The Tenth Inning – Week 4

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The Tenth Inning – Week 4 ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>

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By Mike Ivcic

With one month in the books for the 2009 season, it’s time to take a quick evaluation of each league and see where the teams stack up. Below are the early season rankings for the National League, and we’ll follow next week with the American League. We’ll also do this again midseason and once more towards the very end of the year. Again, these are purely rankings, and are based on subjective analysis, not overall record.

NL Early Season Rankings
1. Los Angeles Dodgers – The only unbeaten team at home, LA has had solid pitching and clutch hitting almost every game this season, stamping their early hold on the NL West with a weekend sweep of the Padres.

2. Saint Louis Cardinals – Pujols and Co. have gotten the starting pitching they needed to rebound in the NL Central. If Chris Carpenter can get healthy and back to form, it could be the best rotation in the NL.

3. Chicago Cubs – Sweeping the Marlins might be just the key to getting back on track. The rotation needs to step up to the level of St. Louis if the Cubs want to repeat as division champs, but the talent is certainly there to do just that.

4. Philadelphia Phillies – Questions still linger about the rotation, especially if Hamels’ injury issues linger all season. Utley’s surprisingly quick rehab and sizzling start have masked those problems a bit – for now.

5. Florida Marlins – The early darlings of the NL have fallen, losing 10 of their last 13. Tightening up the bullpen and learning to manufacture runs – instead of relying on the long ball – will be the keys to staying atop the East.

6. Milwaukee Brewers – Sure the marquee names might be missing from the pitching staff, but the Brewers haven’t missed a beat offensively. This team has been together for a while and found out last year what it takes to win.

7. Atlanta Braves – Derek Lowe has led a return to the upper echelon for this starting rotation, but the lineup is still bare. They do, however, have to be thrilled at the rebound season of Jeff Francoeur in right field.

8. New York Mets – So far this season it’s seemingly been Beltran, Santana, and no one else. The offense actually has been decent, but the trio of Mike Pelfrey, John Maine, and starter-in-limbo Oliver Perez needs significant improvement behind Johan.

9. Cincinnati Reds – If they could learn to beat the Astros, they might be in second place in the Central right now. Despite fielding a very good and young team, their playoff hopes rest squarely on Aaron Harang straightening himself out and leading the rotation.

10. San Francisco Giants – Despite a winning record, the Giants still need to convince many – myself included – that they’re for real. A solid, young rotation has led the turnaround, but most of the lineup is still hitting below .250.

11. Pittsburgh Pirates – A mid-week sweep by the Brewers knocks the Bucs down a bit, but a .500 April that includes a 4-game split with St. Louis, a sweep of Florida, and series wins over the Padres and Braves should give this team some much-needed confidence.

12. San Diego Padres – The Friars have cooled off tremendously after a very hot start. Again, the rotation is still Peavy, Young, and three question marks, and it’s not like they have murder’s row as a batting order, so this is probably more like the real Padres.

13. Arizona Diamondbacks – The loss of Brandon Webb seriously damages this team’s playoff chances. As good as Dan Haren is, there’s simply no way for a team built on starting pitching to lose its ace for any significant time and stay in the hunt.

14. Houston Astros – Why Jeff Keppinger, who has hit over .300 in his career including .367 in’09, doesn’t play more on any team he’s been with is beyond me. Aside from that, the pitching’s been either hit or miss, and that has to become more consistently miss.

15. Colorado Rockies – It’s almost the same team as 2007, but without Matt Holliday, the lineup misses that one signature scare-threat the Rox now sorely need, especially with Atkins and Tulowitzki both struggling. Improving the 0-7 record in 1-run games would help too.

16. Washington Nationals – With no real starting pitching and a strikeout-prone lineup, expect that Nats to occupy this spot for most of the year. Their hope is to play well enough to spoil the season of another NL East club down the line.

This week, watch for…
1) Red Sox first trip to new Yankee Stadium (5/4-5)
2) Phillies tough 4-game road trip (@STL 5/4-5; @NYM 5/6-7)
3) Toronto swings west (@LAA 5/6-7; @Oak 5/8-10)

Look for my column, “The Tenth Inning,” every Monday for the UltimateCapper

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