Two-for-One MLB Previews: Chicago and Florida

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Two-for-One MLB Previews: Chicago and Florida

I’m not going to make many friends with some of my predictions, and this particular grouping won’t help that cause. I made a commitment to myself to not take a mindset that many people take when they pick division winners.

The fact is that no one has any clue with these predictions, including myself.

The thing is, I decided that no team didn’t have a chance, and that there are certain things that do happen every year that people don’t really notice. I’ve applied some of those methods and that’s why I get some of the results that I’ve put forth.

You may think I’m crazy, but didn’t the Rays winning the AL East sound crazy around this time last year?

Past Previews: TB/SD, TEX/CIN, MIN/PIT, TOR/STL, BAL/LAD, OAK/HOU

 

Current Standings

ALE: 1, Tampa Bay*, 3, Baltimore, Toronto

ALC: 1, Minnesota, 3, 4, 5

ALW: 1, Oakland, Texas, 4

NLE: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

NLC: 1, St. Louis, Cincinnati, 4, Houston, Pittsburgh

NLW: 1, Los Angeles, 3, 4, San Diego

* Wild Card

Chicago White Sox – AL Central

Last Year: Won AL Central, Lost in ALDS

Notable Additions: IF Dayan Viciedo, IF Brent Lillibridge, IF Wilson Betemit, SP Jeff Marquez, SP Bartolo Colon, SP John Van Benschoten

Notable Subtractions: C Toby Hall, IF Juan Uribe, IF Orlando Cabrera, IF Joe Crede, OF Ken Griffey Jr., IF/OF Nick Swisher, SP Javier Vazquez, RP Boone Logan

Underrated addition: Wilson Betemit

He’ll be missed: Nick Swisher

Betemit will be the utility player the White Sox didn’t really have. Swisher’s stats were not satisfying, but his high energy and grit was important.

Biggest Key to Success: Carry Over

Point blank, 2008 has to repeat for the Chicago White Sox. Everything went right for them last year and it attributed to their success.

Alexei Ramirez was everything and more they could have asked for, Carlos Quentin was the steal of the offseason, young John Danks and Gavin Floyd finally produced on a high level, the bullpen revamp worked, and things just went right.

The White Sox need it to happen again, because instead of standing pat, they went out and made some changes. Changes they can’t exactly count on taking, so last year’s heroes have to come up big.

Carlos Quentin was arguably the team’s most clutch hitter and they severely missed his presence in the lineup during the postseason. Danks and Floyd have to continue to produce at the level they did last year because of additional health questions of Jose Contreras and whatever pitcher ends up being the fifth starter.

And most importantly, Scott Linebrink and Octavio Dotel need to pitch like they did in the first half, when Chicago’s 'pen was very successful.

 

Biggest Concern: Don’t Grow Old on Me

I will give credit to Kenny Williams for one thing, when he sees something wrong, he attacks it.

He felt his team was growing old, so he made it younger and he was very aggressive about it.

Alexei Ramirez will shift to shortstop and open up a spot for one of Brent Lillibridge, Chris Getz, or Jayson Nix at second base.

Josh Fields will finally get his full-time shot at third base with Joe Crede gone, provided the latest Cuban import, Dayan Viciedo doesn’t unseat him.

Nick Swisher is out and Jerry Owens should return to the starting lineup in center field, unless Brian Anderson beats him out. But if Jermaine Dye is ever traded, they both could end up in the outfield at the same time.

The White Sox also have two young starters in Clayton Richard and Jeff Marquez if Colon and Contreras falter.

But are all these changes a good thing? Turnover is usually good, you can’t be complacent in baseball, but was Kenny Williams too aggressive? Depending on a lot of young players to “get it” in one year is rather risky business.

 

Biggest Change: Yearly Ritual

I won’t bother mentioning all the changes once again, because their changes are the main concern, I can’t put it any other way.

But it seems as if this has become a yearly tradition for Kenny Williams to change a bunch of things.

Last year, Kenny needed gritty players, so he went out and got two of the grittiest players you can get in Nick Swisher and Orlando Cabrera.

One year, he needed small-ball players, so he went out and traded Carlos Lee for Scott Podsednik.

This year he needed youth, so he shipped off veterans like Javier Vazquez, let Joe Crede and Cabrera walk, and made a big push for the youngsters like Getz and Fields.

Like I said, it isn’t a bad thing, but is too much change going to cripple this team? Last year Williams pushed the right buttons and he came up gold. Hopefully he hasn’t pushed one too many this year.

 

Team MVP: Carlos Quentin, OF

Carlos Quentin was an MVP candidate before he broke his hand late in the season.

So it shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that he’s the White Sox MVP this season. I’ve been saying it till I’m blue in the face and will continue to do so. Chicago would have fared much better in the playoffs had Quentin been around.

They were waiting for someone to come up with the big hit to knock in some runners and break the ice offensively, but they couldn’t find anyone.

Quentin is that guy and he’s probably their most clutch hitter in the lineup. With him back in the fold, hopefully for a full season, their lineup shouldn’t go through many problems.

 

On the Rise: John Danks, SP

I’ve been on the John Danks bandwagon for awhile now. Despite the fact that he plays for a division rival, I really like his makeup and the way he throws the ball.

He’s got a certain electricity about him on the mound that makes him fun to watch. He comes off as a very confident pitcher at such a young age and not to mention he’s got pretty good stuff.

I think he only gets better from here. He may not repeat numbers, that is hard for anyone to do, but he might improve in terms of how he carries himself over an entire season.

Danks was better in the first half than the second, that’s for sure, but when his team needed him the most against the Twins, he rose to the occasion. With a full season and even playoffs under his belt, I’d expect Danks to build off his success and be able to manage himself over the long haul.

A full-season of consistency is bound to happen for him and I think he’s on the brink of being one of the AL’s best.

 

Overview

Chicago has a lot of players I like individually.

But while I appreciate what Kenny Williams did, I don’t think I can get behind it in a division that is constantly changing itself.

I think his youth movement will help for the future, but for 2009, it might just shoot him in the foot.

The beauty of the changes is that Ozzie Guillen’s message doesn’t grow old and tired. The main guys in his locker room have been there and can follow it no matter how many times they hear it. The new guys can get behind it as well.

However, I don’t think even that will be enough for Ozzie’s crew this year.

Depending on Bartolo Colon is rather ambitious, and Jose Contreras’ miraculous recovery has me a little skeptical. The two guys behind them are still young and untested on top of that.

Josh Fields should be healthy and now motivated with the job being his to prove the White Sox should have given him a chance last year, but the second base spot has potential to be a revolving door.

And that brings us to Jim Thome and Paul Konerko. How much longer can they keep it up? Konerko was hurt last year and blame can be placed there, but they are both getting older and their production will keep declining.

This division is wild and no doubt the toughest to peg, but I think Chicago finds themselves going through growing pains and having the year many thought they would in 2008.

Prediction: Finish Fourth in the AL Central

Florida Marlins – NL East

Last Year: Finished Third in NL East

Notable Additions: IF Andy Gonzalez, IF Emilio Bonifacio, OF Jay Gibbons, SP Jose Ceda, SP John Koronka, RP Leo Nunez, RP Scott Proctor, P Dan Meyer

Notable Subtractions: C Matt Treanor, C Paul Lo Duca*, IF Mike Jacobs, OF Josh Willingham, OF Luis Gonzalez*, SP Scott Olsen, SP Mark Hendrickson, RP Joe Nelson, RP Arthur Rhodes, RP Kevin Gregg,

Underrated addition: Leo Nunez

He’ll be missed: Luis Gonzalez

Nunez should help out a pen looking to establish themselves. Gonzalez was a nice veteran on a rather young team that is still learning.

*Unsigned Free Agent

Biggest Key to Success: Stay with the Starters

I could pin this rotation up on a wall and one person could tell me it is a mess waiting to happen and another could tell me it’s a rotation fit for that of a World Series contender.

At least that’s what I think when I look at this rotation.

Here is what I love: Anibal Sanchez, Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Andrew Miller.

Here is what I hate: Anibal Sanchez and Josh Johnson’s injury histories, Ricky Nolasco’s regression potential, Andrew Miller’s youth.

You might as well start with Josh Johnson, who has the potential to be an ace if he’s healthy. His 2006 was very promising, but his injury plagued-2007 frustrated the Marlins. 2008 he worked his way back to start 14 games and he showed some of that promise that the Marlins knew he had.

The great thing is he’s only 25, so, like most of the Marlins' starters, he has plenty of time to re-establish himself on the right track.

Next is Anibal Sanchez, who showed even more promise to the Marlins after he threw a no-hitter in 2006. He started 17 games that year and was as good as a rookie pitcher could be.

However, the past 16 starts haven’t exactly been what anyone has wanted.

Andrew Miller came over in the Miguel Cabrera trade and pretty much struggled the entire year.

Chris Volstad is the one guy who hasn’t had a bad taste of the major leagues yet, his 15 games in 2008 were rather successful. And that’s partially the reason I’m excluding him from the core group that I’d count on.

Why like this rotation with all those questions?

I don’t know, I guess it’s because eventually these guys all have to get it and I think this year they all could get it and if they do, it could be better than the time the Fish had A.J. Burnett, Josh Beckett, Brad Penny, and Dontrelle Willis.

 

Biggest Concern: Is Maybin Ready?

Is Cameron Maybin ready to take that next step? It seems like he’s been around for awhile now but he’s still so young, yet the Marlins seem ready to move forward with Maybin as their leadoff hitter.

And boy their feeling better pay off, because there might not be an option behind him to take over that spot.

Maybin hit .500 in just eight total games with the Marlins last year, but the youngster who will turn 22 by the time the season is underway didn’t really get a taste of the Triple-A level.

So now he’s going to go straight to the majors as the team’s leadoff hitter?

It’s crazy but the Marlins are hoping it will work. Maybin has immense talent, offensively, defensively, and on the base paths, but that talent needs to surface and that isn’t always the best thing for a team to hope for.

 

Biggest Change: What’s New?

Really what is new with this team? They’re always trading players in the offseason. They didn’t win anything last year, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try and cash in on some production.

The key was is that they actually improved this year’s team with some of those trades.

They dealt from a position of strength in Mike Jacobs to acquire a bullpen arm in Leo Nunez. They also made a deal involving Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen and while they only got Emilio Bonifacio back as talent that could make an impact this year, they still dealt from strengths.

Jose Ceda, the return on the Kevin Greg trade could end up in the bullpen sooner rather later as well.

This team did make some changes, but it wasn’t ill-advised and they believe they’ve got people to step in and replace what they lost.

 

Team MVP: Hanley Ramirez, SS

Is there any doubt this rising superstar drives the success of this team?

With legitimate 35-35 potential, Hanley Ramirez is a bona fide MVP candidate, and if his team improves enough to be real contenders, he might cash in on that potential.

He’s moving down into the three hole to suit his skill-set and give the Marlins someone to provide consistency in the middle of the order.

Surrounding him by Jorge Cantu and Dan Uggla could only increase his production potential, especially if Florida can get themselves two reliable options at the top of the lineup in front of Ramirez.

 

On the Rise: Cody Ross, OF

“Where’d this little guy come from,” is something I remember saying when I saw Cody Ross blast 22 home runs a year ago.

Ross has bounced around a lot in his short career, from places like Detroit and Cincinnati to finally finding a home in Florida’s outfield. In 2007, he hit 12 home runs in just 173 at-bats.

2008 he took advantage of an opportunity given to him with injuries to other outfielders and he made the most of it.

Now he’s got the right field spot all to himself and with him in the prime age of his career, I’d expect Ross to make some waves.

 

Overview

Let me preface this by saying when I made this commitment to my prediction, I had not realized that Florida makes their run every six years, and that this was the sixth year.

With that said, I’ve probably gone off my rocker with this pick, but I’m going to stand by it until it happens or blows up in my face.

I really like Florida this year, the talent is there, everyone knows that, but young talent can surprise you and I think this could be one of those situations.

Florida should find themselves answers to their questions and I think their dependable pieces will come up aces as well. Jorge Cantu, Ricky Nolasco, Dan Uggla, guys that are going to be counted on are going to produce.

I think their rotation pans out in a huge way, with guys like Andre Miller and Anibal Sanchez getting things to click and they all remain moderately healthy enough.

Leo Nunez, Scott Proctor, maybe Jose Cede or some of the Rule-V picks that the Marlins made can help out that bullpen that already has interesting pieces like closer Matt Lindstrom and Logan Kensing.

Oh and if this team can go out and get Ivan Rodriguez, even as a backup in case John Baker doesn’t produce, Id like them even more.

It may be the lunatic prediction of 2009, but I’m still going to make it. The Marlins shock a lot of people and take home their first division title.

Prediction: Win the NL East

On deck for Thursday, Mar. 19: Detroit Tigers and New York Mets

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