by user Jsas03

With Opening Day on the horizon now is a perfect opportunity to break down the season ahead of us. Every year teams over achieve or fail to live up to expectations due to injuries or various ailments, causing predictions to fluctuate from reality, but hey that's why they play the game.

AL East

1. Boston Red Sox - Now this could be more of my anti-Yankee feelings arising but I think with all the problems the Yankees are having with their pitching rotation the Red Sox have a chance to grab the AL East crown. The Red Sox have increased depth in their starting rotation then in recent memory as both Josh Beckett and Jonathan Papelbon give the Red Sox two more power arms. If Schilling is able to pitch to pre-injury form, Tim Wakefield is able to pitch up to expectations and David Wells stays in shape. Coco Crisp is a big addition to the top of the lineup matching the out put from the departed Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz are two of the most feared hitters in the game, and if Mike Lowell can bounce back from a tough year, this lineup is not one pitchers would like to face.

2. New York Yankees - Each year when the Yankees acquire that big name offensive bat, you immediately hear whispers of the 1927 team and Murder's row but this team, if healthy may actually be comparable. With the addition of Johnny Damon, Robinson Cano moves to the ninth spot giving the Yankees a double lead off threat, there really is no weakness in this lineup. Besides health to key players, their starting rotation could be a problem. Randy Johnson is constantly battling health and at age 42, you shouldn't expect things to get better. Ching Ming Wang had success the first time through the league but once a scouting report was out on him his numbers decreased. Shawn Chacon and Carl Pavano have been banged up as well. Mariano Rivera will continue to be one of the most dominant closers in the game.

3. Toronto Blue Jays - With big off season acquisitions, by adding Roy Halladay, B.J. Ryan, Bengie Molina, and Troy Glaus the Blue Jays should be up there with the Yanks and the Red Sox all year. There starting rotation is extremely deep if every one remains healthy, Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett have the ability to win 20 games. Troy Glaus is always a health risk, but the Blue Jays need him to perform offensively. Not having everyday corner outfielders will hurt as well.

4. Tampa Bay Devil Rays - Believe it or not the Devil Rays actually have some depth in the outfield. With Carl Crawford, becoming an instant All-Star along side, Rocco Baldelli, and Jonny Gomes the Devil Rays are full of that "p" word potential. There was once talk of Gomes becoming this 5 tool player, he will need to show glimpses of these tools for the team to stay competitive. The starting rotation will be where this team falters. Scott Kazmir is looked on to lead the rotation which is a stomach turning sight for Met fans. During the second half of last year he went 7-2 with a 2.79 ERA, striking out 92 hitters in 84 innings. Kazmir has finished fourth in the league with 174 strike outs and looking to improve his control will be a quality big league pitcher. From there on out it looks rough for the Devil Rays, and they don't have the offensive prowess to make up for it, it doesn't help that there going up against three teams who have payrolls in the $100 million range.

5. Baltimore Orioles - The Orioles last year spent 69 days in first place that's, 49 more than the Yankees did, but the Yankees did it when it counted as they finished up on top. A start like last year is highly unlikely. Brian Roberts who had a break out year last year is combating injuries, Melvin Mora should put up All-Star numbers, and Miguel Tejada expressed his discontent in playing here. The Orioles made a push by acquiring free agent catcher Ramon Hernandez but, they don't have the pitching to make up for it. Rodrigo Lopez was the one pitcher to win 15 games on this roster last year but he had an ERA of 4.90. Without Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro the Orioles won't be able to give up 5 runs a game and win. The Orioles just don't have what it takes to compete in this league.

AL Central

1. Chicago White Sox - They're the champions until they're not the champions any more. With all due respect this White Sox team might be even better than last year's championship team. They added Javier Vasquez to an already deep rotation that included 4 starters with ERA's under 4.00. The Sox were able to retain first baseman and fan favorite Paul Konerko, who hit .283 with 40 HR and 100 RBI last year. If Jim Thome remains healthy this will be a dangerous one two punch as Thome has averaged a home run every 13.8 at bats throughout the course of his career. This is fourth all time behind McGwire, Ruth, and Bonds not bad company.

2. Cleveland Indians - The Indians made a strong push last year to only come out short on grabbing a wild card birth. They have an extremely young team that has ome up together throughout their system. Grady Sizemore hit .289 last year with 22 HR and 81 RBI and is looking to emerge as one of the stars in this league. If Victor Martinez can remain healthy he is a legit threat to hit 30 home runs and compile over 100 RBI. Cliff Lee had a great season last year going 18-5, him along with C.C. Sabathia will anchor this rotation. Bob Wickman was one of the top closers in the league last year as he had 45 saves, if the AL East beats up on each other enough don't be surprised to see the Tribe sneak in to that wild-card berth.

3. Minnesota Twins - The Twins are a team built a pitching, and its no secret that pitching gets you to the post season. Johan Santana leads this rotation which was ranked 5th in the A.L last year in terms of ERA. Santana is a Cy-Young candidate year in and year out, to go along with Brad Radke, Carlos Silva, and Kyle Lohse this rotation will determine the fate of this ball club. Joe Mauer has untapped potential at the catcher's position and should provide more power than his 9 HR and 55 RBI he had last year. Justin Morneau emerged as a successful first baseman last year and if Tori Hunter remains healthy this lineup lacks no power. With the additions of Luis Castillo and Tony Batista, the infield has been rounded out nicely.

4. Detroit Tigers - New Tiger's manager Jim Leyland is back, but the baseball field is nothing new to him. The 61 year old Leyland managed the Pirates from 1986 through 1996 and looks to get the most out of his players. Magglio Ordonez's health will prove to be the deciding factor on whether or not this team finished in the cellar. The rotation is composed of youthful arms looking to prove their worth in the league. Closer Todd Jones had 40 saves for the Marlins last year and is looking to break his club record of 42 set in 2000.

5. Kansas City Royals - Several changes occurred with this club over the officiousness but they didn't necessarily get any better. The Royals have an extremely low payroll, and not much to attract the big name free agents. There are some new faces on this team including former Met Doug Mientkiewicz, along with other players such as Mark Grudzielanek, Reggie Sanders, Scott Elarton, Joe Mays, and Elmer Dessens. RHP Mike MacDougal is out for six weeks will hurt, but surprisingly enough the Royals do have some depth in the bull pen. Ambiorix Burgos is looking to fill in until MacDougal can return. The Royals fell into last place two weeks in, and are looking to play competitively for a bit longer than that this year.

AL West

1. Los Angeles Angels - The AL West race seemingly always is a three team race and goes down to the wire. Although there is a bit of a youth movement with Jeff Mathis behind the plate and Casey Kotchman at first base this team has the combination of experience and depth to make a run at the playoffs. Chone Figgins has emerged as one of the more versatile players in the league, and if he is able to get on base along side Orlando Cabrera there will be plenty of RBI opportunities for Vlad Guerrero and Garret Anderson. Guerrero's health is the biggest question mark, not to mention a foot injury sustained by Anderson. Bartolo Colon won the Cy-Young award last year and is looking to pick up where he left off. If Jeff Weaver can finally live up to expectations this is a deep rotation.

2. Oakland Athletics - What's this, the A's spent money this off season? Under new ownership the infamous Billy Beane was allowed to add $10 million to the team's payroll and he added Frank Thomas, Esteban Loaiza, Milton Bradley and Antonio Perez. The rotation is deep but much talk about Barry Zito leaving around the All-Star break (perhaps to New York), who knows how deep it will remain. Rich Harden has proven his worth and Huston Street last year showed he is on his way to becoming one of the most dominant closers in the league. If the Big Hurt remains injury free and Milton Bradley can avoid his cascades the A's will rival the Angels for the number one spot in the West.

3. Texas Rangers - Hold on, hold on, the A's spent money and the Rangers went after a starting pitcher, there has to be something wrong with the moon phases. With the addition of Kevin Milwood, Adam Eaton, and Vincente Padilla the Rangers reconstructed their first three starting rotation spots. They have a powerful lineup led by super star Mark Teixeira, and his partners Hank Blalock and Michael Young. At the homer friendly Ameriquest Field, the Rangers should be hitting plenty of home runs. Brad Wilkerson who was acquired in the Soriano deal is looking to help make up the deficit left behind by Soriano. If the starting pitching is able to perform, the Rangers could and most likely will make this AL West race a three team fiasco.

4. Seattle Mariners - For a team that one 69 games last year the Mariners didn't do much revamping to improve. The biggest off season splash they took part in was the signing of Japanese free agent Kenji Johjima. Johjima had an excellent career in Japan but the language barrier has never been tested to this extent. The catcher is the leader out there on the field constantly communicating, and needs to be on the same page as the pitcher, this is an experiment that could blow up in their face, then again look how Ichiro turned out. Besides Ichiro the offense lies in the hands of Adrian Beltre, Richie Sexson and Carl Evertt. Beltre had an off year last year and for him to rebound will prove vital. The pitching rotation is led by Jamie Moyer, but the true leader will be 19 year old phenom Felix Hernandez. Hernandez bursted onto the scene last year in a big way striking out 77 batters, while compiling a 4-4 record with a 2.67 ERA. Hernandez is looking to become one of the next top pitchers in the league and is surely on his way. With the depth of the AL West don't look for the Mariners to contend much past the trading deadline.

NL East

1. New York Mets - Everyone thinks they have learned the lesson and are jumping on the Braves band wagon. It's hard to pick against the Braves unless of course your a die-hard Met fan who despises them then it's rather easy. The Mets drastically improved last year in the first season of this Minaya/Randolph era. Adding to last year's acquisitions of Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran the Mets acquired Carlos Delgado, Paul Lo Duca, Xavier Nady, Billy Wagner, Duaner Sanchez, Jorge Julio, and Chad Bradford. Delgado will take so much pressure off the shoulders of Carlos Beltran and he will be able to return to his comfortable, normal form. Delgado is nearly a lock to hit 30 HR as long as he stays healthy, and Paul Lo Duca gives great versatility to manager Willie Randolph. Jose Reyes has tremendous speed a top of the lineup and after working with legendary lead-off man Rickey Henderson he looks to improve his base running technique and his on base percentage. David Wright is clearly emerging as one of the best young players in the league has he is just 23 years old and last year in his first full major league season he hit .306, with 27 HR and a team leading 102 RBI. If Cliff Floyd remains healthy and Xavier Nady shows any sparks of his college days this lineup is one of the most formidable in the league. The one question mark is the starting rotation. Pedro's health is a question but if he makes 25 plus starts will be in a good position. Tom Glavine, and Steve Trachsel can be spared as we have a deep bullpen. If Victor Zambrano can harness his pitches and learn to use them effectively he has so much untapped potential. The fifth spot was awarded to Brian Bannister who had a sensational spring. This allowed Aaron Heilman to joing Billy Wagner, Duaner Sanchez, Jorge Julio, and Chad Bradford in a greatly improved bull pen. Ya Gotta Believe!

2. Atlanta Braves - 14 in a row isn't bad in fact it's quite impressive but the Braves streak of division titles will end there. With the departure of Leo Mazzili the pitching rotation suddenly has some questions. Mainly how will Horacio Ramirez, Jorge Sosa, and Kyle Davies perform. The Braves lost lead off hitter and short stop Rafael Furcal to free agency but acquired Edgar Renteria not a bad replacement. Jeff Francoeur and Ryan Langerhans have proven they belong at this level and can rake with rest of them. Andruw Jones had a sensational year last year, but those results can't be expexted again. If Chipper goes down the Braves offense is in a bad situation. Marcus Giles strikes out a great deal to be a lead offf hitter, could this be the year things catch up to the Braves.

3. Philadelphia Phillies - They got hurt badly when Billy Wagner left, but the pain was even worse when he signed with the rival Mets. This team has offesne being led by Bobby Abreu, noted Met killer Pat Burrell, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins who is looking to extend a hit streak. Acquiring center fielder Aaron Rowand was big for them as he hit .270 last year. The Phillies don't have any real ace in their starting rotation and Tom Flash Gordon hasn't proven himself in the closer position. Ryan Franklin a new addition is looked to fill in the four spot in the rotation. Maybe a change of scenario was due but Franklin has lost 31 games over the past two seasons and had and ERA of 5.10 last year. The Phillies should remain in contention throughout August but die down come September.

4. Washington Nationals - The Nationals had one of the top bull pen's in the MLB last year, leading the way was saver Chad Cordero who closed out 47 games last year. The relievers went 29-27 with a 3.55ERAand 51 saves last year. The rotation is led by Livan Hernandez and new teammates Pedro Astacio and Ramon Ortiz. Health has always been an issue for Astacio and don't look for him to play any longer. Alfonso Soriano was the big name pick up to go along with Royce Clayton. Unfortunately Soriano isn't happy with his move to left field, but the Nationals won't move All-Star Jose Vidro from second base. Soriano will come ups with the power but it their home park home runs are hard to come by. If there offense sputters early on look for changes around the trade deadline.

5. Florida Marlins- Hold on the Marlins hadn't had a fire sale since the 1998 off season, they were due. Joe Girardi is the a rookie skipper leading this youthful team, and is perhaps the only manager on the planet who wouldn't be frustrated in the situation he was put in. A large majority of there team has yet to see extended major league time. While they cut payroll the Marlins added youthful talent as they looked ahead towards the future. Mike Jacobs former Met showed great offense abilities in his limited playing time last year but was susceptible to the high fast ball. Hanley Ramirez was the highly touted Red Sox short stop until the Marlins added him by getting rid of Josh Beckett. With the possibility of 7 rookies in the starting line up a playoff berth seems unlikely. Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera are the two returning stars and stars they are. Willis has made the quick rise to ace pitcher as he went 22-10 with a 2.63 ERA last year. Cabrera hit .323 last year with 33 HR and 116 RBI. Don't look for this team to compete for long, but three to four years down the road the teams that got rid of these prospects will look foolish.

NL Central

1. St. Louis Cardinals - The Cardinals could very well be the best team in the National League. Led by super star Albert Pujols they have an offensive attack matched by few. With Jim Edmons in centerfield defensively they are sound. New addition of Juan Encarnacion and Junior Spivey look to add speed to this lineup. The Cardinals scored 805 runs last season and third baseman Scott Rolen missed over 100 games. If Rolen remains healthy his glove and hit bat will prove important for this team. With a starting rotation that includes Chris Carpenter and Mark Mulder at the top, down to Jason Marquis, Jeff Suppan, and Sidney Ponson there is truly no easy game. Closer Jason Isringhausen had 39 saves last year while losing just2games. The Cardinals added Braden Looper to their bullpen and look for him to blow some games for them down the stretch. Look for the Cardinals to make a run at a championship.

2. Houston Astros - The Astros always seem to fall apart then manage to bounce back. Preston Wilson adds versatility to their outfield as he has both range and offensive abilities. The rest of the team remained intact as they won 89 games in the regular season and made the World Series. They started off 15-30 but as a result of heart, and desire came all the way back to cause turmoil in the NL playoff picture. If Jeff Bagwell can stay healthy and Roger Clemens returns the Astros can rival the second place team in the East for the wild card berth. A rotation led by Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte is pretty damn good as it is.

3. Milwaukee Brewers - Sorry Cubs fans but I think the Brewers have there first shot at a winning season in 14 years. If healthy the team has tremendous depth at the starting pitching position led by Ben Sheets and finished off by David Bush. General manager Doug Melvin has gathered a bunch of minor league talent and turned it into something. Prince Fielder the son of Cecil is looking to be an instant success story in the MLB. Carlos Lee gives the team an opportunity to contend well into the summer months. If Lee is talking trades then they might deal him before the July 31st deadline and all hopes will dwindle from there. Put this team in the NL West and they have a legit shot at making the playoffs.

4. Chicago Cubs - The Cubs improved over the off season but they came up short on their prized acquisition in Rafael Furcal. Juan Pierre was a big name to get at centerfield as he brings speed and versatility to the top of the lineup. Derek Lee was a legitimate triple crown threat last year and to go along with Aramis Ramirez will provide power in the Cubs lineup. It all falls into the health of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, both of which have been placed on the DL already. Greg Maddux will always have that control but will no longer be that 18+ game winner. Carlos Zambrano has emerges as a bonafide starter but in a tough division the Cubs will sink by August.

5. Pittsburgh Pirates - The Pirates have some talented pitchers with the likes of Zach Duke and Mike Gonzalez but they may lack the offensive abilities for their pitchers to succeed. Duke has become an instant success as he went 8-2 last year with an ERA of 1.81. Gonzalez has the abilityto become a successful closer with a mid-90s fast ball. Roberto Hernanez, former Met, will give the Pirates more depth out of the bull pen with the help of Damaso Marte and Salomon Torres. The Pirate acquired Joe Randa, Jeromy Burnitz and Sean Casey to add power to this team. Again the strong division crushes their hopes at contending for the playoffs.

6. Cincinnati Reds - A depleted starting rotation with not one front line starter inhibits this teams chances of vying for a playoff spot. The Reds still have power with a healthy Ken Griffey Jr., to compliment Adam Dunn. With the new additions of Tony Womack and Scott Hatteberg the Reds looked to improve their right side of the infield. Pitcher Paul Wilson is coming off major shoulder surgery and Eric Milton had an awful season last year as he had an ERA of 6.47 while going 8-15. New owner Bob Castellini has indicated he is willing to imrpove his team if need be, and he will need to take those steps for the Reds to contend post-All-Star Break.

NL West

1. San Diego Padres - With the additions of Mike Cameron, Vinny Castilla, and Mike Piazza the Padres have solidified their lineup. The returning core led by Brian Giles and Ruan Klesko should compliment each other well. Middle relief is a major question mark regarding this team as last year's group was so consistent. Closer Trevor Hoffman is as consistent as it gets as he had 43 saves last year. A rotation led by Jake Peavy and then new additions Chris Young, Shawn Estes, and Dewon Brazelton will prove to be key in the Padres push at a championship. This team will go as far as the veterans can carry them.

2. San Francisco Giants - Forget all the turmoil and commotion surrounding Barry Bonds, this team has a starting rotation. Jason Schmidt has proven himself time in and time out throughout his career is followed by Matt Morris, an inning eater, Noah Lowry, Matt Cain a rookie and Jamey Wright. If Bonds remains healthy and hits as he has, it will add great strength to a lineup that already includes Omar Vizquel, Moises Alou and Ray Rurham. If Lance Niekro can live up to potential and Armando Benitez can finish games off this team could be a problem come October.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers - The Dodgers made some news this off season with the acquisitions of Rafael Furcal, Bill Mueller, Kenny Lofton and Nomar Garciaparra. If Eric Gagne came recover from his elbow surgery last June their bull pen is extremely formidable, consisting of Gagne, and long time Mets desire Danny Baez. The Dodgers received Jae Weong Seo in the deal for Duaner Sanchez and they look for Seo to dublicate his 2.59 ERA of last season. They only have two run producers in Jeff Kent and J.D Drew as Garciaparra is on the decline. No team will run away with this division and if they can stay healthy long enough they too will make a run at the title.

4. Arizona Diamondbacks- The Diamondbacks looked to improve up the middle this offseason as they got Johnny Estrada to carry on the duties behind the plate while gettin Eric Byrnes in center and Orlando Hudson at second base. The Diamonbacks will be a solid team 1-8 in the lineup but with Luis Gonzalez and Shawn Green looked upon to carry on much of the power productions. Orlando Hernandez and Miguel Batista were the two main additions to this teams rotations, but Hernandez had an ERA of over 5 last y ear. If Craig Counsell is again able to swipe bases and put Green and Gonzalez in positions to thrive look for them to pick up the RBI. It will be interesting to see if Stephen Drew makes the big leagues any time this season. The younger brother of J.D. Drew hit .389 last year with 10 homers in 149 at bats at the Single A level.

5. Colorado Rockies - Last year Clint Barmes was well on pace to becoming the rookie of the year and then he broke his collar bone carrying meat up the stairs? Barmes spent the offseason playing baseball in the Dominican league and a recovery should be normal. The Rockies still play at mile high and offensive production should not be hard to come by. Todd Helton is still one of the best hitters in the league as he owns a career average of .337. The Rockies really don't have any studs in the starting rotation but closer Brian Fuentes is looking to improve on a season in which he saved 31 games with a 2.91 ERA. An escape from the cellar will be considered an accomplishment in itself and the Rockies will be taking strides towards 2007.

All in all 2006 has the makings of a season to remember. With the NL being extremely competitive this year the Mets are looking to seal up the NL East and dethrone the Braves. It all starts Monday as Tom Glavine is set to open things up against the Nationals. If our rotation remains healthy, the sky is the limit, Ya Gotta Believe!


Fri 03/31/06, 5:43 pm EST


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