the obligatory baseball predictions. i hope that the al non-east is more exciting than it seems right now.
east: red sox
wild card: yankees
i could crank out a thirty pager on this. wishful thinking perhaps, but i fall within the camp that doesn’t see a major shift in the pitching balance between the archrivals. johnson is obviously a good pickup (especially looking to the postseason) as long as his arm doesn’t fall off, but the sox have a depth advantage:
schilling = johnson
wells (less than sign) mussina
clement ≥ pavano
miller > wright
wakefield/arroyo > brown
clement, who last time had a great era and a deceptively bad win-loss ratio due to lousy run support will have a great year in 2005, i predict. miller is more of an unknown quantity, but with 6 in the rotation, any one injury or lemon won’t be dishabilitating for the sox. not true for new york, who in addition to having little pitching leeway despite an aging staff, can’t match the bench which was so important to last year’s boston team. pokey, kapler, roberts and mientkiewicz all played a large part last time around, and though they may have moved on, the management has secured lateral or improved replacements for the replacements (payton et al.). and speaking of replacement-level, womack?!*
hittingwise the sox have a definite upper hand. last year’s most potent offense is back with nixon and mueller starting the season injury-free and a solid batter replacing the shaky trifecta of last year’s shortstops. in my opinion, the absences of trot and bill mueller were to blame for the sox’s early-midseason malaise last time and probably the reason they didn’t capture the al east. of course, the yanks aren’t slouches here either.
i don’t go in for much of the sports psychology but there are a few important things to consider. the one big risk for the sox is that they’ll have trouble adjusting to a post-2004 world where they still have to play games (lets hope that “writing” a book didn’t max out johnny damon’s all important mental energy). the big risk for the yanks is that the pressure will destroy them, but in a different sense. the yankees are not a team that truly enjoys winning, rather as a team and a fan base they fear losing and are relieved when they don’t. (they are also a fan base that will give a cheater-extraordinaire like giambi a standing ovation. how “classy.”) anyway, none of this is a good competitive mindset, but neither is growing fat and happy from last year’s miracle. at this point in time the yanks are desperately hoping that they can still win, but with as much talent as they have, the mental aspect is almost certainly irrelevant.
the orioles are likely to continue their inexplicable habbit of beating up on the sox and yanks for no known reason while sucking in general (please just ny) and the blue jays should surprise a few by being better than expected, but there can be no doubt that they'll still be renting out skydome for wizard conventions come the postseason.
none of these teams are particularly inspiring. i wish i had something to offer here but i just don't care. hopefully somebody totally random will prove me wrong and come out of oblivion to challenge the bargain-basement twins for their title but it isn't likely. hopefully the white sox won't go back to the hockey uniforms and detroit will learn that it takes more than one average player among sucky ones to have a decent team. and if the royals didn't show up to any games this year i doubt that a single person would notice (or even if they did notice that they would care (or even if they did care that they would be displeased)).
another uninspiring area. the only teams in the hunt are the north america angels of anaheim and the texas rangers of dallas. oakland has finally finished dismantling their pitching and the rangers are still suffering the long-term-effects of george bush jr.'s inept leadership. deficits, massive deception, moral grandstanding in the grandstands, choking on pretzels, all fingerprints on their general lousiness. plus they traded a-rod, but hey, he was never a "true" texas ranger anyway. they always seem to take a half-hearted swipe at the wild-card but with the stacked al east, it is hard to imagine them making it really competitive. i would like to see seattle challange someone for something, but you know...meh.
too many people have tried not picking atlanta for too long. i refuse to make the same mistake. even if they had swapped out the entire team with kansas city and changed their name to "the los angeles braves of atlanta" i would choose them out of fear. the signing of hudson, return of smultz and the resurgence of last year's slumping offense ought to keep them on top of the division. the marlins will be fast on their heels but good pitching always beats good hitting and turquoise ought to be banned from major league baseball. nonetheless if the cubs delicate pitching falters they could easily be wild card. the mets are going to discover that two overpaid stars can't carry their team (even though i expect pedro to have a great year underneath all the low-flying airplanes) and the phillies are going to discover that they still suck.
wild card: cubs
the powerhouse cardinals haven't made any significant detractions for last year's 105-win team and i don't see them getting any competition for the division. it would be nice if the astros made things interesting, and houston will have andy petitte back, but this won't begin to account for the losses of beltran, kent and the gentle downward trend of the old-timers like biggio. the cubs have the classic successful-post-season wild card persona going for them: several dominant pitchers with little depth in any particular direction. nomar is clear of the injury and whininess demons that have plagued him lo these past two seasons and should be back to true nomah form. as long as prior and wood stay healthy and chicago somehow manages to do two things at once to stay ahead of the marlins for the wild card the cubbies could actually have some success in the post-season for once, except of course that they're the cubs. i’m really just picking them because i want to believe they can walk and chew gum, but i don’t really. hopefully they’ll surprise me, i hate the marlins.
and why not? i reflexively don't want to pick the barry bondses since one-player teams bug me to no end and the dodgers, (last year's winners) seemed to go out of their way to make dubious off-season moves. even if they do win it won’t be deserved. i have a feeling we'll be seeing quite a bit of the derek lowe face this year with the dismal l.a. infield and run-support. plus, i have to go out on a limb somewhere. the padres seem to have had a realization about their pitcher's park and wisely made the decision to play small ball. dave "the steal" roberts is batting lead-off. i can easily see him stealing 300 bases, frequently reaching second on passed balls, and hitting 62 inside-the-park-home-runs.
*about womack: my friend and i used to play a demo for some baseball game on the inauspicious sega-saturn. the demo would only let you play homerun derby, and after a little while it got so easy for us that we had to go to some lengths to make it a challenge. we would thus pick terrible players from the bottom of terrible rosters and try to get them hitting it out of the infield. tony womack became a fast favorite. his stupid sounding name and hilarious niche as a player rated by the video game as possessing only "speed" for a positive attribute was more than enough to endear him to us. the ultimate journeyman, somehow he has now landed a job as one of the starting nine on baseball's $4 billion team. from the laughingstock of 13-year-olds to a new york yankee millionaire in less than a decade. truly a meteoric rise. in the words of my friend, womack has “aged like fine wine.”