Right before the season started, I sent out a quickie set of predictions for the 2008 baseball season. Needless to say, a lot of my predictions were extremely terrible, and my preseason World Series champion has already unloaded its best pitcher.
The lesson here is to never, ever, ever pick a team from Cleveland to win anything of note. Having lived in the Midwest most of my life, I should have known that.
Well, here they are, in all of their glory. I have the teams in their current order, with my March prediction in parantheses.
National League West
1) Arizona (1) – Well, my NL West champion is where I picked to to be, but it hasn’t exactly set the world on fire doing it. At 47-48, it would be out of a lot of the other division races. But the D-Smacks are in the substandard West and have the starting pitching necessary to claim this race. I’m sticking with it.
2) Dodgers (3) – The starting pitching, besides Chad Billingsley, has been mediocre. Andruw Jones has forgotten how to make contact with a baseball. Takashi Saito has been hurt off-and-on all year. But LA is only a game out. Do I have faith that they’ll come on in the second half? No, but we’re saying there’s still a chance.
3) San Francisco (5) – I’m utterly shocked that the Giants aren’t in last. I had a feeling they would compete with the Orioles and Nationals for the worst mark in baseball, but you have to give Tim Lincecum credit. The guy can flat out throw. Put him on the Dodgers and LA wins this division easily.
4) Colorado (2) – I guess last year’s run to the World Series was a fluke – or just too early in the growth timeline for this young franchise. The young starting pitching has gone belly-up and Todd Helton seems to have hit the wall. However, I still like the long-term potential of this club, though they are toast this year.
5) San Diego (4) – I wasn’t high on the Padres, but I didn’t think they’d stink this bad. Beside Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Kouzmanoff, the lineup is lousy. The starting pitching has disappointed and Trevor Hoffman has finally outlived his usefulness. Shoot, even Jim Edmonds sprouted new life in Chicago after leaving SD. Just bad luck all around
National League Central
1) Chicago (1) – Everyone was on the Cubs’ bandwagon to start the season, and it looks like it was for good reason. They are potent up and down the lineup, Rich Harden adds an elite arm for what was a solid rotation to begin with and the Kerry Wood experiment at closer was a hit. Curses or not, this will be a tough group to beat.
2) St. Louis (5) – This is one of the biggest surprises in baseball right now. Quite frankly, I have no idea how Ryan Ludwick, Todd Wellmeyer and Kyle Lohse can all have career seasons at the same time. I still don’t think the Cardinals can keep up this pace, but this may be Tony LaRussa’s best managing job ever. Half these guys couldn’t make the Indians’ roster in Major League.
3) Milwaukee (2) – I was high on these guys prior to the season and I’m willing to almost go all-in on their chances of making the playoffs. CC Sabathia, added to Ben Sheets, gives the Brewers two dominant starters to go along with their young sluggers. If they could find a closer of worth, this could be your World Series darkhorse.
4) Cincinnati (4) – This year might not be the one for the Reds, but you have to love their future. With Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips emerging, along with Jay Bruce, the lineup looks set. With Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto, Cincy has good young pitchers. If the real Aaron Harang comes back, maybe the Reds go on a run.
5) Pittsburgh (6) – Before the year, I actually thought that the Pirates would have good pitching but struggled to score runs. I also thought the Indians would win the World Series, so apparently I’m an idiot. Anyway, the Pirates’ pitching has abandoned them, but the outfield combination of Jason Bay and Xavier Nady has kept them respectable.
6) Houston (3) – Ugh, ugh, ugh. ugh. It’s a good thing the Astros have Lance Berkman, who is crushing homers in the home run derby as I write, because they would be awful otherwise. Roy Oswalt has been inexplicably terrible and I don’t even think I could name another starting pitcher for Houston
National League Central
1) Philadelphia (2) – It’s amazing that the Phillies are leading this division, considering that Ryan Howard was hitting below .200 for two months, reigning NL MVP Jimmy Rollins missed time with an injury and Brett Myers has almost given up as many homers as Josh Hamilton’s Home Run derby pitcher. Thank Chase Utley and Pat Burrell for Philly being here..
2) N.Y. Mets (1) – Apparently all the Mets had to do to get over their doldrums is fire Willie Randolph. After playing horribly for the first two months, the Mets went into the All-Star break as the hottest team in baseball. If Johan Santana keeps up his career trend of dominating second halves, the Mets will win this division.
3) Florida (4) – You have to give the Marlins’ organization credit. Whenever it looks like they are totally selling off everything and starting over, the team jumps up and surprises. The Dan Uggla-Hanley Ramirez middle infield duo is the most offensively potent in baseball, and the pitching, led by Rialto native Ricky Nolasco, has been surprisingly good. If the ownership doesn’t blow this up, there could be a championship nucleus here.
4) Atlanta (3) – These guys have been disappointing, despite Chipper Jones’ awesome first two months of the season. The bullpen is a mess, Jeff Francoeur has Andruw Jones-disease, and John Smoltz may have officially died. However, if Francoeur wakes up and joins Chipper, Brian McCann and Mark Teixiera, this team can go on a tear.
5) Washington (5) – I said three teams would be horrible – Frisco, Baltimore and Washington. Turns out that I was right on one of them. With Chad Cordero gone for the season and Ryan Zimmerman also out, the Nationals have 100 losses in their sights.
American League West
1) Angels (1) – Maybe one day I’ll actually predict these guys to win this division. Every year I look for a team to oust the Angels and every year I look like a complete dweeb for doing it. The addition of Torii Hunter has helped the offense (though i’m not convinced its October ready) while Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana have been awesome in the rotation. Oh yeah, some dude named K-Rod has 38 saves too.
2) Oakland (3) – I’ll give Billy Beane some credit. That creep can roll. Almost every veteran he trades/gives away ends up crashing and burning in their new home. I even think the Rich Harden trade is a good one, as Sean Gallagher impressed in his Oakland debut. They are definitely ahead of schedule in their rebuilding, though they won’t catch the Angels this year.
3) Texas (4) – Texas is Texas again – great hitting and awful pitching. The Rangers are entertaining, and the Josh Hamilton story is awesome. Seriously, if The Natural was written today, wouldn’t Roy Hobbs have a story like Hamilton’s? Young phenom with ungodly skill falls victim to drug abuse, only to clean up his life and hit home runs off lighting fixtures? I’m smelling a box office hit.
4) Seattle (1) – Yeah, this pick might have been more awful than the Indians’ championship pick. I should have known that Richie Sexson would continue to be awful, that Erik Bedard would be perpetually hurt, that J.J. Putz would come back to Earth and that Kenji Johjima would completely forget how to hit a baseball. I should have known that the Mariners would throw a backup catcher on the mound in a tie game in the 15th inning. My bad.
American League Central
1) Chicago (3)- The White Sox have hit for power, as I thought they would coming into the season. But the starting pitching has really come on, most notably 23-year old Jon Danks, and the bullpen has been rock solid. My main concern is that their attack is a home run-or-bust attack, making them prone to slumps.
2) Minnesota (5) – Another team I was extremely wrong about. Seriously, who loses an all-star centerfielder and a Cy Young pitcher and gets better? Apparently the Twins do. Their organization is one of the best at fingering and developing talent, which the first half of this season has shown. And the crazy thing is, I don’t think its a fluke.
3) Detroit (2) – Considering that the first two months were an unmitigated disaster, the Tigers are fortunate to be in a position where they could make a move. Whether they can or not is up for debate though. The lineup has come around pretty well and Justin Verlander has awoken from the dead, but the starting pitching still has holes and Todd Jones may be the worst closer out there.
4) Kansas City (4) – This is one I got right. The Royals are continuing to improve and have seen starting pitcher Zack Greinke and closer Joakim Soria blossom. They’ve gotten good contributions from veteran outfielder Jose Guillen, but a lot of their younger position players are still scuffling. Expect this team to be a pesky one in the second half though.
5) Cleveland (1) – The Mistake by the Lake strikes again. Between Victor Martinez’s injuries and zero homers, Travis Hafner’s terrible batting average and injuries, Fausto Carmona’s injury, the trade of CC Sabathia and the disastrous bullpen, everything that could go wrong for Cleveland did. Looks like another frustrating year for a fanbase that continues to be piled on.
American League East
1) Boston (1) – This whole season has a very been-there, done-that feel for Boston fans. Despite David Ortiz’s struggles and various injuries to their starting pitchers, the Red Sox are still in first and still don’t seem to have one real weakness on their ballclub. It could be three titles in five years for these guys – which ESPN would love and a lot of other people would hate.
2) Tampa Bay (4) – They were definitely the feel-good story of the first half, as this normally-pathetic franchise had the best record in baseball this time last week. The 7-game losing streak before the break will bring out the naysayers, but Tampa has the good young pitching to go along with the good young hitting. The Rays are in it for the long haul.
3) New York (2) – As much as the national media wants to depict the Yankees as this compelling team, I don’t buy it. They have pretty much been average the whole season and could stay average in the second half. It’s totally foolish to write off the Yanks from playoff contention, but its almost as foolish to depend on another 11 wins from Mike Mussina. New York will need some serious mojo in the second half.
4) Toronto (3) – My synopsis of the Blue Jays was great pitching, Ok hitting and mediocre bullpen. That’s pretty much been exactly the story for the Jays, who, not coincidentally, are hovering right around .500. Having Vernon Wells out for a month isn’t going to help the Jays’ struggling offense much either.
5) Baltimore (5) – Yeah, the Orioles are where I had them, but this team has spunk. Their young hitters are doing pretty well, Aubrey Huff has had a great year and George Sherrill, of all people, has been a rock in the bullpen. For once, there might actually be some optimism in Baltimore heading into the offseason..