2009 Predictions

Though these will invariably be wrong, here is my take on how the 2009 season will shake out:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

AL East –
Boston 98-64
New York 96-66
Tampa Bay 93-69
Baltimore 72-90
Toronto 70-92

I originally had the BOS, NYY and TB with three more wins apiece, but this division is so stacked so that I bumped all down a notch. It’s shame that one of these teams will have to go home in October. I love Boston’s 1-3 and if they get 250 total IP from Brad Penny-John Smoltz, look out. Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Jason Bay and Kevin Youkilis will lead the offense even if David Ortiz doesn’t comeback…

If the Yanks stay healthy on the mound, specifically AJ Burnett, they’ll be very good. Overall, they shouldn’t miss A-Rod SO much that it cripples their season. Even if he misses time past May. Perhaps we’ll see a case of Bill Simmons“Ewing Theory”. Fact is, the lineup is deep enough to still be productive even without an all-world player like Rodriguez. Moving Derek Jeter to leadoff was a very wise move and it looks like Jorge Posada might have enough for one more year in the tank based on his strong spring. The bullpen has some live arms with Edwar Ramirez, Jose Veras, Brian Bruney and Jonathan Albaladejo to lead up to Mariano Rivera. Rivera was excellent last year, but he’s not getting any younger so he could feasibly just fall off the table at any point. Their depth on the bench would allow them to sustain an injury much better than in 2008…

Tampa isn’t a one-year wonder, but they could be on the outside looking in this season. Carl Crawford will be excellent and a full season of Evan Longoria should be even better. And the Pat Burrell signing was a stroke of genius, but the offense as a whole might not be enough to net back-to-back playoff appearances in that absurdly deep division. The rotation might actually be better in 2009 as they are a truly elite group poised to get better thanks to emerging youngsters Jeff Niemann and David Price. The bullpen will regress a bit, but still be a reliable asset. That said, we’re talking about a very slim margin between them and the BoSox so I just went with the gut here, but I could see any variation of those three at the top…

I actually like a lot of about the Baltimore and Toronto squads, but 57 games against those behemoths is just unfair! Baltimore will score some runs with that lineup with table-setter Brian Roberts getting it started for Nick Markakis as he makes a bid to become a reliable 30-100 producer and Aubrey Huff who comes down a bit from last year but remains very productive. I hate their staff top-to-bottom barring a huge Rich Hill comeback. Koji Uehara is a complete unknown coming over to the States, but even if both panned out they’d still struggle to reach .500…

Toronto is uncertain behind Roy Halladay, but I do like David Purcey. Those two alone won’t be enough and I think the bullpen will be pressed much more this year and likely won’t respond as they did in 2008. Any lineup with Marco Scutaro leading off is suspect. Alex Rios and Vernon Wells have been favorites of mine for awhile and they could end up with those two, Adam Lind and Travis Snider forming a potent 3-6.

AL Central –
Cleveland 84-78
Minnesota 82-80
Kansas City 82-80
Detroit 80-82
Chicago 74-88

Very tight race top-to-bottom and the right breaks could flip the standings upside down here. Cleveland’s offense should be strong even if Travis Hafner doesn’t make a comeback, but I’m not at all sold on their rotation past Cliff Lee. And he won’t be like last year, so they could be in trouble. Reliance on Carl Pavano and Anthony Reyes for a team that is a chic pick to make noise this season is frightening…

As much as I love the front three of Minnesota’s staff, they can’t do it all. Scott Baker is apparently already banged up and how many innings do they really want to put on Francisco Liriano‘s arm this year? Nick Blackburn and Glen Perkins will both have ERAs at or topping 4.50. With Joe Mauer out, they have a pretty horrible infield offense outside of Justin Morneau and their OF core though deep with usable players lacks any legitimate lineup studs…

Kansas City is chicest pick to succeed this year and while I like what they’re building, they’re not there yet. Great 1-2 punch with Gil Meche and Zach Greinke and some are projecting nice things for Kyle Davies, but even if he pans out, their winning streaks will often be halted at 3 with Sidney Ponson and Horacio Ramirez manning the back end of their rotation. Can’t have a sub-.300 OBP Jose Guillen again and need Mike Aviles to be close to his 2008 version…

The Tigers will ride their lineup to this record and any legitimate success will be based entirely on their rotation and bullpen vastly improving from 2008. Miguel Cabrera‘s name is being bandied about as a Triple Crown threat and though it’d be very difficult, the talk is merited as he is that good. Curtis Granderson didn’t run as much in 2008, but manager Jim Leyland plans to utilize his speed much more along with that of newly acquired Josh Anderson. On the mound, Edwin Jackson will be a key as will phenom-blue chipper Rick Porcello. If they can be 4.30/1.35 pitchers (a tall order indeed), then the Tigers can be competitive especially with that dynamite offense and vastly improved defense…

The White Sox aren’t particularly strong on either side of the ball. John Danks and Mark Buerhle are reliable at the top of the rotation, but it’s scary from there on. How will Carlos Quentin respond to the wrist surgery? Can Paul Konerko come back? Will Alexei Ramirez be the mini-Alfonso Soriano he’s been pegged as for 2009? Is Josh Fields finally ready? Jermaine Dye and Jim Thome are pretty bankable, but that’s it. Bobby Jenks needs to show that his minute 8 IP spring sample is a sign of things to come as opposed to his 62 IP from 2008 in which he had 5.5 K/9.

AL West –
Oakland 86-76
Los Angeles 84-78
Texas 75-86
Seattle 70-92

Another tight division that could go more than one way. Oakland’s youth movement is in full effect in the rotation, but their veteran presence in the lineup is why I like them to take the division. The Matt Holliday trade was very strong and Billy Beane supplemented it by acquiring Jason Giambi, Orlando Cabrera and Nomar Garciaparra. If they can get healthy seasons out of Mark Ellis, Ryan Sweeney and Travis Buck, they’re in business. Look for Kurt Suzuki to take a big step forward offensively as this offense and defense takes pressure off of the green staff. Sean Gallagher and Gio Gonzalez are primed and waiting in the wings if any of their first five should fail…

The Angels lost their two aces (John Lackey and Ervin Santana) before the season even started while another top SP, Kelvim Escobar, isn’t back from last year’s injuries. Their offense could be very strong in a best-case scenario, but it’s old in the outfield and unproven on the infield (except for Chone Figgins). Hopefully Joe Saunders didn’t return his smoke or mirrors because he’ll need both in 2009. A big step forward from Jered Weaver won’t be enough to cover the health issues if Lackey, Santana and Escobar don’t hurry back and stay for good…

Texas relies heavily on their very potent offense, but you can’t win every game 9-8. Their rotation sucks. There is virtually no upside in that quintet and Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland can’t get to Arlington quick enough for the Rangers. Their defense can’t possibly give up another 100+ unearned runs again or they could lose 100 games. The future is EXTREMELY bright for this ballclub, but for 2009 they remain a one-dimensional team. They’re a fantasy baseball team that punted starting pitching.

I love Seattle’s 1-2 and their outfield defense once Ichiro Suzuki returns is excellent. Jose Lopez is a great 2B and should be even better in 2009, but when he, Ichiro and Adrian Beltre are really all they have on offense. Brandon Morrow is closing, which is best for him and the team. There isn’t much else that inspires confidence in the M’s. They refuse to play Jeff Clement for some reason instead choosing to rely on Mike Sweeney & Russell Branyan for serious playing time.

Playoffs –
Boston over Cleveland
New York over Oakland
Boston over New York

Awards –
MVP: Grady Sizemore
Cy Young: Daisuke Matsuzaka
Rookie of the Year: Matt Wieters*

* – he might not even have the best rookie stats, but as long as he doesn’t totally bomb, they’ll give him the nod.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

NL East –
New York 98-64
Atlanta 94-70
Philadelphia 82-80
Florida 79-83
Washington 75-87

The Mets addressed their biggest weakness from the last two years by acquiring two elite closers for the 8th and 9th innings. Throw-in Sean Green from the JJ Putz deal will also help shore up that pen with his insane 60%+ GB rate. Three superstars carry the offense while Ryan Church and Daniel Murphy have the potential to take nice steps forward and alleviate any potential regression from Carlos Delgado and Luis Castillo due to age…

Atlanta was just horrible in 1-run games last year (11-30) thanks in large part to not having their three best options in the bullpen for almost the entire season as Mike Gonzalez, Rafael Soriano and Peter Moylan combined for 65 innings last year. They should log more than three times with around 200 IP between them this year. Adding Javier Vazquez, Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami to Jair Jurrjens gives them a legitimate staff to get to the aforementioned bullpen. A Jeff Francoeur rebound would give them a lineup that contains no breaks for opposing pitchers. Could chase down the Mets with 500+ ABs from Chipper Jones

Having their own trio of superstars powering the offense should prevent a TOTAL post-World Series collapse for Philly especially with very good players like Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez giving them a very potent 2/3rds of the lineup. The pitching is the scary part this year. Neither Brad Lidge nor Cole Hamels will repeat their dream seasons from 2008. Lidge won’t fall back to his Houston form that prompted this move in the first place, but how will he respond to the merciless fans when he blows a few saves? Hamels will still be great when he pitches, but can he top 175 IP? The staff after Hamels is laden with question marks…

Unless the defense improves sharply, this team won’t be able to push forward on their surprising 84-win 2008 campaign. The upside of their top 4 starters is jaw-dropping, but will be stunted if they lead the league in errors again. They could also be limited by an uncertain bullpen. Matt Lindstrom is supposed to be their best, but he’s not terribly impressive so where’s that leave the rest of them? Jose Ceda could emerge from the minors as their stopper. Jeremy Hermida needs to finally make good while Jorge Cantu can’t just disappear again…

Washington finally doesn’t have an offense hinged on whether or not Nick Johnson stays healthy. They are pretty strong 1-8 as well as deep on the bench with Elijah Dukes, Josh Willingham and Willie Harris. Pitching remains the problem in the nation’s capital. At 27, Daniel Cabrera is elder statesman of the staff. Will he finally put it all together in the NL? His trends are horrible as his primary asset (strikeouts) has eroded to 4.7 K/9. Scott Olsen is on a similarly terrible downtrend in K/9 bottoming out at 5.0 last year. They’ll be better, but still a good bit away from contending.

NL Central –
Chicago 95-66
Milwaukee 84-78
St. Louis 83-78
Cincinnati 83-79
Houston 66-97
Pittsburgh 60-102

Chicago remains the class of the division though jettisoning Mark DeRosa was puzzling. They have two elite players known more for getting hurt than playing in Milton Bradley and Rich Harden. If both last the full season, it could be a dominating one in the Windy City. It looks like Lou Piniella realizes that Carlos Marmol is more valuable at the 7th-8th inning guy while Kevin Gregg is plenty capable of closing. It broke the hearts of us fantasy baseballers, but he’s not concerned with giving the best skills guy the most saves. Plus it’s not set in stone. Sean Marshall‘s improvements as a full-time starter will help alleviate Ryan Dempster‘s regression and Carlos Zambrano‘s continued descent…

The losses of CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets can be quelled, at least to a degree, by Yovani Gallardo‘s return and the maturation of Manny Parra into a top-level starter. If Dave Bush can finally put his skills together for an entire season, they might not even notice their 2008 1-2 punch is gone. What makes their potent offense all the more impressive is how much of it is home grown. Look for Rickie Weeks to finally emerge and Corey Hart to be the improved 2007 version that was hoped for last year. Carlos Villanueva was brilliant in relief last year and he could end up as their closer for more than just this week while the 41-year old Trevor Hoffman gets well…

The Cardinals have built around the league’s best hitter and gone from there. Ryan Ludwick‘s minor league power translated perfectly last year as he was finally given a full season to flourish. Albert Pujols, Ludwick and Rick Ankiel are the power core of the lineup and that’s pretty strong. Ludwick won’t approach .300 again, but he’ll smash 30+ again. In fact, he and Ankiel may have matching .270-30-90 seasons. Khalil Greene finally leaves Petco and will be very good if healthy. His defense will help cancel out the potential defensive pitfalls from bringing Skip Schumaker into 2B from the outfield. Todd Wellemeyer was a brilliant surprise in 2008, but a repeat would be 10x more surprising. Chris Carpenter‘s spring portends a rebound to his previous excellence, but it’s far too early to tell. If he and Adam Wainwright go for 350 IP, the Cards have a shot…

The Reds are built around three star offensive players (Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce) and very strong rotation anchored by the revitalized Aaron Harang. Edinson Volquez won’t be what he was in 2008, but Harang’s return to dominance will offset that dip in performance. Getting Johnny Cueto that big-league experience in 2008 will prove invaluable moving forward. Francisco Cordero may not last as the closer all year, but Jared Burton is a more than adequate replacement for the walk-happy incumbent. However, if Cordero does last then Cincy will have a similar Marmol-Gregg set up where the better skills guy is pitching the higher leverage situations. Edwin Encarnacion is still just 26 years old and should build upon his career-high 26 HR season from 2008…

Two top-level starters and three star hitters describes the Astros in a nutshell. After Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez, they are letting Brian Moehler, Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz make starts. Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman are bona fide superstar hitters while Hunter Pence is quite good and getting better. Pudge Rodriguez could recapture his magic one last time, but that still wouldn’t be enough to make this team worthwhile. Even a resurgence from Miguel Tejada and quality seasons from Michael Bourn, Geoff Blum and Kaz Matsui could overcome the back 3/5ths of that rotation. In case you forgot form a few seconds ago, Brian Moehler is their third starter…

The bright side for Pittsburgh is prospects Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez point to better days ahead. They have some other useful pieces already with the club like Nate McLouth, Ryan Doumit, Paul Maholm and Matt Capps, but too many question marks everywhere else leave them as a bottom feeder. Will Ian Snell ever be worth anything again? Can the LaRoche brothers be high quality contributors for the next five (for Adam) to eight (for Andy) years? Pitching looks like it’ll be an issue for years to come as Brad Lincoln is their only top 5 pitching prospect and he’s a 24 year old getting crushed in high-A ball.

NL West –
Los Angeles 92-70
Arizona 89-77
San Francisco 82-80
Colorado 64-98
San Diego 58-104

A full year of Manny Ramirez, Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake and Clayton Kershaw along with maturation from youngsters Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, James Loney, Russell Martin and Chad Billingsley and the addition of Orlando Hudson to the lineup and defense points towards a runaway victory in the West. James McDonald is their top prospect and will be called on to deliver as Kershaw did last year. A capable bench along with flexibility among the starters makes LA a pretty complete team. And if they run into issues midsummer, they aren’t above trading from their ever-deep farm to acquire the appropriate pieces needed…

Arizona loves to pair two elite aces and go from there. Brandon Webb and Dan Haren are their new Johnson-Schilling combo. Losing Hudson for Felipe Lopez will severely dent the defense behind elite groundballer Webb, but Lopez is poised for an offensive rebound after a strong stint with St. Louis. Many pitchers experience a boost moving from the AL to the NL and the D-Backs are definitely hoping Jon Garland follows suit. Their rotation runs six deep and their bullpen has three guys that could feasibly be closers. Drew is going to take another step forward at the plate as could Chris Young, Conor Jackson, Justin Upton, Mark Reynolds and Chris Snyder. Healthy seasons out of Chad Tracy and Eric Byrnes would only add depth to this very strong ballclub…

Powered by an excellent pitching staff, the Giants are the National League’s chic pick to be successful in 2009 and they addressed a key weakness by acquiring Bobby Howry and Jeremy Affedlt to shore up their bullpen. Tim Lincecum, Randy Johnson and Matt Cain might be the best top three in baseball. I’m past suggesting that Barry Zito could return to his superstar form, but 5th starter Jonathan Sanchez is a fireballer capable of much better than his 5.01 ERA from 2008. The offense limits the ceiling of this team for this season. There are a lot of quality role players that would work wonderfully in established lineups like Philadelphia’s, Boston’s, Texas’s and Detroit’s etc… but all of them in one lineup without a centerpiece leave something to be desired. Many believe Pablo Sandoval could be that centerpiece, but that’s based on a 145 AB cup of coffee and white-hot spring. They got 39 HRs in 2008 from the power positions (1B and corner OF), lowest in the NL and tied for the lowest in all of baseball (Toronto)…

Trading your superstar as Colorado did with Matt Holliday this offseason signals that the upcoming season might not be a contending one. Uncertainty seems to surround the offense as Hawpe is the only consistent performer over the past three seasons. Atkins is in three-year decline, Troy Tulowitzki suffered an injury-riddled sophomore campaign, Todd Helton hasn’t topped 20 HR since 2004 and injuries took his average below .300 for the first time since his 1997 93 AB cup of coffee. Aaron Cook is as steady as they come on the mound and finally used that high GB rate to get below 4.00 ERA last year. Ubaldo Jimenez is a talented youngster who also uses the groundball to his benefit, but can’t seem to get above the desired 2.0 K:BB rate you like to see from starting pitchers. Jorge de la Rosa will emerge as a capable #3 and catcher Chris Iannetta has 30 HR power.

Playoffs –
Los Angeles over New York
Chicago over Atlanta
Chicago over Los Angeles

Awards –
MVP: David Wright
Cy Young: Javier Vazquez
Rookie of the Year: Andrew McCutchen

World Series –
Boston over Chicago

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