Thursday, July 15, 2004

Irresponsible Predictions

The only thing less logical than midseason predictions of postseason matchups is preseason predictions of postseason matchups. We resisted that absurd little rite of passage in March, so now it doesn't seem so lame to try it out. At least we have three months of information to go on, as opposed to Opening Day when two ESPN writers picked the Vikings as sleepers in the National League. So we'll make a few picks, try to be as daring as reason will allow, and cross our fingers for the best. And yes, when we get one or two right you will never hear the end of it, even though that means we got the other 7 or 8 wrong.

AL EAST CHAMPION: NY Yankees
---- Sad but true. The Red Sox could make up 7 games in the next 76, but it isn't something I'd bet The Official Ninth Farm and Wildlife Preserve on. They'd have to gain one game for every eleven played, and that's not easy against a team that figures to play some pretty solid ball. They've done it before (9 back before Morgan Magic), but unless the Yankees hit a cold stretch, they won't be doing it again.

AL CENTRAL CHAMPION: Chicago White Sox
---- I've had enough of the Twins, and I think Kenny Williams has finally made enough short-sighted deals to push the CWS over the top. Sure he gave up a ridiculous amount of prospects for Freddy Garcia (as he did last year for Roberto Alomar and Carl Everett), but it'll work for this season. Unless the ankle injury to Frank Thomas is worse than expected, and with him, you just never know. But the Twins just don't seem to have that old zip. Not a single everyday Twinkie has an OPS over .850, and that puts a lot of pressure on an already over-taxed defense and pitching staff. Their manager, Ron Gardenhire, makes Whitey Herzog look like a progressive thinker, and their refusal to start rookies Morneau and Restovich isn't helping.

AL WEST CHAMPION: Anaheim Angels
---- To be honest, I don't particularly like anyone in this division, and I don't understand how they keep winning. Texas has four good players (Teixeira, Young, Blalock, and Soriano) and a nice closer, but that isn't enough, and that rotation in the playoffs would fold faster than a stiff napkin. Could you imagine ex-Yankee Kenny Rogers starting Game 1 of the ALDS in Yankee Stadium? "Daddy, what happened to Kenny?", "He's dead son, he's dead". I've never understood how Oakland wins without any hitting, and with Zito looking shakier than a strawberry Fribble (sorry), the big three can't carry them again. Can they? Can they? I'm sorry, but no team that depends heavily on the offensive contributions of Scott Hatteberg can continue to make the playoffs. Right? Suddenly I'm not feeling so confident. Why Anaheim? Because their bullpen will be nasty again with a 100% Donnelly, I believe Colon will pitch better, and I think the Unit might be making a visit. They have the prospects, and the owner has been willing to spend. I vote with Jesus - go Angels.

AL WILD CARD: Boston Red Sox
---- Like I'm gonna pick someone else? The Red Sox are going to make it, just because their roster is so much better than their competitors. That doesn't mean however that they'll bust in with and S on their chests. I feel good things coming, but this bunch is very hard to predict.

NL EAST CHAMPION: Atlanta Braves
---- Every year it's the year. This time, for sure, without doubt, 100 percent, let it ride on the slide, the Braves are not winning the division. We've heard it forever. And guess what, they always win anyway. The Phillies are better, the Marlins are better, heck even the Mets could give 'em a run on paper, but that hasn't mattered before, and it won't now either. With a great GM and brilliant coaching, the Braves always seem to be right there in the end, and if for no other reason than that, the Ninth picks them to be again. It would be Bobby Cox's finest hour, and he should get Manager of the Year if he pulls it off. If Cox were managing the Phillie roster they'd be the best team in the game. Conversely, if Larry Bowa were in charge of the Braves the state of Georgia would have already had two failed attempts at seceding from the Union. There's that much difference.

NL CENTRAL CHAMPION: St. Louis Cardinals
---- Did you know Milwaukee is four games above .500? Good gravy. I mean, they're not gonna win or anything, but that deserves some recognition. St. Louis has a very strange club. They have the best record in baseball without a single starter having 10 wins. Matt Morris and Woody Williams are their best pitchers, but they're having off years. Chris Carpenter has been a God-send (both to them and my first place fantasy team), but you don't get the feeling that is going to last. A capital G Great offense will keep them afloat though, as Pujols, Rolen, and Jim Ed can salvage a lot of mediocre starts. I don't think they'll continue their pace or go far in playoffs with such a rotation, but a seven game lead is enough to hold off Chicago, Cincy and Co.

NL WEST CHAMPION: San Diego Padres
---- Sure, they're the hot sleeper pick, but there's a reason for that: they're pretty good. And the rest of their division is pretty eh. They play in a ridiculously lop-sided pitcher's park, but that tends to be a pretty good thing for a team's record. They need Jake Peavy to come back strong, and Adam Eaton must continue to show progress in harnessing his impressive stuff. This club has however, a much better offensive balance than San Fran or L.A., and the back end of their bullpen can pitch with anyone. Look at these baserunners allowed: Akinori Otsuaka (1.04 WHIP), Scott Linebrink (1.13), Trevor Hoffman (0.95). Youch. They're far from a shoe-in, but the new park and the quality turn-around has got to be giving them an energy edge over their California competitors.

NL WILD CARD: Chicago Cubs
---- Just too much pitching to not find the playoffs somehow. Healthy Prior and Wood, followed by Zambrano, Clement, and Maddux? Get out of town. Their offense and bullpen are nice too, but honestly, with starters like that, it doesn't really matter. They're the anti-Cardinals. On another note, if The Ninth is right (I laugh in the face of "if"), and Philly misses out on the playoffs, there should be a Senate sub-committee investigating Larry Bowa's job security. There hasn't been this big a waste of talent since Venus Flytrap was relegated to the overnight shift. Thome leading the league in homers, Abreu having a career year, Pat The Bat alive and willing, and a nifty little pitching staff to boot? This team needs to be playing better, just as it should have last year. Here's a little tip for GM Ed Wade: if your players every use the word "mutiny", even if it's just a joke, or say, refer to something else, like "hey, you wanna rent Mutiny on the Bounty tonight", fire your manager. Just fire him. It isn't worth it. The team costs too much, and decent managers are too easy to find. How Larry Bowa survived last season I have no idea, and if they miss the postseason and he survives again, it'll be a miracle. Santa Claus doesn't have that kind of job security.

****Late Amendment: Dusty Baker strikes again. If, as it may be, Dusty's well-documented abuse of young pitchers has ended Mark Prior's season, then the Cubs chances are ended right along with him. You gotta like the Phils a lot more for the Card, even with inconsistent starters and Bowa calling the shots.
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