Forgive me for generalizing, but my take on Villanova’s baseball fanbase breaks down like this: thirty percent of the student body are Phillies fans, twenty-five percent are Yankees fans, twenty percent are members of Red Sox nations, ten percent cheer for the Mets, and fifteen percent are split between the remaining twenty-six clubs. Keep in mind, I interviewed a grand total of zero people for this scientific polling data. For all I know, the Orioles have a huge ‘silent majority’ of fans waiting to don orange if the team ever escapes the AL East basement, but I think I have a decent handle on where Villanovans’ allegiances lie. So instead of breaking down every team’s chance at a title and boring you to tears as I diagnose the bullpens of the NL West, I’m going to tell you why each of those four teams can and can not win it all, and who will eventually be lifting up the ugliest trophy in sports this October.
What a difference a year makes. 12 months ago, the Phillies were the clear favorite to come out of the National League, despite not even reaching the World Series the previous season. Then come October, the Phils lost not only the Divisional Series, but also their best player – first baseman Ryan Howard – to an injury that threatens to put his entire season in jeopardy. Couple that loss with second baseman Chase Utley’s knee problems, and the Phillies are without their top two offensive players for the foreseeable future, and if the (very) early returns are any sign, than the team is in for a rough patch. Before exploding for eight runs on Sunday, the team ranked next-to-last in run production, averaging just 2.5 runs per game. Thankfully the Phils still have arguably the best rotation in baseball, and if Doc Halladay and Co. can keep the team in sight of the Atlanta Braves until their two stars return, Philly will be able to coast to a sixth straight division title.
New York Mets
That last line sums up my thoughts on the Mets: it just isn’t going to happen this year. A 4-0 start is nothing to sneeze at, and the Mets were also able to take two out of three against the Phils over the weekend. But the season is long, and I don’t see a nine-game sample size holding up over 162 games. Having ace Johan Santana back in top form can’t be discounted, but this team made few changes from a squad that finished 25 games out of first place. At best, this team can hope for a third place finish in the division and sneak into the playoffs as a Wild Card team. They’ll need some help though: Santana has to his Cy Young form, the Phils need to continue to struggle, and the Mets probably need to add a bat at some point during the season.
New York Yankees
The Yankees made both my favorite trade and signing of the offseason, which says a lot considering how much I loathe the Evil Empire. The Bombers swapped prospect Jesus Montero for young flamethrower Michael Pineda, and also signed free agent Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year deal, shoring up their rotation both in the short and long term. That assurance about the team’s rotation dissipated in March when Pineda went down with shoulder tendinitis, and team doctors don’t expect him back until at least May. But with perennial Cy Young candidate CC Sabathia anchoring the rotation, and a deep, albeit aging lineup, this team shouldn’t have much trouble picking up another AL East crown. Their slow start shouldn’t worry fans too much, as the AL East isn’t as top heavy as years past.
Boston Red Sox
Oh, my beloved Boston Red Sox. I wasn’t feeling too optimistic about the beginning of the Bobby Valentine era, and that was before the shoulder injury to MVP runner-up Jacoby Ellsbury. Fortunately, the Sox have started to play up to their potential since getting swept by Detroit to open the season. The Motor City was unkind to Boston, especially on Easter, when the team blew two late leads before suffering their second walk-off loss of the season in the 11th inning. Fill-in closer Alfredo Aceves had an ERA of infinity after the first series, a microcosm of the bullpen’s struggles. Injuries define this team, as the team’s players currently on the DL (including Ellsbury, John Lackey, Carl Crawford, and closer Andrew Bailey) have salaries that total more than $60 million. Similar to Philadelphia, if Boston can get their stars back without falling out of the race, then they have a great chance not only of locking up a wild-card spot, but making a deep playoff run.
So who wins?
This year is as wide open as any in Major League Baseball. Especially given the new playoff format – two wild-cards team playing one game for a trip to the divisional series – this year could see any of these teams catch fire at the right time to make a run – think the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals. However, I think the best team on paper is the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Angels picked up the top two free agents this offseason, Albert Pujols and pitcher CJ Wilson. After failing to make the playoffs last year, the Angels are the team to beat in the AL after siphoning Wilson off division rival Texas. Another key piece: Kendrys Morales finally returned from nearly two years of injuries earlier this month, and if he can return to form, the Angels might have the best lineup in baseball.