Hello, New York. Miss me?
In the wake of the Yankees' 27th championship, I took what I felt was a needed five months off from truly following any sports. Yes, I watched with guarded interest as the Knicks pretended to be a real basketball team in December, and wasn't surprised when it turned out to be a fluke good month in the middle of another horrendous season. I watched the Giants' defense implode over the second half of the 2009 season and accepted that I'd be watching playoff football as a spectator instead of a fan.
In fact, I think I checked out for real in the middle of the 8th inning of Game Six of the World Series. My little sister came into the room and began to freak out like I had been freaking out all month long. Watching her get nervous made me calm; I accepted, finally, that I had no control over the outcome. There was nothing for me to do but smile and tell her, "Don't worry. That's Mariano Rivera, the greatest relief pitcher who ever lived. We're gonna win."
And when we did, I was still calm. There were no tears. No fist pumps. No leaps into the air or screams into the night. I made my phone calls, and high-fived my fellow fans as they poured out of the bars onto the street, and got some rest.
I didn't follow spring training, and I've only got a certain amount of information about Granderson, Nick Johnson, and the rest of the offseason developments I glanced over. I don't think I'm going to get back into game shape until May. But here's my preview on the American League East, and the rest of the league...
AL EAST Projected Standings
I continue to believe in the power of Andy Pettitte. He will win ugly. It's what he does, at this stage of his career, and if Mussina could pitch to a 3.30 ERA and win 20 games for a sub-par Yankees team at forty years old, then Pettitte can easily do what he's been doing for a few more years. In that case, I'm not afraid to match up the Yankees' rotation against Boston's. Their top-three aside, it's been proven that Matsuzaka is a five-inning pitcher and Wakefield is about two weeks away from collecting Social Security. Clay Buchholz will have to prove himself over a full season of work before I'm any more afraid of him than the Red Sox are of Phil Hughes. Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte and Vasquez are all reasonably sure things. Last I checked, Boston only has three. Throw in a vastly diminished offense relying disproportionately on Adrian Beltre and Mike Cameron, and I don't see how the Red Sox win the division. That being said, their pitching all but guarantees them a postseason berth. And these two teams are still the best in the American League.
The X-Factor is Tampa Bay. Their lineup is scarier than Boston's at this point, so if James Shields and Matt Garza are recovered from their 2008 playoff hangover...and if David Price and Wade Davis are as good as everyone seems to think they are...and if Jeremy Hellickson comes up and dominates with some rookie-year Element of Surprise in June...and if their bullpen comes together and finds a way to consistently get leads to new closer Rafael Soriano...yeah. Lots of ifs. That's why Tampa's an X-Factor and not predicted to finish first or second.
Baltimore and Toronto? Same problems as last year, except now Toronto has no ace pitcher. Baltimore's combination of Brian Matusz, Jeremy Guthrie and Chris Tillman at the top of their rotation makes them watchable. Toronto's young core of Aaron Hill, Adam Lind and Travis Snyder in the middle of their lineup makes them...a team without any proven pitchers. See you guys next year.
A full year of Jake Peavy ought to be enough to put the White Sox over the top. A full year of outdoor games in Minnesota ought to put a damper on the Twins' offense— especially if Justin Morneau's still not 100%—and unless Francisco Liriano takes a trip in the Hot Tub Time Machine back to 2006, the Twins still don't have a true #1. Detroit will miss Edwin Jackson more than they know. Cleveland and Kansas City are still pretty much nowhere.
This is the toughest division in baseball to call right now. My money is on Texas. Colby Lewis' internship in Japan will make the difference. Seattle will be second or third, depending on when they get Erik Bedard back and how big Jered Weaver 's...curveball turns out to be now that he's the nominal number one in Anaheim. Oakland is getting better, but not quickly enough to get out of the cellar this year.
PLAYOFFS: New York over Chicago, Boston over Texas. New York over Boston in seven.
Six words: Roy Halladay in the National League. Atlanta and Florida will battle for the Wild Card. Atlanta's pitching depth will be the tipping point. The Mets are still the Mets. But at least they aren't the Nationals.
Not much has changed. Cards are the class of the division. Brewers are a distant second. The Cubs and Astros are 80-win teams. The Reds will contend in 2011 when Volquez returns at full form and Chapman is ready to roll. The Pirates are nowhere.
Another tough call. But the Giants have no lineup, the Dodgers are starting Vicente Padilla on Opening Day and the Rockies are deep from top to bottom and from One to Five. Brandon Webb will be rusty, if and when he comes back, and Ian Kennedy is not a viable number three starter. San Diego will see good results from the kids they got for Jake Peavy, but they're not there yet.
PLAYOFFS: Philadelphia over St. Louis, Colorado over Atlanta. Philadelphia over Colorado in five.
Yep. Rematch. Yankees' bullpen is the deciding factor. Yankees in six.
(What, who was I going to pick?)