A look ahead at the 2007 MLB season

With 64,800 outs, 21,600 innings and 2,400 games to be played, predicting the outcome of the 2007 Major League Baseball season can be rather challenging. However, it seems certain that numerous milestones will be reached. Needing only 70 more hits, Houston Astro second basemen Craig Biggio will easily become a member of the 3,000 hit club. Meanwhile, with only nine more victories, 41 year-old New York Mets starter Tom Glavine can become only the 23rd pitcher in baseball history to reach 300 career victories. Finally, entering the season with 734 career home runs, it is inevitable that San Francisco Giant slugger Barry Bonds will shatter arguably the most coveted record in all of professional sports — Hank Aaron’s all time home run record of 755. After all the milestones and records have been achieved, and Roger Clemens decides to return for his “final” farewell tour, the top four teams in each division should resemble the following:

p. **AL East**
1. Boston Red Sox —The key to the Red Sox success will rest upon the success of the big three in their rotation. If Daisuke Matsuzaka’s arm can endure the rigors of a 162-game season, and either Curt Schilling or Josh Beckett can return to their form of old, look for the Sox to grab the division title.
2. New York Yankees — Although the Bronx Bombers possess the most imposing lineup in all the Big Leagues, the Yankees’ opening day starter is none other than the extremely mediocre Carl Pavano. Enough said.
3. Toronto Blue Jays — With Vernon Wells and the addition of veteran slugger Frank Thomas, the Jays possess a nifty lineup that rivals both the Red Sox and Yankees.
4. Baltimore Orioles — It’s going to be a long season in Baltimore; however, keep an eye out for my pick to win rookie of the year honors — promising outfielder Nick Markakis.

p. **AL Central**
1. Cleveland Indians — After outscoring their opponents by 88 runs last year, many feel that the Indians’ lack of success in 2006 was an anomaly. Look for the Indians to capture the division, as a slimmed-down Jonny Peralta will improve defensively and veteran reliever Joe Borkowski will bolster the Tribe bullpen.
2. Detroit Tigers — Although Kenny Rogers is starting the season on the DL, the acquisition of perennial run producing outfielder Gary Sheffield should provide the Tigers with enough offensive firepower to capture the AL wild card.
3. Minnesota Twins — The resourceful Twins always find a way to contend each season. However, the Twins could find themselves struggling as a result of the loss of young phenom Francisco Liriano and the retirement of veteran presence Brad Radke.
4. Chicago White Sox — The window of opportunity is quickly closing on fiery manager Ozzie Guillen and his White Sox. Neither Jose Contreras nor Mark Buehrle are the dominant starters they once were.

p. **AL West**
1. Los Angeles Angels — Anchored by John Lackey and one of the game’s best all-around pitching staffs, the Angels should be a force to be reckoned with in the AL West. The Halos possess one of the most unhittable 8th/9th inning combos in Scott Shields and flame throwing closer Francisco Rodriguez.
2. Oakland Athletics – Although the Athletics lost their staff ace Barry Zito and chief run producer Frank Thomas, the A’s, like always, will find a way to remain competitive in the AL West.
3. Seattle Mariners – If a young stud can rebound from a sophomore slump, the Mariners could make things interesting in a wide-open AL West.
4. Texas Rangers – It looks as if the Rangers are in for another long summer at the ballpark in Arlington, but expect “Slammin” Sammy Sosa to revive his career playing again for his original team.

p. **NL East**
1. Philadelphia Phillies – Beastly slugger Ryan Howard and the Phillies will narrowly seize the competitive NL East. Starter Cole Hamels will have a breakout season, and Chase Utley will have an MVP caliber year.
2. New York Mets – With a formidable lineup including speedster Jose Reyes, and RBI machines Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, and David Wright, the New York Mets will claim an NL wild card berth.
3. Atlanta Braves – This season Braves’ Brian McCann will establish himself as one of the best all around catchers in baseball, and Jeff Francoeur will prove himself as one of the best young outfielders in the game.
4. Florida Marlins – Although Florida is a team on the rise, the Marlins will suffer as a result of their weak bullpen.

p. **NL Central**
1. St. Louis Cardinals – Easily the most balanced team in the NL Central, the Cardinals will not disappoint after their 2006 World Series championship. In fact, the Cards starting rotation will only become stronger with the addition of former closer Adam Wainwright and his filthy curveball.
2. Chicago Cubs – Many would think a team that a team that goes on a 300 million dollar spending spree in the off-season would have a good chance at seizing a division title. However, Carlos Zambrano’s preseason prediction of a World Series title will not come to fruition.
3. Milwaukee Brewers – Prince Fielder will emerge as one of the most feared sluggers in the game, and the Brewers will finish the season above the .500 mark.
4. Cincinnati Reds – Ken Griffey Jr. has made the transition to right field, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Reds have a truly heinous pitching staff.

p. **NL West**
1. Arizona Diamondbacks – Expect this youthful Diamondback squad to be the surprise of the year in the National League. With the combination of rising star Connor Jackson and the return of veteran Randy Johnson, expect the D-Backs to capture the wide-open NL west.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers – The off-season acquisition of Jason Schmidt should bolster the Dodgers rotation, but past table-setters Juan Pierre and Rafael Furcal, the Dogers simply don’t possess enough offense.
3. San Diego Padres – For the Padres to seize an NL-West title, ace Jake Peavy must lower his mediocre ERA of 4.09 and return to his dominant form of seasons past.
4. San Francisco Giants – Overpriced off-season acquisition Barry Zito will not be enough to propel the Giants into the postseason.


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