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March 31, 2001
American League Predictions
Our best guess at 2001's winners and losers
American League East
Clay Davenport: I got the news on Nomar Garciaparra, but I'll still stick with the Red Sox and the best pitching staff in the league. The Yankees finish second and pick up the wild card, strong across the board. Toronto drops like a rock, finishing below .500 thanks in large part to the massively bungled Wells trade. The D-Rays are slightly improved, but still a lost cause. The Orioles are the worst team in the majors, and getting to play extra games against Boston and New York won't help. I'm an optimist, so I'll predict just 99 losses.
Jeff Hildebrand: Yes, Garciaparra's absence for the early part of the season is the difference here. If he comes back quickly, or if the Yankees run into pitching injuries, the Sox could still squeak it out. Tampa may finally get out of the cellar, but that's less a matter of their doing good things than the Orioles doing a lot of foolish things.
Rany Jazayerli: I wanted to put Boston first, I really did. Even factoring in Garciaparra's absence until July, my numbers had the Red Sox a game ahead of the Yankees. But the skirmishes between Jimy Williams and Carl Everett have become a full-blown Cold War, and the Red Sox as an organization appear more interested in the image that they're making every effort to win than in actually doing so. Not that it will prevent them from winning the wild card. The Devil Rays are the second-worst team in baseball, but fortunately for them, the worst team is also in their division, allowing them to escape the cellar for the first time.
Chris Kahrl: Sure, the Red Sox have lost Garciaparra for an extended period of time, but now they have Manny Ramirez, now they won't be using Troy O'Leary, now they won't be trying to balance a weak rotation and an overworked bullpen. The team that bears watching is the Yankees, in that they're the team that has the most ability to help themselves in a way that makes a difference within this season. But what will they do: go with the talent in hand that will be ready to contribute before the end of the season (D'Angelo Jimenez, Nick Johnson, Alfonso Soriano)? Deal for people Joe Torre might remember from his days in the booth? Or ride Tino Martinez and Paul O'Neill and Scott Brosius into the sunset? The pick I'm least comfortable with in the group is putting the Blue Jays third, because they're the team I think could finish anywhere between first and fourth.
Keith Law: If Garciaparra was healthy, I'd flip the top two teams, but no matter what, I doubt the ultimate gap will exceed three games and that the either team has what it takes to reach 88 wins. The Devil Rays could reach third place if the Blue Jays really do nothing to address their Pittsburgh-esque starting rotation troubles, but ultimately I think the Rays lack the patience and the starting pitching to get that far. (Watch for the articles blaming their losing ways on the lack of a proven closer, coming soon to a bad newspaper near you.) Baltimore should be sent down to Triple-A or Serie B after this season.
Joe Sheehan: Garciaparra's injury made a tough decision easy, as the Sox simply don't have the offense to compensate for losing one of the Trinity. That's not to say the Yankees are a lot better, but they should be good enough. If the Blue Jays can shift about 150 walks from the pitchers to the hitters, they become terribly dangerous. The Devil Rays finally have a future to be excited about, while the Orioles have a neato ballpark.
Michael Wolverton: It's a toss-up between the Yankees and the Red Sox, and I settled on the Yankees because of the Red Sox's vulnerability to injury, both real (Garciaparra) and potential (Ramirez or Pedro Martinez). Not that the division winner really matters here--the second-place finisher should get the Wild Card, courtesy of the unbalanced schedule. The Cy Young Award winner will come from this division. (Ooh, now there's a bold prediction!)
Derek Zumsteg: The no-youngsters-admitted youth movement in Baltimore fails. Tampa's pitching should be much improved, enough to take Baltimore. Boston's only hope is playing Olympic hero Mike Neill.
American League Central
Clay Davenport: The Tribe returns to the top; even without Ramirez, the offense will carry them (but they are getting on in years). The White Sox are a close second as the offense comes back to reality. The Royals are third, a long way behind the two leaders. The Tigers' pitching problems drag them down to fourth (not that the offense is much better), and the Twins assume their usual position in the basement.
Jeff Hildebrand: I think the unbalanced schedule may hide just how soft this division is. Chicago's off-season moves, especially on offense, may send them in the wrong direction. The top two still have more than the bottom three and should fight it out down to the wire.
Rany Jazayerli: John Hart has one last chance to win a World Series and secure his legacy before his team gives out. The Indians should bounce back to win the division--but only if at least two of Ellis Burks, Juan Gonzalez, and Travis Fryman play 130 or more games. The White Sox have the best young pitching in the game; they also have Cal Eldred and James Baldwin in their rotation. The Royals have upside if their young pitching gels, but they should be satisfied with their first winning season since the strike. The concern in Detroit is that Mitch Meluskey is gone for the season, erasing what little margin for error they had to finish ahead of the stealthily-improving Twins.
Chris Kahrl: I'm sticking with the White Sox because they have the most weapons with which to repair the mostly self-inflicted holes in their lineup. The Indians will slip offensively as well due to age as much as their new acquisitions, but unlike the Sox, they don't have much to barter with to help themselves. If anything happens to their core starters, they have neither the same caliber of young pitchers to turn to nor the track record of developing them that the White Sox do. Frankly, after the White Sox the division is a crap shoot, because every team has a reasonable shot at second place. The Royals, Tigers and Twins will finish within eight games of each other.
Keith Law: A tale of two offenses. I had Cleveland on top, thought about it, and decided that the odds of two or three of Omar Vizquel, Kenny Lofton, Fryman, Burks, and Jim Thome showing age-related dropoffs is too high. Chicago's rotation is really awful right now, and barring a big leap by at least two young starters, a division title will still equal a first-round exit. The last three are a jumble; Kansas City's pitching and the removal of one of its few offensive threats would seem to push them to the bottom of the pile. Minnesota has more young players in regular roles, so I'll give them the nod for fourth.
Joe Sheehan: The Indians get back into the catbird seat by virtue of doing less damage to themselves than the Sox, who spent the winter trying to get as old as possible. That'll cost the Pale Hose, as a young Royals team with some real pitching upside passes them. Really. The Twins have an underrated pitching staff and a lineup out of the Eastern League, which still gets them out of the cellar now that the Tigers have lost their best hitter.
Michael Wolverton: Cleveland returns to their accustomed spot atop the AL Central, thanks to a good offense, a great rotation, and the White Sox's return to earth.
Derek Zumsteg: Chicago comes to earth a little, but Cleveland's going to fight injuries and age-related declines all year long. Kansas City declines, and will be swindled in any number of trades.
American League West
Clay Davenport: The A's are a powerhouse, carried by a great offense and good young pitching. The Rangers match them offensively, but can't match up in pitching, especially in the bullpen. The Mariners can't replace Alex Rodriguez, but should still come in around .500. While the Angels may be last here, they're better than any of my other five last-place picks.
Jeff Hildebrand: Yes, Texas has a lineup that will score a lot of runs when healthy, but health is going to be a major factor, as is the fact that their pitching is pretty awful. Thus, the A's should win the division, although they might be an interesting case study in the effects of the new strike zone. Losing the third superstar will finally be too much for the Mariners, as they slide down to the .500 level or below. The Angels will continue to be another example of why having lots of money backing you (in their case Disney) doesn't automatically mean success.
Rany Jazayerli: There's not much to say about this division; the A's are clearly the best team, and only some concern about their #3/#4 starters--I have yet to be convinced that Mark Mulder will ever belong in the Tim Hudson/Barry Zito class--prevents them from ranking as the best team in baseball. For all the whining about the Rangers' pitching, the additions of A-Rod, et al might have given them the offense to win anyway, but unfortunately "et al" is Texan drawl for "38 years old." The Mariners may have the worst left side of the infield in the game; the Angels may have the worst right side, and they don't have the M's pitching depth.
Chris Kahrl: If everything hadn't gone dreadfully wrong for the Angels this spring, the ornery cuss in me might have put them in front of the Mariners. The Rangers are my pick for the wild card. The challenge for Doug Melvin will be to see whether or not he gets bull-rushed into making some moves down the stretch to cement a playoff spot right now, lest the Alex Rodriguez contract become a PR millstone.
Keith Law: I don't see how the A's don't at least get to the LCS, where they could only be stopped by a healthy Yankee rotation or three Pedro Martinez starts. The unbalanced schedule means they could win 100 games, which won't change anyone's mind about what you can or can't do with a low payroll. Anaheim is the clear choice for last place with holes in its lineup and an empty rotation. Put the Mariners' rotation with the Rangers' lineup and you have a team that could beat out Oakland, but I don't think either team has enough on its own to win 85 games.
Joe Sheehan: The A's have a reasonable case that they're the best team in the league, even though I worry about how hard the front of the rotation has been worked. Even if Tim Hudson or Barry Zito slips a bit, they should win handily. The Rangers have the best player in the game and a supporting cast old enough to be his babysitter. They could win the wild card if the rotation manages to be average and the intended starting lineup is together for half their games. Picking the Angels over the Mariners has more to do with the Mariners' offensive decline rather than anything the Halos have done correctly.
Michael Wolverton: A-Rod, Shma-rod--he won't be enough to stop the A's. I pick Oakland to be the best team in the majors this year, although they may not have the best record because of the unbalanced schedule and the general high level of talent in the AL West. That same unbalanced schedule will make it tough for Texas and Seattle to contend for the wild card.
Derek Zumsteg: The clueless Angels are crippled by their inability to recognize and solve problems. Seattle's numerous automatic outs make them easy prey, and Oakland will eat them both alive with the unbalanced schedule.