When April with Its Showers Sweet, part 2

by

Now for the AL. . . .

AL East

1. New York

Is anything more certain this year than New York and Boston finishing 1-2 in the AL East? Steinbrenner finally got his prized unit, Randy Johnson, to anchor his staff, which should feature 5 quality starters. The offense is ridiculous, with Tony Womack filling the only weak spot and providing much needed speed (Bernie Williams batting eighth!). The bullpen may be the best in baseball with Gordon and Quantrill setting up Mo Rivera. The evil empire looks as strong as ever. Keep your eye on Jaret Wright. Was last year an abberation, or is he back for real? How will he respond to the New York pressure cooker? Will he succeed away from Mazzone?

2. Boston

The defending world champs also look strong and could possibly challenge the Yanks, though a wild card birth seems more likely. Offensively, this team should be even stronger, adding Edgar Renteria to the lineup. Renteria also upgrades the defense, which may struggle some with Mark Bellhorn at second base. The biggest loss is clearly Pedro Martinez, but Derek Lowe also won a ton of games for the Sox over the last few years. David Ortiz may push to be the first DH to win an MVP award. Keep your eye on human rain delay Matt Clement. Clement has always won less than he should because he worked so slowly his defense lost focus behind him. This may be a problem for the Sox, a fairly indifferent defensive team.

3. Baltimore

Quick: name two Orioles starting pitchers besides Sidney Ponson. Therein lies the problem for this team, which will rely on an unproven rotation to try and hunt down the Yanks and Sawks. Well, that and playing in the unmerciful AL East. This team has an outstanding offense, adding Sosa to Tejada, Lopez, Palmeiro, etc. They should also have a pretty solid bullpen, adding Steve Kline to Jorge Julio and B. J. Ryan. This will give them a lock on 3rd, but it’s hard to fathom how they will ever be able to contend playing in this division. Keep an eye on Larry Bigbie, one of the best young hitters in the game, has been moved to the two hole in the lineup. Hitting in front of the heart of the order, Bigbie should feast on fastballs and put up big numbers.

4. Toronto

This team is closer to 5th than 3rd, but I give them a slight edge over Tampa due to their pitching. If Roy Halladay comes back to form, he’ll help Ted Lilly provide a solid 1-2 at the top of the rotation. Miguel Bautista has the stuff to succeed in the closer’s role. The lineup’s fairly thin with the loss of Delgado; their going to need a monster year from Vernon Wells to score many runs. Keep an eye on Eric Hinske. The former Rookie of the Year moves to first base, hoping to rediscover his hitting stroke.

5. Tampa Bay

This is an exciting young team with some good talent but probably not enough experience to avoid 90 losses. Their rotation is especially young, headed by phenoms Dewon Brazleton and Scott Kazmir. Both are very talented, but it’s unfair to ask anyone to learn to pitch at the major leagues against the lineups in this division. The offense has tons of speed with Crawford and Baldelli, and Aubrey Huff provides some pop. This is one of the better defenses in the AL, especially in the outfield. Keep an eye on Carl Crawford, the most talented leadoff hitter in baseball not born in Japan. One of the most exciting players in the game, but no one knows because of where he plays (Tampa, not left field).

AL CENTRAL1. ClevelandI may be a year ahead on these guys; this is still a really young team. They also have bullpen concerns; I’m not sure if you want Bob Wickman as your closer. However, their lining is bursting with talented young hitters — Hafner, Broussard, Martinez, Sizemore, Victor Martinez. Their rotation is also very good one through four, and I think Millwood will have a bounce back year. Keep your eye on Jhonny Peralta, who takes over for Omar Vizquel. In the mold of the new shortstop, big and powerful while being a good fielder; Tribe is expecting big things from this rookie.

2. MinnesotaStill a solid team; the favorite of most people to win. I still can’t figure out how this team has ever won; they play excellent defense and have just enough pitching and hitting to get by. I think they’ll miss Mientkiewicz’s leadership this year; though Justin Morneau is a better hitter. Johan Santana’s the best pitcher in the AL, even with the Unit changing leagues, and Nathan’s becoming a dominating closer. Keep your eye on Joe Mauer. Last year was supposed to be his coming out party, but he got hurt. If he hits as well as advertised will the Twins keep him at catcher for very long?3. Chicago

Probably a more talented team than Minnesota and maybe even Cleveland. Added Scott Podsednik who seems like a good leadoff hitter until you realize he gets on base at about a .300 clip. Lost Magglio and Carlos Lee, but added Jermaine Dye, and they still have Konerko and Thomas and Carl Everett, so power shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Rotation should be very good with Garcia and Buehrle at the top, and the bullpen has some good young arms to mix and match. Keep an eye on Jose Contreras, who should have a big year after escaping the glare of the Bronx. Or he could be Hideki Matsui.

4. Detroit

Offense could be quite good after adding Magglio to Pudge and company. Bullpen should be lights out with Urbina and Percival on the back end. Real concern is the rotation, which is talented but young. Bonderman, Maroth and Nate Robertson all have potential, but none of them is a proven commodity. Expect a great year from Pudge, who’s come to camp in the best shape of his career. Keep an eye on Carlos Pena. Enigmatic player who fields like a young Rafael Palmeiro and looks like he should hit like one. Is this the year he gets his power stroke going?

5. Kansas City

Should be eliminated from playoff contention right about . . . . now. No doubt the worst team in baseball. Mike Sweeney about the only legitimate Major League starter on their roster, well, Angel Berroa I guess. Jose Lima is the ace of their staff, the ace of their staff! Bullpen’s a wreck with the talented but inconsistent Jeremy Affeldt closing games. Lineup’s worse. Could score the fewest runs in the majors while giving up the most. Keep your eye on John Buck, acquired from Houston in the Carlos Beltran deal. Defensive wizard behind the plate who’s rumored to have improved his hitting in the offseason.

AL WEST1. AnaheimOr Los Angeles Angels or California Angels or California Raisins or whatever. Very good team in all phases. Upgraded their outfield defense by acquiring Steve Finley, who will also add some pop to the lineup. Made the playoffs last year without Garret Anderson in top form; look for him to rebound. Orlando Cabrera a definite upgrade over Eckstein at short, and their probably better starting Chone Figgins at second. Rotation is excellent four deep with Colon, Escobar, Washburn and Lackey. And you know about K-Rod and Vlad. Keep your eye on Dallas McPherson, who’ll replace Troy Glaus when he comes off the DL. Hit a ton of homers in the minors; anything the Angels get from him will be a bonus.

2. Texas

Offense is just lewd, featuring the best offensive infield in baseball with Blalock, Young, Soriano and Teixeira. Outfield is a mix and match deal, with Mench, Hidalgo, Delucci, Nix, and Matthews, Jr., but all of those guys hit pretty good. Bullpen is pretty solid with Koko Cordero closing the door. Rotation, as always is the worry; full of questions. Krogers is a year older, will Drese repeat his success from last year?, will Chan Ho Park ever get over giving up a home run to Cal Ripken in the All Star game? Keep your eye on Richard Hidalgo. I think he’ll find the Ballpark in Arlington to his liking. If he does, he could put up numbers reminiscent of his amazing 2000 season.

3. Seattle

Should improve a great deal on their pathetic attack from a year ago. Maybe Ichiro’s 300 hits will mean something this year with Sexson and Beltre hitting behind him. Rookie Jeremy Reed was handed the starting centerfield job out of spring training. Along with Ichiro and Randy Winn, may comprise the fastest outfield in the game (though Tampa’s is also very fast). Rotation pretty sketchy, relying on the inconsistent Joel Pineiro and 72 year old Jamie Moyer, one year for every mph on his fastball. Some people like Guardado as a closer, but I’m not high on him. Keep your eye on Ichiro. Just because he’s the most exciting player in the game. One of these years he’s going to make a real run at .400, and this could be the one.

4. Oakland

Could be a real tough year in Beane-town. Two of the big 3 are gone from the rotation, leaving behind the most inconsistent one. The other starters are all talented, but should have some growing pains; Rich Harden may emerge as the ace of the staff by year’s end. Offense is full of pretty good hitters, as is Beane’s style. All of these guys will get on base, but only Chavez and Crosby really scare you as an opposing pitcher. Maybe Durazo. Bullpen is a major concern. Octavio Dotel does not DOES NOT have the mental fortitude to close. Keep your eye on Huston Street. When Dotel has his inevitable meltdown, this young gun may step in to take over the closer’s role.

Well, there it is. Now, when the A’s meet the D’Backs in the World Series I’ll feel really smart.

Oh, award picks:

MVP: David Ortiz
Cy Young: Johan Santana
Rookie of the Year: Jhonny Peralta

Boston over Anaheim before beating the Indians in the ALCS.

Florida over Boston in the World Series.

Tourney recap

I was sure Illinois was going to pull it out when they tied it with about two minutes to play, but the Tarheels were able to make some plays down the stretch. I still think the Tarheels are a pretty soft team, but their just so talented they didn’t have to play a particularly good game to beat a very very good Illini team.

How important is playing well in the tournament for your draft status? Consider the point guard position this year. Chris Paul probably went into the tourney as the top point guard entering the draft, but Deron Williams and Ray Felton probably passed him by. Also, Andrew Bogut and Sean May didn’t hurt their stock any.

My answers to the tourney poll:
Best team to win — the best college basketball team I’ve ever seen was the 1990-91 UNLV squad with Johnson, Augmon, etc. They were probably better the second year, when Duke upset them. That year they came into Bud Walton (or was it still Barnhill) Arena and beat the No.2 Razorbacks by about thirty. That first year they beat Duke by about 40 in the title game. So, they’re both the best team to win and not to win. Best team never to win (which is a slightly different thing) was clearly Phi Slamma Jamma at the University of Houston.

My favorite single moment subjectively was clearly Scotty Thurman’s jumper over Antonio Lang to lead the Hogs over Dook in ’94. More objectively, the best play I remember was the Valpo play; inbound to half court, short pass to a streaking Bryce Drew for the game winner. A beautiful idea executed perfectly. The best worst play was the terrible shot by Derrick Wittenberg with 3 seconds left that turned into the beautiful pass to Lorenzo Charles that let the Wolfpack stun UH in the ’84 final. The greatest game ever ever in basketball has to be Kentucky-Dook in the regional final with the overtime and the Christian Laetner shot and all that. The greatest upset has to be Villanova over Georgetown, though NCState over Houston comes in pretty close.

All tourney team. What surprised me about this is that everyone always says guards win in the tournament, but most of the great players were front-court guys really. Especially small forwards (Manning, Rice, Grant Hill, Carmel0). Here goes:

First Team Second Team Third Team

Guard Isaiah Thomas Bobby Hurley Richard Hamilton
Guard Michael Jordan Mateen Cleaves Clyde Drexler
Center Patrick Ewing Akeem Olajuwon Pervis Ellison
Forward Christian Laetner Larry Johnson Corliss Williamson
Forward Danny Manning Grant Hill Glenn Rice

Carmelo deserves to be on here somewhere, but I didn’t have the heart to bump Corliss or Glenn. Also, someone from the ’96-’98 Kentucky teams, but which one?

A personal note from the women’s tourney: I tought high school three years ago at Westbury Christian School here in Houston. When I was there, they had a great boy’s team; Ndudi Ebi was a junior then and went straight to the NBA when he graduated. They also had an emerging girl’s team, and one of the girls, Emily Niemann, played a key role in helping Baylor win the championship. I was watching Sportscenter and I saw her name, and, sure enough, it was the same Emily. Congratulations Emily!

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5 Responses to “When April with Its Showers Sweet, part 2”

  1. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Awesome stuff, Andy…

    This is one of those guy things, but I’ll just add that I was at the UNLV/Arkansas game you brought up (it was Barnhill). Students camped out for a week for front row seats to see #1 vs. #2. I got in line with a friend at 5am for an 11:30am Sunday start (yes, I missed church – don’t tell anyone!). Through a quirk, we ended up sitting on the 3rd row for the game.

    Walter Payton (yes, Sweetness himself) walked into the arena with the UNLV team. He wore an American flag tie (this was during Desert Storm). There was a group protesting the war outside the arena. They were booed by the crowd. They were also lucky that the donut fight had already happened!

    Anyway, the Hogs were winning at halftime – the 1st time the Rebs were down at the half all year at that point (and this was late January or February I think). Lee Mayberry hit a crazy 3-pointer at halftime and the crowd went wild. The Rebs had to walk across the floor to the locker room directly in front of the student section. We all screamed at them of course. Just as they got off the floor and it quieted down, someone yelled, “Tarkanian, you’re a towel sucker!!!” (which got a good laugh)…

    Anyway, they came back in the 2nd half and beat us – both team scored over 100 points. Todd Day took a swing at Larry Johnson (what an idiot!). After the game, I shook hands with Stacy Augmon and Greg Anthony. I snubbed Larry Johnson since he got in a fight with Day (I’m sure that got him!!!). When we were about to leave, I decided that I ought to get Walter Payton’s autograph, but I didn’t get to… Sure wish I would have now…

    Anyway, thanks for the memories, Andy!!!

  2. guru junior Says:

    Great analysis Coolhand. Why aren’t you writing for SI or ESPN the magazine? You’re at least as good or better than Wilbon and Kornheiser. I want to see you on the Sports Reporters battling it out with Lupica. No offense meant to any of your fellow houseflies, but your better than a blogger. You should be getting paid for this.

  3. Michael Lasley Says:

    I agree, Guru. Andy’s analyses and insights are better (and written better) than the professionals that are considered the best.

  4. Coolhand Says:

    thank you for the kind words. as Spiderman would say, it’s good to have a fan (or fans).

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Good look at the American League. I was, however, surprised to see the new Dodger, Derek Lowe, mentioned with Boston.

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