Instead we are encamped in a hotel just south of London with a strange new lap top keyboard attempting to acclimate to a winter barren of baseball (no, no Dominican League reports here) and the deadening lack of offseason activity by the Mets front office.
Nonetheless, we shall struggle on with these previews with an eye towards improvement, flexing the verbosity, however misguided and misplaced, just for the sake of doing so in order to reach literary form by Opening Day.
NL EAST BULLPENS
1. METS - Well lads, it worked alright last season, didn't it? Still you've got to wonder what strange sort of magic is going to run on indefinately trying to pitch through games with starters who can't give you more than four or five innings an outing and expect a deep pen to pick up all the slack. Look, the Angels did it a mere five years ago and the Mets almost did it last season. But that isn't a comforting amount of precedents, believe me.
Wagner is back in the closer role to amaze and surprise us with all the variety of ways he can get in and out of trouble in the 9th inning. We won't forget the bloody postseason any time soon though. 6 earned runs in 5 1/3 innings is just plain butt ugly for a closer and did nothing to diminish the Wagner-as-a-choke-closer rumours. Still, he only blew five saves in 45 chances (although it seemed more like 15 given all the late inning and unnecessary dramas he created...) and for now anyway, the memory of Looper is still fresh enough to be able to continue to appreciate Wags and his hillbilly post-game explanatory twang. But if blows a few early, well, let's just say it isn't difficult to envision the closer spot becoming a nightmare. Is that overly optimistic?
Thereafter, questions. It's nice to fantasise that Duaner Sanchez will be back in pre-Taxicrash form. It doesn't hearten me to read that he's been feeling weird during rehab but he alleges he'll be ready for Opening Day. Fair enough, but is he going to be any good or did that separated shoulder separate Duaner from some of last season's magic?
If so, Heilman can step into the breach. Sure, he rather fancies being a starter over being mired in the bullpen but hey, too bad. He makes enough cash to make up for it. And besides, if Duaner falters he might just see himself the set up guy. And whilst he might be cranking up the innings pitching in Kansas City or some other equally ungodly place as a starter, hasn't he ever heard of motivational tools? Is he simply afraid that if he pitches too good out of the bullpen he might never see the starting rotation again?
After this trio there's the unsettled saga of the steroid-induced competency of Guillermo Mota. It's been pointed out before by much wiser sources that if you examine Mota's
Shall we have a long and lasting conversation about Pedro Feliciano? Nah, I'd rather discuss the enigmatic man with the goofy hairstyle and goofier name. That's right, I'm talking about my new favourite Met, my darkhorse candidate for the coming-out-of-nowhere-to-put-up-stunning-numbers, Duaner Sanchez award. Abiorix Burgos. This is my answer and I'm sticking to it. No matter what happens this season, this lad will eventually find himself and become the sensation of the bullpen. Or not. Uneducated guesses and Spring Training go together like a packet of crisps with a pint of ale but the 100 mph fastball will cause early raves provided he can control it.
2. Atlanta Braves: This bullpen sucked last season and probably cost Smoltz, the auld closer, a good shot at the Cy Young, ironically enough. It's nice to see the Braves with so many problems for a change. 512 1/3 innings their bullpen pitched last season. 4.39 ERA and a 25-23 won-loss record overall with 38 saves out of 67 opportunities. That's about a 57% success rate. It's mediocre is what it is, which you shall see when comparing it with the rest of the NL East pens. Nonetheless, Bob Wickman came to the rescue eventually, saving 18 of his 19 chances and running up a meagre 1.04 ERA in the process. But that's not his career MO so unless he's found some new bullpen guru, don't expect the same sort of success from him in the future.
If you want to know something amazing about Wickman it's that allegedly, if this isn't a typo off the SI stats site - he has yet to give up a run pitching against a lefty in 451 innings. It sounds weird, something fishy because it says he's given up 476 hits against lefties but no earned runs. What he hasn't given up are big hits. Or perhaps he has an the earned run went to his predecessor.
Irregardless, the Braves spent the offseason shoring up their pen, their Achilles Heel. They traded for Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano. Gonzo is a lefty from the Pirates who saved 24 out of 24 last season with a 2.17 ERA and you've got to believe the second Wickman does his predictable flounder, Gonzo will be there to take over the role. As for Soriano, a righty sliced off the Mariner tree, he had a 2.25 ERA last year but is built more for a set up role - situational 7th inning, more than likely. Filling out the rest of the pen are young relievers Tyler Yates and Macay McBride, neither of whom were terribly effective last season. Gonzo and Soriano additions plus Wickman returning make this a bullpen that might be crafty.
3. Washington Nats - Last week it was hardly worth taking the time to take the piss out of the Nats' starting rotation. It's like the proverbial one legged man in an ass kicking contest.
So it naturally follies that there won't be much left in the dying embers of early inning blow outs for the bullpen to save. If there is however, Chad Cordero might be just the man to do it. His arbitration hearing was a good basis for attempting to conclude whether or not he will be. Cordero argued that his stats can match up with most of the other top closers in baseball. During his three-plus seasons in the Majors, Cordero has 91 saves and a 2.61 ERA. Maybe, but as his employers rightly pointed out, the right-hander had a down season in 2006 and gave up too many home runs. Cordero saved 29 games, had a 3.19 ERA and gave up 13 long balls.
The rest of the pen has potential in the forms of Emiliano Fruto, who they nicked off the Mariners as part of the Jose Vidro trade with a mid90s fastball and imposing changeup (allegedly). There is also people like Jon Rauch, who made 85 appearances last season and endured with a respectable 3.85 ERA.
But basically it's not all that relevant how good the Nats bullpen becomes or how badly they flounder. Everyone will be too busy bemoaning the starting rotation blowing games early and watching the ticking counter of loss after loss add up in the standings.
4. Philadelphia Phillies - Whilst on the one hand Met fans can bemoan the addition of Freddy Garcia to the Phillies starting rotation we can equally rejoice in the fact that the best idea they've come up with for a closer in the interim is Tom Gordon. It's this nuance that makes taking the Phillies' bullpen in addition to their chances at NL East supremacy, difficult to swallow.
In answer to the Tom Gordon Dilemma the Phillies countered with Antonio Alfonseca, aka El Pulpo or The Octopus, so-named because he has 6 fingers and toes on each hand and foot. Last season he was limited to 19 games because of a sore elbow but beware - in the youthful optimism of Spring Training, coupled with a winter league performance in the Dominican Republic, a few whispers of a renewed and wicked sinker have returned. He might end up displacing Gordon as the season wears on. Or his elbow might blow again. Let's not forget he quit last season for the Rangers and asked to be released the elbow pain was so bad.
I reckon that's strike two on the Phillies bullpen and quite frankly, the don't need a strike three. Imagine the kind of media-driven hatred will be bred by multiple late-inning meltdowns by the bullpen during key stretches of the season. No amount of Ryan Howard is going to cure that so trust us on this one, the massive question, the poignant miseria for the Phillies this season will undoubtedly be their pen. But hell, you know if you root for the Phillies, it's always something to send the dreams crashing down.
5. Florida Marlins: After three straight years with closers on the comeback trail who made their mark in Florida and then fled for greener pastures, the Marlins are rather stumped to find a closer this season. In fact, they don't have one which can't make you feel too good going into a season. No, not with a guy like Taylor Tankersley playing the role of most practical option. Tank with his cueball head looks like he's just arrived out of some intensive offseason chemo treatments - have a look:
Does this look like a closer to put your faith in?
The answer is no. Last year the lefty started the season in AA and now he's going to be your closer? Guess you aren't planning on going far in the NL East. Combine this with the fact that the entire bullpen is undecided simply for the fact that there isn't anyone all that good vying for a position and you get the picture real quick-like.
Tank claims "the arms are there", as if that were enough. "The arms are here," he said. "The pieces to the bullpen are here. Where those pieces fit together, nobody knows. I don't even think Fredi and Kranny know right now. But they will, and we will. The roles will be filled, and we will get people out and do our job. As a group and as individuals, we will be successful."
Well, I hate to spoil the surprise party, but I know where this is headed. Alot of blown saves. Alot of late inning losses, alot of misery.