Baseball predictions sure to prove wrong by fall

With half-a-dozen games tomorrow, and a full slate of match-ups over the weekend, the seven-month, 162-game odyssey that is the Major League Baseball season is about to get underway once again.
As the old saying goes, hope springs eternal for the fans of all 30 teams heading into opening day, with everyone having the belief that this year will be the year for their squad (well, unless you’re a Pittsburgh Pirates’ supporter as you may be sitting in the corner of your bedroom longing for the glory days when Andy Van Slyke roamed the outfield).
So with the 2011 season about to begin, I figured I would toss my hat into the proverbial ring of pre-season predictions with my picks for both the American and National Leagues, which surely will be used against me come October when I inevitably have every single one of these predictions dead wrong:
•AL East—Boston Red Sox
It’s a case of the rich getting richer in the East this year as the Red Sox splurged the cash in the off-season to land free agent OF Carl Crawford from the Tampa Bay Rays and acquire first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in a trade with the San Diego Padres.
While lineup-wise the Red Sox and N.Y. Yankees are pretty much even, the edge looks to be in the pitching department in Beantown with youngsters Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz looking to continue their success from last season, and Jon Lackey and Josh Beckett both hoping to bounce back from sub-par campaigns a year ago.
As for the Toronto Blue Jays, I would have had them pegged to be ahead of Tampa Bay (who lost Crawford, first baseman Carlos Pena, shortstop Jason Bartlett, starting pitcher Matt Garza, and nearly their entire bullpen in the off-season) for third in the standings, but I’m not totally convinced that trading starting pitcher Shaun Marcum and centrefielder Vernon Wells were the best moves heading into this season.
•AL Central—Chicago White Sox
While for some reason manager and quote machine Ozzie Guillen has been listed as the first manager to be gassed this season, the White Sox arguably have the strongest-looking team on paper, especially with a stout rotation of Mark Buerhle, John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Jake Peavy, and Edwin Jackson at their disposable.
However, with the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins also looking quite good heading into this season, it pretty much is a crap shoot to determine who will end up winning the Central pennant this year with all three clubs looking like viable options.
Now if you’re a fan of the Kansas City Royals, on the other hand, well, I really have nothing but sympathy for you at this point as it’ll be another long, long, long, long summer.
•AL West—Oakland Athletics
Normally, a defending American League pennant-winning team would be the favourite to take home the division crown once again. But, instead of taking the Texas Rangers, I’m leaning in the direction of Moneyball.
While Texas does boast the defending AL MVP in outfielder Josh Hamilton, Oakland sports a fairly solid lineup, as well, and their young pitching staff looks ready to have a breakout campaign.
Plus, with a movie based on GM Billy Beane’s “Moneyball” way of running the A’s set to hit the big screen this fall, what better way to promote the movie than with a post-season run?
•AL Wild Card—N.Y. Yankees
Barring an outbreak of Legionnaires disease, it pretty much looks like the “Bronx Bombers” easily should snag the final playoff spot in the American League as they’ll probably be going at it hammer-and-tong with the Red Sox.
The only real question mark with the Yankees is with the back half of their rotation, which has youngster Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia in the final two rotation slots for opening day.
But unless minor-league signee Mark Prior is forced to make a cameo at Yankee Stadium this season, I think they should be okay in that department.
•NL East—Philadelphia Phillies
You have may noticed by this point that I’m a huge believer in a team’s pitching, and there’s no better-looking rotation than Philadelphia’s “Fab Four” (and their trusty sidekick, Joe Blanton).
With Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels leading the way, this year’s Phillies rotation might be the most lethal set of arms since the 1993 Atlanta Braves quartet of Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Steve Avery (When was the last time that Steve Avery was used as a reference point for a baseball preview column? Okay other than those “amazing” 2003 Detroit Tigers, but that’s besides the point).
While an aging lineup seems to be raising a few red flags, you probably could field a Wiffle ball team with that starting rotation and still come away with a winning season.
•NL Central—Milwaukee Brewers
Originally, I was leaning towards picking the St. Louis Cardinals to return to the playoffs. But in between the Albert Pujols’ contract saga and starting pitcher Adam Wainwright having to undergo Tommy John surgery, I began to start drinking the Kool-Aid in regards to the Brewers.
In picking up former Cy Young winner Zach Greinke and Shaun Marcum during the off-season, the rotation for the Brewers has been strengthened while the bats of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder should be red-hot as always.
Plus, with Fielder seemingly set to become a free agent at season’s end, this seems like a pennant or bust season for the “Brew Crew” if they are unable to re-sign their star first baseman.
NL West—San Francisco Giants
Continuing with the pitching story, the defending World Series champions have a deadly set of starters in their rotation, anchored by two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum.
Along with Lincecum, starters Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and Jonathan Sanchez were lights out in the post-season a year ago, and if Barry Zito and his deadly 12-6 curveball ever return to their dominant form of a few years ago, the Giants might be an equal match for the Phillies rotation.
And besides, any team that has bearded oddball Brian Wilson as their closer is one you should get behind.
•NL Wild Card—Colorado Rockies
You could draw any team from a hat (except for maybe the Pittsburgh Pirates) and have a legitimate case for them earning the NL wild card berth. But in the end, I took the Rockies just barely over the Atlanta Braves.
Having locked up franchise shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and last year’s breakout outfielder, Carlos Gonzalez, to long-term deals, and with starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez looking to have a full season that was as good as his dominating open half of 2010, the Rockies even could have enough to knock off the Giants for the NL West crown.
Now before my sure-to-be-wrong World Series selection, I’ve also decided to make my picks for this year’s major awards, as well, which will be the kiss of death for the following players:
•MVP—Miguel Cabrera (Detroit Tigers) and Albert Pujols (St. Louis Cardinals);
•Cy Young—CC Sabathia (N.Y. Yankees) and Tim Lincecum (San Francisco Giants); and
•top rookie—Jeremy Hellickson (Tampa Bay Rays) and Domonic Brown (Philadelphia Phillies).
And now, without further ado, my pick for the 2011 World Series is the Philadelphia Phillies over the Boston Red Sox.
Yeah I know, it’s a really boring pick, but I really can’t see another team beating the Phillies this season, although the Yankees also have a strong case for making it to the Fall Classic once again.
But like I said throughout this column, these picks more than likely will be wrong when fall rolls around, which probably means the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to shock the world after all.

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