Last night, the Phillies opened up thier world championship defense with a lackluster four-hit performance in a 4-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves. Here are our team by team previews for the 2009 season…
Expected record: 70-92, 5th AL East
Player to watch: Matt Weiters – A catcher who will begin the season in triple-A, but should be in the bigs if not by the All-Star break, shortly thereafter. He should be the building block the Orioles try to rebuild around.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Expected record: 72-90, 4th AL East
Player to watch: B.J. Ryan comes back from a season-ending injury in 2008, and the Jays will need him to hold leads when they are lucky enough to have them. This team was eleventh in the AL in runs scored last season.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
Expected record: 83-79, 3rd AL East
Player to watch: Pat Burrell – It will be very intriguing to see how “the bat” fits into his DH role in Tampa. They Rays were ninth in the AL in runs scored last season, a number which should improve based on Burrell’s averages over the last four seasons.
NEW YORK YANKEES
Expected record: 89-73, 2nd AL East
Player to watch: Take your pick, the Yankees seem to have more stars than the Milky Way and will be opening up a new stadium to showcase them this season. The question is, will they all be able to play as a team and get past the arch-rival Sox.
BOSTON RED SOX
Expected record: 91-71, 1st AL East
Player to watch: John Smoltz – Not that the Sox need any more arms, but we expect Smoltz to have a revitalizing year after spending his entire career in the doldrums of a sports town known as Atlanta.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Expected record: 66-96, 5th AL Central
Player to watch: Zach Greinke – If Peter Gammons says that he can contend for the American League Cy Young Award, we’re buying. Of all the last-place teams we prospect, this team is the one with the most up-side; mostly due to their pitching.
Expected record: 78-84, 4th AL Central
Player to watch: Fausto Carmona – The Indians will need him to have a better year than his lackluster 2008 campaign, especially with staff ace C.C. Sabathia now in the Bronx. If Carmona can get his dominance back, the 1-2 punch of him and Cy Young winner Cliff Lee will be tough to match.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Expected record: 83-79, 3rd AL Central
Player to watch: Jose Contreras – Contreras may begin the season still trying to rehab from a ruptured Achilles last August, but he will be pitching for the club eventually, and they will need him to compete in what looks to be a very competitive division.
Expected record: 87-75, 2nd AL East
Player to watch: Miguel Cabrera – Cabrera led the American League in home runs last year with 37 (seriously, no joke there), and buzz around their Lakeland spring training facility is that 2009 could be the year we all realize just how good he can be. He’d better be really good; people in Detroit were expecting a world title last season.
Expected record: 88-74, 1st AL Central
Player to watch: Joe Crede – A new acquisition for the Twins, Crede’s power could help a team that only had three players hit over 10 home runs last season. This is also the Twin’s last season in the Metrodome; bye-bye hanky-wall.
Expected record: 69-93
Player to watch: Felix Hernandez – The Mariners are the worst all-around team in the AL, but with the assistance of solid starting pitching, they can play teams tough. That should start at the top with staff ace Felix Hernandez. He has terrific potential.
Expected record: 79-83
Player to watch: Michael Young – Young will be moving to third base this year and his defense there will be key for a team that already has to score a ton of runs to win games.
Expected record: 85-77
Player to watch: Matt Holliday – New to the “moneyball” philosophy in Oakland, Holliday will have a bigger ballpark at sea level to hit in. For him to hold his numbers somewhere near his lofty totals in Colorado the last tow years would be a huge help.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Expected record: 95-69
Player to watch: Brian Fuentes – After Francisco Rodriguez’s departure to the Mets during the off-season, Fuentes was brought in to fill the void. With the addition of Bobby Abreu and Vladimir Guerrero’s new knee, the halos hope that he won’t be needed as much as K-Rod was last year.
AMERICAN LEAGUE PLAYOFFS
ALDS: Yankees over Angels, Red Sox over Twins
ALCS: Yankees over Red Sox
Expected record: 64-98
Player to watch: Ryan Zimmerman – Sure it would have been easy to put the Nats’ new acquisition Adam Dunn here, but we feel with Dunn hitting behind Zimmerman, the third baseman of the future for the Nationals becomes the present. He also needs to stay healthy; Zimmerman missed 56 games last season.
Expected record: 79-83
Player to watch: Mike Gonzalez – The Braves closer struggled last season, and bullpen fed off of him as they converted only 59% of their save opportunities. The Braves will need to improve that number to even challenge the Marlins for third-place.
Expected record: 83-79
Player to watch: Hanley Ramirez – Ramirez is to the Marlins what Jimmy Rollins is to the Phillies; when he goes they go. Last year Hanley had a breakout year and he will need to have another good one this year to help the Marlins put runs on the board.
NEW YORK METS
Expected record: 91-71
Player to watch: Francisco Rodriguez – The new closer in the Mets bullpen was brought in to sure up the lead in the late innings. As sad as it is to say, the days of the Mets blowing late-inning leads to divisional rivals could be over with K-Rod and J.J. Putz now in the fold.
Expected record: 93-69
Player to watch: Jimmy Rollins – The Phillies leadoff hitter has had a great spring including his performance in the World Baseball Classic. He was the only American to make the all-tournament team and will need to carry the momentum over to the season to help the Phillies repeat their 2008 World Championship.
Expected record: 68-94
Player to watch: Nate McLouth – McLouth won a gold glove in center field last season while representing the team at the All-Star Game in New York. Many expect that is the Pirates have an All-Star this year, it will be McLouth again. Not only that, but he will need to be a team leader for the Buccos to sniff success.
Expected record: 74-88
Player to watch: Joey Votto – Votto was runner-up to the Cubs’ catcher Geovanny Soto in the rookie of the year voting in ’08, and the slugging first baseman looks to continue to make an impact in this upcoming season.
Expected record: 78-84
Player to watch: Ivan Rodriguez – The veteran catcher moves to Houston for 2009 and should see action everyday. Word from the organization is that he will help groom prospect John Castro (1st round, 2008 draft) for 2010. If not, expect to see Pudge back for another season.
Expected record: 83-79
Player to watch: Prince Fielder – Fielder will need to swing a big bat to supply some runs now that pitchers C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets are both gone. Over the last four years the Brewers have won more games than anyone else in the Central.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Expected record: 88-74
Player to watch: Ryan Ludwick – Ludwick hit the same number of homers as MVP Albert Pujols but has struggled this spring. It will be important to the Cards to have him hitting along with Pujols to be able to keep up with the Cubs offensively.
Expected record: 94-68
Player to watch: Jeff Samardzija – The former Notre Dame wide receiver is poised to make an attempt at being a starter this season. The Cubs like his potential and we could eventually see him starting games if a starter goes down during the season.
SAN DIEGO PADRES
Expected record: 71-91
Player to watch: Jake Peavy – The ace of the staff has been surrounded by trade rumors for what seem to be forever. Many say the Cubs are interested; we’ll see whose colors he’s wearing come then end of July.
Expected record: 75-87
Player to watch: Aaron Cook – Cook will have to step in and handle the load for Jeff Francis, who will miss the season following shoulder surgery. He will be the difference between fourth place and the cellar of the NL West.
Expected record: 82-80
Player to watch: Chris Young – Without the presence of a big bat in the lineup, Young’s speed at the top is necessary for this team to thrive. It also wouldn’t hurt if he returned to his 32 home-run form of 2007.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Expected record: 86-76
Player to watch: Manny Ramirez – There is not a single player on any team more important to it than Manny is in LA. His arrival in Chavez Ravine last year ignited the Dodgers to an NLCS run, and many expect them to be there again this season.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Expected record: 88-74
Player to watch: Tim Lincecum – The defending NL Cy Young award-winner is the cog in a starting rotation which may be the best in the National League. If the Giants can go out and get a bat at the trade deadline this team could surprise a lot of people.
NATIONAL LEAGUE PLAYOFFS
ALDS: Cubs over Mets, Phillies over Giants
ALCS: Phillies over Cubs
2009 WORLD SERIES
Phillies over Yankees in six games