Aside from the dusting of snow that I found on the ground this morning as I left for work, there have been plenty of signs of spring lately (and I don’t just mean my fantasy baseball draft last night). The birds have already begun assaulting my car. The grass has begun to taunt me. But most importantly, the states of Arizona and Florida have been ripe with the crack of baseballs flying off trees that lost their lives for a good cause. And where there is spring, there is the overwhelming need for yet another baseball preview! Well, you are in luck, because we here at Random Thoughts Illustrated are ready to deliver that preview as only we can. So without any more wasted space… The Preview!
N.L. East (a.k.a. The Phillies and Everyone else)
1. Philadelphia Phillies (98-64)
2. Atlanta Braves (91-71)
3. New York Mets (81-81)
4. Florida Marlins (75-87)
5. Washington Nationals (72-90)
On paper the Phillies rotation will eat up and spit out the entire league, but there are already early chinks in the armor. With Utley out for a long time and Lidge starting out injured as well, there is definitely a sense that this may not go as smoothly as once thought. But the reality is that they still have pop in the lineup and the most ridiculous rotation ever and that will be enough to win the division. The Braves look like a solid #2 this year in their first ABC season (after Bobby Cox). That’s the case if for no other reason than the fact that the rest of the division looks shaky at best.
N.L. Central (Tight at the top, ugly at the bottom)
1. Milwaukee Brewers (91-71)
2. St. Louis Cardinals (90-72)
3. Cincinnati Reds (88-74)
4. Houston Astros (72-90)
5. Chicago Cubs (68-94)
6. Pittsburgh Pirates (63-99)
So the truth is that I have no idea how this division will shake out. A strong case can be made for all three of the top teams in the division. All I am sure of is that the bottom three will be significantly worse than the top three. Now, we give the edge to the Brewers because they are truly all-in this season. They know this is it for their current lineup (as Prince is surely gone after the season) and they have as much pop as any team in the league. Combine that with a rotation that has Gallardo, Greinke, & Marcum at the front (health permitting) and that’s a solid foundation. Now the Cardinals make a strong case as well with Pujols and Holliday in their lineup, but the loss of Adam Wainwright just knocks them down enough to me to put them in second. And while I love what Joey Votto does for the Reds, I just don’t see their rotation coming through again this year like they did last year. As for the rest of the division? Well the Cubs can hope that the Cards don’t get Pujols signed so they can steal him next offseason. And the good news is that the Pirates may finally be starting the slow climb back to relevancy.
N.L. West (Annual Drag Race to the End)
1. Colorado Rockies (94-68)
2. San Francisco Giants (92-70)
3. San Diego Padres (82-80)
4. Los Angeles Dodgers (75-87)
5. Arizona Diamondbacks (68-94)
Another really close finish in the West…no shocker there. The Rockies and Giants are the class of this division and it should be a real barn burner down the stretch, but another Tulowitzki power binge in September will put the Rocks over the top for the division crown. That being said the Giants pitching staff will be the reason that they are in it all the way to the end. After that? Well, the Padres are still good, but when you remove Adrian Gonzalez from the lineup that’s a big blow. The Dodgers REALLY need the McCourt situation to get resolved before they can get moving again. And last but not least, the Diamondbacks really just need an influx of pitching to get this thing turned around.
A.L. East (Mo Money, Less Problems)
1. Boston Red Sox (99-63)
2. New York Yankees (95-67)
3. Tampa Bay Rays (83-79)
4. Baltimore Orioles (76-86)
5. Toronto Blue Jays (74-88)
Sure Buck Showalter is correct that Boston’s purse strings do make it a little easier to be GM, but I think he’s oversimplifying things. The reality is that Boston bought two elite players that should fit perfectly in Fenway Park and should be the last pieces to carry them to another East crown. While the Yankees didn’t succeed as much as they had hoped in the offseason they have a newly invigorated A-rod (apparently popcorn helped him come into Spring Training in the best shape in a decade) and they are the Yankees. I’m just not lucky enough to have them slip into mediocrity. The Rays’ pitching will keep them competitive, but they just can’t hang with the big boys this year. It was a nice run though.
A.L. Central (Tiger Blood)
1. Detroit Tigers (91-71)
2. Minnesota Twins (88-74)
3. Chicago White Sox (84-78)
4. Cleveland Indians (74-88)
5. Kansas City Royals (70-92)
The Twins seem to always be there at the end of the year and with Mauer and Morneau on the mend that will only help, but there’s something about counting on another season of Pavano and the rest of the Twins’ starters that just doesn’t give me enough confidence. With the emergence of Max Scherzer the latter part of 2010 to go with Verlander at the top of the rotation along with the acquisition of Victor Martinez, the Tigers look poised to get back to the top of the division. The White Sox are the last of the contenders in this division. Now, the Royals will be in last place, but the future is finally looking bright. The Royals should get destroyed the first two months of the season (or more), but once they begin calling up the top prospects (Hosmer, Moustakas, etc.) things should start looking up.
A.L. West (Wild West)
1. Texas Rangers (90-72)
2. Oakland Athletics (89-73)
3. Anaheim Angels (78-84)
4. Seattle Mariners (62-100)
What do you say about this division? I can’t imagine this will be the prettiest baseball in the league, but it should fit the Wild West moniker. On the heels of last year’s run to the World Series I’m giving my hat tip to the Rangers, but I fully expect the A’s to be the surprise team of 2011 and give them a serious run for their money. The surprise going the other way is the team that should be jinxed for putting L.A. into their name when it really doesn’t belong. I haven’t liked a move the Angels have made since they got Torii Hunter and lots of things seem to be regressing for them. And what do you say about the Mariners? Well… I’d rather be a Royals fan than a Mariners fan. And that’s saying something.
A.L. Wild Card: Boston over Texas; Detroit over New York
N.L. Wild Card: Philadelphia over San Francisco; Milwaukee over Colorado
A.L.C.S.: Boston over Detroit
N.L.C.S.: Philadelphia over Milwaukee
World Series: Boston over Philadelphia
All of the pitching in the world can’t hide an inability to score runs in the World Series and that will ultimately bite the Phillies as the Red Sox hoist another World Series trophy. (And we all know it’s true because it’s on the internet!)