2006 MLB Power Rankings Preview (Part 2)
by James Deaux(MLB)
Posted on April 2, 2006, 12:21 AM
Raine: Pittsburgh Pirates
James: Washington Nationals
Raine: The Team With No Home, the Washington Nationals, are the best of your bottom third teams. They have a slightly overrated manager, immensely talented third baseman, and the Alfonso Soriano situation. You can just see this story consuming their entire 2006 season. Acquiring him made no sense on every single level. Who suffers more from this: Washington's clubhouse or Alfonso's 2007 paycheque??
James: I have no love loss whatsoever for Soriano. Anyone who has read my criticisms of his attitude and discipline (or lack thereof) knows this. But you know, I don't see this Soriano attitude problem lasting very long. Frank Robinson doesn't put up with attitudes. Ever. (See: Ohka, Tomo) Soriano will play where he's told to and if he doesn't like it, T.S. So, I don't think this will be news for very long. Elsewhere, Washington has...uh...well, what do they have? Their bullpen is decent, if overused beyond reason. However, they just lost Luis Ayala for the entire season due to an injury he sustained in the WBC, which will hurt them. The starters are full of injury question marks and Livan Hernandez is gloriously overrated. As for the hitting, Soriano is about it, and his power numbers are going to plummet. There is no one else on this team that will put fear into any major league pitcher except Nick Johnson, but does he ever play a full season? The Nationals will ride their pitching staff to 75-80 wins and finish fourth. Now you have Pittsburgh, a team that is definitely building something good for the future. What thing (or things) should they heavily concentrate on this year?
Raine: About the only thing they have: pitching. I'm iffy on this team, much like the Twins (who I'm beginning to regret putting at 11), but the potential of that pitching staff is incredible. Any one of Paul Maholm, Sean Burnett, and Zach Duke can go out be an instant 15-game winner (alright, not Burnett, but the other two). Within three years there's a legitimate chance they'll have a better Big Three than the A's used to sport (Zito, Mulder, Hudson). I'm riding this pick on Zach Duke continuing to dominate, Oliver Perez tapping into his 2004-self, and Kip Wells being tossed from the rotation. Anyway, if they even finish in the .500 range, Jason Bay will probably see his name pop up in some MVP discussions, and here's hoping Sean Casey remembers it's a contract year. There are a lot of things that could go right for this franchise in 2006; I'm picking the side that says more things go right than wrong. They could just as easily lose 100 games as win 75. Maybe the biggest toss-up in the National League.
James: Now, into the bottom third of the league. You have Seattle atop this third. Seattle is one of the biggest enigmas in baseball. Their hitting last year was the worst in the American League, even though they had names like Ichiro, Beltre, and Sexson there for them. Can they improve all that much, or is this team just going nowhere?
Raine: It's not as much Seattle is better than the 9 remaining teams on my list - the others are just worst. Their offense is fantastically built if they ever play up to potential. Ichiro is the ideal leadoff hitter; Jeremy Reed can now be labeled the best "up-and-coming" centerfielder in the AL thanks to the White Sox trading Chris Young to the NL, while Beltre and Sexson provide the power. Sexson is a legitimate homerun threat that is accustomed to hitting well in big parks, while Beltre is the question mark. He has all the talent in the world (and then some), but has only capitalized on it twice in his seven big league seasons. He might be another .260/20/80 season away from being the biggest bust of the millennium. Factor that in with a catcher who doesn't speak English, and there's a healthy dose of question marks and bright spots on this team. The brightest one, of course, has to be Felix Hernandez. The only downside is that Josh Beckett will probably throw more innings than him, since the Seattle coaching staff doesn't want to Doc Gooden his arm. Smart move for the long term, but it hurts this team right now. Your ace and face card is the team I had at 20: Pittsburgh. Is their offense strong enough to compete in the pitching-tough NL Central??
James: I think they have some bright young guys that will swoon and go on power trips off and on. Jason Bay is quickly becoming a person that NO pitcher wants to face. His offensive numbers increased in virtually every category from his 2004 Rookie of the Year campaign. He's only 27 and is poised to have a colossal 2006. Chris Duffy is another young guy who I expect to have a great year. He covers as much ground in center as Andruw Jones or Jim Edmonds. (Okay, Edmonds 2 years ago.) With Craig Wilson and Jeromy Burnitz there, the outfield is in very good shape. Ryan Doumit has a ton of upside and finding such talented young catchers is a hard task. The pitching staff I like a lot. You already extolled the starting pitching, but the bullpen is very underrated. Mike Gonzalez is ready to become the fulltime closer and I don't see him struggling. Pittsburgh loses points for a lot of inexperience and being in a very tough division. But again, we know this isn't their year. They are building for the future and doing a damn good job of it.
Raine: Last year the question of the offseason was: where did Arizona get that extra cash to sign Glaus and Ortiz when they owed MLB $100 million?? This offseason the question is: was Troy Glaus and a their former top prospect really worth a weak-hitting, Gold Glove second baseman and a poet pitcher?? I'll answer: no. The question being posed to James is: what's the point in having high-priced, low-upside vet's like Luis Gonzalez, Shawn Green, Russ Ortiz, and Miguel Batista when the future (Tracy, Jackson, now Chris Young, and Drew) is almost upon them?? Does Arizona tank this year while holding a fire sale??
James: I can easily see them becoming the Florida Marlins of 2006. This team's management just doesn't know how to do anything right. Their bullpen is in shambles. The starting pitching is just as bad except for Webb. The team continues to throw old guys like Gonzales out there when they should be concentrating on their young guys. This team isn't going to compete for anything other than fourth place for the next few years, so why not trade away the old and get some promising prospects? Why not? Because that's how Arizona operates. Their management seems to be able to materialize money out of thin air because that's the only way I can think of that would explain how they afford all these guys every year. I almost feel bad rating the Rockies below Arizona because at least Colorado tries different strategies and attempts to put out a competitive team every year. Arizona does neither. Speaking of the Rockies, you are ranking them above Arizona. How does this team get out of the perennial cellar spot and into fourth (or third?) place?
Raine: The Rockies are my pick for the 1991 Minnesota Twins Award: a team winning the World Series when they had no business finishing above .500. You almost feel bad for the Colorado franchise: like you said, they try different strategies, but they just can't make it work in that field. This year will probably be no different, but the potential is there for something incredible to happen. Jeff Francis, while talented, has seen his stock as a top pitching prospect plummet thanks to Coors Field. It looked like Jason Jennings had it all figured out for a while there until the wheels came off, while Zach Day and Josh Fogg have as good a chance as any to succeed there I suppose. For a typical ballpark, that's a good NL West rotation. The offense is complemented by Todd Helton, who was hindered by a horrible April and May last season, a hopefully healthy Clint Barmes (who runs the risk of being replaced by the superior Chris Nelson), and Matt Holliday, who has quietly become one of the better hitting outfielder's in the NL. Over the next few seasons, this team is going to offer an awful lot of talent at almost all positions. If they can win while being in that stadium is an entirely different question. It's a crapshoot year-to-year.
James: Detroit Tigers
Raine: Arizona Diamondbacks
James: I'm not even going to ask a question here. It's not necessary. Please, just talk to me about Arizona in 2006.
Raine: I love Arizona's farm system. Immensely. Jackson and Tracy could form one of the best corner infield's in baseball within the next two years. It should've been harder to get Chris Young from Chicago. Justin Upton might be the best prospect since Alex Rodriguez (although he hasn't played a single pro game), while Stephen Drew - even with Scott Boras in his ear - is still worth the opportunity. The best, however, might be outfielder Carlos Quentin. If all of them maximize their potential, this team will break offensive records across the board. However, there is a severe lack of pitching, which I figure they'll address through free agency. And exactly none of this helps them now. Jackson and Tracy might be ready to break out, but Tony Clark needs to step mammothly aside for Tracy to have a chance. The aging vets (Green, Gonzalez, Ortiz) can be traded at the trade deadline to some desperate, playoff-hungry team for a good pitching prospect. This season is a write-off for Arizona. In two years, they'll be dangerous. They're just a step behind where the Brewers are this season with just as bright a future. Now speaking of a team that's always a step behind, you have the Tigers. This team hasn't churned out a worthy prospect since Tony Clark, but Bonderman might be a keeper. Does Detroit's injury-riddled, overpaid offense not excite you??
James: Can't say that it does. Detroit just simply cannot do anything right. They have one of the meekest farm systems in baseball and their current roster is mostly bland and unexciting. Ivan Rodriguez is well on his way to the last years of his career after seeing a horrific slide in his offensive stats last year (not to mention a rather mysterious drop in his body weight). I expect that kind of trend to continue as relates to him. The outfield looks like someone drew three names out of a hat and threw them into each of the three positions at random. The infield has a multi-talented Brandon Inge at third (who definitely needs to work on his defense) and Chris Shelton, who came out of nowhere and had insane statistics all around, at first base. Carlos Guillen would be a positive note for them if he could stay healthy for longer than a week. As for the pitchers, Jeremy Bonderman is the only starter on this team that has any kind of future, it seems. The others haven't shown me anything that indicates they are due for a breakout season. The bullpen is just kind of there. Not bad, but nothing to write home about, either. And they still don't have a definite closer. This is another team that is just trapped in a mobius strip of mediocrity, and unfortunately it doesn't look like it will end soon.
Raine: Tampa Bay Devil Rays
James: Seattle Mariners
Raine: During the commercial break, I remarked to James about how Seattle would be a good team if they switched leagues and MLB relaxed on their drug testing policy. To their credit, the Mariner's have a lot going for them if everything falls in their favor. The question is, with major bust Adrian Beltre at third, the increasingly frustrated Ichiro in rightfield, a catcher who can't speak English, a 78-year old ace, and recent elementary-school graduate Felix Hernandez trying to throw 150 innings, what are the odds things fall in their favor??
James: Not good at all, I'm afraid. I fear for Felix Hernandez' arm because it's going to fall off come August. The 19-year-old should not be the #1 starter of this staff when he's pitched all of what, 12 major league games? Seattle is going to ride this poor kid into the ground. Now, I know you have criticized Seattle's signing of Kenji Johjima, but he has apparently been studying English several hours a day intensively and is really picking it up. So, maybe it won't backfire on them. Adrian Beltre showed last year that he is indeed a contract year wonder, and Richie Sexson didn't do a whole lot better. This team needs just about everything to fall their way, and practically none of it will. On your side of #24, you have the perennial AL East cellar-dwellers, the D-Rays. With guys like Cantu and Kazmir, is there any realistic glimmer of hope in this consistently horribly operated franchise?
Raine: To Tampa's credit, they have new ownership (again) that is willing to go about things the right way. Lou Piniella was never going to guide this team to very much. They need to continue to build with their assets (offense) and trade for what they lack (pitching). Their under-25 team is ripe with future All-Star's, and not nearly enough positions to put them all. It's arguable at this point that their offense is good enough to finish .500 with (I think it is), but their lack of pitching will always hold them down. Now that they can trade away guys like Julio Lugo, Aubrey Huff, maybe Toby Hall, and one of Johnny Gomes or Joey Gathright, they can bring in that sought-after ace. Kazmir could be one in time, but he needs help (and not in the form of Mark Hendrickson). I'd call them a dark horse in the Barry Zito sweepstakes. Once Delmon Young and BJ Upton are at the level to grab their starting jobs, allowing the Rays to trade their roadblocks, this team is going places.
James: Colorado Rockies
Raine: Washington Nationals
James: Before we get to the bottom five, we have our teams that just managed to avoid that dubious distinction at the #25 spot. Raine, you have the Expos...er...Nationals. So, what keeps them from being included in the five worst MLB teams this year, in your opinion?
Raine: The fact that the bottom five teams are just worse. No scientific reasoning behind this one. The Nationals have some good player's like any team should (Ryan Zimmerman, Chad Cordero, John Patterson, the underrated Nick Johnson), and there's even a half-decent foundation there, but this team isn't very good. The Soriano ordeal has been a disaster thus far, Jose Guillen is just waiting to go off again, Jose Vidro has to be completely fed up with this franchise; it's just not a good situation all around. The Marlins will keep them from finishing in the NL East basement, but even that's not a guarantee. To counter my Nat's pick, you're going with my incredibly-long-shot-underdog team, Colorado. You don't see them dominating lower teams while surprising the better teams with a very un-Colorado-esque (i.e. good) pitching staff??
James: Despite all their problems, I really like the Rockies franchise. Like I said earlier, you can tell that every year they go out there wanting to field a competitive team; but the not-so-natural disaster known as Coors Field prevents them from ever being able to make it. If nothing else, I will agree with you that in such a horrid division, this is a team I can see shocking the universe and somehow making the playoffs. They definitely have the talent, both on the pitching side and the offense, which, as always, is led by Todd Helton. They've even found a very dependable closer in Brian Fuentes, which is something this team has never been able to get. The only thing that stands in this team's way is the same thing it is every year--elevation. I'm not about to predict them to finish over any of the other teams given their constant basement finishes. However, they just need to take advantage of their division and they could conceivably make the playoffs.
Raine: The best of the bottom five for James is Baltimore. Departing from their normal strategy of signing over-the-hill offensive talent, the O's went in a different direction this offseason by signing a defensive specialist in catcher Ramon Hernandez and bribing Leo Mazzone away from Atlanta. What they're left with this year is an untested, highly talented group of young pitcher's, an outfield with a combined OPS of .700, no closer, an unhappy Miguel Tejada, and they recently lost Anna Benson. Is there any hope for Baltimore this year, like they led their fans to believe last season??
James: There really isn't. Now, Baltimore did about the best thing they could do for their pitching staff by signing Leo Mazzone, but he has a lot (and I mean a LOT) of work ahead of him. Cabrera, Lopez and Bedard are all super talented, and maybe this will be just what they need to make that ascension, but that is far from a guarantee. With an offense that isn't getting any younger, a (once again) pitiful outfield, a terrible bullpen with a first-time closer, and all of the soap operas going on around them with the Bensons and Tejada, this team will be lucky to finish in fourth. Once again, we picked the same team. I only have one question--is Peter Angelos the worst owner in baseball?
Raine: Worst continuous owner probably, as Jeffery Loria (who we'll get to later) has to be considered the worst. This team hasn't done well since Angelos has wanted to do things his way. "His way" began by firing Davey Johnson and letting GM Pat Gillick walk away. Smart choices all around. He followed that up by offering big money to clubhouse cancer Albert Belle, who completed just two years of his horrible contract. Angelos is also the man who stuck with the two-headed GM monster of Beattie and Flanagan until mercifully ending that experiment last year. This is all without mentioning he also hired Jim Duquette, who tried his best to ruin two franchises (Red Sox and Mets). Just bad decisions all around from a managing standpoint, and his little feud with Bud Selig over the Washington franchise is even more pathetic. He cited the lack of Baltimore free agency activity this offseason on the fact Selig hadn't delivered MLB's check for putting the Nat's right next door. Let's never mind the fact that the extra cash from the sport never stopped him from overpaying free agents before, but that he's blaming Washington for stealing his fan base (which has been dwindling for years) is ludicrous. On the bright side, as a Toronto fan, I think he's great.
James: Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Raine: Florida Marlins
James: Despite the franchise's claims to the contrary, the Marlins did, in fact, have a fire sale this offseason. So, this team seems destined for a last place finish given all the rookies and lack of any semblance of longtime experience all around. How will the guys who are still around (Cabrera, Willis, Hermida, etc.) fare and what rookies on this team do you see making any impact at all?
Raine: Real rookies?? Maybe Hanley Ramirez, who even though I felt was always overrated, is still a pretty talented player. Jeremy Hermida also gets a lot of press, although he's really stretching it as a rookie (I believe he still qualifies). Other than that, probably nobody. Now Mike Jacobs, who barely lost his rookie status last season, has to be mentioned. The Mets made a good trade in acquiring Carlos Delgado, since they need to win now, but Mike Jacobs has given every indication to believe that he'll be just as good and continue the Marlins line of talented first basemen. Everything else on that team (aside from the players mentioned, and maybe Jason Vargas) is a complete mess that won't be cleaned up for at least three years. You have to feel sorry for new manager Joe Girardi to be stuck with this group, without a hope of seeing them come into their own down the line. At number 27, you have the Devil Rays. I had them higher, believing in their offensive potential and the belief that they'll trade some excess young talent for pitching. Not as giving, are you??
James: Nope, not really. Has this franchise ever done anything right? This is a team with offensive talent all over the place. What they lack is anything that can be remotely described as "pitching". Scott Kazmir is fantastically overrated and hasn't shown any signs that he is improving his control. Sure, he's a strikeout machine, but when you throw a ton of your pitches in the dirt or to the backstop, what good is it? Stuart Sternberg needs to trade away the excess bats and get some proven pitchers in there for Tampa Bay to start an arduous climb out of mediocrity. Tampa Bay has never been run properly at any point in their short history. However, maybe this new change of owner and management will be the ones who finally bring them out of the cellar in the AL East (along with a little unintentional help from the aforementioned Orioles). As a side note, does Tampa Bay have the most generic slogan in Major League Baseball or what? "We come to play." Woo-hoo.
Raine: Cincinnati Reds
James: Kansas City Royals
Raine: No fancy introductions for this choice. James, why is Kansas City not the worst team in baseball?
James: Because of a certain NL Central team which I'll get to in a bit. Kansas City is in such a huge ditch right now that it's hard to ascertain when they may ever get out of it. The management won't pony up the money to get some real talent in there and they can't do anything right with their draft picks year after year. Now, to further answer your question, Kansas City has a very underrated bullpen and Ambiorix Burgos may be a great closer in the making. They also have some decent (if aging) bats filling the lineup with Grudzielanek and Sanders. Still, their starting pitching is absolutely abysmal (and Zack Greinke seems to be turning into a huge bust). As long as Allard Baird continues to penny pinch and meander around, this team is just going to stay as lone of the worst two or three teams year in and year out. Now, you have the Reds as the third worst team in baseball. Does this team even have a prayer of finishing out of 6th place?
Raine: Only if the Central adds another team so they can finish 7th. Now, the Reds made a good trade in picking up Bronson Arroyo (although it was probably more due to his price tag than talent), who combined with Aaron Harang and Brandon Claussen, provide some hope for the future. Quite frankly, a staff with those three (and Eric Milton) isn't that bad. They also offer above-average players at all outfield spots, shortstop, and catcher. The trouble is that they run into the same problem Colorado does, with their park being so insanely hitter-friendly that every team that plays there can take advantage of it as well as the home team. Pitcher's will never excel there, and their confidence is shot for when they take it on the road. The sooner Red officials realize you win with pitching, the better off this franchise will be.
James: Florida Marlins
Raine: Detroit Tigers
James: Okay, so you have the Tigers as your second worst team in the big leagues. You look at their roster and mot much impresses you. Is there anything this franchise can do to move up in the Central division?
Raine: I think I have them too low. A lot of people are off base when they rate this team higher than the Twins (or if you're FoxSports.com, a top ten team), but having them as the second worst team in baseball is a little much. Ah well. Their starting rotation has been severely overrated this offseason, with Kenny Rogers turning 63, Jeremy Bonderman somehow turning into Roy Halladay, and Mike Maroth's 20-loss season being stricken from the record. Fact of the matter is, only one pitcher in this rotation (Bonderman - maybe) would stand a chance of making the starting three on a playoff-caliber team. This is all without mentioning an offense that is either injured (Magglio Ordonez), apathetic (Pudge Rodriguez), or just flat-out not that good (Craig Munroe and Brandon Inge). Let the record show I'm a huge Curtis Granderson and Nook Logan fan, however. Your pick for this spot was Florida. We've already discussed how they have very little to look forward to this season. Could that include the rumored departures of Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera??
James: Count me as one of the few people who see both Cabrera and Willis staying put in Florida despite their inevitable misery. Willis will be lucky to win 12 games this year, and he's looked absolutely awful all through March. I personally think he is one of the top 5 most overrated pitchers in baseball. Miguel Cabrera is a sexy fantasy baseball Top 10 pick, but honestly, whom is he going to drive in besides himself? I suppose Jacobs, Hermida and Josh Willingham (who is showing how good he really is) will get on base, but the hitters on this team just don’t have enough experience to win this team 70 games. Furthermore, the rest of the rotation and the bullpen are a disaster waiting to happen. Unless Washington just decides to jump off of a cliff, Florida is destined for last place in the NL East this year and probably next year, too.
Raine: Kansas City Royals
James: Cincinnati Reds
Raine: The worst team in baseball, according to the World of James, are the Cincinnati Reds. I just went over them a few places ago, and offered up the realization that they're really not that terrible. If their ballpark was a little bigger, and they played in the NL West, they'd be a .500 team. You don't share my optimism??
James: Nope. This team has practically nothing outside of Adam Dunn to be happy about. Aaron Harang, as good and overlooked as he is, can't save this team from losing 100 games. Neither can Bronson Arroyo. And Eric Milton, an extreme flyball pitcher, has no reason to even be on this team pitching in that homerun factory. The only reason he's on the team to begin with is because he won 14 games with Philadelphia and the Reds went into "OMG" mode and signed him to a 3-year deal. There is a good core of offense on this team, and Dunn seems to be getting more disciplined at the plate. But there isn't enough offense to save this team from their complete absence of pitching. Sorry, Cincy fans. You all have a long year ahead of you...again. So, not surprisingly enough, you have KC at dead last. I can't realistically object to this pick, but you don't think they've improved enough to warrant not being the worst team in the game for this one year?
Raine: Ha, improved where?? Replacing Ruben Gotay with Mark Grudzielanek?? It won't help much. Their offense - half-heartedly upgraded as it is - doesn't compete with any team in the American League, while their pitching staff is in the same boat minus the "upgrade" part. The only part of this season to look forward to for Royal fans are Zach Greinke valiantly trying to succeed when he has no chance, and how major league ready Alex Gordon will be when he's called up (and he will be). Everything else is a wash, and there's a strong possibility this team will challenge the '03 Tigers 119 loss-season. Will they lose that many?? Probably not. Will they win 50?? Probably not. Does this team have any chance to finish .500 within three years?? Probably not.
The Extra Innings—Second Guessing
James: Okay, so Raine and I are finally done with that mammoth rankings list. Looking over it, we both felt like maybe we over- or under-ranked some teams. Raine, you suggested doing this, so you first--who would be one team off the top of your head whose preranking you would change now?
Raine: The team that inspired me to suggest doing this: Minnesota. Looking at the team as I was trying to argue in their favor, I came to the realization that they're just not very good. The offense is a giant vacuum, their pitching staff falls off after Carlos Silva - it's just hard to pick them. I think I got caught up in the Twins mystique, how they always pull out wins with a mediocre club. Detroit was also another team I'd reconsider putting three or four spots higher. What about you??
James: I think I'd put the Tigers and Diamondbacks a bit lower, and the Rockies and D'Rays a bit higher. Thinking about it, the Tigers really don't have anything to recommend them by. The Diamondbacks are the same. They have zilch for pitching and their bats don't exactly strike fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers. The Rockies are probably going to finish above them this year.
Raine: I thought you were rethinking the White Sox??
James: Yeah, them too. The more I think about their hitting, the more I go "Yikes, how much offense is there, really?" And their starting pitching is very suspect.
Raine: They just signed Jose Contreras to nearly $10 million a year for three seasons. Loaiza pitched much better his one season there and I don't think he was even offered another contract. I think in a few years we'll look back and recognize the White Sox as the least talented winner since probably Arizona.
James: Well, they seem to me to be a case of the sum being greater than the parts. As a team, they are a well-oiled and functioning unit. They play small ball with the best of them and Ozzie Guillen puts a fire into them that a team needs.
Raine: Ha, don't get me started on Ozzie Guillen. Does the AJ Burnett injury make you somewhat hesitant about putting Toronto so (ridiculously) high??
James: Not really. Sure, given his past problems, you have to be concerned. I'd wonder about the sanity of anyone who doesn't get a cause for concern over it. However, they say he'll only miss his first two starts. They still have Halladay (a top 3 AL pitcher), Chacin and Towers in the rotation. So, no, I would keep them the same; or at most drop them one spot to being below Atlanta. Being a Blue Jays fan, what are your thoughts on Burnett?
Raine: I always looked at him as the coup of the offseason. Sure, he's ridiculously overpaid, but anybody that landed him was going to give him that money. If he wins 15 games, I'll be happy. If he wins 13, fine. If he wins 20, great. The keys to the offseason were BJ Ryan, Troy Glaus, and Lyle Overbay. Toronto hasn't had a closer as effective as Ryan since '93, a third baseman with Glaus' power at any point in their history, while Overbay is made for Skydome. Burnett doesn't matter all that much in the grand scheme of things. Speaking as an Atlanta fan, how much do the Mets worry you??
James: My subconscious is screaming at me to say "A little bit." So, I would be remiss to say something as ludicrous as, "No, they don't stand a chance." They have the roster to take the Braves down. Their lineup is potentially deadly top to bottom. However, I still think their pitching staff will be their downfall—be it age, injuries, whatever—it isn't a durable enough staff to usurp the Braves, in my humble opinion. I still think they have enough to take the Wild Card, though. Who do you have winning the Wild Cards, anyway?
Raine: Well, my rankings say I have Oakland and the Mets winning the Wild Card. I agree with that now, and can live with it, although I'd rather switch the Angels with the A's for division/wild card standings. The fanboy in me is saying Toronto can turn it into a two-team race with Oakland/Anaheim, but I'm not sure if the credibility inside me can stand behind that. In the NL, the Mets and two of St. Louis/Houston/Chicago will make an entertaining final two weeks. You??
James: The aforementioned Mets and Blue Jays. I think Anaheim will fall just short and one of Cleveland and Chicago will miss the postseason. There are a lot of really good teams that will vie for both spots and it should provide a lot of entertainment come September. And now for the postgame show:
Rapid Fire Questions
James: Barry Bonds says he'll retire after this year? Do you believe him?
Raine: I don't think he'll last the year if these steroid allegations hold water. First manager fired?
James: The man who can't handle a pitching staff to save his life--Dusty Baker. Will the AL MVP race once again be imprisoned by the AL East?
Raine: No, I have a sneaky suspicion an Oakland player is going to walk away with that prize. Sticking with the A's, do you see Barry Zito finishing the season there??
James: Negative. He'll end up on the Mets if anywhere. Who plays more games this year--Mike Piazza or JD Drew?
Raine: Drew is an injury-magnet, but I can't pick against a 38-year old catcher with toothpick knee's. What's your take on Carlos Delgado being the early pick for NL MVP??
James: Given his injuries of late and the fact that David Wright is on the same team, I'd say it's utterly insane. At what point will Washington finally get a stadium plan figured out?
Raine: Depends if the Marlins beat them to Portland. Are you more surprised Roger Clemens brushed his son back after showing him up at practice, or that he missed him?
James: Should I be surprised by either at all? And that will do it for us. Raine, say some parting words for those who read this entire massive article.
Raine: What took us a month to put together, you read in about twenty minutes or so. That's a lesson for life. I'm not sure which, but when it happens, you'll remember me.
James: Hopefully me, too. Well, I hope you enjoyed reading this gargantuan column. I know Raine and I are happy to have finally finished it. Anyway, thank you for reading and please leave us feedback on the forums.