This week’s power rankings.
1. St. Louis Cardinals (17-8) (2)
Apart from the Pirates, the Cards have the league’s lowest ERA at 3.57 and continue to win ballgames.
2. Toronto Blue Jays (18-9) (1)
They’re still in first place in the AL East. They’re 7-2 in one run affairs and have the highest batting average in the majors thus far.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers (18-8) (4)
Chad Billingsley is leading a pitching that was supposed to be a question mark. The Dodgers also boast a 3.93 team ERA.
4. Boston Red Sox (15-10) (3)
Kevin Youkilis is now hitting .407 even though the team just had a rough series in Tampa.
5. Kansas City Royals (14-11) (7)
Zack Greinke is being dubbed “the best pitcher in baseball” and the bullpen is really coming together. I think its up for grabs in this division. Keep up the success and pitching and its theirs for the taking.
6. Seattle Mariners (15-10) (5)
They won yesterday in the millionth inning, and did it by coming back. Once John Lackey and Ervin Santana are back in the Halos rotation, I don’t expect the Mariners to stay at the top.
7. Chicago Cubs (13-11) (8)
Hoping to get going like they should, they are coming off three straight wins against the Marlins but Big Z going down (after he bunted for a hit?) will definately hurt the rotation.
8. Florida Marlins (14-11) (10)
As I said, they’re currently on a three game skid and look to turn it around this week against the Reds, Braves, and Rockies.
9. Philadelphia Phillies (12-10) (Pushing)
Split against the Mets this weekend but still need to get that pitching down. Someone also needs to put the Cole Hamels voodoo doll down.
10. New York Yankees (13-11) (NR)
Mark Teixiera’s hitting around .200 and the Yanks are still scoring the most runs per game, imagine what will happen when he starts to raise that average.
Pushing the Ten: Milwaukee Brewers (13-12)
Detroit Tigers (13-11)
Pittsburgh Pirates (12-12)
Season Preview: Chicago Cubs
Projected MLB Rank: 1st — NL Rank: 1st — NL Central Rank: 1st — Record: (101-61)
National League Central Champions
I got ’em ranked number one. I think there’s no true competition to the Cubs this year in this division. Strong rotation. Strong bullpen. Strong lineup. Strong team.
Beginning with Carlos Zambrano, the righthander had a “down” season last year with a 3.91 ERA and a 14-6 record. He threw for around 188 innings and only struck out 130. Rich Harden did a great job last year after he came to Chicago. In 25 starts, he posted a 2.07 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP while striking out 181 batters in 148 innings. Ryan Dempster had a career year last season posting a 2.96 ERA, throwing over 200 innings, and winning 17 games for the Cubbies. Ted Lilly posted similar numbers except the ERA which was up over 4.00 (he also got rocked tonight at New Yankee Stadium). Sean Marshall joins the rotation this season after starting seven games last year. In 34 total games last season, the lefty compiled a 3.86 ERA.
Kevin Gregg has been proclaimed the closer this season for the Cubs after he tacked up 29 saves for the Marlins last season with a 3.41 ERA. He beat out devestating pitcher Carlos Marmol for the job who struck out 114 batters in 87 innings last year with a 2.68 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP. Jeff Samardzija is another hard throwing righthander out of the bullpen in Chicago. In 26 games last year, he posted a 2.26 ERA and is has potential to join the rotation if Marshall doesn’t get the job done or if someone goes down with injury. In either of those situations, Chad Gaudin may also get the chance to start this season after he started some games last season.
This lineup will produce runs. Rookie of the year Geovany Soto may build upon his .285 average, 23 homeruns, and 86 RBIs. Derrek Lee also posted solid production numbers last year hitting over .290 with 90 RBIs and 20 homers. Aramis Ramirez also had a great production year last season driving in 111 runs with 27 homeruns and a .289 batting average.
Hopefully back for a full season this year, Alfonso Soriano will do better than his 29 homeruns and 75 RBIs. The Cubs also brought in Milton Bradley who hit over .320 last season with 22 homeruns and 77 RBIs. The centerfield job comes down to Reed Johnson and Kosuke Fukudome. Fukudome’s numbers dropped here in America so Johnson may be the more reliable option but Fukudome will get his time.
Ryan Theriot is one of those under the radar guys on a winning team. The past two seasons he’s stolen 20 bases in each and scored over 80 runs in each. Look for him to do more of the same as he holds down the infield at short. Mike Fontenot and Aaron Miles should continue to compete for the starting second base spot during the season. Fontenot is the favorite to me as he hit over .300 last season while slugging .514.
Everyone in this lineup can produce runs and there’s no really weak spots. Same goes with the rotation, each of the four starters have ace potential and they have other options if the fifth starter doesn’t pan out. Same with the bullpen, if something doesn’t work out, they can switch around roles. This team is deep, deep, deep. A deep team in a not so deep division equals division champs.
Congratulations to Dustin Pedrioa, he’s the MVP, all five foot nine inches of him. He would have been my choice. He hit .326 and became the main producer while David Ortiz was hurt and Manny was just being Manny. In August and September, Pedrioa was third in the Majors in hits and was tied in second in runs scored. In 2008 he had the second highest batting average in th AL, two points behind Joe Mauer. He was tied with Ichiro for the league league in hits. He lead the AL in runs scored and was second in the majors behind Hanley Ramirez. He had the fourth most at-bats in all the majors, threw up 83 RBI, and stole 20 bases. His fielding was spectacular. His .992 fielding percentage was tops among major league second-basemen that started atleast 115 games. He turned 101 double plays and made only 6 errors in 733 total chances. That was the deciding factor in my choice of Pedrioa.
Here is how I would have cast my ballot–
First: Dustin Pedrioa (BOS)
Second: Justin Morneau (MIN)
Third: Carlos Quentin (CHW)
4th: Francisco Rodriguez (LAA)
5th: Joe Mauer (MIN)
6th: Josh Hamilton (TEX)
7th: Kevin Youkilis (BOS)
8th: Carlos Pena (TB)
9th: Alex Rodriguez (NYY)
10th: Evan Longoria (TB)
It looks as if Ryan Dempster is going to resign with the Cubs. The 31-year-old went 17-6 with a 2.96 ERA. He wanted to stay in with the Cubs and it seems as if for roughly four years and 52 million dollars (with an option for a fifth year) he will keep calling Wrigley home. He comes back and joins a rotation that looks similar to the 2008 squad. I imagine it will go as follows…
Early Projection for Cubs 2009 Rotation:
1. Ryan Dempster (17-6/2.96/187 in 33 starts)
2. Ted Lilly (17-9/4.09/184 in 34 starts)
3. Carlos Zambrano (14-6/3.91/130 in 30 starts)
4. Rich Harden (10-2/2.07/181 in 25 starts (12 with CHC))
5. Jason Marquis (11-9/4.53/91 in 28 starts (1 relief appearance))
Jeff Samardzija is a wild card to join the rotation as well after he came up and did a nice job out of the bullpen. He had a 2.28 ERA in 26 appearances. Although it seems as if he may stay in a relief role now that they’ve traded away promising minor leaguer Jose Ceda. They do gain Kevin Gregg but my guess is that Samardzija stays in the bullpen unless there is an injury to the rotation, etc.
The Cubs could place Zambrano, Dempster, and Harden anywhere they wanted to within the 1, 3, and 4 slots. Lou Piniella tagged Dempster the starter in game one of the NLDS so that makes me think that as of right now, he has the most confidence in Dempster. The rotation will shape up after the spring.