You'll notice the lack of predictions in part one of this preview. That's because the butchers' were fresh out of pig entrails. ;-) No: it's just that there's hardly a decently predictable statistic available for pitchers: wins is clearly about as useful as...well, three pounds of porcine intestines, and ERA isn't a great deal better, being defense-dependent. But let's take a general look at what we can expect from our starting five.
Will the real Javier Vazquez, please stand up? Is it the one who, up to the end of June, had a 3.42 ERA and a 9-5 record? Or the Dr. Hyde who appeared after the All-Star Break, won just four of 14 starts, and had an ERA just under seven? BOB is a hitter's park, but I'm optimistic the truth is closer to the former than the latter: between 2001-03, his ERA was 3.52, and that was in the cavernous, empty space of Montreal...though that might just be the stands. ;-)
Brandon Webb is trying to bounce back from the typical sophomore slump, and needs to harness his pitches for his sinker to be effective. Far too often, he put opposing hitters on base without making them hit the ball, with his walk rate up over 50% from his impressive rookie year. That's the key to how he'll do this year. Fail to control that, and another losing season is almost inevitable, even with Counsell and Clayton providing defensive help behind him.
The pricey, long-term contract awarded to Russ Ortiz is the loaded cartridge in the game of Russian roulette we played during the offseason, and are now pointing at our head. If it goes off (like it did on Thursday), we'll be stuck with an albatross for years to come...but if not, we'll come out looking crazy like a whole gang of foxes. Of course, it'll be more or less that way every season, but we'll cross 2006 when we get to it.
Shawn Estes. Sure, he did okay in Colorado - but has everyone forgotten 2002 + 2003, when his ERA was over 5.00 at sea-level? We have a nasty habit of signing pitchers based on their career season - paging Elmer Dessens - but at least Estes is only for one year so is unlikely to hurt our chances of competing. Best hope: he overperforms and we trade him at the deadline. Doomsday scenario: Estes somehow produces another good season, after which we ink him to a four-year, $40m deal, and are stuck with him through 2009. If that happens, though, I'm calling in an air-strike.
#5 could have been Brad Halsey or Mike Gosling: it ended up being the former, but it probably won't make that much difference either way. I fully expect a mix of credible showings and total blow-outs - in other words, pretty much what you'd expect from a #5 starter. Halsey did okay in Spring Training, but that's meaningless. It's possible he could be a pleasant surprise, outpitching Shaun Estes, for example. Though that'd be more pleasant, than a surprise...