(ed. note - originally written 28 March, 2008)
Hello again everybody... (copyright Herb Carneal)
Being as it's my favorite time of year - the weekend where Spring Training wraps up and the regular season is about to begin (I'm trying to pretend those games in Japan didn't really happen) - I thought I'd take some time to break down the 6 Major League Baseball divisions and give you, my faithful friends some insight to how this season's going to go down....
I'm not going to bother predicting records. Anyone who tells you they can guess how 162 games are going to break down into wins and losses is lying.
"No Jim, I really think the Angels are going to go 95-67, not 98-64!" Please...
No, instead I'll break down what I think will be the final standings of each division and then give you Division Winners, Wild Card Winners and how I think the Playoffs will go...
What do you say we start with the Senior Circuit? Sure? Why not... Let us away...
1. New York Mets - Yes the Mets choked down the stretch last year. But what they lacked during that time was a genuine stopper. Enter Johan Santana.
The Mets clearly made the biggest single move of the off season acquiring the best pitcher in baseball for a sack of batting practice balls and a couple of fungo bats.
Santana allows the rest of the starters to be slotted in better positions. The bullpen is still solid, anchored by Billy Wagner. And what more do you need to say about a lineup that features Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Carlos Delgado?
Barring injuries, I think the Mets are a solid #1 in the East.
2. Philadelphia Phillies - The Fightin' Phils caught the Mets down the stretch last year, but won't be able to repeat the feat.
There's no doubt the Phils have a solid lineup. Although I wonder if all the drama with Ryan Howard's arbitration saga will have an effect on his performance this year. None the less, there are those speculating that the Phils could be the first team to have 3 straight MVPs (Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, and maybe Chase Utley?) since the Yankees did it with Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle and Elston Howard. And I'm not going to argue that it isn't possible.
But when I look at their rotation, I'm not exactly impressed. And when you feature J.C. Romero (or as I like to call him the "Human Gas Can") as a significant part of your bullpen, you've got some nervous late innings ahead of you.
Look for Philly to have a solid record, but finish second to the Mets.
3. Atlanta Braves - The Braves are one of those tweener teams. They have some very promising young talent along with some grizzled veterans who are about to close the book. This may sound like a good formula, but I think you'd like your young talent a *little* less green and your veterans a *little* less grizzled.
John Smoltz leads the way for their rotation, followed closely by Tim Hudson and a returning Tom Glavine. Not bad. And in fact there are a lot of teams who'd love to have a front 3 that good. But Smoltz has had some injury issues and Glavine is putting the finishing touches on what should be a Hall of Fame career, so I'm not 100% sold on their rotation.
Their bullpen is exceedingly green which worries me. And their lineup is a mixed bag. I loved their trade for Texieria last year and I think he's due for a big season. And certainly I like any lineup with Chipper Jones (assuming he stays healthy) and Jeff Francouer in it. But the Braves are trying to replace Andruw Jones in center (Mark Kotsay... really? really...). And you can basically paint the entire middle of their field with a giant question mark.
The Braves could surprise some folks, but I like them for a solid 3rd place finish in the division.
4. Washington Nationals - New digs for the Nats this year. No, that probably won't have much, if any effect on their record, but I like to mention it because it puts me in mind of April 2010 when the Twins open their new outdoor park.
I kind of like the Nats' lineup in that, "Hey, I recognize more of these names than I thought. Maybe they'll be good!" kind of way. I like their corner outfielders (Elijah Dukes and Austin Kearns). Ryan Zimmerman is a budding star at 3rd. And picking up Paul LoDuca as their catcher is going to be a big plus for their pitching staff.
Now the bad news. Their rotation is Odalis Perez and 4 nameless guys. And I won't even get started on how scary their bullpen is... and not scary in the good way.
Washington will win some games they shouldn't, and maybe even put together a teaser winning streak over the course of the summer, but ultimately, they'll finish 4th in the division.
5. Florida Marlins - The Marlins cut salary again this off-season... This is a recording. Of course given the Marlins history, that might mean they're only a year or two away from winning the World Series.
Has there ever been a team who's history has been more of a roller-coaster than the Marlins? Truly odd.
In any case, this year's going to truly be a valley. They traded away their best starter (Dontrelle Willis) and their best slugger (Miguel Cabrerra) and their biggest addition was a rapidly-aging Luis Gonzalez. I don't know how much more clearly the Marlins' chances could be laid out for you.
They'll be in the running for the worst record in the league and be low man on the totem pole for the NL East.
1. Chicago Cubs - This has to be the year for the Cubbies, doesn't it? Doesn't it?! Well maybe not the year they ditch the curse, but they're my pick to win the central. And really win it quite handily.
Carlos Zambrano anchors a fairly solid rotation. And Kerry Wood shifts to the closer role in what hopefully will be a career resurgence for him.
Incidentally, does anybody else wonder whether Kerry visited his idol Roger Clemens' doctor at some point over the course of his career? See, that's the really crappy thing about all this steroids business. It's become a bad game of "6-degrees of Kevin Bacon"! This guy over here used drugs and had his body break down on him, so what about this other guy who had his body break down? He knew the first guy too, so clearly he must be guilty! Dammit. I promised myself I was going to stay away from that rant.
Oh well. Moving on. If Derek Lee's back to being 100% healthy you have to love the corners on this team. Lee and Aramis Ramierez form a nice infield corner duo. Alfonso Soriano is another health question, but seems to have recovered from all his leg problems and his production when healthy is above reproach. And joining Soriano in the Cubs outfield is my new favorite name in baseball: Kosuke Fukudome (koh-SOO-kay FOO-koo-DOH-may). Say it with me: Fukudome. Rolls right off the tongue doesn't it? Fukudome isn't quite Ichiro. Hell, he's not quite Hideki Matsui. But he's an upgrade over Jacque Jones, no doubt.
Bottom line, I like the Cubs to win the Central by at least 5 games.
2. Milwaukee Brewers - The Crew got off to a great start last year but faded down the stretch. I was *this* close to actually predicting they'd finish 3rd in the division this year behind St. Louis, but Albert Pujols' health scares the dickens out of me. More on that later.
Milwaukee's biggest loss in the off-season was Geoff Jenkins. That's a lot of offense to lose, but they also lost a huge number of strikeouts, so maybe it's almost a wash. Replacing him in the lineup and taking over center field is Mike Cameron. I'll give you a moment to digest that. Mike Cameron. Oof. This is, of course, assuming he's healthy enough to play most of the season. The plus of this move is that it allows Bill Hall to return to 3rd base where he's better suited.
The other big Brewer off-season signing? Eric Gagne. The poster-boy for steroid-ridden relief pitchers. Wonderful. Apparently the Milwaukee execs haven't seen him utterly fail at his last two stops in Texas and Boston. Or maybe it's just the American League that had him befuddled? Nah. He just sucks. Have fun with this guy Brewer fans! As for the rest of the Brewer bullpen, Derrick Turnbow is still there and still in dire need of haircut. And along with David Riske, Salomon Torres and Guillermo Mota, this group really should be okay. Well, as long as somebody comes to their senses and ships Gagne out.
Ben Sheets is your number one starter... for as long as his body holds up. Somebody can correct me if I'm wrong, but has this guy had a year in his career where he *wasn't* on the DL at some point? Jeff Suppan and Dave Bush form an okay 1-2-3 staff, but if/when Sheets goes down again, Milwaukee may be in all kinds of trouble.
Unfortunately, it's another teaser year for Brewer fans. Hang in there Crew members! You'll make the playoffs one day!
3. St. Louis Cardinals - I'd have made the Cardinals my 2nd pick in the Central, except I fear for Albert Pujols' elbow. The man's playing with a torn ligament in his elbow. Not strained, not frayed, it's actually torn. And he thinks he's going to play 130 games? Not likely. And if you take him out of their lineup, the Cards become extremely ordinary.
An off-season trade sending Scott Rolen to the Blue Jays for Troy Glaus is probably a wash. Rolen's clearly the better player, but he's also a total head-case and Tony LaRussa just couldn't stand him any more.
The St. Louis rotation is injury riddled. Mulder? Carpenter? Clement? All dinged up. Let's put it this way, they signed Kyle Lohse. That should strike fear in Redbirds fans everywhere.
Jason Isringhausen looks like he might be ready to regain his dominant closer form. Along with Ryan Franklin and Russ Springer, they form the nucleus of what could be a decent bullpen.
If Pujols makes it through the season, the Cards could take a lot of people by surprise. But I can't justify ranking them higher than 3rd in the Central.
4. Houston Astros - I've got to be honest, from here on out in this division, it becomes the lesser of 3 evils. I don't like any of the next three clubs, so in doing my rankings it becomes a matter of "Who sucks the least?"
Enter, the Houston Astros.
I don't mind their pitching so much. Roy Oswalt's a solid starter and the Stros managed to pry Jose Valverde away from the D'backs to anchor their bullpen. The starters get a little sketchy after Oswalt, but I don't think pitching's going to be their problem.
Offensively, I think this club's ready to collapse. Yes, they have Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman for some pop. But after that? Ty Wiggington? Mark Loretta?? And count me amongst the folks who think Miguel Tejada is done. (See my earlier steroid rant)
These are nearly the same guys who got Phil Garner fired. I'm not sure Cecil Cooper's fate will be much better.
5. Cincinnati Reds - I *really* wanted to like the Reds. Their GM, Wayne Krivsky, is a former Twins exec and as such, I'd like to see him be successful. But as I look at their depth chart, I'm not seeing much to like.
Junior Griffey anchors their lineup, but there are always injury concerns with him. Adam Dunn hit 40 homers last year, but strikes out a ton. And as you look across their infield? Outside of Brandon Phillips at 2nd the best you can call any of them is "serviceable". Not confidence inspiring.
Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo aren't a bad 1-2 in their rotation, but after that the drop off is precipitous. The bullpen features Francisco Cordero at the back end and Jeremy Affeldt up front. Not terrible. And Kent Mercker's still in the league. Anyone else's eyebrows just shoot up? Mine did.
There are some pieces here, but not nearly enough for a contender. Dusty Baker will get every ounce out of them that's possible, but I unfortunately it may be a long season for more than just his toothpick!
5. Pittsburgh Pirates - This will be the most common preview pick in America outside picking the Marlins 5th in the East.
I'll start out by saying that I love Jason Bay and Jack Wilson in their lineup. But after that, there's very little on this team to love.
They do seem to be trying to collect as many early-2000's Twins as possible. Luis Rivas is their starter at 2nd and Dougie-Baseball (Mientkiewicz) is backing up Adam LaRoche at 1st. Maybe a trade for Cristian Guzman isn't far off?
Matt Morris is the only starter I even recognize and Damaso Marte fills that same roll in their bullpen.
No reason to belabor this. The Bucs will suck. And yes, that rhyme was intentional. Sorry about that.
1. Arizona Diamondbacks - I've officially adopted the D'backs as my "other favorite team" for 2008. Mostly I've done this because I think the Twins are likely to suck and I don't think I can handle 6 months of awful pitching without some other team to counter-balance it. So call me biased if you like, but I'm picking Arizona to win the west.
Arizona returns nearly all the pieces from their LCS run last year (Valverde to Houston being the exception. And they made what could turn out to be the best trade of this off-season bringing in Danny Haren from the A's. Brandon Webb followed by Danny Haren in your rotation? Sprinkle in some Micha Owings and Randy Johnson? Yes please!
Offense was the Snakes biggest liability last year and it looks like they're counting on their youngsters gaining experience to improve it. Justin Upton, Stephen Drew and Conor Jackson all have another year under their belts and will be looking to improve on their performance for last year.
Brandon Lyon now anchors an otherwise solid bullpen. If he can produce on nearly the same level as Valverde did last year, the pitching on this team should be enough to overwhelm their lack of offensive production.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers - 3 names. Joe Torre, Joe Torre and Joe Torre. I'm not suggesting that he didn't enjoy a wealth of talent in New York, but his ability to bring calm and stability to a franchise should not be under-rated.
And there are plenty of heads on this team that could use some straightening. Andruw Jones is trying to kick-start his career. Nomar Garciaparra's trying to save his. And if Torre can get Derrick Lowe back on track, then along with Brad Penny, the Dodgers might have a 1-2 combination to rival the Diamondbacks.
But as good as Torre is, I'm not sure he's going to be able to fix all the leaks on this ship, which will leave the Dodgers *just* short of a division title.
3. Colorado Rockies - I was rooting as hard for the Rocks in last years playoffs as any native Coloradoan. But let's be honest, they played WAY above their heads for the last month of the season. Time for a reality check.
Todd Helton? You're a wonderful player and the face of the franchise. But that was your shot. Thanks for playing.
Matt Holiday and Troy Tulowitzki (also on my All-Star baseball name team) are excellent players on an otherwise mediocre team.
The Rockies suffer a common problem with their rotation. They have an excess of 3- and 4-guys but a complete dearth of 1-and 2-guys. They patched it together last year. I can't see them doing that two years in a row.
As for their bullpen? Well they let LaTroy Hawkins get away to the Yankees and actually got worse. This is not a good sign.
The NL West might actually be my favorite division in the bigs... but the Rocks are no better than 4th.
4. San Diego Padres - Yet another example of a team with decent pitching and little offense. Jake Peavy is a bona fide ace. And Chris Young and Greg Maddux are no slouches in the 2 & 3 spots.
But after that this team gets very shaky. Yes Trevor Hoffman is a future Hall of Famer in the bullpen. But the experience of blowing two *huge* games at the end of last year including the play-in game with Colorado has to have him wondering if he's nearing the end, doesn't it?
And if we can agree that Brian Giles is officially on the back-side of his career, then outside of Kalil Green, the Pads' lineup isn't inspiring much in the way of fear for opposing pitchers.
Looks like this year is the proverbial "2-steps back" to last year's "1-step forward" for the Padres.
5. San Francisco Giants - First off, let me offer a standing ovation to the Giants for making the decision to wipe any and all references to Barry Bonds from the face of their ballpark. Kudos Gigantes!
That being said, they're still going to suck this year. Clearly the Barry Zito contract was a mistake. And with baseball contracts being guaranteed, it's a mistake for which the Giants will be paying for a long time. And sadly for Frisco fans, the rotation only gets worse after Barry.
As much as I despise Bonds, taking him out of their lineup is a significant hit. They've got a lot of serviceable guys, but nobody to protect them. Translation? This team is not going to score a lot of runs.
Bad starters... mediocre lineup... questionable bullpen. Well they won't quite be the Marlins and Pirates, but they won't be far better.
And with that, we're on to the American League!
1. Boston Red Sox - Anyone who knows me knows how much it pains me personally to put the Sawx in this spot. I'm not *so* cold hearted that I'd actually root for a team plane to plummet to the earth somewhere over unpopulated Kansas. But if that team was the Red Sox? I'd get over it pretty quickly.
Yeah, I know, I'm going to hell. I might as well work on my place in line.
The only thing that could spare me the pain of another Red Sox World Series run is their pitching. Schilling's still hurt. And Josh Beckett is opening the season on the DL. That makes Daisuke Matsuzaka your number one starter. Not World Series material. But Beckett at least will likely be back and the offense should pick up in the meantime.
As for the offense? Papi, Man-Ram, Ellsbury, Youklis, Damon, yadda, yadda, yadda. They're good and I hate it.
Papplebon is back as the most over-dramatic closer in the league. The rest of the bullpen will be fine.
God, I'm getting depressed just writing this. Boston will be good, okay?! Can I move on now?
2. New York Yankees - I never thought I'd be rooting for the Yankees as I grew up, but as my distaste for the Sox grew over time I found myself appreciating the Bombers more and more. But I think they're going to take a step back and miss the playoffs this year.
I'm obviously not a fan of the Yanks letting Joe Torre go. And I'm even less of a fan of the fact that they didn't make a deal to bring in Johan Santana.
Seriously... How the hell is Santana not a Yankee?! I keep thinking this is a bad dream and I'll wake up and Phil Hughes and Melky Cabrerra will be Twins. Damn you Hank Steinbrenner! Damn you!
The Yankees still have all kinds of hitting and not enough pitching. Making the lack of a Santana deal all the more mystifying. And Jason Giambi is still their First Baseman. How did that happen?
Mariano Rivera is yet another year older. And now he's got LaTroy Hawkins setting him up. I'm sure that'll work out well (read with a *very* snarky tone). Seriously, he gets my vote for "most likely to climb into the stands and get into a fistfight with a fan" this year.
If the Blue Jays were a little better, I might pick them to sneak past the Yanks this year. That's how bad I think it is.
God I hate the Red Sox.
3. Toronto Blue Jays - You have to kind of feel sorry for Toronto. There's plenty of talent on this club, but they're mired in the same division as the two 800-pound gorillas of baseball.
Roy Halladay as as solid an Ace as you could ask for. And if A.J. Burnett could ever find himself that's a potentially lethal 1-2 punch. Alas, A.J.'s been a shadow of his Florida-self since he became a Canuck. And with a less than stellar bullpen, their starting pitching is going to have to be top notch if they want to surprise people.
The offense once again is what going to carry this team. Frank Thomas, Alex Rios and Vernon Wells are the core of their lineup. Not a bad core at all. David Eckstein is a little light in the bat, but I love his defense at short. And Lyle Overbay at first is no slouch. Add to that Marco Scutaro at third with Shannon Stewart and Matt Stairs backing up in the outfield (what is this, Oakland East?!) and you have a potent offensive unit.
If they can find a way to pick up some pitching prior to the trade deadline, they might be able to sneak past the Yanks, but then again *everybody's* looking for pitching, so I'm going to pick them for 3rd place.
God I hate the Red Sox.
4. Tampa Bay Rays - That's right. No more "Devil" in Tampa. Of all the concerns the fine folks in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area have baseball-wise, you'd think the moniker would be low on the list. But apparently it's also the easiest to change, so there you go.
The Twins dealt Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett to the Rays in the off-season both of which are nice additions. Scott Kazmir's a bit dinged or I'd really start to like their starting pitching. Looks like he'll be back early in April though, so the Rays may have a little something there.
They gave up some offense in the off-season, sending Delmon Young to the Twins and Elijah Dukes to the Nationals. But they still have Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton and Cliff Floyd in the outfield and Carlos Pena now with Bartlett in the infield.
Signing Troy Percival for their bullpen doesn't make a ton of sense to me. Signing a guy who's trying to re-start his career on a team that's trying to push their youth? Doesn't jive in my mind, but I'm not a baseball GM for a reason.
But maybe the Rays can take heart in not occupying the cellar in the East yet again!
God I hate the Red Sox.
5. Baltimore Orioles - What a mess. Count me amongst those who say this team will never get back into contention until Peter Angelos sells the team or shuffles off this mortal coil.
Gone are SS Miguel Tejada and P Eric Bedard. Arriving is... no one of note. Kevin Millar and Brian Roberts can still hit, but the rest of the lineup is a mess.
Daniel Cabrera has shown some flashes of brilliance, but has been erratic at best and is still slotted in the 2-spot. The rest of their rotation? Yeesh. And don't get me started on their bullpen. It's just not pretty.
The city of Baltimore deserves better. Like a trip to go see the Nationals. Hey, at least it's a new ballpark!
Did I mention I hate the Red Sox?
1. Detroit Tigers - The Tigers were something of a disappointment last year, but boy did they ever have an off-season. It cost them some prospects, but bringing in Miguel Cabrerra and Dontrelle Willis was huge.
Slot Dontrelle behind Verlander and Bonderman, with Robertson and Rogers and you have probably the best starting 5 in the league.
Adding Cabrerra to a lineup which already includes Pudge, Magglio, Sheffield and Guillen, not to mention the additions of Jacque Jones and Edgar Renteria, and you start to wonder how the hell anybody's going to beat this club.
The answer is the bullpen. Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney are both dinged. Todd Jones is your closer. Not exactly dominant. So if teams can manage to get their starters out of the game early, they've got a shot to win.
Look for the Tigers to be very active looking for bullpen help around the deadline (Joe Nathan anyone?). But even without that help, I think they're good enough to win the Central.
2. Cleveland Indians - The Tribe were one game away from the World Series last year. And I don't even have them winning the division this year. Why? Well Detroit's off-season was just that good for one thing. And Cleveland's off-season was just that mediocre for another. Basically the Indians stood pat.
Sabathia, Carmona and Westbrook form a nice top of the rotation. Sabathia's in a contract year, so you'd assume he'd step it up a notch. But contract years are always tricky. It's hard to say whether a guy will play his tail off, or sulk because he hasn't gotten what he thinks he deserves. As long as Carmona continues to mature and Westbrook holds steady the rotation should be okay.
Travis Hafner had a sub-standard year last year. How he responds this season will go a long way towards determining how good the Indians' lineup will be. Grady Sizemore is still on the cusp of being a superstar. And along with Victor Martinez and Jhonny Perralta the Tribe has a potent lineup no doubt.
Their bullpen has a few question marks. I've never really been sold on Borowski. Betancourt's solid though. As a whole the unit's not bad, but not great.
It's not impossible that the Indians could repeat as division champs. But Detroit would have to stumble mightily.
3. Chicago White Sox - The Whities didn't change things up much during the off-season either. Unless you count shipping out Jon Garland and bringing in Nick Swisher.
They still have a lot of potency on offense. Thome, Dye, Konerko and Pierzynski can all knock the ball around pretty well. Swisher isn't bad offensively either, though his addition helps their defense more than anything.
The rotation took a hit losing Garland but Vasquez and Beurhle can still throw it pretty reliably. Their bullpen is filled with potential, but it has a lot of question marks too. Jenks struggled some last year. MacDougal seems like he should dominate, but his brain seems to break far too often for comfort.
I think Detroit and Cleveland are the class of the division by far, while Chicago fills that secondary tier. They're not terrible, but I don' t think they have enough to stay with the top two either.
And then there's always the possibility that the Sox will go on an extended losing streak sometime over the summer which will cause Ozzie Guillen to lose his tenuous grip on sanity and shout a bunch of epithets at a group of reporters and finally get his ass fired. That could be entertaining.
4. Minnesota Twins - So let's see. You trade the best pitcher in baseball and get neither an established Major Leaguer *nor* the other teams best prospect. What?! Huh?! How the hell does that happen?! Obviously I'm not optimistic about my favorite team's chances.
There are those who would say they've upgraded their lineup. I'm not sure that's the case. I like Delmon Young's potential. And he does fill the gaping hole they've had in left field the last few years. Of course if he strikes out too much, the umpires might want to start wearing extra protection. The other new editions came in the form of the Houston Astros left side of the infield. 3B Mike Lamb has some pop, but doesn't hit for average. SS Adam Everett is a defensive stalwart, but can't hit water falling off a boat. Seriously, if he'd been aboard the Titanic, he'd have come out of it bone-dry. Craig Monroe should help fill the DH gap. Whether Jason Kuble can match his solid second half remains to be seen.
The Twins starting pitching was flat out decimated. Santana is gone to the Mets and Carlos Silva's gone to the Mariners. That leaves newcomer Livan Hernandez as your number 1 starter. I can't believe I just typed that sentence. Why am I alive?! Scott Baker had a nice year last year, but is starting this season with some shoulder soreness. After that it's Boof Bonser, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn. Francisco Lirano's been okay, but they decided to leave him in Florida and let him continue his rehab at a slow pace until there sure he's ready. Or until they panic because they win 3 games in April. Whichever comes first. God am I bitter...
The bullpen is probably the best part of the squad. Joe Nathan's locked into a new 4-year deal. Which will hopefully make him attractive trade bait come deadline time. I only pray they can avoid a similar situation as the Santana debacle. Jesse Crain and Juan Rincon are there as the set-up men, with Dennis Reyes as your left-handed specialist. Matt Gurrier in long relief has been solid as well.
Maybe the starters will surprise me. Maybe they'll be average instead of awful and get deep enough to allow the bullpen to work their magic. Or maybe the Twins will need 6 runs a game to even be competitive and they'll win like 75 games. Wait, I said I wouldn't predict records... bad me.
5. Kansas City Royals - How does everyone feel about that 5-year Gil Meche contract now? Oh my...
Meche is serviceable, but $11 million per? I don't think so. Beyond him, the rotation is sparse to say the least.
The Royals slightly improved their offense by adding Jose Guillen. Of course, that's assuming he doesn't go completely insane and get a 20-game suspension for ripping the head off a bird that lands in the outfield or something. Admit it, that's closer to being possible than any of us would like to believe!
The KC bullpen is another hodge-podge of stiffs that nobody else wanted. Not good.
I've heard some really despondent Twins fans say that the Royals might put the Twins in the cellar. I seriously doubt that'll be the case. But if it does, you'll find me on the nearest window ledge contemplating the meaning of life and concrete.
1. Seattle Mariners - I really wanted to pick the Angels to win the division because I'm convinced Torii Hunter's going to have a monster year. Unfortunately their pitching's been decimated in Spring Training, so that moves the Mariners to the top spot.
With the Angels injuries, Seattle now has clearly the best rotation in the division. They made a strong move acquiring Erik Bedard in the offseason to be thier Ace. That takes a ton of pressure off the youngster Felix Hernandez and allows him to slot in as their number 2. The back end of their rotation with Batista, Washburn and Silva is a little shaky, but not bad by any stretch.
Ichiro again leads the lineup. Brad Wilkerson and Raul Ibanez form a nice outfield tandem with him. Richie Sexon has a ton of power at first and if Adrian Beltre can approach his form of a few years ago, the Mariners have an above average lineup.
Their bullpen is led by closer J.J. Putz. The guys in front of him aren't rock solid, but worth the "serviceable" tag. John McLaren will have to sort out who's going to be his set-up and middle relief, but they've got the talent to back up a good starting staff.
I don't think the Mariners will run away and hide. But without some serious pitching help to the Angels, I think the Mariners are your division champion.
2. Los Angeles Angels - No way I'm adding the "of Anaheim" tag. What a bunch of dreck.
The Angels get my vote for "best outfield in baseball". Torii Hunter was the big addition. His presence shifts Gary Matthews, Jr. to Left and that leaves Vlad Guerrero in Right. Damn. I'm impressed just typing that! As I said earlier, I expect Torii to have a huge year in that lineup. Something like .285, 35 and 115. God bless him. I'd have been thrilled if the Twins could've found a way to keep him, but I'm happy he set his family up with that monster contract.
Their infield doesn't sport any real superstars, though Chone Figgins is a nice player. All in all, their lineup is solid. That's certainly not where they'll struggle this year.
Starting pitching is going to be the problem. John Lackey is out til at least mid-May with a triceps injury. And Kelvim Escobar has shoulder problem which, if he gets the surgery he wants to get, will end his season before it ever starts. That leaves Jarrod Weaver as their number 1 starter. The kid's got a ton of talent, but he's awfully young for that much responsibility. Behind him comes John Garland, who's not a bad number 2. After that the drop off is marked. If Lackey's injury isn't as bad as feared and he can get back in there, the Angels may have something. If not, this may be a near-miss season for the Halos.
Francisco Rodriguez, Justin Spier and Darren Oliver form a decent nucleus for the bullpen. And if Scott Shields can get healthy, then the Angles have a shot.
Do you see a pattern here? A lot of "If/Thens". Too many for me to pick them to win the division.
3. Oakland Athetics - You've got to give Billy Beane a ton of credit for his ability to manage a less than average budget and keep the A's as competitive as they've been. That being said they traded away Danny Haren and let Nick Swisher go to Chicago. In return? I have no idea...
They're down to Joe Blanton and Rich Harden to lead their starting rotation. Not terrible certainly, but far from experienced, and they get nothing but greener after that.
The line up is sorely lacking in power. I love the middle of their infield with Bobby Crosby and Mark Ellis, but outside of that, it's difficult to know what to make of this club.
Huston Street is a nice closer. And with Keith Foulke in the fold, they've got some depth in the bullpen. But you have to wonder whether their starting pitching will be good enough to set up the bullpen to finish games.
Never count out the A's making a late season charge, but I don't think they have enough to overcome the Mariners and the Angels.
4. Texas Rangers - Milton Bradley in the August Texas heat? Oh yeah, this can't miss.
Well at least he's only their DH. Which is surprising because it's not like Texas has any major stars in the outfield.
I like their infield a lot. Hank Blalock was the guy I was hoping the Twins would trade Torii Hunter for. Oh well. Ian Kinsler is a strong second baseman. Michael Young's been nothing short of great at short. And Ben Broussard is certainly serviceable at first. He's no Texieria of course, but that's to be expected.
Pitching will once again be Texas' Achilles heel. Kevin Millwood leads their rotation. If he can stay healthy, he can be a nice anchor. But he's shown no proclivity towards doing that. After him it gets awfully thin. They do have a guy by the name of Luis Mendoza. So at least we have a chance to create a second definition for the "Mendoza Line". Feel free to submit your suggestions.
The bullpen's a complete mess. C.J. Wilson's their closer. He had exactly 12 saves last year. Which may not matter considering the fact that their starters are so bad. Easy Eddie Guardado joins the Rangers bullpen this year. For Eddie's sake, I hope the Texas DL is more comfortable than Seattle's was.
I'd love to say that Texas has some potential since they train in the Phoenix suburb where my folks now reside. I feel a sort of family attachment. Of course, they share that facility with the Royals and I didn't give them any love either. Oh well. At least they can't finish 5th!
So there's your division by division break down. Now let's look at the playoff picture.
NL East: NY Mets, NL Central: Chicago Cubs, NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks, NL Wildcard: Los Angeles Dodgers
AL East: Boston Red Sox (whom I hate), AL Central: Detroit Tigers, AL West: Seattle Mariners, AL Wildcard: Cleveland Indians
In the NL I've got the Mets over the Dodgers, the Diamondbacks over the Cubs with the Diamondbacks beating the Mets in the NLCS.
In the AL I've got the Tigers over the Mariners and the Red Sox (whom I hate) over the Indians with the Tigers beating the Red Sox (whom I hate) in the ALCS.
That gives you a Detroit vs. Arizona World Series. Once again the AL will prevail in the All-Star game, giving Detroit home-field advantage in the World Series.
So I'll give the edge to the Tigers in the Series. They beat the Diamondbacks in 5 games.
So there you have it. Hope you enjoyed the preview. Hell, I just hope you actually made it through the whole thing!
Check back in September/October to see how I did!