Baseball season is upon us. The boys of summer are back. All this week Playboy.com will be previewing the upcoming season team by team. Part two looks at the clubs who have lost a few steps this season by either age or talent.
The Cubbies were a tough one to sort into this category; from where they were this is a bit of a decline in talent but the core of a new team is already emerging in the form of Darwin Barney, Starlin Castro and Geovany Soto. Their outfield got old fast, sitting on the wrong side of thirty and some homeruns left the building this offseason with the departure of Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena. Their lineup lacks pop but their rotation shows promise and as we said the core of a better team is there to start rebuilding.
Best Asset: SS Starlin Castro. Look out for: 2B Darwin Barney. Strategy: There is a new sheriff in town in Theo Epstein. He builds clubs like it’s nobody’s business. The curse still lives but maybe not for long. Projected Finish: 4thin the NL Central.
Chicago White Sox
Some time ago the talent seemed to be assembled in Chicago for a viable south side contender. Then a few years passed, opportunities were lost and suddenly everyone was decidedly older, probably wiser and not quite as capable of competing. The heart of their lineup is ancient; Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn and A.J. Pierzynski are all well into the twilight of their careers and the youth movement is nowhere near ready to replace the numbers they put up in their primes. Meanwhile their rotation will never be anything more than average. Long story short: they’ll be able to play just not well enough to win.
Best Asset: Veteran trade chips. Look out for: SP Jake Peavy. Strategy: Their pitching staff will keep them in games, but they need a few more moving parts in the lineup to keep the runs coming in. A few guys who can hit for average and above would go a long way. Projected Finish: 3rd in the AL Central.
Here’s a team that got old in a hurry; excluding Tulo, the average age of their infield is coming up on 38. Some promising youth lies in wait but you’ve got to think a few steps have been lost both defensively and at the plate. The sudden shift carried over to the rotation too where former Orioles ‘ace’ Jeremy Guthrie heads up a staff of half-talents and nobodies. Temper expectations.
Best Asset: SS Troy Tulowitzki/LF Carlos Gonzalez. Look out for: CF Dexter Fowler. Strategy: Like the Cubs the core is there, but we wonder how valuable any of these aging veterans will be as trade chips. Projected Finish: 4th NL West.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Here’s another toss-up as far as classifying goes. The Dodgers have talent; a should-be MVP in Matt Kemp, a Silver Slugger in Andre Either, a Cy Young award winner in Clayton Kershaw and a rising star in Dee Gordon. Also in the mix are James Loney and Chad Billingsley, whose only impediment to stardom is suffering from streaky play. So what’s wrong here? No one knows but nothings gone right for the Dodgers in a while and at some point they’ll have to shake things up.
Best Asset: CF Matt Kemp. Look out for: 2B Dee Gordon. Strategy: The parts have been in place for a while but to no avail. A couple of trades and a new direction would be welcome. Projected Finish: 2nd in the NL West.
A year ago it was easy to say the Brewers were a lock for the NL Central. They had pitching depth, on-base potential and perhaps the best 3-4 punch in the league. Remove one piece from the equation and we have a problem. Not known for his patience or poise, teams will have no trouble going after new-comer Aramis Ramirez, reducing Ryan Braun’s trips to the plate, and in turn reducing the number of runs batted in. Corey Hart, Nyjer Morgan and Rickie Weeks? No guarantees there. This is a definitely a less imposing lineup.
Best Asset: LF Ryan Braun. Look out for: SP Shaun Marcum. Strategy: There is enough talent here to go around. Their rotation is top notch but injury prone; if someone goes down, the lineup won’t be able to pick up the slack. Projected Finish: 3rd in the NL Central.
New York Mets
Three years ago the Mets built a ballpark impossible to hit homeruns out of. No one knows why but evidence abounds with David Wright, Carlos Beltran and Jason Bay all suffering at the hands of Citi Field. Literally adding together insult and injury, the trio hasn’t been able to stay healthy long enough contribute to a run when the Mets had a chance. And now they don’t. Beltran is gone (good riddance), their rotation is the definition of shaky and too many question marks in both talent and health fill out their roster.
Best Asset: 3B David Wright (when he’s healthy). Look out for: 2B Daniel Murphy. Strategy: Pray? Wright and Bay could mash it if they ever got on the same page at the same time. Projected Finish: 5th in the NL East.