Will the Blue Jays Make the Playoffs this Year? : well, last night marked the official half-way mark of the season and the Blue Jays end the first half at 41-40, remarkably similar to last year’s finish of 81-81. So I struggled with this question and how to word it. At first I considered, “can” the Jays make the playoffs and the answer to that is certainly, “yes.” But the reality of the situation is much more complicated.
While being in last place in the tough East division seems depressing, the good news is that the Jays are only two and a half behind the second place Orioles. And does anybody really feel the O’s will continue to contend in the second half? Those that answered yes would do well to consider that Baltimore is the only team in the division that has given up more runs than they’ve scored and are relying heavily on a pitcher who has a career ERA of 5 and has let opposition hitters hit .286 off him through his past. And that oft-injured second baseman Brian Roberts is once again injured.
The Jays hitters have come to life of late, and made john Farrell look like a genius with his alteration to the lineup putting Lawrie and Rasmus up front of Bautista. Of late, Bautista of course has regained his major league lead in homers and was AL player of the month for June and Rasmus has come close to making me eat my words by driving in 25 runs in June and upping his batting average by 25 points since May. Clearly this is a team which can score runs by the bushel and is never really out of a game.
That’s the good news. The bad news, as we know, is that the pitching rotation is decimated. Kyle Drabek is gone for years, Drew Hutchison , the come from nowhere suprise of the first half is maybe going to be back in September and Brandon morrow, who finally had it all together, is gone for another month at least. And that leaves us with questionable Henderson Alvarez, ricky Romero, reliever Carlos Villaneuva and whomever they can find in a Home Depot parking lot on game day for the other two spots. The bad gets worse when you consider that Villaneuva, while a more than adequate pitcher, coming from the bullpen is stretched to reach 6 innings, ironically causing more demand for arms in the bullpen like his own. All would not be lost if Ricky Romero was pitching like Ricky Romero, aka the team “ace”. But despite winning 8 games in the first half, Romero has lost increasingly lost out there , whispering his apologies in post-game scrums after pitching his team out of the game time after time of late. That in his last five starts he’s lasted 26 innings is surprising; that he has given up 40 hits and 27 earned runs in that time is appalling. One could almost wish he was injured but apparently he’s a-ok. He just can’t find the strike zone anymore unless he’s offering up a fatty right across the middle of the plate, belt high.
The prognosis isn’t good. Even a good-hitting team, which Toronto is, can’t be expected to put eight or nine runs on the board every night, which is pretty much what they will need to do with the current rotation. Nor can even a good bullpen, which the Jays are close to having, be expected to deliver four or five innings every night and stay fresh and sharp.
Which brings us back to the original question. Can the Jays compete? Of course. All that is required is the addition of a couple of good arms for the starting rotation. Don’t let the naysayers tell you this couldn’t be done: Ryan Dempster, Zac Greinke and Matt Garza are being openly offered up to the highest bidder and I steadfastly believe Seattle wouldn’t say ‘no’ to a good offer for Felix Hernandez, nor would I believe the Phils and Doc Halladay be unwilling to negotiate a way to bring Roy back to Toronto. It could be done. But the price for any of these arms wouldn’t be cheap. Which leads me to the answer to the question will the Jays make the playoffs? Unfortunately, NO.
Despite Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi assuring TV viewers last night that Alex Anthopolous is definitely trying to add to the Jays roster to make a run for it, we have lots of reason to be skeptical. Within days of three starting pitchers going down, all he’d done was acquire throaways David pauley (already off the roster ) and Sean O’sullivan. He did get veteran Jamie Moyer , which is a no-loss situation, but after two starts , Moyer remains in Las Vegas. He should be added to the big league roster; even if he is only so-so now, he can’t be worse than say Joel Carreno or Scott Richmond who have graced the mound lately, and perhaps some of his enthusiasm and 20+ years of experience might rub off on youngsters . Fellow soft-tossing lefty Brett Cecil in particular.
But even adding Moyer would only be a small step up. The Jays would still need to add at least one more rock-solid arm, and there’s no indication they are wanting to do that. They still cling to the mantra of building for the future and talk of “untouchables” through the minor league system as far down as rookie ball. Clearly, they would have to give up something to acquire talent now, and though they have an over-abundance of young outfielders (Travis Snider, Moises Sierra, Anthony Gose and on and on) and good arms at A-level,if they won’t part with any of them we’ll be limited to acquiring the likes of the next David Pauley rather than the next David Cone (ala 1992). the Blue Jays cling too much to the “build for the future” and “five years” mantra to give the fans anything to hope for now.
The Blue Jays will, when all is said and done, have a record remarkably like last year’s. They will leapfrog over the Orioles who cannot continue to fly so high, but end up in fourth, watching baseball in October like the rest of us.
Sigh. Maybe I do have to move to Texas to have a winning club to cheer on.
So, half way in, who will now win the season?
Well, even though Cliff Lee won a game today, his first of 2012, it’s abundantly obvious I (and most other pundits) were wrong about the Phillies. Even if they played .600 from hereon in, they’d still finish at 84-78, out of the playoffs for the first time since a certain George Washington was boating across the river there. The Nats are for real, Bryce Harper is impressive (astounding for a 19 year old) and Washington should hold onto the NL East.
I liked ST louis to win the Central, and I still do, even without Chris Carpenter or a good Adam Wainwright. But the reds should hang on to challenge them. The Pirates, alas , won’t although Andrew McCutcheon is worthy of MVP consideration.
The Dodgers are sinking, Matt Kemp’s big mouth is coming back to haunt him- with his hamstring, he’ll be lucky to hit 20-20 let alone 50-50 and SF are coming on like gangbusters. But I stick with my original prediction of Arizona taking the division when all is said and done and Aaron Hill is finished hitting for cycles.
In the AL, New York seemed the obvious pick for the East. Then Rivera got injured, A-Rod and Teixiera looked old and people started to write the pinstripes off before, lo and behold, like the cat in the hat, they came back. No one’s gonna come close to them again this year, even though CC is as over-rated as he is overweight.
In the Central, the Tigers have been as disappointing as the city they represent itself, yet somehow are only three and a half games out. Yes, fans, if Toronto was only about 300 miles west, the Jays would be winning the division in a cakewalk (not only would their record have them right there but the easier schedule would no doubt have them in first), but tis not to be. So look for the mediocre White Sox (with resurgent but recently slumping Adam Dunn and hot arm most fans have never heard about, Chris Sale) to fight the tigers right down to the wire. My guess; Tigers will still take it, albeit with an underwhelmng 84 or so wins.
In the West, never mind the Rangers 19-2 loss yesterday. They have too much hitting and too much pitching depth due back from the disabled list soon to be seriously run at, although the Angels may still make the wildcard and could be trouble in the playoffs.
Short story: the Nationals go to the World series for the first time, and face off against texas. The winner may rest on which league wins next week’s All Star game, and thus home field advantage, and on how many innings the N’s will let Strasburg’s arm endure.
The Blue Jays… maybe next year. Again.
And to get the predictions over with before the All Star game, the rest of the AL outlook:
Chicago: Adam Dunn may – must- rebound from horrible 2011; Alex rios, not so much. Should be a calmer losing clubhouse without Ozzie Guillen.
2012 Prediction: 74 wins, 4th place.
Cleveland: Ubaldo Jimenez is apparently one angry Indian, but it looks more and more like it was Cleveland that got scalped in the Colorado trade. If this team could stay healthy, it might have a shot at respectability . Then again, if pigs could fly , umbrella salesmen would be millionaires. For now, the best bet for both is to hope for rain-outs. 2012 Prediction: 76 wins, 3rd place
Detroit: Quite a trifecta with the addition of Fielder to the potential duo of MVP’s, Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander. As good as Cabrera has been, one might suspect his best is yet to come and ’12 could be it. Like a grumpy porcupine, Detroit is simply untouchable.
2012 Prediction: 100 wins, 1st place
Kansas City: good high draft picks starting to pay dividends, but still a pitcher and a year away from real competitiveness.
2012 Prediction: 81 wins, 2nd place
Minnesota: Justin Morneau seems to be over his concussion finally; now the only headache for the Twins is a general lack of pitching and hitting. Cuddyer’s departure will leave a big hole in clubhouse and lineup.
2012 Prediction: 68 wins, 5th place
LA-Anaheim: A good team which got better in the off-season. Yet it’s worth noting that Pujols has been in a steady decline for the past three years (though at 99 rbi and over .500 slugging last year, he’s still pretty formidable!) and his bat may not be enough to compensate for the other aging, declining bats in the outfield. Morales could be a big return ; still in this division it would take divine intervention for the Angels to win it all.
2012 prediction: 94 wins, 2nd place
Oakland: hey, Brad Pitt almost won an Oscar wearing an A’s cap! Can the Yankees or Phils say that? And Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, their surprise off-season signing, is off to a flying start in the USA. So they have that going for them too. Beyond that… well, if the rules are ever changed so that the team with most yellow and green on hat wins, Oakland might have a sporting chance again.
2012 Prediction: 62 wins, 4th place
Seattle: no one loves Oakland more than the Mariners. Or at least they should; without the A’s Seattle would have little chance to ever climb out of the basement. Ichiro is a national treasure in two countries and a surefire Hall of Famer down the road, but at almost 39, a guy who’s career has been built largely on speed who had a lower on base percentage than fellow oldie Juan Pierre and hit fewer extra base hits than kurt Suzuki last year may be past his “best before” date.
2012 Prediction: 64 wins, 3rd place
Texas: you must have been hibernating if you didn’t know about Yu this past winter. Darvish may be a big gamble and won’t dominate like he did in Japan, but his work ethic seems solid and he won’t need to dominate opponents with a team that can produce runs like Texas. Feliz a starter? Remains to be seen. But even the downside of questions about the Rangers seem to point to an easy ride to the playoffs again. Jays looks silly for trading Napoli to them so easily. Cruz will have massive year; only question about hamilton should be his physical durability, not his sobriety.
2012 Prediction: 101 wins, 1st place.
American League miscellania:
Batting Title: Cabrera (DET), Cano (NYY), Young (TEX)
Home Runs: Cabrera (DET), Bautista (TOR), Cruz (TEX)
RBI: Cabrera (DET), Granderson (NYY), Pujols (LAA)
…that’s right, I called it here first… look for Miguel Cabrera to win the first Triple Crown in over 40 years.
Wins: Verlander (DET), Weaver (LAA), Shields (TAM)
ERA: Verlander (DET), Romero (TOR), Holland (TEX)
MVP: Cabrera (DET), Cano (NYY), Cruz (TEX)
Cy Young: Verlander (DET), Shields (TAM), Romero (TOR)
Rookie: Darvish (TEX). Too bad Alvarez tossed 63 innings for Toronto last year and isn’t a technical rookie.
Playoffs: Tampa over Anaheim (1 game)
Texas over Tampa
New York over Detroit
Texas over New York
World Series: oddly enough a rematch of 2011 teams but this year
Texas over St Louis in 5 (with home advantage) or 6 (with Cards holding advantage)
So there you have it… after almost four decades it is finally the Rangers time to shine. But Miguel Cabrera will steal the spotlight during the regular season. And our Blue Jays– our Jays will continue to be tolerably decent and once again talk of “next year”.
Tampa Bay: never has a team done so much with so little. The Rays annually are at or near the bottom of the league in terms of attendance and budget yet have managed to create a powerhouse that now stands shoulder to shoulder with the baseball behemoths. Credit great scouting and a veritable ball genius in Joe Maddon for the two division titles in the past four years.
Nevertheless, fans hoping that their recent trend of winning the East in even-numbered years are likely to be disappointed. TB looks pretty good on paper again, which given recent seasons will probably translate to being very good on the field. That said, it’s hard to imagine a club which was 13th in AL batting average, and merely 8th in scoring being able to knock off a rejuvenated yankees squad. And the return of Carlos Pena isn’t going to improve their next to worst rate of striking out (1193 times last year without Mr K himself, who struck out 161 times in 493 at bats). Expect Evan Longoria to return to form after some injury problems, and with “form” being an average of over 100 RBI a season at only age 26, that will win some games particularly if Pena can re find his sweet swing. If BJ Upton ever lived upto his real potential, the team could be an offensive juggernaut, but then again although only 27, he’s five years removed from what’s rapidly looking like his ‘career year” and only a year or so away from earning the nickname Alex Rios Part II.
The pitching will keep the Rays competitive this season; james Shields was alledgedly dangled on the trade market in the winter but returns a Ray, and why not? Besides leading the AL in complete games last season, his WHIP was fully a quarter better than CC Sabathia or Jon Lester and given some more run support would be a shoo-in to top his 16 wins. David Price is still developing but already among the best in the league and there was a reason jeremy Hellickson was rookie of the year last year. Shields perhaps better continue to finish what he starts though; the Tampa bullpen is a little wobbly and with Kyle Farnsworth injured they now have Fernando Rodney as closer. A week or so in, he’s not imploded yet but this is a guy who last year walked more men than he struck out and has put an average of three players on base every two innings this decade. Assuming he doesn’t tap into the Roger Clemens Special Anti-aging Remedy, at 35 he’s not likely to sparkle much in the 9th by the time August rolls around.
Ace: Evan Longoria- when he’s on his game, Tampa wins as we saw last year.
Wild Card: Desmond Jennings- said to be the “next Carl Crawford” there is no doubt as to his ceiling but is he yet a certified Big league star?
Joker: Carlos Pena- certainly he hits home runs. Unfortunately except for the 35 or so times he’s doing that during a season, he’s not doing much except killing rallies.
2012 Prediction: 92 wins, 2nd place. Which should be good enough for a trip to the playoffs again for the disinterested west Floridian fans. Maddon adds about 6 victories to an otherwise run-of-the-mill squad
Toronto: the Jays are already winners in one respect: there is more buzz about the city for the birds of summer than there has been in over a decade. The uniform change (recommended here several times last year) has been a massive success, so much as to make it impossible for this Jays blogger to even find a new cap for sale in Oshawa last week… everywhere I went they were sold out. I’ve had senior citizens stop me in coffee shops when I’ve been wearing my (old) cap and talk up the fantastic team and great promise it shows. The slow decline in patience of long-suffering Maple Leafs hockey fans has only helped garner interest for the only major sports franchise in the area to post a non-losing season this decade. So, the world is Rogers’ oyster… what will they make of it?
I will of course, look at this team in more depth soon, and throughout the year. They are my team and the main subject of this blog, after all. However, to speed things through…
Last year the Jays were the absolute picture of mediocrity. Not terrible, not good. 81 wins, 81 losses. 42 wins at home, 42 losses on road. Average hitting, close to average pitching. If not reverting to the traditional blue tones for the hat and uniforms, they could well have picked 18% photo gray, completely neutral and bland. Despite public agreement that they needed to upgrade the starting rotation and add at least one big bat, and rampant rumours of them going after Prince Fielder, roy Oswalt, Felix Hernandez, Joe Nathan they managed to come up with less than a new guy to sell Nathan’s hot dogs in the stands or a scratched up Prince CD…and sold the public on this being a significant upgrade to the team!
That said, there is some reason for restrained optimism. The team is better than it was three or four years ago and has a solid minor league system. They learn from the Tampa system, which is to find and develop young talent of course. What they lack is mature talent, which can play and win now on a consistent basis.
The Jays once again remain the model of mediocrity. Nothing on this team stinks. Neither is anything on this team exceptional. Yunel Escobar is quickly becoming one of the best all-around shortstops in the game, Kelly Johnson to his left can hit but didn’t much last year (mere .222 average and .304 on base) , but early this season he seems to have regained his stroke of years gone by. Jose Bautista, of course, is now recognized as one of the game’s best hitters and may just lead the league in homers for a third straight year. Don’t be too concerned by his slow start this season, and if he can have some solid bats behind him in the lineup look for him to increase his average still and come close to Carlos Delgado’s team record for RBI in a season (145).
Where there is reason to be concerned is with Adam Lind, since 2009 a major underacheiver at the plate -particularly for a first baseman– , JP Arencibia, improving as a catcher but despite occasional big blasts, not very good at getting on base and of course the extraordinarily over-rated in both leagues Colby Rasmus. Rasmus alledgedly ws once the third highest rated prospect in all of baseball. He alledgedly has talent coming out of the wazoo. Maybe so, but since Toronto sold the farm to get him, he’s hit all of .176 with four mighty homers in three months. Yet he’s etched in stone as the everyday centerfielder for the Jays, even as he tells the media that he doesn’t like Toronto (for the record he didn’t like St Louis either). He’s a small town boy who doesnt’ like cities, maybe explaining why he seemed to have peaked in the low levels of the minor leagues— Knoxville and Springfield, MO are not quite St Louis let alone 5.5 million people metro Toronto. Colby could still develop into one of the game’s best. And pigs could still fly across a glittery rainbow-bedecked sky. The silver lining for the Jays offence is everyday Edwin encarnacion, who had a solid second half last year and now with his job guaranteed and the tutelage of Bautista seems to be on a tear. He led the team in doubles last season and this year seems poised for a breakout season. Given the decline in the quality of Dhs around the league, he will give Ortiz and Morales a run for the money as best designated hitter. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him hit .290 and drive in 90, especially if John farrell bats him in the cleanup role more often.
Everyone wanted to slag the jays bullpen last year, and why not? It blew 25 saves and was an adventure every time it was called upon late last season. BUT, too many people ignored the fact that the pen was overused and if the starting rotation had done its job, maybe the bullpen might have not sucked. (not to mention that the best arms in the ’11 bullpen were mostly all traded away for Colby Rasmus). Alex Anthopopolous, to his credit, did do some work to improve the bullpen by re-acquiring Jason Frasor and bringing in classic old man Darren Oliver and the guy whose #2 in saves among active pitchers- Francisco Cordero, of 37 saves last year with Cincinnati fame. Unfortunately , for reasons known only to Alex, he chose to trade off a quality young arm (Nestor Molina) for a supposed new closer, Sergio Santos. The same Sergio Santos who not long ago was a mediocre infielder in the Toronto minor league system. Santos so far has delighted his wife by being present for the birth of their child ,and delihted Jays fans by taking time off to be there for the birth of his child and hence not throwing away even more games. His two blown saves already are the difference between first place and humdrumness for toronto.
The biggest disappointment for the Jays and their fans though, is the lack of improvement to the starting rotation in the off season. Ricky Romero is the real deal. Few other pitchers have gotten consistently better over the past three years and spring training (can you say”Zero ERA”?) and his recent start against onetime bugaboo Boston suggests he will do the same again for a fourth year. No surprise if he wins 18 and is in top 3 in ERA this season.
Beyond that though, the rotation looks like a bit of an adventure. Kyle Drabek has looked poised and solid through his two starts this year and young (22 this week) Henderson Alvarez has an array of effective pitches and maturity beyond his years. But youngsters often have to take two steps back before taking one forward so it’s a risky shell game to count on them to continue to dazzle, and then there’s the enigma that is Brandon Morrow. One of the hardest throwers in the game, capable of tossing a no-hitter and imitating Nolan ryan (no toronto fan has forgotten his 17 strikeout one hitter against Tampa in ’10) but other days worse than ordinary. If he can keep his fastball low in the strikezone and trust his fielders once in awhile (therefore not try to strikeout every batter and run his pitch count off the chart in 5 innings) he could be dominant. But despite his great finish last year, he still had a craptacular 4.72 ERA in 2011 and just last night served up taters to Tampa like a McDonald’s fry cook. Potential is uncommon; potential realized is extremely rare. Morrow has potential. Three, four years from now, the Jays could have quite a roster of potential arms for the fifth starter’s role: Deck mcGuire,Chad jenkins, Jesse Chavez and others all show great stuff in the minors. But for 2012, there is no obvious #5 starter and no chance of the team rivalling the likes of Tampa, LA/Anaheim or Texas for a competitive rotation.
Ace: Jose Bautista. Not just that he leads majors in home runs two years running, it’s that he leads Albert Pujols by 18 in that time!
Wild Card: JP Arencibia. Developing as a catcher but despite winning awards and batting titles in minors shows little poise or discipline at plate. His 2 for 32 start this year is reason for concern.
Joker: Colby Rasmus. He can makes some good catches on days when he’s motivated. He can’t hit even if or when he is . Memo to Jays- ditch this over-rated dude (too old now to still call a “kid”) while you can still get a sack of baseballs for him.
2012 Prediction: 83 wins, 4th place. It is to weap, jays fans. Had Alex A done what he said he would– get a good starter to add to mix (ala Gio gonzalez, Michael Pineda or maybe felix Hernandez) and added in one more big bat (perhaps an outfielder or dare we dream?a first rate first baseman even if the cost added 10 cents a month to people’s cable bills in Ontario) the Jays could go for 90 and be back in the playoffs again for the first time this century. But the Jays management assure us that willhappen in 5 years and they mean it this time.
And now, the American League…
joined in progress !
Baltimore: birds of a feather… like their divisional rivals, the Blue jays, the Orioles have decided to harken back to their glory days. Unfortunately for fans in both cities, both teams chose to do so by revisiting old logos and uniforms rather than doing anything terribly substantial to make their team competitive. Colorado trade netted them two mediocre pitchers for the price of one slightly better than mediocre one and Tommy Hunter has shown flashes of brilliance while in Texas but all in all nothing much to suggest the O’s can improve from their AL worst 4.89 ERA of last year and given the loss of Vladmir Guerrero and Luke Scott there’s little to suggest a major improvement in weak offense. At least they didn’t make any bone-headed moves to bring in over-the-hill free agents that handcuff the small budget team financially this off season.
Ace: Matt Wieters, at 25 quickly en route to becoming the best all-around catcher in the league… will improve on his .262 avg, 22 homers of last year, doesn’t need to improve his deserved Gold Glove.
Wild Card: JJ Hardy- had major comeback year last season with unexpected power (30 homers, .491 slugging) but this followed several years of declining results. Which Hardy will present himself this year.
Joker: Kevin Gregg- never a great closer, now at 34 walks and runs allowed are up, velocity down. Marginal as a middle reliever, a washup in closer’s role.
2012 Prediction: 65 wins, 5th place. But moving up in cap sales
Boston: there are two types of people in the world- Red Sox fans and people who aren’t gratingly annoying. The latter group had reason to grin last fall after the historic collapse of the cocky Sox and the subsequent name-calling and blame assigning from within. For those of us not in the “Red Sox nation” we should have reason to grin again– there’s not much to suggest the Green Monster Mob will have to much to be arrogant about in ’12. there answer to a completely disfunctional clubhouse was not the expected huge revamp but rather a few dubious tweaks and a change in management as if Terry Francona was responsible for the lack of focus and discord.
Then again, maybe he was. It is a manager’s job to manage, and he seemed incapable of controlling the 25 big egos on his bench. Odds don’t favour firy Bobby Valentine doing much better and few of the small changes to the roster can be seen adding much value. Sure Cody Ross was a one-man wrecking crew for the Giants in the 2010 playoffs but he followed up his championship with a mere .240 avg/.730 OPS for san Fran last year- hardly the numbers of an everyday outfielder for a supposedly championship-calibre team. Andrew Bailey was hardly a replacement for Jon papelbon, but now he isn’t at all thanks to his ligament surgery in spring training. The bullpen is a mess, even when Carl Crawford returns to the roster the outfield is only mid-pack and after Jon lester and Josh Beckett, who’s in the rotation? Bucholz has ongoing back troubles, Daniel Bard has a good repetoire of pitches (as he showed already against the Jays in his first game of year) but will be on a strict innings limit after moving from the bullpen and Felix Doubront? The highly touted prospect is only 6-8 down the road in Pawtucket over the past two years and saw his minor league ERA rise by a full run in 2012. And David Ortiz, brilliant at times last year but showing signs of long-term decline, ain’t getting any younger- or slimmer.
This is still a decent enough club. But it is far from a team ready to give New England fans something to be annoying us about.
Ace: Jacoby Ellsbury- only coming into his prime now, could even up his 212 hits and 39 steals of last year
wild Card: Carl Crawford- still young enough to regain form as a top-flight outfielder but has health issues and didn’t seem that comfortable in front of Green Monster last year.
Joker: Ryan Sweeney- one home run and an anemic .341 slugging last year with Oakland. Not a good thing when a player usually evokes a “Hey! Wasn’t his brother a decent player once?” type comment.
2012 Prediction: 86 wins, 3rd place
New York: Four out of six USA todaywriters pick the pinstripes to win the division again. Yet only one of the four chooses them to advance to the World Series. Such is life for the modern day Yankees, a source of irritation to their legion of fans who note that there are already kids in kindergarten that don’t recall ever being to a World Series parade!
In general, not a lot has changed in the Bronx in the off-season. They downloaded AJ Burnett and a few bucks of his salary (a plus) but also saw Jorge Posada retire (a con). The team still has a huge payroll, talent to spare, the best second baseman in the game and a great bullpen. However, it also boasts a pitching staff similar to last year’s when it was the oldest in the league and as many as 6 players in the everyday lineup over 30 and on the downslope of their careers. Sure Jeter can still play; to suggest otherwise is dumb. However, can he still play at an all-star level? More to the point, will he and his cronies have enough gas in the tank come October to compete?
My guess is that young Michael Pineda will really shine in his sophomore year , Hiroki Kuroda will be an adequate #5 starter but not match his 202 innings and low ERA of last year and Robinson Cano will make an even stronger case for MVP after winning a batting championship and Gold Glove.
Ace: Robinson Cano- 46 doubles, 118 RBI last year and he’s still a comparative unknown on this squad.
Wild Card: Phil Hughes- both his role and his reliability are in question
joker: none. Sorry folks, this team really doesn’t have any gaping holes in the lineup nor atrocious players
2012 Prediction:97 wins, 1st place. But how far will that take them come October?
Next up we look at the Rays and the Jays… which one will take second place and a probable invite to the post-season?
And now a short look at the division in baseball least familiar to me or to people looking for talent- the NL West. Those who think that an exaggeration should consider for example, who’s the third best position player in each division. In the AL East, for example, one might pick Robinson Cano. Perhaps Adrian Gonzalez or Evan Longoria. In the AL West, probably the likes of Nelson Cruz or an aging but still remarkable Ichiro suzuki. Even the supposedly lacklustre NL Central could boast the likes of , let’s say, Ryan “Not Guilty” Braun or Matt Holliday as the #3 star. In this division, after Matt Kemp and (if healthy) Carlos Gonzalez, one would be looking at the likes of Andre Ethier or “Not good enough for Toronto” Hill as the third most talented player- the type of player just good enough to be a utility player in a place like the Bronx or Arlington. Which, given the unbalanced schedule is why I don’t pay a lot of heed to the rash of Cy Young winners arising from the Pacific Coast and why, if the schedule becomes more balanced next season, I don’t expect to see any more Cy’s from here even if San Fran pony up Giant money to keep their twin aces on the mound for years. Tossing a quality 6 innings against San Diego or San Francisco isn’t quite on a par with holding the Cards or Brew crew at bay.
That said, the division is an interesting one, having possibly more parity than most and , after all , at least one of these relatively sadsack 25’s will have a chance to win it all in 2012.
Arizona: the surprise team of 2011, would have been a Disney movie in the making had they fared better in the playoffs. Depending on your take on the story, either the most fun , or most hated team for us Canadian fans to follow and cheer for given the D’s preponderance of former Blue Jay talent. Given that they won the division by a healthy 8 games last season and have gotten marginally better in the off-season whereas the rest of their competition have either maintained the status quo or gotten worse, one would have to see them as the odds-on favourites to repeat. While far from great, the Diamondbacks have few gaping holes in the lineup. Justin Upton is arguably the most over-rated player in the National League, but nevertheless utilizes his talent better than his AL brother B.J. and at only 25 could still develop beyond his highly respectable ’11 numbers (.369 on base, over 100 runs scored, 88 RBI). Miguel Montero is developing into one of the most durable and best hitting catchers in the game , Aaron Hill regained his 2009-era All Star form in his brief stint last season after being traded from Toronto and his friend John McDonald will bring a passion and maturity to the field and clubhouse. Not a powerhouse, but good enough to win a fair number of games, especially against divisional rivals and backed with decent pitching, which they also boast. Ian Kennedy while not as good as his 21 wins indicate, is becoming the type of pitcher the Yankees had envisioned him to be before letting him go and Daniel Hudson quickly rose to the ranks of one of the best number two starters in the league last year; adding Trevor Cahill from Oakland (over 200 innings last year for first time in his career despite his ERA rising by about half a run)only solidifies the rotation. Which is a good thing since the bullpen, while wildly improved from the 2010 version (one of the worst in the game’s history with an ERA pushing six) is still shaky. JJ Putz was adequate last season as closer, but expect to see younger, harder-throwing David Hernandez take over as closer by May.
Ace: Justin Upton- I dont agree with Mike Dodd and Steve Gardner of USAToday who pick him as the league MVP, you can’t argue with a lad who topped 30 homers and 20 SB in a season before turning 25.
Wild Card: Aaron Hill – before he got enamored with the long ball and had his swing altered a dozen times, those of us in Ontario saw what a good fielder and great contact hitter he was. Can hitting coach Don Baylor have hm build on last August/September’s success and regain that form?
Joker:Lyle Overbay- another former Blue Jay, has seen his average drop from .265 to .243 to .234 and doubles drop from one per 12 at bats to one per 19 in past three seasons; at age 35 that trend is unlikely to reverse itself which will be a problem should they require him to do more than be a bench warmer for young Paul Goldschmidt.
2012 Prediction: 86 wins, 1st place. A solid fourth place team in most divisions should have little difficulty winning again here.
Colorado: one of the most active teams over the winter, the Rockies fans really will need a who’s who to learn the players in April. Losing Jason Hammel, ty Wiggington and Huston Street among others will hurt, but the addition of Jeremy Guthrie, Marco Scutaro (new slogan for NL West: where old Blue Jays are put out to pasture?) and especially Michael Cuddyer should soften the blow. Cuddyer was criminally under-rated in the American League and out of the shadow of Morneau and Mauer and into a hitter-friendly park, Cuddyer should hit close to .300 and at least 30 dingers. However, the biggest addition for the Rockies’ may be not a new player at all, but rather a healthy Carlos Gonzalez back in the clean-up spot. Gonzo’s only 26 and still managed to hit .295 with 26 home runs last season despite battling a wrist injury half the year. If he has healed completely, as early indications suggest, he should have a shot of matching his MVP calibre 2010 numbers (.336, .598 slugging, 40 home runs) or even better them. If Colorado top 85 wins this year, Carlos will be league MVP. End of story. Add in budding superstar Troy Tulowitzki at short and you have the best hitting lineup west of the Great Plains in either league.
Winning 85 might be a challenge though and any team relying on Jeremy Guthrie as the top starter isn’t going to shine on the mound. Granted, jeremy was better than his 9-17 record would suggest last year – Baltimore was bad enough to make a resurrected Cy Young himself seem bush league- but is far from a legit #1. Drew Pomeranz is reportedly starting the year in the minors. Curiouser and curiouser. The young guy’s spot in the rotation will be taken by ageless (well, 49 to be exact) Jamie Moyer, the current career wins leader among active pitchers.
Ace: Carlos Gonzalez- NL voters have picked the wrong guy for MVP last two years, probably will again this year despite a potential banner year by him. Athlon Sports ranks him as second best outfielder in game.
Wild Card: Drew Pomeranz- the gem in the Cleveland trade for Jimenez, Pomeranz was an Indian first round draft pick only two years ago but pitched in the bigs last fall. No one doubts he may well be a top flight pitcher – eventually. However, this year he may be a non-factor; last year he started the year at A-level and hurled only 119 innings.
Joker: Casey Blake- yet another former blue Jay, once great, now an injury-riddled 38 year old with limited range and power.
2012 Prediction: 81 wins, 2nd place tie
L.A. – Hopes are high in the City of Angels that the city might actually become, uh, the City of Dodgers again. After all , the more historic franchise finally has new owners after a couple of years of courtroom drama between the feuding and divorcing McCourts, have the reigning Cy Young and the player most people feel should have been the league MVP, if not on the first ballot at least after Ryan Braun failed his drug tests in October.
Matt kemp likely is the best outfielder in the game, as long as he can stay focussed as he did last year (compared to ’10 when he was alledgedly pre-occupied by celebrity lifestyle and dates)…can he actually improve on last year’s .324 average, 39 home runs,and .986 total OPS? Who knows. At 27 and coming off signing the biggest contract in franchise history he should be coming into his real prime, meaning the sky’s the limit. However, he wouldn’t be the first player ever to sign a hundred million dollar + deal and see his numbers and fan popularity drop like stones (exhibit A- his crosstown counterpart , one Vernon Wells). Even if he has a dip though, he’ll still be a force to reckon with as will his fellow outfielder Andre Ethier, who excited fans last season with a 30 game hitting streak and has hit .292 for the past two years in a row. The likes of mark Ellis, Juan Uribe and Juan Rivera in the every day lineup though would have made for a worrying presence for pitchers. If it was still 2006.
The Dodgers live and die by their pitching as has almost always been the case since the days of Sutton and Singer. Their rotation looks even better this year than last with the addition of Aaron harang and Chris Capuano (his 11-12 , 4.55 in Mets land translates to about 13-10, 3.90 in most other cities and about 15-8, 3.40 in this division) to counter the loss of Hiroki Kuroda and non-factor Jon Garland. Kershaw’s good. I’m just not sold on him as being Cy Young good, and at 24 and only three full seasons in the majors, a slight drop off might not be unexpected. However, even if opposition batters start to get better at reading him (opponent’s avg last year , .207) he’ll still be able to K a lot of free-swingers and win 14 or so. Which is about what Chad Billingsley and Harang could each win too ; but who is Javy Guerra? Answer: a non-factor at start of last season and at the start of this season- the closer. Of a team not hoping of any October baseball.
Ace: Matt Kemp – may well be the best all-round player in the game.
Wild Card: Aaron Harang- is the 2012 edition closer to the 14 game winner , respectable Padre of last year or 6 game winning, 5+ ERA Red of 2010?
joker: Juan Uribe- aging, portly and with only Jerry Hairston jr looking over his shoulder, he has$21 million reasons to not really care that much about improving his terrible .204 , 4 homers of last year.
2012 Prediction: 74 wins, 4th place (and for Kershaw– random guess: 16-10, 3.10, 210 K’s)
San Diego– SD fans have lots of reasons to look forward to coming out to Petco Park this year. For instance, even now in early April, the average daytime temperature there is a comfy 70 degrees and come the dog days of July, the average evening temperature is an equally comfortable 72 with almost zero chance of rain! A trip to the old ballpark offers southern Californians a great chance to sit outside, have a beer, catch up on reading… and maybe see teams like the Giants or Cardinals win routinely! True , they added Edison Volquez, but they lost mat Latos. They added Carlos Quentin from Comiskey but lost Brad Hawpe and Jeremy hermida; they added highly respectable reliever huston Street but only at the expense of the disappearance of all-star Heath Bell. In short, with little young let alone rookie talent on board (Yonder Alonso , their new 1B, a former first round draft pick being maybe the best , but although a good contact hitter, lacking power you’d like to see in a first baseman) the team is a little worse than last season’s …and last year’s edition was last place.
Ace: Carlos Quentin- and that’s not saying much; a supposed one trick pony with the trick being hitting for power; he’s hit 50 home runs. Over the past two years combined. May hit 20 this year in pitcher’s paradise Petco.
Wild Card: Clayton Richard – good upside to this young southpaw but having shoulder surgery last summer, will he be ready to return to form?
Joker: orlando Hudson- hey, he is supposed to be one of the funniest, most upbeat guys in the game. This endeared him to fans in Toronto where he was wildly over-rated years ago, now it grates on Californians who see him as a player with limited range, limited concentration powers and an anemic bat.
2012 prediction: 69 wins, 5th place. Would struggle to win 60 if on the atlantic (hence in the East) rather than pacific.
San Francisco: The Giants do have a couple of big things going for them that theylacked last year. First, they have shed the big target on their backs now that they are no longer the reigning World Champions. Second they have WS year Rookie of the year catcher Buster Posey back after missing most of last year with his broken ankle; his two year tallies are an impressive 22 home runs and .297 average after playing 160 games. He handles the pitchers well for a young guy, however given that the team ERA dropped last season without him behind the plate, one might think that its early to consider him a Gold Glove calibre player. His presence alone will be hard-pressed to do much to really vitalize an offense that last year could best be described as “atrocious”. Their .242 team average was embarassing but topped the Padres, their 570 runs and .303 on base percentage were better only than Seattle’s in all of baseball. Taking Carlos Beltran out of the equation and adding Melky Cabrera in isn’t likely to do much to reverse that and expecting Aubrey Huff to rebound from last year’s .246 and 12 home runs just because he’s historically alternated between reasonably good and reasonably bad years is a bit of a stretch.
The Giants strength of course, is pitching. Today SF seemed to recognize what I’d been suggesting for over a year, namely that matt Cain is at least as good as Tim Lincecum. So anybody who really follows baseball won’t be too surprised to hear of his new 6 year , $120M+ contract given his steady , star performance over that past three years… in total, 99 starts (to Lincecum’s 98), 663 innings (to 654), only 197 walks issued (better than the Freaks 230), a respectable 527 K’s (Lincecum has 712) and a very very good 2.96 ERA (almost as good as the 2.88 of Lincecum). Given those numbers, one would wonder how he’s only managed 39 wins in that time, but then again, see above about the team’s pathetic inability to score runs. A three run outpouring from the teammates is a rarity for either ace. Anyway you look at it, the steady duo gives SF a one-two combo on top of their rotation that rivals any in baseball. Madison Bumgarner is certainly no bum, with his 200+ innings and neat 3.21 ERA last season at age22. Barry Zito though has managed to perform an optical illusion by making it seem that Oakland is a world away from San Francisco, not just a bridge across a bay. His mediocrity at the bottom of the rotation isn’t the problem, but his huge salary is for a team which isn’t the richest around. My guess is that they won’t be able to afford three uber-rich pitchers and if they get off to a slow start, Tim Lincecum might be the odd man out, traded for prospects and perhaps a bat not made out of whiffle. Brian Wilson is still decent out of the bullpen but his 31 walks in only 55 innings last year should be of concern to anyone hoping to see more baseball at ATT park in October.
Ace: Matt Cain. I said so last year after his lights-out performance in the playoffs the previous fall. The team says so now in $127 million ways.
Wild card:Pablo Sandoval. Good season last year for fan fave Panda but still listed at 5’11, 240 pounds which won’t help already slowish speed and marginal defence at third.
Joker: Brian Wilson- and not just because his beard makes people laugh. I may be wrong, but his rising ERA and walk tally coupled despite being called on less makes me wonder how much more he has left in the tank. Curiously, I also have little confidence that the guy in the video game commercial with him last season – joe Mauer- will ever rebound to star form either.
2012 Prediction: 81 wins, 2nd place tie.
In the next few days, I’ll try to squeak in a look at the league we really care about … and how our Blue Jays might fare.