Now that I got the National League predictions out of the way (and let’s be honest, the National League is really just playing 162+ games to see who gets to lose the World Series, last year was an aberration), it’s time to take a look at the superior league. Again, from least important, to most.
This Indians team is the only team not on the East Coast with what I consider a formidable lineup. Sizemore and Hafner are complete studs, Victor Martinez isn’t far behind (though he throws like Mike Piazza). They’ve got youth in the infield (Peralta, Barfield and Marte) and a good combination of speed and power. They’re going to score a ton of runs, and they’re going to need every last one of them because C.C. Sabathia and Jake Westbrook are basically their entire pitching staff. Joe Borowski is closing, that’s never good.
Despite the lack of pitching, I see the Indians slugging their way through this division. The Ligers played over their heads last year, and Leyland has a way of wearing on his players’ nerves. Sheffield brings a stabilizing influence to their lineup, but pretty much everyone else is just too swing-happy. The Twins are solid, but without Liriano they don’t have the pitching beyond Santana and Nathan. The Chisox will implode, and Guillen will get fired.
Every year the A’s lose key parts of their team to free agency and cost-effective trades. Every year I look at their roster and say to myself, “This is the year Moneyball gets disproven,” and every year, right around the All Star break, the law of averages takes effect and the A’s go on a monster winning streak. This year, I’m not going to be fooled. Moneyball works, people. Well, Moneyball works over the course of a 162–game season. Does it work over a shorter sample period, like say a playoff series? No.
So, my pick to win the American League West is relying on Rich Harden, a pitcher who spends more time on the DL than Carl Pavano (not really, but it’s close), as their ace. They replaced Frank Thomas’ 39 home runs and 114 rbi’s with Mike Piazza. Their number 3 hitter, Milton Bradley, is always one voice in his head away from charging into the stands to rip someone’s head off, and yet, I’m still picking them. The A’s have a solid backend to their bullpen in Huston Street and Justin Duchscherer and I’m beyond doubting Beane.
The Angels keep this race close, even though they went out and over spent for Gary Matthews Jr. (minus the HGH). Figgins is hurt, and will start the season on the DL, and I’m convinced Vlad has back surgery in his future somewhere, maybe not that far into the future. That being said, they have young, talented starters, one of the best closer/setup combos in the game and enough pop to score some runs. They win the Wild Card. No one else in this division even approaches relevance.
The most shocking thing here is that I don’t think the Wild Card comes out of the East. The Yanks are actually in better shape than the health of their starting rotation would lead you to believe. Last year, this team didn’t come to life until after Sheffield and Matsui went down with serious injuries. The reason? Youth. The reason the Yanks haven’t won a World Series since Y2K has nothing to do with talent level, it has everything with energy and desire.
The Yanks made a bunch of moves for the future this off-season, but I think they’re going to pay dividends this year. Phil Hughes will probably start the season in triple A, but don’t expect him to stay there long. Carl Pavano and Andy Pettitte have already shown signs of wear and tear, and who knows how long Chien-Ming Wang is going to be out with his torn hamstring. The Yanks have the young talent waiting in the wings, and their regulars are old enough to dictate a couple timely call ups. The hunger they bring to the lineup will energize the well-fed veterans, and the Yanks will pull away from the pack.
I took the Jays to finish second because their reliance on injury-prone National League-transplant pitchers is lessened by the presence of a true ace (Roy Halladay) and a proven closer (B.J. Ryan). The Sox, in my opinion, didn’t improve in the off-season. Dice-K may be the real deal, he may not. Even if he is, Beckett can’t handle the A.L., Schilling is old, Wakefield is a joke, J.D. Drew was a horrible signing, Coco Crisp looks more like Fruity Flakes and Julio Lugo won’t be allowed to use his only asset, his speed.
Playoffs: Indians over A’s, and it pains me to say this, but Angels over Yanks. The rebuilding process began this year in NY, but it won’t take full effect until next year. The bad apples need to go, the youth needs to be given a real chance. The Angels make the W.S. against the Padres in yet another World Series no one will watch. Flip a coin for the winner. (It came up heads, the Angels win).
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