by Fine Diner
again, it's time for the big show to begin, and time to
put my cursor where my mouth is. So, without further
adieu, Fine Diner's 2001 Major League baseball picks are
available to pick apart. Have fun.
The way his throws take off from second (like part of the
Apollo space program) maybe the Yankees should have
merely traded Chuck Knoblauch to the University of
Michigan even up for their Heisman hopeful quarterback,
Drew Henson, rather than signing the Wolverine for $17
million. But other than "The new Outfielder on
Knoblauch", the only thing standing in New York's
way of yet another delivered and heavily paid for
American League pennant is age.
Before the first pitch of spring training it appeared the
Yankees were in trouble. The Red Sox picked up basher
Manny Ramirez, the Blue Jays grabbed White Sox ace Mike
Sirotka and the Orioles displayed a plethora of young
talent - like first baseman-outfielder Chris Richard - in
the hopes of proving that money can't buy everything. But
before the season even began Sirotka's arm crumbled, Sox
field MVP Nomar Garciaparra decided on arm surgery and a
bad hip joint rang Albert Belle. Now, the aging bodies of
Tino Martinez and Paul O'Neill don't look so bad, and
this confirmed Boston Yankee hater reluctantly gives them
the nod with the Blue Jays possibly Koch-ing up. For two
surprises, check out crafty Red Sox pitcher Tomokazu Ohka
and watch New Hampshire native Cris Carpenter make a bid
to join Major League baseball's pitching elite. If he
does, expect Toronto to chase the Yankees to the wire.
Wells that ends Well"
The most improved teams in the league ought to be in the
AL Central in Minnesota and Kansas City, at least until
their latest low round draft bonanza become free agents.
Leading "KC and the Run Sign Band" will be the
two Carloses, Febles and Beltran, both on the verge of
breaking out and hoping to make up for the loss of traded
But they still will be furlongs behind Cleveland and
Chicago, the front-runners. The Indians have the
experience and better fielding, but the deeply talented
youth movement in Chicago, led by Carlos Lee and Magglio
Ordonez, should give them the Division title. Ahead of
the Twins and Royals and able to make a creditable run at
the Central will be the Tigers. They will have the best
new hitter in the division in outfield Billy McMillan,
and could go far if reliever Matt Anderson finally has
mastered his explosive 100-plus mile-an-hour fastball.
For a breakthrough pitcher, watch out for Cleveland's
Steve Woodard, benefiting from his experienced battery
mates and Indian hitting, and don't be surprised to see
Minnesota's Brad Radke bounce back to pre-injury form.
You Like It"
Oakland should coast to the West title behind the hardest
hitting infield in the American League and ace hurler Tim
Hudson, perhaps the best in the AL behind Pedro Martinez
and Mike Mussina. Wouldn't Pedro love to have those bats
scoring runs for him?
A breakout year could be expected for A's third baseman
Eric Chavez, who will chase Angel Troy Glaus to the best
of the league honors. While the Rangers appear strong
enough to be Oakland's main problem, don't count out
Anaheim if the Angels can keep everyone healthy for a
change. They have Glaus, Tim Salmon, and Darren Restart,
who can also play first behind aging Wally Joiner,
backing up two of the best young pitchers in the
division, Jarrod Washburn and Ramon Ortiz. Don't be
surprised to see Ortiz become the next young Pedro
"In Arms' Way"
Pitching wins games; thus Atlanta should win again as
well. Greg Maddux should bounce back and join Tom
Glavine, Kevin Millwood and John Smoltz as the best
rotation in baseball, and Andruw Jones should be in the
MVP hunt with Ken Griffey and Todd Helton. The Mets had
their fun, but it will be a Braves new world once again
as they win the division and the pennant. The Mets will
chase Atlanta to the wire, especially with a breakthrough
year as the league's new dominant closer by Armando
With youngsters Milton Bradley and Peter Bergeron joining
star Vladimir Guerrero, the Expos could have the best
outfield in the NL, and they could make it a three-team
race. Bruce Chen could blossom as a Philly starter and
keep them out of the cellar, but they will be
hard-pressed to catch the Preston Wilson-led Marlins.
Don't be surprised if the young pitching staff, led by
Ryan Dempster, makes Florida an early contender in the
Me in St. Louis, Louis"
If the Cardinals have the answer to two perplexing
questions - will Rick Ankiel need a milk carton to find
the plate and will Ray Lankford strike out less than once
every two at-bats - they should repeat as Central
champions. Along with basher Mark McGwire, revitalized
pitcher Darryl Kyle and deft shortstop Edgar Renteria,
the Cards have enough balance in hitting, pitching and
fielding to make a solid run. They also add a lot of the
old St. Louis standby - speed - in newcomer Quinten
McCracken and retread Bernard Gilkey. They also have an
up-and-coming gazelle in Esix Snead, who stile 109
The strongest bid in the Central should come from the
Brewers, especially if rookie Ben Sheets continues the
success that handcuffed the Cuban Olympic team and joined
ace Jeff D'Amico in forming a solid 1-2 punch. Jeffrey
Hammonds adds punch to a lineup built for fielding.
Neither the Reds, with Ken Griffey, nor the Astros, with
their deep outfield, can be counted out, but that's only
because the whole division is so iffy. The Cubs, with
Sammy Sosa and top 1998 draft pick Corey Patterson will
score runs, but pitching depth is suspect. Pittsburgh,
with the best fielding catcher (Jason Kendall) and worst
fielding first baseman (Kevin Young) in the NL is an
"How Green is my Rally?"
Expect the NL West to be like the good old days - the
Dodgers and the Giants. The Dodgers stole a page out of
the Yankee play book when they fashioned the highest
payroll in the NL, and have a murderer's row that
includes Eric Karros, Shawn Green, Gary Sheffield and
Adrian Beltre, fronted by place-setter Tom Goodwin. The
question is whether there is enough starting pitching to
support ace in the making Chan Ho Park.
The Giants are the opposite - a veteran staff without an
ace that will be saved by the best closer currently in
the NL, Robb Nen. If San Fran can either trade
inconsistent Russ Davis or make him a valuable backup by
mid-season, they could have a great-hitting infield that
includes future star third baseman Pedro Feliz. The bats
of Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent will keep them in the hunt.
Colorado has been trading for control pitchers and
defense the last couple of years, but time will tell
whether or not they can join lefty Gabe White as a top
quality starter. Besides, Coors Field has never been
Among the highlights we should
expect to see this summer are:
Rickey Henderson's 3000th hit
Mariano Rivera's 200th save
Greg Maddux's 2500th strikeout and 250th win
Cal Ripken's 600th double
Barry Bonds' 1500th RBI and 500th homer.
AL Pennant: Oakland - Can the aging Yanks
survive three straight short series against top
NL Pennant: Atlanta - Even with Smoltz'
spring setback, no one can match the Braves' big three.
Series champion: Atlanta - A lot of pitching
and Andruw Jones turns the tide.
Comeback of Year: Ruben Mateo, TX (AL), Tom
"Flash" Gordon, Cubs (NL) - Five-tool
Mateo's rookie season was curtailed by injury and Gordon
has looked good in the NL.
Rookie of Year: Alfonso Soriano, NY (AL), Milton
Bradley, Montreal (NL). Soriano is a slick
fielding second second with little pressure in the Yankee
line-up and Knoblauch detoured to left.
Top reliever: Mariano Rivera, NY (AL)
and Armando Benitez, Mets (NL). Rivera
is the best reliever on the best team and if the Mets
infield helps, Benitez could surpass Robb Nen.
Cy Young: Pedro Martinez, Red Sox
(AL) and Randy Johnson, Arizona (NL).
With the umpires now calling the high strike more
regularly, anyone with a high hard one or a rising
fastball should excel.
Rodriguez, Texas (AL), Todd Helton,
Rockies (NL). Batting third in the Texas murderer's row
will help A-Rod's numbers and Helton, one of the top pure
hitters in baseball, should be enhanced by hitting at