Fearless predictions, Part II
Predictions? Sure, it's that time of year and I've got them here for you. But, because this is a friendly full-service station I'm running here, you'll get much more than that. No, I'm not talking about folding road maps, checking the oil and cleaning the windshield. (And oh, by the way, whatever happened to those black rubber hoses that went "ding!" when you drove over them, and what was the name for those things?)
Instead, what you get with no additional service charge is a review of how the predictions in this space turned out last year. To send you on your way this season, here are my picks from last year (and how they turned out) and the annual look ahead. Happy motoring.
2003: Nomar Garciaparra, Boston. He had the award in his back pocket heading into September and has faded ever since. He finished seventh in MVP voting.
2004: Derek Jeter, New York. No Yankee has won the MVP since 1985 (Don Mattingly) and it will be difficult for one player to stand out among so many stars. Jeter is still the glue to the team and could have a Rickey Henderson-like season of 145 runs.
2003: Albert Pujols, St. Louis. The runner-up to Barry Bonds, he was hurt by the Cardinals' failure to make the playoffs.
2004: Jim Thome, Philadelphia. Sorry, Albert, but it's still too hard for a player from a non-playoff team to win the award.
AL Cy Young Award
2003: Mark Mulder, Oakland. He was 15-9 before missing his final eight starts, though overtaking Roy Halladay would have been tough.
2004: Curt Schilling, Boston. A Type A personality who loves the spotlight and the big games, of which there are 162 in Boston.
NL Cy Young Award
2003: Randy Johnson, Arizona. Not close. He won only six of 18 starts while troubled by a knee injury.
2004: Kerry Wood, Chicago. I was seriously tempted to go with Johnson again, who looked awesome in the Cactus League. But Wood, on much younger legs, may have looked even better.
AL Rookie of the Year
2003: Hideki Matsui, New York. The runner-up in the closest (and most controversial) vote since the current format was put in place in 1980.
2004: Joe Mauer, Minnesota. Born to play baseball, Mauer has the sweetest swing since Will Clark.
NL Rookie of the Year
2003: Jose Reyes, New York. Finished eighth. I figured the Mets would have called him up sooner.
2004: Edwin Jackson, Los Angeles. Ask Dontrelle Willis: it's not where you start but where you finish. Likewise, keep an eye on Kevin Correia of San Francisco.
AL Home Run Leader
2003: Alex Rodriguez, Texas. Won for the third straight year.
2004: Carlos Delgado, Toronto. Rodriguez may lose a handful of homers with the switch from The Ballpark to The Stadium as his home field.
NL Home Run Leader
2003: Ken Griffey Jr., Cincinnati. If healthy, he should be in the mix this season in that Great American Smallpark (at least before he's traded).
2004: Bonds, San Francisco. Thome also will go beyond 50.
AL Batting Title
2003: Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle. Finished seventh with Bill Mueller coming from nowhere to win it.
2004: Jeter, New York. Manny Ramirez must also be in the mix.
NL Batting Title
2003: Albert Pujols, St. Louis. Winner by a hair over Todd Helton.
2004: Pujols, St. Louis. A joy to watch hit.
AL Pitching Victories
2003: Mulder, Oakland. He had a shot before going down with an injury.
2004: Schilling, Boston. Low workload last season due to non-throwing injuries will help this year.
NL Pitching Victories
2003: Matt Morris, St. Louis. Won only 11 games and missed seven starts.
2004: Wood, Chicago. If the Cubs are going to win 96 games, as I believe, and Mark Prior is not going to pitch until May, then Wood must crack the 20-win plateau.
AL Comeback Player of the Year
2003: Juan Gonzalez, Texas. Missed half the year again.
2004: Gonzalez, Kansas City. Try, try again. It's all up to his health.
NL Comeback Player of the Year
2003: Richard Hidalgo, Houston. He did bounce back with a solid .309 batting average, 28 home runs and 88 RBIs.
2004: Johnson, Arizona. Look out. The Unit's got that look in his eye again.
AL Most Overrated Player
2003: Rey Ordonez, Tampa Bay. Even worse than his lousy reputation.
2004: Scott Hatteberg, Oakland. Not his fault, but he's been portrayed as a hidden gem when he's a pedestrian player -- below average if you're talking about the usual offense you'd like at first base.
NL Most Overrated Player
2003: Jason Kendall, Pittsburgh. Bounced back with a decent year, but $10 million for a guy who hits six home runs is the problem here.
2004: Willis, Florida. Don't take it the wrong way. He's a fresh talent who is fun to watch. But with the workload he had last year and the occasional command problems his delivery causes, he may turn out to be more valuable to the Fish pitching out of the pen, as he did in the World Series, and so he won't have the chance to put up the same numbers.
AL Most Underrated Player
2003: Roy Halladay, Toronto. Baseball, say hello to Mr. Cy Young.
2004: Larry Bigbie, Baltimore. Paul O'Neill with speed.
NL Most Underrated Player
2003: Bobby Abreu, Philadelphia. The cover still hasn't been blown yet for some reason.
2004: Orlando Cabrera, Montreal. Solid offensive player who provides Gold Glove defense.
AL Breakout Player
2003: Eric Munson, Detroit. He had a decent season, with 50 RBIs in 99 games for a brutal team, but hardly a breakout year.
2004: Victor Martinez, Cleveland. His power numbers won't be there yet, but at 25 he's ready to make his mark.
NL Breakout Player
2003: Prior, Chicago. The kid turned out OK.
2004: Corey Patterson, Chicago. He was on his way last year to a breakout season before tearing up his knee.
AL Surprise Team
2003: Toronto. Took eight-game leap to 86 wins and contention for much of the year.
2004: Baltimore: From 71 wins last year, it can flirt with .500 ball.
NL Surprise Team
2003: Chicago. Improved by 21 wins and came within five outs of the World Series.
2004: San Diego. It could improve by 20 games after losing 98 games last year.
AL Disappointing Team
2003: Chicago. Sure enough, it played below its talent level.
2004: Seattle. Still a contender, but will slip below its 93 wins from the past two seasons.
NL Disappointing Team
2003: Philadelphia. It should have been the NL wild card last year.
2004: Los Angeles. Changes are due.
AL Manager of the Year
2003: Carlos Tosca, Toronto. He was much too overlooked last year.
2004: Ron Gardenhire, Minnesota. He'll find a way to squeeze something out of the bullpen.
NL Manager of the Year
2003: Dusty Baker, Chicago. He finished second to Jack McKeon.
2004: Bruce Bochy, San Diego. The Padres figure to at least be in the playoff hunt.
AL First Manager Fired
2003: None. None fired during the season.
NL First Manager Fired
2003: Jeff Torborg, Florida. Indeed, Torborg was first off the island, allowing Florida to proceed to a world title.
2004: Jimy Williams, Houston. Expectations are enormous for this club.
AL Division Winners
2003: New York, Minnesota, Oakland. Bingo.
2004: New York, Minnesota, Oakland. Again.
NL Division Winners
2003: Atlanta, St. Louis, Arizona. Whoops! It was Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco.
2004: Philadelphia, Chicago, Arizona.
AL Wild Card
2003: Boston. Bingo.
2004: Boston. Again.
NL Wild Card
2003: Houston. Astros finished four games behind Florida.
2003: Oakland over New York. The Yankees took it over Boston.
2004: New York over Boston. Again.
2003: Arizona over St. Louis. Honk if you saw Florida over Chicago coming.
2004: Chicago over Houston.
2003: Oakland over Arizona. If Eric Byrnes only had a GPS system to find home plate ...
2004: Chicago over New York. Prior missing one month is good news after his workload last year, but if he has more serious problems than the Cubs are letting on, I have no confidence in this pick.