The American League may be the better league, but it does not have a better brand of baseball. I am not a fan of the DH and its trickle-down effect on the AL style of play (i.e., no strategy at all). Regardless, this year’s ALCS matchup is the one I felt was inevitable.
Los Angeles Angels vs. New York Yankees This really is a battle between the two best teams in the AL. The Yankees once again loaded up on talent via trades and the free agent pool, landing Nick Swisher, AJ Burnett, Mark Texiera, and CC Sabathia in the offseason. The Angels took a strong core and added just a couple of missing pieces–namely Bobby Abreu, Brian Fuentes, and Scott Kazmir–to their seemingly bottomless well of homegrown major
Of course, the midseason trade for Kazmir probably wouldn’t have been necessary if not for the death of pitcher Nick Adenhart at the beginning of the 2009 season. But Adenhart’s death has become a rallying point for the Angels; they play with a sense of purpose and inspiration. Although they haven’t been back to the World Series since winning it all in 2002, the Angels seem to be in the postseason (or at least in the race) every year. They’re winners.
The Yankees, for their part, are trying to get back to the World Series for the first time since 2003, their longest drought since they began their amazing run in 1996. And for all the talk about how the Yankees “buy their way” into the postseason every year, 12 of the players on their 25-man roster have been with the Yankees their entire careers, whether that be 15 years or two. And that doesn’t count Hideki Matsui, who has only played for the Yankees in North America but had a great pro career in Japan first, or Andy Pettitte, who was brought back to his original team after several years with the Houston Astros.
This series, like all postseason series, will come down to pitching. Both of these teams can hit and score runs, and both can hang in a tight game. They have strong rotations and bullpens, top to bottom. But the Yankees have the equalizers: Sabathia is one of the best pitchers in the game, Pettitte is one of the best starters in postseason history, and Mariano Rivera is the best closer in postseason history. The Angels have answers in just about every other area but those three; unfortunately they happen to be the most important three of all. Yankees in six.
This week I’ll be giving my best guesses as to who will win their respective divisions this year, then I’ll roll out a postseason prediction. But since baseball is a game of emotion as much as it is of logic, I’ll explore both. First, that other league: the AL
The AL West is the red-headed stepchild of Major League Baseball. Four Teams? And one of them is in Texas? That’s almost as ridiculous as the Atlanta Braves and the Cincinnati Reds being in the NL West for a quarter century. What’s worse is that only two of the four teams really appear to be trying: the Oakland A’s and the LA Angels. The Seattle Mariners aren’t going to be much better than last year’s debacle, and the Texas Rangers just can’t seem to find the pitching to complement a usually powerful offense. The A’s were not a bad team last year; the Angels were just really good. That may change this year, though.
I’d love to see Seattle back in the playoff hunt because of one guy: Ken Griffey, Jr. No one deserves a World Series appearance like this guy, and to have it happen as a member of the Mariners would make it a story that writes itself.
What I think will happen:
1. A’s – I think GM Billy Beane has once again made just the right moves to put this team back on top. Matt Holliday and Jason Giambi should boost the offense, and Orlando Cabrera will help stabilize the defense. They have a young rotation once again, but in a weak division it may not matter.
2. Angels – They’re going to miss Mark Texiera and Francisco Rodriguez, but now it looks like top-end starters John Lackey and Ervin Santana may have injury concerns as well. That could be enough to keep a third straight division title out of reach.
3. Mariners – May see dividends from the intangibles expected with the return of Ken Griffey, Jr.–large home crowds, mentoring for young players, etc.–but even .500 might be a stretch.
4. Rangers – Need a miracle. And a pitching staff.
The AL Central is probably going to be the most balanced division in baseball this season. No team is a clear favorite, and no team looks like a sure-fire dud either. The Detroit Tigers can’t possibly be as bad as they were last year. The Kansas City Royals may finally have a rebuild worth seeing to completion, and the Cleveland Indians might have the best pitching staff in the division. The Minnesota Twins are a sure bet to be in the mix like always, and if the Chicago White Sox can get big contributions from their youngsters they could surprise everyone in this tight race.
I’d love to see the White Sox pull this one out again. They might need to make a move to get a little younger and a little faster for it to happen, though. Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko, Jim Thome, and AJ Pierzynski can swing the lumber, but they’re not exactly OBP machines. And, in a division where all the teams could be bunched up at or above .500, you need to play the whole game to be able to win.
What I think will happen:
1. Indians – Pitching wins championships, and Cleveland has a ton of it. Of course, everyone has to stay healthy, but that’s true of all teams. Big contributions from Anthony Reyes, Carl Pavano, and Kerry Wood are essential to the Indians’ success.
2. Tigers – A lot of people (including myself) picked Detroit to run away with this division last season, and they ended up dead last. It wasn’t the coaching…manager Jim Leyland is one of the best in the business. So that leaves one of two things: talent or attitude. Well, they had a lot of talented guys last season, a lot of whom are back for 2009, so…yeah. Get it together, boys.
3. White Sox – To go along with their aforementioned offensive issues, the South Siders have questions in their rotation. Mark Buerhle, John Danks, and Gavin Floyd should be OK; beyond that things get dicey. But GM Kenny Williams has proven himself a pretty smart guy, and I can’t count out a team managed by Ozzie Guillen. The White Sox are my dark horse pick to come out on top.
4. Twins – Dark horse pick 1-A to win. Minnesota simply cannot be counted out of this race. The glaring problems they have is with the backs of two guys named Joe. Star catcher Joe Mauer has a back injury that will have him starting the season on the DL, and new third baseman Joe Crede has a history of back injuries. Those are big holes to fill if these two can’t stay healthy.
5. Royals – From the Starting To Come Around file, the Royals can sniff .500 if their rotation holds up, Joakim Soria closes like a stud again, and the offense is steady. In a division with such parity, they just have to concentrate on winning series and they’ll be pesky.
The AL East is a ridiculous juggernaut flush with just as much money as talent. I expect two playoff teams and the AL World Series representative to come out of this division. The New York Yankees reloaded with several top free agents but somehow trimmed payroll. The Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays will have legitimate shots at winning this division as well; the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles will not. It would not surprise me at all to have three teams within five games of the division lead most of the year. Which means the division championship is pretty much up for grabs.
I would love to see the Tampa Bay Rays win the AL East again. Last season made it easy for Rays fans to forget the previous 10 years of terrible, terrible baseball. The team earned their success; they didn’t buy it or luck into it. How can you not root for a team like that?
What I think will happen:
1. Yankees – Sabathia, Burnett, Wang…that competes with the top three of any rotation in baseball, but injury concerns are there. Riviera…the closer of the decade, but injury concerns are there. Texiera, Damon, Rodriguez, Jeter, Posada…a steady (if not borderline explosive) lineup, but injury concerns are there. On paper and sans injuries, the Yankees have one of the best teams in the league…
2. Red Sox – …but so do the Red Sox. And what they might have going for them over the Yankees is their youth. With that said, the Sox also need big, healthy years from veterans Mike Lowell, Jason Varitek, David Ortiz, and JD Drew if they’re going to overtake the Yankees and…
3. Rays – …this team, who added some veteran presence in Pat Burrell and Jason Isringhausen (once he’s rehabbed from offseason surgery) to go with their young core. They’ll pitch well, they’ll hit, they’ll run, and they’ll play defense. This team proved last year they can beat their big purse rivals to the north, and they’re likely do it again this year.
4. Orioles – Baltimore will do one thing well this season: play defense. Cesar Izturis and Brian Roberts are among the best middle infield combos in baseball. Unfortunately, they won’t have enough offense or pitching to compete with the big dogs in this division. But .500 isn’t out of the question.
5. Blue Jays – Toronto is going the wrong way. This year, the only thing they’ll be competing for is the #1 draft pick in 2010…which means they should probably trade Roy Halladay to try to get another 1st round pick and maybe a high-level prospect or two.
Agree? Disagree? Indifferent because you feel the National League is superior? Let’s hear it!
The St. Louis Cardinals boast a three-game winning streak heading into their game against the American League Champion Tampa Bay Rays today in Jupiter, Florida. The gem of the weekend was Saturday’s game against the Washington Nationals. The Cardinals won the game 9-2, but the biggest story was Chris Carpenter pitching two innings of no-hit ball, followed by Ryan Franklin pitching three innings and allowing no runs on one hit while striking out five. Sunday, the Cardinals and Florida Marlins played a wild game in stormy weather that ended with St. Louis on top 14-10. Joel Piniero allowed one unearned run on two hits in his two innings of work. The team bashed out 19 hits, and six different Cardinals had at least one RBI. But the real star of the game was outfielder Brian Barton, who went 3-5 with a double, two home runs, and six RBI. For more details and full box scores, check out the St. Louis Cardinals’ home page.
TEASER: Saturday night I attended what will surely become another benchmark for the approach of Opening Day year in and year out. Check back later tonight for details!
Jason Isringhausen’s Cardinal career officially ended this weekend with news that he signed with the American League Champion Tampa Bay Rays. A lot of fans were down on Izzy in recent years, especially (and deservedly) last season. But this guy really did some phenomenal work for the Cardinals as their closer. If you look at his career stats and think about his injury history, the parallels between his down years and his hurt years are undeniable. I believe that, all things considered, Cardinal Nation must tip its collective cap to Izzy for a job well done while he was here.
So now, who takes the reigns from Izzy? Certainly it’s going to be either Jason Motte or Chris Perez…or can the Cardinlas get away with closer by committee? I think it’s better to let someone earn the closer title and keep it until he loses it, for whatever reason. I liked what I saw from Perez in 2008, but Motte seems to have that crazy guy attitude that sometimes works so well. Both have the potential for dominance. Stay tuned…