SI baseball writer Tom Verducci recently wrote an article speculating on what teams in 2009 could be like last year’s Rays — from losers to winners. While I usually like Verducci’s work, this one was a clunker. His picks? The Tigers, A’s, Braves and Orioles.
For three of them, he’s not really going out on a limb. Would anybody be really surprised if the Tigers, Athletics or Braves contended this year? Nobody who follows baseball, even moderately. The Tigers underperformed last year, but they are still stocked with talent. The A’s are always contenders, and were last year until Billy Beane kicked the legs out from under his team and dealt Harden and Blanton. And the Braves are always a possibility, especially now that they’ve revamped their pitching staff. No news here, Tom.
And the Orioles!? To give Verducci credit, he does say they have no shot at making the playoffs in the division. They do have some talent, but I don’t think their pitching can even make them moderately good this year. Maybe I’m missing something.
But there are a lot of longshots — true longshots — that do have a very good chance at contending this season.
Rangers – For years the Rangers have struggled behind the Angels and Athletics, and occassionally the Mariners. Given the AL West is more attainable now that the Angels have taken a step back this winter, the Rangers could make a move. They have the thunder in their offense. But, like always, their pitching is a big question. If they stock up on some bargain pitchers — ala Ben Sheets and Pedro Martinez, they could take the division.
Mariners – Yes, the Mariners were terrible — Holy Terrible — last season. And given they’ve dealt players like JJ Putz, they look like they have no intention of contending this season. But they could end up with maybe the best 1-2 punch in baseball with Felix Hernandez and Erik Bedard in their rotation. If those two pitch how they are supposed to, that alone can make anyone a contender, especially in the wide-open AL West. On top of that, they still have Ichiro at the top of the lineup generating runs.
Pirates – A longtime loser who I’ve picked to surprise for years. Eventually, I’ll be right. And it could certainly be this season. More often than not, the reason a team like the Rays come out of nowhere to be a contender is their pitching comes together. Besides last year’s Rays, check out the 2002 Angels, the 2003 Marlins, the 2005 White Sox, 2006 Tigers and 2007 Rockies. The pitching staff on all these teams suddenly gelled and put together a winner. The Pirates’ front four of Ian Snell, Tom Gorzellany, Paul Maholm and Zack Duke are all young and all have boatloads of talent. Snell and Gorzellany took steps back last season, but could be ready to have big bounce-back years. And with the NL Central rather mediocre, they could pad their record and grab the Wild Card with a finish behind the Cubs. And they have been a team linked to Pedro.
Rockies – Again, its about pitching. And this team has some. Quite frankly, I was shocked they dealt Matt Holliday. This is a good team. They had a bad season last year, with a few guys having off years and injuries. They were a lot like the 2006 Indians. But people forget that after a disasterous first half, they were clawing back into the race by late-August last year. This division is wide open. Tulowitski will be back for a full year. And Ubaldo Jimenez is ready to become one of the best arms in the game. Him along with the talented Jeff Francis (and a resurgent Josh Fogg) could carry this team to a division title. (If they kept Holliday, they’d have it in a walk,.)
Giants – Again, a team with pitching that plays in a weak division. With Linecum, Cain and now Randy Johnson, they have the pitching. If they sign one of the big bats still out there, they can contend.
Marlins – Maybe they can’t be considered losers. They had a good year last year, despite injuries. Still, is anyone really giving them a chance to compete with the Phillies and Mets? Not many, but I am. They have some excellent hitters with guys like Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez. But, like the Pirates, their pitching goes four talented young arms deep. If those arms stay healthy, they will have a deeper, better rotation than either the Phillies or Mets.
A quick thought before we start tonight’s monstrously huge, potentially divsion-deciding series with hated rivals the New Yor- . . . er, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays:
It’s kind of appropriate that the Red Sox set the all-time consecutive sell-out streak against a team from Florida, a state with two baseball franchises and seven baseball fans. Last week, the New York Times ran an interesting article on how Tampa’s success this season hasn’t translated into a lot of fan turnout. (Check out the article.) It’s kind of funny to read how players for the division leaders are frustrated that cheers and noise echo off the empty seats. Of course, you can’t really blame Tampa Bay (yet), as the Rays have been terrible since birth, and it takes time to build a fanbase. Much more guilty are the folks down in Miami, where the Marlins have won two World Series titles, and have had exciting seasons with young players two of the last three years. Shame on them for having a franchise. But how they have been unsuccessful is beyond me, when the area has a huge Cuban population and is the gateway to the baseball-crazed Caribbean. It’s more of a mystery than the success of the Rays this season, but not quite as much of a mystery as the success of the Jonas Brothers.
Each April, as the baseball season is still in its infancy, we watch as favorites struggle out of the gate, and hopeless underdogs tantalize fans as they hover near first. And each year I say the same thing: Talk to me on Memorial Day.
During those early weeks of the season, we don’t have enough material to work with in judging what teams are for real and which ones aren’t. To me, it seems you can’t really take stock of the contenders and pretenders until you reach Memorial Day.
Now, here we are a few days past the holiday weekend, and, as I look at the Major League Baseball standings, I just don’t know what to think. With so many pre-season favorites struggling, and so many pre-season clunkers hanging tough, this to date just may be the most topsy-turvy baseball season in recent memory.
As fans oohed and aahed at the early struggles of the Tigers, Indians and Yankees, I patiently waited for them to spend May rising toward the top of the heap. Meanwhile, I’ve been waiting for the Devil Rays, Athletics, Marlins and Cardinals of the world to plummet back down to their rightful places near the basement. And now that we’ve passed Memorial Day, I’m still waiting.
Entering June, what are the Rays still doing hanging around? They’re good, but not this good, are they? Can you really see this team hanging around til September, or even making a push for October? At this point, I’m hesitant to make a guess either way. Given my Memorial Day theory, they should have started to fade by now. Maybe they’ll hang til August . . . but that’s got to be it. It’s just got to be.
The Yankees? I thought they’d have pitching problems . . . but while I’d like to say I saw this coming, I didn’t. This team is not good, and there may be too many holes for them to plug this year.
Still waiting for the Tigers and Indians to play like they are supposed to. Maybe they haven’t received the memo that we’ve reached Memorial Day. And someone please tell Ozzie’s Sox they are overdue to start fading. Not too long ago I said they weren’t for real, and that the Royals were real. Brilliant.
And what is more surprising: That the Athletics are still contending (and just swept your Sox), or that the Mariners added another ace this year and are absolutely, positively terrible?
I thought the Marlins would be good . . . . good enough to challenge for third place. And the Cardinals should have been making their golf plans for October by now, not thinking about playing baseball in the fall. And remember when we thought the Giants would be so much worse — SO MUCH WORSE — than the Padres. Ah, yes. Those were the days.
It’s hard to believe, but the 2008 MLB season is just about 25% complete. There’s a lot of ball left to be played, for sure. We also have some good data to look at the Pythagorean standings to see what teams are under or over performing in the win column. The complete standings are below. Here are a few things that stand out to me.
AL East –
Toronto really is this bad. They’ve only under preformed by a little more than a game. With Wells now hurt, it looking like it will be another disappointing year from the team north of the border. It’s too bad to. Come next year, Toronto might be the standard pick for 5th in the AL East – it’s going to be a tough division.
Cleveland has under preformed by nearly three games – which is huge. They appear in good shape to right the ship and win the division.
What’s more surprising? The fact that the Angles are over performing or that the A’s have under preformed. Not having seen any A’s games outside of Japan this year, I’m not really up on the team. Guess I’ll need to spend some time watching, but how can they be this good? If it’s the youth, will it last?
Atlanta has under preformed by 4 games and the Marlins have over preformed by 3. All the talk before the season was about the Phillies and the Mets. However, its plausible that two teams from this division will make the playoff this year and both will play well south of the Mason-Dixon line. I’m not saying its going to happen (Go Phillies!). I’m only pointing out that base on a quarter of the season – it’s a real possibility.
I hate to say it but, … the Cubs are a darn good team. St Louis too appears destined to make my last-place pick for them continue to look horrible. Another shock is the Brewers. You’d think a team with so many blown saves would be under performing – but they aren’t. I’m still a believer in them, but they need to have a really good next month – or it might start getting late early. And then there are those almost 500 Buccos! The pitching is starting to come together and the bats are OK. A word to the rest of the league – don’t let this team start to believe in themselves.
Bad news for the Giant – you’ve been over performing at 16 -22. Worse news for the Padres 14-24 seems to suit you fine. The Diamond Backs are clearly the cream of the crop here.
W%=[(Runs Scored)^2]/[(Runs Scored)^2 + (Runs Allowed)^2]
Pythagorean Winning Percentage.
Boston 0.587 1.1
Tampa Bay 0.549 0.7
NY Yankees 0.509 -0.3
Toronto 0.483 -1.4
Baltimore 0.465 1.3
Cleveland 0.576 -2.8
Chicago Sox 0.564 -2.3
Minnesota 0.480 1.2
Detroit 0.426 -0.2
Kansas City 0.400 1.2
Oakland 0.625 -1.4
LA Angels 0.500 2.5
Seattle 0.430 -1.8
Texas 0.418 1.7
Atlanta 0.632 -4.1
NY Mets 0.542 0.0
Florida 0.540 3.0
Philadelphia 0.528 0.4
Washington 0.370 0.9
Chicago Cubs 0.641 -1.7
St. Louis 0.569 0.8
Houston 0.554 -0.1
Pittsburgh 0.455 0.6
Milwaukee 0.438 1.8
Cincinnati 0.418 -0.9
Arizona 0.617 -0.4
LA Dodgers 0.548 -1.3
Colorado 0.407 -0.5
San Francisco 0.361 2.3
San Diego 0.354 0.6
- Listening to Cedric “I Am A Crazy Person” Maxwell on the radio and Tommy “Super-Homer” Heinsen on TV during Celtics games has really, really — REALLY– made me appreciate the quality of the Red Sox broadcasters.
- You have to like how the season has gone so far. The Sox are at the top of the American League, and you just have that feeling that they haven’t even started playing to their full abilities yet.
- The way things stand right now, it’s hard to see where the American League Wildcard will come from this season. My suspicions about the Yankees pitching staff is so far proving mostly true, although their ability to go out and get an arm or two mid-season may give them an advantage. The AL Central has so far been mediocre top to bottom. In fact, it seems the entire American League (outside of the Angels and Sox) are treading .500. And don’t talk to me about the Athletics; there’s no way they are this good. In fact, if they keep up this success it could prove trouble for Billy Beane who no doubt knows this team isn’t a real contender and wants to justify dealing some players mid-season to boost his stock of young talent.
- For fans of The Office: If you want a laugh, check out Dwight’s chart from the May 1 show, now posted online at http://www.nbc.com/The_Office/downloads/dunder_mifflin_org_chart.pdf.
- I recently said the Marlins were for real. But I’m not sure I really believed it. They sure are making me look smart.
- Meanwhile, the Cardinals are making me look really stupid. They just can not be this good.
- Lost really is that good of a show.
- You have to feel for the Milwaukee Brewers. Despite what many Cubs fans have told me, the Brewers really did have a great chance to win that division this year. But their pitching is decimated with injuries, and it looks like they may plummet into mediocrity this season. If that’s the case: Go Cards . . . or anyone but the Cubs.
- Travis Hafner is single-handedly screwing me out of a fantasy baseball championship. As if I needed any more reason to hate the Indians (see my previous post).
We are just over two weeks into the season and hitting that fun early time of year when some teams are doing surprisingly well early and making excited fans wonder: Are they for real? Let’s seperate the pretenders from the contenders.
Baltimore Orioles Sure, the O’s may have started out 6-1, but c’mon. This team has nobody on it except for some young players who are still a few years away from making an impact. Pretender.
Kansas City Royals I know, they’re the Royals. Still, Zach Greinke and Brian Bannister are the real deal — exciting young arms with great stuff. Gil Meche might be considered the ace of the team, but in reality he gives the Royals a very good Number Three. The lineup has some exciting young players with a world of upside, the tops being Alex Gordon who after disappointing last season looks ready for primetime. Funny as it may sound, this might be a team who could really use a stick like one Barry Bonds. They could stick around long enough to contend for a wild card this season, so consider them a contender, but this team is truly poised for next season.
Chicago White Sox The White Sox are a tough, tough team to read. On paper they have more talent than a team like K.C., so if I’m going to consider the Royals contenders, then . . . Still, there is something uneasy about a team that tanked so badly last season and is made up of a lot of aged vets. Given that the division suddenly seems wide open, it is hard to count anybody completely out of it. Still, I just don’t believe in the White Sox. Call it a gut feeling. Pretender.
Detroit Tigers Okay, so they’re not surprising in a “good” way for their fans. Still, their start has been surprising to say the least. The national media, which was on the Tiger bandwagon in a big way a month ago is suddenly jumping off like it is the Titanic. Slow down. This is still a very, very good team. And by August their mini-slump in early April will be a distant memory. Contender.
Oakland Athletics In the midst of a rebuilding phase, the A’s seemed poised to battle the Rangers for the basement of the division. However, despite three losses to the Red Sox, Oakland has started off the season in first place. But don’t believe in them. They have good arms in Joe Blanton and Rich Harden, but Billy Beane knows this isn’t his year. The team will fade toward the back of the pack quickly, and don’t be surprised if Beane deals Harden this summer (Boston is a nice place to live, Rich). Pretender.
Florida Marlins Before last season, I picked the Marlins as one of the teams I thought could surprise in 2007. But, they didn’t. Still, this is a team stacked with great young talent. It could be that time when that young talent clicks, and if Anibel Sanchez comes off the DL looking strong in June, watch out. All that being said, at the end of the day I liked this team a lot better when they had Miguel Cabrera. And, the team that won it all in 2003 was built by one John Henry — not MLB Public Enemy Number One Jeffrey “The Bandit” Loria. That team also had some vets on it, including Ivan Rodriguez. And there are too many other titans in the division. So where do they stand? Hell, if I know. They probably won’t beat out the Mets and Phillies, as those teams have the resources to make a mid-season deal. But, the Marlins could conceivably contend for third place, which is a good season for them. So . . . Contender.
St. Louis Cardinals What’s up with the Cardinals having the best record in baseball right now? They have no business doing that, especially when I picked them to contend for the division’s basement. They’ll fade soon . . . I think. Pretender.