Predictions are a lot like fantasy sports teams, bad beat memories, ghost stories and tales of awkward hookups. Everybody has them, but everybody finds the guy talking about his own experiences to be completely obnoxious. Today, I am that guy.
In reality, you should be rooting against any of my predictions, even if you’re a fan of the team I pick to win it all, because if I ever get any of these right (and one day, I will) I’ll be calling myself an expert for years to come.
Without further ado…
American League East
The American League looks a lot like the NBA’s Eastern Conference from a few years ago, which is why we should all be thankful baseball only allows four teams from each league into the playoffs each season. The last thing I’d ever want to see is the Blue Jays, who will likely finish 20 games out of first in the East, reach October as an 8 seed.
As usual, most pundits are calling the AL East the best division in the sport, but that doesn’t mean even the top teams are without their flaws. The Yankees have the best pitching in baseball, but they also have four everyday guys (Jeter, Damon, Matsui and Posada) that are likely to regress this season. Not to mention their center fielder is Brett Gardner, who, to borrow the quote from Major League, might run like Mays, but hits like… Jason Varitek. Speaking of Varitek, if he wants to be catching for the Red Sox after July 31, he better provide more than just encouragement for his loaded pitching staff. There are 20 pitchers in baseball I’d rather have hitting ninth for me than him… Tampa Bay will take a step back this season. Too much went right for the Rays in 2008 and even though they might have the third or fourth best team in the league, it won’t be enough to make the playoffs…. At what point will Roy Halladay ask out of Toronto to pitch for a winner. He’s like baseball’s version of Kevin Garnett. And make no mistake about it; the Blue Jays will struggle to win 75 games… A lot of people like Baltimore to jump out of the cellar this year despite a pitching staff that is capable of losing 110 games. Matt Wieters is supposed to be good, but how many catchers are worth 20 wins by themselves? Especially when the kid isn’t starting the season in the bigs.
Order of finish:
Yankees, Red Sox*, Rays, Blue Jays, Orioles
American League Central
So much went wrong for the Detroit Tigers in 2008 that we forget the team was a favorite to win the World Series. They have one of the best lineups in all of baseball, but a questionable pitching staff at best. That’s kind of the theme in the AL Central this season: one or the other, no balance. There’s not a team in the division I expect to hit and pitch equally well, although Kansas City might be closest. The Royals are the sexy pick to make the jump this year, and I’m on board. I think they’ll be in the running in a division that is anybody’s guess. Can Carl Pavano pitch like he did in Florida for Cleveland? If so, the Indians have a shot. Chicago will be interesting. How long will Ozzie Guillen keep his job if the team continues to underachieve? The one team I don’t really like is the one everyone seems to be picking to win the division: Minnesota. I was wrong when I said they had the worst team in baseball last year, so I might be wrong again. But I just can’t see that pitching staff matching last season’s success and the Twins’ lineup just isn’t scary.
Order of Finish:
Tigers, Indians, Royals, White Sox, Twins
American League West
Count on this: The Angels will not win the AL West this season. You should never trust a team entering the season with loads of injuries, especially to pitchers. I still think the team will hit even without Mark Teixeira and I actually love Bobby Abreu in that lineup… My pick? How about Seattle to surprise everyone? I predicted Felix Hernandez to win the Cy Young last season, but I might have been a year early. I think the Mariners are going to have good-to-great pitching and Ken Griffey Jr. is going to feel as comfortable as he’s felt in a long time in his homecoming… Oakland’s only chance at keeping Matt Holliday is to be up 10-15 games in July and that’s not likely. The A’s will probably have a similar season to last year. People like Texas, but I’m not really sure why. The Rangers have no pitching and even in a hitter’s park, only had one guy (Josh Hamilton) hit more than 20 homeruns.
Order of Finish:
Mariners, Angels, A’s, Rangers
National League East
The New York Mets have a great lineup, a deep bench and are the only team in the majors with five starting pitchers that won at least 10 games last season. Add to the equation the all-time single season saves leader and J.J. Putz and you’ve got the best team in baseball. And it’s not close, even in the majors’ deepest division. Atlanta is my pick to take the Wild Card. If Chipper Jones can stay healthy, he’ll be the key in an otherwise young lineup. Look for Jeff Francoeur to have a huge bounce back year. Plus I just love Javier Vazquez pitching in the National League. Philadelphia has the best lineup in baseball, but pitching will be a question mark. Jamie Moyer can’t possibly do it again, can he? Florida plays no defense, has questionable pitching and the team’s best player (Hanley Ramirez) has been a headache this spring. That’s why this team finishes fourth in the division. As for Washington, let’s put it this way: When you’re already thinking about the draft, the season is going to be a disaster.
Order of finish:
Mets, Braves*, Phillies, Marlins, Nationals
National League Central
The biggest scare for Chicago: If the Cubbies lock the division up by July, they’ll be playing a lot of meaningless baseball leading into the playoffs. Can they turn it on in October? St. Louis will battle Cincinnati for second place in this weak division. Everyone seems to think Chris Carpenter will have a huge year after missing last season. The Reds are similar to the Marlins in my opinion. They hit a ton, but play horrible defense. I think the difference is they have two of the brightest young pitchers in the game, but they still are probably a year away. Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Houston aren’t even worth talking about.
Order of Finish:
Cubs, Cubs, Cubs, Cardinals, Reds, Brewers, Astros, Pirates
National League West
Say what you want about Manny Ramirez, but if he’s in your lineup, you make the playoffs. By re-signing Manny, the Dodgers went from a team that could be the worst in baseball to a contender in the National League. The loss of Derek Lowe will surely hurt the team, but if Clayton Kershaw turns out to be the pitcher he’s supposed to be, the Dodgers should cruise to the division title. Arizona was my pick to win the World Series last year, but nothing came together. They strike out too much, play poor defense and have a questionable bullpen. I actually think the Giants make the leap into second this season. You have to worry about Tim Lincecum’s workload after last season, but adding Randy Johnson was a great move. They’re lineup is questionable at best, but in a weak division, you just never know. Colorado reached the World Series in 2007. What happened to the Rockies? They’ll struggle to win 75 games. Here’s hoping Jake Peavy gets moved to a contender, because the Padres are destined to lose 100.
Order of Finish:
Dodgers, Giants, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Padres
American League Championship Series
Yankees over Tigers in 5
National League Championship Series
Mets over Cubs in 7
Mets over Yankees in 6
AL: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit NL: Manny Ramirez, Los Angeles
AL: Felix Hernandez, Seattle NL: Johan Santana, New York
Rookie of the Year
AL: Travis Snider, Toronto NL: Jordan Schafer, Atlanta
Manager of the Year
AL: Jim Leyland, Detroit NL: Bobby Cox, Atlanta
Comeback Player of the Year
AL: Ken Griffey Jr., Seattle NL: Jeff Francoeur, Atlanta