Last year’s Major League Baseball season ended (in November, no less) with the New York Yankees jumping all over the field and spraying champagne into each others’ eyes. For some, it was the celebrated end of a drought, and for others, it was proof that everything, even baseball’s highest achievement, is for sale. However, regardless of how you feel about the Yankees, it’s time to finally put 2009 behind you, because Opening Day is here at last.
Opening Day is like New Year’s Day, the first day of spring, and release from a federal prison, all rolled into one glorious package: it’s a ritual of renewed hope. On Opening Day, the Kansas City Royals have the same record as the National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies. Fans of the hapless Nationals (yes, they have fans) can brag about the artificially inflated batting average of Adam Dunn, and Seattle fans can swear that “King” Felix Hernandez’s ERA will stay below 1.00 all season long.
However, though hope springs eternal, it will eventually be time to face the facts: baseball by its very nature wears down players, it is, as they say, a marathon, not a sprint. These men play 162 games in just over six months, and fatigue and injuries are all but inevitable (just ask the New York Mets). National and local publications have been putting out baseball previews all over the country for the last month, and though most MLB rosters will look vastly different by August, here come the projections for the end of the marathon.
Western Division: Both Sports Illustrated and Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA rankings pick the Colorado Rockies to win the division, followed by the Dodgers, the Giants, the Diamondbacks, and then the hapless Padres. The Rockies have a solid rotation in a mediocre division, and their lineup is solid, anchored by SS Troy Tulowitski. Things to watch: Arizona’s Brandon Webb tries to recover from injury, San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum looks for a new contract, and San Diego’s Adrian Gonzalez looks like trade bait. Off the Monster take: Rockies take it.
Central Division: Both ranking systems have St. Louis taking the division, with some dispute over the middle, and Pittsburgh finishing in last (yet again). The Cardinals have one of the best pitching 1-2’s in baseball, with young righties Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright (who were second and third in NL Cy Young contention), and a lineup boasting Albert Pujols. Things to watch: Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder is looking for an extension, the Astros have a new manager in Brad Mills, and the Cubs are at 101 years and counting. Off the Monster take: Cardinals win it.
Eastern Division: In another instance where SI and PECOTA agree completely, the Phillies are predicted to win it, followed by the Braves, the Marlins, the Mets, and the Nationals. Philadelphia has built an American League style lineup, and just added the best pitcher in baseball, Roy Halladay. “Doc” Halladay routinely won 17-20 games in the AL East, with an ERA hovering around 3.25. That’s death for an NL lineup. Off the Monster take: Phillies take the division, Braves take the Wild Card.
Western Division: SI and PECOTA could not be more different here: the former picks Las Angeles to come out on top, while the latter takes Texas. Though the Angels lost ace John Lackey and infielder Chone Figgens, they still have a formidable lineup and rotation, along with one of the best managers in the game. Off the Monster take: Angels take it, but the Mariners (led by Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez) will present a challenge.
Central Division: All SI and PECOTA can agree upon is that Minnesota will win the Central, and the Royals will finish last in spite of reigning Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke. Minnesota has lost closer Joe Nathan for the season, a tough break for a team celebrating an extension for hometown hero (and AL MVP) Joe Mauer. The White Sox seem to be the overlooked horse in this race, with Mark Buehrle and Jake Peavy heading the rotation. Off the Monster take: the Twins win the Central, but it’s close.
Eastern Division: In what is generally accepted to be the toughest division in the game, it’s no wonder that our two authorities disagree: SI has New York winning it, Tampa Bay second (Wild Card), and Boston in third. PECOTA has the Red Sox taking it, with the Yankees as Wild Card winners, and the Rays in third. They both agree that Baltimore will be fourth, and Toronto will mourn the loss of Roy Halladay with a last-place finish. Off the Monster take: New York takes the division, Boston the Wild Card – but it’s going to come down to the wire with the top three teams.
Tampa Bay has a legitimate MVP contender in Evan Longoria.
Of course, it’s likely that we’ll look back at these predictions and laugh – you can’t predict injuries, break-out rookie seasons, or blockbuster trades. The league’s going to look very different come October. But right now… who cares? Sit down and relax – baseball season is here again.
NOTE: THIS ARTICLE ALSO APPEARED IN THE TRINITY TRIPOD.