Despite this, baseball season just wouldnt be complete without the requisite attempt at prognostication. Without further ado, I present my playoff picks for the 2005 major league baseball season:
American League East: Before the Toronto Blue Jays surprising crash to last place in 2004, the order of finish in this division had remained unchanged for six consecutive seasons: New York, Boston, Toronto, Baltimore and Tampa Bay. Unless you are the Yankees or the Red Sox, the most you can hope for in the East is a third-place finish, and I think that pattern will hold true once again this year. The Sox may have vanquished the Curse last fall, but the Randy Johnson-led Yankees have been constructed to win over the long haul. My pick: Yankees (Red Sox as wild card)
American League Central: The Central has traditionally been one of the weakest divisions in baseball from top to bottom, as over half its teams routinely finish with losing records. That should change this season, as Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit all believe they can challenge the three-time division champion Minnesota Twins. The White Sox, Indians and Tigers all boast impressive lineups, but the Twins pitching staff (led by AL Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana) is simply too good and too deep to be overcome.
My pick: Twins
American League West: All four teams in this division could conceivably finish with winning records, given the dramatic off-season improvements made by last years cellar dwellers, the Seattle Mariners. The Texas Rangers, a surprise contender a year ago, will be doomed by their lack of pitching once again this season. If anyone is poised for a significant drop-off, its the Oakland Athletics, who will feature a starting rotation with three players under the age of 25. In the end, the well-balanced and newly re-christened Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (the name change being a thinly-veiled attempt to increase revenues) will most likely make the playoffs.
My pick: Angels
National League East: The East should be one of the most competitive divisions in 2005, as three teams (Atlanta, Florida and the New York Mets) all appear to have a legitimate chance to win. However, as their early 1-6 start indicates, I believe the perennially-underachieving Mets will do so once again this season, despite the offseason additions of Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez. This division will be a dogfight between the Braves and Marlins, with the loser most likely ending up as the NL Wild Card.
My pick: Marlins (Braves as wild card)
National League Central: The mantra in this division has always been If the Cubs are healthy, they could Well, the Cubs (mostly notably starting pitchers Mark Prior and Kerry Wood) were not healthy in 2004, and the preliminary outlook for 2005 isnt too rosy either. The St. Louis Cardinals, NL Champions a year ago, are back and ready to make up for their four-game collapse in last years World Series. The Houston Astros received a nice boost with the return of seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens but will miss the departed Beltran. Its in the cards for the Cards again this season, as they will win over 100 games and take the division crown.
My pick: Cardinals
National League West: While there appear to be clear-cut favorites in just about every division in baseball this season, the NL West is definitely the exception to that rule. With artificially-enhanced über-player Barry Bonds on the shelf for an indefinite amount of time, the San Francisco Giants could fall in the standings. The Dodgers made a number of interesting (some would say foolhardy) personnel decisions this past winter, and I would be surprised if they repeated as division champs in 2005. Instead, it will be the underdog San Diego Padres that make the playoffs for the first time since 1998, beating out an improved Arizona Diamondbacks team.
My pick: Padres
Even in this era of beefed-up sluggers and inflated offensive numbers, the key to success in the big leagues still comes back to one thing: pitching. It is for this reason I think the Twins will shock New Yorkers when they top the Yankees in the AL Division Series in October. I also believe the Red Sox will see their luck run out as they are beaten in the ALDS by the Angels. In the National League, the Marlins and their outstanding staff will move past the Padres in round one while the Cardinals will defeat the Braves in the other series.
In the American League Championship Series, the Angels will emerge victorious from their 2002 ALCS rematch with the Twins, while the Marlins will surprise and win the National League Pennant over the Cardinals. Your 2005 World Series Champion? For the second time in three years (remember 2003s improbable upset of the Yankees?), it will be none other than the Fightin Fish themselves, the Florida Marlins.