Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I'd probably feel more comfortable right now if I were a Brewers fan. At least they have a solid rotation. Sure, Ben Sheets has injury concerns, but look at their starting 5: Sheets, Capuano, Dave Bush, Suppan and Claudio Vargas. Pretty sick.

Almost every teams has 4 or 5 huge questions to answer before the season starts. Most are something like this: "If ________ pitches 200 innings, we'll contend." Or "If ________ can improve his numbers against lefties, we'll win the division." The Brewers' ifs are looking like pretty decent bets to me. The biggest one, obviously, is Sheets' health. No other team is relying so much on one player's health (excluding Carpenter).

• Can Sheets can stay healthy and make 25+ starts?
• Can Dave Bush can finally have that break-out year?
• Can their middle infielders can stay healthy?
• Can Prince and Bill Hall at least match their 2006 numbers?
• Will Jenkins and Mench realize that they don't have to hit a lot of homers to carry the team?
• Is Cordero is the answer at closer, and Turnbow can bounce back in a set-up role?

If most of these are answered in the affirmative, the Brewers will not only contend, but they'd be the favorites for the division. I'd say that most of those questions are attainable for the Brew Crew. Bush has looked good, but his career ERA (4.28) is a bit higher than you'd expect from his career WHIP (1.19). He can keep runners off base, but if he can stop those runners from scoring once they get on, he could be an All-Star. Even if their middle infielders Weeks and Hardy get hurt, the team has pretty darn good back-ups with Graffanino and Counsell. Prince and Hall are pretty good bets for a combined 55 homers and 170 RBI.

The Astros' questions are a lot more, well, questionable:

• Can Lidge and Ensberg can bounce back?
• Can Burke be able to handle centerfield?
• Will Luke Scott rake for a full year while playing right field?
• How will Jennings perform outside of Coors Field?
• Who the hell starts after Oswalt, Jennings and Williams?

We shall see. I really think both Lidge and Ensberg can produce, and produce well. Maybe not at their 2005 levels of domination, but they can still be among the top 10 players in baseball in their respective positions.

I think Burke can and will make the most of his opportunity. I think he'll excel at hitting high in the order, getting on base and smacking lots of doubles. My concern is his defense and his shoulder. Once you dislocate a shoulder, the odds of doing it again skyrocket. One awkward dive or another running crash into a wall, and he could be out for the year.

Luke Scott will be fine. Obviously, he won't hit .340 or slug .700, but he'll be just fine. And he'll be best suited for a platoon role, which I hope and suspect will be implemented.

I've said before that Jennings is something of a sure thing. We can pencil him in for 200 innings and a 3.50-4.50 ERA. I think this is generally true, but maybe he's more of a wild-card than that. Thing is, I can see him going nuts and winning 17 games. With Everett to scoop up all the grounders he produces, he can pitch some outstanding games against weak lineups in the NL Central. Keep in mind that it's his contract year. Of course, it's possible that for whatever reason, things simply don't click in Houston. He might not adjust well to sea-level. Ha. Anyway, much of the team's success hinges on his ability to replace Pettitte in the rotation.

Ah, the fourth and fifth starters. Who knows? At this point, we can only hope that someone establishes themselves. Sampson, Nieve, Albers? C'mon. Wandy, Moehler? Ugh. This is not a good position to be in, and everyone in the organization knows it. Clemens is no sure by any stretch of the imagination, so we MUST be looking at adding depth. I'm still in favor of getting a hold of Mark Redman. He's a better bet than Wandy for 2007 or any other year. If we can get him on a minor-league deal, we HAVE to do it. Have to.

I just got My Morning Jacket's double-disc live record, Okonokos. Phenomenal. And I'm going to see Explosions in the Sky in a couple weeks. Life is good.

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