Five MLB Teams To Watch For in 2010
Lets face it, no one ever gets the predictions for the season anywhere close to perfect. Every year new players blossom and new teams show up and act ready for the big show.
Some have been waiting for years for the right moments, others appear out of nowhere and even surprise themselves. Small money clubs are able to strive in a small division and sometimes even peak so fast that they are able to achieve the postseason status as an underdog. I didn't predict the Cardinals by a longshot last year, and neither did many.
We live for these surprises, and we love to get the guesses right.
Well, I'll take a shot at it. Here are what I can very poorly predict and hope to be correct on: The Top Five Teams That Shock the Baseball World.
5: Washington Nationals
This pick is a little ridiculous which is why I only gave it the 5th spot. I want to make it clear that I am not saying the Nationals are going to make the playoffs, I am just saying they will greatly improve and have a shot at ending the season with their win totals in the 70s.
Last season their main issue was a lack of pitching and a horrific bullpen. Well, this year the team tried to fix that. They picked up their new Number 1 pitcher as Jason Marquis came from the Rockies of Colorado. While there, he had an ERA just over 4 (not great) and a 15-13 record on a poor team. His statistics are not remarkable but they are definitely better than the ones from the previous Nationals rotation.
Another pitcher pick-up is Strasburg, the rookie straight out of college that many are calling a young phenom. Thats a load of crap and don't expect anything big this year or even next year, but it is a good pick-up when you can get a kid who pitches 100 miles per hour from a draft. Sure, they paid him a ridiculous amount but it might just be worth it eventually.
Key offensive pickups for the Nationals include that of Nyjer Morgan and Adam Kennedy. Morgan has been predicted by many to steal more than 55 bases and take a strong role in centerfield for the Nationals. He hit .307 last year and will be a good leadoff man for the young Nats this year.
Adam Kennedy takes the role as the new second baseman after his year of Oakland duty. His on-base and batting average are both above average while he stole a solid 20 bases last year and a complimentary 11 home runs.
Though many predict another slow year for Adam Dunn who got under 40 home runs last year after a long streak, he and Ryan Zimmerman make up an infield power to deal with.
Matt Capps takes over as the closer for the Nats, after a very poor season with the Pirates where his ERA boomed to 5.88. Still, he has a shot at rebuilding an awful bullpen and possibly looking more like his impressive season in 2008 in which he had a WHIP below 1.00.
The fact is that they won't be an amazing team, but they have built a lineup that is pretty strong and the pitching has improved since last year. Don't expect an amazing year, but expect improvement.
4: Tampa Bay Rays
The team is almost identical to the 2009 team (and alot of the miracle 2008 team), but some key changes give the Rays a small chance at taking the AL East for the second time in three years.
For one, BJ Upton is expected by many to have a great year as a speedy centerfielder who could get a large amount of the teams hits. After his 2009 statistics dipped significantly compared to his 2008 stats, (his average fell .32 and his on-base by .7) his speed stayed the same and he was clearly the same overall player. This year he looks to keep the speed and bring up his singles and pick up his walks (which dropped by 40).
With Scott Kazmir gone, Shields and Garza need to step up. David Price needs to fill the spot as a Number 3 pitcher as Sonnanstine is now a full-fledged member of the bullpen. The pitching could be the success of the team, espicially with Rafael Soriano looking like a full-year closer. As a closer for the Braves last year, he was able to strike out 102 batters in just over 75 innings. His ERA kept below 3.00 as his WHIP stayed at an impressive 1.06.
Pat Burrell needs to pick up from his 2009 statistics, which ended up being pretty awful. Carlos Pena needs to pick up his batting average after his .227 average last year, even if he does hit 40 home runs. Its no reason for him to fail to get singles in other situations.
There is alot of "ifs" with this team, but they have a small yet legitimate shot at being a surprise in October.
3: Atlanta Braves
Jason Heyward is the most hyped part about this team that is suppose to battle the reigning NL East champion Philadelphia Phillies.
The big chance on this team? The pitching has gotten much better as 23 year old phenom Tommy Hanson comes off a year where he went 11-4 while earning an ERA under 3.00. Jair Jurrjens is one of the most underrated pitcher in the MLB, with a WHIP barely over 1.10 and a strikeout-walk ratio that sits around 2. Tim Hudson looks to bounce back from a short 2009 season and many predict him to have a large impact on the team.
One offensive problem is Nate McLouth, who has struggled largely in spring training and batted under .200. This comes after a season in which he was traded to the Braves only to struggle and hit at .257. Still, the works of Chipper Jones and Brian McCann will hold up this offense (and maybe a surprise visit from Mr. Heyward).
Yunel Escobar has improved every year as a Brave, and the 27 year old is ready to bat over .300 and include his very impressive strikeout-walk ratio. His on-base sat at a .377 last year, well above the league average, and gives him a chance to look pretty elite.
The bullpen is the issue of the squad. Billy Wagner is not a reliable closer due partially to his age (38) and the fact that he has not had a save since 2008. Some think he has a chance at being dominant during the 2010 season, but taking Billy was a risk for this bullpen.
Billy Cox's last year could be a good one for the Braves. If the lineup works out and the pitching stays impressive, they have a good shot at winning the NL East.
2: Seattle Mariners
I heavily back the Mariners as a choice to win the AL West.
It is a squad that will be remembered for pitching and defense, winning games by grit and winning games late.
Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee don't even need statistics to explain why they are the best 1-2 punch in any rotation. Lee came out of Cleveland to have a gorgeous few months with the Phillies and go undefeated in the World Series. Felix has shown that he is a leading young pitching star that can lead a rotation.
The defense improved with the addition of Chone Figgins and Casey Kotchman, both known for their defensive play to add to the always impressive Ichiro (a hitting machine).
Milton Bradley, shockingly, will start as the cleanup hitter for this power-weak squad even though he comes off a poor year. Ken Griffey Jr. is coming to the end of his storied career in Seattle, but looks to add somehwat on offense through the DH spot.
David Aardsma is my choice to be the best closer of 2010. When I say they will win the games late, I mean that the work by their bullpen will hold up the team. With the Angels falling away this year, meet your new division winner in the West.
1: San Francisco Giants
The Giants are a 'fun' pick to win the NL West, a division which has switched winners many times during this decade.
To begin with, picking a team with a thick rotation is smart. If Barry Zito is able to stay healthy and earn his contract, then the Giants own three long-term deals in their rotation that will ensure pitching success for the next few years. If the offense doesn't get good enough this year, it will next year.
Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain got very close to bringing this poor offensive team in the playoffs last year.
Lincecum, though earning less wins and more losses last year, had a better ERA, a lower WHIP, and improved his opponents average so that the opposing team only hit .206 against him last year.
Matt Cain had a huge turnaround from his 2008 season, letting his WHIP drop about .2, his ERA by about a whole run, and his opponents batting average dropped 19 points. He pitched the exact same amount of innings both years, yet was able to get about 20 less hits and 20 less walks.
When you add a resurging Barry Zito and a no-hitter in Jonathan Sanchez, you have a good rotation. Meanwhile, closer Brian Wilson also had a year where all of his statistics were able to improve (his opponent batting average, ERA and WHIP all feel significantly). There is no where to go wrong with pitching on this team.
The hitting on this team is not so great, however. The offense added Mark DeRosa in the outfield after splitting the '09 season with the Indians and Cardinals. After his trade to St. Louis, Mark's statistics fell. His on-base and batting average each dipped while he hit 3 less home runs in 3 more games. Still, historically, DeRosa is a strong hitter and could be an interesting addition to this team.
Pablo Sandoval had a breakout year in 2010. Pablo or "Kung Fu Panda" batted .330 and knocked in 90 RBIs. His odd way at coming at the ball has let him become part of baseball folklore, but the surrounding offensive tools lack. Edgar Renteria struggled as a Giant last year and Freddy Sanchez failed to hit over .300 with the Pirates and Giants (he is a career .299 hitter).
Bengie Molina hit 20 home runs but his on-base percentage is awful, showing that he does not earn walks very well. On the whole season he walked just 13 times while striking out 68 times, not a very good ratio at all.
This team might struggle offensively, but a mid-year addition could be key for this team and with the incredible starting rotation this team has a chance at winning a historically weak division.