I’ve been keeping busy with other sports–and some non-sports entertainment–over the offseason, so I’m not 100% dialed in to the goings-on of baseball, but nonetheless, it’s time to at least make an attempt at predicting things.
AL East: As per usual, the AL East is quite possibly the toughest in all of baseball, and will likely be the source of the Wild Card. Now, I know that I am not unbiased, but I believe the Red Sox will take the division due to the depth of their rotation. When it was announced that Daisuke Matsuzaka would miss the start of spring training due to injury, I wasn’t really worried, because for all that he cost to get, he’s basically the Sox’ number 4 now, behind Beckett/Lester/Lackey (arrange these three however you like, although that’s probably the order I’d put them), and they’ve got Buchholz and Wakefield behind that, so even without Dice-K, they’ve still got a solid 5-man rotation. The Yankees and Rays should both still be in the division race up until the final week, though, and either one could end up as the wild card–it comes down to the Yanks’ aging veterans vs. the Rays’ unproven youngsters, particularly where the rotations are concerned (although the Yanks also have some unproven youngsters at the tail end of the rotation). Baltimore, for some reason, is optimistic about this year, while Toronto is known to be in a rebuilding year, so I’ll say that the Jays finish in last place and the Orioles in fourth.
AL Central: Another three-team race. I’ll give the edge to the Tigers, but I wouldn’t give anyone in this division more than a 35% chance of reaching the playoffs–the Tigers, Twins, and White Sox are that close.
AL West: A definite mystery. The Angels have definitely taken a step back and fallen back to the pack, to the point that I’m pretty sure I heard one person on the radio call the West a three-team race between the A’s, Rangers, and Mariners at one point during the offseason. I’m not sure if I’d go that far, though–it’s still the Angels we’re talking about here. The Mariners definitely made great strides during the offseason, trading for Cliff Lee and signing Chone Figgins as a free agent, but I’m worried they still don’t have enough star power to make it last–I’m not even really sure who their 3-5 starters are, and the lineup is decidedly small-ball. Then again, who in this division really does have serious star power?
NL East: The Phillies are still the class of the NL and should be able to make it four straight division titles and three straight NL pennants, at which point the talking heads will start to wonder how long it will be until we can start calling them a dynasty (yes, even if they lose the World Series again–after all, the ’90s/early ’00s Braves were a dynasty despite only winning one World Series, weren’t they? Okay, maybe not.) The Braves are my favorites to finish second, and possibly earn the Wild Card. The Mets have improved over the offseason and could end up in third if they stay healthy, or they could land in fourth. The Nationals will likely finish last in the division again, but will probably pick no higher than fourth and possibly as low as eighth in the 2011 draft rather than the #1 spot they’ll have for the second year in a row in 2010.
NL Central: To be honest, I really haven’t followed the NL that closely. I know that the Pirates will be in last place again, and that the Astros still aren’t terribly good and seem most likely to land in fifth, and that Milwaukee is a far cry from their 2008 wild card berth, but that’s about it. The Cubs and the Cardinals should slug it out again, and, like almost every other year, I’m going to say that the Reds could make some noise. (Note that I make this prediction almost every year, although I think I skipped it last year, and it hasn’t actually come true since 2006, when they still finished in third but weren’t eliminated from the division race until the penultimate day of the season.)
NL West: If the Braves don’t win the Wild Card, expect it to come from this division. This may be a four-team race, as the Dodgers and Rockies, both postseason teams last year, should not have fallen off much, the Giants are still a team on the rise (again, see last year), and the Diamondbacks…well, I still have no clue why they faltered so much. They won the division in 2007 and were in the hunt late in 2008, and they made humongous upgrades in the ’08-’09 offseason…and inexplicably were a complete non-factor in 2009. I can only dismiss this as a fluke, and I think they’ll compete this year. Who will win this division? Your guess is as good as mine; all I’m willing to predict is that the Padres will finish in last place.
Playoffs: Like I said, I’m not really sure who most of the NL teams will be, and frankly I don’t really care because the Phillies are far better than anyone else in the league in my mind and will win the NL pennant. As for the AL, I’m going to predict Red Sox over Tigers and Rays over Mariners in round 1, followed by…Red Sox over Rays in the ALCS, and then…ooh, this is a tough one. They say pitching wins championships, and nobody has better pitching (if they’re healthy) than the Red Sox, which is why I picked them this far (yes, the Rays could also outhit the Red Sox, but their pitching, while good, is not good enough). But the Phillies rotation, while not as deep, is probably even stronger at the top, and their lineup is quite possibly the best in either league. Then again, you have to look beyond the simple skills and consider the matchups. For some reason, the Red Sox never really had much trouble with Halladay, which is odd because the Red Sox usually struggle with the Blue Jays, period. Lackey, while never terribly good against his new team regardless, was especially bad at Fenway, so if he ends up as the #3 and the AL wins the All-Star Game again, that’s all the better–and if the NL somehow pulls it out and the Sox pitch Lackey in Games 2 and 6, even better. So…it’ll be a close one, but I think the Red Sox can make it 3 titles in 7 years.
Well, so much for that. The Phillies won game 5 of the NLCS to advance to the World Series. Incidentally, I was wrong about no starter starting three games in a seven-game series during my lifetime. Curt Schilling started three games in the 2001 World Series, with one win and two no-decisions.
Joe Maddon is creating a big stir once again. He has switched around his rotation, bringing Scott Kazmir back on normal rest for Game 5 and holding James Shields out for a potential Game 6. Personally, I think this is a good move on the Rays’ part. Up 3-1, they only need one more win, and Shields, their best pitcher, hasn’t been great at Fenway this year, or any other time in his young career, for that matter. By sending Kazmir up against Daisuke Matsuzaka tonight, they may indeed be hurting their chances of winning Game 5, but they’d still have a 3-2 series lead and a very favorable Game 6 pitching matchup at home of Shields versus Josh Beckett. Incidentally, that extra off-day between Games 4 and 5 works both ways, and the Red Sox could conceivably bring Jon Lester back on normal rest for Game 6, allowing the ailing Beckett an extra day of rest before a potential Game 7 matchup with Matt Garza on the mound for the Rays. I think this is the Red Sox’ best chance of winning. I also don’t have enough faith in Terry Francona to believe that this is going to happen. Good luck against Philly, Rays.
Pardon my language, but as soon as I saw USA Today‘s wrap-up of Game 3 of the ALDS between the Angels and Red Sox, my only thought was, “YOU F***ING MORON!” Here’s the quote that fueled this outburst: “Napoli’s fifth-inning homer, ending a 68-inning homerless streak by the Angels in the postseason, came on Beckett’s 96th of 106 pitches and gave Los Angeles a 4-3 lead.” Uh…no. First off, in the very first paragraph, they established that Napoli homered twice and singled and scored on Erick Aybar’s single in the twelfth, and that the final score was 5-4. Hence, if his homer gave them a 4-3 lead, that was the Angels’last run of regulation–and since the extra-inning run wasn’t scored on one of his homers, it follows that that was his second homer. They even say as much in the final paragraph, noting that the Angels bounced back to tie the score at 3 on a two-out, two-run homer by Napoli in the top of the third after Jacoby Ellsbury hit the first three-run single in postseason history. So quite obviously, his fifth-inning home run didn’t end a 68-inning postseason homerless streak by the Angels since he himself homered just two innings earlier. The Angels ended an 11-game postseason losing streak to Boston that dated back to Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS and a
n eight- nine-game overall postseason losing streak that dated back to Game 3 2 of the 2005 ALCS against the Chicago White Sox, whom I might add are also still alive following a 5-3 win. Nine, by the way, is still the longest active postseason losing streak, shared by the Chicago Cubs (from Game 5 of the 2003 NLCS) and Texas Rangers (from Game 2 of the 1996 ALDS, other appearances were 1998 and 1999.) The longest historical postseason losing streak? To my best knowledge, it’s 13 games, set, not surprisingly, by the Boston Red Sox, starting with the infamous Buckner game in the 1986 World Series and carrying on through ALCS sweeps at the hands of the A’s in 1988 and 1990 and an ALDS sweep by the Native Americans Indians in 1995. The Phillies finished off the Brewers, setting up a Phillies-Dodgers NLCS for the fourth time in history, still the second-most frequent matchup (no other pairing has met more than twice.) The one that has occurred more? You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. For one thing, neither of them has been terribly good in recent years–at all. For another, they’re currently in the same division, and are so close to one another that it seems inconceivable that they ever would’ve been in separate divisions. Yes, that’s right…two of the five teams with the longest active postseason droughts, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds, have met in the NLCS 5 times, tied for the third most common postseason opponents with two other pairings. The only other pair in the top five that doesn’t involve the Yankees? The Astros and Braves, who in the short history of the NLDS have already met in that round five times. The Yankees, of course, had dynasties in the twenties, thirties, and then of course here was this stretch of 15 pennants in 18 years from 1947 to 1964. So, naturally, they’ve seen most of the original eight NL teams in the postseason time after time. In fact, “Subway Series” must’ve been pretty common, as the top two are Yankees-Dodgers (11) and Yankees-Giants (7). (Yes, some of the Yankees-Dodgers series and one of the Yankees-Giants series came after the two NL teams relocated to the West Coast, but…) Also clocking in at five are the Yanks and Cardinals. Oddly enough, even though Oakland (formerly Philadelphia) and Boston were the most common foils for Yankee pennants in the early days of baseball, their most common postseason foes are…each other, four times. (Tied for most common, actually; the A’s have met the Giants in the World Series four times, while the Red Sox have met the Indians and Angels three times apiece in the ALDS and once apiece in the ALCS.)
“I was upset they threw him out of the game because he’s really good hittin’. He’s a cute little fella. He doesn’t throw that hard and doesn’t have very good stuff. It’s probably a good thing they threw him out, because it probably would have been (hit to) Monument Park. I love facing him. He doesn’t have many out pitches. He should be fortunate he is in the big leagues”–The always-quotable Kevin Millar on Edwar Ramirez after yesterday’s game, a 13-3 Yankee win. I was spot on about Millar yesterday–he really does do his best work against the Yankees, with six of his sixteen homers this year coming against them. The Yankees remained busy, trading Kyle Farnsworth to Detroit for Pudge Rodriguez and also dealing LaTroy Hawkins to Houston for a minor leaguer. The addition of Pudge brings them one step closer to having a full set of wild-card era rings on one team. Of the thirteen seasons since the wild card era began, the Yanks now have members of eight championship teams–’96 (Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte), ’98, ’99, ’00 (the three from ’96 plus Posada), ’02 (Jose Molina), ’03 (Pudge), ’04 (Damon), and ’05 (Marte). Okay, sure, they sort of already had ’03 with Pavano…I’ll admit it, I got confused at first as to which Marlins team Pudge had been on, thought he’d been on the ’97 one. Still, I doubt there’s any other team with championship rings from as many different years. Wait…actually, the Red Sox come close. In addition to the numerous members of the ’04 and ’07 championship teams still with the team, they have rings from 1992 (Timlin), ’93 (also Timlin), ’01 (Schilling), ’03 (Beckett and Lowell)…no, that’s still one short. Blame it on those Yankee teams, whose few remaining active players are mostly still Yankees. Anyway, while Manny hasn’t been traded yet, Ken Griffey Jr. is headed for Chicago, off to join the division-leading White Sox. And suddenly, they don’t look so out of place in the big dance.
Also, echoing a sentiment expressed by Baseball This Morning host Mark Patrick, Manny held up a sign yesterday that read “I’m going to Green Bay for Brett Favre straight-up”. Think Manny’s an XM listener?