Today, I will embark on an exploration deep into Major League Baseball. I plan on investigating each of the franchises and coming up with one obstacle, that, if they overcome, will allow each team to be successful in 2009.
I hope that this can be an article that all baseball fans enjoy, and fans of specific teams can e-mail me with comments or changes to ensure accuracy. Enjoy!
This is a team that has a fairly easy road to success. They have a rock-solid bullpen and a strong pitching, as well as a number of guys who could step right in if anyone falters.
The key to success for the D-Backs will be the offensive play of their outfielders. Justin Upton just completed his first full major league season, and, needless to say, it was a somewhat disappointing campaign for the young outfielder. He will need step up his game and stay consistent through the entire 2009 season.
Eric Byrnes played tremendous in 2007, earning himself a hefty contract, but he was never able to show he deserved the contract after a lousy 2008 that was plagued by injury. He will not be back until mid-March, but when he returns he will have to be the same aggressive base swiper he was in 2007 when he stole over 40.
And finally, Chris Young. In terms of average and OBP, he improved in 2008. But an OBP under .320 and an average under .250 is unacceptable, and these numbers must improve. In addition, Young needs to find some of the speed that allowed him to swipe 27 in 2007, as opposed to 14 last year. If these three guys step up, Arizona will be in the hunt the entire season.
This is not as obvious as the D-Backs, but most of the team looks to perform fairly well. The bullpen is the most worrying part of the club. The Braves are counting on two guys (Gonzalez and Soriano), neither of whom where healthy last season, to be their primary relief guys.
And outside of Buddy Carlyle, the Braves have no other good relievers and do not have much in terms of relief pitching in their farm system. Soriano and Gonzalez will both need to remain healthy, and a few younger guys will need to step up if the Braves want to have a chance in the NL East.
This team has a lot of holes to fill. The infield is riding on two aging guys at the corners and a very unproven shortstop. The outfield should be solid with Markakis, but Felix Pie is also a big question mark. But the biggest hole in the O's is, without a doubt, the starting rotation.
Outside of Jeremy Guthrie they really have nothing. They are counting on a pitcher who has never had an ERA in the majors under 6 (Liz) as their number two starter, they are riding on a pitcher who has never thrown a major league inning (Uehara) to fill the fourth or fifth role, and they are counting on Rich Hill, who the Cubs more or less dumped, to fill the end of the rotation.
The Orioles will either need the gods to be looking down on their rotation or they will need to make a solid move if they want to be in the AL East race with powerhouses NY and Boston.
Boston Red Sox
This is probably the strongest team in baseball. The offense, with the exception of Varitek at catcher, is rock solid. Hopefully, Ortiz will come back slugging as usual. The bullpen looks almost untouchable as well and should be able to hold onto any lead the offense gives it.
The weakest part of the Red Sox and the thing that could cost them perhaps even a playoff berth is the back end of the rotation. Right now, Tim Wakefield is slated as the No. 4 starter, and though his 2008 numbers were not by any means awful (10-11, 4.13 ERA), Wakefield is 43. If those knuckle balls stop moving, he could get whacked around big time.
In addition, Brad Penny is right now set as the fifth starter, which is certainly a big risk for the BoSox. Penny was not healthy for most of last season and did not have much success when he was healthy. In addition, he has never played in the AL before, and the huge switch to the AL East could cause him some problems.
Realistically, I think any pitching woes of these guys will be overcome by the strong offense, not to mention Clay Buchholz and Justin Masterson waiting in the wings, so I do not expect Boston to have much trouble racking up the wins.
Another team with not too much to complain about. Sure, there are some offensive holes, but a strong lineup like the Cubbies have can makeup for a few small gaps. The bullpen looks to be improved from 2008 with the addition of Kevin Gregg and the probable move of Carlos Marmol to the closers role.
The biggest question mark for the 2009 Cubs is, like the Red Sox, their starting rotation. First off, will Zambrano remain healthy and avoid a meltdown? This means keeping his walks down and his ground ball-fly ball ratio high as well. The second question is if Ryan Dempster will be able to follow up his fantastic first year back as a starter with another solid campaign. This is the time he really has to prove himself, as hitters will know what to expect and he will have to adjust.
And most importantly, much is riding on the health of Rich Harden, who has yet to throw in spring training. Yes, Harden is arguably a top starter when healthy, but when on the DL it is hard to give him this title. If all three of these guys can stay healthy and perform, it will take pressure off Ted Lilly and Sean Marshall, and the team should have no problem finding its way to the playoffs for a third year in a row.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox have a lot of issues that they need to sort out. The back end of the rotation is unsettled with the loss of Vasquez, and Brian Anderson is a big question mark in center. The most worrying part of this team is their starting infield, though. In order for the White Sox to make it to the playoffs in 2009, they will have to either make a trade or find someone in their farm system to fill their infield needs.
Currently, they have no proven second basemen on the roster, a starting shortstop with less than 500 career at-bats (given, Ramirez showed much potential in 2008), a first baseman whose production slowed tremendously in 2008, and a third baseman who has a career major league batting average of .233.
And to those who say Josh Fields was unbelievable in 2007, 125 strikeouts, a .244 BA, and a .308 OBP in 373 at-bats is certainly not "unbelievable." The White Sox will need some of the veteran guys (Konerko and Dye) to help lead the rest of the young squad during the season.
This team really has lots of upsides when you look at it from top to bottom. The infield has some good young talent in Votto, Encarnacion, and Phillps, and the rotation looks like a good one as well with Volquez, Cueto, and a hopefully-revived Aaron Harang. The bullpen is certainly not great, but there are a few weapons in Francisco Cordero and David Weathers.
The biggest need for the Reds is to solidify their young outfield. Willy Taveras is a base running machine, but he will not get on base much or drive in runs, and so essentially he is the type of player that Ryan Freel was a few years ago, except much less versatile.
It scares me that the Reds have two unproven guys in the corner outfield positions. And I know you want to say Jay Bruce will be a star, but there are plenty of talented players who never pan out. Take a look at Alex Gordon and Billy Butler, who are still trying to figure out what it means to be a high-first-round draft choice.
If Bruce turns out to be a power-hitting on-base machine, and Dickerson the same, this team could surprise lots of people. If not, say hello to the bottom of the division.
I could name so many areas where Cleveland needs improvement. Aside from Kerry Wood, who is already hurt, the bullpen scares the heck out of me. The rotation could be good...if Lee doesn't fall back into 2007 form and if Carmona comes back with his 2007 form.
The offense has a lot of unproven guys everywhere. This is what will depend if the Indians are a playoff caliber team or a bust: The play of Travis Hafner. If Hafner comes back, and I mean comes back with a fury, this team could be really, really good. Hafner has the ability to carry this team on his shoulders.
He walks almost a marathon a year on free passes, he hits them out of the park like it is his job, and he drives in runs like a machine. All of this when he is himself, who he really has not been for two years. I hope Hafner is back to form, because the Indians are an exciting team to watch when he is, and the fate of the 2009 season rests almost entirely in his hands.
Was 2007 a fluke? I really have to believe not. The Rockies should have tried to hang on to Matt Holliday, and that is a move they will likely regret, but the offense is still very strong. Carlos Gonzalez, who was obtained in the Holliday deal, is a great young prospect, and Ian Stewart shows much promise at the hot corner.
For the most part, the bullpen also looks pretty good, with Houston Street closing games, Manny Corpas in the eighth, and Taylor Buchholz as the untouchable middle man. But the starting rotation is very hittable. Aaron Cook is the only non-question mark going into the season. Jeff Francis was not good last year while he was healthy, and who knows how he will come back from his injury?
The numbers for projected fourth starter Greg Reynolds were ugly last year, and Jason Marquis has trouble in pitcher's parks, so how will he be good in the hitter's paradise. I really have lots of doubt about the Rockies rotation; it is probably the only thing "rocky" about the team, so fans should hope that the rotation does better than projected and that the offense carries lots of the load.
I really like this team. They are my sleeper pick of 2009. A few guys (Guillen, Polanco) are aging on offense, but I think the offense will be very good in 2009. I expect Granderson to bust out a terrific season, and I think Cabrera will keep fantasy owners smiling all season long.
The bullpen actually looks better than I would have thought; Lyon could be solid and Zumaya, if healthy, is dominating. Rodney is also a very good reliever if he keeps his emotions under control. The Tigers, and this one is obvious, need the rotation to stay consistent if they want to win in 2009, and if this happens they won't just win, they will win a lot.
Verlander will bounce back to 2007 levels. Galarraga is a talented young player with a high ceiling who should continue to improve. Bonderman has not played well since 2006, but I think he should return from his injuries and post some quality numbers. The back end with Nate Robertson and Edwin Jackson is shaky, but the offense will be so good that it really won't matter. This is a team that could find itself off to an early hot streak.
The Marlins are a young team with lots of young talent. Hanley Ramirez is a five-tool player who should dominate the league for the next 10 years. Jorge Cantu had a breakthrough season last year and should continue this production. Cameron Maybin has the tools to become a 40/40 player and he just needs to develop these tools further.
The bullpen, led by youngster Ricky Nolasco, is deep, young, and talented. The Marlins need some of their relievers to step up if they wish to compete with the Phils and Mets in the NL East. Right now, Matt Lindstrom, an unproven pitcher, is their opening day closer, and Scottie Proctor and Renyel Pinto are essentially the only other notables in the pen.
Recently-acquired Leo Nunez of Kansas City showed great upside with Kansas City, and he may need to fill the set-up or even closers role if things do not go as planned. Florida is probably too young and undeveloped to gain a playoff berth, but a season over .500 is definitely possible if the relief pitching can hang onto late-inning leads.
This team could be either great or awful, no middle ground. To start it off, the rotation is a lot of "what ifs" outside of Roy Oswalt. The front office must be crazy to have Mike Hampton slated as the No. 4 starter, because I would never want to rely on him to go every fifth day. In addition, can Michael Bourn learn how to actually reach base so he can make use of his inhuman speed?
The biggest question for Houston is, like always, on the offensive side of things, but specifically the left side of the infield and catcher spots. I have never even heard of their starting catcher, but from looking at his offensive stats, he looks like a backup catcher, the opposite of what Houston needs.
In addition, 35-year-old Aaron Boone is manning third base, which should scare Houston fans. Boone has not played a full season since 2005, and the only guy backing him up is equally-talented Geoff Blum. And finally, at shortstop, we have 34-year-old Miguel Tejada, who was certainly not exceptional in 2008 and shows no reason why he will improve in 2009.
Houston always has offensive troubles, but the rotation this year may be weaker than in the past, and a lack of run production will hurt this team where is counts...the victory column.
Kansas City Royals
This team is a mess. They draft lousy players, sign out-of-date bad-chemistry free agents, and trade whatever talent they have. The upside of the team is Joakim Soria, Zack Greinke, and maybe Alex Gordon. The two guys in the middle infield (Mike Aviles and Alberto Callaspo) showed some skills in limited action last year, which is certainly a positive.
The thing that will kill KC's offense is the catcher and first base positions. Mike Jacobs could not even hit over .250 in the National League. What reason is there that he would find more success in the AL? Jacobs also did not get on base and was not the answer to the Royals' problems.
Also, John Buck is their opening day catcher, and that is just embarrassing. Since when can you be a .224 BA catcher and find a starting job on a major league team? I don't care if Buck can throw out 70 percent of would-be base stealers...he will lose more runs with his bat than he will prevent behind the plate.
Even if Jacobs and Buck were to increase their respective averages by 50 points each, Kansas City still has plenty of holes to fill, but it would certainly be one hell of a start.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
This is a well-balanced, well-put-together ball club. The outfield is a little on the old side, but for the time being will be better than 90 percent of outfields in the majors. The rotation is one that sparkles, and a healthy John Lackey could win 20 games. And even with the loss of K-Rod, the bullpen is still among the best in baseball, with longtime setup man Scot Shields along with new closer Brian Fuentes standing out.
The infield is the area that worries me the most because a lot of these guys are unproven. Izturis and Morales both did not hit for high averages in 2008, and the offense is without a doubt LA's weakness. These guys needs to up their productions, and Chone Figgins needs to get on base, steal bases, and score runs.
The outfield will be very strong for the Angels, so I suspect that the young infield will not have too much pressure on it, but if one of the outfielders falls to injury, someone will be forced to step up.
Los Angeles Dodgers
This is another team loaded with young talent from top to bottom. Their lineup had its first test last year and Loney, Kemp, and Ethier all had fine years. The return of Furcal will help the offense score more runs than before, and Orlando Hudson should get on base much more than the aging Jeff Kent did last year.
The bullpen also looks to be hard to hit, with Broxton moving into the closer's role full time and Kuo as his premier setup man. The worrying thing about the 2009 Dodgers is their rotation. If the rotation can come through, it will be them and the Diamondbacks battling it out once again for the NL West crown.
Billingsly has been fantastic the past two years, but I am wary about making a 24-year-old pitcher with only two full years of ML experience under his belt the No. 1 starter. If he falters, the entire rotation will collapse. Behind Billingsly is Kuroda, who should if anything improve after seeing what the MLB is all about.
But 20-year-old Clayton Kershaw, a guy who did not find much success in the majors last year, is slated as the No. 3 starter, when all else indicates that he should start off in the bullpen and ease his way into a fifth spot in the rotation, or somewhere where not too much is being asked of him.
Randy Wolf is a decent fourth starter, but the team would look much stronger if he could be their fifth starter, and Jason Schmidt is a complete question mark. He could come back and dominate like he did in the past, or he could come back, falter, and find his way back on the DL. And then who would take his place?
The Brewers had a pretty solid 2008 season, but it will be hard for them to repeat unless several things fall into place. The lineup should be steady, as it's headed by Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, and JJ Hardy. The rotation will be weakened from last year with the loss of Sheets, but Yovanni Gallardo, if healthy, can pick up where Sheets left off, and Manny Parra should be able to improve on his rookie year.
The key to the success of the Brewers will be the bullpen. Relying on Trevor Hoffman, whose progress has declined each year lately, seems very familiar to last year's situation. Unfortunately, this year, the next in line is Todd Coffey or Jorge Julio, two guys who have proven they are not fit for the closer role.
The Brewers will have problems in late innings due to a lack of depth in the pen, and they better hope Hoffman has one more brilliant season in him, or else it will be a long season for fans.
Here is a team that is pretty solid all around and only great in a few spots (back end of bullpen, first base, catcher). The rotation is filled with a bunch of young guys who could falter, but I expect Liriano to dominate once more as he did in 2007.
My worry and the key to the Twins success is the offensive production of their outfield. Michael Cuddyer was not the same player last year that he was in 2007 and 2006, and he will need to pick up his production to help lead fellow outfielders Carlos Gomez and Delmon Young. Also, the Twins outfield offers really no guys that can even hit 20 home runs. Cuddyer is sure capable of it, but who knows who else?
And the rest of the lineup is not exactly a power lineup either, outside of Justin Morneau. I worry that this is a lineup that will be virtually shut out by dominant or even above-average starters.
New York Mets
The Mets have the opportunity (if they do not blow it this year) to be among the best in the majors. Their bullpen is much stronger than in the past few years; Johan Santana will be much improved with his second season in the NL, and Jose Reyes and David Wright will be good, very good.
The X-factor for the Mets and the thing that will decide if they are a good team or a great team will be the production of Carlos Delgado. Delgado's 2008 season was tremendous, a big improvement from the previous few years. But will he be able to match 2008's production or even improve upon it? It seems unlikely, based on Delgado's age (36). If he can manage to bat above .270 this year and hit 30 home runs, it once again it will be a battle between NY and Philly atop the NL East.
New York Yankees
After another disappointing season, the Yankees made a few big moves in the offseason to make sure that the playoffs are a certainty in 2009. On paper, they look great this year, but anything can happen when the season begins.
The lineup should be rock solid; Posada and Jeter are seeing their productions offensively slow down as age catches up with them, but fortunately the Yanks signed 28-year-old Mark Teixeira, and his offense should more than make up for these two.
They also signed CC Sabathia, one of the most elite pitchers in either league, and AJ Burnett, who was able to complete a full season last year without any health issues. My biggest concern for the Yankees is their bullpen. Mariano Rivera is very reliable as a closer, but behind him, there are not any proven veterans for the late innings, nor is there anyone ready to step in if Rivera were to go down.
There will be a lot of pressure on 27-year-old Edwar Ramirez to fill the setup role. He had a solid 2008 season, but the team will need him to be even better in 2009 if they want to reach their goal of a World Series.
An offense as strong as New York's and the newly-improved rotation should have the Yankees with exponential leads heading into the majority of their late-inning games, but in the close battles, the bullpen will be pivotal, and it could be the difference between a first-round exit and that Championship banner.
This is a team that wants to win, and they want to do it in 2009. What other reason is their for signing Orlando Cabrera, Jason Giambi, and trading for Matt Holliday? These three deals will help the offense improve greatly from where it was in 2008. The bullpen has lots of young arms who were dominant in 2008, and although they may have to adjust to the hitters in their second go-arounds, this will not be a problem.
And Justin Duchscherer? Don't even get me started, because 2008 was unbelievable. But can he repeat it? The A's need Duch to match his 2008 season, and they need the bottom three in their rotation to keep them in every game if they want to compete with the Angles in the AL West.
Sean Gallagher is slated as the third starter, which, considering his ERA was in the area of 6 during his short stint last season with the Athletics, is a little frightening. Gallagher has great talent and someday will be a stud, but it may be a little too soon to force him into a position where he will be counted on. The fourth spot is set to be for Dallas Braden, who, although his numbers have not been eye-popping, looks like he may be the best fit for the A's.
And in the fifth spot is longtime White Sox prospect Gio Gonzalez, with an ERA upwards of 7 during his time with the Athletics last season. Gonzalez, like Gallagher, has loads of talent, but he also has a history of injury and has only pitched 34 career major league innings. It will be an interesting season if these youngsters come through.
The Phillies have one of the strongest offenses in the NL. The catcher's spot and third base spot could be better, but it is impossible to downgrade the contributions of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard. The lineup is flat-out scary. The bullpen is also rock solid, with a newly disciplined Brad Lidge as well as Chan Ho Park, Chad Durbin, and JC Romero, to name a few.
But outside of Cole Hamels, the Phils rotation could turn into a disaster. As their No. 2 starter, Joe Blanton saw his stats skyrocket last year. He brought his numbers down during his stint in the NL, but he is a fly ball guy pitching at Citizens, a hitter's paradise, and he could face trouble. Brett Myers has really been a different pitcher since 2006. He needs to regain that form he had in 2005 and 2006 and battle hitters again.
At No. 4 is Jamie Moyer, and while he had one of his best seasons in 2008, all great stories have to come to an end at some point. Will this be the year that 46-year-old Moyer faces reality and gets slugged by the NL bats? It very well could be. Also, No. 5 Kyle Kendrick had an ERA around 5.50 last year. Great teams have a great pitching rotation, and this means that Kendrick will need to challenge hitters and keep his pitches under control if his team is to repeat its Series run.
This is another team with a lot of holes in it. Unlike the other teams, however, there really are not a lot of positions that look to be strong. The bullpen has very few proven guys outside of Matt Capps. But it does not matter how strong your bullpen is if you do not have any starting pitching to keep the other teams scoring limited, or any solid hitting to give your team a lead.
The young starters will need to play great if the Pirates want to even have a chance competing with the Cubs, Cards, and Brewers in the NL. Paul Maholm was very good in 2008, but not exactly No. 1 starter material. Zach Duke has gotten worse since his tremendous rookie year, and Ian Snell was horrific last year. Duke I have no idea on, but Snell will improve significantly from 2008 and perhaps match his 2007 season performance.
The offense presents another problem, but since I am focusing on a single obstacle for each team, I will have to say that the pitching is more important to the Pirates success than their offensive production, which should be aided by Nate McLouth, Jack Wilson, and Adam LaRoche.
San Diego Padres
The Padres historically (or at least in the last five years) have been a team with little or no offense and a good rotation and even better bullpen. This trend will continue into 2009, as the bullpen looks strong even with the loss of longtime closer Trevor Hoffman, and the rotation headed by Jake Peavey (for the time being) looks to be successful as well.
The batting order is another story. The infield actually looks like it could be somewhat productive with the consistent Adrian Gonzalez, his brother Edgar, and the newly-signed David Eckstein to go along with Kevin Kouz on the rleft side.
The outfield is not that good. Brian Giles is really the only proven outfielder, yet he is aging and his production is slowing. He can still get on base at a high rate, but his power numbers are diminished. Center field will go to either Scott Hairston or Jody Gerut, both longtime bench players who do not know what it feels like to play a full MLB season.
And prospect Chase Headley is set to start in left, but with a team already struggling to find offense, is it a good idea to risk a rookie in a corner outfield spot? Pads fans better hope he produces.
San Francisco Giants
This is almost the same scenario as their neighboring Padres. The Giants have one of the most talented young rotations in the league, headed by 2008 Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum. After him, Matt Cain has also shown signs of greatness, and Jonathon Sanchez is dominant if he can throw strikes. Who knows how Barry Zito will fare as the No. 3 starter? If he is even decent, the rotation as a whole will be above average.
The bullpen is not particularly strong, but Brian Wilson is a solid closer, and the pen as a whole should be improved with the addition of Bob Howry. The offense has lots of question marks...I am going to say that the players that can change the fate of San Fran in 2009 are Edgar Renteria and Aaron Rowand.
Renteria moved back to the NL after a lackluster season in Detroit, and he needs to play like he did during his 2007 fantastic season in Atlanta. Rowand needs to forget about his miserable season in 2008 and return to his 2007 form, when he hit .309 with 27 home runs. Between the two of them, Renteria and Rowand have the ability to carry this offense and provide enough runs so that the pitching can do the rest of the work.
Toward the bottom of this list, it seems we have a lot of the same type of teams. Like the previous two teams, the Mariners' biggest struggle is scoring runs. If Bedard comes back like 2007, and Washburn returns to form, the starting rotation could be not bad. Brandon Morrow was great for most of last season and he should translate his relief success into starting success as well.
I am going to put the performance of this team on the productions of Jeff Clement, Kenji Johjima, and Ken Griffey Jr. DH, catcher, and LF are some of the most run-producing positions on the field. If Junior plays like he is 30 again, Johjima plays closer to his 2007 season than last year, and Jeff Clement plays like a third-overall pick should play, the offense could be considerably better than it was in 2008.
The Mariners are going to have a tough time competing with the Angels, A's, and even the Rangers in the division, but production out of these three players could make it much easier.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cards should be back in the talks of the top teams in the NL. Their offense is one of the Top Five in the league, with Ludwick, Pujols, and Rick Ankiel. Khalil Greene will add more pop to the lineup and should display great defensive range as well. Izzy is out as closer for good, but Ryan Franklin proved effective last year during a part-time closer role, and he should be able to continue to convert save after save in 2009.
They also have a few young arms in the pen with Chris Perez and Kyle McClellen. What will either take the Cards to the playoffs or leave them out of October will be the returns of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright.
The last time we saw a successful Carpenter was in 2006 when he won 15 games. In a few innings last year, Carpenter showed what he still has. Wainwright only started 20 games in 2008, and while he was starting he was shutting down other team's lineups. He will need to throw 30 or more starts in 2009.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Ray's success in 2008 was not a fluke. Their starting pitching was great, they played good defense, and they had a strong bullpen.
The weakest part was without a doubt the offense, and it should be greatly improved with the addition of Carl Crawford (who missed much of last season), a full-time Evan Longoria, who was great in his short major league stint, and an improved BJ Upton, who saw all numbers outside of his power numbers drop last year.
But the guy who can make or break the Rays in 2009 is Pat Burrell. Burrell has a history of starting out hot and cooling off as the season goes on, and he will need to stay consistent throughout the entire season. Burrell is one of the top on-base hitters in the league, and this should continue into the AL as well.
He only has to improve upon Eric Hinske's 2008 numbers, which should not be too difficult, and the Rays will be in the same position they were last year.
The Rangers have the pieces to have one of the top offenses in the American League, and it can certainly be as good and maybe better than the rival Angels. Ian Kinsler has emerged as a star along with Josh Hamilton, and Boggs and Murphy in the corner outfield spots could be future All-Stars as well.
The worrying thing about the Rangers is the inferiority of their pitching staff to the Angels. Opening day starter as of today is Kevin Millwood, and though he had a great 2005 season, it is time to wake up and realize that it is now 2009 and his ERA has been above 5 the past two years.
Millwood and Vincente Padilla are the only two veteran guys on the staff, and they will need to lead by example if the other three young starters are to succeed. If both Padilla and Millwood can bring their respective ERAs around 3.0 in 2009, not only will it directly affect the team in terms of victories, but it will take some of the load off the youngsters shoulders to work miracles on the mound.
As things stand today, the Rangers look like they will still sit in the shadow of the Angels in the AL West, but production out of the rotation could change this in a hurry.
Toronto Blue Jays
With a healthy BJ Ryan and Vernon Wells, the Jays should be competitive in the AL East. Their pitching looks to be strong with workhorse Roy Halladay, second year Jesse Litsch, and Shaun Marcum, one of the top young starters in the league. The pen for the most part should be only behind Boston in the AL east with Scott Downs, Jesse Carlson, and Ryan.
There will be a lot of pressure on Vernon Wells to perform like he did in 2006. This is tough, because Wells is a very unpredictable hitter (.269, .303, .245, and .300 respectively over the past four years). In 2006, he carried a weaker team by driving in 106 runs on 32 home runs. If Wells can hold his own in center field and produce at the plate, Jays fans will have a team worth watching in 2009.
The Nats have so many holes that it is impossible to know where to start. They are like the Pirates in some regards, as there really is not a single strength on the team. I will choose the starting rotation as the key to Washington's success, because they seem to have a few decent hitters in Dunn, Zimmerman, and Guzman, but even these three cannot turn this into an above-average lineup.
What we have in the rotation is a top starter who pitched his first full season last year and should be a No. 3 starter. They have a No. 2 starter in Scott Olson, who has good pitches if he can locate them, and has some potential, but the numbers he put up last year mean he should be a No. 4 starter. No. 3 starter Daniel Cabrera would not even make the fifth spot on almost all other major league teams.
And we have two unproven fourth and fifth starters who probably should not be in the majors. All this said, the fate of the Nats (in this case the difference between a 100-loss season and an 80-loss season) will be the productions of John Lannan, Olson, and Cabrera.
On a staff with two guys who have not pitched a full season, these three will have to do extra work, be role models for the young(er) guys, and pitch like they have never pitched before if they want their team to win at all.
Well, there you have it. Again, I encourage fans to make corrections to this article so we can have the most accurate keys-to-success list for each team that is possible. I thank everyone who took the time to read this and hope you liked it.
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