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Monday, April 06, 2009

Bold Predictions

Watching a couple of exciting pitching matchups this afternoon. Justin Verlander got roughted up early against the Blue Jays and Doc Halladay, but has settled down since then, though it may be too little too late. In a battle of tremendously talented young pitchers, Francisco Liriano is at home in Minnesota against Felix Hernandez and the Mariners, who boast one of the more pathetic lineups in recent memory, with no Ichiro and Mike Sweeney, Adrian Beltre, and Ken Griffey Jr. batting three through five.

Without further ado, some opening day predictions.

AL East:

Tampa Bay Rays
Boston Red Sox
Toronto Blue Jays
New York Yankees
Baltimore Orioles

Top Hitter: David Ortiz, Red Sox
Top Pitcher: Roy Halladay, Blue Jays
Top Rookie: Matt Wieters, Orioles
Top Comeback: Carl Crawford, Rays

There has been no more popular topic for punditry during the preseason than the spectacular three-horse race in the AL East. Boston, New York, and Tampa may well be the three best teams in the majors (though I'd be tempted to add the Cubs and Dodgers to the mix) and any of the three could easily make a run to the World Series with a few good breaks. Although I actually applaud the signing of Sabathia, Texeira, and Burnett, the reason I think New York will again fall short in a tight race is the uncertainty of A-Rod (which will put undo pressure on Texeira) and the weakness of New York's defense. I will repeat the mantra of the offseason: Tampa Bay went to the World Series last year despite the fact that none of their hitters had career years.

Something else to note, both Toronto and Baltimore will have much improved lineups and will be forces to reckon with for their divisional rivals on the intermittent days when they get strong pitching performances. Toronto is my sleeper pick for this season.

AL Central:

Chicago White Sox
Cleveland Indians
Detroit Tigers
Minnesota Twins
Kansas City Royals

Top Hitter: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
Top Pitcher: Kevin Slowey, Twins
Top Rookie: Kila Ka'aihue, Royals
Top Comeback: Coco Crisp, Royals

This may be the hardest division to call one through five. None are as good as the top teams in the East, nor as bad as the bottom teams in the West. Injuries to Joe Mauer and Scott Baker were enough to make me question the viability of the Twins, but if those two come back in May or June, Minnesota could once again make a late season push. The Tigers, Twins, and Royals all have serious holes in the back-end of their rotations, which is part of why I place them behind the Tribe and the Sox. Neither of those teams are dominant one through five, but if their late rotation guys struggle, they have plenty of promising options to turn to at AAA. For the Sox to prove me right, they will need to get repeat performances from Gavin Floyd and John Danks, as well as a bounce-back season from Paul Konerko. There lineup promises to be powerful, as usual, and they should get better defensively by moving Alexei Ramirez to short and adding Chris Getz (2B), Josh Fields (3B), and the platoon of DeWayne Wise and Brian Anderson.

AL West:

Oakland Athletics
Los Angeles Angels
Texas Rangers
Seattle Mariners

Top Hitter: Josh Hamilton, Rangers
Top Pitcher: Felix Hernandez, Mariners
Top Rookie: Brett Anderson, Athletics
Top Comeback: Kelvim Escobar, Angels

I was fully in the Angels corner, until they lost John Lackey and Ervin Santana in the last weeks of Spring Training. The good news is that neither is officially out for the season...yet, and Kelvim Escobar and Nick Adenhart are both looking like pretty strong replacements. Nonetheless, Billy Beane's offseason spending spree (Matt Holliday, Jason Giambi, Orlando Cabrera, and Nomar Garciaparra) and his willingness to hand over his rotation to fireballing rookies Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, and Josh Outman (with Gio Gonzalez and Sean Gallagher on the horizon) has me willing to go out on a limb and predict the A's with make a surprise run in the West. I also think the Rangers may be just a year removed. They've still got a pathetic rotation (Kris Benson, really?), but man-o-man are they stacked on offense and in the bullpen.

NL East:

New York Mets
Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves
Florida Marlins
Washington Nationals

Top Hitter: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
Top Pitcher: Johan Santana, Mets
Top Rookie: Jordan Schafer, Braves
Top Comeback: Brett Myers, Philles

I'm probably the only one who will admit that I wasn't sold on the Mets until they signed Gary Sheffield. The addition of the angry right-handed slugger (you think he's got something to prove after being released by the Tigers with 499 HR?) fills out the otherwise suspect outfield corps. The critical piece of the puzzle for the Mets will be solid seasons from Mike Pelfrey, John Maine, and Oliver Perez, all of whom need to be good from 150+ innings and 12+ wins. Those are not unrealistic expectations given the talent in that group. Philadelphia will once again be hot on their heels, but I am unconvinced that Cole Hamels will be able to repeat his dominance after throwing 260+ innings last year. Jamie Moyer and Chan Ho Park don't inspire confidence either.

NL Central:

Chicago Cubs
St. Louis Cardinals
Cincinnati Reds
Milwaukee Brewers
Pittsburgh Pirates
Houston Astros

Top Hitter: Albert Pujols, Cardinals
Top Pitcher: Carlos Zambrano, Cubs
Top Rookie: Colby Rasmus, Cardinals
Top Comeback: Chris Carpenter, Cardinals

Everywhere I look pundits are predicting the Cubs to run away with the central and I find myself constantly knocking on wood. Although I agree that the Cubs have the most depth and fewest obvious holes, I think the Cardinals, Reds, and Brewers boast better overall clubs than most are giving them credit for. The Reds rotation has always been their most glaring hole, but this year they go in with four solid starters (Aaron Harang, Edinson Volquez, Bronson Arroyo, and Johnny Cueto) and still plenty of sock in the lineup. St. Louis has an apparently healthy Chris Carpenter (1.52 ERA and 17 K in 24 spring innings), lots of promising young talent, and that guy named Pujols. 2008 Wild Card winner Milwaukee famously lost Sabathia and Sheets, but they still have perhaps the best lineup in the NL. Look for Yovani Gallardo and Manny Parra to do a fair job of filling those gigantic shoes.

NL West:

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres

Top Hitter: Manny Ramirez, Dodgers
Top Pitcher: Tim Lincecum, Giants
Top Rookie: Pedro Sandoval, Giants
Top Comeback: Barry Zito, Giants

If you just put the Giants rotation with the Dodgers lineup the NL would finally have a juggernaut on the level with the top teams in the AL East. The Dodger rotation may not need much help by season's end. Joe Torre has inserted a talented trio of Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, and James McDonald into the rotation behind Hiroki Kuroda and Randy Wolf, two of the more underrated pitchers in the NL last season. After missing their chance to draw Manny Ramirez away from the Dodgers, I still feel that the Giants aren't done building their club. Why add Randy Johnson and Edgar Renteria, obvious short-term moves, then not pick-up the power bat they so desperately need? If the rotation can keep the Giants alive in the first couple months and Pedro Sandoval is looking like a legit three hitter, I expect the Giants will go hard after impending free agent power threats like Matt Holliday, Adrian Beltre, and Hank Blalock.

AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
AL Cy Young: Roy Halladay, Blue Jays
AL Rookie of the Year: Matt Wieters, Orioles
AL Manager of the Year: Ozzie Guillen, White Sox
AL Champs: Tampa Bay Rays

NL MVP: Manny Ramirez, Dodgers
NL Cy Young: Johan Santana, Mets
NL Rookie of the Year: Pedro Sandoval, Giants
NL Manager of the Year: Joe Torre, Dodgers
NL Champs: Los Angeles Dodgers

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