Today is Opening Day for baseball season. Forget President’s Day. And Flag Day. And Labor Day. If there’s any day that needs to be a national holiday, it’s today. (Oh, just forget that the regular season for the Boston Red Sox and the Oakland A’s actually started in Japan last Tuesday.) So I thought I would share with you my predictions for this MLB season.
And let’s see if I can do a little better than I did last year.
Let’s start with the American League.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST:
1. Boston Red Sox. Can Josh Beckett put together back-to-back seasons? Will Curt Schilling get healthy? Will Manny be Manny? It doesn’t matter. The Red Sox are the class of the AL East.
2. Toronto Blue Jays. The Blue Jays got off to a slow start last season, but they were in the Wild Card chase for awhile at the end. They’ve got a nice pitching staff – especially if A.J. Burnett can stay healthy and closer B.J. Ryan can get healthy. They’ll fly under the radar again this year, but they’ll contend for the Wild Card, if not for the East Division title.
3. Tampa Bay Rays. This is everybody’s surprise team of the year. There are some experts predicting the Rays will win 85 games. The rotation will consist of Scott Kazmir, James Shields and Matt Garza, one of the best potential young trios in the majors. The outfield returns Carl Crawford. The big controversy revolves around stud third baseman Evan Longoria. You haven’t heard of him because he hasn’t hit the majors yet, but the Rays made moves this offseason so that he could start at third. And he pulled a Hunter Pence this spring and killed the ball. But the Rays are apparently starting him in the minors for cost-saving reasons, but he should be in the bigs by mid May. This will be a fun team to watch.
4. New York Yankees. Joe Torre is gone to L.A. and Joe Girardi is running things. Alex Rodriguez is still the best player in baseball, and if not for A-Rod last season, the Yankees would not have made the playoffs. I say this is the year the Yankees collapse. Andy Pettitte’s the staff ace. And they’re hoping the young kids will be able to take over from the aging likes of Mike Mussina. I say no.
5. Baltimore Orioles. This was one of the great franchises from the late 60s through the mid 90s. That history is gone. They play in one of the major’s best ballparks. But the players stink – though they did convince the Astros to relieve them of their major steroid problem that is Miguel Tejada. This team looks to be bad for a long time to come.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL:
1. Cleveland Indians. I was really wrong about this team last year. And I apologize. The team can mash with the best. The defense is good. And the pitching is a damn lot better than I thought. They should repeat as division champs.
2. Detroit Tigers. The Tigers went to the World Series in 2006. They scored a ton of runs last year, but they couldn’t repeat. I still think Jim Leyland is the best manager in baseball, and he’s got the talent with which to work. There’s Curtis Granderson and Magglio Ordonez in the outfield. Miguel Cabrera comes over from the Marlins to handle third. Justin Verlander is still the staff ace. This will be a fun division to watch.
3. Minnesota Twins. The Twins had quite the makeover this winter. Torii Hunter is now in Anaheim. Johan Santana is in New York. Matt Garza is in Tampa. But Adam Everett and Mike Lamb are now in the Twin Cities, and Joe Mauer, Joe Nathan and Justin Morneau are still around.
4. Kansas City Royals. The Royals went on a good streak to end last season. They’ve got some young talent. They’ve got absolutely no expectations. And the fans deserve a reason to go to the ballpark besides the fact that the Royals play in one of the nicest in the majors.
5. Chicago White Sox. The White Sox struggled all of last season. I don’t see things changing this season. Is this Ozzie Guillen’s last go around?
AMERICAN LEAUGE WEST:
1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Angels went out and got Torii Hunter to help out Vladimir Guerrero. They’ve got the young talent in Howie Kendrick and Casey Kotchman. Mike Scioscia’s a quality manager. And the pitching staff is solid.
2. Seattle Mariners. Forget Johan Santana, the Mariners made one of the key pitching acquisitions this offseason when they picked up Erik Bedard from the Orioles. This team competed for most of last season, and I think they will again.
3. Oakland A’s. Billy Beane spent the offseason making trade after trade, getting rid of the vets and getting young talent. That means it’s a rebuilding season for these Bay Area fans, but the A’s should still be better than the team across the Bay.
4. Texas Rangers. The Rangers are striving to be the Houston Astros of the American League. Lots of offense, crappy pitching. But hey, at least Nolan Ryan is now team president.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST:
1. New York Mets. The Mets had one of history’s great collapses last year. But while they lost Tom Glavine in the offseason, they gained Johan Santana. And Pedro Martinez is healthy. And then there’s John Maine and Oliver Perez to round out the top four spots of the rotation. The outfield, however is really beat up. And Carlos Delgado is showing his age. But I think pitching is the key to everything, and the Mets have the best pitching in the division.
2. Atlanta Braves. One of the game’s all-time great pitchers, Tom Glavine, returns to the scene of his greatest glory where he will reunite with rotation partner John Smoltz. Tim Hudson is still hanging on, and Mike Hampton is still trying to come back. They have some good talent with Bruce McCann, Chipper Jones, Mark Teixeira, Kelly Johnson and Jeff Francoeur. This team will compete in Bobby Cox’s last season as manager.
3. Philadelphia Phillies. I just don’t like this team. I don’t like how it’s constructed. I like Cole Hamels as a staff ace. And the team mashes – Jimmy Rollins is the real deal at short and Chase Utley is the real deal at second. But I think last year was more a result of the Mets pitching staff falling apart than anything the Phillies did. And how long does Brad Lidge last?
4. Washington Nationals. The Nationals move into a new pleasure palace. They’ve got some decent talent – Ryan Zimmerman and Lastings Milledge. But Tim Redding pitched quality innings for them last season, and might this year. That’s not a good thing.
5. Florida Marlins. Wow, this team is still around? I figured it would’ve been moved to Double A by now. This should be an ugly season in an ugly ballpark.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL:
1. Milwaukee Brewers. I thought the Brewers were going to win it last year. And they led the division most of the season before youth, inexperience, and injured pitching proved too much to overcome. But this team just has too much talent. There’s Prince Fielder. And Corey Hart. And Ryan Braun. And Rickie Weeks. And Ben Sheets. Sure, they’re hoping Sheets stay healthy the whole season, and the Eric Gagne is able to pitch without the HGH. But I think this team wins it this year.
2. Chicago Cubs. The Cubs won the division last season. And much of that talent is back. But this is the Cubs, and I just don’t see them being able to repeat.
3. Cincinnati Reds. It’s hard to believe, but the Reds might have the best pitching staff in the NL this year. Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo are a good one-two punch, and there are some promising youngsters just waiting to move into the rotation. The bad news is that Dusty Baker is the manager, and he’s not known for being the best guy with young talented pitchers (see Prior, Mark). And once mid May arrives and young stud Jay Bruce is installed in centerfield alongside Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey, Jr., with infielders Edwin Encarnacion and Brandon Phillips, this team will score lots of runs. The Reds will surprise and compete for lots of the year, but they will collapse come August.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates stink, but the thing is, they actually have a decent pitching staff. If the pitchers can get any support, they should be competitive. They can’t win, but they will be competitive.
5. Houston Astros. This team is going to be bad. Year 2000 bad. Sure, Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman can hit. But it doesn’t do any good if the pitching sucks. And take out Roy Oswalt, and this pitching staff stinks. There’s some hope that Brandon Backe will be healthy and pitch a good season. And there is hope that Wandy Rodriguez will put together a good season. That’s about it. But hey, at least the Red Sox and Yankees will be playing at MMP this season. Don’t forget: Astros Baseball: Something To Do Before the Hurricane Comes Inland.
6. St. Louis Cardinals. Jim Edmonds and David Eckstein are gone. Albert Pujols has elbow problems and Chris Carpenter is still injured. This team just looks bad. I think the Astros sent the Cards a thank you note for sucking. It will be long, hot and ugly in St. Louis this summer.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST:
1. Arizona Diamondbacks. The D-Backs nearly made the series last year with a team that scored less runs than their opposition. The front three of the rotation is Brandon Webb, Dan Haren and Randy Johnson. There’s some hope that the offense will get better.
2. Colorado Rockies. People who followed baseball knew the Rockies had talent last year. But I don’t think anybody anticipated it gelling when it did, in the fashion that it did. I know that I didn’t. Nothing will surprise me about the Rockies this year.
3. San Diego Padres. Jake Peavy. Chris Young. Greg Maddux. Great pitching, absolutely no offense. If they can find away to score about three runs a game they should win lots and lots of games. But I don’t think that will happen.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers. Another team with excellent pitching but problems on the offensive end. And I don’t think the Joe Torre will work out here.
5. San Francisco Giants. I think this pitching staff will end suing for non-support. Barry Bonds is gone. This team might end up being very bad.
The Red Sox will battle the Wild Card winner Tigers, with the Tigers winning. And the Indians and Angels will battle things out with the result being the Tigers and Indians playing for the right to go to the World Series. I say the Tigers pull it out.
The Mets will play the Wild Card winner Rockies with the Rockies pulling it out. And Brewers will beat the Diamondbacks. The Rockies magic will run out in the playoffs, and the Brewers will play the Tigers.
The Tigers and Brewers play in a tight World Series with the Tigers winning in six.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS PREDICTIONS:
Cy Young: Justin Verlander – DET, AL. Aaron Harang, CIN, NL.
MVP: Curtis Granderson, DET, AL. Matt Holliday, COL, NL
Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon, TB, AL. Dusty Baker, CIN, NL
Rookie of the Year: Evan Longoria, TB, AL. Jay Bruce, CIN, NL
First Manager Fired: Ozzie Guillen, CHI, AL. Willie Randolph, NY, or Tony La Russa, STL, NL.
Oh, I don’t think Miguel Tejada will go to jail during the season, or face suspension, but I’m not convinced he will be able to put all of this behind him, like Barry Bonds was able to do for several seasons. I also predict Roy Oswalt will hurt his back from bearing the weight of the Astros pitching staff. Lance Berkman will strain something at some part during the year, and Carlos Lee will miss substantial time.
At some point, Drayton McLane will come out and talk about what a great nucleus of talent the team has. The place will sell out for the Red Sox, Yankees and Cubs and on any night that Drayton can find away to trot out Craig Biggio for a celebration.
It’s going to be a long season. – John Royal