Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Season Preview : Toronto Blue Jays

The Team      Toronto really do suffer from being in the AL East. They have been one of the more consistently good teams in the AL for the last six years but Tampa, Boston, and New York have been three of the best teams in baseball recently so playoff baseball is still elusive.

The Good     Even with Aaron Hill and Adam Lind struggling most of the year, the Jays still managed to lead the universe in home runs and even if Bautista inevitably drops off the club still expects improved production from short, first and the outfield.

There seems to be a constant flow of pitchers coming up through the system. There's a number of guys with a legitimate shot at cracking the Jays roster this Spring.

The Bad     There looks to be a lot of changes in the Toronto roster this season. The bullpen was will see its entire back end rebuilt and a number of guys will be filling new roles.

Even with all the home runs, the Blue Jays were still middle of the pack for runs scored due to being one of the worst teams at getting men on base.

Best Case Scenario     Where to begin? If Morrow continues to show he's figured things out, Drabek has a RoY calibre season, Dotel and Francisco nail down the 8th and 9th, Davis and Podsednik can get on base and steal 80 bases, Hill and Lind regain their 2009 form and Rivera, Encarnacion and Escobar get their careers back in gear then a wild card spot could be theirs.

My Prediction     Did you see that list of things that need to go right in order to be in the hunt for a playoff spot? They'll be a long way back of the Yankees and Red Sox and probably behind Tampa. Its even possible that Baltimore can bridge the gap but Toronto should finish with around 75 wins.

Season Preview : Oakland A's

The Team     The A's haven't been to the post season since 2006 which was also the last time they finished above .500. In that time the only thing that has grown is the ego of Billy Beane as he continues to hunt down the latest market inefficiency and the patience the A's fans are having with Beane's approach.

The Good     Playing in a pitchers park certainly helps. Their rotation were a big part in leading the team to an AL best 3.56 ERA while surendering the fourth fewest walks and the likes of Cahill, Anderson and Gio (Gonzalez) will be looked on to carry the club yet again.

Kurt Suzuki is one of the best all around catchers in the game and brings the kind of intangibles that allow him to provide production in the middle of the order even though on a good team he'd be batting in the 8-hole.

The Bad     This team does not score runs. Their slugging percentage was tied for second worst in the AL and it all stems from the infield corners where Kouzmanoff and Barton combined for 26 homers which would be a pedestrian total for a single corner infielder on a big league roster. The addition of Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui should help them some but neither really figures to have the kind of power needed to clear those Colisseum walls regularly.

Its also worth noting that the likes of Matsui, Willingham, Crisp, Ellis and Andrew Bailey have not been very very durable in recent seasons and all of those players will be key to any success Oakland has this year.

Best Case Scenario     Bailey and Harden stay healthy, Wuertz rebounds and join Fuentes to form possibly the best bullpen in baseball backing up and excellent starting core which helps to hold opposing lineups to minimal production. The offence will be lead by Ellis, Crisp and Pennington and their speed on the bases and timely hits from the likes of Barton and Willingham see Oakland contend in the west.

My Prediction     They just won't score runs. It is so hard to get by in the modern game with singles and doubles hitters and while I wouldn't be surprised to see them get out of the blocks strong there is always the risk that momentum will be be curtailed by injuries. Expect them to fight it out with Anaheim for second place out west.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Season Preview : Houston Astros

The Team     The Astos' season started off badly and then it plateaued and culminated in the trading of long time ace Roy Oswalt to Philly. Its been a fair while since they were relevant in the NL.

The Good     Its tough to really come up with anything that is particularly good about the Astros. The rotation shows some signs of being a strength. Wandy Rodriguez continues to emerge as an ace and Houston will hope that JA Happ and Brett Myers can show greater consistency behind him and that Bud Norris can start to harness his stuff better. They could be a formidable group or a very average one.

The Bad     Many will see the corner infield spots as a strength for the club to build on but Brett Wallace continues to underwhelm (does anyone know how he got a reputation as a blue chip prospect?) and Chris Johnson strikes out far too much to keep that average up. Adding Clint Barmes and Bill Hall to the infield won't help that unit produce offensively either.

Brandon Lyon anchoring a bullpen doesn't fill me with confidence. He's made a career out of being the one they turn to when there's no one else better.

Best Case Scenario     The team needs Pence and Bourn to get their OBP's back around the .350 mark and use that speed to create offence. After that they desperately need Carlos Lee to get back to his .300/.350/.500 self because there is not a lot of upside in that lineup.

All hope lies in that pitching and if they play to their potential then this could be a .500 club.

My Prediction     Astros fans should continue to be glad they share a division with the Cubs and Pirates. Thanks to those two franchises Houston should be able to pad their win total and stay off the foot of the Central but they are a long way behind St Louis, Milwaukee and Cincinatti.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Season Preview : The California LA Angels of Anaheim AKA The Angels Angels of Anaheim

Looks like I'll be doing this more sporadically than initially thought so I decided to get a head start on these and alphabetical order is good way to go.

The Team   The Halo's spent the whole off-season being linked with all the big free agents and then contrived not to land any of them. Having finished third in the west, 10 games back from the reigning AL champions, they must have felt the need to do something drastic to bridge the gap leading to a head scratching move for Vernon Wells and his contract.

The Good   One big free agent acquisition they did land was Scott Downs who adds a strong lefty presence to a sound bullpen that will back up a great 1-2 punch of Dan Haren and Jeff Weaver at the top of the rotation.

Perhaps the biggest strength will be a defence where the two Gold Glove outfielders will not be the best defenders in the outfield. Bourjos' play in center allowed the aging Torii Hunter to shift to right where the club hopes he will be able to stay out of harms way and in the lineup where he continues to be a key performer and with Wells taking over in left Anaheim can use Bobby Abreu principally at DH.

Another bonus is the bench where Maicer Izturis will once again see time at short, second and third, Abreu can still play the outfield if needed and Alberto Callapso should provide some good at bats.

The Bad    Last year Anaheim allowed more runs (702) than they scored (681) which is never a good thing and they really didn't do much to address that.

They are relying on a batting order with no obvious leadoff man and for a team that likes to run that is a problem. They also have an order lacking genuine power and what power they have belongs to aging and injury prone hitters.

As good as Haren and Weaver are you have to worry about Scott Kazmir and Joel PiƱeiro and as good as the middle relief should be Fernando Rodney has never convinced anyone that he can hold down a closers role for an extended time.

Best Case Scenario    The Angels need a number of players to step up - Rodney needs to solidify the relief, Kendry Morales needs to rebound from injury and provide some thump to the order, Wells needs to play like he did in 2010 not 2009, Hunter needs to stay healthy, Howie Kendrick needs to put together a full season of production rather than the odd week/month,.... If all those things come together and Haren plays to the Cy Young level he's capable of then they have the pieces to challenge in the west.

My Prediction    Anaheim will, like last season, be a .500 team. They will struggle to enough runs to support the rear of the rotation and Haren, Weaver and Ervin Santana can't all win 20 games.

Mike Trout watch should begin some time in June.