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.
I’m here on my family vacation in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina. And I had some downtime so I figured rather than sleep or look at the clouds that are eye level outside our mountain house, I would blog.
And okay, caught me, I said I wouldn’t be posting again until I got back to school, but.. I am. I figured I would post some of my predictions for the rest of the season. Note: These are my predictions as of August 5th, I reserve the right to change my mind as the season progresses, after all–it is my blog.
The NL West goes to the Dodgers, that was hard.
The Phillies are in quite a slump. They’re not hitting, not pitching all too well, and making an error here and there. The greeting card sitting at Cliff Lee‘s locker when he arrived at CBP Tuesday might have read: “Welcome to town, Mr. Lee! We’ll continue to win once every fifth day when you’re out on the mound and maybe not even win then, if our offense doesn’t get going!” Lets hope that Lee didn’t bring the funk that the whole Cleveland Indians team is going through to Philly. I’m just playing around, teams go through valleys and reach mountain peaks throughout the season and I’m hoping the Phils are just in a small valley. My guess is that the Phils don’t suffer from Tribe Syndrome, turn it around in the coming week, and win the NL East.
If the Rangers had more than Dustin Nippert and Kevin Millwood then I would seriously consider them in the West over the Angels. But since they don’t, I got the Halos.
One of the best races to watch may be that AL Central. It is going to come down to what pitching staff steps up and holds off each opponent because the Tigers, White Sox, and Twins all scrap until the end to win baseball games. I love the punches Buerhle, Danks, and Floyd but the combination of Mauer and Morneau is lethal as well. So lets knock off who leads the division right now, the Detroit Tigers. They’re near the back of the AL in a bunch of categories and in the long haul, that won’t get you to the playoffs. So if its White Sox vs. Twins, advantage: Twins. They are 7-5 against the ChiSox this year.
The case for the Colorado Rockies (in a few sentences):
They have the pitching finally as their rotation has really come together this season even when Jeff Francis went down before the season started. Seth Smith and Dexter Fowler are maturing in the majors. They’ve always had the middle-of-the-lineup bats to drive in the guys that get on base before them. Todd Helton is healthy. They have more home games left than any other NL contender. They’re my NL wild card pick.
Why not the Giants?
This makes me feel like a HUGE hypocrite. I usually am all about pitching. Pitching wins, pitching wins, pitching wins. That’s what I lay my baseball foundation on. The Giants have one of the best staffs in the National League. AND they just upgraded their awful offense AND they’re now scoring runs. They do have some great young players but I’m not sure that I can see this team playing in October. Maybe because I’ve never seen Freddy Sanchez there. Haha. Speaking of which…
Poor Pirates fans. But only the Pirates fans because Pittsburgh’s won two other championships this year. Jerry Crasnick, of ESPN.com, wrote a great article about the dismantling of this team here: http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/columns/story?columnist=crasnick_jerry&id=4373943.
Lets get to the touchy subject, the AL East. The Red Sox own the Yankees this year, but the Rays own the Red Sox, but the Yankees lead the division. Huh? Yea, this is a tough division to choose. The Yankees score 0.29 more runs per game than the Red Sox and 0.32 more than the Rays. The Sox ERA is 0.06 better than the Rays and 0.39 better than the Yanks. My guess is that the Yanks lose their game and a half lead to the Red Sox.
Then since the Yankees play in a park where an everyday flyout to right is homerun, I say they win the wild card. Followed closely by Tampa Bay who put themselves in too big of a hole to start to season. My same reasoning for why the Rangers don’t win the West is the same reasoning I’m using here for the wild card.
This may be preaching to the choir, but the Cardinals really bolstered their lineup at the deadline. It is a top tier NL lineup now. As long as the pitching keeps the Cards in games I see the additions of Mark DeRosa, Julio Lugo, and Matt Holliday paying off and getting the Cards into October. Sorry Cubbies.
So as of now, my playoff pairings guess goes:
Twins at Red Sox
Rockies at Phillies
Yankees at Angels
Cardinals at Dodgers
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)
The MLB scene changes a lot in a week during its beginnings and with it, changes my “Monday Ten.” Here’s this week’s power rankings.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers (10-3) (last week: 4)
Only team with an average over .300, they’ve won eight straight, and now Manny’s hit a few out.
2. Florida Marlins (11-1) (2)
They just win ballgames and the bullpen’s been unreal thus far. But, six of those wins have come against the Nats, who have won just once. That’s the only thing kept them from the one spot.
3. Toronto Blue Jays (10-4) (5)
The starting pitching is doing a great job so far this year, something unexpected. The Jays are also scoring runs too, something else unexpected. They also boast the highest batting average in the AL.
4. St. Louis Cardinals (8-5) (1)
Carpenter going down for a while will certainly hurt this squad. But the offense is doing a great job manufacturing runs.
5. Seattle Mariners (8-5) (3)
Lead the entire league in team ERA. King Felix and Bedard are a nasty combo.
6. San Diego Padres (8-5) (NR)
I didn’t include them last week because I still thought they were terrible but after watching them play hard against the Phillies all weekend, this team can play small ball and win close games. Once teams figure out their young guys, things may start to go downhill. But for now, Heath Bell is a monster.
7. Kansas City Royals (7-5) (Pushing)
Kyle Davies is 1-0 with a 2.89 ERA in three starts with 21 strikeouts in about 18 innings. He’s the x-factor here.
8. Chicago Cubs (7-4) (6)
As a team, they’re striking out more than a batter per inning.
9. Detroit Tigers (7-5) (NR)
Miguel Cabrera is a monster and if Armando Galarraga can pick up this staff and lead it this season, they could turn out alright.
10. Boston Red Sox (6-6) (NR)
A four game winning streak and a dominating start by Jon Lester only leads me to believe that the best is yet to come. This team is on the up.
Pushing the Ten: Cincinnati Reds (6-5)
Colorado Rockies (4-7)
Los Angeles Angels (4-8)
Atlanta Braves (6-6)
New York Yankees (7-6)
Still to early (hence all the teams that dropped out), but I’ll continue to do this.
Here are my power rankings after week one. I’ll try to give my “Monday Ten” every Monday weekly. So here they are:
1. St. Louis Cardinals (5-2)
Lead by strong pitching and some nice offensive production thus far, the Cards have jumped out to lead the Central. It appears that Chris Carpenter is back.
2. Florida Marlins (5-1)
How exciting is this young team. Josh Johnson is the true ace of this staff and he’s showed it so far. Bullpen is still suspect.
3. Seattle Mariners (5-2)
They’re winning close ballgames and they have the lowest ERA in the AL through seven games. I’ve mentioned before, I love seen Junior in the uni again.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers (4-3)
Lowest WHIP in the NL but Manny may start stirring up some problems.
5. Toronto Blue Jays (5-2)
Scoring the most runs per game this year and how about Adam Lind? Called it.
6. Chicago Cubs (4-3)
Soriano has gotten off to a good start for once.
7. Colorado Rockies (3-3)
Offense is looking really good. Whether or not they can keep carrying this production–time will tell.
8. Los Angeles Angels (3-3)
The Angels, with the death of a fellow teammate on their hearts, are playing hard baseball. The cleared benches may have sparked something as well.
9. Atlanta Barves (5-1)
Took advantage of the Phils starters not locating pitches and then the played the Nationals? The bullpen absolutely imploded in Philly though.
10. New York Yankees (3-3)
Not sure where they would be after two road series to start the season. But now we know CC does have his stuff.
Pushing the Ten: Kansas City Royals (3-3)
It’s still the first week though, so take all of this lightly.
Season Preview: Los Angeles Angels
Projected MLB Rank: 5th — AL Rank: 2nd — AL West Rank: 1st — Record: (93-69)
American League West Champions
So where’s the competition out west for the Angels? The A’s could be considered a challenge, but I think they’re too young this year. The Rangers will never win become a playoff threat until they get some pitching. Then the Mariners, well, I have them ranked last in the league.
So that provides the Angels with a bunch of wins even if their number one and two pitchers are out until about May. Those pitchers, John Lackey and Ervin Santana are two of the best pitchers in the AL. While they’re on the DL, there are five others who will need to fill the void for the time being. Jered Weaver should improve on his 4.33 ERA and 11-10 this season, but nothing drastic. Joe Saunders did a great job for the Halos last season winning 17 games. The lefty also posted a 3.41 ERA in 31 starts. Dustin Moseley will probably be the fifth starter once Lackey and Santana return. Moseley does get roughed up once in a while so there are other options. Nick Adenhart is one of those options, he’s still 22 years old and has some good stuff to do well in the majors but he hasn’t had too much success recently. Shane Loux is another option and will probably start the season in the rotation but once everyone is healthy and back–Loux will be back, in the minor leagues.
Don’t be suprised if Brian Fuentes posts over 50 saves this season. The way the Angels play baseball provides the closers with many chances for saves. Fuentes saved 30 games for Colorado last season along with a 2.73 ERA and almost 12 strikeouts per nine innings. Scot Shields has great stuff and should continue to be effective coming out of the bullpen as he posted a 2.70 ERA last season. Jose Arredondo may be the seventh inning guy. In 52 games last year, the 25 year old compiled a 1.62 ERA with a 1.05 WHIP. Then there’s Darren Oliver who posted a 2.88 ERA last season. Very reliable bullpen.
This lineup is great. Bringing in Bobby Abreu to replace Garrett Anderson was a nice move. The Angels are so outfield heavy now (as Gary Matthews Jr. now has no place to start). Then there’s Torii Hunter, Vlad Guerrero, Chone Figgins and Juan Rivera. The household names.
The players that fly under the radar out in LA will not go unnoticed this season. Secondbaseman Howie Kendrick is a hitter. If he can stay healthy, expect an average over .300 with stolen bases and great defense. Kendry Morales finally gets the firstbase job all to himself. So he will develop this year getting the chances everyday. Mike Napoli presumes to be the starting catcher. He hit 20 homeruns in 78 games last season. If he played a full season, he could even hit 35 homers and put up 75 or so RBIs. He compiled a .586 slugging percentage with an on base percentage 100 points higher than his batting average. Erick Aybar has had a nice spring training and will be at short for his defense this year, but if he starts to get hot at the plate–he will definately be the starter.
All in all, the Angels have the offense and are in the division that can afford to lose their top two starting pitchers for about a month. There’s really not much to the story here. Division champs.
Season Preview: Colorado Rockies
Projected MLB Rank: 13th — NL Rank: 8th — NL West Rank: 4th — Record: (85-77)
The Colorado Rockies were the story of 2007. They ran through September and the playoffs until they hit the wall in the World Series, also known as the Boston Red Sox. One year later, October 2008, they were sitting at home and watching eight other teams. They had harnessed a 74-88 record. Only four other NL teams did worse last year.
This season, the Rockies will attempt to recreate the two month magic they generated at the end of the 2007 season. This time, they need that magic for seven months.
This offense is one of the most potent in the league, even after trading away keystone Matt Holliday. Garrett Atkins, Brad Hawpe, and veteran Todd Helton will be looked to to make up for that production. Helton had a very down year last year. Last year he played only half a season and still only hit 7 homeruns and drove in 29 RBIs. Even more concerning is the .264 average he posted in those games. Helton had hit for over .300 for the ten seasons before. The lifetime .328 hitter is 35 years old, but I do believe he can rebound from a low 2008 and regain his status as a consistent hitter.
Atkins, who had been rumored to be traded this offseason, seems to be staying in Denver for his contract year. He will post big production numbers and expect him to be traded if the Rockies are out of the race early. Brad Hawpe is a great ballplayer. He has the potential to hit 30 homeruns and drive in 100 runs now that Holliday isn’t there to take the production. He also has a cannon from rightfield.
Shortstop Troy Toluwitzki should continue to tear it up as he did last year at the end of the season as he hit .327 in the second half. Chris Iannetta did a great job in the WBC and should continue his rampage at Coors Field. In only 333 at bats last season, he hit 18 homeruns and drove in 65 RBIs.
Seth Smith, is a great hitter but has yet to show it at the major league level. Once he starts getting consistent time in Colorado, he will become a .300 hitter (I saw this kid hit for the cycle when he was with AAA Colorado Springs). There is a lot of competition for the starting centerfield spot. Ryan Spilborghs leads the way as he batted .313 in 89 games last season. Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez are also in the competition for the job, but I expect it to go to Spilborghs.
The pitching staff last season had a rough one. They had the second worst ERA in the NL (4.77) and gave up the third most runs per game (5.07). Losing Jeff Francis certainly hurts so now it starts off with Aaron Cook. The righty won 16 games last season with a 3.96 ERA. He’s a great pitcher for the thin Colorado air because he’s a sinkerballer, so expect more success from Cook in Colorado. Ubaldo Jimenez, who is the projected number two, is dirty. His stuff is phenomenal but he has control problems as he walked 103 batters last season. He had a good BAA last season (.245) so look for him to develop into a possible all star if he can get off to a good start.
Jason Marquis is the projected number three, coming over from the Cubs where he was the fifth starter. He’ll win you ballgames, but he won’t put up huge strikeout numbers and he will let guys get on base. Jorge De La Rosa’s stats don’t look too pretty last season but don’t be decieved. In the second half, he posted a 3.08 ERA with about a strikeout per inning. 23-year old Franklin Morales should compete for the last rotation spot along with Greg Smith and Jason Hirsh.
The bullpen is underrated. Manny Corpas and Huston Street are duking it out for the closer role. Corpas’ shaky 2008 might make him the eigth inning man and the experienced Street would get the closer role. Taylor Buchholz had a fine season last year posting a 2.17 ERA in 63 games. Jason Grilli had a great strikeout rate last season while compiling a 3.00 ERA. Alan Embree and Ryan Speier will also get a bunch of appearances out of the bullpen.
This is probably my biggest stretch of a prediction having the Rockies do 11 games better than they did last year. Especially finishing fourth in the division. I have the NL West as a strong division this year (another bold prediction). This division did get better though. I hear everyone that’s saying .500 could win the division, but I don’t feel like that will be the case this season with the west. It’s improving, and so are the Rockies with it.