Pitchers and catchers have not reported yet, but baseball season is upon us.
With that being established, it's only right that predictions be made.
I give you my predictions in the race for 2008 World Series Champions.
Looking at all the teams (on paper), there are only two teams that stand a chance to win the World Series this upcoming season (barring any major injuries or major in-season trades.)
Those two teams are the Detroit Tigers and the Boston Red Sox.
For personal reasons, it better not be the Red Sox...again!
Let's take an in-depth look inside both teams, and then see if we can decide on which team stands the better chance.
Speaking of major trades, Detroit's blockbuster during the offseason vaulted it to the top of my list of teams I find likely to win the World Series.
The additions of Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis add an aura of dominance to this team, as long as both of the players live up to their potential, and don't bomb in 2008.
Looking at Detroit's opening-day lineup, you have to discuss it as one of the best ever put together, from one through nine.
The lineup will look something like this:
- Curtis Granderson .302-23-74 122 runs, 26 SB
- Placido Polanco .341-9-67 105 runs, only 30 Ks
- Miguel Cabrera .320-34-119 91 runs
- Magglio Ordonez .363-28-139 117 runs, 216 hits
- Gary Sheffield .265-26-75 107 runs, 22 SB
- Carlos Guillen .296-21-102 86 runs, 13 SB
- Ivan Rodriguez .281-11-63
- Edgar Renteria .332-12-57 87 runs
- Jacque Jones .285-5-66
That is an insane lineup.
Not to mention, the Tigers have Marcus Thames (18 HR) and Brandon Inge (14 HR) coming off the bench.
That lineup (if completely healthy) has the potential to score 1,000 runs. Only one team has achieved that feat since 1950, the 1999 Cleveland Indians. If the Tigers are unable to reach 1,000 runs; 900 seems extremely feasible.
Not to be outdone by the offense; the Detroit's pitching staff is also one to reckon with.
With Justin Verlander as the ace (18-6, 3.66 ERA, 1.23 WHIP), it has someone to count on every fifth start as somebody who can end any mini-losing streak.
After Verlander, the staff isn't anything to scoff at. Although it might not be everything you want, statistically, the potential it carries outweighs the numbers.
Jeremy Bonderman (11-9, 5.01 ERA, 1.38 WHIP) struggled last season, but has the potential to be a 15-game winner in the major leagues, which was proven in 2006 when he went 14-8, with a 4.08 ERA. If he can get his ERA back down to the 4.08 range, his win total will approach the 16-17 range, due to the tremendous offense he will have backing him.
Dontrelle Willis (10-15, 5.17 ERA, 1.60 WHIP) has had two consecutive off-years, but the potential he has showed his entire career is something the Tigers can bank on. Playing for crummy Marlin teams led to his decline, and I believe that playing for a winning team, like the Tigers, will put Willis back to his 22-10 days of 2005. He is only 26 years old, and is in no way washed-up.
Nate Robertson (9-13, 4.76 ERA) and Kenny Rogers (3-4, 4.43 ERA) are quality pitchers to have at the back end of a rotation. Rogers is back in good health, and if he can stay healthy, you would have to imagine he will have a winning season based on the fact that he's had only three losing seasons in his career as a starter. And all three of those seasons have been injury riddled seasons (6-7 in 1997, 5-7 in 2001, and 3-4 last season). Robertson is probably this team's fifth starter, and has showed that he can be a .500 pitcher, which is something you come to expect out of your fifth starter. If he can have a 13-13 season, like he did in 2006, the Tigers will be more than happy with his performance.
After the starters leave the game, the Tigers have one of the best bullpens in the game.
With the tandem of Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney handling the seventh and eighth innings of games; it is unlikely that if Detroit will lose if leading at that point.
And, if Bobby Seay can pitch the same way he did last season, that will make for a very dangerous trio, leading up to Todd Jones closing the game out.
All in all, the Detroit Tigers are a serious threat on offense, and have the potential to be a very good defensive team, as well.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox may not have as scary a lineup as the Tigers do, from top to bottom, but the top of their lineup is one that will put fright into any pitching staff.
With Jacoby Ellsbury taking over at the top of the lineup, it is not exactly certain what the Red Sox will get out of him, but if it's anything like what he showed at the end of last season, the entire league better take notice. He is a legitimate threat to go .300-30-100, and to steal over 30 bases, as well. And, that's just being nice to the other teams in the league. He could have better numbers than that. But, for now, he's untested.
After him, the lineup goes into terror mode for opposing pitchers.
Whether it be Dustin Pedroia or Kevin Youkilis at the two-spot in the order, teams will have to deal with a .300+ quality hitter that doesn't strike out much, which means more baserunners for the Many Ramirez-DavidOrtiz tandem.
And, we don't even need to mention anything about what they can do with men on base.
After Ortiz comes to the plate, question marks start to linger, but if JD Drew, Youkilis/Pedroia, and Mike Lowell all hit like they are capable; the Red Sox lineup will be just as potent as the Tigers lineup will.
With Jason Varitek and Julio Lugo bringing up the rear end of the lineup, it allows the opposing pitchers to take some deep breaths, seeing how they aren't dealing with the likes of what they just had to go through. With that said, Varitek and Lugo can both hurt you, and have proven that they can come through in the clutch at times.
The thing that sets apart the Red Sox and Tigers is the pitching staffs.
With Josh Beckett (20-7, 3.27 ERA, 1.14 WHIP) being the ace of all aces in the AL, the Red Sox have one of the most dominant pitchers on the mound every fifth game.
After Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka (15-12, 4.40 ERA, 1.32 WHIP) has shown that he can handle the rigors of MLB, and looks to be a good option as a No. 2 starter. If he grows, as a pitcher, he will be even better than he was last season. I would look for a 17-10 type season from Dice-K this year.
Curt Schilling (9-8, 3.87 ERA, 1.25 WHIP) pitched through injuries last season, and missed time, but looks to bounce back and be his normal self this season. As a No. 3 starter, having a former Cy Young winner is not a bad option. He might be losing some of his luster, but if he can stay healthy, and pitch like he did two seasons ago, the 1-2-3 part of this rotation will be tough to handle. I don't think he will live up to his potential, and I think he will miss time this year due to injury, but he will stay above .500.
Tim Wakefield (17-12, 4.76 ERA, 1.35 WHIP) is the "X-factor" of the pitching staff. He can be on at any given moment, or he could get lit up at any given moment. Yes, that's true for most pitchers, but none more than the knuckleballer here. He had a good season last year, and the Red Sox are looking to feed off that again. If they get another 17-win season from Wakefield, I fear this team could easily win 100 games, plus some.
With Jon Lester as the fifth starter, it's a given that this team will win 100 games. He might be the most talented young pitcher in the game today. He has proven himself a winner in limited time, so far. His career mark of 11-2 is impressive, but his true potential has not been tapped into yet. It is still to be seen if he can make it a full season, as a MLB starter, and if he can last the entire year, I'd imagine he would work himself up to the No. 2 spot in the rotation, and give the Red Sox two 20-game winners for years to come, considering Beckett is only turning 28 this season.
Teams don't like facing the Boston starters, but they like facing the Boston bullpen even less.
With Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen, Javier Lopez, Kyle Snyder, and Julian Tavarez, the Red Sox have the least-hittable bullpen in baseball. The Red Sox led the league in team ERA last season, and this bullpen was a big reason why.
And, I didn't even get to the biggest reason why the bullpen is so scary.
The man is a monster. He is the game's best closer, on the best team. That is a scary combination, if I've ever heard one.
The worst thing about him is that he had an off-year last year!
He had 37 saves, with a 1.85 ERA, and a 0.77 WHIP, and that was a below-average performance for him. The year before, he finished the season with a 0.92 ERA.
There has been talk about him moving to the starting rotation before, and the Red Sox were smart to leave him where he is. His intensity is made for the closer role. If he stays a closer his entire career, he will leave this game as the best closer ever to pitch. And, yes, I'm a Yankees fan, who loves Mariano Rivera. But, as of right now, Papelbon is a better closer than Rivera. It's mostly due to Rivera's age, and recent decline, but it's still the case.
With all that said, I believe that the Boston Red Sox will repeat as World Series Champions in 2008.
I don't want it to happen, but I have to admit that this team is just too good, and has the potential to get even better as the season goes along.
On a side note, if they do get Johan Santana, and only give up Lester and some non-pertinent starters on their team (such as Crisp), you can erase everything I said about the Tigers, and just make it a one-team race to the finish.
Yes, every year, the Yankees have a chance at winning the title, and I'm not giving up on this team, but their bullpen is too much garbage to consider standing a chance against these two teams in a playoff series. And, signing Latroy Hawkins is NOT the answer. They will need to score 12 runs a game to keep things close in those series!
Please let me be wrong.