Monday, March 30, 2009

Preview/Prediction: A.L. East

The Rays took everyone, including me, for a ride last year. Though I correctly predicted them being out of the cellar, I had them in fourth place, not first.

I nailed Boston's record on the head, and was only a game off of the Yankees' final tally, though I had each team's positioning wrong. Big surprise, the Orioles finished in last. Chalk that one up in the win column for me, but we're not exactly throwing me a parade.

1) Boston Red Sox (96-66)
This being the most difficult division to rank the top three teams, I'm taking what I see as the least favorite and least talented of the three teams to finish in first. The Red Sox are a year older where it hurts (Ortiz, Lowell, Varitek), but have a great wave of youth helping out (Pedroia, Ellsbury, Lowrie), as well as a core of veterans who are still in their prime (Bay, Youkilis, Drew).

Jason Bay is going to have a huge year in his first full campaign in Beantown. I expect him to be an All-Star as well as put up better than his average numbers (.282/31/103).

The Red Sox made a few small moves, acquiring Brad Penny and John Smoltz, so the experience and depth in their rotation and bullpen can very well get them to the promised land.

2) New York Yankees (92-70)
I know, I hate myself too. I can always relish in the fact that I correctly predicted the Yanks to miss the playoffs last year, but don't I do that every year?? By this estimation, they'll win the Wild Card.

The high-profile pickups of C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and A.J. Burnett are so beaten to death, I'm kicking myself for even mentioning it here.

The Yankees are young and talented, but does Joe Girardi know how to effectively use the talent he has while keeping everyone in the clubhouse happy?

Buckle up, ladies and gents, this is going to be a wild ride in the Bronx this season. Haters should get a good laugh or two.

C.C. won't earn his paycheck, but he'll be solid, maybe winning 16 games with an earned run average of about 3.40. If Yankee fans say that's worth the money he's getting, that's their delusion, and I'll have no part of it. The only reason I say Johan Santana earned his money last year is because he would have had 22 wins if not for the bullpen, and a 2.50 ERA was gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous.

With Jeter in the leadoff hole, it will be much easier for the Yankees to create runs, because he at least gets on base consistently, as opposed to any other option outside of a healthy Johnny Damon.

I won't be surprised if the Yanks win the division, but I'm banking on clubhouse chemistry winning it for the BoSox and losing it for the Yanks.

3) Tampa Bay Rays (90-72)
The odd man out. Sorry, guys. It was a great run last year, the franchise is truly on the map, and here to stay, but this season won't be their year. The young pitching will still be spectacular, but A) they won't be blindsiding anyone this year, B) there's no chance they get away with a full season of injury-less starting pitching, and C) the front office isn't ready to play ugly like the Red Sox and Yankees are willing to do.

Starting David Price in the minors will pay dividends for the Rays down the stretch, but I don't think they'll be able to keep up.

The signing of Pat Burrell could be nice, but they already have Carlos Pena to put up great power numbers with a crappy batting average. They need people to get on base unless they want to live on solo home runs.

Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton...mmmm, nice! But there are still significant holes in the lineup, wheras the Yanks and Sox don't have any automatic outs.

4) Toronto Blue Jays (76-86)
Roy, Roy, Roy. You need to get out of Toronto, buddy. Another 20-win season for Halladay, another bottom-feeding finish for the Jays.

Burnett bounced, and Alex Rios and Vernon Wells continue to be the only intimidating names in the lineup. The Jays are going to need solid production out of unusual places to make any noise this time around.

5) Baltimore Orioles (70-92)
Jeremy Guthrie isn't really the Orioles' opening day starter, is he? Oh dear. Nick Markakis continues to fly under the radar, Brian Roberts continues to silently put up amazing numbers, and Adam Jones is only getting better, but without pitching, these guys are sellers at the trading deadline.

They have some great youth coming in, namely Matt Wieters, one of the top catching prospects in the minors. He's down on the farm to start the season, likely an Evan Longoria-type move from last year, to delay arbitration by a year, but again, it isn't enough yet.

I'd love to keep feeling bad for them, but they'd finish at the bottom in most divisions. It's just the Blue Jays of last year I felt bad for.

Coming sooner than later: N.L. East

Friday, March 13, 2009

Preview/Prediction: N.L. West

The N.L. West last year started as a blowout, as Arizona, with the help of two of the best starting pitchers in the National League, came out of Spring Training hotter than Biba Golic.

As Brandon Webb and Dan Haren faded into mediocrity, so did the D'Backs. Nobody emerged as a good team in the division until the trade deadline, when the Dodgers made the deal of the year, acquiring Manny Ramirez in a three-team trade.

The Dodgers went on to win the division, beating the Cubs in the first round of the playoffs, losing to some crappy team in the NLCS.

I goose-egged the West last year, putting the D'Backs in first (2), Padres in second (5, I always overestimate their ability), Dodgers in third, Rockies in fourth (3), and Giants in last (4).

Let's see if I can do slightly better this year.

1) Los Angeles Dodgers (86-76)

This was a tougher decision than you might imagine. Nobody in the West has offense. Several teams in the West have pitching, but the same was the case last year.

The Dodgers are without Derek Lowe, and for better or worse, without Brad Penny, Greg Maddux, Nomar Garciaparra, and Jeff Kent. The team will look a lot different this season, but I still think the Dodgers have enough pitching to get into the playoffs.

Chad Billingsley is young and underrated. He won't fly under anyone's radar this season as the top gun in the rotation. Anything the Dodgers get out of Jason Schmidt is a nice surprise, but as it should be, they aren't expecting anything.

The offense shouldn't be a problem, considering the perfect mix of youth (James Loney, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier), and veterans (Manny, Rafael Furcal, Russell Martin).

The acquisition of Orlando Hudson will give them solid defense up the middle and plenty of depth, considering Blake DeWitt will start the season coming off the bench.

Juan Pierre, Mart Loretta, and Brad Ausmus on the bench gives L.A. proven starters to fall back on in case of injury.

The biggest question mark is the bullpen, which suffered a hit when Takashi Saito signed with Boston, and an even bigger hit when the Dodgers, for some reason, signed Guillermo Mota.

2) Arizona Diamondbacks (82-80)

If Webb and Haren win all of their starts, the D'Backs might be able to make some noise. Two great starting pitchers works well for you when you've got a good enough offense, and maybe a couple of mediocre-to-decent pitchers to back them up.

Arizona only has two great starting pitchers. No good enough offense, no mediocre-to-decent pitchers to back them up.

The D'Backs' season relies completely on these two. The young offense still won't be able to gel, because there are no veterans to lean on when things get murky. This year's Diamondbacks team will be like the Marlins of the past few years. The energy of the young players will make noise and scare some teams for about 120 or 130 games, but not for a full season.

3) San Francisco Giants (77-85)

If any team in the division is a sleeper, it's the Giants. They may have the best set of five pitchers in the West, but that's only if Barry Zito decides to win a couple games this time around.

Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, and Randy Johnson provide a solid punch day-in and day-out. The Big Unit will be primed for this season because he's five wins away from 300. He won't throw in the towel after he gets it as long as the team is competitive.

The Giants still lack the big bat in the middle of their lineup necessary to rip opponents apart, so the bullpen will be crucial to the Giants' success.

San Fran picked up Jeremy Affeldt and Bob Howry in free agency, with Brian Wilson set to close out games...for now. Affeldt and Howry have both been closers before.

If starters go deep and the offense provides a little extra now and again, the Giants will be alright.

4) San Diego Padres (68-94)

Now that I'm picking them to finish fourth, they'll finally have a good year. It couldn't come too soon for the Padres, either.

Jake Peavy, somehow, is still in SoCal, as is Chris Young. Trevor Hoffman isn't.

Adrian Gonzalez anchors the offense, but doesn't have much around him, like usual. Brian Giles is a year older, and Cliff Floyd, if healthy, will be available to pinch hit in late innings for the Fathers.

Mark Prior has a chance to win a spot in the rotation, but the odds of him not being injured are probably about even with the chances of the Padres winning the World Series (somewhere around 100/1).

5) Colorado Rockies (60-102)

I'd love to feel bad for the Rockies, but I just don't. After trading Matt Holliday to Oakland, they're left with next to nothing.

Aaron Cook may have a decent year like he did last year (16 wins), and Garrett Atkins will look to have a .300, 30 home run, 120 RBI year, but that's a lot to ask of him without Holliday in the lineup.

Brad Hawpe, Todd Helton, Troy Tulowitzki, and Atkins will all be severely affected by Holliday's absence.

Brian Fuentes left in free agency, leaving a hole in the Rockies' bullpen as well. It will be interesting to see how Huston Street and Jason Marquis react to the climate change.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Preview/Prediction: A.L. West

Much to the surprise of nobody, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim won the American League West division crown last year.

No other team finished above .500 in the division, as the Mariners were as big of a bust as the Detroit Tigers. Seattle finished 61-101, largely due to an overhyped starting rotation that ended up being beaten down with injuries.

The Angels had injuries of their own, losing John Lackey for a good portion of time and Kelvim Escobar for the full season, if not forever. Other starters picked up the slack and stepped up in a big way, proving their worth to the team.

The A's made some big moves in the offseason, but I still like the Angels.

1) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (93-69)

Brian Fuentes will replace K-Rod as the closer, Bobby Abreu will replace Garret Anderson in left field, and Kendry Morales will replace Mark Teixeira at first base.

How are the Angels still going to win the division? Pitching.

Jon Garland is no longer the Angels' problem, John Lackey is healthy (knock on wood), and Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver, and Joe Saunders all have less pressure on them this season.

Vlad is a year older and has less help around him, but the Angels have the best manager in the American League sitting on their bench. Mike Scioscia knows how to make puzzle pieces fit.

2) Oakland Athletics (84-78)

The A's exchanged Frank Thomas for Jason Giambi, don't have any starting pitchers you would recognize, and as a matter of fact, don't have anybody in the bullpen you would know, either.

The pickup of Matt Holliday was huge, as was the signing of Orlando Cabrera. They went out and grabbed Nomar Garciaparra, which makes me wonder what the hell Billy Beane is thinking. It's the complete opposite of what he normally does, unless he plans on folding this year with plans of trading whoever has a decent first half to make the team younger again.

The A's usually tend to make it work. They'll have great chemistry and will have fun playing the game. Some of the starters may surprise us. Or they'll just have a terrible, terrible year, finishing in last place.

3) Texas Rangers (75-87)

Arlington natives should get ready for another year of bashing the hell out of the ball but not being able to keep your opponents from doing the same thing.

Nobody scored more runs than the Rangers last year (901), but nobody gave up more, either (967). Not much has changed this time around.

The lineup is still as scary as ever, featuring Michael Young, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Chris Davis, Ian Kinsler, David Murphy, and Josh Hamilton, but it's tough to say whether any of these guys will have repeat performances after very successful 2008 campaigns.

The most interesting thing to look for will be to see how Young fares at third base while youngster Elvis Andrus hits the bigs.

The Rangers have a couple of starting pitchers who can hit double-digit wins, but their bullpen is really going to be interesting. Frank Francisco is the closer, with three ex-closers settting him up: Derrick Turnbow, C.J. Wilson, and Eddie Guardado.

The bullpen might actually be a huge strength for the Rangers. Look for them to retain big leads and maybe even pull off a few come-from-behind victories.

4) Seattle Mariners (71-91)

Something's gotta give soon for the Mariners. They can't stay healthy, and can't get solid returns on their investments.

Raul Ibanez hit the road, and Ken Griffey, Jr. came back into the lives of the Mariner-faithful. Which senior citizen will have a bigger year, Griffey or Giambi? I honestly think Giambi, though I'd love for the answer to be Griffey. He only deserves the best.

King Felix and Erik Bedard, when healthy, provide a solid 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation. Everything else is a question mark when it comes to pitching, especially with J.J. Putz in the eastern time zone.

Next on tap: N.L. West

Manny is in, A-Rod and T.O. are out!

Relieving, unfortunate, LAME!

Manny Ramirez Signs With Dodgers

We've been waiting on this one for awhile now. Baseball season would not be allowed to begin without us knowing where Manny would be playing.

It's a little later than I'd like, but now all the players capable of making a huge splash have landed.

A.L. West preview coming later today.

Alex Rodriguez Out Until May

Rodriguez had an MRI on his hip which found a cyst. Surgery is required and preliminary reports have him out for about 10 weeks, though that may change.

This is a huge blow for the Yankees, who needed a quick start from him. They still have the firepower to stay afloat until he comes back, but they lost a lot of their offense from last year, which was already lacking, and Mark Teixeira never gets off to a quick start. He normally does his damage in the summer months and after the All-Star break.

The difference for the Yankees this year is their pitching, but without solid offensive production, they could find themselves in an early hole. A-Rod was solely responsible for a good chunk of the Yankees wins early last season.

It's too bad for A-Rod, because now people will question whether the injury is steroid-related, and whether he'll be injury-riddled now that he's clean. More questions which won't be answered. He won't be able to just shake this off.

A.L. East preview should come early next week.

Terrell Owens Cut By Cowboys

This comes at such a terrible time, mainly because we really won't know if this was a good move or a bad move until the NFL is significantly into the season. Soooo....eight or nine months? Awesome.

I think it's a bad move because T.O. is responsible for half of the 'Boys passing offense. They've got Roy Williams as their big playmaking receiver now, but he has yet to prove himself since jumping to the pros.

Most of the blame can be put on the Lions for being such a bad team, but now the Cowboys have nobody to blame when they miss the playoffs for a second straight year. Heads will roll.

NFC East preview coming in August. Maybe. Eh, probably not.