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    April 2010
    M T W T F S S
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2010 Baseball Preview

It Breaks Your Heart. It is Designed To Break Your Heart.

If you follow me on Twitter, or know me reasonably well, you’re well aware that I am a big baseball fan. It’s my favourite sport by far, and all winter I look forward to opening day.

It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.

Before we start, I recommend two of my favourite soliloquies about baseball: Terence Mann’s speech in Field of Dreams, and the late commissioner of baseball, A. Bartlett Giamatti’s beautiful essay “The Green Fields of the Mind”. Stop, listen to and read them, let them sink in, and then start reading again.

Okay…we’re back.

By my own admission, I’m not an expert, but I will make a few predictions nonetheless, and note a few things I see as worth watching. You base your fantasy baseball strategy or gambling decisions on them at your own peril. Rather, I see predictions as a fun way to document what I was thinking at a point in time. Here are some players/teams/stories worth watching over the next six months.

Three Recommended Purchases to Enhance Your Baseball Fandom
The Baseball Prospectus guide (and web subscription), and MLB.TV, which gives you every game on demand, in high-definition quality, for the price of $120US. How can you say no?

The More Things Change…
As you’ll see from my predictions later in this post, I don’t foresee much of any movement at the top of either league – in fact, I predict the exact same 8 teams will make the playoffs. Uncreative? Maybe. I think we’ll see more movement in ’11 and ’12, but the best teams from ’09 had good off-seasons, and I’m not sure any of the next tier of teams have closed the gap. In the AL, New York and Boston had good off-seasons, and I give them the edge over Tampa Bay because of the likelihood they’ll make in-season moves to shore up any weaknesses, while the Rays won’t. Minnesota is the class of the AL Central, even without Joe Nathan, while Detroit and the ChiSox have too many holes. In the AL West, I see the Angels hanging on, even without Lackey and with questions atop their rotation. Seattle may be a trendy pick, but I see weaknesses on that club as well, and Texas is still a year or two away from having the pitching to win.

Yankees Celebrate
Repeat? There’s a good chance.

In the NL, the Phillies are steady. Minor regression as their core group of stars ages is expected, but that should be off-set by improvement from younger guys like Werth, Victorino, and Ruiz, as well as a full season of Roy Halladay (over 1/3 of a season of Cliff Lee), and some improvement from Cole Hamels and the bullpen. St. Louis has weaknesses, but so does everybody in the NL Central. If they can keep their 4 star players healthy – a big if as far as Chris Carpenter goes – they should coast to a division title. They’ve also demonstrated a willingness and ability to make in-season moves as well. In the West, Colorado is going to be good for a long time, and Los Angeles is still a top team.

If you got used to the parity of the ‘00s, where we saw 8 different teams win the World Series between 2000 and 2009 – and 14 teams appear in at least one World Series – you might want to adjust your expectations.

That being said, seasons never play out exactly how we expect them too. So here’s some more fodder or potential for surprises.

Teams That Might Surprise You
Florida Marlins: their pitching is fronted by two power arms who should take a step towards ace status (Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco), and their offense is led by SS Hanley Ramirez, one of the best players in the game. But, I’m not sure there’s enough supporting them this year to make a run. I think they’ll stay in wild card contention until the end, but until young roster players like Cameron Maybin can take a leap forward, and top prospects Logan Morrison and Michael Stanton crack the big club, I don’t think they’re good enough to overtake a healthy Phillies club. Watch for them in ’11 or ’12 though.

Texas Rangers: They have a great lineup, but are still waiting on their pitching to develop. If it arrives ahead of schedule, look out.

Tampa Bay Rays: if their young pitching takes a big leap forward, look out. They’re deep and talented, but I do worry when Matt Garza is your second most experienced starter.

Baltimore Orioles: they won’t compete for a playoff spot, but they have a lot of young talent, and will be a team to watch in the next couple of years. In any case, if their young players progress ahead of schedule, they could be a real spoiler in the second half.

Teams That Might Disappoint You
Seattle Mariners: every year, somebody makes a bunch of off-season moves and gets buzz as a team to watch, then flops. That team is Seattle this year. Their defense should be really good, and King Felix and Cliff Lee are probably the best 1-2 punch in the game. But can the rest of their pitching staff, and their hitters, contribute enough? This is a team that is relying on Jose Lopez, Milton Bradley, and Ken Griffey Jr’s corpse for meaningful production all year. I see a .500-ish club at mid-season, and one that decides to sell at the deadline.

Philadelphia Phillies: as the Baseball Prospectus guide points out, they’re farm system is bereft of talent, beyond Domonic Brown. If some of their players struggle, or they are hit hard by injuries, they don’t have the depth to make moves to compensate.

Atlanta Braves: they’ve looked good this spring, and are getting a lot of buzz as a Wild Card or division winner. They have some good players, but I worry about a team relying on Chipper Jones and Troy Glaus at the corners, and a black hole in LF. They should be good, but I can’t see them getting to the 88-90 wins they’ll probably need for a playoff spot.

St. Louis Cardinals: an extended injury to any of Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Chris Carpenter, and Adam Wainwright, and they’re in trouble. If this comes to pass, you may only need 82 wins to take the NL Central.

Minnesota Twins: their lineup will rake, but questions abound regarding their pitching.

NY Mets: there are question marks surrounding every one of their pitchers, Carlos Beltran is out for 1-2 months, David Wright is coming off a down year and a concussion, Jason Bay may not be able to handle LF, and Jose Reyes is still struggling with injuries. Let me be succint: I came this close to slotting them behind the Washington Nationals and in last place in the NL East.

Breakout Players
– Tampa Bay Rays’ young guns in their rotation – at least one of them will make the leap (Garza, Price, Davis)
– Matt Wieters, C, Baltimore (I hope, having picked him high in my fantasy baseball draft)
– The Uptons – Justin, OF, Arizona, and BJ, OF, Tampa Bay.
– Detroit’s hard-throwing young righties – Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello
– Jon Lester, SP, Boston, who will make the jump and becoming a true ace.

Players to Watch on a Regular Basis
– Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota, whose swing is a thing of beauty to watch
– The Philadelphia Phillies’ 1-6 hitters, who can absolutely mash the ball
– Stephen Strasburg, SP, Washington, once he’s called up, because he’s the most highly-touted RHP of my lifetime.
– Mariano Rivera, RP, NY Yankees, because he’s probably the greatest relief pitcher of all time. One of my favourite baseball moments was after a Yankees-Mariners game last year, seeing the Mariners relievers conglomerate around Rivera as they walked back to the dugout (picture below). You don’t pay that respect to just any player.
– Tim Lincecum, SP, San Francisco, for his crazy (and crazy effective) delivery.

Five Out of Left Field Predictions about The 2010 Season
1. With Seattle a long shot for both the division title and the wild card, Cliff Lee will be traded at the deadline – I’m predicting that Colorado will surprise everybody by picking him up, ahead of favoured destinations such as LA and New York.
2. Francisco Liriano will make the all-star game in July.
3. San Francisco will fire GM Brian Sabean and Manager Bruce Bochy after a disappointing season.
4. AJ Burnett will stay healthy for a (probably record) second consecutive season.
5. Not only will Tampa Bay let Carl Crawford walk after the season, but by September there will be open discussion about moving the team elsewhere.

Rivera and Mariners Bullpen

Award Winners
MVP: Joe Mauer (AL), Albert Pujols (NL)
Cy Young: Jon Lester (AL), Roy Halladay (NL)
Rookie of the Year: Scott Sizemore (AL), Stephen Strasburg (NL)
Manager of the Year: Ron Gardenhire (AL), Joe Torre (NL)

Predicted Standings

AL East: 1. NY Yankees 2. Boston (Wild Card) 3. Tampa Bay 4. Baltimore 5. Toronto

AL Central: 1. Minnesota 2. Detroit 3. Cleveland 4. Chicago White Sox 5. Kansas City

AL West: 1. LA Angels 2. Texas 3. Seattle 4. Oakland

NL East: 1. Philadelphia 2. Florida 3. Atlanta 4. NY Mets 5. Washington

NL Central: 1. St. Louis 2. Milwaukee 3. Chicago Cubs 4. Cincinnati 5. Houston 6. Pittsburgh

NL West: 1. Colorado 2. LA Dodgers (Wild Card) 3. Arizona 4. San Francisco 5. San Diego

DS: NY Yankees over Minnesota, Boston over LA Angels, Philadelphia over Los Angeles, Colorado over St. Louis

LCS: NY Yankees over Boston, Colorado over Philadelphia

World Series: NY Yankees over Colorado

Alright, let’s play ball!


Richfolk, Poorfolk, and the Housing In Between

Today’s St. Albert Gazette featured a letter that would be hilarious were it not for the fact that, by all accounts, its authors are dead serious.

A proposed new development in St. Albert would see Habitat for Humanity build 15 units in a 58 unit complex. This has, predictably, led to complaints from residents. But today’s letter took things to a whole new level.

It would be easy to dismiss this as the thoughts of only two people. But the letter points to several stereotypes that exist about suburban vs. inner-city environments, in particular the desirability of each area. This matters to all of us, particularly those of us interested in seeing more diverse (even mixed-income) neighbourhoods, more families living in our city centres, and those interested in maintaining public schools in the city centre and mature neighbourhoods as well.

So with that in mind, I want to address some of the misconceptions in the letter.

Habitat for Humanity bucket

“What we want is for St. Albert to remain as it is with very few low-income households, a place for families that work hard to live here”

The emphasis in the header is mine.

I have no doubt that the authors of this letter work hard and want what’s best for their family. Almost everyone does. What’s dangerous is the assumption that low-income families don’t work hard. To repeat, almost everyone works hard. It wasn’t that long ago that I was working low-end jobs occupied by many of our lowest-income neighbours. In University, I worked for a time in retail and in a call centre. I wouldn’t want to work those jobs again, and a big reason is that they are really hard work, and don’t offer the same sort of satisfaction or intellectual stimulation you find in other jobs. Nonetheless, it’s honest, decent work. I’d suggest that people who truly believe low-income earners don’t work hard should try doing their jobs for a little while; they’ll probably come away with a new found respect for what they do.

“Our cost of living will increase as we will have to pay for low-income subsidies due to higher school fees or other taxes.”

I’m not sure this is substantiated anywhere. I’d also be interested to see if they – or anyone who agrees with this sentiment – acknowledge the ways in which taxpayers have helped them. For example, almost all of us have benefited from a subsidized education system – particularly if we went to post-secondary. Specific to the authors, they note that they are business owners. I assume then that as business owners, they benefit from tax concessions not available to the regular working person. Why is one tax subsidy okay and not another? This is a topic for another post, but I’d be interested to see someone defend the header, without using the “business creates job” truism.

We all benefit from tax breaks/subsidies of others at one time or in one form. In my opinion, we all then have a commensurate responsibility to give back when we can.

“Current residents will have to deal with the likeliness of children influenced by crime in our schools and adults in our community.”

Having grown up in south(west) Edmonton, and gone to schools populated primarily with middle class and upper-middle class kids (Greenfield Elementary, Avalon Junior High, Strathcona Composite HIgh), I feel like I have the background to comment on this. What the Perrys are really getting at is that they see the low-income kids being a bad influence on their own.

In my experience, and that of those I’ve conferred with, there is no correlation between family income level and good behaviour. Many of the kids in my high school who smoked, drank excessively, and did or sold drugs were from the better off families. In fact, Scona was a hotspot for dealing drugs precisely because we didn’t have a community police officer back in the late 1990s. I also knew of at least two well-off kids who ended up in rehab or addictions counseling. And it sure as hell wasn’t because of kids from the projects who were a bad influence on them.

The point, to reiterate, is that bad (and good) apples come from all sorts of backgrounds. The children of these 15 families aren’t going to corrupt the good people of St. Albert.

“there is no level of pre-screening that will prevent some form of crime from infiltrating the proposed development. It will happen, guaranteed.”

Really? I would love to see statistics that back this up. For what it’s worth, the screening process for Habitat for Humanity looks fairly vigorous. It would be hard to argue that people who meet all of the criteria aren’t good citizens.

“Like it or not, the children of St. Albert are high-standard children and have no place for low-income classmates.”…”our teen had a hard time fitting in because of money and it was hard on him”

Besides making all St. Albert teens sound like the Plastics, this is also probably false. Kids will exclude and label other kids for all sorts of reasons. I doubt that living in a nice house and having nice things automatically buys anyone acceptance, unless said person lets other take advantage of their family’s wealth. In which case, I have to ask, why do you want those kids as friends?

“I am all for low-income housing in Edmonton. I believe more independent living housing is required in St. Albert and would be better suited than this proposal.”

I hate to break the news, but there are already homeless people in St. Albert. Look, here’s a story about one.

St. Albert hasn’t gone to hell in a hand basket while some of its residents don’t have a place to call home. Also, as the story points out, there are already 4 Habitat for Humanity homes in St. Albert. Yet, life has gone on for the hard-working residents of the city. Maybe mixing in a bit of non-market housing won’t be the apocalypse. It might even help some people appreciate everything they have.

Mixed-income communities work well across the world. Yet, the stereotypes about “safe” suburbs and “dangerous” inner-city and low income neighbourhoods persist. The sooner we get beyond this, the better off we will all be.