Not that it matters a lick, considering how we were only, oh, 100 percent wrong on these things last season, but in any case, here’s how we see the 2007 postseason awards:
AL MVP: Travis Hafner, Indians
NL MVP: Albert Pujols, Cardinals
AL Cy Young: Roy Halladay, Blue Jays
NL Cy Young: Ben Sheets, Brewers
AL Rookie of the Year: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox
NL Rookie of the Year: Chris Iannetta, Rockies
Postseason series predictions follow today’s look at the AL and NL East:
1. Red Sox
In what will likely be a three-way battle for AL East supremacy, the Red Sox come out on top for now based on strength of their starting staff out of the gate. By most accounts, Daisuke Matsuzaka is the real deal and is honed in to become a 15-game winner, Curt Schilling should pitch effectively as a No. 1 in a contract year, and Josh Beckett is poised to rebound with lots of people whispering Cy Young. Add in the move of Jonathan Papelbon to the bullpen, and there are only a few pitching question marks left to answer. The lineup isn’t nearly as good as everyone thinks, and the 7-8-9 combination of Jason Varitek, Coco Crisp, and Dustin Pedroia could prove to be a concern for tinkering with later, whether Wily Mo Pena or Jacoby Ellsbury takes over in center or Theo Epstein finds a veteran second baseman for an overmatched Pedroia. But the top three in the rotation are going to be must-see TV, Matsuzaka reminding us of what an especially energetic place Fenway was on nights when Pedro Martinez owned the town.
It’s as if Joe Torre is in denial, putting off the official announcement that Carl Pavano will pitch on Opening Day for the Yankees. As Joel Sherman points out today in the New York Post, the only other viable option is the immortal Darrell Rasner. Seriously. Mike Mussina will pitch a minor league game tomorrow and won't have enough rest time before Opening Day, Chien-Ming Wang isn’t expected back until the end of the month, and Andy Pettitte’s back is going to remain a question mark all season in all likelihood. For a team that had questionable starting pitching heading into the season regardless of injury, the decimation isn’t exactly a positive sign of things to come. Best lineup in baseball, of course, but good luck getting to Mariano Rivera. You just know they’ll put it back together, as they always do, but right now, how in good faith can you predict them for anything better than second?
3. Blue Jays
Frank Thomas adds to what could be a seriously dangerous lineup, but you almost get the feeling that the Jays are wasting Roy Halladay, who’s arguably the best pitcher in baseball. A.J. Burnett looks to have a better year than 2006, which, aside from injury, was a little less turbulent than former teammate Josh Beckett’s with Boston. But Gustavo Chacin doesn’t exactly strike fear in opponents as a No. 3. If the Blue Jays find themselves in the race come June -- and they most assuredly will -- will J.P. Ricciardi make a move for a short-term rental to plug into the rotation? If he can do just that, Toronto goes from bothersome concern to serious threat in the division. You have been warned.
The Washington Times asks what the improvements made to the Orioles in the offseason means for 2007: “Battling the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox for the American League East title? Or simply not being embarrassing?” We’ll go with the latter. But keep embarrassing open as an option, of course.
5. Devil Rays
"We feel like pitching-wise we are a little bit underrated," Devil Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman, told Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun. Is that so? Just for the record, here is the starting rotation after Scott Kazmir: James Shields, Jae Seo, Casey Fossum, and TBA. With nothing more to say on that, really, here’s Carlos Pena signing a taco:
There are indeed legitimate reasons to believe in the Phillies. The biggest reason just might be the offseason trade that brought Freddy Garcia to town. One of the game’s more underrated hurlers, Garcia won a total of 40 games for the White Sox the past two-and-a-half seasons, and over his eight seasons in the AL has gone an average of 15-9 each year. Now pitching in the weaker NL, the potential for Garcia to win 17 games or so for the Phillies is a definite possibility.
Without Pedro Martinez, the Mets rotation looks nothing like the NLCS team of a year ago, especially considering the combined age of Tom Glavine and Orlando Hernandez at the top has got to be somewhere around 95. You get the feeling that with this team in the hunt come July, Omar Minaya could have a Kazmir-like move in him. And won’t that be fun?
The streak of 14 straight division titles over, the Braves could challenge the Mets for the NL wild card, but there are still too many concerns to toss total faith into them. If Tim Hudson can finally be what he was, the Braves have the best 1-2 punch in the division with John Smoltz at the top. And with Andruw Jones in a contract year, you can expect big things as he looks to get what Alfonso Soriano saw himself get last offseason from the Cubs. Jones and A-Rod free agents in the same offseason? And you thought the cash was ridiculous this offseason.
Season One in the Josh Beckett deal certainly went to the Marlins, who found they had the Rookie of the Year in Hanley Ramirez and a front-line starter in Anibal Sanchez. If Beckett busts out, the complaints will quiet down. If he struggles again, they’re only going to get louder. That being said, if you’re a Red Sox fan, feel positive in the fact that at least your team helped nearly independently support south Florida baseball. Outside of Miguel Cabrera, there’s not much more to get excited about. Which means, being the Marlins, they’ll somehow be in the hunt until August. And still, nobody will care.
Those few, lingering Expos fans are actually glad they’re gone now.
Division winners: Red Sox, Tigers, Angels, Phillies, Brewers, Dodgers
Wild cards: Indians, Padres
Division series: Red Sox over Indians; Tigers over Angels
Padres over Phillies; Dodgers over Brewers
LCS: Tigers over Red Sox; Dodgers over Padres
World Series: Tigers over Dodgers