08 MLB Season Begins Then Ends This Week
by David Lane of Predictem.com
No one can call the beginning of this Major League Baseball season ordinary
by any means. Beginning with two games in Japan is anything but ordinary
for the Oakland Athletics and Champion Boston Red Sox who open with two
games this week (Tuesday/Wednesday at 3:05 A.M. PST) and then play more
exhibition games before beginning again on April 1. Although it may seem
to start like an old Studabaker - in fits and starts - the season will surely
be underway soon enough for the Boys of Summer and these will be the
teams to keep an eye on.
In the American League West, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of Orange County of California looked to be the solid frontrunners until the injuries to both John Lackey (Elbow Soreness - out first month of season) and Kelvim Escobar (shoulder - out until May) occurred. Regardless, their hitting is better with the addition of free agents Torii Hunter (.287 AVG with 28HRs, 107 RBI, scored 94 Runs, and 18 SBs) in the outfield and starter Jon Garland (10-13 with 4.23 ERA/1.32 WHIP) to their pitching staff. Though the injuries might keep them down initially and because they were already very good anyhow, they will catch any lead the improved Seattle Mariners might have built on them long before playoff time.
In the American League Central, the Cleveland Indians surprised many last year by playing Boston in the ALCS and they have pretty much stood pat this off season as far as free agents are concerned. Though the swarm of flies that unraveled pitcher Joba Chamberlain (24innings, 34K, 0.38 ERA, 0.75 WHIP) and the New York Yankees in the ALDS are now officially the 26th man at Jacobs Field, they might need them much sooner and probably against their own division. The Detroit Tigers are much improved due to a series of trades that brought 3B Miguel Cabrera (.320 AVG, 34 HR, 119 RBI), SS Edgar Renteria (.332 AVG, 12HR, 57 RBI), OF Jacque Jones and SP Dontrelle Willis so they will definitely have some say about whether or not the Indians repeat. Dont discount the Chicago White Sox either (if they remain healthy) because the heart of the 2005 Championship mostly remains and with the addition of newcomers SS Orlando Cabrera (.301 AVG, 86 RBI, 101 R, and 20 SB), OF Nick Swisher (.262, 22 HR, and 78 RBI), and stud Cuban defector 2B/OF Alexei Ramirez bolstering what looks like a solid offense. Include a solid pitching staff and not only will this division be up for grabs most of the year but it might even produce the wildcard winner. Im picking the Tigers to win the division but think the White Sox will impress.
The AL East looked to be owned by the Red Sox Nation until Curt Schilling (degeneration of right biceps tendon) and Josh Beckett (back) came up lame. Though theyre a bit thin on starters, they have or will find depth if needed and still have the talent to prevail in this division regardless. Their bullpen rarely gives up a lead with Closer Jonathon Papelbon (1.85 ERA, 37 SV, 84 K in 58.1 innings) just flat out dominating. The question of how great the gap will be between them and the Yankees will very much depend on the performance of youngsters 2B Dustin Pedroia (AL Rookie of Year, .317 AVG and 86 R), OF Jacoby Ellsbury (.353 AVG, 9 SB, 20 R, and 18 RBI in 115 AB), and SP Clay Buchholz (3-1, 1.59 ERA, 22K in 22.1 innings) before being answered. The Yankees will have youngsters of their own that will make a difference in SP Phil Hughes (5-3, 4.46 ERA, 58K in 72.2 innings), SP Ian Kennedy (1-0, 1.89 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 15 K in 19 innings), and RP Joba Chamberlain but seem to still have a ways to go before competing for the division again anytime soon. The Rays and Jays will be somewhat improved and will surprise a bit.
The National League used to be a place not nearly as competitive as its AL counterparts but that might be changing a bit. The NL West division is really tough with last years division winner Arizona Diamondbacks adding ace starter Dan Haren (15-9, 3.07 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 192 K) to a formidable pitching staff that already included Brandon Webb (18-10, 3.01 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 194K) and what seems to be a now healthy Randy Johnson (4-3, 3.81 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 72K in 56.2 innings). After arriving a year early, many of their young position players will feel the added pressure of increased expectations for them to repeat but the pitching will bail them out. Last years red hot Colorado Rockies will try to show that they werent a fluke. A balanced hitting attack led by 1B Todd Helton (.320 AVG, 17 HR, 91 RBI), SS Troy Tulowitzki (.291 AVG, 24 HR, 99 RBI, 104 R, and 7 SB), and OF Matt Holiday (.340 AVG, 36 HR, 137 RBI, 120 R, and 11 SB) combined with pitching that compensates for Coors field could lead to more of the same from them, yet I have my doubts.
The LA Dodgers have manager Joe Torre and new hope along with injuries to key players 2B Jeff Kent (hamstring -.302 AVG, 20 HR, 79 RBI) and 3B Nomar Garciaparra (right wrist microfracture) who will both likely open the season on the Disabled List. Whether Jason Schmidt will resemble himself again has been a popular question at Dodger camp this spring while picking up waived SP Esteban Loaiza just might help make up for it if Schmidt’s injury riddled past slows him down. Young bats 1B James Loney (.331AVG, 15HR, 67RBI in only 344AB), OF Matt Kemp (.342AVG, 10HR, 42RBI, 10SB, 47R in 292AB) and C Russell Martin (.293AVG, 19HR, 87RBI, 87R, 21SB), seem ready for prime time, however, lots of question marks remain for LA. Will Andruw Jones earn his fat pay? This isnt quite the case for last years ERA leading San Diego Padres who look tough to hit once again. Anchoring their pitching staff are workhorse Jake Peavy (19-6, 2.54ERA, 1.06WHIP, 240K) and Chris Young (9-8, 3.12ERA, 1.10WHIP, 167K) who are both scary good. With dependable Closer Trevor Hoffman (42SV, 2.98ERA, 1.12WHIP, 44K in 57.1 innings) nailing down wins in the bullpen and 1B Adrian Gonzalez (.282 AVG, 30HR, 100RBI, 101R) and free agent OF Jim Edmunds (12HR, 53RBI, 39R in 365AB) driving in runs, they should be in it again the whole way. They’ve got help down on the farm too with stud 3B turned OF Chase Headley waiting to take an OF spot if Edmonds age shows. My prediction is that the Arizona Diamondbacks will barely repeat winning the division and either the Rockies or Padres will win the wild card again.
Last years race in the NL Central was between the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers and this year should be much the same. The Brewers are young and talented but have pitching questions both in the bullpen and among starters. Ben Sheets is the anchor but after that things get cloudy. Closers Eric Gagne (16SV, 3.81ERA, 51K in 52 innings) and Derrick Turnbow are shaky and both have recently failed as closers. The offense is good and is led by 3B Ryan Braun (.324AVG, 34HR, 97RBI, 15SB, and 91R in only 451 AB) and heavy hitting 1B Prince Fielder (.288AVG, 50HR, 119RBI, and 109R) so theyll score runs - maybe even more than theyll give up! The Cubs, with questions of their own have decent starting pitching but will rely on a new closer now that Ryan Dempster is starting. The offense is good featuring OF Alfonso Soriano (.299AVG, 33HR, 70RBI, 19SB, and 97R), 3B Aramis Ramirez (.310 AVG, 26 HR, 101 RBI), and 1B Derrek Lee (.317AVG, 22HR, 82RBI, 91R) and they will score plenty. Whether it will be enough is yet to be seen but the Cubs are my division winner pick here.
The NL East is also very much improved. The New York Mets made the biggest move in the off-season by adding much heralded starter Johan Santana (15-13, 3.33 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 235K) to a staff that also has Pedro Martinez (3-1, 2.57ERA, 32K in 28 innings) and John Maine (15-10, 3.91ERA, 180K). The offense is sick with SS Jose Reyes (.280AVG, 119R, 78SB), 3B David Wright (.325AVG, 30HR, 107RBI, 34SB, 113R), OF Carlos Beltran (.276AVG, 33HR, 112RBI, 23SB, 93R) and 1B Carlos Delgado (.258AVG, 24HR, 87RBI), all being proficient with a bat while have been proven to be tough outs. The Philadelphia Phillies just barely made the post season last year thanks to the Mets infamous swoon and despite tons of injuries. 1B Ryan Howard (.268AVG, 47HR, 136RBI, 94R), 2B Chase Utley (.332AVG, 22HR, 103RBI, 9SB, 104R), and SS Jimmy Rollins (.296AVG, 30HR, 94RBI, 41SB, 139R) lead a very effective attack that only seems to get better with time. Pitching is young and a bit of a question mark as is Brad Lidge (who will start the season out on the DL) (19SV, 3.36ERA, 1.25WHIP, and 88K in 67 innings) in the bullpen. The Atlanta Braves have stud 1B Mark Teixeira (.306AVG, 30HR, 105RBI) for a whole year to go with fellow switch hitter 3B Chipper Jones (.337AVG, 29HR, 102RBI, 108R). Young Yunel Escobar (.326AVG and 54R in 319AB) will impress in a full year at SS. The pitching staff goes back to the future with starters John Smoltz (14-8, 3.11ERA, 1.18WHIP, 197K), Tim Hudson (16-10, 3.33ERA, 1.22WHIP, 132K), Tom Glavine (13-8, 4.45ERA), and Mike Hampton. Despite the Mets huge payroll they still lack heart and somehow, someway, the Phillies will again nip New York at the wire. Enjoy this season!