This season has already had its share of surprises less than 25 games in. We've seen home stolen, a rookie stealing just about every other base in the stadium, and a *gasp* successful Nationals pitcher! What is this world coming to?
Over these first few weeks, amongst the bizarre happenings are some strange teams competing, with others falling off the map. In this piece, we'll take a quick look over the American League, and what to expect from each of these teams as they move forward.
Blue Jays: With a sizzling start out of the gate, this team's youth has come through for them so far this year. Aaron Hill has been crushing the ball, and the young arms have been getting the staff wins.
Why they're for real: With an ace like Doc Halladay, you know you have a stopper you can count on. Aaron Hill had an impact when he was first called up a few years back, but right now he might be the most surprising start in the bigs, with a 0.371 average, 5 home runs, and 20 RBI. He'll cool off eventually, but it would not be crazy to expect a 0.300+ batting average with 20-30 Homers.
Why they aren't: This team has always had a history of being hit particularly hard with injuries, and these first weeks have not shaken that image. BJ Ryan, Jesse Litsch, and Ricky Romero all hit the DL, and each will hurt this team. Ryan in particular never looked right this season, and I would be surprised if he has any impact in the 'pen before the all-star break. The biggest reason to be skeptical of this team has been their weak scheduling. No games in the AL east played yet, having played the AL-central and 2 teams that don't look like they will compete in the weak AL West this year.
Verdict: Not for real. I like Aaron Hill, but he can't be the best hitter on this team all year. The bullpen is going to need to be re-arranged without Ryan, and the young arms, even when they come back, will experience some growing pains. This team looks built for the future, but isn't ready to take on the big dogs of the AL east.
Red Sox: They stumbled out of the gate before catching fire and winning 11 straight. The bats are hot, and the depth this team has assembled is phenomenal.
Why they're for real: A defending MVP at second, and a strong pick to win it this year at first. A solid offense, the best bullpen they've assembled in the past decade, and all sorts of young arms waiting for their chance to spot start. The only two questions right now is why they paid Daisuke so much money, and why is Jason Bay still hitting 6th?
Why they aren't: Ortiz's bat still seems slow, though he has been putting the ball in play over the last couple of series. Ellsbury's speed is an outstanding weapon, but it's no coincidence that he hit 0.327 over the win streak, while hitting 0.194 during the slow start. If his average drops to where it was last season, this offense will sputter. He needs to get on to distract the opposing pitchers and get the core of the lineup more fastballs.As he goes, the Red Sox go.
Verdict: For Real. This may be the most complete team in baseball. That bullpen is a real weapon.
Yankees: I was surprised myself to see this team sitting at 10-10 today. The news suggests this team is in shambles, and while they have underacheived thus far, a second half surge with a healthy A-rod could put this team into the playoffs easily.
Why they're for real: (note: for real meaning what they've done so far is an accurate image of the team) The bullpen sucks. The rotation has not been as advertised. All the free agent signings are struggling, and you have to start to wonder how much of that can be attributed to the New York spotlight compared to Toronto, and Milwaukee/Cleveland. Girardi seems to struggle with handling pitchers.
Why they're not for real: A lot of people seem to be unaware that this team is missing their starting 3rd basemen. If he comes back healthy, or even at 75%, this team will be much stronger. Jeter has gotten off to a hot start at the plate, and while Teixeira hasn't, he's a career 0.250 hitter in April and March. Phil Hughes had a very promising start last night, and Chien-Ming Wang isn't this bad. Nobody's a 34.50 ERA bad. They need to get healthy and shore up that 'pen, moving Joba back out there may be a solid option soon. Buying a few relievers at the deadline from the poorer teams puts this team right back into competition.
Verdict: For Real. I don't see this team as a playoff team. They may hang around and maybe fight for a wild card, but don't forget Girardi let this team quit last year. They can quit on him again if things don't look good.
Orioles: They took 2-of-3 in each of their first 3 series, and rebounded from a boston sweep by taking 2 of 3 from the Rangers. At 3 games under 0.500, this team hasn't had an awful start. How good is Nick Markakis?
Why They're for real: (a real 0.429 winning percentage team) They flat out have no pitchers. Not a one. The bullpen is adequate, but how many save opportunities are there when the score is 15-12? There may be AAA teams with pitching staffs on par with this one.
Why they're not for real (and are a competitor) That outfield might be the one of the best offensive outfields in the game, and they are still very young. Adam Jones is off to a great start, and has the talent to make a run at a 30-30 season at some point. Markakis is one of the best hitters in this division, and really deserves more credit than he's been given thus far in his career. Aubrey Huff also has yet to collapse back to earth like everyone expected.
Verdict: For real. They really will finish below 0.500, and probably last in this division. I like Guthrie... as a 3rd starter on a major league team. If he's your ace, you got some 'splainin to do.
Rays: The fans at fenway have been having flashbacks to 2007, and every season in the past decade, seeing "Tampa Bay" at the bottom of the division standings on the monster. World Series losers are starting to look comparable to superbowl losers.
Why they're for real: The bullpen is not good. I don't know how they pulled a fast one last year and convinced the world that Grant Balfour had talent (or multiple pitches), but the pen has struggled. What's even more concerning is those struggles are coming with Percival healthy. They need Wheeler and Howell to pitch effectively before the countdown to Percival's next injury reaches zero. The staff also has underachieved this year, in particular the back end of the rotation. If only they had another pitcher to bring up from the minors to sure up the rotation...
Why they're not for real: They do. With this bad a start, leaving Price in AAA is looking worse every day. Even though he isn't dominating at that level, he's not a AAA pitcher anymore. That won't solve everything, since this team is already racking up the losses, but it will help. Pena and Longoria are already producing at a high level, and even Bartlett started hot. If the outfielders can get their bats working this team will be right back in the thick of it.
Verdict: Not for real. Of course the Rays won't finish in last. Thats something we can be sure of. What I'm not sure of is that they will finish in the top 2 or even 3 spots in this division. Don't put too much stock into the slow start record wise, since its only been about 12% of the season, but the bullpen was their biggest strength last season. Now it looks to be their Achilles heal.
AL Central- writing less for this division, since it doesn't seem like any of them stand out. Only one team is more than one game away from 0.500
Tigers: Yes, the tigers hold the top spot in the central right now, but honestly this whole division is flawed. The Tiger's offense might have a leg up on the division, but the starting pitching is awfully young, and the bullpen has overacheived thus far. Verlander may not really be any better than he's pitching now. Leyland did his best to kill Verlander's arm, and in two years he's thrown the occasional inspiring start, with 2 or 3 bad ones around it. Edwin Jackson was a good find for this team, and he could post about a 3.00 ERA by the end of the year. Carlos Guillen is under-achieving right now, but he also is overrated, so temper expectations for his rebound. If I had to rank this division right now, I'm putting Detroit at 3rd in the division, and finishing within 5 games of 0.500.
White Sox: I want to pull for this team. The offense has the young stars mixed with the veteran leadership, and they have some solid starters in Danks and the consistently average Buehrle. However, the cards are stacked against this team. Ozzie Guillen is the weirdest manager in the majors, and even with Alexei Ramirez struggling (as he did last april, hitting 0.138) he shouldn't have started the season in the 7 hole. Owens and Wise had plenty of opportunities, but are either of them honestly any good? Should Lillibridge honestly be playing second right now with Beckham in the minors?This team's real problem is that they're counting on Colon and Contreras in the rotation. Plus Bobby Jenks has seemed a little off. I'll take the under on a 0.500 season for this team.
Royals: All your friends had the Royals as this year's 2008 Rays. Hopefully you didn't jump off that bridge with them. Most of the team is hitting under 0.250, and their combined team batting average is 0.238. Alex Gordon can stay injured as long as he wants, he officially is a bust. I don't know how talent like that can disappear, but it certainly did with "the next George Brett". This team has minimal position player talent. Teahan isn't bad... Jacobs swings hard. Anyone want to advocate for the rest of the Royals' lineup. The pitching is overrated also. Greinke is great, but he obviously will regress a tad from his current numbers. He still is easily the AL Cy Young favorite at this point if he can stay healthy. I just don't like the rest of their pitching. Meche is not bad by any means, but Ponson, Bannister, and Davies are. Farnsworth should not still be in the majors. I feel bad for Royals fans who expected much this year, because the year of the Royals might not come this decade. Luckily last place in the central will be available whenever they feel like returning to their usual spot.
Twins: What's this? A team in the AL central that doesn't have an overwhelming number of glaring weaknesses? Can it be? The Twins staff is solid, and with this team you know the pitchers will come on down the stretch. Hopefully Mauer can come back healthy sometime soon, stay healthy, and contribute for this team. Kubel has been hot, and I like the fact that almost half of their lineup are young guys with something to prove. Gardenhire has consistently run a tight ship of young guys here, and I see this division as the Twins to lose. Maybe they aren't world series material like I predicted in the preseason, but they can reach the playoffs.
Indians: The lone team more than a game away from 0.500 in the division. At first glance, doesn't it feel like this Indians team should be succeeding? They have the defending AL Cy Young winner, one of two 40-40 threats in the majors this year, and heck even Hafner is playing okay! Unfortunately, it is no meant to be. After Cliff Lee, who I still expect to finish this year with an ERA over 4, how many other starters can you name off this team? Carmona is the easy one, but his 7.36 ERA suggests 2007 may have been a one year deal for him. Pavano could have decent numbers, but is anyone going to bet on Carl Pavano? Even Steinbrenner isn't dumb enough to make that mistake again! Next come Aaron Laffey and Anthony Reyes. Hey cool, those guys might combine for 15 wins! The bullpen also doesn't seem like they'll be getting their act together any time soon, whatever happened Perez and Betancourt? With all those issues, this team's offense is good enough to finish in the top half of this division, especially if they call up LaPorta. I feel like you've proven yourself when you hit 0.368 with 5 HRs and only 7 Ks. With LaPorta, Choo, and Sizemore that outfield might be my favorite in baseball.
AL West- back to normal
Mariners: The founder of the 100/100 club (first team to lose 100 games with $100 mil. payroll) is off to a hot start. Pitching and defense was the right route for this team to take.
Why they're for real: The 1-2 punch of King Felix and Erik Bedard is off to the best start in baseball. Morrow is an excellent asset in a 'pen that doesn't appear as terrible as we all thought in spring training. The outfield has three guys who all could play centerfield, which has led to some excellent defense out their. Endy Chavez was a smart pickup for this team. They have a strong record with Lopez, Beltre, and Griffey all off to cold starts. If those guys come around the offense will be even better. Branyan in crushing the ball!
Why they're not for real: It's Russell Branyan. Hopefully they bench him once he cools off, rather than giving him 400 ABs for him to rack up 200+ strikeouts with. King Felix has never posted a solid second half, and is always strongest in the first month. Erik Bedard is still an injury risk. Morrow may experience some growing pains.
Verdict: Not for real. This team is not going to win the west. I promise. They might compete, and they are going in the right direction. I could even imagine a scenario where they finish the season near 0.500. But they will not win the AL West.
Rangers: A 0.500 start with some inspiring offense coming from the young bats. Ian Kinsler might be the best offensive player in baseballby the end of the year. He won't start in the all-star game since Boston fans can only name one AL second baseman, but the kid is as good as anyone.
Why they're for real: They hit. and hit. And hit some more. This offense is other worldly. Even with Hamilton out, they'll be fine. Davis and Cruz both should help this offense even more this year. Perhaps they should trade one of their offensive prospects for a pitcher.
Why they're not for real: They're pitching staff is the usual texas pitching staff. Their bullpen is possibly below average for their team. Frank Francisco was a heck of a find, but he's one of two arms in the bullpen with an ERA under 6. Its sad to say that their staff is overachieving, and the team ERA is 5.79.
Verdict: For real. This team is a for real 0.500 team. Not more, maybe a little less. The offense will score more than 6 runs most games, and depending on who pitches, the Ranger offense might outscore the opponent. If this team had even league average pitching they would be a top 10 team in the majors.
Angels: An emotional start to the season has not inspired the angels enough to overcome their pitching injuries. Could this be the year they don't win the west?
Why they're for real: The offense is on par with a sub-500 team. Hunter has already quietly hit 7 HR, but he won't keep up that pace. Abreu and Figgins just keep running, but there is little production outside of the four in the batting order. Even if Guerrero comes back, is he really a clean-up hitter anymore? Shields has been one of the most consistent set-up men in baseball for the past 5 years, but his slow start may be the beginning of the end for him. Arredondo is experiencing some growing pains, but he has so much ability that he will get through it.
Why they're not for real: If this team gets all three of its injured starters back in the second half, they will be much closer to the angels of old. Lackey is always good, and if Santana and Escobar can both put up numbers as good as the last season they each pitched, this staff might be the best in the american league. Wood should already be their everyday shortstop, since they could use a slugger, rather than the whole lot of nothing Erick Aybar provides on a nightly basis.
Verdict: Not for real. They aren't as bad as their record is right now. They have the biggest injuries of any team in the AL, and if they hover around .500 until their stars come back, they'll finish at the top of this weak division once again.
Athletics: Four games under .500 in the early going, but that is not the concern for this team. Matt Holliday is doing his best to prove the Coors factor is very real, and a roid-less, stache-less, thong-less Giambino is lacking an identity.
Why they're for real: Holliday's numbers outside of Coors seem like they were just a hint at what has happened to him so far this year. It'd be one thing if his homerun power had become doubles power, but he really isn't driving the ball well right now. They have very little proven commodities on their team, and the offense is catastrophically bad. 1 player has a higher average than Jack Cust, who is at 0.270. Cust, however is known as a low average power hitter, but this excuse isn't true for the rest of the team with 8 HR in 600+ combined ABs. No power, no average, no offense. The pitching isn't anything special either.
Why they're not for real: Holliday, Giambi, and Cabrera all can't be this bad. They all have a proven track record, and they'll heat up soon. Unfortunately there's not many other positives for this team.
Verdict: For real. The American league cellar-dwellers reside in oakland. Even if all 3 of their free agent acquisitions pick up the pace, this team is the worst in the west. Holliday may come cheap next year on the FA market if he doesn't pick up his production.
Are You For Real? (AL edition 4/29)
Posted on: April 29, 2009 2:11 pm
Edited on: April 29, 2009 6:24 pm