As we clean for Pesach, several players will be cleaning out their lockers after being released by teams paring down their rosters for Opening Day.
While released players have their dreams shattered, we dream of our favorite team playing in the postseason and winning the World Series.
Last year’s World Series teams – the Yankees and the Phillies – are better now than they were last October and are sure bets for postseason spots again.
Here are my predictions for this season.
National League East
The Phillies are the best team in the NL and the third best team in all of baseball, behind, in my opinion, the Yankees and Red Sox. It will be a fight for second place between the Florida Marlins and Atlanta Braves. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez anchors the young Marlins while veteran Chipper Jones does the same for the more experienced Braves. Both teams have good pitching but can’t match the Phils.
The Mets are loaded with more questions than kids at a Seder. If they don’t stay injury free they may have to activate Mr. Met. Washington has some pretty good offense from the middle of the lineup and we’ll be watching pitching sensation Stephen Strasburg. The Mets will be looking over their shoulder all season to stay out of last place. It’s not that the Mets are a bad team, it’s just that Washington may be the most improved team over last season.
National League Central
St. Louis has big boppers Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols and good enough pitching to top the division but the Cubs could shuffle to the top of the deck if the Cards suffer any injuries to a key hitter. Milwaukee has an awesome lineup with Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder but not enough pitching over the 162-game schedule to finish higher than third. Cincinnati has an under-the-radar club that could surprise us as young players start to jell. Houston plays tough but the Astros have some age and not enough talent to launch a pennant drive.
Pittsburgh plays in baseball’s best stadium, the 38,496-seat PNC Park, which offers great views of bridges, water and skyscrapers. Via big trades and a bunch of new players wearing the Pirates uniform, fans will be treated to a different looking last place team. This will be the 18th consecutive losing season for Pirates.
National League West
The Dodgers have a good nucleus of pitchers and good young hitters. They also have an overpaid, supposedly steroid free but aging Manny Ramirez. But the team may be good enough to find themselves in the postseason again. The Colorado Rockies have a talented young lineup and some pretty good pitchers to challenge L.A. all the way.
San Francisco has the best pitching staff in the division but a lack of hitters will keep them from the postseason. Arizona made changes and may have enough pitching and hitting to rise above fourth. San Diego is loaded with young players who have yet to prove themselves as belonging in the major leagues. The Padres must trade popular hometown first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who hit 40 homers last year, to bring in more prospects while the team rebuilds.
American League East
The Yankees are built to win but must stave off baseball’s second best team, the Red Sox. The BoSox can match the great pitching staff of the Yanks and might pass the Bronx Bombers if Big Poppy doesn’t start 2010 as he did 2009 by being Big Popup. Tampa Bay has a tough-to-beat club but will have a tough time beating New York and Boston.
Toronto has some good young arms and a lineup sprinkled with a couple of good bats but will have its hands full staying ahead of the improving Baltimore Orioles. Baltimore has better hitting than the Blue Jays but comes up short in the pitching department.
American League Central
The Tigers and White Sox are a bit better in the pitching department than Minnesota but the Twins have a better lineup. The Twins also have a beautiful 39,800-seat outdoor ballpark 12 blocks from their old downtown domed home. But the risk of being thought of as a “homer,” I’m going with the pitching of Detroit its Johnny Damon-led lineup to finish first.
Kansas City has lots of promise and Zack Greinke but will have its mitts full staying ahead of the rebuilding Cleveland Indians.
One of the most knowledgeable readers of this column, Yank Poleyeff, is out in Arizona watching his favorite team, the Indians. Yank, a New Jersey resident who works in Manhattan, reminds us that Cleveland has four Jewish players in camp hoping to wear a big league uniform: Pitchers Jason Knapp and Eric Berger and outfielders Brian Horwitz and Jason Kipnis. Knapp was the best boy in Lakewood with the Phillies’ A-ball team the Lakewood Blue Claws and was the key to the Cliff Lee trade from Cleveland to Philadelphia last summer.
American League West
This is the only division in the major leagues with four teams. None of the four would have a chance to top the other two divisions in the AL or even place second. Texas is my choice to advance as the Rangers posses some pretty good hitters. One young pitcher on the Rangers to watch is 21-year-old Neftali (not Naftali) Feliz. The righthander starred last season after being brought up from the minors by allowing only 13 hits in 31 innings while striking out a whopping 39.
Seattle lured Chone Figgins from the Angels (.298 batting average and 42 stolen bases) and has Ichiro Suzuki at the top of its lineup to scare pitchers but the rest of the lineup is fair at best. But even the great Felix Hernandez (19-5, 2.49 ERA) and reliable Cliff Lee, acquired from the Phillies, are just not enough to pass Texas.
The Los Angeles Angels will finish the season in third place. The Angels filled holes but didn’t patch with good enough talent compared to what they lost to free agency. The Athletics should be located somewhere other than Oakland as they play in baseball’s ugliest ballyard.
The 50,069 Oakland-Alameda County Stadium has more seats in the top deck for football, but the A’s drew only 1.4 million last year and are hampered by a limited amount of revenue coming in. However, general manager Billy Beane always manages to assemble a competitive club. This year, though, the team is built for last but does have a brighter future.
I’ll give you my postseason picks next month. In the meantime, send me your predictions.
Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring working as a department head in a major league front office. Cohen, whose column appears the second week of each month, is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, and may be reached in his dugout at firstname.lastname@example.org.