The Weekly Tail ‘Gater

Mike Nanna

Who will be the Red Sox closer?

Does anyone remember Boston’s disastrous “closer-by-committee” approach a few years back? Well, the Sox look poised to venture down that road again unless someone distances himself from the pack in this competition. Joel Pineiro has no closing experience but is considered the frontrunner. Brendan Donnelly should be considered a dark-horse candidate for the job as well. Deep down, I think the Sox are secretly crossing their fingers and hoping that St. John’s product Craig Hansen will put it all together and force their hand.

Will D-Rays finally capitalize on their promise?

With a promising infield, an outfield overflowing with blue chip prospects and the best young lefty in baseball not named Santana or Liriano leading their staff, the future seems to be now for these Rays; however, the Rays have been bottom feeders throughout their existence and many in baseball are hesitant to believe in a team that not only plays in the toughest division in baseball but hasn’t proven anything. Spring training should give us a good barometer of just how good the Devil Rays can be.

Who will be the Mets fourth and fifth starters?

From a group that includes Oliver Perez, Mike Pelfrey, Philip Humber, Chan Ho Park, Jason Vargas and Jorge Sosa, it would seem that Perez and Park are the front runners; however, spring training is the time for proving oneself, and Pelfrey and Humber both have the capability to be front of the rotation starters. With that in mind, I think it’s safe to say that at least one of the two will end up in the rotation. I’d give the edge to Humber at the start since he is bit more polished at this stage of his career, although Willie might have a hard time sending down Pelfrey’s 98 mile-an-hour heater down to Triple -A.

How will A-Rod respond to last year’s disaster?

A-Rod sucks. Just kidding! For a guy who produces as much as A-Rod, I don’t know how he could possibly take more flack. The man seriously can no longer do anything right. If he hits a home run, it’s meaningless. If he strikes out, it’s the end of the world. In the end, the guy just can’t catch a break. Let’s hope A-Rod gets off to a good start in spring training and carries it over into the regular season. Otherwise, this could be a long spring for him.

Which team will be the most improved?

The Indians are the posh sleeper pick among most experts, climbing as high as second overall in various preseason rankings. I’m going to go in a different direction though and pick the Cubs as the most improved team since they should finally be healthy. Also Chicago has made the most positive additions of any team this off-season. Adding Soriano to that lineup really makes them a different team. Why hasn’t anyone mentioned Soriano as a 50 homer possibility playing his home games in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field?

Are the whiz kids in Arizona for real?

Another popular pick for a surprise playoff contender is Arizona, which features one of the best young lineups in the National League to go with a veteran pitching staff. Something tells me that this team will go through some growing pains in spring training but start meshing just in time for the regular season.

Can Barry Bonds stay off of the back pages?

Barry Bonds is one year older and one year wiser at least in theory, so I’d like to hope he keeps his mouth shut and focuses on staying healthy this season. Given how close he is to Hank Aaron’s home run record, the attention should be glaring come spring training, so it should be interesting to see how he handles the extra media intensity. I say he wilts under the limelight.

Can the Royals contend?

Absolutely not. Any team who counts Gil Meche as an ace and a rookie as the anchor of its offense should never even be brought up in talks about contention.

Is the Red Sox pitching staff the best in the league?

Beckett is a solid second or third starter at this point in his career, with Curt Schilling closer to a solid two. Daisuke Matsuzaka should be something similar to a Roy Oswalt type (yes he is that good), which should translate to a mid three ERA and 200 K’s. The real wild card in the bunch is Jonathon Papelbon, who could end up as the ace of the staff by season’s end. I can’t find another staff in the league that matches up with this one. Can you?

Will the Yankees flirt with promoting Philip Hughes?

Philip Hughes, the gem of the Yankees minor league system, is widely considered the best pitching prospect in the game today. The Yankees just so happen to have two spots in their rotation up for grabs. Kei Igawa seems to have the inside track on the number four spot in the rotation, but Carl Pavano is still a question mark for the fifth spot. If Pavano falters, look for the Yankees to think long and hard about promoting this prized youngster.