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2005 Baseball preview, baseball preview, baseball predictions
Bullz-Eye's 2005 MLB Preview
by: David Medsker (
Fantasy Baseball / Steroids Blog / Sports Channel / Baseball Web Guide

Prognosticating about the upcoming baseball season is something that only people who hate baseball should do. Anyone who loves baseball loves it too much, and is blind to the weaknesses of their favorite teams. There is nothing that will betray someone greater than hope, especially the hope of a fan who is absolutely positive that this will be the year.

Why yes, I am a Cubs fan. How did you guess?

I am also a purebred Rotogeek, well schooled in the potency and depth of each and every team, including some of their farm systems. (I hit and check out Rotoworld updates on our Fantasy Baseball page about five times a day, minimum.) I will attempt, and likely fail, to use the less emotional, more analytical side of my brain to break down the divisions and give you a good idea of what to expect over the next six months. I’m also submitting a bill to the House of Representatives stating that Opening Day be declared an official holiday. Who’s with me?

I will list the teams in the order in which I expect them to finish and why. I also plan on stealing from every other sports writer I’ve ever read. Please don’t sue me, Mr. Gammons. Imitation, flattery, etc.

National League East

Atlanta Braves
Theme song: “Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned,” Prodigy
(Okay, it’s an album title, not a song title, but it fits.)
Until someone can knock them off, and no one has for the last 13 years (quick asterisk shoutout to Montreal, who certainly would have taken the division in 1994), Atlanta has to be considered the favorite. Every year, the players, and especially writers like me, smell blood in the water, and every year they get their asses handed to them. Not so this time, say I. Trading for a very effective closer (Danny Kolb) and the pitcher with the best win/loss percentage of anyone under 26 (Tim Hudson) was huge, baby. Smoltzy gets to be a starter again, Chipper goes back to third base and Rafael Furcal gets out of jail. Everybody’s happy.

John Smoltz
Florida Marlins
Theme song: “Hold Back the Rain,” Duran Duran
The rest of the division, with the exception of the cellar-dwelling orphans the Washington Nationals, is going to be a bottleneck until September. I’m picking the Marlins to finish second because even without Carl Pavano (do the Yankees know they just gave $40 million to a guy with a career losing record?), their pitching is ferocious. Josh Beckett is lighting people up already in spring training, and A.J. Burnett is in a contract year, ‘nuff said. Former ROY Dontrelle Willis can be either Randy Johnson or Nuke LaLoosh, which makes the return of Al Leiter a nice piece of insurance. And have you seen their hitters? Batting ahead of Carlos “30 homers the last eight years” Delgado, Miguel Cabrera is going to put up numbers like he’s hitting beach balls, while Juan Pierre scores 375 runs before the All Star break.
New York Mets
Theme song: “All We Need is a Dream,” Cheap Trick
Definitely better than they were last year, but still a couple years away. The Pedro Martinez deal is two years longer than I would have given him, and they’ll realize that in 2007, when he throws his first fastball and their catcher (Piazza will be gone by then) instead catches Pedro’s right arm, ball still clenched in hand. Carlos Beltran is the studliest stud in all of Studville, but his home run numbers will suffer now that he’s playing in Yellowstone. Cliff Floyd hits the DL after pulling a hammy while tying his shoe, and Mike Piazza is suspended after posting a video on the Web of him having sex with his lovely new bride just to make everybody shut the hell up once and for all. The rest of their rotation is overpaid and overrated, and trading for Kaz Ishii doesn’t change that. Kris Benson’s wife is hot, though.
Philadelphia Phillies
Theme song: “No Promises,” Icehouse
Clubhouse killah Larry Bowa is gone, replaced by Charlie “Boomhauer” Manuel, and while that move will make Jim Thome happy, it won’t win them more ball games. Their pitching is decimated; not-really-an-ace ace Kevin Millwood is gone, muy overpaid Eric Milton is gone, Vicente Padilla is headed to the DL already, Brett Myers is two outings away from being a bona fide bust, and Randy Wolf is, well, Randy Wolf. The addition of Jon Lieber will help, but remember that he’s only had one really good year. Thome will hit 45 dingers, but more than half will be solo shots. Pat Burrell is the Rick Ankiel of outfielders -- you just don’t know which version is going to show up. But you gotta love Bobby Abreu, easily the best player that no one talks about. He’ll go 40-40 this year, and no one but his fantasy owners will notice. The suffering of sports fans in Philly continues.

Bobby Abreu
Washington Nationals
Theme song: “No Place Like Home,” Squeeze
Worst team in the NL, by a country mile. But none of that will matter, because DC is so starved for baseball that their jerseys and tickets are selling like hotcakes. They’re in the honeymoon phase, and it’s kinda sweet to watch. But wait until the losing sets in, and boy, will it set in. They have three, count ‘em, three players worth a damn: Workhorse Livan Hernandez, Jose Vidro, and Brad Wilkerson. Okay, maybe four if you count stud reliever Chad Cordero. (We’d count Jose Guillen too, but he’s a certified head case.) The rest of the team is waiver wire fodder and GM Jim Bowden’s sad attempt at getting a marquee name (ahem, Vinny Castilla).

Man, hard to believe that only two years ago, this team penciled Vladimir Guerrero, Orlando Cabrera, Michael Barrett, Javier Vazquez and Bartolo Colon into the lineup card on a regular basis. Sigh.

National League Central

St. Louis Cardinals
Theme Song: “Can’t Stop Killing You,” Kirsty MacColl
Walker, Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen. Say those four words around any NL pitcher, and watch them jump (seriously, try it, it’s fun). They lost Edgar Renteria, and David Eckstein is his replacement in name only. But the pitching looks to be even better than last year’s surprise staff, snagging Mark “Word to Your” Mulder from Oakland and expecting to have Matt Morris and Chris Carpenter back at full strength. The Rick Ankiel experiment may be over (he gave up pitching to play outfield, which I guess makes Pat Burrell The Other Rick Ankiel of Outfielders), but they got this kid from Atlanta named Adam “My name’s not Rufus” Wainwright that is going to be a demon. As if the Cardinals need to get any better. It’s my worst nightmare.

Albert Pujols
Chicago Cubs
Theme song: “I am Trying to Break Your Heart,” Wilco
The Tribsters do this dance every year about how they’re trying to win, but one look at their offseason moves shows that they try just hard enough to pack Wrigley to the gills, but never enough to win it all. They deal Sammy Sosa to the O’s for Jerry Hairston, and fill his massive production in right field with…Jeromy Burnitz, 35 (a year younger than Sosa), a lifetime .254 hitter fresh off an altitude-inflated season in Colorado. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay is peddling Aubrey Huff on the side of the road in a miniskirt and pumps, holding a sign that says, “Will hit for power and average for prospects,” and the Cubs drive right on by. Ye gods.

This is why the Cubs never close the deal. They think a little is enough, and it never is. This year will be no exception. The infield is awesome offensively, but questionable defensively (save 1B Derrek Lee), and the pitching, if healthy, is still top notch (Carlos Zambrano is the Best. No. 4 starter. Ever.), but their bullpen and outfield have more holes than Blackburn, Lancashire. If it’s my team, I let Pittsburgh sign Burnitz, I play Hairston and Jason Dubois (that kid’s gonna be a monster) full time in the outfield, and run a speed-oriented offense. After all, how do you think Florida beat them in the NLCS two years ago? They nickel-and-dimed them to death. Well, that plus Dusty Baker’s complete inability to manage any game that matters (see: Matt Clement riding the pine in NLCS games 6 and 7). But you didn’t hear that from me.
Cincinnati Reds
Theme song: “Winning Ugly,” Rolling Stones
I know, I know. Their pitching still stinks, even with the addition of muy overpaid Eric Milton and batting practice pitcher Ramon Ortiz. But Danny Graves and Ryan Wagner in the bullpen will hold the leads long enough for Dunn, Kearns, Pena, Casey and some guy named Griffey to save the day (until Junior snaps in half diving for a ball in early May). Hell, even Rich Aurilia is beating the snot out of the ball in spring training. This team has a whole bunch of 11-10 decisions ahead of them. Get an extra pencil if you’re keeping score at home. A full 10 games behind the Cubs and Cards, this will be the most meaningless third place finish in baseball.
Houston Astros
Theme song: “Catch Me Now I’m Falling,” Kinks
They came so close last year, and many argue (I among them) that the ‘Stros would have given the Sox a much better fight in the World Series than St. Louis did. But to paraphrase the Pernice Brothers, their time has passed. Bags and Biggio are yet another year older, Beltran is gone, and Lance Berkman is already lost for half the year after tearing his ACL at a church football game (Note to God: Not cool, dude). Pettite doesn’t throw a single pitch all year that starts with the number 9, and Clemens is traded to Texas before the All Star break. Brad Lidge saves 55 of the 70 games they win, and makes over half of the hitters who face him cry. Roy Oswalt, meanwhile, has the best season of his career, and no one but Bobby Abreu notices. My suggestion: Play the rookies, Phil. Jason Lane and Chris Burke aren’t going to get any better while sitting on the bench.

Roy Oswalt
Milwaukee Brewers
Theme song: “You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk,” Pet Shop Boys
This is the prediction that has the potential to bite me back the hardest. Despite the utter lack of an offense -- no one scored more than 88 runs, no one knocked in more than 93 runs -- the Brewers could make life miserable for contenders. (The Cubs, in particular, haven’t forgotten to call them on Father’s Day for years.) And now they have Carlos Lee, leaving one launching pad for another, though getting Lee cost them Scott Podsednik. The key to Milwaukee’s season this year will be their pitching, which can be either devastating (Ben Sheets was pure evil last year, and he was HURT) or laughable (their 3, 4 and 5 starters had WHIPs of 1.45, 1.47 and 1.53). But they got this kid named Capellan in the Danny Kolb trade that was sailing through Atlanta’s farm system, and their bullpen is thisclose to being vicious. Look for heaven to pay them a visit mid-season, when Prince Fielder starts launching balls into outer space. That’s about all they have to look forward to.
Pittsburgh Pirates
Theme song: “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before,” Smiths
I have sympathy for the Nationals because they’ve been treated like cheap concubines for the last three years. On the other hand, what management has done to the Pirates in that same time span is embarrassing. Brian Giles, gone. Jason Kendall, gone. Jason freaking Schmidt, gone, all jettisoned as soon as they were about to cost the Pirates money. The Giles trade yielded two money players in Oliver Perez and Jason Bay, and now the Pirates are already fighting with them about contracts. (You’re supposed to spend that revenue sharing money, not pocket it.) Trading for Matt Lawton was nice (bonus points for getting rid of Arthur Rhodes in the process), but it won’t make up for the fact that every pitcher in the league now knows what Craig Wilson is thinking from one pitch to the next. And speaking of pitching, as long as hitters don’t have to face Perez or reliever Mike Gonzalez, it’s bombs away at PNC. Years away from being competitive.
National League West

San Francisco Giants
Theme song: “Time is Running Out,” Muse
Barry Bonds walked 232 times last year. Look at that number again. 232 times (next closest Giant: Michael Tucker, 70 walks). His OBP was .609, or 300 points higher than teammate Pedro Feliz. Love him or hate him (and boy, has he made it easy to do the latter lately), he is a force the likes of which no other player currently in the game can even dream of being. And now he actually has some protection in the lineup, in the form of the ageless Moises Alou coming off a huge year with the Cubs. They also signed All Time Medsker Team starting shortstop Omar Vizquel, who may not be the perennial Gold Glove winner he once was, but still knows a thing or two about turning double plays and scoring runs. Jason Schmidt is arguably the best pitcher in the NL, but Noah Lowry aside, the rest of their staff is Lara Flynn Boyle skinny (Kirk Rueter: 66 walks, 56 K’s, yikes), meaning Armando Benitez will get a chance to close roughly two games a week, if he’s lucky. But if anyone can make that staff great, it’s new catcher Mike Matheny, who has more male admirers than Jude Law. The division is theirs to lose.
San Diego Padres
Theme song: “Harder Better Faster Stronger,” Daft Punk
Very steadily, very quietly, Kevin Towers has built a dandy little team down in SoCal. Their secret gets blown this year. Jake Peavy is Greg Maddux with more K’s, while Adam Eaton is one arm adjustment away from matching him. The addition of Woodrow Williams to the back of the rotation gives them considerably greater depth than last year. Mark Loretta is arguably the best second baseman in the NL, and the law firm of Giles, Nevin & Klesko, while brittle, still inspires fear in the hearts of pitchers everywhere. Trevor Hoffman can throw that changeup until he’s 70 and still punch out hitters, and the rest of the bullpen (Linebrink, Otsuka) is bulletproof. If they stay healthy, they will score a bunch of runs, and their pitchers will hold down the fort. Now if only they’d stop playing “We Built This City” at every game….
Los Angeles Dodgers
Theme song: “Much Against Everyone’s Advice,” Soulwax
This has been an interesting offseason for the Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles. They spent $36 million on a pitcher (Derek Lowe) who posted an ERA last year of 5.43. They spent $55 million on a guy (David Jonathan Drew, which technically makes his name D.J. Drew) who, until last year, had never played in more than 135 games. If they thought Shawn Green’s contract was an albatross, they’re going to be looking for a time machine about three years from now to come back to the wonder year of 2003. The muscles in Brad Penny’s pitching arm are so tight that the bones have enlisted the Mafia for protection. Highly touted pitching prospect Edwin Jackson doesn’t seem to want to leave AAA Las Vegas. Eric Gagne (that’s French for “bad motherfucker”) has been illin’ down in Grapefruit Country. Good thing they got Yhency Brazoban (that’s Spanish for “bad motherfucker,” and quite possibly an alias for Keyser Soze) to back him up. The recent trade of Kaz Ishii for Jason Phillips may appear to fill the gaping hole behind the plate, but it really just gives them a name catcher who can’t hit any better than their no-name catchers. Jeff Kent was a nice upgrade, though. Still, it’s a bronze for the Dodgers.

Eric Gagne
Arizona Diamondbacks
Theme song: “Things Can Only Get Better,” Howard Jones
You gotta love them for trying. They brought in some big-name free agents, nabbing Javier Vazquez in the Randy Johnson trade (well, for at least one year, and possibly less, depending on how bad things are by June), Shawn Green, Russ Ortiz (four years, $45 million) and Troy Glaus (also four years, also $45 million). Wasn’t this team destitute a year or so ago? They were asking their players to defer payments until after their deaths. Where did all of this cash come from?

No matter. Ortiz will give up eight walks and two homers a game. Glaus will throw so gingerly that he won’t actually throw anyone out at first until July. Shawn Green, however, will be Comeback Player of the Year.
Colorado Rockies
Theme song: “This is a Low,” Blur
Preston Wilson’s still a question mark, Larry Walker and Vinny Castilla are gone, and they are forcing the entire pitching staff to learn how to throw changeups, in an attempt to keep their pitches from landing in Red Rocks. Their catcher (J.D. Closser) can’t hit, and last year’s closer (Shawn Chacon) was so ineffective that they made him a starter again. What does that leave? Todd Helton, the most consistent player in baseball not named Barry Bonds. They also have a couple of promising rookies in Matt Holliday and Garrett Atkins that are poised to break out in a big way.

But the most important thing the Rockies have going for them is a complete lack of expectations. The kids will thrive in that environment, while Helton shatters half the windows in LoDo. They’ll be ugly, but fun ugly.
American League East

Boston Red Sox
Theme song: “I Could Get Used to This,” ‘Til Tuesday
How do you not pick the World Series champions to win their division, especially a team as sickeningly stacked as this one? Sure, they lost a couple key pitchers (Pedro, D. Lowe), but they picked up Matt Clement, who is way better than Derek Lowe ever was. They also picked up David Wells (clearly drinking the same Kool-Aid as Julio Franco), who doesn’t overwhelm hitters anymore but nonetheless finds a way to win. Plus, to quote Tony Montana, he was a Yankee, which means that he knows what’s at stake and will step up when they need him the most. Signing Wade Miller was the steal of the offseason, and while Bronson Arroyo won’t like it, it’s good for the club that their #6 starter would be a #3 or 4 on any other team. Besides, between Miller and Schilling, he’ll get plenty of starts.

One thing to consider, however, is outfielder Johnny Damon. The last time he played for a new contract, he stunk. Odds are that won’t happen this time, since he’s probably afraid of what Red Sox Nation will do to him if he doesn’t perform up to expectations (ask Nomar about that one). David Ortiz’s shoulder still hurts, but less than last year. Yeah, last year, when balls were screaming off his bat like bottle rockets. Oh, and did I mention that they have Edgar Renteria at shortstop, and some guy picking daisies in the outfield named Manny? Yowza. The sky’s the limit.

Curt Schilling
New York Yankees
Theme song: “Start of the Breakdown,” Tears For Fears
Perhaps an Elvis Costello song would be better, since the Yankees are men out of time. When you read the names, it’s like a Hall of Fame ballot: Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Gary Sheffield, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera. The only problem is, they’re not getting the 2001 Unit, the 2002 A-Rod, the 2003 Sheff, or the 1999 D. Jitty. They’re getting the 2005 versions of all of those players, the ones with no cartilage in their knees (Unit), bum shoulders (Sheff) and fake muscles (Mecha Giambi). And with the exception of Jeter and Tino Martinez, back for a second tour of duty, the character players who helped them win all those championships in the ‘90s are nowhere to be seen.

When this team fails to make the playoffs -- there, I said it, they’re not making the playoffs -- Steinbrenner puts Brian Cashman’s head on a stake outside Yankee Stadium, even though Cashman did exactly what he was told to do. The purge begins next year, which is good news for….
Baltimore Orioles
Theme song: “Get in the Ring,” Guns ‘n Roses
The lineup matches Boston in terms of pop (Mora, Tejada, Sosa, Palmiero, Lopez, Gibbons -- all of those guys can hit 30 dingers), but the pitching, while tops in the AL in the second half of last season, is not nearly deep enough. Sidney Ponson, between beating up Aruban judges and eating contests with Bartolo Colon, is an ace by default, because all of the O’s supposed pitching prospects (Erik Bedard, Matt Riley, John Maine) are wild, sloppy, immature or finished (Kurt Ainsworth). New closer B.J. Ryan is a stud in the making, but they have to have the lead before he’ll ever get into a game.

The wild card is Sosa, as always. He wanted out of Chicago as much as the Cubs wanted him gone, but make no mistake, his pride is wounded, and he’s out to make his old bosses look foolish. He’ll hit 45 dingers, but be prepared for the inevitable stretch where he stands a foot and a half off the plate, misses sliders by three feet, and won’t listen to anyone when they tell him to move the fuck up. Happens every year. Still, this team is going to give a lot of quality teams headaches, which is always a sign of good things to come.

Miguel Tejada
Toronto Blue Jays
Theme song: “Build it Up, Tear it Down,” Fatboy Slim
Man, what the hell happened to this team? On the plus side, they are bursting with young talent (Alexis Rios, Orlando Hudson, David Bush, and some kid named Gabe Gross has sent eight pitchers to the hospital in spring training), but they are, once again, at least two years away from coming together. Didn’t it look like they were coming together just a couple years ago?

Carlos Delgado is gone, which means that Vernon Wells gets nothing to hit, not with Corey Koskie (played 125 games on average the last two years), Shea Hillenbrand (lifetime OBP: .322) and Eric Hinske (former ROY, current stiff) behind him. Maybe that’s why Wells is talking about stealing 30 bases, which is 21 more than he’s ever stolen in a season. On the plus side, the pitching should be better than last year, provided Roy Halladay is healthy and Ted Lilly and Bush can step up, but the bullpen is a traveshamockery. Scott Schoeneweis? Kerry Ligtenberg? Miguel Batista is the closer? It’s the conga line in “Baseball Bugs” come to life.

And despite all those holes, they’re still not the worst team in the division.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Theme song: “The Last Day of Our Acquaintance,” Sinead O’Connor.
How has this team, with the plethora of early draft picks, still not groomed a single decent starting pitcher? Or even a decent relief pitcher, for that matter? So far, their farm system can speak of two success stories: speedster Carl Crawford and slugger Aubrey Huff, who they’re trying to trade. Jesus, they don’t even want the only decent players they have. The weirder part is that no one else wanted him either, a lefty who hits for power and average and can play any position you ask him. Maybe he looks better in a sundress and sandals than the miniskirt/pumps combo. Delmon Young, take note: If you want out, you know what you need to do.

The theme song has to do with the number of players on this team who are making their last stand. Hideo Nomo and Denny Neagle are on the outside looking in at the #5 spot in the rotation, and they’re looking up at guys with names like (ugh) Brazelton, Hendrickson, Kazmir and Waechter. Their “new” third baseman is Alex Gonzalez (former Blue Jay/Cub/Expo/Padre), who boasts a .242 lifetime average. The saddest story of the spring, though, is Roberto Alomar, who battled injury, looked simply awful in the field and, rather than be a backup on the second worst team in the AL, decided to hang ‘em up. Sure, he probably should have done this a year ago, but no ball player ever wants to stop playing, even when they know they can’t do it anymore. Fare thee well, Robbie. I’ll always remember you to Omar to Thome, and the magic you once had.
American League Central

Minnesota Twins
Theme song: “Driver’s Seat,” Sniff ‘n the Tears
Like the NL East, there isn’t anyone else good enough to knock them off. Of course, having that top-secret military lab where they create those genetically advanced superhuman players that spring out of their farm system year after year (Justin Morneau, Lew Ford, Michael Cuddyer, Joe Mauer, pitching phenom Scott Baker) doesn’t hurt, either.

The experts all say that Johan Santana has breakdown written all over him, but I don’t buy it (full disclosure: I own Santana in two fantasy leagues). He won’t be the Cy Young, but he won’t be Barry Zito the year after he won his Cy Young, either. Corey Koskie fled to the Great White North, but he was a constant injury risk, and Cuddyer is making the adjustment from second to third quite nicely. The outfield seems to be healthy for the first time in three years, but after Santana and “Death, Taxes,” Brad Radke, the rotation is still slight. Still, Santana/Radke is a better one-two punch than any other team in this division. Man, what an indictment that is.
Cleveland Indians
Theme song: “Close But No Cigar,” Thomas Dolby
Is this team looking at all familiar? A bunch of young kids who can absolutely bash the bejeezus out of the ball, hogtied by spotty pitching? Yep, it’s the mid ‘90s all over again. Take a look at that lineup: Victor Martinez (best young catcher in baseball), Travis Hafner, Casey Blake, Coco Crisp, Ben Broussard, and we’ll finally get to see what the hubbub is about Omar Vizquel’s heir apparent Jhonny Peralta. Then, in case the kids need some guidance, they also have Aaron Boone, Ron Belliard, Juan Gonzalez (who’s already hurt, crikey), Alex Cora, and free-swinging Jose Hernandez.

The pitching, again, is what will make or break them. C.C. Sabathia is already looking at starting the season late, and Kevin Millwood is developing whiplash from watching his pitches sail into the ether. Jake Westbrook and Cliff Lee need to step it up big time. Luckily, the bullpen looks good for the first time in a long time. Still, has there ever been a pitcher more aptly named than David Riske?

Travis Hafner
Chicago White Sox
Theme song: “Going South,” Wolfgang Press
While I give Jerry Reinsdorf props for having the balls to tell Scott Boras no (secret rider in Magglio Ordonez’s Detroit contract: all balls pitched to him in BP have Frank Thomas’ face painted on them), the simple fact is not doing business with Boras can be bad for you. There are lots of reasons to not sign Maggs to a mega-extension, but they begin and end with his knee, not Scott freaking Boras. Man, don’t give the guy that much credit.

Anyway, Thomas won’t be missed in the clubhouse for the first month or so, but he will definitely be missed in the lineup, now that Carlos Lee traded cell phones for beer. The rotation of Buehrle/Garcia/Contreras/El Duque is either going to be explosive or imploding. Ditto the bullpen. The talk about new 2B Tadahito Iguchi is good, meaning they’ll finally have a worthy successor to Ray Durham. Paul Konerko may not hit as many dingers as he did last year, but they don’t appear to be running their typical station-to-station offense, especially not with Scott “Dash” Podsednik hitting leadoff. It’s a different kind of team, but they’re the same as years past in that they’re still not good enough. I’m dying to see this Brandon McCarthy kid, though.
Detroit Tigers
Theme song: “Gotta Start Somewhere,” Jon Brion
Definitely better than last year, but not ready to compete yet. Maggs is going to tear the cover off the ball, since both his pride and the second year of his contract rely on it (if he spends a significant amount of time on the DL, the Tigers can, and will, cut him loose). The pitchers are a year older and 10 years wiser -- look for Jeremy Bonderman to win at least 16 games this year -- and the bullpen will nail down between five and 10 games that got away from them last year, thanks to the addition of Troy Percival and Kickin’ Kyle Farnsworth.

They still have big question marks, though. They just cut center fielder Alex Sanchez, a wise move given that at one point last year, his on-base percentage was lower than his batting average, which is almost statistically impossible. Carlos Guillen broke out in a big way, and then shut down, and there’s no way of knowing which version will show up this year. Pudge came to camp weighing a mere 193 pounds, meaning he’ll be getting the hairy eye from the press all year. And is Fernando Vińa ever going to play again? They get marks for noticeable improvement, but they still have a ways to go.

Ivan Rodriguez
Kansas City Royals
Theme song: “Life’s Gonna Suck,” Denis Leary
It’s hard to believe that this team was once a dynasty, a playoff and World Series perennial. Then I remind myself that those days were 20 years ago. If the Royals of the last 10 years are known for anything, it’s for having a keen eye for talent (Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, Angel Berroa, Zack Grienke), but a complete inability to hold onto anyone, except Mike Sweeney. (Word to fantasy players: don’t ever talk about how much you love Mike Sweeney within hearing range of your sweetie. The reason why will come to you.) Getting catcher John Buck from Houston was a nice consolation to losing Beltran, but a better idea would have been to not lose Beltran. With players like Kevin Appier having legitimate shots at cracking the starting rotation, the Royals are somewhere between the Show and AAA. Sad.
American League West

Anaheim Angels
Theme song: “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey,” Beatles
TMQ columnist Gregg Easterbrook summed it up perfectly: their ridiculous new name, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, literally translates to ‘The The Angels Angels of Anaheim.’ Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Ridiculous name aside, they are baseball’s equivalent to the New England Patriots, in that they have enough interchangeable parts to keep the machine running when a crucial piece breaks down. Last year alone, Chone Figgins played second base, third base, shortstop and outfield. He was also a beer vendor, valet, ticket taker and sang the seventh-inning stretch. Twice.

If only he could pitch. Their biggest weakness is still the rotation. After Bartolo Colon, it’s sketchy to say the least, which is why they send Rolexes to every member of their bullpen for Christmas. Even after losing Troy Percival and Ben Weber, this ‘pen is just sick: K-Rod, Brendan Donnelly, Scot Shields, Kevin Gregg…. I’ll take a zero.

And look at the sticks in the lineup. Former leadoff man Steve Finley is batting fifth, after hitting 36 dingers last year. As long as Figgins stays in the lineup and Darin Erstad stays healthy, Vladimir Guerrero (that’s Russian for…) will knock in so many runs, they’ll need that deficit counter in Times Square to keep track of them. And if Vlad the Impaler doesn’t knock them in, a healthy Garret Anderson will. Their best chance at a pennant is if they don’t draw the Red Sox in the first round of the playoffs again.

Vladimir Guerrero
Texas Rangers
Theme song: “Step It Up,” Stereo MC’s
You gotta love any team that makes an 18-game winner out of a 40 year-old guy with a 4.76 ERA. Imagine if they hit that well for all of their pitchers.

Well, they better start thinking that way, because the rotation won’t be any better this year. Ryan Drese is penciled in as their #2 starter, and in the three spot? Chan Ho Park, who’s been so bad since signing his $55 million deal that they might just release him. Despite this, they will still finish second, because their hitting is obscene. Michael Young, Soriano (who’s admittedly whiffing up a storm in Arizona), Blalock, Teixeira, Kevin Mench, Laynce Nix, does the list ever end? Their bullpen is also tough, though the brass can’t be happy about stud closer Francisco Cordero’s shoulder troubles. On the plus side, whatever runs he gives up won’t overcome the runs knocked in by the AL Comeback Player of the Year, Big Dick Hidalgo. He’s batting fifth, and no one expects anything from him. It’s a perfect fit.
Oakland A’s
Theme song: “Walking Away,” Information Society
Couldn’t help it -- that Moneyball pun was just screaming at me. And Billy Beane just got the ultimate Moneyball player in catcher Jason Kendall. Not only does he get a guy with a career OBP of .387, he gets a veteran who can tame that stable of young pitchers the A’s inherited in the Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder trades. Rich Harden is mowing hitters down in the desert. Barry Zito’s curveball is making people in the on-deck circle buckle. Dan Haren, the key piece of the Mulder trade, is settling in nicely in the #3 spot, but Joe Blanton and Dan Meyer are getting shellacked. Luckily for them, the bullpen is loaded. They still don’t know whether they even need Huston Street, who only recently allowed his first baserunner. That’s a nice problem to have.

Good thing they have that problem too, because this team is not going to score many runs. Eric Chavez will hit more homers than 4 and 5 hitters Erubiel Durazo and Scott Hatteberg combined. Bobby Crosby won last year’s Rookie of the Year with a .239 batting average. The only thing that will change is that he can’t win ROY again. The outfield consists of Eric Byrnes, Mark Kotsay and rookie Nick Swisher. Now look at that Angels outfield again. Garret, Finley and Vladimir, they ain’t. When they have another Big Three, they’ll be a challenge. But not this team, not this year.
Seattle Mariners
Theme song: “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late,” Jellyfish. Or Johnny Mathis, whichever you prefer.
Boy, they, um, spent a lot of money. On all the wrong things.

It’s a pitcher’s park, people, and their staff could use some new blood. Their rotation at present: Jamie Moyer (86 years old), Joel Pineiro (might be headed to the DL), Ryan Franklin (4-16 last season), Gil Meche (5.01 ERA). Matt Clement would have been a nice addition. Hell, Jon Lieber would have been an upgrade. Aren’t teams with pitcher’s parks supposed to have good pitching?

Instead, they spent $50 million on Richie Sexson -- the first time he checks his swing, the entire Pacific Northwest will flinch so hard that it will register on the Richter scale -- and a whopping $64 million on Adrian Beltre, a guy who has had one, count it, ONE good season. And now he’s going to a new league and hitting in a pitcher’s park. Pray for 2004 numbers, but prepare for 2002 numbers.

On the plus side, they have a couple young players who are out to impress. Center fielder Jeremy Reed looks like a speedster in the making, and Jose Lopez is about to snag the shortstop job from Pokey Reese, who left camp. And there’s always Ichiro (that’s Japanese for…), who will throw people out from Puget Sound without looking.


Playoff predictions

Wild cards: San Diego, Texas
World Series: San Diego (sorry, I just can’t write St. Louis or San Francisco’s name here, and Atlanta always chokes), Boston
WS Champions: Boston




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