Opening Day for hypothesizingPosted 27 March 2011 by Pony Boy
The Patriots are going to do the impossible and go undefeated for a season, knocking off the Giants in the Super Bowl. Mid-majors will get crushed in BCS bowl games. The Yankees look good to repeat in 2010.
Butler vs. Virginia Commonwealth.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present the last five or six years in conventional sports wisdom. It is with that air of uncertainty that I kick off Opening Day Week. And in that vein, I propose there be some measure of accountability for these choices. Because, at the end of the season, how many readers remember what writers said in March, unless their team got screwed over? I propose we kidnap a few children, one for each NoPepper writer, and dangle them from a noose. Every time the Orioles win a game, that noose will get a little tighter for my kid.
Now, with that horrible and tasteless vision fresh, let’s move on to the divisional picks. Because I’m long-winded, I’m just doing the AL East today. I’m hoping another No Pepper writer will pick up the slack for me later today or tomorrow. If not, I’ll punch out another 1,500 words. And no children will be harmed. Honest. That’s just sick.
1. Boston Red Sox.
Reasons to love ‘em: Maybe I’m biased because I live in AL East territory, but I don’t think any other team in baseball made as many good offseason moves. That’s not just Boston Globe homerism (all six of their writers picked the Sox to make the World Series in today’s 20-page preview). Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford add speed, power, average and most important, youth. Papi and J.D. Drew will fall back in the order to make room for the young guns as the front half of the lineup will be under 30 on opening day. Jarrod Saltalmacchia could shore up catching for years to come. The starters are solid, perhaps the best in the American League. But that bullpen. With the Yankees Hoovering up the big guns, Theo Epstien did what he could with some solid spare parts like Bobby Jenks and Dennys Reyes. Still, their starting depth and solid lineup give them an edge. Clay Buchholz has crazy good stuff. Plus fastball, plus changeup, best curveball in the AL. The man will contend for a Cy Young soon if Jon Lester doesn’t beat him to it.
Reasons to hate ‘em: Lord, that bullpen. Jonathan Papelbon is a giant question mark as a closer and nobody else has distinguished themselves. Any bullpen with Tim Wakefield in it – granted, he’s a mop-up guy who pitches junk innings in more ways than one – is reason for a little concern.
2. New York Yankees.
Reasons to love ‘em: I just want to be clear about this: I don’t love the Yankees. But when every infielder is an All-Star (Texeira, Cano, Jeter and A-Rod) it’s hard not to like their chances of winning the wild card. And the bullpen, anchored by an aging-but-still-stellar Mariano Rivera, is nails. They will have to be, because after C.C. Sabathia and Phil Hughes, everybody in the Yankees rotation is a question mark. Hell, Hughes is a question mark, with his 4.19 ERA and his 11.42 postseason ERA (with two losses in 8.2 innings). The plan is simple. As soon as the starters get in trouble, bring in the firemen. New face Rafael Soriano is one of the best setup guys in baseball. Pudge, er, Joba The Hut, er, Joba Chamberlain seems well suited to the pen. The Yankees have a freaking Cy Young winner in Bartolo Colon waiting to enter the game. Go ahead. Knock around the starters. The Yankees will lead the league in come-from-behind wins. Bet on it.
Reasons to hate ‘em: Do you really want to bet on come-from-behind wins when you’re trying to make a World Series run? The Red Sox have just enough of an edge to keep the pinstripes in second-best. Yankees fans have to essentially be hoping for injuries to Boston pitchers. Which isn’t that long of a shot.
3. Tampa Rays
Reasons to love ‘em: Their fans certainly don’t. The ones that don’t bother showing up to any of the games, anyway. But there’s plenty to like. David Price heads a young, talented pitching staff. He was 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA and could contend for a Cy Young (I know, that’s the third time I’ve referenced it. Last time, promise.) And there’s certainly reason to think guys like Jeremy Hellickson (1.10 WHIP) and Wade Davis (12-10, .255 BAA). But which starters will show up? Will you get pre-All-Star break Jeff Niemann, with his 2.77 ERA? Or the guy who finished with a 4.39? James Shields needs to bounce back in a big way if Tampa is going to compete with the big guns. But it could happen. Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon bring nice experience to a young team, and Evan Longoria heads a solid batting lineup. It wouldn’t be shocking if Tampa won the East again, especially if the geezers on Boston and New York’s rosters have injuries.
Reasons to hate ‘em: Tampa’s bread and butter has been its bullpen. That’s a problem. Five of the six guys, including stud Rafael Soriano, hit the road via free agency this year. Veteran Kyle Farnsworth might help bring the group together, but it seems like a longshot. Then again, every winning season Tampa has had in the last five seasons seems like a longshot in this division.
4. Toronto Blue Jays
Reasons to love ‘em: This is Cerrano’s team. You know, the guy from Major League. “I hit the ball very much,” the future president on 24 said. (Sidenote: He was 35 years old when Major League came out). The Blue Jays hit the ball hard. Seven guys hit 20 home runs, led by Jose Bautista‘s 54 dingers. That’s not steroid suspicious at all, you might be thinking. Just good offseason hitting drills. Fair enough. The odds that half the Blue Jays get arrested crossing the border for carrying controlled substances seems low, so we’ll work on the assumption that they all stay healthy and hit the ball hard this season. There’s plenty to like about the batting lineup. They’re young, for this division, and they score runs. Shaun Marcum, the elder statesman of the starting pitchers at 28, was 13-8 with a 3.64 ERA, but was traded to the Brewers in the off-season. Ricky Romero, a first-round pick in 2006, could be the real deal. The rest of Toronto’s starters all had at least a .500 record and none are older than 25. The bullpen is top shelf, though without a big name (unless you count Mark Rzepczynski) to shut down games. They will have no problem protecting leads.
Reasons to hate ‘em: This is not to be underestimated: Cito Gaston is gone. The longtime manager kept a steady hand on the Blue Jays and coaxed more out of less than anybody this side of Bobby Cox. Vernon Wells is gone. Sure, the lineup hits for power, but they’re not very good at getting on base. DH Adam Lind was particularly atrocious, compiling a lowly .287 OBP. Lind could regain his 2009 form, when his OBP was 83 points higher, but it shouldn’t matter. Young pitching, stellar division and a new manager will conspire to keep the Blue Jays down.
5. Baltimore Orioles
Reasons to love ‘em: Believe the hype. They’re feisty, as new manager Buck Showalter proved by lobbing bombs at the powers that be in the East, and his players followed suit. And here’s a stat you haven’t heard a thousand times: The Orioles went 34-24 over the final two months of the season. OK, I’m mocking a little. But they made some relatively serious moves. Finally. Enter Vladimir Guerrero, who in addition to being one of the toughest names for me to spell should provide excellent pop in a lineup full of it. Nick Markakis, Felix Pie and Adam Jones form a young, exciting trio of homegrown outfielders. Derrek Lee will provide pop, if nothing else. And, mock this though you will, Jeremy Guthrie is a nice starter. A Brad Radke guy. And Justin Duchscherer could (finally) develop into a top-notch starter after years in the bullpen and injuries.
Reasons to hate ‘em: Don’t believe Showalter’s hype. First thing first. That 34-24 record? Yeah, Baltimore played four games against AL East teams in August, going 17-11. Then they beat the Tigers three times en route to a 17-13 September. This is not how you win the AL East, the AL wild card, or even how you go .500 for a season. Lee is a human sieve at the plate, striking out as often as he makes contact. This team wins 70 games, tops, and Showalter is gone in the middle of next season, if not sooner.