Sunday, April 05, 2009

Mr. Trend's Professionally-Amateur Baseball Predictions - The American League

On the eve of the baseball season's opening (finally!), I thought I'd offer up my predictions for the races this year. I follow baseball about as intensively-leisurely as one can - I don't do fantasy baseball, I don't study farm systems and know the rosters of at least 15 teams by heart, but I follow the stats and standings pretty closely beyond that. So here, without further ado, are my picks (as random and subject to the whims of trying to predict exact outcomes 6 months in advance as anybody else's picks).

AL East
1. Tampa Bay Rays (96-66)
2. Boston Red Sox* (AL Wild Card) (95-67)
3. New York Yankees (92-70)
4. Toronto Blue Jays (72-90)
5. Baltimore Orioles (68-94)

This is the hardest division to pick, by far. The top three teams are going to be really close, and if everything clicked in terms of pitching, hitting, and drama, the Yanks (loathe as I am to say it) could take the division. However, with a team another year older, I think they're going to go through some pretty tough stretches of injuries and non-production that will ultimately make the difference between them and the Sox/Rays; plus, the bullpen is rather suspect, especially in the middle relief; and the Yanks are pinning a lot of hope on Sabathia and a healthy Burnett; the latter will probably fail, and speaking as a veteran Sabathia-follower, the guy is a nutcase, and I just don't think he will perform up to the expectations. Sox are ridiculously good, and could win the division too, but I'm picking the Rays just because they're younger and I'm contrarian enough to go against everybody who's picking the Sox. The Jays and O's will be far back, though they are prepped to be fun rebuilding projects to watch this year (and next).

AL Central
1. Cleveland Indians (88-74)
2. Minnesota Twins (86-78)
3. Chicago White Sox (83-81)
4. Kansas City Royals (80-82)
5. Detroit Tigers (77-85)

I'm certainly biased on this one, but I also just think the Indians have the most potential here. This is definitely the most middling division, but with Martinez healthy, Cliff Lee looking as sharp as last year, Francisco Carmona having figured out his control issues this spring, and Carl Pavano providing a pleasant surprise, they're in a good spot for pitching, and any offense with Sizemore, Martinez, and an unheralded Shin-Soo Choo is in a good place. Plus, the Triple-A team is loaded with young arms that can fill in that fifth spot and the bullpen if Scott Lewis doesn't work out or the injury bug hits the pitching staff. And they even have a closer who can throw strikes, rather than relying only on location. As for the Twins....well, the Twins are the Twins - a bunch of guys you wonder just how they'll perform, and Gardenhire will be lights out with them. But with Mauer already having back troubles before the season begins, the offense is already a big question mark, and I'm not convinced Liriano will be as good as a "comeback" could be (though I've been wrong before). As for the Sox, I was mystified last year how they made that run. As my supervisor Miguel put it, the White Sox are a "good bad team", and I don't think they go far. And if the AL East is the hardest division to figure out, the hardest task is figuring out where the Royals go. I think they'll be big spoilers this year in the division, but I think they're still a year away. And the Tigers are definitely better after getting rid of Sheffield - they just have more options in how they arrange their offense now, without having the DH spot anchored down. But they bet the farm on a World Series a few years ago, and it's time to do the "try now while rebuilding" phase.

AL West

1. Oakland A's (93-69)
2. Los Angeles Angels (89-73)
3. Texas Rangers (80-82)
4. Seattle Mariners (68-94)

I hate the tongue-baths some people give Billy Beane, but he is one of the best GMs in the "rebuild while competing now" model (though that's as far as I'll go in proclaiming any "genius" on his part). I just really like the moves they made in the offseason - Matt Holliday in the AL should be really fun to watch. I thought the Angels were a lot of smoke-and-mirrors last year, and the playoffs showed just how overrated they were (and shut people up about the "East Coast bias" that idiots like Bill Plaschke spouted when people picked the Red Sox or the Rays), and they're just getting old, too. Vlad Guerrero still has flashes of genius, but they're increasingly spare. Like the Yankees, the Angels could blow everybody out in the division if everything clicks, but it will have to be everything, and I just don't think that will happen. And I hate to crap on Erik's team this year, but even with the Rangers already having 4 pitchers on the DL, I think they end up ahead of the M's, just because the Rangers have better role players waiting to step in on offense, and a better farm system. The M's may surprise me here, and Ichiro will be as annoyingly-enjoyable to watch as always, but I think the M's have another year of being Teh Suck before they turn it around.