2004 NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL PREVIEW

NL CENTRAL
(Listed in Order of 2003 Finish)

ED: Ed Agner

BB: Bill Barnwell

PR: Phil Rippa


CubsCHICAGO CUBS
2003 Record – 88-74 (Lost in NLCS)

Key Additions: Greg Maddux, LaTroy Hawkins, Kent Mercker, Derrek Lee, Michael Barrett, Ryan Dempster, Todd Walker, Paul Bako, Todd Hollandsworth, Andy Pratt

Key Losses: Eric Karros, Kenny Lofton, Antonio Alfonseca, Randall Simon, Doug Glanville, Shawn Estes, Tony Womack, Dave Veres, Mark Guthrie, Hee Seop Choi, Damian Miller, Juan Cruz

ED: Los Cubbies won the NL Central title with pitching. Pitching?! The Cubs?! As much as that goes against nature, ’tis true. Prior-Wood-Zambrano are the fruits of a strangely- and newly-found organizational philosophy of drafting and developing good arms – and you thought that Billy Beane was the only one who did that, didn’t you?

BB: Well, the White Sox do it too. Kenny Williams just trades them away, though. VETERAN PRESENCE!!! and all that.

ED: Having somehow survived the ham-fisted arm-slagging managerial ineptitude of previous regimes, the troika blossomed and carried the Cubs under Dusty Baker’s more-sound handling. Adding Greg Maddux to the starting mix and LaTroy Hawkins to a nice pen make the prospects of a repeat in ’04 seem reasonable.

PR: I am assuming all this isn’t taking into account that Mark Prior is starting the season on the DL. Poor little Achilles…

BB: I think Dusty gets lonely at night and calls up Livan Hernandez and makes him throw 130 pitches inside of his hotel room.

PR: Well Dusty would have started Jason Schmidt in Game 7 though. Poor little arm…

ED: Oh yeah, it’s says many a sad thing about the Cubs recent history when Dusty Baker is a symbol of managerial excellence.

ED: Offensively, the Cubs resembled a typical Dusty Baker team – heavy reliance upon a prolific slugger with some nice supporting bats and the dependence on the power of prayer that Dusty’s strange magic continues to work on otherwise unspectacular VETERAN!!! role players put in situations where no fan of the team ever wants to see them perform. Giving up on Hee Seop Choi for the VETERANNESS!!! of Derrek Lee was ill-advised for the long-term, but is there any move more befitting a Dusty Baker club than that? I think not.

PR: Yeah, I am not sold on Derrek Lee suddenly being the world’s greatest first baseman. Yeah, he will get to frighten small children on Wayland Ave. with a few extra Home Runs but still, he isn’t afraid to whiff a 1000 times a season. Plus, Lee numbers sure dip during day games. But that isn’t a problem playing for the Cubs… oh wait… it is. At least, the Cubbies moved Eric Karros so Dusty won’t be tempted to keep rolling out that platoon. But honestly, the real reason Baker got Lee to replace the Choi/Karros mini-hydra is because to paraphrase Dusty “he can handle the heat better”.

ED: Well, Dusty DID end the season with a Simon/Karros platoon, so his first basemen did half-handle the heat pretty well.

BB: I think my biggest concern is how Shawnon Dunston fits into this team. Sadly, I am completely and utterly sure that is Dusty’s biggest concern, too. I’m not really against the Lee signing; I just wish that he’d grow an Abel Xavier beard so he could complete the look.

ED: I’m starting to feel like Bud Abbott here.

PR: Bud Adams what???

BB: Boy, did the Cubs make some ugly offseason signings. People seem convinced of LaTroy Hawkins, so I guess I won’t argue with that; but Todd Hollandsworth? Todd Walker? Michael Barrett? Were Brant Brown, Mark Grudzielanek, and Damian Miller not available? Oh – wait – the Cubs are responsible for all them. Whoops.

PR: Ooof… this pen has more questions that a Choose Your Own Adventure. (Though the thought of Dusty having to decide whether to take the long, windy scenic forest road to the stadium or the short, hazard-filled trip to Wayland Ave. tickles me ever so.)

ED: Aww, Phil, Dusty’s Choose Your Own Adventure managerial strategies are more akin to a Star Wars Choose Your Own Adventure book. What with Dusty always using Jedi mind tricks on young pitchers, picking out veteran scalawags to assist him, fighting hopeless battles, etc. I assume he favors taking the Obi-Wan role.

BB: That Natalie Portman sure is hot. Did they have Star Wars back when you guys were kids, too?

PR: Mike Remlinger is out for who knows how long since he had surgery on his arm. Hawkins’ last couple of years were really nice in Minnesota. But he ain’t in the dome and 2001 wasn’t that long ago. I am going to assume Joe Borowski is the real deal but I can see Dusty getting impatient and when Joe blows a save in early May, suddenly Hawkins is the closer, and Katie bar the door.

ED: The pen was nice on paper, going into Spring. Now, because of injuries and Juan Cruz trade-strangeness, the pen is becoming a HUGE question mark for the Cubs now – and one of the things that will keep them out of the World Series. That and the curse The Sporting News just put on them by picking a Cubs-Red Sox World Series. Look, if the name of your magazine is The Sporting News, maybe you should have a better track record at picking things than a drunken monkey with darts.

PR: I am thinking that the Cubs/Sox World Series is going to be the hip thing to pick this year and that is just outright flipping the bird on the Baseball Gods. As a Yankee fan… I fully encourage this. “Hey Baseball Gods! Curt Schilling is calling you out on a message board. Punish him!”

ED: You are such a spiteful-spiteful man.

PR: I love Kyle Farnsworth. I always end up grabbing him once or twice a fantasy season looking for a couple of cheap wins or saves and a big mess of strikeouts. Plus, I am a mark for funky throwing motions.

ED: Phil, you saw Sam Militello come and go. You know that the only other person who’s a mark for a funky pitching motion is Dr. Andrews.

ED: That Wood-Prior-Maddux-Zambrano-Clement rotation, IF HEALTHY, is as good as, if not better than, the much-hyped Astros staff. The offense will be fine and should be helped by the addition of Lee and full seasons from Aramis Ramirez and Corey Patterson – serving as much to keep Dusty from fiddling around with giving too many outs to those possessing VETERAN PRESENCE!!! as to actually solidifying the positions themselves. As a bone thrown to MGR. VETERAN PIXIE DUST!!!, the Cubs have created platoon spot ugliness at catcher and second base, which will probably provide results that will stun, amaze, confound and horrify. Human nature and the Cubs track record keeps me from picking them to repeat, but unless bad luck and bad health comes back to bite them in the ass, there’s no reason they can’t win 90+ games in this division and compete for a playoff spot.

PR: I wonder what Chicago fans will blow up next winter. I weep for Bill Murray.

ED: The energy the Cubs and their fans put into destroying the Bartman ball would’ve been better served in trying to give Moises Alou a vertical leap better than mine.

BB: It’s the Cubs. Let’s be serious. VPD will get them to 95 wins but they ain’t going anywhere in the playoffs. There’s only so much Veteran Presence can do for the Cubs. That’s all assuming, like you said, if the rotation stays healthy. I figure Wood goes down and Juan Cruz comes in and wins 15 games in his stead. And Shawn Estes still starts in the postseason ahead of him.

PR: Yeah, not going to happen since the Cubs gave up on Juan Cruz. Poor little next big thing. Though I guess Adam Pratt will be fine… assuming he learns to find the plate consistently. And it already looks like Dusty is going to be using him as a LOOGY… and the second LOOGY out of the bullpen.

ED: That Juan Cruz deal was really stinky. I have no sympathy for any team dumb enough to get ripped off by John Schuerholz. I mean, even Ed Wade ripped off John Schuerholz. Yeesh!


HoustonHOUSTON ASTROS
2003 Record – 87-75

Key Additions: Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, Brandon Duckworth, Phil Hiatt, Tony Fiore, John Valentin, Dave Veres, Tony Fiore, Brian Moehler, Orlando Palmeiro, Mike Lamb

Key Losses: Billy Wagner, Geoff Blum, Mitch Meluskey, Ron Villone, Orlando Merced

PR: I was amazed that Houston only won 87 games last year. I thought they had hit 90. Especially the division they were in. 10 wins against Pittsburgh, 12 against Cincy, oh… they only went 9-8 against the Brewers. Yeah, that will do it. Eight losses to the Brewers – yeesh.

ED: They were distracted by Wendy Selig.

ED: The Astros withstood a litany of injuries to their starting rotation to take the race for the NL Central title down to the final weekend of the season. Somehow overcoming Jimy Williams’ kooky tinkering with the everyday line-up, the offense took charge of things thanks to the re-emergence of Richard Hidalgo, the constant excellence of Lance Berkman, the yeoman work of Jeff Bagwell and the blossoming of Morgan Ensberg.

BB: In all fairness, Ensberg was always ready; the Astros were merely mesmerized by the utilititarianism of Geoff Blum. And you can’t blame them. He’s got moxie. I think Ensberg had to buy some scrap from Chris Truby to get recognized by the Killer B’s.

PR: How happy do you think Morgan was to hear that the Astros acquired Mike Lamb? I feared for the safety of his pets.

ED: Any other team makes that deal and it’s no biggie. But with Jimy Williams as the manager…GAH! That crazy old man will single-handedly wreck my fantasy leagues.

ED: Going into the off season, the Astros appeared to be in a state of flux – the Bagwell and Biggio clique nearing the end of its reign, looking for one last chance to FINALLY win a playoff series; Richard Hidalgo going into a contract year; young studs in Berkman, Ensberg and Jason Lane ready to make the ‘Stros their own, yet with a starting staff that is as promising and talented as it is frustrating and fragile.

BB: AND they signed Phil Hiatt. I feel bad that Ensberg is keeping Hiatt down now. I’m not sure how to alleviate these problems. Alcohol will help, though.

PR: Seriously, the Astros know there are other positions besides third base – right? It’s getting to the point where I fully expect them to unblacklist Ken Caminiti to add another person to the 40 man who is going keep Morgan down.

ED: So what do the Astros do? Of course – sign Koufax and Drysdale. I consider myself a bit of a baseball geek, but I was not aware that Andy Pettitte had converted to Judaism. Nor was I aware that Roger Clemens was an overrated glamour boy. I always thought Pettitte was a nice little innings-eating lefty, overrated with the whole “POST SEASON MYSTIQUE/BIG GAME PITCHER” tag that the NY press had put on him.

PR: Don’t forget the pickoff move hype.

ED: C’mon, who’s the last guy Pettitte’s picked off? Kenny Lofton in, what, ’98?

PR: Oh, I am sure Johnny Damon fell asleep at some point last year. He had to have.

ED: It looks like Damon saved all his sleep for the offseason. Poor little Rip Van Winkle.

ED: And I’m pretty certain I thought I saw Pettitte do some strange glassy-eyed commercials for the Mormons or Moonies or Scientologists or something. I know he wasn’t pimping the Chosen Folk, that’s for sure. Certainly, Pettitte never struck me as Sandy Koufax-like. And Clemens always struck me as the best pitcher of his generation, not some hard throwing Robin glomming off fame from a Herbraic Batman. But what do I know? If every sportswriter in America says Pettitte-Clemens are the new Koufax-Drysdale, it must be so. Who am I to argue with the cirrhotic liver of an established sportswriter?

PR: YEAH! WHO ARE YOU TO QUESTION?!?!?! Many of those fine, fine established sportswriters tell us that Bert Blyleven and Rich Gossage aren’t Hall of Famers. THEY KNOW BASEBALL DAMMIT!

ED: Right. Who am I to question those who thought David Ortiz was the AL MVP? Or the dB’s. Or Mike Crudale.

PR: Do you think we have made Peter Gammons cry yet? Do I have to punch Eddie Vedder in the face to get that to happen?

ED: I will punch Mike Crudale to help out.

BB: Unless Clemens can successfully insist that all his starts are in the Astrodome, I don’t think he’s going to be worth the $5 million. He posted a 112 ERA+ last year, and 101 the year before. On the other hand, I think Andy Pettitte is going to start doing commercials for the Church of Adam Everett by the end of the season.

PR: If Andy wanted to stay close to home, I got no beef with that. He got many a win that Yankees fans are grateful for. Is he better than Javier Vazquez? No.

ED: Phil, I believe you’re glossing over the fact that…ahem…Andrew Eugene Pettitte is a PROVEN CLUTCH-GOD BIG GAME WINNER!!!! Can you say that about Javier Vazquez? I think not!

BB: I think the bigger problem is going to be the trading of Billy Wagner for the Phillies junk. The innings that Wagner used to take will now be on Dotel; which is good, because Dotel’s just as good of a pitcher, but bad, because Dotel’s arm is about to fall off. Dotel’s innings fall on Brad Lidge, which is bad, because Lidge’s arm is always about to fall off. And as for Brandon Duckworth, his OPS against actually decreases as he pitches more, so I’m not sure what makes the Astros think he’ll be better as a reliever.

PR: Dan Miceli was fine working out of the pen for Houston last year in a limited capacity. His numbers got really ugly thanks to the magic of Coors. Of course, it seems like every other year he has some knew aliment that forces him to miss 153 games. At least, he and Clemens and Biggio and Bagwell can sit around reminiscing about the good old days when those darn kids didn’t have the internet or them MP3s or cell phones. They miss the early 90s.

ED: *sniff* IIIIII miss the early-90’s. Glory days! Glory Dayyyya— Hey! Wait! Come back! I’ll tell ya about how I watched the entire Persian Gulf conflict on CNN while contemplating ways to run to Canada just in case. Please. Come back.

ED: OK, truth be told, the Pettitte-Clemens pick-ups were nice moves – especially since they came relatively cheap. If any three of the previous starting combo of Oswalt, Miller, Redding, Duckworth, Hernandez and Robertson can stay healthy, and Koufax and Drysdale can eat 200+ innings again, that’s a damn fine staff, obviously. Offensively, there are questions and concerns – it’s per near impossible for Biggio to play CF with that fork in his back but he could be helped with a platoon mate/CF legs, the glass-fragile Jeff Kent appears to be spending his Spring Training trying to discover the steroid usage of dinosaurs (thereby getting himself prepared for the greatest debate ever with Carl Everett),

PR: I believe Kent accused Adam of taking Viagra… I can’t find the link to the story on Fark at the moment though.

ED: Brad Ausmus provides nothing more than VETERAN PRESENCE (except to Diane Sawyer, I guess), Bags is looking mortal and Hidalgo is coming off his first good year since being hit by the Prospectus cover curse. As much as I give kudos to the ‘Stros for moving Billy Wagner to give Octavio Dotel the closer’s role, someone will have to help Brad Lidge eat the middle innings. Despite it all, the improvements to the rotation and heavy lifting by Berkman, Ensberg and Bagwell should be enough for a 90+ win season and playoff contention.

PR: Houston will eventually have a catcher again who can get on base. Are you telling me that Biggio is really that old and creaky that he couldn’t return to catcher and the Stros could then actually get a third outfielder, thus eliminating the 1 for 20 that upstanding citizen Ausmus brings.

ED: Why you gotta hate on Brad Ausmus’… umm… VETERAN…umm…VETERAN…umm…
HANDLER…HANDLING….umm…HANDLE…HANDLER OF PITCHERS…something. CERA, man! CERA!!!

BB: I have the feeling that Drysdale’s going to eat more than 200 innings. Not to say Clemens doesn’t work hard; it’s just being at home all the time isn’t going to be conducive to eating well. In the next episode of my MLB 2004 sitcom, Clemens is forced to miss a crucial start in August because Kory or Khris or Khmer Rouge or whatever stupid name Clemens gave his children have a soccer game and his wife needs to go play Bingo. Craig Biggio volunteers to take the start and gives up 6 ER in 2 1/3 innings; Jeff Bagwell still says that he was a better pitcher than Mitch Meluskey ever would’ve been, while Bill James says that Biggio’s a better pitcher than Ken Griffey Jr. was in his prime.

ED: Pass.


CardsST. LOUIS CARDINALS
2003 Record – 85-77

Key Additions: Ray Lankford, Marlon Anderson, Ray King, Jason Marquis, Adam Wainright, John Mabry, Jeff Suppan, Reggie Sanders, Julian Tavarez, Steve Cox, Brent Butler, Tony Womack

Key Losses: Jeff Fassero, Fernando Vina, Sterling Hitchcock, Mike DeJean, Brett Tomko, Orlando Palmeiro, Esteban Yan, Miguel Cairo, Eduardo Perez

ED: Quick – name someone who has annoyingly coasted longer than Tony LaRussa on past glories without producing anything remotely resembling some supposed level of excellence from which accolades and fame were bestowed upon them long-long-long-long-long ago.

BB: Mark-Paul Gosselaar?

PR: OOH! umm… John Thompson? Bobby Knight? Scottie Pippen?

ED: Hmm. Paul McCartney, of course.

BB: I think Paul McCartney redeemed himself by marrying the one-legged model. I really love how photographers don’t take pictures of her below the waist like she’s freaking FDR or something. I am amused by simple things.

PR: OOH! OOH!! how about… Cuba Gooding Jr. Then there is Barbra Streisand. And I can’t forget Whoopi Goldberg.

ED: Liz Taylor, without question.

BB: Well – I mean – Austin Powers was a fine cinematic production. Four Weddings and a Fun…wait – who’s Liz Taylor?

PR: I hate you and your youth. And a Liv Tyler joke would have been so much better.

BB: David Lee Roth? WAIT! I know! STEVE PERRY!

ED: But in the baseball world? I’m drawing blanks. Despite his George Will Honor Card/Genius Label, LaRussa’s work in St. Louis has been uninspired at best; inept, at worst. Yet LaRussa mulleted along smugly as the Cards strolled along to a third place finish in the Central, somehow superficially staying in the race until the very end.

ED: To be fair, the Cards had little starting pitching beyond Matt Morris and the eternally DL-challenged Woody Williams, and a pen as combustible as a box of matches.

BB: Well, that’s their fault – the rotation could easily be Morris/Williams/Ankiel/Alan Benes/Stephenson, if His Divine Mullet didn’t have an aversion to fully-connected labrums and rotator cuffs. Or nerves, in Ankiel’s case.

ED: Real men pitch through pain and injuries, Bill. Benes, Ankiel, Stephenson? Meh. All girls.

ED: The Cards hit the offseason looking to band-aid the problems by finally giving up on the DL-TASTIC J.D. Drew and the utility player of LaRussa’s dreams, Eli Marrero, for Jason Marquis (WARNING: Braves Pitching Prospect! WARNING: Braves Pitching Prospect! WARNING: Braves Pitching Prospect! WARNING: Braves Pitching Prospect!); while picking up Jeff Suppan’s Rope-A-Dope act and Chris Carpenter’s Dr. Andrews’ Favored Arm Status off the scrap heap.

BB: Placido Polanco is really the utility player that Tony LaRussa gets moist about at night. Astute observers (and by astute, I mean Phil Rogers) would note that the Cardinals did not make the playoffs last year, and they did not have Placido Polanco on their roster. The three previous years, they had Polanco and a playoff spot. CORRELATION!!! I think Marquis is more Jason Schmidt than he is Bruce Chen. I guess you never know how they turn will out once they get outside of the Mazzone Cocoon, though.

PR: They should have also signed Clay Bellinger too. RINGS~!

ED: I wonder how Jim Leyritz never caught on with the Cards?

ED: The pen was, in theory, bolstered with the pick up of Ray King in the Drew deal and Julian Tavarez from baseball hell. In other words, the gap between the Cubs-Astros and the rest of the Central widens.

PR: If Tavarez pitches half as well as he did last year when he was the one person capable of getting men out in Pittsburgh, the Cardinals get themselves a heck of a find.

BB: Ray King might be the first entry in the Bill Simmons reverse pantheon of people with pasty-sounding names who aren’t. Simmons commonly brings up Sidney Ponson as the cardinal example of the opposite situation; King’s a pretty solid negative of that. I mean – when I think Ray King – I think heavy, maybe Steve Rain-looking, but the spitting image of Mike Jackson? Who knew?

PR: Oh yeah. I remember the first time I looked up King’s bio and saw his head shot. I thought it was someone having some fun at someone else’s expense. And I don’t think Mike Jackson would appreciate being called fat. Yeah, Ray King might actually be Ponson’s negative. Poor portly fellas.

ED: Wait! I thought C.C. Sabathia was Ponson’s negative.

ED: Rolen-Pujols-Renteria-Edmonds and Rent-A Reggie Sanders should be enough offense to guarantee third, though the presence of only one LH in that mix really tells on Walt Jocketty’s supposed genius as well. There is talk that Kerry Robinson may be the lead-off man as some sort of Nise-Vince Coleman 2004. There is a firecracker joke here that I am too proud to take.

PR: How many times a day do you think LaRussa marches in demanding more lefties? I mean, how the heck can you have an alternating lineup with out left handed batters. The mullet is angry.

ED: Hey, it looks like Ray Lankford will make the club. Anyone think THAT will end well? Anyone know where Bernard Gilkey is?

BB: Ah, ’93 Mets. How I miss sponsoring your baseball-reference page. I will return one day.

ED: Bo Hart will contend with Eckstein as talk radio’s scrappy white guy dream. The pitching? Well, Morris will be fine. Williams will have at least one trip to the DL and the rest of the staff…well, Dave Duncan’s a genius too, right? The Cards will take third and even superficially compete again. LaRussa and Walt Jocketty will deflect all blame, of course. The Cards really could use an organizational change and/or some sort of attempt to rebuild to get young arms in. But the faithful will still come in droves just to see Pujols hit. There are worse situations to be in, of course. But there’s no way to assume the Cards can truly compete with the Cubs and Astros at this point.

BB: It’s possible they could win the division. It involves Clemens getting angry and/or hungry and chewing Roy Oswalt’s arm off and Mark Prior Draveckying himself, somehow – but it could happen. I figure what’s more likely to happen is Albert Pujols revealing he’s 29, Scott Rolen tearing his ACL, and J.D. Drew having an MVP season while laughing in the Cardinals faces all the while. But it’s a GREAT PLACE TO PLAY! Hopefully Whitey Herzog gets hired by August. They already traded for Tony Womack. That’s the first step down.

PR: JD Drew will also thank Jesus.

ED: Wait! Does that mean J.D. will be spending too much time with Chipper? If so, what’s the over/under on how many Hooters waitresses J.D. knocks up this season?

ED: From here it gets sad and pathetic like reading a Primer thread about being the cool guys in the Math Club.

BB: It’s all about convincing yourself the most attractive girl in the Math Club is decent looking. It takes three weeks. Four, tops.

ED: And then another 6 weeks for a math club guy to actually, you know, get up the nerve to TALK to the most attractive girl in Math Club. But the Math Club guys are NEVER afraid to call out Rippa. Oh yeah. That makes me happy.

PR: Bah! I could have had Jessica if I tried. The Math Club guys can kiss my Mu Alpha Theta ass. Stupid equilateral triangles.

PR: OH! also Barbara Walters and Bruce Smith and Bill Simmons and.. oh, we are done with that.

ED: Oh, we could write a book on that, I’m guessing.


PittPITTSBURGH PIRATES
2003 Record – 75-87

Key Additions: Raul Mondesi, Jose Mesa, Daryle Ward, Juan Acevado, Chris Stynes, Orlando Merced, Randall Simon, Rick Reed

Key Losses: Jose Hernandez, Pokey Reese, Jeff D’Amico, Matt Stairs, Reggie Sanders, Pat Mahomes, Julian Taverez, and eventually Jason Kendall

ED: I was not even aware that the Pirates took fourth last year. Gee, how could I have NOT paid any attention to the mighty Reds-Pirates-Brewers race for last?

PR: Oh yeah, I remember how the first couple weeks of the season they were playing decent ball and everyone was like “OH!!!! SMALL MARKET POWER!!!!” That didn’t last long.

ED: The first couple of weeks of the season they were playing the Reds and Reggie Sanders was leading the free world in home runs. That doesn’t exactly count.

PR: Like the Tuffy Rhodes 3-HR game? Poor little gaijin.

ED: Wow…Umm. The Pirates rolled to a fourth place finish despite fire-selling a Central title to the Cubs and their only known player to the Padres. Or is that that the Pirates rolled to a fourth place finish BECAUSE they fire-sold a Central title to the Cubs and their only known player to the Padres?

PR: Aww… Jason Kendall resurrects his career and you dump all over him Ed. What did he ever do to you? What?

ED: That gruesome ankle injury that ESPN kept replaying, for one.

PR: I have fantasy bitterness towards Kendall. And his Theisman so got trumped by Geoff Jenkins Theisman.

ED: Moises Alou owns them both in terms of gruesome Theisman’s.

ED: Whatever. Point is; the Pirates are starting over – AGAIN. Pirate fans will stay away in droves – AGAIN. But can the Buccaroos take fourth – AGAIN?

PR: Pittsburgh truly hates their fans. “Thanks for the new stadium. Now bend over please.”

ED: Are we talking about the Pirates or the Steelers?

BB: Raul Mondesi is such a perfect comp for Derek Bell. It saddens me that no one’s heard anything from Derek Bell since Operation Shutdown. Essentially, the Pirates saw that they got some potentially decent talent out of the mediocre veterans they traded away last year; so, this year, they signed an entire team full of them, blocking out the talent they got. Oh well. The NRI List for the Pirates is downright scary. I wonder how these guys are going to make the 40 man roster that the 8 guys who got picked in the Rule V draft couldn’t crack. Poor little franchise.

BB: Is everyone off the Kris Benson bandwagon yet? Do you think he has that Penthouse interview posted up in his locker? How many copies of it? Seven? That seems about right.

ED: At what point do you consider doing a Penthouse interview a good thing? I realize Kris Benson is certainly not celebrity enough to do a Playboy interview but…Penthouse? A Penthouse interview has all the cachet of having your own show on the UPN. Did he get to go to the Penthouse mansion and hang out with the plasticy, syphilitic stippers? Couldn’t he just have hung out with Mo Vaughn for that? Yeesh! I’m just saying that if Benson really wanted to appear in a skin mag, it would’ve been a more reputable move for him to send a picture into Hustler’s Beaver Hunt.

PR: I am positive that Benson will start over the season 3-0 with a sub 3 ERA and WHIP in the aughts and I will grab him off the waiver wire and then spend the rest of the season trying to unload him on Ed as his stats go South. “He is going to get traded to Seattle and minute now. Safeco~!” I will then follow it up with my usual April pick up of Salomon Torres. I have no idea how I have won our league – TWICE!

ED: I will actually trade for Benson with two weeks of the Reds and Brewers ahead for him on the schedule at which point he will Dravecky on a pitch to Ken Griffey Jr., making Jr. tear every muscle in his body while recoiling from the shock. ESPN will show it all 700 times a day.

ED: That’s not a completely terrible rotation in Wells, Fogg, Benson, Perez. Maybe. Probably not.

PR: They should also be able to squeeze four or five starts out of Rick Reed. God, I am sure Pujols is licking his lips at the thought of facing Reed. So many home runs.

ED: Yeah, they should really weigh playing in the NL Central in the same way they weigh the stats of Rockies.

ED: But on paper, anyway… of course you have to score runs to win and …well…hmm. Operation Shutdown is apparently like Legionnaires Disease that the Pirates have yet to rid from the clubhouse – or at least the bat racks. The Pirates best bet is that one of Posada, Varitek, or any Molina goes down so they can FINALLY move Jason Kendall for something. Of course, the Pirates also have to hope that Raul Mondesi decides to hang out with Derek Bell too.

BB: Aww…it pleases me to no end that we both thought of that independently. I think. Perez is going to be an ace until McClendon works his arm off. And then he will be a perfectly acceptable middle reliever, which, let’s face it, the Pirates would be happy with, too.

PR: We all know though that we look forward to the one Pirates game on ESPN2 where Harold Reynolds will state that the real reason Pittsburgh got Mondesi is for the ARM~! There is something truly special about a team that fields both Mondesi and Randall Simon at the same time.

ED: There’s some hope, offensively, I guess – Craig Wilson SHOULD get enough AB’s to be productive. The OF kiddiecorps looks fine, in Bay, Redman and Davis, here’s hoping the Pirates learn from past mistakes and have no desire to rush them. The Sanchez/Hill monster at second is like the proverbial flipped bird to all fantasy players who took a long shot on one of/both of them in the late-rounds last season. There’s maybe enough in Pittsburgh to take fourth again and possibly put a scare into the Cards for third. But it won’t be pretty. Then again, what is pretty in Pittsburgh?

BB: Ah Ed, you are naïve. None of those guys will get any PT – do they have any VP? Of course not. 65 wins, a lot of veterans, some mediocre prospects at the trading deadline, Pittsburgh votes to raze the baseball and hockey stadiums and put casinos in instead in October. Contraction is underrated.

PR: Jason Bay has TRAP~! written all over him. He still hasn’t recovered from shoulder surgery so he is starting the season the on the DL and I so don’t think he is going to shake that all season long. The upside would be Craig Wilson would be in the OF but the downside is that Randall Simon is still starting at first.

PR: Have no fear. Mike Williams is primed to be signed and traded again (Yes, I am trying to cram that joke into as many places a possible. I am old and need to be entertained. Leave me alone.)


RedsCincinnati Reds
2003 Record – 69-93

Key Additions: Cory Lidle, Aaron Myette, Jesus Sanchez, John Vander Wal in a Jon Lieber kinda way.

Key Losses: Chris Retisma, Ryan Dempster, Russell Branyan, Luke Prokopec

PR: Full disclosure alert: Ed is burdened with living in Reds country. Feel the bile building.

ED: Yeah, I should have gotten that out of the way, but I assumed it was obvious. Oh right, my Sean Casey LOATHING makes it look like I’m an outsider. Gotcha. Stupid Ohio.

ED: The Reds won the World Series last year wit…What? The Reds DIDN’T win the World Series last year? But-but…The PLAN according to Jim Bowden and Carl Linder, as seemingly-coauthored by Underwear Gnomes, was:

1) Get a new stadium

5) Win the World Series in 2003.

Hmm, maybe that gap between one and five was where Jim Bowden went wrong and his downfall was NOT the result of some great Oliver Stone-esque conspiracy that the man with the Ray Knight hair insists upon? Maybe – MAYBE – the Reds inability to, I don’t know draft and develop pitching was the great downfall of the Summer of the Great American Park? Naw, it ALL had to be the fault of a Big Market conspiracy.

BB: This is your baby and I really can’t add anything to it.

ED: Well, the Reds got their new park and bottomed out as low as you can go without being the Detroit Tigers. Jim Bowden’s reliance on experimenting retread/done pitchers finally fell completely flat and seemingly everyone who ever wore a Reds uniform got hurt – SEE! THAT was Aaron Boone’s problem! Not the Hoops! The Schottzie Curse! Rub some dog hair on it and it will be OK! Anyway, the Reds finally faced facts and cut payroll and management (HOO-HAH!) and anything and everything else they could. The future begins now, they say. And the future?

BB: Well, at least Aaron Boone was white. He had that going for him under Schottzie.

ED: I could’ve lived the rest of my life without ever reading the words “He had that going for him under Schottzie,” thank you.

BB: And did Don Gullett ever actually rehabilitate anyone besides Pete Harnisch? Who actually started games for the Reds over the last five years? For all I know – it was Pete Harnisch and four pitching machines, who just needed to make a couple of tweaks in their delivery and they could be twenty game winners. Awww.

ED: Gullet got a career year out of Mets retread Pete Schourek about 6-7 years ago. Then…umm…well, Jimmy Haynes resembled a major league pitcher a couple of years ago. Oh, and he got Mark Wohlers to resemble something so the Reds could move him to the Yankees. Otherwise…no.

PR: The Jose Rijo experiment still baffles me. I am thinking it this is some sort of Minnie Minoso deal where Rijo will make one appearence a season for eternity. You don’t see Atlee Hammaker or John Candelaria still out there, do you?

ED: C’mon, it’s the only time the Reds have had an ex-Yankees that wasn’t complete crap. The Reds are thusly obligated to trot him out until he dies just to keep the small market fans happy. God I hate Ohio.

ED: Dunn and Kearns and…umm…hmm. Well, a middle infield of Jimenez and Lopez SHOULD be the middle infield of the Reds immediate future if Dave Miley has any more managerial acumen than Bob Boone – which is a given if Dave Miley hasn’t been lobotomized recently. Giving Brandon Larson and Jason LaRue fair shots at regular jobs with no Boone yo-yo deals would be a positive step as well. That’s the good stuff. The bad…is…soooooo…very…very…bad.

PR: I heart Adam Dunn and it’s a shame that my two favorite players in the bigs (Dunn and Nick Johnson) are made of porcelain. Funnily, I think the Reds best move this offseason was taking a flier on Vander Wal. Sure the man can’t keep from crippling himself with a shovel but if he can keep to his rehab schedule, I like him as late season 4th Outfielder. Of course, the Reds always managed to have 19 outfielders.

ED: It’s sad that TOOLS GOD~! Wily Mo Pena may actually be the Reds best alternative in CF when Griffey next fractures an eyelid. Of course, it’s sad that the Reds bother with TOOLS GOD~! Wily Mo Pena but…well…these ARE the Reds.

ED: Ideally, the Reds somehow need to make Out-Making Sean Casey and his inflated contract the problem of some other team that needs a Scrappy White Good-Guy of Sports Radio Wet Dreams – and hope for some early wins so Danny Graves can rack up some cheap saves to entice a sucker team to take on an overpaid and overrated closer.

BB: You mean like the A’s? The Beane backlash begins this year. Just a hunch.

ED: Of course, ideally, the Reds need to keep Ken Griffey, Jr. duct taped together long enough sucker another team into a trade for Mr. China Doll, but at this point the chances of that are slimmer than Marge Schott’s chances of getting into heaven.

BB: The Yankees will have Griffey by June; the Reds will get Kenny Lofton in return. Kenny Lofton will sell 18 tickets to an Indians-Reds interleague game. Life will be good in the middle of this great country.

PR: Bill, if this trade happens, I will send you a $100. I mean, I have a ton riding on Griffey being healthy and productive the entire season. But I still would prefer crippled Junior on the Yankees than Kenny “Wheels” Lofton.

ED: I’d just like to take a moment to tell you both how much I hate you.

ED: The starting staff is to be anchored by Wilson, Lidle and Harang, with open auditions for “Praise Jesus” Brandon Claussen, creeping-cruddy Jimmy Haynes and any fan with a lucky ticket on the “Pitch For The Reds” nights. Why the Reds are insistent on keeping Chris Reitsma stuck in the pen instead of giving him a shot at the rotation is emblematic of the small-mindedness of the organization.

PR: The future doesn’t include Chris Reitsma anymore though. Reitsma did pretty much everything the Reds asked of him last year but 26 was too old for the Reds so off he goes to the Braves. I await season long updates from Ed on the fun Ohio has with the name Jung Bong. Jose Acevado can be a spark, assuming he is healthy again and that last season wasn’t a fluke. I hope Claussen is great but I will be bitter if he is. Aaron Freakin Boone.

ED: Reitsma may have been the biggest blunder of the Boone regime – and I know that says a TON. I expect him to win 20 for the Braves soon enough. Good. Stupid Reds. I await having to hear WHACKY~! RADIO DJ’S play “One Toke Over The Line” when/if Bong ever does anything in a Reds uni. How I have not murdered by now is beyond me.

PR: I am glad that you weren’t working for the Postal Service when you got laid off. I really didn’t look forward to having to answer question from the feds. “No. I have no idea why he would just take out middle aged white-guys talking about the Reds, Bengals or Browns.”

ED: Or Ohio State. I LOATHE me some Ohio State too. Stupid Ohio.

ED: Overall, things shouldn’t be as ugly this year as it was last, but a team with a pitching staff where the best hope is that none of their few fans sitting in OF seats will get killed by an opponents’ screaming line drive homer is a team that can only aspire to beat the Brewers. Anything beyond that is gravy.

BB: Oh come on – “Better Odds of Catching a Baseball In the Bleachers than Any Other non-Coors Ballpark” is a perfectly acceptable marketing plan. Did you know the ballpark’s only a year old?


BrewersMilwaukee Brewers
2003 Record – 68-94

Key Additions: Junior Spivey, Lyle Overbay, Craig Counsell, Travis Phelps, Wes Helms, Ben Grieve, Adrian Hernandez, Victor Santos, Dave Burba, Gary Bennett, Chad Moeller

Key Losses: Richie Sexson, Royce Clayton, Glendon Rusch, Eddie Perez, Todd Richie, John Vander Wal

ED: Mmm, sausage races. I am of German descent. I always put my money on the Bratwurst. I am biased, I know. But I in no way had any part in Randall Simon taking out the Italian Sausage last year. I swear.

BB: I remember I was in Toronto watching the Red Sox play the Blue Jays and, drunk as Dan Shaughnessy, I got back to my hotel, turned on the TV, and saw someone freaking out on TSN about Randall Simon attacking a girl dressed up like sausage. I think I vomited out of mere confusion.

ED: Let’s face it, the Brewers fans would have more fun if Randall Simon just started beating Brewers at random with a bat. This is not only a bad, but a boring organization. I mean, if you’re going to be bad anyway go balls out and, I don’t know, hire Kenny Williams as your GM. Maybe even hire Tim Johnson as your manager and have a Viet Nam Vets night. Anything! Anything at all, just as long as it’s not bad AND boring.

BB: Bad AND Boring is basically the mantra for this entire division. The Cubs are going to win. If not, the Astros are. The Cardinals will finish 3rd. No one else is even remotely important or relevant to the discussion of 2004. I don’t even think the players should get service time for being schedule filler.

PR: The fact that both of you ignore YOUR OLYMPIC HERO, Ben Sheets, fills me with shame as a baseball fan.

ED: C’mon, he’s a Brewer’s pitcher. Who can name a Brewers pitcher since Teddy Higuera?

PR: I wonder what Jim Abbott and Shawn Abner are up to.

ED: I’m guessing they’re not arm wrestling. Oh yeah, there’s some extra Hell time.

PR: This is the Brewers rotation starting the season – Sheets, Matt Kinney, Chris Capuano, Wayne Franklin and Wes Obermueller. I am willing to wager money that not even Momma Capuano could pick her son out of that lineup.

ED: Why, did Mama Capuano poke her eyes out rather than look at the Brewers too?

ED: Well, there actually is some talent in Brewers minor league system for the first time since…Awww, who cares? Point is the Brewers best bet is to make Junior Spivey a Yankee and hold out for ’05 when the talent starts coming through. Be brave, mighty Brewers fan.

PR: Well, Lyle Overbay still has a chance to prove that he is going to be a player in this league. It’s not his fault the Diamondbacks fell in love with Richie Sexson’s freakish size. And Wes Helms is finally getting a chance to be an everyday player… that might not be a good thing. And their Rookie of the Year…. is only a year older than me. And Geoff Jenkins is about my age – though my knees are in better shape…. barely.

BB: Corey Hart comes soon; and, with it, millions of jokes. I await Corey Hart Sunglasses Night.

ED: You’re not even old enough to make that joke, bub! Get the hell offa my lawn!

PR: I also love the reports that Prince Fielder is just like his daddy in his inability to not try to crush the ball 600 feet which each swing.

ED: So many inabilities when it comes to the Fielders and you pick swinging at the fences?

PR: I have already stated how freakin old I am several times. I wasn’t about to start talking about how I saw Prince Fielder for the first time on a MTV Rock N Jock baseball game. Urge to kill rising.

ED: The Brewers have that effect on people.

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