all before the team is dismantled.
With a Roger Clemens-less rotation (Clemens cannot re-sign with Houston until May 1 but can anytime before then with any other team), Houston is very shallow after Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte. The Astros offense is formidable but does not look to be enough to receive a third-straight playoff appearance.
The team to watch in the NL this year is the Pittsburgh Pirates. They have some nicely developed young talent and a young starting rotation. On paper they look like a 70-92 team but they will surprise some people in '06. The once bright future for Chicago Cub fans is slowly dimensioning. Their once proud aces, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, have been beset by injuries the last couple of years and Wood has been relegated to the bullpen. Their once high-octane offense is no more. Their pitching has become thin. We can all lament for the poor Cubbies now that the Red Sox and White Sox have finally won a World Series.
The Cincinnati Reds must be in a rebuilding process (if not they are doing a few dozen things wrong, they finished 2005 with a higher team ERA than Colorado) because aside from a couple of fence busters, they are thin at the plate and on the mound. They will battle Selig's team (Milwaukee Brewers) for last place in the NL Central. The Brewers actually do have a few bright spots on the mound for '06 (Sheets and Capuano) and we all want to see how Cecil Fielder's son, Prince, will do.
The San Diego Padres backed into the NL West title last year, barely finishing over .500. That will not happen this year. The Padres pitching is iffy after ace Jake Peavy. And their top acquisitions during the off-season were players past their prime, Vinny Castilla and Mike Piazza. A retooled and revitalized Eric Gagne and off-season additions of Nomar Garciaparra and Rafael Furcal should put the LA Dodgers back into the mix for a pennant.
Surprisingly, the Dodgers weak spot will be pitching (long been a staple of success). The Padres and Dodgers match-up quite evenly on pitching and at the plate. It may come down to the bench and who has the best closer (Trevor Hoffman, Padres or Gagne). The NL West will be a two-team race as the San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Colorado Rockies vie for 3rd place.
A "healthy" Bonds would put the Giants right back in the race. Their line-up is full of All-Stars but All-Stars five years ago. Giants pitching will keep them in lots of games but they lack the offense to win those vital "close games". Arizona has a handful of young hurlers who may see breakout seasons, just not in '06. The have a respectable offense but lack the punch needed for contention.
Colorado may be finally getting the hint. Top grade pitchers go there to die (career wise), subpar hitters go there to pad stats and go elsewhere. Trying it with smallball and inning-eating starters (ERA is all but ignored if you can throw 200 inning in Homerland) who aren't exactly superstars may be the answer. Winning games 17-15 wasn't.
Look for the Yankees, White Sox, and Angels to win the AL divisions, and the Mets, Cardinals, and Dodgers to win in the NL. The wild cards? Watch for Toronto, Cleveland, or Oakland in the AL, and Atlanta in the NL.
Entering the '05 season Julio Franco is the oldest active player at 47 (will be 48 in August). How old is he? On April 25, 1982, Jim Kaat, who started his career in 1959, intentionally walked Franco.
Other milestones, Craig Biggio is 205 hits shy of 3,000. The future all-time home run king, Alex Rodriguez, should near 475 homers this year. As for Bonds, he is seven away from passing Babe Ruth and 48 to pass Hank Aaron.
The future all-time RBI king, Manny Ramirez, will easily pass 1,500 this year. With 12 wins, Greg Maddux will enter the top 10 all-time victories list. Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson will be within striking distance of 300 wins with a solid '06, and if Clemens retires, Johnson will need 131 strikeouts to pass him for 2nd place on the all-time SO list. And Curt Schilling (2832) and Pedro Martinez (2861) should pass the 3,000 strikeout plateau this year.