02 April 2005

On the Eve...



So here we are, perched on the edge of another season of baseball. Another huge, titanic, seemingly-endless wave of night-by-night repetition- the absolute beauty of baseball. Every night. It never stops, save for the occasional breather. So in this, 2005, the first season featuring a champion from Boston in 86 years, I have to register my predictions. It's in the "baseball blogs rulebook." My hands are tied. So here's my overly-simpified, quick take:

AL East






x-BOSTON_____98-64____--
y-NEW YORK___96-66_____2
BALTIMORE____85-77____13
TAMPA BAY____79-83____19
TORONTO______69-93____29


Unfortunately, with the two behemoths at the top of the division, the AL East is an abortion- Boston and New York will make the playoffs, so the entire season is really prolonged Spring Training for that ultimate event. It also doesn't matter who wins- "settling" for the Wild Card hasn't really stalled the recipients recently- the last four Series winners were Wild Card winners.

So I'll pick Boston for a couple of specific reasons that are either pure conjecture or blatant, admitted bias:
  • I'm a Red Sox fan

  • The Yankees didn't get as drastically better as you may have been hearing

  • The Red Sox rotation isn't nearly as "shaky" as you may have been hearing

  • Tony Womack


  • Yes, Randy Johnson is nearly God incarnate on the mound. But, they got significantly worse with Tony Womack, committed significant money and roster space to Jaret Wright, DIDN'T just spend that money where they needed it- CF on Carlos Beltran- and thus have the worst fielding CF in baseball roaming the Stadium (seriously, why Bernie doesn't get the same level flak Piazza does for his execrable defense is weird). Add to that Kevin Brown (and his back) STILL being in the rotation, Pavano being overrated from 04, and the fact that they actually wasted money on someone like Tino Martinez (instead of just shedding a big contract and getting a young, decent 1B). Of course, Matsui stands to improve on what has already become a frightening (and well deserved) reputation as a hitter, Alex Rodriguez will probably be even better, and Gary Sheffield is still Gary Sheffield- so they'll score an assload of runs.

    Boston, on the other hand, either moved laterally or improved in all their offseason moves. Renteria> Cabrera. Payton> Kapler. Vazquez> Reese. Varitek = Varitek. Clement/ Wells/ Miller = Lowe/ Martinez. Mantei = Williamson. Halama> DiNardo/ Malaska. Nixon 04> Nixon 03. The Nixon Factor is the most important to me- to have a hitter of his quality healthy and hitting 2nd against RHP, the Red Sox are going to score a staggering amount of runs, and save their rotation a lot of "mediocre" games- though I'm not referring to Clement. I'm guessing a season of 17-8, 3.80 ERA for him.

    As for "the rest": Baltimore is going to be a fun, softball-type team that beats your brains in every 3-4 games but can't keep the ball in the park themselves. They have some promising young pitchers, an excellent closer in BJ Ryan, and certainly a great offense. Tejada has worked himself into the best SS in baseball, Melvin Mora is still hitting like he's Wade Boggs, Sammy Sosa is in decline, but he's better than Jay Gibbons, and Javy Lopez, when not begging out of games, can hit (mysteriously- remember pre-03? I do). So they're OK. I'd love it if Boston could beat them every so often though.

    Tampa Bay has an exciting array of young talent, a GM that, while possibly retarded ("The only thing keeping people from viewing this organization as a success are wins at the major league level."- Chuck Lamarr) has finally decided to cultivate it, and they have Scott Kazmir. The trade they made to get him... I mean, how embarassing is it to get literally plowed in the posterior by Chuck Lamarr? Anyway, between Crawford, Huff, Baldelli (when he returns), Upton (when called up) and possibly Delmong Young (if HE gets called up), they have a lot of fun players to watch. They're hard to hate.

    Toronto, on the other hand, is in a holding patter before their new, high ceiling budget kicks in next year. Koskie was a good sign, and with Halladay/ Lilly, they have a great 1/2 rotation punch. But the rest of the team outside of Vernon Wells and Orlando Hudson (breakout year in 05) is a bore and a drag to watch. They'll sink like a stone this year, I think because the team is effectively incomplete.

    AL CENTRAL




    x-MINNESOTA______90-82____--
    CLEVELAND________83-81_____7
    CHICAGO__________77-85____13
    DETROIT__________75-87____15
    KANSAS CITY_____61-101____29


    This, along with the NL West, may be the weakest division in baseball... again. This is where the mid-to-small markets go to die, or to profit as a result of poor competition, depending on your perspective.

    So as for the division winner- listen, I'm all for the Cleveland bandwagon, and I'll go so far as to say that next year may be it for them as far as beginning to reach their potential in development, but for now, in 2005, I can't see them beating Minnesota. Minnesota won't score a ton of runs- they don't get on base enough as a team, and they don't have a strict power threat, though Morneau could become that in full this year. Despite this though, Minnesota's strenght is it's depth in pitching, from rotation to bullpen. Between Santana and Radke, the Twins have the best 1/2 rotation set in the AL- better than Johnson and Mussina. The thick of their rotation is certainly capable, and with Rincon setting up Joe Nathan, the end of games are tough on teams as well. It could be closer, but for now, I see the Twins as running away with it a bit at the end.

    Chicago is run by one of those GMs that make baseball fans snicker- along with Minaya, Lamarr, Bowden. Ken Williams is his name, and while he was smart enough to save his cash on Ordonez and go for the sure bet for less in Jermaine Dye, he also made two of the dumbest moves of the offseason:

    Carlos Lee to Milwaukee for Scott Podsednik
    Orlando Hernandez for 2 years, $8 million.

    A legitimate RH power hitting OF for a no-power, no-OBP injury case with one discernible talent- SBs. AND, a 40+ year old pitcher that completely disintegrated after 84 IP last year. Their offense isn't all that bad though- Rowand's a star, Dye's very good, Konerko can be the bellweather and Iguchi could be great at 2B. So while Freddy Garcia and Mark Buehrle carry on their (very able) shoulders the 2005 season, realize as well that their manager is OZZIE FUCKING GUILLEN. Worth remembering.

    Detroit's improved, though by how much is hard to say. This much is certain- most of it will be due to the further development of Mike Maroth and, more importantly, Jeremy Bonderman. The Percival signing won't give them many wins over and above last year, and it's tough to say, for someone who knows nothing about anatomy, what can be expected of Ordonez. They'll be a bit better, but not enough to make a run at anything. The Royals, on the other hand, will be even worse.

    I'm excited to check out Teahen this year at third, and I really believe Zack Greinke will be one of the top 5 pitchers in the AL this season. But other than that- they have a nice stadium.

    AL WEST




    x-OAKLAND______93-69____--
    LOS ANGELES____90-72_____5
    TEXAS__________84-78____11
    SEATTLE________70-92____13


    I think the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are the most overrated team in baseball. Between a very mediocre rotation, a free-swinging overrated lineup and a bullpen deep at the end, the Angels scare a lot of people, but I'm not sure I understand why. Granted, they do have one of the best pure hitters in baseball with Vlad, but Garrett Anderson, Orlando Cabrera, Darin Erstad, Steve Finley- they'll hit HRs (well, Anderson will, and Finley might), but no one's getting on base consistently enough to clog those bases. Plus, even with all those mashers, they have a manager dead set on playing go-go baserunners, sacrificing outs that often would lead to 3-run HRs (hey, I said "overly-simplified," remember?).

    On the other hand, you have an offense like Oakland's that is, to my eyes, a bit better- maybe by a lot. There's no Vlad, but Chavez has grown in his two very significant areas of weakness- plate discipline and hitting lefties. Durazo is starting to stay healthy and hit exactly like Beane had envisioned- add to that bobby Crosby getting used to major league pitching, the additions of Ginter and Kendall, and Mark Kotsay as a great leadoff hitter. They have an incredibly well-rounded offense, and while it's true that their rotation will be difficult to bank on over the long haul of their first season together, I really believe their being solid top-to-bottom with a very good, deep bullpen (Street, Cruz, Calero, Dotel) will win them more games than Los Angeles.

    Texas, on the other hand, is a team that is due for regression. They're another team being overrated- as they stand now, they're not much different from the team fielded in, say, 2002- it's just now, the sluggers they have are young, and thus more exciting to sportswriters. The pitching is still abominable, and while the bullpen is improved, Frank Francisco, the setup man, is having a lot of arm trouble early. Their outfield is underwhelming (Mench, Nix, Hidalgo), Soriano (Buck was smart enough to right Torre's wrong and move him out of the leadoff spot) has never seen an outside pitch he didn't like whiffing on, and while young Adrian Gonzalez looks great (as do Teixeira, Blalock and Young)- the young infield isn't enough to win them even as many games as last year.

    Seattle, obviously, made two big acquisitions- one great (Beltre) and one less-great (Sexson). This obviously helps one of the woefully awful 2004 teams, but what doesn't help is another year tacked on Moyer's ledger, the lack of a defined #1, a messy bullpen, and a cast around Beltre/ Sexson that's underwhelming to say the least. Ichiro is still a great hitter, but what alarming is his SB-rate- it's gone down since a sophomore season leg injury- he now averages about 35 per 48 attempts, contrasted from his 56 from 2001.

    x- division winner
    y- wild card





    NL EAST






    x-ATLANTA______90-72____--
    y-FLORIDA______89-73_____1
    PHILADELPHIA___87-75_____3
    NEW YORK_______82-80_____8
    WASHINGTON_____73-89____17


    This is a weird division to peg. My first reaction was to pick Florida, but with nearly every other person alive doing one of these things, I'm having a tough time picking against Atlanta again. I think there's good reason too- getting Tim Hudson and John Smoltz into your rotation is a boon for any team. Smoltz particularly should be well-rested, keeping his arm fresh these past three years in the bullpen, but not enduring marathon 225 inning seasons. He's going to be fierce. Their offense does, frankly, suck. Hopefully by about May Brian Jordan and Raul Mondesi will give way to their younger, cheaper, and at the very worst comparable teammates Ryan Langerhans and Andy Marte. Furcal and Giles are still good hitters- Giles particularly is one of the two best 2Bs in baseball- but the rest of the lineup is flat. Stories are Andruw Jones has taken a hitting tip from Willie Mays and run with it, but I'll believe it when I see it. Estrada will probably come back down to earth a bit, and their bullpen is resting on the shoulders of a closer who, while very good in 2004, strikes no one out.

    So that said, I do think it will be close, and I think Florida will give Atlanta a good run. Their offense is REALLY up-and-down solid- Pierre/ Castillo/ Cabrera/ Delgado is sick, but only if Pierre gets healthy. Miguel Cabrera is going to be an MVP candidate this year, no doubt. Of course, if Beckett and Burnett manage to put together, in the same season, something resembling their potential, they can be 04 Schilling and Pedro quality (to go with almost the same in Hudson/ Smoltz). But that's an "if." The rest of the rotation is solid, but unspectacular. The rotations of the Braves and Marlins match up rather well. As do the lineups and bullpens. But ask yourself this- who would you trust with a team to win a division- Bobby Cox, or Jack McKeon? Bobby Cox, or... anybody?

    Philadelphia finally got rid of Larry Bowa, who was obviously kept around because Ed Wade didn't want what will come to pass in 2005- the same team, under new guidance, possibly sucking and it becoming clear it's Wade's fault. But maybe it isn't Wade's fault. But whatever- this team, for whatever reason, has shown no pronounced ability to win games consistently. I'd try to explain it, but I don't get it- worth mentioning though that their rotation is really pedestrian, and that's in a HR happy park (first year at least). Abreu though might be one of the 2-or-3 best all around players in baseball.

    So, the Mets. The New Mets. Arguably the most improved team in baseball. Got the best available pitcher, and the best available player, period. They have David Wright developing into a superstar, Jose Reyes and Kaz Matsui back to their rightful places on the diamond, and they got someone to pick all of said middle infielder's terrible throws. BUT- their bullpen is a wasteland, they still have Piazza and Floyd clogging up their lineup and defense, and their rotation is, despite the hype, Pedro, a declining Glavine, and a bunch of average pitchers. Zambrano could improve and find the plate, as he's young and has great stuff- but Benson is league average at best and Kaz Ishii is burnt crispy toast. I think they cold nail Cliff Floyd to the grass in LF and Beltran/ Cameron would probably still catch everything that flew out there though. Kinda funny the best defensive CF in baseball got moved to RF though- only the Mets, right?

    And then there are the Nationals, who counted among their big "gets" Vinny Castilla, Cristian Guzman and Esteban Loaiza. Enjoy Jim Bowden, Washington!

    NL CENTRAL




    x-ST. LOUIS___97-65____--
    CHICAGO_______89-73_____8
    MILWAUKEE_____85-77____12
    HOUSTON_______82-80____15
    PITTSBURGH____73-89____24
    CINCINNATI____67-95____30


    The obvious improvement made by St. Louis was to get Mulder- and while I'm less optimistic for his future versus Hudson's, it's better than Woody Williams. The upside/ downside of Renteria/ Womack for Eckstein/ Grudzielanek is a wash, as far as I'm concerned. That's how bad Tony Womack is. The Cardinals don't really have any competition in this division, so barring any significant and crippling injuries, they shouldn't have much trouble.

    I'm putting Chicago second based on two factors- pitching health and the bullpen. They don't have much of either. They're strong offensively, even if their outfield is anemic. The combo of Nomar, Ramirez, Lee and Walker is good enough to score some runs, and I think Carlos Zambrano is a Cy Young candidate. But since Dusty has run the kick out of Prior/ Wood's arms, it's tough to pick them against St. Louis.

    My big "surprise" team is Milwaukee, though I'm not picking them to actually win anything. They've gotten Carlos Lee to go with young SS JJ Hardy, Geoff Jenkins and Lyle Overbay. Plus, Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder await in AAA. They're not going to be great- even with Ben Sheets, who's 2004 was Seaver-esque- their rotation is shallow. Their bullpen isn't great either, but in a division that's one team and a big dropoff, I think they'll make a little noise.

    Houston's starting lineup at the beginning of the season will feature an outfield of Jason Lane, Willy Tavaras and Chris Burke. Their infield will comprise of Morgan Esnberg and Adam Everett on the left side, and the AARP club of Biggio/ Bagwell on the right. Brad Ausmus is still their starting catcher. I like their rotation as much as anyone- Roy Oswalt could be a Cy Young candidate, Clemens should be effective yet again, and if Pettitte can stay healthy, there are worse options for a third starter. Brad Lidge is may be the best closer in baseball right now. But read those first three sentences again and consider Berkman is months away from returning from an ACL injury.

    Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are, to me, two organizations with comparable talent, but one with upside, and the other doomed to give up breathtaking amounts of runs. Pittsburgh has a young, certified ace in Oliver Perez, along with a solid Kip Wells and Josh Fogg and a decent closer. The lineup isn't great, and the sooner they let whatever C they have at AAA take Benito Santiago's place, the better. But Lawton is a great hitter, Bay and Wilson have some power, and Jack Wilson could end up being a really great hitter. They'll have trouble catching the ball, but that's just part of what ultimately makes them a 5th place team, I guess.

    Cincinnati, on the other hand, has some great hitters: Adam Dunn, Sean Casey. Austin Kearns could be good if healthy, and even though everyone is right to doubt it, I suppose Ken Griffey could put together a healthy season one of these go rounds. The problem is the pitching. In a HR-happy ballpark, the Reds have places Paul Wilson, Eric Milton and Ramon Ortiz at the top of their rotation- all three of which (the latter two especially) are known for their tendency to surrender the long ball. The rest of the starting five are even worse, they have the worse bullpen in baseball, and their minor league system is relatively bare. They suck.

    NL WEST




    x-LOS ANGELES______86-76____--
    SAN DIEGO__________84-78_____2
    SAN FRANCISCO______83-79_____3
    ARIZONA____________70-92____16
    COLORADO__________59-103____27


    This is another tough division to handicap. I just don't happen to buy all this hype about the Giants, especially considering they'll likely be playing most of their season without Barry Bonds. The two most important players in the division- Eric Gagne and Barry Bonds- start the year on the DL. At the end of the day, though, the Dodgers front four to their rotation- Lowe, Penny, Perez and Weaver- is definitely deeper than either San Diego or San Francisco's. Assuming Gagne's injury isn't season-threatening, they also have the best of the three very good closers in the division- better than both Benitez and Hoffman. LA's letting Beltre go was incredibly foolish, especially considering his defense, but assuming a decent level of health, JD Drew can likely provide within whatever modest expectation you'd have for Beltre this season. Their lineup won't be great- but it'll keep the Dodgers in more games than other West teams.

    The Giants' lineup is tied into Bonds. Without having to repeat myself, they're all old- REALLY old. Matheny is old, and could never hit. Alou is old and moving from an extreme hitters park to one of the more extreme pitcher's parks. Vizquel is old, has lost a step defensively, and is declining a bit as a hitter. Snow, Grissom and Alfonzo are all old and not very productive any more. Ray Durham is the only stand-out left who can seemingly be counted on for well above league-average productivity at his position. The rotation is good- just not deep. Schmidt is always a Cy candidate now, but Rueter is toast, Tomko is just average, and Jerome Williams is still becoming the pitcher he'll be- he ain't there yet.

    San Diego is actually a very similar team to San Francisco, and better I think. Peavy is a dominant young arm, Williams is a solid veteran pitcher, and Brian Lawrence/ Adam Eaton are valuable innings-eating starters. Hoffman is still a great closer, and Akinori Otsuka was, in his first season, devastating on RH batters. They have a deep lineup of power hitters- Giles, Nevin- pure hitters- Loretta- and young talent- Greene, Burroughs. After a full season in their absolute chore of park to hit in, it's certainly possible they could begin to adapt to it in some part in 05.

    Do I have to write about Colorado? OK. Helton's a great hitter and I wish Kim well. There.




    POSTSEASON


    BOS________________________________________________ATL
    3-1________________________________________________3-0
    OAK_____BOS________________________________ATL_____LAD
    ________4-2________BOS___4-1___ATL_________4-3
    MIN_____MIN________________________________STL_____STL
    3-2________________________________________________3-2
    NYY________________________________________________FLA





    AWARDS

    MVP

    AL
    1. Eric Chavez, OAK

    2. Manny Ramirez, BOS

    3. Vladimir Guerrero, LAA

    4. Alex Rodriguez, NYY

    5. Joe Mauer, MIN


    NL
    1. Nomar Garciaparra, CHC

    2. Albert Pujols, STL

    3. Miguel Cabrera, FLA

    4. Marcus Giles, ATL

    5. Bobby Abreu, PHI



    Cy Young

    AL
    1. Johan Santana, MIN

    2. Randy Johnson, NYY

    3. Rich Harden, OAK

    4. Curt Schilling, BOS

    5. Zack Greinke, KCR


    NL
    1. Tim Hudson, ATL

    2. Ben Sheets, MIL

    3. Pedro Martinez, NYM

    4. Carlos Zambrano, CHC

    5. Roy Oswalt, HOU


    Rookie of the Year

    AL
    1. Scott Kazmir, TB

    2. Gabe Gross, TOR

    3. Mark Teahen, KCR

    4. Nick Swisher, OAK

    5. Dallas McPherson, LAA


    NL
    1. JJ Hardy, MIL

    2. Jeff Francis, COL

    3. Gavin Floyd, PHI







    It should be a fun, exciting, fulfilling season. I don't know why I say that... I just always assume it will be, because with baseball, it always is. Every year, somehow, it's incredibly encompassing and involving. It can absorb all of your time, some of it, very little- your call. I'll go for the first option- at 23, that's the way to go, I feel. When else will I be able to do it?

    Here are two sets of prediction lists:
    Baseball Prospectus- AL
    Baseball Prospectus- NL
    ESPN.com

    Of course, it will be hard for a Sox fan to let go of 2004. In fact, the Sox played some pretty decent games in '04, including one that ESPN called the "Greatest of the Last Ten Years" (Game Five was #23, Game Six #45, Game Five of the 03 ALDS was #68). Picking between which is better- Game Four or Game Five- is like choosing between which of The Godfather or The Godfather, Part II is better. If I had to pick, gun to my head (the only real scenario in which I'd really lay it down on choosing), I'd have to go with The Godfather, Part II probably- meaning I pick Game Five too, naturally. But then you say that, and you remember Brando... you remember "The Steal"....

    Looking forward to all the newness of baseball, then the comfort it gives in being every day, repeating on and on for months.

    Let's Go Sox!!

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