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Baseball 2002 preview

By Jackson Murphy
web posted April 1, 2002

More than ever baseball, at least Major League Baseball (MLB) anyway, is a game of numbers. Not home runs or strikeouts, but cold hard cash. That is why the teams that can pay the piper ultimately call the tune. Following baseball is much like following international relations. There are superpowers, regional powers, and of course the wallowing, incompetent developing world.

AL East: Predicted Winner: New York

A considerably less fat Wells delivers a pitch during a game on March 29
A considerably less fat Wells delivers a pitch during a game on March 29

On the one hand there is the almighty New York Yankees-this is the post-Soviet collapse USA equivalent. Sure they failed to win the World Series last year, but they have retooled and added a new weapon in Jason Giambi (BA: .342 HR: 38 RBI: 120). They have a solid pitching rotation but three of the five starters are old. Clemens (20-3), Wells (5-7), and Hernandez (4-7) certainly have fewer good starts ahead. Still the Yankees have the best shot at winning the whole show-they are the only MLB superpower.

The Boston Red Sox have made more changes in the past two months to their organization than a super model at a photo shoot. It will all be for not unless Pedro Martinez (7-3) and Nomar Garciaparra stay healthy. After New York and Boston the skill level drops off to developing nation status. Toronto is still rebuilding, again, Tampa Bay is what a strike related replacement team would be like, and Baltimore has finally given up on trying to buy wins with old men; trimming its payroll of $83 million in 2000 to $40 this year-and boy does that thrift show.

AL Central: Predicted Winner: Minnesota

While the Yankees have a lock on the American league East, Chicago is looking like a lock for the AL Central. That is if Frank Thomas (.221 20 65) rebounds to his old numbers he and Right Fielder Magglio Ordonez (.305 31 113) can carry the team into the fall. But the Minnesota Twins who run a budget friendly team may be able to squeak into the playoffs. They have done little retooling; have solid pitching led by Brad Radke (15-11) and above average defense. At third base they have a gem in Corey Koskie (.276 26 103) but they are under new management after a lifetime with Tom Kelly. Besides it would be nice to see Minnesota in the fall to thumb a nose or two at the league for wanting to get rid of some franchises.

AL West: Predicted Winner: Seattle
[Wild Card: Oakland]

Is it possible that the Seattle Mariners could win even more games than last year? Doubtful but they have done enough tinkering to make a great team better at least if you forget that they signed Ruben Sierra (.291 23 67) to platoon in left. As the comic book store owner in "The Simpson's" would say: "Worst pickup ever." Their pitching is as good as it was last season but questions remain. Can Second Basemen Bret Boone (.331 37 141) repeat his numbers from last season? Will Ichiro break the hits in a season record? The Athletics have the best all round pitching staff in the majors anchored by Tim Hudson (18-9) and while they have lost Giambi's (one of them anyway) bat they may be hungry enough to overcome that. They still have Eric Chavez at third (.288 32 114), Jermaine Dye in right (.282 26 106) and have added David Justice (.241 18 51), which may help.

Anaheim and Texas just aren't in the running. I take comfort in the fact that the Rangers spent so much money on Alex Rodriguez (.318 52 135) that they could afford only to reacquire aging Juan Gonzalez (.325 35 140), and retool the pitching staff with guys like Dave Burba who sports a lovely 6.21 ERA. It makes you wonder if they are actually trying to outdo their major league worst team ERA (5.71) from last season. For $250 million I would make A-Rod pitch too. Now we know why George W. Bush wanted to be president; to get away from the Texas Rangers.

NL East: Predicted Winner: Atlanta

The Atlanta Braves continue to prove that they are one of the best-run franchises in Baseball. Their once great pitching has come down to earth somewhat but it is hard to discount Maddux and Glavine as a one-two punch. Picking up Gary Sheffield (.311 36 100) and Vinny Castilla (.260 25 91) will help. The Braves will beat the NY Mets who basically revamped their entire lineup and rotation. Adding Jeromy Burnitz (.251 34 100), Roberto Alomar (.336 20 100), and Mo Vaughn (.272 36 117 in 2000) will help, but they have a mediocre pitching staff at best-whose proposed starting rotation went 41-50 last year. [There is no way that Atlanta will top the Mets this year - editor's declaration]

There are teams rivaling Enron, or at least some nations of Latin America or the Middle East. If you think of baseball as a game of survivor there is a sense that some teams are destined to be voted off the island. The Montreal Expos, despite holding one of the best bats in the game with Vladimir Guerrero, is best described by CNNSI.com as the, "dead franchise walking." Adding ancient Andres Galarraga may be good for sentimental reasons and as a nod to his past power is not going to fill seats. Guessing what the worst day of attendance at an Expos game is actually a sporting event unto itself (my guess: 1,100).

NL Central: Predicted Winner: St. Louis
[Wild Card: Chicago]

Who really would have thought that when Mark McGwire retired that the St. Louis Cardinals would actually improve? Solid pitching and a one-two-three punch of Albert Pujois at third (.329 37 130), Tino Martinez at first (.280 34 113), and Jim Edmonds at center (.304 30 110) may be enough for some World Series play-and you cannot discount the La Russa factor. It isn't going to be hard to win this division when Houston, while younger than before may be too young and Milwaukee is downright pathetic but they are hosting the All Star Game, have Ritchie Sexson (.271 45 125), and are, improbably, better than Cincinnati.

We're expecting big things from Ted Kennedy's favourite player, Sammy Soo-ser
We're expecting big things from Ted Kennedy's favourite player, Sammy Soo-ser

Less easy to rule out is the Chicago Cubs. Cursed by their own underachieving history they have a solid team. Sammy Sosa (.328 64 160) with an entire season of protection in the lineup by McGriff (.306 31 102) and Alou (.331 27 108) may let people forget about that guy in San Francisco who hit 73 last year. Plus three words: Healthy Kerry Wood? Sosa homerun count: 59.

NL West: Predicted Winner: Arizona

The World Series champs in Arizona have not altered the dynamic that brought home the glory very much. In fact Randy Johnson (21-6) and Curt Schilling (22-6) are set to repeat their dominance. But keeping series choke artist Byung-Hyun Kim is a bad omen. It shouldn't be too hard for Arizona to come out of this division again with the Giants, Padres, and Dodgers competing generally on a different level. Bonds homerun count: 57.

World Series: New York over St. Louis in 6

In the end it looks increasingly like the team to beat will still be the Yankees. Don't forget that they will try to improve as the season goes along picking up a starter down the stretch might seal the deal. But it is reassuring to see teams like Oakland and Minnesota compete with the rich super power. Atlanta will continue its special relationship as bridesmaid, but never a bride. Seattle could win another 110+ games solidifying its power and St Louis minus McGwire will take their best shot.

Why do they hate us? It certainly cannot be because of baseball-hey even Castro like's baseball.

Jackson Murphy is a writer from Vancouver, Canada. He is a regular contributor to Enterstageright.com and edits "Dispatches" a website that serves up political commentary 24-7. You can contact him at jacksonmurphy@telus.net.

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