Polishing off our first division will be the 2009 Los Angeles Dodgers.
Every baseball fan knows how last season went. The Dodgers were average until July 31.
Over the last two months of the season, the team was still just 30-24, but it was plainly obvious that the addition of Manny Ramirez made the team much more of a threat.
Manny finished fourth in the National League MVP race after playing for the team for just two months. Can you name the last player to win the award (NL or AL) after being traded during the season?
The Dodgers vastly improved their defense with the addition of Orlando Hudson. Plus the team’s overall makeup is full of players most other teams would die for (Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton). The mixture of very talented youngsters with strong veteran presence is something you can’t look past.
As of this instant, Manny is not a Dodger for 2009. If there’s no Manny, Juan Pierre becomes the likely full-time third outfielder for better or for worse. Behind the teams’ best three pitchers, is a logjam of pitchers recovering from injuries (Jason Schmidt, Shawn Estes) and other unknown variables.
It’s never happened. The next player to do it will be the first! There were several MVPs who won in their first season with a team, but none has been traded during the season and won the award.
Even without Manny, this team is the class of the NL West. The top of their rotation is the real deal and the “gamer” attitude seen throughout much of the position players is enough to carry the Dodgers to another divisional title with or without Manny.
I believe Manny Ramirez will be a Dodger again in 2009. But since he’s not on the roster….yet, I’m rating the team without him.
1st Place, NL West, 88-74.
I’ve finally reached the midway point tonight with the 82-80 Arizona Diamondbacks.
In what’s considered a pretty wide-open division (at least for the next few minutes right up until Manny signs), the Diamondbacks are considered the trendy and maybe safe pick for the NL West.
Any good points about the Diamondbacks have to start with Brandon Webb. He is one of the best pitchers in baseball and so long as he’s healthy, he’ll be in that conversation for several more seasons to come. Then you throw in the rest of the young talent including Danny Haren, Justin Upton, Stephen Drew and Chris Young and it’s clear why people favor the Diamondbacks to be a solid team again in 2009.
Mark Reynolds accomplished a rare feat last year, leading the league in strikeouts and errors. Can you name the last player to lead the league in both categories in the same season?
3B Mark Reynolds is a strikeout machine. If I’m not mistaken, the Brewers (Rob Deer) and Indians (Cory Snyder) of the 1980s found out that a good power hitter who strikes out every other time he struts up tot the plate isn’t a recipe for success. I’m also not too high on Chad Qualls at the closer position. He’s done well for his career out of the pen and had some success last year for the Dbacks, but I’m not convinced Qualls can hang onto the lead 40 times a season for a contender.
For a team with so much talent last year, 82-80 wasn’t really a good record. Now the Diamondbacks are faced with a new season sans Orlando Hudson, Randy Johnson, Brandon Lyon, Adam Dunn and (presumably) Juan Cruz. On the other hand, Arizona brought Jon Garland, 41 year old Tom Gordon and the always moving (teams) Felipe Lopez in. Sure there’s enough talent here to be competitive in this division again, but if you want to know what’s wrong with Arizona for 2009, all you have to do is look at the Giants, Dodgers and Rockies, all of which made major moves (for better or worse) as an effort to win.
Zoilo Versailles had one of the strangest seasons on record in 1965 for the Twins. Versailles led the league with 122 strikeouts and 39 errors. He also managed to win the MVP and Gold Glove that year.
Based on the teams as they sit currently (I.e., Dodgers without Manny Ramirez), I think the Diamondbacks are the third best team in the division. On any given day (especially when Webb starts) they could be the best team in the division, but Webb and Haren can’t start 162 games, this isn’t 1909.
3rd Place, NL West, 80-82
Zoilo Versailles: http://www.facebook.com/people/Zoilo-Versailles/577849633
The 2008 Texas Rangers were the best and worst when it came to runs scored. The Rangers led the majors with 901 runs scored last year behind a breakout season by Josh Hamilton and several other solid starters. Unfortunately, the Rangers still can’t figure out how to pitch, as the staff allowed 83 more runs than Pittsburgh (29th in the league), and yet, the Rangers still finished just 4 games under .500.
The goal for the 2009 Rangers is obviously to improve the pitching without allowing the offense to lose ground.
The Rangers were one of two teams since 1990 to lead the majors in runs scored and runs allowed. Name the other. Bonus points for the other team’s top home run hitter and wins leader.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Elvis Andrus, Chris Davis, Taylor Teagarden, and others are bringing a new wave of young talent to the Rangers lineup. Add in the return of Hamilton, Michael Young and Ian Kinsler, and the Rangers offense should still be very dangerous to opposing staffs.
Beyond allowing youngsters to get playing time this season, the Rangers made no moves at improving the team. Sure, management flirted with Ben Sheets and Milton Bradley, but for all the starting pitching available this offseason, the Rangers stood pat and will allow Kevin Millwood to be the king of the Rangers’ hill come opening day.
The 1991 Rangers (85-77) scored 829 (+30 over Milwaukee) and allowed 814 (+18 over Baltimore). Juan Gonzalez (27) was one of three players to hit 25 or more homers for the team, Rafael Palmeiro and Ruben Sierra were the others. If you guessed Nolan Ryan as the team’s leader in wins, you were incorrect. Ryan finished with 12 wins, as did Kenny Rogers. Jose Guzman topped the Rangers with 13.
I just don’t see how not helping the worst pitching staff in the majors will make this team better. Nobody’s suggesting they should have dropped $140MM on CC Sabathia, but being in the hunt for Oliver Perez or Derek Lowe could have helped bring in someone to anchor this staff.
The Rangers are treading water again. Their offense is one of the most dangerous in the league, but I do think they’ll return to earth some with the influx of rookies and the potential slight dip from Hamilton.
3rd Place, AL West, 77-85.
Josh Hamilton – http://withmalice.wordpress.com/2008/07/16/tb-rays/
Juan Gonzalez – http://trsullivan.mlblogs.com/archives/2008/09/
The Cincinnati Reds finished a disappointing 74-88 last year, Dusty Baker’s first at the helm. It also marked the first time in Baker’s managerial career that his first season with a team resulted in a losing record.
With 1236 total wins for Dusty Baker, he sits tied with Joe Cronin for 33rd all time in wins by a manager. There are five active managers with more wins, name them. Bonus points if you get the three of those managers with better winning percentages.
The Reds appear to have improved, by bringing in Ramon Hernandez, Arthur Rhodes and Willy Tavares. On a team that’s pretty stocked with young talent, wily veterans like these may be the solid force this team needs to reverse its 8 season losing streak (longest since 1945-1955).
Players like Jay Bruce, Aaron Harang, Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto, Joey Votto and Edwin Encarnacion are expected to help turn this franchise around. Watching highlight reels explains why the Reds think these guys are capable. Each one has distinct positives that should help get fans in the seats in Cincinnati this year.
The lineup still has problems; the Reds scored just 704 runs last year, only 7 teams scored less (including the Dodgers who made the NLCS). Of course players like Alex Gonzalez and Willy Tavares aren’t known for their offense, and relying so heavily on young players like Bruce and Votto can easily end up with a rough season.
Dusty Baker 1236 – 1129 (.523)
Jim Leyland 1326 – 1357 (.494)
Lou Piniella 1697 – 1561 (.521)
Joe Torre 2129 – 1833 (.537)
Bobby Cox 2322 – 1852 (.556)
Tony LaRussa 2459 – 2145 (.534)
Baker only has 6 losing seasons in his career (counting the strike shortened season in 1994 55-60 with SF). He’s a proven manager who generally gets the best of his players. With the Reds youth movement taking center stage, Baker now can focus on creating leaders out of these players.
The Reds become one of the most improved teams in 2009, but with the poor economy, ownership isn’t willing to take on extra contracts at mid-season to stay in the hunt.
Third Place NL Central 82-80.
Baker and Bruce – http://cincycoolness.com/coopperson.aspx
Who was the biggest disappointment in MLB in 2008? For most people that was the Detroit Tigers. After fielding projections that put the Tigers back in the World Series based on acquiring Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis (in particular), the Tigers fell flat on day one and never recovered.
The 2009 Tigers don’t appear much different. Age and injury still look to be prominent factors on the diamond, as Gary Sheffield and Magglio Ordonez still roam the clubhouse. The bullpen lost closer Todd Jones to retirement, and Father Time, Jim Leyland, is still at the helm.
Just two years ago, Magglio Ordonez finished second in AL MVP voting, behind Alex Rodriguez. Who was the last hitter to win an MVP for the Tigers?
The Tigers picked up able-bodies in free agents Adam Everett and Brandon Lyon, plus Gerald Laird and Edwin Jackson via trades. Each of the four major Tiger additions should bring some stability to question mark positions from 2008.
Questions surrounding the pitching staff are widely circulated. Can Justin Verlander bounce back to 2006-07 form and hold the team’s #1 starter spot? Is Jeremy Bonderman’s 2008 injury going to play a factor in his 2009 season? Can Brandon Lyon be an effective closer? Will Joel Zumaya or Dontrelle Willis ever be healthy again? Was Edwin Jackson’s 2008 a fluke year or a breakout season?
Developing a particular question about everybody on a pitching staff doesn’t generally bode well. The Tigers pitchers have all shown brilliance at one time or another. The question is whether or not they can rebound and all be great again at the same time.
On paper, the Tigers look like a contender yet again. The problem with that statement is that it’s “on paper.” There are sill way too many questions about the team’s injuries, age and makeup to predict this team as a true World Series contender. Of course, it’s not unfathomable to see everything coming together as it did in 2006.
Tigers hitters won 4 of the first 10 MVPs ever given out (between 1931-1940) but none since OF Hank Greenberg won in 1940. Tigers pitchers have won just as many since 1940 (4) Hal Newhouser (1944-45), Denny McLain (1968), Willie Hernandez (1984).
The Tigers are treading water. The questions aren’t disappearing anytime soon and the Tigers are too saddled with salaries to make positive moves for the future.
A high 5th place finish again in the AL Central, 75-87.
Magglio Ordonez – http://blog.mlive.com/state_sports/2007/09/tigers_13_white_sox_3.html
Hank Greenberg – http://www.personal.psu.edu/csr4/PSU3/Jewish-Americans/index.html
When I first started thinking about the 2009 Braves, I thought the additions of Derek Lowe, Javier Vasquez and Kenshin Kawakami were the icing on the cake to renew the franchise.
Then I looked at their depth chart.
Beyond Chipper Jones and Casey Kotchman the rest of the names on the depth chart are unknowns, players who’ve fallen short of potential or youngsters that are hard to bet on.
The pitching staff is going to be better. Lowe, Vasquez and Kawakami should help extend the rotation and take some pressure off the bullpen. Lowe’s a proven winner and while calling him an ace may be a stretch, he’s at least a durable #1. Vasquez and Kawakami both have to prove themselves this year, but so long as they both get near 200 innings, it won’t be a complete disaster.
With Derek Lowe expected to take the hill opening day, he will be just the 7th different pitcher to open a season for the Braves in 20 years. Three of the other six are obvious (Smoltz, Glavine, Maddux), but can you name the other three pitchers who served as opening day pitchers. Bonus point if you can name the pitcher who started before the three HOFers streak began.
I’m not sure there is any real offense here. The trouble is there are two good hitters on the team and a bunch of guys that you’re just not sure of anymore or yet. It’s not all bad. Teams like the 2009 Braves have succeeded in the past (look at the Rays last year), but I don’t think anyone is betting the Braves to have enough pop to put up a playoff run.
Then there’s the Bobby Cox factor. Cox has been at the helm since 1990, easily the longest termed ML manager in present days. Only five of the 19 years he’s been managing the Braves they’ve missed the playoffs. Of course three of those seasons were 2006-2008. I’m not sure anyone will be calling for Cox to be released at the end of 2009, but Braves fans probably already know the end is near.
Oh and did I mention the Braves decided spending some dough on career Brave John Smoltz wasn’t worth it. Instead, Smoltz is taking his HOF career to Boston while the Braves piece-meal their pitching staff together.
While the Braves helped out the pitching staff, there are still way too many questions throughout the roster. Last year was the Braves worst season since Cox took over in 1990 and the additions for 2009 don’t appear to be enough to right the ship.
The Braves finish a snip ahead of the Nationals with a 70-92 record.
Tim Hudson started opening day in 2006 and 2008.
Russ Ortiz started in 2004
John Burkett started in 2001
Glavine – 1990, 92, 99, 2002
Smoltz – 1991, 97, 05, 2007
Maddux – 1993, 94, 95, 96, 98, 2000, 03
Zane Smith started opening day in 1989, the year before the HOFers took control of the Braves future.