2007 Baseball Preview

The baseball season starts in just over a week, and since my college basketball team is out and my bracket is wrecked, there’s no better time to take a look at the upcoming season.
The Yankees may have missed out on the Matsuzaka sweepstakes, but they did bolster their rotation by jettisoning Randy Johnson and adding Andy Pettitte and Kei Igawa. Igawa has improved over the course of Spring Training, and has likely won a spot in the rotation. With Chien-Ming Wang and Mussina joining Pettitte and Igawa, the Yankees appear to have a solid 4 starters. The fifth spot will either be filled by Carl Pavano or Jeff Karstens, who hadn’t given up a run until his last start.
The offense is as good as ever. The acquisition of Doug Mientkiewicz allows Jason Giambi to DH full-time, a role he is finally willing to accept. The lineup is solid from top to bottom, and opposing pitchers will not look forward to facing even the bottom three (Posada, Mientkiewicz and Cano).
Which leads us to the biggest question mark: the bullpen. In recent years, manager Joe Torre has, frankly, abused his favored relievers as Scott Proctor, Kyle Farnsworth and Ron Villone were all in the top ten in the AL for appearances. The Yankees hope that recent acquisition Luis Vizcaino (Arizona trade for Randy Johnson) can help out here. The other question is whether Mariano Rivera will start to show signs of aging after dominating for so many years.
The Nationals at one point had 12 pitchers vying for the 4 rotation spots after John Patterson. It now appears that the rotation will include Shawn Hill (9 career starts), Matt Chico (no experience above AA), with veterans Tim Redding and Jerome Williams, plus young right-handers Jason Bergmann and Levale Speigner fighting for the last two spots. Jason Simontacchi was near a starting spot until he came down with a groin injury, and he hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2004. Not exactly a rotation that strikes fear in the hearts of opposing batters.
So the bullpen will get a lot of work. Luckily, that is one area that seems to be strong for the Nats, though it is sure to be overworked. Chad Cordero is a solid closer, and 6’11” Jon Rauch is an intimidating setup man. Ryan Wagner, Saul Rivera and Micah Bowie all came in to the bullpen from the minors last year and performed well, and Luis Ayala is expected to return from the injury that sidelined him all last year.
The lineup for the Nats is still in flux. Dmitri Young, who had a difficult year with the Tigers last year, spent most of Spring Training with the minor leaguers, but worked hard and may have earned himself a spot at first base to fill in for Nick Johnson, whose return from that horrific broken leg is still uncertain. Travis Lee is also competing for that job and is more solid defensively. Felipe Lopez moves over to second base to make room for Christian Guzman. The Nats hope that Guzman’s troubles are finally behind him. Ryan Zimmerman and Austin Kearns will provide some pop in the middle of the lineup, while Ryan Church and Chris Snelling battle for the left fielder position. Neither will be able to fill the void left by the departure of Alfonso Soriano. Speedy Nook Logan will be given the chance to show he’s an every day center fielder.
Predictions:
AL East: Yankees
AL Central: Tigers. I think the White Sox gave up too many pieces to contend.
AL West: Rangers, but this is a crappy division this year especially
AL Wildcard: Red Sox, but I like the Blue Jays too
NL East: Mets
NL Central: Cubs, even though it pains me to say it. I still think they will find a way to blow it to the Cardinals.
NL West: Dodgers, but possibly the Padres
NL Wildcard: Phillies
World Series: Yankees over Mets.
Obligatory Nationals record prediction: I’m going to be optimistic and say they will NOT lose 100 games. 63-99.