Sunday Night, April 1, 2007
Good morning and welcome back to the work week! I'm sure you are as excited as I am about that! Anyway, today is opening day. At 6:00 Monday night on either ESPN or FoxSports North, you will be able to see the Twins and Johan Santana go against Erik Bedard and the Baltimore Orioles. I know that I am incredibly excited. I suppose some will want to watch that basketball game on some other channel. You know, the one with a team from Florida and one from The Ohio State. I'm standing by my plan to not watch a college basketball all year, although, with the game being on Opening Day, I wouldn't have anyway.
Today, I would like to take a more global look at the 2007 baseball season. There are a lot of great stories and should be a lot of teams that will compete for much of the season. I will take a look at each of the six divisions and predict where each team will finish. I will have a short paragraph with some thoughts on the team. Then I will predict what the playoff picture could look like. Finally, I will post my official picks for some of baseball's biggest awards. And well, who knows what else you will find in the posting today. I do hope that you enjoy it! Let's start with the Twins and the American League. (this will be posted in a couple of postings to break it up. The National League will be posted later this evening)
American League Central
1.) Minnesota Twins
I know, this looks like a homer pick, especially when there are so many question marks surrounding 60-80% of the starting rotation. I read others who seem to think that Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer will regress from last year's numbers. Due to age and, in Cuddyer's case, more consistent playing time and lineup spot, I see no reason for them to regress. I also predict that Jason Bartlett will play well again, Rondell White will stay healthy and be solid (which would be a huge improvement from last year) and Jason Kubel will be healthy and have that breakout year I've been talking about for 3 years. The bullpen is baseball's best. But back to the starting pitching. Starting with Johan Santana, by far baseball's best pitcher, is a great thing. I think that Boof Bonser will prove himself to be a solid #3 big league pitcher already this year. If just one of the Ramon Ortiz, Sidney Ponson, Carlos Silva trio can pitch to a league average level and another can pitch to a near-league average level (which isn't asking for a lot), Matt Garza will replace the other (probably Silva) in the rotation by May and be the team's 2nd best pitcher in no time. If one of the others can not get the job done, Glen Perkins is getting needed work at Rochester as are Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker.
2.) Detroit Tigers
This is one where if you look only at numbers and such, you have to predict the Tigers as the team to beat in the division. They led the division most of last season, until the final day. They haven't really lost anyone. They added Gary Sheffield. Offensively, this is a solid lineup particularly with Curtis Granderson, Sheffield, Magglio Ordonez and the greatly underrated Carlos Guillen. There are several players such as Ivan Rodriguez and Sean Casey who will continue to decline in productivity. Gary Sheffield and Magglio Ordonez are big cogs in the lineup but both are injury risks this season. Of course, having the powerful Marcus Thames available to back up either and even spell Casey at 1B from time to time will be a good thing. The Tigers had very solid pitching last year. Kenny Rogers was his typically good in the first half of the season. But now he will miss the first half of this season after surgery on a blood clot. So, when he comes back, will he be strong in the second half (since it is his first half) or will he pitch like he normally does in the second half? Jeremy Bonderman is ready to become a star, and I have no doubt that he will do so. Count me in as one of apparently few who believe that Justin Verlander is the real deal. Nate Robertson can be good, but is inconsistent. What will he do this year? And, I am a fan of Mike Maroth just based on his willingness to continue pitching, knowing he would lose 20 games a few years ago. I really wish that he could have been a bigger part of that 2006 Tigers season. Todd Jones is the Tigers' closer. That is ominous in its own right. Their bullpen consists of Fernando Rodney, Joel Zumaya and question marks. Should one of them need to take over the closer's role, the bullpen will certainly be a weak point.
3.) Cleveland Indians
Cleveland is a team that a lot of people are expecting big things from in 2007. I actually agree with this, they will be vastly improved. They had a horrible bullpen in 2006 that lost a lot of games for them. They have addressed that issue with some veteran free agent signings. Now, the likes of Roberto Hernandez, Aaron Fultz and their new closer, Joe Borowski, are not going to strike fear in anyone. However, they will be solid and when they aren't, they are veteran enough to not fold up. This is big because the Indians do have some solid starting pitching. CC Sabathia has been one of the more overrated pitchers in baseball since he came up during the Indians good run and racked up some Wins. It is time for him to take it up a step and really be good, and I think he will. Jake Westbrook is a solid #3 starter, a sinker baller who knows how to pitch. I think that Jeremy Sowers is the second coming of Tom Glavine (that sounded so dramatic in my head). Cliff Lee will miss a few weeks at the start of the season, but he is a decent #3 as well. Paul Byrd is about done. I don't think that he will last the full season with the team. And Lee's replacement, Fausto Carmona will likely end up in the bullpen. I think that Adam Miller will be the guy for the Indians in the second half (if not sooner). He is fully back from Tommy John surgery and allegedly topping 100 mph on radar guns again. I think with Sabathia, Lee, Miller, Sowers and Westbrook, the Indians will have the best rotation in the division by midseason. That is a positive when you consider that the offense is one of baseball's best! Travis Hafner was baseball's best hitter last year until he was hurt with a month remaining in the season. Grady Sizemore still strikes out a lot, but he is so good. Victor Martinez isn't as good as he is believed to be, but he's still a great talent (just horrible defensively). Josh Barfield is replacing Ronnie Belliard at 2B. Andy Marte is replacing Aaron Boone at 3B. David Dellucci will platoon with Jason Michaels in LF. Casey Blake will get plenty of time in RF and at 1B, splitting time with Trot Nixon and Ryan Garko respectively. And finally, Jhonny Peralta can only be better than he was last year. This is a team that certainly has a chance to be very good very quickly.
4.) Chicago White Sox
People like to call the AL Central a four team race. Although I don't think that the White Sox will be bad, I think that the Sox are clearly a step behind the top three. Much of the postivity is from the middle of the Sox batting order. Jim Thome, Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye provide a lot of power, but can they continue to play as well as they are not getting younger? Joe Crede had a great year last year and he is in his walk-year, so expect much of the same from him. Darin Erstad will help this team in ways that will likely not show up in the box scores. (Yes, I am one who believes that not everything in baseball can or should be measured in numbers). The key is to make sure that Ozzie Guillen does not play him every day. Scott Podsednik just hasn't been healthy and without his steals, he doesn't do much at all. Tadahito Iguchi is solid, but not great. AJ Pierzynski is solid, and having Toby Hall as his backup will be a good thing for them. Juan Uribe has decent power but generally doesn't hit much. Starting pitching is what won the Sox the World Series in 2005. Each pitcher that year pitched way over their heads, and last year, they all returned to reality. Instead of ERAs in the mid-3s, they were all in the mid-4s. I don't care how many Wins he keeps racking up, Jon Garland is not a good pitcher. Mark Buehrle had been a solid #2 for several years but last year, he was just flat-out bad. Freddy Garcia was given away to the Phillies for Gavin Floyd, who has been nothing but disappointing, and Gio Gonzalez, who will be good, in a couple of years. Brandon McCarthy has been talked up as a future star for the Sox and now they traded him to the Rangers. Fortunately for them, they did get John Danks in return and he will be the team's 5th starter. Bobby Jenks has been good since he became the team's closer at the end of the 2005 season, but aren't we all just waiting for him to implode? And which Mike MacDougal and Andy Sisco will we get this year? These are big questions. I do think that Ken Williams made a couple of good trades for the future of the White Sox, but I think they will take a step backwards in 2007.
5.) Kansas City Royals
The Royals have been the laughing stock of the division and the league the last several years, but I don't think that they will be any longer. I really believe that they will win 70-72 games and not be terribly far out of 4th place. That said, they are not quite there yet. However, they have a very solid nucleus to start the progression forward. Alex Gordon is going to be an elite player. He probably could have been up last year and put up Ryan Zimmerman-type numbers (Gordon was taken 2nd overall and quickly followed by Ryan Braun and Zimmerman). But with Dayton Moore as the team's GM, they were wise to keep his arbitration clock from starting. He will be replacing Mark Teahen who had somewhat of a breakout season. Teahen will be moving to RF and likely hit third. Ryan Shealy has been blocked in Colorado by Todd Helton, but he could give a third 30 homer/100 RBI type of hitter. Combine those three potential stars with Emil Brown, who has been good the last two years and David DeJesus (who should turn into Carlos Beltran one of these years) and the Royals could score some runs. They don't need to count on Mike Sweeney any more. Tony Pena, Jr., takes over for Angel Berroa at SS, so that is a positive for the team. Jason Larue can focus on trying to work with the pitching staff. Ahhh, now to the pitching staff. Sure, Gil Meche was given way too much money, but if he can only be league average, in 2007, it is something. Zach Greinke is the key though. He had a forgetful 2006 season, but if he can be there mentally this season, he can be very good. After that, there isn't much other than to say... Luke Hochevar may be around soon! So should OF Billy Butler. So, the Royals are on their way, it just will take a little time.
American League East
1.) New York Yankees
I don't care how many question marks there are with the Yankees pitching staff, they are going to score a lot of runs and win a lot of games. I mean, Robinson Cano hit .340 last year and he has to bat 8th in this lineup! But, where else will he hit in a lineup that includes Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada (who has to falter soon). They are going to score a lot of runs. Doug Mientkiewicz should help out that infield defense tremendously with his vastly overrated defense, and his approach at the plate is really just what the Yankees need. Of course, I also expect Josh Phelps to get plenty of at bats as well. Chien Ming Wang is the team's best pitcher and he will be sidelined for at least a month with his hamstring injury. Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte are both very solid #3 type pitchers at this point in their career. It always amazes me to see Pettitte's age and realize that he isn't as old as I thought. Kei Igawa is a question mark at this point. We know he won't be as good as the Japanese import into Boston, but he has always been very good and got a lot of strikeouts. The Opening Day starter will be Carl Pavano, who has done pretty much nothing since 2004. I actually think that he will be just fine, and if not, he will be shipped out. Jeff Karstens and Darrell Rasner are temporarily the 5th starter options, but really, they're all just holding ground until the team believes that phenom Philip Hughes is ready, which could be in June. These types of pitching issues won't hurt the Yankees in the regular season, but it could again bite them in the playoffs.
2.) Toronto Blue Jays
Few remember that the Blue Jays actually finished second in the division last year after the Red Sox collapse. The Jays didn't make many changes in the offseason. They missed out on spendy starters Ted Lilly and Gil Meche, and I think that they should be very happy about that. They could get equal production from Tomo Ohka and John Thomson. Obviously they need AJ Burnett to stay healthy and fulfill that potential we keep hearing he has. Gustavo Chacin needs to stay healthy and mediocre. Outside of Johan Santana, Roy Halladay is baseball's best pitcher, but each year, he misses a few starts. Offensively this team is decent. I think that Vernon Wells warranted a big contract (maybe not that big though) and will perform at a very high level. I think Alexis Rios will perform to his 1st half levels, but he needs to be healthy. Troy Glaus is about as one-dimensional as a ball player is in baseball. Well, except for maybe Frank Thomas (who has no chance of staying healthy playing on the Rogers Centre turf). Up the middle, they have Royce Clayton and Aaron Hill, so that isn't too intimidating. Gregg Zaun deserves this opportunity to be the regular catcher. It should have happened a year earlier. BJ Ryan is in that top tier of big league closers, no question. But the rest of the bullpen is full of question marks.
3.) Boston Red Sox
You know, a lot of people talk about the offense of the Red Sox, and it isn't bad. However, after Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, there is a drop-off. Can JD Drew stay healthy and play with any drive? (Not so sure) Can Julio Lugo play like he did in Tampa, and not how he played in Los Angeles? (I think so) Can Mike Lowell play to his 2006 level, or regress to that 2005 level? (I say 2006) Can Coco Crisp stay healthy and play better? (I have no doubt about this one. I think that the decision to go with Crisp over Damon will start paying dividends this year). Is Dustin Pedroia ready? (I think so). Is there a more overrated player in the league than Jason Varitek? (I really don't think so.) The pitching staff is believed to be solid. Curt Schilling will be the ace, but he is now in the wrong side of 40. So is Tim Wakefield. Julian Tavarez is the team's fifth starter, which I don't believe is as bad as many believe it is, but he is still Julian Tavarez. I am high on Josh Beckett for some reason this year. I'm not sure why. Last year, he won a lot of games, but had an ERA over 5 and led the league in home runs allowed. You could argue that their most sure-fire starter is Daisuke Matsuzaka, who as good as he was in the WBC and has been this spring, has never made a big league start. Jonathan Papelbon back in the closer's role probably makes a lot of sense, especially if Terry Francona does use him more intelligently. Obviously I agree in the theory that your best pitchers should start and pitch more innings. However, Papelbon can dominate as a closer, is comfortable in the role, and it allows the team to use Jon Lester when he comes off of the DL. The rest of the bullpen does have a lot of question marks still, at least until Mike Timlin (another wrong-side-of-40 guy) comes back.
4.) Tampa Bay Devil Rays
The Devil Rays do things right. They know that they can't outspend the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles and Blue Jays, so they are all about player development. And they do a good job of it. I want to see it start paying dividends and moving them up in the AL East standings. There is a lot of talent on this roster. Carl Crawford is a solid all-around player who does a lot more than steal bases. Delmon Young will be the every day RF. With Rocco Baldelli out for a little bit again, Elijah Dukes will be the team's starting CF, and even when Baldelli is back, I expect Dukes to get a lot of playing time. That is, of course, if he can stay out of trouble. BJ Upton came up three years ago and homers at the age of 19. He is now looking for a position and he will begin the season as the Rays starting 2B. That is somewhat surprising only because it meant that Jorge Cantu (who was good two years ago) was sent to the minors. Ben Zobrist may not hit like Upton, but defensively, he is clearly the right guy to be playing SS, at least for another year or two until Reid Brignac is ready. The Rays won the bid for the rights to Akinori Iwamura and he will begin the year as the team's starting 3B. (how long until Evan Longoria is ready?). Dioner Navarro will be the primary catcher, and although he has been a disappointment since the Yankees traded him (surprise surprise), he has been hurt a lot, so it will be interesting to see what he will do with health. And Ty Wiggonton did a lot last year and now will be the team's 1B. To the pitching, Scott Kazmir is incredible! Call him Johan Jr if you want. He is very young still and the Rays need to be very careful with him. After him, however, it is the likes of James Shields, Jae Seo, Casey Fossum and Edwin Jackson (who I would really like to see do well). The bullpen is another weak spot, and do we even know if they have a closer yet now that Seth McClung was sent to AAA along with Chad Orvella?
5.) Baltimore Orioles
What do I think of when I think of the Orioles? No, not Anna Benson. I generally think of them signing has-been free agents a year or two too late rather than going with the young players. I don't think that that philosophy has necessarily changed. Aubrey Huff, Jay Payton, Ramon Hernandez and Javy Lopez are just recent examples. Also, why would they want Jaret Wright? I would say Steve Trachsel too, but he is really only a replacement for Kris Benson. The lineup should be decent, led by Miguel Tejada (whose best days, in my opinion, are now past him). Melvin Mora is about done (but they extended his contract). Brian Roberts is solid when healthy, but not necessarily even an above average 2B (but they extended his contract). It is a big year for Corey Patterson. Can he come up with a second solid season? One bright spot, in my mind, on the O's offense is Nick Markakis. The Greek lefty should put up monster numbers in 2007. I do think that there are a couple of really good pitchers in the O's starting rotation. I think that the best may be the lefty from Canada. You think I mean Erik Bedard, the team's Opening Day starter, who is excellent? No, although it is a good guess. I mean Adam Loewen. To me, he has a lot of upside and could win 15 games (as will Bedard). And when it comes to potential upside, does it get any higher than Daniel Cabrera? So many people thought that he would immediately improve last year under the direction of Leo Mazzone, but it takes some time. I think 2007 will be his breakout year! They did go out and spend a lot of money on their bullpen (Danys Baez, Chad Bradford, Jamie Walker and Scott Williamson), so that should definitely help. Chris Ray is a young closer whose name you should start hearing a lot more prominently in 2007.
American League West
1.) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Angels have been an interesting team to watch the last couple of years. They had a veteran base that helped them win the World Series, but over time, those guys get moved and new guys come up. There may not be an organization in baseball that has as many high-upside prospects, and they are slowly being brought along. The veterans that remain are Garrett Anderson (who is about done), and Vlad Guerrero (who every time he swings so ferociously, you wonder if it will be his last). They went out and spent a ridiculous amount of money on a 32 year old one-year wonder (Gary Matthews) to play CF. They also added Shea Hillenbrand as their DH. Chone Figgins is out for 4-6 weeks, and that will hurt the team because he is an ignitor. Maicer Izturis and former Gopher Robb Quinlan will take over 3B in the interim. Orlando Cabrera is the SS now, but for how long? That left side of the infield could include Brandon Wood at 3B and Erick Aybar at SS by season's end. Howie Kendrick came up last year and split time between 1B and 2B. He will be the team's every day 2B this year and for many years to come. The man can just flat-out hit! 1B is a question mark, but I would really like to see what Casey Kotchman could do with a year of health. He is just like Mark Grace potentially, but he just has missed so much time. Kendry Morales is another option at 1B and in LF and DHing when needed. Mike Napoli came up midway through last season and earned the nod as the team's top catcher. They are now trying to get rid of Jose Molina because Jeff Mathis is also ready to catch in the big leagues now. Pitching-wise, this team has got some talent. 2005 (a-hem) Cy Young winner Bartolo Colon is out anywhere from a month to three months (he is making a rehab start on Thursday). Jered Weaver is making a rehab start on Friday and could be out a couple of weeks. However, the Angels still have John Lackey, who busted out last year and could be one of the league's best this year. Ervin Santana was very good last year in his first full season, and he is so young and he will just get better. There are rumors that Dustin Moseley will make a couple of starts in an attempt to showcase him for a future trade. Other than that, we are looking at the likes of Kelvim Escobar and Hector Carrasco as the 3rd and 4th starters for right now. Francisco Rodriguez is a Top 2 closer in baseball (with Joe Nathan). Scot Shields is as good of a set up man as their is in baseball. Justin Speier will be good, but after that, there are questions, but with the solid rotation (once guys are back), the bullpen depth should not be quite as important.
2.) Oakland A's
Anyone else sick of hearing about how great Billy Beane is as a GM? Sure, he is good, and I agree with many of his Moneyball philosophies, but he makes mistakes too. That said, like the Twins, the A's do overcome their lack of finances and consistently win. They were wise to let Frank Thomas go this year, and equally wise to take a risk on Mike Piazza adapting to the DH role. With Minnesota native Dan Johnson on the DL for awhile, Nick Swisher likely will be the team's primary 1B. That presents a few question marks in the A's OF since Mark Kotsay is out for a while after back surgery. Shannon Stewart will play a lot in LF. Milton Bradley will likely play a lot of CF. Could Bobby Kielty actually be an every day player, and play in RF? Have you entered the contest picking the date for when Bobby Crosby's season will come to an end and Marco Scutaro will save the day? Eric Chavez has been disappointing for a couple of years now, and Mark Ellis has to stay healthy. Jason Kendall is an overrated catcher, but he does play a lot. Starting pitching is another question for the A's, especially now the Esteban Loaiza is starting the season on the DL. Can Rich Harden stay hea... I can't even finish the word. I do think that Dan Haren will take another step forward in 2007. he needs to reduce that ERA though! Joe Blanton gets wins, but he doesn't pitch well. And Joe Kennedy is back into the rotation after a year in the bullpen. His near-20 spring training ERA certainly didn't give A's fans a lot of confidence. The bullpen is anchored by Huston Street... who blew 11 saves last year! He should be improved. But Justin Duchscherer, Kiko Calero and Alan Embree could give the A's a decent set up crew.
3.) Texas Rangers
The Rangers are another interesting team with some major talent a lot more question marks. So, what do we know? Michael Young is a solid middle infielder who is going to get 200 hits. Despite a 'down' 2006, Mark Teixeira is a great power hitter. OK, that is about it. I am thrilled that Sammy Sosa is getting this chance and that he has taken advantage of it. I am interested to see how it works out in the regular season. Also, I have been highly touting Gerald Laird for the last two years, and for some inexplicable reason, Rod Barajas kept getting the starting nod. I think Ian Kinsler will take a big step forward. Hank Blalock was one of the better power-type hitters in baseball for a couple of his first seasons, but he was not good last year and really in 2005 either. New manager, former Twin Ron Washington, has made Blalock his pet project, so we'll see how that goes. Their outfield consists of Brad Wilkerson (who was a major disappointment last year), Kenny Lofton (who is old) and Nelson Cruz (who is young, but could be good). Their starting staff is led by Kevin Millwood. Vicente Padilla got a big three year deal, which means he will be horrible this year. Brandon McCarthy is the #3 starter and it will be interesting to see how he is able to adapt to pitching in Arlington. After that, it looks like Robinson Tejeda and Jamey Wright. Edinson Volquez struggled last year and this spring and Thomas Diamond is having Tommy John surgery. Not a lot more there! Eric Gagne was brought in to be the new closer. He won't be what he once was and his changeup will have to be perfect. He will start the season on the Disabled List so Akinori Otsuka will start the season as the closer, and that is not a bad thing. After those two, the bullpen isn't good either.
4.) Seattle Mariners
Despite all of the money that they gave to Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre after the 2005 season, the strength of this team is in the outfield. Raul Ibanez is vastly underrated. Ichiro is, well, Ichiro, and this year he is Ichiro in a contract year, so watch out! Jose Guillen will be in RF. Sexson and Beltre have to be much better, right? Jose Lopez was a pleasant surprise for the Mariners at 2B last year, but he is fighting injury. Yuniesky Betancourt proved to be a very good SS. Not a great hitter, he holds his own with the bat too. Kenji Jhojima quietly put together a very solid rookie year. The 30 year old catcher hit .291 with 20 homers and 76 RBI. Jose Vidro, who was once an All-Star but has been hurt the last couple of seasons, was brought in and will be the team's primary DH. The M's spent a lot of money on starting pitching. After bringing in the solid Jarrod Washburn the year before, the Mariners signed Miguel Batista and Jeff Weaver this year. Weaver turned his good couple of starts in the playoffs into a very nice contract. He will be horrible back in the AL West. The team also hurt itself by trading reliever Rafael Soriano to the Braves for Horacio Ramirez. The other starter for the Mariners is one that gives them hope. Felix Hernandez will now begin his second full season in the big leagues. Many were likely disappointed by what King Felix did last year, but they are being very wise with him, so I expect big things from him this year. JJ Putz stepped in and replaced the injured Eddie Guardado as the team's closer and was excellent. The rest of the bullpen is weak!
AMERICAN LEAGUE SUMMARY
Division Champs - Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
AL Wild Card - Oakland A's
ALCS Results - Yankees over Twins
Feel free to discuss and disagree with anything above. Like I said, I will be back later tonight with my National League predictions for the season. Thanks for stopping by and have a great evening!|
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