The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.

APRIL  2004

                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.







2004 Baseball Preview

by Jerry Keys

For the first time in a good while, no division has a clear cut favorite.  2004 looks to be the most exciting year for baseball in a long time. 

The 2003 champion Florida Marlins will not repeat in '04 but will contend for the NL East pennant.  The surprise team of '04 really should not be a surprise at all but since the New York Yankees have represented the AL in the World Series six of the last eight years, anybody else from the AL is a shock.  Watch the 2002 champs, the Anaheim Angels.

The AL East is well thought to be a two-team race for the division and the wild card.  Most pundits are expecting both the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox to win over 100 games.  Don't count on it, by a long shot.  I think Boston will

Jerry Keys

win the East but not by winning 102 games.  New York will contend but have a lot more question marks than they have had in recent years.  Alex Rodriguez is a great addition but how much better is he than Alfonso Soriano?  What happens when Kevin Brown breaks down?  Can Javier Vazquez adapt to American league hitters?  Offensively, the Yankees will be in the thick of the race, if their pitching falters they will be fighting for a wild card.

Nobody took notice to the upgrades in Toronto and Baltimore.  Both teams will be cosmetic contenders for the division but may sneak into the wild card race.  These two teams (in addition to a few others) are the reason why Boston and New York will not run away with the division by August.

The Minnesota Twins should win the AL Central for

Roger Clemens
"The Legend Grows"

the third straight year.  They should have won it last year by 12 games but began experiencing "post-pennant whining".  The mid-season acquisition of Shannon Stewart saved the Twins last year.

The upstart Kansas City Royals will again stay in the race until September.  Tony Pena pulled off a managerial miracle in 2003 (Mgr. Of Year for '03).  If the Twins rest on their prior achievements again, KC just may steal it.  Minnesota has the better team on paper but KC is the hungrier of the two.

The AL West will be quite exciting.  Oakland lost another star, Anaheim gained one, and Seattle as usual stood pat.  The addition of Vladimir Guerrero by the Angels will put them over the top.  Similar to last year, Oakland still holds a clear edge in pitching but Anaheim now holds the edge at the plate.  Along with

Guerrero, Tim Salmon, Garret Anderson, and  Darin Erstad are possibly the best outfields in baseball.

I expect only five-to-seven games separating all three teams in the end with the Angels winning the West.  Seattle and Oakland will make a very strong push for the wild card.  If the Yankees make the slightest slip, one of these teams will capture the wild card.

The NL East will be wide open as Atlanta desperately holds hope of a 13th straight pennant.  They will fight it out with Florida and Philadelphia for the flag.  Don't be surprised if Montreal throws their hat in the ring as well.  The winner of the East may well need only to win 85-87 games.

The NL Central will provide two teams for the playoffs.  The only real question is

Greg Maddux
"Cub Homecoming, seeking 300th Win"

whether Houston or Chicago will claim the flag.  The Astros should have won the division last year but were eliminated by the lowly Milwaukee Brewers, allowing the Cubs to almost re-write history.  I'm favoring Houston because their pitching is the only other in the NL that comes close to Chicago's and they hold a slight edge at the plate. 

Anytime you can match up a staff like Greg Maddux, Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, and Carlos Zambrano against Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Roy Oswalt, and Wade Miller, any sane sports fan would enjoy to watch and debate.

The San Francisco Giants appear to be the consensus favorites due to sub par opponents in the division.  The Giants have a veteran offense and one of the best skippers in baseball, Felipe Alou.  Their downfall may be pitching.  After Jason Schmidt and Kirk Rueter, there are numerous questions. 

If the Giants slip a step, Arizona will be waiting.  Their infield is as solid as their outfield is suspect.  Their pitching is a huge question mark.  Everything revolves around Randy Johnson, if he can return to his 1993-2002 form.  A repeat performance from Brandon Webb along with 200 innings from Shane Reynolds and Arizona may sneak into a playoff situation.

Two teams to watch in 2004 that should not be playoff contenders are the San Diego Padres and Detroit Tigers.  The Padres are headed in the right direction with the acquisition of Brian Giles and David "Yes I wrote my own book" Wells.  They're a year away from contending.

The Tigers haven't added any big name free agents outside of Ivan Rodriguez but made minor upgrades in a few key areas.  They should improve by 25 wins this year.  It sounds great but when you're coming off a 43-119 and were outscored by an average of just over two runs per game, anything is an improvement.  They will improve along the same lines as they did in 1997 (79-83 after a 53-109 mark in '96).

Rafael Palmeiro will close in on 3000 hits (2780 after '03) and needs 21 homers to enter the top 10 all-time, Barry Bonds needs just three home runs to eclipse his god-father, Willie Mays (did Willie juice up too?  Will Barry have an asterisk beside his name?), Clemens can move into 9th place with 20 wins in '04 (or 11th with another 17-win season; passing such greats as Tom Seaver, Gaylord Perry, Phil Niekro, Don Sutton, and Nolan Ryan.  Maddux will be the last pitcher in the next 10 years (or possibly ever with a 5-man rotation) to pass 300 wins (has 289 after '03) and 4000 innings.  Clemens will move into 2nd place all-time in strikeouts by Memorial Day, and Johnson should pass 4000 strikeouts if he stays healthy.

With the retirement of Jesse Orosco and Mike Morgan, Rickey Henderson is the last remaining player who began his career in the 1970's and time seems to have run out even on the ageless Henderson.  Julio Franco is currently the oldest active player and will turn 46 in August.