April 02, 2007

Opening Day! And AL East preview

Hooray for baseball! Glad to see the season finally starting, even though the Cubs lost today. I guess they left their bats in the southwest...I think Carlos will pitch better than he did today (he better).

Next, my AL East rundown. This is by far the easiest division to do, year by year. Once you pick between the Yankees and Red Sox, the rest of the standings just fall into place. Here it is, from bottom to top

Tampa Bay (65-97)
This team has some promise now, finally. No team, with the exception of maybe the Diamondbacks has more talent young position players with this much upside. I think they're going to surprise a LOT of people this year, but their record will still be pretty lousy. Even when the youngsters are focused, there will still be far too many slugfests for them to win. Some teams can get by with a large hitting-to-pitching ratio (see: Yankees, Mets, Cubs), but the Rays pitching talent just can't compare at all.

Baltimore (68-94)
This team, however is the anti-Devil Rays. They have lots of great pitching (and Leo Mazzone) but they will struggle mightily to score runs. And again, that's not going to cut it when the Yankees and Red Sox lineups can put up runs even against the best starters in the league. Again, you can get by on *only* pitching...but not with the pack end of their rotation. If they can find adequate replacements for Jaret Wright and the corpse that is Steve Trachel's career they could sniff at .500. On the offensive side, they do have an established star in miguel tejada, a rising star in Nick Markakis, and an overrated star in Brian Roberts. But really, who else do they have? Mora, Huff, Millar and Gibbons have no upside at all, and Patterson still is a shadow of the Patterson of the first half of 2003. Hernandez had a great year behind the plate last year, but there's a reason why they call them 'career years'. Expect lots of 2-1, 3-2, 4-2 losses from this team.

Toronto (81-81)
Toronto is the sexy pick to upset the Sox-Yanks combo at the top of the division...but we must admit that a lot of this probably stems from an unconscious desire to see those two teams thrown from the top of the standings every year. This is still a very shaky team. They have a great one-two punch in Halladay and Burnett - probably the best 2 starters on the same team in the AL. I think Burnett will stay healthy this year...Halladay will probably take his annual DL trip or two but pitch well while on the roster. The rest of the rotation just has to hope the offense and decent bullpen can keep them in the game.

On offense, again there's no one who really jumps out. Vernon Wells is being paid superstar money but isn't really a superstar. Glaus is another quality player, though streaky, and Overbay isn't really your prototypical power-hitting first baseman - how many first basemen hit second? The rest of their outfield is overrated, Riccardi should try to flip them for some decent pitching (i.e. someone in the Phillies or Dodgers logjams). Aaron Hill has some upside, but Royce Clayton is a huge hole in the lineup, in a division where having a merely average player can be considered a hole.

2. New York Yankees (83-79)
It's going to be a long year for George Steinbrenner. The Yankees will have to blow away all their opponents to have a shot at winning the divison, because their pitching is almost as uncertain as the Mets'. Pettitte is the real ace of this team, but he and Mussina are both aging and project to regress this year. Pettitte should be further hurt by the loss of Roger Clemens and his maniacal workout routines and general energy...he always seemed like a guy who fed off the energy of his teammates to me. Wang is great but is a statistical aberration. This injury to start the season could be a harbinger of more trouble this season as well, especially if Igawa/Rasner/Karstens/Pavano/Hughes start off badly, which they probably will. I think Igawa was probably one of the worst signings of the offseason, though it was overshadowed by such awful deal as the Meche, Matthews, and Pierre deals. On the other hand, Yankees can afford to gamble with fringe starters that no one has ever seen before. I definitely get the vibe that he's the kind of pitcher that will get hit HARD the second time around the league, if not the second time around the lineup.

I don't really have much to say about the offense, other than that their first base platoon will be vastly improved the fewer games that Mientkiewicz plays. Losing Sheff should hurt it a little bit, but the fact that I still penciled the Yankees in for a winning record after my discussion of their pitching problems speaks volumes about how unstoppable their offense is.

1. Boston Red Sox (92-70)
As much as I loathe Red Sox fans, damn do they have a great team this year. Their offense isn't quite as good as the Yankees, though I think Pedroia and Crisp will turn in quality league-average type seasons, as will Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis. Those could be considered 'holes' in a AL east lineup as I mentioned earlier...but their defense or OBP or other peripherals should really work well with the way that this team is built. I'm not a big fan of Wakefield or whoever starts in the 5th spot in the rotation, but with their quality offense and bullpen (my thoughts about the Papelbon move notwithstanding) they should be fine. I think Dice-K will be a monster this season, and may even wrest the Cy Young away from Santana.

1. Red Sox 92-72
2. Yankees 83-79
3. Blue Jays 81-81
4. Orioles 68-74
5. Rays 65-97