Here are my 2010 predictions for the baseball season. Last year, I think I managed to get about 50% of my predictions right, which is probably less then what I would have gotten if I threw darts at a board with names on it.
East Division Winner: New York Yankees. Ugh, I really hate putting this here, but you can put this down as fact not prediction. There is just too much depth for this team to not win the division over 162 games. For the fellow Yankee haters out there, I'll add this prediction, Alex Rodriguez's numbers should continue to look a bit more human compared to the 50+ homer years when he was on the 'roids. Boston will be good as they have too much talent not to be, but the team that I would be worried about is the Devil Rays, who after slumping last year, really look to be putting things back together and could give the Yankees headaches all season long if they start the season hot and can build some confidence.
Central Division Winner: Minnesota Twins, I want to pick the White Sox here, as I think they have a bit more pitching then the Twins, but as I started to think about it I just couldn't do it. The Twins have shown they can win with less and they aren't exactly without talent. They have a strong, young ball club and with a new ballpark this year, the crowds should be loud and passionate. I'm guessing they get a 5-10 win increase on the ballpark alone, while the Metrodome benefited the Twins for many years due to it's unique features, it was a huge dome of nothingness, having a baseball park for the team, should invigorate the fan base a bit. At least that's what I'm guessing will happen and I'm using Cleveland when Jacob's Field opened as a reference.
West Division Winner: Los Angeles Angels, this team still has a ton of talent and they are figuring out ways to replace people as they lose them. They filled the losses of John Lackey, Chone Figgins, and Vladimir Guerrero with Joel Pineiro, Howie Kendrick, Brandon Wood, and Hideki Matsui. Their manager is the best in baseball and knows how to get the most out of the team. It also doesn't hurt that they have a stacked farm system and an owner with deep pockets, if they struggle early, they have the bullets to go out and acquire player(s) if needed. Seattle has gotten better, but they are a couple batting slumps away from having serious problems scoring runs. Oakland maybe turning the corner and getting back to where they can compete regularly, but I personally think Billy Beane has fallen in love with the concept of turnover. This team seems to get some nice seasons from the diamonds in the rough that Beane finds, but they seem to have a problem turning these players into consistent producers.
Wild Card: Tampa Bay Rays, this team's pitching is starting to catch up with some of their outstanding position players. This team could be very good for a long time. I expect at least one or two more World Series appearances in the next 5 years.
MVP: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays. I don't have a strong feeling on this one, but I believe the Ray's offense is stacked and when that happens picking the best offensive player on the team is never a bad bet. He's in his third year and should be starting to hit his prime, we could see something like .320 40 hr and 130 rbi.
CY Young: Justin Verlander, Tigers. I'm torn between Verlander and Felix Hernandez. Both should have outstanding years, but Verlander gets the benefit of having a team with a better offense.
Rookie of the Year: The best rookies reside in the National League this year. The favorites are Matsusz from Baltimore and Wade Davis from Tampa Bay. In my opinion pitchers are a tough pick for ROY, so I'll go out on a limb and pick Michael Brantley, Cleveland Indians who will avenge Kenny Lofton who lost it many years ago to Pat Listach.
Comeback Player of the Year: Fausto Carmona, I'll go with an Indians pick here, if he has his head on straight again, he could be lights out. If he's back to 2007 form, he also is likely a top 5 Cy Young candidate as well. If I wasn't making a homer pick here, Josh Hamilton would be a solid pick for a comeback year.
Manager of the Year: Ron Gardenhire, this is a complete crapshoot, as best manager is as much a popularity contest as anything else. I'll go with Gardenhire, as I think the Twins get a win boost from the new park.
Most surprising team: Baltimore Orioles. They won't come close to competing this year, but they are putting a strong nucleus in place and appear to be getting ready to compete again. They have some solid young position players and pitchers. Within two years, people will be talking about Matt Weiter in much the same way they are currently talking about Joe Mauer.
Other thoughts: The Indians could compete this year for the division, but I find it unlikely. Their fundamental problem still is they cannot develop their own talent. Of the 9 starters on opening day all but one were developed by other organizations. (the one is Johnny Peralta). This organization has to figure out how to start developing some type of core player, whether it is pitchers, outfielders, or infielders. At least being good in one of those areas should allow them to move parts as needed and reduce the amount of time that rebuilding takes. A small market team has to have a farm system to compete. Mark Shapiro's legacy is going to be that he made some very nice trades but that he completely failed with developing any homegrown talent.
I wasn't a fan of Manny Acta being named manager, I thought it was time for Eric Wedge to go, as some of his decisions were bizarre to say the least and I think he made it difficult for players to develop under him. However, I'm not convinced Acta is the long term solution. I think he may help get the Major League club on track at least from the standpoint of providing some consistency for the ballclub on that level. I do think the hiring of Sandy Alomar as a bench coach speaks volumes and that Acta is warming his seat until such time as the organization believes Alomar is ready.
There are some bright spots for the Indians, Brantley, LaPorta, Carmona, and Santana have a chance to be special players. If you add in Sizemore who is signed for a few more years, they could have another solid nucleus, but they could use a couple more pitchers.
My surprise prediction for this year, Travis Hafner will be traded, after he gets off to a great start, I can see the Indians dealing him before the All Star Break. This of course assumes that the Indians aren't in contention.
In order for the Indians to be in contention, the rotation has to completely fall into place. Westbrook needs to perform like Millwood from a couple years ago which means 200 innings on the year, Carmona needs to revert to 2007 form, and 2 of the others need to provide quality starts in 75-90% of their starts.
East Division Winner: Philadelphia Phillies. The best team in the division by far, with possibly one of the worst managers in the league in Charlie Manuel. This team just proves Whitey Herzog's quote from the 80's. Managers in baseball affect 10 games the rest is up to the players and we go about 5-5 in those games anyway.
Central Division Winner: St. Louis Cardinals. This team is solid offensively and Dave Duncan could make me a 12 game winner in the big leagues. There is no reason to pick against this team, although Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and Chicago could make a run.
West Division Winner: Colorado Rockies. Is there a way we could ship Mark Shapiro over to Colorado and bring Dan O'Dowd back? The work he has done with this organization has been phenomenal. They've now developed a solid core of players in the lineup and some flame throwers on the pitching staff. This team can win it all. The Dodgers and Giants follow behind. The Dodgers have some holes and the Giants still haven't figured out how to put an offense together to go with an up and coming pitching staff.
Wild Card: Atlanta Braves, this team has the most talent outside of the division winners I've picked. They also have an experienced hand leading them, Bobby Cox, who is heading into his last year. Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrgens are going to lead this team's rotation for another 10-12 years.
MVP: Prince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers. Another player hitting his prime and after putting up monster numbers the last couple of years, this could be the year, that he puts the team on his back and gets his MVP. Albert Pujols, Ryan Braun, and Ryan Howard are all solid choices here as well, although Howard's average is always going to hurt him.
CY Young: Adam Wainright, St. Louis Cardinals. If he can put up the same numbers as last year for wins, strikeouts, and ERA. He should increase his win total with that offense. If he can get to the 20 or 21 wins mark, he should lead the NL in wins easily, combine that with his other numbers and a top 5 finish last year and I think the voters would award him his first.
Rookie of the Year: Jason Heyward, when faced with a ton of great looking prospects, choose the one in the starting lineup and who is a position player. Atlanta doesn't usually miss in developing super prospects. A year of .280 21 hr 80 rbi would blow away last years ROY numbers for all contending and that should be the tip of the iceberg for Heyward. If things go right, Heyward is your new Ken Griffey Jr.
Comeback Player of the Year: Ricky Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers. He was on a pace for a career year last year when he broke his wrist. The injury was early enough in the year, that he should be ready to go from Day one.
Manager of the Year: Bobby Cox, Atlanta Braves. The baseball writers get sentimental after the Braves win the wild card this year.
Most surprising team: The Atlanta Braves aren't much of a surprise, but I expect this team to look a lot like the first division winners that reeled off 13 years straight of division titles. If the Brewers can get some pitching outside of Yovani Gallardo, they have the offensive firepower to crush the division. Cincinnati has some interesting young players. Jay Bruce likely breaks out this year and Joey Votto should be ready to become a dominant NL first baseman in the mold of Todd Helton during his prime. They also have a couple intriguing pitchers with Arnoldis Chapman and Johnny Cueto, if Edison Volquez somehow comes back in one year from Tommy John surgery they could have 3 high end starters by the end of the year. That is until Dusty Baker blows all of their arms out, like he did with Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, and to a lesser extent Carlos Zambrano.
Other thoughts: In my opinion we are in the first season of baseball's newest generation. There are some outstanding prospects on the doorstep to the majors and some will be starting their careers in the big leagues this year. It will be interesting to see which ones put it all together and become great and which ones fail spectacularly. At the two year mark of baseball 'cracking' down on performance enhancing drugs, we are also starting to see the numbers fall back to historical levels a bit. The number of 50 home run seasons is significantly down and the number of stolen bases in the league is significantly up. This is a very good thing as during the late 90s and 00's the stolen base was headed for extinction.
So here they are, I'll come back at the end of the season and see how close I came on some of them. Apologies for the run on sentences and paragraph issues on this one. I was doing double duty as I typed it out and based on it being commentary for each segment rather then publication work, I didn't focus as much on the structure as I could have.
7 months ago