Predicting things is hard, and it’s wearing on me, even as I work on just my second set. Writing a sports prediction is like putting a helmet on a school of fish. You have to ignore the intuitive voice whispering that a prediction is a false, futile handhold in a slippery world.
Just as quickly, though, I’ll hedge my argument and support the pointless prediction, because predictions get you to exercise your intuition muscle. Analyzing a team and a division is a way to make public one’s intuition about the way a team is built, its players, coaches, and competition, like a Rorschach test for the baseball brain.
When I predict that the Chicago Cubs will win the division, for example, which I have just done, I’m announcing my tendency to value players that others have scratched as unreliable, like Carlos Zambrano, Alfonso Soriano, and Kosuke Fokudome. I’m also announcing that I’m something of a contrarian, unwilling to go along with the more trendy picks in the young Reds and bolstered Brewers. And finally, I’m revealing myself to be something of a sentimentalist. Sure, I’d like to see the Cubs win the division and the World Series as the current holder of the Crown of Haplessness, and that’s reflected in my irrational prediction that they will win the division.
Specifically, they have have stable rotation if Zambrano returns to form–which I believe that he will to a degree–supporting Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and Randy Wells. If Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena thump in the middle of the lineup, and Geovany Soto, Soriano, Marlon Byrd, and Starlin Castro perform adequately, I really think there’s a shot here. The bullpen is solid, with Carlos Marmol slinging lightning, and Kerry Wood and Sean Marshall holding together the mid-late innings. I’m convincing myself! Is that derangement? Cubs win!
Cubs sleeper: Kosuke Fokudome, who had an .809 OPS last year.
This division race could, of course, go any direction.
The Milwaukee Brewers have a thrilling lineup of hitters, and Rickie Weeks is a favorite pick of mine to perform well again this year after one of the fellows on the CBS Sports Fantasy Baseball podcast pointed out what a good fastball hitter he is, then I saw a Spring Training game in which he hit such a fastball really far. Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, these are great hitters. But after that, the lineup falls off quickly, to players like Carlos Gomez, Yuni Betancourt, and (shudder) Mark Kotsay.
Further, I think the Brewers’ rotation is overrated, with the slightly goofy Zack Greinke, a somewhat overrated (in my opinion) Shawn Marcum, and a pretty good Yovani Gallardo. A wild card bullpen may not be enough to bolster those starters, and we’ve already seen some cracks early in the year.
Brewers sleeper: Takashi Saito, whose experience and cunning could be a bright spot in the bullpen.
The Cincinnati Reds are the team with the gleam. An MVP in Joey Votto anchors their lineup, alongside the rising Jay Bruce, the powerful Jonny Gomes, the speedy Drew Stubbs, and the kinetic Brandon Phillips. Again, though, this starting rotation has some worrisome holes. Edinson Volquez and Jonny Cueto have yet to string together good seasons simultaneously or consecutively. Mike Leake and Travis Wood are young and unpredictable. Bronson Arroyo is solid, and will likely deliver the same eating of innings he does every year. I think the Reds come up short.
Reds sleeper (not actually a sleeper): Aroldis Chapman. The Cuban Missile!
The St. Louis Cardinals can always play well, and I’ve learned not to count them out under very many circumstances. The loss of an ace may be one of those circumstances, to go along with a questionable closer and some week infield hitting. Colby Rasmus could take his game to a higher level this year, though it’ll be a stretch for him to join the stratosphere of the studs on this team in Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. If Lance Berkman can return to form, this could be a pretty potent lefty-righty-lefty-right lineup, which will be important given the punchless infield with Ryan Theriot, David Frees, and Skip Schumaker.
Cards sleeper: /sound of grasshopers.
Enough has been written elsewhere about the Houston Astros, I don’t need to pile on. I’m more optimistic than most, but that’s because I’m a homer. This should be a tough division, and someone has to pay the price.
Astros Sleeper: Brett Wallace. See #BrettWallaceHaterWatch2011 on Twitter.
Pittsurgh Pirates: see Astros, Houston. (Yes, I forgot they existed and I had to add this later. Let’s just say I don’t blame myself for it. Sorry, Pirates fans, but as an Astros fans I don’t have much pity left for you.)