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Will Wood regain dominance?

MAILBAG: March 20

Q: If you had to predict the World Series now, who would you pick? -- Gary Lordi, Las Vegas, Nev.
-- It's still early, and I want to see how serious the Andy Pettitte, Fernando Vina, Ivan Rodriguez (et al) injuries turn out to be. Put it this way, I think the teams in each league with the best chance, in no set order, are: AL -- New York, Oakland, Seattle; NL -- St. Louis, Houston, Atlanta, Arizona.

Kerry Wood

Q: From what you've seen of Chicago Cubs starter Kerry Wood so far, what's your feeling on the kind of year he's going to have? Is he ever going to regain the dominance he once had? -- Martin, Milwaukee, Wisc.
-- The one thing I worry about is the way the torque on his breaking ball wears on his elbow. But if he stays healthy, I think he wins 20 and dominates ... I love the character and the mean streak.

Q: The best player in the NL over the past four years has been Sammy Sosa. Nobody else, including Barry Bonds, comes close to Sammy's consistent level of output since 1998. So how can you exclude him from your list of the five best players in the NL going into the season? -- Larry Rublin, Bet Shemesh, Israel
-- I stand corrected. But please don't embarrass anyone by comparing him to Bonds.

Q: Do you see the Seattle Mariners making any moves before the start of the season? If so, how will this affect their pitching staff? -- Chris, Seattle
-- I would guess that they will play into the season and see what they need, but I can see them getting another bat and one more power arm.

Q: In the past few years we've seen teams shoot into the spotlight from seemingly nowhere. Who are the best bets to be surprise teams this year? -- Nick Wilson, Akron, Ohio
-- I thought it might be Colorado, but their 60/40 financial woes scare me. Florida could if all those pitchers perform, but I worry that a couple of them are great arms that never rise above their stuff (or .500). San Diego could sneak in as a surprise. And if Toronto ever scores with pitchers Roy Halladay, Chris Carpenter and Luke Prokopec -- and the Yankees and Red Sox are beaten up -- I can see them as a surprise team.

Q: Do you believe the Atlanta Braves are still the team to beat in the NL East? -- Bryan, New Orleans
-- Very close to it. Their lineup is superb, but I worry about the depth of both their starting pitching and bullpen. I also have been a little disappointed in Marcus Giles this spring. If he had his brother's makeup, I would feel better.

Nick Johnson

Q: Now that the Yankees will have Jason Giambi playing first, do you think they will trade first-base prospect Nick Johnson during midseason to solidify the left-field position? -- Brian Boisier, New York
-- Nick Johnson will turn out to be a big part of this team, as the full-time DH and part-time first baseman.

Q: Clearly Vladimir Guerrero is one of the most talented players in the game today, and he's just 26 years old. Why don't we hear more about teams trying to acquire him from the Montreal Expos? -- Drew Campbell, Tullahoma, Tenn.
-- He's a franchise chip if the Expos get sold and moved. But, anyway, the joke that is Major League Baseball running this franchise probably precludes any such deal. This is how embarrassing these buffoons in the New York office are -- the minor-league people report that not only did the Jeffrey Loria people take all the computers and major-league equipment with them to Florida, but they took all the pitching machines, radar guns and modern equipment. So the Expos' minor leaguers are being prepared and taught by equipment that makes Cuban equipment look good. And, remember, when I asked where two wooden bats a Cuban youth team was using came from, the coach told me, "They are pre-revolution -- about 1958."

The Expos have been told they are "on a limited budget." This is a joke, a disgrace and clearly reeks of administration by people with no respect or feel for the game -- a Wal-Mart joke. If there are fans in Montreal, they should barrage the commissioner's office with hundreds of calls a day. And you know what? These owners don't care. They want the media to vilify union chief Donald Fehr, and they pull this? The MLB motto for the season should be: "Baseball Fever -- We've Found the Cure!"

Q: What do you anticipate being the most competitive division in 2002? -- Robert, Chicago
-- The AL West.

Q: Does Scott Rolen to the Cleveland Indians not make perfect sense? The Philadelphia Phillies' third baseman will be a free agent, he'd be a perfect three or five hitter for the Indians, and they have some room to make a long-term offer after the season. -- Rick Lopez, Youngstown, Ohio
-- It does make sense, although I wonder if the Indians would spend the money. With their bank of young pitchers but few positional players, Rolen would be a perfect player and the type of person GM Mark Shapiro is looking for.

Q: Will New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine be able to survive a slow start, or do you think heads could roll early? -- Vernon E. Ohler, Connellsville, Pa.
-- I think there are six to eight managers whose jobs could be in jeopardy, but I hadn't thought of Valentine. People who don't like him say he won't like being in the background with all these stars, but I believe that he burns to win a world championship and will do whatever he has to do, sublimating whatever is supposed to be his flaw, to win.

Q: Do you think that Harold Baines will hook up with a team this year? Maybe one last run with the Chicago White Sox? Also, do you think he has any shot at the Hall of Fame? -- Andy, White Bear Lake, Minn.
-- Harold's problem is that he can't play in the field, so it's going to be difficult for him to get enough at-bats to pass 3,000 hits convincingly enough to justify a DH in Cooperstown. If it were based on hitting and character and integrity, he would be in.

Cliff Floyd

Q: What's your view on the Florida Marlins this year? Can they compete? Can they win the NL East? -- Americo Padilla, Miami, Fla.
-- If their pitching staff from 1-to-11 all hit it big, yes, but that would take a lot. I don't see a lot of production in that lineup. Other than Cliff Floyd, who is an RBI guy? A lot may depend on what their new administration does in terms of trades.

Q: How serious do you believe the financial impact on the Baltimore Orioles would be if D.C. got a baseball team? There seems to be quite an argument about this. Everybody's got a study to back their point ... any sense as to which is on the level? -- Chris, Washington, D.C.
-- First, baseball would pay reparations. When the Orioles were well-run by Edward Bennett Williams, they generated 30 to 40 percent of their revenues out of D.C. But whatever the percentage now, what's happened to make them a bad team has nothing to do with market -- it has to do with incompetent ownership. Period.

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