At last! At last! Baseball season’s just around the corner! And with that comes a myriad of predictions of who’s going to the playoffs and who’s going to win it all. Here are my 2009 American League predictions starting with the AL East. Some of these predictions might surprise you and some of you might think I’m smoking something wacky. Oh well! The argument about who’s going to win is half the fun of watching sports! All the 2008 stats were pulled from http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/stats/ or from http://www.sportingnews.com/mlb/transactions?filter_type=all&filter_date=60&filter_position=&filter_team where noted. Here goes nothing!
(2008 records in parenthesis courtesy of http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/standings/index.jsp?ymd=20081027)
1) Boston(95-67; 2008 wildcard winner): Boston can hit and hit some more. Designated Hitter David Ortiz ( .264, 23 HR, 89 RBI), outfielder Jason Bay ( .286, 31 HR, 101 RBI) , sophomore sensation Jacoby Ellsbury ( .280, 9 HR, 47 RBI; 50 SB) and Kevin Youkliis ( .312, 29 HR, 115 RBI) are among many offensive threats that should give Boston a chance to win almost every day. This offensive threat gives them my nod to win the division. That being said, Boston has some issues that might prevent them from winning it all this year.
What might be their biggest issue is their starting pitching. Boston’s pitching staff has some questions that still need to be answered. For example, who will their 3rd, 4th and 5th starters be? Could they be an injury plagued John Smoltz ( 3-2, 2.57, 36 K/ 8 W)? An iffy and oft-injured Brad Penny (6-9, 6.27 ; 51 K/ 42 W in 94 2/3 innings with the Dodgers)? How about old standby knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (10-11; 4.23 ERA; 117 K / 60 W ; 181 IP)? Wakefield is great at eating up innings but one of these three will need to come up with 12-14 wins to compliment Josh Becket (12-10; 4.03 ERA; 172 K/ 34 W; 174 1/3 innings pitched), Jon Lester ( 16-6; 3.21; 152K/ 66W in 210 1/3 innings) and Dice-K Daisuke Matsuzaka ( 18 – 3 ; 2.90 ERA; 154 K/ 94 W in 167 2/3 innings). Another question that needs to be asked is can Josh Becket do better in September and onward? Becket had some trouble down the stretch in the regular season only winning one game from September 5th onward. In the post-season he was also pasted in two starts in the American League Championship Series (1-0, 9.64 in 10 1/3 innings) The Red Sox need more from him down the stretch if they want to compete late in the season. Finally we need to ask ourselves can middle relievers like Manny Delcarmen (1 – 2 ; 3.27; 2 saves 73 appearances) give Jonathan Papelbon (5-4 2.34 ERA 41 saves/ 46 chances)a chance to save games at the end? Answering these questions will ultimately determine how far this Red Sox team can go this year.
2) Tampa Bay (97-65; 2008 American League Champions). Was 2008 just a fluke? I don’t think so. They will have to do it again with timely hitting and great pitching because they don’t have the pop in their bats to slug it out with teams like the Yankees or the Red Sox. Even with this small-ball offense I still think the Rays can win the wildcard and even challenge for the American League flag if their pitching staff stays healthy and produces like it did last year.
Their starting rotation is anchored by James Shields (14-8; 3.56; 160 K/ 40 W, 215 innings) and by Scott Kazmir ( 12-8, 3.49, 166 K/ 70 W in 152 1/3 innings). If Andy Sonnastine ( 13-9, 4.34, 124 K/ 37 W, 193 1/3) and Matt Garza (11-9, 3.70 128 K/ 59W in 184 2/3 innings) have another great season then the Rays have a chance to be right there at the end. The biggest question I have is about their bullpen. Can Troy Percervial (2-1, 4.53, 28 saves/ 32 chances) stay healthy enough to be around for the stretch run? He has been injury prone and the Rays are going to need him healthy if they are to have a chance even though Dan Wheeler (5-6, 3.12, 13 saves/18 chances) did well replacing him for a time in September.. J.P Howell (6-1, 2.22, 92 K/ 39 W in 64 appearances) must step up again this year. David Price might be someone to watch for too. He came up near the end of last season and pitched quite well in the postseason giving up only one earned run in 5 1/3 post season innings ( http://tampabay.rays.mlb.com/stats/interleague_and_events.jsp?c_id=tb&seriesCode=Playoffs&season=L2008&Submit=Submit).
The pitching had better be good because offensively the Rays are not going to beat you with the long ball. Even though they were able to steal away Pat Burrell ( from the world champion Phillies their game is usually going to be finding out ways to get on base, steal bases and manufacture a run or two so that they can turn the game into a 7 inning game that will be decided by the bullpen. They were second in the AL as a team in walks received (626) and led the majors in stolen bases (142) as a team last year. And even with power threats like Pat Burrell, Evan Longoria (27 HR, 85 RBI) and Carlos Pena (31 HR, 102 RBI, .282), guys like Carl Crawford (.273, 8 HR, 57 RBI, 25 steals in 109 games) and BJ Upton (.273, 9 HR, 67, RBI, 44 SB) must get on base and force the issue on the base paths because there will be times where their power hitters will be going through slumps. If they can get through these slumps, the Rays have enough speed to score some runs and make things interesting in September.
3) New York (89-73; 3rd place). Okay this team can hit and hit and hit and,well, hit! The problem is we don’t know how well their big free agent pitcher signees will do this year. Sure, Johnny Damion (17 HR, 71 RBI, .303 can hit the snot out of the ball, so can Alex Rodriguez.(35 HR, 103 RBI, .302). Derek Jeter (11 HR, 69 RBI, .300) will single you to death. But unless C.C. Sabathia (17-10; 2.70 251 K. 59 W with Cleveland and Milwaukee) and AJ Burnett (18-10; 4.07 231 K/ 86 W with Toronto) come up big to support Joba Chamberlain and Andy Pettitte and company, the Yankees are going to look really bad. If they do great however they will win the division and perhaps the American League flag, too. Mariano Rivera is still one of the best in the business but his age is starting to show. Can he still be 3/4ths as effective as he once was? If he is, the Yankees might be finally on to something.
4) Toronto (86-76; 4th place). Even though they have lost A.J. Burnett to the Damm Yankees this team isn’t half bad. In fact, if they were in any other division in baseball they’d be annual playoff contenders. New old manager Cito Gaston of World Series fame got a whole lot out of some very bad players. If free agent pick up five time all-star Scott Rolen can stay healthy, and if Kevin Millar were 1/3 of his former self, they might be able to compliment Vernon Wells ( 20 HR, 78 RBI, .300) quite well. The problem is beyond Vernon Wells, there isn’t much to talk about offensively. Even if Rolen and Millar can produce they are still going to need two-three more bats to compete. Maybe RF Alex Rios and 1B Lyle Overbay can have breakout seasons with a full season under Cito Gaston and hitting coach Gene Terrence’s wings? The Blue Jays are also looking for Vernon Wells to return to form as one of the American League’s better hitters. If none of this happens, it’s going to be another long season north of the border.
On the pitching side, AJ Burnett’s departure now puts everything on the shoulders of all star pitcher Roy Halladay (20-11, 2.78, 206K/ 39 W) and Jessie Litsch (13-9, 3.58, 99 K /39 W). The 3rd, 4th and 5th spots in the rotation are all up for grabs. Who’s going to get them? Will it be Dustin McGowan (6-7, 4.37, 85K/ 38 W)? How about David Purcey (3-6, 5,54 58 K/ 29 W)? Or how about former Baltimore pitcher Brian Burres (7-10, 6.04, 63 K/ 50 W)? None of these pitchers had a winning record and it’s scary to think this is all what Toronto has to work with. The Jays’ bullpen is untested and in some cases unknown. Except for Jessie Carlson who was a big surprise last season coming up from AAA Syracuse (7-2 record with a sparkling 2.25 ERA in 64 appearances out of the bullpen), and Scott Downs ( 0-3, 1.78 ERA, 5 saves in 66 games) the rest is unknown right now. For example, who is Toronto’s closer? If you know, let me know because I don’t know who he is right now!
5) Baltimore (68-93, 5th). On offense things don’t look half bad. Aubrey Huff (32 HR, 108 RBI, .304 96 runs scored), Melvin Mora (23 HR, 104 RBIs, 77 runs), Luke Scott (23 HR, 65 RBI, .257, 65 runs) and Nick Markakis( 20 HR, 87 RBI, .306, 106 runs) all had really good seasons last year. Adam Jones (9 HR, 57, RBI, 61 runs, 10 SB) is ready to have a breakout year. Ty Wigginton ( 23 HR, 58 RBI, .285 50 runs) will back up Melvin Mora some at 3rd base. The Orioles seem to be 2-3 batters away from really putting some teams on notice. If they can get some help form
The pitching staff is what worries me the most about this team. It stunk last year. They were second from last in team ERA (5.13), second worst in runs allowed ( 869), hits allowed ( 1538) and led the American League in walks allowed (687)-Bleech! This year looks no better. Beyond Jeremy Guthrie (10-12, 3.63, 120 K/ 58 W) who is considered the ace of this staff and closer George Sherill (3-5, 4.71 ERA, 31 saves/37 chances) and Matt Albers(3-3, 3.49 ERA, 26 K/ 22 W) who looks promising, many of the pitchers on the Orioles staff are young and inexperienced. For example, Jim Hoey is trying to get back into the majors this year. He hasn’t thrown in the majors since 2007 for the O’s. Also Alfredo Simon is trying to break into the majors after throwing 13 frames for the O’s last year. As a result of this youth movement another long and trying season for the birdies awaits. Let’s hope they don’t loose 100 games.
Up next: predictions for the AL Central.
Major League Baseball. “2008 Regular Season Standings”. Retrieved 2-16-09 from
Major League Baseball. “2008 Team Stats”. Retrieved 2-16-09 from http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/stats.
The Sporting News. “2008-2009 Team Transactions” Retrieved 2-16-2009 from http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/standings/index.jsp?ymd=20081027http://www.sportingnews.com/mlb/transactions?filter_type=all&filter_date=60&filter_position=&filter_team
Tampa Bay Rays Baseball Club. “2008 Postseason Stats.” Retrieved 2-16-09 from http://tampabay.rays.mlb.com/stats/interleague_and_events.jsp?c_id=tb&seriesCode=Playoffs&season=L2008&Submit=Submit).