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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

What September means for April...

There are two teams in the AL this September that nobody wants to face.  No, not the Red Sox, nor the Angels.  These two teams don't have any chance at making the postseason.  The New York Yankees are not one of them, nor the Detroit Tigers, despite the powerful lineups they boast.  The hottest teams in baseball at the moment are the Cleveland Indians and the Toronto Blue Jays.  Sure, the extended winning streaks they've put up in recent weeks are a bit fluky, but serious fantasy baseball players should be taking note of the performances which might fly a bit under the radar, but have serious implications for 2009.

Everybody knows about Toronto's pitching staff.  You aren't going to sneak Roy Halladay through your auction or draft, nor A. J. Burnett, nor probably Shawn Marcum, Dustin McGowan, or even Jesse Litsch.  What made the Blue Jays highly beatable in the first half of the season was their paltry offense.  Vernon Wells was injured, as was Scott Rolen.  Alex Rios and Lyle Overbay slumped.  John Gibbons chose to go with mediocre veterans like Brad Wilkerson and Shannon Stewart instead of trust young players like Adam Lind.  Cito Gaston has not had the same problem.  And the Blue Jays are showing that scoring runs may not be a big an issue for them come 2009.  As a team, the Jays scored 20 more runs in August than in any previous month (that's almost a 20% spike) and they are batting .311 so far in September.   Alex Rios is batting .312 with 9 HR during the All-Star Break, much to the delight of those who "wasted" an early round pick on him.  One of Gaston's first acts as manager was inserting Lind into the lineup everyday.  Lind has rewarded him by hitting .317 with 9 HR, 39 RBI, and an 868 OPS in 64 games since, suggesting that he is definitely a candidate for a breakout season when he turns 25 in 2009.  Vernon Wells has only played about half a season's worth of games, but has managed 16 HR and 66 RBI in that half, proving that his disappointing 2007 was merely a fluke.  Joe Inglett and Travis Snider have also been impressive in limited action.  Expect them to take on larger roles in 2009.  

After trading David Eckstein and Matt Stairs late in the season, Toronto will definitely be in the market for a shortstop and a 1B/OF/DH-type during the offseason, but it is a team with great depth in pitching and very few obvious holes.  Toronto, of course, has the misfortune of playing in the AL East, but I expect them to carry their late-season momentum into next year and make a serious run at contention.

Cleveland also plays in a deep division.  They have been alternating good and bad years since '05.  If the pattern holds, they'll be due for upwards of 90 wins in 2009.  Despite the loss of Sabathia and Byrd, the Indians still have two Aces atop their rotation in Cliff Lee and Fausto Carmona, plus a stockpile of high-potential young arms.  They can focus their free agent dollars on solving their bullpen issues and improving the offense, an offense which hasn't been that bad.  They are eighth in the AL in scoring, but that's without Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner.  No team can be expected to be at their best without two middle-of-the-order caliber hitters.  Ben Francisco has had a fairly successful rookie campaign, hitting 14 HR with 51 RBI in only 400 AB.  Asdrubel Cabrera and Franklin Guttierrez took modest steps backward, but still look like promising players.  Sizemore is a legit MVP candidate and Jhonny Peralta is among the most underrated players in baseball.  All of these guys should be on your radar next spring, as should Matt LaPorta and Michael Aubrey, prospects that might earn starting roles early next year.  

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