Baseball is upon us. It’s spring, and with the weather and the bats getting warm, America’s pastime enters stage right. Even though the season starts out hundreds of miles across seas, the smell of a new baseball season is strong. After the most horrific off-season in the history of Major league Baseball, which included steroid scandal after steroid scandal, baseball is primed for a rejuvenating April. This season will surely offer no more Bonds, or at least until some desperate team tries to sell some extra hundred tickets, no more Clemens pitching in the minors in early July, and no more steroids. Baseball has somewhat taken big strides towards a future beyond the overpowering drug. After the Mitchell Report uncovered those responsible and strenuous team testings, the league for the most part has been squeezed dry of all poisonous juice. With young talent like Ryan Braun, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, and B.J Upton, baseball has inducted the new class of perennial superstars. We have A-Rod in a Yankees uniform for at least 10 more years, we have the best pitcher in the AL moving to best offense in the NL, and we have baseball looking greater than ever. Deals like Bedard to the Mariners and Santana to the Mets surely mixes up the power houses in each league, but it delivers a hint towards the MLB’s new look.
Predictions are everything. They give us the sense of possibility and the sense of what might or could happen. They offer fans the ability to state their presence and stress who they think will be the next World Champions. Bombarded with trades, free agent pick-ups and more than neighborly DL stints, players in new places will try to make one special team into “that only” special team. With the new rising stars in the league and the old future hall of famers like Griffey, Thomas, Glavine, and RJ on the clear decline, power has surely shifted throughout a variety of teams.
Beware: Enter these predictions at your own risk. Some predictions may be ones that cause devastation and even mere shock, but this an unprecedented preview to the 2008 MLB season.
- Boston Red Sox
- New York Yankees
- Tampa Bay Rays
- Toronto Blue Jays
- Baltimore Orioles.
Here it is, the single most competitive division in baseball. With the arrival of future All-Star players to the newly named Rays, like B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria, those Tampa Bay devils have a bright future, but not one that starts this season. Their time will have to wait, for the division is currently occupied by the World Champions, the Boston Red Sox. Their sweep of the up and coming Colorado Rockies last year in the World Series, was truly an eye opener. We knew the Red Sox had potential, but to win another championship so quick, seems unlikely. This year should be no different. Even though Josh Beckett has been dangerously banged up for all most the entire spring, he should still be in contention for the AL Cy Young. Also, one of his potential running mates for the award could be the second year man from Japan, Dice-K Matsuzaka. He should surely see upwards of 200 IP/K’s and possibly 18 to 20 wins. Backing him up will be the knuckle-baller himself, a potential ROY in Clay Bucholz and a courageous cancer survivor in Jon Lester. Not to mention they have the best closer in baseball with Jonathan Papelbon and a proven veteran like Bartolo Colon, ready to be called upon at anytime.
The offense is still strong, with Ortiz and Manny now healthy, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury will be looking to notch a full season under their belts and prove the Red Sox are successfully mixing youth with experience to march their team to another AL East Title. But, since I am a New Yorker and have always been a Yankees fan, I can’t count out the bombers to put up a fight. The key for the Yankees as any baseball fan knows, is pitching. Year in and year out, they have tried their luck in such guys like Carl Pavano, Randy Johnson, Jaret Wright, Kevin Brown, and even Roger Clemens last year. This year, they haven’t made a move to sign a declining veteran, but they’ve instilled trust into their young arms that have been home bred. Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain are all younger than 25 and have all proven their talent on the minor league level and in the majors last year. Awaiting a possible injury to Mariano Rivera, Chamberlain could become a shutdown closer. But, since Rivera can still close and the Yankees are trying to hold down his innings pitched, Joba will start the 2008 season right where he left off the 07′ campaign, as a go to set-up man. As for Hughes and Kennedy, they’ll try to bolster down the back-end of a questionable Yankee rotation. Wang is solid #1 starting pitcher, posting back to back 19 win seasons, but the combination of Pettite and Mussina at the 2 and 3 spots, surely delivers a punch to the gut. So with that said, with the pitching on ice and the struggling Alex Rodriguez in clutch situations, the Yankees will probably not be able to pull off a stunner and win the division like we have all grown accustomed to.
Dustin McGowan, SP, Toronto Blue Jays. The guy was a nice go to pitcher last year and with an offense looking better than it has in a long time, the 2nd year man could have 15 wins in his sight.
Scott Kazmir, SP, Tampa Bay Rays. Don’t’ get me wrong, I love Kazimr and not just because I’m counting on him to hold down my fantasy staff. But, one of the worst trades ever, involving Victor Zambrano going to the Mets for Kazmir a few years back, has everyone questioning those allegations because the guy just can’t stay healthy. If healthy, he can easily be the AL strikeout king, but that is a big New York size if.
- Cleveland Indians
- Detroit Tigers
- Chicago Whitesox
- Minnesota Twins
- Kansas City Royals
Well, this could be interesting. Last year, the Indians almost shocked the baseball nation by nearly beating the eventual World Champs in the playoffs, but they came up one game short. This year, they will shock the world if they can win the division. It seems like a stretch to say shock, but its worthy of being called that, because the Detroit Tigers have made 2 out of the 3 most important off-season moves this year. Via trade, they acquired 3B Miguel Cabrera and SP Dontrelle Willis from the Marlins, which immediately puts them as favorites to the win the Central. Considering they have my favorite for AL Cy Young in Justin Verlander, the Tigers can easily be targeted as top dogs. Their offense now seems to be the best in the league with Magglio coming off a come-back year, adding Cabrera’s youth and consistent production, signing Renteria, and having a five-tool player like Curtis Granderson. However, their once dominant bullpen has been plagued by injuries. Fernando Rodney will be out for the most of April and Joel Zumaya will be out until at least July. Plus, with an extremely aged closer in Todd Jones, the bullpen might have trouble securing wins for pitchers like Kenny Rogers, Nate Robertson, and Jeremy Bonderman, who are all on the fence for a high ERA and declining careers. Besides Verlander, if you were to average the rest of the rotation including the newly acquired Willis, they would have a terrible 4.82 ERA. This doesn’t seem like a rotation that can carry a team through the red hot playoffs, let alone a division title.
With that said, I will go out on a thin limb and predict the Indians to yet again win the AL Central. It is simply because they have young and healthy pitchers to come out of the bullpen and close out games for maybe the best one-two punch in the MLB with C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona. Mind you, they have probably the worst run saving closer in the league with Joe Borowski, the 38 win combo of last year will yet again be able to bolster down at least 35 wins. Also, adding a veteran like Paul Byrd and a possible comeback pitcher in Cliff Lee at the end of the rotation can only help the Indians cause. As for the offense, the potential is sky high. They have a 30-30 guy in Grady Sizemore, the best hitting catcher in baseball with Victor Martinez, and two sluggers like Travis Hafner and Ryan Garko, who can handle 30 or more home-runs each. They have bench players like Andy Marte and Josh Barfield who can back-up the already sensational lineup for 08′. Thus, the Indians are primed for another good season and another pennant in the AL Central.
Ryan Garko, 1B, Cleveland Indians. Here is a serious candidate for breakout player of the year. He has 30 home run power potential and since he’s batting 5th behind Sizemore, Martinez, and Hafner, he will surely see upwards of 85 RBI’s.
Potential Bounce-Back Player:
Nick Swisher, 1B/OF, Chicago Whitesox. Don’t get me wrong, there are a whole bunch of potential busts this year in the AL Central like Dontrelle Willis, but since Nick Swisher has made a career boosting move from Oakland to Chi-town, he gets the spotlight. Swisher is a guy who hit 35 homers two years ago and made an instant name for himself as a power threat, even though he did it with one of the worst offenses in the league. Swisher does possess a below normal average and tends to strikeout more than a team would want, however, since he is moving to one of the best hitting parks in the country and now has a legitimate lineup behind him, he can surely produce a bounce back season of 35 home runs and 100 RBI’s.
- Los Angeles Angels
- Seattle Mariners
- Texas Rangers
- Oakland Athletics
This one is a hard one. On one hand, you have the Mariners with Felix Hernandez and the newly acquired Erik Bedard and on the other hand, you have the Angels who have one of the most consistent hitting and pitching in the league. First off, the A’s will finish dead last and be one of the worst teams in the league because they know have no offense and by no offense, I mean Jack Cust. Now we engage the threats. The Angels would be the clear favorite to win the division even though the Mariners mad some good looking off-season acquisitions, but since SP John Lackey is out until early May, that leaves me with a big hole in my fantasy staff and a big hole of opportunity for the M’s. It all comes down to hitting. If the Mariners can produce quick hitting, considering Ichiro has had one of the worst springs than anybody, then they might be able to take a quick jump out the gate. But, since the Angels are always good down the stretch and for the fact that they have Lackey and Escobar only missing about a month, “Big Vlad” and newly found Angel Torri Hunter will be able to find themselves atop the division come October. If Lackey was out for maybe a month more, the Mariners would probably end up #1.
Josh Hamilton, OF, Texas Rangers. Here he is. One of the best, sought after prospects in the past 10 years. Hamilton has finally been able to escape his off the field troubles and finally put together a good start to a rebound career. Last year he was able to post 19 home runs in only 300 AB’s, something that was truly relieving. So considering Hamilton has the power and is now batting in front of solid run producers like Kinsler, Young, and Blalock, you can rest assure that he is inline for a true breakout season around .280-30-90-15.
Potential Bounce-Back Player:
Hank Blalock and Adrian Beltre. Both of these guys are well capable of producing in the top 5 3B’s. Beltre has 40 home run power and the ability to knock in over 100 RBI’s as the lead man for the Mariners, while Blalock has shown he can perform on a level somewhere around .290/30/100. If I had to choose one, I would probably take Blalock as a true sleeper/bounce-back candidate, only if he can stay healthy and obtain more than 500 AB’s.
- New York Mets
- Philadelphia Phillies
- Atlanta Braves
- Florida Marlins
- Washington Nationals
First off, I just want to ask why the hell did the Nationals release #1 SP John Patterson, just to make $700,000 in the off-season?
Back to business. The NL East is very much intriguing. With the Mets trading up for Johan Santana, they have got to be clear cut favorites. But, with the Phillies having a great offense and the Braves always managing to be the Braves, this season should be a similar nail bitter like last year, except without the biggest collapse in baseball history. There are a few questions revolving around the Mets this year, one being Carlos Delgado. Can he stay healthy? Can he produce somewhat similar stats that he has in the past? Who knows? Delgado has been struggling mildly this spring, only managing to bat .219 with 1 HR and 3 RBI’s. Thus, the question is still unanswered. As far as the rest of the Mets lineup, they’re unarguably solid. As for the Phillies, pitching is key. I mentioned before the great hitting, with Utley, Howard, Rollins, Burrell, Victorino, and now Pedro Feliz in the 7 spot, and since they are so great, it is simply the pitching that will dictate where this team stands at the end of the year. They have a nice lead man with the young armed Hamels, but aging veterans like Jamie Moyer and Adam Eaton might hold this rotation back. I like the trade for Brad Lidge from the Astros if he can at least see 60 innings and I like the move to bring back Brett Myer’s possible 200K production back to the rotation. But, with the Mets rotation much better and possible injuries revolving around the bullpen and the back end of the staff, the Phillies just might not be able cut it Therefore, the Mets will win the NL East and probably see the NLCS.
Lastings Millegde, OF, Washington Nationals. For some reason, the Mets traded away this potential 30-30 threat this off-season for a mediocre Ryan Church. Why you ask, I have no idea. This spring, Milledge has been explosive at times and was able to hit .339, while knocking in 9 RBI’s and stealing 6 bags. With him finally getting a full-time gig and not being a top prospect for a contender, he should be able to post a nice season under the radar. Look for .290/20/75 and 30 SB’s.
Potential Bounce-Back Player:
Pat Burrell, OF, Philadelphia Phillies. Every year, Burrell is looked upon to finally produce at top speed and hit those long awaited 40 HR’s, but this year could finally be it. If you take a look at Burrell’s career stat line, he oddly seems to have career years every 3 years. Guess what, this year is one of those years, plus, he’s playing for probably his final contract. Not to mention that he will scrap up any runs produced by one of the best offenses in the entire MLB. Burrell will surely flirt with 40 home runs, but I will be pessimistic on this one and predict a .270/35/115 season which will make him a true bounce-back candidate.
- Chicago Cubs
- Milwaukee Brewers
- Cincinnati Reds
- Houston Astros
- St. Louis Cardinals
- Pittsburgh Pirates
This division will be extremely close. Every year there seems to be a team that goes on some sick run and quickly climbs the ladder, but this year could be different. I like the Reds offense this season with Dunn, Phillips, and young talent like Bruce and Votto, but I don’t think the “Columbian Sensations” in Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto can counterpart Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo in that iffy rotation. With that said, I will put the Reds 3rd, but state that this team has a bright future in one of the worst divisions in baseball. Now we take a look at the Cubbies. Those chi-town locals are now working at back to back pennants and I think they’ll get it. Even though they lost their once “franchise player” in Mark Prior to the Padres, they have a serious rotation at hand. They got big Carlos Zambrano who can make a true run at the NL Cy Young, they have Rich Hill who is somewhat unheard of but can quickly produce, and they have veterans like Lilly, Dempster, and Lieber to hold down the rest of the staff. But, it is the bullpen which can separate the Cubs from the rest of the NL Central woes. As I now type, with less than a week to go until opening day, the Cubs will more than likely go with Kerry Wood to start out as their closer. Although, since Wood has been plagued year after year with injuries, they will have a great young arm in Carlos Marmol to help him out if he runs into trouble. These two guys are a serious one-two punch combo that can win or close many games for the Cubs. As for the offense, we’re looking at a rebound season for Alfonso Soriano, a potential 30 home run season for Derek Lee, and another stellar campaign for Aramis Ramirez.
However, the Cubs might be looking over their shoulders at a close Milwaukee Brewer team. With Albert Pujols holding his elbow together with a few rubber bands, the Brew-Crew have found themselves in the 2 spot. When I say Ryan Braun, you say 2007 NL ROY. When I say Prince Fielder you say 2008 NL MVP. Now, take a deep breath and put those two together on the same team. The Brewers are sky high with offensive production, bolstering their load on the backs of these two youngs talents, and having role players like J.J. Hardy, Bill Hall, Rickie Weeks, and Corey Hart to back them up. The dilemma for the Brewers, as it is for most teams with really good hitting, is pitching. They have Mr. Injury in Ben Sheets, Mr. Where Had He Been in newly signed Eric Gagne, and the rest of the mystery men like Capuano, Bush, and Gallardo. Gallardo is a true ace in the making and could play a significant role in his sophmore year, but he will start the 08′ season on the 15-day DL. So, without injury, the Brewers could find themselves in a slugfest with Cubs, but if they encounter the usual pitching staff troubles, the Cubs will win another division title and possibly 90 games.
Rick Ankiel, OF, St. Louis Cardinals. I like Ankiel. It could be because he is a pitcher turned power hitter or it could be because he hit 32 home runs in 400 AB’s during AAA last year. The potential fantasy stud will now come into his second season as the Cardinals outfielder, after hitting 11 homers in only 172 AB’s last year. Also, as long as Pujols is healthy, Ankiel will see a lot of tasty pitches since the starting center fielder will be batting 2nd in front of Albert. Look for a surprising stat-line, one that is close to .280/30/85. This spring, Ankiel is hitting .361 with 4 HR and 11 RBI.
I’m going to go a little bit off track here and give some credit where it is truly due. Carlos Lee, OF for the Houston Astros has been one of the most consistent and best hitters in the league over the past 10 years. He has averaged .293/33/112 and 14 SB’s over the past 5 years. He has hit in every park he’s been sent to and with the signing of SS Miguel Tejada, Lee can only improve his impressive stats as the Astros #5 hitter.
- Los Angeles Dodgers
- Arizona Diamondbacks
- Colorado Rockies
- San Diego Padres
- San Francisco Giants.
The NL West is somewhat a jigsaw puzzle. We have good hitting here, good hitting there, bad pitching here, bad hitting there, but we have a good glimpse of what could be. With long time Yankee manager Joe Torre now coming over to the once Brooklyn Dodgers, LA will finally be able to reach out and grab a division title. Their pitching is good with a healthy Penny and a young Billinglsey, as well as Jonathan Broxton and Saito coming out of the bullpen. Lowe looks good this spring and getting back Jason Schmidt couldn’t hurt. The signing of long time Atlanta Brave Andruw Jones will prove to be a good one, while James Loney will try to put together a respectful sophmore year. They have a LF platoon with two great prospects in Matt Kemp and Andre Either, along with one of the best all-around catchers in Russell Martin. The still have Furcal and Kent, along with the speedy Pierre. For me, I just can’t see how the Dodgers could let this one slip out of their grasp.
I like the Rockies, considering the have possibly the best offense in the league, but their pitching staff is just unproven. The Diamondbacks have to be mentioned after they traded for SP Dan Haren this off-season, but I think their offense is still a little bit young and lacks serious home run power. Although, if Chris Young and Conor Jackson can hit for a sizeable power load, they might have a shot. As for the Padres, I like Adrian Gonzalez as the new Paul Konerko, but they lack the depth in the lineup as well. The Giants, who are surrounding Aaron Rowand with players like Bengie Molina and Kevin Frandsen, would be better off resigning Barry Bonds and starting him at every position. Plus, their good young pitching will be provided with no run support, thus sparking a mid-season trade involving one of those young guns. So with that sad, it will be the Dodgers victorious in the NL West, unless there are some power surges in Arizona or some unsung steel arms in Colorado.
Chad Billingsley, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers. The guy had 141 K’s in only 20 starts last year and posted a below 4.00 ERA for the 2nd straight season. Given the run producing offense we all know the Dodgers can be, with 30 starts, we could be looking at a 15 game winner with upwards of 170 K’s.
Stephen Drew, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks. I think this could be it for Drew. Granted, he is still young, but he has posted some bad numbers over the past two years and he was never really dominant in the minors. So, the younger brother of J.D. will probably face some interesting accusations as he looks at his 3rd year as the D-Backs SS.
National League Champs:
Los Angeles Dodgers. I’m really high on the Dodgers this year. I think the offense is there, both power and speed, and they now have the defensive presence of Andruw Jones. The pitching is well rounded 1-5, and they have a very good bullpen. Also, how ironic would it be for Joe Torre to get to the World Series and rub it in the Yankees face.
American League Champs:
Cleveland Indians. Last year the Indians were one game away from beating the eventual World Champions and last year was an off year for both Sizemore and Hafner. So, with the exact same pitching they had last year, better years from their two star players, and breakout potential from Garko and Peralta, I think the Indians can get back to the ship.
Cleveland Indians: This would be something else. Two of the most once-prominent franchises going back to the World Series to face each other. Torre in the World Series without the Yanks and the Indians’ two great arms taking center stage. It seems to perfect, but yet too realistic. As for the winner, I think that the AL representative will yet again take the crown, but definitely not in a sweep like last year.