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

Of Bradley County Tn.

APRIL  2007

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







2007 Baseball

By Jerry Keys

I never thought I would be able to say this again but there are no clear cut division races.  All six divisions offer up at least two formidable teams who can run away with the division.  Thanks to the recent low-budget success of the Oakland A's and Minnesota Twins, some teams have discovered it does not take $160 million to win a pennant.  I had to do a "double-take" this winter when the New York Yankees actually spent thrifty (see Yankee transactions 1999-2006).

The National League East looks to belong to the New York Mets again.  Offensively they look quite capable.  On the mound, they offer up questions.  Their staff ace (Tom Glavine) is entering his 21st year in baseball.  Their true ace, Pedro Martinez, is out at least until mid-season, and their #2 and 3 pitchers are a 41 year-old, .500 pitcher and an unproven hurler whose ERA

Jerry Keys

rose as the '06 season progressed (Orlando Hernandez, John Maine).

The Atlanta Braves should bounce back this year and pose a challenge for the division (see last month's column).  The Philadelphia Phillies will make some noise with their new wonder kid Ryan Howard (58 HR's) and a solid staff, boasting four veterans (Brett Myers, Freddy Garcia, Jon Lieber, and Jamie Moyer).  The Mets will not run away with the division in '07 but should squeeze out the title-unless their pitching falters and one of the two contenders maximize their talent.

The NL Central was an ugly mess last year.  The St. Louis Cardinals were

supposed to run away with the division.  Instead they posted the worst World Series winning team regular season record at 83-78.  This year looks very messy with a bare bone rotation after Chris Carpenter.  Their #2 pitcher, Adam Wainwright, is unproven and Mark Mulder is not expected back in action until after the All-Star break.  The Cardinals must produce at the plate for them to repeat.  The pressure will fall on Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, and youngster Chris Duncan to produce.

The contenders are many.  The Chicago Cubs brass stunned the world and went out and spent money on veterans.  With a line-up including Alfonso Soriano, Jacque Jones, Aramis Ramirez, and Derrek Lee the

Cubbies should score plenty of runs at Wrigley.  New pitchers Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis need to compliment staff ace Carlos Zambrano to keep Chicago close. 

The Houston Astros waited a year too late to bring in a big bat to compliment their stellar pitching.  Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens are gone and only Roy Oswalt remains.  At the plate, Houston had a difficult time scoring runs for three top-tier pitchers.  With only one remaining and not much power after newly acquired

Carlos Lee and mainstay Lance Berkman, the Astros will be lucky to compete for a wild card spot.  Too bad Houston can not have the old Jeff Bagwell-Craig Biggio combo of five years ago.

The team to watch this year is the Milwaukee Brewers.  They brought aboard Jeff Suppan and Claudio Vargas to add depth to Ben Sheets, Chris Capuano, and Dave Bush.  Each pitcher is very capable of posting 12-15 wins and is backed in the bullpen by two closers who recorded 46 saves between them.  If Bill Hall, Prince Fielder (son of Cecil), and Geoff Jenkins can lead by example and carry the youngsters, you just might see a playoff atmosphere and a winning record for the Brewers; something that hasn't happened in 15 years.  Remember, an 83-78 record won the Central last year.

The NL West will be a tight three team race.  Odd as it appears, the LA Dodgers have a very dangerous offense but a questionable rotation.  With Nomar Garciaparra enjoying a rebirth on the West Coast, he will lead a nice mix of veterans and youngsters into another pennant race.  New additions on the mound, Randy Wolf and Jason Schmidt, need to solidify the staff of Brad Penny and Derek Lowe.

The Arizona Diamondbacks are no longer an offensive powerhouse.  This team will rely on pitching to keep them in contention.  If Brandon Webb and returning superstar Randy Johnson can anchor the 1-2 spots on the hill and Livan

Hernandez and Doug Davis round out the 3-4 spots, Arizona could stay in contention.  The San Diego Padres will try to repeat as NL West champs through pitching.  Their three young hurlers (Jake Peavy, Chris Young, and Clay Hensley) and two ancient warriors (Greg Maddux, David Wells) must pitch into the 7th inning often.  If they are leading after 8, it's still lights out with all-time save leader Trevor Hoffman.  The Giles brothers (Marcus and Brian) must be catalysts for their offense to produce runs.

The New York Yankees are clear favorites to win the AL East due to spending wisely and the Boston Red Sox spending haphazardly.  Their offense is still as feared as ever and their pitching appears to be better-rounded.  Their four starters are proven winners, Pettitte (returned home from Houston), Mike Mussina, Carl Pavano, and '06's surprise Chien-Ming Wang.  '07 will be manager Joe Torre's swan song.  Hold your ears AL opponents.

For Boston, ageless wonders Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield have always been dependable but age may catch up with them this year. Josh Beckett recorded 16 wins but floated a 5-run ERA as well.  Until he proves himself in Yankee Stadium, newly-acquired superstar Matsuzaka is simply a question mark.  Jonathan Papelbon is returning to the bullpen for '07.  The Red Sox offense isn't frightening anymore once you get past David Ortiz and Manny Ranirez.  J.D. Drew and Mike Lowell do not scare AL pitchers at all.

Don't forget about the Toronto Blue Jays.  Their hitting and pitching lack the big names of the Yanks and Red Sox but they are one of the best unheard of teams in the AL.  Toronto would be a leading candidate for a wild card spot if not for the packed AL Central.  Still keep an eye on them in August.

The AL West crown should return to the Angels (will remain to be called the Angels since I can not keep up with their constant name changes) in '07.  The Angels have one of the most balance pitching staffs 1-5 in baseball.  Their line-up boasts a great balance of speed and power.  Unless they experience another year of hard luck, they should return to the post-season.  Oh yeah, they have the best closer in baseball too, Francisco Rodriguez.

The Oakland A's can match the Angels at the plate but their pitching is not as consistent.  Unless a couple of pitchers step up (and Rich Harden recovers from limited duty in '06), the A's are looking at a possible wild card spot.  As usual the Texas Rangers are solid at the plate and inadequate on the mound; not enough for a serious playoff push.  Once you get past Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla, there are numerous question marks.  If closer Eric Gagne can return to his 2002-04 form, he could keep Texas competitive past July.

The AL Central, only a few years ago it was the doormat of the AL.  This year, there are four teams that can boast a legitimate argument why they should win the division.  The Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers boast excellent starters, and the Cleveland Indians aren't too far behind.  If Francisco Liriano were not out for the '07 season, teaming him up with Johan Santana would have given the Minnesota Twins the best 1-2 combo since Maddux and Glavine in their prime.

Offensively, the White Sox hold the edge over everyone else.  The Indians are not too far behind.  The Tigers and Twins do not rely on the long ball or out slugging opponents as much.  There is a good bet the wild card for '07 will come out of the Central.

The White Sox pitchers were overworked during the '05 World Series season and should be well rested for '07.  The Tigers play excellent fundamental baseball thanks to one of the last old-school managers, Jim Leyland.  The Indians should bounce back from a miserable '06 and the Twins pulled off one of the best turnarounds in baseball history.

Look for the White Sox to reclaim the division and the Tigers to claim the wild card.  From the AL the division winners will be the Yankees, White Sox, and Angels.  In the NL, the division winners will be the Mets, Cardinals, and Dodgers. The wild card teams will be Detroit and Atlanta.  The teams to keep an eye on are the Brewers, Cubs, Padres, Diamondbacks, Indians, and Blue Jays.