In the paper today, I picked the Twins to win the World Series over the Phillies. I’m likely guilty of trying to be too original, but the Minnesota lineup is impressive and they’ll find a way to compensate for losing closer Joe Nathan.
The Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays are the three best teams in the league but I do wonder if the 162-game grind of the AL East will wear them down come the playoffs. The Yankees were so good in the postseason a year ago, in part, because they had a full month to prepare and rest. That might not be possible this season.
The Red Sox are better than people think. The bottom third of their lineup will make up for the loss of Jason Bay and the rotation is a bear. If they can get 125 starts out of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Clay Buchholz, the Sox will win at least 95 games. People who mock the idea of improving the defense don’t understand the game. That’s what Tampa Bay did in 2008 and it seemed to work out pretty well.
I picked the Yankees to win the wild card. I wish I had the guts to pick the Rays instead. The Yankees have a formidable roster but Nick Johnson and Curtis Granderson will not be as productive as Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui were last season.
The Yankees also defied age last season, getting strong seasons out of Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera. That has to catch up with them eventually. You also have to wonder how the World Series hangover will affect players like A.J. Burnett and Nick Swisher. That said, In Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and even Robinson Cano, they have three players who could have MVP-type seasons.
As for a few other predictions:
AL MVP — Evan Longoria (Tampa Bay): Every scout in Florida was impressed with the 24-year-old third baseman. He seems to have taken a step forward offensively. Joe Mauer is certainly a contender to repeat.
NL MVP — Albert Pujols (St. Louis): Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki was the talk of Arizona but Pujols could be even greater with a full season of Matt Holliday behind him.
AL Cy Young — Felix Hernandez (Seattle): The Mariners have an excellent defensive club, play in a pitchers’ park and he has a new contract. It adds up to a huge season.
NL Cy Young — Roy Halladay (Philadelphia): It’s crazy to pick against Halladay, who dominated the AL East and now will compete against inferior NL lineups. He could win 25 games.
AL Rookie of the Year — Brian Matusz (Baltimore): The Orioles have a plan in place and young pitchers like Matusz are at the center of it. He’ll soon be an ace.
NL Rookie of the Year — Jason Heyward (Atlanta): The people in Atlanta haven’t been this excited about a young player since Chipper Jones.
AL Manager of the Year — Mike Scioscia (Los Angeles): He’s the best in the game and when his team wins the division again despite roster losses, he’ll be recognized as such.
NL Manager of the Year — Bobby Cox (Atlanta): A nice tribute before he retires.
First manager fired — Jerry Manuel (Mets): It’s a race to who gets canned first, Manuel or Omar Minaya. This team has great fans and deserves better management. Their plan seems to be to have no plan.
Biggest mistake — Seattle trading for Milton Bradley: The Mariners put together a nice team, made a bunch of smart moves then threw a keg of dynamite into the clubhouse. Good luck with that.
Red Sox player you’ll love by Memorial Day — Marco Scutaro: The revolving door at shortstop has stopped spinning. This underrated player will finally fix what has been an Achilles’ heel under Theo Epstein.