Saturday, March 31, 2007

Baseball Post

The baseball season starts tomorrow. It's been an odd winter - maybe it's the Celtics' misfortunes, maybe something else, but I've been very indifferent to sports lately. Even to the NCAA tourney, usually one of the high points of the year. Strange. Even baseball. Though indifference to baseball is a relative term. Reading just one baseball book (the indispensible Baseball Prospectus), only spending one or two lunch hours a week working out predictions and projections, that sort of thing. I forgot that I did do this last year - AL and NL: didn't take any risks, didn't say anything stupid. Sadly, for those of you expecting me to pick the Royals to win it all, I imagine this year's predictions will be equally bland, with plenty of hedging and caveats.

AL East:
1) Boston - I'm sorry, but I'm obligated. The Yankees can't win it forever. The Sox last year would have won the division except half the team went on the DL - especially when Wakefield, Tek and Nixon all went down at the same time - they were done. That could hapen again - or they could stay healthy - in which case they have a very strong rotation, a great closer and a bunch of serviceable relievers (all of whom could collapse of course, but that's relief pitching for you!), piles of offense, decent depth, solid defense (not great not terrible) - sounds good to me.
2) Yankees - they probably helped themselves in the long term by shedding some of the old timers, but in the short term, they aren't as deep - Carl Pavano is the opening day starter! the bullpen is getting old, a lot of the players are getting old - they should hammer the ball, win in the 90s, weather injuries better than the red sox, and go nowhere in the post-season if they get there - which is iffier than it has been in a decade.
3) Toronto - nice line up, strong at the top of the pitching staff, weaker as you go down - but like last year, should be solid, and have the potential to take the division if the other teams falter. If everything clicks, they'll be in the post-season hunt.
4) Tampa Bay - I think I'll keep picking them to finish 4th until they do. Still don't have any pitching - look at their bullpen sometime... but should score runs, might even catch the ball - sooner or later it's going to get better.
5) Baltimore - like King Kaufman at Salon said - it's too bad the O's and Rays couldn't combine forces. Baltimore's pitching is young and old, with Bedard, Cabrera and Loewen teamed with Jaret Wright and Steve Trachsel, but could be pretty good - some talent in the pen as well, behind Chris Ray... the offense is a different matter, though Tejada and Roberts, Markakis, Petterson, Mora are - nice. There's room for some success, though I'm afraid success means, winning 76 games. Their infield and Tampa's outfield, their pitchers plus Kazmir would make a very nice team.

AL Central:
1) Detroit - They have a strong rotation, they have depth on the staff, they could even get better, since Verlander and Bonderman and company are young and improving. They have hitters at every position, a few guys in reserve - if most of the gang stays healthy, they could repeat and build on last year's success.
2) Cleveland - because I want them to finish second. But I do think Cliff Lee will come back a bit, ditto Jhonny Peralta, while Sabathia, Hafner, Sizemore, Martinez remain strong - they need to find someone to pitch out of the pen, but that's a crap shoot for almost everyone.
3) Minnesota - plenty of offense. No pitching. But they catch the ball and playt he game right so they will hang around. Wait - didn't I say that last year? Actually - they have a lot of pitching - it's just that, after Santana, it's mostly in the pen. If their kids develop in the rotation, they could be back on top.
4) Chicago - in fact, they are perfectly capable of winning the division, and more. They are getting old though - the pitching is getting old - there's a lot that can go wrong, and they have less in reserve than Boston and New York - but healthy, they are still very dangerous.
5) You know, Kansas City might not suck forever. Alex Gordon? Brett Butler? Mark Teahan? young pitchers? Another year or so, they could be interesting.

AL West:
1) Oakland - really? yeah, why not? probably sink or swim on Rich Harden's health. As usual, a rather thin offense, but it has its merits. No reason Piazza can't muster one last fling, no reason Chavez can't bounce back a bit.
2) Angels - though if they get their pitchers on the field, they're going to be hard to beat. They need to keep their players on the field too - though they have plenty of options, and some nice youngsters who could emerge...
3) Rangers - if I were picking a dark horse for all this, I might go with the Rangers. The pitching, as usual, is not inspiring - but I think Brendan McCarthy could turn into something - if they get some kind of bounceback from Blalock and Wilkerson and even Slammin' Sammy, well - there's hope, I think.
4) Seattle - probably not exactly hideous. But not very good.

NL East:
1) Atlanta - do I have any justification for this? well - yeah - they have a better, deeper, bullpen than they've had in a while; the rotation falls off fast, but could be solid if Tim Hudson comes back; they have some fine hitters - Jonesx2, McCann, Francoeur, nothing wrong with the rest of the lineup, really. Plenty of room for failure, but a nice chance to come back.
2) Mets - they'll hit the hell out of the ball - they should be able to win close ones, with a decent bullpen - but that rotation - El Duque, member of the 1904 Cuban Olympic Champion squad, is their #2 starter. If Pedro were around, they'd be the favorites, easy. Without him - they'll hang around, might even win, but it's gonna take some breaks.
3) Philadelphia - plenty of pop, some nice young pitchers, but Adam Eaton?
4) Florida - if their nice young pitchers are healthy, and their young players build on last year and a couple more turn up - Jeffrey Loria will have to trade Willis and Cabrera by June to keep them out of contention. Which is a possibility.
5) Washington - kind of hurts to look at this team. 5 years, Ryan. Probably three, since arbitration will get them nervous...

NL Central:
1) St. Louis - there's some crap on this team, but there's a lot of crap in this division. I suspect they were probably closer to their post-season level than their regular season level last year - lots of guys missed time, but were around in the post-season... they lost a few guys since then, but of the Jeff Suppan variety, which is not going to hurt matters.
2) Houston - they should hit, they probably will end up with a pretty good bullpen, and they have as good a chance as anyone to bring in a ringer in June. Just stay close, and give Rog a chance to save the day...
3) Milwaukee - Ben Sheets healthy, and they could contend. Otherwise probably not. A fashionable pick, for good reasons. Sheets healthy, in front of Capuano, with Bush and Suppan to fill innings effectively - not bad.
4) Cincinati - Harang and Arroyo and Oh My God, No! The offense, on the other hand, isn't bad at all, and could be pretty good.
5) Chicago - they spent money at a tremendous rate over the winter, but - you know.... Ted Lilly? Jason Marquis? things could click though, and they could end up pretty good. The truth is, any of these teams could win the division - any of them could finish last. That is true of a good deal of the National League - probably not the Mets, Braves and Phillies, who should all get into the 80s in wins, and Washington, who won't, and maybe
6) Pittsburgh, who won't get past 75 - unless they do. And if Snell and Duke and Gorzelany are the real thing, well - still...

NL West:
1) San Diego - they have about the same gang they had last year, with some odds of incremental improvement, and some chance - maybe slim, but not 0 - of a couple guys taking major steps forward (Khalil Greene? Kouzmanoff?) - I don't see much chance of collapse here - they are the NL's version of the Twins, right down to having the best pitcher in the league - well - at least the best strikeout pitcher in the league. Though I imagine most years, Peavy is going to be around the top. Less dominant and consistent than Santana, less consistent than Carpenter and Oswalt in the NL, but still up there.
2) Los Angeles - they're a high risk reward type team - the pitchers stay heallthy, they could shine - they don't - they won't. Lots of guys who could disappear in a hurry.
3) Arizona - another fashionable pick, with a host of emerging prospects, and some useful veterans. Especially if Randy Johnson bounces back - not that he was all that bad last year: by his standards, yes - and the ERA was hideous - but his other numbers were still in the upper side of the league...
4) San Francisco - though again - what if Cain improves? what if Lowry delivers on his promise? What if Barry gets into a "teammates'" "vitamin" supply? Or - not.
5) Colorado - they're starting to produce some nice young players again, but I don't see them winning a whole lot.

AL: Boston - Detroit - Oakland + NY (alas) - dark horse? Texas
NL: Atlanta - St. Louis - San Diego + NY - dark horse? Florida

AL: if Boston wins the division, David Ortiz will get his due. Though at this point - last year's result utterly discredits the writers - Justin Morneau? he's a first baseman who hit 20 fewer home runs than Ortiz! I can see a case for Jeter or Mauer, or Santana - but not Morneau. Unlike Jeter and Mauer, he was not playing a skill position - he's a first baseman! he's a hitter! and Ortiz out hit him by - 20 home runs! Anyway, I imagine the same general candidates are in the running again - Ortiz, Manny, Jeter and A Rod, Vernon Wells, Hafner, Mauer, Vlad, Texeira, and a few pitchers - Santana, K Rod, Nathan, Ryan, Papelbon, Rivera - to complicate things.
NL: It's Albert Pujols' to lose for the next 6-8 years, I imagine. There are a few guys around ready to take it if Albert misses a month, like last year, but that's not likely to happen.
Rookies: Alex Gordon is supposed to be the man. NL? probably a Diamondback or another Marlin.

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