Reds bullpen injuries: Given the major departures from St. Louis and Milwaukee, plus a couple of solid, win-now moves of their own, the Cincinnati Reds are a popular choice to win the NL Central. Following in that vein, Joey Votto is a logical short-list NL MVP candidate.
But what appeared to be a Reds' strength entering camp now is anything but with closer Ryan Madson's elbow problems that will force him to have Tommy John surgery, Nick Masset starting the season on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation, and Bill Bray's spring barely having begun due to a strained groin.
One hit to the bullpen — even if it's the closer — can be overcome. We're likely to see an example of that in Kansas City, where the Royals have Greg Holland, Jonathan Broxton, Aaron Crow and Tim Collins at the back end in the absence of Joakim Soria, another soon-to-be Tommy John surgery recipient. (The bigger loss in KC actually is emerging defensive force Salvador Perez.)
So now what for the Reds? Dusty Baker has talked about the temporary closer-by-committee approach (where's Coco Cordero when you need him?), with quality left-handed setup man Sean Marshall the lead candidate. But beyond Madson and Masset, the best option on the right-handed side is Jose Arredondo, who had a nice bounce-back season in 2011 after missing 2010 due to injury, but has no career saves.
The bullpen shortage also has the Reds considering Aroldis Chapman's return there, even though the Cuban left-hander's stated preference is for the rotation — the place where GM Walt Jocketty keeps saying Chapman is destined for since they signed him.
The April schedule figures to offer little wiggle room, as the Reds have series with the Marlins, Cardinals, Nationals, Cardinals again, and Giants in the first three weeks.
Have you seen the Blue Jays?: Granted, spring-training records should be taken with a grain of salt. In fact, the feeling here long has been that anything before St. Patrick's Day is too hard to interpret, given the vast number of games decided by Double-A and Triple-A players who won't spend a minute on a big-league roster that season.
But 21-4 is 21-4 — and that's the Blue Jays' Grapefruit League mark through Wednesday. And using the St. Patrick's Day cutoff, they were 12-2 before and 9-2 since, so John Farrell's team has been lights-out all spring. How much this translates to the regular season is debatable.
But it does point to quality depth at the upper levels of the Blue Jays' organization, and when you consider the Blue Jays (as well as the Royals) already have been tagged as likely AL surprise teams, it's time to take them seriously as playoff contenders, even in the brutal AL East.
Brett Lawrie, Sergio Santos, Brandon Morrow, Edwin Encarnacion, J.P. Arencibia, Colby Rasmus, Henderson Alvarez, Kyle Drabek … the list of young talent with upside is quite impressive.
Buster Posey: If you're not entirely sold on the Diamondbacks' chance of a repeat NL West title — and history screams that you shouldn't be, despite GM Kevin Towers' solid off-season improvements — the next best place to turn is San Francisco. And when it comes to the Giants, there is no more important figure than Posey.
The good news is Posey slowly has worked his way into catching back-to-back days, and has shown similar power to his 2010 rookie season in limited at-bats. The slightly bad news is he has shown a bit of a limpy gate at times on the bases — meaning he still isn't 100 percent.
But Posey doesn't have to be the next Johnny Bench to impact the Giants' lineup. Put him in the middle with Pablo Sandoval, and other issues such as the new 1-2 combination of Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera, the Aubrey Huff-Brandon Belt dilemma, and Freddy Sanchez's ongoing injuries become less-critical to the Giants' hopes of getting back on top in the NL West.
The $2-billion franchise: The price tag for the Dodgers is shocking, isn't it? And maybe even more so inside the game than out. It's not hard to find those around the game who wonder how the new ownership group can make this work, even with a new local television rights deal.
But the assumption here is that if you can spend $2 billion to buy the team, you can afford to put a $150-million-payroll team on the field. The question is, how quickly? Can and will the Dodgers add an impact player or two before the trade deadline, and possibly win what figures to be a very-tight NL West race? They really aren't that far away with their current roster.
Do the Phillies have enough offense?: You've already heard the counter argument: Any team with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels … But how long can it hold true? This is an aging team — and offense — heading in the wrong direction: 2008: World Series winner; 2009: World Series loser; 2010: NLCS loser; 2011: Division-series loser.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
The alternatives simply aren't going to generate anything similar production-wise: Rookie Freddy Galvis for Utley, and whatever 1B/LF combo of John Mayberry Jr., Ty Wigginton, Jim Thome and Juan Pierre you want to pick. And with Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco all in their 30s as well, there is little likelihood of increased production there.
Many said Manuel did arguably his best managing job last season, guiding the Phillies to 101 wins despite a handful of key injuries. It appears as if he'll have to do it again for their streak of consecutive division titles to reach six.
Signs of offense in Seattle?: Using the word 'offense' in the same sentence with 'Mariners' always is good for a giggle, of course. It's virtually impossible for their run production to be worse than the last two seasons, when they finished 30th in runs — yep, worse than all 16 NL teams who don't get to use a DH.
But this is a relatively speaking kind of thing, and the spring has shown that a few right pieces are in place for solid OPS/run production improvement for the M's. We'll watch the first full big-league seasons of emerging stars Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero with great interest, and look for solid full-year numbers from Justin Smoak, still only 26 and overcoming a 2011 marred by injury and the death of his father.
Finally, there is Ichiro's final guaranteed season in Seattle. It really doesn't matter where he hits in the lineup; he's not going to change much at this point in his career. But there are some curious results to examine from his 'down' 2011 season.
His infield hits were cut in half, which makes you think his speed is declining. Yet, he still stole 40 bases, so probably not. Meanwhile, his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) dropped significantly, which better explains the batting average decline. The point being that the Ichiro-in-decline story line may not hold up, and if he hits .300 and totals 200 hits again, don't be shocked.
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