The Smiles Are Returning to the Faces

Little darling, it’s been a long, long lonely winter
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun, and I say, it’s all right

Little darling, the smiles are returning to the faces
Little darling, it seems like years since they’ve been there
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun, and I say, it’s all right

Little darling, mmmmmm, I see the ice is slowly melting
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been clear
There goes the sun
Here comes the sun
And I say, it’s all right

Here Comes the Sun

Forget the beginning of March Madness or Super Bowl Sunday, today is the best day of the sports year. Not only because of the full slate of baseball games that it has to offer — which, if you’ve been jonesing for real games all offseason like I have, is pretty damn wonderful — but because today represents the start of something even better: seven months of non-stop baseball. It just doesn’t get any better than that. In celebration of today, and in an effort to watch as much baseball as humanly possible to get in shape for the long season ahead, I am skipping all of my classes. Sure, school is important (hi mom!), but we’re talking about Opening Day here.

Before baseball is back in full swing and the 2005 season really gets rolling, here are my predictions for how it will all play out between now and October …

AMERICAN LEAGUE
 
   WEST                CENTRAL             EAST                  AWARDS
1) A's              1) Twins            1) Red Sox          MVP: Eric Chavez
2) Angels           2) Indians          2) Yankees (WC)     CYA: Johan Santana
3) Mariners         3) White Sox        3) Orioles          ROY: Jeremy Reed
4) Rangers          4) Tigers           4) Blue Jays        MOY: Ken Macha
                    5) Royals           5) Devil Rays

I think the A’s and Angels are about as even as two teams can be heading into a season, but making the point that Oakland will be better than everyone thinks isn’t as effective if you pick them to finish second in the division. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the AL West came down to the final weekend again this year. The Twins are once again my pick in the AL Central, although Cleveland scares me more than any of the Chicago teams of the past few years. I think the Royals will be quite a bit better than expected, but I still can’t pick them for anything but the cellar. In the AL East, New York and Boston are the best two teams in the league, so it won’t much matter who advances to the playoffs by winning the division and who does so by winning the Wild Card.

Since I’m trying to predict who will win the MVP, rather than who should win the MVP, I’m not going to go with Alex Rodriguez or Johan Santana. I just don’t see the necessary votes going to a Yankee or a pitcher. Which leads me to Eric Chavez, who in addition to being one of the best players in the league, also plays for a team everyone in the mainstream media seems to be writing off. It only stands to reason that if I think the A’s will be a whole lot better than most think this year and Chavez is their best player, then he’ll get a ton of MVP attention. Plus, Chavez is going to have some big on-base percentages batting in front of him in the order, so he should be able to rack up plenty of the voters’ beloved RBIs.

The AL Rookie of the Year crop is really a great one, with no fewer than a half dozen players who are good enough to be my pick for the award if they were in the other league. I’ll go with Jeremy Reed and his good batting average in a close race over Dallas McPherson, Nick Swisher, Jason Bartlett, Ruben Gotay, Joe Blanton, and Scott Kazmir. I would go with McPherson if I knew his back would hold up. Needless to say I didn’t need much time to come up with my Cy Young pick, and Ken Macha is my Manager of the Year pick for the same reason I have Chavez as MVP.

NATIONAL LEAGUE
 
   WEST                CENTRAL             EAST                  AWARDS
1) Dodgers          1) Cardinals        1) Braves           MVP: Albert Pujols
2) Padres           2) Cubs             2) Phillies (WC)    CYA: Tim Hudson
3) Diamondbacks     3) Astros           3) Marlins          ROY: J.J. Hardy
4) Giants           4) Reds             4) Mets             MOY: Bobby Cox
5) Rockies          5) Brewers          5) Nationals
                    6) Pirates

The big news here is that I’m actually picking the Braves to win the NL East for once. This of course means that Atlanta’s run of consecutive division titles is sure to end this season. It’s going to be hard for the NL East to avoid being baseball’s most competitive division, as I could see Atlanta, Philadelphia, Florida or New York winning it, and I could also see no one in the division getting to 90 wins. On the other hand, the Nationals are going to have a very tough time winning 70 games. I love the Braves’ everyday lineup aside from the corner outfield spots, which also happen to be perhaps the two easiest positions to fill midseason. Andy Marte in left field and Ryan Langerhans in right field is what I’m thinking will happen by about June, and then they’ll be all set down the stretch. Plus, you know Leo Mazzone will have the pitching in good shape.

I’m going with the defending champs in a very weak NL West, because while I’m not in love with the Dodgers’ offseason, I don’t think the Padres did much to improve either. The Diamondbacks will be much better, but they started with a 111-loss team, and I think the Giants are going to completely fall apart this year unless Barry Bonds returns very early. In the NL Central, I see no reason to pick against the NL’s best team from last season. The Cardinals won’t win 105 games again, but the Cubs have plenty of question marks and the Astros got worse over the offseason. The Wild Card race should be very interesting, because there are quite a few teams, including nearly all of the NL East, that figure to be around 85 wins at the end of the year.

If Albert Pujols were in the AL, he’d be going for his third or fourth MVP already, but instead he’ll have to settle for winning his first in a season where the reigning MVP is injured. The NL Cy Young race is wide open, but I like Tim Hudson, I like Atlanta’s defense, I like Mazzone, and I like the chances of the Braves scoring some runs. I could go with one of the Colorado rookies — J.D. Closser, Garrett Atkins, Clint Barmes — for NL Rookie of the Year, but I’m not sure anyone will vote for them unless they hit .330. So instead I’ll take J.J. Hardy, who figures to play every day at a defensive position and put up a decent batting average, which will be enough for voters. My Manager of the Year is Bobby Cox, who will probably be screwed out of winning the award because a) he won it last season, and b) he does a great job every year.

POSTSEASON
 
AMERICAN LEAGUE               NATIONAL LEAGUE               WORLD SERIES
Red Sox over A's              Cardinals over Phillies       Red Sox over Braves
Yankees over Twins            Braves over Dodgers
Red Sox over Yankees          Braves over Cardinals

Yeah, that’s right, twice in 87 years.

And finally, 50 completely random predictions …

1) Ken Griffey Jr. will not stay healthy.

2) Austin Kearns will.

3) Johan Santana will lead the American League in wins, ERA, and strikeouts.

4) Jason Giambi will increase his OPS by 200 points.

5) Melvin Mora‘s deal with the devil will continue.

6) Brandon Inge‘s will not.

7) Mark Mulder‘s struggles from the second half of last season will continue.

8) Hee Seop Choi will be one of the top 10 first basemen in baseball.

9) Eric Milton will be out-pitched by Carlos Silva for the second straight season.

10) Francisco Rodriguez will be the best closer in baseball.

11) Andruw Jones will once again fail to have that “breakout year” everyone keeps waiting for.

12) Mike Cameron will be traded.

13) Ryan Howard too.

14) Shingo Takatsu‘s ERA will double.

15) So will Danny Kolb‘s strikeout rate.

16) Derek Jeter will lead baseball in runs scored.

17) Carlos Beltran will have a great year, yet still be seen as a disappointment.

18) Carlos Lee will be 30 runs better than Scott Podsednik offensively.

19) Scott Kazmir will be better than Victor Zambrano.

20) Troy Percival will have an ERA over 4.00 for just the second time in his career.

21) Zack Greinke will give up more home runs than walks.

22) Dan Johnson will be a starting first baseman somewhere by the All-Star break.

23) Jaret Wright and Carl Pavano will combine for an ERA over 4.50.

24) Jason Bartlett will out-hit Cristian Guzman.

25) Brad Lidge will spend a full season as Houston’s closer, yet his workload will go down.

26) The batting averages of Garrett Atkins, Clint Barmes, and J.D. Closser will all be at least .280.

27) So will the opponent’s batting average of Jeff Francis.

28) Justin Morneau will be the first Minnesota hitter since 1987 with 30 or more homers in a season.

29) John Buck, Ruben Gotay, David DeJesus, Calvin Pickering, and Mark Teahen will all have good years, but Kansas City’s pitching will be too horrible for anyone to notice.

30) Darin Erstad‘s on-base percentage in the majors will be lower than Casey Kotchman‘s batting average at Triple-A.

31) Sammy Sosa will slug below .500 for the first time since 1997.

32) Lew Ford will both continue to hit and not receive any credit for doing so.

33) Jeremy Bonderman will make his first All-Star team.

34) Josh Beckett will finally throw 200 innings.

35) Chad Cordero will save 40% of Washington’s wins.

36) Cliff Lee will be Cleveland’s best starting pitcher.

37) Vinny Castilla will suddenly forget how to hit now that he’s away from Coors Field again.

38) Barry Bonds will still lead baseball in walks.

39) Despite all their spring talk about running, the Blue Jays will rank ahead of only the A’s in AL stolen bases.

40) No one on the Rangers will win more than 12 games.

41) Dallas McPherson will have more home runs while playing third base than Troy Glaus.

42) Joe Mauer will be the best catcher in baseball.

43) Danny Graves will lose his closer job by midseason.

44) So will Jose Mesa.

45) All the people who wrote the A’s off will either conveniently forget they did so or come up with a reason why what the A’s did this year wasn’t because of the same “Moneyball” tactics they’ve been harping against.

46) Adrian Beltre will out-homer Jose Valentin, but just barely.

47) Alfonso Soriano will be traded or moved to the outfield by midseason.

48) People will get sick of viewing the Red Sox as underdogs now that they are actually winning with their massive payroll.

49) The Los Angeles media will continue to treat Paul DePodesta like dirt as the Dodgers win the division for the second time in his two years on the job (and the second time in the last decade).

50) At least half of these predictions will look awful within a month.

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