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 West

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

Next up is the AL West.

1. Los Angeles Angels (6)
When I started to do the prep work for the AL West preview, I filled the top slot with the Angels without even giving it much thought. And why should I have? They’ve won the division six of the last seven years and baseball fans have just grown accustomed to the Halos being in the playoff mix every season. But immediately after I slotted them in the top spot, my stomach started to hurt and no, it wasn’t from the fish I ate last night. (Although hey, fish is still good even when it turns green right?) There’s no doubt that the Angels took a hit this offseason. They lost their ace (John Lackey), their leadoff man (Chone Figgins) and their top power source (Vladimir Guerrero), and usually when a team parts with that much talent, it suffers a setback. But this is why I’m not overly concerned about this club: the additions of Joel Pineiro and Hideki Matsui should pay dividends and if Scott Kazmir could ever stay healthy, he would ease the loss of Lackey. Plus, in Erick Aybar (their new leadoff hitter), Kendry Morales and Torri Hunter, the Halos still have a solid offensive core and their starting pitching is still in good shape with vets like Kazmir, Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders. Times are changing in L.A. and the Mariners and Rangers will push the Halos this season, but in the end they should be right back on top.

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2010 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Third Basemen

All 2010 Fantasy Articles | 2010 Position Rankings

Savvy fantasy drafters realize that the pool for third basemen this year isn’t as shallow as catchers and shortstops, but it isn’t as deep as second basemen either (which may sound surprising to some owners).

What does that mean to you? Well, if you don’t grab one of the top seven or eight third basemen in your draft, then good luck trying to figure out which player after that will exceed expectations.

Drafting third basemen is pretty cut and dry. If you don’t land one of the top 3 (Alex Rodriguez, Evan Longoria or David Wright), then focus on drafting one of the next five 3B’s available or you better hope that Gordon Beckham or Ian Stewart are the ultimate sleepers this season. We don’t need to sell you on why you should take A-Rod, Longoria or Wright, so we’re going to concentrate on the next five rated players on our list, which we’ve highlighted for you below.

Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals
There’s a good chance that Zimmerman will plateau at around 30 home runs (which is nothing to scoff at), but it’s hard to argue with what he’ll bring to the table in terms of production across the board. He should hit around .300 (or maybe a little south of that number), with 100-plus runs and RBI, all while stealing 5-10 bases and hitting the aforementioned 25-30 home runs. That’s solid production for your third base position if you happen to miss out on one of the top three guys.

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So much for Sabathia being a postseason choke

Remember all the talk before the playoffs started about how CC Sabathia couldn’t hack it in the postseason? Well, apparently Sabathia took it to heart because so far the Yankees’ ace has been dominant.

Sabathia limited the Angels to one run on four hits over eight innings in the Yankees’ 4-1 Game 1 victory in the ALCS Friday night. Sabathia also struck out seven and walked just one as he threw 76 of his 113 pitches for strikes.

Of course, New York was helped dramatically by L.A.’s inability to make routine plays. The Halos played a brutal game, committing three errors and allowing a routine popup fall between Eric Aybar and Chone Figgins between shortstop and third base in the third inning. The play allowed two runners to score and the Yankees never looked back after that.

The only good thing that can come out of this loss for the Angels is that they played so bad that it could re-focus them for the rest of the series. It’s hard to get over a tough loss when you played well and just didn’t execute in the end. It’s a little easier to chalk up a loss and move on when you make a bunch of routine errors and overall just had an off night.

We’ll see how the Halos respond in Game 2.

Longoria won’t play in All-Star Game

According to a report by the Tampa Tribune, Rays’ third baseman Evan Longoria will miss Tuesday night’s All-Star Game due to an infection on his right ring finger. Rangers’ third baseman Michael Young will start in his place and Angels’ infielder Chone Figgins will replace Longoria on the roster.

Longoria’s injury is not believed to be serious and he should be back when Tampa resumes action on Friday, but I always hate it when a young player misses the All-Star Game because of an injury. Longoria should have plenty of more ASGs in his future, but he played well in the first half (although he is in the midst of a bad slump) and deserved to play this year.

The same can be said for Giants’ starter Matt Cain, who injured his right elbow on his throwing arm in game against the Padres last Saturday. Cain is finally getting recognized as one of the better young pitchers in the league this year thanks to some long overdue run support, but now he won’t even get the opportunity to pitch in his first ASG.

But Longoria’s injury opens the door for Young – an underrated player having a solid season for Texas this season – to start in the Midsummer Classic. And Figgins has been great for very good for the Halos this season as well, batting .310 with 68 runs scored and 27 stolen bases.

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