Futility Friday vol. 3: Cool League season preview!

Okay. Last week's post ended up being both super long and super late. I will try for less length on this one, and to finish it before midnight. Instead of separating out my comments into what I know personally versus what I glean from other sources, I will give each team only one combined paragraph. Thereby appearing to be better informed than I actually am, and also making my predictions slightly less cumbersome to read!

Not that I'm worried about losing my readership--y'all read this because you know me, not because I'm gonna win a Pulitzer. Or a Howitzer. Or a Bloggie Award, if there is such a thing. Now there's an idea which has surely been had before! Although my mental picture of the award ceremony for a "Bloggie Award" involves a whole lotta sweatpants. And many bottles of Yoohoo which are tragically spilled in ineffectual fistfights between ideologically opposed pundits with very little upper body strength.

But anyway. If I'm going to name post topics after days, I should at least post them on the days after which they are named! For, uh...consistency. Yeah.

We have already determined through entirely arbitrary and highly inaccurate means that the White Sox are going to the World Series from the AL. Amber agrees with me. Dave is the dissenting vote, saying the Yankees will, in fact, overcome the sluggishness and lack of winning which has plagued them all millennium, and represent the Lame League in the World Series.

However! The White Sox and/or Yankees will need to have a Cool League team by whom to be defeated. When the World Series finally rolls around, and it comes time for one team to become the proud owners of the triangular piece of cloth. (Otherwise known as the pennant. Sure, there's also a trophy and other swag. But since we're not going to make like the Aztecs and slaughter the losing team to appease bloodthirsty bird-gods, does it ultimately matter what symbolic prize the winners get, beyond the fact of winning?)

So tonight I will take a look at what I know about the teams in the Cool League. Because I believe this league, also known as the National League, is inherently better, my findings will determine who will be the ultimate champion of all the baseball men in America. And Canada. Who among these brave, brave men, who in no way risk being slaughtered, will be able to go home for the winter and rest on their laurels and their millions, rich in the knowledge that their teams has earned the right to own a triangular piece of cloth?

Cool League: Second Fiddlers' Division (NL East)

New York Mets:
This team has the "privilege" of playing second fiddle to the Yankees in the city of New York. They also have the distinct advantage of Johan Santana, one of the few legitimate ace starting pitchers in the game. The rest of their rotation is guys who have good stats, even though I don't recognize anybody except Livan Hernandez, possibly their weakest link. Speaks well for them. They gained pitching strength for the end of the game as well, by acquiring both Francisco Rodriguez and J. J. Putz in the offseason. Lack of reliable closers messed them up big time last year, so getting those guys was a really smart move. They've got talent all around the infield, plus heavy hitter Carlos Beltran in the outfield.
Long story short, they're gonna win the division. Yay Mets!

Philadelphia Phillies:
Another one of those team names that annoys me because it seems unimaginative. As far as I am concerned, they play second fiddle to the cheesesteak sandwich which is also known by the name of their presumably fair city. I've never been there; it could be a very unfair city. Or even an unsightly one! But I know the Phillies franchise as one which perenially underachieves--they always seem to contend, but they rarely make it out of the regular season. The pitcher who was supposed to be at the top of their rotation, Cole Hamels, seems likely to miss the beginning of the season due to "elbow tightness." (In sports, "tightness" is code for what us normal people would call "excruciating pain.") The thing is, the Phillies won the World Series last year. They're bringing back essentially the same team. When I look at their depth chart, I see a lot of good, good hitters and a respectable bullpen. But their rotation that looks to me like it's going to be mediocre. Elbow tightness isn't something that just goes away once the season starts, so I'm skeptical about Cole Hamels' health. Jamie Moyer isn't getting any younger--he's going to turn 47 this November. (Also, he looks like the guy who played Frank Burns on MASH. Not relevant, but funny.) Chan Ho Park hasn't been good for a few years. It's an old bit of conventional wisdom that good pitching wins in the playoffs--but I'm not convinced the Phillies' pitching will be good enough to even get to the playoffs this year.
The Phillies will finish third.

Washington Nationals:
The Nationals must live with the shame of playing second fiddle to the Montreal Expos. Which used to be their name when they played in Canada, had virtually no fans, and never won. They were bad last year, and the year before that. They will be bad again. Let us move on.
The Nationals will finish fifth, that is, last. No one will be surprised.

Florida Marlins:
The Marlins play second fiddle either to the Tampa Bay Rays, the stronger Floridian baseball team, or the Miami Dolphins, the football team with whom they must share a stadium. (A sitcom in which a dolphin and a marlin were Odd Couple style roommates would be pretty neat, though. Unless it ended in some sort of pointy-faced fish vs highly intelligent sea mammal fight to the death. Which it almost certainly would.) The team has a couple excellent hitters in Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla. But large portions of their team's talent are young, relatively inexperienced guys they smuggl--I mean, traded for out of the Tigers' farm system. I know Dave likes the Marlins, but I don't think they're going to be able to get it together this year.
Somebody has to finish fourth. I think it will be the Marlins. Sorry, pointy-face fishes.

Atlanta Braves:
They are second fiddle to the Cleveland Indians, as the baseball team whose name is second most insulting to the people from whom my ancestors, among others, stole this lovely continent. But I'm hard pressed to draw conclusions about them based on their roster. Every good thing seems to be followed by a question. Their pitching includes Derek Lowe, who is awesome, and Javier Vasquez, who is good. But Tom Glavine isn't the Tom Glavine of yesteryear, Tim Hudson is out for many months, I don't know Jurrgens, and I don't know what to expect from Kawakami. Guys who come over to MLB from the Japanese major leagues are sometimes awesome and other times flame out, irrespective of how good they were in Japan. They have some really good hitters like Chipper Jones and Brian McCann, but they also have some rookies who may or may not turn out well.
So I'm gonna split the difference and say they will take second in the division. But they'll get the wild card. The west is weak, and would-be contenders in the central will be too busy losing to one another to have the best record among non-division-winners.

Cool League: Endless Frustrating Parity Division (NL Central)

Pittsburgh Pirates:
The Pirates are not part of the parity. In the division where everyone is equal, but some teams are more equal than others, the Pirates are the least equal of all. They have been bad for awhile now. They made no changes from last year's roster, and they didn't do a lot of winning last year. Move along folks, nothin' to see here.
The Pirates will finish sixth. Also known as last. Which is proof positive that at least one player on every other team in the division is a ninja. (I suspect the Brewers' ninja is Craig Counsell. Yes, even though he never studied at the Tommy John Dojo.)

Houston Astros:
I apparently forgot the Astros existed and didn't write them into the original post. I had to come back and edit to put them in. It's not fair of me, because they have some talented guys hitting and pitching for them. Roy Oswalt might still count as an ace pitcher, Wandy Rodriguez's stats are good, and I've enjoyed Mike Hampton's ups and downs ever since he pitched for the pre-humidor Rockies. (The official humidor in which the Rockies' baseballs are kept helps compensate for the thin mountain air. That way, their hitters don't have grossly inflated numbers and their pitchers don't go slowly mad with frustration and lose their edge, as I suspect Hampton did.) They've still got Lance Berkman, Kaz Matsui, and Miguel Tejada, all of whom are forces to be reckoned with when it's their turn to swing the carefully shaped stick.
Still, they're gonna finish third. Parity bites.

Cincinnati Reds:
For myself, I looked at the Reds' roster and said "meh." But Dave thinks this team is on the right track and is thinking about picking them for the playoffs. He says the main reason their top starter, Aaron Harang, had such a bad year last year is that Dusty Baker deployed his arm in unwise ways and threw him off his game. Having watched Baker nearly destroy many a good arm during his time as manager of the Cubs, I am willing to accept this idea. In a five-team division, the frustrating parity begins with the Reds.
I'm gonna say they'll finish third. Why not?

Milwaukee Brewers:
They almost made the playoffs last year, but they lost ace pitcher C.C. Sabathia and really good pitcher Ben Sheets. Gallardo is too young to know whether he'll be an instant classic or struggle growing into his talent, and he's the only guy in their rotation who has a chance of being as good as the two they lost. In a division this close, that'll cost them a lot of wins down the stretch. They have a mix of guys I recognize as good hitters and guys I don't recognize at all.
So I don't feel too bad about predicting the Brewers finish fifth.

St. Louis Cardinals:
I think Chris Carpenter, a pitcher who was one of the best in the National League, is going to be healthy this year. So what if star hitter Troy Glaus will be recovering from shoulder surgery for the first month or so (or so!). Point is, this is a team with enough talent that they will clearly be doing some winning. But I think there's enough question marks and problems that they still won't do the most winning.
So the Cardinals will finish second.

Chicago Cubs:
The Cubs have a wonderful team this year. Big Z at the top of the rotation will be his usual awesome self. Dempster, Lilly, Harden and Marshall are all guys who have earned my respect as pretty reliable starters who occasionally display great stuff. Geovany Soto is a very good hitter and really knows what he's doing behind the plate. Having to crouch all day and wear a big heavy catcher's mask apparently doesn't bother him at all. And I like everybody in the infield--especially if Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee finally manage a year where they both stay healthy the whole time. Theriot and Fontenot, whom henceforth I will call the Silent T Brothers, are good to have on the team even if they don't hit for a lot of home runs. And the least hard-hitting guy in the outfield, Kosuke Fukudome, is the one whose name and jersey number I have printed on a non-major-league authorized knockoff t-shirt. The thing that scares me most about this year's Cubs is that I cannot for the life of me figure out how they are going to lose this time.
They're gonna have to put together a massive collapse in the playoffs again, like they did last year. Because they're going to win the division.

Cool League: California + 2 Division (NL West)

San Diego Padres:
The Padres repeatedly attempted to trade ace pitcher Jake Peavy over the offseason. He was at various times rumored to be headed to half the teams in the major leagues. Those deals all fell through at the last minute, however, because the Padres were unable to get an entire major league baseball team in exchange for him. Instead, they are stuck with the guys they already had. One or two of whom I recognize as having been solidly mediocre players a couple years ago.
So they will lose. Fifth of five. Also fifth of five if you want to rank them among the five teams located in California.

Colorado Rockies:
I was all ready to write the Rockies off, but then I started waving my mouse around on their depth chart and looking at the stats that popped up. They're actually not that bad. Ever since MLB used the wonders of modern technology to compensate for the fact that they play in an open-air stadium a mile above sea level, the Rockies have had a ghost of a chance. They even made the playoffs a couple years ago. The bottom of their starting rotation isn't that strong, but they have two good starters at the top and some decent hitting.
I'm gonna go out on a limb and say the Rockies finish second.

San Francisco Giants:
Two of the most basic things a baseball team needs in order to win games are guys who can pitch and guys who can hit. Usually you'll see a team focus on getting good hitters, settle for mediocre pitchers, and then wonder why they lost a bunch of games 5-3 after going ahead in the first few innings. However, this year's Giants have done the opposite of that. I look through their position players and only see four or five names I even recognize--and none of them are especially great at hitting home runs. Their rotation is very good, possibly the best in the division. Lincecum had an outstanding year last year. Cain's stats are strong. Randy Johnson is a freak of nature (in the best possible sense) and his pitching arm should never be underestimated, no matter how old he gets. You never know if Barry Zito is going to be Ted Lilly (reliable but not awe-inspiring) or Jose Mesa (flashy but not reliable) in a given year, but he's holding down rotation spot #4. Their #5 guy is not great but not terrible either. But even if everything breaks right for the Giants' pitchers this year, they're going to end up losing a lot of games 0-1 or 1-2.
They will finish fourth. Let that be a lesson to...someone.

Arizona Diamondbacks:
See, the Diamondbacks are a classic example of a good team name. They're named after an animal which is beautiful but menacing, is native to the region in which they play, and lends itself well to cartoonification. Plus you could totally picture a rattlesnake killing, say, a pirate or a swordfish. Or even a giant, if it was fast enough not to get trampled. Also, they have all the things necessary to a good team. None of their hitters are really super-outstanding by themselves--but they have a roster full of guys who can hit between 15 and 25 home runs a year, and a lot of them are young and might happen to have a breakout season. Their rotation is topped off with Webb, Haren and Garland, all of whom rock at throwing the circular object in a speedy and accurate fashion.
They might not make it far into the postseason, but they will get there. Diamondbacks win.

Los Angeles Dodgers:
Apparently, television talking heads have been saying "d0dgers R teh w1n!" and "NL West ish 4 Dodgers w00t!" ever since they signed Manny Ramirez. Now, Manny is kind of a freak of nature in a good way too. He can use the carefully shaped stick to hit the spherical object very, very hard, many times. However, he has this tendency to speak and behave and make important decisions in a manner that suggests he only cares about two things. 1. Hitting the spherical object with the stick. 2. Feeling comfortable and appreciated and adored whenever he is not doing so. When he feels that the second thing is being denied to him, he will reduce the amount of effort and attention he gives to every other aspect of the game except hitting. To the point where Boston got rid of him just to be rid of an unhappy Manny. But, c'mon. He is one guy. As the baseball world learned from Barry Bonds, if there is really only one serious power threat in a lineup, opposing teams will throw him an intentional walk just to keep him from launching the round object into space. So what? Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp are going to hit like crazy to make up for the unimpressiveness of the entire infield? Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda have pretty good starting pitcher stats, but they're no Brandon Webb and Dan Haren.
They're gonna take third place in the NL West. They will fight hard for second, but the Rockies will just want it more.

To recap.

East: NY Mets.
Central: Chicago Cubs.
West: Arizona Diamondbacks
Wild card: Atlanta Braves

Cubs beat the Mets. Diamondbacks beat the Braves.
Cubs lose to the Diamondbacks in the championships.

AL (from previous post):
East winners: New York Yankees. Although if it turns out to be the Rays, I will be neither disapointed nor shocked.
Central winners: Minnesota Twins. Don't know why.
West winners: Oakland A's.
Wild card: Chicago White Sox.

In the first round of the playoffs, the White Sox will beat the A's, while the Ra--I mean, Yankees, will beat the Twins.
The Yankees will then lose to the White Sox, sending at least one Chicago team to the World Series. Hooray!

Wait a minute.
If the World Series is the White Sox versus the Diamondback, the White Sox have got to win. They're too awesome to lose, and the Diamondbacks' hitters aren't quite as good, although they both have really good pitching.

So I will directly contradict what I said at the beginning of this post. The White Sox beat the DBacks, and become proud owners of the triangular piece of cloth plus assorted swag. And no one will be killed!


Dave said...

Good stuff. No major arguments here. I have the same division winners- Mets, Cubs, D-Backs. Those are the least-flawed teams and one of them will likely make the World Series. For the Wild Card, I'll go with the Reds, just barely over the Dodgers and the non-Nationals NL East teams.

Playoffs: Mets over Reds, D-Backs over Cubs. Read the recap of the 2007 Cubs/D-Backs playoff series to find out how. Then I'll go with the Mets, I think they're finally good enough because of their bullpen. That makes it a Subway Series, which seems unlikely... but to me they're the best team in each league. I'll take the Yankees as the world champs.

Amber E said...

So when do we find out the actual results? October?