Tagged: Yunel Escobar

MLB Season Preview: With a Blue Jay/A.L. East Bias

Picking the Jays (in the A.L. East)

Call me crazy but I am picking the Toronto Blue Jays to win the A.L. East this year.  Seriously!  I know what you might be thinking?  And I’m not one of those people who pick his favorite/hometown team to win it every year.  If I recall, I had the Jays finishing dead last behind Baltimore last season.  If anything, I should be repeating that prediction based on Baltimore’s improvement and Baseball Prospectus slotting the Jays dead last in their preview.  I disagree, and say that last year was just a sign of better things to come from the Jays.

Here is Why?
 
Jays

Nobody in the Jays rotation stands out at you, but believe me, they are all solid arms.  I see Kyle Drabek proving to be the prospect everyone thought he’d be, working deep into games late in the season and winning ROY.  When Brandon Morrow comes back from the DL he is going to tally up big strikeout numbers and win big games.  Ricky Romero also has that ‘big game’ mentality.  The Jays can expect another solid season out of him.  These three are the pitchers that the Jays will rely on, also getting decent contributions from the back-end guys like Brett Cecil, Jesse Litsch, Jo-Jo Reyes and possibly Zach Stewart later in the year.   The bullpen looks formidible with three former closers (Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel, Frank Francisco).  This could be, but won’t a concern in my opinion. 

The key factor in the Jays winning this season is that the pitching gets better!!  I can easily see this occuring under new manager, and pitching specialist, John Farrell.  We all saw how the offense caught fire last year, and this year the pitching steps up to compliment it. 

Also notable, is the Jays have adding some effective speed to get on base with Rajai Davis, a full season out of Travis Snider @Lunchboxhero45 maintaining a high .OBP and Yunel Escobar having a bounceback year at the plate while helping the pitchers in spades defensively.  Along with that, the Jays look better defensively in the outfield with Corey Patterson being a late-inning defensive replacement.

Then, throwing more to the fire is Adam Lind, Edwin Encarnacion, Aaron Hill and J.P. Arencibia all having productive years at the plate.  Encarnacion and Arencibia emerge as a legitimate homerun threats this season, while Aaron Hill gets his batting average in the .320’s

All this is a formula for success.  The Jays put together a full year and take a commanding lead on the A.L. East early.  We sweep the Yankees in a home series in mid-September, giving the Jays what they need to lock up the A.L. East crown.

Importantly, I buy a t-shirt to commemorate the event.  Yay!!!!!!!! ha ha.
 

Jays11 copy.jpg
     

Rest of the A.L. East   

If you haven’t noticed this offseason, the A.L. East has changed drastically.  The Red Sox, Rays, Orioles and even the Yankees have rearranged their clubs in ways that might alter the landscape of this division.  On paper, you could say that the Red Sox and Orioles improved the most over the offseason, but every year we see good teams on paper disintegrate.  The Red Sox are definitely familiar with that.  So, that is what I am predicting for 2011. 

Orioles

The Orioles revamped their offense but are relying on too many unprovens in their rotation, and everybody can see it.  Their weakness is glaring.  The acquistion of guys like Mark Reynolds, J.J. Hardy shows that they are going to be a team that can flash the lumber, although without a solid nucleus behind them.  Similar to the Jays last year, their offensive numbers will be significant, but their record will not be enough for the wild card.  They’ll have a better season though, I’ll give them that as a fact.     

Red Sox

The Red Sox got some premiere players (Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford), an improved bullpen (Bobby Jenks) and a promising rotation (a thinner, healthier John Lackey).  They seem like the sexy pick to win the World Series right now, so they have that working against them.  Expectations will be high and they will fail to meet them this season.  Watch Papelbon gets yanked as closer, Scutaro and Saltamacchia not cut it defensively and their acquisitions take time to get aclimated to the change of scenery.  Jose Bautista ends up owning the Green Monster in Fenway.  So much so, they contemplate taking it down the following year.  Okay, I’ve started to dream a bit.      

Yankees *Wild Card Pick*

You could say the same old things about the Yankees.  Tired responses like they have an aging roster, and they will fold under the pressure of playing in New York.  But I won’t say them again, as I’ve been burned by these statements in the past.  I have the Yankees winning the Wild Card for the second year in a row.  Their back end rotation won’t have to be amazing to guide them through the year.  If they aren’t good, I like the depth they have in the minors with guys like David Phelps, Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman for the 2011 season.  The Yanks bullpen also got a lot stronger with Rafeal Soriano.  It is going to scare clubs to get into late innings with that team.  They’ll take the Wild Card, but the Jays will be a handful for them all year. 

Rays    

Hard to see the Rays finishing the season low in the standings after winning the division last year, isn’t it?  They will have a good club, no doubt.  However, I know how important it is to have a good bullpen in the A.L. East, and they don’t have one for 2011.  They still have a good season, but blow too many late leads on the road to the Yankees, Jays and Red Sox.  Bautista walk-offs bombs will be their demise.   

Baseball Does Not Revolve Around the A.L. East (I forgot)

There are actually other divisions, with some other good teams.  Believe it or not?

A.L. Central 

Tigers win this division on the backs of Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera.  Both these players have a long history of wraking the baseball.  Prospect Jacob Turner makes an impact in the rotation as a mid-season call-up and the rotation survives as the offense is a juggernaut in 2011.  The only PED Miguel Cabrera needs is scotch.

A.L. West

The Angels show MLB that defense in the outfield is as important as any aspect in the game.  Balls are gobbled up all year by Bourjos, Hunter and Wells, and
the best rotation in the West quells the Rangers bats all year.  The Angels win their matchups with the A’s starters on a consistant basis.  They are a fast, well managed and better team at producing offense.  The Angels are my ‘ultimate dark horse’ this year.  

National League

N.L. East

Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, need I say anymore names?  The Phillies rotation will get them loads of wins and Ryan Howard will wrake once again in 2011.  Hard to pick against them, I dare anybody to do it.  They are the class of this division.

Marlins *Wild Card Pick*

You’d think that the Braves would be the logical team to pick here.  Many predict them to improve upon last season.  They also scooped up Uggla from the Marlins.  However, the N.L. East, apart from the Phillies, has been a very competitive division and the fish look on the verge of making some noise.  The Marlins come into 2011 with a more experienced pitching staff, adding Vasquez and looking for prime years from Ricky Nolasco and Josh Johnson.  The lineup features a very good young outfield on the brink of providing Hanley Ramirez with some needed protection.  Marlins suprise everyone this season except me. 

N.L. Central

The Reds were so impressive last season that I’m riding them to the World Series this year.  With a taste of the playoffs last year, I see a hungry team looking for more.  No doubt, the Cardinals and Brewers will give them enough competition this year.  But I believe that will only help fuel this team.  They showed a tremendous consistancy as a team last year, and a great will and desire to win every game.  The central is slowing becoming a very tough division, and Joey Votto is looking like a “big red machine” at the top of it.  I see Cueto and Volquez solidifying themselves as frontline starters and Aroldis Chapman starting mid-season to boost the Reds even further. 

N.L. West  

It’s the Giants.  Dominant pitching characterized this team last year, and the scary thing is that they are all young players that are getting better.  They might have a shaky beginning this year, but the Giants will end it in first.  Their pitching is that much better than any other team in their division.  Big years from Madison Bumgartner and Buster Posey make them even better in 2011.  

World Series    

Angels vs. Reds

Winner: Angels in 7 games  

Don’t anybody call me unoriginal!  Dan Haren and Jared Weaver provide a great playoff stretch for the Angels and they win it just as the Giants won it last year; with pitching and defense (not including Scott Kazmir in that equation).   

Advertisements

Taking on the Bull

Taking the bull and putting him in his place!  Or bulling the man and taking him with horns of fury?!  Or taking horns and throwing bulls all over the place.  However that expression goes?  Alex Anthopolous is doing it with the Blue Jays right now.

AA.jpg

Presented with the monumental tasks of dealing Vernon Wells‘ long and expensive contract, acquiring some team speed, revamping the Blue Jays minor-league prospects and solidifing a team manger, Anthopolous has taken the challenge head-on.

Wells

Alex Anthopolous (or the Silent Assassin as many call him) dealt Wells to the Angels in return for Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli (who was later traded to the Texas Rangers for former closer Frank Francisco).  In process he has freed up the Jays from a large financial obligation that was not paying off.  Rivera and Francisco are decent players that will help the Jays in the 2011, and some will argue that Rivera could provide similar offensive production, even if we see him in a plattoon role.  The Jays will undoubtably be able to a lot of things financially in the near future, so many Jay fan are excited at those possibilties even if they did come at the expense of losing a good player.

The Need for Speed 

I did a prior post on this subject and I believe that it cannot be overstated.  The Jays are going to be a more athletic team.  The recent acquisitions of Rajai Davis, Anthony Gose, Brett Lawrie, Yunel Escobar (to lesser extent) and Corey Patterson has given the Jays a new dimension defensively and on the basepaths.  AA said that he was going to pursue more athletic players to give the team another threat.  He was true to his word.  I believe that this is an element of the game that the Jays have lacked in the past.  In my opinion speed isn’t vital to the success of a club, but it is important. 

A New Coach 

A Jays team without both Roy Halladay and Vernon Wells will seem unusual coming into the 2011 season.  Things will be different, but hopefully they will get better with changes on the managing front.  AA brought in a well-respected pitching coach from the Boston Red Sox, John Farrell.  A core of very good young pitchers consisting of Brett Cecil, Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow will have Farrell’s hands full.  Not to mention the young pitchers that are liking coming up in the near future Kyle Drabek and Zach Stewart.  Farrell will likely be able to provide some valuable mentoring for these players along the way. 

Conclusion

The task of winning in what is usually the toughest (or among the toughest) divisions in baseball every year, is extremely challenging.  Blue Jay fans have experienced it.  Right now, I see AA developing a well-thoughtout strategy to make the Jays successful.  Notably, the Jays are improving their minor-league system and player development, they are focusing on the draft, improving scouting and they acquiring players with high-ceiling and loads of athletic ability.  Or in other words:  

AA has branded a Blue Jay bull with the Blue Jay logo, and he is going to eat a succulent medium-well cooked New York (Yankee) strip steak with it! 

Make sense?  ha ha.  So, the Blue Jay bull is a Yankee?        

Early Season Team and Player Predictions

Daisuke Matsuzaka - Boston Red SoxMark Reynolds - Arizona DiamondbacksJermaine Dye - Chicago White SoxBobby Crosby - Oakland AthleticsJonathan Papelbon - Boston Red SoxShaun Marcum - Toronto Blue JaysJ.D. Drew - Boston Red Sox

What teams are for real, and what teams are not?  What players are for real, and what players are not?  That will the subject of this entry.  I don’t like making pre-season predictions because I really don’t watch teams in Spring Training, and how is Spring Training reflective of anything, anyway?  I like to get a week in, before I can make any semi-good judgements.

We start the first week of the season with Mark Reynolds leading the league in homers and rbi’s.  A great prospect last season, he came into 2008 a little under the radar.  He did have a solid season last year and he was a pretty big part of the Diamondbacks NLCS run.  Will this guy lead the league in homers/rbis all year?  Definately not, but he is for real.  A solid player and huge fantasy aqusition. If you have him?  He will probably hit 35-40 homers this season and drive in 110 rbi.  The Diamondbacks, now with Upton, Young, Reynolds, the ODOG (one of my favorites in Toronto, a little inconsistant at the plate however) and a great pitching staff featuring Webb, Haren and Owings (who will all have solid fantasy seasons) are definately my favorite to take the West and go to the World Series.  The Rockies were a late season wonder last year and I don’t see them getting that hot again.  With a staff and a lineup like that, the D-Backs will easily be able to fend off the Padres and the Dodgers, even with their bullpen (they may have to do something about that at the trade deadline).  

The Diamondbacks are my favorite in the NL, but in that league, a lot can happen.  The Rockies last season were definately evidence of that.  I see a Diamondbacks versus the Mets/Phillies/Braves, whoever wins that battle in the 2008 NLCS.

The NL:  Watch for big seasons from Mets pitching (i.e. Santana, Oliver Perez), Diamondback hitters (i.e. Reynolds, Upton, Young) NL Fantasy SleepersYunel Escobar and Jorge Cantu could have unexpected solid numbers this season.

Unusal start in the AL.  The Orioles, Athletics and Royals are in first place in their respected divisions.  You might as well reverse Triple A with MLB, if these teams end up making it to playoffs, lol.  None of them are for real, although one or two of them may be in the wild card hunt.  Oakland will be there if they get a healthy Rich Harden back.  Early injuries to Lackey and Escobar, in Anaheim, might propel them or Seattle to win the AL West.

I still like the Tigers in the central, although it will be a very close race between at least 3 teams in that division.  The Tigers will be lead by Curtis Granderson having a huge run producing season.  Look for the Tigers to really make a post All-Star break statement.  The Tigers don’t, however, have the pitching to guide that far in the playoffs.  Look for large ERAs, but high amount of wins out of all pitchers on that team.  Other than them, look for the White Sox to try and prove themselves this season (they have solid veterns like Dye, Thome, Cabrera, Crede).

I see the AL east as being a close race all season between probably 4 teams.  Towards the end of the season, Beckett, Daisuke and Wakefield will turn it on.  There is no stopping the Red Sox in a playoff run.  They are just too darn strong and deep!   

My favorite, in the AL, is still the Red Sox.  Down the stretch they will be tough, and in late innings, they will shut teams down with ease (very important!).  I don’t think another team can ‘hold a candle’ to them in the AL.  Look for unexpected big things from either Coco Crisp or Jacoby Ellsbury, and J.D. Drew.  Nice surprises to an already potent set of All-Stars.  Ellsbury will be good even though he has had a rough start batting .176.  We all know what Crisp can be cabable of, so even if Ellsbury needs some more time in the minors the Red Sox will still be deep there. 

The AL:  Big year in strikeouts and ERA for Daisuke, he will compete for Cy Young. Beckett falls off a bit, but not much.  Papelbon leads the league in saves and ERA for a closer.  Another big year for Upton and Pena (won’t have a high average, however) from Tampa.  Some very good pitching production from guys on Tampa (i.e. Sheilds and Jackson).  AL Fantasy SleepersShaun Marcum from the Jays will be solid (better than McGowan), same with Aaron Hill.  Curtis Granderson, Jermaine Dye and Bobby Crosby will all have career years, this season.  Crosby is a great player that has not really had the season that he is capable of, he will eke out a lot of hits this season.  Jermaine Dye will replicate his 2006 season, this 2008 season. 

World Series 2008: Red Sox versus Diamondbacks.  7 games.  Diamondbacks win it all.