The Yankees, Red Sox and Mets return for another six-month Major League journey that will hold our interest through the dog days of summer. This marks my 18th season preview on America’s favorite pastime and my predictions are not getting much better. Last year I took the safe bet and excluded my beloved Sox from the glory of the postseason — they went out and won the World Series with a bunch of middle-of-the-road free agents.
Who said sportswriters know what they’re talking about? I didn’t want to disappoint myself so I low-balled my Red Sox’s ability. With that in mind, I will tell you what I see in this year’s crystal ball.
I did nail it when I predicted the Yankees would miss the postseason for just the second time in 19 years of divisional play. But they did come into the season as the walking wounded and the AARP cards were arriving in the mail on a daily basis.
Not much has changed. As much as everyone hoped for a postseason farewell for Mariano Rivera last season that didn’t pan out, much is the same for the Derek Jeter farewell tour this year. It’s not that the Yankees haven’t improved, because you would have to be living under a rock not to see that fact.
But the rest of the AL East has gotten better in the process. Tampa Bay has made the playoffs in four of the last six seasons and very well may have the team to beat. The Yankees went on a spending spree that would rival the 1970s era, getting signatures from Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and new Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka.
A huge question mark remains in the infield with Mark Teixeira and Jeter coming back from injuries, A-Rod on a season-long suspension and Robinson Cano (the team’s leading hitter last year) wearing a Seattle uniform. Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts don’t strike a whole lot of fear in a pitcher’s heart these days.
The pitching staff will get a boost if Mike Pineda turns out to be what the Yanks were looking for a few years back when they traded for the Seattle rookie sensation. CC Sabathia will try to reinvent himself since his fastball deserted him and Hiroki Kuroda will be pushing the envelope in trying to post another double-digit winning season.
Even with Joe Girardi, in the first year of his four-year extension, the team will need to hope that Dave Robertson can be a shadow of what Rivera once was when the game is on the line. The Yankees will be good enough to post a winning season, but will fall to third in the AL East.
Only eight times in over 100 years of baseball has a team gone from last to first the following year, so my coming up on the short end of my Red Sox prediction last year can be expected. The Sox tried to stay pat with what got them to the World Series, with the exception of the departed Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but that isn’t always the correct path to take.
Boston has won three World Series in the past 10 years and each team looked much different than the last. With that being said, the Sox should consider themselves lucky to be battling for a wild-card spot along with the Yankees come the final weeks of September.
The team finished second in batting and first in runs scored last year but it may have to look at its pitching as the strongest link this season. Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront may be the most solid rotation in the league. The addition of Chris Capuano only solidifies that standing.
David Ortiz, Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes and Dustin Pedroia have all gotten a year older but the spark that Grady Sizemore brings could maintain the offensive numbers along with the youthful excitement that Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley bring to the plate.
No one is expecting another World Series run, but playing some meaningful games in September would certainly keep the hope alive. The best-case scenario is a wild card spot and letting the chips fall where they may.
The Mets were 23rd in runs scored and 29th in average last year, and that doesn’t add up to a whole lot of W’s no matter how many times you run those numbers through the calculator. What New York does possess is youth in pitching that is getting better with every windup.
I’m not talking about 41-year-old free-agent pick up Bartolo Colon, who seems ageless after winning 18 games last year for Oakland. Not even Daisuke Matsuzaka, who is realizing this is the end of the road. I’m referring to Jon Niese (entering his fifth year as a starter), Dillion Gee (fourth campaign) and 24-year-old Zach Wheeler. If Matt Harvey weren’t nursing an injury, the Mets would be printing up playoff tickets.
Curtis Granderson, coming over from the Yankees, still has some pop in his bat that produced back-to-back 40 home run seasons before last year’s injuries put him on the shelf. Dan Murphy is a solid on-base guy and David Wright is looking to put it all together in an injury-free season.
While the Mets may be destined to be another middle-of-the-road team, don’t forget they do play 36 combined games against the Phillies and Miami. That could produce enough wins to put them in the wild card hunt come September.
Miami will struggle just to win 60 games and the Phillies are in freefall mode, going from 102 wins in 2011 to 81 in 2012 to 73 in 2013. The Mets should at the very least finish third in the NL East and with a little luck could compete for a wild card spot.
Ken Morse is a contributing writer to the Citizen’s News.