Taylor's Twins Talk

Focusing on the Twins, with a few ramblings on other things that catch my attention

Monday, February 05, 2007

Pre-Pre-Season Predictions: AL East

This is the fifth in a series of posts with some very early predictions for the 2007 season. This post covers the AL East; I've already covered the AL West, NL West, NL Central, and NL East.

AL East

Baltimore Orioles

Projected Rotation

1.) Erik Bedard
2.) Kris Benson
3.) Daniel Cabrera
4.) Jaret Wright
5.) Adam Loewen

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Chris Ray
2.) Jamie Walker
3.) Chad Bradford
4.) Danys Baez
5.) Scott Williamson

Position Players
C - Ramon Hernandez
1B - Kevin Millar
2B - Brian Roberts
3B - Melvin Mora
SS - Miguel Tejada
LF - Jay Payton
CF - Corey Patterson
RF - Nick Markakis
DH - Aubrey Huff / Jay Gibbons

The Oriole rotation contains some interesting arms. Erik Bedard (15-11 / 3.76 ERA) was unquestionably the best piece for the Orioles last year, but Daniel Cabrera is consistenly mentioned as a guy with a great amount of potential, and this could be the year that he develops into a solid contributor. Kris Benson and Jaret Wright add a veteran presence to the rotation, and could help to anchor things - both have the potential to finish with sub-4.50 ERA's, which would be acceptable for the Orioles. Adam Loewen went 6-6 in 19 starts as a rookie in 2006, and the Orioles will hope that he makes strides this year (a 5.37 ERA is acceptable for a rookie, but he needs to get it down to keep the job this year provided that there is any competition for the job).

The bullpen has been almost completely reworked, although Chris Ray returns as the closer. Jamie Walker (Tigers), Chad Bradford (Mets), Scott Williamson (Cubs/Padres), and Danys Baez (Dodgers/Braves) all have been brought in, and the result should be a solid upgrade to what has been a poor bullpen. Walker and Bradford will specialize in getting out lefties and righties, respectively, and Baez will provide a power arm. Williamson will try to reclaim his success from the late 90's and early 00's, when he consistently put up low ERA's and high strikeout numbers. The Orioles spent a lot of money upgrading in this area, and the result should be a noticeable improvement.

The lineup is ok. Miguel Tejada needs to be the superstar that he was signed to be if the Orioles are going to regularly score a lot of runs, and they need Brian Roberts, Melvin Mora, and Nick Markakis to produce as well. Aubrey Huff will probably play all over the diamond (DH, 1B, 3B, LF) - so finding playing time shouldn't be a problem. If he produces like he did last year (OPS over 800 with both Tampa Bay and Houston), then the Orioles will have found another productive bat. Players like Corey Patterson, Jay Gibbons, and Jay Payton have all proved themselves to be capable of contributing to the effort, so there are no glaring weaknesses in the Orioles lineup - there just aren't a lot of stars outside of Tejada, either.

Boston Red Sox
Projected Rotation

1.) Curt Schilling
2.) Josh Beckett
3.) Daisuke Matsuzaka
4.) Jonathan Papelbon
5.) Tim Wakefield

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Mike Timlin/Joel Piniero/who knows?
2.) Craig Hansen
3.) Brendan Donnelly
4.) J.C. Romero
5.) Julain Tavarez

Position Players
C - Jason Varitek
1B - Kevin Youkilis
2B - Alex Cora
3B - Mike Lowell
SS - Julio Lugo
LF - Manny Ramirez
CF - Coco Crisp
RF - J.D. Drew
DH - David Ortiz

The starting pitching on this team should be very, very good. The only question with Schilling is whether his age will start to catch up with him, but there seems to be no indication that that is happening, and the success of guys like Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson in their 40's should be an indication that 40 is not a drop-dead date for pitchers anymore. There are some question marks after Schilling - can Josh Beckett lower an ERA that sat at 5.01 last year? Can Daisuke Matsuzaka seamlessly transition into the Majors? Can Jonathan Papelbon be as dominant as a starter as he was as a closer? Nevertheless, all three are talented players who should be able to perform well, and the Red Sox rotation should be a significant strength.

I'm not sold on the idea of moving Papelbon out of the closer's role. The bullpen is going to be a bit of a mismash, as the Sox will throw everybody out there during spring training and see who earns a job. Former Twins J.C. Romero, fresh off of a horrible season in Anaheim, will get a shot, as will former Mariner Joel Piniero (as a closer candidate, nonetheless!). The closer position will be the most interesting to watch, as any number of people could emerge at the start of the season in that role.

The offense is . . . well . . . formidable. Any lineup with both Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz would be, and if they can get just about anything solid out of J.D. Drew, it will give them a very nice 1/3 of their lineup. Jason Varitek is a solid catcher, although his .238 batting average last year was a little rough. Mike Lowell had a surprisingly solid season, and if he and Kevin Youkilis can do what they did last year, it won't hurt the team at all. Julio Lugo should be a nice addition up the middle, but Coco Crisp needs to stay healthy and have a good season to set the table. A formidable lineup to be sure - but just how formidable remains to be seen.

New York Yankees
Starting Pitchers

1.) Chien-Ming Wang
2.) Mike Mussina
3.) Andy Pettite
4.) Carl Pavano
5.) Kei Igawa

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Mariano Rivera
2.) Kyle Farnsworth
3.) Luis Vizcaino
4.) Mike Myers
5.) Scott Proctor

Position Players
C - Jorge Posada
1B - Andy Phillips / Doug Mientkiewicz
2B - Robinson Cano
3B - Alex Rodriguez
SS - Derek Jeter
LF - Hideki Matsui
CF - Johnny Damon
RF - Bobby Abreu
DH - Jason Giambi

Replace one aging veteran (Randy Johnson) with another (Andy Pettite) in the rotation, add a Japanese import (Igawa), hope that Mike Mussina doesn't get old fast, and pray, pray, pray that Carl Pavano figures out how to pitch again. That's pretty much the formula for the Yankee rotation, which is solidly anchored by Wang. Whether Pettite can re-adjust to the American League remains to be seen, and anyone who expects Pavano to be in the rotation by late June probably hasn't been paying attention. [This post originally stated that Pettite had "several sub-par seasons" in Houston. That's not the case, as he was very good in 2005 and solid in 2006. My apologies to Pettite fans.] Philip Hughes is waiting in the wings for a spot to open up in the rotation, and the odds are good that he'll get his shot.

The bullpen seems to be better than it was last year, with the addition of Vizcaino and the unmentioned-above Chris Britton, who came over from the Orioles for Jaret Wright. Scott Proctor will probably continue to be the go-to guy for general purpose situations - he pitched in 83 games and threw 102.1 innings last year - but we'll have to wait and see whether his arm falls off. Meanwhile, Mariano Rivera just keeps being great - a 1.80 ERA 0.96 WHIP testify to that - but at 37-years-old, the Yankees have to be concerned that his arm will be quite as durable as in the past.

The big addition to the offense this off-season was . . . Doug Mientkiewicz??? In fairness, the Yankees are finally starting to take a smart approach to free agents and prospect development, and that worries me. The addition of Mientkiewicz makes sense - in this offense, it's not a liability to have a non-power-threat at 1B, and his defense is still very solid. Just make sure that Alex Rodriguez knows not to throw the ball to him for the last out of the World Series . . . Elsewhere, Bobby Abreu will continue to make pitchers throw a lot of pitches to try to get him out, and really, what else is there to say about this monster machine offense? The Yankees will score a whole lotta runs, and we haters can just hope for bad years out of a couple of them.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Projected Rotation

1.) Scott Kazmir
2.) Casey Fossum
3.) James Shields
4.) Tim Corcoran
5.) Jason Hammel

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Dan Miceli
2.) Shawn Camp
3.) Ruddy Lugo
4.) Chad Orvella
5.) Jon Switzer

Position Players
C - Dioner Navarro
1B - Greg Norton
2B - Jorge Cantu
3B - Akinori Iwamura
SS - Ben Zobrist
LF - Carl Crawford
CF - Rocco Baldelli
RF - Delmon Young
DH - Johnny Gomes

Well, at least fans get to watch Scott Kazmir pitch . . . Honestly, there isn't a lot to talk about with the starting rotation. The team needs to build up a bank of young guys who can compete for these jobs, and maybe there are some jewels hiding in that list. Unfortunately, the AL East is not a fun place to try and develop young pitching, so I suspect it's going to be a very long, tiring season for D-Ray fans.

Meanwhile, there are very few highlights to mention in the bullpen. To be fair, Dan Micelli and Ruddy Lugo did both have sub-4.00 ERA's last season. Maybe a few young pitchers will find themselves and contribute this season.

Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, and Delmon Young should all be fun to watch this season. Also, at some point B.J. Upton should be back in the Major League picture (I think . . . would somebody let me know if he was injured or just busted back to the minors?). Also, a third AL East Japanese import (Iwamura) will get a chance to show that he belongs in the Majors. But, seriously - Greg Norton at 1B? Alright, to be fair Norton hit .296 with 17 HR's last year, so I shouldn't be so hard on him. I like the D-Ray's - I just think that once again, there isn't a lot of hope.

Toronto Blue Jays
Projected Rotation

1.) Roy Halladay
2.) A.J. Burnett
3.) Gustavo Chacin
4.) Tomo Ohka
5.) John Thomson

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - B.J. Ryan
2.) Jeremy Accardo
3.) Brian Tallet
4.) Brandon League
5.) Jason Frasor

Position Players
C - Gregg Zaun
1B - Lyle Overbay
2B - Aaron Hill
3B - Troy Glaus
SS - Royce Clayton
LF - Reed Johnson
CF - Vernon Wells
RF - Alex Rios
DH - Frank Thomas

Roy Halladay may very well be the second-best pitcher in baseball (Johan is, of course, the best) - and he continues to anchor a rotation that should put up some wins. A.J. Burnett had an injury-shortened first season with the Jays, but he still posted a 3.98 ERA despite making the transition to a tougher league. If he stays healthy this year, he should be very good. Chacin, Ohka, and Thomson were all closer to 5.00 (over, in Chacin's case) than 4.00, however, so the back end of the rotation could be a bit problematic. In the modern MLB, however, getting a 4.75 ERA out of your 4 & 5 guys might not be the worst thing in the world.

The bullpen is very solid, led by B.J. Ryan and his 1.37 ERA. League, Tallet, and Frasor all had very good 2006's, and should continue to provide solid relief. With a bullpen this deep, the Jays should be able to afford having their starters go between 5-6 (on non-Halladay/Burnett days, anyway) and still survive.

As for the offense, it got better. Vernon Wells and his .303 average (and 32 HR's) is back, as is Troy Glaus (38 HR's). Meanwhile, Frank Thomas (39 HR's) joins the club and adds yet more pop. If Reed Johnson and Alex Rios once again put up .300+ batting averages, the Jays will score a lot of runs this year. Of course, facing the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox probably means that the offense will need to produce a tremendous amount of runs - and while that possibility is there, it's going to be a challenge.

1.) New York Yankees - 98-64
2.) Boston Red Sox - 96-66
3.) Toronto Blue Jays - 88-74
4.) Baltimore Orioles - 80-82
5.) Tampa Bay Devil Rays - 63-99

I hate to do it, but there it is. The Yankees will win a lot of games again this year, but some pitching problems will prevent them from winning 100. The Red Sox will once again be nipping at their tail all year long, but will come up just short (thanks to losing the season series by 4 games). The Jays will make things interesting early, but the pitching won't be strong enough to stay in the race. The Orioles will win some tough games but won't have enough weapons to pose a serious threat to the top of the division. And then there are the Rays - oh, the poor Rays.



  • At Mon Feb 05, 08:34:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    To be fair I think you missed your homework on Pettitte. You said he had several subpar seasons with Houston. That would not be fair to say. He was injured for most of '04, dominated all of '05 and was probably one of the top 3 reasons why Houston made the series and last year he struggled in the first half but then came back hard during the second half posting a 2.80 ERA over that span. Even if he has some bad stretches with the Yankees he's a good bet for 20 wins with them.

  • At Mon Feb 05, 08:44:00 PM , Blogger JST said...

    Absolutely a fair comment - I looked at the numbers (something that I didn't do when I wrote the post - bad, bad blogger, relying on memory!), and he did have a very, very good 2005 and a solid 2006. I'll adjust the post to reflect that. Thanks for the comment!

  • At Mon Feb 05, 09:47:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Is Toronto really going to have only 2 batters in their line-up that can hit left-handed (and greg zaun is one of them)?

  • At Mon Feb 05, 10:08:00 PM , Blogger JST said...

    Sure does look that way - and there aren't really any places where a lefty could sneak in and take a job, either. We'll see how it works.

  • At Thu Feb 08, 04:51:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Even if Zaun chooses to bat R all year and Overbay is the only L, I believe Toronto has potential to score the most runs in all of baseball! whats your take on this jst?

  • At Thu Feb 08, 05:00:00 PM , Blogger JST said...

    Well, let me say it this way - I don't think that having a "balanced" lineup is essential to winning ballgames and scoring runs, but it sure does help. By having a variety of lefties and righties in the lineup, it makes late-game matchups more difficult for opposing managers, and so can be a potent tool for a team.

    BUT, a fully right-handed team can be fine if they can hit right-handed and left-handed pitchers equally well. I haven't looked into the splits for the Jays, so I don't know whether that's the case - although, I would guess that GM J.P. Ricciardi isn't that worried about the issue, since he's taken no steps to remedy it.

    I like the Jays offense - they have a good mix of veterans and youth, and yes, they could put up a lot of runs. Most in baseball, though, would probably be a stretch. There are some very potent offenses out there. We'll see once the season starts how this lineup functions.


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