Monday, March 19, 2007
1. New York Yankees
2. Boston Red Sox
3. Toronto Blue Jays
4. Tampa Bay Devil Rays
5. Baltimore Orioles
AL East: I was reading my 2006 prediction for the AL East and I was laughing at how seriously off-base I had been. The Yankees to finish third? The Blue Jays to win the division? The Devil Rays to finish out of the basement? Yeah, it was pretty hilarious. I almost literally couldn’t have been more wrong. Well, all hail the New York Yankees, the invincible juggernaut that forever shall dominate the American League East. This was definitely a better off-season than the last few have been for the Bronx Bombers. They got rid of a lot of dead wood – Randy Johnson, Jaret Wright – and made some nice additions to the team, bolstering their rotation and restocking their minor league system a little in the Gary Sheffield deal. The Yankees were already a good team in terms of their pitching, but they certainly seem like they’ve upgraded themselves. Offensively the Yankees are stacked. With a lineup consisting of A-Rod, Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu this team could score 1,000 runs in 2007. The Bronz Bombers will win 100+ games and win the East in a walk … Meanwhile, the Boston Red Sox made just two moves, signing J.D. Drew to play in their outfield, and inking a deal to bring in Japanese phenom Daisuke Matsuzaka. The insanely expensive Matsuzaka deal could pay dividends in the future in an increased Red Sox presence in Japan and a pipeline of Japanese stars traveling to Fenway, but in the here and now Matsuzaka bolsters a pitching staff that struggled in 2006. The Red Sox prospective rotation of Daisuke Matsuzaka, Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Tim Wakefield and Jonathan Papelbon is every bit as good as any other in the majors. Their offense will be dangerous, as any with David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and J.D. Drew would be. I could easily see the Red Sox catching the Yankees, but I give the edge to the Yankees, who are a little deeper in the position players and more dangerous offensively … I pity the Toronto Blue Jays. All of that spending, all of that energy they expended and they still cannot really break the Red Sox and Yankees stranglehold on the AL East. I am surprised that they did not score more runs than they did, despite having the fourth-best On-Base-Percentage and second-best Isolated Power in the A.L. Their 809 runs were just five better than the league average. Will the Big Hurt (a.k.a. Frank Thomas) make the difference? I doubt it. He's not exactly a young man anymore. While the Blue Jays finished strong in 2006, and they have a strong pitching staff, they won’t score as many runs as they ought to. Oh, and they vastly over-paid Vernon Wells. Third place … As for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays? Well, what can I really say? The team has a lot of talent and is sitting on a number of hot prospects, including Delmon Young, Elijah Dukes and B.J. Upton, but can they really compete and break out of their funk? Since the team was created in 1998, they’ve watched the Yankees win the division each season while they finished dead-last every season except 2004 (fourth place!). They’ve lost 90 or more games each season and have lost 100 or more three times. Roco Baldelli and Carl Crawford are great talents to go with the trio I mentioned above, but this team is stuck behind the Yankees / Red Sox / Blue Jays logjam ahead of them. Still, with this much talent on the roster, these Devil Rays could be a real sleeper team, much like last year's Florida Marlins. I still think they'll finish around 75-77 wins, but they could break through and win some games in 2007 ... Once upon a time the Baltimore Orioles were one of the greatest franchises in baseball history. From 1966 to 1983 the Orioles won three World Series, played in three others, had eight playoff berths and had a winning season every season save one. Since the Orioles won the AL East in 1997, the last non-Yankee team to do so, they have finished in fourth place every season but one. This season will be the Orioles tenth consecutive losing season, but with a twist: the Devil Rays won't be looking up at them. With scant talent, I can’t see this sentence of baseball death being commuted soon …
1. Minnesota Twins
2. Detroit Tigers
3. Cleveland Indians
4. Chicago White Sox
5. Kansas City Royals
AL Central: Was there any doubt that the AL Central, long the weakest division in baseball, was the strongest in 2006? The Tigers and Twins made the playoffs, and the Tigers advanced to a World Series they ought to have won. The Tigers, Twins and White Sox all won 90 or more games and the Indians played far, far better than their 78-84 record indicated. This was the best division in baseball, and I think it will be once more in 2007 … I like the Minnesota Twins to advance to the World Series and probably go all of the way. Last year’s team was outstanding, riding strong pitching all of the way to a 96-66 record. Once more count on Johan Santana and the Twins staff to shut down the opposition and make the playoffs thanks to their balanced offense. What I like about the Twins is that their pitching staff is deep and experienced, probably the best in the major leagues. Their position players are strong and without weaknesses, and while I don’t like how committed the Twins are to “small ball”, I like how balanced they are. If Justin Morneau comes close to repeating his 2006 MVP form, then these guys will be in the hunt in late September … I like what I see from the Detroit Tigers as well, but I don’t think they will be as strong as the Twins. While their pitching staff could be as good as Minnesota – Verlander and Bonderman are potential Cy Young Award winners – their offense just isn’t as balanced and dangerous as the Twins, even with Gary Sheffield playing first for them. I think the Tigers played over their heads from May to July, but them ran out of steam and allowed the Twins to catch them because their offense sagged in the second-half of the season. Perhaps Gary Sheffield will hit .300 with 40+ home runs and 120+ RBIs, but I don’t think he’ll be the difference-maker the Tigers want him to be … The Cleveland Indians were expected to equal or better their 93-69 record from 2005 last season but that did not happen. Instead, the Indians sagged to 78-84 and finished in fourth place, well-behind the Twins, Tigers and Sox. Don’t believe their record. They played much, much better than 78 wins. The Indians actually played eleven games under their Pythagorean win-loss record of 89-73. The Indians, despite having a losing record, scored 88 more runs than they gave up. The White Sox, who finished twelve games better in the standings, got 74 more runs than they surrendered. Theoretically, the Indians ought to have been a game or two better, but-for some bad luck. They played surprisingly badly on defense and really suffered when Travis Hafner broke his hand and missed the last month of the season. The team slugging percentage went from .482 in August to .415 in September. If the Indians can play better defense and if their bullpen, which converted just 24 of 47 save opportunities – 51%!!!! – they will be fine. This was just a team that was done in by bad relief work and a substandard defense. They’ll win 85-90 games this season … Looks like the Chicago White Sox are in the middle of a retooling project at the moment, having lost Freddy Garcia to the Phillies in a trade. Can they really rebuild and contend at the same time? I am also skeptical that the oft-injured Jermaine Dye will turn in another 44 HR, 120 RBI season. It was a career-year from Dye that won’t be repeated. I’d also worry, if I were the White Sox, about the age of their key players. Paul Konerko is 31, Dye is 33, and Jim Thome is 36. While the White Sox led the AL in Isolated Power (ISO), they were middle of the pack in On-Base-Percentage and looked pretty ordinary on the mound. I’d say these guys look like a .500 team, and look for Jim Thome to really struggle … As for the Kansas City Royals, well, their decision to commit $55 million bucks to Gil Meche shows that they are … well, not really trying to win, but they look like they are sincere in trying to convince their fans that they want to spend money. Maybe the Royals will win some games in 2007, but I doubt it. I’m thinking this is a 100+ loss team.
1. Oakland A’s
2. Anaheim Angels
3. Texas Rangers
4. Seattle Mariners
AL West: The West is a very topsy-turvy division, I think. These teams could finish anywhere from first to fourth … I like the Oakland A’s to win it for the fifth time in eight years and make the playoffs for the sixth time in that period. Sure the A’s lost workhorse Barry Zito to the Giants, and Frank Thomas took the money and ran to Toronto after being rented for the year by the A’s. But were those big losses? Zito’s Fielding Independent Pitching ERA (FIP) was a run higher than his real ERA, and Thomas is 39. Would they have duplicated their seasons in 2007? I doubt it. I like the A’s because no team maximizes the talent available better than Billy Beane & Co … Meanwhile, the Anaheim Angels are a lot like women in Southern California, pretty to look at, but with lots of scars (yes, this was an attempted plastic surgery joke inspired by watching Dr. 90210 last night, please laugh politely and keep reading). The Angels have a decent pitching staff, but they are pretty punch-less on offense, especially when Vlad Guerrero struggles. Did they really improve that much when they added Gary Matthews, Jr., to the roster? I'll give them second-place because of their terrific pitching staff, but somehow I think I am giving them way too much credit. Oh, and please, baseball, have the powers that be drop this irritating “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim” crap. They play in Anaheim! Not L.A.! Who could catch the A's and Angels? Look at the Texas Rangers, their chief competitor in the West. Remember what I said about the Indians? Well, the Rangers finished 80-82, but scored 51 more runs than they gave up. The A’s won 93 games in 2006, but if you go by Pythagorean Win-Loss records, than the Rangers would have won the AL West with 86 wins to the A’s 85. The Rangers are an inconsistent team, relying on their power offense to overcome pitching and defense short-comings, but they are dangerous and never count them out. Look for a close race … The Seattle Mariners glory days are behind them. Adrian Beltre hasn’t become the player that the Mariners hoped for when they signed him two seasons ago. While Carlos Beltran struggled in his first season with the Mets before breaking out with 41 home runs and 121 Runs Created, Beltre hit just 25 last season (and 19 in 2005), and had just 85 Runs Created in 2006.Beltran, after some struggles, became the hero that New Yorkers expected him to be. Beltre hasn’t come close to equaling the exceptional season he had in 2004, when he hit 48 home runs. The Mariners themselves are pretty average in terms of pitching and defense and are built around their ability to get Ichiro Suzuki on base (which is often) and then have Richie Sexton and Beltre bat him home (which happens more often in the former than the latter). It is not a formula that works. Granted, if Beltre plays to his potential in 2007, the Mariners could be dangerous, but I am a skeptic. Looks like 79 or so wins …
ALDS: New York Yankees over Oakland A’s, 3-2; Minnesota Twins over Boston Red Sox, 3-0.
ALCS: Minnesota Twins over New York Yankees 4-2.
The Yankees brush past a much weaker A’s squad in a close five-game series while the Twins dominate the offensively challenged Red Sox. In the ALCS, the Twins pitching gives them the edge and sends themselves onto the World Series while the Yankees go home and George Steinbrenner fires Joe Torre.
AL Rookie of the Year: Elijah Dukes, Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Dukes wins it over fellow rookies Delmon Young and B.J. Upton largely because he’s a more patient hitter than Young and gets more playing time than man-without-a-position Upton. The emergence of the Devil Rays rookies gives the team some hope it has been sorely lacking.
AL Manager of the Year: Ron Gardenhire, Twins. Respect must once more be given to the low-budget, low-glamour Twins and their workmanlike manager who once more dominate the AL Central and streak into the post-season in a difficult division, all without the benefit of the Yankees endless deep pockets.
AL Cy Young Award: Johan Santana, Twins. Easily the most dominating pitcher in the A.L. Takes the Cy Young in a walk.
AL MVP: Derek Jeter, Yankees. In a fairer, more just world the winner would be Santana, the American League’s best player, but this is not a fair world. Jeter will wow the media in New York who will breathlessly speak of Jeter’s fabulous fielding skills and his timely clutch hitting and how vital it was to the Yankees success. Yawn. Santana is victimized by the voters bias against pitchers. At least he got the Cy Young.
I wouldn't even consider him too old. Frank Thomas hit 38 homers last year at an older age, and he of course had a more obvious injury history. I don't see any reason why Thome can't still hit over 40.
I think they have a serious starting pitching problem that will greatly hinder them throughout the season, unless they can acquire some studs through trades.
As for the Twins, who exactly besides Santana is going to pitch them into the playoffs? Sidney Ponson?