Saturday, April 28, 2007

Lightning Round!

Some notes on sports while I watch Brady Quinn drop down the draft board

I apologize for not writing in about a week. I spent the week mourning the end of the Lightning’s season. In the end they just ran out of gas. I think the turning point of the series happened in overtime of game 4 – Martin Brodeur stopped Vincent Lecavalier at point blank range – from then on Brodeur was his old self and the Lightning were done.

- I don’t see Dan Boyle resigning with the Bolts. He had a breakout season and will be a hot commodity in the off season. It’s a shame that the Dan Boyle Era looks to be coming to an end.

- Aki-knock(ed) to the DL…. Arrghhh… Akinori Iwamura goes on the DL with an oblique strain. It’s a tough break for the Rays as they lose one of the igniters in their offense. It looks like he may be gone for 4-6 weeks.

- The Rays leap frog the Yankees in the standings. It’s only April, but it’s still sweet. Is the end near for Manager Joe Torre? Haven’t we heard this story before, as recently as last year? After the series with the Red Sox ends this weekend the Yankees play their next 13 games against the Rangers (9-13) and the Mariners (9-9). Against those two clubs they could get hot very fast and start climbing back up the standings.

- In the Yankees / red Sox game Kei Igawa just came into the game to pitch – wearing sunglasses. I think Joe Buck may run down on the field and rip them off his head. Of course Igawa induces a double play from David Ortiz.

- I like the Bucs drafting Gaines Adams. Their style of defense is predicated on putting pressure on the quarterback. That is something that has been missing since the Super Bowl season.

- I still think Jon Gruden is gone after this season.

- Finally Brady Quinn to the Browns at the 22nd pick. I like the move by the Browns. They pick up Joe Thomas and Quinn in the same day. The jury is still out on Quinn, but maybe this is just what he needs – some players (or “golden boys” as Keyshawn just called him) need a chip on their shoulder to play at an elite level. Who knows?

- Speaking of Golden Boys – next Saturday Oscar de la Hoya versus Floyd Mayweather. The Golden Boy vs. Pretty Boy. I like this fight. Big Mike is saying Mayweather wins in the first or second round. I disagree. I think it goes much deeper.

For the first time in a long time there is a fight where there is a clearly defined good guy (de la Hoya) and a bad guy (Mayweather). They don’t like each other. Mayweather called de la Hoya a “fake-ass fighter” Oscar's response was to call him "a brat". They are both warriors in the ring. De la Hoya is coming to the end of his boxing career and wants to go out with one more shining moment. Mayweather needs to win to satisfy his ego and solidify his spot as one of his generations great pound for pound fighters. It would also be nice to see him go through a fight without breaking a hand.

In the end I think the Pretty Boy beats the Golden Boy in 10. If that happens do we see a rematch?

- Curt Schilling. Sigh. It looks like even when he’s in the right he comes off as a jerk. In response to Gary Thorne’s comments earlier in the week about the bloody sock and it’s validity Schilling fired off a blog post (all can read it at in which he ripped Thorne and the rest of the media that “hacked and spewed their way into a day or two of stories that had zero basis in truth”

Thorne later admitted that he misunderstood what he heard from his source (Doug Mirabelli) and as far as I know hasn’t ever been involved in this type of situation before. He is a good announcer (as long as he isn’t calling Detroit Red Wing games) and has earned a lot of respect through his career.

Schilling could have stayed above it all and not used it as a forum to trash the media, but that just isn’t his style. There are times when it’s better to keep your mouth shut and walk with your head held high. However, Schilling can’t let anything go by without commenting on it. He has as they say – Rabbit Ears.

It might just cost him later in his career. While it’s hard to say he’s not going to get in the hall of fame (he should end up his career with 250 wins and 3500 strikeouts) his reputation is going to continue to suffer. When his time comes there will be writers arguing that he doesn’t belong in the hall.

- Interesting stat so far this year. Which Ray pitcher is currently tied for 3rd in the majors in strikeouts? If you said Scott Kazmir you would be wrong (he’s 15th). The answer is right-hander James (Don’t Call me JAMIE!) Shields. With 37 strikeouts he is tied with local boxer, err, Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels for 3rd in the league. Shields had a strong spring training and is carrying that over to the start of the season. That bodes well for the Rays.

That’s it. Back to cleaning the sweet bachelor pad.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Sick and loving it....

Last Wednesday featured a rare sporting double header in the TBA. With the O’s in town matching up against the Rays in a matinee and with the Lightning battling the Devils in game 4 of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs I felt it was my duty to be there. That meant calling in sick to work. I had no problem with that. If you’re over 50 I’m sure you cringe at my work ethic. To you I say – Hey glad to have a reader!

Because I’m not a total ass I did let my teammate at work know that I would be calling in sick that day and she okayed it. As far as I was concerned my boss didn’t need to know. All she needed to know was that I had 136 hours of sick time that I would lose if I didn’t use it.

I decided to pack my trusty Paperblanks notebook in my back pocket so that I could give you loyal readers a running diary. For company Big Mike was with me for 10 hours of sporting fun. Enjoy!

7:30am – Alarm goes off. I forgot to change it last night before I went to bed. It is quickly changed to 8:30.

8:30am – Alarm goes off again. I contemplate hitting the snooze bar, but then remember I have to call in sick. I look for my phone. I can’t find it. I decide to use technology to my advantage. I stumble into my second bedroom and turn on the computer. As it boots up I go the kitchen for breakfast.

8:35am – Nothing to eat in the kitchen so back to the computer. I send a vague email to the boss stating that I won’t be in today. No details so I’m technically not lying about why I’m not there.

8:45am – I check Sweet Gabriele wants to be my friend! She is quickly deleted. I don’t know her and I doubt she’s a sports fan.

9:30am – The Internet has been giving me issues for the last 45 minutes so I shut it down. I tried to see if there was anything interesting in the world since last night. I guess I’ll have to watch SportsCenter.

9:45am – I realize that it’s pretty much the same SportsCenter that I watched at 2:00AM so I decide to do something productive. I find some shorts and shoes and go out for a run. I live about 2 blocks from the Pinellas Trail which is convenient when I am in a workout mood.

10:15am – I’m back from the run. Being productive sucks.

10:45am – 12:30pm – I take a shower and then proceed to watch daytime TV. Ahhh a relaxing pastime since 1994 for me.

12:30pm – Big Mike calls to say he’s on the way. I find some shorts and my Michael Restovich game worn jersey. Restovich never officially played for the Rays he only spent some time with them in Spring Training a few years ago. I guess it’s stretching the “game worn” aspect of it, but it was cheap and it is a nice looking jersey so I don’t care.

2:30pm – After a nice lunch at St Pete institution “Ferg’s Sports Bar and Grill” it’s into Tropicana Field for the game. Now this is the way to spend a day. The stadium isn’t as bad as make it out to be. It’s not the best in the league but it’s waaaaaaaay better than Olympic Stadium was.

3:08pm – The Rays music director has a sense of humor. As the players take the field he plays The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. Good song… interesting line – “Meet the new boss/ Same as the old boss”. A discreet shot at the Sternberg ownership or a coincidence?

3:12 First pitch from Scott Kazmir is ---- a ball. Hope it’s not one of those games from the young ace. The Rays are playing in front of friends and family as the saying goes. There can’t be 6,000 people here. (Note the announced crowd was over 10,000).

3:21pm – Rocco Baldelli goes yard. It was a titanic blast. Big Mike points out that the most amazing part of the blast is that it actually hit a fan.

5:08pm – Time to leave Tropicana Field and head across the bridge. It did turn out to be one of those games for Kazmir who lasted 4 innings. The Rays were losing 5-3 when we left and trust me you didn’t miss anything.

6:45pm – 10 minutes before the puck is dropped and from our vantage point in Section 320 the arena is 75% empty. Gotta love late arriving Tampa fan. During the pre-game warm ups Big Mike comments that, “They have to ride Holmer as far as they can, Ramo is a sieve”. He’s right, I think I could beat Kari Ramo tonight. Good thing he’s on the bench.

7:18pm – Brian Gionta knocks in a rebound for the first goal. It sucks the energy out of the crowd. The Devils were on a power play thanks to a phantom hooking call on Jason Ward.

7:24pm – Bedlam. Eric Perrin flips a puck past a screened Marty Brodeur to tie the game at 1.

7:39pm – Sadness. Zach Parise adds the “toe” to the tick, tack passing play by the Devils. 2-1 Devils.

8:00pm – Comment of the night courtesy of the drunk salesman from behind us. As a svelte women with low jeans, a thong and a tattoo wiggles her way down the steps he tells his buddy, “The wife moved out and she moved in…. she’s a nice girl”.

8:05-8:26pm – I seriously can’t write anything cohesive about the last two minutes. Lest just say Devil fans should stick around for the end of the game when they get to see the presentation of the pay off money to the officials. Horrible calls (including a boarding call on Brad Richards) lead to a 3-1 Devils lead.

8:27pm – St Louis gets the Bolts back to within one goal. It’s 3-2. The scoreboard pans to a sign in the crowd. “We have the real Marty!” Hope that doesn’t upset the karma in the series.

9:39pm – Sorry nothing in the last hour or so. The nerves are setting in and I don’t feel so good. The Bolts tied it up and we’re heading to overtime. Lecavalier looks shaken up as the horn sounds. It looks like he took a bad slash, of course there was no call.

10:00-ish – fukity, fuck, fuck FUCK! Sorry for the language. The Devils just won on a Scott Gomez goal off of a Corey Sarich turnover. Dang, Holmer stood on his head this game and has nothing to show for it. I have a feeling Brodeur is warming up. Not good for the Bolts.

There ya go. That’s how I spent my Wednesday. Two losses, no beer but a hamburger and a pretzel and several Pepsi’s pretty much ruined my diet.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Winning the Rays Way.....

Nice victory for the Rays this evening. I have a feeling this is the way most of their wins are going to come – jumping to an early lead and then hanging on. James (Don’t Call Me JAMIE!) Shields picked up his first win of the season. He pitched 7 innings, if not for one misplaced pitched to Michael Young he would have pitched 7 STRONG innings.

Brian Stokes and Al Reyes cleaned up the win with two scoreless (and hitless) innings of relief. It looks like Reyes has officially stamped his name on the closer role. He also vaults into the lead as the most likely Ray to be traded before the deadline.

The offense racked up 12 hits, or should I say 11 hits and one Aki-knock as the Wasteland’s favorite Japanese import went 1 for 3 with another steal and another run. Ben Zorbist hit his first home run of the season, a 421 foot blast in the first inning. I think it went further than all of his previous hits this season combined.

After building up a 6-1 lead though 4 innings the bats went silent collecting only 2 hits the rest of the way. Ah-ha I knew Juliet was a plant! “Lost” can’t pull one over on me…. The Rays need to keep the pressure on other teams starters if they’re going to be successful this season.

Zorbist’s home run makes Josh Paul the clubhouse leader as to which Ray isn’t going to hit a home run this season. It’s always a fun way to make the dog days of July and August go by.

That’s all I got for tonight. Except for the one and only comment I’m making on the “Imus Situation”. He said something stupid. He’s old, antiquated and out of touch with the times. He probably has the same amount of listeners that the Tennessee/ Rutgers game had viewers. Should he have been suspended – yes. Should his show have been yanked from MSNBC – no.

Radio and TV announcers have been making bone headed comments ever since the first person held up a microphone. Heck Rays broadcaster Joe Magrane makes at least one idiotic comment per game. His aren’t racist or sexist, but they’re just as dumb. Let Imus make his apology and do his time. All of this incessant writing and talking about it doesn’t change anything it just prolongs it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


After raving about the defense in my last post the Rays go out and blow it all to hell. Three errors and 5 unearned runs in tonight's 12-6 loss to the Rangers. Whoops make that 12-7 loss.

This is the latest in the long series of jinxes that I have unleashed on the sporting world. Just last fall I wrote a great post about Lightning forward Ryan Craig (Craiggers!) and boom goes the knee. He's out for a month. Make it a 12-9 loss. I should really wait till the end of the game to post a blog.

Anyway back to the curses. Along with the Craig injury I have a long line of autograph curses. Basically if I obtain an autograph from a Tampa sports personality they will be traded or released within a year. "Aki-knock" I think I like that term from Mr Dewayne Staats. 7 game hitting streak for the Japanese import. Dukes finally flys out to end the game. It's officially a 12-9 loss.

Back to the curse. So far the only one to survive the curse is Vincent Lecavalier. Just last year I scored 'graphs from Aubrey Huff, Nick Green, Toby Hall and Travis Harper. All of them were gone within 7 months or so. I guess that's bad news for Casey Fossum - I had him sign a card at Fan Fest this February.

Oh well. That's all for now.

Monday, April 9, 2007

One week in... how are the kids doing?

As of this writing the Rays are wrapping up their first week of the season. The early returns are intriguing. Their record (2-3) is better than expected after opening with a series on the road against the Yankees and at home with the Blue Jays. However, it could have been better as they surrendered leads in two of their three losses.

The biggest culprit of the blown leads has been their pitching (6.95 ERA and a WHIP of 1.70). The bullpen has been shakier than the starters who, with the exception of Casey Fossum, have averaged about 6 innings in their first starts. Two of the more experienced bullpen members have struggled the most – Ruddy Lugo (3 appearances 13.50 ERA) and Shawn Camp (7.71 ERA in 2.1 innings). Al Reyes looked good in his one save opportunity, but bridging the gap from the starters to the closer looks like it’s going to be a yearlong struggle for the Rays as many have predicted.

Enough of dwelling on the bad news because there has been more than enough good news to keep people excited. They have a road win. That doesn’t sound like a great stat until you realize that they only won 3 road games before the All Star break last season. The next week will be a real test to see how the team has improved on the road as they have 3 in Texas and 4 in Minnesota. It will be a test for their bullpen as well. Including a 3 game series against the Baltimore Orioles after the road trip they will have played 14 days in a row.

The young kids have been a surprise as well. BJ Upton is hitting .400 and adapting well to second base. Delmon Young is showing why he was a pre-season Rookie of the Year favorite as he is hitting .350 and leading the Rays with 5 RBI’s. One of the bigger surprises is Elijah Dukes. As one of the last players added to the roster he started his big league career with a home run in Yankee Stadium for his first career hit. He added another one the next game and has also shown a good eye at the plate drawing 4 walks in his first 5 games.

Upton and Young have both had issues making contact (6 strike outs for Upton and 5 for Young). Yet when they make contact they are getting on base. On at bats where he puts the ball in play Young is hitting .467 (7 for 15). Upton has been even better. When he makes contact the new second baseman is hitting an impressive .667 (6 for 9). The high number of strike outs can be attributed to them getting behind in counts. Part of that is their aggressiveness and part of it is their inexperience. As they compile more at bats they will develop a better eye for a major league strike zone and start forcing pitchers into hitters’ counts.

Perhaps the biggest surprise has been the play of Akinori Iwamura. The Japanese gold glover has been a pint size power house for the Rays. His first week has produced a .527 average, 1 home run, and 7 runs scored. He has also shored up the third base position handling his first 44 chances without an error at the hot corner.

In the first game against Texas he made 3 consecutive dazzling plays. First he charged a bunt, set his feet and displayed the arm that earned him the nickname “Top Gun” in Japan. The second play was pure reaction. Kenny Loften smoked a line drive that was heading toward left field and Aki stretched his entire frame (generously listed at 5’9) to snag the line drive. The final play was a smashed one hopper that Iwamura got in front of, fielded cleanly and threw over to first.

His play looks like it help solidify a position that has plagued the Rays for the last few seasons. Since the retirement of Wade Boggs they have juggled a cast of characters in search of some one that could lock down the left side of the infield. Along with Ben Zorbist the Rays may lack range, but should be fine on everything hit at them.

Overall the defense has been better than expected. With so many young players in the line up I was sure that the Rays would challenge the record for most errors and most unearned runs given up in a season. Not only do I have no idea what those records are, but the Rays have actually committed the fewest errors in the American League with only 1. While they have given up the second most runs in the American League (34) none of them have been of the unearned variety.

The outfield has been solid with either Rocco Baldelli or Elijah Dukes patrolling centerfield. Delmon Young has yet to record an assist, but has unleashed several Raul Mondesi-esque throws to keep runners from advancing. With Ichiro moving to centerfield I think Young has to be one of the two best arms patrolling right field at the moment (Vladimir Guerrero would be the other).

Offensively the Rays need to be above average if they are going to win 75 games (an arbitrary number picked by myself). So far the hitters have been holding up their end of the bargain. They are hitting .272 as a team which is good for fifth in the American League and their 9 home runs lead the league. Last season they were the worst team in the majors at getting on base. Their OBP of .314 was 5 points lower than the next worst team – the Chicago Cubs. This year, despite a line up that has 4 players that are getting their first real major league experience their OBP is 6th in the American League at .332.

What’s this all mean? In the long run one week probably doesn’t mean much. After all Camp and Lugo are currently getting their brains beat in by the Rangers hitters. It will be interesting to see how the team fares the second and third time they face teams, but with their blend of speed, power and youthful promise they have officially become a dangerous team to play.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Unlike the Bucs, the Rays can win in the snow

Just a few notes from tonight's game:

-Spare me the Elijah Dukes/ski mask jokes. Although does anyone notice that he seems to have based his swing on Willie Mays Hayes?

- Yeoman's effort from Jae Seo today. Too bad he doesn't get the win thanks to the bullpen.

- Excellent job by the hitters in the early innings to take advantage of Andy Pettite's wildness to make him build up the pitch count and get him out of the game early. Yes that was a run-on sentence. It was probably grammatically incorrect as well.

- Al Reyes - closer. Mark it down. Thanks to Rays' Network for the deceptive camera angle on the final out. I thought Posada hit into the second deck at first.

- Aki Iwamura - all he does is score runs.

- Snow in the 8th inning? Like Joe Maddon said in the pre-game interview playing in this type of weather will get them used to playoff baseball. Joe Sunshine - optimistic as always...

That's it.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

After attending a few Lightning games over the last couple of weeks I was starting to become disappointed in Tampa Fan. For the most part they have been rather well behaved. I was even impressed with their “M.V.P…M.V.P.” chant for Vincent Lecavalier on Saturday night’s game against the Washington Capitals. I was starting to think that I would have to retract some statements I’ve made about them.

Then I went to the game Tuesday. In one night my faith in the lack of knowledge that the typical fan from the TBA was renewed. As with most confirmations of faith it happened in the unlikeliest of places – the AFS Club in the Arena Formally Known as the Ice Palace.

There are few benefits to working at the No Limits Fun Factory. One of them is the occasional ticket to the club levels for some of the arenas in the TBA. The vendors we work with usually provide them as a “reward” for selling certain products. In my case one of my fellow sales reps had tickets she couldn’t use so she gave them to me.

So Big Mike and I were treated to all we could eat, drink and excellent leather seats in the AFS Club. Seeing how the tickets usually sell for about $225 for the average fan I figured I would be surrounded by fans who knew something about the game and paid attention to the game. Boy was I wrong.

First of all most of the people spent the first 15 minutes “networking” by the buffet and bar. Big Mike and I had our row to ourselves for most of the first half of the period. Unfortunately those seats would be filled. Following are a couple highlights. To the best of my recollection ( I did partake in a few free beers) these are direct quotes.


From a gentleman a couple of rows back shouted every time the Bolts had the puck in the offensive zone. I think it’s the rich crowd’s version of “Shoot the puck”. The Lightning don’t base their offensive around centering the puck. They focus more on cycling the puck down low until the defense makes a mistake and leave a shooter open. Centering the puck when there is no one in front of the net and you’re being checked into the boards probably isn’t a great idea.

“Chara… I break the puck.. I’m Chara… Look at him he’s huge!”
“Ummm I think Chara plays for Boston now”
“He does… that’s his brother down there.”

No it’s not. It’s Josef Vasicek and unless I missed something he’s not Zdeno Chara’s brother. He should have had to buy me a beer (a real beer not a free one!) for uttering such an inane comment.

“What a weak goal. We need Denis in net”

Uttered in disgust by the Chara guy after Johan Holmqvist surrendered a goal to Ray Whitney in the first period. Never mind the fact that Holmer (not Homer as some fans think) stopped a ‘Cain at point blank range seconds before and that it wasn’t his fault that three Carolina players were able to whack at the puck uncontested until it went in. It once again proves that in the fans eyes the best Lightning goalie is the one on the bench.

“What a goal by St Louis!”
“I think it was Perrin actually”
“Well they played together as kids in Montreal”

The hat trick and first star of the game for Chara guy. First he’s not paying attention when Eric Perrin bats the puck out of the air for a terrific goal and second he lumps Laval Quebec in with Montreal. That’s like saying Clearwater is the same as Tampa. It’s not. Interesting note – according to Wikipedia Laval is the 6th largest suburb in North America.

Sure the last point is nit picking, but the guy was seriously pissing me off. If you’re going to talk about the sport like you’re an authority at least get some facts right.

In the end the Lightning won a playoff type game and that makes me happy. I had free beer which also makes me happy. Liverpool destroyed PSV Eindhoven earlier in the day. That also made me happy. So I guess all those things off set a couple of idiot fans.

Now if only the Rays can find a way to win…..

Monday, April 2, 2007

We're talkin' baseball... finally

Ahhh How sweet it is. The sun is out the weather is mild and it’s opening day. There is nothing better than sitting in the truck with my feet propped up listening to the ballgame on my lunch break. At least there’s nothing better than to do on a Monday afternoon at the No Limits Fun Factory. After a lot of off season speculation and trepidation the 2007 Tampa Bay Rays took the field in a cold and dreary New York.

Unfortunately the outcome was just as cold and dreary as the weather. The bullpen blew a lead and the Yankees won going away 9-5 behind the timely hitting of Jason Giambi. Scott Kazmir started for the Rays and couldn’t make it out of the 6th inning (due in part to a 35 pitch 1st inning). As feared the bullpen couldn’t keep the other team close as they surrendered 4 runs

We’re not here to dwell on the negative – at least not yet. It’s too early in the season. Lets look at the positive. Elijah Duke’s first major league hit was a home run. BJ Upton and Carl Crawford both went 2-4.and no one committed an error.

It’s a day late, but here it is – my preseason predictions. This year (the 2nd Annual Baseball Prediction Column) the list grows to 10 in honor of a decade of Rays’ baseball. Here we go:

1. No playoffs for the Red Sox

Everyone likes their line up. Julio Lugo is the greatest free agent signing since time began. Their pitching staff will be the first since the 1971 O’s to have four 20 game winners. There are no holes in this team.

Then again maybe not. Their starting pitchers are not as solid as they may appear on paper. Curt Schilling is an old 40. His 3.97 ERA last year was his highest ERA as a full time starter since 1993. Coming into this season his arm has logged 3110 innings during his 19 year career. Joining him in the starting rotation is fellow 40 year old Tim Wakefield and journeyman Julian Tavarz.

With Jonathon Papelbon moving to the bullpen Josh Beckett is the young gun in the rotation at 26. While his performance in the 2003 World Series is quickly becoming legendary during the regular season his numbers are rather pedestrian (57 wins in 6 seasons and a 3.85 career ERA). The fifth member of the starting staff will be Daisuke Matsuzaka – more on him later.

On the offensive side of the ball the Sox added enigmatic and oft injured JD Drew as well as the highly paid shortstop Lugo. Coco Crisp is still patrolling center field and 34 year old Jason Veritek will be crouching behind the plate and looking to improve on his .238 average from last year. This team could get old very, very quickly as the summer wears on.
I see the Yankees taking the east and the wild card coming out of the AL Central again this year. No room for the Sox.

2. Roger Clemens will return

He will be gloriously overpaid and not make a major difference. I don’t know who’s going to sign him (it definitely won’t be the Rays) but whoever does will be desperate to stat in contention. When he announces that he is ready sometime around June the as of yet undecided team will throw $15 million dollars at him for about 10 starts and their return of investment will be 6 wins.

It’s time for him to hang it up. His blackmailing of teams for a half season of work is setting a damaging precedent for baseball. It’s time for teams to stop playing his game.

3. No playoffs for the Tigers

They were the darlings of baseball last year. The Tigers shot out to an overwhelming lead in the AL Central behind the bat of Chris Shelton and the arms of Jeremy Bonderman and Justin Verlander. In the off season they added a “fearsome” hitter in Gary Sheffield.

While they may be the favorites to start the season I have a feeling that they are going to take a step back. Sheffield is a malcontent and only happy when he’s playing and winning. He’s fragile at this point in his career and will be lucky to play 125 games. Look for his power numbers will decline playing in Comerica Park.

The Indians and the Twins will battle for the division and the wild card.

4. Barry Bonds will break Hank Aaron’s record

He only needs 22 home runs this season (he hit 26 last year) and for once there is less pressure on him going into the season. The other Barry (Barry Zito) will take a lot of the press off of Bonds and his relaxed good nature may rub off on the normally surly outfielder.

He still has no protection in the line up, but he is healthier than he has been in years. That should be good for 25-30 homeruns. After the season he retires.

5. Matsuzaka will not win 20 games

All the hype and all the money the Red Sox spent on him will translate into about 16 wins. By all means that will be a good year (talk started last season that 16 is the new 20 as far as wins is concerned) but not what is expected out of a pitcher that cost about $102 million to acquire.

He does possess more pitches than the rest of the Red Sox pitchers combined, but he is still untested against major league hitters. He will be competing in the American League East where all the teams from top to bottom can roll out above average hitters.

Over the last few seasons he could throw up to 140 pitches in a game routinely while he pitched for the Seibu Lions in Japan. The longer season in the majors will take it’s effect on the right-hander and no matter how durable he claims to be he will suffer in August.

6. Scott Kazmir will win 15 games

Look for the lefty to be healthy all season long for the Rays. If he is then 15 wins is a lock with an outside shot at 20. His stuff is that good. Behind Johan Santana he may be the filthiest lefthander in the American League right now.

It will be important for him to find control and limit his pitch count. With a shaky, at best, bullpen he needs to go deep into games to ensure the relievers don’t blow wins for him.

7. Rocco Baldelli will go on the DL

This is by far the easiest prediction of the year.

8. Rays MVP – Dioner Navarro

He’s only 23, but it seems like he’s been the next big thing for catchers for a decade now. Entering his 4th big league season it seems that the comparisons to Ivan Rodriguez might have been a little premature, but he is developing into a solid major league backstop.

The Rays will look to him to be a leader on the field. With the young pitching staff it will be up to Navarro to guide them through the season. He will also be counted on in the line up. A switch hitter the Rays will look to him to make contact and get on base for the young guns in the batting order.

While Carl Crawford and the Nefarious Three (Young, Upton and Dukes) may garner the headlines the Rays will only go as far as Navarro takes them.

9. Miguel Cabrera – monster year

Playing on a one year contract after a bitter arbitration battle with the Marlin’s ownership the Florida 3rd baseman may leap over Albert Puljos as the best right handed hitter in the game today. With rumors of Alex Rodriguez maybe opting out of the remainder of his contract at the end of the season Cabrera could be auditioning for the hot corner in New York next season.

He has driven in over 100 runs in 3 of his 4 big league seasons and the year he didn’t drive in 100 he drove in 62 in only 87 games. With 105 home runs in 564 career games he shows the power that teams look for in a corner infielder.

Despite what he may say to the contrary he is playing with a chip on his shoulder. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him contend for the triple crown this season.

10. The Rays will won’t win 70 games

I really want to be bold and predict a 75 win season for the Rays. Then I watched Kazmir throw 35 pitches in the first inning of his opening day start. He gave up only two wins, but the game could have been a replay of one from last year. Ineffective starting pitching, blown leads and a shaky bullpen seem to point to 2007 just being a continuation of the woes from 2006.

Other than the signing of Akinori Iwamura the Rays haven’t really improved their team. The bullpen is cobbled together – like last year and their isn’t really much new on the offensive side of the ball.

You know what…. Screw it…. I’m going to call it – 75 wins for the Rays. Let’s have some hope folks, it’s a new day in Tampa Bay. No longer do we have to wonder what the future is going to hold – all of the prospects (save for Evan Longoria) are on the big league team and starting. Upton, Young, Dukes are all going to get significant playing time.

The pitching staff seems to be stable and a year more experienced. Barring a major catastrophe all of the starters should improve on their win totals from last season. A closer will emerge from the pack to close out games. Al Reyes and Gary Clover will bridge the gap from the starters to the as of now unnamed closer.

So there you have it. Don’t worry unlike some talking heads who conveniently ignore their predictions I will review these at the end of the year and admit where I was wrong.