10 GUARANTEES* for 2003...
1. The Chicago Cubs WILL make the playoffs:
If you had to pick one person to be stranded in the middle of the desert with, it would have to be Dusty Baker - this
guy could squeeze water out of a rock. Nobody gets more out of his players than Baker. The fact that the Giants
were just one appearance by the Rally Monkey away from winning the World Series should not be underestimated; the team lacked
a true number one starter and, sans Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent, had a mediocre lineup.
With the Cubs, Baker possesses two potential aces in Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, a Bonds-like presence in his lineup
- Sammy Sosa, a dynamic young CF in Corey Patterson, and several exciting, young prospects (1B Hee Sop Choi, 2B Bobby Hill,
etc.). Given all of that combined with the fact that Moises Alou can't possibly play any worse than he did in '02 (.275,
15 HR, 61 RBI), the Cubs have a nucleus and should contend in the NL Central.
2. Barry Bonds WILL hit .400:
Barry Bonds is Ted Williams - he's moody, he's arrogant, he hits for average, he hits for power, possesses
an impeccable batting eye, etc. He's the best and he knows it. In 2002, Bonds hit a career high .370 and won his
first batting title. And he seems to improve his technique at the plate every year. .400 seems like an untouchable
mark, but so did 70 home runs. Bonds can do it. Watch out! Here comes the greatest hitter that ever lived.
3. The Minnesota Twins WILL repeat
as AL Central Champs:
While the Chicago White Sox were making headline-grabbing moves, acquiring
ace Bartolo Colon and closer Billy Koch, the Twins stood pat. The Sox have become the trendy pick in the AL Central,
but it won't happen. The Twins won 94 games last season despite off years from their entire infield: 1B Doug Mientkiewicz
(.261), 2B Luis Rivas (93 games), SS Cristian Guzman (.292 OBP), 3B Corey Koskie (15 HR). The pitching staff that was riddled
with injuries, as their big three, Brad Radke, Eric Milton, and Joe Mays, all spent significant time on the DL.
The Twins can't expect repeat performances from Rick Reed (15 wins) or Latroy Hawkins (2.13
ERA), but they can count on better performances from their infield and a healthier starting staff. In addition, the
team is loaded with young players like Johan Santana, Bobby Kielty, Michael Cuddyer, and Kyle Lohse that are on the verge
of becoming stars. The Twins are still the top dog in the AL Central.
4. The Atlanta Braves run in the NL East WILL end:
Like that zit on your nose in high school, the Atlanta Braves will not go away. Winners of eleven straight division
crowns, the Braves have became synonymous with post season disappointment. Thankfully for all involved it will finally
end this season. The Braves lost their two best pitchers of 2002, Tom Glavine and Kevin Millwood, to division rivals
and replaced them with the inconsistent Paul Byrd (win totals over the past four years: 15, 2, 6, 17) and the struggling,
washed up Mike Hampton. At the same time, Greg Maddux is slowing down, the bullpen pitched way over it's head in '02,
and Damian Moss, the team's top young arm, was dealt to San Francisco for the dependable, but unspectacular Russ Ortiz.
Meanwhile the Philadelphia Phillies have re-tooled, adding slugger Jim Thome and Millwood to
their young nucleus. In addition to Thome, their lineup includes emerging superstar Pat Burrell, the underrated Bobby
Abreu, the electric Jimmy Rollins, and exciting rookie Marlon Byrd. Their rotation is also rock solid with Millwood,
All Star Vincente Padilla, the solid Randy Wolf, and emerging youngsters Brandon Duckworth and Brett Myers. With the
talented, young Expos also members of their division, the Braves could slip all the way down to third place.
5. The Montreal Expos WILL win more games than the New York
It happened last year, it will happen again this season: the over-the-hill,
over hyped, overpaid Mets will embarrass, underachieve and disappoint. Meanwhile Bud Selig's redheaded stepchildren,
the Expos, will put an exciting, winning team on the field. How about jettisoning the Mets to Montreal and letting the
'Spos play in front of large crowds in the Big Apple?
Ken Griffey Jr. WILL return to form:
Griffey's three years in Cincinnati have
been nothing short of a nightmare. His stock has fallen so far that the Reds offered him to San Diego, straight up,
for Phil Nevin. Things will turn around for Junior this year. After rededicating himself with a rigorous
off season work out routine, he's finally healthy - plus, he is just too talented not to succeed.
Having Ken Griffey Jr. at the top of his game is good for the sport. When he's at his
best there isn't a more exciting athlete in the world. Griffey will prove to the Reds that sometimes the best trades
are the ones you don't make.
7. Roger Clemens WILL win his 300th
Clemens enters the season with 293 victories, so we are hardly going
out on a limb. The feat does deserve special attention, however, because it hasn't been done since 1990. We should
enjoy it while we can because, other than Clemens, only Greg Maddux (273 wins entering 2003) and Tom Glavine (242 career victories)
have a realistic chance of reaching the milestone.
By contrast the 500
home run mark, the slugger's equivalent to 300 wins, has been reached twice since 1999 (McGwire, Bonds) and should be
eclipsed four more times this season (Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Fred McGriff, and Griffey).
8. George Steinbrenner WILL melt down:
The Yankees haven't won a World Series since 2000, which to George Steinbrenner seems like 1918. He is impatient,
very impatient. After a "disappointing" 103 win season, the Boss stuck his nose up at the luxury tax and opened the
vault for Japanese Slugger Hideki Matsui and Cuban ace Jose Contreras - two players with no big league experience. Those
two unproven commodities, Matsui in particular, will bring hordes of media to the Bronx - as if they needed that.
Steinbrenner decided to begin spring training by questioning the desire of Mr. Yankee, Derek
Jeter and turning up the heat on Joe Torre. That's just the beginning. If Matsui and Contreras don't live up to
the hype and Clemens and or Wells break down it could be a trying season for the "Evil Empire." The Yankees pay roll
is approaching $150 million, so you know the Boss doesn't just expect results, he demands them. Stay tuned.....
9. Alex Rodriguez WILL break Roger Maris' AL home run mark:
While National Leaguers McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds have blown it away
in the past five years, no American Leaguer has been able to break Roger Maris single season mark of 61 home runs.
Look for that to change this year. After hitting 57 last season without a healthy, productive Juan Gonzalez protecting
him in the lineup, the sky is the limit for A-Rod in 2003.
10. Rickey Henderson WILL play this season:
Rickey Henderson's demise has been greatly exaggerated. While many have written off the all time leader in runs,
walks, and steals, you can bet that some GM will give the 44 year old call this season. While his skills have clearly
diminished, Henderson is still a valuable bench player. He understands the in the subtle nuances of the game, can still
work a pitcher, get on base, and mentor young players. Henderson would be an excellent pinch hitter/runner for an NL
*not a guarantee.
The editor accepts no responsibility to the above statements that do not turn out to be true.
Simply Baseball Notebook