King Kaufman’s Sports Daily

Look back in horror: This column's preseason baseball predictions, reviewed.

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With baseball back in full-service mode Friday night, the second “half” of the season is under way, so it’s a good time to look back at this column’s preseason predictions about the American and National leagues to remind everyone just what a complete dunce this column is.

Also because that’s what we columnists do after the All-Star break.

One of my favorite Web sites these days is Fire Joe Morgan, a blog with a fairly obvious goal, one I happen to disagree with. But it’s a rare example of the printed word making me laugh out loud.

The site’s writers — who identify themselves as dak, Ken Tremendous, Junior, Matthew Murbles and Coach — comment on baseball commentary by Morgan or anybody else they think reaches Morganesque levels of baseball unenlightenment. The “Baseball Tonight” crew is a favorite target, as is MSNBC columnist Mike Celizik, known to the FJM crew as “Hat Guy.”

FJM presents the commentator’s words in boldface, followed by the site’s “Mystery Science Theater 3000″-like reaction in plain text. Like this exchange from a Joe Morgan chat at ESPN.com — the reviews of which are Fire Joe Morgan’s best material — in which he’s talking about whether you can use statistics to evaluate a player. The response is by Junior:

Joe Morgan: I never would have gotten a chance to play if someone had just looked at me on paper. I got a chance and it paid off.

For the last time, Joe: you had great statistics. Because you were great at playing baseball. In spite of your underwhelming physical appearance. I don’t know how to be more emphatic about this. I’m already writing in choppy sentence. Fragments.

To my knowledge, I’ve never gotten the treatment. So, while I can’t do it justice, I’m going to steal the format. Sample it, as it were, which makes it more of a tribute and less of a theft, as we look back at our look ahead to this season.

A.L. WEST

Too much Orlando Cabrera, or a key injury or two among the pitchers, and this [the Angels] is a wild-card team and first-round loser at best.

The Angels aren’t going to win the wild card, but they could still sneak away with this weak division. Orlando Cabrera, of course, is having a fine season.



3. Texas Rangers: All kinds of offense in a hitter’s park, but, like their National League cousins the Colorado Rockies, they just can’t seem to put together a pitching staff.

The Rangers are tied for first thanks to their improved pitching. And the Rockies? They’re fifth in the National League in pitching. Sweet analysis!

[For the Mariners] It’s going to be another long year in a tough division.

The Mariners are three games out in baseball’s weakest division.

A.L. CENTRAL

1. Chicago White Sox: Your World Series champs have one of the best starting rotations in the game, and they’ve added slugger Jim Thome. If he’s healthy, which he wasn’t last year in Philadelphia but has been so far this spring, he’ll help a lot. Barring injuries, there’s no reason to think the White Sox won’t be at least as good in 2006 as they were in 2005.

Blind squirrels and broken clocks come to mind here, eh? Also, I picked the A’s to win the West, and they’re tied for first place, though they’re barely over .500.

Actually, my Central Division section wasn’t too bad. I picked the Indians second, but expressed pretty major reservations about them. I said I was unimpressed by the Twins’ offseason moves but that if a bunch of things went right, they could contend for the wild card. They’re not quite doing that thanks to the White Sox and Tigers being so far ahead, but they’re playing well of late, and they’re in third, right where I put ‘em.

Oh, right. The Tigers.

Jim Leyland comes out of retirement to manage a team that’s moving in the right direction and has some good-looking young pitchers, but isn’t quite there yet.

That was technically true when I wrote it, because Opening Day was five days in the future. The Tigers have the best record in baseball and are on pace to win 105 games.

A.L. EAST

I picked the Blue Jays to finish first because it’s a tradition of mine not to pick the Yankees, but my analysis was, again, not terrible:

If [A.J.] Burnett can stay healthy, he and Roy Halladay are a formidable top two. If 30-year-old career middle reliever Ryan wasn’t a one-year wonder as a closer in Baltimore, well, hey, that’d be great. New corner infielders Troy Glaus and Lyle Overbay add some pop. I don’t really know if there’s enough here to beat the Yanks.

Burnett hasn’t stayed healthy, everything else was pretty accurate, and the Blue Jays trail the Yanks by two games — and the Red Sox by four and a half. I also said the Yankees couldn’t count on much from Gary Sheffield, Randy Johnson or the rest of their pitching, which was smart, and that you never can tell about Jason Giambi, which was noncommittal. Giambi’s had a good year.

[The Red Sox, picked to finish third, are] a team hoping for big things from old and/or injury-damaged Curt Schilling, Mike Lowell, Trot Nixon and Keith Foulke.

And, Foulke excepted, that’s exactly what they’ve gotten, not to mention dynamite rookie closer Jonathan Papelbon, whom I cleverly neglected to mention.

Here, for ease of ridicule, are this column’s American League predictions in one place.

Western Division champions: Oakland A’s
Central Division champions: Chicago White Sox
Eastern Division champions: Toronto Blue Jays
Wild card: Los Angeles Angels

And here’s how it would go if the season ended today:

Western Division champions: Oakland A’s/Texas Rangers
Central Division champions: Detroit Tigers
Eastern Division champions: Boston Red Sox
Wild card: Chicago White Sox

N.L. WEST

Rafael Furcal will help [the Dodgers], and if J.D. Drew, Jeff Kent, Eric Gagne and Brad Penny can stay healthy all year, the Dodgers can win this weak division.

Not really, pretty much, not entirely, no and yes. And the Dodgers are in second place, two and a half behind the Padres, with a decent chance to win this weak division, one of two in the league. I saw Nomar Garciaparra’s 1.000 OPS coming, of course. I just forgot to mention it.

2. San Diego Padres: One of the worst division champions in history overhauled the roster without appearing to get better. The likes of Vinnie Castilla, Mike Cameron and even the current model of Mike Piazza are not the stuff of dynasties, or even 2006 contenders.

Right. Except that the Padres are in first place, they’d be a half game out in the Central, and they have the third best record in the league. Other than that, they’re not good enough to be contenders. They’re also 40 points of winning percentage better than last year, which translates to seven games by the end of the season.

Nothing to get overly excited about, and don’t forget Denver is the place where pitchers go to have nervous breakdowns, but given the context of their weak division, the [Rockies] can win 75 games, finish third and feel pretty good about themselves.

Denver has ceased to be the place where pitchers go to have nervous breakdowns. The Rockies, as mentioned, are fifth in the league in pitching and they’re playing .500 baseball. They’re in fourth place, but only four games out in the division and one and a half out in the wild card.

N.L. CENTRAL

Not too bad. I said the Cardinals looked like they’ve slipped but still have enough to win the division — they’re only on a 90-win pace, but lead by four games. I said the Brewers could contend for the wild card if everything went right and Ben Sheets stayed healthy — he didn’t and they’re hanging around the wild-card race.

And I picked the Cubs third and said if Mark Prior and Kerry Wood weren’t healthy, they wouldn’t make the playoffs. Those two aren’t healthy, and not making the playoffs is now just a nice way to put it for a hideous team being kept out of last place only by Pittsburgh.

4. Houston Astros: I’ve been predicting the demise of the Astros for years, and they keep not demising. They even went to the World Series last year after starting 15-30. Just to make me look bad. But this looks like the year.

Bzzzt. Wrong again. The Astros have the same record as the Brewers, and they ended the first half by getting swept by the Cubs. But they’ve got Roger Clemens for the whole second half, and they just added Aubrey Huff, a small but real upgrade on offense. They might not win, but demise isn’t the word either.

6. Cincinnati Reds: The Reds can hit, but, man, can they ever not pitch. They did a little something to address that problem last week by trading outfielder Wily Mo Pena to the Boston Red Sox for right-hander Bronson Arroyo, who goes from being a swingman at Fenway to the front of the rotation at Great American Ballpark. That should give you some idea.

Of what a dunce this column is.

The Reds are third in scoring, 11th in ERA. That doesn’t sound great, but they play in a bandbox, and they’re better pitchers than five other teams. Not quite good enough, but closer to good enough than to “can they ever not pitch.”

And of course Arroyo got to Cincinnati and became an ace. He’s tied for sixth in the league in ERA.

The Reds made a huge trade with the Nationals Thursday, sending outfielder Austin Kearns and shortstop Felipe Lopez for a package of middle relievers and Royce Clayton. It looks like they gave up a lot to get some middle-relief help, which is always a tricky thing to predict, but then again, middle-relief help is what they needed, and you can make the argument that Kearns and Lopez are pretty replaceable.

Oh, and as for picking the Reds sixth, they’re second, four games out, and a half game out in the wild-card race.

N.L. EAST

The Mets are the pick because I’m tired of picking the Phillies and being disappointed, though that’s too strong a word. I have no expectations of success here, you understand.

Nice! I finally make the right call in the N.L. East, where I make it a tradition not to pick the Braves, and then I undermine it.

The Mets lead the division by 12 games.

2. Atlanta Braves: I’ll hedge by calling the Braves a wild-card team, but I realize I’m kidding myself.

Yeah, the Braves are hopelessly out of the wild-card race too.

3. Philadelphia Phillies: It looks like another gentleman’s third in 2006. The good news is that Pat Gillick is the new general manager, and he wasted no time making the kinds of smart moves that helped him build winners in Toronto, Baltimore and Seattle, starting with the unloading of Jim Thome to make room for Ryan Howard at first base.

Yeah, bet Gillick’s pretty happy to have dumped Thome on the White Sox.

This team [the Nationals] still has no owner, and general manager Jim Bowden’s trade of Brad Wilkerson for Alfonso Soriano, he of the tantrum over moving to left field, speaks volumes … As a second baseman, Soriano’s a notable slugger. As a left fielder, he’s just another dude who strikes out a lot.

The team has an owner now, and Soriano is having a superb year.

Wilkerson apparently had to go, but why put up with the problems Soriano was sure to bring just to stick him in left field? On Florida spring days it rains outfielders who can post an .810 OPS in a hitter’s park like the one the Texas Rangers play in.

Soriano has posted an .888 OPS in the severe pitcher’s park the Nats play in. Baseball Prospectus rates him as the fifth best hitter in the league among left fielders, the eighth best among all outfielders. Not exactly the type that falls from trees.

Wilkerson? He’s posted an .819 OPS in the hitter’s park the Texas Rangers play in.

The splashy but ultimately useless trade is a hallmark of Bowden, architect of the consistently mediocre Cincinnati Reds of 1993-2003. This team needs a front office.

If a lot of observers are correct, Bowden just pantsed the Reds. I’m not so sure he did, but I’m not so sure he didn’t. At any rate, that’s the general tenor of the early commentary I’ve seen.

Here, for ease of ridicule, are this column’s National League predictions in one place.

Western Division champions: Los Angeles Dodgers
Central Division champions: St. Louis Cardinals
Eastern Division champions: New York Mets
Wild card: Atlanta Braves

And here’s how it would go if the season ended today:

Western Division champions: San Diego Padres
Central Division champions: St. Louis Cardinals
Eastern Division champions: New York Mets
Wild card: Los Angeles Dodgers

Say, that’s not too bad. If the Dodgers make up those two and a half games on the Padres, which could happen, I should sweep the divisions. Maybe, at least when it comes to the National League, I really do know what I’m talking about.

National League champions: Atlanta Braves

Maybe not.

Previous column: Crime and punishment at the World Cup

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