Ok, so I opened last post saying how I prefer stories to predictions. And I offered some stories. But that doesn’t mean I am immune to the case of prediction-itis so contagious this time of year. I’ll keep it short, at least.
NL East: Phillies
Great pitching and a deep line-up. I don’t think their potential bullpen struggles will keep them from winning an improved division. 95 wins (+2 over last year).
NL Central: Cards
Albert Pujols might produce more runs than the Pirates. A strong rotation and capable bullpen should translate into 90 wins (-1 from last season) in a rather weak-pitching division.
NL West: Giants
Most of the experts are picking the Rockies–and I do like Jiminez and that rotation. But, if Aubrey Huff and Edgar Renteria can be better than terrible (and I think they can/will), then I believe the Giants offense will be improved enough to win 95 games. They can pitch. Well. 91 Wins (+3 over last season).
NL Wildcard: Braves
So I’m leaving the Rockies out of the playoffs. The Braves had a lot of issues last season, and still managed to win 86 games. This off-season, they added some nice pieces to give Bobby Cox one last run at a second ring. If everyone stays healthy, I like their chances [note: I acknowledge that as a super-tremendous “if”] to win 91 games (+5) and win the wild card.
AL East: Rays
Yes. You read that properly. I think the Rays will be motivated this season (i.e., many contract years) and that their young pitchers will produce (well, I’m not sure about Wade Davis, but the other four should be good). A deep starting pitching staff and dynamic offense will put up somewhere around 95 wins (+12 over last season).
AL Central: White Sox
Hey did anyone else notice that this team got Jake Peavy? As in, the Jake Peavy? The really dominant guy who pitched in the middle of nowhere for half a decade? Yeah, they got that guy. 90 wins (+11 over last season).
AL West: Um… Angels or Mariners? Maybe the Rangers? Oakl… nevermind, the A’s Stink
Ok, I know I have to pick one. But this is an ugly division. Even the Rangers could win–although I don’t think they can survive the heat (literally, it just wears them down). I really like the Mariners, but Cliff Lee’s early injury has me concerned. Ultimately, I think the Mariners make for a good story, but the Angles have the better, more experienced, and more consistent roster. Even without Lackey, they find a way to win 89 games (-8 games).
AL Wild Card: Red Sox
I think the new rotation will hold up, and that the bullpen will be stronger than many realize. The offense is not as light as people think. The real issue here, of course, is that I am leaving the Yankees out of the playoffs. I’ll make a case that this is not merely wishful thinking. The Yankees keep getting older. Last year no one thought the Yankees’ pitching staff could survive 162 games. I know they added Vasquez, but he comes with AL question marks (and comes from one of the lightest hitting divisions in baseball last season). Just because Pettitte and Burnett made it through a complete season last year doesn’t make it more likely that they will this year. Very few people in the professional media are willing to bet against the Yanks. I am. Injuries hurt their rotation. Red Sox 93 wins (-2). Yankees 92 (-11) wins. The AL Beast should provide one hell of a show.
So I suppose I should write a quick something about who will beat who in that other season after the real season. Hmm. AL: Red Sox beat White Sox. Rays beat Angels. Red Sox beat Rays (Rays have more quality starters for the regular season, Red Sox have more horses built for the playoffs). NL: Giants beat the Braves. Phillies beat the Cards. Giants beat the Phillies [blue plate upset special].
World Series: Red Sox Beat the Giants
Now that would be a nice story.
Lunch break is over–off to grade some papers (while I listen to some baseball). Apologies to Cubs fans.
The next week will be a trial by fire for this Red Sox team as they face the Rays and Yankees six times. With the exception of Wakefield, the Red Sox find themselves at full strength. I will be paying close attention to the pitching match-ups the next six days, since, if you remember, I was most concerned about our lack of a legitimate 3rd starter heading into the trade deadline. Wakefield might be one of the best fourth starters of all-time (no exaggeration) given his consistent ability to deliver 6+ innings. You can plug him in near the end of the rotation and know that your bullpen will actually get some rest. That is invaluable over a 162 game season. But what you can’t count on him for is giving you quality innings. That isn’t too valuable in the hyper-shortened post season. Wakefield’s post season ERA with the Red Sox sits just south of 8.00. Let’s not forget that the most important start of Wake’s post-season career is the one he didn’t make.
Thus the question: will a legitimate third starter emerge on this team? I am hoping the quasi-playoff atmosphere of the next week will give some indication. Buchholz is probably the favorite–but his first-strike-percentage has been up and down. I think this is the key for him (as it is for any pitcher, but especially for the young Buchholz who acknowledges some psychological misgivings on the mound): throw those strikes. Anywho, here’s the Sox pitching match-ups for the next week.
Red Sox vs. Rays
- Lester vs. Garza: I expect a great match-up, these guys are probably even. I’ll say pick’em odds on this one. Lester’s ERA is inflated due to a few early poor starts. Garza has been nothing short of electric against the Sox (he reminds me of Dave Stewart–a pitcher who plays his best against the best).
- Penny vs. Price: These guys both struggle, so, while I’m close to another pick’em, I’ll give Tampa Bay and Price a small advantage. Price has a tendency to overthrow his fastball and loses control. Penny has a tendency to leave fastballs (a bit, um, underthrown) over the heart of the plate. The Rays all-or-nothing, strike-out-or-homer strategy means Penny is just the guy they like to see; Price’s control struggles make him an ideal target for the Red Sox’s general plate discipline. As if you can’t tell, I am suggesting you bet the over on this one.
Red Sox vs. Yankees
- Smoltz vs. Chamberlain: I read an interesting Sabermetric evaluation of Smoltz’s number the other day, suggesting that his FIP numbers (fielding independent pitching) were right on his career averages. In other words, that he has been the victim of statistical improbability rather than poor performance and that, in turn, Red Sox fans have room for optimism. To that I say “bunk.” Guys get old and leave pitches in bad places (funny thing: a commentator left such a remark on the forums, suggesting that the statistical evidence might fail to account for contextual factors, and the gallery near booed him from the stage. I like it when empiricist utterly disregard rhetorical factors. I makes me feel like my job really matters). Yankees and Chamberlain
- Beckett and Burnett: In the battle of ex-Marlins, I am going with “big” brother. Red Sox and Beckett
- Buchholz and Sabathia: Duh. Yankees and Sabathia
- Lester and Pettitte: While Pettitte has been solid this season, Lester’s June and July have been fantastic (8 QS in 10 GS). Lester and the Red Sox
Again, an interesting week. I think the Sox will be satisfied if they come out of the road trip 3-3. To do that, they really need to split the series with the Rays. Here’s hoping Lester brings some of his magic tonight.