Having narrowly avoided the basement in last year’s Baseball Acumen Test by my blind pick of the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League East (like everyone else I had the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees making the playoffs, although I must insist I got hosed by the last-minute collapse of the San Diego Padres), I courageously reveal my picks this year. And keep in mind I am a former Golden BAT winner, although it was back in my early prime in the mid-80s.
First the American League. I’ll stick with the BoSox and Yankees, in that order, in the East, with the Yanks the wild card. I’ll join with the majority as well in picking the Los Angeles Angels in the West. But then I’ll be a homer and pick the White Sox in the Central, not because I’m so optimistic about the Sox, but because I’m more pessimistic about the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers (not enough pitching). The Sox’ Ozzie Guillen is absolutely right in suggesting that Jose Contreras’s return to form is essential, but by the same token Ozzie has to return to form and his aggressive ways violating the conventional “baseball book” as a manager. He has to find the right tweaks for a lineup with its considerable talent concentrated in the corner positions, and no I don’t think playing Nick Swisher in center field will work. So I’ll take the White Sox as a sentimental choice in the AL Central, but the Red Sox to win the pennant.
In the National League, yes, I’m picking the Cubs, even after manager Lou Piniella labeled it “an in-vogue thing … because of the 100th year” — that is, the 100 years since the Cubs last won it all. Still, they have good hitting (if they can find a dependable leadoff man), good deep pitching (Jon Lieber will be key before it’s all over), and outstanding outfield defense, especially with Felix Pie taking the majority of time in center in a platoon with the newly acquired Reed Johnson. So I’ll take the Cubs to win the NL pennant, over the Phils in the East, the Arizona Diamondbacks in the West, and — dig this, Dusty Baker haters — the Cincinnati Reds in the wild card, not through any fault of Baker’s own, but simply because they have the talent to be this year’s Milwaukee Brewers. Look for Baker to stumble into the playoffs almost by accident, much as he did five years ago, just as soon as he wakes up and makes room for Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Homer Bailey.
That said, I have to follow Sports Illustrated in picking the Bosox over the Cubs in the World Series. I’m trendy and a homer, but only up to a point.