Mar 30, 2010

AL and NL: breaking down the divisions

by Jake Petersen, Jordan Sasso

It’s crazy how much time flies.

It seems just yesterday I was celebrating my New York Yankees’ 27th World Series title, but nevertheless, baseball season sneaked up on me quietly, with the season beginning next week. Spring training has come and gone, and now its time for the start of another grueling 162-game season.

On that note, I offer up my predictions for the American League, while my counterpart, self-proclaimed Philly Phanatic Jordan LoSasso, will round up the National League.

AL East- Yankees
The Yankees are just TMTH (Too Much To Handle) and there is no reason why they cannot repeat as World Series champions. They’ve added Curtis Granderson to the outfield, but lost fan favorites Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, both who played integral parts in last year’s success.

Javier Vasquez was brought back after a great season in Atlanta to bolster the rotation, and Nick Johnson will take over Matsui’s spot as designated hitter and could also see some time at first base. The offense is the best in the league, and if Vasquez and Phil Hughes can establish themselves as viable fourth and fifth starters, the Yankees could be even better then last year.

The Red Sox have upgraded their pitching staff with the addition of John Lackey, but lost a big bat when Jason Bay bolted for the New York Mets. Boston has filled that hole with Mike Cameron, and also added Marco Scutaro and Adrian Beltre, but I just don’t foresee them challenging the Yankees. They could possibly win the Wild Card, but it all depends on how things shake out in the rest of the American League.

The Rays could challenge the Red Sox for second place if their pitching is good and if the core of Evan Longoria-Carlos Pena-Carl Crawford can lead the offense. If that happens, the Rays might have a shot at the Wild Card if the Red Sox sputter.

The Orioles are an up and coming, mediocre team with some talent, but just do not have the pitching or offensive prowess to match up with the big boys. Toronto lost their best pitcher in Roy Halladay and is a long way away from being a contender in the AL East.

AL Central- Tigers

Detroit is my early-season favorite to claim the AL Central crown, but don’t be surprised if Minnesota sneaks to the top by the end of the season like they did last year. Equipped with flamethrower Justin Verlander, and four other solid starters in Rick Porcello, Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson, and Max Scherzer (who was acquired from Arizona) Detroit’s pitching staff is easily the best in the Central.

The offense is somewhat of a question mark, but Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera will lead the way. However, other than those two, the Tigers don’t really have much. Rookie Austin Jackson, who was brought in from New York in the Curtis Granderson deal, has the potential to be a star and has performed well in Spring Training thus far, but it’s all about what he does during the regular season that counts.

As I said before, reigning AL MVP Joe Mauer and the Minnesota Twins will challenge the Tigers for the Division Championship. The Twins are opening a brand new stadium this year, but on offense, much is the same as last year, with Mauer, first baseman Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Denard Span, and Jason Kubel leading the way. Minnesota brought in J.J. Hardy to be the starting shortstop in addition to Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson, which provides even more veteran leadership to a team full of experienced players.

One major question — how will their pitching hold up, namely the closer position? Joe Nathan is out for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery, creating a huge gap in the bullpen. Francisco Liriano has been rumored to fill the position, but the Twins may need him to be a starter because their pitching is no match for Detroit’s.
Chicago is a team that could sneak up on Minnesota and Detroit, mainly because of their strong starting pitching. The White Sox boast a starting rotation of the newly acquired Jake Peavy, Mark Buerhle, Gavin Floyd and John Danks. Cleveland and Kansas City will round out the cellar of the AL Central.

AL West- Mariners
Seattle is looking like the trendy early season pick to win their division — and with good reason. The Mariners have added an all-star third baseman in Chone Figgins (who they got from division contender Los Angeles) and a top of the line-starting pitcher in Cliff Lee over the offseason, leading many to believe the Mariners can easily best their 2009 record of 85-77. With a lineup highlighted by Figgins, Ichiro Suzuki and Jose Lopez to compliment a pitching staff of Lee and Felix Hernandez, the Mariners have a good chance at winning the West.

The next team on the list has won five out of the last six division titles, and although many key pieces have departed (Figgins, Lackey and Vladimir Guerrero), the Angels still have a solid team. They signed Hideki Matsui to take the place of Guerrero (who went to division rival Texas) and also strengthened the bullpen with the addition of Fernando Rodney, who had 37 saves last year in Detroit.

This is going to be a two-team race, as I don’t expect either Texas or Oakland to be a factor this season. The early edge goes to Seattle, but it’s a toss up as the Angels have both experience and more veteran leadership than the Mariners.

AL Champion-
Wild Card- Red Sox
AL MVP- Mark Teixeira

Teixeira will have a monster year hitting in the Yankee lineup, just as he did last year when he led the AL in both home runs (39) and RBI’s (122). He is the best first baseman in the league and the dude just flat out rakes the ball. Don’t be surprised to see big things from Big Tex in 2010.

AL Cy Young-
It is all about Felix Hernandez in 2010. The guy is just straight up nasty and will be hungry for a Cy Young after finishing second to Zack Greinke last year.

Contact Jake Petersen

The story of the National League has not changed much in the past two years. The Philadelphia Phillies won the league championship, and in both years have beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series, 3 games to 1.

It doesn’t appear that any major shakeups will occur during the 2010 season, either. The Phillies had the biggest acquisition, trading for pitcher Roy Halladay, without losing any player on the Major League level in the process, and the only other notable signing in the league was Jason Bay to the Mets.

Lacking any major changes between the teams, predicting division winners came down to predicting how players would improve, remain consistent or digress from one year to the next. A simple task — that is arguable, but an easy assignment — I wish.

NL East- Phillies

Retooled with Halladay, the Phillies are still in command of the NL East. Their offense has always been a powerhouse, but at times, streaky. The addition of Placido Polanco will help move runners on the bases, and it adds a low strikeout hitter to the formidable lineup of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez.

Include former MVP Jimmy Rollins and All-Star Shane Victorino and you have the best lineup in the NL.

Philadelphia’s biggest threats to its three-year reign as division champion are the Atlanta Braves and Florida Marlins. Stocked with solid starting pitching, the Braves look to be the strongest competition to the Phillies in the East, but the Braves offense will not have the power to win the division. However 20-year-old rookie Jason Heyward will have an immediate impact and is my pick for Rookie of the Year.

The New York Mets are still a mess, despite signing outfielder Bay. New York will be competing with the Washington Nationals as basement dwellers.

NL Central- Cardinals

With Matt Holliday hitting behind Albert Pujols, teams will no longer get away with pitching around the 2009 MVP. Mix that with Cy Young candidates Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, and St. Louis could easily run away with this division.
If Alfonso Soriano finds his stroke after his lackluster 2009 season, the Chicago Cubs will be a dangerous team armed with a good starting rotation and a solid offense led by Derreck Lee.

Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers are great players but it’s not enough to combat Milwaukee’s overall poor pitching. Veteran hurler Randy Wolf is underrated and could help the Brewers be the dark horse of the playoff race.

NL West- Rockies

Colorado is young, talented and hungry. Troy Tulowitzki is the best shortstop in the NL and leads a potent offense that is top three in the league. Todd Helton is slowing down at 36, but still batted .325 in 2009. Helton is an experienced veteran that this young team can rely on for leadership.

Ubaldo Jimenez, 26, is at the top of the rotation coming off a 2009 season in which he won 15 games with a 3.47 ERA and 198 strikeouts. Jorge De La Rosa came into spring training in the best condition of his career and has been tabbed the starter for the Rockies home opener after winning 16 games last year with a 3.46 post All-Star break ERA.

Joe Torre’s Dodgers have been to the National League Championship Series in back-to-back seasons, losing both times to the Phillies. Although there is no real gripe to have with the Dodgers, which is a team that boasts a good lineup and some strong pitching, including Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley, but to lose badly twice to the Phillies in the playoffs has to be some kind of detriment to team morale.

Don’t sleep on the San Francisco Giants. San Francisco will ride the reigning Cy Young winner, Tim Lincecum, and Matt Cain into the playoff hunt.

NL Wild Card – Braves

The Braves have a solid team. Starting pitchers Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson can be unhittable at times. Pairing them with Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson will make one of the deeper rotations in the NL.

Although their offense has lacked power, it is still playoff capable. Chipper Jones, Brian McCann and Yunel Escobar are good enough hitters to earn the Braves a Wild Card spot in the playoffs.

NL Champion- Phillies

Best pitcher in baseball. Check. Best lineup in the NL. Check. And an improved starting rotation. Check.

The Phillies continue to improve their team while they continue to dominate the NL. Their biggest struggles, not moving runners and too many strikeouts, will be helped, if not nullified, with Polanco’s arrival.

Their 2010 batting order is an American League lineup plopped into the National League. The lineup will, on most days, resemble this — 1. Rollins 2. Polanco 3. Utley 4. Howard 5. Werth 6. Ibanez 7. Victorino 8. Carlos Ruiz. The weakest spot in the order — Ruiz in the eighth spot — has actually been the most clutch hitter in the playoffs for the Phillies.

This will be a historic trip to the World Series for the Phillies, because the last time a team won three consecutive NL pennants was the 1942-1944 St. Louis Cardinals.

NL MVP- Albert Pujols

Pujols is a logical choice every year for the MVP. His numbers are unfathomable, as he averages 42 home runs, 129 RBIs and puts up a .334 batting average per year. No, you don’t need glasses and it’s not a typo. Those are his real yearly averages.

NL Cy Young- Roy Halladay

Halladay has a realistic shot at winning 25 games now that he pitches in the NL East instead of the AL East. The toughest offensivedivisional opponent he has to face is the Marlins, instead of pitching against the brutal lineups of the Yankees and Red Sox. Halladay’s 17 wins, 2.79 ERA and 208 strikeouts from 2009 will all likely improve while pitching on a better team, and against less talented hitting teams.

Contact Jordan LoSasso


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