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.
First of all, congrats to Raul Ibanez for hitting his first homerun as a Philadelphia Phillies player. It’s nice to see a homerun coming off of our bat for once this series.
Heading into the bottom of the seventh, down 10-3, I had lost all hope and figured that the Phillies were going to swept right out of the opening series by the homer-happy Braves. In fact, I was willing to give up on the game once Joe Blanton had a rough third, and even more so ready to throw in the towell when JA Happ gave up the two run shot to Jordan Schafer in the fifth.
Then just as I was about to leave the radio and head off to the gym, Chase Utley blooped a single into center and Ryan Howard was hit by a pitch. I figured that I would stay until the end of the inning. Well, eight runs later I was still sitting at my computer listening to the game.
The Phils bottom of the seventh consisted of five hits, six walks, eight runs, and four Atlanta relievers. The Braves bullpen imploded. They couldn’t find the strikezone and I’m suprised the Phillies aggressive bats let the Braves put that many on. One thing the Phillies didn’t prove to me during the playoffs last season was that they aren’t the team to work the walk. They would swing at ball three or ball four in a 2-2 or 3-1 count. But today, they discovered a patience they never had before and it turned out to be the difference in the ballgame.
In that dreaded seventh inning for the Braves, Eric O’Flaherty, Peter Moylan, Blaine Boyer, and Jorge Campillo surrendered six walks and five singles. All eight runs scored were earned by the Braves pitchers and Moylan and Boyer don’t even have ERA’s.
How clutch did the Eric Bruntlett sac fly turn out to be? In the bottom of the eighth Bruntlett brought home a run as insurance for Brad Lidge. It turned out that it was needed and kept Lidge’s streak alive. Lidge ended up giving up a homerun to Matt Diaz on a slider but no blown save was to be had. Lidge recorded his first save of the year after a slider in the dirt got Garrett Anderson to swing and miss.
“Put this one in the win column for the Fightin’ Phils.”
CHARLIE DOUBLE SWITCHES
Charlie Manuel ended up using the double switch today in that pivotal seventh inning. He sent Matt Stairs up to hit for Carlos Ruiz (maybe a fear factor for the pitcher). Brought Chris Coste in to pinch hit for the pitcher, then sent Coste in to catch and the pitcher spot was now in the eight hole. To anyone that doesn’t know, there was concern that Charlie didn’t know how to use the double switch. Well today he utilized it (even though it wasn’t the usual double-switch situation). I applaud you Uncle Charlie.
Those rings are nice aren’t they? It was awesome to see Pat Burrell back again (I think he got emotional–hence the shades). And yes, we did boo Adam Eaton.
SOUTHPAW SQUAREOFF AT FENWAY
It looks like Scott Kazmir got the best of Jon Lester tonight in Boston. Through four innings, Lester looked great. But then in the fifth, a few flyballs fell in that probably could have been caught. Both flyball “singles” involved Jed Lowrie running backwards and I’m not sure if he got in the way of Jason Bay and Jacoby Ellsbury, but it looked like it. So don’t look at Lester’s five earned and think he got rocked. Although Carlos Pena did rock one pitch on the three run bomb to center.
Jed Lowrie seems to be the goat of the night. There were the flyball situations, and he also struck out twice. Once was with the bases loaded and two outs late in the game. Even if Julio Lugo was healthy, I would stick with Lowrie at short. Who cares about how much he’s getting to sit on the bench? Jed’s the future.
How good does Akinori Iwamura look at the bottom of that lineup? Normally the nine-hole is also called the “second leadoff spot.” Aki, along with Jason Bartlett and Carl Crawford combined for nine hits in fourteen at-bats. That will definately make this lineup go as the season progresses and they may be the key.
I look forward to the rest of these Rays/Sox matchups.
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.
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.