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March 23, 2005

2005--Setting the Stage

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by Jim Baker

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With Opening Day just around the corner, it's time to pose a question:

Just what do you want out of the 2005 baseball season, anyway?

Your team does well

This goes without saying, right? They've got to be presentable, otherwise you'll spend August and September going to Renfests instead of watching them play. We can't have that. If you're reading Renfest Prospectus instead of Baseball Prospectus, you're no good to us. We can't guarantee they're going to smoke it, though, can we? Well, we can in certain cases, but somebody's got to finish below .500. If it turns out to be your favorite team, we beseech you to hang in there and find your joy elsewhere, like in one of these pursuits:

A cherished record is chased

It's about time somebody gave that DiMaggio fellow a run for his money. Why not in 2005? Only two players (Luis Castillo and Albert Pujols - not Luis Pujols and Alberto Castillo) have had hitting streaks of 30 games or greater in this century, so we're due for a nice run. I'd settle for a 40-gamer. We haven't had one of those since Pete Rose had 44 in 1978.

You're probably wondering how a guy can get 262 hits and not have a 40-game hitting streak, or even a 30-gamer. Ichiro Suzuki had streaks of 21 and 16 and ended the year on a 13-game run. He'd have to come out of the gate and have the fourth-best streak ever just to tie DiMaggio - if that would even count since it will have taken place over the course of two seasons. In all, Ichiro took the collar in 26 of the 161 games in which he appeared. The most-intriguing period for him came between June 30 and September 8. Over those 63 games, he hit safely all but five times. One of those failures was a game in which he batted just once. Look, I know it's allegedly the most-statistically unlikely thing in sports, but if Ichiro can go hitless just four times (discounting the one at bat game) in 60-something games, is it that much of a stretch to say that he'll do away with those four oh-fers over the same period of time in 2005? You're damn right it is. He's still our best hope, though. He even gets points for already having dealt with a media entourage larger than the all-time peak posse-size of M.C. Hammer.

A more obscure record is chased

Here's another one it would be fun to see broken: the American League single season record for triples. Our candidate in 2005 is Carl Crawford of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Here's the deal: he hit 19 in 2004 at the age of 22. With that, he's already just eight shy of the league record of 26, set by Joe Jackson in 1912 while with Cleveland and tied two years later by that other famous triplin' Crawford, Sam (of Detroit). Since then, only Ty Cobb has come within two (1917). The last player to get within three was Dale Mitchell of the '49 Indians. Snuffy Stirnweiss of the '45 Yankees was the last man to come within four.

Eight doesn't sound like a lot, unless you think of it in terms of a 42 percent increase over last year. Then it sounds kind of insurmountable. Another slight problem is that he hit 13 of them at home. A similar two-to-one ratio in a 2005 record year would mean a breakdown of 18 to nine.

A previously poor team surprises

Not at the expense of your favorite team, of course. No, we couldn't have that. A surprise club would be one that rises from the ashes of its own desperation and defies predictions of further ennui. This kind of leaves out a team like the Mets because they loaded up with two of the biggest free agent signings of the offseason. The six National League candidates, then, are these:

Montreal, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Colorado and Arizona.

Are you getting any vibes? What exactly does "surprise" mean anyway? Do they have to make the playoffs to truly surprise us? Would being in the hunt on Labor Day suffice? How about finishing .500? What we're hoping for with these teams is for someone to ignore the script.

In the American League the candidates are these:

Toronto, Tampa Bay, Detroit, Kansas City, Seattle.

Do any of these 11 teams suggest a mad rush to destiny? Perhaps Seattle should be stricken from this list owing to their addition of Mssrs. Beltre and Sexson. Also, the way a lot of folks are writing off Oakland (79.5 over/under, albeit with a big vig on the over), if they win 90, will they qualify as a surprise team after gutting the Big Three?

A previously decent team falls on the punji sticks of oblivion

Conversely, no season would be complete without a nice nosedive by a playoff contender from the previous year. If you can't count on baseball for a good dose of schadenfreude, then where can you turn? Apart from the A's, the favorite candidate for this seems to be the Houston Astros. How many wins would it take to qualify the Yankees for collapse status? How about 88? Here's an interesting question: if the Red Sox are ahead by ten games in August, will the Yankees pull the plug on the season or will they position themselves for 2006 with late-season acquisitions? Since they haven't been in that position since…well, 1992, we can only speculate. I'm guessing they would go down with checkbook blazing.

A quirky fan favorite emerges

Not every season gives birth to one of these, but here's hoping that 2005 does. What I'm talking about here is a Fernandomania-Mark Fidrych-Dontrelle Willis situation in which a young player explodes on the scene and captures the hearts of a nation. There is simply no way of predicting that sort of thing as anyone who strives for it is immediately suspect as a media manipulator or poser. It has to be an unassuming, almost naïve fellow - maybe someone who doesn't make the team out of spring training.

A kick-ass World Series is played

A seven-gamer, naturally, only Game Seven is a double no-hitter that goes into extra innings. That could happen, right?

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