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MARCH 19, 2004
Standings Predictions For 2004
By Steve Lombardi, NetShrine.com

There are just 10 days until the New York Yankees take on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, in Tokyo, Japan, to start the 2004 major league baseball season.  (There are 15 days until “Opening Day” for the rest of the teams in the big leagues.)  What better time than now to release the “Official Scrawling on the Scorecard Standings Predictions for 2004”?  They follow below:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

 

EAST

CENTRAL

WEST

1

Yankees

Twins

Angels

2

Blue Jays

Indians

A’s

3

Red Sox

Royals

Mariners

4

Orioles

White Sox

Rangers

5

Devil Rays

Tigers

       

NATIONAL LEAGUE

 

EAST

CENTRAL

WEST

1

Phillies

Cubs

Padres

2

Braves

Astros

Dodgers

3

Marlins

Cardinals

Giants

4

Mets

Reds

Diamondbacks

5

Expos

Pirates

Rockies

6

Brewers

Comments on each division:

AL EAST:  The Yankees should win 100 games – given just average seasons by their personnel.  New York could win 110 games in 2004 with a little good fortune.  The Blue Jays are my American League “surprise” for 2004.  (What about the Indians listing above?  See the AL CENTRAL comments - which follow - for more on that.)  J.P. Ricciardi (the Jays’ G.M.) has been quietly adding some important pieces to the puzzle to go along with Delgado, Wells, Halladay, et al.  Toronto won 86 games in 2003 and it would not shock me to see that number rise to near 90 in 2004.  How can I pick Boston for third - when they won 95 games in 2003 and added Curt Schilling for 2004?  The thought here is that many offensive players had “career years” for Boston in 2003.  Asking them to repeat in 2004 is a big task.  Plus, there are pending Free Agency issues for several stars on the current Sox.  That could be a distraction for the team this year.  Even with their pitching staff, Boston may be hard pressed to win 90 games in 2004.  The Orioles and Devil Rays are improved teams – as compared to last season.  It is too bad for the both of them that they play in the same division as New York, Toronto, and Boston.

AL CENTRAL:  Yes, the Twins lost some key players via trade and Free Agency.  But, do not discount the keen mind of (Twins’ G.M.) Terry Ryan.  He may just be the best G.M. in the business.  Prospects and acquisitions will fill the gaps in Minnesota.  Plus, the Central is a weak division.  The Twinkies should win this one again.  Now, am I really predicting that the Indians will be contenders?   No, I am not.  The Indians will not be a surprise contender.  But, I do believe that Cleveland this year is a team with a greater potential to do well (with their young and talented players) as compared to their "in division" competition (outside of the Twins) - meaning the Royals, White Sox and Tigers.  Hence, the forecasted second place finish here for the Tribe.  While Kansas City won 83 games in 2003, the Royals went 56 and 68 versus all teams not called the Tigers and Indians.  It will not be that easy to push around Detroit and Cleveland in 2004.  The Royals have improved their team from 2003; but, it still may only earn a .500 (or so) record.  Kansas City was not really that good in 2003.  The White Sox in 2004 will be an interesting team to watch.  Unfortunately for Chisox fans, the interest will stem more from the sideshow nature of the relationship between (Chicago manager) Ozzie Guillen and his players than from the Sox winning ball games.  Picking the Tigers last is easy.  There is an excellent essay in the 2004 Baseball Prospectus on Detroit where the claim is made that it will be another 6 to 8 years before the Tigers are a respectable team.  I agree with that assessment.

AL WEST:  It is obvious that the Angels struggled last season, following their championship year in 2002.  However, they have added quite a bit of talent to their team (via Free Agency) for 2004.  And, their Mike Scioscia just may be one of the best field managers in the game.  The thought here is that the Halos will win the West in the AL this season.  The defending AL West champion A’s still have their great starting pitching staff.  Nonetheless, Oakland will have a weaker offensive team in 2004 and a questionable bullpen.  This is why I am picking Oakland to finish behind Anaheim.  Seattle has a very good team and will win more than they will lose in 2004.  But, the Mariners are not in the class of the Angels or A’s for this year.  The Rangers could be a contender – in 2006.

NL EAST:  All the stars align in favor of the Phillies in the East for 2004.  The only thing that can prevent them from winning will be Larry Bowa.  And, if this flaw becomes apparent early in the year, the expectation here is that Philadelphia will correct the situation very quickly.  The Braves are a much different team than they were this time last year.  However, this may not be so bad.  In total, the Bravo replacements, while for the most part young, may not be a huge problem for the team.  In fact, the new young blood on the corners of the infield for Atlanta could be seen as an improvement.  Plus, (Braves manager) Bobby Cox is a very good in-season field general.  Atlanta may only win 85 games in 2004.  But, that could be good enough for second in the East in 2004.  Last season was a “magic” year for the Marlins.  It will not be that easy for Florida to sneak up on anyone in 2004.  Teams love to beat the defending champs.  The prediction here is that the Marlins play just about .500 this year.  The Mets are not in the class of the Phillies, Braves and Marlins and should finish fourth in 2004.  The 2004 Expos will have a better overall offensive attack than they had in 2003, health providing, and could pass the Mets in the standings if their current pitchers surprise.  But, that is a big “if.”

NL CENTRAL:  Assuming that Corey Patterson rebounds for last year’s health issue and that the concerns on Mark Prior’s health this spring are moot, then the Cubs will win the Central this season.  And, Chicago will be the best team in the National League in 2004.  The Astros are a very good team.  But, their pitching additions for this season are a bit over hyped and the installation of Octavio Dotel as closer does not come without some questions.  Look for Houston to finish second in the Central, again, this year.  The Cardinals outfield is thin.  And, St. Louis’ starting pitching has questions.  Luckily for Redbird fans, being in the same division as the Reds, Pirates, and Brewers means, at the worst, the Cards will finish third, again, in the Central.  Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Milwaukee are three of the worst teams in baseball.  Of these three, look for the Reds to lead the pack, due to their hitting, and the Brewers to bring up the rear, because of who owns the team.

NL WEST:  The Padres are my National League “surprise” for 2004.  Yes, they lost 98 games in 2003.  Nonetheless, with the talent they have added for this year, and some expected improvement in terms of production from the returning incumbents, and the excitement factor of the “new park” for this year, San Diego could win 20 to 25 more games than last year – and that might be enough to win the West in 2004.  The Dodgers won 85 games last year – mostly as a result of their pitching.  They lost Kevin Brown to the Yankees this year.  But, they have prospects like Edwin Jackson to fill that slot.  Plus, Jim Tracy is an excellent manger for them.  Los Angeles should win 85 games again this year.  And, that will be good for finishing second, again, in the West.  The Giants go as Barry Bonds goes.  The problem for Barry this year is that BALCO is in his backyard.  This will be Barry’s worst season in terms of having to deal with the media.  And, we know how well Bonds deals with the media.  At some point, this will take a toll on his season – and the fortunes for San Francisco, as a team.  In order for the Diamondbacks to be a contender, they will need a big season from Randy Johnson.   However, given Johnson’s age and health concerns, the likelihood of “The Big Unit” having a great year is remote.  Arizona will fight with San Francisco for third in the West this year – and that is about it.  The Rockies have geared their team to play well in their home park.  The problem for Colorado is that the parks in L.A. and S.F. play much different than their Coors Field - and the Rocks have to play about 20 games there.  And, we have to see how the new park in S.D. plays.  The Rockies should really petition the league for a transfer to the NL Central – where they would have a better chance of escaping the cellar.

This is how the 2004 season will play out, according to the scrawling on this scorecard.  Of course, please remeber that the scorecard is made of paper and they play the games on grass (or some type of man-made 'like grass' in select parks).  We will just have to see how it goes.  Enjoy the season.  Play ball!


Steve Lombardi is the Creator & Curator of NetShrine.com.  Scrawling On The Scorecard appears regularly during the baseball season and sporadically during the off-season.  Steve can be contacted at sots@netshrine.com

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