From The Dugout
By Keith LeClair
American League Preview
Last week I had a little fun talking about the
off-season winners and losers, but this week it's time to get down to
business and make some bold predictions. I will start with the American
League, and next week I will highlight the National League.
I will do each division in the order that I feel
they will finish. Warning: these predictions are only guaranteed if the
teams finish in the correct order, which is highly unlikely.
city: The weakest division in all of baseball will give any one of
these teams a chance to win the Central. But I just think KC, with the
additions of Benito Santiago and Juan Gonzalez in the off-season gives
them the best chance to win this division. The presence of Santiago
behind the plate will definitely benefit this young pitching staff.
Look for rookie Zane Greinke at some point this season to step in and
win some games. He has a power arm and is Kansas City's top prospect.
The big question mark will be the bullpen, where
last year the Royals blew 28 out of 64 save opportunities. That's
right, you read it correctly. If Tony Pena can find someone to step up
and fill this role, their chances of winning the division will
Twins: Minnesota got hit hard in this off-season, losing the majority
of its bullpen in closer Eddie Guardado to Seattle and Latroy Hawkins to
the Cubs. Plus, Erik Milton, who was injured most of last year but is a
promising LHP who could have helped bolster their starting rotation.
Not to forget, they also lost all-star catcher AJ Pierzynski, who was
traded to the Giants. With all that said, the Twins play the game hard
and still have plenty of talented offensive players who can play superb
defense. If they can pitch and fill some holes in their staff, expect
Minnesota to give the Royals a run for their money.
3. Detroit Tigers: You
can call me crazy if you like, but I just have a gut feeling this team
is going to surprise a lot of folks. I like what they did in the
off-season in acquiring some quality veterans in Ivan Rodriguez, Rondell
White, Fernando Vina and Carlos Guillen. This team has drastically
improved itself up the middle and should give a young pitching staff a
boost in the arm. If Detroit can find a way to score some runs and get
some offensive production out of Carlos Pena, I believe the Tigers will
be in the Central chase.
White Sox: New manager, new year, but I am afraid to say the results
will be the same. No question, Chicago has a potent offense, but I
believe its ballpark really hurts the core strength of its lineup. It
is big and plays especially big in the first few months of the season,
when it is bitterly cold in Chicago.
On top of all this don't, expect their best
player — Maglio Ordonez — to be around all year, especially if the Sox
get off to a slow start. In fact, Maglio was going to be traded for
Nomar Garciaparra in the A-Rod deal, but that fell through and the deal
was dead. The pitching staff is a question mark, especially with the
departure of Bartolo Colon to the Angels. I really think this will be
the year the White Sox clean house and start over. I am sorry White Sox
fans, but their is only one team in Chicago, and that's the Cubs.
Indians: I have some good and bad news if you're an Indians fan. The
good news is this young team is about a year away from making a run at
the playoffs. The bad news is you gotta wait one more year for these
guys to develop. This is a very talented group that could, if all things
clicked, make a run at the Central Division this year, but I wouldn't
bank on it. Sorry Dr. Figler, who is my great doctor and a huge Indians
fan, it will be one more year of good ballpark franks and cold beer, but
that will be about all your excitement this summer at the Jacobs Field.
Anaheim Angels: This league is always a
dogfight with Oakland, Seattle and Anaheim, and don't expect much to
change this season, but with the off-season Anaheim put together, they
are my favorites to win the West. When you can claim the likes of
Vladimir Guerrero, Kelvin Escobar and Bartolo Colon, one would say they
like their chances of winning.
Coming off a disappointing season following the
World Series championship, these acquisitions may be just what the
doctor needed — or at least the best money can buy. This is an
extremely talented group that very well could be back in the World
Series this year. However, it will be interesting to see how Guererro
handles the pressure of playing for a team with the expectations to
win. I think it will be important to get off to a good start and take
advantage of being in a new league where guys have frequently faced
him. The Angels are no longer the underdog overachievers, but rather a
high-salary, hunted team, just like the Yankees and Red Sox. It will be
a lot of fun to see how they handle the pressure.
Athletics: If Anaheim falters in the least, you can bank on Oakland
being right there to win another division title. They have perhaps the
best rotation in the league with Zito, Mulder and Judson, not to mention
Mark Redman, acquired from the Marlins, and rookie phenom Chad Harville.
The question will be if rookie Bubba Crosby can replace Miguel Tejada at
shortstop and who will replace reliable closer Keith Foulke, who took
his services to Boston.
This is a big transition year for the A's and a
lot of pressure will be on multi-millionaire-dollar man Eric Chavez to
have a career year. I have a hard time going against this organization,
because it seems to reload every year, thanks to the best GM in the
business, Billy Bean. Anaheim has a little too much fire power from the
right side of their offense to offset the left-handed pitching of
Oakland, that's why the Angels are my pick.
3. Texas Rangers:
Texas is on the way up with a boatload of young offensive talent, and if
it can pitch just respectably, don't be shocked if the Rangers keep
themselves in the division race for awhile. Notice, I didn't say how
I like Alphonso Soriano and he very well may end up the American
League MVP before the season is over. He has a lot to prove, and with
the trade of Alex Rodriguez, I really think a lot of pressure was lifted
from this team. Third place is not out of the question and just like
the Indians, Texas could be rising to the front of the pack quickly.
Mariners: The roof may begin to crash down on this organization,
especially if the Mariners go trade for Ken Griffey Jr. They are
getting older offensively with John Olerud and Edgar Martinez in the
middle of their order, although they did go out and sign Raul Ibanez,
Scott Speizio and Rich Aurilia, to hopefully add some offensive punch.
But will they be enough, or are those additions going to be average in a
division that has some offensive firepower? Granted, Ichiro Suzuki may
be the best pure hitter in the game today, but he alone won't make for a
productive offense with the ability to score runs when needed.
Seattle also has some question marks within its pitching staff.
Freddie Garcia has to rebound from a sub-par year and the Mariners have
to get some other youngsters to step up around Jamie Moyer, who is
coming off a career year. They lost their Japan closer — who turned
down a nine-million dollar contract to return home — so, the Mariners
went out and signed Gddie Guardado from the Twins, who is a proven
closer. With all this said, I think the Mariners will struggle this
year and have to fight to stay out of the cellar with Texas.
Without a doubt, this is the toughest division in the American League
and will most likely produce the Wild Card winner as well. This is a
challenge trying to pick a winner between the Yanks and Boston. I know
what my heart says, but my gut speaks something different. OK, I may
lose all my friends over this one, but its time to make my pick.
1. New York Yankees:
Why this pick? I just think the Yankees have a little more firepower,
both on the mound and at the plate. Do you think I am crazy? April
1. Boston Red Sox:
They have a closer and two proven number-one guys in their rotation,
with Schilling and Martinez. Foulke will be the key this year in
finally bringing stability to the bullpen and allowing the other guys to
fit into their roles. Closer by committee has never worked and never
will, because guys simply can't prepare mentally or physically for that
role — case closed with Keith Foulke.
On offense, the Red Sox bring everyone back except Todd Walker, who
will be replaced by Pokey Reese, perhaps the best defensive second
baseman in the game. We know that Boston and the Yankees have the two
best offenses in the league and it will be a battle when these two teams
meet. Boston has made the necessary changes this off-season to finally
bring home a divisional title. Sorry Yanks, it's wild card time for you
2. New York
Yankees: Boy, it felt good to write that. The Yanks will finish second
for two reasons: Kevin Brown won't stay healthy for a whole season and
Gary Sheffield is already being bothered with a sore thumb that will
only get worse. You can't replace Pettite, Clemens and Wells in just
one year, I don't care who you bring in. Too many changes at one time
could cause some chemistry problems, especially if the Yankees get off
to a slow start. It will be fun to see how A-Rod handles his first
slump and gets booed by the toughest fans in the game.
With a team payroll of $200 million, the stadium parking lot should
be loaded with some nice wheels. Let's see how George handles second
place and how long he goes before firing the best manager in the game,
3. Toronto Blue
Jays: The dark horse to make some noise if Boston and New York develop
a lot of key injuries over the season. If those teams slip, Toronto
will be right there to capitalize and make a move, if not to win the
division or at least a shot in the wild card race. Toronto has a Cy
Young guy in Roy Halladay to build a staff around and went out this
off-season and got Ted Lilly from Oakland and Miguel Batista to help
solidify its starting rotation. The bullpen still has some question
marks, even though the Jays signed some veteran guys in Kerry
Lightenburg, Justin Speier and Terry Adams, in hopes of bolstering a
The Blue Jays do have superstars in Carlos Delgado and Vernon Wells,
but these two guys will have to put up stellar seasons if Toronto
expects to make a run at Boston and New York. Toronto is a good club
that is in just too good of a division to win right now. Maybe in a
couple of years that will change.
4. Baltimore Orioles:
A lot of off-season money spent on Miguel Tejada, Javy Lopez, Sidney
Ponson and Rafael Palmiero, but unfortunately the pitching will just not
be good enough for Baltimore to stay competitive this year. You should
see some improvements on the offensive side, but how much is yet to be
determined. Lopez is coming off a career year, which scares me,
especially coming over to a new league, and Tejada I still am not sold
on as a superstar that can help turn around a franchise. I don't
consider him in the class of A-Rod, Jeter and a Nomar, but he certainly
is better than anything Baltimore has had at short since Cal Ripken at
Just my opinion, but I think Baltimore spent more money on guys that
they will get in return. It really hurt when Vladimir Guerrero signed
with Anaheim, and I question why they did not go after Ivan Rodriguez
instead of Javy Lopez. I thought both of those guys really could have
helped the O's, but only time will tell.
5. Tampa Bay Devil
Rays: They may be last this year, but that is going to change in the
near future. They are loading up on young talent that is developing
quick. They could push Baltimore for fourth place, which would be a
major accomplishment for this young club.
New York Yankees.
There you have it for the American League picks and now here comes my
NCAA basketball pick. I would mention that I picked Syracuse last
year. So you can write this one down: Duke will win it all.
Chad Tracy Update: 14 games,
34 AB's, 14hits, 1 double 4rbi's and .382 average
playing left, right, first and third. He had the game winning RBI
against the Padres in the tenth inning with two outs.
have a question or comment about the Pirates in particular or baseball
in general, fire your best pitch at Ol' Condo:
Sound off to Coach LeClair...
02.23.07 10:27 AM