Sometimes baseball throws you a bone. It is fairly easy to predict that Craig Biggio, health willing, is going to eclipse 3,000 hits this season, and that unless he gets hauled into court first, Barry Bonds will hit his 756th home run.
Milestones tend to set themselves up that way. Trying to prognosticate an entire season for 750 players, however, starts to get sticky.
No one knows whether voters are going to start considering the designated hitter for MVP – and if the best candidate might not be David Ortiz. Who can say how many wins Daisuke Matsuzaka will have, how many home runs Ryan Howard will slug, how many times Adam Dunn will swing and miss through a third strike? How can you possibly choose an American League Rookie of the Year from a crop that includes Matsuzaka, Alex Gordon and Delmon Young? Or a National League batting champion among Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Todd Helton?
Perhaps Helton is a better choice as Comeback Player of the Year, though Derrek Lee fits there, too. Maybe he'll win a home run title. At least a dozen AL players could supplant Ortiz.
And that's the beauty of all these names and the forecasts that follow. They spur discussion. They excite us. They personify fun.
Simply, they're baseball.
|Category||Jeff Passan||Tim Brown||Mark Pesavento|
|AL MVP||Travis Hafner, Cleveland||Paul Konerko, Chicago||Joe Mauer, Minnesota|
|Darkhorse||Hideki Matsui, New York||Michael Young, Texas||Jermaine Dye, Chicago|
|NL MVP||Albert Pujols, St. Louis||Albert Pujols, St. Louis||Lance Berkman, Houston|
|Darkhorse||Barry Bonds, San Francisco||Andruw Jones, Atlanta||Derrek Lee, Chicago|
|AL Cy Young||Johan Santana, Minnesota||Johan Santana, Minnesota||Johan Santana, Minnesota|
|Darkhorse||Erik Bedard, Baltimore||C.C. Sabathia, Cleveland||John Lackey, Los Angeles|
|NL Cy Young||Jake Peavy, San Diego||Chris Carpenter, St. Louis||Chris Young, San Diego|
|Darkhorse||Chris Young, San Diego||Cole Hamels, Philadelphia||Matt Cain, San Francisco|
|AL Rookie of the Year||Daisuke Matsuzaka, Boston||Delmon Young, Tampa Bay||Daisuke Matsuzaka, Boston|
|Darkhorse||Adam Miller, Cleveland||Akinori Iwamura, Tampa Bay||Brandon Wood, Los Angeles|
|NL Rookie of the Year||Tim Lincecum, San Francisco||Kevin Kouzmanoff, San Diego||Homer Bailey, Cincinnati|
|Darkhorse||Ryan Braun, Milwaukee||Hunter Pence, Houston||Hunter Pence, Houston|
|AL home run leader||Alex Rodriguez, New York||David Ortiz, Boston||David Ortiz, Boston|
|Darkhorse||Nick Swisher, Oakland||Troy Glaus, Toronto||Mark Teixeira, Texas|
|NL home run leader||Ryan Howard, Philadelphia||Albert Pujols, St. Louis||Albert Pujols, St. Louis|
|Darkhorse||Prince Fielder, Milwaukee||Adam LaRoche, Pittsburgh||Matt Holliday, Colorado|
|AL batting champion||Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle||Miguel Tejada, Baltimore||Justin Morneau, Minnesota|
|Darkhorse||Howie Kendrick, Los Angeles||Bobby Abreu, New York||Carlos Guillen, Detroit|
|NL batting champion||Albert Pujols, St. Louis||Miguel Cabrera, Florida||Miguel Cabrera, Florida|
|Darkhorse||Brian McCann, Atlanta||Derrek Lee, Chicago||Garrett Atkins, Colorado|
|AL MVP-in-waiting||Alex Gordon, Kansas City||Joe Mauer, Minnesota||Delmon Young, Tampa Bay|
|NL MVP-in-waiting||Ryan Zimmerman, Washington||Chase Utley, Philadelphia||Jose Reyes, New York|
|AL Cy Young-in-waiting||Dan Haren, Oakland||John Lackey, Los Angeles||Jered Weaver, Los Angeles|
|NL Cy Young-in-waiting||Matt Cain, San Francisco||Carlos Zambrano, Chicago||Homer Bailey, Cincinnati|
|AL comeback player||Jhonny Peralta, Cleveland||Darin Erstad, Chicago||Rich Harden, Oakland|
|NL comeback player||Todd Helton, Colorado||Derrek Lee, Chicago||Josh Hamilton, Cincinnati|
|AL breakout hitter||Nick Markakis, Baltimore||Howie Kendrick, Los Angeles||Mark Teahen, Kansas City|
|NL breakout hitter||Stephen Drew, Arizona||Adrian Gonzalez, San Diego||Prince Fielder, Milwaukee|
|AL breakout pitcher||Felix Hernandez, Seattle||Felix Hernandez, Seattle||Erik Bedard, Baltimore|
|NL breakout pitcher||Adam Wainwright, St. Louis||Matt Capps, Pittsburgh||Chris Young, San Diego|
|First manager fired||Mike Hargrove, Seattle||Clint Hurdle, Colorado||Jim Tracy, Pittsburgh|
|First GM fired||Bill Bavasi, Seattle||Jim Bowden, Washington||Bill Bavasi, Seattle|
|Clemens-O-Meter||99.9% returns||99.44% returns||100% returns|
|Howard home runs||56||50||47|
|Adam Dunn strikeouts||165||196||180|
|Lou Piniella ejections||4||6||6|
|Date Bonds hits 756||Aug. 19, 2007||Sept. 28, 2007 – at Los Angeles||April 8, 2008|
|Biggest free-agent contract||Andruw Jones – seven years, $140 million||Alex Rodriguez – seven years, $145||Carlos Zambrano – six years, $126 million|
JEFF PASSAN'S PREDICTED STANDINGS
As much as the Braves like to make of their 14 consecutive division championships, the Yankees are at nine and counting in a far tougher AL East. Making it to double digits won't be easy, not with a Boston rotation that features the dynamic Daisuke Matsuzaka as their No. 3 starter. The Red Sox go equally deep in their lineup, and if their bullpen shores up, they're the best team in baseball. Toronto hasn't done much to improve, and Baltimore and Tampa Bay both rely on young pitching staffs that don't throw enough strikes to succeed in the East. It's a two-team race again – the best kind.
|1.||Boston Red Sox||98-64|
|2.||New York Yankees||92-70|
|3.||Toronto Blue Jays||83-79|
|5.||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||70-92|
Baseball's best division could go any of four ways, though with Chicago's core aging, Minnesota's rotation in flux and Detroit due for an inevitable post-World Series letdown, the talented young Cleveland team – unsure bullpen and all – is ready to grab the crown. Detroit has gotten better with Gary Sheffield, but remember that the Tigers went 40-41 over the second half last season. In Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer, the Twins have the best 3M the state has seen since Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing opened in 1902. As for the Royals … well, at least they won't lose 100.
|4.||Chicago White Sox||78-84|
|5.||Kansas City Royals||64-98|
If Jered Weaver's arm is OK and Bartolo Colon returns from rotator-cuff surgery, Los Angeles has five starters with No. 1 stuff. If Rich Harden and Bobby Crosby stay healthy, Oakland contends. If Sammy Sosa hits and Texas' pitching staff can limit home runs, the Rangers are a threat. If Seattle gets performance commensurate to payment from Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson, a Cy Young year from Felix Hernandez, steady starts from free-agent signings Jeff Weaver and Miguel Batista – actually, that's probably a little too much to ask for. Point is, the West is full of ifs, and the division will break on them.
|1.||Los Angeles Angels||90-72|
Jimmy Rollins got it right. Philadelphia is the team to beat in the East – and maybe in the entire NL. The only worry is the bullpen, though the Mets, with Duaner Sanchez out until August, all of a sudden have concerns there, too. And that's small beans compared to the Mets' patchwork rotation, which need only keep them in games, because the offense remains prolific. Atlanta will be ready to contend again in 2008, Florida will dearly miss Joe Girardi and if Washington manages to avoid 100 losses, we officially nominate Manny Acta as manager of the year.
|2.||New York Mets||87-75|
Last year, this division was an embarrassment down the stretch, with St. Louis nearly gagging a double-digit lead. Of course, the Cardinals redeemed themselves plenty with a World Series win, and it's that experience that makes them the favorite this year. Though not by much. Milwaukee brings a healthy Ben Sheets to top the division's best rotation and Chicago brings $300 million in new contracts to the party. Houston, with a second-division rotation for the first time in years, should finish down there, and Cincinnati has neither the pitching nor the bullpen to match its surprising run last year. Pittsburgh is an interesting case – improved lineup, young starters and decent bullpen. It just seems like something is missing. Sounds a lot, in fact, like the whole division.
|1.||St. Louis Cardinals||85-77|
A lot like the AL Central in its depth and only a notch below in talent, the NL West throws the greatest array of starting pitching in the game. The lineups will do the wheat-and-chaff work, and the Dodgers', though lacking a true power bat, is deep enough if Rafael Furcal can get healthy and Nomar Garciaparra can stay that way.
|1.||Los Angeles Dodgers||92-70|
|3.||San Diego Padres||85-77|
|4.||San Francisco Giants||81-81|
First round: Red Sox over Angels; Indians over Yankees; Phillies over Cardinals; Dodgers over Mets
ALCS: Red Sox over Indians
NLCS: Dodgers over Phillies
World Series: Red Sox over Dodgers
TIM BROWN'S PREDICTED STANDINGS
The last time Alex Rodriguez played in a contract year (2000), he hit 41 home runs, drove in 132 runs, batted .316 and finished third in the AL MVP voting. By chance, future teammate Jason Giambi was the AL MVP that season and future former best friend Derek Jeter finished 10th. I'm just saying. It took most of spring training, but the Red Sox made the sensible decision and allowed Jonathan Papelbon back into the ninth inning, meaning it'll be possible to breathe again at Fenway Park after "Sweet Caroline".
|1.||New York Yankees||98-64|
|2.||Boston Red Sox||96-66|
|3.||Toronto Blue Jays||85-77|
|5.||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||70-92|
Not only did the Tigers put Gary Sheffield in the middle of their order, but they still have the best pitching staff in baseball, meaning they should survive the Central gauntlet. Slight one-season declines in Chicago and Minnesota based on starting pitching help bring back the Indians, assuming their starters recover from their various abdominal issues (Cliff Lee, strain; C.C. Sabathia, excessive) and everybody else catches the ball.
|3.||Chicago White Sox||85-77|
|5.||Kansas City Royals||65-97|
"Stuff" guys John Lackey and Ervin Santana, general starting depth and back-end bullpen will get the Angels through the early weeks without Jered Weaver and the possible extended absence of Bartolo Colon. They'll also benefit from a rejuvenated Garret Anderson behind Vladimir Guerrero. The rest of the division – even the Mariners – should hang close before falling away in September, unable to match the Angels' pitching.
|1.||Los Angeles Angels||89-73|
I'm betting here on Mets GM Omar Minaya recognizing the need for at least another starter, and that's assuming a passable rookie year from Mike Pelfrey, and maybe a reliever, given the Duaner Sanchez injury. Minaya has the stomach and the parts – Lastings Milledge and Phil Humber, to name two – to add a pitcher at the trading deadline, which is about the time Pedro Martinez is expected back. Granted, it's dicey, and Phillies GM Pat Gillick is perhaps as likely to make a move for a reliever, if that still looks like a trouble spot come July. They could just slug it out for six months and then see who is left standing.
|1.||New York Mets||91-71|
The Astros get the call based on their acquisition of Carlos Lee, their rotation being the most likely landing place for Roger Clemens, and the back-of-the-bullpen potential. The Brewers could have the best rotation in the division, but had trouble scoring runs with Lee in the lineup, which makes it a two-Lee swing for the Astros. The usual MVP-type season from Albert Pujols gives the Cardinals hope, as does a nice spring by Adam Wainwright, and the Cubs will come a long way back from 96 losses, but not all the way. Cool stat: The Pirates won 37 of their final 72 games last season despite scoring the fewest runs in the league during that period. Their pitching is coming.
|2.||St. Louis Cardinals||81-81|
Brad Penny had a disastrous second half, was cast into the bullpen in the playoffs and then had the pitching-poor franchises calling about him most of the winter. And, yet, he still won 16 games, then lost weight in the offseason and returned to Vero Beach with an improved attitude. He is the pivotal guy in the division, because he would give the Dodgers a third 200-inning-type starter with potentially dominant stuff. The Padres could challenge them with Jake Peavy, Chris Young, Clay Hensley, Greg Maddux and David Wells, but the Giants fall off after Barry Zito and Matt Cain, and neither scored with the Dodgers in 2007. The Diamondbacks have too many youngsters in critical positions to be anything but a year away.
|1.||Los Angeles Dodgers||89-73|
|2.||San Diego Padres||81-81|
|4.||San Francisco Giants||76-86|
First round: Tigers over Red Sox; Angels over Yankees; Dodgers over Phillies; Mets over Astros.
ALCS: Tigers over Angels
NLCS: Dodgers over Mets
World Series: Tigers over Dodgers