2009 MLB Season Preview

Because I so enjoy going back in November to see just how wrong I was, here’s my annual crack at a Major League Baseball season preview.

American League East

1. Boston Red Sox– I know that a lot of folks are picking the remade Yankees or defending champion Rays in this spot, but I’m favoring the Sox.

Why? Pitching. Matsuzaka, Lester and Beckett are solid, and I’d be surprised if Brad Penny or John Smoltz didn’t pan out as well.

2. Tampa Bay Rays – That’s right, I have the Rays ahead of the mighty Yankees.

Those who know me best will say it’s my anti-Yankee bias showing, but I really like Tampa. Even with wunderkind David Price starting the season in the minors, the 2008 pennant winners have good, young pitching.

They also added Pat Burrell to an already solid lineup, and they’re playing him at DH, which means that the defense – one of the league’s best last year – will be golden once again.

3. New York Yankees– In theory, with the additions of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira, the Bronx Bombers are a shoo-in for the postseason.

In reality, the Yankees have an awful lot of eggs in that basket.

Forget the huge inning total for Sabathia or the checkered injury history of Burnett for a minute. What about the fact that the Yankees will rely on Brett Gardner in center, an aging Jorge Posada behind the plate and a no-name at third while Alex Rodriguez rehabs his balky hip?

One of these years, the ageless Mariano Rivera will begin to show his age as well.

Could be 2009…

4. Baltimore Orioles– In 2010, the Orioles will be a wild card contender.

This year, the pitching is a mess. But the team is stockpiling big-time pitching prospects at Bowie and Norfolk, so while another losing season seems likely, at least a plan appears to be in place.

5. Toronto Blue Jays– I’m not sure that’s true in Toronto, where the only blueprint seems to be for Roy Halladay to pitch a gem and then hope it rains for a few days.

Starting pitching will be an issue, as the Jays have little behind Halladay and Jesse Litsch. B.J. Ryan’s velocity has been down this spring, casting doubt over the back end of the bullpen as well.

And any lineup with Marco Scutaro playing everyday has some issues, though I do like their outfielders (Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, et all).

American League Central

1. Cleveland Indians – The Tribe called Cleveland finished strong last year to reach .500, and I like them to carry that momentum over into this season.

The starting pitching will be key as Cliff Lee will need to stay near his high level of 2008 and Fausto Carmona will need a return to his 2007 form. GM Mark Shapiro went out and got Kerry Wood to handle the closing, which could be very good or very bad.

If Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner can re-discover their pop in the middle of the lineup, Cleveland should be the class of this division.

2. Chicago White Sox– The Northsiders will be in the hunt as well, thanks to a wealth of pitching – both in the rotation and the pen.

If they find a center fielder and a lead off hitter (Juan Pierre, via trade perhaps) the lineup, while a little long in the tooth, will produce as well.

3. Minnesota Twins – It’s probably silly of me to put the Twins down here. After all, they always end up as more than the sum of their parts.

Joe Mauer’s back injury worries me – and not just because I drafted him on my fantasy team. And even with him healthy, there seems to be a lack of pop in the lineup aside from Justin Mourneau.

The pitching should be strong again, but youngsters Glen Perkins and Nick Blackburn will need to keep improving.

4. Kansas City Royals – The Royals just keep quietly getting better, making smart deals for guys like Coco Crisp and Mike Jacobs.

Zack Greinke and Gil Meche lead a decent rotation and Joakin Soria is a good, young closer. If their young players (Alex Gordon, Billy Butler and Mark Teahen) keep developing, this team could surprise.

5. Detroit Tigers – The Tigers have a fantastic lineup, and they’ll score runs in bunches.

But there are way too many holes in the rotation (Edwin Jackson is the No. 2 starter right now) and in the bullpen (who’s closing?) for this team to contend.

American League West

1. L.A.Angels of Anaheim – Somebody has to win the West, right?

It will be interesting to see how the Halos respond to John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar and Ervin Santana missing time in the rotation in the first month or so.

The lineup lost its pop when Teixeira took his act to NYC, and the guys who are left at getting up in years a bit.

The gap in this division is closing fast.

2. Texas Rangers – If you could take Texas’ lineup and put them with Minnesota’s pitching staff, you’d have a World Series contender.

As it stands, the Rangers will score tons of runs with young sluggers Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler and Chris Davis.

But will the starting pitching (Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Brandon McCarthy and Matt Harrison) hold up?

I don’t know, but they have a bunch of young pitching talent that might arrive soon enough to help them make a push sooner or later.

3. Oakland Athletics– Billy Beane is widely respected in baseball circles, but with ace Justin Duchscherer on the shelf, his top four pitchers – Dallas Braden, Sean Gallagher, Dana Eveland and Josh Outman – are really not that impressive.

If those guys are better than their career numbers, the A’s could be pretty good. The offense, paced by Matt Holiday and Jason Giambi, should be above average.

Neither one of those guys can pitch, however.

4. Seattle Mariners – This was the worst team in baseball last season and, while I believe they’ll be better, it may not be by much.

Felix Hernandez is the ace, and he’s solid. After that, it’s oft-injured Erik Bedard and aging/ineffective Jarrod Washburn and Carlos Silva.

And aside from Ichiro and perhaps Adrian Beltre, the offense is lacking as well.

National League East

1. New York Mets– Why were the Mets a train wreck in 2008? They couldn’t close out games.

After signing Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz to the back of the bullpen, the Mets will have to find a new way to implode this time around.

Maybe it will be lineup-related, but I think this is the year the Mets finally break back into the playoffs.

2. Philadelphia Phillies– The reigning World Series champions should be strong once again, thanks to good pitching (Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge) and good offense (Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley).

I only wonder about hunger and motivation after bringing home the title last season.

3. Florida Marlins– Young pitching powers this team, as Ricky Nolasco, Josh Johnson and company continue to toil in South Florida obscurity.

The lineup, featuring five-tool stud Hanley Ramirez, is pretty solid as well. There are questions at CF and C, however.

4. Atlanta Braves – A good team trapped in a very good division.

The additions of Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez and Kenshin Kawakami bolster the rotation while Chipper Jones continues to add experience and skill to a youthful lineup.

This team could surprise if things break right.

5. Washington Nationals– The Nats will be better than they were last season, but that isn’t really setting the bar all that high, is it?

Adam Dunn brings his 40 homers and 180 strikeouts to Nationals Park while Scott Olsen and Daniel Cabrera will eat up about 360 innings for the rotation.

How good those innings will be, particularly in Cabrera’s case, is another matter.

National League Central

1. Chicago Cubs – This race will be over by July.

With loads of starting pitching and a strong lineup, the Cubbies will once again tease their fans with visions of World Series grandeur.

Then they’ll lose in the playoffs.

Again.

2. Milwaukee Brewers – This Brewer team will look a bit different than last year’s version, especially on the hill.

Yovani Gallardo and Manny Parra anchor the rotation but free agent signee Trevor Hoffman is already injured, throwing the bullpen into a bit of a tizzy.

The lineup, featuring Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and company, will be very good once again.

3. St. Louis Cardinals – Much like the Twins, I fear I’m rating the Cards too low.

But even if Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainright are healthy enough to lead the rotation, the closer’s unproven (and unknown), there’s zero speed and the defense (aside from Pujols) is suspect all over the park.

Too many holes for me to rate them higher.

4. Cincinnati Reds – How do you lose a 40-HR guy in Adam Dunn and improve?

Simple. Pitch better.

Edinson Volquez was a revelation and youngster Johnny Cueto might be ready to make the leap as well.

Willy Taveras was brought in to ring in more of a speedy, small-ball approach in their hitter-friendly park. It remains to see how that will play out.

5. Houston Astros – This team isn’t that good.

After Roy Oswalt, there are serious questions in the rotation. After Jose Valverde, there are equally pressing issues in the bullpen.

After Lance Berkman and Hunter Pence, there are doubts about the lineup.

See where I’m going here?

6. Pittsburgh Pirates– Another year, another last-place finish for the Bucs.

They may threaten the Astros for fifth this year, assuming their over-hyped young pitchers (Paul Maholm, Ian Snell and Zach Duke) finally start matching their press clippings.

In the end, however, a lack of pop may be too much to overcome.

National League West

1. L.A. Dodgers – I hate to hang a team’s fortunes on one guy, but Manny Ramirez makes this team a contender.

It’s not just his numbers, though those are quite special. It’s the confidence and swagger he gives to guys like James Loney, Matt Kemp and Andre Either.

Replacing Lowe’s innings and production in the rotation is this team’s challenge, but don’t be shocked if the Dodgers make a deal for a starter (Halladay, perhaps?) near the deadline.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks– Brandon Webb, Dan Haren and Jon Garland are as good a 1-2-3 as you’ll find anywhere for a rotation.

Those guys, added to a mix of decent relievers, will keep the Diamondbacks in most ball games.

The young hitters need to grow up quickly, especially when it comes to cutting down on the strikeouts.

3. San Francisco Giants– Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Randy Johnson aren’t too shabby for starting pitchers, either.

The question is hitting. Like who’s going to do it?

Pablo Sandoval is a good, young talent, but any lineup with him batting third – ahead of Bengie Molina in the cleanup spot – is seriously lacking.

4. Colorado Rockies – Aaron Cook will need to anchor what could be a shaky pitching staff. And you have to ask yourself why Oakland was trying so hard to trade closer Huston Street.

A return to form for Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki would really help manager Clint Hurdle keep his job.

5. San Diego Padres – Easily the worst team in baseball.

There are three guys on the 25-man roster who I’d consider above average at their positions: Jake Peavy, Chris Young and Adrian Gonzalez.

Heath Bell, fresh off a pounding in the World Baseball Classic, will be the closer on those rare occasions that the Padres have scored enough runs to need one.

Seriously, by July, Bud Black will have been fired, Peavy will be a Cub or Dodger and they’ll be 20-plus games out of first.

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One Response to “2009 MLB Season Preview”

  1. Blogging with Bryan C. Hanks : Kinston Free Press Says:

    […] — and one of North Carolina’s finest sports writers — Randy Capps has released his predictions for the 2009 Major League Baseball season. He’s also released his postseason award winner and playoff […]

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