UCB Project: 2011 Postseason Preview

As this month’s United Cardinal Bloggers network project draws to a close, I take a look at the post season. You can check out the other UCB members’ posts at the site, but for me you can look at my previous predictions here on the site. I’ve done the AL East, Central, and West, along with the NL East, Central, and West. All that’s left is the playoffs.

In last season’s World Series, the San Francisco Giants defeated the Texas Rangers in five games. For the Rangers it was their first World Series appearance. For the Giants, it was their first since 2003 and the first World Series appearance since 2002.

A lot of times the winner of a playoff series is difficult to pick. It’s even more difficult to pick seven months in advance when the small sample size of the playoffs depends more greatly on who is healthy and who is hot. I’m not going to let a little thing like that stop me!

American League Divisional Series
Based on my predictions, the divisional series’ should be the Boston Red Sox against the Texas Rangers. The Red Sox, on the offense of new additions Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez take a step back into the playoffs and then power their way past the Rangers in the first round. Despite solid seasons from their rotation, the Rangers just don’t have the necessary offense to hold up against the Red Sox. Adrian Beltre was a nice addition to the Rangers offense, but he is notorious for putting up career years in contract years, much like he did last year. I expect Red Sox in four.

The second ALDS puts the New York Yankees against the Minnesota Twins. The last time the Twins won a playoff game against the Yankees was 2004, in fact that was the last time the Twins won a playoff game, period. However, the Yankees inability to truly stabilize that starting rotation during this season, as I expect, will hurt them. Behind C.C. Sabathia there really isn’t anything that’s scary to a team in the playoffs. But the Yankees have an offense that is nearly unrivaled. Meanwhile the Twins are dependent on the heart of their lineup and a pitching staff with no clear #1 pitcher. I expect the Twins to actual win against the Yankees this year, but looking more like Yankees in 5, though it really could go either way.

National League Divisional Series
The first NL series is a rematch of the 2010 NLCS and one of my favorite matchups. There is nothing that I love more than a pitcher’s duel, and it will be the incredible and heralded pitching staff of the Philadelphia Phillies against the incredible and slightly less heralded pitching staff of the San Francisco Giants. But much like last year, I can’t see the Giants getting past the Phillies without the luck they had last year. Do it twice in a row? Unlikely. Philadelphia cruises past the Giants in 3.

The second matchup is the Atlanta Braves against the Milwaukee Brewers. This could be an exciting matchup of itself. With a healthy club, I think the Braves will beat the Brewers but this is one that can go either way. I think the Braves are the more rounded club and have the better management. Braves in 4.

American League Championship Series
So it matches up the Yankees v. the Red Sox in the ALCS once again. Who can forget the epic 2004 ALCS where the Red Sox stole a win in Game 4 and then went on to win the series?  Then they rolled over a cold St. Louis Cardinals team to win their first World Series in 86 years.

But this time, there really shouldn’t be a contest. The Red Sox are a vastly more complete team than the Yankees are and are nearly as good on offense as the Yankees are. Because of that, they should be able to pretty much cruise to a series winner. Red Sox in 6.

National League Championship Series
I have the Braves v. the Phillies in the NLCS. Interesting to note that it’s the two teams from the East in each league and it’s the wild card and their division champion matching up too. I wonder what that means to the balance of power in baseball.

With the aging Phillies lineup, the Braves have an excellent chance to defeat them. I thought the Braves could have gone far last season and they’ve only improved. I expect the Braves to make their first return to the World Series since 1999 when they lost to the Yankees. Braves in 5 as the young guys show their stuff for first-year manager Fredi Gonzalez.

World Series
Red Sox v. Braves. Comparable pitching staffs, I think the Red Sox have the more complete offense. Braves may sneak a couple out, but I expect the Red Sox to win their third World Series in the last decade. Red Sox in 6.

Rookie of the Year
Beginning with the Rookie of the Year award. It’s always my least favorite because you have the flashy guys who get the notoriety and then you usually have some guys turning in great seasons being ignored. Just look at last season’s NL Rookie of the Year. Jason Heyward was the early favorite, Buster Posey jumped onto the scene mid-season, but Jaime Garcia was solid all year. His mid-2s ERA over 28 starts, in my opinion for a pitcher, was far more impressive to me than what Heyward and Posey did, but he wasn’t recognized and was typically just an after thought when people discussed the Rookie of the Year award.

Two rookies I like are Atlanta first base Freddie Freeman and Kansas City infielder Mike Moustakas.

Freeman has gotten the most playing time of any Brave in spring training, but hasn’t done much in the majors yet. Freeman does have a pretty good minor league resume and should get the chance to play first base everyday as long as he can play well. He has the talent, but can he put it together in his rookie year?

Meanwhile, Moustakas will likely start the season in the minor leagues for the Royals, but a mid-season call up should happen for him. With no clear cut challenger in the American League that I can see, it makes him the leader in the category if he can perform with the bat once he makes the jump.

Cy Young Award
Wins don’t make you a lock for the Cy Young. That’s the lesson American League pitchers have learned the last two years as 16 game winner Zach Grienke and 13 game winner Felix Hernandez were the guys who took the trophies home for the American League.

In the AL, I expect it to be Trevor Cahill with 19 wins and taking the Cy Young trophy home. However, there are several guys who can challenge him for it and probably will.

For the NL, I think the hype of Cliff Lee returning to the league will help him become the sixth player to win a Cy Young in both leagues. I see 19 wins from Lee and an ERA in the high-2s.

Most Valuable Player Award
This is really where it gets difficult because it’s so hard to predict. Again, won’t stop me. Though, I think I will probably make some non standard picks.

In the American League, Adrian Gonzalez will get a bright welcome to the American League as he moves from one of the best pitchers parks to a pretty good hitter’s park. I expect his offensive performance to jump, I think he’ll push 40 homers this year and be around 120 RBI while he maintains his nearly .290 batting average.

In the National League, I think it will once again be an NL Central first baseman, but will once again not be Albert Pujols. In a contract year and helping lead Milwaukee to a playoff berth, Prince Fielder will get recognized as he turns in a year with a batting average in the .290s, just over 40 homers, and just over 110 RBI. It would still be a little bit of a question mark whether Fielder could. Since 1990, only one player has won an NL MVP with a batting average under .300, that was Jimmy Rollins in 2007.

UCB Project: National League West

Each month the United Cardinal Bloggers try to do a network wide blogging project. For the month of March, our project is to preview the season. So this week at Redbird Dugout and other UCB sites will be preview week. Since I’ve already done the NL Central in a whole series, I’m going to skip that this week as I head around baseball. Over the last four days I have done the AL East, Central, and West along with the NL East. Tomorrow I will look at postseason predictions.

Last season it was the San Francisco Giants that rode their pitching to the World Series, despite being overlooked at nearly every angle. I thought they had a pretty good chance to get past the Braves in the first round, but I doubt anybody really foresaw them beating both Philadelphia and Texas. However, it was the San Diego Padres that collapsed down the stretch that allowed the Giants to get back into the division race and ultimately win the division.

5. Arizona Diamondbacks (75-87)
The Diamondbacks have been a seller as of late, but I like the direction that the team is heading in. They’ve dealt a lot of their talent away in exchange for young pitching, attempting to stock pile pitching talent, much like their divisional rivals in San Francisco. Their new manager, Dodgers legend Kirk Gibson should be a great leader for the team after they’ve struggled in the past few years.

While their direction is good, there are many questions surrounding the Diamondbacks this season. How are they going to fill the gaps on offense? Will their rotation hold up? They have a solid group of pitchers led by Daniel Hudson, who was incredible last season for the Diamondbacks after coming over in a trade. Why Chicago was willing to deal him was a little surprising. The guy who pitched the almost perfect game, Armando Galarraga is also in the rotation.

There is still a long way to go for the Diamondbacks, but they have a good core of talent and have made several steps in the right direction.

4. San Diego Padres (78-84)
The Padres have also been sellers lately. There is a big turnover in San Diego this year too as they’ve slashed payroll. The Padres surprised everyone last season with their 90 wins, but I don’t see them being able to repeat that at all.

They improved up the middle with the additions of Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett. They brought Ryan Ludwick back to hit cleanup behind Chase Headley. Other than that, they are pinning their hopes on a couple players who haven’t played well recently in Brad Hawpe and Cameron Maybin. If they break through, then it’d be very easy to win a few more games.

The question for the Padres is whether or not the bullpen can be the same form as they were in 2010 when they were one of the best bullpens in the majors. Also, can that offense provide enough runs to support the pitching staff. Petco is a pitcher friendly ballpark, so pitching can turn the tide, but it will be even more difficult for that offense to score runs because of that.

3. Colorado Rockies (81-81)
The Rockies made big moves in the offseason, locking up both Troy Tulowizki and Carlos Gonzalez to big deals. It’s a good move that locks up two of the best young offensive talents in the National League and recognizes their place as the core of the team. While Todd Helton might be the godfather of the team, he’s not the leader much any more. He’s not the go-to guy in the lineup.

A small amount of turnover for the Rockies, but I don’t see much improvement on the field. Obviously the young players should improve, but the question remains whether Tulowizki and Gonzalez can continue to give 110% knowing that they are locked into big money for years to come. To me, that’s always a question when you give guys a ton of money.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers (84-78)
The Dodgers’ ownership is having financial issues as well. When your owners go through a divorce, it’s tough for either to spend money on the team. There was the potential for the team to receive a loan to help it operate through this season, but that was turned down by Bud Selig. That put the Dodgers in rough territory this offseason as they had to be smart with the way they spent their money.

Their biggest move may have been the addition of Juan Uribe. Uribe was a critical part of the Giants’ 2010 World Series team. Jon Garland was another solid move to solidify that bullpen, especially with some of the success that Garland has had in a Dodgers uniform.

Their core remains mostly unchanged, but I feel that that does help them. These guys will know that it’s all on them to get the job done and that reinforcements aren’t likely to come. I expect them to rise to the challenge and compete for the division crown this season.

1. San Francisco Giants (89-73)
Magic is about the only word you can use to describe the Giants’ postseason run. Their team also remained mostly unchanged, but unfortunately they lost two of their biggest pieces. Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria both left to play for other teams after playing instrumental roles in the Giants’ run to the playoffs. They added Miguel Tejada who should help a little bit and hopefully they will get Mark DeRosa back from his injury as well, helping absorb some of that loss.

Their rotation, with Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, Matt Cain, and Madison Bumgarner cannot be questioned. It is right up there as one of the best top-4 in the league. Also quite cheaper than the Phillies’ top-4. Brian Wilson has had some muscle issues in spring training, but hopefully that won’t nag on into the season. Even if it does, San Francisco is very deep in pitching.

The Giants are a team that relies on great pitching and timely hitting. The pitching is almost a guarantee as long as everyone stays healthy. Can the Buster Posey led offense continue to get timely hits? That will determine their outcome in 2011.

UCB Project: National League East

Each month the United Cardinal Bloggers try to do a network wide blogging project. For the month of March, our project is to preview the season. So this week at Redbird Dugout and other UCB sites will be preview week. Since I’ve already done the NL Central in a whole series, I’m going to skip that this week as I head around baseball. Over the last three days I have done the AL East, Central, and West. Today we hit the National Least East.

Last season saw the Philadelphia Phillies and the Atlanta Braves make the playoffs out of the National League East. The Braves led for most of the season behind their young rotation, but the loss of Chipper Jones hurt the team’s chances as they fell and just barely held onto the Wild Card.

5. New York Mets (71-91)
Not a familiar place for the Mets, but while their ownership continues to sort out their financial troubles the Mets will continue to struggle. They are a team with question marks everywhere and that could lead to a big roster turnover by the time the trade deadline comes around.

On the offensive side of the ball Carlos Beltran is sliding over to right field in the hopes that he can play regularly since he can’t patrol centerfield quite like he used to. Beltran and Jose Reyes are in the walk years of their contracts, so you can bet that they will be giving it everything they have to raise their statistics. While the front five in the lineup are guys you know, the back half of the lineup has guys like Ike Davis, Josh Thole, and Brad Emaus. None of whom strike fear into the opposing team.

The pitching staff will wait for the return of Johan Santana, who is out until mid-season after shoulder surgery ended his 2010 season. The rotation isn’t anything special, but they do have a few gambles that might pay off. They signed Chris Capuano and Chris Young (no, not the hitter), who were both coming off of injuries, to round out the rotation in the offseason. Capuano went 2-2 with a 2.91 ERA over his final 6 starts for Milwaukee at the end of last season and I was surprised when they didn’t bring him back. Young went 2-0 in four starts with a 0.90 ERA for the Padres at the end of the last season.

The big question is whether this team will still be the same when the trade deadline rolls around. If some guys are having good years, you could definitely see them being willing to trade some of their key players to teams that need them in order to rebuild that minor league system.

4. Florida Marlins (76-86)
The Marlins hurt their offense when they dealt Dan Uggla to Atlanta in exchange for a handful of players. They will be looking at their young lineup to improve their performance to fill the gap without Uggla in the lineup. Mike Stanton is the young guy in the middle of the lineup that needs to turn in a great year in order to help the Marlins exceed my 76 win expectation for them.

Their rotation is still strong. Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, and Anibal Sanchez might not be known by everyone, but they each turned in great seasons last year. Javier Vazquez will join the team to add a veteran presence to that rotation.

The question for the Marlins will be the development of their young players. Will Stanton turn into a superstar and how will rookie Matt Dominguez adjust in his jump from Double-A, where he hit just .257, to the big leagues?

3. Washington Nationals (81-81)
I’m predicting a .500 season for the Nationals? No, I’m not smoking anything. I think the Nationals are one of the teams that everyone will underrate entering this season, but I expect them to be solid. The addition of Jayson Werth is big for the team, though expecting him to duplicate the numbers he put up in Philadelphia is naive. They have a solid lineup and if outfielder Michael Morse can continue to do what he did in the second half of last season, he could be a difference maker in that lineup.

The pitching staff is greatly downgraded with the loss of Stephen Strasburg, but it is still solid. Livan Hernandez is one of those pitchers that can eat innings and capable of spitting out a gem on any given night. John Lannan is a solid option if he can get back to his 2008 and 2009 numbers. Jason Marquis and Tom Gorzelanny will hopefully be solid for the Nats on the back end of the rotation.

The question here is how will the team react without Strasburg. Will Jayson Werth be able to carry the team? The pitching staff is fairly solid, but the offense will be what makes the difference.

2. Atlanta Braves (96-66)
The Braves made some great additions during the offseason. They brought in Dan Uggla to add another offensive threat to their lineup. Combine him with Jason Heyward, Brian McCann, and hopefully a healthy and productive Chipper Jones and you could have the makings of a team that could make a run. Also, first base prospect Freddie Freeman could look to be a big part of the team this year too.

While the Phillies might have the names, the Braves pitchers have the stats. Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe are known commodities at the top of the rotation. Tommy Hanson is becoming capable of being the ace of a rotation and top prospect Mike Minor will likely make the rotation too.

There aren’t many questions with the Braves. They lacked depth on offense and it cost them last season, but with the addition of Uggla and the hopeful emergence of Freeman this could be a playoff team once again. They might even legitimately challenge the Phillies for the division title.

1. Philadelphia Phillies (99-63)
It was pretty big move when the Phillies jumped into the Cliff Lee contest and stole him away from the Rangers and Yankees. This gives the Phillies potentially the best starting rotation in history. Lee will sort in with Roy Halladay (who he was traded for last season), Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels as the top-4.

With all the money being spent to court Lee, there was very little change on the offensive side of the ball as they continue to age. Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley have had problems staying healthy in recent years and Raul Ibanez will turn 39 this season. They will need to stay healthy and productive to give that rotation the best chance at winning games.

Age and health are the only two questions for the Phillies offense. Their pitching staff is likely deep enough to absorb an injury and continue to win, but the offense looks pretty thin right now.

UCB Project: American League West

Each month the United Cardinal Bloggers try to do a network-wide blogging project. For the month of March, our project is to preview the season. So this week at Redbird Dugout and other UCB sites will be preview week. Since I’ve already done the NL Central in a whole series, I’m going to skip that this week as I head around baseball. I’ve already done the AL East and Central, tonight is the AL West.

Last season, despite the Angels’ best attempts to close the gap with their acquisition of Dan Haren, the Texas Rangers were uncatchable. Then, on the arm of Cliff Lee and the bat of Josh Hamilton, the Rangers became the first team since the 2002 Anaheim Angels to make the playoffs while coming out of the American League West.

4. Seattle Mariners (66-96)
It will be little improvement for the Mariners this season. Last year the team’s offense was horrible and they didn’t really make any moves in the offseason to directly address that issue. Their best offensive improvement was the addition of Jack Cust as their designated hitter, but even Cust is coming off a lack luster year. Their defense improved with the addition of former Cardinals’ short stop Brendan Ryan, who was just named the starting short stop this week.

For the Mariners to exceed expectations, they are going to need performance from their starting pitching behind Felix Hernandez, though there are even rumors that the Yankees are making a big play to trade for Hernandez. Erik Bedard will need some return to form behind Hernandez and on the offensive side of the ball, Chone Figgins is going to need to return to the player that the Mariners thought they were getting when they signed him to a big deal.

3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (78-84)
Ultimately the Angels will regress this season. They moved a couple pieces of their 2010 offense and didn’t bring in much to replace them. They did make a trade for the overpaid Vernon Wells. With Wells, and Torii Hunter expected to play corner outfield this season, it could make for a pretty solid defensive outfield. That should help the team’s pitching staff.

That pitching staff is pretty young with Jered Weaver sitting at the top. Each of their starting pitchers is capable of being an ace in the rotation. Their bullpen added Scott Downs, who I heavily wanted the Cardinals to pursue as their primary left handed reliever.

The team should be better off with Kendrys Morales back with the team after his freak injury last season, but I still don’t think they will be able to battle for the division.

2. Oakland Athletics (85-77)
The Athletics boasted the best team ERA in the American League last season by quite a margin. However, they were poor on offense with Kevin Kouzmanoff leading the team with just 16 home runs. However, the A’s addressed that issue in the offseason, bringing in three hitters: Hideki Matsui, David DeJesus, and Josh Willingham. They should help bring some offense to a pitching heavy team and make them one of the best teams in the American League.

Their question will be whether or not their young pitching continues to improve in 2011 or will they regress as the league catches up to them. Personally, I hope not as rotation leader Trevor Cahill is on my fantasy team and with the loss of Wainwright (who I also had), I need all the help I can get.

1. Texas Rangers (86-76)
Yes, that’s right. Only one game apart. That’s mainly because I think it’s a toss up between the two teams. The Athletics’ pitching against the Rangers’ offense. While pitching may win you championships, it’s hitting that gets you there. While the team let Vladimir Guerrero go, they did bring in Mike Napoli and Adrian Beltre to help play offense. Also, Yorvit Torrealba is taking the place of Bengie Molina who took his two postseason shares and seems to be riding off into the sunset.

Unfortunately for the Rangers they were in the headlines for all the wrong reasons this offseason, despite the solid additions. Cliff Lee elected to go play for Philadelphia after helping get the Rangers to the World Series for the first time in franchise history. Replacing him will be difficult. The team signed Brandon Webb, the former Arizona Diamondbacks ace who has spent more time on the disabled list than pitching the last two years. If he can get close to back to form, it will be a big boon for the Rangers who need someone to step up to fill those shoes.

The other reason is for the handling of Michael Young. Young has been the career Texas Ranger and changed position for everyone through the years. He played second while Alex Rodriguez player short stop. He took over short stop when Rodriguez left. Then he played third after the arrival of Elvis Andrus to the major leagues. With the addition of Beltre he was moving to first base, but the addition of Napoli changed that too. He is looking to be the team’s DH and spot starter in the infield. It was a role he wasn’t happy with and he requested a trade. No trade has been made, probably because Young’s salary is prohibitive.

The team will need to sort these out, otherwise they have a solid club that I still like, even without Lee in the rotation. Who will step up in the rotation to help fill the empty shoes and how will Young respond to still playing in Texas in a role he doesn’t want?

Cardinals narrow down roster

With less than 10 days remaining in Spring Training, the Cardinals made a major step towards finalizing the Opening Day roster by cutting 10 players.

Included in that number is Matt Carpenter who, as I expected, was reassigned to minor league camp and is expected to be the Memphis Redbirds’ starting third baseman. It’s also likely that he will be the first to get a call if anything happens with David Freese.

The other players cut are C Tony Cruz, P Brandon Dickson, P John Gast, 1B Mark Hamilton, P Joe Kelly, P Blake King, P Lance Lynn, OF Shane Robinson, and P Raul Valdes. They were reassigned to minor league camp where they will then receive their minor league assignments.

With the moves, it confirms that Daniel Descalso and Tyler Greene will be the backup infielders on the bench, joining Gerald Laird, Jon Jay, and Allen Craig. Also, Kyle McClellan is the only fifth starter candidate left in camp as well, securing his position with the team.

The moves should leave four relievers battling for two spots in the Cardinals’ bullpen. Those would be Bryan Augenstein, Miguel Batista, Eduardo Sanchez, and Fernando Salas.

Salas should have one of the spots in the bullpen as, beyond McClellan, he has been the most impressive pitcher, statistics-wise as he has only allowed one hit in his over 9 innings on the mound.

I expect the final spot to come down between Augenstein and Batista. Both have pitched well in spring training thus far, and each offer something different. Augenstein is younger and is more of a strikeout pitcher with his 9 Ks in 8 innings. Batista is older, but he is more versatile since he is capable of spot-starting if the Cardinals need him to. I’d prefer Augenstein, but I expect Batista to make the club because of that versatility.