Wednesday, March 10, 2010

2nd Annual MLB Over/Under Predictions

"Shooting lines for people to believe in."

March is a wildly underrated month in the sports year I'm figuring out, and the reason it's so underrated (at least as far as I'm concerned) is that in March, there really is no resolution to anything, and yet how you do in March speaks volumes about what may come in the future. The NBA and NHL are both making their final playoff pushes, NFL higher-ups are busy traveling across the nation trying to figure out who they will take in April's draft, college hoops is busy crowning conference champions and, eventually, fielding the Final Four which April. Spring training is in full swing for a season that starts in, yup, April. However, with spring training, you can catch a glimpse of the faces that may be dominating this sport in the next five to ten years. This year is no exception. As we get closer to Opening Day (which of course is Yankees/ cliche), let's take a look at each team's chances this year, as well as if the expectations being put on them are in any way reasonable.

(Not only do I want to dedicate this column to my uncle, for which all of my works have been for, but also for Nomar Garciaparra, who retired today after signing his last contract with the Red Sox. Garciaparra was one of the first players I ever saw that made me question the possibilities that one player's impact could have. Not only was he outstanding on the field during his run in Boston ('96-'04), but he captured the collective imaginations of an entire fan base...and at that point, with that whole "curse" thing still lingering, that was not the easiest thing to accomplish. He is the greatest shortstop to ever play in Boston, and was the initial building block for what we now know as Red Sox Nation. We salute you #5.)

All over/unders are provided by

AL East
New York Yankees, 103-59 (94.5):
Well, I probably couldn't have been more wrong about the Yankees as I was last year. Say what you will about biasedness, but I really thought they would play the entire season like they did in April and parts of May. But, oddly enough, they banded together like, dare I say, the 2004 Sox, and went on a five-month rampage en route to a title. It puzzles me why the O/U is so low. I guess this is an indication of what Vegas believes the Sox can do this year. Also, the Rays, who won the division title in '08, slipped big time last year. Not really sure, but I'm not ready to bet against this team w/ Granderson and a half-decent Javier Vazquez. Over.

Boston Red Sox, 95-67 (94):
This may be a bit elongated in comparison to the other team breakdowns, but bare with me.

The Sox did not find an answer to Jason Bay's departure. This puzzles me. They had the resources to re-sign Bay, who, you really can't deny, was working in Boston. Experts label him as an average I wrong, or did he play the wall really well all things considered? Nowadays, you absolutely need a solid 1-7 if you want to contend in this division...right now I'm seeing 1-5 (Jacoby, Pedroia, Ortiz (I'm a believer), Youkilis, V-Mart) working in a fairly nice unison, but 6-9 (Beltre, Drew, Cameron, Scutaro)? I can't help but feel overwhelmingly scared in any really big spot, which tends to crop up a lot playing the Yankees and D-Rays 36 times a year. These guys feel like transition they're here this year, and yet I'm feeling like three of them will be gone in 2011 (J.D. will still be going strong).

You can interpret this in two ways. Either we're really buying into believing that this lineup will be able to withstand the test of an entire season, or, is this the lineup that we're looking at for three months, and then come July, when teams will be looking to unload talent for salary room and prospects knowing that they're finished this know this is my desperate hope that they get Adrian Gonzalez and make their 1-6 at least nearly invincible. So, while watching the first three months, focus on the Sox, but definitely keep a decent eye on how the Padres do as well. Sure Jed Hoyer, the Pads' GM, is probably still pissed he isn't GM'ing the Sox still (he was the co-replacement during Theo's hiatus), but at some point, he'll have to realize that Gonzalez will be hitting the east coast at some point, and if he wants any compensation for that move, the window on that is closing, so if the right group of prospects is put together (which they have), it definitely could happen.

I have a hard time with the John Lackey contract. I think he's a really good pitcher. I think that whoever they were going to have at the #2 spot this year would not be as talented at he is right now. However, why must the Sox continue to recant on their promise to not going nuts year-wise with free agent contracts? The whole "no five-year deal to anyone" promise actually works, and yet the organization continues to be somewhat desperate to make a splash knowing what is on the line. We just ask for doesn't really matter at the end of the day how much you spend so long as you have a group of players who fans can like watching, and who will be excited to watch on TV and in person. They have the resources to make it happen, and yet I'm not getting it from anyone they've acquired (although I've always wanted Cameron, but I'll get to that in a little bit).

Lackey is the contract that stands out to me because of its length and value. I'm sorry if that's the way I see it, and I may be completely wrong about it, and if I am, I will be willing to admit that, just as I did about the Yankees. Doing this half in my head, but mostly on my computer calculator, Lackey is due to make $16.5 million a year in this deal. Tim Linceum got $11.5 million/per for two this like a "Freaky Friday" kind of thing? Like they each should have got the others' contract? In any event, a 32 year-old pitcher getting five years? I mean he's really going to have to go nuts. It seems like we wanted to make a huge splash to overturn what happened last year, and it didn't really work out that way.

Okay, positives...young pitching. We have plenty, which you rarely get to say. The Sox can willingly call up a top prospect to pitch an inning, or spot-start whenever they need it. Lester, Buchholz...I'm starting to understand why they didn't trade Clay for Saltalamacchia. He can develop into a 200-inning guy over time, much like what David Price has become.

Papelbon is a rock, and you just have to believe me on this one. He's done too much for anyone to ever question if he has lost it. If you want a guy coming in in the 9th in these current times, you want him, Rivera, or Soria. That's pretty much the list of the "shut-down" closers as it stands right now (love Brian Wilson, Joe Nathan's gone for the year). Then, add Daniel are at least looking at a top-two 1-2 eighth-to-ninth guys (Phil Hughes/Rivera has it right now...although they want to split them up like they did with which I say by all means New York, make one of your strengths a weakness). I like the bullpen a lot.

I love Mike Cameron, but I don't love how they are utilizing him right now. Again, it comes back to not bringing back Bay or signing Matt Holliday. This move that Jacoby is making from center to left puzzles me. It seems like Cameron is almost in a Karl Malone-like situation where he will likely retire at the end of next year, and is hopeful that he can win a title in that final year. All his answers seem to tell me that he's starting in center this year, and then Jacoby will go back to center after he question is why is Jacoby the one to concede his position? Shouldn't Cameron be a.) happy to be here, and b.) willing to adjust to whatever position the Sox need him in? I think Cameron needs to be a 100-game guy right now...yes, a fourth outfielder, but an outfielder who has the potential to play all three outfield positions, which is something they now do not have. If anything, Cameron in left, Jacoby in center. Cameron is a great fielder, but Jacoby has done so much, and you can almost see the disappointment on him. It is an honor to play left for the Sox, but Ellsbury had his spot in center sealed up for two years, and now Mike Cameron can just take it away? Even Cameron in his prime did not do enough to justify Jacoby switching positions. That situation puzzles me.

On the whole, I remain totally hands-off about buying into this team. This is a team loaded with acquisitions you will not see next year, so therefore, it's hard for me to get emotionally involved with parts of this team when I want to embrace them as a whole. They need to do something big before the season gets out. Otherwise, I'm honestly bracing for third. Sorry to continue the pessimism, but they haven't given me a reason not to be. Under.

Tampa Bay Rays, 84-78 (89):
Tampa has a ton invested in their farm system, and what separates them from the rest of the league is that they have produced more major league-ready talent in the last five years than anyone else. Injuries, and lack of a clear-cut closer, killed them last year. I can't expect to believe that will happen again injury-wise, and Soriano, while not being overwhelming, nevertheless represents some kind of stability. Tampa makes the move into the second best team in the East this year. Over.

Toronto Blue Jays, 75-87 (71):
After the Halladay trade, and getting rid of J.P. Riccardi, the Jays have downgraded themselves to the worst team in the East by far. Their one really good pitching prospect they had coming up (Brandon League) is gone. Alex Rios getting waived was curious. I know 20/20 guys allegedly grow on trees now, but Rios was actually a guy you could build around, and I believe Toronto failed to realize that. Under.

Baltimore Orioles, 64-98 (72.5):
Despite being in a loaded division, the O's will make a decent amount of noise this year, so much so that they may actually have a 50/50 split in fans when they play the Sox at Camden (it's 80/20 Sox fans currently). With Roberts, Markakis, Adam Jones, Nolan Reinhold, and Matt Wieters, Baltimore has a nice, young nucleus to continue to build off of. Pitching will of course still be an issue. They brought in Mike Gonzalez to close...not saying that answers their needs in terms of closing games, but it's a step in the right direction. The tipping point could be Brian Matusz. If he has a breakout year, they could ride that momentum into next year and beyond with him as their ace. Really, really like the makeup of this team, but their pitching inevitably will kill them...they'll still be close to .500 though. Over.

AL Central
Minnesota, 87-76 (82):
So apparently everyone in this division is supposed to finish either .500 or under, and that rarely happens. The Twins won this division last year in the 163rd game against Detroit, and they were looking good until they went up against the Yanks, but that happened to everyone, so what can you do? Joe Nathan's injury will kill them unless Jon Rauch or someone else steps up and shows the ability to close games. Otherwise, you're looking at Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker as your co-aces that they will try and ride out as long as they possibly can. The J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson signings puzzle me considering that I have more confidence in an Alexi Casilla/Brendan Harris duo. They do have the best 1-2 DH combo in baseball (Kubel & Thome)...too bad you can only start one. Under.

Detroit Tigers, 86-77 (81):
A team that you could conceivably have at winning 90 games or 70. These are always the most fun teams to watch though...especially if they end up being good. We've heard about Max Scherzer for a long time, but I keep thinking that Edwin Jackson was actually halfway decent, and letting him walk for a still-unknown is a big gamble. Detroit will benefit from a Verlander/Porcello 1-2 at the top of their of the best in baseball in my opinion. Austin Jackson is really going to have to live up to the hype...not sure about that. Love the Damon pickup. He still as something left, plus he'll be playing with a chip on his shoulder. Love Inge, love Cabrera in any state, and I think Scott Sizemore has a really nice year as a rookie. Again, could go a number of different directions, but for now, I'm choosing to be optimistic. Over.

Chicago White Sox, 79-83 (82):
I'm thinking this is the team to beat in this division. Sure, Jake Peavy isn't quite at elite level anymore, but he's a great guy to start a series with, and you really do need that guy who can at least be thought of as a #1. You're looking at a solid 1-4 in their rotation (Peavy, Buehrle, Danks, Floyd). Also, check out that bullpen. J.J Putz? Scott Linebrink? They have quietly put together a tremendous bridge to get to Bobby Jenks. Here's the biggest fantasy tip I can give you this year: Gordon Beckham is right now listed as a third baseman, but will start the year at second, so he'll be eligible at both after about two weeks. Beckham is my breakout candidate this season. He's a must-have for me (already made him a keeper in my fantasy league...sorry guys). Over.

Cleveland Indians, 65-97 (73):
I pretty much accepted that it was going to be doom and gloom for the Tribe last year, and unfortunately, that's pretty much what happened. The good news is that it can't get much worse. The pitching staff is still pretty much in disarray. Love Masterson, but I think he's still a guy you want pitching long innings out of the 'pen. Not to say he will never start ever (he obviously will), but I'm not sure if he's ready for the kind of workload he will undertake this year. One of the most underrated outfields in the game (LaPorta, Sizemore, Shin Soo-Choo), but this is still a developing team. Carlos Santana will get his chance behind the plate to take over for V-Mart's absence eventually (and yes, his name is Carlos Santana...I saw you double-taking). Under.

Kansas City, 65-97 (71):
So much for KC busting out. Hey, it looked good for the first two months, then the injuries piled up, and what ended up happening was that it was the Zack Grienke show for one game, and the nobody cares show for the other four, and while it should never be like that, no matter how bad a team may be, that's the way it really felt to an outside observer. Mike Aviles disappointed in his sophomore campaign, and now he is relegated to being a super-utility guy in his third year. Alex Gordon has looked great when he's been healthy...the question now is will he ever be healthy for an entire season? I like the Podsednik and Rick Ankiel signings, and as long as Soria remains healthy, they have enough pitching to make a nice jump in wins. Over.

AL West
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 97-65 (84):
I'm pretty sure before every season, the guys in charge of the over/unders get deneuralized by that Men In Black transmitter, and forget everything that happened not only in the last year with the Halos, but also who they acquired in the off-season. Scott Kazmir is their #4...their #4! I love their two big additions (Matsui at DH, Fernando Rodney to be their 7th inning guy). Call me baffled, but I don't understand how they don't win 90 again. Over.

Texas Rangers, 87-75 (83):
This will all come down to pitching, as it always does with the Rangers. They simply do not have enough of it. They have some nice pieces already in place with Feldman and Holland in the rotation, and Neftali Feliz becoming the latest 100 MPH phenom relief pitcher. However, they can score runs at will, and in this division, if you put up five runs a game, you can get to 90 wins. Over.

Seattle Mariners, 85-77 (83):
The M's are one of the teams I will be watching very closely this year. No way can you touch a 1-2 of Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee. This is possibly the best tandem since Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling teamed up in Arizona. They are that good. If Erik Bedard gets even close to being healthy, they will be lights out. They have no power in their lineup though. You want to talk about small ball. They will be a hit-and-run team all year long, and if they do in fact play that way, you also cannot beat the 1-2 of Ichiro and Chone Figgins to table-set. If they can get a big bat before the deadline, the M's could be the AL sleeper this year. Over.

Oakland Athletics, 75-87 (78):
Ben Sheets went from not pitching for anyone to being the ace of a team...let me reiterate the fact that Ben Sheets did not throw one pitch...not one...all of last year, and he is now the ace in Oakland. Ummm, yeah. Under.

NL East
Philadelphia Phillies, 93-69 (92):
I thought the Phillies were going to be the second-place team in the East, which was just about right before they traded for Cliff Lee, and things really took off. That's the tough part about this. You cannot account for what a team will do during the season in terms of trades. The Phillies were an above average team before they got Lee, who turned them into a powerhouse again. Not paying Lee will end up really hurting him. You can tell in interviews that, while he likes playing for the M's thus far, he really wanted to stay in Philly and pitch out his good years there (because of their proximity to winning another championship now and in the future). Philly decided that Halladay was worth the investment...I just don't know how much longer he can pitch complete games, even in the NL. They have the best lineup in baseball, but the pitching could be their downfall. Again, I'm thinking they regress. Under.

Florida Marlins, 87-75 (81):
Ricky Nolasco was awful last year, they got nothing out of Cameron Maybin, and this team still won 87 games...that's impressive. When you talk about Josh Johnson, you are talking about a force. Here's a guy who has already lived up to the hype that surrounded him, and yet he can still get better. Uggla and Ramirez make up the best 2B/SS tandem in the game (sorry Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins). Still, I can't in good conscience believe that the Marlins can replicate the success they had last year. Under.

Atlanta Braves, 86-76 (86.5):
This is a fascinating team as well. They shouldn't be good, and yet they continue to turn out above-.500 seasons. The face of the franchise is up for grabs now that Chipper Jones is officially on the back nine of his career...or the 19th hole of his career, depending on where you're standing. You need to know three names on the Braves. Jair Jurrjens, who was so impressive last year that he is the ace this year, Tommy Hanson, who is the best pitching prospect in baseball, and Jason Heyward, the best overall prospect in baseball, who will become the everyday right fielder before the All-Star break. I like some of the pieces involved, but like the Sox, it's hard for me to embrace all of it (3/4 of their infield (I really like Yunel Escobar though), and their entire bullpen (Billy Wagner is closing for them now). Under.

New York Mets, 70-92 (81):
I can't even imagine what it must be like to be a Mets fan. 70-92? I thought they would win at least 90 last year...what happened? I think what happened was that Jose Reyes is the heart and soul of this team, and without him, they looked lost. Now it appears that with his thyroid problem, he'll be done for this season as well. I continue to suspend reality based on my thinking that Johan will turn it around, that J-Bay will light it up, that Beltran will stay healthy and hold the form he showed while he was in the lineup last year, that David Wright will pull out another 30/30-like needs the Mets to be good. Over.

Washington Nationals, 59-103 (72):
Believe it or not, the Nats have other players besides Stephen Strasburg...I know I was shocked too. No, but really, the Nats are making some tremendous strides since they moved to DC. They were actually in the running for Mark Teixeira two years ago...when did you ever think the Nationals would be in on a major free agent? Ryan Zimmerman is going to have another huge season, and besides him, they have a bunch of wild cards (Elijah Dukes, Josh Willingham, Nyjer Morgan, Adam Dunn) who may pan out for them. All the focus will be on the rotation. As soon as Jason Marquis, John Lannan, and Scott Olsen struggle, it will only beg the question of how patient the Nats and their fans can be with Strasburg in the minors. Their bullpen will struggle as well, which will add to the need to get Drew Storen up as well. This team remains a year away, but Strasburg will get there at some point...that's going to be some exciting stuff. Under.

NL Central
St. Louis Cardinals, 91-71 (88):
The Cards stayed status quo this offseason, which is completely acceptable considering they won 91 games and their division. However, I bet their fans kind of wish they did something. They won a championship in '06, which only makes that fan base hungrier for more (any really good baseball city is like this after being deprived of a championship for a long time...Boston and Philly come to mind). I think Pujols gets them to 80 just by him being in the lineup. Wainwright and Carpenter are both tremendous, and the noise that they have made since the season ended was re-signing Matt Holliday...that was a smart move. Over.

Chicago Cubs, 83-78 (83):
Much like the Mets, it's almost frustrating how bad the Cubs have become. They should be a perennial 90-win team who should have the Cardinals and Brewers nipping at their heels. Now, they are looking up at both of those two teams, and may find themselves heading into a fourth place finish. I'm not sold on anyone outside of Derrek Lee, and unless a move is made, they will be stuck in neutral this season. Under.

Milwaukee Brewers, 80-82 (80.5):
I will be really shocked if the Brewers don't win 90 games this season. I'm thinking it's going to start out Cards/Brewers and end Cards/Brewers. The only question there is is whether or not they can win enough games to assure themselves of a wild card birth. The NL is wide open this year, and you don't need the best rotation to win. Braun and Fielder are the Manny/Papi combo of baseball now, and they have two real good young infielders in Casey McGehee and Alcides Escobar (big-time fantasy sleeper). Gallardo is an can only hope this doesn't turn into a Zack Grienke-like situation here. Over.

Cincinnati Reds, 78-84 (78):
This is a team that can change everything. They potentially could be that good. No one has the young bats like the Reds have (Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs). In addition, Brandon Phillips continues to be solid. Also, call me crazy, but I really like the O.C./Scott Rolen combo on the left side of the infield. The Harang/Bronson/Cueto/Homer Bailey combo could all put up 18 wins or 18 losses...none of it would surprise me. The big wild card is Aroldis Chapman. Cincinnati has to be in the bottom five locations I'm thinking a Cuban defect will land...and this is a guy you actually look like you may want to keep...the anti-Jose Contreras if you will. If he can get 150 innings in, the Reds could play spoiler to the Cards or Brewers hopes of the wild card. Over.

Houston Astros, 74-88 (77):
I'm thinking this is the year that the Astros finally descend to the bottom of the Central. What exactly happened here? It's like they bring Carlos Lee on board, and stand pat in terms of free agents for three years? I thought giving him $100 million would set them back...apparently it really set them back. Under.

Pittsburgh Pirates, 62-99 (71):
The Bucs are a team you can pull for because I see them perhaps getting some fans in the seats this year, much like the O's. Lots and lots of potential in the outfield with Lastings Milledge (who had one of the more schizo-seasons in recent memory), McCutchen, and Garrett Jones. They could be really good, or fail miserably. With Pedro Alvarez on the way, they may have a decent amount of pop in the lineup. Ryan Doumit is probably the most underrated catcher in baseball. Their pitching is suspect, but you have to come to expect that given the track record of Pirates' young pitchers blowing their arms out before they even get a chance to get situated. Over.

NL West
Los Angeles Dodgers, 95-67 (84):
The Dodgers are extremely close to going Chicago Cubs on us and completely falling apart, and judging by the O/U figure, the word is out. A dominant outfield featuring a past-his-prime, but still amazingly effective Manny Ramirez, the best centerfielder in the game in Matt Kemp (by the way, that should be Jacoby's title...not like I'm bitter or anything), and Andre Ethier, who continues to fly under the collective radar. Clayton Kershaw is about as good as you can get in terms of a young ace...he's Tim Lincecum light for me. Billingsley is a solid #2, and with Broxton closing games, they're good with a lead. The rest of their bullpen is totally suspect, and their infield causes even more questions to come up. I believe this year could get bad, especially since there are three teams right on the Dodgers' heels. Under.

Colorado Rockies, 92-70 (83):
You were surprised the Rockies won 92 right? Tell me I'm not the only one who didn't see this happening. What happened was the Rocks got really good about two years before it was conceivable that they would be 90-win good. Their offense is so spread out. Tulowitzki is their best bat, but the drop-off after that is not big at all. The starting pitching staff is solid for the NL, and, surprisingly enough, they have one of the deepest bullpens in all of baseball. Over.

San Francisco Giants, 88-74 (83):
Here is my darkhorse. I'm looking up and down this lineup and through the pitching staff, and they seemingly have everything they need to win. Pablo Sandoval may contend for a batting title this year after a rookie campaign that saw him put up a .330-25-90 season. They possess a top-five 1-5 pitching rotation, with Madison Bumgarner, a guy who would likely be at least a #2 on most teams, in the #5 slot. I again have to emphasize that I love Brian Wilson. A guy named Brian Wilson throwing for a California makes a lot of sense. The best catching prospect in Buster Posey will see a little time this year, but his impact will be felt more in 2011. They have solid hitting, solid defense, utility guys, deep starting rotation, reliable closer...the chief concern I have is the bridge to get to Wilson, but other than that, you're looking at a team built for the postseason. Over.

San Diego Padres, 75-87 (71):
The Padres' fans will likely be taken hostage this year by the ongoing Adrian Gonzalez saga. I know I will sound biased when I say this, but they have got to trade him sooner rather than later, just as a way to get on with it. Kyle Blanks may have a nice semi-breakout year this season, and Heath Bell has been impressive in his short stint as the Padres' closer...other than that though, there really isn't a whole lot to say about the Pads. Under.

Arizona Diamondbacks, 70-92 (82):
As indicated with a O/U at 82, the D-Backs are in line for a gigantic bounce-back that may land them atop of the NL West. Much like the Mariners, if their 1-2-3 stays healthy (Brandon Webb is the key in this health equation), they could be the best in baseball. The offense can flat-out hit. Justin Upton is following the Evan Longoria career path of blowing up, signing a big contract, and continuing to blow least that's how I think it will go down. Miguel Montero has himself situated to have a monster year behind the plate. Add in the Chris Young/Conor Jackson/Mark Reynolds combination, and they are looking at at least four 25-homer guys. Qualls is solid in the 9th...D-Backs/Rockies/Giants/Brewers/Cardinals for three playoff spots...should be a wild ride this year. Over.

So there's a somewhat concise baseball preview there. I came in over .500 last year in terms of predictions, so I'm hopeful I can continue the positive momentum into this season. Hopefully I can get a fantasy baseball article up soon, as I really think I have a good grasp on things much like I did last year (eight teams, did not finish worse than 3rd). Next up though will be my first annual March Madness Dossier, which will break things down in terms of potential runs, sleepers, busts, and everything you'll need to over-analyze your brackets and finish in the middle of the pack in your pool (certain things you probably don't want to write or say aloud would include the last sentence). Anyway, I hope everyone stays relatively dry for the St. Patty's Day Parade in Southie, and everyone has a great week...I know I will. Peace.


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