Monday, March 17, 2008

**With Expanded AL West Preview
By Adam Dodge - Senior Writer

In two weeks Spring Training will come to a close and the start of the 2008 Major League Baseball season will begin. With it, fans in thirty markets will rekindle their hope that this year will be the year.

If promises are indeed made to be broken then to a baseball fan, dreams are made to be completely destroyed. The fact remains that come October only one team’s faithful will realize the joys of a World Series Championship, while the rest are left to sit and wait through what can be an agonizingly lengthy off-season.

And while such will ultimately be the fate for most fans, when the calendar reaches March 31st and (most) teams take the field for opening day there will be reason for optimism, albeit minimal for some fans.

Will this be the year our young pitchers reach their potential?

Can our rookie right-fielder provide the much needed power in the middle of our line-up?

If both happen, we could surprise some people.

Heck, the Rockies made the World Series last year!

What else is a Pittsburgh Pirates fan to think? Why shouldn’t a member of the Rays’ faithful hold out hope?

Stranger things have happened.

Here are my predictions for the 2008 season, followed by the picks of other staffers.


1. Los Angeles Angels

Mike Scioscia’s Angels have won their division three of the last four seasons, and despite the challenge of beginning the 2008 campaign without their top two starters in John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar, both out with injuries, the Angels have the top-to-bottom talent and depth to once again outlast their American League Western Division foes.

While pitching has been the foundation for the Angels’ success over the past few seasons, look for the offense to take the reigns in 2008.

The Angels scored 822 runs in 2007. Good enough for fourth in the American League. Added to their offensive attack is Torii Hunter, who signed a 5-year $90 million contract in the off-season. Hunter is coming off a 28 homerun, 107 RBI season and will provide much needed pop behind Vladimir Guerrero. Guerrero was once again a beast in the middle of the Angel order in 2007. We can expect another MVP caliber season from the future hall of famer. Chone Figgins’ 2007 was a remarkable one despite missing the first month of the season and hitting just .156 in May. Figgins broke out with a .330 batting average, becoming one of the game’s elite leadoff men. He enters 2008 healthy, and with the new and improved controlled hitting approach he exhibited a season ago. Garret Anderson found the fountain of youth in the second half of last season, driving in 60 runs after the All-Star break. With a club option for 2009, Anderson has 14 million reasons to stay on the field and in the line-up in 2008, something the Angel great has struggled with since signing a long extension prior to the 2004 season. Young phenoms, Howie Kendrick and Casey Kotchman, who make up the right side of the Angel infield, also missed considerable time in 2007 and enter 2008 healthy. Both are capable of hitting well over .300. In all, the Angels have seven starters who have, or are legitimately capable of hitting over .300. And that’s not counting Maicer Izturis, who hit .289 in 336 at-bats last season. Izturis is the expected back up to Erick Aybar at shortstop, Figgins at third base and Kendrick at second base. Nor does it include Juan Rivera, who hit .310 with 23 homeruns in 2006, before missing most of the 2007 season with a broken leg. Rivera will be the Angels’ 4th outfielder/DH option, who will see plenty of playing time in 2008.

Bottom line: This Angel team can hit. Expect them to at least approach the 900 run plateau in 2008.

When Escobar and Lackey return to the Angel rotation (expected in mid-May) they will join third year man, Jered Weaver, Jon Garland, who was acquired in the Orlando Cabrera trade to the White Sox, and either Joe Saunders or Ervin Santana. No starting staff in the AL West and arguably, in the entire American League is as deep as what the Angels present one through five.

With Francisco Rodriguez back for at least one more season as the Angel closer, and Scot Shields and Justin Speier setting him up, the Angels still field one of the most formidable bullpens in the Major Leagues. Darren Oliver provided the Angels with a quality lefthander in 2007 and returns. Dustin Moseley is the expected long-man. Rookie, Darren O’Day has been dominant in Tempe this spring and may round out the pen.

Prediction: 95-67

2. Seattle Mariners

The Mariners gave the Angels a run for their money in 2007, challenging the eventual division champs until late August. Much hype has centered on the Seattle pitching staff, which will be anchored by newly acquired ace, Erik Bedard. Bedard finished fourth in the AL with a 3.16 ERA and third with 221 strikeouts for his former team, the Baltimore Orioles in 2007. Felix Hernandez moves to the second spot in the Seattle rotation. ‘King’ Felix was hyped as the second coming of Dwight Gooden when he entered the league in 2005 and has show signs of brilliance. If he breaks out in 2008 the Mariners could have the most dynamic front of the rotation in baseball. Jarrod Washburn, Carlos Silva and Miguel Batista round out the M’s staff.

Ichiro Suzuki returns as the anchor of the Seattle offense, which lost arguably its best run producer in Jose Guillen, who signed a free agent deal with the Kansas City Royals in the off-season. The Mariners scored 799 runs in 2007 and will find it difficult to match that production in 2008. Declining sluggers, Richie Sexon and Adrian Beltre will be counted upon to provide the power. Sexon hit just .205 with 21 homeruns a season ago. Beltre, who hit 48 homeruns for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2004 has hit just 70 in three full seasons with Seattle. Aging outfielders Raul Ibanez and Brad Wilkerson will also be counted upon to provide production.

The Mariners have been the sexy pick for many prognosticators previewing the 2008 season. Don’t buy it. This team has a lot of question marks.

Bedard is a talented lefty, but has been awful this spring, posting a 9.00-plus ERA and has never eclipsed the 200 inning mark in any of his four full big league seasons. Hernandez has as good of stuff as anyone in baseball but has not shown the ability to pitch effectively for a sustained period of time. And the rest of the Mariner staff is very hittable. A saving grace for the starting staff is a spacious Safeco Field and a solid bullpen, anchored by closer J.J. Putz, who was the best in the bizz at shutting down ninth innings a year ago.

A suspect and inconsistent pitching staff and a very average offense makes the Mariner’s less than a threat to overtake the Angels in 2008.

Prediction: 81-81

3. Texas Rangers

It’s the same old story for the Texas Rangers. They’ll score a bunch and give up a more. I actually really like the Ranger line-up. It’s very deep with quality hitters and good power. Michael Young leads the attack once again, in search of his 6th consecutive 200-hit season. The Ranger power is expected to come from third baseman Hank Blalock, newly acquired centerfielder Josh Hamilton, and the right side of the infield, Ian Kinsler and Ben Broussard.

The Texas bullpen is talented with C.J. Wilson, Eddie Guardado, Joaquin Benoit, and Frank Francisco leading the way.

To beat the proverbial dead horse, the Rangers weakness is the starting staff. And that weakness is a glaring one. Kevin Millwood and Vincente Padilla return at the top of the rotation. Both guys have seen much better days. The staff is rounded out by also-rans, Jason Jennings, Brandon McCarthy and Kason Gabbard.

That the Rangers will have enough pitching to compete with either Seattle or the Angels is a wish so grand that not even the most powerful Genie in the most beautiful lamp could grant it.

Prediction: 72-90

4. Oakland Athletics

General Manager, Billy Beane has done a tremendous job of replenishing the Athletics’ roster on the run and keeping the small market club competitive during his tenure. The A’s seemingly always exceed expectations. But trading away ace, Dan Haren and team MVP, Nick Swisher will be too much to overcome in 2008.

The A’s will rely on Joe Blanton and Rich Harden to lead a pitching staff which will also include converted relievers, Chad Guadin and Justin Duchscherer and Lenny Dinardo, who posts a 9-13 career Major League record. Blanton is solid. Harden will have to shed his injury problems. And the others will have to pitch better than they’ve shown capable.

Offensively, the A’s are pretty weak. It will take a heroic effort from perennial MVP favorite, Bobby Crosby to keep the A’s in contention past the All-Star break. A healthy Eric Chavez may also help.

Prediction: 69-93


1. Cleveland Indians
2. Detroit Tigers (Wild Card)
3. Chicago White Sox
4. Minnesota Twins
5. Kansas City Royals

The Detroit Tigers stole the off-season headlines by trading for Florida Marlins’ stars Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. Cabrera is one of the best young right handed power hitters in all of baseball, and becomes an instant MVP candidate in the American League. He will lead a Tiger offense, which could score more than 1000 runs and should be the best in baseball. They are loaded. Curtis Granderson, Gary Sheffield, Carlos Guillen, Edgar Renteria, Magglio Ordonez, Placido Palanco and Ivan Rodriguez are all All-Stars.

While the Indian offense is a bit more modest, they’re still one of the better hitting units in baseball. Led by Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez, Cleveland’s quick strike attack can hang with anyone.

With an improved Chicago White Sox team also in the mix, the AL Central will come down to pitching and right now the Indians have the upper hand. Cleveland has seven quality starters competing for five spots. Led by 2007 Cy Young winner, C.C. Sabathia and Cy Young candidate, Fausto Carmona, the Indians have enough firepower in the rotation to contain any offense. It’s tough to say whether Joe Borowski will be able to flirt with as much disaster as he did in 2007 and remain an effective closer. If not, the Indians have enough quality arms in the pen, and a creative general manager, willing to make mid-season trades, that they should be able close out enough games to outlast a Detroit team, lacking pitching depth.

The Twins and Royals both seem completely irrelevant heading towards opening day.


1. New York Yankees
2. Toronto Blue Jays
3. Boston Red Sox
4. Tampa Bay Rays
5. Baltimore Orioles

Save the fans in Maryland and there is reason for optimism amongst each of the AL East fan bases. I debated long and hard as to how I think this division will ultimately play out. Each of the top four teams has enough talent to win the AL East.

The 2007 World Series champion Red Sox seem to be the consensus pick to repeat as AL East champs in 2008. But not so fast. This Sox club had a lot of things go right in 2007 – things that camouflaged things that went very wrong. A lot of questions surround Boston heading into 2008.

Curt Schilling was recently placed on the 60 Day disabled list and conceivably may have pitched his last Major League game. Josh Beckett, perhaps the best pitcher in all of baseball, has never had back-to-back great seasons, and has experienced shoulder pain this spring. Daisuke Matsuzaka received huge money to leave Japan for Boston a year ago and was somewhat disappointing posting a 4.40 ERA is his rookie campaign. Consider that Japanese pitchers often regress in the Major Leagues, and it could be a long 2008 for Dice-K. Youngsters, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are likely to begin the year in the Red Sox rotation. Offensively, Mike Lowell comes off of a career year and with a new three year extension. He joins the aging, albeit dynamic duo of Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz in the middle of the order. The Sox will rely on Dustin Pedroia to duplicate his 2007 season, which earned him Rookie of the Year honors and potential 2008 Rookie of Year Jacoby Ellsbury to set the table at the top of the order.

While it’s not considered appropriate to predict injuries, it’s certainly a concern heading into this season for the Boston Red Sox. Ramirez saw his production decline last season. David Ortiz, though healthy this spring is nursing questionable knees. J.D. Drew has never played a full season. Lowell and Jason Varitek are getting up in age and Beckett has had trouble staying off the DL in the past. 2008 will be the year the Sox fall off.

Look for the Toronto Blue Jays, who themselves field a very balanced team to surpass the Sox in the standings and the talented Tampa Bay club to contend as well.

I chose the Yankees to not only win the American League East but to have the best record in all of baseball. First, and most obvious, the Bronx Bombers field a line-up on par with the Detroit Tigers. Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Jorge Posada, and Hideki Matsui lead the attack, while the aging Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu are still very productive. Despite the criticism, the Yankees also have a solid rotation, led by Chien-Ming Wang and veteran Andy Pettite. The Yankees will count heavily upon the young arms of Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlin. Mike Mussina is still in the mix as well. Hughes, Kennedy and Chamberlin are very talented and received Major League experience in 2007 that has been well documented.

The Yankees have begun each of the last few seasons poorly as they seemingly became complacent under former manager, Joe Torre. I expect new skipper Joe Girardi to invigorate this group and get them out of the gates quickly. Remember…the Yanks had the best record in all of baseball in the second half of 2007.


1. Arizona Diamondbacks
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
3. Colorado Rockies
4. San Diego Padres
5. San Francisco Giants

The National League West seemingly always comes down to the final weekend of the season. Such was the case last season when the San Diego Padres lost the Division to the Arizona Diamondbacks on the season’s final weekend and the Colorado Rockies rallied for 3 runs against San Diego Padres’ closer, Trevor Hoffman in the bottom of the thirteenth inning to take the wild card in a one game playoff.

Expect another close race in 2008 as the West’s top four teams all field quality teams.

The edge goes to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who even without the surgically repaired Randy Johnson in the rotation still boast the division’s best starting staff. And if the Big Unit’s back holds up – and it has thus far this spring – they could be the best in baseball. The D-Backs acquired Dan Haren from the Oakland Athletics in the off-season to co-anchor the rotation with former Cy Young winner – sinker-baller, Brandon Webb. Their pitching compliments a young and improving offense, which features second year sluggers Chris Young, Mark Reynolds, and top prospect Justin Upton

The Dodgers should provide the stiffest competition, as they may have the best balance in the NL West. Youngsters Matt Kemp and James Loney look to break out as legitimate stars in 2008. Andrew Jones was signed to play centerfield and could benefit from a change of scenery. Whether or not he’ll return the level that saw him hit 50 homeruns remains to be seen, but Jones can be expected to provide 30 homerun power. Jeff Kent is a future hall of famer and Russell Martin showed last year he might be the game’s best all-around catcher. The pitching staff is solid with Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsly, Esteban Loaiza and Japanese transplant, Kiroki Kuroda. The Dodgers have been fortunate in the past with first year pitchers from across the world. To round out the pitching staff the Blue Crew also possesses a terrific bullpen.

Colorado is still good, but will have to compete with both the Dodgers and Diamondbacks, who have both improved.

Look for the Padres to take a step back in 2008 as they have one of the worst offenses in all of baseball.


1. Chicago Cubs
2. Milwaukee Brewers
3. Cincinnati Reds
4. Houston Astros
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
6. St. Louis Cardinals

As the Cubs enter their second season with manager Lou Piniella at the helm the Cubbie swagger Lou promised last season has started to become evident in Mesa this spring. With the Cubs upgrading right field, catcher and in the back end of their rotation (a rotation that ranked 2nd in the NL last season) there’s reason for optimism to think they will repeat as division champs in 2008.

The Cubs have all the ingredients of a winning team, a formidable offense (which could still be upgraded by a trade for Brian Roberts) great defense, good starting pitching, and the best bullpen in the division, if not the entire National League. What to watch for this year is the contribution of the three rookies the Cubs will be starting this season.

The Cubs big free agent acquisition Kosuke Fukudome is a guaranteed defensive upgrade from what they trotted out last year and while he lacks power, Fukudome’s career .397 OBP is exactly what the Cubs lineup was missing last season. In center field the north-siders prized prospect Felix Pie will be the opening day starter while the MVP of the Pacific Coast League Geovany Soto will be the new Cubs back stop in 2008 offering a significant upgrade to Jason Kendall.

If these three rookies provide solid contributions for “Sweet Lou” this season not only will the Cubs cruise to the top of the NL central but should also be serious contenders to compete for the pennant.

The Milwaukee Brewers should provide Chicago with its greatest competition. The Brewers have a talented young team led by young mashers, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. They’ll certainly score enough runs to compete but will need Ben Sheets to stay healthy and lead an otherwise unspectacular pitching staff, something Sheets has been unable to do thus far in his career.

The Reds and Astros have offenses to compete if they can get consistent pitching.

The Pirates and Cardinals will compete to stay out of the cellar.

**with contributions from Cubs’ correspondent, Jeffrey Meek


1. Atlanta Braves
2. New York Mets (Wild Card)
3. Philadelphia Phillies
4. Washington Nationals
5. Florida Marlins

The National League East may be the most interesting division to watch in 2008. With no clear cut favorite, I’ll go with the Atlanta Braves, who should prove to have the most balance. I love the starting rotation, especially if Mike Hampton can stay healthy. Hampton hasn’t pitched in more than two years and has only pitched 3.1 innings this spring. John Smoltz and Tom Glavine appear good enough and healthy enough to have one last strong run and Tim Hudson is a consistent horse. The bullpen might be a weakness for the Braves, but if they can get the ball to new closer, Rafael Soriano, who could be fantastic in that role, Atlanta should be good enough.

**Keep an eye on 22-year old Jair Jurrjens, whom the Braves are extremely high on. Jurrjens may earn a spot in the rotation this spring and has dynamite stuff and good mound presence for a young pitcher.

Chipper Jones, Jeff Francoeur and Mark Teixeira lead a solid offense, albeit less star-laden as those fielded by the Mets and Phillies.

The Mets are loaded, especially in the infield with Jose Reyes, David Wright, Luis Castillo and Carlos Delgado. Carlos Beltran leads the outfield.

The Mets will count heavily upon Pedro Martinez to pitch a full and effective season to compliment newly acquired ace, and possible 2008 Cy Young winner, Johan Santana, who should dominate National League opponents. John Maine, Oliver Perez, El Duque – Orlando Hernandez and Mike Pelfrey are also in the mix.

The division’s other contender – the Philadelphia Phillies won the 2007 NL East in dramatic fashion. They’re very talented, but don’t have the pitching to compete with a deep Braves club, nor the Mets’ team that choked away the division a season ago. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard will give them a chance as they can score with anyone.

Look for the Washington Nationals to play inspired baseball, especially early as they enter a new stadium.

Florida has quality young talent and may manage to stay out of last place.


AL MVP – Grady Sizemore
NL MVP – Mark Teixeira

AL Cy Young – Fausto Carmona
NL Cy Young – Johan Santana

AL ROY – Jacoby Ellsbury
NL ROY – Geovany Soto


Indians defeat Angels
Tigers defeat Yankees

Indians defeat Tigers

Diamondbacks defeat Braves
Cubs defeat Mets

Cubs defeat Diamondbacks

Indians defeat Cubs

What other staffers think:

Eric Denton – Feature Writer


WEST: Angels – Even with injuries to Lackey & Escobar the Angels have the most balanced team in the West. Seattle will hang tough most of the year.

CENTRAL: Tigers - Detroit could hit without the addition of Miguel Cabrera, now their offense could be Nintendoesque.

EAST: Red Sox – Yeah, they’ll win their division. Yankees are both too old and too young.

WILD CARD: Blue Jays – They have a lot of talented offensive players and if they get full seasons out of Burnett & Ryan they should improve over last year. I think the Jays will be just good enough to beat out New York and Cleveland for the final playoff spot.


WEST: Diamondbacks - It’s hard to determine who’s #1 & #2 starters are better. AZ (Webb & Haren) or SD (Peavy & Young). I lean towards the younger, healthier hitters putting them over the Friars.

CENTRAL: Cubs – Kerry Wood looks like he’s found his place as a closer. The addition of Fukudome should add more offense and enable Lou Pinella to drop Soriano’s power bat in the lineup.

EAST: Mets – Adding Johan Santana was huge, 1 start out of him in Sept. 07 and the Mets probably don’t choke. Hard to find a more exciting trio than Wright, Reyes & Beltran.

WILD CARD: Padres – This was probably the hardest pick. I could see as many as 4 other teams winning this spot. Dodgers, Phillies, Brewers or Rockies could all make it.

Brent Hubbard – Feature Writer

American League

EAST: Rays - A surprising Tampa Bay Rays team rides a dominant young pitching staff to the division crown with 91 wins.

CENTRAL: Indians - The class of the division is still the Indians and the Tigers. The Tigers huge addition of Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis is a big step forward, but their bullpen is a major question mark. I’m picking the Indians by about 6-8 games.

WEST: Angels - The Angels run away with the division, taking the West by 15 games. Torii Hunter and Garland are the missing pieces. Verdict: ANGELS at 105 wins.

WILDCARD: Tigers - The Tigers’ll get to 90 and take the Wild Card, on the strength of their bats, but they won’t be the monster team most think they will be.

National League

EAST: Phillies - Philadelphia will miss the presence of Rowand in center field, but a resurgent Lidge at the back end of the bullpen makes up the difference.

CENTRAL: Brewers - Perhaps the worst division in baseball, the Cubs stole this at the last few weeks from a significantly better Brewers team that just couldn’t overcome their poor road record. That’s going to change in 08.

WEST: Diamondbacks - The most complete division from top to bottom: Arizona is the pick here, but the Rockies, Padres, and Dodgers will all be close, and one of them takes the Wild Card.

WILD CARD: Dodgers – Los Angeles will take the Wildcard at 90 wins.


Rays defeat Indians
Angels defeat Tigers

Angels defeat Rays

Brewers defeat Dodgers
Diamondbacks defeat Phillies

Diamondbacks defeat Brewers

Angels defeat Diamondbacks

Geoff Bilau – Senior Editor


West: Angels — Seattle pushes them even harder this season, but Mike Scioscia proves a better manager than John McClaren and keeps the Angels on top.

Central: Indians — Detroit made the big winter moves, but Cleveland remains the better team, pacing the American League in victories.

East: Yankees — The Yankees powerful offense becomes even more threatening under Joe Girardi, but pitching questions linger.

Wild Card: Red Sox — Another year older, but still talented enough to hold off the Tigers in the final week.


West: Diamondbacks — It's still anybody's to take, but Haren's arrival pushes Arizona over the top.

Central: Cubs — I'm not entirely convinced myself, but nobody else in the division appears good enough to challenge them.

East: Mets — Johan Santana makes them good enough to leapfrog the Phillies in a tight division race.

Wild Card: Phillies — They finally put it together last year and will be even better in 2008.

Angels vs. Indians

Diamondbacks vs. Mets

World Series
Angels vs. Diamondbacks

Angels — Arte Moreno gets the last laugh, beating the team he originally tried to purchase to win his first World Series title.

Chuck Richter – Chief Editor


WEST: Angels – They’ll battle the Mariners all season long, and be surprised by the Texas Rangers offense if the pitching is stellar, but the Angels will finish at the top when it’s all said and done. The reason? Depth, Defense & and

CENTRAL: Tigers – Should battle it out with the Indians and White Sox all season long, but in the end, the Tigers will prevail and come out on top.

EAST: Red Sox – The Yankees have a young, albeit talented pitching staff, but I think they’re going to struggle in what is a talented AL East, outside of the retooling Baltimore Orioles. Their offense alone won’t carry them!

WILD CARD: Indians – Should battle the Tigers until the end, the Tigers starting pitching will prevail. The Yankees, Mariners & Blue Jays will all vie for the WC spot.


WEST: Diamondbacks – The Padres have will battle, as will the Rockies and Dodgers, but in the end the Diamondbacks will prevail. Too many question marks in the rotation for the Rockies to repeat.

CENTRAL: Brewers – The talented Brew Crew will take the division in what will be a close race between them and the Cubs.

EAST: Mets – Santana, Maine, O. Perez and P. Martinez, along with a solid lineup should see the Mets run away with the division.

WILD CARD: Cubs – Solid lineup, with or without Brian Roberts at 2B. But, will Kerry Wood be the closer Pinella thinks he can be? Can Z be the dominate starter and ace of the rotation?

Angels vs. Tigers

Cubs vs. Mets

World Series
Angels vs. Mets

Angels — This time, the Angels are healthy heading into October and the confidence of beating the Tigers in the ALCS gives the Angels all the Momentum they need to top the Amazing Mets.
Love to hear what you think!


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