After off-season moves this past season, two teams come to the forefront, in my mind, on who became the most improved in the two different leagues.
(July 19, 2009 – Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America)
In the American League, the Baltimore Orioles made a meandering of changes in their lineup this off-season to try to support their young and talented pitching staff. The major off-season acquisitions included Derrek Lee, Mark Reynolds, J.J. Hardy, and Vladimir Guerrero. All four of those players have the power to hit 20 home runs, maybe with the exception of Hardy. He did however hit over 20 in the ’07 and ’08 seasons. The only problem in going this route, you’re not planning for the future. None of these four players will be with the team for more than a couple of years at most.
The interesting aspect what these players bring is the protection that Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Luke Scott gain in the line up. Lee doesn’t have the same power he once had after his wrist injury, but is still a dangerous hitter. Reynolds will probably continue to strike out at an alarming rate, but will probably still hit 35+ home runs in hitter friendly Camden Yards. He also has to deal with the better pitching in the AL East compared to the much weaker NL West, which could be a problem. Junk ball hitting specialist, Guerrero should be a dangerous hitter in this line up as well. He’s thrived in the DH role with Texas last season, and I expect him to keep the same momentum going. If you figure in a healthy Brian Roberts at the top of the lineup, and a young Matt Wieters behind the plate, it could rival any team in the AL as one of the best lineups.
With the young pitching staff, the team is going to have to put up a lot of runs in order to help these young guys “take their lumps” while they gain more experience. Brian Matusz is poised to have a break out year, and Jeremy Guthrie could have a winning record with his normal ERA in the low fours or high threes. Between young pitchers Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and to an extent Brad Bergesen, with veteran Justin Duchscherer could make for an adaquete rotation with a very high ceiling. I’m not expecting a Cy Young winner to emerge from the group, but they could win a number of games with amount of runs the line up could mash in.
Brian Roberts – 2B
Adam Jones – CF
Luke Scott – LF
Vladimir Gurrero – DH
Nick Markakis – RF
Derrek Lee – 1B
Mark Reynolds – 3B
Matt Wieters – C
J.J. Hardy – SS
It’s pretty hard to place all those power hitters in the lineup while trying to make the most sense. This will give coach Buck Showalter the flexibility to have a lot different lineup configurations depending on the pitching match up. The only hitter on the team that hit over 20 home runs last season was Luke Scott. He should be poised to do the same, and drive in plenty of runs himself. This lineup might be one of the most balanced lineups I’ve ever seen as well. You have two switch hitters, five right handed hitters, and two left handed hitters. Fact of the matter is, they’re also in one of the best divisions in all of baseball. Between the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and even the Blue Jays, I just don’t foresee them making the playoffs, but they’re going to surprise a lot of people this season. Will they make it out of the cellar? There’s a really good possibility that occurs.
On the NL side of things, the Washington Nationals added some players that give slugger Ryan Zimmerman some extra protection that could even take him up to a next level (if there is one for him). The additions of Jayson Werth and Adam Laroche will add 40-50 home runs from those two batters alone. Werth of course was the super-star contract acquisition this season, but it’s going to be hard for him to live up to those expectations. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a fantastic player, and knew he was good with the Dodogers; he just needed that change to get regular playing time. He got that with the Phillies and got him a World Series ring in the process.
(August 5, 2009 – Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images North America)
Outfielder Michael Morse appears to have gotten a shot to be the everyday left fielder for the team to start the season. In only 266 ABs, he hit 15 home runs and batted in 41. Assuming enough at-bats for an everyday player through out the season, 30 home runs and 90 RBIs aren’t out of the question for him.
None of the options the team has for center field are all that attractive. I think Nyjer Morgan makes the most sense to me, since he can lead off, so I want to assume they’ll go that route. Last I read; however, Rick Ankiel has the inside track to securing the position, which I’m not sure that is the best option for the team. Without Morgan, they have no true lead off hitter. Roger Bernadina is also in the mix for OF time. Ian Desmond is more suited to be the second batter in the lineup behind Morgan.
Youngster Danny Espinosa, who has 15 home run power is slated to take over duties at 2nd base. Desmond should able to build on a pretty decent rookie campaign from last season. Hot shot catching prospect, Wilson Ramos, who was acquired in the Matt Capps trade with the Twins could start to figure in the lineup too with aging Pudge Rodriquez. It’s also possible that Jesus Flores could factor into the catching spot too, but there has been some interest with him going to Houston when Jason Castro was lost for the season.
Potential Lineup (How I would construct it):
Nyjer Morgan – CF
Ian Desmond – SS
Ryan Zimmerman – 3B
Jayson Werth – RF
Michael Morse – LF
Adam LaRoche – 1B
Pudge Rodriguez / Wilson Ramos – C
Danny Espinosa – 2B
The pitcher’s spot brings up a really good point: The Washington Nationals rotation and bullpen are a giant mess. Livan Hernandez is _NOT_who you want pitching for you opening day. With Steven Strasburg on the shelf all season, and Jordan Zimmerman having his own injuries last season, the team doesn’t have much to work with. The other three pitchers poised to make the rotation are Jason Marquis, John Lannan and Tom Gorzelanny. They will not be able to compete at all with the Phillies, but could give the Braves and Marlins a kind of “run for their money”. They’re a much better hitting team this season, by spending a lot of money, but with out pitching they don’t stand a chance.
Young closer Drew Storen has seemed to lost his spot at closer as well with a horrid spring with an ERA over 11. I saw last that the team has no official closer announced as of yet. We’ll see what happens there. Tyler Clippard could get some time shutting down games of Storen officially loses it.
Filed under: Digging Deep - Analysis | Tagged: Adam Jones, Adam LaRoche, Brad Bergesen, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Danny Espinosa, Derrek Lee, Ian Desmond, Jake Arrieta, Jason Marquis, Jayson Werth, JJ Hardy, John Lannan, Jordan Zimmerman, Justin Duchscherer, Luke Scott, Mark Reynolds, Matt Wieters, Michael Morse, Nationals, Nick Markakis, Nyjer Morgan, Orioles, Rick Ankiel, Ryan Zimmerman, Steven Strasburg, Tom Gorzelanny, Vladimir Guerrero | 1 Comment »