Syracuse honked in the NCAAs but the Final Four is coming up. The Giants long-since ended their disappointing (football) season. And the college bowl farce du annee is a distant memory. So, boys and girls,
IT'S BASEBALL SEASON
Ah, yes. Time for the rites of spring for the boys of summer. For overpaid and whiny men in polyester suits to wield their bats, gloves and pitching arms toward one goal:
Herewith, it's the official TKM 2005 Baseball Preview!
First up: the American League predictions. This is how it will be, pending actual game results.
For the eighth-straight year, the Yankees should win the AL East crown. Not because they're my team, but because they're big Stein's team and George shelled voluminous amounts of cash, prospects and other favors to obtain a revamped rotation, upgraded bullpen and hopefully some stones for the weak-minded who honked in last year's playoffs (I'm talking to you, Tom Gordon and Kevin Brown).
In with the new: Randy Johnson, the best lefthanded pitcher in baseball history not named Koufax; Carl Pavano, the former RedSax farmhand who finally hit stride in the past two years; Jaret Wright, the one-time Indians fireballer who had a career resurrection with the Braves; Felix Rodriguez, the Giants' hard-throwing set-up man. In with the old: Mike Stanton and Tino Martinez return for cameos with the team they helped to four (three for Stanton) World Series titles from 1996-2000. And out with the rubbish: Jose Contreras, Javy Vazquez (so much for my buddy Chef's prediction that his pickup would be better than the Schilling trade), Felix Heredia, El Duque, and Miguel Cairo.
This team should score more than 900 runs (unlike last year), should pitch better than last season's slapdash rotation that had two serviceable starters come playoff time (Moooooooooose and Leiber), should set up Rivera better, and should win the World Series. That's a lot of shoulds and no team ever meets all expectations: can Wright stay healthy, can Pavano pitch outside the pitchers-park/can't-hit NL East, can F-Rod dominate AL hitters, can Johnson defy aging, can Mooooose put in a full season, can Rivera regain his 1996-2003 form, can A-Rod hit with RISP? Personally, I preferred the 1996 and '98 teams that had a young core who came from the Yanks' minors with solid veterans and solid citizens (O'Neill, Tino). I hope the Yanks don't continue to fling prospects to the winds (Procter, Wang, Cano, DePaula, Duncan) and allow some of the kids to become contributors. But Big Stein wants to win now. Hopefully he will.
After the Biggest Collapse in Baseball History and an easy sweep of the Cards, the Red Sax enter this season as the defending world champions of baseball (no, I did not retch after writing that). They also reconfigured their rotation with enigmatic Matt Clement who has the uncanny capacity to collapse in the middle of a well-pitched game, and the largely enigmatic David Wells, who is good for about five really good starts against the Yankees and who knows what else. Terry Francona should be a hero in Bawstin after his aggressive managing saved the team in the ALCS. The loss of Pedro will hurt, the temporary loss of Schilling will be trouble. But the team has enough hitting (Ramirez, Ortiz and Mueller -- O My), a top-end closer in Foulke and solid starting even without Schilling to sustain itself into September and a wild card bid.
The Orioles will be FUN. Think about it: Miguel Tejada had 150 RBI last year and there's little reason he cannot duplicate that. Mora-Tejada-Sosa-Palmeiro-Lopez-Surhoff. That's a hard bunch for a pitcher to continually get by unscathed. Add some good pitching and . . . oops, the O's didn't really add any good pitching. So much for 90 wins. But the birds are good for 80-85 this year, will bug the s--t out of the RedSax again and will be able to close games better with BJ Ryan as a full-time closer. And with that lineup, they'll be worth watching.
The D-Rays will again suck less. That says little, but Dewon Brazelton and Scott Kazmir (boy, will the stupid Mets ever regret that trade if the kid stays healthy!) are top-notch arms, Aubrey Huff can flat-out hit, Carl Crawford can fly and a healthy Travis Lee helps the defense. It takes a lot to compete in this division and the Drays don't have that. But they have a product worth watching. BTW, what's with the extremely tall lefty pitchers who can't break wind? I'm talking to you Mark Hendrickson (87 K in 183 IP) -- the new Dennis Rasmussen and the AL's own Kirk Reuter.
As for the Blue Jays. What a sick bunch. Yet they have two starters that any other team in the majors would covet: Roy Halladay (2003 Cy Young winner) and Ted Lilly (a lefty who dominates the Red Sawx!). Something tells me those two are trade bait for prospects and a three-year reincarnation program.