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Predictions and playoff projections for 2010
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-- Casey Stengel
The Ol' Perfesser was indeed a wiser man than I, but I'm going to defy his sage advice and make a bunch of predictions about the season to come. With 76 days to kill until Opening Day, what else are we going to do?
A fool's errand, as Stengel suggested? Perhaps, but here's another piece of guiding wisdom when it comes to predictions:
"I figure lots of predictions is best. People will forget the ones I get wrong and marvel over the rest."
-- Alan Cox
So with that in mind ...
1. The Yankees and Phillies will again meet in the World Series.
The Yankees -- a 103-win club in 2009 -- have perhaps bettered themselves over the winter. Javier Vazquez, one of the NL's best starting pitchers last season, has been added to the rotation; Nick Johnson replaces Hideki Matsui as DH; and Curtis Granderson (whose left-handed power stroke is ideally suited to the new Yankee Stadium) is the new center fielder. The best offense in all of baseball will once again carry them, and CC Sabathia is on the short list of AL Cy Young contenders.
As for the Phillies, they've added to the fold perhaps the best pitcher in baseball (Roy Halladay), Cole Hamels is a bounce-back candidate (his underlying statistics last season were as strong as ever), and the offense remains a pronounced strength. Brad Lidge is unlikely to be an adequate closer, but perfection isn't required to prevail in the flawed National League. Anything can happen in the often random-as-lightning postseason, but the Phillies must be regarded as the pennant favorites.
2. Roy Halladay will win the NL Cy Young Award.
Typically, Halladay has been good for 230-ish innings and a sub-3.00 ERA. And that was while pitching the bulk of his games in the brutal AL East. Put Halladay in the non-DH league and the inferior NL East, and those stellar numbers figure to get even better. It may take a serious injury to keep Halladay from winning the hardware.
3. The Mariners will win the AL West.
The hype surrounding the Mariners is a bit overblown. Last season, they indeed won 85 games. However, they also finished in third place and 12 games back of the Angels. As well, the Mariners' run differential was a disappointing minus-52, and that's a source of concern. With all that said, though, the M's did add Cliff Lee over the winter. As well, GM Jack Zduriencik has continued the business of assembling the best defensive roster in all of baseball (and Chone Figgins gives the lineup another much-needed dose of OBP).
What's also relevant is the Angels' seeming decline. Gone are John Lackey, Figgins and Vlad Guerrero. They're not strong defensively, they lack a true ace, and the bullpen will be a serious liability. So the M's will prevail, but it figures to be a close race.
4. The Nationals' Stephen Strasburg and the A's Michael Taylor will be voted Rookies of the Year.
Winning Rookie of the Year requires that excellence intersect with opportunity. The ballyhooed Strasburg made his professional debut in the Arizona Fall League, but a non-serious knee injury cut short his stint. It's not likely that Strasburg will break camp with the Nats, but -- given his unassailable skills and his team's need for pitching and invigoration -- an early arrival in D.C. is likely. The bet here is that Strasburg arrives in time to build a compelling case.
The A's badly need better production from the outfield corners, and Taylor should be able to provide immediate help. He's a career .312 AVG/.383 OBP/.515 SLG hitter in the minors, and last season he thrived at Double-A and Triple-A. He's ready, and the A's need him.
5. The Nationals will make Bryce Harper the top overall pick of the 2010 draft.
MLB's 2010 First-Year Player Draft goes down in June, and once again the Nationals own the top pick. They'll select Las Vegas catcher Bryce Harper. Harper, like Strasburg, is a once-in-a-generation talent, and there's a reasonable chance he'll surpass Strasburg's record signing bonus. Harper is enrolled in junior college and he's passed his GED. In other words, everything's in place for Harper to become a Washington National.
6. The NL playoff field will be the exact same as it was last season.
The Phillies will win the East, the Cardinals will prevail in the Central, the Dodgers will repeat in the West, and the Rockies will again claim the wild card. Of those, the Dodgers and Rockies are the riskiest picks. The West is a tough division by NL standards, and the Dodgers have lost a handful of core performers from a year ago. Still, young stars like Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp should ferry them to another division title. As for the Rockies, they have the most balanced roster in the NL. The Braves and Giants and perhaps even the Brewers and Mets could challenge, but Colorado -- thanks to a deep rotation and strong lineup -- will prevail.
7. Alex Rodriguez will move into sixth place on the all-time home run list.
Rodriguez is sitting on 583 home runs, so barring injury he'll easily surpass 600. If he tallies 27 or more, which he will, then he'll pass Sammy Sosa for sixth on the all-time list. However, catching Ken Griffey Jr., who's still active and 47 home runs ahead of Rodriguez, is out of the question for 2010.
8. Bud Black will be the first manager fired in 2010.
For Black, the stars are aligned in unfortunate fashion. The Padres have an option on him for 2011, and a new GM is in place. In all likelihood, Jed Hoyer, that new GM, will want to choose his own manager. Most important, though, is that the Padres are not going to be a good team in 2010. San Diego is 33 games under .500 and has never finished better than third place on Black's watch.
9. The Red Sox will claim the AL wild card for the sixth time in eight seasons.
Boston had the best offseason of any contender and improved a team that won 95 games a year ago. The Red Sox boast perhaps the deepest rotation in baseball, and Mike Cameron and Adrian Beltre are two excellent value additions to the lineup and team defense. They won't catch the colossus in the Bronx, but they will fend off the Rays for the AL wild card.
10. Bobby Cox will fall short of 2,500 career wins.
Cox is in his final season, and the future Hall of Famer needs 87 more wins to become just the fourth manager ever to win 2,500 or more games. The Braves won 86 games a year ago, and this winter they've added names like Troy Glaus, Melky Cabrera and Billy Wagner to the roster. However, getting to 87 will be a challenge. Offensive production in the outfield is a concern, as is Glaus' ability to produce and Chipper Jones' advancing age.
In the rotation, Jair Jurrjens' peripheral numbers suggest he'll come back to earth in 2010, and Javier Vazquez -- the Braves' top pitcher in 2009 -- is now a Yankee. On top of all that, the NL East figures to be tougher in 2010 (there's Roy Halladay in Philly, and the Mets can't possibly be as injured as they were last season). Cox's legacy is secure, but he won't quite get to 2,500.