American League East
The Yankees opened the offseason with a very questionable starting rotation after CC Sabathia, but have since transformed it into a strength. After re-upping with Freddy Garcia early on, they traded for young right-hander Michael Pineda and signed former Dodger Hiroki Kuroda. With one of the league’s most potent offenses and a shutdown bullpen, the Yankees seem to be the best team in the East.
Like the Red Sox, the Rays’ season came down to the very last game. The Rays are all about run prevention, running out an excellent rotation and a shutdown bullpen that Joe Maddon manages very well. The reunion with Carlos Pena will add some pop to a lineup that desperately needs it, and a full season of Desmond Jennings should help as well.
3. Red Sox
The Red Sox undoubtedly have a ton of talent, and had they won one more game last year, their whole season could have turned out drastically different. They’ve replaced Jonathan Papelbon with some new bullpen arms after moving Daniel Bard to the rotation, and still possess arguably the league’s best offense. Unfortunately, they have two teams ahead of them in the division to jump.
There’s some hope for the future here, but I think they’re still a season away from contending. The bats are there and Baltimore will certainly hit for some power with bats like Adam Jones and Mark Reynolds. The bullpen should be a strength but it’s the starting pitching that needs to improve for the O’s to climb out of the bottom of the division.
5. Blue Jays
The Blue Jays are an improving team that has a lot of potential, but fulfilling that potential will be challenging, especially in this division. Jose Bautista is probably at his peak performance and while guys like Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus have room for improvement, it’s not a given that they’ll translate their tools into production. After Ricky Romero, the starting rotation doesn’t have an arm that you can count on.
American League Central
Detroit ran away with the division last season and went ahead and got better. They already had the best hitter (Miguel Cabrera) in the division and the best pitcher (MVP & Cy Young Justin Verlander) but decided that Prince Fielder would be an adequate replacement for Victor Martinez. If you asked me which team was most likely to win their division by 15+ games, I wouldn’t hesitate picking the Tigers.
2. White Sox
Thought long and hard about the rest of this division, and it’s pretty close who finishes in spots 2-5. Chicago has some intriguing arms in their rotation, mainly Jake Peavy (health) and Chris Sale (transition to rotation) and should have enough offense to stick around .500 for most of the season.
Their farm system is once again churning out very nice players, and this time they’re locking them up long-term early to try and stabilize some costs. Losing closer Joakim Soria hurt the back end of the bullpen, but if Jonathan Broxton can provide some stability at the end of the game, KC has a chance to put a nice little season together. Offensively, they’re probably the best of the bunch not named the Tigers. But the starting pitching is still an area in need of improvement.
They definitely over-achieved last season, and the offense still is not good. There are far too many regular at bats for guys that are well below league average. The Indians are going to need guys to stay healthy (already a problem) and play above their heads if they want to make any noise in a very weak division.
It’s a shame Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau have fought injuries and ineffectiveness the past few seasons. The new ballpark should have been an exciting time for the Twins, but they’ve just kind of wallowed around the past few years. That Carl Pavano is starting Opening Day says a lot about the amount of work their rotation needs.
American League West
They’re still the cream of the crop out here, with a potent offense, and a ton of pitching depth. Yu Darvish looks to replace the production of the departed CJ Wilson and even if Neftali Feliz doesn’t work out as a starter, they have guys like Alexi Ogando and Matt Harrison waiting fill in. After consecutive AL pennants, the Rangers are still the team to beat.
But if anyone’s going to give the Rangers a run for their money, it will be the Angels and their new big name free agent splashes. Joining the team are Albert Pujols who gives them the middle-of-the-order bat that they desperately needed and CJ Wilson who fills out the starting rotation and make the Angels front four one of the best in the game.
Their big offseason acquisition was Yoenis Cespedes, who put together a fancy highlight video of himself, but still has zero MLB games under his belt. He could be a middle-of-the-lineup game changer or he could wind up hitting a buck-fifty on June 1 for a last place team. The A’s have a ton of young pitching and if those arms pitch up to their potential, they could hang around and make a run for that second wild card spot.
Even with Jesus Montero, who has managed to stay among baseball’s top prospects despite not having a defined position, Seattle will struggle to score runs. Running the league’s worst offense out in the league’s most pitcher-friendly park is not any way to contend for division titles.
National League East
Even with the flashy offseason moves by the rest of the division, Philadelphia is still the team to beat. They may not have Four Aces anymore, but the three they do have are still damn good. Halladay, Hamels and Lee will lead the way for a pitching staff that will have a little less to work with while Ryan Howard and Chase Utley recuperate from injuries.
While the Marlins made most of the big name moves, I think Washington’s young talent taking a step forward does more good in the end. Reliable starting pitching has been Washington’s Achilles Heel the past few seasons, and bringing in veterans Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson to go with homegrown studs Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann should give them some semblance of consistency on the mound. The offense should get a bump from a more typical Jayson Werth season and a return of a healthy Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman.
Like the Red Sox, the Braves were just a game away from extending their season past 162 games. But I think they over achieved a little and then didn’t do a whole lot to improve over the offseason. A full season from Michael Bourn will help, but if Jason Heyward and Martin Prado don’t rebound and Chipper Jones spends an extended period of time on the DL, the Braves could find themselves slipping further down the NL East standings than they are used to.
A chic World Series pick, I just don’t see it. The rotation must have everyone stay healthy and effective, and that’s certainly not a lock given the injury history of Josh Johnson and the Jekyll and Hyde routine of Ricky Nolasco and Carlos Zambrano. The offense should be decent enough, but Jose Reyes isn’t a picture of perfect health and I still need to see more consistent effort and production from Hanley Ramirez. Regardless, they shouldn’t expect to be the worst team wearing orange in the NL East this season.
This is a troubled team with no real strength anywhere on the team. The team’s highest paid players are very injury prone and their performances have suffered because of it. The team moved the fences in and lowered them in hopes of jump-starting some of their key players, but more than likely it will hurt their pitchers more than benefit their hitters.
National League Central
The Reds lost their biggest free agent acquisition of the offseason when Ryan Madson went down with Tommy John surgery before ever throwing a regular season pitch for Cincinnati. But with Sean Marshall, acquired in a trade with the Cubs, and Aroldis Chapman, the back end of the bullpen should still be very strong. After Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos, the starting rotation lacks dependable depth and other than Joey Votto, the lineup isn’t all that menacing. However, if there is a division where a team can overlook it’s shortcomings, it’s the NL Central.
They’ll never replace Pujols’ production or the impact that he had on a game just by being in the stadium. But this is still the defending champion and they’re welcoming Adam Wainwright back into the rotation. Even if he’s not the same guy that finished in the top 3 in the Cy Young balloting in 2009 and 2010, he’ll improve the Cardinals rotation. They picked up Beltran on a very team-friendly deal to help fill the Pujols hole (hah!) but what they really need is for Lance Berkman to repeat his 2011 season and for David Freese to take another step forward and become a threat in the middle of the lineup.
Ryan Braun should expect a hard time of it this season, with the positive drug test hanging over him and Prince Fielder no longer looming behind him in the lineup. Aramis Ramirez just isn’t the same guy that Fielder is. With Zack Grienke and Yovani Gallardo, the Brewers have the same deal as the Reds, two very good starters but not much after that. And unlike Cincinnati, Milwaukee doesn’t have the strong bullpen to back the rotation.
Here by the sole virtue that they are not quite as bad as the Pirates and Astros. Apart from Starlin Castro, they don’t have a lot of enviable young talent, and the rotation is a mess behind Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster. With a new front office in place, the Cubs should start returning to relevancy, but not this year and not next year. But hey, $18 million outfielder Alfonso Soriano only has three years left on his contract!
There are only a handful of teams in baseball that could lose AJ Burnett to an injury and have it be a bad thing. But Pittsburgh is one of them. Behind Burnett, the Pirates have a motley crew of reclamation projects (Erik Bedard) and guys that would be more at home in a Triple-A rotation (Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton) than a major league one.
The only reason I’d say they’ll be better than they were last season is because the 106 losses Houston suffered through in 2012 were the most in baseball since the Diamondbacks lost 111 games in 2004. To celebrate their continued disaster, Houston will move to the American League in 2013 where life certainly won’t be any easier.
National League West
The Giants will once again run out an impressive pitching staff and once again struggle to provide adequate run support. Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan will be counted upon to contribute power and speed to a lineup that desperately lacks both and Buster Posey will look to return healthy and productive from an unfortunate and severe ankle injury. They won’t score a whole lot, but with their pitching staff and their home ballpark, they won’t have to in order to win the division.
With Frank McCourt finally out of the picture, one of the games premiere franchises can get back on the right track. They have a Cy Young winning pitcher and an MVP caliber center-fielder to build around in Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp. The new ownership has to decide if Andre Ethier is worth building around, and if not, see what they can get for him in a July trade.
The NL West is considerably easier to pitch in than the American League, and Trever Cahill should find that out as Ian Kennedy did last year. Jason Kubel will help fill out the lineup, but I just don’t see them carrying their 2011 overachievements into 2012.
Colorado is working San Francisco’s plan in reverse—the Rockies have more than enough offense to go around, but is counting on 49-year old Jamie Moyer, AL East washout Jeremy Guthrie and rookie Drew Pomeranz to flush out their starting rotation. Even with the humidor, there could be a lot of home runs flying over the wall at Coors Field—for both teams.
Other than the fact that the first names of San Diego’s first five hitter form a complete sentence—CAMERON WILL CHASE JESUS YONDER— I can’t think of a single thing that excites me about the Padres. Cory Luebke looked very good in limited time late last season and Yonder Alonso will finally get extended playing time after being blocked by MVP Joey Votto in Cincinnati for so long.
AL East: Yankees
AL Central: Tigers
AL West: Rangers
AL Wild Card 1: Rays
AL Wild Card 2: Angels
NL East: Phillies
NL Central: Reds
NL West: Giants
NL Wild Card 1: Cardinals
NL Wild Card 2: Nationals
I picked both Saturday games correctly, and then bombed big time on Sunday’s guesses. Looking forward to this coming divisional weekend, I rather hope my Sunday picks are spot-on this time around.
Arizona (11-6) at New Orleans (13-3)
Arizona’s offense rolled in the desert and I fully expect it to take New Orleans by storm (too soon?). Kurt Warner threw five touchdowns against four incomplete passes against a numerically strong Green Bay defense.
For the first thirteen games, New Orleans was unstoppable – thirteen wins and only a couple of them were even close. But they lost their last three games and haven’t had a convincing win since November. A defense that seemed to score every week has lost that big play ability. Going up against Kurt Warner and his plethora of big-play receivers sure isn’t going to help.
Meanwhile, Arizona outgunned a loaded Green Bay team after finding a passable running game by the end of the season. Don’t be surprised if this game ends up being very similar to the one that just ended in Glendale. Drew Brees and Kurt Warner should both be ready to fling the ball all over the turf of the Superdome. At the very least, expect it to be a better game than the last game at the Superdome. CARDINALS 41, SAINTS 40
Baltimore (10-7) at Indianapolis (14-2)
The Ravens are coming off upsetting the mighty Bill Belichicks in Foxboro and the Colts haven’t played a complete game in about a month. The Colts say the rest will trump the rust, but that hasn’t played out all that well for the Colts in the past. People may be thrown off by the Colts’ last two games, but their first fourteen are far more indicative of their true talent level. They will not roll into this game unprepared.
With the Ravens coming off a dominant showing from their ground game, and the Colts ranking 24th in run defense this year, the Ravens may have a chance to establish themselves early in this game. But if the Colts can hold Rice and McGahee in check like they did earlier this season (98 combined yards), I can’t be optimistic about Joe Flacco doing enough to beat Peyton Manning.
Ultimately, I think the rest wins out over the rust and momentum and the Colts soothe their fans nerves at least for another week. COLTS 24, RAVENS
Dallas (12-5) at Minnesota (12-4)
Minnesota faltered down the stretch until they waxed the mail-it-in Giants on the last day of the season. Brett Favre avoided the late-season swoon that doomed him and the Jets last season, and is still playing at a very high level. Who would have thought that this team, which so prominently featured Adrian Peterson last year, would so quickly become all about Favre? Oh right, everybody.
Dallas comes into this game hotter than perhaps anybody else in the NFC crapshoot. A defense that’s peaking at the right time and an offense that is extremely balanced and talented in both running and passing the ball. The offense moves the chains and eat the clock, but with Miles Austin, Tony Romo and Felix Jones, there’s always the threat of a big play.
While Minnesota’s offense has continued to play well, the defense has slipped since a fast start. COWBOYS 31, VIKINGS 24
New York (10-7) at San Diego (13-3)
The Jets may have backed into the playoffs, but they proved they belonged with another dominant performance on Saturday. The Chargers are heavy favorites, but the Jets match up well against their second round opponent. If the New York defense has a weakness, it’s against the run – San Diego ranked 31st in rush offense. San Diego’s has the same defensive weakness, but the Jets own the top-ranked rushing attack, and Shonn Greene and his offensive line are playing especially well of late.
The Chargers have one of the best passing attacks in football with Malcolm Floyd, Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates going up against the best pass defense in the NFL. But Darelle Revis can’t cover all three of the Chargers big targets. Guys like Kerry Rhodes and Dwight Lowery are going to need to play big.
If New York shuts down the vertical passing game, then Rivers can look to Darren Sproles, who is very dangerous in space. With LBs David Harris and Bart Scott playing on gimpy ankles, Sproles could have a huge game catching bubble screens and short slants out of the backfield.
The Chargers have won 11 games in a row, but four of their last five wins have been by three points or less. They’re certainly not invincible. JETS 20, CHARGERS 17
#6 Philadelphia (10-6) at #3 Dallas (11-5)
Philadelphia laid an egg with a chance to clinch the second seed in the NFC last week at Dallas, failing to score in a 24-0 loss. This week, they’re back in Dallas for a rematch, except this time, loser goes home. For Wade Phillips and the Cowboys, as impressive as they’ve been the past three weeks, if they come up short again in the playoffs, Jerry Jones is going to be doing some pretty good steaming.
Tony Romo’s playoff history is checkered at best and it certainly doesn’t inspire confidence throughout Texas, but maybe, just maybe he’s figured something out. Philadelphia’s once prodigious offense couldn’t buy yards last week in the Palace in Dallas. They’ll need some to have any hope of sticking with Tony Romo, Jason Witten and Miles Austin this week. With Marion Barber (who IS NOT who my dad thought he was) and Felix Jones splitting carries, the Dallas offense will be too much for Philly’s defense to slow down.
Ultimately, I like Dallas in a much more competitive game than last time around. COWBOYS 26, EAGLES 17
#5 Green Bay (11-5) at #4 Arizona (10-6)
In one of football’s head-scratching rules, Green Bay takes their better record on the road to Arizona in yet another NFC wild-card rematch. Just like Dallas above them in the bracket, Green Bay handled an Arizona team that really didn’t seem all in it last week once they were locked up in the four-seed.
Arizona has been more than spotty defending the pass this season and Aaron Rodgers has been pretty darn good for the Pack. However, with Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals are more than capable of trading passing touchdowns with Green Bay.
However, I think that the game ends up being decided on the ground, with Green Bay able to control the pace of the game and the Cardinals losing a key fumble late. PACKERS 28, CARDINALS 24
#5 New York (9-7) at #4 Cincinnati (10-6)
In the third and final Week 17 matchup, the Jets and Bengals switch venues and go at it for real this time. The Bengals will have all their players rested and ready to make everyone forget about the 37-0 pasting they suffered at the hands of the Jets on national television. Carson Palmer won’t repeat his 1-for-11 passing performance from a week ago and Cedric Benson, the AFC’s fifth-leading rusher will be in uniform, healthy and rested. With Pro-Bowl NT Kris Jenkins out, the Bengals should be able to establish the run early.
The Jets have the AFC’s number one ranked defense, but they also have a rookie quarterback who completed just over 50% of his pass attempts and turned the ball over twenty times in fifteen games. Maybe the Jets did slip into the playoffs with two “gift” wins. But they possess the league’s best rushing attack and if they can control the clock just three-quarters as well as they did last week in the Meadowlands, they’ll have a heck of a chance at the upset.
Just like both games in the NFC, I see the same team winning for a second week in a row, albeit by a much narrower margin. JETS 23, BENGALS 12
#6 Baltimore (9-7) vs. #3 New England (10-6)
For as poorly as New England has played on the road this year (2-6), they’re been all the more impressive at home in Foxboro (8-0). The loss of Wes Welker stings, but Julian Edelman is a capable replacement and should see plenty of opportunities with Randy Moss drawing most of the attention.
Willis McGahee and Ray Rice must show up to play against a New England defense that is quite pedestrian against the run. Baltimore knows what’s need to knock off a favored Patriots team, and if the running game is there, then Joe Flacco is more than able to hurt New England through the air.
At the end of the day, New England has too much talent and is playing the home game. PATRIOTS 31, RAVENS 17
The National League Cy Young will be awarded tomorrow and there are three pitchers with any semblance of a chance at the thing – two of them Cardinals. Unfortunately for the St. Louis faithful, one scrawny kid from San Francisco deserves to win. Again.
While both Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter piled up wins, Tim Lincecum went about his own business establishing himself as the best pitcher in the National League. He led the league in strikeouts (261) and K/9 (10.42!!). He allowed under seven hits per nine and opponents hit only .206/.271/.290 off him. Basically, he turned everyone he saw into Jose Molina.
While Carpenter bested Lincecum in ERA, a more traditional measure of a pitcher’s ability, Lincecum outperformed Carpenter in FIP, a statistic that takes into account things that a pitcher is specifically responsible. FIP is a better judge of how a pitcher pitched, regardless of how well his fielders fielded behind him. Lincecum’s FIP of 2.38 was not only lower than his actual ERA, denoting that he pitched better than his ERA dictated, but it was also significantly lower than Carpenter’s FIP of 2.82.
Voters proved they are moving in the right direction regarding these votes by awarding the AL Cy Young to Zack Grienke, who did not have the gaudy win total that Cy Young winners typically have, but rather packed a punch in the categories that are better determinants of how good a pitcher was in a given year.
And so, my vote goes to San Fran’s Tim Lincecum, just as my vote went to Zack Greinke. Hopefully the writers go two-for-two on these and reward the two best pitchers in both leagues. Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter and the Cardinals all had outstanding seasons, but Tim Lincecum was far and away the most impressive pitcher in the National League this season.
Happy Cinco de Mayo! In celebration of this wonderful Mexican holiday, this week’s In 10 Words Or Less will be brought to you by the language, Spanish! Feliz Navidad de Mayo!
Arrendajos azules (18-10): Golpear dudoso contestar.
Calcetines rojos (16-10): 4-0 contra yanquis siempre agradable.
Yanquis (13-12): Primero 5 en corre a pesar de ningún Rodriguez, desplomándose Teixeira.
Rays (11-16): Evan Longoria el trato verdadero.
Las oropéndolas: Adam Jones hace valor de comercio de Bedard cada vez.
Real (15-11): Zach mutha freakin’ Greinke.
Tigres (13-12): Verlander, Willis girando aparentemente cosas alrededor.
Gemelos (13-13): Joe Mauer sano y rastrillar.
Calcetines blancos (12-13): Los cántaros han permitido sólo cuatro Homers.
Indios (10-16): Victor Martinez que produce como normal otra vez.
Navegantes (15-11): Golpear oportuno, el cabeceo Regio llave al plomo de la división.
Guardabosques (13-12): El alumbre de Mizzou Kinsler: yendo en bicicleta como Lance Armstrong.
Angels (11-13): Bobby Abreu que firma bueno hasta ahora.
Atletismo: (9-14) ¿Por lo menos Matt Holliday no es dolido, el derecho?
Marlins (15-11): Los jóvenes que echan tienen oponer azota la pesca.
Phillies (13-10): Ryan Howard grande.
Mets (11-13): La espalda de Beltran, no soplado guarda para Rodriguez más cerca.
Afronta (11-14): Jeff Francoeur no tan terrible como el año pasado.
Nacionals (7-17): Ryan Zimmerman y Adam Dunn impresionantes 3-4.
Cardinales (17-9): Comenzar cántaros tienen MLB-ALTO 14 victorias.
Cachorros (14-11): Es su época del año.
Cerveceros (14-12): Ryan Braun para pasar por encima de a bateadores menores.
Rojos (13-12): Johnny Cueto que se da cuenta de potencial.
Piratea (12-13): ¿Oye, ellos no están en último, el derecho?
Astros (11-15): El terreno no denominó Enron.
Marrulleros (19-8): Invicto en casa.
Gigantes (12-12): Lincecum que consigue caliente.
Espaldas diamantadas (11-15): No en posición terrible, golpear aún dado infortunios.
Capellanes (11-15): Comenzado 10-6, quizá hay más de ese juego.
Montañas rocosas (10-14): Imparmente, que rayó más corre que ellos han permitido.
This week, we’ll look at the things that have gone wrong for each team. Next week, we’ll go positive and look at everything that been going right for teams!
Red Sox (14-7): Eleven game winning streak stopped with three errors.
Blue Jays (15-8): Litsch, Romero and Janssen depletes thin pitching.
Yankees (11-10): Fifteen of first twenty-one games on the road.
Orioles (9-13): Signed Mark Hendrickson.
Rays (8-14): BJ Upton off to slow start.
Tigers (11-10): Tough to be anything in Detroit nowadays.
White Sox (11-10): Offense has been too sporadic.
Royals (11-10): Offense has been nearly non-existant.
Twins (11-11): Joe Mauer’s absence completely changes the lineup.
Indians (8-14): Bullpen problems addressed, not solved.
Mariners (13-9): Ken Griffey Jr homecoming not going as anticipated.
Rangers (10-10): Same ol’, same ol’ – lots of hitting, no pitching.
Angels (9-11): Pitching injuries and deaths.
Athletics (7-11): Big ticket boppers Giambi and Holliday – 1 HR combined.
Marlins (13-8): Win seven, lose seven.
Phillies (11-9): Hamels and Rollins yet to get going.
Braves (10-11): Brian McCann’t see.
Mets (9-12): Outside Johan, no starting pitching
Nationals (5-15): Bullpen atrocious.
Cardinals (15-7): Khalil Greene trade not working out so well
Reds (11-10): Surprisingly, can’t win at home (4-7)
Brewers (11-10): Can’t play Pittsburgh every game.
Pirates (11-10): Can’t beat Milwaukee.
Cubs (10-10): NL Central won’t be terrible every year.
Astros (9-13): Lance Berkman scuffling to begin season.
Dodgers (14-8): 16 of first 22 games on the road.
Padres (11-10): Slipping after hot start.
Giants (10-10): 17 of first 20 games against weak NL West.
Diamondbacks (9-12): Can’t hit lefties (2-7)
Rockies (8-12): Losing all the close games (0-5 in 1-run games)
It’s that time of year again. We’re about three weeks into the baseball season, and about three months before the All-Star game in St. Louis, but it’s time to start casting your votes for which players you think have earned a selection to the All-Star game. So make your way over to your favorite team’s website (or MLB’s website) and vote as many times as you’d like!
I like that the All-Star Game determines which team gets home field advantage in the World Series – I’d prefer to have the inter-league record decide it instead, but whatever. What I don’t like is the fact that the fans decide who starts the game, regardless of their performance. Odds are, Alex Rodriguez has more votes than most, if not all of the AL third basemen despite not having played a game in 2009.