Sunday, March 30, 2008



I've been traveling and not so able to get the gusto up for posting, but I think it's fair to get the last editions of previews out there during the first week of play, right?

So we go now to the venerated AL East, home of the great rivalry that's gotten so high up on the ladder of national awareness you'd forget there were three other teams that had combined for 5 world titles, two of whom could make some noise this year, or not.

Boston Red Sox
Prediction: 1st Place, 94-68
The champs are the champs, and while they haven't added much, they haven't lost much, nor have their foes 200 miles south added much. What they will lose in half a year of Schilling will presumably be made up for with a full year of contributions from youngsters Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. Plus, the major adjustments demanded of Daisuke Matsuzaka last season cannot be understated, from the actual ball itself, to the strike zone,to the media environment in Boston. He was pretty successful last year, and his raw stuff combined with an increased comfortability in his surroundings would suggest a real breakout. And who knows what could come from Bartolo Colon?
The Bullpen is anchored still by arguably the best current closer in the game in Jonathan Papelbon, and he is backed up by lights out setup man Hideki Okajima, and a nice collection of arms after that.
The lineup is exactly the same, save for Ellsbury's inheritance of CF from the much maligned Coco Crisp. Everyone gets a little older, but the core of the lineup is made up of great, professional hitters, and no one gets on base the way they do, which wears opposing pitchers down and racks up the runs.
What else is scary about Boston? Depth. Their system is loaded with ML-ready talent in case of injury either to come up to the bigs, or to deal off for replacements and filling holes.
I don't see the Red Sox being challenged in the East.
Fantasy Pick: Manny Ramirez. No this is no sleeper, but the way he came on in October combined with an early spring appearance and a contract season just gives me a feeling about #24 being worth more than a 3rd or 4th rounder, which is where he's been going.

New York Yankees
Prediction: 2nd Place, 89-73
I just don't think the Yankees are that good. Look, I'm biased here; I'm a Met fan and a Red Sox fan, let's be clear, but every year for the last decade or so, I've gone into the season with a healthy fear of the Yankees, wanting to pick against them, sometimes doing so, but doing so with great apprehension. This year, I just don't feel that way. They finished in 2nd last year and were knocked out of the playoffs in round 1. The Red Sox are just as good as they were, the Blue Jays may be better, the Rays are certainly on their way, and the rest of the AL is stronger. The Yankees can no longer sit atop a mountainand cruise through.
The rotation appears to be highly suspect. Wang is a nice pitcher, but he's no shutdown ace, and Boston kills him. Pettitte is now 35, and coming off a hectic winter, what with the Mitchell report (who knows, maybe he won't pitch so well without the help...). Mussina has shown all the signs of a pitcher that is flirting with "done", and Hughes and Kennedy remain still simply unproven. Hughes has a lot of hype behind him, but so did Greg Miller, and Kennedy is, to me, unimpressive. Don't get me wrong here, either could prove to be a fine pitcher, but a lot rests on them considering the iffy state of the top of the rotation.
The bullpen is dicey as well; obviously Mariano Rivera will go down as the best there ever was at what he does, and he well should, and though every year we see small signs of wear on him, there's no reason to expect him to be anything but very effective. Joba behind him should excel in the role he shined in last season, but let's not forget that before we crown him king, he only has 24 major league innings on his resume. The problems come after those two: Kyle Farnsworth is just an angry dope with a hard fastball that gets hit very long distances, and LaTroy Hawkins could experience a good deal of adversity jumping from the NL West to the AL East. Joba is probably the key here. If he does what he did last year, this will be a very good 'pen, but if not, or if he has to jump to the rotation, there are issues.
The Yankee lineup is the Yankee lineup. They will score boatloads of runs a lot of the time; that's hardly worth delving into. The only issues arises at 1B, where Giambi is about as mobile as my grandfather, so you're left with Shelley Duncan, Morgan Ensberg and Wilson Betemit, not traditional Yankee lineup material. In my mind it hardly matters, and they should put the best glove out there.
I just can't trust that pitching staff against the other loaded staffs in this division, and I'm not convinced that Joe Girardi isn't a major tool that could drown himself in the NY media. Yanks miss the playoffs.
Fantasy Pick: I'm going unconventional here, and telling you who NOT to pick. Joba Chamberlain. He may be an amazing pitcher, but for now, he's a setup man that's getting drafted in the middle rounds. That's just silly.

Toronto Blue Jays
Prediction: 3rd Place, 84-78
I've been hearing the "here come the Blue Jays" chatter before every season for about 3 years now, and it's translated to a mid-80's win team every time. They are a team with a very nice lineup and a very nice staff in a league that has teams rife with the same things of slightly higher grades.
On the rotation end, they have Halladay and Burnett on top, and collectively they should figure to miss about 3 months at least. When they're in they're fine pitchers, and if they were healthy all year the jays could make a lot of noise, but does anyone remember that mantra in years past, "the Cubs will be great if Wood and Prior can stay healthy!". How'd that go?
Dustin MacGowan is a very good young pitcher, and at times I expect he will be counted on to carry this rotation. He could very well be the Carlos Zambrano to Halladay and Burnett's Wood and Prior. Beyond him there is certainly some depth in Marcum, Litsch, Janssen and Chacin, so the Blue Jays will never have to trot any Brian Lawrences out there. It's a solis staff that can range from elite to average.
The lineup is mostly comprised of aging stars, from Vernon Wells to Frank Thomas, to Lyle Overbay, to Scott Rolen, to Matt stairs, and it goes on. The notable exceptions are Alex Rios, who has potential to be Carlos Beltran with a better average, and 26 year-old 2B Aaron Hill, who very quietly hit .291 with 17 bombs at a weak offensive position. Again, the lineup is similar to the rotation. When all the old guys are healthy and producing, it's a great lineup. When not, it's alright.
The bullpen remains a strong point for the Jays, solely due to the endless depth they have, especially if B.J. Ryan is back consistently this year. There are 9 RP on the Blue Jays 25-man roster, and they're all pitchers you could throw in to almost anyone's bullpen. You'll never get a junk inning from Toronto's staff.
The Jays are probably 2 years away from contention or implosion, depending on how the aging players are replaced. This ain't the year.
Fantasy Pick: Aaron Hill. See Above.

Tampa Bay Rays
Prediction: 4th Place, 75-87
I'm impressed with the team they're building in Tampa, and thus have already given them a 9-win improvement on last season, and think they could even prove us all wrong and finish ahead of Toronto.
At any rate, they'll at last be a fun team to watch, not only for their talent, but for the fact that you no longer have to look at those horrific old Devil Ray jerseys.
Matt Garza's arrival, coupled with a speedy recovery for Scott *ahem* K__mir and continued success form James Shields will give them a very nice 1-2-3, with Edwin Jackson and Andy Sonnanstine rounding out a 5-man unit in Tampa that can finally be called a rotation, probably for the first time in their history.
The lineup is very strong, and full of young upside in B.J. Upton, Carlos Pena, Dioner Navarro, and potentially national consensus #1 prospect Evan Longoria. Carl Crawford is a verifiable star now, if not the superstar he might have been, and good old Cliff Floyd adds some experience to the crowded RF/DH mix. Yes, Rocco Baldelli is already injured.
The bullpen isn't great, but it adds some depth and a new closer in Troy Percival, and should probably be better than last year's edition.
Things are looking up in Tampa, and within a few years they could be a perennial....3rd place team. Yeah, there's those two teams up north with about 500mil to spend between them.
Fantasy Pick: Carlos Pena. A lot of folks don't believe he can repeat what he did last season. I do.

Baltimore Orioles
Prediction: 5th Place, 62-100
Yep, I picked 'em to lose 100, and I'll be glad to see it happen. I don't really know why, but something about the Orioles has always bothered me. I just find them boring, and now no one will notice them enough for them to even qualify as such. Bedard is gone, Tejada is gone, Roberts may be next. Oh, and Steve Trachsel is a key component in their rotation. They added some nice building blocks in the Bedard and Tejada trades, which they needed to do, and consequently have an interesting young OF of Markakis, Adam Jones and Luke Scott, but Markakis is the only star left on this team. It'll be a long year of Yankee and Red Sox hats at Camden Yards.
Fantasy Pick: Markakis, just because he's really the only Oriole worth owning. Take a peek and see who else knows that George Sherrill is a closer in your league...

So that wraps up the AL Preview, leaving you with a predicted playoff bracket that looks like this:

Detroit Tigers, 95-67, Central Champs
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 91-71, West Champs
3 games to 1

Boston Red Sox, 94-68, East Champs
Cleveland Indians, 92-70, WC Champs
3 games to 2

Detroit Tigers defeat Boston Red Sox, 4 games to 3

Tigers represent the AL in the World Series against....?

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