Faceoff: Jones vs. Munshaw vs. Hamilton
Who will win the AL East?
I’m not an Orioles fan, but I’ll still be following the American League East just as close as my beloved Washington National’s NL East because of how contested this race is going to be all season.
Every team in the league (except the Blue Jays, sorry Blue Jays) have a chance to win the pennant, but I think this is the year that the Tampa Bay Rays become far more than a Wild Card team.
Let’s just look at this pitching rotation. It is easily in the top five rotations in baseball, and make a case to be in the top-three behind the Nationals and the Dodgers.
A trade for David Price went from being a guarantee to laughable for the Rays looking at their rotation now. Price led the way with a 2.87 earned-run average and a 9.33 strikeout per nine innings rate following the All-Star break last season.
Price is always a safe bet to have a strong season, and he’s supported by three up-and-coming starters, Alex Cob, Matt Moore and Chris Archer, who have all just scratched the surface of their potential in baseball.
Grant Balfour will also be a better closer than Fernando Rodney was, recording 38 saves last year with Oakland, and allowing just 18 earned runs in 62.2 innings.
The batting lineup isn’t going to be running the score up on anyone, but the Rays were fourth in the league in on-base percentage last year, and manager Joe Maddon is one of the few MLB managers that can actually affect the outcome of a game by moving just one or two batters around in a lineup.
The Yankees are so old half the team might retire by the time the season is over and the Red Sox’s outfield has way too many holes (Grady Sizemore is going to start in center field). Baltimore will find its way into the playoffs as a Wild Card team, but the Rays are just too well-rounded to not win the division over the older teams.
I’m an Orioles fan. I’ve been going to games since I was 2 years old (if you don’t believe me just ask my momma!) and I really, really hate the Yankees. But here I am, predicting the Bronx Boogers to win the AL East.
When you have a lineup that includes Mark Teixeria, Derek Jeter, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Alfonso Soriano, to go along with the pitching of the now somehow really skinny CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova (coming off arguably his best season in the majors), you have a pretty good chance of winning.
I do think their infield can hold them back, however, as Brian Roberts (traitor) can’t play more than 30 games in a season, Jeter IS old and I don’t even know who Kelly Johnson is.
The Red Sox, O’s and Rays will still be right there with the Yankees. The Rays have great pitching year-after-year, but their lineup never has and never will scare me. The Red Sox are coming off of a World Championship (BOOOO!!) but I don’t think they’ll be able to rekindle that flame.
I really like some of the addition the Orioles made. Nelson Cruz will prove to be huge, and Ubaldo Jimenez should be the ace. I expect Chris Davis to tear it up again with the help of deer antler spray, and Adam Jones is a Top 5 centerfielder in the league. The defense is there and I think the O’s can move past the Rays and Red Sox for a Wild Card spot in the playoffs, but I’m not sure if they’ll be able to ruin the Captain’s going-out party for the division title.
Crucify my O’s fans. I deserve it!
I am pretty disappointed in Jesse, who betrayed his Orioles fandom to pick the Yankees to win the division. What has happened to you, Jesse? I’ll stay true to my Orioles until I die.
Most of the time, I have to suffer through a long, losing Orioles season. However, this season won’t be that. No, the Orioles will take the AL East over the Red Sox and Yankees.
The Orioles finished 85-77 last season and have gotten better. Left fielder Nate McLouth signed with the Nationals, but the Orioles got David Lough and Nelson Cruz to replace him. Pitcher Jason Hammel joined the Cubs, but Ubaldo Jimenez came to Baltimore to fill that role.
The Orioles are a better team than last year, so 90-plus wins is a definite possibility. But let’s look at the other teams and why they won’t win.
The Yankees are old, really old. The average age of the projected lineup is 33.7, which rounds up to 34 because it helps my point. Injuries will plague this team and pitching could as well.
The Rays have a great rotation, where’s the offense? Other than Evan Longoria and Wil Myers, the Rays’ lineup doesn’t have the fire-power to compete with the Orioles and Yankees. Unless David Price turns in a Cy Young-type season, the Rays will not make the playoffs. But they always surprise me, so who knows.
In Boston, the World Series hangover will occur when they realize that Jacoby Ellsbury’s .297 lifetime batting average is a big loss. Pitching will keep them up at the top of the division, but the Orioles offense will outweigh the Red Sox’s pitching staff.
The Blue Jays just won’t get it done. On paper, the Blue Jays can compete with any team in the league, but they underachieved last year and will again. Pitching will hurt them down the stretch, much like the Yankees.
Who has the best chance to run the table in the Sweet 16?
Having a standout freshman shooting guard will get you on SportsCenter and national television. But you need a strong group of seniors to win a national championship, and that’s exactly what Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators have right now.
The Gators haven’t looked dominant in their first two wins of the tournament over Pitt and Albany, but they have looked good enough for me to feel confident in them to cut down the nets.
Florida’s defense is one of the best in the country, and they’ll need it against UCLA’s high-flying offense.
The group of seniors are incredibly athletic, and match up in size with almost any other team in the country. That makes for a defense that can change the outcome of games, but throughout the regular season, offense was a concern.
But through the first two games of the tournament, Casey Prather and Scottie Wilbekin have shown that they can score when called upon. Wilbekin took over in the second half against Pitt, and Prather is shooting 60.7 percent in the tournament.
Center Patric Young can also score in the paint, shooting 54.1 from the floor in addition to pulling down over six rebounds per game.
The last time Florida won a National Championship, they had a very similar group of seniors. Florida just feels right as a team right now. Their chemistry is unmatched, and it’s clear this team wants to win for Donovan.
As long as Young can find space down low and Michael Frazier can continue to be effective as a perimeter shooter, the Gators will be fine.
Let me preface this by saying I have six of my Elite Eight remaining. Thanks for nothing, as usual, Kansas and Creighton.
With that said, there are plenty of good teams remaining.
Michigan State is on a roll, but they always fall short.
If you want to know my take on Virginia, listen to Colin Cowherd’s rant about their football program on YouTube. It applies to the entire university.
Kentucky and Louisville will be a great game, but I don’t think either team can get past Michigan. Same goes for Tennessee, which is a really fun team to watch.
UConn is good and I like Kevin Ollie as a head coach, but DeAndre Kane is a man and because I’ve doubted Iowa State all season and they’ve proved me wrong. I’m riding with them.
Dayton, Stanford and UCLA are hot right now, but I think the Gators are too good and Patric Young is ridiculously good.
Baylor is on fire and while I met some awesome people from Wisconsin during spring break, neither will get past Zona.
That leaves us with Florida, Arizona, Iowa State and Michigan in the Final Four.
Both Michigan vs. Arizona and Iowa State vs. Florida would be great games. All four teams average over 70 points per game, which may not seem like that much, but try watching a Syracuse game each night where the halftime score is 20-18.
I think the battle between Patric Young and Melvin Ejim/DeAndre Kane would be fantastic, and while Iowa State can score at will most nights, Billy Donovan is one of the elite coaches in the game and that team plays great defense. Florida in a nail-biter.
Michigan and Arizona could be a great one, as the match-up between Nick Johnson and Nik Stauskas could be one for the ages. But Arizona has three players averaging over 15 points per game and has just been the better team all season.
A Florida vs. Arizona title game could go either way, but I’ll take the Wildcats to bring home their first championship since 1997 for a few reasons. One, the girls. Two, Gilbert Arenas played there. And three, Gilbert Arenas played there. He will have absolutely no impact on the game, but it goes for something, right? GO ZONA!
Since Jesse and Munch picked the two teams I thought would make the final, I’ll present the case for another, less likely, team to cut down the nets in Dallas. Let’s go with Michigan State, the trendy pick among ESPN analysts throughout the past week.
The Spartans have struggled with injuries all season, but are finally healthy with Gary Harris recovering from various ailments. Combine Harris with Adrian Payne, and you’ve got a duo that matches that of Starsky and Hutch (the old one, not the Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson one).
Michigan State has Virginia on Thursday, which will be a tough task. The Cavaliers play strong defense, but the Spartans do, too. With Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell, the Cavaliers could make a long run, but the Spartans, I think, are just a better team all-around.
Next up will be either Connecticut or Iowa State. Iowa State is dealing with injuries and Connecticut is just not as strong, minus Shabazz Napier. Either team would be at a huge disadvantage against Michigan State.
In the Final Four, Michigan State will face the toughest competition in Florida. Both teams play strong defense and counter with giant bodies and great offense. What it will come down to is Adrian Payne versus Patric Young. Payne can shoot from outside, something that Young cannot down. Game, set, match.
Michigan State will play Arizona in the final and win by a good amount. The Wildcats are good, but without injured guard Brandon Ashley, they won’t be able to match up with the Spartans.
Payne will be a pain in the butt for the Wildcats’ defense (see what I did there) and Tom Izzo will cut down the nets once again. After all, I did pick the colors of bunk bed based on Michigan State, so they might as well show me the respect I deserve.