Hey you! How would you like a new holiday? Well, here's a prime candidate for you:
Every year around this time I renew my call for a new holiday, one that celebrates Americana and family and baseball. As I wrote last year:
"Workers should be free to go to the park, even though their team is playing a day game. School children should run the base paths of their neighborhood diamond, freed from the shackles of learning (I doubt I'll use that phrase again). Our heroes should be paraded in front of a national audience. CBS should play The Sandlot, The Natural, and Field of Dreams back-to-back-to-back in a continuous loop, and ABC should play the same three in reverse order. Americans should take a day to relax, grab a 'dog and a beer, root for the home team, and speculate on the season to come."
Baseball is just that important.
And on that note, I'll launch into my 2006 predictions, hoping deeply that I do better than I did last year (actually, I got 2 divisions and the WC right in the AL, and 2 right in the NL, plus NL MVP. But nothing else). So, here goes:
East: If the past 327 seasons have taught us anything, it's don't pick against the Braves in the regular season. Which is why I have a feeling I'm going to regret picking the Mets to win the NL East. But I think the Mets added a few too many pieces for the Braves to keep up. I still like Atlanta, but NY's offense is going to be too strong. They're aggressive, they'll run and hit, and they'll pitch well enough to win the division. I'm also afraid that my Nats aren't going to be as good as they were last year, though I wish them the best.
Central: Once again, St. Louis is going to run away this division. Chicago's still good, but those injuries to Prior and Wood will lead to a slow start that they can't recover from. Houston's loss of Clemens is likewise too big a hole to come out of, and an improved Milwaukee is still a couple years away from being post-season worthy. With their big bats and excellent coaching, St. Louis is the team to beat in the Central.
West: Just like last year, I dread picking the NL West. It's pretty much a crap shoot, since every team is pretty much mediocre. The Barry Bonds shadow will keep the sun from shining on the Giants - his personality and the steroids scandal won't make for a happy clubhouse, and you can't win with a clubhouse in turmoil. San Diego won it last year, but I think this will be a year where they - like many teams that take a big jump in a single year - come back to Earth. In my mind, that leaves the Dodgers. I like some of the pieces they added. They weren't the flashiest, but I think they'll work, so I'm gonna take the Dodgers.
Wild Card: Just like last year, I'm gonna pick the Braves here. I think this year the NL Central will beat up on each other a little more, and the Braves will be the benefactors.
MVP: He didn't fail me last year, and he won't this year either. The best player on the best NL team, Albert Pujols, will get the MVP award.
Cy Young: Carlos Zambrano looks good in my mind. I like Tim Hudson too, who has another year of NL experience, but the energy of Zambrano will strike a cord with the voters.
Rookie: Possibly the easiest pick of all. Prince Fielder. The kid can hit. I was on hand to watch his first HR, and let me tell you, he's gonna hit a lot more of 'em.
AL East: The two writers who I most respect on ESPN.com both picked the Yankees to win the World Series. I can at least give some deference to their picks. Plus, I think Toronto's additions will take a year or two to put it together, and I still hate Boston. So I refuse to pick them. Thus, NY gets my pick.
AL Central: This is one of the toughest picks. A year ago everyone loved the Twins and they were a trendy World Series pick. In the year since, they've only improved their team - both in pitching and offensively. So picking against them seems silly to me. Yet, no one is picking them because they underperformed last year. But they underperformed in one of baseball's best divisions, while two other teams had unbelievable seasons. So I'm still going to go with the Twins. Partially out of love for my team, but largely because I just think it's a smart call. Cleveland, like San Diego, will back slide a bit, and Chicago will have at least one thing go wrong, which just didn't happen last year.
AL West: A's or Angels. That's the question. I think the experience of the Angels will make them the team. But I'm nervous about that, because I like the A's too. So this is probably the most up in the air of all my picks.
Wild Card: Like I said before, the Central is one of the strongest divisions. So is the West. It'll be a tight battle between Oakland and Chicago, but in the end, I think the A's will come out on top, and the West will provide the AL Wild Card.
MVP: A-Rod. Just can't pick against a player who gets so much exposure, and who, besides that, is so good and plays for a great team.
Cy Young: Johan got ripped off last year, and he's gonna win it this year hands down. After the WBC he's ready early this year, and that'll lead to even more ridiculous numbers.
Rookie: I like Kenji Johima, but I think the game-calling duties are going to eat into his ability to knock in runs. So I guess that leaves me free to make one of my Twinkies the call, since both Kubel and Liriano are possible candidates. So I'll just pick the offense, and hope it's there for Kubel, and say he's my ROY pick.
NLS: Cardinals over Braves, Mets over Dodgers
NLCS: Cardinals over Mets
ALS: Twins over Angels, A's over Yankees
ALCS: A's over Twins
World Series: Cardinals over A's in 5.
For it's root root root for the home team