11th and Washington

11th and Washington: February 2008

Saturday, February 23, 2008

2008 preview: AL Central


In general

This is probably the most-improved team in baseball; certainly in the American League. Not only did the Tigers add an ace-quality pitcher -- and a left-handed one at that (Dontrelle Willis, of course) -- but they also got one of the game's top young third basemen in the deal (Miguel Cabrera, natch), all without giving up anyone who would've been a key part of the Opening Day lineup. Add in the acquisitions of a superb defensive shortstop (Edgar Renteria) and more-than-capable left fielder (Jacque Jones), and you've got upgrades at four spots, plus a lineup that will bat a former MVP eighth or ninth (Ivan Rodriguez). The trade that brought in D-Train and Miggy C. may have cemented the Twins' decision to trade Johan Santana. Detroit won 88 games last year, though it was still eight games behind Cleveland. These moves could very well make up those eight games, but if not, they could surely secure a Wild Card spot, thereby potentially blocking the Yankees from the playoffs. Go Get 'Em, Tigers!

What I look forward to seeing

Can the Tigers score 1,000 runs? That seems to be the over/under everyone is setting for this latest Murderers Row. (Are we still allowed to say that? The PC police haven't come out against that yet, have they?) What will Justin Verlander do for an encore after his 18-6, 3.66 season? In a record seemingly created just for him, the young right-hander is the only pitcher in baseball history to throw a no-hitter, start a World Series game, be a Rookie of the Year and an All-Star in his first two seasons, according to The AP. Is Curtis Granderson the closest thing this generation has to Willie Mays? I mean, he did become the first player since Willie Mays to post 20 homers, 20 doubles, 20 triples and 20 stolen bases in the same season in 2007. Does he reach 30-30? Can he set a post-Dead Ball Era record with 27 triples? Not since Kiki Cuyler's 26 in 1925 has anyone hit that many, and all the higher figures came no later than 1912.


In general

Ninety-six wins won the division last year, though 89 would've gotten it done. But it may take that 96 in 2008. The Indians lost little (Kenny Lofton and Trot Nixon), though they gained little (Masahide Kobayashi, Jamey Carroll and Jorge Julio). Provided everyone stays healthy, we should see more of the same from the Tribe in '08. Having Travis Hafner and David Dellucci fully healthy will be a bonus, and a full season of Franklin Gutierrez will push the aging Casey Blake down to the ninth spot in the batting order. Grady Sizemore sets the table once again, but Asdrubal Cabrera will occupy the No. 2 spot from the outset.

On the mound, Cy Young winner C.C. Sabathia will be pitching for a contract -- as we'll hear each and every time the Indians appear on national TV. Along with the contract Santana signed and what it could mean for C.C. But what will Fausto Carmona bring for an encore from his breakout season? Another 19-8 campaign would be a lot to ask for, so can he put up 14-15 wins? That would be a good mark to hit. But after those two, you have Jake Westbrook, who underwhelmed in 2007 with a 6-9 record; Paul Byrd, who somehow won 15 games without ever throwing a pitch faster than 78 mph; and young lefty Aaron Laffey, who made his debut last August. And therein I think lies the difference between the Tigers and Indians. Cleveland doesn't have the offense to match Detroit, and the Tribe's bottom three in the rotation don't make up the difference -- nor do they match up well with the Tigers' bottom three, whatever the combination of Kenny Rogers, Jeremy Bonderman, Willis and Nate Robertson it turns out to be.

What I look forward to seeing

Sizemore. I drafted the guy on my fantasy team in '06 and enjoyed the emergence, and I like what he brings to the game. He's fun to watch. There's Sabathia, too. How does he fare with the expectations and pressure of coming off a Cy Young Award and playing through the final year of his contract? That's a pretty hefty duo with which to deal. I'll also keep an eye out for the return of Shin-Soo Choo, who may have an even bigger assignment in his future. I'm also curious to see just how tight this AL Central race is, and whether the runner-up in the division has enough to beat out the AL East runner-up for the Wild Card. Last year, the Yankees beat out the Tigers for the extra spot -- and then lost to the Indians in the Division Series. This year, the Yankees could be fighting the Indians for that last spot in the American League playoff bracket.


In general

Getting through the middle of the White Sox lineup is going to be a chore this year, especially in Chicago. From Jim Thome at No. 3 to Paul Konerko to Jermaine Dye to Nick Swisher, you've got four likely 30-home run hitters (Thome and Konerko passed that mark last year, Dye hit 28 and Swisher hit 22 while playing half his games in power-sapping Oakland) who will make any at-bat with runners on base a scoring opportunity. And there's balance between left-handed hitters and right, so playing the matchups won't usually be an option. In front of Thome, you've got the still-developing Jerry Owens and the veteran Orlando Cabrera, who hit .301 and OPSed (is that a verb yet?) a decent .742 for a No. 2 hitter. In the potent Angels lineup, he scored 101 runs and drove in 86, which he could somewhat easily repeat here. The bottom third will snuff some rallies, though, with A.J. Pierzynski followed by either the back-from-injury Joe Crede or the up-and-coming Josh Fields and the yet-to-be-determined Danny Richar (or Jose Uribe, who will vie for the second-base gig now that Cabrera has subplanted him at shortstop).

Mark Buehrle leads the staff, but other than his no-hitter last year, he turned in a pedestrian 10-9 campaign with a respectable 3.63 ERA and parlayed that into a $50-million contract. It remains to be seen just whether that was a bargain or overpayment. Javier Vazquez rebounded a bit with a 15-8, 3.74 season, including 213 strikeouts in 216 innings. But then they're looking at John Danks, Jose Contreras and Gavin Floyd, who combined to go 17-35 in 2007, with each pitcher's ERA above 5.00. I'll always have a soft spot for Floyd, the former top pick of the Phillies who spent the 2002 season at Class A Lakewood, but this is the season in which he has to emerge as a middle-of-the-rotation starter, or he could be cemented as a bust. And to think that he was once looked at as a No. 1 or 2 starter, at worst.

What I look forward to seeing

Continuing with a theme, I do want to see what Floyd can do. This is the turning point for his career. We'll know what kind of pitcher he's going to be before 2008 is out. I want to see how Swisher does in a new environment, one that plays more to his strengths -- gap power, for one -- and puts him closer to his Ohio roots (with at least nine trips to his home state each season). He's also one of the remaining "stars" of Moneyball, along with Joe Blanton, whom the A's drafted that year. One of the signature draftees, catcher Jeremy Brown, announced his retirement recently, citing family reasons as much as his progress -- or lack thereof, save for five games in the bigs -- through the Oakland organization.


In general

With Johan gone, anyone want to guess Minnesota's Opening Day starter? No, they're not pushing Francisco Lirano back from Tommy John surgery to take the assignment. Scott Baker anyone? Yeah, it's him. Considering what the Tigers did to improve and what the Indians didn't do (take any significant steps backward) -- and that Minnesota finished 17 games behind Cleveland and nine behind Detroit in 2007 -- the Twins had to trade Santana. They weren't going to win with him this year, so they might as well set themselves up for the future. Outfielder Carlos Gomez is the most Major League ready, though right-hander Phil Humber could be close. Minor league pitchers Kevin Mulvey and Delois Guerra are tougher to peg. But then, when the Twins dealt Pierzynski to the Giants and got minor leaguers Lirano, Joe Nathan and Boof Bonser in return, everyone thought they were crazy for dealing an All-Star catcher for three unknown bush leaguers.

So the Twins enter 2008 with Gomez in a starting role for the first time, leading off with his career OBP -- albeit truncated, still-getting-started career -- a measley .288. But he's got plenty of speed (with the Mets, it was said he was faster than Jose Reyes) and can make contact. He'll run down everything in center field -- though whether he'll make Twins fans forget Torii Hunter is a longshot, because he won't be the run-producer at the plate that Hunter was -- and has a good arm. Once he makes consistent contact and finds the gaps with regularity, he could be a threat at the top of the order. Beyond Gomez, it's a formidible stretch of Joe Mauer, Delmon Young, Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer, plus Jason Kubel another year removed from knee surgery. The bottom third, however, leaves us with Brendan Harris, Mike Lamb and Adam Everett, then a return to Gomez. So Mauer may have to be a bit of a table-setter at times this year.

Beyond Baker, the Twins are looking at Bonser, Liriano, Livan Hernandez and Kevin Slowey, though he may have to win the fifth spot. I can't say there's anyone in that rotation that scares me, though I was hoping the Mets would sign Hernandez through much of the offseason -- until they landed Santana. He'll eat up innings, but he gives up a lot of hits, so he needs a good defense behind him. I'm not sure the Twins have that anymore, not without Hunter.

What I'm looking forward to seeing

Liriano is the big question. Is he back? Or when will he be? Though it probably won't happen this year, can he make Twins fans forget -- at least a little -- about Santana? Morneau and Cuddyer are secured with long-term contracts now, so their relationship in the lineup will be interesting to watch. They, along with Mauer, could be anchoring the Twins' lineup for the next decade. And then there's Delmon Young, a former overall No. 1 pick who gets a fresh start in Minnesota. He played well last year, but he may never have put his minor league transgressions behind him had he stayed in Tampa Bay.


In general

The Royals have a good young trio in Mark Teahen (a product of the three-way trade that sent Carlos Beltran to the Astros), Billy Butler and Alex Gordon. New Jersey-bred David DeJesus leads things off, but he'll never replace Beltran's production. He's just not that kind of player. Mark Grudzielanek bats second and provides the veteran leadership, because the other veteran in the lineup is Jose Guillen, and while he'll bat cleanup (after his 15-day suspension to start the season), provide power and be an anchor in the lineup, I'm not sure what kind of clubhouse leader or example he'll be for the young core.

On the mound, Gil Meche was signed last year for $55 million, and everybody laughed. But his 3.67 ERA should have been good for a 13-9 record, not the 9-13 he turned in. After one season, at least, it doesn't look like such a bad deal. We'll see what the next four bring. He's followed by 2007 Rookie of the Year contender Brian Bannister (who may have been the difference between an NL East title and The Collapse for the Mets last year had they not traded him) and former prospect Zack Greinke, who has returned to the rotation and seems to be realizing his potential after dealing with some personal issues. Brett Tomko and Jorge De La Rosa top off the rotation, but their 12-24 combined record in '07 gives you an idea of what to expect this year.

What I'm looking forward to seeing

I'm always watching the Jersey guys (and the Notre Dame guys), so I'll watch DeJesus closely. He's solid, Brett Butler type of player, I think. Gordon had a rough rookie campaign, hitting just .247 with 15 homers and 60 RBIs after many expected him to make it a close AL ROY race with Daisuke Matsuzaka, if not run away with it. And Teahen needs to bounce back after following his 2006 season of 18 homers and 69 RBIs with just seven and 60 in '07. And of course there's Guillen, who has made things interesting in several of his previous stops and who opened his Royals tenure with a wig earlier this week.

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Beltran suddenly becomes a leader

Oh, it's on.

Last year, Jimmy Rollins -- an already vocal sparkplug in the Phillies' clubhouse -- came out and declared the Phillies the team to beat in the NL East, with little more than personal pride to back him up. He and his teammates felt they had the best team in the division on paper, though that contention could be debated at length. In the end, though, Rollins performed on the field and the Phillies took advantage of the Mets' stumble to take the division for one day -- the last day.

Now, it's Carlos Beltran's turn. After three years of being a silent leader -- if that -- on the field, Beltran sat down with reporters on his first day in camp on Saturday and said, "To Jimmy Rollins: We are the team to beat."

It's certainly out of character for the reserved center fielder, but if this signals a new, outspoken outfielder, that would almost certainly be a benefit for the Mets, a team already seen as more businesslike and tightly wound than the Phillies. In my mind, the Mets already were a loose and fun-loving team, especially compared to the Yankees. So if the Mets are too stiff, what does that make the Yankees? And do the Phillies have any discipline?

I'll save my thoughts on Mets vs. Phillies on paper for my overall look at the NL East, but I'll say this now: If David Wright continues to assert himself as a clubhouse and on-field leader (and something of a captain, as suggested by the New York Times last week) and if Carlos Delgado can stay healthy and have a bit of a bounce-back season while continuing his veteran leadership, Beltran's emergence as a more visible leader can only help.

I can only imagine Opening Day at Shea. Rollins will be booed as lustily as ever, and Beltran may very well get the loudest ovation he's heard in three years in New York. Saturday's proclamation should keep Beltran in the fans' good graces for a month or two, and I expect it will buy him a reprieve when that first slump hits.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Berra museum removes Clemens' jersey

While the American tenet that you are innocent until proven guilty should provide Roger Clemens with the benefit of the doubt, and while anything he may or may not have done with Brian McNamee certainly wouldn't make him the only player of the last 20 years to do such things, I see nothing wrong with the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center removing Clemens' jersey from a display on the Yankees' World Series run of the late 90s.

The museum director's explanation that "we have a lot of kids coming through here who are asking questions we’re not prepared to answer" really says it all. Education and children's programs have always been the focus of the museum's -- and Learning Center's -- mission, and if the young visitors are asking questions about Clemens while touring the small exhibition space, it's better to remove that which is prompting the queries. The staff and volunteers at the museum aren't necessarily in a position to answer those questions, so why risk providing an incomplete answer when the safest thing is to try to avoid the issue in the first place? I think it's pretty similar to a visit I took to Kennedy Space Center in 2003 only weeks after Columbia broke up over Texas. Our tour guide said at the beginning of our visit that she could not answer any questions about the accident because she did not have enough information. That's essentially what the Yogi Berra Museum is doing.

Besides, as the director points out, having Clemens' jersey there with those of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera in an exhibit about the Yankees' four World Series titles from 1996 to 2000 was inaccurate because Clemens was only a Yankee for two of them. Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada would be better choices.

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2008 preview: AL West

I'm not sure how much predicting, per se, I'm going to do with my previews this year. I didn't even do any last year, so I think I'd grown tired of the standard prognostication that everyone does this time of year and over the next six weeks. I will still list the teams in each division in the order I think they'll finish, and in that space between the Red Sox-A's series in Japan and the true opening of the season on March 31, I may take a crack at how the postseason might shake out, but I don't know that I want to put numbers on player performances like I have in the past. There's a lot I'm looking forward to seeing this season, and I think I'll make that the focus of these posts. That's not to say I won't change my mind by the time I'm through with the divisions, but it's how I'll start.


In general

Don't underestimate the Angels' ability to add another starter (Jon Garland) and the right-handed power bat they needed (Torii Hunter) -- if not the one they wanted (Alex Rodriguez or Miguel Cabrera) -- without having to give up young pitching or their top young hitters in established second baseman Howie Kendrick or shortstop/third base prospect Brandon Wood. Now the question remains is whether or not Wood can win a job and stick with the club -- and produce the 25-30 home runs he's capable of in his first full big-league season. Down the road, he could be a 40-homer guy.

Shortstop Orlando Cabrera is the only significant loss from last year's AL West champions, and his departure brought in Garland. Erick Aybar will man shortstop to start the season and the flexible Chone Figgins will take third, but Wood will be waiting in the wings for one of those spots. The Angels in the outfield will be the best in the game, particularly when Gary Matthews Jr. plays left field, with Hunter in center and Vladimir Guerrero in right. Hunter and Matthews will run down just about everything with loft underneath it, while Guerrero will fire anything that hits the grass into the infield so quickly that the runners will hesitate to take an extra base or be thrown out trying. It's not a bad hitting group, either, though Matthews' 18 homers and 72 RBIs weren't really what owner Artie Moreno paid for when he signed him to a five-year, $50 million deal last winter. Garret Anderson is a liability because of his injury history and advancing age (36 on June 30), but he's penciled in as the cleanup hitter between Guerrero and Hunter. The young right side of the infield -- Casey Kotchman and Kendrick -- will be a joy to watch as they gain experience.

The rotation is stacked with Cy Young contender John Lackey at the front, followed by Garland, Jered Weaver, the only Santana left in the AL (Ervin) and Joe Saunders, who is a fill-in until No. 2 Kelvim Escobar recovers from his shoulder soreness. Lackey and Escobar would actually match up well with Erik Bedard and Felix Hernandez in Seattle, but Anaheim clearly has the better depth through the back end. The bullpen, anchored by Francisco Rodriguez and set up by Scot Shields and Justin Speier, remains one of the best in the league, so to beat these Angels, you're going to have to keep them to four or five runs -- or fewer -- on most nights.

What I look forward to seeing

How good will this outfield be? They all can hit and they all can field, even when Anderson is out in left with Matthews at DH. Hunter has a new home for the first time in his career, which may make a difference, and it will be interesting to see how he responds to the life-altering contract he signed minutes before Thanksgiving. Figgins' six-hit game last year was thrilling to watch, particularly because he won it with that sixth hit, and he's a fun player to focus on each time he's on the field. He's got the speed to swipe 80 bases, which is something you don't see in today's game outside of Shea Stadium. But I'll be most interested in Wood's progress. His arrival would give the Angels a potential homegrown infield of future All-Stars. And I think he's got the kind of power that makes it a risk to leave your seat if he's due to bat in the inning.


In general

Adding Bedard to the rotation in front of Hernandez easily gives them the most impressive young 1-2 punch in the division, but where do they go after that? Jarrod Washburn, Carlos Silva and Miguel Batista? Does that scare anyone? The Mariners have the modern-day equivalent of Spahn and Sain and pray for rain. Except that they have a retractable roof at Safeco Field, so that approach won't help them at home. Beyond the starters, they have a closer in J.J. Putz who won't lose many -- if any -- games with a lead after eight innings, but the question will be getting the lead to him. Slated to set him up are untested second-year man Brendan Morrow and unheard-of Sean Green.

Offensively, Ichiro will rap out 200 hits and cover the ground in center field, but Jose Vidro batting second as the powerless DH and Raul Ibanez in the three-hole? Adrian Beltre can slug 30 homers as the cleanup guy, Kenji Johjima should provide decent protection as the fifth hitter, but then you fall into the abyss of inconsistency and, in two cases, longevity issues with Richie Sexson and Brad Wilkerson. Rounding out the order are middle infielders Jose Lopez and Yuniesky Betancourt.

What I'm looking forward to seeing

Just how good will Bedard and Hernandez be? It'll be a treat for fans in other AL cities when the Mariners come to town with the two both slated to pitch. Can Ichiro keep it up? I love watching him hit and hope his career carries on into his 40s to see just how many base knocks he piles up. Can Putz put up Eckersley numbers? His 1.38 ERA and 0.70 WHIP are on the block, and 82 strikeouts with just 13 walks are in the neighborhood. Does he get even better this year? And does Sexson become this generation's Rob Deer?


In general

They didn't really lose anything in bidding adieu to Sammy Sosa, Wilkerson and Akinori Otsuka, but the additions of Josh Hamilton, Kazuo Fukumori, Milton Bradley, Ben Broussard, Jason Jennings and Eddie Guardado don't do much for me beyond Hamilton and Fukumori. Bradley could pay off, but the question remains if he'll be ready by Opening Day after his knee injury last year. And Jennings is coming off that horrendous year in Houston, while Guardado is starting a season for the first time after Tommy John surgery. A former closer, he'll probably start out as a setup man along with Fukumori and one of last year's co-closers at the end of the season, C.J. Wilson and Joaquin Benoit. The other will finish off games.

But how many? A rotation that starts with Kevin Millwood -- an ace by default only -- and pencils in Jennings as its No. 2 ahead of Vicente Padilla, Brandon McCarthy and Kason Gabbard isn't going to inspire many pitching duels.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre lineup we've come to know in recent years is a shell of its former self. Mark Teixeira is gone and Hank Blalock was -- or wasn't -- on the trading block this winter; if he was, it doesn't look like he drew much interest. Setting the table ahead of No. 3 hitter Michael Young will be left to a possible platoon of Frank Catalanotto and Nelson Cruz leading off followed by Ian Kinsler. The duo at the top leaves a lot to be desired (though Cruz is an unknown quantity and could pay off), but Kinsler may be ready to make another step toward being the heir to Alfonso Soriano that the Rangers think he can be. Bradley, Hamilton and Blalock will form the meat of the order, while the bottom third should feature super stud Jarrod Saltalamacchia (got that spelling correct on the first try, without looking), either as the catcher over Gerald Laird or as the first baseman over -- or along with -- Broussard. One-time Phillies prospect Marlon Byrd likely will man right.

What I'm looking forward to seeing

Just how good will Kinsler be? Can he keep improving? He got off to a hot start last year -- .298, nine homers, 22 RBIs in April -- but had just six homers and 26 RBIs after the All-Star break, despite hitting .288 in the second half (as opposed to .241 overall in the first half). Fatigue may have been a factor in his second-half power decline, but his .045 rise in OBP in the second half helped Kinsler post a .807 post-break OPS after just .786 in the first half. Can Salty be as big as his name? Will the Hamilton feel-good story continue? And when will Bradley snap? Watching him in each new city is like watching the Grammys last Sunday to see whether Amy Winehouse could keep it together for her performance, which took place live from a London studio -- meaning she had to sit around until about 4 a.m. with any manner of elixirs to pass the time.


In general

I put them last because just who are these guys? Gone are Dan Haren, Nick Swisher, Mike Piazza, Shannon Stewart and Mark Kotsay. In are Emil Brown, Joey Devine and Mike Sweeney? They even lost catching prospect Jeremy Brown, one of the stars of Moneyball (along with Swisher). GM Billy Beane set himself up well for the future, but he's left with nearly nothing -- especially if he deals now-No. 1 Joe Blanton before April.

I'll start with the offense this time, where Jersey boy Jack Cust gets the cleanup spot and DH role all to himself, but he could hit 35 home runs but drive in just 75 runs if Travis Buck, Daric Barton and the oft-injured, shell-of-his-former-self Eric Chavez can't get on base. But getting on base is what Beane builds his teams for, so the BBC top of the order should be expected to do just that. But after Cust? Mark Ellis is your five-hole protection, with Emil Brown behind him followed by DL resident Bobby Crosby, Chris Denorfia and Kurt Suzuki. Though I don't agree with the assessment, ESPN.com's A's fantasy preview projects only Ellis, of all people, to be drafted from that lineup, and in the 20th round at that. But there's just one opinion of what the Oakland lineup will produce this year.

The rotation doesn't fare much better in the fantasy projection. Only Blanton stands to be drafted, in the 19th round they say. In between Blanton's starts will be Rich Harden -- once again coming off injury -- Year-After Effect risk Chad Gaudin, converted setup man Justin Duchscherer and soft-tosser Lenny DiNardo. If Blanton goes, Dana Eveland and his 7.55 career ERA is next in line to step into the rotation. Yikes.

What I'm looking forward to seeing

Does Harden stay healthy? I've given up caring whether or not Crosby does. I'd also like to see Chavez bounce back a bit, if only because he's the one Beane chose to keep, letting Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada leave via free agency rather than spend the money. Interesting how he let the hitters leave, but traded the pitchers -- Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Haren (with the exception of Barry Zito) -- in order to get something in return. And Cust is a good story -- always a big hitting prospect, he never stuck with his previous clubs (Baltimore, Colorado, Arizona, San Diego) because he was a disaster in the outfield. It was always clear that he'd have to be a DH somewhere, and when he got that chance last year, he provided some exciting moments.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

A rebirth

Ahhhh ... There it is. Spring Training comes and brings with it the sense of a new beginning, the excitement of a new love, the fresh, invigorating smell of a new car.

Or something like that.

The images of fresh white uniforms, bright Florida sunshine and players, new and old, in new places brings the warmth of southern climes to the cold, brisk days of a New Jersey winter.

After an offseason of steroids and George Mitchell's term paper, it's a relief to have real baseball again -- even if it's just workouts and pitchers' fielding practice. It all has me a bit reinspired -- and with a plan. I've neglected this blog through three months of a Hot Stove season that saw several blockbuster trades, mediocre free agents getting ginormous deals and my favorite team landing the best pitcher in the game.

And I was inspired to write about none of it. That's not why I started this blog. And while 230 (now 231) posts in nearly (approximately) four years isn't bad -- it's a pace of roughly 57 per year, more than one a week -- I feel it's not quite what it could be. So starting now, I'm rededicating myself to it. If I can't reach 282 posts by this time next year -- that is, if I can't average one post a week for the next 52 weeks -- maybe it's time to retire it, to abandon this effort. If this 2008 season, with its anniversaries and goodbyes, can't bring back the fire to combine my twin loves of baseball and writing, then perhaps I shouldn't put the pressure on myself.

My plan at this point is to preview each division over the next six weeks, plus I've got a three-day trip to Florida's Treasure Coast in March to see the Braves, Dodgers and Mets play exhibition games. I've got tickets for the final game at Shea Stadium and plans to find my way back to Opening Day once again. There's an All-Star Game (and a FanFest to go with it) coming to New York in July, and another season of minor league ball ready to go throughout New Jersey, plus a new team a little more than an hour away in eastern Pennsylvania. If I can't be jump-started by all of that, then it's time to stop pretending.

So despite the house projects, tax preparation and work this weekend, I expect to take a look at the AL West (like ESPN The Magazine, I'll mix things up and go West to East, since everyone else goes East to West; plus, it allows me to finish up with my Mets). Detroit Central will follow by next weekend, with the East after that. By that schedule, I'll finish each division before the A's and Red Sox "kick off" the season with two games in Japan March 25 and 26, then have another week for some overall look-ahead before the campaign begins in earnest on March 31.

And then we'll see how it goes from there.

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