The emails and tweets have been most interesting in the days since our staff predictions were posted on the website. Most people think I am nuts for picking the Royals to win the American League Central and the Padres to win the National League West. Perhaps they will be proven right. After all, I was the only one of 27 staff members to pick either team to win its division. Remember, though, that 29 of the 30 people who were on the staff at this time last season picked the Red Sox to win the AL East. The one person who predicted the Red Sox not only wouldn't win the division but also fail to qualify for the postseason? Well, I was a taught at an early age that it's impolite to brag.
Many readers have asked for reasons why I think the Royals and Padres will win the division. I'd love to provide a 57-part mathematical equation to explain myself, but longtime readers of BP know that I'm the resident dumb guy among all the smart people who contribute to this site. I struggle to balance my checkbook, let alone devise proprietary mathematical formulas.
When I make preseason predictions, I like to have fun and go off the board with some of my picks. It's boring, not to mention too easy, to just pick the obvious favorites in each division. Thus, my two fun picks this season are the Royals and the Padres.
I do think the Royals will be much improved despite the loss of closer Joakim Soria for the season to an elbow injury and catcher Salvador Perez for three months because of a knee injury. Though the Royals will miss Perez, they do have two good candidates to replace Soria as closer in Jonathan Broxton and Greg Holland.
Furthermore, I think the Royals are going to score plenty of runs with Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, and Mike Moustakas in the lineup. They will score even more when Perez returns and the Royals come to their senses and bring Johnny Giovatella back up from Triple-A to replace Chris Getz at second base. I also have a feeling Lorenzo Cain is going to turn out to be a good player.
Finally, left-hander Jonathan Sanchez has something to prove after being traded and with free agency coming up. It's not usually good to bet on pitchers moving to the AL from the NL, but I think he's going to have a really good season and anchor a starting rotation that isn't quite as bad as is perceived.
I think the Padres' pitching will pull them through in the NL West, even after trading ace Mat Latos to the Reds over the winter. Tim Stauffer, Cory Luebke, Clayton Richard, and Dustin Moseley have all learned to pitch with an assist from Petco Park. Going from the Great American Band Box in Cincinnati to the most pitcher-friendly environment in baseball could also be just the thing to revive Edinson Volquez's career, and switching home parks from Coors Field in Denver to Petco Park should also help new closer Huston Street.
The Padres will again struggle to score runs, but remember that I picked first baseman Yonder Alonso, who was acquired along with Volquez and two others from the Reds for Latos, as my choice for breakout player of the year in 2012. He will help, and after having an opportunity to have a chat with center fielder Cameron Maybin at the Padres' spring training camp, I have a feeling he, too, is ready to provide a long-awaited breakout season.
The great thing about making predictions in March is that nobody remembers them in October… unless, of course, I turn out to be right about the Royals and/or Padres, in which case I'll be happy to remind everybody.
A few minutes with Mariners second baseman Dustin Ackley (before he drove home the game-winning run in the season opener against the Athletics on Wednesday in Toyko):
On getting ready for his first full season in the major leagues: "I think what I learned the most last year is that it really is a long season. I kind of tailed off at the end, and I think a lot of that was fatigue. I'm better prepared to handle it this year. I feel like I'm ready for the long haul."
On how he has handled the transition to second base after playing first base and center field in college: "It's still a work in progress. I feel very comfortable now fielding the ball and with my throws. The big part for me is turning the double play. I still don't think I'm as smooth with it as I should be, but I keep working at it."
On why he thinks the Mariners' offense will be improved this year: "We've got a lot of young guys with talent. Justin Smoak is going to be better this year. I think I'll have a better year now that I have some experience at the major-league level. Jesus Montero is going to be a huge addition. We've got the type of pitching staff you can win with, and now it's time for us as an offense to step up and give them more support. We scored the fewest runs in baseball last year, and that makes it really tough on our pitchers."
On how much he thinks adding Montero to the lineup will help: "He's a very special hitter. We saw him last September when he was with the Yankees, and he was impressive. He hits the ball deep to both power alleys, and you don't see many hitters do that. As much as I hated to see us trade such a good young pitcher like Michael Pineda, I was really excited when we got Montero. He's going to make a huge impact for us.”
Marlins left-hander Mark Buehrle: "Everybody talks about the Marlins signing Jose Reyes and Heath Bell, but one of the best free agent signings of the entire offseason—for any team—was Buehrle. He's durable, he knows how to get people out, he has the best pickoff move in the league, and he sets an example as a professional that the Marlins' younger pitchers can learn from."
Phillies second baseman Freddy Galvis: "He's obviously not Chase Utley offensively, but he'll be an upgrade on defense. He'll hold his own with the bat too. He won't kill the Phillies like some people think."
Orioles first baseman Chris Davis: "He just has no life to him. He's been a dead ass all spring. I see why teams are intrigued by him because he can hit the ball a long way, but I just don't see it ever happening with him."
Pirates left-hander Erik Bedard: "He's starting to look like the old Bedard. His stuff is starting to look as good as it did before he had the three shoulder surgeries. The Pirates might have got themselves a bargain there."
Astros left-hander Wandy Rodriguez: "Every spring, he is just awful. You watch him pitch in Florida, and you think he's going to have a terrible year. Then the regular season starts and he's fine. It's like spring training and the exhibition games never happened. Spring training stats rarely mean anything, and they mean absolutely nothing in his case."
Five observations from a second pass through the Grapefruit League:
- It's neat to see that last October's success hasn't changed Cardinals third baseman David Freese. He still is that wide-eyed hometown hero who can't quite believe he delivered a World Series title for the franchise he rooted for as a kid.
- I got the distinct feeling during Braves third baseman Chipper Jones' retirement press conference that he would have stepped aside right then and there but felt a sense of obligation to play out the season so he doesn't leave his team in a lurch.
- If Hanley Ramirez has any bitterness (as some have speculated) about being moved to third base from shortstop by the Marlins to make room for Jose Reyes, he is doing a great job of hiding it.
- Age has mellowed Mets manager Terry Collins at least a little bit. He is much more accepting of the mess that has been created by ownership and management and seems determined to make the best of it rather than blow his lid.
- It was sad to see the Astros release left-hander Zach Duke as his career continues to go downhill at a rapid pace. Duke looked like a potential star when he joined the Pirates as a rookie in 2005, and his loss of stuff over the years is a real mystery since he never had any serious arm problems.