Thought Out Predictions
I've been gone for a good part of a week, and I didn't get the chance to advertise the new All-Baseball homepage, where my colleagues and I now have a group blog. It's being updated multiple times a day, and yours truly will be making his first post in minutes. Onto my article...
Earlier I quickly ran through my predictions, but I wanted to write out my thoughts, so here goes, division-by-division:
Not many teams face a downhill season like the Phillies, a club that appears to be the easiest lock in baseball. Ed Wade has built a team that lacks weaknesses, from the NL's best lineup to a strong, rebuilt bullpen. The story of the year will be Atlanta's first downfall in a decade, but I have predicted the playoff streak to continue. Good seasons from newcomers J.D. Drew and John Thomson will keep a 90-win team in Georgia, and in the end, they'll hold off the Astros. John Scheurholtz will look like a genius when rookie corner infielders Adam LaRoche and Andy Marte carry the team through September. And just Wait 'Til Next Year, everyone will be predicting the Braves to fall out of the playoffs in Spring Training 2005.
I'm on of the few not predicting the Mets to be last, I guess I just see a spark here. When Jose Reyes returns the team will have a very potent lineup, from Reyes and Kaz at the top, to Piazza-Floyd-Cameron in the middle, to Garcia-Phillips-Wigginton at the end. Al Leiter was one of baseball's best after the break, and the team has the room to add another starter by midseason. Florida will struggle coming off a World Championship, as expectations for players like Josh Beckett and Dontrelle Willie are a little too high. Instead the focus should be on developing players like Hee Seop Choi, Ramon Castro, and most of all, Miguel Cabrera. Montreal has the makings of a good club, but I can't imagine how decimated that 25-man roster will be August 1.
In the NL Central, I must admit that I have some bias. Expectations for my Cubbies are higher than they've ever been, due to an October collapse mixed with media hype. If Dusty can manage around the injury bug they're a lock, the club is simply the best in every facet of the game. I don't believe I'm underrating the Astros here, instead I think the general population overrates them. Andy Pettite and Roger Clemens are nice additions, sure, but how much can they contribute at this point? Where else are they improved? Finally, I think the Cards might be holding the division by May, but should drop it by June. It's just impossible to win without pitching, no matter how many All-Stars your lineup has.
At the bottom of this division, things start to get ugly. Milwaukee, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh should all be jumbled together, none with 75 wins. I pick the Brewers fourth simply because I believe that few managers get as much out of their players as Ned Yost does. A second half youth movement could either make the team red hot, or make them fall apart. Austin Kearns is the league's next superstar, but he is too undeveloped to hold a team on his shoulders yet. Holes on the left side of the infield and the entire rotation are too large to ignore, and it won't take long for Dave O'Brien to realize he's inherited a bottomless pit. Finally, I have the Pirates to finish last. They may be fourth by the Break, but trades should deem them worthless in the second half. The only questions here are who will be managing come August and who will come to PNC by September?
My hardest division choice came in the NL West, where choosing a team is like picking between brussel sprouts, lima beans, and anchvies. I was left with the Padres, mainly because I think Kevin Towers will be the 2003's Jim Hendry is given the chance. I'm not going to call Jered Weaver to win Rookie of the Year like Rich Lederer might, they just have too much depth to call him up. San Francisco has no depth, but Jason Schmidt and Barry Bonds could be enough to carry this team. In the end, a rotation with the likes of Kirk Rueter will damage this club far too much. Peter Gammons might be picking Arizona, but I can't see it. They have San Francisco's depth without their superstars, but just enough good players to lurk around .500. And Luis Gonzalez? Like a timebomb waiting to hit the 60-day.
Toronto is learning the hard way that hiring an analytical GM doesn't make a division winner overnight, a lesson Los Angeles will soon learn. Paul DePodesta won't hesitate to make a trade, but there are just too many holes for this computer nerd to patch. Landing Magglio Ordonez at midseason and watching Edwin Jackson have a Dontrelle effect will be fun, but writing Cesar Izturis everyday in the scorecars will become too old for those O.C. fans. Finally, expect Colorado to have the NL's worst record. The NL Central's bottom feeders can eat at themselves, but the West's flush of mediocrity will be too much for the Mile High boys. Any team banking on the performance of Shawn Estes is going to have a rough six months.
Though men like John Kruk are hyping the Anaheim Angeles. I just can't buy into them. Oakland is too tough to knock off, it seems like they'll just hand around there like the '03 Cubs. Billy Beane will swing any deal to put this team on top, and his ability to outwit competitiors continues to pay off. They might not appear to have enouogh offense, but I think Mark Kotsay and Bobby Kielty might surprise you. Vladimir Guerrero is a fantastic addition, but I expect Tim Salmon and Jose Guillen to have big drops. Darin Erstad's move to first will prove to be the wrong decision, as Garret Anderson will not fulfill Peter Gammons huge MVP-like expectations. Anaheim is a very good team and the 2005 favorites, but they'll have one more season on the outside looking in.
The boys over at U.S.S. Mariner have been criticizing Bill Bavasi al winter, and each time I've been left to agree. But while the team could have done better with each move, they aren't a terrible team. There are not a lot of glaring weaknesses, but just not enough strengths to outwin the Angels or A's. Raul Ibanez, Ryan Franklin and Gil Meche should all face dropoffs, and the Mariners can't have that happen and win 85-90 games. The AL's worst team should be the Texas Rangers, where John Hart has established the league's most futile pitching staff. Sure, Mark Teixeira might be a superstar in the making, but if A-Rod couldn't get this team out of the basement, how will Mark?
If the NL West is like picking between bad foods, it's fair to say the AL Central is like picking between different ways to die. The Central is plain terrible, and most divison's #3 could win here. But geography holds strong and the games simply must go on. I have Kansas CIty, because in Allain Baird's credit, they are an extremely deep team. Sure they don't have great strengths, but unlike their Central enemies, they have no weaknesses. Hold onto Beltran as long as you can Baird, he really is MVP-caliber. Minnesota has a very nice lineup, yes, but where is that pitching staff depth? Will J.D. Durbin and Jesse Crain be able to make up for the early season woes? Ozzie Guillen's ability to manage is an overrated problem, the 3-4-5- spots in the rotation aren't. Unless Jon Garland turns into Kip Wells, expect the White Sox in third.
Spring Training problems got Milton Bradley kicked out of Cleveland already, which isn't exactly a good thing. The Indians have the depth to withstand his loss, but Bradley was just beginning to come into his own. Grady Sizemore might get pushed a little faster as a result, and Mark Shapiro will be praying that doesn't have the Brandon Phillips effect. Cleveland has a semi-potent lineup, a bona fide ace, and an underrated bullpen, so they'll be closer to third than fifth. That leaves Detroit for last because while improved, the Tigers aren't rebuilt. Not finishing with the worst record in the AL would be a nice start and a very nice tribute to Alan Trammell. Me, I'm just hoping the team hasn't permanently ruined Jeremy Bonderman's arm.
Given the Rangers having the worst AL record, Detroit will battle with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for second. Lou Piniella has done a good job in Florida, but in the Al East, Tampa won't smell 75 wins. Rocco Baldelli and Victor Zambrano are interesting subplts that should give even you a reaosn to actually read Tampa's box sxore. For years the D-Rays have been clawing at the Baltimore Orioles, but in 2004, they'll see again the same results. Flanagan and Beattie built a nice offense in Baltimore, but they kind of forgot about the pitching staff. They'll spend 2004 evaluating what they have in pithcings like Ainsworth, Riley and Bedard, and then build accordingly. Toronto will be less of a factor than the sabermetric community likes to believe, and they'll be sitting closer to Baltimore than Boston at year's end.
Last but not least is the rivalry. Much has been made of who is better between Boston and New York, but at this point that's left to be determined by the injury bug. New York is facing the best situation right now, as both Nomar and Trot Nixon have been lost to injjury Theo will attempt to out thing the Yankees, but he'll learn the hard way that money, not knowledge, is power.
Onto the playoffs:
Oakland over New York; Cubs over Philly
Oakland over Cubs in 7
And finally, I'll close out today's article with a few lists I thought up. First, here is my prediction of what teams will be choosing in the top 10 of baseball's 2005 June amateur draft:
Lastly, the team that will have a different manager in one year:
* Phillies- Bowa out by midseason, my guess is Joe Kerrigan is named replacement
* Marlins- Jack McKeon retires after abysmal season
* Expos- Frank Robinson gets tired of having his best players always traded or left unsigned and quits
* Pirates- Lloyd McClendon out by midseason
* Diamondbacks- Bob Brenly fired at the end of the year
* Dodgers- Jim Tracy out by August
* Rockies- Clint Hurdle replaced at year's end
That's it for today, enjoy the baseball of tomorrow...