The two greatest words in a sports fan’s vocabulary: Opening Day. It breathes life back into souls. It’s a new year, a new beginning. As the saying goes, “Hope springs eternal”. Nothing is more precious than something new.
So on the eve of the beginning of the baseball season, tonight’s post is dedicated to the sport. I’ll give you my thoughts on each team. For contenders, these will be very in depth. But for the teams expected to go nowhere, I’m not gonna waste words.
So let’s get started in the NL East. One of the best divisions in baseball. Obviously, I really like what the Phillies did in the off-season. They have the best pitching staff in baseball. Hands down. That’s what wins in this league. When you have Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, there’s very few other things they need. Their bullpen is solid, even without Lidge for the first month. Their offense did slump last year, and Chase Utley’s health continues to be a concern. Add in the departure of Jayson Werth, and there are some question marks in the line-up. But if anyone thinks that Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino can’t carry the load, you are seriously mistaken. Phillies win the division.
In second, a team I slept on last year, is the Atlanta Braves. I did not think that team would gel as well as they did. They have Fredi Gonzalez as their manager to replace Bobby Cox, and Gonzalez did a lot with not much to work with while he was in Florida. If Jayson Heyward continues to progress into a superstar, this team will be fine this year. The pitching rotation, led by a healthy Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe, exceeded many expectations. Let’s also not forget Tommy Hunter, who despite having a losing record in his first full season, pitched to a 3.33 ERA. Not bad! They are a little weak in the bullpen, so George Sherrill will have to step up for them in closing games out. This is a team that can contend for the division for a while, but I think ultimately will be playing for a Wild Card spot.
In third place, I have Mets. This may be an optimistic look, but I don’t think it will be a terrible season. A new manager, Terry Collins, a new general manager and a front office staff of all-stars. Chris Young will help their rotation, and Johan Santana can still be a front-line starter. But they’re going to need to stay healthy, which could be asking a lot (Jason Bay was just put on the DL today). That means no losing Reyes for a month, or Beltran for a half of year. I still think they need to tailor their team to their pitcher-friendly ballpark, but when healthy and when focused, the team is talented. I don’t expect them to hang around in a pennant race, but I don’t think finishing above .500 is a pipe dream. If this team does start to tank in June and July again, do not be surprised if the Mets start to clear house around July 31st.
In fourth place I have the Nationals. I think the addition of Jayson Werth could lift this team out of the cellar, but not much higher than that. They’re in the right direction, and I don’t think Jim Wriggleman did a terrible job with the team last year. Depending on the progression of Bryce Harper, and how much the Nats want to push the envelope, I wouldn’t be surprised if they pulled a Strasberg and called him up. If he’s tearing up the minor leagues, why not bring him up? What do you have to lose? Maybe that is a pipe dream, but who knows?
Marlins finish in last, I had them in the playoffs last year. Front office and management need to get on the same page. Until then, have fun with 10,000 people at your games.
In the NL Central, I really like what the Brewers did. Zack Greinke will be a perfect piece of the puzzle when he comes back healthy. Until then, expect former Blue Jays pitcher, Shaun Marcum to pick up the slack. Great move there. Let’s not forget one of the most potent offenses in the game. Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun lead the way, but Nyjer Morgan will be a great lead-off presence for them. Takashi Saito will close for them, and he’s decent enough to lead a solid bullpen. I think it’ll be a close race between them and the Reds, but ultimately, the Brew Crew will prevail. Beers all around!!
I like the Reds to win the Wild Card and place second in the Central. Here’s a team that I gave up on after a disappointing 2009 season. But what a year in 2010, and hopefully the young talent isn’t content on a first round exit from last year’s playoffs. Jay Bruce and reigning league MVP Joey Votto lead a solid line-up, but it begins with pitching. They’re a little banged up to begin the year, with Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey on the 15 day DL, but if Bronson Arroyo can be more of Dr. Jeckyl than Mr. Hyde, they should be fine. Also, we’ll see if Aroldis Chapman can figure into this pitching staff more than he did last year. If so, more good things will happen for the Reds, which is always good for baseball.
I have the Cardinals in third, because I don’t think they did anything to improve on last year’s team. Yes they have Mr. Pujols and Matt Holliday, but two players do not make a team. The team lacks a solid lead-off man, but more of a concern is their pitching if Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter do not remain healthy. If they do, they will be in the hunt for a division championship, but four out of the past five years, they have not been able to have solid, healthy pitching. Where as the Brewers went out and got help, and the Reds continue to develop their young talent, the Cardinals did relatively nothing, which is very concerning.
Really, it is a toss up for the final three spots in the Central. I don’t think the Cubs, Astros or Pirates will compete at all. For the sake of predictions, I will pick the Cubs, Astros and Pirates, in that order to round out the division.
This division just seems to create exciting pennant races, and really has been the most dramatic division over the past few years, along with the AL Central.
I like the Giants to repeat as division champions. When you look at Lincecum, Cain and Sanchez, it’s one of the best top three in the game. The line-up continues to develop young talent. Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval will only take steps forward. I know he is injured to start the year, but the Beard (Brian Wilson) should be feared again. They did lose Edgar Renteria, who was an above average role player on last year’s World Championship team, but when you look at them as a whole, they’re relatively unchanged. And I’ll differentiate this stagnancy from the Cardinals: The Giants won last year. The Cardinals did not. Why change? Especially when your core group has yet to even hit their peak? This will be a good team for years to come.
I like the Rockies to compete and finish second. I think they relied a little too much on Ubaldo Jimenez last year and he was burnt out by the time July hit. We saw the emergence of Carlos Gomez, and Troy Tulowitzki. They have a very nice core, and a good group of players that know their role, and they have competed for the past two seasons. They know how to work hard and have a good work ethic, that wasn’t there when they disappointed in ’08 and the beginning of ’09. It’s not enough to win a division, but they’ll be in the wild card hunt. And like I said, this division always springs a surprise or two on us.
Dodgers will finish in third. They do have a lot of talent. Kemp, Eithier, Kershaw. But they lost Russell Martin, who brought a lot more to the team aside from his numbers. They also have a first year manager, Don Mattingly. When you look at how they match-up against the Giants, I don’t think they can compete with them, and I think the pitching of San Diego and San Fran can shut this team down in a big spot.
I think the Padres take a step back off of their near-Cinderella 2010 season. Losing Adrian Gonzalez hurts a lot. He put up 30 home run seasons in the worst offensive ballpark in baseball. They’ll miss him. But the pitching is still very good. Can they repeat last year’s stellar run? Probably not. This isn’t a terrible team though. It will be a very competitive 4th place team. They’re just one solid offensive player away from breaking out.
The only question with the Diamondbacks is what the over/under number is on team strikeouts. And I don’t mean pitching strikeouts. But the removal of Mark Reynolds should help them out a bit. Still, a lot of poorly developed talent. Another long season in the desert.
Finally! The American League!!
As much as it kills me, I have to go with the Red Sox in the AL East. Very good pitching. If they get Beckett healthy (always a question mark), Lester to repeat from last year and Buchholtz to improve from a very good 2010 season, it’s gonna be the best rotation in the AL. They add Adrian Gonzalez, the bat they’ve missed ever since Manny Ramirez left. I’m not sold on Carl Crawford, if not for the sole fact that I don’t think he will ever be as good as he was in his a few years ago. Still a good addition. Question mark would be the back of the bullpen. Can Papelbon bounce back from a sub-par season? Will there be controversy if he gets off to a rough start and fans start calling for Jenks to close games out? Not a lock to win the division, but certainly a favorite.
The Yankees are my second place team. Let’s face it, the off-season was as disappointing as possible. Not only did the Yankees fail to get Cliff Lee or Zack Greinke, but they lost Andy Pettitte. Not only did Pettitte provide them with 15+ wins in the regular season, but also a quality start in each postseason series. Still, with CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes, the top of the rotation is solid. Depth is a problem, especially Freddy Garcia. I’m more worried about him than I am with Ivan Nova. The bullpen will be fine. They have Mariano, enough said. They added Rafael Soriano, placing Joba Chamberlain as the 7th inning man. Offensively, the team is the same, which is good and bad. They are getting old, but they still can get good years out of A-Rod, Jeter and Posada. What’s going to be critical is that Granderson, Cano and Swisher have solid seasons. Cano was an MVP candidate last year, Swisher hit close to 30 home runs. If those two can repeat, and Granderson return to 2009 form, they’ll be in good shape and maybe even edge out Boston for the division.
I like the Orioles and Jays to compete for 3rd, and I think only a game or two will separate them. They won’t contend for the division into September, but they’ll both be good. I like Toronto’s pitching, even though they lost Shaun Marcum. They had the most powerful line-up in baseball last year, led by Jose Bautista’s 52 home runs. They don’t need a repeat by Bautista, they just need at least 30 of those home runs and they’ll be in good shape. The bullpen could cause some issues, but I think Toronto has the starters to remain a solid club.
Baltimore was terrifically managed by Buck Showalter at the end of last season, and now that the players are buying into the system, they’re gonna have a good year. Luke Scott returns, as does Nick Markakis and a blossoming Matt Wieters. They add Mark Reynolds as their third basemen, who will hit a TON in that ballpark if he isn’t striking out every other at bat. Their pitching is weak, no doubt. But Brian Matusz won ten games last year, and hopefully he can improve.
Tampa Bay lost many key guys. I’m not sure if Manny and Johnny Damon can make much of a difference. It may be a year that hearkens back to the Devil Ray days.
I always pick the Twins in the AL Central, based purely on management. Ron Gardenhire is the best in the game in getting the most from his players. Joe Mauer is still on this team, and maybe Justin Morneau can stay healthy all year this time around. Carl Pavano had a great season for them last year, and if he repeats, they will be in good shape. A healthy Joe Nathan should help too.
I think Detroit will finish in second place. As long as they get quality innings from Verlander and Max Scherzer, their offense will be solid. I think there is a big question mark with Miguel Cabrera, and if his legal troubles affect his and his team’s play on the field. If that does happen, clearly not good for Detroit. But they also add Victor Martinez, a great bat in the middle of the line-up. Add in the development of Austin Jackson and this team will compete. But they’ll need bullpen help somewhere along the line too!
I just don’t see Chicago competing that much. Unless Gordon Beckham completely blows me away, I don’t think this team will be a serious contender. Now they have solid pitching, but nothing great. They also lost their closer, Bobby Jenks. Too many question marks for me.
Cleveland and KC. Maybe Cleveland can string something out of this season. Their offense isn’t bad, but the pitching is what kills them. There is not one established starter in their rotation. I’m not high on Fausto Carmona. And don’t even get me started on Kansas City
The AL West is the most perplexing division in baseball. I know the one team that I am NOT picking to win it, and that’s the Angels. Everything else is a toss-up and I can make a case for any other team.
The Rangers are the defending champions and there are a lot of good things about this team. I watched in ALCS as a Yankees fan and was stunned with the play of Elvis Andrus. Seeing him play nine times over a six month schedule, you don’t really get a feel for how good he is. But when I saw him get on base to start off nearly every ALCS game (and more often than not, also steal a base (or two) and score), you really start to appreciate him. They also have Hamilton, who just plays on another level than everyone else. People think that the loss of Cliff Lee will hurt their rotation, but if you look back to last season, Texas actually had a WORSE record after the Cliff Lee trade (50-38 pre-All Star Break, 40-34 post-All Star Break). Of course, that didn’t hurt them at all by the time October came around. And CJ Wilson and especially Colby Lewis grew up big time in the playoffs. They’ll be just fine to win the division.
But Oakland will be good too. They surprised me a lot last year, I thought they’d be much worse. But they got contributions from everyone. They add fireballer, Grant Balfour into their bullpen, which is a great move and solidifies them with Brian Fuentes closing. This is a team that could compete for the Wild Card if they get some step-up performances from Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham. Their rotation is solid as well.
I’m not sure where to go with Seattle. On one hand, I’m not sure that this year could be any worse than last year. On the other hand, last year was pretty bad, and not much has changed! Maybe they can compete for third depending on if the Angels are going to do as bad as I think they’re going to do. It’s two years in a row that the Angels have taken a step back and they still do not have an ace to replace Lackey.
So that’s the summary. Here are some award predictions.
AL MVP: Robinson Cano. Has matured a lot over the past three seasons. He could have made a case last year. I think this could be the best season he ever has. And now that the Yankees aren’t the favorites, maybe people won’t use the “but he has such a great team around him” excuse.
AL Cy Young: David Price. He had a wonderful 2010 season, and that was his first full season. He won 19 games, and if can pitch well enough to keep Tampa relevant, get around 20 wins and keep his ERA low, he deserves it. It’ll be tough though, pitching in the AL East.
NL MVP: Jay Bruce. I think last year was exactly what Jay Bruce needed. He had a great rookie season, a set back in 2009 and then bounces back in 2010, hitting .281 with career highs in home runs, RBIs, walks, OBP, SLG and OPS. He’ll be 24 years old in a week, I think this is his season.
NL Cy Young: Very hard not to pick Halladay or Cliff Lee. Could you go wrong with either one? Probably not.
ALDS: (#1) Red Sox vs. (#3) Twins. I feel so bad for the Twins. Every year they make the playoffs and every year they lose in the first round, including two straight sweeps. Does a different team make a difference? I’ll let you decide… but the answer is no. Red Sox in 3.
(#2) Rangers vs. (#4) Yankees. The absence of Cliff Lee will hurt the Rangers in the playoffs I think. When he shut down the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALCS last year, it was a statement win. Tough choice, but I’m going with the Rangers. CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis lead the way again. Five game series, do not be surprised if the Yankees win should this series happen.
NLDS: (#1) Phillies vs. (#4) Reds. Another re-match from last year. Maybe the Reds take a game this time around. I think they could, as errors cost them last year. I think they get a moral victory by not being no-hit in this series, but lose in four games.
(#2) Giants vs. (#3) Brewers. This is gonna be a fun series if it happens. Brewers will throw Gallardo and Greinke against Lincecum and Cain. I think it’s a long series, going the distance. However, Lincecum is the X-Factor. Giants in 5.
ALCS: Red Sox vs. Rangers. Josh Hamilton is good, isn’t he? Imagine him hitting in Fenway for four games. Pitching is key for the Red Sox, primarily keeping Elvis Andrus off the bases. If they can’t, it’s gonna be huge for Texas. Also, find me a lefty to get Hamilton out in a big spot? I like Texas to repeat as AL champs in six games.
NLDS: Phillies vs. Giants. Another great series. Last year’s was pretty damn good too! But I really don’t see the Phillies losing this time around. Now they’ll need more production from Howard and Utley, if the later is even healthy enough, but if they get that production, with that pitching, they should exact revenge. Phillies in an epic seventh game.
World Series: Phillies vs. Rangers. The Rangers will be feeling like the Buffalo Bills after this series. I don’t think there’s any way, barring any injuries, flukie bounces, strange calls, divine intervention that will keep the Phillies from winning it all. I’ll be generous though, and give the Rangers two games. Phillies in six.
World Series MVP: Roy Halladay
Feel free to leave comments! I’ll be posting throughout the season so keep it here!!