My playoff picks and surprise teams for '08 campaign
Posted: Tuesday March 25, 2008 1:06PM; Updated: Monday March 31, 2008 11:08AM
I tried my best. I really did. I looked long and hard at the 14 losing teams from last season and, alas, found only ugly stepsisters. No Cinderellas. I'm betting against history here.
In the 13-year history of the wild card era, only once did the postseason not include a team that had posted a losing record in the previous season (2005). Half the field last year pulled off the loser-to-postseason turnaround. The Indians, Diamondbacks, Rockies and Cubs pushed the Cinderella Club to 27 in those 13 years. So with the publication this week of SI's Baseball Preview and the playoff predications that include a World Series rematch -- well, the 1945 Fall Classic rematch, anyway -- we're going against the grain by sticking with the establishment. Winners only need apply.
Here are the reasons behind the picks and a report card of how last year's team-based picks turned out. Next week I'll take a look at the individual awards.
Division Winners: New York, Detroit, Los Angeles. (Last year's prediction: New York, Cleveland, Los Angeles. Not bad. The Yankees fell two games short of Boston, but qualified as the wild card.)
Wild Card: Boston. (Last year's prediction: Boston.)
East: Two GMs told me this is the year the Yankees don't make the postseason, one of them going so far as to say they'll finish third, behind Boston and Toronto. I'm not buying it. The Yankees have so much talent it would take a multitude of worst-case scenarios to cut them low: Andy Pettitte breaks down, Johnny Damon, Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui and, most critically, Jorge Posada all decline significantly because of age, and kid pitchers Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy aren't ready to carry a full season of New York's physical and psychological load. Is all of that going to happen? No.
Boston seems more prone to a fallback, if only because recent world champions seem to be handed a tax bill the following season -- and if it hits Josh Beckett, look out. Toronto is intriguing, but there's a huge difference between 87 wins and the 94 you need to play with the big boys in the East. The Jays are not in that weight class.
Tampa Bay will be fun and will flirt with .500, but the Rays better hope Scott Kazmir is okay. Skeptics remain, though. Said one GM, referring to the constant chatter about the Rays' potential, "They're everybody's favorite team two months out of the year: March and September." Said one scout, "Careful about getting carried away with Tampa. They're way too undisciplined offensively. You can take advantage of them."
Central: The Indians have the better 25-man roster, but the Tigers' offense really is that good when it comes to covering some legitimate questions they have about pitching. And Detroit could very well have the Cy Young winner (Justin Verlander) and MVP (Miguel Cabrera), both of whom are playing on young legs.
I don't see much separation between the other three clubs: Chicago, Kansas City and Minnesota.
West: The Angels might be the deepest, most versatile team I saw this spring. Their ace (John Lackey) goes down and it hardly matters. I was tempted to pick Seattle based on its pitching, but the Mariners have too many uncertainties in their everyday lineup. Adrian Beltre, Richie Sexson, Brad Wilkerson and Jose Vidro could be good or awful.
Oakland won't be nearly as bad as many people think, especially if they can transition some of their top prospects to the big leagues over the summer. Texas remains short on pitching, and you can't like the odds of Cactus League stud Josh Hamilton and Milton Bradley each playing 150 games.
Surprise AL team: Tampa Bay. (Last year: Cleveland. Dead on.) The Rays won't challenge for a playoff spot, but they could have a winning record if everything breaks right. What would that mean? Evan Longoria is Rookie of the Year and David Price, if his elbow issue is minor, joins Kazmir, James Shields and Matt Garza in the rotation in the second half.
Disappointing AL team: Chicago. (Last year: Toronto. Good call; 83 wins and a non-factor.) The White Sox have much too far to go to make up ground on Detroit and Cleveland. This team lost 90 games last year, was outscored by 146 runs and is staring smack in the face of aging issues. They might not be as bad as last year, but so what?