Hey did you know that the New York Yankees were world champions? Sorry I had to rub that in one more time. After a decade of dealing with annoyingly fair-weather Orioles fans in Baltimore and bitter fans in Cleveland I got to throw it back in the face of everyone within a 500 mile radius of my obnoxiousness.
After Mark Teixeira collected the final out of the World Series me and buddy Mark Damiano jumped around like kids that just found out that they were going to Disneyworld. It was as if we had never won a title even though the nineties were the greatest time of my sports life when the Yanks won 4 titles in 5 years. Truth is the last ten years of being a Yankee fan was hell (and here’s where the Cubs, Astros and about 20 other teams fans tune me out until I get to my picks). It wasn’t hell in the sense that we didn’t a title every year; it was hell due to the amount of pressure that was placed on the team every year to win a title.
When I was a kid I was happy to watch Don Mattingly roam first base freely even though the team was terrible. When we lost in 97 to Cleveland after winning the title in 96 I was upset but it wasn’t a monumental thing that made me want to jump off of a cliff. For a stretch of the 2000’s the Yankees front office made it impossible to watch the Yankees without being disappointed. We treated playoff appearances like wins over the Royals. If we didn’t win titles we spent millions on guys who we thought would make the team better (Jason Giambi, Randy Johnson, Kei Igawa, etc.) and when they failed we spent more. For a while I felt like- gulp- a Red Sox fan.
That’s why last year’s title was a relief for fans (again boo-hoo’s from the Mets, Pirates and Reds fans). This year we can go back to being normal fans. We didn’t spend a ton of money on free agents because we didn’t need to. For all of the flack that Brian Cashman receives, he is without question the best GM in baseball. After watching the rotation feast or famine with 3 pitchers, and somehow win, he traded for Javy Vazquez (moment of silence for my “Got Melky?’ t-shirt). He knew our outfield needed to get younger so he traded for the underachieving yet talented outfielder Curtis Granderson. He got guys that fit the attitude of these Yankees and didn’t break the bank to do it.
It sets up the Yankees for another title run with expectations to win, but not in a psychopathic “we have to match the Red Sox” kind of way that it has been. In all honesty if the Yankees don’t win it all this year it won’t be such a bad thing (and if you truly believe that last line I just typed, then you must not understand the Yankees or our fans. As long as someone named Steinbrenner owns the team it’s all about winning and winning now. In fact if we don’t win it all this year I wouldn’t be surprised if Joe Girardi got fired. Welcome to the Bronx Zoo. Come for the excitement, stay for the carnage).
If the Yankees do want to repeat they need to be the exact same team they were last year. This year so many teams and divisions are so tough to call that the six divisions could be won by either two or three teams. There are no gimmies this season; the Braves are the Rockies are the Mariners are the Rays are Cardinals. Every team in contention has a go to starter, big time hitter and consistency in most areas of their game. The Phillies for example picked up Roy Halladay to go with Cole Hamels (who will not have another 2009. EVER! Write that down. Last year was a fluke. I’m talking Kevin Stevens 50 goals in 1992 fluke.) , they have a ton of offensive fire power and you know once August rolls around that Ryan Howard should put up his usual .300/15/45 last two months to carry Philly to the postseason. Likewise in Boston who have a healthy Josh Beckett (don’t get it confused, he struggled last year because he was injured. He didn’t tell anyone but we knew) plus John Lackey, Jon Lester and the best bullpen in the game. However, the Sox struggled against the Rays all year last season, and with a sense of urgency on a team that has this season as its last for contention with this much talent, who’s to say Matt Garza and James Shields won’t dominate them again as they did last year or that a possible career year from free agents to be Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena wont overpower them? Likewise in the Central, couldn’t you imagine the Astros putting it all together and using Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez to lead a charge to the top of the division, or Ryan Braun and the Brewers overpowering the Cardinals?
With all of these possibilities comes one thing that is for sure, that I will predict something completely and utterly stupid this season in my preview. Let’s not forget that two years ago I thought the Reds were good enough to win the NL Central (fail), or that the Mariners with Erik Bedard were the best team in the AL West (to my credit, so did everyone else for that matter). My favorite was predicting that Robinson Cano would have an MVP year in 2008; he ended up with his worst offensive season of his young career that year (triple fail). So for this year I have a full proof way of showing off my prowess for baseball knowledge, without looking like a jack-ass. Ladies and gentlemen I give you my picks, and the picks I would make if I had no sense whatsoever:
NL WEST: Old Kevin- San Francisco Giants. Smart Kevin- Colorado Rockies
I love the pitching by the bay. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain might be the best one-two punch in baseball (apologies to Carpenter and Wainwright). Plus they have a healthy Nate Lowry and Jonathan Sanchez looks like he has finally put it together. However, if you think they can get by with that offense of theirs you must be crazy. Pablo Sandoval is about as much of a clean-up hitter as Aaron Rowand is a lead-off guy.
In Colorado you have a team primed for another run at the playoffs. Troy Tulowitzky is an MVP caliber player and Ubaldo Jimenez and Jorge De La Rosa make a great tandem at the top of the rotation. The only question is what about the health of Huston Street? When healthy you can argue that Street is of the top 5 closers in the game. Once is arm is healthy look for the Rocks to outlast Los Angeles in the West.
Player to watch- Adrian Gonzalez.
The Red Sox wanted him, and failed in acquiring him. The Padres will finish last in the division, and will do so after jettisoning Gonzalez before the deadline. Gonzalez is a 30 homerun 100 RBI guy on the most inept team in baseball. Imagine him in Atlanta or Chicago with the White Sox.
NL Central: Old Kevin- Milwaukee Brewers Smart Kevin- St. Louis Cardinals
Can the Brew Crew hit? Uh yeah. They didn’t ink Braun and Fielder for fun and games. The two of them are a yearly 80+ homeruns and 200-225 RBI. Yet the Rotation (as always) is a huge question. You don’t doubt Iovany Gallardo, but you question whether or not Randy Wolf and Doug Davis are 2 and 3 guys.
The Cardinals are more complete in all aspects. Pujols is in MVP until further notice mode while Matt Holiday should put up huge numbers in season number two in the Lou. Plus the aforementioned Carpenter and Wainwright are worth a guaranteed 42 wins this year. Only concern might be Ryan Franklin as closer. Some days he’s good, some days he’s not.
Wildcard team- Cincinnati Reds
I’m not picking them to win the division, but they are going to give teams fits, as well as themselves. Look at the rotation: Jonny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman and Homer Bailey are talent scouts wet dreams. Yet Bailey seems to be on his last chance and Cueto still has questionable maturity issues. Then there’s the much talked about Chapman with a cannon of a left arm and a mound of control problems. Add in Jay Bruce (he’ll bounce back after a poor 2009) and Joey Votto and this young team should be a problem. If they can get over struggles better than they have.
NL East: Old Kevin- Florida Marlins Smart Kevin- Philadelphia Phillies
I can’t pick a team with Dan Uggla as there Feature power hitter. I want to pick the Marlins I really do (sound familiar). I have a man crush on Josh Johnson and Hanley Ramirez. Yet once again I don’t trust Uggla, Leo Nunez and I don’t think Chris Caghlan will have another year like last year.
The Phillies aren’t exactly a smash either. Brad Lidge is injured, Cole Hamels is fragile as we learned last year and Jimmy Rollins might be a 7 hitter disguised as a lead-off man. Yet there’s still Ryan Howard (My pick for MVP), Chase Utley and the addition of Roy Halladay that makes every team fear for their lives against the Phillies. So it’s the Phillies to win 4 years and running.
The Team that reminds me of the Jersey Shore cast – New York Mets
THEY ARE A TRAIN WRECK… yet I can’t stop watching. How can I not watch? Who’s going to back up Johan Santana in the rotation? Who’ll protect David Wright in the lineup? When will Jerry Manuel get fired? Will Omar Minaya punch Jose Reyes in the face? All they need is The Situation and J-Woww swinging at each other in between innings and they become the best side show in baseball.
AL West: Old Kevin-Texas Rangers Smart Kevin- Seattle Mariners
On paper the Rangers can compete. They’ll score 850 runs and Derek Holland and Neftali Perez look like future aces. In reality, Ron Washington’s a coke head. I’m sorry; I’m not picking a team managed by Tyrone Biggums.
Seattle was handed Cliff Lee for reason that still puzzle me. What did they give up again? A mid-rated minor leaguer? Anyway, he and Felix Hernandez get the honor of scaring every team on back –to-back days for at least a year and there’s Ichiro. In this division that’s all you really need. (How about Milton Bradley batting fourth for them. Did they not see him in Chicago last year? His one good year came in a hitters park in Texas. Clean-up? Clean-up in a pitchers park? Why am I picking Seattle again?)
Most fun guy to watch- Brett Anderson, A’s Pitcher
If you ever get to watch this spazz in between innings please do. Get a bucket of popcorn and watch him go OCD on a water bottle, and look like he has facial contusions. Comedy. (Also watch him on the mound. In his first season he finished 11-11 with a 4.50 ERA but he thrived in the second half of the season.)
AL Central: Old Kevin- Minnesota Twins. Smart Kevin- Detroit Tigers
I would’ve been been blinded by Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer. I would’ve said Nick Blackburn and Francisco Liriano were more than enough pitching with that offense. I would’ve ignored the fact that Joe Nathan’s career is possibly over following Tommy John surgery. Now I’ve come to my senses. It aint happening.
It’s not that I truly trust a team with a recovering Alcoholic, a mentally complacent right-fielder, a head-case of a starting pitcher or a bullpen with live arms and no health. I just know that Jim Leyland, who is one of the top 5 managers today, will put it together, and as long as Justin Verlander is going every 5 days that’s 20 wins in the bag. (But to reiterate I really don’t trust them.)
Team I really think can be better than both teams mentioned, but no one is noticing- Chicago White Sox
It’s a team with more questions than the GRE. Is Jake Peavy healthy? Will Alex Rios ever return to the form that made him tantalizing in Toronto? Will Alexei Ramirez, Carlos Quentin and Gordon Beckham put up the numbers that they should put up yearly? Can Ozzie Guillen keep his job? How can you not like the makeup of this team? They have a great rotation lead by Mark Buerhle, a steady bat in Jermaine Dye and of course the mad scientist Guillen who is heavily underrated as a Manager. The problem is you really don’t know what to expect from them on a game to game basis. They seem to have the tools to be great, but it may take time. Also you have to wonder if eventually this team will tune out Ozzie. His fiery style may finally be wearing thin, and unless he can deliver on the field he might be in a studio by October.
AL East: Old Kevin- New York Yankees. Smart Kevin-Tampa Bay Rays
Ok I had to throw in one shocker. Why don’t I trust the defending champs? The best looking pitcher in spring training was A.J. Burnett for one (C.C. Sabathia looked miserably bad). Two, A-rod has been in the news for things other than baseball, again. Three, Joba Chamberlain isn’t saying it, but he looks like a disgruntled reliever after losing a rotation spot to Phil Hughes. I think these Yankees also have to go through being the prey for the first time to get a good feel for them. This is a different Yankee team because these boys are more blue-collar than the teams of Yankees past. You have to wonder if that laid back style will falter when the pennant race heats up, and the pressure of repeating kicks in.
So why Tampa? Like I said, this is their last chance to win a title for another ten years. They won’t keep Crawford and Pena after this year. They may deal Matt Garza. This might be a different team next year. They will play like their lives depend on it. This team is so undisciplined at the plate (ahem, B.J. Upton), so streaky and so hit or miss that you love them one second, and pull your hair out the next. Yet Joe Madden had righted the ship for two straight years. He’s molded Matt Garza into an ace, Evan Longoria into a star (he’s my AL MVP) and a league laughingstock into a respectable contender. The urgency is there and I think Madden will mold it into another division title and possibly a World Series birth.
Team to fear in two years (once they get some pitching)- Baltimore Orioles
I hate admitting this, but Baltimore is almost back. If Peter Angelos can somehow spend a little money on a pitcher next year or down the line (how crazy would it sound to get Cliff Lee or Zach Greinke in Baltimore?) then this team could be better than Boston or New York. The outfield is set for years to come with Nolan Reimold, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis, and Matt Wieters behind the plate will be a monster. Yet it’s that product on the mound that hurts them more than anything else. They thought Jeremy Guthrie was an ace, oops. They thought Erik Bedard was as well, oops number two. Instead of getting pitching one year they got Sammy Sosa. Angelos had been so bad in making this team competitive that it’s a wonder that all of this talent fell into their lap.
He has routinely made decisions that hurt the Orioles on and off of the field. Go to an O’s game when the Red Sox or Yankees are in town and you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s embarrassing that Camden Yards becomes Yankee Stadium and Fenway South. Angelos has ticked off his own fans and turned them into fans of the enemy. Yet here he is on the cusp of reviving baseball in Baltimore, one of the best baseball towns in America. Will he finally get it right? (Probably not. If you ever live in Maryland than you know that Peter Angelos is loved about as much as the Yankees. AND YOU KNOW HE WONT DO ANYTHING REMOTELY CLOSE TO MAKING THE ORIOLES LOOK GOOD!)
World Series: Old Kevin- Yankees vs. Phillies with the Phillies winning it all
Smart Kevin- Tigers vs. Cardinals with the Cardinals winning it all
I really like the Cardinals this year. I like the rotation with the addition of Brad Penny. I like the subtraction of Rick Ankiel and having Cody Rasmus in Centerfield. I like the lineup headed by Scott Schumaker with Pujols, Holliday and Ryan Ludwick in the middle. This team is capable of winning the title with what they have, save for possibly acquiring a middle reliever at the trade deadline. It is a good mix of youth and experience. Plus the best player in the game plays for them so why not take a flyer on them.
So there you have it. No crazy picks, no ridiculous obsession over the Yankees. A smart pick to win the title from a crazed baseball fan. However, you all know I think the Yankees will win it all. You’ll read my facebook statuses and watch me cry, whine and moan every time A-rod strikes out or Robby grounds into a double play. Just remember don’t blame me, blame Cashman and the powers that be. They made all Yankees fans like this. I just have to keep reminding myself that we’re World Champions. That does sound great doesn’t it?
AL EAST- RAYS NL EAST- PHILLIES
CENTRAL- TIGERS CENTRAL- CARDINALS
WEST-MARINERS WEST- ROCKIES
WILDCARD-YANKEES WILDCARD- DIAMONDBACKS
NLCS- PHILLIES VS. CARDINALS ALCS- YANKEES VS. TIGERS
WORLD SERIES- CARDINALS VS. TIGERS CARDINALS-WORLD CHAMPS
AL MANAGER OF THE YEAR- DON WAKAMATSU NL- TONY LARUSSA
AL CY YOUNG- CLIFF LEE NL- CHRIS CARPENTER
AL MVP- EVAN LONGORIA NL- RYAN HOWARD