Saturday, April 3, 2010

We're Gonna Party Like it's 1987....Part II

Yesterday, I previewed and predicted the 2010 American League, and determined the AL Champions in 2010 would be the Minnesota Twins. Today, we'll tackle the National League. Unlike the American League - where only 4 or 5 teams have a legitimate shot of winning the AL Pennant - the National League is a toss up. So many teams are good in some areas and have gaping holes elsewhere, that unless you are a fan of the Nationals (who actually have the foundation to be good in a year or two), Mets, Pirates or Padres....your team begins the 2010 season with a very reasonable chance of playing for the NL Pennant. That leaves twelve teams.....TWELVE TEAMS.....that could be left standing at the end of October. Let's rank them (in my humble opinion, of course)

12. Chicago Cubs
Always an intriguing team. They got rid of a clubhouse cancer in Milton Bradley. Their lineup is good enough to compete. But their pitching is razor thin and their bullpen is full of question marks. They'll outslug teams and win enough to hang around until August, but unless they acquire some pitching or find some down on the farm, they will be waiting till next year.....again.

11. Florida Marlins
I like this team a lot this year. I flip flopped on the Fish several times....having them finishing as high as winning the NL East, all the way down to 4th place. Ultimately, I think they will finish right where they did last year...3rd place in the East, a few games over .500 and a few games out of the playoffs. Too many bullpen questions, not enough starting pitching after Johnson and Nolasco.....and they couldn't move Uggla for the pitching they wanted. Uggla was a great story 2 years ago. Now, he's just another guy who can hit 30 HRs, but only hit .250, never do it when it matters and is a liability defensively.

10. Arizona Diamondbacks
Young. Talented. Deep. Good pitching. Enough bullpen. But alas, too young, strikes out too much as a team, in a division with better pitching and more experience. With the right offseason though, could be the NL's version of the Orioles in 2011 - one of the favorites to win the pennant. In 2010, though, they will fall a little short though.

9. Houston Astros
Could surprise some people this year. I like their young pitching behind Oswalt and Brett Myers. They should settle on a closer (personally, I favor Lyon) and their offense is vastly underrated with Berkman, Lee, Pence and Bourn anchoring a lineup that will score more this year than last. I don't think they have enough to make the playoffs, but they have enough to scare some teams.

8. Milwaukee Brewers
Offense. Offense. Offense. This team can score. This team will score. A lot. And Yovani Gallardo is a legit ace. But they have serious bullpen issues, and no contender in the NL has worse pitching, and ultimately that will be this team's downfall. They may be the most fun team to watch this year, and if you own a fantasy baseball team, you should own most of their offensive players, but they'll be watching the playoffs from their couches.

7. Los Angeles Dodgers
6. Atlanta Braves
I think both of these teams are very good. The interesting thing is if you combined these two teams, you'd have your NL Pennant winner - the Dodgers offense with the Braves pitching. The Dodgers lack of pitching comes in the wrong division and will land them behind the Rockies and Giants this year. I really wanted to pick the Braves to win the East, but they have too many offensive question marks, and the Phillies are just too good.

5. Cincinnati Reds (sleeper team)
I love love love the Reds this year. Maybe it's a Cincinnati thing. I picked the Bengals to be sleeper NFL team and win the AFC North. I was right on that call. I don't think the Reds can knock off the Cardinals in the Central, but they're going to come close. I think Drew Stubbs is the real deal in CF, and if he is, than they're up the middle is as solid - offensively and defensively as any in the NL - with Hernandez (catcher), Cabrera (ss), Phillips (2B) and Stubbs (CF). Homer Bailey is poised to breakout as a pitcher and along with Arroyo, Harang, Cueto and Cuban Stud Chapman - this rotation is solid top to bottom. They will just barely miss the playoffs.

Playoff teams.....
4. Colorado Rockies
Solid team top to bottom. Good pitching. Very good offense. Good bullpen. Good team speed. Good team defense. Slow starts have kept them from winning the division twice in the last three years. They are good enough to win the division but will likely take home the wild card yet again. Never fear, Rockies fans, that path should lead the Rockies right back to the NLCS in 2010.

3. San Francisco Giants
You have to spend money to make money. The Giants nearly had a flawless offseason. They avoided a nasty arbitration with ace Tim Lincecum and locked him up for 2 years. They locked up Matt Cain and Brian Wilson for 3 years. They locked up Freddy Sanchez for 2 more years. They signed free agent Mark DeRosa to help the middle of their lineup. They are not rushing future stud Buster Posey - he will be up in June or July. All this, and somehow they pinched pennies and opted for cheaper Aubrey Huff over more expensive, but ultimately much better options in Adam LaRoche (who wanted to play in San Francisco) and Jermaine Dye. They still have pitching to burn - with more on the way. But their penny wise, will prove pound foolish in the playoffs.

2. Philadelphia Phillies
The two-time defending NL champs, who are widely favored to get back to the World Series for a third straight year. Yes, they still have the most talent in the NL. But the injury bug is biting this team to early and too often already. I don't like the omen that sets for the season. Losing three pitchers - a starter, solid left handed reliever and your closer - all before the season starts, does not give me a good feeling for the Phitin Phils. They still have too much offense and with the addition of Roy Halladay, too much pitching to be caught in the east.....and they are almost good enough to 3peat as the NL Champs. If it wasn't for........

1. St. Louis Cardinals
Yes, they have a gaping hole at 3B, unless David Freese proves up to the challenge. But, what happens last year in the NLDS if Matt Holliday actually catches that ball in game 1 with 2 outs in the 9th inning? Do they go on to beat the Dodgers and play the Phillies for the NL Pennant? And if so, didn't they match up perfectly against the Phillies last year with Carpenter and Wainwright in games 1 & 2? I say yes. Brad Penny LOVES pitching in the NL. He pitched great for San Francisco down the stretch last year after being discarded by Boston. And who is better at getting the most out of pitchers than Dave Duncan? And, for you fantasy guys, you want this year's Joel Pineiro? Rich Hill. He'll win the #5 job eventually and win 10-12 games and have an ERA under 4. And....they have the best player in baseball. That's enough for me.

NL East

NL Central

NL West

Rockies over Phillies
Cardinals over Giants

Cardinals over Rockies

World Series
Cardinals over Twins in 6

MVP - Albert Pujols
CY Young - Matt Cain
ROY - Jason Heyward

In 1987, Kirby Puckett's extra inning HR in game 6 sent the series to a 7th game, which the Twins ultimately won over the Cardinals. Jack Buck's famous call - "and we'll see ya tomorrow night." This time, with Puckett and Buck looking on from the heavens, there will be no tomorrow night. Cards in 6.

Friday, April 2, 2010

We're gonna party like it's 1987

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-
AL East
Red Sox
Blue Jays

AL Central
White Sox

AL West

Yankees over Tigers
Twins over Angels

Twins over Yankees

MVP - Justin Morneau
CY Young - Jon Lester
ROY - Brian Matusz