The Tenth Inning – Week 2

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The Tenth Inning – Week 2 ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>

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By Mike Ivcic

Preseason prognosticators use past evidence to make a future prediction. Often times, the evidence used only ends up supporting the original thesis. Last season nearly everyone assumed the Dodgers, Phillies, Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels would be good baseball teams and likely challenge for postseason glory. And, indeed, all five teams earned playoff berths, the Yanks and Phils met in the Fall Classic and the Yankees hung banner 27. But if it was that easy, what would be the fun in making predictions, right?

See, every year in baseball, there’s a team that comes shooting out of the gates on fire, stays that way for the entire year and, even if they don’t make the playoffs, go down as the surprise team of the season. Think the ‘08 Tampa Bay Rays or ’07 Florida Marlins. Likewise there’s always a hot team that catches everyone by surprise, and maybe people start to believe, but by the All-Star break that team is sub-.500 and everyone’s wondering why they fell for the “hot-start” trick yet again. A classic example here would be last year’s Toronto Blue Jays. The third team is the team most people expected to be good, but starts out awful and never turns it around. People in Cleveland are nodding about the ’06 Indians right about now. And finally there’s the team people picked to finish last and started out that way, only to suddenly discover baseball magic and wind up playing meaningful games into October. Last year’s Rockies would be a great example here, but so too would the Athletics and Astros a few years back who both got ridiculously hot late and made the playoffs.

So this week, after two weeks, it’s time to take a shot at predicting THOSE four teams. Much harder to do than picking the Yankees, Phillies, Cardinals, and Red Sox to make the playoffs. And so…

The team that wasn’t supposed to be good, started well, and will stay competitive all year:
Candidates: Washington, Pittsburgh, Oakland, Toronto, San Diego
Winner: Oakland
Washington and Toronto play in divisions where they are simply overmatched, and while the Pirates are improving, they’re not there yet. Oakland, meanwhile, can pitch and play defense, critical things to do in a big ballpark. Plus, they play in a mediocre division with only three other teams to fight against. The A’s will be there at the end.

The team that wasn’t supposed to be good, started out well, and will eventually trail off:
Candidates: Washington, Pittsburgh, Toronto, San Diego
Winner: Washington
This is a tough one, but the Nationals win this one over the Blue Jays simply because it will be very hard for Toronto to be worse than the Orioles. Once the Mets get Reyes and Beltran back to form, they’ll be good enough to finish ahead of Washington, meaning the Nats, despite a much improved team, will still finish exactly where everyone thought – last place in the NL East.

The team that was supposed to be good, started out slowly, and eventually turned it around:
Candidates: Boston, LA Angels, Chicago Cubs, Chicago Sox, Seattle, Colorado
Winner: Boston
Sure, the Angels still have a great shot to win the West (and seem to have already turned things around) and others on this list could also make the playoffs. But the almost surefire bet here to play better than they have been is Boston. Regardless of whether David Ortiz hits or not, the depth and talent on this roster, both pitchers and position players, should give this team a chance to win every game they play, and soon it’ll be more of the winning and less of the losing.

The team that was supposed to be good, started out slowly, and never recovered:
Candidates: LA Angels, Chicago Cubs, Chicago Sox, Seattle, Colorado
Winner: Chicago Cubs
It’s tempting to take the Rockies or White Sox here – I didn’t think either team would be in the postseason, and their early season struggles haven’t been too surprising to me. Thus, it feels almost like cheating to pick them, because I didn’t like them in the first place. I thought, however, that the Cubs would be legitimate threats to the Cardinals in the Central and really be one of the top three in the Wild Card race with the Giants and Braves. Instead they can’t score and are banking on the return of Ted Lilly to boost their win total. Sounds more like a recipe for fourth or fifth place than a recipe for success.

Trivia Question
Yes, trivia is back once again this year. As always, the answer will appear in next week’s column.

This week’s question: Who are the only two players in the majors who have posted seasons of 20 home runs AND 20 stolen bases in each of the last four years?

Look for my column, “The Tenth Inning,” every Monday for the UltimateCapper

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