Things don't look like they will be changing too much this year in the AL East. With the Yankees revamped starting rotation they should only be harder to beat. While Wright is use to pitching for a run producing offense coming from the Braves, Johnson and Pavano should benefit more from the new found support making the Yankees even harder to beat. Look for similar store bought Yankee offense again this season and expect Giambi to actually contribute now that he has had time to recover. Boston will look similar to last season but with a little weaker starting rotation. Clement and Wells will do their job, but neither will compete for the CY Young. Don't expect them to repeat, but they should have enough to win the wild card. Look for Baltimore to put a little more pressure on big boys, but don't expect their rotation to last down the stretch. Slamming Sammy should do a little damage in Camden Yards, but he will not be Baltimore's savior. Look for week showings from both Toronto and Tampa Bay. Expect the Devil Rays to deal Huff some time this season and secure their position in the AL East cellar.Chris:
Everybody is so hyped about the AL East and I just don't do see it. Sure the Yankees and Red Sox are both spending money like crazy, but I really think the Yankees got much better. The Red Sox just turned their wheels in the sand a little. They lose Pedro and bring in the likes of Matt Clement Baltimore adds an aging slugger with attitude. The Blue Jays have the ace they need, but they have allowed a top slugger leave. Then you have the Devil Rays. With a lot of young talent, but thier pitching is still thin. We there be a surprise this year, don't count on it.
The AL Central might see a little shake up this season, but the outcome should be the same as 2004. The Minnesota Twins should not have a problem holding off the rest of the division. Their pitching staff lead by 20 game winner Johan Santana and Joe Nathans' 40+ saves should prove dominant in the division. The White Sox will probably slide in the standings while the Tigers should start to make some noise after the off season acquisitions of Magglio Ordóñez and Troy Percival. They are probably still one or two big name starters away from actually contending in their division, but we should see progress. The Indians will probably not improve much while the Royals will probably continue to be the cellar dwellers they were last season.Chris:
I keep reading that the central race will be close this year. That may be the case, but I still think the class of the division is the Twins. They have the most dominating starter in the league, but their offense may be the problem. The White Sox are closer than people think. The thier pitching staff still has many problems mainly with health and their offense is in the same boat. The Cleveland Indians are a team that many people are high on and thier ACE is on the shelf to start the season. Then you have the Royals and Tigers. The Tigers are using the "Let's Pay for Old Guys" and the Royals are using the "Trade anybody with Value." The end result is that neither team will be around come July and both could be selling then.
The AL West had the closest division races of 2004. 2005 might not be as close. The big story in this division was the dismantling of Oakland's starting rotation. With the loss of Mulder and Hudson, Oakland will have a tough time staying anywhere near the top of the division. Led by the big bat of Vlad Guerrero, the LA Angels should remain close to the top of the AL West winner's once again. Although they lost Troy Percival in the bullpen, Francisco Rodríguez looks willing and able to do the job and close the door. Look for the Texas Rangers to actually make a run for the division this season. Texas will have six of their eight starters coming off a 20+ home run season while their other two had 14 and 15 each. Besides the steady Kenny Rogers, their rotation is a little weak and probably will be the only thing keeping them from a division title. Ranger fans can still look for big improvements in their staff due to the coaching of Orel Hershiser and if they can make it to the bullpen, Francisco Cordero will definitely take them home. This off-season Seattle had an extreme makeover infield edition. They added Pokey Reese and shortstop and anchored the corners with 40+ home run power by adding Beltre and Sexton. If Sexton is healthy and things fall into place, the Mariners might have a shot at third in the division. Even with only 4 teams it will still be a long shot.Chris:
Like Mark said above the AL west race was good last year with the Rangers probably playing better thay they should have. The Angels are clearly better than anybody in the division if they stay heathly. They probably will be a ton better with Bartolo Colen at his regular level. The Rangers have one of the most exciting line-ups, but their pitching is still not very good. Chan Ho Park still is making a ton of money. Seattle has gone out spent more money on offense, but they are still a little shaky. Oakland has the biggest new look, but gone is the great pitching and in is the unknown young pitching.
The NL East should again belong to the Braves in 2005. How easy it will be for them will depend on the effectiveness of John Smoltz as a starter and how well his replacement Dan Kolb does in the pen. I'm betting it won't be so easy, but it's the Braves and they have quite a winning tradition going. They are getting a little older in the field, but there are some good sticks still out there. The addition of Tim Hudson will help their staff dominate the opposition. The Braves will have to look out for the Mets in 2005. The Mets did some major work this off-season. The biggest additions were Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez. If Doug Mientkiewicz can stay healthy he should contribute also. If everything works out the way the Mets' GM hopes, they will make it a race. The Phillies did not seem to make too many monumental changes. Bringing John Leiber on-board and back to the NL should be a big boost, but it won't be enough to contend. Look for a good showing, but a mediocre finish. The Marlins will probably not be totally out of the race, but don't look for anything impressive. The Nationals will bring Baseball back to DC, but they won't bring any post season games with them. Look for the same team in a different uniform.Chris;
The biggest shock in the off season may have happened in the NL East. That is the baseball back in D.C. and the biggest non-shock the Braves got better and will win the East. No doubt that the Mets, Marlins and Phillies will contend, but after 13 titles there is no way I will ever pick against the Braves. The Mets have made huge strides and the Marlins added a big time slugger in Carlos Delgado. The fact the Expos moved to D.C. is good enough to improve, regardless of who they threw on the field, but they are still an ownership group away from ever contending.
Am I biased? Well of course I am. I am picking the Cubs to top the NL Central. It will be a battle with the Cardinals, but if Wood and Prior can pitch in, the starting rotation may be too much for anyone to handle. Instead of looking at what the Cubs have lost in offense from 2004. Let's look at what they have gained. A healthy Nomar can put up 30+ home run numbers with a descent batting average. Todd Walker will have a chance to play everyday and pitch in with more run production than Grudzielanek could last year. Burnitz and Hollandsworth should be able to drive in some runs while hard hitting Jason Dubois tries to steel one of their jobs. The Cubs bench has improved with the addition of Hairston Jr. and a healthy Hollandsworth or Dubois, depending on who is starting. The big question is still how the Cubs will close out games. If Hawkins is able to resume a set up role and the Cubs have an in-house closer surface, they may get things done, but look for a trade to go down some time early in the season, possibly Urbina. While I hate to admit it, the Cardinals are good. They will have a mighty offense again in 2005. There will not be as much power coming from shortstop or second, Eckstein and Grudzielanek, but there will be men on base for their big sticks to drive in. The addition of Mulder to their rotation will give St. Louis the second best rotation in the Central. What may push St. Louis past the Cubs will be their closer Jason Isringhausen. The Astros are definitely a weaker team after the loss of Kent and Beltran. If Pettitte is healthy their rotation will be their saving grace. Lidge should put up good numbers and shut the door when they can get him the lead, but they have to score to do that. The Cincinnati Reds did little to strengthen their already weak starting rotation. The addition of Eric Milton will help but it will not be enough to get it to the bullpen for Danny Graves to dominate hitters and notch the save. With a healthy Griffey, the Reds may improve but don't look for them to challenge the top 3 in the division. The Brewers may have improved a little this off season but look for them to only fight with the Pirates to stay out of last in the division.Chris:
I have some serious doubts about the NL Central. This of course is a Cubs Blog, but still there are some teams to worry about. The Cardinals brought in a proven Ace to lead the staff and their offense is as dangerous as ever. The Astros lost more than anybody in my opinion. They really remind me of Seattle last season. Age is going to catch up with them fast. The only thing that may save them is their pitching staff is still top notch 1-3. The Cubs have changed more than anybody in the division. Gone is the icon in Sammy Sosa and in are Jeremy Burnitz and Jerry Hairston. I think the Cubs will be fine if and only if Kerry Wood and Mark Prior stay heathly. If they don't then it will tough all year. The Reds and Brewers are still a little bit off before they make a run. The Brewers are getting close and the Reds still need some pitching.
The NL West should be a tight race again in 2005. The only difference will be that the Giants will come out on top. That is, of course, if Bonds is healthy. The Giants added Vizquel and the big bat of Alou, but age is working against them. Their rotation is solid and they added a big name closer in Armando Benítez. Experience will be the edge that should get them past LA. The Dodgers may have lost a lot in Beltre and Green, but the additions of J.D. Drew and Jeff Kent will help soften the blow. The addition of Derek Lowe will be a good boost for a sub par rotation. The strength of the Dodgers still lies in their closer Gagne. As long as he is mowing hitters down, the Dodgers will stay in second. The Arizona Diamondbacks lost a lot when Randy Johnson went to the Yankees, but they made some pretty good additions this off-season. Troy Glaus, Jose Cruz and Shawn Green all bring some added power. Russ Ortiz, Javier Vázquez, and Shawn Estes make for a whole new rotation. Inexperience in the bullpen may prove to the problem that keeps them down in the standings. The Padres should provide a little pressure on the division leaders all season, but they will probably not challenge any of them. The addition of Woody Williams helps, but they it is the lack of big hitters that will probably hurt their chances. Don't look for too much improvement. The Rockies will not move up this season. The loss of Burnitz will hurt while they failed to add any power in the off-season. Their starting pitching is nothing to brag about and they have no proven reliever. Chris:
The Dodgers one the division last year, but don't look for that to happen again. Somehow they have added J.D. Drew and Jeff Kent, but something does not feel right for them. The Giants are without the best player in baseball and the Rockies probably will never make the playoffs again at this point. The Diamondbacks went crazy in the off season and spent money like mad people. I think getting Javier Vaquez was a good move, but in the end it will not be enough. Where does that leave the West? In the hands on the Padres. They have a nice lineup and a young pitching staff.
Mark: NY Yankees
Boston Red Sox
Toronto Blue Jays
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Chris: NY Yankees
Mark: Minnesota Twins
Chicago White Sox
Kansas City Royals
New York Mets
St. Louis Cardinals
Mark:San Francisco Giants
Los Angeles Dodgers
San Diego Padres
AL Wild Card - Mark:Red Sox, Chris:Rangers
AL Pennant - Mark:Yankees, Chris:Angels
AL MVP - Vladimir Guerrero - LAA
AL CY - Randy Johnson - NYY
AL ROY - Gabe Gross - TOR (Chris note: Never will I pick an Auburn player for an award, same goes for Tim Hudson)
AL Batting Champ - Ichiro Suzuki - SEA
AL MVP - Guerrero,
AL CY - Johan Santana
AL ROY- Ruben Gotay - KC
Al Batting - Ichiro Suzuki
NLWild Card -Mark: St. Louis, Chris: Cubs
NL Pennant - Both: Chicago Cubs
NL MVP - Carlos Beltran - NYM
NL CY - Mark Prior - CHI
NL ROY - Jason Dubois - CHI
NL Batting Champ - Albert Pujols - STL
NL MVP - Scott Rolen
NL CY - Mark Mulder
NL ROY - Clint Barmes
World Series Winner - Both: Chicago Cubs