I basically gave up on doing my division by division previews as school and personal life got in the way of things. Life is annoying ain't it? So I'll say my WS pick now
Angels over Diamondbacks in 7 games
I miss blogging more often like I did in the summer but alas, spring is here and summer is coming. I'm going to get back into the blogging world or at least try. There's plenty to talk about already in this young baseball season. Fast starts, teams and players that have the distinct sound of an expensive car backfiring, and some bizarre results. The Orioles have a better record than the Tigers, Geoff Blum has more homers than Andrew Jones and Prince Fielder combined, and Chipper Jones is playing like it's 1999.
Jones is currently leading baseball in BA and RBI and is tied for the lead in homers with 6 dingers. For these first 2 weeks, he has literally carried the 7-9 Braves. If Jones keeps this up, he'll come about one HR shy of tying the all time single season HR record. I doubt that is happening for Chipper is not in his prime anymore and he hasn't been healthy for a full season in a long time. The Braves can't afford to lose Chipper right now because there might not be any more room for Jones on the DL. The 42 year old Glavine, the closer Soriano, Mike Gonzalez, and (surprise!) Mike Hampton are all out. If the Braves are heading for a downfall, their pitching will be the reason why. Maybe this can be a blessing in disguise as the players who are out now will be fresh down the stretch, but you have to have great depth on the team to overcome the losses in the early going. Some teams always falter out of the gate, just like another NL East team the Phillies. Even with their habit of picking up the pace in the 2nd half, they only made the playoffs once last year with the core they have. Last year's playoff berth seemed to be more because of the Mets collapse. And with Santana slated in the #1 spot, a meltdown that big isn't happening again even though Santana hasn't looked great yet. It looks like he still has some adjusting to do when it comes to the National League. He's had his moments, but none of them have been eye popping.
The big piece the Mets gave up, Carlos Gomez, had an eye popping opening to the season but has cooled since. He projects as a very streaky hitter but when he gets on base he's about as automatic as Jose Reyes to steal a base. If Gomez learns from experience and Santana doesn't improve, the Twins might start looking like the smart ones. With Joe Mauer, Francisco Liraino, and Gomez up the middle they have the core in place. The Twins don't need as much as people think they do. They have young pitchers waiting in the wings and hitters that can do some serious damage. If they can find a more complete leftfielder and fix the left side of the infield, they're very well rounded. Maybe not as well rounded as the Angels or Diamondbacks, but better nevertheless. I picked those 2 teams to meet in the WS for a reason. They're both extremely well rounded. The Angels are off to a really encouraging start even with Lackey and Escobar absent. When Lackey comes back, more wins will follow. They did a great job this off season making changes without doing too much. Getting Garland turned out to be a lifesaver as he's a big part of the rotation and Torii Hunter has looked like his best thus far. With the fresh Lackey near the end of the season, K-Rod trying to put up big numbers for an even bigger contract, and an improved batting line-up this team has taken the next step in my eyes.
The D-Backs on the other hand, are way ahead of schedule in terms of an overall organization. Even though being way too young and ridiculously inexperienced (while being outscored), they made the playoffs and got close to the WS. Not only did they add another ace to go with sinkerball master Webb, but they gave up none of their rising studs in return. The scary thing about Arizona is they haven't even reached their prime yet as an overall team. This group could become a dynasty. Drew, Jackson, Reynolds, and Upton are all tearing the cover off the ball. Chris Young might have the most natural talent, but he must learn to work pitchers better. The only area that is still under serious construction is the bullpen. Lyon has struggled and they have no other proven piece to close. With that said, I see the logic in getting rid of Valverde. I'll never fully trust Valverde. He shows flashes and then unravels on the mound giving up 4 runs in the 9th. Brad Lidge must have loved seeing his replacement implode like that although he shouldn't get too comfortable. Brad Lidge in Philly is like putting a lit cigarette next to a pile of TNT. The park and the fans are a recipe for disaster for him.
Speaking of relief pitchers, what's the deal with the bullpens this season? Most starters aren't lasting that long so far and the bullpens haven't been much better. That's the reason why we're seeing so many blowouts and 6 hour marathons that have a score of an AFL game. Baseball is different now. A pitcher lasting 6 innings and allowing 3 runs is now considered "a quality start". Middle relief is so important, which makes it so ironic that middle relief for most teams has been incredibly ineffective. That's why it's important when you find a guy who can close or set-up with a force, you have to keep him there. That goes most notably with the Yanks and Joba Chamberlain. Joba has shown everyone that he's got the stuff to be a scary force in the pen to close out a game. So why ruin it? Don't fix it if it ain't broken. I realize that Kennedy, Hughes, and Mussina (who can't get Manny Ramirez out if his life depended on it) aren't doing their best, but without a great game-ender solid pitching performances will go to waste. The Yankees are in a weird bind so far. The bullpen has been better than what I expected. Even LaTroy Hawkins and Farnsworth have had bright moments. I'm also liking Ohledolf, Bruney, Traber very much. But the young starters (Hughes and Kennedy) look questionable. They just don't look comfortable at all with locating their pitches and controlling the count.
Back to the point about the bullpens, when taking that into consideration it makes the 22 inning saga that was the Rockies/Padres game more amazing. More than 6 hours resulting in 3 runs overall is obscene even if this was the 1920s. Granted both teams have had some trouble putting runs on the board this season, but even so that's just ludicrous. The Rockies at least won the game and have looked awake ever since. The Padres on the other hand can't even get someone in scoring position, yet alone get a run across the board. I give them points for trying to improve their line-up with the additions of Edmonds and Iguchi. But both Edmonds (.217) and Iguchi (.232) haven't made a bump. With the rest of baseball built around hitters, the Padres are built on starting pitching and they aren't playing that great. It also hurts that their bullpen has been a big let down. Hoffman might be done. He's had a great career and is a HOF, but he's overrated. He's been dreadful in the big games. He's killed the Padres so many instances. You can call him the Pat Burrell of closers. You can make an argument that he doesn't even belong in the HOF, even though I'd say he does. The argument against him would be that if he could never get the biggest outs, then what good was he as the closer for all those years? And that's a fair point. I'd still vote him in because of the amount of games he's saved. The fact that he's lasted so long speaks something.
In the clutch though, I'd still put him with Billy Wagner, Todd Jones, Joe Borowski, Eric Gagne, and Jose Valverde. Guys who can rack up saves but implode when everything is on the line. The upper level would be Rivera, Papelbon, Joe Nathan, K-Rod, and Bobby Jenks. Jenks is very underrated, which is weird because he's young, throws gas, and already has one WS ring. The whole White Sox team has looked like the 2006 version. Not as good as 2005, but still a team that can bash them out and end the game off right. Another team that can close the game out very well and is off to a great start are the Cardinals. I don't see that continuing though, because their starting rotation is incredibly shallow. I can't see Todd Wellemeyer, Brandon Looper, Joel Pinero, and Matt Clement carrying the staff. Mulder hasn't been the same since coming to the NL and Carpenter will be back at about mid season. As of now though, the Cardinals have been one of the biggest surprises in baseball. Along with
- The Royals pitching staff leading the AL in ERA
-Andrew Jones looking completely shot. I think it's actually Mark Bellhorn in a costume.
-Dice-K getting off to a red hot 4-0 start
-The Rays locking up Longoria for 6 years after playing 6 games (Good move BTW. They know they're on their way up the ladder)
-Jose Guillen and Jay Gibbons not getting suspended even though they failed steroid tests!
-C.C. Sabathia doing his best Jose Lima impression
-The fact that Brain Roberts is still on the O's and Murton is still on the Cubs (Just trade them already, we know it's coming)
Yep, it's been an oddball season. There's a reason why baseball is usually called the most simple yet the weirdest game in sports. And we're only 2 weeks into it. Should be a fun season. And you're welcome to come and laugh in my face when the Angels miss the playoffs and the D-Backs get knocked out in the first round by the Cardinals.