It Breaks Your Heart. It is Designed To Break Your Heart.
If you follow me on Twitter, or know me reasonably well, you’re well aware that I am a big baseball fan. It’s my favourite sport by far, and all winter I look forward to opening day.
It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.
Before we start, I recommend two of my favourite soliloquies about baseball: Terence Mann’s speech in Field of Dreams, and the late commissioner of baseball, A. Bartlett Giamatti’s beautiful essay “The Green Fields of the Mind”. Stop, listen to and read them, let them sink in, and then start reading again.
By my own admission, I’m not an expert, but I will make a few predictions nonetheless, and note a few things I see as worth watching. You base your fantasy baseball strategy or gambling decisions on them at your own peril. Rather, I see predictions as a fun way to document what I was thinking at a point in time. Here are some players/teams/stories worth watching over the next six months.
Three Recommended Purchases to Enhance Your Baseball Fandom
The Baseball Prospectus guide (and web subscription), and MLB.TV, which gives you every game on demand, in high-definition quality, for the price of $120US. How can you say no?
The More Things Change…
As you’ll see from my predictions later in this post, I don’t foresee much of any movement at the top of either league – in fact, I predict the exact same 8 teams will make the playoffs. Uncreative? Maybe. I think we’ll see more movement in ’11 and ’12, but the best teams from ’09 had good off-seasons, and I’m not sure any of the next tier of teams have closed the gap. In the AL, New York and Boston had good off-seasons, and I give them the edge over Tampa Bay because of the likelihood they’ll make in-season moves to shore up any weaknesses, while the Rays won’t. Minnesota is the class of the AL Central, even without Joe Nathan, while Detroit and the ChiSox have too many holes. In the AL West, I see the Angels hanging on, even without Lackey and with questions atop their rotation. Seattle may be a trendy pick, but I see weaknesses on that club as well, and Texas is still a year or two away from having the pitching to win.
Repeat? There’s a good chance.
In the NL, the Phillies are steady. Minor regression as their core group of stars ages is expected, but that should be off-set by improvement from younger guys like Werth, Victorino, and Ruiz, as well as a full season of Roy Halladay (over 1/3 of a season of Cliff Lee), and some improvement from Cole Hamels and the bullpen. St. Louis has weaknesses, but so does everybody in the NL Central. If they can keep their 4 star players healthy – a big if as far as Chris Carpenter goes – they should coast to a division title. They’ve also demonstrated a willingness and ability to make in-season moves as well. In the West, Colorado is going to be good for a long time, and Los Angeles is still a top team.
If you got used to the parity of the ‘00s, where we saw 8 different teams win the World Series between 2000 and 2009 – and 14 teams appear in at least one World Series – you might want to adjust your expectations.
That being said, seasons never play out exactly how we expect them too. So here’s some more fodder or potential for surprises.
Teams That Might Surprise You
Florida Marlins: their pitching is fronted by two power arms who should take a step towards ace status (Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco), and their offense is led by SS Hanley Ramirez, one of the best players in the game. But, I’m not sure there’s enough supporting them this year to make a run. I think they’ll stay in wild card contention until the end, but until young roster players like Cameron Maybin can take a leap forward, and top prospects Logan Morrison and Michael Stanton crack the big club, I don’t think they’re good enough to overtake a healthy Phillies club. Watch for them in ’11 or ’12 though.
Texas Rangers: They have a great lineup, but are still waiting on their pitching to develop. If it arrives ahead of schedule, look out.
Tampa Bay Rays: if their young pitching takes a big leap forward, look out. They’re deep and talented, but I do worry when Matt Garza is your second most experienced starter.
Baltimore Orioles: they won’t compete for a playoff spot, but they have a lot of young talent, and will be a team to watch in the next couple of years. In any case, if their young players progress ahead of schedule, they could be a real spoiler in the second half.
Teams That Might Disappoint You
Seattle Mariners: every year, somebody makes a bunch of off-season moves and gets buzz as a team to watch, then flops. That team is Seattle this year. Their defense should be really good, and King Felix and Cliff Lee are probably the best 1-2 punch in the game. But can the rest of their pitching staff, and their hitters, contribute enough? This is a team that is relying on Jose Lopez, Milton Bradley, and Ken Griffey Jr’s corpse for meaningful production all year. I see a .500-ish club at mid-season, and one that decides to sell at the deadline.
Philadelphia Phillies: as the Baseball Prospectus guide points out, they’re farm system is bereft of talent, beyond Domonic Brown. If some of their players struggle, or they are hit hard by injuries, they don’t have the depth to make moves to compensate.
Atlanta Braves: they’ve looked good this spring, and are getting a lot of buzz as a Wild Card or division winner. They have some good players, but I worry about a team relying on Chipper Jones and Troy Glaus at the corners, and a black hole in LF. They should be good, but I can’t see them getting to the 88-90 wins they’ll probably need for a playoff spot.
St. Louis Cardinals: an extended injury to any of Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Chris Carpenter, and Adam Wainwright, and they’re in trouble. If this comes to pass, you may only need 82 wins to take the NL Central.
Minnesota Twins: their lineup will rake, but questions abound regarding their pitching.
NY Mets: there are question marks surrounding every one of their pitchers, Carlos Beltran is out for 1-2 months, David Wright is coming off a down year and a concussion, Jason Bay may not be able to handle LF, and Jose Reyes is still struggling with injuries. Let me be succint: I came this close to slotting them behind the Washington Nationals and in last place in the NL East.
– Tampa Bay Rays’ young guns in their rotation – at least one of them will make the leap (Garza, Price, Davis)
– Matt Wieters, C, Baltimore (I hope, having picked him high in my fantasy baseball draft)
– The Uptons – Justin, OF, Arizona, and BJ, OF, Tampa Bay.
– Detroit’s hard-throwing young righties – Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello
– Jon Lester, SP, Boston, who will make the jump and becoming a true ace.
Players to Watch on a Regular Basis
– Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota, whose swing is a thing of beauty to watch
– The Philadelphia Phillies’ 1-6 hitters, who can absolutely mash the ball
– Stephen Strasburg, SP, Washington, once he’s called up, because he’s the most highly-touted RHP of my lifetime.
– Mariano Rivera, RP, NY Yankees, because he’s probably the greatest relief pitcher of all time. One of my favourite baseball moments was after a Yankees-Mariners game last year, seeing the Mariners relievers conglomerate around Rivera as they walked back to the dugout (picture below). You don’t pay that respect to just any player.
– Tim Lincecum, SP, San Francisco, for his crazy (and crazy effective) delivery.
Five Out of Left Field Predictions about The 2010 Season
1. With Seattle a long shot for both the division title and the wild card, Cliff Lee will be traded at the deadline – I’m predicting that Colorado will surprise everybody by picking him up, ahead of favoured destinations such as LA and New York.
2. Francisco Liriano will make the all-star game in July.
3. San Francisco will fire GM Brian Sabean and Manager Bruce Bochy after a disappointing season.
4. AJ Burnett will stay healthy for a (probably record) second consecutive season.
5. Not only will Tampa Bay let Carl Crawford walk after the season, but by September there will be open discussion about moving the team elsewhere.
MVP: Joe Mauer (AL), Albert Pujols (NL)
Cy Young: Jon Lester (AL), Roy Halladay (NL)
Rookie of the Year: Scott Sizemore (AL), Stephen Strasburg (NL)
Manager of the Year: Ron Gardenhire (AL), Joe Torre (NL)
AL East: 1. NY Yankees 2. Boston (Wild Card) 3. Tampa Bay 4. Baltimore 5. Toronto
AL Central: 1. Minnesota 2. Detroit 3. Cleveland 4. Chicago White Sox 5. Kansas City
AL West: 1. LA Angels 2. Texas 3. Seattle 4. Oakland
NL East: 1. Philadelphia 2. Florida 3. Atlanta 4. NY Mets 5. Washington
NL Central: 1. St. Louis 2. Milwaukee 3. Chicago Cubs 4. Cincinnati 5. Houston 6. Pittsburgh
NL West: 1. Colorado 2. LA Dodgers (Wild Card) 3. Arizona 4. San Francisco 5. San Diego
DS: NY Yankees over Minnesota, Boston over LA Angels, Philadelphia over Los Angeles, Colorado over St. Louis
LCS: NY Yankees over Boston, Colorado over Philadelphia
World Series: NY Yankees over Colorado
Alright, let’s play ball!
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