Billy-Ball Daily: 2007-4-2

4/2/2007
Billy-Ball Daily
Bill Chuck (Billy-Ball his own self)

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You always get a special kick on Opening Day, no matter how many you go through. You look forward to it like a birthday party when you’re a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen. – Joe DiMaggio

Monday, April 02, 2007

THE BILLY-BALL-CRYSTAL-BALL

AL EAST
1) Yankees – I am expecting a HUGE season from Alex Rodriguez. Why? Because this Scott Boras client can opt out of his contract with the New York Yankees this fall, and he told a New York radio station he would not return unless fans and management made him feel “wanted here.” The Yankees line-up is awesome and with the way they are going through pitchers already, they will need every bat they can find. On the other hand, I expect a big season from Andy Pettitte.I have a feeling that left-hander Kei Igawa will win as many games as that other guy in Boston.
2) Red Sox – I am already sick of hearing about Dice-K and he hasn’t thrown a major league pitch thus far. All that aside, this is a team with too many unanswered questions to comfortably pick them, at this time, as leader of the pack. The closer situation has been resolved in that Jonathan Paplebon is now back. For now. I don’t believe that the shoulder situation is as permanently resolved as the desperate Sox claim. I think this means like Mo Riviera, who is 37, you won’t see Little Poppi in for more than one inning; you won’t see him more than three days in a row; you won’t see him in tie games; and, you won’t see him warm-up and then not appear in a game, no matter what the score. To be frank, I also saw Paplebon as the ace of the rotation. As for the starters let’s see if the Senator can handle being in shadow of Matsuzaka and let’s see who adjusts first to the bigs, Dice-K or the AL batters. Beckett will give up two homers for every win, but there does get to be a point of diminishing returns. Wakefield is a .500 pitcher and let’s remember before Jon Lester’s cancer scare he was shaky. It gets worse from there. As for the rest of the bullpen; Could Joel Pineiero be the answer or could the Mariners have been dead on in giving up on him? Could Brendan Donnelly be the answer or could the Angels have been dead on in giving up on him? Could Mike Timlin be the answer or could age be finally catching up on him? My next question is how strong are the Sox up the middle? Yes, Julio Lugo’s bat is better than his predecessor, but how many runs did Alex Gonzalez save with that magnificent glove of his? Can Dustin Pedroia fill Mark Loretta shoes? Coco Crisp better prove how good he is because Torii Hunter and Andruw Jones are both free agents after this season and if the Twins and the Braves fail during the season, they both could be available sooner rather than later. Jason Varitek is the best catcher a pitcher could hope for, but let’s watch and see if his and Jorge Posada’s decline due to age is fast or slow. Then other than Alex Cora, there is no speed or defense on the bench. I love Ortiz and I love Tito and I think this a very good, but flawed team. If the questions I ask turn in the Sox favor, they will end the Yankees reign on first, if they don’t, they will rain on many fans parades as they miss the playoffs. They will be a part of my AL Wild Card trifecta, but will fall short.
3) Blue Jays – This team may be filled with the best bats of anyone (now that Frank Thomas is part of the action), but their pitching is worrisome. Roy Halladay and a healthy A.J. Burnett and a not so healthy Gustavo Chacin are all they have, which actually may be enough. I don’t think so. It’s back to third place on Blue Jay Way.
4) Devil Rays – It’s nothing but a goofy hunch, but I think this will be an exciting team that can climb out the cellar. This is the best young outfield in baseball and while the pitching is atrocious, I love the manager and I think there may be some pleasant surprises
5) Orioles – this is the best least place team in baseball and if they weren’t playing in the AL East, I would pick them much higher. I think we will see some improvements on the pitching staff now that they have spent a year with Leo Mazzone but there are just too many holes everywhere, especially with Benson lost and Payton hurting. Plus, I think Miguel Tejada has lost the will to live. On the other hand, Erik Bedard may be Cy Young material. Mr. benson is gone for the season, but Mrs. Benson intends to inherent the mantle of the most outrageous “Anna” on the planet.

AL CENTRAL
1) Indians – This is the best division in baseball and there are a lot of reasons to like this team to win it. Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez are three of those reasons. Pronk may be this year’s MVP, then again so could Sizemore. Last season, Sizemore established himself with 92 (a majors best) of his 190 hits going for extra bases. He also scored 134 runs and stole 22 bases. I’m also expecting a Jhonny Peralta comeback season and a decent season from Trot Nixon. The rotation of C.C. Sabathia, Jake Westbrook, Jeremy Sowers and Paul Byrd will look even better when Cliff Lee is healthy. I also have good feelings about Andy Marte. Watch for a big season from Joe Borowski and if not from him perhaps, Adam Miller which means that I think last year’s awful bullpen has improved to so-so.
2) White Sox – The Sox won the 2005 division title largely on a 55-22 division record that featured 14-5 records against second-place Cleveland and Detroit. But what a difference a year made. Last year, the Sox were only 40-36 against the AL Central. They were 9-10 against division champion Minnesota and 8-11 against the Indians. They were still first in the AL in home runs (236) and third in runs (5.36) a year ago, so what did they do during the off-season? Unloaded pitching. Yet, I still believe Kenny Williams knows what he is doing. This is a very good team, in a very tough division and I think they will come up just short in the division, but they are part of my Wild Card trifecta.
3) Tigers – Have the Tigers learned any lessons from the White Sox’s 2005 drop-off? The addition of Gary Sheffield should be significant; I think Sheff’s bat can still cook. The questions is whether those young arms can repeat their magic. I feel like the Tigers snuck up on everybody last year and this year teams will be ready for them and with the extended loss of veteran Kenny Rogers, this team will be oh so close, but fall just short.
4) Twins – I hate this pick, because I love this team and their fans, amongst the best in baseball. I just think that this division is so filled with so much talent that the Twins will feel the loss of retired Brad Radke and injured Francisco Liriano We are talking about replacing them with Carlos Silva, Boof Bonser and Sidney Ponson. Great fans in a quirky ballpark brings wins. The lineup has the reigning MVP and batting champ, and that’s not chopped lutefisk. If anybody can do it Ron Gardenhire will find a way. I hope I’m wrong here.
5) Royals – Guess who’s not the worst team in baseball? If you said the Washington Nationals…you’re wrong! The Royals still have the distinction of being the worst in the AL, but since they added Gil Meche, Rookie of the Year candidate, Alex Gordon and Ryan Shealy who could provide power at first they have the burden of being the second-worst team. Zack Greinke’s return could make this team not an automatic sweep any more. They will be a better last-place team than in prior years, but they are on the verge of elimination today.

AL West
1) Texas Rangers – there are two big reasons why I’m picking the Texas Rangers. I really like Brandon McCarthy and he’s just the No. 3 starter in the Rangers’ rotation. He begins the season behind 16-game winner Kevin Millwood and 15-game winner Vicente Padilla and I think he will excel as the season progresses. I have always loved Frank Catalanotto and I sense that Eric Gagne will come back. This team’s MVP will be Mark Teixeira. But the primary reason I’m picking this team is that Ron Washington is driving the herd. To be more precise, the year after Buck Showalter left the Yankees, they won the World Series. The year after Buck Showalter left the Diamondbacks, the won the World Series. I don’t think this team will win the Series, but the absence of Showalter is good for 10 wins and the division.
2) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California, United States of America, North America, Western Hemisphere, Planet Earth – Blessed with K-Rod in a very strong bullpen, the Angels are loaded with talent, Howie Kendrick, Juan Rivera, Garret Anderson, Orlando Cabrera HGHary Matthews Jr, Vladimir Guerrero, Erik Aybar, and Brandon Wood, to name a few. I think the Drop-Off player of the year will be HGHary Matthews Jr. but Shea Hillenbrand will be a plus. This team will be the winner of my Wild Card trifecta thanks to John Lackey.
3) Oakland A’s – this is my meltdown team of the year. The drop-off from Frank Thomas to Mike Piazza will be a microcosm of the drop by the entire team. Parity does not work in Billy Beane’s favor. Always on the hunt for bargains, Alan Embree and Shannon Stewart don’t thrill me. Good luck to Bob Geren, but I somehow think that Ken Macha knows something we don’t know.
4) Mariners – Which Jeff Weaver do the Mariners get? Based on his history and the M’s history, not the good one. Which Miguel Batista do the Mariners get? Based on his history and the M’s history, not the good one. Which Jose Guillen do the Mariners get? Based on his history and the M’s history, not the good one. Are you beginning to understand why I think this team finishes last? Felix Hernandez, who turns 21 on April 8, seems grown-up enough this season to turn it around and have a big year. Bye-bye Mike Hargrove.

NL EAST
1) Mets – I like this Mets team a lot and I think their experience together last year will serve them in good stead this year. It would be nice if Omar Minaya opted to sign as back-up somebody younger than Cha Cha Cepeda, but he has enough spare parts to cobble together a division win and perhaps a championship. Jose Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado are a formidable but then there’s Shawn Green, Oliver Perez, Orlando Hernandez, Tom Glavine, Sandy Alomar Jr., Moises Alou all of whom were stars in the `50’s; on the other hand, perhaps they will be stars in their 50’s. Watch for Mike Pelfrey to lead this team from July on and remember the Maine. Willie Randolph wil be Manager of the Year.
2) Phils – Old habits are hard to break, three years in a row and four of the last six, the Phillies have finished second. The other two, they finished third. In all six of those years, they’ve won between 80 and 88 games. In four of them, they’ve won either 85 or 86. Put them down for the same this season. You gotta love Chase Utley and Ryan Howard (watch how many walks he receives), really like Jimmy Rollins (although team to beat? Jimmy, I don’t think so) , and tolerate Pat Burrell. I just think with Adam Eaton, Jamie Moyer, Freddy Garcia (here’s an interesting race to watch – will Garcia give up more homers than Howard hits?) and Jon Lieber (although Cole Hamels may be magic) you fall short of the magic number of 90 wins. On the other hand, you got Pat Gillick and his presence might finagle you another 5-10 wins.
3) Braves – Old habits are hard to break (didn’t I just write that?) and I think that’s why so many scribes are picking the Braves. The Braves will go as far as their pitching takes them, like in the glory years, but unlike the glory years, the Braves don’t have Leo Mazzone. The mix of John Smoltz, Tim Hudson and Mike Hampton and closer Bob Wickman (although I really like Mike Gonzalez) along with the Jones boys, Chipper and Andruw (in his walk year) and Jeff Francoeur, et al, simply doesn’t excite me. Note to self, learn the names, Scott Thorman and Kelly Johnson.
4) Marlins – Not as good as last year’s Cinderella team, I think the sophomore slump hurts this team a lot. Another sophomore slump team that could win 90 games if everything, I mean everything fell in their favor, but they are more likely to lose 90. The Marlins were the surprise of the National League, the senior-circuit Tigers, though without the postseason appearance. Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis, Anibal Sanchez, Scott Olsen, and Dan Uggla make for interesting team, but I believe they will suffer from the loss of manager Joe Girardi.
5) Nationals – The race is on already. The ’62 Mets lost 120 games and the worst team in baseball with the worst rotation in baseball has an excellent shot of breaking this record. They may have 90 losses in early August. Poor Manny Acta, he may not manage to win 40 games this first season. Beltway fans will want to move the team to Montreal!

NL Central
1) Brewers – I hate this division. This is parity at its’ worst which is why I am picking a three-way tie with Milwaukee coming out of the playoff in order to be eliminated in the first-round of the post-season. I like the addition of St. Louis post-season star Jeff Suppan, and I expect a monster year from Ben Sheets and Chris Capuano is better than most people realize. I expect a royal (lower case “r”) season from Prince Fielder. Rickie Weeks is an exciting leadoff man. Will this team win 90 games? No, but they won’t need to in this division. In any other division the Milwaukee Brewers would be in the wait till next year category, but in this division, that will be good enough.
2) (1) Cardinals – The Cards will finish second despite their tie for first. Albert Pujols very well might win the Triple Crown this season, which would be neat. But the Cardinals won the Series last season by getting hot at the right time and I don’t think they have enough to generate a Bunson Burner after losing the Three J’s – Jason Marquis, Jeff Suppan, and Jeff Weaver – in the off-season. Red Sox will watch to see if Adam Wainwright will succeed as a starter wondering if they should have left Paplebon in the rotation. Lotsa queston marks Jason Isringhausen? Anthony Reyes? Kip Wells? Braden Looper? Jim Edmonds? Scott Rolen? The Cardinals aren’t out of it until they’re out of it and they won’t be out of it until after the season ends, but before the post-season ends.
3) (1) Cubs – The Cubs will be the third of the three-team tie in the NL Central and the first out of the playoffs to finish third because $300 million just doesn’t go as far as it used to. The Chicago Cubs spent enough money this off-season to fund the war in Iraq for a couple of weeks, but like in Baghdad it won’t be enough to win. Alfonso Soriano, is now a centerfielder and will try to have a 50-50 season, but I certainly can’t get excited about Jason Marquis although I love Carlos Zambrano in his contract year and I’ve always been a Ted Lilly fan and I think he will fare well in the NL. Every team is better when Lou Pinella is at the helm and hopefully bench coach Alan Trammell will see some action after a Lou tantrum.
4) Astros – No Andy Petitte, no Roger Clemens, no chance. Those two absent from the rotation makes this a very mediocre ballclub. Woody Williams and Jason Jennings just can’t replace them. Then there is the question of whether the closer will be Brad Lidge or Jump Off the Ledge. Carlos Lee will love the Juice Box in Houston.
5) Reds – Let’s see, there’s Bronson Arroyo, Aaron Harang, and then Joe Nuxhall? I’m rooting for a great comeback from Josh Hamilton and reds fans will be lucky to see the magic from shortstop Alex Gonzalez, but their luck ends there. The Buccos could pass them.
6) Pirates – Here’s the good news for the Pirates, 70+ wins are within their grasp. Here’s the bad news, 80+ wins are not. The Pirates were respectable in the second half, going 41-42 after a 13-game losing streak in late June and Jim Tracy is a good and the new ownership may understand that winning is a good way to attract fans. Unfortunately, batting champion Freddy Sanchez starts on the DL and catcher Ronny Paulino is a keeper, so is Adam LaRoche. They have some talent on the mound, but very little. I’m trying Frank, but their last winning season was in 1992 and 2007 won’t break that run.

NL West
1) Dodgers – Three members of the Dodgers rotation, Derek Lowe, Jason Schmidt and Brad Penny, have started an All-Star Game, Randy Wolf pitched one inning in the 2003 game and Joe Mays is a former AL All-Star. The Dodgers also have a great combination of experience and youth in their line up and bench with Nomar Garciaparra, Jeff Kent, Luis Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, James Loney, and Andy LaRoche. If everything goes right, the Dodgers could make it look easy. But not many surprising things have to happen for them to fall back to the pack. Grady
2) Diamondbacks – this is a vastly improved ballclub and will be the only other team than the Dodgers to finish above .500 in the division. Doug Davis and Randy Johnson won’t be as big an addition as bench coach Kirk Gibson On the other hand, Chris Young, Chad Tracy, Conor Jackson, Stephen Drew and Carlos Quentin, Alberto Callaspo, Justin Upton and prospects Micah Owings and Carlos Gonzalez present a rosy future for this team. The future may be now in the weak, NL.
3) Padres – Not enough hitting, not enough pitching, not enough to contend. Bud Black deserves better as he gets his shot to manage this club. I will say that Jake Peavy is a definite contender for the Cy this season. I doubt David wells will make it through the season.
4) Giants – I don’t want to say that this is the same old Giants because Bruce Bochy is now at the helm. I will simply they are old. Too old. Barry Zito will look good and Bengie Molina will help, but this is a sub-.500 team and the only interest is old balloon-head.
5) Rockies – Willy Taveras is the center fielder the Rockies have needed; too bad he can’t also pitch. Then again at least he can play centerfield because there are woefully few who can pitch on this team and that means the team starts the season a mile high and six feet under. If rookie Chris Iannetta wins the starting job behind the plate for the Rockies, and it looks like he will, the Denver Post points out that he’ll be their seventh different Opening Day catcher in the last eight years. Left-fielder Matt Holliday is an emerging star. Bye-bye, Clint Hurdle, just remember it wasn’t all your fault.

To recap:
AL EAST
Yankees
AL CENTRAL
Indians
WEST
Rangers
WILD CARD
Three way tie between Red and White Sox and the Angels, with the Angels coming out on top.

ALCS
Yankees over Angels

NL EAST
Mets
CENTRAL
Three way tie between Cardinals, Cubs and Brewers, with the Brewers coming out on top.
WEST
Dodgers
WILD CARD
Phillies edge the Diamondbacks

NLCS
Mets over Phillies

WORLD SERIES
The 2007 World Series has to be an improvement over the 2006 version. My pick?
The Yankees in seven over the Mets with MVP Roger Clemens pitching, in relief, as Game 7 goes to 16 innings.

AL MVP: Travis Hafner over A-Rod and Grady Sizemore
AMERICAN LEAGUE CY YOUNG – C.C. Sabathia
AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Delmon Young, Tampa Bay
AL MANAGER OF THE YEAR – Ron Washington, Rangers over Eric Wedge, Cleveland

NL MVP – Albert Pujols over Alfonso Soriano
NATIONAL LEAGUE CY YOUNG – Brandon Webb over Jake Peavy
NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Homer Bailey, Reds, because I love his name
NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR – Willie Randolph, Mets

Bottom of the 9th
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Information provided in Billy-Ball has been gathered from A.P. reports, espn.com, sportsline.com, mlb.com and numerous other e-sources. Opinions expressed in Billy-Ball are obviously solely the opinions of the author of Billy-Ball and do not reflect those of source material no matter how off the wall they may be.