Friday, April 09, 2004

Predictions for the American League's Central Division would have been vastly different if made before the season started. Now that the season is five games old, some things seem upside down. The Tigers are 4-0. The Twins are 2-2 but have lost have their stars to injury and the Royals just don't look very good. Pressing on, here are the Fan's predictions for the division. Following the team listing will be projections of who the team leaders will be:

1. The Cleveland Indians. Yes. That's right, the Cleveland Indians. The Indians have some exciting young talent and benefit from playing in the league's weakest division. Travis Hafner, Jody Gerut and Ben Broussard are going to be stars. Omar Vizguel and John McDonald anchor an excellent defensive infield and Sabathia and Jeff D'Amico seem ready to step up to the next level. The rebuilding of the Indians seems to be on overdrive.

Homeruns - Travis Hafner (32)
RBI - Casey Blake - (105)
Average - Ben Broussard (.310)
Wins - C.C. Sabathia (23)
Career Year - C.C. Sabathia. It's time this still young pitcher to come into his own.
Record - 86-76
Keys - The Indians need to get some quality starts from Jason Stanford, Chad Durbin and Jason Davis behind Sabathia and D'Amico.

2. The Chicago White Sox. The White Sox still have a decent lineup, but they will be derailed by starting pitching and a closer that the manager has already shown no faith in. The White Sox should have a feisty team that mirrors their new manager, Ozzie Guillen, but I just can't see them as more than a .500 team.

Homeruns - Frank Thomas (36)
RBI - Magglio Ordonez (117)
Average - Magglio Ordonez (.321)
Wins - Mark Buehrle (16)
Career Year - Juan Uribe <---a long shot
Record - 83-79
Keys - Jose Valentin has probably peaked in his career and is on the down slope of his career. Paul Konerko had an awful 2003 season after an outstanding year in 2002. The White Sox need him to bounce back. How much does Sandy Alomar Jr. have left? Was Estaban Loaiza a one year wonder?

3. The Detroit Tigers. I must be out of my mind, but the Tigers have made me believe after their first four games. What Ivan Rodriguez did in Florida, he can do again in Detroit. They actually have a decent lineup now with Rodriguez, Munson (coming into his own), Pena (ditto), Fernando Vina, Rondell White, Carlos Guillen and Bobby Higginson. Higginson and Pena should have much better years with more help around them. The starting staff learned a lot last year and Trammell sticking to the starters last year despite their won/lost record will make them better pitchers this year.

Homeruns - Rondell White (18) BIG ballpark
RBI - Carlos Pena - (96)
Average - Fernando Vina - (.309)
Wins - Jason Johnson - (17)
Career Year - Fernando Vina
Record - 80-82
Keys - Do they have enough depth to endure injuries? Can they play enough defense to keep their starters out of trouble? How soon can they get Urbina in shape and back in the dugout?

4. The Kansas City Royals. Despite the Royals' effervescent manager, Tony Pena, the Royals aren't as good as they were last year despite picking up Gonzalez. There are too many holes in the lineup despite some career years last year. The starters are suspect and they don't have any closer who has more than a few career saves. It could be back to reality for the Royal fans this year.

Homeruns - Carlos Beltran (31)
RBI - Juan Gonzalez (129)
Average - Carlos Beltran - (.312)
Wins - D.J. Carrasco (17)
Career Year - D. J. Carrasco - this kid can pitch!
Record - 76-86
Keys - Will Juan Gone stay healthy for once? Will Mike Sweeney's back let him play like he once did? Can they get any starting pitching? Is Joe Randa going to develop or just end up a Ed Sprague type of player?

5. The Minnesota Twins. The Twins have already lost Joe Mauer, Torii Hunter, Matthew LaCroy and Joe Mays to injury. What they have left just isn't enough. They lost their two top bullpen pitchers from last year and that has gone from a strength to a weakness. The Twins still have terrific potential in their minor leagues but are destined as long as they are under the Pohldad cloud to have bright spots intermingled with sad years.

Homeruns - Jacque Jones (27)
RBI - Torii Hunter (93)
Average - Shannon Stewart (.303)
Wins - Kyle Lohse (15)
Career Year - Luis Rivas
Record - 70-92
Keys - Can their injured players come back and play? Can they get any bullpen help? Will Brad Radke ever be more than the most overrated starting pitcher in baseball?

It was great to see Ken Griffey hit his second homer of the year tonight. Maybe he can stay healthy this year. I wish he wasn't playing centerfield where it is so easy to get hurt.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

The Fan is one happy camper! The NCAA has sunk its last basket and it's time for baseball. The games have already been interesting. Clemens pitched a one hitter. Griffey hit a bomb beyond the centerfield fence. The Tigers are the anti-Tigers of 2003. The Red Sox are bopping. Pat Burrell is back and is batting over .700 in the first three games. As Jackie Gleason used to say, "And away we go!"

But first, I need to take care of old business and give you my American League predictions. I will go with the teams in the order of their finish and also what I believe will be the team leaders in major categories:

Eastern Division:

1. The Boston Red Sox. It just feels like the Red Sox year. The Yankees and the Red Sox both had great off-seasons, but the Red Sox seem to go after talent and chemistry and I believe they have the best general manager in baseball. Theo Epstein always seems to make great choices. This year is no different as Epstein got a very useful player in Mark Bellhorn from the Cubs, Ellis Burks, Dave McCarty and Pokey Reese. Those players don't sound like much, but neither did Mueller, Millar and Ortiz last year.

This is a very good team from top to bottom, starters to bench, starters to bullpen. And they also have this team feeling that I have never seen in baseball and haven't seen in any sport since the 1969 Knicks.

Homeruns - Manny Ramirez (43)
RBI - Manny Ramirez (138)
Average - Manny Ramirez (.325) Yes, he's going to have a great year.
Wins - Curt Schilling (23)
Career Year - Mark Bellhorn
Record - 97-65 (only because the Yankees will split their 18 games)
Keys - How much does Pedro have in that arm? Can Nomar become the all fields hitter he used to be? Will Veritek hold up?

2. The New York Yankees. The Yankees have the greatest collection of All Stars ever assembled. But can Torre assemble them? They are also a fragile bunch and Messina doesn't look good early. I don't believe Derek Jeter has been the same since he went over the railing and into the stands in 2001. They will win their share of games and feast off of weak pitching, but they haven't proven that they can hit power pitching.

Homeruns - Gary Sheffield (37)
RBI - Alex Rodriguez (119)
Average - Alex Rodriguez (.311)
Wins - Kevin Brown (19)
Career Year - Javier Vazquez
Record (95-67)
Keys - Will Rivera remain dominant? Can Jeter be the Jeter of old? Will Mike Mussina be as weak as he looked so far?

3. Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles are greatly improved and have a lineup that is close to the Red Sox and Yankees. Unfortunately, their pitching doesn't compare. It's not as bad as others believe, but not good enough to unseat the Yankees or Red Sox. Their games should be a whole lot of fun to watch however. Lee Mazzilli is the perfect guy for this team.

Homeruns - Javy Lopez (40)
RBI - Jay Gibbons (108)
Average - Luis Matos (.321) This guy is going to be a star
Wins - Sidney Ponson (16)
Career Year - Luis Matos
Record - 89-73
Keys - How good is Tejada? Is he 2002 good or 2003 good? Can the Orioles get more than five innings out of their second through fifth starters. How long can Rafael Palmiero play first base?

4. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Surprise! I believe that strongly in Lou Piniella. This guy just gets a lot out of his players. The team is full of up and coming young players who can hit and run and if they get any pitching, they can be dangerous. Watch this team!

Homeruns - Aubrey Huff (35)
RBI - Aubrey Huff (117)
Average - Aubrey Huff (.325) The American League's newest star.
Wins - Victor Zambrano (16) He already has two!
Career Year - Carl Crawford - Especially if he can cut down on his strikeouts and get more walks
Record - 80-82
Keys - Can Zambrano ever cut down on this walks to become the superstar pitcher he should be? Will Baldelli and Crawford learn to be more patient? Will they hold their own after 19 games with the Red Sox and the Yankees?

5. Toronto Blue Jays. I just don't see this team putting it together this year. Their star pitcher from last year Roy Halladay threw too many innings last year and will lose effectiveness this year. They don't have an established closer and they have question marks at first, third and the two corner outfield positions. I could be wrong, but I don't think so.

Homeruns - Delgado (43)
RBI - Vernon Wells (129)
Average - Vernon Wells (.329)
Wins - Josh Towers (15)
Career Year - Josh Towers
Keys - Can Halladay put two great years together? Is Vernon Wells as good as he played last year? Is there any pitching besides Towers and Halladay? Who is going to close?

Tomorrow, the Central Division.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

To continue the Fan's 2004 season predictions let's finish off the National League and then move to the American League. The predictions will follow this pattern: The teams will be selected in the order they will finish in the division and then predictions for leaders on each team will be made along with their projected totals for the season. Here goes...

National League Central

1. The Chicago Cubs. You have to go with the Cubs. The Cubs and Astros really match up well with each other but the Cubs young power pitchers play home games in Wrigley Field which, except for when the wind is blowing out, is a much more forgiving place for pitchers than the Astros little matchbox of a stadium.

The Cubs also picked up Derrek Lee, the best fielding first baseman in the National League and that will make their defense better and thus their pitching staff. Sammy Sosa is going to have a big year after two sub-Sammy, controversy years. The heck with the billy goat, the Cubs are the team to beat in the National League.

Homeruns - Sammy Sosa (61)
RBI - Sammy Sosa (140)
Average - Corey Patterson (.315)
Wins - Kerry Woods (22)
Career Year - Derrek Lee
Record - 98-64
Keys - Will Kerry Wood and Mark Prior be healthy enough for 30 starts each? How many games will LaTroy Hawkins blow in the bullpen? What does Greg Maddox have left?

2. The Houston Astros. The Fan has to root for the Astros with Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens pitching for them in 2004. Unfortunately, the Astros gave away Billy Wagner, the best lefthanded reliever in history, and their ball park takes away good pitching much the same as Colorado. The Astros are good enough for second, but can't make it to the top of the division.

Homeruns - Richard Hidalgo (42)
RBI - Lance Berkman (134)
Average - Adam Everett (.312)
Wins - Roy Oswalt (19)
Career Year - Adam Everett. The kid settles down and becomes a star.
Record - 94-68
Keys - Can their great starting pitching control the flow of runs at home? Can those same pitchers stay healthy? Will Octavio Dotel have success as a closer? How soon will Astros baseball people realize that Biggio hurts the team more than helps it?

3. The St. Louis Cardinals. With Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen and Sanders, the Cardinals will score some runs consistently. Unfortunately, what used to be their strength--pitching--has become their weakness and the Cardinals won't be able to overcome the Cubs and Astros as such. Pujols will have another big year. Rolen will again show that he is the best third baseman in baseball and Sanders will have a good year in this lineup. It's too bad about the pitching.

Homeruns - Pujols (38)
RBI - Pujols (137)
Average - Pujols (.336) This is an easy team to pick!
Wins - Woody Williams (17)
Career Year - Reggie Sanders - Well surrounded by great hitters.
Record - 84-78
Keys - Can they get any consistency from their starters? Can Jason Insringhausen close effectively?

4. The Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates improved last year and didn't seem to be such a push over. They haven't improved their team this year and Jose Mesa will be their closer. Oh boy. Another long season in Pittsburgh. They will regress from their progress and have a miserable year.

Homeruns - Craig Wilson (32) Who you ask? He's going to break out this year.
RBI - Raul Mondesi - (88) Personifies the problem of this team. No leadership and no big run producer.
Average - Jason Kendell - (.308)
Wins - Salomen Torres (15)
Career Year - Craig Wilson
Record - 72-90
Keys - Can Benson ever be the pitcher we thought he could be? Will Mondesi wear out his welcome in yet another city?

5. The Cincinnati Reds. What a mess at the bottom of this division. This once proud franchise is the second biggest embarrassment in baseball. The Reds have some hitting but also the most unproven, unsavory looking pitching staff in the history of their franchise. Ugh! Who do you like out there? Paul Wilson? Adam Harang? Yikes.

Homeruns - Adam Dunn (40) Dunn will come back from last year.
RBI - Adam Dunn (102)
Average - Sean Casey (.295)
Wins - Paul Wilson (11)
Career Year - Adam Dunn will be back with a bang.
Record - 62-100
Keys - Can they stay ahead of the Brewers on the bottom of the division?

6. Milwaukee Brewers. What the Selig family has done to this franchise mirrors Selig's success as a commissioner. They have bungled and fumbled this franchise in what should be a criminal act. Nevermind Martha Stewart. All she did was gain $40,000 in a stock deal. The Seligs have cost Milwaukee, the fans and the state of Wisconsin millions of dollars. And then they lost Richie Sexson, the only real reason to go to one of their games. Oh Woe is the city of Milwaukee. This will be the first division in history to have two teams lose a hundred games.

Homeruns - Geoff Jenkins (30) One of the real good guys in baseball.
RBI - Geoff Jenkins (95)
Average - Scott Podsednik (.322)
Wins - Matt Kinney - (11)
Career Year - Junior Spivey - I think Spivey will resurrect his career here.
Record - 60-102
Keys - Will dual specialist Brooks Kieschnick have more hits himself than he gives up pitching?

National League East

1. Philadelphia Phillies. This is the year that the Braves fall from the top of the table. The Phillies have assembled the second best team in the National League and if they don't do well, the world will finally find out that Larry Bowa is not the guy to manage this team.

Despite Bowa, this team has all the horses ready to win the division. Billy Wagner will give them a consistent closer. Padilla, Millwood and Wolf gives them three solid starters and Pat Burrell is going to be back with a monster year.

Homeruns - Jim Thome (48)
RBI - Pat Burrell (132)
Average - Bobby Abreu (.310)
Wins - Millwood and Wolf (tied at 18)
Career Year - Pat Burrell. Burrell is back to hitting the ball to all fields and hitting line drives. Look for a big year.
Records - 98-64
Keys - Can Millwood stay healthy? Can Thome stay healthy? Can Eric Milton resurrect his career? Will Bowa hold back this club with his overbearing managing?

2. Florida Marlins. The Florida Marlins lost a lot of their heart when they did not re-sign Ivan Rodriguez. And the team lost Derrek Lee, an underrated reason why they played so well last year on defense. A lot of the Marlins success will depend on the health of their pitching and the growth of their young players, Hee Seop Choi and Miguel Cabrera. Few people understand that Josh Beckett has only won 17 games in his career and another young pitcher named Jared Wright once dominated a post-season series never to be heard from again.

Homeruns - Mike Lowell (34)
RBI - Miguel Cabrera (109)
Average - Juan Pierre (.312)
Wins - Brad Penny (18)
Career Year - Carl Pavano with 17 wins
Record - 95-67
Keys - Can Armando Benitez succeed as their closer? What kind of year can Josh Beckett have? Was Dontrelle Willis a one year wonder? Will Cabrera continue to amaze as a youngster?

3. Montreal Expos. The vagabond Expos should have a better team than the Braves and even with the loss of some of their superstars, Frank Robinson will not let them play in a mediocre way. Nick Johnson was a great pickup as was (and I hate to admit it) Carl Everett. The Expos aren't a great team and may not be a good team. But they will scrap away and win their share of games.

Homeruns - Carl Everett - (29)
RBI - Orlando Cabrera (97)
Average - Jose Vidro (.322)
Wins - Claudio Vargas (17)
Career Year - Claudio Vargas as the pitcher comes of age.
Record - 86-76
Keys - How much does Livan Hernandez have left? Can Nick Johnson stay healthy? How will all the travel hurt the team?

4. Atlanta Braves. The Braves will not only not win the division, but they won't even be a .500 club. The luster is gone and the run is over. Of course, that could just be the hopes of the Fan making the predictions. I just don't see the pitching on this club doing anything to help them.

Homeruns - J.D. Drew (38) Drew finally decides to play baseball for a living.
RBI - J. D. Drew (112)
Average - Rafael Furcal (.309)
Wins - Paul Byrd (15)
Career Year - Rafael Furcal will hit .300 for the first time.
Record - 75-87
Keys - Can the Braves get anything out of Thompson and the other young starters? Can John Smoltz stay healthy? How will the team replace both Sheffield and Javy Lopez?

5. New York Mets. The poor Mets have yet to recover from the poor personnel decisions of a couple of years ago. They also have one of the worst ballparks in baseball. Mike Piazza is playing first and that means an even higher ERA for their pitching staff. Kaz Matsui will be exciting and is a great addition. But it's a mistake to move their new franchise player: Jose Reyes. Now Reyes has to learn a new position which could stunt his hitting growth.

Homeruns - Piazza (33)
RBI - Piazza (110)
Average - Jose Reyes (.313)
Wins - Al Leiter (16)
Career Year - Ty Wigginton who is a good young player.
Record - 70-92
Keys - Can Matsui adjust to the American game? Can Leiter stay healthy? Will Reyes progress?

Tomorrow, the American League. Tonight! Real baseball! On American soil! Red Sox and Orioles. Here we go, 2004!