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December 06, 2001

Play Ball!
By Dan Patrick

I have to admit that for the last few years, I have looked at the major league baseball season from a "Who can beat the Yankees?" angle. Since the middle of 1998, the Yankees have been the best team, and organization, in baseball. Mine is not a backlash reaction to the Yankees' success. I just think baseball needs a new champion for the sake of drama and excitement. I can't enjoy a movie when I know how it's going to end.

That being said, I like the Oakland A's to win it all. Now if you take the opening day rosters of the Yankees and A's, you might take the A's too. But that doesn't matter. The Yanks will have a different lineup in June and a decidedly different one in September. They have the money, the inclination and the expertise to go out and get whatever they need to make themselves better. They don't ever "make do" when it comes to their lineup.

Jason Giambi
Jason Giambi could lead the A's to a World Championship.

I still like the A's. They have pitching, patient hitters, a superstar in Jason Giambi and emerging stars in Miguel Tejada, Eric Chavez, Terrence Long and Tim Hudson. For this year, they even have Johnny Damon. And they have last year's playoff experience to build on.

Here is a look at the divisions and then my predictions for some awards and other postseason stuff.

AL East: Yankees. Red Sox finish second, despite their early season problems. The other teams do not have enough.

AL Central: White Sox are No. 1, but the Indians are No. 1A. This may be the last go-round for Cleveland as the team ages (Kenny Lofton, Omar Vizquel, Roberto Alomar) and plugs in other holes with reclamation projects (Wil Cordero, Chuck Finley and Bob Wickman). I like the White Sox adding David Wells and Royce Clayton.

AL West: The A's, of course. Seattle will take second because they have a little hitting to go with some good pitching. The Rangers have potentially great offense but almost no pitching.

NL East: I like the Mets. Bobby Valentine really works those guys into a nice team. Robin Ventura and Al Leiter are great leaders. Kevin Appier and Steve Trachsel will give you the innings you need to get to that great bullpen. The Braves have holes: John Smoltz's elbow, Kevin Millwood's return to form -- and they don't know what to do for a backup at catcher. I like them for second place.

NL Central: Houston Astros.Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Moises Alou and Richard Hidalgo will form a pretty potent offense and the pitchers will adjust to Enron. The Cardinals will finish second, but I'd have them first if Rick Ankiel weren't such a big question mark.

NL West: San Francisco Giants. Barry Bonds is in a contract year, Robb Nen is unhittable and good young pitchers plus Dusty Baker equals a division title. I like the Los Angeles Dodgers for second place. The dysfunctional family rises to the occasion in the best division in baseball.

NL MVP: Jeff Bagwell
AL MVP: Ivan Rodriguez
AL Cy Young: Pedro Martinez
NL Cy Young: Randy Johnson
Comeback player of the year: Larry Walker
Breakout player: Eric Chavez
Surprise teams: Milwaukee Brewers and Florida Marlins
Disappointing team: Cincinnati Reds

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