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
Before given you my Twins preview for the upcoming season, I apologize for not posting too much this week. Being on spring break, I’ve been really busy and it’s been really nice to be home. But I found some time right now, so here’s your Minnesota Twins…
Season Preview: Minnesota Twins
Projected MLB Rank: 22nd — AL Rank: 10th — AL Central Rank: 3rd — Record: (74-88)
When I look at the Twins, I see a pretty good young lineup with some average pitching. I think
that this team has the best chance to win the division out of the teams that I have ranked in the bottom ten in the league. The central is probably the weakest division in the league and with the lethal combo of Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer, you cannot go wrong.
Anchored by Mauer and Morneau, the rest of the lineup has some great young talent. Outfielder Delmon Young, who has been projected to be a great hitter, had a down year last year after driving in 93 runs in Tampa Bay in 2007. The good thing is that he is still 23 and still has time to develop. Speedy centerfielder Carlos Gomez can steal bases but wasn’t the top of the lineup hitter the Twins hoped for last season. He needs to raise his average and OBP if he wants to stay at the top of the lineup. I think that the other corner outfielder, Denard Span, will raise some eyebrows this season. He hit .294 last season with 47 RBIs in 93 games with the big club. He’s also got some speed (18 stolen bases in 08). They will definately get production from the DH spot, whether it’s lefty Jason Kubel or righty Michael Cuddyer.
Veterans Joe Crede and Nick Punto hold down the left side of the infield. Crede has production potential as he drove in 55 runs last season in only 97 games last season for the White Sox but has a career .257 average. Last season the 31-year old Punto raised his average significantly to .284 but he’s really only in the lineup for his glove at short. While watching Venezuela/Italy last night, I heard Punto (who played shortstop for Italia) described as, “one of the those guys you can win with.”
I think the big question last season was about Francisco Liriano, he wasn’t as dominant as he had been previously to his injury. In fact, Scott Baker goes into the season as the projected “ace.”
…and you wonder why I think the Twins pitching is average…
Baker had a great 2008, but he’s not an ace. Hopefully Liriano can regain that status with a nice year in 09. Kevin Slowey is great as the number three. Nick Blackburn is overrated and probably won’t reach 11 wins again this season. The projected fifth starter, southpaw Glen Perkins, had a scary September.
Joe Nathan is one of the top five closers in the league and the Twins will definately need him this season. He was 39 for 45 in save opputunities last season with a 1.33 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 67.2 innings. The rest of the bullpen, consisting of Jesse Crain, Jose Mijares, and Craig Breslow, will be reliable. But for Luis Ayala, that just makes the ‘pen worse after he was a nightmare alone in New York.
I’ve learned to never doubt Ron Gardenhire and team from the twin cities, so I won’t. I’m projecting them third in the division, and they can easily win it too. I just think that the division overall is weak, and that is why I have ranked them so low overall in the league.
The World Baseball Classic rosters are set. The United States roster looks more promising than last time. The US is in Pool C with Canada, Venezula, and Italy and opens up the tournament playing in Toronto.
The tournament runs from March 5th-23rd in anywhere from Tokyo to San Juan and ending in Los Angeles. (http://mlb.mlb.com/wbc/2009/schedule/brackets.jsp) You can find the official WBC bracket there.
The US roster consists of players from 21 different MLB teams and is one of only two rosters that are made up of all MLB players. Here is how I think the lineup should be:
SS Jimmy Rollins
CF Grady Sizemore
LF Ryan Braun
DH Chipper Jones
1B Kevin Youkilis
RF Brad Hawpe
3B David Wright
C Brian McCann
2B Dustin Pedrioa
However, I am not Davey Johnson and I’m almost positive that Derek Jeter will start at shortstop. Curtis Granderson would be the first pinch runner most likely and Mark DeRosa looks like he will be the infield utility guy. Chris Iannetta backs up McCann behind the dish. The starting pitchers featured on the roster are Jeremy Guthrie, Ted Lilly, Roy Oswalt, and Jake Peavy. The rotation may shape up to look something along the lines of Peavy, Oswalt, Lilly, then Guthrie.
The bullpen is probably one of the strongest in the whole classic. The US boasts established closers like Brian Fuentes, Joe Nathan, JJ Putz, and BJ Ryan. The bullpen features emerging closers like Jonathan Broxton, Matt Lindstrom, and Brad Ziegler. It also contains guys like JP Howell, Scot Shields, and Matt Thornton. In the ninth I would hand the ball to Fuentes to face lefthanded hitters and Nathan to face righties.
I am most excited to watch the US play and to see how Brad Hawpe plays among all stars and how Johnson utilizes the extremely talented bullpen he has.
In other notes, how great is it to see mlb.com with the games of the day on the left side bar again? I am so relieved to hear that everyday we are getting closer to the season. The first spring training games start tomorrow with most of them at 1pm or 3pm. However at 7pm the Twins take on the Red Sox as Tim Wakefield takes the mound.
In honor of the first spring training games, I will start to release my projections for this season (as I mentioned in the previous post). I will start from who I think will finish last in the league working my way up to the best record previewing the teams’ seasons along the way. Tomorrow I’ll release who I think will be at the bottom of the barrel and here’s a clue, it’s one of these four teams…
First I’ll start off by presenting my photo of the day…
How awesome is it to see that swing in Mariner blue again? It reminds me of my early childhood. Watching Ken Griffey Jr. play baseball was like watching someone that you knew was going to become a legend. Even in my single digits I recognized the fact that he was going to become a Hall of Famer one day. He has one of the sweetest swings the game has ever seen and even though he won’t be patrolling center field again in Seattle, I am ecstatic to see Griffey as a Mariner again.
I had recently been presenting my breakout players for this upcoming season so I’ll recap them.
1B Chris Davis (Texas Rangers)
He’s big and he can produce and I think that he will be an all star in this league, even as early as this season. He is in one of the best lineups in the league, if not the best so he will get his chances to drive men home.
OF/DH Adam Lind (Toronto Blue Jays)
Lind quickly became a staple in the Blue Jays offense halfway through the season last year. He has become a great hitter at the plate and will blossom this season in a tough AL East.
RP Chris Perez (St. Louis Cardinals)
He’s leading the pack for the Cardinals closer job. He was the closer for every minor league team he played for and last season he notched seven saves and became the Cards closer as the season neared it’s end. So I would expect him to be the one who enters in the ninth.
SP Chris Volstad (Florida Marlins)
He’s young, he’s got very nice stuff, and he’s placed right in the middle of one of the most underrated rotations in the league. He has the potential to be the Marlins ace eventually, so why not make eventually this season?
Other players who I didn’t cover but have potential to breakout:
OF Seth Smith (Colorado Rockies)
SP Johnny Cueto (Cincinnati Reds)
OF Denard Span (Minnesota Twins)
PREVIEW of what’s to come:
I haven’t posted in a few days because I have been working on my predictions for the upcoming season (and the fact that I’m in college and weekends are busy). So I apologize. But starting Wednesday, in honor of the first day of Spring Training games, I will start to release my 2009 predictions. It will go team-by-team each day starting with who I think will finish last working my way all the way up to who I think will have the best record. It will kind of be like a 30 teams in 30 days type deal but most likely not in 30 days.
At the end of that I will post my playoff and award predictions. I will probably interject other posts about hot topics or random ideas that I have along the way, but my predictions will be done before April 5th when the season opens up at my home — the city of brotherly love.