MLB Team Preview's

MLB Team Preview's

Preview - Kansas City
By Matt Fargo
VegasInsider.com 

2007 Record 69 Wins 93 Losses - 5th American League Central
2007 Money (-$108) moneyline (-$664) Runline (63-88) Over/Under

2007 Review

The Royals lost 93 games last season and while it wasn’t a cause for jubilation, it was the first time in four years that Kansas City had not dropped at least 100 games. Now after four straight years in last place, it’s time to get out of the cellar in the American League Central. With Minnesota likely the rebuilding team of 2008 from that division, it is more than possible. It seems like eons ago but Kansas City was five games over .500 in 2003 and with a strong nucleus of youngsters, an outcome like that isn’t out of the question.

2008 Offense

Basically, the offense for Kansas City last season was putrid. The Royals scored just 706 runs, an average of 4.4 per game which was second to last in the American League. They ranked last in the league in home runs, total bases and slugging percentage. Youth was the main reason as they were banking on a lot of youngsters and will do so again but at least there is experience now. The Royals signed Jose Guillen to beef up the offense as his power and his .460 slugging percentage should help the offense produce more runs.

Billy Butler and Alex Gordon could make quantum leaps forward from their rookie seasons. Butler made his debut in 2007 where he hit .292 with eight homers and 52 RBI and his numbers should get much better. The same goes for Gordon who was one of top prospects in baseball last season but finished with only 15 home runs, 60 RBI’s and a .247 average. Catcher John Buck led the club with 18 home runs but only three after the All-Star break. Ryan Shealy, if healthy, could have a breakout season as well.

2008 Starting Pitching

The pitching actually wasn’t bad for the Royals last season and if it got any sort of offense, there would have been a lot more wins. Gil Meche was signed to a suspect contract before last season and he backed it up. He finished 9-13 but posted a solid 3.67 ERA and 1.30 WHIP. His run support was the problem as he received three runs or fewer in 18 of his 31 starts. The surprise last season was Brian Bannister who went 12-9 with a 3.87 ERA in 27 starts as a rookie. If he can match that, the one-two punch is solid.

Zack Greinke, who has the stuff and command to be a top-of-the-rotation guy, returned from a psychological leave of absence and pitched tremendous with a 3.69 ERA out of the bullpen and in 14 starts. If he lives up to potential, the one-two-three-punch is solid. After that however, the bottom falls off. Brett Tomko has the inside track for the fourth spot and after his 4-12 and 5.55 ERA in 2007, that is not a good sign. Jorge De La Rosa likely gets the fifth spot not necessarily because of talent but that he is the lone lefty with a shot.

2008 Bullpen

The Royals had a very good bullpen last season and it is rare to put the words “good” and “bullpen” together when talking about this team. They had the worst bullpen ERA in 2006 so their 3.69 ERA was a solid effort. Let’s start with the bad news. David Riske, who had a 2.45 ERA in 65 appearances and was their most reliable, has moved on to the Brewers so it will be up to others to step in and fill the void. That role could go to rookie Yasuhiko Yabuta, where new manager Trey Hillman is familiar with him from Japan.

Closer Joakim Soria had 17 saves and a 2.48 ERA as a rookie and this is with going the entire months of June and July without a save. He is not an overpowering closer but has four quality pitches. Joel Peralta is durable and can be utilized in a variety of roles while Ryan Braun throws hard. The repeat of the success could also be on the arms of three lefties, Ron Mahay, Jimmy Gobble and John Bale all of whom are experienced and posted solid numbers last season. The potential is here but everything must fall into place.

2008 Overall Outlook

Another new manager takes over with Hillman, coming over from Japan where he spent the past five years. It might sound like an odd hire, but he knows how to win as he led his teams to three postseason berths while winning the 2006 Japan Series. Playing in the rugged American League Central does not help the Royals’ cause so contending probably won’t be an option. However if the offense can have a breakout season from most of the youngsters, Kansas City could be in good shape to tack on more wins and get to .500.

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Preview - Pittsburgh
By Matt Fargo
VegasInsider.com 

2007 Record 68 Wins 94 Losses - 6th National League Central
2007 Money (-$1,663) moneyline (-$1,639) Runline (83-70) Over/Under

2007 Review

Losing seasons are becoming the norm in Pittsburgh. After posting the worst record in the National League last season, the Pirates have now failed to finish .500 or better in 15 straight years, which is just one year shy of the Major League record set in 1948 by the Phillies. After starting the season with a three-game sweep in Houston, confidence was running high then but losing 10 of the next 13 killed that and they never recovered. Losses in 13 of the final 15 games did not instill much momentum heading into 2008.

2008 Offense

After hitting .263 in 2006, the Pirates were hoping for a breakout last season with Jason Bay and Freddie Sanchez coming off spectacular seasons and the acquisition of Adam LaRoche adding even more pop. The breakout never happened as the Pirates hit .263 again last season. Bay had a career-worst year with a .247 average and just 21 home runs while Sanchez’ batting average dropped 43 points last season to .304 from a National League-leading .347 in 2006. He is now 30 and his numbers won’t be going up.

LaRoche was the real big surprise however. He led the team in home runs with 21 and RBI’s with 88 but he was projected to be a 30/100 guy or better. He hit only .239 in the first half, no thanks to a .133 April, and he is seeking to avoid the slow starts that have plagued him throughout his career. No additions or subtractions this year as the lineup remains virtually the same with only a center field battle between Nate McLouth and Nyjer Morgan highlighting spring.

2008 Starting Pitching

The rotation of the Pirates was the biggest question heading into last season but this year it’s their biggest strength and has arguably the most upside in baseball. The five-man rotation is set with Tom Gorzelanny, Ian Snell, Paul Maholm, Zach Duke and Matt Morris. Gorzelanny led the team with 14 wins while posting a 3.88 ERA and if not for blowups in July and September, his numbers could have been spectacular. Snell led the team in ERA at 3.76 and WHIP at 1.33 but he slowed down in the second half.

With his first season of 200 innings under his belt, the Pirates are hoping for a stronger finish from Snell. It was just the opposite for Maholm who had a dreadful April and May but settled into a very good groove in the second half of last season with the exception of his final two starts that raised his ERA from 4.32 to 5.02. Duke has had back-to-back disappointing seasons but he did have a good September and needs a good spring. Morris is a good veteran leader who should bounce back from a bad second half.

2008 Bullpen

Like most young teams, the bullpen had its issues last year, posting a 4.81 ERA which was second worst in the National League, only ahead of Cincinnati. The unit allowed 71 home runs which was 2nd worst in all of baseball and that obviously needs to improve. Pittsburgh found a closer with Matt Capps after Salomon Torres got hammered to open the season. Capps finished with 18 saves and a 2.28 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in splitting time as a setup man and the closer. He should thrive going in with a secured job.

The biggest concern is the middle relief seeing that there is no clue where it is going to be coming from. Veterans Hector Carraso, Casey Fossum and Elmer Dessens are likely candidates for the middle relief jobs and the jury is still out if there will be a turnaround or not. The Pirates have two proven left-handers to set Capps up in Damaso Marte and John Grabow. Franquelis Osoria was 2-5 with 11 saves with a 2.63 ERA in 39 games in AAA and has the inside track for the right-handed set up job.

2008 Overall Outlook

Management and coaches were completely rehauled heading into 2008. Neal Huntington takes over as general manager while John Russell replaces Jim Tracy as manager to go along with a whole new coaching staff. A new attitude along with new philosophies are what they are hoping makes the difference. If the top four starters, who are all 26 and younger, can excel, and if the offense starts strong, the Pirates could be the Brewers of 2008 and surprise in the weak National League Central.

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Preview - Tampa Bay
By Matt Fargo
VegasInsider.com 

2007 Record 66 Wins 96 Losses - 5th American League East
2007 Money (-$1,344) moneyline (-$1,694) Runline (82-72) Over/Under

2007 Review

It was once again another disappointing season for Tampa Bay who finished with the worst record in baseball for the second straight season. Part of the problem has been the struggles on the road as the Devil Rays have only 49 road victories over the last two years. Tampa Bay had the worst ERA in baseball and was one of only two teams with an ERA over 5.00. The offense was average although it did finish 7th and 6th in home runs and steals respectively. There is optimism on the horizon.

2008 Offense

Offense has always been the strength of Tampa Bay but sometimes that was by default based on the fact that the pitching was so horrendous. Carl Crawford is the star and he is coming off another great season as he tied for the AL lead with 50 steals, the fourth time he's topped the league in that category, while a .358 second-half average allowed him to finish with a career-best .315 mark. He will report to spring training in the best shape of his career based on a more extensive, and intensive, workout regimen.

B.J. Upton is young with a promising upside with the ability he carries as a potential 30-30 player. Carlos Pena had a breakout season with 40 home runs but don’t expect a repeat of that. Rocco Baldelli has been injury prone the last three years, playing just 263 games combined. Rookie Evan Longoria, not to be confused with Mrs. Tony Parker, is a potential can’t miss prospect. Tampa Bay finished with a .268 batting average which was an increase from 2006 but still needs to get better to compete with the big boys.

2008 Starting Pitching

The rotation starts with Scott Kazmir who is still only 24 years old and now has three full seasons under his belt. His numbers got worse in 2007 from the previous year but they were still solid, posting a 3.48 ERA and 1.38 ratio in 206.2 innings, up over 60 innings from the previous season. He had a career-high 239 strikeouts which topped the American League. His best asset could be his 2.78 career ERA against the Yankees and Red Sox covering 25 starts and 152.1 innings.

James Shields is in his third year and that is when young pitchers tend to break out. Last season could be considered a breakout but things could be even better. He posted a solid 3.85 ERA and fantastic 1.11 ratio while striking out 184 in 215 innings. The acquisition of Matt Garza from the Twins gives Tampa Bay a great starter in the third spot. Edwin Jackson, Andy Sonnanstine, Jason Hammel and J.P. Howell will battle a slew of even younger pitchers for the final two spots. This is an improving bunch for sure.

2008 Bullpen

The Devil Rays had a lot of problems last season but none more so than the bullpen. Tampa Bay was dead last in baseball with a 6.16 ERA from its pen and its 28 saves were the fewest in the league. The Devil Rays bullpen was the only team to allow a .300 batting average and led the league with 77 home runs allowed. Something had to be done and Tampa Bay did just that by signing veteran closer Troy Percival. It was thought his career may be over but a solid stint in St. Louis last year brought renewed hope.

Adding Percival has allowed the Devil Rays to move last year's closer, Al Reyes, who had 26 saves in 2007, to a setup role, which adds depth to the late-inning situation. Dan Wheeler and Gary Glover along with newly signed lefty free-agent Trever Miller form a solid core of middle relief but after that, it gets dicey. As many as 10 players will be competing for the final spots including potential starters not cracking the rotation. The bullpen won’t be the strength but we should see a vast improvement.

2008 Overall Outlook


The Devil Rays have finished last in the American League East in five of the last six seasons but don’t expect that this year. Improvements across the board coupled with the Orioles going through a rebuilding season should bump Tampa Bay up to 4th. Competing with the Red Sox and Yankees is not going to happen unless everything falls into to place and even that is a huge stretch. The Devil Rays will be sleeper early in the season based on last year so there will be some value in what should be some good prices.

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Preview - Baltimore
By Matt Fargo
VegasInsider.com

2007 Record 70 Wins 92 Losses - 4th American League East
2007 Money (-$1,896) moneyline (+$475) Runline (82-73) Over/Under

2007 Review

2007 was yet another disappointment for Baltimore as it finished with a losing season for a franchise record 10th straight season. Only Tampa Bay had a worse pitching staff as the Orioles finished with a 5.19 ERA and they were the only two teams with an ERA above 5.00. And like its A.L. East counterpart, the bullpen was mostly to blame with a whopping 5.75 ERA. Baltimore was second to last in the league in profits but notice the “plus” on the runline results. The Orioles lost a league high 31 one-run games.

2008 Offense

The offense was adequate last season as the Orioles finished 12th in baseball in hitting at .272 but there was a power outage. For the third straight season, the Orioles home run total dropped and now that Miguel Tejada is out of town, they could dip even more. He is coming off his worst season since 1999 as far as home runs and RBI’s and this was a great time to deal him considering all of the steroid issues now surrounding him. Baltimore has a big hole to fill nonetheless and they need power from other spots also.
   
The main offensive threat now is Melvin Mora but he has been on a three-year slide in average, home runs, RBI and on-base percentage. The Orioles hope for an upturn in 2008, but he will be 36 so his best days are probably done. Nick Markakis had a great sophomore campaign and he should continue to get better while the addition of Luke Scott should add pop. Brian Roberts is going to be traded as well so the remainder of the lineup will likely consist of unproven youngsters and veterans who are past their prime.

2008 Starting Pitching

The trade of Erik Bedard officially tabbed this season as a rebuilding one for the Orioles. Now that Baltimore’s best starter now on the west coast, the rotation is officially in shambles. There is potential but every team comes into spring training with potential and there simply is no number one guy on this roster. The likely opening day starter is Jeremy Guthrie, who had a solid rookie season with a 3.70 ERA and 1.21 WHIP but he only went 7-5 and did not win a game after July 27th.

The No. 2 spot will likely be handed to Daniel Cabrera who has so much talent and at 26 years old is still a possible breakout. However, he went 9-18 with a 5.55 ERA last season and led the league in walks after finishing second in that category in 2006. Adam Loewen is another one with great potential but he missed all but six starts last year with a balky elbow, which is not a good sign. After that it really is anyone’s guess who will lock down the final two spots, not exactly the best sign for an already suspect staff.

2008 Bullpen

The bullpen was horrific last season and there is no reason to think there will be a repeat of that this season. Closer Chris Ray and setup man Danys Baez both had Tommy John surgery and will be out for most of this season. Every job in the pen is open although the closer job looks to go to George Sherrill, who came over in the Bedard deal. He posted a 2.36 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in 73 appearances from the bullpen in Seattle. Also in the hunt to close games is Greg Aquino, but he will likely end up in middle relief.

Chad Bradford and Jamie Walker are the only two players that are back from last season’s bullpen so you can see what Baltimore is dealing with. Matt Albers, Hayden Penn, Troy Patton, Garrett Olson and Brian Burres are all fighting for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation and the losers could end up in the pen with Burres being the likely candidate for long reliever. With so many unknowns, the bullpen could surprise and be the strength but that is a stretch and we likely are going to see another tough year.

2008 Overall Outlook

Can the Orioles pull off a similar astounding feat that the Marlins did two years ago? It isn’t likely considering the division they play in and that they don’t have the talent to produce right away. Baltimore will add to its record of consecutive losing seasons and this one could be one of the worst ever. While the season is destined for failure, they are doing the right thing and building for the future. However, they will have some big underdog prices and the value will be there as long as we strike at the right times.

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Preview - San Francisco
By Matt Fargo
VegasInsider.com 

Team Preview - San Francisco Giants 2007 Record 71 Wins 91 Losses - 5th National League West
2007 Money -$2,067 moneyline -1,414 Runline 72-84 Over/Under

2007 Review

Now that the Barry Bonds circus is over, the Giants can concentrate on winning baseball games and not having to deal with home run records and steroid allegations. He was a huge draw but this is a better team with him gone. The Giants were a MLB-worst -$2,067 last season, the third straight year they were in the red. After winning the division in 2003 and finishing 20 games over .500 in 2004, it has been three straight losing seasons in what has been considered as the weakest division over that stretch.

2008 Offense

With Bonds out of the picture, the offense definitely takes a hit but there will no doubt be less pressure. The big acquisition in the offseason, the only big one actually, was outfielder Aaron Rowand who will take over in center. He will be asked to lead the offense as well as be the main clubhouse leader. With hardly any other big bats around him, Rowand might not be seeing a whole lot of pitches this season. Omar Vizquel hit just .246 last year, a 49-point drop from 2006.

Also in the mix are veterans Dave Roberts, who could be traded before spring training ends, Randy Winn, Ray Durham and Bengie Molina. Those names just make this offense sound really old which it in fact is. It is blended with some youth and none more talented than outfielder Nate Schierholtz, the main reason Roberts is looking to be dealt. He hit .304 in 39 games last season following a .348 average and 16 home runs in AAA. Kevin Frandsen and Daniel Ortmeier could make the lineup as rookie corners.

2008 Starting Pitching

The potential is there for a solid rotation. Veteran Barry Zito had a very disappointing debut season in San Francisco as he went 11-13 with a 4.53 ERA. He pitched well down the stretch however, going 4-3 with a 3.33 ERA covering 12 starts in the final two months. He will be the opening day starter and a big season will help the young pitchers behind him. Tim Lincecum had a very solid rookie campaign, going 7-5 with a 4.00 ERA. Take away a horrendous June and his ERA went down to 3.20.

Matt Cain had a rather ugly 7-16 record but it was hardly his fault. Cain led the Giants' starters in ERA, innings, strikeouts and quality starts, tied for sixth most in the National League. He had no run support while the bullpen blew five leads. Lefty Noah Lowry was 14-8 with a 3.92 ERA before he was shut down with forearm tightness in the final month. He has set a goal to stay healthy and strong throughout the season. The final spot will likely go to Kevin Correia. The Giants can get a lot out of these guys.

2008 Bullpen

Overall, the Giants were 9th in baseball in ERA but it says a lot about the starters as the bullpen finished 18th with a 4.12 ERA and 23 blown saves, fifth most in MLB. Armando Benitez was the closer to start the season last year and he was horrible after a solid April. He lost his job to Brad Hennessey who eventually lost the job to Brian Wilson. Wilson had just one blown save and his ERA of 2.28 dropped to 0.80 by removing that one bad outing from the mix. He has already been tabbed the opening day closer.

Middle relief is where things could be dicey once again. Hennessey and Tyler Walker are the leading candidates to setup Wilson, neither of whom are overpowering. Steve Kline and Jonathan Sanchez are the two top lefties with the inconsistent Jack Taschner also looking to make the squad. The bullpen had only 355 strikeouts last season which was second worst only to the White Sox and there does not look like there will be much to make that better this year. Young starters mean a lot of innings from the pen.

2008 Overall Outlook

Bruce Bochy certainly did not have a great debut in the bay area but to his defense he came into a difficult situation as he had to try and find continuity on a team that was clearly divided. He did some great things with very average teams in San Diego and if he can get the most out of his starting pitching, the Giants could be a surprise in the National League West. The offense needs to hit however. San Francisco will get some looks now that Bonds is out as this team is not the public team it once was.

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Preview - Florida
By Matt Fargo
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Team Preview - Florida Marlins 2007 Record 71 Wins 91 Losses 5th National League East

2007 Money -$1,135 moneyline -2,334 Runline 90-62 Over/Under

2007 Review

The Marlins finished with a worse record for the 5th straight season so they did the typical Marlins solution and got rid of their two top veterans Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. Back in 2006, many predicted well over 100 losses but they surprised and finished at 78-84. Then in an injury-plagued 2007, the club finished at 71-91 and changes were imminent. It was a down year for the pocketbook last season as well and an even worse year for runline players as 67 of their losses were by two or more runs.

2008 Offense

The loss of Cabrera is a huge blow to the offense that was actually very good last season. The Marlins finished 4th in home runs and 5th in slugging percentage but now it must try and replace 34 home runs and 119 RBI’s. Jose Castillo hopes to win the third base job but will be hard-pressed to come close to those numbers as his career highs were 14 and 65 back in 2006 with the Pirates. Hanley Ramirez, who led the team with a .332 average, was leadoff last season but will be moved to the three spot.

After Ramirez, the middle of the order will be Mike Jacobs, Josh Willingham and Dan Uggla and all three will be expected to replace Cabrera’s production. The gem of the trade with the Tigers was outfielder Cameron Maybin. He is just 20 years old and still wears braces but he is a five-tool player and he will be the leadoff hitter if he can win the job in center. Florida does not want to rush him but the team wants nothing more than for him to win the job.

2008 Starting Pitching

Last year, Marlins pitchers led the National League in walks with 661 and hit batters with 76. Most of that damage came from the rotation as 11 Florida starters combined to go 42-63 with a 5.58 ERA, worst in the majors. Willis is gone and so are his 200+ innings but he did have a very disappointing 2007 with a 5.17 ERA and 1.60 WHIP. Injuries also hurt as Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco all were done by May. The top four starters are Scott Olsen, Mark Hendrickson, Andrew Miller and Sergio Mitre.

Olsen is the front-runner to claim the top spot even though he was a disappointing 10-15 last year with a 5.81 ERA, the highest of any pitcher in the National League with at least 162 innings. Hendrickson is back after a stint in Los Angeles and he should be better after offseason laser-eye surgery. Miller came over in the Detroit deal and he has the tools to be big time player while Mitre needs to overcome a dreadful second half. Front-runners for the fifth spot are Nolasco and Rick VandenHurk.

2008 Bullpen

The bullpen was the lone bright spot last year, and it basically remains intact. Despite this, the Marlins brought 38 pitchers into camp so there will be a lot of competition for the few remaining bullpen spots. Florida finished with a 4.05 ERA but did have 24 blown saves, 6th worst in baseball. Kevin Gregg, who had 32 saves and only four blown saves, emerged as the closer by midseason and now that he starts the season with that job, he should settle comfortably into the role and improve.

Also in the bullpen are Justin Miller, Taylor Tankersley and Matt Lindstrom, with Lee Gardner, Logan Kensing and Renyel Pinto figuring prominently to retain the spots they held last season. The remarkable trait of this group is that all of them posted sub-4.00 ERA’s last season so the fact that all are back is a huge asset. Hard-throwing Eulogio De La Cruz also could contend for a relief spot. Florida’s bullpen tossed 586.2 innings last season, third most in baseball, and they don’t want a repeat of that.

2008 Overall Outlook

When a team that finishes in last place gets rid of its best offensive player and star pitcher, you know things are not going to be good. This is a young team that got even younger so another last place finish is likely going to occur. However, that was said to be the case in 2006 and the Marlins finished well above expectations. This is another team that we will see some excellent value with because of the lack of star power. There will be some big underdog numbers early in the year that we will certainly take advantage of.

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Preview -- Cincinnati
By Matt Fargo
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2007 Record 72 Wins 90 Losses 5th National League Central

2007 Money ($1,525) Moneyline (944) Runline 88-68 Over/Under

2007 Review

After years of starting off the season with solid play, the Reds didn’t tease their fans last year as they started the year 31-51 which led to the firing of manager Jerry Narron. The good news was a finish of 41-39 which could carry over into this season that shows some promise. A new manager along with some strong young talent could turn things around. The wallets were emptied last year during the first half but there was some value had in the second half when the wins came more often.

2008 Offense

For a team that finished 3rd in baseball in home runs and 8th in slugging percentage, the Reds should have produced more runs. However, getting on base was an issue as Cincinnati finished below average in both hitting and on-base percentage. Ken Griffey hit 30 home runs last season while shifting from center field to right and played in 144 games, his most since 2000. Adam Dunn has hit 40 or more home runs in four straight seasons but has not hit higher than .266 in his six full seasons.

A star in the making is Brandon Philips who hit 30 home runs and stole 30 bases to become only the 2nd second baseman ever to accomplish that. He is under the magical age of 27 meaning he still has more potential. The Reds need a better season from Alex Gonzalez who was dealing with personal distractions last year. This could be the last straw for Edwin Encarnacion who was supposed to be a superstar but was actually sent down to the minors last year. Rookie Jay Bruce is the best hitting prospect in baseball.

2008 Starting Pitching

The Reds finished with the worst ERA in the National League and it was a combination of both the bullpen and the rotation. The Reds have a solid one-two punch of Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo but it gets very dicey after that. Harang has won 16 games in each of the last two seasons and is considered the ace of the staff which is fitting with his consistency. Arroyo had a down season last year after a splendid 2006. The good news is that he had a 3.55 ERA after the break and hopes to carry that into 2007.

After those two, the rest of the rotation is anyone’s guess. There are eight pitchers looking to fill the three spots with Matt Belisle, Homer Bailey, Josh Fogg and Jeremy Affeldt being the top four candidates. Bailey is the young stud but his rookie season was a disaster. Cincinnati is hoping the experience pays off this year. Belisle also had a miserable season with a 5.32 ERA in 30 starts. The final two came over from Colorado with Fogg having a decent year and Affeldt coming out of the bullpen.

2008 Bullpen

Speaking of bullpen, Cincinnati had the worst bullpen ERA in the Majors as well at 5.13. Allowing the opposition to hit .281 was 2nd worst in the league while 28 blown saves was ahead of only Colorado. David Weathers was the closer last season and while he wasn’t the worst, he definitely was not comfortable. He moves back to his usual role of set up man as the Reds signed Francisco Cordero, who saved 44 games with the Brewers last season while blowing just seven.

Mike Stanton and Bill Bray are the two likely southpaws coming out of the pen but the real issues are on the other side. Tom Coffey was good on the road with a 4.03 ERA but he had a 7.22 ERA at home. Gary Majewski was nearly unhittable in Washington but he has an ERA over 8.00 since coming to Cincinnati two years ago. The Reds are hoping for a big turnaround. This unit needs to get stronger and in a hurry because the starting pitching is not good enough to bail the pen out.

2008 Overall Outlook

The hiring of Dusty Baker and the increase in payroll shows that the Reds want to be a contender now. The problem is that they do not have enough talent to challenge the best in the National League. Playing in the weak National League Central will help but that can only go so far. The Reds were a team that went ‘over’ more often than not and with the only upgrade in pitching being the closer, we could see more high scoring games. The offense will aid in that as well.

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Preview - Chicago White Sox
By Matt Fargo
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2007 Record 72 Wins 90 Losses 4th American League Central
2007 Money ($1,14) Moneyline ($153) Runline 70-81 Over/Under

2007 Review

It’s hard to believe the White Sox won the World Series just two years ago. After finishing with 99 wins in 2005, Chicago dipped to 90 wins the next year and missing the playoffs by five games. No one saw only 72 wins last year coming however. Everything that could have gone wrong did. Injuries piled up early, pitching was getting pounded and the hitters could not produce. Little did everyone know that the 12-5 loss suffered Opening Day would be a good summation of the entire season.

2008 Offense

The 3-4-5 hitters remain intact for the White Sox but that is about all that remains in this lineup. Jim Thome, Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye will once again be the power in the middle but the White Sox are hoping for a much quicker start from the three following a very slow start last season. The only other likely returnee from last season is catcher A.J. Pierzynski who had his share of struggles last season. Three players will battle out the opening at 2nd base with veteran Juan Uribe leading the way.

The rest of the lineup looks different but that is a good thing. Third base is a question mark, mostly because of the status of Joe Crede and his recovery from season-ending back surgery. Josh Fields has the job and if Crede does show he is healthy, he will be traded. Chicago grabbed Nick Swisher from Oakland and Orlando Cabrera from the Angels, giving it two great on base guys. 2nd year center fielder Jerry Owens hit .340 the last month and finished the season with a team-high 32 stolen bases and will hit leadoff.

2008 Starting Pitching

The rotation is pretty much set barring any injuries or any other surprises. Gone is Jon Garland who has a disappointing 2007 after two straight seasons of 18 victories. Mark Buehrle will be the No. 1 starter again, followed by Javier Vazquez, John Danks, Jose Contreras and Gavin Floyd. Buehrle had a disappointing 2006, his worst year ever actually, but posted a 3.63 ERA and 1.26 WHIP last season, the fifth time he has posted a sub-4.00 ERA in his seven years as a starter.

Vazquez and Contreras are both tossups. Vazquez had his best season last year since his days in Montreal and his 1.14 WHIP and .242 BAA were both the second lowest in his career. As far as Contreras goes, he had a miserable season, losing 17 games while posting a 5.57 ERA. His 3.72 ERA in August and September should help ease some of the pain. Danks had a rough rookie campaign but Chicago is hoping for better. Floyd’s ERA the last three seasons - 10.04, 7.29 and 5.27. At least it is coming down.

2008 Bullpen

Last year the bullpen was a big weakness but this year it could be the strength. The White Sox pen had an ERA of 5.49, one of only four teams in all of baseball that finished with an ERA over five. The .281 average allowed was second worst in baseball and Chicago knew something needed to be done. Bobby Jenks excelled as the closer and actually had a better season last year than in 2006, his first as the full time closer. He was one of the only bright spots of the entire relief corps.

The White Sox improved the bullpen by signing Scott Linebrink, a free agent from Milwaukee and Octavio Dotel, a free agent from Atlanta. Linebrink was great with the Brewers and Padres last season while having four spectacular seasons in San Diego prior to that. Dotel has been up and down throughout his career and did have a decent season spitting time with the Royals and Braves last year. Both should be excellent in the setup role. Ehren Wassermann and Nick Masset will battle for the seventh and final pen spot.

2008 Overall Outlook

The White Sox will be better this year there is no question about that. The problem is that they play in the ultra-tough American League Central. So while they may get a few more wins, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will get any closer to a playoff spot. Chicago was an overvalued team last season since expectations were so high and the problem is that we might see that again this season. The value could be there when they play the Indians and Tigers, and they meet nine times in the first two weeks of the season.

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Re: MLB Team Preview's

MLB betting preview: Washington Nationals
MATT FARGO

2007 Record: 73 Wins 89 Losses, 4th place National League East

2007 Money: +$1,622 Moneyline, +$1,282 Runline, 72-79 Over/Under

2007 Review

It was a third straight non-winning season for the Nationals since coming over from Montreal but if any positive can come out of last season, it was that they did not finish in last place in the National League East for the first time. Sixteen games under .500 might sound bad but this team was projected to lose more than 100 games and to possibly be one of the worst teams in history. The Nationals collected $1,622 for their backers, easily the most for a team with a losing record. Now it is time to increase the win totals.

2008 Offense

The offense was dismal last season which came as no surprise because, coming into the season, they knew it would be their biggest weakness. Washington hit only .256 (4th worst in the NL) while its 123 home runs were the lowest in the league. Upgrades were needed and the Nationals got them in the offseason. They acquired Lastings Milledge from the Mets and Elijah Dukes from the Devil Rays, two young outfielders with loads of upside.

Also brought in from the Mets was catcher Paul LoDuca, who should help bring in more production at that spot. Holdovers from last season include Ryan Zimmerman, whose numbers dipped somewhat last season but still has a great upside; Austin Kearns, who had a career-high in RBIs; and Dmitri Young, the Nationals' lone All-Star from last season. Young will get pushed at first base by Nick Johnson, who missed all of last season with a broken leg. A veteran middle infield also remains intact.

2008 Starting Pitching

The starting pitching is a fragile unit and fingers will be crossed throughout the spring. Shawn Hill, the likely Opening Day starter, has already been shut down after complaining of tightness in his right forearm, an injury that forced him to miss time last season. An MRI came back negative so rest should be enough to heal it. Hill was solid last season, posting a 3.42 ERA in 16 starts. John Patterson, last year’s Opening Day starter, has made only 15 starts the last two seasons due to nerve injuries in his throwing arm.

Next in line is Jason Bergmann, who missed time in 2007 with elbow and hamstring injuries. After coming back at the end of August, he posted a 4.24 ERA after putting together an ERA of 2.76 in April and May. The bottom half of the rotation should belong to two lefties: Matt Chico and John Lannan, both of whom are coming off decent rookie campaigns. They will both be pushed by veterans Tim Redding and Odalis Perez, as well as a crop of young players.

2008 Bullpen

The bullpen has been the strength of this team ever since coming to Washington. The Nationals' bullpen had a 3.81 ERA last season, 8th best in baseball and there is no reason to think it won’t be just as good. They've got one of the best closers in the game in Chad Cordero and even though his numbers slipped for a second straight season, he is still one of the top guys in baseball. Setup men Jon Rauch and Saul Rivera are both back and are vital to this unit.

Even better news is the health of Luis Ayala who,, after missing all of 2006, came back in late June last year and continued his dominance with a 3.19 ERA in 44 appearances. Jesus Colome and Chris Schroder, who posted 3.82 and 3.18 ERAs respectively, are the likely long relief candidates and you can throw veteran Ray King into the mix and what you have is one of the best pens in baseball. Mike Bacsik struggled as a starter last season but could fill the final bullpen spot.

2008 Overall Outlook

The Nationals are going in the right direction and after surpassing expectations last season, they hope they can continue the progress this year. The problem is that they are playing in the National League East with the Mets, Phillies and Braves, all of whom are thinking postseason and beyond. Last year's poor record will help out bettors this season as Washington will remain low on the radar. If the starting pitching can remain healthy, we will once again see some great value with the Nationals.

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Re: MLB Team Preview's

Preview - Texas Rangers
By Matt Fargo
VegasInsider.com

2007 Record 75 Wins 87 Losses - 4th American League West

2007 Money +$367 Moneyline ~ ($2,587) Runline ~ 68-80 Over/Under

2007 Review

After finishing third in the division for three straight seasons, the Rangers took a step backwards and came in last in the division in 2007. Inconsistency can sum up the Texas season. In 162 games, the starting lineup was different 139 times. That is a recipe for inconsistency if there ever was one. Texas was the only American League team with a losing record that finished in the black in profits yet it dropped over 25 Units against the runline. That is due to 69 of their 87 losses coming by two runs or more.

2008 Offense

The power hitting days of the Rangers are gone. The Rangers led baseball in home runs in 2003 and 2005 while finishing 4th in 2004, but they plummeted to the middle of the pack the last two seasons and could dip even more this year. That is not a bad thing however. Gone are Sammy Sosa and Brad Wilkerson, the two leading home run hitters and in are Josh Hamilton and Milton Bradley. Hamilton hit .292 with 19 home runs in just 90 games with the Reds while Bradley looks to recover from an injury-plagued 2007.

The core of the lineup remains with Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, Hank Blaylock and Marlon Byrd all coming back. Kinsler will be taking over as fulltime leadoff hitter, Young has had five consecutive seasons with 200 or more hits, Blaylock missed 102 games last season and hopes to shine again and Byrd is ready for a possible breakout season. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia is a great young talent and will look to displace Gerald Laird as the full time backstop.

2008 Starting Pitching

It seems year in and year out, the Rangers are always lacking in starting pitching and this year is no exception. Playing in a hitter’s park does not help but the talent isn’t there no matter where they may be playing. The rotation had the worst ERA among all the starting staffs in the American League at 5.50, while every pitcher who made nine or more starts finished with a losing record. It is impossible to pull an ace out of that group but the designation falls to Kevin Millwood once again despite a 5.16 ERA last year.

Millwood, along with Vicente Padilla and Jason Jennings, the projected 2nd and 3rd starters respectively, all were 200-inning pitchers in 2006 but none reached 180 innings last year and all had the highest ERA’s of their careers. Padilla had a 5.76 ERA, while Jennings posted a 6.45 ERA in Houston. Brandon McCarthy is in the 4th spot and he needs to be more durable as he averaged a mere 4+ innings per outing in 22 starts last season. Kasson Gabbard was decent last season but a rough September raises questions.

2008 Bullpen

The Rangers bullpen was one of the best in baseball but because of the enormous problems with the starting rotation, no one really noticed. Texas finished with a 3.71 ERA which was 5th best in all of baseball. The Rangers had only 14 blown saves, third lowest in the Majors, but their 56 save opportunities was the sixth fewest in the American League. Texas may have found its future closer as C.J. Wilson converted 12 of 14 saves as the late season closer last year replacing Eric Gagne after he was traded to Boston.

Wilson got the job done but it was dicey at times especially in September where he posted a 7.56 ERA. Joaquin Benoit is the main setup man and he was the Rangers Pitcher of the Year last season. He was one of 15 relievers to toss at least 80 innings last season. Kazuo Fukumori, who comes in from Japan, should be a great pickup. Also in the mix is newcomer Eddie Guardado, who used to be a top quality closer and is a good emergency backup for Wilson. The remainder of the bullpen remains intact.

2008 Overall Outlook

Contending in the American League West is going to be difficult for the Rangers with the Angels and Mariners getting stronger from their great finishes from last season. Staying out of last place is a strong possibility with the A’s in a rebuilding year so there is some good that can happen. The Rangers are one of those under the radar teams that everyone discounts but they are going to sneak in some quality wins every now and again as long as the starting pitching can improve even a little bit. That could be a stretch however.

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