Play Ball!

Opening Day came and went, and I couldn’t be more excited for the baseball season.  I thought I’d do a write-up of what I expect this season. I’m going to go division by division and predict my winners and say a few things about each team. Here we go!

AL East

1. Boston Red Sox: As much as it pains me to say this, I think the Red Sox are the team to beat in both the AL East and the League overall.  After injuries ravaged this team a year ago, they’re now healthy and better than ever.  Although they lost Victor Martinez which leaves a question mark at catcher, they got huge off season acquisitions in LF Carl Crawford who many expected to go to the LA Angels and  1B Adrian Gonzalez in a trade with the San Diego Padres for a few lower tier prospects.  With former MVP 2B Dustin Pedroia, 1B now 3B Kevin Youkilis, and CF Jacoby Ellsbury coming back from injuries, this is one stacked line-up.  Marco Scutaro is serviceable and to his credit he still put up decent numbers despite playing with injury.  J.D. Drew has slowed significantly but he still has 20 HR potential.  Expect David Ortiz to start slow again; he will pick it up but don’t expect the same numbers as last year as he clearly is on the decline.  As for pitching, besides the San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Phillies, the Red Sox have the best rotation.  Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are young studs.  I expect John Lackey and Josh Beckett to have bounce-back years.  The only concern I have is Daisuke Matsuzaka.  As for the bullpen, Johnathan Papelbon is not the same pitcher he once was.  His control has severely diminished.  However, the Red Sox have insurance in Bobby Jenks and young hurler Daniel Bard, who I expect to be the closer by mid season.

2. New York Yankees: I expect my Yankees to finish a distant 2nd in the rugged AL East but do expect them to win the Wild Card.  Bottom line: The Yankees are getting old.  The left side of the infield is old; 3B Alex Rodriguez will be 36 in July and SS Derek Jeter will be 37 in June.  Injuries are becoming an increasing concern for Rodriguez and as much as I love the Captain, his production is going to continue to decline (although he has proven doubters wrong countless of times before and I hope he does it again this season).  One member of the “Core Four” has retired (Andy Pettitte).  The other two are near the end of their careers as well.  C Jorge Posada has been relegated to full-time DH duty and the great Mariano Rivera, while still cluth, will eventually lose his touch on his cutter.  The starting rotation is a mess; besides C.C. Sabathia and Phil Hughes, there is no one else.  A.J. Burnett is a huge question mark after last season’s disaster.  And Ivan Nova and an old Freddy Garcia are expected to hold it down at the back end of the rotation (with fat Bartolo Colon on standby).  This is clearly 2B Robinson Cano’s team.  He, 1B Mark Teixeira, and RF Nick Swisher will have to carry the load.  Hopefully Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson can step it up as well.

3. Baltimore Orioles: I’m going to go on a whim and say that the Orioles will have a chance to catch the Yankees for second place in the division.  I love what Buck Showalter has done with the Orioles in such a short amount of time (although I don’t appreciate him dissing the Captain).  He has this young squad playing well.  The trio of young outfielders in Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Felix Pie (who I believe will finally turn the corner) is a great core.  Not to mention they added some veteran leadership by acquiring Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee, J.J. Hardy, and Mark Reynolds.  Don’t forget about franchise player and captain Brian Roberts, who is as steady as they come when healthy.  Finally, they have a great young pitching staff lead by lefty Brian Matusz who ended the season strong (in his final 11 starts, he posted a 2.18 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 52 strikeouts in 62 innings, with seven wins; during that time, he faced just one team with a record under .500, the 80-82 Angels).

4.  Tampa Bay Rays: I really think the Rays will struggle this year.  Sure they have a lot of young talent, but they are all unproven outside of ace David Price and 3B Evan Longoria.  They have one of the best prospect in SP Jeremy Hellickson, who showed glimpses of greatness at the end of last season and this spring.  We’ll also see if outfielders Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez have anything left in the tank.

5.  Toronto Blue Jays:  I have to applaud the Blue Jays for at least dumping the terrible Vernon Wells contract.  But they also traded away their best pitcher in Shaun Marcum.  The only noteworthy players they have left are 2B Aaron Hill and RF Jose Bautista, who was a great story last season (I definitely don’t expect him to hit 56 HR’s but 30 wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility).

AL Central

1. Minnesota Twins: With 1B Justin Morneau coming back from a terrible concussion which derailed his career year, I expect the Twins to once again secure the AL Central.  They also have a guy behind the plate named Joe Mauer who I heard is pretty damn good.  RF Michael Cuddyer is as solid as they come.  LF Delmon Young finally found his stroke and carried this team in the latter half of the year.  CF Denard Span will definitely have a better year (he had some pretty bad luck last year).  Jim Thome provides power and veteran leadership.  It’ll be good to see him hit his 600th HR this year.  I always liked Thome; he’s been a class act and he’s been one of the few players to be steroid-free.  I’m interested to see how Japanese 2B Tsuyoshi Nishioka adjusts to the Majors.  The Twins paid lots of money to get him, let’s see if he lives up to the hype.  Their rotation is their biggest question mark.  Outside of Francisco Liriano, their rotation is a bunch of scrubs (do you really think Carl Pavano will have another year like he did last year?).  Joe Nathan is coming back from injury and should provide the bullpen with much needed stability.

2. Chicago White Sox: The White Sox are a trendy pick to win the AL Central.  With the acquisition of a surefire 40 HR/year guy in Adam Dunn along with power hitters 1B Paul Konerko and RF Carlos Quentin, the White Sox have firepower.  They have one of the best base stealers leading-off in Juan Pierre.  However, outside of these guys, I see no one else.  They just aren’t as complete as the Twins.  However, I do like the rotation of the White Sox a little better.  Jake Peavy hasn’t adjusted well to the AL (this can be partly contributed to injuries).  Mark Buehrle is one of the most consistent pitchers, but he isn’t a guy you call on for a must-win game.  John Danks is their best option in my opinion, and they’ll need Gavin Floyd to develop even more this year.

3.  Detroit Tigers: The Tigers might have been my pick for second if not for all the off field distractions that 1B Miguel Cabrera has provided.  Don’t get me wrong–Cabrera is one of the best ballplayers in today’s game.  He (along with Roy Halladay) helped me lock down my fantasy league last year.  But he is a walking distraction.  Last year he was distraction free which is why he did so well.  They have Justin Verlander at the top of the rotation which is always a plus.  And don’t sleep on Max Scherzer–did you see how he pitched when he came back from the minors (when he returned, he was dominant, with a 2.46 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning over his final 23 starts)?

4.  Kansas City Royals: They traded away former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke.  But they’re loaded.  And I mean loaded.  ESPN.com’s Keith Law rates the Royals’ farm system at number one.  Don’t expect much this year but watch out in the years to come.  SS Mike Moustakas is probably the most ready and could be a potential rookie of the year candidate if brought up.  Check out ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick’s article on the Royals.  They have a bright future.

5. Cleveland Indians: I have nothing to say. These guys are terrible. Their brightest spot is my boy Shin-soo Choo who is a 20/20 guy who hits .300.  I wish he was on the Yankees.  Also look out for Carlos Santana.  The guy was highly rated for a reason.  Unfortunately, his season was cut short last year due to a blown-out knee.  Let’s see how he does over a full season.

AL West

1. Oakland A’s: Even though part of me wants to say the Texas Rangers, I just can’t ignore the potential of the A’s rotation.   This could be a very special bunch.  And although they don’t have a lot of bats, neither did the San Francisco Giants.  In fact, they are very similar to the Giants–great rotation and collection of “misfits” and “cast-offs.”  I do think that my other boy Hideki Matsui will provide some much needed power and plate discipline to a team without a marquee hitter.  If the Giants’ rotation was enough to carry them into the postseason, then why not the A’s?  I’ll mention this later in the article, but I think a certain NL East team despite all the accolades they are getting, will have to rely on pitching as well to get into the postseason.

2.  Texas Rangers:  I know Ranger fans will probably hate me for this, and even I had some doubts about picking them to finish second.  Part of it is just bitterness carrying over from last season when they ousted my Yankees in the ALCS (in fact, they completely whipped us).  But most of it has to due with two things: 1) Health and 2) Pitching.  First let’s address health.  Josh Hamilton was last season’s MVP; when he’s healthy, he is absolutely one of the best players in the game.  But he has even admitted he isn’t quite sure what all the abuse he put his body through will do to his health now.   In his first season with the Rangers, he was phenomenal.  He put on in my opinion the greatest show the Home Run Derby has ever had.  In his second season, he was riddled with injuries, playing in only 89 games and batting .268 with a measly 10 HR’s.  Last season, as mentioned earlier, he was the MVP, batting a robust .359 and smacking 32 HR’s while driving in 100.  So in three seasons the pattern has been: good, bad, good.  Should we expect a “bad” season this year?  Who knows.  But even in those two good seasons, he has played through injury.  Not a good sign.  Another injury prone teammate who has the potential to be a 30/30 guy in my opinion is Nelson Cruz.  But the guy can’t seem to stay healthy (much to my dismay as he was on my fantasy team last year).  And not to be left out of the injury prone discussion is 2B Ian Kinsler.  This is a 20/20 guy and top 5 2B when healthy.  Last year he was banged up, only hitting 9 HR’s, the lowest of his career.  In 2009 he hit 31 HR’s.  If these three guys can stay healthy, then this will be a tight AL West race.  But if not, then the second issue becomes that much bigger.  Pitching.  You don’t just lose one of the best pitchers in Cliff Lee who carried you through the postseason and expect to do the same without him.  As it currently stands, the Rangers rotation is not bad, but it’s not good either.  The #1 guy now is C.J. Wilson.  Wilson made a great transition from reliever to starter.  How will he respond after a huge innings leap?  How will he handle the bigger spotlight?  Will all those walks come back to bite him (power pitchers with nasty stuff can get away with walks, guys like Wilson can’t)?  On a personal side note, I really like Wilson.  Had him on my fantasy team, down to earth guy, classy, and knows how to dress well.  Second is Colby Lewis.  Lewis also made a smooth transition, but in his case it was from the Japan leagues back to the Majors.  He’s got filthier stuff than Wilson, but I’m wondering if he can do it again.  The real X-factor here is Brandon Webb.  Webb was a perennial Cy Young candidate when he was healthy.  Then a few shoulder surgeries later, he became irrelevant.  He still won’t join the rotation until May though, as he works to get his velocity back.  So in conclusion, the Rangers’ season depends on the health of its players.  Time will tell if this club can make another run again.

3.  Los Angeles Angels:  Wow have the mighty fallen.  After ruling the division for the last decade, it seems like this team is in rebuilding mode.  They have a bunch of old guys in Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu, and (ugh) Vernon Wells.  Kendry Morales is still recovering from that freak accident last year in which he broke his leg while jumping on home plate to celebrate a walk-off win.  All they have to lean back on are SP’s Dan Haren and Jered Weaver, who unfortunately is going to be playing at his prime during what seems like the Angels’ worst years (imagine if he hit his stride even 3 years ago?).

4.  Seattle Mariners:  Boy do I feel really bad for Ichiro Suzuki.  The Mariners suck, no need to sugarcoat it.  Here’s a quick fact: Ichiro lead the league in hits with 214 and yet had only 74 runs; meanwhile, Mark Reynolds, the past three seasons’ strikeout leader (and single season strikeout record holder), had only 99 hits yet 79 runs.  That’s just pathetic.  I also especially feel bad for Felix Hernandez.  King Felix is in his prime and has to play for the lowly Mariners.  I guess he can find some relief in the fact that he is now the perennial favorite to win the Cy Young every year.  Still, I’d think he would much rather have a World Series ring as opposed to maybe 5 Cy Young’s.

NL East

1.  Philadelphia Phillies:  Enough has been said of the Phillies vaunted rotation that has the chance to be the “best in history.”  Not in a million years, sorry Philly fans.  You’ll never convince me that this rotation, no matter what they do, will be better than that of the Braves’ rotation of the ’90’s.  I’m tired of hearing about the Phillies and how they’re the favorite to win it all.  As crazy as it sounds, I’d rather hear about the Red Sox being the favorite; at least the Yankees play in the same division, which will make beating them that much sweeter.  But it’s not only that–simply put, the Phillies have a lot of holes that people are simply looking past because of their “super” rotation.  It’s like my fellow New York fans going on and on about Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks and how they’re primed to be great down the road.  People are delusional and hearing them blab on makes it that much more annoying.  Don’t get me wrong though–the Phillies will win the division because of their pitching, and their flawed offense (and bullpen) will do just enough to win.  But don’t be surprised if they win the division with only 90 or so wins.  This team is not breaking 114 or 116 for that matter.

2.  Atlanta Braves:  My pick to win the wild card.  But don’t expect them to roll over and let the Phillies run away with the division.  The Braves will make it a tough race.  With the news that Phillies’ 2B Chase Utley and closer Brad (the ultimate choker) Lidge will start the season on the DL, the Braves have a chance to grab the division lead early and perhaps hold on to it unlike last year, when they melted down during the summer and fall stretch.  A big reason for the meltdown was rookie phenom Jason Heyward and veteran future Hall-of-Famer Chipper Jones getting injured at the wrong times.  They’re both back now and expect Heyward to have a monster campaign in his second year and Jones to bounce back nicely (if Spring is any indication, he will).  Heyward is also my outside pick to win the MVP–the guy is a beast.  They also have one of the best catcher in the game in Brain McCann, and they made a huge upgrade at 2B by bringing in Dan Uggla, who will give the Braves more power.  There’s this other guy named Freddie Freeman who also has a chance to make an impact as a rookie like Heyward did last year.  The rotation is lead by veteran Tim Hudson and young gun Tommy Hanson.  With Jair Jurrjens coming back from injury and Derek Lowe seemingly prepared to have a bounce back year, the Braves’ pitching can be just as good as anyone else’s.  Don’t sleep on this team.  One more thing: they have one of the best farms in baseball.  It’s not just Freeman that could make an impact–they have plenty of young guns that could contribute.

3.  Florida Marlins:  Nice young team.  But as long as they have a stingy owner they’ll never go far.  They’ll finish around .500 again this year again.  SS Hanley Ramirez is one of the best.  SP Josh Johnson is one of the best.  They have a young future HR crown winner in Mike Stanton (the guy hit 22 in only 100 games!).  Open up the pocket book Mr. Loria…you owe it your fans.

4. Washington Nationals:  The Nats are in rebuilding mode but are definitely trending up up up.  They lost Adam Dunn but replaced him with another veteran in Jayson Werth.  They have so many young prospects on the way.  Stephen Strasburg, before succumbing to Tommy John surgery, showed glimpses of greatness.  Bryce Harper won’t be ready this year, but this kid will be good.

5.  New York Mets:  I kind of feel guilty since I put them here as a joke.  They’ll probably finish above the Nats, but this team is still awful.  Do I have to say anything about how bad they are?  Sans 3B David Wright and 1B Ike Davis, this team is hopeless.

NL Central

1.  Cincinnati Reds:  Old Dusty Baker has made the Reds relevant again.  Although they made it to the postseason last season in god knows how long, they were quickly (and embarrassingly) swept by the Phillies.  But with last season’s MVP Joey Votto and the Adam Wainwright inury, the Reds will win another division title.  Outfielder Jay Bruce is on the cusp of greatness.  The rotation, while not great, will do enough.  Maybe Aroldis Chapman can make a difference.

2.  Milwaukee Brewers:  This team has a chance to make it to the postseason.  With the additions of Cy Young winner Zack Greinke (although he’ll miss the start of the season) and Shaun Marcum, the rotation now looks dangerous.  The offense is great: 2B Rickie Weeks, LF Ryan Braun, 1B Prince Fielder, 3B Casey McGehee, and RF Corey Hart all provide ample power.  Can the Brew Crew do it?

3.  St. Louis Cardinals:  If it wasn’t for the aforementioned Wainwright injury, I’d have them at second.  But you just don’t lose a yearly Cy Young candidate and expect to compete especially with an offense as bad as the Cardinals have.  Besides the greatest player in the game today in Albert Pujols, there’s no one else to carry the load (ok you got Matt Holliday, but you get my point).  CF Colby Rasmus will have to step up big, although I don’t know how his rocky relationship with manager Tony LaRussa will affect him.  I think the biggest question for the Cards this season is how much money they need to pay to keep Pujols.

4-6.  In no particular order, the Chicago Cubs,  the Houston Astros, and the Pittsburgh Pirates:  I don’t really want to talk about these teams.  They’re all bad.  Cubs fans sorry to break it to you but you guys will continue to drown in misery and heartbreak.  Astros are rebuilding.  And the Pirates just suck.  Although I do have to say, the new management is doing a great job developing young talent.  Perhaps I’ll be singing a different tun five years down the road.

NL West

1.  Colorado Rockies: Great offense? Check.  Solid Pitching? Check.  Weak division?  Double check.  The NL West is always weak; just because the Giants won the World Series last year doesn’t exonerate the NL West as a bad division.  Pitching rules this division, but with the Rockies, they have a good enough offense to smash the pitching, especially at home at Coors Field.  SS Troy Tulowitzki and LF Carlos Gonzalez will lead the potent offense.  Breakout pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez will lead the rotation.

2.  San Francisco Giants:  It’s not a matter of disrespect, I just think the Giants aren’t good enough to win the division this year.  I do think they will compete for the Wild Card though.  Listen, I take nothing away from their amazing run last year.  I actually thanked them for taking out the Phillies (thereby shutting up their obnoxious fans) and the Rangers (who beat my Yankees).  What they did was nothing short of amazing.  They still have one of the top 3 rotations in baseball (the other two being the Red Sox and Phillies).  I expect Tim Lincecum to have a “bounce back” year and contend for the Cy Young.  The reason I say “bounce back” is that he was so freaking good in ’08 and ’09 that ’10 looked sub par by his standards.  Matt Cain is one of the most underrated pitchers in the game.  Johnathan Sanchez can throw fire (although he’ll need to display better control and poise).  Madison Bumgarner was fantastic last year (especially in the postseason: he became the youngest pitcher in Giants franchise history to pitch in and win a postseason game, which he did against the Braves in the NLDS clinching-game on October 11, 2010; in addition to his clinching performance in the NLDS, he pitched two shutout innings in relief in the NLCS clinching game versus the Phillies, and on On October 31, 2010, Bumgarner pitched 8 shutout innings in Game 4 of the 2010 World Series, becoming the fourth youngest pitcher to start and win a World Series game) and should only continue to get better.  Good team, but in this writer’s opinion just not enough steam in the engine.  Buster Posey can’t do it all by himself on offense.  Perhaps rookie 1B Brandon Belt can provide some help too.

3-5.  In no particular order, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the San Diego Padres:  Of the three, I expect the Dodgers to finish third.  But they won’t challenge for the division crown; there’s still too much of a distraction at the ownership level for them to win.  I am looking to see if CF Matt Kemp bounces back and becomes that 30/30 guy everyone expects him to be.  I think he thought he was entitled to greatness, which was the reason for such a poor season last year.  Justin Upton of the Diamondbacks is also on the cusp of greatness; can he get over the hump?  There’s 30/20 potential there.  Hmmm…who do the Padres have again?

My Picks

AL East: Boston Red Sox

AL Central: Minnesota Twins

AL West: Oakland A’s

Wild Card: New York Yankees

Other Potential Postseason Teams: Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers

NL East: Philadelphia Phillies

NL Central: Cincinnati Reds

NL West: Colorado Rockies

Wild Card: Atlanta Braves

Other Potential Postseason Teams: Milwaukee Brewers, San Francisco Giants

My Award Predictions

AL MVP: Robinson Cano (2B, Yankees)

Honorable Mention: Evan Longoria (3B, Rays), Justin Morneau (1B, Twins), Joe Mauer (C, Twins), Adrian Gonzalez (1B, Red Sox), Josh Hamilton (CF, Rangers), Miguel Cabrera (1B, Tigers)

AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez (Mariners)

Honorable Mention: Jon Lester (Red Sox), C.C. Sabathia (Yankees), David Price (Rays)

AL Rookie of the Year: Jeremy Hellickson (SP, Rays)

Honorable Mention: Michael Pineda (SP, Mariners), Mike Moustakas (SS, Royals), Tsuyoshi Nishioka (2B, Twins)

NL MVP: Albert Pujols (1B, Cardinals)

Honorable Mention: Joey Votto (1B, Reds), Troy Tulowitzki (SS, Rockies), Ryan Braun (LF, Brewers), Jason Heyward (RF, Braves)

NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay (Phillies)

Honorable Mention: Tim Lincecum (Giants), Josh Johnson (Marlins), Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers)

NL Rookie of the Year: Freddie Freeman (1B, Braves)

Honorable Mention: Brandon Belt (1B, Giants), Aroldis Chapman (SP, Reds)

ESPN Predictions

ESPN Experts predict the 2011 Season

ESPN Experts predict their Award Winners

SweetSpot Bloggers predict their Award Winners

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Nick

Just a simple man, trying to find his way in the universe. Image hosted by servimg.com

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  1. Pingback: Recap: The Weeks in Sports: 3/13-4/2 | Moar Powah!

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