Spring is in the air and the MLB season is right around the corner. Every team leaves spring training with some hope, but those World Series dreams for most teams are often dashed a month into the season.
Who will win the pennant? The World Series? Rookie of the Year? I will answer all those questions and more in the following preview.
Boston Red Sox
Losing out on the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes might have been the best thing to happen to the Red Sox. With Josh Beckett healthy, the Red Sox might have the best rotation in the league. John Lester is a star in the making, while John Smoltz and Brad Penny should provide some stability at the back end of the rotation.
Jason Bay is likely to have a career year and should have his best season as a pro. The Red Sox lineup will score runs, but they will be carried to a division title by their pitching.
Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa were the “darlings” of baseball last season when they had an improbable “worst to first” run culminating in a World Series appearance. Pitching and defense carried this team last season and will be their strengths this season. David Price will start in the minor leagues, but should be in the big leagues sometime in early May, and will be at the top of their rotation within a year.
Evan Longoria is looking to avoid the dreaded “sophomore slump” and, for the sake of the Rays and all four of my fantasy teams, many hope he can improve on last year’s numbers. Pat Burrell adds a big bat to the middle of what should be a patented Tampa Bay lineup.
New York Yankees
$450 million does not equal a championship, and the Yankees will prove that this season. With Alex Rodriguez on the shelf for a month, the Yankees' lineup does not strike fear in the heart of opposing pitchers. Cody Ransom will replace Rodriguez and the Yankees lineup will suffer because of it. Johnny Damon, Jorge Posada, and Derek Jeter are a year older and they will not be major offensive producers for this team.
Mark Teixeira will produce, but being a traditional slow starter could leave him pressing to impress his fans and show that he was worthy of his lucrative contract. Pitching-wise, they have Sabathia and Wang, and then nobody else. AJ Burnett will be a bust and Phil Hughes will need to deliver on all of that promise. Another season with no playoffs will not sit well with Yankees fans.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays were a team that was on the cusp of being really good the last few seasons, but those days look long behind them. Vernon Wells and Alex Rios will be the major run producers, but they have little else offensively. Roy Halladay is a legitimate Cy Young candidate every season, but the rest of the Jays rotation is suspect. Look forCito Gaston to be fired mid-season and the Blue Jays to finish under .500.
A 12th straight losing season looks inevitable for my beloved Baltimore Orioles. Offensively, this team will be one of the best teams in baseball, but thanks to suspect starting pitching, they will need to score at least five or six runs a game to win. Defense and the bullpen should be the strength of this team, and both areas will have to compensate for lack of starting pitching.
Matt Wieters will be in the big leagues by June and should be a rookie of the year candidate. The Orioles are a team on the rise, and when their young pitching develops and comes to the Major Leagues, this team will be a pennant contender...but do not expect more then 70 wins this season.
The Indians have all the tools to get back to the postseason and possibly make the World Series. The Indians posses a lineup with at least six players that should hit over 20 home runs, and Grady Sizemore will duplicate last season’s numbers.
It is unlikely that pitcher Cliff Lee will have the same form that he had last year, but he should still be productive. Kerry Wood could give them stability in the back end of the bullpen and he will not blow as many saves as JoeBorowski did. If Fausto Carmona can revert back to his 2007 form, then this team could make a return trip back to the ALCS.
A healthy Francisco Liriano could leave the Twins back to the playoffs. After Liriano, the Twins' rotation consists of Bonser, Baker and Perkins...not exactly household names, but they should be decent pitchers.Delmone Young will need to live up to the promise that he showed in the minors and hit more then 20 home runs and drive in 90+ runs for Minnesota to win the division.
Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer will be the main run producers. Carlos Gomez and “Mr. Web gem” Denard Span will provide the Twins with one of the fastest, best-fielding outfields in the league.
Chicago White Sox
I figure it will be sometime around mid-April when Ozzie Guillen will make outlandish comments or act foolish in some way, ultimately leading to feuding with GM Ken Williams. The White Sox lost one of their best pitchers in Javier Vasquez and will need Mark Buehrle to revert back to his 2005 for to compensate for the loss of Vasquez.
Gavin Floyd just signed a long-term extension and will need to show he is worthy of it and pitch like he did last season. As usual, Jermaine Dye’s name is trade rumors and he will likely be out of Chicago by the All-Star break. The White Sox have the pieces to repeat as division champs, but I do not think they did enough in theoffseason to make that reality.
The Tigers were easily the big disappointment in all of baseball last year. On paper, this team is the best in the American League, but we all know that championships aren’t won on paper. The bullpen will be the Tigers' biggest concern and their success will hinge on how Joel Zumaya returns from his injury.
Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman should bounce back from subpar years, and if they can return back to the form they had three seasons ago, the Tigers will be right in the heat of the playoffs. Trading CameronMaybin for Dontrelle Willis has come back to haunt the Tigers and has been one of the reasons for their recent struggles.
Kansas City Royals
This isn’t the same Royals team that we have grown accustomed seeing not make any moves in the offseason and toil in anonymity in the Central. I believe this division will be one of the toughest in baseball and I could see the Royals finishing in the top three.
The additions of Coco Crisp and Mike Jacobs will help them score runs, and I believe Alex Gordon is in line for a breakout season. Brian Bannister and ZackGreinke are two good young pitchers who, if successful, could have the Royals in contention this season.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels will not be clinching this division in June like they have the past few seasons, and they will be looking in their rear view mirror at the A’s all season. Bobby Abreu was a great acquisition for them and should protect Vladimir Guerrero and add some power to the lineup. I expect a big year from Torii Hunter and I believe that MikeNapoli and Kendry Morales will be surprisingly productive.
The Angels will not lose much in the closer role, with Fuentes taking over for Rodriguez, but I am not sold on their starting pitching. Santana and Saunders had career years last year, but I do not think they can do it again. If they do repeat their numbers from last year, this is a team capable of winning the World Series.
The A’s were buyers as opposed to sellers this offseason by bringing in Giambi, Garciaparra, and Cabrera. Despite the spacious outfield, I think that Matt Holliday will have his best season and could win the American League MVP.
For years, Oakland has won with pitching, but this season they will likely win with their bats. For years, the A’s have been successful with pitching, but this season, with a staff led by Justin Duchscherer, pitching will be their weak point. If their pitching can be slightly above average, then the A’s could be playing into October.
There really is no reason to write a preview for the Rangers, because the story is the same every season for them: Hitting and no pitching. Everyone in the Rangers' lineup will mash the ball and Texas will probably lead the league in home runs. Look for big seasons fromKinlser, Hamilton, Davis, and Cruz, but that alone will not make up for their lack of starting pitching.
Nolan Ryan was a great pitcher, but he is proving to be a bad executive. Until Texas starts focusing on getting some pitching, they will never be in playoff contention.
Ken Griffey Jr. returns to finish out his Hall of Fame career where it started, but other then watching him, there will be little joy for M’s fans. Offensively, the Mariners have some talent, but their pitching might be the worst in the Major Leagues. Brandon Morrow, who is their best starting pitcher but is in the bullpen, is a star in the making but is injured and will be battling injury all season.
The Erik Bedard deal has been a bust, and he has already worn out his welcome with the fans and teammates. It has been a terrible year for Seattle sports fans, and the Mariners will likely make it even worse. 100 loses is more then possible for this team.
Rookie of the Year: Matt Wieters, Baltimore.
Cy Young: Roy Halladay, Toronto
MVP: Grady Sizemore, Cleveland
Wild Card: Minnesota Twins
ALCS: Boston over Los Angeles
New York Mets
This Mets team might be the most talented team in all of baseball, and they will be looking to avoid another late-season collapse. The signings of Francisco Rodriguez and J.J Putz will solidify the bullpen, which has been the Mets' Achilles' heel for the last few seasons. David Wright will have his best year and the offense will be one of the best in the National League.
The Phillies are looking to defend their first World Series title since 1980 and they will be in a dogfight with Mets for NL East supremacy all season. The Phillies are loaded offensively, but are forced to rely on the ancient Jamie Moyer as their second, so starting pitching will likely be an issue for them.
The Mets made major moves to address their concerns, but the Phillies did not make any moves outside of the Raul Ibanez deal, so they return basically the same team. Chase Utley is healthy and will likely bring a third MVP award to the Phillies infield this season.
Unfortunately for them, the Marlins have the Mets and Phillies in their division, which makes a division title unlikely. Say what you want about the way Marlins run their organization, but they are competitive and have tremendous talent on their 2009 roster.
The Marlins will shift their focus offensively from focusing on the home run, like they did last season, to winning with speed fundamentals like their 2003 championship team. The Marlins are quietly building one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball, and I believe they will be in the heart of the wild card race all season.
The Braves have too much talent to be finishing fourth in their division, but that is likely where they will end up this season. The Braves made a great offseason move in acquiring Derrick Lowe as opposed to A.J Burnett, and Lowe should be able to mentor a young starting staff for the Braves.
Jair Jurjens is in line for a breakout season and will team with Lowe to make a formidable top of the starting rotation. Brian Mcann and Jeff Francour will anchor a Braves lineup that should score some runs. As usual, Atlanta’s success will hinge on the success of their starting pitching, and I think they could be a surprising team this season.
The Nationals have a new stadium and Ryan Zimmerman, but little hope for success this season. With Lastings, Milledge and Elijah Dukes, the Nats are building a talented young outfield and should be seeing them come into form in a few seasons. The Josh Willingham acquisition flew under the radar, but will add some much needed “pop” to theNats lineup.
Despite Willingham and Zimmerman, the Nats will struggle to score runs, something that they need to do to make up for bad starting pitching. It will be a long year for Nats fans, but for their sake, I hope they at least draw some people to their beautiful new ballpark.
Cubs fans still come out and support their team despite not winning a World Series in 100 years, and they will have a lot to cheer about this season. Despite his off-the-field issues, Milton Bradley is an absolute beast and will make the Cubs lineup the best in baseball. The Cubs should have a lot of offensive success in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field and will likely end with one of the best home records in baseball.
Carlos Zambrano will have to show that he is worthy of the long-term deal that he signed last year and will anchor a talented Cubs rotation. With Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg at the back end of the bullpen, the Cubs should not be blowing too many leads late in the game. Could this finally be the year for the “loveable losers?” It's possible.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals flew under the radar last season but were in the playoff hunt until the latter months. They will challenge the Cubs for the division title this season. A healthy Chris Carpenter will provide a lot of wins to a starting rotation that was the weak part of the team last season. Mark Mulder has not shown the form he did when he was Oakland and this will be a make-or-break season for him.
Kyle Lohse had a career year last season, and if he pitches that way this season, then the Cardinals should win a lot of games. Offensively, the Cardinals will be improved, thanks to the acquisition of Kahlil Green, and they should score a lot of runs this season. Albert Pujols will put up his usual numbers and finish in the top three of the MVP voting. He could lead the Cards to the playoffs.
The Brewers will hit a ton of home runs and score a lot of runs this season, all of which they will need to make up for a suspect starting rotation. I like Jeff Suppan, but he is not a No. 1 starter, which is likely the role that he will play in Milwaukee.Yovani Gallardo is a star in the making and, if healthy, he could win between 15 and 20 games.
Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder will be in the middle of the MVP race and will help the Brewers win have to carry the Brewers to many wins this season. However, the lack of starting pitching will likely keep the Brewers from making a return trip to the playoffs this season.
The Astros made turned an impressive second half run almost into a playoff berth and there is no reason to see why they will not be competitive this season. Roy Oswalt might be one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball and should be around the 20-win mark by the end of the season.
Outside of Lance Berkman and Miguel Tejada, the Astros lineup has a lot of guys that you have never heard of, but they will produce and should have the Astros in the playoff discussion by the end of the season.
2009 will be the same story as it every year for the Reds: They will hit a ton of home runs and give up a ton of home runs. Saying that Great American Ballpark is a hitter-friendly park is an understatement, and the Reds will once again be one of the best offensive ball clubs.
Pitching-wise, the Reds have talent, but their ballpark definitely hurts their starting pitching stats. Edinson Volquez broke out last year by putting up gaudy numbers and he will look to repeat that this season. Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo haveproven themselves in the past and both can put up some high strikeout totals. Johnny Cueto will be the key to the Reds' staff; he needs to develop some consistency and prove on his win total.
If this happens, the Reds could make some noise in the NL Central.
There isn’t much hope in Pittsburgh, as it seems likely that the Pirates will finish in the cellar of the division yet again. NateMcLouth had an All-Star year last year, but if he puts up big numbers in the first half, he will likely be traded to a contender.
The Pirates have talent offensively with McLouth, Doumit, and LaRoche, but their young pitching will likely struggle, meaning that the offense will have to carry the team. Pirates fans will be in for a long season this season and will undoubtedly be thinking back to the glory days of this storied franchise.
Los Angeles Dodgers
This division will be a two-horse race between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks for the division title, but ultimately it will be won by the Dodgers. Now that Manny is done being Manny, there are no distractions for the Dodgers. This team will need to improve its power numbers, but I believe that Russell Martin, Andre Either, and Matt Kemp will increase their power numbers this season and lead the Dodgers back to the playoffs.
The pitching staff is young and talented and will improve from last year thanks to another year of experience. Joe Torre will be in the playoffs yet again this year, while JoeGirardi likely will not. I wonder if George Steinbrenner is regretting his decision to let Torre go.
All of the tools are in place for the Diamondbacks to revert back to the 2007 form and put 2008 in their rearview mirror. Brandon Webb will likely win another Cy Young and will finish with around 18 wins by season’s end. Chris Young, Justin Upton, Mark Reynolds, and Stephen Drew will carry a young but very talented Arizona lineup.
This is a team that could easily win the division, make the playoffs, and then make some noise when they get there.
The Rockies will be better then last year, but will not be anywhere near first place in the division at any point this season. Despite losing Matt Holliday, the Rockies still have a powerful lineup that will capitalize on the thin air in Colorado.
Everything went right for this team in their 2007 World Series run, and everything seemed to go wrong last season for them. This season, the Rockies will be somewhere in the middle of both of these situations and will land in the middle of their division.
San Francisco Giants
Acquiring 45-year-old Randy Johnson means that the Giants will have $40 million invested in two former Cy Young Award winners (Johnson and Barry Zito). Johnson is no longer an elite pitcher in this league, but he should help in the maturation of Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, and the rest of the young Giants pitchers.
Runs will be at a premium for this team and they should land in the bottom of the league in home runs hit. I expect some improvement from the Giants, but I believe their offensive ineptitude will prohibit them from challenging.
San Diego Padres
Does anyone remember 2007, when the Padres were in a one-game playoff with the Rockies for the division title? My, how far the Padres are falling...and things could get worse. Outside of Jake Peavy, they have bad starting pitching, and offensively they have nobody to drive in runs outside of Adrian Gonzalez. Peavy and Gonzalez are likely to be dealt by the trade deadline, and therehauling of the franchise will start.
Rookie of the Year: Cameron Maybin, Florida.
Cy Young: Brandon Webb, Arizona
Wild Card: Philadelphia Phillies
MVP: Hanley Ramirez, Florida
NLCS: Mets over Cubs
World Series: Red Sox over Mets