I'm fairly confident in my Nats placement; the others, not so much. This division should be a tight race all year, with the eventual winner maybe reaching only 88 wins or so. The top four teams are all good, but all have serious question marks. The improved Mets bullpen gives them the edge over the Phils, who have too many important players likely to downslide this year (Brad Lidge, Ryan "Mr. Overrated" Howard, Raul Ibanez, definitely Cole Hamels, who threw waaaaaay too many innings last year). The Braves season will depend on Larry Wayne Jones not getting hurt, which is like relying on Lucy not to move the football at the last second just this one time! The Marlins have a lot of young talent, but no one really knows how good most of them will play at this level. This team could possibly chase the wild card or battle the Nats for the cellar, depending on whether these kids can play or not.
The Cubs' and Pirates' picks seem fairly secure, as Chicago is probably the NL's best team and the Pirates its worst. I think the Cards are due for a bump up this year, with Albert Pujols (somehow) still getting better and a returning Chris Carpenter. Granted, Carpenter's a huge mystery, but if he can approach his 2004-06 level (which is a lot to ask), he could make a huge difference. The Brewers lost C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets, which is too much quality starting pitching for even Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy and (my dark horse MVP candidate) Ryan Braun to make up for. Braun may turn into the best hitter in the league if continues to improve at this rate (and someone offs Pujols). The Reds could surprise everyone and possibly even snatch the Wild Card if absolutely everything falls into place. They have an awesome young corps (Volquez, Votto, Bruce) who could break out, and if Harang and Arroyo can rediscover their past form, look out. Then again, they also have the worst hitter in baseball (Willy Taveras). And I don't know much about the Astros except that Lance Berkman's a really good hitter, Roy Oswalt should demand a trade, and Carlos Lee should ease up on the cheeseburgers.
Again, the top pick was easy, so was the bottom, and the middle three are fairly interchangeable. I give the D-Backs the edge largely due to their dual aces, Brandon Webb and Dan Haren. But how will they score? They didn't re-sign Adam Dunn, and their top hitter, Mark Reynolds -- while knocking 28 dingers -- struck out 204 fucking times. Holy balls, that's a lot. The Rockies have an old guy who used to be awesome (Todd Helton), a few young guys who should become household names (Chris Iannetta, Troy Tulowitski), and one guy who looks like a steady, above-average player (Brad Hawpe); as for their pitching, it doesn't look good, with the only bright spot being Ubaldo Jimenez -- and he walked 103 guys last year. Yuck. The Giants added Randy Johnson so who cares I'm done writing about them. And poor Jake Peavy, stuck in San Diego with a team that wouldn't be able to score more than 1 or 2 runs against the 1990 TBO Just Video squad, which we all played on except Chuck who we wouldn't have wanted anyway.
1. Red Sox
4. Blue Jays
The Red Sox pitching depth is astounding, and their lineup top to bottom is tough to beat. The best team in baseball, on paper at least. It's hard to see the Rays improving too much on last year's 97 wins, not in this division anyway. But they're probably the most fun team to watch, and if their younger players continue to improve, who knows how many they'll win. Picking the yanks third isn't out of bitterness; I really wonder whether Sabathia overthrew last year and whether his arm is shot for this year. A.J. Burnett has a recent injury history worthy of Larry Wayne Jones. Rivera (though still the man), Posada, Matsui, and Pettitte are all already old as fuck -- and that's "old" as in "for the earth," not for clubbing -- while Jeter and Damon are starting to downslide significantly. Teixeira is awesome, he could even win the MVP this year, but I don't think he'll be enough. The poor BJ's and Orioles don't have a chance, and who knows if they ever will. Then again, that's what everyone used to say about the Rays.
5. White Sox
This division blows. A team here could tally only 85 wins and still take it. Which makes it kind of interesting I guess. Hey, the friggin' Royals might steal this thing, and they haven't won shit since Side Bar and I were on Cedar Lane Texaco. I don't feel like getting into this division too much, except to say that Cleveland's Grady Sizemore is one of the best players in baseball, but people don't know too much about him because:
- He plays in a small market.
- He hasn't hit .300 yet, and sports journalists still think that's more important than OPS-ing .876 while being one of the best center-fielders in the world.
- His dumbass manager still bats him leadoff, even though he clocked 33 dingers last year. This keeps his RBI total (another way-overrated stat) below 100, and thus beyond the notice of Joe Sportswriter.
You know what I said about the AL Central sucking? Ditto here. I feel like 87-88 wins will DEFINITELY claim this division, and it could be any of those top three. The A's starting rotation's average age is under 24, which sounds like they'll deal with some high-ups and low-downs this year. Matt Holliday was a great pickup, and I'd say the same about adding Nomar and Giambi if this were like eight years ago. The Mariners, with Endy Chavez, Franklin Gutierrez, and Ichiro, now have by far the best outfield in baseball -- which makes you wonder if Griffey will get any non-DH time. (He shouldn't.) The Angels have some bigger names and somehow they seem to get really lucky every year, but their top 3 starters are hurt right now and I hate the friggin' Angels especially Mike Scoscia so fuck him. The Rangers? Wow do they suck.
One thing I'm interested to see this year is how the two leagues stack up during interleague play. The past few seasons, the AL has demolished the NL, but this year may be different. Sure, the three best teams in baseball (Red Sox, Rays, yankees) are all in the AL, but after that, there's a serious dropoff in quality. I'm not saying the NL will catch up entirely this year, but it seems as though the pendulum has at least started to swing back.
Quickly, on the Mets: It's quite strange following last year's horror to say that the part of this year's team I'm most confident in is the bullpen, but there you have it. That's also the biggest problem: What I'm most worried about is the guys who actually play 90 percent of the game -- the hitters and the starting pitchers. Sure, Johan, D-Dub, Reyes and Beltran are as close to locks as anyone, but after that is nothing but question marks (Maine, Pelfrey, Delgado, Church, Murphy), outright worries (Perez), and guys who fucking suck (Livan, Castillo, Schneider). Maybe it'll come together, who knows, but especially after the last two years, it's on those assholes to prove that they're worth the irrational amount of attention and emotion I squander every goddamn year. FUCKING WIN, JERKOFFS!
Also, this year bodes well for some wild and crazy trading, even before the July 31 deadline. With the recession, many small-market teams are gonna end up dumping salary, and fast if they're not doing well early. The Mets certainly need more bats and, especially, arms, but I just worry that they emptied the farm system last year to get Johan (which certainly wasn't a mistake, mind). Basically, if you're making a bunch of money playing for a team that isn't contending and/or located in New York, Boston, Chicago, or L.A., you will likely be on the trading block. I'll bet that most team rosters look far more different at the end of this year than they would had the recession not destroyed most teams' economic prospects.
With that last point in mind, it's particularly dumb to make these sorts of predictions this year, as we have no idea what players are going to play for which teams in six months. But I did it anyway, and if you're still reading all the way down here, dude, go outside. Live a little.
It's always really stupid to do this, but what the hell.
NL MVP: Manny Ramirez (maybe: Ryan Braun)
NL Cy Young: Johan Santana (dark horse: Derek Lowe, dude looked sick last night)
NL Rookie: Jordan Schafer (homered in his first at-bat last night)
Best Pennant Race: East
AL MVP: Grady Sizemore (maybe: Mark Teixeira)
AL Cy Young: Scott Kazmir, because God hates the Mets (dark horse: one of the kids on the A's)
AL Rookie: Matt Wieters (this kid, the new catcher for the Orioles, is the next big star in MLB)
Best Pennant Race: East
Not to be an east-coast-bias guy, but the quality teams in both leagues seem saturated in the East divisions (Cubs and Dodgers excepted), which isn't to say that the other four divisions won't be close. It's just that -- at this point -- the teams aren't as good overall, so I'll be less interested in watching.
Division Series: Mets over Dodgers, Cubs over Phillies
NLCS: Mets over Cubs
Division Series: Red Sox over A's, Rays over Indians
ALCS: Red Sox over Rays
Red Sox over Mets, with me slitting my wrists at how the Mets manage to blow a 3-1 series lead. ARGH!