The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Fearless Forecast

Granted these predictions are at least a week late. I promise you though that what I am predicting below has not been influenced by what has occurred during the first week (a little more than that actually) of the 2004 baseball season. So without further delay, here are my 2004 Major League Baseball predictions:

American League East
1st – Boston Red Sox
2nd – New York Yankees
3rd – Toronto Blue Jays
4th – Tampa Bay Devil Rays
5th – Baltimore Orioles

Although the Yankees have added arguably the games best player to their lineup with the Alex Rodriguez acquisition, I still think the Yankees have too many egos and too many injury risks to hold up over the course of a 162 game season. Yes, the Yankees lineup is intimidating. There are many perennial all-stars and a more than a few certain or at least likely Hall of Famers dotting their starting nine. But this is also 2004 and not 1999 or 1994.

As much as I like Kenny Lofton as a baseball player, this is not the vintage Cleveland Indians Kenny Lofton we’re talking about here. You remember him – the Kenny who wasn’t that far removed from taking the Arizona Wildcats to the Final Four and who scaled walls to take away home runs and who followed up his stolen bases with fairly frequent (for a lead off hitter at least) home runs. This Kenny Lofton is older and more fragile. He may have more balls hit over his head in the outfield this year than stolen bases. Similar things could be said of Bernie Williams, Mike Mussina, Kevin Brown, and possibly even Derek Jeter.

That said, if the Yankees are in second or third place before the All-Star break, there’s nothing to say that the Boss won’t go out and acquire Jose Vidro, Magglio Ordonez, and Adrian Beltre. Or maybe Bubba Crosby will keep up the Mickey Mantle impersonation he displayed yesterday against the White Sox over the course of the season and all of us will forget about Lofton and Williams. Not very likely though.

I’m also probably one of a very small minority that really likes the Devil Rays. Lou Pinella and Don Zimmer are two coaches who I really like. But I don’t think that’s going to translate into many extra wins for them. I’m also a big Aubrey Huff fan (we went to school together at Miami). He, Baldelli, and Crawford should come together this year to form a very solid nucleus.

They still don’t have any pitching, but neither do the Orioles either really. Granted, me picking them for 4th place is more a stretch than anything else. The standings in this division have been exactly the same every year since 1998. You could make a really good argument – better than the one I listed out above – that last year’s results will repeat themselves.

American League Central
1st – Chicago White Sox
2nd – Minnesota Twins
3rd – Kansas City Royals
4th – Cleveland Indians
5th – Detroit Tigers

Jump all over me for this one, I don’t care. There are pros and major cons for each of the top three teams in this division – the White Sox, Twins, and Royals. Flaws so significant that if things break right the Indians could win this division. Despite what you may have seen in opening week, the Tigers aren’t really going to contend this year.

Ivan Rodriguez is a great player and a certain future Hall of Famer, but he’s not worth 50 or 60 extra wins to the Tigers. The sum of all their offseason acquisitions aren’t worth that.

Back to the top of the division, you could make a solid argument for the Sox, Twins, or Royals winning or losing the division this year. As a life long Sox fan, I’m picking the Sox. If they’re in the race close to the trade deadline this year, the White Sox should be better equipped than the Twins and Royals to make an acquisition to fortify their run to the postseason. That could be all they need this year to get into the playoffs. And as the Wild Card winning Marlins and Angels have proven over the last two seasons, all you need is to get into the playoffs and then anything can happen.

American League West
1st – Anaheim Angels
2nd – Oakland Athletics
3rd – Seattle Mariners
4th – Texas Rangers

Starting from the bottom here, I’m almost tempted to take the Rangers out of the cellar. If you read about the Mariners much, you read a lot of negative things. The Mariners are almost the anti-Moneyball team, eschewing data and statistics for tools and skills. Unfortunately for Mariners fans, Seattle’s front office has focused on aging players who used to be tools guys and not even on younger talent that might develop into something. Despite this, I still think Texas is flawed enough and lacks pitching to the point where they will be cellar dwellers in what is likely baseball’s best or most competitive division.

Oakland will of course contend this year - both for the division title and the wild card. Should they make the playoffs this season I really hope they make it out of the Division Series. If they aren’t able to, their playoff futility will rival that of the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl. Not quite the same scale, but a five year consecutive streak would be unprecedented.

I’ll be most curious to watch Arthur Rhodes as the A’s closer this year. Should he succeed I’ll be convinced that the A’s are really on to something. Actually, I’ll be convinced the A’s are on to something if new Dodgers’ GM Paul DePodesta trades Eric Gagne to help the Dodgers acquire some hitting. Oakland turns over closers yearly. Mostly it’s been speculated that this has to due with salary constraints. Maybe the Oakland system has found that dominance from closers is a limited time period thing. If that’s true the Dodgers would be able to sell Gagne at his peak value and possibly allow them to acquire some hitting. But I digress from the NL West.

The Angels (I’ll use as few references to Anaheim as possible in an effort to please Mr. Moreno) made a slew of offseason acquisitions. Vladimir Guerrero, Bartolo Colon, Jose Guillen, and Kelvim Escobar are the headliners. The Halos could also get better performances from Troy Glaus, David Eckstein, and Darin Erstad this year. Garrett Anderson, like always, can be counted on for solid production. Personally, I can’t wait to see what kind of numbers Guerrero is able to put up in a lineup where he has to be pitched to. Yes, I know that you can’t really pitch around Guerrero because he’s such a free swinger, but he’s such a dangerous hitter that he has still been in the top five in intentional walks over the last four years despite only having Jose Vidro in his lineup.

National League East
1st – Philadelphia Phillies
2nd – Florida Marlins
3rd – Atlanta Braves
4th – Montreal Expos
5th – New York Mets

This is where you can start to tell that my predictions are not based on the early part of the season. Going into the weekend I felt that although it’s early April, the Marlins – Phillies matchup was a critical one. Last season’s wild card race was decided by the head-to-head matchups between the Fish and the Phils. Somehow, for reasons still not clear to me, the Marlins seem to own the Phillies. This weekend’s sweep, including two come from behind victories was impressive. I think the Marlins are in the Phillies heads though, for whatever that’s worth. Allegedly, Phillies manager Larry Bowa elected to serve his one game suspension on Saturday instead of Friday or Sunday so that he wouldn’t have to be present for the Marlins World Series ring ceremony. Sounds like the approach of someone who’s beaten already and not the approach, if true, that I would want my players to see. Turn it into a positive or a motivating factor. Tell the team you want them to get their rings in front of the Marlins next year.

The sweep also exposed the Phillies bullpen, which most everyone though had been fortified over the winter – not only with the departure of Jose Mesa, but more importantly with the additions of Billy Wagner, Tim Worrell, Roberto Hernandez, etc. It didn’t seem to matter much this weekend though. Over the course of the season though I think it will start to show. Either that or Philadelphia fans will start to talk about some kind of closer’s curse dating back to Mitch Williams in the 1993 World Series or some other catastrophic event.

The Phillies are due to get significantly better contributions from Pat Burrell this year. They may even get better numbers out of David Bell. Plus their starters are solid if not glamorous.

It is hard for me not to pick the Marlins to win the division this year, but they’ve never won the division. Why should it start this year? Last year’s team finished about 4 games better than the Pythagorean Win Theorem expected them too. That margin was enough to send them to the playoffs instead of the golf course last fall. So they were a little lucky (but if you watched any Marlins games last year or even this year so far, you knew that). Ok, so if you’re a Marlins fan you don’t call it luck, you call it timely hitting and timely pitching or heart or whatever. Same difference.

But the Marlins took Derrek Lee, Ivan Rodriguez, Mark Redman, and Juan Encarnacion off the team. All four were significant contributors to varying degrees last year. Each of the position players will be replaced by a defensive downgrade (although that is more due to the superiority of the players the Marlins lost than deficiencies in the players the Marlins are using this year). The Marlins also lose speed with each of their 2004 replacement players and speed – whether stealing bases or taking an extra base – was a hallmark of the Marlins run to the championship last year. The loss of Mark Redman may be a wash depending on what Oliver contributes this year. At least in terms of dollars the Fish should come out ahead, although so far – with Mike Neu being in AAA, it looks like the Marlins just got a salary dump here and not much value in terms of players in return.

It pains me not to pick the Braves to make the playoffs or to win the division this year. John Scheurholz is clearly a smarter baseball man than me. He has a history of putting together winners regardless of the constraints he is faced with. But all good things must come to an end sometime and eventually if you pick the Braves to fail long enough you will be right. The Braves lost a lot of offensive fire power this year. They also lost a Hall of Fame pitcher, in Greg Maddux. But losing someone from the top of the rotation has become commonplace for the Braves over the years. This year though I don’t think that Scheurholz and Cox will be able to overcome their losses and the strength of the Marlins and Phillies. It’s been a great run though.

National League Central
1st – Houston Astros
2nd – Chicago Cubs
3rd – St. Louis Cardinals
4th – Cincinnati Reds
5th – Pittsburgh Pirates
6th – Milwaukee Brewers

Most everyone is picking the Cubs to win the division and it’s easy to see why. Their starting pitching is stacked and their lineup is strong. Derrek Lee could contend for MVP this year. Not only was he able to escape cavernous Pro Player Stadium for the friendly confines of Wrigley field, but he will also be able to feast on the pitching staffs of Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Milwaukee much more than he was able to with the Marlins.

Mark Prior’s injury scares me though. If Kerry Wood, Greg Maddux, Mark Clement, etc get shut down for any amount of time during the season, it could spell doom for the Cubbies. But I suppose you could say that of just about any team in the league.

The real reason I picked the Astros to win the division is that I don’t like the Cubs. In fact, my second favorite team (after the White Sox) is whoever is playing the Cubs.

Oh, and the Astros picked up Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte this offseason. Lance Berkman is due for a better year. And maybe Richard Hidalgo can be the Richard Hidalgo we all thought he was capable of being.

St. Louis just doesn’t have the arms to get it done this year, which is unfortunate, particularly if Tony LaRussa is going to resign if the Cards don’t make a serious run at the postseason.

Unfortunately for the Brewers, minor league development doesn’t count in the major league standings. If it did the Brewers would be one of this year’s top franchises. For off the field reasons, I hope the Brewers finish at the bottom this year so that when Commissioner Selig sells his stake in the club (via a trust or however he’s holding it) he only makes a moderately obscene profit. Anything more than that – anything at all actually – would be an injustice for how he has run baseball and that team. Hopefully the Brewers eventual new owners will take a page from the Oakland A’s and find a way to win with limited resources instead of just stealing public money for a new ballpark and then failing to put a winning, or even competing, product on the field.

National League West
1st – San Diego Padres
2nd – San Francisco Giants
3rd – Los Angeles Dodgers
4th – Arizona Diamondbacks
5th – Colorado Rockies

This division is up for grabs. The Giants and Diamondbacks are not as strong as in recent years. Both clubs have “regressed towards the mean” opening up the race to everyone in the division. The Rockies are probably the division’s only real long shot.

San Diego is in a new park and has made significant upgrades to their lineup. The performance of Khalil Greene will likely determine if the Padres are able to win the division. The Padres new sand colored road uniforms are likely to distract opponents enough this year to be worth an extra win or two. Come September that could be critical.

Barry Bonds will still put up huge numbers this season. I just can’t see Barry slowing down just yet. He isn’t surrounded by the same cast of characters that he was a few years ago though so it will be difficult for the Giants to win it all.

Had the Dodgers ownership situation been resolved earlier in the offseason and had Paul DePodesta had more time to shape his club this year, the Dodgers would likely be favorites in the West this year. Vladimir Guerrero was there for the taking, but ended up with the Angels because of the uncertainty regarding ownership. Having Vlad would have filled a big whole in the lineup for the ex-trolley Dodgers. Should the Red Sox falter this year it will be interesting to see if the Dodgers make a move for Nomar Garciaparra. The Dodgers could offer some cheap prospects to the Red Sox in exchange for enhancing the Dodgers ability to make a playoff run.

The Diamondbacks have the ability to win the division. I know that. I would just like to see things implode on self-righteous team front man Jerry Colangelo. I was sad to see it happen to his Suns this year, but Jerry told everyone that would listen that the Dbacks were rewriting how to run a baseball franchise when they came into the National Leauge in 1998. While they do have one World Series title to show for their efforts, they have more losses and deferred money to pay to players than anyone likes to own up to. Not exactly a model franchise in my opinion.

AL MVP – Vladimir Guerrero, Angels
NL MVP – Barry Bonds, Giants

AL Cy Young – Barry Zito, Athletics
NL Cy Young – Josh Beckett, Marlins (ok, so that’s one that I changed after the first week of the year)

AL Rookie of the Year – Bobby Crosby, Athletics
NL Rookie of the Year – Khalil Greene, Padres

AL Wildcard – Oakland Athletics
NL Wildcard – Florida Marlins

Oakland over Chicago
Anaheim over Boston

Philadelphia over San Diego
Florida over Houston

Anaheim over Oakland
Florida over Philadelphia

World Series
Anaheim over Florida

If those predictions are remotely close, we’ll likely see some exciting baseball but possibly the lowest rated (in terms of television viewers) post-season since the advent of television coverage.


Post a Comment

<< Home