The first week of Major League Baseball has shown a number of surprise stories. In the fantasy realms, men like Emilio Bonifacio and Nyjer Morgan have caught fire. In the real world, however, the most shocking facet of Major League Baseball thus far is its respective division leaders.
Here is a list of the current division leaders:
AL West – Seattle Mariners
AL Central - Kansas City Royals
AL East – Baltimore Orioles
NL West - San Diego Padres
NL Central - Chicago Cubs
NL East - Florida Marlins
Needless to say, the only current division leader that was expected to be where they are is the Chicago Cubs. The rest of these teams are simply over-achieving, right? Maybe not…
Here is a run-down of the current division leaders and whether each team is teasing their fans with a good first week or could actually compete in 2009.
AL WEST – SEATTLE MARINERS
The general response to Mariners hype is “No way! They lost 101 games last season!” While this is true, most people overlook the fact that two years ago this team won 88 games and led the AL wild card race for most of the summer.
This is not to say that the Mariners will certainly win, but as I said in My Opening Day Article, the Mariners are capable of winning.
The three necessary components I listed are Griffey’s production (already 1HR), Bedard’s health (a near-shutout gem in his last start) and the bullpen gaining some consistency (David Aardsma and Brandon Morrow already look like a devastating 8th/9th inning combination). If these pieces fall into place, the Mariners could contend this year.
More than any other factor, the Mariners may benefit from playing in a weak division. The Angels are aging, the Athletics are talent-starved, and the Rangers seem content to keep winning or losing 15-run ballgames. If the Mariners develop some consistency they could pull this one off.
AL CENTRAL – KANSAS CITY ROYALS
One of the most encouraging things about the Royals hot start is that it has come mostly against other AL Central opponents (combined 4-1 v. Chicago and Cleveland), but that being said it will be difficult for Kansas City to maintain this pace.
The Royals offense has been horrid, and in their first five games it scored a combined eight runs (1.6 R/G). Despite this terrible offense, Kansas City has been able to win with consistent pitching. Eventually this will fall through. Zach Grienke has an ERA of 0.00, Kyle Davies has a 2.13, and Gil Meche has a 3.21. These are excellent numbers, but to expect this production all year is ludicrous.
Grienke and Meche will remain solid, but Davies (career ERA over 5) and the rest of the Sidney Ponson All-Star rotation will not keep up this pace. Eventually the offense will drag them down.
AL EAST – BALTIMORE ORIOLES
This one is a slam-dunk choice for me. I’m not going to say that the Orioles are a terrible team, but I am saying that their competition is just too good for them to maintain their current pace.
Yes, they rocked the Yankees. But they caught C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett in their first pinstripe starts, and if you look at each pitcher’s next round you can see what they are capable of.
Yes, they took a series from the Rays. But they caught the Rays’ back end of the rotation. They did not have to face Scott Kazmir or Matt Garza, while taking wins from Andy Sonnanstine and some guy named Niemann. B.J. Upton is healthy and the Rays are just getting started.
Oh yeah, then there is that team from Boston…
Sorry to Orioles fans, but 2009 is not their year. Baltimore has a good corps of five players (Roberts, A.Jones, Markakis, Huff, Mora), but the other teams in your division are just too talented for Baltimore to actually compete this year.
NL WEST – SAN DIEGO PADRES
I’m starting to feel like a jerk while writing this, but some of the things I’m writing have to be said.
I will give the Padres a great asset that the Orioles badly need: a terrible division to play in. However, I can’t say that the San Diego Padres can contend this year.
San Diego has split a series with the Dodgers (2-2) and swept a three-game series from the knockaround Giants. Unfortunately for the Padres, none of this has been done in convincing fashion.
San Diego seems content to let their pitching win games for them. They play in PetCo Park, feature a good-but-not-great pitching staff and to date the Padres have not scored more than seven runs in a game.
Jake Peavy and Chris Young are good enough to carry a team in this fashion. Walter Silva, Kevin Correia, and Shawn Hill, however, are not. Eventually San Diego’s mediocre offense will drag them down.
NL CENTRAL – CHICAGO CUBS
Yes. Is that enough to say here?
As I mentioned in My MLB Predictions Article, I believe that the Cubs have what it takes to win the NL Central. They have a solid pitching staff (Rich Harden is their No.4 Pitcher… That’s nasty) and excellent offensive weapons.
I don’t need to type much to defend the Cubs, as they are a near-consensus choice to win the NL Central this year (some Cardinals/Brewers supporters do exist).
NL EAST – FLORIDA MARLINS
In 1997 the Florida Marlins shocked the world by winning the World Series with a low-income crop of players.
Six years later, in 2003, the Marlins again won a World Series with a group of unproven players (who have now gone on to be stars).
Six years later, in 2009, the Marlins have come out of the gate 6-1 and feature some of the best young talent in baseball.
Many critics suggested that the Marlins lineup would struggle without Hanley Ramirez in the leadoff spot, but Emilio Bonifacio is the new leadoff man and the Marlins haven’t lost a step.
2009 NL MVP Hanley Ramirez (book it, it’s happening) might be the best player in all of baseball, and while the lineup of Bonifacio, John Baker, Ramirez, Dan Uggla, Jorge Cantu, and Jeremy Hermida isn’t exactly “Murderer’s Row,” it is a serviceable offense.
The offense is average, but the pitching is outstanding. Many experts labeled the Marlins’ rotation of Ricky Nolasco, Josh Johnson, Chris Volstad, Anibal Sanchez, and Andrew Miller as the best in the NL East. They have an unprecedented amount of young talent, and if the rotation can gain consistency then the Marlins could contend for the NL East crown this year.
That’s my opinion on what division leaders are faking it and who might be around to play in October.
Comment with what you think is right, wrong, and anywhere in between.