Archive for March, 2011

By Nick Gallaudet

With the Major League Baseball season kicking off today, it’s my last chance to make outrageous predictions before the season starts, so here we go: 30 bold predictions about the 2011 MLB season, one for each team.


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By Will Robinson

photos

Yes, the relocations talks have been hovering all over the team. Yes, there is now a public pissing match between the owners and the city of Sacramento, but despite all of that, the Sacramento Kings are playing their best overall ball of the year. They have won five of their last six (the lone loss being a blowout in Chicago), including going 4-1 on a five game road trip. There have been some interesting developments going on with the team, so I will highlight a few that I have noticed (and extrapolate from some box scores).

 

Rebounding

The Kings have DESTROYED in rebounding. They have averaged 48.5 RPG, which would be the top number in the league; however, they are already the third best team in the league rebounding wise. The difference? Rebounds allowed. 37.3 RAPG (Rebounds Allowed per Game). The difference of 11.2 RPG difference is a dominant mark, which is double than the season high average per game (Chicago, with +5.6 RPG).

 

Samuel Dalembert’s Hot Streak

Samuel Dalembert Sacramento Kings v New York 5xyQVWCc1KllDalembert was acquired for his defense and rebounding, but he has been lighting up the stats sheet with his scoring. He actually hasn’t done much during this streak (12.5 PPG), but before the Timberwolves game, he had been putting up good numbers. For comparison, his season average is 7.8 PPG. Slammin’ Sammy has been dominant on the boards, pulling down 12 a game: 4.3 above his season average. DeMarcus Cousins has been inconsistent during this six game stretch, but the play of Dalembert in the middle has kept the Kings rolling. Speaking of another big…

 

The De-Slumpification of Jason Thompson

Thompson struggled enormously over the month of March, but has come on stronger during these six games. He had one big stinker performance (Bulls game), but has produced good rebounding numbers, as well as a solid percentage shooting (50%), slightly above his season average (48.7%). He’s played well recently, but he has been too hot and cold to jump on the bandwagon yet.

 

Marcus Thornton

Since joining the Kings back in February, Thornton has lit up the scoreboard. Obviously, in limited time, 18 games, Thornton has posted career high averages in practically category. Since Tyreke Evans had been out, Thornton has been the primary scorer, particularly over this stretch, in which he is averaging 24.3 PPG. He has looked absolutely great and unstoppable at times, and has been the Kings best player as of late. He has succeeded very well without Evans in the lineup, which was a concern of mine; they have played well in the three games with Evans’ return. With Evans coming off the bench, he has received limited minutes and has become more of the game manager I doubt he could be. Granted, it has only been three games, but he messed around and ALMOST got a triple double against Phoenix last night (11-10-8). The Kings would be fools not to resign Thornton.

 

I believe the future for the (location in question) Kings/Royals is particularly bright, especially if they can finish this season off strong. They need five more wins to top last year’s total, and with another lottery pick, should have a nice core of talent for the future. I clearly hope the Kings stay in town, but it’s not looking too good, especially with the dire situation with the letter to Anaheim and all. Let’s focus on now, though: beat the Nuggets tonight!

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By Nick Gallaudet

This week we finish our division-by-division look at Major League Baseball with the National League West, home of the World Series champion San Francisco Giants. This division is notoriously tough to pick and it seems like each of the last five years, it’s ended up the opposite of what everyone thought it would be, so let’s see if this year is going to be any different.

 

 

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Arizona finished dead last in the West last year by 15 games, and went into this offseason looking to complete the roster purge they began in the regular season. Since Opening Day of last year, the Diamondbacks parted ways with starting pitchers Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, and Edwin Jackson. On top of that, they also lost power bats Adam LaRoche and Mark Reynolds, but honestly, LaRoche and Reynolds really aren’t as good as everyone is making them out to be. LaRoche was replaced by the more than capable Russell Branyan. In the last two seasons in the American League, Branyan has over 50 homeruns in just over 200 games. Branyan has shown he can provide some pop when he’s in the lineup, but it’s kind of a lateral move, because he also has almost 300 strikeouts in that same span, around the same number LaRoche put up in more games.

 

The strengths in this Diamondbacks team rest in its youth, except I don’t know if you can call it youth anymore. SS Stephen Drew, CF Chris Young, and RF Justin Upton have had plenty of time now to adjust to the Major League game, but none of them have blossomed into what they were expected to be. All three of them put up decent numbers last year but none of them look like they’re capable of putting this team on their back and making them serious contenders, and the way this team has be shuttling people out the door, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one or two of these guys move this year if they don’t start winning.

 

The pitching staff is the one ray of hope on this team, albeit a little one. In the 11 games he started for the D-Backs last year, Daniel Hudson was 7-1 with a 1.69 ERA. Hudson, coupled with the promising, but still unproven Ian Kennedy make a solid core for their future rotation, but this year, the talent stops there. Joe Saunders was unimpressive last year, and Barry Enright showed signs of fatigue toward the end of the year. Even with the addition of J.J. Putz as closer, this bullpen isn’t much to worry about either, all things considered, this looks like another long year for the Diamondbacks.

 

COLORADO ROCKIES

Offensively, this team is pretty formidable. Aside from 1B Todd Helton, this team is young and very good. The only weaknesses in the lineup are on the right side of the infield where Eric Young Jr. and Todd Helton look to get the majority of the playing time It’s hard to believe, but Todd Helton has simply fallen off the face of the planet, statistically. In 118 games last year, Helton hit eight homeruns and drove in 37 while posting a .257 average. It’s a little disheartening to see a perennial All-Star play like that, but for the sake of his dignity; I hope he can pull out a decent season this year. Other than those two, though, this lineup sports slugging SS Troy Tulowitski, Triple Crown threat Carlos Gonzalez, and young studs like Dexter Fowler and Seth Smith. This team was third in the NL in runs scored last year, and will most definitely put up some runs this year, as well.

The Rockies pitching staff is a little more suspect. Anchored by flamethrower and first-half phenom, Ubaldo Jimenez, this rotation could be worse. Jimenez will be followed by Jorge de la Rosa, Aaron Cook, Jason Hammel, and Jhoulys Chacin, all four of which have potential. Luckily for them, this rotation will have a stellar bullpen to fall back on, with studs like Matt Lidstrom, Rafael Bettancourt, and Huston Street. This staff will get a lot of run support this year, so if they can get decent outings from their staff, this team could make a run for the NL West crown.

 

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

The story of the Dodgers for the last season and a half has been instability. The McCourts, owners of the Dodgers, are going through a nasty divorce, manager Joe Torre retired, and don’t forget the whole Manny Ramirez saga. The mayhem culminated in an offseason where they had to sit and watch as their rival won the World Series. New manager Don Mattingly will look to stabilize this team and create an identity, and he may just have the talent to do so. The Dodgers offense certainly underachieved last year, finishing toward the back of the pack in most offensive categories, which is surprising given the talent they have. Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Rafael Furcal, and Casey Blake are all coming off years in which they all showed flashes of brilliance, but never really got it going consistently. If a couple of those guys can return to form and James Loney can continue his quiet consistency, and new addition Juan Uribe picks up where he left off with the Giants last year, there is no reason the Dodgers shouldn’t be able to compete offensively, even with the loss of catcher Russell Martin.

 

The Dodgers also look to improve their middle-of-the-pack rotation from last year. Again, this is going to be a case of proven veterans regaining their form. Hiroki Kuroda, Ted Lilly, and Vicente Padilla have all proven they can play at the big league level. Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw have also proven to be formidable starters, and throw in Jon Garland on top of all this; the Dodgers definitely have options on the mound. The real problem for this pitching staff is in the bullpen. The Dodgers added Matt Gurrier to a sub-par pen from last year, and closer Jonathan Broxton looked human last year, blowing seven saves and posting a 4.04 ERA. Mattingly made it clear that no one’s spot is safe in the bullpen, and this group of relievers is going to be a huge factor in whether or not the Dodgers can compete in this division.

 

SAN DIEGO PADRES

The Padres ended last season with a devastating collapse, losing the division and wild card race in the last weekend of the season, and unfortunately for them, it just gets worse from there. The Padres lost their only real run producer from last year in Adrian Gonzalez as well as their shortstop, centerfielder, second baseman, and one of their top starting pitchers. The Padres managed to fill those gaps well, but they weren’t really able to upgrade any position other than Orlando Hudson replacing David Eckstein at 2B. Josh Bartlett is a decent replacement for Miguel Tejada and Cameron Maybin is kind of a lateral move from Tony Gwynn Jr., but Brad Hawpe is far from Adrian Gonzalez. It’s going to be hard for this team to do worse offensively than it did last year, but it may just be able to do it.

 

As far as the pitching staff that posted the second best ERA in the league last year, it’s looking like it may take a major step back. Jon Garland, who tied for the team lead in wins last year, is being replaced by a rapidly aging Aaron Harang. Harang, the ace of the Reds once-upon-a-time has been steadily declining these last couple years and is most definitely not the pitcher he used to be. With that being said, this is still largely the same staff from last year, with Mat Latos and Clayton Richard looking to repeat their solid season and young gun Tim Stauffer getting a larger workload. The bullpen is also largely the same and should supply manager Bud Black with plenty of option toward the end of the game. I’m really not expecting a lot from this team, but I said the same thing last year, and they almost made the playoffs.

 

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

The Giants pitching alone should be enough to get them back to the playoffs, but there is not a lot of room for error with this team. All it takes is one injury or one down year, and this team is vulnerable, because as good as their pitching is, their offense is mediocre. The Giants were dead last in hitting with runners in scoring position last year, and they didn’t do much to bolster their lineup. The Giants lost Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria, but they shouldn’t feel it that much because replacement Miguel Tejada is a comparable replacement. Other than that, this lineup hasn’t changed much, but having C Buster Posey for a whole season should provide a little boost. On top of that, word on the street is that Fat Boy Sandoval has slimmed down a little and maybe might learn how to hit again. I just don’t have much faith in this offense, but with their rotation, it doesn’t really matter.

 

Even with Tim Lincecum coming off a “down” year, the Giants still posted the best ERA in the Bigs last year, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down. Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Barry Zito, and Madison Bumgarner make up what many are calling the best rotation in Major League baseball. On top of that, the Giants also sport one of the best bullpens in the NL anchored by closer Brian Wilson. I personally don’t think Wilson is going to be able to duplicate his 48 save performance from last year, but notwithstanding, the Giants are still the team to beat in the NL West

 

TEAM W-L

San Francisco Giants 91-71

Colorado Rockies 90-72

Los Angeles Dodgers 84-78

San Diego Padres 78-84

Arizona Diamondbacks 69-93

 

POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS

AL East Red Sox NL East Phillies

 

AL Central White Sox NL Central Reds

 

AL West A’s NL West Giants

 

AL Wild Card Yankees NL Wild Card Rockies

 

ALDS NLDS

Red Sox over White Sox Phillies over Rockies

A’s over Yankees Giants over Reds

 

ALCS NLCS

Red Sox over A’s Phillies over Giants

 

WORLD SERIES

Phillies over Red Sox

 

There you have it, the Philadelphia Phillies will win the 2011 World Series. I don’t like the pick any more than you do, but that’s what it’s going to be. Go A’s.

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By Evan Ream

 

While watching the MLS games last weekend, I was thinking about each individual team’s all-time leading goal scorers. For some reason (maybe because MLS has only existed for 16 years) people never talk about the player that is the leading goal scorer for each team. Now that each team officially has a leading goal scorer, I would like to look at who are each team’s all-time top marksmen and when that mark will be broken as well as who will break it. I will start with the team who has the lowest goal total for their all-time leading scorer and go up from there.

Portland Timbers: Kenny Cooper* – 1 (* means the player is active)

Player closest on the current roster: Everyone – 0

This total is likely to be broken… in one minute, one game, next season, who knows? Cooper is Portland’s most established scorer (and player for that matter) and will likely end the season as the leading scorer. I can see Cooper staying for four to five seasons and scoring 40-60 goals in keeping this record for a while. If anyone on this roster has the chance to break Cooper’s record, it will be Darlington Nagbe who could be in MLS for a few years. If Cooper, who is injury prone, doesn’t stay healthy for his Timbers career, then Nagbe could overtake him.

 

Vancouver Whitecaps FC: Eric Hassli* – 2

Player closest on the current roster: Atiba Harris and Terry Dunfield – 1

This total is likely to be broken… who knows? This is a similar situation to Portland. Eric Hassli is the only established scorer on this team, the only player that likely has a chance to break this is Omar Salgado, and he can’t even play until September. Even if he is great, he likely won’t last long in the league so it all depends on how many goals Hassli scores.

 

Philadelphia Union: Sebastien Le Toux* – 14

Player closest on the current roster: Danny Mwanga – 7

This total is likely to be broken… in two years if Danny Mwanga stays around for the entirety of his MLS contract. I am one who happens to think that Le Toux had a fluke season last year and will come back down to earth this season. I think Mwanga will score more goals this year before overtaking Le Toux in 2012 before moving to Europe. After that, Le Toux will likely take it back. Carlos Ruiz has an outside chance if he returns to his for in the early part of the last decade.

 

Seattle Sounders FC: Fredy Montero* – 22

Player closest on the current roster: Steve Zakuani – 14

This total is likely to be broken… in the late stages of this season if Fredy Montero plays as he has been in the first two games. In all likelihood though, Zakuani will put up a similar amount of goals as Montero this season and therefore not break it. If Montero is sold this summer, which is a definite possibility, then Zakuani could break it early next season, but Montero should be the owner of this record for as long as he is playing in Seattle.

 

Toronto FC: Dwayne De Rosario* – 27

Player closest on the current roster: Maicon Santos – 5

This record is likely to be broken… never because Toronto is a terrible franchise who trades away players like Jeff Cunningham, Edson Buddle, Conor Casey, and pretty much anyone else who can score goals. You may think this is a joke, but I’m willing to be that in 15 years, Dwayne De Rosario, who only has a few years left in his career, is still Toronto’s all-time leading goal scorer.

 

Real Salt Lake: Robbie Findley – 29

Player closest on the current roster: Fabian Espindola – 16

This record is likely to be broken… near the end of this season or the beginning of 2012, but not by Espindola. Saborio will score between 10-20 goals this season giving him an outside chance to do it, but he needs 17 to tie and 18 to break it. Saborio is an excellent finisher and should have no problem doing it under his current contract.

 

Chivas USA: Ante Razov – 30

Player closest on the current roster: Justin Braun – 16

This record is likely to be broken…by the end of 2012. Braun, a decent but unspectacular goal scorer, will be able to score 15 goals in the next two seasons, especially with the extra games.

 

Colorado Rapids: Conor Casey* – 42

Player closest on the current roster: Omar Cummings – 31

This record is likely to be broken…not for a long time. Cummings is only 11 goals away, but he will likely move to Europe at the end of his current MLS contract. Even if he doesn’t Casey is good enough to not let Cummings score 11 more goals than him as long as they are playing together. However if Cummings plays for the Rapids for three to four more years, I could see it happening, but not in the near future as Casey will likely end his Rapids career in the 70s or 80s.

 

Houston Dynamo: Brian Ching* – 46

Player closest on the current roster: Brad Davis – 17

This record is likely to be broken…once again not for a long time. The Dynamo have no proven scorers right now and Ching is nearly at 50 goals. Though he is slowing down, he should end up with 60-70 goals, which would mean that they would have to sign a top player and keep him for 5+ years to make this happen. This isn’t happening any time soon.

 

New York Red Bulls: Juan Pablo Angel – 58

Player closest on the current roster: Dane Richards – 13

This record is likely to be broken…by Thierry Henry, or some other big name Designated Player. I could be wrong about this, but I think Henry has four seasons left on his contract. Four Years is enough time to score 56 more goals to tie Angel, Henry just has to put his mind to it and stop playing terribly. For those that think Juan Agudelo has a shot at this, it’s not likely, Agudelo is going to get sold before he reaches more than 30 goals; he is too young and too good to not be sold. One player who does have an outside chance is actually Jozy Altidore. If Jozy keeps struggling in Europe for a few more years, I can see him coming back in his late 20’s and demolishing this record.

 

San Jose Earthquakes: Ronald Cerritos – 61

Player closest on the current roster: Chris Wondolowski – 21

This record is likely to be broken…in four years if I was wrong about Wondolowski having a fluke season last year. Wondo should be able to break it in six if he ends up being a decent scorer though. I think Wondo will have this record at some point, but when that point is remains to be seen.

 

Columbus Crew: Brian McBride and Jeff Cunningham* – 62

Player closest on the current roster: Eddie Gaven – 21

This record is likely to be broken…depending on how far Jeff Cunningham improves this record, who knows? Cunningham is probably good for 20 more goals in his career and thus it will take someone probably 7-10 years to break it and the Crew don’t have anyone capable of that on their current roster.

 

Sporting KC: Preki – 71

Player closest on the current roster: Davy Arnaud – 43

This record is likely to be broken…in 2016 if Davy Arnaud scores five goals per season for the next six seasons. It could happen; he’s not likely to go to another team and he definitely isn’t going to Europe. There are two other candidates on the roster though, Kei Kamara who has 11 goals and Omar Bravo who has two. Kamara isn’t good enough to play in Europe and he is still just 26. If he stays with KC for the next eight years he could possibly do it. Bravo is 31, but if he has four to five amazing years in MLS he could have an outside chance of doing it, but it would have to be four to five of the best years anyone has ever had in MLS. Only time will tell, but if anyone is going to break this record in the next decade, it will be one of these three.

 

LA Galaxy: Landon Donovan* – 71

Player closest on the current roster: David Beckham – 9

This record is likely to be broken…sometime in 2030 when LA sign a DP for 10 years and he breaks Donovan’s record of 150 goals. Really, the sky is the limit for Donovan who looks to be capable of playing well into his 30s and should still score plenty of goals for the Galaxy.

 

Chicago Fire: Ante Razov – 76

Player closest on the current roster: Marco Pappa – 12

This record is likely to be broken… not for a very, very long time. No one on the current roster can do it. Chicago would have to have a young player come in and play with the team for five to ten seasons in order for this to happen.

 

FC Dallas: Jason Kreis – 91

Player closest on the current roster: David Ferreira – 16

This record is likely to be broken… in a similar situation that a player will break Chicago’s record. Best-case scenario is that FC Dallas locks up one of their academy players for a long time and he does the job. We have no idea who will break this, but it won’t happen for 10+ years unless Kenny Cooper comes back.

 

New England Revolution: Taylor Twellman – 101

Player closest on the current roster: Shalrie Joseph – 29

This record is likely to be broken… never. The Revolution really caught lightning in a bottle with Twellman. They are known for being one of the cheapest teams in MLS, refusing to spend money on top players. Twellman’s record should stand for at least 30 years. I can’t see the Revolution caring enough to sign a player of Twellman’s caliber for as long as Twellman was here. Twellman was one of a kind and should own this record for most of his life.

 

DC United: Jaime Moreno – 131

Player closest on the current roster: Santino Quaranta – 22

This record is likely to be broken…by Charlie Davies if he has a successful season and DC sign him to a deal and he repays the faith in them by staying there his whole career. Davies could have the record in ten years. Unfortunately for all parties involved, I don’t think this is going to happen as Davies likely still has European aspirations, but one can hope. More likely, Davies scores 10-15 goals this year, heads back to Europe, promising to return to United for his last years, and ends up scoring around 50 goals total once he comes back. At the moment, he is the only chance United have of breaking this record, no one else will do it.

 

Records are made to be broken, and many of them will be this season and in the seasons to come. As the years in MLS pile on, each team will have a more respectable number for their leading scorer and it will become harder and harder as well as more sought after to break these kinds of records. I want to keep this piece up and look at it in 5 years and see if any of these things have actually happened and re-investigate how each team’s situation is then. Hopefully you enjoyed this piece; I will be looking into numbers like this more often from now on.

>By Evan Ream

Wow, what a great opening weekend! MLS First Kick 2011 has made me upset that it is only Monday now and I have to wait until Friday to watch more. This weekend had it all: There were goals, upsets, red cards, dream debuts, flops, and tons of drama. Here are a few thoughts on each of the games that took place this weekend:
LA Galaxy 1 Seattle Sounders FC 0
Despite the score line, this was actually an even game that was won by a single moment of brilliance from Juninho. The bad news is that Seattle had nearly all of their first choice starters while LA was missing Donovan Ricketts, Omar Gonzalez, Gregg Berhalter, and Juan Pablo Angel. The game itself was actually pretty boring; Seattle looked like they didn’t even want to be there. O’Brian White missed a few chances that Blaise Nkufo would have likely put away, but that is why he couldn’t even get minutes for Toronto last year. No one on Seattle looked very good. Steve Zakuani showed flashes, but we got the first glimpse of what may turn into a long season for Seattle.
 
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 4 Toronto FC 2
This may have been the game of the week; good thing the feed was totally working on Match Day Live…OH WAIT! After this game, maybe Vancouver showed us that they did actually know what they were thinking all along, or maybe they were just playing Toronto FC. Toronto looks terrible, they will need to get things together for this week’s game against Portland: to lose to two expansion teams in two weeks would probably end any hope they had of being good at all this season. Vancouver’s Eric Hassli had a great debut; showing that he can be the goal scorer they need. The important player for them however, may end up being Davide Chiumiento, who showed class and skill in the Whitecaps inaugural game. For now, the Whitecaps are near the top of the table and it will be interesting to see if they can stay there.
 
DC United 3 Columbus Crew 1
Everyone will remember this as the Charlie Davies comeback game, but for United fans it was so much more. Even without Davies, United dominated this game with their new acquisitions. They had some unforced errors and slip-ups, but this can be attributed to the new players. Dax McCarty, though he struggled on his set piece delivery, was impressive from the get go and combined well with the other midfielders. The biggest question for United was about the defense, which proved strong. Perry Kitchen looks like a Rookie of the Year candidate and Dejan Jakovic looks like a possible Defender of the Year. The way the United team played as a whole was impressive, stringing together passing sequences that haven’t been seen since the Jaime Moreno-Christian Gomez days. Unexpectedly, Josh Wolff was very impressive up front and was unlucky to not score more than one goal. If there was a downside to the whole day for United, it was that Joseph Ngwenya was absolutely awful, but once Davies gets 90-minute fit, he shouldn’t be starting anyways. United look to have the depth (especially in midfield) to make a strong playoff run this year. On the flip side, Columbus were awful. Though they had a similar number of shots on goal and possession to United, the quality of each was just not the same. Columbus was unimaginative in the final third and did almost nothing attacking wise until Robbie Rogers came on. If Robbie Rogers is your key offensive player, your season is definitely not looking good.
 
New York 1 Seattle 0
This game is all about three things: Thierry Henry’s penalty miss, Juan Agudelo’s first start and goal, and Seattle’s second consecutive mailed in performance. Thierry Henry was pretty bad and is apparently now injured again; that doesn’t bode well for NY. On the bright side, Juan Agudelo scored an amazing first career goal. The 18 year old who had just two regular season and two playoff games combined coming into this game showed that he has the potential to be the real deal. Agudelo should be one of the biggest storylines in MLS this season. For Seattle though, things aren’t looking so good. Has Sigi Schmid lost this team? I know they lost to two of the best teams in the league in one week, but outside of Steve Zakuani there was no spark; no one seemed like they wanted to win. Only time will tell, but for Seattle they are one loss away from being in panic mode.
 
FC Dallas 1 Chicago 1
There isn’t much to report here other than that Dallas (outside of Zach Loyd) didn’t look as good as they did last year. It will be interesting to see if Brek Shea continues to get minutes at center back; I doubt Schellus Hyndman will let just one red card get in the way of this experiment. Chicago was equally as unimpressive, though they did get a point on the road, which is more than anyone expected from them.
 
Philadelphia Union 1 Houston Dynamo 0
This is a very impressive result for the Union, who will look to make the playoffs for the first time this year. The defense looked very solid, as did new keeper Faryd Mondragon. This is the type of game that Philadelphia was incapable of winning last year; a low scoring affair where the team grinded out a victory while not playing the best soccer. Unfortunately for MLS and Union fan, Carlos Ruiz was back to his antics. There is perhaps no player in league history I hate more than Ruiz; he deserved a red for his reckless elbow to Andrew Hainault’s head. Houston should have taken at least a point though; Dominic Oduro once again proved his reputation as a terrible finisher by missing a sitter. This Houston team badly misses Brian Ching.
 
Colorado 3 Portland 1
Not really a surprising result from Colorado here. The Timbers showed that their defense is suspect and Colorado showed that their attack is great. This game went down pretty much as everyone expected it to.
 
Real Salt Lake 1 San Jose Earthquakes 0beckerman_RSL_205
I was at this game and I am proud to report that so far my prediction (link to MLS preview) of Chris Wondolowski coming back down to earth is so far correct. Both teams had pretty much the same amount of good play, but RSL showed that their players (in this case Kyle Beckerman) have more class when it matters. Beckerman hit a screamer of a goal while Wondo was forced to rue his three missed sitters.
 
Sporting KC 3 Chivas USA 2
I thought KC’s attack would struggle in the first part of the season, especially without Teal Bunbury. Apparently, I was wrong as KC put up a 3 spot on the road against a pretty decent defense. It is too early to tell if KC will be one of the best teams in the league or if Chivas will be one of the worst (likely it will be somewhere in the middle ground), but for now, what we can take away is that new Sporting KC designated player Omar Bravo looked like the real deal, scoring two goals. It will be fun to watch what this attack can do once it gets Teal Bunbury back.
 
LA Galaxy 1 New England Revolution 1
The Galaxy should have won this game. Period. I don’t care what the ref called, or how many goals got called back. The Galaxy had the ball pretty much the whole game and limited the Revolution to pretty much two chances the entire game. Landon Donovan looked like he didn’t want to be there as did a lot of the rest of the LA team, but they still dominated the whole game and have absolutely no excuse to not have 6 points from two games. The Galaxy will likely lose next week to Real Salt Lake and they will lament their missed opportunities in this game. If they lose the Supporter’s Shield by only 1 or 2 points, they can look back to this game as to why. For New England, despite getting the result, it looks to be another long year. Shalrie Joseph is the only player worth noting on this team; it is only a matter of time before he becomes frustrated with his inferior teammates and gives up. Very few MLS teams have ridden one player all the way to a playoff berth, but the Revolution will have to do exactly that this year.
 
Golden Boot Watch:
Player                       GP     G     A
Charlie Davies            1        2      0
Omar Bravo               1         2     0
Eric Hassli                 1        2     0
Juninho                      2        2     0
Atiba Harris                1        1     2
 
Unbeaten Teams Remaining:
DC United
Sporting KC
New York Red Bulls
Philadelphia Union
Chicago Fire
New England Revolution
LA Galaxy
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Colorado Rapids
Real Salt Lake
FC Dallas

>By Nick Gallaudet

It’s ironic that the division with the most teams in baseball also seems to be the least competitive. The NL Central has some of Major League Baseball’s most storied franchises, but we’re talking about 2011, so none of that matters, now let’s get down to business.

CHICAGO CUBS
2011 is going to be Mike Quade’s first full season as the Cubs’ manager, having stepped in mid-season for retiring Lou Pinella. While Quade was on duty last year, the Cubbies posted a very good 24-13 record, but will that trend continue this season? Their offense was mediocre last year, and they did little to upgrade it, but that doesn’t mean it won’t improve. This is a team that boasts Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Pena, and Geovany Soto, so there is definitely potential. Soto aside, all of these players are coming off horrendous 2010 campaigns, and even Soto’s wasn’t that impressive, but there is no reason we shouldn’t see these guys rebound. On top of that, Pena’s move to the NL should help his numbers jump at least a little bit. If those four players can turn it around and Starlin Castro and Marlon Byrd can pick up where they left off last season, this offense definitely has potential.
 
The Cubs also return a similar pitching staff from last season, a staff that was second in the MLB in quality starts. On top of that, the addition of Matt Garza via trade with the Rays should only help this rotation. The report from camp is that Carlos Zambrano has bounced back from his demotion last year, has picked his velocity back up, and is looking very good this spring. Despite the Cubs high number of quality starts last year, they still ranked toward the bottom of the league in most other major statistics, and a lot of that was due to their middle relief. Closer Carlos Marmol had a good year last year, but even with the addition of a rejuvenated Kerry Wood, this bullpen is going to cost them some games. I like the Cubs to fare better than last year, but I don’t see their title drought ending anytime soon.
 
CINCINNATI REDS
The Reds are the defending NL Central champs, and one of the two teams I think has a shot at winning this division. Reigning NL MVP Joey Votto is obviously the focal point of the NL’s most potent offense last year and still has plenty of help around him. I was stunned that the Reds led the NL in scoring last year, and I still don’t know how they did it. Their lineup is by no means a murderer’s row, but every spot has a guy that knows how to handle the bat and can get his job done. I don’t see a reason why their production should slow. Scott Rolen seems reinvigorated, Jay Bruce is a superstar in the making, Johnny Gomes is quietly productive, and Drew Stubbs is still growing. Mix in another year of experience for the young guys and I think they could easily come out on top again, offensively.
 
The Reds rotation looks a lot like their lineup. Edinson Volquez seems to be the Joey Votto of the rotation, and he’s followed up by Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto, and Homer Bailey. None of the last three guys are superstars, but they are all pretty good and more than capable of getting you a win. Add wild card Aroldis Chapman, and this rotation could be very good, but Chapman could easily find himself in the bullpen as well. Honestly, Chapman is a future All-Star whether he starts or comes in out of the ‘pen. Speaking of the bullpen, the Reds’ relievers did a good job last year even though closer Francisco Cordero had an up and down year, blowing eight saves and posting an ERA over 6 in September. All in all, this team looks good and will definitely be in the conversation come September.
 
HOUSTON ASTROS
Last year, the Astros were paced offensively by Hunter Pence and Jeff Keppinger…not exactly what you want from a contender. The Astros scored the second fewest runs in the league last year, and didn’t get much better. Carlos Lee is still capable of decent numbers, but he can’t carry an offense any more, and neither can Pence or Keppinger. Yougsters, Brett Wallace and Chris Johnson are definitely the future for this offense, but they aren’t ready to propel this team into the playoffs quite yet.
 
The Astros pitching staff is definitely their strength, but that’s not saying much compared to their anemic offense. Losing Roy Oswalt still leaves a void at the top of that rotation, but Brett Myers seemed to fill the void well enough last year. Myers is followed by Wandy Rodriguez and J.A. Happ, making for a formidable 1-2-3. The pieces seem to be in place for this team to grow for the future, especially after unloading Oswalt and Lance Berkman last year, but they still have a ways to come before they sniff the top of this division.
 
MILWAUKEE BREWERS
It seemed like the door had shut on the Brewers a couple of years ago, and the fact that the Brewers’ pitching staff posted the third worst ERA last year appeared to be proof, but not so fast. The Milwaukee front office had one goal in mind this offseason and that was upgrade the staff, which they most definitely did. The addition of Cy Young winner Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum shored up a porous rotation. Greinke and Marcum join Yovanni Gallardo and Randy Wolf to make this a pretty good rotation. I’m a bigger fan of Shaun Marcum than most, but this is a sneaky-good 1-2-3 for the National League and I think they could really blossom with the run support they should be getting.
 
This is a Brewers team that is going to score runs this year, but it’s a tricky situation. The Brewers have two choices with Prince Fielder, who is in the last year of his contract; they can win now, or deal him before the deadline. Obviously, this decision is going to depend on how the first half of the season goes, but if this division goes the way I expect it to, the Brewers are going to be one of the two teams jockeying for division supremacy. I’m going to go ahead and say they’ll keep Prince, and he’ll be a big part of a lineup that includes Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, and Corey Hart. I’m higher than most on the Brewers, but I recognize that the loss of closer Trevor Hoffman is not going to be easy to replace. I don’t know if the Brewers have enough to overtake the Reds, but I certainly like them to give Cincy a run for their money.
 
PITTSBURGH PIRATES
I don’t know where to begin. The Pirates owe a thank you to the Mariners, because if it wasn’t for the pathetic Seattle offense, the Pirates would have been last in pretty much every major category in both pitching and hitting. Garrett Jones and Andrew McCutchen were the only hitters on the Pirates last year that did anything even remotely productive. They added Matt Diaz and Lyle Overbay this offseason, but honestly, that doesn’t really help. The pitching staff is just as bad as it was last year, with Paul Maholm, James McDonald, Ross Ohlendorf, Scott Olsen and newcomer, Kevin Correia. I just feel bad for Pittsburgh fans; there is no way this team will come close to snapping its streak of 18 consecutive losing seasons. I just can’t find anything good to say about this team, at least with the Royals, I could tout their farm system…
 
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
It took a while for me to convince myself that the Cardinals are not the class of the NL Central anymore, but it seems to be the case. I don’t really want to revisit the Albert Pujols contract drama, that warranted an article all to itself, but I don’t think it’s a good thing for the Cardinals mentality. I don’t think Pujols is going to let it affect his play, but I think as a teammate, the fact that Pujols may not want to be there might create some doubt. What I’m trying to say is that I have a weird feeling about this team. The talent is definitely there, and they still have their offensive superstars in Holliday and Pujols, but after them, there is a significant drop off. Yadier Molina is solid, but Lance Berkman looked lost with the Yankees last year, and I’m just not sold on Colby Rasmus, Skip Schumaker, and Ryan Theriot as major contributors yet.

The pitching staff also worries me. With the loss of Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals staff basically became Chris Carpenter and four scrubs. Jaime Garcia was third in Rookie of the Year voting last year, but he is still an unproven talent, and everyone else on that staff, including Carpenter, has a history of injuries. I like the Cardinals, and I personally want them to do well, but this team just has the look of a team that is ripe for a mid-season meltdown following a catastrophic injury, I just can’t sign off on this team in 2011.
 
Projected 2011 NL Central Standings
TEAM                    W-L
Cincinnati Reds      93-69
Milwaukee Brewers 89-73
Chicago Cubs         82-80
St. Louis Cardinals 78-84
Houston Astros      77-85
Pittsburgh Pirates   3-159

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LA at SEA
TFC at VAN DCU at CLB SEA at 
NY
PHI at HOU FCD at CHI POR at COL KC at Chivas
Evan
LA
VAN DCU NY DRAW FCD COL DRAW
Kyle
DRAW DRAW DCU NY DRAW FCD COL KC
Nick
LA DRAW DRAW DRAW DRAW DRAW POR DRAW
Will
DRAW DRAW DCU NY DRAW FCD COL KC
RSL at SJ
NE at LA
Evan
RSL
LA
Kyle
RSL LA
Nick
DRAW DRAW
Will
RSL LA