Will You Compromise?


Henry Clay.


It seems a little odd to be talking about this on Opening Day, but the Phillies aren’t playing and I am not particularly interested in non-Philadelphia March baseball (Jayson Heyward just went deep! Hand over the pennant!).  I think I might be among the least alarmed football fans in the country. I believe they will be playing NFL Football on schedule come the fall.  It’s the only solution that makes sense.  A lot of people don’t share this refreshing optimism.  The doomsday scenario is Sundays without the NFL.  Especially after the baseball playoffs this could be incredibly difficult to swallow.  The void this creates in Sunday television will be immense.  Already we hear some grumblings about what could be plugged into these choice time-slots.

A couple of days back I heard the new Pac-12 (now with more Utah!) would be considering moving some of its games to Sunday if the NFL wasn’t playing games.  Moving in college football seems like the most logical solution.  Now, I don’t foresee myself getting excited for Oregon/Oregon St. on a Sunday afternoon, but maybe that will do it for some people. I think the degenerate gamblers will be in bed with this idea.  You’ll suddenly have a lot more experts on Pac-12 football floating around if that is the only place to get a little taste on Sunday.  Saturday does still seem like the best day to hold a college sporting event, though.  Are we even going to pretend that anyone cares about playing the day before these guys need to be back in class?  I know a small number of games are played during the week, but what’s the projected attendance for a football team to Monday classes after a Sunday road game?

In addition to college football filling in some gaps on Sundays, the legendary Sports Guy rifled off a tweet mentioning that FOX could partner with some high-profile high school programs and bring an NFL level of production to your local football juggernaut.  This is a pretty crazy idea.  ESPN has shown some high school games in their past featuring premiere match-ups or big-name recruits.  I don’t think it’s a real ratings coup for them.  I imagine the audience is fiercely regional.  I could see areas getting behind their local teams, but unless these high schools start playing a national schedule, how would it really work?  Also, can you bet on high school football?   I hate to keep bringing it up, but again, let’s not pretend it isn’t a factor.  I would like to see your local high school quarterback getting crap for ruining someone’s fantasy team, though.

I guess I am just wondering how desperate everyone will be for football?  Would you jump on a college bandwagon? Would you try to figure out what the UFL is and where they actually have teams?  Would you take in some Friday Night Lights?  I don’t think I have that in me.  That’s just the honest truth.  If there is no NFL, well then, I think I will just wait for it to come back.  I’m such a shill for the league.  Sure, I will miss my heated, low-stakes fantasy football and I will need to figure out how to blow some Sunday afternoons, but I’m not so desperate as to force myself into watching something I don’t care about.  That’s fraudulent.  People will talk themselves into it, though, I’m sure.  I’d love to hear if anyone is scouting local high school teams or studying Temple’s schedule.

Quiz of the Day: US Vice Presidents by Letter.  Category: 2nd Fiddles.  My Score: 13/17.

Hint:  Henry Clay not on the list.  The man just could not ever catch a break.


Assigning Hardware.


Is This the Year?


It is Opening Day.  I’ll repeat my sentiments from earlier that starting on a Thursday doesn’t feel quite right, but we’re just three hours away from Tigers/Yankees and Braves/Nationals.  If you can wrap your head around it, “Lucky” Livan Hernandez is taking the ball for the Nationals.  The Phillies don’t hit the diamond until Friday, but I’ve got to get these predictions in before Livan twirls that first spin ball, or they won’t be truly official.  When I did this last year I had mixed results.  I completely jinxed Josh Beckett, but Roy Halladay won the Cy Young.  I tried to get cute with Hanley Ramirez, but Miguel Cabrera put up MVP-type numbers.  So, no one is good at making these predictions, I just want everyone to realize, I’m not especially bad at it.  Here we go…

American League Playoff Teams: Boston, Detroit, Oakland and New York.

You’d have to be a moron to not take the Red Sox in the East.  It is a very good division.  Toronto, Baltimore and Tampa will create some problems, but the Red Sox are clearly the best team and the Yankees should be good enough to win the wild-card.  The A’s pick is me yielding to something trendy.  They have a good rotation, I think the Rangers will suffer a setback, and that makes things wide open.  There is a lot of love for Chicago in the Central, and I think it’ll be a very tight race, but I settled on the Tigers.

National League Playoff Teams: Phillies, Reds, Giants and Rockies.

Nothing too creative here.  I’m not buying the Braves, I don’t like Lowe and Huddy anymore.  I like the Brewers, but their injuries on the pitching staff scare me a little bit.  With the Padres worse than last year and the Diamondbacks being the Diamondbacks I think the Giants and Rockies could both beat up on those teams and use it as a springboard to make the playoffs.

National League Rookie of the Year: Aroldis Chapman.

I picked Chapman to have more influence last year than Strasburg and Heyward.  Well, I get a bit of a second chance here.  A lot of the late money is coming in on San Francisco 1st baseman Brandon Belt.  A lot of the time these big 1st base prospects, guys like Belt or Freddie Freeman need a little time to develop.  If Craig Kimbrel had won the closer’s job outright, I probably take him, but instead I’ll go with the known commodity in Chapman.

American League Rookie of the Year: Kyle Drabek.

There are a few names floating around for this one that we’ve heard for years.  Jeremy Hellickson, for example. Desmond Jennings.  Jesus Montero.  I like that Drabek is riding a big wave of momentum this spring.  He went from the Jays hoping he’d be in the rotation to being named their #2 starter.  It’s a tall order in the AL East, but I think a full season of work will give him the edge in this race.

American League Cy Young: Justin Verlander.

If you think the Red Sox are the best team, you automatically should start there, but I don’t see a Cy Young on that staff.  From there, it’s all about the usual suspects, guys like C.C. and Felix.  I think doing it two straight years for a bad team is just too difficult, so that kills Felix’s chances.  I don’t have the guts to take a flyer on someone like Trevor Cahill, so it came down to C.C. and Verlander.  Verlander has that eye-popping fastball, he’s got the easier division, and it just feels like if he’s going to win one of these things, it’s going to be this year.  That’s science.

National League Cy Young: Roy Halladay.

Remember what I said yesterday about until further notice?  Well, yeah, it applies here too.  The National League is stacked with guys who could win this.  Lincecum, Cain, Greinke, Carpenter, Latos, Johnson, Jimenez.  It’s an incredibly deep race.  The thing is, a lot of those guys had huge, career-type years last season and they either couldn’t stay healthy or couldn’t keep it together the whole way.  Halladay just had a Halladay year and won the thing unanimously.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a little better in 2011 and I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if he went back-to-back.

National League MVP:  Ryan Braun.

The two trendiest picks I’ve seen are Tulo and Buster Posey.  Posey had the massive spring and people are projecting the old Ryan Howard Ro0kie of the Year/MVP double.  I don’t quite see it.  I think Pujols will be in there, I think Ryan Howard gets some love, but I’m going to take a chance on Braun.  The guy just hits and hits.  Now, he can’t play defense a lick, and the Brewers might not be a playoff team, so he’ll have to really explode to win this, but I think he’s got a chance with Prince Fielder pushing for a contract in the line up with him.

American League MVP: Miguel Cabrera.

What is my deal with the Tigers?  I actually have no idea.  I guess if I pick all of these things, maybe one will happen? I’m hearing a lot of A-Rod chatter for MVP this year.  I can’t do that, I’d take Cano before I took him.  Adrian Gonzalez is a popular call, but I don’t want to go there either.  I don’t think Hamilton can repeat, and that leaves Cabrera as the best hitter in the AL.  Pretty much hands down, so it’s really the safe play.

World Series Prediction: Yankees over Giants.

I’d like both these teams to take a long, deep inhale of that jinx.  Honestly, the Phillies have too many question marks and the Red Sox just feel a bit too trendy.  Go to ESPN’s predictions and look at the sea of Red Sox logos.  It’s out of control.

Every Last Detail of Phillies 2011 Season Before it Happens.


Everyone Wants a Parade.


Before we get started, a note about the picture.  Embrace 1985.  Not only is Ferris wearing what appears to be a leopard print cardigan and gray suit pants, but we all watched this and didn’t even blink an eye.  And, this was the coolest teenager in all of Illinois putting that outfit together.  Leopard print, it’s timeless.  Anyway, on to the Phillies.

The Phillies haven’t been getting a ton of love in the prediction columns.  At least not commensurate with the feeling we all had the day after they signed Cliff Lee.  Things have changed, and that swifty Heyman over at SI didn’t even have them in the playoffs.  I think Jayson Stark picked them to make the World Series, but he used Dancing With The Stars to frame his column and I went brain-dead while power-skimming it.  Way to know your audience, Jayson!  Anyway, tomorrow I’m going to randomly assign my award predictions and the like (hey, I nailed the NL Cy Young last year), but today we’ll just focus on the hometown boys.  A crooked walk through 2011…

Most Recent News:

  1. Phils Cut Castillo.  This surprises me a bit, because Castillo was doing exactly what Castillo does, and they still cut him.  What were they expecting, gap to gap power?  I have no use for Castillo. The team doesn’t need a slap-hitter.
  2. Brad Lidge is down until May.  I don’t want to minimize Brad Lidge, but I think his health will have almost no bearing on this Phillies season.  The replacement(s) will be just as good as a healthy Lidge would have been at this point in his career.
  3. Jamie Moyer is going to be on Baseball Tonight.  Expect him to complain three weeks in to a group of media that he isn’t getting the air-time that he was promised by ESPN.

The 2011 Season:

Don’t Bury the Lede:  The Phillies will win 94 games.  They will make the playoffs.

Offensive MVP: Ryan Howard.  A lot is being made of the fact that Howard has no protection in the order.  This is an overblown concept in my opinion.  If Howard is disciplined and some guys get on in front of him, he’ll have plenty of chances to hit.  I think Ryan will push it past 40 HRs again.

Offensive Disappointment: Placido Polanco.  I’m a little concerned about Polly.  Between the elbow and the cold spring, I’m afraid we may have seen the best of Polanco.  He knows how to hit and should grind it out, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him dropped to 7th in the order by the end of the year.

Best Starting Pitcher: Roy Halladay.  Until something changes, Halladay is far and away the best pitcher on this staff.  No disrespect to the other guys, but he’s another ½ level above the other guys.  It’s actually the ace and three very good pitchers in my opinion.

Ace Most Likely to Struggle: Cole Hamels.  A month ago I might have picked Hamels to win the Cy Young, and I still think he could have a very good year.  The real answer to this question is that I think all the aces will be just fine.  But, Hamels has had an up and down spring and he sounds a little confused.  He thinks too much, talks himself into things he shouldn’t be worried about.  I want to see a couple regular season starts from Oswalt as well.

Contreras will Save How Many Games: 30.  I have no real reason to believe that Lidge will be ready to close by May. This could last all year.  I think Contreras can handle the job.  I don’t know if they will use him as frequently as a true closer, but I think he’ll be the guy and I think he’ll do well.  By the way, giving the ball to Contreras here is a big hit to the Ryan Madson 2012 closer campaign.  We could see the last of Madson in 2011.

Jimmy Rollins Will: Earn a 3-year, 20 million dollar deal from someone.  Will it be the Phillies?  I’m not sure.  Rollins will never return to the form that won him the NL MVP award, but as spring training has wound to a close he’s shown me enough that I think he’ll bounce back reasonably well from last year.  Something in the .270, 15 homer, 30 steal ballpark.  And, he can still play solid defense.

Chase Utley:  I don’t see any reason to project on Utley.  I can say, that I think regardless of how things are progressing, Utley will drag himself out there in May or maybe June and try to give it a go.  When that happens, we’ll know what his season will hold.

Raul Ibanez: Will Make the Phillies contemplate a one-year offer after the season.  I think Ibanez’s solid spring is a sign of a solid year to come.  He’ll be spelled occasionally against lefties, but I think he’ll get a good 140 starts and I think he’ll be in the 60 extra base hit range.

Domonic Brown: Will play the majority of the season at AAA.  This is what is best for Brown and I hope the Phillies are in a position to allow this to happen.  If all goes well, they can reintroduce Brown as a late-season call-up and try to start the Brown era again in 2012.

Minor Leaguer Knocking on the Door:  Mike Stutes.  Last year in this post I mentioned Scott Mathieson.  I thought he could pop-up in the Phillies bullpen by the end of the year.  Well, Mathieson is still there as a candidate, but he’s probably been eclipsed by Stutes who has far less baggage.  The fans already like this guy, and they’ll love him if he can come up to Philly and produce.  Nothing like a young, live arm for the bullpen.  I’d tell Herndon to take a walk and try Stutes from the opening gun.

Random Stat Lines:

  1. Cliff Lee: 16-9, 3.00 ERA.  Lee’s handful of bad starts will keep him from Cy Young contention.
  2. Shane Victorino: .295, 12 HRs, 40 2Bs, 100 runs.  I think Shane is going to have a good year.  Little less swinging for the fences will serve him well.
  3. Ben Francisco:  .270, 24 HRs, 90 Rbis.  Taste that, Werth.  The panic over missing Werth is overblown.  Francisco can do a decent job, and remember Werth was one of the worst hitters in all of baseball with runners in scoring position last year.

Hope that covers enough for everyone.  Two days away (barring Nor’easter interference) from everything getting underway.  It’s felt like a long spring.  Can’t wait for them to start counting.

Quiz of the Day: Sitcom by Scene.  Category: Turn off the Idiot Box.  My Score: 24/25.

Nice easy one today after yesterday.  I almost did Top 200 Phillies by games played in the Veterans Stadium Era. That’s hours of fun.  But, I thought about you guys, and gave you a break.

Look Who It Is.


Questions About My Recruiting?


So, here’s a little tidbit that probably not too many people know about me:  On Tuesdays I go to my local schoolyard right around noontime and I sell giant pixie sticks to unsuspecting grade schoolers at an obscene mark up.  Needless to say, this is very lucrative.  I can’t really go into further detail, because I’m not supposed to be there, but I keep it low profile and all the little sugar fiends know where to find me.

So I’m over there yesterday, waiting for the basketball game to break up, when this giant SUV pulls up, looks like a Cadillac.  The guy is trying to parallel park it into a tight space and before I know he’s got the front wheel up on the sidewalk.  Much to my surprise, no further adjustments are made.  Guy hops out, does the standard over the shoulder door lock with his douchey fob and he’s walking over toward me.  He looks like some low-level gangster wannabe in some ill-fitting bright blue warm-ups, but then as he gets a little closer I realize it’s John Calipari.  Coach Cal, in my hood, who would have thought?

Right away I’m in a bad mood, because I don’t need anyone drawing attention to me, but Cal looks like he’s done this a million times, striding over like he owns the place.  I start to do the nervous head swivel, looking for an exit strategy, but there is none.  Cal’s got me cornered.  He saunters right up to me.

CAL (sticking out his doughy paw): Hey, John Calipari, Kentucky.

Me:  James Naismith, horrified.

CAL (takes off sunglasses looks at himself in reflection): Naismith, huh?  That sounds familiar.  Were you an assistant at Temple back in the day?

Me:  No.

CAL:  How is coach Cheney, anyway?

Me:  He still wants to f*cking kill you.

CAL (nodding): What’s in the bag, cash?

Me: Uh, it’s more like drugs.  You’re getting a ticket over there.

(Normally, this would be something I would say to create a diversion and then I’d head for the hills, but literally 2 minutes after Cal parked a cop came by and started lighting up his windshield.  It was like they were following him around town.)

CAL (unfazed): That car is property of some old hillbilly in Kentucky I’ve never met, they can tow the sh*t box for all I care.  Actually, that’s a lie.  I store stuff in the back.

Me: Like what, empty promises?

CAL: More like the currency of the trade, young fella.  You’ll learn eventually.

Me:  So, what the hell are you doing here, shouldn’t you be getting ready for the Final Four?

(The basketball from the game gets loose and rolls to our feet.  Cal picks it up and when the kid coming to retrieve it is about two steps away he rifles it as far as he can in the opposite direction.)

CAL: Loser’s walk, kid.

(kid fights back tears)

CAL: What were you saying?

Me: The Final Four.  It’s this Saturday.

CAL: Oh, right.  You know, I actually do a lot less (air quotes) coaching than you might expect.

Me:  I’m not sure that’s possible.

CAL: You think I’m worried about Jim Calhoun?  That old bastard.  I call him Mrs. Auriemma.  He goes bat sh*t, you should try it the next time you see him.  He’ll blow an artery.  Team’s a f*cking joke.  Their best player is a junior. You know who stays in school for 3-years?  Kids who suck.

Me: Well, I gotta say, you do seem to have a way with the recruits.  Shame about that Kanter kid.  If you had that project, you’d have been a lock.

CAL:  That was MISINFORMATION!  I’ll tell you what.  That kid was the Turkish Marcus Camby, only not a bitch.  He had an edge.  I loved that kid.  I loved his family.  His mother made me a sweater out of goat hair or some such sh*t.  We had a relationship.  The NCAA can sit and spin (Coach Cal points to his junk.)

Me:  I don’t know, seems like a pretty straightforward case of you recruiting a professional player.

CAL:  There was no money.  MISINFORMATION!

Me:  All right, calm down.

(I check the time on my cellphone, confirming the game is about to break up and I’m about to make it rain dyed sugar. Sure enough, the kids are starting to meander off the basketball court.   I surreptitiously hold up my pixie sticks.)

Me:  Seriously, Cal, what the hell are you doing here?

CAL: I’m recruiting.

Me (pointing to the court): These clowns?

CAL: (shaking his head, a devious smile comes across his face):  No.

(Cal points into the distance where a group of much younger kids are on some swings.  There appears to one kid terrorizing the others.  He’s knocking kids on their butts left and right and laughing the whole time.)

CAL: I want the bully.

(Cal makes a quick beeline for his car, and I stop paying attention so I can unload my pixie sticks.  Business is pretty fast and furious.   I fold the sweaty stack of one-dollar bills into my pocket and start to head out.  I hit the sidewalk and walk toward Cal’s illegally parked Escalade.  The tailgate is open.  When I get even with the back of the car I see Coach Cal and the bully.  Cal’s got a shiny bike out of the back of his car, and he’s demonstrating the bells and whistles for the mongoloid that was wreaking havoc on the playground.  Kid’s got a smile from ear to ear.  He’s about to pedal off into a life of juvenile detention when Cal shoves a wad of bills into his coat pocket.)

CAL:  Buy something nice for Mother, and don’t forget to tell her where it’s from.

( I just shake my head and keep walking)





Golf Digest has released the top-20 from their latest top-100 rankings, aka the list that makes you feel like a smug bastard or the list that makes you feel bad about your home course.  Most people fall into the latter group.  The complete list will be available early next month, but for now the top 20:

  1. Augusta National
  2. Pine Valley
  3. Shinnecock Hills
  4. Oakmont
  5. Cypress Point
  6. Pebble Beach
  7. Merion
  8. Winged Foot West
  9. Sand Hills
  10. National Golf Links of America
  11. Fisher’s Island
  12. Crystal Downs
  13. Seminole
  14. The Alotian Club
  15. Pacific Dunes
  16. The Country Club
  17. Chicago Golf Club
  18. Whistling Straits
  19. Muirfield Village
  20. Wade Hampton Golf Club

Quite a list, and not too much change from the last rankings in 2009.  Augusta National holds a .38 point lead on Pine Valley.  That’s up from a .36 point advantage last time, so perhaps Augusta is pulling away?  I don’t think I could decide which course I would rather play.  I’ve gone back and forth in my head 10 times just while writing this paragraph.  I think I’d take Augusta, because of the Masters and because I’d shoot a nice easy, breezy 105 there.  Pine Valley is too penal.  I’d be afraid to take the club back on the tee box.  At Augusta I could rip away and then four-putt every hole. It’d be more entertaining double-bogey golf.


Nice Expectations.

2-8 in Our Last Ten, Taste It!

When I woke up this morning I thought I’d missed the basketball playoffs.  I start clicking around the usual sports websites and the Knicks are plastered all over every front page as if they’d won the NBA title.  Why were they all over the place?  Well, they beat the Magic.  In OT.  Carmelo had 39.  The win ended a six game losing streak during which the Knicks lost to such dignitaries as the Pistons and Bobcats.  It bumped the Knicks to 2-8 in their last 10, and kept them firmly entrenched as the 7th seed in the East.  Now, I know it is a very slow couple of days for sports, but is this really a big deal?  Because Melo called it must-win?

It seems to be a big deal for Knicks fans.  I have to admit to going on Facebook to make this point, but so be it.  I saw multiple Melo-gasms all over the internet last night.  MELO!!!!  KNICKS BABY!!!  How basketball starved is this fan base? I give Sixers fans credit at least for knowing the team is still garbage.  They beat the Bulls last night.  Thaddeus Young rained down 21 points, but no national attention.  I guess I’m just saying it must be nice to be a Knicks fan.  It must be nice to be so easily stimulated.  We’re counting down the last dozen games or so before you get throttled in the 1st round, and you’re getting excited about breaking a six-game skid and staying 4.5 in front of those aforementioned Bobcats.


I have to admit I’m getting lured in by all the promotion for Tiger Woods PGA Tour ’12: The Masters.  Sometimes I like to play it all high and mighty with video games and state that I haven’t owned a system since original Nintendo.  That’s true, but it is also very misleading.  Video game addiction is like anything else.  I’m still the same guy who spent most of my 1st year at college playing Bond.  Hell, a couple of years back I got re-addicted to Baseball Stars, playing an emulator on my computer.  It’s always there under the surface.  This Masters video game is very tempting.  I don’t think I’ve played a PGA Tour game since about ’02, but we’re talking about digital Augusta National here.  It’s good that I don’t own a system, because you could probably kiss the next month of my life goodbye.  That said, if anyone has this game and wants to invite me over for like, a weekend, I’m open.


Couple of quick NFL notes.  First, Titans owner Bud Adams guaranteed they’d be playing games in 2011.  Season will go on as scheduled, stop worrying about it, folks.  This is either a refreshing burst of optimism, or an indication that Bud Adams has lost his damn mind and is speaking out of turn to try to comfort his ticket-holders.  Who knows, but I have maintained all along that I think the two sides will agree before any games are lost so the only way I can frame this is to say, “hey look, now even the owners are agreeing with me.”

The other thing I wanted to bring up is moving a bit under the radar.  As the draft nears it feels like Cam Newton is being slowly picked apart by people who appear to have an agenda.  This isn’t about where Newton should go in the draft, but more about how many people there are out there that seem to genuinely dislike Cam Newton.  The latest blast comes from a Pro Football Weekly draft guide.  In the analysis of Newton, writer Nolan Nowrocki goes off the field for some of Newton’s negatives.  He calls him selfish, fake, a poor leader, not dependable.  It goes on for a while.  Not singling out this one guy’s intentions, but in general it seems like people are saying, forget this guy as a player, I don’t like him as an individual.  Now, that certainly has a part in the draft process. If someone is a bad guy, he’s a bad guy, but I wonder how much Newton’s background at Florida and then his transfer to Auburn are playing a part here.  Is some of the criticism due to the fact that people think Newton didn’t really play by the rules in college?   I think by the time the draft rolls around Newton is going to be considered a risk to take with a top pick and then he’ll either be judged as a bust or a steal who fell because of trumped up concerns.


Quiz of the Day:  Phillies All-Stars 1980-Present.  Category: Unnecessary Knowledge.  My Score: 73/77.

Joe Cowley….not on the list.  Some real shockers, though.  So, a humorous guess could take you a long way.

The Rest of the NL.

The Eagle Looks A Bit Uncomfortable, No?

The Phillies arrived in town on Monday night to kick-off what has become “Opening Week” for baseball in Philadelphia.  Baseball used to open on a Monday.  Monday afternoon to be specific, but that obviously doesn’t make any sense for television.  Eventually we had a Sunday night game to kick-off the season.  Now, we’re pushed all the way back to Thursday.  At this rate we’ll eventually get back to Monday afternoon, and how it is supposed to be, but in the meantime the Phils have to labor through an “on-deck” series against Pittsburgh before things really get going.  The Phillies start the season with more questions than expected.  So many that it is difficult to pin down an exact forecast for their year.  Their starting pitching remains healthy, though, and with that alone they should have enough to be a serious factor in the National League once again.  Instead of wondering about what we don’t know with the Phils, how about looking at what they’ll have to get through to make their way back to the World Series…

Today a peek at the NL, coming later this week, a Phillies breakdown, some hopeless predictions and maybe we’ll even acknowledge the American League. First the NL:

Teams With No Shot: Pittsburgh, New York, Arizona, Washington and Houston.

Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh’s stadium deserves better, and possibly they are on the way up with the arrival of some young talent, but in a competitive division with that rotation?  Forget it.  Maybe you can steal Andrew McCutchen in your fantasy draft, otherwise, this may be 19 losing season in a row.

New York: The Mets remind me of an NBA team that is just waiting to start over.  They’ll give you a nice song and dance about if Beltran and Reyes do this and that maybe they’ll bounce back, but that isn’t going to happen.  Toxic culture, not enough pitching, they might not finish last, but they ain’t finishing first.

Arizona: Without Steve Nash, professional sports in Arizona would have no credibility.  This franchise has been dying since they won a World Series a decade ago, and for the 2nd straight year they’ll be the whipping boy in an otherwise competitive NL West.  If Justin Upton was smart, he’d stop whining about trade rumors and embrace them.

Washington: The Nationals have made some moves, but they are probably still another year away from even having a glimmer.  Ankiel, LaRoche, Pudge-Rod?  There is still too much of that 2nd hand talent around to support a pitching staff that needs all the help it can get.  One more year until Strasburg and Harper.  Until then, enjoy Jayson Werth’s .267/23/89.

Houston: How many more years before the plug is pulled on the Ed Wade experiment part II?  You can talk yourself into a nice optimistic lather with Houston, but at the end of the day, Brett Myers is starting on Opening Day.

Not Enough Pop: San Diego, Florida, St. Louis.

San Diego: The Padres had their dream season last year and still came up short.  Now, take away Adrian Gonzalez and replace him with Brad Hawpe.  They are going to score a shockingly low amount of runs.  Watch out Seattle.  Too much heat on the young pitching to expect any real success.

Florida: The Marlins have that young, high-ceiling core to their line-up: Hanley, Mike Stanton, and Gaby Sanchez, but it’s not going to be consistent enough to make them a winner.  I think Stanton needs one full year before he really explodes and the Marlins will too often leave a solid rotation hanging.

St. Louis: Hard to believe a team with Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday could end up on this list, but that is about all the Cardinals have going for them.  You saw the start of this last season and even before that in playoff losses.  Not enough offense for the Cards.  Lance Berkman?  Come on.  Depleted pitching as well leaves St. Louis in a bit of a downturn.

Too Many Ifs: Chicago, Los Angeles, Colorado.

Chicago: I don’t want to write any of these teams off completely, but a lot has to come together for them to be successful. For example, in Chicago:  If Carlos Pena hits, if Carlos Zambrano finds some form, if Marmol finally develops into a dominant closer, if Dempster can be an ace…then maybe Chicago can make a little noise.  But, that’s a lot of questions and they’d probably still be short on offense.  Wait for the push for Pujols ’12.

Los Angeles: If Chad Billingsly returns to form, if Kershaw has a Cy Young caliber season, if Ethier can stay healthy, if Garland or Padilla can come off the DL and be effective…The Dodgers are probably closer than the Cubs, but also need a lot to go right and are a little short on the offensive side of the ball.  They need Manny.  Joking.  Kind of.

Colorado: If they can get decent starting pitching from Chacin and Hammel, if Todd Helton can somehow contribute, if Tulo can have an MVP-type full season, if Huston Street can close…maybe the Rockies could sneak through in the NL West.  The bottom line, though, is that the Rockies are just a bit thin everywhere. They could use one bat, one starter and one dominant arm in the bullpen.

The Playoff Pool: San Francisco, Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee.

San Francisco: The defending champs.  What they’ve got going for them is the same great pitching staff and on paper, an even better offense.  That assumes that Buster Posey will continue his rise, and that Pablo Sandoval will bounce back, though.  And, the offense still looks like it could go cold for stretches.  Their bullpen must stay healthy and they need big years out of Bumgarner and Sanchez to compliment Cain and Lincecum.  That’s a lot of pressure on young and somewhat unproven arms.  I’m expecting a bit of a hangover with this team as well.

Atlanta: The Braves added Dan Uggla to a lineup that needed some pop, and he should help, but the Braves still have question marks on offense.  Is Jason Heyward going to improve? Can Freddie Freeman be the 1st baseman?  The best sign this team has gotten is Chipper Jones’s great spring.  They need to grind one more year out of their old workhorses (Hudson and Lowe) and they should be hanging around for another playoff spot.

Cincinnati: The Reds can just maul the baseball, and you’ve got to appreciate that.  I don’t like their pitching staff.  Their rotation is part young and part injury prone.  Aroldis Chapman could be the key name on this staff.  Is he closing by mid-summer?  The line-up led the NL in everything last season and is essentially the same.  Aside from Scott Rolen, I don’t see many guys who are in line for any real decline.  Votto, Bruce and Gomes will hit a ton of homers.  They should be fun team that could easily come out of the competitive Central again.

Milwaukee: The Brewers are a better version of a “what if” team.  They have the big offensive guns in place.  They made bold moves to try to improve their pitching staff, and if that comes together they could easily win the Central, but sometimes it is hard to just throw together a bunch of pieces.  Greinke and Marcum are already battling little injuries, I’m not 100% sold on Yovani Gallardo and this team’s bullpen is a total train wreck.  Maybe the widest possible spectrum of any NL team, it wouldn’t surprise me if they win the Central or are shedding pieces at the deadline.