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: Cleveland Indians
Projected MLB Rank: 7th — AL Rank: 3rd — AL Central Rank: 1st — Record: (90-72)
AL Central Champions
They needed a thirdbaseman. Check. They needed a closer. Check. They need their middle of the lineup players healthy. Check and Check. So why not the Indians in 2009? They are good. Especially in such a weak division, they should take advantage of the oppurtunity. They turned it around last season. At the all star break they were 40-52. They ended the season at .500 going 41-29 in the second half and saving Eric Wedge his job.
Pertaining to injuries, Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez are both back from injuries. Last year neither played a full season, and the games they did play–they played hurt. Expect the production there that they didn’t get last year which changes the whole complexion of their season.
Martinez is expected to start at first to keep him healthy which opens up the catcher position for Kelly Shoppach. Last year he hit .261 with 21 homeruns. He should put up the same kind of power numbers this season from behind the plate. He also slugged .517 last season. Where in this mix will Ryan Garko fit? He drove in 90 runs in this lineup last season and hit over .300 in the second half but with Martinez at first and not being able to catch, Garko has no where except maybe the outfield. If Ben Francisco doesn’t do what’s expected of him (steal bases) maybe Garko will work his way into the lineup.
The rest of the outfield is rounded out by Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo. Choo had a monster second half and in 94 total games last season he hit .309 and slugged .549 with 14 homers and 28 doubles. Sizemore is just, Sizemore. He makes nightly appearences on web gems and can flat out hit. I don’t expect him to hit .268 again and his 33 homeruns and 90 RBIs have potential to increase, he’s still 26.
The middle of the infield is manned by Jhonny Peralta and Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera found ways to get on base last season and hopefully will continue that this season. Peralta set a few career highs last year and hopefully will keep up the solid production numbers (23 homeruns / 83 RBIs). The trade for Mark DeRosa brings in a solid veteran option at third base. His career year last year included a .285 average, 21 dingers, and 87 RBIs.
Cliff Lee displayed unbelievable command last season and in reward he gets to display a Cy Young award on his mantlepiece. There’s no reason to believe he doesn’t have the same season again posting a 2.54 ERA with a 1.11 WHIP while going 22-3. I’m hearing good things about Fausto Carmona this offseason, to the extent that he’s regained his 2007 form in which he won 19 games and posted 3.06 ERA.
I think Carl Pavano can turn around his career here in Cleveland. After having a career year with the Marlins (like 5 years ago?) he scored huge with a nice contract in the Bronx, which didn’t really pan out. Pavano got shelled, and not by bats, by injuries. Now he has a new setting in the AL Central. Scott Lewis, who’s 25, had four solid starts with Cleveland last season posting a 2.63 ERA along with 1.08 WHIP. The lefty has nice control and should stick aorund in the Indians rotation. Fifth starter Anthony Reyes is coming back from injury. Prior to the injury last season, he was doing a nice job for Cleveland. In his six starts with the Indians, he went 2-1 with a 1.84 ERA.
Kerry Wood comes in to Progressive Field(?), I hate the name so I’ll continue to call it Jacobs Field, and he’s the closer. Last year in Chicago he tacked up 34 saves with a 3.26 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. Joe Smith, Jensen Lewis, and Rafael Perez do a nice job out of the bullpen. But Rafael Betancourt and Masa Kobayashi need to lower their ERAs and WHIPs for the Tribe coming out of the bullpen.
I am all about this Indians team this year in the weak division they’re in. My MVP and Cy Young candidates are each on this team along with a lot of underrated bats and arms. I think that if Lewis and Reyes can have solid years in the rotation, the Indians will be the AL Central champions.
And a side note: GO PSU in the NIT