The New Movie "Hot Tub Time Machine" takes 4 friends back in time to 1986. This year's baseball season, or at least the end of October to early November is going to look an awful lot like 1987.
In 2001, the Arizona Diamondbacks won the World Series despite Byun Hung Kim's best efforts to thwart it. And they did it by beating the best closer ever in the bottom of the ninth in game 7. In 2002, the Angels bested the San Francisco Giants despite the Giants being 8 outs away from winning the World Series, with a 5-run lead, and Dusty Baker turning the ball over to -statistically speaking - the best bullpen in baseball that year. In 2003, the Florida Marlins closer situation was so shaky that they had to go get a closer mid-season and do a bullpen by committee with Braden Looper and Ugueth Urbina for the stretch run and the playoffs. The end result? A World Series victory over the Yankees. Last year, the Phillies had a litany of bullpen issues - including a closer controversy heading into the playoffs. They wound up winning the NL pennant and playing for a World Championship. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Twins had (at least by some experts' accounts) the 2nd best closer in baseball. And how did that work out? Joe Nathan cost the Twins a shot at beating the Yankees in the ALDS (note Yankee fans - I did not say he cost them the series - I said he cost them a shot at the series). The Yankees swept the Twins - in part because Nathan blew two saves in that series.
What does all this mean? It means that the most overrated, overblown story of the 2010 offseason has been the injury to Joe Nathan. The Twins somehow went from the clear cut favorite to win the AL Central and challenge the Yankees for the AL pennant to somehow being in a dogfight to even win the AL Central. All because they lost Joe Nathan? I don't think so. I still say, despite the setback because of the Nathan injury, they had quietly the best off season in the American League. They signed a veteran hitter in Jim Thome. They signed a gritty, hard nosed player that no one wanted in Orlando Hudson (and don't think that motivation is underrated). Francisco Liriano looks all the way back from surgery and has the bite on his slider he had in 2007. And they locked up Joe Mauer long term, so that distraction is gone. The other contenders in the American League just didn't match the actual benefits that the Twins added.
The Red Sox have the best pitching in the AL. But their offense looks mediocre, at best.
The Angels lost Jon Lackey, Vlad Guerrero and Chone Figgins. They are still the best team out west. Only because the AL West suddenly looks like the NFC West - where just finishing over .500 should win you the division.
The Tigers have to have a good April, otherwise whispers will start about them trimming even more payroll by trying to unload Miguel Cabrera.
The Rays have a ton of talent, but their pitching is thin and young. Can it hold up during a playoff run?
The Orioles. Yeah, I said it. This team is going to be good. REAL good. Unfortunately, it's going to be in 2011. If they can add just one more young bat to Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Matt Weiters and still an under-30 Brian Roberts, this lineup will be deadly. And, they have some AMAZING young pitching - particularly Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman.
And the Yankees.....the team that had a "great" offseason.......if you were building a fantasy baseball team. Yankee fans will soon learn what Tiger fans already know. Curtis Granderson look great on paper....and lousy in CF. He also has a career batting average of .210 against lefties. So how does this make the Yankees better against LHP? It doesn't. And Javier Vazquez failed before in NY. I don't see him as a good fit in the rotation. Some people just can't pitch in NY, despite great success elsewhere (see Rogers, Kenny). The Yankees lineup still makes them the beasts of the East. But they are a year older, they lost two very good clubhouse guys in Damon and Matsui (the World Series MVP, by the way). They would win my fantasy baseball league. But I don't see them winning the AL this year.
Tomorrow- a full National League Preview.
2010 AL Predictions-
Yankees over Tigers
Twins over Angels
Twins over Yankees
MVP - Justin Morneau
CY Young - Jon Lester
ROY - Brian Matusz