Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
March 31, 2003
BASEBALL: 2003 Pre-Season Predictions
OK, pre-season prediction time, before we're underway in earnest. I'll be brief:
The Musick of the Spheres shall not be interrupted. The Sox have the guns for a strong challenge to a Yankee team that will need to offset age and injury on the pitching staff with some serious production from newcomers Hideki Matsui and Jose Contreras. But the Yanks still have more depth, and the Red Sox are . . . well . . . the Red Sox.
This could be a hugely stratified division, with 2 or possibly 3 horrendous teams, and two well-matched contenders slugging it out for the 90-92 wins needed to win the division. The Twins have one advantage: with no real weak links in their rotation, they may be better suited than the Sox to just pulverize the weak sisters. Believe nothing good you hear about Kansas City pitchers until you see results.
This division could be even tighter than in the past, and has no bad teams. The Rangers still lack quality pitching, the Angels are unlikely to be as injury-free as last season (Troy Glaus' wrist injury is worrisome), and the Mariners could really show some age this year on Edgar, Moyer, and the bullpen. That leaves Oakland, although I'm once again suspicious of their offense (I suspect that Durazo won't live up to the hype -- he's a great hitter but a huge injury risk).
WILD CARD: I'll say Boston over the West contenders.
Yes, the Braves have baseball's best outfield, and they have Maddux and Smoltz and Cox and Mazzone. But I have little faith that the Mike Hampton Experiment will be a smashing success; this team has overcome a lot in the past, but the rotation anchors were always there. No longer. It may well have been time to let Glavine go, but they'll be hard pressed to replace his and Millwood's production, to say nothing of the trick of repeating last year's bullpen miracle with another new cast.
If Millwood is healthy and anything like last year, he will add much-needed stability to the Phils, who have three other talented starters in Vincente Padilla, Randy Wolf & Brandon Duckworth (assuming Duckworth gets healthy). This team has big question marks -- the bullpen is scary, and Marlon Byrd and Jimmy Rollins will be big variables --but the additions of Thome and Millwood makes them the favorite.
The Mets could also win the division if EVERYTHING breaks right -- there are plenty of good old players here, any one of whom could recapture old glory once more. They could also collapse even further. More likely is that some guys bounce back and others don't, and the team slogs in at 84 wins. The fact that David Cone is now the fourth starter is horrifying.
The Marlins just don't have the hitting to keep up.
The Cards are easily the class of this division. I am VERY high on the Cubs Prior-Wood combo (I'm more skeptical of Matt Clement sustaining his success). The Cubs, Astros and Reds are all somewhat similarly situated, athough Cincinnati's pitching is suspect. I strongly suspect that Barry Larkin and Craig Biggio are both just about finished. The Brewers are just hopeless; the Pirates aren't, but they've got a long way to go.
Inertia. The D-Backs' old pitchers and the Giants' bats will keep them in the hunt (San Francisco's additions of Alfonzo, Durham and Cruz should partly offset the losses of Dusty Baker and Jeff Kent). Much will still depend on Barry Bonds staying in the stratosphere; if Bonds bats .295/.595/.428 (his career averages), this team is toast. The Dodgers could improve if Kevin Brown stays healthy and is Kevin Brown again -- certainly they've helped themselves by adding Fred McGriff to replace Karros -- but I don't see a division favorite, either in pitching depth or on offense.
WILD CARD: Oooh, tough. I'll go with the Giants, although I'm courting danger by ignoring the Braves here.
No pre-season postseason picks; that's a fool's errand given the length of the current postseason.