JonahKeri.com Definitive MLB Predictions Post
I named my eight playoff teams over the weekend.
With the real Opening Day now upon us (though I am NOT happy about waiting a day for Red Sox-Rays…no rain here on the nearby NH seacoast, what gives?!), it’s time for my complete list of 2009 calls. Standings, records, playoffs, awards, the whole megillah. Each team will have a very short comment next to it. If you’re interesting in longer-form analysis (i.e. why do I apparently hate the Phillies), feel free to hit the Comments section and I’ll be happy to reply there.
Read ’em and weep (at how fickle predictions–especially playoff predictions–can be):
Tampa Bay Rays 95-67
Boston Red Sox 94-68
New York Yankees 92-70
Toronto Blue Jays 76-86
Baltimore Orioles 73-89
The easy choice for toughest division in baseball, with the best teams in the game likely to see their records suppressed as they beat up on each other.
The Rays repeat thanks to their ability to acknowledge the Plexiglass Principle–adding Pat Burrell, Matt Joyce, Gabe Kapler and Joe Nelson should help an already loaded team that should also get more out of Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton and David Price in ’09. The Red Sox’ pitching is as loaded as it’s ever been, but the offense is merely Wild Card-worthy with Mike Lowell, David Ortiz and J.D. Drew starting to get on in years and Manny Ramirez gone. I’m not as sanguine about A-Rod’s injury–yeah, it could be a conspiracy theory/Patrick Roy appendicitis/Michael Jordan baseball kind of thing…but it could also be more serious than expected; add a lousy decision to give Xavier Nady the right-field job, A.J. Burnett in a non-contract year and an aging offensive core, and you get the best third-place team baseball has seen in years. Halladay’s a good Cy Young bet and there’s young pitching coming too, but the Jays might have the worst offense in the AL. The Orioles are a quasi-sleeper team to some, but the expected gains made by Adam Jones and the addition of Matt Wieters should be offset by major regression for Aubrey Huff and a terrible pitching staff.
Cleveland Indians 86-76
Detroit Tigers 83-79
Minnesota Twins 80-82
Chicago White Sox 77-85
Kansas City Royals 73-89
It’s a war of attrition in the AL Central, where the least lousy team takes it.
This year that’s the Indians, whose solid offense (which should improve with better health for Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner and Matt LaPorta waiting in the wings) will make up for a suspect starting rotation (even defending Cy Young winner Cliff Lee has a so-so track record before ’08). The Tigers are a huge boom-or-bust story, with the potential to galvanize the state of Michigan, Spartans-style, if a few things break right (Rick Porcello fares well as a 20-year-old starter, Ryan Perry energizes a needy bullpen, Adam Everett, Gerald Laird and Brandon Inge improve the defense) or fail miserably if a few things don’t (slow start + 44% drop in year-over-year attendance leads to trade deadline fire sale). The Twins have youth and a 2008 near playoff berth to their credit; they also have injury concerns for their best player, a starting rotation that’s not as good as you think (Francisco Liriano’s overrated, Scott Baker’s hurt and low-strikeout SP Nick Blackburn’s going to regress) and a flukishly above-.300 2008 batting average with RISP that’s going to come back down to Earth. White Sox who’ll regress significantly this year: Gavin Floyd, Jermaine Dye, Matt Thornton, whichever old dude takes Javier Vazquez’s place; White Sox who’ll improve this year: ??? The Royals have a great 1-2 rotation punch in Gil Meche and Zach Greinke, and I’m one of many who expects improvement from Alex Gordon and Billy Butler; but the supporting cast is abysmal, with lousy management choices like Jose Guillen, Mike Jacobs and Kyle Farnsworth likely to make the Royals worse than you’d expect.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 84-78
Oakland A’s 82-80
Seattle Mariners 75-87
Texas Rangers 74-88
Considered by many the weakest division in baseball, the AL West is more mediocre than really bad, with the possibility that all four teams cluster within five games of .500.
I’ve learned my lesson on not believing in the Angels; they won’t finish 12 games over Pythag again this year, and injuries to Lackey, Santana and Escobar are obviously a concern, but improvements by young players like Kendrick, Wood and Morales and a lack of front-line competition will give the Halos another AL West crown. As Dave Cameron recently noted in The Count at WSJ.com, the A’s have the most inexperienced Opening Day rotation of the decade; even with a vastly improved offense, I don’t see them winning the division. Everything that could’ve gone wrong for the Mariners last year did; a much improved defense, better health for Erik Bedard and a tateriffic season for Three True Outcomes hero (and JK roto cornerstone) Russell Branyan will add up to at least a little optimism in the PNW. Baseball America rightly rates the Rangers as #1 in MLB in organizational talent, but don’t expect all those prospects to translate into contention until 2010, or more realistically, 2011.
New York Mets 91-71
Atlanta Braves 86-76
Philadelphia Phillies 84-78
Florida Marlins 78-84
Washington Nationals 74-88
Strong division with a World Series contender on top, the defending World Series champ looking at a possible third-place finish, and a fourth-place team that could sneak above .500 again.
The best quartet in the game should finally have the supporting cast to overcome another September swoon, with K-Rod and J.J. Putz joining the Mets to bolster a leaky bullpen, a bounceback season for John Maine imminent and enough cash and organizational desire to upgrade at the deadline if need be. No team added more pitching than the likely-to-be-frisky Braves this off-season, with new staff ace Derek Lowe on track for a big season (monster performance in last night’s opener against Philly), Javier Vazquez headed for better-looking numbers in the weaker league, Kenshin Kawakami a solid option at the back of the rotation, and Tommy Hanson waiting in the wings to make his debut. Three reasons the Phillies won’t repeat: Cole Hamels’ 8,000 innings pitched last season have already raised ’09 injury concerns; severe lack of able right-handed hitting; the bullpen won’t be perfect again this year. I think PECOTA and other projection systems are low on the Marlins, failing to accurately forecast the strength of the young starting staff; another winning season isn’t out of the question. Love the Nats’ outfield of Dunn, Milledge and Dukes; hate the pitching staff, which is still a couple years away from getting good innings out of Zimmerman, Balester and company.
Chicago Cubs 89-73
St. Louis Cardinals 87-75
Milwaukee Brewers 81-81
Cincinnati Reds 77-85
Houston Astros 73-89
Pittsburgh Pirates 65-97
This division could be a lot closer than people think, with two old rivals potentially going down to the wire.
The Cubs had almost everything go right for them last year; advancing age and across-the-board regression could easily pull them under 90 wins. The Cardinals need 300+ good innings from Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter to contend this season; with Dave Duncan the magician in tow, bet the over. The Brewers’ starting staff isn’t awful even with Sabathia and Sheets gone, especially with Yovanni Gallardo on track for a full season–but a shaky bullpen and lack of left-handed hitting will hurt. Yeah, yeah, they’re big sleepers according to a lot of people, but I’m not making World Series plans in Cincy until they can trot out viable options at shortstop, catcher and center field, not to mention a bullpen that doesn’t suck. Like the Angels, the Astros always seem to beat projections; unless Lance Berkman hits .600 this year, I’m not seeing it. After the 1992 off-season, the Pirates signed cuddly, pigment-challenged Andy Van Slyke to a long-term deal, and let noted troublemaker Barry Bonds walk (granted, Bonds wasn’t exactly feeling the love in Pittsburgh); in related news, the Pirates haven’t had a winning season since, and won’t come close this year.
Los Angeles Dodgers 92-70
Arizona Diamondbacks 88-74
San Francisco Giants 79-83
Colorado Rockies 77-85
San Diego Padres 63-99
No longer the mild, mild West, I expect this division to yield two playoff teams, and maybe an additional sleeper too.
The Dodgers’ offense is loaded, with the resident park effects suppressing what would be some gaudy numbers most anywhere else; the pitching’s inexperienced and Derek Lowe’s loss will hurt, but there’s enough here to eke out the division crown. I pick the Diamondbacks to make the playoffs every year, so I’m certainly not stopping now, not when Webb and Haren make up the best 1-2 pitching punch in baseball, the lineup’s full of young talent, and no fewer than three future stars (Justin Upton, Chris Young, Max Scherzer) are primed for big breakouts. A .500 record for the heretofore lowly Giants? Might happen, with a monster starting staff of Lincecum, Cain, Big Unit and Sanchez (Guitar Hero…not so much) somewhat able to offset a miserable offense. I’m reasonably bullish on the Rockies too, with enough young pitching talent and expected bounceback seasons from Tulowitzki and Atkins making an Over on an already optimistic projection a possibility. Jake Peavy and others are going to get dealt, and the Padres are going to be really bad.
PLAYOFFS (aka random small sample size crapshoot)
Mets over Dbacks; Dodgers over Cubs
Mets over Dodgers
Rays over Angels; Red Sox over Indians
Rays over Red Sox (again…you know where to find me, Sully and Murf)
Rays over Mets
NL MVP: Albert Pujols
AL MVP: Grady Sizemore
NL Cy Young: Johan Santana
AL Cy Young: Roy Halladay
NL Rookie of the Year: Jason Motte
AL Rookie of the Year: Travis Snider
NL Breakout Player: Justin Upton
AL Breakout Player: B.J. Upton
NL Darkhorse Team: Cardinals
AL Darkhorse Team: Tigers
UPDATE: Had a massive brain freeze in picking NL MVP…gotta go with Albert Pujols, who’s an odds-on favorite any year he’s healthy.