| 2001 Major League Baseball Preview
by Mr. Ice Cream
|| Mr. Ice Cream - at 12:00 am on Friday March 30‚ 2001
|| UMagazine makes its annual predictions for the upcoming 2001 Major League Baseball season - and there should be a few last-minute surprises
|| In the three weeks its taken me to put this preview together, many things have happened in Major League Baseball, even aside from MLB.com charging for radio broadcasts and ever-escalating ticket prices. I have been looking forward to this season more than any in recent memory, but rather than it be out of a born-again love for the sport, I believe its because it just might be my last. Another severe work stoppage looms following this season (the 1994 strike all but ended my dreams to play in the majors); Baseball, the paradoxical corporation, has lost my respect and I'm sure of many others who just cannot afford to make players and owners any more money; America itself is falling apart.
Yet I remain optimistic and once again will make the most out of my life in its current state - that is to say, I will still let this season excite me like never before, because it might just be never again for me.
Here are the official UMagazine projections for the 2001 Major League Baseball season. Playoff contenders are featured more than teams that stand no chance.
American League Overview
Some more of the same in the 2001 AL crop, and certainly less likely for change in the next three years than the National League, but intriguing nonetheless. At what was first considered a Yankees-Red Sox battle to the North-American-Excluding-Mexico Series has now fizzled out and the emerging possibilities are quite intriguing.
1) New York Yankees
2) Toronto Blue Jays
3) Boston Red Sox
4) Tampa Bay Devil Rays
5) Baltimore Orioles
New York should steamroll through the season but Toronto might just be right there. The best team in baseball strengthened its rotation and solidified its future in the same offseason. Astronomers (the real space people, not those horoscope clowns) believe there is a 1 in 4,000,000,000 chance that an asteroid might hit Earth by the end of the summer. If you are a Red Sox fan, you will be running to your bookie to place those odds. There is also the slight possibility of age deteriorating half of their roster at once, but that would simply prompt George Steinbrenner to contract MLB himself and absorb either the Montreal Expos or the Minnesota Twins or both. But I don't think they will win the World Series this year...
The Blue Jays are one quality starter on top of their rotation of average starters away from turning some heads, that is, if their other above-average starters take one further step towards their potential. They have a potent offence, which is probably the class of the AL East, their bullpen is deep and deadly, and unlike other teams, their starters are not terrible. The Mets' Glendon Rusch could be the answer, they have a surplus of quality relievers and outfielders to barter, and there should be bright days ahead, at last, particularly if Gord Ash is fired just for fun. Although I figure Alex Gonzalez will have a career year, its likely that he won't, and that Tony Batista's 2000 statistics were an abberation. Chris Carpenter could win 18 games but then again he could lose 18.
At the beginning of Spring Training, the Boston Red Sox were my pick for the Wild Card and a sneaky World Series berth. On Opening Day, I can see them struggling to play .500. I figure they will have a horrible April, what with the selfishness of Carl Everett (who hit a homerun at Skydome in 1995 for the Mets in an exhibition to break up a no-hitter yet I caught my first ball ever...) and $160 million signing Manny Ramirez. Everett will be traded, manager Jimy Williams will be fired because Dan Duquette has hair problems, Nomar Garciaparra has wasted too much time deciding whether surgery is worthwhile, and their starting pitching is as much of a mess as the Blue Jays, Pedro aside. They won't be worse than third, but the best they could push for is the widely-expected second place and maybe a wildcard berth. Their bullpen should hold them together, and Pedro Martinez will win 20-22 games. They also have a solid offence and a loyal Ottawa follower, and when Nomar returns he should pick up the slack. However, with nearly 40 games against Toronto and New York this year, unless they do trade the unhappy Everett for pitching (say Seattle's Brett Tomko), this should be a surprising step backwards for the Bosox.
Along with Baltimore, Minnesota, Montreal and Philadelphia, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays make a strong case for a two-league relegation system. This team is simply not that good, not that interesting, and their bullpen is shocking. Old people live in Tampa Bay. What relevance does this have? Nothing! Just like the Rays will not be relevant this decade.
I just do not like the Orioles, I never have, Peter Angelos is as bad an owner as that other Maryland-based team in the NFL . However, now they have become the worst team in baseball... I have visions of their own record of 21 losses to begin the season. They lost their best player to an unfortunate retirement, Cal Ripken lives in Tampa Bay and they have few bright spots offensively, defensively, on the mound...
A two-team race with a decent battle for third-last place. The losers will feature heavily in late-season trades.
1) Cleveland Indians
2) Chicago White Sox
3) Kansas City Royals
4) Detroit Tigers
5) Minnesota Twins
The Cleveland Indians are still the best team in the Central Division, and it took a slightly-off-year last season to realise that they can't take things for granted anymore. They added Juan Gonzalez (who also had an off-year in 2000), Bartolo Colon is quickly becoming one of the best pitchers in baseball, and they remain a solid force to be reckoned with. They have most of their games against Central foes, meaning more Twins, Royals and Tigers. Their starting rotation is a little suspect, and their potent offense is nearing their golden years, but I still feel they're a short step ahead of the White Sox. The worst they could do is fall into a slump and settle for second, and maybe still a wild-card berth.
Last year's taste of success and the most promising future pitching staff in baseball could translate in a more moderate performance this season for the Chicago White Sox. Meaning that they will be good, but not spectacular enough to beat out Cleveland. They did acquire David Wells, but he is unpredictable and nearing his end, and only in today's pitching depleted league is he actually an ace. Royce Clayton upgrades shortstop, their pitching should be competitive, and Frank Thomas will make up for his earlier silliness by producing one last monster season in his career. Strong bullpen. Aside from the obvious assumption that they might even win the division, on the flipside, if Wells is done (wouldn't that be bittersweet for Toronto?), their pitching flops and they can't get out of the gate, they might find themselves sputtering with the awesome Minnesota Twins.
On the day before the season starts, the Kansas City Royals have jumped into third place for me. I've never liked hype (which will explain Oakland in a little while), and although its not been like sportswriters have been claiming a playoff race with the Royals involved, I think they are close, but not quite there yet. I projected them fourth under the expectation of Detroit having a surprising year, but they really should challenge for third all season. Their pitching is just not there, and their bullpen only improved slightly, very slightly, because of the Johnny Damon trade. In their best scenario, Chicago and Detroit have miserably disappointing years, and Kansas City plays to their full potential and rise into second place. They have a great nucleus of young and powerful bats, a mix of speed and should be able to produce runs. The bullpen might hold together well enough, but they need serious help with their rotation.
I don't think the Detroit Tigers are as bad as everybody else has made them out to be. Not to say they are anything special, but competing for third place with the stubborn Royals and AWESOME Minnesota might be an interesting race in itself. Their hitting is average and their pitching is average, they have few true stars, but Jeff Weaver might be finally on the cusp of very goodness. With a couple of pre-season injuries and some sagging self-confidence, the Tigers could even finish below the Twins in the Central this year. Do you think they miss Tiger Stadium? Jeff Weaver really needs to shine NOW.
Its the awesome Minnesota Twins! No power, averaging pitching, no money, they make me sad because they once were so much fun to watch. They do have players who would be excellent on other teams. Their young rotation continues to blossom, but maybe into good second or third starters. They have the lowest average ticket price in sports, which is understandable, but I don't know how they could lose any less than 90 games. They might be good three years from now.
The battle for second place will be interesting, as the Athletics are really the class of this division... for perhaps the last time.
1) Oakland Athletics
2) Seattle Mariners
3) Texas Rangers
4) Anaheim Angels
They are sleek, they are young, they have positive energy, and they are well-managed. They are the 21st Century Oakland Athletics. With a solid offense and evolving quality starters, they have the makings of the next big team - similar to their late-80s installment which I consider the best team I've ever seen. Now that they've added a little speed and their pitchers are a year older, I think they will take one step further towards the World Series (depending on the wildcard division), but still fall one step short. They aren't ready yet. Its a lot of pressure for such a young team. Again, I'm not into hype. Its also always a gamble banking on talented youngsters. The trade for Damon was excellent, but maybe shortlived as he is a free agent at the end of the year. The A's are small-market, they don't draw well, and with that looming over their heads and two decent teams ready to pounce, if they stutter at all, they could slip as far as third and the team could be pulled apart. Goodbye Damon, goodbye Tim Hudson, goodbye Art Howe. Their bullpen is a little dodgy too. Jason Isringhausen is a big factor. If they're going to be a top team they need a quality closer and he really needs to show some consistency and rise to the challenge.
The Seattle Mariners should be exciting in 2001, and were my original pick to win the West, but their offensive shortcomings and pitching question marks opened with some recent injuries might make this a struggle. Either way, I think Ichiro Suzuki is going to be fantastic. Oh, and who cares about people who don't want to be here, like A-Rod or Griffey. They will be just fine. As any team in the West except Anaheim could finish first or third, the possiblity remains that Seattle wins the division, and would then make the World Series. GM Pat Gillick has always something up his sleeve, and a move for somebody like Carl Everett or Jose Cruz could be the answer. Their pitching has the potential to hold out through the season and is arguably the best in the division, and if Oakland stutters, Seattle could surge at the end and never stop going... They won't win the World Series, however.
The Texas Rangers made the most noise in the offseason, signing Alex Rodriguez to a US$252 million contract, but the fact remains that their rotation has more holes than Dubya's empty campaign promises and their bullpen is decent at best. Eight battering bats is fine and all but ERAs of 8.00 negate that. Some of them are getting old, expectations are too high, and Seattle and Oakland are just one clear step ahead of them.
The Anaheim Angels aren't horrible, although their starting rotation - like many other MLB teams - is yukky. Yet another team with strong bats and an average bullpen, they are a class away from even the Rangers, but might be able to reload by trading stars for prospects if they fizzle out early. I don't dislike the Angels like the other Los Angeles-area team, but they have been boring of late.
National League Overview
We're really between eras. There are so many hot young teams ready to make an impact in 2002 and 2003 that the old firm (Braves, Cardinals, Mets, Astros) are on the verge of being replaced. This will be the last year of relative dominance for the eastern giants of the league, whilst the western Giants just keep surprising people.
1) Atlanta Braves
2) New York Mets
3) Florida Marlins
4) Montreal Expos
5) Philadelphia Phillies
With Florida almost ready to compete again, and the Phillies a stadium away from complimenting its talented young players, the Atlanta Braves are holding on to whatever greatness they still possess. They do have a dominant rotation, but it has shown signs of falling apart with both age and high expectations. They do have one of the deeper farm systems, but the crossroads will be messy once this year is done. Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine should be fantastic, the bullpen could either be unbeatable or a joke, and their lineup is solid.
The New York Mets are basically the same team that made the World Series last year. I never thought Mike Hampton was that great, and they should do fine without him. Their lineup could be shakey, but while I think the Mets will be better than many people predict for this year, they still will fall a step behind the dominant contenders in the Central and the brutally fierce West.
The Florida Marlins have the most potential of any team in the majors, and are legitimate contenders for next season and the years beyond. But first they must weather another year of experience and their football stadium in 2001, and will probably be very, very streaky. The Matt Clement trade was fantastic, and he should get his ERA down to under 5.00 this year, easily.
I like the Montreal Expos for fourth because nobody else does. They have a lot of talent once again, led by the best hitter in baseball in Vladimir Guerrero, and their offense will be feared throughout. If their pitching holds up to the sixth or seventh inning, and their bullpen stays healthy, they could even push for .500 in what might be their last season, should contraction actually be a real threat. Merge the Expos with the Blue Jays and that would be one serious, serious team.
I don't like the Philadelphia Phillies and their football stadium, with some pretty boring "stars". Maybe I recall too strongly the gruff, scruffy Phillies of '93 who played the Jays in the World Series, but the power in their no-names and pitching potential hasn't impressed me in what little I've cared to see of them. This will probably be the team to surprise me completely, which is fine. Randy Wolf is on one of my rotisserie teams.
1) St. Louis Cardinals
2) Houston Astros
3) Milwaukee Brewers
4) Pittsburgh Pirates
5) Cincinatti Reds
6) Chicago Cubs
The St. Louis Cardinals are the team I have the biggest instinct for this season. In the middle of the Winter, after transactions and team news slowly filtered onto my computer, I realised how deep they are, how much potential they have, and that this will probably be their one chance to sneak through the cracks. They play a lot of their games against subpar teams, and although I am not a fan of Mark McGwire at all, I don't think they need him. Jim Edmonds, Bobby Bonilla (not even a starter), Edgar Renteria, Darryl Kile, Rick Ankiel (I think he will be just fine), the Benes brothers, JD Drew, One solid trade (for Trevor Hoffman or Troy Percival?) and they could win 100 games.
The Houston Astros will easily rebound from their disappointing opening season at Enron Field, and like the Braves, Mets and Cardinals, appear poised to claim sure glory for just one more year. Craig Biggio should be healthy, and Jeff Bagwell probably won't start declining in skills until next season, but their starting rotation is questionable enough to warrant a stretch for second place.
I like the Milwaukee Brewers for third because of the excitement that encompassed them in the offseason, primarily through the signings of several of its key young players for the future. They have a spanking new stadium, a rookie starter in Ben Sheets who should be one of the best in the game by next year, and although they do have many question marks, so does every other team in baseball.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are my favourites for fourth because of their new stadium and because I think they will eventually recover from their three main starters making the Disabled List before the season even began. Their lineup is not bad, a nice mix of power and relative speed, and their bullpen should be efficient. I am trying to work on a trip to Pittsburgh to see the Giants at PNC Park this season and will report back from there for sure. They won't play .500, but they should make it close to 80 wins.
The Cincinnati Reds have another long season in store for them. They might have some perennial All-Stars and Ken Griffey should have a monster second year in the National League, but they have many holes and little upside. There also is the lack of energy that the Pirates and Brewers have conjured, and the Astros and Cardinals have earned.
But their not as bad as the Chicago Cubs, who have a mediocre offense, a mediocre pitching staff and a mediocre bullpen. At least they are consistent. I still can't believe Sammy Sosa is that much of a power threat! They will crumble from injuries and pack it in early, but if they play their cards right, they might just poise themselves in a decent position for 2003 and 2004.
Hype aside, I can't believe how close this is going to be.
1) San Francisco Giants
2) Los Angeles Dodgers
3) Colorado Rockies
4) Arizona Diamondbacks
5) San Diego Pirates
Nobody ever believes in the San Francisco Giants. They really have one more chance themselves for now, with Barry Bonds approaching the end (and yes, he is the best player of his generation), although their youth movement could keep them oh so good for a long time. That is, until their weak lower farm system catches up with them, and they need their young stars to shine now and prepare themselves for the stretch and next season. They have above-average starters, but necessary consistency. A totally solid bullpen will help them preserve their leads into the later parts of games. Their stadium is gorgeous and the exciting atmosphere should add a handful of wins alone. Dusty Baker is a brilliant baseball mind and will get the most out of his players, particularly Russ Ortiz, Pedro Feliz and Armando Rios, who will lead the way into the future.
Once my pick for fourth place because of the Gary Sheffield mess, presuming he gets traded, I think thats when the hated Los Angeles Dodgers will live up to their potential and challenge. They have a solid, solid rotation, a decent lineup and a need to produce. Sheffield all but guaranteed another sub-par season for the Dodgers. As if players aren't bombarded enough from fans and the media with the very true reality that they are totally overpaid and never worth the money. But now a teammate stabs them in the back - one of their peers - by saying what every player knows but nobody dares to say. Professionals do also rise to challenges to overcome issues like this and Sheffield's comments just might light the fire enough. And what better way to end the season than for the Giants to beat out LA for the West's only playoff spot.
I like the Colorado Rockies for third no matter what way the cards fall. Again, I don't think Mike Hampton is as wonderful as they've made him out to be, and Denny Neagle will be a total joke this year. However, they will be better, they have a tight bullpen and, of course, a torid lineup to compliment their new arms. But a playoff contender? Not yet.
The Arizona Diamondbacks are perhaps the most overhyped team in baseball. On paper, they should win the World Series, boasting names like Randy Johnson, Mark Grace, Matt Mantei, Matt Williams, Luis Gonzalez etc, etc, etc. These guys are old and in serious decline. Curt Schilling and Todd Stottlemyre are NOT THAT GOOD! In fact, they are quite bad. They do have a solid bullpen and a lineup that can score runs, as well as the overall experience, but I do believe only Mr.Stottlemyre of these oldtimers has even won a World Series...
San Diego Padres make concluding the season wrap-up easy. It should be the end for Tony Gwynn and Rickey Henderson, and true stars like Trevor Hoffman and third baseman Phil Nevin might be on good teams by the end of the year. Their farm system will be ready within two years, and they can even replace Nevin immediately, but with half of their games against four formiddable NL West foes, it is all but over this season for the Padres. 100 losses is not out of the question.
In the American League, its still a toss up between the Mariners and the White Sox. I think Gillick will be able to pull off something, just like he did in Toronto, and I would have to give them the edge again. However, Chicago are going to probably make the World Series by 2003. The Yankees would play the Mariners in the Divisional Series this season, and beat them once again. The A's would therefore play the Indians and I think Cleveland will pull it off.
The National League's wildcard has to be Houston, who would play the Braves and lose. This would leave San Francisco and St.Louis, and I really, really hope I am totally wrong with this one, but the Cardinals would prevail. I think a short series benefits quality and experience in its starters more than above-average consistency. I also look forward to the first round expanding to seven games instead of the current five, to give better teams a chance to make up for first or second game mistakes. That said, I would love to see the Giants beat the Braves, as I think whoever wins the Central/West battle will prevail all the way.
League Championship Series
New York and Cleveland will be a great series, probably 6 or 7 games. But the Yankees with Clemens, Pettitte, Mussina and company will be too much. The Cardinals (or Giants!) will batter the Braves, perhaps in the last time Atlanta makes the NLCS for several more years to come.
New York, trying to win 4 North American Excluding Cuba Series in a row, against St.Louis (or the Giants!). A shocking 4-game sweep, perhaps into 5, but the National League Champions will be too hot at the right time with the odds against them, and then they shall strike.
The 2001 champions should be the St.Louis Cardinals (OR THE GIANTS).
AL MVP - Juan Gonzalez (otherwise lets say Carlos Delgado, if the Jays do well)
NL MVP - Vladimir Guerrero (he will be so good, they will overlook the team he's on, or it could be Barry Bonds' swan song)
AL Cy Young - Pedro Martinez (or if they don't want him to win again, Mike Mussina)
NL Cy Young - I think it could be a closer - Armando Benitez or Rob Nen, for example. I like Chan Ho Park this year as well.
AL Rookie of the Year - Ichiro Suzuki (but because I don't really consider him a rookie, Alfonso Soriano should turn a lot of heads)
NL Rookie of the Year - Ben Sheets (or if he gets off to a good start, Pedro Feliz)
Ichiro Suzuki could hit .400.
I hope this is a great season - I am really looking forward to it. And I hope it isn't my last one... but if it is - Giants Win the Pennant...?
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