Take that alliteration!
The first pitch of the season is set for Sunday, April 2nd at 8:05 EST, Cleveland at Chicago and Major League Baseball is ready to begin. We have already witnessed the first ever World Baseball Classic, a book alleging steroid use by Barry Bonds, a few brawls, Anna Benson has sought divorce from Baltimore’s Kris Benson and the Cubs placing Kerry Wood and Mark Prior on the disabled list. Has the season really not even started yet?
With all that has already occurred, what more are we in store for? Will Barry Bonds pass Babe Ruth and set his sights on Hank Aaron and the all-time home run record, or will injuries and age or a steroid probe catch up to him? Will Billy Beane and Moneyball win a post season series? Can the Braves win fifteen straight division titles? Will the aging rosters of the Yankees and/or Red Sox catch up with them and allow Toronto get a chance to prove their off-season spending spree was wise? Can the Brewers, Pirates, Devil Rays and Tigers shed their recent history and win or even contend? Enough questions, time for the predictions.
AL Division Series
New York Yankees over Chicago White Sox in 5
Randy Johnson and Chien Ming Wang will give the Yankees stellar performances to claim the division series after Mussina, Pavano, Sturtz, and Wright get lit up in games two and four. A-Rod hits the game winner in the 8th inning of game five to put to rest the talk of his post season choking.
Oakland A’s over Cleveland Indians in 3
Rich Harden, Barry Zito, Joe Blanton and Houston Street run roughshod over the Indians, barely allowing them a breath as the Indians are almost shutout.
NL Division Series
Atlanta Braves over San Diego Padres in 5
John Smoltz and Tim Hudson form a dynamic duo as the Braves take advantage of the Padres’ lack of offense, pitching depth and general mediocrity.
St. Louis Cardinals over New York Mets in 4
Pedro Martinez makes it just past the first inning of game one, before leaving with injury. Aaron Heilman is unable to come up with the win after pitching the next eight innings only to give up a home run to Scott Rolen. The last four games are offensive slug-fests with New York on the losing side.
Oakland A’s over New York Yankees in 5
Shawn Chacon is the only thing keeping New York from being swept. Steinbrenner is sent home yet again without a title. A-Rod makes two errors, strands eight men on base and strikes out five times reopening the talk about his post season choking. Bobby Crosby hits the winning home run in game three as Frank Thomas attempts to steal. Maybe that last part is a reach.
St. Louis Cardinals over Atlanta Braves in 4
The Braves have no chance, John Smoltz and Tim Hudson and worn out after the previous series and season and the Braves just do not have the offense around Andrew Jones to compete.
St. Louis Cardinals over Oakland A’s in 6
Oakland’s pitching has been utterly dominant to this point, but Chris Carpenter shows up ready to pitch after some average performances in the previous series. Rich Harden, Joe Blanton and Dan Haren are just too young and with over 230 innings on each of their arms, they just wear out in this series. Luckily this allows Houston Street to avoid Brad Lidge’s fate against Albert Pujols and keep his confidence intact for the many playoffs in his future.
Victor Martinez over Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Vladimir Guerrero
Victor Martinez has a season for the ages, catching 135 games and DHing 13 others. A-Rod, Ortiz and Guerrero put up their standard numbers, while Travis Hafner takes a step back and is not considered.
Albert Pujols over David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Chase Utley, Todd Helton
David Wright provides some unexpected competition, but Carlos Beltran splits some of his votes after coming back from his bust of a season last year. Chase Utley provides surprising offense for a second basemen and better defense than expected. Todd Helton does an impression of himself four years ago as he shows off the power and contact abilities (and Coors field) that made him a star many years ago.
Al Cy Young
Rich Harden over Roy Halladay, Randy Johnson, Cliff Lee, Joe Blanton
Rich Harden is simply amazing, while Roy Halladay continues his success and Randy Johnson rediscovers his. Cliff Lee and Joe Blanton continue to improve but are not at the levels as the others yet.
NL Cy Young
Ben Sheets over Mark Mulder, Brandon Web, Brett Myers
Ben Sheets leads the surprisingly competitive Brewers and beats out the contract year Mark Mulder and the ever-improving Brandon Webb who is hurt by the lack of his run support. Brett Myers continues his development and improves his control to great effect.
AL Rookie of the Year
Craig Henson over Andy Marte, Delmon Young, Francisco Liriano
After Keith Folke fails to regain form, Craig Henson is able grab 10 to 12 saves while sharing closer duties with Jonathan Papelbon. Andy Marte and Delmon Young are impressive in their debuts but lack the full season of work to back their causes. Francisco Liriano splits the season between the 'pen and the rotation and gives Twin fans hope for the future.
NL Rookie of the Year
Jeremy Hermida over Yusmeiro Petit, Hanley Ramirez, Prince Fielder, Conor Jackson, Josh Barfield, Gavin Floyd
In one of the closest and deepest votes in baseball history, Jeremy Hermida overcomes the competition of his fellow rookie teammates Yusmeiro Petit and Hanley Ramirez. Prince Fielder blasts homers throughout the year, while Conor Jackson provides a steady bat for the Diamondbacks and Josh Barfield provides some youth to the aging Padres. Gavin Floyd regains some of the status he lost in the disaster that was last year, and shows enough to gain a few votes in this very competitive field.
AL Comeback Player of the Year
Curt Schilling over Rocco Baldelli, Adrian Beltre
Finally over his bloody sock, Curt Schilling shows flashes of his 2004 self and provides consistency for a Red Sox rotation that is hit with a few injuries. Rocco Baldelli works his way back on the path to being one the AL’s most exciting players and Adrian Beltre shows that he is not a total bust, but fails to produce his 2004 numbers.
NL Comeback Player of the Year
Eric Gagne over Barry Bonds, Greg Maddux
Eric Gagne takes some times to get up to full speed on his fastball, but starts the season with nasty off speed and breaking stuff. Voters unsure if 73 games and 224 at bats count as a comeback, though Bonds 74 walks, 27 home runs and .324 average in those limited games help. Greg Maddux resumes his 15+ wins a season pace to anchor the injury decimated Cubs’s rotation.
Keep on the look out for my division previews in the next few days. I will go on record and predict actual won/loss records, records that will actually contain an equal number of wins and losses for this season (this is much harder than it seems).