Before we look ahead, it’s necessary to look back. The divisional forecasts from this blog, from the end of March and beginning of April, beginning with the American League East:
Things I do not expect to see repeated from 2009: 1) A.J. Burnett’s reliability and perhaps even his stamina; 2) Joe Girardi’s ability to survive without a reliable fifth starter (if Phil Hughes really can pull it off in this, his fourth attempt, he might become the fourth starter if my instincts on Burnett are correct); 3) Nick Swisher’s offensive performance (his average and his RBI totals have never
PREDICTIONS: Tampa Bay steps back into the forefront in an exciting race with the well-managed but decreasingly potent Red Sox, and bests Boston by a game or two. The Yankees contend – possibly even dominate – into June or July before the rotation, and/or Posada, and/or Jeter, blow up, and they fade to a distant third.
Boston’s injury festival clearly threw a monkey wrench into that view, but in its defense, three of the four flaws with the Yankees arose as predicted, leading to the big one about New York dominating, then falling, to eventual division champs Tampa Bay.
To the AL Central:
Manager Ron Gardenhire of MINNESOTA knows 447 times more about baseball than I do…The new double-play combo is also symbolic of some serious problems. It is made up of two very nice men named J.J. Hardy (who was run out of Milwaukee even before the ascent of Alcides Escobar), and Orlando Hudson (who has been run out of Arizona and Los Angeles and who somehow lost his job to Ronnie Belliard in the middle of the pennant race last year). It is also the direct result of what must be viewed as two disastrous trades (Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza to Tampa for Delmon Young, and Johan Santana to the Mets for Carlos Gomez – now swapped for Hardy – and nothing of even impending value). Nothing would please me more than to see the Team They Tried To Contract rear up and fulfill its potential. I don’t think they have the front office personnel to pull it off.
PREDICTIONS: I like Detroit to get more lemons out of the slot machine of chance that is this division, than I do Chicago. Thus, the Tigers, close, over the White Sox. Minnesota and Cleveland will spar for third place…
Well, I got the part right about Gardenhire knowing 447 times more about baseball than I do. I do wonder about this team’s long-term prospects given the Garza and Santana trades, and its short-term’s prospects given its stumble to the title.
My forecast for the AL West was, if I must say so, pretty darn sharp:
With the strategic building in SEATTLE over the last two years – Figgins, Wilson, Gutierrez, Lee, even Byrnes and Snell and League (to say nothing of Wakamatsu) added to the Ichiro/Felix base, it would seem it would be almost impossible for the Mariners not to be favored. But as I have suggested before, Jack Zduriencik managed to make the one move that could undo all the good ones…It’s not as if Milton Bradley has had a few problems. This is six clubs in six seasons and the longest he lasted with any of them was until June 29th of the second year. I don’t know what it will be, I don’t know when it will be, but Bradley will do something to cost the Mariners the division.
The line-up in TEXAS frightens me. I know Josh Hamilton is not going to hit 57 homers. I understand Vlad Guerrero has aged. I’m sure Chris Davis could repeat the first half of 2009. I noticed Ian Kinsler’s on the DL. Without them this is still the most potent batting order in the division.
DIVISION FORECAST: As suggested, I like Texas. Oakland’s pitching could jell to challenge them; Milton Bradley could go AWOL on May 1 and save Seattle’s season; Brandon Wood could be e
verything the Angels ever wanted from him. But I don’t think any of those things are going to happen. Rangers by a five or six game margin, with the others following in a jumble I can’t quite yet discern.
Texas, as you know, won not by five or six or by nine, with the Angels ten back and the Mariners having screwed themselves into the ground thanks to the continuing curse of Milton Bradley.
Over in the National League:
ATLANTA is the obvious sleeper, if that’s not too much of an oxymoron. If Troy Glaus and Jason Heyward produce as Atlanta expects them, Bobby Cox will have a competitive final year. If they exceed expectations (and Heyward gives off the vibe of a Pujolsian, From-Day-One-Superstar) the Braves might actually air out the division. The rotation gets a little sketchy behind Hanson and Jurrjens, and there is little or no room for injury...Florida’s biggest question mark is the bullpen, where Leo Nunez may or may not succeed.
All that can be said about NEW YORK is: Sigh. I love the people who run this club, from the ticket takers to the owners. But this year the wheels could fall off even worse – and farther – than last…Plus, the silence
DIVISION PREDICTIONS: I’ll take the long odds that the Braves’ breaks fall the right way and Cox goes out with a winner in a tight race over the Phillies. The Marlins will hit a ton but waste the brilliance of Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco by using 11 different fifth starters and half a dozen closers. The Mets will have their nightmare collapse and be wondering if they can unload not only Castillo, but maybe Beltran and Reyes, too.
It is amazing that the prediction about the Braves wasn’t a bad one, and the forecast on the number of injuries in Philly rolled out pretty much as expected – and Philadelphia still won the Division. It is why the Phils must be considered the early line post-season favorites, and why the fact that the NL Manager Of The Year Award discussion is farcical if Charlie Manuel isn’t the odds-on winner.
Here’s another prediction I am proud to recount, from the NL Central:
CHICAGO…The starting line-up is five-eighths made up of guys who significantly regressed from 2008 to 2009…The Cubs are a mess…But there is at minimum some sense of upswing in Cincinnati. Dusty Baker gave Drew Stubbs the chance to play last year, and might even find spots for Aroldis Chapman, Mike Leake, and Yonder Alonso this season. The bullpen is strong, the rotation potentially deep… What’s the psychological saw about repeating the same unsuccessful action with confidence that this time it will succeed? The Brewers are confident Dave Bush, Doug Davis, and Manny Parra and/or Jeff Suppan constitute three-fifths of a pitching staff. They’re certain Rickie Weeks and Corey Hart will harness their talent. Everybody knows this is the year Yovanni Gallardo leaps to the forefront of NL starters. This is a recording….
ST. LOUIS is the most overrated team in the majors. Albert Pujols glitters so brightly, he makes you forget that the rest of the infield is an assortment of Brendan Ryans and Felipe Lopezes and David Freeses. Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright were so dominant that they obscured the reality of what happened if you actually beat them on consecutive days – the Cards’ season would be snuffed out in a sweep. This is a team that was ready to trot out a rotation in which Kyle Lohse, Brad Penny, and Rich Hill would pitch more often than did Carpenter and Wainwright (the first light bulb going off: giving the fifth spot in the rotation not to Hill but to Jaime Garcia). The bullpen is a jumble, the bench non-existent, and lord help Tony LaRussa if Yadier Molina is really hurt or Pujols’ back is cranky for more than 45 minutes at a stretch.
PREDICTIONS: You know what? I’ll take the long-odds bet on the dice coming up for the Reds and not the Cardinals.
Pretty much got that division correct, right down to the ascension of Jaime Garcia and the injury to Yadier Molina, to say nothing of being one of only two forecasters I’m aware of to pick the Reds, who won by five over the only other team to finish above .500 in baseball’s biggest division.
I will not claim I did as well in the West, but this does wind up describing what actually happened:
COLORADO…This is a well-rounded, deep team, and Troy Tulowitzki, batting clean-up, may reassert himself this year on the path to being one of the league’s top ten hitters. In LOS ANGELES or anywhere else, I would trust Joe Torre with my wallet or my vote or my house keys. But I think he’s in for a dreadful year. The Dodgers cannot get a full season out of Ronnie Belliard, haven’t gotten one out of Blake DeWitt. They may have burned out Russell Martin. And Manny Being Just Manny (No PEDs) is a just slightly better offensive force than, say, Mark DeRosa. The McCourt Divorce may be a lot more interesting than the 2010 Dodgers, and a lot less painful to watch.
SAN DIEGO might catch lightning in a bottle, if Mat Latos and Kyle Blanks and Nick Hundley get off to explosive starts and there is no need to unload Heath Bell and Adrian Gonzalez…Watch, hope; rent, don’t buy.
I don’t much like SAN FRANCISCO’s outfield (maybe they should have given John Bowker’s spring training resurgence more attention), and their third best all-around player might spend most of the season backing up Bengie Molina, but that’s some pitching staff Bruce Bochy and Dave Righetti have to play with…if Colorado falters, this is the West’s best bet.
PREDICTIONS: Colorado in a runaway, unless the Giants put everything together early. The Dodgers finish third, just ahead of the Diamondbacks – unless the Padres blossom early as mentioned above and don’t trade everybody, in which case the three teams will place within a few games of each other.
So all in all, the only division I got wildly wrong was the AL Central. Tampa, Texas, and Cincinnati were picked outright. I had the Braves winning the NL East and they go in as the Wild Card, and the Giants winning the Card and they instead go in as West Champions. Swing and a miss on Minnesota and Philadelphia, and all I can say is to repeat: when do we stop thinking of Charlie Manuel as an affable guide of talent-heavy teams, and start thinking of him as one of the top managers of the early 21st Century?