Friday, April 07, 2006

The 2006 Major League Baseball Preview

We’re five days into the season, but I thought I’d post my preview and predictions for the 2006 Major League Baseball season. I should note that the records for each team were finalized Sunday, I just haven’t had a chance to finish the preview until now.

I used the following rules/assumptions while making my predictions:
1. No matter how much turnover there is in their rosters, or how good their divisional counterparts appear to be, I will continue to pick the Yankees and Braves to win their respective divisions until someone actually knocks them off.
2. I will not pick Oakland to win a playoff series until they actually do.
3. I will believe that the Dodgers can live up to their potential once they actually do.
4. Young teams who are seen to be on the verge of contending tend to take a step back, and then jump into contention the following year.
5. Teams with heavy turnover on their major league roster tend to do worse than people think they will.
6. The baseball gods hate the Chicago Cubs, and are in the midst of punishing them by rewarding every other long-time suffering fanbase with a championship.

With that out of the way, on to the predictions:

American League

1. NY Yankees - 94-68
There’s no doubting their hitting (unless the juiceless Giambi and Sheffield go limp), but there are questions surrounding their pitching and their defense. The bullpen should be lights out, with Farnsworth (and come June) Dotel leading into Rivera, but the rotation is suspect. Can Randy Johnson’s 44 year old back hold up for another year? Are Wang, Chacon, and Small for real? Can Carl Pavano come all the way back? As for the defense, Johnny Damon’s arm, and Jason Giambi’s everything are questions. Nonetheless, their offense should be able to make up for their shortcomings elsewhere.

2. Toronto - 89-73
They loaded up this off-season, adding AJ Burnett to the DL, BJ Ryan to the bullpen, and Troy Glaus, Lyle Overbay, and Benjie Molina to the offense. They’ll miss the O-Dog’s defense at second, but have enough bats to compete with the strong offenses in New York, Boston, and yes, Tampa Bay. If they get close to full seasons from Burnett, Ted Lilly, and most importantly, Roy Halladay, they will be right in it until the end, but history tells us that that won’t happen.

3. Boston - 84-78
There’s a lot of turnover here, with new starters at every infield spot, centerfield, a new star in the rotation, and a rebuilt bullpen. Ortiz and Manny should continue to star, and Coco Crisp looks to be a good replacement for Johnny Drama. I worry about their production at first and third, with Lowell, Youk, and Snow all carrying question marks as to whether or not they can produce every day. As for the pitching staff, if Schilling, Wells, and Beckett hold up, the rotation should be strong, though the bullpen has questions, even if Papelbon settles into the closer role. In any case, there are too many questions marks, and the AL East is too deep, that I can’t feel comfortable projecting anything better than a third-place finish for the BoSox, though it’s not unrealistic to see them finishing higher.

4. Baltimore - 75-87
The pitching is young, and will be very good shortly – especially with Leo Mazzone at the helm. As for the offense, if Tejada plays to his potential, and players like Lopez, Millar and Conine don’t drop off too badly as they age, it could be about as good as last year. They’ll be a feisty team, but I don’t think the talent is there to compete with the big three in 2006.

5. Tampa Bay - 71-91
The offense is young, and very good. The pitching isn’t there yet. Beyond Scott “Jewel of” Kazmir, there isn’t an above average pitcher in the rotation. Their offense should keep them in some games, but I see them fading in the second half, especially after they find takers for vets like Julio Lugo and Aubrey Huff. They’re a team on the rise, though, and like the Os should be dangerous in 2007 and beyond.

1. Cleveland - 96-66
Even with Sabathia on the DL, their pitching will be very good. Cliff Lee and Paul Byrd are underrated, and I think Jake Westbrook will be better this year too. If their offense struggles, they have players ready in the minors, either as call-ups or as assets to add a bat to the outfield or first base. I don’t think they’re any worse on paper than last year, and with the progression from their young players, should be ready to make the leap into first place.

2. Chicago White Sox - 93-69
Their rotation is second to none (except maybe Oakland’s), but the bullpen is a major question mark. With Hermanson hurt, and possibly done for good, there’s no one waiting to take over if Bobby Jenks struggles. The addition of Thome looks to be a boost to the offense, but I’m unconvinced that Konerko or Jermaine Dye will replicate their production from last year. Similarly, while Contreras and Garland will be good, they won’t be as productive as they were at their peaks last year. I wouldn’t be surprised if the team tired at some point of Ozzie Guillen’s high-wire act, but I think it will more likely happen next year than this year.

3. Minnesota - 88-74
Avi will disagree with me, but I don’t see them as being any better than in 2005. The pitching is strong, but any progression from young position players like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau will be off-set by regression from aging vets like Torii Hunter and Shannon Stewart. Since I don’t see the Twinkies making a move to add a bat at RF/DH (which would push Rondell White or Lew Ford into a more appropriate part-time role), I see them finishing right where they did last year.

4. Detroit - 70-92
Jim Leyland will help, but not too much this year. Their pitching could be strong, depending on what Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones have left, and how far Jeremy Bonderman, Justin Verlander, and Joel Zumaya progress. They have some nice players in the field, but I see Pudge and Magglio due for some regression and/or serious DL time. Couple that with the number of talented teams the Tigers will face, and I think this will be a tough year for the Tigers.

5. Kansas City - 55-107
Their already-thin pitching staff has already lost a handful of players to the DL. They have some decent young position players (Teahan, DeJesus, Alex Gordon when he arrives), but character vets like Doug Mientkiewicz, Mark Grudzielanek, and Reggie Sanders won’t make a difference in the win-loss column. How Allard Baird still has a job is beyond me; I almost feel like 55 wins is being generous to them.

1. Oakland - 99-63
They look great on paper, with a deep rotation, and strong middle-relief leading into lights out closer Huston Street. The offense is good too, especially if Frank Thomas stays healthy and Milton Bradley stays sane. Once Bobby Crosby is healthy, they’ll be lethal.

2. LA Angels - 93-69
Despite losing Paul Byrd and Jarrod Washburn, the rotation will be very good with the emergence of Ervin “Magic” Santana and the addition of Jeff “Dream” Weaver. The bullpen is deadly as always. There are questions about their offense, but youngsters like Casey Kotchamn should be ready to step up, and they have lots of depth in the farm system if they need to draw upon it.

3. Seattle - 76-86
There’s a lot of talent here to work with. The offense will be better if Sexson’s healthy, Adrian Beltre bounces back from a terrible year, and Kenji Johjima plays to his potential. The rotation should be better with a rebounding Gil Meche, the addition of Jarrod Washburn, and a full season of Felix Hernandez. I don’t think they’re in the same league as the A’s and Angels, but they’re not a pushover by any means.

4. Texas - 75-87
What do you get when you put a killer offense and a terrible pitching staff on the field? We’re about to find out. Kevin Millwood should save his pennies, because he’s not going to command another big contract after 5 years of getting shelled at the Ballpark in Arlington. Adam Eaton is out, for a while, and Vicente Padilla and Kameron Loe can’t carry the load. In any case, they should be involved in some exciting 10-8 shootouts, and Mark Teixera should contend for the Home Run crown.

National League

1. Atlanta - 91-71
Renteria is a step down from Raffy Furcal, and it’s unlikely that Andruw Jones will match his production from last year. Nonetheless, full seasons from the likes of Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur should help make up for the loss. If their starting pitching gels, they will contend, especially if Chris Reitsma or someone nails down the closer position. And like I said, I’ll pick against them once someone actually knocks them off. They’ve lived through greater roster turnover than this and managed to keep their streak of division championships alive. As an aside, it does bother me when people say that they have won 14 straight division titles. I know that the strike wiped out the end of the season, but the Expos won the division in 1994, and were comfortably ahead, meaning they likely would have held on through August and September. If we’re going to ignore that, we should also wipe those 100 some games off of Cal Ripken’s streak and wipe the rest of that year’s stats from the record book as well.

2. Philadelphia - 84-78
They have a reconfigured bullpen, with Tom Gordon taking over as closer and Arthur Rhodes setting up, which moves youngster Ryan Madsen into the rotation. I don’t have a lot of confidence in the vets at the back end of their pen, but in the mediocre National League (East), they have enough to contend, and as it turns out, win the wild card.

3. NY Mets - 81-81
They’re everyone’s pick for breakout team after a very active off-season. They have an almost entirely new bullpen, with Billy Wagner closing and Jorge Julio and Duaner Sanchez playing key roles. For now, only Aaron Heilman is the only holdover in a key position. The rotation is pretty similar to last year, with rookie Brian Bannister being the lone new addition. They have some big new bats in the field, but at the expense of their defense at some key position, a big problem in Shea. I think the rotation is thin, especially if Pedro struggles with injuries and Glavine and Traschel struggle with age. Playing in the demanding New York market won’t help either. This team will settle into mediocrity, and Willie Randolph will be fired at year’s end in favor of a more experienced manager (Buck Showalter, anyone?)

4. Washington - 78-84
The loss of Esteban Loaiza from the rotation will hurt, and it remains to be seen how productive Alfonso Soriano can be in RFK. This team has some good young talent in place, but is a ways off from being a contender.

5. Florida - 64-98
After purging nearly every established major leaguer from their roster, the Marlins will be bad. However, they have enough young talent in place that they won’t be as bad as, say, the Royals. Look for them to get better as the year goes along, and to be a sleeper in the second half of 2007.

1. St. Louis - 100-62
This is as much a comment on the mediocrity of the rest of the National League as it is an endorsement of the moves that the Cards made this off-season. I happen to like most of them, but I have them at the 100-win mark mostly because their nucleus of Pujols, Rolen, Carpenter, and Isringhausen makes them so much better than their competitors.

2. Chicago Cubs - 83-79
They could be mediocre, or they could be very good. It depends on how much Maddux has left in the tank, and how much Prior and Wood can give them. I think the addition of Juan Pierre, and the promotions of Ronny Cedeno and Matt Murton into the every day lineup will inject some energy into this club. Carlos Zambrano can anchor the rotation, but they need meaningful contributions from Prior and Wood to get over the hump. I think they’re going to be good, but will fall just short of the playoffs.

3. Pittsburgh - 81-81
This team is young, and is still a couple of players away from being a contender. Nonetheless, their pitching keeps getting better, and they will be a team to watch down the stretch. Jason Bay is one of the best hitters in the league, and if they could surround him with another power hitter or two, they would be my pick for the wild card. Aside from that, the only thing holding them back is the possibility that Oliver Perez and/or Zach Duke will level off.

4. Milwaukee - 81-81
The Brewers are a popular sleeper pick, after years of sub .500 ball. I like their pitching a lot, with or without a full season from Ben Sheets, but they’re still a year away offensively. Once Rickie Weekes, JJ Hardy, and Prince Fielder get established, they will be lethal. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them win 90 games in 2007, but in 2006 they’re not a playoff-caliber team.

5. Houston - 77-85
They bring back effectively the same team as the one that made it to the World Series last year, but are missing Roger Clemens. I don’t think he’ll come back, and I’m not sure if Andy Pettitte will be healthy and effective all year. Take them away, and there’s not much left after Roy Oswalt in that rotation. Add in a suspect offense, and it’s going to be a rough year for the Astros.

6. Cincinnati - 67-95
They had a lot of depths at First Base and in the Outfield, and managed to turn that surplus into Bronson Arroyo and Dave Williams, respectively a nice 3rd and 4th starter in the rotation. With Pena and Casey gone, first base is a question, and there’s precious little depth in the outfield when someone (Junior Griffey) gets hurt. I just don’t see any way that the Reds can compete this year.

1. San Diego - 84-78
Pitching and defense will carry them into the playoffs. I like the addition of Chris Young in the rotation behind Peavy, and think that Dewon Brazelton could be a surprise. The bullpen is steady as always, and the team improved their defense, a must in Petco Park. Mike Cameron is one of the best defensive center fielders in the game, and rookies Josh Barfield and Adrian Gonzales will help the club improve as well. I think Gonzales will finally establish himself, and Wally Pipp Ryan Klesko. I’m not sure that the Padres would be a playoff team in any other division, but there’s not much depth in the NL West.

2. Arizona - 82-80
The losses of Javy Vasquez and Troy Glaus will hurt, but they made some nice additions to this young club. Orlando Hudson will help the defense, and youngsters like Conor Jackson and Stephen Drew will crack the every day lineup and spark the offense. Look for Brandon Webb to take the next step towards becoming a true ace. I think the D-Backs will surprise, but fall just short of the playoffs.

3. Los Angeles - 81-81
I made this pick before Gagne was lost for the year, and Nomar was lost for however long. This team is too old and brittle (Kenny Lofton, JD Drew) to make the playoffs, though I think that Furcal will be a star in LA. They have enough depth to stay competitive, especially once Cesar Izturis comes back, but not enough to take the next step.

4. Colorado - 75-87
This team is full of talented young players in the field, and the pitching is inching its way towards respectability as well. They’ll be a good team in the second half of this season.

5. San Francisco - 68-94
This team is old, very old. All old teams have a season where age catches up to them, injuries slow them down, and the wheels fall off. I think it will happen to the Giants this year. Barry will be good for 110-120 games at most, and I’m not convinced that Steve Finley will bounce back. Add in an anticipated decline from Moises Alou, Omar Vizquel, and Mike Matheney, and you’re left with Pedro Feliz and Lance Niekro carrying the offense. On the pitching front, the rotation has some nice young pieces, but not enough to carry them. I look for Jason Schmidt to be dealt in July, and the Giants to slowly begin the process of rebuilding.

AL Wild Card Tiebreaker
I forgot to include this initially, but for those of you who noticed that the ChiSox and Angels have identical 93-69 records, yes, I have the South Siders winning a one-game playoff to advance into the divisional round.

Chicago 3 Oakland 2
Rule #2 comes into play here, and that whole championship experience thing will help the Sox.

Cleveland 3 New York 1
Cleveland's offense will beat up the Yanks' rotation, and allow the Indians to move on.

St. Louis 3 Philadelphia 0
The Cards are clearly the better team here. I could see Brett Myers stealing a game for the Phils, but it will be difficult since he'll probably square off against Carpenter or Mulder.

San Diego 3 Atlanta 1
I should have had "Atlanta will lose in the NLDS" as one of my rules.

Cleveland 4 Chicago 2
Cleveland has the better bullpen, and can match the offense. The Sox were a deserving champ last year, but they also had a lot of things break the right way for them. I don't think they can be so lucky two years in a row. Mid-season acquisition Aubrey Huff will be the MVP.

St. Louis 4 San Diego 1
Again, St. Louis is clearly the most talented team in the League. This series will be closer than the 4-1 win indicates, but I see the Cards winning the close games thanks to a deeper bench and a slightly better bullpen. After missing the playoffs last year, Scott Rolen comes through with some timely hitting to win the MVP.

World Series
Cleveland 4 St. Louis 1
Always pick against La Russa in the World Series. Always. Cliff Lee will win 2 games to be named World Series MVP, and the Indians break out of a 58 year championship drought.

Individual Awards
NL MVP: Albert Pujols, 1B, St. Louis
AL MVP: Alex Rodriguez, 3B, New York
NL Cy Young: Jake Peavy, San Diego
AL Cy Young: Roy Halladay, Toronto
NL Rookie of the Year: Adrian Gonzales, 1B, San Diego
AL Rookie of the Year: Ian Kinsler, 2B, Texas
NL Manager of the Year: Charlie Manuel, Philadelphia
AL Manager of the Year: Eric Wedge, Cleveland

With all this being said, I've been known to be wrong before. So don't act surprised if I'm previewing a Minnesota-Milwaukee World Series six months from now.

Go Red Sox, and enjoy the season everyone.


At 10:12 PM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

I'm off topic, and don't want to jinx anything, so I'll whisper: not only has Blanton outpitched everyone's favourite stud-child pick Felix, Crazy Man Bradley just walked, stole second, and went to third on an error...leading to DJ being intentionally walked so the Mariners bullpen could pitch to Scutaro.

At 10:15 PM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

And Marco's rewarded them with a triple, making him 6-for-11 on the season.


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