Gazing into the crystal ball

Jeff Passan
Yahoo! Sports

Division Predictions: AL East | AL Central | AL West | NL East | NL Central | NL West

Predictions are like pink shirts: At first, you're convinced they look great, and then, a couple months down the road, you wonder what, exactly, you were thinking.

Well, here's one man's closetful for the 2006 season.

AL MVP: David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox – So last season wasn't convincing enough, huh? Twenty home runs that tied the game or gave the Red Sox a lead. Dozens more important hits. The fact that he's a DH doesn't take away from a more important one: Without him, the Red Sox wouldn't be playoff contenders.

NL MVP: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals – For two reasons. First, while we know Barry Bonds is capable of MVP seasons when he's not using steroids, no one can say if he is as a 42-year-old. Second, and more important, Pujols is the steadiest hitter since Joe DiMaggio, who won three MVPs.

AL Cy Young: Johan Santana, Minnesota Twins – He should have won his second consecutive Cy Young last season after going 9-2 with a 1.59 ERA after the All-Star break.Whatever. At 26, Santana's got plenty of time to win trophies.

NL Cy Young: Roy Oswalt, Houston Astros – In all four of Oswalt's healthy seasons, he has finished in the top five of Cy Young voting. If he books his third consecutive 20-win season, it might be tough to deny Oswalt the top spot.

AL Rookie of the Year: Francisco Liriano, Twins – Baseball's best pitching prospect showed during the World Baseball Classic why he generates comparisons to Santana. He's left-handed and has a better fastball and slider than his teammate. Only question is whether he'll make the rotation out of spring training or be up in May.

NL Rookie of the Year: Jeremy Hermida, Florida Marlins – If you're the kind who believes in foreshadowing, Hermida's first major-league at-bat – a grand slam – portends quite a career for the 22-year-old who also walked 111 times in 118 minor-league games last season.

AL home run leader: Ortiz – Between the short porch in right field and the Green Monster in left, Fenway Park accommodates Ortiz's propensity to hit towering fly balls that would be outs in most parks. He's a good bet to reach 50 for the first time in his career.

NL home run leader: Adam Dunn, Cincinnati Reds – Over the last two seasons, no one in the National League hit more home runs than Dunn, who hammered 86. Another advantage: Dunn plays in Great American Ball Park, which needs to add For Hitting Home Runs to the end of its name.

AL batting champion: Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners – Most ballplayers wish they could have an off year like Ichiro did in 2005. He had 206 hits, but his batting average was a career-low .303. Even though the Mariners will struggle, Ichiro comes off a superlative World Baseball Classic ready for his third batting title.

NL batting champion: Pujols – Among active players, Pujols' .332 career average is second. And the fascinating part is that he manages to keep it there without sacrificing his power. His slugging percentage of .621 is tops among his peers.

AL MVP-in-waiting: Grady Sizemore, Cleveland Indians – Fast enough to hit leadoff, smart enough to hit third, strong enough to hit cleanup – stick Sizemore anywhere and he'll succeed. He plays a mean center field, too. And the scary part: He doesn't turn 24 until August.

NL MVP-in-waiting: David Wright, New York Mets – In Wright's first full season, he drove in more than 100 runs and got on base almost 40 percent of the time. He also was not arrested, which is a good thing but seems a prerequisite for successful, young Mets.

AL Cy Young-in-waiting: Josh Beckett, Boston Red Sox – Yeah, we saw the 2004 playoffs. Yeah, he was really, really good. Now let's see him stay healthy and do it for more than 178 2/3 innings, the career high he set last year.

NL Cy Young-in-waiting: Carlos Zambrano, Chicago Cubs – He showed better control of his pitches last season, hitting eight batters as opposed to 20 in 2004. If Zambrano can harness his emotions, too, he will be one of the five best pitchers in the game.

First manager fired: Dusty Baker, Cubs – If Baker gets canned, does he knock on Steve Bartman's door and ask for unemployment? Just asking.

First GM fired: Jim Bowden, Washington Nationals – Although his contract was just extended to the end of the season, Bowden's tenure is at the whim of the Nationals' new owner. And new owners generally pick their own management. Other candidates include the Cubs' Jim Hendry, the Royals' Allard Baird and the Rockies' Dan O'Dowd.

Comeback player of the year: Milton Bradley, Oakland Athletics – So, Bradley wore a green wig in center field on St. Patrick's Day, huh? Maybe the A's clubhouse really is pixie dust for malcontents. If it means he can play a full season without emotional problems sidelining him, the place really is Narnia.

Breakout hitter: David DeJesus, Kansas City Royals – Injuries have limited DeJesus, who took over in center field for the Royals when Carlos Beltran was traded. The Royals, usually tight with their money, gave DeJesus a five-year, $13.8 million deal anyway, and they should get a .300 average, 15 home runs and Gold Glove-caliber defense for it.

Breakout pitcher: Aaron Cook, Colorado Rockies – Of all the pitchers to break the curse of Coors Field, the likeliest spent most of last year on the disabled list battling blood clots. Once Cook's dissipated, he went 7-2 with a 3.67 ERA on the strength of a sinker that is one of the National League's best.

Clemens-O-Meter: 30 percent – The solace we take out of tracking the likelihood of Roger Clemens' return is that the answer will never be zero. When the man is 65 there will still be speculation of whether he'll be back to help the Yankees for the pennant drive.

On the spot: Bud Selig – The World Baseball Classic was a success. Revenues and ticket sales are up. With those stabilized come two issues that, if handled poorly, could tear down all the good will Selig has built up: How will he handle the steroid fallout from the Barry Bonds books, and will there be labor peace when the collective-bargaining agreement expires in December?


First round
• White Sox over the A's in four
• Indians over the Yankees in five
• Braves over the Cardinals in four
• Astros over the Dodgers in four

Championship Series
• White Sox over the Indians in seven
• Braves over the Astros in six

World Series
• Braves over the White Sox in six

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