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.
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: San Francisco Giants
Projected MLB Rank: 9th (t) — NL Rank: 6th (t) — NL West Rank: 3rd — Record: (88-74)
The Giants had a rough season last year with a 72-90 record with few highlights, with the exception of star righthander Tim Lincecum. This year I would expect a difference if the offense can find a way to produce some runs. They were second to last in the league last year in runs per game with 3.95 and were the only team in the major leagues to not top 100 homeruns as a team. This year I think that will change.
They have a bunch of good young players that should step up and improve their batting from last year. A big part of the improvement should come from thirdbaseman Pablo Sandoval. The 22 year old hit .345 with 3 homeruns and 24 RBIs in 41
games last season. Once he gains some patience at the plate, watch out for this kid. Quick leftfielder Fred Lewis should get on base and steal some bases for this lineup and give the middle of the order players a chance to drive in some runs.
Along with Sandoval, the middle of that lineup should consist of veterans Bengie Molina and Randy Winn. Molina nearly hit .300 last season while hitting 16 homeruns and driving in 95 runs. Winn hit over .300 and provides a little bit of production while stealing some bases at the same time. Aaron Rowand also has the potential to hit in the middle of the order. He doesn’t hit for too much power, but he’s as blue-collar as it gets concerning his work on the field.
The right side of the infield consists of guys who are competing for starting spots. The projected starters are Travis Ishikawa and Kevin Frandsen at first and second bases, respectively. Ishikawa doesn’t hit for much power but posts a good on base percentage. Also in the running for the firstbase job is John Bowker and even Sandoval, if he doesn’t start at third. Frandsen and Emmanuel Burriss seem to be the main candidates for the secondbase job. Shortstop is a position they upgraded this offseason by bringing in veteran Edgar Renteria. Last year with the Tigers, Renteria hit .270 with an OBP of .317 while driving in 55 runs.
As we know, in baseball, pitching wins ballgames. The Giants certainly have pitching. It all starts with reigning Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum. With the struggling offense last season, Lincecum found a way to chalk up 18 wins while having the lowest ERA in the National League and leading the entire league in strikeouts. In three full seasons, righty Matt Cain has yet to breakout as he’s posted an ERA in the high threes and having similar strikeout totals. He’s still only 24, so all hope in not lost in the young Cain.
Another offseason acquisition, Randy Johnson, should help this team out a bunch. The future hall of fame lefthander is 45 years young and can still pitch well. Last season he posted a 3.91 ERA and won 11 games. Then fellow lefty Barry Zito, who seems to haven’t been the same since he got to San Fran in 2007, is now considered the fourth starter. One thing he has proved is that he’s reliable despite the high ERA, WHIP, and bad strikeout to walk ratios. The fifth starter looks like it will be Jonathan Sanchez who is a good power pitcher that needs to find his control if he wants to stay a major league pitcher.
The offseason acquisitions continue as we move to the bullpen. Southpaw Jeremy Affeldt, coming over from the Reds has great stuff and will be in the set up mix along with fellow winter add on Bob Howry. Howry had a rough year in 2008 statistically but I think he fits in with the Giants nicely. Rounding out the solid bullpen in righty Sergio Romo (2.12 ERA / 0.71 WHIP / 29 games), lefty Alex Hinshaw (3.40 ERA / 48 games), Merkin Valdez (1.69 ERA / 17 games), and many others. Brian Wilson will get many chances for saves once again as he posted 41 of them last season. He posts a nice strikeout rate but last season had a high ERA and WHIP.
I think that this pitching staff may be the most underrated in the league (thus why I have them ranked so highly). Look for a Blue Jays-esque season with the Giants as I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs but I have them tacking a win total in the high eighties. Awesome pitching staff with improving bats could lead to a productive year by the bay.