Josh Beckett became a hero with one swoop of a glove. On October 25, during game six of the 2003 World Series. Beckett fielded a ball on the first base line, and tagged out New York’s Jorge Posada, giving the Marlins their second world championship. Five months after the improbable, I give you a word of advice: do not expect the same thing in 2004.
Here is a look at the lay of the land in Major League Baseball as we rapidly approach opening day.
AL East: Predicted order of finish – 1. New York, 2. Boston 3, Toronto 4, Baltimore 5. Tampa Bay
The American League East will once again be a two-team race. The Yankees and Red Sox follow up their epic seven game ALCS with a race for the ages.
In New York, a trade for three-time AL MVP Alex Rodriguez, coupled by the signing of all-star Gary Sheffield, sets up a spectacular Yankee lineup with just about every starter having a shot for the All Star Game. Boston will counter with new pitcher Curt Schilling, a perennial Cy Young candidate, as well as Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra. While Baltimore and Toronto appear to be rapidly improving, the race will fall between the Yanks and the Sox. Lou Pinella isn’t enough for Tampa as the patience of most gulf-coasters is wearing thin.
AL Central: Predicted order of finish: 1. Minnesota, 2. Chicago 3, Detroit 4, Kansas City, 5. Cleveland
Ron Gardenhire has the Twins exactly where he wants them, and Minnesota should easily win its third straight Central Division pennant. The Sox, under new manager Ozzie Guillen, will have to rely on the little they have in order to make another pennant run. Detroit, who lost 119 games in 2003, will make a strong run toward respectability with the acquisition of Series-winning catcher Pudge Rodriguez. After the acquistion of Juan Gonzalez, the Royals should be improved on offense, but it shouldn’t be enough to hang with the rest of the division. Cleveland has nothing, and with Detroit expected to greatly improve, look for Cleveland to run bust this year.
AL West: Predicted order of finish: 1. Oakland, 2. Seattle, 3. Anaheim, 4. Texas
The fruits of labor will finally shine on Oakland, and other offseason acquisitions will give them their fourth division title this decade.
Seattle should lag behind don’t expect them to lead the West in any time. Anaheim will rely on Vladimir Guerrero to stay in the middleof the pack. Texas could surprise people without A-Rod, but don’t count on it.
NL East: Predicted order of finish: 1. Atlanta, 2. Philadelphia, 3. Montreal, 4. Florida, 5. NY Mets
Atlanta will win its 14th straight division title – enough said. Philadelphia is going to be a major contender, and should clinch the wild card. Wow, I didn’t even know the Expos were still in Montreal! The only thing going for Florida is Jack McKeon and Josh Beckett. The Mets are hopeless!
NL Central: Predicted order of finish: 1. Houston, 2. Chicago, 3. St. Louis, 4. Pittsburgh, 5. Milwaukee, 6. Cincinnati
Andy Pettite and Roger Clemens will skyrocket the Astros into the top of the NL… then again, so will the Cubs’ combination of Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and Greg Maddux. St. Louis will remain in the middle of the pack if Albert Pujols remains healthy. Pittsburgh and Milwaukee are finally starting to get their stuff together. I am ashamed to be a Reds fan! The way they are going, they have the capability of reaching the century mark in losses.
NL West: Predicted order of finish: 1. San Francisco, 2. Los Angeles, 3. San Diego, 4. Arizona, 5. Colorado
San Francisco’s main offense will once again come from the powerful Barry Bonds. L.A. still has the firepower to catch up with the Giants. San Diego will need to keep David Wells healthy to stay in it. Arizona is definitely losing its punch. Colorado is still a flat liner.
In the playoffs, the NL will have Atlanta, Houston, San Francisco and the Cubs or Phillies as the wildcard. The AL will have New York, Minnesota, Oakland and Boston. The Braves may pull off a shocker in the NL, while New York will advance in a washout.
In the end, it may very well be the Yankees overpowering everyone, AGAIN… to win the 2004 World Series.