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Talking Baseball with Buster Olney

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In 1989 I was chewing on the strings of my glove while patrolling the infield for the North End Little League Tee-Ball Padres in my hometown of Bridgeport, CT. We didn't lose a game. We didn't win either - they don't keep score in tee-ball.

That same year, ESPN's Buster Olney began his career as a baseball writer, covering the Nashville Sounds for the Nashville Banner. Rather than get analysis and insight on the 2008 Major League Baseball season from the guy who was drinking juice boxes in between innings back in '89, we thought we'd turn to the man who has been covering the game for the last two decades to give us some predictions and projections for this season. Olney, a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine, blogger for ESPN.com and a regular contributor to "Baseball Tonight" and "Sports Center," took time out of his very busy schedule to exchange emails with LAist to talk Dodgers, Angels and more.

How does a kid growing up in Vermont end up a Dodgers fan? What is your fondest memory of rooting for the Dodgers?
I read a book on Sandy Koufax when I was 8 years old -- The Baseball Life of Sandy Koufax, and, as it turns out, years later, I realized when I was working at the NY Times that the author of that book was George Vecsey, one of my colleagues... Then, my first Little League team, in Woodstock, Vt., was named the Dodgers, and that cemented my love for that team at the time. We didn't have a television, but when the Dodgers came eastward, or the East teams went west, I'd catch the bouncing radio waves at night from KDKA (Pitts.), or WCAU (Phil.) or KMOX (STL). Oddly, I could never get the Mets' station to hear the Dodgers. Mostly, I listened to WDEV, who carried the Red Sox, and this allowed me to commiserate with my friends, who were doomed (we thought at the time) to a life of failure.

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My last year of my fandom -- the year before I started covering professional baseball -- was the fall of 1988, and the Dodgers had their improbable run to the title. I still can't believe that the Dodgers beat the Mets, or beat Oakland; I still can't believe Gibson homered off Eckersley.

Speaking of the Dodgers, what are you expecting from them this season?
I can't remember exactly what my win projection was for them, but I think I've got them penciled in for third or fourth -- they've got a lot of talent, yes, but I wonder if their pitching will hold up this season, and I think the D-Backs and Rockies will be better teams, overall.

How much of a factor will Joe Torre be with this team? How will he handle this bullpen?
Overall, Joe will be a positive, helping players to settle and relax and perform. The weakest part of what he does is handle a bullpen, and if you don't believe me, ask the many pitchers who burned out under his care in NY -- Steve Karsay, Paul Quantrill, Tanyon Sturtze, Tom Gordon, Scott Proctor, and others...

Was last season the beginning of the end for Andruw Jones? What about Jason Schimidt?

Andruw Jones still might have a few good years left in him, but it will be crucial for him to seriously address his conditioning as he gets older. If he doesn't, he will regress quickly. If I had to guess, I'd say Jason Schmidt doesn't have many games left in his career... I just wonder if he'll come back from his surgery.

Can they get into the postseason this year?
Absolutely. The great thing about the NL is that you can map out scenarios through which many teams can make the playoffs, and for the Dodgers, their path can go something like this -- Brad Penny, Derek Lowe and Chad Billingsley propel the Dodgers in the first half, and later, the team gets a big boost from Clay Kershaw.

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What does the addition of Torri Hunter bring to the Angels besides his incredible defense? Is outfield defense really that valuable?
His day to day energy. From what I have heard, Orlando Cabrera did a great job bringing energy to their clubhouse; I think Torii will do that for the Angels. Plus, he's a solid pro hitter who can drive in runs.

The Angels have made the post-season three of the last five seasons since winning it all in '02 but haven't been able to get into the World Series in any of those post-season trips, what will it take for them to get out of the AL this season?
They need more depth and more punch to get past the Red Sox or Yankees, and I think they understand that, which is why they added Torii Hunter. They need progress from Howie Kendrick and Casey Kotchman, who could give the Angels the kind of depth they need to advance.

How were the Mets able to steal Johan Santana? Are the Mets the favorite to win the NL in your mind?
Only a few teams could afford Santana's contract demands -- the Mets, Red Sox and Yankees. And when the Yankees and Red Sox only half-heartedly made trade offers for Santana, that left the Mets to get one of the best deals of this short century.

Will Barry Bonds play for anyone this season?

Yes -- the first AL team that suffers a major injury and has a lot invested in winning in 2008; my guess would be the Mariners or the Angels.

Do you think fans really care about the results of the Mitchell Report or performance enhancing drug use as a whole, if they don't is there any reason that they should? Do you think MLB has done a good job with handling the aftermath of it?
I think that in general, MLB's handling of the steroids issue has been a debacle, and the commissioning of the Mitchell Report was more about saving face than helping the sport. In general, the fans don't care; they are at peace with the idea, it seems, that a lot of players have used PEDs. MLB just keeps on selling tickets, and is thriving.

What division race are you most looking forward to keeping your eye on this season?

NL West. Four good teams (the Giants are the exception, of course), and four distinctly different teams. The Rockies hit and catch well, the D-Backs could win if some young hitters develop, the Padres can win if the division plays to an 86- or 87-win champion, and the Dodgers can win if their pitchers thrive.

What off-season move do you think has gone under the radar, that will actually have a great impact on this season?
The Braves' acquisition of Jair Jurrjens for shorstop Edgar Renteria is going to turn out to be a steal for Atlanta.

I know its early, who do you think will be playing in the post-season this year?

I picked the Yankees, Red Sox (wildcard), Indians and Mariners in the AL, and the Braves, Mets (wildcard), Cubs and Rockies.

Do you have a fantasy team? How much of an impact has the popularity of fantasy baseball had on the sport?

Yes, I play in a lowest-possible maintenance keeper league -- it's a fun way for me to follow some players -- and I think the impact is part of the rise of interest in the sport. Fans are invested in what these guys do, as fans of a particular team and fans of their own teams.

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Lastly, give me your sales pitch on why I should pay the monthly fee to be an insider and be able to read your blog.
It's the only one-stop shopping place for baseball information, six days a week. Even if you don't agree with what I write, it's well worth the money because of the fact that it presents information from every team -- every team -- every day that it's posted.

AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi - Dodgers
AP Photo/Mark Avery - Angels