Another season of baseball is on the horizon already. Football is done and basketball will start winding down as winter turns to spring. The football season goes ridiculously fast and the baseball season is no different. There has already been a whole flood of baseball predictions taking over the blog page so naturally I'd offer my point of view. I'm weird with predictions. Last year was a tough ones for me. I was very confident it was going to be Angels over the Padres in 6 games at the World Series. Boy was I terribly off. The Padres didn't even make it (losing that 1 game playoff to the then unstoppable Rockies) and the Angels got blown out of the water by the team I can't stand (those champion Red Sox). So my picks are about as reliable as Carl Pravano. But that what makes it fun. Anyway, I'll do this as a division by division type of thing. I'll lead off with the WS Champs and the division they play for:
Boston Red Sox:
Boston was down 3 games to 1 against the Cleveland Indians in the AL Championship Round. Then they exploded, outscoring the Tribe 30-5 in Games 5-7 to advance to the WS. Once there, they swept the suddenly cold Rockies to take home the gold. Last year's win took the "one hit wonder" label off the team (the "one hit" being 2004) and it was their second title in 4 years. If they can win again this year and keep the team in tact, dynasty talk should begin. But lets not get ahead of ourselves. This team isn't perfect.
We'll start with the rotation. Before we get into this, first the point about Curt Schilling. If you haven't heard, Schilling's season might be over which would also mean his career would be basically done. He may need surgery on his elbow. If that occurs, we can totally drop him out of the picture. While that will no means kill the Red Sox, it would've been nice for them to have that experienced veteran who we all know can win the big game. But because of the incredible depth the Red Sox have in the pitching department, they can deal with this loss. Leading the way, you have currently the best clutch pitcher in baseball in Beckett. He steamrolled through the playoffs going 4-0 with an ERA of 1.17. Those are scary numbers. While the Sox don't have another ace, the following pitchers are at least dependable. Wakefield is Wakefield. That's pretty much all you have to say. He'll give you 5-6 innings every game for the most part. He's not that good of a pitcher( which is funny when you consider that he‘s 3rd on the team's all time wins list behind Roger Clemens and Cy Young), but it seems the Red Sox hit better when he's on the mound. After that, you have Boston's future in Lester and Buchholz. While winning Game 4 of the World Series, it has seemed Lester has implanted himself in the rotation for the long haul. Buchholz was shut down after only pitching 22.2 innings, but the no-hitter in his 2nd career start showed his high ceiling. Out of all these guys, the flamethrower to watch will be Matsuzaka. For the gigantic contract and the unstoppable hype he received before the season, he was pretty much a bust during it. Granted, 15-12 with a 4.40 ERA is by no means terrible. But he was expected to be the other ace and he wasn't that. Either way Dice-K is going to have a big impact. The thing that has to scare you was he looked tired in the 2nd half last season and at times got pounded beyond belief. He fell behind counts and then throw his fastball (which has no movement) right down the middle when trying to bail out. That resulted in moon shots. Add the fact everyone has seem him now. I don't seem him having a good year.
With his performance in the playoffs (7 hits and no runs in 14.2 innings) he has cemented himself as the best closer in baseball at the moment. Striking out 12.96 per 9 innings will also do that for you. Over the last 2 years, his ERA is 1.35. No, that's not a typo. He's the anchor in that bullpen right now. But it's not just him. Boston's bullpen was a tricky spot for a long time but it has been extremely solid lately. Mike Timlin (41) is basically ageless as his 1,011 appearances is 10th all time. He's had some trouble with his strained left oblique muscle and right shoulder tendinitis, but he's a nice guy to have once in a while. Okajima burst on the scene last year with his baffling curveball. He seemed tired at the end of the year which may cause some concern. It'll be interesting to see if he can duplicate his surprising 2007 season. The fact that the league has now seen him for a full year is going to work against him. Tavarez is sometimes erratic but eats innings and Lopez gets most of the outs he needs to. Delcarmen, Hansen, and Aardsma are the younger hurlers who have potential but have all had different degrees of success.
Hitting: (Projected Line-ups)
1. Jacoby Ellsbury CF
2. Dustin Pedroia 2B
3. David Ortiz DH
4. Manny Ramirez LF
5. Mike Lowell 3B
6. Kevin Youkilis 1B
7. J.D. Drew RF
C 9. Julio Lugo SS
The Red Sox have not had a speedy pesky lead-off guy since Damon and his beard played in Beantown. That's no longer the case as the young phenom Ellsbury is ready for his close up. He doesn't have much power but he's incredibly tough to strikeout and seems to have a motor on his back. Ellsbury adds another threat and dimension to the offense as a fast guy who can get on base and create a lot more opportunities for Ortiz and Manny to knock in runs. Along with Pedrioa, pitchers are going to get awfully frustrated with this line-up from the get go. The power is supplied in Ortiz, Manny, and Lowell. I would bat Youkilis second because of his great eye to draw walks but you can really put him almost anyway. It wasn't a surprise J.D. Drew had an extremely disappointing year with the contract he got. Drew did redeem himself to Boston by having a really solid postseason so he's off the hook for now. The bottom 2 spots of the line-up will be very interesting. Lugo did bat .280 after the All Star Break, but that still only got him up to .237 for the whole season. They do have Alex Cora if Lugo suddenly decides to not hit anymore. Varitek is starting to slip. He's a fantastic leader but his production on the field has been lackluster. The Red Sox also have Coco Crisp and Sean Casey. Casey was a great pick-up as he brings a positive attitude for the clubhouse and some much needed left-handed pop off the bench. He's a lot better than Eric Hinske. Crisp can run and play D, but not much else.
Overall- The Red Sox are mostly the same as last year. They signed Casey and got some back-up arms for the pen. But other than that, nothing as changed. And when you think about it, that sounds about right. They kept their future besides of giving it to the Twins for Johan Santana and kept Lowell from getting away. This is a great team that can easily win another WS.
A-, 1st Place in AL East
New York Yankees
Since winning the WS 4 out of 5 years in 1996-2000, things have faltered in Yankee Land. The tally since 2000?
2001- Lost In WS
2002- Lost In ALDS
2003- Lost In WS
2004- Lost In ALCS
2005- Lost In ALDS
2006- Lost In ALDS
2007- Lost In ALDS
As you can notice the outcome of the past 3 seasons has mirrored itself. The Yankee have not been able to climb the once small hurdle of the Division Series. The players have been great, the teams have been great. Just not in October. The Yankees are trying to break that mold this year with a new manager, an almost entirely new pitching staff, and for once playing the role as the underdogs to win the division.
Usually you would be seeing some average pitchers with gigantic contracts here, but this year is different. Instead of giving up their young talent for a Johan Santana or a Dan Haren, the Yanks have decided to keep their future flamethrowers and slow down on the superstars. This rotation has maybe the biggest upside of any in baseball, but that will not come right away. Hughes, Joba, and Kennedy have only pitched 115.2 innings combined. Neither of them have pitched close to a full season. The most innings Joba has been on a mound in one game was 2. But it's no question that all 3 of these young guns have the potential to be really good/fantastic pitchers. The Yankees will be very cautious with the innings count so the pitchers around them will have to have a good year also. Wang has won the most games the past 2 years combined with 38 wins but he's not without his faults. If the sinker isn't working, he won't pitch good. And stats show that the more hitters see him, the better they do. Hitters bat .354 off him after the 6th inning, compared to .251 before. That also tells you he usually doesn't work deep into games. Pettitte will have to face a lot of the media with his name coming up in the Mitchell Report and the whole Clemens fiasco. The 39 year old Mussina appeared to be at the end of his rope last year. Since this is most likely his last year in pinstripes, one last good season can certainly be done.
The biggest question mark on the team, this bullpen will be put together by glue and tape throughout most of the season. Besides of Mo, you either have inexperienced relievers or guys who disintegrate when a hint of pressure enters the situation. The set-up duo of Kyle Farnsworth and LaTroy Hawkins sounds like a cruel joke. Yeah, LaTroy Hawkins had a respectable year last year but he's coming back to the AL East (His numbers with Baltimore: 3-2, 4.48 ERA, 73 hits in 60.1 innings) and in NY where the pressure is unmatched, this has "humiliating bust" written all over it. At least they signed him on the cheap. Farnsworth will be the same thing he's always been. He'll have one game of absolute perfection and then five games of utter disaster. The rest of the guys have the potential to be solid. Bruney can throw fireballs, Britton is a powerful guy, and Edwar has great movement sometimes. They do need to get another lefty because Sean Henn was a train wreck last year. Alan Horne, Ross Ohlendorf, Jonathan Albaladejo, Chase Wright, Kei Igawa, Daniel McCutchen and Darrell Rasner are other possibilities.
1. Johnny Damon LF
2. Derek Jeter SS
3. Bobby Abreu RF
4. Alex Rodriguez 3B
5. Hideki Matsui DH
6. Jorge Posada C
7. Jason Giambi 1B
8. Robinson Cano 2B
9. Melky Cabrera CF
While some of these guys are starting to get up in the age department, this is still a really impressive line-up with no real weak spot. I'd put Melky batting first since he seems to be the better hitter nowadays. Damon proved some things last year. For one, he showed us that he's a better hitter when healthy! Who knew?! He also looked a lot more comfortable in leftfield than center. He's getting old and his arm, while still embarrassing, is much better suited for a corner spot. The middle of this order is killer. Jeter is Mr. Reliable. He's one of the most consistent players in baseball and the most clutch player on the team (.354 AVG with runners in scoring position last year). Abreu has had 9 straight seasons of getting at least 15 homers, 75 RBIs, and 20 stolen bases (tied with Barry Bonds for most ever). A-Rod is a robust powerhouse of a hitter. Scary good. Matsui and Giambi are really good hitters when healthy. This is probably Jason's last year with the Yankees as he might have to win a job over Morgan Ensberg, Shelley Duncan, Wilson Betemit, or maybe even Jason Lane. Posada didn't really deserve 4 years, but the Yankees had no where else to turn because of his splendid year in 2007 and the fact that they have no one else to catch regularly. Cano is already a tremendous player. After sometimes looking completely lost the first half, he went on a hitting rampage after the All Star Break. Overall, this is such a strong crew.
Overall- This is a hard team to forecast. With a new manager, a young pitching staff, and a new owner of sorts in Hank Steinbrenner. The Yankees will hit and Mo will close out most games. I'll give the young pitching and the shuffled bullpen the benefit of the doubt. And like the Red Sox, good job keeping the fresh faces.
B+, 2nd Place In AL East
Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays. The team that never gets much attention and who's always on the cusp of contention. They have come pretty close the past few years but can never seem to get over the hurdle that is the Red Sox and Yanks. Their home has been 3rd place for a while now. This team isn't in the same class as the Yanks/Sox when it comes to payroll, but they have shown over the years that they can compete with those 2 giants. Could this be the year they shock everyone and make a big run? We shall see.
When Roy Halladay is healthy, he rivals Johan Santana as the best pitcher in the majors. He's that good. Unfortunately he has had a hard time staying healthy for a full season. Nevertheless, he's helped this team and franchise a lot by being a dominating ace. After Roy, you have the riddle that is AJ Burnett. Many people have projected AJ as having a great upcoming season. That's hard to believe when you consider that he's been to the DL 4 times in the last couple seasons with only a 10-8 record. He's also been accused of sometimes not trying his hardest. But this year, that figures to change. Burnett can opt out after this season. Because of the wonderful potential he has, what would be a better time to have a career year than now? Wreak havoc on hitters in the 2008 season, bolt to the FA market, and demand a preposterous contract. Sounds like a good plan. The back-end of the rotation has the stuff to be quite a force. Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum both have high potential. These 2 throwers should make the upcoming loss of Burnett a lot easier to swallow.
B.J. Ryan will need a big bounce back year after only working 4.1 innings last year. Prior to last year he had 74 saves in 2005-2006 so he can be a dominant force in the back of that pen. The 2 main players setting up for Ryan, Jeremy Accardo and Scott Downs, have proved to be very dependable fallback options. One thing that the Blue Jays can do better than the Yanks/Sox at is shutting down lefties in the pen. Both Accardo and Downs absolutely murder lefties. They hit .209 off Downs and surprisingly they hit .161 against Accardo (who throws right). Jason Fraser for some reason does fantastic against fantastic hitters but sometimes goofs up with sure fire outs. League has had some injury issues recently. Tallet is a very underrated lefty.
1. David Eckstein SS
2. Lyle Overbay 1B
3. Alex Rios RF
4. Frank Thomas DH
5. Vernon Wells CF
6. Scott Rolen 3B
7. Aaron Hill 2B
8. Adam Lind LF
9. Gregg Zaun C
Nothing has changed from last year expect for 2 additions that can be monstrous. The first one is Eckstein. The Blue Jays didn't have many needs when it came to the offense. But they didn't have a lead-off guy. Which explains why over the course of the year that 9 different hitters lead off the game at least once for this team. With the addition of the pesky little Eckstein, that solves that problem right away. He's not flashy and doesn't change games, but he's a good hitter to get the chains moving and work the pitcher at the top of the order. The other addition would be the trading of Troy Glaus for Scott Rolen. They gave away a free-swinger who was horrible at defense and linked to steroids for another third basemen with injury dilemmas and past conflicts with managers. Rolen has more talent than Glaus, so if Rolen can stay healthy this trade will look like a steal. The rest of the guys will either go up or down. Expect Wells, Overbay, and Lind to do better. Thomas and Zaun should decline in production. Rios has now emerged as one of the best young hitters in the game and Aaron Hill is turning into a fine all around player. Wells means a lot to this team. He should boost his numbers big time from last years clunker. If not, the Blue Jays will need their other guys to step up. They also have Matt Stairs who had a resurrection season last year. Reed Johnson, Marco Scutaro, and John McDonald make up a pretty solid bench.
Overall- I think this season will be more of the same to the Blue Jays. They'll have some hot streaks, win some big games, and have some great moments. But usually injuries, inconsistency, and lapses in production do this team in. They'll finish over .500 and contend for the Wild Card spot, but them making the playoffs seems like a little wishful thinking considering some of their hitters are old and the pitching is never fully healthy.
B, 3rd Place In The AL East
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are in a state of change. They changed their name (for the worst if you ask me), they changed their philosophy on improving the team, and ultimately it should lead to a change of their bottom line. Because of the over-hauling of the Orioles, the Rays for once are starting to look up as an organization. Granted, they still have much more to go to climb the ladder. But hey, it's a start.
For the first time, the Rays have 3 solid pitchers leading the way. Kazmir on a good team would already win 20 games at the ripe age of 24. He's just a highly talent player. The Mets will be kicking themselves for a long time for letting this fish get away. The 1-2 duo of Kazmir and Shields is looking great on paper. Shields isn't a power pitcher. He isn't a big name like Kazmir, but he has quietly been a very good hurler. He's got a devastating change-up with impeccable command. Garza was a great find. He wasn't right for the Twins, as shown by his horrific numbers in the Metrodome (1-10, 5.91 ERA). But he's pitched very well outside of Minnesota and figures to fit in nicely as the #3 guy. The last 2 spots are looking rather...crummy. When your #4 guy had an ERA of 5.76 last year and is still on the team, you know your pitching can use some more competition. Some people say Jackson has talent, but that's not convincing when he's had an ERA of almost 6 since 2004. The last spot is up for grabs. Andy Sonnanstine has been compared to Shields, only not as good. Putting Andy on the mound is like playing a game of Russian Roulette. Either you come out alive (4 game winning streak at one point last year) or you get shot in the face multiple times (3 games in which he gave up 7 runs).
The Rays bullpen used to look like a little league pitching staff. Now, at least it looks somewhat...major league. The bullpen has always been dreadful, but last year it hit a new low: ERA of 6.16. With that said, this aspect of Tampa Bay should be much improved this year. Percival came back last year with the Cardinals and did very well both on the mound and in the clubhouse. The Rays are banking on he can close out games for a whole season. At least he has some experienced vets behind him. Al Reyes should fit much better as a set-up guy than a closer, which he was last year. Wheeler should also do better than last year, when everything was just completely off. The rest of the pen will be of mostly mix and match. Whoever does good one game will get another chance and so on. Anything that works should be the motto for this group.
1. Akinori Iwamura 2B
2. Carl Crawford LF
3. Carlos Pena 1B
4. B.J. Upton CF
5. Rocco Baldelli RF
6. Jonny Gomes DH
7. Evan Longoria 3B
8. Dioner Navarro C
9. Jason Bartlett SS
While the pitching has been an ongoing problem for this club, the hitting is very dynamic and can bunch up runs in no time. Because of the emergence of Longoria, Imamura will be making the move to the middle infield. He turned out to be a very welcoming discovery for the Rays. He can hit around .280-.290 and be somewhat of the sparkplug for this team leading off games. And he should be more comfortable at 2nd base. Because of the trade of Delmon Young, Baldelli is now penciled in for RF and Upton will patrol CF. Once compared to Joe DiMaggio, injuries have poisoned Baldelli's whole career. When healthy, he's a really good hitter with more than enough pop. But in-between Imamura and Baldelli lies the real strength of this ball club. Carl Crawford is a individual blitzkrieg of line-drive triples. This guy is incredibly underrated when you put into account that he's only the 2nd player in MLB history to bring up his HR totals and his BA five years in a row. The other guy was Roger Hornsby. Good company if you ask me. Pena probably won't hit 46 homers again, but he supplies some must needed veteran leadership and Upton looks like the next Alfonso Soriano. Longoria was ranked 2nd best among all prospects in "Baseball Prospect Book". The Rays have put him in already as the starting 3B entering 2008. That's a lot for a guy who's never played one game in the majors. The disappointing Navarro and the dicey Bartlett (26 errors last year) close the line-up. Cliff Floyd was a nice little pick-up.
Overall- This team has 2 main problems as we head to the 2008 season.
The bullpen is still extremely unreliable and the line-up, while sometimes being explosive, strikes out at an insane rate. Last year 1 in every 5 batters struck out on average in every game. That sums up an AL record 1,324 punch outs during the 2007 season. The hitters must continue to mature and work pitchers. The bullpen will be better than last year because it really can't get much worse. But hey, at least they know where they are. Unlike the next franchise.
C-, 4th Place In AL East
The Orioles, a franchise that once stood for consistent competitiveness, has now endured 10 straight seasons of horrible baseball. The O's are looking to be ever worse than last year because of the much needed rebuilding project that's being taking place. Bedard and Tejada are finally gone on to better teams. The only other big piece they have is Brain Roberts, and the Cubs have been drooling over him for a while now. This organization is one huge unholy mess of clutter and discombobulation.
Before I get to the pitchers, some disturbing stats from last year:
Team ERA of the last 39 games of the season- 7.61
Times the O's allowed 10 runs or more in one ballgame- 19
Number of walks issued by pitching staff- 696 (team record)
That's just a small sample. As you can see, the pitching staff isn't that great. But all is not lost. A former #1 pick of the Cleveland Indians, Jeremy Guthrie erupted in the bigs last year. He finished 2nd among rookies in the AL in ERA, strikeouts, and innings. He's a very solid pitcher. Shouldn't be a #1 guy, but he's by far the most dependable arm on this team. Adam Loewen and Penn figure to make the rotation. Loewen has good material but got shut down last year because he had to undergo elbow surgery. He should be ready by Spring Training. Steve Trachsel is back and set to fit into the rotation somehow. For any other team, his name wouldn't even come up. But the Orioles need some veteran presence among this group and Trachsel is the cheapest way to get that. His numbers weren't good by any means but the O's aren't a team that has many options at the moment. Last we have the rollercoaster that is Daniel Cabrera. For the past few seasons, he's been teetering on that fence between solid flamethrower and shockingly bad slingshot. I think we can safely say he is in the latter category now. When you lead your league in losses(18), walks(108), earned runs(126), and hit batters(15) something is horribly off.
Remember how the Orioles had a sickening bullpen awhile back? You remember how they spent all that money trying to repair it? Remember how nothing changed after that? If you remember all of that then you already know the story of this bullpen. There are some acceptable options here. Walker and Bradford are seasoned vets that have rubber arms. With that said, they both got overworked last year. Bradford let too many hitters get on base and for some reason he did terrible at home (4.68 ERA). After that it's anyone's game. Hoey has had affairs with his mental state of mind and his control is sometimes all over the place. Some other arms available include Jon Liecester, Greg Aquino, Esteban Yan, and Brain Burress. The main problem here is they have no real closer. George Sherrill seems the best fit for the role entering the year.
1. Brian Roberts2B
2. Melvin Mora 3B
3. Nick Markakis RF
4. Kevin Millar 1B
5. Aubrey Huff DH
6. Ramon Hernandez C
7. Luke Scott LF
8. Jay Payton CF
9. Luis Hernandez SS
Brain Roberts is batting first...for now. I doubt he'll start the season wearing that Orioles uniform. The trade talks between the O's and Cubbies have been ongoing for a long time now and it seems they will be something that will work out. Angelos loves Roberts even with his name popping up in the Mitchell Report. It'd be the best for this team to ship him out now and get some good talent for him because Roberts isn't going to make a difference. He isn't going to make this team good. Hopefully Angelos realizes this and makes the smart decision. But that's asking a lot from him. Most of this line-up is made up of old vets who are way beyond their prime. Mora, Huff, Payton, Millar, and Hernandez can no longer carry teams. Millar should by no means be the clean-up hitter and Payton has always been a tough player to deal with. Both Mora and Hernandez did improve their BA greatly at the end of the season so there is hope they can extend that into this year. Rounding out the hitting, we have the future superstar Markakis and the underrated Luke Scott. Luis Hernandez will take over for Tejada. His D is great while his offense is a work in progress. Jay Gibbons, Scott Moore, and Tike Redman make up a shallow bench.
Overall- This sounds weird but this team did a great job in getting rid of their best players. They got rid of them and in return got a lot. They got more than they should have for Tejada and they obviously got some prime talent in the Bedard trade. This team has a long ways to go to get respectable again but getting younger is the start of something. This year should be ugly though. Don't expect any quick fixes.
D-, 5th Place In AL East
That's it. Recap:
1.Red Sox A-
3.Blue Jays B
Thanks for reading. AL Central on deck.