East: New York Yankees
Central: Detroit Tigers
West: Anaheim Angels
Wild Card: Boston Red Sox
East: New York Mets
Central: Chicago Cubs
West: Arizona Diamondbacks
Wild Card: Milwaukee Brewers
ALDS: New York Yankees over Anaheim Angels, Boston Red Sox over Detroit Tigers
NLDS: New York Mets over Milwaukee Brewers, Arizona Diamondbacks over Chicago Cubs
League Championship Series
ALCS: New York Yankees over Boston Red Sox
NLCS: New York Mets over Arizona Diamondbacks
New York Yankees over New York Mets
We’ll talk more about this when it happens — and it’s going to happen — but it will be a very special year for New York as we see a repeat of the Subway Series, both teams hosting World Series games in the final year of their respective stadiums.
First I’ll breeze through the other divisions, giving mostly the reasons I think , and then I’ll get to the debate that everyone reading this wants to read about — the New York Yankees versus the Boston Red Sox in the American League East Division.
I like the Tigers in the American League Central. Their offense, now with Miguel Cabera, is among the best in the league. Their top two hitters, Cabrera and Magglio Ordonez, aren’t quite as intimidating as David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez for the Boston Red Sox, and they certainly don’t have a player as good as the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez, but when you go position-by-position, they match up very evenly with either team.
The AL West is relatively tough to pick, but I have to go with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim until they prove me wrong. They’ve won the division three out of the last four seasons, and this season only the Seattle Mariners with Erik Bedard and “King Felix” Hernandez appear to be a threat, but not a very big one.
The Mets were the best team in the National League last season, and I think if the last month was replayed, the Mets would win nine out of 10 times. Their collapse was embarassing but flukey. On November 1, 2007, they were the best team in the NL, and all they did since then was add the best pitcher in baseball. The Phillies are a good team, and if Brad Lidge can stay healthy, he’s going to be a very good pickup for them, but they won’t catch the Mets in the division race this season. The Phils will have to settle for the Wild Card this season.
The NL Central is also tough to predict. I really like the Brewers, but I just have to go with the Cubs. I think the Brewers win the battle of the aces in Ben Sheets versus Carlos Zambrano, but Sheets just can’t seem to stay healthy and hasn’t thrown 200 innings in a single season since 2004. I also like Brewers shortsop J.J. Hardy and first baseman Prince Fielder, the son of former Yankee Cecil Fielder. But the Cubs’ offense — with Derek Lee, Alfonso Soriano, and Aramis Ramirez — just has more firepower. Overall I see it going down just like it did last year — Cubs in a tight race.
The NL West is probably the toughet division to predict, with four of the five teams as strong candidates for the division title, but I think the acquisition of Dan Haren, who will form a very solid one-two punch with ace Brandon Webb will be the difference-maker. I’d like to give the Wild Card to one of the other NL West teams, but I think they’re going to beat each other up so much that no one will be able to claim the Wild Card.
I went with the New York Yankees over the Boston Red Sox in the American League East Division as much because I just can’t bring myself to kick off a new Yankees blog by picking the BoSox to win the division as any other reason. Listen, folks, these two teams are very evenly matched, and as long as it’s agreed that they’re better than the Toronto Blue Jays — who are very good, but not quite good enough — it’s a crapshoot in deciding who will finish first and who will finish second.
The Yankees have a lot of questions in their rotation. How good Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy will be is just about anybody’s guess. We all know what they project to be in the future, but it’s hard to know what they’ll give you this year, right now, when they have a combined 91.2 innings of big league experience. But Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester, two-thirds of the Red Sox’ rotation, have just 167 innings of combined big league experience (not counting the four innings that Lester recorded in the Sox’ series against the Oakland Athletics in Japan last week).
Behind the youngsters, there’s the matchup of the old guys. 39-year-old Mike Mussina re-signed with the Yankees after a very impressive 2006 — 3.51 ERA, 1.11 WHIP — and delivered a very disappointing 2007 — 5.15 ERA and 1.47 WHIP. The Red Sox counter Mussina, who features the knuckle-curve, with their own veteran knuckleballer, 41-year-old Tim Wakefield. Wakefield made 31 starts for the BoSox last season, throwing 189 innings and going 17-12 with a 4.76 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP.
Andy Pettitte put together a solid 2007 — 15-9, 4.05 ERA, 1.43 WHIP — and he’ll match up against Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Red Sox. Matsuzaka’s overall 2007, while not quite the “ace” level that some predicted, were solid — 15-12, 4.40 ERA, 204.2 IP, 1.32 WHIP, 8.84 K/9. Could Dice-K’s 2007, hindered by adjustment to a new country and a season much longer than what he’s used to, be a jumping-off point for a much better 2008? Sure, but the more a pitcher is exposed to hitters, the more it typically favors the hitters. In fact, many of Daisuke’s countrymen starting pitchers that came before him, like Hideo Nomo and Chan Ho Park for example, saw their ERA and WHIP climb steadily in their second and third seasons, counting their first season as the season in which they first threw over 150 innings. Which way will Matsuzaka go in 2008? That’s just another question mark for the Red Sox that won’t be answered until later in the season.
The spot where the Red Sox have the advantage over the Yankees in the starting rotation is the matchup of the aces. Chien-Ming Wang is a very good pitcher, but Josh Beckett is a bona fide ace. Wang lives and dies by the sinker. Typically if he has that pitch working, he’s going to have a good day, but if it’s not, it’s going to be a long day. And since the sinker is such a fickle pitch, it’s pretty much unknown what he’s going to bring to the mound on any given day, and it’s very possible that he could get lit up at any time, as evidenced by his 2007 postseason. Josh Beckett, on the other hand, followed up a very disappointing 2006, with an impressive 2007 — 20-7, 3.27 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 8.70 K/9 — and cemented his legacy in the postseason, picking up four wins in as many starts and posting a 1.20 ERA while striking out 35 batters in 30 innings.
The Yanks and the Sox are also very similar in the bullpen. They each feature setup men who had eye-opening 2007 seasons but are otherwise unproven — Joba Chamberlain for the Yankees and Hideki Okajima for the Red Sox — handing the ball to dominant closers — Mariano Rivera for the Yankees and Jonathan Papelbon for the Red Sox. After that, there are question marks for each team. The Red Sox are probably slightly better; Manny Delcarmen posted a 2.05 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 44 innings last season, and Mike Timlin and lefty Javier Lopez each posted ERAs under 3.50 and WHIPs under 1.35. The Yankees, meanwhile, will rely heavily on LaTroy Hawkins, who went 2-5 with a 3.42 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 55.1 innings for the Colorado Rockies last season; those numbers aren’t bad for a pitcher in Colorado, but Hawkins also posted an ERA of 4.48 and WHIP of 1.46 in the AL East in 2006 as a member of the Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees will also go heavily to Kyle Farnsworth, who struggled greatly in his first two seasons in Pinstripes but has apparently earned the confidence of new manager Joe Girardi. Beyond that, the Yankees will go to Brian Bruney, who has not yet in his career been able to harness his great stuff, and Billy Traber, the lone lefty whose career consists of a 5.41 ERA and 1.55 WHIP in three years spent with the Cleveland Indians and more recently the Washington Nationals. The Yankees’ bullpen will also house some inexperienced hurlers like Ross Ohlendorf, 6.1 career big league innings, and Jonathan Albaladejo, 14.1 career big league innings all with the Washington Nationals.
Even the batting orders are remarkably similar. Each team has an exceptionally deep lineup with no-one that can be cansidered an “automatic out,” and while the Red Sox have the better one-two punch in David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez is the best overall player.
These two teams are very evenly matched, each with unbelievable strengths and plenty of question marks. With my life on the line, I’d probably have to give the slight edge to the Red Sox because their bullpen is a little deeper — and they’d have to get the edge in a close call considering they’re the defending AL East and World Series Champions.
But like I said, this is a Yankees blog, and so, at least in the first year, I predict the Yankees to win the division and the head-to-head postseason battle for the pennant. Better luck next year, Boston.