Alright, now that you've all had the appetisers from my co-bloggers about who they think will do what this MLB season, it's time for the main course.
I should warn you: this preview will be much longer than those posted by my cohorts. I put a lot of thought into this, and I'm giving what I feel is some pretty in-depth analysis.
So, without further ado, here are my predictions for the 2009 MLB season.
This is the best division in baseball, hands down. It wouldn't surprise me at all if the top three of this division come out in a different order, because they're likely the three best teams in the majors.
I picked the Red Sox to win because they have a mixture of great veterans and great young stars as position players, as well as probably the deepest (though maybe not the best) rotation in the Majors. Let's go to the bullet points.
- Josh Beckett and John Lester are dual aces—Lester doubters, mark my words.
- Tim Wakefield has been a solid back-end starter for more than a decade now.
- Daisuke Matsuzaka may be the most over-rated starting pitcher in baseball, but he fits in nicely as a number three.
- The fifth starter in the rotation can be any of Brad Penny, John Smoltz or Clay Buccholz. Two are proven veterans who even in their decline are better than the fourth starter on most teams, let alone the fifth, and one is a young prospect with almost unlimited potential.
The Red Sox are in a can't-lose situation when it comes to the rotation.
Couple that with an improved bench and a lights-out bullpen, and I see the Red Sox as having the best chance at winning baseball's best division.
The Rays are my AL wildcard pick, as I think they'll continue their dominance from last year. Everyone on the team is a year older and a year more experienced, and if they were that good last year I can only imagine how good they'll continue to be as they get older.
Also, don't let the talk fool you: David Price won't be in the minors for long, and when he comes up he may be the best rookie pitcher since Tim Lincecum.
I hate to pick the Yankees to miss the playoffs (well, actually, I don't mind at all because I hate the Yankees and it would give me lulz), because they had probably the best offseason of any team.
I'm not going to cite a lack of chemistry, like most sportswriters do. Instead, I'm going to say this: I don't think the talent the Yankees added, incredible though it may be, will be enough to bridge the gap between them and the Red Sox or Rays.
Not to mention, the Yankees will be hurting without Alex Rodriguez for the first ten weeks of the season. Those early games count just as much as the late ones.
The rest of this division is good, too. If the Blue Jays played in a different division, I might pick them to finish first. The AL East is really the only division in baseball where I think a team as talented as the Blue Jays can finish fourth.
The Orioles are laying a foundation for long-term success, and in a few years I'll probably be picking them as my surprise team. But this year, even with the best hitting prospect in baseball—Matt Wieters—coming up, I don't see them with more than 75 wins.
Frankly, It wouldn't surprise me if the winner of the AL East this year only ended up with something like 92 wins. The top three teams all have the talent to win 100 games this year, but of course the fact that they play in the same division will put a damper on that.
I think this division will just beat itself up to the point where everyone has a somewhat mediocre record, but the team(s) that make it will dominate in the playoffs. They may even beat each other up so much that the wild card team could come from somewhere other than the AL East.
The Indians are the trendy pick to win this division, but I like Detroit.
The Indians have a superstar in Grady Sizemore, and Shin-Soo Choo is my candidate for breakout oufielder this year.
However, the facts are this:
- The Indians have a worse rotation than Detroit
- Travis Hafner has gone from being a beast being a below average hitter. That's a trend that's not likely to reverse itself without the help of some sort of injection.
If the Indians realize this soon enough and make Victor Martinez their every-day DH, they may have a shot—especially considering Kelly Shopach's breakout season last year—but Martinez wants to catch and the team has no immediate options for a competent backup, so Hafner will likely stay in the DH slot.
On the other hand, the Tigers are a team that is much better than last year's record indicated. Their lineup is dangerous, and even without Jeremy Bonderman at the start of the season, they have a rotation that's second only to the Twins in their division. Detroit has the most well-rounded team in this division, and I'm giving them the best shot to win.
The Twins are tough to put at number three, because they have a great rotation and a good young team, but I think the Indians will have enough in the tank in spite of Hafner to beat them out.
The White Sox and Royals are more or less interchangeable here. Both are rebuilding (or in KC's case, building) and both have young players coming up the pipe. I feel like Kansas City is better off for the long-term, but this year I think Chicago has the better team. Barely.
I like the As over the Angels because I feel like the additions the As made this offseason outweigh the talent that the Angels lost.
Most people have the Angels going first in the division, and you've got to love the LA outfield—especially with the addition of Bobby Abreau—but I think the As have the right mix of youth and veterans to steal the division.
Bullet points? Why, yes please.
- Matt Holliday is a much better acquisition than Abreau at this point in their careers
- Jason Giambi still has home run power and good on-base numbers
- Nomar Garciaparra will provide both veteran leadership and a good bat as a backup corner infielder.
This is probably more of a "gut feeling" than any of the other winners I'm predicting, but something just tells me the As have the division this year. You can't outweigh the craftiness of Billy Beane buying at the deadline, either.
I had the Mariners finishing third, but then Brandon Morrow moved back to the bullpen. Couple that with an injury to Ichiro to open up the year, and the Rangers have enough talent to finish third.
This is a division loaded with talent, and like the AL East, I could see the Marlins or Braves winning in a weaker division.
I pick the Mets over the Phillies because of the enormous improvements they've made to their bullpen. That's been their achilles heel these past two years, and it's gone from liability to lights-out in a single offseason.
The Mets have a superior pitching staff, and although Philly has a better offense, the Mets have a better collection of players that can both field and hit. In a tightly contested division like this, being able to contribute defensively is key.
The Phillies are my NL wild card pick, because their offense is insanely good. I would have them repeating as NL East champs if only they improved their rotation beyond Hamels. Offensively, they've got an infield that's second only to their division rival Florida Marlins, and that same infield can turn a good double play.
The Marlins are a team with a great deal of up-and-coming talent. Cameron Maybin is a rookie that should make an immediate impact as a guy who will be on base frequently and will give pitchers fits on the basepaths. Hanley Ramirez, Jorge Cantu and Dan Uggla all have 30+ home run power, and Jeremy Hermida is set for a breakout season.
As good as Florida's strengths are, however, they're missing a few of the pieces necessary to be competitive.
- Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco will be dual aces, but beyond that, Florida's rotation gets a bit shaky.
- Their bullpen situation is similar, with the front end looking good but the pen lacking the depth necessary to shut other teams down every game.
- Their worst position for sure is catcher, with an unknown (though potentially decent) commodity in John Baker, and a known and very crappy commodity in backup Ronny Paulino.
As early as next year, the Marlins may be the class of the NL East, but they haven't got all the pieces yet.
The Braves are rebuildng, and they've got some interesting players on the horizon, but they simply won't be able to compete with anyone but the Nationals in this division.
The Nationals...what more do you want me to say?
The Cubs are probably the fourth best team in baseball, and are by far the class of this division. I don't think I need to write anything else about them. Everyone knows these things.
A lot of people like to write the Brewers off this year because they lost Sabathia and Sheets, but they are deceiving themselves. If Yovani Gallardo can stay healthy, he has the potential to be one of the most dominant pitchers in the majors.
The rest of the rotation isn't great, but they're not terrible either, and will keep the Brewers in games long enough for their great offense to win around 88 games. Do not write the Brewers off.
The Reds are a tough team to project, because they're so young. If they can pull it together, they'll be one of the best up-and-coming teams in the majors. Similar to the Marlins, they have the potential to be the class of this division as early as next year, but I'm not sure they have all the pieces to take it this year.
The Cardinals are over-rated. Pujols will be just as good as ever, and Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel may be able to continue on their recent success. Colby Rasmus coming up could make their outfield one of the most dangerous in the majors. However, that's almost all they have going for them right now.
The Cardinal infield is weak outside of Pujols and Khalil Greene, and the pitching rotation is the definition of mediocrity. If Chris Carpenter returns to form and stays healthy, it will be a pleasant surprise for St. Louis, but not enough for them to do anything with themselves this year.
The Pirates will have one of the most dangerous offenses in the majors in a couple years. You may laugh now, but just wait a year or two and I'll be able to smile knowingly while the Pirates are shocking the rest of the world. For now, though, they're just the same ol' Pirates.
Mired in a record-tying streak of losing seasons, the Pirates don't have what it takes to break that 81-win barrier this year. The optimism in Pittsburgh is one for the future.
- Andy LaRoche has a good year
- Nate McLouth and Ryan Doumit continue their success from last season
- Andrew McCutchen comes up and has a decent rookie year
- Ian Snell develops consistency
- Ross Ohlendorf can finally establish control in the major leagues
- Any one of our bullpen of misfits and outcasts can turn things around for themselves
I'll consider those moral victories and signs of good things to come.
Even if all those things happen, however, the Pirates simply don't have the talent to contend this year, which is why the things I'm looking forward to the most this season are the draft and the trading deadline.
The Astros are in a phase where they need to rebuild, but GM Ed Wade has yet to realize this. Failure on his part to do so will do nothing but prolong the suffering of Astros fans. Trust me, as a Pirates fan, I know.
The Dodgers are better than people give them credit for. The outfield is fantastic, and if Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones weren't taking playing time away from Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp last year, they probably would have won more games.
However, the infield is a weakness strong enough to make me think that the Diamondbacks have a chance as well. LA's pitching rotation has two interesting breakout candidates in Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley, but for whatever reason they're preceded in the rotation by the mediocre Hiroki Kuroda and Randy Wolf, who shouldn't be anything but a fifth starter or long reliever.
The Diamondbacks have just as good of a chance at taking this division as LA does, but I'm giving it to LA based on the fact that Arizona needs more to happen. In order to take the division, Arizona needs:
- Breakthroughs from all three of their young outfielders
- Haren and Webb to play better than they did last year
- Max Scherzer (an interesting pitching prospect, by the way) to turn in a solid season
- LA's young pitchers to not break out.
The Giants are headed in the right direction and should consistently take this division in a few years, but they're not ready yet. They're good enough to hang in the thick of the weakest division in baseball, but that's about it.
The Rockies went from being a good team two years ago to having no interesting players outside of Chris Ianetta, Ian Stewart, Troy Tulowitzki and kind of/sort of Brad Hawpe this year. They went with a rebuilding strategy after their World Series lost, but I'm not entirely convinced they had to.
The Padres are going to be poop this year. There are absolutely no players of interest besides Chase Headley. What an unfortunate position for them to be in. This team needs to start churning out prospects fast.
What follows is an absolute crapshoot, and I refuse to justify my decisions because predicting the World Series before the season even begins is just silly.
Red Sox over Athletics 3-1
Tigers over Rays 3-2 (my upset pick)
Cubs over Phillies 3-2
Mets over Dodgers 3-0
Red Sox over Tigers 4-1
Cubs over Mets 4-3
Cubs over Red Sox 4-3
That's right, Cubs fans. I think it will happen this year. I really can't lose here...if I'm right, I look like a prophet, if I'm wrong, I've pissed off Cubs nation.