As the calender turns to September, the weather turns as well (although this year seems cooler than normal). Along with the cool air comes a cooler and more poised Cole Hamels on the mound.
As I rewatch the Phillies game on my recently acquired MLBtv (which is frustrating at times, but when it does work, I love it), Cole seems very relaxed on the mound and had great control of his fastball last night. When he has good fastball control, then his changeup conpliments it. When he can control both pitches, he’s as good as anyone on the mound, as we saw last night and last October.
Hamels went the distance last night allowing only two hits, a double in the second inning to Ryan Garko and ninth inning single. He only walked one, and it was in the ninth inning, to a pinch-hitting Pablo Sandoval.
Nothing against Cliff Lee and the fantastic pitcher he is, but when Cole is on like he was last night, he is the true ace of this staff. The constant for when Cole pitches is that the Phils don’t score runs. It has been the case his whole career, especially when he pitches well.
But the way this offense can put up runs, I’m not too concerned for the stretch run.
Speaking of the stretch run, with it being September, here’s who I think will be playing past October 4th…
AL East: Yankees
At 6.5 games up with a little over a month to go, it’s really theirs to lose. They are on too much of a roll and have way too much offense for that to happen though. The Red Sox would have to go on an 2007 Rockies kind of roll in order to overtake this division. Yankees win the division by seven games.
AL Central: Twins
This team doesn’t give up and they play hard until the end. Even with a depleted pitching rotation, I’ll choose Minnesota at 3.5 games back of the Tigers. They get seven more games against Detroit. The final year at the HHH will be seeing playoff baseball as the Twins win the division by two games.
AL West: Angels
With a 4.5 game lead over Texas, the Angels play the game offensively too well to not win this division. However they do have a losing record against their own division (who they face a majority of September) and they play the Red Sox and Yankees this month leads me to think that this division is going to be a close race. Angels win the division by two games.
AL Wildcard: Red Sox
They seem to be hitting their stride at 8-2 in their last ten games and currently riding a four game win streak. Clay Buchholz is really coming through as the pitcher they hoped he would and I’m not concerned about Josh Beckett’s recent struggles. Sox grab the wildcard by three games.
NL East: Phillies
I’ve already mentioned Cole earlier and the Phils have a top-ranked ERA since the All-Star break. Mix in the offense and the Phillies take it by seven games.
NL Central: Cardinals
Too much pitching and this offense picks eachother up. They seem to be the most complete team in the NL, if not the entire league. Cards win the division by thirteen games.
NL West: Dodgers
At 5.5 games up on the Rockies, even if they keep playing bad baseball, they’ll just let the rest of the west beat up on eachother as they win the division by four games.
NL Wildcard: Rockies
They’re “sick” and when their offense returns, which it will, they’ll win the wildcard. For once the Rockies have great pitching. Ubaldo Jimenez has developed into an ace and Jason Marquis is a winner. With the Giants pitching, it will be close. I got the Rockies by a game over Giants.
Season Preview: Boston Red Sox
Projected MLB Rank: 2nd — AL Rank: 1st — AL East Rank: 1st — Record: (97-65)
American League East Champions
They have all the makings of a championship run. They’ve done it before, why not again? With a strong rotation and a strong lineup, this team will do special things this season if they can stay healthy.
Starting with the rotation, it is lead by Josh Beckett who needs to stay away from injury (which wasn’t the case last season). The Sox might be able to afford one DL stint, because of the depth they have in their rotation with Clay Buchholz and John Smoltz, but nothing more from the righthander. Daisuke Matsuzaka had a Cy Young caliber year last season posting a 2.90 ERA and going 18-3. He still has some control issues, but seems to work his way out of every jam he gets himself into.
Lefty Jon Lester is poised for a breakout season. Entering his fourth season with in the big leagues, Lester had his best season last year with 3.21 ERA and 16 wins. I’m expecting a great year out of the Red Sox future ace. Then there’s Tim Wakefield. I don’t know how he keeps doing it. Last year, the 42 year old had solid numbers. The knuckleballer posted a 4.13 ERA with a 1.18 WHIP and a .228 BAA. A great back of the rotation guy. The fifth starter is going to be Brad Penny (for now). He had a rocky year last year but has been throwing well and hard this spring. By mid-season, Clay Buchholz might be back in the rotation if all doesn’t go well for Penny.
The Red Sox boast one of the best bullpens in the American League. Largely to the fact that Jonathan Papelbon has solidified himself as one of the best closers in the game today. His 41 saves, 2.34 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and 77 strikeouts in 69 innings last year prove just that. It seems as if Justin Masterson never gets a shot in the rotation (even though he started nine games last year). The 24 year old posted a 3.16 ERA last season in 36 total games and I’m guessing he will be Papelbon’s set up man this year.
Bringing in Takashi Saito may be one of the most underrated moves of the offseason. Saito posted a 2.49 ERA with the Dodgers before going down to injury. He’s 39 and has save experience, which is never a negative. Now lefty-specialist, Hideki Okajima, will provide reliability out of the bullpen this year as he saved his stats with a solid second half ending the year with a 2.61 ERA in 64 appearences. Then there’s Manny Delcarmen. He throws hard and last year in over 70 games the righthander posted a 3.27 ERA. Javier Lopez also had a fine season with a 2.43 ERA in 70 games and Ramon Ramirez comes in from KC where he posted a 2.64 ERA in almost 72 innings.
What a pitching staff.
Jacoby Ellsbury has got to get on base more if he wants to stay the leadoff hitter, and this year he will have every day to do it no that Coco Crisp was shipped south. Ellsbury’s .336 OBP isn’t a leadoff man’s OBP. Once he starts taking walks, expect his 50 stolen bases to be the low of his career for a bunch of years. Reigning AL MVP Dustin Pedrioa will put up more MVP caliber seasons no matter how tall he is. There’s those guys that you just win with and Dustin is one of them. His .326 average and 118 runs scored were most likely brought him the award, along with his solid fielding at the four position.
Fellow MVP candidate, Kevin Youkilis, is entering his sixth season at the big league level. In 2008, his .312 average, 29 homeruns, 115 RBIs, and .569 slugging percentage proved his value to this team as well. David Ortiz should rebound from his down year. It’s funny that a down year for him is 89 RBIs and a .539 slugging percentage.
I think that Jason Bay will absolutely flourish in this lineup. I’m expecting higher production total in 2009 to couple with his .286 average, .373 OBP, and .522 slugging percentage. Then JD Drew, he’ll flourish too, if he’s ever healthy for a full season. Mike Lowell is getting older but he’s got the possibility to drive in 100 from the six or seven hole. Jed Lowrie is a solid option at shortstop as the 24 year old has showed production potential in the minors. Then Jason Varitek is back behind the plate. Who cares if he hits .220, Tek’s the captain. The Sox also have one of the more solid benches in the league.
Overall, there’s nothing to not like about this team if healthy. Even with a small DL stint from a few players I can still see this team winning the division. No Yankees. No Rays. Just Red Sox.