The 2002 baseball season is here in all its glory and with it comes the requisite inundation of previews and predictions. Sure, you're probably content with what you've already read in your "reputable" "Sports Illustrated" magazine, or heard from your favorite baseball "experts" on TV. But your feelings on the matter are not nearly strong enough to prevent our insatiable desire to make biased and baseless claims on what will come to pass, baseball-wise, over the next seven months. From the National League East all the way to the American League West, our powers of foresight know no bounds. So here it is: a piece of pure self indulgence... for whatever it's worth, our very own baseball preview.
Let us begin our journey in the aforementioned NL East. At the bottom of the pile lies that lovable équipe, the always generous Montreal Expos. This is about the seventh time in a row that the Expos will be playing their "last" season in Montreal, and just like those previous seasons this year's fighting 'Spos will manage to lose 95 games while capturing the heart of nary a Quebecois. It is with great sadness that we pick the Phillies to finish third instead of second or first. The Phils have talent and a Jewish catcher to boot, but their manager, Larry Bowa is roughly the equivalent of a rabid dog -- he's very good at communicating anger, but he also foams at the mouth and has a tendency to create locker room division. The Braves added Gary Sheffield, and Rafeal Furcal's return will definitely help, but this is the year that they will finally be triumphantly overthrown by the New York Metropolitans. Everyone seems to think that the Mets will underachieve because of Mo Vaughn's monstrous obesity, but this ignores the fact that the Mets have many other lithe and nimble players such as Roberto Alomar and Roger Cedeño. Plus, just watch "Big" Al Leiter, Shawn Estes, and Pedro Astacio become the first teammates to share a Cy Young Award. Possible? No. Morally just? Absolutely.
Paul hates every non-Pirates team in the NL Central. Long, bitter years of watching Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Kerry Wood, Jeff Bagwell, and even Fernando Vina laughingly have their way with the likes of Buccos pitchers Bronson Arroyo, Jeff Cooke, and Francisco Cordova have left him with an uncontrollable hatred for the division. However, it must be admitted that this is not the Pirates' season. Next year, baby, next year. . . .
Which basically leaves us with the Cards, Cubs, and Astros. The Reds and Brewers fall into the growing baseball 'axis of mediocrity' that Bud Selig and his charming, debonair daughter (read: Faulknerian man-child) Wendy seem to get a kick out of. Let's get rid of the Astros right away by pointing out that Jimy Williams is the manager. Yes, that's the same man who acted like some bizarre combination of Douglas MacArthur, Rickey Henderson, and Jimmy Carter while the BoSox skipper. The man is insane. Opening Day will probably see him enter "No-Longer Enron Field" on a chestnut mare, grasping a riding crop in one hand and the still-bleeding head of Carl Everett in the other. The 'Stros will go down in a blaze of incomprehensible lineups and, just for my personal amusement, New Orleans Saints-style intra-locker room adultery.
So that leaves us with the Cards and Cubbies. In the interests of brevity- Tony La Russa sucks, J.D. Drew is a bastard (solidarity with our people in Philly), Tino Martinez is pushing 60, Rick Ankiel still has all the accuracy of Clinton-era cruise missile attacks, and Albert Pujols is a tire-iron-to-the-kneecap away from season-ending surgery. So that means Don Baylor & co. are going to pull it off, ladies and gentlemen. Back to the playoffs! But a championship? Hmm, well, uh, not so sure about that one. . . .
The NL West is the home of the last championship winner, the Arizona Diamondbacks. Alas, a repeat of that is not in the cards. But the playoffs seem like a reasonable possibility. The combined weight of the team's AARP membership cards will make it difficult to advance past the first round though. The Rockies are awful (and always will be in Coors Field) and the Padres seem content to aimlessly move around players while basking in that wonderful West Coast weather. We really would prefer to avoid talking about the Dodgers. Brian Jordan is a good guy, Kevin Brown kicks ass, but beyond that we have little-to-no interest in discussing Paul Konerko, Adrian Beltre, or Eric Gagne. So they will win 88 games but not make the playoffs. That leaves us with the Giants. Barry and J-Schmidt are both ex-Buccos and we gotta go with them, so the Giants are headed to the playoffs. Where Barry will hit .120. Enjoy the Bonds Postseason Collapse, which became an annual but unpleasant event in Pittsburgh similar to "this year's steel layoffs" and 'Carnegie-Mellon not winning the Final Four."
On to the American League. The Yankees will win the East. No one hates to write that more than we do, but unfortunately for all freedom loving, Yankee hating Americans, not only did the Yankees acquire the best hitter in the game during the offseason in the form of Jason Giambi, but they also happen to play in a division even more pitiful than José Canseco's failed comeback attempt with the Expos. The Red Sox have Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez, but Pedro won't last two months before he inevitably leaves a game in the third inning with some "discomfort" in his right shoulder. After this happens, Boston will miraculously stay within five games of the Yankees to the delight of their die hard fans, only to fall out of contention just as Pedro makes his triumphant return from the DL. Oh well, at least they're better than Toronto and Baltimore, two non-distinct teams that remain on the decline even though they think they are on the rise. As for the Devil Rays, they are neither declining nor rising. They're simply in a constant state of horribleness. In fact, as they play their lifeless brand of baseball in the "Tropicana Dome" amid the dystopian vision of urban America that is Tampa Bay, the Devil Rays bring to mind all sorts of existentialist questions that are too depressing to bear. Let's move on.
Unfortunately, it doesn't get much better with the AL Central. Tigers and Royals are going nowhere rather quickly. Cleveland is an awful city with little going for it. And that trend will accelerate with the decline of the Indians. They will be respectable, but the losses of Gonzalez and Alomar are actively not encouraging. So we're back to a Chicago team, the South Side's pride and joy (well, not really), and the Minnesota Twins. I have a soft spot in my heart for the Twins, but my first-ever Chicago baseball experience was with the Sox. So let's say that the Sox win the division by a half-game, the Twins aren't contracted, and, most improbably, Comiskey Park all of a sudden becomes a really nice ballpark.
At last, the AL West, a division full of promise and youthful enthusiasm. Who can't pick the Mariners after what they did last season? Plus, they've got Iiiiiiiichiro, perhaps the game's most exciting Japanese lead-off man. However, Seattle will definitely get tested this time around. Texas will be vastly improved. Their lineup is ridiculously good as always, and the additions of Chan Ho Park, Ismael Valdez, John Rocker, and Todd Van Poppel might actually make their pitching somewhat respectable. The A's lost the good Giambi, but they still have Hudson, Zito, and Mulder, so they'll contend. And the Angels have enough pitching to win more than 80 games themselves. It should be interesting.