As I watch what actually has turned out to be an interesting season opener between the Yanks and the Sox (in the Michael Wilbon voice), I guess there’s no better time than the present to give you my 2010 MLB season preview. Here are 10 storylines to watch as America’s pastime opens 2010 in earnest tomorrow.
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It’s been another busy winter for the Yankees, though this time with a tighter grip on the purse strings. The 27-time World Champs signed former farmhand Nick Johnson as their DH and added journeyman Randy Winn to provide a capable outfielder off the bench. But the other additions came through trades. Curtis Granderson, fresh off a career-high 30 home runs with the Tigers (written as he takes Josh Beckett deep with two outs in the second inning), was brought in for pitchers Phil Coke, Ian Kennedy, and top prospect Austin Jackson. The rotation was strengthened by the acquisition of Javier Vasquez (another former Yankee returning to the Bronx) for misfit Melky Cabrera. Vazquez and the reintroduction of Phil Hughes to the rotation stabilizes the back-end of one of the best starting fives in the AL, while Chan Ho Park and Joba Chamberlain’s return to the bullpen gives them depth there. Despite playing in baseball’s toughest division, the Yanks are still a front-runner to take home another World Series Title.
Phil me up again? Continue reading
For the Philadelphia Phillies, the first step on the way to a repeat as world champions will be a five-game series against the Colorado Rockies in the NLDS. Last time these two met in the postseason, the Rockies swept the Phillies in three games during the NLDS as they went on to take their first National League pennant. These two meet once again in 2009, with the memories of 2007 fresh in their minds.
The Rockies win if: Their pitching can keep the Phillies’ bats cool. The Phils come into the postseason with four days of rest since their last truly meaningful game, which could mean a slow offensive start for the defending world champs, especially with legitimate ace Ubaldo Jimenez ready to go in game one. This task is made more difficult with the recent loss of starter Jorge De La Rosa for the series, but a return to All-Star form by Aaron Cook may make up for that. If Colorado can keep the likes of Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth off the bases, then Rocktober will be extended through at least next week.
The Phillies win if: Their bullpen can hold up their end of the bargain. The final nine outs of the ballgame have been one giant puzzle for Charlie Manuel this season, and he will have the rough job of piecing together a save each night of the playoffs when the stakes are raised. The combination of Brad Lidge, Scott Eyre, Ryan Madson, and possible either J.A. Happ or Pedro Martinez will have to regain the confidence of the 2008 edition to ensure that the Phillies don’t look more like the 2007 team.
The X-factor: The ballparks. Coors Field and Citizens Bank Park are not known for their famous pitching duels. Both parks, in fact, are considered to be more of a launching pad than Cape Canaveral, which means the long ball will probably make its appearance early and often in this series. When you add the power-hitters on both sides of the series, you may end up seeing more crooked scores than usual in a playoff series.
The Verdict: While they are not the bullpen of last year, the Phillies relievers know what it takes to play late into October. Despite the possibility of hiccups from the relief corps, Colorado has noted struggles against left-handed pitchers, and the Phillies are loaded with southpaws. Both Eyre and Happ get a workout while Howard and Werth take advantage of the friendly dimensions of both home stadiums. Despite putting up some tough competition, the Rockies will ultimately miss the talented arm of De La Rosa and lose the series in four games.
-Tom Hagan, ’11