2003 Major League Baseball Preview
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 3/22/03
No need for a
lengthy exegesis off the bat. Here’s what I think the upcoming season will
bring, as far as standings & playoffs. Then I’ll opine a bit why- in team
|National League W-L-GB * = wild card team|
Philadelphia 91-71 Atlanta 89-73 2
NY Mets 86-76 5
Montreal 78-84 13
Florida 71-91 20
San Francisco 90-72 -
Arizona 88-74 2
Los Angeles 82-80 8
Colorado 73-89 17
San Diego 69-93 21
W-L-GB * = wild card
NY Yankees 106-56 -
Toronto 88-74 18
Boston 85-77 21
Tampa Bay 66-96 40
Baltimore 63-99 43
Chicago W.Sox 93-69 -
Minnesota 88-74 5
Cleveland 71-91 22
Kansas City 66-96 27
Detroit 63-99 30
Oakland 95-67 -
Seattle 89-73 6 *
Texas 84-78 11
Anaheim 82-80 13
As for the
National League postseason look for the Saint Louis Cardinals to take out the
Philadelphia Phillies in 4 games & the Houston Astros to finally win in the
postseason by taking out the defending NL Champion San Francisco Giants in 5.
Over in the Junior Circuit the New York Yankees bounce back from last year’s
Division Series spanking by the Anaheim Angels by again blitzing the aging
Seattle Mariners in 3 straight games, while the Oakland A’s finally break
through in their 4th straight postseason by taking out the resurgent
Chicago White Sox in a 3 game sweep.
In the League Championship Series the Astros again leave the Cardinals as bridesmaids to capture their 1st pennant in a 7 game intradivisional thriller while the Yankees return to the World Series for the 6th time in 8 years by again beating Oakland in 6. & this time the Yanks win their 27th World Series in a 5 game walk over the just-glad-to-be-here Astros.
But, let’s take a look at all the teams & why they will finish where they will! 1st the NL East:
Philadelphia Phillies (91-71)- 10 years after their miracle season &
playoff upset of the Atlanta Braves (before losing to the repeat champion
Toronto Blue Jays in the World Series) the Phillies will end a decade of despair
& capture the division. In 2001 they were a surprising 2nd place
team, but last year they just missed .500. But, in the offseason they acquired
former Atlanta Braves pitching gem Kevin Millwood to add to a young talented
rotation & good relief corps headed by 45 save demon Jose Mesa. They also
added ex-Indians Goliath 1B Jim Thome (a .300, 50 hr, 120 RBI guy), &
slugging 3B David Bell to a lineup that already had power hitting outfielders
Bobby Abreu & Pat Burrell- another 50 hr threat. This is the year that
manager Larry Bowa’s club ends Atlanta’s run of Eastern crowns at 8. They
were the last team, other than the Braves, to rule the roost in a full season,
& this is the year they take back the top spot.
2) Atlanta Braves (89-73)- Yes, it is only 8 straight Division titles, not 11! The Braves did win 3 straight NL West crowns from 1991-93, & 8 straight Eastern titles from 95-02, but in the strike year of 1994 the Braves finished 2nd to the Montreal Expos in their 1st year in the East. For some reason MLB (aka Bud Selig- the worst pro sports commissioner in history) does not want to acknowledge this fact, but if the season stats counted for the players then they counted for the teams- & the Braves were losers that year. As for Atlanta- this year they won’t have to wait for another postseason fizzle. Greg Maddux will still win 15-18 games, but newcomers Russ Ortiz, Paul Byrd, & Mike Hampton WILL NOT make up for losing Kevin Millwood & Tom Glavine, & Jon Smoltz will not save 55 games again- even if healthy. The bullpen is thin! The outfield trio of Gary Sheffield, Andruw Jones, & Chipper Jones will be enough to carry the team offensively, but the infield is thin & C Javy Lopez has seen better days. This team is in decline- this may be the last good year before the cliff!
3) New York Mets (86-76)- They’ll be better than the last few years. Ex-Brave Tom Glavine & Al Leiter will anchor a decent rotation while ex-Yankee Mike Stanton & Armando Benitez make a good set up-closer combo. But the season rests on alot of question marks offensively. C Mike Piazza will get his 30 homers & 100 RBIs, but who will be threat #2? Will aging & bloating 1B Mo Vaughn do it? Will 2B Roberto Alomar rebound from a dismal year? Or will newcomer LF Cliff Floyd be the answer? He stewed in Boston, Montreal, & Florida last year. But, the Mets should battle the Phils & Braves all year, as well as pose a threat for the wildcard until the last week or 2.
Montreal Expos (78-84)- Poor Frank Robinson! Baseball’s 1st
black manager is saddled with this franchise in Purgatory. The young Expos will
flirt with contention before fading in September (just as last year- except
they’ve regressed while their rivals have gotten better). This, even after
losing ace Bartolo Colon. Someone or other will be adequate to complement
franchise superstar RF Vladimir Guerrero in his last year north until the burden
is too great. The complement may just be good enough to push VG into the
.350/50/140 range. He’s a real Triple Crown threat, a Gold Glover, & with
a little assistance may even post better #s than Alex Rodriguez.
5) Florida Marlins (71-91)- 1997’s World Series win seems an eon ago. OK pitching & a no-name team spell last place. They could be alot worse than I predict or a little better. But free agent C Ivan Rodriguez will help- both at the bat & with a young staff.
the National League Central Division, where a 3-team tussle is abrewing:
1) Houston Astros (94-68)- After a good run of Division titles in the late 1990s the last 3 years have been down, up, down. This year is up. Mainly because of good young starting pitching, in 2 budding aces: Roy Oswalt & Wade Miller. They’ve still got a solid bullpen & the Killer B’s: 1B Jeff Bagwell, 2B turned CF Craig Biggio & superstar Lance Berkman. Adding ex-Giant Jeff Kent to take over at 2B makes this team’s offensive punch just enough to edge out the Cardinals for Division & pennant tops.
2) St. Louis Cardinals (92-70)- Ace Matt Morris is a stud- but Houston has 2 studs. The Cards’ bullpen is solid. This team will battle the Astros all season long. But the death of starting pitcher Darryl Kile, last year, while an inspiration then, will prove this team’s undoing in crunch time. A solid infield is anchored by SS Edgar Renteria & 3B Scott Rolen- a .300, 40-120 threat. Ditto for RF J.D. Drew. CF Jim Edmonds is 1 of the 3 or 4 best in the game & Albert Pujols- in just his 3rd season- is a definite Triple Crown threat, with .350/50/140 potential. This race will be a killer all year.
3) Chicago Cubs (87-75)- The Jr. Bears have not had back-to-back winning seasons in what must be decades. After 88 wins in 2001, last year was a disaster- injuries & slumps killed this team. But, Dusty Baker- 1 of the best managers in the game will guide this team to a winning year, & string a few together. This team has talent & it starts with starting pitching- the potentially best in the division: Big Hoss Kerry Wood- who if heathy could bag 20 wins & a Cy Young, solid Matt Clement, minor league phenom Mark Prior, & the unpredictable Shawn Estes- a former 20 game winner who will thrive- if healthy- under Baker. Someone needs to emerge from an anonymous bullpen, the infield is OK, & the outfield should be improved with Moises Alou’s comeback from injury problems, Hall of Famer Sammy Sosa’s typical year (.300/50/120), & potential star CF Corey Patterson. Add Dusty Baker, & the Cubbies may just break baseball’s longest World Series drought before it reaches the century mark (2008).
4) Cincinnati Reds (75-87)- During the heyday of the Big Red Machine (mid-70s) the Reds were known as an all-hit, no-pitch team. That was not true or the Reds would not have been a perennial playoff contender with 2 World Series rings. But that description is apt for this year’s edition. The Reds have a solid, if unspectacular infield but a power-laden outfield with comebacking Junior Griffey, McGwirean Adam Dunn, & potential star Austin Kearns. But without good arms, & if an injury hits Dunn or Griffey, manager Bob Boone’s hair could whiten to a Sparky Andersonian hue by season’s end.
5) Pittsburgh Pirates (66-96)- Simply put, this team has never recovered from the loss of Barry Bonds in 1992. After 3 straight Eastern Division titles the team has bumbled its way to 10 consecutive losing seasons. The pitching sucks (especially the starters), save for a career year from journeyman reliever Mike Williams (2.93 ERA & 46 saves- a record for a reliever on a losing team). As for offense, it’s a 2 player team- 3B Aramis Ramirez (a potential superstar who hit a bad sophomore slump) & LF Brian Giles who is probably the most unknown .300/30/100 guy in the game. 162 games is a LONG time.
6) Milwaukee Brewers (60-102)- I say they’ll be a little better than last year’s 56-106 disaster- but they could lose 110 games! Commissioner/owner Bud Selig’s team is perfect vengeance for the garbage he’s bestowed on baseball for a decade- coincidentally the same # of years the team has had losing seasons. For this they left the AL? Pitching worse than Pittsburgh’s & only 1 power threat (1B Richie Sexson- .279/29/102) means they are perhaps the only MLB team that can envy the Pirate’s depth. The only 6th place team in the majors may also be the worst.
The NL West will be another 3 team tussle:
San Francisco Giants (90-72)- The defending NL Champs will take 1st
in the division this year, but the whole division is in decline. The starting
pitching is solid & Rob Nen is still a monster closer (2.20 ERA, 43 saves),
but this team is all Barry Bonds & Co. Gone is 2B Jeff Kent’s potent bat,
but look for Barry to jack 50+ homers, get 200+ walks, & top .600 in On-Base
Average. That’ll be enough for the Giants to edge the declining Diamondbacks.
New manager Felipe Alou finally manages a winner.
2) Arizona Diamondbacks (88-74)- 5 years in existence, 3 Western Crowns, 1 NL pennant, & 1 World Seies win. Not bad- but last year’s Division Series sweep was the beginning of the end of the Snakes’ run. The Randy Johnson-Curt Schilling juggernaut has carried the team- but it ends this year as 1 of the 2 will spend most of the year injured. My guess is it’s the Big Unit. But 1 is enough for 2nd place & a wild card run. A big mistake looms in moving ’01 Series goat Byung-Hyun Kim to the starting rotation. He’ll bomb, & there’s no one to replace him in the pen. The rest of the team’s stars are old, injury-prone, & in decline (3B Matt Williams, LF Luis Gonzales, & CF Steve Finley). They could gas 1 more year out of this crew if health holds out- but don’t bet on it. They could shock some people & slide to .500 or worse.
3) Los Angeles Dodgers (82-80)- Jim Tracy has been the best Dodgers manager since Tommy Lasorda’s departure, but this team just does not have the talent to contend for a World Series berth. Watch for a 10 game slide from last year’s 92-70 miracle. Their best pitcher- Kevin Brown- has been an injured list unto himself since inking a big contract, & don’t expect Odalis Perez, Hideo Nomo, or Kaz Ishii to match nor top their ’02 #s. Eric Gagne’s 1st year in the bullpen was a monster (1.97 ERA, 52 saves) but many a great 1st season in the pen turns to a sour 2nd- Gagne will get only about ˝ as many saves this year. 1B Fred McGriff will be 40 by year’s end, & he’s the newby meant to complement RF Shawn Green (.285/42/114)? The Dodgers are the most unpredictable team in the NL- they could pull an Angels 2002 & run to the Series, or they could bottom out with a 70 win campaign. I’ll split the difference in standings & record.
4) Colorado Rockies (73-89)- After starting out with a bang a decade ago, this franchise has been mediocre at best. Pitching a mile up will never be good enough to win a championship, & batting #s are always inflated. 1B Todd Helton & RF Larry Walker will challenge for the batting title & knock 30+ homers & drive in 100+. So what? The Rockies’ run in place again & again & again.
San Diego Padres (69-93)- The starters suck, but reliever Trevor
Hoffman’s still a stud. The rest of the team is filled with duds. 1B Ryan
Klesko has pop- that’s it. RF Phil Nevin starts the season injured, &
‘Injury’ is ex-Yankee OF Rondell White’s middle name. This could be a .500
team in the NL Central. Here, it’s last place- again.
Circuit is done. Let’s hit the American League. 1st up is the East:
New York Yankees (106-56)- The Yanks quietly compiled the best record in
the majors last year (attention was on the Angels’ run, Oakland’s 20
straight wins, & the Twins’ walk in the Central), then bombed in the
playoffs: their run of 4 straight AL pennants & 3 World Series titles up in
smoke. But a 6th straight Eastern crown is all but a lock- barring
injury. The Yanks improved alot & got younger, while Boston got worse &
only added youth in their GM slot. The starting rotation has no one in the
Pedro/Big Unit/Zito league- but it’s the deepest there is. Mike Mussina may
never have that Cy Young season, but pencil him in for his best Yankee campaign
yet. Roger Clemens will get his 7 wins for 300 & another 8-10. David Wells
won’t win 19 games again, but 12-15 is fine. Same for a healthy Andy Pettitte.
When the inevitable injuries strike look for Jeff Weaver & Cuban defector
Jose Contreras to combine for another 25-30 wins, & provide some long relief
work in place of the departed Mike Stanton. In the pen, if Mariano Rivera is
healthy he’s the top closer in the game. Detractors will point to the loss of
Ramiro Mendoza (to Boston) & Stanton (to the Mets) as deadly blows, but
Mendoza has not been the killer long man since 2000, & Stanton dropped off
substantially last year due to age. C Jorge Posada is a solid backstop. Watch
for 1B Jason Giambi to have his best year at the plate ever, & 2B Alfonso
Soriano will add improved defense to his 40-40 potential. SS Derek Jeter is not
nearly as bad defensively as his envious detractors claim (he’s actually
better than A-Rod, Nomar, & Tejada- although not in a class with Omar
Vizquel), & look for him to reverse a 4 year slide with a .330/25/100/40SB
year. Robin Ventura won’t match last year’s stats, but won’t need to as
1B/DH Nick Johnson redeems himself with a .300/25/100 year. Rondell White is
gone from the outfield, but ex-Padre Bubba Trammell will more than make up for
him & OF Shane Spencer on the bench. CF Bernie Williams’ power diminishes
with his range but look for another solid year. Being the last year of his
contract, look for perennial underachiever RF Raul Mondesi post big 1st
˝ #s & Japanese import LF Hideki Matsui to hit .330 with 20-25 homers &
100 RBIs. Last year’s failure was akin to 1997’s playoff flop against
Cleveland. The next 3 years were murder on the rest of baseball. Redux ’03.
2) Toronto Blue Jays (88-74)- This is the best club since the World Series teams of the early 90s. They will gel & surprise the league with a distant 2nd place finish, a wild card run, & holding off a sputtering Red Sox team. This could be the Anaheim of 2003. Roy Halladay may be this year’s Jarrod Washburn on a nondescipt starting corps. Kelvim Escobar is a solid closer. But a talented young outfield could gel with a slugging 1B/3B combo (Carlos Delgado & AL Rookie of the Year Eric Hinske) to give Toronto fans hope of a return to glory.
3) Boston Red Sox (85-77)- Things don’t look good in Beantown. Last year they finished 10 games behind the Yankees despite a comeback 20-4 year by Pedro Martinez, a career (21-8) year by journeyman Derek Lowe, & solid years by 2 pitchers in their late 30s (Tim Wakefield & John Burkett). The Yanks got better & younger, the Red Sox aged. Even if Pedro continues to be Pedro make book on all 3 of the other starters to not come near their previous years. 28 year old boy genius GM Theo Epstein has decided that a closer-by-committee bullpen will work- it won’t. Other than SS Nomar Garciaparra & LF Manny Ramirez, there isn’t anyone with stud qualities- but alot of solid mediocre major leaguers. Worst of all, this team may be the worst defensive team in the majors- call them the Tin Glove team. I predict 85 wins, but if they start slowly & are 15 games out by June there could be a massive purge of over-priced wannabes.
4) Tampa Bay (66-96)- Any real reason that they finish out of the cellar? None, save Lou Piniella should be good for at least 10 more wins than last year’s edition. A bunch of no-names that are aiming for contention in 2005, at least.
5) Baltimore Orioles (63-99)- At least 1988’s disaster (54-107) lasted only 1 year. The run from 1998-present is the worst in franchise history since they were the Saint Louis Browns a ˝ century ago. It does not end this year. You could trade the talent straight up for Tampa’s & no one in either town would notice, nor care. But the O’s take the cellar because Mike Hargrove is no Lou Piniella.
On to the AL Central:
Chicago White Sox (93-69)- A rule of thumb in pro sports is that a
team’s luck 1 year almost never carries over the next year. The Sox & the
Twins were statistically similar teams. Chicago was a +58 in Run Differential
while Minnesota was a +56. They should have had similar records, yet the Sox
were a .500 team buried 13˝ games behind the Twins. What gives? The luck of the
baseball gods. The Sox added 20 game winning ace Bartolo Colon to 19 game
winning stud Mark Buehrle. The rest of the corps. is solid & Billy Koch is a
great closer. The Sox have a potent lineup with 5 guys who have 30 HR/100 RBI
potential: Comeback King Frank Thomas at DH, 1B Paul Konerko, SS Jose Valentin,
LF Carlos Lee, & Triple Crown threat Magglio Ordonez, who gets better every
year. Even without improving the odds were Chicago was at least Minnesota’s
equal- but they got better, still- mostly to Yankee owner George Steinbrenner
making sure the right (White not Red) Sox got Colon- a decision he may regret in
2) Minnesota Twins (88-74)- See Chicago- but in the other direction. Potentially this team could put it all together. But even if they do they won’t get all the bounces they got last year, & that’ll sting. They have a solid starting corps. if healthy- that’s the key. Brad Radke seems like he’ll never stay healthy enough to win 20 games again. Joe Mays was overrated, even before last year’s injury-plagued year, & Eric Milton never seems to approach the greatness predicted for him- pencil in another 12-15 win year if healthy. Rick Reed is another year older, not better, & free agent Kenny Rogers is still a career cum-see-cum-sa pitcher. The bullpen is solid but don’t expect Eddie Guardado nor LaTroy Hawkins to repeat their stellar years. Johan Santana could be a stud. The infield is a great fielding unit, but a bunch of mediocre hitters. The outfield has 2 studs coming off nearly identical career years- CF Torii Hunter & LF Jacque Jones. Like the rest of the Twins, they could have great years- but for all the above to do it 2 years in a row is a stretch. This is a better team than the ’01 model, but not as good as last year’s. They’ll challenge for the Division crown & the wild card.
3) Cleveland Indians (71-91)- Their manager is Eric Wedge? They have some good young prospects- but this year will be more of the same as last year- except they won’t win 11 of their 1st 12 games. SS Omar Vizquel is the AL’s Ozzie Smith, but it will be starter C.C. Sabathia as the reason the Tribe will stay above the dregs (see below).
4) Kansas City Royals (66-96)- The Royals have had 8 straight losing years- make it 9! Horrendous pitching & only 2 bright spots: 1B Mike Sweeney (.340/24/86) & CF Carlos Beltran (.273/29/105/35SB)- a potential Gold Glover. Oh, where have you gone, George Brett/Hal McRae/Amos Otis/Willie Wilson/Brett Saberhagen?
5) Detroit Tigers (63-99)- Alan Trammell’s back in Motown! But as manager, not SS. Their pitching is as underwhelming as KC’s. Their 1B Randall Simon- who led the team last year in hitting, homers, & RBIs? Traded. But young Carlos Pena could be a stud at 1B- with .300/40/120 potential- underline the potential part! By my score that 2 studs for KC & 1 for Detroit. The Tigers get the cellar for another year.
On to the smallest, but best division in the game- the AL West, where all 4 clubs should be .500 or better:
Oakland A’s (95-67)- 5 straight seasons of improved records ends, but a
3rd Western Crown in 4 years is theirs. The trio of Zito/Mulder/Hudson
has taken turns the last 3 years with standout ace years. Last year Barry Zito
won the Cy Young with a 23-5 mark. He’ll go about 20-9 this year. Tim Hudson
seems like he’s the candidate this year for a Cy Young chase; then, again,
Mark Mulder is the hardest thrower of them all. Ted Lilly is a 12-15 win #4 guy.
The bullpen is solid if not spectacular. Management has also declared that
reigning MVP SS Miguel Tejada is a goner after this season. Will that lead to
discord? Maybe. He’ll still be good but won’t match his ’02 stats
(.308/34/131). 3B Eric Chavez has 45 home run potential & new 1B Erubiel
Durazo can jack 40 if healthy. RF Jermaine Dye leads a solid outfield corps.
They won’t stumble, then cruise like they did the last 2 years, but they will
slowly pull away in their division, & finally win a playoff series, before
falling to the resurgent Yankees in the ALCS.
2) Seattle Mariners (89-73)- The Arizona of the AL- with 1 last run left in the tank. Few realize last year’s 93-69 record was the team’s best ever (save for ‘01’s aberrational 116 win campaign, which overshadowed the whole ’02 season). Lou Piniella’s gone & Bob Melvin’s in. History suggests old, talented teams have 1 last hurrah after a long-time manager leaves- as if to prove they could make it on their own. Look for more of the same. The starters are solid & only Jamie Moyer (40) is old. Look for a breakout 20 win year from either Freddy Garcia or Joel Pineiro to carry the M’s to the wild card over at least 5 other teams. Kaz Sasaki is a closing stud & the rest of the bullpen is deep. Brett Boone, John Olerud, Edgar Martinez, & Mike Cameron should get 1 last decent campaign out of them & Ichiro Suzuki (perhaps the worst MVP winner in 2001) will probably be more ’02 than ’01- but that’s still good enough for the Mariners to reach the postseason 1 last time before collapsing.
3) Texas Rangers (84-78)- If the pitching is only a little better than the last 3 years the Rangers will jump 10-15 wins from last year’s 72- good enough to contend for a wild card. It will be better- a little bit. 1B Rafael Palmeiro will notch another 35/110 year, RF Carl Everett will hit 30 if healthy, &- if healthy- DH Juan Gonzales will return to .320/35/120 form. As for A-Rod at SS? Alex Rodriguez will soon break Roger Maris’s AL record 61 homers, & in 5 years may top Barry Bond’s MLB record 73. This year, if healthy, look for a .300/55/130 campaign to lift Texas above the defending champion Angels.
4) Anaheim Angels (82-80)- Recall my rule regarding the White Sox & Twins? Here’s another- any time a team comes from out of nowhere to win a title- DO NOT expect a repeat. Split the difference between the last 2 seasons & that’s where the team will end up. In 2001 the Angels were 3rd with 75 wins. In 2002 they were 2nd with 99. The split results in an 87 win team- but being in this brutal division subtracts 5 wins. Like the Twins this team will not get all the breaks it did last year. Here’s why: Jarrod Washburn is a possible pitching stud, but Ramon Ortiz had a career year, while Kevin Appier & Aaron Sele are career journeymen who will only be a year older. In the pen Troy Percival is a latter-day Goose Gossage, but the rest of the pen is thin. 3B Troy Glaus will be better than last year- look for a .300/50/120 campaign- but SS David Eckstein had a career year. He will not repeat it; thus why they are called ‘career years’. But the biggest reason that the Angels won’t repeat is that their outfielders (LF Garret Anderson, CF Darin Erstad, & RF Tim Salmon) have never, in their many years together, had back-to-back good seasons. The same can be said for former Angel CF Jim Edmonds. Look for 2 of the 3 to tank. The Angels may start off quickly, with the word ‘dynasty’ being tossed around, but the 2nd ˝ will be cruel, as the team sinks toward .500, & barely avoids it.I look for a 5th Yankees’ World Series win in 8 seasons (& it could have been 6 for 10 without the 1994 strike), but the other possible teams to win it all are (in order of possibility): Houston- to win it a year after their 1961 siblings from Anaheim; Oakland- with their pitching power trio finally coming through; St. Louis- if the pitching holds up; San Francisco- if Barry gets even better at the plate; Arizona- if they can sneak in the playoffs somehow; & long shots Chicago White Sox, Minnesota, or Toronto- as this year’s Anaheim magic show. Perhaps it’s because my boyhood interest in the game was re-awakened with the Yankees’ recent run of success after slumbering through a decade & ˝ of mediocrity, but I think this year Jason Giambi will finally taste glory, & lead the Yanks back to the top. But, check back in October- these predictions will still be online & I will either shine or stain. This year, I think, I’ll shine, too.
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