Preseason predictions are a crapshoot at best. No one person -- Not even Bill James -- can possibly accurately forecast the multifaceted happenings of a 162-game season. If I could make such definitive prophecies, you think I’d waste my time figuring out where the Padres will finish instead of foreseeing the combination to tonight’s $100 million jackpot?
But we love them all the same. We revel in the opportunity to send off a missive to anyone who dares say our team doesn’t have what it takes, grin at the prospects when our team is shown the love. They don’t mean a darn thing, and yet we anticipate their arrival, a sign that the baseball season is upon us for yet another year.
Who’s better? Both Sox clubs, the Indians, A’s, Angels, Blue Jays, Mets, Brewers, and Dodgers get that distinction. Who’s worse? The Yankees, Orioles, Marlins, Cubs, and Padres get the nod. Everybody else is treading water, but in the case of the Cardinals and Braves, that’s certainly not a black mark on the resume.
1. Atlanta Braves: The Atlanta Braves celebrate their 40th year in Atlanta this season, and for the last 14 of those years, they’ve won the National League East. The Mets are a chic pick, but New York simply cannot match Tim Hudson, John Smoltz, Jorge Sosa 1-2-3.
2. New York Mets: A Subway Series? Sure. If Pedro can pitch every day.
3. Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies recently sent out special highlight DVDs to all season ticket holders who had yet to renew. Turns out a few of the recipients popped them in only to find a Spanish-language cockfighting video. “There have been no reported complaints from cockfighting fans who have been sent Phillies highlights by mistake,” quips the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Todd Zolecki.
4. Washington Nationals: Alfonso Soriano just might make every purist of the game think twice about their stance on the designated hitter by the time this season is over.
5. Florida Marlins: It’s 1998 all over again.
1. St. Louis Cardinals: There are some holes, highlighted by Junior Spivey at second base, but the Cardinals are less flawed than the Cubs and Astros, meaning they’ll take the Central again with ease. In spite of Sidney Ponson.
2. Houston Astros: The biggest story to come out of Astros camp this spring has been the team being denied their claim on Jeff Bagwell’s insurance. Nothing like some good legalese to get you pumped up for the season.
3. Milwaukee Brewers: I’m buying the hype on this young crop, backed by (banged up) Ben Sheets, last season’s breakout Chris Capuano, and ready to break out David Bush in the rotation. If anyone is going to be “this year’s White Sox,” the team that comes out of nowhere, it’s these guys.
4. Chicago Cubs: Speaking of “this year’s White Sox” already a sort of cliché, it ain’t these guys across town. Mark Prior and Kerry Wood are hurt? Yawn.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates: They’re predicting a 77-win season for the Pirates in Pittsburgh. I'm going to be a little safer and predict complete apathy.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers: Or, Red Sox West. The L.A. Times’ T.J. Simers makes up with owner Frank McCourt and his wife, and tours some changes to Chavez Ravine. “By this time we had moved outside the stadium to the Loge Terrace, a new picnic area leading into the stadium, a picture of Derek Lowe above the entrance. ‘Any thought of calling this the 'Carolyn Hughes Gate' so people know how to find it?’ I suggested, and Frank smiled, obviously knowing how far we had come in our relationship -- and I'd never write such a thing in the paper.” Ha. Nomar’s gonna love dealing with Simers.
2. San Diego Padres: Remember Kevin Towers was in line to become Boston’s general manager over the winter? Then he went and traded a lefty pitcher for ancient Vinny Castilla, which pretty much put him out of any serious consideration, we should hope.
3. San Francisco Giants: Henry Schulman of the Chronicle writes, “Any executive who declares complete satisfaction with his team upon leaving spring training has been smoking the funny weed.” Luckily Brian Sabean is apprehensive about his team, so we don’t have another drug scandal in the Bay Area. Yet.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks: Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic writes that Tony Clark is a “Guiding Light” for the Diamondbacks. Someone might want to mention that the collective bargaining agreement is set to expire in December, and point out Clark’s pathetic stats in Boston, the last time he delved himself into his players rep business. So, have fun with that one.
5. Colorado Rockies: Let’s talk about contraction, shall we?
1. Oakland A’s: Whether or not they move to Fremont, the A’s are poised to be the American League’s best team, built on pitching. Barry Zito will not be dealt at the deadline, either, based on Oakland’s yearly slow start. They’ll need him down the stretch to win the division.
2. Los Angeles Angels: Just how good Ervin Santana is in the rotation could decide whether the Angels are World Series bound, or just wild card contenders.
3. Texas Rangers: Adam Eaton is already gone for a month. Even with the addition of Kevin Millwood, the pitching is still terrible. Even Roger Clemens can't help, which is why the Rocket ends up in Houston, Boston, or a desperate-for-arms New York.
4. Seattle Mariners: Old friend Roberto Petagine impressed his way onto a roster spot this spring with the M’s. When a writer asked if he was surprised, he said, "’Surprised? For what?’ Surprised, um, maybe, that you're on the opening-day roster? ‘I am?’” Mike Hargrove’s communication is just special, isn’t it?
1. Cleveland Indians: The last time they signed their young players to long-term deals like they did Grady Sizemore this past week, the Indians were a force in the AL Central, winning the division six times from 1995-2001. Well, here we go again.
2. Chicago White Sox: They’re even better than they were last year, particularly offensively with Jim Thome now in the mix. But the bullpen remains volatile, and Ozzie Guillen can’t have his starters pitch complete games -- like they did in October -- all season long.
3. Minnesota Twins: In steady decline since 2003. Despite Johan Santana’s dominance, pitching remains just OK, not great by any means.
4. Detroit Tigers: Former closer Troy Percival retired this spring and became a scout. This week he announced “[The Tigers] should be able to win the division.'' OK, so he’s not a natural. He'll learn.
5. Kansas City Royals: “God bless St. Petersburg, Florida,” writes David Martin. “Without the Devil Rays, the Kansas City Royals would be the biggest joke in baseball.” Um, actually, David…
1. Boston Red Sox: How in the world they significantly rebuilt this team underneath the circus tent that was over on Yawkey Way much of the offseason is astounding. Health at the top (Curt Schilling) and bottom (Keith Foulke) is scary, but there are enough reinforcements on the way (Jonathan Papelbon, Manny Delcarmen, Craig Hansen) that they can mix and match answers for their pitching questions.
2. New York Yankees: Carl Pavano is hurt again after falling on his rear end. The pitching staff still reeks, but way too overlooked is New York’s acquisition of Mike Myers, who could prove huge in facing David Ortiz in the late innings.
3. Toronto Blue Jays: Not a good start for A.J. Burnett, now is it? The biggest accomplishment for the Jays this year will be allowing the wild card to come from the West, after beating up the Red Sox and Yankees just enough that both win less than last year’s total of 95 games apiece.
4. Baltimore Orioles: It could be a fun year for the Orioles. Oh, no, they’re terrible and won’t win much. But after Kris Benson allegedly cheated on his wife, it might lead to Anna fulfilling her threat that she’d sleep with every one of his teammates if he ever strayed. And yes, this is all Baltimore has to look forward to.
5. Tampa Bay Devil Rays: It will be better, but you can only do so much in one offseason. The Devil Rays’ new ownership’s biggest challenge, according to ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark, is inflicting “about 2.4 million people with a serious case of amnesia.”
AL Wild Card: Angels
NL Wild Card: Mets
AL MVP: Mark Teixeira
NL MVP: Albert Pujols
AL Cy Young: Cliff Lee
NL Cy Young: Jake Peavy
Division Series: Red Sox over Angels; Indians over A’s. Dodgers over Mets; Cardinals over Braves
LCS: Indians over Red Sox; Cardinals over Dodgers
World Series: Cardinals over Indians