Wednesday, April 8, 2009

My belated, quick-hitting 2009 baseball preview

ON BASEBALL

As is the case every year, this is a crazy week in the blogosphere.

Through late Monday night, I was busy following the conclusion of the college hoops season and then witnessing the bonfire action on Franklin Street.

And beginning this afternoon, just like that, golf is relevant again with Tiger back on the scene at Augusta to try to reclaim the Green Jacket.

But before I immerse myself in Tiger Talk, I think there's something I need to get out of the way before it's forgotten...

Yes, the 2009 baseball season is underway. And please forgive me for picking my division winners after some teams have played as many as three games.

Because while the N.Y. tabloids are ready to give up on the 0-2 Yankees, I'm not quite at that point — not yet (although read below to really find out).

So without further ado, and before more games are played, here's my one-sentence-per-team preview — a quick enough read that you can fit it in after lunch and before Tiger's opening tee shot this afternoon.

AMERICAN LEAGUE
*Indicates Wild Card team

AL East
1. Tampa Bay Rays 93-69: Go ahead and doubt the division's youngest contending team that didn't lose any valuable assets from a year ago.
*2. Boston Red Sox 91-71: Injuries could be a real problem for this veteran-loaded club, but I'm banking on them staying just healthy enough to grab a second consecutive Wild Card berth.
3. New York Yankees 90-72: Yep, that's right, no playoffs for the aging Bronx Bombers who won't be able to handle the enormous pressure come September.
4. Baltimore Orioles 78-84: This team is young and improving and will score plenty of runs.
5. Toronto Blue Jays 75-87: Poor, Roy Halladay, left with no help around him.

AL Central
1. Minnesota Twins 88-74: Nothing will come easy in this division, but the Twins can always be counted on to contend in September and they'll be the survivor this time around.
2. Chicago White Sox 86-76: I love the young pitching, I love the young infield, but can the veterans hold up their end of the bargain?
3. Detroit Tigers 80-82: The lineup should be fine, but that won't be enough to offset unpredictable starting pitching and a downright scary (not in a good way) bullpen and get back to winning ways.
4. Cleveland Indians 78-84: Their lineup is no longer frightening, and I don't expect Cliff Lee to repeat his remarkable Cy Young season.
5. Kansas City Royals 77-85: They could be the biggest surprise in baseball; I say give them a another year.

AL West
1. Los Angeles Angels 95-67: They lost their closer and arguably best hitter, but that won't stop them from breezing to another division title.
2. Oakland A's 83-79: All of a sudden the lineup appears kind of lethal, but what to make of a very raw pitching staff?
3. Texas Rangers 77-85: Oh, they'll score plenty of runs all right (what's new?), but they'll also give up plenty of runs (again, what's new?).
4. Seattle Mariners 75-87: It won't be the disaster of a year ago and Griffey Jr. will help fill some seats, but the bullpen will ultimately undo the M's in this weak division.

NATIONAL LEAGUE
*Indicates Wild Card team

NL East
1. New York Mets 93-69: There will be no last-day drama this time, thanks to that revamped bullpen and no glaring weaknesses.
*2. Philadelphia Phillies 90-72: It won't be easy getting back into the postseason, but team-wide unity and reliable closer Brad Lidge will help as the Phils come together to win close games down the stretch.
3. Florida Marlins 88-74: The young, fun Fish will bash tons of home runs and see improvement from their pitchers only to fall short of the playoffs with a lackluster defense.
4. Atlanta Braves 87-75: The Braves will bounce back with a solid year, but the veteran arms in the rotation can't be relied on to get them back to where they expect to be.
5. Washington Nationals 65-97: It's hard not to believe this lowly team will avoid 100 losses, but that's the only disaster they will stay away from.

NL Central
1. Chicago Cubs 95-67: The Cubs will take advantage of their weak, large division thanks to one of the game's most underrated hitters — and a new addition for them — Milton Bradley.
2. Milwaukee Brewers 79-83: Their lineup should produce plenty of runs, but minus Sabathia and Sheets, who's going to rack up the innings?
3. Houston Astros 78-84: It's almost forgotten how good this team was during the second half of last season before being displaced by the hurricane; they won't be as good, but decent.
4. St. Louis Cardinals 77-85: Tony La Russa is worth maybe five wins, but he can't make up for an unpredictable and lacking starting rotation and bullpen.
5. Cincinnati Reds 76-86: There will be plenty of sparks, thanks to young flamethrowers Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto and young sluggers Joey Votto and Jay Bruce.
6. Pittsburgh Pirates 62-100: It's a shame they're wasting what's purportedly one of the nicest modern stadiums with such a perennially awful team.

NL West
1. Los Angeles Dodgers 96-66: It's amazing how quickly Mr. Ramirez has helped transform this lineup into a scary-good one from top to bottom.
2. Arizona Diamondbacks 81-81: There's still enough pitching — if the hurlers stay healthy — to be mildly competitive, but not to go toe to toe with the Dodgers who tout way more offense.
3. San Fransisco Giants 78-84: A strong pitching rotation and a couple good, young bats will make for a better team than a year ago.
4. Colorado Rockies 74-88: Oh, how long ago the special 2007 season appears now; mediocrity is again king at Coors Field.
5. San Diego Padres 68-94: They could do better if they hold onto Jake Peavy at the trading deadline, but that wouldn't be smart considering they won't be contending for anything for at least a couple years.

OK, those are all the prognostications for now. With the snow just starting to melt up north, I can't even begin thinking about the playoffs. I'll save that for another day.

Now back to the golf...

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