MLB Preview 2007
Odd season in ’06. The Red Sox didn’t make the playoffs. The Yankees got dismantled in the divisional round (again). The Mets were easily the best the National League had to offer, but a score of untimely injuries and a surreal-Game 7 left them a step short of amazin. The champs from ’05 meanwhile, the White Sox, pretty much self-destructed under the guidance of their unorthodox/unstable manager, Ozzie Guillen. Thus, thanks to the aforementioned failures, the 83-win St. Louis Cardinals were able to emerge as your 2006 World Series Champions. The crown is once again the Cards’ to defend in the year ’07.
Now let us never mention that again. Thank you.
Onto this season, where Dice-K is in Boston, Sweet Lou is in Chicago, A-Rod is (miraculously) still in New York and Barry Bonds is (predictably) still in San Francisco. As opposed to A-Rod, who, it seems, would be happier anywhere else but New York, Bonds has opted to remain in San Fran, the one place he won’t be scorned when he breaks Henry Aaron’s home run record sometime this summer. (So yeah, I guess I’m applauding A-Rod’s stones, but only to rip Bonds’ character.) On the bright side, Barry’s pursuit of tainted history won’t be the only historical subplot this season. 300 wins are on the horizon for Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson. Manny Ramirez, Frank Thomas, Jim Thome and A-Rod should all be joining the 500 home run club. David Ortiz and Ryan Howard are sure to break some records. Did I mention Lou Piniella is now the manager of the Cubs?
History??? I guarantee Lou will grab history by the effing nostrils in Wrigleyville before all is said and done. So in that light (and in spite of the parity that has made its mark in recent years), note these teams that will use a carpe diem m.o. and have successful seasons in ’07.
Dodgers: Probably the most complete team in the NL. Building on their playoff squad of a year ago, the Dodgers added a top of the rotation guy in Jason Schmidt as well as a top of the order speedster in Juan Pierre. LA will have the ability to score runs to complement strong starting pitching. The bullpen is talented and deep as well, headlined by the young and emerging Jonathan Broxton. The Dodgers are a veteran laden ball club, and have brought some star power back to Chavez Ravine. Ideal for Hollywood, a town that loves its stars and feeds off their trends. The Dodgers made the postseason last year then flashed some green and augmented the team for another run. Look for Dodger Stadium to play host to some huge and trendy crowds once the sun starts scorching SoCal (but after the Lakers get bounced from the playoffs of course).
Prediction: 90 wins, NL West Champions
Phillies: The fans in Philly are truly fickle. I guess they’re so accustomed to impending embarrassment when it comes to their sports teams that it’s just easier to be cynical by nature. They were headed right down that familiar road again last year until a monstrous human being named Ryan Howard pulled them back by their collective shirt collars. What does Howard mean to the city of Philly and its faithful? Consistency. As long as this guy is dining on strip steak smothered in Cheesewiz, the Phillies will be a steadily solid team. If Brett Myers could only mirror that consistency and become a viable ace, the city of Philly may actually have reason to commit itself to following a baseball season from start to finish.
Prediction: 89 wins, NL Wild Card
Mets: There’s a gritty determination surrounding this team and fan base. When you get oh so close only to have your heart ripped out, something inside you changes, for both player and fan alike (just ask Red Sox Nation.) The Mets are that team this year. They took back New York last year, and it felt refreshing. This year they’ve returned to finish the job, except they’re going about their business with a polar opposite strategy. The middle of the Metropolitan lineup is good enough to win on a nightly basis in the NL, a fact made obvious last season. The Mets staff, on the other hand, is too old to sustain itself over 162 games and through the playoffs. This is why I believe Pedro’s rotator cuff injury is a blessing in disguise. He is such a competitor the only thing that could keep him away from the game is if his arm was going to fall off. And it almost did. So now he can sit back and recover, watch his boys bash their way through the summer months, and make his triumphant return in late-July. Sounds like a better script this time around, doesn’t it?
Prediction: 94 wins, NL East Champions
Cubs: The Cubs are the most losing franchise in baseball. Lou Piniella despises losing. You don’t have to be a visionary to conclude that somethings gotta give. But wait, you might be tempted to say, Lou is fresh off a campaign of losing in Tampa Bay! Right you are! Just makes him all the scarier in my opinion. You see, Lou has always been something of a hothead, but he’s also been a winner everywhere but Tampa. His hotheadedness took on an identity of its own when he was managing the Devil Dogs. Now he’s had a chance to step back, gather himself, and prepare for the next crazy chapter in his zany baseball existence. True, the Cubs are epic losers by definition. But they are also a talented baseball team in need of guidance and discipline. What do you think Lou is more fazed by, managing a bunch of minor leaguers forty times a year against the Red Sox and Yankees, or rallying a group of bona fide ballplayers together to tackle some history? History??? Please. Lou will shed history quicker than the cap on his head.
Prediction: 88 wins, NL Central Champions
Angels: The Halos are always one of the top teams in the AL on paper, and only injuries ever thwart them from winning in the neighborhood of 90 games. This year will be no different, as Bartolo Colon, Jared Weaver, and Chone Figgins are all starting the year on the DL. The mark of the Angels is that they never panic, probably because they have the likes of Vlad and K-Rod, but also because they consistently play solid fundamental baseball. However, for a crafty and sound team their Achilles heel last year came from an unlikely source: poor defense. By signing the dynamic Gary Matthews to man the center-meadow at Angel Stadium, the LA Angels of Anaheim appear to have shored up the one glaring weakness that kept them out of the playoffs last year.
Prediction: 91 wins, AL West Champions.
Indians: Two years ago the Indians were a young, vibrant team, having finally emerged from the abyss the franchise had slipped into after the exodus of its potent nucleus some five years prior. These upstart no-names came almost out of nowhere, and came ever so close to dethroning the would-be champion-White Sox before they even had a chance to make their dash to glory. That run, coupled with an AL Central that always seems to be up for grabs, catapulted them to preemptive favorites in the division last year. With the great Tribe teams of the 90s still fresh in the rear view, these new Indians simply weren’t able to harness the expectations and finished with an underwhelming 78 wins. This year the stories are all about the Tigers and Twins and Chicago, while the Tribe has quietly slipped back under the radar. I think they like it that way.
Prediction: 90 wins, AL Central Champs
Yankees: I referenced it at the time but it begs reiteration: last October, ESPN.com’s Jim Caple suggested the Yankees would be better off trading Derek Jeter. Now only if George Steinbrenner would name Caple successor to his empire! The Boss’s son in law is no longer in the picture, and Caple no longer has a readership. It’d be a perfect match! Well only through the eyes of a Red Sox fan. And any Sox fan who knows Derek Jeter also knows that as long as he’s in pinstripes the Yanks will be a winning team. Why? Because Jeter’s a winner. Same can’t be said about a chunk of his teammates, but it doesn’t matter. The Bombers will be there in October because Jeter won’t have it any other way. As for that elusive 27th banner? Hmm, convincing Roger Clemens to return would be an intriguing move, but I have the inkling it just may end up coming a day late and a dollar shor…okay bad pun.
Prediction: 98 wins, AL East Champions
Red Sox: Aright, so we can no longer throw puddles of verbal excrement at the spending proclivities associated with the Yankees front office. Yeah I’d say Fedexing a suitcase of cash to Japan in return for its most prized baseball commodity might just render us hypocrites if we persist in playing the role of the little guy. Like it or not, “the Idiots” will go down as the last group of true little guys to don the rouge socks; the last crew to challenge and defeat a mightier force of financial fortitude from Gotham. I’m cool with that, no beef here. Not with the porterhouse that the ’07 Sox are about to serve up. In case you haven’t noticed I’m back in full-fledged watch-every Sox-game mode; haven’t been there since ’05 and I’m real excited. Excited about Dice-K in the bigs, about Schilling in his last contract year, about Manny and Papi in the middle, about Papelbon at the end. Call me a traditionalist, but I’m excited about bringing baseball back to Sox-Yanks in ’07.
Prediction: 98 wins, AL Wild Card Champions (+ T-shirts)
ALDS: Red Sox over Angels; Yankees over Indians
NLDS: Mets over Dodgers; Cubs over Phillies
ALCS: Red Sox over Yankees
NLCS: Mets over Cubs
World Series: Red Sox over Mets