Season review and postseason picks

I was a few days late on my preseason predictions, so I’m going to make a point of getting my postseason prognostications posted promptly. And with alliteration.

But first, let’s look at how things fared compared to how I thought it might go. It’s not pretty.

NL East predictions
Phillies
Marlins
Braves
Mets
Expos

NL East reality
Braves
Phillies
Marlins
Mets
Expos

More so than last year, this was the Phillies division to lose, and they did. And so did Larry Bowa, who’s now looking for a job. What I got right: 1. “It just means that [the Marlins have] got a good chance of having their first winning season in which they don’t win the World Series.” 2. “… while I’d like nothing more than to see J.D. Drew continue his mediocre career, something tells me that there’s going to be a little bit of that inexplicable Braves magic that keeps him healthy for 145 games this year.” He played exactly 145 games. 3. “Seventy wins this season [for the Mets] would be a small improvement and probably not enough to bring Art Howe back.” They won 71.

NL Central predictions
Cubs
Astros (wild card)
Cardinals
Reds
Pirates
Brewers

NL Central reality
Cardinals
Astros (wild card)
Cubs
Reds
Pirates
Brewers

The Cubs’ injuries were just too much — 20 starts each from Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, Sammy Sosa out a month and his streak of 40 home runs and 100 RBIs is snapped. Despite all that, they were in the driver’s seat with a couple of weeks to go, and they couldn’t win. I’m annoyed that my Mets had to play spoiler to the Cubs, taking two out of three at Shea on the next-to-last weekend of the season, but the Cubs then went and dropped three of four to the Reds and couldn’t beat the team they would’ve faced in the division series, the Braves, when their backs were to the wall. They gave up after losing those two 12-inning games to the Reds. The difference between the Astros and Cubs, both of whom had solid starting pitching and a dangerous, if aging, lineup? Houston lost Andy Pettitte and Wade Miller for longer stretches than Chicago lost Prior and Wood, and they didn’t fold. What I got right: 1. “… [if] they don’t lose Sammy Sosa for a month …” 2. “In this division, second place should still mean new life in the postseason.” 3. The Astros did win the wild card, though that wasn’t decided until the last day of the season. 4. I don’t know exactly when it happened, but at some point you could draw a line in the standings after the No. 3 team in this division, and those three on either side of the line would stay on that side of the line. 5. Reds fourth, Pirates fifth, Brewers sixth. 6. The Reds did have a 100-HR outfield, but they needed four players to do it: Adam Dunn (46), Ken Griffey Jr. (20), Austin Kearns (9) and Wily Mo Pena (26) = 101. 7. “Once it’s clear that Kris Benson is back from his injuries, he’ll be traded for prospects.”

NL West predictions (ugh)
Diamondbacks
Padres
Giants
Dodgers
Rockies

NL West reality
Dodgers
Giants
Padres
Rockies
Diamondbacks

I don’t know why I put so much faith in Randy Johnson, Luis Gonzalez and Richie Sexson. This team was nearly as bad as the 2003 Tigers, and Detroit didn’t have anyone close to the caliber of a Big Unit, a Gonzo, a Sexson or a Steve Finley. Of course, come September, Johnson was the only one still coming to Bank One Ballpark every day. This one was a car wreck. What I got right: 1. The Padres were in contention. 2. “I really think any of these five could finish anywhere in the division, with the exception of the Rockies in first and the Giants in last.” At least I hedged my bets with the possibility of the Diamondbacks crumbling. 3. I’m really stretching here: “But perhaps more than any other team in contention, the Diamondbacks need to avoid DL time by its [d’oh! should be “their”] stars. They can’t afford to go two weeks without a start from the Big Unit, or lose Luis Gonzalez and his injured elbow to season-ending surgery. If either of those happen, they’re done, making this a very risky pick.”

AL East predictions
Red Sox
Yankees (wild card)
Orioles
Blue Jays
Devil Rays

AL East reality
Yankees
Red Sox (wild card)
Orioles
Devil Rays
Blue Jays

Yes, I picked with my heart and not my head. Certainly, the Red Sox had the talent to take the division, and they pushed the Yankees until the final week of the season. Had they not fallen 10 back in August, it might’ve happened. Coulda, woulda, shoulda. I guess, like with the Braves in the NL East, I really can’t believe anything else will happen until it does. What I got right: 1. For the first time since Tampa Bay came along, the order of the division was different, only it was the Devil Rays in fourth and the Blue Jays last, instead of a change at the top. 2. The wild card went to the second-place team in the AL East. 3. “The Yankees will probably win the division with the Red Sox taking the wild card.” How’s that for taking the easy way out? 4. “I also suspect you’ll see Jason Giambi and Bernie Williams on the DL at some point.” OK, that one too was like predicting the Pope would pray today. 5. “Hideki Matsui will improve upon last year’s numbers and Enrique Wilson will not play second base all season.” 6. “Kevin Brown will likely break down again.” 7. The Orioles finished third!

AL Central predictions
Royals
Twins
White Sox
Indians
Tigers

AL Central reality
Twins
White Sox
Indians
Tigers
Royals

So much for the Garth Brooks Theory. Having the country singer in spring training did not help the 2004 Royals the way it did the 1998 NL Champion Padres or 2000 NL Champion Mets. Maybe because they’re in the AL. At some point this season, it actually looked like Brooks had a chance to be called up by Kansas City. I should’ve read into my own comments when I noticed (as I just did now) that I didn’t say anything specific about players actually on this team and instead talked about the guy who wrote “Friends In Low Places.” Is the AL Central basement low enough? What I got right: 1. “While four out of the five teams in the NL West have a shot at the division title [not so much that part], it’s a race among three here. By September, it will be down to two.” It was a race among three, when the Indians made their August run. By September, it was down to the Twins and White Sox. 2. “88 games may be enough to win baseball’s weakest division.” It would have been — the first-place Twins won 93, the second-place White Sox 83. 3. “[The Tigers] may have a chance to fight Cleveland for fourth place.” OK, so they took fourth place by 14 games. But I said they could have a chance. 4. If you move the Royals from first to last, I had the order of the other four teams correct.

AL West predictions
Angels
Athletics
Mariners
Rangers

AL West reality
Angels
Athletics
Rangers
Mariners

I did it! I pegged the first two teams in the division! I got one right! Whew. OK, that’s enough to bring me back next year. Just don’t read what I wrote about Texas. What else I got right: 1. “It’s going to be a great race, that’s clear.” 2. “… many question whether Arthur Rhodes can truly be a closer.” Welcome, Octavio Dotel. 3. “Seattle’s biggest detriment is its age.”

Now, quickly, on to the postseason.

Twins vs. Yankees
If Minnesota hadn’t been swept in New York last week, I’d give them a shot. But after that result, I think they may be doubting themselves. Johan Santana very well may win two games in this series, but the bullpen will probably blow one, and it could be the clincher. Let me say this (and I’ll try not to play it safe in every series I pick here): If the Twins beat the Yankees, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bud Selig handing a very large trophy to a champagne-drenched Ron Gardenhire. Pick: Yankees in five.

Red Sox vs. Angels
The last time the Angels won the AL West was 1986. They faced the Red Sox in the ALCS. I don’t think that matters, I just wanted to point it out. OK, this is hard. I was about to write that I really, truly believe that either of these teams could win the AL pennant. Which means I would’ve been picking any of these four teams. Look, as good as the Angels are, they’re going to have to face Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez in three of a potential five games. They may have been able to win the division without Jose Guillen, but can they win a best-of-five series? I don’t know. Besides, everyone wants to see a Red Sox-Yankees ALCS go seven games again. Which means it probably won’t happen. I’m going with it though. [A caller to WFAN today made a very good point: The Red Sox had better win in three or four, because if it goes to a fifth game, that would be on Sunday, and Curt Schilling would pitch, meaning he won’t be available until Game 3 of the ALCS against the Yankees on Friday.] Pick: Red Sox in four.

Dodgers vs. Cardinals
Good pitching beats good hitting, huh? Both have good pitching, but not much more than that. Do the names (and stats) of guys like Jeff Weaver, Odalis Perez, Jose Lima, Matt Morris and Jason Marquis seem like the top pitchers on division winners? Not so much, in this day and age. I’ll probably be rooting for the winner of this series to to go The Series. Pick: Cardinals in four.

Astros vs. Braves
What a run by Houston. The best thing going for them may be that they’re the hottest team heading into the postseason, and the last two champions — the 2002 Angels and 2003 Marlins — carried the same title on their October runs. Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt may in fact be the best 1-2 pitching punch in the playoffs (No? Who then?). Had he not missed the season finale with a stomach ailment, Clemens would’ve won 19 to go with Oswalt’s 20. But that missed start means he gets to start Game 1 in Atlanta, followed by Oswalt. Why is all the Cy Young talk among Clemens, Jason Schmidt, Randy Johnson and Carl Pavano? It could be Oswalt’s. As for this series, I think it could be the first series win for Houston. And I’m going all in on the prediction: Pick: Astros in three.

Red Sox vs. Yankees
No, I’m not going to do it. As I said in my AL East review earlier, I just can’t imagine it until it happens. I’ll be rooting for it, but I’m going to wuss out and go the other way with my pick. But I’ll put it this way. What the Red Sox need to do to win: Like the 2001 World Champion Diamondbacks, they may need four wins from their two aces, Schilling and Martinez. But can Pedro do it against the team he called his daddy? Maybe 1-1. Tim Wakefield could pick up the other one. Essentially, the Sox need two wins from either Schilling or Pedro, and at least one against the Yankees bullpen. What the Yankees need to do to win: Not blow leads in the late innings. If the bullpen is perfect, the Yankees move on. I’m keeping it that simple. I figure that each team will win a barnburner and a close one — 11-9 and 3-2 type games — which puts us at 2-2. Throw a blowout to each team and we’re at 3-3. Game seven, Yankee Stadium. Pick: Yankees in seven.

Astros vs. Cardinals
An all-wild-card World Series would mean Roger Clemens goes back to Boston. Another Yankees vs. wild card World Series means Clemens returns to the Bronx. I don’t know … Clemens took off to start the season and never really slowed down. To think he will now may be falling for the same thing all over again. But I’ll bite. I just love St. Louis’ lineup and defense. Look, no one stands out on their pitching staff, but they’ve got capable starters and a reliable closer. Remind you of anyone? The 2002 Angels, perhaps? Granted, Anaheim didn’t lead the majors with 105 wins, but they got it done in the postseason. Pick: Cardinals in six.

Cardinals vs. Yankees
No matter what the World Series matchup, there’s a good chance there will be a lot of talk about history. Yankees vs. Cardinals, Dodgers or, for the third time in eight years, Braves. Yankees or Red Sox vs. Clemens. Cardinals vs. TWins. Twins vs. Braves. But a St. Louis-New York Series would pit the two cities with the most titles against one another (Yankees, as everyone knows, have 26; Cardinals have nine. The A’s do as well, but they don’t get to play this postseason, and they’ve done it in two cities). So Yankee fans may think otherwise, but I just don’t see them as the favorite heading into this postseason. They’re not the perceived lock that they’ve been in past seasons. Yet only once since the start of the wild card era in 1995 has the team with the best record in the regular season won the Series — the 1998 Yankees. But this time, their pitching is the weakest it’s been on this run. Their best pitcher is Mariano Rivera, and he’s been worn out this year, pitching the most innings since 2001 (75 2/3 this year to that season’s 80 2/3), and we all know how that ended. Sure, it was only five more innings than last year, but he’s 34 now. Eh, that probably doesn’t mean anything. Still, that Yankees lineup that everyone thought was the best in baseball? No better than second-best. St. Louis slugs it out.

Pick: Cardinals in six

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