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
Season Preview: Texas Rangers
Projected MLB Rank: 20th — AL Rank: 8th — AL West Rank: 3rd — Record: (77-85)
It’s hard to argue with the most runs per game (5.56) and the highest team average (.283) in the league as not the best lineup. So I won’t, because I do believe that this is the best lineup in the league.
Secondbaseman Ian Kinsler is a star in the league and he got things started for this lineup last year. He was sidelined last year for the end of the season and still drove home 71 runs from the leadoff spot. He has the rare combo of power and speed and should bat leadoff again for Texas if rookie phenom Elvis Andrus doesn’t. Andrus hasn’t yet played a game in the majors, but will start the season as the the shortstop for this club. He may not have the average for the leadoff spot, but he definately has the speed. He should have 30 or more steals by season’s end.
Andrus’ welcome to majors included moving regular shortstop, Michael Young, to third base. Last year, Young drove home 82 while posting a .339 OBP. Expect big numbers from Josh Hamilton again. He dropped off after the all star break last year but I expect him to do the same thing he did last year (.304/32/130). Firstbaseman Chris Davis should have a huge year after he hit 17 homeruns and drove in 55 runs in only half a season last year. The big lefty also slugged .549.
I would also expect Nelson Cruz to continue hitting well after he hit .330 last season in a short-term with the club. The other corner outfielder, David Murphy should also continue to produce no matter where he is put in the order. Also, keep an eye on the competition at catcher between youngsters Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden. I expect a platoon between the two going into the season.
If only they could get some pitching help. Kevin Millwood is their ace. Uh oh. He went 9-10 last year with a 5.07 ERA and isn’t exactly getting younger. Same case with the number two starter Vicente Padilla, 14-8 with a 4.74 ERA. Lefty Matt Harrison is a quality starter, but first we need to see how he does for a full season. The injury-happy Brandon McCarthy still has yet to prove himself. Then there’s righty Jason Jennings. I’ll leave it at that.
The bullpen, anchored by closer Frank Francisco, is subpar. CJ Wilson’s ERA last season was over 6.00. Eddie Guardado is 38 years old. Then, there’s Derrick Turnbow, shall I go on?
I am a firm believer in pitching, pitching, pitching. The best offense in the league last year could only muster up 79 wins. So until the pitching decides to show up, expect more of the same from the Rangers.
With pitchers and catchers reporting in less than three days to Florida and Arizona, I’ll be writing about some of the players I think will breakout this season.
1B Chris Davis Texas Rangers
This 6 foot 4 first baseman had a productive rookie campaign. He had 17 homeruns and 55 RBIs in 80 games with a .285 average. He slugged .549 which was higher than teammates Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, and Josh Hamilton.
When the season starts he will be 23. In the minors in 2007 he totaled 36 homeruns and 118 RBIs with the single-A Bakersfield Blaze and the double-A Frisco RoughRiders. Last season with Frisco and the Oklahoma RedHawks he hit 23 homeruns and had 73 RBIs before getting called up to the big leagues.
A majority of his at-bats were in the seven or eight spot in the lineup and I imagine he would move up in the lineup this season. Maybe to the six spot in the lineup pending where fellow lefties Hank Blalock and David Murphy are placed. Hamilton will likely bat third or fourth. It all depends on where phenom shortstop Elvis Andrus is placed in the lineup (I imagine leadoff or 2). Kinsler will bat wherever Andrus doesn’t. Young could bat third with Hamilton fourth. With all those great hitters in front of him, Davis will get a lot of chances to produce for the Rangers. Unless the others drive home the men on base first. Either way, we will hear good things about Chris Davis in 2009.
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.