The Hanging Curve – Baseball Opinion Blog with MLB Analysis that won’t Bend or Break

AL Divisional Breakdown

Now that the AL is beginning play, here are my predictions. I will add commentary later, but for now, here’s the breakdown:

AL West

  1. Oakland Athletics
  2. Los Angeles Angels
  3. Texas Rangers
  4. Seattle Mariners

The Mariners.  I mean, what can I say?  They’ve started out the season with Russell Branyan hitting cleanup.  The Rangers have a potent lineup of young hitters, but I don’t think this is the year for them.  Salty still needs some “seasoning” and Kinsler will have to show he can stay healthy all year, and I don’t think their pitching is quite ready for a playoff run.  The Rangers’ bullpen is mostly full of scrubs with 6+ ERAs last season, and their rotation contains Kris Benson, who never was good and is now on his first season back from surgery.  I believe the Angels will slip from last year.  They swapped Tiexeira and Rodriquez for Abreu and Fuentes, neither of which were ridiculous downgrades, but they didn’t exactly move forward.  Their lineup now centers entirely on Vlad Guerrero, who is good but appears to be on the decline the last few years.  Plus, they start the season lacking a couple of their key starters.  Oakland I think kind of wins this division by default.  Billy Beane is a good GM and I think a standard Beane team beats the other teams in this division.  He picked up probably the best hitter from the National League to go with his usual mix of cheap youngsters and aging or mishapen players that no one else wants (see Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Giambi).

AL Central

  1. Minnesota Twins
  2. Cleveland Indians
  3. Detroit Tigers
  4. Kansas City Royals
  5. Chicago White Sox

The Chicago White Sox I believe will fail miserably.  I’m sorry, there is just not too much fear struck in my heart by the likes of Jermaine Dye, Carlos Quentin and Paul Konerko.  I could be wrong, since this team somehow always seems to pull three to four extremely good pitchers out of a heap of pitching shit.  The Royals have a decent mound of good young talent, including a pretty good rotation, but they also have the likes of Jose Guillen and Tony Peña Jr.  I really don’t have too much to say about the Tigers here.  Galaraga looks good, their lineup is OK, but they are going to be feeling that HUGE payroll for years now.  Where’s Sheffield by the way?  I don’t think the Indians are the second best team in this division, but they’ve always seemed to come out pretty good the last few years.  Cliff Lee is not going to pitch anywhere NEAR 22-3 2.54 ERA.  Try more like 4.75.  Maybe.  Finally, I think the Twins will come away with this division, but I don’t think they will next year.  Their new batch of youngsters (Gomez, Span, Casilla) don’t seem to be up to the par of what the Twins usually farm up, but with a pretty well rounded team I think they take the division.

AL East

  1. Boston Red Sox
  2. Tampa Bay Rays
  3. New York Yankees
  4. Toronto Blue Jays
  5. Baltimore Orioles

The Baltimore Orioles.  These guys might race the Mariners for the worst record in baseball.  Their rotation has been plundered of everyone but Jeremy Guthrie, who would actually probably have a good record and such on a decent team.  Barring Markakis, Roberts to an extent, and Wigginton, who actually puts up some pretty decent stats for any team not named the Pirates, their lineup is stone cold barren.  Opposing pitchers could walk these three every time they come up and just take their chances with the rest of the lineup.  And they would probably win.  It’s a shame the Blue Jays are in the AL East.  Any other division they could probably compete very well, they have a pretty athletic and solid lineup, but with the loss of Burnett and Marcum on the DL recovering from “Tommy John” surgery, I don’t think they’ll challenge the Yankees for third this year.  The Yankees have the most godawfully high payroll and a new godawful stadium to play their mercenary ball in, but baseball is about more than money.  At least I hope it still is.  The Rays have a sweet young team and should challenge for the division every year of the next four or five.  The Gabe platoon is the only real hole they have in the lineup, and their pitching is scintillating, with a couple different pitchers who could make a run at the Cy Young.  However, I think the Sox will blast their way to the division, with the Rays picking up the wild card.  Finally, the Red Sox, with probably the best lineup in baseball, although the Dodgers are pretty close.  They’ve started the season with Jason Bay hitting sixth.  I know that no one in the civilized baseball world realized he existed untill last year, but the guy has slugged .520 over his career and he’s batting sixth?  THAT is a deep lineup.

Now, for some awards:

MVP

Probably deserves it: Josh Hamilton
Dark horse: Jason Bay
Will end up being: Mark Teixeira

Cy Young

Probably deserves it: Roy Halladay
Dark horse: Scott Kazmir
Will end up being:CC Sabbathia

Batting Champion

Probably deserves it: Kevin Youkilis
Dark horse:
Will end up being: Someone out of left field like it always is

Most Improved/Bounceback Season

Probably deserves it: David Ortiz
Dark horse: Hideki Matsui
Will end up being: Derek Jeter, regarldess of how poorly he plays

Rookie of the Year

Probably deserves it: Matt Wieters
Dark horse: Jeff Niemann
Will end up being: Matt Wieters

NL Divisional Breakdown

Before the Braves and Dodgers kick this whole thing off tonight, I decided to roll out some of our famous predictions.  First, I’ll start with division-by-division standings, in bottom-up fashion:

NL West

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers
  2. Arizona Diamondbacks
  3. San Francisco Giants
  4. Colorado Rockies
  5. San Diego Padres

The Padres are bad, and they just aren’t getting better any time soon. The sad thing is that they are sucking away the primes of guys like Gonzalez, Peavy, and Young’s careers. The Rockies: meh. They lost one of the best hitters in baseball and haven’t really added anything. But at least they have some real young talent like Chris Ianetta, Troy Tulowitzki, Seth Smith and, farther off, Dexter Fowler. Everyone seems to be raving about the Giants’ upwelling of young talent, but really it’s the same team they had last year. The new additions: Rentaría and a 45-year-old Johnson. Their “pitching depth” is young Cy-Younger Lincecum, followed by Matt Cain who had pretty brilliant seasons last two years but only managed a 8-14 and 7-16 records, and then Zito? Does anyone really still think this guy is good? Jonathan Sánchez? Noah Lowry is alright, but only alright and right now he is only injured. Anyways, I’m not seeing it. The Diamondbacks are going to be good but not great. Same under-achieving lineup, but perhaps Upton will be better with another year under his belt, and great pitching. Finally, the Dodgers, they of the Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier outfield (probably the best in baseball). Offensively this team is bristling: I haven’t even mentioned James Loney or Russell Martin yet. If Kuroda, Billingesly and Kershaw can keep doing what they’ve done, and Randy Wolf can use Dodger Stadium’s massive dimensions to keep some of his impressive HR/IP numbers down, this team has a chance to go deep in the playoffs.

NL Central

  1. Chicago Cubs
  2. Cincinnati Reds
  3. Milwaukee Brewers
  4. St. Louis Cardinals
  5. Pittsburgh Pirates
  6. Houston Astros

The Astros were terrible last year.  This year they are worse.  Just attrocious.  They signed Iván Rodríguez for Hell’s sake.  The Pirates are almost ready to blossom into a beatiful flower.  But probably not this year.  Their Minor Leagues hold three of the most impressive prospects in baseball, and they all showed well this spring.  Pedro Alvarez crushed a homie that, due to the dimensions of the park and the fact that it cleared a pond behind the park, was estimated at about 550-ft.  People are beginning to forget about the holdout.  With the weakness of the division, they could bump up a spot if they had an unbelievable year.  The Cardinals are not that good either.  Their staff is pretty terrible behind Wainwright:  will Lohse have as good a season as the obvious devation from norm that was last year?  Will Wellemeyer continue his conversion from crappy reliever to fairly dependable starter?  Will Joel Pineiro not suck?  Will Carpenter come back from massive injury and pitch well?  All these are not questions you want to be asking of 4/5ths of your rotation.  Ludwick will probably still crush homies (can you believe this guy is older than Pujols?–who, by the way, will have his usual ball-crushing season).  Ankiel will probably continue to hit as well, but the rest of the lineup really is just terrible. The Brewers are said by many pundits to compete for a playoff spot.  I don’t believe so.  They lost CC Sabatthia and Ben Sheets is MIA.  That leaves Jeff Suppan as their “ace”.  Suppan?  Yeah, he had a couple…literally two…intriguing years for the Pirates and Cardinals, but the dude has a 4.63 ERA and a 1.67 K/BB ratio (both career);  that’s not ace material.  Their pitching is key.  Yes, their lineup, even with the likes of sub-.250 hitting Weeks, Cameron, and Hall, will score some runs, but does the pitching keep them in it?  I really think 3-5 could all move around here, depending on such things as injuries and standout campaigns by key contributors, because their talent is all fairly similar IMO.  The Cincinnati Reds have a nice (for the most part) looking lineup with plenty of youngsters, and absolutely dynamite pitching.  WIth Harang likely to return more to his career norm, the likes of Volquez, Cueto, and even Arroyo could be pretty impressive.  Finally, the Cubs, who take the first spot merely by virtue of having the best team last year in a division that did little to change.  I don’t think they will do as good as last year, but so long as Alfonso Soriano avoids any prancing injuries while mincing about like a goddamn fairy they should be OK.

NL East

  1. NY Mets
  2. Philadelphia Phillies
  3. Florida Marlins
  4. Atlanta Braves
  5. Washington Nationals

Mets and Phillies is such a toss up here.  I gave it to the Mets because I think they have maybe one more really good batter in the lineup and similar situations with the pitching.  I figure for the intangibles, maybe Philly lets up a little this year after winning the championship.  Whoever doesn’t win this will likely get the wild card, as all the other non-first-place NL teams are not as good as these guys.  I picked the Marlins next, even though the Braves dominance of yore probably forced many to put them high in the standings, but it is a new era in NL east play.  The Marlins have a great looking young rotation, and while Hanley, Uggla and Cantu may not be the flashiest middle of the lineup, this team is scrappy, and scrappy teams win with good pitching.  So long as the youngsters hold up, I’ll take them for 3rd.  The Braves really haven’t shown me any reason to get excited about their team.  Jair Jurrjens looks good, but all in all their team seems like players that are pretty good, but just maybe shouldn’t be starting.  At least they shouldn’t all be starting for the same team.  Chipper Jones’ O/U for ABs this year is probably about 400, and I’ll take the under.  Finally the Nationals.  Their lineup is entirely bizarre:  Cristian Guzman and Ronnie Belliard up the middle, Adam “I single-handedly (pun intended) lost the WBC for the US” Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman manning the corners, and Willingham, Milledge and Dukes in the outfield.  Jesus Flores is a great youngster behind the plate, watch for him to have a breakout season, unless they decide to hide him behind an aging and terrible Wil Nieves.  If ever a team had no leader, I would have to say this must be the team.  Their pitching staff has a couple of good guys (and no, Daniel Cabrera is not one), but absolutely no depth.  It’s a shame that, like the Pirates, the Nationals built a beautiful new stadium in which they will now play some number of losing seasons in.

Now, for some awards:

MVP

Probably deserves it: Manny Ramirez
Dark horse: David Wright
Will end up being: Another damn Philly

Cy Young

Probably deserves it: Johan Santana
Dark horse: Brandon Webb
Will end up being: Tim Lincecum

Batting Champion

Probably deserves it: Albert Pujols
Dark horse: Lance Berkman
Will end up being: Someone out of left field like it always is

Most Improved/Bounceback Season

Probably deserves it: Aaron Harang
Dark horse: Kosuke Fukudome
Even darker horse: Andy LaRoche
Will end up being: Some Giant because their team did terribly and the pundits thought they would be good

Rookie of the Year

Probably deserves it: Andrew McCutchen
Dark horse: Seth Smith
Will end up being: Some Giant (see above)