Thursday, April 01, 2010

Wishful predicting? It's baseball season.

Last year, before the baseball season started, Buster Olney picked the Rays and Sawx to go to the playoffs and the Yanks to sit in 3rd in the AL East again. This pick came after the Yanks signed Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira. The pick was stupid.

This year, Olney picks the Rockies over the Yanks because he says Tulowitzki will shine in the Series. That's called "projecting."

Similarly, the Great Tom Verducci thinks the Twins will win the AL and SI's official magazine pick is for the Rays to beat the Yanks in the ALCS. This is also called projecting.

Ultimately, the fact is that there are two big favorites in baseball -- the Yanks and the Phils. In the NL, only the Rocks have a chance of beating the Phils in the playoffs. In the AL, the Yanks' path is tougher because the Angels and RedSux are possible opponents. Seriously, do you think that:

(1) St. Louis has overcome its lack of offense and improved by overpaying for Brad Penny after losing Piniero to free agency;

(2) the full season upgrade of Halliday over 1/2-season of Lee won't add to the Phils' win totals and stabilize the team;

(3) the impact of Halliday (whose excellent work habits are well-known) on the Phils' pitching staff will be minimal to nonexistent;


(5) J.A. Happ will fall off;

(6) the Rockies will have a bullpen that can withstand the Phillies or a rotation that can go head-to-head with a fully healthy one-two of Halliday and Hamels;

(7) the Brewers, Dodgers, and Giants will have enough pitching/starting pitching/hitting to challenge the top title contenders;

(8) the Braves will grow up instantly?

The Phils should win the NL because they have both an AL quality lineup and a top-end set of starting pitchers. If Lidge uncouples from his suck-infuser-machine, they'll have a top bullpen too.

Best of the rest: Rocks, Cards, Braves, Giants (WC), Brewhahas, Fishies, Reds.

In the AL, the Mariners were the talk of the off-season because they signed Cliff Lee and Chone Figgins and upgraded their already very good defense. They want to prevent runs and win with Lee, Felix Hernandez and a deep bullpen. Won't work. In 2008, the Yankees allowed 29 fewer runs than they did in 2009 and less than they had in any year since 2003 and finished with fewer than 90 wins for the first time in eight years. It's the AL, you need to be able to score.

And the teams to make the AL playoffs in 2010 should be nearly identical to the 2009 entrants, with the WhiteSax overtaking the Twins if Peavy can stay healthy -- that's not an "omigawsh, the Twins lost Joe Nathan and the sky is falling" reaction, it's a belief that Danks-Floyd-Buerhle-Peavy is as good a four-man crew as any in the league. The Angels will be harder pressed to win, but their manager is better than the Rangers' manager and that counts for a few games in a close race. The RedSax will lose some pop, but have good pitching and a better defense (Cameron, Beltre). The Yanks won 103 games with only three pitchers competent enough to start in the postseason, and they added innings-eater Javy Vazquez (an ace on most other staffs) and got younger and defensively better in the outfield (Granderson replacing Damon) and catcher (Cervelli to replace Jose Molina and catch 45 games, which means a better defensive catcher than Posada playing more often).

I'm still skeptical about the Rays. Last year they lost 8 of 10 to the Yanks in the middle of the season when the Rays had a chance to make a run at (a) reversing a bad start and (b) challenging for the wild card. Their top pitchers (Garza, Shields, Niemann) were all healthy and pitched full seasons. Zobrist and Bartlett had career years to help offset Upton's season of crap, and they won just 84. Can they compete? Sure. Can they compete for the next six months at the level of the Yankees and RedSawx if all three teams stay reasonably healthy? Unlikely.

AL's playoff challengers: Yanks, Sawx, Angels, Chisox, Twins, Rays, Rangers. Everyone else -- it's a year to grow on.

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