Every year, I enjoy spending the weekend before baseball starts stowed away on my couch feverishly pounding away at my laptop to write up my omniscient pre-season picks. This year, however, with the season beginning mid-week half-a-world away and then pausing for a few days and then restarting, with a one-day match-up solely intended to pimp the Nationals new stadium, I found myself having a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that the season was—in fact—beginning.
It grew even harder to believe when I was trudging around Minneapolis’ snow-filled streets in a blizzard on my way to the Metrodome to watch the Twins’ home opener. I mean seriously…a blizzard…on Opening Day?! Can’t wait until that new open-air stadium opens up in Minneapolis!!
Either way, after dropping close to $70 on overpriced Dome Dogs, nachos and warm beer…there is now no doubt that baseball season is upon us. With nearly a week of exhilarating play already under our belts, it’s about time I get my butt in gear and hammer out my belated pre-season picks.
My Pick – Roy Halladay – Toronto Blue Jays
Doc Halladay might not be the strikeout machine he once was, but he is still a stud on the hill and the unquestioned ace for one of the best rotations in all of baseball. As is often the case for Halladay, health will be the major concern heading into this season. With other potential front-runners for the AL Cy Young such as Scott Kazmir, John Lackey and Josh Beckett all spending time on the DL early in the season, Halladay needs to remain healthy himself to distance himself from the pack.
Halladay’s 2008 Line: 19 W – 3.48 ERA – 156 K
In the Mix: Erik Bedard – Seattle Mariners & CC Sabathia – Cleveland Indiants
Dark Horse: Javier Vazquez – Chicago White Sox
Really Dark Horse: Rich Harden – Oakland Athletics
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
My Pick – Evan Longoria – Tampa Bay Rays
I realize Longoria is the fashionable pick—but there’s a reason he’s the fashionable pick—the dude can flat-out rake. In Spring Training he hit .262 with three home runs and ten runs batted in. Throw in his .407 on-base percentage and his .595 slugging percentage and there’s no doubt why the rest of the roster was begging the Rays management to insert Longoria into the Opening Day lineup. Unfortunately, fiscal rationale took over and the Rays sent Longoria back to Triple A where he’ll wait until May for his call-up, ala Ryan Braun last season, at which point one can expect Longoria will be entrenched at third base for a long, long time.
Longoria’s 2008 Line: .280 – 21 HR – 89 RBI
In the Mix: Joba Chamberlain – New York Yankees & Jacoby Ellsbury – Boston Red Sox
Dark Horse: Carlos Gomez – Minnesota Twins
Really Dark Horse: Alexei Ramirez – Chicago White Sox
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
My Pick – Alex Rodriguez – New York Yankees
Honestly, given the way A-Rod absolutely obliterated everything in his path last season, it’s really hard to knock the guy. Plus, who was even close to touching A-Rod for overall stats last year? Who’s that you say? No one. Sure his numbers have historically dipped off following his MVP seasons, but let’s take note that we’re talking about a guy who has had multiple MVP seasons for this statement can be made. How many multi-time MVPs are still hanging out in big league locker-rooms? I bet you can count them all on one hand. Things could always change as the season progresses, but hands down A-Rod is still the best player in the game today and now that he has the whole “biggest contract in the history of history” thing taken care of…now he wants a ring, expect an even more focused A-Rod in 2008 and beyond.
Rodriguez’s 2008 Line: .317 – 53 HR – 121 RBI
In the Mix: David Ortiz – Boston Red Sox & Miguel Cabrera – Detroit Tigers
Dark Horse: Vladimir Guerrero – Los Angeles Angels
Really Dark Horse: Josh Hamilton – Texas Rangers
My Pick – Johan Santana – New York Mets
Let’s be honest, I’d be a fool not to pick Santana. Although, I’d also be an even bigger fool if I tried to act like the NL wasn’t full of quality pitching with the likes of Jake Peavy, Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez, Carlos Zambrano, Rich Hill, Chris Young, etc…etc…etc…
However, of all those names, Santana is still the best of the bunch. Anyone who looks at the numbers Santana put up in Minnesota would have to expect an increase with a move to the lighter line-ups of the NL and the lack of a designated hitter. Santana has always been a pitching machine, but now he’s got long-term security, a strong line-up behind him and most importantly he has the best shot to win a ring he’s had in his entire career, be afraid National League…be very afraid.
Santana’s 2008 Line: 23 W – 2.87 ERA – 234 K
In the Mix: Jake Peavy – San Diego Padres & Brandon Webb – Arizona Diamondbacks
Dark Horse: Roy Oswalt – Houston Astros
Really Dark Horse: Pedro Martinez – New York Mets
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
My Pick – Johnny Cueto – Cincinnati Reds
Sure, by the time I’ve written this I’ve already had the advantage of watching him humiliate the Diamondbacks, but anyone who has been following Cueto’s already impressive career knows that he is for real. In just 348 minor league innings Cueto struck out 357 batters and notched a 3.28 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP. For those of you who aren’t stat junkies, let me break that down so you’ll get what I’m saying…CUETO IS AWESOME!!! Yeah, I think that sums it up. Throw in the fact that he’s slotted into the third-spot in the rotation behind Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo and just keep looking better…the only potential threat to Cueto’s success is the man in the dugout, Dusty Baker. With young arms Edison Volquez and Homer Bailey in addition to Cueto all in the fold for the Reds, many are nervous that Baker will wear them out as he is believed to have done with Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. Here’s to hoping that Cueto, Volquez and Bailey can all avoid the wrath of Dusty the Destroyer.
Cueto’s 2008 Line: 13 W – 3.48 ERA – 178K
In the Mix: Jay Bruce – Cincinnati Reds & Geovany Soto – Chicago Cubs
Dark Horse: Kosuke Fukudome – Chicago Cubs
Really Dark Horse: Cameron Maybin – Florida Marlins
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
My Pick – Matt Holliday – Colorado Rockies
Last year should have been Holliday’s year, no doubt about it. Sure Jimmy Rollins had a great season, but much like Ryan Howard the year before, he wasn’t the Most Valuable Player in the National League. This year Holliday figures to leave no doubt that the award belongs on his mantle. He just turned 28 in January and is gaining not only more power as he gets older, but also a better eye at the dish. With the incentive of playing for a long-term deal also in the mix and a chance to return to the World Series, Holliday has nothing but motivation heading into the 2008 campaign and it’s a well-known fact that when great players get motivated, they get down-right scary. Expect Holliday to put up some scary numbers in 2008.
Holliday’s 2008 Line: .331 – 41 HR – 138 RBI
In the Mix: Albert Pujols – St. Louis Cardinals & David Wright – New York Mets
Dark Horse: Rickie Weeks – Milwaukee Brewers
Really Dark Horse: Ryan Zimmerman – Washington Nationals
Blue Jays - WC
Phillies - WC
Padres over Phillies (3-1)
Mets over Brewers (3-2)
Blue Jays over Angels (3-1)
Red Sox over Indians (3-2)
Mets over Padres (4-2)
Red Sox over Blue Jays (4-1)
Mets over Red Sox (4-3)