2006 MLB Preview

“What a time to be a baseball fan.” Although it may sound like an old-worn out clich??, those words have seldom rang truer. The “steroid era”, which will be known for its, literally, larger than life stars such as Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and the soon-to-be retired Barry Bonds, has passed. Out of its ashes rises a new league, a league filled with young, pure athletes such as Albert Pujols and Mark Teixeira, a league in which recent history has the “Evil Empire” winning just as many World Series as the Kansas City Royals. In many respects, this upcoming season will not look anything like last year’s. Many teams look entirely different (the Red Sox, Blue Jays), and other teams do not even know what they will look like (the Bagwell and Clemens fiasco currently taking place in Houston). Yet at the same time, certain traditions will hold as strong as turkey on Thanksgiving. The Yankees and Red Sox will continue to have a stranglehold on the A.L East, despite the emergence of the Blue Jays. The White Sox and Indians should yet again duke it out in a mid-west battle. The Cardinals will win, and all of the N.L west will lose. Here are more specific predictions for both of the leagues:American League The acquisition of Johnny Damon over the off-season not only dropped a bomb on Red Sox nation, but also guaranteed that the Yankees will have the most powerful offensive lineup in the league. However, their quickly-aging rotation and bullpen leave many questions. As always, the Red Sox prove to be a perfect contrast in many ways. While they may have lost a little offensive production by losing Damon, it was quickly filled by new outfielder Coco Crisp. If all goes accordingly, the Sox will have one of the best pitching staffs in the league. The team looks different, yes, but it is for the better. Much has been said about the great off-season the Toronto Blue Jays had, adding to almost all aspects of their game. However, it won’t be enough to leapfrog the A.L. East’s two stalwarts. The Chicago White Sox, last year’s world champions, have gotten even better. With the addition Jim Thome, the White Sox have guaranteed 35 more home runs to be added to their team total. Baseball’s best team also practically stole Javier Vazquez from the Diamondbacks, giving them four pitchers in their starting rotation with ERAs under four. Last year’s surprise team the Cleveland Indians is still young, and still good. Look for Grady Sizemore to have a breakout season this year. Although the Twins picked up some excellent veterans, the A.L Central will once again come down to Cleveland and Chicago (disregard the current standings, Detroit’s hitting with some freakish power to start the season). Has there been a better story over the past few years than the Oakland Athletics? The little-team-that-could surprises everyone year-in and year-out, due in no small part to the talent of their general manager Billy Beane. Every off-season he continues to make great deals with limited funds. The cheap additions of Frank Thomas and Milton Bradley will give the A’s no problem in taking the A.L. West.National League In the N. L. East, the team favored to win by almost all is (big surprise) the Atlanta Braves. The Braves have won the division 14 times in a row and it could happen again. However, the team is full of question marks. Their lineup is not as strong as it appears on paper. Yes, they have young, legend-in-the-making Andruw Jones, but not much else. The once famed rotation of Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz and Millwood is a thing of the past, filled with young hurlers who have yet to prove themselves. The New York Mets, who have added Carlos Delgado to a potent lineup that already has Carlos Beltran and the face of the team, third basemen David Wright, will challenge the Braves mightily this year. The Mets bullpen underwent an extensive renovation and now includes power closer Billy Wagner. This is the year that the Atlanta dynasty comes to an end. Last year’s World Series losers, the Houston Astros, had a tough off-season. Though it had not yet been confirmed, it seems that they have lost Hall-of-Famers Roger Clemens and Jeff Bagwell. Nothing was added to the rotation, putting even more pressure on aging Andy Petite to perform beyond his years. This year’s breakout team could be the Milwaukee Brewers. If ace Ben Sheets comes off the disabled list healthy after a torn back muscle, look for the Brewers to make a run for the wild card spot. Future 2006 Rookie of the Year Prince Fielder at first base will not hurt their chances either. Regardless, the N.L. Central will go yet again to the all too powerful St. Louis Cardinals. Not exactly a powerhouse league (only one team finished with a winning record last season), the N.L. West is an extremely tough division to predict. The Dodgers added the most to their team over the off-season, but have already lost big names such as Kenny Lofton and Nomar Garciaparra to injuries. Last year’s division winners the Padres look to the young one-two punch of Jake Peavey and Chris Young in the rotation to keep up the energy of an old and over the hill lineup. San Francisco definitely has potential, with up and comers such as first baseman Lance Nierko and pitcher Matt Cain. If Barry Bonds can play to even half of his former abilities look for the Giants to win the division.