Picking Baseball’s Big Winners
Wednesday - April 02, 2008
With the positively mediocre preseason predictions for the 2007 season designated shredder food, it’s time to once again wade into the unpredictable future that is the 2008 Major League Baseball season.
While the New York Yankees will put a lot of hurtin’ on pitchers, this division belongs to the Red Sox. The team is loaded offensively with Manny, Big Papi and Mike Lowell, but for the team that scored the third most runs in the league, it’s the pitching staff that separates them from the Yankees and every other team in the AL. Boston led the league with a 3.87 ERA last season and boasts two Cy Young candidates and enough depth that their fifth starter was good for 12 wins. Even if the staff struggles, which could very well happen as the long season took its toll on Daisuke Matsuzaka while Curt Schilling battled injuries and age, their offense and bullpen will get them into post-season play. And that’s where it will get scarier for AL teams, because the Sox’s top four relievers racked up 46 saves and a combined ERA of 2.05.
A year ago the Tigers were one win behind Boston for the best record in baseball at the All-Star break, just to have it collapse as injuries devastated their pitching staff and cost DH Gary Sheffield a large part of the second half. Though pitching remains a concern, a similar breakdown is unlikely as this team will simply bash its way to the division crown. Defensive improvements also will help if for no other reason than moving stone-handed shortstop Carlos Guillen to first, but hitting will be the star of the show. The Tigers’ likely batting order for 2008 hit .302, .341, .265, .363, .320, .296, .330, .280 and .285 a year ago. Included in this onslaught were 168 home runs in the pitching-friendly park and 762 RBI. Don’t be surprised if Miguel Cabrera wins the AL MVP award.
Provided that John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar and Scott Shields have no lingering effects from their injuries, the Angels will win their fourth division title in five years. The Mariners, with the addition of starter Erik Bedard, will make it close, but the Angels should be able to pull this one off. In addition to strengthening their pitching staff with Jon Garland, the Angels finally found some offensive help for All-Star Vladimir Guerrero. The outfield of Garret Anderson (.297, 16, 80), newcomer Torii Hunter (.287, 28, 107 and 18 stolen bases) and Guerrero (.324, 27, 125) gives Los Angeles the firepower to weather early-season pitching problems. Hunter’s addition also means better defense and more production out of the DH spot with Gary Matthews Jr. (.252, 18, 72, 18 stolen bases) being relieved of fielding duties.
If you think the Mets’ season-ending collapse won’t happen again, well, you’re right. But even with Johan Santana, it will hardly be a cakewalk to the division title because, surprisingly, pitching could be their downfall. Offensively the team is set with some of the best young hitters in the game, but outside of the possible 2008 NL Cy Young Award winner, the staff has holes. Pedro Martinez did post a 2.57 ERA a year ago, but it was in only five starts and he hasn’t really put it together since 2005. He’s also 37 years old. John Maine is young and had a breakout year in 2007, but he’s no lock to repeat. Likewise for Oliver Perez, whose 15 wins last year were more than his combined totals in the three previous seasons. The bullpen is solid with Billy Wagner, but as a unit the relief corps pitched 500-plus innings a year ago and could falter if once again asked to carry such a load. Any bump in the road and the Phillies will once again take over.
Milwaukee’s rotation is short and they have a retread at closer. The Cardinals’ starting five will be a piecemeal project while Matt Clement, Mark Mulder, Joel Pineiro and Chris Carpenter slowly come off the DL over the next few months. That leaves the Cubs as repeat winners of the division, and it isn’t totally due to the shortcomings of others. A year ago, Chicago had the second-best team ERA in the league. Carlos Zambrano has a fine backup in Ted Lilly, who won 15 games last year and has reduced his ERA each season for the past three years. Rich Hill is in his third year, and though he has struggled this spring is a lock at No. 3. Hitting looks to improve with the addition of highly regarded import Kosuke Fukudome and promising catcher Geovany Soto, who hit .389 in 12 games last year.
Good luck picking what has been baseball’s tightest, but hardly best division over the past few years. A year ago, three teams finished within one-anda-half games of each other, and No. 4 made the biggest off-season move by bringing in arguably baseball’s best manager. San Diego had the best staff in the league last year with Arizona coming in at No. 4. Unfortunately, neither team could hit worth a lick, finishing at two final spots on the board. Colorado and Los Angeles finished atop the hitting category, but couldn’t match their two interdivisional rivals in pitching. Flip a coin if you must, but with solid starting pitching, an outstanding closer, the signing of Andruw Jones and a young and talented James Loney who - at the time of this writing - was hitting .331 during spring, and the Dodgers is the team to beat in the National League West.
Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles, Cleveland Even with Chien-Ming Wang fronting the rotation and Joba Chamberlain likely to move into a starting role, the Yankees’ long-in-the-tooth pitching staff is finally too much to overcome. Cleveland, a 96-game winner last year, beats Boston and Detroit out-powers L.A. to set up a American League Central showdown for league supremacy.
Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia The deeper Dodgers get past Philly while Chicago provides some hope after a century of failure by defeating the Mets and getting to the division finals.
Detroit’s lack of bullpen strength becomes obvious as the team cannot hold its early leads and Cleveland moves on to the World Series to play Los Angeles as once again the Cubs suffer another season of disappointment. Indians fans, who themselves have suffered through 50 years of losing, celebrate their team’s victory at the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame.
Where else are they going to go?
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