SweetSpot: Jonathon Niese
Most talented rotation in the majors, deep lineup, depth. Re-signing Adam LaRoche to add another lefty power bat will help.
Superb rotation could be better if the Aroldis Chapman transition works, bullpen is deep enough to absorb his loss and Shin-Soo Choo provides a needed leadoff hitter.
I think they can stretch things out more season with a deep rotation, excellent bullpen and power. Remember, they had the largest run differential in the American League last season.
Deep rotation, great 1-2 punch with Miggy and Prince, and Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez should improve the lineup.
Left-handed power, power bullpen and a young team that could improve from last year's 94 wins.
6. Blue Jays
Addition of Dickey adds a needed No. 1 to a rotation that could be dominant if Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow remain healthy.
Young teams that show big improvement are usually for real, and this team has a solid rotation, a strong outfield and power arms in the bullpen.
Have to love the Clayton Kershaw-Zack Greinke combo and an offense with big upside if Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez come close to 2011 levels.
I think the rotation is playoff-caliber with Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando, Martin Perez and Colby Lewis.
Have to replace Kyle Lohse, but they'll score plenty of runs as long as Carlos Beltran (36 years old in April) and Matt Holliday (33 in January) keep producing.
Still some holes in the lineup, and replacing James Shields' 220-plus innings won't be that easy, but underestimate the Rays at your own risk.
Oddsmaker Bovada.lv has the Angels with the second-best odds to win the World Series (behind the Blue Jays), but I see a rotation with a lot of question marks behind Jered Weaver, and Josh Hamilton only replaces Hunter, who was terrific in 2012.
I discussed my issues with the Giants here. I could be wrong, although our friends at Bovada only put the Giants tied for ninth in their World Series odds.
Their run differential wasn't much different than the Giants last year, and they've added Brandon McCarthy, infield depth and still have Justin Upton.
I want to say we're all underestimating a team that includes Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, but then I see an outfield of Darin Ruf, Ben Revere and Domonic Brown, and an infield defense that includes Michael Young and Ryan Howard and 30-somethings Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley.
They can score runs -- most in the National League last season -- and if the bullpen regroups after 2012's gruesome late-inning efforts, this team could surprise.
17. Red Sox
There will be no expectations after the disaster in 2012 (the franchise's worst record since 1965), but I see a big rebound coming.
I'll buy -- but I'm not buying a playoff spot. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have to take huge leaps forward ... or the Royals could be headed for another rebuild.
Last season's 93-win playoff team provided a beautiful ride, but the Orioles haven't added that big bat they need.
Young team is moving in the right direction after winning 76 games in 2012. Can rotation improve to push Pads over .500?
Mariners have pursued a big bat all offseason but were only able to pick up Kendrys Morales, and he cost them Jason Vargas, opening up a 200-inning hole in the rotation. Looks like 2014 before Mariners can make a push in the tough AL West.
Still no No. 1 or even No. 2 starter (sorry, A.J. Burnett is a No. 3 at best) and not enough support for Andrew McCutchen. One of these years, Pirates fans, one of these years.
23. White Sox
No A.J. Pierzynski, a declining Paul Konerko, good year/off year Alex Rios due for an off year. Then again, White Sox had a bigger run differential in 2012 than the Tigers.
Rotation of Edwin Jackson, Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Scott Baker and Scott Feldman could be competitive, but offense won't be.
At least Mets fans can dream of a future rotation that includes Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jonathon Niese and Noah Syndergaard. Unfortunately, the 2013 version still includes Frank Francisco and a bunch of fourth outfielders.
Giancarlo Stanton still makes this team worth watching on a daily basis.
Getting Trevor Bauer in the Choo deal added a much-needed starting pitcher prospect. Unfortunately, much of the rest of rotation remains suspect.
Kevin Correia, Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey ... what, Rich Robertson and Sean Bergman weren't available?
At least the Twins have a direction as they wait for young position players to reach the majors. I have no clue what the Rockies are doing, intend to do, want to do, wish to do or hope to achieve.
Welcome to the AL West, boys.
The Tampa Bay Rays' sweep of the Yankees was an important statement for the Rays, a team that has a brutal April schedule. The Rays follow up their series against the Yankees with a nine-game road trip to Detroit, Boston and Toronto, series at home against the Twins and Angels and then a three-game series in Texas. Not until they travel to Seattle and Oakland from April 30 through May 6 do they get an "easy" week. The Rays started 1-8 a year ago and managed to quickly dig out of that hole (they were 15-12 by the end of April), but this April schedule is a stiff challenge.
Jeremy Hellickson, everybody's favorite pitcher to regress to the mean in 2012, did exactly what he did in 2011: Limit hits even though he didn't strike out many batters. Pitching on his 26th birthday, Hellickson took a three-hit, 3-0 lead into the ninth. After walking Nick Swisher on a 3-2 pitch with two outs -- his 118th pitch of the game -- Joe Maddon finally brought in Fernando Rodney for the final out. Hellickson walked four and struck out four but the top three hitters in the Yankees lineup (Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano) went 0-for-11). As somebody wrote on Twitter, "Nobody induces more line-drive outs than Hellickson."
That was a knock against Hellickson's low average on balls in play in 2011 -- his .224 average was the lowest by a starting pitcher since 1988. But it's also a credit to Maddon and the Rays' defensive alignments. No team shifts and moves more on the defense than the Rays. You saw this result in several outs over the weekend, whether it was Mark Teixeira lining a ball to the second baseman playing in shallow right field or Alex Rodriguez grounding a ball over the second-base bag only to have the second baseman perfectly positioned.
Maddon will also move his players all over the batting order. Outside of Desmond Jennings in the leadoff spot and Evan Longoria in the three-hole, you never know how they'll line up. Carlos Pena hit second on Sunday and hit a third-inning home run off Phil Hughes. The Rays' lineup looks much stronger against right-handed pitching with southpaw power bats in Pena, Matt Joyce and Luke Scott. Teams would be wise to try and line up their left-handed starters against them.
Meanwhile, Joe Girardi looked like a kindergartner trying to take the SAT compared to Maddon. His intentional walk to Sean Rodriguez on Friday backfired when Pena hit a grand slam. He played Eduardo Nunez at shortstop on Saturday and his first-inning error led to two unearned runs. Look, Jeter will have to take days off throughout season and while you can understand the desire to sit him on turf, it's also just the second game of the season. Shouldn't Jeter be sitting against the Twins or Mariners or Orioles and not the Rays? And keep in mind that Nunez isn't any better on defense than Jeter; his Defensive Runs Saved in 2011 was minus-8 in 386 innings; Jeter's total was minus-14 in 1047 innings.
With Swisher battling a sensitive hammy, Girardi also put Raul Ibanez in right field on Sunday. This is akin to playing a fire hydrant out there. With two outs in the first Joyce blooped a ball to right field that should have been caught. Ibanez misplayed it into a triple, allowing Longoria to score the game's first run.
The Yankees travel to Baltimore on Monday, with Ivan Nova facing Brian Matusz. Nova had a rough spring, giving up 31 hits and five home runs in 22.1 innings, although he did have a 17/3 SO/BB ratio. The Yankees are 0-3 and while it's fun to pretend they are panicking, that's not really the case. This series was more about Tampa Bay doing everything right. But it is the Yankees, and when they start 0-3 that's not how most fans will view it.
* * * *
As for the Mets, they completed their sweep of the Braves as Jonathon Niese took a no-hitter into the seventh. The Mets nearly blew a 7-0 lead but held on for the 7-5 victory as Frank Francisco picked up his third save.
I watched a few innings of this game and one thing the Mets' hitters do is work the count very well. Atlanta starter Mike Minor threw 104 pitches in just five innings. On Saturday, Jair Jurrjens threw 102 pitches and didn't get out of the fifth. Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy may not have a lot of power at the top of the order but they're pesky, make you throw strikes and should go a nice job of getting on base. On Saturday, each saw 23 pitches in five plate appearances; on Sunday, they saw a combined 40 pitches as Tejada went 4-for-5 and Murphy 2-for-5.
It's easy to forget, but the Mets did lead the NL East in runs scored in 2011 -- despite playing in Citi Field. They did this with a lot of a patience as they led the NL in walks drawn. Yes, Jose Reyes is gone and Carlos Beltran was part of that production, but the Mets don't have any easy outs in the lineup. All eight regulars (Andres Torres landed on the DL with a calf injury after the season opener) are capable of posting a .340 OBP and that means the Mets could once again end up leading the division in runs.
Like the Rays, the Mets face a tough April: Washington, at Philly, at Atlanta, San Francisco, Miami, at Colorado, at Houston. Let's not overreact to three games and declare the Mets contenders, but I don't believe they're the 95-loss team that many fans believe. The Mets drew 27,855 on Easter Sunday, 14,000 short of capacity. It will take more than a 3-0 start to turns Mets fans into believers, but at least they can spend a few days having fun at the Yankees' expense.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
A few days before the season began I was out running with Matt, one of my editors. Matt is a Mets fan and I was having a good time threatening to write a “Why the Mets could be the worst team in the National League” post.
I never got around to writing it; I guess I didn’t really believe in the premise. But we all know nobody thinks the Mets will do anything in 2011, except maybe Bernie Madoff; not one ESPN insider predicted the Mets to make the playoffs. Baseball Prospectus projected the Mets to win 80 games. The Vegas over/under was 77 wins.
So even though they lost Wednesday night to the Phillies to fall to 3-2, they showed some energy by rallying from a 7-0 deficit to tie it. I liked what I saw (other than Mike Pelfrey). In fact, I have 10 reasons the Mets may be better than we believe.
1. David Wright is still a really good player. He fell out of the "SportsCenter" highlights during that 10-homer season in 2009, but hit 29 last season. If he gets his OBP back in the .390 range, he’s one of baseball’s best third baseman, a step below the Ryan Zimmerman/Evan Longoria duo.
2. Jose Reyes in a contract year. All the skills are still there. He still has the speed and the rocket arm. He doesn’t turn 28 until June. I feel a big year, back among the NL runs leaders … and a big contract in the offseason.
3. Angel Pagan is for real. He’s a solid center fielder, a switch-hitter with speed and just enough extra-base power to be dangerous. You can win a division title with Pagan out there. For example, is Shane Victorino really any better than Pagan?
4. Depth in the lineup. As Baseball Prospectus pointed out in its annual, the Mets gave 40 percent of their plate appearances to hitters worse than league average. Among the culprits with at least 100 plate appearances: Luis Castillo, Rod Barajas, Alex Cora, Henry Blanco and somebody named Jesus Feliciano. This year, the Mets go eight deep in the lineup, with catcher Josh Thole hitting eighth. And Thole isn’t that bad. Not much power, but a decent .357 OBP as a rookie in 2010.
5. Brad Emaus. My colleague Eric Karabell loves Emaus. Trust in Eric. Hey, he’s gotta be better than Luis Castillo. Of course, my couch is better than Luis Castillo.
6. The bench. Lucas Duda has some good minor league hitting numbers, Scott Hairston can hit lefties, Daniel Murphy is back after being injured last season and he’s a nice utility guy.
7. Potential in the rotation. I am worried about Mike Pelfrey after two bad starts, but the rotation could be solid with R.A. Dickey, a step forward from Jonathon Niese, a comeback from Chris Young and Chris Capuano. Yes, they lack an ace unless Johan Santana returns healthy, but all these guys could at least be decent. And if you have five decent starters, you have a chance.
8. The bullpen is sneaky good. Hard-throwing Bobby Parnell is ready to emerge in the setup role, D.J. Carrasco is a ground ball specialist with a rubber arm who won’t give up many homers, Taylor Buchholz was really good with the Rockies before getting injured. I’m no fan of K-Rod, but he’s better than a lot of closers. (But can we dump the nickname please? He really hasn’t been K-Rod since about 2007.)
9. Terry Collins. Let’s put it this way: BP reminded me of the incident last season when Jerry Manuel had Castillo bunt in extra innings against Cardinals outfielder Joe Mather. Collins is worth a win or two from a strategic/lineup viewpoint. Or maybe three or four.
10. Carlos Beltran’s knees. I’ve avoided mentioning them until now. The Mets are due a little luck in the health department, right?
Add it all up and the Mets could win 86-87 games, and in the National League that could make them wild-card contenders.
Photo Of The Day
- Almost certainly, the injury paves the way for Jonathon Niese, one of the organization's most promising pitching prospects, to get a shot in New York. There are ample reasons for optimism in Niese that go beyond his famous birthday of Oct. 27, 1986 -- that's right, a pitcher could be born, grow up, get drafted and develop a major-league ready repertoire in the time since the Mets last won a World Series.
As documented by Toby Hyde, who is to Mets' Minor League prospects what Sheila Bair was to credit default swaps (check your 401(k) for details), Niese has been dominating lately. In his past eight starts, Niese has pitched to a 0.96 ERA, averaged better than seven innings per outing, with 46 strikeouts and just 13 walks. In short, he's made every offense he's faced look like the current New York Mets.
In other words, it wasn't that the 2009 plan to rely on starting-pitching depth to carry the day in case of injury was flawed. It was relying on Tim Redding, Livan Hernandez and Freddy Garcia to be that depth. When the Red Sox did so using Brad Penny and John Smoltz, but also Justin Masterson and Clay Buchholz, the results were far different.
So, when John Maine returns, a rotation of Johan Santana/Perez/Pelfrey/Maine/Niese is the way to go. The Mets are nine games out, and it is time to deal Livan Hernandez. I write these words unhappily, since there is a tremendous pleasure as a baseball fan in watching Hernandez work, and I am particularly enamored with his 65 mile per hour curveball.
Will another team really get sucked into this trap one more time?