I don’t even want to talk about how long it’s been.
So I won’t. Instead, I’ll take a look at how my preseason predictions panned out. Pretty well, it seems.
2006 NL East predictions
Braves (wild card)
2006 NL East reality
What I wrote: I’m doing it. I’m not taking the easy way out and putting the Braves at the top and saying it’s theirs until someone comes along and knocks them off. I’m going with my heart as much (if not more than) my mind and saying these Mets have not only the talent and the pieces, but the focus to fulfill the lofty expectations many have put on them. After the top two, I think the consensus is the bottom three will finish in this order unless one team plays way above its head or completely tanks.
*BANG! I called it! The Mets are your 2006 National League East champions and will forever be known as the team that snapped the Braves’ run of 14 consecutive division titles. I couldn’t get any other slots in this division right, and I give credit to my pal Brad, who on Opening Day at Shea Stadium predicted a third-place finish for Atlanta. (He had Philly as the wild card, which we all missed, but for him, just barely.)
At the end was my vague prediction that someone — it turned out to be the Marlins and, to some extent, the Phillies — would way overachieve and upset the order of finish. I’m not counting it as a win.
NL Central predictions
NL Central reality
What I wrote: The Cardinals are in a similar position to the Yankees — they didn’t get any worse, but no one in their division did enough in the offseason to overtake them. I struggled with second place. Sports Illustrated elevated Milwaukee to that spot, but I didn’t consider it myself, so I didn’t want to just rip it off from them. I do agree that they do have the deepest pitching in the division, at least as long as Sidney Ponson is part of St. Louis’ rotation — or until he proves he can be a contributing member of said rotation. The Cubs, as we’ve so often said these past few years, have the talent, but can they keep everyone healthy? It’s been trendy to compare this year’s Pirates to last year’s Brewers, but Pittsburgh is going to need the young pitching to make great strides for that to happen. Cincinnati could finish last in the league in ERA, even with Colorado in the league.
The Cardinals almost blew it, but in the end it was true: No one in the division did enough to surpass St. Louis. The Cubs indeed did struggle with injuries. Washington and Milwaukee were last in the NL in ERA; Cincinnati was seventh.
NL West predictions
NL West reality
Dodgers (wild card)
What I wrote: At this point, Los Angeles appears to have the best pitching in the division, but San Diego is going to come close. The Dodgers, however, have a better offense — assuming J.D. Drew and Nomar Garciaparra can stay in the lineup. But the Padres have issues of their own, with Mike Cameron and Ryan Klesko already disabled and Mike Piazza playing the part of a 36-year-old catcher. I’ll forever be down on the Giants so long as half the roster meets the age requirement to live in a retirement community. Arizona made a great leap last year, but it’s going to take a step or two back. The pitching’s weaker and the lineup is younger. Colorado at least has a beautiful city to call home.
Technically, the Dodgers and Padres tied for first place, so I kinda got that, but because L.A. lost 13 of 18 to San Diego, the Pads won the division. San Diego’s pitching led the NL, but the Dodgers led the league in batting average and were fourth — but first in the division — in runs scored. Cameron and Piazza turned in fine seasons, but Klesko didn’t show up until September. Thankfully for the Padres, Adrian Gonzalez emerged as you might expect a former No. 1 overall draft pick to do. The Giants only got older as the season went on, Arizona looks strong for next year and Colorado showed some promise. Could be an interesting race in 2007.
AL East predictions
AL East reality
What I wrote: As I mentioned before, no one has done enough yet to overtake New York, unless Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi also picked up a set of pinstriped voodoo dolls. The Yankees’ pitching is too old to take them too far, though. Pitching is why I put Toronto over Boston. I’ll be impressed if the Sox get to October without a rash of injuries. I’m excited for the changes in Tampa Bay, and I think the team is excited too. I think that means something in the end. Though not without its stars, Baltimore is a mess.
I’d say I pretty much pegged everything except where Tampa Bay and Baltimore would finish. There were noticable and significant changes in Tampa, and Baltimore was such a mess the fans staged a walkout. Boston’s pitching was a mess; only Tampa and Baltimore were worse in the AL, and injuries ravaged the Red Sox all season, almost from the beginning, when they had to move Jonathan Papelbon into the closer’s role. They could’ve used him in the rotation, but considering that he had to be shut down because of arm soreness after pitching just 68 1/3 innings, he probably wouldn’t have made it through August anyway.
AL Central predictions
AL Central reality
What I wrote: Doesn’t seem too hard to peg this one, but in saying that, I’ve probably jinxed the Twins to a free-fall and elevated the Indians to the top. Or something like that. Chicago retooled and didn’t lose any key components from its World Championship team, so you can’t pick against them. Cleveland has to avoid the fallback that hit surprising young teams like Texas and Kansas City in previous seasons, when they each reverted to their familiar ways in the year after they made a surprise run. Minnesota’s lineup just can’t keep up with Chicago’s or Cleveland’s and Jim Leyland may just make enough of a difference in Detroit to make the Twins pay. I just feel bad for Kansas City. There aren’t enough fountains in the city to wash away the pain and embarrassment.
I must’ve been tired when I wrote that — or rushing — because it seems I meant to say I’d jinxed the Twins to the top and the Indians to near the bottom. It was clear the White Sox couldn’t get the pitching they got last year, and so they became the first defending AL champion to miss the playoffs since the 2003 Angels. Cleveland did indeed regress after an impressive run in 2005, and Leyland was the difference, nearly leading the Tigers to the division crown. Had they not won the Wild Card — the AL Central’s first since it came about in 1995 — they’d have suffered one of the worst collapses ever. The Royals avoided the worst record in baseball only because the Devil Rays managed one more loss.
AL West predictions
Athletics (wild card)
AL West reality
What I wrote: I can’t decide between Los Angeles and Oakland. I’m torn. It’s close. But because the A’s had more turnover in the offseason, I’m reading that as a slight edge for the Angels, who may get off to a better start because of the familiarity factor. Of course, Oakland will go on a 26-2 run in August that will make up any ground that sits between the two teams. Texas needs to find pitching and it didn’t help when San Diego fleeced the Rangers in the Chris Young-for-Adam Eaton (and other pieces) trade. In Seattle, it’s all about whether Felix Hernandez can reach his team-mandated max of 200 innings (spring training included) without getting hurt.
The Angels finished four games back, fighting the A’s to within the last week. I did peg Oakland for the playoffs, and I was among those who could see that the wild card would not come out of the East. But that’s about it. Hernandez threw 191 innings.
Not bad for the season. Not superb, but not horrible.
Some postseason thoughts to come by tomorrow’s first pitch of the postseason. I’m sure my heart will win out.