Baseball 2007: How the season should shape up

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Seems like every wannabe with a keyboard or a microphone has a preview of the Major League Baseball season that began Sunday in St. Louis. The difference between all those exercises in futility and this preview? This one comes with a 100 percent money back guarantee! That’s right, if I don’t have every division winner and playoff qualifier correct, my annual NFL preview coming in August will be absolutely free!

A.L. EAST

1. NEW YORK
2. BOSTON
3. TORONTO
4. BALTIMORE
5. TAMPA BAY

The Yankees’ sketchy early season rotation is a concern, but Boston’s Curt Schilling is a year more worn, Josh Beckett had a mediocre ’06 and the bank-busting Daisuke Matsuzaka is nothing but potential until we see him against the loaded AL lineups. Alex Rodriguez responds to Bronx boos with another MVP season and the Yanks win their 11th straight division flag. Toronto has two studs at the top of the rotation, but not enougharms to contend into September.

AL CENTRAL

1. DETROIT
2. CLEVELAND
3. MINNESOTA
4. CHICAGO
5. KANSAS CITY

The Tigers are the league’s best team, period. Mike Maroth’s return will offset the Kenny Rogers injury out of the gate, and the battalion of human bazookas in the bullpen will turn most games into seven-inning affairs for Detroit. The Indians will win the wild card with one of the deepest five-man rotations in baseball. Grady Sizemore is the most talented all-around player in the AL and will join Jhonny Peralta, Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez in one of baseball’s best run-producing lineups. The injury to Francisco Liriano and the retirement of Brad Radke will be hard to cover up in the Twins’ rotation, while Chicago added Darren Erstad in the off-season but lost Freddy Garcia. Not much improvement from last season.

AL WEST

1. LOS ANGELES
2. OAKLAND
3. TEXAS
4. SEATTLE

The only real edge the Angels have over the A’s? Their two best pitchers, Bartolo Colon and Jared Weaver, return after injuries, while the A’s best pitcher is on the wrong side of the Bay. Rich Harden is the new ace in Oakland, which is fine if he stays healthy. Mike Piazza won’t be Big Hurting opponents the way Frank Thomas did last year, putting even more pressure on the likes of Eric Chavez to be consistent. The Rangers have huge bats, but are too young and thin on the mound to be a threat.

NL EAST

1. PHILADELPHIA
2. NEW YORK
3. ATLANTA
4. FLORIDA
5. WASHINGTON

The Phillies are the deepest team in the NL. Pitchers will lie awake at night thinking of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, etc. Only question is if Charlie Manuel is the right motivator in Philly. The Mets are loaded again, but with Pedro Martinez out early and Tom Glavine on the wrong side of 40, they’re relying on too many young throwers to mature in a hurry and will settle for the wild card.

NL CENTRAL

1. ST. LOUIS
2. MILWAUKEE
3. HOUSTON
4. CINCINNATI
5. CHICAGO
6. PITTSBURGH

The rotation has question marks after Chris Carpenter, but the defending champs are still managed by one of the best and they still have guys named Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen in the middle of the lineup. A hesitant vote of confidence for the Redbirds. Jeff Suppan adds another quality arm in Milwaukee and the Brewers will score runs as position players such as Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks evolve. The Astros will miss Andy Pettite, while the Reds, Cubs and Pirates just aren’t ready.

NL WEST

1. LOS ANGELES
2. SAN DIEGO
3. ARIZONA
4. SAN FRANCISCO
5. COLORADO

Sorry to break the bad news to Giants’ fans, but your enemies at Chavez Ravine are stacked. Jason Schmidt and Randy Wolf join Derek Lowe and Brad Penny to form a terrific rotation while the lineup is solid, if not spectacular. They’ll be pushed by the Padres, but San Diego is relying too heavily on graybeards Greg Maddux and David Wells for my taste. Randy Johnson’s return to the desert to join Brandon Webb gives the D-backs a solid 1-2 punch, but the position players are too young to matter right now. And the Giants? Well, enjoy the wheelchair ride to 756, because it’ll be the only chase the Giants are involved in this summer.

AL CHAMP: DETROIT

NL CHAMP: PHILADELPHIA

WORLD SERIES CHAMP: DETROIT

Sports personality Bob Frantz is a regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at bfrantz@examiner.com.

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