Meet the Mets
The bickering Thorns are at it again, undaunted by our failure to pick last year’s Super Bowl winner. We correctly tabbed Seattle to top the NFC, but who could have figured the wild-card Steelers to win it all? Probably the same guy who picked George Mason to make it to the Final Four, but as he is not proposing to write this column, we must.
Here is the Official Father-Son take on the 2006 baseball season. Preseason picks can be, like George Bernard Shaw’s take on second marriages, the triumph of hope over experience. While we Thorns confess to being Mets fans, we have not donned rose-colored glasses. This is just their year.
In the divisional wrap-ups below, teams are listed in the order of their predicted finish.
Boston Red Sox: Of all the moves the Carmine Hose made in the off-season, to many the most puzzling was sending pitcher Bronson Arroyo to the Reds in return for enigmatic 24-year old Wily Mo Pena. Boston seemed short of pitching and long on offense. We think it was a brilliant move. Do not be surprised if Pena hits more than 25 home runs as a fourth outfielder and challenges Trot Nixon for the right-field spot. Coco Crisp will make Boston fans scratch their heads to recall who played center field last year. Mark Loretta and J.T. Snow will pay big dividends. If Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, and Tim Wakefield win 15 each, the retooled Red Sox win the division. Manny Ramirez will be his usual three-ring circus, but he is not Terrell Owens: at the end of the day his numbers make anything endurable, in any clubhouse.
New York Yankees: Although the Yankees have more talent than Boston in some areas, their fragility makes us shy away from picking them as AL East champions. Randy Johnson remains a dominant pitcher, but it would be hard to pick an over-under on how many times he’ll be healthy enough to toe the mound. Slipping production from Mike Mussina plus Carl Pavano’s constant health problems also make the rotation seem shaky. Aaron Small will not go 10-0 again, and Shawn Chacon may also prove a one-year wonder. Alex Rodriguez will have another monster year and carry the offensive load with Gary Sheffield. The addition of Johnny Damon certainly plugs a hole defensively and he will be a fine leadoff hitter, enabling Derek Jeter to bat second, for which his style is better suited. We wouldn’t be surprised to see the Yankees win the division. It’s just that age and injury hang over this club like a Damoclean sword.
Toronto Blue Jays: Adding Lyle Overbay, Troy Glaus, and Bengie Molina should benefit the offense just as much as the signings of B.J. Ryan and A.J. Burnett will help Roy Halladay and the rest of the pitching staff. Yet holdover Vernon Wells remains the team’s key to success. With Alex Rios and Frank Catalanotto manning the corner outfield spots, Wells is going to have to have a break out year for power. Starting pitching is a little bit thin past the two-spot. This may be the most improved team in baseball, yet they fall short of securing a wild-card berth.
Baltimore Orioles: The Orioles took a flier on Corey Patterson to start in center field, and if he doesn’t live up to his eternally dangled potential, this team is in for a long one. By signing Ramon Hernandez, Javy Lopez will catch fewer games and giv ethe club more at bats, a good move. Melvin Mora is a great player, and so is Miguel Tejada. It remains to be seen if Brian Roberts has completely recovered from his gruesome shoulder injury. The starting pitching is adequate at best, even with the addition of Kris Benson. Now that BJ Ryan is a Blue Jay, they will also need to anoint a new closer. It seems to us that even if Tejada and Mora have huge years, the Birds’ pitching will condemn them to a sub-.500 record.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: This team would finish in last place in any division in Major League Baseball. Rocco Baldelli, Jorge Cantu and Carl Crawford continue to blossom. Expect Mets’ fans across the country to hurl beer bottles through their televisions as they catch clips of phenom Scott Kazmir’s development into an elite starter. Still, glimmers of hope will be of no consequence. Julio Lugo will probably be moved by the trading deadline, and the majority of Tampa Bay’s roster consists of unknowns and cast-offs. They gave up on Dewon Brazelton, which makes little sense given the composition of their pitching corps.
Chicago White Sox: Re-signing first basemen Paul Konerko was extremely prudent. If Jim Thome hits decently and stays healthy it’ll be more than what the oft-injured and much maligned Frank Thomas did over the last few years. Ozzie Guillen’s pitching staff may be the best in baseball, even if Jon Garland and Mark Buehrle come back to earth a bit. After winning a championship, teams usually lose more than this club did. The Indians will be hot on their heels again, but the Chisox are poised to dominate the division for the next few years with the core they have.
Cleveland Indians: If nothing else, the 2006 season should be just as exciting as last year’s wild-card chase was. The young talent of this team is as good as any in the game. If Travis Hafner hadn’t gotten hit in the head during last year’s playoff chase, who is to say Cleveland wouldn’t have taken the division? Victor Martinez is a great young catcher. Cliff Lee is a legitimate ace, and C.C. Sabathia will also eat up a lot of innings. A Division Championship might be a bit of a stretch, but earning a Wild Card berth certainly isn’t.
Minnesota Twins: Concerns abound in Minnesota. Johan Santana and Brad Radke anchor a decent staff, which will keep them in most games. This team’s two biggest concerns are the health of Torii Hunter and the development of catcher Joe Mauer. This will be a competitive club, but they lack in power. Pitching will keep this team in contention for the majority of the year, but it remains to be seen how this team will put runs on the board. Jacque Jones’s departure leaves the middle of the Minnesota lineup thin.
Detroit Tigers: Placido Polanco will have a good year, and should be a good player for quite some time. Pudge Rodriguez is doing his best to be a leader and producer. The Tigers are showing signs of life, but they are still several years and players away. Magglio Ordonez is looking to rebound from an injury shortened ’05 campaign, and should put up numbers if he is able to shake the injury bug. Kenny Rogers will eat up innings, and possibly mentor the rest of the young Tigers’ staff. The Ugueth Urbina “Machete Madness Party” left a hole where the bullpen used to be, and there isn’t anything this team can do to finish better than fourth in the Central.
Kansas City Royals: Pitcher Zack Greinke briefly left spring training “for personal reasons.” Can’t say the thought of running away from the Royals wouldn’t cross our minds. When the prize free agency signing your franchise touts is the fossilized remains of Reggie Sanders, you know the win total is going to be in the 70s. Young talent on the roster will leave town as soon as possible. There really isn’t much to say about this franchise and competitive baseball unless you want to take it back to the days of their pale blue jerseys and cassette tapes.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: The tandem of Vladimir Guerrero and Bartolo Colon alone should be enough to secure another division title. Last year’s divisional champs lost some veteran talent but have correctly assessed that room had to be made for their talented farmhands Jeff Mathis, Dallas Macpherson and Casey Kotchman. Chone Figgins is one of the most underrated players in the league. He’s like Jose Oquendo with top-flight skills.
Oakland Athletics: We’re rooting for Frank Thomas to stay healthy and hit 40 home runs. Expect big seasons from pitchers Rich Harden and Danny Haren, but also expect Barry Zito to be elsewhere at the All-Star break. Huston Street is one of the most exciting young closers in the league, and this staff should be able to get the ball into his hands often enough. But where are the outfield bats? Shortstop Bobby Crosby’s health is also a significant issue. If this team does eke out a wild-card berth, they will be bounced from the first round.
Texas Rangers: Runs are going to be scored. In bunches. Kevin Millwood should replace Kenny Rogers just fine. He’ll probably be better received by cameramen as well. Hank Blalock and Mark Texiera will launch dozens upon dozens of homeruns, but it’s going to be more of the same in Arlington. Until Texas gets more quality starts from their staff, they aren’t going to return to postseason play. If they can keep their tandem of young sluggers under contract and bring in some midlevel pitching they will be able to contend in a few years.
Seattle Mariners: No matter what sort of offensive production new catcher Kenji Johjima provides, the language gap with the pitching staff is going to take a toll over the duration of the season. Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre will probably have solid years, and so will Ichiro, but the sinew in the batting order just isn’t there anymore. When Seattle was very successful, they had guys like Jay Buhner to serve as support to the bigger talents in the lineup. For the kind of ballpark Safeco is, this team’s composition isn’t a dreamy match. Jamie Moyer will squeeze another year out of his aging body, but this team is going to have to wallow in the cellar for a few years with what they have.
New York Mets: It comes down in large part to the Carloses. If Delgado stays healthy and Beltran has a better year, this team will end the Braves’ endless string of NL East titles. We’ll hear more than enough about Pedro Martinez’s toe. The addition of Billy Wagner gives the Mets their most reliable closer since Randy Myers. Expectations and the payroll are high, but this is the year for the Mets to shine. Infielders Jose Reyes and David Wright will improve both at the bat and in the field. New catcher Paul Lo Duca will throw out some runners. And middle relief, until some brilliant offseason moves the team’s weak spot, will prove to be the league’s best.
Atlanta Braves: The song remains the same. The roster changes yearly, yet Bobby Cox gets the most out of what he has. Jeff Francoeur continues to emerge as one of the best right fielders in the game. It remains to be seen if Edgar Renteria will be the All Star he was as a Cardinal, or the error machine he was while with the Red Sox. John Smoltz and Tim Hudson are as good as any front end of a rotation. Unfortunately for Atlanta, New York’s offense is far superior.
Philadelphia Phillies: Ryan Howard is as impressive a young slugger as you will find in the game today. Jimmy Rollins will continue his solid play though not his 2005 batting streak. We’ll see if all the trade rumors affect Bobby Abreu, and watch as their marginal pitching staff keeps them from excelling. Tom Gordon closing might not work out so well either.
Washington Nationals: The combustive personalities of Jose Guillen and Alfonso Soriano in one clubhouse does not bode well for team chemistry, or high numbers in the win column. Cristian Guzman is the new Rey Ordonez. Livan Hernandez is counted on to be the ace, again, and to throw too many innings, again. This squad overachieved last year, but their true colors (and paltry offense) will show. You’ll hear more about off-the-field bickering than you will about anything else. Unless it’s the trade of Soriano or Jose Vidro to the Mets...
Florida Marlins: Joe Girardi sure fell for the ol’ bait-and-switch on this one. After the ex-Yank was hired as manager, the systematic dissolution of the team began. It is highly likely that Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera will be moved. No one wants to sit in the Miami sun or evening murk to watch a game. Even though this team has won two world championships recently, they are dead in the water. Until an ownership group steps up and moves this team, it’s going to be all bad. At the rate this team is being scrapped, Girardi might find himself catching by the end of the year.
St. Louis Cardinals: This team is good enough to contend in any division, but since they’re in the oh-so-weak Central it’s going to be a cakewalk. Expect St. Louis to win the division by more than a dozen games. Albert Pujols is one of the three best players in the league, and there isn’t going to be anyone breathing down this club’s neck much past the All Star break. It’s really too bad that the Cardinals are always ho-humming by the time the playoffs roll around, because in the era of the wild card, momentum in September means a lot to how a team plays in October.
Houston Astros: As NASA would say, the window has closed. The Roger Clemens experience is over, as is Jeff Bagwell’s career. This team might contend for a wild card, but if Andy Pettite gets hurt it’s over. Willy Taveras is an exciting player who should continue to develop. Count on Brad Lidge to bounce back from his playoff blowup. The addition of Preston Wilson isn’t going to put this team over the top.
Milwaukee Brewers: As their superb young talent continues to develop, their record will improve. If you’re looking for a Cinderella (or George Mason) story, you could do worse than picking the Brew Crew to take the wild card. Prince Fielder and Richie Weeks are going to be perennial All Stars. However, if the race for the playoffs is tight in September, count on the Astros to prevail this year.
Chicago Cubs: Dusty Baker’s head is going to roll this summer. The Chicago media has been calling for it for years, and the expected injuries to Kerry Wood and Mark Prior are going to make the axe fall. The White Sox winning the Series last year didn’t exactly appease Cubs fans’ desire to win one. As long as this club’s success is tied to the balky bodies of their two young aces, the drought will continue.
Cincinnati Reds: Eric Milton may be the worst starting pitcher in baseball. Expect him to challenge Bert Blyleven’s record for most homers surrendered in a year, while doubling Blyleven’s ERA. New ownership may right this ship eventually, but it’s not a one year plan. The pitching staff is laughable, even with the acquisition of Bronson Arroyo. Combine the sketchiness of the rotation with their outfielders’ inability to stay healthy, and the result is another year of high-scoring losses. This club reminds one of the 1930 Phillies.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Ouch is all you can say when looking at this team. Anything short of time warping and bringing back a young Barry Bonds or Willie Stargell just won’t do. Jason Bay is a solid player, but teams on which Joe Randa is an Opening Day starter do not fare well. Suggested trade: swap entire roster for that of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and see whether playing in a decent home ballpark makes a difference.
San Diego Padres: Mike Cameron deserves to play center field again, and The City Where the Weather Never Changes should make for a nice change from New York. The fates would have it for him to do so at the same field where he nearly ended his baseball career last summer. Mike Piazza finally is free of expectations, and should do well as the marquee player on his new club. This is a division which can be won by a team with a losing record. If San Diego played in a different division, they might struggle to make the postseason. In the NL West, an 85-win team is king.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Kenny Lofton will be old enough to get a 15% discount at IHOP by the end of the year, so having him start in center field might not be the best plan. We’re rooting for Nomar Garciaparra to resurrect his career in LA while learning how to play first base. Safest prediction in the bunch: Jeff Kent will fight someone in Dodger blue. If J.D. Drew plays more than 145 games this year confetti should drop from the sky. Ever since the team acquired Darryl Strawberry, clubhouse chemistry has been rocky or nonexistent.
San Francisco Giants: Barry Bonds could hit 10 or 60 home runs this year, but he can’t pitch while doing it. Omar Vizquel, Steve Finley and the rest of the over-the-hill gang can not protect Bonds in the lineup (assuming he can even play). This year will be nothing but an orgy of media attention focused on Barry’s off-the-field issues, and that can’t help the team.
Arizona Diamondbacks: There isn’t a lot of good going on in Arizona right now. Orlando Hudson looks to have a bounce-back year, but this team is pretty devoid of upcoming talent. Names like Shawn Green and Luis Gonzalez look good on paper, but there’s not much left in their tanks.
Colorado Rockies: Another expansion debacle, this team will likely never be competitive. With the altitude induced long balls, the demoralized pitching staff this team will resemble a backyard Whiffle ball squad more than a major league one. Rockies pitchers show their stuff before they get here and after they leave. One wonders what kind of numbers Todd Helton would put up if he didn’t play in Colorado. One wonders whether the league will allow a special dead ball to be used in Rockies home games. One also wonders if this team will win 70 games.
DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS: Mets over Astros
DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS: Cardinals over Padres
NLCS: Mets over Cardinals
DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS: Angels over Red Sox
DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS: Yankees over White Sox
ALCS: Angels over Yankees
WORLD SERIES: Mets over Angels in 6