Next up in the Regular Season Preview series: The Baltimore Orioles.
The Orioles had a bad 2008. However, if it weren’t for an utterly terrible final two months, the team would’ve been decent. They were 52 & 56 at the beginning of August. The problem with this team was their pitching. Jeremy Guthrie was the only good starter they had. In fact, he was the only one with an ERA under 5.00. Their offense was pretty solid; they were 9th in the league in runs scored. Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts will keep that lineup strong for years to come. It gets better, too. Youngsters Adam Jones and of course Matt Wieters could make a huge impact. Felix Pie will be given a chance to win the left field job in the spring; he could make a nice #2 hitter if he finds out how to be on base. Aubrey Huff and Luke Scott are also solid regulars playing at first base and DH. The more I look at their lineup, the more I like it.
The key to this team for 2009 is their pitching. Guthrie will be solid once again, but starters 2-5 have some big question marks. The team added four starters for depth this offseason. Koji Uehara came over from Japan, Mark Hendrickson was signed, and Brad Hennessey was picked up from the scrap heap. Rich Hill was acquired in a trade with the Cubs, also. He has a ton of upside as shown by his 2007 numbers. If he could reharness his control, the Orioles will have a great pitcher on their hands. If Hill bounces back, Uehara has a Hiroki Kuroda like year, and one other of the young pitchers steps up, this could be an average rotation.
A lot of things will have to go right for the Orioles to just hit .500, and it’s almost impossible to see the Orioles finishing atop the loaded AL East. I like this team’s nucleus of young talent, though. They have some nice hitters, and the lineup should get even better with Matt Wieters coming up. By next year it’s possible that their top pitching prospects, Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, and Jake Arrieta will be in the MLB. Those three could make a big difference. The Orioles will have a lot of money coming off the books once the season ends, so they should be able to and willing to sign an experienced veteran to slot in behind Guthrie. An additional bat could also be added if needed.
This season is for the Orioles find out what they have, and what they need. They are definitely a team on the rise, and could possibly be competing by 2010 or 2011. Even with the Rays, Red Sox, and Yankees sitting there, the O’s will at least have a chance. They have a direction now, and that’s something that they haven’t had for a while.
After missing the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, General Manager Hank Steinbrenner decided that there was a lot of work to do. A lot of money was coming off the books, so the Yanks could easily afford a big name. However, Hank decided to raise payroll and acquire three big free agents, arguably 3 of the top 4. He is obviously very serious about winning, and because of all the money spent the Yanks are going to be just as good as some of the Yankee teams that played the last 14 years. (minus 2008) The division has gotten a lot stronger, though. The Red Sox are still a great team, and the Rays are just as bit as good if not better than they were last year. The will definitely be a lot of competition.
To start off this action-packed offseason, the Yankees made a small trade acquisition — Nick Swisher. They got him for pretty much just scrapes. They intended for him to play first base, but after the Tex signing he will be sharing time while playing all three outfield positions. After bringing in Swish, the Yanks made a much bigger splash when they went out and signed probably the best free agent, CC Sabathia. Just days after CC was acquired, Burnett joined the team. They were very quiet for a long time, but jumped into the Mark Teixeira bidding right before the slugger signed with the rival Red Sox. After locking those three up, they resigned Andy Pettitte even though it meant raising payroll by another 5.5 million. Outfielders Nick Swisher and Hideki Matsui are still available while Xavier Nady and Johnny Damon could be pried loose if the price is right. This was obviously a fantastic offseason for the Yanks, but will the additions propel this team past the Red Sox and Rays?
I think that there’s a good chance it could. The starting pitching of this team was definitely its Achilles Heal last year. Now it’s a strength. The offense lost Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi, but Teixeira more than makes up for it. There’s no question that this team is better than it was last year, but no one knows if it’s good enough. My early prediction is that the Yankees do have enough, but they need to stay healthy. AJ Burnett and Joba Chamberlain are both big health risks, with the former very injury prone. Also, you don’t know if Chien-Ming Wang will reinjure his foot. The Red Sox also have some injury risk in the rotation, but the Rays have a very durable staff with the possible exception of Scott Kazmir.
I honestly do not know what will happen. This division could go to any of the three teams. But it will sure be fun to watch!
2008 was a spectacular year for the Tampa Bay Rays. They went from having the worst record in the MLB a year before, to going to the World Series in ’08. They weren’t satisfied with their team even after this, so they went out and made two key additions to their lineup. After deciding to move David Price into the rotation, they deemed Edwin Jackson as expendable. E-Jax was swapped to the Tigers for outfielder Matt Joyce. Joyce will be the primary right fielder for the team and adds some nice pop to the lineup. After that, they went out and signing Pat Burrell to a 2 year deal. He will be the Designated Hitter for the team, and adds a big bat from the right side of the plate — something the Rays were looking for.
The 97 win Rays have gotten better. Burrell and Joyce will improve the lineup, and Price will offer at least the same production that Jackson would. He has a lot of upside, and could be this year’s version of Tim Lincecum. The bullpen is the one area that might not be as good as the year before. They struggled through the playoffs, and many of the relievers could come back down to Earth in ’09. However, with their fantastic farm system, they could easily make a bullpen acquisition mid-season.
The race for the AL East is going to be the most fun thing to watch in baseball next year. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Rays, Yankees, or Red Sox win this division. You could pick a name out of a hat and I would believe you. I slightly favor the Yanks for the division, and the Rays for the Wild Card. I think that the acquisition of Burrell makes their lineup a very good one, and the pitching staff could be even better than last year depending on how good Price is. He is the difference maker. If he comes out and has a Lincecum type year, the Rays will be in the playoffs with a dynamic 1-2-3 punch and a great chance of returning to the World Series. If not, then the Rays might not even make the playoffs. It’s all up to him.
This is going to be a very fun team to watch no matter what happens. I can’t wait for April!
The next team I will preview for the regular season is the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Angels had a fantastic regular season. This team was able to win over 100 games while clinching their division in early September. Unfortunately for Angel fans, the Red Sox defeated their team once again in the first round of the playoffs. The Angels will be looking for more October success this time around.
To me, this team is just not as good as the one that won over 100 games last year. Losing Mark Teixeira and Francisco Rodriguez will hurt the team immensely. Signing Brian Fuentes helps to keep the bullpen strong, but I think that the offense in not going to be as good as it was in the second half of last year. Vladimir Guerrero is not going to get pitched to now that Tex isn’t sitting there behind him. Adding Bobby Abreu will help make up for the OBP that Tex would’ve brought, but with him you don’t get the power or the gold glove defense that would’ve come from Teixeira. I also think that starters such as Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana will slightly regress. This is still a very good team, but I doubt that they’ll win 100 games again.
Despite the regression, they probably still are the best team in the AL West. The A’s will be much improved after acquiring Matt Holliday and Jason Giambi, but they have some concerns with the pitching staff. Unless the young pitchers have breakout years, they probably won’t be good enough to pass up the Halos in this division. The Rangers will also be very good because of all the talent they have in the farm system. It’s the same thing, though. The Rangers don’t have the pitching. So, this division is still the Angels to lose, but it will be tighter than last year.
If and when the Angels make the playoffs, it will be difficult to advance. Anything can happen, but I just don’t think that this team has the hitting to beat teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, or Rays. However, you never know what can happen in October.
My early prediction is that the Angels will win their division once again, but they won’t play very deep into October.
First up in the Regular Season Preview series is the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs were obviously very upset about their finish to ’08. After getting swept by the Dodgers in the first round of the playoffs, the Cubs realized that they had to get some left handed hitting for the lineup. They did just that when they signed Milton Bradley to a 3 year, 30 million dollar contract. The Cubbies also kept their starting pitching strong by resigning Ryan Dempster. Unfortunately, the payroll got too tight to afford players such as Kerry Wood, Mark DeRosa, and Jason Marquis. Right after the Cubs set their mind to acquiring a left handed hitting right fielder for the lineup, it became obvious that Woody would not return. The Cubs also had to trade away Marquis and DeRosa in order to clear the money needed to sign Bradley. Meanwhile, Kevin Gregg was acquired in a trade to replace Wood, and Aaron Miles was signed to help out at second base. Some other acquisitions were Aaron Heilman and Luis Vizcaino. Some other losses were Bob Howry and Jim Edmonds.
The Cubs once again have very high expectations heading into the season. I know that I’m slightly biased, but it is a lock that the Cubs will win the NL Central in my eyes. I think that last year’s team was a little bit better, but they will be in the playoffs no matter what, and probably as the first seed. The big question will be what they can do in the playoffs. If they are out in the first round again, it is pretty much a lost season. I really don’t know what’s going to happen. They have a great team talent wise, but they just cannot do a thing once they get into the playoffs.
The goal for the Cubs is to make it to the World Series, something tha
t they have the talent to do. It’s just a matter of getting it done in October.
I am going to start a new series here on All Baseball All The Time. It will be called the “Regular Season Preview.” I will go through all 30 teams and preview their regular season while also reviewing what they did in the offseason. This will be a sidebar link.