B138-DES87
2004 Major League Baseball Preview
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 3/13/04 

  Last year at this time my predictions were hit & miss. The only National League team playoff team which was 1 I predicted were the San Francisco Giants, who ran away with the West. I took Houston in the Central, with St. Louis as the wildcard, & thought the Philadelphia Phillies would knock off the Atlanta Braves. I fared a little better in the Junior circuit where both the Yankees & A’s won their divisions & the Yanks took the pennant. Of course, no 1 would have guessed the Florida Marlins would have won their 2nd wildcard in 7 years, as well as their 2nd World series. I tabbed them for last in their division. Here’s what I said:

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.

  Ok, so they were last year’s Anaheim Angels. But I think the run of 3 straight surprise World Series winners will come to an end- although the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks were not really sleepers as they had registered their 2nd division title in 3 years when they took out the Yankees.
  I thought the Yanks would win last year, & they’re my choice again this year- simply for the most depth, & the run of flukes cannot go on 3 years in a row! Here’s my predictions with capsulized comments later.

National League  W-L-GB  * = wild card team
East

Philadelphia  95-67  -
Atlanta          85-77  10
Florida          78-84  17
NY Mets      75-87  20
Montreal       65-97  30

 

Central

Houston           93-69  -
Chicago Cubs  92-70  1 *
St. Louis          88-74  5 
Cincinnati        78-84  15
Pittsburgh        66-96  28
Milwaukee       58-104 35

West

San Francisco  89-73  -
San Diego        86-76  3
Los Angeles     84-78  5
Colorado          79-83  10
Arizona            72-90  17

 

American League  W-L-GB  * = wild card team
East

NY Yankees  104-58  -
Toronto          92-70  12  *
Boston            88-74  16
Baltimore       76-86  28
Tampa Bay     67-95  37

Central

Kansas City        84-78 -
Cleveland           83-79  1
Minnesota          83-79  1
Chicago W.Sox  76-86  8
Detroit                58-104  26

West

Anaheim  92-70  -
Oakland   90-72  2
Seattle      83-79  9
Texas       73-89  19

  As for the National League postseason look for the Chicago Cubs to beat the Philadelphia Phillies in 4 games & the Houston Astros to finally win in the postseason by taking out the San Francisco Giants in 5. Over in the Junior Circuit the New York Yankees revive their 1970s postseason rivalry with the Kansas City Royals with 3 straight wins, while the Anaheim Angels beat the wildcard Blue Jays in 5.
  In the League Championship Series the Astros again leave the Cubs as jinxed bridesmaids to capture their 1st pennant in a 7 game intradivisional heartbreaker while the Yankees return to the World Series for the 7th time in 9 years by avenging their 2002 humiliation by Anaheim in 6 games. Then the Yanks win their 27th World Series in 6 games over the Astros.
  Let’s take a look at why the teams will finish where they will! 1st the NL East:

1)      Philadelphia Phillies (95-67)- I was a year off in thinking the Phils would take over the East. Adding a good closer like Billy Wagners & a possible 2nd ace in Eric Milton will be enough to let the Phils cruise to the title, especially if OF Pat Burrell can return to his 2002 form & 3B David Bell can stay healthy. Jim Thome, Bobby Abreu, & Kevin Millwood are enough to get the Phillies back to the playoffs.

2)      Atlanta Braves (85-77)- 9 straight Division titles are nice- but history. This year they won’t have to wait for another postseason fizzle. Greg Maddux, C Javier Lopez, & OF Gary Sheffield left. J.D. Drew is not enough to make up for those losses. A # of their other regulars had career years- don’t bank on that happening 2 years in a row.

3)      Florida Marlins (78-94)- I was right last year when I said the World Champion Angels would regrees. They did even worse than I predicted. So might the Marlins. They lost C Ivan Rodriguez, 1B Derek Lee, & a lot of pitching. Last year’s Cinderella becomes this year’s coal- & P Dontrelle Willis will be the Marlins in a nutshell.

4)      New York Mets (75-87)-  Mediocrity defined. They added a little punch to their lineup with Japanese superstar 2B Kaz Matsui & CF Mike Cameron from Seattle, but the pitching is older & worse- even if Tom Glavine returns to 2002 form. Al Leiter is solid, but that’s about it. Where’s the closer?

5)      Montreal Expos (65-97)- Vladimir Guerrero goes to Anaheim & Javier Vazquez bolts to the Yankees. It’ll be a long year for Frank Robinson- his clubhouse leader is surly OF Carl Everett!

   On to the National League Central Division, where a 3-team repeat is in the making:

1)      Houston Astros (93-69)- Another team I was a year early with. Adding Andy Pettite & Roger Clemens to a rotation with Roy Oswalt & Wade Miller, if healthy, is more reliable than the Cubs’. Offensively they & the Cubs are in an almost dead heat- & the lack of a closer is both teams’ Achilles Heels. The Astros lost Billy Wagner to Philly, but even a so-so closer should be enough to get Houston to the playoffs.

2)       Chicago Cubs (92-70)- I knew the Cubs would be better last year, but alot of their improvement came from overachievement. They did add Greg Maddux to balance their rotation of young fireballers Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, & Matt Clement, but Wood has not had 2 consecutive injury-free years & the Cubs lack a closer. Sammy Sosa & Moises Alou are solid, but aging. Former Marlin 1B Derek Lee & a comeback from injury by CF Corey patterson should help the Cubs in their death struggle with Houston. These are the 2 best teams in the league & they will meet in the NLCS.

3)      St. Louis Cardinals (88-74)- This team can hit with any in the majors- Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, & Edgar Renteria are studs. But the pitching cannot match Houston or Chicago. They could win the East or West, but geography kills. 

4)      Cincinnati Reds (78-84)- Not much to say- even Ken Griffey Jr.’s return to late 90s form won’t be enough to get the Reds over .500. 

5)      Pittsburgh Pirates (66-96)- Last year the team dumped their 2 best players- OF Brian Giles & 3B Aramis Ramirez. The pitching is mediocre at best, but the team is without a reliable bat, save light hitting C Jason Kendall.  Only the worse Brewers will prevent the Bucs from 100 losses.

6)      Milwaukee Brewers (58-104)- After a 1 year respite from 100 losses the Brew Crew plummets again. Bud Selig’s money machine sold off their lone star- 1B Richie Sexson. Ka-ching!

  The whole NL West is in decline, except the Padres:

1)      San Francisco Giants (89-73)- Barry Bonds & ace Jason Schmidt should be able to hang on for 1 more year.

2)      San Diego Padres (86-76)- Solid team with solid lineup- 3B Sean Burroughs, OF Brian Giles, 1B Phil Nevin & OF Ryan Klesko. The starters (including vet David Wells) are ok, & reliever Trevor Hoffman’s in need of a comeback year.

3)      Los Angeles Dodgers (84-78)- Pitching is still strong, even without Kevin Brown- Odalis Perez, Hideo Nomo, Wilson Alvarez, & Kaz Ishii are solid & if Jeff Weaver can get over his failures as a Yankee they could be really strong. Eric Gagne’s 2nd year as a reliever was better than his 1st. Can anyone name a single player from their lineup, outside of OF Shawn Green?

4)      Colorado Rockies (79-83)- bloated offense, no pitching. What’s new? Yawn.

5)      Arizona Diamondbacks (72-90)- Last year I said 1 of the team’s Big 2 of Randy Johnson & Curt Schilling would be on the DL. Both were & now Schilling’s gone. Brandon Webb may be a big time starter or a fluke. Richie Sexson is a bat to counter the declining Roberto Alomar & Luis Gonzales.

  The Senior Circuit is done. Let’s hit the American League. 1st up is the East: 

1)      New York Yankees (104-58)- The Yanks lost pitchers Andy Pettite & Roger Clemens but actually got younger & better by replacing them with Javier Vazquez & Kevin Brown. They added Gary Sheffield & Alex Rodriguez to counter the loss of 2B Alfonso Soriano. Read below for an extended rant on the Yanks-Red Sox war. 

2)      Toronto Blue Jays (92-70)- Cy Young winner Roy Halladay heads a rotation that is potentially the equal of the Yanks & Red Sox- former Cy Young Blue Jay Pat Hentgen, Miguel Batista, & Ted Lilly just need to be good & solid for an offense led by Vernon Wells & Carlos Delgado to sneak them by Boston. Their weakness is at closer.

3)      Boston Red Sox (88-74)- Curt Schiling is not as important a pick up as reliever Keith Foulke. The overachieving of many Sox won’t happen 2 years in a row. More later.

4)      Baltimore Orioles (76-86)- A decent bullpen, a no name rotation, but added muscle with C Javy Lopez, SS Miguel Tejada, & 1B Rafael Palmeiro. Unfortunately, in the AL East this means they’ll be lucky to whiff .500.

5)      Tampa Bay (67-95)- They missed 100 losses by 1 game last year. Playing in this division- even with some young talent- the Rays are doomed. 

  On to the AL Central: 

1)      Kansas City Royals (84-78)- In any other division a regression from their surprise of last year would be expected. But the addition of slugger Juan Gonzales & solid pitching should be enough to squeak by in a 4 team race in the Division 2 Central. 

2)      Cleveland Indians (83-79)- After dominating the Central in the 1990s the Injuns fell on hard times the last few years, but this could be the Royals of this year. Every year a new team rises up- the Twins & Royals the last 2 years- this year a young Indians squad anchored by pitcher C.C. Sabathia, & a host of young talent.

3)      Minnesota Twins (83-79)- I was correct in saying the Twins would regress last year, but they had a late run to win the division. This year they could 3-peat, but I doubt it. Midseason addition OF Shannon Stewart overachieved. while his mates in the OF- Jacques Jones & Torii Hunter regressed to their norms. The starting pitching can still be solid but their bullpen’s losing Ed Guardado & LaTroy Hawkins will haunt them during the pennant stretch run.

4)      Chicago White Sox (76-86)- Still alot of O with Frank Thomas, Paul Konerko, Carlos Lee, & Magglio Ordonez batting, but unless Billy Koch regains his ace closer form of 2002 & Esteban Loaiza repeats his 2003 miracle the Sox will just hang tough & fade at the end. This is the least talented team they’ve had in 6 or 7 years. Watch, now they’ll win the division in a walk!

5)      Detroit Tigers (56-106)- 5 wins in their last 6 games helped the 43-119 Tigers avoid the losingest record in the modern era. They will 50 games this year- but probably not 60. Free agent C Ivan Rodriguez’s value will be in molding this young pitching staff so that the tean may contend by 2006.

  On to the AL West:

1)      Anaheim Angels (92-70)- Sports is all about relativity. 2 years ago the wildcard Angels won the World Series, then sunk below .500, as I said. This year they are even better than 2002 but will probably win the division with a worse record. Bartolo Colon & Jarrod Washburn could a dominating 1-2 punch, while adding OFs Vladimir Guerrero & Jose Guillen give them a potent lineup. If Troy Percival recovers his 2002 form the Angels could win a 2nd title in 3 years. 

2)      Oakland A’s (90-72)- They’ll be in it till the end, but even their Big 3 starters- Hudson, Mulder, Zito- won’t be enough to stem the losses ‘Moneyball’ allows- even if 3B Eric Chavez puts up Triple Crown #s. 

3)      Seattle Mariners (83-79)- This aging team has not capitalized on its young starters’ potential, but they are still solid if Freddy Garcia, Jamie Moyer, & Joel Pineiro can max out. Ed Guardado in the bullpen replaces Japan-bound Kaz Sasaki, but other than Bret Boone this team lacks pop. & let’s face it- OF Ichiro Suzuki is a very good player- not a great 1.

4)      Texas Rangers (73-89)- Trading A-Rod for Alfonso Soriano was a purely financial move but he will give Texas a young, potent lineup. But a lack of pitching means it’s still a few years before the Rangers will contend.

  OK- let’s go to the big Yankee-Red Sox matchup. After Aaron Boone’s 11th inning walk off home run beat the Sox in game 7 of the ALCS the 2 teams went at it in the free agent wars. Still, I think the Yanks improved while the Sox, at best treaded water. I even think the Toronto Blue Jays have a better than 50-50 shot at sneaking by the Sox for the wildcard. The Red Sox’s 2 biggest additions were starting pitcher Curt Schilling & relief closer Keith Foulke. The Yanks countered by adding Alex Rodriguez (who moves over to his more natural power position at 3B, after the Red Sox failed to close a deal for him, OFs Gary Sheffield & Kenny Lofton while only losing 2B Alfonso Soriano. Their pitching staff lost Roger Clemens & Andy Pettite, but got younger with Kevin Brown & Javier Vazquez.
  Let’s do a side-by-side of both teams’ rosters with comments:

Pos

Boston

Yankees

Edge

Comment

C

Jason Varitek

Jorge Posada

NY

Varitek’s good but Posada’s better with the bat & handling pitchers.

1B

Kevin Millar

Jason Giambi

NY

Millar had a career year & still was not as good as Giambi’s off year.

2B

Pokey Reese

platoon

even

Miguel Cairo & Enrique Wilson’s better bats should offset Reese’s edge in D.

SS

Nomar Garciaparra

Derek Jeter

even

Nomar’s miffed at the A-Rod imbroglio, & has more power than Jeter, but Nomar is not as good on D nor in the clutch

3B

Bill Mueller

Alex Rodriguez

NY

A career year gave Mueller a batting title- but against A-Rod? Please! On D Mueller’s barely passable.

LF

Manny Ramirez

Hideki Matsui

even

Matsui is far better on D, & even had more RBIs than Manny. He’ll be better in year 2.

CF

Johnny Damon

Kenny Lofton

BRS

The Lofton-Williams platoon cannot match Damon on D- only on O.

RF

Trot Nixon

Gary Sheffield

NY

Neither shines on D, & Trot has a ˝ decade on Sheff, but on O it’s a walk.

DH

David Ortiz

Bernie Williams

NY

Ortiz is another guy off a career year. A platoon of Giambi & Williams rules.

1P

Pedro Martinez

Kevin Brown

even

Forget Game 7. Pedro’s still very good- but not great. He & Brown will need to avoid the DL.

2P

Curt Schilling

Javier Vazquez

NY

Vazquez was tops on all the scouts wish list for pitchers- even over Bartolo Colon. He’s a burner with a decade on Schilling.

3P

Derek Lowe

Mike Mussina

NY

Mussina always seems to win 17-19 games a year. Lowe won 4 less than in ’02 & will drop to 15 wins this year.

4P

Tim Wakefield

Jose Contreras

even

Wakefield is a solid #4, while Jose’s an X factor. The upside’s with the Yanks.

5P

Byung-Hyun Kim

Jon Lieber

even

The mind of Kim vs. the body of Lieber.

Cl.

Keith Foulke

Mariano Rivera

NY

Rivera’s big game props give him the nod.

R

-

-

NY

The Yanks’ addition of Paul Quantrill & Tom Gordon is better than Boston’s or their own bullpen from last year.

Bench

-

-

even

Both clubs have solid players to call upon.

Mgr

Terry Francona

Joe Torre

NY

4 titles in 8 years.

  The Yanks have a 10-1-7 edge. Like I said, Red Sox fans, you’d better worry more about holding off the Blue Jays than catching the Yankees.

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