Friday, March 16, 2007

How Baltimore Can Win the East Part 1: The Case Against Toronto

The odds are insurmountable they say. Even with improvement from the O's, the competition is just too stiff. But the opponents are not as formidable as they are made out to be.

Oh sure, if things go well for the other teams in the division (especially Boston and New York) it will be tough to compete even if everything goes right. But there are chinks in the armor that could bring the Evil Empires crashing to the ground.

So, this series is based on two premises:

1. Tampa Bay is not a factor. They have young talent to be envious of but they don't have a lot of it on the mound. Outside of Scott Kazmir, expect a mess of a pitching staff. The young hitters won't be able to bail them out. Devil Rays, I summarily dismiss you.

2. Baltimore gets appreciably better in several areas and avoids major injury. That means the young pitching develops well, some players have bounceback seasons and the free agents perform as advertised. While Baltimore has only one player who can be reasonably expected to hit 30 HR (Tejada) you can add several who are capable of exceeding 20 (Huff, Mora, Hernandez, Gibbons, Markakis). So the offense and pitching would have to be solid, not spectacular, for a run to be made.

Got it? Great. The first team to dissect is Toronto:

1. The Outfield Reverts to Form

Every principle player slated for the outfield had a career year (Reed Johnson, Alex Rios) or approached their career year (Vernon Wells) in 2006. Based on past performance, none of these guys can reasonably be expected to surpass these performances. I would find it highly unlikely that they match them as a unit. Expect some declines and assume that this unit will be worse (maybe way worse) this year.

2. Frank Thomas Breaks Down

Frank Thomas is a formidable hitter, even at 39. At least when he's healthy. He has played in 135 games or more only 3 times in the last 6 years. He's another year older, so do you bet the over or the under here? I'm betting the under. His replacement would likely be Greg Zaun most nights, a significant dropoff in power.

3. The Infield is Suspect

Lyle Overbay is a nice fielder at first but up until last year had a very Millar-like bat. Expect him to return to form this year. At second, the young slick-fielding Aaron Hill who'll hit for a decent average but has never hit for much power. At short, the hideously all-around bad player that is Royce Clayton. He can't hit his way out of a paper bag and the only boast he can make about his fielding is that he is better than Derek Jeter, which isn't saying a whole hell of a lot. Troy Glaus is a power threat at third, a hitter to be feared but strikes out more and walks less these days. You can pencil him in for 35+ homers but also an average in the .250's. He's another guy with a history of injuries and the Jays don't have a lot of depth to pick up the slack.

4. The Pitching is Suspect

The Jays have a stud and a half. Roy Halladay is the stud, A.J. Burnett is the half. Much like the O's and Erik Bedard, the Jays are screwed if Halladay doesn't start 32 games this year and he does have a well known history of inuries. If Burnett starts more than 20 games, I'll be shocked. By the way, he is still just a .500 pitcher for his career at the age of 30. Behind them? Gustavo Chacin, Tohmo Ohka and John Thompson. Anybody shaking in their boots when these guys take the mound? The bottom of the rotation could prove to be quite the disaster. Josh Towers will be the first one called in case of injury and I think we are all familiar with how little he brings to the table.

The one bright spot is the bullpen, anchored by B.J. Ryan and Justin Speier but beyond them, no one is the bullpen has proven themselves over multiple years.

5. Catcher is a weakness...

...defensively when Gregg Zaun is behind the plate, offensively when Jason Phillips is behind the plate. They may actually be worse off with Benji Molina gone.


Does this look like the 87 win team from last year or the losing teams from 2003-2004? John Gibbons may not survive the season. This is a team that needs everything to go right to even repeat last year's performance. How does 4th place look to you guys? Baltimore should have no problem overperforming this crew.

Next up: The Boston Red Sox

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