After a tumultuous off-season followed by a preseason that included the World Baseball Classic, Major League baseball is off to an exciting start.
The World Champion White Sox have done nothing but get better since their 2005 campaign. They have gotten rid of a few noisy veterans like Frank Thomas and Orlando Hernandez. The only real problem the White Sox had last year was that they lacked a bat that could drive in runs, and they got what the needed in Jim Thome. Thome hits one home run every 13.8 at bats, a number that only Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Babe Ruth have bettered. If Thome can stay healthy and the White Sox can continue to have successful pitching expect them in the postseason.
Although the Angels or the Athletics are expected to dominate the West, the Mariners have some excellent additions to watch. The most exciting is Felix Hernandez, the top pitching prospect of the last 20 years. At age fourteen, Hernandez, had an upper-80s fastball and a dirty curveball leaving heads spinning. He will be a great but the M’s are treating their soon-to-be ace very carefully, hoping to avoid a Tommy Johns surgery in the next five years. Like so many other young pitchers, blown labrums and torn rotator cuffs are the disease that haunts teams pushing their star to far.
Another fantastic addition is Kenji Johjima, a star Japanese catcher that is a rookie at age 30. He is expected to hit a little over .300, hit 25 homers and have a 65 percent snagging base stealers. Johjima has already had two jacks very early in the season and should be a great find for the M’s.
The L.A. Dodgers in the NL West have had an interesting off-season signing Nomar Garciaparra, Rafael Furcal, Kenny Lofton and Bill Mueller to upgrade on both defense and offense. They will edge out a San Fran team hoping to return to glory and a lackluster San Diego team. If Bonds doesn’t get distracted by the steroid investigation and has an MVP-like season then don’t be surprised to see the Giants have some success.
An exciting division will be the NL East. It’s almost a toss-up between the new Mets and the same old Braves. The New York Mets have added Carlos Delgado, Xavier Nady and Paul Lo Duca and a brand-new bullpen that includes star closer Billy Wagner. The Mets will depend on their veteran pitching combined with a few youngsters.
The Braves only big off-season move was picking up shortstop Edgar Renteria to get a better bat and defense. John Smoltz and Tim Hudson should get solid numbers, but will it be enough for the division title? The Mets will finally be able to get over the hump and send Smoltz and his crew packing back to Atlanta. The Mets won’t last long in the playoffs but they will be the regular season winners.
Finally, there is the most popular division, the AL East. It features the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays, and the Devil Rays. The Yankees will have problems but should be able to push into the postseason. The 200-million-plus team will get themselves past the Red Sox and win their division. The Yanks filled up their only gap in center field with Johnny Damon and moved Bernie Williams to DH. This team looks tough and on paper should not lose a single game.
The Red Sox aren’t going to struggle immensely but will battle a loaded Toronto Blue Jay team that could edge the Sox to third in the East. With additions like Troy Glaus, Lyle Overbay, and pitchers A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan the Jays could be great.
In the 2006 World Series the White Sox will face the Cardinals and will win in seven games. It comes down to pitching in the postseason and the Sox have an extremely formidable pitching staff. Three of Chicago’s star pitchers had 15 or more wins in last years season. The Cards’ great offense and solid pitching will get them into the series but they won’t be able to compete with the strong White Sox team.