Crystal ball sees L.A. winning it all in 2007
by Jim Callis
CHICAGO—Picking the Athletics to beat the Cubs in the 2004 World Series doesn't require a great leap of faith. Both have formidable pitching staffs and are coming off playoff appearances a year ago.
The columnist's union makes us tout ourselves on the rare occasions when we get something right, so I'm here to remind you that I made that very prediction in this space--in 2001.
In what has become an annual part of our Major League Preview issue, I looked ahead three years into the future. Besides that matchup, I also forecast division titles for the Braves, Dodgers, White Sox and Yankees, as well as wild cards for the Astros and Red Sox.
I'm also on record with the Astros beating the Mariners in the 2005 Series and the Cubs vanquishing the Twins in 2006. Now it's time to look ahead to 2007.
The Yankees and Red Sox still boast the two largest payrolls in the game. But what the Blue Jays lack in financial resources they make up for in young talent, winning the American League East with a lineup and rotation that's purely homegrown with the exception of Eric Hinske.
Double-play partners Russ Adams and Aaron Hill set the table for a lineup powered by outfielders Alexis Rios and Vernon Wells and DH Carlos Delgado. The rotation is equally strong, headlined by Roy Halladay, Dustin McGowan and Francisco Rosario.
The Indians return to the postseason for the first time in six years, edging the Twins in the AL Central. Like Toronto, Cleveland is self-sufficient, as only Travis Hafner among its key players has appeared in the majors with another club. Outfielder Grady Sizemore, catcher Victor Martinez and first baseman Michael Aubrey lead a revitalized offense, while C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee give the Tribe a pair of tough lefties to front the rotation.
Out West, the Angels rise to the top thanks to a combination of farm-system products (most notably, first baseman Casey Kotchman, catcher Jeff Mathis, righthander Ervin Santana and third baseman Dallas McPherson) and free agents (Alfonso Soriano, Vicente Padilla). Both the Athletics (Tim Hudson, Rich Harden, Joe Blanton) and Mariners (Felix Hernandez, Joel Pineiro, Clint Nageotte) have fearsome big threes, but not enough offense to overtake Anaheim.
The Yankees continue to spend heavily, pushing well past the $200 million payroll barrier with free agents Carlos Beltran, Mark Mulder and Jose Vidro. But their thin farm system provides little in the way of big league help or trade fodder, and proves to be their undoing. The Red Sox grab the wild card with a mix of veterans (Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez), young talent (Hanley Ramirez, Kelly Shoppach) and free agents (Aubrey Huff, Johan Santana).New Look Works For Brewers
Four teams enter the final two weeks with a chance to win the National League East, with the Phillies emerging victorious. Their lineup is similar to what they'll put on the field in 2004, while Cole Hamels and Gavin Floyd have joined Brett Myers to form one of the game's best trios of starters.
By contrast, the Brewers barely resemble their 2004 edition--and that's great news. They take the NL Central behind young stars such as second baseman Rickie Weeks, first baseman Prince Fielder, shortstop J.J. Hardy and right fielder Brad Nelson. The rotation is solid from top to bottom with Wade Townsend (their 2004 first-round pick), Ben Sheets, Manny Parra, Mike Jones and Jorge de la Rosa.
The NL West champion Dodgers are another club with a radically different look from the present. They've overhauled a moribund offense with free agents Nomar Garciaparra and Magglio Ordonez, plus prospects like first baseman James Loney, outfielders Franklin Gutierrez and Xavier Paul and second baseman Andy LaRoche. The pitching staff remains a strength, thanks to youngsters Edwin Jackson, Greg Miller and Joel Hanrahan and the addition of Barry Zito.
A rotation of Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Angel Guzman, Carlos Zambrano, Justin Jones and a bullpen led by closer Andy Sisco carries the Cubs to the wild card. After bidding adieu to Sammy Sosa, Chicago has rebuilt its offense around an outfield of Corey Patterson, Ryan Harvey and Felix Pie.Dodgers Leave Jays Blue
The Blue Jays take out the Indians in five games in one AL Division Series, leaving their pitchers better rested than those of the Red Sox, who need seven to eliminate the Angels. That difference allows Toronto to win the AL Championship Series in six games.
The NL Championship Series features the Brewers and Dodgers on equal footing, as both required six games to advance past the first round. Los Angeles' pitching superiority is too much for Milwaukee, which succumbs in five games.
The World Series goes the distance, with Halladay and Jackson facing off in Game Seven. Loney's two-run homer in the fourth inning opens the scoring before Rios cuts the lead in half with a solo shot in the sixth. The Blue Jays put runners on the corners with one out in the ninth, but Eric Gagne whiffs Wells and Delgado to give the Dodgers their first championship since 1988.