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2009 Guessology: The American League

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.

BUT…

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.

BUT…

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?

BUT…

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!

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Snow can be so beautiful…

We got about 6-8 inches of snow in the St. Louis area a couple of days ago. That won’t surprise many. And, yes, a lot of our schools were closed, so I guess we need a little bit of President Obama’s “Flinty Chicago Toughness” here, too. But we may get a pass from the White Sox Fan-in-Chief once he lays eyes on the beautiful snow seen next to Busch Stadium on Wednesday.

Ballpark Village 004.JPG

Ballpark Village 003.JPG

I wish I knew who took these so I could give proper attribution, but the truth is I was e-mailed these pics so many times yesterday that finding the original source would be near impossible. I think they are hilarious. I have a few friends that happen to be Cubs fans; generally the sentiment seemed to be “I don’t agree, but I appreciate the humor.” But, of course, in the presence of other non-Cardinals fans, the stance turned into statements like “this is sad” and “Cardinals fans have nothing better to do” and “Boy, that Ballpark Village is really coming along, huh?” Well, I don’t have enough time to address DeWitt Meadow in this article, but I have to say that the other charges are pretty interesting coming out of the mouths of Cubs fans.

Remember seeing all the “It’s Gonna Happen” signs waved by Cubs fans throughout 2008? They even brought them to away games…I saw plenty of them at Busch Stadium this year. Obviously, those came from a place of confidence based on the Cubs’ showing in 2007, the moves they made both before and during 2008, and the relative weakness of the rest of the NL in comparison. On paper, the Chicago Cubs looked like the most complete (if not the best) team in the NL. Of course, before the season started, the same could be said for the Detroit Tigers in the AL. They finished in last place. The Cubs delivered in a big way during the regular season, but once again experienced a massive let-down in the 2008 postseason. Six runs scored and swept by the LA Dodgers. It was the Cubs’ second straight Divisional Series sweep. Wait ’til next year indeed.

How much can you talk the talk when your team can’t walk the walk? If success on the field were influenced by undying fan loyalty, the Cubs would probably be in the World Series more often than they’re not. And I’m not saying everyone should like this little snow stunt…you should root for your favorite team and root against your rivals. But come on…it’s nothing more than a good-natured ribbing. If you’re going to give it (“It’s Gonna Happen”), you’d better be prepared to take it…especially if your team is the Chicago Cubs.

Back!

Wow…I almost forgot I had this blog. I looked at my last post (of a robust 2) and it was before the 2005 season. A lot has changed since then. Here’s a quick review:

  • In 2005, the Cardinals won 100 games but lost in the NLCS to the Houston Astros. The Astros were then beaten by the Chicago White Sox in the World Series.
  • The Cards moved into a new version of Busch Stadium, which is spectacular. No one will ever forget the memories of our old cookie-cutter, but this new home is beautiful.
  • THE ST. LOUIS CARDINALS WON THE 2006 WORLD SERIES!!!
  • 2007 and 2008 have been down years when compared to the glory days of 2004-2006. Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, and David Eckstein are gone. Jason Isringhausen is not likely to return. Mark Mulder turned out to be a bust. But a new crop of youngsters have come through the system, and with some surprises (namely Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick) this team is watchable if not exciting.

So this offseason, the Cards find themselves in the position of having money to spend and prospects to trade. So far, they’ve brought back Kyle Lohse and Jason LaRue, signed Trever Miller, and traded for Khalil Greene. The remaining holes to fill? The Cards still need a second baseman, a closer, and some insurance in the rotation because, let’s face it, counting on Carpenter will be just as much a mistake in 2009 as it was in 2008. They need to make whatever he contributes a nice bonus, not a glaring necessity.

Greene is a nice low-risk/high-reward guy. He only has one year left on his contract, and he’s in desperate need of a fresh start. Miller will fill the need for a lefty reliever nicely, as long as his shoulder holds up.

It’s great to be back but I’m going to have to wrap this up for now. I’ll be posting as often as I can. Next week’s Winter Meetings should be pretty active. Check back for more info…