A few weeks tardy, but here are my thoughts and analysis on the season that lies ahead. Thus far in the young season, there have been some big surprises. The Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals are a combined 23-11, while the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets trail their respective divisions. Okay, the Mets' early woes aren't much of a shock.
Will the New York Yankees have enough pitching to contend? Do the Philadelphia Phillies get by on their rotation alone? Can the Cincinnati Reds take another step forward after last year's success? Are the San Francisco Giants going to successfully defend their title? Let's take a look...
Everyone's so quick to dismiss Boston as done after a horrendous start, and it's lunacy. The rotation is deep, if not damn good, but it's the lineup that will win the Red Sox the division. Adrian Gonzalez for MVP—I've been sayin' it since he was traded to Beantown. Pricey free-agent Carl Crawford has struggled early, but he’ll get it going sooner or later and the Sawx could score 7-8 runs a night.
New York has a very, very shaky rotation now that Phil Hughes has been throwing softer than Jamie Moyer. But, you have to figure he'll be back, and produce at least mixed results, while the Yanks go and get an ace this summer (King Felix? Josh Johnson?) via trade. Yes, the Yankees will have to part with some top prospects, but in the end, I think they'll get their new front-line starter and grab the Wild Card.
Additionally, acquiring an ace who's still signed through 2012 will give them leverage against current No. 1 CC Sabathia, who, in fine shape at 350 lbs., down from 500 last season, is clearly looking to opt out of his current contract at the end of the year to try and pry more dough from the Yanks.
Tampa Bay has a whole new team after seemingly everyone skipped town for more money elsewhere. The Rays lineup lacks punch but the pitching is deep, which should keep them at least at .500.
Baltimore has a developing young squad with Buck Showalter at the helm, meaning that he should take them to the playoffs by 2014, have ownership not renew his contract and then watch the O's win it all the following year.
Can't we just find a new home for Toronto in the states and not have to worry about that damn Canadian national anthem?
The worst division in baseball. Chicago doesn't impress that much, but the other four teams here are just so weak by comparison. The pitching is good enough, Adam Dunn adds 40 home runs, while Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez make the lineup potent and the South Siders 90-game winners.
Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Justin Verlander...and a ton of mediocrity—that's exactly what Detroit has got. I'm sorry, but Austin Jackson and Rick Porcello just aren't that good!
Minnesota may have been second in the division before Joe Mauer went down. Actually, scratch that. Go ahead and look at the Twins' 25-man roster and tell me why they should be higher than third.
Cleveland is off to a cute start, but it won't sustain. Travis Hafner's alive?? If Grady Sizemore stays healthy and plays well, he could net the Indians a good haul for him in July. This team should be built around Carlos Santana.
Everyone and their mother raves about the farm system Kansas City has. While it's superb, it's still the farm, and the parent club is still devoid of talent. That will change, but not this year.
Los Angeles Angels
When Cliff Lee left Arlington for the city of brotherly love this winter, Texas was expected to regress. Thus far, the defending AL champs have showed no signs of slowing, even sans Lee and, now, reigning AL MVP Josh Hamilton, has been lost to injury (shocker). While it's imperative the Rangers get Hamilton’s bat back, the lineup is better than we think.
Los Angeles is the same small-ball-type club it has always been under Mike Scioscia. The Angels underachieved last season, and, while the hitters aren't scaring anyone, the 1-2 punch on the mound of Jered Weaver and Danny Haren will keep them in it.
Oakland is everybody's sexy pick to win the West this year. Yeah? With who exactly supplying the offense? As nice as the pitching trio of Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez may be, you need to score to win. I'm sorry, but if you throw out a lineup in which Josh Thole could hit cleanup, you've got problems. Next!
Seattle has to make a decision on Felix Hernandez, perhaps this year. Imagine what the Mariners could get for him? With "Felix 1A" Michael Pineda already collecting wins and wracking up K's and Justin Smoak on the rise, the M's could bring a ton more young talent to the Pacific Northwest by selling high on the defending AL Cy Young winner.
New York Mets
Philadelphia is playing to win now. The Phillies' once-elite farm isn't quite barren, but lost its rank as elite with the purging of prospects to acquire Cliff Lee (the first time), Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt. The preseason chatter was that their once-feared lineup was now old—well, it doesn't seem like it. Even if the offense doesn't supply runs as it has in years past, and Chase Utley misses 100 games, the stellar rotation will guide them to fifth consecutive division crown. I'm still peeved that Joe Blanton had the nerve to pose in the same photos as his rotation mates.
Boy, do I like Atlanta going forward. The Braves need some time to develop and jell, but how can you not like the future? Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Tommy Hanson and Craig Kimbrel lead the youth movement.
The bullpen is strong, and the rotation is actually better than most give it credit for; Tim Hudson is underrated. You can never have enough pitching. By 2014, the Braves will be back in the World Series and the Phillies will be under .500. You watch.
Speaking of .500, Florida seems to hover around there perennially. If Mike Stanton and Gaby Sanchez can mature quickly and Javier Vazquez can recapture his solid NL form, the Fish may turn some heads—there's talent enough there.
You know where there isn't enough talent? New York. Okay, okay, there's talent, but it's usually injured (Jose Reyes, Jason Bay, Carlos Beltran, etc.) or under-producing (see: Pelfrey, Mike). Since there's no money to spend courtesy of the Madoff mess, it may be time to gut the team. And you know what? It may be the best thing for them.
As much of a tomb Citi Field may be in August and September, Washington is still in the basement in the East. But the Nationals won't be for long. Next year, once Bryce Harper comes up and Stephen Strasburg comes back, they will start to be taken seriously.
St. Louis Cardinals
Such a wide-open race; any one of the top three could take it. It should be fun to watch. Milwaukee vastly improved its rotation. When he returns, Zack Greinke will form an imposing 1-2-3 along with Yovani Gallardo and Shaun Marcum, whichever order you put them in. Prince Fielder is playing for a payday, and Ryan Braun is one of the best outfielders in the game.
Cincinnati tries to defend its division title. The Reds lineup is a nice blend of speed and power, a bit more of the latter, and while the rotation is suspect, they could convert flame-throwing Aroldis Chapman into a starter or trade for one in the summer. Let's not forget last year’s NL MVP Joey Votto, either.
To be fair, this division may have belonged to St. Louis before Adam Wainwright went down for the year. Just too big of a loss; I mean, did you see that curveball to Beltran? Okay, moving on before I get upset…The Cards still have the best player on the planet, Albert Pujols, playing for a contract. Yeah, .425/60/150 sounds right. There has to be a pitcher Dave Duncan can't fix, right?
I really think these three teams come down to the wire, but don't be surprised if someone from another division (ahem, Braves) sneaks in last minute and steals the Wild Card. But I’ll take the Brew Crew to win the Central due to their quality starting pitching and lethal 3-4 of Braun-Fielder. Plus, one single injury won’t kill them. Imagine if Votto went down for Cincy? They’d be toast. The Cards have an even more deadly 3-4 of Pujols-Matt Holliday, but the Wainwright injury is going to keep them from October.
Chicago is eerily similar to the Mets. Both teams have talent, but much of the talent they have is overpaid, aging and/or banged up. The Cubbies need to start anew, because they aren't ending the drought with this cast.
Houston has a few young players, but it's never a good sign when washed-up Carlos Lee is hitting cleanup.
It seems that we all say the same thing about Pittsburgh every year: "Wow, the Bucs had a good draft, got some new young talent on this club, they can be all right." Yet, it never materializes. The Pirates do have some nice young bats, but the rotation is a joke.
Yet another tough division to call. Defending world champion San Francisco will need to acquire a bat before the trade deadline (Jose Reyes, perhaps?), because, while a repeat is possible with the current roster, it is unlikely.
Troy Tulowitzki is a monster out in Colorado. The Rockies have a shot out of the gate, and get ace Ubaldo Jimenez back soon. Don’t be shocked if Carlos Gonzalez comes back to earth. The Rox travel to AT&T Park for the final series of the year, and the division could very well be on the line.
If Matt Kemp can get back on the track to stardom after taking last year off, Los Angeles will be in the hunt, but the rest of the lineup is unspectacular. Clayton Kershaw could be a Cy Young candidate for years to come.
Justin Upton can be a perennial All-Star in Arizona, but he has little around him and the pitching is weak. I don't care what they say about him, Dan Hudson will regress.
In San Diego, the castoff of Adrian Gonzalez leaves Mat Latos and...Mat Latos. Nearly a playoff team last year before a late collapse, the Pads finish in the cellar.
It’s nearly impossible to predict the playoff series outcomes when they start in October, let alone at the beginning of the season. But, just for fun…
Boston (1) def. Chicago (3) in three
New York (WC/4) def. Texas (2) in four
Philadelphia (1) def. San Francisco (3) in five
Atlanta (WC/4) def. Milwaukee (2) in five
Boston def. New York in six
Philadelphia def. Atlanta in five
Boston def. Philadelphia in seven
Don't we all deserve an epic seven-game Fall Classic, where Yankees fans cheer on the team they beat two short years ago in Philly, and Mets fans, all 12 of them, transform into rabid Red Sox fans again? Seriously, Boston's lineup against Philly's starters—it could be epic.