I just saw a segment on Baseball Tonight about the best one-two offensive punches in baseball. So here’s my top ten in order without explanation…
1. Joe Mauer / Justin Morneau MIN
2. Carlos Pena / Evan Longoria TB
3. Chase Utley / Ryan Howard PHI
4. Mark Teixiera / Alex Rodriguez NYY
5. Ryan Zimmerman / Adam Dunn WAS
6. Adam Jones / Nick Markakis BAL
7. Kevin Youkilis / Jason Bay BOS
8. Carlos Beltran / David Wright NYM
9. Michael Young / Josh Hamilton TEX
10. Ryan Braun / Prince Fielder MIL
Wild Card: Todd Helton / Brad Hawpe COL
It may be too early to vote, but I got to show appreciation to the guys off to the hot starts so I voted. Here are my all stars as of today. I’ll just give you the starters and then I’ll do a complete all star roster (my opinion) when the full rosters are revealed.
1B Kevin Youkilis
.395 5 HR 15 RBI 1 SB
2B Ian Kinsler
.322 7 HR 20 RBI 7 SB
SS Marco Scutaro
.281 5 HR 15 RBI 1 SB
3B Evan Longoria
.369 6 HR 24 RBI 1 SB
C Victor Martinez
.386 5 HR 11 RBI
OF Jason Bay
.324 5 HR 19 RBI 2 SB
OF Torii Hunter
.325 8 HR 16 RBI 1 SB
OF Nick Markakis
.381 2 HR 22 RBI
1B Albert Pujols
.337 8 HR 28 RBI 4 SB
2B Chase Utley
.342 7 HR 20 RBI 2 SB
SS Hanley Ramirez
.289 2 HR 12 RBI 3 SB
3B Ryan Zimmerman
.289 5 HR 16 RBI
C Bengie Molina
.329 4 HR 18 RBI
OF Andre Ethier
.306 5 HR 22 RBI 1 SB
OF Raul Ibanez
.359 7 HR 17 RBI 3 SB
OF Manny Ramirez
.372 5 HR 15 RBI
So now that I’m completely done my team previews and you have all seen how I predict it will pan out, here’s the playoff and award predictions.
Cubs over Mets
I feel like everyone jumped on me having the Cubs finish with the best record. Well I got them going a step further. A playoff rotation like there’s shouldn’t have failed last season. Some of their offensive guys are getting older, but they recognize this may be their last hurrah as they are all probably near the end of the primes of their careers. As for the Mets, their bullpen is nice, but you don’t get to them unless you have the lead.
Red Sox over Indians
The Red Sox are just a playoff team. They’re built with the intangibles and I’m big on that. A deep rotation with an unbelievable bullpen gets the easy nod over Cleveland here.
Yankees over Angels
Come on, a playoff rotation that could potentially be CC, AJ, Wang, then Pettite or Joba. You have to at least win the first series. The Angels counter with a solid rotation but I think the close series goes to the Yanks.
Dodgers over Phillies
As much as it hurts me to say this, I think the Dodgers get the best of the Phils this time. Manny is a force and the rest of the offense can hit. They have some good young arms and a solid bullpen. Close series, but no cigar for my Fightins.
Dodgers over Cubs
I’m all about the Dodgers this year, they have a heck of an offense. This is where the Cubs magic ends this season. In the rematch of last year’s NLDS, this result is the same.
Red Sox over Yankees
Of course, I love this rivalry and I think they meet once again in the ALCS. Sox move on simply because I hate the Yankees. Just kidding. Well Sox do move on, but my reasoning isn’t because I hate the Yankees. Intangibles move them on.
Red Sox over Dodgers
With Josh Beckett in October, you can’t go wrong. Sox win their third in six years.
American League MVP
He’ll be the most valuable player for his team this season as I expect him to have a higher batting average than last year. He does it all; steals, scores, drives home runs, hits homeruns, and plays a great centerfield.
Other Possibilities: Mark Teixeira, Dustin Pedrioa
Wild Card: Evan Longoria
National League MVP
He was robbed last year. Lead the entire league in homeruns and RBIs and he struggled. It’s scary to think that he can do better, and then when you look at the fact that he could increase his average, he can definately increase his 146 RBIs.
Other Possibilities: Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez
Wild Card: Pablo Sandoval
American League Cy Young
He throws complete games like it’s his job. If he has a year like his last, he’s bound to win this award.
Other Possibilities: Cliff Lee,
Ervin Santana (my pick prior to injury), Jon Lester
Wild Card: John Danks
National League Cy Young
I think this kid is bound to break out. I think this is the year Billingsley steps up and becomes the Dodgers ace. He definately has potential for 20 wins, 200+ strikeouts, and a sub-3.00 ERA.
Other Possibilities: Brandon Webb, Tim Lincecum
Wild Card: Ricky Nolasco
American League ROTY
The reason I like him for this award is because he has a definate job. He will definately get his chances to move up in this lineup as well. I got two Jays winning awards.
Other Possibilities: Matt Wieters, Either Athletics 21-year-old
Wild Card: Elvis Andrus
National League ROTY
He has so much potential and he had an awesome performance when called up in September last year.
Other Possibilities: Colby Rasmus, Tommy Hanson
Wild Card: Jason Donald
Now that that’s over with, let the Phils raise the championship banner and play ball. Brett Myers, you may now throw the first pitch of the 2009 MLB season.
Team Preview: Tampa Bay Rays
Projected MLB Rank: 12th — AL Rank: 5th — AL East Rank: 3rd — Record: (86-76)
To answer that question, I would say they will shine, just not as bright. It’s hard to match 97 wins no matter who you are. Lead by strong pitching, timely hitting, and a genius manager last season, the Rays will need more of the same if they want to end up playing past October 4.
They are returning with the same core as last season for the most part. A new acquisition is now DH (that’s weird for me to say) Pat Burrell. The world champion slugged 33 homeruns last season and drove in what was left for him after Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, which was 86 runs. Similar to Burrell, only from the left side of the plate, is firstbaseman Carlos Pena. He hit 31 homers last season while leading the team in RBIs with 102. Both Pena and Burrell hit around .250 as well.
Stud youngsters Evan Longoria and BJ Upton also carry threat potential in this lineup. Longoria, only 23, hit 27 homeruns and drove in 85 runs in only 122 games last season. Imagine what he’ll do in a potential 162? Then with Upton, he really showed his true potential in the playoffs last season, despite only hitting .273 with 9 homeruns and driving in 67 during the regular season.
Secondbaseman Akinori Iwamura will likely lead things off for the Rays, and while his stats don’t really infer it–he’s a contact hitter. The anchor behind the plate remains 25 year old Dioner Navarro. He hit around .300 last season and drove in over 50, look for more of the same if not better with him. Hamstring trouble-ridden Carl Crawford should play a full season again as well. I feel like he’s been in the league for a long while, like he should be atleast 30. But he’s still 27!
The Rays boasted the second best ERA in the American League last season (3.82) and it all starts with their solid rotation. It starts with “big-game” James Shields. Shields posed a 3.56 ERA last season while winning 14 games while holding a 1.15 WHIP. He’s a control pitcher who can strikeout batters too.
Looks like the Victor Zambrano for Scott Kazmir deal worked out well for the Mets (sorry, had to take my Mets shot). Kazmir’s becoming a good lefthander and the 25-year old should have a better year than last in which he had a 3.29 ERA and went 12-8. Last year he also struck out 166 batters in about 152 innings. He will be a 20 game winner one day, just maybe not this year.
Matt Garza has the potential to be absolutely filthy, as he was in the minor leagues. Last year he only struck out about six batters per nine innings but showed all of America in the playoffs how good he is by going 2-1 with a strikeout an inning. Andy Sonnanstine, another great control pitcher, will reach the mid-teens in wins and give the Rays a solid WHIP. The fifth rotation spot is up for grabs between Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel. Whoever wins this job should be pitching for about a month and a half because I expect David Price to up in the big leagues by the end of May.
Veteran Troy Percival who’s ERA doesn’t give the correct impression for the job he did for this team last season. Before going down with an injury, he saved 28 games and appeared in 50 games for the Rays. Reliever Dan Wheeler had a nice season while posting a 0.99 WHIP and a 3.12 ERA in 70 games. Southpaw JP Howell is absolutely dirty. In 64 appearances last season, he struck out 92 batters and posted a 2.22 ERA. Hard throwing Grant Balfour should also be effective again coming out of the pen this year. Righthander Joe Nelson joins his fifth team in five years and should post a low ERA with a high strikeout rate. Jason Isringhausen also joins the bullpen and is presenting a really good case to join the roster this spring.
Overall, the Rays do look good this year. It’s hard to argue against 97 wins but this is such a tough division and I don’t think the Rays will be able to win all the close games they won last year. They’re an exciting team and I have them going close to the playoffs–but close doesn’t get you there.
Season Preview: Cincinnati Reds
Projected MLB Rank: 16th — NL Rank: 11th — NL Central Rank: 3rd — Record: (81-81)
Many are calling Cincinnati — “2009’s Rays.” Well this year’s Rays will be the team you won’t suspect — if you know what I mean. The Reds are filled with young stars and quality players, so I can see the connections between the Rays and the Reds. Let’s go further with it and make direct connections (analogies):
Carl Crawford is to Brandon Phillips…
Crawford has been a star in the league and still very young. Phillips had a great season last year and still is young at 27 years old. As long as the Reds are playing at Great American Ballpark, Phillips will continue to look like he has pop. He puts up decent power numbers and has some great speed.
as Carlos Pena is to Ramon Hernandez…
Pena has spent his career on numerous teams and the Reds are Ramon’s fourth. Hernandez has great production potential and is one of the older starters in the lineup. In Cincinnati, he may hit 25 homeruns and drive in 75 runs (and that’s probably not a stretch).
as JP Howell is to Bill Bray…
Both strikeout lefthanders coming out of the bullpen. Bray was considered a possible closer at one point in his minor league career. He’s still only twenty five years old too.
as Evan Longoria is to Joey Votto…
Votto played his first full season in the majors in 2008 and had a very productive year. He batted .297 with 24 homeruns and 84 RBIs. His numbers mirror Longoria’s and Votto has a higher average. Votto is also only 25 years old and will definately improve on his numbers this coming season.
as Scott Kazmir is to Edinson Volquez…
Both great prospects coming up, Volquez strikes out hitters at an alarming rate. He recorded 206 strikeouts last season in ten less innings than strikeouts. He had a 3.21 ERA and went 17-6. Who knows how he will do in 2009 but he will definately help the Reds out.
as Troy Percival is to David Weathers…
Both righthanders approaching 40 years of age while staying relatively successful coming out of their team’s bullpen. Weathers recorded a 3.25 ERA last season with 19 holds.
as BJ Upton is to Jay Bruce…
Bruce played in 108 games last season and had a good rookie season and should definately improve on his .254 average, 21 homeruns, and 52 RBIs. He may experience a sophomore boom or bust, but he will eventually be who the Reds hope he will become.
as Matt Garza is to Johnny Cueto…
Cueto didn’t have a very good season last year but has great stuff. Look for him to also improve upon his 4.81 ERA and 9 wins as he should start over 30 games again this season.
as Eric Hinske is to Alex Gonzalez…
Gonzalez played a total of zero games last season due to injury, but he’s a veteran who’s glove is better than his bat. He will be in competition with Jeff Keppinger for the starting shortstop spot just as Hinske competed for the right field spot most of last season.
as Trever Miller is to Arthur Rhodes…
Both veteran lefty relievers, Rhodes had a great year for the Marlins last year as a lefty out of the bullpen with a 2.04 ERA with 40 strikeouts in about 35 innings.
as Grant Balfour is to Francisco Cordero…
Balfour and Cordero both throw hard. Cordero will remain the closer this year for the Reds after he saved 34 games last season. He struck out 78 batters in about 70 innings with a 3.33 ERA.
The Reds rotation is lead by innings eater Aaron Harang who had a down year last season but is still projected as the Reds ace this season. Bronson Arroyo has also become a staple in this rotation as an innings eater.
This lineup will score a lot of runs and the pitching will keep them in games but I just don’t see this team making the playoffs as the Rays did last season. They’re definately capable of doing (as every team is) but I just think they have a few holes in the lineup and they are still pretty young.
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.