Sunday, April 29, 2007

All in All, A Pretty Darn Good Weekend

Let's do a little recap:

- The Sox stomp the Yankees on Friday night in the Bronx, sending the New York papers into 'Fire Joe' mode.

- On Saturday, the much-hyped NFL draft starts at noon, and the Brady Quinn drama takes center stage. Rumors start flying around that the Patriots are hot on the Randy Moss trail, who wants out of Oakland. The Pats end up taking much-maligned Miami safety Brandon Merriweather with their first pick in the first round, then trade the second pick away. The draft, by the way, takes a loooooong friggin' time.

- Later on Saturday afternoon, Julio Lugo leads off the game against Jeff Karstens and hits a ball that cracks the pitcher's goddamn fibula. As if the Yanks don't have enough problems. Miraculously, New York's Filene's Basement Japanese retread, Kei Igawa, comes in and stymies the Sox. The Yanks win 3-1, potentially saving Torre's job for another day.

- But Sunday takes the cake. Turns out the Randy Moss rumors are accurate (Adam Schefter of the NFL Network is one connected dude). In a deal that reminds me of how they stole another questionable character, Corey Dillon, before the 2005 season, the Patriots trade a 4th-round pick in this draft for one of the most electric wide receivers to ever suit up. Problems abound to be sure, but a low risk move for the Pats. Moss wants to win a Super Bowl, he's been completely vetted by Belichick and Pioli, and he's taking a $6 million pay cut in 2007. I repeat, a $6 million pay cut. If he slips up, he's gone. In the span of two months, Tom Brady went from having Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney as his 1 and 2 receivers to having Randy Moss and Donte Stallworth. Add in all the other moves this team has made in the offseason, and it's clear that they want to continue the dynasty. Look out, Indy.

- And finally, the Sox take the finale at Yankee Stadium by the score of 7-4. In six games against the Yankees, the Red Sox this year are 5-1, have outscored the Yanks 40-28, and have outhomered them 12-6. Best thing about today is that it was Julian Tavarez vs. Chien Ming-Wang and we won. And Hideki Okajima - our new setup man - has been ungodly. In 12 2/3 innings so far this year, he's struck out 17, walked three, given up 5 hits and has a paltry 0.71 ERA. Not too shabby.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Bonus Photo #2

Just had to post this awesome picture, in light of the ridiculous Curt Schilling bloody sock B.S. from this past week. From the witty guys over at Deadspin.

Bonus Photo #1

My buddy Bobby was at Yankee Stadium last night, hanging out in the official Yankees' luxury suite. Here's the view from the box. I told him to leave a heaping pile of crap on the rug. Not sure if he followed through.

On a Roll

The Sox' charter should immediately depart for Las Vegas for a few hours before today's game against the Yankees, because everything they're touching right now turns to gold. Terry Francona is King Midas. Dice-K starts walking the most potent lineup in baseball and they still pull out a win. The bullpen is firing on all cylinders. Josh Beckett - who could have suffered whiplash last year from all the gopher balls he gave up - is 5-0 and looking like Cy Young timber. The beat goes on, and we still haven't seen the real Manny or the real Dice-K. As of this morning, Saturday, April 28, 2007, the Red Sox have the best record in baseball and Yankee fans - who will NEVER admit it - are worried.

Last night in the Bronx, we got a typical, slow, American League game. The Sox jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but then Dice-K got wild and the walks came back to kill. It should be noted that the home plate umpire last night absolutely sucked, for both teams. The guy had one of those strike calls that comes 20 seconds after the pitch. Unbearable. The Yanks took the lead 4-2, the Sox scrapped back to tie it up, and then they blew it open in the late innings to win 11-4 going away. At one point, and I want to emphasize this was only for a split second, I actually felt sorry for Joe Torre. He won my everlasting respect when he had all of his guys stand on the top step on Opening Day 2005, when the Sox raised their banner and gave out their World Series rings. Very classy move.

But back to the present. After Andy Pettite couldn't get it done last night, the Yanks now send someone named Jeff Karstens to the mound to tangle with Tim Wakefield. They got Chien Ming Wang back this week, and Mike Mussina's due back any day now. And all the talk is they'll go hard after 56-year old Roger Clemens. What's most surprising to me about the Yanks is that their offense is struggling in a big way right now. Like the old Soviet Union hockey teams, they just keep rolling all-stars over the boards, but they're not getting it done. They don't have a single extra-base hit over the last 20+ innings, and Bobby Abreu is mired in a 1 for 20-something funk. They'll get it going, no doubt, but it's awfully gratifying to see the Sox capitalizing right now.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Another Wily Mo(ve) by Tito

It had been a tough game to watch until Wily Mo Pena stepped into the batter's box in the top of the 8th against Orioles closer Chris Ray. The Sox had been leaving men on base seemingly in every inning. Bases loaded, couldn't capitalize. Leadoff doubles, nothing. The Orioles were up 2-1 and the Orioles decided to walk Jason Varitek to load 'em up again with one out. Wily Mo's been a whiffing boy lately, so the immediate thought was 'we have to hit for him.' Would it be Eric Hinske? Christ, Doug Mirabelli? Alex Cora? Tito Francona chose to stick with Pena and once again, his decision paid off in a big way. Pena took Ray very deep (the only type he hits) to left center. Grand slam. 5-2 Sox lead. Papelbon warming up. O-v-e-r.

The boys now have the best record in all of baseball, and I have to say, I'm liking what I'm seeing even if it is late April. Oh, and the Yanks lost to the Jays tonight.

All the talk before the game revolved around some inane comments made by Orioles broadcaster Gary Thorne during last night's game. In a nutshell, he claimed that Mirabelli told him that Schilling's bloody sock in Game 6 of the ALCS was a fraud. I shall not dignify Mr. Thorne's comments any further by writing about them. As my buddy Lebeau would say, that was just STUPID.

Speaking of the Spankees, the Sox fly from Crabland to NYC tonight where Daisuke makes his debut tomorrow night on the big stage - weather permitting. Could this finally be the year that the Sox win the goddamn division? The Yankees are circling the drain (which I'm sure I also declared last year at this time). Hell, it's fun to say. Just imagine how red Georgie Porgie's face must be right now. A $200 million payroll and they're raiding their minor league pitching staffs.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sox Sweep Yanks

The Red Sox held on last night to complete a three-game sweep of the Yankees at Fenway. It was the first time since 1990 that they've swept New York at home. Mike Lowell had two big homers, Papelbon shut 'em down in the 9th, and these are the days when we love to read the Gotham rags.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Four Score

The Sox just set a team record by homering four consecutive times off Yankee starter Chase Wright. Manny, J.D. Drew, Mike Lowell and the Captain all went deep. Back to back to back to back. First time in 27 years they hit three in a row, and first time in franchise history for four. Wily Mo Pena was the fifth batter and believe me, he tried for it but couldn't deliver. Great moment when Varitek's ball went sailing out. Interestingly, Drew was part of the Dodgers' four-homer string last September in a game against San Diego.

Unfortunately, Derek Jeter just hit one into the first row of the Monster seats off Dice-K -- so what was a 4-3 lead is now a tie ballgame in the top of the 5th. Dice-K against A-Rod right now with one out. You know A-Rod wants to take the Diceman deep after Jetes just did. And A-Rod goes down swinging feebly at a curveball. Two outs, Juicer Boy Jason up, 1 and 2 count. Strangely, I've been able to mentally block out Joe Morgan tonight. It's a wonderfully peaceful feeling. Juice Boy pops up to Varitek. Sox coming up in the home half of the 5th.

Joe Morgan: A One-Man Wrecking Crew

It's a beautiful night here in Boston. The Sox and Yanks are just getting underway. Dice-K's on the hill for the Sox. A-Rod's on fire for the Yanks. National TV. Two continents watching. And goddamn Joe Morgan - the same shit that hit a bloop single off Jim Burton in the '75 World Series to win it for the Big Red Machine - is still haunting us by being just plain BAD. His badness - color commentating-wise that is -is at its apex right now. He is unlistenable, and it absolutely boggles the mind to think that he somehow won two Sports Emmys for his work. His game "commentary" should be piped into the cells at Guantanamo or any other hellholes in the world - that'll get people to cave and spill their guts...

Anyway, I digress. Sports' greatest rivalry is out there for all to see, I'm looking forward to watching the Yanks try to solve Dice-K, and I'm not going to let Joe Morgan ruin it for me. I'm stronger than that. I'm turning the sound down.

Dice-K starts off by getting Damon and Jeter and now has two strikes on Bobby Abreu. One early trend so far this year: the umps aren't being very generous to the Diceman on the corners, and he seems to get pretty frustrated if he feels he's getting squeezed. Abreu draws a walk.

Hey, this guy's alright. He just hit A-Rod in the shoulder on his first pitch. That's one way to keep the ball in the park. Now Giambi hits a double between Manny and Coco and just like that it's 2-0 Bombers. Cano grounds out to end the inning. Here's hoping the Sox can handle young lefty Chase Wright. It's about time for a certain dreadlocked #24 to get hot...

Sox start things off the right way in their half of the first. Lugo walks, and steals second, and Youk draws a walk. First and second, nobody out, for Big Papi. Cool to see Ortiz wearing No. 42 tonight - brings back memories of Mo Vaughn. The Sox were rained out the night they were scheduled to recognize Jackie Robinson so they're doing it tonight. Papi pops up. Manny's turn, and if ever a guy was due...

Young Mr. Wright is mostly a junkballing lefty, with a low 90 mph fastball. And Manny just missed a fat pitch and flies out to right. Two out for J.D. Drew. Single would be nice here. Strike out. End of first, Yanks leading 2-0.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Sox Win a Thrillah...

Just back from a week spent in the Sunshine State, and the Red Sox - a bad call on Dice-K in Toronto aside - haven't skipped a beat. They took 2 of 3 from the Blue Jays after the Jays inexplicably removed ace Roy Halladay, and last night Jason Varitek and the Sox gave A-Rod and the Yanks a full facial, winning a come-from-behind thriller after NY had built a 6-2 lead and turned the game over to Mariano Rivera.

The Sox were clad in green hats and shirts last night in what seemed like another shameless 'event' dreamt up by Dr. Charles -- until Don-O and RemDawg told us it was Celtics/Red Auerbach night at the ballyard. The Cooz was in the booth during the game, telling stories about 'Ahnold' and the old days. Love the Cooz. And Wick Wobey gwabs the weeebound.

Anyway, starting pitcher-wise, last night's matchup between Curt Schilling and Andy Pettite was the marquee matchup of the series. The big story on both sides was the blistering start Alex Rodriguez is off to. A-Rod had hit 10 homers coming in, including two walk-offs. He hit his 11th in the top of the 4th to give the Yanks a 2-0 lead, and then Varitek hit an opposite-field two-run homer off Pettite to tie it up in the bottom of the inning. An inning later, the en fuego A-Rod hit a three-run homer off Schilling (with Crisp falling over the wall in an attempt to make the catch) to give the Bombers what seemed like a commanding 5-2 lead. But the Yanks bullpen couldn't get it done. Singles by Mike Lowell and Varitek made it 6-4, and then Coco Crisp had a huge triple to tie it up at 6-6. Alex Cora then delivered a single over Pretty Boy's head for a 7-6 lead. Since Papelbon had pitched the night before, Francona went with lefty Hideki Okajima to get the last three outs.

All in all, a very satisfying win in what was a great game to watch. The Yanks could have used a W as they send youngster Jeff Karstens to the mound today against Josh Beckett, which seems like a mismatch on paper. Tomorrow night, it's Dice-K vs. Chase Wright on national TV (Joe Morgan Alert! Joe Morgan Alert!!).

The Sox are currently in first place with a 10-5 record, and the Yanks are in second at 9-7. I've said it before and I'll say it again -- now is the time to hit the Yankees while they're down. They don't have Wang. They don't have Mussina. The Sox have a huge pitching edge right now and need to fully exploit it. On the other hand, the Yanks have the hottest hitter on the planet right now who's singlehandedly keeping them afloat.

Gametime today is 4:00 p.m. on Fox.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Ham, Chocolate, Golf and Baseball

Given that it's Easter Sunday, a day for reflection, allow me to reflect on the current state of our professional sports teams here in Bawstin.

BRUINS: Dead team skating. Have been for the last couple of months or so. Very disappoining results for the new regime of GM Peter Chiarelli and head coach Dave Lewis. Whether it's coaching, the players, or management (probably a combo of all three), the Bruins have succeeded in making themselves completely invisible and irrelevant -- except, as always, to the hard-core fans still wearing their No. 8 Neely shirts.

: Every night is now a "must-loss." With each competitive defeat, the Celtics put themselves in better position for the lottery prizes of a) Greg Oden or b) college player of the year Kevin Durant. With just 6 games left, the Celts are currently locked in for the second-worst record in the league this year, with the Bucks three games 'behind.' Logic says a team can't be a serious playoff contender without a legit big man, so Oden is the man. Heart says it would be awfully damn fun to watch Kevin Durant play every night. If the Len Bias Curse continues, and they don't get one of the top two picks, hide all the sharp instruments.

PATRIOTS: The Pats wrapped up a very successful offseason for talent acquisition, but still haven't figured out a resolution to the Asante Samuel situation. Samuel - who had a career year in '06 - was hit with the franchise tag for '07 but wants to work out a long-term deal similar to what Nate Clements just signed with the 49ers. Some media types around here have been postulating that the Pats may look to trade Samuel and get a higher pick, perhaps giving them a shot at standout LSU CB Laron Landry. Whatever the outcome, the Pats will be better than they were when we last saw them in that traumatizing loss to the Colts. Adalius Thomas, Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth, Kelley Washington, Sammy Morris, and Kyle Brady make the Pats deeper on both sides of the ball. I'll be bummed if they don't sign Sauerbrun to come back and punt. I thought he had an incredible postseason. In completely unrelated news, Bill Belichick was seen at the Florida-Ohio St. college hoops title game last week with a new, spiffy-looking blonde lady. Like quarterback, like coach. Wonder if Bill and Tom will double date?

RED SOX: Kind of a lackluster start to the much-anticipated, much-hyped 2007 Boston Red Sox season. Two good starts from Beckett and Dice-K, but the offense has been mostly quiet. Big Papi is struggling, and the pre-season concerns about the lack of punch in the lower lineup spots has already been evident. I like what I see of J.D. Drew and hope he can stay healthy. I'm also hoping this is the year Kevin Youkilis proves me wrong and shows that he deserves to be an everyday player on one of the league's best teams. Way too early to tell if Dustin Pedroia is safe at second, and the pressure's on Coco to produce or he could be moved out. Will be interesting to see if Curt Schilling can rebound from his rough start on Opening Day. 8:05 gametime tonight against the Rangers on ESPN.

Oh, and I'd be remiss without mentioning that the Boston College Eagles once again made it to the National Championship game in college hockey, and once again they came up juuuuussssst a bit short. Michigan State beat BC last night in St. Louis, 3-1, to win the title.

Happy Easter to all. Go easy on the ham and chocolate, put the wood stove on and watch the Masters, and then see if the Sox can put up a good showing on national TV tonight against the Rangers. All in all, a pretty good day in sports paradise.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Slumber Party

The Sox wasted a solid effort from Tim Wakefield last night in Texas, dropping a 2-0 decision to the Rangers. The bats were inept from the get-go, and Ranger starter Robinson Tejeda looked like the second coming of Bob Gibson. They get back at it again tonight, with Julian Tavarez toeing the rubber for the good guys.

On a happier note, the Yankees continue to lose to crappy teams on their season-opening homestand. The Orioles beat the Yanks 6-4 last night, ensuring that the Sox remain in first place for another day. I've said it once, I've said it a million times - April and May is the time to put some space between the Bombers.

College hockey's national championship game takes place tonight in St. Louis with the BC Eagles taking on the Spartans of Michigan State. As much as I hate, detest, and loathe all things BC-related, they deserve to win the crown. They've been playing as good as anyone in the nation over the past month, and they've got a kid named Nathan Gerbe (all 5' 5" of him) who is a game-changer. I'll be on the couch tonight, live-blogging the BC-Michigan State game. Not.

Friday, April 06, 2007

As Advertised

Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched an absolute gem in his major league debut yesterday -- that's his pitching line to the right. Seven innings, scattered six hits, one walk, 10 K's. Sox take 2 of 3 from KC with a 4-1 victory.

I didn't get to watch live, but the highlights were impressive. Daisuke doesn't get rattled, he keeps batters guessing, and he's constantly changing his arm angle and his odd little delay-like gestures, similar to how Hideo Nomo used to pause in his delivery. Just like Pedro was appointment TV for those few years, the same for Dice-K this year. We're going to make sure we're watching every time he pitches.

Nice to see Papelbon come in and get the save with his usual dominating stuff. A comforting sight to say the least. With Jon Lester pitching well on his rehab tour, the Sox could still have a superb starting five (Dice-K, Beckett, Schilling, Wakefield, Lester) and a lights-out closer at the end. The bullpen through the first three games has been solid, giving up only one run. Some dude named Curt sums up the first week of the season pretty well here.

The Sox are spending Easter weekend in Texas with games tonight, tomorrow and Sunday against the Rangers. Wakefield goes today, Julian Tavarez Saturday and Curt Schilling tries to redeem himself on Sunday. Point worth noting: the Rangers signed former Blue Jay Frank Catalanotto during the offseason, and old Frankie has just worn out Red Sox pitching through the years. He's got huge career numbers against Wake - 15 for 45, 3 HR's, 9 RBI. Look for him to figure prominently at some point.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Good News & Sad

The Sox turned the tables on the Royals last night, riding an early lead and some good pitching from Josh Beckett to an easy 7-1 victory. Dice-K mania gets underway at 2 p.m. local time, so get those ESPN GameDays cranking.

On a sad, non-baseball note, former Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley was found dead in his Chicago-area home. Stingley, of course, was the unfortunate recipient of a blatant cheap shot from Raiders safety Jack Tatum in a meaningless pre-season game back in 1978. Tate-scum never apologized to Stingley for the hit, and later tried to capitalize on his 'fame' with a book. When Jack asked Darryl to be part of the promotion, Stingley told him to go do the anatomically impossible. RIP, Darryl.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

My Opening Day

Finally - a chance to kick back and actually watch a ballgame. Because we work for a living, Monday's Red Sox-Royals 4:00 start was tough to catch. And waiting for tonight's 8:00 start - after a day off - has been excruciatingly long. Thankfully, the Sox and Royals are finally playing again, and the good guys have pulled out to a 3-0 lead in the home half of the 3rd. Papi, Manny, Drew and Lowell all figured in the scoring; Josh Beckett - who's under big-time pressure to perform this year - is looking pretty sharp and mixing his pitches more than I remember him doing last year. Right now, Beckett is mostly known as the guy we traded superstar-in-the-making Hanley Ramirez for. Bad trade to this point, but something tells me Beckett's out to prove something in '07.

And I can't believe what my eyes just saw -- back to back errors by the surehanded Mike Lowell. Royals have men on 1st and 2nd, 1 out, and a good hitter in Mark Teahen at the plate. Full count. Beckett with a huge K! Knee-high smoke that could have gone either way. Now it's up to Mike Sweeney, and Beckett just froze him with a curveball. 1-1. Sweeney smashes it to right-center and lo and behold, J.D. Drew makes an impressive running catch. Good jump, good speed. That would have been a gapper if the ol' Dirt Dog was out in right field.

Anyway, enough play by play. Gainful employment will again prevent us from watching one of the biggest stories in the majors this year when Daisuke Matsuzaka makes his much-anticipated debut tomorrow at 2:00. Definitely a TiVo event. Here's a good story from talking about the Dice-K circus hitting Kansas City.

Opening Daze

That's what it was for the Red Sox on Monday as they stumbled badly out of the gate and dropped an ugly 7-1 decision to the Royals. There really were no highlights, save for an early RBI double from Big Papi that gave the Sox an early lead. After that, it was all about bad baserunning, bad pitching, and a complete lack of offense. It's only one game, I know, but trust me when I say it was a DISMAL opener. It was worse than that awful mustache there on Curt's face way back when.

Even worse for the boys, they had to wait an extra day - in Kansas City, no less - to atone for Monday's stinkbomb. Tonight we get to see if Josh Beckett has fixed what ailed him last year. He goes against lefty Odalis Perez in what is a must-win (kidding - kinda) for the Sox.

Other Opening Day observations and notes:

- Tremendous pitching performances turned in by the Mariners' Felix Hernandez (shutout, 3-hitter, 12 k's) and Milwaukee's Ben Sheets (CG, 2 hits)

- The Yankees wasted no time putting some crooked numbers on the board, plating 9 guys against the Devil Dogs. Whatever the record for runs in a season is, the Yanks are going to obliterate it

- My top pitcher on my roto team is already friggin' hurt. Cards' ace Chris Carpenter turned in a shaky performance on Monday and is experiencing some pain in his throwing elbow. Word so far is that it isn't serious. Those who say roto isn't all about luck are flat-out wrong

- The Mets are going to be awfully damn good this year -- and the Nationals are going to be awfully damn bad

- As far as our local squad, I'm worried. We've got three guys in our lineup that no pitcher wants to face (Ortiz, Manny, Drew) while the Yanks have at least 7 or 8

- I still can't believe we traded Hanley Ramirez. It reeks of Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen in '88

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Welcome Back...

The traditional signs of spring in these parts are finally starting to kick in. Temperatures in the Boston area are warming each day, the girls are shedding some layers in the streets of Back Bay, people are starting to smile again, the Boston Marathon is quickly approaching, and the ultimate soap opera -- a year spent riveted to all things Red Sox -- begins Monday afternoon. Life is good.

The Mets throttled the defending champion Cardinals last night in St. Louis to get the season started, and later this afternoon, in a TiVo special, it's Blogger Curt going against the insanely overpaid Gil Meche in Kansas City. With the season underway, here are a few predictions - based on absolutely no research whatsoever.

1. Boston
2. New York
3. Toronto
4. Baltimore
5. Tampa Bay

The Sox are the trendy pick, and I'm pegging them into the top spot based on two things over the Yankees: their starting rotation and their closer (assuming Papelbon stays healthy all year). We'll see if the Yankees' modern-day Murderers' Row lineup can offset the pitching weaknesses. With Yanks' ace Chien-Mien Wang out until possibly May, and with a relatively soft schedule to begin the year, now is the time for the Sox to put some distance between their hated rivals. Toronto will win its fair share of games in 2007, but will still fall short of de-throning one of the big guys. The Blue Jays added Frank Thomas in the offseason and the perpetually injured A.J. Burnett has been looking good this spring. The battle for the AL East basement between the Orioles and Devil Rays should be a pretty heated one. Both teams have lots of young talent stockpiled. The Orioles seem to have better balance in both pitching and their everyday lineup. Devil Rays rook Delmon Young is a star in the making.

1. Detroit
2. Cleveland
3. Chicago
4. Minnesota
5. Kansas City

How good is the AL Central? Look at those top four teams. A lot of folks are predicting that the Tigers will be overtaken by Cleveland this year, but I'm putting my money on Jim Leyland and his boys to be hungry to atone for last year's pitiful World Series showing. They begin the season without Kenny Rogers but the Tigers won't miss a beat. The Indians, White Sox and Twins will be fighting it out for second. The Tribe has Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore and young pitching; Chicago has Dye and Konerko with spotty pitching, and the Twins have Mauer, Morneau, Hunter and Santana, but will begin the season without young ace Francisco Liriano. In the end, this is the Tribe's year to shine and they may be rewarded with a Wild Card berth. As for the Royals, their big splurge was spending $55 million on Gil Meche, which is all you really need to know. Watch for Mark Teahen to have a good year, and rookie phenoms Alex Gordon and Ryan Shealy could be bright spots.

1. Anaheim
2. Seattle
3. Oakland
4. Texas

The Angels are banged up for Opening Day - Colon, Jered Weaver and Chone Figgins are on the DL - but they'll still take the West when all is said and done. I think the Mariners supplant the A's for the silver medal, with King Felix leading the way for Seattle. I also like Vidro (if he stays healthy) as the everyday DH. Good, underrated hitter. It's insane to bet against the resourceful Billy Beane and Oakland, but they have to be concerned about their best hitter, Eric Chavez, and the offense they lost with the Big Hurt heading for Canada. Chavez' struggles from last year have carrried over, and the A's didn't really replace Thomas' spot in the lineup. Texas? The age-old Ranger dilemma of not having enough good pitching dooms them again. Still kills me (kills me, I tellya) to see Teixeria in this lineup. Somehow, Dan Duquette didn't think it was worth the money to tie him up in a Sox uniform.

AL playoff teams: Red Sox, Yankees, Tigers, Angels

1. Mets
2. Marlins
3. Phillies
4. Braves
5. Nationals

The Mets lineup will carry them, but they'll need to shore up their pitching along the way. Pedro needs to get healthy, and Tom Glavine can't be depended on to have the kind of year he had in '06. I really like the Marlins this year, as their young hitters are only going to get better and they've got a nice young core of arms in Dontrelle Willis, Josh Johnson, and Anibal Sanchez in their rotation. A new manager in Florida may give them a surprising boost. The Phillies will also compete in this division, but their pitching - or lack thereof - will ultimately let them down. That could change if a guy like Cole Hamels lights it up all year, and if 56-year old Jamie Moyer can still get it done. Big ifs, though. The lineup - led by Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Pat Burrell, and Jimmy Rollins will score runs in batches. Atlanta is an interesting team this year. No one's expecting much from the Braves, but maybe that helps them. They've still got Smoltz at the top of their rotation, and maybe Tim Hudson has a big rebound year. The Jones brothers will do their normal damage, and Andruw is in a contract year. Who cares about the Nationals?

1. Chicago
2. Houston
3. Milwaukee
4. St. Louis
5. Pittsburgh

The Cubs, like their AL brethren Red Sox, spent money like drunken sailors this past offseason. Alfonso Soriano was the big get, and having a healthy Derrek Lee in the lineup this year - along with Aramis Ramirez and Jacque Jones - will give them some extra punch. The twin hummels - Mark Prior and Kerry Wood - will spend their respective stints on the DL, but Carlos Zambrano is going to have a monster year. Second-place goes to the Astros, who also will add a Lee to their lineup in 2007 (Carlos). Mainstays Lance Berkman and Craig Biggio are in place, and it may be time for youngsters like Chris Burke and Luke Scott to shine. Roy Oswalt is the linchpin on the pitching staff. The surprise pick here is the Brewers coming in third. If they were a department store, they'd be like Marshalls - good players for less. They've got some talent on the mound and at the plate. David Bush and Chris Capuano aren't household names (because they play in Milwaukee) but they can be counted on to have solid seasons. And if Ben Sheets can stay healthy... The Brewers also added a steady veteran presence in Jeff Suppan. Offensively, the kids rule with Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, and Bill Hall anchoring the lineup. The Brew Crew should be fun to watch in '07. The defending champ Cardinals will struggle this season. No rhyme or reason as to why, just a guess. Maybe pin it on their drunken manager. They got - as we say here in Boston - wicked lucky last year. And finally, the perennial NL Central doormat Pirates. Quick - name me five players on Pittsburgh. Jason Bay doesn't count.

1. Los Angeles
2. Arizona
3. San Diego
4. San Francisco
5. Colorado

Red Sox West (a/k/a the Dodgers) looks primed for a big run this year - and with Grady Little calling the shots from the bench, Nomar Garciaparra in the middle of the lineup, and Derek Lowe on the hill, they've got a major Red Sox tint to them. Pitching-wise, LA added Jason Schmidt and Randy Wolf to go along with Lowe and Brad Penny. In the 'pen, Takashi Saito - last year's surprise closer - will get a run for his money from rocket-armed Jonathan Broxton, who goes 6'4", 290 pounds by the way. Rafael Furcal, Jeff Kent, Juan Pierre and Luis Gonzalez are the veterans in the lineup, along with kids Andre Ethier, Russell Martin and Matt Kemp. Call me nuts, but I think the D-Backs could have a pretty good season. Annual Cy Young candidate Brandon Webb is their stud, and if Doug Davis can find his groove, Arizona's pitcher-friendly stadium could benefit. On offense, they'll be hoping for big contributions from slugger-in-the-making Conor Jackson, Eric Byrnes, Chad Tracy and rookie Chris Young. San Diego, San Francisco, and Colorado will round out the bottom three and of course, all eyes will be on the Michelin Man's fraudulent home run quest.

NL playoff teams: Mets, Cubs, Dodgers, Marlins

In terms of picking the league champs, it comes down to pitching, pitching, pitching.

AL Champion: Boston Red Sox

NL Champion: Los Angeles Dodgers

World Series Champion: Red Sox (because I want my Jordans-bought furniture to be free)

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