Postseason prognostication is perilous
Here’s how brilliant my picks were in 2011:
I went 1-for-6 in division winners, getting it right only with the Philadelphia Phillies.
My other selections — cover your children’s eyes — were the Cincinnati Reds and Colorado Rockies in the NL, and Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox and Oakland Athletics in the AL.
None finished higher than third place.
Combined games out of first: A mere 83.
As if that’s not bad enough, my World Series pick was the Red Sox over the Atlanta Braves (I had the Braves winning the NL wild card).
Gag One and Gag Two, in the Dr. Seuss re-telling of the ’11 season.
My usual excuse stands — predictions are all but impossible without knowing which players will get injured or traded.
Still, by prognostication standards, my performance in ’11 was the near-equivalent of the Baltimore Orioles’ 0-21 streak to open the 1988 season.
A streak in which my writing for the late Baltimore (Evening) Sun matched the team’s play, if you really must know.
In any case, hope springs eternal, so let’s try again, counting down the top 30 teams in reverse order, capped by my postseason picks and World Series prediction.
Never let it be said that I do not go all-out for my readers. Upon completion of this column, you will know precisely which teams to avoid during your next trip to Las Vegas.
30: Astros. I’m not sure they could beat the Kentucky men’s basketball team — in baseball. On the bright side, the ‘Stros’ season will qualify as a success if they trade left-hander Wandy Rodriguez and first baseman Carlos Lee. Next year, American League.
29. Athletics. Built to succeed — by 2016. The rotation is inexperienced, center fielder Yoenis Cespedes is a gamble, and first baseman Brandon Allen and third baseman Josh Donaldson will not be confused with Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera. There also is this: One of the Obama girls might become president before the A’s move to San Jose.
28: Twins. Nice that catcher Joe Mauer and first baseman Justin Morneau are back, but right-hander Jason Marquis was the only addition to the third-worst rotation in AL — and the Twins compounded their run prevention-problems by signing Jamey Carroll, 38, to play short and sticking Josh Willingham, 33, in left field.
27. Orioles. The decision on center fielder Adam Jones will be the latest test of this sorry franchise, which is headed for its 15th straight losing season. Jones is eligible for free agency after the 2013 season. The Orioles need either to sign him long-term or trade him. If history is any indicator, they will do nothing.
26. Cubs. Fair to ask how long the honeymoon will last for Theo Epstein; the Cubs won’t improve quickly. Then again, Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer might receive keys to the city if they trade left fielder Alfonso Soriano and closer Carlos Marmol. Right-hander Matt Garza, who could be the best pitcher available this summer, would bring a more meaningful return.
25. Pirates. Erik Bedard, Opening Day starter? Neil Walker, cleanup man? I don’t mean to disrespect either player, but both are seriously miscast. I’ll just say this — all those great Pirates prospects had better accomplish more than third baseman Pedro Alvarez, the second pick of the 2008 draft.
24. Padres. Not yet, but soon. The Padres boast the third-best farm system in the majors, according to Baseball America. Develop the kids, find a new owner, put the new TV money to good use — and a return to contention actually might not be that far off.
23. Mariners. Felix Hernandez is my choice for AL Cy Young and Jesus Montero my pick for Rookie of the Year. Still, I’m not sure the Mariners will improve much on their average of 98 losses the past two seasons. Promising young pitchers are nice, but mix in a few hits.
22. Mets. This high? My generosity knows no bounds. A rotation headed by Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey and Jonathan Niese should keep the Mets competitive, but every other part of the team is suspect. By June, if not before, Citi Field could be a ghost town.
21. White Sox. It’s not a good sign when your scenario for success is, “If Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Jake Peavy have bounce-back seasons . . .” One or two of those players actually might revive, and the White Sox are talented enough in other spots to surprise. Then again, I frequently dream of dunking a basketball. Doesn’t mean it will ever happen.
20. Indians. Will be OK, but probably nothing more. A big spring from center fielder Grady Sizemore might have changed the team’s entire outlook, but Sizemore underwent back surgery and likely will be out until July. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera looks heavy this spring. Right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez is a question, not an answer — and ditto for righty Derek Lowe.
19. Rockies. Call it age-ism, but I’m not about to anoint a team that has a starting pitcher — left-hander Jamie Moyer, 49 — who is as old as me. The Rockies fooled me into picking them last season, but I’m not senile enough yet to make the same mistake again. Their rotation is largely inexperienced, and I’m not sure their high-character newcomers — right fielder Michael Cuddyer, second baseman Marco Scutaro, right-hander Jeremy Guthrie — will make a significant impact.
18. Royals. At least they’ll host the All-Star Game. Otherwise, the Royals are not all that different from the Rockies; their rotation isn’t good enough to support the rest of the club. The losses of catcher Salvador Perez for three months and closer Joakim Soria for the season only add to the Royals’ challenge. The team needs its young starting pitchers to catch up to its young position players — and soon.
17. Braves. I know this ranking seems harsh, but what have the Braves done lately to inspire anyone’s confidence? Their rotation is full of health questions — right-hander Tim Hudson is unlikely to return from back surgery before May 1, and third baseman Chipper Jones underwent his sixth knee surgery Monday. The Braves need right fielder Jason Heyward to regain his rookie form, or their offense again figures to be about as exciting as an infomercial.
16. Dodgers. My sleeper, and not simply because the sale of the club will energize the franchise and presumably give the front office greater financial muscle at the trade deadline. Left-hander Clayton Kershaw and center fielder Matt Kemp are among the game’s elite, and right fielder Andre Ethier and first baseman James Loney should be motivated entering their free-agent years. Shortstop Dee Gordon, the game’s next great base stealer, will electrify L.A.
15. Nationals. Manager Davey Johnson already has said the Nats can fire him if they don’t reach the postseason, which means that GM Mike Rizzo should get his list of possible replacements ready. The Nats are dealing with a number of injuries. Scouts question whether second baseman Danny Espinosa and shortstop Ian Desmond are a championship double-play combination. Center field will remain an open question until Bryce Harper arrives, and perhaps even after that. Lots of potential; just not sure all of the pieces fit.
14. Blue Jays. The Sisyphus of baseball, rolling a boulder up a hill, then watching it roll back down. Some club officials privately believe the team is a No. 3 starter from becoming a contender, but good luck finding that No. 3 starter. The Jays are an athletic, exuberant bunch, their revamped bullpen could be quite good, and young pitchers such as right-hander Drew Hutchison are close to contributing. But keep watching out for that boulder.
13. Brewers. It’s not just that first baseman Prince Fielder is gone. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez was an enigma with the Cubs. First baseman Mat Gamel is talented, but unproven. And left fielder Ryan Braun, even though he avoided suspension for his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs, faces pressure unlike any he experienced before. The Brewers’ pitching staff, seventh in the NL in ERA last season, might not be good enough to compensate for all of those issues.
12. Cardinals. Winning the World Series has its downside — namely, what happens the year after. Right-hander Chris Carpenter was the Cardinals’ first pitching casualty and might not be the last. Right-hander Adam Wainwright is back, but outfielder Carlos Beltran and shortstop Rafael Furcal are injury risks. The big losses — first baseman Albert Pujols, manager Tony La Russa, pitching coach Dave Duncan — might be too much for the Cardinals to overcome.
11. Marlins. I actually don’t think manager Ozzie Guillen or any of the players will lose their minds; it’s their bodies that concern me (well, not Ozzie’s). All teams need their best players to stay healthy, but the Fish’s lack of depth is alarming. Imagine what happens if the team loses right-hander Josh Johnson, shortstop Jose Reyes — any of its major parts, really. The Marlins’ talent is real, but only if it stays on the field.
10. Reds. They bullied me into this, forcing me into the middle of the clubhouse and surrounding me with their many pitchers who are at least a foot taller than me. Actually, the Reds should be quite good as well as giant, even after the loss of closer Ryan Madson to Tommy John surgery. Right-hander Mat Latos will help the rotation, lefty Sean Marshall the bullpen. The Reds need center fielder Drew Stubbs to fulfill his potential and right fielder Jay Bruce to become a star.
9. Red Sox. Too many pitching questions, from the fourth and fifth starters to a bullpen that likely will be without its two best parts from 2011 — closer Jonathan Papelbon, who signed with Philadelphia as a free agent, and setup man Daniel Bard, who is likely to join the rotation. The Sox will need their top three starters — lefty Jon Lester and righties Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz — to be not just good, but near-great. The new culture under Bobby Valentine will mean nothing if the pitching is sub-par.
8. Phillies. They’re going to do this on muscle memory, once first baseman Ryan Howard and second baseman Chase Utley are healthy enough to use their muscles again. The start of the season will be a struggle without those two offensive pillars, but manager Charlie Manuel will patch together first. Utley’s replacement, Freddy Galvis, looks like a better player than even the Phillies thought. I’m not ready to pick against Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels just yet.
7. Giants. It’s a little ambitious ranking them this high, but I’m banking on the strength of the Giants’ pitching and return of catcher Buster Posey to restore the team’s 2010 vibe. Disturbing up-the-middle questions, though: Second baseman Freddy Sanchez frequently gets hurt, shortstop Brandon Crawford needs to prove he can hit, and center fielder Angel Pagan has not had a good spring.
6. Rays. They’ve added first baseman Carlos Pena, designated hitter Luke Scott and infielder Jeff Keppinger. They’re a good bet to obtain catching help before July 31. And I’m still not sure it will be enough to make the Rays’ offense a sufficient complement to their fabulous rotation. All the Rays need is for the offense to be league-average; it was a tick below last season.
5. Diamondbacks. The deepest team in the NL, and that’s why I’m picking them to go to the World Series. The D-backs can withstand the absence of shortstop Stephen Drew, who is still recovering from a broken right ankle. The addition of Jason Kubel gives them four legitimate outfielders, and three youngsters — righty Trevor Bauer and lefties Tyler Skaggs and Patrick Corbin — are candidates to join a rotation that already includes lefty Joe Saunders as the fifth starter. Lots of options, lots to like.
4. Angels. I wrote a column earlier this spring expressing confidence in closer Jordan Walden, but the bullpen is undeniably the Angels’ biggest question. Will it even matter? The Angels’ offense and rotation are so good, the addition of one quality reliever at the deadline just might catapult the team into the World Series. Good luck to Vernon Wells holding off Mike Trout.
3. Yankees. Age is their biggest negative, but the offensive talent is still amazing and the rotation suddenly a major strength. GM Brian Cashman didn’t just add righties Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda, he’s also getting back the old Phil Hughes and maybe the old Andy Pettitte. The bullpen, too, is full of options — if Mariano Rivera, 42, ever starts to show his age, the Yankees still would have Rafael Soriano and David Robertson, plus a choice of their top prospects, plus maybe David Aardsma, who underwent Tommy John surgery last July. Not the same as Rivera, of course. But not too shabby.
2. Rangers. I’m so tempted to pick the two-time defending AL champions; their pitching depth is even more staggering than that of the Yankees. It actually might take the Rangers a while to figure out just what they have, but by October they should be a force — provided their offense remains intact. Outfielders Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz both struggle to stay healthy, and it will be interesting to see how Hamilton handles his free-agent year.
1. Tigers. They can’t say they weren’t warned. But when I told right-hander Justin Verlander that I was preparing to curse his club, he dismissed me by saying, “You’re not the only one picking us.” The Tigers aren’t perfect — Austin Jackson isn’t a true leadoff man, and the team’s lack of speed, defensive prowess and a proven fifth starter are concerns. But Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera and Co. will mash, Verlander heads a formidable front four and the bullpen should be even better with the addition of righty Octavio Dotel. The Tigers last season extended the Rangers to six games in the ALCS in an all-but-crippled state. This year, they will complete the job — and restore my credibility, once and for all.
AL wild-card game
Angels over Rays
AL Division Series
Rangers over Yankees
Tigers over Angels
Tigers over Rangers
NL wild-card game
Giants over Marlins
NL Division Series
Diamondbacks over Reds
Giants over Phillies
Diamondbacks over Giants
Tigers over Diamondbacks