Five new playoff contenders for the 2010 MLB season

While some enthusiasts will argue otherwise, there’s usually not a lot of change from one year to the next in baseball. Most pundits expect the Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox, Angels, Cardinals, Twins, Dodgers and Rockies (all eight teams that made the playoffs in 2009) to be good again this year. MLB isn’t like the NFL where teams make unexpected playoff runs every year.

That said, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a couple of sleepers to watch out for in 2010. Below are five clubs that didn’t make the postseason last year that have the best odds (in my estimation) of making the playoffs this season.

1. Chicago White Sox
If you read the 2010 MLB season preview, you’re not surprised to see the White Sox at the top of this list. As long as Jake Peavy stays healthy, Chicago arguably has the best starting rotation one through five in the American League. (Boston fans may argue otherwise, but Boston fans can also shove off…just kidding…although not really.) But the key to the Chi Sox’s success this season lies in their offense. Yes, I’m banking on veterans Carlos Quentin, Alex Rios, Mark Teahen, Paul Konerko and Mark Kotsay to have productive years and yes, that may be asking a lot. But Gordon Beckham looks like a star in the making and the addition of Juan Pierre gives the Sox a solid leadoff hitter. I’m well aware that Chicago could finish third in a three-team race in the AL Central, but their pitching is going to keep them competitive all season and I’m willing to bet that their offense won’t be as bad as many believe.

2. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners have all the pieces in place to not only compete for the AL Wild Card, but also unseat the Angels in the AL West. Along with Felix Hernandez, the acquisition of Cliff Lee now gives Seattle the best 1-2 punch in the American League outside of Boston’s Josh Beckett and John Lackey. The problem is that the lineup lacks major punch. Chone Figgins and Ichiro give the M’s quality bats at the top of the order, but can this team score enough runs on a nightly basis? The club has been built on pitching and defense but if they want to make the postseason, the Mariners will have to prove that they can overcome a powerless lineup.

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2010 MLB Preview: AL East

In order to help get you ready for the MLB season, we’re doing division-by-division rankings with quick overviews on how each club could fair in 2010. Next to each team, you’ll also find a corresponding number written in parenthesis, which indicates where we believe that club falls in a league-wide power ranking. Be sure to check back throughout the next two weeks leading up to the season, as we will be updating our content daily. Enjoy.

All 2010 MLB Preview Content | AL East Preview | AL Central Preview | AL West Preview | NL East | NL Central | NL West

First up is the AL East.

1. New York Yankees (1)
If you think I would get cute in these rankings and suggest that some upstart team would derail the Yankees this season, then you sir, are sadly mistaken. I just don’t have the conjones to bet against them, especially after they added Curtis Granderson, Javier Vazquez and Nick Johnson to their already stacked roster. Sure they lost World Series MVP Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon, the latter of which loved to work the count and provided the Yanks with some pop over the last couple of seasons. But thanks to Granderson, Johnson, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Texeira, Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada, the lineup is still stacked from top to bottom. Vazquez, CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Mariano Rivera will once again highlight a strong pitching staff and assuming they don’t suffer any major injuries, there’s nothing to suggest that the Bombers won’t make another championship run. That said, let’s not be oblivious to the potential problems that could arise for the Yanks this season. Age is a factor, as is the fact that Granderson can’t hit lefties and will be under the spotlight as the club’s biggest offseason acquisition. Plus, for as good as Vazquez was over the past couple of years, he was a disaster the last time he wore pinstripes (Boston fans remember this well.) Should the Yankees win another World Series? Yeah – especially considering they have the best-purchased roster in baseball. But just like last year, they still have to prove it between the lines and they’re not immune to hurdles getting in their way.

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2010 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Second Basemen

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Stop us if this scenario has ever played out during one of your drafts: You’re in the first round and Chase Utley comes off the board. With so many good players available at other positions, you don’t even blink an eye. But then Ian Kinsler is taken a few rounds later and then maybe even Brandon Phillips or Robinson Cano are selected and all of a sudden you start to feel the second basemen death grip on your shoulder.

“No problem,” you think to yourself. “I’ll just address other positions and figure out second base later. After all, what’s the difference now? The production will be roughly the same for anyone I draft from here out, so I might as well wait.”

The problem with that mindset is that you’re probably passing on players that are essentially locks for certain stats. Once those players come off the board, you run the risk of suffering through major bouts of inconsistency (think Dan Uggla) or unspectacular production (think Jose Lopez) at the second base position.

If you miss out on Utley or Kinsler, we recommend snagging one of these four second basemen and reaping the benefits of what should be locks for certain stats. These four might not give you the same production as Utley or Kinsler, but they’re safer bets to than ’09 heroes Aaron Hill and Ben Zobrist, who may not duplicate the success they had last year. We know they look like locks, but we value the four players below more.

(Side note: Depending on what stat you’re looking for, these four players might be interchangeable, so don’t get too hung up on where we have them ranked. They’re all solid options at second base.)

Brandon Phillips, Reds
Phillips has produced three straight 20/20 seasons and chances are, he’ll accomplish that feat again this year. If you’re hoping he’ll slug 30 home runs and steal 30 bases this season, you’re expectations are probably too high. But getting 20 dingers and 20 steals from your second baseman is nothing to scoff at. Phillips often gets overlooked because of his batting average, but at .275 he’s right around the league average – if not better. Plus, he should drive in 90-plus RBI again this year and score 80-plus runs. What else are you looking for out of your second baseman?

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Tom Verducci of put together his MLB All-Star team, where he fills out his roster with players that deserve to go to the Midsummer Classic based on their production over the first half of the season and not just the popular ones, which seem to make the ASG on name recognition alone.

American League

First base: Kevin Youkilis*, Justin Morneau, Russell Branyan. By far the deepest, toughest position to call in baseball. What about Mark Teixeira, Carlos Pena and Miguel Cabrera? They deserve to go, but there is no room.

Second base: Aaron Hill*, Ben Zobrist, Ian Kinsler. Surprise! Combined previous All-Star selections for this trio: one. Hill, 27, and Zobrist, 28, already have set career highs in homers and Kinsler, 27, is just two behind his highwater mark.

Shortstop: Jason Bartlett*, Derek Jeter, Marco Scutaro. Bartlett, a career .276 hitter entering this year, was batting more than 100 points above his career average. Scutaro, the most patient hitter in the league, is having a breakout year at 33 and could join Alex Rodriguez and Cal Ripken Jr. as the only shortstops in the past 50 years to get 100 walks. And that Jeter guy is still pretty good.

Outfield: Jason Bay*, Torii Hunter*, Carl Crawford*, Adam Jones, Ichiro Suzuki. Hunter turns 34 next month and is having a career season, far outpacing his previous highs for on-base percentage and slugging.

Pitcher: Zack Greinke*, Roy Halladay, Kevin Millwood, Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, Cliff Lee, Jared Weaver, Edwin Jackson, Jonathan Papelbon, Joe Nathan, Mariano Rivera, David Aardsma. Heavy on young starting pitchers, the AL staff is light on one ingredient: left-handed pitching. Lee is the only lefty.

National League

First base: Albert Pujols*, Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez. A similar story to the AL logjam. Todd Helton, Ryan Howard and Lance Berkman all have good arguments for being All-Stars, but they can’t all go.

Second base: Chase Utley*, Freddy Sanchez, Orlando Hudson. Over the past four seasons Utley’s RBI totals, in no particular order, have been 102, 103, 104 and 105. This year? He’s on a pace for 113.

Third base: David Wright*, Pablo Sandoval, Mark Reynolds. It’s been a very weird season for Wright, who has hit just four home runs, including only one on the road, and seen his rate of strikeouts soar — all while leading the league in hitting (.339).

Outfield: Raul Ibanez*, Brad Hawpe*, Ryan Braun*, Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Hunter Pence. Philly fans already love Ibanez, and why not? In late and close situations he’s hitting .415. (Special mention for the injured Carlos Beltran.)

Pitcher: Tim Lincecum*, Matt Cain, Dan Haren, Josh Johnson, Yovani Gallardo, Chad Billingsley, Javier Vazquez, Ryan Franklin, Heath Bell, Jonathan Broxton, Trevor Hoffman, Rafael Soriano. Only one starting pitcher older than 28. And you thought the AL was light on lefties? Not a single lefty on the staff here. Sorry, Johan Santana.

Glad to see that Zobrist, Scutaro, Hudson and Sandoval are getting some recognition from the national media, because all four have been fantastic for their clubs in the first half of the season.

It’s amazing to see the logjam at first base for both teams and to think that Gonzalez is third best at the position in the NL. I love the youth on both squads and the pitching for the NL is sick (and Santana didn’t even make Verducci’s team).

Too bad these two rosters won’t look like the official ones. It’s nice that fans have a vote in baseball, but most of them abuse the option by only penciling in players from their favorite teams. It completely defeats the purpose of giving fans a voice when it comes to selecting the ASG teams.

2009 MLB Preview: #6 Tampa Bay Rays

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Offseason Movement: The Rays hope the signing of OF/DH Pat Burrell will add a little more pop to their lineup, although it could sink their team batting average at the same time. The club also added a slew of pitchers including Lance Cormier, Jason Isringhausen, Joe Nelson and Brian Shouse, and acquired outfielder Matt Joyce from the Tigers in exchange for RHP Edwin Jackson.

Top Prospect: David Price, RHP
The Rays never seem to have a shortage of top prospects at their disposal and Price clearly tops a group that also includes RHP’s Wade Davis and Jeremy Hellickson. Some believe Price is the best pitching prospect in baseball and he should have gotten the opportunity to prove that this year at the big league level. But the Rays optioned the talented youngster to Triple-A Durham recently for reasons unknown to Price and the rest of the baseball world. Tampa could be regretting the decision if the Yankees and/or Red Sox take early lead in the highly competitive AL East.

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