Last Tuesday, Tasha sent out a mail asking for preseason predictions due on Wednesday, March 22nd. Check your calendars, folk, because that’s today. In case you have forgotten (and most likely you have), we need the following preseason predictions:
Pennant winners, wild cards, and champs for each league and division.
Your pick for World Champs.
Your pick for Rookie of the Year (AL/NL).
Your pick for Cy Young (AL/NL).
Your pick for League MVP.
With each pick, I will require a brief explanation (around 100-200 words) on how you arrived at those conclusions. We will be running your answers every day next week, so we need time to format them and get them ready. I’m using Tap’s submission as the yardstick for how I’d like you to write this up:
NL East Braves
The rest of this division is so unimpressive. The Mets have a stockpile of good hitting if key components like Delgado and Floyd can stay healthy, and if Beltran can figure himself out after last season’s disappointing outcome. The Phillies seem to have the right pieces like NL Rookie of the Year Ryan Howard, and infield mates Chase utley and Jimmy Rollins, and who can forget Bobby Abreu? For whatever reason it doesn’t come together for them, and it won’t again in 2006. Those two teams pose the greatest threat to the Braves, and it’s not that big of a threat to worry Atlanta fans. That, and the Braves seem to win no matter what happens.
NL Central Cardinals
The NL Central is another division that’s difficult to pick a winner for. The Cardinals are definitely not the team that went to the World Series in 2004, but they still have Pujols, and their starting staff is solid despite losing Morris, and with a healthy Scott Rolen, they can win the title without much competition. The Cubs success lies in their starting staff and with the usual health issues of Prior and Wood, the team will go only as far as those two take them. The improving Brewers are still a year or two from pushing for the division title, and the Astros will experience some drop-off from the pennant winning run of a season ago. After that, there’s no reason to discuss what will happen within the division; the Reds and Pirates won’t make a difference in the final outcome of the NL Central.
NL West Giants
With a healthy Bonds, this team is a contender, bottom line. Bonds shows no ill effects from the knee problems and/or legal issues he suffered through last season and he’s lighting it up in spring training. That may not mean anything come April 3, but it’s one more reason the Giants are looking up. After adding the starting pitcher they’ve been needing for a while in Matt Morris, San Francisco’s chances multiplied thanks to strong pitching and a weak division. The Dodgers and Padres should keep pace behind the Giants for most of the season, and Colorado and Arizona aren’t equipped to do a lot in this division regardless of how poor it may end up.
AL East Yankees
Isn’t this what happens every year? Given that the Red Sox can’t figure out what they’re doing and Toronto just spent a lot of money that won’t get them very far, the Yankees kind of win this by default. They still have the players that matter: Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, et. al., and while the starting staff has looked shaky the past few years, the Yankees are in the best shape of all teams in the division.
AL Central White Sox
The best team in the league got better when they traded for Javier Vasquez and Jim Thome. Granted, those two have had their problems, but with a Sox roster that has remained relatively unchanged following their championship run, there’s no reason they can’t repeat. The Indians look mighty exciting and should hang with Chicago for most of the way. The Twins have faded badly since becoming the talk of this division in 2000 and don’t have much left to contend for the title, and what can be said about the Royals and Tigers that won’t put the reader to sleep is very little. Onto the AL West.
AL West Angels
The Western divisions in both leagues have fallen into tepid competitions between the teams that mess up the least. This year’s fight will be no different than the past few years, Angels and A’s taking it to the final days of the season to see who wins the division crown. The Angels should win it again, if the A’s new and improved power hitting falters. Milton Bradley has a lot of potential, and when inserted into a lineup that needs that kind of boost, it could be the right combination. The other side of Bradley’s coin is that he could just flat-out detonate and use up what may be his last chance, in Oakland. The A’s success is not contingent upon the life and times of their new outfielder, especially with arguably the best pitching in the league, but Bradley means more to the Athletics than he has on any previous roster. If that’s saying the Angels will win because the A’s won’t, so be it. Seattle is still a work-in-progress it seems, and Texas has baseball schitzophrenia; they can’t figure out if they’re contenders, pretenders, spoilers, or bottom-feeders.
NL Wild Card Brewers
Is 81-81 a record to be excited about? If you follow the Brewers, you’d better believe it. It proves what most Brewers fans know, and in turn what a lot of baseball fans are just now learning, that Milwaukee has the tools to be a contender for a while. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a championship ballclub, and while it may be a stretch to consider the Brewers for a wild card spot already, it’s worth giving them a shot. The team that finishes behind the Braves in the East could contend for this spot, but right now, it’s Brewers, especially if their quietly great pitching holds up.
AL Wild Card Indians
Cleveland almost stole the division from under Chicago’s nose last season, and despite losing Coco Crisp, they’ll be the most exciting team in the league. It’s possible that Oakland will end up as the Wild Card with the Red Sox in the mix, but there’s more reason to expect the Indians to be there when all is said and done.
NL Pennant Braves
See above NL predicitions.
AL Pennant White Sox
You have to be in it to win it.
WS Champ White Sox
White Sox will repeat. Next?
AL ROY Francisco Liriano, Twins
The pressure is off this top prospect with the Twins not expected to contend. It’s the right atmosphere for the young man to develop. Competing for the fifth starter slot will give him a sense of purpose, and pitching out of the back end of the rotation gives him all the room he needs to make mistakes.
NL ROY Matt Cain, Giants
For years the Giants minor league system was weak. With two teams in the organization winning their league titles and only one club finishing below .500, AAA Fresno, that’s changed. Giants fans know Matt Cain is the proof of the farm turnaround, and when he is thrust into a role on a contending team, it’ll make or break him. He impressed while pitching for the dismal 05 team late in the year; the
next step is to see how he handles games that count.
AL Cy Felix Hernandez, Mariners
A world of potential is in this kid’s hands. Like Liriano, he has the blessing/curse of developing while the team won’t cotend for a playoff spot. Given his age, still only nineteen years old, for all the ability and talent he has, a less-than-ideal environment could hurt whatever progress he can make. Voters didn’t take Marlins young ace Dontrelle Willis’ case seriously in 2005, thanks Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter’s comparable stats. One thing Carpenter has on Willis was the playoff appearance. If voters won’t buy Hernandez’s stats without a division or wild card title, it’s the biggest threat to his award chances.
NL Cy Ben Sheets, Brewers
All eyes will be on the Brewers in 2006, and if they are to contend, they’ll need their pitching to carry them. Ben Sheets leads the rotation and his success is imperative to the team’s chances to further improve and to make some noise in both the divisional and wild card races. Injuries are a concern, and if his back problems continue, there will be no title run for the team and no award for Sheets. However, if he’s left unhindered, there’s no telling what he can do.
AL MVP Vladimir Guerrero, Angels
So his numbers have been up and down the last few years, this guy can still hit and run and field and just flat out play the game. Voters like to give players of contending teams more credit than guys who are not in divisional or wild card races, and since the Angels should win the AL West again, it’s to be expected that Guerrero will lead the way for them, and to his second MVP award.
NL MVP Barry Bonds, Giants
Death, taxes and a healthy Barry Bonds winning NL MVP awards. Like him or hate him, the scandals and the distractions can’t slow him down. This man is the Giants, period the end. Many contending teams rely on one or two guys to push them to success, but no team leans so heavily on their superstar than the Giants do on Bonds. For a title run, he’ll swing the bat, play defense without incident, and even the intentional walks won’t make a difference. In nine years the Giants have been in various playoff races to at least the very end of the season, and Bonds has won 4 MVPs in that span. Coincidence, definitely not.
Please don’t blow your first assignment. I sincerely hope you all are writing articles ahead of time, so as not to leave a gap in weekly content.