B95-DES51
2003 Major League Baseball Preview
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 3/22/03

  No need for a lengthy exegesis off the bat. Hereís what I think the upcoming season will bring, as far as standings & playoffs. Then Iíll opine a bit why- in team capsule form:

National League  W-L-GB  * = wild card team
East
Philadelphia   91-71  Atlanta          89-73  2
NY Mets      86-76  5
Montreal       78-84  13
Florida          71-91  20

Central
Houston           94-68  -
St. Louis          92-70  2  *
Chicago Cubs  87-75  7
Cincinnati         75-87  19
Pittsburgh         66-96  28
Milwaukee       60-102 34

West
San Francisco  90-72  -
Arizona            88-74  2
Los Angeles     82-80  8
Colorado         73-89  17
San Diego        69-93  21
American League  W-L-GB  * = wild card team
East
NY Yankees  106-56  -
Toronto          88-74  18
Boston            85-77  21
Tampa Bay     66-96  40
Baltimore        63-99  43
Central
Chicago W.Sox  93-69  -
Minnesota           88-74  5
Cleveland            71-91  22
Kansas City        66-96  27
Detroit                63-99  30
West
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 yearís Division Series spanking by the Anaheim Angels by again blitzing the aging Seattle Mariners in 3 straight games, while the Oakland Aís 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, letís take a look at all the teams & why they will finish where they will! 1st the NL East:

1)      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 Bowaís club ends Atlantaís 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 wonít 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)- Theyíll 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.

4)      Montreal Expos (78-84)- Poor Frank Robinson! Baseballís 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 theyíve 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. Heís 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)- 1997ís 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.

   On to 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. Theyíve still got a solid bullpen & the Killer Bís: 1B Jeff Bagwell, 2B turned CF Craig Biggio & superstar Lance Berkman. Adding ex-Giant Jeff Kent to take over at 2B makes this teamís 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 Cardsí 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 teamís 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 Alouís comeback from injury problems, Hall of Famer Sammy Sosaís typical year (.300/50/120), & potential star CF Corey Patterson. Add Dusty Baker, & the Cubbies may just break baseballís 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 yearís 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 Booneís hair could whiten to a Sparky Andersonian hue by seasonís 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, itís 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 theyíll be a little better than last yearís 56-106 disaster- but they could lose 110 games! Commissioner/owner Bud Seligís team is perfect vengeance for the garbage heís 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 Pittsburghís & only 1 power threat (1B Richie Sexson- .279/29/102) means they are perhaps the only MLB team that can envy the Pirateís depth. The only 6th place team in the majors may also be the worst.

  The NL West will be another 3 team tussle:

1)      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 Kentís potent bat, but look for Barry to jack 50+ homers, get 200+ walks, & top .600 in On-Base Average. Thatíll 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 yearís Division Series sweep was the beginning of the end of the Snakesí 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 itís the Big Unit. But 1 is enough for 2nd place & a wild card run. A big mistake looms in moving í01 Series goat Byung-Hyun Kim to the starting rotation. Heíll bomb, & thereís no one to replace him in the pen. The rest of the teamís 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 donít 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 Lasordaís 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 yearís 92-70 miracle. Their best pitcher- Kevin Brown- has been an injured list unto himself since inking a big contract, & donít expect Odalis Perez, Hideo Nomo, or Kaz Ishii to match nor top their í02 #s. Eric Gagneís 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 Ĺ as many saves this year. 1B Fred McGriff will be 40 by yearís end, & heís 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. Iíll 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 Rockiesí run in place again & again & again.

5)      San Diego Padres (69-93)- The starters suck, but reliever Trevor Hoffmanís still a stud. The rest of the team is filled with duds. 1B Ryan Klesko has pop- thatís it. RF Phil Nevin starts the season injured, & ĎInjuryí is ex-Yankee OF Rondell Whiteís middle name. This could be a .500 team in the NL Central. Here, itís last place- again. 

  The Senior Circuit is done. Letís hit the American League. 1st up is the East: 

1)      New York Yankees (106-56)- The Yanks quietly compiled the best record in the majors last year (attention was on the Angelsí run, Oaklandís 20 straight wins, & the Twinsí 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 itís 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 wonít 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 heís 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 (heís 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 wonít match last yearís stats, but wonít 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 Williamsí 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 Ĺ #s & Japanese import LF Hideki Matsui to hit .330 with 20-25 homers & 100 RBIs. Last yearís failure was akin to 1997ís playoff flop against Cleveland. The next 3 years were murder on the rest of baseball. Redux í03. 

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 yearís 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 donít 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 wonít. Other than SS Nomar Garciaparra & LF Manny Ramirez, there isnít 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 yearís edition. A bunch of no-names that are aiming for contention in 2005, at least.

5)      Baltimore Orioles (63-99)- At least 1988ís 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 Ĺ century ago. It does not end this year. You could trade the talent straight up for Tampaís & no one in either town would notice, nor care. But the Oís take the cellar because Mike Hargrove is no Lou Piniella.

  On to the AL Central:

1)      Chicago White Sox (93-69)- A rule of thumb in pro sports is that a teamís 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 13Ĺ 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 Minnesotaís 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 October. 

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 wonít get all the bounces they got last year, & thatíll sting. They have a solid starting corps. if healthy- thatís the key. Brad Radke seems like heíll never stay healthy enough to win 20 games again. Joe Mays was overrated, even before last yearís 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 donít 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 í01 model, but not as good as last yearís. Theyíll 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 wonít win 11 of their 1st 12 games. SS Omar Vizquel is the ALís 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 Trammellís back in Motown! But as manager, not SS. Their pitching is as underwhelming as KCís. 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:

1)      Oakland Aís (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. Heíll go about 20-9 this year. Tim Hudson seems like heís 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. Heíll still be good but wonít match his í02 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 wonít 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 yearís 93-69 record was the teamís best ever (save for Ď01ís aberrational 116 win campaign, which overshadowed the whole í02 season). Lou Piniellaís gone & Bob Melvinís 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 Mís 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 í02 than í01- but thatís 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 yearís 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 Marisís AL record 61 homers, & in 5 years may top Barry Bondís 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? Hereís 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 & thatís 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. Hereís 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 Ďcareer yearsí. But the biggest reason that the Angels wonít 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 Ďdynastyí being tossed around, but the 2nd Ĺ will be cruel, as the team sinks toward .500, & barely avoids it.

    I look for a 5th Yankeesí 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 yearís Anaheim magic show. Perhaps itís because my boyhood interest in the game was re-awakened with the Yankeesí recent run of success after slumbering through a decade & Ĺ 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, Iíll shine, too.

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