Montreal/San Juan Expos
Current weather patterns dictate that we say "Poor Expos" and move on to another happier team. But that's not what Maroon Sports is about. We're about making some easy jokes about how the Expos suck despite having talented players and then moving on to the Marlins. Woo doggy, the Expos stink. But Vlad Guerrero, he doesn't stink. Tony Armas, Jr. joins the ranks of Tony Armas as the only player in baseball whose name is actually four body parts. Get it? Sound it out. I think we're done here.
The story: 80-82.
If the Marlins were a car, they would be a stock car from the 1970s. Maybe it was in a Burt Reynolds movie once, and did something awesome (if wildly out of keeping with the great design), like driving through a wall made out of fire or winning the 1997 World Series. Since then, they sat in Huizenga's front lawn for a while, and rusted. No one seemed to mind the car. Then Jeffrey Loria bought it and towed it to his yard, but nothing changed, really. But then, for no reason at all, the Feesh swapped out their Preston Wilson cam shaft and Chas Johnson heads for a huge fin on the back that said "SPOONEYBARGER" and added some "E.L. Pudge" decals and the car looks nice all of a sudden. And they have further refused to make like the joke they are by holding onto the Burnett/Beckett/Penny troika. Have the relevant parties signed off on this?
The story: 85-77, 109-53 if AJ Burnett finds a hat that turns him to metal.
For no reason at all, particularly not the specific reason that I will detail after I finish this list, I feel an urge to talk about the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Strom Thurmond, and Rod Stewart. The thing that wasn't the reason for my bringing up these people is that they are united by the fact that they have been around much, much longer than anyone wants and are still inexplicably successful. What I'm trying to say without saying it is this: no one wants the Braves to win any games ever anymore. They shipped out legitimate talents and replaced them with Russ Ortiz, Mike Hampton, and Paul Byrd. I'm registered in Massachusetts, but I'm still casting my vote in Georgia for all three of those guys to be the busts they want to be and for the Braves to be horrendous for once, since no one likes baseball in Atlanta anyway. Where's justice in the universe?
The Story: 91-71, because I never get what I want.
New York Mets
The public was tired, as of the middle of last summer, of the whole revolving-door school of employment, which makes the recent maneuverings a bit curious. Jeromy Burnitz, the most glorified apeman ever to handle a Flushing Meadows bat, is the poster boy for market-foray fumblings in the office of Mr. Steve Phillips. But don't ignore the shortcomings of Roberto Alomar, Roger Cedeño, and Mo Vaughn as far as these problems are concerned. It must be remembered, I suppose, that Tom Glavine, Cliff Floyd, and Mike Stanton are no less talented for the failings of their free-agent predecessors. But that's the kind of thing everyone was saying last season, before the Mets were abysmal for a really long, hot time. Maybe Billy Beane says chemistry is actually important, and everyone thinks that Billy Beane is a genius (because he's a genius)?
In mid-August, the Mets will be: looking at the Braves' pre-game rituals and equipment and stuff to see if it's magical.
In mid-October, the Mets will be: linked to the Enron scandal and going out of business, with suspicions that Jeromy Burnitz is a terrorist/Republican sympathizer.
The Story: 86-76, including eleven consecutive losses to the Braves.
Jim Thome and Kevin Millwood represent something that looks, in this cup of coffee at least, like of the cream of this past winter's free agent crop. Throw in a dash of Bobby Abreu, Vicente Padilla, Pat Burrell, and Jimmy Rollins, and you've got a robust morning blend, replete with cinnamon and hazelnut and so forth. This has been running the Ed Wade administration a nasty little tab over at Starbuck's, but it's all going to be worth when he's reclining in his La-Z-Boy and reading the New Yorker while all you misers sip that McDonald's sludge.
The Story: 94-78, to dethrone the old-money Braves and remodel the place with nouveau-riche décor.
Chicago Cubs: The Home Team
Optimism doesn't often settle on an apocalyptic 67-95 tundra as its breeding ground, but then nobody thought that there was going to be a nuclear winter in Chicago last year. If 67-95 doesn't suggest a veritable rainforest of lush vibrancy, the youth and talent of the Cubbies' pitching staff might do the trick. Mark Prior, the most watched rookie anywhere in baseball last year, has handled the pressure remarkably, and Kerry Wood and Matt Clement took measures to live up to their respective reputations last season. You can see the flora beginning to bloom here. 2003 will see Sammy Sosa's 500th home run touch down behind the ivy, and Mark Prior's first full season in the majors. It will see Moises Alou's return to his early-late-career grandeur at the spring-fresh age of 36 and Hee Seop Choi's emergence as the first Korean Cy Young Award winner. Here's the twist: he doesn't even pitch!
The Story: 99-63!
So, um, the Brewers. Hard to understand why anyone thought it was a good idea to give a third division franchise with no visible hope of being good for years to come a new stadium, especially one that violates all relevant laws of physics. Holler and gesticulate about what a bum Bud Selig is until the lactic acid locks your jaw shut.
The Story: 7-7 after 11 innings.
Something went wrong for the city of Cincinnati sometime after 1990. Around that time, if you will recall, the Bengals were in the Super Bowl, and the Reds lanced the boil that was the A's hegemony of the late '80s by a stirring coup de Piniella. Fast forward to 2002 and the Bengals have actually not won a game since, the Reds are in the toilet and there's a waitlist just to get in on the race rioting. Yet both teams have new stadiums, and for the Reds at least, there's some pressure to show awareness of a desire to win. If the World Series trophy were given to the team with the most pitchers who are 30 but look 13 and were born in Saigon in 1973, the Reds would get a trophy every year until they released Danny Graves. Unfortunately for the folks in Cincinnati, you have to win lots of games for a long time. This just doesn't seem to be in the future of the Reds, or for that matter, of the Bengals.
The Story: 78-84, and 2-14.
We've been waiting at the bus station for something like three years now for the Houston Astros to arrive, and it's pretty hot and humid here, and no one wants to sit around swatting mosquitoes and whatnot. I'm getting on the payphone and calling the offices of the NL Central that they have to have at least one legitimate candidate for winning the division instead of four dark-horses. They're putting me on hold, with crappy, trite music (kind of a Moog Cookbook/Macy's Menswear section vibe) about Roy Oswalt and Wade Miller and Lance Berkman. Now they're telling me to wait so they can talk to their manager.
I had a prediction but I ran out of quarters. This town sucks.
St. Louis Cardinals
Would be glad to take a job as the NL Central's obvious favorite but don't seem to interview well. The resume is strong, lots of relevant job experience, good references, and so forth. But there are a number of guys on the squad who received black "participant" ribbons at the last neighborhood pool race. J.D. Drew, Garrett Stephenson, and Scott Rolen spring to mind here. If I lived in St. Louis I'd be trying to not have to root for Jason Simontacchi. Out of principle I guess? Anyway the offseason signing of renowned tax-evader Dustin Hermanson speaks ill of the front office. I see collapse coming to St. Louis.
The Story: 82-80.
The Pirates, of all the also-rans in the NL, seem to mean well. They'd like to win. They probably go out most days planning to win, instead of just wandering around the field wondering if today is the day that the post-game spread is just one HUGE sub sandwich. They do have nice hats, and their stadium is beautiful. They're actually (slowly) working their way towards having a decent starting rotation. Unfortunately, Brian Giles is only one person. There's Marcus Giles, but he's not even on the Pirates, nor is he even remotely as talented as his brother. The Pirates haven't had a remotely threatening batting order since the Van Slyke-Merced regency, and this year is no different. All we can hope for, as decent godfearing sportswriters, is that they win 70 games so nobody gets fired and we get to write the same thing next year.
The Story: 70-92, because we're optimistic.
San Fransciso Giants
The Giants's last season was removed from reality only slightly less than Objectivist philosophy, what with all that late-in-the-year team unity and, you know, all that winning. All the same, they managed to come through for fans in the clutch, foiling our deepest seated dreams with the efficiency we've come to expect. While eventual failure is the Giants fan's eternal Sisyphean fate, the question of whether or not they will take their inevitable dive with the flair and panache of last year's World Series lies with new manager Felipe Alou. Though the fact that they've got themselves shut of the odious and hateful Jeff Kent bodes well karmically, the Orange and Black Army has to be chewing their knuckles what with Dusty and Darren Baker's decampment to the City of Big Shoulders. The Giants will flail once again, of course, but without our beloved captain to flip his toothpick, will we still care?
The Story: 90-72 +/- 3.
The people who put their heads together in a board room and asked "What does this country need?" and subsequently answered "Baseball in Colorado!" and then slapped each other five and put their team into a fake stadium with bad pitchers and hitters that no one takes seriously and a purple color scheme have crawled back under the rocks from whence they came. There isn't a person anywhere in the ranks of baseball litterateurs who isn't tired of asking whether the Rockies' pitchers are going to withstand the Pete Coors Racistdrome and whether people who just came from Colorado are actually good hitters or just high off the thin air. Here is a proposition: what they are playing in Colorado isn't actually baseball. It's all a big sham. Colorado's cardboard stand-in record this season will be determined largely by the success or failure of its young, terrible pitchers. A fake meltdown is all it takes to sink a fake franchise.
The Story: 70-92.
San Diego Padres
Does anyone remember when Phil Nevin was the can't-miss-next-big-awesome-baseball-dude? Check. Does anyone remember when Phil Nevin got dumped by Houston because he said what must have been the worst thing ever to Terry Collins and was traded to Detroit within three hours? I can only assume this episode ended with Nevin saying something along the lines of "Ain't no Viet Cong ever called me [something terrible and likely to offend Phil Nevin]" and then throwing his Olympic gold medal into the Detroit River. What does it all mean? Phil Nevin is actually a big awesome baseball dude, as advertised. All the Padres need is three more of him, and a pitching staff.
The Story: 69-93.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers went 92-70 last year, and all an ad-hoc think tank lead by Bill James and Peter Gammons could come up with for explanation is that they're the Dodgers, who are never going to suck, even if they do. Darren Dreifort stays at home sticking rusty nails in his joints so that he'll be known as a promising pitcher who's always injured instead of a pitcher who doesn't do anything well except be injured. Kevin Brown actually died five years ago and is played by Kevin Spacey. Shawn Green is good, but your star player should not hit .285, especially when your batting average leader is also Shawn Green. (Let's not even mention that he got two-thirds of his hits for the 2002 season in four games.) So how do they respond to the problems of 1) injury making your players suck and 2) not having anyone who can hit over .285? Todd Hundley, who suffers from a debilitating injury described by Chicago Cubs doctors as "being Todd Hundley"? And they'll still win 80 games. Why? Because they're the Dodgers, and because George Soros is buying stock in them. Talent aside, their mojo's going global.
The Story: 81-81, plus complete destablization of the Russian economy.
The people who put their heads together in a board room and asked "What does this country need?" and subsequently answered "Baseball in Arizona!" and then slapped each other five and put their team into a fake stadium with bad pitchers and hitters that no one takes seriously and a purple color scheme have crawled back under the rocks from whence they came. Just replace the ramblings about thin air for ramblings about pools in centerfield and the heat. And then insert stock trope about Curt Schilling being a fan of role-playing games and the Civil War, and remind your reader that Randy Johnson is very tall and good at pitching. Repeat until desired effect achieved.
The Story: 89-73