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: 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.
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.