This past week I went to Opening Day and got to see the Rangers light Cliff Lee up and Kevin Millwood shut the Indians down. The Rangers’ new ribbon scoreboards and out-of-town scoreboard look very nice. They’re big improvements that have been needed for a while. They make the ballpark look much more modern. I also like the new brick wall that lines the infield and the fact that they replaced the cupholder at our seats that’s been missing for two years. It was a great day. The weather was great, the game was great, and we really didn’t have any problems dealing with the big crowds. It was also good seeing and talking to usher Ron, who’s a very nice guy.
I would like to congratulate Jeff Zimmerman for his minor league deal with the Mariners and wish him good luck. I’m looking forward to seeing him back in the majors.
This week I will provide my AL season predictions. I will predict the standings and the awards, plus the playoffs. Records in parentheses are as of April 11.
1. Tampa Bay Rays (2-3) – The Rays made it to the World Series last year as a young team, and now they’re just one year older and one year better. They have a really good line-up with Carlos Pena, Evan Longoria, and Pat Burrell taking up the middle and Carl Crawford starting it off. The Rays also have great defense, as only three American League teams made less errors than the Tampa Bay Rays last year. They have great pitching with James Shields, Scott Kazmir, and Matt Garza as the 1-2-3 guys, when Garza would be the #2 guy in most places, and in some, the #1, and Kazmir would be the #1 starter for many teams. Andy Sonnanstine went 13-9 last year and is their #4 starter. In my opinion, they have the best team because they can run (they had the most stolen bases out of anyone last year), they can hit for power (they had the 5th most home runs in the AL last year, they even have a back-up who hit 10 home runs last year), they can field, and they can pitch (they had the 3rd lowest ERA in the majors last year).
2. New York Yankees (3-2) (my wild card winner) – The Yankees rotation has injury issues. Chein-Ming Wang was out most of last season due to injury, AJ Burnett is incredibly injury-prone, and CC Sabathia has had oblique problems in the past. Pettitte had a 4.54 ERA last year and Joba Chamberlain only pitched past the 6th inning three times last year and only finished seven innings once. They have a very good top of the rotation when healthy, but I don’t think they’ll be healthy very long and I think that they will struggle because of that. They have a decent offense, but it doesn’t have much depth (at the moment) with Cody Ransom at third (for now), Brett Gardner at center, and almost nobody on the bench that could step up and be a solid starter. They also have a tough schedule the second half of the season, as they play playoff teams (from last year) 9 times starting July 27th. I think the Yankees can afford to lose one of their top three pitchers due to injury and still be the Wild Card, but if they lose two or three, I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs.
3. Boston Red Sox (2-3) – The Red Sox went to the ALCS last year, but I don’t think they will do it this year. They depend too much on David Ortiz, even though he only hit .264 last year in the regular season, and .186 in the playoffs last year. Mike Lowell is injury-prone and Jason Varitek is not very good. Jed Lowrie only hit .258 last season and he is their starting shortstop. Youkilis, Pedroia, Bay, and Ellsbury are all good, but JD Drew almost surely will get injured soon (probably very soon), and then they’ll lose him again. Beckett and Lester are a good 1-2 punch, but Beckett is injury-prone, and after that it’s too inconsistent. Dice-K is usually good, but he has a few too many bad outings to be an ace, and he has very high pitch counts, so he doesn’t go very far into the games. Wakefield went 10-11 last year and then Brad Penny is coming off an injury and might have some issues. I think in most divisions they would be in 1st, but in this one I think they are in 3rd.
4. Toronto Blue Jays (5-1) – The Blue Jays have a very good team, but it’s not as good as the Rays, Yankees, or Red Sox. Lyle Overbay, Aaron Hill, Marco Scutaro, and Scott Rolen (Blue Jays infield) don’t match Carlos Pena, Akinori Iwamura, Jason Bartlett, and Evan Longoria (Rays infield), or Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, and soon-to-be A-ROD (Yankees infield), or Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jed Lowrie, and Mike Lowell (Red Sox infield). But the Blue Jays outfield has a very good upside with Alex Rios, Vernon Wells, and Travis Snider. They each have 30-home run potential. Roy Halladay is a workhorse and has pitched at least 220 innings each of the last three seasons. Jesse Litsch had a 3.58 ERA last year to go along with 13 wins and he is pretty good. David Purcey is in his second big league season this year, and he should do better this year. Both of the 4-5 starters are rookies this year, and so I think that that will also hold the Blue Jays back and that it will make them pretty easily the 4th place team instead of the 2nd or 3rd.
5. Baltimore Orioles (4-1) – The Orioles have one good starter, Jeremy Guthrie. He had a 3.63 ERA last year even though he only had a 10-12 record. Their second pitcher is a rookie. Their second pitcher. That pretty much sums up the rest of the rotation, a pitching staff that had the second worst ERA in the AL last year. Aubrey Huff is good at first base, though, as he hit .304 with 32 HR’s and 108 RBI’s last year and Brian Roberts covers second, so that position’s covered. Melvin Mora had a big improvement last year from 2007 as he hit .285 with 23 HR’s and 104 RBI’s, and he’s a pretty good third baseman. Nick Markakis in right is the face of the franchise, as he deserves to be. Last year he hit .306 with 20 HR’s and 87 RBI’s, and it was a down year power-number-wise. That’s really saying something. Speedy center fielder Adam Jones is a very good center fielder and is a pretty good hitter, but after those five players, there’s not much, and so I think that they will be last in the division.
1. Minnesota Twins (3-3) – This depends on how long it takes Joe Mauer to get back from his injury. Mike Redmond is just not the same as the 2006 AL Batting Champion Joe Mauer. Justin Morneau can make up for him and keep them in contention for a little bit, but he can’t do it for too long. They will need their rotation to really do well until he can come back. Francisco Liriano is incredible and I think he’ll improve on his 3.20 career ERA. After him, they’ve got solid young pitchers that can get the job done. I think that the Twins will be the team with the worst record that makes the playoffs.
2. Chicago White Sox (2-3) – The White Sox are an old team that keeps getting older. Jose Contreras, Bartolo Colon, Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko, and AJ Pierzynski are all old in baseball terms. Josh Fields is a work-in-progress after having just 32 at-bats last year. Chris Gentz is a rookie and will probably go through some growing pains and Carlos Quentin is coming back from injury. The White Sox are a good team, but they have too many question marks to win the division.
3. Kansas City Royals (2-3) – The Royals are a very underrated team. They have good pitching with Gil Meche and Zach Grienke at the top of the rotation. Kyle Davies, who had a great Spring Training, is the #3 guy, and Sidney Ponson and Horacio Ramirez finish off the rotation. Mike Jacobs and Alex Gordon can hit for power and Mike Aviles, Coco Crisp, and David DeJesus all can have good batting averages. When Jose Guillen gets back, he’ll just bring more power into the line-up, and if the Royals can get a lead into the late innings, they probably won’t lose it with Joakim Soria as their closer. He saved 42 games last year for the Royals. Don’t be surprised if they make the playoffs this year.
4. Cleveland Indians (0-5) – Here’s the Indians rotation:
1. Cliff Lee (who had a 12.46 ERA in 21.2 Spring Training innings this year)
2. Fausto Carmona (who had a 5.44 ERA last year)
3. Carl Pavano (who allowed 9 runs against the Rangers in 1 IP in his first start this year)
4. Scott Lewis (who only pitched 24 innings last year)
5. Anthony Reyes (who had a 6.04 ERA in 2007)
If Cliff Lee pitches like he did in Spring Training this year, then the Indians’ rotation has two #5 starters and three minor leaguers. That is not good at all. Even if Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, and Victor Martinez all hit 40 home runs this year, they still probably wouldn’t win the division with that rotation. You just can’t do that.
5. Detroit Tigers (3-3) – The Tigers have a bunch of over-paid, under-achieving players. Justin Verlander and Armando Galarraga are the only pitchers you can count on, and that’s not enough. They should have a good offense, but even if they do, if they have another 4.90 ERA like last year, that’s not going to do a whole lot of good. And with Francisco Rodney being their closer, you don’t have much faith in the bullpen, either. I think that they either are in 4th or 5th place, but I don’t see them being anywhere else.
1. Texas Rangers (3-2) – They’re wearing red. The last time that happened they made the playoffs three out of four years. Chris Davis, Nelson Cruz, and Josh Hamilton all have 30 home-run power, maybe even 40. Michael Young is one of the best third basemen in baseball and Elvis Andrus is speedy, and a great defensive player. It will be nice to have Andrus’ speed on the basepaths this year, as he had 54 stolen bases in Frisco last year. Ian Kinsler is one of the best lead-off hitters in baseball, as he hit .319 last year with 18 HR’s and 71 RBI’s. Salty should also make a big improvement this year, and even if he doesn’t, they’ve got Taylor Teagarden right there to take his place. David Murphy and Marlon Byrd are a pretty good platoon, as they combined for 25 HR’s and 127 RBI’s last year and neither one of them hit below .275. Both Millwood and Padilla are in contract years this season and last time that happened, Millwood was the AL ERA Champion, and Padilla went 15-10 and pitched 200 innings. Once they replace Kris Benson with Scott Feldman, they’ll have a consistently good starting pitcher in Feldman. Brandon McCarthy looked good in Spring Training and Matt Harrison won 9 games in just 15 appearances last year and will hopefully just get better. If the starters can get you into the 8th with the lead, then it’s pretty much as good as a win, with CJ there to shut down whoever comes up in the 8th and Frankie Francisco there to get the save in the 9th.
2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (2-3) – The Angels could have some serious problems this year, as John Lackey, Ervin Santana, and Kelvim Escobar, their three top pitchers are injured. And, sadly, Nick Adenhart is gone, leaving an empty spot in the rotation. For now, they have Joe Saunders at the #1 spot, which isn’t bad, but after that they have Jered Weaver at #2, and he took a step backwards last season with his 4.33 ERA. Dustin Moseley had a 6.79 ERA last year, and yet somehow he is third in the rotation. Shane Loux is next and he’s in his rookie season, so he could have some issues this year. The outfield is very old, with 35-year-old Bobby Abreu, 33-year-old Torii Hunter, and 34-year-old Vladimir Guerrero, and they are all past their prime. Juan Rivera is their DH, despite only hitting .246 last year in 256 at-bats. His OBP was only .282. Kendry Morales, the Angels’ starting first baseman, hit .213 in 61 at-bats last year, and in the year with his most at-bats, 2006, he only hit .234 in his 197 AB’s. Howie Kendrick is good at second, but this will be his first year as a full-time starter, and he has no power whatsoever, and he barely takes any walks, as he only has 31 career walks and 968 career at-bats. Erick Aybar is also in his first full-time starting job and he will be their starting shortstop even though he only hit .277 with a .314 OBP along with only 3 HR’s and 39 RBI’s in 346 AB’s last season. 31-year-old third baseman Chone Figgins had a big decline last year and hit only .276 with 1 HR and 22 RBI’s in 453 at-bats. From 2007, Figgins’ only numbers that went up were games (by 1), at-bats (by 11), walks (by 11), and caught stealing (by 1, even though he had 6 less attempts than ’07). Mike Napoli has good power from behind the plate (20 HR’s and 49 RBI’s in just 227 at-bats last year), but he strikes out too many times, as he struck out 70 times last year, which equaled just about 31% of his at-bats. Their bullpen isn’t as good anymore, either, as Brian Fuentes just doesn’t match K-Rod, although he is still good. I think that the Angels will need some serious trade deadline help to get into the playoffs this year.
3. Oakland Athletics (2-3) – Last year the A’s scored the least amount of runs in the AL by 15 and had the worst batting average in all of baseball (.242). Their starting first baseman (Jason Giambi) had a .247 average last year, the 2B (Mark Ellis) had a .233 average, the 3B (Eric Chavez) hit .247, the SS (Orlando Cabrera) hit .281, the three outfielders (Matt Holliday, Ryan Sweeney, and Travis Buck) hit .321, .286, and .226, the DH (Jack Cust) hit .231, and the catcher (Kurt Suzuki) hit .271. The A’s have only one starter that hit .300 last year (Matt Holliday), and then nobody else even hit .290. That’s not enough offense. Their #1 starter (while Justin Duchscherer is injured), Dallas Braden, has only 150 innings of major league experience. The #2 starter has 5 innings of major league experience, the #3 starter has 238.1 innings of major league experience, the #4 starter has 6 innings of major league experience, and the #5 starter has 30 innings of major league experience. The pitcher with the most major league experience has less innings pitched in his career than Roy Halladay had last year. This team will be good, but it will take a couple years to get all of the pitchers developed.
4. Seattle Mariners (4-2) – Here are the Mariner players that had good years last year: Felix Hernandez and Jose Lopez. Here are the Mariner players I think will have good seasons this year: Felix Hernandez and Jose Lopez. And possibly Erik Bedard. Here are the players on this team that would be starters for the Rangers: Felix Hernandez and Erik Bedard. That pretty much sums up their whole team. Not very good. Last year the only AL team that scored less runs than the Mariners was the A’s. Last year the Mariners had the fourth highest ERA in the AL. They can’t hit and they can’t pitch. That’s not a very good combination.
AL MVP: Josh Hamilton, TEX – If the Rangers win the division (like I think they will), I think that he will be the obvious choice, especially if he hits 40 HR’s and gets 125 RBI’s (like I think he will).
Cy Young Award: Kyle Davies, KC – Kyle had a great Spring Training and I don’t think he will stop. He has had the potential for a while, but I think that this will be the year that he breaks through.
Rookie of the Year: Elvis Andrus, TEX – He can run, he can field, he can hit. There isn’t too much competition this year that are starters at the beginning of the year, so I think that will help him win.
AL Round 1:
Minnesota Twins over New York Yankees:
I think that the injury bug will hit the Yankees hard and the Twins will be able to take advantage of it. The Yankees are an older team and will be tiring towards the end of the season, while the Twins are a younger team and should still have plenty of energy for the playoffs.
Tampa Bay Rays over Texas Rangers:
Pitching wins championships. The Rays have the better pitching here, although by 2010 it will be different, but for this year, it’s the Rays.
NL Round 1:
Florida Marlins over Chicago Cubs:
I think that this will be the pattern in the series: Emilio Bonifacio using his speed to get into scoring position, Hanley Ramirez driving him in. I think the Cubs need to go into the playoffs hot if they are going to win this series.
Philadelphia Phillies over San Francisco Giants:
The Phillies have much more playoff experience than the Giants, and I think that will pay off. The Giants don’t have much offense, and Randy Johnson would be the only pitcher in the playoff rotation with playoff experience, and if he was in his prime, they might still have a chance, but Randy Johnson is not in his prime, so I just don’t see it.
Tampa Bay Rays over Minnesota Twins:
The Rays have a deeper rotation than the Twins, even though Liriano might be better than all three of them. But the Twins will need some trade deadline help to make it to the World Series, in my opinion.
Florida Marlins over Philadelphia Phillies:
They will both know each other pretty well from being in the same division and I think that will help the Marlins more than the Phillies. If Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez return to form after injuries, which I think they will, the Marlins will have the better rotation and I would give them the edge in the series.
Florida Marlins over Tampa Bay Rays:
I think that it will be a terrific pitching match-up in every single game of this all-Florida World Series, and the games would most likely all be low-scoring. I think that the Marlins will be able to put together a very good offensive output, though, if they could go into the series with a hot Hanley Ramirez and a hot Dan Uggla. If they can get that, then I think they will win the series.
Results of last week’s poll:
Who do you think will win the NL East?
Phillies – 37%
Mets – 25%
Braves – 18%
Marlins – 12%
Nationals – 6%
Come back next week for an interview with Rangers pitching prospect Tim Murphy.