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Sizing up the standings

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  March 30, 2011 07:10 AM

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Just for the sport of it, and with the knowledge that we're setting ourselves up for much mockery and derision when these are proven grotesquely incorrect in September (if not months sooner), here's a brief look at how TATB sees the six division races lining up in the new season . . .

carlcrawford6finn.jpgAL EAST
Red Sox: Mentioned this in the preview podcast yesterday, but I'm curious how many runs Carl Crawford will drive in batting in the No. 3 spot in this loaded lineup. If he remains there all season, he could end up with a ridiculous stat line of something like 18 homers, 120 RBIs, 110 runs scored, and 50 stolen bases. And yes, I'm being conservative with those numbers, as well as with this one: The Sox will win 96 games, and October will be one to remember.

Yankees: I like their starting pitching better than most of us internet baseball know-it-alls -- 18-game-winner Phil Hughes won't be 25 until June, and Ivan Nova is interesting as a No. 4 starter. But I also think the aging offense regresses from its 859-run juggernaut of a season ago. Let's put 'em at 94 wins, the wild card, and an ALCS loss to the Sox so crushing that Randy Levine will be left to question his very existence.

Rays: Sure, losing Crawford -- and within the division, no less -- is a vicious blow. And the bullpen must be rebuilt almost from scratch, though there are intriguing pieces in place, beginning with rookie lefty Jake McGee. But do not overlook them -- this is still an 88-92 win team, and if Manny plays for Joe Maddon the way we think Manny will play for Joe Maddon, another three-horse race isn't a possibility as much as it is a likelihood.

Blue Jays: If Jose Bautista remains a reasonable facsimile of the slugging beast he has been since September 2009 . . . if Adam Lind's lousy '10 proves the aberration rather than his breakthrough '09 season . . . If this is the year Travis Snider's numbers reflect his talent . . . If Aaron Hill gets a few breaks on batted balls . . . If Brett Lawrie arrives sometime during the summer looking every bit as dynamic at the plate as he looked this spring . . . If John Farrell connects with a talented young pitching staff . . . well, this is probably still a fourth-place team. But it's a damn interesting one at that.

Orioles: He didn't live up to that Benchian rookie season PECOTA projected for him as a rookie, and his .721 career OPS is a bit of a disappointment. Still, Matt Wieters is just 24. It makes sense that catchers almost always long to develop (which is also why Jarrod Saltalamacchia is such a shrewd low-risk move). I'll bet you that three years from now, Wieters is the consensus best offensive catcher in the AL, presuming Joe Mauer is playing another position or has been completely driven crazy by Target Field.

sizemoretedsox.jpgAL CENTRAL
Twins: Seriously, Mauer had one homer -- equaling the fearsome Trevor Plouffe's home output -- and 29 RBIs in 281 plate appearances at Target Field last season. I know the new ballpark is death on lefties, but still, how does this happen?

Tigers: If Miggy Cabrera is this consistently awesome with all of his sad off-the-field issues, just imagine what he might do if he gets his life in order.

White Sox Almost picked the White Sox for first, but I just can't get a fair read on them. If Carlos Quentin and Jake Peavy perform well and are reasonably healthy -- say, 145 games and 25 starts, respectively -- this could be a playoff team. They could also spontaneously combust. That's life with Ozzie.

Royals: Should Lorenzo Cain prove as good as he looked this spring, that Zack Greinke deal that I for one hated might start looking pretty good, too.

Indians Not that I'm bitter from spending a fifth-rounder pick on him in fantasy last year, but there's a better chance of Ted Sizemore making a complete comeback.

felizneftalifinn.jpgAL WEST
Rangers: A reluctant choice to repeat, since I'm not sure Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler can stay out of the trainer's room. And without Cliff Lee, they should have committed to Neftali Feliz as a starter, just as the Sox should give strong consideration to doing the same with Daniel Bard over the next couple of seasons.

Angels: That golden-gloved Wells-Bourjos-Hunter outfield trio will have some new best friends: the entire Angels pitching staff.

A's: Love the young rotation Curt Young left behind, especially Brett Anderson if he's healthy. But a lineup with Coco Crisp leading off and David DeJesus hitting third isn't winning anything of note.

Mariners: Few have a cooler name for a hitter than Justin Smoak, but it was tough to tell last year whether he was more prospect or suspect. The Mariners probably already regret not taking the Yankees' package led by Jesus Montero in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes.

hansontommyfinn.jpgNL EAST
Braves: Old friend Derek Lowe is pitching Opening Day, but this is the year Tommy Hanson becomes a genuine ace.

Phillies: The rotation could be legendary, but tell me, from where do they get their support? Utley's on the verge of a lost season, Werth's in Washington, and Howard had fewer homers than Papi last season. Halladay, Lee, Hamels and Oswalt deliver a wild-card bid, but the offense fails them in the end.

Nationals: The Zimmermen(n) shall lead them to respectability.

Marlins: Last year, Hanley lost 42 points on his batting average, 101 points on his OPS, three homers, 30 RBIs, and 14 doubles off his '09 totals. Now 27 and presumably healthy, the bet here is that his performance is back to his previous exceptional norm.

Mets: Celtics fans griping about the loss of Kendrick Perkins sound a lot to me like the Sox fans who thought letting Jason Bay depart was a colossal mistake. So keeping in mind that Bay had just 401 at-bats last year because of a concussion, here's a partial list of Red Sox players who had more homers than Bay last season: Marco Scutaro, Jed Lowrie, Darnell McDonald, J.D. Drew, Bill Hall, and Jason Varitek.

brucejayfinn.jpgNL CENTRAL
Reds: If he can do anything at all against lefthanded pitching, Jay Bruce will join Joey Votto in the superstar stratosphere. In a related note, how would a rematch of the '75 World Series work for you? Because we've just talked ourselves into it.

Brewers: A trendy sleeper pick, but one that makes a lot of sense, especially if/when Ryan Braun improves on his 25-homer output of a year ago and Greinke comes back from his foolish injury with redemption on his mind.

Cardinals: Even if Albert Pujols's contract situation doesn't have an averse effect, losing Adam Wainwright to Tommy John surgery is probably too much to overcome.

Cubs: Good riddance to Red Sox killer and All-Expectorate Team selection Matt Garza, a fly ball pitcher who probably won't find Wrigley much to his liking.

Pirates: They haven't had a winning season since 1992, way back in the dead ball era when Tim Wakefield was a rookie and the condition of Barry Bonds's anatomy was not headline news. There is a sliver of hope now. Andrew McCutcheon and Pedro Alvarez are capable of being the core of a quality team. Hopefully it will be this one. Pittsburgh deserves better.

Astros: Poor, poor Millsy.

gonzalez3carlosfinn.jpgNL WEST
Rockies: You read it here first (unless Tim Kurkjian or someone said it a month ago, I suppose): Tulo finishes a close second to Pujols for MVP, with CarGo earning the bronze.

Giants: Come to think of it, Brandon Belt is an even better hitter's name than Justin Smoak . . . and based on this spring, a better hitter, too.

Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw, our pick for the NL Cy Young Award this season presuming he gets any run support at all, was picked seventh overall in the 2006 draft -- but was the sixth pitcher selected, behind Luke Hochevar (1, Royals), Greg Reynolds (2, Rockies), Brad Lincoln (4, Pirates), Brandon Morrow (5, Mariners), and Red Sox project Andrew Miller (6, Tigers). Tim Lincecum (10, Giants) and Max Scherzer (11, D-Backs) also went in the top 11 picks that year.

Diamondbacks: Not that they're counting on Daniel Hudson to blossom, but last season, they had five pitchers who made at least 17 starts. Their respective win totals: 9, 7, 7, 6, 6. Not exactly the days of Johnson/Schilling, is it?

Padres: San Diego hit 132 home runs as a team last season; Adrian Gonzalez had 31 of them. The leading returning home-run hitter is Will Venable, with 13. Anthony Rizzo can't make it soon enough.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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