Thursday, March 22, 2007
1. Philadelphia Phillies
2. New York Mets
3. Atlanta Braves
4. Florida Marlins
5. Washington Nationals
N.L. East: Yes, I am predicting our own 2007 Philadelphia Phillies to win the N.L. East and make the playoffs for the first time since 1993. (see, my Season Preview for a more lengthy discussion on this topic.) Sure, the Phillies aren’t perfect, but they have an offense that is as good, and probably better, than the Mets. The 2006 Phillies scored 865 runs, a whopping 94 better than the N.L. average. They will have similar success in 2006 with the core of the Phillies batting order returning intact. Meanwhile, the Phillies upgraded their pitching staff, adding Freddy Garcia and Adam Eaton to a rotation that is already going to include Cole Hamels, Brett Myers and Jamie Moyer. The Phillies probably don’t have the best pitching staff in the N.L., but that is much better than what the Mets are going to field. If the Phillies play good defense like they’ve played over the last three or four seasons, they will be a tough team to beat, provided their bullpen doesn’t betray them. I think 95 or so wins is a definite possibility … Meanwhile, the New York Mets have a powerful offense and maybe the best all-around player in baseball in Carlos Beltran, but their pitching is going to be their Achilles Heel. (see, "Know Thy Enemy: the 2007 Mets") Their best pitcher is 41-year old Tom Glavine. Their #2 in 37-year old (?) Orlando Hernandez. They need a big season for John Maine or they are stuck. I bet the Mets offense will score lot of runs, probably more than the Phillies even, but they cannot match the Phillies pitching staff and that is the decisive edge that the Phillies have going into this season. Unless the Mets can swing a deal for a big-time starter, their pitching will doom them to a second-place finish … Will the Atlanta Braves return to 1991-2005 form next season? They had a remarkable run during that time period, but the sun as set on the mighty (bland) Braves empire. Their rotation is old and so is their lineup. (see, "Know Thy Enemy: the 2007 Braves".) Maybe John Schuerholz ought to concentrate on rebuilding his farm system when he isn’t writing self-congratulatory books about himself. I say third place … The Florida Marlins must really be a burr in the saddle of Major League baseball. Since they entered the league in 1993 they’ve gone out and won two World Series that generated absurdly low TV ratings. A collection of face-less guys who play in a city that could care less about baseball, this team is Major League Baseball’s worst nightmare, a team that makes October baseball a veritable sleeping pill for the American television viewing public. And guess what? I can see this team getting very good very quickly. I think they could contend in 2008 or 2009. The 2006 Marlins basically played a bunch of rookies at the same time and discovered that their farm system was doing a good job of developing talent. (see, "Know Thy Enemy: the 2007 Marlins".) This team had multiple candidates for Rookie of the Year! I can see the 2007 Marlins getting very good - provided there is no sophomore slump - and even making a run on the NL East once more. If Dontrelle Willis is available to anchor their rotation, expect the Marlins to do much better than their 78-84 season in 2006 … The 2005 Washington Nationals were a real surprise and a real pain for the Phillies to deal with. Instead of playing a team of push-overs who were fortunate to escape from Canada, the 2005 Nationals actually won baseball games, finishing with an 81-81 record. The ’06 version crashed to earth, going 71-91. I predict that the ’07 model will fall further, slipping to 65 or so wins. (see, "Know Thy Enemy: the 2007 Nationals".) This team cannot compete with the Braves, Phillies and Mets in terms of spending power and the Marlins have a keener eye for talent. They might score some runs, but they will miss Alfonso Soriano and their pitching staff needs help.
1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Chicago Cubs
3. Houston Astros
4. Milwaukee Brewers
5. Cincinnati Reds
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
NL Central: Was there ever a weaker World Series champion than the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals? The ’04 team that got swept by the Red Sox at least won 105 regular season games, 22 more than this team did. They nearly blew a huge lead to the Houston Astros in the regular season. The Cardinals got lucky, plain and simple. Billy Beane was right: anything can happen in October, and it did to the Cardinals. I respect Tony LaRussa as a manager and I give him credit for getting this team to the top of the mountain, but 2007 will be harder. I still think that the Cardinals will win what is a very weak division, but anything can happen … Why can’t the Chicago Cubs win the NL Central in 2007? No reason, but I was burned too badly last year to call their number again. Perhaps Soriano isn’t the greatest player in baseball and the Cubs over-paid a little to get him. Perhaps the Cubs rotation looks battle-scarred and thin. Perhaps this team is cursed in a profound manner that even a Red Sox fan couldn’t comprehend. The Cubs have a lot of flaws, not the least of which is a so-so pitching staff that needs Ted Lilly to be big, but this division is weak enough that they could win it, even if they only win 85-87 games. I expect the Cubs to eschew the small ball tactics of Dusty Baker and rely on Soriano, Derek Lee and Aramis Ramirez to hammer the ball out of the park … Can the Houston Astros challenge the Cardinals in 2007? I doubt it. This is a team that will be weaker with their pitching staff depleted. Their offense will continue to muddle along – Carlos Lee is nobody’s savior – and they will play good defense, but this team is average in every way. I say .500: 81-81 … The Milwaukee Brewers were a team that I expected to play much, much better than they did last season. With a young pitching staff and some exciting players, I thought that the 2006 Brewers might be a dark horse, so I put them third. They finished fourth, which is where I see them this season. They made no major changes, so we shall see if they will jell as a team next year … The Cincinnati Reds were a team that played waaaaay over their heads in 2006. After starting the season 17-8 in April and briefly occupying first place in early June, the Reds collapsed and played their way out of the playoff picture, mostly thanks to a 2-8 road trip in August and September. Bronson Arroyo was very good in 2006, but the rest of the Reds pitching staff is suspect. Their #3 starter is Eric Milton! ERIC MILTON!* They have an offense that relies almost exclusively on hitting home runs: 36% of their total bases were off of home runs and their .244 batting average with runners in scoring position was worst in the N.L. I anticipate a pretty miserable season for the Reds in 2007 … The Pittsburgh Pirates are all excited about Adam LaRoche and Jason Bay playing on the same team. This is a step in the right direction, but hardly the magic bullet that Pirates fans are looking for. Their young pitching staff has to come together and they need to play better team defense before they can move up. Fourth is a possibility, fifth could happen, but sixth is the probability.
* for those new to A Citizen’s Blog, Eric Milton is a former Phillie whom I criticized unmercifully. Just plug in “Eric Milton” & “awful” and/or "terrible" and/or “sucks” into the Google search box at the bottom of this page and see how many hits you get.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. San Diego Padres
3. Colorado Rockies
4. San Francisco Giants
5. Arizona Diamondbacks
NL West: I don’t believe that small ball is a winning strategy in baseball. However, I do think the 2007 L.A. Dodgers will win the N.L. West despite their affinity for small ball and not because of it. The Dodgers hit-and-run, they bunt, and they steal bases. I hate that kind of baseball. But the Dodgers have something nobody else in the N.L. has: a dominating pitching staff, featuring Jason Schmidt, Randy Wolf, Derek Lowe and Brad Penny. This will be the best pitching staff in the National League and maybe the majors in 2007. For that reason I think that the Dodgers are going to win a lot of 2-1 games in 2007, even without Eric Gagne as their closer. They will survive their inconsistent offensive strategy and they will prosper because they have a pitching staff that will win them games and dominate teams in short series. This team reminds me of the 1960s Dodgers with Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale trying to win 1-0 games every night. The ‘60s Dodgers did it, so why can’t the ’07 Dodgers? … Right behind them are the San Diego Padres, a good and solid team built around pitching and defense. They will probably have a better offense than the Dodgers, but they don’t have the power from their staff that the Dodgers have. Sure, Greg Maddux will win games on guile and skill, and centerfielder Mike Cameron is one of the most under-rated players in baseball, but they’ll finish a little behind the Dodgers … The 2006 Colorado Rockies hit-and-ran, they bunted, and they stole bases whenever they could. Their pitching staff was better than average for probably the first time in baseball history. I was stunned by how the ’06 Rockies actually transformed themselves into a dangerous team that nearly got into the playoffs utilizing a small ball and pitching model. Will that be a winning strategy in 2007? I doubt it, but I am very impressed by how the Rockies improved themselves by leaps and bounds last year. I think they might surprise some people and might make a run on the playoffs … The San Francisco Giants will not make the playoffs. Their decision to bring back Barry Bonds has been a catastrophe. For the last decade Bonds has sucked the oxygen out of that team, making himself the sole story and drowning out whatever the Giants try and do on the field. Now the team needs to be finally ready to move beyond the Barry Bonds era and try to rebuild. The Giants are a fairly old team stocked with veterans, built to give Barry once last chance at the World Series he missed winning in 2002. The problem is that the Giants need to get younger and need to rid themselves of the concrete albatross that is Barry Bonds egomaniacal pursuit of Hank Aaron. It caused Bonds to destroy himself, taint his body with steroids, and figuratively sell his soul to Satan to build a legacy that lies in ruins today. Now the Giants have brought baseball’s freak show back to town. Good luck. Oh, and the team will come to rue their monster deal with Barry Zito … Meanwhile the Arizona Diamondbacks went back to the future with Randy Johnson returning to the desert to resurrect his career after his Yankees sojourn went so terribly, terribly wrong. With the Big Unit and Brandon Webb, the D-Backs might have a decent team in 2007, but they lack any sort of pop on offense. Maybe they can pass the Giants and Rockies, but the playoffs would be a stretch.
NLDS: Philadelphia Phillies over St. Louis Cardinals, 3-2; Los Angeles Dodgers over New York Mets, 3-0.
NLCS: Los Angeles Dodgers over Philadelphia Phillies, 4-2.
In a closely fought series the Phillies starting pitching overwhelms the Cardinals thin staff while Ryan Howard outplays Albert Pujols. The Dodgers, meanwhile, overwhelm the Mets, who snuck into the playoffs after a fierce wildcard race with the Padres, Cubs and Braves. The difference? The Dodgers rotation wears the Mets hitters down. In the NLCS the Phillies fall thanks to the Dodgers formidable rotation.
World Series: Minnesota Twins over Los Angeles Dodgers, 4-3.
In a battle between pitching oriented, small ball teams, the Twins emerge victorious thanks to gutty pitching from Johan Santana, who turns in a performance worthy of Sandy Koufax and wins the World Series MVP as well as the 2007 Cy Young Award and finishes high in the MVP voting.
N.L. Rookie of the Year: Angel Guzman, Cubs. Watch the talented Guzman make a splash with the Cubs.
N.L. Cy Young Award: Derek Lowe, Dodgers. Last year there was a real horse race for the N.L. Cy Young because the candidates were pretty ordinary. Why Lowe? I like how few home runs and walks he allows. 67% of the balls put into play off of his arm were grounders, an absurdly high percentage. If the Dodgers play good defense behind him, he could win 20-22 games in 2007.
N.L. MVP: Carlos Beltran, Mets. Beltran is an outstanding player who excels in every phase of the game: fielding, hitting for power, hitting for average, running the bases, etc. This guy is the complete package, and he plays in the media capital of America. How can he not win?
N.L. Manager of the Year: Willie Randolph, Mets. I give Willie Randolph the edge in the N.L. because I think he'll figure out a way to make the pitching-challenged Mets competitive in the N.L. East.
That's it for predictions. Bring on the baseball!
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
It’s just Spring Training! That said …
1. This Shane Victorino is doing a nice job. He’s hitting .439 (18-of-41), with twelve runs scored and five batted in. Victorino has stolen four bases in six tries as well. Power? A conspicuous absence in Victorino’s recent past, but he’s hit one home run and three doubles (.585 Slugging Percentage). Good sign for Victorino, who is likely to step up and be the Phillies right fielder and #2 hitter.
2. Michael Bourn is making a terrific argument for staying with the team when it treks up north in two weeks. He’s hitting .389 (14-for-36), with fourteen runs scored. What has me very impressed are his speed scores: so far he’s five-for-five in terms of stolen bases and two of his fourteen hits are triples. You could hardly argue for a stronger spring on Bourn’s part, particularly considering that Chris Roberson, Bourn’s presumptive competitor, is zero-for-ten (.000 batting average) with a single stolen base and three runs scored.
3. Pat Burrell isn’t doing me any favors with his weak spring. Five-for-twenty-five (.200), with three doubles and a home run, three runs scored and four RBIs. I’d expect him to be doing better than that, although I haven’t an idea what his OBP is and his Isolated Power at the plate is a robust .240.
4. If Pat Burrell is struggling, then Aaron Rowand is tanking this spring. Five-for-thirty-nine (.128!!!!!), with two runs scored and five RBIs. Rowand is displaying no speed on the base paths and no power at the plate (.103 ISO). If this portends for Rowand’s 2007 campaign, then the Phillies have a major, major problem.
5. I have a bad feeling about the status of Chris Coste with the team. Bourn is playing well, as is Karim Garcia, and the apparently the team had a meeting with Coste … I see a cold spring in Ottawa in Coste’s future, which is too bad given how well he played with the team in 2006.
6. Jamie Moyer is pitching well for the Phillies, leading the team this spring in innings pitched with a 2.51 ERA. Adam Eaton is also pitching the ball well. Scouts, I’ve read, think he’s really hurling the ball well.
So it’s just Spring Training. But it gives us something to talk about …
Labels: Spring Training
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.