Game Four-NLDS-Colorado Rockies Host Philadelphia Phillies

As the advent of spring training games are upon us, I thought I’d kick off everyone’s favorite little exercise by providing my own personal predictions as to how I think the season will shake out. Now, before I do so, a word of caution: predictions can change daily based on events. Heck, my predictions change multiple times a week. But I’ve gotta make predictions at some point, right? Point being, I might disagree with my own predictions a week from now. Most of the time, these kind of predictions are an exercise in fallacy, but it’s not going to stop me from trying.

I don’t know why I made things harder on myself, but I set out to present an exact record. This means I had to go into a spreadsheet and make sure all the wins and losses totaled the correct amount of games while also balancing out to a .500 record. Took me a while, but dadgum it, I did it. One thing I did not control for was the unbalanced schedule (in a total record sense), but I already strained my tenuous math skills, so I wasn’t about to complicate it further.

One note: after I put all my predictions down, I checked the records against those supplied in HEATER Magazine. I’m proud to say that most of them match up similarly. There were a couple that didn’t, but nothing major and nothing impacting division finish.

Let’s tackle things starting with the NL West:

Colorado Rockies (91-71): The Rockies came on strong last year and proved that 2008 was the outlier season. They didn’t make any major splashes this offseason, but the Giants moved laterally with their offense and the Dodgers got worse. Look for a great year out of Ubaldo Jiminez.

Arizona Diamondbacks (88-74): An 18-win improvement sounds drastic, but I’m not the only one heaping love on the Diamondbacks. The Reds seem to be emerging as everyone’s darling, but I like them better in 2011 and this team actually looks pretty scary put down on paper. Finishing this high is, however, dependent on a breakthrough season from Chris Yong.

Los Angeles Dodgers (86-76): The Dodgers should remain with a strong offense, although they need James Loney to start producing power and who knows when Casey Blake disappears. The pitching is going to be the onus all year long, as they’re not even sure who their fifth starter is. Wouldn’t be a bad predicament if their Nos. 2-4s were strong, but they all hold question marks. Their ace, Clayton Kershaw, needs the kid gloves taken off and a 220-inning season to carry the franchise. That’s not going to happen, though, and for good reason.

San Francisco Giants (83-79): I like the Giants a lot, and thought with the right moves this offseason they could do some real damage. While they certainly upgraded some sections of the offense, Mark DeRosa and Aubrey Huff are hardly enough to get excited about. With expectations high this year, I find myself almost hoping for an 83-79 record just so Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy are handed their walking papers for someone to get this team into the playoffs before the Tim Lincecum-Matt Cain duo is wasted.

San Diego Padres (62-100): I’m not giving them the worst record in the majors solely because I think Jed Hoyer will do a fine job. It will be a long season in San Diego, but I trust him to give playing time to who deserves it and to trade Adrian Gonzalez for a haul of prospects.

The NL Central:

St. Louis Cardinals (92-70): They will wipe the floor with the NL Central and for good reason. They have some superstars in place with Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols. I worry about their defense and production up the middle, but that’s nitpicking.

Milwaukee Brewers (84-78): The Brewers rebuilt their rotation and I can see Randy Wolf along with Yovani Gallardo shouldering the load capably, but behind them are several names that you just can’t rely on. A breakthrough year from Manny Parra would mean a lot. It might be in the Brew Crew’s best interest for Casey McGehee to get off to a poor start and open the door for Mat Gamel.

Chicago Cubs (83-79): The Cubs acquired Milton Bradley mostly because they felt they were one major bat away from being a serious contender. That failed, so did the Cubs go back to the drawing board and get what was needed? Nope, they settled for Xavier Nady on a team that’s getting old and fast. The window of opportunity has closed, and this year is only going to prolong the misery. Jim Hendry, for all the good he did earlier in the decade, needs to be ousted. This franchise needs a breath of fresh air.

Cincinnati Reds (80-82): Hey, I like the Reds just as much as anyone. They’re going to be one of the teams I make sure I catch a few games of this season. They’re not quite there yet, however. Losing Edison Volquez was quite a major step back, plus I don’t trust Dusty Baker to shake out the outfield as it should be. I will say that I could easily see Cincy winning 86 games, but their rotation might actually be in worse shape in 2010 than the Brewers. Long term, they should have quite a front five.

Houston Astros (72-90): The Astros just don’t get it. On one hand, while it’s admirable they’re giving Tommy Manzella a shot, they went out and paid for Pedro Feliz and Brandon Lyon. Those will certainly not be difference makers. The ‘Stros need to realize that all they have going for them is Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence. That’s it. (Carlos Lee still produces, but is near untradable.) It might cause massive PR backlash, but the prudent move this offseason would have been to trade Oswalt, then move Berkman at the trade deadline. Unfortunately for Houston fans, with the club potentially for sale, they’ll keep “trying” to win. Hope for a new owner and fast.

Pittsburgh Pirates (68-94): Marginal improvement, but improvement. They’re still not anywhere close to contending, but they’re getting there. This season is all about fleshing out all their major-league and Triple-A talent, trying to get things in order for a 2011 run at .500.

One more NL division to go, the East…

Philadelphia Phillies (94-68): I question the longevity of the Placido Polanco signing, but he’ll be just fine in 2010. The core of this team is still strong and in their prime, and should have no trouble locking up yet another NL East division. I do think that with all their players aging well and together, they should have kept Cliff Lee and gone on a massive run for a title. It’s not like these prospects are going to save the franchise once age, attrition and free agency decimate this team.

New York Mets (86-76): This team has too much talent to lose. A bounceback year from David Wright and less injuries should vault this team into the wild card hunt. They have a couple depth problems, but for the most part, their complementary parts are strong.

Florida Marlins (85-77): This is a really tight grouping for a reason — there’s not much differentiating these three teams from overall talent. It will come down to injuries and luck. I will say this — if Florida gets off to a poor start, I expect the manager, Fredi Gonzalez, to be fired — and it not going over well. Prediction No. 2: if Gonzalez is canned, he’s Bobby Cox’s successor in Atlanta.

Atlanta Braves (84-76): This is another team that seems to be receiving quiet love from pundits. Sorry, but I don’t see trading Javier Vazquez for Melky Cabrera as a good thing. The team got worse because of it. The true prize in the deal is Arodys Vizcaino, and he’s years away from helping, if at all.

Washington Nationals (66-96): A seven-win improvement. Ryan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg will be the two to enjoy in the nation’s capital, then not much else. Jason Marquis should shore up the rotation, but this team is stuck in neutral until it can get Jordan Zimmermann back.

We’re done here with the National League. Let’s head out west to the American League…

Texas Rangers (86-75): Their offense is going to be just as good, if not better, than last year. Their marked defensive improvement was for real. The only question mark is the rotation, and I’m disappointed they didn’t do anything besides bring in Rich Harden. It should be enough to carry them, however.

Los Angeles Angels (85-77): It’s been rather popular to completely write off the Angels due to losing Chone Figgins, John Lackey and Vladimir Guerrero. I’m projecting a 12-game decrease in them, and I think that’s plenty steep. Hideki Matsui, Joel Pineiro and finally promoting Brandon Wood shouldn’t make the team any worse than a 85-win team. Too many people are writing them off.

Seattle Mariners (83-79): Oh boy, did I just give an 83-win season to the media and blog darlings of the Mariners? Hey, I love what they’re doing too. But they have plenty of warts — Nos. 3, 4 and 5 in the rotation, for example. A lack of power in the offense. Could they win the division? Absolutely could. Just not in my prediction world.

Oakland Athletics (76-86): This young pitching rotation is going to wreak havoc over the next five years. This season is all about taking the next step forward. Offensively… offensively, they probably will be a bottom-five team.

Moving on to the Central…

Minnesota Twins (85-77): When your Opening Day starter is Carl Pavano, you might wonder how they could possibly win the division. Ah, but they imported Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson, who will work wonders for the offense. The rotation on the face of it doesn’t look pretty, but once you get past initial impressions, you see potential. Potential enough to come on top in a diluted Central.

Detroit Tigers (84-78): I see Detroit finishing one game behind the Twins yet again. They’ve got a stronger ace in Justin Verlander and a rededicated Miguel Cabrera, all of which is exciting. Johnny Damon is going to make this team incredibly better. I think they’re set up better for future success over the Twins, but I had to pick a division winner in 2010. Guess what team I chose.

Chicago White Sox (82-80): Can’t get excited about a team that’s going to platoon Mark Kotsay and Andruw Jones at DH, with Alexis Rios in center and Juan Pierre in left. And you can’t make me.

Kansas City Royals (74-88): Billy Butler and Zack Greinke are the two reasons I will watch the Royals this year. Past that, that’s it. I actually think I’m being nice projecting them not to lose 90.

Cleveland Indians (58-104): It won’t be pretty. Necessary, but not pretty.

I bet most of you scrolled to this section, so let’s give you what you want.

New York Yankees (95-67): If some of the Yankees’ aging stars get hurt, watch out. They could have a 2008-esque season. Unfortunately for Red Sox fans, you can’t make projections on such drastic things occurring. Another unfortunate thing for Boston fans is that the Yankees are arguably stronger than they were last year. Ugh.

Tampa Bay Rays (93-79): Last year was a fluke, compounded by a slow start in a very tough schedule. Desmond Jennings will give the club a nice late-season boost and that rotation is rounding into something nice. With a legitimate closer at the end of games, they have pitching, defense and offense working for them

Boston Red Sox (90-72): For HEATER Magazine, I have the Sox projected for a 92-79 season and a runs scored/allowed pythagorean of a 95-win season. When it comes down to brass tacks, however, I see this team at 90 wins. Anything more is gravy. Yes, this team will be great defensively, but it was for Texas and Seattle last year. The pitching should be that much better in the rotation, but I’m not sure I see the bullpen being the weapon it was last year. I’m leery about John Lackey’s impact. Adrian Beltre, if he returns to his slugging ways, could power this team past the Rays, but I can’t bank on that. The top three of the AL East is really going to come down to injuries and luck. That’s all — and how can you predict those?

Baltimore Orioles (73-89): They seem to be expecting a significant leap from last year. A nine-game improvement represents that, although I don’t know if it would be enough for the organization to deem the year a success. This is an up-and-coming team that brought in a nice mix of veterans to help the organization as a whole take the next step to contention. In the end, though, they’re band-aids.

Toronto Blue Jays (61-101): As Peter Gammons put it today: “One should be worried that in the last 4 years the Jays were 30 games over .500 whenHalladay started, 72 games under .500 without him.”

The playoffs:

Yankees defeat Twins: Sorry, Twinkies.

Rays defeat Rangers: Pitching is paramount in October, which Tampa has and Texas… eh.

Rays defeat Yankees: It’s a toss-up here, so I’m going youth and vitality over age and experience. Plus, is experience really that important when the Rays made the World Series the year before New York won it in 2009?

Phillies defeat Arizona: But hey, ‘Zona got back on the map.

Rockies defeat Cardinals: No real reason other than a gut feeling. Playoffs is luck and the hot hand anyways.

Rockies defeat Phillies: I think that the Phillies will be a little too complacent. By now, the season will be deep in, and the Rockies’ overall youth should hell. While the Phillies hold the better offense and rotation, I think the Rockies are good enough that they can still win.

Rockies defeat Rays: Try not to be startled by that.

So,  now that you know what I’m thinking, let’s hear your predictions.