sales haved blessed us with stupid stadium names. Minute Maid Park: bad name, meh connotations. Enron Field: passable name (but who outside of Texas had heard of Enron), dreadful legacy. You might as well call the place Cesspit of Corporate Larceny. Better still, call it a Mickey Mouse park; Pitchers' Graveyard; or, Coors in the Sunbelt. Anything but a Major League stadium. Bring back the Harris County Domed Stadium!

Anyway, back in Houston, 5 April was a big day for Florida's Ricky Nolasco as it was his turn to be an MLB virgin. He entered the game at beginning of the 3rd, replacing starter Brian Moehler who had been tagged fro 6 runs in 2 innings and lifted for a pinch hitter. Nolasco lasted 3 innings, allowing no runs on one hit and 2 walks. The righthander struck out two both coming after his shaky start when he gave up a walk and hit. He was perfect for the remainder of his outing.

Nolasco is out of the Cubs system, which is enough to make Donutball run a mile. Cub pitching prospects are a collection of blown out elbows and shoulders. However, this prospect seems to have stayed healthy through four above average Minor League seasons.

Nolasco was part of the Juan Pierre deal. Cub sniping apart, Florida has picked a live arm. He has a couple of plus pitches though lacks a decent change-up.

He repeated AA last year and was one of the Southern League's most dominant pitchers leading the loop in wins (14) and strikeout (173 in 161.2 innings). However, it was a repeat year and back in 2004 he was clobbered in a short stint at Iowa in AAA.

Nolasco looks like he's going to have duty as Florida's 5th or 6th option out of the bullpen. Who knows, he might even get a start. He's got a fair pedigree even without a changeup and could prove a useful pickup from the Pierre trade. (Yeah, the Cubs got stuffed there!)

Baseball Cube

MLB debut - Kenji Johjima

Ok, I think Seattle's latest Japanese import Kenji Johjima is the last of the opening day debuts on Donutball's list.

Johjima, after a 9 year all-star career with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in the Japanese Pacific League, signed a three year deal with the Mariners back on 22 November 2005. Seattle beat out 5 other MLB teams for Johjima who had expressed a desire to test his skill in the US after his highly successful Japanese career. Apart from a .299 career average, he won 7 gold gloves at catcher and was on the 2004 Japanese Olympic team. Of course, he joins fellow countryman centerfielder Ichiro Suzuki and a club with strong Japanese ties.

Johjima will add pop to Seattle's lineup. In 2005 he hit .309 with 24 home runs. His season ended early when he broke his left tibia on 22 September. Aside from the hitting side of things, there's a possible question about his ability to handle the M's pitching staff given the language barrier. Non-English speaking catchers (or pitchers, for that matter) are not a novelty so perhaps the effect is over emphasised, but the spotlight will fall on Kenji if Seattle hurlers struggle.

Seattle opened the season at home to the Los Angeles Angels on 3 April. Kenji batted 7th went 1 for 3 and belted his first MLB homer, a one out solo shot off Angel ace Bartolo Colon in the 5th. He was also hit by a pitch, not for the first time in his career as he broke Ichiro's record with 22 in 2004. Alas, it was a losing effort as the Haloes won 5-4.

Baseball Cube

19 April, 2006

Still in fourth place

...but preparing for heartache...

Congratulations to the Arsenal in their first leg Champions League (tm) semi-final win over Villareal. One-nil to the Ar-se-nal.

On Saturday, let's hope it's the other way round. It's the last ever North London derby at Highbury. Unfortunately, Arsenal are not buggering off back to South London from whence they came - interlopers.

Tottenham have spent nearly five months in 4th place in the English Premier League. That's a remarkable run. Rarely will you see a team stick at one spot for week after week - Sunderland this season is another exception (woops).

With fourth place comes an invite to next season's Champions League (tm).

This blog has mentioned previously that Spurs have ridden their luck and have at many times this season not looked Champions League (tm) material. That's still the position.

Of course,Champions League is what Donutball wants. That's what long suffering Spurs fans desire (though finishing above Arsenal is probably more important). Spurs are a big club. But, we want to see a good run in Europe, not a hello/goodbye Everton performance. So, maybe the UEFA Cup isn't that bad. It's been great for Middlesbrough.

After a bad loss on Easter Monday to United of Manchester (though how many of their fans come from the third city) puts Arsenal in the driving seat for the 4th spot.

So. Saturday's derby has extra spice. Whichever way, the four point gap ensures that Spurs will stay fourth for at least another weekend.

But, we're preparing for heartache.

After Saturday, Arsenal finish with:

  • Sunderland (away) - should be three points
  • Man City (away) - Jekyll and Hyde (which is Stuart Pierce?)
  • Wigan (home) - the last game at Highbury, would you bet against a win

Spurs have:

  • Bolton (home) - even though they can't buy a win, it's a nasty match at this time of the season
  • West Ham (away) - as if West Ham needed further incentive to turn us over

Well, still in fourth place today.

MLB debut - James Loney

Back in the nineties, my Diamond Mind team (which I'm sure you don't want to hear about) starred future ESPN analyst and then Dodger first baseman Eric Karros. I drafted Karros mainly because I liked his smooth stroke and moderate power. In the end though, I was slightly disappointed. Karros had a good, but not great career and never upped his game that notch that he promised early on, unlike his long time teammate Mike Piazza.

Karros played eleven solid if slightly dull years in LA then closed out with a brief flourish at Wrigley , which I'm sure helped his batting, and a forgettable swan song at Oakland. In all his totals were .268/.325/.454, not bad yet he'll have to pay like you and me to get into Cooperstown.

Meet James Loney, the latest Dodger resident at first base. Former first round pick Loney has scouts drooling, much like Karros (a 6th round selection) did when he rushed through the Dodger system. From what I read, Loney has the look and feel of a ballplayer; smooth hands, great glove, sweet swing and - not sure if this is appropriate for a ballplayer - airs and graces. Trouble is that, he likely will not half a quarter the career Karros had. Injuries have blocked his progress. He has great strike zone judgement, but little power. That and the Dodgers signed No-mah to play first.

Well, as we know, No-mah is as fragile as Loney and went on the DL on 4 April. Loney was promoted and started that very day against the Braves batting 5th against the great John Smoltz. An encouraging first AB saw Loney get a free pass. He added a hit in three official at bats with a run and a strike out.

Let's hope Loney is a better TV analyst than the anodyne Karros.

Baseball Cube

MLB debut - Fernando Nieve

In the same 4 April Florida-Houston game mentioned below, the 'Stros young reliever Fernando Nieve made his MLB debut to mop up the ninth inning. Nieve allowed a hit and a run, walking one.

The Venezuelan is a product of the Astros scouting and development system in Latin America signing as a 16 year old. Nieve has the makeup of a solid middle reliever with the possibility of converting to a closer. He throws a hard riding four seam fastball and has adequate breaking stuff. He rarely throws an off-speed pitch, preferring to mow down batters.

He has completed 7 Minor League season almost exclusively as a starter tough he will be no better than a swingman for the big club. The lanky righthander should have a decent if unspectacular career probably bouncing from club to club.

His Minor League K/IP and K/BB ratios are above average, but he can be hittable. Splitting between Round Rock (AAA) and Corpus Christi (AA) in 2005, Nieve made 27 starts with 2 shutouts. He earned all-star honours in the Texas League and a call up for the MLB Futures Game.

(He did get a start on 15 April in place of the disabled Backe.)

Baseball Cube

MLB debut - Reggie Abercrombie

Meanwhile, back with the rookie laden Florida Marlins, 4 April saw another fresh fish out of water.

Center fielder Reggie Abercrombie started in the 11-2 victory at Houston's Minute Maid Park. Batting 8th, Abercrombie went 2 for 5 with a run scored.

Abercrombie is another toolsy Marlin outfielder though he was originally drafted by the Dodgers. He's now with his third organisation and at 25 is not really a prospect any longer. For all his athletic ability, strong arm and great speed, Abercrombie displays the usual negative toolsy traits of no plate discipline, long swing, weak average and worse OBP. His strike out numbers were down last season at Carolina, though 2005 was his third part season at AA. His walk totals were horrid though his power production was adequate.

A modest career as a fourth/fifth outfielder or AAA organisation man awaits.

Baseball Cube

Addendum: Donutball will do a short roundup of debutants in the near future, but just to let you know Abercrombie did go yard tonight and brought his average close to the Mendoza line.

MLB debut - Boone Logan

The Defending champion Chicago White Sox started the season with two rookies one highly touted - former first rounder and starting center fielder Brian Anderson - and one complete unknown lefty reliever Boone Logan.

Logan was a draft and follow from Temple College, Texas in 2002. The 21 year old has three pro seasons under his belt, all but a couple of weeks at rookie ball. He pitched just 5.1 innings at advanced A ball late in 2005. So, to make the White Sox roster is a huge jump. But, with a WHIP of 0.54 in 13 innings this spring, he did win a job in the Sox bullpen.

In the Sox second game on 4 April against Cleveland, Logan got the call in the 5th inning relieving starter Freddy Garcia with runners on 1st and 2nd, no one out. Logan lasted 2 innings conceding a hit, 2 walks (1 intentional) with 1 strike out. He allowed one of the inherited runners to score, but otherwise kept the Indians off the board though the visitors ran away 8-2 winner.

Baseball Cube

17 April, 2006

Alexander Smit Dispatches - back at Beloit

Wisconsin in April I guess is not going to be quite as warm as San Juan, Puerto Rico where Alexander Smit last pitched a competitive game. But, the Class A Midwest League kicked off in the first week of April along with the rest of MiLB (short season and rookie leagues aside).

Smit suited up for the Beloit Snappers (that's a grim faced turtle, apparently)for the second season in a row. The lefty Dutch pitcher had a rough first couple of months in 2005 and wound up back at Elizabethton in the Appy League. He will want to hold his own in the Midwest League this season.

Smit got to see his first action on 8 April in Beloit's second game - a 4-2 extra inning loss. He entered the game in the top of the 7th with the Snappers 2-0 ahead. After a fly out to center, Smit allowed an infield hit and the batter, Patrick Reilly, advanced to second when the ball was thrown away. Reilly stole third and scored on a sac fly. A strike out ended the inning and Smit's appearance.

A couple of days later, Smit appeared in another Snappers loss - 7-2 to Wisconsin - and again gave up an unearned run. In this outing, he pitched an inning and a third allowing a lead off double and a couple of walks. The run was a result of his own throwing error on an attempted pickoff. That run scored after he left the game on a wild pitch.

The young Dutchman's early season struggles continued in the third game of the Wisconsin series on 12 April (report). Smit pitched two innings giving up 3 runs (1 unearned) on three hits, a walk, an error and a wild pitch.

This last Saturday Smit pitched the last inning against Burlington. Facing eight batters, Smit walked five and conceded a hit as he was tagged for three more runs completing an 8-0 drubbing for Beloit.

In the first week and a bit of the season, Smit's posted some crooked numbers - 8 runs (5 earned), 6 hits and 8 walks in just 5 innings.

MLB debut - Josh Barfield

San Diego's rookie second baseman, Josh Barfield, is one a couple of sons of Major Leaguers to make debuts this year. Josh's dad, Jesse, had 12 seasons with Toronto and the Yankees in the 80s and into the 90s. His best season was 1986 when he went .289/.368/.559 and led the AL with 40 homers. His production thereafter slipped steadily and he was out of the game after 1992. He still finished with 241 careers homers.

Barfield senior was a No.4/5/6 outfielder. Barfield junior projects as a good power source from second base. He started his first game in the 8 hole, but could move up the order as the season progresses.

Slated to attend Baylor University, the Padres spent a 4th round pick on Barfield in the 2001 draft. He signed for $400,000, showing either foresight of foolishness given Barfield's lack of playing time at High School. But, for once the gamble paid off as Barfield put up three solid seasons at rookie, low A then Lake Elsinore in High A. However, in 2004 he went backwards at Mobile in AA. His average slipped 90 points, though Barfield continue to show developing power. And, in 2005, he pulled his game around at AAA with a solid .310/.370/.450 season. That was good enough to keep him top of the Padres prospect pile and paved the way for inheriting the second base job this season from Mark Loretta.

Barfield has a long swing and hits to all fields. He'll strike out a ton, but can hit for average and power. Scouting books say Barfield has improved his range at second, but is only average defensively.

In his debut against the Giants on opening day, Barfield went 1 for 4 with a run, as did opponent Barry Bonds, in San Diego's 6-1 victory. Barfield added a strike out. He handled three chances flawlessly.

Baseball Cube

11 April, 2006

MLB debut - Joel Zumaya

The one thing Joel Zumaya will give you is heat. Rumours are around that the young right-hander out of the San Diego area has topped 100mph on the radar gun. Trouble for Zumaya and the Tigers is that he doesn't have a change-up to match the heater though his curve is serviceable. Develop an off speed pitch and Zumaya could be an effective starter. All the same, with an unhittable fast ball he might be a dominant reliever.

In 151 innings split between AA Erie and AAA Toledo last year, Zumaya fanned 199 batters. Throughout his Minor League career he's been a starter and he's averaged allowing less than a hit an inning (6.51 per 9 innings). Zumaya's command has improved. His BB/K ratio over his career is not outstanding, but in 2005 his WHIP at Toledo was an impressive 1.23.

The Tigers have decided to test him in the 'pen this year. He got his chance early on, in the Tigers' opening day 3-1 victory at Kansas City on 3 April. He relieved Kenny Rogers in the 7th and pitched two innings allowing a hit and walk. As per his reputation, Zumaya fanned three - Sanders, Brown and Teahen. He threw a lot of pitches - 34, 21 for strikes - but escaped without damage and was credited with his first Major League hold. Closer Fernando Rodney swooped in for the save.

KC are not the greatest test. Nevertheless, it could be an interesting ride this season with the rebuilding, seemingly rejuvenated Tigers and with fireballing 21 year old Joel Zumaya anchoring the bullpen.

09 April, 2006

MLB debut - Nick Markakis

Nick Markakis is a rarity: a bona fide Oriole prospect.

Let's get the declared interest out of the way. For half a decade or more the Orioles were my team. It started when I inherited an Oriole based franchise in a Diamond Mind league. Moving to D.C. in '97, of course, meant the O's were just on the doorstep. I love Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It's my favourite MLB stadium even though the fans stink and the team owners stinks even more.

I guess the O's are still the AL team I follow more than any other though I've had a long time liking for the A's dating back to the Finley years; Rollie, Jackson, Bando, Campy and all.

That said, the O's suck. Sorry, the bLoWrilEss are teh suck! They are particularly teh suck in the drafting and Minor League instruction side of things. Blame it on whatever you want, but it'll come back to team owner Peter Angelos at some point. The 2004 draft was the nadir, as Angelos interfered with delection at the last moment when he ordered the club not pay a large bonus for a college pitcher out of the first round, then couldn't sign the guy they picked - Wade Townsend.

So, how do we explain Nick Markakis? Did they draft him because they thought (erroneously) that he was the Greek God of walks?

Markakis certainly knows the strike zone. His walk to strikeout ratio in 279 Minor League games is 133-194. Not quite Kevin Youkilis, but pretty good. Another look at the numbers shows he has developing power and he hits for average. His career line is 301/381/471. Based on the statistical evidence, Markakis projects as a .280/.300 hitter with gap power who might one day hit 20+ homers. Mind you that evidence includes with just 33 games at AA.

Hitting apart, Markakis used to be a two-way threat. He pitched in high school, junior college and for Team USA. Nowadays, he confined to the outfield. As a pitcher he's got a strong arm. Rounding out his abilities, Nick has speed though he's only ever likely to be an occasional base stealer.

There is a serious worry that the O's - desperate to cash in on a No.7 pick - have pushed Markakis too quickly. He could well have used a year or half a year to season at AAA and straightened out any kinks in his swing. But, he's earned his spot on the roster and the O's will blood him early and often.

Markakis entry into MLB was, in fact, quiet. He was defensive substitution in the 9th inning in the Opening Day 9-6 win. Rather than his usual position of left field, he played one inning at right field and had one put out.

(In the Orioles' next game on 5 April he made first start. Markakis went 1 for 3 with 3 walks and hit his first Major League homer in the 8th inning as Baltimore thumped Tampa Bay 16-6.)

MLB debut - Jason Childers and Ruddy Lugo

Opening day at Baltimore, Tampa Bay had to go early to their bullpen as ace Scott Kazmir blew up in the 5th inning allowing back-to-back homers to Luis Matos and Melvin Mora. Manager Joe Maddon called on two debutantes Jason Childers and Ruddy Lugo.

Both pitchers are typical organisation men. Whilst not meaning to denigrate them, neither is likely to trouble anyone's fantasy league rosters.

Undrafted out of Kennesaw State, Childers toiled for the last four years at AAA, most recently with the Richmond Braves. In 2005, he posted a 2.09 ERA in 38.2 innings with a WHIP of 1.34. The 31 year old has never before made it to a Major League roster.

Childers' family made the most of his big day.
Childers couldn't hide how thrilled he was to finally be in "The Show."

"This ranks right at the top," Childers said. "Being able to go to work and come to Camden Yards ... it's pretty neat -- real neat. But this is why I've been putting in all the time in the Minor Leagues to try and get to this point. So I'm trying to take it all in now."

Too bad his performance didn't quite match the thrill. Childers entered game with 1 on and no one out. He pitched 1 inning, allowing 1 run on 2 hits and a walk. The runner he inherited from Kazmir also scored.

Childers was relieved by Lugo (no, not this Lugo). The Dominican faired little better than his fellow debutante allowing 3 runs on 3 hits and a walk in 1.1 innings of work.

Lugo has previously pitched no higher than AA where he has been stuck for the last four seasons. From a quick glance at his stats, control is his problem. Against the O's he threw 28 pitches with just 15 strikes. With that ratio he might find himself taking a trip to AAA.

Balmer cruised 9-6; Julio Lugo left the game and soon visited to the Disabled List.

06 April, 2006

MLB debut: Dan Uggla, Eric Reed and Carlos Martinez

Donutball continues its Major League debuts series with a couple of Florida Marlins' rookies.

Dan Uggla and Eric Reed made their first MLB appearances starting in Florida's Opening Day 1-0 defeat against Houston. Carlos Martinez came on as a reliever in the 8th inning.

Florida's starting lineup also included rookies Hanley Ramirez, Jeremy Hermida, Mike Jacobs and Jack Willingham. That's a AAA lineup.

Uggla was drafted out of Memphis by Arizona in the 11th round of the 2001 amateur draft. The second baseman has plodded along for 5 years going no higher than AA. That's a sure sign of "organisation man". He posted pretty good numbers in 2005 (297/378/502) at Tennessee. However, this is from a 25 year old at AA. So by this measure he is hardly a blue chip prospect. Florida took a chance on him and selected him in the Rule 5 draft. That means he is almost guaranteed a place on the Marlins' 25 man roster this year. Given the level the Marlins have sunk, he might keep that place on merit.

Things don't get much better with Eric Reed who inherits the centerfield job from Juan Pierre. For all Pierre's faults, he was double the player Reed projects to be. Eric has progressed through the Marlins system without posting any gaudy numbers of note. He split time between AA and AAA last year. At Alberquerque he posted 310 /335/404 with little power. Speed is his asset, but that's useless if he can't get on base.

There have been plenty of pitchers named Martinez. In fact, there was a banjo hitter called Carlos Martinez in the Majors back in the late 80s and early 90s. This Carlos Martinez hails from Venezuela. He zoomed up the Marlins depth chart after a breakout season in 2005 saving 22 games for Jupiter in the FSL. Martinez averaged just over a strikeout a game. In all he has only 240 innings in the Minors. Another sign of how stretched the Marlins have become.

Against Houston on Monday, Uggla batted 6th and went 0 for 2 with a walk and a strike out. Unfortunately, he christened his MLB career with a 6-4-3 rally killer in the second. On the field he was at the end of a strike 'em out/throw 'em out double play. (His keystone partner, Jeremy Hermida committed two errors.)

Reed also went 0 for 2, but showed his bunting prowess with a sacrifice in the 8th. It was a sacrifice for nought as pinch hitter Aguila popped out and Ramirez struck out stranding the tying run at second.

Of the three debutantes, Martinez had the best performance. Florida's fourth pitcher struck out the first two batters he faced then got Brad Ausmus to fly to Reed in center.

(Baseball Cube erroneously lists Carlos Martinez as pitching for Vermont in 2005. That's a different Carlos Martinez who is still in the Washington system. The Marlins' Martinez appears somewhat of an enigma so far. No doubt all will be revealed at some stage.)

05 April, 2006

Alexander Smit Dispatches - Opening Day (minus 1) Edition

Donutball's adopted minor leaguer, Dutch southpaw Alexander Smit, starts the season at the Beloit Snappers in the Class A Midwest League. Smit also opened 2005 at Beloit but was demoted back to the Appy League when he was hit hard.

Meanwhile, Smit made one appearance during inaugural World Baseball Classic. He relieved starter Rob Cordemans in the 3rd inning of the Netherlands opener against Puerto Rico. The 20 year old looked nervous and tentative in an inning of work.

He recorded a loud fly out on his first pitch to Alex Rios to end the 3rd. In the 4th, he got Alex Cintron to hit another loud out to left after going behind 2-1. Luis Matos then worked a walk as Smit was beginning to lose consistency on his release point. Jose Valentin stroked a fastball to left for single. Then, Smit tried twice to go inside on Alex Cora only to hit on the second pitch.

That brought up crowd favourite Bernie Williams with the bases full. Again Smit struggled to keep his composure. Smit stayed outside; Williams hung tough with a fastball and drilled it to the warning track in right. Dirk van Klooster misplayed the ball into a hit, but recovered to throw out Valentin at home.

Smit came out after that play and looked downcast as you would expect he would. He didn't get another shot at pitching in the WBC though as the Netherlands were unlikely to progress from the group stages, it was always odds on that he would only get one games work. Indeed only one Dutch pitcher appeared twice in the Classic.

The experience should serve Smit well, but now's the time to knuckle down to the regular season. As with all WBC participants, there's likely to be close scrutiny of Smit's progress through the summer.

Beloit opens Thursday night at home to the Cedar Rapids Kernels, the LA Angels' Midwest League entry.

Of course, Smit's exploits were completely obscured by Shairon Martis 7 inning no-hitter against Panama in the last game of the group. Martis, from Curacao, threw 65 pitches in the 10-0 mercy killing so just avoided being lifted under the pitch limit rule.

Martis, a Giants' prospect, pitched 34 innings over 11 games in the Arizona Rookie League last summer. Scouts say his breaking stuff is well advanced, but at age 18 there's a long way to go. Martis will probably remain in extended spring training. The Giants don't have a rookie league club outside of Arizona so Martis might repeat or be sent to Short Season A with the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes in the Northwest League.

MLB debut: Angel Pagan

Angel Pagan debuted on opening day, 3 April for the Chicago Cubs in their 16-7 victory at Cincinnati. He entered game for the Cubs in 5th inning as part of a double switch and went 2 for 3 with 2 runs scored and an RBI.

Pagan was born and grew up in Puerto Rico, but briefly attended junior college in the 'States. He was drafted by the New York Mets in the 4th round of the 1999 amateur draft as an 18 year old and progressed steadily up the Mets' system.

It's probably too easy to categorise Pagan as a "toolsy outfielder", but that is pretty much what he is. Pagan stole 163 bases in just over 500 Minor League games. However, his career OBP is .334 which is just not good enough for a guy with such speed and little power. Scouts say he's developed gap power, but the stats don't really back that up.

Pagan became an extra with New York after two seasons at AAA Norfolk and was dropping off people's prospect lists. Just when it looked like he might become an organisational player, the Cubs stepped up and purchased his contract in January 2006.

He made the club after a breakout spring going 381/417/833 in 42 at bats. He poked 5 homers and that probably secured his spot as a role player in the Cubbies outfield.

04 April, 2006

MLB debut - Ian Kinsler

There were, by our reckoning, 11 debuts on Opening Day. Here's the first of them.

Ian Kinsler opened up at 2b for Texas replacing Nats' bound Alfonso Soriano who had a decent day at the plate, mixed fortunes chasing (or not) fly balls and a crappy day on the basepaths.

Kinsler was a mild surprise to make the team this Spring. Yahoo lists him as a SS, but he also played at second in the Minors. He projects as a better second baseman, shows good hands average range. With the bat, he displays good power though may chalk up a lot of strike outs with his long swing.

At Oklahoma in 2005 he went 274/348/464, not an outstanding performance and a downgrade on an excellent 2004 when he tore up the Midwest League (402/465/692) before moving to the hitter friendly Texas League where he let up a bit (300/400/480). Nevertheless, he popped 23 homers for Oklahoma, which is no mean feat for a middle infielder at AAA.

Drafted out of Missouri, the third of his colleges, Kinsler turns 24 in June. He's tall and lean - 6 foot and 175 lbs.

On Opening Day, Kinsler started at second, batting 9th and went 1 for 2 with a walk. He was at the back end of an 8-4 double play as Boston's Alex Gonzalez was doubled up returning on a fly ball. His first hit was a line drive single with 2 out and no one on in the third, poked to right off a 1-1 fastball from Curt Schilling.

Second base looks Kinsler's to keep ahead of D'Angelo Jiminez and Mark DeRosa.

03 April, 2006

MLB Debut Watch - Opening Day

Donutball intends to cover Major League debuts throughout the season. This is partly to help scout for next year's IRBL draft and partly to broaden our knowledge of MLB players. USA Today Baseball Weekly used to do this sort of thing back in the pre-internet days. So, the ideas not new, but heck who's original these days?

As of Opening Day, we reckon there are 21 players on the 30 MLB rosters with no MLB experience. Unsurprisingly, Florida leads the way with five players of which at least two will be starting position players and one is a starting pitcher. Houston has two starting pitchers and, interestingly, there's 6 hurlers listed as starters.

Over the course of the season, we'll try to keep up with the transaction wire and boxscores to track player debuts. Could be a train wreck in September, but we'll try to keep on top of things. Any help or comments welcomed.

Oh, here's that list. If you think there are any omissions or errors, let us know in the comments box.

Nick Markakis, LF (BAL)
Sendy Rleal, RP (BAL)
Angel Pagan, CF (CHC)
Sean Marshall, SP (CHC)
Boone Logan, RP (CWS)
Joel Zumaya, RP (DET)
Carlos Martinez, RP (FLA)
Dan Uggla, 2B (FLA)
Eric Reed, CF (FLA)
Reggie Abercrombie, CF (FLA)
Ricky Nolasco, SP (FLA)
Fernando Nieve, SP (HOU)
Taylor Buchholz, SP (HOU)
Willie Eyre, SP (MIN)
Brian Bannister, SP (NYM)
Josh Barfield, 2B (SD)
Kenji Johjima, C (SEA)
Jason Childers, RP (TB)
Ruddy Lugo, RP (TB)
Fabio Castro, RP (TEX)
Ian Kinsler, SS (TEX)

Kinsler has already started at second for Texas and is 1 for 2 with a walk going into the bottom of the ninth with the Rangers 7-2 down. Pagan entered the game in the 5th in a double switch.

Japanese import Kenji Johjima is, of course, due to start later tonight for Seattle. Johjima better do the business as his backup, Guillermo Quiroz has just 88 Major League at bats.

02 April, 2006

Donut's glass ball - MLB 2006

So what do I know? I'm just a soccer loving Limey.

The last time I could tell you who was the second string catcher of the Seattle Mariners, rattle off Cleveland's top prospects or give an in depth analysis of the Red Sox bullpen was around about 1996. Heck, I support two teams in the same division.

Credentials? Donutball doesn't care.

We all love predictions. This soccer loving Limey may not have quite the encvclopedic knowledge he once had and hasn't seen an MLB game live in 6 years, but I can pontificate like the rest of blogdom.

So, nyah! Here goes nuttin'.

In some ways, this year more than any other year could be seen as a no brainer. St Louis, Lost Anaheim and the Ozzie Sox have kept the core of division winning squads. Are you gonna bet against the Yanquis and the Bravos seventy-umpth titles in a row? And, San Diego wins by default.

But, that's no fun is it?

Let's start with the NL Central, because no one else does. St Louis is a great baseball town and the new old Busch was one of the best stadiums I've been to, especially of the cookie cutter kind. New old Busch has gone. The Cards will likely draw 3.5 million to see probably a 95 win season. Sidney Ponson's comeback will be interesting: another Dave Duncan re-tread. The Astros World Series debut was over almost as soon as it began. They should challenge for the wild card again, but Preston Wilson is not the offensive upgrade they needed. Pitching carries them, with or without the Rocket. The rest of this overcrowded division is a sorry bunch. But, you gotta like the youth movements at Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. The Brewers lost Ben Sheets before opening day and that'll hurt. Prince Fielder is a slimmer version of his dad and could make an assault on 50 homers one day. I used to hate the Pirates because they dominated the old NL East. Their rotation looks wonky though Zach Duke might be a Rookie of the Year candidate. Have the Reds recovered from Jim Bowden? God, that team is awful. Meanwhile, the Cubs come into the season without (yawn) Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. Wrigley's new bleachers will be filled and patrons can catch lots of dingers from Derek Lee. However, there will be a lot more homers being thrown back.

As alluded to above, the NL West is a bit like the last man standing. It shapes up to be a dogfight between San Francisco and San Diego. The Bonds distraction apart, the Giants probably have enough pitching to edge the Pads, but age and health, as ever, is an issue. San Diego wheels out some right old geezers - Piazza, Klesko and Vinny. Pass around the cod liver oil. Oh my god, what happened to the rest of this division. The Dodgers have No-mah at first? Colorado plays to a half empty stadium? The D-backs have Vargas in the rotation? Euch!

Let's head over to the AL West. Oakland and the Angels of Orange County are set to try to out pitch one another. Both field a pretty impressive rotation and solid bullpens. It might come down to offense to decide between the two. I'm going for Oakland because I think the Big Hurt might have himself a good season. That monster foul territory and dense night air could damage his average and power, but I've got a feeling. Nats' fans know all about Texas's center fielder. It'll be the usual feast of 13-11 games at the Ballpark somewhere in the middle of Texan heat. Pleased to see Jamie Moyer still pitching for the Mariners. That probably tells you enough about their chances. Ichiro could get 300 hits and it won't help. Still, Seattle might be closer to .500 than any other bottom club and 4th place team.

Like it's NL counterpart, the AL Central features a couple of AAA teams - KC and Detroit. Both should remember that Minnesota used to be considered lame ducks. Well, they can hope. Okay, I'm picking the defending "adjusted" AL Central champs to take the "real" crown. Smartball is dead. Yeah, that White Sox rotation is frightening and the Injuns went backwards with the loss of Millwood and Elarton. I'm going for offense over pitching. This'll blow up in my face, but I expect Brian Anderson back in AAA by July and Jim Thome will be a bust. The Twins make a run at the wild card until the All-Star break. Johann Sanata might make a run at 20 wins with a sub-.500 club. Here's hoping KC's Zack Greinke gets his life sorted out. I doubt whether Jim Leyland can get the Tigers sorted, but I like Justin Verlander (so it's 2-14, 6.83 ERA for him).

Over to the soap opera that is the AL East, it's the Johnny Damon show. Red Sox Nation (tm) is heartbroke that Johnny has left for George Steinbrenner's bucks. Back in Beantown "Trade Manny" still wants a trade. When all's said and down, the Yankees will come top of the pile. There's too many bats to argue against though the rotation is both too old and too untested. Mariano Rivera can't keep going for ever - or can he? Pulling out of the World Baseball Classic was an indication that Rivera has thrown too much in the last two years. I expect a big trade mid-season (Soriano to the Yanks?). Behind the bickering Hadfields and McCoys, Toronto went out and spent plenty of Canadian green. This winds up as either a serious run at a wild card or a busted flush. Big bucks aside for Burnett and Ryan, there's a lot of young talent that might give Boston a close run for second. I working on a hunch and against my own logic to pick Toronto as the AL wild card ahead of Anaheim and Boston by single games. Oh, there's two other teams in the division. Tampa Bay looks like it's finally coming alive so could make a run at 75 wins. Baltimore? Well, position wise there's lots to admire: Roberts, Tejada, Millar. On the down side, Conine and Javy Lopez are the wrong side of 35 and the pitching is meh. More soap opera with Kirk Benson's divorce.

So, that brings us to the NL East. I don't intend to ride the waves of the Natosphere. Check the right hand column for better analysis of Washington. Suffice it to say, most agree that D.C.'s second season back in the big leagues could be a tough ride. At the top of the division, Donutball can't but ink in Atlanta for another title. John Schuerholz has quietly turned over 50% of the lineup bringing in blue chippers like Francouer, McCann and LaRoche. But, it's pitching that always wins for the Braves. The rotation is second to none: Smoltz and Hudson untouchable as a 1/2 punch. As usual, there are questions in the bullpen. Kyle Farnsworth wasn't the answer. I don't know if Bobby Cox will find the perfect answer this year. That in itself might spell playoff doom. Behind Atlanta, the Mets have had plenty of upheavals. It's time for Carlos Beltran to deliver. Much rests on Pedro and Glavine; Billy Wagner anchors the bullpen. Money might only buy second place, but I think it's the wild card too. Philly struggle with starting pitching. It'll still be fun to see how many homers Ryan Howard can poke. He might top 30 at home. The Marlins, of course, are your de rigeur Florida AAA club once again.

To recap:
NL East
1. Atlanta
2. NY Mets (wild card)
3. Philadelphia
4. Washington
5. Florida

NL Central
1. St Louis
2. Houston
3. Milwaukee
4. Pittsburgh
5. Chicago Cubs
6. Cincinnati

NL West
1. San Francisco
2. San Diego
3. Los Angeles
4. Colorado
5. Arizona

AL East
1. New York Yankees
2. Toronto (wild card)
3. Boston
4. Baltimore
5. Tampa Bay

AL Central
1. Cleveland
2. Chicago White Sox
3. Minnesota
4. Kansas City
5. Detroit

AL West
1. Oakland
2. LA Angels of Anaheim
3. Texas
4. Seattle

Donutball takes Atlanta to beat the Yankees in the World Series, 'cause they've gotta win it someday.

01 April, 2006

Now pitching, number 38...

Curt Schilling, making an appearance in London...