|Some off-the-wall predictions|
by Adam Geiger
Looking into the crystal ball
Parity. Every league strives for it, sports fans crave it, and memorable moments hinge on its existence. Yet, prior to the 2001 season, the term was an unborn concept in the wonderful world of Major League Baseball.
Pittsburgh Pirates: The last time the Pirates had a record over .500, they won their division. Fourteen years later, Pittsburgh finally seems to be headed in the right direction. If Opening Day starter Oliver Perez can return to his 2004 form, and young guns Zach Duke and Paul Malholm continue their hot finishes to 2005, the Bucs could be the surprise of the year. With the acquisitions of Jeromy Burnitz and Sean Casey complimenting the big bat of Jason Bay, the lowly Pirates may finally make some noise in the National League playoff picture.
Toronto Blue Jays: Considering the amount of money they spent this off-season, the Jays are a legitimate contender. Too bad they’re already behind before they even play a game. Playing in the American League East, the Jays will find themselves in a year-long scrap with the Yankees and Red Sox, two teams who possess the experience that their northern opponents lack. In their favour, Toronto still has the best pitcher in the AL (Roy Halladay), two powerful bats (Vernon Wells and Troy Glaus), and a newly acquired stable closer (B.J Ryan). If manager John Gibbons can get his new toys to work together, the Jays may find themselves in the post-season for the first time since their championship years in the early 1990s.
Washington Nationals: Long are the days where this franchise found themselves playing “home games” in Puerto Rico as the Montreal Expos. Now, anchored in D.C, the Nationals are primed for a run at the playoffs. With a strong pitching staff making their home in pitcher- friendly RFK stadium, the Nats’ won’t have a problem keeping the runs off the board, but scoring them will be an issue. To solve their problem, General Manager Jim Bowden picked up Alfonso Soriano from the Rangers, whose 104 RBI’s should be a lift to an offence that ranked last in runs scored in 2005.
Seattle Mariners: It’s only a matter of time before their bats carry them despite their lackluster pitching, so why not 2006? If the World Baseball Classic is any indicator, the M’s will have a rejuvenated Ichiro Suzuki at their disposal, however it’s another Japanese phenom that could make the difference in Seatown. Kenji Johima, signed by the Mariners this past off season, hit .309 with 24 home runs last season in the Pacific League of Japan. If Johima can come close to those numbers in a Major League uniform and Ichiro hovers around a . 330 average, Seattle could contend for a wildcard spot in the American League.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: This one may not work out for 2006, but watch out for the Rays in years to come. Scott Kazmir will win a Cy Young award by the time he’s retired and Carl Crawford can run like a Saskatchewan wind AND both of which are still in their early 20s.