One of the countless great things about the game of baseball is its seemingly limitless potential to surprise us in every inning of every game. And last season certainly had plenty of surprises in store. Who could have predicted Esteban Loaiza’s metamorphosis from 5+ era hurler to Cy Young candidate? Or Rod Beck’s journey from a trailer in Iowa to near-perfect closer in San Diego? Or Steve Bartman adding another chapter to the Cubs’ legendary curse? (Ok, veteran Cubs fans probably had a feeling something bizarre would go wrong…)
With unexpected events like these, any forecasts are bound to be flawed, at best. Of course, that’s what makes taking another look with the benfit of hindsight so fun…
World Series Winner
Dan: Oakland! All the pieces are in place, and now the A’s have playoff experience, too. Their starting pitching may be the best in the majors, so mark them down as the team to beat!
cwebb: Arlo and others might see the Yankees as the early favorites, but the Diamondbacks should triumph one more time before their pitching aces retire.
Arlo: Having kept Jose Contreras out of Boston’s hands, the Yankees look ready for another run at a title. Staying focused might be this team’s biggest worry.
Chalk one up for the underdog, and file this one under: who woulda thunk it? The Marlins certainly looked like an exciting team heading into the season, but nobody expected all the pieces to come together quite so soon, and quite so well. Of our picks, the Yankees came close, and Oakland also made the playoffs, losing an evenly-matched series to Boston. The less said about Arizona’s disappointing third-place finish, the better.
Dan: The Cubbies. It may just be wishful thinking, but if they can keep their stellar rotation healthy, they have a shot at contending.
cwebb: The Cubs. Let’s face it, they have a great young pitching staff that will make trips to Wrigley nightmares for opposing teams.
Arlo: With a move to parts unknown looming, Montreal will come together like last season’s Twins and stay in the playoff hunt until August. For the first time in years, sell-outs will be the norm for the Expos… at least in Puerto Rico.
Looks like this prediction, at least, turned out well. The Cubs won 21 games more than in 2002, took the NL Central crown, and shed their lovable loser persona – before the playoffs, at least. Montreal also took a lot of folks by surprise, finishing with a record over .500 in spite of the myriad problems and distractions surrounding the franchise.
Dan: A-Rod. It’s simply his turn.
cwebb: Following another outstanding campaign, Alex Rodriguez will pick up the trophy many felt should have been his last year.
Arlo: Alex Rodriguez will lose out again, as the voters realize that no player means more to his team than Pedro Martinez.
A unanimous prediction that actually comes true? What is the game of baseball coming to? In any case, it was only a matter of time before Rodriguez, last-place team and all, walked home with the hardware.
Dan: Vladimir Guerrero. Barry Bonds will finally show signs of aging, clearing the way for the reign of Vlad.
cwebb: Vladimir Guerrero. I knew it when I picked him for my fantasy squad three seasons ago: he’s the biggest five-stat stud in the game.
Arlo: Vladimir Guerrero will finally receive the credit that fantasy owners already give him…
Another unanimous prediction, but this one missed the mark. Guerrero was slowed by injuries (quite literally, as his stolen base numbers show) en route to a season that was merely excellent rather than fantastic. Serves us right for doubting that Barry Bonds can still outperform all challengers, even at an age when other players are cashing retirement benefits.
AL Cy Young Winner
Dan: Barry ZZZZZZito… The scary thing about Zito is that he’s still getting better.
cwebb: Freddy Garcia. The Mariners need their ace to step up and lead this team, and Garcia will deliver.
Arlo: Pedro Martinez. If he can avoid injuries (and yes, that’s a big if), he has no equal in the AL.
Zito and Martinez were again superb, but nobody pitched as well as Toronto’s Roy Halladay, whose 22-7 record and 3.25 era wowed not only the entire AL, but the Cy Young voters as well.
NL Cy Young Winner
Dan: This might be the biggest surprise among the major award winners, but I think Roy Oswalt may be the best pitcher in the NL today. Now that he has more experience under his belt, he’ll be unstoppable.
cwebb: Curt Schilling takes it this year as voters get tired of the Big Unit and recognize Schilling’s outstanding ability. And yes, he’ll deserve it.
Arlo: The Big Unit will take this award home one last time. Sorry, young guns – you’ll have to wait until next year for the changing of the guard.
If this category had been Pitchers Whose Innings Total Would Drop by at Least 90 due to Injuries, we would have scored 100%. It wasn’t, and we didn’t. As high as we were on Gagne, none of us expected him to be the circuit’s top pitcher.
AL Rookie of the Year
Dan: Mark Teixeira. His debut will be a shining one, without any Blalock-esque stumbles.
cwebb: Matsui. Just because of all the hype.
Arlo: Hideki Matsui won’t win the MVP award like Ichiro did, but he’ll be at the head of this year’s newcomer class.
We missed Angel Berroa here, but I think we can be forgiven. After Kazuhiro Sasaki and Ichiro picked up two of the last four Rookie of the Year awards, how were we to know that a handful of voters would create their own set of rules and disqualify Matsui?
NL Rookie of the Year
Dan: Lyle Overbay. While many are hoping he’ll hit for power, it’s his average that will make him a rookie success.
cwebb: Aaron Cook. Two Rockies pitchers as back-to-back rookies of the year? Stranger things have happened…
Arlo: Marlon Byrd still has a lot to learn, but he’ll pick up this award on talent alone.
This is probably the category where we missed by the widest margin. Lyle Overbay showed flashes in 86 games, Marlon Byrd turned in a solid season, but is still nowhere near his potential, and … Aaron Cook? Actually, Cook was the pick that came closest to the truth: a pitcher that nobody had on their radar screen did in fact win. That pitcher, however, was Dontrelle Willis, who recorded as many strikeouts in his first seven games as Cook did all season.
Comeback of the Year
Dan: Mike Hampton, although I may be letting my heart cloud my judgment here.
cwebb: Kevin Brown, if he can display even a fraction of the skills that made him one of the greats of the game just a few years ago.
Arlo: Mike Hampton won’t quite replace Tom Glavine, but a solid season will make pitching in Coors seem like nothing but a bad dream.
Nice call on Brown, who won 14 games and posted his best era since 1998. Hampton also won 14 in his return from Pugatory, Colorado. Welcome back, guys.
Dan: Kevin Brown. Of course there is a slight chance he will be fully healthy and pitch like his old self again. But the more I think about it, the more I feel he’ll be on and off the disabled list again, and frustrate more fantasy owners than opposing hitters…
cwebb: David Wells. The only question remaining is: how will he disappoint?
Arlo: Don’t make the mistake of counting on a 3.23 era from Kirk Rueter again. Even in a pitcher’s park, Rueter spells trouble for a fantasy pitching staff.
Kevin Brown (see above) was a fantasy savior, not a bust. David Wells’ numbers were down, but 15 wins is anything but shabby. Only Kirk Rueter qualifies for the bust label, with an era that rose to 4.53 and a k/bb ratio under 1 – yet Ruter still managed to win twice as many games as he lost. Astonishing.
What We’d Like to See Most
Dan: Great Baseball…nothing simpler than that. For the players to go out there and give their best, while we lean back and just enjoy the greatest game on earth.
cwebb: The Cubs winning it all. The Bears didn’t make it to the bowl, so it’s up to the Cubs to bring joy to Chicago.
Arlo: A solid comeback by Rick Ankiel. This kind of talent shouldn’t go to waste.
All of us: A long-term agreement that will keep the game free of strikes, lockouts and work stoppages for years to come.
The Cubs didn’t wind up winning it all, and a return to form by Ankiel was merely wishful thinking, but the season was free of interruptions, and we did indeed see some truly great baseball. And that’s what really counts.
We weren’t the only ones making predictions last offseason, however; many forum visitors added their own opinions, and some turned out to be extremely accurate:
Eric Hinske suffers through a sophomore slump.
AL West standings: Oakland, Seattle, Anaheim, Texas.
Roy Halladay wins the AL Cy Young.
Others, well, didn’t quite come true:
Ken Griffey, Jr. finally reaches the 50 home run plateau again. (He wound up with 12 in another injury-plagued campaign.)
Casey Fossum has a breakout season, winning 15 games. (He did set a career high, but at only six wins.)
Mo Vaughn wins the NL MVP. (Er … no.)
Arlo Vander would still like to see a successful comeback by the immensely talented Rick Ankiel. Unfortunately, he has his doubts that this will happen.
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