1. The Angels will NOT run away with the AL West
2. The Mariners will finish last in the division
It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the Angels are the best team in the AL West. Vegas agrees, setting their season wins line at 92 while Oakland is 18 games worse at 74. That's a ridiculous gap--five wins is about the right spread, especially with the Angels' rash of pitching injuries.
If Seattle was anywhere near as good as people think they are, the Angels would be an underdog to the field in the division. Many pundits seem to think that 88-74 + Erik Bedard = playoffs for the Mariners, but this ignores not one but two 800-pound gorillas:
- A nine-win regression to last season's 79-83 Pythagorean record
- Virtually no players on the team who are projected to perform better than last year
Seattle has the worst or second-worst (Minnesota) offense in the AL, and may be the worst defensive team in the league. Two ace starters and a top closer can't make up for that by themselves.
My numbers say the Rangers are very slightly worse than the Mariners, but it's hardly a fearless prediction to have Texas finishing last.
3. Tampa Bay will crack .500
A real man would pick the Rays to win the division; I did so, but only when I was getting 50-1 odds. For 2008, they're still behind the Red Sox and well behind the Yankees, but I think Tampa has more talent locked up for the next five years than any other MLB team. With their low payroll, there's plenty left in the bank to extend Scott Kazmir and add a couple of big-time free agents. Before they can attract marquee free agents, however, they need to establish themselves as a legitimate franchise. This year is the first step in that path. I'd be surprised if they don't make it to the playoffs by 2010.
4. Reds fans will boo Dusty Baker
I'm a Cubs fan, and when I think of Dusty Baker, three things come to mind:
- Benching young position players in favor of inferior veterans
- Batting Corey Patterson leadoff for no good reason
- Causing injuries to top young pitchers
We're not even at Opening Day yet and already Baker is two-for-three. Will anyone really be surprised if Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey go the way of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood?
Here's a challenge for you: Name three National League center fielders who are clearly better than Jay Bruce right now. There's Carlos Beltran, obviously, and I'll accept Andruw Jones too. That's basically it, yet Bruce is being sent to the minors so Patterson--who was deemed unworthy of a Major League contract by all 30 teams--can play regularly.
Unlike the similar situation with the Rays and Evan Longoria, all evidence points to this being Baker's decision rather than a calculated move to save money for the franchise down the road. Ironically, sending Bruce down could be beneficial for Cincinnati in the long term for that reason, but Reds fans should still be annoyed, especially when Patterson posts a .300 OBP and every Junior Griffey homer is of the solo variety.
5. San Francisco will finish last in the league in runs scored
This is truly a fearless prediction, because it will be tough for anyone to challenge them. Maybe the Padres, with their mediocre offense and PETCO Park, have a shot. If Albert Pujols goes down, St. Louis could enter the equation. Anyone else seems like a major longshot.
It's fitting that the Giants are trying so hard to erase the memory of Barry Bonds from Phone Company Park, because the front office has spent years eradicating Major League-quality hitters from the lineup. Don't believe me? Their Opening Day lineup includes:
SS Brian Bocock: .621 OPS at Single-A(!) last year
3B Jose Castillo: Cut by the Marlins and Pirates in the past year, SuperVORP of -19 from 2005-07
1B Rich Aurilia: Age 36, .672 OPS last year
LF Dave Roberts: Age 36, .712 career OPS
2B Ray Durham: Age 36, -10.5 VORP last year
RF Randy Winn: Age 34, 0.8 VORP in 2006
C Bengie Molina: Age 33, .308 career OBP
CF Aaron Rowand: Solid, league-average center fielder.
$60 million may seem like a lot to pay Rowand to make zero playoff appearances in the next five years, but remember, he gives the lineup one league-average player. For now.