While everyone is focused on the length of his shadow to forecast when spring will arrive, if you read his lips, you know that Phil the Groundhog is a baseball fan, because every year he whispers the same announcement:
“Pitchers and catchers!”
And with America’s annual artificial holiday—Stupor Brawl Bacchanal—finally behind us, we are free to reach down our uniform pants, start feeling around for a crystal ball, yank on our jocks, and open up: Baseball Prediction Season!
Now, how could the Red Sox win the AL BEast division?
- For the first time ever ALL five teams have a realistic shot at finishing first; the lead will swap teams nearly daily. With no clear choice for either first or the Wild Card slot, the Sox could easily edge out the pack in the Fenway Home Stretch from September 13-25, with nine home games followed by a pair of road games against the Rotten Rockies.
Although Athlon Sports BASEBALL mag forecasts first for the Yankees, the Bronx Bombers have worn and rusty parts on the left wing [Youkilis, Jeter, and perhaps Alex, the aging Yankee Cripper] and the right wing [Ichiro] and in the cockpit [Pettite] and Mo “Older” Rivera at tail gunner. The replacement parts for the OF are Matt Diaz [.222] and Mighty Melky Mesa [.500 in 3 MLB ABs]. Can you name the Yankee catchers? Not FA signee, Travis hafner, he’s a left-handed hitter [career .287/.391/.534 against right-handed pitching, who hasn't used a glove on the field since 2007. Assuming he gets 75% of the DH slot starts, he could reach 22/75, he will be slightly more productive than former NY DH Raul Ibanez; .240, 19/62.
Sure, Tampa is loaded with pitching talent; starters [Price, Hellickson, Moore, Cobb, Neimann, Archer] and RHP Fernando Rodney [MLB relief-record 0.06 ERA] and the fastest gun in the AL [95.7 MPH], LHP Jake McGee, but they will be relying on a rookie, Wil Myers and Longoria to outscore the other guys. But there are some problems: at lead off, Desmond Jennings can steal second [93.9%], but his lack of pitch discipline keeps him from first; .313 OBP ranks 47th in MLB. Starting C Jose “El Viejo” Molina, 38, .222 backed up by Jose Lobaton, .202–really? LHB Sam Fuld at DH: .246, 4 career HRs in 537 ABs? At 1b, a power position, the Rays have good glove/no power James Loney. All of the other four AL East teams outscored the Rays [697, #14 MLB]. Got RUNS?
Sure Mark Reynolds may hit just .235, but how will the Orioles replace his 90 runs and 95 RBIs? The Law of Averages will prevent the “Career Season” Birdos from winning as many one-run and extra-inning games in 2013. Los Birdos start Spring Training without the middle-of-the-order bat they wanted to add this winter, because Dan Duquette wasn’t willing to part with young pitching. Enter Chris Davis: .270 /.326/.501, 33 HR, 85 RBIs and note he ran up these power stats in just 139 games; he could project out to a monster offensive full season, but will he K 200 times and revert to his .258 and at WAR 0.4? How many runs will he give back with his iron glove? With just 712 runs scored [#15 MLB], Baltimore is barely ahead of the Rays [697, #14 MLB] and way behind the Red Sox [#8 MLB, 734] and the Yanks [#2 MLB, 804].
It is a good thing they have a solid pen, since the Orioles rotation drops off rapidly after “ace” Jason Hammel with W. Chen [12-11, 4.02] in the 2 slot and [AAAA] Tillman #3 and 29 year-old MLB rookie Gonzalez [21-24 in minors] and former rotation phenom B. Matusz [5.36, 1.52] has been relegated to the pen. And their #1 starter, 31 year-old, Jason Hammel, has career stats: 42-51, ERA 4.78, WHIP 1.44, BA against .279 and had knee surgery last July. Sleeper candidate for the #5 slot: LHP Zach Britton.
No wonder the O’s remain interested in bringing Joe Saunders back. [career: 78-65, ERA 4.15, WHIP 1.37].
And, even if Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, two of baseball’s top pitching prospects, arrive in 2013, neither of them can hit a lick. The young right-handers — Bundy is 20 and Gausman is 22 — were ranked second and 37th, respectively, when MLB.com released its Top 100 Prospects list.
Humpty-Dumpty class fall: Dicey starters /run scoring issues.
Toronto is the most improved team in the AL East and has the talent to take the crown.
Pitching? They can match any AL East rival from 1-4 and have depth for the 5 slot. Listen: 1. R. Dickey , 2. J. Johnson , 3. M. Buehrle , 4. B. Morrow , 5. R. Romero. If the removal of scar tissue from LHP Romero’s elbow explains his baffling 2012 decline, he could return to his 2011 form: 15-11, 2.92 ERA, career high 225 innings. Toss in two promising young arms J. Happ and C. Jenkins and you have starter depth.
Speed? 2012 SBs: Rajai Davis 46, Jose Reyes 40, Emilio Bonifacio 30. That totals 116 by just three players, good enough for 11th place in MLB team thefts; the entire Red Sox team managed only 97 in 2012.
Power? 1b Edwin Elpidio Encarnacion [42/110], Jose Bautista [27/65] and, if he is healthy, he could easily crank 30/83 or even touch his 2010 [54/124] and 2011 [43/103] totals. And Catcher J. P. Arencibia and Brett Lawrie each have 20/70 potential. Baseball Reference projects Adam Lind for 27/93 for 162 games; so, as a LHB at DH he gets 75 % ABs he makes 20/70 potential.
Q: Which Jays outfielder had a 1.4 WAR in 2012? Hint: Since 2009, he comps with the Atlanta celebrity B.J. Upton:.242 , 15 triples, 80 homers, .736 OPS . Answer: Colby Rasmus.243 , 16 triples, 76 homers, .735 OPS.
Q: Which new Jays’ OF will never again hit .346 and dilute his stats from Whole Milk to 1%? Melky Cabrera All-Star?
[RANT ALERT: Think Popeye without his spinach. Think Superman with a Krypton jock. Recall the Eastern European women in the Olympics with the mustaches and chest hair. Sammy Sosa without Superballs…in his bat. Think Cardinals new batting coach Mark “The Liar” McGwire, who disrespectfully used the Maris family in his juiced-up joke, his Cheater’s Chase of the Old School [no PEDs] HR records of Roger Maris and Babe Ruth. What kind of advice could he impart to the St. Louis sluggers? Lessons on smugly prevaricating under oath before Congress?]
After an impressive freshman year, why did 3b Brett Lawrie suddenly go sour in 2012, when his Fly ball/Ground ball ratio shifted? He seemed to be unable to get under the ball and it turned line drives into dirt balls. If his swing arc was due to minor injuries, especially an oblique strain, and he can be work the count more, Lawrie—a 20/20 candidate– could bounce back big.
Catcher J. P. Arencibia hits only .222, but his .433 SLG and 1.4 WAR make him a dangerous bat in the bottom of the order; future starter, former Pirates prospect Travis d’Arnaud, may join the team in 2013, once he completes re-hab from a knee injury; he has All-Star skills.
Perfect? No. Think closer. Both candidates have had recent shoulder operations. Last November Casey Janssen [22 SVs in 2012] underwent surgery on his right shoulder to repair lingering AC joint soreness earlier this month.
The 31-year-old reliever had the small portion of the end of his clavicle shaved down to relieve the discomfort in his throwing arm and is expected to be ready for Spring Training.
In six seasons Janssen has appeared in 283 games (22 starts) and has gone 22-20 with a 3.60 ERA. In 2012, as the Jays’ closer [22 SVs], he appeared in 62 games, going 1-1 with a 2.54 ERA and averaging 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings.
Janssen was an emergency replacement for former White Sox closer Sergio Santos [2011, 30 SVs, 1.11 WHIP], who was acquired last winter to become the Jays’ closer. After appearing in 6 games, Santos was lost for the season with a right shoulder injury; he says he is fully recovered and ready to take the closer role back. But, entering Spring Training with two closer candidates with shoulder issues has to be a concern for Toronto.
It seems that only a closer breakdown, like the Bailey Fenway Fail, can keep the Jays from the AL crown in 2013.
Now, as promised, here is how the Red Sox could win the AL East crown.
Let’s make a list of things that could, reasonably, happen and understand that they don’t ALL need to occur for the Sox to finish first in the AL East.
- New manager, John Farrell, is familiar to many Red Sox players and, after a year of playing against their manager in 2012, the team can now focus on playing against other teams.
- Sox solve the closer problem by starting the season with FIVE pitchers who could close: Two-time All Star Hanrahan, Thumbalina Bailey, Tazawa, Aceves, and Dempster.
- Sox start the year without Josh Beckett, who became a malcontent clubhouse lawyer; this allows his mates, Lester and Lackey, to re-focus away from beer and whines and on pitching. Lester achieves career average W-L record: 15-9. [+6 Ws for the Sox in 2013].
- After successful surgery, pitching pain-free, Lackey achieves career average W-L record: 15-11. [+15 Ws for the Sox in 2013].
- New catcher, David Ross, an excellent game caller who gains the confidence of his staff, makes Buccholz use hit entire pitching repertoire effectively and Clay achieves career average W-L record: 15-10. [+4 Ws for the Sox in 2013].
- Lefty Felix Doubrant improves his control and effectively spots his 96 MPH heater, wins the #4 slot and improves to 13-12 [+1 W for the Sox in 2013].
- Ryan Dempster becomes a swing man and wins a few spot starts against terrible teams and goes 7-3. [+1 W for the Sox in 2013].
- Alfredo Aceves returns from closer  to swing man role and racks up Holds and “vultures” a few SVs. [+1 W for the Sox in 2013].
- Big Papi recovers from his heel injury and gets 600+ ABs and achieves and average career year with 35 HRs and 117 RBIs. [+7 Ws for the Sox in 2013].
- Middlebrooks bounces back and is elected to the All-Star Game; gets 550 ABs, 30 HRs, 100 RBIs. [+10 Ws for the Sox in 2013].
- The Other Drew provides more offense than Iglesias, who becomes an excellent late-inning defensive replacement. [+1 W for the Sox in 2013].
- Able to stay out of the crouch and out of pain, Mike Napoli is able to focus on his hitting and achieves and average career year with 33 HRs and 85 RBIs. [+7 Ws for the Sox in 2013].
- Without the distraction of clubhouse drama, Pedroia achieves an average career year with 17 HRs and 77 RBIs and 106 Rs [+5 Ws for the Sox in 2013].
- With the contract year incentive, Ellsbury stays healthy and achieves and average career year with 16 HRs and 73 RBIs and 107 Rs. [+5 Ws for the Sox in 2013].
- Shane Victorino maintains his excellent defense, steals 40 bags [copped 39 of 45 in 2012] and achieves an average career year with 14 HRs and 62 RBIs and 93 Rs [+5 Ws for the Sox in 2013].
- Gomes repeats his 2012 stat line with Oakland: .262, 18/47 and 46 Rs. [+3 Ws for the Sox in 2013].
- Lyle Overbay starts against the tough right-handed pitchers the Sox don’t want Napoli to face and is a late-inning defensive replacement. His career BA is .270 and .323 in Fenway. [+1 W for the Sox in 2013].
- Pedro Ciraco maintains his .293 BA for pinch-hitting and serves as a Super Sub at 3b, SS, 2b and OF. [+1 W for the Sox in 2013].
- Larry Lucchino finally learns how to STFU and stops meddling in the player personnel decisions and focuses on selling trinkets, pink souvenirs and bricks. [Open wide, Larry…]
If all of ALL of the above occurs in 2013, the Sox would add 77 Ws to the Sox 2012 record and result in a 2013 W-L record of 146-16. If only HALF of the above occur, it would add about 38 Ws over 2012 and a 2013 W-L record of 107-55. The Orioles won the AL East crown last year with a 93-69 record. It would require 25 more Ws in 2013 for the Sox to top that record by one game.
With all five teams as legitimate contenders in the AL East, it may take only 90 wins to finish on top of the pile; a team could win it with a 90-72 record. Although Athlon Sports BASEBALL magazine forecasts this AL East 2013 finish:
- Red Sox
We would predict:
- Red Sox
Does our analysis of the Red Sox seem plausible to you?
How would you rank the AL East in 2013?
Original image source: US Presswire.
Photo shopped image by Earl Nash.