The season is finally here. I saw my last game of spring training Friday night when the Rangers played the Royals at the Frisco RoughRiders’ ballpark. This was the fourth year they’ve played a spring training game there and it’s always a great experience. The ballpark was packed, the Rangers won, and Brandon McCarthy looked sharp. Also, I managed to get Omar Vizquel’s autograph before the game. You may remember that he was one of three players I needed an autograph from at spring training that I wasn’t able to get when I went to Surprise. That leaves me needing just Casey Daigle and Joe Torres. Torres will probably start the season in Frisco, so he should be easy to get, but the Rangers released Daigle last week. Anyway, now I’m ready for the season to begin. I’ll be at Opening Day tomorrow and can’t wait.
This week I will do my NL season predictions. I will predict the standings and the awards.
1. Philadelphia Phillies – The Phillies have only two weaknesses, third base (Pedro Feliz) and catcher (Carlos Ruiz), which is less than the other teams in the division. They’ve got a strong rotation with Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, and Joe Blanton in the 1-4 spots. The opposing pitchers have to deal with Jimmy Rollins, then Jayson Werth, then Chase Utley, then Ryan Howard, then Raul Ibanez, and then Shane Victorino before getting to the bottom three spots of the lineup. The bullpen is solid with Brad Lidge as the closer, Ryan Madson, and, once he gets back from his suspension, J.C. Romero. The Phillies also had the 5th least amount of errors in the NL last year and I don’t see that changing.
2. Florida Marlins (wild card winner) – The Marlins’ infield is very, very good with Dan Uggla, one of the better second basemen in baseball, and Hanley Ramirez, who is very powerful, along with 40-steal capability speed, and great defense. He is a five-tool pitcher. They also have Jorge Cantu who picked his game up last year and hit 29 HR’s and 95 RBI’s. Jeremy Hermida in the outfield hit 17 home runs in just 142 games last year. In center field they have Cameron Maybin, a speedy prospect who is 9-for-9 in stolen base attempts in his career and last year went 16-for-32 at the plate. Their rotation also has a chance to be one of the best in baseball. It has Ricky Nolasco, who went 15-8 with a 3.52 ERA last year, and a healthy Josh Johnson, who went 12-7 with a 3.10 ERA in 2006 when he was healthy and then after coming back from an injury last season went 7-1 with a 3.61 ERA, in the 1-2 spots. They also have Chris Volstad, who went 6-4 with a 2.88 ERA in his first season in the majors in the number 3 spot, even though in some rotations he would be either the 1 or 2 starter. They finally have a healthy Anibal Sanchez back in the rotation, and the last time they had that, he went 10-3 with a 2.83 ERA (2006). He could be amazing this year if he stays healthy. Andrew Miller is the only weak spot in the rotation, as he went 6-10 with a 5.87 ERA last year. The Marlins’ rotation may be the best in baseball if healthy and I think that will carry them into the playoffs as the wild card.
3. New York Mets – While the Mets fixed their bullpen by getting JJ Putz and Francisco Rodriguez this offseason, their rotation after Johan Santana is not very good. Their #2 pitcher is Mike Pelfrey, who had a WHIP of 1.36 last year, not as good as you want your #2 starter to have. Oliver Perez has mental lapses, and Livan Hernandez had a 5.48 ERA last year with the Twins. John Maine allowed over 1 home run per 9 innings. Their offense is very good, but it’s hard to consistently win when you can count on a good pitching performance only one out of every five days.
4. Atlanta Braves – The Braves’ infield should be one of the best parts of the team with Chipper Jones at 3rd, Yunel Escobar at shortstop, Kelly Johnson at 2nd, and Casey Kotchman at 3rd. But the outfield is not very good, as Garrett Anderson’s skills are diminishing, Jeff Francoeur hit only .239 last year, and Jordan Schafer is a rookie with no major league experience at all. Derek Lowe (14-11, 3.24) and Jair Jurrjens (13-10, 3.68) are good 1-2 pitchers, but the number three pitcher, Javier Vazquez, went 12-16 with a 4.67 ERA last year. After that, the rotation is not very good at all. They have a playoff-worthy infield, but nothing else comes close to matching that.
5. Washington Nationals – The Nationals have holes in CF, 2B, C, SP, RP, closer, and, if last year is any indication, RF, possibly along with 1B and 3B if Nick Johnson and Ryan Zimmerman can’t come back from injury. John Lannan, Adam Dunn, and Christian Guzman are the only players who do not have big question marks. That will not win you a lot of games, and the Nationals will suffer because of it.
1. Chicago Cubs – First off, the Cubs had three 14-game winners last year (three more than the Rangers) and then Rich Harden. That is a pretty good starting rotation and I expect it to dominate. They have a great bullpen, too, with Jeff Samardzija, Aaron Heilman, and two closers in Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg. And then here’s their line-up:
1. Alfonso Soriano
2. Mike Fontenot
3. Derrek Lee
4. Milton Bradley
5. Aramis Ramirez
6. Kosuke Fukudome/Reed Johnson
7. Geovany Soto
8. Ryan Theriot
That is pretty good. Soriano, Lee, Bradley, and Ramirez can all be clean-up hitters, and they’re all on one team. It is a pretty weak division and I think there is no doubt they will win it.
2. Cincinnati Reds – The Reds are a young, up-and-coming team, and even though I think they’ll be just under .500, I think the other teams will be under .500, too. If Aaron Harang can come back and be in his 2007 form, when he went 16-6 with a 3.73 ERA in 231.2 innings, then they’ll have a pretty solid rotation with him, Edinson Volquez, Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto (really good prospect), and either Micah Owings or Homer Bailey (really good prospect). Every single one of them is capable of having an ERA under 4.00 if Cueto and Bailey can put it together and Arroyo can pitch like he did in 2006, when he had a 3.29 ERA. Joey Votto (.297 AVG, 24 HR, 84 RBI in rookie season last year), Brandon Phillips (.261 AVG, 21 HR, 78 RBI last season), and Jay Bruce (.254, 21 HR, 52 RBI in just 108 games in his rookie year last season) should all just get better. This offseason they traded for catcher Ramon Hernandez, who hit 15 home runs and 65 RBI’s last year. If Edwin Encarnacion can combine his past two seasons (had a .289 AVG and 76 RBI’s in ’07 and hit 26 HR’s in ’08) then he’ll be a very good player for the Reds. They also got Willy Tavares this off-season and Willy will add some speed, as he had 68 stolen bases last year and got caught only seven times. Alex Gonzalez will be healthy this year, so the Reds will have a better shortstop.
3. St. Louis Cardinals – Although both Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lohse are both good pitchers, the Cardinals just don’t have the depth in their rotation that Cincinnati has. The pitching depends way too much on Chris Carpenter, and that won’t work out very well when he gets injured again. Their infield is very weak other than Albert Pujols, as they have Skip Schumaker at second, Khalil Greene at short, and David Freese at third. They don’t have much depth at the catcher position, either, as Jason LaRue is their back-up. If Ankiel, Duncan, and Ludwick can play as well as last year (or, for Duncan, ’07), then they’ll have a pretty good outfield, but outfield won’t win you a division that has the Cubs in it.
4. Milwaukee Brewers – The Brewers have a terrible rotation, but somehow it is still better than Houston’s and Pittsburgh’s. Their #1 starter is Jeff Suppan, and even though that doesn’t match Roy Oswalt, I think that Yovani Gallardo will have a big year and really break through. Yovani had a 1.88 ERA in 24 innings last year after going 9-5 with a 3.67 ERA in 110.1 IP in 2007. Even if he doesn’t break through this year, they have Prince Fielder, Corey Hart, Ryan Braun, and JJ Hardy who can make up for that. They went out and signed Trevor Hoffman to close for them and once he gets off the DL he’ll be able to do that. Even though he’s not as good as he used to be, he’s still okay, not great, but okay, so he won’t blow too many saves.
5. Houston Astros – The Astros have the worst farm system in all of baseball. And one of the worst teams in all of baseball. And one of the worst rotations in baseball after Roy Oswalt. Their number 2 pitcher is Wandy Rodriguez. The Houston Astros’ #3 pitcher is Mike Hampton, who’s basically a guy to fill up the DL. Brandon Backe will probably take the #3 spot once he gets back from injury and when Mike Hampton goes out for the year with an injury. Their rotation finishes out with Brian Moehler and Russ Ortiz. They have a good middle of the lineup, though, with Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman, Hunter Pence, and Miguel Tejada. But they also have Michael Bourn starting, Geoff Blum starting, and Pudge starting. That is not a good enough team, even in this terrible division.
6. Pittsburgh Pirates – Here are the Pirates’ holes: SP, C, 1B, SS, 3B, LF, RF, and RP. That leaves 2B, CF, and closer. Those three spots won’t win you a whole lot of games. Ian Snell went 7-12 with a 5.42 ERA last year and he’s the Pirates second starter in the rotation. Zach Duke went 5-14 last year and had a 4.82 ERA. Ross Ohlendorf went 0-3 with a 6.35 ERA in only 22.2 innings last year and yet somehow he’s on the team. Jeff Karstens went 2-6 last year and he’s also in the rotation. And your closer can’t save a whole lot of games when you’re always losing. The Pirates are a sad franchise that will be sad again this year.
1. San Francisco Giants – The Giants have the best rotation in the division, possibly the best in baseball. They have NL Cy Young Tim Lincecum to start it off, followed by Randy Johnson who pitched great for the Diamondbacks after his injury last year and is only 5 wins away from 300 career wins. Matt Cain is 3rd and he has had an ERA under 3.80 and over 200 IP in both of the last two seasons. He would be a #1 starter for some teams. Barry Zito is 4th and he only allowed 12 earned runs in 34.1 innings to end 2008, so he might (although probably not) get back to form this year. Jonathon Sanchez is the number five starter and even though he hasn’t pitched very well so far in his career, he definitely has the stuff to do so. But their offense is terrible with Travis Ishikawa at first, Emmanuel Burriss at second, Pablo Sandoval at third, and Fred Lewis in left. Their best hitters are Randy Winn, Aaron Rowand, Bengie Molina, and Edgar Renteria. Even though they won’t score many runs, their starting pitching will make up for that. And I also think that they will get some offensive help at the trade deadline.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers – The Dodgers’ pitching will be terrible this year, as they lost Derek Lowe and Brad Penny this offseason. Now their #1 starter is Hiroki Kuroda, a pitcher who went 9-10 and only threw 183.1 innings last year. Randy Wolf is behind him, and even though he pitched well in Houston after being traded, before the trade he went 6-10 with a 4.74 ERA in pitcher-friendly Petco Park (Padres), so the Dodgers’ pitcher-friendly park might not make a difference. Chad Billingsley should be good from the #3 spot and Clayton Kershaw could pitch amazingly, but that’s only two of the five pitchers, not four (or maybe five if Zito does well) out of five like the Giants. The Dodgers can definitely hit with Manny, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Casey Blake, Rafael Furcal, Orlando Hudson, James Loney, and Russell Martin, and that’s every spot but the pitcher’s spot. But even with this offense, they’re going to need to have some good pitching performances to win the division.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks – The D’Backs have a good 1-2 punch in the front-end of the rotation and both Doug Davis and Jon Garland can be solid, but I just don’t see them beating out the Dodgers or the Giants. Mark Reynolds, their starting 3rd baseman, struck out 204 times last year, Felipe Lopez is their starting 2nd baseman, Chad Tracy is their starting 1st baseman, Chris Snyder is their starting catcher, and Chad Qualls is their closer. They have plenty of strong spots, but too many gaping holes, especially at the closer spot, to win the division and make the playoffs.
4. Colorado Rockies – The Rockies are no longer a good team. I think Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez will be very good, but after them the rotation really doesn’t have much. And in their hitter-friendly ballpark, they don’t have the power to take advantage of that. Garrett Atkins is their only power hitter. The Rockies really don’t have a chance at winning this division.
5. San Diego Padres – The Padres start the rotation off well with Jake Peavy (10-11, 2.85 ERA) and Chris Young (7-6, 3.96 ERA), but then it drops off after that with Cha Seung Baek (6-9, 4.62 ERA), Walter Silva (rookie), and Kevin Correia (3-8, 6.05). Their good hitter is Adrian Gonzalez, which is not anywhere near enough, especially when Heath Bell is your closer. They are almost surely in last place.
MVP: Ryan Howard, PHI: Ryan finished off last year strong and had a great spring. He led the majors this spring in home runs with 10, two more than anybody else, and he was third in RBI’s with 24 only behind Josh Hamilton and Micah Hoffpauir. He will start off the year hot and I don’t think he will cool off.
Cy Young: Cole Hamels, PHI: Cole is just one year older, one year more mature, and one year better. He has great stuff, good speed, and has a good defense behind him. He will dominate all year and I think he will be the obvious Cy Young award winner.
Rookie of the Year: Chris Dickerson, CIN: Chris will be starting in left field for the Reds this year and I think he will do well. Last year in just 102 at-bats and 31 games, he hit .304 with 6 HR’s, 15 RBI’s, and a .413 OBP, and I think those numbers will just go up.
Manager of the Year: Fredi Gonzalez, FLA: If the Marlins make the playoffs, which I think will happen, he’s the obvious winner in my opinion.
Results of last week’s poll:
Who do you think will win the AL East?
Red Sox – 43%
Rays – 31%
Yankees – 18%
Orioles – 6%
Blue Jays – 0%
Come back next week for my AL predictions and my playoff predictions. And, the week after that, I’ll be posting an interview with Rangers pitching prospect Tim Murphy.