Monday, March 31, 2008

2008 MLB Preview

Ok, so today isn't really opening day, but given that most MLB teams start their seasons on this day of days, it's OPENING DAY in my books. I'm not going to move from the couch from about 1 PM to late into the night. And I'm being literal --- I bought a catheter.


NL East
This will be a season-long dogfight between Philly and New York for the division title, and hopefully Johan Santana's arrival will mean that the Mets won't again suffer a historic late-season collapse. As much as I slag off the Yankees, I have a soft spot for the Mets. Maybe it's the Mr. Met-attempts-suicide skits on Conan O'Brien. I will say this about Philadelphia, if they think Brad Lidge is going to do anything positive for them this year, they're dreaming. Atlanta will hang around and basically be the NL East's answer to the Blue Jays --- one step behind the top dogs. Washington and Florida might both end up surprising a few teams by posting better-than-expected records, but they'll ultimately be held back by terrible pitching staffs. And, in Washington's case, a pretty poor lineup. Wait, why am I picking them for fourth again? Hell, Florida at least has Hanley Ramirez. The Nats are pinning their hopes on Nick Johnson being healthy? Jesus wept.

Division's best: C Brian McCann, 1B Mark Teixeira, 2B Chase Utley, 3B David Wright, SS Hanley Ramirez, OF Carlos Beltran, Shane Victorino, Pat Burrell, SP Johan Santana, Cole Hamels, Tim Hudson, John Smoltz (when healthy), John Maine, RP Billy Wagner, Chad Cordero

NL Central
Cubs vs. Brewers, all season long. It's like the Bears/Packers rivalry, except in this case, the Chicago team will actually end up winning. I expect Milwaukee to continue their development and may well end up challenging for the NL wild card as well. There really isn't much reason to continue with the rest of the division with the other four teams suck to varying degrees, but let's just slot it as Astros, Reds, Pirates, Cardinals, in that order. Houston's lineup is pretty strong, though I question the pickup of Miguel Tejada now that he's apparently off the juice. The Astros' rotation apart from Roy Oswalt is trash, however, and that will limit them to third and may even a sub-.500 record. Some people have Cincinnati as a possible surprise team, but Dusty Baker is one of the worst managers in baseball. He will screw it up. Step one: not making Joey Votto the everyday first baseman and instead platooning him with Scott Hatteberg (seriously? Hatteberg?). Step two: sending Homer Bailey, the young future ace, back to the minors. Step three: sending Jay Bruce, arguably the top prospect in all of baseball, to the minors so Norris Hopper and Corey Patterson can instead patrol center field. Ye gods. Pittsburgh takes a baby step of escaping the basement, though their streak of losing seasons will continue. As for St. Louis, how the hell did this team win the World Series two years ago? Their roster stinks. Pujols is their only bright spot, and his elbow might fall apart at any moment this season. St. Louis will lose at least 95 games.

Division's best: C J.R. Towles (seriously, this division is brutal for catching), 1B Albert Pujols, 2B Brandon Phillips, 3B Ryan Braun, SS Miguel Tejada, OF Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Lee, Adam Dunn, SP Carlos Zambrano, Aaron Harang, Roy Oswalt, Rich Hill, RP Jason Isringhausen, Jose Valverde

NL West
The most competitive division in baseball, bar none. It wouldn't surprise me to see any of the five clubs walk away with the division crown...well, okay, the Giants winning would be a big surprise, but even still, their Ewing Theory potential is very high with Bonds finally off the team. But let's just pencil San Fran in for last place and get onto the real teams. Arizona inexplicably won the division last year in spite of the fact that NONE of the young players they were counting on really came through like they hoped. If any or all of these guys (Justin Upton, Stephen Drew, Mark Reynolds) breaks out, the D-Backs could be a legitimately scary team, especially given their Webb-Haren one-two rotation punch. The Rockies will look to prove that their massive winning streak to the NL pennant last year wasn't a fluke, but their rotation still has too many holes to keep up with the Snakes. Los Angeles gets Joe Torre as manager in place of Grady Little, which is like upgrading from a day-old grilled cheese sandwich to a steak dinner. James Loney and Matt Kemp are primed for big breakout seasons, and Andre Ethier might do the same if Torre is wise enough to finally let him play everyday and keep Juan Pierre's overpaid and useless carcass on the bench. But overall, I think the Dodgers are still a player away, not unlike the San Diego Padres. If SD had one more strong bat in their lineup or can get one at the deadline, they can make some noise, but until then I can't put them any higher than fourth place. Remember, fourth place in the NL West might mean the Pads are no more than six games out of first, so it's not as unimpressive as it sounds.

Division's best: C Russ Martin, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, 2B Orlando Hudson, 3B Garrett Atkins, SS Troy Tulowitzki, OF Matt Holliday, Eric Byrnes, Brad Hawpe, SP Brandon Webb, Jake Peavy, Dan Haren, Chris Young, Brad Penny, RP Trevor Hoffman, Takashi Saito

AL East
The Yankees/Red Sox rivalry will continue to garner 80% of the media's baseball coverage as well as continue to bore the shit out of 80% of baseball fans. Is this what being a fan of a non-Old Firm side in the Scottish Premier League feels like? The Red Sox will continue their success as their team is starting to eerily resemble the late 90's Yankees --- a mix of homegrown talent, key free agent signings and smart trade pickups. The injuries to Schilling and Beckett are somewhat of a concern for BoSox fans, but Beckett will miss barely any time and Schill's injury means that Clay Buchholz (who, y'know, just threw a no-hitter last year) might get more time in the rotation. Or, if not Buchholz, then former Cy Young Bartolo Colon. AS THE FIFTH STARTER. I hate the Red Sox. But not as much as I hate the Yankees, who enter the first season of the post-Torre era with some big holes to fill. Their offense will still score a ton of runs, but expecting the likes of Giambi, Damon or even Matsui to play full seasons is questionable, and New York's bench is thin at best. The rotation is expecting Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy to both emerge, and hoping that Mussina's ability isn't as completely shot as Roger Clemens' credibility. All NY has to do is get a lead to the eighth, and then Joba and Rivera will more than likely close the door as the best 1-2 combo since Rivera and Wetteland. And now, for third in the East yet again, we come to the Blue Jays. This team will win its usual 81-86 games and continue to never seriously contend for any sort of postseason berth. I don't see how the Jays improved themselves at all over the off-season; if anything, they got worse. It's possible the Rays could even push the Jays for third, but Tampa is still a year or two away from being an actual good club. On the bright side for T-Bay, they'll escape the cellar thanks to the living joke that is the Baltimore franchise. Over/under on losses for the Orioles in 2008: 110. Bet the under at your own risk.

Division's best: C Jorge Posada, 1B Kevin Youkilis, 2B Brian Roberts (at least as long as he's still an Oriole), 3B Alex Rodriguez, SS Derek Jeter, OF Alex Rios, Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, DH David Ortiz, SP Roy Halladay, Josh Beckett, Chien-Ming Wang, Scott Kazmir (if healthy), Dustin McGowan, RP Jonathan Papelbon, Mariano Rivera

AL Central
Two-team races are all the rage in baseball this year. Every division save the NL West has one, and in the Central it's going to be the Tigers and Indians battling in a battle not seen since Shere Khan battled Mowgli in the Jungle Book. The White Sox will play Baloo the Bear in this division, being lovable and cuddly (the Baloo-Jim Thome comparisons are truly scary) but never rising to beyond the level of a supporting player. Though in 20 years, the White Sox will inexplicably pop up in a cartoon playing a cargo jet pilot. The Twins are Kaa, trying to hypnotize people into thinking they're still a good team without Santana. The Royals are those vulture characters who were supposed to be the Beatles --- K.C. has some promising talent, so they're a copy of a good team, just like the vultures were copies of the legendary Fab Four. In fact, the Royals might rise as far as a fab (for them) fourth place. Man, this worked really well, maybe I should've tried to compare every division to an old Disney cartoon. I could've gotten two paragraphs alone from milking a Yankees-Cruella de Vil connection.

Division's best: C Victor Martinez, 1B Justin Morneau, 2B Placido Polanco, 3B Miguel Cabrera, SS Edgar Renteria (provided he doesn't crap the bed as badly as he did the last time he was in the AL), OF Grady Sizemore, Magglio Ordonez, Nick Swisher, DH Travis Hafner, SP Justin Verlander, C.C. Sabathia, Gil Meche, Fausto Carmona, Mark Buehrle, RP Joe Nathan, Bobby Jenks

AL West
Am I nuts, or do the Angels sort of suck? Their offense will still be enough to carry them to the division title, in spite of their massive holes at short and catcher, but their pitching is suddenly in dire straits with both John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar suffering injuries. The Mariners will keep the Angels honest in (you guessed it) another two-horse race. This one might be the closest of the punch given that the M's finally have a good mix of pitching and hitting, plus a relief ace in J.J. Putz. The Athletics and Rangers will 'battle' it out for third in a showcase of mediocrity.

Division's best: C Kenji Johjima, 1B Casey Kotchman, 2B Howie Kendrick, 3B Chone Figgins in the first half, Adrian Beltre in the second half, SS Michael Young, OF Ichiro, Vladimir Guerrero, Raul Ibanez, DH Torii Hunter, SP Erik Bedard, John Lackey, Rich Harden (if healthy, which is a big if), Joe Blanton, Felix Hernandez, RP J.J. Putz, Francisco Rodriguez

Wild cards: Phillies and Indians

World Series: I'm trying to steer away from any crazy predictions this season, as I'm still smarting from my horrific pick of the Blue Jays in the ALCS two years ago. But I'm also a baseball history buff. It has been exactly 100 years since the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, as they last took the crown when they beat the Detroit Tigers in 1908. The Cubs, in fact, haven't even won a pennant since 1945, when they lost the Series to, you guessed it, the Tigers. It only seems fitting that the Cubs and Tigers once again square off in the World Series with the championship going to....well, the Tigers. Hey, with the White Sox and Red Sox ending their championship droughts, we still need the Cubs to kick around.

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