#20 - San Francisco Giants: Now that Bud Selig and Major League Baseball have effectively taken the Extra Innings package away from me, I'll either have to make due with my XM radio or hope that Mrs. Bootleg buys me the MLB.tv thingie for my birthday. Sorry, but, I can't miss what's likely to be Barry Bonds' last season. There, I said it. I like Bonds as a player and always have. Save your moral high horse for the rest of us godless fornicators out here crazy, kooky California. The Giants also comprise the first-ever Major League Senior's Tour. What's not to love about the opportunity to view that many arthritic hips across the diamond? Besides, now that Barry Zito's "wacky lefty schtick" drove across the Bay Bridge, I can now openly root against him. Oh, how I wanted him to end up in New York, get shelled on Opening Day, then say something like "I don't think I ate a good breakfast today." (He used that one after a bad start in Oakland, two years ago. And, he was serious.) Oh, and they have a chick PA announcer. Just one more reason to hate the Giants.
#19 - Toronto Blue Jays: Sorry, but it's always going to be "Skydome" to me. And, while we're at it, SPs Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett will never be Dave Stieb and Jimmy Key. I could go on, with mentions of long-forgotten names like Mark Eichhorn, Rob Ducey and David Wells, but I should probably say some things about the 2007 team. I'm setting the over/under on this team self-destructing at August 1. DH Frank Thomas couldn't have picked a worst place to spend the next two years on the disabled list. He's now got to deal with a fiery fight-starting manager, unrealistic expectations tied to team payroll and a drab, dull roster that plays in front of a quiet library environment. There are actually pieces in place for this team to make a run for the wildcard, but counting on continued health from The Big Hurt and the numbers 3, 4 and 5 starters to carry their weight and the Hill-Clayton keystone combo to do anything at the bottom of the batting order and…enjoy that AL East bronze medal, guys. Again.
#18 - Detroit Tigers: No disrespect to the 2006 Tigers and their mascot/corpse Virginia Slim Leyland, but they stumbled into the playoffs, got hot again for two weeks, and then crapped the bed when the Cardinals came to town. The acquisition of Gary Sheffield is proof that management knows last year was 75% fluke. There was a cavalcade of career years for the Kitties that won't be repeated in '07 and the notion that Sheffield is any team's savior is hilarious. Throwing him into the mix with combustible personalities like C Pudge Rodriguez and SP Kenny Rogers will tear down the club's pipe dream of a repeat postseason experience. Who'll snap first? Well, Sheffield, silly, but will his wrath be directed towards Sean Casey, Marcus Thames or Craig Monroe? Last I checked, Leyland was even money, so I'm laying a c-note down on first base coach Andy Van Slyke. He's at 175-to-1 odds, kids. Bet early, bet often.
#17 - Atlanta Braves: I'm not really sure just when I got sick of Atlanta's tired act. I distinctly remember openly rooting for them back in 1991 when they eliminated Satan's Dodgers from the NL West race on the penultimate day of the season and nearly won the most exciting World Series in my lifetime. Maybe it was kowtowing broadcaster Skip Caray or the insufferable tomahawk chop. Maybe it was…no, wait…it was those two things. Then, they traded away one of my favorite all-time non-A's and I've hated them ever since. The 2007 version is an odd mix of potentially great young talent and aging, past-their-prime veterans. I laugh at the demise of SP Stickman Hudson and I'm amazed that SP John Smoltz just might have a Hall of Fame case when it's all said and done. I think CF Andruw Jones could have a phenomenal walk year, since his play seems tied to his mood and I know that 3B Chipper Jones won't stay healthy enough to play 150 games. The Braves could be average or awful and I'm rooting like hell for the latter.
#16 - San Diego Padres: When Petco Park opened in '04, the Pads drew 3.01 million. In '05, that fell to 2.86 million, then 2.66 million last year. Those last two years brought division titles to "America's Finest City", but still, several late season nail-biters were played in front of thousands of empty seats. My theory: the Padres play a dull, station-to-station American League style that doesn't jibe with their obvious lack of offense. If they played in the AL, they'd be as anonymous as the Toronto Blue Jays or Baltimore Orioles. In the NL, they've lucked into two straight postseason berths and been exposed in the first round of the playoff both times. The big story, locally, is the reunion of The Giles Bros. Never mind that Brian is a shell of himself from five years ago, while Marcus gets 300 ABs at home in Death Valley. They've got a solid, potentially terrific rotation and closer Trevor Hoffman's always around to get those 3-run-margin saves that he specializes in.
#15 - St. Louis Cardinals: I really had no rooting interest in last year's World Series. The AL Champion Tigers had eliminated my A's in the ALCS. The Cards were managed by self-professed genius and inventor of the over-managed four-hour American League game, Tony DUIRussa. For a defending world champ, the Cards have an awful lotta question marks heading into '07. SP Chris Carpenter is a perennial Cy Young candidate, but no else in the rotation can be counted on for 200+ innings that will be even close to comparable. Closer Jason Isringhausen will not avoid the DL this year and when he goes down, who'll get the saves? Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lieutenant Weinberg? Offensively, praise be to Allah Pujols, but OF Jim Edmonds is 37-going-on-107, OF Juan Encarnacion and C Yadier Molina are mediocre and worse-than-awful at the plate, respectively, while SS David Eckstein's inspirational grit n' gumption story can't end soon enough for me. C'mon, snipers, where are you?!
#14 - Texas Rangers: It's only March and I'm already sick of all the condescending "kindly old Negro" news stories about new manager Ron Washington. Did you know that he visited with almost his entire roster at their homes, during the offseason? Former manager Buck Showalter never did that! And, did you hear the one about how A's 3B Eric Chavez gave Washington one of his Gold Glove Awards? I mean, sure, it was back in 2004, but that one never gets old! Still, Uncle Ben has been blessed with bats aplenty. SS Michael Young and 1B Mark Teixeira can carry the offense, while comeback seasons from 3B Hank Blalock and OF Brad Wilkerson aren't out of the question. The rotation features Kevin Millwood, Vincente Padilla and former White Sock prospect Brandon McCarthy at the front end, with the remains of Eric Gagné and Aki Otsuka to close things out. They'll contend until August, then spontaneously combust in September. "And, I don't mean that as a euphemism.", Nutty Professor, 1996.
#13 - Milwaukee Brewers: How awesome is it that in this, the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier, the Brewers could field an everyday lineup with three bruthas as regulars? I know, I know…"judged not by the color of our skin, but the content of our character" or however that MLK quote goes. Truth be told, I only hear it when white folk recycle it to defend their position on affirmative action. Still, I, for one, am rooting for 1B Prince Fielder, CF Bill Hall and 2B Rickie Weeks to bring a few more African-Americans fans to the ballpark, since it'd be nice for me to have someone to share hair care tips with whenever the Brewers come to town. I was actually ready to mock the absence of Blacks from Milwaukee, but a quick glance at the 2004 U.S. Census tells me that the city's population is almost 40% Black. Keep them windows rolled up, Ben Sheets.
#12 - Oakland Athletics: Remember Chico and the Man? 30 years ago, Freddie Prinze died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His seminal 1970s sitcom, ran for another 18 months without him, much to the indifference, then rampant absence of viewers. Last year, the A's finished ninth in the American League in runs scored and next-to-last in both batting average and slugging percentage. Their best hitter (Frank Thomas) signed with Toronto and Oakland only replaced 60% of him by signing Mike Piazza. Their starting centerfielder (Mark Kotsay) is out until at least June and their best pitcher is either in San Francisco (Barry Zito) or has only pitched 175 innings combined in the last two years (Rich Harden). They were a shaky squad in '06 that overachieved. This year they're the "Gabriel Meglar" years of Chico…. (OK, fine, they're the Charlie Sheen years of Spin City or the Jon Lovitz year of Newsradio. Y'know, there was TV before the '90s.)
#11 - Philadelphia Phillies: Am I the only self-professed obsessed baseball fan who just found out that Philly's pig-nosed first baseman Ryan Howard is already 27 years old? And, there was actually a stink that the Phillies just renewed his contract in the offseason, instead of offering him a multi-year deal? OK, I'm not saying that Howard will go all Sam Horn on us in '07, it's just that the peak years of fat players with bad gloves isn't all that long…especially in the NL. Lots of Philadelphia love from preseason prognosticators, but I don't see it. SP Cole Hamels is a future superstar, but how will a full season in Philly affect flyball pitchers like Adam Eaton and Jaime Moyer? Closer Tom Gordon's arm was ruined by Joe Torre, basically making Flash effective for only about three months out of the season. Offensively? 2 Legit 2 Quit. The pitching? (That's Why We) Pray.