MLB PICKS 2009 AMERICAN LEAGUE PREVIEWS
LAST YEAR: 68-93
The Orioles have a trend going, and it is not a good one. Since their 2004 win total of just 78, the Orioles have proceeded to lose more games each year, reaching what they hope will be the bottom last year at 68. It marks the 11th consecutive losing season for the Birds, and no doubt this will be number 12. The Orioles did nothing to improve themselves, so it appears they are committed with their young pitchers waiting for them to develop. Outside of Jeremy Guthrie, the O’s have no quality starters. They added Mark Hendrickson (5.07 career ERA), and about all they will get from him is innings. They are hoping their first-ever Japanese signee in Koji Uehara, can produce some innings in wins, as he was an eight-time All-Star in Japan, but he isn’t considered more than a fringe major league prospect. The O’s strength may be in their bullpen, and it looks like they’ll need it. George Sherrill made the All-Star team in his first season as closer, and had 31 for the O’s. They also get Chris Ray back off Tommy John surgery. Jim Johnson proved to be a very good set-up man. The lineup is ok up top and in the middle, but almost dead at the bottom. The O’s will be hard pressed to avoid losing 100 games this season.
ON THE RISE:
The Orioles have last year’s minor league Player of the Year in Matt Wieters (catcher). He is a switch-hitter with power, and has an excellent arm. Look for him to join the O’s at some point during the season.
LAST YEAR: 95-67
The Red Sox dropped just a bit last season, and pretty much held pat in the off-season. That isn’t so bad, because the Sox return a roster of players capable of winning it all. They have a lot of talent, and the farm system keeps producing players that can step in and get it done. The top of the rotation, if it remains healthy, is as good as any with Beckett, Lester, and Matsuzaka. Innings-eater Tim Wakefield should hold down the No. 4 spot, and they have Clay Buckholz and Justin Masterson as well. They also picked-up a couple of interesting free agent pitchers in John Smoltz and Brad Penny, so the insurance is there if someone goes down. They have rising stars at the top of the lineup with Ellsbury and Pedroia. The biggest question right now is what kind of year will David Ortiz have? The Sox missed his clutch hitting and run production last year, as injuries kept him from getting into a groove. Many feel he has slipped and is on the decline, so this year will help decide the answer to that question. They have a solid pen anchored by Papelbon, and a great setup guy in Okajima. If Smoltz fits in down there somewhere, it can only help.
ON THE RISE:
MICHAEL BOWDEN – (RHP) 9-4 2.33 ERA AA Portland.
NEW YORK YANKEES
LAST YEAR: 89-73
The Yankees did not make the postseason last year, and they immediately addressed a lot of their holes. They added C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett to anchor a staff that includes Wang, Chamberlain, and Pettitte. Anytime you start talking about Andy Pettitte as your No. 5 starter, you know you have a deep pitching staff. The Yankees’ bullpen was exceptional last season, despite the fact they threw 543 innings, because the starters couldn’t stick around. That will change with the addition of the two free agents, and also Wang back from injury, which will make the Yankees’ pen even better. The one concern is the fact that C.C. Sabathia threw more pitches last year than anyone in baseball, and AJ Burnett threw the most in the AL. The Yanks also went out and got Mark Texiera who will add a huge bat to the middle of the lineup. Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui also return from injury-riddled seasons, so the Yanks’ lineup will once again be formidable. The Yankees have to hope that Jeter (at 35-years-old) isn’t an omen waiting to happen as none of the last 56 playoff teams have had a shortstop 35-years-old or more.
ON THE RISE:
AUSTIN JACKSON CF – He will be the next centerfielder in the Bronx.
LAST YEAR: 97-65
The Rays went from a 66-win team to a 97-win team over night. Everything they needed to have happen last year, happened. All the prospects improved, they got surprisingly good pitching, and so many players had career years. They also had a bullpen that was one of the worst, suddenly became one of the best. The Rays were the consummate team last year – a 25-man roster where everyone was vital, as they didn’t have a .300 hitter, nor did they have a HR hitter in the top 10 of the league. The Rays cover the field with great defense and don’t beat themselves on the field. The Rays put three players on the All-Star team last year under 25-years-old, so the talent is coming together. The next question is how long can they keep it? There is no genuine ace on the staff but the top three are interchangeable and all quality in Shields, Kazmir, and Garza. The Pickup of Troy Percival gave them the gutsy closer they never had, although ailing knees and back surgery may curtail his ’09 debut. The Rays have a lot of nasty stuff in the pen. They can mix and match, and certainly have a chance to do it all over again, but I think they won’t sneak-up on anyone and will drop off some.
ON THE RISE:
WADE DAVIS (RHP) – He should be in the Rays’ rotation next year.
LAST YEAR: 86-76
The Blue Jays are going to struggle to come close to the 86 wins they achieved a season ago. They have to replace over 200 innings from A.J. Burnett, and that is not going to be easy. That puts pressure on Jesse Litsch who will now be the No. 2 starter and subsequently, the staff weakens as you go down as everyone is elevated above their true capacity. The bullpen is the teams strength, but will be taxed heavily with a lot of unproven starters and will probably breakdown in the second half of the season. What happens if the Jays fall early and often? Roy Halladay has two years left on his contract, so would the Blue Jays consider moving him before the trade deadline? He certainly could be a difference maker to an NL team, because it would be unlikely they’d deal him to the Red Sox or Yankees inside the division.
ON THE RISE:
J.P. ARENCIBIA (C) – Blue Jays’ backstop of the near future.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:
2. NEW YORK
3. TAMPA BAY