Monday, April 06, 2009

Mark's MLB Predictions

National League West
1. Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers seem to be getting it together. They finally stopped wasting at-bats on the gruesome twosome of Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones and are going with Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier as the incumbent starting outfielders in a move that was at least one year, probably two, overdue. They re-signed Manny after being one of the few teams to win a staring contest against Scott Boras. They brought in the O-Dog to replace the retired Jeff Kent, which is a step down hitting-wise but a big step up with the glove, even though O-Dog doesn't field as he did in his Blue Jays, 'JP is a pimp,' prime. The only trouble is that their rotation is slightly scary, but really, it's just a case of them lacking a true ace. With an ace, Chad Billingsley is a great #2, Kuroda is a solid #3, top prospect Clayton Kershaw is a very promising #4 and Randy Wolf is a good, innings-eater of a #5. Without that ace, everyone has to take a step ahead in the rotation, which shouldn't be all that bad. Bottom line is, I see the Dodgers taking down the division title thanks to their possession of a truly elite bat in Manny.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks. It was a tough pick going with LA as division champs, since if Arizona's young talent all continues to develop as expected, they won't just be division champs but probably NL pennant winners to boot. Stephen Drew and Conor Jackson made the leap last year, and Justin Upton was right there with them for the first six weeks of the season. Max Scherzer is going to be a full-time starter this year and I expect him to be cash money --- he, Webb and Haren are a potentially scary-good triple threat in the rotation.

3. Colorado Rockies. Their pitching staff is a pile of human feces, but otherwise, I like their lineup. As someone who's been riding Ryan Spilborghs' platoon appearances in fantasy leagues for the last two years, I'm very interested to see what he can do on a regular basis. There's also the presence of uber-prospect Dexter Fowler lurking in the weeds, who I like already just because of his awesome name. Dexter Fowler --- what a great baseball name. He's got to be good with a moniker like that, eh?

4. San Francisco Giants. Some people are high on the Giants as a dark horse, pointing to their rotation and some promising young talent. I'm pointing to the fact that Bengie friggin' Molina is scheduled to hit clean-up for them. Their lineup has a lot of table-setters but no table-cleaners. Renteria was a good signing, since he will likely continue his career-long trend of kicking ass in the NL (and, subsequently, being crap in the AL). San Fran is a year and at least two more bats away from being a real contender. And hey, next year, Barry Zito's contract is 365 days closer to being over! Huzzah!

5. San Diego Padres. Yikes. Adrian Gonzalez and Jake Peavy need to steal away from this shitty team in the dead of night. They're too good for this sad-ass bunch of ballplayers. Brian Giles can ask "Can I come?" like Adam Clayton in the U2 Simpsons episode, but he'll be denied just as harshly.

National League Central
1. Chicago Cubs. Ok, the Cubs SHOULD clean house all season long and finish with the best record in the National League. They have the best team top-to-bottom and would be pennant contenders were it not for that pesky 101-year curse on them. Maybe the Cubs will thrive this season after having the 'win the title on the centennial of the last one' pressure lifted. (By this same logic, I guess the Montreal Canadiens will win the 2009-10 Stanley Cup.) The only question I have is Milton Bradley's ability to stay healthy all season long since he doesn't have the safety net of the DH spot if his knees are hurting, but the Cubbies have the lineup depth to withstand his absence. Then again, if he breaks down during, oh, say, the playoffs, then expect him to join Steve Bartman and the Goat in Chicago's hit list of postseason jinxes.

2. St. Louis Cardinals. Maybe I'm taking a wee bit of a flier here on the Cards, but if Chris Carpenter pitches as well as he has in spring training, then St. Louis will suddenly have both the best pitcher and the best hitter in the division. That's got to count for something. I also suspect that new third baseman David Freese is going to make injured Troy Glaus very redundant very quickly.

3. Cincinnati Reds. Their lineup is good from 3-to-6, but otherwise suck-diddly-ucks. Their pitching staff is pretty decent, though, and their bullpen is solid...screw it, the Reds are my mild semi-dark horse this season. I would go all the way and pick them as a long-shot wild card, but any hope of a playoff spot will be Dusty Bakerized out of existence by early September.

4. Milwaukee Brewers. The Brew Crew made their first playoff appearance since 1982, and now it's back in the hole. No Sabathia and no Sheets equals a pretty atrocious rotation on paper. Honestly, I'm probably underrating the Crew a bit (any of the 2-4 teams in the NL Central could finish in any order), but I see a sharp dropoff after the heights of last year's wild card.

5. Houston Astros. Meh. The 'stros don't do anything for me. Roy Oswalt is starting to look a bit long in the tooth, so if he falters then that'll make it....yup, five bad pitchers. Putting a guy like Michael Bourn at the top of the order is a sign at this team is behind the times. Bourn's speed is counteracted by his awful, awful, sub-.300 OBP.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates. The Bucs are a collection of other teams' failed prospects (Andy LaRoche! Brandom Moss! Craig Hansen!) and veterans that would have trouble making the bench of a contender, let alone the starting lineup. How could a team with such a pretty ballpark and such an ugly team year after year? Not to blow my own horn, but I am 100 percent certain that I could run this team for a season and lead it to a better record than their current management team. In other words, reality show.

National League East
1. New York Mets. As hilarious as the Mets' late-season collapses have been over the past two years, I think they'll hold on in 2009. K-Rod and Putz will shore up the pen in a major way, and if you're in a fantasy league that tracks holds, Putz could be a total monster this season. And playing in a new ballpark usually seems to invigorate franchises. Look at what it's done for Pittsburgh, Washington, Cincinnati....uh....

2. Atlanta Braves. I love the Braves this year, and not just because I'm at the moment watching them pound the world champion Phillies. Strong lineup, deceptively strong rotation and as long as Mike Gonzalez can hold up his end of the deal as the closer, I think the Braves will give the Phils and Mets all they can handle in the race for the NL East crown.

3. Philadelphia Phillies. Just to reiterate, I'm NOT flip-flopping my Atlanta-Philly picks just based on the fact that the Braves are currently leading the Phillies by phour in the eighth. I just think a lot of things went right for the Phils last year that will be hard to replicate or improve upon. Jayson Werth as an everyday player is going to be an adventure at best. Their rotation after Cole Hamels is surprisingly poor, given that Brett Myers might suddenly forget how to pitch again and Jamie Moyer's painting in the attic is due to start developing some peeling sooner or later. Things I like about the champs: Raul Ibanez will have a big year in the NL. Ryan Howard will put together a full good season, not just a dynamite final month. Brad Lidge will get roughly a zillion saves. (p.s. another note from tonight's ESPN telecast...Steve Phillips just went on a huge rant about how Lidge will have to adjust mentally when he finally blows a save. Seriously? Lidge is a veteran closer. I doubt he'll be screaming himself to sleep. Unless that blown save is due to a 600-foot Albert Pujols home run in the playoffs, Lidge will be fine. Steve Phillips, you're making Joe Morgan look good. Just hush.)

4. Florida Marlins. Kudos to the Fish for including a retractable roof in their new stadium plans, which I honestly can't believe wasn't made mandatory in the plans of every new stadium built in the last 10 years (except in San Diego). I mean, the Twins' new park doesn't even have a they just not plan on scheduling any home games in April? And if the Twins make the playoffs, will the games be played at a diamond inside the Mall of America? I'm not sure why I'm talking so much about Minnesota during the Florida entry, but meh, the Marlins doesn't have much going on this season. They're still in another year of perpetual rebuild. I'm interested to know: for those of you who had a #1 pick in your fantasy draft this year, did you take Hanley or Pujols?

5. Washington Nationals. On the bright side, they fired Jim Bowden before he could sign the rotting corpse of Jack Benny ("He told me was only 39!") On the down side, everything else.

American League West
1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of California of the United States of North America of Earth. The Angels are probably the worst of the best teams in baseball. They have a ton of holes --- injured pitchers, a terrible bottom of the lineup, a rapidly aging Vladimir Guerrero. I'm nominally picking them as the West champs just because the other clubs have even bigger troubles, but boy, it would not surprise me to see the Angels fall apart this season.

2. Texas Rangers. Kevin Millwood is the ace. Ew. This will be a classic Rangers team, built of shitty pitching and a stacked lineup. Between prospects like Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Chris Davis, Nelson Cruz and Elvis Andrus and proven vets like Hamilton and Kinsler, the Rangers should score a lot of runs, and they'll score even more if reclamation project Andruw Jones can revive his career as a platooner. I can see the Rangers finishing second due to the other teams' weaknesses, but don't have anywhere near the arms to contend themselves. By the way, you'll notice that this is the second straight entry where I'm playing the 'this team is flawed but the other guys are worse' card. The AL West sucks.

3. Oakland Athletics. I'm not sure what Billy Beane is thinking by acquiring guys like Matt Holliday and Orlando Cabrera, two guys who most pundits seem to agree will struggle away from Coors Field and just struggle, respectively. Could it be that Billy is feeling a bit of pressure from ownership? Jason Giambi, at least, will provide some pop, but otherwise the A's won't have the bats (and definitely not the arms) to seriously contend this season.

4. Seattle Mariners. Holy shit, did ANYTHING go right for the Mariners last year? Maybe it was a universal course correction for overachieving in 2007. They'll be slightly improved just because Ken Griffey (for all his age and injuries) is an improvement over fucking Jose Vidro at DH, arguably the worst designated hitter in baseball history.

American League Central
1. Detroit Tigers. Take two. Remember last season, when a number of pundits (including this idiot) picked the Tigers to win the World Ssries, only to see them sink to last place and play like a bunch of donkeys? Well, not to be outdone, I'm picking them to go from worst to first in this hard-to-predict division. They've cleared a bit of detritus out of the lineup and rotation, and while their decision to stick Rick Porcello in the rotation may be foolhardy from a service time and innings pitched point of view, I applaud Jim Leyland's balls. Anything is better than another season of Nate Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman, a.k.a. the two worst pitchers in baseball that were inexplicably thought of as decent. That said, any staff that relies on Edwin Jackson and Armando 'Sophomore Slump' Galarraga as stalwarts is still begging for trouble. Calling it right now: Curtis Granderson will be a dark-horse MVP candidate.

2. Minnesota Twins. Were it not for Joe Mauer's Mike Tyson-esque injury to his spinal, I probably would've picked the Twins to win the division. Unfortunately, losing Mauer for potentially an extended period of time is a fatal blow to Minnesota's chances. That and their goddamn future open-roof new stadium (maybe I should be talking about the Florida Marlins here for balance). Minny does have probably the best, if least imposing, rotation in the division, and this team always seems to play better than it looks on paper, so keep an eye out for the Twinkies this year.

3. Chicago White Sox. Here's a team I don't like at all. The White Sox seem to be edging towards being one of those teams that holds onto its championship core a bit too long, and tries to refresh it with an awkward mix of prospects and veterans rather than just bite the bullet and rebuild. Chicago rode to a division title on the backs of some youngsters (Quentin, Ramirez, Floyd, Danks) stepping up, but now Chris Getz and Josh Fields are being asked to make the same leap and I just think it'll be too much to bear for the Pale Hose.

4. Cleveland Indians. See, I'm just an iconoclast. The Tribe are a very trendy pick to win the division, but I'm seeing the glass as half-empty here. A lot of Cleveland's success will hinge on how several players (Hafner, V-Mart, Fausto) rebound from injuries, and it's unlikely that all of them will return at the level necessary for the Indians to contend. It also seems like the Tribe is counting on platooners and second-raters like Garko, Choo, Asdrubal and Francisco to all suddenly become everyday contributors, so basically, the Indians have more if's than a Jules Dassin film festival. (Congratulations self, that was officially the most obscure reference in the history of the blog.) It wouldn't shock me to see any of the Indians, White Sox, Twins or Tigers win this division --- it's pretty closely-matched.

5. Kansas City Royals. Maybe it's Joe Posnanski's influence rubbing off on me, but I think the Royals might actually be frisky this season. Zach Greinke-Gil Meche is a decent 1-2 starting combo. Joakim Soria is a phenomenal stopper. The young hitters (Butler and Gordon) have another year of seasoning and may finally break through. There are some signs for optimism in K.C. land, but they're still probably two years away from being a true contender.

American League East
1. Boston Red Sox. I really liked Boston's offseason. They didn't make any major earth-shaking moves, but rather just a few tweaks and tucks to put their team in position to win another World Series. Takashi Saito, Ramon Ramirez, John Smoltz, Rocco Baldelli and (maybe) Brad Penny will all make the Red Sox better, and at a fraction of the cost of New York's big upgrades. Hell, Pedroia even starred in that funny commercial for MLB '09 The Show alongside the great Jerry Lambert, who is slowly becoming the king of baseball-related commercials. He was also the guy in the immortal Holiday Inn ad who doesn't know that Cal Ripken is a ballplayer. If the Red Sox are as good at baseball as Lambert is at commercial acting, they'll be World Series champs for sure.

2. New York Yankees. Yeah, fuck the Yankees. Teixeira will thrive, Sabathia will be great for the next two years before his weight gets to him, A.J. will fall apart like a papier-mache Jenga stack, the bullpen sucks and while their lineup is obviously still dangerous, there are some holes developing and nobody's getting and younger. Hopefully free crying towels are one of the new stadium's amenities. In summation, fuck the Yankees.

3. Tampa Bay Rays. Throughout this preview, I've mentioned a few teams who need to have a lot of things go right in order to contend in 2009. While I'm not seeing big things for any of them, last year's Rays are an example that lightning can in fact strike several times over in the same year. That said, I think Tampa will regress a bit this season. They're not going to be back to their old cellar-dwelling selves by any means...I suspect they'll still win between 85-90 games. But some of the breaks that went their way last year (Eric HInske inexplicably not sucking, the bullpen having career years everywhere you looked) might well not happen this time around.

4. Toronto Blue Jays. Sigh. See here.

5. Baltimore Orioles. Remember the Oriole Way, when the O's prided themselves not just on being a winning franchise, but also by being a morally superior franchise? Yeah, good luck with that. Unless Matt Wieters is called up and reveals himself to be Johnny Bench mixed with Mike Piazza (which, surprisingly, isn't far off the masturbatory praise that scouts are actually giving this guy), it'll be another losing season in B-more. Rest easy Blue Jays, your grip on fourth is secure!

NL MVP: Albert Pujols
NL Cy Young: Johan Santana
NL Rookie of the Year: Dexter Fowler
AL MVP: Mark Teixeira
AL Cy Young: Roy Halladay, or some one-year-wonder pitcher with puffed-up stats who couldn't carry Doc's jock
AL Rookie of the Year: Matt Wieters

NL Wild Card: Diamondbacks
AL Wild Card: Yankees

Division Serieseseses: Yankees over Tigers, Red Sox over Angels, Diamondbacks over Cubs, Mets over Dodgers

League Championship Serieses: Red Sox over Yankees, Diamondbacks over Mets

World Series: Red Sox over Diamondbacks

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